Promptly Speaking

Who watched the Super Bowl last night? Millions of us, including me. I’m not exactly a sports fan, but there is something about this final football game of the season that pulls me in. I used to think I was pulled in by the fun commercials that accompany the game, the spectacular half-time shows (Lady Gaga gets a lot of respect from me for last night’s performance), and the chance to hang out eating stuff that isn’t good for me. But it’s more than that. There’s that sense of so many people coming together to root for their team, of being part of something big and fun. And, last night, it was the wild comeback of the Patriots over the Falcons after they trailed by 25 points.

What does any of that have to do with writing and creative work?

It has to do with not giving up. It has to do with pushing toward your goals even when it feels like your work is getting trounced or your idea is intercepted and taken up by some other player. You never know when there will be a chance to slip your work into the perfect publication and score an acceptance.

And that’s why this Monday after the big game is the perfect time for some new prompts. Let’s wipe the potato chip crumbs from our fingers and get to work.

  1. Driving down a street in southeast Minneapolis this morning, five wild turkey crossed the road in front of me and wandered into someone’s front yard. What wild thing has crossed your path today?
  2. A school bus with its stop sign arm extended and its red light flashing, stopped to pick up kids near my house. A white car came from behind, zoomed around the stopped bus and sped off. Where was that driver going and why did they break the law?
  3. An article about wealthy survivalists was in the January 30 issue of the New Yorker. What makes you lurch into a survivalist mentality?
  4. Valentine’s Day – celebrate it or ignore it?
  5. What stops your heart?

Happy writing.

Current Calls for Submission

Gyroscope Review is accepting submissions for their general submissions category until March 15, 2017. Guidelines here.

Gyroscope Review also has a themed call for submissions open until March 15. Guidelines for that are here.

Good luck!

 

laptop writing

 

Today’s images courtesy of Pixabay.com.

 

 

 

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THE HIATUS IS OVER…

There are still tomatoes ripening in the garden, flowers blooming, crows calling across the back yard. Windows open, I feel that pull to be outside, camera in hand (or garden shears if there are fruits and vegetables to be harvested). But there is a whole cadre of poems waiting for my co-editor Constance and me to decide upon for Gyroscope Review. There is a mountain of flash fiction also awaiting publication decisions over at Fine Linen Literary Journal. And there is One Minnesota Writer, which spends the end of every summer languishing while I take a break to figure out what’s next.

For my whole life, I have been unable to shake off the rhythm of the academic calendar. Summer is down time, travel time, outside time. I do a lot of thinking over the summer, especially when I’m pulling weeds or watering plants or walking my dogs in that early morning summer light that always feels holy. Schedules are something to be shunned during June, July, and August; the older I get, the more clear I am about that in my own life. These months are mine for rejuvenation. Even when I had jobs that did not allow three months of summer vacation, that rhythm was present, that sense that summer is slow-down time, take-it-easy time, be-in-the-moment time. This is a rhythm I have been incredibly lucky to live by and it is not something I would ever willingly give up.

But here it is September, time for new projects, regrouping, and anticipation. A year ago, I had just had a conversation with Dave Morehouse about helping bring his flash fiction dream, Fine Linen Literary Journal, into print. I was also finalizing plans with Constance Brewer for our digital poetry quarterly, Gyroscope Review. And I was trying to figure out what to do with One Minnesota Writer that might be a little different. On top of that, I signed up as a member of AWP and made plans to attend their huge annual spring writing conference in Minneapolis. There was a big void to fill after Every Day Poets, where I spent five years on staff, suspended publication in June of 2014. In some ways, I moved too quickly to fill that void.

Since last September, I’ve had a few project timeline collisions. I’ve found myself busier than I wanted or anticipated. My annual summer hiatus gave me room to think about all this and ask myself important questions: Am I a writer first or an editor first? Where is my balance between the writing work and other parts of my life such as family obligations, volunteer work, and a broad range of other interests? What about the writing projects I’ve started and have yet to finish?

It might be expected that these kinds of questions get easier to answer as one matures. They don’t. Families grow, opportunities multiply, and the awareness of life as a finite amount of time sharpens. Every year, I expect my summer to be slower but, in spite of suspending some of my work, it isn’t. As I watched the birth and maturation of my little urban garden, canned tomatoes, moved my daughter into her first real apartment, spent time with my granddaughter, and travelled to Germany, I knew that being selective on what I say yes to is more necessary now than ever. I cannot say yes to everything if I wish to be good at anything.

I’m not 21 anymore; the world does not lay open at my feet. Rather, it is a complex map that I study for openings that fit. Sometimes I choose wrong. Opportunities that look wonderful before I start them sometimes become onerous within weeks for all kinds of reasons. And it’s hard to find the right time to exit and go in a different direction if there isn’t time to step back and think.

