Contemporary Fiction

      For the first time in years, Annalise picked up a pen - a real pen with ink - and placed it to paper. Real paper she could feel, smell, and flip the pages of. It felt wrong. She could hear her thoughts much too loudly with no media to fill it. No videos. No music. No games. Just her own thundering thoughts.

           Before deciding to do it, the idea of actually staying at a cabin in the woods with no internet, no friends, no entertainment other than a wall of old books, would have seemed ridiculous, impossible, and more than a little cliché. But this was the new big thing: sequester away with just yourself and your thoughts. Reconnect with your mind. Try the new experience: The Analog Getaway!

           Annalise was not one to turn down the latest and greatest luxury experiences – as a self-made influencer, she owed it to her followers to try the latest and greatest. But this… was not it.

           She had been thoroughly searched upon entry: no phones, laptops, tablets, handheld games, smart watches, smart glasses, nothing. The only thing she managed to bring in was an old video camera from the ‘90s. It was for the company’s benefit anyway – they were the ones giving her half-off of the nearly $4k price tag on the experience in exchange for sponsorship of her next video. Annalise made it her goal to film the whole thing so that she could make an entire video dedicated to the experience. The old camera was not ideal, but at least she could pretend to be livestreaming to keep the feeling of insanity from being alone away.

           “Hey everyone, and welcome to Everything Annalise, where I give you the scoop on all the latest trends and experiences. It’s day one at the Analog Getaway, the newest luxury experience. Do you need a detox from your phone, social media, and just the chaos of your everyday life? This is the place to go. This video is kindly sponsored by The Analog Getaway. For just $3,999.99, you can spend a week in the gorgeous Emerald Forests where you –”

           Beep beep beep!

           “Ugh, low battery already?” Annalise said out loud as she paused the recording and went to her too-small suitcase (mandated of course by the experience to be only airplane carry-on sized). She rummaged around to find the camera charger. She rummaged some more. Then she took everything out of the suitcase.

           “It’s not here!” Annalise anguished to herself.

           What was she going to do? The whole point of even being here was to make the stupid video. She didn’t want to spend an entire week without her phone or anything to do.

           Desperate, Annalise dug through her bag again, shaking out each piece of clothing and every bag of makeup. It wasn’t there. She just had to accept it.

           If she really wanted to, Annalise could leave, but she would not get her money back.

           So, without anything better to do, Annalise sat back down at the desk in the spacious living room, a fire crackling on the wall beside her, the warm lights shining down from the ceiling. She picked up the real pen, considered continuing the recording, but ultimately put the camera in the desk drawer. It wasn’t worth continuing if she couldn’t film everything. She guessed it really was going to be an analog week, and she’d figure something out when the time came to post the sponsored video.

           Exiting out of problem-solving mode, Annalise was once again left with her thoughts. She had read online somewhere that the best way to start writing was just to spitball three pages of freehand, putting down whatever came into her mind. She started with that first thought:

           I don’t know what to write.

           Off to a good start. Annalise hadn’t journaled in years, so she took the opportunity of having blank pages in front of her to start digging into the surface of what she was thinking and feeling. The closest thing she had done to this recently was probably posting on Twitter – but those comments were witty and over-edited – at least three steps of revisions away from her raw thoughts and feelings. Even her Youtube vlogs that feigned authenticity were all part of her online persona. The Annalise online was funny, relatable and always excited about something. But when the camera was off, the Annalise that was left – the analog Annalise, if you will – was much more . . . sad. Numb more than anything. She had plenty of friends online but barely anyone in the real world she could get coffee or go shopping with. The analog Annalise was lonely. Looking for meaning in life.

           It’s been a while since I’ve really written anything about how I’m doing. I’m not doing great. I wonder what I would be writing right now if the camera was on me. Would I even show what I’m writing? Would it change if I knew people could see it? Probably.

           Annalise paused and took a moment to look out the window. The trees around her were a calming sight, a huge difference from the city skyline that she looked out at every day from her studio apartment. The trees seemed to mock her with their calmness. Their ability to be still and not prove anything to anybody stood for everything she was not. Annalise thought of her mother, always doing some kind of yoga retreat or health cleanse. She always took care of herself and didn’t care what others thought of her. She always hoped that Annalise would be the same.

           “That’s enough for now,” Annalise said to the empty room and mostly empty sheet of paper. She got up from the chair and walked over to the small kitchen. Ahead of time, Annalise had been able to request what food she wanted stocked for the week, so she was able to put together a plate of cheese and crackers and a pickle for a snack. She once again wondered if she would choose something different had the camera been rolling.

           A few weeks ago, Annalise had tried going vegan for the sake of a video. According to the video, she had been successful, showing meals of smoothies and salads, impossible burgers and fake cheese pizzas. But in reality, analog Annalise helped herself to milk and butter and eggs and chicken, unable to bear parting with her favorite foods, and only feeling a little bit guilty for not being truthful in her video. What did it matter anyway? Everyone lies on the internet.

