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April 20: Flash Fiction Challenge

Of course the Land of Enchantment would have some oddities. That’s the state nickname for New Mexico, and I’m studying the terrain as we drive from Gallup to Albuquerque. The first trip, when we went seeking a transmission like pilgrims, it looked too unfamiliar and undefinable. My comparisons to rosy Mars and towering pillars of Zion left New Mexico wan and pale, like the corpse of someone I didn’t know. I sought familiarity.

“Is that pavement?” The Hub asks as he’s drives.

Funny, I was trying to discern the same odd plates of black as if a road construction company dumped broken pavement from a defunct highway. Mile after mile of these black piles, I finally answer. “It’s pahoehoe.”

That earns me a sideways glance from the Hub whom I often call the Puritan for his annoying habit of correcting my speech. I like to throw out words he doesn’t know to make him think. I doubt I’m saying it correctly, but he doesn’t know Hawaiian inflection. I’m well-read and articulate but mostly mispronounce the words I know. I just don’t know how to say them. The Hub is a grammatical Puritan, and he’s chewing on pahoehoe. He’s also smart and knows my obsessions, geology being one. “Lava?” he finally asks.

“Yep!”

Pahoehoe is one of my favorite geology words because it’s fun to say, and I don’t trip over it the way I do Quaternary, which is my favorite geological period. It’s when humans appeared as nomadic hunters and gatherers, when saber-tooth tigers were real and hunters could take down mammoths for a month’s worth of tribal meals and hide coats for all. It’s when volcanoes and glaciers were active. Pahoehoe is the form lava can take, having once been magma that oozed slowly across a place, creating nature’s own parking lots. You might say, the natural creation was thousands of years ahead of human technology to produce cars. Now we create our own pavement.

Evidence of my lava theory arrives as a roadside sign, announcing: Fire & Ice! It’s a turn-off to Bandera Volcano and Ice Cave. Where’s there’s an erupted volcano, there’s a chance for pahoehoe, hardened flat black lava. Bandera is one of the West’s best preserved eruptions and is about 10,000 years old, meaning it would coincide with ancient habitation of this region. The Hopi, Zuni, Pueblo and other Southwestern tribes claim to be descendants from the ancient ones, and yet all have different languages and cultures. The word Anasazi, often said to mean “ancient ones” actually means “ancient enemies” in Navajo. In the Land of Enchantment, there are many truths. Strange truths.

One truth about Bandera is that a collapsed lava tube maintains a 31 degree temperature, thus forming an ancient ice cave.

Another truth is that the resulting core might be an omphalos; a navel of the earth. Despite differing languages and clan cultures, the tribes of New Mexico say they climbed out of the earth’s navel and spread across the land (for creative takes on origin myths see Origin Stories). To the Pueblos, the journey continues, and some of the clan destinations included what we call “ruins” like Aztec Ruins National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park and Chaco Canyon World Heritage Center. All of these dwellings are said to not be abandoned, but occupied by the spirits of Pueblo ancestors. Many descendants explain that time is irrelevant and just yesterday they began their journey, climbing out of the earth’s navel.

Some sci-fi aficionados might liken this idea to portals in time and space. It’s so ingrained in native culture, that the kivas of the centers were built deep, round and accessible through the roof. When ceremonies were held, the people climbed down from the cedar roof with the reverence of entering the womb. Even today, the Hopi, Zuni and Pueblo clans regard these centers as sacred and spiritual. The Navajo say chindis (ghosts) populate these places. On the sandstone cliffs of Chaco Canyon, original inhabitants left behind painted hand prints. Imagine hovering your palm upon the print of your ancestor from 850 AD. Having visited Chaco Canyon with ravens eerily standing guard, I can believe in chindis easily. I can believe in the spirit-world of the Southwest. It doesn’t surprise me that Chaco closes at dusk.

The fact that Chaco Canyon is memorialized as sacred, introduces another truth and oddity: It is illegal to deposit the ashes of human remains at Chaco. My immediate thought was, who would do that? Evidently, “wildcat scattering” of cremated remains has become a thing, with reports of people spreading the phosphorous powder of deceased loved ones in public and scenic places from sports fields to Disneyland to scenic vistas. National Parks at the Grand Canyon and Yosemite offer scattering permits. Others, like Chaco Canyon, forbid it. Thinking on this unusual activity, I’m reminded how reluctant we are to discuss death and mortality. Yet, according to the Internet Cremation Society, over half of US deaths will result in cremation, and surprising (to me) it’s most popular in the western states.

Call me an old-fashioned story-teller who loves to read history in graveyards, but I had no idea.

My grandparents were each cremated, but it’s a vague awareness because they had funerals and were interred in the same cemetery where my great-grandparents were buried. I laughed, bittersweet, with my best friend when we were planning her funeral and she asked about being buried with the ashes of her beloved dog who died just months before she did. The answer was, slip “it” in when no one was looking! We did. The funeral home knew about it and simply looked the other way. Then there’s the story about Aunt Susie.

Aunt Susie was my cousin’s great aunt and when before she died, she asked that her ashes be scattered across the Sierras where she spent a lifetime hiking and fishing. It became a bizarre family burden as each person tasked with wildcat scattering Aunt Susie’s ashes died before completing the deed. Finally, after yet another family funeral, my cousin took charge of the ashes and told her dad that they would take care of it as they drove home from California to Nevada over the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

At a scenic spot off the highway and over one of the creeks Aunt Susie might have fished (it’s unknown), my uncle pulled over, and an argument ensued. He agreed to drive the ashes, but he wanted nothing to do with opening the plastic bag and relieving its contents. Neither did my cousin. Finally, her 10-year old daughter volunteered. The girl carried the bag to a rise above the creek and began swinging it in a windmill fashion. In horror, my uncle asked, “What is she doing?”

Who teaches another how to scatter ashes? We don’t even speak of it, let alone pass down tips and etiquette. It’s not like, “Put your napkin in your lap,” or  “Say please and thank you.” No one says, “And whatever you do, don’t swing the bag over your head.”

My cousin’s daughter reached a point where physics kicked in, and the ashes indeed scattered, but also dumped over her head. She ran back to the car, face white with residue, eyes wide, sputtering, “Mom! I got Aunt Susie in my mouth!” It might be appropriate to note to the uninitiated that cremated ashes hold no health risk. No, the reason Chaco Canyon does not want unceremonious dumping, windmilling or burying of ashes with or without New Age crystals has nothing to do with health risk. It’s not even because it’s disconcerting to come across a questionable white pile on a public trail. It’s because Chaco Canyon is culturally sacred and memorialized to the Southwestern tribes.

The oddities don’t end here. (And if you, like me, are curious about the growing phenomenon of cremation and what to do with ashes, read Ashes Underfoot.)

