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It’s a muddle of music and smiling people in sunglasses beyond the orange fence of plastic netting. Entrance requires a red wristband and resolve. It’s Independence Day in the US and on the Keweenaw Peninsula, locals flock to Eagle River to celebrate. As crowds go it’s relatively small, but it’s still a crowd and I’m yet an introvert among so many unfamiliar things. What is it about unfamiliarity that seems unnerving?
Earlier at a beach on Lake Superior I heard the lament of a six-year-old boy, “I can’t overcome my fear!” I turned my gaze away from the rolling waves, to inspect a group of young boys splashing in the water. They were playing an imaginary game, a team of heroes on a mission. Except for the lone reluctant hero in a life vest and swim goggles who stood while his friends floated and swam. I can’t overcome my fear.
His tone was one any of us at any age could cry out. We fear new places and faces. We fear what we don’t know. We fear change. So we stay in the shallows, watching for danger.
I take a deep breath and extend my wrist to receive a band. I’m committing, going in, going deep. I’m shaky at first, not knowing anyone, but soon I follow the wafting aroma of smoked brisket, and loving arms reach for me with the familiar call of “Mama!” It’s my eldest and she’s with her husband in line for food. Fear melts away with a familiar anchor.
And maybe that’s what each of us needs — a guide to bring us in to a new harbor, a light to show us the rocky shoals. Once received we open up to the newness. Another boy at the beach stood up with his friend and together they went into the water. A few fearful cries soon diminished into laughter and together they splashed and played heroes. With my own lighthouse guiding me through the community event, I opened up to meeting new people and experiencing a Copper Country celebration.
A curious man approaches wearing pants of apricot and a silk neck scarf. My daughter mentions he’s filming a documentary and he invites us to a fundraiser with an invitation that is both artsy and strange. I wonder who he is and why he’s making a film. My daughter is part of a belly-dancing troupe and her husband drums. They know many people in the community who are living life to their own beat. I’ve yet to figure out the local beat, but feel more at home among the artistic and eccentric. I’m searching for the literary artistic and history eccentric.
So I ask the filmmaker if he’s from the area. He was born and raised on the Keweenaw, leaving in increments until he made it to NYC where he’s been making films for years. One of his films was received at the Sundance Festival in 2009. He tells me, “They’ve all been wondering what I’ve been doing since.”
“This documentary?” I ask.
He rolls his eyes with exaggerated drama. “It’s not a documentary. Well, I suppose some parts are. It’s creative. It’s different, no genre like it exists. It’s my creative expression.”
“I see.” Not really, but I see enough to hook my curiosity and decide I’ll go to the fundraiser and learn more. I might meet some writers, as I’ve heard there are a few about this area. One is even hosting a workshop on poetry and flash fiction. Ha! You bet I’m going to that one.
Then the filmmaker in the apricot pants explains what he’s been doing since his Sundance success: filmmaking. “It’s what I do. I make films.”
It’s what I do. I write. It seems such a simple statement on one hand and so bold on the other. And yet, in writing I do so much more than tap keys or splatter sentences in ink. I process. What I feared and faced, I write about at some point whether it’s something I acknowledge consciously or not. What I fear and think I’ve smothered also comes out. It’s not all about fear, but fear certainly has great sway over us.
I think about fear as fireworks flare in the sky. I watch the shadow of a person fogged in pyrotechnic smoke light the mortars on the beach. Is he not afraid of his task? I watch my husband who says he loves the fireworks display, and recall last year’s holiday when he charged across a Forest Service campground in the dark because someone was “shooting.” It was fireworks and he soon realized after a camping neighbor calmed him down.
The difference was not the fireworks but the unfamiliarity — he expects fireworks at this event.
Houses stretch three stories tall around this region. Most are old houses from the grand mining era pre-1900s. The bedrock is too close to the surface to dig basements so they are rocked as the ground level, then the main floor and a second. Some bigger houses have a fourth attic or maid’s quarters. They look scary to me, tall and speaking of deep snow and old ways. Yet I love the house my daughter owns. She and her husband have painted the walls vibrant colors, the hues of sunflowers and of sky and deep lake water.
Did technology bring about too many changes, or ones that left people without a lighthouse to guide them? I always thought the globalization of the internet would bring us all closer together. In many ways it has. Perhaps blogging, writing, are mediums of light that shine a path to bridge cultural differences. The fear expressed by many in the US reminds me of the child’s admission, “I can’t get over my fear.” Instead of looking for a way, some people have backed out of the water and barricaded themselves on the beach.
It’s not that there’s nothing to fear. Terrorism itself is the invoking of fear; it’s meant to terrorize. Water can be dangerous; children do drown. But we have choices. We have offers of hands to join together. It reminds me of the Great American Desert beyond the Missouri River, which terrified Americans yet beckoned them to cross for riches or land. Many did overcome their fear and a few even settled, including the McCanles family.
In my research, I’ve come across a written oral history of a family contemporary to the McCanleses — the Helvey family. Frank Helvey was 19 when his family decided to run a road station the same year as Cobb bought Rock Creek. The Helvey’s bought the Big Sandy Station 15 miles up trail from Rock Creek. Frank writes, “With McCanles and his men I was very well acquainted, and can say that a wrongful impression was given of him, and of the affair between him and Wild Bill, who I also believe was much maligned.”
