Monthly Archives: December 2013

Fiction Friday: Bargaining

With the holidays coming up, this is likely to be the last Fiction Friday for a couple of weeks.

***

Daphne stared down at her hands, biting her lip.

“Yeah, I knew him,” she said finally. “But that doesn’t mean…you know…” She trailed off.

She couldn’t lie, but she couldn’t talk about it, either.

It’d be better to come clean, better for her, better for those around her. That’s what the therapist had said. And she believed it, but she couldn’t do it. She just couldn’t. She’d open her mouth and say nothing.

Words would make it real. But it hadn’t been real. It couldn’t be real. It felt like a lifetime ago. Like a dream.

The detective smiled patiently. “I’m not implying anything. We’re just trying to piece together the timeline from that night.” She paused, letting the words sink in.

“Neighbors saw you enter the apartment. What time would you say you got there?”

“Around 7, I think,” Daphne paused, deciding where to go next. There was no choice, she’d have to lie. “And then I left, around 10.”

The detective tried to keep her face a mask, but Daphne saw it. The detective thought she was lying. Her mind snapped to focus. Anger and adrenaline began to kick in. The truth didn’t matter any more, she had to survive. She’d do anything to survive.

Daphne took a deep breath, gathering her thoughts. She smiled. There she was, her fearless savior.

“We had dinner together. I would have stayed later, but I had to get to work early the next morning,” the lies were coming easier now. “I almost wish I had stayed. Maybe if I had been there…maybe then this wouldn’t have happened. Maybe…I could have done something to stop it.”

Daphne’s eyes glistened as she bit her lip uncertainly. She knew how to play this game. “I know I should have come to you sooner, but…I just couldn’t. I couldn’t. It was too much. I couldn’t believe he was really….gone.” She stayed strong despite her grief.

The detective sat there silently, giving Daphne her space.

“I know it’s difficult,” the detective finally said. “But I need you to walk me through exactly what happened that night. I need your help.”

Daphne nodded silently. She was in the zone now, she could make this work. But she’d have to be careful, thoughtful.

She didn’t trust this woman.

***
Detective Jones waited patiently. She’d smoked out criminals before and this would be no different.

Be calm. Be polite. Be observant. Don’t force it. It was like playing chess. And Detective Jones was very good at playing chess. She smiled.

“I’m not implying anything. We’re just trying to piece together the timeline from that night. Neighbors saw you enter the apartment. What time would you say you got there?”

The woman she was interviewing responded – a little too precisely. Detective Jones made her face a mask, trying not to reveal her hand.

Everything told her that this woman knew more than she was saying, that she herself was likely the killer. But she’d have to get there in time. She didn’t have enough yet.

Jones listened with detached compassion as the woman told her story, shared her grief. It seemed so real, but something was off.

She took a deep breath, focusing her mind. She could do this, she knew. Just a little further.

“I know it’s difficult,” Dective Jones said “But I need you to walk me through exactly what happened that night. I need your help.”

She sat back and listened, thoughtfully, carefully.

She didn’t trust this woman.

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Effortless

There’s an ideal of effortlessness that is simple unobtainable.

I was never very good at social interactions, so I used to watch people closely – so I could learn what a person was supposed to do.

Around about high school or middle school, I distinctly remember thinking that this is how girls were supposed to act:

  • Eat junk food
  • Talk proudly about how you eat whatever you want, and down on all those body shamers who would dare to tell  you otherwise
  • Be really skinny

I never really figured out how people managed to do all three of those things. I was pretty good at those first two, but was shocked at the number of people who seemed to manage all three.

As an adult I see a similar trend in house upkeep and other adult-y activities.

You should complain about how difficult it is to keep your house in order, but your house should still be in order.

I don’t know if this is a gendered thing, though certainly many of my interactions on this topic have been gender biased.

But it’s interesting to me that there should be such an urge. I suppose nobody wants to be the kid at the front of the class who has their hand raised for every question, but must we always be both the kid who gets all As while simultaneously vocally complaining about how challenging the work is?

That seems like an effort in futility, but it also seems like the norm.

Be perfect, but effortlessly. All while complaining about how difficult it is.

