510: Hands Apart America

Perfectly, brilliantly clever post from DumBESTblogger:

Dumbest Blog Ever

In 1986 Americans from coast to coast linked hands in an effort to form a continuous chain across the United states. Today, a new social distancing campaign is aiming to teach children the importance of never touching at all.

Hands Apart America is encouraging American children to maintain their social distances. “The goal is complete separation and isolation.” Explains Kenny Kraits, the organizer of the campaign. “No touching, no seeing, no hearing. In the past we emphasized the power of community, now we are trying to emphasize the imparetive of complete and utter separation.” Explains Kraits. “We’ve been told since we were children that what unites us is greater than what divides us, the implicit lesson in that statement is that that’s a good thing. Come to find out, we actually need to be divided.”

In an effort to focus on divisions, Hands Apart America is making an effort to…

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More Than a Number, by Gregory Joel

How often do we really look at the soul of the forgotten people? I loved this real life story my friend shared.

I couldn’t get the ‘Re-blog’ button to work, so here’s the entire thing, copied from his site:

She was walking down the road to the farm. I couldn’t make out who it might be. It wasn’t unusual to have new volunteers park at the gate and walk down. The “No Motorized Vehicles” sign doesn’t apply to the farm volunteers, but new folks don’t always know that.

It became clear that she wasn’t a volunteer as she got closer. Her pink top wasn’t a blouse but a cropped tank top. Her pants were a dinghy tan and her feet bare. It was a warm winter day, but winter, nonetheless. Maybe it was all she had. The clothes obviously hadn’t been washed in a long while.

The arms were quickly swaying back and forth, hands pointed outward. It was the addict’s walk – “schizting” and talking to herself.  In my old life I would’ve called it the “hoe stro’” and laughed at her. Today, it simply made me sad.

It may have been fifteen years since I found myself in her shoes – or lack of them – but I still have enough street sense to know to keep my eye on any addict. Stuff tends to disappear quickly. Addicts are quite resourceful when it comes to the “getting and using and finding means to get more”. I figured she was going to ask for money, but she walked on by without so much as a word or a sideways glance.

Photo by Arthur Yeti on Unsplash

I continued working, making sure to keep her in my peripheral vision. She stopped by the old compost pile at the south end of the farm. She looked carefully as she started walking slowly around the pile. Then it hit me – she was looking for something to eat.

I pick up culled produce from a couple of local grocery stores and add them to the compost area each Monday. It makes for great soil amendments, but I’m always saddened to see the amount of food that gets wasted each weekend. I realize stores aren’t supposed to sell products past their “Sell by” date. I know how people are about “ugly” produce – stuff that isn’t picture perfect. Much of what I pick up is still good to eat.

Many times, I’ve made food boxes to give away instead of throwing it all in the compost. Most Mondays I leave a good box of produce next to the pile. The farm is surrounded by hidden homeless camps and I don’t want it to go to waste. Maybe that’s what the young woman was looking for. Maybe she learned that something to eat could be found by the compost heap.

She had stopped circling the pile and stood there; sad eyes cast toward the ground. I put down my garden hoe and began walking towards her. She didn’t see me at first. She stood silently and never looked my way. As I got closer, her face came into focus. She must have been quite an attractive young lady at one time, but now her face was dirty, tired, and weathered, her eyes sunken and hollow. She probably wasn’t over thirty but looked to be much older. Hard living tends to age one quickly.

She looked up and saw me walking toward her. Her eyes showed fear and she hurried toward the river. One needs to be careful on the streets, especially a woman. I didn’t want to scare her, so I stopped and watched her disappear down the levee, headed for the river.

I wished there had been a box of food there. I wished she’d stopped for a minute and let me offer her some of the snacks I keep in my truck. I wished that she – that no one – had to pick through a compost pile just to have something to eat. I hurt for her.

She soon reappeared, made it up to the Trinity Trail, and walked out of sight. I went on about my work, but I couldn’t shake the image of her despair and shuffling searching. The lines on her face were burned into my memory. I couldn’t help but wonder whether she had a home to go to and people who cared about her. My heart broke for her. Empathy is a bitch sometimes.

