Raw Literature: Meet My Other Half

Written by Charli Mills

Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, makes literary art accessible at CarrotRanch.com. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and women forgotten to history.

February 20, 2018

By Juliet Nubel

Until last autumn, I honestly thought I knew who I was and where I was going. As an aspiring writer in any case. The complexities of my childish fifty-something brain have never quite been sorted out, but at least I have always known what I want to write. I want to write words which obtain a smile, a smirk, a quick snort or a long hoot. I want to fill my pages with hahahas and heeheehees. I want to be the Chuckle Queen who refuses to take herself seriously either in the flesh or on paper, filling the air and the screen with a silly, feathery lightness which reflects my desire to float through life towards infinity and beyond, laughing all the way.

That was always the plan anyway, from the young age of seven when my school notebooks were filled with funny anecdotes and badly drawn three-legged dogs. The aim to amuse continued to sweep through my long teenage letters scrawled to friends, describing trips and tribulations during the badly-permed eighties. And it has always been the undercurrent at my blog OMG I’m fifty! — a purely self-indulgent, observational space which I like to describe as a mishmash of moments in the life of a very ordinary fifty-ish wife, mother, daughter, sister, and wannabe writer. Most of those moments have made me laugh in some way or other and have hopefully got a snigger or three from readers along the way. And really that was my only goal. Nothing more, nothing less. A simple need to make people laugh in this big, grey, ugly world ruled by outstandingly strange, angry and ugly people.

But that was then. What happened in October 2017 has somewhat changed that plan. That was when I seriously bumped into Sarah Brentyn. We had already rubbed shoulders at her blogs Lemon Shark and Lemon Shark Reef and I am a great admirer of her style and tone. But this time she was asking for help. How could I refuse? So I wrote a piece, only fifty words long, to help victims of the hurricanes which had just swept through the Caribbean. Sarah had offered to put forward one dollar for every piece she received, and although this type of writing was extremely far-removed from what I normally do, I accepted and posted this on my site:

Her face in my lap was the colour of ash. Pain-darkened eyes pleaded with mine.

“Will they be able to fix it quickly?”

“Of course they will”, I lied. “They’re on their way.”

My eyes smiled down at hers, carefully avoiding looking at the tiny arm, broken in two.

The process was hard. Fifty words is nothing. How could I create any kind of emotion in so few syllables? So I cut and cut until I was pleased with my tiny little flash. Based on a real moment spent with a young girl who had just fallen from her pony, I wanted to convey the worry and pain she was feeling and my forced, fake optimism that everything would be just fine. What I didn’t know then was that it would be the first of many flashes. That the little flash bug had just bitten me, slipped under my skin and would make me scratch and scratch at its itchy presence for the weeks and months to come.

Sarah then directed me to the Ranch Rodeo right here which I entered on five separate occasions and, to my surprise, gained a second-equal place in Irene Waters’ Scars contest with this short story:

Linea Nigra

She slipped out of her school uniform and into the scorching bath. The heat turned her pale skin a bright shade of pink which would have been unbearable a few months earlier. Now she needed that hot water running over her body. It helped the ache in her breasts. But it did nothing to relieve the throbbing pain in her empty heart and abdomen. And even less to remove the dark brown line running from her navel to her pubis – the mark of her mistake, which she scrubbed daily, hard and fast, without success. She was branded for life.

His tongue made its way down that fine brown line to reach more interesting parts of her naked body. Had he never noticed it or perhaps just never mentioned it? As his face came back to hers, he whispered the words he’d been saying for the last five years.

“Let’s keep trying.”

He wanted this more than anything. She did too. But how could she tell him that maybe she had only had the one chance? That any hope of a second chance had been thrown away the day she had given away her baby, all those years ago.

Where that piece came from is a mystery to me. It took me to places in my story-telling brain that had never been entered before. Painful places — sheer, rocky-edged cliffs I had to ascend; long, low, winding tunnels I had to crawl along on my naked belly to rip the right words from the deepest recesses of dripping caves. I was right there with that young girl scrubbing at her scar in the scorching bath. And I think the judge who picked me, Angie Oakley, knew that I was there too. Next came a sharp, murderous piece for Sherri Matthews’ prompt, and a very TUFF father-son story for the finale. They all took me to a level of writing I had never experienced before. The shift in style was perturbing, surprising, but exciting too.

