One Hundred Words 101

Friday Fictioneers has become a staple on my blog. Creating a story using only 100 words has impacted my writing in ways I did not expect when I first discovered the group of talented writers led by Rochelle Wisoff-Fields. Now everything I write goes through a rigorous edit to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I’m often knee deep in chaff.

A photo is where the story begins, usually. There are times, however, when an idea that has been percolating in my mind mingles with the prompt in mysterious ways. The result ends up on the keyboard. I don’t question it. I just close my eyes and let it fly. Winging it is what we pantsters, as in fly by the seat of one’s pants, do best. There is no outline or structure, no discernable method to the madness that ensues when I am writing. That is why editing is an indispensable skill. The key most used on my laptop is the backspace, second only to delete.

I had a professor once who tried to instill, or was it impose, rules to be followed when writing anything. I resisted as much as my GPA would allow, but in the end, what she had tried so hard to get me to understand stuck with me. I use it, but probably not often enough. I’ll share it and you can decide for yourself if it is as easy as she made it seem.

Each idea must be supported by a sentence that answers one of three questions about the idea. How is it true? Why is it true? In what way is it true? The simplicity of this practice is deceptive because it can be difficult to admit that you are making a claim that cannot be supported.

I hate when that happens.

Today I did a lot of writing. I published a blog post. I wrote an article that will most likely never be published. I wrote two versions of a cover letter for my ongoing job search. A deluge of ideas caused me to work on several documents simultaneously. I could not separate my ideas fast enough to bother asking how or why or in what way any of them were true. As a consequence, I spent the better part of the afternoon and early evening editing. Right in the middle of all of it, I had to stop myself so that I could start this post. It was nagging at me to be let out, like a sneeze that stings so bad it makes your eyes water.

That’s it. Be open to possibilities. Decide for yourself what is good and what isn’t. Let others help you along the way. Know that sometimes you’ll need to let go of one thing in order to accept something better. Know the rules. Know that you can bend the rules. Know that some rules aren’t worth the torment you feel obligated to endure for them. Know that it isn’t a sprint, it’s a summersault sometimes followed by a face plant. Have the courage to stare failure down and make it pay you back with interest. That’s how to write a story using only one hundred words.

Here is my story prompted by the prompt courtesy of Sarah Potter.

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Copyright Sarah Potter

Since You’ve Been Gone

My mug is piping hot. I take out the biscotti, leaving one in the jar. “I’ll be back for you later,” I whisper. My heart flutters beneath layers of wool and flannel. The flashes are gone now, but the covers still end up on the floor. For old time’s sake I guess, when lava in my veins forced me to open a window. He hated that. The silence is louder than ever. I won’t miss being stuck in this place. The checklist, still on the kitchen counter, is incomplete. Perhaps I’ll have that last biscotti. Tomorrow might be too late.

*****

Lately my mood, and my writing, has been bluer than blue. I make no apologies. That’s the way it goes sometimes. Thanks for reading. I owe you all a debt of gratitude for the generous comments and thoughtful support.

Independence

 

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Parliament Palace, Bucharest, Romania Second Largest Public Building in the World – Second only to the Pentagon

The long, low rumble of an approaching storm awakened me at 3am. Flashes of light sliced the white wooden slats of the shutters that cover my bedroom windows. A thunderclap shook the room. Going back to sleep was not an option.

I began to think. First, about what day it is, July 4, 2016, Independence Day here in the United States, then about what independence means to me.

I believe independence is knowing your own mind. It is choosing for yourself and not permitting your mind to play tricks on you about the choices that you make. Independence is not isolation. Independence is acknowledging the validity of your own judgement while accepting the limitations of that judgement. It is, in fact, the freedom to choose interdependence over isolation.

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Group Hug for my Birthday in Brasov, Romania

I recently returned from Romania where even after almost three decades since the fall of Communism, the older generation is still acutely distrustful. Partnerships are approached with cautious optimism, and for good reason; public trust is still routinely dealt a death blow at local and federal levels. This is something that is equally familiar to Americans.

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Bureaucracy from the Balcony

The future, which requires engaged dialogue about poverty, violence, and corruption, seems tied inextricably to the past. By engaged dialogue I mean more than merely shouting opinions at one another. The ebb and flow of independence and interdependence over time calls for leaders to respect the balance of power, to take responsibility for their own poor judgement, and above all else, to never underestimate people who desire to assert their independence.

As the storm rages on and the power continues to flicker, the dawn’s early light reveals what I know in my heart to be true; the land of the free and the home of the brave can be wherever we choose it to be. That is the beauty of independence.

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We’ll Always Have Bucharest

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My traveling companions, all sixteen of them, and I have taken thousands of steps this past week. We traversed the city so that we could better understand its history and perhaps glimpse its future. Along the way, we have witnessed poverty and experienced sadness, anger, and disbelief. We have also encountered loving kindness, joy, and hope as we stood in the midst of everyday heroes. Not heroes to the world, but to their neighbors and to one another. The kind of heroes we all need from time to time, ones who will help us when we lose our way and rejoice when we find it.pic

Stories of life and death engulfed us and made us fully appreciate the commitment our hosts have made to their mission of preventing children from being trafficked. This happens in several different ways, one is called “loverboy grooming.” This is a long game in which traffickers build trust and create a psychological dependence through promises of a better life. Traffickers can then manipulate their victims effortlessly into domestic servitude with sexual exploitation as the traffickers’ end game.

