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Happy Holidays to one and all, no matter what or how you are celebrating this year!
Last night, I bundled up and stepped out into a howling snow-gale, making good on my Solstice intention to walk every day. Wind whipped snow from every direction, burying my neighborhood in drifts. I walked down the middle of the back alleyway and when I turned toward Roberts Street, tall maples cast shadows against the house lights.
We never know when creativity will call us. In the middle of the street in the middle of a blizzard, I played with the shadows, walking up and down trees, crossing over on branches. When I returned on my walk, I laughed at my own tracks. It looked like booted elves had danced in the road. Just one elf. Me.
I continued to have fun and made a large peace sign in the snow covering my driveway. Sometimes we don’t need to share our art with the world. Sometimes we create and let the storm obliterate our moment of inspiration. Yet, the part of us that wants to share creation, we act thoughtfully on the what, how, where and when.
This end-of-year closes a chapter in my calendar book and I like to reflect on what was and deliberate on what will be. This is my visioning time of year and I take my vision play seriously. If you are serious, you might be interested in a download of my course, Writers Vision Planting.
If 2020 doesn’t blow up 2021, I have plans to graduate with a completed thesis. We do not receive a grade for a thesis — either the program accepts it, or not. My advisor has five weeks to give me feedback and she’s cautioned me that second drafts are not ready. She says it took her six months to get her accepted thesis ready for submission. I will do what it takes but anticipate shifting from student to professional.
My MFA has a dual path. I’ve also been training to teach creative writing online. I’ve crafted a plan with feedback from my profs, and I want to break it into phases. So I’m taking a year-end break to dream, think, play, and plan. Oh, and write my second draft. There’s always that!
In the meantime, I want to encourage you all to find moments to celebrate, rest, dream, and plan for what next. D. Avery, Ruchira Khanna, and H.R.R. Gorman will see you through the New Year. D. will be at the Saddle Up Saloon, December 28 and January 4. Ruchira and H. will post their columns December 29 and January 5. We have lots lined up for Carrot Ranch in 2021! The Saloon will continue every Monday, featured columns on Tuesdays with three new writers, including Hugh Roberts, T. Marie Bertineau, and Anna Rodeiguez who is in my MFA cohort.
Weekly challenges resume January 7, 2021. And Mause comes to live with us January 10!
“Hey Kid. Yer face is scrunched. Yer thinkin’.”
“Wund’rin. Wund’rin where Shorty’s at when she ain’t aroun’ the Saloon or the Ranch.”
“Shorty’s always aroun’, Kid. But when she ain’t she’s at World Headquarters as Charli Mills.”
“Puts me in mind a Clark Kent and Superman somehow.”
“She’s a super woman, alright Kid. An’ her superpower is story tellin’.”
“But why does World Headquarters have ta be way up there in the Keweenaw, Pal?”
“Mebbe all thet water is groundin’. Mebbe there’s all kinds a stories up there, pilin’ up like snow.”
“An’ mebbe there’s other artists an’ storytellers up there. Mebbe this here’s one of ‘em. Howdy Rebecca Glotfelty! Welcome ta the Saddle Up Saloon.”
“Hello Kid. Hello Pal.”
“Are you a storyteller Rebecca?”
“I sure am. I started out as a filmmaker and I wanted to help other people share their stories so I started a nonprofit called Real People Media – which has the mission to help people share their stories. And right now, we’re getting ready to open the Keweenaw Storytelling Center in downtown Calumet.”
“A storytelling center!”
“Yep! A 7,800 square foot facility in which stories will be shared via the literary, visual, performing and media arts. We have an exhibit gallery, puppet theatre, 100 seat performance space and soon a throw back soda fountain. (It’s always fun to chew the fat around a soda fountain?)”
“Whoa. An’ right up there by Carrot Ranch’s World Headquarters. Mebbe the Keweenaw is the story tellin’ capital of the world!”
“Well, we hope to make it the capital of the Midwest at least. We provide exhibit opportunities for visual artists and performance opportunities for oral storytellers, singer-songwriters, and other performance artists. One of our major programs is The Red Jacket Jamboree-— that’s an old-time radio variety show which shares, songs, stories, history and music from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.”
“Thet soun’s familiar Rebecca. Reckon we ranch hands been givin’ voice ta our stories at the Carrot Ranch Literary Community. I ain’t s’prised you an’ Charli Mills found one anuther up there.”
“I’m so happy that we did. I had been following Carrot Ranch online for the past year and had been looking for an opportunity to collaborate in some way. Last December I ran into Charli and several other local writers at the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts at a performance of Selected Shorts. I think it was a friend of Charli’s who handed me one of Charli’s essays about winter in the Keweenaw and I thought it would be perfect for The Red Jacket Jamboree Christmas episode that was coming up.”
“Whoa! So Charli Mills told a story as part a yer Red Jacket Jamboree radio program?”
“Yes, and another Carrot Rancher, Michelle Wright too. Last December we recorded two one-hour holiday episodes. Michelle shared her story during ‘A Billie Holiday Holiday’ and Charli participated in ‘Christmas in the Keweenaw’. All our shows are recorded on stage in front of a live audience. These shows, which air this month on WNMU Public Radio 90, were recorded at the Rozsa Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Michigan Tech University.”
“A Billie Holiday Holiday aired last Friday and Christmas in the Keweenaw, featuring Charli Mills, airs on the 20th. If you’re not located in the broadcast area, you’ll be able to live stream the show during the broadcast.”
“We caught the Billie Holiday Holiday show! It was a lotta fun an’ we learned stuff too. Copper Country folks sure seem ta injoy the local hist’ry.”
“Yet they seem connected. Must be the stories… And Michelle did a great job, thought thet was a real fine story.”
“I’m glad you were able to do that Kid and Pal. For those that missed it, the Holiday show can still be heard. We’re sending the secret link to stream both these episodes over Christmas week to anyone who makes a minimum donation to Real People Media’s end of the year fundraiser. $3 for two hours of fabulous entertainment. It’s a deal! Practically a steal.”
