NPR 3-Minute Fiction Story Contest: Charidy’s Case – Explained by Susanna Hartigan

The latest 3-minute fiction story contest by NPR had to have two elements: someone had to tell a joke and someone had to cry. It was a challenge to write it all in 600 words or less. The crying part was easy. It was the filling in the joke at an appropriate time that was most difficult for me.

How did I do it? I meditated and wrote some key words on my note pad. Random things came to me, but nothing that made sense to me at the time. All I knew was that these were the words given to me that I had to work with and somehow put them in a story: pickles, agitate, bark, eyeball, foul, bakers, field, fountain, hall, mustard, clicking, monarchy.

Monarchy? How in the world am I going to find a way to incorporate that into a story with pickles, mustard, and an eyeball? And then I started to write:

Seven hundred dollars.

Where was I going to go with $700? I wrote it more than once. Perhaps someone who lost their wallet? Got robbed? Perhaps someone who needed her medication or rent money? I jotted down some things that I wasn’t happy with, put it away, and later on it all came to me.

“Charidy’s Case” is not about a story about a homeless mentally ill person getting rescued. There is much deeper meaning to the story than that, and if anyone has witnessed a person in this condition, it is something unforgettable.

Symbolism is very important when I write, so I committed myself to the main character’s name being Charidy – purposely spelled incorrectly. I wanted a tree with bark that peeled like paper – and the symbolism of the birch tree seemed to be the perfect choice. The numbers used in the story – including the number of people – are all symbolic in “Charidy’s Case”. The bear is a protective, nurturing animal – at first as a teddy bear – but Charidy begins to see her as a threat. Even the words I initially jotted down had symbolic meaning, although to most readers they probably did not make sense when Charidy spoke them.

Since Charidy is a representation of the mentally ill that are forgotten, homeless, and helpless – I wanted to canonize her with the golden bark fluttering around her like angelic feathers.

Most likely Charidy will be taken to a place, dosed, shuffled through the system and sent back to the streets when her time is up. Does that mean she was really rescued?

Read here:
Charidy’s Case
by Susanna Hartigan

Listen here:
A Sampling Of Three Minute Fiction Entries

Entering Contests is Like Ordering Pizza

I’ve been entering contests throughout my life. I’ve entered many different types of contests and won cash prizes, trips, and “woohoo” recognition. The earliest I won was a Halloween costume contest. I was five years old, dressed as a clown – competing mostly among adults – in a burger joint. I won twenty silver dollars for that gig.

The next contests I recall entering were spelling bees. I won top one and two for my fifth and sixth grade classes, but I never won past that. I don’t think it bothered me that I lost, because I always knew I had tough competition against those that were better than me. My prize? A “woohoo” and a pat on the back. Not too bad.

I remember winning first place in my elementary school’s story writing competition, but I can’t tell you what year it was or what the story entailed. Another “woohoo”. (I did, however, contact the school a few years ago to find out if they’d kept copies. Unfortunately, they did not.)

As I became older, I don’t know if I was more competitive or more insecure about entering contests. All I know is that I just wanted to be “picked” – and once I got picked, I wanted to be number one. But that changed once I got on the other side of judging – and this is where I learned that contests are not always what they’re cracked up to be.

If you enter a contest that requires a part of you – a literary work, a piece of music, a piece of art, etc. – in order to survive the rejections and critiques, you must go in with this in mind:

Your work is an item on a menu – one is better than the other – only to select people. The restaurant is the audience – or the venue – in which you’ve entered the contest. You want pizza with everything on it, our friends don’t want sausage, our kids only want pepperoni, their kids only want cheese, and I don’t want pizza at all because I’m craving shrimp francese.

It’s what the people want, what the people crave or understand. Since preferences are a matter of choice among the hungry people at that particular moment at that particular restaurant, so I have learned to take criticism with humility. After all, it’s only someone else’s opinion.

25 Years Ago – A Child’s Point of View on Space Shuttle Challenger

Told from a child’s point of view, this is what happened 25 years ago on the day the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up:

It is a chilly, but sunny afternoon. After gym class I head to history. I hear an annoying boy named John yelling in the courtyard.

“The space shuttle blew up!”

He points to the sky at a puffy looking cloud in the air. John is known to say and do things for attention, so I don’t believe him.

“Shut up!” I say. “That’s just a cloud.”

“No, I swear!” he says.

John isn’t lying. I arrive to history class. Our teacher, Mrs. Still, has the television on and announces that the Space Shuttle Challenger has exploded into the sky, killing all seven astronauts, including the first teacher in space. I have never seen a teacher cry until I see Mrs. Still. The entire class sits in awe as we watch the tragedy on the news for the entire fifty minutes. Mrs. Still tells us that it is an historical day in our lives, and that in the future we will always remember what we were doing on the day that the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up.

Excerpt from Unheard: a memoir
©2010 Susanna Hartigan
All Rights Reserved

Few Hours + No Cost = Impact Youngsters Lives with Big Brothers/Big Sisters Program

Marianna Davis was a Big Sister when she was in college. Although she is no longer in the program, she still volunteers her time with children and says her time as a Big Sister was enjoyable.

“I don’t need to get a pat on the back for spending my time with the kids,” says Davis. “It’s the smile from the kids that makes me happy.”

