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June 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

Many hands make light work. Women converged on Lady B’s yard, a twisting wreckage slammed by flood and debris last year. Someone — maybe a county worker — laid down straw last summer which snow matted like unruly hair. Depressed and unable to muck out her yard, Lady B expressed sadness. That’s when we formed an informal rake brigade. With six women and six rakes, we piled leaves and straw, collected debris and shattered ceramic pots. Lady B, 86-years-old, fussed over all of us with graciously served cups of sweet tea.

On Saturday, I’m looking forward to returning with annual plants to splash color in remaining pots, and give my friend something to water and care for each day. My daughter will join her hands with mine to plant, and other women plan long-term garden solutions. Approaching a year after the Father’s Day Floods, my community remains Copper Country Strong.

Across town, all hands are on deck to celebrate the Vet Center’s 40th Anniversary. A BBQ fires up, women set up tables laden with food — sloppy joes, taco salad, fruit salad, cheesy potatoes — and the color guard stands at attention. Vietnam Vets and their spouses stand to receive recognition pins.

But let’s back up past WWII, WWI and the American Civil War to better understand what the Vet Center is all about. President Abe Lincoln made a promise to the surviving soldiers and families of the Civil War. The following opens Miracle of Ducks, my novel-in-progress:

In his second inaugural speech, President Lincoln delivered a remedy of justice to those who have served a nation in times of war, understanding that the price paid by soldiers and their families comes at a cost to the nation:

“With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow, and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

To this day, the United States Department of Veterans Affairs operates under a solemn commitment made to those injured in service and vows to take care of the families whose soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice. Less than one percent of US citizens ever serve, giving the entire group of veterans an obscure and minority voice. Veterans rarely speak up for their own justice, making it difficult to receive their benefits for what they endured. It is important that we speak up for them. That we welcome them home, understanding they won’t fit in with the civilians they protected. That we do the one and only thing they ever ask for — “Please take care of my family when I pick up arms for you.”

Those who marry these veterans are loyal. A service to nation that often goes unrecognized.

Miracle of Ducks gives voice to veteran spouses through the story of Danni Gordon. This character has evolved with my own understanding of the service spouses give to the nation. Mary Gauthier, a songwriter who works with veteran families to capture their experiences in song, sings about the War After the War. Here are the lyrics that resonate with the “invisible” spouses:

Who’s gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war
Land mines in the living room eggshells on the floor
I lost myself in the shadow of your honor and your pain
You stare out the window as our dreams go down the drain
Invisible, the war after the war
I’m a soldier too, just like you
Serving something bigger than myself
I serve unseen, caught in between
My pain and the pain of someone else
I’m stronger than you think I am, I’m right here by your side
I am not your enemy I don’t want to fight
There’s no going back in time I know you’re not the same
But you are not the only one for whom the world has changed
Invisible, the war after the war

Yet, the price soldiers and their families pay comes at a cost to the nation. In subsequent wars, US citizens paid taxes to fund war efforts, which is why great thought was given before entering into such a commitment. Those who stayed home planted victory gardens, learned to cook and eat rice so that grains could go overseas to soldiers, went without nylons and other items to ration resources. When soldiers came home, citizens rejoiced with ticker-tape parades. And then came Vietnam, an unpopular war during a time of civil unrest. Soldiers became objects of derision.

The Hub remembers when Georgia hated the Army Rangers. They were barred from businesses and snubbed by society. Grenada changed that attitude and made the Hub wary of fickle views of citizens. He enjoyed getting a parade and allowed in establishments previously off-limits, but he still feels annoyed when someone says, “Thanks for your service.” I’ve tried to understand because I recognize that most people are sincere when they give thanks.

But consider this: Post 9/11 “War on Terrorism” has been the longest US war in history, and yet the smallest percentage of population serves. The toll on physical and mental health is high because of repeat tours. Giving thanks is not what Abraham Lincoln intended. The nation — its citizens — must bear the burden of the cost of war. What does this ideal look like in practice?

Soldiers get medical and mental healthcare without stigma, shame, or pressure to soldier up and take the pain and suffering in silence. That’s the VA’s job. On the homefront, soldiers get readjustment counseling to improve quality of life. That’s the Vet Center’s job. So what do citizens do? They can hire veterans, prevent homelessness, and break down barriers that cause veteran isolation. Isolation kills. Even though veteran suicides have dropped from 22 a day to 20, the VA reports that 14 of those suicides never sought VA services.

And I can tell you why — the VA is difficult to access and penetrate, staff often minimize or ignore concerns, funding goes into marketing a suicide prevention hotline instead of programs that encourage veteran inclusion and fitness, homelessness prevention is nonexistent and does not actually help veterans, and moral injury continues after service. Today, at the open house, I expressed my views based on three years of homelessness and 35 years of VA medical neglect to the regions suicide prevention coordinator. I gave her the view from the other side. And as a spouse, I don’t soldier up, I advocate.

My hands are not alone. As Josh Groban sings in The War at Home, “they are a million strong.” I stand beside my Warrior Sisters. Today, I wept as those of the Vietnam era were honored alongside their husbands with pins that represent their courage and indicate a grateful nation. My husband sat beside me and wept to see his Vietnam era Brothers honored and welcomed home. The Vet Centers exist because the Vietnam vets insisted on helping one another if their country wasn’t going to. The Vet Center exists to keep the promise Abe Lincoln made. It is the legacy of the Vietnam Vets.

Many hands make light work. Won’t you join me in bearing the burdens found in our own hometowns? A better world is not just about veterans. I know we are a global community, but each of us can see and meet the needs of others around us — helping a new mom, visiting the elderly and writing down stories, breaking barriers that isolate vulnerable populations, seeing the humanity in a homeless person, fostering community beautification, giving voice to the voiceless, taking on stories bigger than ourselves. We can all be of service.

June 13, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the work of many hands. Is it a cooperative effort or something else? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 18, 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.

Difficult Decision (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Hands reached out to Danni as she slumped in her chair. “I can’t do it alone,” she said. The women in her group, surrounded her.

Roxie patted Danni’s shoulder. “What do we need to do? I’ll bring my vacuum cleaner.”

Everyone offered to help Danni tackle Ramona’s empty house. She wanted to be angry with Ike for his absence, leaving her to make the decision no one in his family wanted to make. Ramona’s dementia progressed beyond Danni’s ability to keep Ike’s grandmother safe.

“Will she hate me?” Danni asked.

“Nah, she won’t remember you,” said Roxie. “We’ll help.”

June 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

Most of the white beach-washed pebbles are limestone fossils, remnants of a former coral reef. Some are chert with a coating of lime. When I first began hunting rocks on the shores of Lake Superior, I couldn’t tell my limestone from my chert, but with one I learned to recognize glossiness and a microcrystalline structure, and with the other distinct patterns and often a macrocrystaline structure. If I could see crystals like rock sugar, it’s likely a limestone fossil. Yet sometimes — sneaky as metamorphosis can be —  chert can replace the original fossil structure.

A big black tote bag holds all my rocks not yet displayed in window sills or gifted away. The window sills are so nearly mine, I’m taking the chance to clean them. Deep cleaning. Nesting. Rock sorting. I don’t have time to sort rocks, so lively as my days have been, but I find comfort in the process. If my rocks are organized, if I can name them, recognize their details and structures, then everything might yet be okay. I could also go to hell in a big black tote bag, and it will still be okay.

