Image Prompt 077 – Fog at the Dock and Sun at St. Ives

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It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

Image Prompt 077-01 Morning 05-08-27 003

Image Prompt 077-02 Day Two05-05-10 101 St Ives

Life in a Time of Pandemic: What is Normal?

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Before I get started, the usual caveat.  This post will be talking about the COVID-19 pandemic.  If that’s not something you are interested in thinking or reading about at the moment, please leave with my blessing.  I want my readers to take care of their mental health first and foremost.

I’m based in the US, where vaccines are fairly plentiful, and demand is fairly high to get them.  Yes, there are pockets of people who are suspicious, scared, or confused, who are choosing not to get vaccinated, but most people I know are doing so.  My entire family (whoa are old enough) have gotten the vaccine.  I’ve had my two doses, survived the side effects, and am now considered fully protected.  I even have a positive antibody test thanks to a recent blood donation, so I can attest to that part of the vaccine I got actually working.

I’m looking forward to being able to spend time with friends and family who are also vaccinated.  I’m looking forward to feeling safe going to the grocery store or doing other errands.  I’m even looking forward to going back to working in a physical office even though it means having a commute time again.

What I’m not looking forward to is the uncertainty, and the urge to go back to “normal” when that wasn’t a very great way for things to be.  I take public transit to work, so going back to the office means getting back on a public bus.  I’m more worried about that than I am any other part of returning to work.  I take an express regional route, so it’s mostly other commuters like me, who I expect are the kind of people who got vaccinated as soon as humanely possible.  But there are also students and other community members on the bus.  I don’t know if all of the other people on the bus with me will be vaccinated, which means I need to assume they aren’t.  That means masks will remain an important thing for my commute.  While the science so far indicates that I’m at a very low risk of catching or spreading the virus since I’m vaccinated, that chance isn’t zero.

This likely means that my normal is going to look a bit different from before.  I’m going to be taking a later bus into the office and a later bus home.  I’ll be working slightly outside the normal 8am-5pm business hours of my university staff job.  I’ll be eating dinner at the office those days.  The good news is that my boss is willing to be flexible, and knows about my concerns with the public transit and that I can’t afford to park on campus.  Even if I could, I wouldn’t want to because sitting in the car aggravates my back issue more than sitting on the bus does.  (I’m not sure how much I’ve talked about this on the blog, but I have a chronic back issue that causes numbness, tingling, or pain in various places down my leg when a nerve is pinches between my vertebrae.  Sitting is one of the worst things I can do for it.)

So work isn’t going back to normal for me.  My boss is planning for us all to start having some amount of work from home time regularly.  Something like one day a week.  I think that part is going to be quite nice.  Having one day a week (hopefully a regular day that I could then move around if I wanted) when I can not have meetings scheduled, and not have to commute, and be able to focus in on my projects and my own work and focus less on everyone else.

Thinking through the return to the office, and what that means for the routines and good habits I’ve developed over the past year, has me asking, once again, what normal is.

Normal is what we’re used to.  It’s seen as “average,” and it’s seen as desirable by most people (at least for their definition of normal).

Normal is not standard across all people, all cultures, all races, all economic strata, or any number of other demographics or group designations.

Normal is a human construct.

Normal isn’t what’s right, or just, or desirable for everyone.

Normal is what feels routine, familiar, and in many cases comfortable.

Even with all of that, I’m not entirely sure what normal means.  I know what normal used to be for me.  I know what normal is for me now.  I don’t know what normal is going to look like in a few more weeks, months, or even years.

Everyone is talking about getting back to normal, but I don’t want to go back to the normal we had before.  I want wearing a mask outside your house when you are sick to become normal and stay normal.  I want staying home when you are sick (and being paid to do so to encourage that) to be normal.  I want the flexibility and understanding that physical and mental health come first to be normal.

Normal right now looks so different from someone with a front-line essential job that can’t be done remotely.  Normal meant a year of risk, and frustration, and fear.  Normal meant a year of having to try to enforce the local guidelines to keep everyone safe when customers, coworkers, your boss, or any number of others weren’t following the guidelines and were being unsafe.

Normal for me, meant not going outside much, not seeing friends in person, spending a lot of time on Zoom calls for work and for socializing and fun.  Normal meant spending a lot more than 40 hours a week at my desk at home looking at computer screens.  Only 40 hours of it was work, but a lot of my outside of work things also happen on my computer, so there has been a lot of time at my desk, and I’ve had to work very hard to make mental distinctions between work time and not work time.