When the Rodeo was over, I immediately started following Charli’s weekly challenges, Thursday now becoming my favourite day of the week. As soon as the post and the prompt have been read, I start thinking. Sometimes inspiration comes fast, sometimes I mull. But I haven’t missed a single one since November and probably never will. I am addicted to the effort they demand and the pleasure they procure. And the feedback from the other writers is a precious gift.

But I rarely share these little stories on my own blog. Why? I’m having trouble trying to explain it, even to myself. Maybe because some of them are so unlike the chatty, bubbly persona I like to portray there. Am I afraid of strange looks from family and friends who do not see me as this type of writer? Or do I hold onto a firm denial of the fact that I don’t always have to be funny or smart-arsed or droll? That I can have another side to my writing which may be bleak and sad, or shocking and odd. That there is a distinct, imaginative part of me which I have always refused to acknowledge and possibly even accept.

But whatever it is that has been holding me back is beginning to ebb away. I am starting to realise that I can be made up of two distinct halves. That writing is much more than just black or white, it is a multi-faceted occupation which allows us to shine through many different keyholes. That I can allow myself to start working on a collection of short tales which spring from dark inner places, and at the same time dream of finally finishing my comical book about my miraculously long marriage. The two are wildly different yet ultimately they are compatible. Why choose just one half when the other is well and truly present? 

So if we ever have the pleasure of meeting, and you care to ask me “Will the real Juliet Nubel, please stand up?” both halves of my writing-self will slowly rise, merge into one, and firmly shake your hand. There may be a cheeky sparkle in my eye, but if you look deeper, you will see that the glint comes from a roughly hewn block of granite. The one where I sharpen my penknife each week at the Ranch.

About Juliet Nubel

Juliet is the author of the blog omgimfifty.com She was born and bred in Glasgow, Scotland then studied social anthropology (don’t ask) at St Andrews University, long before Will and Kate had even heard of the place. Love brought her to France then took her to Miami and Barbados for three years before bringing her ‘home’ to Angers, a beautiful French city where she now lives with Hubby and their two daughters. She works full time in an English language school but for the rest and best part of her time, she can be found writing on her pet iPad in their favourite leather armchair. She uses blogging, and more recently flash fiction, as her training ground for that book she keeps planning on finishing. She is also a regular contributor to the British website fabafterfifty.co.uk  under her maiden name Juliet Young.

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Raw Literature posts as an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99-word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

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51 Comments

  1. Charli Mills

    Thank you for sharing your writing journey thus far, Juliet! I’m glad you have a place at the Ranch to explore your other half. I enjoyed learning that you have chased humor across the page since you were a child! Keep sharpening that penknife!

  2. Juliet

    Thanks, Charli. And thank you for having me over here to share my thoughts!

  3. Annecdotist

    Lovely post, Juliet. It’s great that queen-of-flash Sarah Brentyn brought you to the ranch and introduced you to that hitherto silent part of yourself. I’ve been journeying the other way lately, from a very ‘serious’ writer to using much more humour. But I think we need both. Hope you continue to enjoy what your other half brings.

    • Juliet

      Thanks, Anne. Yes, I think we need both too, but maybe slightly bigger doses of humour for me. And I am enjoying what my other half keeps bringing. She’s full of surprises!

    • Charli Mills

      I think we need both, too, Ann.

  4. samfiftysomething

    Really enjoyed reading about your journey into your writing world. This was beautifully written ????

    • Charli Mills

      Thanks for stopping by the Ranch, Sam!

    • Juliet

      Hi Sam! Thanks for reading and for your kind comment.

  5. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Dang. That raw lit essay is well done. It’s funny that the bright and cheery ranch is home to your dark side. You are wise to follow the prompts where ever they lead. Two sides will keep you from writing in circles.

    • Juliet

      Thanks D. Yeah, strange that the cosy Ranch turns me into a much darker writer. Glad you enjoyed this essay anyway. See you soon at the challenge.

      • Charli Mills

        The bright and cheery ranch welcomes the truths writers find while chasing after each prompt.