“Dust off yer wallet, Pal, that’s all I want fer Christmas, ta hep out the Storytellin’ Center an’ ta listen ta some a our own share their stories with Rebecca.”
“Rebecca thet all soun’s like a lot a fun. What d’ya injoy the most ‘bout yer work with Real People Media ?”
“Oh, that’s a hard one. Because I’m super excited about opening the storytelling center to the public and helping to make Calumet a destination for the storytelling Arts. And I can’t wait to host storytellers from all over the country.”
“Pal, don’t that soun’ akin ta Charli Mills’ vision fer her Carrot Ranch Literary Community?”
“Yep, an’ ta the Roberts Street Writery. Beginnin’ ta see thet World Headquarters is takin’ root in fertile ground. Rebecca, this storytelling center soun’s great. We def’nitely wanna hep out Real People Media an’ their projects.”
“Thank you. More immediately, Real People Media just got a grant for The Voice Box Sessions. It’s an artist development series for young singer-songwriters and performance artists. High School students work with professional artists to improve their performance skills. Every month we’ll be hosting a new singer-songwriter who will perform a set, share their experience as an artist and then for the next 45 minutes kids will take the stage. We’re creating a warm and welcoming environment for these young artists. So I’m really excited to bring this program to Calumet.”
“But I have to say, Pal, working with the cast and performers on The Red Jacket Jamboree has been incredible. I love to collaborate and this show is all about collaboration. It’s a whirlwind performance. We have one rehearsal the day before the show, and then the dress rehearsal and then the performance.”
“Soun’s intense all right.”
“It’s a fun challenge, Kid.”
“What’s been yer greatest challenge since startin’ out?”
“Well, I started Real People Media ten years ago, so there’s been many challenges in that time. The biggest challenge continues to be raising funds to make it all possible. I’m the main fundraiser, although our board is now taking on more of that responsibility. But I’m the grant writer, the producer, the principle writer of the show, the marketing director, the janitor— you name it.”
“Whoa. What don’t ya do ‘roun’ there?”
“Remarkably, our incredible stage band kind of fell into place. Jerry Younce is our incredible guitarist and music director. He’s just incredible. He pulls the best out of everybody. And Bill Carrothers is one of the top jazz pianists in the world. And he lives in the U.P!! How lucky is that!! Harry South is a young bass player who lives in Negaunee and we rotate between different percussionists. All so talented. Actor Ralph Horvath has been with us since day one and I can’t imagine him not being a part of the show. Marty Achatz, Poet Laureate of the U.P. is the show’s co-host. His voice lends so much to the show. And then there’s host Lena Dorey— need I say more?”
“Soun’s like a great crew. Thinkin’ thet Keweenaw might be a artists vortex a some sort.”
“I get to work with great people, and in a beautiful place.”
“Reckon yer in a historical buildin’?”
“Oh yes. There’s been challenges with the building as well. But that’s another long story. Family Dollar said they would donate the old Woolworth’s building to us via email on Feb. 4, 2019; on March 7 of that year, ¼ of the roof collapsed. They said they would tear it down instead. We said, no donate it to us, and $70,000 to repair the roof. They said ok and that is what happened. We got the deed on July 17, 2019. We repaired the roof, tore up 15,000 square foot of flooring – sanded (one pass only) 7,800 square feet of wood floor, took down pegboard, put up drywall, etc.”
“Whooie, thet’s a lotta work, but what wunnerful programs!”
“The renovations are not complete but the center is operational (we recorded our last episode of the The Red Jacket Jamboree there end of September). It will be awhile before the theatre is walled in. For now we have a portable wall defining it.”
“Thet’s great yer in there though.”
“Yes, but due to the rise in COVID cases we are not open to the public and won’t be opening until the beginning of the new year. We just continue to have our window displays and shows on the radio at this point. Next up we’re opening an Exhibit called ‘Around the World in 80 Hats’. We hope to livestream events from the Center early in 2021. But who knows. COVID makes planning difficult!”
“It’s a horrible thing. We’re all in it t’gether.”
“Rebecca, we’re real glad ya took time outta yer busy schedule ta share with us. We’d love ta hear from ya agin, an’ git caught up.”
“Thank you Pal and Kid. Don’t forget, your audience can hear both Charli and Michelle telling their stories as a part of the Red Jacket Jamboree radio show. You can hear Charli through a live-streamed radio recording or a minimal donation gets you a link to these shows open December 23-27.”
“Thanks fer takin’ the stage Rebecca. It was great meetin’ ya an’ we wish ya well with all yer projects.”
They’re looking for lyrics for their Karaoke program next week! Free ranging characters who live and work at Carrot Ranch, Pal & Kid now serve up something more or less fresh every Monday at the Saddle Up Saloon . Got something to share? Take the stage! If you or your characters are interested in saddling up for a wild ride as a saloon guest, contact Pal & Kid via firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Ernie! Yer tendin’ bar t’night?”
“Yep, Pal. Kid’s at a table front a the stage.”
“Thanks… um, Ernie, the shelves behin’ the bar are stacked with books.”
“Yep, Pal. You kin git a adult bev’rage if ya want, but I thought it’d be nice ta have books out front ‘stead a bottles. This saloon is fer readers an’ writers ain’t it?”
“Well, yeah, it is, Ernie… it is. ‘Scuse me, I gotta check in with Kid jist now.”
“Friends, Ranchers, Readers, send me your steers…”
“Thet ain’t how it goes, Kid.”
“No? Dang, Pal, it seemed a fine speech. Considering the question of the colt of an individual— ”
“Khruschev, Kid? An’ thet’s s’posed ta be ‘cult’, not ‘colt’.”
“What’s with all the speechin’?”
“Jist thought I’d use some classic speeches ta practice my oration skills. Cain’t ‘magin’ how stressful it must be ta make speeches or ta read yer own writin’ out loud.”
