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November 28: Flash Fiction Challenge
For those who rode in last month’s 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo, this is the date you’ve anxiously awaited. I use the adverb with understanding. This past month, I’ve entered my writing in two contests and submitted it to two literary journals. Waiting for notification can induce anxiety, angst, and doubt. Know that every writer experiences the rollercoaster ride of doubt. Artists combat resistance. Maybe you didn’t participate in the Rodeo because the word contest unnerved you. This is Carrot Ranch, a safe place to write, a fun literary community where you can find kindred spirits, a weekly challenge that displays 99-word stories. A contest invites danger; it sparks resistance.
If you haven’t yet read Stephen Pressfield’s War of Art, it’s worth the read. Some of it will make you cringe. Some of it will make you determined. He’s an author who understands the artistic battlefield. He writes:
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance…Resistance by definition is self-sabatoge.”
(Pressfield, Steven. The War of Art. Black Irish Entertainment LLC. Kindle Edition.)
It is not easy to overcome resistance. Each and every one of you who finds your way to the Ranch to read, write, or join a discussion is participating in the three pillars of literary art. It matters not that you are here every week, but as the host, I can attest to the growth of those who are regular participants. When writers are new to the weekly challenges, I hope they stick around long enough to experience the magic of writing to a constraint within the bounds of a safe space. The Rodeo is a series of contests meant to challenge you to overcome your resistance.
My hat is off to each contestant. Take a moment to congratulate yourself for overcoming, for resisting, for showing up, and for delaying gratification. The challenges are fun — we get to see our work in concert with others. However, contests select and eliminate. We may not be gratified this time. Even if we win, doubt will still try to whisper in our ear. Winning or losing never offers comfort. So why seek out contests and selective submissions? To overcome the impulses of resistance and to learn. Growth requires an awareness of how our writing compares to others.
Comparison can be the ultimate discomfort for any artist. It produces a host of nagging emotions that range from inferiority to full-blown jealousy. A winner can feel like an imposter. In fact, in the first term of my MFA, we discussed the imposter syndrome as a common affliction of graduate students. Understand that this mindset shows up for contests, too. However, comparison can be productive. Let’s discuss how because it’s important to growth as a writer.
First, acknowledge any negative emotions. Practice kindness. Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic, tells us that fear will come along for the ride of everything creative we attempt. Consider her mega-success (she wrote Eat, Pray Love), and yet she still feels fear. Resistance. Her advice is to invite fear along for the ride but never allow fear to take the driver’s seat. You can practice this every time you enter a contest, submit to a journal, or seek an agent or publisher. Invite fear along, recognize its emotional presence, but do the driving yourself.
From this frame of mind, accept any bludgeoning thoughts that tell you, “Hers is much better than mine,” or “His sucked; how could the judges be so blind?” Accept them as signals for comparison. Pause. Compare in a productive (and kind) way. Take a deep breath and ask, “How does her story differ from mine?” This exercise will teach you to learn how to compare and contrast in such a way that you begin to notice how craft skills are used. There is no right or wrong between your writing and someone else’s. The better you can get at identifying craft skills in other writing, the better you can adapt those skills to your own toolkit as a writer. Try to go a step farther and see what the judges selected. Instead of feeling hurt, set that real emotion aside and go deeper to identify one new writing attribute to try.
Originality will always be your ace card. No one has experienced the life you have. How can you express your sensations, experiences, concepts, and observations in your writing? That’s your voice. Cultivate your voice and you will cultivate originality. I see this truth played out week after week at Carrot Ranch. You go where the prompt leads because it will lead you to your voice. That intuition is what you learn to follow. You can always revise, but let originality lead the way.
The most original stories are not always the most sensational. I think mainstream media tricks us into believing that hooks have to be startling. What surprised me most about the entries to the 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo was how prompts lead to greater originality. One of our contests was unprompted (Three-Act Stories) and instead of broadening originality, many writers resorted to sensational ideas for stories. Funny thing is, this diminished the impact because what was meant to be shocking risked becoming cliche. Let that sink in a moment. Writing about a hard social issue or injustice is not necessarily brave; writing about it from your own point of vulnerability is.
Your voice matters. Dare to follow that sensational (or common) lead into your own swath of experiences, blow past the tropes with something only you could write. If you take on a shocking topic, use it in an original way or say something new about humanity.
The most fun we all seemed to have with the Rodeo (judges and contestants combined) was with the Pro-Bull Mashup. Using three words from the source of pro-rodeo bull names and two niche genres (pirates and game shows) created a tight constraint and yet yielded much playfulness. In opposition to no prompt, multiple prompts pushed creativity. That’s an interesting consideration. Currently, I’m working with a 94-year-old WWII veteran in a writing group and he told me that as a child he read the entire dictionary. If he gets stuck writing, he turns to a page in his dictionary and uses a word to prompt an idea.
A standing ovation to ALL of you who entered TUFF Beans.
TUFF does its job and that is to force a writer to revise. I’ve known that my greatest weakness as a writer is revision. One of my best professors from undergrad days used to say, “Your manuscript doesn’t begin to sing until the thirteenth time.” Reality as a career writer was that I wrote to deadlines. I had to learn to write and edit simultaneously, gather momentum from interview transcripts, find original ways to include research with relatable analogies and write to my audiences for specific publications. As a marketing communicator and a freelance profilist, I got good at my work.
However, as a literary artist, I have had a tough time breaking those habits of simultaneously editing and drafting. I can write fast, and come up with original angles. But the more I pushed into my literary art and the more I grappled with manuscript revision, I felt like I had gaps in knowledge. Part of going back to get my MFA is to identify what it is I don’t know. What am I supposed to do each subsequent revision? Thirteen — how do I get to a singing manuscript when I can’t get past five revisions? I’ve developed tools like my storyboard. And I came up with TUFF to help me identify my blind spots in revision. I admit that I fear to make changes — what if I screw up the original thrust of creativity? How do I plot when my stories are character-driven and landscape-oriented?
TUFF and 99-word stories are tools as much as they are works of art. Many in my community use TUFF to craft business statements, explore narrative therapy, or generate manuscript revisions. Other organizations use it in ways I hadn’t considered. Offering it as a Rodeo contest is bringing it home to where it all began. When I see writers use the constraints to shift their stories and revise their original drafts, I feel giddy with excitement. TUFF provides its own lessons through the process. Our TUFF judge is a local life coach who loves using the tool with clients and business teams.
This year, I worked locally with our team of judges as I build up our Carrot Ranch literary presence in the Keweenaw. Here’s a bit about me and my home crew.
Charli Mills came to the Keweenaw from everywhere out West. As lead buckaroo at Carrot Ranch, she makes literary art accessible 99 words at a time and writes stories about the veteran experience and those marginalized by history. The Rodeo is a chance for her to encourage writers to push through creativity with courage.
Cynthia May Drake lives at the Ripley Falls Home of Healing, having lived in the UP for 30 years. She creates retreats and coaches clients to reach their spectacular potential. She regularly practices the 99-word and TUFF formats to resolve life conundrums, which has her fired up to be a literary judge for the Rodeo’s TUFF contest.
Marie Bertineau, born amidst the copper mining ruins of northern Michigan, is the daughter of an Ojibwe mother and a French Canadian and Cornish father. Her memoir, The Mason House, is set for release in September 2020 by Lanternfish Press of Philadelphia. She enjoyed the opportunity to work with Carrot Ranch on the Rodeo contest.
Tammy Toj Gajewski is an educated artist who recently retired from 24 years in prison where her nickname was Sgt. Carebear. She has written poetry and stories her whole life and is working on her book. She moved to the UP over 25 years ago and loves rock hunting, foster parenting, and dogs.
Bonnie Brandt came to the UP for MTU education and never left. As the daughter of a math teacher, she reads voraciously and belongs to a book club. She lives for the pun. She loves kayaking and cooking. She often will be reading even in summer!
Paula Sahin visited Carrot Ranch Headquarters during judging and joined in a session at the Continental Fire Company. She is a leadership development consultant trained by Brené Brown and manages Inner Wisdom Coaching and Consulting. She has a serious passion for learning and development.
Donna Armistead is a native of Florida and has taught dance and theatre in the Copper Country for over 30 years. Finally emerging from research mode to write a novel inspired by the lives of her Georgia ancestors, she is honored to have been invited to assist as a judge for the Rodeo.
Word Press allowed me to capture each entry and save according to IP address so that I could initially judge blind. I screened entries according to the rules and selected ten finalists in each category. I was looking for entries that met the criteria according to my perspective. I then shared criteria with my judges and let them use their own perspectives. None of the contests were purely technical. A few were more technical than others, but there remains an area of subjectivity. Judges do not all initially agree but everyone is allowed to voice their reasoning. Consensus was reached and three top places were awarded in each contest.
Each of the ten finalists will receive a submission critique. When I used to work with Paula Sahin, she coached me in ways to build strong teams. Together, we worked in senior management and helped our organization develop feedback loops that contributed to the productive growth of employees. As Carrot Ranch has grown, I’ve applied much of my previous career to our literary community, focusing on writers’ strengths and appreciating their use of originality and craft skills. With entry to my MFA program, I wondered if I could meld my positive feedback preferences with that of writing workshop critique.
One of my professors told me after a workshop exercise that I was one of the best line editors he had encountered. Editing is not my natural inclination (remember, I said my weakness is revision). What I realized is that by mindfully practicing positive feedback every week at Carrot Ranch, I had grown my skills. And yes, I’m working toward a brand of productive critique techniques to teach and use with others. I’m in my baby-steps phase, but by offering critique on contest entries where criteria are stated, I get to practice. Those receiving feedback get useful insights.
Be patient with me, though! Today is Thanksgiving in the US and it’s my second dinner, meaning I went to Wisconsin last weekend to fix Thanksgiving for my son at his request (Mama Bear can’t refuse an offer to feed people), then returned to the Keweenaw to fix dinner for my daughter, SIL, Hub, and friends. When on terms with an MFA, there is no such thing as a break. And somehow I thought it was a good idea (back in September) to announce winners today! I will not be immediately responsive, but I’ll be back at it on Friday when I’ll send email winner announcements.
Over the next four weeks, I will email a batch of critiques according to the order of contests. By the end of December, all 40 critiques will be delivered, just in time for my term finals.
I’d like to thank the Patrons of Carrot Ranch — your contributions maintain a dynamic community making literary art accessible. I have no staff. I have a small team of Ranchers who contribute as patrons. The work behind the scenes is my privilege. I’m grateful for all of you at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. It’s my life’s work to encourage others to write, read, and heartily discuss creative writing. It helps us all overcome resistance to our art and pursuit of it. I love what I do.
Thank you for your support of the Flash Fiction Rodeo. I hope you found it scary, fun, enlightening, and anything else you need to keep you on your writing path. Please take the time to read the 2019 Winners Page where all contest finalists, their entries and awarded top three places are displayed. Last year’s Rodeo Pages are all compiled into one 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo. To celebrate or commiserate winning, our prompt challenge follows.
November 28, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story about winners. Who are they, what’s the mood, and what did they win? Express emotion or subdue it. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by December 3, 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.
NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests are located at 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo.
Challenge submissions closed. Find our latest Flash Fiction Challenge.
Keep Trying Until You Win by Charli Mills
Martha posed her best winning grin to the reporter, spitting dirt as she smiled. The bulb flashed so brightly it turned everything to white blotches. Blinking, and wiping at the mouthful of arena dirt she received after the goat clocked her a second time, she looked for Auntie Bess. The old woman was leaning against the railing beyond the chatter of family and fans. Ducking the swipe of a hankie, Martha joined her Aunt.
“Why’d ya win kiddo?”
“Cause no one else would go after that stinkin’ goat three times. Figured, I keep trying ‘til I got him tied!”
November 14: Flash Fiction Challenge
Storm windows form an extra layer against the cold like thermal underwear in winter. It’s that time of year when my global positioning triggers EOSO — early-onset-snow-obsession. I recently entered a short story contest dedicated to the theme of snow. I wrote, “I live in a snow globe where a dome of clouds hunkers…” Storm windows buffer my watch over the ever-falling snow glitter.
And they went up this morning with whacks and thunks. When your house has lived through 120 years of storm window seasons, a rubber mallet helps to pound the frames into place. My son-in-law popped by this morning to finish up a few before-winter-hits house projects because winter already hit.
Already, I feel less of a draft with the extra panes. I wonder, when were storm windows invented? We have the original 120-year-old windows with glass imperfections that can warp the view outside. Who were the people who lived here before, and were they window-gazers? As writers, as creatives, as dreamers, we stare out of windows.
“Give me a window and I’ll stare out it.”
~ Alan Rickman
“In the old days, writers used to sit in front of a typewriter and stare out of the window. Nowadays, because of the marvels of convergent technology, the thing you type on and the window you stare out of are now the same thing.”
~ Douglas Adams
“My favorite journey is looking out the window.”
~ Edward Gorey
“Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.”
~ Edith Wharton
“If you want the people to understand you, invite them to your life and let them see the world from your window!”
~ Mehmet Murat ildan
“I was just sitting on the train, just staring out the window at some cows. It was not the most inspiring subject. When all of a sudden the idea of Harry just appeared in my mind’s eye.”
~ J. K. Rowling
My friend, Paula, drove six hours from Minneapolis to stay with me this week while drafts of cold wafted through the windows before the second layers went up. She came to stare out windows, winterized or not. My vision for home and Carrot Ranch converges — this house at World Headquarters is the Roberts Street Writery. A place to stare out of windows.
Paula calculated that we’ve seen each other three times in seven years. Before that, we saw each other daily, working on a management team together. Paula is a leader of leaders. Specifically, she is an independent certified Dare to Lead™ facilitator trained by Brené Brown.
“Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it. Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love and belonging and joy—the experiences that make us the most vulnerable. Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”
~ Brené Brown
As writers, to own our stories is to cultivate our authentic voices, the one distinction that will define our writing and keep our output original. We know all about vulnerability. To write is to be courageous.
My friend dares to step out to the frontlines of a VUCA world, to train leaders for uncertain times. When I first read the definition for VUCA, I thought perhaps it was a bit harsh, but then, look at the state of American politics this week and how much has shifted and polarized over the past two years. Look at crises around the world and our connectivity to it all. VUCA is a dim prospect to consider.
In a way, my friend installs storm windows, teaching leadership skills for a turbulent world.