Why do we run around in the dark with an inferior torch claiming the world is scary and preferring to only see in front of our face what we think we know? The settlers “knew” the Pawnees and Otoes were dangerous. The historians “knew” Cobb was a bad hombre. Many waited until people like the Helvey’s and Mary McCanles carved homes and ranches and communities on the prairie before they decided it was safe to wrest away from the remaining reservations. Indeed, there were a few raids on settlers in 1864 and 67, but in comparison to the massacres by US Cavalry, it was the Natives who should have had the greater fear.
It’s not that fear itself is so bad. Fear is a warning — proceed with caution; be safe. Entrepreneurs and artists take calculated risks — they strategize to overcome doubt and fear to do or create something new. Fear is best acknowledged, not justified. It’s fear justified that skews thinking and actions. In this recent body of research, I read about the Pawnee and Otoe and how fearful they made the settlers in their war to save their hunting grounds. That fear became an entrenched justification for robbing them of their lands. The extreme prejudice I’m reading in this history echoes today.
Like the boy on the beach, we need to overcome our fears to participate fully in a modern and connected world of many cultures. Like his friends, maybe we can offer to light the way for others.
July 6, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a beacon. It can be from a lighthouse or other source. Use the word literally or figuratively and go where the prompt leads you.
Respond by July 11, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published July 12). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Night Riders (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
“Nancy Jane, it’s dark. I can’t see!” Sarah reached for her friend.
“Beyond the ravine we’ll have light. Come on!”
When they emerged from the creek oaks and cottonwoods, the plains remained cloaked. Stars cast no light on this moonless night, but lone campfires topped the hills. Sarah asked, “Why are people in small camps? I thought they were afraid to sleep outside groups.”
“Nah, those are the fires warning where the ridges are.” Nancy Jane whistled and her horse nickered in return. “Ready, Sarah? Let’s ride the plains and let the Otoe night signals light our way.”
Lake Gitchi Gumee erodes the shore wave by endless wave. Ringed-bill lake gulls careen wide circles, wings spread. A loon trills from water so vast as to hide the fowl rolling in waves, but occasionally the sun slants just so, and a loon appears to be fast-paddling like a vessel full of rowers all in sync. The land giving way to water is part of the synchronization of the whole mass, a geological cycle that refuses to conform to state park boundaries or nostalgic memories of generational Kumbaya campfire singers.
Bit by bit I have frayed.
No one beach facing the endless waves maintains its original shoreline. Was it ever original? Maybe it’s just a memory of what was compared to now what is. When you visited the shore as a child, it’s not the same shoreline you visit as an adult. You are not the same, either. Yet mainstream media sells us on an ideal of “anti-aging.” It’s ridiculous. You only stop aging the day you die and even then you molder. Who I am now is not who I was a year ago.
When I packed for camping I thought at worst it would be until September. I grabbed two pairs of jeans, four t-shirts, a flannel and a sweatshirt. Wisely, I brought all my underclothes. Two pairs of Keens, my good turquoise pair and my ratty hiking ones, seemed enough shoes. I had to buy socks when it turned cold (even Mars slips away from the sun). A small wardrobe is like a sandy hill over the Great Lake, use after use, launder after launder, all fades and frays.
Internally I cracked before the storm ever began. Like a cowardly fisherman confronted with the weather report, I retreated. No way, give me some warm slippers, a comfy couch and popcorn; I’ll sit this one out. Like any hero’s journey, I refused the call. A year later when I should be due some elixir, I’m still stunned I made the journey. We intended to head to Michigan last year, to go to Rock Creek and Kansas along the way, to meet up with friends and family. But our vessel leaked and our path wandered.
We shipwrecked on Mars, broke-down in Gallup among the Great Indian Nations. How does one remain the same after endless waves?
And yet a beach is still a beach. A cliff recedes and still remains a cliff. I listen to the waves and the occasional tremolo of the loons, recognizing I am yet who I am, and I am becoming who I will be. Where does one’s energy go after the body fails? Ideas, emotions, intellect cannot simply dissipate. Sit still long enough and you can feel the impression of a place left by others. You can feel it in your own DNA. Did I ever have a grandmother dance wildly in Mali? Can I still see the highlands my Scots grandmothers left? Does Danish hygge offer me the comfort of grandmothers before me? Does my rebellious Basque grandmother still rise in me?
Lacking any Native American DNA, I also lack the blood of conquerors — I’m not Spanish, French or English, but I’m many cultures dominated by the three. My ancestors were chained to the galleons, endentured after lost battles, and endured hardships of famine and loss. It’s without a doubt my ancestors were always striving, reaching to pluck the promised fruit, the fabled gold pavers. Luckless? I don’t believe in it. Hard-working? Without a doubt. Stubborn? Just a wee bit.
I ponder these things as my frayed edges catch in the breeze. Soon it will be Independence Day and I no longer know what that means to me. Gallup was patriotic. The town served in military wars despite the injustices its communities suffered. They were proud to serve America, united. Here, in the wilderness of a copper country in the Michigan U.P., the least skilled of the immigrant copper miners remain — the White Finns. They are patriotic in skewed ways — believing the cities are breeding terrorists, and that Trump is their savior, many turn to fundamentalism and patriotism in ways I find strange. They are frayed and wanting a mender.
Here beats the heart of America who has failed to examine her social injustices and buries it beneath a false image of greatness-returning. And one of the top universities in the nation thrives here, a holdover from its origins in 1885 as a mining technology institution. Now it is an engineering beacon with a majority of its students international. Professors, students and those who’ve built engineering firms in the beauty they found while at school create a vibrant yin to the yang of what remains.
