Announcing our September Flash Fiction Write Prompt Challenge Winner!

With the release of every print issue of Blank Spaces you will find a new challenge posted inside the back cover—an image-based Write Prompt Flash Fiction Contest! We try to choose images that might inspire stories that could go in any number of directions. One of the most exciting things about this challenge is seeing the different ways people interpret the same image—we love diversity!

Thank you to everyone who faced our September challenge and sent along your hard work! 

And special thanks to our team of volunteer judges, for your honest feedback and donation of time!




We are so pleased to announce the winner of our first contest! Congratulations to Geraldine Mac Donald from Kingston, Ontario on her winning story, 'The Clubhouse Blues'. Using the provided image of a woman and a dog sitting at a counter, Geraldine constructed an engaging 'Film Noir' styled tale that impressed our judges. As a reward, The Clubhouse Blues will be published in our December issue.


SNEAK PEEK:
I was down at P.J.’s the night that Frankie opened. He’s got some good pipes that fella. The way he croons is golden.
So there I was just minding my own business, like enjoyin’ the music, when I hear a sob.
The smoke had already cleared so I could get a better look at the dame sittin’ beside me. She was a classy broad. You can always tell when the paint on the lips matches the fingernails. She was the kinda dame who’d look good on the arm of a fella like me, I thought, so I took the chance while I had it.
“What’s a nice gal like you doin’ in a dump like this?” I asked, givin’ her as much Cagney as I dared...


If you want to read the rest of the story, CLICK HERE to order your copy of the December issue.

Geraldine Mac Donald is a graduate of Queen's University, a former registered nurse, a medical/scientific translator; a writer, published author, and mother of four. One favourite memory of childhood was when she discovered that town libraries were public and anyone could get a card! It was a life-changing day. Her first novel for young adults has recently been released to rave reviews. Her second novel will be released in 2016. Besides translating medical stuff she writes fiction and creative non-fiction. Geraldine lives, works, and plays with her family in Kingston, Ontario. 


For information on our latest contest, please visit out CONTEST page.

Rose Campion

by Diane Lowman

Suzanne and I kneel, Japanese tea ceremony-style, in a field of velvety, sea foam green stalks up to our shoulders. A delicate deep fuchsia flower tops each stem, nearly grazing our chins. She, five, sports blond hair cut in a short Dutch Boy bob and sparkly blue eyes. I, eight, grin with brace-worthy, tangled teeth and thick wavy brown hair tamed in a pony tale. My mother must have just cut my too-short bangs. We look amused and slightly impish. I remember my mother taking that picture in the tangle of weeds, brush, and wildflowers behind our tiny lake cabin in Upper Greenwood Lake, NJ.



We enjoyed endless adventures in that patch of nature behind the porch. We hunted for berries and spotted stones. We played house, ‘cooking’ with leaves and branches and grasses, or ruled our imaginary kingdom; I, the queen, and my sister the princess. We wiled away lazy summer days.

At the same time each season – maybe mid-June – these diminutive, vibrant blooms atop long, thin, spindly stems would proliferate and overtake our space. We petted their sturdy but downy-soft stalks, and marveled at the blossoms of a colour so deep and unique that we’d never seen before; certainly not in nature.

My mother took an animated delight in this unexpected and bountiful gift right in our own back yard.

“Come on girls! Just sit for a minute. I want to get a picture of you in these flowers. You know they are my favourite.” She held my father’s Konica in its beat up brown leather case in her right hand, and tried to corral us like a pair of baby chicks with her left. We dodged and rolled.

“Not now, mom. We’re playing!” we said. But she persisted and it was easier to acquiesce than to continue to protest. So there we sat, giggling at nothing, with the carefree abandon of two young sisters sitting in a field of wildflowers on a summer morning.

That photograph became iconic in our family. It spoke of innocence, carefree times, and a place we all loved. When my father, and twelve years later, my mother died, we cherished it even more. They both found a peace at that lake house that they found nowhere else.

I am not much of a gardener. My defcon-1 level allergy to poison ivy keeps me away from not only the three-leafed menace, but also anything that might have come in contact with its urushiol.

But when, at my home, I had a small patch of soil right in back that cried out for colour, I thought of those flowers. I had no idea what they were called, nor any idea of how to find out. I tried all sorts of Google searches: light green tall stems fuchsia flowers; furry green stems deep pink flowers. Nothing. I asked friends who garden. I asked my sister. “I have no idea,” she said, “but if you find out, let me know. I want to plant some out back, too.”

