Monday, July 10, 2017

2018 WRITE: EDU: Jane, Plain Jane: In eight scenes. A short story as a writing exercise

Jane, Plain Jane:  In eight scenes.
A short story as a writing exercise.
Updated 3/29/2018
The writers group at Nara's Nook started a learning and production project using the guide book "The 90-day novel," by Alan Watt.  To contribute to the project without spending the time on a novel, I wrote a short story or one act play using some of the guidance from the book.  
Writers meeting at Nara's Nook

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    My Name is Jane, Plain Jane

    I'm Jane.  Plain Jane.  I'm the girl with the great personality.  You know, when the neighbors visited, they wanted to say something nice, all they could think of was, "She has a great personality."

    Even that was a lie.  I don't have any personality at all.  I'm too shy to have a personality.   I'm just the extra lump on the couch.  

    What I really want is to have a personality.  I've got brains  I was the valedictorian in high school graduation.   I had to do it because I had the best grades in the senior class.  It almost killed me.  I vomited all day before the speech.  

    I was sort of popular with the boys in junior college.  Not that they liked me.  They needed me to fix their computers.  They called me the geek.  Nobody ever said I had a great personality.  I was just the computer whiz.  That's the same thing as having a great personality.  At least for a girl.  Boys don't need great personalities.

    And I was way ahead of the boys in differential equations.  Yeah, that really made me popular.  Differential equations are for boys.

    What I'm most afraid of?  Well, I could say other people.  I'm that shy.  But I can't really blame other people. Nobody has done anything bad  to me.   I've never even been raped.  Can you believe that?  I'm not even worth a rape!

    And nobody has even been really mean to me,  Except maybe Jason.  But when the neighbors said I had a great personality, they were trying to be nice.  It bothered me because I knew that was the only thing good they could think of to say about me.  Did you get that?  It bothered me because I was too smart to feel good about about a compliment!  You know you are in deep shit when a compliment makes you miserable. 

    But I am smart enough not to blame it on other people.  I"m shy because of me.  I must have been born that way.  Hermione says I'm shy because I choose to  be shy.  I don't believe that.  Why would I make a stupid choice like that?

    Hermione is a friend of mine.  She works in the same place I do.  But she is in sales and is really good at it.  I guess she likes me because I can do a little fixing on the software when one of her customers wants something special.  I'm in software, of course.  That way I just have to talk to the computers.  I'm not shy around them.  And that is really funny, because computers have given me more trouble than people ever have.  

    The people where I work, we have a happy hour on Fridays after work.  We go to a bar for beer.  I didn't go when I first started at the company.  I made up excuses.  But some of the people kept after me to join them.  I don't know why--I'm really a klutz at conversation.  Somebody will order a caesar salad and I will say something like "I come to bury Caesar, not the eat him."   Then silence.  Nobody can think of something to follow that line. 

    Well, Jason could.  He said, "The voice of the super-geek is heard in the land."

    Then Hermione chimed in, "Thus spake reverend Jason."' 

    And then somebody called for more beer.

    I heard that beer is supposed to loosen you up.  Not for me.  Well, it makes me piss a lot, so I could say it loosens my bladder.  But it doesn't keep me from being shy.  I drink, I'm just a shy drunk.  See?  Nothing is going to help me.  "Nothing to be done."  That's my favorite line from "Waiting For Godot."   

    But I did figure out what I am afraid of.  I am afraid of getting a personality.  That is really weird.  I just said I wanted a personality.  Now I said I am afraid of getting a personality.  That is not logical.  But if a genie magically gave me a new personality, I would not know how to run it.  I would be just as much of a klutz as I am now.  Just a klutz with a personality.

    Part 2   Pack-man

    Jason is really bothering me.  He keeps calling me the super-geek.  I want to yell at him, "Shut up and drink!"   But I can't do that with all the other people around.  I don't know what to do.  I guess I just have to put up with it.

    I asked Hermione about it.  Not directly, of course.  I asked her if anyone ever gave her a nickname she didn't like.  

    "Not recently," she told.  "Somebody started calling me blondie when I was younger, but I just made up an unflattering name for her and she stopped immediately.  The way she said it, it made me think 'dumb blonde.'    I'm not dumb.  And I'm not blonde."

    That was a surprise to me.   I mean that she is not blonde.  Her hair is always blonde and beautiful.   Never has dark roots.  I don't know how she does it.  But anyway, that gave me an idea.  

