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December 7: Flash Fiction Challenge

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December 7 Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsWe crowd into the lobby, snow nipping at our backs each time a new couple or family enters the oak doors. I wiggle my fingers to diminish the giddiness of a night out to the Calumet Theater. I listen to chatter as people explain who they know in the upcoming performance of Alice in Winterland. One mother laughs when she explains how much green paint her daughter wears as the Grinch. Another confesses how nervous her son is the play Charlie Brown.

It’s a winterland mash-up of familiar American Christmas stories all set to the music and narrative arc of Taichoski’s Nutcracker Ballet. It’s a bit like this take on multiple Christmas songs in one minute:

And all of this creativity in bites to produce one performance also reminds me of the weekly compilation of responses to our flash fiction challenges. It struck me, as I took my seat in the historic gilded and velveted Calumet Theater how much of a ballet mom still resides in my heart, rounding up the stories backstage each week. I want to bring roses to all the writers after a performance.

It’s been too long since I connected with my inner stage-mom. For 15 years I lived in awe of The Nutcracker. Five of those years I eagerly watched from backstage as my eldest daughter and youngest son both performed in a professional ballet troupe from Minneapolis.

Every child in dance dreams of shoes and sugar plum ferries. In ballet, it’s point shoes. After spending $100 on a pair of pink satin slippers with ribbons so fair, my darling daughter would pound the toe-boxes, burn the satin off the point and whip-stitch the ribbons. If it sounds horrific, consider what we writers do to a flash fiction.

We pound stories into sentences, slice words to a perfect 99, and strangle characters with twists so fine.

Between the audience seats and the dancers behind the curtain exists a stage upon which we both suspend belief and let art convey the story. I love dance as much as literary art, but I have no skill for it. I can take classes, just as I learned the craft. But writing is the performance I prefer. I’m content to sit in the audience and watch the dancers.

For years, I helped backstage, learning how to double-pin strands of wayward hair and zip sparking costumes during quick changes. A quick change occurs when a dancer must change costumes for back-to-back dance numbers. My son, one of few boys who even studied classical ballet, was guaranteed to be cast as one of Clara’s brothers and rarely had quick changes in the first half. My daughter danced in the corp, meaning she had numerous changes.

And lucky me, one year I was responsible for the Prince.

The Calumet Theater with its opulence and history reminds me of the Red Wing Theater where The Nutcracker performed on tour. I went with the troupe and taxied my kids to classes, performances, and costume fittings. Each December dreams of sugar plums danced on stage. And then the lights went out.

Children grow up, move on and stage-moms are left with no one to buy roses for or help whip-stitch new ribbons. What a comfort it is to be in a theater again, listening to family chatter, watching former students return for the holidays and sneak backstage to say hello. I sink into my seat, wait for the house lights to dim, knowing that these children performing on stage have received classical ballet instruction from my daughter.

A literary community knows such connectedness, too. I’m stage-mom in the back-wings, watching each of you work at your craft, find joy in the steps and brave the spotlight when it’s your turn to perform. And yet we are a whole, each voice lending to a more powerful dynamic than one alone.

Hold on to that feeling a moment. Two points I want you to own: no matter your solo, no matter your dream and your pain to accomplish it, no matter how many hours you write alone — you are not alone here. Second, we are a part of something bigger, something we call art. And we are champions for literary art, giving voice to unheard stories, even giving voice to the invisible.

If you know some of my journey, you are aware of how I feel about the homeless experience and veteran struggles being invisible among society. They are the unsung songs, the canceled performances, the flash fiction in a journal no one reads. Recently I learned of an organization using another art form to give voice to veterans and their families:

Songwriting With Soldiers operates from a simple principle — pair veterans and active-duty service members with professional songwriters to craft songs about their military experiences.

To me, this is a powerful way to use art to heal, to create empathy for another’s experience, to give voice to those who struggle to articulate that experience. Songwriter, Mary Gauthier, wrote The War After the War (below) with the input from six combat veteran spouses, which is the number of women I share my own experiences with each week. It’s empowering when the invisible are seen and heard.

While I don’t have roses to share with all you who perform on the writing stage at Carrot Ranch, I have a digital gift for the holiday season. If you’ll go to my Canva profile, you can pin or download the Carrot Ranch Seasonal Desktop Wallpaper to add a touch of holiday cheer to your computer. I tried to think of different manifestations like the diversity we have here at the ranch (the squirrels are for the nuts among us who don’t like holiday cheer).

Surrounded by velvet the lights finally go low at the theater. The performance has begun. And I’ll let you get to your own.

December 7, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write that features a performance. You can interpret what is a performance any way the prompt leads you.

Respond by December 12, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published December 13). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Performance Anxiety (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Standing in the darkened wings, Danni stretched her hips. She arched her back, clasping her hands overhead. On the stage, Evelyn prepped the audience.

This was her moment. She couldn’t see faces, just the heavy beam of overhead stage lights. Her professor taught her tricks to overcome performance anxiety when she realized that as an archeologist she’d occasionally have to give public presentations.

