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Semester Break

I’m going on a vision quest to reconnect to my North Star. It’s been a week. It’s been a year. It’s been five years since I left Idaho, and I can finally read posts from Elmira Pond Spotter. Some of you might not even know about Elmira Pond Spotter, but that was my online journal where I explored the writer’s life around an old and deep tamarack bog in North Idaho. On March 9, 2016, I was excited to welcome the return of the migratory fowl, eagles, osprey, and kingfishers who lived seasonally on or around the pond. Abruptly, it was to be my final post.

At the time, I was writing weekly columns for a stunning new Idaho-centric magazine, editing a publication I had developed for a client, and had landed a lucrative contract to write a feature for Sandpoint Magazine. Ten days later, I was in Missoula Montana to host one of the first satellite BinderCon writing workshops, working with NYT Best-selling Author, Laura Munson, and rising writing powerhouse, Stephanie Land. I was revising my novel after feedback from agents and my editor to set the story by my pond.

I had no idea at the time the drastic changes that were coming.

In 2012, I left my marketing management career to pursue my writing dreams and believed that was the biggest transition I’d face in my adult life. I had consulted and led countless brand communications workshops, enough to feel confident that I could start my own marketing communications company. Two years into the work, I realized I didn’t need a company. I was content to work as a contractor. But I had this great company name, a logo my longtime graphic designer developed for me, and a burning desire to connect less with marketing peers and more with creative writers.

CarrotRanch.com was born as a website in May of 2012. However, it wasn’t until March 2014 that I initiated the shift to a literary focus with the first-ever Flash Fiction Challenge. Norah Colvin, Ruchira Khanna, Susan Zutautas, and Paula Moyer showed up. Norah invited her British writing friends, Geoff Le Pard and Anne Goodwin. Before I realized what was happening, a writing community formed. By 2016, I had a writing partner in the UK (Sherri Matthews), an anthology in the works with Sarah Brentyn and our community, and a growing appreciation for all that the art of 99-words could be as writing practice and tool.

Life has its ups and downs. None of us ever escapes circumstances, disappointments, or even death. We don’t like to talk about mortality or grief and yet grief often drives us to write — to process the pain, memorialize the loss, or offer something beautiful that grew from the mud. In 2015, my best friend, Kate, died. A month before her death, I contemplated traveling alone, without her on trips. I took a birthday cruise on Lake Pend Oreille. By March of 2016, I was carrying that grief with me and pushing deeper into my writing. Todd had been displaying worrisome behavior for over two years and was clearly not holding down a job, which was unlike him. With my friend and husband heavy on my mind, it tempered the success I was having. Such is life.

Soon after I returned home from Missoula in March of 2016, my world began to topple. First, I received a response from an investigation into the new magazine I was writing for. The original editor, someone experienced and highly regarded, had left for personal reasons. I began to suspect the publisher was not being honest. It was a gut feeling. I had reached out to my book editor for a way to contact the former magazine editor and once I contacted her, our suspicions deepened. She had not left for personal reasons. She had a colleague in state government and they were looking into the publisher. It was enough to distract me from pond spotting migratory fowl.

The day I learned the publisher was a con artist with warrants in numerous other states and aliases, was devastating. In all my years freelancing, I had practiced good judgment before taking gigs. He fooled an entire publications team and big sponsors. In the midst of the investigation and group lawsuit to recoup unpaid contracted wages, I had missed an email from our property managers. Looking back, that email was the inciting incident to the next phase of my life I never saw coming.

I never wrote about Elmira Pond again.

No need to revisit the past five, almost six, years. Homelessness, a husband’s cognitive demise, wandering the west. The Keweenaw was an unexpected grace. I found other Warrior Sisters facing problems like mine because of wounded veterans. Todd finally got enrolled in VA benefits and after 33 years, they acknowledged his injury and replaced his knee. They also acknowledged his severe PTSD. We even bought a house here. But he hates it here. Hates the snow. Hates the way people ride snowmobiles down the street. Hates me for “dragging” him here. Hates the way refs officiate every Vikings game. Hate builds a toxic environment.