Point is, it’s okay. It’s more than okay. I don’t have to name all the rocks, but I can dream of what I’ll do next with them.

In the span of a week, I spent the night with a ghost, attended and presented at a writing conference out of town, met my next great author mentor, helped my kids  move out of my not-yet house, picked out paint for the walls, got a bed (GOT A BED!), moved from the Rodeo Room to the Happy Trails (named rooms), deep-cleaned kitchen cupboards, swapped out the spice cupboard for the tea cupboard and contemplated how to fill the rest of the pantry, unburied my desk and planned how to live in more space than my previous four foot by two foot corner, spent late nights at the Lake with Cynthia to watch sunsets and listen to cold spring-peeper, talked to my neighbors, talked to my flowers (which confused a neighbor who thought I was telling him to “Grow, baby, grow”), planned curtains with the Hub’s cousin, and buried a grandmother.

Some of these things were more life-altering than others. My neighbors will adjust. Before Sunday, they were my daughter’s neighbors, now they are mine. Now they get to learn I talk to flowers and chipmunks and stare long and hard into the eyes of the stars late at night. It has to be late — I don’t get back from the Lake until dark, and that’s after 11 p.m. My new bed is glorious (do you hear angels singing?), and I’ve been slipping off to sleep earlier than normal. We are adjusting to space. We are preparing to own this space. The Hub leaves a trail of socks and discarded shirts from room to room like he’s marking territory.

Of all these things, the biggest splash came from the Upper Peninsula Publishers and Authors Association Writing Conference in Marquette. That’s where I met the ghost and my newest writing heroine. I want to tell you about my teacher, but you’re probably curious about the ghost story and starting to wonder if my new neighbors are right to think I might be a bit off my rocker. So first, the eerie tale.

When I signed up for the writing conference back in November, I didn’t know it would coincide with the weekend my kids would move out, and I was designated Cook to the Movers. Sunday was the official move day, and my conference was all day Saturday, so I canceled my second night and drove home afterward to fix strata and macaroni salad. I drove to Marquette on Friday after Warrior Wives group to attend a dinner for presenters and UPPAA board directors.

A funny thing happens when I get to a hotel — my inner introvert wants to curl up and stay in. But I had a BOGO free card for drinks, a $20 meal credit from the hotel for having signed up for the room during their Spring Fling, and the expectation to show up. Marquette is home to Northern Michigan University, which has a competitive MFA in Creative Writing. This gives the town a strong literary base. From that base, grew UPPAA which welcomes authors of all genres and forms of publication. When they asked for someone to join the marketing panel, I raised my hand.

Let me pause a moment and encourage you to attend regional writing conferences. When I lived in Minneapolis, I attended Loft events, Rain Taxi, and workshops throughout the upper Midwest. When I lived in Idaho, I won a scholarship to attend BinderCon in LA and worked with Montana organizers to bring a satellite BinderCon event to Missoula. Sometimes you have to travel, but the biggest gains are networking and learning the current state of the industry and publication interests. It’s fun, too! Which I told my inner introvert who just wanted to hang out in the room with the purple and lavender wallpaper.

Before dinner, I sat down with ten strangers. After dinner, I parted from new friends. I sat next to a brilliant children’s book author and her seeing eye dog, Floyd. I met a historian who writes about Upper Michigan history, and he told me about his latest discovery — an abandoned quarry where the town was built into the rock like some 1800s Anasazi city. It’s off the grid with no discernable road. I met the incoming UPPA president, one of my co-presenters who publishes regional imprints. Then I met the outgoing president, author of Haunted Marquette. He asked me if I was staying at The Landmark Inn, and I said yes, up on the sixth floor.

“Not the Lilac Room?”

“Uh, yes, the Lilac Room.”

“It’s haunted.”

After a brief chat about the librarian and her lost-at-sea lover, I was warned to check for screws in the bed. Upon retiring to my (haunted) room, I was skeptical. The room was bright and clean and didn’t feel creepy at all. I pulled back the sheets — no screws. Settling into bed, I read and nodded off, waking up to bright lights. I opened my eyes, and it was dark. I flipped on the bedside lamp, feeling a bit uneasy. I chalked it up to the ghost story playing with my mind. But when I turned back off the light and closed my eyes, I could see bright lights. I wondered if I was getting an ocular migraine, a rare occurrence but I’ve had three in my lifetime, and I see bright lights in my periphery. Whatever the phenomenon, it was difficult for me to fall back asleep. So I read and finally drifted off.

In the morning, I thought about my “haunting” and laughed it off as being tired, impressionable, and maybe something weird but explicable with my eyes. On a whim, I tossed back the covers and no screws. No sheet, either. I know there was a  top sheet because I folded back the cover and just used the sheet until I went to bed. I found the sheet at the far corner as if it had been neatly pulled taut all the way down. Not scrunched or kicked down. Pulled. I couldn’t explain it. I turned to coffee, but my Keurig would turn off seconds after I pressed the power button. I gave up, showered, packed, and gratefully left the Lilac Room.

What isn’t in the haunting stories is that the lovelorn librarian hung herself with the sheets in that room.

Okay! Moving on from haunted rooms (don’t let that deter you from going out of town to conferences). On my way out of the hotel, I recognized one of my author, idols. I was surprised because Karen Dionne had been at Finlandia University the week before and I was bummed to have missed her. I try not to idolize authors, but I have great admiration for her breakout novel. I called her by the first name and asked if she was headed to the Peter White Library — turns out she was our keynote speaker. I felt embarrassed that I missed that detail, but thrilled that not only would she be there, but I was walking with her. Karen is lovely and down to earth. And she had just sent off her next novel to her publisher. Like that morning. She rose at 4 a.m. and wrote until 9 a.m.

Good thing she didn’t get the Lilac Room.

I want to share with you, what Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic, says of teachers and why I look to my  favorite authors as mentors, whether they know I exist or not:

“Do you want to study under the great teachers? Is that it? Well, you can find them anywhere. They live on the shelves of your library; they live on the walls of museums; they live in recordings made decades ago. Your teachers don’t even need to be alive to educate you masterfully. No living writer has ever taught me more about plotting and characterization than Charles Dickens has taught me—and needless to say, I never met with him during office hours to discuss it. All I had to do in order to learn from Dickens was to spend years privately studying his novels like they were holy scripture, and then to practice like the devil on my own.”~ Elizabeth Gilbert

Karen Dionne shared with us her story and lessons from her journey. To me, she made a big splash when she said, “Have the temperament to take risks.”

And here I sit, at the end of what’s been a long journey to home, surrounded by all the risks I took to keep writing no matter what. And I will keep going. Don’t quit. Adjust, as needed. Learn. Take a deep breath but don’t quit. Bat-crazy stuff will go down in your life. Sorrows will rise, distractions will tempt. But stay the course. Writing is a journey with disappointing and astonishing destinations along the way. It is the act of writing, of shaping yourself into a Writer. Go catch stories, haunted, real, or imaginary. Find mentors. Take risks. Take risks with your writing and write something that scares you — not ghosts, but pushing into that deep place, feeling uncertain about what is rising to the page. Let it rise. Go write.

It’s been a rough few weeks for me emotionally. And it will be a difficult wait until we close. The Hub is having trouble with the transition, and I have to occasionally escape to the Lake to ground so I can return and practice patience when I want to come unhinged, too. No matter what, I still write. And sort rocks.