“Oh. Thet’s right, it’s time fer anuther Five at the Mic. I always injoy seein’ an’ hearin’ the ranch hands readin’ their work up on the stage here. Some a these folks is gittin’ stronger an’ stronger. Shush now, let’s listen to Ellen Best.”
“Thought we was gonna save Best fer last.”
“Shush, Kid, she’s up first with a really beautiful story.”
“Oh, what a lovely love story. A lovely story a love. An’ Ellen did great up there. Ya ever perform on stage Pal?”
“Not on stage, but I sure’ve told some stories ‘roun’ a campfire. An’ think on this, Kid: what we might call litterture begun ‘roun’ a fire; oral story tellin’ is some a the oldest, richest litterture thet ever was. Reckon when Shorty puts out the call fer folks ta join her ever’ secon’ Tuesday, she’s invitin’ ‘em ta the fire. So let’s git D. Avery up on stage next. She might be the only one t’night thet’s actually at a fire; she’s got the woodstove crackling stage left.”
“That right? What’s that hangin’ cenner stage, her transpertation?”
“Shush it Kid. Let her read her story.”
“Was dat topia?”
“Dys-topia? Thinkin’ it were. Also thinkin’ thet satellite wifi ain’t all whut she thinks it is. But she’s by the fire, Kid.”
“Reckon so. An’ any writin’ folks kin jist contact Charli Mills ta meet up with other ranch hands ta listen an’ read at the fire ever’ secon’ Tuesday a ever’ month.”
“Yep. Didn’t have ta tell Australian poet Frank Prem twice; when Charli Mills made a later time so’s ta ‘commodate folks in other time zones he joined in with his wunnerful poetry. Shh, here he is now.”
“Kid, what’re ya doin’, cain’t ya snap yer fingers?”
“Mebbe, mebbe not. Point is, that was real fine. Tellin’ ya, Pal, speeches an’ poems is best heard read aloud by their author.”
“My speechin’ days are done!”
“Frankie? Hey there, Frankie. Have a seat. It’s Five at the Mic night.”
“Frankie, what speechin’ did you ever do?”
“I had call ta talk ta folks when I was head a my local union. ‘Member talkin’ ‘bout language.”
“Yeah? Which one?”
“The messy one. American English. Talked not so much ‘bout language but the words we choose from it. Ya notice folks now say mail carrier when it used ta jist be mailman? An lookit that. Mailman. ‘Man’ is half a too many compound words; don’t even git kicked back by spellcheck.”
“Whoa, Frankie. Stop. Back up. Ya tellin’ us thet yer speechin’ an’ advocatin’ turned terms aroun’?”
“Not jist me, Pal; it kin never be jist one person. But I did speak up when and where I could and should.”
“Way ta go, Frankie. Yer gonna like this next readin’ then. In speakin’ ‘bout her veterans’ group Susan Spitulnik speaks up ‘bout speakin’ up an even makin’ noise.”
“She was awesome. She’s gittin’ real good at this live readin’.”
“Trick ta public speakin’ Kid, is ta make eye contact with yer audience.”
“Uh-huh. So did you git nervous, Frankie?”
“Well anuther trick is ta have a little shot a courage afore hand. Ernie?”
“I’ll pour ya anuther, Frankie. But bravest speech I ever made was just the other night, front of a small but supportive group.”
“Yep. It was only nine words; a introduction followed by a admission.”
“How’d it end, Ernie?”
“It’s just beginning, Kid, a first step. Goin’ forward it’s gonna be work and it’s gonna be great.”
“Ohhh… Good fer you Ernie. That was a fine speech ya give, even if we weren’t there. But we’re here fer ya.”
“Thanks, Kid. What’s the hardest thing you ever had ta say?”
“I was wrong. Have ta say it a lot, but it never gets easier.”
“Shush, you two. Paula Moyer is on stage now. She’s got a story ‘bout a guy who makes the right call.”
“Thet was tense. An’ then thet explanation. Thet guy was some quick on his feet.”
“Yep. That was quite a story. Whooie, Pal! What a nice mix a readin’s. Folks should know the next gatherin’ with Charli Mills is Tuesday, December 15, jist contact her if yer innerested. An’ ya kin join in but not take the stage here too.”
“Thet’s right Kid. Ya git a choice. An’ now we wanna thank ever’one who steps inta the saloon fer a visit as well as thankin’ those thet take the stage.
Free ranging characters who live and work at Carrot Ranch, Pal & Kid now serve up something more or less fresh every Monday at the Saddle Up Saloon . Got something to share? Take the stage! If you or your characters are interested in saddling up for a wild ride as a saloon guest, contact Pal & Kid via email@example.com.
“Thet went pretty well, don’tch think, Kid? I jist hope folks step up fer the next Karaoke night in two weeks. We got a great response fer the first one, ‘member?”
“Sure do Pal. Folks sent us their lyrics ta familiar songs an’ some folks joined in in the comments. That was a lotta fun. Theme this time is seasonal.”
“Reckon anything goes. Hey, Kid, ya fergot ta turn the record button off. Shift, we’re still live… da— #########################################################
A Rodeo Contest inspired by the green eyes of a wanted poster. Goldie announces the winner to Rodeo #4…
If you remember, in October, we tightened our grips on the reins and we Rodeoed. Four weeks, four hosts, four contests, four winners, four prizes! Thanks to Charli and the Carrot Ranch, I was able to not only participate in those writing challenges, but also host one.
When I volunteered, I was not sure what to expect, but since I like trying new things, I just went for it. When the time arrived, I came up with a prompt (quote + masterpiece painting), crossed my finger, and hoped for the best.
If you would like to read more about the contest or maybe even write a story of your own (outside of the contest), take a look here -> (Writing Contest) Rodeo #4: “Wanted Alive”. (You should also check it out if you had missed my art.)
All I could think of was: “What if no one enters?” I wondered…
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Join Kerry E.B. Black for this week’s Rodeo Contest!