  6. TanGental

    Hi Juliet
    Good to see you’ve succumbed to the addiction of Carrot Flashing – is that a thing? A vegetable with exposure issues? I digress. As someone who followed a coat tail here – in my case Anne of the comment above – a couple of years before you – I too understand the dilemma. Who am I revealing in my flash and is it the person I think of in ‘real’ life. The truth I’m all and none of it and that’s because, for me, this spot stimulates my imagination like no other. I now have tried every genre in my short pieces that I can think of (and some I didn’t know existed). I guess you know the answer which is keep trying. It led me to setting a silly challenge for myself which w s to write a short story a day in November as a sort of nano thing; and that led to a book. So who knows where it’ll take you. It’ll be fun finding out!

    • Juliet

      Hi Geoff, thanks for commenting. Yep, I’m definitely a Carrot Flasher too. I would never have imagined that I would succumb to this addiction. And you’re right, who knows where it will take me? Have a lovely (rainy?) day.

      • TanGental

        Yep rainy .. but it’s February and it’s England so what did I expect..!

    • Charli Mills

      Carrot flashing! Perhaps that’s code for “keep trying.” Oh, the carrots we will discover!

      • TanGental

        Yes there are many analogies around straight Carrot growing and avoiding carrot fly and what you can do with carrot tops….

  7. calmkate

    great writing Juliet, complete that book!

    • Juliet

      Thanks! I’ll try, I’ll try…I just need to stop faffing around doing other much more mundane stuff. But thanks for the encouragement, Kate. I appreciate it.

    • Charli Mills

      Writing is a wonderful process and journey and keeps us sane with the mundane daily tasks.

      • calmkate

        yes, gives us purpose!

  8. Jules

    We all have many facets. Like jewels… and in some gems the flaws are what make the gem unique, like opals (me?). I had always thought of myself as a very private poet… until blogging. Though I still use the nom-de-plume as JulesPaige… because words are like jewels on a page. Then I found flash fiction. So I can relate very much to the two sides (though perhaps sometimes there are even more…) – in an attempt to be organized I have three blogs!

    It is wonderful to hear your confidence and exuberance! While I’ve only gotten some sporadic notice in the ‘real world’ – The Lead Buckaroo and the Buckaroo Nation at the ranch continue to inspire me to ‘ride’ and ‘ride hard’ to get to those places I only imagined…

    Best to your both halves and the whole of you that loves to write and continues to grace the Ranch. Cheers, Jules

    • Juliet

      Thank you Jules for this lovely comment. We are indeed all jewels shining at the Ranch. All of me appreciates very much your encouragement and support. See you for the next flash challenge. Go Buckaroo Nation!

      • Charli Mills

        The Buckaroo Nation glitters with all the writing gems and writer jewels. 🙂

  9. Ann Edall-Robson

    They say rodeo gets in your blood. In the real sense of the word, it does and I know first hand the urge you get to keep going down the road. Writing does the same thing. Once you get a taste of it, you must have more and what better place to feed the need than at the Ranch.

    Your eloquent words come to us with a conviction that you know what you want and you are taking it. Your blog is a delight to read and I have to agree with Kate, finish the book.

    • Juliet

      Ann, thank you so much for your kind words. You’re right, the Ranch feeds my new addictive need to write short flashy snippets which convey some kind of sense in only 99 words. I honestly didn’t think I could do it. But I’m loving it. Thanks for taking a peek at my blog. And I really will try to get going on the book, I promise.

    • Charli Mills

      Ann, you know all about the Rodeo blood! And writing is similar — the gold in the buckle we’ll win next round.

  10. Liz H

    In the words of Lord Byron (Don Juan):
    And if I laugh at any mortal thing,
    ‘T is that I may not weep; and if I weep,
    ‘T is that our nature cannot always bring
    Itself to apathy, for we must steep
    Our hearts first in the depths of Lethe’s spring,
    Ere what we least wish to behold will sleep:

    In the words of Smoky Robinson:
    Now they’re some sad things known to man
    But ain’t too much sadder than
    The tears of a clown when there’s no one around,

    Me? I’m lucky, my family are a bunch of Luddites…they avoid going online, so my secrets are safe…Lol!

