It’s February 14, and I find much to love today. I can imagine that the invisible warm winds lapping at the coast of snow outside my stoop conform to aerodynamic heart-shapes. Why not? The wind is unseen so I can pick how to see it in my mind. Hearts float by and surround me in such an imaginative construct.
Today, I met a Nigerian Prince, and I loved so much about our encounter. He didn’t say he was a prince, but by his demeanor and broad smile I couldn’t help but think he was. The local Rotary Chapter invited me to speak at their weekly luncheon. Not one to miss an opportunity to read and tell stories, I accepted the invitation to be their guest. That’s where I met the Prince.
He wore cloth not from the US — it looked thicker, and held a linen-like weave. It was dark blue, almost like a midnight sky when a full moon casts enough light to give color. Small dots of cream decorated the Prince’s matching shirt and pants. He dressed handsomely and spoke eloquently. Suddenly, I loved Nigerian language. It occurs to me in afterthought that I should have asked him to speak his native tongue.
The Prince spoke clear English, but I noticed he rounded his sounds as if his mouth were an instrument. It made me think how sacred oral communication is, how as people, we take great care to shape sounds into words to give meaning to what we feel inside. And what is that exactly? What is this tug to love so many things — people, ideas, stories, exchanges? Literary art feeds on this impulse of expression.
Mostly, I loved the Prince because he appreciated my stories. Isn’t that the simplest of love stories? He approached with great care and asked if I had my words down in something he could carry. A book. But think about that a minute, because that’s where I’ve been languishing all day, believing heart-shaped wind caresses my snow into melting. He asked to carry my stories back with him. Back to Nigeria.
How could I refuse such a request? Yes, I gave him a copy of Vol. 1, and he requested I write something in it just for him. I’ve not felt so revered as I did with the Prince. Of course, that’s why I thought he had to be royalty. He was magnificent. Further, he told me a story about how he and his friends collect books and how hard it is to take all the volumes back to his country because of weight limits. Image that Nigeria is a place where literacy is so valued that when you return, you try to haul back as many books as you can!
Although I’m less enamored with children, I did love the ones who came with their parents today (something about a half school day). They all wanted to listen to the writer. One listened intently. I could see her listening with her eyes, creating images of the stories her grandmother told at my lunch table. That woman was one to love — a natural-born storyteller who announced to me as she left that she was going to declare herself a buckaroo, too!
How about that? I found a kindred-buckaroo-spirit in the Keweenaw. She and her granddaughter would have understood if I had whispered to them that the winds were blowing hearts today.
During my talk, I read. I love the privilege of working at Carrot Ranch among such talented, tenacious, and courageous writers. Fellow literary artists. I read a few stories from Vol. 1. I read a trio of Copper Country stories for Vol. 2. The audience marveled at the power of 99-word flash and the scope of where writers come from around the world. I love watching people connect with the stories. There’s nothing quite like reading aloud literary art and watching it grab ahold of listeners.
When I talk to audiences, I make sure I know who they are — business or civic-minded, students, or casual listeners looking to be entertained. I select stories to stir their hearts and prod their minds. I have my own 99-word stories I read, and a few I share from my storytelling tradition. Today, I asked for a volunteer to join me up front to hold my hand. I swear I don’t gnash my teeth at people, but you’d think I went feral at the uncomfortable silence that ensued.
I love that uncomfortable silence.
That’s the space where humanity happens. If we are comfortable, then we are walled up, everyone happily co-existing in boundaries. I want to break down walls. I want to risk discomfort, which is the point of my request. The man from the back who braved stepping forward let me hold his hand. It’s not the story I tell that alters the audience. It’s the understanding that shifts their hearts.
