I want to be that woman bold enough to wear buttons as a necklace, or that man who can look cool on a hot summer day in a button-up shirt. We all want our characters to be heroes.
But in books, as in real life, heroes are rarely perfect. Not to mention, if you surveyed the average Jane or Joe or Jane-Joe, you’d likely hear that they don’t think of themselves as a hero.
Collecting the stories of everyday heroes has become a side gig. You see, some senator or US representative removed from the swath of destruction in the Keweenaw wants people to tell him who the local heroes are. He’s right — many people stepped up to demonstrate the Finnish concept of sisu. Like other places hit by disaster before us, we know the word strong. I’m collecting some of those stories.
But we dance around the term hero. It’s ironic that we do because each one of us leads a hero’s journey. It’s life. Maybe we have one life to plow through, one cave that hangs us up, but we all resonate to the hero’s journey. We just don’t want to be called heroes.
When I first developed a veteran presentation to teach combat vets how to see the hero’s journey in their own lives, I had near meltdowns among a group of tough Vietnam vets. They emotionally and physically reacted to the word “hero.” They understood the journey, grasped the concept of the cave, and found the return home with an elixir hopeful.
Just not the hero label.
I’ve since renamed the presentation The Veteran’s Journey. Same cycle, same information based on the research of Joseph Campbell, same story, different term. I’m discovering that the local Copper Country Strong folks shirk the term, too. And the interesting observation is that people all act exactly the way Joseph Campbell tells us the hero does in the beginning — we all deny the call.
Let me explain why I’m so enamored of the hero’s journey as a story-telling format: it’s all about discovery. It’s taking real-life and exploring the mysteries within our own mind to be what we have the potential to be. To live with adventure and compassion. Wrap that up into an external story (plot) and show how the internal story transforms (character) and you will have a format we are all inclined to engage with, read and want to read more.
Joseph Campbell collected mythologies and pointed out that the most told story the world over is the hero’s journey. We get it deep inside. We long to live it. He says:
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
Phil Cousineau is a storyteller, documentary filmmaker, and teacher of creativity. He expands upon Campbell’s insights:
“The journey of the hero is about the courage to seek the depths; the image of creative rebirth; the eternal cycle of change within us; the uncanny discovery that the seeker is the mystery which the seeker seeks to know. The hero journey is a symbol that binds, in the original sense of the word, two distant ideas, the spiritual quest of the ancients with the modern search for identity, always the one, shape-shifting yet marvelously constant story that we find.”
This is what the cycle of the hero’s journey looks like:
The abyss is what I teach as “the cave.” It’s a basic story of refusing a call — accepting a circumstance, swearing off the love interest. We don’t want to be heroes. We want to walk the path laid out, which Campbell notes is not our path. Our path is the one we can’t see, and it’s dark, leading to a cave. No wonder we don’t want to go! We don’t want to pick up the phone when the unknown calls us.
Campbell also assures us that when we accept the challenge, forge the dark path, go our own way, we will have mentors who show up. A hero gains guides. Also, a hero attracts enemies. But forward on the hero marches. It gets crazy, but the hero has left home. Odysseus has sailed. Luke Skywalker left on the Millennium Falcon. Those who came to help the flood and landslide victims can’t turn the truck around mid-stream. Boots on the ground have to complete the mission.
There’s always a cave. Not literally, though it can be. It’s a dark moment when the hero can’t continue without becoming forever changed. No one wants to hang out in the cave forever, but some become afraid to leave its confines — think of depression, anxiety or PTSD in that way. Cave dwelling. It takes great courage to face internal forces and defy external ones. It takes boldness to get off the couch, out of the swamp, across the street.
Push through, and life alters, the hero transforms. The elixir the hero receives is not always the antidote to save the village or the blow that defeats the villain. The elixir can simply be the realization that life is ever-changing. That one’s self is continuing to evolve. The elixir is the power to go on and return home again, renewed.
If you think about it in personal terms, the hero’s journey is messy. Who wants all that trouble when security and clear paths afford a safer route. Ah, but then we miss the potential for who we were meant to be. So we go forth and be awkward. We make mistakes. We fall short of goals. We disappoint and are disappointed.
Without those uncomfortable moments, those difficult seasons, we’d have no idea how powerful a sunset is, or know the inner peace of observing a tadpole in a ray of sunlight on a shoreline. It’s like birth. Everyone tells expectant parents your life will change. It’s like death. We know after the loss it can never be the same. Yet, we gain some inner clarity, we feel more authentically ourselves.
No one wants to answer the call, including your characters. Before you begin your tale about that bold woman in the button necklace or the cool man dapper and tailored, think about who they were before. Or think about the journey yet to come. What if she learns what it is to doubt? What if he’s torn and no longer in control? Poke into the hero’s journey.
And button up for this week’s challenge!
July 5, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons. You can use the word plural or singular in different expressions, or focus on how buttons relate to a story. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by July 10, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
In the Silent Places We Hide (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Danni didn’t want the buttons. They sat in a jar on her shelf by a faded photo. The night Michael accused her of hoarding artifacts, he didn’t mention old buttons. Today, he asked.
“Mom’s,” she answered, looking away, sitting on the floor.
Michael opened the jar and poured them into his hand. “Sacred.”
After he left, the house echoed ghosts – the mother she never knew, Ike’s booming voice, the dogs barking. She smashed that jar, buttons and glass scattering like those she had loved.
Picking up the pieces, button by button, she resolved to quit hiding in the house.
Love your hero thoughts Charli 😍
Thanks, Ritu! The hero’s journey continues to call to me in my exploration of writing.
A great call to action Charli! <3
Wow! What a powerful flash. I’m so pleased to see Danni and Michael again. I’m not sure if Michael is having a dig or actually being respectful. I hadn’t realised Danni didn’t know her mother. Another loss. Not to mention Ike and the dogs. I think Danni is in a cave ready to move on to the better part of her hero’s journey, I hope.
I enjoyed your explanation of the hero’s journey, life, and your description of everyday heroes. I heard a few of such stories during the week. But your talk of caves made me think more of the boys in Thailand trapped in a cave, possibly for months. I hope they come out safely to continue on their own journeys.