    Jason is in packing and mailing.  So I can call him 'pack-man."   I don't think he is proud of packing and mailing.  The pay there is not all that good.  He does it really well.    He can get things wrapped before I could get my first paper-cut.  

    If I am on good terms with him at Christmas, maybe I could get him to wrap my presents for me.  He wouldn't mind doing that and I wouldn't mind asking him because I fix his computer for him.  But I may not be on good terms with him if I start calling him 'packman.'   

    Maybe I will ask Hermione what she thinks about calling him 'packman.'  I hate to show her I am such a social nerd.  But she is too smart-- she is bound to know that anyway.  Damn! I wish I could be like her.  She is so cool.

    I did ask Hermione about pinning the 'packman' label on Jayson.  She said, 'How would that make him feel?'  Then she had to answer the phone so I didn't get to ask her any more. How can I know how that would make him feel?  I can't just go up and ask him.    

    Oh, my God!  That's what Hermione might tell me to do.  I'm glad that phone call interrupted the conversation.  She might just have said, "Go up and ask him."   

    She could actually ask him.  But I couldn't do that.  I would vomit instead.  Besides, he would probably say he didn't care.  That 's what I would say if somebody asked me if I was bothered by being called 'super-geek.'   So I really wouldn't know any more than I do now.  

    Oh, but he would.  That's what Hermione would tell me.  He would know that I could pin that label on him.  He would know to be careful what he called me.  That's if it would really bother him.  But I know it would bother him.   Maybe I'll use it next Friday.  If he bothers me again.   Just you wait, Jason Packman, just you wait!

    PART 3  Confused

    Well Jason called me a super-geek again this Friday.  But it didn't work out the way I planned.  The way It started was earlier he couldn't get his computer to print the address labels.  He's in Packing and Mailing, you know, and this was Friday, so everything has to go out.   And I walked by on break, so I heard him talking to his computer.  

    I have felt like talking to my computers that way lots of times, but not so loud.  So I stopped and fixed it for him.  Poor guy, he is a klutz with the keyboard and they give him a tiny little keyboard.  His hands are too big for it.  I got little hands and they give me a huge keyboard.  Like Hermione would say, life is not fair. 

    Anyway, at the happy hour Jason told everyone about it.  "It was stuck in the muck and Jane came by and fixed it.  Pressed one key and fixed it."

    Actually, it was three keys at once, but I didn't correct him.   So he went on, "Super-geek saved my day."  

    Well, what could I do with that?  He wasn't putting me down.  That was sort of a compliment.  I mean, it still sounded like I was abnormal, especially for a girl.  But not a bad kind of abnormal.  I had to think that over for a moment.

    But you can't be slow on the come-back with Hermione around.  She jumped in, "Like it says in the Bible, the Geeks shall inherit the earth."  

    And Jayson said, "Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of."

    Afraid?  Jason couldn't be afraid of anything.  He's six foot six and should be a football player.  Or a steel-driving man.  Yeah, get him a hammer and he would be a steel-driving man.  I suppose I could call him John Henry.  

     Anyway, I am really confused now.  I thought he was putting me down when he called me super-geek.  But now I don't know.  I really good at computer-taming.  And that's abnormal for a girl.  My mother hated for me to even have a computer.  I lied and told her I had to have it to make good grades in school or I never would have gotten it.  

    My mother did want me to make good grades in school.  She knew that plain Jane would never get a good man.  She used to tell me a good man is hard to find.  I knew what she meant.  Hard to find for me.  Plain Jane had better be able to fend for herself.  Well, I can do that.  Super-geeks are abnormal and they are hard to find, too.  

    Only I can't fend for myself with people.  Give me a computer and I am in control.  But I am just Plain Jane over beer.  And I probably think too much.  That would make me dangerous if I were a man.  But it just makes me shy over beer.  Or maybe standoffish.  

    Or maybe confused.  I know what Hermione would say.  "No.  You were confused before.  Now you are just finding it out."   Hermione always knows something smart to say.  I wish I could think like her.  Dammit, If I am so smart, why can't I think like her?  And why am I confused?

    And why the hell do I feel like I won something today at happy hour when I didn't get to use my power name on Jayson?  Well, I've still got it in reserve.  People are so confusing.  No wonder I like computers.