June 6, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that makes a big splash. It can be fluid, or you can play with the idiom (to make a big splash is to do or say something that becomes unforgettable). Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 11, 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.

 

Lucinda Arrives (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

The rumble of a Harley echoed across the valley, crushing the crackle of a nighttime bonfire. Ramona leaned forward on her lawn-chair and asked Michael, “Is that her?”

“Yes, that’d be Lucinda.”

Danni hoped Michael’s tension was excitement. Ever since he visited his aunts last fall, he spoke about the Navajo biologist he met at powwow. Lucinda rode her bike from Red Cliff, Wisconsin to Elmira, Idaho.

Rumbling up Danni’s driveway, the woman dressed in fringed black leather stopped and dismounted. Ramona gaped when Lucinda shook thick black hair from her helmet. “Oh, Michael. She’ll make a big splash.”

May 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

A chipmunk huddles in a hollow at the base of a stump. She hunkers down beneath dry maple leaves, quivering at my proximity. I ignore her. Go about my planting, aware she is inches from my left Keen. A massive black cauldron, likely a relic left over from copper mining, engulfs the circumference of stump. My daughter says it was a planter long before she bought this house in 2015. It’s hip-height and full of soil. Mullein and the bones of last year’s annuals remain. I’ve come to leave my mark with seedlings.

Beneath the flowering moon of May, I planted a bleeding heart at the corner of the house that was my daughter’s and might yet be mine. It’s an act of faith, gardening. Seeds may or may not germinate, but when they do, life breaks a crust of soil and becomes something. Every day, I water my Brussels sprouts still in eggshells, waiting for a garden. I’ve turned the dirt and wait for the Hub to help me with a few details before I can plant. The kids move this weekend, so I’m waiting. I ask the Hub if he’s excited about the Brussel sprouts, and he says he will be when we harvest. Not until they are on his plate.

That’s too long to wait. I’d lose hope if I didn’t enjoy planting and nourishing. I’d harden if I didn’t love something until it fulfilled its purpose. Yes, that means I’m often disappointed more than most. It’s painful. But the contrast feels real, feels like living. It’s risky business hoping for a home after the crashes we’ve had. I understand his protective stance, but I’m the planter as well as the hunter, going after the potential every day until it arrives.

As a planter, I’m an all-out plantser. Like a writer who crafts by the seat of their pants, I plant wild beneath the full moon and sow where I see potential. My daughter is a planner. She plots her gardens on grid papers and calculates the amount of sun and shade. Her spring garden blooms by design and she thins veg seedlings with measured exactness. I smile at the spreading raspberries, and she tells me, “Mom, you’ll need to weed those suckers mercilessly.” Kind of like the advice to writers — kill your darlings.

But like writing, I must first dream far and wide and get my hands dirty. I believe in writing to explore, to dig deep, to mulch and compost and feed and weed and plant and water and cultivate the story with bare fingers. My wide plantsing knows means errors. I’ll mistake the plant and the sun it needs. I’ll not like how something in the cauldron grows, or maybe it won’t like it. I’ll go soft-hearted and leave in too many seedlings, again. I’ll ignore the creeping raspberry runners,  I’ll plow the margins and plant in clumps.

For the two summers I’ve helped with my daughter’s gardens, I’ve abided by her plans. Tentatively, I’ve bought a few plants, grown the seeds I like. I’ve held onto hope that I might plant and plants. I’ve respected her boundaries, delighting in how different from me she is as a gardener. When I show her my blue cohosh, she asks, “Did you research it?” No, I bought the cutting.

So we are at the cauldron, pressing a myriad of seedlings into the pot along with my cohosh, a wise woman herb. We leave the mullein, and I transplant fleabane from the lawn. She raises an eyebrow. “It’s white,” I say.

The cauldron was her moon garden — all white flowers. We’ll wait and see what grows.

I’m not the only one in this garden who dreams big. I pat the soil gently, and the chipmunk decides she’s waited long enough. She darts over my shoe and dashes down the hole she’s burrowed in the strawberry patch. I know I’ll have to share because I’m not going to evict her. She’s not in the middle of the plants, and even if she burrowed elsewhere, she could still sneak in and steal bites of strawberries. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to let the raspberries ramble.

The chipmunk dreamed of a place with abundance and shelter. But the unexpected arises, too. My old lady dog still remembers chasing gophers in Idaho, and when I walk her past the strawberries, she catches a whiff and old ears perk like a puppy’s in excitement. Bobo doesn’t get around well, so I think the chipmunk will be safe. Maybe we have to be on the lookout for the bad that can happen but not to the exclusion of the flowers and possibilities. With hope, I add to my daughter’s spring garden — something that rambles — catmint. She’s a bit surprised and reminds me that it spreads.

Yes, I’m in a spreading mood. Feather by feather, I plan to unfurl my wings and fly home soon.

***

My friend Cynthia is holding a Homecoming Event to help the Hub, and I plant a new household. We have two lists on Amazon, one for household and one for the future Roberts Street Writerly. Part of the dream I’m planting here is two guest rooms that will be space for visiting writers. Just as we did in Elmira, we offer the rooms without charge and invite the writers to read in the community, privately or at public events. If you want to help us get home, you can find our Household list here and the Roberts Street Writerly list here.

Our new address is:

1112 Roberts Street
Hancock, MI 49930

We still have to close, so keep June 20th in your prayers and positive thoughts. We have contingency plans if the worst happens. I’m familiar with that, but I keep in mind that I have a community and choices. We landed in the right place and will continue to get care for the Hub and even get to NYC for brain scans. Those won’t alter any treatment or definitely diagnose, but it will help track what is going on with his brain and how it could help the next generation of soldiers. I’ll be writing more about CTE, subcussive impacts, and impacts of aging on the veteran’s altered brain over at Medium.

I’ve planned to use my literary art to build awareness for the veteran spouse experience and veteran isolation, which are themes in my WIP. Next, I’ll be workshopping Miracle of Ducks in an MFA program that begins August 12. On Wednesday, I received official notice that SNHU accepted my military benefits. As part of a VA system, that’s a huge hurdle to get over, and I’m so relieved! I have to pay enrollment on Monday, and hopefully, the VA will catch up with me on those payments.

Like a darting chipmunk, I’m going for it all. Strawberries and mint, the fruit and rambles are in sight. And it’s looking beautiful from here. Deep breath! Skitter, skitter, skitter…

May 30, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes strawberries and mint. The combination evokes color contrast, scents, and taste. Where will the combination take you? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by June 4, 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.

 

A Peek (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

A hardbound journal lay open on Ramona’s bed. Danni reached for it, and  paused, examining the pencil strokes. On one top corner, strawberry plants clustered with leaves, flowers and berries drawn in great detail. On the opposite bottom corner, mint vined in sweeping strokes. Danni smiled. Ramona liked to say, plant your mint across the garden from your strawberries. On the page, the two plants formed a continuous frame around two little girls with identical braids and short gingham dresses, holding hands. All she could see was their backs and the pond they faced. Were these the elusive twins?

May 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

Work, work, and more work. If you want to know why my daughter is living on the Svalbard Archipelago, she’s there to work. Her partner is head chef at a top restaurant that caters to eco-tourists, and given that he’s fed scientists in Antartica and elite lodgers in Alaska, he’s no stranger to cooking on ice. She went with him for a few months, which turned into a year and a half.

