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December 17 Flash Fiction Challenge

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Carrot Ranch Flash FictionTiny drops splatter against my face, and I’m not sure if it’s snow or rain. I look across the pasture and see a smattering of white flakes. Nothing accumulates. Perhaps on the mountain ridge the snow is sticking, but the clouds are so low, gray and dense I can’t see the ridge. It’s mid-day and the light is fogged. Blue skies do not exist in northern Idaho when the sun rolls across the southern horizon like one headlight off in the distance.

Each snap of twig cracks loudly in the silence and gloves protect my hands from the jagged edges of the branches. Dried moss falls gently into yellowed grass. It’s all flammable so I gather what I can. I’m dismantling the massive pine limbs, twig by twig. Three crashed to the ground from fifty feet above in a windstorm last spring. Dead and dry, these branches give the gift of kindling.

What is it about common work? Washing dishes or gathering kindling, feeding a barn cat or collecting eggs? It’s just chores, monotonous and unending if you cook or tend critters. Yet, outside in this spitting snow, snapping apart limbs as if I were re-making a Lego star-ship, I feel whole and grounded. I feel connected.

We all want to feel connected, to feel that our voice matters in the constant chatter of social media, to feel as if we have something to say, something to hear, something to learn. Outside, I’m a part of the great expanse, I’m one with the snow, I’m taking what was given and I’m going to light a fire and give warmth to my home. I want to write fully connected.

Perfection.

It’s a word that jars my senses. Perfection once ruled my life, yet never have I been a perfectionist. It was my father. He sought perfection as a shield to protect the family from the shame of what it was. Incest and perfection are cruelly melded in my mind. I escaped the one only to be dogged by the other. Perfection was harder to shake.

Maybe it was because my father tried so hard to polish the family image and it was done so out of fear, that perfectionism gives me hives. Right along my jawline. I panic, thinking I’ve failed. What have I failed? Well, nothing, really, it’s just that perfectionism was a measure of failure and failure was unacceptable.

Like the time the principal approached my father at a volunteer fire department meeting. Seems that some parents had complained to him about their daughter getting bullied at school. He told my father to go home and talk to me. In my father’s eyes, I failed so tremendously because I broke the image of a perfect family. I brought attention to the family. Never put the family in the spotlight. Never fail at anything.

Thus I was grounded for over a month. Yelled at, lectured and berated. Never once did it occur to my father that I was being bullied, too. Not that it really would have mattered to him. It was the breaking of that almighty image he wanted us to have publicly that mattered. His ideas of perfectionism ran from how I acted to how I looked.

Was it the isolation that taught me to connect with falling snow and internalize my thinking, deepen my capacity for imagination? Or was it the humbling that made it difficult for me to ever belittle another human being? As an adult, I recognize what a fearful man my father was. So fearful that he demanded perfection at any cost.

Trying to achieve it never worked out, but did teach me the value of high standards. Tempered with the grace I learned about excellence, which is never perfect but often simple and elegant. Like the bare-bones writing of flash fiction prose. I also learned to connect with people and honor who they are, especially those willing to be vulnerable in their search and definition of self. Bullies, deniers and critical perfectionists, I avoid. Long ago, I learned that a generous life is more fulfilling than a perfect one.

Writers are, for the most part, a self-aware lot. We write to discover who we are and what we have to say. We read and learn from others and redefine ourselves and our thoughts every time we write. To connect with writers is amazing. It mutually fires our creativity. In response, we are generous to one another.

Yet, I see my father’s shadow in the writing world, too. Perfectionists so embittered by what they think is failure, they lash out. Bullies on Good Reads, trolls beneath blog bridges, authors kicking other authors. Writing coach, Daphne Gray-Grant, got me thinking about perfectionism and generosity in a recent post. She states that we can fight perfectionism with generosity. I agree. It’s been a life-long lesson for me. Yet when I shared with her the generosity of the writers who gather at Carrot Ranch, she said it was a “rare group.”

Well, you are indeed rare gems! Your generous reading, writing and thoughtful comments are appreciated by me and your fellows. We can create connections through our writing and we can encourage each other in a past-time or career that challenges us to break through perfection to embrace art. To see it, to feel it, to create it. To write feeling fully alive and actualized.