    Part 4   Can't

    Hermione is trying to get me to take a part in the play she is directing at the community theater.  Can you believe that?  Me, Plain Jane.  The extra lump on the couch.  But she says it is hard to find someone to put on costume for a bit part like this.  And that bit is critical to the play, so she has to find someone she can depend on.  

    I told her I can't do it.  Oh, I'm not too busy.  The shows are in the evening, and Plain Jane has plenty of time in the evenings.  And it is an older lady.  But all I need for that is a wig  and a little makeup.  

    But I'm  not an actor, I haven't had any stage training.  I don't even know how to walk on stage.  

    "You don't have to walk.  You just sit there and look like you are eating.  Nobody will pay any attention to you till the waiter comes up and gives you your cue."  Hermione always thinks things through with all the details.  I guess that's something you learn to do in acting and directing.  

    "But I don't know how to put the right emotion in it," I objected.  

    Hermione was very patient about it.  "There's no emoting involved, you are just ordering a meal.  Do it just like you always order a meal, only louder.  You have had singing lessons, haven't you?"

    "Yes, but what has that got to do with it?"   

    "You already know how to project your voice.  On stage, it's just like singing, except you don't have to do it on key."   

    Oh God!  I was running out of excuses.  I couldn't tell her I am scared to do it.  So I told her I would think it over.  And to get out of the conversation, I had to promise I would practice my line and give it to her whenever she gives me my cue.

    My cue is, the waiter comes up to me and says, "Is madame ready to order?"

    And I say, "I'll have what she's having."

    That looks easy.  And it is easy for normal people.  Not for Plain Jane.  I feel safe being the extra lump on the couch.   Oh, damn!  I thought I resented being the lump on the couch and now I know I can't be anything else.  And I will have the explain why I can't do that part in the play.  And I can't explain it to her either.   I can't do anything.  I am trapped.


    Part 5 Vomit

    Hermione catches me on break every so often.  And she usually gives me the cue.  I try to give my line a little different every time.   I don't know why I'm doing that.  I can't really do the part. I guess I am sort of pretending that I will do it.  But I really can't.  I have to tell Hermione.  I really don't have the nerve to tell her, but it is not fair to let her think I can do it.

    Okay, I told her I can't do it.  And when she asked why, I couldn't think of a good lie, so I had to tell the truth.   

    "Because I would vomit", I said, wishing I could just sink into the ground.

    "Not on stage, you wouldn't." Hermione said, in a matter-of-fact tone.  "Actors never vomit on stage.  We use the vomitorium next to the dressing room."

    "You have a vomitorium backstage?" I asked.  "I didn't know actors vomited."  

    "Of course not.  On stage we are the characters in the play.  We don't vomit unless the script calls for it.  And you don't get a lot of scripts that call for vomiting on stage.  It's not popular with the audience."    Hermione is so casual about these things.

    "Besides," Hermione added, "we don't eat all day before the play.  We have a rehearsal this Saturday at seven.  You know you can do the rehearsal.  Practically nobody there except me and the actors.  You won't have anything to vomit about.  But don't eat supper."  

    I had to promise I would be there.  Just as an audition.  
    Jason didn't pick on me at happy hour this Friday.  Her was too busy explaining to Hermione why he couldn't play Romeo.  

    "If you would joint the troupe at the community theater," she told him, "we could do 'Romeo and Juliette." 

    "I couldn't play Juliette," he came back.  "I'm too tall."

    Hermione thought for a moment and then mused, "That would make an interesting scene.  Juliette in drag.  But too risky for community theater.   I was thinking of you as Romeo.  You have the the looks for it. Tall, lanky, good looking."

    Jason shrugged. "Oh sure I have the looks for it.  But I don't have the brains.  I couldn't memorize all those lines."

    "You have the looks Juliette could see as "to die for.'"  Hermione observed, with just a hint of admiration."

    "Yeah, sure," Jason came back, ruefully.  "Until I opened my mouth.  I can't even read very well.  And I can't memorize all those lines  ."

    "If I only had a brain."  That was what ran thought my head right then.

    "Everything is too hard until you know how to do it," said Hermione in her usual down-to-earth way.   "We can teach you how to do it.  But we can't teach you that you can do it.  Anyway, we don't have Romeo and Juliette on the schedule this year, so we don't need to rush. "

    She dropped the subject.  But I know from experience that she will come back to it.  

    "Can't memorize all those lines." That was an excuse I never thought of.  I don't memorize lines of code, but I do remember them. I guess I know what they mean and start from there.   Of course, my part only has one line, so I would have to be pretty dumb to forget it.  Unless I get so scared shitless that I can't even talk.  

