Ex-Sanity (Insomnia, Installment 13)

It was, what – twenty minutes ago? ten? probably less than that – she was desperately missing her ex-boss, her ex-home, her whole ex-life.

But everything is relative. Now she would welcome even the recent boss, home, and life she had rapidly grown to despise.

She looks around, disbelieving.

All of it.

Gone.

Insomnia Christopher Michel Wikimedia Commons
Christopher Michel

 

This is a Six Sentence Stories installment. The cue was “ex.”

Click here for Installment 12.

Click here for Installment 14.

Click here for Six Sentence Stories from other writers.

 

Seattle: Home for Your Resting Bitch Face

A man stepped on to the already crowded elevator car, smiling and apologizing as everyone squeezed together to make room.  Then he addressed me directly: “Oh, thank you for that. You were the only one who smiled.” Another woman immediately took him to task, defending people here in the commerce district who are too busy and stressed, trying to keep their jobs in these tough times. Ain’t nobody got time for that smiling shit.

Not in Seattle, anyway.

Still quite pleasant, the man said,  “Oh, I don’t know. I work two jobs and I can still smile. I just moved here and I’ve never seen such a place where people won’t smile at you.”

This really got the woman defensive. No doubt she’s heard this particular complaint before, and doesn’t like her city dissed.

“I moved here three years ago and I know what you mean,“ I said to him, when she paused for breath.

“Rude,” he mouthed at me, still smiling. I nodded, smiled back. The woman went right on lecturing, making his point for him. “Good luck to you, and keep smiling,“ I said as I left the elevator.

Here’s what I would have told him if we hadn’t been smooshed into an enclosed space with a whole bunch of (most likely) Seattleites: It’s called the Seattle Freeze, and it’s a real thing.  A counselor I was seeing told me about it. How nice to learn I wasn’t crazy – at least, not about that.

It’s true. Walk down the street in Seattle, smile at people. They’ll look affronted, or like you’re crazy, maybe even walk a little wider as they pass you. If they do smile back, there’s a grudging air about it, like “Oh, all right.” There’s a woman who has waited at my Metro stop every single morning for the last six months. Daily contact, same time, same place, we live in the same damned building. Once or twice I’ve smiled at her. She just looks back down at her phone. One time I ventured to say, “Good morning.” That at least got her expression to change. Her eyes widened. Then she looked back down at her phone without a word. I haven’t spoken in her presence since. Whew. Glad that tension’s gone.

It’s not that the people are complete assholes. If a woman slips on the ice they’ll help her up, help her to a seat, get her a cup of coffee (this is Seattle; you can’t throw a stick without hitting a coffee house). They’ll stop and give a dollar to the homeless guy on the corner and maybe buy him a cup of coffee (see previous statement about stick-throwing). If you’re running to make the bus, other passengers will get the driver’s attention to wait for you. They won’t speak or smile once you’re on, but they’ll help hold the bus. It’s the weirdest damned thing.

All this time I can’t help thinking there’s such a thing as manners. Perhaps not on the street, no, I guess I can see that, but surely in an office? For a while I worked at a law firm that shared space with two other firms. As I saw people in the community mail/copy or break rooms, I would greet them. It’s what people do, right?

Not in Seattle. I figured I was imagining the repeated looks I got in return, like I was a cockroach in the coffee pot. Then I was informed by my boss that there had been complaints that I was too personal. Seriously? Well, all right then. No, I don’t wish anybody a good morning after all. I take it back. So sorry.

That’s when my shrink lady told me about the Seattle Freeze. I’ve heard it attributed to the high Nordic strain in the people here, an aloofness that comes from natives of the Great White North. I’ve heard it’s a throwback to the pioneer spirit. Pioneer spirit, my left ass cheek; this entire country was populated by pioneers. I’ve heard it blamed on the high ratio of nerdy, introverted tech people, and on the depressing weather, and because Seattle natives already have friends. Well, yes, but people everywhere already have friends, but they’ll be pleasant, even welcoming, other places I’ve been.

No, I maintained. Seattle doesn’t exist in a bubble. People here have had enough exposure to the rest of the world to learn some friggin’ manners. When you’re in a shared space and someone greets you pleasantly, looking down your nose like the Dowager Countess when a village peasant dares to speak to you — that’s just plain rude.

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Pixabay/Skitterphoto. CCO Public Domain.

But, on the other hand. There’s always that other hand. That’s why we have two of them. I grew up in a small ranching and farming community in the high desert of northern Nevada. People would come to visit and ask if we actually knew all these people we passed while out driving. Nope, we’d answer. “You wave at people you don’t know?” Yep. People wave there. They just do, whether they know you or not. They’ll even wave if your license plate is from out of state; hell, they might wave harder. It’s just how it’s done there.

Almost thirty years ago now, about an hour after my father passed away, I went to gas up my Jeep preparatory to anything I might need to handle. The man taking my money to start the pump pulled what men have probably been pulling on women since language was invented: “Why don’t you smile, honey?”

“My dad died,” I replied shortly.

