“Here we are, Kid. 2018. Hard ta believe we didn’t even exist this time last year.”
“Yep. Never thought I’d be thought up on a writin’ ranch. But ain’tcha worried we might a become stock characters, Pal?”
“Ain’t that a good thing? On a ranch an’ all?”
“Prob’ly. Pal, do you have a W.I.P.?”
“Ya mean like a bullwhip? I s’pose I do, or I could, what with bein’ a stock character an’ all.”
“No, a W.I.P., a work in progress.”
“Seems like that’s somethin’ could whup ya, Kid.”
“Yep. We got it purty good. Written’s easier ‘an writin’.”
Those two; Pal and Kid. A year ago they didn’t exist, at least I didn’t imagination they did. Now they are pretty vocal, but are at least restricted to 99 words, no more no less. They’re fictional ranch hands that work for their fictional trail boss, Shorty, at a mythical ranch, a blog called Carrot Ranch. I cannot reflect on my own blog without reflecting and maybe even genuflecting to Carrot Ranch and the fine folks that play there.
A year ago I only had a vague notion of what a blog was and how they worked. I actually wasn’t that interested. The internet was for online shopping and map-quest, period. But a year ago was also the winter of some discontent, and I started poking around, shopping for… I can’t even remember; perhaps a way to market my two books. I don’t know what my search words were or where I thought I might end up. But I happened upon Carrot Ranch, wandering aimlessly around the acreage of the ranch, where I discovered a flash fiction challenge prompt. It was February, that time of year when I prefer to stay in my burrow with my shadows, but I saw a prompt with a due date of March 22. Hmm… Sounds intriguing…Plenty of time. I would do it.
In 99 words (no more, no less) write about the idea of “just one.” If all it takes is just one, what is the story? Explore what comes to mind and go where the prompt takes you. Bonus challenge: eat cake while you write, or include cake in your flash. Respond by March 22, 2016 to be included in the weekly compilation. Rules are here. All writers are welcome!
All writers welcome… I wasn’t a writer, but what the hey. I had no idea what I would write, but had three weeks to think about it. How much is 99 words anyway? Was that a lot, a little? I wasn’t sure. I would try to get a head start, because in addition to the discomforting challenge of writing something, something that would be public, I also anticipated technical difficulties in actually getting my words into the machine and among the others’. So I was mulling over this interesting prompt, with no ideas in mind when I accidentally dropped a dish that broke on the kitchen floor. Flash! Here’s what I wrote, my first ever 99 word response for Carrot Ranch:
It wasn’t an antique, but I liked the look, Americana, sturdy, bean pot browns. When the bowl broke, its memories of clay were released. Picking up the largest piece, I smelled damp earth, that rich smell of spring that awakens hope. I read the bottom, still intact; Made in China. The glaze shone in contrast to the chalky white fissured inside layers of the bowl. I looked into these fissures, smelled deeply again, a smell of Chinese soil. Gathering up the shards of earthenware, fragmented continents, I thought of the connectedness of our one earth and wished it whole.
I had written, but now my nerve came into question. Who did I think I was? Were these 99 words good enough to put among the others’ writing? I mean there was some powerful good writing there at that prompt place. And the writers seemed to know one another. I knew no one, nothing. But didn’t it say, ‘welcome’? I found my way back to that blog with the horse and the carrots to peek in again, and that’s when I noticed what you might have already noticed. That wasn’t a typo up there; the prompt I wrote for was from an archive. I was a year too late; this is the first time this flash has been shown. But that one trial with 99 words, though a year late with nowhere to go, I have to say, hooked me. So I learned to navigate the ranch better. I saw, upon a closer read, that there was a prompt for March 2, 2017, and that’s when I saw that this thing happens every week! I let the One go and went on to the next one:
March 2, 2017 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) include slag in a story. Slag is a glass-like by-product of smelting or refining ore. Slag is also used in making glass or can result from melting glass. It can be industrial or artistic. Go where the prompt leads.
The box itself was a treasure, with its iconic graphics and rich scents, the hinged lid bestowing sanctity. Inside were her rare and special collections, including molten glass, twisted and smooth from a long ago fire; and the purple hued, cratered rocks that were surely meteorites, come to earth from the far off spaces between the stars. Later, when she was older, she would also keep a small notebook in that box, a foundry where she tried to forge something of lasting value. Later still, though she realized it was all slag, she continued to treasure these precious artifacts.
This would be my debut flash at Carrot Ranch, my first step into the blogosphere. I pasted my 99 words into the comment area, hit the post button, and panicked at my audacity, at this move I could not undo. And nothing bad happened. In fact I was made to feel most welcome. The regulars and the lead buckaroo, Charli, were all positive and supportive. I came back for more the next week, again marveling, as I continue to, at the depth and beauty and honesty displayed in Charli’s posts. I responded again. And again. I became more familiar with the names that kept popping up, I timidly began commenting and replying. I learned about blogs. I got schooled. A month in to flashing at Carrot Ranch I set up my own blog, a place for my flashes to live but also knowing that it wouldn’t be long until my two little volumes of poetry were flying off the shelves because of this public exposure.
That hasn’t happened. What has happened is that my ideas have changed. Instead of jumping into a http://www.pool of shameless self-promotion, I found a place of cooperation and collaboration. I don’t think so much about what I have written, because now I am writing. Maybe only 99 words a week, or maybe six sentences too, but it is done in the best of company, among real people that I now know as friends. Friends, sight unseen, but who take weekly risks with and for each other, introducing and revealing themselves through their writing, encouraging others with their comments and prompts.
In a guest post for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo I said that
Maybe it’s time
To get out to see
Get out and be seen.
So if there’s a new year’s resolution in this reflection, it’s to get out and about more and perhaps mix it up some at ShiftnShake. I am making progress already, as evidenced by having been invited to guest post at The Write Stuff, and by this very post here, a change from the usual smattering of flash fiction appearances. And I will continue to be inspired by Charli’s weekly challenges and to be involved in special events at Carrot Ranch, where I am now a Rough Writer. At the very least I’ll be over there trying to corral some characters that have started free ranging.
Stock In Trade
“Seriously, Pal, don’tcha think that D. Avery’s usin’ us?”
“S’pose, but what d’ya want? I mean we’re ranch hands and rodeo bums. We got a steady gig here.”
“Yeah, but still. Puttin’ words in our mouths…”
“Kid, she’s more afraid a you than you are a her.”
“Sure. I mean she has us do the talkin’, but that jest means she’s chicken.”
“Heard she used to use chickens in the same way. It ain’t right.”
“Lighten up Kid. Like I say, what else would ya be doin’?”
“This is a good gig, Pal.”
“Happy New Year, Kid.”
Happy New Year to all of you. Thank you for coming by and helping me grow.