           Annalise wanted nothing more than to scroll on TikTok or watch a dumb TV show like RuPaul’s Drag Race or The Bachelor while she had her snack. Eating was always a time when Annalise liked to multitask and shut her brain off for a little bit, just enjoying her food and keeping her mind off of the nagging thoughts of what kind of content she should make next, or how many emails she had to respond to. Without the electronic fodder, Annalise did think of these things: of how she was missing out on an entire week of posting, of responding to important emails, and of catching up on her favorite shows.

           The silence was uncomfortable. Annalise finished her snack quickly and returned to the desk. At least with the pen and paper, she could get the thoughts out of her head.

           I don’t know what I’m doing. My channel has over a million subscribers now and it doesn’t even feel like an accomplishment anymore. What’s next, another million? Who cares about some girl trying dumb things. My life would be completely different if I wasn’t always filming myself. I’d have more time to just do the things I like. I could try, I don’t know, dancing again? Playing the guitar? I liked doing that as a kid. But now all I feel like I can do is make TikToks and try these products and getaways I don’t even like. Why am I even here?

           Annalise sat back, feeling her anger and sadness build up within her chest. She felt it travel up through her neck, her cheekbones, and then pulsate behind her eyes. She was going to cry. Thank God the camera wasn’t on.

           For the first time in what felt like forever, Annalise let the tears come. She let them fall down her face, intermingling with snot coming out of her nose. She didn’t even care as sobs started to rip from her chest, coming out as ugly sounds through her mouth. She must look so ugly. But there was no one there to see it. She was just there to feel it. Annalise felt the emotions she kept at bay with distractions. She cried and cried and wrote some more. About how she missed her family. How she might want a cat someday. How maybe she should be done with being an influencer. But she knew she didn’t need to decide anything now. She just needed to let it all out.

After what seemed like hours, Annalise put the pen down and went to the bathroom for some toilet paper to blow her nose and wipe her eyes – since for some ungodly reason, there were no tissues in this cabin. She felt like a weight had been lifted off her chest. A nice nap seemed well deserved. So, for the rest of the day, Annalise took to the bed and let herself sleep. She woke up a few hours later to a darkened sky. She took a shower and picked up one of the books from the large wall. It was still so quiet, but she was getting used to it – maybe even starting to like it. She now felt a sense of clarity and calmness in her mind and enjoyed the fact that there was nothing she needed to be doing at that moment.

Annalise enjoyed the rest of her evening, and the day after, and each day of the week-long retreat. She wrote, read, made cookies, and even made up some dances in the living room, feeling free from judgement and the pressure of doing anything other than being herself.

On the last day of the Analog Getaway, Annalise felt a sense of sadness to be leaving this place where she had remembered who she was without all of the usual distractions that surrounded her. This time had been a complete surprise. It was supposed to just be another excursion for the sake of a video. But it truly had been more than that. She felt grateful that the silly charger hadn’t made its way into her bag.

When Annalise returned home, she couldn’t help but check up on all of her social media feeds to make sure she hadn’t missed anything. Miraculously, she had missed nothing. Or, she supposed it wasn’t miraculous. Nothing could be that important, really. She spent most of the day indulging in the things she had missed: TV shows, video games, and music. In the evening, Annalise sat down to begin making her video on her experience at the Analog Getaway. She watched through the footage she had – only about a minute of her sitting at the desk – and watched a person who felt so far away from the person she was now.

Annalise set up her camera (her modern camera that had been charging the whole time she was gone) and began filming.

“Hey everyone, it’s Annalise. You all may know that this video is sponsored by the Analog Getaway, a week-long experience that I tried out. I was in a cabin by myself with practically nothing but my thoughts. And believe it or not, I feel like a completely new person. I was able to really sit down with how I’m thinking and feeling without any distractions or expectations from anyone else. I felt like I learned how to be myself again. What I’ve learned from this experience is that sometimes you need to take some time away from social media, and just listen to yourself. I think . . . I think this is going to be my last video for a while. I need to take some more time just to figure out what I want and who I am. I hope you’ll understand.”

Annalise turned off the camera and took out a pen and paper. And began to write.

February 10, 2023 18:56

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Wendy Kaminski
03:21 Feb 17, 2023

I really liked how you conveyed in this story just how frenetic and pointless our social media lives have become: it's camera on, self off... and it's affected a large percentage of the population, with its dopamine spikes. I even get that here, which isn't a social media site, per se, when I see the little yellow dot on my notifications, indicating there are new ones. Exciting! Too much of a good thing, though, can certainly warp our values and make our lives lesser. I think my favorite line/segment in this was her reality: "the analog An...


Paige Befeler
15:03 Feb 17, 2023

Thank you so much, Wendy! I really love the opening line, "For the first time in years, Annalise picked up a pen - a real pen with ink - and placed it to paper." I wrote this story while I myself have been getting back into writing, so there is a lot of me in Annalise in that we are both remembering how to tap into ourselves and our creativity while battling the many digital distractions around us. I really appreciate your feedback!


Wendy Kaminski
15:04 Feb 17, 2023

Agreed, that opening line was a fantastic grabber! And, my pleasure. :)


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