Ming Lan’s Guide to Social Media

The Story of Ming Lan is 2018 Chinese Drama about a Concubine’s Daughter in the Northern Song Dynasty and the challenges she faces in just the worst world. She’s clever and talented and quickly finds out that this is not as much of a blessing as one might expect. Because she wins a game of touhu, basically an old kind of horseshoes with arrows in pots, she draws attention to herself and then can reveal to her father that someone is stealing all the coal from her pregnant mother’s allotment. They are all shivering. This little bit of attention results in their trusted servant getting framed for the theft, and then her loss (and some other factors) later results in her mother’s miscarriage and death. And so, Ming Lan quickly, painfully learns how to hide.

Ming Lan's little mother gives dying advice: Don't stand out.

I am a person with a lot of social anxiety. My fears extend even online. I’m don’t like to speak until I’m spoken to, and who can ever find me? Not being seen is a specialty of mine, and as I’m watching this series, I’m identifying very strongly with this idea, that there’s little to gain from showing off, especially within a society that is both lavish and austere like theirs and ours. Ours is somewhat more accessible, and you can find your secret outlets without having to make a fuss, but also we are in an age where branding is a substitute for identity, and even rejecting that outright is pretentious. You have to participate somewhat. You like to like and subscribe at least, even if you’re not uploading reaction vids.

Ming Lan’s 4th older sister Molan follows the opposite path and demands all the attention she can get. She manipulates and begs and uses poetry and calligraphy as weapons for her own social betterment. She has her eye on all the eligible bachelors, who of course, focus on the gentle and demure Ming Lan. Ming Lan treats their attention as a burden, and rightly so. When Ming Lan receives presents from them, she knows it’s best to just distribute them to her sisters instead of keeping them for herself, as the cost for having nice things is the jealousy of her peers, and consequently their resentment and schemes. Instead, she develops a relationship with her grandmother, in private, away from prying eyes, and learns all the details about the world and how it works from someone wise.

She learns not to envy. Perhaps some freedom to move around and play polo as well as she can without worrying would be nice, but once anyone sees you asserting yourself, if they don’t feel you deserve your social cache, they want to take you down a notch, like being in a position gets you tangible rewards. Once the nazis and the terfs find your twitter, there is no negotiation. But you have to participate in society somehow, right?

Ming Lan, kneeling, says: Our Reputation is easily ruined.

I’m sure she has more to teach me. I’m not done with the series yet. It’s very long. For now, I just want to focus on the trusted people around me and not worry about building a public persona. One will eventually come about I’m sure if I continue to focus on my own interests, just as Ming Lan came to be in one of the most popular television series in the world, with over 400 million people watching it in its first three days. I am more of a coward than Ming Lan, and I don’t want that kind of attention, but I do trust her mother’s message of safety. For now, I will just stay on this boat and cry.

#chinese-dramas, #ming-lan, #personal, #social-anxiety, #social-media

Introvert

A robin, hopping around a mushroom, seemed unconcerned with food for the moment, more interested in the little shade that had sprung from the earth. The lip was high enough off the ground that she could fit underneath, and this concept seemed fresh and new. She jumped from the sun to the shade and back into the sun, unsure what she liked most.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing there?” The man was trying to disguise the contempt of his voice in big avuncular tones. Amy appreciated the effort, but he was still a feral pig coming straight for her.

“Just watching,” she replied. He wanted to know what she was watching, but the man’s bounding enthusiasm had startled the bird, who was gone. Amy didn’t know enough about mushrooms to pretend she was noting a rare species, and said nothing.

“You’re on my property, so I’d appreciate if you finished up your business and went home.” He wobbled away, through the grass, leaving piles of powdered mushroom in his wake.

The party was a few houses down. College students pecked at each other against every hard surface. Their bodies were pressed together, one hand apiece free for red cups of cheap, available beer, which they sipped alternating with faces.

“Well look who it is!”

“Where’d you come from?”

All her friends were so young. After the initial surprise of seeing her, they put a drink in her hand and went back to their own peer group.

“Let me introduce you. This is Amy. She’s an artist.” The student looked from Amy’s feet to her chest and walked away, shrugging.

Amy sat outside, in the grass recently watered with beer and vomit. “Why don’t you come out more often?” someone said.

