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June 15: Flash Fiction Challenge

Guest Challenger: Word Wrangler, Shorty’s Creator, Author, Ranch Hand & Pre-Dawn Warrior, D. Avery

No tales from the West or Midwest this week. This prompt was inspired from an opposite direction.

The native people of this place are the Wampanogs, the People of the breaking day. Their name for this place means Faraway Island. Here there are no mountains, no hills, not even tall trees to buffer the relentless brightening that rolls in from the east, unimpeded by the lapping waves of the Atlantic. The day breaks early.

There is scrub, which provides ample food and shelter for the birds that daily celebrate this brightening, most insistently the male cardinal, who chirps and trills from the highest perch he can flag, greeting the sun before it even cracks the horizon. It is hard to sleep through the unhindered light and the joyous symphony of early dawn.

Some people have always been less joyous than the birds about the transition from night to day. A couple of years back, while reading in the wee hours, I discovered this poem by Japanese poet Fujiwara No Michinobu:

In the dawn, though I know

It will grow dark again,

How I hate the coming day.

If you are one who often bears witness to the coming day, you also might attest to the uncanny arrival of dread in the predawn. Dawn can be the worst time, the time when we might be at war with ourselves, the time when we knead our worries, allowing them to give rise to restless wonderings and anxious what-ifs.

But that is not what the cardinal is chirping about; worry and doubt are not why he and the towhees, robins, and others are exhorting you to wake. For hopefully you also have experienced the inspiration that often steals in with the coming of day. And maybe Michinobu wasn’t so much dreading the coming day but was regretting the ending of night, for the hours before dawn can be a time of contentment such as this poet felt:

Night Sitting*

The hermit doesn’t sleep at night;

In love with the blue of the vacant moon

The cool of the breeze

That rustles the trees

Rustles him too.

The first poet wrote darkly of the light, the second wrote brightly of the dark. Both light and dark are necessary. Ask any tree. A seed starts in the dark, sends its radicle, its primary root, down into the soil before unfolding its embryonic leaves into the light. For many of us, inspiration also germinates in the dark and must take hold there, nurtured by consideration and intent before expending energy on shooting outwards and upwards. The predawn hours can be a time of contemplation and insight, a time to let the imagination out to play and to entertain ideas as possibilities. Though hinting at restlessness, the hermit of the second poem was inspired by night, and perhaps he also welcomed the morning light that illuminated his thoughts and ignited his creative impulses.

Are you a predawn worrier, or a predawn warrior? If you are reading this you are more likely a predawn warrior, someone who is open to inspiration and intuition. You are not afraid of the dark, and you certainly are not afraid of the light. You welcome both and use them both to creative ends. How does the dawn break in your place, how does it come to you? Does it arrive with the patience afforded mountains? Does it get filtered by tall trees, or buffeted by tall buildings? Do you greet it with offerings, with sprouted seeds of inspiration and ideas gathered in the night?

In this place the names of the European supplanters who came to these shores four hundred years ago remain, along with Wampanog place names. This place is not what it was. Cars rattle over the cobblestoned streets. Planes interrupt the skies overhead. Ferries disgorge numerous tractor-trailers laden with food and all other supplies. They disgorge carloads of people. In town, there is a “night life,” crowded and boisterous. But there are quiet places too, and quiet times. Expanses of sky and water mirror one another, both sparkling with starlight. Fishermen awaken in the dark that they might confront their quarry at break of dawn. These fishermen might be seen by artists endeavoring to capture on their canvas the subtle changes of light as night dissolves and day breaks over the shimmering harbor.

I, like many, still lie in bed, but not for long. As always, the transition from night to dawn is vibrantly championed by the birds who incite the night sitters and other dreamers to rouse ourselves, to unfold into a new day.

June 15, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that symbolically, mythically, mystically, or realistically involves dawn, as a noun or verb. Write about the dawn of time or the time of dawn, or the dawning of an idea. As always, go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 20, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 21). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

* I regret that I did not take note of this poet’s name when I copied this down years ago, nor can locate the book it might have come from.

Raw Literature: Baking, Writing and Children

Essay by Robbie Cheadle, Friend of Carrot Ranch

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My love of baking and writing both stemmed from attempts to do the best I could for my two boys. When Gregory was born, I decided that I wanted him to have as healthy and preservative free a diet as I could possibly manage. That was when I started baking as this was the best way I could think of to ensure that he didn’t eat a whole lot of unhealthy additives in biscuits, cakes, pies and other baked goods. It might seem to some people that I would have done better to steer clear of these [delightful] foods altogether. I, however, believe that if you try to take these sorts of treats away from your children they will find a way to partake of far worse sweet items [like fizzers] behind your back. If you can’t beat them, join them and do it your way.

My first major attempt at baking something more impressive took the form of Gregory’s first birthday cake. I made a Winnie the Pooh cake using a cake mould that I hired from our local baking store. This venture took me the entire day before the party and I did make a few small mistakes. I made a double cake mixture for starters and soon discovered that this was far too much for my single cake mixture cake tin. I didn’t want to waste so spend a good hour making cupcakes with the rest of the cake mixture. My attempt at red butter icing was a bit of a bright pink failure but, fortunately, the one year old Greg was not unduly fussy about colours. Last but not least, I iced the cake on the plastic lid of a large Tupperware box. Once iced with rows and rows of butter icing stars, there was no way I could move the cake off the lid without damaging the icing. I surrounded the cake with the cupcakes, iced with the left over butter icing, and served it like that. Luckily, most parents of one year old children are far too busy surviving to notice little details like that.

