Category Archives: Challenges

Learning Curve

It

was

early

in March,

nearly spring,

the season of hope,

and my grandson Elliot

would soon have a birthday —

his first. I couldn’t wait to see him.

I had my ticket. Flight 351. April 24.

 

Then, like a giant evil raptor, the pandemic

swooped in, wrecking havoc across continents.

The world was shocked. Thousands fell ill. Many died.

I cancelled my trip. Elliot would have to wait to see Grandma.

People are saying: “It feels like a sci-fi movie,” and “This is weird.”

Some say, “I’m scared,” or even, “It’s like living in the Twilight Zone.”

I watch the news. It’s real. I learn about mitigation and flattening the curve.

I live alone. The silence is deafening. When this is over, I think I’ll get a puppy.

 

We are in this together. We all buy wipes, wash our hands, stand six feet apart.

We cough into our elbows, sew masks, sing from windows, applaud helpers.

We call our parents, record funny songs, take up new hobbies, practice yoga.

We praise our essential workers. We send them big tips and free pizzas.

Our houses are spotless, our cupboards are bare. We’re okay with that.

We try to embrace love and deny fear. We don’t always succeed.

We check our wipes and toilet paper supplies on a daily basis.

We tell ourselves we’ll get through this. Most of us will.

 

When this is finally over, I will visit family.

There will be laughter, and also tears.

As for the rest of the world, will we

reflect on things? Will we know

what we did right? Appreciate

how we cooperated? Mend?

Will we ask ourselves

“What did we learn?

What

was

it?”


Written for Cheer Peppers as part of a daily writing prompt for the month of April.

20 x 20: A Chart to Inspire You

My friend has come up with a brilliant idea for the year 2020, and I think she should patent it. But since she hasn’t done that yet, I’ve stolen borrowed the concept — and today I’m passing it along to you, free of charge!

I’m calling it a 20 x 20 chart. Here’s how it came about: One day, my friend got to thinking about the year 2020. She liked the fact that it was a “double year.” Double years are rare. Since the year 1 C.E. (A.D.), double years have occurred only 20 times.

Yep, there’s 11, 22, 33, 44, 55, 66, 77, 88, 99, 1010, 1111, 1212, 1313, 1414, 1515, 1616, 1717, 1818, 1919, and 2020. (I admit it, I counted them. Duh.)

She especially liked how 2020 looks in Roman numerals (MMXX). Don’t worry, I’m not going to try and write out the other 19 double-digit years in Roman numerals. My brain hurts just thinking about it.

Anyway, my friend wanted to do something special in honor of the year 2020. She quickly discarded the idea of making one grandiose New Year’s resolution, since resolutions tend to get broken, and once that happens, that’s it for the year. Instead, she decided to do something more ongoing — and something she could actually accomplish. The result is her 20 x 20 spreadsheet, seen below. (Side 2 would have columns 11-20.)

20 x 20 Spreadsheet

At the top of each column, she wrote a mini-goal for herself (20 goals in all). Each goal was something challenging, yet do-able — to be done 20 times during the course of the year. (For example, “Write a letter to a friend.”) As she accomplishes each task, she places a check mark in the appropriate box. By year end, she should have 400 check marks.

I’ve decided to take the 20 x 20 plunge, and you may want to try it as well. If you do, I’d love to hear what challenges you’ve come up with. Here are mine. Remember: My goal is to do each one of these 20 times by December 31.

  1. Send a card to my grandson
  2. Learn to play a new song on guitar
  3. Watch a movie
  4. Read a children’s book
  5. Learn to say “I love you” in a new language
  6. Attend a yoga class
  7. Write a poem
  8. Learn the capital city of an African nation
  9. Write three things I am grateful for
  10.  Contribute food to the local Food Bank
  11. Listen to a classical music piece
  12. Watch a Ted Talk (5 of them in Spanish)
  13. Read an article about an artist whose work hangs in the Louvre
  14. Give up social media for a day
  15. Walk 12 miles (20 km) in a week
  16. Practice piano at least 20 minutes
  17. Try a new type of tea
  18. Read a short story
  19. Visit the gym
  20. Write a blog post

So far I’ve managed to check off 20 boxes — wait, 21, counting this blog post! Only 379 left to go. Hugs to my friend for inspiring me, and hugs to you for reading this. Happy 2020!

