Jane shifts the notebook balanced on her backpack balanced on her lap, twisting her wrist so pen meets paper.
How long since words flowed like this, since a concept glowed so brilliantly inside that she has no choice but to give it voice? She scribbles, oblivious to the lurches of the bus, other passengers brushing by, gabbing into phones, herding children.
Words flow, like the river behind a broken dam.
She pauses and looks out at the bus stop shelter just in time to see the sign, “poetryonbuses.org,” and almost laughs aloud. She feels free, and not alone.
This flash is a vignette from The Life and Times of Jane Doe. More fun flashes can be found at the Carrot Ranch link above.
I’ve always been scornful of those bathroom phone people. You’ve heard them, blathering away in the next stall. I’ve always laughed at them a little as I tinkled away merrily, fastidiously avoiding hand-to-face activities. I laughed at the end of the conversations I could hear, and tried to imagine the gist of the whole thing to use as writing exercises, and would think loftily that you’ll never catch me admitting to the Sprint guy that I need a new phone because I dropped mine in the toilet. Not to mention the types of germs…well, I said I wasn’t going to mention it, so I won’t.
Except now I’m one of them.
It’s a lifestyle thing, I now realize. At least for me. My new job has a strict no-phones-at-the-desk rule, because all day long I have people’s health care information splayed across two monitors, and I just might be dumb enough to accidentally enter my phone’s security code and then accidentally push the camera button and then accidentally take a picture of some woman’s Social Security number and her bill for chlamydia treatment, and then accidentally tweet it. I know I am not that dumb, but a lot of things have happened lately that I’d have thought impossible, so there it is. The only time I can quick-check email and text messages and see what’s up with my tribe is on my breaks.
I have become a toilet texter.
It’s still better, though, because I finally figured out how, post-election, I can stand to be on Facebook once again. I know, I know, a woman’s place is in the resistance, and I need to be aware of what’s going on, and write to my representatives and call my representatives, and I would have been all over the Women’s March if I hadn’t ruined my knees and feet with decades of awesome shoes.
I am proud to know a dozen women who did march, and I’m very much aware that they marched for me as well as for them, they marched for every woman in this country, every woman in the world, and they are amazing and I love them for it. I’m still sorry I couldn’t do it too. That’s one of my regrets – in my life, I’ve never taken part in a protest. I suppose I could do a sit-in.
Anyway, I was avoiding social media after the election because I simply cannot take any more of that goddamned fuuuugly orange mug. It makes me feel physically ill. Literally. I do stay informed, from established, trusted sources including the Seattle Times and the Washington Post, the BBC and NPR. I don’t want to see Der Pumpkinfuhrer on Facebook partly because it’s social media, where I connect with people I like, to talk about things we like and see my horoscope and pictures of llamas and other people’s sunsets and desserts and shoes I can no longer wear, but mostly because if people are going to post about the White Kanye then I’d prefer it to be from reliable sources, and I can’t take any more stupid memes and dubious news articles from the likes of Brietbart and Buzzfeed. I don’t need alternate facts when the real facts are bad enough. (You’ll notice I picked clickbait news sources from each slant of the political spectrum. I try to be fair about this stuff, and it’s too easy for any of us to go with news that reinforces how we already think rather than swallow distasteful information, no matter how accurate. This is important. I cannot stress it enough.)
My return to Facebook is possible because of this awesome Chrome extension I found that blocks our Asshole in Chief when you’re net-surfing. I know, right? Want to know how well it works? When I was previewing my last blog post prior to publishing, the sentence I wrote about Captain Chaos didn’t even show up, and I thought WordPress was wigging out, or maybe I somehow wasn’t typing it right. I typed it again. Still not there. So I disabled the blocking extension, and the sentence showed up fine. Enabled it again, and the sentence disappeared. I had to use code names (which are more fun anyway) in order to put this post together for you. And it works with pictures too, so I don’t have to look at that fucking ugly face at all.
So, yeah, I am now a toilet texter. Who’d a thunk it? With everything going on in the world, it gives me a feeling of subterfuge, like my bathroom connections are more nefarious than reading about my friend’s son’s acceptance to a nice college. I’m hunkered down, reading and tapping out replies, and it feels like they should be in code. The moral of the story is to be careful what you laugh at because you think it’s outside all realms of possibility. I mean, really. Me liking someone’s margarita while sitting on my porcelain throne and the Cheeto Jesus shredding the Constitution on what he evidently views as his own throne. What is the world coming to.