In my quest to satisfy my curiosity over why Chaco Canyon would post such a sign as Don’t Scatter Ashes, I came across a 1998 article from The New Yorker by Douglas Preston, one of my favorite authors. But he discusses cannibalism among the Anasazi. Well, maybe that’s why the Navajo feared them as evil. And yet, it’s so unlikely. The Hopi and Pueblos have no stories of cannibalism. Often, the worst human atrocities are attributed to conquered or enslaved peoples as a way to justify their treatment. The leading archaeologist who put forth the theory has not consulted the tribes, and is at hostile odds with most colleagues in the niche field of Southwestern archaeology. Yet, in the Land of Enchantment, there are many truths. He has physical evidence of violence, dismembering and even pot polishing.

But why? One truth is that the Chaco culture achieved astonishing feats of engineering and art. Many scholars believed they lived a utopian lifestyle. A scientifically documented drought is believed to have ended the expansion of the culture. Yet, lingering Navajo stories of abandoned places holding chindis, of former enslavement seems at odds with the utopian and advanced civilization ideals. Even archaeologists have puzzled over why uncovered ruins from the era are often intact with valuables, as if people disappeared into thin air. Did they return to the navel of the earth? Did aliens transport them away? Was the culture good or evil?

What if we are asking the wrong questions? This is something important for you to think about as a writer. It’s vital that you ask questions others are not asking. If we all zip down the same paths, avoid the same uncomfortable topics and make assumptions everyone else believes, how will we ever write something new and different? When I began my research into Rock Creek I looked at all the theories and eventually asked enough questions, the questions other historians didn’t think to ask, and I came up with a new theory. For my historical writing, exploring women and others marginalized in history, the field is wide open.

The question the archaeologists don’t ask is that of human psychology. Preston explains how archaeologists cling to the concept of culture. The one archaeologist who pursued the cannibalism theory told Douglas in his article that the discipline needs to adopt a “Darwinian paradigm of evolutionary psychology.” He says archaeologists need a paradigm shift to “…understand the darker side of human nature in the archeological record.” This is where writers need to dare to go, too. I highly recommend reading Preston’s article, Cannibals of the Canyon. Not only is it one of the strangest looks at ancient culture in New Mexico, it’s excellent writing by one of my favorite Western authors. Read his bio and drool (or maybe that’s just me).

Back to the drive to Albuquerque. A second one is on the way. Progressive Insurance finally caught up with us in Gallup, although we managed the repairs on our own, it’s unlikely we’ll be reimbursed. But we all agreed that Camping World will be liable for a thorough inspection once we get to Kansas. The transmission wasn’t on the delivery truck today. Unless it vanishes like the Anasazi, it’s supposed to be ready for us to nab tomorrow. I’ll look at the drive with new eyes.

And don’t worry. I’m not going to expect anyone to write uncomfortable topics this week, unless you have belly-button issues and if you do, write it out.

April 20, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a navel story. It can include a belly-button, feature an omphalos (geological or cultural), or extend to navel-gazing (used in meditation or to describe excessive self-contemplation). Go where this oddity leads you.

Respond by April 25, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 26). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

The Need to Know (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni sat on her haunches, studying the bone fragment. The school bus had left, but this piece found by a third-grader intrigued her.

“Is that one of my ancestors?” Michael had returned with Bubbie.

“Mmm, probably not, unless your ancestors ate each other.”

Michael snorted. “You bone-diggers. Navel-gazing at everything.”

Danni stood up and stretched, surprised to hear the pain in Michael’s tone. “I’m sorry. No offense intended. It’s a deer bone, likely, but has pot-polish from being boiled. It says something about what occurred here.”

“Let the place be sacred, Danni. You don’t have to know every detail.”

###

 

April 13: Flash Fiction Challenge

“My car broke down, too. Used to have a Nissan, ran it until it quit. Now I come to town on these tires.” The Navajo woman who’s about my age, just as tall but slender from being her own car points to her gray tennies. “Yeah, gonna need new Goodyears soon!”

The Hub and I laugh with her. She’s carrying two black velvet lined boxes filled with turquoise and stone silver rings. We’re eating breakfast, the cheapest we can find on the menu — $5 for an egg, bacon and roasted green chili pepper sandwich served with dark coffee. It fascinates me that we’re the only white people — Anglos — in Earl’s Restaurant. No one one pays us any mind except the artists who wander through the tables with their wares.

“My daughter is a Marine, and my sons are both Airborne,” she tells us, after learning the Hub is a veteran. He’s Airborne, too. In fact, he’s an Airborne Ranger so I tell her to coin him. Anyone claiming to be a Ranger has to coin up. If caught without one’s Ranger coin, he has to buy beer. She asks him to see his coin and he digs it out of his pocket. She holds it in her hand, flipping it to see both sides. “A Ranger,” she says, handing it back.

I thank her for her service, saying mothers deserve to be thanked, too. “That’s right,” she says, her face showing the love and pride she holds for her children’s military service. 100 percent. Her entire brood serves. I ask if that’s why Gallup, New Mexico has signs claiming to be the most patriotic town in America. She laughs and says it’s about the Code Talkers, too. And Hiroshi H. Miyamura, a Japanese-American Medal of Honor recipient. He’s known locally as “Hershey,” and is still alive, having served in WWII and the Korean War.

Hershey is known as Nisei. With close to a quarter million people living in New Mexico from pueblos and reservations who are Zuni, Toas, Tewa, Ute, Hopi, Apache and Navajo, Nisei sounds like another tribe. But it isn’t. To say Hershey is Nisei is to adopt the term to describe him as a second generation Japanese-American. During WWII the 100th Infantry Battalion of the US Army was 100 percent Nisei. Most had family held in Japanese-American internment camps. Many lost their homes and businesses. It was a cruel response to wartime, and robbed many of dignity.

However, Hershey’s family was never interned. They had their cameras, firearms and radios confiscated, but the citizens of Gallup signed a petition as character witnesses for the two dozen Japanese-American families living here. Hershey was born October 6, 1925 in Gallup, New Mexico just 13 years after it became a state, but his parents arrived earlier in 1906. Gallup was then a railroad and mining town with a nearby cavalry fort. According to the 1940 US Census record, Hershey’s father was widowed and operating a cafe and raising six children. Hershey says in a newspaper interview how grateful he was they lived in Gallup and escaped internment.

Not only is Gallup patriotic, it’s also called the Indian Capitol of the World because of its proximity to the diverse reservations and pueblos, including the largest — the Navajo Nation. From these southwestern tribes come the world’s most stunning art. Among the artists who walk past my breakfast table is a man selling his wife’s miniature Kachina dolls. Kachinas are spirit beings in the Pueblo traditions who assist with controlling the weather for crops. The Hopi, in particular, believe that it requires the supernatural to grow corn in the semi-arid high desert of the southwest.