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Footprints in the snow

It seems that footprints in the snow are often used as a metaphor for individualism.

It describes those eerie and magical moments when you find yourself alone on a moonscape, forging ahead into unexplored territory. When everything’s quiet except the pattering of snow and the whispering of wind. When the world has been transformed into a sea of semi-coherent shapes. When it seems as though you are the last living being on earth, leaving only footprints as a mark of your existence.

But I see footprints in the snow as a metaphor for community.

Walking through a snow storm last night and through the aftermath this morning, I was very thankful for other people’s footprints.

The places where no one had shoveled, so the only path was the malformed imprints left from pedestrians shuffling past. The curb cuts where the snow was so high the first brave explorer must have plunged in knee deep, leaving a foot-sized clearing of compressed snow for the rest of us to follow.

I don’t know the faces of those who came before me, but I literally follow in their footsteps as we collectively carve a path.

When I’m wearing good boots and feeling energetic, I make a point to step on the piles of snow still blocking the way.

Through this, I hope, those who follow can benefit from my footprints, just as I benefited from the footprints before me.

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Children Know Best

Too often youth engagement seems tacked on, or pointed to with feigned enthusiasm like the end of a Mentos commercial.

Adults start cooing about how isn’t it just great that there are young people involved. Their perspective is just so fresh. If only more young people could be like these young people or if only we could get more young people to want to come to these discussions. Please, young person, tell us what we should do to make more young people like you.

That’s about when it gets awkward. If it wasn’t awkward already.

Adults seem awfully fake when they talk like that. Like they’re talking to a baby. Or a puppy. Adults don’t talk to people they see as peers that way.

This upset me when I was younger, and truth be told, it still upsets me now.

This morning I was struck by a memory from elementary school. We used to periodically have some kind of team building consultant come in and you know, team build or something.

The adults loved it. The kids hated it.

Honestly, I don’t remember much about it except that I thought it was stupid and I thought the guy who led it was a total fake. And I remember raising a little bit of hell over it. Not too much, though, it wasn’t that bad.

And my elementary school encouraged that kind of behavior. If you weren’t happy about something you should speak up. Polite-(ish)-ly and vocally. We won a few battles. We lost many more. But it was always clear that advocating for ourselves and those around us was expected.

As I thought about it this morning, it suddenly seemed very odd that these adults who had encouraged us to become radicals, to never comprise our integrity, to always question authority – these same adults would be so enthusiastic about some phoney team-building business guy.

Oh adults, where did you guys go wrong?

Here’s what I thought: Practicality it the enemy of the radical.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become more concerned with the practical, often to the detriment of the radical. I’m unlikely to do something radical, because I’m overly concerned with doing something practical. What’s the long-term impact? What’s the strategic thing to do?

Everything is very serious and adult-y.

As an adult, I’ve been conditioned to think in terms of the practical. To be overly-concerned with the little details.To be very thoughtful about how words and actions will be interpreted. To be careful not to rock the boat, or perhaps, to only rock it carefully, strategically.

These are useful skills, and I’m glad I have them. But I wonder if I lost myself in there somewhere.

I used to laugh at the commuters who would run to catch their train in the morning. So busy. So caught up in their little lives. I used to promise myself I’d never be so self-absorbed.

But I have run for the train. I have important things to do, after all.

It’s like I’ve learned to lie to myself in a way I couldn’t do before. I was much more genuine then. Now it’s all just a show.

So really, we should probably let non-adults run the world.

Honestly, I think they’d be better at it.

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Power

During my sophomore year of high school, I saw the same girl at the same time every day. Our PE classes were at the same time, and our lockers were right next to each other.

We never spoke.

Having limited social skills and being not so great at the whole high school thing, I quietly ignored her while silently hoping that some day she might say hi to me.

While the elusive rules of high school socializing were mysterious to me, I knew enough to not initiate contact with someone above my station. Since I was, or thought I was, a nobody in high school, I dutifully remained silent.

It was really awkward.

I mean, we we’re right next to each other, and through no word or glance would we acknowledge eachother’s existence.

It’s possible my thoughts became less than charitable. I mean, yeah, I was a nobody, but was I really so low as to be practically invisible? It was ridiculous. What was that girl’s problem, anyway?