If you battle perfectionism in your writing, strangle it with a cord of Christmas lights and be generous to yourself as you navigate the often bumpy writer’s road. Perfection is often boring, anyhow. Sure, your commas go where they should, and all your words are spelled correctly, but does your writing crackle with energy that comes from who you are? Do your best. Be real. Learn. And try again. It’s art; be messy.

Rare gems, it is! Let’s see what discoveries this prompt leads us too.

December 17, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about rare gems. It can be treasure, rough or twinkling, an object, place or person. Go on an adventure, let you imagination fly and kick perfectionism to the curb. You are in pursuit of something greater!

Respond by December 23 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here.

***

The Climb by Charli Mills

The first ascent was roughest. Splintered rocks rusty with lichen sliced through Hank’s gloves a dozen times. He worried about cutting his nylon ropes on crags fractured by falling boulders, ice heaves and thaw cycles. His pack hindered him, but Hank needed the essentials—dehydrated protein, shelter, dry layers. The higher he climbed, the thinner the air, the harder to breathe. Across the vast chasm of ruined mountains, Hank regarded the battle smoke. One side blasted anti-aircraft cannons; the other lobbed homemade bombs. He was searching for Afghan black tourmaline reputed to absorb the world’s adversity. On he climbed.

###


65 Comments

  1. […] piece was inspired by the Carrot Ranch prompt about perfectionism.  Although when I re-read the prompt, it is not to write about perfection at […]

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  2. Sarah says:

    Charli, you have so many great prompts in there–mundane tasks, perfectionism, and the one you used, rare gems! I sat down to write separate from reading your post, and remembered the prompt wrong, so I wrote about perfectionism. But the child herself is a rare gem, so I’m sending you that link anyway. Look for another one later in the week that speaks more to rare gems.

    https://fictionaslife.wordpress.com/2014/12/19/perfect-five/

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  3. Pat Cummings says:

    Charli, here is my “gem”: Return to Origin ( http://goo.gl/gjXTe1 ). Sorry about the need for the back-story. I don’t think it’s essential to get the gist of the 99-word story. I hope.

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    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks for contributing a gem to the treasure chest this week! You’ll discover that many contributors to Carrot Ranch build posts around their stories, even book reviews and lessons. It’s not necessary, but definitely part of the generous spirit that pervades–sharing thoughts, insights and even process. Seems like you’re settling into the groove! 😉

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    • TanGental says:

      Love this one Pat. Great explanation too. I always enjoy the context of these pieces

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  4. What a thought provoking post Charli. There is so much in there to digest that I am going to have to return to read again. I couldn’t help but think of Sarah’s post earlier this week where she struggled with writing what she wanted to write. Your post here provided good guidance. Perfectionism to show an ideal face to the world is something that many do but possibly not to the degree that you talked of, nor to hide a more sinister home-life and you are so right that there is no need for perfectionism and yet writers probably crave it more than many. The Rough Writers of Carrot Ranch are indeed a rare group and it is a real honour to be considered one of them. Followed by a great flash – I really hopes he finds that Afghan black tourmaline. What a wonderful find that would be.
    Okay – thinking cap on and will return hopefully with that elusive rare gem.

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    • Charli Mills says:

      Perfectionism triggers deep emotions for me and I get anxious regarding it. Yet I think that indeed generosity is a way to battle perfectionism. One must learn to be generous to self–to allow for growth, discovery and learning. We often struggle against high standards that can take multiple attempts to achieve. And yes, I’m delighted with each gem that rides as a Rough Writers! I have a huge chunk of black tourmaline from Afghanistan (I’m a rock collector who discovered buying rocks along with picking them up). I used to keep it at my desk at work because I thought it was beautiful, and I had other rocks, too on my desk. One day a visitor gushed over my tourmaline and said that it was so large it could absorb all the negativity in the area. I laughed at the thought, but afterwards, I started to point my rock at negative people in the workplace. 🙂 Imagine one big enough to rid us of war! Rare, indeed.