Ah, I might have given away too much in this flash, Norah. Michael is abrupt only because, well, 99 words. 😉 How incredible that a group of boys and their coach are trapped in a cave in Thailand. It seems so unreal. The complexity of getting out of the flooded cave reflects the complexities hero’s face, too. It’s never simple. And sometimes you have to go back through the scary passages to get out. In real life, I hope these boys all survive and bring back something to their lives that gives them purpose.
I was relieved that the boys were rescued. I hope they’ll tell their stories how they held on until help reached them.
Miriam, I read in the New York Times that their 25-year-old coach taught them how to meditate while they were trapped.
You can never give away too much in a flash, Charli. 🙂
It’s so good to know the Thai boys all survived. Sad that one of the divers was lost though. A hero’s sacrifice.
That diver was brave to do what needed doing despite the consequence to his life.
Hi Charli, I’m back with my story: Precious as Gold https://wp.me/p3O5Jj-1aX. I’ve had time away from the computer for the last week, so it’s just a story, not a post. That’s probably good for everyone else, but I had so many ideas, just not enough time. I’m behind in reading too, but will do my best to catch up in future weeks. I know everyone will understand. I just don’t like to miss out. 🙂
Norah, I’ so glad you got time away from the computer! Come back as you are, start anew and don’t feel like you have to catch up. It’s wonderful to have your insights, but I’d also like you to go fill your well and come home feeling renewed and not rushed. I know how we busy bees can be! <3
Busy bees – that’s me! Thanks for your understanding, Charli. 🙂
You sure are a powerful writer Charli! I used to work with Vietnam vets and actually set up a “Walk thru Vietnam” workshop where we went through enlistment/ call up, training, arrival, first kill, worst kill, sensations, extraction, return, civie life … but your method sounds far less invasive and just as deep in another way. Invaluable, kudos.
Oh, wow, Kate, what an experience a Walk thru Vietnam must have been! What’s most moving for me is when these vets begin to claim their own stories. And their spouses. One couple I know and have come to love dearly were engaged when he left for Vietnam. He wanted to call off their engagement when he returned home, but she persisted in sticking by him. To hear their stories of how poorly they were treated when they returned is painful. The best words to offer a Vietnam vet are “welcome home.” I think they can find their way out of the cave, and we have much to gain from them.
They have suffered significantly and had shocking treatment on return .. society turned against the war and took it out on them personally 🙁
To hear some of their stories, they explain how that public sentiment was a shock to them. They too were against the war but served. To come home to personal vitriol was like a betrayal. Many have not yet recovered.
I often turn to Joseph Campbell for inspiration. The Hero’s journey is a fundamental part of understanding the inner and outer worlds. I’ll post my offering later.
Yes, Jan! And when we write our stories, our characters are also experiencing both the inner and outer worlds. Thanks!
You hit the nail on the head Charli. Our words are spinning magical things.
Maybe it’s just how this piece hit me or maybe it was supposed to hit just me. But, Charli, this entire intro to the next flash fiction challenge was especially powerful.
Chris, I think the hero’s journey strikes a chord in all of us, but especially in writers who are in tune with character development, plot points, and the courage it takes just to write a book.
[…] via July 5: Flash Fiction Challenge — Carrot Ranch Literary Community […]
I really found a lot of sense in your hero thoughts. I have found, also, that truly courageous people always want to play down their parts. There are so many unsung heroes in this world. They are often the guy or woman on the street who smile at you or help you pick up something you’ve dropped. God bless the quiet heroes.
I also liked the story of the button jar. My mum had a huge button tin I used to love to play with it as a child, many memories of wet afternoons. I wonder who got the button tin. One of my sisters or sister in laws..I was the youngest so it wasn’t me.💜
At one point their where several grand-daughters wanting Grandmother’s button tin. The eldest got it, but was kind enough to put some in a small tin for me. So I have some, plus now some from my MIL and those I find at yard sales and charity shops. 🙂
That’s a lovely result 💜😀
Now you have the expanded version of the button tin!
The quiet heroes, the everyday heroes. They don’t see that they do anything extraordinary, but they answer the call and that sets them on their path. How fun that must have been to play with those buttons! Alas, those items go missing or go to someone else, but you have your warm memories of wet days. That could be a poignant story for you to explore. <3
Yes you are right about the heroes and you are also right about a story it did cross my mind but I was not sure if it was interesting enough . I see the tin now a tall narrow round silver tin . Thank you for your reply.💜
My Mum loved buttons. I’ve written a poem for you this week (the last line brought me up to the required 99 words)
Buttons of every colour,
Size and shape, and holes
Twos and fours or mushrooms,
Lay hidden in the folds.
Mum had always loved them,
Would save them from an old shirt,
Put them on baby matinee coats,
Or extra to hold up her skirt.
Dad would often hug her
And cheekily give her a kiss
Then handing over a button
Say ‘Sew a shirt on this.’
If ever we were naughty,
She’d tell us to button our lip
Amidst threats of the alternative
Of putting in a zip!
God, how I miss them both and their sense of humour.
This is beautiful 🌹
Thanks Willow. A lot of truth in it too, especially Dad asking Mum to sew a shirt on his button!
Yes I can believe that, my Dad used to say things like that too.💜💜
This is a lovely poem.
Thank you. Mum and Dad made a great team
So much love in your poem!
Thank you. I have some wonderful memories of them both.
I love this for so many reasons. Lovely! <3
Hi Colleen. Thanks for commenting. 🙂
Such a lovely poem Di.
Di, your poem brought a sting of tears, feeling the humor and love that emanated from your memories of your parents all put into the button perspective. “Sew a shirt on this,” is funny, yet conveys the kind of humor a loving couple shares. Beautiful poem!
Thanks Charli. My Dad actually said that. Mum and Dad had their us and downs like every couple, but us kids never went without the important things, and there was an awful lot of laughter in our house growing up.
Such a comforting family blanket — love and laughter!
“Buttons ain’t nuthin, without the buttonhole, Kid. Even less without needle an’ thread. Without those, buttons are useless discs, mere baubles. Their usefulness and purpose are dependent on the passage and tension provided by the buttonhole.”
“What’s wrong with baubles? Some folks use buttons as decoration, jewelry even.”
“Same folks keep their pants up with the yin and yang of button and buttonhole.”