When I look back at Elmira Pondspotter, I realize hate was a latecomer to our marriage. It’s not the result of injustice, chronic pain, and shitty circumstances, though. It’s part of the demise. It’s a brain struggling against a disease, a person suffering the loss of self and feeling unheard, disconnected, and dismissed. We once had a loving marriage, both of us supporting the other through earlier hardships. We both loved Elmira Pond. I’m struggling to manage this life with a spouse so changed.

And yet, just like back in March of 2014, I still dream. Carrot Ranch has not only stood as my writing community but has served as my anchor when I’ve needed a lifeline. I feel humbled by the awareness that I will not likely ever be as ambitious as I was in 2016. It is harder for me to do less. I get more emotional over new challenges. I was crying last year because I didn’t think I could finish my thesis. I did. I didn’t think I’d finish my MFA. I did. What sucks though, is that I don’t feel accomplished. Some light has snuffed and I want to rekindle it. I want to feel like I did when I wrote bird reports on a little pond in North Idaho. I want to find my joy.

I’ve worked with the visioning process long enough to recognize that I’m feeling disconnected from my North Star. I have so much good to be grateful for and so much to do. But I need to figure out how to integrate all the pieces into a whole life. I need time to reflect and just be without deadlines, student papers, client projects, and weekly prompts. That last one is the hardest to admit. But I couldn’t even get to my own ranch this week and I have final papers to grade, projects to complete, and a thesis to resurrect for submissions. All these responsibilities connect to the writing life I want to lead, but I have to figure out how to be more efficient.

I decided to take a semester break at Carrot Ranch. That way, I can complete the overwhelming tasks I have outstanding and then have time to dream and organize and refresh. Also, as of Friday, I was finally accepted into a VA caregiver program. I can sit for days and just cry with relief that I can get the support I’ve been asking for with skills training, workshops with other caregivers, and, most importantly, my own VA file. If that sounds odd, let me explain. Without a file, no one gives a eff about me at the VA. I’m just a complaining spouse. With a file, I get to voice my concerns and receive both respite care and mental health support. This is huge. On Thursday night we had a traumatic accident in the house. Everyone is okay, but I’m in need of that new support I have.

The Saddle Up Saloon will host an Author’s Chair on December 13, and we will have one more column for 2021 on December 14, and The Littles Christmas Goat will post December 16, including stories some of my ENG I students wrote.

Carrot Ranch will return with 2022 programming, including weekly 99-word story challenges on January 20. I believe in the work of our community to make literary art accessible 99 words at a time. I believe in safe space for writers to explore their craft, voice, and genre. I’ve had much affirmation from my students about the writing process, even some who said they had regained a love of writing in my classes or discovered the power of writing after thinking they couldn’t write. That fills me! Compiling a community’s collection of 99-word stories satisfies me! Reading, writing and researching to produce my create works drives me! Teaching grows me! I have wonderful stardust to collect to redirect the path to my North Star.

Will you use this time to dream and envision, strategize and consolidate? What do you want to do in 2022? What nurtures you?

My love to all of you in this community. No one has an easy path, but we step out together nonetheless. Keep writing!


42 Comments

  1. denmaniacs4 says:

    All the best, Charli…all the very best…

    Liked by 8 people

  2. Jules says:

    Charli,

    One step at a time. Best to you and all the ranchers.
    I’ve also chosen this month and a few days into the New Year to slow down.
    May we all return with new strength and joy.

    Looking forward to Dec 16th and all the Goat stories. ~ Cheers Jules

    Liked by 8 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Jules, I think it’s natural for us to need a time to slow down, restore our energy. I’m with you in offering a return with new strength and joy! The goat stories will be a delightful collection.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Liz H says:

    I had a feeling there was a lot of churn going on under the waters. Take the time you need, with the supports you have…a different joy is just down the river, a short kayak’s float away.
    All good things to you!! ❤❤

    Liked by 8 people

  4. suespitulnik says:

    Charli,
    Thank you for your honesty. If anyone deserves a good break, it’s you. We will be here when you return, refreshed, with your North Star bright as ever. If I can help in a personal way please don’t hesitate to reach out.
    I’m happy to hear you now have your own VA file and the support you need. And I’m so sorry you experienced an in-house trauma. Trauma is trauma and the residuals mean that everything is not all right.
    All the best to you with completing your tasks and finding your joy.
    We love you.