The Sandpoint Theater was packed, and Evelyn was already giving introductions. “Without further ado, Dr. Danni Gordon…”

Walking out into the lights, Danni conjured the friendliest face, as if she were performing just for him – Ike.

###

 


97 Comments

  1. […] Source: December 7: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Frank Hubeny says:

    Imagining the face of a loved one seems like a good way to overcome performance anxiety.

    Here is my approach to the performance prompt, but it is not on an official stage.

    ——————

    Holiday Storytelling

    Each year Peter told the grandkids how he killed the monster. They believed him, but children grow up.

    Sylvie was nearly grown-up. She quietly went to Grandma Alice to get the truth, “Did Grandpa really kill a monster?”

    Alice told her, “Your Grandpa’s getting old. He wants you to be happy and so he tells stories. He’s feeling better now but he has protected me from his nightmares for many years. I only know this. What he fought was not exactly what I would call a ‘monster’.”

    “I didn’t think so.”

    “It was the meanest dragon that ever lived.”

    Liked by 12 people

  3. Chris Mills says:

    Escape Artist: Flash Fiction Challenge for December 7

    My husband insists on a dress rehearsal of his escape routine. He was a failure as an illusionist, so he’ll try Houdini’s gig.

    I snap the padlocks. Believe me, it’s an honor. He sinks onto his back in the coffin. As his assistant, I kneel and kiss him, passing a key into his mouth from mine. I lower the lid.

    From the coat closet, I retrieve a suitcase and pause at the front door. The real key lies on the locked lid. I hate to miss the performance, but it will be a long scene before the curtain drops.

    Liked by 12 people

  4. denmaniacs4 says:

    First Performance

    “NO! I WON’T! YOU CAN’T MAKE ME.”

    I still see him, still hear his awful silence. Eyes darting. Like the condemned. Tears desert-dry. The pain is too much for waterworks.

    Nine he was that Christmas. He shot up by thirteen but that year when he was nine, he was a waterless shoot.

    Arrested.

    Pale, as if exposure to the sun would shrivel him.

    He had two lines. “He is a beautiful baby.” And “The donkey is sad.”

    The moment overcame him. He scampered off the stage into his mother’s arms.

    The play, as plays do, went on without him.

    Liked by 12 people

  5. Juliet Nubel says:

    You do bring us roses every week, Charli. Your input and comments, hard work and thought put into these weekly challenges are like a stage-mom’s hug after every performance. Thank you for all of that. I’ll be back later.

    Liked by 8 people

  6. julespaige says:

    I don’t know what a Cavana provile is or how to get there… anyone?

    Public speaking, or even smaller presentations for school… they all can be a tad nerve racking. In one choir I was in we couldn’t be seen, in another – until grew to be too many, we were in a high loft, but then moved to an in your face front section. I’ve done my share – and think that I may never have to do it again. Yet one remembers that one should never say never…

    Anyway – just wanted to put two cents in and Thank You Charli for the music additions. I’ll be back…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. […] December 7: Flash Fiction Challenge December 7, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write that features a performance. You can interpret what is a performance any way the prompt leads you. […]

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  8. julespaige says:

    “In order for the light to shine so brightly, the darkness must be present.”
    Sir Francis Bacon

    CR/ LIGHT; messaging (reverse haibun + two words)

    the cursor blinking
    waits to advance – the curse,
    blessing; advances –

    As the cusser and controller of the keys, the writer walks
    that odd line through. I stand watching the squirrels out the
    window like acrobats unafraid of tree limb heights. Spying
    on the line up of birds taking turns at the feeder. Woodpeckers,
    Junko, Mourning dove, mockingbird… pecker, junk, mourning,
    mocking… is there a secret message from nature? That present
    darkness, swooning like a lost love. As dawn breaks and the
    sky turns a faint blue, who else is looking for the light of the
    bright sun to shine?

    ©JP/dh

    Note: I actually wrote this 12.7 for my daily verse. And I only had to
    add two words. When something fits… use it. Could just be I was
    connected to the prompt before I saw it… I’d like to think that sometimes
    we all can do that – Make a connection to the performance even before
    we see the play…

    Liked by 9 people

  9. Pete says:

    Take Five

    Jan set the cake on the table. She lit candles, grabbed her phone, and pressed record.

    “Happy Birthday, to Logan…Happy birthday, to Lo—”

    Jan popped up. “Tyler, why aren’t you singing?”

    Tyler rolled his eyes. Logan leaned forward, ready for cake, but Jan held out a hand. “No sweetie, not yet. Hang on. Tyler, sing. Avery, smile. Okay, ready? Smile!”

    She pressed record. “Happy Birthday, to you…Happy—”

    Jan cocked her head. “Tyler, try to look happy, so I can post this.”

    “Mom.”

    “Shh. Okay, let’s try again. Smile. Baby, not yet. Okay, ready?” She pressed record.

    “Haaappy….”

    Liked by 8 people

  10. […] For Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge — “Performance” […]

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  11. Juliet Nubel says:

    Hi again,
    I’m back with my story. Which is really my story. I am this mother…

    Ol’ Red Eyes

    ‘Your daughter danced beautifully.’ The other mum stared at my red-rimmed eyes but didn’t mention them.