When restrictions about movement and travel have been lifted, and we figure out what normal looks like again, I hope it comes with clear lines between work and the rest of my time.  I hope I’ll continue to see my friends regularly.  I hope I’ll be able to find new ways to revive old things that I miss but can’t have back in quite the same way as they were before.

So much has changed internally for me over the past year, that I don’t want to go back to the exact same external reality we left when restrictions started in March 2020.  I want my society and culture to have learned from all this.  I want things to be better.

While I might only be able to control a very small amount of what my new normal looks like.  If I do everything I can to make it what I’m hoping for, then maybe I can get close.

On Creation and Completion

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I’ve been thinking a lot about my creative processes and what I get out of them lately, in case the past few regular posts haven’t made that obvious.  My creative process looks a bit different for free-form things like writing than it does more concrete things like sewing or cross-stitch.  These are the three types of creation I’ve been doing the most of lately, so they’re what’s on my mind.

My writing processes are all over the place, but I take more joy in the drafting stage than most other parts of the process, including actually finishing something.  With cross-stitch and sewing it’s a bit different.  I enjoy the process.  The individual steps and seeing the project come together are enjoyable, but seeing the final finished project is a huge rush all by itself, even if the last thing I did was super easy and only took a few minutes.  That act of completion is just so amazing.

So, for my writing, I seem to enjoy the creation itself the most, but for most other crafts, the completion of the project is the most enjoyable part.  I find this interesting.  And I think it might have part to do with the fact that a writing project doesn’t always look or seem either complete or incomplete, especially when it’s just words on a screen, but you can tell with just a glance if a sewing or cross-stitch pattern is complete or not.  A little less so at the end stages when you’re doing finishing work, but certainly during the bulk of the project it’s either in pieces or has big gaping holes with no color or stitches.

All of this got me thinking about why I create.  Why do I want to make things or write stories?  Part of the answer is that I enjoy the act of creation.  I love making things.  Whether it’s new words, a new shirt, a teddy bear for someone, a cross-stitch that makes me smile when I look at it, or a cardboard creation to keep the cats from getting at the cords under my desk.  Believe it or not, that last one brought a lot of satisfaction with it.  I could get at my cords easily, but the cats could no longer walk on the power strip where there’s a switch they could accidentally flip to turn everything off.  It happened once, my cat was not amused by the yelling and cursing that ensued.  We’re both much happier with this new arrangement.

Sometimes I’m really proud of the final products I make, like the Regency gown and Spencer jacket I made so I could fit in with the bridal party at my friend’s Regency themed wedding.  Sometimes, it’s just the satisfaction of making a solution with no extra costs, like that cardboard cord protection.  Sometimes I’m writing a story just for me, and never plan to share it with anyone.  Sometimes I’m writing a story I want everyone to read.  But no matter what the motivation is, I enjoy the creation process.

Taking joy in the process as well as the finished product is one of the best things about making of any kind.  Yes, you have an awesome thing when you’re done, but you also spent time (sometimes a huge amount of it) doing something you enjoy.  Sometimes, when the editing is hard, or the ideas aren’t coming, I need that reminder that the creation isn’t all about the end product.  It’s about the process and the enjoyable time (and sometimes friendships) I make along the way.

I think what I’m trying to say, is don’t forget to take joy in the process, and if the joy is gone from the process, maybe it’s time for a break to make something else for a while.  My writing has been a bit of a struggle lately, but I’m finding a lot of joy (and some peacefulness in my own head) from working on cross-stitch projects (mostly gifts for others).  So, I’m trying not to stress the lack of writing progress right now.  Trying to force it can lead to stress, so doing my one or two sprints in the morning is enough.  And if every few weeks I miss a day entirely, that’s fine too.  There’s only so much creative energy and time, so at least I can spend it on the project that’s giving me joy.

With the state of the everything right now, it’s important to be compassionate with yourself, especially when it comes to your hobbies and the things you’re doing because you want to do them.  If it’s no longer enjoyable, a break might serve you better in the long run.

Image Prompt Response 076 – No Going Back

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I chose the image of the tiny waterfall in the creek for my twenty-minute sprint this time around.  I decided to come back to an earlier image prompt (#22) and explore K and M a little more.  I continued the exercise of not using gendered pronouns that I tried out in that one as well because it’s an interesting exercise.

