January 23: 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.

January 23, 2023

Optimism needs care and feeding. It’s as fragile and mighty as a chickadee faced with enduring heaps of winter snow. They dart from one bare tree to another in search of the seeds they need to sustain them. Where they go on snowy days, I do not know. Optimism can slip away like that, too. A seed here, a seed there, and then hard times force me to shelter, forgetting the hunt for sustenance.

Is optimism necessary?

My answer is yes. Optimism gives me hope for the future despite the past. Optimism gives me roots in the here and now; a practice of mindfulness. When I think of possibilities, I can overcome problems. Like where to find seeds in sparse times. Optimism is why I believe in unicorns.

I created a Unicorn Room because I needed space for optimism. I craved a sanctuary where I could breathe, stretch, talk to the Ancestors, and map novels. If unicorns exist they exist in the form of possibilities worth seeking. First I painted the room pale pink, then I filled it with things to brighten the shine of optimism.

Magic unfolded in the way of synchronicity. Unicorns emerged. The first miracle of the room was completing my MFA. The second came when I overcame a spinal injury to cultivate yoga again. During dark times when optimism flitted dim like a hunkered chickadee, I learned to breathe through it and sit with my fears. When optimism rose, so did synchronicity. My room now houses treasure like a magic wand from my dad who is a mountain man (apparently he’s discovered Amazon from his remote high desert ranges). And a glass globe from Africa to ward off the evil eye. Not that I had been thinking about such things, but the gift is from an octogenarian whom I admire greatly. She once danced with Katherine Dunham and in a voodoo troupe with a python. My unicorns are highly protected.

When I think of the magic of unicorns, I consider the words of an American author an activist:

“No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.”

Helen Keller

I want to explore and discover and never stop learning. My over-arching goal in life is to be happy. Optimism can be cultivated and shared. Though the Vet Center has abandoned our local veteran community, I made sure my Warrior Sisters stayed connected. This year, while no offers to help us have emerged, I’ve purchased materials to spend the year focusing our veteran spouses’ group on developing an optimistic mindset. It’s something these long-haulers of caregiving to Vietnam veterans know about naturally. They are resilient. But they also deserve to be lifelong learners, too.

It’s a long and rich article, but you too can join us in our journey to optimism by learning more about positive psychology. I’ve never been interested in the Pollyanna kind of fake optimism because the authentic mindset is real. It’s work to cultivate, but worth the effort. After all, there are unicorns of possibility at the end of the mindfully constructed rainbow.

Even the earth holds onto hope. If Greta Thurnberg demanded of me an answer to what I’m doing about climate change, I’d take her to meet my Anishinaabe friend, Kathy Smith (holding the Water Walkers’ Eagle STaff). To witness a tribe regain their teachings is like watching a buckaroo saddle up a horned horse. It seems like magic but it is really the hard work of optimism to follow the path of caring for earth like kin.

We need to find our way back to center as humanity, seed by seed. In a brilliant book that reminds us of the power of hope, Celeste Ng (pronounced “ing”) has released her latest novel, Our Missing Hearts. Recommended by my mentor, Sharon Blackie, I didn’t hesitate to select the novel for my current ENG 103 class at Finlandia University. Listening to Celeste’s beautiful writing on audiobook has become an optimism tonic for me weekly. I’m also blessed with some deep thinking and feeling students this semester.

I’m buoyant with possibility in the uncertainty of right now.

A note that might bring relief or joy to some who blog — I’m lifting the no-links ban on the Challenge posts. It fizzled as an experiment. Please keep in mind, not all writers at Carrot Ranch are bloggers and I do not consider this space to be a blog but rather a literary community. There are intersections between the Ranch, the Keweenaw, and the publishing industry at large that remain unseen but give us all possibilities for connecting through literary art.

If you are going to share your links, please add meaning through thoughtful discourse. This is not a blog hop. Do not get your pants in a bunch if others do not go to your blog (this is not a blog hop). We have a strong and loyal readership at the Ranch who genuinely enjoy the stories and many have indeed found their way to your blogs and books. You are well-served to promote outside this community to find new readers (especially your specific target readers) through your participation here. For example, if you are published in the collection, add that to your author credibility and use it to bring new readers to your blogs or websites.

Keep our community space accessible and optimistic for all literary enthusiasts. Our weekly challenges are meant to cultivate a weekly creative writing practice and our collections remain fascinating curations of endless creative expression. It is a simple but optimistic premise for writers. We make literary art accessible in 99 words. Go write, read, and shine!