“Huh. Ya know, Pal, some a yer yang is startin’ ta hang. So much yin ya cain’t keep it in. Thinkin’ yer buttons are strainin’ in their role.”
“Yeah, these buttons have become heroic, never buckling.”
I think that is why I only had one beer at yesterdays festivities and took a walk around the block this evening with a three pound weight in each hand… want to keep my buttons in their place! Is that heroic on my part – to try to be healthier?
Well, you were more heroic than I was. I walked with 12 ounce weights but they didn’t last long.
She certainly makes a good point, buttons aren’t much good without a buttonhole.
Ha ha ha…so much yin ye can’t keep it in!
Never underestimate the power of a buttonhole! A critical relationship to be had with buttons. Ha! And yes, some buttons do feel the strain to keep hold. Clever, that Kid and Pal!
Ms. Mills, what a powerful flash, very revealing and pivotal for the Danni story. Michael is so important in the telling of her story, isn’t he? The buttonhole for her button.
And I am always grateful for your hero’s journey insights. (Pal, up above, maybe has had too much elixir not enough journey.)
Thank you for that analogy, D.! Yes, definitely, Michael is her buttonhole and she would not have her story in the right place without him. Maybe Pal has had so many journeys, he has plenty of elixirs to savor!
[…] Linked to Debbie Roth’s Forgiving Fridays on themes of forgiveness and Charli Mills’ Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge with the current challenge to write a 99-word story prompted by the word […]
[…] Carrot Ranch: July 5, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons. You can use the word plural or singular in different expressions, or focus on how buttons relate to a story. Go where the prompt leads. […]
My brother-in-law was in Viet Nam. Your story reminds me a lot of him. He walks in sadness while memories float all around him; visions he, alone, replays, but he never talks about them.
Ah, that’s heart-breaking. If there is one near him, the Vet Centers are meant for the Vietnam veterans. They keep separate from the VA and he can connect with his peers there. The men at ours have walked through fire and yet to see them connect with one another is miraculous.
Thanks Charli, I’ll let him know.
Thank you, Kayuk!
Buttons by Frank Hubeny
Ryan held the hand-carved applewood buttons. They each had four tiny holes like real buttons.
“Your Uncle Thomas made them for me.” Ryan returned the buttons to his great aunt. He couldn’t see why anyone would have made them.
“He made my wedding dress as well.” Ryan thought that was as odd as those buttons.
“We bought a cake and two rings. I had flowers for my hair.” He heard the story before.
“I forgave him.” Ryan listened. He hadn’t heard that part.
“For dying so young.” He had heard that part.
“I feel him visit me every day.”
I enjoyed this, Frank. I left a comment on your blog too.
Thank you, Robbie!
Your story has the quality of one that stays with a reader. It goes right for the heart and mind, using both emotion and curiosity to move the story further. I hope those who go to your blog realize you have a reading of this story on Sound Cloud, too. I enjoyed listening to it, as well.
I am glad you liked that reading, Charli. I sometimes make readings to make sure what I wrote sounds right. It provides a variation from my usual reading.
I’m a big fan of multimedia art. I love to hear words as much as read them. I think it gives a greater dimension to stories. Also, you are smart to read your stories out loud!
Your story reminds me of my mother, who died young. There were so many stories that were not shared. But I believe that I keep her memory alive by my words.
Thank you for the reading aloud part. 🙂
Jules, your words are memory boxes. <3
Powerful piece about transformation with Danni smashing the jar and then taking the time to pick up all the buttons.
The diagram of “The Hero’s Journey” kept my attention. I think it is all in there.
I wondered if anyone would notice or attempt it, Frank. Thank you! That diagram came from a retreat I took at a Franciscan Spirituality Center 10 years ago and the leader got it from another workshop who…and so on it goes. It still marks the path.
[…] Carrot Ranch prompt July 5, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons. You can use the word plural or singular in different expressions, or focus on how buttons relate to a story. Go where the prompt leads. Respond by July 10, 2018. […]
When I thought of buttons, I thought of a button you push. After binge watching West World yesterday, I felt the need to write about how technology can corrupt us. Here is my submission.
I think at one point I was watching too much TV – though I never had a video game addiction. I lost interest in recorded shows when I couldn’t figure out how to get the shows I wanted with the three or four different remotes… I have maybe a half a dozen shows and or channels, no pay channels. And attempt to connect to nature more.
When my grands come to visit I try and do things with them or let them build, color or read – or listen to me read. They know I’m not an ace with technology. So at least sometimes they are ‘off line’ 😉
I didn’t have internet until I was 13. So, I am not of an older generation that knew an entire childhood without it. I just find myself watching people watch screens instead of interacting. I even find myself doing it without realizing it right away. Technology can be great, but many times it can just disconnect us from our real lives
Heather, I always enjoy learning about your thought process to each flash fiction you write. A good direction to explore!
There are many unsung heroes. And as you say they shrug at the term. All those who are supporting others, who often like your Danni find it difficult to ask for help or forgive themselves – especially for things they cannot control.
I went in a different direction where the prompt led to a phrase – an indirect route where loss seems to be the only thing that can be grasped.
I also enjoyed your post and the hero’s journey diagram.
Claire never really got to know Antoinette, who never used
American phraseology when a foreign or sophisticated
word would do. When Antoinette wanted quite she wouldn’t
use the term ‘Button it’ or put a pretend key to her mouth,
or run two fingers across her lips for quiet.
“Écouter” is what Antoinette would say. If Claire was sitting
at a table the pinkie and pointer fingers of both her hands
had to rest by the first joints on its edge. It was too bad
though, that Antoinette never listened herself. Maybe the
Step-mother and Step-daughter could have been friendlier?
Écouter = Listen in French
Stoic (noun) a person who can endure pain or hardship without showing their feelings or complaining.
A very nice take, Jules. Very unique.
Jules, I’m sure you know how those who volunteer at the fire hall are the first to show up and the last to think of themselves as heroes. I like the direction you went with your flash, contrasting step-mother and step-daughter.