The Hub is drawn to the dolls and despite being down to the last of our cash, he buys one for me — Morning Singer. The Kachinas represent harmony with the land, not dominance. Hopi men carve Kachina dolls from the root of cottonwood trees and dance as Kachinas to become supernatural. I find it curious that my little Morning Singer was carved by a woman, but collection of dolls has evolved into a large tourist trade and is not the same purpose. I’m dreaming of adding Native Art to Carrot Ranch, but reality is that artists are grossly taken advantage of and I could not stomach being a part of that system.

If I had the money I’d buy directly from the artists. One tall and lean young man in dark sunglasses and a hip-hop baseball cap walks up to us selling a silver squash blossom necklace with chunks of turquoise each the size of a walnut. I’m stunned. The silver-smithing alone is spectacular, and yet it is the high-grade turquoise that captures my attention. I know that a piece of jewelry like this will sell for $3,000 or more in a gallery. He’s selling it for $600 and offers it to us for $200. The temptation is to buy it and resell it at its value in the greater market outside Gallup. No way can I do this. I can’t devalue another artist.

It’s a familiar scenario for writers. Buy my book for .99 cents. Get published and you’re lucky to see 6 percent of each sale with the majority going to the publisher and distributor. And writers can’t bypass publishing and distribution. Gallup artists can’t compete with the online sales of knockoffs because they don’t have a way to get their art to the high-paying markets except through the trading posts and wholesalers. With great empathy, I show my appreciation for each piece as it parades by like an open mic night giving away words for cheap. My lame excuse for not paying the bargain price is, “We’re broke down.” They get it. We’re broke.

Most artists tell us their own broke stories, like the military mother who jokes that her shoes are her tires. “At least you only need to replace two worn tires, not four,” I jest in return. What is it with artists and poverty? We lead rich lives and create rich stories, rich horse-hair pottery, rich Kachina dolls, rich jewelry, but find no monetary wealth in the pursuit. We later stop at one of the trading posts and I notice the small Kachina dolls are marked off 20 percent. I ask how much and the “sale” price is $15. I bought mine directly from the artist for $5. Is it fair the trading post makes $10? If economics were my strength, I suppose I wouldn’t be a writer. Like one of our Rough Writers, Pete Fanning, wrote last week, “It makes my head hurt.”

I decline to buy one, explaining we’re broke down. I joke that if we can’t get a transmission we might live in Gallup. “Then you can get a job,” she replies. Ouch. Yes, there’s that, too. Despite my long hours, despite the material I’ve created and amassed for future publication, despite the articles and client content I write for pay, I don’t “really work.” The artists this proprietor takes advantage of to profit according to the religion of capitalism where, by God, where those who “work hard” deserve to make more than those slackers who merely create. How to even explain to her that my husband would gladly work, given a fair chance, but no one in his industry wants to hire a 50-something veteran with workplace adaptation issues due to PTSD.

That’s right; we’re a couple of homeless bums broke down in Gallup. But we are rich in other ways profits can never be. I’ll be a story-teller long after her shop closes down because the artists figure out how to work together for mutual benefit, cutting out those who take advantage of them. For now, I’m going to write from Gallup, collect stories as I catch them and explore the history of this region which is so unknown to me. I’m going to support other writers, and promote the value of literary arts from its rawest form to the possibilities of life-long mastery. That’s my job.

April 13, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a ring. Keep the definition to that of a piece of jewelry. Whose ring is it and what’s its significance? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by April 18, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 19). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Only the Ring Remained (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Don’t you tire of sifting dirt?” Michael leaned back on the porch chair, drinking a Rocket Dog.

Danni knew Ike had stocked his workshop fridge with his Ranger buddy’s favorite beer. A token of appreciation. Or a bribe. “I thought we buried the hatchet, Michael.”

“Just curious. Seems boring.”

“It’s amazing how much evidence past garbage holds.”

“It doesn’t bother you?”

“Garbage? No. The most disturbing find was considered a site contamination.”

“Contaminated garbage?”

“It was run-off from the 1956 Grand Canyon plane crash. A wedding band among Anasazi pottery. Identified as the pilot’s whose body was never recovered.”

###

April 6: Flash Fiction Challenge

Our blast off from Mars was a bust. We did progress, successfully hitching our trailer to our truck, hoping never do they part. Logistically, living in a home on wheels is complicated. Our RV is licensed in Utah, but insured in Washington (state) where the Hub’s primary VA care is located right next door to Idaho where our household belongings are stored. That’s also where our car is registered, but our new truck is temporarily tagged in Kansas. Before we had lift off, I purchased a mail forwarding service. Our mailing address is Florida. We hope to arrive in Michigan by May, via Kansas, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Don’t get lost yet, we still have the southwest to traverse. The ranch truck has some dance moves known on the disco highways as the Dodge Death Wobble. It’s not actually deadly; it merely feels that way when the vibration strikes. Pulling a 16 ton RV, we want more waltzing and less jitterbugging. Thus we decided to avoid the high mountain passes of Interstate 70. We headed south, forgetting the North Rim of the Grand Canyon is over 8,000 feet in elevation. We wound up, then down and followed the edge of the colorful Vermilion Cliffs on the other side.

I wondered if this was the beginning of the Grand Canyon, but when we arrived at Lees Ferry and crossed the Colorado River, it was already in a deep gorge. I glanced once, feeling slightly dizzy, and remembered that water formed the Grand Canyon. Think down as deep as mountains rise up. The truck and trailer honeymooned well, sticking together through the ups and downs. I wanted to stop at a cute desert town in northern Arizona, but the Hub was feeling the call of the road. That was before the North Rim. Along the Vermilion Cliffs, we saw plenty of pullouts on BLM public lands. By the time it was dusk, the Hub checked the running lights of the trailer and none turned on.

We couldn’t stop, because we were, by then, on the Navajo Reservation. We had no choice but to drive through and I kept the car close to the rear of the trailer to keep it illuminated. Each town on the map where we hoped to rest turned out to be tiny outposts of the reservation. We found a gas station and kept driving. It was pitch black, the kind of dark you’d never see a black Angus steer on the road. Thankfully, the Navajo raise sheep. Then the road began to buckle in what’s known as frost heaves. The Dodge never did its dance, but I felt we were free-styling across the plateau, and I wanted off the dance floor. I couldn’t even call the Hub on my cell phone because we had no service.

29 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the trailer belched black smoke, smelling of smoldering rubber. I flashed my blinkers and lights, trying to catch the Hub’s eye. He pulled over in an abandoned motel parking lot of red gravel where several semis were parked. I told the Hub about the smoke and he didn’t think it was the trailer but rather something “back there.” Wishful thinking. We are not so lucky as to bypass someone else’s smoldering rubber. While he walked the dog around the lot I shined my light on the tires. I found two oddly together; an unwelcome union.