No Going Back:

K stood looking up along the creek in the early morning light.  K’s parents were still asleep and K had packed up everything they wanted to take with them the night before.  M had promised that everything would be alright once they left this morning and M’s parents would smooth things out with K’s.

Now that it was almost time to leave, K was nervous.  M had always been nice to them, as had M’s parents and siblings, but K spent so many years trying to hide everything and not let anyone know that it seemed strange to have admitted it.  And that was before considering the whole running away thing.

K noticed as soon as M stepped out the back door.  M didn’t say anything, just walked over to stand beside K.

K shifted closer to M.  It had been an enlightening few days talking with M’s family.  After sixteen years believing that none of it was real, that admitting it would lead to either being committed or locked away in some research lab for being a freak, K still wasn’t quite used to the idea that empathy and telepathy were real things that science accepted and understood.

M gently draped an arm around K’s shoulder, pulling K into a half hug.

“Ready to head out?” M asked.

“Nervous,” K replied.  It would be good for M to know that.  K wasn’t sure if M could still pick up on emotions despite the shields K had developed to protect against all the noise from others’ emotions and thoughts.

“I’ve got your back,” M said.  “There might be some tough bits, but we’ll get through alright.”

K nodded.  M believed it.  So did M’s parents.  K believed that M wanted to help, but knowing M’s parents did too gave K more confidence that it was okay to leave with M, which was a bit like running away.

“Come on,” M said, using the arm around K’s shoulders to turn them and head them toward M’s car.  “I grabbed your suitcase and your coat from the rack in the hall,” M said.  “You said that was everything you needed.”

“Yeah,” K agreed.  Enough clothes for about a week and the books K had brought to read while on vacation with the family.  There wasn’t much else K would miss really.  M had offered to drive straight to K’s house so they could get anything they needed, but really K didn’t have anything.  K’s parents didn’t believe in keeping material things.  Clothes were utilitarian and the books they kept were mostly for K’s home schooling.  K didn’t even own any stuffed animals or toys anymore.  The few K had owned were given away years ago.

“Let’s get on the road then,” M encouraged.  “There’s a place about forty minutes away that does great breakfast.  I figured we could stop there for a bit then head to my place.”

M squeezed K’s shoulders before letting go, then opened the passenger side of the tiny sedan.

K slid into the seat, closing the door and buckling in as M walked around the car.  K looked out at the three cabins the family had rented.  It was a new place they hadn’t tried before, but K liked it.  Having three buildings for all fifteen of them had meant it was quieter at night and K slept better.  There were also more places to sneak off to and be alone.

M started the car and carefully turned around in the narrow drive before slowly heading up the gravel driveway to the road.  K didn’t look back.  Looking back wouldn’t help any.  There was no going back now anyway.

Image Prompt 076 – Cat and Creek

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It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

Image Prompt 076-01 Christmas 2010 009

Image Prompt 076-02 Maggie Valley 2013-08-02 (2)

Creativity as Process and Pattern

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my creativity and my creative pursuits and how to continue to do them and enjoy them even when I’m not feeling especially inspired or motivated.  I’ve realized that most of the creative things I do follow a type of process, and that I take comfort in that process.

Take sewing for example.  You have a pattern that needs to be cut out of the fabric and then there are steps that need to be done in a certain order to sew everything together and finish all the edges and make it into a complete and finished item.  The same goes for things like cross stitch, crochet and knitting.  There’s a pattern you’re following, even if it’s something as simple as making a row with a few dozen stitches made a few dozen times to make a square.

I find that this applies to my writing as well.  It’s not always quite as obvious, but there are patterns to most writing.  Whether it’s a pattern of rhetorical choices made in a persuasive piece, a pattern of plot in a narrative, or a structural pattern for something descriptive.  There’s always going to be an underlying structure to the final product that shows the pattern I was working from.

With my writing, these patterns are often something invisible, something that only exists in my head, but they’re also a tool I use for revision and improving the piece.  With fiction, I don’t usually write the pattern down in advance, but I do map it out after the first draft.  But that’s just my discovery writing style process, and I have been experimenting with plotting out stories in advance.  That plot outline is the pattern you’re applying to the narrative.  There are all sorts of ways to think about that pattern and how to create it: seven-point plot structure, three act structure, or the snowflake method.  All of those give a sort of template for the process at least if not the actual structure of the plotting pattern itself.