Entrepreneurs are like artists. Or artists are like entrepreneurs.
“When I say artist I mean the one who is building things … some with a brush – some with a shovel – some choose a pen.”
~ Jackson Pollock
The Roberts Street Writery is a place where my friend could unplug from her busy uncertain world and slow down to dream about building her leadership consulting business. She arrived at the Keweenaw snow globe on Monday, Veteran’s Day. She joined a group of us from the Vet Center for dinner at the Pilgrim Steakhouse (they generously offered free meals to veterans that day). She joined one of my local writer friends, Donna, at the Continental Fire Company to co-judge a Rodeo contest and met my friend Cynthia at the Ripley Falls Home of Healing. We toured Finlandia’s facilities for workshops, shopped Copper World in Calumet, and had coffee at Cafe Rosetta. She told me it felt like there is more air here.
Carrot Ranch Headquarters is a place where artists and entrepreneurs can collect their thoughts, breathe, and find respite. It’s also a place to find an intact community. Paula writes about her visit in Good Times and Perfect Strangers. The benefits are reciprocal. The Keweenaw experiences new ideas, art, and exchanges. Roberts Street Writery guests experience what they need for rejuvenation. My friend is my fourth guest (our very own D. Avery was my first).
We have much yet to do to get the house the way I envision it for guests, but it is fully functioning and everyone enjoys its character. We have a queen bed in the Rodeo Room and a twin air mattress for the Unicorn Reading Room. After the first of the year, I’ll be hosting Silent Reading Parties and Write-ins. They will be live literary events simultaneously at the Roberts Street Writery and online. More details to come mid-January.
If any Carrot Rancher wants to get away to the Keweenaw, the Rodeo Room is open to you for up to three nights at no cost to stay. In the future, I hope to establish an actual Artist in Residency and seek travel support locally or through grants. But that’s likely a few years out. Like with everything we do, this is a simple first step.
If you are interested in coming to stay at the world headquarters for Carrot Ranch, shoot me a message. It’s an exchange: you get respite and a place to write, my community gets to meet a writer. I can set up readings from private to public, take you on a media tour, and let you experience all the Keweenaw has to offer or space for staring out windows.
This term, I’m studying plot and continuing to master x-ray reading. I’m plowing through I novel I detest, which is good. I’m reading carefully to understand how the author constructed it, what rubs me the wrong way, and why critics highly regard it. I’ll withhold final judgment until completed, but it has ruined my I’m-so-excited-to-read-every-day vibe. It’s work.
The other two novels offer more story, although one has horrible characters. Mind you, they are well-crafted characters, but shallow, racist, sexist, selfish characters. The third book has a great narrative drive and a protagonist (a book conservator). But the point of my opinion is that not all readers are a book’s target market. As an MFA student, I don’t get to read my pleasure. I’m reading as an author, and each book is teaching me something about the craft and industry marketing.
I’ve talked before about plotters and pantsers (writing by the seat of your pants). I firmly believe a book writer must be both, but how and when is a matter of learning to work to one’s strength. I identify as a pantser, but professionally, I’m striving for plantser, an intentional combination. I’m excited to be learning more about how to plot.
This week, I learned a way to craft a chapter like it were carpentry. Author Gabriel Garcia Marquez described in an interview (Writing Craftsmanship, Films on Demand) how the writer is to hook the reader by revealing the what but not the how. He gives an example of an opening that makes a reader wonder if the character gets killed. Our curiosity often breaks the spell to flip to the last page. Instead, Marquez advises, state right away that the character gets killed and then hook the reader line by line with the story of how.
One of my professors also linked to Kurt Vonnegut’s Shapes of Stories! We already know that one. But it is a useful technique to think of every story you are familiar with (from fairy tales to books read) and name their shapes. This exercise teaches you to identify plot. You can also answer these questions in brief when you read:
- How is the plot introduced?
- How does the plot develop?
- How does the plot climax?
- What is the plot’s resolution?
Know the difference between premise and plot. Think of a premise as that the what-if setup — what if an orphaned boy was capable of magic and had to go to a secret school to master his skills? How Harry Potter does that and all the things that happen next are elements of plot.
My professor pointed out that often, early in writing, we have a great premise but no plot. Premise is not plot. It gave me an a-ha moment. I love to write for discovery. But that doesn’t mean I discover the plot. Therefore, it’s good to master quick plot-mapping skills (through learning to summarize book plots) so that you can plot while you pants. Plantsing.
And if you are the opposite, carefully plotting, make sure you also take time to write without the framework to see what you might discover. You can pants in between plotting. Plantsing.
I know we have stared out windows before, but let’s have some fun with storm windows as a phrase or device in our stories this week.
November 14, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using storm windows. It can be literal on a house, but also consider other portals, even spaceships or submarines. Can you make it into something new or build a story around something historical? Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by November 19, 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.
NOTE: Contest winners from all the flash fiction contests during the 2019 Rodeo will be announced on November 28, 2019.
Snow is the Mother of Invention by Charli Mills
Trudging snowy streets in blizzard conditions, Regis arrived home. He flipped a spring-loaded mechanism at the side of each lens of improvised goggles. In place, the outer lenses prevented moisture from coating the inner ones. Tiny nozzles spayed an anti-freezing gel that kept the outer frost-free without harming his eyes. “Eureka,” he shouted, startling the crows in his bare maples. He hopped, skipped and slid, crashing through the basement door, grasping for any handhold. Empty-handed he sprawled across the floor. Regis pushed himself up and whistled cheerily. Storm windows for the nearsighted might be his best invention to date.
The Greatest Gift
If you asked people what the greatest gift is, you might be surprised at how varied our answers can be. This prompt initiated a conversation that explored the shadows of life. The sun doesn’t always shine, and happiness can feel fleeting. The longer we live, or the more direct experiences we have outside normal expectations, the answer shifts.
So, of course, the greatest gift makes an interesting exploration among writers. Ultimately, we can say the greatest gift is life — but we have many ways to express what that means, why it is so, and how we can manage such a precious and uncertain gift.
The following is based on the September 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift.
PART I (10-minute read)
A Better Way to Serve (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Freya returned from Iraq, friendless. Mark Bastia didn’t survive the IED blast. His dog tags hung with hers. Despite combat, she was never counted as their brother. She pulled a long drag from her last cigarette, eyed the perfect branch from which to hang herself, and decided the greatest gift to the world would be to remove herself from its spinning. She touched the branch and recoiled. 22 a day, and she would not become another nameless statistic. Instead, she enrolled in college to battle veteran suicide and opened the first satellite Vet Center in North Idaho. She survived.
The Greatest Gift by Jo Hawk
As the day approaches, my anticipation increases. Doubt wrings conviction from my heart while my head constructs lists designed to weigh each decision’s consequences.
My worry consumes me, and my mother sends me to visit the shrine. The Omikuji will predict my future she says.
Thousands of paper strips tied to pine rods dominate the temple grounds. I fear the multitude of curses and bad fortunes others have tried to leave behind.
Still, I make my donation and follow ancient customs. Trembling hands clutch the paper. I read my destiny and press the god’s great blessing into my soul.
Let There Be Light! by Anne Goodwin
When I was small, the chores all done, I’d rest my head in my mother’s lap and watch the fireflies dancing, Grandfather’s stories music to my mind. But as I grew, the village shrank, the daylight hours too short for all I longed to learn. My teachers praised my intellect; they scolded me for homework half-done. Until I got the greatest gift: a lamp that caught the daytime sun and gave it back at night-time. Now I’m off to study in the city where neon never stops burning. When I’m trained, I’ll return as teacher to my classmates’ kids.
The Greatest Gift by Norah Colvin
The class was aflame with a mix of sadness and excitement.
“She’s is leaving.”
“She’s gunna have a baby.”
“I’m gunna bring her a gift.”
“I am too.”
On her final day, the children jostled to give first, hopeful she’d love their gift the best.
“Mine’s bigger than yours.”
“Mine’s the greatest.”
The children gloated and nudged each other as the teacher opened the gifts.
“This is great.”
“Thank you, everyone.”
Finally, Tommy edged forward. His hands were empty. He looked shyly into his teacher’s eyes and whispered, “I’ll miss you, Miss. You’re the best.”
The Greatest Gift by Donna Armistead
Daisy, my grandmother, comes to the living room arch to watch me practice pirouettes on the sculptured carpet. The soft slippery loops help my turns a lot. Unless I lose my balance.
I stop. She knows I hate it when people watch me practice. Though slightly annoyed, I love her and her faith in me. Even when every muscle hurts and Vicki gets cast in all the best roles.
Ten years later, she writes me in Boston. “Keep dancing,” she always signs her letters.
Fifty years later, and I’m still teaching kids. Trying to get them to “Keep dancing.”
Time Traveler by Donna Matthews
My mother told me I could be anything I wanted to be when I grew up. I could be anything from an astronaut to an astrophysicist. But all I ever wanted to be was a time traveler. I mean, come on! Who doesn’t want to roam through the dusty pages of history? Tiptoe silently into the unknown future? But alas, as it turns out, my sheer will and determination can’t quite transverse the time-space continuum…yet. I desperately hold out hope that the smart people of NASA will figure it out before it’s too late to make my mama proud.
The Guardian by Bill Engleson
It was such a little thing.
He’d always lived in the house, worked in the mill. Ruth taught grades 1-3 for twenty-five years, interrupting her work twice to have their children.
She loved teaching almost as much as their life together.
After she was gone, he went too far inside himself.
Finally, he came up for air.
After that revelation, he’d sit on his porch in the fall, the spring if it got even a tad warm, the early part of the summer, and watch the kids go by, wave, smile, just be.
He knew she would love that.
The Gift of Courage (from “Lynn Valley”) by Saifun Hassam
Teresa was a nurse physician. Her excellent skills in the care of surgery and chemotherapy patients were a great asset. Some of her patients were children.
Her rapport with the children was remarkable. They would often talk to her about their fears and worries. She would ask them perceptive questions about what had happened. It was never easy but somehow that helped the children to focus more on their recovery, and going home, a fresh start. She would read from their favorite story books. They loved her. She gave them the greatest gift they needed in those moments: courage.
Greatest Gift by FloridaBorne
I’ve been asked the question before and the answer changes according to my age.
“What is the greatest gift you’ve received?”
Age 5: The doll I wanted
Age 15: GoGo Boots.
Age 25: Son
Age 27: Daughter
Age 36: A bachelor’s degree.
Age 46: Enlightenment
Age 54: The perfect part-time job.
Age 63: Holding my first published book in my hands.
Age 67: My first office with a window.
Age 69: Doing a yoga headstand and carrying a gallon of milk with my pinkie finger.
Health, it seems, is the greatest gift. For without it nothing else is possible.
The Greatest Gift by Jim “Quincy” Borden
“I think I’ll make up a story about how for Christmas I wrapped everyone’s present in gray wrapping paper. Each box was a different size and weight, and everyone could pass the boxes back and forth until they all agreed on which box they wanted to claim as their own. I’ll then write about everyone’s immediate reaction.”
Tommy was explaining to his sister about the latest Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge.
Suzie looked at him quizzically and asked, “How are you going to relate that to ‘the greatest gift’?”
“Greatest gift? I thought it was the gray gift test…”
Edward Bear Has A Good Day by Joanne Fisher
Edward Bear wandered the forest looking for honey. His love hadn’t woken yet from her winter sleep and she would be hungry when she did, just like he had been. During his search for a beehive, he encountered two humans. They took one look at him and screamed as they ran off leaving behind a large basket. Edward rummaged though it finding all sorts of foods, including a jar of honey. He took the basket to where his love still slept. There would be all sorts of food for her when she woke. It would be the greatest gift.
The Stupidity of the Sexes by Chelsea Owens
“What, Isla? What did I do?” Peter stared into her eyes; if his were not close to tears themselves, they at least reflected hers.
Isla sniffed. She felt the lines of wet on her face, the dryness of her lips, the misery of her soul. ‘Surely,’ she thought bitterly, ‘He knows what he did.’
Peter felt clueless. ‘All I said was that people never forget their first girlfriend,’ he mused, ‘Just because Stella said, “Hi…”’ He looked at Isla’s splotchy face. Maybe a comforting smile would help.
Isla burst into fresh tears. “I -I -I -gave you my heart!”
Time, Heart and Head by tracey
She was 83, too old to be living alone said her grandchildren. Her house was worth a fortune they said.
“It’s my home, not a house,” she groused. “Fine, when the Cubs win the World Series I’ll move.”
She spent her 92nd summer as always, listening to the Cubs on the radio. She was tired, worn out; it had been a hard year. In her head she knew it was time to move.
Finally, game seven of the World Series. Tie score. Rain delay ends at last. Her heart races, knows: it is time for the Cubs to win.
The Greatest Gift by Anita Dawes
Being here in the first place
The friendships we make
The lovers we take
Fighting through the storms
While an angry mother
Tries to rearrange the world we live on
The beauty of a coral reef
The sunsets, the full moon
So many gifts
The hand of a stranger offering help
The sound of a new-born baby’s cry
Someone will always be here
While others leave
A reminder of our immortality
Art made by a stranger’s hand
That we like to look upon
Most of all to be loved
To love in return, to live, to prosper…
Given, Not Gone by D. Avery
The gift of creation, with free will, was given long ago. Somehow this planet came into being in this solar system; over time each one of us also had a beginning. In our beginnings was wonder, was potential, power, and promise.
That was then, this is now.
Now we might dwell on our flaws and misspent potential, might despair at our human failings, might mourn the state of our planet.
Or, right now, we might acquire humility and gratitude for the Gift. Every Now is a beginning. We could choose to cultivate and nurture potential and promise, right Now.
Reciprocation (Rerun! first published for the April 6, 2017 Carrot Ranch prompt) by D. Avery
Do not forget Turtle who brought the earth up from the watery depths. Do not forget Tree, whose roots hold and cradle the earth, whose branches hold up Sky. These ones, Turtle, Water, Tree, Sky, are sacred.
Long ago these ones spoke together, and together thought to provide and to sustain; they thought us into existence that we might use their gifts.
Be humble. Our creations are mere imitations, expressing gratitude, expressing wonder. Be mindful. Give thanks to Turtle, to Water, to Sky, to Tree. We are their thoughts that receive their gifts, and they think us most sacred.
