Strangers

Daily Prompt: Standout

I talked about anonymity yesterday in Pride. But in truth, there’s a dichotomy in my hopes for this space. Forget the reason behind the anonymity in the first place. The important question is do I truly want anonymity?

I don’t want any attention from the people who know me. You see, I value their opinion the most. And I haven’t yet created anything worthy of their time. Maybe in a few years, I’ll finally have a body of work, or maybe just that one masterpiece, that I’m willing to stamp my name on.

At the same time, I definitely don’t want my current work to be overlooked, forgotten, disregarded. I yearn for approval, criticism, just to be seen. I have no concerns about sharing who I am and what I create with strangers. Now, there’s a dilemma.

Pride

Daily Prompt: Mirror, Mirror, On the Wall.

If writing is your release, you can’t completely let go without anonymity. I don’t care what anyone says about honesty or transparency. Any person who cares even the slightest bit about at least one other person has a few things they feel but will never say.

Even with anonymity, I don’t think I’m there yet. I don’t know if I’ll be there in a year. Why? Pride. Even a few days in, I’m proud of some of the things I’ve written here. I’m not proud enough to think any of my work is going to become an overnight sensation. I don’t entertain any delusions of unexpected wealth (and I’m obviously trying to avoid fame). But I do want to be able to share what I’ve written with my family one day.

Knowing that will happen –knowing I’ll one day invite them in –is it possible for me to really ‘let it all out?’ If so, will I have to lie? “Oh, I embellished a bit. It just makes for a better story.” Is it selfish to even ask? Am I more concerned with hurting their feelings or that they’ll be angry and upset with me?

Must I create a cellarsubfloor? Do I need an outlet for only my deepest and darkest thoughts? What if one of those stories ends up being a masterpiece? Can I smother my pride and carry the secret to my grave?

Even now, I realize how proud I sound. How presumptuous of me to think my family and friends will care about my work –the things I think about them at their worst –at my worst.

In reality there is, perhaps no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history. For even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility. – Benjamin Franklin

Filter

Mid-Week Blues-Buster Week 26.

November 9, 2037

Major Piersen,

Please present this abstract of my official report for Filter to The Council.

The initial phase of the trial went off without a hitch. Two hundred subjects were invited to the facility for a free family vacation in exchange for their suggestions in advance of a grand opening. Per standard lodging protocol, all subjects were given ChemBlock injections on arrival. The fluid nanomesh for Filter (suspended therein) self-assembled and became addressable in all subjects within 16 hours.

All functions were tested both within the facility and remotely from the Bern field office. Subjects were exposed to banned sensations during controlled activities. Subjects were surveyed and asked to describe their favorite and least favorite portions of each activity. We successfully modified all banned sensations for the first 12 hours following Filter connectivity.

At T-plus 14 hours, Subject 107, female, 16, Consumer class, health rating B, seemingly blacked out. AidBots immediately responded and the subject was determined to be in Non-REM stage 2. However, brainwave frequencies were high-Theta at 36 Hz. Subject was only roused after 1,500 micrograms epinephrine. Once awake, subject described vivid hallucinations consistent with REM stage dreams. We suspected a severe sleep disorder and marked subject for remote sleep monitoring once she returned home.

By T-plus 14:07, 14 additional subjects had fallen into a similar state. We scrambled all available AidBots and pressed clinical staff into service. No similarities between subjects were noted –gender, age, class, and health rating all within standard deviation. All subjects were found to be in stage 2 non-REM sleep with brainwave frequencies ranging from mid-Theta to low-Gamma.

These 15 subjects all described vivid hallucinations seemingly transcendent of all senses. Most subjects were convinced there were stimuli the interviewers could not detect –phosphorescent auras surrounding objects, intense spice aromas, melodic voices, sweet hot flavors on the air, the feeling of a cool mist about them.

We quickly engaged Filter to soften all sensations. All subjects responded violently and immediately. They ran headlong into objects and each other. Some subjects writhed on the ground. One subject began pounding his fists into both his ears. Filter was set to full block for these 15 subjects. All were reduced to laying motionless. Vitals were monitored. Brainwave activity approached 59Hz for most subjects –dangerously close to the sustainable maximum. These subjects were moved to individual isolation in the quarantine block.

