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Truth is considered fundamental in writing memoir. The work of Smith and Watson show that memory is not an exact memory of the past event but the past combined with the present, differences in history and ideologies of the time so rather than memory being existential it is a construct and will vary at different times and places. Recent innovations in brain imaging have shown that autobiographical memory shares the same part of the brain as visual activity. It is possible that this explains why, when you visualise a scene vividly, even if it is not true, that this false memory will be added to autobiographical memory. As our remembering creates our identity, then, is our self a fiction?
For me, this is the most interesting part of memoir for I believe that memoir gives us our identity. Memoir, when used as a book genre, refers to a part of a life story that is well told truthfully from memory using techniques commonly used in fiction. I would argue, however, that we are all storytellers of our life story only most people don’t write them down. Instead, we tell anecdotes (a truthful story about a real incident or person). These, to my mind, are the equivalent of a memoir in aural form. They are stories, usually well told from memory about a portion of our life. These, I believe, give us our identity.
There are two facets to identity. There is our identity that can be researched by anybody. Our birthdate, our parents’ names and occupations, later our own occupations, marriages, divorces and even addresses can often be found if one has the desire to dig deeply enough. But does that give you your identity? For the authorities maybe but not for those that come in contact with us. It gives the what of your identity. The second facet is not researchable but rather it is our personality and character and these are found through our actions but predominantly through the stories we tell of ourselves and these give us the who of our identity.
Our parents give us our first pieces of identity. They give us not only our name but our first simple stories. “My daddy is a minister.” That little story had me labelled a goody two shoes, someone to be mindful of language around and friendships slow to make. My Dad also told funny stories which I know I would have repeated as in those very young days, I had no stories of my own to tell, and I most likely wanted to be like my daddy who I adored. I didn’t tell my mother’s stories as I wanted to be more like my father than my mother. I don’t know what the first story I told about myself was but if I assumed it was one I still tell — about being quarantined from school and filling in the time playing the leper from the bible, jumping out on unsuspecting passerbys and telling them they were going to catch the dreadful disease my mother had because I was a leper, I’m sure that for some my identity would have taken on one of a non-caring individual for some I regaled it to and for others I would have been labelled creative.
We are selective as to what stories we tell and those we keep close to our chest. Some we know that if we were to tell we would be seen in a bad light, and the who we are of our identity would take a battering. This part of our identity changes over time. As in reading a memoir the author’s journey is followed until it reaches a point where it is irrevocably changed because of something that happens. It is, as Charli discussed in her prompt preamble, the hero’s journey only we are the hero of the story, our own story. If our identity weren’t to change as a result of life events I think it would be a poor, shallow life we’ve led when we can’t learn and grow and change.
Do you still tell the same stories now that you told when you were 15? I know I have a period in my life that will forever be closed to public scrutiny. It was at the time and it is now. I didn’t tell it then and I don’t visit it now. We edit what we tell but even so the stories we do tell reek of our essence.
When writing memoir this can create a huge problem for the author when writing a second memoir. The readership of the first memoir may simply not like the identity which the author has become in the second book and a totally different market may be needed.
If you are not convinced that your stories gives you your identity that is fine. Consider however those people who have lost their stories. Those with brain injuries and those suffering dementia. Those without their stories become empty shells. They retain their name, their race and nationality but their identity fades until they are no longer the person that we once knew. When they no longer have their stories they no longer a made up person – a fictional self.
I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts on memoir and identity and hoping you will join in Times Past where this month we are looking at bicycles.
He shuffles across the rubble that bridges the 2nd Street drainage system of Ripley Creek. Wisps of white locks curl from beneath a baseball cap, and his t-shirt glows as white as if he reserves a brand new one for rare occasions. Spotting this reclusive Vietnam veteran hovering in what used to be the front yard of one of his neighbors feels like a sighting an elusive Sasquatch.
He hesitates and reminds me of a moth that bobs back and forth on my back porch, seeking entrance through the glass and darting away just as quickly. Like the lapping waves of Lake Superior on a hot calm day. Shy, uncertain but reaching out. Cynthia rises from the silt-covered floor of her gutted house, speaking his name in reverent tones.
As much as I want to dash out the front door and greet this rare neighbor, I hold back, letting Cynthia guide him up the front steps. I’ve heard much about the man. Cynthia has a big heart for the elderly. He lives alone in his mother’s old house down the street. When she first moved to Ripley, a girl in the neighborhood told her that the man’s house was haunted. The lights came on after midnight.
Like many who live in seclusion, this neighbor keeps odd hours. He is the only specter in his domain. Cynthia befriended him not in person but on social media. Although only one house separates them, they chat late at night on Facebook. She’s told me how brilliant he is, knowing much about music and art. Vietnam secluded him, fenced him off from community.
It’s a kind gesture on his part that’s he’s ventured well beyond his comfort zone to see if Cynthia is okay. With last night’s rain, Ripley Creek overflowed, washing away the sandbags along Cynthia’s house. We’re filling out applications for funding and trying to find immediate resources so Cynthia can get temporarily housed. It worries me when my friend is unsure of where she is sleeping each night.
It’s also troubling to wait on the dictates of others — no one has a permanent solution for the Ripley drainage and the elephant hunkered on the hill above our community is the unstable sand escarpment that can trigger more landslides. Powers that be monitor the temporary silt mitigation, but no one knows how to work together or even if Federal funding is coming.
Another neighbor, HockyPuck because he has the personality of one, strode by earlier, bragging about how the flood got him started on his home improvement projects early. He can afford to put his family up in a hotel and start repairs without care to grants, funding or donations. I heard he was brave the night of the landslide, rescuing his wife and children. But he refuses to give me an interview because he’s too busy.
I want to say I’m not interested in his story anyway. It’s the broken fences I find more interesting. Who cares about a fence that never breaks because it has all the resources and support it needs. Capitalism forgets that while some earn a comfortable life surrounded by ornate fences, most struggle. My friend and this gentle neighbor buckle beneath worry and real-life fears.
But everyone’s story matters. When collecting the stories of an event — or even here at the Ranch, the way we collect multiple stories on a single theme — different perspectives contribute to the greater story of us all. No one is to be excluded. No perspective matters more than others. It’s not about the best but the invitation to have your story heard.
My friend is not without her support network. In fact, the fence of human hands that surround her is amazing. All these hands, reaching out, pulling up. Even the Hub showed up with his truck to build weirs and fill sandbags. A few friends did the best they could do. I returned home to finish some paperwork for Cynthia, and that’s when I opened a portal to a long-held dream.
It came via email like Elvis popping up in a chat box.
You see, the dream is old — I wanted to be Indiana Jones. Not just an archeologist, but one who traveled and adventured. Who learned in the field and archives. Who taught college and wrote books. Oh, that was the original Big Dream! I even left my hometown to study archeology for a semester. It didn’t work out.
In 1998, I graduated from college ten years after my first failed attempt. Back then, to be a career author, one had to get an MFA. I could have been a contender! Instead, I chose to be a wife and mother, and I veered from the dream and used my creative writing degree in a marketing career.
I never lost touch with my literary roots and as I gained life experience, I better understood what the Big Dream meant to me. To be Indiana Jones, I had to be open to adventure, travel, and discovery. I’m not an archeologist, but I certainly excavate stories from the layers of the past. I’m now writing, and I’ve taught workshops for years. Not exactly college, but satisfying enough.
Until now. Until the pinch-me-Elvis-sighting moment.
