October 3: Story Challenge in 99-words

Written by Charli Mills

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

October 3, 2022

Ideas flit like smelt in my head, but thoughts swim deep and slow. Ideas flash shiny bellies, distracting me with wonder. Thoughts evolve and grow. Sometimes they rest and other times they rise to the surface, tetrapods ready to breathe beyond the cognitive waters where they formed.

I savor the thought process.

Writers know to keep the well filled for inspiration, but we also want to keep the long forming thoughts swimming until they inform our writing. If we write what we know, we must do more than chase experiences. We need to let thoughts rise from the experiences we feed them. It takes time to be, to reflect, to connect.

In an overly digitized 24/7 world of convenience, thinking–also known to writers as window gazing–feels slow. It’s okay to let small thoughts swim a while, meet other circling thoughts, consume a school of flashy ideas, and then sink for later rumination. Thinking, like imagining and feeling, comes from our inner worlds. You can be thinking in a cafe, on a train, or perched on a rock where other hikers wave to you. No one knows the rich inner life you are living in the moment.

Writing our thoughts happens when the thoughts need to breathe and words on pages give them oxegyn. Here’s the fun part–we can write these thoughts in a sermon, a poem, a post, an essay, an article, a text, a memoir, a tweet, a novel. I tell my students, “Everyone is a writer; writing is thinking.” If you aren’t thinking, you aren’t breathing. And I’m beginning to suspect even ghosts and trees and snakeflies breathe. They don’t have pens or keyboards so they breathe their thoughts into ours.

If you have ever encountered anxiety, you know that thoughts can ravage your inner well. We can grow sharks–thought patterns that want to tear our flesh and eat us whole. Not all thoughts serve us and sometimes we have to go fishing and clear out the well we fill so deep. Some writers might even harvest those shadow thoughts and hard experiences, such as author, Kagan Goh. He’s a Singapore-Canadian spoken word poet, playwright, author, mental health advocate, and someone who lives with mental illness.

Kagan Goh is author of Surviving Samsara: A Memoir of Breakdowns, Breakthroughs, and Mental Illness. He is also an upcoming featured storyteller in Michignan and I’ve been asked to interview him for a Keweenaw Storytelling literary event. It will be a digital interview and e-tickets are free. I’m reading his memoir and letting it swim deep with my own thoughts.

This past Friday and Saturday proved a fulfilling multidisciplinary workshop, The Movement of Joy. I attended an online workshop last season for the Rozsa Center at Michigan Tech and have been captured by Naila Ansari’s graduate work in archiving black women’s joy. She has a crew of artists she works with and I was thrilled that spoken word poet, Ten Thousand, drove to the Keweenaw through Canada from Buffalo (I’ve been there!).

To watch thdancer and poet share artistic energy in collaboration is inspiring. They sparked a school of ideas and fed deep thoughts, too. As a writer of women’s fiction, I’m inspired by women’s stories missing from history. Both Naila and Marquis speak to the effort to archive stories for a fuller, richer record. Ten Thousand kindly exchange information with me and allowed me to record a message for my students. He’s willing to do a zoom class for them and expand their 99-word story practice.

I can’t help but think of all the fragments I chase as a writer and feed my deep thoughts. Women’s stories have come to me from ranches in Nevada, from elders in a mountain town in California, from slivers of information left on graves, Census records, and history books that focus on dominate culture men. I’m pondering how my work is that of an archivist. It’s akin to our weekly collection that is unfolds like story snapshots of literary anthropology.

We are archivists of the moment in a world unusually connected because of digital technology.

Last week, I wrote about my teapot. But after comments, I had to think deeper on how it was that I valued British teapots. A memory, a fragment, came to me. I was seven-years-old, new to Markleeville, shy, and without siblings. I met Mrs. Coyan when I delivered a bag of groceries to her. She asked me to stay for tea and stale cookies she’s called biscuits (this confused me for years as I thought bisquits were a type of cookie, not another name altogether). She must have said her beautiful round teapot was from England and I had a thing for tea and British teapots ever after.

When Mrs. Coyan’s son died this year–Gary was my bus driver and I babysat all his sons–my mom sent me his obituary. I realize it’s a story about Gary, but even in 2022 and written by a woman, the history unfolds through the male lens. There is no archive of his mother’s stories and her life was courageous and pioneering, too. My thoughts on all of this is renewed vigor for the value of archiving women’s lives in a genre specific to the gender.

Last week, a quick-witted smelt flashed, giving me the idea for rituals of tea from writers around the world as a prompt. That idea sparked from Doug in Australia. I went for it, hook, line, and sinker. The bigger, heavier thoughts I will leave for the depths for now.

Let’s write and have a spot of tea!

October 3, 2022, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about any ritual involving tea. It can be a daily afternoon tea prepared specifically or the reading of tea leaves in a cup. What do you know? What do you imagine? Is your story deep and ponderous or bright and flash? Go where the prompt leads!

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  1. restlessjo

    I will look for Kagan Goh’s memoir. Happy for him that he found his lady. I’m sure my son-in-law feels the same.

  2. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Dang it!”
    “Ha! Kid’s a little tea pot, short an stout. Cain’t handle the prompt, so’s wearin a pout.”
    “I’m steamed, Pal. Ever week, these prompts git tougher an tougher. But this week Shorty reeled me in with her fish stories. Thought I smelt what she was steppin in, figgered we’d mebbe git ta write bout fishin, mebbe wet a line. But then it’s back ta tea! Hmmph!”
    “Ya sayin thet fish talk was a red herrin? Come on Kid, these prompts ain’t codified. Relax, you’ll catch a story.”
    “I’m flounderin, Pal. Tea? Shorty fergittin somethin?”
    “Like what?”

  3. elizaseymour

    I attempted a story but it actually turned out a bit more like a poem. Not my usual style but an important message (in my opinion) all the same.

  4. Rebecca Budd

    I especially appreciated your words: “Writing our thoughts happens when the thoughts need to breathe and words on pages give them oxegyn.”

  5. Jules

    Hi Charli,

    I’ve watched some fancy tea rituals. I had ‘High Tea’ in a teahouse where ever tea cup and saucer was a different set with lovely plates and lacey napkins. I entered my piece… but made a very slight adjustment on my blog. Should I send a corrected copy? Let me know…

    Cheers, Jules

  6. Doug Jacquier

    Thanks, Charli. No pressure then? Talk about self-inflicted punishment. 🙂

  7. joanne the geek

    Excellent I can try to teach the Americans how to make a decent cup of tea ????

  8. Norah

    Growing sharks. I can identify with that analogy. I enjoyed the video by Kagan Goh (and the other one too). I’m pleased he was able to find the unconditional love he needed in his partner. Not everyone, especially those with a mental illness, are so fortunate. It must be reassuring and inspirational for many. I’m going to keep on with my childish play for this prompt, I think. 🙂

  9. Liz H

    Got it in, just in time to weekend and the autumnal explosion of colors!

  10. Anne Goodwin

    Sorry, I’ve written two, but I have a sense I might have written about the second scenario before, so just take the first if you like.

  11. SueSpitulnik

    Tessa will tell you exactly how I learned to drink tea while living in England. What wonderful memories I have from “across the pond.”

  12. Jennie

    Fragments and deep thoughts. Yes! That’s how it is.

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