The other moral of the story is no matter what kind of shoes you wear or where you check your email, carry on.
*This post is tagged “Kim Kardashian” because, once again, I am amazed that I could miss the silly twit, and I don’t even have her blocked.
And Neil Gaiman. The Goodreads html-code-thingy does not include Neil Gaiman as an author. Sacrilege. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman wrote this book together, and the afterword has a good bit about the process and the fun they had that makes me insanely jealous and a little swoony.
Speaking of sacrilege.
It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.*
In a nutshell, this book is about good, evil, and free will, and is one of the most deceptively deep, laugh-out-loud funny, and uncommonly wise books I have ever read. The similarity to Douglas Adams and HHGTTG is there, in that it deals with the end of the world and the nature of spiritual dichotomy and the nature of being human and other cosmic sorts of things with sharp insight and Brit humour** but without space aliens. The jacket tells you the basics – Armageddon is coming, not all the forces of Good and Evil necessarily want it to happen (but guess which side wants it more), and nobody can find what they did with the Antichrist.*** Helping things along are two unlikely sets of the Four Horsemen, a descendant of the world’s foremost prophetess, and her newly acquired lover (a Witchfinder, naturally). Staunch believers may not care for the blasphemy, but it is hilarious blasphemy, which is really the best kind, and all part of a grand romp.
Just read it.
This is why I do reading challenges. Without them, I might never stumble across gems like this one. This title was #7 (a book with multiple authors) and #15 (a book with a subtitle) on this year’s challenge. A great find.
This title was #14 on my 2017 Reading Challenge, a book from a genre I’d never heard of. This would be ergodic literature, books that call for active participation by the reader beyond simply moving the eyes and turning the pages. The gimmick here is that in a stage performance (this is a play), members of the audience are chosen as jury members and the ending depends on the verdict.
This is a fast, engaging read – I read the whole thing in three commutes with time for a quick doze too. It would be interesting to see it performed on stage, and particularly to be one of the audience jury members, but even knowing that’s the gimmick makes you pay a little bit more attention.
It’s typical non-lawyerly presentation of a criminal trial — lawyers object to things that really aren’t objectionable, and the judge sustains or overrules seemingly arbitrarily. No real rules of evidence apply. There’s an awful lot of stuff that has no business being presented in a criminal trial, and a truckload of stuff that should be there, that isn’t.
But, Ayn Rand’s writing is known for its focus on symbolism and philosophy, and this play is written not as a trial of the defendant based upon discernible facts, but as a judgment of one person’s (or two people’s) way of looking at life and the world based on how those sitting in judgment look at life and the world. Do they see evil and culpability? Or do they see independence and the exercise of free will? Are they constrained by rigid social values, or can they embrace the free spirit? It’s an exercise in recognizing that’s how we all go through life, making judgment calls based on personal experience and perspective, and that facts often have little to do with it. I’m not a lawyer but I do have a fairly extensive background in the law and law enforcement, and I decided the defendant was not guilty based solely on the crappy “evidence.” So while I think I’m pretty good at putting myself in other people’s shoes, it’s also possible that I missed the point altogether.
The irritant, for me, was the character of a woman who likes sex only after a man forces her into to it to show her that she likes it, thereby unleashing her sensuality. Still, this play was written in 1933 and in that regard Rand can only be seen as a product of her times, before it was recognized that women can like sex and — heaven forbid — can decide they like it all by themselves.
I was expecting a lot more out of the two alternate endings, along the lines of what was done with the movie Clue. The endings in this play are not even close, and I deducted a star for how anticlimactic the close was. It’s still a good read though, and its genius lies in its deceptive simplicity.
Torry glances at the live satnav on her phone screen, then makes the last turn to approach the house she just bought, sight unseen. She pulls into the overgrown driveway, cringing as branches scrape the sides of her creamy Mercedes, then sits and listens to the engine ticking as it cools, gazing at the house that looks as tired as she feels. It’s a working-class house in a working-class neighborhood; that’s why.