January 23, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that is optimistic. Feel free to explore optimism in all its forms from a positive mindset to toxic positivity. Is it a heartfelt story or a devious one? So much wiggle room for the optimistic writer. Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by January 28, 2022. Please use the form below if you want to be published in the weekly collection. The Collection publishes on the Wednesday following the next Challenge. Stories must be 99 words. Rules & Guidelines.
  2. Writers retain all copyrights to any stories published at Carrot Ranch.
  3. A website or social media presence is not required to submit. A blog or social media link will be included in the title of any story submitted with one.
  4. Please include your byline with your title on one line. Example: Little Calves by Charli Mills. Your byline can be different from your name.
  5. Please include the hashtag #99WordStories when sharing either the Challenge or Collection posts on social media.

Submissions are now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.

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  1. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    Optimism by A. Kid
    “I see ya have yer title an byline, reckon that’s a start Kid.”
    “That’s all I’ve got. So far.”
    “So far. Thet’s a positive mindset thet’ll git ya there.”
    “Tryin ta be positive Pal, so rather’n whine, I’m gonna go see Frankie. Reckon she’s seen a optimitrist, she might have some ideas.”
    “Frankie knows half a whut ya’d think bout optometry, but Kid this’s bout optimism. Visionin things positively.”
    “Oh. I see. Thanks fer clearin that up.”
    “So now are ya seein a story?”
    “Nope. Not yet. But it’ll come.”
    “Always does, doesn’t it?”

    • Norah

      I love their optimism. I little optometry helps the visioning too. ????

      • larry trasciatti

        Really nice use of kid language

  2. sweeterthannothing

    Your room sounds lovely! Optimism is not my strong suit, this might be the most challenging one yet

  3. suespitulnik

    Indeed, optimism does need to be fed and coaxed to remain at the forefront of thoughts. It’s only at this age I have found acceptance and peace within myself that I can share the optimism. I have made many mistakes, been let down by those I should have been able to trust, and have not accomplished what I could have, but now I can see the lessons learned and have cultivated friendships in which I can be totally honest without fear of judgment. Those friends feed my peace and optimism. I know I am contributing to others’ lives, as Charli contributes so much to ours here at the Ranch that I feel the magic of her unicorns. I am blessed to be a part of this community.

    • Norah

      I can identify with so much of what you share, Sue. Let’s ride those unicorns together.

      • suespitulnik

        Anytime, Norah! I carry one of the notebooks you sent to us in Vermont, the small shiny covered ones, in my purse. It’s the perfect size. Thank you

      • Norah

        I’m pleased it’s useful, Sue. In fact, I’d forgotten all about it. ????????

    • Colleen M. Chesebro

      Sue, you said everything and so much more! I feel blessed to be a part of this community, too. ????

  4. Kerry E.B. Black

    Ah, optimism. Spritely and mighty!

  5. Mr. Ohh's Sideways View

    I woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning
    But then remembered that I woke up
    My breakfast and coffee were ice cold
    But then I remembered that I could still taste and get out of the house
    I now have a new positive attitude, and it carries me through the days like I’m flying on a cloud. Then I remembered clouds are made up of condensed water vaper and I felt cold and wet and like I was falling from said cloud and got sick.
    I went back to bed and felt warm and happy

    • Norah

      That’s funny. It reminds me of a picture book I enjoy: What Good Luck, What Bad Luck. I like that yours finishes with the good. 🙂

    • Nicole Horlings

      Loved it! So funny XD

    • Liz H

      Just gotta keep on trying until it comes out right!

    • larry trasciatti

      It’s important to play the hand you’re dealt, and to enjoy it

  6. Norah

    I really enjoyed this post, Charli. It’s so good to have reminders to remain optimistic. If we want to achieve anything in the future, we must be optimistic. We must have hope. Thank you for the link to the Positive Psychology article. I love your unicorn room and the magic they make. May we all ride unicorns into a future of unlimited possibilities. The motto for the centre of learning (alternative to school) I attempted to establish last century was ‘Create the Possibilities’. I think that’s optimistic. If it doesn’t exist, create it. I guess I’ve tried that a few times.

    • suespitulnik

      I like that line, “create the possibilities.” The way life works, Creating the possibilities is an ongoing endeavor.

