Beth Burnett

Storyteller

I joined a contest at the end of last month. We were given a genre, a prompt, and a word and we had to write a 250-word (or less) flash fiction in 24 hours.

My genre was Sci-Fi, my action was assembling furniture, and my word was “invent.” We were told we could use a variation of the word as long as it contained the whole word in it’s entirety

This is the story I came up with. I’ll find out later in the week if I get to advance to the new round. Whether I do or not, I truly enjoyed the experience and I’m happy with the story that came out of the challenge.

Martin’s War

Martin swore as a screw fell between the arm of the chair and the wall. He groped for it with one hand. The piece of wood in his other hand threatened to disengage from the rest of the unit. It was usually easy. Slot A into slot B. Piece C to piece D.

A ship had landed earlier. He’d heard it while working on the previous chair. His fingers closed on the screw and he held it against his chest for a moment, eyes closed. There would be people in that ship. They might want chairs.

A woman approached him. “It’s time to go, son.”

“I just need to finish assembling…”

She touched his shoulder. “You’re needed.”

Martin looked up. “I need to finish putting this chair together. People need chairs.”

The woman’s face was kind; she was smiling. “You’ve been alone for a long time. If you come with me, I can get you help.”

“My father…”

“Your father,” she said, stressing the word father, “has been dead for eighty-three years.”

A memory, his father yelling at him. I didn’t create a robot to assemble furniture, Martin. I built you to win this war.

“I won the war,” he whispered.

The woman put her arm around his shoulders and helped him stand. “Now we need your help with our war.”

Martin looked out over the rows and rows of empty chairs. “I was invented to win.”

 

 

 

In my head, I’m dapper. I wear crisp dress shirts with sweater vests and colorful bow ties. I have nicely-fitted dress slacks that I wear with loafers and socks that often match my ties. When it’s cold, I put on a nice thick cardigan, perhaps with patches on the elbow. Sometimes, the me in my head wears crew neck sweaters over a collared shirt with a necktie.

I even have a name for this person, this dapper gender-neutral person in my head. They’re named Finnian, a name I’ve been trying on lately with a select few close friends.

This person dresses the way I want to dress. They dress the way I feel most comfortable. They look on the outside the way I feel on the inside.

But big men’s clothing is not designed for fat female bodies like mine. If I manage to find pants I like, they’re tight in the waist, tighter across the stomach and absolutely huge in the thighs and calves. Dress shirts that fit my breasts and stomach have necks so gigantic it feels as if my own neck is a toothpick in the grand canyon. Altering these clothes is a must, but that’s super expensive.

Being fat, being dapper, and being poor do not go hand in hand.

Of course, well-meaning people (and therapists) offer sound advice. “How you dress doesn’t define you.” I know that. Logically, I know that. But in my heart, I know how I feel comfortable moving through the world and I’m not presenting it.

Others offer fashion advice. “Just get two good pairs of pants, two good dress shirts, 3 vests, and one jacket. You can interchange them all.” That’s amazing advice for people who have a thousand bucks to drop on a wardrobe and another couple hundred for alterations.

And of course, people suggest haunting the thrift stores. As a super-size person, thrift store finds are few and far between. Is it because I’m the biggest person ever? Is it because big men hang on to their clothes because the clothes are so expensive? Is it because there are so few options, they are snatched up the moment they become available?

Clothes do not make the identity. I know that. We all know that. But fat bodies often don’t get the opportunity to dress the way that feels right for them because the options just aren’t available. And when they are available, they are often prohibitively expensive.

Things are changing. Brands are appearing with the intent of clothing all bodies. Tomboy X offers underwear up to size 4X. Internet shopping for big bodies is busting out all over. Fat influencers of every gender and fashion style flood Instagram.

And still, here I am. Sometimes a 4X, sometimes a 5. I have a closet full of clothes from the Kingsize catalog that hang on me like a sack that I could go get altered if I knew someone who could do it in this small rural town without… I don’t know… looking at me funny.

In the long run, I just find it easier most days to put on leggings and a long t-shirt and call it good. And ultimately, it isn’t doing me any harm. But in my head, that dapper person still longs to be free.

Maybe someday.

 

Coffee and a book

I’m subjecting my poor students to Dorian Gray this semester, so it’s time for a reread. It’s a beautifully blustery morning and I’ve already been up and out with the dog. I finished my own writing and I’m caught up on grading papers. Now I’m bundled into a blanket and downing coffee to prepare myself to dive into my book. It’s so very male and so very British. But I still love it. That said, I did write to my department head last week to ask if I can drop it from the syllabus next semester and bring in some women writers instead. I could use some estrogen after a dose of Oscar Wilde.