Not to dismiss what remains of the mining culture. They are no different from my own rural roots. Hardworking and stubborn folks who believe they’ll get ahead, but generation after generation they work to pull wealth from the ground for others. They turn a fierce faith to God and get a jump on the judgement they believe is coming. Apostolic Lutherans. Firstborn Laestadians. Not my kin or kindred spirits, but I recognize the determination to not fray.
Thus I give in to the fraying.
I don’t want this year to harden me. I don’t want to become poured cement to prevent change, or fear the erosion, the synchronicity of wearing down, energy against energy. I want to lift my wrists to the wind and let the frayed cuffs of my sweatshirt fly, release my frayed soul to life yet to be and accept a new weave, one the wind might direct or the waves carve. I note the heart at my cuff and know good things come out of unraveling. It’s our fear of change of going through hard processes that convince us the garment must be tossed and proper seams displayed. I have become the fray. And who knows what is coming next.
Carrot Ranch has finally come to a resting juncture. A few internet hiccups, rectified as of today. Know there are still places where hot spots and boosters do not work. Even Mars and Elmira Pond had better receptivity. I’m now connected, and Operation Stabilization has officially commenced today. We met with a true advocate at the U.P. Vet Center, an energetic female Captain (Airborne, too) who has no problem understanding or reaching Sgt. Mills (Airborne Ranger). Another counselor I met a few days ago also works with vets and understands their filters which gave me peace through validation.
I’ve not been here long, but already I have a community and the support of my grown kids (Rock Climber is now living in Svolbard, Norway and the other two and partners are up nort’ here, ay). I’m most grateful to the community who has traversed this year with me or has fearlessly joined up during the crazy trail ride.
This is a safe space to craft, draft and connect. Come as you are, write as you are and let your frayed edges fly. Let’s get the saddle show started this week — writers on your mark…get set…go…!
June 29, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about something frayed. It could be fabric, like a flag or garment. It could also be nerves or temper. What is it to be frayed?
Respond by July 4, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published July 5). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Let Freedom Ring (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
“I heard her husband led the Palmetto Guard.”
“He murdered free-staters on raids.”
Mary McCanles walked bare-headed through the crowd with her basket, ignoring the fine women in stiff bonnets deep enough to hide wrinkles and scowls.
She settled on the quilt her daughter Lizza spread. A gray-haired woman herself, Lizza smiled broadly and attended several Otoe-Missouri papooses. Though frayed, it was Mary’s treasured marriage quilt.
“I love babies, Mama!”
“You are good with them, Daughter.” Mary dared anyone say anything to Lizza. Born a blue baby, she was often ridiculed. Not today.
“Ain’t Independence Day grand, Mama?”
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.
Someone has propped a frail and wrinkled woman on a metal folding chair by the entrance to Earl’s diner. The folds in her face are deep, like an dried apple doll I once saw in a folk museum. Her white hair is piled on her head in Navajo style, and she seems shrunken with thin arms drawn up. Her dress is traditional Navajo and I approach her with the respect due an elder. She’s selling beaded medicine bags and has a few dollars and quarters on her display tray.
“Ya’at’eeh.” I cringe at how poorly I form the greeting in my mouth, hoping she doesn’t take offense.
Softly, I hear her words, clicks and sounds I don’t understand. I kneel beside her and she touches her hand with bent fingers to each bag. I hear clearly, “$45.” More clicks, more explanation in Navajo, her hand on the next bag. “$45.”
I shake my head. I don’t have the money and won’t dishonor her by offering her $10, the only bill I have.
She moves on to each bag, “$45.”
“They’re beautiful. Thank you for letting me look.”
Then her hand with the bent fingers taps the change on her tray. With the saddest eyes she looks right at me and says, “All I have.” If it weren’t illegal to nab a woman from the streets, I’d have picked her right up and given her room in my RV, adopting a forever Grandmother. How could I leave her there? We gaze into each other’s eyes. Wiley old woman. Her black eyes twinkle. She knows she has me.
A younger woman, as in 70 not 240, steps up and begins to talk in Navajo and I’m let off the hook. As I walk away I hear another woman click in the Navajo way, but say in English, “I’d have offered you $35.” I smile. Humor in this culture is subtle, polite and true. Inside Earl’s I catch up with the Hub and we take a table in the full restaurant. Earl’s is the heart of Gallup. No matter which reservation or pueblo you come from, this is where you go. I’m aware that we are the only Anglo faces. Bilagaanas.
What is it to be a minority? Is it about culture, skin tone, position of power? I don’t feel like a minority in Gallup, the Indian Capital of the World. It’s not so much a reflection of my own sense of being, but that I feel welcome although a stranger to these parts. No one stares, or glares. I don’t hear snide comments or feel dehumanization of the other. Those are disconnecting experiences for any marginalized group. Toas musician, Robert Mirabal, sings a sad song about the disconnection that leads to the high rate of suicide among Native youth:
“Can you take it away,
can you kiss it away,
can you take it away,
can you kiss it away…
I’m the mirror that reflects all…”
I’m the mirror that reflects the forgotten and disenfranchised in America. I know what it is to feel alone and broken. I can recognize the brokenness around me in a place called Earl’s. And what I mirror is not disconnectedness, but acceptance, beauty and strength. There’s no pretense here. No one is on a diet, recovering from plastic surgery or driving the latest luxury car advertised for discerning tastes. I don’t know the stories seated around me, but I know they are rich with love and loss, pain and beauty. Beauty, not suffering. Recently a veteran therapist said to me and the Hub, “Pain in life is inevitable; suffering optional.” To me beauty is taking that pain and working it into something meaningful and connected.