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Once trapped, there is little support from society to help women who have been trafficked.

We came here to learn about Romania’s response to human trafficking. It is quite possible we knew more about how to appropriately respond than we realized, because in addition to participating in games and crafts with the children, we developed and delivered lessons on the importance of respect for ourselves and others. Recognizing the dignity of others helps us to show compassion. As a result, respect becomes an exchange.

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Parliament Palace

Days of community outreach are emotionally intense. For that reason some sightseeing was built into our schedule. This gave us an opportunity to process what we learned about human trafficking and our interactions with the children and young women we have met.

 

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Tomorrow we travel by bus to a new city. Three hours to prepare our hearts and minds for what’s next. Tonight, there’s dinner on the patio. And gelato!

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From Romania With Love

We touched down in Bucharest on a sunny afternoon. The group was travel weary, but the bus ride to the apartment building where we are staying gave us an opportunity to bond over being tightly packed into our seats, literally chin dip in luggage. Our young Romanian hosts are composed; their confident demeanor is reassuring.  We trust we are in good hands each day as we traverse narrow streets with the occasional car whizzing past. Someone from behind shouts “Car!” Those of us who are trying to make our way around the cars parked halfway on the sidewalk dart out of harm’s way.

We’ve seen the beautiful faces of locals who have greeted us with generous hospitality. A street festival where artisans plied their trade was our first taste of what Bucharest has to offer. Weavers and blacksmiths, glass blowers and print makers along with many others engaged us in friendly conversation and forgave our inability to speak their language. How great is it that Europeans teach their children multiple languages, including English!

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We’ve also seen remnants of Communism above and below ground. Subway, tram, bus, and foot, these are our vehicles on land, but imagination is the vehicle that takes us where we really want to go, to a world where people are not bought and sold into slavery.

Today was our first debrief after visiting with children and young women who have been rescued from human trafficking. We played games and made crafts. We shared lunch and laughter. Today the children could just be children. We took with us sidewalk chalk, bubble wands, frisbees, soccer balls, and craft supplies, but what we took away from the experience was beyond measure. Our hearts were overflowing as we reflected on the day.

What we witnessed today was compassion, true, genuine compassion. Our hosts could choose to go about their lives with the knowledge that bad things are happening in the world, too overwhelmed by the enormity of transnational human trafficking to bother with trying to make even a dent in the problem. Instead they have dedicated their lives to helping victims become survivors.

The stories of how these children and young women have been sexually exploited are heart-wrenching. No person should ever be forced to endure what they have endured. They are gentle and courageous. They are worthy of protection from ever being violated again. This is the continuous challenge. Many are at risk, and there are few resources, none from the government, to assist with transitioning survivors into a permanent safe environment where they can heal and live fully independent lives.

Our group is diverse. Each of us, brave in our own way, is privileged to be here together (whether we realize it or not). Each of us brings something unique to the table. Our takeaways will be unique as well, but we are shaping each other’s perspective (whether we realize it or not). For me, this study abroad began with many difficult questions. Three weeks out of a lifetime surely won’t be enough to find all the answers. But it’s a start.IMG_1287

 

And Here We Go

Study abroad is a fantastic way to spend a summer. I highly recommend it. Although, my class just began today and I haven’t actually started the “abroad” part yet. So, I am speaking hypothetically, of course. I hope I can make the same claim a month from now.

Yes, I graduated. Yes, we had a big party. Yes, I received gifts and praise from my friends and family. Yes, I could be conducting a job search. But two semesters ago I made up my mind that I really, really wanted to participate in the anti-human trafficking study abroad program before making any career decisions. Here is the reason why:

Human trafficking is a form of modern slavery — a multi-billion dollar criminal industry that denies freedom to 20.9 million people around the world. And no matter where you live, chances are it’s happening nearby. From the girl forced into prostitution at a truck stop, to the man discovered in a restaurant kitchen, stripped of his passport and held against his will. All trafficking victims share one essential experience: the loss of freedom. – PolarisProject.org

During that semester, I read Kevin Bales’ book, “Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy” and Louise Shelley’s book, “Human Trafficking, A Global Perspective,” and frankly I was completely overwhelmed and depressed. That is until I realized that I did not have to figure out how to do all of the jobs for international counter-trafficking response. I only had to choose an area that made the most sense for my skills and tolerance level for dealing with the scum who buy and sell humans for sex and forced labor. Yes, the people who pay to have sex with children are scum. They don’t care if I call them scum. They know they are scum, and they don’t care. Yes, the people who, through fraud and coercion, enslave human beings are scum. They don’t care if I call them scum. They know they are scum, and they don’t care. As you may be able to tell, my tolerance level for scum prevents me from pursuing some jobs.

The U.S. Department of State publishes a Trafficking In Persons Report for those interested in reading more about the subject. To say that studying human trafficking is a challenge is an understatement. Students participating in this program will no doubt look poverty and violence square in the face. At times it may seem overwhelming, but each student in this class knows the value of meeting a challenge. We know there is value in helping others. We know what we bring to the table is valued by our professor as well as the organizations with which we will be working. It is a privilege for me to participate in this program. I only hope that I can live up to my own expectations. I will keep you posted.