Rock Climber lives on an arctic chain of islands in Norway, working in all the restaurants. Off-shift for one, another calls her in to wait tables or tend bar. She has the effervescent personality of a wandering bard, and I can understand why hospitality on one of the world’s most remote arctic places holds her in high demand. To get to work, she often has to travel by boat or plane. Stories bubble up all around her.

If you’re wondering why I have Rock Climber on the brain, it’s because she’s back on land, among trees, and in Montana for a friend’s wedding. This means cell-phone service! On ice, I rarely get to communicate with my daughter, just crossed messages. When she calls, my heart soars, and I soak up her stories and laughter and love. She might be the Sgt.’s daughter, the wild child of a US Army Ranger, but she’s 100 percent buckaroo storyteller.

I call my daughter Rock Climber because she embraces the thrill of the climb. A kinesthetic learner, she masters hand-holds and knows where her body is mid-tumble. For years, she competed in gymnastics. Now, she is the Polar Bear Whisperer. I’m not sure I like that designation because it implies that the bears seek her out.

One night, at a place where she works, a bear broke into the wine cellar and feasted on the fine vintage and chocolate. She says it was a bear after her own heart! As long as the bear only eats her chocolate and not her internal organs. When they go out of town past the guards, they carry rifles and flare guns, not to shoot the bears but to scare them off.

She tells me about commuting to work on a Zodiac, which are the same boats the Hub managed as the lead combat diver for his Ranger unit back in the early ’80s. The arctic sea spray leaves crusts of ice in her ears, and she has to wear a survival suit with a beacon. On one trip, the sea rolled and dipped as the boat cut through the waves. Rock Climber and her partner stayed at the bow, and when it tipped downward, two walruses emerged. These behemoths pack tusks, and she says she fears them more than polar bears.

Yet, like polar bears, they are dying.

The reality of climate change impacted the polar regions of our world first. Think of the Arctic as our canary in the coal mine. If you aren’t familiar with that phrase, let me explain. Coal mines emit deadly gases that will kill a caged bird before building up to levels lethal enough to kill miners. It can’t be detected until it’s too late. To say the Arctic is the canary means that our planet is changing so rapidly that species are dying. The bi-peds who can actually understand this and do something about it choose to agitate their fellows into arguing semantics and causes in a stupendous show of disregard for our environment. It’s like the American politicians spin the death of the canary into myth and convince constituents that rising sea levels are nothing more than falling rocks.

Walruses are falling into the ocean. From cliffs high above the northern waters where they feed, they plummet to their deaths, front flappers wobbling like hopeless wings. Their carcasses litter miles and miles of Svalbard. My daughter fears a walrus tusk ripping apart her commuter boat on frigid seas, but she cares about their well-being. They are not well, the flightless walruses. Once, they rose above waters to dry out in the sun on the shelves of ice. Now, icemelt forces them up dangerous cliffs to sunbathe. Without ice, they endanger their own lives.

Without ice, we endanger our lives, too.

Rock Climber tells me human bodies don’t decompose in the permafrost. If you think this is a gruesome statement, hold on, you haven’t heard the story, yet. In 1998 a crew of gravediggers from London punched their way through the ice to solve a global puzzle — what killed an estimated 20 to 50 million people worldwide during the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic? Because permafrost preserves bodies, and what remains in them, scientists hired professional gravediggers to hack into a mass grave of seven coal miners who arrived near Longyearbyen already sick with the flu in 1918.

Today, without ice, these graves pose a biological disaster waiting to be released by the unprecedented mudslides in the region. Before Rock Climber arrived, an avalanche wiped out the rental her partner arranged. For the first year, the two of them couch-surfed between the various islands.  Svalbard is no stranger to the oddities of humanity arriving at the land of the midnight sun and retreating ice. Climate change, epidemics, mining, and tourism all in one place.

But not cats. Cats — and dying — are forbidden on Svalbard. Because of the isolated ecosystem, cats are banned to protect migrating birds. Also, a rabies outbreak started last year in 2018. Polar foxes contract the disease, as well as reindeer. Rock Climber has witnessed rabid reindeer, which makes me imagine Santa Claus horror stories.

For now, my daughter is happy to be stateside where polar bears don’t eat her chocolate, and people speak her native language. She loves trees and this planet. She lives at ground zero of a planet changing. Life is full of contradictions.

Denial wraps us up in a comforting blanket while we whisper the boogeyman away from under our beds. But to ponder walruses that can’t fly, polar bears that starve, and biology ripe for a zombie-apocalypse plotline seem horrific alternatives. The Beauty Way of the Navajo teaches that for all things out of context with life, we bring them back to the natural order. In a way, that’s what writers do.

We can write into the Shadowlands, shape what a world of great loss looks like, offer warnings more tangible than a flat-lined canary. We can write satire, use humor to call out political leaders making up science, or erasing it. We can write into the wave where the walrus yet live, put readers in the bow of a Zodiac prepared to journey to the center of their minds. We are writers. We can imagine the possibilities.

I can hear it in my daughter’s voice no matter the story — sad, funny, surprising — I can hear life.

In the end, it’s not about work. It’s not about what we did to save or end the planet. It’s all in how we live today. They say we only live once. But writers get many lives. Catch all the stories you can. Write them down. Find beauty among the rock outcroppings.

May 23, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story without ice. It can be a world without ice or a summer camp that runs out of cubes for lemonade. What does the lack mean to the story? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by May 28, 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.

 

Whiskey Ditch (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Honky-tonk music crackled over speakers, the kind her dad listened to – Merle Haggard. Danni’s boots crunched peanut shells on a floor that hadn’t been swept in years. Not recognizing anyone in particular, she noted the regulars easily – the hovering barflies and closed-eye drunks reliving better days. It’s the kind of place her dad would have entered, leaving her to sit in the cab of his truck, reading a book. For a moment, she felt small again. And it hit her. Ike had really left. Iraq had beckoned him becoming the other woman. Danni ordered a whiskey ditch without ice.

May 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

Two days after my middlest child turned 29 years old, I’m seeking trees. My daughter, Rock Climber, lives on a craggy glacier island in the Arctic, surrounded by massive mountains, polar bear prints, and eternal snow beneath skies as wide as any final frontier. She travels by Zodiac in seas so tumultuous she has to wear a full life-suit with a beacon. When she flies between islands, she lands on airstrips made of permafrost. For fun, she rides snowmobiles in the midnight sun and sends me goofy snapshots. When her dad was in the hospital, she taught her Norwegian friends to sing a raunchy rugby song she learned when watching him play in a Montana league.

This is my Bug Child. My wild girl crafted in her Ranger/Rugby father’s image.

She tells me she misses trees.

Have you ever lived someplace where there were no trees? Even in the North American deserts, juniper, pinion, and Joshua trees grow. I was born beneath a canopy of California oaks and raised in the Sierras where the Jeffry pines and cedars grow. Eyes wide open, I can still smell their scent — Jeffrey pines smell like vanilla when the sunshine warms their broom-like clusters of needles. I’m not a tree-hugger as much as I’m a tree-cuddler.