      • Norah

        Thanks, Sue. It sure is. 🙂

  7. Jennie

    Yes, yes, yes! I’m going to a teacher conference about optimism- how important it is for teachers to be that way in order to empower children to be their best self. I love this!!!

    • Nicole Horlings

      So true! When I was in teacher’s college, we were taught the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset, and that has really stuck with me ever since.

      • Jennie

        Yes! There’s quite a difference, and it takes optimism to have a growth mindset.

  8. Nicole Horlings

    One of the most optimistic songs that I’ve ever heard is “Roses of Success” from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

    Every bursted bubble has a glory!
    Each abysmal failure makes a point!
    Every glowing path that goes astray,
    Shows you how to find a better way.
    So every time you stumble never grumble.
    Next time you’ll bumble even less!
    For up from the ashes, up from the ashes, grow the roses of success!

    • Gloria

      One of my favourite movies of all time! I’d forgotten about that song though. Thanks for the reminder. ????

      • Gloria

        Those rosy roses ???? ????

    • Norah

      I don’t remember that song. What a beauty. I’ll have to have a listen. Thank you.

  9. Jules


    There was too long of a time that negativity ruled. Thankfully I am more optomistic these days.

    I had a little trouble adding my website/post link. But eventually it took. In the form it had an old non-functioning blog. I ended up having to re enter the post link – but it finally took. I may have created an issue because the title isn’t the same as the post link? But it should still work.

    (Title is also a link for any who are interested).
    Pause, for Lucky

    While I was looking up other info I found ‘Monoceros (Greek: ?????????, “unicorn”) is a faint constellation on the celestial equator. Its definition is attributed to the 17th-century Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius . It is bordered by Orion to the west, Gemini to the north, Canis Major to the south, and Hydra to the east.” So there you have it a Unicorn in the sky!

    (((Hugs))) Jules

    • Liz H

      Let’s hope that bunny stays lucky!! 😉

      • Jules

        Indeed. Thanks for reading.

  10. Anne Goodwin

    I’m not optimistic about my ability to write an interesting story about the nature of optimism (I could write an optimistic story, but I don’t think that’s the same thing) so I’ll probably contribute something about toxic positivity. In the meantime, I’m offering a link to my post for World Mental Health Day on Mental health and the tyranny of positivity https://annegoodwin.weebly.com/1/post/2022/09/mental-health-and-the-tyranny-of-positivity.html

  11. Gloria

    I have to say, I’m quite good at kicking myself up the behind when my attitude and mood dips. I remember back to when I was a teenager, going through challenging times, I began reading motivational books. They really helped me and I’ve held on to the skills I learned back then on how to stay positive and optimistic! I think it’s a very important part of a healthy lifestyle.
    I’m a bit lost with your comment there, Charli, about adding links. I’m a little out of touch with some of the changes you’ve been making. Sorry! I have been popping in and out, but very quickly. I’ll catch up!
    I’ve been quite absent from the blogosphere lately because my headspace has been taken up by the publishing process of my novel. Six years in the making and I’ve finally published! (I’m not self-promoting here)
    You were part of the process back in 2019 when you helped me put together my author plan.
    I stuck with it, mainly because I stayed *optimistic* throughout every torturous moment! ????

    • suespitulnik

      Congratulations on publishing! Well done.

      • Gloria

        Thank you Sue.

      • Gloria

        Thanks, Sue.

    • Norah

      Congratulations on your publishing success and staying optimistic, Gloria.

      • Gloria

        Thank you, Norah.

  12. Colleen M. Chesebro

    So we can add our links in the comments again? Should we copy our story in the comments too? I’m good either way? Just want to do the right thing. LOL! ????

  13. joanne the geek

    I tend to comment much as I never know what to say. My communication is done through my poems and stories. I don’t have much to say beyond that…

    • joanne the geek

      I meant to say I don’t tend to comment much… I really wish you could edit these comments.

      • Gloria

        I get you there. I’ve often written comments and then deleted them. Either I’ve babbled too much or just repeated what someone else has already said.

    • suespitulnik

      I understand, Joanne. By the time I get around to reading, the comments have already been made, and I don’t know what else to add. There are only so many ways to say well done.

  14. Sam "Goldie" Kirk

    Optimism had never been my thing. Hope on the other hand can be close or far. In large or small amounts. My baseline is realism supplemented with faith and hope.

  15. Gloria

    Thank you very much, North.

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