February 13: 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.

February 13, 2023

Despite winter, my sun porch is warm.

So warm, Mause and I are crashed in a pile of concentrated sunbeams. She sprawls across the floor as if the intensity has disentigrated her bones; a puppy puddle. I slump in a lawn chair packed into what is usually winter cold-storage. It’s early February and instead of cabin fever from endless gray skies and constant lake-effect snow, I’m mainlining vitamin D from a blazing sun warming a bank of south-facing windows.

Sipping coffee, I sigh. My afternoon snack — a bagel with cream cheese and a smear of lingonberry jam — tastes indulgent. I only buy lingonberries during the winter solstice season in anticipation of making a big batch of Swedish meatballs. They were so good, I made two batches, one for a Yule party and another for a decadent meal with Todd. The remaining lingonberry jam has become part of afternoon coffee or midnight tea, depending upon my day.

The snow and the jam are receding, and I feel sad. Sad because I know I won’t buy more lingonberry jam until next winter solstice and I’ll miss the unique tart flavor. I’ll have to find another treat. Sad, also, because the snow has not been right this year. It echos the changing weather patterns of the Great Lakes Region, as expressed in the Pulitzer Center’s Connected Coastlines report:

Duluth is perched mid-continent at the western tip of Lake Superior, and many residents are stoically proud of the harsh winters that define the place. “It keeps the riff-raff out,” they assure each other. But in recent years the weather has become almost unrecognizable. According to Kenny Blumenfeld, senior climatologist with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, winters tend to be warmer, snowfall is getting heavier, and summer thunderstorms bring more rain. The disruption begets uneasiness; people who have developed coping mechanisms for extreme cold and plenty of snow now don’t know what to expect.

~ Stephanie Hemphill, April 29, 2020

As much as I’m enjoying my bones soaked in unseasonable sunshine and a break from daily scooping, I wonder what this all means. But then I remember that I’m asking the wrong question. I shift and think what is happening. It’s a recent practice I’m cultivating as a Hag (a woman in the second half of life and my choice of symbol based on my studies with Sharon Blackie in her Hagitude program). Dream tending has led me into familiar depths and my mentors remind me not to ask for meaning but to ask for understanding. I’m yet a student, an apprentice, a learner. I’ve yet to a-ha the difference, but nonetheless, I’m practicing the question, what is happening.

My journey thus far has led me to depth psychology (not to be confused with my recent commitment to positive psychology for the sake of addressing mental health in my veteran community). I’m having fun and enlightening and confounding conversations with my son. When I called to talk to him about the positive psychology workbook I bought to use with my Warrior Sisters, he was delighted. He uses his Masters in IO Psychology in his work for Epic. He says his specific role as a BFF to accounts is like that of a coach, using positive psychology.

However, he wondered if depth psychology was outdated Jungian theory. He encouraged me to explore and understand its roots and current place in the field of psychology. It turns out, IO psychologists like my son are in a different world of psychology. His work does not include psychoanalysis. Depth psychology is modern, current, and relevant; it’s a completely different field and yes, it is based on Jung’s work in symbols as a foundation. The reason I’m so drawn to depth psychology is its familiarity.

Depth psychology, according to Susan Rowland, is writing.

For years, I’ve tried to understand and articulate what we are doing here at Carrot Ranch in a collective way. Yes, the weekly challenge is about making literary art accessible, but what is literary art? According to Pacifica Graduate Institute (where Susan Rowland teaches), “Depth Psychology is an interdisciplinary endeavor, drawing on literature, philosophy, mythology, the arts, and critical studies.” Literary art is the process of going deep. Depth psychology defines the deep as psyche. According to Jung, the mind has two distinct depths: the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. Further, the Hagitude program I’m absorbing explains the unconscious as the Sacred. The Sacred is Nature. We can experience the Sacred by snowshoeing or kayaking or walking outside or we can experience the Sacred through the realm of dreams — the imaginal.