I used to ride my horse Captain Omega (don’t judge, I named him when I was 12, reading Greek Mythology) to the cedar groves. There, I’d sit with my back to a cedar with its auburn bark that I could peel like fiber. I used to compare the color of my long braids to the tree and pretend we were distantly related. I’d read, devouring books and traveling in my mind to places as remote as where Rock Climber now lives.

Trees are in my DNA. Bumpa, my nonagenarian great-grandfather who used to tell me stories when my mother dropped me off to visit him in the nursing home beneath the oaks. I only knew him in his nineties. He died when I was ten, and he was 99. But those stories live on within me, roots of his life touching mine. His parents were farmers from Denmark, immigrating to America. They came west to California and planted apricot orchards. He grew up, tending those trees. My grandmother continued to harvest their fruit even after her father sold the orchards. My mother and her sisters would eat green apricots until their bellies ached. I grew up eating dried apricots every Christmas. When my Bug Child was two, my mother taught her to filch fruit from low-hanging branches, declaring these were the one’s Bumpa’s father planted.

I once wrote a story about the sweetness of stolen sunshine, keeping in mind the female tradition of San Benito apricots. Those trees produced fruit I thought must taste like the ambrosia of the sun. Throughout life, I continued to nibble from trees. First apricots, and then the nuts from Sierra pines. Jeffry pinenuts are flat and acrid but carry that luscious scent. Pinion pinenuts are fat, greasy, and sweet. Yet they don’t produce every year. When pinenuts come into season, the Washo and Ute would flock to high desert groves and harvest from pitchy stunted trees. I can taste American history with each nibble, I can experience Johnny Appleseed with the plucking of wild apples. I dream of Rock Creek and Little House on the Prairie when I slurp the tart fruit of a wild Nebraska plum.

Family legend holds that my other great-grandfather could create trees. He knew how to splice and get a crab apple to grow on a Macintosh. What scientist do in labs with genes, my ancestors did with trees. They brought their own hybrids with them from the Basque lands, the Azores, and beyond. Not from Ireland though. I once had a family member tell me that the English cut down all the trees in Ireland, and perhaps my Irish blood still misses those trees. I’ve watched shows on how the modern English take care of ancient oaks, and Monty Don is welcome to teach me anything about trees. My British roots are all mixed up in the different eras of history, place, and culture but undoubtedly go back to the Celtic worshippers of trees.

Deciduous trees of the Keweenaw have root systems that communicate throughout the woods. When  I’m alone on a trail, I can hear them talking. White pines once grew in abundance on this peninsula, but like most other places, trees of today displaced the trees of yesterday. Climate change is displacing us all. Weather patterns and extreme weather events change what trees grow where.

At times I feel like a wind-whipped pine holding onto the cliffside. Then the sun comes out, or a gentle rain washes away the dust. Maybe I’ll find a home in a tree, a nest to call my own.

So I ask again, have you ever lived someplace without trees? Can you imagine having to hunt for them, to grow up not knowing what it is to smell bark or rake leaves or taste fruit?

My daughter misses trees. So I am seeking trees to give her stories to remind her.

May 16, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that goes in search of trees. It can be one particular tree, a grove, woods, or forest. What makes the tree worth seeking? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by May 21, 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.

 

Laid to Rest (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni asked Ike to fall the tree, an ancient Ponderosa with thick plates of bark assembled like puzzle pieces. She estimated it had stood over the abandoned cemetery at least three centuries before burials. Mostly sawyers and log-camp followers found final rest beneath its branches. A hundred years ago, this Ponderosa would have netted the logging company enough money to cover wages. Yet they had spared the tree. Danni didn’t guess why, but she asked her husband to fall it because he understood the code of the forest. He’d remove the diseased old-timer with respect to those it guarded.

Growing Older

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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!

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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.

“Ready? Cheese!”

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

“Why?”

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.”

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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!

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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.”

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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!

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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.

Yeah, right.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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?

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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.

“Arnie?”

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.

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A Year Old by Ruchira Khanna

Happy-birthday-for-grandmother-from-granddaughter

“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.

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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.

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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.

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‘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.’

‘Nice.’

‘Maybe. She’s not said what else.’

‘Oh…’

‘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?’

‘Indeed.’

*said by a famous nonagenarian, when asked what change was the most notable now he was in his nineties

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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POETIC REFLECTIONS

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;
unfamiliar people?

Where is the you

You know?

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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.

STOP!

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
TRACK…
NUMBERED…

Until… endless sleep of blessed youth,

FORESHADOWS ETERNAL
SLEEP TO US ALL!!!

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How Did I Get This Old by Susan Zutautas

Growing older

Growing wiser

Kids are grown and gone

Bones are aching

Back is breaking

Arthritis settling in

Many memories to enjoy

When I can remember them

Retired early

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

Cataracts developing

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

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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

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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…

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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

a soul-mate

and now it’s getting

too late

maudlin thoughts

on your birthday

my niece smiles and giggles

saying things in gibberish

that only Carmela can

understand

she holds her tiny hand

outstretched to us

offering

a mostly eaten cracker

with marmite on top

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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.”

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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.”

“Try haiku.”

“Bless ya.”

“Haiku!”

“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.”

“Ain’t it?”

“Naw, that there’s buckaroo-ku.”

“Yer cuckoo, Kid.”

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May 9: Flash Fiction Challenge

Soon, I’ll be another year older. I don’t really think of birthdays in terms of age; I’m more excited about cake and the possibility of a champagne sunset on Calumet Waterworks Beach. The 1.2 billion-year-old rocks interest me more than contemplating my meager years. I’m a mayfly in comparison to a Lake Superior agate. Why waste life worrying about growing older?

On Wednesday, I attended One Million Cups and listened to an eighty-something gerontologist talk about her experiences of growing older. Before she reached a high number of decades, she studied the aging process. According to definition, gerontology is the study of the social, cultural, psychological, cognitive, and biological aspects of aging. This woman educates readers on what to expect during the natural aging process. And I’ll give you a hint — aging is not a sickness.

Writer, Jolayne Farrell, answers questions at her popular blog, On Growing Older just as she did for decades in her newspaper column. When she told her story, I picked out many instances of her willingness to take risks. She talked about discomfort and uncertainty, but she also lit up at the idea of pursuing passions. In fact, she passed out her business card attached to a colorful blank card with a red circle she called a life-saver. She invited us to write down our dreams and keep that card with us at all times.

We might not be spared growing older, but our life-saver will keep us alive.

This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes by Gabriel García Márquez:

“It is not true that people stop pursuing dreams because they grow old, they grow old because they stop pursuing dreams.”

Jolayne shared with us her travels, work as a hospice nurse, and pursuit of what drives her own passions. She mentioned visiting other octogenarians in their mining homes (on the Keweenaw) surrounded by their memories. This made me realize how static we often try to make life. Do we think we can slow down the slippage of sand through the hourglass? I’m certain I don’t want my end-goal to be safe-guarding memorabilia.

My first year on the Keweenaw, I had a transformative experience at an estate sale. After the final owner of a home dies, a company comes in, working with the family, to clean out and sell the household items. I overheard a conversation at a sale — an elderly woman pined over a vintage set of glassware, commenting that they were “just like hers.” The woman’s daughter responded that they had downsized her belongings and she certainly was not going to get more “stuff.”

My heart ached. In part, I understood the daughter’s frustration. Likely, mom was living in assisted living or with family. She didn’t have the comfort of her old home surrounded by her memories. I felt the pining in contrast to the burden stuff can also bring.

