900+ Words – 2 “SuperShort Stories”

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SuperShort #1

 

Jenny Williams was slated to be baptized.  It was to be an important transitional day for her, she was told.  It would bring Jesus into her soul, she was told.  It meant that all the eyes of the congregation would be on her, she was told.  It meant that she would have a delivered pizza later that afternoon with her preferred toppings and not Eliza’s.  With that, she was sold.

When she went to junior high parties and the host’s parents bought pizzas for all the girls and boys present, she felt obligated to share her one pizza story.  At first, either no one listened or they nodded in order to make her feel comfortable.  When she shared the same anecdote at a high school party in 10th grade, they laughed at her–and not for the good reason.

Jenny’s older sister Eliza had warned her that high school kids were cruel.  Her prediction rang true throughout that whole year as she unwillingly became known as the churchy girl in class.  Trying to explain to her peers that she and her family do not even go to church much anymore was, she learned, a waste of energy.  Kids that age don’t typically listen to rational thought.

As a junior, Jenny began dating a little.  Dating in high school is harder and harder to explain.  Gone are the aw-shucks scenarios where boys nervously ask girls out to dinner or a movie.  Gone are traditions such as opening doors or buying flowers.  In Jenny’s case, she’d watched two different boys on different occassions play the same shoot-em-up video game.  As optimistic as she tried to be about boys her age, she was constantly reminded of their immaturity.

Then she met Mike.  A sophomore.  In college.

Mike didn’t go to church but he did smoke pot and go to college parties.  Jenny didn’t allow herself to become a statistic–at least not the superbad, criminal kind.  She drank a little–Mike knew her tolerance before she did–and met more interesting people.

This story doesn’t end badly, but you were thinking it would, right?  You wanted her to get mixed up with the wrong crowd or get raped or perhaps get so high or drunk that she loses her ability to operate a motor vehicle.  None of those things happen in this story.  If you were thinking they would, perhaps you’ve been conditioned by other artists and writers to believe those are the only outcomes for a character with this setup.

I chose not to let that happen to Jenny.

—-

SuperShort #2

 

So I saw my ex-girlfriend in the grocery store this afternoon.  She had a baby with her.  It (the baby) isn’t mine or anything, but I found myself spending more time looking at it (the baby) than I did her (the ex-girlfriend).  We’d been broken up for maybe two years or so, but we’d (clearly) changed a lot in those two dozen months.  I noticed no ring on her finger, and she kept referring to the baby’s father as “her father.”  Formal, for her; trust me.

That implied a few things.  We didn’t speak long, but I avoided eye contact with her and it (the baby) by staring in the direction of a bright red frozen meal inside the refrigerated section of aisle seventeen.  It implied that its father was not around, not around very much, or missing.  Or perhaps too poor/cheap to buy a ring.  Girls will tell you fellas that as much as they say the size of the ring matters, it really truly does not.  Sure, they may wish you were richer and could afford a larger ring.  Here’s what I’ve noticed, though.  They like the gesture more than the ring.  If you give a girl a ring and make a promise to her, and she feels the same way about you, you’re golden.  Sure, you can make a speech about how you’ll buy her a larger ring after you make some more money.  She’ll say No No No..This one’s perfect!  If her face is bursting with energy, you’re good to go.

There was no energy–and definitely no ring–on my ex’s finger.  When I looked at the baby, I saw the eyes I fell for when I met her mother years ago.  It took a full twenty seconds or so making mindless chatter and staring at that baby’s face for me to remember why she and I had broken up in the first place.

Then I remembered that I tried really hard to bang her best friend and neither of them was into that.

Surprising?  It shouldn’t be.  Men are baseless scum for the most part.  We have morals sure, but we’re also programmed to conquer.  Some of us seek out women; others, men.  Whatever.  But if we get an idea and convince ourselves it’s going to work, we’re hard-pressed to let society’s rules pin us down and tell us no.

Sorry, folks.  Truth is damaging at times.  Frankly, I wanted her to put that baby down right there in aisle 17 and take it as we faced the frozen microwaveable meatloafs.

Wouldn’t you know it, though?  Someone jingling keys abruptly interrupted my impromptu fantasy.