Thankful for Peppers

Today I’m going to cheat a bit and write about other people’s posts.

By other people, I mean Cheer Peppers, a.k.a. bloggers participating in the daily November blogging challenge known as NanoPoblano. If you want to indulge in some good reading, and if you’re on Facebook, find the Cheer Peppers group and join it.

Or you can find them in the Cheer Peppers list below. (I hope I haven’t left any out. I borrowed this list from fellow Cheer Pepper Carolyn Owens.)

A.R. at StarvingActivist.com
Barbara at teleportingweena.wordpress.com
Bill at BillFriday.com
Breanna at BooksHooksAndYarn.wordpress.com
Carolyn Owens at InfinityCoaching.net
Cyn at Cynk.wordpress.com
David at TooFullToWrite.com
Dean at DeanKealy.design
Echo at trueecho22.wordpress.com
Gwenlynn at JustALittleBitSweet.com
Hasty at FearingCrazy.wordpress.com
Hope at HopesThoughts.blog
Jessie at BehindTheWillows.com
Jesska at NotThrowingStones.today
Julia at AberrantCrochet.com
Julie at JulieBurton.blog
Kay at SuddenlyTheyAllDied.com
Kim at DrunkOnLifeBlog.com
Lillian at HumanInRecovery.wordpress.com
Liz at CatsAndChocolate.com
Lori at LoriStory.wordpress.com
Matt at TheMatticusKingdom.com
Namy at NamySaysSo.com
Nessa at vanessence.wordpress.com
Nutty at SpokenLikeATrueNut.wordpress.com
Owen at NoTalentForCertainty.com
Paula at TheTemenosJournal.com
Ra at Rarasaur.com
Rebecca at MommyQuits.wordpress.com
Renee at ReneeRobbinsWrites.com
Revis at RevisEdgewater.wordpress.com
Robert at FreshOffThePadPoetry.wordpress.com
Sahara at CreoSomnium.org
Symanntha at FailingAtHaiku.wordpress.com
Quixie at QuixiesMindPalace.wordpress.com

In keeping with the energetic but forgiving spirit of the Cheer Peppers, I’ve been trying to keep up with my daily posts (but not beating myself up if I skip days). I’m also trying to read ALL other Cheer Pepper posts. So far I’ve posted 14/21 days but read all posts for only 3/21 days. I’m batting .667 when it comes to posting, but only .143 for reading.

It’s not that I don’t love reading their posts. I do! It’s just that I run out of time during the week. But I’ll get caught up, I promise! I’m pledging today to read a ton of Cheer Pepper posts over this 4-day weekend.

To prove I’m serious about my pledge, here’s what I’m using to keep track of my progress.

image1

By November 30, I hope to post another photo showing many more check marks in the right hand column.

Cheer Peppers are a thoughtful, funny, kind, and talented bunch, and their work is labor-intensive. Blogging is different from other types of writing, in that blog posts often try to say a lot using a relatively limited number of words.

Good blog posts are attention grabbing, clear, concise, artistic, sometimes amusing, and often deeply personal. It’s difficult to get all of that into a blog post, which is why I’m so thankful I stumbled upon the riches of NanoPoblano. Not only is it good writing practice for me, but it’s introduced me to some amazing people.

Thanks, Cheer Peppers!

nanopoblano2018-notrim

Rejection’s Silver Lining

Today was a very special day. I received not one, not two, but THREE rejections in my email inbox. After the initial sensation of having eaten a truckload of sour grapes, I’ve decided to think of these messages as good omens. Things are bound to get better, since they can’t get much worse.

fox-1278118_1920

To be honest, I wasn’t devastated. I’m getting used to rejection, and besides, the submissions were for low-cost online contests that set me back only $7 for all three entries.

Rejections #1 and #2 were kindly worded and encouraging:

“The road to publication takes many turns, and we hope you will continue your journey. We wish you the best of luck with your writing, and hope to see your work again.”