PART II (10-minute read)
The Greatest Gift by Faith A. Colburn
My son and his father don’t get along and that means Ben is losing half of himself. My former husband gave us scary times and he wanted to make up for it, so when he got his life under control, he gave Ben the greatest gift he knew how to give—a horse. That’s because when he was going through the worst of his own adolescence, his horse provided him solace. During summers Ben spent in Colorado with him, they rode horses and took packing trips. Those were good times for Ben, but somehow he’s lost whatever they had.
Properly Prioritizing by JulesPaige
Jackie was never just one of the girls. Life, if it’s too perfect, move along. Because you are dreaming. Once you wake up you’ll see that the greatest gift is to be present in the moment. And you don’t have to have any cards to carry to say you belong to this group or another.
One day you are thinking of making wedding anniversary plans and the next you learn your husband has cancer. A small slow growth removable by surgery. Which might not even require lifelong meds or radiation. Take each day as a gift, learn to live.
Time to Heal by Chris Hewitt
“I don’t understand, why can’t you just bring her back?” he sobbed, “You could just bring her back!”
“I can’t,” said Death, “I don’t choose who lives and who dies.”
“You’re Death!” he spat, “If you don’t choose, who does?”
Death shrugged and pointed up, “Someone upstairs.”
He shook his head, “I don’t want to live without her, I can’t!”
Death looked down and played with his hourglass.
“Please!” he pleaded, staring into empty sockets.
“I can give you something that will help,” said Death.
“The only gift I have,” said Death, handing over the full hourglass, “Time!”
The Greatest Gift by Ritu Bhathal
“What would be the greatest gift you could give me? Honestly?” Maggie looked at her husband, who was trying his hardest to make her looming 40th birthday one to remember.
“Of course, honestly Love. It’s your big day. The kids and I want to make sure it’s a day to remember for you. Don’t be shy.”
“Alright then, the greatest gift you could give me is time.”
“What, like a new watch or something?”
“Not a watch, John, no. Time. Every day. Help me out a bit. Act like their dad, not their babysitter. That’d be the greatest gift.”
The Gift of Life by Susan Zutautas
The gift of life
Was given to me
Not once, not twice, but three times
Cancer can be a killer
I’ve escaped it
I am forever grateful
I’ve fought hard over the years
To survive and the fighting paid off
I will never give in to this horrible disease
That takes far too many lives every day
Remission does not mean it won’t come back
If it does, I will do battle again
I’m proof of that
Live each day as if it were your last
Whether you’re battling or not
Life is truly the greatest gift
A.C.V.M.M.B. by Nobbinmaug
Don went to the same coffee shop and sat at the same table. He sipped his coffee and played with his phone. No calls. No texts. He saw the same people, but no one spoke to him.
When his drink was gone, he returned to his empty apartment.
He went back the next day. This time, he was greeted by a wave and a smile.
“Hi, Don. Apple cinnamon vanilla matcha macchiato blend?”
He looked up, smiled shyly, and said, “Yes, please. Thanks, Alice.”
She gave him the greatest gift of all, an apple cinnamon vanilla matcha macchiato blend.
Fire Within by Reena Saxena
She quit the family business to start something of her own. It’s not an easy task. She had always worked in a well-defined structure. The absolute freedom she has now, excites as well as unnerves her.
“I saw the angel in the marble, and carved till I set him free,” famously said Michelangelo of his epic statue of David.
There are not just miles, but light years to go, before she reaches her destination. The greatest gift she is born with, is her hunger for perfection and the ability to see that angel in the marble – her fiery soul.
The Greatest Gift by Miriam Hurdle
“It’s easier for me to give than to receive.”
“I know, Martha. When you receive, you feel weak.”
“You’re right, I feel helpless and vulnerable and admit other people are stronger.”
“Being able to receive gifts is a gift. When we receive gifts from others, we give them a gift of giving.”
“I never thought of it. When I receive a gift, I feel obligated to precipitate and feel guilty when the chances to return the favors become impossible.”
“The movie Pay It Forward comforts me and changed my understanding of giving.”
“I can tell it’s a great concept.”
Make Mine Music by Di @ pensitivity101
Mine is something I was born with, courtesy of my father.
As a young child, it was fun playing duets with my Dad on Mum’s old piano, then I started to play both parts. Dad always encouraged me, and my gift from him was the gift of music without music, a good ear to pick out a melody and transform it to suit my own style.
My aunts and uncles never knew I could play until a wedding in 1970. My grandfather stood proud and nodded to everyone
‘That’s my grand daughter.’
Happy times, memorable songs, my gift still apparent.
Old Friends by TN Kerr
She was sixty-three years old that year, but age didn’t deter from her excitement about the gaily wrapped gifts staged beneath the tree. There was one though, that stood out. The wrapping was heavy brown paper. Once wrinkled, but now rubbed smooth, it was an old shopping bag from The Seventh Street Market. A store that had closed almost forty years ago. She’d saved this gift for last and cradled it in her hands turning it over and over. It was rather diminutive, not large.
Neatly lettered in the corner she could read: “Happy Christmas, Clarissa – With Love, Hayley.”
Life’s Greatest Gift by Sally Cronin
Thomas prowled the corridors of the care home as its residents slept. During the day he would jump from lap to lap, rubbing gnarled hands with his head, accepting tender touches and morsels of food, hoarded and saved for his visit. For many he became the family they no longer knew, and was adored.
The cat slipped through a door left ajar, and approaching the bed, he leapt onto the pillow. Thomas purred gently into the old woman’s ear. She sighed and gave one last gentle breath, accepting the greatest gift in life of being loved until its end.
Repeat by Kelley Farrell
Life can twist our minds and rip dreams away
But in some moments we find
The greatest gift is perhaps not physical
But a moment in time
When we no longer have to be held to the reality of who others believe we are.
That moment wrapped in a lovers arms, the true idea of home dancing through every sensation.
Or a moment alone with nothing more than a breath and a soft whisper for patience.
Libations given in sacrifice of every moment thereafter.
When we come under fire we close our eyes willing ourselves to aim higher.
Slingin’ Words Fer People by D. Avery
“Pal, is’t true this Ranch’s a literary community?”
“Reckon so, Kid. Open ta one an’ all.”
“So is it a gated community?”
“Heck no. No gates, no borders. Free range writin’ fer anyone who wants ta play. Long’s they play nice a course.”
“Are there boundaries?”
“Jist in the word count, 99, no more, no less. Otherwise, it’s a place fer boundless imagination.”
“Why’s it always me gits imagined shovelin’ out the barn?”
“Shovelin’ shit’s yer special gift Kid. Yer real good at slingin’ it.”
“Yeah well, someone should imagine Shorty slingin’ bacon.”
“Tough shit, Kid. She’s slingin’ carrots.”
September 12: Flash Fiction Challenge
Lightning flashes as quickly as minnows in the shallows. It’s fall, cool, and a storm rumbles over the Keweenaw in the black of night. A few seconds after sharp silver pulses, thunder rattles the window panes. The radiators that sat silent throughout summer now diffuse a cozy heat that keeps the cold outside with the rain. Hot tea sits on my desk, and I ponder, what is the greatest gift?
Life. Liberty. Family. Art. Love. Home. A laundry list of answers comes to mind. It’s not my question but the suggestion of a prompt from my husband’s cousin. She and her mom sit on our couch in Hancock, the one they bought for us when we started to rebuild our household. It’s midnight, stormy, and conversation rolls around the room. The Hub is happy, sharing stories of the past. I wonder what my cousin means about the greatest gift when she says her story is dark.
I call J my cousin because she and the Hub’s sister, Silly the Kid (his nickname for her), were part of the greatest gift I got when I married him. Early on, I knew J was going to be one of my greatest friends. I loved her humor and intelligence and free-spirit. As a young couple, the Hub and I went weekly to her house to play board games with her and her husband, who was serving in the Navy. I marveled at their young three-year-old boy whose bedtime story was The Hobbit.
At the time, so long ago, J had a baby girl, a precious baby that made me anticipate the one I was expecting. Then a sheriff’s deputy showed up to our house one day with their son. We were the trusted people to watch over him the day tragedy struck. A few days later, we were burying that sweet baby girl over her great-grandfather’s grave. J’s husband was restationed out week, and J left.
I sit here now, 32 years later, thinking how heavy such an incident remains. J’s greatest gift, I suspect, was the second daughter she had years later. But as all mothers learn, daughters and sons are not our gifts to keep. They are their own people. We might give them life, but they make of it what they will. But it’s a pleasure to see J and Aunt M, her mom, travel the world together, staying in New Zealand January through March, visiting family across the US, visiting places like Poland or Alaska and taking world cruises.
Aunt M and Uncle R are my patron saints. Many, many years ago, Uncle R read something I wrote, and he told Aunt M that I was going to make something of my writing. She explained to me that he had vision and believed in my ability and dreams. He was subtle about it. He never complimented me directly but always showed interest, asked questions, and read my published work. When he lay dying, Aunt M read him my very first, and very raw draft of Miracle of Ducks. Whatever the book will be one day, it will be dedicated to them.
Perhaps the greatest gift one can give another is the support and encouragement to achieve potential. It’s a gift Aunt M, and Uncle R gave to me. I miss him. As any of us do when loved ones pass.
We are calling this trip, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. J and Aunt M flew from Phoenix to Chicago, boarded a train to the Wisconsin Dells, and hopped in my car last night. We stayed over in a motel after dark, so we weren’t on the road late. It was a five and a half-hour trip. The greatest gift can be the conversations on a road trip — the connections and deep sharing, the confessions and insights. Deep communication.
We arrived in time to meet up with the Hub, our daughter, her husband, and his dad and step-mom. We shared a meal at a new restaurant in Houghton called The Den. Family meals create some of the best moments, especially when the food and fellowship rank high. The gave me a bite of his scallop, and it was as near perfect as seeing my daughter so happy. I wish I could see all my three children framed in such happiness and enjoyed the moment, memorized its texture like the edges of a comforting quilt.
Tomorrow night is another dance performance where I get to perform four new flash fiction pieces. Having family in town for the show is a treat. Sharing art is another gift and a great one. The greatest gift this year came in Vermont, sharing scams and words, kayak trips and waterfalls, loons and laughs. Art is best shared. Art must be shared. For all the critics have to say or teach about art and define what it is, those who create it and experience understand art at such a deep level as to escape definition.
This week, both of my courses are focusing on the writing community and what it means to be a literary citizen. Well, my oh, my. I might have something to say on those topics! The greatest gift to my writing life is the ranchers of Carrot Ranch, their literary art, aspirations, and community. We might need solitude to write, the courage to go to lonely corners, and the solitary act of dragging words from the brain to the page to shape stories, but we also need companionship. If you are interested, one of the articles I’m reading is Do Writers Need to Be Alone to Thrive?
I want to take time to explain participation at Carrot Ranch. Ranchers can come and go as they please. The idea is that we play, remembering why we love the ride. You bring your own goals to the Ranch where it is safe for you to share, grow, and discover. The literary critics do not reside here. Personally, I feel that literary art involves three actions — reading, writing, and discourse. We discuss what strengths we see in writing and how a story moves us or leads us to recall or realize. I believe in the 99-word art form as one that can open up creativity and be useful as a tool. I believe writers who regularly practice the constraint experience magic or breakthroughs in creativity.
But what does this means to the mechanics of participation in our literary community?
You can write to the prompt and share in different ways. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, submit your response in the form. One, it streamlines collecting. Two, it signals permission to publish your writing in the collection. You don’t have to do anything more if your goal is to publish at Carrot Ranch. If you submitted a response, but do not see it in the collection, shoot me an email at words for people(at)gmail(dot)com. Some weeks I get a storm of spam, WP can be glitchy, and I’m at risk for human error.
If you want to build up your blog traffic, you can share a link or your story (or both) in the comments. However, passive sharing might not garner more traffic. Community requires interaction. Think of it this way — if you went to a social event to network, you would introduce yourself, hand out business cards, and respond to the cards you collect, as well. In the comments, be social at the level you hope to cultivate. If you want blog traffic, visit the blogs of others, and make supportive and meaningful comments.
If you want kinship among writers, get to know people through the comments, stories, and blogs you encounter. You’ll find that many writers who come here are also on other social media platforms, such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. Many host or participate in other prompts. Some also have blog opportunities such as indie book reviews or posting thematic blog archives. Get to know what is happening in the greater writing community.
As a rule of thumb, comment “high and low.” In other words, read the story before yours, and the story after. You are not obligated to read them all in the comments, although I highly recommend taking time to read each 10-minute part in the weekly collection. If you were moved by a particular 99-words, let that author know.
Next month, we will have a Rodeo of Flash Fiction Contests. I’ve been remiss all year in following up with my terrific leaders from the past two years. But the show will go on — instead of challenges, Carrot Ranch will host four weekly contests next month instead of challenges. Each contest will be juried and a top prize of $25 awarded. Each contest is meant to test the skills of a writer, and your best work is anticipated.
September 12, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes the greatest gift. Answer it as if it were a question, or show what it could be. Go where the prompt leads you!
Respond by September 17, 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.
SUBMISSIONS FOR PUBLICATION CLOSED
A Better Way to Serve (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Freya returned from Iraq, friendless. Mark Bastia didn’t survive the IED blast. His dog tags hung with hers. Despite combat, she was never counted as their brother. She pulled a long drag from her last cigarette, eyed the perfect branch from which to hang herself, and decided the greatest gift to the world would be to remove herself from its spinning. She touched the branch and recoiled. 22 a day, and she would not become another nameless statistic. Instead, she enrolled in college to battle veteran suicide and opened the first satellite Vet Center in North Idaho. She survived.
Perhaps growing older is a disgusting venture, but as one writer quipped, it’s better than the alternative. We can age with dignity if we simply allow each other the forgiveness for doing so. We can forgive memory gaps and welcome each day as a chance to yet live. Wrinkles never stopped a grin or an expression of love.
Writers took to age as if they’ve been living a long time to write about it.
The following are based on the May 9, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about growing older.
PART I (10-minute read)
On Aging by Susan Sleggs
When I dream I am younger, energetic, and always thinner. There is excitement, intrigue, people I don’t recognize and fascinating cartoonlike experiences. There are animals, unlikely pets, a tiger on my bed, horses waiting at the window for an apple. I travel to exotic places, by sailboat, with a dark haired sexy partner. I go back to laughing about life’s entanglements and mistakes don’t happen. There is no pain, no memory loss, no pills to take, no hurt feelings, and no guilt for bad decisions. Then I awake. I am old and infirm, but still happy to be alive.
