Fiction Friday (postponed to Monday)

(Yes, I know I could just call it Fiction Monday, but where’s the alliteration in that? If it helps, I wrote it Saturday)

This prompt is from February’s Writer’s Digest which I just subscribed to (so far, I’m quite liking it). It’s “Use the ‘un-moral’ [It’s best to count your chickens before they’re hatched] to conclude the flash story you are about to write…Start with: ‘She was not a…'”

She was not a rich woman. Brit wasn’t even middle class. She was poor, more appropriately working-herself-to-an early-grave poor. But her Tommy needed to be fed, needed a warmer coat, needed allergy medication that was only over-the-counter and therefore not paid by the state or anyone else but his mother. And it was never on sale. But Tommy needed to breathe and he couldn’t concentrate when he was stuffed up, so Brit worked and saved other places and, after she got Timmy to bed, collapsed onto the sofa and stared at the third-hand TV until she fell asleep.

All of that meant that Brit spent spare moments running numbers in her head. To keep getting her EBT, she needed to earn under $20,709 a year which she did scanning food she couldn’t afford, on her feet for hours everyday. EBT didn’t pay for much, but it kept food in their bellies for at least some of the month. Her job let her take home expired food once the manager had caught her in the dumpster. Half her paycheck for rent in someone’s basement that was never warm, never dry, never light. If the mushrooms in the bathroom got any bigger, she was going to see if they were edible. Utilities weren’t included, so that was another five hundred a month. She allowed herself basic cable because her television couldn’t pick up any stations otherwise.

Tommy had a scholarship to St. Francis Assi. Five hundred dollars a month after the scholarship and worth every penny. They weren’t Catholic, but Brit didn’t care if Tommy picked up some God with his miles-better-than-the-local-public school education. Since he’d gotten in, he’d started sleeping through the night again. His uniform was just as nice as everyone else’s and his teachers all knew his name. Enough money every month to keep the creditors off her back.

She’d been doing better, once. Before her parents died in the crash, she and Tommy had been able to live with them. The house was gone now, of course. She couldn’t afford the mortgage, let alone property taxes. Tommy’s dad had paid some child support before disappearing out west somewhere, starting another family like he was a franchiser. Her friends all disappeared because she wasn’t much fun any more.

Brit was walking to St. Francis’ library to pick up Tommy when a man wearing a suit stopped her. “Can I ask you a quick question? If you had a thousand dollars, what would you spend it on?”

Brit replied instantly. “I’d buy my son a parka, repair my car’s brakes, and pay off the doctor’s bill.”

“And how much would that be?”

“One thousand and four dollars and twenty-three cents.” Brit said this without hesitation.

The man looked at her, assessing. Then he nodded, reached into his coat pocket, and handed her two thousand dollars. “You have impressive math skills, my dear.”

Brit stared at the money in her hands, open mouthed. When she looked up, the man was gone. She stuffed the cash into the most secure pocket she had and kept walking.

When she entered the library, Tommy had cleared the area in front of him and was reading a thick book with a dragon on the cover. When she sat across from him, he looked up and his face blossomed into a grin. Brit returned the grin. “How about we go shopping and get you a new coat?”

Tommy put the dragon book into his book bag and pulled on the threadbare coat on. “I’m okay, Mom.” Tommy had already learned to sacrifice his comfort for their paltry budget.

“No, sir, I insist. And then we’ll eat out.”

Tommy’s face brightened. “We will?” He pulled his back pack on and they started walking out of the library to the bus stop. “Did you win the lottery?”

Brit thought about it. “More that I won something based on a skill I have.”

“Like sword fighting?”

“Like chicken counting.”



Fiction Friday

I read recently a published author’s advice to bloggers/aspiring writers (which I’ve been searching my history and Google for but can’t find–will update when I do). One of the things that he suggested was writing a kiss a day for a month (by the way, searching for that leads to a lot of good ideas on the subject of keeping one’s marriage healthy). So, since I’m bad at doing what I’m told, here’s a kiss gone wrong:

The date had been going well. Kaitlin picked me up at the door instead of honking, the restaurant had seated us by a window and the rain and the lights looked like a cheesy photograph that someone hip would make fun of, and the movie we saw was scary and funny in equal measures, so we found ourselves clinging to each other without having to worry.