This year, spin a yarn as long as the Rio Grande (in 99 words, that is) to be a contender in a Western-themed Folk Tale or Fable event of the Carrot Ranch Writing Rodeo!
Yours truly is the leader for this event, so saddle up, round ‘em up, and write those words for a shot at winning a $25 Amazon Gift Card and your work immortalized at https://CarrotRanch.com/
How do you participate?
SIMPLE! Write ONE original folk tale or fable in 99 words. Exactly 99 words (not including title and byline) *Don’t publish the piece anywhere until after the contest is completed (The end of November, 2020) because we want the blind judging to be fair and uninfluenced.
Is there an entry fee? NO, Cowfolk! No Entry Fee!
Can I enter more than one story? No, one only. Sorry.
Deadline? All entries must be…
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My son is handsome, in love, and has connected our family to his wife’s. Our trip to the Wisconsin Dells and back in a rented blue Dodge Charger went well. I didn’t stumble in heels or while reading. We returned home to the devastating news that one of our closest veteran friends succumbed to his fight against Agent Orange. The funeral is Friday, outside at one of our remote Keweenaw cemeteries. Somehow, I thought I’d return from the wedding nuptials on a cloud and this term’s MFA finals would be a breeze. Life, and death, intervene, and we do our best to straddle the road. I’m asking the literary community to offer me a week of grace as my mind and heart are thick this week.
Please note I’ve extended the August 13: Flash Fiction Challenge to August 25. If you have already submitted, you can leave an offering in the comments — a 99-word story to celebrate life. I won’t collect those but will appreciate the expressions. The First Flight collection will publish on August 26, a week delayed. In the meantime, please read Susan Spitulnik’s column this week, Veteran Voices, as she profiles veteran identities. Also, catch up with Susan Zutautas at D. Avery’s Saddle Up Saloon and join the discussion about writer’s block. Friday, Carrot Ranch will host frequent flash fiction Rough Writer and author, Pete Fanning.
You have all listened to me carry on about MOG dresses and toenails and COVID-hair, so I thought you might enjoy a look at the wedding photos by the incredibly talented and hard-working Caynay Photography which, cheerfully, are not about me! That’s the thing about weddings — the focus is on the couple. Looking like we fit into their carefully sculpted landscape was vital, and the Hub and I did our parts. I was honored to read Song of Songs and from Paul’s Letter to Corinthians about love. I find these comforting words for the impending funeral this week as another bride lays her hero to rest.
Brothers and sisters:
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.
But I shall show you a still more excellent way.
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind.
It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
~ A reading from the first Letter of Saint Paul to the Corinthians 12:31–13:8a, the word of the Lord.
In the beginning and in the end, let there be love.
Soon, I’ll be another year older. I don’t really think of birthdays in terms of age; I’m more excited about cake and the possibility of a champagne sunset on Calumet Waterworks Beach. The 1.2 billion-year-old rocks interest me more than contemplating my meager years. I’m a mayfly in comparison to a Lake Superior agate. Why waste life worrying about growing older?
On Wednesday, I attended One Million Cups and listened to an eighty-something gerontologist talk about her experiences of growing older. Before she reached a high number of decades, she studied the aging process. According to definition, gerontology is the study of the social, cultural, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of aging. This woman educates readers on what to expect during the natural aging process. And I’ll give you a hint — aging is not a sickness.
Writer, Jolayne Farrell, answers questions at her popular blog, On Growing Older just as she did for decades in her newspaper column. When she told her story, I picked out many instances of her willingness to take risks. She talked about discomfort and uncertainty, but she also lit up at the idea of pursuing passions. In fact, she passed out her business card attached to a colorful blank card with a red circle she called a life-saver. She invited us to write down our dreams and keep that card with us at all times.
We might not be spared growing older, but our life-saver will keep us alive.
This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Gabriel García Márquez:
“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”
Jolayne shared with us her travels, work as a hospice nurse, and pursuit of what drives her own passions. She mentioned visiting other octogenarians in their mining homes (on the Keweenaw) surrounded by their memories. This made me realize how static we often try to make life. Do we think we can slow down the slippage of sand through the hourglass? I’m certain I don’t want my end-goal to be safe-guarding memorabilia.
My first year on the Keweenaw, I had a transformative experience at an estate sale. After the final owner of a home dies, a company comes in, working with the family, to clean out and sell the household items. I overheard a conversation at a sale — an elderly woman pined over a vintage set of glassware, commenting that they were “just like hers.” The woman’s daughter responded that they had downsized her belongings and she certainly was not going to get more “stuff.”
My heart ached. In part, I understood the daughter’s frustration. Likely, mom was living in assisted living or with family. She didn’t have the comfort of her old home surrounded by her memories. I felt the pining in contrast to the burden stuff can also bring.
When my best friend’s father died, and her mother went into a memory care facility, I helped my friend pack up her parents’ house. It was a painful experience, although we had plenty to laugh about (like all the teeth and hoard of toiletries we found in the bathroom). Sadly my friend died untimely of cancer. Is death ever timely?
Her children then had to sort through their mom’s and grandparents’ stuff. They were grieved and overwhelmed.
Yet, I felt for the elderly woman longing for her glassware. Sense of home stems from stuff surrounding us. I collect stories — books, rocks, and even broken glass. Other people gather family mementos or tools. One generation passes down glassware to the next. But not everyone wants great-grandma’s china. I have my great-grandmother’s recipes which I fashion into stories and serve along with the sopas or enchiladas. Yet both find connection to the past.
My imagination surges out west where the pining pictures pioneers unloading treasured household stuff to abandon glassware, dishes, and hutches along the Forty Mile Desert Trail across northern Nevada. The woman I briefly encountered at the state sale becomes one I imagine standing beside the wagon, gripping her apron as her husband deposits everything of hers deemed unessential on the blowing sand. The oxen stagger, needing water and hay. The children must walk in the sun, and they continue on, hoping the beasts don’t die to add their bleached bones to others. Once this woman makes it to Ragtown, did she dream of going back? In California, was she never satisfied, longing for her desert glassware?
