In with the Old

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By ItsLassieTime (Self; from item in my collections) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

This short story is from my collection, Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Odditiesavailable for free. Seems appropriate for this time of year!

Happy New Year, all!

In with the Old

“It’s nothing personal,” she said as kindly as she could muster, “it’s just time.”

“But I’m not nearly as used up as they said I would be,” the other one said, “not nearly at all. I’m not wrinkly, or old – I’m kind of in prime time.” She gave herself an once-over, careful not to break her bond with the contraption behind her.

“Unfortunately, we really need the machine.” She sighed and tapped her pen on her clipboard. “We only have a few more hours.”

“We?” said the woman in the machine. “We only have a few more hours? You’re going to install that thing,” she gestured with her head toward the giggling baby making faces at the man in the white coat at the other end of the room, “and go on with your routine. You think don’t have it down by now? Daily dial turnings, just one click. Then you, with that pretend-serious look, yanking that lever. You think I didn’t notice you enjoy those lever pulls? Well I did. And you do.”

“Now come on, Wanda, there’s no need to be this way. You can go out with dignity.” She shot a look across the room to her coworker. He was too enthralled with the baby to get her message for a little help.

“What am I supposed to do now? I was huge, I was everything.”

“You’re sounding like a bad movie.”

“They don’t tell you what you’re supposed to do when it’s over.” She relaxed her grip on the copper handles inside her chamber, her visible gears going slightly slack down her arm toward her shoulder, the teeth just a bit looser. The worker took that as a good sign. She quickly tamped down her encouragement, in case Wanda saw.

“There are always retrospectives,” the woman said. “You know, ‘Best ofs.’ And there’s still plenty to do in the first few months, while people are getting adjusted. You know, rent checks, 18-month calendars, that kind of thing.”

“And then what?” said Wanda. “Then what happens? Where do I go? What do I do?”

“I’m so glad you asked,” the woman said, finally able to return to her script. “You see, we have this lovely facility, all of you go there, you know, when you’re finished. Here,” she slid a glossy folded paper from beneath the clip of her board and held it toward Wanda. “There’s even a brochure.”

The pictures were bright and multicolored, with others sitting and laughing, eating, strolling by the water, the patina of their clockwork innards glinting warmly in the setting sun. It didn’t look too bad. She nearly let go of the handle to take the brochure, to open it, to see what kind of crafts there were, as promised on the cover, when she remembered.

“No,” she said.

“Wanda,” said the woman, her tone sharpening, gaining hardness around the edges, “I’m afraid you haven’t got a choice. It’s time.”

She shook her head as much as the chamber allowed, which wasn’t much. “I’m not going.”

“But what are we supposed to do with him?” She pointed her pen at the baby, who turned, stared at them and burst into a full beam, his tiny gears engaging as he reached his arms toward Wanda. “It’s his turn now. Don’t you want to give him his turn?”

Wanda closed her eyes. It wasn’t fair, she thought. It went by so quickly, her lifetime of usefulness, her purpose, and now she was supposed to retire off with the rest of them, with some anonymous body of water and a dining hall and crafts. Though crafts are nice. But still, this was her machine, it was hers.

The worker had moved away, but she could hear her talking softly, her sentences interspersed with the cluck of her two-way handheld.

“No, no, I’m telling you it didn’t work.” Something unintelligible garbled through from the other side. “No. Clamped on, completely. Like a vice.” Again, soft electronic murmuring. “It’s like Oh-Three all over again.” More garble. “What? She can’t hear me. I’m away from the chamber.” Indistinct chatter. “Fine, fine, Trinity. Like Trinity all over again.” She waited for the response. “That would probably be best.” After a long interlude of murmur, the handheld fell silent.

“Umm, Wanda?” said the worker several minutes later, the ice in her voice retreating. “I’d like you to meet someone.”

“Not interested,” she said, her eyes still closed. She knew the truth, the worker had practically said so herself, with the conversation she thought Wanda couldn’t hear. She was only a number to those people. Oh-Three indeed. “What do you call me when you’re out of the lab?” she said, her eyes still completely shut. “When you’re talking to your buddy over there at lunch or wherever it is you go?”