With so many places to represent, we are not off to a stellar starship start.

The steel frame beneath the trailer busted. Day One, and we are broke down on the rez. Day Two dawned after a fitful night in our cramped trailer (no electricity to expand the slides). My office exploded. Never again will I think a printer “heavy enough” to stay in place and now I understand why the cupboards all have big latches — except my office cupboards. It’s a minor miracle the shelves and books inside didn’t smash the pretty etched glass or that the printer which went airborne at one point, didn’t bust like the frame. Books littered the couch and floor between the desk and couch. The sight demoralized me. With the dog tucked between us, we retreated to our bed.

Day Two dawned crisp and sunny on Naabeeho Binahasdzo, the 27,000 acre Navajo Reservation of the Colorado Plateau, bringing with it the the hope of a new day. Volcanic activity is recent here, surviving the oral history of the Navajo and Apache, who both came here around 1350. They parted ways as sub-groups, one raising desert sheep, the others developing one of the most impressive warrior tribes of North America. While the Navajo were more peaceful, they were warriors, too and once harassed the Mormon pioneers back on Mars (southern Utah). Both tribes preceded the Pueblo culture who dwelled in apartment-like structures on the cliff faces of the southwest, including the Grand Canyon, and Zion. The Navajo refer to themselves as the Dine — the People.

Among the Dine, we’ve enjoyed pinto beans, stew and fry bread. Fry bread is the ambrosia of this culture and how you eat the lamb stew, beans or thinly sliced grilled meat. Yet, I’m stuck at Burger King because it’s the only place with internet. The Hub has worked most of the day on the trailer, trying to lower the axle so we can limp it into Flagstaff, the nearest city with services. A few truckers have stopped to advise him, and one gave him the name of a welder. Our nephew in Kansas advised us on the type of weld it needs to be. And Good Sam is as worthless as the insurance they sold us. We specifically purchased through them to be protected in a situation like this. Not so.

I’ll spare you all a sermon on the ills of American insurance, health, RV or otherwise. Suffice to say the Hub has to fix it himself. Another trucker got him in touch with a place that rents welders, hat and gloves. The Hub is not a happy camper. The poor dog is a nervous wreck. She doesn’t understand why the trailer “shrunk” and it scares her. I’ve found my happy place at Burger King. It’s in a beautiful, though small, tourist complex with a Navajo timeline on the floor and beautiful jewelry and art. The Dine are among the most talented weavers, potters and silversmiths in the world.

According to their culture, the Dine have several creation myths — the World of Darkness, the World of Blue and the World of Yellow. Various stories involved First Man and First Woman, animals, insects, gods and the trickster Coyote. They boldly embrace their mythology and state, “Contrary to our creation stories, scholars believe…” This idea is the one I’ve explored between my characters Dr. Danni Gordon and Michael Robineaux. She’s a historical archaeologist and he’s a member of the Kootenai Tribe. It’s the tension between science and cultural interpretations.

If I had to be broke down somewhere, at least it’s someplace interesting. We hope to fix the trailer tomorrow and continue.

April 6, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a creation myth. You can write your own, use one in a story or create tension (or comparability) between science and culture on the topic of creation. Go where the prompt leads leads.

Respond by April 11,2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 12). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Where Fact Meets Fiction (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

With Bubbie at her side, Danni addressed the children. “The Kootenai tribe left evidence of living in this watershed for …”

Hands shot up. “What’s a watershed?” one boy asked.

“Well, that’s the area…”

“Our history is sacred.” Michael spoke from behind the children, walking up the fort path.

“It’s in the dirt, Michael.” Danni was nervous enough without Michael interfering.

“Nupika created animals and spirits. Man Spirit followed the river to be transformed.”

Danni noticed the children were more transfixed by Michael’s tale of transformation than her facts. She began to think of a way to blend them.

###

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Raw Literature: Spring Review #2

One of my favorite analogies for writing and revising a book is to look at editing in three layers: bones, flesh and skin. At any layer, your writing can be raw — newly knit bones (structure); exposed flesh (details); and tender skin (polish). It depends upon a writer’s process, unique voice and set of strengths as to what one’s first efforts unfold to be. This is what we are talking about in essays by guest writers at Carrot Ranch. This is raw literature.

Today, I was reminded of the importance of structure at the beginning of a writing journey. I’m beginning a different journey, my first ever pulling my home/office on wheels. We had a dinky (and leaky) camp-trailer last summer that pulled behind our farm truck after our rental went on the market and we had no other rental available in our rural north Idaho community. We became among the shadow homeless, meeting other rural homeless in RV parks and veterans living out of their vehicles. This is different from what you see in urban centers where those experiencing homeless are on the streets.

It’s been a raw experience in the sense that it was unexpected and not intended.

But like raw literature, it holds surprises. We’ve learned that with the right RV, it can be enjoyable. I’ve even met a few other uprooted writers and we’ve become part of a sub-culture in America. However, with the right RV, we needed the right truck — a bigger truck. We landed on Mars and have been stranded in lot 70 for all of winter. With the return of tourists to Zion National Park, we knew our home needed to get moving. Through several moments of synchronicity, the Hub’s sister found us a truck. And appropriate to Carrot Ranch, it’s a ranch truck.

The Hub drove 2,400 miles to swap the farm truck for the ranch truck in Kansas. We had a tight schedule, having been given a date by the RV park that we needed to move out of lot 70. On the way back, the Hub encountered the Dodge Death Wobble on an 8,500 foot mountain pass in Colorado. It scared all three of us, the Hub, the Sis and me. He got back on the road after talking to us both, and the Sis and I stayed on the phone together, helping each other not to worry. The ranch truck did fine after that. The Hub met a group of cowboys at a cafe the next morning, and he asked them if they experienced such a vibration in their Dodges. They all laughed and welcomed him to Dodge ownership.

In a way, it’s like writing. We often encounter death wobbles in our first efforts — stale details, flat characters, cliche-pox. It scares us into thinking our writing isn’t sound. But it is all fixable. Like the cowboys told the Hub, slow down on the corners downhill. Dodge is a good truck; it has good bones. In your first efforts, focus on your story, the bones of what you want to do and slow down and pay attention to the details and leave the polish for last. Write strong bones.

In this review, we are looking back at three essayists who explore raw literature. The purpose of the reviews is to give writers and readers time to catch up and reflect on the previously posted essays in the Raw Literature series. This is meant to be an ongoing discussion. One essay may spark an idea for another.