When my best friend’s father died, and her mother went into a memory care facility, I helped my friend pack up her parents’ house. It was a painful experience, although we had plenty to laugh about (like all the teeth and hoard of toiletries we found in the bathroom). Sadly my friend died untimely of cancer. Is death ever timely?

Her children then had to sort through their mom’s and grandparents’ stuff. They were grieved and overwhelmed.

Yet, I felt for the elderly woman longing for her glassware. Sense of home stems from stuff surrounding us. I collect stories — books, rocks, and even broken glass. Other people gather family mementos or tools. One generation passes down glassware to the next. But not everyone wants great-grandma’s china. I have my great-grandmother’s recipes which I fashion into stories and serve along with the sopas or enchiladas. Yet both find connection to the past.

My imagination surges out west where the pining pictures pioneers unloading treasured household stuff to abandon glassware, dishes, and hutches along the Forty Mile Desert Trail across northern Nevada. The woman I briefly encountered at the state sale becomes one I imagine standing beside the wagon, gripping her apron as her husband deposits everything of hers deemed unessential on the blowing sand. The oxen stagger, needing water and hay. The children must walk in the sun, and they continue on, hoping the beasts don’t die to add their bleached bones to others. Once this woman makes it to Ragtown, did she dream of going back? In California, was she never satisfied, longing for her desert glassware?

Often, pioneers only had what they could take to remember home. Many would not see family again, and losing stuff adds to the sense of isolation. If you only had room for a few things, would you save a glass? Could you deposit your belongings in the desert if it meant your safe passage? Would you miss it years later?

I once saw a t-shirt that read, “Growing older is not for sissies.” It takes courage to balance what to take and what to leave behind; what to remember and what yet to experience. All the while we lose or sprout hair, find our posture slacking or our feet tapping out of sync. Did you know that a woman can experience hot flashes in her teeth? Yeah, no one told me that one, either. Digestions change and senses diminish. It’s the kind of transformation that signals the reality of change. Children grow up, waists expand, stuff matters more or less.

But Jolayne’s message was about embracing life. Not life at 20 or life at 50. But life. Life as it presents itself at the moment. Each day we ask, how will I live my best today?

The creative life is every day. It’s not when it’s now. On May 14, my middlest child turns 29, and a week later I’ll turn 52. It’s a middle of the spectrum age — it sounds young to some and old to others. It’s a number I can’t feel. I’m me, no matter what shifts. I have a robust imagination that sees beyond the day-to-day. Waly Disney said, “Laughter is timeless, imagination has no age, and dreams are forever.”

So dream.

May 9, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about growing older. It can be humorous, dark or poignant. It can be true or total fiction. It can be fine wine or an old fossil. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by May 14, 2019. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form.  Rules & Guidelines.

 

Old Bones (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“That bone is heavy as iron,” Ramona said, picking up a fossil from Danni’s workbench. Ramona no longer recognized the bone or knew its story. Nothing seemed familiar these days.

Ike put his arm around Ramona, grinning. “It’s old as you, Gran’ma.”

Danni was brushing glass shards, musing over what they might tell her about 19th century occupancy near her garden. She paused. “Ike, you know that’s a dinosaur bone.”

Ramona winked. “Well, if bones get heavier with age then that explains the numbers on the bathroom scale.”

Danni laughed. At least Ramona hadn’t forgotten her sense of humor.

May 2: Flash Fiction Challenge

Spring demands a pickaxe.

My neighbors chop their remaining snow piles dirty with stamp sand the road commission uses to grit streets throughout a Keweenaw winter. Remnants line the gutters. Other neighbors sweep away the byproduct of 150 years of copper mining. I scour the driveway and sidewalk to the back of the house on Roberts Street with my daughter’s corn-broom, swinging at grit as if I were fighting a battalion of field mice. Maple leaves move along at a groggy pace, damp and matted.

At the edge of the concrete, I discover brick pavers long buried beneath turf, dirt, and moss. In a frenzy of cleaning fueled by spring vibes and the need to move, I focus on excavation. The saturated earth easily tears away in clumps of grass, rooted maple saplings, and webs of weeds. An extended old sidewalk emerges as my reward, ending beneath one of three grand maples where one day I will set up a tea table. I sweep away more leaves to expose a flower bed, bare grape vines, and more visions of a place to call home.

Beneath the maple, glory-of-the-snow (Chionodoxa luciliae) rises like spring’s pickaxe from beneath the carpet of winter’s leavings. Grass-like stems spear so fiercely, they impale mats of maple leaves. Glory-of-the-snow unfold into purple and white star-flowers in the shadows of dwindling snow banks. The cosmos have momentarily dipped to earth. Miners who once drilled beneath the Keweenaw had wives who planted these resilient spring flowers, a baton of strength from the past.

The Finns have a word — sisu. It means something like determination and inner strength. It’s not courage, but rather something elemental in a person’s core. Finnish decendents of the Keweenaw turn to sisu to survive the long winters. It’s not a one-time deal, but a consistent ability to overcome adversity. I’m not a Finn, but I know sisu.

Maybe that’s why I enjoy watching neighbors pickaxe the remaining snow. I feel their determination with each stroke. I swipe away grit and watch flowers emerge, marveling that snow, stamp sand, and floral glory can exist simultaneously. A Keweenaw friend once described local nissu bread to me — “it’s gritty, but sweet; kinda like the Finns who eat it.” Nissu bread is not for sissies, but it takes to thimbleberry jam without complaint.

What is my thimbleberry jam, I wonder? I know my grit, my ability to rise like dough from the pounding. I also know beauty, the sweet spread of life lived in the moment. While worrying about a burgeoning infection surrounding the Hub’s new titanium, we both couldn’t help but gasp in joy as a merlin blew past the front window like a sky-racer down Roberts Street. That’s thimbleberry jam.

The worry passes. Merlins soar eternally. Someone once stood on this hill overlooking the waterway 3,000 years ago, poking around for the metal to make spear points to feed children half-starved from a harsh winter and a merlin blew past. Hope lifts up. Sisu gains root. And the hunter knows winters will come again. So will the merlins. So will the trout lillies and fiddlehead ferns. Sisu makes sure we don’t hang our heads and miss the flying.

As for the Hub’s knee, Doc says it’s “lookin’good.” The increased pain and redness is frostbite. Let’s say, I might have sisu. I’m a terrific advocate, a great encourager, but I suck at being a carer. In my heightened sense of duty, I overachieved on the icing and frosted the Hub’s new knee. Doc chuckled and said, “They didn’t educate you, did they?”

I have no idea who “they” are other than they say lots of stuff about history and politics, too. No, “they” never taught me how to use an ice bucket. I observed that it was used around the clock in the hospital, and when the nurse gave me Doc’s orders, I took them to the word — “ice.” So I iced. Good news is that x-rays confirmed no infection, the skin will heal, and halejuliah, I no longer have to haul ice up the stairs every four hours. I also advocated for a med change and it has made a huge difference, too. Brownie point for speaking up.

And then I threw away the Hub’s wallet. Cleanliness — to prevent infection — and lack of sleep led to a missing wallet. He panicked. I didn’t. After all, it’s not like he’s been gadding about any further than the bathroom. We pulled back the mattress, flashed the light in corners, moved dressers, search every weird place we could think of and no wallet. The Hub said it had fallen into the bedside trash once and he pulled it out. With everything condensed within his reach, it likely got knocked again and I didn’t think to look in the trash before depositing it outside in the can. The can that got hauled away before we realized what happened.