“Wanda,” the woman said, her discomfort obvious even to Wanda and her closed eyes.

“What do you call me? One-One?”

“Wanda, really, there’s someone here you should meet-”

“Or Eleven? Do you call me Eleven? A number to you, that’s what I am after all this time.”

“I thought she couldn’t hear,” she said to someone, though Wanda wasn’t going to bother to open her eyes to see who it was. “I swear, I wouldn’t have used the technical–”

“Technical?” said another voice, a new voice, a male voice. “Technical? Really? Is that how you’re describing it?”

“Well-”

“Her name is Wanda, you know,” he said, his tone both relaxed and oddly engaging despite the rebuke. Wanda couldn’t help herself, she opened her eyes a crack.

“I’m Oden,” he said with a half-smile. “I’d shake your hand, but I understand your position. Obviously,” he said. His gears were slightly rainbowed with a healthy dose of age. Wanda thought they made him look distinguished.

“Oden,” she said. “So I?”

“Replaced me, yes.” He took a step toward the chamber, careful to keep a distance. “Flip of the switch and it was me in there. And you over there,” he said, and smiled at the baby, a real smile, not a put-on one.

“What did you do?”

“I went,” he said. “It was time. It’s how it works, you know.”

“I know,” she said, looking at her feet, so comfortable in the only spot they’d ever known. She glanced up and met his gaze. “I know,” she said again.

“The place really looks like the brochure,” he said, offering her his hand to help her to step out. She considered it, but didn’t lessen her grip on the handle.

“What about the crafts?”

He took the hand he’d been holding out and dug into his pocket, his gears gliding smoothly along. He pulled out a wallet. “I made this,” he said. “Stitched it myself.” She took in the uneven stitches and frowned. “I’m not a very good crafter,” he added quickly, “but they are fun to try.”

“Hmm,” said Wanda. She glanced at the worker who looked at the clock on the wall and back at Wanda, her face full of cautious hope. Oden set out his hand again.

“The sunsets are every bit as pretty,” he said, “and the best part is there are no more dials, no more levers. No more chamber.”

“But I like the chamber,” she said, scooting back to be further back within it.

“You like the chamber,” he said, “because all you know is the chamber. Take a leap.”

“No, no,” said the worker, “that’s him.” She pointed at the baby.

“You understand you’re not helping the situation?” Oden asked her.

“I do, yes, realize that now.”

“So what do you say, Wanda?”

She gave her chamber and the lab a final look over. She could probably make a better wallet. She could certainly make a better wallet. Maybe they’ll have pottery. Slowly, she released first her right hand and then her left, and placed it in Oden’s outstretched palm. The machine beeped behind her while the worker anxiously watched the clock, the man with the baby leaning, ready to place him.

She stepped out of the machine.

The woman grasped a crank on the side of the box and turned it furiously so that the chamber got smaller and smaller and the arms shorter and shorter. The man, watching the clock rather than her or the baby, placed the baby where she had been moments before but where she would never fit now. The baby giggled.

Without looking back, Wanda took Oden’s arm, and together, they headed toward the door. They reached it and disappeared into the flash of sudden white light.

The worker leaned against the machine, her hands shaking. “Happy New Year, everyone,” she said weakly.

Check out my recaps of the hit new show “All My Traitors.” Recap of episode 2, “Lock Him Up” is available now!

Check out  my full-length novels: 

Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only)   

Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) 

 Her Cousin Much Removed

 The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

Peruse Montraps Publishing.

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Time Goes and Goes and Goes

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The Siesta, Paul Gauguin [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons


Small changes can make a big difference. Sitting here, ostentatiously not blogging, I heard a faint noise and assumed it was yet more hammering or drilling from afar. But it was gentler than that. More of hum.

Oh right.

My new dishwasher. My old dishwasher clanked and screeched and whooshed with the “look-at-me” quality of someone trying to appear as though working as opposed to really doing the work. Now the new one, though far from one of the most quiet on the market, is, for me, so quiet I forget it’s running until the occasional hum. One of the background noises of the soundtrack of my life has changed.

For the better, of course, but it’s different.

It’s difficult not to think about change with the new year peeking around the corner. What to reach for in the coming clean slate; what to let go.

