Charge It (Six Sentence Stories, Installment 3)

Okay, she’d sat here long enough. No matter how awful she felt, staying away from her desk any longer was going to raise eyebrows, if not tempers.

She definitely felt less wobbly, but she bought another cup of tea, this one to go, for extra comfort. As she took her charge card back and started to slip it into her wallet, it caught her eye.

 

Although the colors were what she was used to seeing, it wasn’t the right design. Alerted now, she looked even more closely, and felt the world start to slip out from under her feet again — the design was almost right, but the name wasn’t her name at all.

Ed Ivanushkin, Flickr/Creative Commons

This is a Six Sentence Stories installment, #3. The cue was “charge.”

Click here for Installment 2.

Click here for Installment 4.

Click here for the linkup to great Six Sentence Stories by other writers.

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It’s a Scary World, Jane Doe

Jane Doe is on my mind a lot lately. It’s her fault I can’t sleep tonight. So, I sip at a mug of chamomile tea and write a bit about Jane Doe.

If you read this blog regularly, you’ve come to recognize Jane as a fictional character I write about in flash fiction. Her stories can be found under the “Flash Fiction” tab above, or click here.

Jane started her life as the protagonist in my 2015 NaNoWriMo novel. I won NaNo by completing a full draft of a novel consisting of at least 50,000 words (I finished with 73,270) in 30 days. She was born there, but she hasn’t taken shape or come into her own yet. That’s rewriting and editing to be done, a lot of it. I love NaNoWriMo. I’ve participated every year since 2008. It’s crazy creative fun and a wonderful way to choke a story out, to by-god get that first draft written so you have something to bitch about having to rewrite and edit, and it’s expected to be shit, because as Papa Hemingway said, the first draft of anything is shit. So, I love NaNoWriMo. But the drawback to NaNoWriMo is that with a crunch of a deadline like that, you’re not going to get a lot done in the way of character development, or logical story arcs, or well-crafted settings, or subplots, or any of that novel-y stuff.

Enter flash fiction. I stumbled across the weekly flash fiction challenges held over at Carrot Ranch Communications, and not only am I enjoying participating with other writers and having a ball with flash fiction in general, but I’ve been using it for little Jane Doe vignettes, and Jane is fleshing out far more than she did on the pages of that draft novel. I might be on to something here.

The defining thing about Jane is her homelessness, and that’s why I named her Jane Doe. That’s who she is to the majority of the people who pass her on the street: a hapless unknown, a lazy good-for-nothing, a nameless, voiceless nobody. I want to give her a voice and make her a somebody, help the world see that she is a real person, with fledgling dreams and broken dreams, loves and losses, starts and stops and failures, and she’s still out there trying, and surviving. Barely surviving.

Another defining thing about Jane Doe is that she is Anywoman, she is Everywoman. Any one of us could be Jane. I was hit by the bad economy in 2012-2013, when I lost my job in Nevada, moved to Washington because that was the only place that extended an offer of employment, and immediately lost two more jobs once I got here. I’d intended to keep my Nevada home as a rental and sell it when the market recovered, but I couldn’t hang on, and I lost it. If I hadn’t had a 401(k) to cash out, I don’t know what we would have lived on. Poof, home and retirement, gone.

(That could be my own fault, because I was unable to figure out how all these lazy unemployed people are riding high on unemployment benefits. My benefits were good for less than a year and didn’t even cover groceries for a month, let alone rent and all those luxuries like electricity and prescriptions and gas for the car and tampons and a phone and an Internet connection so I could look for another job, and if you think this paragraph is two barrels of snark aimed at unemployment haters, you’re absolutely right.)

I’m not bitching, not really. I’ve lost what I had invested and put by, but I did find another job and I’m still here. The Tominator and Dream Girl and I have a roof over our heads and food on the table. But it’s scary. I’ve heard it said a lot lately that most of us are one paycheck away from being unable to pay for that roof, and I’ve been close enough to believe it. I didn’t end up homeless, but the thought of it haunts me. I lost more than my house and my retirement. I lost security in my own capabilities and worth, my sense of my place in this world, my faith that I’ll always be able to take care of myself. Because for every one like me who had resources to fall back on and was able to find another job, there are thousands who didn’t, and couldn’t. How easily that could have been me. How easily it could still be me, at any time.

One of the things I did in response to my economic crisis was go back to school. Part of it was bucket list, part of it was a genuine desire to prepare myself for a new career, to make myself more marketable generally. But all the rah-rah you hear about a college degree guaranteeing you a good living is just that: rah-rah. I have a good friend who is highly educated, highly intelligent, highly capable, a powerhouse of get-things-done-genius, with a killer resume – who has been in various stages of unemployment for more than eight years. He would be homeless and without all his possessions, right now, if not for the kindness of his friends. And it’s not laziness. He estimates he’s applied for half a million jobs in all this time, and he has worked, happily, whenever someone invited him to, even temporarily. Overqualified? He doesn’t care. He’ll take it, and be grateful, and he’ll stay with you just to prove his gratitude. Unemployed too long? That’s bullshit. Those are the people who should be getting preferential treatment, if you ask me.