  1. Anne Goodwin considers what it means to develop first works and take your work From Raw to Ready. She reflects on the industry standards that don’t come with a rule book: “Of course, you might be thinking, if you want people to read your stuff, it’s got to be right! I’m not disputing this at all. Publication implies a certain standard; what’s not clear is how to set about achieving it, or even what that standard might look like.” Anne compares raw writing to raw walking and the importance of acquiring skills or tools. She also applies a model that takes the writer from raw to ready and asks for your ideas, too.
  2. Jules Paige takes us directly to the page and explains her pen name in Jewels on the Page. She shares her first process as a child that has led to the writer and poet she is today. Jules says, “I write for amusement. Perhaps guided by a muse. Though some may argue that muses do not exist. Maybe my muse is my own intuition, which often unconsciously picks up even the most subtle of cues.” She explores the process, the impact of prompts and interweaves her poetic verse.
  3. C. Jai Ferry takes us to an unsettling incident in a rural community to give us the experience of what it’s like to seek stories for Writing Grit. She talks about how her stories explore human nature between black and white norms. C. Jai says, “My stories will never be made into after-school specials. They are gritty and raw, tackling difficult issues that we all face at some point in our lives.” She explains how her goal is not to normalize these raw lives of her characters but to shed light on the evil lurking in our own communities.

As you can see from this set, the idea of raw literature is as varied as the writers who step up to create. Enjoy this week’s review!

<< ♦ >>

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.

March 30: Flash Fiction Challenge

Farewell to flying monkeys, the black chimps who once flew from mesas, proving jet seats safe for ejection. You gave me a road to explore land as strange and wondrous as Mars. Farewell to roads that skirt the baggy pants of scree, proving what drives up (the mesa) must drive down. Unless, one decides to fly or become a hermit. I could become a hermit until those Mars temperatures exceed my low tolerance for sun-baked heat or I remember my comfy bed.

Farewell to GhostRider, Utah’s saving grace for piss-water beer. It’s commendable that the straight-laced state legislates responsible drinking, but when my RV lands elsewhere than Mars, I’m going to have a pizza and beer in a bar that doesn’t require I have to eat pizza in order to be served a low-alcohol beverage. Wasatch Brewery, in great Utah irony, brews a respectable white IPA with an adult alcohol content but can only be purchased out of state. I’m onto you, Utah! I found your GhostRider IPA in Nevada, having crossed the Arizona Strip to claim it.

Yes, I’ve been bootlegging while on Mars.

Farewell candy-drenched colors of the sweet and arid desert. How pleasant you’ve been in winter (except when your clay clung like taffy to the truck tires). I never experienced the same day twice on Mars. The light slants at a different angle; the shadows dip into crevices; the partial or full sun filters color from rose to apricot. You are vast and varied, reminding me that creativity has a grand canvas and art is never fully realized, crafting still from the dinosaurs of yesterday to the shed lizard skins of future summer. I close my eyes and feel the vibration of the truck, in my imagination I can always return.

I offer my farewells to a western sun shining gold on thin steel clouds. If I had a GhostRider in my hand, I’d toast a brown bottle the direction of flying monkeys because I can see the mesas monkeys explored. I can see the squared top of Zion’s West Temple, glowing like a rosy aureola. I can see Molly’s Nipple, where I wanted to go, but the Hub couldn’t shoot up there on the black volcanic core. That’s okay. It’s good enough to see from here.

Here, is Fort Pearce. It’s rock ruins on a hill, overlooking a red slash across the desert along an intermittent creek. The red slash is what remains of the Honeymoon Trail, a level lower than where I first crossed it’s path. The fort protected those seeking temple sealing for their marriage, and was established during Blackhawk’s War. Poke around the place and you’ll discover why it was sacred to Native Americans: it harbors a fresh spring, the treasure of any desert. I’ve walked south from the fort to follow the western sun as it sinks.

I, too, sink into the land, pondering farewell.

How does one say goodbye to something that’s marked the soul and psyche? In order to write the land, any land — the microcosms in your own garden dirt or dust motes in your flat or moors in your backyard — you have to be present. Writers understand presence. You can’t write without being present on the page. Writing is not doodling, something you do during a boring meeting. Writing is not knitting, or any craft you can do while watching TV. Writing demands you be here, right now. The sharpest writing cuts through space and time. Therefore, to write the land one must be present with it.

And I am present, in this moment, standing on a spine of yellowed sandstone the color of an old bride’s weathered wedding dress. I’m mentally flipping through the album of memories, wondering when they will fade. It’ll all be here when I’m gone. It doesn’t require my presence, it’s colors don’t depend upon my eyesight. But we’ve had a relationship. Not a marriage, but certainly a fling. I caress the cheek of an exposed rock with my shoe, and sand lightly shudders between the contact. I’m not certain if the land is alive, or if I’m the one it electrifies to life, like it’s Dr. Frankenstein and I’m the monster. It’s my clay, my origin and one day to it I shall return.

Not today. Or maybe today. The Sioux Warriors faced mortality, saying, “Today is a good day to die.” Again, it’s about presence. When we are present, we face the duality of life and death within us. The creek and path below the ridge are at least 40 feet down a precipice. Like baby steps toward mortality, I step down the sand-slick rocks that form a natural staircase. At 20 feet above the creek, I peer over the edge. It’s no abyss, just a hard rock, bone-crushing bottom — with a curious hole the diameter of a soup bowl. It’s so round and smooth, potentially a grinding portal, and it awakens my curiosity. It will be the death of me. Edging closer I make a daring choice.

It’s only 20 feet. The sandstone has no more steps, but I carefully find footholds until I reach handholds. I’m not fit for mountaineering, but ah, the body remembers it. At this point I can still scale upwards, but my heart pounds at the realization I can also fall, and it’s too far to fall without cracking bones. A second decision. I decide to continue down to the ledge. I hope that hole in the rock is worth the one in my head where thoughts of safety fled the scene to let curiosity play. I’ve got flying monkeys in the brain.

Safely on the ledge, I still have another 10 feet to drop. Jumping is for younger, sprier bodies. So I sit and hesitate. I can see there is another ledge only three feet below my shoes. It’s the unknown that is in between. The ledge is a perfect hiding spot for rattlers. Now I think of rattlesnakes! A lizard zips past as if to say, “Yep! Reptiles are now active.” It’s the perfect time of day for snakes to also be descending to the water below. I look back up at blue skies and tattered clouds, deepening in color as the sun nears the horizon. Do, or die. Do, and die. Just do it.

The moment slows like a bullet in ballistics gel. My bare calves tingle at the imagined strike of a startled rattler. I hang them over the edge feeling as if I’ve made bait of my own body. I hop. Then quick hop the remaining rocks to the bottom. The empty crevice stares back at me like the empty chamber in Russian roulette. A surge of adrenaline gives me attitude and I whoop because I made it down a cliff face. Resting my hand on the iron patina of a boulder that fell long ago from the height above, I feel indentations. Looking closely, I’m stunned to realize my hand rests upon a block of petroglyphs, each one formed with rock-on-rock drilled holes.