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  5. Pete says:

    Please disregard the post above. Being an editor is not in my future

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  6. Pete says:

    My Magic Compass

    I have this old compass. It’s dull and dented and the needle is stuck. On the back is a crinkled print of Indian Head Mountain, a fading sunset behind clouds hardly distinguishable from the peeling edges of the sticker.

    To a collector it’s worthless, a trinket from a gift shop that found its way into my grandfather’s pocket. And yet, it works beautifully.

    It navigates my own faded memory, back to when the needle aligned and the picture was clear. It points to those fuzzy moments etched in the wrinkles of my childhood. It’s magic, that compass, pure magic.

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  7. rllafg says:

    The Fishing Boat by Larry LaForge

    Ed whooped; Edna screamed. They both knew what the $10,000 lottery winnings meant.

    Ed had lusted after a 16-foot bass boat, modest by most standards but a yacht to him. “When you win the lottery, dear,” Edna repeated annually at the boat show.

    With winnings in hand, Ed checked his trailer hitch and headed to Bass Boat World.

    Hours later, Edna noticed Ed’s truck was back with nothing in tow.

    Something on the table caught her eye. She opened the card.

    “One rare gem deserves another.”

    A small box contained the diamond ring Ed couldn’t afford 43 years ago.

    *****
    The 100-word version of this story is posted at larrylaforge100words on Flash Fiction Magazine. http://flashfictionmagazine.com/larrylaforge100words/2014/12/20/the-fishing-boat/

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  8. […] response to Charli’s  December 17, 2014 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about rare gems. It can be […]

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  9. Sherri says:

    Oh Charli, what a heartfelt post, written with such depth but then you always write like that. You know I can relate to that curse of perfectionism, and how it starts oh so young…and why. I’m sorry I won’t be able to take part in this week’s prompt but I love your flash. Whatever it takes to get that treasure, right? I’m so grateful for Carrot Ranch and for everyone I’ve met here. Your encouragement of my flash fiction is invaluable, I honestly can’t thank you enough for providing this oasis of kindness, friendship and support that we all share here. I’m hanging up my stirrups for the time being but will soon be galloping right back in, as rough shod as ever along those dusty trails, but full of enthusiasm:-) Happy Christmas Trails Charli, and here’s to a New Year filled with blessings galore. See you soon my friend ❤

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    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words! I’m glad you are taking time off to focus on your family. Those are the moments that matter and they revive us when it’s time to get back in the saddle! I’m so glad that Carrot Ranch can be an oasis for your writing. Flash your words here any time! You’re a terrific writer! See you on the trails soon! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Your FF piece is wonderful, it sends the mind reeling along so many different pathways and possibilities. It is a prompt in itself!
    Perfection is difficult 😦 I understand, having parents who were disappointed with every little unsuccessful attempt at anything on my part, meant I struggled to find the confidence in myself to attempt anything at all, as life went on. I think parents have the greatest and most lasting impact on their children, I still hear my parents’ words replay from situations I have well and truly grown past.
    It’s good to hear that you find the positive in it all; the isolation could definitely have helped your imagination grow!
    On another note, I am back up and running! I have this week’s piece all finished at
    http://loveliterarylife.com/2014/12/21/rare-gem/
    It’s an idea I’ve had floating around in the back of my mind for a while and I’m thinking of elaborating on it; whether that means adding it to my current WIP or in a story of its own, I don’t know.
    I hope you enjoy it 🙂

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    • Charli Mills says:

      Thanks, Rebecca, and I like your idea that a prompt can be a prompt! Perfectionism is a tangled knot, often tied to past memories, emotions and future fears. With each unraveling, though, we can step closer to writing meaningful works, even editing without too much angst. Ha! That’s my new goal–editing without angst. Looking for the positive is like seeking rare gems. It’s worth the journey and discovery. Glad you are back up and running! Also, it’s always exciting when I read that a writer is able to use the prompt to work through or enhance a WIP! Love the clarity of that particular piece and the spark of recognition.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. […] is this week’s response to Charlie’s prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about rare gems. I’d love to know how successful you think I have […]

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  12. Norah says:

