Monday, May 31, 2010

Michael Solender - Not Your Average Reporter

Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S.A.

Michael Solender is nothing if not prolific.
While some of us dabble in blogging, posting the odd opinion here or an even odder story there, Michael can be counted on posting something interesting pretty much every day of the week. His blog, Not From Here Are You (popularized with the endearing little nickname The Not) is part Solender, part cheerleader, part reporter. Which means he’s either posting his own fiction, whether it be micro fiction, #fridayflash or poetry, or he’s telling us about other artists. 
Recently he introduced us to photographer Kristin Fouquet, to poet Bina Gupta and to one of my favourite flash ladies, Lou Freshwater.
Michael can always be counted on to pull a solid story from his #fridayflash hat. Last week’s effort was not only well written, it was also beautifully laid out in book format, complete with a natty typewriter font and funky accompanying photos.
Everything he does, he does with thought and style.
I was not unfamiliar with Michael’s work but I really sat up and took notice when he hosted Canadian Week (May 9, 2010). Since he was including one of my stories I figured I had better study up on some Solender. Let me just say he’s worth studying.
Just who is this Notty guy?
He has Harriet, first of all. He has photos of her on his blog and he calls her “Sweetie.” (Say it together now: "awwww...")
His blog actually says a lot about who he is. “'You’re not from here, are you?' Is a refrain I’ve often heard in various places in my life. A transplanted northerner [I’m from Minneapolis, MN] living south of the Mason Dixon Line for the past 15 years, I am not from here in many subtle and not so subtle ways. The belief that '...the nail that sticks out gets hammered down' challenges me to look closer and question more. Not being ‘from here’ is mostly a good thing. I don’t need the familiar to be comfortable. I seek out different experiences and enjoy different points of view and opinions.
“I am a corporate refugee,” he adds, “having spent 25 years grinding the faces of the peasants into the dirt as a human resources guy. Enough was enough and I retired two years ago to pursue my passion, which is writing.”
As well as blogging, Michael freelances and has “a few steady gigs” with publications like the Charlotte Observer and Charlotte ViewPoint. Mostly he writes nonfiction, although he admits, “I do love poetry and fiction so I keep my hands in that through my blog.”
In June he’ll be reading one of his stories at a theatrical event called a Live Magazine which will bring all the elements of a local magazine to life – a great idea for all artistic communities to emulate.
But it was Michael’s Canadian Week that inspired me to do an American Week. Which is why he is the official kick-off. (Thanks for yesterday’s introduction from one of my favourite Canadian writers, Alan W. Davidson - how much fun is he?)
As always, Michael put a lot of thought into his love letter-styled essay into what it means to be American.
“For all the ills that America has, it is still a splendiferous place to chase your dreams, live your life and enjoy so many fabulous things,” he says. “We are used to bitching and we need to stop and take notice of all the great things that we have at our fingertips.”
When it came time to work with Michael’s photo, I chose to combine his picture with a famous black and white photo of bluesman B.B. King because he mentioned a place in his essay called Kingston Mines, something I’d never heard of but was immediately transfixed by.
“Kingston Mines is a huge Blues bar,” he explains. “They feature national and international blues bands on two huge stages in separate rooms. During the week, when it is not too crowded, two different bands play in alternating rooms so you just move from one side to the next as they finish their sets. The people there are from all over the U.S. and the world, especially Germany, which seems to have many blues fans.
“What are the blues? As a white man I’m not sure I can adequately answer that but American blues are derived from a mix of gospel and old time Negro spirituals, and folk music from early African Americans. Called the Blues, as they represented the blue, or tough life these people led, the songs usually tell of hard times of one sort or another.
“Of course, this has all evolved over time to a unique art form that is today. Many parts of the country have ‘regional’ sounds and Chicago has, in my humble opinion, the best of it all.”
When he’s not hanging at Kingston Mines, you’ll likely find Michael listening to Latin jazz, opera and classical music. When asked what is artists are quintessentially American he cites John Cougar Mellencamp and Bruce Springsteen. “Born in the USA is a classic,” he says.
And when it comes to American literature, Michael is quick to point out his favourite.
“I’ve said many times before An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser is my favourite book of all time. I re-read it every year,” he says. “It speaks to the hope of what can be and the tragedy of failure, greed and corruption in the pursuit of more than any one should have.”