The desert has just said farewell to me, too. I take this final gift, wrap up the memory in my hope chest, and feel as the pioneer women must have felt. Onward ho.

My thoughts are on Danni. As a character in WIP #1, she’s most present in the archaeology grid. Like a writer, she can hone her focus and spend endless hours at tasks others might not understand. She’s a historical archaeologist, which means her second place of presence is in the archives dungeon. It’s not hard to guess that Danni is an introvert. Ike, is not. He’s her connection to the outside world, the one who reached into the pit and said, “Hello.” He broke her focus and stirred her curiosity. With him gone, she’s out of sorts and craves the cover of her retreats. In such a way, that is how writing can be double-edged — it calls us to the present and yet demands such focus we are not present to anything else.

Like Danni, we all need to strike a balance between the oppositions in our lives. And we are often called to say goodbye. It merely opens a door to hello, that will also lead to a goodbye. Kind of like my favorite Beatle’s song “Hello, Goodbye”:

March 30, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a hello or a goodbye. You can pick any greeting that grabs you from howdy to fare thee well. It will be interesting to see how the collection intertwines the opposite greetings. Go where the prompt leads you.

Respond by April 4, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published April 5). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Ike’s First Hello (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“Them Wranglers, cowgirl?”

She’d been focused on brushing the next layer, irritated someone would enter her grid to comment on her jeans. Without pausing, she said, “Want a broken nose, farm boy?”

“Farm boy? I’m hurt. I’m a fisherman. Can’t you smell me?”

Danni stopped and stood in the square pit. The corners of Ike’s eyes crinkled and he stood with a fly-rod like a staff. His pants were wet like he’d been swimming with the trout. He wheeled around, bent forward and pointed to the leather brand on the butt of his jeans. “You’re right—I got Wranglers, too!”

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March 23: Flash Fiction Challenge

Ahead, partial sunlight illuminates sand that has seeped from a massive geological structure aptly named, Sand Mountain. From the north, it rises like a slope out of the shores of a deep blue body of water, Sand Hollow. On its south-side the underpinnings of metamorphic rock expose ridges of red cliff. Those curious blotches of sand seeps are orange and remind me of powdered koolaid. In fact, the scene on the backside of Sand Mountain translates easily to a candy shop given the unnaturally sweet colors. Grape gumdrops push up against the strawberry taffy base not far from the powdered orange koolaid.

Among the sweet treats of this lower staircase of land, beneath the Navajo Sandstones of Zion white as cookie dough and the gnarly basalt of the Virgin Plain black as licorice, is a level that holds something more of child-like interest: Jurassic dinosaurs.

All of Zion, its surrounding mesas and transitional zone, are all Jurassic in age, spanning back 145 to 200 million years. The candy around here is stale and crumbly. Once it was an area with swaths of mudflats, an early flood plane. Conifers, ferns and cycads lined the shores, sand dunes swept to the northeast and fish populated the seasonal lakes and streams. Dinosaurs tip-toed through soft sediments to leave behind impressions in what looks like petrified chocolate.

If there’s anything better than going to a sweet shop, it’s going with a friend. Today, I have Norah Colvin in my pocket.

Norah is not only one of the first generation Rough Writers at Carrot Ranch, she’s also the One. She’s the one who discovered a brand new flash fiction challenge three years ago. She’s the one who introduced other blogging friends, and the ranch gathering has become like writing at the local soda fountain where we have learned what malts or sodas each prefers. Through our sweet shop talk, I’ve come to learn that Norah’s grandchildren are dino-crazed. And what a good interest to have! Science, mystery and Jurassic monsters all rolled up in one. What else I’ve come to know about Norah is her dedication to early childhood education. Her newly launched website readilearn is an accumulation of her experience, creativity and passion for teaching.

Our truck kicks up fine red dust as we travel across the hard-packed land. After our last outing, the next destination is my choice, and I want to find dinosaur tracks for Norah. I learned about these tracks when we first landed on Mars (also known on maps as southwestern Utah). Because of anticipating her excitement for such a discovery, I’ve been on a mission to step where Jurassic lizards have trod. We’ll be leaving Mars soon and still, I hadn’t found the tracks. So we are searching among the purple gumdrops and oozing orange koolaid.

Tiny mesquite leaves unfurl among spindly brush and newborn cactus needles blur the outline of the plants with fuzz. Garnet red buds line the tops of prickly pear cactus and tiny yellow bells trumpet from thorny shrubs. White flowers on a single stalk rise up like spears from the dark brown clay. This is Warner Valley in spring. Somewhere out here, the toes of Dilophosaurus and Megapnosaurus trailed across a mudflat millions of springs ago before this was a desert. in 1982, a man from Cedar City, Utah was walking down a wash and found an exposed fossil of over 400 tracks.

Locating the site is like finding a lost cactus spine in the sand. Unless you directly step on it, it remains hidden. The Hub and I traverse several BLM (Bureau of Land Management, public lands) roads. The reason we had found the Honeymoon Trail earlier is because I was looking for this site. I understood the old pioneer trail was nearby. But, as often is the trouble in this steep terrain, the Honeymoon Trail plummets over the Hurricane Cliffs in what is now regarded as an extreme Jeep trail. Thwarted in our search, we’ve come to the Warner Valley a different way — this is below the Hurricane Cliffs and behind Sand Mountain (which was the first place I search for the tracks).

Our BLM map shows the valley as deceptively flat. We trundle over hillocks, and dip down and up through dry washes. We stop to chat with a motorcyclist, and he confirms the dinosaur tracks are out here, “somewhere.” Another cyclist comes along and encourages us to continue down a road we decided wasn’t going anywhere. Turns out, that road led us to the grape gumdrops and we are on a two-track that feels similar to a carnival roller-coaster. The purple landscape might be a clue: according to geology books this level gains its color and treacherous stickiness when wet from ancient volcanic ash. That sounds Jurassic to me.

We come to a fence, turn up the road and a BLM sign marks the spot — to park, that is. From here, the search continues on foot. The rolling trail continues and I walk past smooth sandstone clusters that look like ruins of Bedrock from the 1970s cartoon, The Flintstones. The closer I get to the cliffs and scree of Sand Mountain, the more obvious the carving of the land by water. The trail dips into a flat wash that continues to travel down as if servile to water when it marches this way. Finally, a broad flat of chocolate malt rock spreads out before me. I have found the Holy Grail of sweets in this gumdrop desert. Norah, this treat is for you!