[…] The July 5, 2018, Carrot Ranch prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons. You can use the word plural or singular in different expressions, or focus on how buttons relate to a story. Go where the prompt leads. Charli’s post prior to this prompt was about the cycle of the hero’s journey as a story template. She suggests, “No one wants to answer the call, including your characters. Before you begin your tale about that bold woman in the button necklace or the cool man dapper and tailored, think about who they were before. Or think about the journey yet to come. What if she learns what it is to doubt? What if he’s torn and no longer in control? Poke into the hero’s journey.” […]
“You’ve lost one of your buttons, and off that beautiful blouse.”
“Oh, I guess I have.” She glanced down at her rumpled shirt then at her younger sister, whose eyes were big, round tortoiseshell buttons. “At least Sissy has all hers.”
Her grandmother frowned. “Well, I should hope so. Anyway off to bed with you both.”
In the room they shared at the summer cottage Sissy now became the hero, gently helping her unmoving sister get ready for bed, speaking soothingly, her little fingers carefully unfastening each button, bravely ignoring the bruising. Silent tears rolled down both girls’ cheeks.
God, that was so hard-hitting.
That’s a gut-puncher of a story, D. You do so well to create a window into the lives of these two girls in that single moment.
it’s so true that the men and women set out their journeys not thinking to become heroes. They just thought there was a job to be done. They did their best yet, in the end, they didn’t think it was done well enough. They even felt sorry or guilty for not being able to protect their mates, such as having their war buddies died next to them. That’s not the story they’re proud to tell, let alone putting themselves on the pedestal.
It’s afterward, people realized what they did and recognized that as heroic acts and put the Buttons on them.
I have many friends’ dads were in this group of heroes. After the dad told one friend his story 40 some years later, she thought her dad should have been acknowledged, and took him to a local congressman’s office to receive a certificate.
Another friend had a similar story about her dad. They family escorted the dad flying to DC to receive recognition and award.
When I did full-time counseling, one client suffered severe PTSD, he said, every time he closed his eyes, he saw the bloody buddy lying next to him. It was guilt and horror. He chose to serve the country but didn’t choose the path.
Yes, these men and women don’t think they took the path to become heroes. I also understand that no matter how big the Buttons are, they don’t make their journey bright and glorious.
My hubby’s brother had a close call experience.
Charli, I appreciate what you’re doing to the veterans in your area.
I’ll do my flash later, just came back from Portland yesterday.
Miriam, welcome back home from Portland! I hope you had a lovely trip. Thank you for sharing these stories of men you’ve known. So often they don’t think they should be awarded or recognized, and the guilt can be too overwhelming. Yet, the hero’s journey as Joseph Campbell maps it is exactly the path we all take when we chose to live our potential — soldiers, mothers, innkeepers. It doesn’t matter. What matters is answering the call and setting out. I’m so glad you get the opportunity to help veterans find their way home, out of the cave, to see they do bring back an elixir.
Thank you, Charli. It was a wonderful visit. Autumn reached another milestone, she started cruising, took 20 steps!! <3
Yes, we honor our soldiers, respect what they have done for the country. We were not there, we could only share their journey with compassion and understanding. Having a group of brave veterans talk about their journey, hopefully, make them feel they are not alone. It takes a long time for them to come out of the cave.
Another friend's son, a young soldier, still suffers from the panic attack and hard to hold a job. Whenever the panic came, he had to leave the job. Finding a job is one thing, holding it is another thing.
My friend met with a group of moms when their sons were still in the war zone during the last war we were involved in. She continues to meet with them after their sons came home. We are glad that her son is open to get professional help. But having a loving mom, loving wife, and loving friends help him not hiding in the cave. <3
20 steps! She’s going to be zipping around in no time!
Yes, the cave is a hard place to get out of and it does help to have others around who are loving and compassionate, but ultimately we each are on our own journey. Sometimes the best we can do is hold space for another and help them process their story.
[…] Prompt: Carrot Ranch July 5: Flash Fiction Challenge […]
Here’s my take on the prompt:
Happy reading! 🙂
I was waiting… and there was the darkness.
A unique take indeed.
Thanks a lot, Jules! 😀
Glad you thought so! 🙂
Do keep visiting! 🙂
Mine wasn’t as dark… maybe more sad. But I might have a second entry… Cheers.
Looking forward to it! 😀
It’s already up there…’Stoic Silence’, plus another non-fiction BoTS coming your way soon…’Bonanza Use for Recycling Buttons’
Checking it out now! 😀
Not your common button collector! Thanks for your flash and the brilliantly dark twist.
Thanks so much!! 😀
Wonderful story, I LOVE surprise endings!
Thanks so much!! 😀
If you love surprise ends and twists..
do read more of my stuff! 😀
I promise you won’t be disappointed! 🙂
I definitely will pay your site a more comprehensive visit. It seems you have the ‘touch’.
My goodness! This was powerful, Charli. The everyday hero is loved by all.
Thank you, Jennie!
[…] from D. Avery @ ShiftnsShake because she explained Charli’s back story so well.…….The July 5, 2018, Carrot Ranch prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons. You can use the word plural or […]
An excellent essay about hero’s. You make is so much easier to understand why they don’t look for or want credit.
The humble soldier returned to his hotel room after being awarded the Medal of Honor. The President called him a hero because he had saved a few lives and his group had stopped the enemy from using their supply route for days.
As he unbuttoned his uniform he relived the scene as he did night and day; smelly dead bodies strewn around him, cries of pain from his own men and burned shells. Some hero; in the mirror he saw a murderer and a failure. He had killed theirs and not been able to save all of his own.
This is a difficult read, Susan. Very vivid and evocative.
Powerful story, Susan. The truths of war are always hard to swallow. <3
So powerfully written Susan.
Susan, you captured so clearly what a combat veteran often sees in the mirror. Adjustment to civilian life after such an experience is fraught with so many complex emotions and thinking. I spoke with a younger veteran spouse tonight and she said her husband received counseling while deployed and that the VA takes care f their mental health to assist with readjustment. I’m glad this is happening because so many older combat veterans suffer in silence, staring at that mirror.
So happy to know the current military members are getting help as they go. I know too many of the older ones that didn’t and too many of the reservists coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan who need help too.
The reservists might differ from state to state, but I do believe they are getting help, too. In Minnesota, they had a huge push to educate communities because reservists didn’t return to bases, they came back to their hometowns. I always tell combat veterans about the Vet Centers.