    Liked by 8 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Sue, thank you for your support. I got to spend time with my daughter tonight, wrestling her fluffy farm puppies. They are almost big enough to take on Mause and her energy. That VA support will be a life-changer for me. I will be back under a newly polished North Star, projects completed, and ready to get back into the journey with you all. I love all of you, too!

      Liked by 3 people

  5. TanGental says:

    Having been at the pond, fresh faced and new keen it’s been a privilege to follow in your crazy coat tails. Boy have I learnt a bundle hanging onto the back of the Carrotranch rollercoaster. If I have one takeaway – and actually I have many – from being here, it’s developing resilience as a writer. Keeping on, keeping on.
    Santa, I want JOY for Charli this Christmas, thank you very much. You have that indefinably quality so needed in all creative pursuits: bouncebackability. And thank you for everything.
    But enough of this eulogy. As the old man said in Monty Python, ‘I’m not dead yet.’ Have that break, send your mind on a cruise where all your mojitos are 99 words long. We will be there when you return to radio contact from the dark side of 2021. Just do it in your own time. And if it gets tough, just spoon with Mause. TTFN

    Liked by 9 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Thank you for such loyalty to the Carrot Ranch rollercoaster, Geoff. It was all fine when there was a pond. Time for me to sort the difference between bouncebackability and fingernailsdugindeep. Time to unclench and trust that the dream is still there, the North Star is not going on without me. To borrow another movie phrase, “I’ll be back…” And, yes, Mause and I spoon and chase snow. ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  6. I’m grateful you’re finally gaining access to the support you need. This weekend off writing a flash piece has given me my own space to breathe and also realise time off would be a great thing right now. I’ll be stepping away too until Jan 20th, when we restart the new year with new 99 word challenges. In the meantime, I’ll get the final scenes of my draft done and dive into my first serious manuscript revision process. Our hearts and minds are bolstered by your honesty and the steps you’re taking to protect your creativity and better define the direction you seek. Enjoy this time, without guilt or regret, I hope it’s a time of rest and discovery and joy and creativity in other ways, for you. See you next year!

    Liked by 8 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      Rebecca, this is such a good time of year for a reset. Getting to focus on final scenes is an exciting part of the novel-writing experience. It’s like getting to go on a long hike before the end of season. I look forward to you coming back! Thank you, I will heed your kind words and see you next year! ❤

      Liked by 2 people

  7. All the best for your break, Charli. Just remember that your ‘North Star’ may in fact lie in some other direction. 😉
    I’m currently working on a collection of my short (allegedly humorous) stories for self-publishing on Amazon. I’ll send you a sneak peek when it’s ready.
    In the meantime, take a break from being busier than a centipede on a hotplate. 🙂

    Liked by 9 people

  8. Have a good break Charli, you deserve it. I don’t think any of us know how much work you put into doing the weekly prompts. I don’t think I would be able to do something on that scale every week while also doing many other things.

    I’ve been thinking a lot about next year. I’m planning on making changes to my own blog. After over four years of blogging I feel like I have blog-fatigue (if such a thing exists). As of next year I’m limiting my posts to either once or twice a week. Part of me wants to move on and do something else, but I don’t know what that is. To be truthful, at the moment all I feel like doing at the moment is reading and watching movies, rather than writing. Next year maybe I’ll just return to writing articles on Tolkien and other interests, which is what my blog began with. I guess I’ll wait and see…

    Liked by 8 people

    • Joanne, As far as I am concerned, blog fatigue is definitely a thing. I used to write about three times a week when I first started. Now I am lucky if post once a week, and last year (2020), I don’t think I even blogged once week.

      Do what you need to re-charge. If it is watching movies and reading. so be it. May you find peace in 2022. ~nan

      Liked by 6 people

    • Charli Mills says:

      You sound like you need a refresh, too, Joanne. And it’s okay to want to slow down. I had the same thought the other night, that I just wanted to sit down and read without end. The collections for me are invigorating. I just have to find new efficiencies between the aspects of my writing life. A weave instead of loose threads! If you want to share ideas you have for next year, I can be a sounding board for your brainstorming. I’m all about this being the dreaming and visioning time of year.