He’s sad. But I remember that the merlins are back. And the snow that hit us this week quickly melted. And that my Brussel sprouts are growing in the eggshells where I planted their seeds. And I have hopes for black gladiolas at the back of the Roberts Street house. We make the necessary calls. I believe sisu can exist because beauty exists.

In July, I’ll be offering my first Carrot Ranch Writing Refuge in Vermont. We will entwine ourselves in nature and writing. One of the lessons I’ve prepared is based on the Navajo “beauty way” as expressed in novels by Tony Hillerman. Another examines the writing of Craig Childs to explore a sense of place and beauty despite natural disaster. And we’ll learn to observe like Aldo Leopold, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard, and Terry Tempest Williams. Beauty balances sisu in writing.

No matter what grit you might have to brush away from your own writing, and no matter how many times you must rise again against doubt, rise. Look for a merlin of your own, or catch the once a year smattering of flowers named for glories.

And tune into #NaNoProMo over on Twitter and at BadRedhead Media. It’s a month-long gathering of marketing expertise for authors. If you comment on the official post each day, you are registered to win prizes from each of the book marketing experts who offer a giveaway with each post. I’ll be talking about credibilty as part of author branding and offering a free Author Action Plan to the day’s winner. It’s a tool I developed for my book cultivation workshops and I’m pleased with it because it helps me meet each author where they are at to illuminate a path to where they want to be.

During NaNoProMo, I will offer a special consultation for an Author Action Plan (scroll to the bottom of the page).

We are each individual. There is no one plan that fits all.

But what writers do have in common is that determination to get it done on our own terms. Despite the obstacles. Despite circumstances. Despite age and regret, or youth and inexperience. We write with sisu.

May 2, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about sisu. It’s a Finnish concept of enduring strength, the ability to consistently overcome. Think long-term. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by May 7, 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.

Something Evil in the Night (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Successive gun shots startled Danni from sleep. 2:04 a.m. She reached for Ike’s AR-15 resting between the dresser and wall. Years of Ike drilling her lent a strange familiarity to her husband’s weapon. But he was halfway around the world in Iraq. She dialed 9-1-1. The nearest deputy was 25 minutes away. Stepping outside, rifle cradled in the crook of her arm, Danni watched a silent pack of wolves run like liquid silver across the frozen pond in moonlight. Danni understood: Wolves run with sisu in their blood, outpacing the malevolence that follows – men with no regard for life.

April 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

My spirit has slumped for the moment. I’m exhausted. This month has resolved years of spinning in circles. The Hub officially has a new knee. We spent Easter weekend with our son and future DIL in Wisconsin, meeting the priest who will marry them next year. We are close to getting approved to buy the Roberts Street House where I’ll have two rooms to offer visiting writers. And the weather has warmed the earth to generate the first batch of crocus. All good, but I’m wiped.

The Hub’s knee replacement has been 35 years in the making. After talking to the surgeon and one of his physical therapist, I’m delighted that we pushed through to get it replaced earlier than the VA wanted him to. Although it also infuriates me that they didn’t do it sooner. Moving forward, I’ll embrace the delight and hard work of giving the Hub a better leg to stand on.

It’s been nutty since we last talked gender. Weird, too. Over the weekend, after we drove down to Prairie Du Sac, I received a message to advise me that a shirt-show was brewing on Twitter. I’m part of the line-up for next month’s author marketing event NaNoProMo hosted by Rachel Thompson (author, creator of #MondayBlogs, and marketing guru to indie authors). In one of her promotions of my previous marketing articles at her website, my shirt from my author headshot was noticed.

Bob Mayer, a NYT best-selling author, and former Green Beret, questioned why a woman was wearing what he recognized as authentic Ranger and unit tabs. It was a testosterone filled inquiry, implying that women are not yet assigned to Ranger units (two did make it through all three phases of Ranger school). Had he taken time to read my author bio he would have at least understood that I’m the wife of a former US Army Ranger who writes about the veteran spouse experience. But he didn’t.

By the time I caught up over on Twitter, not only was I the wrong sex to be a Ranger, but others commented I was also the wrong age and size. Bob is a former Green Beret. He likely experiences what my husband does — knowing that there were 437 Navy Seals in Vietnam but having met all 10,000 of them. People make false claims of elite military units all the time. And it rankles the few who actually served in those units. But the other commenters fell into the phenomenon of sensing a public shaming.

Yes, I was shirt-shamed on Twitter.

Having caught it soon enough, I was able to respond:

“That’s my husband’s shirt. We’ve been married 32 years, homeless the last three because of his symptoms of CTE from head hits during his service. I’ve fought to get him help. He let me wear his shirt for my author headshots because I write about the veteran spouse experience.”

I could have left it at “That’s my husband’s shirt.” But I was feeling vulnerable, sitting in the dark of my son’s apartment after everyone had gone to bed, thinking I’d read stories at the Ranch and instead felt thunked over the head. I’m tired of not having a home. I’m tired of not knowing how to fully explain my husband’s odd behavior. I’m tired of having to cope with early onset dementia. And it’s early! What next? So I wanted to reply in a way that made Bob look like a jackass for his original comment. It succeeded in shutting down any further comments.

Except one. A woman called out the man. And on gender week at Carrot Ranch. She called him “a sexist piece of shit.” Thought I chuckled, it only made me feel more isolated. I didn’t want to be some poster child for sexism. I had a surgery to prepare for — not mine, his.

And it went well, it really did. It was hard at night because I’d leave the hospital, and he’d tell the nurses something like, “I don’t want  any opiods,” and they’d struggle to figure out what to do with the docs and pharmacists all gone, knowing he’d be in worse pain trying to fight it with only Tylenol. Then he’d text or call me because he was in excruciating pain and I’d be howling at the nurses to give him his assigned meds. Now that he’s home under my care, I can better regulate his pain med schedule, keep him iced, and apply ointments. I get no sleep until he does.

It’s frustrating, the little ways his brain doesn’t work the way it should. Like not understanding the importance of the pain meds for a total knee replacement. Sometimes he says things like advising the nurse not to use his third finger to draw blood from because it gives strange results. I usually get odd looks. By the end of his stay, they would not tell him anything important without me there. But they remained respectful, and I admired the way nurses listened to him and made him feel valued even if his understanding of circumstances is skewed.

The doc tells me my Ranger is going to be a new Cowboy. I’ll take that.

And, with great hope, we may qualify for a program to take out a  VA loan without anything down. Unless the bank would take my boxes of books or our  RV, we have nothing to put down. We’ll do okay on his disability until I can finish up my MFA. I don’t know when or if we’ll get our belongings out of storage in Idaho, but I plan to furnish two rooms to host visiting writers. Like I did in Idaho, the rooms will be free, and I’ll set up reading opportunities. Maybe I’ll do a fundraiser to set up those rooms, but first, we have to get the house.

Before that, I need a full night of sleep.

Give me some time to catch up on my ranch chores. The weekly compilations are a labor of love, and I will get over to read everybody’s submissions when I can hold open my eyes. Thank you for understanding. And for taking on a hot topic like gender with such openness and curiosity. Hallmarks of literary art.