I’ve written here before about my presentation to 1 Million Cups. Carrot Ranch Literary Community made the evening news, and many in the room warmed to the idea of storytelling and flash fiction as a tool. Already, I’m finishing up a small but mighty gig I landed from that presentation, coaching six entrepreneurs to craft their 10-minute pitches in a series of 99-word stories. Tomorrow they test-run their speeches.
Another organization met with me after the 1MC presentation to talk about workshops — Finlandia University. I toured their facility on campus where I can use conference rooms and the large hall for public workshops. It’s great space from intimate settings to large presentations. I shared my Curricula Vitae and received an unexpected response — had I ever considered teaching adjunct?
Short answer, yes! And quickly followed by the fact that I never went on to get my MFA, let alone my Ph.D. to complete the Big Dream. However, it was suggested that my CV was robust enough to waive the masters. I felt light like a butterfly flitting among honeyed flowers. So, I looked at their need for adjuncts, of course. One stood out as perfect — a marketing course intended for high school students through a partnership with the university. I thought, why not try!
Today, I received my appointment at Finlandia University for nine months to teach the CTE Marketing course. That’s about as close as I’ll ever get to sighting Elvis! Never did I think that part of the Big Dream would happen without a different journey. It’s only 10 hours a week, all hands-on (so no homework), includes 60 hours of prep time (I get to design the course!), a budget for materials, a van for field trips, and my very own college classroom.
I’ve become Indiana Jones, after all. Carrot Ranch is my beloved field work of discovery and treasure; I have a college appointment to teach; and I continue to write novels through the stories I catch 99 words at a time.
Broken fences can be mended. Everyone’s story matters.
July 12, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a broken fence. You can mend it, leave it, or explain its place in a story. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by July 17, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Horses Have Greater Value (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
“Blast it you duck-billed buffalo!” Cobb lunged at the stock handler.
Despite his injuries, Hickok dodged the charging man better than the bear that tore him up. “It weren’t me,” he said, confronting his angry boss.
“That busted fence didn’t happen on its own accord,” Cobb growled, pointing to the corral empty of horses.
“No Sir, pert sure it didn’t. Found it that way before you showed up. Recon’ Dock rode out after ‘em.”
“Then quit idling and get after that herd!”
Hickok sighed and set out on foot, his left arm hanging as useless at the fence post.
My hand races across the page and I sketch the scene unfolding — Suomi dancers in blue aprons and kerchiefs over white-blond hair circle around, stepping in time to violins. To my left I’m vaguely aware of the large brick structure that once served as a high school and now classrooms to Finlandia University. Its bricks offer a backdrop of ghostly students, sons, and daughters of copper miners.
A shadow crosses my sketch, and a person asks, “Are you an artist?”
“Yes,” I answer glancing from dancers to page. I scribble a bit more, shade less, and turn the page to capture another scene.
“Can I see?”
I pause. The spell has broken, I’m now firmly aware of the rush of sights and sounds beyond the dancers. I’m at the Hancock Tori. The local farmers and craft market. A jewelry maker hawks carved stone beside me and a Calumet couple cut fresh microgreens for $3 a bag. My neighbor Cranky displays her collection of antique hand-crank sewing machines. Across the green from us, painters set up tents with scenes of Lady Lake Superior.
“Sure,” I say, handing over my sketchbook.
The man holds my raw art committed hastily to blank pages recycled from a dump on the East Coast. His eyebrows scrunch, and he shakes his head. “It’s just words,” he says.
I’m a literary artist. A writer. A novel-drafter. A publisher of weekly collections and annual anthologies. I flash, and I write for the long-haul of longer trains of words. I’m a story-teller, a story-catcher, a story-forger. I am an artist, and I sketch with words.
Years ago, in high school, I had a mentor who told me to carry sketchbooks. I had no trouble catching the wingspan of a hawk or the gurgle of a spring. Deer didn’t give me odd looks if I stared too long at their rumps or horns, figuring out how either end could feature in a tale.
But when I was among people, I felt self-conscious of observation. I didn’t enjoy thinking about the length of someone’s hair in relation to the tone of their voice. I became more adept at capturing emotions and motives than looks. I was too shy to sketch in front of other.
Now, I roll my eyes at the man’s comment and offer to read my scribblings. I really do look at people and write without looking at the page so it can be a mess of ink, jumping outside of lines, slanting and scratching out words, interjecting new ones. I clear my throat and read:
A blonde quartet draw bows across time and strings of old-world violins. They remake the songs of midsummer in Finland. No longer homeland, home is here, Finlandia, USA. Voices rise, the blue cross on white flag rises, the Juhannus pole rise. It’s summer solstice and young girls in blue dresses with matching kerchiefs circle around the adults from out of town and suomi-dance with joy. Around and around they skip and step. Holding hands, they dance inward and back out again. Just like celebrations back home, a thread of culture unbroken dances lively beneath a copper country sun. Hey!
He smiles. Nods. “Cool,” he says.
We’ve discussed names and what we call ourselves as writers many times before at the Ranch. Artist is the latest evolution for me because it captures the spirit of all I write and arrange, as well as my vision for Carrot Ranch as a literary art community. Artist might feel weird for some writers, but we are — words are the medium we use, it’s what we paint and sketch.
A few days ago, collecting updates from Cynthia at ground zero at Ripley village, she realized with delight that her three friends were all writers. She said earlier that day her artist-artists were with her. The poet among us frowned and said, “Wait, artist-artists? Like, we aren’t real artists?” We all laughed, knowing we weren’t being excluded.
I’m happiest sketching freely. I carry a waterproof sketchbook for trips to hunt agates. I carry several in my purse, one in my car and have a stash in my desk next to the chocolate. Sometimes I meditate, give three cleansing breaths, then sit in my own stillness and catch what is around me. I listen for stories. I stare awkwardly at people’s clothes and gestures, but if I remain quiet and calm people don’t notice the way a nuthatch ignores a birdwatcher.
Sometimes, I know someone has a good story, and after coaxing them into telling me, I boldly whip out my sketchbook and say, “I’m writing this down, and make a few notes.” I captured the story of one of the Ripley firemen that way:
From Kitten to Fish
Bill wades into the muck to grab the flopping silver steelhead. Disaster all around and he can’t bear to see this fish die, gasping in the muck. The flash flood has wiped out the spawn. Had Bill been fishing in his boat, he’d have a great catch. Today he’s in waders and his volunteer fire department t-shirt. He thinks about keeping the fish for dinner later but sees the state patrol and thinks he better wade out to the flooded creek instead. A flash of a camera and the newspaper headline cheers the firemen for rescuing kittens and fish.
He really did save a steelhead trout, and the story is sad, although I chose to give it a lighthearted tone. In reality, Bill (whose name is not Bill, but I told him he’d recognize his tale by that name) saved a large steelhead stuck in the Ripley mud. All these floods in our local creeks washed out the spawning salmon, and the smelt are done for, which may take years to recover.
Not to mention most of our beaches are closed due to sewage and e-coli. I’ve vowed to stop licking rocks when I hunt! Already I’ve developed a different way of wetting Lake Superior rocks to see their best colors and definition. I take a small bowl to the Tori with me and keep a pool of water for dipping.
Visitors to the Tori enjoy the #CarrotRanchRocks stories, and I have a set of educational rocks to teach people a bit of geology. Then I read some 99-word literary art. Two of my tent-mates are rockhounds. One is going to take me out in his Jeep, the other gifted me with his art so I could assign stories about his etchings. This community doesn’t grip me — it holds me up.
In addition to sketching, teaching rocks, reading stories and selling books at the Tori, I’ve set up several activities in literary art. Once we get dates settled, I’ll be renewing Wrangling Words at the Portage Lake District Library. I offered this literary program at other libraries, and I thoroughly enjoy working with libraries. Susan Sleggs, one of our Rough Writers, is also giving a Wrangling Words presentation to her writer’s group.