When I first started fundraising for Opal’s Farm, I threw out a lot of statistics about food insecurity, food “deserts” (a misnomer but I’m not going to get into that now…), and our city’s low-income neighborhoods and how the farm would make a positive impact on it all. Unfortunately, it’s hard to see past a statistic, to see the face of someone else. I can’t empathize with a statistic.

Statistics are great, collecting data important and necessary, but it’s easy to see large numbers and be blinded to the individual. Quantification and identification aren’t solutions. Statistical data generates a lot of sympathy (usually in the form of pity), meetings and commissions but little action…

The young lady searching for food in the compost is more than a statistic. So is the old man I see regularly outside the neighborhood convenience store asking for change or simply something to eat. So are the kids who rely on a free school lunch to make sure they have something that day.

It’s easy to be overlooked or lumped into a category that makes them “the other” if one is just a statistic. Numbers can be overwhelming – “there’s nothing I can do so I’ll let someone else take care of it”. Just say “There but for the grace of God go I ” and go on about business…

There is something each one of us can do – a starting point for all our problems. We can stop. We can see the face behind the number. We can listen. Statistics don’t move people to action. People move people to action. Listening moves people to action. Seeing people as children of the same God and the same humanity as we are moves people to action.

In the oft-quoted passage in Matthew 25, Jesus says,

“I was hungry, and you fed me, I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink, I was homeless, and you gave me a room, I was shivering, and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you stopped to visit, I was in prison and you came to me… Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me”

I need eyes that see – really see – and ears that listen – not just hear – to do something for the “overlooked or ignored”. I begin the process of identification that allows me to serve the God in each and everyone of us. I can’t think of a better way to live…

©2021 Gregory Joel

Infinity and beyond…

“We react to what is in front of our eyes, not what the other possibilities may be. Our survival mechanisms are designed that way perhaps, taking in and processing what needs to be dealt with in the waking world of the moment.

“Yet we are also designed in such a way that we can at least conceive of those greater realities. Curiosity, imagination, thoughts, hopes and dreams… through these we touch a different reality every day that has its own inner life for us…”

Just a snippet from the wonderful perspective of Sue Vincent.

The Silent Eye

Yet, if one could ignore space and time and be everywhere and every-when at once it would, theoretically at least, be possible to count them. Even taking all future snowfalls for the projected lifetime of our planet into consideration, it would be a finite number. There was, once upon a time, a very first snowflake to fall. There will be a last. There would come a point where there were no…

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Hand on the Plow

I feel we’re all struggling to find hope as the world slowly turns. I love Stuart’s story and advice, and think we also need to keep our hand on the plow.

Storyshucker

I watched the morning news but turned away when feelings of hopelessness washed over me as they reported infection rates and death tolls. Isolation is helping end this nightmare, they say, but for any one individual it can sometimes seem an exercise in futility. When a reporter stressed the importance of continuing our social distancing practices, an old memory crossed my mind:

“No.” Ms. Wade shook her head. “Here’s what you’re going to do.” She put her arm around my shoulder. “Keep your hand on the plow and hold on.”

I knew what she meant.

Having grown up around farming and plows I understood the metaphor, but until then I’d never heard anyone describe so succinctly a situation pertaining to myself. Don’t dismay, was her message. Simply continue doing what I’d been doing.

It was early 1980s and I was a twenty-year-old kid working a part-time retail job. Ms. Wade…

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The Halloweensie Winners Are In (Now Vote!)

Susanna Leonard Hill posted the 12 finalists in her Halloweensie contest for this year, out of 324 ENTRANTS!

Take a minute and read them (they’re each 100 words or fewer) and vote for which you feel did the best.

No, I didn’t win (again, and again, and again!), but feel that those who placed as finalists need the high-class opinions of anyone reading this to choose the best.

—–

#1 – Sneaky Sister

My sister swore her potion
Was succulently sweet.
She whispered if I’d drink it, I’d grow feathers on my feet.
My skin would glow magenta,
My ears would multiply,
The cobwebs sprouting from my nose would smell like mildew pie.