Not everyone understands.
Since becoming stranded in Gallup, we’ve come to know that this is a busy RV park for travelers going elsewhere. This is not the destination. We’re the odd ducks who stay longer than a recovery day or two from driving what was once Route 66, America’s Main Street. Gallup emerged as an overnight hub for travelers going to LA from Chicago. Old motels with peeling paint and faded signs line the old Route 66 strip. Trading posts that once attracted tourists on the road now sell Chinese-made knock-offs online. Others sell plastic beads to local artists. A recent RV neighbor told us she went downtown and there was “nothing.” Gallup has nothing is a common phrase we hear from travelers.
Gallup has warrior-artists, people who battle the pain of displacement, irrelevance and poverty to produce visual treasures. I’m razzle-dazzled like the ghosts Mirabal sings of, “The dawn has come…” At Earl’s I anticipate the dawn, the parade of “sellers” as they are called, walking through the diner with their trays full of their art. Different genders, different generations, different clans or tribes. Each artist expresses their own designs, stamps artist initials to distinguish authenticity and politely shows what they have for sale. I’ve become curious to know about their designs, meanings and stories. I’m the literary artist seeking shades of words to tell the tale.
“It’s the sunset,” he leans in to tell me as if disclosing a secret. I’m chatting over a full cup of coffee with the Hopi man who makes pottery in traditional colors (black and white or red and black with white accents). Yet he has a few pieces with non-traditional hues. The one that catches my curiosity is a red clay pot with a band the color of butter circling its middle. Above lavender darkens to purple. Below is a band of dark green like mesquite. When he says it’s the sunset, I see it. I’ve seen it out my RV door. I can’t buy the pot but neither can I un-see the gift of its beauty, the sharing of its intent.
“Hey!” At the loud and friendly voice I turn to see my favorite silversmith. She’s the artist who walks to town on her Goodyear tires, in joking reference to her tennis shoes. KJ was the first artist we met and today she makes us feel like family. “You still here?”
“Still no transmission,” I say and she commiserates with us a moment then shows me her near empty tray.
“Sold ’em all. Ha! I better go make more!”
I’m happy for her. It’s like running into an author with a near-empty box of novels at a book fair. She tells us her son, one of three children serving in the military, has shipped out to Korea. Suddenly, politics have become real. How many patriots has this community lost? I’ve seen the profusion of American flags snapping in the wind at every cemetery we’ve passed on the reservations. Gallup is also known as the Most Patriotic Town in America. Home of Code-Talkers, medal recipients, those who gave their lives in service. It’s not a populist patriotism. It’s dedicated, honorable and non-partisan.
We don’t eat out often and usually we make it our one meal of the day, snacking on cheese and crackers or PBJs later. We don’t come for the food but for the community, the connection. I’ve ordered meatloaf, comfort food. The menu describes it as Spanish, which means it will have a red or green chili sauce. It wasn’t specified. In New Mexico chilis come green or red. You have to be careful. Red is actually mild. Green can blow your head off, especially if it has chunks of bright green chilis. Christmas is not just a holiday in New Mexico; it’s a combination or red and green chilis.
“Excuse me, I overheard you are having transmission troubles,” says the man at the next table, who had been quietly chatting with two women in Navajo. Turns out he’s a diesel mechanic. He and the Hub discuss the transmission and how to solve our problem. I listen, interject and continue to watch the walking art show.
Then my salad arrives and I’m transported to my roots. I’d ordered Thousand Island, a dressing not often on menus. Now I’m tasting the Thousand Island dressing of cowboys, a Depression-era recipe of ketchup thinned with mayo. It then occurs to me that meatloaf is also a Depression-era recipe, extending ground beef with saltine crackers. I once thought I grew up with traditional recipes, but now I’m facing the truth of that tradition — it’s poor food. I don’t mean the food is poor, I mean the people consuming it know poverty. The farmers, the fruit pickers, the Oakies, the Mexicans, the ranch hands, the transient. And I know why I’m struggling with the pain of my situation. It’s the shame of my impoverished roots.
I’m the mirror that reflects all. I realize my comfort in what should be a strange culture. We find comfort in poor food. We’ve gathered in a restaurant to pay money to eat poor food! The foodie in me wants to gasp and run away. Certainly for the same amount of money I can go buy some gourmet ingredients at the Gallup Safeway and whip up something tastier, fancier, richer. Instead, I own it. With absolute relish I eat my runny dressing, dig into my meatloaf with red chili sauce next to mashed potatoes with brown gravy and relish my plain pinto beans.
The beans I savor. Bare naked dried pintos hard boiled at least a day. This was the staple of my childhood kitchen. When you bite a boiled pinto, the fiber releases a distinct bean flavor. My grandmother grew these beans, dried them and boiled them with cloves of garlic. Even better, is to fry these beans in lard, mashing them as they fry. Refried beans. Mana of every westerner. Edward Abbey writes about refried beans and every initiate to the West eats them as the “Edward Abbey diet.” It’s my go-to. I always have a can of refried beans and a packet of corn masa tortillas. A little jack cheese and I’m transported to my comfort zone.