From this illustrious start, my baking developed. Greg turned out to be a very avid assistant. He was happy to stand for at least 30 minutes sloshing the dirty dishes around in a sink full of washing up water. He would join in the baking by licking out the bowl and, frequently, upending it on his head thereby necessitating an immediate bath and hair wash.

When Michael was born two years later, he also swiftly took to the world of baking [and eating]. Michael’s interest in baking and cooking has continued and he will often make pancakes or French toast for breakfast and will participate in making stews, dumplings and curries with his father or my Mother. I like to share the pleasure of cooking so I am happy for my Mother and husband to dominate the everyday meal space if they want to [they apparently do want to!]

Some of the birthday cakes and food the boys and I have made over the years are as follows:

Star Wars

Minecraft

When Michael was six years old and started school, he was diagnosed with a processing learning barrier. This meant that Michael struggled with reading speed and, particularly, with writing. I knew that Michael had an amazing imagination and loved to make up sweet stories. His favourite made up characters were Mr Chocolate and Mr Sweet. This fun pair lived in Chocolate Land where everything was edible, including the trees and the flowers.

This original idea of Michael slowly developed into the Sir Chocolate series of books that exists today. We have written ten books, three of which are currently published.

Set out below are some pictures of Michael’s original writing and drawings that ultimately became Sir Chocolate and the strawberry cream berries story and cookbook.

We have kept the books as close to Michael’s original concept as possible. I re-wrote his ideas into rhyming verse and we, over time, we started making the illustrations out of fondant. My brother-in-law gave us the idea of adding the family recipes and that is how the books, in their current form, were born.

***

Robbie Cheadle was born in London in the United Kingdom. Her father died when she was three months old and her mother immigrated to South Africa with her tiny baby girl. Robbie has lived in Johannesburg, George and Cape Town in South Africa and attended fourteen different schools. This gave her lots of opportunities to meet new people and learn lots of social skills as she was frequently “the new girl”.

Robbie is a qualified Chartered Accountant and specialises in corporate finance with a specific interest in listed entities and stock markets. Robbie has written a number of publications on listing equities and debt instruments in Africa and foreign direct investment into Africa.

Robbie is married to Terence Cheadle and they have two lovely boys, Gregory and Michael. Michael (aged 11) is the co-author of the Sir Chocolate series of books and attends school in Johannesburg. Gregory (aged 14) is an avid reader and assists Robbie and Michael with filming and editing their YouTube videos and editing their books. Robbie is also the author of the new Silly Willy series the first of which, Silly Willy goes to Cape Town, will be available in early July 2017.

<<♦>>

Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

 

June 8: Flash Fiction Challenge

Woofie runs in mad circles across the lush mowed grass of eastern Kansas. It’s a doggie game — I call his name in a playful pitch, and he responds with the energy of a spunky toddler. He has big brown teddy-bear eyes behind long black fur. His face is like that of a Wookie, and when he drinks water he likes to slop his cold wet beard on someone’s lap or leg. He’s definitely the youngest dog in the pack but not the only one to play games.

My Sis (technically, The Hub’s Sis) is married to the Dog Whisperer of Missouri (DWM). He’s good at teaching old dogs games, like counting to five. Bobo knows her numbers and eagerly plays the game before DWM goes to work. Woofie and Kale have other tricks and games. Kale would play doggie flashlight tag until he dropped. Sis has even come home to find him nested in her bed (her side) with the flashlight lovingly grasped between his front paws.

No one plays games better than The Hub, and often this is to my dismay. His favorite games involve annoying me. Like talking in a monster-truck voice at the grocery store, announcing every item I pull from the shelf. It’s the result of a cooped up extrovert, living in an RV with an introvert. We all know the silent struggles of introverts, but silence can be difficult for extroverts to manage. So The Hub entertains himself with games.

Leaving a down-home coffee cafe, a tetherball gets me thinking of games. I haven’t seen one of these poles set in cement since I was a child. I vaguely recall playing tetherball and it seems a fun, albeit vague memory. Remember the games we once played? Running around, playing tag as exuberantly as a galloping dog? Hopscotch, hide-n-seek, jump-rope. I’m not sure screen games compare, being of the generation who didn’t have screens growing up, nor did my kids. We still like board games and cards. Seeing that tetherball was a remembrance of outdoor recess at school and that joy of having time for games.

Which leads me to time, or a lack of it. I’m so busy playing adult games, I feel like the child who laments the setting sun because it’s time to stop playing and go inside.

In the morning I return to KATP archeology field school to play in the lab. Danni’s scenes, and I have so many, where she’s working were generalized. Now I know what she’d be doing exactly and why she could get lost in her work. I’ve met dedicated archeologists who know what it is to pursue their passion although it will never lead to wealth in the pocketbook. Many professionals are volunteering on this dig and loving every minute of it, gritty with sweat and field dirt, smiles on their faces. One archeologist told me a joke I’m determined to fit into my novel, Miracle of Ducks. I think it resonates with career writers as well:

What’s the difference between an archeologist and a large pizza?

A pizza can feed a family of four!

Ouch. But true. Why is it, the pursuits that expand our minds and understanding like literary arts and cultural anthropology, are the ones we value least with money? Funding cuts are slashing deeply across the arts and even sciences in America. What a poor world where books are merely reports and cultures diminished and homogenized. I want vibrancy and diversity. I want time to play tetherball or cards over coffee.

While last week was bitter disappointment at the VA, we may have a ray of hope beating like fireflies at dusk. I’ve picked up the past-time of telling so-called veteran’s organizations what I really think of their fundraising and lack of services. We’ve had such unfortunate experiences reaching out to organizations that don’t help and then claim it’s because they are “not services.” In other words, they collect government money, grants and donations to NOT serve, but merely direct veterans to organizations that do. No kidding, last year at the height of crisis, we went through dozens of organizations that all filtered us to one to another to finally sending us to the same service that didn’t help because of criteria or (ironically) lack of funding.