I went to our local nursery and herb garden, figuring I had nothing to lose, and again described the coveted flora in question. I began to relate the characteristics to an aproned, middle-aged man working in the greenhouse. Before I even finished, he started to nod.

“Oh, sure. You’re looking for Rose Campion.” He said. I was? “They grow like weeds. Seeds blow all over the place from the dried pods. You’ll have a field full before you know it.” Bingo! Just what I wanted.

He directed me to the seed packets and I grabbed three.

“You may not need that many,” he said, they really spread fast.”

I thanked him profusely, explaining the origin of the search.

“And the extra packet is for my sister.” He nodded and smiled.

Indeed, in short order, the blossoms swarmed our respective backyards. Neither of us dared ask that our kids pose poised in them. They’re too old for that; and anyway, by the time we slathered them with sunscreen and sprayed them with DEET to prevent Lyme, West Nile, Zika, and other bug-borne threats, the flowers and the children would have wilted. But we do both smile just to see them. Mom would be very pleased that they make us feel like kids again.



Diane Lowman is a single mother of two young adult men, living in Norwalk, Connecticut. In addition to writing about life, she teaches yoga, provides nutritional counseling, and tutors Spanish. She looks forward to writing the next chapter.

You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, and her websites [My Life On The Post Road, Lotus Haiku, and The Shakespeare Diaries]




Are you interested in being a guest blogger on Blank Spaces? We are open to submissions that fit into any of our regular categories. See the blog submission guidelines in our sidebar.

Creativity: The Art of Happy

by Amy Oestreicher

Art is everywhere but where it needs to be.

There are crafty tutorials, creative lesson plans, and learning-centered art projects floating around the internet, in parenting magazines, printable worksheets and children's toy stores. Everyone is looking for a way to make learning fun for their kids. If you're not a parent, teacher or kid who's taking the initiative, odds are, you're not spending your day making arts and crafts...unless you're an artist, art teacher, or crafter.


cure boredom, make art


 

Creativity: The Art of Happy


Art and creativity can cure a problem we all share at times - boredom. I'm not just talking about commercial breaks, a meeting at work that never ends, or traffic-light-kind-of-boredom. Creativity is a mind-set, a way of seeing the world. Creativity puts the magic back in life, so not only are we never bored, we are constantly inspired, present, empowered, and - dare I say it - happy.

I’m going to assign you an “art project”. Don’t be scared. The gluesticks and crayons are only required if you want them to be. This project teaches you how to see.

Let me explain with a little story about my younger self…


As a kid, I always used to complain to my older brother, “I’m bored!” Even when I was little, I was always darting about from activity to activity. My mind was racing and I was antsy with ideas.
His response was always, “Why are you bored?”

I didn’t know.

I’ll never forgot what he got me as a birthday present that year. His card was a simple little hand written post-it note that said, “This is so you’ll never be bored again.”

I opened it, hoping it was some kind of toy or exciting little gadget. But it was just a soft-cover activity book for me to fill out. I had that natural let-down when you get your hopes up and really just get…a book.

No! Not a book!

I looked at the cover and it said “Things I Can Be Happy About.” It was a workbook for me to fill in. It was filled with a bunch of blank, numbered lines, broken up into categories like Outside, School, Friends, Activities, etc. I don’t think I ever filled it out, but I got the idea.

The no-fail cure for boredom…


My brother was trying to teach me my first lesson in gratitude. If you realize what you can be happy about, it’s hard to ever get “bored". Instead of getting “bored”, he wanted me to get “appreciative”.

A lot of times when we’re bored, we’re just unhappy. And it might just take too much energy to think about what we should be happy about. So I have a little exercise I like to do. I also think it’s a great idea to try with kids, who tend to tire of things quickly, or might not always remember how much there is to be happy about.

And then on the other end, sometimes kids are the ones who remind us to be happy about the simple things. Kids can be miniature wise-adults, and grown-ups can have the fearless abandon of a child. That’s how we all balance each other out.

Creating excitement…


So with that in mind, this is my exercise for kids, adults, and the kid-adult in all of us.
 Today I invite you to see things differently. All it takes is a little mind-bending. We’re never too old to create fantasies. These are some out-of-the-box ways to view any ordinary, boring moment in life and bring it to a completely new dimension.