He looked stunned, then abashed, then apologized for being an insensitive jerk. He should have. It’s none of his business whether I smile or not, and it shouldn’t take a gaffe like that for him to realize it. My face was not created to please him and is mine to do with as I wish. Exchanging pleasantries brightens our days, but no, it’s not mandatory. Nobody has the right to demand that anyone else smile, especially when it’s a thinly-veneered come-on. (And “my dad died” is the answer I now give to any man who tries that crap on me. I’m not lying when I say it. He did die. Not an hour ago, but he died. Shuts ’em right up.)

So, I have to be fair about it. If it’s none of anybody else’s business whether I smile, then it’s none of mine if anyone else does. Whether it’s because they have a migraine or because they’re a Seattle native, it’s their right to not smile or return greetings. It does make it pretty much impossible to make friends, but how handy I’m so highly introverted as to be abnormal. And since I’ve been here, I’ve never once been taken to task for my Resting Bitch Face.

Still.

As I said, it’s none of anybody else’s business if I smile. I may have a terminal case of RBF, but I do also make an effort to be cheerful with the people I see every day, as we share commutes and living and working space. Sometimes I want to be cheerful for me.

Good sodding morning to you, Seattle. And I’m going to smile when I say it, whether you like it or not.

Going in Circles (Jane Doe Flash Fiction)

Carrot Ranch Communications April 20 prompt: April 20, 2016 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less) write about a circle. Is it a supportive circle, or a circle that entraps? What’s its significance?

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Pixabay CCO Public Domain.

“Don’t be shy,” the woman calls, beckoning her forward.

Jane edges in. Should she be here? Money’s tight, she could use the free meal, but she’s not too sure about God anymore. Such a hypocrite.

“Just join in our circle before we dish up.” The woman points to several people already seated on the floor. “You don’t need to be a church member, don’t even need to pray. Fellowship means sharing yourself. That’s all we ask. Just sit with us before we all eat. No strings.”

Well, they are like her. What else can she lose? Jane steps forward.

 

A King Ensnared by JR Tomlin (Book Review)

A King Ensnared (The Stewart Chronicles #1)A King Ensnared by J.R. Tomlin
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The writing is decent (typos notwithstanding, and there really has to be a way for self-publishing writers to eliminate all the errors that drive readers crazy), and as far as I can tell, the research is well done. But.

Other reviewers have praised the absence of too much exposition. That’s grand, if you know the history. For those of us with no knowledge of this era, some exposition would have helped. But that’s nothing when compared to the confusion of characters.

At one point it occurred to me that Prince Hal and Henry of Monmouth might have been the same person. Briefly researching it, I see the appellation “Prince Hal” was used by the character Falstaff in Shakespeare’s Henry V written roughly 150 years later. Was the real Henry V ever called Prince Hal? That might be a fairly large contextual error, and I could live with it, considering all the Henrys that pepper the story. By all means, call him Prince Hal even if it doesn’t really happen for at least another century, but please be consistent.

Then there is James’ brother, starved to death in the dungeons of the Duke of Albany. First he’s Davey, then he’s Robert. “Davey can’t be dead.” And a few sentences later: “[T]he Duke of Albany ordered Lord Robert starved to death.” James had never “seen Davey after Albany took him prisoner.” He dreams of “Robert in an oubliette, desperately gnawing his fingers…” And I’m thinking, why the hell is Lord Robert called Davey? Then I look it up and see James had two brothers, Robert and David; Robert died in infancy and David died under suspicious circumstances while a detainee of Albany (who is also named Robert).

It’s not my fault I’m confused.

The Douglas family clearly had different factions with different loyalties, so just plunging us into the middle of it was bewildering. All the Richards and the Williams and the Davids and the Henrys and Lord This, Earl of That, Duke of Somewhere Else. Yes, I’m aware that is how the aristocracy works, but someone coming to this more or less cold needs at least a rudimentary primer. Still, the biggest consideration is characterization. Who are they, as people? What is their relationship to James? What do they want? Why do they want it?

Even without all this character-muddling, the story is not terribly compelling. I’m one-third in and there’s been nothing but moving James from one castle to another. I’m not sure I’ll finish it, even if I can figure out who all these people are.

The Accidental Unplug

Due to a billing glitch, I’ve been without a cell phone for the last several days. I had no idea how dependent on that stupid little hand-held electronic gadget I’d become.

It takes me back to, oh, 1980 or so, when microwave ovens started becoming very popular. “Who on earth needs one of those?” I said. I didn’t get one until after my son was born in 1988, and even then I was scared to heat his bottles in it because of some story I’d heard somewhere about radiation or exoplanetary death rays or something. Now, of course, it would be difficult to live without a microwave. I almost did, back when I took my kids and left the Troll, taking few kitchen implements and little money, but my mom showed up at the doorstep of my new apartment with several bags of badly needed groceries, cleaning supplies, and — ta-daah! — a microwave oven. Moms, keeping us clean, fed, and civilized, since forever.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and I’m seeing all these cool people with their cell phones, on their hips in holsters, like six-shooters. “Good lord, no,” I said, more than once. I don’t like talking on the phone and will avoid it even when I’m stuck in the same room with one; why in hell do I want one everywhere I go? When I got my very first apartment, I didn’t have a phone, because the phone company wanted an outrageous deposit even though I worked for them. I didn’t care, but my mother was appalled. “What if a rapist breaks in? How will you call the police?” Umm right, Mom. I’m sure the rapist will stop and let me call the police, then rape me. Maybe I can hit him over the head with the phone. Whatever. Mom gave me the money for the deposit, I got a phone, and my world has seldom been entirely quiet since.