The blip of hope is that I told off an organization only to be contacted by someone who said I misunderstood. It’s a veteran-led organization that has experienced our same frustrations. After talking to one of the organizers today, I felt…dignified. That may seem an odd reaction but until you’ve experienced what it is to have your human dignity taken away, it’s an empowering feeling to have someone restore it. We’ll know more on Monday, but they may be able to help in practical ways, understanding what barriers we’ve faced and validating that the VA does indeed block transients from care. They know the back alleys, the underground railroad of sorts. And I hope they pull through.

I’m sure you’ve noticed I’ve been away from the Ranch. It’s unintentional but think of me as temporarily away at a rodeo where I may win a purse or at least bring back new tales and stock. Between Rock Creek research (and I get to go visit Rock Creek station next week!) at the Kansas State Archives, archeology field school, beloved family and dogs, a possible new client contract, interviews for future profiles and articles, and trying to cram more time into a day, I’ve been called away. This is temporary, and I greatly appreciate the way the community supports one another in the comments and across individual blogs. Please continue to do so and know I will get caught up with you all over the next few weeks!

If any Rancher is interested in some ranch chores, I could use help wrangling stories from the last prompt and this one. If someone is up to it, I’d also welcome a guest prompt post next week. If not, I may extend the deadline next week, depending upon what happens Monday and when we get to Rock Creek, Nebraska. I’m grateful for this community and appreciate you all showing up and being patient. Think of the ranch challenge as a game, one we enjoying playing like tetherball or other long summer nights on the streets or dirt roads with friends.

And an update on our first Anthology and establishing an imprint — we are halfway there and have enough to start. The cover will be revealed after the Fourth of July. This is going to happen! Thank you to all who shared and contributed. More forthcoming, when I have time to process it all! To our Friends attending the Bloggers Bash, have a blast!

June 8, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that involves playing an outdoor game, like tetherball, hoops, tag. It can be made up, traditional, cultural or any kind of twist. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 13, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 14 unless extended). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Games Across Rock Creek (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills

“Rawr!” Cobb charged his five children on his hands and knees in the cropped grass in front of the west ranch house. Lizzie stood and giggled, blind since birth, she relied on her brothers to get around. Even playing games, the boys guided Lizzie. Cobb gently bumped her with his head and she squealed in delight. Young Charl tried clambering up Cobb’s back. Monroe boosted his youngest brother so he could ride Da’s back like a horse. Laughter carried across Rock Creek.

Sarah watched from the shadows on her side. Away from his precious family. The games they played.

June 1: Flash Fiction Challenge

After the thunderstorms, humidity clings to vegetation and casts a pink glow across the horizon with the setting sun. It’s juicy in the midwest, and my skin is a sponge after our arid journey. Insects skitter and frogs croak long into the evening. June bugs bump my RV screen, seeking the artificial light. The day birds go silent and owls occasionally pick up the tune. When the morning sun returns, red cardinals flash between trees and songbirds trill.

We are content in Kansas for the moment. A Respite.

I’m digging these days. Mostly into the Kansas State Archives which reside where Sis works. She’s The Hubb’s sister, but I claim her as mine. She’s kind and caring, funny and lovable. I dig hanging out with her! Going to work with Sis has been one of many highlights, sharing coffee, breakfast, lunch and thumbing through the index cards in search of history for Rock Creek. On weekends the grands delight us. Little A helped me dig a diminutive pot garden, and we planted parsley, lime basil and chives. Her little hand in the dirt with mine was a bonding moment.

The biggest dig of all happens tomorrow when I carry a shovel out to 4JF420, a real archeology site, gridded and ready to be worked. Today I started archeology field school, a 50th birthday gift from Sis. Kansas has a program to involve the public and train volunteers. What makes archeology different from other studies of history is its methodology. The dig records every bit of evidence and catalogs the complete inventory of artifacts and features. The artifacts and records can be pulled and examined by other professionals, professors or students the same way I pull index cards and ask to see the original documents. Today, I got to see my character Dr. Danni Gordon’s profession up close and personal. Tomorrow I get to dig like Danni.

I had such a feeling of contentment when we breathed a sigh of relief upon arrival. Contentment to be among loving family. Contentment to be up to my eyeballs in historic records. Contentment to be gifted a chance to dig.

And yet, the shadowy beast of homelessness follows, lumbering and restless. It’s been a year, and normalcy is something for other people. Rootlessness is something you can’t understand without experiencing it. And it’s punishable by society. The silent judgement of you did something wrong, you deserve this. We got to the VA in Topeka and two visits have nearly wrecked me. The Hub was like an angry bear the first visit. And who can blame him? They shamed him for going to ER for a sore tooth when their beds were full. No one should have to compare his condition to another just to get help. When I informed them he pulled his own tooth and was concerned about infection, they got a doctor in right away, prescribing antibiotics.

You begin to lose humanity when homeless. Sis has been a wonderful anchor, making sure our needs are taken care of. We are eating regularly and healthy food. We take more showers and have access to regular laundry. Not everyone is so caring. Someone I know sent me a link they thought I’d “enjoy.” It was a video of a couple who toured the US in their RV and the lessons of minimizing they learned. They concluded we don’t need “stuff” and I agree. I’m content with the basics. It’s the rootlessness and the silent censure from others. It’s being homesick. This couple in the video returned home after a year. They never were without it. They were travelers, not homeless and their privilege was missed by the person who thought I’d enjoy the lessons of a diminished life.