It might sound silly to take along a friend in a pocket, but truly, as writers we do that. When we go on these journeys of discovery, and writing is both, we think of audience. Many talk about turning off the “inner critic.” Critics are for editing. Creative flow needs friendly encouragement. That’s why I like to write to a friendly audience. And you don’t have to actually know your reader. Norah doesn’t always have to ride in my pocket! Many times, I make up the audience. And the reason is sane and important to writing. You might write first for yourself, but if you want to connect with others, you write next for an audience.

It’s easy for me to match up an adventure involving dinosaurs to a friend who appreciates the Jurassic lizards (or ancestors of birds). So how do I do this with an unknown audience?

My beat used to be organic and local food systems, such as cranberry farms, artisan cheese-makers, grass-fed cattle ranches, urban community gardens, Hmong collective farms, CSAs, farmers markets and cooperatives (farm, producer and retailer). For 15 years, I interviewed people where they tilled black soil, bogged cranberries or fought for food justice. I wrote for publications like Edible Twin Cities, Stress-free Living and This is Living Naturally. I’ve been featured on NPR, interviewed for local news and contributed to regional cookbooks.

Each time, I was aware that I was writing for an audience. If I was alone, prone on the soft earth in a French vineyard that endured Minnesota weather for three decades, poised to capture the sunrise over grapes that suffered, I talked to my readers as if they were blind. I took notes and photographs as if I were their eyes. I included other senses, too and built relationships with the land and those who tended it as if I were match-making with readers. I was the experience, and that’s how I learned to write sensory. It became engaging to the point that I had real readers who wanted to go with me.

And many did. I’d put out a call and take others along. They asked questions I hadn’t thought of which taught me to anticipate what a reader wants to know. One memorable experience was with an accountant who didn’t agree that local food should “cost” a premium until I invited him to go with me on assignment to an organic cranberry bog. We toured the entire day, the farmer introducing us to neighbors so we could see the multiple ways farmers harvest cranberries. We left, but the accountant never fully left the bogs; it was in his system and he became a local food advocate.

What about fiction? I start with the story, and think as a story-teller — what would an audience want to know and what will surprise them? But first, I write my novels for me. Now, I’m writing them for readers. I carry along readers in my pocket to remind me to look at the journey for them. This is one way to write for readers. I’m sure more than a few of you, especially bloggers, have experienced processing a post mentally as if you were in conversation with those you know read. And for those we don’t know, we think of them as friendly. We, the writer, return from the desert with a gift we can share.

And thank you to everyone here at Carrot Ranch — Rough Writers & Friends, Readers and Lurkers — last week resulted in a profound collection of writing that supports the idea that art is free and within us, no matter political climates and cuts. I know many of you read as responses are posted, but if you get the chance, take a read of the Without Art collection as a whole. Thank you. That is the gift writers share, and reading is the gift in return to writers.

March 23, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an audience. It can be broad or small, and gathered for any reason. How does your character react to an audience? Is the audience itself a character. Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 28, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 29). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

Surprise Audience (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

Danni met Peter at the archeological site when a bus pulled up.

“Guess what? We have a school field trip. I told the teachers we’d have Q & A with an archaeologist.”

“You can’t be serious,” said Danni.

“This way, I knew you’d show up. It gives us a chance to tweak your Little Ranger Program. It’s sound, but not kid friendly. Time for you to learn your audience. What age, are you thinking?”

“Is this a cruel test?”

“Kind of. How old?” Peter folded his arms, grinning at the kids.

“Can I look at their teeth?” asked Danni.

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March 16: Flash Fiction Challenge

Gone Art. If I were to write a post-truth era dystopian thriller, that would be the title: Gone Art. What would a nation be like if every citizen had to work a 9-to-5 job to profit Big Pharma, Big Insurance and Big Banks without benefit of performing, visual or literary arts? What if paintings in galleries were replaced by flat-screen TVs that displayed 24-hour state news and reality shows. No more screenwriters or actors, but shows, pitting depressed rural communities against urban ghettos to fight for the best ratings. Winners get to loot the losers’ community under the guidance of Big Brother Border Patrol and their high-tech tactical gear.

Performing art might evolve into public floggings of scientists unwilling to believe alternative facts presented by the state. Blackface might return as a dance movement to mock rap while real rappers and spoken word artists labor in privatized prisons under suspicion that art warped their minds and led to consumption of marijuana, spiced rum and Little Debbie Swiss Cakes. Mockery and punishment would be the only state-sanctioned performances, gathering crowds the way public hangings in Victorian London did. Yet, a generation would grow up not knowing what the word Victorian means.

White House ornamentation might include the piked heads that rolled from the shoulders of journalists and novelists and humanitarian advocates who dared to say, “The TRUTH is out there.” Alternative facts will be the new norm for creativity, the only form of creativity allowed, and the greatest masters of its art shall be cloistered to the Cabinet, given free meals, government moonshine and gilded thrones built from the bones of alt artists and Badlands resisters.

Literacy is no longer required. Books are not burned because no one reads them, anyways. Refrigerators and microwaves inform those who need to know, mostly alternative facts pour from the water spickets on the smart-fridge of those in the working class. Daily updates are given in the time it takes to pour a glass of water. There is no water for the poor. There is no birth control, either. Those who fornicate and reproduce are gathered up on farms, fed GMO corn and below-the-poverty-level children of all colors will become the State’s new white meat.

Billionaires will have evolved to drink champagne of fermented oil and eat truffles made of coal. The rest of the working or imprisoned populace will be sick but have Access to Healthcare that replaces any desire for art, nature or fresh food. This song will be outlawed:

What disturbed rabbit hole did Charli wander down, you might be thinking. Like Alice, let me walk backwards and start at another place.

“Europe has cathedrals; America has National Parks.” Public television tells me this every night. It’s Utah’s programming, and given that this state has five National Parks and more monuments and state parks than any other state, I feel as if I live among a cluster of medieval European cities with deep art and history. My reality is that I live near deep nature and pre-history, near the tallest sandstone pillars in the world and abandoned Anasazi ruins. Zion is so popular that now the park canyon we explored over winter is closed to all traffic. Tourists have returned because nature penetrates the soul the way cathedrals stretch skyward to God.

It’s late afternoon and the Hub and I brace against the stiff struts of our truck as we bounce across a desert two-track littered with rocks of black basalt. The dog leans into me and I hug her close to steady us both. My left foot is propped against swell in the floor that accommodates the transmission. My bag sits on the swell filled with crackers, cheese and my laptop. We all have bottled drinking water, even the dog. At first glance, the road looked to cut across the flat. Driving it corrects the perception of flatness. We dip through hidden washes and round clusters of sagebrush and mesquite.

We have three goals in our pilgrimage to the desert: shoot, chase rabbits and write. I’m sure you can match each goal to us three occupants in the truck.