I did a bit of research about college degrees among the homeless but I didn’t find much. I found this story on Huffington Post about homeless college students, and this story about a well-educated and highly qualified man who is homeless, and this blog about being a homeless college grad. Nothing’s been written on the blog for a while, and I hope it’s because she found a job and was able to move in with her boyfriend and is now insanely busy and happy with her new career and their life together. I really hope that. But I would be interested to know how many of our homeless population are college-educated professionals who hit the wrong luck on the wrong day and don’t have anyone in their lives who will help them.

So.

One of the things I’ve learned from my own experience is that once you start to slide down this slippery slope, you’ve been marked. One woman wrote to me that after a brief stint of homelessness followed by the blessing of a home, she is still afraid. My good friend lives in fear now, and may always be even if he wins the lottery and buys his own island. I didn’t end up homeless, but my experience with jobs disappearing from under my feet and being just that close to not being able to pay the rent have left me frightened as well. I have a job now, I’ve had it for more than two years, but it still keeps me awake at night, how easily a secure life can turn upside down. This is not imagination; it is a real phenomenon. It hurts us, and it leaves scars. I’d read The Grapes of Wrath again if I wasn’t sure it would only leave me teary and depressed.

Getting back to Jane Doe, I’m starting to think that her story can best be told through a series of interconnected short stories, rather than a longer novel. Her desperation calls to me, creeping in and making its presence known in different ways and at different times and in different places. Jane’s resilience and determination define her as much as her homelessness does. The twin antagonists of her stories are fear and shame.

Your world is scary, Jane Doe, and I do want you to tell me all about it, so I can tell it to others.

But for now, please, let me sleep.

Photo credit: Hanibaael via Flickr/Creative Commons

A Grave Talent by Laurie R. King (Book Review)

A Grave Talent: A NovelA Grave Talent: A Novel by Laurie R. King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

First, for those who don’t want the “gay PC” or “gay agenda” “shoved in your faces,” not because you’re “not haters” but because “it doesn’t matter to the story”: I call bullshit. Would you complain and say Kate’s romantic relationship doesn’t matter to the story if her lover were a man? Of course not. A character’s love is part of who the character is. Characters drive a good story. It does matter.

You’re not fooling anybody.

That said, I enjoyed this book. Good police procedural, nicely plotted and paced, likable and realistic characters. Good flavor of the City by the Bay. I’ll definitely read the rest of the series.

 

In Their Shoes (Flash Fiction)

Congress of Rough Writers January 27 Flash Fiction Challenge: In 99 words, no more and no less, write about a community outreach:

People saw the shoes. Many signed the petition, most just kept walking. But hundreds, thousands, saw.

 

In Westlake Square, more than 3,000 pairs of shoes, to make it real, how many people are without shelter in this city. How many kids’ shoes.

Jane Doe is here, too. She signed the petition. Mostly she’s here for the free hot dog and coke.

Demonstration over, the organizers give the shoes away to those who need them. Jane shakes her head no, thank you, she has shoes. She has a home too, so to speak. Unheated and illegal, but it’s shelter.

Photo: RealChange.org

 

Author note: This flash isn’t strictly fiction. It is based on the Real Change demonstration in May 2014, where they laid out 3,123 pairs of shoes in Westlake Square, Seattle, to make it visible how many people are without shelter in King County, Washington. It was part of a petition to make things happen to lower the One Night Count, an annual head count performed by volunteers to determine how many people are sleeping outside.

The count did not go down. In January 2015 was 3,772, and in 2016 it was 4,505.

I have previously ranted about our society’s neglect and cruelty to its own here.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (Book Review)

CryptonomiconCryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished reading this for the second time. It’s STILL probably the best historical, cryptanalytical, mathematical, technological, warfare, nerd-heaven, looking-for-buried-treasure tale ever. It’s a doorstop at 900+ pages so if that intimidates you, turn back now. If you love complex plots and intertwining timelines and a good long read to lose yourself in for days, this is the one. And…it’s got Alan Turing in it!

Can, or Can Not (Six Sentence Stories, Installment 2)

I don’t know if I can do it.



She’d been sitting here in the coffee house for fifteen minutes now, thinking she was just a little dizzy, all she needed was a cup of tea and she’d be fine. She’d drunk the tea, she’d sat quietly, but she didn’t feel better in the slightest. Everything still had that just-off-of-normal look, and her heart was still thumping right along.

If she could just make it out the door, up the elevator and back to her desk, she’d be safe, but here she sat, too frightened to move.

Why can’t I do this?


This is a Six Sentence Stories Installment, #2. The cue was “can.”

Click here for Installment 1.

Click here for Installment 3.

Click here for the link-up to read Six Sentence Stories from other writers.

A Boy and His Dog (Flash Fiction)

Congress of Rough Writers January 20 flash fiction challenge: In 99 words, no more and no less, write a story about a boy and his dog.

ciadefoto: Flickr/CC Attribution 4.0 License
Jane watches Troubles run around the dog park. A soft voice speaks. She hadn’t felt anyone sit down on her bench.

“I like your dog. I had a dog but he ran away.”

She glances at the boy beside her. “I like him too.”

“Where’d you get him?”

She doesn’t want to say she found him, abandoned along with the house she broke into and squats in. She inspects the boy surreptitiously: healthy, expensive clothes, could afford to feed Troubles better than she can. Sadness limns his face.

This boy needs this dog as much as she does. Almost.