“S’goin’ on, babe?” the guy asked, looking me dead in the eye.

She introduced me and I shook the prick’s hand.

She cleared her throat.  “He’s a friend from school.  Says he and his wife could babysit anytime we need…for free!”

I knew the next day that I’d have to start looking at bigger rings.

800+ words – Short Story involving an heirloom

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**An impromptu short story I put together today**

Gina’s last wish was to be at her grandmother’s dust-riddled apartment a full hour away from work.  Her boss had okayed her absence under these circumstances, but she knew he had to say that and most likely did not mean it.  After only being there for three months, she’d figured out that Jim Michaels was a complete asshole but was probably her best bet at having a shot at a real publisher.

It’s not that Gina and her grandmother fought or had some sort of long-standing feud.  Nor did she have any disdain for either of her parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, or uncles.  She just simply hated funerals.  Her abhorrence of the traditional, and at times quite ceremonial, send off into the ground, was for Gina a collosal waste of time, money, and energy.  Of course, she knew she could not share these ideas with anyone–especially today, since it was going to be the last time anyone ever saw her grandmother’s actual face.

“When you’re dead,  you’re dead,” she’d argued to a friend once over coffee.  “Do me a favor, Jeanette.  Don’t even tell my parents I’m dead when I’m gone.  It’ll totally fuck up their plans.”

Rightfully so, this bothered Gina’s friend.  However, it had bothered her so much that Jeanette contacted a therapist without Gina’s knowledge or consent.  When the initial appointment time came, Gina was willing to talk to the guy but assured her longtime friend that she was only going because it meant something to Jeanette.  It was the only session.

After her grandmother’s small funeral, there was a smaller reception and some friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend had catered in some coffeecake and chicken salad sandwiches, apparently two of Grandma Lola’s favorites.

“Gina, do you have to head back tonight?” her mother asked without looking at her.  The sandwiches were gone, and a pitiful amount of crumbs covered the bottom of the second of two cakepans.

“Mom, I told you earlier,” she said.  “Dad?” It was evident that her impatience with her mother would not be put on hold during this somber late afternoon.

Her dad cleared his throat.  “We just thought, hon, that you could come to the house.  We…have something to discuss.”

Gina’s eyes scanned the room.  Her brothers and cousins were watching an evidently amusing video on one of their phones.  Kade, the oldest of the cousins, spat out brown crumbs at the climactic moment.

“Can’t you just tell me here?  I really can’t risk oversleeping and being late.”

Her parents peered into each others’ eyes.  It wasn’t an amorous glare, though.  Gina wondered if they had ever looked at each other the way they do in movies in theaters and the ones in her head when she reads.

The question remained unanswered and was interrupted by a slow series of family departures.  Everyone bid everyone else well.  The male cousins shared bizarre streetgang handshakes; the girls pecked each others’ cheeks–both were recurring actions that Gina could not comprehend but simply, shyly shrugged off this time.

“Gina,” her mother said as she swept away the crumbs from a central table into one of the two pans.  “My mother had a will.  Everyone is meeting tomorrow to discuss it before we go to lunch.”

“Mom, I just can’t…”

Her mother held up a hand.  “I know.  I understand.  Duty calls.”  She sighed and straightened the area where an apron would be if she’d had one on.

Without Gina realizing it, the room had emptied and Gina suddenly felt like she was in the principal’s office.

“I spoke with the attorney who handles…these things.”

“Deaths?”

Her mother bit her lower lip.  “Yes.”  She softened, realizing perhaps that she didn’t need to sugarcoat mortality with her grown daughter.

Gina watched her mother’s eyes drift to the side.  “My mom was…all my life, she was pretty much an open book.  What is it?” she sort of laughed.  “She wore her heart on her sleeve?”

“Guess so.  She didn’t really mix feelings, did she?”

“No, we girls always knew immediately when she was mad at one or all of us.”   She bit that lip again and examined the tiled floor.

“The woman worked harder after Grandpa got sick than she or anyone else I’ve known has their entire lives.”

“I know what you mean,” Gina said.  “Feels like we saw her less and less when I was in high school.”

“Well,” her mom said.  “She sure was tricky about everything.”