Holding the man’s hand, I relate a story once gifted to me by a Kentucky storyteller who once spoke at Carroll College when I was a student. She had asked for my hand and told me about the time her grandfather died. Before he passed, he asked for her hand. She was eight-years-old, and he told her that when he was that age, he met a man who fought in the Civil War. He held a rifle in his hands and battled cousin against cousin. He was old, but held the boy’s hand and said: “Don’t forget — you once held the hand of a man who fought in the Civil War.”
The boy grew up, raised a family, and as an old man on his deathbed, he passed down the story to his granddaughter, holding her hand. He said, “You’ve now held the hand of a man who held the hand of one who fought in the Civil War.”
And yes, I passed this down to a man in the Keweenaw Rotary Club today. I told him, “You held the hand of a woman who held the hand of the granddaughter of the man who held the hand of one who fought in the Civil War.” It gets long-winded, lots of hand-holding as the story grows, but they all got it. And I loved that moment of recognition. That moment when stories express the humanity of one to the humanity of others. That’s literary art. And that’s why we practice and put our stories out there.
We talked about collecting stories, about being story-catchers for the Rotary, their businesses, families, and life. I gave them my Lego bucket analogy for gathering 99-word stories. The kids all knew what we do with Legos — we build. One member asked if Carrot Ranch was my business. No, I told her. It’s my author platform, and I share it with a community. I explained how authors need to work simultaneously on three strategies — writing (drafting, revising, editing), platform building, and publishing. I told her that I also loved the interaction with other writers and the chance to create literary art as I work on longer projects.
I closed with this 99-word story I wrote for one of the Rodeo contests in 2017. I think. Sometimes, I realize I’m not a good curator of my own writing as I wildly sow seeds and then try to gather them up in some sort of organization. I don’t always pick the same stories to share, but I love this one so I will share it now (perhaps, again):
When I Grow Up, I Just Want to Be Happy by Charli Mills
I’m six-years-old and have told a lie. “Mom said I could go home with Mitch.” I leave school early with my cousin and our grandfather.
Mitch is Underdog to my Polly Purebread fears. He’s my hero. My pulse doesn’t flutter like a swallowed bird in my throat when we’re together. We pedal bikes through the apricot orchards, watch cartoons, roam turkey barns, climb baled haystacks.
Our grandfather catches me in the lie when my mother panics, not finding me at school. “Always tell the truth,” he chastises us.
My cousin does. He becomes a cop.
Me; I write fiction.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and I’m happy. In Finland, they greet, “Hyvää Ystävänpaivää!” Don’t ask me how to say it; I can hardly understand the English of Yoopers who shape their mouths and perform tongue gymnastics differently from my Nigerian Prince and me. But it means, “Happy Friendship Day!” And I love that. Love among friends, palentines for pals, love for life, humanity and art is so much broader than steak-and-lobster-for-two kind of love. Although, I do love steak and lobster.
A few household details — remember to include your story on the form, not just a link to your story. A link makes me work differently, kind of like I have to get off my horse to go take care of a chore that I asked a rancher to do. If you were my kids, I’d give you that “look.” And kudos to all of you who are getting into the mash-up vibe (combining constraints). I love that creative energy! But remember that this challenge is more than a prompt — it’s 99-words, no more, no less. Otherwise, you know the deal — go where the prompt lead!
Go spread love. Write. Make art.
February 14, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about valentines. It can be Valentine’s Day, the exchange, love for another, romance, or friendship. Have a heart and go where the prompt leads!
Respond by February 19, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Be Mine (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
No Valentine’s Day card greeted Danni in the mailbox. Only an official Veterans Affairs mailer. She flipped on houselights, contemplating cold leftovers. She’d rather be wining and dining Ike, but he was in Iraq. Her landline rang.
“What’s up? Hear from Ike?”
“No. just something from the VA.” Danni opened the envelop as Michael told her the latest from the Canadian border – nothing. “Oh, wow. This letter rates Ike for PTSD.”
“Are you going to leave him?” Michael asked.
“Are you going to dump your friend?”
“That’s my answer. He’ll always be mine.”