To realize this connection between my childhood and the those around me, I feel like I belong. Earl’s would not be the kind of restaurant I would have written about in my food column years ago, but it has given me a valuable insight. I’m no longer ashamed of my poor food roots. In fact, I didn’t realize I was and I’m pleased to have extracted that awareness. It brings me back to Mirabal when he sings about the burn of conflict we all feel because no one escapes walking in two worlds.
There’s the world represented by the ancient Navajo woman outside, the medicine world. Call it your spirituality, your Christianity, your Muslim or Hindi faith, your atheism. It’s your inner beliefs, your culture, your desire to know who you are and why you are. Mirabal says it has a dance, a language, the music and the arts. It’s all the beautiful things. The other world is that of confusion and computers, of cars and telephones. It’s chaos and yet we need it. He shouts, “Do you feel that burn of conflict? DO YOU FEEL THAT BURN OF CONFLICT? Yeah, I thought you did…” But then he prays for the next generation that their paths and transitions will be smoother, easier and that their fires will burn with hope, desire and love. “Do you feel that love? DO YOU FEEL THAT LOVE…”
Like the Taos People we live with our angels and demons. This is the dance between pain and beauty. Push into the fire, extract your art.
One concern I have as a writer it is that of right. What do I have the right to write? I’m all about diversity in books and making the literary arts available to all cultures. But do I have the right to write about other cultures? This was a topic at BinderCon LA in 2014. The grievous act is that of perpetuating stereotypes in fiction. In memoir, the concern is where does our story end and invade the privacy of another? I’m not sure I have the answer, but I’ll do my best to kneel in respect and try to understand. I’ll look for connections and common ground. I’ll share handshakes, art and laughter. I’ll be me and recognize you.
Writing Ike’s best friend, Michael Robineaux, as Native American initially felt uncomfortable to me. It wasn’t gratuitous. It was to honor a teenage sweetheart whose uncles had all been Marines. We worked together at a state park and he drove me crazy with all his boyish teasing. I didn’t know until later that he had wanted to ask me to be his girlfriend. I would have liked that, but I think we were both shy in that regard. I knew even as a teen that Natives were proud to serve in the military and I wanted to find a way to recognize that, thus my character’s creation.
What helps with developing any character is to think of him or her outside the frame of the story. What was childhood like? Did he move around or never leave until military service? What’s his favorite book, or does he like to fish after work? Is he neat or untidy? Who is his sister? What’s their relationship like? Does he hate a certain band? Why? And what food did he grow up with? What brings him comfort, or feels familiar?
May 4, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about comfort food. How can this familiarity influence a story or character? Is it something unusual, like Twinkies from the 1970s? Or is it something from home, from another place or time? Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by May 9, 2017 to be included in the compilation (published May 10). Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
Normal Tastes (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
“Tobasco Sauce?” Danni sat down with Michael and sprinkled her eggs liberally.
“I tasted it once on raw oysters, and it was not pleasant. Might have been the oysters, though.”
“I love fried oysters. If we ever ate out as a kid, we’d go to the Red Lion in Elko. I’d have liver and onions or fried oysters.”
“No hamburger and fries like a normal kid?”
“Nope, but if I’m to eat slimy things I like them peppered, breaded and fried.”
“Hmm.” Michael sprinkled two dots of sauce on his eggs. “Not sure I like food that bites back.”
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.
Step right up and gaze upon the amazing feats of writers: 99 word stories from birth and reconciliation to phonetic and Freudian slips. If there was one thing Buffalo Bill Cody was known for, that was a show demonstrating amazing feats of riders.
Here we celebrate the written literary accomplishments of the Rough Writers & Friends.
The following stories are based on the September 14, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about an amazing feat. We hope you read and say, “Wow!”
Niagara by Jeanne Lombardo
The rapids appeared along the side of the road, sidling swift and headlong into my consciousness. What had I expected: the Falls with no river?
An hour earlier you sobbed in my arms. The world can be dark at twenty-four, but why bludgeon yourself with your mistakes?
In the visitor center we read of Annie Taylor, who, in 1901, at sixty-three years of age, plunged over the Horseshoe Falls in a mattress-lined barrel clutching a heart-shaped pillow. She lived but failed to wreak material success.
You see my sweet, it’s not the spectacle but the living that’s the feat.
By a Century by Elliott Lyngreen
I NEVER REACHED Elsie Maxwell; and, in tragic places she neatly understood in uncurious browns and gross hair, in her plain tights she wore without needing explanation, which sent her a century ahead from such apathy I impressed by not expressing anything;
In flashing glints through moments she excitedly, too peripherally, fast-forward, stung her psyche; excessive chattering; tilted me into preoccupation and distracted nerves split at the ends;
I will never know Elsie Maxwell (save for thee age with the only available thoughts to surely think we would last 1000 years – that Elsie reached, before she was there).
Flash Fiction by Gordon Le Pard
The skull arrived on the wedding day, all through the ceremony he thought about it.
Was it a primitive human? was it an ape? All agreed it was incredibly old and that more of the skeleton had to be found.
In the quarry where it had been discovered, the manager pointed out the blocked cave and the search began. After several weeks fragments of bone were discovered, the palaeontologist was ecstatic.
“What is it?” the manager asked, looking at the tiny scraps of bone.