All these terms swirl about in my head like a friendly flock of chickadees. What I know from experience is that when I write, I go deep. This is what I began to understand as raw literature; the result of writing from the deep places of one’s mind. What if inspiration is the call of the psyche for each of us to remember who we are? According to depth psychologists, this is the purpose of dreams — to remember who we are and to access the Sacred. It makes me wonder if all along, my desire to serve others in a literary community has been to reconnect to Nature. When I learned about the existence of a Masters Program in Psychology and Creativity, I was struck by how it aligned with the forces that drive me: “…deep purpose, enlivened creativity, and devoted service.”

Holy smokes. That’s exactly what I want Carrot Ranch to foster in others. The mission is to make literary art accessible in 99 words. I better understand what I’ve meant by accessibility. I want writers to engage with creative writing in such a way that it gives us purpose, engages our creativity, and leads us to serve humanity through what we write. I want this for all writers not just experienced writers, or educated writers, or whatever limiting label we can apply. Writing is a tool of exploration and I’ve known that tool to be healing. I’ve never wanted Carrot Ranch to be “the best of the west” or “serious writers only.” Writing our individual stories weekly is an exercise in accessing our personal unconscious; submitting our personal stories to form a collection is a creation of our collective unconscious.

Literary art is also read and here is where we serve humanity with deep reflections. The collections have always been inclusive. Because raw literature does not require mastery of writing craft. We practice going into the deep and bringing something back. Every story does that no matter how well one articulates a sentence or punctuates dialog. Every story reflects some aspect of the prompt. And going where the prompt leads is daring to go into the psyche. When people read the collections, its not the “best” stories that make the impact; it’s the impact of the whole because it speaks from and to the collective unconscious.

We are modern-day mythmakers seeking to understand our world one prompt at a time.

A world in peril. Through depth psychology I have also come to understand that Science without the Sacred is out of balance. Science deals in signals, hard facts and empirical evidence. The Sacred deals in symbols. Nature is the Sacred. Humans exist because nature exists, not the other way around. The more advanced we become through industry and technology, the more energy we consume. Energy consumption is marvelous — it gives us lights to see by, warmth for our homes, healing for our hospitals. But energy consumption has a shadow. Climate change. The greater our reliance on energy consumption, the greater the shadow grows. We need more than science. We need the sacred. We need nature.

Reconnecting to the Sacred, transforming the Self — this is the work of tending dreams and writing fiction.

My deep dive is done for now. My smear of lingonberry jam is gone. Until next time. Sweet dreams and deep writing!

February 13, 2023, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about a smear of jam. Is it across a slice of toast, a white shirt, or something unexpected? The jam could be the focus or detail that ads a twist. Who are the characters with the jam and where are they situated in space and time? Go where the prompt leads!

  1. Submit by February 18, 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.

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31 Comments

  1. Anne Goodwin

    How lovely that you’re finding echoes of your instincts in academic circles. (I wish it wasn’t called depth psychology, however, as if other kinds of psychology don’t have depth — okay some don’t but they were a long time ago!)
    I’m interested also that there’s no room for psychoanalytic thinking in your son’s work in organisational psychology. When I studied this 20+ years ago — Kleinian, not Jungian — it blew my mind.
    Also thanks for the lingonberries. I’ve never tasted them but they featured in a recent read set in Norway.

    • Charli Mills

      I’m such a novice at speaking for anything psychology and perhaps I’m mistaken about my son’s branch. I didn’t think of it as a way of thinking! See, we need your nuances of understanding the field, Anne. I love all these mind-blowing ways to think of writing as deep. It renews my excitement for raw literature and expands my understanding of collective writing. Maybe I rename the Collection the Collective! Depth is a curious label in a field that does go beneath the surface.

      My first taste of lingonberries was in Minnesota. I was hooked on the tartness!

      • Anne Goodwin

        No, you’re probably representing it correctly but there’s a strong divide within the various subbranches of psychology on whether or not unconscious processes are acknowledged. There’ll be lots of differnt schools within IO psychology.