I find patterns comforting.  Humans are a bit hard wired to see patterns (which is why we read so much into what is actually random or coincidental).  I can use that to my advantage when I’m doing something like a sudoku or picture-cross puzzle, where it’s obviously about patterns, but I can also use that pattern recognition tendency in things like my crafting hobbies and my writing.  Almost every sewing pattern I’ve used that has a modern style sleeve has basically the same instructions.  I can use that familiar pattern to help me make a better sleeve next time.

With my writing, the process of it all, the drafting, revising, and editing, helps me keep going even when I’m not feeling particularly motivated.  The habit of doing something every day at the same time helps my brain shift into the familiar pattern of writing work at that time each day.  I find it easier to write during my morning sprints than almost any other time these days.  My brain is so used to getting up, getting ready, and settling down to write before anything else, that it falls into the thought patterns that help me write.

In times like these, when the motivation or inspiration may not always be there, having the process to fall back on is great.  If I can’t think of anything to draft, I can work on revisions I’ve made notes about before, fill in details for a plot, character, or setting I’ve been working on, or copy edit something that’s nearly finished.  I can keep doing the work, even if it’s only for a short time, and that keeps the pattern of my daily writing work happening.

In the end, the process is how you get from an idea to a finished piece.  Whether it’s the process of laying out the colors to go in each square for a cross stitch pattern, making those stitches, following the pattern directions for a sewing project, or following the process of drafting and revision that works for you, it’s all about process.  Despite the romanticized vision of sudden inspiration, creative products don’t just happen.  Someone puts a lot of work into them by following their own personal creative process.

Right now, I’m taking some much-needed joy in appreciating that process for its own sake.

Discipline vs Inspiration: How Habit Keeps Me Going

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Writers, and other creative types, all rely on inspiration for ideas, but over the decades I’ve been writing, I’ve learned that inspiration can only take you so far.  Discipline and habit are needed to get you the rest of the way.

These days, I see writing from two different angles.  There’s the idea creation side of things that encompasses world building, character creation, and plotting (whatever that looks like), and then there’s the physical act of writing, which involves dedicating the time and energy to do the work (be that drafting, revision, copy editing, research, or anything else you need to do to finish the project).  In my early days of writing, I think I bought into the inspiration leads to writing idea a lot more.  I hadn’t learned yet that habit and putting in the time, can get me there even when I’m not feeling inspired.

Take this month as an example.

I started playing with an ide for a new character and world to help meet my April Camp NaNoWriMo goal of writing for at least twenty minutes every day.  I haven’t felt very inspired and some mornings it’s been excruciating trying to make myself write.  But somehow, I’ve done it.  My NaNoWriMo region has been doing early morning sprints together online for a few years now, and it’s become a part of my morning routine.  Even with writing slower and not writing much outside those morning sprints and my one weekly write-in, I have over 25,000 words on this new idea.  It’s a jumbled mess of random scenes, world building notes, and character descriptions, but it’s a lot more than I would have expected given how unmotivated and uninspired I’ve felt all month.

As one of my fellow morning sprinters put it recently “Discipline >> motivation any day.”  The habit I’ve built of writing every day (I’ve only missed two days in April so far) has carried me through when I was struggling to feel creative.

This is part of why I love NaNoWriMo.  While the challenge is ostensibly about writing 50,000 words in a month on a brand-new novel, in spirit, it’s much more about building a daily writing habit.  The ethos of celebrating all new words (or progress of any kind), no matter how few, and every successful effort toward more words, even if the 50k goal is out of reach, is something that I really like.  As a very fast typist who doesn’t usually struggle to get words out, the 50,000 words isn’t the hard part of NaNoWriMo for me personally.  The daily writing habit is my true goal for the challenge these days.  Writing every single day, even over the holidays and busy work times that always come in November, is something I’m really passionate about.

From talking with friends, both local and around the world, I’m not the only one struggling with inspiration these days.  It seemed appropriate to share with the world (or whoever reads this at least) the technique I’ve found to get me through when the inspiration might not be there.  Dedication can get you pretty far all on its own, and it’s more than worth developing good habits of dedication to your writing, or any other creative pursuits.

