To and Fro (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Carrot Ranch August 24 flash fiction prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about an empty playground.

Counselling-Pixabay CC0 PD
Counselling/Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Jane slows as she passes the park. It’s empty, quiet. She counts mentally and realizes school has started. Even the youngest are in pre-school. Kids don’t have simple childhoods anymore.

Her feet pull her to the swings;  she wedges herself into one. Her foot shoves off. To and fro, to and fro.

How many years since she shrieked with delight, begging to be pushed higher still? She should have had her own to push, but she missed that. One choice, and your life pivots.

To and fro. She wonders what choices she doesn’t even remember that brought her here.

Hit the Road? (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

(This week’s Carrot Ranch writing prompt:  In 99 words (no more, no less) write about something or someone that is transient.

mysticsartdesign/Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Why is she still here?

She came here to take a new job,  make a new home, build a new life.  Those haven’t exactly worked out, unless you count camping in an abandoned house as settling down somehow.

But where to go? She’s already learned you can’t go home again.

She could try somewhere else. When everything you own fits on your back, no problem.

And then? Would other sidewalks be kinder, other passersby less judgmental, the ground somehow softer?

“Transient.” The word evokes images of railroad bums sleeping by the river of her childhood.

No. Anything but that.

Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr. (Book Review)

Requiem for a DreamRequiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr.

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: abandoned, addiction, cult-classic, current-social-issues, dnf, everyone-loved-it-but-me, literary-fiction, literature-with-a-capital-l, too-highbrow-for-my-peabrain, grittiest-reality, the-movie-was-better, ugh

I guess it’s the difference between artists who make art for everyone and those who make art for other artists.

“Im not too swave when Im ripped. ” oh, come on, you know i understand the purpose of style and how it/s okay to break the rules if you know the rules but sometimes things just get carried too far. Yeah baby you know like purposely misspelling words like suave and using slash marks instead of apostrophes, sheeeit, and what the hell is up with writing almost an entire damn book in a single paragraph let alone you ever heard of a comma dude? I hear ya jim, don/t wind up daid after just a tase of that shit.

Like that.

I tried, and failed, to read A Brief History of Seven Killings and House of Leaves, both of which were rife with this stream-of-consciousness rambling. I guess it’s just not for me. Maybe it’s lowbrow, but I’m a fan of white space when I read. And yes, I do get the premise of messing with the rules of writing to convey a state of mind or a cultural setting, or to create atmosphere. I get that. But going on and on and on with endless sentences and 3-page-long paragraphs, no apostrophes or commas, no differentiation between narration and character dialogue, phonetic spelling and ghetto/drug slang, for ~300 pages, making an already bleak story even more difficult to read, isn’t accomplishing anything. Storytelling is a two-fold process: the teller tells, and the listener/viewer/reader comprehends. (I’m not a fan of audio books, but it occurs to me that with the right narrator, that could be the way to go with this book.) You’re not telling a story if people can’t understand it. Style is one thing; pretentiousness is another. Rifling through my library copy to see if the entire book looked just like the first 37 tortuous pages (it does) I found two slips of paper, likely bookmarks, indicating other people didn’t make it much farther than I did.

This is the second book I’ve tried to read and abandoned after watching the stellar movie upon which it was based. The other was Larry McMurtry’s Terms of Endearment, very rare as I’m generally not a chick-flick chick. I loved loved loved that movie, and cried cried cried. Tried to read the book, which was endless rambling about I-can’t-even-remember -what now. Terrible. (However, another of McMurtry’s efforts, Lonesome Dove, deserved the Pulitzer it won, and could have been script and storyboard for its movie, which I’ve watched so many times I pretty much have it memorized.)

Anyway. The story itself is well worth it, but in this case stick with the movie, which was stunning.

It did make me think of June Jordan’s His Own Where, which was breathtaking and is due for a reread, I do believe.

Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault (Book Review)

Fire from Heaven (Alexander the Great, #1)Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: fictional-history, historical-fiction, love-story-not-a-romance, myth-and-legend

This first installment of the imagined youth of Alexander the Great is beautifully written. I have only just discovered Mary Renault. Sad for all the years I’ve missed; glad for all the reading ahead of me.

The large cast of characters with unfamiliar names did get confusing. This may have been unavoidable, in order to portray the infighting, backbiting, and general political intrigue that was rampant among the various tribes of ancient Greece. However, the significance of the bad blood between Attalos, Pausanias, and Philip of Macedon – and the part it played in Alexander’s destiny – got lost in the shuffle. Or was that intentional, to show how any seemingly small and forgotten thing can change the world?

I would have liked a more close-in view of the relationships among Alexander, Philip, and Olympias, but can also see it may have been impossible to do that while maintaining the broader sweep of the story. The relationship with Hephaistion is sensitively written. This was a thoroughly enjoyable book. I have a hold on The Persian Boy and am really looking forward to it.