But Rejection #3 was sort of odd. The subject of the email was:

“Contest Finalists!”

After getting my hopes up, I opened the email only to discover that I was NOT one of the lucky 100 finalists. Yes, that’s right, 100. I think they should have come up with a different designation for the chosen ones, other than “Finalists.” Maybe “Semifinalists”?” “Just above average”? Or how about “Most of the Entrants”? Actually, I have no idea how many people entered, but I hope it wasn’t 101.

Being the humble wannabe writer that I am, I decided to check out a few of the lucky entries.

I clicked on a random entry and found that it had been typed in a weird font that was hard to read. Not only that, but the line spacing was such that the lines were smashed together. It wasn’t possible to read it without getting a headache. I clicked on another random entry.

I was met with the same eye-strain inducing font, and the same migraine-triggering line spacing. It must be the website, not the authors, I deduced. I gave a third piece a try and had the identical experience, but this time I noticed things like exceptionally long sentences, a lack of periods between sentences, and even a subject/verb disagreement. In short, the writing had a certain unproofread flair.

I felt a lot better about not being chosen as a “Finalist” for that contest, since it was clear that I hadn’t understood the rules. It was supposed to be a “first draft” contest, I guess.

I brushed off my rejections and turned my attention to my project for the evening, which was to post something for NanoPoblano (my November blog-a-day obsession). I actually had a halfway decent idea for my post tonight. It wasn’t about my rejections. It was about a movie I’d seen yesterday.

I started to type a title for this blog, changed my mind, and deleted it. Immediately, a message from WordPress popped up on my screen :

YOU HAVEN’T WRITTEN ANYTHING YET!

Thanks, WordPress. I needed those words of encouragement, especially today.

Actually, I’m laughing about this whole thing. I’ve developed a thick skin regarding rejection. I know I’m still a novice and have a lot to learn. I still love writing and submitting my work, and I hope I never lose that fire.

So to WordPress, just for tonight, I say this:

YES, I HAVE, AND YOU AIN’T SEEN NOTHIN’ YET!

nanopoblano2018-notrim

 

A Pepper and a Carrot Walked into a Bar

I’m excited today because I’ve only got TWO things on my to-do list. One has to do with a pepper. The other has to do with a carrot.

To Do List

  1. Write a blog post for Day 1 of NanoPoblano 2018
  2. Write the final revision of “Mudslide” for Carrot Ranch Literary Community

Today I’ll be able to check off both items on my list with this ONE blog post! And then I can immediately go back to sleeping adding more things to my to-do list.

About NanoPoblano

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to NanoPoblano (a daily blogging challenge that takes place every year in November), and I’ve decided that the key to a good month-long blog challenge is to write about something the READERS care about. I’m really looking forward to doing that.

So, in the comments below, please leave a word or two about what you’d like to read in my November blog posts. I’ll do my best to work all of your suggestions in.

About Mudslide

Mudslide is a story I’ve been working on for Carrot Ranch Literary Community.  It’s a writing challenge designed to torture inspire, educate, and motivate writers.

The Mudslide challenge began with a 297-word story about a mudslide, which then gets pared down — first to 99 words, then 59, and then an unbelievable 9 words, while experimenting with writing techniques such as changing point of view, analyzing important “nuggets,” and interjecting words of emotion.

If you’re interested, you can read those earlier versions by looking at my previous blog posts. Or, you can just read my final challenge below, a 495-word story about a mudslide, cascading all the way to the end of this page.

MUDSLIDE

I sat bolt upright and stared at the bright red numbers on the alarm clock. They stared back at me accusingly, unblinking. Two-fifteen. What had awoken me?

Slowly, it dawned on me. I’d just had that dream again, the one about the mudslide.

I’d had it four nights in a row, ever since moving in with Jake – the man I’d promised to spend the rest of my life with. I knew I should tell my shrink about the dreams, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to hear what she’d have to say about them – especially if I told her the whole story.

I looked over at Jake, snoring softly beside me. I touched his shoulder; he didn’t move. What – or who – was he dreaming about, I wondered? But I needed to stop thinking like that. Who was I to be jealous? I lay down and tried falling back to sleep, but I was still haunted by images of the mudslide in my dream.