For now it’s all just contemplation set against the soft background of my new dishwasher.

Time goes and goes, and we’ve nothing that can contain it,nothing that can alter its course. So all we can do is ride the tide forward.

And relish that new “clean” light on the dishwasher.

Check out my recaps of the hit new show “All My Traitors.” Recap of episode 2, “Lock Him Up” is available now!

Check out  my full-length novels: 

Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only)   

Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) 

 Her Cousin Much Removed

 The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

Peruse Montraps Publishing.

Winter Always Comes

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By Joseph Jacobs (Batten?) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Ah yes. Blogging.

It’s been a nice time of taking a step back, writing a little less after the hustle of #NaNoWriMo and watching the world wind down into winter.

Well not the world, of course, just my world. It’s funny how often we get the two confused. Where you are, right now, you might have the kind of air buoyant with warm flower freshness, a sky as blue, but mine is the blue of colored ice.

I watch as condensation from steam vents falls under the weight of freezing on this glistening day and think about the turn of the wheel of time. Onward we go, onward always, as we cannot know what is to come.

It’s been a long year.

Some day, people will look back on this chunk of history and there will be no question marks, aside from the universal how and why. They will know how it all turned out, if democracy triumphed, if democracy fell. If it’s the latter, our glorious history of a government for the people and by the people will be recast as something else, something sinister.

Keep an eye out for that.

But it’s not all over yet. Not just yet. Every winter has a beginning.

And every winter has an end.

Check out my recaps of the hit new show “All My Traitors.” Recap of episode 2, “Lock Him Up” is available now!

Check out  my full-length novels: 

Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only)   

Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) 

 Her Cousin Much Removed

 The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

Peruse Montraps Publishing.

 

The Work of Writing Nine: Listen to Your Characters

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George Stubbs [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

(Previous Work of Writing posts)

I’ve been watching Ellen DeGeneres’ eponymous sitcom, “Ellen,” (as opposed to her eponymous talk show, “The Ellen Show.” I think they missed an opportunity to call her new game show “The Ellen Game Show,” but I digress).It had some issues. It dumped most of its cast after the first season, keeping only Ellen’s male best friend and roommate, who in turn, was later sent “to Europe.”

Though there’s no question of Ellen’s own flawless sense of comedy, the structure around her really didn’t work, not until the show was nearly over. And the reason was obvious. Ellen’s character, Ellen, wasn’t allowed to fully be herself until towards the end of the run.

The character Ellen was gay. Looking back at those early eps where’s she’s uncomfortably dating men, it’s clear. And shoving a character into a role that doesn’t fit her never works.

It never, ever works.

So Ellen the actor’s perfectionism may have driven the show, may have kept it from capsizing, but the truth is if Ellen the character had come out early in the run, or had already been out, the show would be a comedy classic.

I suspect Ellen the actor knew it, and that’s why her character did, eventually, come out, as the actor Ellen did as well (though she was never really “in.”). And from that point, from Ellen the character’s journey of questioning to acknowledgement, that’s when the show bloomed.

Then there were the boycotts and protests and Ellen was treated incredibly abysmally. Which encapsulates why it didn’t happen sooner and why it should have happened sooner.

We would have no “Will & Grace” without “Ellen.”

Note, this isn’t about the idea that a gay actor can’t “play straight.” Actors can and do play anyone; that’s acting. Rosie O’Donnell, for example, as Tutu in “SMILF,” a straight woman greatly disappointed by love. It’s a central part of who she is. For Tutu to exist in this moment in time, she couldn’t be different.

Here’s the point: if something isn’t working in your manuscript, ask yourself if you’re being true to your characters. Are you honestly following their wants and desires, or those you chose to impose? If you don’t allow your characters their freedom, the story will end up stilted, the elephant in the room wallpapered over, but still there and still elephanty.

Listen to your characters. It could change everything.

Check out my recaps of the hit new show “All My Traitors.” Recap of episode 2, “Lock Him Up” is available now!

Check out  my full-length novels: 

Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only)   

Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) 

 Her Cousin Much Removed

 The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

Peruse Montraps Publishing.