Powerful, Susan. Especially young soldiers. They won’t forget their first kills.
You’er always welcome 🙂
He was a tight-lipped guy. Stoic to a fault. And believe me, there was a fault.
He was a buttoned-down type. Nothing new interested him. New ideas sent him into a paroxysm of melancholy. His face would coil up like he’d just sucked a lemon dry.
His wife also had a cloud about her. Only a fool with too much time on his hands would dare say to her, “Lighten up!”
She was long past the light. His grim being cast a shawl of darkness over them both.
Interestingly, both their kids became comics.
It takes all kinds, eh!
Sunshine always finds a way.
Bill, your flash reveals two grim souls who couldn’t completely hold back the light. Great character insights and I loved the open trio of lines and “She was long past the light.” An interesting take on the prompt and great writing!
[…] Written for: https://carrotranch.com/2018/07/05/july-5-flash-fiction-challenge/ […]
Your character reminds me of my father-in-law who showed up at the wedding with his fly half down and no socks…and he was stone cold sober.
Ha! There’s a walking story!
Hi Charli, my thoughts:
I think your character could be an absent minded professor. I bet there are some very endearing qualities to be found after those 99 words 🙂
Well he has to have some redeeming qualities I would think.
Ono played with the buttons on her husband’s shirt. He sat on the patio staring off into the wilderness. She had served as his planning lead when they were in the military. He had been all of 14 then. Who appoints a child as a military officer? He had performed brilliantly though but it was all catching up to him now. She smelled the shirt. The night sweats were still there. And the hole in the wall there. She thumbed her phone. He needed help she could not provide. He deserved help, she deserved peace.
She’s taking the right decision for everyone.
Eric, I like how you used buttons on a shirt as the opening focal point and broadened the scene to include what is concerning Ono. Her decision could be the one that brings them both out of the cave.
[…] Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch: July 5, 2018, Flash Fiction Challenge – Buttons […]
Here’s my flash (BOTS)
“Kevin, you look handsome in your uniform.”
“I like to have a copy of your photo with your autograph.”
“No, that’s okay.”
“You gave one to your mum, but you don’t hang it in your home.”
“She asked for one, I respected her wishes.”
“Did Sarah want to hang up your uniform photo?”
“She didn’t ask.”
“Look at all the large and small buttons across your chest to your shoulder. They are gorgeous. You’re a hero.”
“It’s not what you think.”
“What do you mean?”
“Each one tells a nightmare and I don’t want to be reminded.”
Your final sentence!
That you so much, I really appreciate it, Liz! <3
What a powerful ending!
Thank you so very much!
I can tell you’ve worked with veterans, Miriam by how well you capture the struggle many have. Great use of dialog and a fantastic last line.
Thank you, Charli. I did, as a job, a friend, and a family member. I could sense his reluctance to give me the uniform photo, so I never ask him again.
[…] July 5: Flash Fiction Challenge […]
I have a bookkeeping background. Interesting visuals and nuances.
[…] July 5: Flash Fiction Challenge […]
Marvellous post, Charli, especially as, as you know, I have been drawing more consciously on the hero’s journey structure recently. But my ambivalence remains, and this post, along with a couple of other things that have happened, has been a great help in untangling the reasons. Those thoughts are still percolating, although I’ve begun to address them in my latest post featuring reviews of two novels that follow that structure to a degree but I’m hesitant to use the term hero. I think I identify with the vets at your workshop who reacted against the term for themselves. I’d have been fascinated to run the workshop alongside you!!!
I love your flash which added another layer to Danni’s character, and it’s very easy to identify with her ambivalence about those mementos that might look to others like junk. And, the struggle to articulate, even for herself, why they matter, as well as the anger towards the absent mother. Look forward to reading how you map that personal journey.
I’ve taken my buttons story from my WIP, Matilda Windsor, which you might just recognise …
Anne, I’ll be curious to learn where your percolating thought lead! I think I really enjoy the sense of discovery of the hero’s journey, and the purpose it adds to life. When I spot it in literature, I always engage more with the writing. The veteran’s workshop is one I’ll only do with a therapist present, but for you to be that therapist — well, that’s something to add to my bucket list! One of the veterans who had a meltdown over the “hero” term, rebounded and later shared several stories with me. He’s since gone on to be an advocate to recruit more Vietnam vets to seek counseling at the Vet Center. It makes me feel like he’s found his elixir. Perhaps what rankles about the hero’s journey is the hero archetype. I wonder if it can still work if we labeled it differently. Maybe it is the journey that’s more significant than any hints at heroics. Good to see Henry, though he suffers greatly over that button and waiting for its gifter to return.
I think I actually appreciate the hero’s journey more in fiction than in real life, although it can sometimes seem forced. But I’m on my own journey of working out the alternative that’s right for me. I’m sure I’ll be blogging about it more before too long.
Would be amazing to work together, although you’d probably still need a therapist as I’m no longer licenced to practice. But you must have handled that meltdown well for that participant to come through so well. I recall from my own teaching, especially in experiential workshops, it was often those who fought against it who actually got the most out of it. But you need to be confident as a teacher to welcome that kind of challenge, or at least have a buddy. And it can be scary for the learner too.
I definitely like the clean lines of a hero’s journey in print as opposed to in progress! But I look forward to your thoughtful processing of it all. As for the meltdown, mostly I listened and allowed the other vets their space to discuss it. They resolved it collectively, and I continued to finish up with the elixir. I was touched when that vet later offered me a story, and later more. Do you ever think about leading workshops as an author with a therapist’s insights? I really enjoy the interaction and feel I learn more than I ever “teach.”
I did enjoy one workshop I did almost by chance but I’m not keen on making psychology my USP at the moment. Although I have been contemplating offering 99-word story workshops around my short story anthology publication in November. Contemplating only at this stage!
I’d love to see you do something around the 99-words! You are welcome to use (or enhance) my Wrangling Words PowerPoint, too!
[…] this find was well worth the about 1/9 the full price I paid – even with dents and scratches. Carrot Ranch prompt July 5, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons. You can […]
Second go round… because I was able to recycle some buttons! You can see the set I scored at my post site.