When we elevate the everyday, we can’t get bored. We’re struck by every laughing tree, every popping color, every breath of sunrise.

And even better, that whimsical fascination with the world around us might even inspire us to create…and with a project to do or an idea in our heads — how the heck can we get bored???

These are some ideas to view the world differently. Try each one on for size, then share it with someone else!


How to use creativity as a mindset:


  1. View the world as an artist studying a scene to paint a picture from, like everything is made of a different fabric
  2. Imagine every object is actually alive and talking to you! what would it say?
  3. Spot the biggest risk you could do in that specific moment!
  4. Do something totally spontaneous right there, don’t plan anything
  5. Pretend like you are in an adventure movie, fleeing from a monster, but trying to keep your calm composure to the outside world.
  6. Breathe in experience, breathe out poetry
  7. How is what I am seeing before me a microcosm of the whole?
  8. How am I like the objects I see before me?
  9. See the human face in everything — does that tree trunk remind you of a friend’s face?
  10. Be curious: ask childlike questions about the world around you like what makes the sky blue or the clouds look like that?
  11. Be a poet and describe the world around you in haikus!
  12. Take a walk and only make left turns — a lot of them!
  13. View everything solid as liquid and everything liquid as solid. How does it feel to walk on liquid grass?
  14. Put a word to every sound you hear — every gust of wind or squish in the dirt
  15. Imagine the world is a giant gingerbread house and everything is edible — is that eggplant on the roof shingles?

I could go on and on with ideas, but go ahead, create some of your own! Do it just for the sake of adding a spark to your day.

Share it with a friend to give them a reason not to ever be bored — I’m sure they’ll fire back with 15 of their own ideas!

And…if it comes naturally…see if it gives you an idea that inspires you enough to create — anything! Art, music, an idea, a conversation, or a moment — every moment is a chance to create something new.

That’s the greatest part about being alive. We have as many blank canvases as we see before us.

It’s really the ability to give back, and to have my work serve as a lens, a mirror, a window that others can look through, or look into, and see themselves or whatever they need to see at that moment. To feel whatever they need to feel. That’s how I connect with my world — that is my aliveness. As a member of this human race, it’s how I can contribute. Isn’t all we ever want to make a mark on the world? Cause a ripple, maybe even a chain reaction?

Art empowers me with the ability to create a ripple of happiness. As a human who can make “art”, I know that I have the power to make this happen every moment, with even the smallest of gestures. Art is how we tell our stories.
 A random act of kindness, a tender word, a brush stroke — whatever works.

How will you make your mark on the world?

Start with a scribble…





Amy Oestreicher is a PTSD peer-to-peer specialist, artist, author, writer for Huffington Post, speaker for TEDx and RAINN, health advocate, survivor, award-winning actress, and playwright, sharing the lessons learned from trauma through her writing, mixed media art, performance and inspirational speaking.

As the creator of the Gutless & Grateful, her one-woman autobiographical musical, she's toured theatres nationwide, along with a program combining mental health advocacy, sexual assault awareness and Broadway Theatre for college campuses and international conferences. Her original, full-length drama, Imprints, premiered at the NYC Producer's Club in May 2016, exploring how trauma affects the family as well as the individual.

To celebrate her own “beautiful detour”, Amy created the #LoveMyDetour campaign, to help others cope in the face of unexpected events. "Detourism" is also the subject of her TEDx and upcoming book, My Beautiful Detour, available December 2017.
 

As Eastern Regional Recipient of Convatec’s Great Comebacks Award, she's contributed to over 70 notable online and print publications, and her story has appeared on NBC's TODAY, CBS, Cosmopolitan, among others.
 
She has devised workshops for conferences nationwide, and is this year's keynote speaker for the Hawaii Pacific Rim International Conference on Diversity and Disability. Learn the art of navigating beautiful detours and sign up for updates at amyoes.com.


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See our sidebar for blog submission guidelines.

Swans, Stones, and Spots

by Diane Lowman

“If you can come back in some way and let us know you are there, promise you will,” I said to my mother, about three days before she died.

She smiled. She nodded. She squeezed my hand; it was still so strong. “Of course I will, my honey, but I don’t think there’s anything after. Just dark, underground” she whispered, weakened at that point.