Another visit to the VA, this one with Vocational Rehabilitation. This was the meeting I hoped for. This was the hope I had clung to — The Hub qualifies and is eligible for re-education. He has a great plan for a machining business, and I have a plan to connect to it through Carrot Ranch. I’m experienced and good at developing magazines, knowing how they operate from top to bottom. But as you all probably know, literary magazines are not big sellers. But a trade journal for The Hub’s business fills a niche market. It would be part of the literary platform as an arch from what I do to what he does. I have a business plan and he has worked out all the important details such as development and market. We have others up north who are helping us get this polished and presentable.

The VR&E at the Topeka VA was someone who could explain the components of seeking self-employment through The Hub’s benefits. We both began to spill out our ideas and she said the first thing we’d be asked would be our credit. I caught it, The Hub didn’t. He kept talking. I sat there as hot tears flowed down my face. Credit? You mean like walk into a bank with a permanent address? To explain why we have no credit? To explain our foreclosure? To explain why I went to a doctor I had no insurance for because the clinic thought I had cervical cancer but I couldn’t afford the tests and have an outstanding bill? To explain why we never filed our MN taxes (don’t ask, it incites a riot between me and The Hub and MN doesn’t care that we actually paid taxes very year; they didn’t like our non-filing)?

We’re back to we did something wrong to be homeless. How the blazes does a homeless vet who is unable to work in a traditional job and qualifies for a program to start his own business, but doesn’t qualify for the credit (in part because he’s homeless) ever supposed to get out of this pit?

So a friend suggested I shouldn’t write about contentment if the word was causing a lump in my throat. She’s right. I do feel like kicking the world right now. Also, how intimidating these circumstances are.

Maybe I should tell you how the sterile walls of the VA mental health center made me feel. First we had to walk through a door that is posted, “Door locks behind you.” There’s no trust in walking through that door. I don’t trust I’m going to get out. I don’t trust that if anyone agitated my grumpy bear of a spouse that they wouldn’t even try to understand the stress and anxiety he’s under. I didn’t walk through that door because I trusted it would be okay. I walked through it because I knew I had to take the risk; risk feeling bitterly disappointed; risk being told no, not you; risk being misunderstood; risk being an artist, a writer, a historian and as of today, an archeologist. I walked back out that door with The Hub and when relief hit me it was short lived — because I noticed the sterile walls and it reminded me to be normal, fit in, do good.

And I did what I do best. I gave the bloody walls the middle finger and rebelled. I’m not a conformist or a status quo champion. Maybe I’m not content in the ways of nose-to-the-grindstone for someone else’s corporate gain. I’m not content homeless but like many on the streets, I’m not going to give in to a system that doesn’t honor human dignity. I’m going to take my fingers and find the words and craft them until I am beyond contented with the final product. And it will not go quickly and I will not go quietly. I will do what I set out to accomplish and I’ll help others, too. I’ll help The Hub, and one day I’ll be in a position to say, this is what compassion looks like; this is what human dignity is between humans. This is a home, my home. I’m content with the dream that has me and the stories that fill me and spill out. Like my Sis says, there are six elegant solutions, and I believe her. If have to, I’ll do business like a man who has no credit — I’ll go the Russians.

But tomorrow, I dig in the dirt.

Thank you, Ranchers, for making this community like a home. It gives me an anchor, and gives me purpose. I can build a platform for one or many, and it would be the same amount of work. That is why this is a place for us, for you, for me. Let your literary freak flag fly and keep writing like I tell myself every day: no matter what. I love the write. Some say it is good to have written, but I think those gathered hear better understand it is good to be writing. And thank you to those of you who have so generously invested where the VA has no intention. Thank you for not asking for my credit or censuring me for challenged roots.

We have raised a third of the money needed to design, format, publish the first anthology and start an imprint. One of the reasons for an imprint is to publish other books in addition to the anthologies. The first one is needed to set the marketing in motion, too. This is a platform, a community one, but marketing is something you do with a platform when you have a product. There is an expansion in mind with intent to support the community. We also have a generous offer to start a no-fee contest for a prize. It can be a sprout for using contests to benefit charities the community supports. There are good things on the horizon. There are good people in the world.

And good writers who write here.

June 1, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about feeling content. Explore what is contentment and any direction will do. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by June 6, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published June 7). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Happily Digging (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni heard Ike’s truck rumble down the gravel road. She knelt barefoot by a window to the past – a square troweled to reveal debris from long before. Sifting had revealed ceramic sherd, a few square nails, and a cigar token to the old Congress Hotel in Sandpoint. A window gave an archeologist quick insight to a possible site.

Danni pondered possibilities when she heard Ike’s truck door close. The sun had warmed the soil all day, and Danni was content.

He approached the fence and freshly tilled soil. “I thought you were gardening today.”

“I am,” she replied, smiling.

###

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Raw Literature: Got Lit? Try It Raw

Essay by D. Avery, prolific Ranch Hand, rowdy Range Writer and author of “Chicken Shift” and “For the Girls.”

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Menus now have asterisked warnings regarding the consumption of underdone meat or fish. Raw usually comes with a warning. What about literature? Is underdone the opposite of done well? That is the question that gets rarefied consideration at Carrot Ranch. The consensus seems to be that some like it raw, despite the risks.

Every week at Carrot Ranch Charli Mills presents a flash fiction challenge, the prompt having bubbled up from her experiences and musings on her “enchanted” life. Just as she makes the most of her situation, we make the most of the prompts and “go where it leads”. Though all my responses have been fiction, I have often been led back home by these prompts to get inspiration. And as I read the essays on raw literature and try to mull over that concept, I am again led back to a time when rare meat was not questioned and when you could still get raw milk.