With that in mind, here’s what’s been working for me:

  1. Dedicate a time every single day to your writing.  This could be as little as five or ten minutes.  Consistency is the key here.  It’s about building up a mental habit which helps with getting into the writing headspace.
  2. If the words aren’t flowing, trying just one sentence.  If that goes well, try for a paragraph.  The physical act of writing (long hand or typing) can help your brain get into the right gear for writing.
  3. If it’s really not working, try changing something.  This could be switching to a different project, moving between drafting, revision, or copyediting, or trying out a different POV.
  4. Don’t berate yourself for working slowly.  Some days it will take 20 minutes to write as little as 200 words.  Some days you might manage two or three times that in 20 minutes.  You should be just as proud of those 200 words as you would be of 600 words.  It’s forward progress.
  5. Remember that revision and copy editing are still writing work.  Just because it might look a little different doesn’t mean you aren’t writing.

Life in a Time of Pandemic: Lost in Time and Space

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(As usual, if you aren’t in a space to want to engage with talk of the current pandemic, please skip this post with my blessing.  Take care of yourself.  Though this one is a little less pandemic heavy than the others.)

There’s this joke I have with my partner about how easily I get lost in time and space.  It has roots in some actual issues with getting lost (especially in space) and losing track of where I am (especially in time).  But it’s also partially a joke, because I’m less likely to get lost in time than he is, and when a car isn’t involved, I rarely get lost in space either.

It’s something I’ve been thinking about lately, largely because my potential to be lost has been very different over the past year than it has been at any point prior.  I just wanted to share some thoughts and reflections on being lost in time and space and what that means to me right now.

The Problem with Cars

When we were in college, I didn’t have a car, but my then boyfriend (now husband) did, so I got a parking permit for his car since I was a year ahead and got priority for a permit.  This meant that we could do things like grocery runs or going to an off-campus doctor with less hassle.  I knew (even then) than I had a tendency to get lost while driving.  (For reference, this was in the early years of Map Quest and before ubiquitous GPS and smart phones.)  I had a doctor’s appointment the next day, so I printed off some directions, and went to find the office so I wouldn’t get lost.

I got lost.

In my defense, it involved several one-way roads, missing one turn, and being unable to figure out how to get back on my route.  This particular incident ended in me pulling into some parking lot crying, calling my boyfriend and his roommate bringing him out so he could drive me home.  This was not the last time this happened while we were in college.

To avoid a repeat of the issue, my boyfriend drove me to the appointment the next day.  Partially due to my inability to navigate without a GPS and partially because he gets motion sick very easily, my partner does almost all the driving when we’re together, even now.

If I have a human to navigate, a GPS to talk to me, or I’m the one in the passenger seat giving directions, everything is fine.  But put me in a car without audible directions and I just can’t seem to functionally follow the directions to where I’m going and focus on driving at the same time.  Put me on my feet with a map, and I can get to and from almost anywhere (that I can find on the map).  It’s just something about the added stress of driving (which is arguably the most dangerous thing I do on any given day) that completely robs me of my sense of direction.  (Not that my ability to recognize right from left is particularly good at any time.)

The Problem with Human Perception of Time

So, the human brain is really good at lying to itself.  Your eyes are even in on this.  There’s a blind spot within our field of vision that our brains just fill in for us.  Our eyes do this weird movement thing during which we do not see and then it lies to us about the passage of time to cover up the moment of blindness.  Humans are actually incredibly bad at measuring the passage of time without something mechanical or electronic counting it for us.

So, we’re all starting out with a deficit when it comes to not getting lost in time.  I then have the compounding problem of focusing in.  While it’s not generally debilitating for me personally (I have a lot of strategies to keep it from affecting my life negatively) this is actually one of the symptoms of attentive type ADD.  I focus in on something to the detriment of everything else.  As a child, this manifested in interesting ways, like running into walls when my focus was directed somewhere other than where I was going, or being so focused on the TV (even if it was just a commercial!) that you had to touch me to get my attention to move elsewhere.  In adult life it looks more like spending hours on a task without realizing it and forgetting to take a stretch break or eat, or just being unaware of time passing so that I’ll miss a meeting if I don’t set a timer or alarm to pull me out of my work.

What is Time?