My sister said “Don’t worry,
There’s not a thing to fear!
Tomorrow all the side effects will (mostly) disappear…
You’ll be the perfect monster
For this year’s trick-or-treat!
Just guzzle my concoction, and you’ll terrify our street.”

But now she’s flabbergasted
Because I’m feeling fine.
I guess she doesn’t know:
I poured it in her cup
Not mine.

#2 – A Halloween Visit

The pumpkin-moon rises on Halloween night,
A tiny black coffin with eight bats takes flight.

An eight-legged driver with dagger-fanged jaws?
That’s not old Saint Nick, it’s his pal Spider-Claws!

His cobweb-wrapped presents of potions and spells
Will flip-flop your tummy with nose-burning smells.

He creeps down the chimney with barely a noise
To leave scary gifts for all ghouls, girls, and boys.

He might bring you nightmares or haunt all your dreams
With hair-curling howling and spine-tingling screams.

Then Spider-Claws shrieks from his cold, coffin seat—
“Happy Halloween all, and to all Trick-Or-Treat!”

 

#3 – The Nickname Cure

Matilda’s nickname gave her a case of the gloomies.

Especially today on Halloween.

Since her first day at Spookamentary School,

the zombies, ghouls, and mummies called her

W A R T I L D A !

The name didn’t suit Matilda. After all, her wart was teensy-tiny.

Moments before trick-or-treating, Matilda slipped into the science lab.

She picked a sticky cobweb and two bat wings from a box.

She stirred them up with one juicy, lizard’s gizzard.

“This potion will do the trick!” said Matilda.

She dabbed the mixture on her chin and…

Ka-BOOOM!

Matilda’s wart grew large and hairy.

“Perfect!” said Matilda. “Now my nickname suits me.”

 

#4 – Itchy Witchy Underwear

Every year on Halloween,
there’s pumpkins, costumes, and a scene
that thrills the region’s flight fanatics:
Myrtle’s Fright-Night Aerobatics!
But Myrtle’s stumbled on a hitch:
her witchy britches make her itch!
Charms and chants and incantations–
none relieves her aggravations.
Myrtle checks a cobwebbed cranny
for a brew to soothe her fanny.
“Use this potion if you dare.”
She pours it on her underwear.
“It’s done the trick! Oh, lucky witch!
Britches gone, but so’s the itch!”
Feeling breezy on her broom,
Myrtle zips to practice. Zoom!
On Halloween she wows the town–
but…
DON’T watch Myrtle upside down!

#5 – Tricky Witch Test

It’s Halloween! Tonight’s my chance. I’ve got to join the witches dance!

If I can pass this potion test, at last I’ll with cackle with the rest!

Two strands of cobweb, eye of newt, a pinch of stinky goblin root…

GULP!

Do you smell smoke? I feel a spark! I think I’m glowing in the dark!

What’s that? I passed? I got it right? I’m now a pumpkin burning bright?

Hooray! I’m glad I did so well, but how do I undo this spell?

BURP!

That’s all it took to make the switch? Tonight I get to be a witch!

 

#6 – Let’s Go Scarecrow

Screen Shot 2019-11-09 at 2.28.16 AM

 

Bloop-blop 

Past the oozing potion.

Let’s go, Scarecrow.

Shuffle-shuffle 

Under drooping cobwebs.

There’s the door.

TIP-toe TIP-toe

Shhh, Let’s go, Scarecrow.

DING-DONG!

TRICK or TREAT!”

“MWA-HA-HA-HA!!

AAAAHHH!

Let’s go! Let’s go!

Under the cobwebs.

Past the potion.

Through the maze.

Over the bridge.

Down the path.

Through the leaves,

PHEW!

Finally, safe at home again.

 

#7 – Tacky Trick

Itty-bitty corner,
teeny-tiny shed.
Eensie-weensie spider
hanging by a thread.

Spiderling is spinning.
Complicated! Tricky!
Can’t construct a cobweb.
Help! The strings aren’t sticky!

Searches for solutions,
while Halloween is new.
Awkwardly appears
arachnid has no glue.

Witchy whizzes in then,
(broom repair, you see),
catches Spider sobbing
among the web debris.