At last we pull up on a dry earthen dike. Gnarled brush hints at water beneath the ground, but none surfaces. It’s a dirt reservoir and why this land is hostile to farm or ranch. The Hub parks on the hard-packed red clay and unloads his long-range rifles: 7mm08 and 6.5mm Creedmoor. He unfolds a canvas shooting mat and sets up his rifles and bullets, which he’s loaded himself. The dog runs, finds quail, and returns to drink water. I drink in the landscape, noting where the red mesas of the Colorado Plateau slam into the black basalt of a geological rift created by volcanic action.

We are in between places; a transition zone.

The Hub has his ear muffs, shooting hat with Ranger insignia and he scopes the land we tracked in the truck. It’s remote, unpopulated and a clear line of vision for him to test rounds at a mile. Yes, his target is a mile away. I can’t even pretend to make up stories how he does it, but I know it includes as much science as it does art. He has to crunch numbers, understand velocity and range, master powder loads and select bullet shapes, and ultimately imagine the shot before he takes it. Satisfied, he breaks my nature-stupor, and says “Move the truck across the dam.

Easier said than done. I profess to be a writing buckaroo, but admit to also being a cowardly cowgirl. Sure, I can drive the truck, but I have a bad half-memory, half-fear of a reservoir like this. I hate moments of unexplained danger. I note the signs — rapid heart rate, a feeling of sinking and separating from self. I’m afraid to walk on the hard earth, afraid it’s not really hard, that it’ll crumble. Gulping air I walk it first, relieved it feels compact, but further frightened by holes big enough to swallow my dog. Fear dissipates with curiosity, so I investigate.

I’m peering down the rabbit hole. Only it’s not made by a rabbit or any creature. I realize that water in this arid land not only carves ancient dunes and gathers scree, it also tunnels secretly underground as if to escape the evaporating heat above. This dike, built by a rancher at some time, is now pocked by sinkholes. The earthen structure might feel solid to walk upon but what lies beneath is Swiss cheese. Drive the truck across it, I don’t think so! Instead, I drive across the soft flat of the reservoir, turn around until its positioned just so and call the dog. Once she’s safe in the cab, I give the thumbs up to the Hub. He’s free to shoot.

And no matter my earlier intentions, I can’t write out here. My computer is set up on the tailgate, but the screen looks black in all this sunlight. Never mind. I draw a deep drink of bottled SmartWater and stare at the land like Hildegard visioning at Bingen. Art requires time to stare.

I would have stuck to my original post and led a merry chase down rabbit holes, but I read the morning news before I finished writing. I’m not as stressed as I was earlier in the POTUS’s first few weeks. Like the earthen dike, I had stepped out to test the solidity of the situation, my heart reacting to danger unseen but felt. In a nation divided by politics, navigating social space is like one of those books where you pick your own adventure: option A is alternative facts and belief-based “news;” option B is investigative journalism based on facts and science many don’t “believe;” and option C is propaganda renamed “fake news” and is liberally applied to all options, thus giving the real lies longer shelf-life. I’m weary of trying to teach people how to read critically and take accountability for the options they choose to place in their skulls. And it’s redundant to tell the skeptics and resisters what they already know.

So I’ll stick to my art. Except there will be no more art.

Here’s the rabbit hole I fell down, reading the about the proposed Presidential Budget in the New York Times this morning (note this date in infamy as the Day After the Ides of March When the Dictator Was Not Taken Out: March 16, 2017).

Gone would be federal financing for public television, the arts and humanities.

Gone. Gone art. The article goes on to cover the horrors of other cuts basically bashing in the brains and hearts of artists, writers, scientists, humanitarian advocates, teachers, diplomats and workers. POTUS wants to eliminate…ELIMINATE…the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. I disagree with the New York Times journalist who writes that this upsets the East Coast elites. Now just hold your horses on that thought! Damn it! Why do we Western writers get discounted? Because, like Edward Abbey and Wallace Stegner, we’re just tumbling tumble weeds writing hymns to places most New Yorkers never see? Because we can ride a horse and rope stray words into stories?

Western writers are relevant right now, especially when it was the VOICE of rural Middle America who elected this destructive clown in the first place. My western fellow citizens, and most across the nation in other rural bubbles of America, the people I roll my eyes at and call “Trumpers,” I get them. Come on, I’m a 49-year old homeless woman married to a combat vet too-long-denied his benefits to the detriment of his own health, a displaced worker, un-insured, Jesus-believer, science nerd and lit geek who wrote profiles of FARMERS and RANCHERS for 20 years, advocating for local food and revitalization of rural communities. I’m their God-damned writer! I don’t agree with them, especially when it comes to Trump, but I speak our common tongue.

The mother-tongue of a westerner is land and water, spoken in poetic contradictions. We fight among ourselves to prepare battles with outsiders who want to wrestle away control of our western lands we love and live off of, knowing better how to manage public lands than some bureaucrat in DC. But they think drain the Swamp means eliminating Fat Cats. They don’t understand the Fat Cats are draining the swamp of all that does benefit the people. They are eliminating We the People, using fear of others. We are fearing the wrong safety-breach.

Trump has blind-sided the people in pain, feeding them populist ideas. They don’t know what a populist idea is! They might be the poster children for populism, but they are controlled by its fake promise to bring back all they’ve worked so hard for throughout generations. Everything I write is imbued with western thinking. I don’t say I’m a buckaroo because it’s fun; actually it’s a painful reminder of my painful past. I’m a buckaroo because my feet knew cowboy boots in toddler size one and my eyes learned to drink in the landscape that contains the bones of seven generations of westerners.

If I’m silenced as an artist, that voice so desperate to be heard that it voted in destruction, will be silenced, too. C. Jai Ferry who writes grit lit is the west’s sharp edge, while Ann Edall-Robson (luckily for her she’s Canadian) is it’s softer nostalgic pool of memories. We need all the western writers in between. We need literature to express that voice in constructive ways, to be heard. We need books young westerners can read and see themselves in, we need to encourage the next Stegner or draw out from the eastern elites, the next Abbey or Thoreau. We need art in the West, the East, the North, the South. We need wild spaces. We need art.

March 16, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) go down the rabbit hole to a place where art is not allowed. It could be a small story or a dystopian vision. Is there a power struggle over art? Would the general public miss it? Is the end of art a natural evolution? Go where the prompt leads.

Respond by March 21, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published March 22). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!

***

The Coming Truce (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills

“You think I shouldn’t be allowed art?” Danni drank the Oregon Pinot, glinting like crushed golden berries in her glass.

Michael stood in her living room, his body tense. Neither wanted to be in the other’s presence, but Ike insisted on a truce while he served in Iraq. “You have no right to Native artifacts.”

“Art, Michael, and it’s mine. Those chinks? My great Uncle Riley made those. His Nez Perce wife beaded them. The peace pipe, a gift.”

“Your art is my history, Danni. I’ll take that wine now. If it’s not toxic.

“The wine or my art?”

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