Bonanza Use for Recycling Buttons
Yard sale buys are bargains true, but not all the pieces
came with the multi-layered game. Missing checkers,
no problem – got a box from another sale somewhere.
Same with chess pieces – no black to whites counterpart.
Snakes and Ladders, Chinese Checkers, Checkers, and
Chess along with a modified Parcheesi board too. Old
Maid and Go Fish decks also double six dominoes are
all good to go. There is Solitaire and Mancala too.
Dice are also an easy replacement, but what to do for
Backgammon – fifteen dark, fifteen light discs needed.
Dark and light round buttons! Yes, they will do.
Ha! Been there done that. I am betting the kindergarten teachers out there can speak of buttons as well.
I know a few teachers who have done up vests with 100 buttons, and just this year I gave my Grand a string of 100 buttons to take in for One-hundred Day! (Didn’t make a dent in my collection… ) Very good are buttons for counting and sorting colors 🙂
Ha ha ha. They sure are quite versatile 🙂
I could see myself doing that in the earlier days. It was fun.
You must have an incredible button collection, Jules! And games, too. I love playing board games.
[…] of how the craft of Buttony, making Dorset Buttons, was saved. This is in response to Charlie Mills flash fiction challenge, in 99 words (no more, no less) write a story including buttons. Hope you enjoy […]
A very challenging and thought-provoking post.
A great deal also to reflect upon from the FF responses and comments.
In my own life, I’ve found it’s important to me to take those small practical steps, to get me gong on that different unknown path. And there are two sayings or quotes that have become a “mantra” for me.
Mark Twain: To get anywhere, you have to start somewhere.
And St. Francis: First do that which is necessary. Then do the possible. Then do the impossible.
I’m thinking over some ideas for a FF response.
Good mantras to live by, as they both remind us to start with what we can do. I’m glad this post and responses are giving you much to think over and I look forward to your response, too!
[…] https://carrotranch.com/2018/07/05/july-5-flash-fiction-challenge/ […]
I’m back, after what seems like forever!
I enjoyed your flash, Ritu.
Thanks Robbie <3
I’m glad you’re writing! I had goosebumps after reading your story. <3
Thank you so much for the encouragement sis! <3
Just glad to have you back. Keep writing. <3
Happy to see you back.
Thank you so much Susan <3
Very touching, Ritu!
Thank you Miriam <3
You’re welcome, Ritu! <3
Ritu! Good to see your smiling words at the Ranch! Welcome back!
Yay!!!! Good to be back on the horse so speak!!!
Here’s my take on the prompt…hope you enjoy 🙂
Passing on the Love
When Elizabeth was a little girl and her family lived in the one-room sod house, her father made all her play things. Her favorite was one of Mother’s buttons in the middle of a string. She would flip the string over and over then watch the button spin as she moved the string closer together and farther apart.
She lived with her granddaughter, Katie, and her family for seven years until she passed. Every so often Katie or one of her daughters will find a button laying on the floor or attached to a string. Grandma Liz saying hello.
A lovely take on the prompt with a poignant ending.
I remember these spinning button strings! Nice t o think of them as a hello from a relative long past.
What a lovely piece. Great take using the button and string as a child’s toy. <3
You’re welcome. <3
Loved that ending.
What a lovely flash, which captures a lifetime and beyond.
[…] Linking up with Carrot Ranch’s Flash Fiction Challenge […]
Your’s was a powerful story with great introduction. Thanks for the beautiful buttony prompt. Here is my link, https://syncwithdeep.wordpress.com/2018/07/07/the-final-journey-carrot-ranch-flash-fiction-challenge/
Thank you, Deepa! You responded in kind with a beautiful and poignant buttony flash.
Thank u charli
I like your flash very much, Charli. It reminded me of a child with OCD. You are correct in your assessment of human reaction to the “hero” concept in your post. Here is my post about buttons: https://bakeandwrite.co.za/flash-fiction-buttons/
Never thought about buttons be hard to come by during WWII. I wonder if that is why so many of our mother’s had a button box. And I have one today! Nice flash.
Thank you, Susan.
Robbie, I always appreciate when a story can resonate with someone. Yes, hero is not a label most want to accept. And for others, like your mom, buttons are equally distasteful. It’s all in the connotations we associate.
My one grandmother had a button box – probably a few because she was a seamstress. She made the one wedding gown that all her daughters wore… Though I could not – since it belonged to the eldest, my aunt – and she wouldn’t ship it. When my turn to marry arrived my Grandmother had not sewn in many a year, her gift to me was my pre-made wedding gown.
[…] Via #carrotranch […]
[…] to catch up on several weeks’ worth of e-mail, I was struck by the latest Flash Fiction Challenge at Carrot Ranch. Charli Mills’ introduction provided a jumping-off point for me today, even […]
[…] If you want to participate, here’s the link: https://carrotranch.com/2018/07/05/july-5-flash-fiction-challenge/ […]
Here’s my entry:
The door slams as I drown under the weight of another misunderstanding.
How did this happen? Why? Five minutes ago we were smiling then…the storm blew out and the empty house surrounded me….
I sighed and moved to the bedroom. A pile of mending waited next to the rocker and my hands were as empty as my heart so I sat down, picked up a pair of his shorts, and began to sew the button back on.
Now, here I sit, looking down at the mended shorts in my hands, wondering why relationships can’t be as easy to heal.
Very nice. I like the title and the quick description of the action in the empty house and the mending.
Thanks Frank! This is my first time participating in the 99 word challenge and I really appreciate your comment. My first draft was over 400 words…and I thought I was a ‘short story’ writer!
Sigh! Why indeed!
You sound like you’ve ‘been there, done that’. It seems to be a big club.
Welcome to the Flash Fiction. Very nice flash. I hope you saved the first draft of 400 words as your short story, or make it even longer. <3
Welcome to Carrot Ranch, Kayuk! Empty hands are soon filled, but as your character expresses, empty hearts are more complex. Good writing!
Thank you so much. It was a lot of fun to immerse myself into the character. OK…maybe ‘fun’ is the wrong word in this particular case. Let’s call it ‘enlightening’.
Was she purposely moving the button in so his shorts would be tight? No, she seems nicer than that.