A half-mile up the dirt road, our nearest neighbors kept a milk cow in addition to the beef steer that most of us kept, a friendly little Jersey who produced more than they could consume. So I would walk with the dollar in my pocket and an empty glass gallon jug to exchange for a full jug of raw milk.

Drinking raw milk was an acquired taste, and friends that were only used to store-bought milk generally were skeptical, having to be dared to drink up, especially if they imagined seeing a cow hair or two. Their homogenized, pasteurized milk paled in comparison; in color, in taste, and in associations. This raw milk was not the paper white of modern homogenized milk; it was a light cream color, yellowish. It settled into rich strata with the thick cream rising to the top. Occasionally we made butter. Usually we just shook the jug vigorously to mix up the layers before pouring a glass of frothy headed milk. And if there was hair on the glass, it didn’t matter, it was from a creature that I knew fairly well; I knew her being milked, patiently chewing her feed, switching her tail as Ken, using colorful language in soothing tones, squeezed and talked, the pail steadied between his feet gradually filling as he filled my head with his stories.

My milk route was a road cradled by woods with stories to tell too, stories of long ago times still marked by old stone walls and cellar holes from when all was field and farmland. In early summer I would be distracted by roadside toads or newts and the muddied condensation on the bottom of the jug in our fridge showed that I had set it down in the gravel dust to watch them for a bit. In the winter I would slide down the hill that began the walk then use the sled to transport the milk on the return trip. I monitored the milk levels of the jug in our fridge, noting when I might make the trip again.

Now I make a weekly trip to Carrot Ranch. The writing that is gathered there is rich and flavorful, like raw milk. It is filled with associations and connections, showing evidence of its origins and of its journeys. It is not a pale, thin, over-processed liquid in standardized opaque plastic containers, overstocked on refrigerated shelves. And if it’s raw, perhaps underdone, that’s far more filling than undone. The whole experience of writing and reading at the Ranch is nourishing and enriching, from gathering and consuming and to simply sharing our raw products with each other. Raise your glass.

***

D Avery

D. Avery has long been a compulsive poet. Despite a very important day job educating public school children, she is often distracted by this compulsion, as well as by life’s great questions, such as “Kayak, or bike?” Influenced by sights and smells observed from the bike saddle, her first book of poems, Chicken Shift, began as tales of roadkill, but developed into a philosophical inquiry and explanation of why chickens cross roads. Her second book of poetry, For the Girls, was the result of over exposure to breast cancer.

Recently, D. Avery simultaneously discovered the internet and flash fiction, and is using both to flex her writing muscle. Her debut blog, Shiftnshake, has not yet catapulted her into literary renown. Follow her on Amazon.com and Twitter @DSlaytonAvery.

<<♦>>

Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.

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May 25: Flash Fiction Challenge

White clouds scud across the blue skies of Kansas. An ocean of green grass spreads out below and I can imagine how the pioneer wagons with white tarps once mirrored the procession of cumulus clouds. In a modern car the going is smooth, but in a wagon the path was not easy. Wagons wore ruts and packed the earth so hard, grass doesn’t grow in some places even today. Ravines and creeks were dangerous, and pioneers often drowned crossing rivers. My idyllic vision of Conestogas crossing the prairie is far from reality.

Yet there’s a reality often overlooked in the western expansion of the US — the perspective from women who came west. Just as I’m driving the car in our mini RV train of sorts, women often managed the reins of the wagons. At the end of the day after traveling, I can still feel the movement of the road. I’m sure the wagon drivers laid down at night feeling the sway and jostle of their conveyances, too. But what’s significant is what’s omitted from the pioneer diaries and accounts. According to one historian, as many as 90 percent of the women who came west were in one phase of pregnancy or another. There were plains so flat and wagons so many, I wonder how women found privacy for the most personal of functions?

A community of women would have been important. They could look after one another and best understand feminine needs. But what about those on the fringes? I often think of Nancy Jane Holmes as a feminine rebellious spirit. But how rebellious could her gender be? Evidence indicates she had a child out of wedlock and later lived with a man as a common-law wife. She grew up on the prairie and I imagine she learned to hunt and fix game for meals. She was more hunter than farmer. Did she ever ride with the buffalo hunters? What did she think of the groups of women who passed through in the wagon trains? What did they think of her, or say to her?

For men, the westward expansion was more adventurous. In their prime, they were not burdened by bodies meant for fertility. They didn’t experience monthly fluxes, pregnancy or nursing an infant. They were free to roam, explore and be independent even with families in tow. If men were single and in a group, often they were pushing longhorns to Kansas from Texas or serving as soldiers in the US Cavalry or frontiersmen who scouted for wagon trains and hunted buffalo.

Driving across the lone prairie, I wonder at how to breakthrough the stereotypes of these past experiences, to acknowledge what was common and likely, yet imagine the unrecorded exceptions. History has documented James Butler Hickok, Wild Bill, to the minute detail. There’s no new evidence of his experiences, yet I think there’s much left to say about them by looking at the other people he interacted with at Rock Creek. Especially the women. Historians have turned wild imaginations toward Sarah Shull, and yet have virtually ignored Nancy Jane Holmes (or Jane Wellman). She was on the fringe of what was typical of pioneer women. She was more of a frontierswoman. And that’s where the story gets interesting.

Kansas provides rich history, and tomorrow my research here begins.

For the challenge, I’m thinking about the longhorns who also once spread across the plains. The word longhorns evokes notions of cowboys and cattle, which featured later in Wild Bill Hickok’s life. It’s also the name of western steakhouses, bars, football teams and a type of cheddar cheese. Dig deep enough and you’ll find some obscure term for computer technology. It’s the same idea with history, and I look forward to digging.