It looked exactly like this. Exactly. Even the color. It was usually unplugged. If people really wanted to talk to me, they could come over. Yes, I am an introvert. No, I never had to hit a burglar over the head with it, although I did throw it at a soon-to-be-ex-boyfriend once.

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Public Domain.

And eventually, like pretty much everyone I know, I gave in to the cell phone. The whole shebang, with music and the ‘net and a picture of the French raspberry tart I’m having for dessert and apps for every damn thing you can think of. I succumbed.

Just how far, I had not known.

So here I am, these last few days. No cell service. No checking email. No balance alerts from my bank. No playing Dumb Ways To Die while waiting for the bus. No Metro app, or plugging into Pandora to shut out the obnoxious drunk three rows behind me. No online Washington Post. No texting Monster when we’re both supposed to be working. No texting Dream Girl about what she wants for dinner and why she has to, for a few months more at least, consider finding x to be one of life’s most important missions. No graphing calculator website. No setting appointments and reminder alarms. No texts from the Tominator reminding me that I’m gawjuss. No writing flash fiction. No looking up microwave ovens on Google to see if they transmit radiation into baby bottles. No reserving books at the library, or putting my book down to look up an unfamiliar word or term. And if it weren’t for the small screen and my getting-old eyes, I’d read books on my phone too.

Just about the only thing I don’t do with my phone is talk. Some things don’t change.

Still. It’s a monster.

I’m maintaining well, all things considered. We switched from monthly plans for three different lines to a family plan, and the company ignored the two weeks we’d already prepaid and moved our payment due date up, but didn’t tell us any of that. Surprise, no phone! Yes, the Tominator talked to the nice woman at the local provider store (because the rep at 1-800-WE-SUCK cared not a whit) and got us the credit we deserve. But there’s all that inconvenience, all that missed communication, all that withdrawal. A credit, yes, thank you so much for the credit, but what about these days I’ve had to slog through with no phone? You can’t give that back to me!

Wait…give what back?

Well, instead of playing Zombie Highway at the Metro stop, I looked around at the trees and the morning sky and the moon, hanging low and fading. I closed my eyes and listened to the birds chirping. Instead of writing flash fiction in Google Docs, I wrote in a notebook, with a pen, and laughed because it felt like I was trying to draw hieroglyphs. I left the Tominator a note with x’s and o’s, instead of sending a text with a heart emoji. I read a real book, that smelled like binding glue and dusty paper and had that wondrous, solid, secret, book feel in my hands. OK, I do that a lot anyway, but still. It felt so 2005, you know? I checked email on my laptop at home. I didn’t read the news at all, and I’m pretty sure I didn’t miss much. I know the world didn’t end; it’s right there, outside my window. I didn’t see one word about Kim Kardashian anywhere. I feel lighter of heart.

Tomorrow is payday, and I should have my phone back in service.

Dammit.

But I do need to call my mom.

At Last (Insomnia, Installment 12)

The sense of vertigo finally subsides, perhaps only because “normal” is crying out to take over again. Maybe her mind has just decided to go back to something approximating sanity; there’s only so much of this a person can take, after all.

She straightens up slowly, lowering her arms from where they’d sheltered her head from being hit by…what? She’d had the distinct impression that the sky was falling, that the city was crumbling to bits around her, but she wasn’t hit by anything and there is no wreckage in the streets.

The mid-air shimmering has stopped, and the stronger, almost violent flickering slows down and gets weaker. She waits to be sure after the last one – a weak, barely-there flicker – but when it seems to be finally over, what she sees around her is far from “normal.”

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Stanza Mix 126 by Public Domain

This is a Six Sentence Stories installment. The cue was “last.”

Click here for Installment 11.

Click here for Installment 13.

Click here for Six Sentence Stories from other writers.

And hey! Check this out!!! When I was surfing around looking for illustrative photos that are in the public domain (which sometimes takes up the vast majority of my writing time and is why I’d really love to get better at my own photography), I found the above picture (duh) and this amazingly cool art project called Stanza wherein images are taken from city CCTV’s around Nottingham, England, are superimposed, and released into the public domain. I love the images, and the new take and thoughts it raises about the use of surveillance technologies.

Admission to the Feast by Gunnel Beckman (Book Review)

Admission to the FeastAdmission to the Feast by Gunnel Beckman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

death is only the bramble
round pellucid blooms
the dark jewel
that offers admission to the feast

This is another in the flurry of lost-love-books I’ve hunted down to reread. I read this back in high school, possibly even junior high, and it stayed with me. I hunted down a used copy to see if it’s still as powerful, and it is. Annika takes a few days to hide from her friends and family after finding out she is dying, telling her story in a letter to a friend, trying to get a grasp before “it wasn’t only my own despair, but theirs too.”

View all my reviews