 

 

happy birthdayI’m sad. I’m just feeling a little sad today. I shouldn’t be. After all, it’s day seven of NaNoWriMo and I’m averaging about 2,000 words a day. I’m healthy. The weather hasn’t gotten awful yet. But my birthday is two weeks from today and I’m thinking about money and how stressful the lack of it can be. My birthday month is my time to take stock of my life. As I’ve said in previous blog posts, November is always my month of introspection and for the most part, that introspection is positive and hopeful. But today, it’s making me sad. It seems whenever we almost get to a point where we can relax about money, something happens to take the security away again.

This month, our vet said it was time to switch our dog to a heavier medication. We did, but it costs a lot more than we expected to spend this month. She also wants us to have two of his teeth pulled because they are infected and causing him to have trouble eating. But she wants 1400 dollars to do it, something we don’t have, no matter what we do.

I found out that the college for which I teach is dropping me from five classes to three. That’s a cut in pay equivalent to our mortgage payment each month. Our plan had been to start saving money this month to try to make up for that loss in January, but then there was the increased insurance payment and the vet bills.

I planned to apply for membership in the Canadian Writer’s Union, but with an unexpected 150.00 fee for the classes I’m taking in January for my doctoral degree, I’ve had to put it off, most likely indefinitely with the cut in pay coming.

business care clean clinic

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

I feel guilty every day for not finding a way to pay the vet to take care of my dog’s teeth- then I remind myself that I’m wearing a prosthetic in my mouth that replaces two teeth that had to come out after a botched root canal. A prosthetic that slices the inside of my mouth to pieces because it’s gotten raggedy over the five years I’ve been wearing this six hundred dollar piece of plastic that was supposed to be a six month fix until I could get implants.

I was talking with a close friend who has been trying to just work down her credit debt. She was just at a spot where they were going to be able to pay everything this month with regular money and boom – an unexpected vet bill. A flat tire. A dead battery in the car. They get to a point where they are *almost* okay and something happens. I don’t think they’re the only ones. If you’re reading this, you probably have the same problem. Maybe not a car battery or a vet bill, but something.

I hear you. I’m feeling sad today. Sad because between teaching, running the writing academy, running my Patreon, going to school, and writing, I work probably around sixty hours a week. Sad because my wife works a decent paying, full-time job butCapture 1 we still can’t afford to buy, not the luxuries, but the basic necessities. Sad because when it comes to something getting the back seat, it is always my writing because it is the one thing I’m doing right now that isn’t making me any money.  I should stress that my wife is super supportive and would never ask me to sacrifice my writing or any chance to enter contests, market my work. After all, she’s the one who convinced me to enter the Writer’s Digest self-published book awards – a hefty 110 dollar entry fee. (Granted, it warranted me 1000.00 when I won, but still)

I’m 49 this month and I thought I’d have this financial stuff all figured out by now. I mean, I thought I’d be going to Europe for my fiftieth birthday but I’m still trying to figure out how to get to Albuquerque in July. I thought I’d have all my credit debt paid off by now. I thought I’d have my teeth fixed. I thought I’d have, if not six months, at least two months worth of salary in the bank, the way my father always told me I should.

Instead, we’re debating what bill to skip paying so we can put gas in the van and drive an hour and twenty minutes away to get insulin for the diabetic dog.

I’m not unique and I’m not poor. My wife and I live in a house with a yard. We have a vehicle and though it isn’t paid off, it is in pretty good shape and gets us where we need to go. We aren’t hungry. We might be eating more beans and potatoes than fresh greens and organic fruits, but we aren’t hungry. In fact, right now, I’m eating a smoothie with some homemade granola. I have coffee and clean water. Other than my mouth, I’m in good health, but if I DO get sick, I live in a country where every person has healthcare. I can donate money when a friend is in need. I can give to the local (and some far away) animal shelters. I can donate a few dollars to the campaign of a woman I support. I can send a food delivery to a friend whose depression is making her unable to cook. I can and have recently bought a bike and, despite having to give up my desire to join the Canadian Writer’s Union, I was able to pay that unexpected 150 dollar fee to my university. I’m not suffering. I’m actually very lucky.

In a lot of ways, I feel guilty about complaining about money, so I don’t, mostly. I know people are worse off than I am. I know A LOT of people are worse off than I am. And I’m not in the position to help very many of them. Money can be so damaging, especially a lack of money. I’m in a better place now than a lot of people. Hell, I’m in a better place now than I’ve been for most of my life. But for today, just for today, I’m sad. And that’s okay.

And for those of you who are in the same position, or worse, I just want you to know I understand. I understand the way the worry can feel oppressive. I understand the guilt when you have to choose one thing over the other and even if you know you made the right decision, you still hate having to make it. Posts come across your timeline and you want to donate to all of them and you can’t. You want to have a break from cooking and just order a fucking pizza, but you bought a package of socks the other day and you don’t have any money in the account until the end of the month.