“What do you mean?”

That small laugh again.  “It turns out that…well, you know how she used to tell you stories when you slept over at her house?”

Gina nodded.

“Do you remember what you talked about after the stories?”

“Well,” Gina said.  “I remember she always wanted me to have some…plan.  You know?  Where am I going to school?  When or if I want to marry, travel the world, have kids…that type of stuff?”

“Do you remember any of your answers?”

“Mom, that had to be…” she quickly calulated…over twenty years ago.  Even if I could remember it obviously hasn’t come true.”  Her eyes went downward.  “Kids’ dreams never come true.”

“Here.”

Gina’s eyes were back up and say an old brown leather woman’s pocketbook.

“What’s this?”

“It was hers.  Her attorney says this is what she’s left you.”

“Gee,” she said, biting her lower lip.  “I’m so…moved.”

Her mother began to say one thing but switched gears.  “Trust me.  I’ll be there’s a reason.”

She unsnapped the lone button and withdrew a plane ticket and a handwritten note, signed by the deceased.

“What’s it say?” her mother asked.

“‘Darling Gina,’” she read.  “She hasn’t called me that in years, Mom.”

Her eyes watered.  “I know.”

“‘I’ll make this quick because I don’t like to waste time.  I’ve left each of you children $25,000 from…well, let’s just say some money I earned over my life.  You are hereby ordered to quit that job you told me about a month or so ago and get to Europe.  I don’t care how long you stay or if you even come back.  The world is too big to stay in one place though.’”

“Well, Gina?  Surprised?”

“Nothing that woman surpises me anymore.”

700+ Words (autobio of parent)

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**Again, the prompt was interesting at first, but then it took a turn as I continued…***

I grew up in the United States.  It’s hard to say which location to call the home of my childhood because I spent time in Indiana and Texas, two states with much different lifestyles–at least back then they were.  In Texas, I grew up believing that God had not only invented football, but He had set up HQ in the western part of the state.  That’s great if you want to love the sport, but I preferred my pencils and canvases.

I was born over a dozen years after my lone sibling.  I made friends, of course, but those friendships back then did not have the sustainability after leaving town that young people have today.  I finished high school in the late 50s in the South.  I had always thought that equality for all was a no-brainer, but who really cared what a middle-class white girl thought back then?  I trumped off to school to study art–specifically interior design–but couldn’t finish my degree.

That’s when I made the leap to the west coast.  I lived with a friend outside of Los Angeles for some time before I met someone.  That relationship damaged my opinion of men in those days.  We were together arguably way longer than we should have been, but we did produce two sons.  When our relationship became, in my eyes, the environment my boys were not going to live in, we left.  Three of us.  On a plane.  And we joined my mother in Indiana.  Those boys were about 6 and nearly 2 at the time.

The closest their father ever got to them from then on was in the form of support checks that arrived rather infrequently before they completely stopped around eight years after moving.

But my boys flourished in Indiana.  With the help of their “Gram” we four figured things out.  I missed a lot of concerts and games, but I also had a steady job for the rest of my working days.

I became a grandmother for the first time in 1994, a second time in 1996; more recently, my other son has become a father to two as well (2012 and 2014).  My mother passed in 2003 at the ripe age of 95.  I’ve lived in the same house I did since we moved here in 1978.  Upon my retirement, I found a lot of opportunities to return to my love of the arts, but recently my budget won’t allow those niceties.

I’m a reader.  I’ve loved books as long as I can remember and have spent way too much money on first editions of contemporary authors such as Maeve Binchy, John Grisham, Danielle Steele (years ago), and Sue Grafton.  I raised two boys who share so many personality traits, but only one is a reader.  My older son has always been a numbers and technology person.

One of my regrets as a younger mother was the period when I smoked.  I used to smoke Salems, and I never did it in front of my boys.  The house has a basement, and when I was needing it most, I simply smoked down there–usually after they were asleep.  When my work shift changed in the 90s, I smoked less and less and eventually decided to quit.  Like everyone else who quits, I replaced those cigarettes with snacks, which of course was just as unhealthy but more accepted by society for some reason.  I smoked for the same reasons other people smoke, snack, run, drink, paint, or destroy—because it was my outlet of tension.  I rarely even finished most of the cigarettes I lit.