Now she walked me to my door at the end of the evening, the rain having turned to a mist that softened all the edges of the world. “This is me,” I said at my front door. I cringed. “I mean, of course it’s my door. Otherwise, this would be weird, just going up to some strange door at night to kiss…say goodbye to a date.” I laughed and then inhaled wrong, bringing on a coughing fit. Only I could go from a perfect romantic evening to practically dying of breathing incorrectly.

“I had first aid training in high school, but I don’t want to try it out,” she said gently. “Are you going to be okay?”

I nodded, afraid to challenge my respiratory system to anything more challenging than breathing.

“Good.” Kaitlin smiled and touched my face. Seeing that I wasn’t pulling away, she leaned in for a kiss. I met her half-way. And immediately jerked back when our teeth bashed together through our lips. The motion caused me to over-balance and crash into my door. When I’d had the option, I’d been talked into a solid core door since the salesperson assured me that they were safer. I was regretting that choice.

I found myself sitting against the door looking up at Kaitlin.

“Are you dead?”

“I should be so lucky.”

“Maybe we should try that again with us both sitting down,” she suggested and then plopped down on the top step facing me. She leaned in.

“Don’t.” I pulled back.

“Oh, it won’t be that bad.”

“No, my mouth’s all bloody.”

“Did you bite your tongue?”

“Cut my lip when we kissed.”

“Gross,” she said and I nodded. “Well, there’s only on solution, I think.”

Here it comes. I braced myself as best I could for the rejection. It had been going so well, but I screwed it up again.

“You need to go in, rinse your mouth, and get some rest.”

I nodded again, glum.

“So that you’re ready to go out again tomorrow.” She poked me on the knee. “And if we kiss, I’ll make sure you’re somewhere soft, so you can’t hurt yourself.” She tapped my nose and said “boop!” then walked to her car.

I watched her go, her black pleated skirt swaying with each step. She waved at her car, got in and drove away.

I sat there for a moment. Then I eased myself up and brushed off my rear, then reached into my pocket for my keys. Then the other pocket. The last time I’d seen my keys was when I was showing Kaitlin my TARDIS key ring and pressed the button so she could hear the whooshing sound effect. And then…I’d put it on the dash of her car. The one that had sped off into the night. Damn.

At least she’d be coming back tomorrow. Maybe she could let me in then.



Parents and Privacy

I’ve been teaching for about five years, and for the first time I had parents contact me on their children’s behalf. I understand the impulse, but it puts me in a weird place.

In K-12 parents are expected and encouraged to be involved, and if there’s a problem, parents are invited to meet with the teacher. Sometimes the student isn’t invited at all. The difference at the college/university level is that, because of privacy laws, I’m not allowed to discuss a student’s performance in my class with anyone, even parents. Even if the parents are paying the way. Even if the student is still a high school student or under 18. Some professors go so far as to not acknowledge that a student is in their class.

I think this is an excellent idea for many reasons: 1) Student should be responsible for their performance. Many of my students are over the age of eighteen and there needs to come a time for people to stand on their own. 2) It really is no one else’s business what grade a student gets. If I were to have a performance review, that wouldn’t be shared with all and sundry. Sometimes, the athletic folks have the students ask me to sign a sheet that indicates they are doing well in the class–but that’s from the student. (I don’t know if they can opt out, since athletics require a certain GPA in order to stay on the team). 3) It keeps students who are in unhealthy relationships (with parents, with significant others safer. 4) It’s far less complicated. I don’t have to weigh a bunch of factors to determine who to tell what. Students are in control of what they share and with whom. 5) Students and professors have a shared knowledge of what went on in the class that someone outside of the class wouldn’t be able to easily replicate, often many weeks worth. That’s not easy to penetrate for an outsider.