Michael & Harriet, his "sweetie," 
play tourists in the Great American Smokies, 
Chattahoochee National Forest.

Home is Where My Hat Is
By Michael J. Solender

Not all Americans are loud, boorish and ethnocentric.
A few states-dwellers have ventured far-afield from the good ole-U.S. of A. and found that faster, cheaper and bigger wasn’t necessarily better. Those who care to look beyond the amber waves of grain can find much to enjoy right here on the same continent and home soil of both America’s neighbors to the north and south of our very permeable border.
My passport says I’ve been to some thirty different sovereign nations in my fifty-two years on the planet.
The wonders of the Himalayas welcomed me as warmly as the people I visited in Bhutan. A more scenic drive than the Cabot Trail on Cape Breton does not exist. The epicurean delights that Paris, Madrid and Lisbon offered were heaven on a plate to be sure. What can possibly rival London Theater and experiencing the Tokyo Fish market is a joy like I have never known 
No matter these foreign wonders, for after I’ve been too long away from the states, I start to pine for America.
I miss the ever independent streak that is our birthright. I Jones for the uniquely American blues that I can hear only on stage at Kingston Mines in Chicago. I can’t go too long without walking across Delancey street in NYC and realizing my Granny and hers too once occupied tenement buildings that now house trendy retailers and shops.
I yearn for the spirited but polite political discourse that happens far from partisan TV talking heads and is best debated at softball fields with parents of opposing fields. I can’t go a year without Fourth of July and the pops concerts that play the Sousa marching band tunes that make me feel patriotic and all squishy about being an American.
I never forget my first peek over the south rim of the Grand Canyon and the realization that the American West is like no other place on the planet.
With all our warts and troubles, and believe me America has plenty of each; it still is a fine place to hang one’s hat. I travel overseas much more than the average bear and am quite sorry to admit that I often I get embarrassed at my American brethren and their lack of respect for other cultures.
Never do I feel that America and our culture or society is “better” than another I may visit. I do feel, however that in spite of its ills, there is no place I’d rather be.
Sweet land of liberty, land that I love.

Thanks, Michael. This one's for you:


  1. That was a touching essay and tribute to being an American.

    Cathy, BB King was a good choice for MJ Solender. I enjoyed your tribute to Mike as much as I enjoyed Mike's writings.

    This is a wicked good week in Muskoka!

  2. Awe, well said, Michael! I'm completely jealous of your travels, but I'd have to agree with you on the fact this is a great place to come home to.

  3. Michael sure does know his motherland... And I am jealous of your travels as well, Michael...

  4. Great essay, Michael. I've always thought that to better appreciate the joys of one's country they should travel abroad a bit to compare.

    And Cathy, nice tie-in with BB King.

  5. What Alan said. Beautiful essay, Michael. Seeing the world is exciting but there really is no place like home. It's easy to forget just what treasures lie right under your own feet.

  6. I'm not often at a loss for words but this is really too much, quick, some one throw some cold water at my head, it has swelled so big, I can't get it through the door!! Thanks for the kind words Cathy and all the nice comments everyone, for me The Thrill is NEVER gone!!!

  7. Lol. I never read the Not, sorry to say. I barely keep up with my blog list, but if that's the sort of thing going on over there I may just have to check it out.

    I loved the bit about tenement buildings being used as shops. So true...and a great visual.


  8. Yes, Michael, this essay is a lovely tribute. I, too, love to travel abroad and have spent many happy times when I do.

    It also is quite lovely to tap my shoes three times and intone, "there's no place like home." :)

  9. Thank you Cathy. It's good to have Michael fleshed out like this. And Michael: I'm so so jealous of your travels too. We have so much to be thankful for as Americans. And yeah, "An American Tragedy" is a great book.

  10. Once in a blue moon we are blessed to cross paths with a true renaissance man like Michael Solender. I thank God I know him and we call each other "writer friend."

  11. Michael is truly an amazing person and I love the NOT. Every non-ethnocentric American needs to be cheered. Next time you travel, Michael, please include me in your suitcase, will ya?

  12. Great to get to know Michael better, and enjoyed the truly true commentary as well.


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