We’re halfway through the #SummerofDone and I’ve learned a few things:
1) You cannot afford to be a beautiful and unique snowflake when it comes to writing. If you wait for six silent hours to yourself, uplifting classical music on in the background, no dishes in the sink, and cherubs floating overhead, there won’t be a single word on the page. Some days, if you wait until all of the children are fed and clothed for the day, there won’t be a single word on the page.
2) Older children are mightily good at caring for younger children for short periods of time. Fifteen-year-old boys included.
3) The dollar store has a buttload of cheap toys and activities that, when packaged into numbered bags and given out via ping pong ball lottery daily, become the highlight of a kindergartener’s day.
4) Except the color-your-own velvet painting with markers set. No one likes that shit.
5) The occasional pricey Michael’s crafts (tie dyed shirts, kinetic sand) are received like the Ark of the Covenant. And at $15+ a pop, you shouldn’t be surprised.
6) Some authors find that spoken words stop their flow. Some like to have the murmur of conversation in the background. Some like to drown in a sea of words, clawing their way out by flinging them at a page.
7) There are actual human beings who behave like cartoon villains and wreak havoc on your life and your family for personal gain. That same person might endorse you on LinkedIn afterward. And then your brain will explode.
8) COBRA costs $1,800 a month. Unemployment benefits are $2,000 a month. Even with severance and savings, that equation does not work for very long.
9) You need to have less than $2,000 in assets to qualify for food stamps. No matter how little income is coming in.
10) The local food shelf requires no proof of income, but their website is terrible and it’s unclear how to get assistance.
11) Like the woman in this article, it’s weird/shaming/awkward to have a late-model fancy car, yet need help to get through a tough time. If the car is paid off, do you sell it because of a month without work? What about a year?
12) A trip to the beach is free. July 11th is free Slurpee day. A local casino gives out free comedy show tickets hoping you’ll stop to gamble (you won’t.) The library has free passes to AAA baseball games. Home Depot sometimes gives out free hot dogs and water at lunchtime.
13) The promise of selling a novel in the future does not put money in the bank now.
14) You still have to keep writing, no matter how screwed up things become.
I have a problem with finishing things. The epic fantasy novel I began when I was ten has moved through seven states and two continents over three decades… and it’s still not complete.
In 2014, I took a huge leap. I finished a couple of short stories and submitted them for publication. Of course, the result was a whole mess of rejections, but that wasn’t the point. The point was that I’d finally finished a writing project. Each outgoing submission was an endpoint. Publication is a bonus, not the goal.
In the spring, high on this newfound feeling of doneness, I fell into a pattern of dashing out short stories and sending them off. And while each one was a victory over procrastination, some of them weren’t really, truly done. They deserved the rejections they received.
This summer, I’ve vowed to finish a chunk of work that has languished, undone. I won’t be submitting anything, anywhere for the entire summer–no matter how intriguing the project. I won’t be starting any new writing–no matter how compelling the idea. No flash fiction, no writing prompts, no “what ifs.” Two preselected novels and four short stories are the only items I can touch.
And so begins the Summer of Done. See you in September.
And now I can pee.
This is a flash fiction piece written for Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge:
“No matter the number in your bank account, everyone deserves a shot at forever.”
The salesman leans in conspiratorially. “Honestly, Model B’s offer the best bang for your buck anyway.”
I sincerely doubt that this guy, with his pointy-toed shoes that cost as much as my apartment, would be caught dead in a Model B. One step up from a sentient trash can, the Model B’s are rigid plastic in a dusty tan tone. Of course, you can upgrade skin coloring and texture, but if you could afford upgrades, you wouldn’t be considering a Model B in the first place.
“Just the basic Model B,” I say, regretting not having saved more for retirement. The fancy throw pillows on the couch of my thirties would have paid for soft silicone skin in my choice of tone. The weekly tanning sessions from my forties would have bought a chipset and audio package to simulate my voice. And the tropical cruises of my fifties cost enough to buy a Model C… or better.