So, I’m very grateful for my summer hiatus. And One Minnesota Writer will be changing as one of the results.

After several years of running writing prompts on my First Five Fragments for Friday feature, it’s time to give up all that alliteration and those prompts. I learned that people generally like prompts, especially picture prompts, so feel free to follow me on Instagram (kcmickelson) where I post a lot of photos, or on Twitter (@kcmickelson) where I occasionally comment on some random thing, all of which make decent writing prompts. And, I am tweeting a series of prompts over the next few weeks for the Fine Linen Twitter feed (@finelinenmag). There are many, many writing prompts available on other blogs and all of mine will remain in the archives here, so there is certainly no shortage. But, as a writer, I know it’s time to move beyond the prompt and talk about other things.

What I want to do here is share essays that are connected to what I’m working on, what’s in the news, and what catches a writer’s interest. Well, okay, this writer’s interest. Writers have a responsibility to be part of a broader conversation, be threads in the community fabric. Like any other artist, a writer offers a specific vision that just might shift the conversation.

That’s exactly what I want to do. Shift the conversation. Let me know what you think. I’ll be posting regularly on Mondays from here on.

So long, Summer.

FIRST FIVE FRAGMENTS FOR FRIDAY: Prompt Props

I have all kinds of things in my office that serve as creative nudges. Trouble is, when you have an office full of stuff that sticks around day after day, it blends into the background. So, every so often, I dig around in my accumulation of writerly objects and reacquaint myself with their vibes.

It works. And I’ll share.

1. Things hidden in boxes

I don’t have a lot of boxes around here – just a few for back-up photo cds and back issues of magazines I’ve yet to part with. But here is one little box that has been on my shelf for several years and I don’t look inside it very often. Today, I took a peek and rediscovered my “angel cards”. These are fantastic writing prompts and my discovery gave me the idea of pulling a card from the box each morning for the next few weeks, then using whatever is on that card as a prompt for my daily writing.

The bird box

The bird box the sits on my bookshelf

 

The "angel cards" inside the box

The “angel cards” inside the box

 

2. Stuff my mom used

On one of my bookshelves, I have my mom’s old face powder container. No, there’s no powder in it anymore; it’s glass with a metal top and it’s been thoroughly cleaned. It’s just an odd little piece that I kept after she died because I remember always seeing it on her dresser when I was a little kid. After she used up the powder that came with it, she kept it to hold assorted tiny things that might come in handy (bobby pins, safety pins, spare earring backs, etc.). I don’t keep anything inside it but memories.

My mom's empty face powder container

My mom’s empty face powder container

 

3. A Goofy Pez dispenser

When my son was in high school, he worked for a brief time at a place in the nearby shopping mall that sold all kinds of candy. Once, he came home with the mother lode of Pez dispensers and I couldn’t resist this one. Goofy suits me. Goofy is a good stress-buster.

Goofy

Goofy

 

4. Squishy skull

My buddy Andrew bestowed this skull upon me one Halloween a couple of years ago. Squishing it till its eyes pop is the best thing ever. Well, at least until something else comes along to distract me.

Unsquished skull

Unsquished skull

 

Squished skull

Squished skull

 

5. Light my fire

Need a spark? Here you go. This dragon came from one of the many art fairs held in the summer in the Twin Cities. He’s just waiting for someone to strike that match.

Dragon awaiting spark

Dragon awaiting spark

 

What kind of creative nudges are patiently waiting for you to see them as they linger in your everyday space?

Go have a look. Happy Friday.

 

 

 

First Five Fragments for Friday – Prompts for Fiction vs. Prompts for Poetry

This week, I’m doing something slightly different. I’m offering two lists of five things. One list contains poetry prompts; the other, flash fiction prompts.

Why separate the two? Because as an editor who readily agrees that a prompt can be used for either kind of writing, I’m also keenly aware of the differences between poetry and flash fiction. And, since I am writing this post on the heels of a day spent reading submissions in both categories, this different is bouncing around my head like a ping pong ball.  I have to do something about that.

 

Five poetry prompts:

1. Contemporary imagery trapped within the confines of a sonnet – what does that look like?

2. Honor urban grittiness.

3. Make a case for serial monogamy.

4. Promote the beauty in the daily care of dogs.

5. Offer the response of a parent who embraces imperfection.

 

Five flash fiction prompts:

1. Give us the creation of one great meal.

2. Tell the story of packing up your parents’ belongings.

3. Make us understand the man on death row who has remorse no one sees.

4. Give us Cinderella’s father’s deathbed thoughts.

5. What about that mother who cannot stand the thought of one more pregnancy?

 

Happy Friday. That should keep you busy.