Often, pioneers only had what they could take to remember home. Many would not see family again, and losing stuff adds to the sense of isolation. If you only had room for a few things, would you save a glass? Could you deposit your belongings in the desert if it meant your safe passage? Would you miss it years later?
I once saw a t-shirt that read, “Growing older is not for sissies.” It takes courage to balance what to take and what to leave behind; what to remember and what yet to experience. All the while we lose or sprout hair, find our posture slacking or our feet tapping out of sync. Did you know that a woman can experience hot flashes in her teeth? Yeah, no one told me that one, either. Digestions change and senses diminish. It’s the kind of transformation that signals the reality of change. Children grow up, waists expand, stuff matters more or less.
But Jolayne’s message was about embracing life. Not life at 20 or life at 50. But life. Life as it presents itself at the moment. Each day we ask, how will I live my best today?
The creative life is every day. It’s not when it’s now. On May 14, my middlest child turns 29, and a week later I’ll turn 52. It’s a middle of the spectrum age — it sounds young to some and old to others. It’s a number I can’t feel. I’m me, no matter what shifts. I have a robust imagination that sees beyond the day-to-day. Waly Disney said, “Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever.”
May 9, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about growing older. It can be humorous, dark or poignant. It can be true or total fiction. It can be fine wine or an old fossil. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by May 14, 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.
Old Bones (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“That bone is heavy as iron,” Ramona said, picking up a fossil from Danni’s workbench. Ramona no longer recognized the bone or knew its story. Nothing seemed familiar these days.
Ike put his arm around Ramona, grinning. “It’s old as you, Gran’ma.”
Danni was brushing glass shards, musing over what they might tell her about 19th century occupancy near her garden. She paused. “Ike, you know that’s a dinosaur bone.”
Ramona winked. “Well, if bones get heavier with age then that explains the numbers on the bathroom scale.”
Danni laughed. At least Ramona hadn’t forgotten her sense of humor.
Living in remote places I have experienced Internet difficulties, even piracy. But never before have I had devices fail, resulting in a communications blackout. As if I needed more evidence of impending apocalyptic doom, a winter blizzard of such ferocity hit the Keweenaw Peninsula it stunned even seasoned winter-hardy locals.
That bit of green? That’s all you can see of our garage in the photo. A sea of snow eight feet deep swells between us and neighbors. The wind howled through our street at 60 miles per hour, and at times we couldn’t see the house next door. Whiteout.
My story begins with the earlier blizzard, the one that blew in like streamers across the weather radar last Wednesday. The Hub had an appointment to evaluate his right hip, and we had to drive to Iron Mountain. The roads were choked with snow and the bad weather hit us after we left Keweenaw Bay.
The Hub said, “This is the longest stretch of 36 miles of anywhere.”
I understood what he meant. Each rise and fall of remote forested snowbound road looked like the last hill and it felt like we were stuck in some repeating time and distance loop. No houses. No towns. Just rise after snowy rise. For 36 miles.
By the time we got to Iron Mountain, the snow accumulated like suds overflowing a washer. We played 20 questions with the civilian doctor who ordered a new X-ray because the last one was over a year old. He asked, “Why aren’t you receiving treatment?” Don’t get me started.
Suffice to say, I’m on a letter writing campaign.
Driving to the hospital for X-rays delayed us and we returned to our car buried in three inches of snow suds. Everyone said it would be best if we stayed in town. The Hub disagreed and off we drove toward home. We stopped for a bite and the waitress reminded us we still had Keweenaw Bay and the Portage Waterway to navigate. Closer to Lake Superior, the snow thickens like Lady Lake’s velvet gown of white.
Once we left Chassel we could no longer see the road. If we veered toward the shoulder, headlights caught the wall of piled snow bern. Oncoming headlights gave fuller definition. But it was a total whiteout. We both felt relieved to see the lights of Houghton, cross the peninsula bridge and crawl up the deep snow ruts of Quincy Hill into Hancock.
We arrived only to get high centered and stuck in our driveway. Two hours later after shoveling, pushing, and getting the car out, we drove back down the hill to get gas for the snowblower. On the way we got slid into a snow bank. Rocking the car got us unstuck. Back home, we scooped and blew the drive and “trail of turds.” That’s the inglorious path to walk the dogs to do their business, which we bag.
Finally, I got to Carrot Ranch. VA days can be draining, but in a blizzard, it’s even more so. After my computer restarted three times, I closed down all my open tabs, programs and music to do a complete restart. It still continued to crash. Frustrated and tired, I went to bed, thinking I could better problem solve in the morning.
The next day, Radio Geek and Solar Man were home on a snow day because of the blizzard that was now just flurries. SM hopped on my computer to resolve the issue from the night before. All his fixed resulted in more crashing. I called the manufacturer and they walked me through other unsuccessful fixes. They advised a clean install of my operating system.
Pause a moment and ask, “When did I last save my writing?”
For me the answer was Monday. While working on my MFA application, I realized I hadn’t saved my novel folders since NaNoWriMo. I backup all my folders in one grand NOVELS file to DropBox. You can use iCloud, Google Drive, or an external hard drive. But do it!
Meanwhile the FedEx driver delivers our new phones. The Hub and I have limped along with a failing Motorola Android system for six months. An earlier system update depleted the battery. My phone became tethered. Even on our blizzard drive, it refused to charge in the car and at best I got intermittent use that day.
I was excited for the new iPhones but worried about the computer. I told the Hub we couldn’t go to the Verizon store until we got my operating system working. That meant more technology — I needed a 16GB USB and a different computer to download a new Windows 10.
Can I whine? Pretend I’m just wind moaning through eaves. But blast it I hate technology problems!