Witchy comforts Spider
with a shushing motion.
Utters muttered verses,
promptly pours a potion.

Golden drop is plopped
on Spider’s little backy.
Silken threads appear.
Some twirl and tie—they’re tacky!

Spider’s on the broom now,
trying to repay.
Sticky silk will mend it.
Witchy’s on her way!

 

#8 -Vampire Stains

Curses! No! It can’t be so!
I need to get to my chateau!
Zis cloak is now adorned with stains
From zees night’s many spurting veins.

Vhere’s my blood removal lotion?
Bleh! I vill just make a potion.
To rid ze blood, resume abductions,
Follow zees precise instructions:

Curls of cobwebs, vings of bats
Vort of toad and tails of cats.
Zen a scoop of Oxyclean
To look my best on Halloveen.

Ah-ha! That vorked! A vondrous trick!
Now back to hunting very quick.
Bleh! I’m shiny as a spark!
I’m much too clean; glow-in-ze-dark!

 

#9 – Boo Quiet To Spook?

It’s Halloween, and Glenda Ghost
must face the thing she dreads the most:
to haunt tonight, each ghost and ghoul
must prove they’ve mastered Spooking School!

So Glenda waits to do her best
while witches pass their potions test.
Next up, the werewolves howl and growl,
and black cats hiss and monsters scowl.

As Glenda’s turn approaches fast,
she fears her timid “Boo” won’t pass.
Would trick-or-treaters shrink in fright,
or laugh if Glenda spooks tonight?

The spiders spin,
then Glenda’s next!
She LOOMS—nose twitching, fingers flexed.
With cobwebs clinging, quiet “Boo!”
becomes a spookier
“AhhhhhHHHHHhhhhhhhHHHHhhhhhhhhh-Choo!”

#10 – Ghost’s Pest Problem

Ghost peeked out the window.

GHOST: Ahhhh!!!

He picked up the phone and dialed the number.

WITCH: You’ve reached Lotions, Potions, and Other Solutions, how may I help you?

GHOST: I’ve got a pest problem!

WITCH: Okay, I’ll send the exterminator.

Later…

Knock, knock.

Ghost opened the door.

GHOST: Finally, you’re here! They’re all over the front porch!

SPIDER: It’s that time of year. Halloween always brings them out, especially to haunted houses.

GHOST: You’re sure the traps will work?

SPIDER: Oh yeah, they always get caught in them.

Ding-dong.

GHOST: They’re here! Quick! Spin the cobwebs!

“Trick-or-treat!”

 

#11 – Gloona The Grinchy Witch

Gloona the witch was a ghastly old soul-

more greed than a dragon, more warts than a troll.

On Halloween evening, she mixed up a brew

with lizard tail, bedbugs, and pickled worm goo.

From out of her potion, a ghoulish mist crept.

It oozed through the streets until everyone slept.

Beaming with glee, Gloona flew out unseen.

She swept through the city and stole Halloween.

She took every cobweb, each pumpkin and light,

the scarecrows, the sweets, the decor made of fright,

and inside her cottage, she laughed with conceit.

That is, ‘til she heard, “Ring-a-ding. Trick or treat!”

 

#12 – Broom Or Bust

The Witches-Who-Confer convene,

just once a year on Halloween.

 

The youngest witch to ever try

to earn her broom and learn to fly,

Sabrina stood before the crowd;

enacting words she spoke out loud:

“A pinch of cobweb, extra dusty,

metal shavings, not too rusty.

Put them in a pumpkin shell.

Add the potion; mix it well.”

 

Sabrina ducked behind the chair

as pumpkin pieces pierced the air.

And once the chaos came to rest

Sabrina said, “I tried my best!

I’ll go back home; I’ll hone my tricks

and I’ll be back when I am six!”

 

I know this is a tough choice!  But please read and consider and choose your favorite and vote for it in the poll below by Monday November 11 at midnight Eastern time!  That gives you 3 whole days to vote!

CLICK HERE TO GO TO HER SITE AND VOTE!

I Met Depression… and I Won

From the beautiful, authentic Heather Dawn:

A few years ago I was diagnosed with depression.