This is a far cry from her fashionable old house in her fashionable old neighborhood, but her divorce lawyer hadn’t managed to keep that for her. Hopefully her real estate broker is right, that she can pick this up for little more than arrearages owed, clean it up, and turn a nice profit. She crosses her fingers and curses divorce court judges again; but if she works fast, in a year, maybe two, she can be where she belongs, in a nice apartment in Queen Anne.
“Thank God they’re axing that Obamacare. Goddamn libtards.”
Jane stuffs her biology notes in her bag.
“Why does it bother you that people have health care? In the richest country on earth?”
“I don’t want my taxes paying for their bullshit. This is America.”
Jane smiles. “Huh. I don’t mind my taxes paying for your health care.”
The man scowls and turns to the window. The woman beside him nods knowingly.
The bus lurches and stops. Jane gets up with a parting shot: “Not sure how you can give a crap about America without giving a crap about Americans.”
Yes, I am one of those goddamn libtards. If you don’t like goddamn libtards, you might want to stop reading now (although I take it as a good sign if you’re still here, and thank you!).
It flummoxes me that people who claim to care about how “great” America is do not give a single shit about other Americans. Not all of us can have jobs that give health insurance at all, let alone affordable insurance. If you’ve ever shopped for health insurance without benefit of an employer who provides it, you’d know the premiums are outrageously expensive, for the individual as well as for the employer who’d like to include it as a benefit.
I work, and I work hard. But for many years I worked for sole practitioner attorneys, where the cost of providing insurance for me was prohibitive. The last time I sought quotes for my own insurance, the lowest I got was $650 a month. I was 40 years old and in perfect health, but crappy insurance with no prescription or dental plan still wanted almost half of my take-home pay before my $2,500 deductible was paid and it actually started helping me. So please, tell me how I’m supposed to pay for that, and still pay for a roof over my head, food, transportation to and from that job so I can earn that income in the first place, and so on. I’m waiting.
These last few years I have finally had insurance I could afford under the ACA (which is the same thing as Obamacare, for those living under a rock), and I’ve been so grateful to have it. I was never so grateful as a couple of months ago when my plan “covered” a screening colonoscopy, which found the very early stages of cancer. Would I have had that procedure without insurance? I can guarantee I would not have. And if not, how long before I had symptoms that made me miserable enough to pay out-of-pocket for a doctor visit, and discovered cancer at a more advanced and expensive stage?
The ridiculous cost of insurance is not the only thing to blame. Health care services and prescriptions are ridiculously high in this country. No, I’m not an expert on it, but when insurance companies are permitted to set costs for services and medications that are significantly higher than in other wealthy countries with comparable health care, and when providers and drug companies set their prices based on what insurance you have so they can get more for it, you know it’s a racket. (Pro tip: if there’s a lobbyist around, there’s a racket.) For example, in the U.S., an appendectomy typically costs around $30,000; in the U.K., it’s about $3,500. The drug Copaxone, used to treat M.S., costs around $3,050 per month in the U.S. compared to about $850 in Britain. (You will notice I picked medical conditions that can’t be blamed on the patient, as opposed to treatments for addiction or childbirth, for which I’ve heard it said, “Then they shouldn’t have babies/get addicted/eat crappy food that gives them high cholesterol.”)
I’m not asking to get everything for free. I don’t mind paying reasonable costs for health care, and I’m 100% for preventive measures that keep overall costs down. I said my procedure was “covered” because I’m still left with about $1,200 to pay after insurance. I’m still paying a hell of a lot less for my cancer scare than I’d be paying for full-on cancer treatment with surgeries and radiation and chemotherapy and gods only know what else, not to mention the lost income, further damage to my health, and that whole risk of dying thing. I’m grateful.
More importantly, I don’t mind paying higher taxes so that everyone can have health care. I’d say I don’t get why people are willing to pay a certain amount for their own, but aren’t willing to pay that same amount, or even less, so everyone can have what they have. But sadly, I do get it. It’s selfishness. That’s all.
And maybe I’m oversimplifying things, but I think health care should be about care and not about greed, and that the American government should be about taking care of the American people.
This book had a lot of potential, but didn’t quite pull it off. Or maybe I didn’t get the same download all the five-star reviewers did.