Thursday I posted a hopeful comment, giving enough time to reinstall Windows and return to Ranch duties. Friday before group with my warrior sisters, the install failed. A tech at Acer advised a different way but I had to go. The Hub had his group and afterward we went to his orthopedic because his knee swelled following a Synvix gel shot last week. By late afternoon we headed into Verizon.
Two hours later, the Verizon techs understood my utter frustration with the Motorola as it kept dying every time they tried to transfer files. They finally figured out how to manage it while keeping it plugged in. The Hub satin a cushioned bench and played with his new phone. I couldn’t figure out how to turn mine on. We knew a storm was coming over the weekend so we went grocery shopping.
Saturday spit snow, nothing major. Acer techs were unavailable and I couldn’t figure out my new phone. We cooked and watched a new show called The Umbrella Academy. Sunday the blizzard arrived and we continued to hunker down.
Mid afternoon I attempted to take out one of the dogs only to discover the front door snowed in. The back deck is a dog backup and that door opens inward and revealed two feet of snow. The winds howled and the dog shook her head. None of the dogs wanted to go out. The snow got so deep it consumed our car and filled up the piles between houses, covering garages and first story floors. It’s claustrophobic.
Today the kids and Hub dug out. The entire community dug out and neighbors and friends helped each other. I couldn’t get a live person at Acer and none of the tech shops in town were open. On a hopeful note, I figured out my phone, installed apps including this one for Word Press. I tried to get word out that I was okay, just having technology challenges instead of flash fiction ones.
After snow mountain moving, clearing roofs, and recovering vehicles, one of SM’s friends, an IT tech offered to look at my computer. He thinks it’s the hard drive not the operating system. He offered to rescue my documents and photos (because I save my novels, not the rest). He said he’d run a diagnostic on it too but he’s certain the computer is fried.
And I’m as wiped as it’s going to be.
What to do? I’m pecking this post on my phone. I don’t know how I collect stories on my phone. It would be time consuming.
For now, let’s play an intermittent game, after all, the challenges are about play and keeping creatively connected every week. This won’t be an official challenge so no compilation. But play along — write, read what you have time for and comment on what stirs you. Those are the three pillars of literary art.
Right now, I can’t shake that feeling of morbid curiosity — what would it be like to get buried in snow. The way that blizzard filled space was phenomenal. We have no way to stop such snow.
INTERMITTENT CHALLENGE: in 99 words, no more, no less, write a story about “buried in the snow.”
*Note that there will not be a compilation for this challenge while technology gets sorted. And forgive any typos I might have pecked out on my phone.
My sad and lonely desk without my laptop:
Grains of Snow (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Danni rolled a towel against the draft at the back door. North winds blew straight lines off the ridge, piling snow at her back door. Snow slid off the metal roof creating a wall. By morning her porch was tunneled in snow. Danni stood at the back door staring at a wall of white. Bubbie whimpered and pranced like a kid who had to pee, but G-Dog wasted no time in lifting a leg. Buried in snow, he’d add to it yellow streaks. Danni scowled and grabbed the grain shovel. It was her preferred weapon against winter burials.
Somewhere in a museum, marble walls border a room full of vases. Each vase displays qualities from behind protective glass cases. Each one rests upon plush velvet — a deep royal blue that accents the different shapes and hues of fine artistic renderings. The veins in the marble create a soft pattern and polish. Security cameras validate the assumption that this room secures valuable items on display.
People meander through. Children are taught to “not touch.” Everyone can feel the value of the place with unseen price tags that would shock the more common among the crowd. Those not shocked want to possess more of these vases for their own private collections out of sight from the throngs.
No one seems to notice the shards on the floor, swept away to an unlit corner. From the shadows, the shards remember what it was to once be whole. These shards came from a water basin, or maybe a jug for transporting figs. Whatever the purpose, the shards knew they had shape for a task. The original vase might not have been destined for a velvet seat on display, but the shards dream.
The shards dream of wholeness. They dream of Japanese myths that say that gold can mend broken vases. The shards envision how to rearrange into something new, something not seen before. They dream of purpose, to serve again. They dream of someone noticing them in the corner, someone willing to give a broken vase a break. Sometimes, the shards dream of blue velvet. Why not? The shards know beauty because they have known the pain of shattering.
Occasionally someone will step over to the shadows.
A bored child approaches, one who has plenty of vases back home. Who cares about these dumb vases in glass? There’s not a vase in the world Father can’t own. He steals a shard because he knows its naughty and wouldn’t that make Mother blush. The remaining shards sigh and rethink another configuration with one shard stolen.
A woman in high heels randomly steps on the shards, pulverizing the edges to dust. She grinds the shards under the toe of her Jimmy Choo, revering the feel of power over something already crushed. Abated, she leaves the shards gasping. Maybe it was foolish to dream of being worthy of blue velvet. Maybe it was a waste of time to find recognition as a vase.
Once broken, you can’t be whole again. The shards lie numb in the dust of what was and what could have been. That’s when the sweeper arrives.
Can even one shard have hope of being a vase again?
Hope of evolving into something more.
To be valued.
Without a second glance, the sweeper batters the pile of shards with bristles, grumbling about its unsightliness. Unwanted. Worth nothing. An imposition on his time and effort. He sweeps away the pile, scattering them down a dark, dank drain. Water flows and pushes the shards through tight places. What is left, lingers on a gritty bottom of a sewage pipe. In the darkness…
In the darkness, the shards dream a little dream. Why not? It’s better to dream of blue velvet or purpose than worry about the dark. Dreams light the inner places of the shards, and although broken and scattered, they still connect as one. A type of wholeness?
A rushing sound in the distance grows, and so much water pushes every last remnant of the shards out into a waterfall sparkling with sunlight. The shards tumble over miles of rocks and land on a sandy beach, breathless beneath moonlight. It’s so beautiful, the shards marvel, looking up into the vast array of stars on velvet so dark blue it’s black.