My writers retreat at the Ripley Home of Healing is on hold. My nature writing workshops might be, too because McLain is cut off. But my presentation at Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor is still a go July 16:
Copper Country History in 99 Words, No More, No LessJoin local author Charli Mills in a presentation of her flash fiction with a focus on local history. Participants will also learn the literary art of flash fiction and get to craft one of their own, using prompts from Fort Wilkins.
A Vision of Success (99)
Writers high-fived across the string of comments, appreciating craft and creativity in their sandbox, 99 words at a time. Carrot Ranch, an imaginary place made of real people from around the globe. A tribe. Buckaroo Nation. Authors and entrepreneurs arrived too, looking to forge brands and learn how to tell stories around investor campfires. Readers found literary art in small bites palpable to a modern diet of busyness. A buckaroo wrangled the words and published collections, hosted rodeos for writers, and flashed her way to write novels about veterans, history and earth science. The vision for the future rocked.
Carrot Ranch and A Lead Buckaroo’s North Star (59)
Carrot Ranch understands that writers and entrepreneurs need safe space to explore the craft of literary art and harness the power of storytelling. Lead buckaroo, Charli Mills, gave up riding horses to write brand stories. Now she wrangles 99-word flash about history, veterans, and rocks. Flash by flash, she crafts award-winning novels, leads authors on retreat and coaches entrepreneurs.
Tagline: Making literary art accessible 99 words at a time. (9)
June 28, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that is a sketch or about a sketch. It can be “A Sketch of a Romance” or “The Sketch of Aunt Tillie.” Go where the prompt leads you to scribble.
Respond by July 3, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.
A Sketch of Rock Creek by Charli MIlls
From the barn, you can see across the draw that is Rock Creek. Wagon ruts remain visible on both sides. David Colbert “Cobb” McCanless built a toll bridge across the deep cut. He arrived at this road station along the Oregon Trail in March of 1859. Family denies that a woman, not his wife came with him, but records show her signature as his bookkeeper. His wife and children arrived from North Carolina in September 1859. The women know what happened when two years later a young Wild Bill Hickok shot Cobb. But no one thought to ask them.
It’s winter, and we’re hiking across snow to the falls. Boots tramp over a trail hardpacked by daily visits. Bare limbs reveal the hillside, bereft of the cover leaves afford the trail in summer. There’s something about the barrenness of winter that strips our souls. In a way, it’s a time to use this vulnerability to heal. We are open.
I shuffle my snowboots in single file with a group of chatting and giggling women. I smile because we were supposed to walk mindfully. But that does not mean silently, right? We’re here to heal at the Ripley Falls. In this glorious mindful moment, my world is white, the snow muffling my steps and sharpening my sense of connection.
Clear waters gurgle over billion-year old bedrock. At the falls I let go. Down, down, down, I drop, falling over backward, this moment captured in a snowglobe somebody has bought and shelved on a mantle in a universe far away — look, you shake up the globe, and the women at the falls fall over.
We fuss over falling. We don’t even want to trip. It smudges our knees, tarnishes our shoes. Falling means we failed. Falling means we didn’t do it right. Falling carries such societal shame that many people spend a lifetime making certain they don’t ever fall. Lose weight, take a pill, regrow lost hair, make more money, and whatever you do don’t fall from grace.
Falling is not as hard as we think it will be.
I let go, fall backward and the snow catches me. I’ve fallen, so what do I do? I laugh, feel the cold against the back of my wool coat, ignoring the sting of snow that creeps into my mittens, and I fling both arms wide. I make a snow angel. And all around me, I hear the water churn gently over rocks and the sound of other women falling.
No, falling isn’t as hard as they tell us it will be. It’s the getting back up that’s a bear. The struggling, slipping, falling again. A hand followed by another reach down and with help, I regain my feet. Alone, I might have floundered. Falling, if it has a core lesson, teaches us that it’s easy to do, and hard to recover from unless we have help.
That winter hike to Ripley Falls will etch itself in my memory box. It was the conclusion of a retreat at the Ripley House of Healing owned by my friend Cynthia May Drake. She helps veterans, their families, women in transition, and anyone coping with grief and loss. The women who gathered that day I now also count as friends. We’ve seen each other many time since and I always recognize their hands.
I’ve attended several workshops and many Magnificent Mondays with Cynthia. She honors my literary art and welcomes me to share it during these gatherings. That day, after the winter retreat, I asked if I could use her beautiful home to host a writing workshop. She agreed, and we’ve been dancing around a date. Last Tuesday, I met with her on her porch, surrounded by all her rocks and books and peace, we shared coffee and dreams.
As I always do when I leave the Ripley House of Healing, I make a vow to go tent camping. Cynthia sleeps in her tent outside in her backyard near her sauna. Most people up here in Copper Country follow the Finnish tradition and have a sauna. Ours is downstairs in the basement. But Cynthia is the only person I know who sleeps with heated corn sacks to stay warm in her tent. Because she and her dog Monty even sleep outside in the snow.
But, hey, it’s summer (or that moment-savoring time of winter’s coming).
On Saturday, June 16, I comforted Jasper, our thunder-stressed dog because the city of Houghton celebrated Bridge Fest with full artillery. As the final fireworks blasted, I promised Jasper it was over. He might not understand why a community celebrates a bridge, but to us it’s connection.
The Houghton Bridge is the only one that connects the Keweenaw Peninsula to the Upper Peninsula. It crosses Portage Canal which is a waterway that bisects land, connecting one side of Lake Superior to the other. People have mined copper on the Keweenaw for over 10,000 years. Industrial mining came to the area in the late 1830s. Later, the mines created chutes from the top of the mountain to the Portage Canal below to stamp and deliver copper by way of boats.
Ghost towns and abandoned mines scattered across the Copper Country. Cynthia’s Ripley Falls was once an engineered chute, part of the mining. Her house was built 112 years ago, and since that time, Ripley Falls has followed the course laid out for it. A ski resort now spans across Mont Ripley, to the west of her place. Humans have tinkered with the environment heavily in this region, but nature quickly reclaims what was let go.
Nature also follows her own course.
After Jasper calmed down on Saturday night, I heard thunder off in the distance. I groaned as I walked up the stairs, knowing it would be a long night for the dog. I had no idea it would be a night of terror for my community. Several times thunder woke me up, and several times I fell back asleep. Morning dawned, and nothing seemed amiss. Until I saw the social media posts from Cynthia.
All that rubble you see was part of the ski slope above the falls. In a few hours, the thunderstorm stalled over the lower Keweenaw and dumped 7 inches of rain. Cynthia, who usually sleeps where a mountain slammed into her house, slept inside that night. She and her daughter woke up when her refrigerator tumbled over. Water filled her stairwell to the bedrooms on the second floor and pushed against their doors in a torrent, preventing escape.
“Drive to be alive: I am alive because I was saved by my 15 year old from certain death in my beloved tent on a night that produced 7” of rain in two hours and a mudslide from an unstable ski hill which slammed against my home burying my yard in 5-6 feet of rubble and muck.
I am alive because a first responder and my dear neighbors called for help to rescue my Samantha, my wee pup and I from a home where the flood waters were coming up the stairs from the first floor and keeping the doors shut from the inside.
I am alive because a community of neighbors, friends and strangers have poured by the 100’s to my homeplace, to dig through rubble and muck, to lift out treasured photos and sweet memories, to hose down, to kneel and pull out wet insulation from walls, to rip up 112 year old mint condition but wet hard wood floors, to hand pick and haul out sharp rocks from a ski hill burying cars and saunas and garages.
