Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.
First to share her reminiscences is Charli Mills, lead buckaroo at the Carrot Ranch where she challenges writers with a weekly flash fiction prompt and an annual flash fiction rodeo. She believes in the power of literary art to change lives and that it should be accessible to everyone. She encourages writers to find their voice in a supportive environment where everyone is welcome.
I have known Charli for almost as long as I have been blogging and was among the first to participate in her flash fiction challenges when they began five years ago this month. I have rarely missed a week since. Charli’s support and encouragement of my writing and my work has been unfaltering, even when she was experiencing her own tough times, and I am extremely grateful for it. I don’t know how well I may have maintained my yet mindset without her.
Before we begin the interview, I’ll allow Charli to tell you a little of herself:
Charli Mills, a born buckaroo, is the award-winning goat-tying champion of a forgotten 1970s rodeo. Now she wrangles words. Married to a former US Army Ranger, Charli is “true grit” although shorter than John Wayne. She writes about the veteran spouse experience and gives voice to women and others marginalized in history, especially on frontiers. In 2014 she founded an imaginary place called Carrot Ranch where real literary artists could gather where she hosts a weekly 99-word challenge. She’s pursuing her MFA with SNHU, writing novels, and leading workshops to help writers with professional development.
Now let’s talk school. First of all, could you tell us where you attended school?
Sacred Heart Catholic School (Hollister, California), Sunnyside Elementary (Hollister, California), Diamond Valley School (Woodfords, California), Douglas High School (Minden, Nevada), and Carroll College (Helena, MT).
Did you attend a government, private or independent school?
Sacred Heart was a private Catholic school, and so was Carroll College. I achieved kindergarten at one and a BA at the other. The other three were public schools. Diamond Valley was located next to the Woodfords Community of the Washoe Tribe. Our county was too small in population to warrant its own high school and the mountains cut us off from the nearest California option at Lake Tahoe so we were bussed into Nevada to Douglas High School, which was a horrible experience as we faced much prejudice as the “Alpine kids” even though not all of us were Native American.
What is the highest level of education you achieved?
To date, I’ve earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English –Writing. However, I’m in the application process to pursue a Masters of Fine Art in Creative Writing.
What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?
At Diamond Valley, in 7th-grade, Mr. Price made us write a spelling story once a week using the “prompt” of words from our spelling list. My stories were long and he encouraged me to write them longer. Then he asked me to read my stories aloud to the class every week, and I have loved reading my writing ever since. In high school, I struggled unless writing was involved. Ms. Bateman hit me hard with editing, but also taught me how to improve. She invited me to be on the newspaper team and I was the youngest member. By my senior year, I was co-editor. After high school I waited tables, worked road construction, and wrote for a daily newspaper, dreaming of going to college to be an archeologist and an author. Ten years later, I enrolled in a writing degree when my three young children started school. I often joked that I went back to kindergarten with them. My freelance writing took off while I was still in college. I never did become an archeologist and I worked 20 years in marketing before pursuing my author dreams, but my first novel will feature a character who is an archeologist. It’s all connected to my days at Diamond Valley School, and the skills I honed at Carroll College.
What is your earliest memory of school?
My earliest memory of school is being in trouble. I was highly imaginative and evidently, the nuns did not appreciate my drawings in textbooks. We lived on a ranch outside of Hollister California and my mother worked in town. She’d drop me off at a sitter’s and I’d walk to school every morning with the daughter who was in kindergarten, too. She never got in trouble. I recall wondering why I was so different and why the nuns didn’t like my freedom of expression. At Carroll College, I took an art appreciation class and wrote a paper on my theory of Greek influences on modern pornography. I worried I was going to get in trouble again for expressing my ideas, but the Jesuits loved it. I thought about sending that paper to Sister Margaret at Sacred Heart, explaining that I turned out fine, using my imagination. Not sure she would agree!
What memories do you have of learning to read?
Books captivated me! I wanted to crack the code and would sit and pretend read. The nuns said I couldn’t read so the next grade placed me in remedial reading until the teacher caught me “pretend” reading a chapter book. She realized I wasn’t pretending. How I learned to read mystifies me. I couldn’t grasp the components, but I could read. Math was similar. I had the answers but struggled to show the work. Spelling escapes me but writing flows. Learning was always a frustration in school, yet I was always curious and even now I love to learn.
What memories do you have of learning to write?
Again, learning the actual mechanics of writing was frustrating, but any time teachers let me be creative or pursue curiosity, I could write volumes. Like reading, I just wrote. It wasn’t until high school when Ms. Bateman got a hold of me and drilled grammar into my head, and explained editing as a process. But I also felt it shut down my creativity. I didn’t learn until later how creativity serves as a bridge between my right and left brain. Once I understood that, I’ve made it a point to allow creativity to thrive in my work and writing.