May 25, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a that includes the word longhorn. You can go with any of its meanings or make it a name of a person or organization. Cheese or cattle, technology or place, what can you create from the western icon? Go traditional or new; go where the prompt leads.

Respond by May 30, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 31). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Myths of Longhorns (from Rock Creek) by Charli MIlls

“Ever see cowboys riding the trail with their longhorns?” Jesse asked.

Sarah was tucked in a blanket, sitting on Jesse’s porch. Shulls Mill squatted dingy with lumbering dust and brick buildings. Not the crisp colors of the prairie. “No,” she replied.

“But I thought Hickok was Marshall of the biggest cowtown.”

“That was later. I saw plenty of oxen and some had long horns.”

“I pictured longhorns on the prairies.”

“Buffaloes. I once saw a herd so large the ground shook.”

“Weren’t you afraid of Indians?”

“Jesse, there’s much about the west not in those dime novels you read.”

###

Wise Words

Wise Words Carrot Ranch @Charli_MillsHalf a century seems to carry the weight of wisdom. Yet, wise words can come from any age or background, and growing older doesn’t guarantee growing wiser.

This week, writers were asked to contribute wise words through the literary vehicle of flash fiction. As expected, the unexpected also made its way into the collection. Perhaps wisdom is less in the stories and more in the act of storytelling. Perhaps wisdom comes nt with age but with reflection.

The following are based on the May 18, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a wise story.

***

On Wisdom by Lisa Listwa

“Am I wise?” I asked the Sky.

Can you balance dark and light? Hold within you the vast potential of the future?

“Am I wise?” I asked the Sea.

Can you wash away just enough of the past to refresh yet leave a lasting impression?

“Am I wise?” I asked the Earth.

Can you take root and cling to what gives strength?

“Am I wise?” I asked the Wind.

Can you take flight when your time comes? Touch all else around you?

“Am I wise?” I asked my Self. “I have much yet to learn….”

Knowing this is wisdom.

###

The Light in the Empty Room by Elliott Lyngreen

In an empty room save for a fixture absent a bulb, yet with its string; doors exactly cater-cornered of parallel walls; after opening one, walking through only led him into another room perfectly mimicking the previous.

So he tried the opposite door, diagonally, again entered yet another inversion.

After exhausting attempts to leave, he only re-entered flipped patterns – one after another; lone empty lamp holder.

He decided to pull the string; over, around his arm, down himself like pulling open a sleeping bag or circumventing a body bag, unzipped the room, and became the light, illuminating ideas within vision. . . .

###

Wisdom by FloridaBorne

I glared at my sister, Myra, her brown eyes shining with youthful expectation. Her shapely body filling out a tight t-shirt and slinky jeans, she still looked 35.

“Where are you going?” I asked, leaning on my cane for support.

“Dancing.”

“You’re 50. It means you’re old!” I said, shaking a finger at her. “When will you understand that truth!”

“Never,” she said, running a brush through naturally thick, brown hair.

“I’m 57 and have the wisdom to admit I’m past my prime. Why can’t you?”

“Because old will always be travelling 7 years ahead of me,” Myra giggled.

###

Happy Birthday! by Ruchira Khanna

“Happy Birthday Angie” shouted Tiffany as she shut her car door and walked towards her friend who was seated on the patio.

The birthday gal squealed with delight upon seeing the bouquet and after a quick embrace dashed in to put them in the water.

Angie was chattering nonstop.

When the birthday girl came out with two cups of hot beverage, she found Tiffany’s head on her hands, “What’s wrong?” she inquired.

“Oh, Angie! start behaving your age!” Tiffany was quick to comment.

“Age is just a number!” she responded as she exhibited her bright white dentures.

###

Grey Wisdom by Kalpana Solsi

Combing my long silky tresses, I admired my reflection in

the mirror.Tessie grimaced.

I turned to face her.

Her celluloid image had painted nails, each hair in place

and a made-up face hiding all its flaws while my oils were

a connoisseur’s prized possessions.

“Silver streaks in your hair”, almost gasping.

“I know”, a calm and confident me.

“Let me fix an appointment with Yasmine’s Colour

Parlour”, Tessie panicking, “You have hit fifty”.

“I have accumulated streaks of wisdom in half a century

and will unabashedly flaunt it”.

Thud…… Tessie’s cell -phone lay on the floor, broken,

bruised.

###

Flash Fiction by Pensitivity

I was brought up to respect my elders.

In fact, I have always got on better with those some twenty or thirty years older than me, and my first little job at 12 was working with then pensioners who I probably drove mad with my jokes and pop music!

One of the best bits of advice I ever received was from the supervisor I worked with 1980 – 1981. As he was breaking into her car having locked her keys inside, she nudged me, grinned and said ‘Keep him. He’s useful.’

So I did. That was 28 years ago, and I’ve never regretted it.

###

That Thing That’s Before Godliness by Geoff Le Pard

Paul looked at his wife’s face. ‘Looks like you need more than tea.’

‘That woman is impossible.’ Mary accepted the wineglass. ‘Mrs Wise. Talk about misnamed.’

Paul settled back into his seat. ‘Go on. What now?’

‘Milk in the washing machine. She thought it was the fabric conditioner.’

‘Aren’t the bottles different?’

‘She cracked the conditioner so decanted it into an old water bottle last time. I labelled it carefully. Calling her a cleaner is such a misnomer.’

‘We could look for a new one?’

‘Like Miss Peaberry? Remember what she di wit your toothbrush?’

‘So more wine?’

‘Please.’

###

Growing into Wisdom by Norah Colvin

“My Dad knows everything!” bragged six-year-old Billy.