Bookshelves: advance-review, alternate-history, fantasy, magic, multiple-povs, my-dystopia-utopia, ya
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
The writing seemed to be trying too hard and it couldn’t decide what style it wanted to be. Describing someone grabbing someone else by the lapels as “an unanticipated development” is an overblown way to say “surprising” (and that it’s surprising should go without saying anyway), while the narrative referring to someone’s “little sis” is trying too hard to be hip-casual. The characters weren’t developed well enough to attribute that to their different voices.
Flat characters, particularly regarding the love interest. It seemed that Abi and Jenner had a thing for each other just because the plot outline called for it. No feeling, no spark.
Lots of telling as opposed to showing, making the narrative choppy and jumpy.
Twice, someone “spat expressively.” How is that done? (Don’t answer that. It was rhetorical question. I don’t spit.) And I can’t figure out how a dog can be “unconscionable.” I’m talking about a pug, not Dog Man (which was a really good bit, by the way).
Plot holes and contrivances. How can nobody be able to think of a good use for a strapping 17-year-old boy on a huge estate with a crapton of buildings, grounds, vehicles, and so forth, all in need of maintenance? Why does anyone assign a ten-year-old as full-time, sole nanny to an infant?
WHAT I LIKED:
The writing sparkled at times, such as the beautiful woman described as “a single immaculate snowflake fallen into Millmoor’s filthy streets.” Nice. “Millmoor changes people, Luke Hadley. But what most folk never realize is that you get to choose how.” Even slaves have some free will.
The world was original, a mix of alternate history, real-world technology, magic, and dystopia.
No gratuitous language or sex scenes for their own sake. All books do not need them and they were pleasantly absent here.
Multiple pov’s. I always enjoy hearing from a villain, particularly when his/her perspective helps make them sympathetic.
The story line itself was interesting.
The cover. Elegant.
Great concept, but the execution was wanting. This could have been a lot more than it was, with more rewrites and fleshing out of characters, Skill, and the alternate/dystopian Britain setting. Frankly, the only reason I finished it was because it was an ARC (my thanks to Net Galley, Random House, and the author for the free copy in exchange for my honest review) and I feel obligated to finish those. The climax was a rushed and unsatisfying cliffhanger, and if I’d known ahead of time that it was the first in a series I wouldn’t have requested it.
And now for my rant, and I’ve ranted about this before. WHY DOES EVERYTHING HAVE TO BE PART ONE OF THE SOMETHING-OR-OTHER SERIES? I am so tired of that gimmick. Seriously, writers, here is some advice from a Devoted and Constant Reader: Quit with the money grab. Come up with a good world, a good story, good characters. Write it, write it well, and get out. You can best guarantee I’ll read your next book if you satisfy me with this one.
Jane hurtles into wakefulness as two things register: she is not supposed to be hearing voices, and she is not supposed to be smelling…is that the blast from her past she thinks it is?
Peeking out over the bottom of her basement window, through the tangle of winter rhododendron, she sees another small forest, of legs, slouchy denim and untied sneakers, black leggings and Ugg boots and ballerina flats.
“Hey, Jase, ya bogart, pass the doobage. We have to get to first period.”
It was only a matter of time, she supposed, before kids discovered this place, but she can still hope they content themselves with the yard and don’t actually break in. She slides back down the wall to sit at its base, patting her chest to soothe her pounding heart and fanning away that smell…rank.
This is a vignette from The Life and Times of Jane Doe, for Six Sentence Stories. This week’s cue was “rank.” More fun Sixes from other writers are here.
Becca heels her shoes off. Dirt especially shows on bare carpet. Two months Richard’s been gone, and the endless expanse remains broken only by two power cords and their lamps.
But she’s home, safe after another day at Bile & Heartburn — er, Pyle & Hepburn. Away from Carolyn, who inspects every draft with narrowed eyes and pressed lips. Away from the yappy dog next cubicle over. Especially away from Jane, who apparently thinks they are best friends just because they share work space.
Becca hits Pandora, cranks the volume. Anything to cover the noise of her rattling around here by herself.
This flash is a vignette from The Life and Times of Jane Doe. Fun flashes from other writers can be found at the Carrot Ranch link above.