 

First Five Fragments for Friday

Your weekly offering of writing prompts.

I have to admit to being completely in love with:

1. holiday lights
2. holiday music
3. holiday stories
4. holiday food
5. wrapping paper

I love feeding people and giving them presents, feel happy to see people trying to be nicer because that’s what we do at this time of year. The smell of pine boughs or baking cookies or roasting turkey just makes it all that much better. Which means, of course, that the world is full of writing prompts that could trigger happy memories (see 1-5 above).

But, of course, that’s not always the case. Holidays are a mixture of good and bad, stress and relaxation, just like the rest of our lives. And not everyone can afford to give gifts or feed someone else.

Maybe this is the nudge to consider what we actually celebrate and why. I grew up in a Catholic tradition, so Christmas is a December essential for me, even though I no longer practice Catholicism. What attracts me to a Christmas celebration now is centered on an appreciation of those about whom I care deeply. What I’ve retained from my childhood is a love of rituals that bring people together.

And you? What is it that causes you to celebrate in December? Alternatively, what might cause you to ignore the whole scene?

Whatever you do with December, make it matter.

Happy Friday.

Even our dogs have stockings. Happy Holidays!

First Five Fragments for Friday – Readers Respond Edition

Your weekly offering of writing prompts.

Last week,  I asked for readers to share their favorite prompts, hoping we would get some really specific ones, to share in this week’s Fragments. Here they are:

1. Morning tea
2. Memories
3. Write a poem of supplication (from Diane Lockward’s Poetry newsletter)
4. Scent

Thank you to Anonymous, Audrey, Constance, and Elephant’s Child for participating.

Now, let’s look at those prompts. They are broad, they are each general enough that anyone could dig in. What happens if we spawn five more prompts from each one? Then we might get something like this:

Morning Tea

1. My favorite teapot
2. The worst brewed tea I’ve ever tasted
3. The first time I drank tea, I was here: ___________
4. My mother preferred coffee over tea.
5. If tea doesn’t have any caffeine, what’s the point?

Memories

1. I was a three-year-old in the living room of the house on Polk Street when JFK was shot.
2. It took Dad three hours to drive 34 miles that time we took the Rollinsville Pass as a shortcut through the mountains near Boulder.
3. I can’t remember where I got the dog cloth that looks like an oven mitt, but it’s the best thing ever for cleaning dog paws.
4. Mom talked to people who were dead when she was in the hospital after her stroke.
5. When we had the big Halloween snowstorm, I tromped through snow past my knees to take my son trick-or-treating.

Supplication

1. What have I prayed for lately?
2. To whom have I prayed?
3. The rosary I had in childhood has disappeared.
4. Trees bend in supplication from the force of strong wind.
5. No one should be forced to kneel before their partner.

Scent

1. Baby powder is the scent of innocence.
2. There is no way to fully mask the smell of marijuana, but that didn’t stop the kid from trying by mixing his weed with coffee grounds.
3. My father is Old Spice and cigarettes.
4. During her pregnancy, she could not stand the smell of hamburger as it cooked.
5. Autumn is the scent of drying leaves, freshly carved jack-o-lanterns, pumpkin lattes, and death.

And there you have it – 20 prompts for the price of four responses. Have at it and Happy Friday.

Where I was a year ago – at a San Francisco graffiti art zone

First Five Fragments for Friday – What November Brings

Your weekly offering of writing/art prompts.

November in Minnesota. We begin with the left-over Halloween candy then move to elections, frosty mornings, deer-hunting season, rotting jack-o-lanterns tossed in the garden, and Thanksgiving menus. Holiday decorations appear first in the retail outlets, and then creep closer and closer to our own front doors. We debate whether shopping on Thanksgiving Day itself is a good thing or a horrendous thing, unless we decide we don’t care and pour ourselves another glass of wine. Let people do what they will.

November puts me into a certain mood linked directly to the now-naked trees, the clouds that might hold snow, the sound of the furnace as it kicks in. I stand in front of the window longer, watch the birds as they argue over perches on our bird-feeders. The idea of sitting in front of the fireplace with a good book sounds so much better than it did over the summer.

And so does the idea of writing. Which lead directly to this week’s prompts.

1. The Internet of Things and the idea of magic. What price do we pay for using these tools that appear to be magical?

2. Is Thanksgiving being completely overlooked as a holiday in its own right?

3. Voting. Rights. Pressure to vote. The right to choose not to vote.

4. Chiweenies. Because every list of prompts needs a light moment.

5. A call for your favorite prompts. Tell me your favorite prompt of all time in a comment below, and I’ll post the list next week.

Happy Friday. It’s not just Decorative Gourd Season (heads up, NSFW link), it’s red wine season in this house.