Hands Across the Years by Nancy Brady
An early memory of Mom was of her wearing a yellow, full-skirted seersucker dress to the zoo on a bright June day. Her dress rivaled the sun and epitomized a young mother full of energy. I was only five at the time.
Time aged us both, and suddenly, I was a mother myself. Visits to my parents brought both delight and sadness as I noticed her worsening rheumatoid arthritis. Her hands became more gnarled and disfigured through the years.
Now, I look at my own hands for signs of aging and wonder what my sons see when we visit.
From Mother to Son by Anne Goodwin
“Did you hear the one about the Japanese Emperor, Mamma? He ab-ab-ab …”
”Abrogated his responsibilities? Abandoned his subjects to his imbecile son?”
“Don’t you get tired, Mamma? All that travelling. Dressing up in your gladrags. Smiling at proles waving silly flags.”
“Of course I get tired. I’m ninety-three. But duty must trump human frailties. That’s what monarchy means.”
“Talking of The Donald, how can you …”
“There’s a man who tears up the rulebook …”
“As you could too, Mamma.”
“You know what I’d really like, Charles? If I could skip a generation. Give my grandson a turn.”
Tooting Marvellous by Ritu Bhathal
Mabel sat in her armchair and glanced around her surroundings.
Look at them all — old fogies.
She was, undoubtedly, at least ten years younger than them. Goodness knows why they’d put her in here. There must have been some mistake.
But that silver-haired Derek, sat across the room, he looked rather dashing. Someone to get to know and, maybe, help ease the boredom.
Shifting slightly in her chair, she felt a build up in her stomach, and a loud fart escaped.
At least there were some benefits to growing old…No embarrassment factor; she could toot to her heart’s content!
Photograph by Brendan Thomas
Peig sat in the middle, between her standing daughters, grandchildren clustered to her right, great granddaughter Nelly standing closest, touching her shoulder.
“Hold Nelly’s hand.”
No, her old arm wouldn’t bend. She remembered previous photographs, standing behind her Nonna, moving across the screen, left to right as she aged. Now promoted to the seat in front. She once was the light hand on the shoulder and missed it.
Photographs were boring now, no smokey flash to enliven, no wait before enjoying the outcome. “Will photographs exist when Nelly’s a Nonna?” she wondered, before approving the digital image.
Runner by Liz Husebye Hartmann
Sophie gazed down the long oaken table, half-light of a dozen candle sticks melted to shining copper holder. She squinted to blur the face drooping at table’s end.
Looking down, she studied the pattern of barn red, deep woad, and white twined with emerald leaves. Were these flowers from her homeland? She barely remembered weaving the runner for her trousseau…or the excited young girl she’d been. Her parents had been proud to boast her move from farm to manor as a wonderful match.
After so long, she’d adjusted her dreams. Looking up, she wondered what he thought of her.
Ada by Violet Lentz
Ada never visited the small wooden crosses that marked the sandy loam where her husband had interred the tiny corpses of the babes that would never suckle at her breast.
She never shed a tear at their passing, nor spoke the christian names they had been given.
She was a dutiful, if not loving wife, and reared the one child she was spared with a firm, yet caring hand.
She was on her deathbed the first and only time she ever told her husband, or her son that she loved them.
Just a moment after she realized it herself.
Growing Old by Pete Fanning
The boy sat against a tree, watching the tall grass in the field. The sky held a few clouds overhead, clouds in no hurry to do anything but laze in the blue. A soft breeze, a whisper between leaves, scurried through the stalks without order or sequence, weaving and bending and—
“Boy, what are you doing?”
The boy stood, eyes down, face flushed. “Nothing.”
“Nothing, huh? Must be nice. When you get older you won’t have time to watch the grass grow.”
The boy took one last look back, at the dancing grass, and promised to never grow old.
Menopause by tracey
A woman spends the latter half of her life in three phases:
Perimenopause – Characterized by so many different symptoms you are sure you are losing your mind. Coping mechanism is eating brownies while hiding in the pantry. You long to live alone in a mountain cabin.
Menopause – This phase has many false starts. Six months without a period and then you get surprised by your ‘friend’. Still eating brownies, you now wake up in the middle of the night and have to endure hours thinking about brownies.
Post-menopausal – The sun comes out again and you live happily ever after.
Being Seen by Sascha Darlington
She fell. Nothing was broken, something twisted, enough to keep her down. Down, like her brain, her emotions, her feelings.
When she started walking, nothing worked the same. Sadness poured through her veins instead of blood. Overnight, she felt…old.
Every morning she rose, thought, this will be the day to turn it all around, but she didn’t, couldn’t. It was like being mired in molasses.
Maybe the worst thing was: no one noticed. No one saw her struggles. No one hugged her or recognized pain that grew beyond physical.
On bad days, she evaluated ways to completely, finally disappear.
Generations by Floridaborne
Grandma loved our visits to her nursing home. From her window, she’d watch us find a place to park in a treeless lot.
She’d give us hugs and say, “Thank you for coming.”
Grandma listened to stories about our lives and once, when I turned 9, she said, “It seems like only yesterday I danced in the streets at the end of the Great War.”
My dad said, “Do we have to hear that story again?”
She looked down at her hands in the same way my father does now, as he waits for a family that never visits.
Aging by Dorinda Duclos
I’m living a wonderful life, though age has decreased my gait. Still, I manage to have some fun, I want to live it, before it’s too late. Life, is much too short, to leave it on the side of the road. The older I get, the more I know, take it all, before you’ve slowed.
Growing older is beautiful, I was put here, for a purpose. Until that is complete, I’ll remain here, on this surface. To live, laugh, love, play, until time is not a thought, then I’ll say I’m finally done, but… I haven’t lived for naught.
Wisdom Lines by Kerry E.B. Black
My friend calls them wisdom lines, wrinkles etched into the face. They’re experience trickled, as though life’s efforts leave sweaty tracks. Smiles, worry, and frowns use skin not to mar but to record.
Like marionettes, we’re often controlled by emotions, and as we age, this becomes evident in our countenance.
I think of tree trunks. They also begin smooth, and their texture grows course and tough with age. So, too, our exterior seasons to endure difficulties and challenges.
As I study the patina of my aging skin, I decide my life’s experiences make a pretty pattern. I’ve a good life.
Growing Older by Robert Kirkendall
“Grandma, tell us about the time before television.”
Grandma leaned back in her rocking chair nostalgically. “Ah yes, the Golden Age of Radio. Every night the family would get together and listen to Jack Benny, Bob Hope, or Edgar Bergen. Those were the days; good, clean wholesome entertainment.”
“Ever want to go back, Grandma?”
Grandma sat back up. “Hundreds of channels, On Demand, Hulu, Netflix, YouTube, podcasts…this is a new platinum age of entertainment. You really think I want to go back to listening to some old, tinny AM radio when everything was repressed and censored? Hell no!”
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.
Great-Grandmama’s Teeth by Norah Colvin
The sound like freight trains roaring through a tunnel assured Billy Great-Grandmama was asleep. He turned the doorknob ever so slowly, pushed the door gently and slipped into the darkened room. A chink of light bounced off the glass at the bedside. He daren’t breathe as he tiptoed over. Three quick whistles and he froze. The cavern with wibbly wobbly edges stretched wide. Would she wake? No, but better be quick. He lowered his fingers into the glass and withdrew his prize. All that was left was to fool the fairies and he’d buy his Mum that birthday cake.
Growing Older by Susan Zutautas
Joan was the lively one, with the most energy in her group of friends but lately it seemed she was starting to slow down.
Partying was no longer her choice for a fun evening. Now content to stay home and watch TV. She never dreamt she’d see this day come when she was younger.
Getting up in the morning some days were painful on her joints. She could no longer kneel on the floor let alone sit on the floor like she always did before. Afraid that if she got down, she’d never get back up.
Growing older sucks.
Aging Out by Deborah Lee
“You need to hustle. You can only stay in this program for two more weeks,” the placement advisor says.
Jane’s stomach plummets; her veins ice over. Fear. Cut loose. Again.
Shrug. “It’s the rule. If you’re still here after three months, we make way for others who are actively looking.”
Jane bristles. “I am active. I’m here at least twice a week. I’m applying, interviewing. I want a job. I need a job.” Tears press.
Eyes drop. Silence.
“Just wait,” Jane says, “until you’re fifty, with all the skills and triple the experience, and nobody wants you anymore.”
Aging Disgracefully by calmkate
Ageism is rife here, anyone over fifty can’t get employment. Considered over the hill, senile and well past their use by date!
Milly played on that, on being the poor old lady. She would speak forthrightly and con many into doing various tasks for her. If they were foolish she wouldn’t fight it, easier to go with the flow and make it work for her.
Although physically declining her grey matter was sharp as a tack. She attended several Church services, any who would provide a lift to and from as she found those Christians ripe for a con!
Growing Old by Hugh W. Roberts
She sat, watching the world around her getting older, her included. It had been a rather tough day and she disliked what ageing did to her.
I may be wiser, she thought, but I feel like I’m on my last few breaths before I leave this world again. I don’t want to go, but know it is time to move on.
As she sat back to take in the last sight of the world she loved, a door behind her opened and slammed loudly.
“Move over, Saturday. The day of rest has arrived. See you in a week’s time.”
PART II (10-minute read)
Aging by Roberta Eaton
Would you really want to live for longer? It is an appealing idea to slow down the aging process and retain the good looks and vibrant good health of your 20s, but there is a down side. Imagine having to work for double the amount of years. Instead of spending 40 years of your life caught up in the turmoil and intensity of paid employment, 80 years would be required. After that amount of time, even the most interesting job could become mundane. Maybe we would have to switch careers and go through learning and training years again. Ug!
Young at Heart by Di @ pensitivity101
Neil looked in the mirror, wondering who the old man was looking back at him.
He pulled his cheeks in, brushed his teeth then put them in his mouth, changing the shape of his lips. He smiled, a gleaming cosmetic whiteness in a rugged face.
It was an old face, accompanied by old joints.
Old age was a bind.
He could no longer do what he used to, or if he did, it took longer or he forgot half way through the task.
He flicked on the radio and Ol’ Blue Eyes sang out Young at Heart.
Birthday by Abhijit Ray
“So the big day is here!” asked a friend, “is a gala celebration on the cards?”
“Celebrate ageing!” Shefali wondered, “earlier a birthdays ushered in anticipation of impending adulthood and glimpses of independence; now birthdays have become just another number.”
Crossing thirty, Shefali wished she was a teenager again when life was more colorful and full of possibilities.
“Thud, thud, thud,” her daughter knocked on the door, “mom, everyone is waiting for you, hurry up!”
“Coming dear,” Shefali answered with a sigh, wore her smile and got ready to mingle, “another year, another day and another party.”
Becoming 100 by Kelley Farrell
The chair creaks under me, weighted by century old bones.
“Congrats! You just amaze me; to think of the things you’ve seen and done!”
I shift through the archives in attempt to place the young girl. She has the family blue eyes and my sweet Harry’s smile. A fanged man dominates her dark shirt.
“Old stories say witches and vampires drink blood to stay young.” Her face contorts uncomfortably as she slinks away, no doubt on her way to tell.
I can’t hide my sneer.
Maybe tonight I’ll run away. Surely it’s not too late to become a vampire.
Growing Old by galaxywanderer
Every grey hair, every new facial line, made her face a universal truth she didn’t want to. Contemplating one’s own mortality, is, after all, not a pleasant business, for anyone. In the ledger of regrets, the reds were the things she never found the time to do, rather than the ones she did. Watching the seasons go by had a poetic beauty that appealed to her. But the reality was a tad more daunting. To think that one day in the not so distant future, she will cease to exist was almost unfathomable, no matter how real it was.
Geiron (from Crater Lakes) by Saifun Hassam
Wild rhododendrons and berry shrubs were in full bloom spilling over the broken backyard fence of the Marta Jensen log homestead. Built over a hundred years ago, its west wall was tilting as tree roots grew under its foundations. Old oak and elm trees provided an enormous canopy of shade.
Geiron was a retired forest ranger and writing a book about the history of the Crater Lakes Biohabitat. Over time, Marta Jensen’s journal became a wellspring for him to write richly imagined novels of the pioneers, filled with his beautiful sketches of the Green Lake and Lizard Lake Craters.
Older . . . Wiser by Ann Edall-Robson
Tal and Hanna watched the leathery, old cowboy walk slowly to the middle of the corral and stop. It wasn’t long before the curious young horse moved towards him, neck outstretched, sniffing. The man never moved, his voice barely audible. Each day was the same with little additions introduced to the routine.
Over coffee one morning, Tal questioned the cowboy’s tactics.
“Why didn’t you just rope that colt and show him who was boss right from the get go?
A lazy smile creased the cowboy’s face.
“Son, there’s no use getting any older if you don’t get any wiser.”
Senescent Sighs by JulesPaige
Only once did Aubrey feel the terror of aging. It was when she, as the second child was going to have her own second child. Because it was when she was about two years old her own mother died. Those two years of her second child went by quicker than she thought. Bountiful happy memories were added to her life.
Without warning her second child became engaged. Where did the time go? The saddest thing though, to her was that child’s choice to be childless. We can only live our own lives and remember all the happiness we have.
To Be Old Again by The Dark Netizen
Has this road become longer, or have I become slower?
Definitely the latter. I really have become old.Look at me, can’t even manage to walk without my cane. I see the road is covered with petals from the tree. The same tree that only a few months ago, stood barren and cold in the winter. If only all us humans had that ability to shed our old skin and look young all over again. Well, I can’t speak for all the humans. But, I’m lucky I discovered the fountain of youth.
Now where did I keep that water-bottle?
Flashback by Jewel Ingalls
I’m so excited. Mommy promised to take me to the roller rink if I kept my room clean. My army men were off the floor everyday by the time she was home from work.
I think she’s pulling in now! I hurry to use the bathroom before we leave.
Weird. Mom’s voice is different. I wash my hands lifting my head. An old man stares back. White beard; wrinkled face.
A woman rounds the corner. “Arnie. You shouldn’t be walking around with no one home.”
The visiting nurse dried Arnie’s hands and led him back to his recliner.
A Year Old by Ruchira Khanna
“Sammy, blow the candles!” Christine said with delight.
