A blog I have come to follow during the last year is Charli Mills’s Carrot Ranch. Designed along Charli’s “buckaroo” persona, the site is both a showcase for Charli’s own literary outpourings and a refreshing and inspiring “watering hole” for a small but growing literary community; Charli has branded that community her “Rough Writers.”
Charli hosts a flash fiction challenge on her blog, and each week she posts a writing prompt for her stable of Rough Writers. Triggered by events in the wider world or by the quiet dramas of the natural sphere that surrounds her in Elmira Idaho, the themes selected are always ones that provoke a far-ranging response. The strictures she places on word count–99 words, no more, no less–encourage a tightening of focus and a keen, almost poetic, attention to vocabulary.
This week’s prompt, and the essay that precedes it, brilliantly conflate two recent devastating cataclysms, one natural and one social: the earthquake in Nepal and the racial turmoil in the United States that has seen a violent upswing in recent months in response to the anger unleashed by black communities over the deaths of black men at the hands of the police. Charli captures the fear, frustration, and helplessness many of us feel:
Like geological earthquakes, social ones rock the ground we stand upon. We feel ripped to pieces. We feel buried alive in the rubble of our riot-fueled angst. We feel the whole damn world is against us, no one understands.
What we need is common ground. To reach across the racial chasms we need to toss aside discomfort over “otherness.” Our first step is to recognize one race: human.
To toss aside otherness is a large order, one difficult to achieve even when the heart is willing. That being the case, the prompt this week is perhaps more challenging than most (and thanks to Charli for graciously allowing me to expand the word count.):
April 29, 2015 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story that tackles racism. Think about common ground, about the things that rip us apart as humans. How we can recover our identities in a way that honors the identities of all individuals? What breaks the barrier of other-ness? Imagine a better tomorrow that doesn’t need expression in riots or taking sides on social media. As writers, think about genres, characters, tension and twists. We can rebuild.
As a member of the “dominant culture” in the States, I have had my own moments of reckoning over the years in regards to race. This flash piece (part memoir, part fiction) comes from one of them.
Janisha planted herself before my desk. A bulwark, I thought.
“I want to talk to you,” she said.
Her tone conveyed a reprimand, not a request to a supervisor.
“Alright,” I said. “Have a seat.”
She ignored me. I looked uneasily behind her at the only door to my office and the empty hallway beyond.
“You might close the door,” I said, remembering the discrimination complaint she’d filed against another manager. I’d already gotten her play-by-play account of the incident, despite the dean’s warning not to discuss it.
I suppressed a sigh of defeat. Composed my face to its managerial mask. Wondered again what made this woman so bloody commanding: that throaty voice, those tight cornrows framing heavy brow and full purple lips. Her face belonged to some fierce Asian deity guarding a temple.
I cleared my throat. “You know it’s against policy for me to discuss your grievance,” I began.
Her face glistened like a polished stone. Glowering, I thought.
Then in a beat, she threw her head back, let out a full-throttle laugh.
“That’s not why I came in,” she said. And laid a plastic, motorized fan on my desk.
“Just gets so stinking hot back here.”