“Parents,” grumbled Will E., at surly sixteen, “They know nothing.”

For thirty-year-old William, at the top of his game, conversations were strained. One more “In our day…” he’d surely explode.

By forty-five, with kids of his own, “But kids are different these days,” Will would state.

Dad would wink and suggest, “Not that different.”

Throughout the fifties, his recalcitrant teens mirrored those years of his own.

Into his sixties, with kids gone and more time for chatting with Dad, he discovered, almost too late, they shared more than he had ever appreciated.

###

Flash Fiction by 40levenreasons

Today, I let my tired body slide down the school yard fence and I took a moment to reflect.

At what point, on my journey through life, did I decide the road less travelled might be the best?

Recently, my post, “Is 50 Too Old To Start Again?”, saw me tentatively enter the blogging world.

I did not envisage myself feeling beaten so soon. I sat, now, sweltering in the Pilbara heat, looking upon my punctured bicycle tyre, thinking, “What next?”

How the Universe might respond to my innocent query, left me feeling sombre and unsettled.

What next indeed?

###

Insurance by Reena Saxena

“Turning 40 heralds middle age, and 60 is retirement. What is it about 50?”

“Well… Life spans are lengthening, and work spans are shortening. So, you never know, where will you be?”

“Oh, Uncertainty!” I exclaimed dramatically, “Do you sell insurance or retirement plans?”

“The pathos lies somewhere in between – the inability to plan in the fast-changing scenario, and the millennial epidemic – ageism. People above 50 are treated as they don’t exist. There is no insurance against changing mind-sets.”

“Hmmm … Can you insure my ability to reason, to fathom the deeper meanings, rather than just reading status updates?”

###

Wisdom by Michael

Oh, to be wise he thought as he read through the student’s exam papers.

He turned over the effort from Betrice Walker, the smartest girl in his class. In amazement, he read her literary genius. He felt humbled that someone so young could evaluate the question so clearly.

For goodness sake he thought, she’s a child still, what will she be like in twenty years?

So much wisdom in one so young.

He wrote an A on her paper.

Tomorrow he’d watch the glow on her face knowing she’d be pleased.

Sipping coffee, he picked up the next paper.

###

A Valuable Piece by KittyVerses

Little Myna got into a lot of trouble that day. This wasn’t something new, and it bothered her parents much.She was always carrying tales of one person to the next, people were apprehensive of her.

Punishments were meted out, she was reprimanded and isolated but to no avail. One fine day she was asked to collect the water that was emptied from the bottle by her mother.

Well, did she succeed? Words once lashed out can’t be taken back as much as the water which was poured.

Never to forget,the things we learn as kids shapes our identity of tomorrow.

###

Crab Apple Crisis by Anthony Amore

She thought it ridiculous their son had been stuck for hours in that tree.

“Help him now,” she told her husband.

Through the slider he saw the boy caught in high crooked branches, “He”ll figure it out.”

“Two hours,” she folded into a harsh angle pointing. “Go.”

With a nod the ladder was gotten, but his son had fallen shirtless to the ground. He sprinted to him.

“My back’s scraped,” he said. “Apples are safe; tied in my shirt.” Four crabapples the size of chestnuts rolled free, “Mom can make pie.”

He kept quiet, saying, “Very wise move, son.”

###

Mother’s Support by Diana Nagai

“My daughter won’t talk to me,” I vented.

I saw my mother’s expression which showed amusement and compassion. Shame filled me as I remembered myself as a teen. Once, I gave her the finger when I thought she wasn’t looking. I don’t remember why I was angry, but I carry the guilt that she witnessed my outburst. My shoulders slumped. “I’m so sorry for what I put you through.”

She pulled me into an embrace of comfort and wisdom from “the other side”. Right then, I knew we’d survive these teenage years together.

###

Flash Fiction by Mike Kempster

I have no way of winning any battle with my 14 year old daughter. She’s right, I’m wrong and there’s no way that’s going to change even in the face of all reason. We’ve had some blazing rows. At the end of a row there has to be some reconciliation and one person ends up reaching out to the other. Mostly that’s my job; however, yesterday morning, after a huge row the night before, she sent me a text saying, ‘any breakfast service running this morning XXX.’ For a change she’d reached out and showed she has some feelings.

###

Flash Fiction by Carrie Gilliland Sandstrom

I watched as she moved ever so slowly, as she always did, living as if time had no meaning. I bit my tongue to swallow my reprimand. “Charlotte, I am going to tell you something that my Mother told me when I was 7, like you are now.”

Her yellow hair glowed in the sun creating a halo around her face as she looked at me, waiting for my words of wisdom.

“What?”

“Your husband is going to have to be a very patient man.”

She only paused for a heartbeat and replied. “I don’t know any patient man’s.”

###

Seeking to Understand (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Does your creative outlet help you, Jen?” asked Danni.

“Does interviewing war widows help you?”

“Feels like I’m doing something,” Danni answered.

“Me, too. Same with the brothers. They want to feel useful. Do something good. Let me ask you, why did you stay?”

“You mean when Ike left for Iraq?”

“Yes. This was new to you. You must have felt deserted. Why did you stay?”

Danni  paused, reflecting on all her earlier turmoil. She could have left the day she took Ike to the airport.  Had she gained any wisdom?  “I stayed to take care of his dogs.”

###

The Getting of Wisdom by Anne Goodwin

It’s easy, they said, as easy as breathing, just follow this five-point plan. It’s hard, camel-through-the-eye-of-the-needle difficult, but, if you give us the money, we’ll show you how it’s done. No-one can tell you the answer, you’ve got to seek it inside yourself. There’s a pattern, proofed against any fool prepared to apply herself to the task. There’s so much to learn, you can’t waste a minute. There’s so much, you might as well not try. What’s wisdom, the nub of ice that melts in your fingers or the mountain of knowledge the ocean obscures?