There are many reasons for falling into depression: Trama. Rejection. Bullying. Death or loss. Harmful world views. Stress. A life-altering event. Hormones. Lack of nutrition or sleep… and the list goes on.

Healing for each soul is a very individual path. So as I share my story of hope, that is all I want you to take from it.

There is hope.

Today I am alive. Joyful. Healed. Whole. And maybe what healed me can help you. But maybe you need to take a different path. That’s OK too.

I’m sharing to bring hope, not to say I have the answers.

In February 2014, I had my fifth child… a son. It was very, very difficult for me to face this addition to my family. Though I loved him more than words can describe, I was exhausted with the other children…

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Carrot Ranch Rodeo #4: TUFF Beans

Charli’s presented her most challenging contest yet, one utilizing a writing process called TUFF.

TUFF is The Ultimate Flash Fiction; wherein you, the writer, submit a 99-word flash, then parse it down to 59, then parse it down to 9, then rewrite a 99-word iteration showing how the story improved in this process.

Here’s what she says about it:

Now things are going to get TUFF. Our final contest of the 2019 Flash Fiction Rodeo is all about having the guts to revise. As if writing weren’t challenging enough, we also have to know what to cut, what to add, and how to improve our stories. Revision is where the work happens. TUFF is an exercise in getting to the heart of a story and rebuilding it with that understanding. TUFF stands for The Ultimate Flash Fiction. In this contest, you will be asked to write one story with several reductions and a final revision. Your revision should be different from your initial draft. That’s where a writer has to gain courage and insight. TUFF will help guide you if you practice it.

Keep in mind that the TUFF contest is all about process. So far in this Rodeo, writes have tested skills of storytelling, craft, and creativity. Now it’s time to show how you approach revising an initial story idea. Your first 99-words should be a first draft and your final 99-words should be polished and improved. The word reductions in between help you find the heart of your story (59-words) and a punchy line (9-words). Judges want to see how you manage the entire process of TUFF.

And yes, beans are involved.

CRITERIA:

  1. Your story must include beans (go where the prompt leads).
  2. You will submit one story, retold through varying word counts: 99 words, 59 words, 9 words, and 99 words.
  3. Your second 99-word story should show the evolution or transformation of revision. How is it different? How is it improved? Did the TUFF process lead to new insights that changed the final version?
  4. The story can be fiction or BOTS (based on a true story).
  5. It can include any tone or mood, and be in any genre, and don’t forget the beans.
  6. Make the judges remember your story long after reading it.

CONTEST RULES:

  1. Every entry must meet the word count requirements exactly. You can have a title outside that limit. Check your word count using the wordcounter.net. Entries that aren’t 99-59-9-99 words will be disqualified.
  2. Enter this contest only once. If you enter more than once, only your first entry will count.
  3. Do your best to submit an error-free entry. Apply English grammar and spelling according to your country of origin style. As long as the judges can understand the language, it is the originality of the story that matters most.
  4. If you do not receive an acknowledgment by email WITHIN 3 DAYS, contact Charli at wordsforpeople@gmail.com.
  5. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. EST on October 30, 2019.
  6. You may submit a “challenge” if you don’t want to enter the contest or if you wrote more than one entry.
  7. Refrain from posting your contest entry until after November 28.
  8. Use the form [on Carrot Ranch‘s site] to enter.

2019 JUDGING

Charli Mills, Lead Buckaroo at Carrot Ranch, will collect stories, omitting names to select the top ten blind. Please refrain from posting your contest entry on your blog. A live panel of judges from the Keweenaw will select three winners from the top ten stories. The blind judging will be a literary event held at the Roberts Street Writery at Carrot Ranch World Headquarters in Hancock, Michigan. After selections are made, a single Winners Announcement with the top ten in each category will be posted on November 28. All ten stories in each contest will receive a full literary critique, and the top winner in each contest will receive $25 (PayPal, check, Amazon gift card, or donation).

Throwback Thursday: The Pit of My Mind

Originally posted at The Bipolar Writer Collaborative Mental Health Blog in April of 2018. If you think it’s depressive; yes, it is.

A spotlight coming from a hole in a dark underground cave in Minorca

“Chelsea? Chelsea?” I don’t look up.