I am alive because blessed members if our Ojibwe people came to honor the waters who flow and give us life when we respect the earth and her ways and death and destruction when we forget and are greedy.
I am alive with the love of all whom I have witnessed the past days of endless work and give themselves selflesssly to it. And I mean all of you, with thoughts, prayers, financial help, phone calls, ideas, hard labor, food, well wishes. All if this is what we live for. Our purpose in life is to serve one another and create a community of bonds so tight that nothing can divide us because we are bonded in love.
One scene I will remember forever was last night on the cusp of Solstice as our days here have daylight until well past 10, I was standing by my beloved and broken sauna, waiting for my girlfriend SD to find the correct drill bit for a bit of sweet salvage, I looked over the scene around me. This is what I saw: beloved neighbors talking with selfless helpers and eating something finally as they gazed over tge work of some long days, people still digging and puzzling in the waterway, laughter ringing, dogs barking, a moon rising… and I was so pleased, so happy, so fulfilled. This is life, this is who we are capable of being. This is who we are. It was such a beautiful scene. It is our new reality. Blessed be.”
Not all is lost when we fall.
Those hands reach down to shovel muck with us, to pull us into a hug, push us to rip out our own walls because it’s necessary for survival. Hands join our hands, and together we move all the rubble bucket by bucket from our fallen environment. Hands do their part — some pack, some organize, some bless, and some write. Not all is lost when a community joins hands to lift the fallen.
I’ve witnessed amazing acts of perseverance in this community. The Red Cross and government officials lagged behind our local efforts to help friends and neighbors. Our efforts are slowing down because we’ve ripped out all the water-logged walls, salvaged 112-year-old trim, firehosed a basement after cleaning it out by hand, and treated interior framework with sprays to prevent mold.
If you are moved to help Cynthia, we do not yet know if her house can be saved, but we’ve set up a fund for her: GoFundMe.
We. Because falling takes others to rise. Just as we are a community of writers, we are the ones to extend the hands up.
June 21, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about “not all is lost.” It can include recovery from disaster, an unexpected insight after a fall, or however the phrase moves you. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by June 26, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.
Not All is Lost by Charli Mills
Annabel retreated from the mourners. Thirty miners, four boys, and her beloved mine captain dead. Fire erupted at level 27 and none evacuated. Men continued to drill, eager to chase the new copper load, believing the updraft would smoother the flames. Greed overcomes common sense, Annabel thought. Ripley was ambitious, a hard-worker and a smart man. He cared about the land and community, but even good men succumb to copper fever. They dug their own deaths. She left the mass funeral and wandered to the falls. Ripley was gone, but his babe grew in the swell of her belly.
White hedgerow roses bloom on the corner of Ethel and Roberts Streets. With each pass, I wonder at their fragrance and details — are they white or tinged with a subtle color the way prehnite covers a gray rock of basalt with a sea-green glow when wet?
I’m breathing deep of the crisp air and watering my daughter’s garden which rises and blooms with purpose. She’s planted alternating heights, textures, and colors, timing the blooms, so there are buds to watch when spent petals fade and drop. It rarely gets hot in the Keweenaw, but if it doesn’t often rain the sandy soil quickly dries.
My 85-year-old neighbor, Mrs. H, watches me water the flagging yellow lilies and explosion of purple allium. I’m curious about a thicker and bigger bulb that’s not yet ready to reveal it’s color. It continues to grow, and its bud reminds me of a green coxcomb. I smile and wave to Mrs. H. She returns the smile and walks over to me.
“Winter’s coming, hey,” she says.
At first, I think she’s alluding to the nip in the near-summer air or the smear of gray rainless clouds overhead. But she means something more — when you live in a remote region with Lake Superior’s micro-climate that dumps an average of 300 inches of snow a year, you have winter and preparing for winter.
Winter’s coming, hey. It’s more profound than planning for next round of snow. It has to do with seizing the moment, savoring the bounce of bumble-bees, and seeking agates under every rock on McLain Beach. The time is now. Stop and smell the roses for winter is coming and you need to populate your senses with a full bouquet.
Watering, I know each bloom will pass so I’m mindful of each moment — gauging its height, noting changes in shapes, and admiring deepening shades of hues. I’m more attentive to the differences. I let Mrs. H know I’ve noticed her hedgerow flowers blooming. Her light blue eyes widen.
“They must have just bloomed,” she says.
Daily, Mrs. H circles her property. She pauses at the forget-me-knots and points to the Columbine. No matter where she walks, tiny white English daisies carpet all our lawns on the block. At night, the flowers tighten and reveal a hot-pink undercoat. I remark that I’ve never lived in a place like this where flowers bloom from snowmelt to snowfall.
Mrs. H nods and says people never had lawns. Everyone had flowers! What I see all around me when I walk the neighborhood or woods where farms and houses once stood during the mining heydays reflects abandoned yards of flowers. Historically, this amazes me the same way old stone foundations do — someone once lived here.
I turn the spray to the phlox to water this brilliant scrub of bubblegum-pink flowers. Mrs. H tells me phlox are her favorite. Her grandmother’s yard was full of phlox. I try to imagine the lawns gone and replaced with clumps of phlox and daisies. I can even see Mrs. H as a little girl trailing behind her grandmother.
These flashes of images come to me like a bouquet of emotion. I pick out each flower, each feeling to capture the scene. Often a story begins in sensory distortion until I can define what it is about. I’ll file away such scenes in my mind’s cabinet box and when I’m writing fiction, access it to use its color, scent, and feel. This is part of filling the well, catching stories for later use, like collecting herbals for dyes and healing teas.
Mrs. H leaves me to water, and I mull over the paperwork for the Hub and think of how healing this garden will be for my daughter when she returns home from surgery at the Mayo. A part of my whirring mind urges me to quit dallying around — so much to do, so behind, so much worry, so many unknowns. That’s like anticipating snow shoveling instead of experiencing how big the begonia buds are today.
Winter’s coming, hey. I’ll fill my mind with petunias and possibilities before returning to the tasks and trade. I’ll focus on what I love about literary art and branding and community and serendipity. I’ll chase down flowers in the woods and rocks on the beach. I’ll catch all the stories I can and finish the ones I can tame.
Before I go inside, Mrs. H returns with white hedgerow roses and blue forget-me-nots clasped in her thin and papery hand. She shares with me the day’s bounty. We meet in this moment, and time spins around us — she is at once a girl and a wise woman to me. She’s ageless as she passes the gift. One her grandmother once bestowed upon her.
June 14, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that includes a bouquet. You can explore the meaning of the word or gather a bunch of flowers. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by June 19, 2018. 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 your story published in the weekly collection, please use this form. If you want to interact with other writers, do so in the comments (yes, that means sharing your story TWICE — once for interaction and once for publication). Rules are here.
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A Mother’s Bouquet (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
“Mama, flowers!” Lizzie stumbled through the cabin door, dropping her bouquet of Black-eyed Susans.
Sarah cringed as Lizzie wailed, wanting to escape the chores Mary gave her. Lizzie’s brothers rushed in to help gather their sister’s spilled flowers.
Monroe calmed Lizzie while Jules and Cling gathered her bouquet, handing it back. Lizzie sniffled. Mary knelt with Baby Charles on her hip, and Lizzie thrust the flowers to her mother. “They are beautiful, Lizzie.”
Sarah’s heart ached for a little girl to gather a bouquet for her. But she left her daughter in the grave in back in North Carolina.