###

Intuition by Liz Husebye Hartmann

They circled the pit, noted the downward spiral that curled into thick darkness. Dropped a stone and waited for a splash, a thud, the clatter of a change in angle.

“Hell bent?” she quipped.

He sniffed. “No smell of sulphur.”

“Literal much?”

He tipped his head, brow knit.

“Never mind,” she scanned the landscape for dust devils, signs of life or breath. Nope. Only them: isolate, arid, no stars nor moon above.

“Ladies first,” he nodded towards the pit.

Always leaping, never moving.

She senses a curl of light, a sweet new scent, opens her hands and steps down.

###

Alien Anthropology by D. Avery

“Strange. They develop automation, even as they suffer obesity, depression and anxiety. They have many devices for communicating, but they aren’t saying anything. They desire access to information but don’t seem to value knowledge, with no apparent interest or ability in interpreting or analyzing information.”

“They are poisoning, mining, and bombing what’s left of their natural environment… They are ruining this planet. We should just take over.”

“No, our orders are to just observe and to seek wisdom. We shall consult their older people.”

“And artists?”

“Yes, and we’ll visit the ancient sites and natural wonders.”

“We’d better hurry.”

###

The Battle by Allison Maruska

The apprentice watches as I light the incense. “How can you stay so calm?”

“Trouble will always find us, so why worry?” Wafting the smoke, I channel the spirits to help. “This battle is not a new one.”

“I think it is,” he says. “We’ve never fought anything like this.”

“Of course we have.” Picking up the lantern, I head outside. “And we will do what we always do. Pray. Fast. And fight if needed.”

An echoing roar reaches us. Our gaze follows the beast sailing through the sky.

“I don’t think fasting will help this time,” he says.

The battle was Monks vs. Dragons.

Told you it was kickass.

###

Flash Fiction by 40levenreason

An old friend

Unseen for years

Messages now

Through unshed tears

She said, School was hard

Not how she’d planned

The loneliness daunting

The taunts out of hand

Yet through all of her pain

What stays with her best

Was my warmth and my kindness

I was not like the rest

Little did I realise

What small gestures might mean

To my quiet young classmate,

Broken spirit, unseen
I read her messages of thanks, 35 years later, and looked upon my punctured tyre.

My wise words from a 50 year old?

Do unto others…….

AND CARRY A REPAIR KIT!!

###

Withdrawn? by Jules Paige

Richard picked up the thirteenth pottery shard never expecting
to be found hidden – engulfed in the weeds. The colors reminding
him of Janice’s eyes…

A short elusive keta with the magnitude of a heavy chair being
thrown across the room, and hitting his head allowed the elusive
emotion of disgrace to flash across his mind. Janice wasn’t the
traitor. Was he?

How had Janice been so wise, to know how broken he was.
That she could not fix him, she had to leave him… Richard,
behind the shed in her yard…wanted her – she wasn’t home…
Where was she?

###

Flash Fiction by Pete Fanning

Kylie handed over the bow. “They were late, right? Doesn’t seem wise to me.”

“Here we go,” Nat grumbled, steadying the arrow. “It’s the three WISE MEN.”

Kylie arched her brow, fixed her ponytail. “If you say so.”

Nat’s eyes pulled to Kylie instead of the can. His shot sailed wide. Again. He was down 3-0.

Kylie scoffed, snatched the bow and yanked back the arrow. “Now, Margaret WISE Brown…”

“Who?”

“Goodnight Moon.” The arrow was gone in a wink. Nat heard the clink of the can without looking. Kylie stood, her smile spreading like wildfire. “4-zip.”

“Show off.”

###

Old Skills by Kerry E.B. Black

Aunt Amaryllis gripped the table. Veins rose from translucent skin, yet her voice remained sure. “Remember, control the material.”

Kirsten fed silk into the machine, but it snagged.

Aunt Amaryllis’ perfume accompanied her nearness. “Slow and steady. Even pressure on the foot. Gentle guidance here.” The cloth flowed with her direction, stitches marching along the seam. She handed Kirsten a seam ripper. “This tool’s your friend.”

Kirsten groaned but removed the snag. She pressed and sewed.
Aunt Amaryllis smiled at the complete the garment. “What a fine wedding gown!”

“I wish you’d be there.”

Aunt Amaryllis dabbed Kirsten’s tears. “I will, in spirit.”

###

The Wizard of the North by Gordon Le Pard

“Walter Scott has no business to write novels, especially good ones.”

“But Jane, nobody knows who wrote it. How can you be so sure?”

“Because it is just like him, but it’s not fair. He has Fame and Profit enough as a Poet, and shouldn’t be taking the bread out of other people’s mouths.”

Cassandra smiled as her sister picked up the book again.

“I do not like him.” Jane continued, “And do not mean to like Waverley if I can help it – but fear I must.” Silently she thought, “I wonder if he will like Emma?”

He did.

###

Seeing the Other Side by D. Avery

I’ve got a lot of stories, none have been told

I’m not very wise for someone born old.

I’ve long been a miner, never seen the lode

I’m the chicken just starin’ ’cross the road.

I’ve got lots of where I’ve been, got lots of what’s behind me

But I still don’t know where I am, and don’t know where to find me.

I’m not exactly fleeing, ’though I’d like a place to hide

Crossing isn’t just about seeing the other side.

I’m walkin’ and I’m walkin’, some might say I’m lost

I’m that chicken that finally went across.

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