Welcome. I am the one that will be upright (but not heroic) and warn you of the addictive nature of 99 word flash. It was good, wasn’t it, paring the 400 down to their essence. Bet you’re anticipating the next prompt…
I think you must have gotten to the essence. A lot about her and this relationship is revealed in these 99 words. Good flash!
Shh, there’s nothing addicting about 99 words…! 😀
Oh no, not addictive at all. That’s what I told myself when I thought I’d just try it, just once- 16 MONTHS AGO!
i can stop anytime i want to
Thank you so much! I just posted for this week’s prompt and I have to say that I’ve had an epiphany:
It’s easier to keep the 99 word limit in mind and check the word count before writing a book that I have to shorten BUT…
The story is better if I write a longer story and pare it down than if I just write a very short piece in the beginning.
Now that I am semi-retired and an empty nester, while hubby still works my home is often ’empty’ but the walls reverberate with the memory of laughter. I enjoyed your writing and hope that your character can also find some joy in healing along with her repair.
Thank you Jules, life seems to be a roller coaster for both my character and myself.
[…] in on the fun here. Happy […]
“Press one to access your account…”
I pressed “1” dutifully on the telephone keypad. I bounced my knee in rhythm, watching the walkers pass by my window. My fingernails were chewed stubs.
“Please enter the last four numbers of your Social Security number…”
Poke, poke. I pressed the buttons, referencing a notepad. Silence while the computers talked to each other.
“We’re sorry, but we can’t access your records right now. Goodbye.”
I threw the phone down, cursing.
“What am I–a series of numbered buttons?!”
I think we’ve all experienced this unfortunately, eh?
LOL! This was great! 😀
Thank you! 🙂
Ha ha ha, we’ve all become that unfortunately.
Oh, yes, been there! That has to rank as one of the worst “goodbyes”!
[…] https://carrotranch.com/2018/07/05/july-5-flash-fiction-challenge/ […]
A rewrite from an earlier tale, an environmental theme of potions done well:
And We Dropped to Our Knees…
It arrived by nighthawk, the final ingredient to heal our planet, corrupted to near-extinction.
Maeve gripped the tiny blue button, chanting:
“First drop of rain, seed in the shell,
Night incantations will do us quite well.
Magical potion, dream-seeming mad,
I swear on this drear day, we shall be made glad.
Drop the blue button, Cauldron’s bright spell,
Blood of Medici, Machiavellian tell.
Goddess Compassion, hear my plea,
As we do pray it, so mote it be.”
A shock wave rolled over the barren plain, unrolling a carpet of bluebells carrying the trill of pond life and buzzing bees.
© Liz Husebye Hartmann (2018)
[For the Complete Story]
Ohhhh… I loved this, Liz. Very creative. Off to read the rest of the story. <3
Thank your for visiting the Valley!
So welcome. I’ll try not to be a stranger. 😍
Absolutely loved that enchanting chant 🙂
I enjoyed the ‘whole’ tale. 🙂
Thanks for visiting the Valley!
Liz, we need to find that blue button! What an image that unfurled from the incantation.
(frantically searching her pockets, underneath the bed, and under the couch cushions)
It’s quest time when you find it!
Fascinating prompt! My entry: “Button It”
Chilling. I hope she escapes the situation permanently.
So powerfully written!
[…] 5, 2018, Carrot Ranch Literary Community prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons. You can use the word plural or […]
I channeled a story that needed to be told. Again.
The boy hid near a copse of trees. All around him, the sound of gunfire sputtered and pinged. Tears stinging, he pulled the drum closer, waiting for a new command from the general so he could muster the troops.
Scared, he slipped his hand into his pocket and fingered the buttons he had cut from the coats of the enemy. Each button represented a win. He had survived the battles and lived to beat the drums to victory.
Until today. When the men found him the little drummer boy gripped a string of dirty buttons—his legacy to death.
Such a powerful story Colleen.
Such an emotional visual with the limited words.
Thank you. I don’t know where these stories come from. <3
I get a some of my stories from dreams, others from actual incidents around me, and some just pop out of the ether and into my head. Who knows where those come from.
It’s pure inspiration! Creativity can’t be defined as it’s different for all of us. ❤️
A scene behind the scene. Chilling as it was enchanting.
Thanks, Jules. I hope I did it justice. <3
Your flash is so vivid in many details like we are witness to this tragedy. You tuned in to a great channel, Colleen!
Thanks, Charli. I love the details! ❤️
Working with technology can be stressful, especially when you are the one tasked with fixing it when it isn’t working correctly.
Some people handle the stress easily while others become anxious. After all, everyone from co-workers to management wants to know when it’s going to be fixed.
Having people stand over your shoulder just aggravates the situation more.
That’s when I had the great idea to create something that would help with the stress.
I created a portable “Panic Button” to share with anyone who was stressed.
It’s amazing what a little laughter can do to help exasperating situations.
I’ll buy a thousand for starters please.
LOL! Captain! The dilithium crystals …!
What a great idea of a portable “Panic Button.” I think all the offices should start ordering them.
Yes, you could sell those. Put them next to the easy button.
Sold! Great story, Patrick. One we can all relate to.
[…] in response to Carrot Ranch’s Flash Fiction Challenge. Check it […]
Wallie and my response! 🙂 “Spotlight” — https://wallieswentletrap.com/2018/07/08/spotlight/
One button away from wild!
Spotlight on an interesting observation! Leave it to a wise imp to notice.
I’m not sure I’ll let Wallie know you said that…his head might get so big he’ll float away. 😉 Thanks for the kind words! 🙂
Ha, ha! Such is life with an imp!
[…] in response to the Carrot Ranch July 5: Flash Fiction Challenge, hosted by Charli Mills. The objective is to write a story in exactly 99 words inspired by the […]
Here’s my entry for the week Charli. A touching story of an old grandmother’s limitless love for her grandson: https://jagahdilmein.wordpress.com/2018/07/09/the-doting-grandma/
A touching story! Uh-huh, just an average grandmother doting on her average grandson. 😀
My cell rang. “Hi Mom.”
“Oh good, you’re home?”
“It’s the babies nap time. You knew I would be.”
“I just finished trimming the hedge and I’m exhausted. One of those Easy Buttons would help with that job. I won’t be able to lift my arms again today.”