      Liked by 3 people

  9. Charli,
    I may be a latecomer to this community of writers, but I have been impressed by your writing, your mentorship, by your work ethic, and your ability to share difficulties. May you enjoy your well-deserved break.
    May 2022 be a better year for you and yours.

    Liked by 8 people

  10. Thank you for the update, Charli. i supppose like many i was wondering and hoping you were okay. Ditto to everything here in the comments.

    You’ve lost so much in recent years and maybe the gains don’t feel sufficient compensation right now. I’m glad you’ve got the VA support that will perhaps allow you to prioritise yourself for a while. Mourning is really hard work and needs its own space. Take as much time from the Ranch as you need.

    It must be so hard to bear your husband’s hate, I guess it wouldn’t be as strong if his love hadn’t been so intense (and maybe deep inside still is).

    Your communities love and admire you and will hold you in our hearts till your return.

    Liked by 4 people

  11. My heart goes out to you and I am so proud of you for taking this time to recharge and reconnect to your dreams and direction. You are an inspiration and talented teacher… I look forward to hearing all about your vision quest and may even take one of my own. Merry Christmas and see you in 2022 ♥️♥️♥️

    Liked by 2 people

  12. I think most of us need to back away and not look back, at least for a few weeks! Putting ourselves first is always a good idea, especially these days…

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Norah says:

    Charli,
    I’m so pleased you have found the strength to take a break. You have powered on through so much in recent years, relentlessly. You deserve to take some time to nurture yourself. Be as generous to yourself as you are to others. I’m also pleased that you now have the recognition and support of the VA. By golly, you had to work for it, and you deserve it too. Just as Todd does, and maybe even more so as you must support him too.
    It was strange to think, as I read through your post, how much time has passed since that inciting incident and how much time we’ve travelled together on this dusty, muddy, writerly journey. I knew you back in those Idaho days and I know how different things are for you now. It’s good to take the time to reflect, assess and regroup, ready for the next part of the journey towards your north star.
    I nodded with understanding when you said you felt disconnected from your star. I have felt that too. When others congratulated me on my achievements throughout the year, I was surprised. I didn’t feel they were part of my ‘dream’, they were adjuncts, a path to the side; yes, still writing but not ‘my’ writing. But, as you said and I came to realise, I have much to be grateful for and maybe all these things help prepare me for what lies ahead.
    I wish you a successful break gathering stardust and look forward to hearing all your plans upon your return.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. My dear Charli, thank you not only for all your honesty in this post but for what you do for all the writers and visitors to the Carrot Ranch.

    You mentioned that some of your students had regained a love of writing from your teaching, and that is what being a member of the Carrot Ranch did for me. Learning from you has made me dig deep into my creative mind and has produced results that many tell me, ‘made their day.’ And your 99-word prompts were one of the pioneering points behind my publishing two short story collections.

    I wish you well on your break, but most of all, I look forward to what you have in store for the writing world in 2022.
    Reading your 99-word prompt and taking up the challenge is a highlight of my week.

    In the meantime, take care, and I wish you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy New year.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Your post, as many do, left me speechless. And I cannot say more or better what community members have already articulated. We love you and care about you.
    This hiatus feels like a right good decision. It’s hard to build the airplane when it’s in the air, and there you are piloting it too. You’ve been running fore and aft for a very long time.
    You will get grounded and you will get your bearings. And you will fly!
    Thank you.

    Liked by 3 people

  16. I don’t think you’ve lost your North Star, Charli. It’s just hidden behind the fog. The fog will clear in time, and your path will be lit again. I know it. XXOO

    Liked by 2 people

  17. HI Charli, I can’t really explain to you how your post made me feel. It is so hard to have your life kicked out from beneath you. I know as I have some dark times in my past, both financially when I was a teen and young adult, and health wise with my children, mom and dad. I live with someone with chronic PTSD so I know how hard it is although my experience is not violent or threatening to anyone, including the sufferer. I think you are exhausted and just need a break. The past 21 months of the pandemic have also worn everyone down, the constant anxiety, lockdowns, and stresses. I am also taking a break from my blogs from next week as the time has come for a change of pace for a few weeks. Thinking of you and wishing you strength and resilience.