Sammy claps her hands with joy and walks with ginger steps towards the table. She attempts to puff in the air as she pouts and her chest expands. Tired, she pauses with her lips contracted and then huffs the breath with all her might.
“Oh, Oh!” All shouted in the background as something blew across Sammy and onto the cake.
She forgot to remove her dentures before the blowout!
Needless of the incident, her grandchildren applauded Samantha who preferred to be addressed by her name had entered a three digit number.
Flash by Nancy Brady
Flash is our cat. Born in April, 2001, she is now eighteen years old. What that exactly equates to in feline years, we can only guess. According to the veterinarian, she is probably a centenarian.
Despite her geriatric status, Flash has always acted like a kitten. Even now, as she deals with minor tooth infections and cloudy vision, she still manages to act like the feisty little kitten she once was, racing and meowing through the house as if hellhounds are chasing her.
Flash has aged, but so have we. Her time is limited, but then so is ours.
Simple Things by D.G. Kaye
I dropped a fork, bent down, took a minute to get back up, but I did.
I went to the fridge, forgot what I went for, so I closed the door and saved on calories.
The days of putting on socks while hopping on one foot are long gone or I’d fall flat on my face. A chair now works fine.
Naps used to be looked at as punishment when young, now a treasured opportunity.
Days pass too quick as years progress.
More wrinkle cream, vitamins and brisk walks. Whatever it takes, I’m in.
Getting older aint for sissies.
‘It Always Seems To Be Breakfast’* by Geoff Le Pard
‘I suppose this death fixation of your mum’s is worrying about growing old.’
‘She’s a “do not go gentle” sort of person, actually. But having gone, gentle or otherwise, she wants some sort of certainty.
Like she wants to wear her flowery Doc Martens in her coffin.’
‘Maybe. She’s not said what else.’
‘Exactly. Though Dad had this saying: he’d get his own back on his kids and live to be a hundred.’
‘Didn’t make it, did he?’
‘No, though that didn’t stop him practicing just in case.’
‘Old sod. Got to love him, haven’t you?’
*said by a famous nonagenarian, when asked what change was the most notable now he was in his nineties
Growing Older by Janice Golay
Reminder: consult Dr. Einstein about “Time” and growing older. “Sir: Why does our perception of time change as we travel the average human lifespan? Is it subjective or is it ‘real’?
“For example, no longer a young filly eager to escape the corral but not yet ready for pasture, I’m falling very slowly between the cracks. Previously I moved easily, judged hastily. Now 70, my real-time movie is shot in slow motion. Slow is vexing when targeting destination X, exquisite while sauntering through a garden of fragrant June roses.
“Please reply before the rapidly approaching end of the film.”
Wisdom of the Ages by Jo Hawk
It was the time of Antiquity. The temple rose, constructed with care to mark a sacred spot. Tested by fire, its original purpose faded from consciences. Each day, the sun painted the walls in a soft luminous glow, recording the years, decades and millenniums. The Oculus recorded the words of countless stories and etched them on the dome’s geometric perfection.
Time evolved, morphing into something different. It became elastic and unimportant. Wisdom replaced foolish desires and meaningless acquisitions of petty trinkets. It distilled the truth, divulging the secret simplicity of being, seeing and feeling with no reservations, without judgment.
Towards the City by Joanne Fisher
As Aalen, Ashalla, and Vilja got nearer to the city they saw the land become more cultivated and ordered.
“How many years do your people usually live?” Ashalla asked.
“We don’t measure time the same way as you.” Aalen replied. “So I don’t know. As we get older our responsibilities increase. I helped protect the borders, so little was expected of me, but if I survived I would have eventually become an Elder of the village who were the sources of our wisdom and knowledge.”
Aalen looked out at the land. She knew that future was gone for her.
A Small Price to Pay by Sally Cronin
The old man stood to attention by the memorial in the village square, as he did each day during his afternoon constitutional. His knees were playing up, but nothing a stout stick couldn’t handle. Getting older had challenges, but unlike his drinking pals in the pub each evening, he knew aching joints were a small price to pay. As was his habit, he read the names on the brass plate aloud, remembering each one of his comrades who did not live to grow old. He wiped away a tear and continued his walk, feeling like the luckiest man alive.
Gramma Dear by Chelsea Owens
Flowered pots and colored notes
fly gently on the walls;
Whose smiling, standing stick-men
Wave out from rainbowed pen?
Wrinkled cheeks and vacant eyes
of startling, once-clear blue;
What’s inside now, Oh Gramma dear?
What’s cloudy and what’s clear?
Gnarled hands and anxious grip
that once held mine with love;
Whose fingers do you think these are?
Whose hand felt from afar?
Silent words and down-turned mouth
mar lips that laughed and spoke;
What joke or story would you say?
What do you think today?
Who are these strangers milling round;
Where is the you
AGE – One Letter Short of A Four Letter Word by M J Mallon
AGE IS ONE LETTER SHORT OF A
FOUR LETTER WORD!
Desire’s three syllables entwined in kinky Karma Sutra positions,
Movement’s six hundred plus muscles belly aching to stop,
Career crises simplified, await twin oldies bus pass, plus pensions,
Adolescent giggles groan as multiple false teeth fracture,
Luscious locks lost greying in gazillions.
Six pack? Remember that? Welcome new look naughty pot belly,
Two elastic boobs yonder yoga style yodeling the floor,
Face it fellows, we’re on
Until… endless sleep of blessed youth,
SLEEP TO US ALL!!!
How Did I Get This Old by Susan Zutautas
Kids are grown and gone
Bones are aching
Back is breaking
Arthritis settling in
Many memories to enjoy
When I can remember them
Now I’m squirrely
But writing is my thing
Gray hairs are abundant
Get new ones every day
Always looking forward
To the month of May
Sight is getting worse
I really think the eye doctor
Put on me, a curse
Look forward to my naps
Each day at three
If I didn’t have them
I’d be cranky as can be
So, let it be told
I am old
A Dogs Perspective Of Growing Old by Susan Zutautas
When I was a puppy, we’d play every day
Now that I’ve grown older, lie down is what you say
I’d still love to fetch a ball even though I’m ten
A few years ago, I was your best friend
I hope I’m not too old for you, and you get a younger pup
Get rid of me because I’m old and you think I’m fed-up
Dogs do grow older every day
Please oh please don’t send me away
I have arthritis in my hips, but I still want to play
Let’s go outside and have some fun today
Growing Old by Anita Dawes
I don’t look in the mirror these days, because there is a road map where my face used to be.
Time makes strange marks on all of us, some you cannot see.
From my window, I have watched my neighbours grow old. Two that used to walk to town, now in wheelchairs.
One used to pedal his bike everywhere, now uses a stroller.
We are shrinking back to childhood.
Others I have watched through nine months, waiting to produce new life. Now that same child walks beside her mother on her way to school.
I watch life go by…
At The Mall by Joanne Fisher
my niece is the grand display
at the Westfield food court
delighting us all
with her furtive glances
and wide open grins
it’s my birthday so
I’m being treated to lunch
and opted for Chinese
my sister and I ponder
we are getting older
I tell her
I thought by now
I would have found
and now it’s getting
on your birthday
my niece smiles and giggles
saying things in gibberish
that only Carmela can
she holds her tiny hand
outstretched to us
a mostly eaten cracker
with marmite on top
A Couple of Old Farts Flatulatin’ by Bill Engleson
“Then there was that fella…”
“What fella, Whit?”
“Ya know, Stewie…that European fella. It was on the news. Went to court. Changed his birth year. Made hisself twenty years younger.”
“Ya can do that?”
“Yup. Over there in Europe, you’re only as old as your paperwork.”
“Ain’t that a wonder. Might give it a try, myself. Wouldn’t mind gettin’ an extra twenty years.”
“Don’t quite work that way, Stewie. Yeah, you’re twenty years younger on paper…but nothin’s really changed. You’re still as old as you’ve always been.”
“That don’t seem fair.”
“Life’s chock full of weird wrinkles, ain’t it.”
FINAL WORD FROM OUR YARNIST
Clodhopper by D. Avery
“Jist ‘cause D. Avery’s been ridin’ herd on her family we git left behind? Tellin’ ya Pal, we gotta part ways with her, do our own writin’. We cain’t always be waitin’ on her. I ain’t gittin’ any younger.”
“Good thing, ‘cause the prompt’s ‘bout growin’ older. Ok, Kid, what’s yer idea fer the prompt?”
“Uh, well, nuthin’ yet.”
“Bless ya agin. Jeez.”
“No, Kid, haiku. Like this:
Bunkhouse floor dirt tracked
Every clod has a story
Time swept clean away”
“That ain’t haiku, Pal.”
“Naw, that there’s buckaroo-ku.”
“Yer cuckoo, Kid.”
January 17: Flash Fiction
Collonades of bare trees cluster like ruins jutting from the snow. For such a forceful start to early winter in the Keweenaw, I’m surprised at how little snowpack we have this year: only 70 inches compared to 137 inches by January last year. It seems a cruel jest to abruptly end a pleasant autumn in early October with fierce storms, plummeting temperatures, and blizzards only to fizzle.
Of course, as I type, snowflakes dance like tiny fairies outside my window, taunting me. Snow or blow away, I want to tell them. This middle ground of gray brings me no joy. I want to see my colannades gleaming white as the engulfed snowscape I know my dome can be. Can they hear me, these frozen water crystals of endless form?
Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Nature is full of genius, full of the divinity; so that not a snowflake escapes its fashioning hand.”
Nature’s genius imbues that inner space from where we write. If ever the Muses existed, they come to us on the wind, the wing, or leap into our walking boots from a sprig of moss. Imagine a Muse biting your ankle like a midge, a tiny irritant like sand to an oyster. You scratch at an idea, and before you know it, you write a pearl.
Thoreau knew this itch. Every observation he made about humanity flowed through a filter we classify as nature writing. Nature’s influence on literary art is ancient. The first storytellers who painted on rock walls from Sulawesi, Indonesia to Chauvet, France depicted animals. Nature features heavily in Hellenistic poetry, and the Greeks developed philosophies that explored humanity in nature.
Even Shakespeare’s writing felt the bite of nature’s midge. Charlotte Scott digs deeper into the impact nature had on the bard’s ability to use nature to reveal human psychology. She explains (a fascinating 2-minute video):
All my heroes write the spines of mountain ridges or the flows of Walden Ponds and Tinker Creeks. Even my favorite cultural icons like Sherman Alexie wield big stories built from vast landscapes. You can’t have a book set in the American West without it being influenced by the natural world that defines the West. From Edward Abby to Louis L’Amour, Annie Dillard to Terry Tempest Williams, Tony Hillerman to Laura Ingalls Wilder, my reading immerses me in a shared passion for nature.
Robert Jordan, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Brandon Sanderson all write fantastical places that capture otherworldly natural settings to convey epic stories. A lack of nature still influences us because we can’t help but notice its absence. I’ve long been captive to natural wonder, but understand not all writers or readers are.
Not everyone nature writes.
Probably my least favorite writing comes out of the American center for literature — NYC. Many novels, bestsellers, in fact, leave out nature’s influences in favor of intellect, as if wilderness was the human mind. I can’t help but feel such writing is empty. How can we explore the human experience outside the natural world in which we all live?
What does the nature writing Muse mean to us as writers if we don’t all dance beneath dappled tree limbs?
It’s important to understand what “sense of place” means. It doesn’t have to be about nature or influenced by a roaring sea or rushing waterfall. It can be a cityscape, a bunker, an underground world carved of steel, or a conversation. No matter the setting, it serves as the space we imagine the characters and story that unfolds. It roots the reader.
Beyond setting, writers also cultivate a sense of place from which our voice emits. Voice belongs to the writer. Voice is not of the narrator, protagonist, or characters. Voice is you. Voice is me. Voice captivates the reader on the page, giving recognition to those who follow an author because “of the writing.”
If you think you want to write and be read by those who appreciate your writing, then you want to cultivate your voice. The best way I know how to teach this is through nature writing. I know where my voice comes from — it’s gritty with red sand, deep as Lake Superior, and fits in my traveling bag, melding all the places I’ve trod, birds I’ve seen, and rocks I’ve collected.
I can’t say that’s where your voice comes from, but if I show you how nature influences me, then I can teach you to listen for morning dew, feel the nostalgia in an open campfire, and spot yourself among a moth in flight. From those experiences, you’ll understand what writing from a sense of place means. You’ll strengthen your voice.
This is the most exciting experience I could ever share with other writers, and why writing retreats factor into my vision for success in life lived immersed in literary art.
Back on Elmira Pond, I offered a free room and retreat to any writer who wanted. Six came. The first writer arrived from Seattle and stayed for 10 days. Her first experience of Elmira Pond was in winter. She wanted to walk on the ice, something I had not thought to do, which means I get to grow from encountering different perspectives, too.
Since that time, I’ve wandered and dreamed of retreats around the world, wanting to share Mars and New Mexico, Lake Pend Oreille and Lake Superior, England and New Zealand, the Keweenaw in winter and the Arctic in summer. My vision is vast. Where shall I begin?
Vermont. After all, that’s where the nature writers began, the ones who influenced the writing of the West. It’s like the motherland to my western roots, calling me home to a place that’s in my DNA. A place I am returning to this summer. I’m thrilled to announce the first Carrot Ranch Nature Writing Retreat held in Vermont for two different sessions: July 12-15, and July 17-20. What I have long dreamed of, is happening!
You all know Kid and Pal’s wrangler, D. Avery who writes weekly Carrot Ranch Yarns. She’ll be our host, providing her A-frame summer sanctuary, director for outdoor activities, and a nightly campfire. Writers will have access to trails, kayaks, and the best of New England nature.
And you know me, lead buckaroo of this outfit. I’ll be guiding three writers each session on a journey of discovery. More than an immersion in nature writing and voice, writers will explore the inspiration to create and the knowledge to craft and plan. Each session is four days (three nights) with lodging and meals included (except for one night out in town). That means, I’ll be cooking, which is a secondary art form of mine.
Space is limited to three writers each session. The full retreat, meals, three nights lodging, and a one-on-one consultation on your personal project (manuscript or marketing) will be $750. For any writers through this community, I’m offering a discount ($650) and the next month to sign up. After that, I start an ad campaign.