It was strong – a torrent of devastating mud, carrying everything in its path down with it into an infinite abyss. There was no escape.

What did it mean? Was it some kind of a warning? Did I have to start watching my back – again?

I was lying still, but I felt uncontrollably dizzy. Unable to stop my swirling thoughts, I got out of bed, tiptoed from the room, and pulled my phone from my purse. Not knowing what else to do, I decided to try an internet search of dream interpretation.

I’d just Googled the words “mudslide dream” when Jake startled me, coming up behind me without a sound and kissing my neck. I jumped and dropped the phone.

It started buzzing as soon as it hit the floor. I quickly reached to pick it up, but Jake beat me to it. He stared at it a second and then held it out so I could see the screen. Caller ID said “SLIM DUDE.”

The phone continued to buzz in Jake’s hand. Finally, it stopped.

“Who’s ‘Slim Dude’?” Jake asked, not expecting what I said next.

“My husband,” I said, feeling ashamed.

“You have a … HUSBAND?!” Jake said. He’d started out whispering, but his words were choked at the end.

My mouth went dry and I couldn’t answer. Instead, I saw a vision, flashing like a neon sign in my brain. It was my husband’s nickname, the one he’d gotten in prison, the eight letters in SLIM DUDE tattooed on his fingers.

I knew then that SLIM DUDE would never stop calling me, never stop haunting my dreams. SLIM DUDE wouldn’t rest until he’d found a way to worm his way into my head again, scrambling up my happiness, and converting my life into a MUDSLIDE of despair.

And now the worst had happened. Jake knew the truth. I took one last look at him and said goodbye forever to my happy life, giving in to the power of the mudslide.

nanopoblano2018-notrim#NanoPoblano2018
#NaBloPoMo2018
#teamtinypeppers

A Nine-Word Story

What’s the shortest story you’ve ever read?

This week’s challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community was a doozy. I needed to shave my shrinking story, Mudslide, down to 9 words! (It’s already gone from 297 to 99 to 59.) Not only that, but I was required to write an emotion into the story.

A 9-word emotional story? “Nein!” I insisted furiously. But since I don’t speak German, I ignored my outrage and took up the challenge, using the following 9-step program:

  1. I told myself I could do it. (Critical step!)
  2. I made a first draft and thought I was done:

SLIMDUDE’s call had turned Rachel’s life into a MUDSLIDE.

  1. I re-read the rules and smacked myself in the forehead. “You forgot!” I scolded myself. “The challenge was to write two stories, and they each need to include an emotion!”
  2. I then wrote this version (emotion shown in brackets):

SLIMDUDE’s call turned Rachel’s life into a disappointing MUDSLIDE. [disappointed]

       I could see now that, by comparison, my first emotionless version was pretty boring.

  1. I rewrote the sentence using a second emotion:

SLIMDUDE’s call pushed Rachel’s life down a disgusting MUDSLIDE. [disgusted]

       I couldn’t stop there.

  1. I changed it again:

SLIMDUDE’s devastating call swept Rachel away in a MUDSLIDE. [devastated]

  1. I tried making it even more emotional:

SLIMDUDE’s haunting call hurled Rachel down an infinite MUDSLIDE. [terrorized]

  1. Then, just for fun, I rearranged the structure and ended up with:

Rachel was shocked by SLIMDUDE’s call. Welcome to MUDSLIDE! [shocked]

  1. I took 9 minutes to reflect on how many different ways there are to write a 9-word story, and how important emotion is in writing.

I wonder if anyone’s ever written a 9-word novel. Just think of the trees that could have been saved by editing War and Peace down to these 9 words:

“War: What is it good for? Absolutely nothing. Peace.”

 

2018-ffr-icon-awards29

 

The Phantom

This week, Colleen Chesebro‘s challenge was to write a poem in one of the formats she lists (haiku, senryu, haibun, etheree, etc.). It was time for me to try a haibun, which is a titled piece written in first person singular, present tense, minimal words, which combines prose and poetry. (To learn more about haibun, see the link to Colleen’s site above.) Also, this week’s writing had to include synonyms for the words “ghost” and “hollow.” I chose the words “phantom” and “empty.”