It’s black as a mineshaft outside and somthing thuds and scratches at the window. I suspect a bat is feeding on insects drawn to the light I’m still burning. Try as I might to see the nocturnal creatures, I can only discern the sound.
In a way, there’s comfort in knowing I’m not up alone while the rest of the house slumbers. One dog kicks in his sleep, another snores and the cat nose-whistles. The third dog is silent like a youthful sleeper.
None wait up to catch a glimpse of bats with me.
I wonder if the mythology of security, the tale we believe that we can conquer change — look younger! erase wrinkles! defy gravity and time! — is why changes unnerve people. Are we all unnerved or do we each have our own tender spots?
When I was still in my 20s, but mum to three active toddlers, I grew excited to show them the monkey bars on the playground. We had recently moved from a logging town in central Montana to a small town halfway between Helena and Butte. Out west, it seems, we always lived in the shadow of mining country.
This new town had a small school with a playground, and our new place was a walk away. The monkey bars were just like the ones I used to do cherry drops from as a fifth-grader. From a seated position, I’d drop between the bars and swing upside down.
I had no intention of teaching my five, four and two-year-old such a thing, but I wanted to show off my prowess in skipping bars. I swung out from the first bar, skipped the second and while reaching for the third, I crashed to the ground.
My one arm protested that I was no longer a school girl and I sat dazed wondering how I could be so changed at such a young age yet. My children swarmed me like puppies do when you sit among a litter and soon I was giggling and telling them not to skip bars like mumsie.
Life is a series of accidents, happy or not. We do our best to steer the course, stay on track, but changes happen, and we have to set new courses or change our ways to accommodate a loss of strength, memory, or status. Change can be frightening.
And yet — some embrace changes as if that is the answer. Why wait for wrinkles when you can bask in the sun and paddle a board to get them early? Why wear what your father did when you can adopt something more like what your mother wore? Change also offers new experiences.
Last Friday, as I stood in the shadows, watching a pack of warrior women dance their myths out, stomp them into the ground and claim their power through movement and music, I noticed some of the men, too. It all began with glitter that evening.
As part of the show, reading my set of flash fiction to introduce each dance, I went to the studio with the dancers and read over my stories while they donned stage make-up. For the uninitiated, stage makeup looks daunting. It’s dark, heavy and not attractive close-up. But on stage, it catches the right contours and colors.
The ritual includes glitter. Lots of it — purple glitter, green glitter, silver glitter and gold glitter. My daughter smeared white glitter across my eyes, and I felt dancified. It was electrifying to wear the glitter. A man walked in — my SIL and the show’s MC and all heads turned. Glitter?
Solar Man is not one to fear change. He’s not threatened by a pack of dancers slinking toward him with wands of glitter poised. They all eyed his beard. He rubbed it, stroked his red tie, touched each cufflink and declared he’d only wear gold glitter in his beard. The moment passed — of all the colors, no one had gold with them.
We traveled to the performance venue and secured the dressing room. And lo and behold, a warrior found gold glitter. Soon the cameraman expressed interest and he be-glittered his blond beard. What happened next made me chuckle all evening. Other men took offense! The crowd accepted warrior women, but man glisten? No way!
Like twittering stereotypical old wives, the men chastized the glitter beards, stating it would cause regret, that the glitter would never disappear. At that comment, the scientists in the group acknowledged that glitter does not ever break down fully and pollutes the Great Lakes with other micro-plastics.
However, it did not discourage the newborn pride of glitter beards.
Bats hunt bugs, and likely always will. But men will evolve and accept the softer side of themselves.
June 7, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about man glisten. It was a fun term coined by two men with glitter in their beards. What more could it embrace? Look to the unexpected and embrace a playful approach. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by June 12, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Masks of Man Glisten by Charli Mills
Deep in the shafts of Mohawk Mine, men pounded steel to separate native copper from white quartz. Candlelight from helmets of miners caught flickers of dust. Mohawkite glittered in dim beams. At the end of shift, the men piled onto trams, hoisted back to daylight of long summer evenings and clean women waiting with baskets of fried chicken and Chassell Farm strawberries. Daughters and sons skipped to their dads, uncertain which belonged to them. Tired, blinking in the bright sun, masks of man glisten mined below the level of hell made them look alike.
Sparkle, sparkle hard rock miners.
Softly my feet pad across the hard-packed trail through the forest. Pine-scent bobs in the air like the dandelion seeds that haven’t yet formed, spring is so new. But the lawns and fields are covered with the promise from sunny yellow heads.
Again, I’ve become the hunter. Some take yoga to go into warrior pose — I take my feet outside; my body and mind follow, feeling the call of the hunt. Alert, my senses feel the dappled sunlight keenly and separate the sounds of chattering birds and lapping waves.
Where has my fierce Lady Lake gone? She’s acting so passive, I wonder if she’s at rest. Over winter she fought ferocious battles between water and sand, upturning the shoreline like a bulldozer. She called in blizzards like flocking white ravens. Now, she sleeps, her seas lightly sloshing. It’s the perfect time to hunt — her guard is down, her waves at rest and a new crop of churned rocks wait on the beach.
But first, I slink through the forest.
To see Lake Superior through the pines is one of my favorite views. From this vantage on the ridge overlooking the dog beach at McLain State Park, I can scout stretches of beach-worn basalt, granite, and gabbro. I’m refining my hunting skills, having studied over winter. I now can identify more of the minerals that fill the mafic bedrock like the clays chlorite and celadonite.
But the hunt isn’t always for the next rock or potential agate. I am also a woman who runs with the wolves. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Ph.D. writes:
“The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.”
My doors to my Wild self are indeed precious — through scars, caught stories, rocks, and water, birds, and sky. I can love the hunt so deeply, I take this path in the forest to savor the time it takes to burst forth onto the rocky beach to step into cold Great Lake waters. I yearn for deeper art to the point that I can feel my writing before I even begin. Art enriches my life, leaves me breathless and yet grounded.
Music, movement, color, words, texture — art fills all senses.
And this is why I love dance. I don’t dance. I don’t run with the wolves across the stage, but I watch from the audience the same way I watch Lake Superior from my footpath in the pines. I love the costumes, the drumbeats, the sharp movements and the flowing visual story. Dance is my daughter’s art. Often we share artistic moments, and that’s better than bagging an agate.
When her dance troupe accepted my idea to incorporate flash fiction into their next performance, I felt giddy at the chance to meld artistic expressions. I met with the choreographers and took note to capture the tone and emotion of each piece. We discussed the music, costumes, and movements.
When I wrote, I had that same feeling as when I step into Lake Superior. Wild self takes over. Intuition spills my words. Afterward, I felt unsure. Would this story partner with the dance? Or would it be a clunky addition to the show? I wrote like a dancer — interpreting each piece with new and different structures.
In the end, I had eleven Mythica Flash Fiction worthy of the warrior women taking the stage. I felt I could run with these wolves and that’s where my writing began and ended. Each flash in between told a story, hailed queens, invented new myths, introduced unknown characters or celebrated the power of the Wild self.
On Friday, 47 North performs Mythica at the Continental in Houghton. The belly dance troupe specializes in tribal fusion and modern. Their literary artist specializes in rocks, history and flash fiction. The first flash opens the show, the second closes it, as I speak directly to the dancers taking the stage in leather, chain mail, and fur, dancing to music from Guy Ritchie’s King Arthur.
Undergrowth of legends cling to consciousness and shadows vape through the veil between who we must be and who we indeed are. Quaking, we repeat fairy tales to let fear conform our captured souls.
The veil slips, and we glimpse Mythica where strange and weird entities tap and twirl to original wingbeats of self-expression. Fear blinds our hearts and knots the rope around throats of mythical women who are different.