As a mother, I found the most effective tool to curtail bad behavior was a combination of stern dissatisfaction and squelching episodes of frustration.  I spanked when it seemed that nothing else would get my point across.  I preferred laughing with them most of the time.  Like a lot of parents, I probably let them both get away with more than I should.  But during that, I instilled in them respect for all–women especially–and that hard work can pay off.  Both my boys, ironically, are procrastinators more often than I’d wished they’d be.  I love that they both do whatever they can for me.  I must have done a few things right over the years.

Day 6 – 600 Words (about a bad book…but more junk came out)

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Poor writing at its best.  I’m still not done with my first cup of coffee, so pardon the wacky stream-of-consciousness…

Today’s prompt might be the toughest for me all month.  I love books.  Like, seriously.  This was not always the case.  As a kid, reading was boring and I think a challenge for which I was not prepared.  My early memories of reading recall images of those old Garfield collections (I distinctly remember being obsessed with having all of them placed in numeric order on my bookshelf) and Judy Blume’s Superfudge.  Unfortunately, I cannot recall absolutely anything about the plot, characters, situation, conflict, resolution, theme, motifs of that latter title.

This was also the case for me when, a few years ago, I reluctantly closed a book and privately announced I would never pick it up again.  The book was Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything is Illuminated.  I picked up this book on reputation alone–one of my typical techniques; I rarely even read the flap/back cover if someone or something I trust talks up a specific book.

Looking back, I may have allowed other factors affect my inability to read/comprehend this book.  In those days, our school had a portion (twenty glorious minutes) of the day devoted to a schoolwide Silent Sustained Reading program.  The program evolved in the spirit of encouraging reading by offering books to our students and modeling for them that reading is a wonderful activity.  It met with resilience from some students (and a handful of adults in the building), but overall I believe the students liked the program.  However, if memory serves, I was trying to read EII while supervising a very reluctant group of high school juniors.

What I do recall are confusing sentence structures, bizarre and forgettable character names, and dialogue that appeared nonsensical.  I was not under any physician’s care nor was I consuming regular hallucinogens, so perhaps my straight-laced approach was the problem.

I vow to try again…someday.  I like funky books.  I might have just been in the wrong frame of mind at that moment.  I read and loved his other huge hit Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, so there’s no way it’s an author-reader issue.  In fact, I think I’ll add it to my to-read Goodreads list.

For the second half of this essay, I’m going to write about why I think young people become so reluctant to read.  In my sixteen years as a teacher, I’ve encountered a number of possibilities.  By the way, much of what I think I’m about to write applies to writing as well.

It absolutely has to start at home.  Kids need to see books as an enjoyable form of entertainment.  Reading to young children before bed, throughout the afternoon, anytime, really, is so essential to develop interested readers.  Taking kids to the library or bookstore and making seeking out books as an adventure would have incredible ramifications.  Our theory as a school applies here.  Kids who see adults they (somewhat) respect reading are going to be at least a little more interested in the craft.

Think about how kids get interested in anything.  They are introduced to it (be it fishing, hunting, car repair, needlepoint) by someone older than they are (typically).  That interest is fostered over time and the adult’s enthusiasm shines through and gets into the younger person’s bloodstream.

What I see, however, are students who have simply not been given the access or students whose view of reading has been pushed down by other adults in their life.

Part of me also thinks it’s a vision problem.  Students actually say things to me such as “It’s hard to read” and they don’t mean the vocabulary.

I began love reading (slowly at first but now at full speed) because the words seemed much easier to absorb once I was wearing glasses.  Can you believe there is still a stigma about wearing glasses at school?  Jesus…it’s insane.

Please encourage and model reading in the home.  I’ll do what I can in the classroom.

NaNoWriMo Warm-Up Activities

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I created this to get my creative writing students (and myself) some prompts to get in WRITING MODE for November.  I have attempted NaNoWriMo four times and have succeeded twice.  I’m looking to up my batting average to .600 by November 30.

Creative Writing Club Fall 2014 Writing Challenge

 

Get geared up for NaNoWriMo, gang!!!!

