Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Short-shorts contest ends today — send in before midnight

While we’re waiting for the judges to decide on the worthy winners of our short-shorts contest, we can all enjoy reading two pieces from students in the Loft’s Art of Creative Nonfiction class.

Eligible: fiction, nonfiction or prose poetry under 400 words.

Winners announced next week, May 10. The prize: a surprise short-short something.
Contest guidelines: Only Minnesota writers can submit. Only one short-short by an individual will be accepted. Your short-short must be under 400 words. Please put your last name and short-short contest in the subject line of the email. Include your name, address, telephone number, email address, word count and a brief biography (up to 150 words).Send your entry — in the body of the email, or as an attachment — to mbarrett [at] minnpost [dot] com. The file must be saved in Word.

Meanwhile, while we’re waiting for the judges (students from the Loft Literary Center’s We Like Short-Shorts! class) to decide on the worthy winners, we can all enjoy reading two pieces from students in the Art of Creative Nonfiction class.

“Elderly Habits” by Martha McLaughlin
“Wanna go outside?”

The stout black lab presses her snout up to the closed door. With all her senses alert, she’s poised to shoot outside. The white-faced golden retriever ponders the question from her warm bed. She’s a trim old dog, with a thick golden coat and white feathery plumes on her belly, legs and tail. Her large brown eyes stand out as if outlined in perfectly applied brown eyeliner.

She gets up and comes slowly down the hall to the back door.  She’s not arthritic, just contemplative in her second decade of life. I open the door, and the black lab bolts out to investigate the evening odors.

The golden walks slowly forward and gently steps on to the patio into the night air. She pauses and raises her nose. She adjusts her head slightly to better catch the wind, as it ruffles her tail feathers.

“Do your duty, Winnie.” 

She looks back as if to cordially acknowledge the command: “Ah ha. Thank you for the reminder.” She saunters to the grass, gently examining a tuft, takes a few more steps, and continues her close scrutiny. She patiently pursues her nightly routine and eventually does her duty. Standing still again, she adjusts her nose into the wind. After a minute, recollecting her mission, the old dog slowly heads off around the side of the house. Her evening closes with a careful examination of the wind in the front yard.

She’s as methodical, unhurried, and gently coachable as my octogenarian father.

Martha McLaughlin is 53 years old — wife, mother of three launched daughters and two ill-behaved dogs. She has taken a couple of classes at The Loft, reviving the pleasures of studying Literature in college. Short-shorts remind her of Anne Lamott’s advice: when one is feeling overwhelmed by the thought of writing an opus — just take on as much as you can see through a one-inch picture frame.

“Salon Spectator” by Barb Solyst

I found her sitting in one of the two chairs in the salon. She would have hated what the stylist was doing to her hair. If she could have remembered what she liked and didn’t like, she would have joked, “Hey, can you lighten up? I’m not going to a Mary Kay convention.”
I walked in, gave her a “Hi, Mom” kiss and sat down in the other chair. The stylist had seen my sister on earlier visits but didn’t know me. She started asking questions most people consider safe and polite, as light as leaves floating on a pond. I’m sure her work at Freedom Pointe had taught her to stay on the surface.

I had one of those moments you see coming when you know you should change the course of events but you can’t. I remember watching a friend trip on cement steps in college. I was a few feet behind her when one of her sneakers got twisted.  As the jarring moved up her long leg and upset the equilibrium, sending her sprawling, I stood by like a spectator watching a movie in slow motion. Although there were no serious injuries, I was surprised that I didn’t seem capable of jumping up to do something about it.

It was a similar feeling in the salon when the stylist asked, “How many kids do you have, Peg? Three daughters in town. And how about sons?”

I glanced over in slow motion as Mom answered, “Well, there’s Ron. He lives in Chicago. And…..what about Bill?” She looked at me and went on, “Where’s Bill, Barb? Where does he live?”

Time came to a standstill as confusion blended with trust and she waited for my answer.

I saw two corners I could slide into, both cold and hard. I made the choice that I hoped was less cruel. “Bill died, Mom. Remember?”


After a minute of her catching up to the present and me wondering if I should say more, her face took on a look you might see on a bus passenger when somebody walks down the aisle and asks if they can sit there. You know you have to let them, but you wish they wouldn’t. The seat was so nice the way it was.

Barb Solyst is a student at the Loft Literary Center. She lives in Plymouth and writes in between real estate sales and spending time with her 14-year-old daughter.