Meanwhile, the remainder of the subjects blacked out in shortening periods. We left the subjects in this state while we decommissioned all instances of Filter. Filter mainframe confirmed complete shutdown and all nanomeshes were scuttled.

No longer deprived of their senses, subjects returned to their prior states. The 15 subjects in isolation returned to consciousness screaming and writhing in agony. Their condition did not improve over the next 48 hours.

The remaining 185 subjects continued to experience increasingly vivid hallucinations until all else faded and only the hallucinations remained. As they became increasingly dangerous to themselves, my staff, and other subjects, we moved them into isolation. At T-plus 39:04, the last subject was moved into isolation.

I convened my staff and phoned Reintroduction Commission. As no budget was allocated for intensive rehabilitation and care, humane termination was initiated (T-plus 63:21) . Disaster Staging has been engaged for liability mitigation.

Please find release notes for Filter v1.01 attached. I have already contacted Subject Supply for the next sample.

Sincerely,
Dr. Jefferson Quill

Brave

Daily Prompt: Too Soon?.

“AAHHH!” said Tommy, eyes full of tears.
“That lightning was so loud. There’s a buzz in my ears!”

Jenny cracked a smile and Emma giggled too.
Jesse hid his face and Carter fiddled with his shoe.

Ms. Halsey had told them and told them again,
“We never make fun of our classroom friends.”

Tommy saw the smiles and the bitten lips and smirks.
“I’m really scared of storms. And you’re all a bunch of jerks!”

Ms. Halsey walked over and gave Tommy a hug.
“There’s nothing to fear, Mr. Tommy-Bug.”

“Now, class, what have we said about making sport?”
“But Ms. Halsey, Tommy is the nervous sort!”

Tommy’s tears turned to sobs and he buried his face.
He wished he could be home or some other safer place.

Emma felt sad and stood up by her desk.
“I’m sorry I laughed, Tommy. My timing’s not the best.
I’m not afraid of thunder when I’m in Ms. Halsey’s room
You’ll feel the same one day but right now, it’s just too soon.”

Emma walked over to Tommy and Ms. Halsey stepped away.
“I hope you’ll still be my friend after the way I’ve acted today.”

Tommy wiped his face with the back of his hand,
worked up the nerve to make his wobbly legs stand,
thought in his head, “It’s time to be a man,'”
smiled at Emma and held out his hand.

“Of course I’m still your friend and yours and yours and yours!
I just get a little scared when the old man snores.
But I’ll be OK if we can be brave together.
A friend is a friend in any kind of weather.”

So Tommy hugged Ms. Halsey and Jenny and Carter.
He bear-hugged Jesse and Emma even harder.

Tommy knew next time, he’d feel much more safe.
Because good friends are the best kind to make a boy feel brave.

Fate

Daily Prompt: Life Line.

Of course this happens to me. I stopped believing in the divine a few years ago. Maybe it was growing up with a spiritualnotreligious mother. She thought the universe somehow had its own power one week and rattled on about a god the next. Maybe it’s that old adage, “someday you’ll see/experience something that makes you believe.” These people must ignore the tragedy, despair, and general randomness of the world around them right now –screw someday.

What’s the one thing you want on a red eye to SeaTac? It’s sleep. I wouldn’t want to imagine the person who picks a red eye flight so she can chat someone’s ear off. But apparently I’m sitting next to her. “What’s your sign?” she asks, some nonhuman combination of a goofy grin and genuine concern on her face. You’ve got to be kidding me. What’s my sign? “Quiet, please.” But I didn’t say that. I’m that unique sort of asshole who engages in friendly conversation while my patience silently stews.