“Well, there’s that way of looking at the afterlife,” and I squeezed her hand. “But promise anyway.”

She nodded.

I smiled at the steady, pragmatic woman, who never asked that we call “when we got there.”

“If something happens to you I’ll hear,” she’d say. And when I asked — terrified and teary, just before I moved, alone at age 23, to Los Angeles — “what if I hate it?” She squeezed my hand in the same way and replied, “then you’ll move back.”

Maybe she was right. Maybe it’s all just darkness. I don’t believe in heaven, per se. Don’t believe that she’s floating, gossamer and satin-clad in a cloud somewhere. But I know from high school science that matter is neither created nor destroyed. Her bones may be in Fairfield, Connecticut, but she is everywhere. 

where do people go after they die



Swans


I visited my friend Liz at her place on Martha’s Vineyard. My mother was there awaiting me. Swans were her avian talismans. A couple (they mate for life, unlike I) would return to the lake in front of my parent’s cabin on Highland Lakes, New Jersey, every season to birth and nurture their cygnets. They brought my mother great joy, and she surrounded herself with images of swans. I still have an intricately carved wooden basket, its handle formed by the long necks, beaks joined in a kiss.

I saw swans and their offspring everywhere in MV. No, that is not unusual. But one in particular made me reconsider if she were really swathed in eternal darkness as she predicted, or if she were, instead, watching over me. A lone female sat on her nest, alert and observant, across the pond from the two-mile path Liz and I would walk to the beach each morning. There she sat, awaiting her babes. She watched me with the eyes of a portrait that follow you throughout a room, until we crested the dune and walked out onto the sand. On our return, she again eyed me until we were out of sight. Liz says she hasn’t seen her since.


Stones


When I’d ask what I could bring her from a trip or get her for her birthday, she’d say, like many moms, “nothing at all. All I want is for you to be happy,” and the Jewish mother addendum of: “and a call or visit now and then.” But there was one thing she asked for: Rocks. She collected them from all her travels – Argentina, Russia, China – and always asked that I bring her one from mine. I hadn’t thought about this for a while, but as I walked the shore at Menemsha beach in anticipation of a stunning sunset, I felt compelled to pick up the smooth sea and sand worn stones at my feet. As if I were about to prepare stone soup for supper. While I studied their surfaces I thought of how much she’d love each one. Especially the heart-shaped ones she put in my path. And I thought about how much she loved me, too. I brought two heart stones home for my boys.


Spots


My mother was an early advocate of the power of positive thinking. She took a class called “Silva Mind Control” when I was a little girl. It sounds sort of cultish now, but it was the forerunner of The Secret, and The Power of Now. She believed that her studies and focus imbued her with a special powers, that she called “hodging.” For positive outcomes. She accepted big challenges, like good health and college acceptances, but one of her specialties was parking spots. If you gave her enough advance notice, she could guarantee one anywhere. My father appreciated this, especially in New York, where they were hard to find and he was too cheap to pull into a garage.

“Barbara,” he’d say, “we are going into the Museum of the City of New York tomorrow. Can you work on a spot?”

And without fail, one would appear where we needed it, when we needed it. If he asked on the way in, she’d say, “You know I need more time,” although if she concentrated really hard we’d find one.

In the summer, Martha’s Vineyard is overrun with people. And their cars. Way too many for the spots in the crowded towns. But all weekend long, much to Liz’s amazement, people consistently pulled out of prime (I call them “birthday spots”) parking real estate as we pulled up in need of it. I’d explained my mother’s gift to her early in the trip, and in Edgartown, Aquinnah, and Oak Bluffs, she saw proof of it. Liz asked if I could lodge a standing request for spots the rest of the summer.

These are all just signs. Just symbols. That we can choose to make something of, or not. That we can interpret, as we will. She may not be anywhere. Her bones may be in the ground in Fairfield, Connecticut. But for me, she’s everywhere.



Diane Lowman is a single mother of two young adult men, living in Norwalk, Connecticut. In addition to writing about life, she teaches yoga, provides nutritional counseling, and tutors Spanish. She looks forward to writing the next chapter.

You can find her on Instagram, Twitter, and her websites [My Life On The Post Road, Lotus Haiku, and The Shakespeare Diaries]




Are you interested in being a guest blogger on Blank Spaces? We are open to submissions that fit into any of our regular categories. See the blog submission guidelines in our sidebar.