This is a phrase my friends and I toss around occasionally in the current pandemic moment to express how the passage of time and all the usual markers for it are a little off right now.  For a variety of reasons life is a little weird right now (I’m not going to get into the state of the world with this point, but it’s April 2021 for future reference).  I’m currently working from home instead of commuting to my office, which is the big thing that’s messing with my ability to situate myself in time right now.

Since I’m very rarely leaving the house these days due to pandemic restrictions, it’s pretty hard for me to be lost in space right now.  Something else would have to be going on for me to get lost in someplace with only six rooms and only two places where there are options for branching directions.

Time is a completely different matter.

Working from home limits my movements.  I have a back issue, and the best accommodation to keep it from being painful or getting any worse is having a standing desk.  I’d made do with jury-rigged solutions prior to the pandemic, but when I was suddenly spending 40 hours at my desk at home, it was worth spending the money to get a proper standing desk.  That means I spend almost all of my time at my desk.  It’s where I work for 40 hours a week.  It’s where I write in the mornings, evenings, and on weekends.  It’s where you set up craft projects that will fit on the desk surface.

For a while I was even eating my lunch at my desk, like I used to at work, but I’ve had to stop doing that.  There was no mental separation from working if I wasn’t physically leaving my desk during my lunch break.  The switch from my desktop to my laptop computer (the strategy I used back at the office) just wasn’t working well enough.  I’m much more productive in the afternoons when I eat out in the living room hanging out with my partner and the cats for my lunch break.

The problem this feeds into is sameness.  Every day looks almost exactly the same.  Yes, there’s some variation on weekends, but even those are often spent mostly at my desk.  There isn’t physical movement to demarcate different days.  I’m not having a meeting in someone’s office with them, or walking across campus for an every-other-week meeting with another unit.  I’m at my desk, on my computer or Zoom for everything.  The days run together.  There isn’t enough about any given one to help my brain distinguish between them.  This monotony leads to not noticing the passage of time.  It doesn’t feel like we’ve been in pandemic conditions for over a year now.

Counterintuitively, I’m also having the opposite problem.  It feels like it’s been forever since November, since last year, since things were what I used to think of as normal.  I’ll think about the last time I saw my family, or a friend, or when we got our new cats, and it will seem like all that happened just a few weeks ago or several years ago (depending on the moment) but it’s been about a year (slightly more in the case of the cats).

Part of this is probably a defense mechanism to protect me from the stress that has been underlying for several years now.  Part of this is the subjective nature of my perception of time.  Part of this is completely normal and nothing new.  I’ve always been bad at noting the passage of time.  When someone asks how long my partner and I have been together 95% of the time, I have to consult him for the math or count on my fingers from the year we started dating or got married.  The only reason I can easily tell you how long I’ve been at my current job is because I started in 2015, so I know it’s on a five year, so 2020 was five and 2025 will be ten.

Does It Matter?

That is the question in the end.  Does it matter that I’m losing track of time?  That I have to rely on GPS apps on my phone to get almost anywhere in my car?  Is it a problem that my days blend together and I’m not noticing the time slipping away?

Yes and no.

In many ways, the monotony and sameness of my days right now is an incredible luxury.  I am insanely lucky that I haven’t had to risk exposure, no one in my household or extended family has gotten the virus, and none of my close friends have either.  The days that stick out the most in my mind are the ones when I was worrying about a friend who had an exposure risk, or when I had to go out into the world for a doctor’s appointment or some other something that I couldn’t do from home.  There have been no personal, close to my heart disasters in my world over the last year.  And I am incredibly grateful for that.

I’m not complaining about the sameness, or even my inability to not get lost in a car without help.  I’ve just been thinking about time and space and where I find myself in it (whether I know where I am or not) quite a lot lately.  I’ve been thinking about how different the world is right now, and how we’re all coping with the strangeness that has become normal and the normal that has become strange.

As a way to wrap up that thinking, I wanted to list a few things I’ve been grateful for that have come out of the strange normality we find ourselves in right now.  These are in no particular order.

  • Having a regular wake up and go to bedtime every single day has vastly improved the quality of my sleep.
  • I’ve spent more time on craft projects in the last year than in previous years.
  • I’ve picked up new hobbies.
  • I’ve found new and different ways to connect regularly with friends and family.
  • I’ve gotten to spend my days at home, where I can pet my cats and hug my partner on mini breaks from work.
  • I have a real standing desk at home now.
  • I am healthy and safe and soon to be vaccinated.