“Oh,” I feign interest, “Cancer.”
“Ah. A carer!” She couldn’t be more wrong on this one.
“Yeah, definitely.”
“I’m a palmist.” It’s really taking everything in my power not to roll my eyes. What the hell is a palmist? Just say palm reader. This sounds like you’re good at gripping basketballs with one hand or something.
“Oh, interesting.” I’m doing it again. Every time I end up in one of these conversations, I try to say things like this to be dismissive. Instead, my responses invariably sound open-ended and welcoming of further discussion.
“Give me your hand. I’ll give you a reading, no charge.” Did she think I was going to offer payment?
“Uh, I’d rather not. They’re quite clammy. Takeoffs make me nervous.” This is utter bullshit. I’ve been flying since before I can even remember. I’ve landed at airports where the crosswinds seemingly turned the plane 90 degrees and the only thing that’s ever crossed my mind is, “WHEEEEE!”
“Oh we’re going to be just fine. Trust me. I know. Come on. Give me your hand. I’m telling you: In my line of work, I’ve held much dirtier hands.”
“OK, OK.”

She takes my hand and starts tracing the lines with her long, garishly painted fingernails. Here comes the life line bullshit. “This is your life line.” Yeah, I know. I was in middle school once too. If this lady thinks she’s going to send me to the Alamo to find my bicycle, she’s lost her mind.

“It’s very long. You should be around for a while.”
“Hmm.”
“And this is your marriage line. It’s also nice and long but it’s very feathered. You’ve had a lot of loves in your life, right?” Not really. I’ve had plenty of relationships but I’ve only really loved a few women.
“Hmm, I guess.”
“OH. Your head line is split nearly in two. You see both sides of issues. You’re both creative and logical.” P.T. Barnum over here. She’s got something for everybody.
“Your fate line is very faint. It’s hard to read anything from it.” She hit the nail on the head this time. Fate is bullshit.
“So, it looks to me like you have a very long life filled with love ahead of you. You’ll be successful because you can approach problems from many angles. Your fate is the only thing you need to be on the lookout for.” To be on the lookout for? I’ll remember that next time I’m unicorn hunting.
“Well, thank you.” It feels like she’s had my hand for an hour.
“You’re welcome. Thank you for letting me give you a reading!”

I pull my hand back and excuse myself to the restroom. I wonder if she knows I’m going just to wash my hands –a nearly obsessive habit I’ve had for most of my life. I return to my seat, grabbing a pillow and blanket from the overhead bin. I don’t need them to sleep. I just want to make it clear I’m done chatting.

The palm reader looks at me and grins knowingly, opening a book: ‘Keys to the Universe’ or some such nonsense.

The plane shudders as my eyes close.

I dream. I’m standing at the top of a plateau, my back to the valley. My feet begin to slip and I slide backwards. I grab and come up with handfuls of loose dirt. I’m sliding so slowly but I know I’ll eventually free fall. Finally I feel a rock. I grab it with all my remaining strength. The sharp stone digs into the middle of my hand as I continue to slide. It tears at my flesh and I finally lose all grip as it slides loose between my middle and ring finger.

I’m falling. As the ground nears, time stretches into oblivion.

I’m falling.

My hand burns.

I’m falling.

My Dilemma

Boredom is the feeling that everything is a waste of time; serenity, that nothing is. – Thomas Szasz

My mother has always said I should write. “Oh, you’re such a great writer. Why don’t you ever write anything anymore?” Everyone’s mother wants them to be great at something but maybe when it comes to this, I kind of always believed the hype.

But here’s the rub: I’m a chronic non-finisher. I start lots of projects and I rarely finish any of them. I’m good at most things I try –there’s just never a finished product. (Brewing may be the sole exception here but making alcohol is its own reward so I’ve never thought of it as a challenge.)

Ultimately, I just get bored and it seems like a waste of time to pursue things further. Maybe I bite off more than I can chew. Maybe I just lack the discipline to complete projects. Maybe I’m not good at defining goals.

Then there’s my renewed health kick. A few weeks prior to my son’s birth, I quit smoking. Then, when my wife was starting to feel like her body was hers again, we returned to the gym (sporadically). We’ve since gotten much more serious. I track my food and I’m consumed with the idea of losing weight and being healthier.

I walk 10,000 steps per day at least. When you make yourself walk 5 miles, you have a lot of time to think. There’s a lot of serenity. I don’t get bored because I can finally think about anything I wish and I’m completely uninterrupted. Maybe that’s its own reward. Maybe Thomas Szasz is right. Maybe finding serenity in my hobbies, distractions, and work is the key to avoiding boredom.