View all my reviews

Word Processing is for Sissies, or Why I Hate Word, Continued

It’s becoming an obsession, how much I hate Microsoft Word. It started with the Horrible Homunculus, the boss from the Seventh Level of Hell who shouted at me because I had an error of a single space on a document, and could never explain why, if Microsoft Word is the greatest thing since Jesus Christ and everyone else on the entire planet is a total expert with it, her boilerplate document was completely fucked up.

I recently finished a business tech class that included Word, to make sure I’m really not the problem and to move forward from a horrific experience and because it’s basically free (thank you, Pell grants). I signed up for the class thinking “knowledge is power,” “know thy enemy,” “the best defense is a good offense,” all that happy stuff.

The most important thing I learned, thanks to a good prof and my own mostly high-functioning brain and all the gods there are, is that I definitely was not the problem.

By the way, this is the book for the Word instruction. As I’ve mentioned before, every other word processing program I’ve ever used, from the stand-alone Lanier machine to Lotus, WordStar, WordPerfect, I can’t even remember them all now, I used without even bothering with instructions. They were sensibly set up and quite intuitive. You messed around and figured them out. I didn’t need a seven-pound book (softcover) with 1,144 pages. I’m not making that up.

I Hate Word 666
I think I’ll caption this picture “Word 666.”

So, enough bitching. Let’s get this done. It’s the weekend and I’m working on this class assignment. Look at that, pretty border and shaded text, looking all spiffy. Right?

I Hate Word 1

Oops. Double-checking the instructions and my work, I see I should not have centered the text. It is supposed to be aligned to the left, and tabbed in. But hey, no problem. I’m working with the almighty Word! So I realign the text to the left. Simple.

I Hate Word 2

Now I go into tabs, and set a tab where I think appropriate, per instructions. One inch would look good to me, and there should be plenty of room. Awesome. Then I go to the first line, and tab in.

I Hate Word 3

So far, so good.

Then I go to the beginning of the next line and tab in. This is what I get:

I Hate Word 4


Okay, maybe it’s one of those stupid things Word does that straightens itself out if you keep plowing through. So I go to the third line and tab that in:

I Hate Word 5

Nope, nope, nope.

I save my screenshot and return to my document to see this. At no time did I select any text and tell it to italicize. At. No. Time.

I Hate Word 7

Do you see why I hate Word so much? It’s got a mind of its own. It is AI, and it is evil, and it doing this just to screw with me.  And yes, there is a part of me that really believes that.

This should have been a simple assignment. Granted, it would have been simpler if my eyes had not seen “centered” instead of “tabbed left” when I read the instructions that told me to type the text as it appeared on the page of the textbook. But, what the hell, Word. The whole point of word processing is ease of editing. What does Microsoft not get about that? The point of word processing is the easy-peasey-lemon-squeezey-ness of being able to decide you don’t like the way something is formatted and just change it,  insto-presto, without some bug in the program completely screwing up the entire document.

Google Docs does not pull stunts like this. Neither does Libre Office.

Word processing is for sissies, when you come down to it. I’m a crusty old broad from the old school. I took a typing class in high school, not a keyboarding class. I could type 85 wpm on a manual typewriter, with no mistakes, with long manicured fingernails (that was before I had kids and had time for such things). On a good modern keyboard my speed is 120. Back in the day, if you needed to italicize text, you thought about it carefully to be absolutely sure you needed to italicize, and then you had to stop typing, change the font ball in the machine, type your text, then change the font ball back to the original. As many times as it took. To bold text, you typed it over and over until it was dark enough. You didn’t just click a button with lines on it to center text, oh no. You counted how many characters and spaces in the line you wanted to type,  positioned the carriage to the center by eyeballing it, then backspaced half the number you’d counted and typed your text, hoping you’d got it right. Back then, a resume with headings that were bold or italicized, or both, with snazzy indentations and centered headings, pretty much got you hired without the formality of an interview. I once typed an entire library catalog directly onto good old-fashioned paper, using a good old-fashioned IBM Selectric typewriter, camera-ready for the printer and without a single error. I know my shit.

Typewriter Unsplash Pixabay CCO PD
Unsplash/Pixabay. CCO Public Domain

Again, somebody, please tell me how this Word garbage got to be the industry standard. I am only slightly mollified that I got Office free because I’m a student. If I’d paid money for this crap, I’d be sitting on my left ear.

The only way I could see to get this assignment perfectly correct was to delete it and start over. If I wanted to do that, I’d still be using a typewriter. I chose to undo everything so it was centered like I originally had it, albeit incorrectly, and turned it in that way. I got dinged a whole point. Whatever. I had lots of points, an A’s worth of points. I spent a point.

Besides, I’m a busy woman. I got shit to do. Like blogging about how much I hate Word.



