Pure gold bursts beneath the rainbow. Legends tell us the leprechaun hides his pot of it there. When the rainbow lights up after a storm on the Camas Prairie in Idaho, fields of canola-blooms illuminate like treasure. But one can never truly catch a rainbow, thus the leprechaun knows his hoard is safe. And sometimes we can’t predict what a rainbow will bring to light.
Whatever it is, we know it will be spectacular to behold.
That’s how I feel about the weekly compilations at Carrot Ranch. The rainbow, an apt symbol of diversity, represents all the writers who gather here to write stories of 99 words. The gold is what we produce as a whole each week. I don’t tire of the surprise week after week in witnessing how a diverse group of writers from around the globe can present so many different creative angles to a single prompt.
From different countries, different -isms of English language, different generations, different orientations, different gender perspectives, different experiences, different genres, different writing goals, we gather on the common ground that is a flash fiction challenge. And each prompt delivers a new rainbow over a pot of gold.
However, we do not discuss our differences. Instead we express and create. We show each other respect and support in our expressions. There is no right or wrong way to respond to a flash fiction once the constraint (99 words) is met. This is why I often encourage those who feel they wandered away from the intention of the prompt. Actually, it’s only intention is to spark an idea and there’s no judgement on that idea. In the end, we embrace the differences as a whole each week.
Wouldn’t it truly be a magical world — a place beyond rainbows and unicorns — where we could come together, embracing our differences and expressing our stories?
Often, being different is dangerous. We’d like to think that in a modern society we are tolerant and accepting. And many of us are. Yet cultural norms can have invisible strongholds on us. There’s a popular saying, “No child is born a racist,” and it reflects the power of influence on young lives to hate what is perceived as different. As teens, many rebel only to find out how far their culture or family will allow.
What a difficult cultural cycle to break.
When do we start to see ourselves as other? Does it cause panic, an overwhelming need to conform? Or does it cause rebellion, a need to embrace the true self? When do we understand our identities or are we always evolving?
Recently I read an article about a man from South America who is an extraordinary theater director and he lives here in northern Idaho. His path to his art is fascinating, especially given his diversity (Hispanic immigrant). He stated how as a boy, he never saw MacGyver (a popular US television series and character in the ’80s) as white. He saw himself as MacGyver.
A local news station aired an interview with an articulate senior student from a nearby high school. Ava Sherifi, recently gave a Martin Luther King Day speech about acceptance. She spoke about that moment at age nine-years-old when a friend made her realize that she was somehow “other.” It was life-changing, and she’s an amazing young woman to use it as a catalyst to educate her peers and community.
Last March, I traveled to LA to attend BinderCon, a professional development conference for women and gender non-conforming writers. The diversity of women was firmly rooted in a determined approach to writing as a profession, tackling difficult gender issues, including sexual violence and unfair economic disparities. One of the most inspiring workshops I attended was called, “Writing the Other.” It was all about what we see here at Carrot Ranch — writing the beauty and complexities of the world. The panelists advised, “to write characters, not colors.” In other words, create a “who” and not a “what.”
Further, I believe in encouraging those marginalized to find voice through writing. It’s why I continue to support Out of the Binders as a volunteer in my region. We need #morediversebooks, which requires more diverse writers and diverse characters in writing. On March 19 and 20, I’ll be hosting a live-stream viewing event in Missoula, Montana. I won’t be going to LA this year; I’ll be bringing LA to my region. Missoula has a vibrant writing community through several fine organizations, including HALA, Montana Book Festival and Shakespeare & Co. The biggest boost in getting this going has come from writers who had spoke last year at BookFest on a panel, called Queer Women Write the West. We make a fabulous team!
How boring it would be not to connect with others who are different. We need rainbows. We need diversity.
Early in my contemplation of Rock Creek, a historical novel from the perspective of women history diminished, I wondered if Sarah and Nancy Jane had a deeper relationship. As the story and characters blossomed like canola in my imagination, it didn’t fit. Nor did it fit any existing historical information on either woman. They were both unconventional in different ways — Sarah was a bookkeeper and a daydreamer, whereas all we know of Nancy Jane was that she was the daughter of a carpenter who lived among the freighters, buffalo hunters and traders of the wild prairies. Mary McCanles was more traditional, upholding her expected role as wife and mother, yet she was brave enough to stay in Nebraska Territory after tragedy struck.
Another character who has captivated my imagination (thanks to Sacha Black’s Writinspirations), is a physically strong German-American woman who works as a logger in the early 1920s Inland Pacific Northwest). Jen is doing a man’s job in an era when women have barely achieved the right to vote. I expect much backlash against her but she’s had a friend of sorts show up, another German-American. Wolfric has recently returned from WWI and has a private life. Both are on the fringe of society. Through these characters, I’m exploring my own gender beliefs and pondering. Growing up, I saw that boys and men got to do all the things I wanted to do. What does that mean to me now?
But enough cheating on my WIP.
Like women around the world, Sarah, Nancy Jane, Mary and Jen are each a “who” and diverse in subtle ways. Truly, we all are other. Some embrace it and some fear it. Regardless, we all have a voice by which we can explore what it means.
February 17, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story of a character who is diverse. Who is this person? Does this character know, accept or reject being perceived as different? As writers, consider how we break stereotypes. Tell you own story of “otherness” if you feel compelled. Or, select a story of diversity, such as rainbows revealing gold. How is diversity needed? How is your character needed?
Respond by February 23, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Not All Women Cook by Charli Mills
Sarah stood, attending a pot of hearth stew. Mary rocked baby Charles in her arms, content not to help. Cobb leaned in the doorframe, watching his kids pick wildflowers. Sarah acknowledged it would be a happy gathering if it weren’t for the irony of her cooking. Her, the former mistress. Cobb wanted peace between Mary and Sarah to end rumors of marital dissent. Thus he declared each woman would host dinner once a week. Except he failed to recall Sarah didn’t cook. Mary remembered and smirked while Sarah stirred.
Later, Sarah would thank her new friend for providing dinner.