    Letting others see our less-jovial self takes a lot of trust. Glad you find it at the Ranch. <3

    • Charli Mills

      A nice collection of sage words. Liz.

  11. Juliet

    What a comment, Liz! I love it. Thank you for sharing Lord Byron and Smoky Robinson’s words of wisdom. What is strange is the fact that I didn’t even know I had a less jovial side. I just thought I was a Jolly Juliet through and through. The Ranch certainly lets me be a whole other type of writer. Happy flashing 🙂

  12. Chelsea Owens

    I love reading your flash pieces! Thanks for the intro, so I can follow your blog. 🙂

  13. Juliet

    Thanks Chelsea! Welcome to my silly little world. ????

  14. susansleggs

    Juliet, nice to get to know you better. I too have been bitten by the flash bug. I think it’s an honor to hang with others who know humor, sadness, and the edge. Thanks for sharing with us.

    • Juliet

      Hi Susan, thanks for commenting. That little flash bug will keep us scratching together here at the Ranch. I’m honored to meet you too.

  15. franklparker

    Indeed, it was a pleasure to be introduced to your ‘other half’. All power to your writing elbow; that was a beautifully written essay, demonstrating your growth as a writer.

    • Juliet

      Hi Frank! Thank you so much for your lovely comment. I’m keeping that elbow greased ???? See you soon somewhere in Blogland. Did you get your grass cut?

      • franklparker

        Cut the grass yesterday – a very light trim. Washed the outside of the windows this afternoon early. It clouded over later = which should mean there will not be a frost tonight!

      • Juliet

        Well done. Spring has sprung in Ireland!

  16. Gloria

    Hi Juliet. Nice to discover you! I’ve recently turned fifty and it’s absolutely fabulous! I’ve just been over on your blog and I think we could get along mighty fine.
    My blog is quite serious – holistic health matters – and I felt it wasn’t an appropriate space for me to be a bit silly and creative with my writing. I like writing about serious matters but the fun part of me felt like it was missing out. So….I started a second blog where my alter ego Tasheenga, can be as creative as she wants to be. I can put all sorts of writing there because there isn’t really a theme to follow. Just Tasheenga making up stories, most of which are based on true experiences.
    So yes, I understand where you’re coming from by wanting to keep your fun writing separate from your serious stuff! I’m trying to commit to writing flash fiction because I find it helps with creativity and it’s a lot of fun. Also, INSTANT GRATIFICATION!!

    • Charli Mills

      Tasheenga is welcome to join us in the play we call flash fiction! 😉

  17. Juliet

    Hi Gloria, thanks for dropping by my blog and following. Much appreciated! I think if ever I want to share my darker flashing side I may have to create a second blog too. I could find myself a cool alter ego like you. Now I’m probably going to spend the rest of the afternoon looking for a name for her 🙂 Have a great day wherever you may be.

  18. Robert Matthew Goldstein

    That’s some powerful writing. You have a strong voice.

    • Juliet

      Thanks Robert. I appreciate your comment.

      • Juliet

        Thank you so much!

  19. wanderersjunkyard

    Really a goodpiece of read. Powerful writing.

    • Juliet

      Thanks!

  20. Irene Waters 19 Writer Memoirist

    I’m glad Sarah, the rodeo and the Ranch have led to you finding more voices than you knew you had Juliet. It is exciting finding a voice in different genres that you are unfamiliar with. It is one of the reasons that I, too, love writing at the Ranch. Look forward to reading more of your work.

  21. Juliet

    Thanks, Irene! See you over there. ????

  22. Sherri Matthews

    Love this: ‘…That writing is much more than just black or white, it is a multi-faceted occupation which allows us to shine through many different keyholes…’ It is a wonderful thing to discover a brand new identity through writing isn’t it? Always memoir for me, I could not imagine writing fiction of any kind. Then I met Charli and like you, discovered a different side and style to my writing, the rest is…well, you know 😉 Wonderful Raw Lit post Juliet, great getting to know you better and I look forward to reading more of you. And I’ll join you in the fab fifty club if that’s ok 🙂

    • Juliet

      Hi again Sherri. Thank you for this lovely comment. You’re so welcome in the fab fifty club. A great place to be!

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