I hope all of you are able to find some things to be grateful for in these strange and uncertain times.

Image Prompt Response 075 – Courtyard

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I chose the image of the courtyard on a university campus for my twenty-minutes sprint today.  Just playing around with a couple characters.  I hope you enjoy.

Courtyard:

Valerie checked to make sure she had her ID and her office key on her before stepping out into the cool evening air.  She took a deep breath and walked to the path and slowly down toward the end of the little courtyard.  She’d been in her office all day.  First for office hours and appointments with students, and then working on writing up the results for her dissertation.

This was her last semester and the research was all done, so it was just a matter of getting everything written up, edited, and polished.  She reached the end of the courtyard, rolling her shoulders before turning back to pace the other way.  It was important to take breaks to clear her head and the courtyard was one of her favorite spots for that.

At least, it was during the day.  As she began walking back in the direction of the door she realized just how secluded and dark the place was in the evening.  The sun wasn’t quite set yet, but the courtyard was already in heavy shadow.  There was light from a few classrooms and offices that were still occupied in the evening, but the usually bright and cheery plantings were hulking shadows in the dark.

She patted her pockets, reassured to have her phone with her.  She often forgot and left it on her desk.  Not that she should have anything to be afraid of really.  Campus was a pretty safe place overall and this courtyard wasn’t something most people were aware of, tucked away as it was.  You had to get into the building to get to it and only one of the doors was unlocked after six.  There were only a couple night classes scheduled and everyone else with access with faculty or a graduate student.

Valerie did a few more shoulder stretching moves as she walked back toward the door, which was when she noticed the figure.  They were sitting on the bench nearest the door, their butt near the end of the bench as they leaned back, one leg propped up on the other at the ankle.  Had they been there when she came out?  Her eyes hadn’t been adjusted to the dim lighting then.

“Don’t let me interrupt your walk,” the figure said, their voice a light alto and the pronunciation hinting at another language.

“I’m not used to finding anyone out here,” she replied.  At least not after three in the afternoon.  Students tended to use it as a quiet place to eat or study during the earlier parts of the day, but they were pretty scarce near classroom buildings after midafternoon.

“I like to enjoy a little quiet here in the evenings,” the figure replied.  “It’s my first semester here so I’m still finding all the little quiet places.”

“It is usually quiet in the evening,” Valerie agreed.

“I’ve seen you around the building,” the figure said.  “Are you faculty or a grad student?”

“PhD student,” she replied.  “It’s my last semester.”  It was so easy to fall into the standard conversations about studies and progress, even with a complete stranger.

“I hope it’s going well,” the figure replied.

“So far,” she replied.  “Just finishing up the data analysis and starting to write the results section.”  She’d written the introduction and the procedure as she was getting things set up for data collection.  It was so much easier to write all that while she was actively doing the procedure.  Once she had the results written up she could work on the conclusion, update the introduction, and get the abstract together.

“I’m not sure if I should congratulate you or console you,” the stranger said.  “I’m only two semesters away from mine and I remember everyone having strong opinions about whether the work of the experiment or the writing were the worse part of the process.”

“I like both,” Valerie replied.  “Writing has always been a bit of a hobby, so I don’t mind it as much as a lot of my classmates.”  She loved to write fiction when she could carve out the time.  Writing up her research was different, but not distasteful.

“Sounds like a good place to be,” they replied with a laugh.  “I’m Sam Black, by the way.  They just hired me into the open faculty line in Linguistics.”

“Valerie Carver,” she replied.  “I had to miss all the meet and greets for that because they ended up scheduled during my class or office hours.”  She was in the department, and going to things like that was encouraged for the graduate students.  They actually seemed to care about student opinions when they were hiring.

Image Prompt 075 – Nebraska Campus & Scottish Stream

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It’s the Second Friday of the Month, so today is an Image Prompt day.

I’ve included two images to work from.  Pick one (or both if you’re feeling ambitious) and write something inspired by the image.  You can use something in the image, the feeling it invokes, or whatever the image makes you think of.

If you write a piece and end up posting it somewhere online, please link back to it here on a comment so we can all enjoy it too.

I’ll be posting my own piece next week.

 

Image Prompt 075-01 Lincoln NE 2011-10-21 074

Image Prompt 075-02 Haggis Tour Scotland05-04-15 021