    That's interesting.  I really think I can learn lines.  I didn't know I could do anything but write code.   And vomit--I am good at that.  

    Part 6 I can't believe it!

    I did the audition!   And I didn't vomit.   I can't believe it!.   I did retch a couple of times, but I didn't eat anything all day.  So I didn't have anything to vomit with. 

    I had to go in early on Saturday afternoon to get ready.  Hermione was there and she gave me a few practice runs before I got into costume.  I was playing Beth, a plump lady of about forty-five. 

    "You sit at that table," she told me, indicating a table at the front of the stage, off to the right side of the stage.  "That's stage right in our speak. The action will be at the center table and you'll be looking there.  The waiter will come up on the other side and give you your cue.   You face the audience and say your line."
    I looked out at the empty house and imagined an audience watching--that was one of the times I retched.  "And don't be mousy-timid with it.  You want to say it loud enough to fill the house.  It is probably the best line in the whole scene, so you want everyone to hear it.  Especially the people in the back row."

    She went to the back row and I did my line a few times.  I started off a little timidly, but Hermione told me to stop thinking of myself and talk to the last row, where she was.  

    "Think about that lady in the back row--you don't want her to miss that line,"  Hermione insisted.  And I really didn't want that lady in the back row to miss that line.  So I got my voice loud enough so Hermione was satisfied.  Funny how I could say it louder when I thought about that lady in the back row.  

    Then Hermioine took me backstage the ladies' dressing room.  And there was the vomitorium.  With a real sign.  And it looked like an old sign, so I don't think they made it just for me.  Damn!  I didn't know that other people vomited from stage fright.  I thought it was just me.

    "Yeah, there's the vomitorium.  Just like I told you.  You think your the only one who gets stage fright?  Stop thinking about you so much.  Think about the people around you.  Think about playing your role."

    I didn't need to vomit right then, so l let Hermione start helping me with my make-up.  It took a lot more make-up than I thought it would.  Funny thing about make-up.  I watched myself in the mirror growing more and more matronly.  And by the time I finished with make-up and putting on my padded costume, I began to imagine that I was plump, matronly Beth.   That was really weird.   Not plain Jane right now.   

    In the restaurant scene, we are all in our places before curtain time.  That keeps me from having to walk across the stage without stumbling.  I had to sit there and look like I was sipping wine.  But nobody was going to notice me, so that was typecasting.  

    Just for a moment they would notice Beth, the plump matron with the grey strands in her black hair.  She would get a momentary spotlight and her fifteen seconds of fame as she said her line.

    And she did!   Loud enough to be heard by the back row.  Loud enough to have been yelling at the kids for fifteen years. Loud enough to be heard in the back row, if there were anyone there.  I couldn't see, because the house lights were off and the footlights were in my eyes.  

    And I didn't even feel like vomiting.  Or maybe I did, but Beth didn't.  Or maybe I was too distracted about getting that line all the way to the back row.  Or maybe because it was just a rehearsal and there was no audience watching to laugh at me if I screwed up.  

    But now what do I do?   Hermione is going to ask me to be in the show.  I know she is because I did a pretty good job.  Or rather Beth did a pretty good job.  And she wouldn't vomit over being out in front of people.   She's been around.  

    But I still don't know what to tell Hermione.  I have run out of excuses.  And I really can do it.  Or rather Beth can.  I won't vomit on stage.  Maybe before, but not on stage.  

    But I would be scared shitless.  Why would I put myself through that?  I don't know.  I really just don't know.


    Part 7 No Dragons 

    "There aren't any dragons out there."   That's what Hermione told me when I told her I was too scared to do it in front of an audience.  I had to tell her the truth on that.  I couldn't think of any more excuses.  

    "No Dragons" doesn't solve my problem.  I'm not scared of dragons.  I've killed thousands on my computer screen.  And dragons are imaginary.  Just made up in your mind.   Or on your computer.  I haven't been scared of imaginary things since I was, maybe six or seven, or maybe eight.   

    That was when I killed the monster under my bed.   Yeah, you know I didn't really kill anything.  I just got out of bed, turned on the lights, and crawled under there to confront the monster.  I was just a little scared then, but I was pretty sure there wasn't any monster there. And I looked carefully before I crawled in.   There was nothing there but a dust bunny.  