Mon. 10/13 Day 1 – 100 words short story with anagram name, age, “…was just found”

Tues. 10/14 Day 2 – 200 words autobiography of your life in 2014

Wed. 10/15 Day 3 – 300 words   biography of a favorite existing character

Thurs. 10/16 Day 4 – 400 words   memoir of a transitional moment from childhood

Fri. 10/17 Day 5 – 500 words   description of a significant place

 

Sat. 10/18 Day 6 –  600 words evaluation of the worst book you’ve ever read

Sun. 10/19 Day 7 – 700 words “autobiography” of a parent (in 1st person POV)

 

Mon. 10/20 Day 8 – 800 words a short story that includes a found heirloom

Tues. 10/21 Day 9 – 900 words two or three “super-short” stories

Wed. 10/22 Day 10 – 1000 words shortened version of a favorite movie/book/TV show

Thurs. 10/23 Day 11 – 1100 words description of an inspiring teacher/coach/neighbor, etc.

Fri. 10/24 Day 12 – 1200 words dialogue-only skit between two people in an argument

 

Sat. 10/25 Day 13 – 1300 words  dialogue-free prose depicting a day someone falls in love

Sun. 10/26 Day 14 – 1400 words a completely new short story

 

Mon. 10/27 Day 15 – 1500 words  a synopsis of an entire novel

Tues. 10/28 Day 16 – 1600 words  short story including someone getting fired from a job

Wed. 10/29 Day 17 – 1650 words  two speeches from people arguing a hot issue

Thurs. 10/30 Day 18 – 1667 words four “super-short” stories that intertwine

Fri. 10/31   Halloween!  Have a great day off!!

 

FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 1–SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 30:  1,667 words each day = 50,000

500+ Words on a Significant Place

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For the uninitiated visitor to Indiana, I recommend waiting until late September or early October to see the Hoosier state at its most serene.  In the southern part of the state, winding roads will take you through a series of hamlets as well as the occasional metropolis.  In the heart of the heartland is a city known for its rich history of academic and athletic achievements.  In other parts of Bloomington, however, the visitor might see alongside a divided highway, a vineyard.  That vineyard–split by State Road 37 a few miles north of State Road 46, though, is just the beginning.

Oliver Winery has been in operation for, well, I’ll just say a while.  This isn’t an article to be published by a reputable outlet any time soon, so I can get away with avoiding research or “work.”  Before I met my wife, I’d been to the winery a couple times–once, we even took the 45-minute distillery tour.  The gift shop and tasting area are, for lack of a better word, quaint and appealing.  Cheeses, breads, snacks, decor, and of course wine aplenty fills the room, and if the newbie were to arrive on a blissful mid-autumn Saturday afternoon, he or she would be greeted by the coziest welcoming committee north of the Ohio.  And that’s just the indoors.

I began this brief description planning, however, to describe the gorgeous acreage of the winery’s boundaries.  In what my presumptuous mind must ascertain as an architect’s dream, the hilly landscape, flush with various trees and a subtle pond, provide for the visitor a taste of what Thoreau must have sought and loved during his two years away from society.

Several years ago, In the early spring–another extraordinary time to be surrounded by Indiana’s nature offerings–my wife (before we were married) and I stopped at the winery prior to seeing a concert on the square of Bloomington.  The sun’s brightness combatted the slight chilled breeze.  We wore thin coats.  The perimeter of the pond held a smattering of other guests–some families, some friends, and some children–yet the only noise was our own.  In a church-like setting, people just understood that nature was at work here and that it ought not be impeded by human sound.

We’d bought some wine, cheese, bread, and crackers and had created an impromptu picnic minus the basket or even a blanket, and the facility offered plastic wine glasses and napkins.  We discussed how beautiful a wedding would be down there–there, on the dock–a wedding whose guest list would not top twenty-five.  Immediately, I envisioned a single string musician playing in the distance, perhaps along the border of trees to the west of the pond.  The entire property, one would assume, would not need to be closed for such a small event since the land rolls eastward for hundreds of yards.  Our fictious, spontaneous wedding we were creating did not become our own reality a few years later.  But that didn’t matter then or now.

Because that afternoon, during our brief visit, I fell in love.