    Liked by 2 people

  18. I’m ever so grateful you are finally getting the support you need! Take all the time you need. Life is so challenging, I’m wrapping you in love and tenderness Charli, warmly, C

    Liked by 2 people

  19. Ah, I remember the early days of a few writers here. You’ve grown this into a great community! I also remember the Elmira Pond blog. Lovely photos and words that I’m glad you can once again return to. It sounds like this break is just the thing and I’m thrilled you’re taking it. Be well and fill your soul.

    Liked by 2 people

  20. I read your post and nodded. My struggles are not like yours, but I definitely share the sentiment.

    You do so much for us all, now do something for yourself. I hope the time off helps you re-center. It really bugs me that I seem unable to do so for a prolonged period of time. There’s always something that comes up and turns things upside down. I want to start the new year with a new mindset and ideas, but I know better. Writing is my happy place and all I can wish for is that I am able to visit it more often in 2022. Please, visit yours whenever you can, too!

    (You mention you will be gone a semester but that 99 prompts will return January 20th. That’s not really a break. Unless there will be someone else posting those.)

    Either way – please take care of yourself and remember to take deep breaths (and exhale) while looking at a stunning view whenever you can.

    Liked by 3 people

  21. Hi Charli,

    I feel sad now, but I also feel very happy. I’m happy you were accepted into the VA caregiver program, and that the traumatic accident wasn’t worse, and that you’re taking some time away. I’m probably the most happy for that last one.

    Enjoy your break. Try and breath and focus. And relax. You’ll be in my thoughts.

    And for Todd, he’s not alone thinking what he does about the way refs call Viking games. There’s like, I don’t know, a million people just a few miles southwest of him who agree with his assessment. Check out buying a foam brick. They work wonders.

    2022 is too far away for me to know what I want to do. I’m just focused on what’s for dinner. As for what nurtures me, it’s being involved at Carrot Ranch.

    Be well.

    Liked by 2 people

  22. Jennie says:

    Please know that those of us who read your writings – they’re far more than a post – are starstruck by your words. Perhaps that is your stardust. That North Star might be closer than you think. Getting VA support is huge, and what you’re giving your students is, too. Best to you, Charli.

    Liked by 2 people

  23. C. Jai Ferry says:

    After reading this post, I went back to find the first time we emailed (Oct 2016) and re-read those emails — after getting over the shock that it was more than five years ago! So much has changed during that time and yet much of our core inspirations have remained the same. Although I have returned to lurker status on Carrot Ranch, know that it continues to inspire me. Love and hugs to you and yours ❤ (ps I'm with Todd on the snow question 😉 )

    Liked by 2 people

  24. Charli, take this time to just breathe. Sometimes we find our way out of the muck when we aren’t looking for it. Thank you for everything you do for our writing community. You are our (my) north star in writing and mentorship. I’m thankful for the day I found Carrot Ranch in 2015. Rest, recharge, and recuperate. ❤

    Like

  25. Enjoy your break Charli. You crtainly deserve it and I know just how important it is to look after yourself and take that time out. Look forward to seeing you on your return.

    Liked by 1 person

  26. […] Write – my dad, my fifth-grade teacher along with a lot of encouragement from blogging friends especially Norah Colvin who was one of my Beta Readers of my unpublished novel, Girls on Fire. I am also very appreciative of my Story Chat authors who share their writing every month with you, my poetry friend Colleen Chesebro and my friends at Carrot Ranch. […]

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  27. Hello Charli!
    I hadn’t written a 99 word piece of flash fiction in a while so I decided to look up your site only to discover that you’re on a much needed break. Enjoy the time off!
    A one act comedy play I wrote is going to be performed off-off-Broadway in early April (Covid permitting), I’m helping a friend write a screenplay that she plans on shooting later this year, and a screenplay I wrote has had some positive notices on the Film Freeway, so ’22 is looking good so far for me.
    Looking forward to the return of the Carrot Ranch flash fiction prompts!

    Liked by 1 person

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