Mythica is the shadowlands populated by shadow people. Dare you cross the veil? Grandmother won’t save you, but she beckons you to enter and run hard with the wolves.
Step forth onto the battlefield, Daughters. Brace your feet, remember your training. Adjust your shield and sword. Death is but a trip to Valhalla. Ready your bodies for passage. When you fall, the Valkyries are coming. Skol!
Lift up, lift up, lift up — Choosers of the Slain! Warrior-women wielding runes, marks of the chosen. Let not the weight of the world, the heaviness of battle, the blood your body sheds destroy you. Glory nears.
Lift up, lift up, lift up and carry those battle-born souls to Odin. Warriors of the warriors. Valkyries. Women who rise. The run is over.
It’s not easy to be an artist, to be a hunter, to run wild and return home again. Illness, disappointment, injustice, grief — these often erode the shores of who we think we are. But we evolve. Every run, every storm, every story is another chance to turn our own page. Estes writes,
“Though fairy tales end after ten pages, our lives do not. We are multi-volume sets. In our lives, even though one episode amounts to a crash and burn, there is always another episode awaiting us and then another. There are always more opportunities to get it right, to fashion our lives in the ways we deserve to have them. Don’t waste your time hating a failure. Failure is a greater teacher than success.”
Opportunity energy is high right now. I’m hunting down each one. Not everything will stick, but at the end of the day, I won’t go home empty. A significant transition looms for me. As life with my spouse evolves, as my daughter leaves the dance stage to undergo tests and possibly surgery at the Mayo Clinic next week, and the organization that was my anchor client leaves, I turn to my Wild self to adjust not with fear but with a welcoming of the challenges.
Roundup, a small weekly e-zine, returns from the ashes to spotlight three flash fictions a week and highlight one of our many writers. It’s intended for an audience of readers, to get people excited for what forms literary art can take 99-words at a time. Writers can benefit from a subscription to learn craft tips. It will connect to each weekly collection so you can share Roundup.
Books by authors in our literary community will be featured on Rough Writers’ pages and individually in Roundup. You’ll notice rotating books alongside the blog posts with house ads. I emphasize “house” because Carrot Ranch does not use AdWords. I’ll be promoting local events, workshops, author books (from our community and at my discretion), my services, literary art patronage, and an upcoming subscription to Marketing Mavericks. You can catch my #NaNoWriMo post at BadRedhead Media for a taste of what Marketing Mavericks will be like.
Literary art continues to be my focus. I want you to have unencumbered access to play with the art form among a group of people who see writing as one of their doors to the world. Please submit your badges for any goals you set and earned (see Rancher Badges). This is a self-motivated personal development opportunity. Now is the time to set new goals for the next three months.
Any Rough Writer who wants to offer Wrangling Words to their own community library, please contact me and I’ll get you set up with some basic training, materials and an outline for how to get established. It’s a great way to spread literary art where you live. I find it a rewarding program, and you can adjust it to fit what you want to offer.
All Patrons of Carrot Ranch (monthly supporters) have been gifted the full Mythica Flash Fiction collection. You can catch 47 North Belly Dance live streaming Friday night starting at 9 pm (EST) on their Facebook page.
I’ve set my vision for how I see art in my life as my northern star, and I write and run. Listen, you can hear the wolves howling. The warrior women gather.
May 31, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about warrior women. It can be myth or everyday mothers and wives. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by June 5, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Start of a Wild Ride (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Sarah startled at the hand pressing against her mouth in the dark. A woman’s voice shushed her struggles. She sat up in bed to see Nancy Jane’s face inches from hers. “What are you doing,” Sarah whispered.
“Ever run with wolves?”
“Come, on, Sarah, Yellow Feather gathered some ponies. Let’s be braves under the moon!”
Sarah clung to her quilt drawn up to her chin. Camp was silent, emigration season nearly at an end. Cobb would be asleep next to Mary, and their baby. He was the same age –
She threw down the quilt and rose from bed.
As tight young leaves unfurl, real estate has gone to the birds. Some couples arrive at the neighborhood to find protected perches to weave grass nests. Others seek cavities. A turf war broke out between two couples who each wanted the same property. Those of us who live here, wonder what will become of the property values.
Much depends on the new neighbors.
When the woodpeckers first arrived, I admit I felt some alarm. After all, they make holes in trees. However, they eat insects that kill trees; thus they can be good neighbors. I watch them move into a tall maple at the edge of the backyard. They are northern flickers, and chatty. Across Ethel half a block away we can hear a resident blue jay. He’s even chattier.
That’s when the Whirlygig bird makes his move. He stands atop the peaked roof of the red house between ours and Ethel, next door to Cranky, my walking neighbor. With her lovely sewing skills, she’s embroidered me a fox potholder, embellishing it with a carrot. I’m blessed to have good neighbors. We both watch the newcomer cautiously. How will he fit in?
Like lead in a pencil, he squeezes his dark body into a wooden crevice we didn’t know existed in the attic of the red house. When not shoving snippets of pine twigs or grass into the opening, he stands on the roof’s peak and twirls his wings like a mechanical wind-up bird. He clicks and cries and steps a few dance moves. The sun catches iridescent colors, and we realize a starling has arrived in the ‘hood.
There go the property values.
Starlings are not native to the US. Like most Americans who are also not indigenous, the birds arrived on boats from Europe. Also, like those who colonize from elsewhere, they bully others out of their native homes. Starlings also prefer the crevices woodpeckers seek. In short order, Whirlygig comes knocking on the new residence of the northern flickers.
For two days, I’ve held my breath. Who will win the hole in the maple? Starlings have forced woodpeckers to delay breeding. A compromise of sorts. But northern flickers are also migrators, unlike their downy, red-headed and piliated cousins. Therefore they must compete and not delay.
Whirlygig is dogged in his dance. The moment he catches the flicker couple away, he flies from the roof of the red house into the hole in the maple. He throws out their nesting material and my writer’s mind shifts to what if…What if squatters took over your home? What if a couple went out to buy groceries and returned to an aggressor throwing out their bed and shoes?
In the end, aggression wins. It seems unjust, and I recognize how easy it is to villainize starlings. They are the loud, boisterous neighbors no one wants. Whirlygig is the equivalent of the guy mowing the lawn without a shirt (oh, wait, that’s the Hub). Starlings are the noisy college frat boys sitting on their roof drinking beer. Uncouth, but does it really mean the values sink?
My new bird-feeders overflow with promise of more than starlings. An American goldfinch and a rose-headed house finch have made introductions. The jay down the street continues to squawk. A black and white woodpecker crawled all over the backside of Cranky’s house carefully pecking between the slates for insects. It a diverse neighborhood despite the obnoxious bird and his new bride.
Warmer days, longer sunlight and the absence of snow brings out the two and four-legged neighbors, too. Cranky and I continue our walks, exploring the flowers of our neighborhood, gossiping about Whirlygig. It’s the first time I’ve had a fellow nature-lover for a neighbor. Walks end up with us standing in other people’s yards inspecting flowers or gawking up into tree limbs to identify a bird.
Yesterday, we spotted a trail that led off the road into the woods. A hand-painted sign warned that bridges were unstable. Oh, how could we resist exploring? We walked through trees waving miniature flags not yet full leaves. Cranky taught me to smell the leaves to aid identification. We scanned birch for conks of chaga, a medicinal fungus. We admired trout lilies and spotted early sprouts of trillium.
Then I saw the pile of rocks.