      • Charli Mills

        The branches are interesting to each for interesting fruit! I’m fascinated by the unconscious so even though I don’t know the divide, I know where I’m climbing. This also makes me think about how many ways an author can go wrong with crafting psychologists as characters, and yet with some knowledge, psychologists can add much to characters.

  2. D. Avery @shiftnshake

    “Kid, is thet lipstick on yer pig?”
    “Jist jam. Speakin a jam, ya heard bout Pepe’s new band? The Berries.”
    “The Berries?”
    “Yep, cuz they like ta jam out. They’re good. Pepe kin really carry a tune.”
    “Hmmf. He usually lets it slip. Who else is in this band?”
    “Pepe’s the percussionist. His sister-in-law, Cherie Le Shart, plays slide-whistle. Logatha plays accordin.”
    “Don’tcha mean accord-i-an?”
    “No, she only joins in accordin ta whether or not she feels like it. An Ernie, he’s smokin hot on the cigar box guitar. I play washtub bass.”
    “Thet’ll be treble on laundry day.”
    XXX
    (just tuning up)

    • Pete

      Haha, I think we were on the same wavelength!

    • Charli Mills

      Side-whistle! This band is treble all gathered together. It makes it hard to interpret the sounds and what response might be needed. Some responses are not appropriate on the dance floor!

      • D. Avery @shiftnshake

        Aw, Ms. Mills, perhaps you remember Cherie Le Shart? Or did she slip your mind? Anyway, I’m sure you don’t want to toot your own horn, but I’m sure you have it in ya. A resounding response that is.

      • Charli Mills

        She comes up now and again. Cherie seems to favor hanging out with her elders. Oh, I toot my own horn — did I mention I take a yoga class with Pepe? Those Legumes like to move!

  3. Pete

    “Smearojam?” Dad asked, turning to me. “That’s the band’s name this week?”

    “Yeah.”

    “Hmm, okay.”

    I glanced up from my phone. “What? What’s wrong with Smearojam?”

    “Nothing. Well, we had Pearl Jam back in my day.”

    “Pearl Jam?” I couldn’t tell if he was messing with me. “What does that even mean?”

    Dad tapped the steering wheel. “I think it was an aunt, or—”

    “Never mind. I knew you wouldn’t get it.”

    “Oh, I get it,” he said, pulling into Ben’s driveway. “Pearl Jam was huge.”

    “Ugh. Okay, thanks for the ride.”

    “Have a good band practice, kid.”

    • Charli Mills

      Pete, you and D. are jamming stories! It’s both amusing and humbling when the next generation doesn’t get out jam or believe our understanding of theirs.

  4. Nicole Horlings

    I really loved “We are modern-day mythmakers seeking to understand our world one prompt at a time.” I agree, writing is an exploration, and it’s amazing what sorts of places it brings you.

    • Charli Mills

      It’s like having travel adventures without leaving home, Nicole. May you continue to seek and make the symbols and myths.

  5. Jennie

    My goodness this was deep and thoughtful. Must have been from mainlining vitamin D from sunbeams. ????

    • Charli Mills

      That vitamin D straight to heart goes deep, Jennie!

      • Jennie

        Yes, it does! Best to you, Charli. ????

    • Charli Mills

      Sweet story with a jammy twist!

    • Charli Mills

      A demanding husband is no match for a patient wife. 😀

  6. Jules

    Charli,

    As always informative and entertaining.

    I played with a BoTS here for those who want to visit; Tree Treat

    • Charli Mills

      A treat, Jules! Thanks!

      • Jules

        🙂

    • Charli Mills

      It’s needed medicine, Ruchira! Soak it up! I enjoyed your humorous take.

  7. Norah

    Lovely reflections, and deep, as always. How wonderful to have those conversations with your son. I love in-depth conversations with my young ones. Your lingonberry jam sounds delicious, something to be savoured. I like that you used some berries for a decadent meal with Todd. This is a sweet prompt.

    • Charli Mills

      Isn’t it a precious moment when we have those deep conversations with our younger ones? I want the conversation to extend and last. Thanks for sharing in the sweetness, Norah!

      • Norah

        Yes, precious indeed. 🙂

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