Can it be that stars are pieces on velvet? And yet, the shards notice with excitement, they form patterns, constellations. Now the shards dream of being stars! The water rushes in from the sea on rolling waves as translucent as green glass. It grabs at the shards and tumbles each piece in a playful game. The shards laugh with joy and go with the water.
Sometimes, from beneath the glassy filter, the shards see people on the beach. It reminds them of old dreams. Life is not so bad now, with the waves, sand, and sky. But to be valued. To be whole. It’s still a dream. People do not care about broken things. Best to remain in the sand.
A woman in bare feet approaches, toes sinking into sand. She lowers her face, searching. But for what, the shards wonder. She reaches out slender fingers to grasp a shard. The woman smiles. She shouts, “Look what I found!”
Another joins her and cries, “Beautiful!”
The companions sift around, searching for more. The shards call to one another — we are found!
That day, two women left the beach with a bucket of shards they treasured. Some shards stayed behind to experience the world. All of those found came under scrutiny. They were bathed and photographed. A man in a curio shop identified their family — a broken wine vessel from Roman times. Unusual. Beautiful craftsmanship. Broken.
Identity is not about going back. Identity gives foundation to what comes next. A sense of belonging in time but free to evolve. The women made art of the shards. One arranged pieces into shapes, mounted and framed. The other made jewelry so exquisite that one set went to a jeweler who displayed the grandest pieces of the shards in a glass case on velvet.
Great value came with price tags and news media. Pieces were made into whole projects. Of all the lives the shards experienced fractured and worn, the time spent on the blue velvet was most boring. Safe. Secure. Objectified.
Luckily, an adventurous world traveler bought the exquisite jewelry set and took the shards around the globe. Even to Rome! Which changed a lot since the shards had last seen home. Finally, the shards realized that value came from being who you can be no matter how broken.
We might never be whole again, but we can live a full life. Shards know true beauty, hope, and joy. Pieces become more valuable than the whole.
It’s been a week of healing and snow. I like one better than the other. One of our Rough Writers, Ruchira Khanna, has generously offered me long-distance Reiki and Healing Touch on my ankle. Tuesdays are quickly becoming my favorite day of the week! After she calls, I go to a quiet place (aka the couch) and rest beneath a big fuzzy blanket. Sometimes I have to shove over a dog, and sometimes the cat pesters me with her paw. I don’t sleep but fall into a warm, restorative space, watching colors swirl behind closed eyes.
I’ve experienced Reiki and HT many times before, but always in person. I wasn’t sure how the long-distance energy work happened, but Ruchira has been a caring guide, committed to helping my ankle heal. If you are curious or interested in working with Ruchira, she is accepting new clients in her practice. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about energy work at Explore the World of Reiki or the world famous Mayo Clinic. Ruchira is both a Reiki Master and a Certified Healing Touch Practitioner. She offers her services to Standford Health Care.
In other forms of healing, I had another EMDR session. I get stuck in my grief over many losses I’ve experienced, one after another. It’s like a crushing weight. EMDR helps me face painful feelings and neutralize them. This week, I had a vision during my session that led to the story I wrote above. It was a big shift for me to realize that value is not about wholeness. I’m embracing the lesson of the shards.
Snow, well, snow keeps falling. This is the Keweenaw I know and love with its Winter Mistress, Lady Lake. She’s been fickle and now fierce. I love the energy of her wild lake-effect snow. Driving in it is another matter, but our city is fully equipped and experienced.
If you are curious about the ads, I will continue the space I set up for the Rodeo. Kid’s Kat explains what you need to know (look for the cat among the ads). I’m still waiting for a decision from The Continental on the Radio Spot. We had so few writers, I’m not sure what they are considering.
I’m not the most patient person in limbo, and right now I’m waiting on several important outcomes, and it’s about to drive me mad. So what is a writer to do but write? And so I am writing. I hope you are, too!
January 24, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about shards. You can write about the pieces, the item they once were, or who picks them up and why. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by January 29, 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.
Stories in the Shards (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Danni sifted dirt from Ramona’s garden through the screen and shards of glass emerged. She had built the box to hang on a tripod to accommodate her shorter height. Thick brown crockery and glass from household items emerged. Danni would take this year’s haul to her barn, scrub pieces clean, arrange by type, and document. Every fall, when Ike’s grandmother tilled up her tomatoes and zucchini, Danni sifted for treasure. Most people scoffed at broken glass, but to an archeologist, each piece told a valuable story. One day she’d figure out why the crockery and mason jars were there.
Ho-ho-ho, or rather ha-ha-ha. 2018 seems to be getting the last laugh at me, but I’m punching back. I didn’t fall off the ends of the earth, but I did take a nasty spill down our steep basement stairs.
Good news is that I didn’t break a leg. Bad news is that I won’t be dancing for a while. Wait, I don’t dance. However, even writing or trying to sleep is excruciating and I can’t drive or walk. Friends are graciously helping me finish holiday errands, loaning me a cane, and taking me shopping with a motorized scooter. I’m laughing at the thought of trying to drive one already. I’d be more comfortable on a horse!
All week long, I had been collecting your stories for Cora Kingston and squealing with delight. I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to have writers join me in making historical fiction mud pies. Unfortunately, I hadn’t caught up on comments before the accident, so I’ll be doing that from the couch where I’ll be popping Advil and sipping hot cider.
It’s the end of the year, and those who know me won’t be surprised to hear me say it’s time to review our visions. I don’t mean the sugar plums dancing in our heads. I mean the vision each and every writer holds dear. Sometimes we hold it so close that we don’t give it wings to fly.
So that is the challenge until Flash Fiction Challenges resume January 3. We are also delaying the announcement of winners for the Bonus Rodeo until after the New Year.
Let me explain to you why I think visions are golden. Visioning is stating your North Star. Without it, you are a hunter with aimless goals. Dissatisfaction often comes from a lack of clear vision. You might seek the prize, but for what purpose? Why are your passionate about what you do? A vision imagines success, and a North Star guides you. You aim your goals toward it and use it when you get lost.