It was old, perhaps from mining days or maybe this hilltop meadow was once pastured. Whatever its purpose someone moved a lot of stones. I suggested that it was a farm with ten children and the kids grew up picking rocks from the fields. We both hoped it had nothing to do with mines for we had left the beaten path. I began to scope for shafts.
At one point we crossed a bog (no unstable bridge in sight). I was certain the snowmobile trail was just ahead, and we could catch that and walk back into town. On the edge of the bog, Cranky spotted dark green bushes with salmon-colored berries. She plucked one and said, “Eat this.” Whether or not this was a starling-like tactic to rid the neighborhood of me, I thought nothing of it and popped the berry in my mouth.
Cranky smiled and said, “Taste the wintergreen?”
I said, “No.”
She frowned and said, “Spit it out!”
We both laughed. She thought she was giving me wintergreen. We’re not sure what it was, but wintergreen it was not. Neighbors can be trusting in that way. We found our way back, and I never suffered for the nibble of an unknown spring berry. Closer to home we met more dogs and neighbors. Everyone is raking grit out of the front lawns, and a few real estate signs have appeared.
To me, the value is high, starlings and all.
This weekend marks my last as age 50. On Friday I go out with my fellow veteran spouses. I order my birthday cake and will buy brats and champagne for my Sunday party. On Saturday morning I’ll head to a local cemetery with a Wounded Warrior Sister and plant American flags on the graves of soldiers for Memorial Day. That evening, I’m attending a dance performance at Michigan Tech. My daughter’s dance classes are in the show.
Sunday is the big shin-dig at Calumet Waterworks (McLain cost too much, and Calumet reserves it’s picnic shelter for free). I like CWW better for hunting rocks. I’m bringing all the binoculars, too. C Jai Ferry is planning to drive all the way from Nebraska to celebrate. And on Monday we’ll go out to Gemminani’s, the Italian restaurant in the neighborhood. They give out free dinners on your birthday, and I turn 51 on Monday.
All in all, life is good. You can’t avoid the starlings or mistaken berries along the way, but you can make the best of what you have where you are and who you meet.
May 17, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about property values. Perhaps its a home, business or pencil museum. What makes them go up or down? Go where the prompt leads.
Deadline Extended. Continue to Use Form.
Respond by May 29, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
Value in the Balance (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
“Property values go up the more improvements we make.” Cobb replaced his years of responsibility as a sheriff with a drive to improve every inch of Rock Creek Station.
Sarah unpacked the latest freight of sundries from St. Louis While Cobb sawed planks for the new schoolhouse. The wood gleamed gold like the barn, toll booth, toll bridge, post office, eastside station and horse stables. The store Sarah operated had gray wood, showing its age. Sarah calculated Cobbs improvements and noted that it added up to more debt that income.
“Those values had better go up soon,” she muttered.
About mid last year, my Mother and I decided we should write the story of her growing up during the Second World War in the small town of Bungay in East Anglia, Britain.
I had listened to my Mother’s childhood stories for my whole life. I thought her tales of chamber pots and an outhouse, food, coal and clothing rationing, icicles inside the scullery windows, washing using a copper tub and a mangle and children being sewn into their vests called stays, were very interesting. The additional overlay of war conditions only added to the excitement as she spoke of buzz bombs that suddenly dropped out of the sky, wreaking devastation on the area below, American soldiers billeted in canvas tents on the common, and the family hiding in bomb shelters during air raids.
I thought my Mother’s story was interesting enough to warrant writing down and I also thought it would be a good way of preserving some of the histories of life in a small English village during WWII and allowing people, especially children, to gain knowledge of the hardships experienced by people living through a war. My rather optimistic reasoning was that if children were made aware of the horrors and hardships of war, they would be more inclined to ensure such a state of affairs never occurs again.
Mother and I embarked on this interesting journey of writing down her history. Initially, I wrote a series of essays based on her different life experiences. These essays were not in any particular order but were written more as she remembered and thought about different events and happenings in her early life. My Mother was only one year old when the war broke out in 1939 and six and a half years old when the war in Europe ended on 8 May 1945. The idea was that we would write the basic information and order and edit it afterward. This process of writing essays took from May until November 2017. Once the basic writing was done, I put the various pieces together and ordered them in a way I thought was appropriate.
We went on holiday for four days after Christmas and my Mother, and I spent a couple of hours a day editing the manuscript and adding pieces of information. It was quite amazing to me how my Mother kept remembering new things as we went through the draft book. The manuscript grew by approximately 3,000 words during those few days. Writing with my Mother was not all plain sailing. She had very exacting ideas about how the story had to be written, and she didn’t want anything that wasn’t “entirely” true included. In other words, it had to be written exactly as it happened and no minor poetic license was to be applied.
At that point, we had a fairly good draft, and I turned my attention to creating the illustrations out of fondant. We had discussed illustrations, and we both thought that keeping to my usual style of fondant figures for the new book was a good idea. We also agreed on the inclusion of a few of our family recipes that were appropriate for the time period and style of the book.
By March 2018 the new book was in a sufficiently good form for me to send it to a few proof-readers/editors. I received good feedback from all three, but Charli gave me two great pieces of advice.
The first was to include dialogue in the manuscript. Strangely, I had included very little dialogue. I am used to writing non-fiction publications on investment in Africa which don’t need to include any “warmer” tones. My Mother had said she thought I needed to make it “warmer” but she wasn’t able to explain what she thought I should do so when Charli mentioned including dialogue I understood what she meant immediately.
The other great idea Charli gave me was to include a timeline of the events of WWII as they pertained to Britain and to overlay my Mother’s childhood over this timeline. This was a stroke of genius as far as I was concerned. I created a detailed timeline, and this led to my including all sorts of additional titbits of historical information. As the advice came from an editor, my Mother was then willing to accept a bit of poetic license so long as I didn’t stray too far from the facts. An editor, of course, must know far more about book writing than me. Letting an older sibling do something which she had done when she was older but which fitted nicely in at a certain point in the story became acceptable.
We are now nearly at the end of the re-write and editing which has actually resulted in me revising most of the original ordering of the book, and I am very happy with it. We are hoping to finalize the manuscript for a final proofing by the end of May.
It has been a wonderful journey of discovery with my Mother, and I have enjoyed it so much we are talking about writing another two books to cover the next two phases of her life. The gradual changes that took place in England after the war and her decision to come out to South Africa.
Robbie Cheadle was born in London in the United Kingdom. Her father died when she was three months old, and her mother immigrated to South Africa with her tiny baby girl. Robbie has lived in Johannesburg, George and Cape Town in South Africa and attended fourteen different schools. This gave her lots of opportunities to meet new people and learn lots of social skills as she was frequently “the new girl.”
Robbie is a qualified Chartered Accountant and specialises in corporate finance with a specific interest in listed entities and stock markets. Robbie has written a number of publications on listing equities and debt instruments in Africa and foreign direct investment into Africa.
Robbie is married to Terence Cheadle, and they have two lovely boys, Gregory and Michael. Michael (aged 11) is the co-author of the Sir Chocolate series of books and attends school in Johannesburg. Gregory (aged 14) is an avid reader and assists Robbie and Michael with filming and editing their YouTube videos and editing their books. Robbie is also the author of the new Silly Willy series the first of which, Silly Willy goes to Cape Town, will be available in early July 2017.
Raw Literature is an ongoing conversation about those first works we create as writers, as literary artists. Guest Authors share personal insights on their craft, its process, the experience of creating raw literature and what they do with it. Carrot Ranch is a dynamic literary community that creates raw literature weekly in the form of flash fiction (99 word stories). If you have an essay idea, pitch to Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s hard to take silent steps across broken glass. Shards ground into nuggets the size of small peas glitter green, brown, blue and diamond-clear litter the path. In the back of my mind, I acknowledge the oddity of walking on glass, but it’s some Wisconsin recycling measure to pave the trails with glass gravel. Right now. This moment. I’m on the hunt. Shhh…cranes.