Fun Fact for the Week

A 70-foot white spruce from northern Minnesota is on its way to Washington D.C. where it will be ensconced as the national Christmas tree. Go, Minnesota!

First Five Fragments for Friday – Which Witch is Which Edition

Your weekly offering of writing/art prompts.

Halloween will never stop being one of my favorite days of the year. Never!

And so, of course, this week’s prompts are really an indulgence in all things witchy. I give you five fun witches, all of whom hang out at my house.

Happy Halloween, everybody!

Fun Fact for the Week:

The most popular Halloween costume this year depends on where you live. Huff Po recently posted the most-Googled costumes state-by-state. What showed up for Minnesota? A banana. I’m baffled.

Here’s the link, if you’re truly dying to know more: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/27/halloween-costumes-googled-most-popular_n_6050592.html

 

First Five Fragments for Friday – A Happy Looking Back Edition

Your weekly offering of writing/art prompts.

So often during autumn, I get nostalgic as I tromp through fallen leaves, breathe in that crisp cold air, and crave Halloween candy. It’s a happy sort of nostalgia. And, so, this week’s prompts are flashes of my past life. Really old flashes from a simple, happy time.

from my mother’s Better Homes & Gardens cookbook circa 1965
Yep, my very first report card. I’d still be in school if I could afford it.
Can you figure out which one was the most loved?
Not entirely sure why Midge and Barbie still live in a box in my basement.
This was also in that basement box, but when I was little, this lived on my bedside table.

What do you still have that comes from a happier time? What would you say about that object now?

Happy nostalgic Friday.

Fun Fact for the Week:

This is another photo from my mom’s old cookbook.

Because the cookbook came from the mid-Sixties, it’s very much aimed at a woman and her assumed role as homemaker. The only time men show up as potential cooks is in the section on grilling; there, the hands in the photos are men’s hands. There is also a whole special helps section that has two pages on stain removal, which includes “puppy stains (urine)”, blood, and mercurochrome, and I had to wonder what that was doing in a cookbook. And the very first page is a letter addressed, “Dear Homemaker”.

None of these things show up in my version of the Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book, Limited Edition 2000. And that’s why I’m keeping both versions on the bookshelf in my kitchen. It’s nice to see how far cookbooks – and the assumptions about who is actually doing the cooking and why – have come.

First Five Fragments for Friday – It’s in the Details

Your weekly offering of writing/art prompts.
Earlier this week, I wrote about my unwavering focus on Little Trees car fresheners, which I saw dangling from the rearview mirror of the car in front of me at a stoplight.
It’s attention to those little details that sometimes turns into a story, a work of art, a statement. Those details can derail a train, down an airplane, change a life. Or they can simply cause a sock to unravel because the wrong thread was pulled. 
Whatever.

Today’s prompts are odd details that may or may not get your attention. Do with them what you will.


1.  The neighbor’s back porch, with the shades rolled up, holds an assortment of items including a black men’s 10-speed bike, a box with “mountain grown Bartletts – 1.50” printed on the side, a green coffee can, a lidless Cool Whip container, a white director’s chair, a white bike helmet, a half-empty bag of Scott’s lawn fertilizer, a coiled green hose, and a pink sweatshirt tossed atop some boxes.


2.  Here is a list of things necessary to manage type 1 diabetes: insulin, an insulin pump or insulin pens, cartridges for the pump or needles for the pens, a blood glucose meter, strips that fit the meter, a lancet and lancet needles to get blood samples, batteries for the meter and the insulin pump, alcohol swabs for the tops of insulin vials, prep swabs for skin before inserting an insulin pump set, glucose tablets in case of low blood sugar, insulated carriers for insulin vials or insulin pens, a clip to hold the insulin pump on a waistband, a checklist for travel so nothing gets left behind, a copy of all prescriptions, and one thing – anything – that helps maintain sanity while managing a chronic condition.


3.  If someone is in the midst of an asthma attack, the skin at the base of their neck seems to suck itself inward while the muscles on the sides of their neck become taut ropes as they try to inhale. The sound of the inhalation is a chorus of odd, faint squeaks.


4.  Has anyone ever bought a lottery ticket based on these numbers?

5.  What is this?

Got enough details to ponder for the entire weekend? Good!

Happy Friday.

Fun Fact for the Week:

When was deodorant invented? According to an article on Mental_Floss, the first trademarked deodorant, called Mum, appeared in 1888, and it was actually a paste for the underarm area. Can you imagine putting that in your gym bag?

The scent-obsessed can learn more about that here: Body Odor Through the Ages: A Brief History of Deodorant.

Blame this week’s fun fact on those car deodorizers that probably won’t show up on this blog ever again.

Phew.