#agoraphobia, #artist, #birds, #introvert, #microfiction, #party, #quiet, #social-anxiety, #social-phobia

Considerate

Because he was little more than a waste of resources, the only socially responsible action for Peter to take was ending his own life. He’d thought about it in the soundest of minds. Even at the height of his potential, if he produced whatever goods or services he was capable of producing, he would continue to remain a net drain on the economy and the environment for the foreseeable future.

He told this to a friend and was told to seek counseling. He tried to explain, he wasn’t depressed. He was only stating facts.

“I can’t believe you’d be so selfish that you’d even think about killing yourself. What about the people who care about you?”

Peter nodded, and waited.

After they had drifted apart, Peter crossed his friend’s name off a list.

He came out to his parents, and thankfully, they disowned him. He crossed them off, too.

The last of his connections was his landlady, who made gentle smalltalk whenever she saw him. When he stopped paying rent, she stopped talking, and changed the locks. Peter had left his list inside. It would likely be incinerated.

Severed at last from responsibility, Peter was ready, though unsure of the proper method. Subjecting an innocent bystander to the trauma of finding his lifeless body would be too cruel, and if his obituary was published, some empathetic auld acquaintance might feel some slight despair. Dying would not be enough. He could not be found or recognized. He had to destroy himself.

The pain was terrific, but he felt so much safer knowing that his teeth no longer matched the dental records, and that the acid had left his fingers nothing but bones. Anchor on his ankle, he was ready to disappear.

The fish who saw him looked alarmed. He was sorry.

#dead, #denial, #lonely, #microfiction, #missed-connections, #practical, #social-anxiety, #suicide

Robustness (part 8)

After a certain amount of time, possibly ten minutes, possibly a half hour, Ezekiel realized that the train hadn’t made any stops. No one around him seemed to notice or care, but he hadn’t seen any landmarks go by, and became worried. Nothing denoted that they were even moving forward except the side-to-side wobble that threw him off-balance and into various laps.

He knew the thought was crazy. Any conspiracy is crazy, but maybe the train wasn’t moving. He watched the window more carefully. Lights flashed by in rhythm, steadily enough that he heard music in his head. A piece of graffiti for The Young Guns flashed by every few measures. They were either a gang or a band, maybe both. Most bands were gangs. Violence is the closest harmony.

“Would you sit down and stop dancing for one minute?” Leslie growled from her seat. Ezekiel looked down at his shoes, now firmly planted on the Metro carpet.

“Okay,” he said, and he approached her. Now that his friend was awake, he told himself to stop worrying about the eternity of their journey. He could worry about that later. He wanted to talk to her, and began to speak.

“So, does this train usually make stops?”

“No, you have to use the emergency stop there,” she replied, and pointed. She seemed like she was joking, and Ezekiel chuckled a little. “No, you do. You’ve really been gone a long time, haven’t you? The train doesn’t stop unless you break the glass and pull the cord that says ‘Do not touch.’ Don’t you know anything?”

She rolled over and went back to sleep. Ezekiel noticed himself starting to dance again, and needed a hammer.

#civil-disobedience, #eternity, #fiction-in-parts, #social-anxiety, #stuck, #train, #urban

God

Just as he said the word “darkness,” the power went out. His parishioners called it a miracle. Reverend Gupton was grateful for the vote of confidence, but he found it hard to believe that God would waste a miracle on such measly punctuation.

God, however, knew that such a petty miracle would throw him off Her scent. For years, the Reverend Gupton had had been drawing attention to Her work, even though She did everything in her power to assert Her non-existence.

In his next sermon, She flooded the bathroom. He was talking about Moses in the desert. The church considered it another miracle anyway, and attendance soared.

For the next few Sundays, anytime he mentioned evil, or demons, or anything regarding the nether world, She sent sun through the windows, into Rev. Gupton’s face. He held his hand to the light.

“It’s just coincidence,” he said eventually, from the pulpit. “God isn’t trying to impress any of us. If anything, He wants us to focus on what’s in front of us, not on lofty possibilities.”

She didn’t disagree with his point. He was entirely correct about her and her views. However, putting her intentions out like that made her feel incredibly self-conscious. Not to mention, he was robbing people of their own insights.

She rearranged a few trees so that the light gave him the appearance of horns. A few concerned gasps drew attention to the sight, and the shadow moved with him.

“For the last time,” he said, “this isn’t God. God doesn’t exist!”