Across time many have proposed theories to explain the brain — cranium size and shape, left brain, right brain, synapses firing. These attributes mean something and nothing. Perhaps the final frontier is not the vastness of space, but what is contained in the folds of the mind.
For me, I acknowledge pockets of focus. I put on my thinking cap, or I disappear into my head to read (or write) a good story. Some of my focus might actually be distractions, but I can’t wrap my mind around that quandary at the moment. I know I have Rock Brain and History Brain — oh, look, a squirrel! But most focused/distracting of all is Bird Brain.
I’m in stealth Bird Brain mode.
The gravel crunches beneath my sneakers, and I don’t think I’m sneaking up on any birds. Maybe that’s the actual point of the glass gravel. A sign explained it all, but when one has become a full-fledged member of the International Crane Institute of Baraboo, Wisconsin, one does not stop to read non-bird related signs. I’m hunting the elusive Whooping Crane.
Whoopers remain one of the rarest (and tallest) birds to grace the North American continent. They once nestled on the northern prairies from central Canada as far south as Iowa. In the winter they hung out in Texas and Louisianna. Then settlers, like Cobb McCanles and his family, moved west, and the whoopers disappeared.
By 1941, the Texas wintering flock huddled near extinction with only 15 birds remaining. In 1971, two Cornell University students dreamed of an organization that could protect the world’s 15 species of cranes, including the Whoopers. Serendipity is when you follow your passion, and you find an unexpected gift. It’s a happy chance.
Ornithology students, Ron Sauey and George Archibald, envisioned a place where they could combine research, captive breeding, and reintroduction of cranes to their depopulated habitats. They imagined a place where restoration and education would engage citizens to support a crane-focused organization. The first happy chance came from Wisconsin where a horse rancher offered land to the ornithology students.
The next bit of serendipity came when George accepted an invitation to go on the Johnny Carson Show, a well-viewed late-night program in the 1970s. Part of the appeal to a late-night American audience was the humorous story about how George wooed a Whooper named Tex. She was hatched in captivity and therefore imprinted to humans. To her Bird Brain, George was a potential mate.
Every morning, George walked with Tex, and they danced the crane dance until she readied herself for breeding. While George held her attention, two other biologists artificially inseminated the lovelorn crane. We can all chuckle, but the true heart of the story is that the match yielded a single Whooper from 54 eggs that didn’t make it.
Gee Whiz, George’s crane-son, went on to become the crane that built the Wisconsin flock which now has over 200 of the existing 700 Whooping Cranes today. In a sad twist, the night before George went on the Johnny Carson Show, a marauding raccoon invaded Tex’s pen and killed her.
Everyone laughed about the crane dance between ornithologist and bird, but they put their dollars where their hearts were and that single sad tale on a late-night tv show serendipitously funded the International Crane Foundation. Today, it lives up to its original vision to provide sanctuary for all 15 species of cranes.
I’m hunting the Whoopers in the back pasture by the small pond full of singing spring peepers. But my heart overrides my Bird Brain when a female Gray Crowned Crane begins flirting with my son and husband. With head feathers looking more like thoughts on fire than a crown, I loved the display she puts on like a comedic dancer in a burlesque show.
She shows me what George understood all along — the charisma of cranes.
Whoopers, Black Crowned, Back Necked, Blue, Brolga, Siberian, Wattled, Hooded, Red Crowned, Sarus, White Naped, Gray Crowned, Demoiselle, Eurasian, and Sandhill cranes ignite the imaginations of the world with their compelling attractiveness. We paint them, write poetry of them, and even craft origami after them. Peaceful, graceful, fierce — we fall in love with the charisma of cranes.
A note to the regular Ranch Hands — my trip to the cranes was part of a three-day tour to see our son and visit an orthopedic surgeon at Veteran Affairs to finally get the acknowledgment that the Hub’s knee is as empty as the prairies were of Whoopers in the 1940s. Nothing left to salvage, nothing left to cushion. As the orthopedic explained, “It’s like a bomb went off in your knee.” Finally, a gel shot, and hopefully a replacement.
My technology acted up on the road, and I couldn’t keep up with comments, but the Ranch collection bucket (the form) performed well, and I published the stories when I got back home. I promise to catch up on my comments because that’s an important commitment of mine to give each of you positive feedback on your contributions to the challenge. And I thank the community for commenting, too!
Carrot Ranch Literary Community made the local news. I was not prepared to be recorded and televised, but I was thrilled to share the power of what we do through literary art 99 words at a time. The next morning after our trip, I was invited to present what we do at Carrot Ranch to 1 Million Cups, a national organization with a local chapter in the Keweenaw. I read Pete Fanning’s flash from Vol. 1, “Normandy,” and I read my most recent #CarrotRanchRocks story, “The Girlie Rock.”
The Girlie Rock by Charli Mills
Rex teased Amy about the big pink rock she found on the beach. A gift from Lake Superior days before deployment. He loved her enough that he took that girlie rock with him to Iraq. He placed its cool flat surface against his chest during coughing fits. Smoldering chemical fires seared his lungs. He married Amy and returned her girlie rock. When they drove to the VA for treatment, she rubbed its pink smoothness like some magic genie would emerge and save his life. A pink rock on marble white – in the end, she left it on his grave.
CWW-07-17-24 (Pink feldspar and green epidote)
My head feels a bit like how the crown of a crane looks, all my synapses firing in a bazillion directions, but there is a vision to madness. I hope I can pull off the charisma of cranes and anchor Carrot Ranch and our literary art in the Keweenaw Community which has been so warm and welcoming (despite 304 inches of snow).
Lastly, I’m re-doing my 50th Birthday Party. No offense to the stunning state of New Mexico, but I felt robbed of my milestone birthday celebration stranded and homeless in the Land of Enchantment. You are all invited to Rock the 5.0 with me, snow or sun, at McLain State Park on May 20 with grilled brats, birthday cake, rock picking, WIP-reading, and a Copper Country sunset over Lake Superior. If you are unable to attend, you can send birthday cards to:
Carrot Ranch, PO Box 306, Hancock, MI 49930
Thank you all for your writing and reading patronage! Your individual stories matter, and yet you are also part of a greater, global, artistic calling. A calling to peace like a crane.
May 10, 2018, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story defining “the charisma of cranes.” For centuries, cranes have inspired art and philosophy. You can write a crane story or create something new out of the phrase. Go where the prompt leads.
Respond by May 15, 2018. Use the comment section below to share, read and be social. You may leave a link, pingback or story in the comments.
(I just noticed my bird-brained typo last week; you can still turn in May 3 stories if you thought you had until May 15, but use the May 3 Flash Fiction Challenge Form.)
The Charisma of Whooping Cranes in 1858 (from Rock Creek) by Charli Mills
Slowly lifting on outstretched angel wings, hundreds of white cranes trumpeted and took flight. Nancy Jane dug her bare heels into the sides of her prairie pony, tail flying as she rode beneath the flock. Sarah clung to the pony’s sides with her legs, catching the rhythm of his galloping paces. Her arms wrapped around Nancy Jane’s waist to grasp handfuls of mane. The cranes landed across the Platte, gracefully perching on long legs. Sarah gawked, mesmerized. Nancy Jane slowed her steady mount, and both women whooped loud as the angels who came to charm them in Nebraska Territory.