You are all the first to know that Carrot Ranch Nature Writing Retreats have begun! I want to thank D. for her place and patience (this took a year to set up, and I had to cancel an exploratory visit last summer). I’m thrilled to be sharing her campfire. D. and I share a special connection through our naturalist author-heroes, and we’ve both come to realize the West got its cool from Vermont.
And bonus points to any long-time Rough Writer who remembers what color my boots will be on retreat (I’ve been dreaming of this development for a long time).
Now let me invite you on a stroll through the colonnades of the three worlds — the built world, the world of humanity and society, and the wondrous natural world.
January 17, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes colonnades. It can be natural, architectural, or a metaphor. Take a stroll and go where the prompt leads.
Respond by January 22, 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.
Seeking a Moment of Silence (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Danni nudged Blackjacked and entered the long colonnade of aspen trees. The elk path cut straight through the grove as if it were an engineered road. White bark gleamed like a classical structure. Danni mused that her archeology career never ventured overseas. There was too much history in the West for her to explore. Overhead the leaves fluttered on long stems but held a reverent silence. What could be better than a ride to clear her mind? A sanctuary of nature to ease her anxiety over Ike’s choice to leave. Only here could she ride her horse into church.
November 8: Flash Fiction Challenge
While up north on the Keweenaw Peninsula, I overheard one elderly local tell a monk that an early October snow was no indication that we’d have a long winter. At the time, I was returning from a brief retreat at a lighthouse keeper’s cottage, and the monks were closing up shop for the winter and selling the rest of their jams while fat fluffy flakes covered the ground. I bought six jars. Who could resist blackberries jammed in rum?
It was like overhearing a riddle, though. My mind pondered how early snow could be anything but a long winter on a peninsula fiercely guarded by Lady Lake Superior who has the power and desire to create her own snow globe? It’s different from out West where a late August blizzard in the Rockies reminds us to prepare, but that long cool, even warm, autumns could follow.
Here, the snow means snow. It didn’t stick, but it didn’t return to blue skies, either. The gray mist and soggy cold rain feel dreary. The snow falls brightly and white-washes the world, removing the dinginess of constant cloud cover. Snow illuminates the globe Lady Lake keeps on the mantle of her ice-water mansion. Snow has returned.
And with flair. Of course — it’s Lady Lake. Why not be a drama queen on the fourth day of the 41 North Film Festival at Michigan Tech University? I walked out of the Rosza Center, following a film on the WWI Hello Girls, and into the lobby with 30-foot glass windows facing east. Snow fleeced the view. The next film up was a work in progress called Copper Dogs about female dog-mushers in our region. Well played, Lady Lake.
Culture and snow fill our winters, so I don’t mind. Travel, for me at least, shuts down. After my terrifying drive in a true Copper Country blizzard at the start of last winter, I vowed to be a winter home-body. Students return to our universities and with them come cultural events. So it’s a good time to hunker down. The film festival filled my well.
Tuesday night, I returned to the Rosza Center to listen to Welby Altidor speak on creativity and collaboration.
Altidor believes that each of us possess creative genius, but it must be cultivated and developed through practice. Creative courage is more than practical tools and strategy, it’s a way life for Altidor and those who dare to embrace it.
Yes, yes, yes! You betcha I was going to drive across snow-paved roads to listen to Welby. He was speaking my love-language — make (literary) art accessible!
Welby was the creative director for Cirque du Soliel, and as a dancer and choreographer, he understands the universal power of telling a story. Art is the great communicator wrapped in many mediums from movement to written words. He began by telling us that every good story includes three elements.
Welby teaches that every good story includes love, power, and transformation. You could compare this to the classical teaching of the Greeks, who perfected the three-act story: pity –> fear — > catharsis. Love seems more universal to me than pity, although I understand the Greeks intended for an audience to love the protagonist enough to pity his or her plight. Power is what we might call tension and leads to the Greek ideal of the audience fearing for the well-being of the protagonist. Catharsis is an emotional release (from the fear) and transforms the audience.
Note that in the hero’s journey, the three acts still apply. Of course, I started thinking, what would Anne Goodwin say… After much discussion on the model of the hero’s journey failing to capture the protagonists who don’t change or return with an elixir, I had an a-ha moment. We change. Not the protagonist, but we — the writer, the reader, the creator changes.
That’s the universality of the hero’s journey. Even if the hero falls flat, the creator of the story needs to provide a transformation for the reader — a greater awareness of self, others, or the world around us. And Welby was speaking directly about creatives and how to build creative teams. We must love our art enough to give it power and transform ourselves and audiences.
Welby’s book (and presentation) center on creative courage. To create transformative work we must start from a place of caring. Like at Carrot Ranch — we gather because we care about literary art. We care about writing. We care about stories and words and what we can do with them. We care about our stories. We care about the stories of others. This is the beginning of creative courage.
What comes next wouldn’t surprise anybody who understands Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it might surprise you to think it applies to art. We need to secure safety. Yes, creativity needs a safe place to plant the seeds. That is also the purpose of Carrot Ranch — to create safe space to practice, explore and discover our literary art. I felt like Welby was looking at our community!
For collaboration, Welby says we next need to foster trust. Our literary community builds trust through positive feedback and consistency. We also learn to trust the 99-word constraint as a creative process. Our weekly collections are creative collaborations.
So what happens next? This is where we get to play with danger! Welby explains that art pushes limits and takes calculated risks. Writing dangerously is to push deeply into an idea that you might think is on the fringe. It’s breaking the rules to create something different. It’s risking creative failure, submitting to a contest or writing outside your comfort zone. It’s earning the “runs with scissors” badge.
Once we start writing dangerously, we dream! We experience breakthroughs! We grow!
Welby went on to say that many of us are disconnected from our superpowers. Part of our mission in life is to discover them, accept them, and share them with the rest of the world. He asked us to tell the person seated next to us what our superpower is. If you can identify your superpower, you will better understand your voice as a writer.
And don’t think any of this creative business is easy. It isn’t. Welby also points out that there is a war on imagination. He said it hit him hard when he had the opportunity to go to North Korea, and he recognized constrained people the way his father was. It’s rooted in fear of failure. Methods might be taught and learned, but what we really need is creative courage.
A significant shift occurred the night I listened to Welby, and it didn’t have to do with my creative art. I wondered as I took notes, how can my family create fertile soil for the Hub. No matter his condition, our circumstances, or unknown future we need creative courage. I looked again at the seven dimensions of creative collaboration and realized the answers were there.
My daughter went with me to listen to Welby speak. We stepped out into the snow, and I told her that the seven dimensions could apply to her dad. She went home and sketched the concentric circles around each one and posted this statement with her photo on Instagram:
“Great talk tonight with @welbyaltidor@rozsacenter. Here’s the mental model he presented; good insight into how to rebuild relationships and goals with Sgt. Mills. Walking the tightrope of late effect traumatic brain injury (LE-TBI) starts with taking care, raising safety nets, and building trust.
#creativecourage #love #veteranfamily #braininjuryawareness #tbiawareness #onestepatatime”
And Welby Altidor replied:
“Great stuff! I love your reinterpretation! Honoured it provided inspiration. Never give up!”
On that fine note, let’s move on to mashed potatoes. In the US we near the festival of turkey, mashed potatoes, and gravy — Thanksgiving. I’m working on my menu and my novel which seems like opposing creative efforts. But Welby told us that fitting two things that don’t go together is how the troupe creates such memorable choreography and art in Cirque du Soliel. His examples: drones and lampshades; clowns and robots; treadmill and hoop-diving.
So we are going to write mash-ups that pair an unusual superpower with mashed potatoes.
November 8, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that pairs mashed potatoes with a superpower. It can be in any circumstance, funny or poignant. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by November 13, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. Rules & Guidelines.
Fast Hands (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Nancy Jane flung the bowl of mashed potatoes at Horace. The bowl bounced off his shoulder and Hickok caught it midair. Horace hadn’t even moved except, Sarah noted, his eyes had widened the way a cow might look when protesting a lead rope to the milking barn. No one spoke as glops of white, buttery mashed potatoes slid down Horace’s shirt. Nancy Jane growled and slammed the heavy oak door when she stomped outside. Sarah understood her friend’s upset with how poorly Horace had handled Cobb’s interference at the station. More than that, she marveled at Hickock’s super speed.
Once Upon a Rodeo Time
(GRAPHIC UPDATED TO CORRECT DATES)
From the remote reaches of northern Idaho, the Carrot Ranch Weekly Challenges launched in March of 2014. From around the world, Norah Colvin accepted the first challenge from Australia. She’s held a special place at the Ranch ever since.
Norah cultivates the kind of growth mindset that marks a life-long learner. But she’s also a teacher. Norah frames her entries in posts that focus on education, giving her readers new points of learning or discussion. Last year she launched readilearn (a sponsor of the 2018 Flash Fiction Rodeo, so be sure to check out the site).
You can always expect to learn something new from Norah, and her Rodeo Contests is no exception.
Rodeo #4 Fractured Fairy Tales
By Norah Colvin
Do you love fairy tales? Chances are, unless you are a parent or grandparent of young children or an early childhood educator as I am, you may not have encountered a fairy tale for a while. Well, I am about to change that by asking you to fracture a fairy tale for the fourth Carrot Ranch rodeo contest.
What is a fractured fairy tale you ask? It’s a story that takes a traditional fairy tale and adds a new twist. Sometimes the twists are dark and sometimes humorous. Sometimes they are dark and humorous. They may even be sinister or subversive but rarely patronising or preachy.
A fractured fairy tale usually takes a character, setting or situation from a well-known fairy tale and presents it from a different angle or point of view. Sometimes characters from different fairy tales appear together. A fractured fairy tale is never simply a retelling of the original story with characters painted black and white. In a fractured tale, the lines and colours blur. But the characters or situations are recognisable.
Roald Dahl sums it up well in the introduction to Cinderella in his book of Revolting Rhymes.
I guess you think you know this story.
You don’t. The real one’s much more gory.
The phoney one, the one you know,
Was cooked up years and years ago,
And made to sound all soft and sappy
Just to keep the children happy.
In preparation for the contest, you may like to re-familiarise yourself with some traditional fairy tales, and read some fractured ones; for example:
Roald Dahl’s Revolting Rhymes
Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs by Mo Willems
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs as told to Jon Scieszka by A. Wolf
The Wolf the Duck and the Mouse by Mac Barnett
The Stinky Cheese Man and other Fairly Stupid Tales by Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith
The Little Bad Wolf by Sam Bowring
Tara Lazar, author of Little Red Gliding Hood, has some helpful suggestions in this PDF.
Details about the prompt will be revealed on October 24, and you will have one week in which to respond. Judging your stories with me will be award-winning novelist and short story writer Anne Goodwin and children’s picture book author and illustrator Robbie Cheadle. Both Anne and Robbie were co-judges with me last year, and I appreciate the generosity of their support again this year.
Anne has already published two novels Sugar and Snails and Underneath, both of which I recommend as excellent reads. She has a book of short stories coming out soon and a third novel in the pipeline which I am eagerly waiting to read.
Robbie has published five books so far in her Sir Chocolate series of picture books. Her books are unique with their wonderful fondant illustrations. She also recently co-wrote While the Bombs Fell with her mother Elsie Hancy Eaton, a memoir of her mother’s wartime experiences.
The three of us are looking forward to reading your fractured fairy tales next month.
Here’s one from me to get the ideas rolling.
No Butts About It
I hereby repudiate rumours the Billy Goats are spreading. They accuse me of bullying, but they show no respect for me and my property.
All summer while I slaved to secure winter supplies, they gambolled frivolously. When their grass was gone, they proceeded to help themselves to mine.
I’m usually a neighbourly fellow, but when they come every day, trip-trapping across my bridge, scaring away my fish and eating my crops, it’s too much.
When asked politely to desist, the oldest one butted me into the river.
I ask you: Who is the bully?
Rules and prompt revealed October 24, 2018, at 12:00 a.m. (EST). Set your watches to New York City. You will have until October 31, 2018, at 11:59 p.m. (EST) to complete the Fractured Fairy Tale contest. Norah, Anne, and Robbie will announce the prize winner plus second and third place on December 07. Carrot Ranch will post a collection of qualifying entries.
Rodeo 1: Dialogue led by Geoff Le Pard and judges Chelsea Owens and Esther Chilton
Rodeo 2: Memoir led by Irene Waters and judges Angie Oakley and Helen Stromquist
Rodeo 3: Travel with a Twist led by Sherri Matthews and her judges: Mike Matthews and Hugh Roberts.
Rodeo 5: The Sound and the Fury led by D. Avery and her judge Bonnie Sheila.
The Tuffest Ride starting in September will see 5 writers qualify to compete in October and is led by Charli Mills. For Info
Bouquets capture a moment of bloom — flowers, emotions, smells — and become the focal point. A spring bouquet celebrates renewal, and flowers gathered at a grave mourn a passing.
Writers explored the moments and sensory relationships we have with bouquets. Gather here, we offer a bouquet of stories.
Based on the June 14, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a bouquet.
This collection is dedicated to the loving memory of Mark, a brother to Sherri Matthews.
PART I (10-minute read)
A Bouquet of Tears by Sherri Matthews
If forget-me-nots would bring you back, I would grow nothing else.
If an English Country Garden cooled your fire, I would gather every living plant and flower and bulb growing there, tie them together with a bright, red ribbon and send them by whatever means possible across the Shining Sea.
If lilies, white and pure, touched your brow and returned your smile, I would place them carefully in your hand and cry with joy.
But it cannot be.
So I bring my love in a single rose and lay it on your grave and I weep for wasted years.
For Mark, dear brother. ❤
Hope Beneath the Loss by Ruchira Khanna
“Hi, Pink Carnations!”
“Oh wait there come the Lilies,” said the chrysanthemum.
“I also see Yellow Roses in that lady’s hand.”
The Daffodils, Tulips, and the Gladioli with the yellow and the white carnations come along.
All these flowers are placed on the coffin while humans stand in a circle with folded hands.
At first, these flowers greet each other. Excited to form a concoction.
These blossoms together emit a fragrance that makes the Homosapien realize as they cry softly upon the loss that there is hope and promise even when pain and heartbreak surround them.
A Precious Spring by Saifun Hassam
Eagle Point Ridge was devastated first by a firestorm, then deep winter snows and spring thaw mud slides. Carmen drove up a steep valley road towards the timberline. She gazed at the scorched forlorn firs, spruce and pines among jagged rocks and boulders in the muddy valleys.