Oh, my friends and family. You aren’t alone. And it’s okay to be unhappy about it. Not every day, but sometimes. Tomorrow, I’ll be happy again. I’ll be introspective again and I’ll focus on something good and positive. Tomorrow will be a good day. But for today, I’m just going to have my feels.

And that’s okay.

 

I am one of *those* people. You know the ones. They insist there is such a thing as a birthday month.

Look, I can’t help it. November is my birthday month. I was born on 11/21/1970 and I hold that the time between November 1 and November 21 is mine. It really is the perfect time to have a birthday month. The weather is mostly chilly, but hasn’t gotten oppressively cold yet. There are still gloriously sunny days and, even if warm winter coats and thick gloves are required, walks are still fun and not a chore. The wind has picked up so I can sit at my desk and watch the fallen leaves blow all over the yard, smiling because I have no plan to rake them.

good enoughThis year, I’m doing NaNoWriMo for my birthday month. I’m a few days in right now and while not exactly on target, I don’t feel behind.

November also tends to be my month of introspection. Some people make New Year’s resolutions. I have November Introspection. Did I do what I wanted to do in the last year? Will I do what I want in the next one? It’s when I generally take stock of my career, my health, my life. This year, I feel I’m wrapping up a lot of pieces of work that have been sitting in various states of completion for far too long. I hit “The End” on Coyote Lost his Soul on October 22nd. I started “My One Gay Novel” on November 1. And I think I know how to finally complete “The Summer Ellen’s Sister Died” this coming year.

At the end of the month, I’ll find out if I advanced to the second heat of the NYC midnight flash fiction contest. It was so fun being part of it, regardless of the outcome.

I entered the CBC short story contest last month. I sent Revenge Prose to an agent. I feel November is the month that sets the tone for the upcoming year. And this year, I want my focus to be on my writing. (Well, and grad school, but that’s a story for another time.)

So yeah, November. Welcome back. I’ve missed you.

 

Nano

It’s November and you know what that means – NaNoWriMo. That means your writer friends who are participating this year are already hunkered down over their keyboards, possibly crying, pounding out words as fast as they can because, after all, if you can write 9,000 words on the first, you only have 41,000 to go and that is so doable, as long as you just write 1413.79 words per day. Except you miss that day because you have to go to the dentist and then you have to frantically scramble to get ahead again and DAMMIT, WHY CAN’T I THINK OF ANY WORDS.

NaNoWriMo.

I’m the procrastination queen, so I really made sure to put myself behind the 8-ball this year. I just finished the book I’ve been working on all year on October 27th. October 27th. That means I had four days to create an outline for the NaNo book I’m starting this morning. Four days in which I was also grading papers, participating in student discussion boards, running the GCLS Writing Academy, and oh, you know, sleeping.

Four days. But I did it. I have an outline. And in a few minutes, I’m going to write the first words of what I hope will be 50,000 in the next thirty days.

See you in a month.

 

If you’re a writer, if you appreciate LGBTQ characters in novels, if you READ queer, women-loving-women literature, or if you just want to hang around with a bunch of people who fit into one or more of the above categories, you might consider checking out the Golden Crown Literary Conference annual conference.

This year, it’s going to be held in Albuquerque (amen and thank you, spell check). All the details can be found here.

beth reading

Me, probably saying something super important

What doesn’t come through on a web page is the sheer love and joy I get every time I go to one of these conferences. The classes are amazing. The presentations are informative and fun. The panels are a great way to hear from some of my favorite authors. And the author readings are an excellent way to hear from old favorites and get a sample of the work of a new author.

I love getting a chance to read from my own work. I truly enjoy presenting about the GCLS Writing Academy, a passion project of mine that seems to get better every year. And I have a lot of fun sitting on panels with my friends and fellow authors or readers, talking about important topics in women-loving-women literature today.

But all of that almost pales in comparison to my biggest takeaway from GCLS. Friendship. 61da3XHXUlL._UX679_Connection. Community. GCLS brings together a lot of people who are passionate about a single important subject. We may have a lot of differences in other ways, but we are all there because one way or another, we care about queer women’s stories and we are all in for talking about it, listening to others talk about it, and immersing ourselves into the world of a convention about it for a few days.

Of course, being readers and writers, many of us are also introverts, so there can be a bit of awkwardness in the beginning as we learn to open up to each other and create a community. But GCLS offers group lunch tables, a con virgins meeting, a meet and greet, and other ways to get to know each other.

At my first conference, I volunteered – GCLS always needs volunteers to help things run smoothly. It’s such an excellent way to meet people. I found if I had a defined role, it was a lot easier to talk to people.

If you’re at all interested, check out the link and see what you think. There’s still time to apply for a scholarship if needed and there’s even still time to propose your own presentation or panel ideas!

What do you have to lose?