Wendy the counselor waits; I assume she waits patiently. She’s going to have to wait for a while, if she thinks waiting will get a response from me. I may be as mentally distant from her, the room, and life as possible; but, I smugly acknowledge, I still have my stubbornness.

“Chelsea?” She tries again, though not pleading or cajoling. The woman is too good at her job. Her paid job. The one I’m paying her to do. “I can come in there after you, if you need me to, but I want you to find a way out on your own.”

Fat. Chance.

I’m ugly. No one actually cares about me, least of all her. I’m paying her; she’s a paid friend. She doesn’t want to to see my face; my red, splotchy, tear-stained face, with stringy, greasy hair and imperfect, crooked teeth…

“Whatever you’re telling yourself right now is not true.” I hear, from a distance. “You need to stop listening to that voice, and meet each untruth with the more positive truth.”

Whatever. I’ve heard aphorisms before. know that my “voice” is the truth: the UGLY truth, yes; but the HONEST one. No one really cares. No one really cares. No one. People standing outside my pit, calling to me, don’t really want to be there. And, they are ignorant twits.

Whenever someone leans over the edge of The Pit I wait. “You don’t actually care!” I yell, from somewhere near the bottom, out of sight of any penetrating light. Occasionally, they take the bait; they lean closer. Grabbing them like a mud-pit crocodile, I drag them down with me to their doom.

“Wha-?” They manage, before getting a faceful of mud, moss, roots, overplayed apps, and wrappers from an entire package of Fun Size Snickers.

Believe me, that size of chocolates was not as “fun” as they said.

Soon enough, I have amassed a small pile of hapless prey. Almost all of them are not strangers; they’re me: Optimistic Me, Tried That Day Me, Motivated Me, lots of Medicated Me’s, Broke the Habit Me, and even Did Something Worthwhile Me. They’re not as big or strong as Me in The Pit, of course, which is why they’re lying, broken, at the bottom.

Balancing carefully, I decide to climb atop the living pile of bodies. They moan slightly, too down-trodden and depressed to fight back.

Knowing me, I’d probably kick them if they did fight. It’s easier to kick another down than help myself up.

Slowly, precariously, my head reaches sunlight. I climb higher, ignoring the complaints below. Helpful Me, the poor sucker, proffers a handy boost with her unbroken leg. Soon I see the top of the hole; I’m looking at ground level.

“Wow,” I breathe.

A slight, sweet-tasting breeze tickles my exposed face. A completely careless birdsong whistles down from a nearby tree. I see light, clear skies, beautiful landscapes. I can almost touch rough twigs and mossy ground. Almost.

A low shot of green underbrush in a forest under a bright sun

It’s not real, someone I know, inside, tells me.

“Come out,” my counselor requests. Still waiting. Perhaps she’s eyeing Medicated Me, just beneath a dirty sneaker, when she adds, “Medication is never meant to be taken on its own. Studies are clear that any treatment must include therapy.”

The breeze tastes of rain, as well. Storms will come, maybe soon. That whistling bird is a sitting duck for a hawk or fox, singing so anything can hear it. The impending storms will mar the sky -look! See? A cloud is already blocking the sun. The twigs and moss are not actually there. I’m sure they’re just fake craft-store props.

It’s too much.

I climb or stumble or intentionally fall back to the dark comforts beneath me. We all roll or crawl or drag ourselves to muddy positions as I select the easiest numbing solution nearby.

“Don’t do this,” I think I hear, from far away. Wendysomething?

You didn’t, Depressed Me says.

“Let’s play Fallout,” Addicted to Apps Me suggests. A few others perk up a bit in agreement. I acquiesce, and we all wait for it to load. We really ought to fix the WiFi in The Pit, but Motivated Me is still recovering from a concussion.

“Can I have a Snickers?” Pig Me asks. I hand her the bag. Thank goodness for home delivery, otherwise we might starve.

 

Photo Credits:
unsplash-logoJez Timms
unsplash-logoDeva Darshan
unsplash-logoIan Chen
unsplash-logoJanus Clemmensen

 

©2019 Chelsea Owens