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June 18: Flash Fiction Challenge
My peonies and poppies are in perfect balance this year in the potager garden — softball-sized blooms of fuchsia framed by papery petals of burgundy and coral. I’m not as balanced but blooming nonetheless. My timing is off, driven by unscheduled chaos and income opportunities. Mostly, it’s all unfolding but less elegant than my flowers.
Mause is banned from the summer office, having romped through my hummingbird boxes. To her credit, she didn’t step on any flowers but I can’t allow her to chase bumbles and birds in a space I created for such winged critters. Anyhow, she prefers to stretch out across lawn, dandelions, and fleabane (and, yes, this native perennial lives up to its name).
She’s smart about her leash and outdoor cable. She knows the limit of each lead’s length. It’s the exact premise by which we, as writers, accept a constraint (99 words) and create within that framework. Mause can chase a witch’s hat I fly like a kite at the end of a gardening bamboo stick and never hit the end of her leash. It amazes me how she can stay laser focused and yet within her parameters.
Yes, I’m taking notes, Mause.
Sometimes, we have to reconfigure our framework. Maybe we get used to writing 99-words but we want to submit a 1,000-word story, write a novel, or practice haiku. Our first step is to develop a sense for how much space we have to shrink or expand a story. At its most basic, a story begins, meanders, and ends. Someone does something and there is a final consequence. A story take place somewhere — in Italy, on Venus, or in the mind of an ant. If we bemoan our parameters, our limitations, we miss the fantastical creativity that can happen within.
It comes down to balance. Being off-balance doesn’t mean we need immediate remedy. When situations, stories, or surprises leave us feeling lopsided we can explore the experience. So, you might say, I’m learning yoga post-MFA as a veteran spouse in a downward spiral. If ever there was a time I needed my pack, my Warrior Sisters, it is now. No one else has the insight on veteran spouse yoga.
However, the Pandemic has treated us harshly. We lost one of our strongest warriors to cancer. Another lost her husband. Three of us have had struggles with our spouses and no VA support because the system assumes our soldiers are right in the head when clearly they are not. “What the veteran wants,” is a refrain we hear when they refuse meds, treatments, or diagnoses. Three others are hanging on by their fingernails. We have not all met up together in over a year.
Today, my Warrior Sisters gathered and listened to me wail over my loss of Vet Center Services because of my husband’s ill-timed actions, lack of comprehension, and worsening aggression. The system is messed up. The system is not for the veteran families. Even though divorce is considered one of the symptoms of what soldiers experience in service (they are 60 percent more likely to separate or divorce), it’s difficult to find support as a spouse. I can’t get Mary Gauthier’s song, War After the War, out of my head.
Who’s gonna care for the ones who care for the ones who went to war?
There’s landmines in the living room and eggshells on the floor
I lost myself in the shadow of your honor and your pain
You stare out of the window as our dreams go down the drain
Invisible, the war after the warMary Gauthier
After all my struggles to complete a novel about a soldier’s wife, in the end, I wrote one about a soldier’s wife who found her pack. “I’m a soldier too, just like you, serving something bigger than myself.” (M. Gauthier) Having other women to share experiences with is akin to soldiers sharing with other soldiers. We might be invisible, but we witness each other. More important, we compare notes. The impact of PTSD and TBI on an aging brain is common yet commonly ignored. Getting to meet outside official doors calmed my despair. I’m still a BAB. And a writer. I told my pack today, I already had the opening line to Danni’s sequel, and we all howled with laughter.
I got this yoga move.
As for stretching myself in other directions, I’ve been updating resumes, CVs, submitting applications, following up on references, following leads on projects and clients, and tackling business tasks. I’m completely revamping my social media strategy, but don’t ask me yet what that is. I had lively debates with peers in school, which has led me to consider different platforms. We have many choices and in the long run, what will work best, how and why. I’m testing my flexibility.
Communities are excellent for networking because we know (and appreciate) one another. I’ve had offers to hand deliver my resume, explore their connections for work, and guide my attempts to branch out. Someone referred me to a family seeking an editor for their 93-year-old father and I mentored their process and quoted my rate for the project. I got the gig. Someone else told a local tribe that I’d be a good person to contact for a three-month project. They offered me the contract. My local SBA rep who has been working with me (patiently) helped me file LLC papers today so that I can clearly delineate between mission-based literary outreach at Carrot Ranch Literary Community and income-based work through Carrot Ranch, LLC.
I’m discovering new tools, too. When I arrived to the Keweenaw, I joined a business for creatives group called Rising Tide. I’m now using their HoneyBook tool to set up my contracts and projects. I’m exploring platforms like Trello to find one I can use for group coaching. And, I’m going through all the resources I gained from school to pull out what’s useful. I’m even practicing with sound recording to develop podcasts to interview Carrot Ranchers and experts to offer advice to the community.
I’m grateful for the supportive environment here. Be patient with me as I stretch, breathe, and seek a new life balance. If anyone were to ask me what I thought my purpose in life was, I’d say that I’m here to lift up others to find their purpose. I know I’m a storycatcher, a writer, a word/bird/rock/garden nerd, and I aspire to publish and teach. But really, it’s all about encouraging others to discover, grow and heal through literary art. That’s my purpose. I’m not timely right now, but bringing you this space at Carrot Ranch is a priority.
What better time, though, to seek balance than at the solstice. In the northern hemisphere, Summer Solstice is June 20; in the southern hemisphere, Winter Solstice is June 21. Around the world, day and night balance perfectly. May that mean something to you, magical or practical.
June 18, 2021, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that features a solstice. What is the era and setting? Use the solstice as a celebration, metaphor, or talking point. Go where the prompt leads!
Respond by June 22, 2021. Use the comment section below to share, read, and be social. You may leave a link, pingback, or story in the comments. If you want to be published in the weekly collection, please use the form. Rules & Guidelines.
Submissions now closed. Find our latest challenge to enter.
To Dance by Charli Mills
Maia met the girls at the Biting Fly for vodka shots. They toasted her ancestors, the ones who came from Finland with nothing but their knowledge of the old ways and hope for a new Finlandia in this place called America. They worked as mules in the copper mines and stayed after the boom busted. Maia, at 80-something, remembered her grandmother sharing childhood memories of the kokko, the massive community bonfire at Juhannus. Her girlfriends weren’t Finnish but they relished the hippie vibe of a solstice celebration on the beach. They swayed with men, and Maia danced with ghosts.
Author’s Note: The Toivola midsummer bonfires have been held at Agate Beach since the 1890s. This author is going on solstice to catch ghost stories.