Months went by.

Then one day I realized. All I knew about her was that she was in a PE class for Freshmen. All she knew about me was that I was an a PE class for anyone but Freshmen. For all she knew, I could be a senior with the run of the school.

Never in a million years would that girl say hi to me.

I was the one with the power.

It took me about six months to figure this out because it honestly never crossed my mind that I could be the one with higher social standing. I mean, really.

There’s a tendency, I’ve noticed, to think about power as a binary state. The Haves and the Have Nots. Those who rule and those who are ruled. Us and Them.

But that’s not really acurate.

We all have power sometimes. Whether we like it or not, every interaction has a power dynamic and in some of those interactions – perhaps just a few – you will have power.

Some of us are just so beat down and used to not having power that it can be hard to recognize those fleeting moments when you do have power.

It’s important to me to remember this.

Because as much as we talk about building power to fight power, we also must be sure to recognize our own power. Because whether we like it or not, the person with power sets the tone.

Only by recognizing your power can you change the power dynamic. Otherwise, you’re just the person in power that others need to build power against.

Making the world better isn’t just about building power and advocating for change. If we’re truly going to affect change, we must each intentionally recognize those moments when we individually have power. And we must use those moments to share our power as best we can.

And as for that girl in high school – yes, of course I said hi to her.

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Fiction Friday: The Villain, Part II

Fiction Friday continues.

***
Remorse had started to creep in.

At first it was only a tiny pang of nothingness. A blind spot. Rough and calloused around the edges, but easily ignored.

But every day that hole grew bigger.

She’d wake in the morning and see his face. She’d catch glimpses of him while she walked down the street. See him smiling one moment, then broken and lifeless the next. And it only made the emptiness grow.

Daphne wondered blandly if this is how other people reacted – or would react if they did such a thing.

She’d expected it to be different. After she murdered Carlos, she’d felt – briefly – so alive. That moment was a flash a brilliance in her dull, grey, life and she’d thought, just for a moment, she thought she’d never feel so empty again.

She expected to feel terrible or exhilarated. To hate herself or feel the rush of pride. She expected to feel… something. You don’t just kill someone and walk away the same.

But Daphne felt empty now, just as she’d felt empty before.

Some days she’d tell herself that she was a mastermind. She’d gotten away with it. No one knew it was her. It proved she could do anything. She could outwit them all.

Other days she’d say she was terrible. The villain of the story if there were to be one. A vile creature hardly earning the status of humanity.

But whatever stories she told herself, they’d never ring true.

Some days she’d stand in the bathroom for hours, staring at herself in the mirror. Wondering if there was a person under that skin somewhere or just a malfunctioning robot. That would explain a lot.

Some days she wouldn’t get out of bed, passing the time just laying there for hours, staring at the ceiling. No movement, no thought.

She started to realize she needed help.

She couldn’t quite say when she realized it. But one morning she woke up, and…really woke up.

As if she’d had a dream where she’d cried uncontrollably for hours while sticking her hand in a flame to make herself feel better. A dream where she was repulsed by what she was, trying to destroy herself because she knew she was beyond redeeming. A dream where the emptiness swallowed her whole, where she simultaneously felt the lash of self-loathing and the cool relief of nothingness, as though no pain could ever touch her again.

It felt like a dream. Had she really done those things? She couldn’t remember. Not really, anyway. She remembered it like a book she’d once read. The actions were there, but not the feelings. Had that really been her?

Almost in a trance she got herself up to go to the local mental health clinic.

She could talk to someone there. Maybe they could help her.

Probably not, she thought.

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Sorry/Thank You

As I walk to work or otherwise move from place to place, I find I often have a steady stream of internal dialogue about interacting with those around me.

This commentary usually starts with one of two words: sorry or thank you.

Sorry that the light changed when I was only halfway across the street, I thought I had enough time!

Thank you for slowing down so I wouldn’t have to wait in the rain to cross the street!

The list of sorrys and thank yous is seemingly infinite, but each of these interactions happens only in my mind. The people I’m “talking” to are transitory in my life, just as I am transitory in theirs. I never have the opportunity to actually say sorry or to actually say thank you.