What do you remember about math classes?
Pain and suffering! I never found a saving grace in math because I never found a way to be creative with numbers. In fact, creativity with numbers is frowned upon.
What was your favourite subject?
I loved history because it was full of stories. I’ve been a natural born story-catcher and history seemed to be a part of that. Where I lived was part of the old Comstock Lode and emigrant trails, and I attended school with Washoe students, learning their lore and history. My aunt used to take me relic hunting, and I had a huge collection of arrowheads, trade beads and square nails. I could spot a relic from on top of my horse. I learned to read the human imprint on the land, and when I was 17, I met a state archeologist who legitimized my ability and he coached me to record 11 archeological sites in my hometown area. So, in school, I loved history most.
What did you like best about school?
Skiing. In the winter, we skied once a week at the ski resort near our school for winter PE. It was the best! I don’t know of any other school that ever had such a perk. I remember waking up so excited on ski days. The resort was huge and when we were young, six and seven years old, we were sent to the bunny hills and taught to alpine ski. By the time we were pre-teens we were skiing black diamond routes. I remember #4 best. I loved #4! We’d take the #1 chairlift up, and ski over to the #2 chairlift. At the top of #2, we’d ski down a long, steep and remote mountainside where chairlifts #3 and #4 sat perpendicular to each other. After we skied down #3, we’d take the longest lift at the resort, #4 all the way to the top of a mountain so isolated and remote, it boggles my mind today that we got to do this as school kids. Here’s a link to Kirkwood today: https://www.kirkwood.com/the-mountain/about-the-mountain/trail-map.aspx. When we skied, there were only six chairlifts, but you can see how far away #4 was from the lodge. Funny story – by the time I was in 7th-grade and was writing spelling stories, my good friend Gerald shared his dad’s Ian Fleming novels with me. I went from Little House on the Prairie to James Bond! Gerald was my skiing buddy and we used to make the #4 loop together. We’d pretend we were British spies! Ah, it was good to have someone to share an imagination with. I doubt anyone else who answers this question will ever say skiing.
What did you like least about school?
Mean people. Kids and adults can be cruel and I don’t fully understand why – is it cultural? Is it human nature? The level of cruelty could be stunning at times. I think this is what taught me empathy. Bullies taught me to care about others. If I wasn’t the one being bullied, I found I couldn’t tolerate others being bullied either.
How do you think schools have changed since your school days?
For one thing, I don’t think students are turned loose on ski hills anymore! I think there’s more respect for cultural diversity than when I went to school. Obviously, technology has changed. Diamond Valley is still a small remote school, but it now has an alternative high school, which is a good change. I think bullying is better dealt with now and parents are more involved, perhaps too involved. In the US, the crisis of school shootings is unfathomable to me. Even with all my bad experiences of being bullied and witnessing it, no one was armed. But that mean spirit was always there and now it has access to guns and that is terrifying. Hopefully, education continues to be important as technology changes our societal landscapes, and through education, we can resolve this shameful American blight on our school system. Maybe we need to focus less on gun control and getting more to the heart of abuses of power in our nation. We need to heal from institutions of slavery and Native American genocide. We need less division and more dignity.
What do you think schools (in general) do well?
I think schools provide inroads to learning that are valuable to becoming productive and happy human beings. Schools are amazing, really. They have been a part of what is America at its worst and what is America at its best. Schools do well to create environments where real learning takes place.
How do you think schools could be improved?
Most importantly, schools need to be safe. Early on, we need to give children the gifts of education and not the burdens. I think citizens should be involved in their public schools even if they don’t have children. How can we be part of the improvement? I don’t have the answers, but I’m willing to be a part of solutions. I support EveryTown for Gun Safety, and until we deal with the hardest cultural issues in our nation, it doesn’t matter if our schools achieve awards or graduate students who score well on tests.
Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general, Charli. It’s been wonderful to have you here. I learned so much I didn’t already know about you.
Find out more about Charli Mills
at the Carrot Ranch: https://carrotranch.com/
and on her Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Charli-Mills/e/B078FV6JGB
Connect with her on social media
Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/CarrotRanch/
Purchase your own copy of
The Congress of the Rough Writers Flash Fiction Anthology Vol 1
via the Carrot Ranch bookstore: https://store.bookbaby.com/book/The-Congress-of-Rough-Writers
Participate in a
Carrot Ranch Writing Refuge (Keep updated at the Ranch)
Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.
with more to follow.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.