The only difficulty arises when parents who have been closely involved with their children’s educational experience so far want to continue this into the college years. They often become frustrated that professors can’t talk about their son or daughter’s performance. Some of them seem to think we’re just being obstinate. But we aren’t. We’re following the law.

I even understand the impulse–for a very long time, parents have been the primary advocates for their children. And it got to be difficult when their child is unhappy and the parents aren’t allowed to do anything about it. But at some point, those children become adults and have to be their own advocates and make their own decisions about what they want and need. The students must be able to talk to the professor (boss, coworker, spouse, bureaucrat) and if that doesn’t work, the individual must be able to assess what they want to do next (try the next level? try again with the person with whom they are having the conflict? drop it and accept what comes with that?). It’s all part of being an adult (and we all have moments that we wish someone would swoop down and clear the obstacles, but that’s not likely for most of us most of the time) and being a fully formed and grown person.

Snow Day Rules

I had a (very rare, almost never happens) snow day a while back, and I was thinking about how some people react to snow days. I knew a person who used them as a way to get caught up on laundry and cleaning. Now, if that’s what you like, go for it, but I think that person rather missed the point. In order to help people like her, here’s a tentative list of rules for snow days. (These might also be helpful for sick days and mental health days).

  1. You do not have to get dressed. Snow days are the perfect time to remain in your jammies. Perhaps you prefer to wear “lounge bottoms” with a t-shirt or sweat shirt or a robe over lazy day clothes. This is fine.
  2. Eating something carb-heavy is ideal. This might be hot chocolate or popcorn. If you’re feeling energetic, you can certainly make mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese. Something yummy to keep you warm.
  3. This is an excellent time to re-watch movies, take in a light movie that’s been on your list, or binge watch a show. This is probably not a good time to watch deep, dark, foreign films (unless that’s your thing). Horror, comedy, romance, and cheesy action movies are your best bets.
  4. If you can nap, do nap. This is made even better by your choice of pets. Personally, I like a warm, heavy, purring cat for maximum snuggles and relaxation. Do not steal said cat from the neighbors–that’s bad snow day etiquette. You should have a pet on hand for these situations.
  5. The last two things should be done with a warm, preferably soft, blanket.
  6. That magazine/book/graphic novel you’ve been meaning to look at? Browse through it, but don’t pressure yourself. If it doesn’t hold your interest, that’s okay. It will be there later.
  7. If you craft, this is a good day to work on a non-stressful project. Start something fun and easy.
  8. If you are a game person, play a game. Don’t pick something that will frustrate you or the people you are playing with. If you have people who are overly competitive, perhaps a puzzle might be better.
  9. In fact, this is a good day for puzzles of all kinds: jigsaw, sudoku, crossword and word search, or a casual puzzle-solving game on your favorite site.
  10. This is very important: Do not check your work email, and if your friends and relatives stress you out, don’t check your social media. YouTube and its like are fine as long as you limit yourself to frolicking animals and funny or sweet videos.

You can add or subtract rules as you see fit–after all, the point of a snow day is to decrease your stress level, not add to it.

What are your rules for days off?

State of the Blog

You’ll have noticed a gap in my postings (so long that I lost four Twitter followers!) after I wrote about my cracked crown. There are Reasons (as follows).

The dentist could kindly fit me in the next day (Wednesday). After a few tests and look-sees, it was determined that I had not only broken the crown, but the tooth, all the way up. I asked what caused it and the dentist didn’t know.

The good news is that the crown was under a five year warranty (it was a little over two years old!) and I would be getting the money back.

The bad news is that the tooth had to be removed. I decided that I wanted a dental implant (those are supposed to last thirty years, so I figure I can get a good twelve out of it, if my luck holds). I had them put in the first thing they needed (cadaver bone!) right then. And got the process started. It will cost a little over three thousand dollars (it would have been four, but crown rebate). This is a significant chunk of my yearly income, but I need teeth.