Jane Doe Flash Fiction: Six Sentence Stories

So, it’s been a while since I’ve done anything with the Insomnia installment story I was writing using the weekly Six Sentence Stories cue at Uncharted. There are two reasons for that. The first is that I was deep into a full-time summer quarter class load along with working full-time, which is a flimsy excuse given that when the creative juices are flowing and I really want to write, it will wake me up in the middle of the night, so on second thought, it may be a perfectly valid reason, because I kept forgetting the cues, possibly because I needed sleep. The second reason is that I simply wrote myself into a corner with the Insomnia story and had no idea how to get myself out of it. This is the best reason I can think of for having an outline, although it was huge fun to just put together a story week by week and see where it led me, even if it was straight into a box canyon. Perhaps I’ll be inspired and come back to it.

I took my last final last week. I’ve missed Six Sentence Stories and I love flash fiction in general. Over at Carrot Ranch, we respond to weekly cues with flashes of exactly 99 words. Any structured format really makes you practice the craft of writing, making you make it work within the constrict and the cue. It’s fun writing and fun reading too. I’ve read some outrageously good stuff from the writers at both Carrot Ranch and Uncharted.

I’ve been using Carrot Ranch cues to write vignettes about a character of mine, Jane Doe. Jane Doe was born in a NaNoWriMo project, through the course of which I realized her story would perhaps be better told through a series of short stories rather than a novel. I’m picturing something à la Olive Kitteredge, Elizabeth Strout’s Pulitzer-winning collection that tells of her main character through short stories from many different points of view. I had one of those “duh” insights that Six Sentence Stories will be a grand way to flesh out these other characters and viewpoints.

So, I’m back, with what I intend to be a great expansion of Jane Doe’s character and the introduction of other people in her life. I’ve missed everybody! (Aced my classes, too -booyah!)

This week’s Six Sentence Stories cue: fire.

geralt pixabay CC0 PD
geralt/Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Honestly, Becca wonders, what did she ever do to deserve having to share a cubicle with this Jane annoyance, this mosquito in human form? Just blathers away, constantly trying to suck up when the reality is they are not friends, and never will be. And she’s no paralegal here, whatever she thinks she was at her last job in wherever-the-hell-it-was, where she really just needs to go back to since it’s all she seems to be able to talk about.

She looks up just as Heartburn appears at the cubicle opening, beckoning Jane to follow with a set, grim look on her face. Becca’s heart jolts as she wonders if her subtle hints have borne fruit. Please, please, fire her, she thinks pleadingly at Heartburn’s back as the two walk into Heartburn’s private office.

Click here for great Six Sentence Stories from other writers.


Fear of Flying (dream ramble and preliminary book review)

Fear of FlyingFear of Flying by Erica Jong

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bookshelves: chick-lit, cult-classic, feminism, literary-fiction, too-sexy-for-my-mom, trashiest-trash

So, probably because I’m a little bit nervous about driving into Seattle to meet friends for brunch today, because I get nervous about things like that, a flying dream just woke me. In it I was saying to the Tominator, “Oh my God, it’s tomorrow we fly out to go on our cruise…where are we going, again? Oh, right, Amsterdam. I think I’ll stay home today, because we have to pack and I didn’t get any sleep last night and I’m feeling anxious and a bit sick to my stomach, and I need to print off tickets and find our passports…” Like I’d ever leave preparations so late, but this was the Dreamtime, which almost by definition is loaded with allegory for other stuff. I was trying to belay my anxiety by picturing the awesome Facebook check-in I could do. Everybody else is checking in at boring old Milwaukee and Atlanta and Dallas/Fort Worth but I’m checking in at Amsterdam. Like a boss! (I really need to stop comparing 100% of my life to the best 5% of everybody else’s life, and stay off Facebook.) In real life, I am traveling home to Nevada to visit in a couple of weeks, and I’m going by train, because I am just that terrified of flying (and I adore traveling by train). When the Tominator and I took a Mexican Riviera cruise a few years ago, we lumbered overland from Reno to the terminal in Long Beach.

As I slowly came awake, Fear of Flying was in my head. This is another I read ages ago, as a teenager. I seem to remember picking it up at my grandmother’s house, although maybe not. Neither she nor my mother ever tried to censor my reading, but I also remember having the wisdom (or sneakiness; discretion is the better part of valor either way) to keep this one hidden in my book bag. I’m not sure how much the book had to do with actual flying and I believe that was probably an allegory, as it was in my dream. “How can you be in Venice and be depressed? Take two gondoliers and call me in the morning” is pretty much all I recall from the book. Precocious and wild as I was at sixteen or so, I only barely got that joke. And reveled in it. I kept the book hidden because I already knew I didn’t want the inevitable arch looks from adults as sauce for my naiveté.

So, only barely awake, I rolled over in bed and grabbed my Kindle and went online and checked out Fear of Flying from my library. God, I love electronic borrowing! Finals week is coming up. Next weekend will be my first study-free weekend in a couple of months. I’ve earned a trashy beach read for my train trip home. I’m giving it four stars for now, which may be revised after I’ve re-read it.

And how about that re-issue cover art? They never would have got away with that in 1973!