“The feet, the amazing feet.” He replied in delight, “It walked upright, it was human!”
And that, oh best beloved was, more or less, how Australopithecus, mankind’s most primitive ancestor, was discovered.
The Efforts of Three by Paula Moyer
Still more pushing? Jean had no more to give. Fourteen hours of labor, pushing for two. No baby.
Shift change. New nurse-midwife. New point of view.
“OK. When you feel the contraction, push here.” The midwife, Mary Jo, put her hand on the place.
A new wave came. “Yes! Here!” Mary Jo cheered her on. Next contraction, the midwife was in the bed, Jean’s foot on her ribcage to widen the pelvis. “I can feel the head.” She grabbed Jean’s hand to touch the wet lump emerging.
Then the whole, crying baby.
“Lydia Marie!” Jean crowed. “Come to Mama!”
One Small Step by Norah Colvin
Everything she had ever done was preparation for this moment. All eyes were on her. The audience’s expectation was palpable, bolstering her determination. She pulled herself up to full height and looked around, smiling. The audience waited. She checked the positioning of her feet, and her balance. She held up one hand, signifying that an attempt was imminent. She put one foot forward; then raised the other hand as she brought her back foot alongside the first. She paused, poised, momentarily. Immediately cameras clicked and cheers erupted. After two more steps, she launched, triumphant, into her father’s waiting arms.
Feats by Irene Waters
“What’s ya doin’?” John ruffled his grandson’s head.
“I’m doing feats.” Jason barely glanced up from his game.
“I’m acquiring feats. If I meet the prerequisite for the feat then I can work at gaining it.”
“I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Dungeons and Dragons Pa. Don’t you know anything.”
“Yep. I know in my day Feats were Little Feat. Dixie Chicken just brilliant but then the big feat, Feats Don’t fail me now was a mind boggling feat. Every one of the band was showcased at his best. Yep. Those sure were feats to remember.”
From Death, Rebirth by Geoff Le Pard
Paul studied the hairy knuckles. He looked at the lined face: unmistakably Leon Patrick. How many years? 20? He felt the strong grip. ‘You good?’
Memories flooded back; that hand pulling him down, those knuckles swelling his lip. He nodded.
‘Probably too late to say sorry, Paul, but anyway. Sorry.’
Paul looked up. Genuine concern looked back. Anxious too.
‘Funny, you know, remembering what I did. That got me into anger management.’ Leon began to turn. ‘I’d better go.’
Paul stopped him. ‘Drink?’
An hour later they still talked. Amazing, they said, how Jerry’s death had brought some closure.
Reconciliation by Sarrah J Woods
Mary was cutting her dog’s hair in the yard when an old blue pickup truck turned into the driveway below and started up the hill. She frowned. Who was this? “Go inside, please,” she called to her son, who was playing nearby.
As the truck crunched up the gravel drive, she gasped. Surely it couldn’t be him, after all these years. How long had it been?
The truck stopped and her father got out. Mary stared confusedly at his white hair, his trembling hands.
“Hi Mary. You look good,” he stammered. “I just wanted to say…well, I was wrong.”
Card Trick by Larry LaForge
“Pick a card,” Ed said confidently. “Any card.”
Edna complied, looking at her card without showing Ed. As instructed, she slid it face down toward him.
Ed reinserted Edna’s card into the deck and reshuffled several times while spouting some nonsensical words. He spread the deck on the table, closed his eyes, selected one card and showed it.
“Edna, my dear,” Ed proclaimed with flair. “This is NOT your card.”
“Wow,” Edna feigned. “That’s amazing. Can you do it every time?”
Ed looked around, leaning in as he whispered: “Almost. It seems to work about 98% of the time.”
Options by Bill Engelson
Dobbs made the calculations. He held a losing hand. To survive, he
would need at least two sharpshooters. And quickly.
Aggie Runacre was still at the Taylors.
He made his case. “They will ravage the town. Men like these…”
“Henry’s a crack shot,” Merle said. “Or so he tells me.”
“Then fetch him,” Dobbs directed. “And he might know of one more man with a deadly eye…”
“Man?” questioned Aggie.
Dobbs and Merle looked at her. She had their attention. “I have my late brother’s Spencer Repeating rifle, Mr. Dobbs…and I’ve been known to shoot a snake or two.
When He Was Young and Innocent (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Hickok crossed his arms and drew his pistols, shooting the tossed sardine can. Nancy Jane howled with laughter, but Sarah frowned.
“Don’t you like my neat trick,” he asked, feigning hurt.
“I’m studying your grip,” said Sarah.
“Grip? What are y’all serious about now,” asked Nancy Jane.
“Why do you wear your guns backwards?”
Hickok returned each pistol to his red hip scarf, butts facing out. “It’s how I learned to cross draw. Fastest way to sling guns.”
Sarah nodded. “Ever shoot anyone?”
Hickok drew again, twirling the pistols. “Nah,” he said with a smile that reached his eyes.
It Takes Only Moments by Denise Marie
Her hands were bound behind her back. Yet, Ellen managed to tear her wrists loose of the rope that bound them. Her hands started to bleed as they scraped against the prickly twine. She had only seconds to untie her ankles and scurry toward the door before he came back. Her hands were shaking uncontrollably. He grabbed her on her walk home after class. No one would know she was gone for hours. Would she even be alive that long? She shook her head, knowing it was too much to think about right now, escaping, that was her goal.