    ‘Yours too’, I lied.

    I hadn’t noticed her daughter or any of the other girls. I never do. They are all just a blur of pale legs and lacquered hair, moving around the edges of my own beautiful child.

    The tears spring forth whenever she flies onstage. I smile from the heart, but my eyes weep freely from a well, deep within my soul.

    Where that well originates will be a lifelong mystery. Her beauty, her grace?

    Or just pure, undiluted, crystal-clear pride?

    Liked by 7 people

  12. […] If you want to participate, here’s the link:  https://carrotranch.com/2017/12/07/december-7-flash-fiction-challenge/ […]

    Like

  13. Viva la Diva

    “Told ya Pal.”
    “Told me what?”
    “All the world’s a stage.”
    “Yep, s’pose so. Hey, do you dance, Kid?”
    “Jist the can’t-can’t. Why? Hope Shorty’s ain’t plannin’ some sorta ballet here at Carrot Ranch.”
    “Naw, her dancin’ lessons are of the 99 word variety.”
    “Gotta tell ya, Shorty’s a tough act ta follow. Such strong performances every week.”
    “Yep, Shorty’s writin’s a gift.”
    “Pal, ta say that diminishes the fact that Shorty’s sharpened her skills an’ honed her craft through perseverance an’ hard work.”
    “Kid, I meant Shorty’s writin’s a gift ta all us.”
    “Oh. Now I’m readin’ ya.”

    Liked by 5 people

  14. The Show Goes On

    A long running show, predictable; performed live, it could easily go off script, could still surprise the players as well as the audience. She used to enjoy that.
    She was well respected for her roles, yet, despite her experience, her pre-show jitters were getting worse instead of better. Onstage if the tempo slowed at all, she was aware of a persistent anxiety, always ready to prompt her from behind the curtain, whispering to her of her inadequacies.
    “Good morning, how are you?”
    She smiled. “Fine.”
    7:55 A.M.
    She had gotten through her first act, had given a convincing performance.

    Liked by 5 people

  15. […] If you want to participate, here’s the link:  https://carrotranch.com/2017/12/07/december-7-flash-fiction-challenge/ […]

    Like

  16. Hola Charli and the good folks of this community. Here’s my take on the prompt: https://jagahdilmein.wordpress.com/2017/12/09/the-audition/

    Liked by 5 people

  17. […] for Carrot Ranch, December 7, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a flash that features a […]

    Liked by 1 person

  18. […] Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch […]

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  19. Annecdotist says:

    How lovely to progress from assisting your children’s dance performances to watching one that your daughter has enabled. Good vibes passed down through generations!
    Having addressed my own book-promotion performance in a recent post, I thought I’d go back there for my flash. It’s inspired by Yoko Ono’s performance Cut Piece from 1965, although it didn’t come my way until a video at an art gallery about a dozen years ago. I think (I hope) it’s a bit more disturbing than the Christmas show that inspired this prompt.
    Does a ‘first draft’ video reflect badly on my published fiction? http://annegoodwin.weebly.com/1/post/2017/10/does-a-first-draft-video-reflect-badly-on-my-published-fiction.html

    Liked by 5 people

  20. I imagine that there is much grieving that occurs as ones children stretch their wings and fly. I had not thought of the backstage mum as being part of this before but I can now. It must make your heart swell with pride to have watched her on the stage and now to watch on the stage those that she has taught. I’m heading off to consider my own performance – thank you for the wallpaper — a lovely reminder that with the community you have created we can perform knowing that we are not alone. I will return with a flash.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. […] For: December 7: Flash Fiction Challenge […]

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  22. TanGental says:

    Lovely stuff Charli and the respondents (is that a new rock band?) I love the idea of the songs for the military. Have you come across Gareth Malone and the Military Wives? There’s a BBC series about how he formed them and took them to the Royal Albert Hall and a number one hit, even though they were complete amateurs. Very moving stuff.

    Like

  23. […] Carrot Ranch Prompt (12/07/2017): In 99 words (no more, no less) write that features a performance. You can interpret what is a performance any way the prompt leads you. […]

    Like

  24. Liz H says:

    My effort at a grisly smile:

    My Mouth-Watering Performance

    “All I remember,” I pause, heaving a shuddering sigh, “Was walking into the downstairs parlor. It was dark, but I smelled swampland. I stepped in a patch of something wet and my feet flew out from under me.

    “And then I came to and saw your dear face hovering above me,” I grasp his brawny bicep, offering up a shaky smile. “But your fiancée, Melanie, has been…eviscerated.”

    “Murdered by the Swamp Thing!” Lawrence clenches his fists. “I swear I won’t rest until it’s destroyed!”

    “Of course, Dear,” I murmur, picking a strand of swamp grass from my teeth.

    https://huldermn.wordpress.com/2017/12/11/my-mouth-watering-performance/

    Liked by 3 people

  25. Wow! Those rocks inspired me! Thank you, again. Hope you enjoy the performance. https://colleenchesebro.com/2017/12/11/the-gales-of-november-a-haibun-haiku/

    Liked by 2 people

  26. […] 7, 2017, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write what features a performance. You can interpret what is a […]

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