But we didn’t know, back then, that living forever was just over the horizon. And I didn’t know, back then, that an octopus of out-of-control cells was budding in my right breast.
“All righty,” sings the salesman. “Would you like the Sun and Sound package for $500 more? The exterior surface darkens by six shades when exposed to UV rays, plus an internal sound system to listen to your favorite tunes in the cloud.”
My cloud. My cloud contains six music files from long-dead musicians, a few hundred emails, three unfinished crosswords with strangers, two seasons of a television show that went off the air two decades ago, and a handful of text files with the passwords to every defunct website in the history of the net.
“Sure thing. We also have the Surf and Turf package, which includes water and sand protection. We spray the…”
I pull out my debit card and he notices the baby blue color–the color for consumers who have just enough money to pay for the essentials. The people who know what it’s like to use a shopping bag for toilet paper.
“So just the Model B then,” he finishes. Typing the last few keystrokes with a smile and flourish that conceals about 98% of his disdain for me.
“When would you like to schedule the transfer?” he asks, swiping my card and pretending not to notice that I hold my breath until the transaction pings back approved.
“Are there any openings today?” I ask, feeling the gasping shortness of breath creep over me.
He looks me over with genuine surprise. Aside from a little paleness and a certain rheumy reddening around the eyes, I appear fine.
“Is there an issue which necessitates a rush?” he asks. Such delicate phrasing. If only I had tip money, I would give him the full twenty percent.
“The cancer… it’s…” I don’t want to say it. All of the words sound over-dramatic and ridiculous. It’s eating me alive. It’s killing me. It’s stealing my breath. Here I am, about to load my consciousness into a life-sized mechanical doll, and I can’t even say out loud that the cancer has infiltrated all of my systems and is bringing me down like the Hindenburg.
The salesman puts his hand over mine and squeezes.
“Say no more. There aren’t any openings, but I can play with the lunch breaks…” he types and swipes, then looks up with a smile that is actually an apology for my impending death.
“…and we’ve got it. You’re in for 12:15,” he looks at a watch that could buy a dozen Model B’s. “That’s twenty minutes from now. Does that work for you or do you need more time?”
I do need more time, which is why I’m here.
“No, that’s perfect. Thank you.”
The transfer center is one of the most sophisticated laboratories in the country, yet it looks like a dentist’s chair wandered into a Buddhist temple. They lay me down and speak in comforting tones about marginal kill rates and transfer data aberrations.
I don’t care. I’m not some college kid trading my beer belly for a hard-bodied Model R. If the transfer doesn’t work and I disappear, I’m no worse off than I was a day ago. A nurse in scrubs leans down to my ear and hers are the last words I hear in my rotten meat body.
“Don in sales is such a sweetie. He comped you Sun and Sound…”
After the transfer, I walk to the testing center where my husband works. It’s nine miles, but my new feet don’t care. They just keep moving.
The line for jobs at the center is long, but as an employee’s wife I’m ushered to the front. A thirty-second wireless diagnostic determines that my Model B is brand new and ready for work. No resume, no references. That’s all they need to know. Three years of struggling through the disabilities of a dying body and here, in this metal doll, I’m employable within the hour.
I change into an orange jumpsuit and yellow-black crash stickers right in the employment office. I no longer have genitals that will make anyone blush.
“You can go on up to the third floor testing room,” says the intake manager. “You’re lucky. We have an opening with Bill.”
I watch my husband’s last two crashes from the test floor. The car he’s sitting in slams into a cinderblock wall and his plastic head shatters the passenger window. A man–a meat man–with a clipboard swears and shakes his head.
“Still not right.”
Bill exits the sedan and sees me. We Model B’s look nearly identical in our orange jumpsuits, but somehow, he knows. Sun and Sound kicks in and Angel of the Morning begins playing in my head. He puts his lips on mine and plastic meets plastic. They don’t fit together anymore, but the love is still there.