Near the road’s edge, a clump of bright green ferns caught her eye. Among the ferns was a bouquet of bear grass, tall green stalks crowned with tightly packed white flowers. The faint fragrance of the vibrant precious bouquet drifted in the slight breeze, a sign of hope for the days ahead.
Bundled Batch by JulesPaige
It was a cardboard bouquet – with sweet aroma of warm food. The people in the back of truck though they were in the middle of a fairy tale.
They were aliens… unknowns. Some were whisked away by princes who worked in the medical fields. But most were left with just some cool air and water. The stranger on the white horse galloped, after work and hearing their plight on the news – to the local pizzeria and just bought them a meal. Just because he didn’t know when they had eaten last. Could this temporary happy ending continue to last?
Wild Blooms by D. Avery
A bouquet is more than a bunch of flowers stuffed in a jar. The bouquet pictured is comprised largely of what many see as weeds, plucked from neglected margins. Others see wildflowers, beautiful with varied colors and textures. A bouquet is a purposeful arrangement of individual and diverse flowers picked and placed mindfully and with intent. A bouquet is vibrant and beautiful because of the structures and elements combined in the whole. It is a composition, not a single utterance. A bouquet is a Gift to be given.
wild blooms, household jarred
bear witness at the table
Tale for a Winter’s Night by Liz Husebye Hartmann
She leaned over the big black cauldron, face partially occluded in the shifting steam. Chopping and shredding, she added a pinch of this, a breath of that. Winter winds buffeted her door, seeking shelter. She cackled, stirring with a long wooden spoon.
Bringing the spoon’s edge to her lips, she took a tiny sip. “Something’s missing…”
Grabbing the glass jar from the furthest reaches of the shelf, she passed her hand over the pot, once…twice. She stirred and sniffed the rising bouquet, and smiled.
She switched the burner to simmer, and took up her Jane Austen.
She loved chili.
New Bouquets at Cheever’s by Paula Moyer
Sitting in the upscale-but-casual restaurant, Jean could not tell it had been a florist – Cheever’s. Now the restaurant was part of a different bouquet, the renaissance of downtown Oklahoma City.
One by one, flower by flower, new businesses sprouted in old buildings – an art gallery where Fred Jones Ford had been. A restaurant inside Cheever’s. As a salute to the history, each new business took on the name of the old one. Thanks to a city-wide sales tax, new life pulsed through the old part of town.
Jean and Lynn took their seats. Their salads were fresh as carnations.
Sundown Stroll by Chelsea Owens
Humidity cushioned their sunset movements. Emiline sensed it, always, in the dense Jamaican air.
“I feel like something’s pressing on my arms and legs,” Mark said, though with a smile.
Emiline answered with her own, with a light hand pulling wisps of beach-blown blonde from her eyes. Their aimless ambling soon led them within the resort gardens.
Each breathed deeply in. Clusters of pinkish blossoms blushed boldly against darker green. Snow-white Oleander winked from wall bushes. Their gaze drew skyward to admire a riot of orange.
“Nature’s bouquet,” she whispered. Speechless, he followed her through a tropic twilight.
Bouquet by the darknetizen
The bouquet of fresh flowers lying in my trashcan looked so pretty, a many-hued mélange.
The red rose from the ice cream vendor, daffodil from the police officer, pink daisy from the little kid who lived down the street. Males have always loved me with such fervor. I cannot even recall most of them. In all candour, I would rather not. My beauty has always been a curse. Immortality even more so.
Centuries ago, my face launched a thousand ships and claimed even more lives. I am glad that nowadays men offer only flowers. I cannot claim more lives.
Bouquet by Robbie Cheadle
In the deep shadows under the stairs you may catch a glimpse of him. The form of Rex Bacon, dangling from the end of the rope he used to hang himself. An upended stool and a bouquet of wild flowers lie at his feet.
The flowers were for this beloved wife. On his last day of life, he had left work early and gathered the flowers for her during his walk home. When he got home, he found them together. In his rage he had killed her lover and escaped to the local pub where he had hung himself.
Complexity by Reena Saxena
Harvey is a best-selling author who never reads his own books. The interviewer looks perplexed in this episode of his show “Straight Talk with Genius Minds”.
“Sir, do you never feel the need to review what you wrote?”
“No, I simplify things as much as possible for the new age readers. But that is not my cup of tea.”
“And what would interest you?”
“A good, mature wine has a complex bouquet. But nobody has the time or patience to wait till it develops. So, I write micro-pieces for easy assimilation,” smiled the octogenarian legend, having busted popularity charts.
Finally Blooming by Frank Hubeny
That was the spring Alice turned the lawn into a big bouquet of flowers. It surprised Joe but looking at her face looking at the former lawn with a gentle smile she rarely showed him anymore made him grateful.
The neighborhood wives thought her odd for years. Her newfound gardening energy did not impress them. Alice’s view of them wasn’t pretty either.
That winter Alice died.
Joe kept her bouquet of former lawn going for the next decade as long as his life allowed. He received help especially towards the end and gifts of plants from the neighborhood wives.
Summer Posies by Colleen Chesebro, The Fairy Whisperer
The Litha preparations had been underway for days. Yesterday, the children had gathered bouquets of yellow daisies for us to carry on our journey to the bonfire which would honor the magnificence of Father Sun. The people were assembled, ready to pay homage to the One.
Excitement coursed through my veins, and I quivered. Tonight, my secret would be revealed. The mother had blessed me with the greatest gift of all. Inside, I felt the first fluttering of my tiny son.
My summer posies—
awash with an early dew
A gift of fertility,
honoring the summer sun.
Flower Power by kate @ aroused
Vibrant colours, sweet fragrance, singular flowers or bunched bouquets thrill with heartfelt joy! Those purchased or plucked make delightful offerings to one we wish to thank or cheer.
Brightening another’s day, claiming they are loved and dear. Garden blooms emit radiance to those passing through our neighbourhoods.
But best of all are those innocently picked by children … to thread a daisy chain; puff at the dandelion; discard petals to the chant ‘he love me, he loves me not’; or gigglingly gifted to a much adored mother. Our inner child beams playful smiles as flowers flourish irresistible profound power.
Simple, Humble Things by Kerry E.B. Black
The little girl ran to her mother, smile brighter than the dandelions wilting in her grip. She stood on tiptoe to present her gift, and her mother thanked her with a kiss.
Years later, she approached her mother with another fistful of yellow blooms. She sat, heedless of her business suit, and presented her gift. “When I was little, you taught me to appreciate the beauty and importance of simple, humble things.”
Her tears splashed the granite upon which her mother’s name was carved. The dandelions shone like miniature suns in contrast.
A Mother’s Bouquet (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
“Mama, flowers!” Lizzie stumbled through the cabin door, dropping her bouquet of Black-eyed Susans.
Sarah cringed as Lizzie wailed, wanting to escape the chores Mary gave her. Lizzie’s brothers rushed in to help gather their sister’s spilled flowers.
Monroe calmed Lizzie while Jules and Cling gathered her bouquet, handing it back. Lizzie sniffled. Mary knelt with Baby Charles on her hip, and Lizzie thrust the flowers to her mother. “They are beautiful, Lizzie.”
Sarah’s heart ached for a little girl to gather a bouquet for her. But she left her daughter in the grave in back in North Carolina.
A Posey Mosey by Bill Engleson
He thinks, “I could do better.”
She thinks, “I don’t require much. Just a sense that I am thought of, some gesture.”
And he thinks, “I’ve missed so many opportunities. I really am a slouch.”
And she muses, “Yes, you are, but that comes as no surprize.”
And he wonders, “Do I offer no surprises, anymore? Was it always so?”
She doesn’t hold back. “You’ve always been fairly predictable. Like I said, I don’t require much, and I expect less.”
And he finally realizes, “I’ve had a free ride, haven’t I? Should’ve gotten her a posey. At least one.”
Red Roses by Wallie and Friend
Clair had never liked red roses. They seemed to her too garish. Anyway there wasn’t much to be lost our gained in philosophizing over flowers, so Clair never really thought twice about whether she liked red roses or not until that roadside walk.
There he had stood with that rose between his fingers, breathing it in. The look in his eyes was so soft and charmed that for the first time, Clair loved roses. And for the first time she was trimming a bouquet, hoping it would be the first thing he saw when he came through the door.
Farewell Flowers by Anne Goodwin
Tulips blooming in buckets outside the florist’s. Should I? Or would it look cheap? The entire stock can’t repay what he’s given me; besides, women don’t buy men flowers.
I walk on. Walk back. Something exotic, like an orchid? Something simple, like a single white rose?
He’d like a bouquet, he’s a sharp-suited metrosexual. He’d be embarrassed, faffing about for a vase. Or worse, he’d interpret it, force it to mean something more.
Squirming like a kid, I hold out the foxgloves, scabious and daisies scavenged from the waste ground. Rather like myself. “Thank you,” he says. And smiles.
Bouquet Business by Miriam Hurdle
“My husband buys me bouquet every week,” Sandy blushed. She forgot who bought up the subject.
“It will get old in no time. Guys buy a bouquet every now and then,” Mr. Cole’s deep voice came from the other side of the room.
“They are still on honeymoon,” Mrs. Cole was embarrassed by her husband.
“Kyle is a devoted customer. He came to my floral shop for a special bouquet five months ago. I praised his affection for Sandy. He has been coming every week.”
“Sorry, I’m not trying to ruin your business,” Mr. Cole whispered to Ms. Laura.
Smart Home by H.R.R. Gorman
Master Ellen left me in my own devices every morning, heading off to work while I – her Smart Home – tended to her domestic needs. She returned every evening with a smile and a ‘thank you.’
A man, I’ll call him ‘Asshole,’ showed up at me with a bouquet. She let him in with his dirty shoes every time he arrived with flowers.
My gardening protocols kicked into overdrive. I grew flowers and made arrangements, leaving them at my door. She cared for my creations.
Eventually, Asshole returned. “Thank you for all the bouquets!”
He stepped back. “It wasn’t me.”
Bouquets by Susan Sleggs
When I got home from work the aroma of dinner, a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of wine waited. I exclaimed to my teenagers, “Wow. What’s the occasion?”
“That’s next week.”
“We know. Surprise!”
“I’m going to cry.”
“Not allowed. Open the wine instead.”
“How did you get wine?”
“Dad took us. He said this Merlot has a great bouquet.”
“So Dad was involved in this?” I hesitated, took a deep breath and added, “You might as well call him to join us.”
“We told you, we’re just taking a break, not getting a divorce.”
The Wedding Bouquet by Hugh W. Roberts
She’d told all her friends where to stand so that when she threw her wedding bouquet, Tracey would catch it and be the next to marry. She’d told them to get the men to stand in line as well.
As the bouquet flew through the air, the atmosphere in the barracks hall of R.A.F Stanmore was one of happiness, laughter and joy. Not for the bride, though, as flashes of the war-torn country she’d come from went through her mind.
Pressing a small button concealed under her wedding dress, the flowers scatted and mixed with blood, flames and bone.
Part II (10-minute read)
With Love by Di @ Pensitivity101
Her hands were bloody and dirty, nails broken and uneven.
But the smile was a full one thousand watts as she handed the bouquet to me.
‘From the garden’ she announced proudly.
‘I picked them myself, just for you. Sorry they’re a bit untidy and not tied with a fancy ribbon, but I wanted you to have them.’
Mr Robbins looked over at me and smiled sadly.
They were actually his roses, from his garden, but Gran didn’t realise that.
Gone were the days when she tended her own flower beds, but no doubt the memories were still there.
Love’s Bouquet by Kay Kingsley
She sat on the hot green grass watching him run circles around her with the boundless energy only a two year old possessed.
As an adult we age by the decade but children grow by the day, each blink like the slide from life’s projector, a snapshot of growth. From coo’ing to smiling, from standing and walking to talking, it’s endless discovery ignited.
Her warm daydream is interrupted by a loud “Here momma!” and his small fingers extend a bunch of tiny, squished, grass flowers. Her heart nearly explodes with pure happiness. Love never picked a more beautiful bouquet.
A Special Bouquet by Norah Colvin
As expected, they found her in her garden with a bouquet of fresh-picked flowers: daisies, forget-me-nots, peonies, zinnias, sprays of bleeding hearts and honeysuckle, a bottlebrush or two, a bunch of gumnuts and some greenery—to make each colour shine.
Her garden was her sanctuary, her confidante, her joy. She said families were like gardens, with beauty in variety. Every special day—birth, birthday, wedding, or funeral—she arranged a meaningful bouquet. In ninety-five years, she’d seen lives come and go. The last of nine, no doubt now who’d be next. How could she know this was her day?
Death By Roses by Sarah Whiley
“Death by Roses. What kind of a perfume name was that?!”
She selected it from the rows of delicate bottles standing behind glass doors; hoping her sister would like the present.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Ooooooh! Death by Roses!!! How did you know?”
“Just a hunch! Glad you like it.”
Her sister squirted and sprayed herself liberally, before spraying the bouquet over everyone.
Feeling pleased, she didn’t notice at first.
Then her mother screamed, “I thought you’d grown out of your anaphylaxis!”
She faded to black, thinking, “Death by Roses”…
Love & Betrayal by Anurag Bakhshi
I stared at him incredulously, my eyes and my heart filled with tears of hurt and betrayal.
“You leave me hanging at the airport on the day that we are supposed to elope, then disappear for weeks, don’t answer my calls or texts, and now you suddenly pop up and offer me these pathetic flowers?” I hollered like a madwoman as I stomped on the bouquet of dead poppies lying on my doorstep.
He looked at me with vacant eyes, and then replied in a disjointed voice, “Sorry, but these were the only flowers kept on my unmarked grave.”
Bitter Bouquet by Mardra Sikora
Dried petals and stems standing in clouded water greeted him.
Never before had these rewards of his affection appeared less than perfectly tended.
She provided tending. Provided status, security. She cultivated his reputation and ambition.
In the beginning, he signified his passion with red roses. Then the bouquets arrived bigger, more elaborate, and overflowed with color, camouflaging the guilt. Each blossom signified devotion, but not fidelity. Well-tended consolation prizes.
Until she realized that a living rose bush, even with all its thorns, better reciprocated the life and beauty she craved, more than any short-lived bouquet he presented without redemption.