“Mom, your hedge consists of five bushes.”
“I know, but I’m not as young as I used to be.”
“You’re starting to push my buttons, what do you want?”
“A dinner invite.”
“But aren’t your arms are too tired to hold the baby.”
“Maybe not that tired. I’ll bring ice cream.”
Ha! Too good. This one is pushing my buttons.
Ha! Mom knows all the buttons to push, but at least she brings ice cream!
[…] The July 5, 2018, Carrot Ranch prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons. […]
Yikes, there’s more.
(Sigh of relief!)
Too often there is disbelief – Trust can only be earned by those arms that will open to help start healing.
You couldn’t leave us hanging on that last one! Glad the muse/loon nudged more.
You callin’ D. Wallace Peach and Colleen Chesebro loons?
Ha! More like muses than loons!
[…] Charli Mills at Carrot Ranch: July 5: Flash Fiction Challenge – Monkey’s Tummy […]
Hi Charli, here’s my 2nd entry.
Being self-employed is a luxury. Sam doesn’t set the alarm clock. He goes to the gym at 9:00 a.m. when people honk their way to the exit lane.
Looking at 16,000 columns and 895 rows of data make his eyesight fuzzy. The query narrowed it down to 90 columns and 75 rows.
Oh, no! He pressed a wrong button, missed one zip code. Doing it all over again. No one shares his stress. It’s time going to his laughing buddy.
A button on the monkey’s tummy he pushed. His hilarious is contagious. Sam can’t help but laugh with him.
I need a monkey’s tummy, Miriam! Such a good point about the self-employment and not getting work companions to share in the stress.
Yes, I thought of you when I wrote it. My hubby went back to do CT/MRI after 20 years of self-employment. I don’t know how people like you and him do it. My admiration here!!
A wrong button for me is a missed story, and I feel just as anxious as missing a zip code in a column! I’ll be thinking of a monkey laugh when I need a break. The hardest thing is when I have in-person meetings and I have to remember — a. get dressed appropriately, and b. be aware of the time!
[…] This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills challenged writers to In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons. You can use the word plural or s… […]
I think your link isn’t hooked up. I had trouble getting there from here. (It’s all in pushing the right buttons)
Just needed a few more characters and a space at the end…
Thanks for the corrected link. 🙂
Da nada. 😉
Liz knew how to push the right buttons.
Thanks, you button-pushing, mutton-busting, link masters! <3
[…] Here’s my take on the July 5 prompt. […]
Yes, old cookie tins are great houses for button collections 😉
You don’t always get what you want, but if you try, sometimes, you get what you need.
Not sure if she needed buttons, but it was a fun flash.
Welcome to Carrot Ranch, Deepika! I enjoyed your flash.
[…] Carrot Ranch prompt July 5, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes buttons. You can use the word plural or singular in different expressions, or focus on how buttons relate to a story. Go where the prompt leads. Respond by July 10, 2018. […]
Number 3 – just because the prompts mashed nicely. Well I did break out the shoe horn for Twiglets, a 12 word Wordle list and of course Carrot Ranch.
Note: I was going to go ‘Alfred Hitchcock’ dark, but then chose to allow
good neighbors to be heroes. You can find all the prompts at my site link:
The catalog provided a masterful display in the brevity of
its pages. Satin edged sheets and pillow cases in a rainbow
of colors, that one only needed money to buy.
She created her illusions and dreams with empathy and
finesse. Knowing that any Cri De Coeur would never be heard
by a real lover.
The central heat had been disconnected. The nostrum she
had made to ease her chills would shatter like every other
frozen pipe – Cold fingers rested on the gold tone buttons of
her wool coat… Thankfully, the new neighbors weren’t afraid
to check on old neighbors.
Jeez, Jules! Threefer! From the master of mashup. I am glad there were good neighbors and no Hitchcock.
I always enjoy your mashups, Jules! I’m glad you landed at the ending you did because it reminds me of how important it can be for us to check in on our old neighbors.
[…] If you want to participate, here is the link: https://carrotranch.com/2018/07/05/july-5-flash-fiction-challenge/ […]
My entry for the week…
Magic by Kay Kingsley
Her mother’s button box was beautiful and long with a brown paisley silk cover. The clasp was small and silver, perfect for her young fingers, the interior a soft satin pink, a suitable home for magic buttons.
And they were to her, at least. For hours she crouched on the floor beneath her mother’s sewing machine ordering them from big to small, shiny to matte, translucent to black.
It wasn’t until she was older that she realized maybe it wasn’t the buttons that were magic but the uninterrupted time she spent in her mother’s presence.
How she missed her.
Very sweet, especially with groundwork gently laid out, and sewed up in the final line!
Nice play on words, Liz. Thank you for the nice comment.
Inspired by your Flash!
Kay, your flash reminds me of playing with my grandmother’s potholders while she cooked. She had a drawer full of them, all crocheted and in bright and different hues and patterns. I had forgotten about the potholders until I read your flash. It was the uninterrupted time that tripped the memory. Nicely done.
Thanks, Charli. I like to think we all have some memories like that about spending quality time with our parents or grandparents when we were young. My grandmother had a box of clip on earrings I loved to play with as a little girl and since they were clip on I got to wear them too! Priceless memories remembered. Glad you found one of your own to remember 😉
Good memories to recall.
[…] July 5: Flash Fiction Challenge […]
[…] Inspired by Natalie Swift's post on selfishness. Response to Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge prompt "button" […]
Welcome to Carrot Ranch!
[…] week at the Ranch, Charli Mills hosts the Rough Writers and Friends flash fiction challenge. This week’s prompt: “In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes […]
I have been in my own cave lately, not writing much. Thanks for this wonderful prompt! It brought me back out. 🙂
Yay! Good to see you out in the light of the page, Deborah!
[…] Carrot Ranch Literary Community Entry […]
[…] it reaches a point where it is irrevocably changed because of something that happens. It is, as Charli discussed in her prompt preamble, the hero’s journey only we are the hero of the story, our own story. If our identity […]
[…] https://carrotranch.com/2018/07/05/july-5-flash-fiction-challenge/ […]
Don’t wear seat belts lest you drown in you own urine?