    So I crawled in.  Right into the monster's lair.   And I remember, I feel good about that.  I felt like I had banished him from under my bed.  I had taken over the place under my bed for my slippers.  And later for my light saber.   

    Funny I remember that so clearly.  And why did I think of that right now--oh yes, Hermione said there are no dragons out there.  Right.  No imaginary dragons.  And no monsters under the bed.  I've already dealt with those.  Maybe that's why I liked to kill them on my computer screen.   I cut their guts out--that's what they deserved for scaring me.  Okay dragons, you won't scare me any more!  

    But those people out there in the audience are real.  Nothing imaginary about them.   I might screw it up and they would laugh at me.  Well, they're supposed to laugh at me--or really at Beth, since it's her line.  

    "Don't focus on yourself,"  Hermione told me.  "Focus on those people in the back row.  Make sure they hear you."

    Well I did it!   I took that leap of faith!  Well, tentatively, anyway.  I told Hermione I would try.  I will come to rehearsals.  And I think I can get up enough nerve to go onstage in front of an audience.   Hermione is my understudy and she says she will do it if I drop dead of a heart attack.  

    I guess the only way I could screw it up is to get really mousy and timid.  People don't get mousy  and timid when they order at dinner.  Even I don't do that.  I do have to make it louder than would normally do it ordering dinner.  Louder than most people would do it.  Except maybe Jason.  He is so loud ordering beer that everyone in the place can hear him.  
    Some times people look around when he orders beer.  Doesn't bother him at all.  He may not even notice.  Not that he orders beer that often.  Some people in our Friday crowd think he doesn't buy his share of the beer.  I started to think that, but then I realized that he doesn't get paid that well in printing and mailing.  

    And the funny thing is everyone in the place knows I am supergeek.  Yes, he still calls me that, but it stopped bothering me.  He's so dumb he thinks it's a compliment.  And it didn't do anything to me except get more people asking for help on their computers.   I don't mind fixing computers.  It's just like working jigsaw puzzles except I don't have to buy puzzles.  

    So I sort of borrowed Jason's voice the other day when I ordered beer.  And everybody in the place heard me and looked around.  Hermione noticed and nodded approval.  The funny thing was it didn't bother me when everybody looked at me.  I guess it was because I expected it.  I would have been disappointed if they had not looked.  But they heard me--all the way to the back of the room.  That stage voice might be useful if you are not getting good service.  

    Next week is a full dress rehearsal.  I will turn that over the Beth.  She can do it.  She's been around.  No dragon is safe around her.


    Part 8 I can believe it!

    I did the dress rehearsal!  Two of them, as a matter of fact.  And Jason not only heard me from the back row, he recorded me.  Oh, yes, Hermione got him to come to the rehearsals to record the voices.  She had everyone listen to their voices.  Some of them were not loud enough to get a good recording from the back row.   But mine was.

    Next Saturday is opening night.  I can do it.  I can be loud enough.  I can't fall down, because I stay in my seat from curtain up to curtain down.  Most of the time I lean over as if I am talking to the other lady at the table.  Or sip from my wine glass with tea in it.  Funny how many things you see on stage are fake.  I've seen lots of plays, but never really thought of that.  They don't have to be real.  Just convincing.  

    I will be convincing.  Or rather, I will turn into Beth and she will be convincing.  She is a little like Hermione, only older and more calm.  And not as pretty.  Plain, in fact, but it doesn't bother her.  She wasn't always that way.  There might have been a time when she vomited.  But that was a long time ago.  She could barely remember it.  Almost as if it happened to someone else...
    Opening night!  Beth and I did it!  I didn't even retch.  We had nearly a full house, so there were really people in the back row to hear me.  And they did hear me.  Jason was back there and he recorded the whole show.  I delivered the line and got a good laugh from the audience.  And now that I did it once, I can do it again.  For the rest of the run.   I know I can.

    Hermione is already wanting me to think about taking a part in another play.  I might do that.   I would surely want to do it if they had a play about a girl who is born to be a homely wallflower and is miserable about it.  But nobody would ever write a play like that.


    This story could be a short story or a one-act play for one or three actors. I relinquish all claims to the copyright and declare all work by me under the title "Jane, Plain Jane" to be in the public domain.




    • Original text in this blog is CC By: unless specified public domain
    • Use as you please with attribution: web link to the original.
    • All images without attribution in this blog are CC0: public domain.

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