Broken Bouquet by Jack Schuyler
Dry stems and wilted petals blow gently in the wind. Jammed into sidewalk cracks and kicked into the street by passersby, the broken bouquet lies strewn beneath the hot sun. I cannot take the brown from the mashed petals and I cannot restore the green to the stems which lay bent like rotting asparagus in the gutter. The decorative plastic has long since blown down the highway, so I gather the carcass into a dirt stained grocery bag. And what was the occasion? A wedding? A peace offering? I gather the last petal into the bag. It’s over now.
Bouquet by Deborah Lee
“You got a job offer! But this is thrilling!”
Jane laughs. She pulls a bottle from her backpack with a flourish. “It’s not much, but we can celebrate.”
“I’m honored to help you celebrate, dear girl,” the old man says. “I wish I had proper glasses, to appropriately savor the bouquet of this lovely drop.” His eyes dance.
“Bouquet,” Jane snorts, uncapping the wine. “Two-Buck Chuck doesn’t have a bouquet. More like a…twang.”
“A stench!” Jane squeals, giddy.
Henry drinks, wipes the the bottle, passes it. “I could not be happier for you,” he says quietly.
There’s Nothing More Annoying Than A Smart-Arse by Geoff Le Pard
‘You know, those guys are so annoying, hee-hawing about the wine.’
‘Morgan, they’re young, they…’
‘What is it about wine that brings out pretensions? “Lovely bouquet” and “it has notes of peach and cobblers”. Why don’t they just drink it?’
‘You’re the same, with your car. All horse-power and litres and torque and…’
‘That’s different. They’re technical terms.’
‘You use them to contrafabulate the listener.’
‘You made that up.’
‘You don’t know though. You’re just trying to confuse people.’
‘A bouquet is a bunch of flowers, not a wine scent.’
‘Actually it’s the tertiary aroma, caused…’
‘Shut up, Logan.’
Catch Me If You Can by Juliet Nubel
Julia had hovered behind her sister all day, following her like a faithful young puppy. A puppy in teetering heels and an atrociously tight scarlet dress.
She was the older one, surely she should have had a say in what she wore today?
As she lingered she kept a careful eye on the bouquet. The scent from its red and white roses had tickled her nostrils all day.
When was her sister ever going to throw the damned thing?
Julia prayed that her months of training as the goalie of the local female football team would finally pay off.
[misled] by Deb Whittam
The exchange always happened at the end of the day, that was when most looked the other way.
Her old gnarled hands would clasp the product close, until he arrived and then no words were spoke.
He would take the offering and turn away quick, she would smile not batting an eyelid.
Most thought it a tradition, one of those old family ways.
No one seemed to realise that the weeds he received, were more than they perceived.
Weeds and such is what they said, he just nodded … they chose not to see, let them be misled.
Offering To The Land by Jan Malique
She stood looking at the expanse of wild meadow with wonder. It was a rolling carpet of vibrant colour and scent, touched with the kiss of golden sunlight. Truly heaven!
The elders of the tribe had chosen her to carry the offering of garden flowers. A gift to the land as thanks for retreat of the great ice sheets, and continual good harvests.
She waited for a sign from the land that the gift had been accepted. Silence fell, then a sweet wind moved over the meadow. The Guardian came slowly forward and kissed her gently on the forehead.
Flash Fiction by FloridaBorne
She stared at the bouquet of long-stemmed yellow roses, tears streaming.
The best florist in town, the baby breath arranged perfectly in a cut crystal vase, his intentions unmistakable, she opened the embossed envelope and read the gold lettering on an elegant card, “You were right.”
Yesterday, they’d argued about his late nights at work, and excessive spending. She’d accused him of having an affair.
She’d once quipped, “If you want a divorce, just send me a dozen yellow roses.”
He knew she hated that color. He didn’t know she was pregnant.
He’d learn to hate child support more.
Hi Noon at the Bouquet Corral by D. Avery
“Pal! Where’s Shorty at?”
“Whoa, Kid, what’s wrong?”
“The ranch hands! They’s all off in the upper meadows an’ in the woods sniffin’ flowers an’ makin’ daisy chains.”
“So?! They should be makin’ hay, not pickin’ flowers! We gotta be makin’ hay; sowin’ an’ reapin’. Git ready fer winter. Where’s Shorty?”
“Kid, whyn’t you relax, go sniff some flowers yerself?”
“Cain’t, no time, gotta replenish the carrot bin, git hay inta the barn. Winter’s comin’. Where’s Shorty?”
“Kid, go back ta the meadow. Shorty’s there gatherin’ flowers.”
“Fuel fer the soul, Kid. Important work, time well spent.”
March 22: Flash Fiction Challenge
An inch of brown foam blooms over double scoops of grounds, and I wait 30 seconds before filling the press pot with more boiling water. After five minutes I press the grounds and pour the dark brew into a stainless steel mug, over a small spoonful of Northwoods maple syrup, stirring, stirring, stirring. I pour half and half while the whirlpool in a mug yet spins, and it lightens to tan. My final step is to strike a whole nutmeg thrice.
I have earned my Morning Coffee Badge.
This is a tale of badges and how they arrived at Carrot Ranch to help writers follow their dreams.
My dream is to write from a cloud of inspirational joy. I know what that levitated state feels like — it’s comparable to the snowboarder when wax catches air on a mountain face; it’s the rock climber midway through a 5.9 climb; it’s the first river raft run when only the guides dare to face the rapids. Writing is my adventure. Literary art is my sport.
I always said I’d have a ranch, one day. This wasn’t what I meant when I contemplated how to grow a herd of 300 black Angus or convince my new husband to buy a ramshackle homestead tucked into the shadows of Great Basin mountains. But I was young and thought writing was a part of the dream.
Now I know it is the dream — to write the stories that clutch my heart and to free the characters kicking around the trails of my mind. I want to know how to master words, to make them leap through fiery hoops. I want a reader to feel what I feel as a dreamer. The writing builds the bridge between us. This ranch might not have cattle, but it wrangles more stories than ever rode the dusty drives of the American West.
No matter where I rest my heels or dip my toes, I am always out West for it resides within me. Its transformational imprint doesn’t go away, and over the years its come to color my art in the duns of the desert and the reds of cedar bark. Mix that paint with the blues and greens of the Keweenaw, and I feel…home.
Of course, my virtual sandbox, the place where I play and run barefoot with the literary tribe, has to be a ranch. It is a ranch. Carrot Ranch. Where bacon is appreciated and the day begins with the perfect cup of coffee. This is where literary art is accessible, to you and to me!
But how do we grow such a tribe? From the bloom, it seemed easy — keep writing, keep playing, keep planning. Have you ever nurtured a zucchini plant from seed? It’s a hearty seed full of promise. Press it into the soil beneath a sunny disposition and water frequently with inspiration, and soon you have a bush that drops squash after squash after squash. What do you do when zucchini is abundant?
Diversify and share. Zucchini patties, breakfast bread, chocolate cake, chutney, oven chips, grilled spears, green smoothies and pale soups.
This is how the Rancher Badges came to be. The zucchini is abundant at the Ranch, so we are going to make good use of it. If this is a place where literary art is accessible — and it’s a fun, vibrant and authentic experience — then we can all find good uses for the abundance. We are going to make good of the increase in writers at Carrot Ranch.
Rancher Badges reward community interaction and empower individual writers. The idea is to invite engagement without expectation. It’s also a way to provide structure for each writer because we all have different reasons to be here. The diversity is what makes the Ranch a special place — you make the Ranch a special place!
The program is optional. You don’t have to play. If you do play along, it starts with you setting your sights on which Badges you want to earn. Think of it this way — if we are each here because it’s a stop along the path to follow our dreams, which of these badges will get you there? Which of these badges matters to you? Which badges make you smile? Which badges inspire you to feel a part of the tribe?
You set and track your own goals. Once a quarter (June 1, September 1, December 1, March 1) you will turn in your request for badges. An email or submission form will be posted. Within two weeks, you will receive a digital Badge Board through email. You may keep it private, print it or publically display it on your own blog. You can show it off on social media, or share it with your kids, partner, dogs or cats.
Same badges, new badges, and an annual board. Each year the program will offer a new board and updated badges. You can collect them from year to year, or retire a board when a new year begins. It’s all about how you want to play and show off what you earned. You get to decide what your goals are. The Ranch will reward you for achieving them.
*****INTRODUCING THE RANCHER BADGES*****
Participation Badges show your involvement in the challenges at the Ranch.
A quarterly star rewards your accumulative flash fiction over three months. You set the goal: once a quarter, once a month; once a week. The idea is to meet your expectations and not that of others. Be your own star!
An ambassador badge rewards your engagement with other Ranchers. If someone is new, welcome them to the Ranch. If someone has been gone a spell, welcome them back. Leave appreciative comments (say what you liked about a flash). Point out good craft. Visit other blogs. How often? How many handshakes? That’s your goal to set.
Writing Badges support your personal writing goals.
Carrot Ranch attracts a variety of writers and has three badges to support different goals. As an author, you can set word count goals or meet deadlines. As a blogger, you can set post goals or participation in other blog challenges. As a poet, you can set goals to write a certain number of poems or master a new technique or style.
The prolific badge rewards the writing habit you most want to cultivate — a number of pages per day, more fiction than non-fiction, word count, number of flash fictions, number of different blogging challenges. If it feels prolific to you, then it is.
The phrase “runs with scissors” is a tongue in cheek way to denote taking a risk. Maybe it terrifies you to submit a story to a contest. Maybe you want to ask others to beta-read, but you feel shy. Maybe you need to write the scene you try to ignore. This badge pushes you to take a writing risk.
Extracurricular Badges encourage you to accept other challenges at the Ranch beyond flash fiction.
Rough Writer and memoirist, Irene Waters, hosts a monthly writing challenge based on memory and includes comparative demographics. She guest writes at Carrot Ranch to teach memoir craft.
Rough Writer and grit lit author, C. Jai Ferry, pushes writers to the dark side of TwitterFlash where literature is carved into tweetable slices. She guest writes at Carrot Ranch to teach Twitter best practices for literary artists.
Raw Literature is an open guest series for any writer from our extended community. The personal essay explores why or how a writer writes. A new guest essay posts on Tuesdays.
If you hang out at the Ranch long enough, you’ll realize I love rocks as much as I love stories. I dreamed up #CarrotRanchRocks in the darkest days of a Keweenaw winter to combine geology with literary art. I’m looking for writers to join me in crafting 99-word stories about rocks which will go forth with a hashtag and a serial number for linking up to its story.
Community Badges recognize the attributes of writers among writers.
Are you social (friends)? Are you shy (lurker)? Let others know where you stand, or challenge yourself to connect more or explore unseen.
Sharing is caring in the blogosphere, and this badge gives you recognition. Teachers are also caring writers among us who like to teach us new words, techniques or challenge themselves to keep a growth mindset.
Just for Fun Badges recognize the playful spirit of writers at Carrot Ranch.
Love bacon? Love carrots? Show your preference (and both counts).
Flash fiction opens up avenues to creativity and trains the brain to problem-solve in 99 words, no more, no less. If you want to push your creativity, set goals, or simply embrace it, this creative badge says it all.
Unicorns. Carrot Ranch. Eventually, you’ll come to understand. In the meantime, if you dare to write a unicorn story, here’s your badge.
Administrative Badges identify community leaders.
The Congress of Rough Writers is the core group of this literary community. A small advisory team who leads the annual Rodeo form the leadership behind the scenes. Those who participated in Vol. 1 contributed to the book earning 5 stars from Readers’ Favorite.
How to earn Rancher Badges:
- Decide which badges best match how you want to participate at the Ranch as a writer.
- Set your own goals to further your writer’s journey.
- Keep track of your goals.
- Once a quarter (June 1, September 1, December 1, March 1) submit your request for badges.
- Within two weeks you will receive a board (or two) with your badges to display at will.
In addition to badges, we have another important change in process for the flash fiction challenges. I once said that my limit for collecting flash would be 50. We’ve exceeded that, and I’ve been thinking through my process for collecting and how it could change.
Right now, the way I collect keeps me from my own ranch. If I engage over the course of the week, I lose my place with the way pingbacks, links, and comments popuate. That’s why I ride in on Wednesdays and burn the 3 a.m. oil.
I’ve considered different ways, but I don’t want to diminish the interactive vibe we have going on or the level of diversity.
Before the participation bloomed as robust as zucchini, I collected stories on the Carrot Ranch Facebook page. This allowed me to apply the CR style and clear the formatting. But the back and forth became too much. I will now ask all writers who want to be included in the weekly collection to post stories at http://www.facebook.com/CarrotRanch/ following the CR style:
Title in Title Caps by Pen Name or Author Name
99-word flash fiction
Short link if applicable (use https://goo.gl/)
Notes to editor: such as italics or centering of poetry
This step is in addition to linking, ping-backing or leaving your story in the comments. I’m asking you to take this step to help free up my process so I can be more interactive throughout the week. There is no need for anyone to comment on stories on FB. Keep the comments here and/or directly on shared blog links. It’s okay if you don’t understand the style, but it reduces my workload if you follow it.
The reason Carrot Ranch has a style is for editorial consistency. Each country of origin retains its own spelling and punctuation except for the title and byline. I’ll be reminding each of you in the comments.
If you are allergic to Facebook, a ludite or worried about Russian interference, please use the Contact Form as an alternative.
Now to play!
March 22, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the theme “follow your dreams.” Bonus points for throwing a badge into the tale. Go where the prompt leads.
- Respond by March 27, 2018, by leaving a link, pingback or story in the comments.
- If you want your story published in the weekly collection, also post it at Carrot Ranch on Facebook in the post newsfeed (this is the second posting of your story).
- Follow the style of the flash fiction that follows.
- Leave a short link on FB with your story if you want one included in the title.
- Rules are here.
Comanche by Charli Mills
Follow your dreams, they said. So, he stomped dry dust up the Kickapoo Trace into Missouri, dodging the likes of Jesse James. He was handsome, strong and nicknamed Comanche. In St. Louis he gathered with the rest, seeking fortunes west, avoiding the plow. He had dreams. The Army picked only the best, and he stood tall and proud, selected for service. Outfitted with Captain Keogh of the 7th, he marched wild and free. That’s how he felt, living the dream. Until he took seven bullets on Custer’s Battlefield. And lived. The only survivor, the handsome brown-eyed mustang from Texas.