Flash Fiction by Angela Dawson
A road trip for a writer is akin to soil to a gardener, it’s foundational.
We recently drove from Wisconsin to Oregon. The beauty of the mountains is unmatched. The land is breathtaking. The amazing feat is God’s awesome design.
But true to American irony, we saw her shadow side.
In the middle of our trip we faced racism in Bozeman, Montana.
Our truck broke down and we were refused service by local businesses. The truck is still in Montana three weeks later.
It’s curious how race creeps through every crevice of this nation, right through the Mountains.
Navigating Thorns by Ann Edall-Robson
What took you guys so long? You never listen to me. I told you to stay away from the wide open slopes. All the predators can see you. The gooseberry bush next door is the best way to travel. Takes a little longer navigating the spikes and thorns, but hey, it gets you up here without the worry of your life ending. Up here in God’s country. Where the sun shines and the nectar percolates from beneath the budding petals. The trip is gruelling, but so worth it when you make it to the top. Ant heaven. Peony buds.
Metamorphosis by Jules Paige
Finding a Monarch caterpillar is a feat in and of itself with the
scarcity of the species. When one has children…who play in the
dirt and bring home bugs, you get some interesting chances to
watch nature unfold.
One summer the caterpillar was found, brought inside,
carefully handled, housed, doted on, feed all the milkweed it
could eat everyday as well as provided with a roosting stick.
It is an amazing thing to watch the cocoon be strung. And then
to wait (seemingly as if forever) for the Monarch butterfly to
unfold…And then to set it free.
Speed Dial by Anne Goodwin
Phone clamped to my ear, I throw clean underwear into a bag. I hate to miss her birthday, but Gill will understand. Grabbing my toothbrush, I blurt out what I know. The idiot’s done it again. I’ve got to go. There’s no-one else.
Silence at the other end. Why doesn’t she speak?
“The idiot?” A man’s voice? Offended. How could I call him instead of Gill?
“Sorry!” I cringe to think I’ve hurt him. “I didn’t mean it.”
But I did. “We need to talk about this.” Time he got some proper help. Stopped relying on me.
The First Trick (from Miracle of Ducks) by Charli Mills
Bubbie sat, quivering. His brown eyes crossed to gaze at the biscuit perched on his snout. Nostrils flared, and thin drool hung from his lips. Danni backed away and the children in the clearing held still. No one spoke. Then Danni gave a command and Bubbie snatched the biscuit with his darting tongue. The children erupted into cheers.
Mrs. Gunnerson held up her hand for silence and order returned to the fourth-grade field trip. “Listen up, children. Dr. Gordon and her archaeology dog will lead you to the park petroglyphs.”
Danni exhaled, grateful for the dog that was her ice-breaker.
Hat Trick (Jane Doe Flash Fiction) by Deborah Lee
“We’d like to offer you the position. “
Jane almost drops her phone. Emotions flood her bloodstream: relief, amazement, gratitude – and a whole new nervousness.
She did it. She beat out the younger, fresh-faced, idealistic, just-graduated twenty -somethings. It’s only a file clerk job, but it’s a start. It’s a paycheck.
“Oh, thank you!”
Her mind races over hygiene and wardrobe logistics. Shower at the gym. An outfit for each weekday at the thrift store. She should have just enough money. If she can keep anyone from finding out she’s homeless until she isn’t anymore, that will be the trick.
In America, mangoes taste like cucumbers. And I’m an angry American with my full frowny-face exposed for all the world to see. Many tell me to cover up my anger. “Don’t be angry,” or “You can’t let it anger you.” From where I’m sitting, I can see things are not just in my nation. Skin color, uniforms, politics, bathrooms, mass shootings — I can’t keep up with the toilet paper and bullets; the NPR commentary and social media trends. I’m even following Brexit and then a truck in France kills Bastille Day revelers.
Has the world gone mad?
Or do we have an unchecked anger issue among humanity? When I can’t understand what is happening or what is another person’s experience, I look for commonality. What have I experienced that makes it something I can relate to? I can easily speak to my own anger and I think it holds a clue. Anger is often denied, misdirected and disconnected. We don’t embrace our anger.
We live in a time of extremes. At any given moment, around the world, we can access media. Even homeless in the Inland Pacific Northwest, I wander with a cell phone. Digital screens are everywhere and news is 24/7. One news program I listened to (because I also have a radio in my car) explained how the world was “out there” but now we live it. Yet in this time of open communication, we seem to do less communicating.
One extreme is that of disparity. We might all have cell phones (in the US there is even a government program to give struggling low income Americans free cell phones), but not homes. The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty estimates that 3.5 million Americans are likely to experience homelessness in a given year. It’s further estimated that up to 600,000 veterans a night go homeless. Rural homelessness is defined by living in a car or camper. Welcome to my summer of homelessness; a temporary condition, according to the experts. And the source of my anger.
I’m angry because I had a home and home-office. My rent ratio was high in accordance to my income as a writer, but I never missed my rent payment. Nor did I damage the property or conduct illegal activity. Instead, I blogged about my home, weeded and gardened, took care of the resident cat, and welcomed several writers to stay. I’m angry that it currently sits vacant because the owners think it will sell better that way. I’m angry because the property managers have not paid back our security deposit. I’m angry because of the disparity between what is affordable in a rural community and what is available. I’m angry that despite the number or organizations that accept government funding, there is a lack of practical help. I’m angry over how dehumanizing the experience is and the assumptions people make, the ignorant blame.