Davis says she thinks more people should donate time with these children because they need someone.

“These kids don’t have a whole lot,” she says.

Davis, who had to move due to a job transfer, says leaving a child is hard to deal with, but she always keeps in touch with her “little sisters”, many of whom lack a role model at home.

Most of the children come from single parent homes or homes in which the other parent is absent due to incarceration, hospitalization or military service. The purpose of a Big Brother or Big Sister? Not to play Santa Claus, but to provide the children with someone who is willing to lend an ear and talk to them. Spending time with these children is valuable.

No matter the child’s economic background, the Big Brothers/Sisters program is good for children experiencing hardship. One former volunteer expressed her surprise when she took her “little sister” to an amusement park and learned that she’d never had a candy apple.

The Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization originated over 100 years ago when a New York City man noticed children in and out of juvenile court and formed the sister part of the organization. An Ohio man who noticed children rummaging through garbage felt these children needed role models and friendship, therefore, becoming the first Big Brother. The two organizations joined in 1977. Since then, there have been over 500 more of these organizations developed throughout the U.S. in all 50 states and 12 countries throughout the world.

According to the Big Brothers/Big Sisters website:

83% of former Littles surveyed agree that their Big instilled values and principles that have guided them through life
46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs
27% less likely to begin using alcohol
52% less likely to skip school

No fee is required to volunteer or the child. It is recommended that activities be free or inexpensive. To find out more how to be a Big Brother or Big Sister:

Thanks, But No Thanks – You’re Texting My Life Away

Texting doesn’t work for all of us.

Include me in that statement. I think that this texting thing has become completely out of control. Everywhere I go are people texting – blocking the grocery store aisle, driving and weaving down the highway – you name it. If you’re going to text, fine, but please realize there is an entire world of living people around you that don’t appreciate your rudeness and disregard for other people’s safety.

Is texting rude? In many cases, yes. I don’t mind a text here or there, but I do not want to have an entire conversation over text messaging that a simple phone call would take less than five minutes to resolve. If someone has a question that requires a simple yes or no answer, fine. But don’t expect me to send my address or other personal information, weekly schedule, or paragraphs over a text. I don’t mind a picture text once in a while, but not of every new costume you purchase each week for each your six pet Chihuahuas. First of all, I don’t own one of those fancy phones and I’m not on any plans that offer me more than 250 texts per month – and I plan to keep it that way. I like to keep things simple.

A couple of years ago I visited a friend that had a really bad habit of texting while driving on the highway in the left lane at 50 mph. She didn’t care that she was blocking traffic. She didn’t notice that she was weaving all over the road. I was her passenger, hanging on for dear life, and I have never put myself in that position again.

Not long ago on my drive home from the grocery store I noticed a teenager walking across a busy street in the neighborhood. He was completely oblivious that there were cars coming his way. Why? Because he was texting. And when he looked and saw oncoming cars lined up, he acted as if we were doing something wrong.

Instead of having family conversation, I often witness kids texting at the dinner table among other places – for hours. Parents frequently don’t step in and say anything. I think it’s extremely rude when there is company and a kid is sitting there texting the entire time, ignoring questions because they are too focused on their technological device. Has verbal communication with the new generation completely gone out the window?

I don’t know what’s worse – watching a new generation depend on texting as their sole means of communicating or witnessing my own generation fall into the trap of technological zippermouth. If you haven’t spoken to me in several months, sending a text is probably the rudest way to contact me (besides showing up at my door unannounced). Wouldn’t it be easier to just pick up the phone and call?

For me, texting is a big NO THANKS. If you really want to communicate with me, find time to pick up the phone and call or write a letter (now known as email).

I will end this with one last thought… oops, I have to go. I have an incoming text to delete.

Shopping Sucks

This may come as a surprise to many people, but I am a woman who hates shopping. I would rather be reading a book, sitting at the beach, or writing. Shopping was something I did at the mall when I was a bored teenager. And even then I really didn’t shop because I was broke; I hung out. Today, the mall is one of the last places you’ll find me.

When I tell people I hate shopping – especially men – I get responses like, “What?! You’re a woman! Women love shopping!”

Well, not this woman. And besides, not all women are the same.

Shopping is a chore to me. It’s boring and redundant. The only time I enjoy shopping is at thrift stores because I get most of my reading material at Goodwill for only about a buck.

Shopping? You can have it.

I’m Sorry I’m Your Daughter – Poetry by Susanna Hartigan

I’m sorry I’m Your daughter
Can’t seem to do the right
thing to please You
Never asked for anything
but still rejected and unaccepted
I’m sorry I’m Your daughter
Can’t be the mother You expect of me
and fearing the next thing done
will push You farther away
I’m sorry I’m Your daughter
You don’t really know me as a person
and I hurt because I can hear You
teasing and laughing at me
behind closed doors –
Your false faces reveal it all.
I’m sorry I’m Your daughter
Fatigued from over exertion,
yet hearing You mouth,
“Oh, what’s next?”
I’m sorry I’m Your daughter
Refusing to live up to double standards
because our worlds are different
and miles apart –
makes me think You hate me
somewhere inside –
just because
I am different.
©2004 Susanna Hartigan
All Rights Reserved