“When the vision is clear, the results will appear. Keep your mindset positive as you work your plan, flourish, and always remember why you started.” ― Germany Kent
Why do you write? What are your expectations, dreams, and goals?
A vision can be outrageous! You can have a vision to be an astronaut and still succeed as a writer. How? Write a sci-fi novel where you get to immerse yourself in the world of astronauts. You can have a dream to be a New York Times best-seller. Before you get there, you have to look at what success is on that journey. That’s why you set a North Star.
I’m going to share with you a process I use with entrepreneur and author clients. It’s my holiday gift to you along with encouragement to make space for visioning work over the next two weeks.
Part 1: Preparation
- Pick your topic. Be clear about what you are creating and why. What do you hope for an outcome? Focus on what you are creating, launching, or seeking to accomplish.
- Pick your timeframe. Visions typically span two to ten years. Five years is a good place to start. Your vision answers “where do you see yourself in five years.” This is not “how” — that’s strategic planning. Dream about what success looks like in a specific timeframe.
- Brainstorm for 10 minutes a list of “prouds.” Like contests you’ve won, or moments you overcame, or projects you finished, or reviews you received. Let good moments pop to mind. The idea is to build a base of positive energy and high-quality experiences.
Part 2: Discovery
- Write the first draft of your vision. Take between 15 and 30 minutes. Set a timer; this is a time constraint which prevents you from becoming bogged in the process. The most creative visions occur within 30 minutes. Believe in the process.
- Go for greatness. Think, MLK, “I have a dream…” Think big, specific, scary and exciting. Get past the 59 reasons why it won’t work.
- Write from the heart. Effective visioning happens from the inside out. Go with your gut, with what pours out. Ignore the inner critic.
- Get in the future. Imagine yourself there. What details stand out? How do you feel? Where are you at? What does your office look like?
- Write quickly. Use the hot pen technique where you can’t stop writing once you start. Don’t set down the pen or stop tapping keys.
- Get personal. Blend the personal and professional into a single, holistic vision. Include your passions. Grab the details that make your vision the dream that gives you jitters.
- Write it as a story. Use a date as a prompt and describe the story that is unfolding that day. Describe the many great things going on that make it clear that your long-term vision has come to be the reality you planned and believed it would be. Give details.
Part III: Revision
- Review and redraft. Let it sit a few days. Come back to your draft with a 30-minute review session. Read it out loud. Don’t erase what you wrote. Copy it and then cut and revise. Follow your gut. Don’t remove what sounds too bold or overly ambitious. Often, that’s what makes your vision special. Make it sound and feel inspiring. If it doesn’t make you feel stressed, you haven’t pushed deep enough.
- Get specific. Don’t say “founded a company” say where you located it, when and how many clients you have, how many products or ideas you’ve sold. Say which awards you’ve won. State how much of your income will come from your business. State how others recognize you in your industry. What do clients or customers say? Imagine them.
- Edit your vision. Work on the language, clean up the content and write a sharp vision in 99 words. But don’t cut the specific details or bold proclamations. Length is not an issue, but again, do this edit in 30 minutes.
Part IV: Polish Your Shine
- Seek input. Use only trusted sources to share your vision and ask for insight or feedback. The idea is to improve the vision, not kill it.
- Create your North Star. Once you have your vision, create a 59-word mission statement to set your North Star to guide you to your vision of success. Next, craft a tagline in 9-words.
Just like you, I’ll be working on my vision for writing and publishing. These are my visions for Carrot Ranch:
A Vision of Success (99)
Writers high-fived across the string of comments, appreciating craft and creativity in their sandbox, 99 words at a time. Carrot Ranch, an imaginary place made of real people from around the globe. A tribe. Buckaroo Nation. Authors and entrepreneurs arrived too, looking to forge brands and learn how to tell stories around investor campfires. Readers found literary art in small bites palpable to a modern diet of busyness. A buckaroo wrangled the words and published collections, hosted rodeos for writers, and flashed her way to write novels about veterans, history and earth science. The vision for the future rocked.
Carrot Ranch and A Lead Buckaroo’s North Star (59)
Carrot Ranch understands that writers and entrepreneurs need safe space to explore the craft of literary art and harness the power of storytelling. Lead buckaroo, Charli Mills, gave up riding horses to write brand stories. Now she wrangles 99-word flash about history, veterans, and rocks. Flash by flash, she crafts award-winning novels, leads authors on retreat and coaches entrepreneurs.
Tagline: Making literary art accessible 99 words at a time. (9)
Originally, when I encouraged writers to join me in annual vision work, I shared a vision that included small and intimate writing retreats. 2019 will see that come to fruition. It won’t be at my beloved Elmira Pond, but it will happen at D. Avery’s beloved Vermont Lake. Save the dates for two sessions that have room for three writers each: July 12-14 and July 16-18. More details to come.
2016 was a disaster. 2017 was about seeking stability. 2018 was implementing some big changes toward achieving that stability. All along, my vision hung in the sky, and no matter what happened, I followed step by step. You will appreciate having a North Star because life’s circumstances have a way of tripping us.
2019 will be a prosperous year, or so I’m declaring. There will be some big life changes for me but the struggles of the previous year have prepared me. My novel continues to hammer into shape, and I remain hopeful on that account, too. Vol. 2 stalled out after our Father’s Day floods and diagnoses for the Hub, but I will recommit to getting what we started finished this year.
Once you have worked your vision, set quarterly goals that you can measure (and use the Rancher Badges to encourage achievement). It’s good to revisit your goals every three months to help you stay on track or readjust. Every month, do a quick planning and use a Daily Activities plan to direct your most important priorities and balance writing with career and life.
Also, if you have any clever ideas for challenge prompts in 2019 (like, “break a leg”) now would be a good time to discuss them.
Whatever your year-end holidays or non-holidays look like, I wish you all peace, joy and the prosperity to see your writing dreams through to fruition. I’ll be checking in with you all from my couch!