What surprises me is the number of people who attempt to diffuse my anger. Yeah, I get it — I don’t like listening to my bellyaching either, and I’d rather be writing about magnificent blue herons and cotton-candy sunsets, about history and interesting characters. But my circumstances call for outrage. What has happened to me has happened to others. In fact, rural homelessness is called a silent epidemic. Yet, according to a 2009 National Coalition for the Homeless, the US government has invested 1.5 billion dollars to reduce homelessness. These programs are known to poorly serve rural communities and overlook front-end and support services needs.
And that’s been my experience. We are now officially counted among the veteran homeless and our camper was deemed uninhabitable. But no one from the service organizations or veterans groups helped us. None advocated for us to our landlord. Imagine the impact of a letter from an official; it might have made the owners rethink giving us the boot. There is no consequence to landlords contributing to rural homelessness. There is no incentive for property managers to offer rents that match rural wages. There is no re-education for veterans unless they fit some unlikely profile. I’m an angry homeless American writer married to an under-served disabled homeless vet.
So what the blazes does my anger have to do with my nation? First of all, I understand the frustration of extremes and disparity. I don’t crave to be wealthy; I just want what most people do — a comfortable, stable and happy home and satisfying work. I went to college to be a writer, I enjoy writing, yet I’m angry that writers are under paid and under valued. Many in my nation have experienced these same disparities — jobs in urban areas that are predominately black do not pay the same as jobs elsewhere. A good friend of mine who is a woman of color and highly educated explained to me how black business professionals are often sought from other regions to fill corporate equality quotas while ignoring the minorities in their area to keep them from rising beyond their circumstances.
And for black America, these are circumstances that have been long-suffering. Consider authority. First, Africans were enslaved and under the authority of slave trade. Then under the authority of slave owners. Then under the authority of Jim Crow laws. And under the authority of laws and those who apply them. I’m not a person of color, but if my homeless experience is anything like the battle for civil rights among black Americans, I understand the anger. Unlike those experiencing homelessness, the black communities across America are coming together in their anger to protest what they have experienced.
Yet, I have many police officers in my circle of family and friends. The men and women I know are good citizens and uphold the laws, often under stressful circumstances. The police see a different side of society. They see what is broken, abused and drugged. If soldiers experience PTSD, why not police officers? I know what undiagnosed PTSD can look like and what if we are ignoring an entire profession and denying them help because we don’t want to admit that being a police officer is stressful? I worry for my family and friends who serve their communities. But I don’t feel angry over their situation as a whole.
There is a disparity between between cops and blacks. As to answers, I don’t have any, but I can understand the anger on one side and the duty on the other. And in the midst of this mess, toss in the arguments for or against who uses which bathroom and the question of how are we incubating mass shooters. In between are a myriad of other injustices big and small. Teachers chastise parents to suck it up and buy their kids all those school supplies and parents belittle the profession of teachers. Breast-feeding mothers feud with bottle-feeding mothers. Skinny women dis fat women, and no one understands the different disorders that others have. We deny anger yet we seem to be angry about petty issues.
Anger is polarizing us.
It is healthy to describe and attribute one’s anger. It’s not healthy to stay there, but it does need validation to move on. When we deny our own anger or that of another, we tend to misdirect the emotion. It doesn’t just go away. Snark is often anger coming out sideways to mask the real issue. If you can’t claim your anger, you can’t find a solution. Taking an us-versus-them stance is another way to mask anger. The problem with all this denied and misdirected anger is that it’s also superficial. We don’t go deep; we stay shallow.
You might be wondering why I’m angry that mangoes in America taste like cucumbers. I’m not. It was something I heard on NPR, and the person who said it wasn’t angry either. My point is disconnection. Americans seem to claim anger not really their own. Instead of looking within for reflection and understanding, Americans seems to be looking outside and expressing disconnected anger. I can understand my friend, the woman I mentioned earlier, expressing anger over what is happening in her black community. I don’t understand another friend who is expressing anger in regards to something she hasn’t experienced and yet she scolds me not be angry over my current circumstances.
And who knows what deep-seated anger or other emotions drive the actions of mass shooters or assassins or truck drivers who could stomach running over humans.
Writers, we need you more than ever! We need you to connect emotion to intellect, to express the experiences of one group to be understood by another. And literature has a unique way of doing so without polarization or sermonizing. Fiction has a place in making the world see where it has gone mad. One reader at a time until we all start thinking critically; allowing emotions to be acknowledged and processed; feeling empathy for the other; humanizing our human experiences.
My heart breaks for those experiencing the pain of lost loved ones to violence. May our anger or denial of it never escalate to such human tragedy.
July 13, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story using the emotion of anger. You can express it without naming it, or write a story about it. Challenge yourself to think about how we accept or deny anger. Is there a warning? Is there a resolution? You can write humorously, seriously or ironically about anger.
Respond by July 19, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
I’ll post my flash in the comments. We are headed back to Spokane tomorrow for a VA appointment and an interview at a local college. My greatest appreciation for those who have helped me and Todd in our season of homelessness. If you want to help us with repairs to our trailer and the installation of a desk and office chair you can donate, but please don’t feel you need to. Carrot Ranch is for you, the writers. We are managing and have been helped to make it this far. I might be angry, but I’m also grateful to those of you who show up to write, read and discuss here.