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

The Phantom

Something’s rattling around downstairs. I can hear it from up here. I creep silently along the long, dark, empty hallway toward the open window. I’ll squeeze through it and onto the roof, drop to the ground, and run away. There’s no other way. I’m sweating as I reach the window. I feel a gust of wind behind me. I turn and see a phantom grinning in the shadows, as it moves swiftly toward me.

full moon
howling wind
shadows pointed
like batons
frenzied rhythm
then a hush
time’s up

•••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••••

 

 

 

 

 

The Incredible Shrinking Story

If you’ve been following this blog, you’ll know that I’m involved in a writing challenge at Carrot Ranch Literary Community. Part I was to write a 297-word story about a mudslide. Part II was to edit it down to two 99-word versions, each with its own POV. Part III (this week’s challenge) is to choose one of the two 99-word versions, reduce it to 59 words, and include a “nugget” from the other version.

But my two Part II versions were virtually identical — except for the pronouns! There wasn’t a unique nugget to be found! The lesson I learned from attempting Part III is that two different POVs are going to react differently to the same situation on an emotional, sensual, and rational level. When I wrote the two versions, it would have been more interesting to get inside of each “mindset” to truly experience the POV.

And now, a confession. In order to complete the Part III challenge, I cheated, going back to my 257-word Part I version, stealing a nugget, and hauling it into Part III. I think cheating is allowed here. If not, my next installment will be sent from the principal’s office.

Part III Version, 59 words (nugget in bold):

Two-fifteen. Four nights of mudslide dreams since becoming Jake’s live-in. A warning? Jake slept. Rising, I phone-googled “mudslide dream.” Jake, awake, kissed my neck. Startled, I dropped my buzzing phone, which Jake retrieved. It said, “SLIMDUDE.” “Who?” “My husband.” “Husband?!” I pondered my ex’s prison nickname. He’d always haunt my dreams, scrambling the MUDSLIDE my life had just become.

My life had just become” was the nugget I selected from Part I, because prior to the dreaded phone call, Rachel’s life was hanging on by a thread. It is now going downhill fast. This nugget of insight from the omniscient third person POV is now being keenly felt by the first person POV of Rachel.

Thank you, Charli (at Carrot Ranch) for the lesson!

Stay tuned for Part IV, in which the story will be reduced to just NINE WORDS!

 

 

 

REBEL WITCH — a poem

Today I took up Colleen Chesebro’s challenge of writing a poem that uses synonyms for the words “color” and “creepy.” I chose the words “hue” and “sinister.”

Writing a poem that included both color and creepiness was quite the mental exercise. Color is fun, and creepy is not fun. When I put those two concepts into a pot and stirred them up, a conflicted character materialized.

Here’s the final brew, which took the shape of a double etheree. An etheree is a 10-line verse with a syllable count of 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10. A double etheree adds another verse of 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1.

REBEL WITCH

skirts
swirling
in the streets
red and orange
yellow, green, and blue
indigo, violet
now that I have named them all,
which hue is the one you favor?
I am forced to dress in black myself —
for that’s what all the other witches wear

and who am I to go against the grain?
witches must look sinister and plain
no colors in our closets, no!
bright colors are forbidden
prisms warrant prison
what’s a witch to do?
make rainbow robes?
break the rules?
why not?
POOF!

 

tanka-tuesday-fall

 

Heartburn

I’ve written a “senryu” in response to Colleen’s “Weekly Tanka Tuesday Poetry Challenge.” From Colleen, I’ve learned that a senryu is a poem including elements of love, a personal event, and irony, with a 5/7/5 syllable structure. The tone of a senryu is humorous or sarcastic.

See below* for more about Colleen’s weekly challenge.

And now for my senryu, “Heartburn.”

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

my heart is on fire

I wish I were in love but

it’s indigestion

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

*Colleen’s challenge for this week was to write a tanka, haiku, senryu, haibun, or cinquain poem using any words we choose, rather than the two words she usually prompts us with. Not having word prompts made my task more of a challenge!