She turned her attention away from the preacher, just as She hoped he’d do it return. It’s hard to be yourself while anyone’s watching.

#agoraphobia, #blasphemy, #god-is-love, #microfiction, #pascals-other-wager, #pascals-wager, #social-anxiety, #social-phobia, #theology

Robustness (part 3)

Ezekiel resented privacy, the entire idea of it. He thought about this in public restrooms, how social convention dictates that some behaviors be done in secret. At ten years old he’d had the thought: what if no one else takes off their clothes in the shower? What if that’s just my crazy family? People might think we’re crazy. How would I even know?

A man nodded at him at the sink, and he realized that he had made eye contact while his mind was on other things. While he wasn’t paying attention, he’d studied the man’s face and taken in his wardrobe, down to the hole in the elbow and the open fly. With an empty face, he flicked the water off his hands and tried not to look around. The man was watching him with some curiosity. Ezekiel cleared his throat, expecting him to turn away.

“Well?” the man said.

Ezekiel coughed again. “Excuse me.”

He was done washing his hands, but he didn’t feel he could leave without seeming like he was trying to get away. He put on his headphones, though he didn’t have any music, and moved his body to the music he didn’t have.

“Well, take care,” he said as he left. The man didn’t bother replying.

Ezekiel resented privacy, how it was wasted on the wrong bodily functions. He only wanted it for thought.

#awkward, #bathrooms, #privacy, #social-anxiety

Celebrity

Though she had her collar pulled around her face and generic dark glasses over her eyes, glances accumulated as she emptied her cart onto the conveyor belt. Soon a normal would say something.

“Is that Nancine?”

“I think so!”

She pretended not to hear. She had headphones on after all, giant 1980s style cans. How much of her face did she have to cover before she could hide?

Reaching for the divider, she looked up at the tabloids, just to see what they were saying about her today.

“Nancine Snubs Lovers, Buys Cucumbers”

“Is the icon out of touch with salad trends?”

The cashier made no comment as he bagged her produce. He wished her a good weekend in a welcome, impersonal way.

On the news that night, he described the interaction as “forced.” The newscaster pressed him for more details, and he gave them, describing her clothes and her furtive, prey-animal movements.

“Do you think she’s hiding something?”

“Almost definitely.”

Nancine took another bite of her cucumber sandwich and changed the channel. Some pundits were debating whether her friends had abandoned her or she had abandoned her friends. Had they simply drifted apart? Somebody must know.

The noise of the debate put her to sleep. Tomorrow she would call someone, she told herself. She didn’t have the energy today, but tomorrow, she would.

#absurd, #celebrity, #microfiction, #mundane, #social-anxiety, #social-phobia

Tiny Dragons

His phone was ringing. Gerry didn’t mind calls, especially on a Friday night at home, but Fjorik’s nostrils flared, and it was best not to challenge Fjorik. Bjornhard and Thuumbrig were more agreeable, but Gerry doubted he would challenge them either.

The phone rang again. Somehow it sounded more urgent this time. Gerry picked it up and looked at the display. Holding his breath, he accepted the call. Fjorik rolled over onto his knee.

“Hey, Nancy. What’s going on?” She had nothing prepared. She had called just to talk. He had nothing prepared either, but now they were talking.

“How’s your mother? Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. Lots of people go through worse though, so I wouldn’t worry too much.” Bjornhard lifted an eyebrow. Thuumbrig turned his head. “Yeah, I’m great. I couldn’t complain if I tried, not that I’m going to try.”

Fjorik was squinting. Every word Gerry said irritated him more.

Gerry wanted to end the conversation, but it hadn’t really begun. He couldn’t well hang up until the call had been justified.

“So do you have any plans tonight?” he heard himself say. He couldn’t believe he said it. The three ancient beasts lifted their eyes and stared Gerry straight in the throat. Thuumbrig sharpened his claws against the scales on his opposite forearms. Fjorik spit a tiny flame that Gerry swatted out with his free hand. He swallowed. “That sounds nice. I’d love to come, I really would. But I’m afraid I have other plans tonight.”

Some other time.

Together, the wyrms closed their eyes, and curled their necks downward, at peace. Gerry reached out to pet them, but they didn’t like to be touched.

He crossed his arms and held himself close.

#absurd, #agoraphobia, #awkward, #dragons, #microfiction, #mythical-creatures, #social-anxiety, #social-phobia