 

We Can Still Change the Plot

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It’s one of those days where the sky is a mushy cap of of gray, where it’s difficult to believe that up there somewhere, beyond, the sun shines as merrily as it ever has. It may be raining.

It’s probably raining.

I had a couple of ideas for posts this morning, but when I sat here to write them, they just didn’t bubble, so I’ve dutifully noted them, and maybe they’ll surface later this week. We’ll see. Instead, today, there’s an odd spongy feeling, much like the air, as we wait to find out if our Congress will really gut the core of this country, gouge out its heart to serve on the platters of the rich.

So far it’s looking like a yes. A yes built on direct profit by members of Congress. Yes, Bob Corker, I’m looking at you and that #CorkerKickback.

This is the part of the plot where you start to think ir won’t turn out OK, that the story is doomed, that the characters you’ve come to know are doomed, that the imaginary world is doomed. Only it’s not a story, and we’re not characters, and our world is not imaginary.

As far as we know.

It would be easier if all of this were fiction, because then we could simply close the book. Let me tell you, I’d do with great enjoyment and a big, loud thunk.

Call your members of Congress, if you have them, and if it’s not too late. Let’s give this story a happy ending.

Check out my recaps of the hit new show “All My Traitors.” Recap of episode 2, “Lock Him Up” is available now!

Check out  my full-length novels: 

Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only)   

Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) 

 Her Cousin Much Removed

 The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

Peruse Montraps Publishing.

It can sneak up on you

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Alexander Kanoldt [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I have a plant I received as a gift almost two years ago. I’m not sure what kind it is, and apparently it thrives mostly on neglect. I’ve been keeping up my end of the bargain nicely, watering whenever I think, huh, it’s been a while since I watered.

It’s shed a few leaves here and there, and lost an entire…stalk? at the beginning. One drooped like it was going to die, but hung on and there it is still, draping downwards, lreclining as though that was the way it was meant to be.

And then about a week ago, I noticed a sprout.

In all the time I’ve had this plant encamped in its spot by the window, I’ve never seen a sprout. And then there were two.

Soft, new green and tightly furled, they’re half as tall as the established branches of the plant. I have no idea if they’re new stems, if after a long, long fallow stretch the pant is ready to grow. Or if they’re flowers I never knew this plant could have.

But I do know this. They’re proof that change can come at any time. That growth can come at any time, springing like unexpected shoots from a plant that was only waiting.

Check out my recaps of the hit new show “All My Traitors.” Recap of episode 2, “Lock Him Up” is available now!

Check out  my full-length novels: 

Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only)   

Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) 

 Her Cousin Much Removed

 The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

Peruse Montraps Publishing.

Writing Is Diversity

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Yesterday was a day of Getting Things Done, of running around, of errands and flu shots. Well, flu shot, I only need the one.

And everywhere I went were people of different shades, from different countries, there to help. At the Afghani restaurant with the amazing chutney I could have guzzled with a spoon; at Walgreens arranging for the shot; at Bed Bath & Beyond helping to get the biggest discount possible.

What a bland country this would be without our vibrant diversity. Imagine the food without global influence. A life without sushi?

The horror.

People are people, no matter where we’re from. And for those of us writers, if you can’t see the humanity in everyone, the odds of you creating characters who ring true is absolutely zero. The odds of having something really yummy to eat while creating those characters, even lower.

People live their lives in every corner of the Earth, and though the trappings may be different, though the scenery varies, the lives themselves are remarkably the same. We can choose to help make those lives better, or we can be obstacles.

But the thing about obstacles is they rarely go anywhere themselves.

The act of writing is one inherently of evolution. We start at zero. We end someplace much further down the road. A writer unwilling to evolve, to change, to accept the flow of others, will have very limited stories to tell.

Check out my recaps of the hit new show “All My Traitors.” Recap of episode 2, “Lock Him Up” is available now!

Check out  my full-length novels: 

Aunty Ida’s Full-Service Mental Institution (by Invitation Only)   

Aunty Ida’s Holey Amazing Sleeping Preparation (Not Doctor Recommended) 

 Her Cousin Much Removed

 The Great Paradox and the Innies and Outies of Time Management.

And download Better Living Through GRAVY and Other Oddities, it’s free!

Peruse Montraps Publishing.