    Hi Charli, That’s a great post, as always, with a lot to ponder and mull over. I love your maxim, that a generous life is more fulfilling than a perfect one. It must have been difficult for you growing up with an expectation of perfection. I’m so pleased you have learnt that it’s not the most satisfying of goals. Me – I have never aimed for perfection. I always knew I could never achieve it; but I do like to do a good job and give it my best shot. I like to think I know when good enough is good enough, and when something better would be better.
    Your flash is powerful. I hope Hank finds that black tourmaline, and soon. We really need it, and lots of it!
    Thanks for the opportunity you offer with your flash prompts. Maybe the rough riders you’ve gathered around are all rare gems for their generosity of spirit. Perhaps we gather round because that’s what we see in you.
    I enjoyed writing to this prompt. Here’s my response: http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-mN

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  13. Annecdotist says:

    Charli, if the Rough Writers are rare gems, you are the one who made it happen – your blog sparkles with generosity to and encouragement of other writers. Even more impressive when your upbringing didn’t particularly help you to develop these qualities.
    With a similar background, I lived in fear of “getting it wrong”, something that can still infect my mind in some situations. In a real but tongue-in-cheek way, it even used to be part of my bio:
    http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/about-me.html
    but fortunately I’ve no fears in responding to your prompts!
    Love your post, and the flash, and – somewhat at the eleventh hour – here’s mine:
    http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/annecdotal/if-your-blog-were-to-come-to-life-what-form-would-it-take

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    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you, Anne and you are set among the gems here, too where we can all express the freedom to contradict ourselves! “Getting it wrong” often leads to unexpected discoveries, which has been a continuing life’s lesson for me. Not without discomfort, but we step outside the comfort zone, especially when we write. I love how your bio has evolved and blossomed. 🙂 And no worries on the eleventh hour. You are ahead in time and the snow keeps bumping me offline today. I’m off to read your gem…

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  14. paulamoyer says:

    Imperfect but Beautiful

    By Paula Moyer

    Jean looked at the ad and felt the tug of a vision. A needlepoint. She had not put needle to canvas in over 30 years. But she could just see it, framed, a gift for someone who had passed a milestone. She ordered the kit and began.

    She ran out of yarn. Sigh – who does that skimpy Continental stich anyway?

    She ordered more. Even so, she ran out of red. Again. Substituted pink and orange in a corner with geometric shapes.

    When she brought it home from the framers, she could no longer where the substitution was. Good enough.

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  15. Here’s mine …

    http://wp.me/p4rcRJ-my

    Just in case the link doesn’t work, here’s the flash too:

    Merlin’s Choice

    Tor Anda, the very centre of of this green and pleasant land. The boy whose mother called him Little Hawk kneeled and placed his long-fingered hands dead centre into the shallow dip at the topmost point of the Tor. That was where the magic flowed, the Ent had said. He had also said, “You must learn to be like the leaf and blow in the wind”. The little people said it was a choice, that the magic could only connect if the choice were made. The boy chose.

    Standing there today Merlin knew the power of that choice.

    Happy Christmas, Everyone 🙂

    Brightest Christmas Blessings,
    Tally 🙂

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  16. Georgia Bell says:

    Hey Charli et al. Here’s my attempt this week. Love reading everyone’s take on this.

    She’d found the picture the other day. Rummaging through the box that held keepsakes she mostly forgot were important. She’d studied it for a moment and then tucked it into the pocket of her jeans.
    But later, when the kids were in bed and her husband was watching the game, she poured herself a glass of wine and held it gently between her fingers.
    His smile.
    The way her hair had curled gently around her ears.
    His hand resting on her elbow.
    The look in her eyes. Excitement. Anticipation.
    She exhaled and carefully tore it up into tiny pieces.

    http://georgiabellbooks.blogspot.ca/2014/12/day-six-99-words.html

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  17. […] promised a story with a rare gem as its prompt, and so I have one.  This is, again, from the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction prompt for December 17.  The challenge […]

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  18. Sarah says:

    Charli, I did say I would post another one inspired by your prompt. For a rare gem, I imagined driftwood, although the driftwood didn’t make it anywhere in the story!

    https://fictionaslife.wordpress.com/2014/12/24/one-more-rare-gem/

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