April 25, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes exhaustion. Who is exhausted and why? Can you make art of exhaustion? Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 30, 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.

 

Tired No More (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Trench work became harder with an archeology field school of newbies. The questions exhausted Danni more than digging on her knees.

“What’s this,” was the most common question.

By late afternoon the scrape of her trowel sang a different tune. Instead of soft forest duff, the trowel made the higher pitched scrape against something hard. “Do you hear that,” Danni shouted to any close enough to hear. They all came running.

As she revealed the flat of something large and human-made, they all lost their sense of exhaustion. Curiosity woke them up and eased the aches of hard digging.

April 18: Flash Fiction Challenge

Today, I’m dressed for success. My hair is cut to shoulder-length with a buzzed undercut that I will keep until I die. At least that’s what I told my new hair-dresser, NC (she’s from North Carolina). How freeing to have that mass of heavy hair lifted from the back of my head. I rub the fuzzy stubble that feels like velvet. Head velvet. The rest of my hair covers it, so unless I clip my hair up, you’d not know I shave part of my head. It pairs with my favorite worm flannel shirt of blue and gray buffalo plaid. No strappy undergarments hem me in today, and I’m wearing a cheap flowy and floral yoga pants I found on Amazon for nine dollars.

A board room executive might feel confident in a tailored suit and expensive shoes, but I’m writing away, barefoot and comfortable. This is my definition of success — pursuing a creative life without dressing and primping to codes that don’t fit me.

NC shaves the left side of her head. She has pretty blond curls and a shaved patch which was impulsive — her hair was hanging in her face one day, and she buzzed it off. She laughed, admitting she picked up the razor impulsively but justified that as a hair-dresser, she knew the look would be in fashion. My daughter asked her dad to shave her head into a high-and-tight and women are exploring razor cuts. NC said, “It’s freeing.”

And yes it is. Freeing physically — it feels great — and from social expectations of how women are supposed to wear their hair. I like the undercut because I can have both buzzed and longer locks.

I know women who had to wear dresses growing up. I loathed dresses. I felt most like me in Wrangler jeans, flannel shirts, and boots. Certain activities, however, dictated I had to have a dress or two in my closet. At age 15, I had three jobs and money to hire a local seamstress who made me two dresses according to patterns I pieced together. Both were checked gingham and looked pioneer-meets-80s-pop. The fad never caught on with anyone else, but if I were going to be forced to wear dresses to compete in forensics, it would be on my terms and in my white, gold-tipped cowboy boots.

When I had three children — two girls and one boy, I let their own tastes dictate their choices. Mostly they wore hand-me-downs or clothes we bartered for at yard sales, but they got to pick what to wear. My son’s favorite color to this day is hot pink. My girls both disdain pink because it’s girly (yet they don’t think of their brother as girly). Colors are colors. Why do we assign gender association?

Recently, I saw a post on Twitter. The photo had two cards side by side. The card with a pink envelop read, “I’d buy you flowers.” The card with the blue envelop read, “I’d make you a sandwich.” The person posting made a comment about capitalism and cooking, or something like that. I didn’t really pay too much attention because I got lost on the tangent that the line of cards targeted kids. I was like, wait, kids are buying each other greeting cards? I thought kids still made cards for others.

But the image stayed with me because I later became confused. Yes, the messages were gender tropes, or were they? Nothing on the cards said which gender had to buy which card and for whom. I thought of my son and his favorite color. Why would my son buy such a card, and I imagined him as an eight-year-old boy. He studied ballet, loved receiving flowers at recitals, and the color pink. If he were to buy a card for his best buddy, he would have selected the pink one about flowers.

Where is the pressure to be binary come from? Obviously family of origin, secondary would be the culture we grew up in and participate in. My family called me Charli from the time I came home from the hospital. I rode horses, pushed cattle, worked on logging sites, and cleaned houses after school. I wore dresses when necessary, and find joy in wearing a broad range of colors. Some days I’m a lumberjack, and other days I’m a colorful diva. I like feeling a mixture of appropriate and rebellious.

Sometimes I’ve had to be strong. Resilient. Other days I’ve cried over the beauty of a sunset.

What does this say about my gender? Honestly, I don’t know. The more I think about it, the more confused I become. I can fall back on social norms and say that I’m a married mom of three. Duh. Female. But one of my daughters, married and choosing not to be a mother, says she is gender fluid. Her husband, a self-proclaimed feminist, accepts this. They are less confused about the fluidity of gender. They don’t experience the rigidity of binarism.

Gender binary by definition is “the classification of gender into two distinct, opposite, and disconnected forms of masculine and feminine, whether by social system or cultural belief.”

And I feel free to not choose sides. I accept that others freak out at the thought of not having the boxes. If they want the boxes, they can have the boxes. But why can’t we also accept boxlessness?

Today, an extraordinary thing took place — I officially became a resident of Michigan. I have a new enhanced driver’s license (meaning I can cross borders into Canada and Mexico, which I will need when D. Avery and I go road tripping between the Kingdom and the Keweenaw after the Writing Refuge where JulesPaige, Susan Sleggs, and Ann Edall Robson will be meeting up). I’m also registered to vote. But all the applications and paperwork made me choose: (box) male or (box) female. I was fine ticking F, but I worried for those who are not.

<And here is where I insert, you really need to read Anne Goodwin’s Sugar and Snails.>

I’ve been toying with gender as a prompt but didn’t know how to prompt it without complication. Literary art expresses our deepest authentic selves if we are brave enough to dive below the surface. Last Saturday, I met with local writers for Wrangling Words at the library. They are a terrific bunch of authors and poets. I told them I was experimenting and wanted to know is “gender” could elicit a response as a prompt. The variety ranged from a confused ivy-like intergalactic being misunderstanding human genders to my own exploration of a boy buying a friend a card. So I’m going to go with it!

<And here is where I insert, if you have any recent books you wish to promote, I’ll be updating ads next week. They are free for all our Ranchers who play here with 99-words and more.>

April 18, 2019, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about gender. It can be fixed or fluid. Explore the topic on your own terms and open your mind to possibilities and understanding. Go where the prompt leads!

Respond by April 23, 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.

 

Why Choose? by Charli Mills

The conference held at the UCLA campus thought of everything to address gender identity. The bathrooms were resigned, and attendees could declare their preferred pronouns.

“I’m not a pronoun. I am me.”

“Yes, but do you identify he or she.”

“Yes.”

“Which?”

“I am he or she.”

A line piled at the registration table. The woman seated, and we’ll call her a woman because a petunia pink ribbon beneath her conference Volunteer badge declared such, tapped her finger. “Look, organizers are sensitive to your identity. But you gotta tell me – do you want a blue ribbon or pink.”

“Both.”

🥕🥕🥕

Simon’s Pink Card by Charli Mills

Simon’s best friend Frank had crashed his bike, breaking his ankle. Simon’s mom suggested he make his friend a card. But Simon couldn’t draw the lines right and this made him sad.

“Let’s go buy Frank a card, okay?”

Simon brightened. Standing before rows of cards, he finally found the perfect one. The words described what he tried so hard to draw and couldn’t afford to purchase.

“But it’s pink.”

Simon smiled. “I like the words.”

That day, Frank grinned from ear to ear when his best buddy delivered a card that read, “I’d buy you all the flowers.”

🥕🥕🥕