My plan is to sign up for any subbing at my college that I can reasonably do and put that money towards the (huge, giant, insurmountable) cost. I had been planning to pay off my student loans this year, but I foolishly said that out loud. The irritating thing is that I had JUST paid off the last of the crown in December. JUST.

Since I had to, I went to work the next day. According to everything I read, a person is supposed to take it easy for at least a day (more like three) after a tooth extraction. Teaching the first day of college classes hardly qualifies, so I spent most of the next week recuperating. Monday was the first day I felt okay (part of that was probably having to eat soft foods and not having much of an appetite). Then I taught Tuesday, spent all day Wednesday grading quizzes, taught Thursday, and have spent the last two days grading essays (I’m hoping to be done tomorrow).

And that’s why I haven’t written a word in more than a week. I’m hoping when I go to the dentist next Friday that I’ll have good news, like my tooth is growing back, like a shark’s!

Ack! Unexpected Dental Work!

Last night, as I was eating macaroni and cheese, I felt something give. Sure enough, the crown that I had put in September of 2013 cracked in half. I question the fitness of any dental appliance that can’t stand up to cooked pasta. I should have known when the dentist said that crowns were good for at least ten years that didn’t apply to my teeth.

I am glad that the dental office could fit me in today (this happened about five last night), but I really, truly wish it weren’t happening at all. I dislike going to the dentist. I like dentists and hygienists and assistants and the work they do; I like modern dentistry.  However, I REALLY don’t like people poking around in my mouth. I also do not approve of the fact that this (expletive deleted)  crown cost over a thousand dollars to make and put in and it’s already broken. I don’t make much money at all, and I JUST got done paying of the crown, so I am not happy.

I’m already an anxious person (the filling that failed that lead to the root canal that lead to the crown was probably done in by grinding my teeth), and I fear the dentist, so this is a double whammy to my stress levels. I’m the person who has to have nitrous to have my teeth cleaned, so I’m a very unhappy camper right now–why the blog post is late.

What I’m hoping for is that the crown will be replaced no charge and that it will be an easy process. My inner always cynical voice is laughing at that.

Review–Mad Max: Fury Road

I’d read a lot of the articles about the filming of Fury Road because the film makers seemed to be putting a lot of thought into the production, and I’ve become increasingly interested in productions with practical effects (not that I don’t enjoy CGI). Then I read that it had some interesting ideas about men and women and was even being praised as feminist. This seemed like an interesting concept, so I watched it, even though I hadn’t see any of the movies before it.

Oh my word. If you are looking for the most beautifully filmed, frequently nihilistic, post-apocalyptic movie I think I’ve ever seen, watch Fury Road. There were parts that were so gorgeous that my brain just said “ooh.” Some of the compositions were paintings of light and shadow and colors. It was lovely.

The action was not only inventive, but there was absolutely no time that I didn’t know who was in shot, what was happening or why. So many modern action films have so many jump cuts, so much shaky-cam, and are filmed in such poor lighting and conditions (and without context) that they mean nothing because the viewer doesn’t know what’s happening (If you haven’t watched CinemaSins‘ take on action, do your self a favor and see them). Fury Road, however, centered the action in the shot (IMDB had an entry in the trivia section on this if you’re interested). It helps that the character design is unique for each named character (the WarBoys are supposed to look alike!).

Another thing that I really enjoyed was that sometime during the beginning of the chase I thought “This is bananas!” It continued to be. Although I know that it was all carefully planned, it had the feeling of a bull session with all creative, intelligent people whose motto was “Sure! Why not?” Have people on poles bending into vehicles to take people? Sure, why not? Have exploding javelins? Sure! Generations of young men raised to worship death and sacrifice for their eminently corrupt and terrible dictator who, before kamikaze strikes spray silver into their mouths? Why not?

I’d stayed away from the Mad Max series before because I assumed that it was dark and ugly. This incarnation, however, was bright, lovely and focused on beautiful destruction.

What do you think? Better then its predecessors? Worse? Missing something? Know something cool about the production? Let me know in the comments.