This bothers me.

I often wonder what these fake friends of mine are thinking when we meet. When I’m thinking sorry, are they thinking, …damn pedestrian thinks they own the street…?

I hope not.

So this is what I think of when something happens like – when I have the walk light and someone’s stopped in the middle of the cross walk

Instead of thinking, damn drivers can’t pay attention to where they’re going, I assume they’re sending a silent sorry my way. And I think, no problem, man, we’re all a-holes sometimes. It’s all good.

Then next time I accidentally walk into oncoming traffic – which, you know, doesn’t happen a lot but isn’t like, outside the realm of possibility – then I send my silent sorry and I imagine them saying back, no problem, man, we’re all a-holes sometimes.

It’s all good.

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9 Books

I’ve been challenged, via Facebook, to “list 9 books that have stayed with you in some way.” Since I’m incapable of doing something like that without comment, I figured this was a better forum for me.

So, in to particular order:
1. Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There, Lewis Carrol
When I was growing up. I had a copy of both Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I read it over and over again. I still have the book, but I believe some of the pages have fallen out. As a “talent show” trick, I used to recite The Jabberwock in Pig Latin.

2. The Stranger, Albert Camus
I read this in high school, and it was the first Camus I read. My English teacher at the time believed that Meursault’s emotional detachment made him a bad person. But I always read it differently. Meursault’s emotional detachment is a reasonable reaction to a terrible, broken world. Meursault is a “bad” person because he chooses to be a bad person. No one (or no being) is telling us what to do. All we have is ourselves.

3. The Ballad of Reading Gaol, Oscar Wilde
This is cheating a bit since it’s a poem, but after reading several, lighthearted Oscar Wilde plays, I was shocked to learn this dark, beautiful poem, which I read in middle school, was written by the same man. Wilde wrote the poem after being imprisoned for being gay. I used to know the whole poem by heart.

This too I know—and wise it were 
If each could know the same— 
That every prison that men build 
Is built with bricks of shame, 
And bound with bars lest Christ should see 
How men their brothers maim.

4. Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, Haruki Murakami
I read this in college, and it was my first Murakami. He writes metaphysical fiction. A little hard to explain, but interesting and mind-bending. The world is not always as it appears.

5. A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.
I read this in middle school because I’d been on a James Michener kick and a character in Space references this book through the line, “Blessed Saint Leibowitz, keep ’em dreaming down there.” It was among the first  post-apocalyptic books I read, and I found its metaphors of the cycle of birth and destruction to be quite powerful. In the end, it’s only the vultures who win.

6. The Prince, Niccolò Machiavelli
I read this book in college and thought it was hilarious. Just remember to do all the terrible things at once so later you can be nice and relax regulations a little. If you try to draw out all the terrible changes you want to make, your unpopularity will just continue to grow.

7. The Complete Works of Edgar Alan Poe
I couldn’t choose a specific Poe piece, so I had to go with the whole book. While I enjoy his short stories, I’ve always been more partial to his poetry. Particularly Annabelle Lee, and, because I enjoyed the cadence and its (relative) levity surprised me for Poe, The Bells.

Hear the sledges with the bells –
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells –
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells.


(Don’t worry, the story gets darker from there)

8. The Encyclopedia
I used to spend hours sitting in my basement reading the encyclopedia. I was really popular.

9. Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
I read this in middle school. And, unlike the terrible movie version, this book is very civic. In fact, nearly half the book takes place in a civics classroom. Really the whole book is just a discussion of what makes good citizens, what should be expected of good citizens, and how institutions should work to support good citizens. For some reason, I was really into thinking about that. Go figure.

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A Trick of the Light

This was the view out my office window this morning.

It was a little after 7. Still dark enough out that the street lamps were on, blazing brightly.

The construction site down the way had lights on as well. Not as bright from this distance, but enough to get them going in the dark. I’d just gotten in, but these workers had clearly been at it for awhile. The whole area was abuzz with the dull hum of machinery.

Just beyond that was a brilliant flash of orange and red. The sun was rising. A reflection from my view.

The world was alive. It was beautiful.

I took a picture.

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