Image Prompt 076 – Cat and Creek

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Standard

(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

Standard

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

Standard

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

Experiments in Plotting: Success??

Standard

If you’ve been reading here for a while you may have seen me talk about plotting before and the recent (in terms of my entire writing history) experiments I’ve been doing to try to find a plotting process that works with my drafting process rather than against it.  You can read about how I’ve tried planning back in 2019 and the beginning (or maybe the middle) of the plotting experiments I’ve been doing with the third book in the Sword and Shields series this past year if you’re interested.

For most of the more than twenty years I’ve been writing fiction, I’d been what writing communities often call a pantser or a discovery writer.  I have an idea and some characters, and I start writing.  There’s no plan, no plot, just a vague idea of the inciting incident and the eventual end point.  This works great for things I never finish, or for fanfiction where it doesn’t have to be very polished and can meander and change course and no one minds.  This doesn’t work quite as well when the plan is to publish the book at the end of the process.

Most of my experience with plotting and outlining a book comes in the revision stage.  After I have a big messy draft, I’ll do a brief summary of the scenes and make an outline of what’s there, and then work on adjusting that outline to work better.  For the second and third books in the Swords and Shields series, I completely redrafted from an outline written after the initial draft of the book.  I think this ended up being pretty successful for book two (which is out for another round of beta reading at the moment) and I’m fairly proud of how it’s turned out even if it does still need a bit of work.

I spent part of this week rereading book three, which still isn’t quite finished (as in the ending hasn’t been written yet), but is in a lot better shape than I remembered it being.  I’ve spent somewhere between six months and a year away from the draft working on other projects, and in that time some of the problems I was having with the outline, the scene ordering, and the general pacing of the book seem to have fixed themselves in my head.  I know what to do with the scenes now and how to structure the book in a way to keep reader interest while also laying out the story in a way that’s understandable.  Now I just need to write a few scenes missing from the middle, possibly redraft whole sections of the middle as well, and then finish writing the big climactic ending which should be the fun part.

So I think those two plotting experiments have been successful.  I think I’m beginning to get an idea of how to use plotting strategies and outlines to revise a book I’ve already drafted.

I’ve also recently experimented with some plotting before I started drafting.  This was my NaNo 2020 project, which I started brainstorming, writing, and plotting for in October, wrote a little over 125k on in November, and continued working on well into February.  It started out as one idea, which several story beats planned out, a cast of characters, and no antagonist.  It was supposed to be something relatively light, fluffy, and happy.  A slice-of-life anime style low stakes sort of plot.  This is not what I ended up with.  I now have partial drafts of three novels, totaling about 52k, 38k, and 11k respectively.  The 11k one being the original story idea.

All the planning, prep, and plotting work I’d done in advance did help keep me writing for nearly five months on one project though.  Yes I was bouncing between the three books and a good week of that time was pulling all the scenes out of the massive NaNo 2020 document into their respective books, but the outline wasn’t a stumbling block like I’ve experienced in the past.  That’s a big deal, at least for me personally.  I’ve been avoiding outlines for years (in fiction and non-fiction writing) because I think better as I write and my end products have been better when I draft them, then outline them, then revise them to have a better outline.

I think, this might be a practice thing.  I need to practice writing outlines and then drafting them.  I need to practice revising with outlines.  I need to practice having a more structured writing process.  The reason the drafting method worked so well is because I’d been doing it for more than twenty years.  So plotting and outlining is something I need to keep trying, keep working on, and keep practicing so I can get better at it.  Practice makes you better at almost everything.

While I may not have a completed book based on any of my plotting experiments yet, I do have some very positive forward progress.  I call that a success, or at least a success so far.  I’ll likely still do some discovery writing during my outlining process to get to know my characters and better think through who they are so I can better know how they’ll react in various circumstances in the outline.  I’ll probably deviate from and rewrite my outlines as I go.  I’ll occasionally go completely off the rails and write a completely different book (or two) as I did in November.  But that’s okay.  That’s still practice.

I’m going to keep practicing and keep trying out plotting options and planning tools and seeing how they work for me.  I’ll always keep writing no matter what my process looks like.  With any luck, those two things will eventually turn into new books I can share with everyone.

Life in a Time of Pandemic: One Year Anniversary

Standard

As with all posts that start with “Life in a Time of Pandemic,” this is going to be talking about my life, thoughts, and reflections on the current pandemic conditions and crisis, so if you aren’t in a space to want to read that, please leave with my blessing.  I don’t want these posts to be a stress on anyone else.

Writing and reflection go hand and hand for me, so as we have recently crossed the one-year mark with pandemic conditions, I wanted to take some time to think about where I’ve been and what the past year has been like.

It varied quite a bit when pandemic conditions started.  For my little corner of the world (North Carolina, USA) and specifically for the university I work for, pandemic conditions started in mid-March 2020.  We were all instructed to work from home if we could, spring break was extended for a week so faculty could redesign the second half of their courses to be delivered remotely, and masks and social distancing began to be encouraged and then mandated.

It’s now the end of March 2021.  So for more than a year, I’ve been wearing a mask whenever I’m out of my apartment and within six feet of other humans.  If I was going for a walk outside, I’d always bring a mask, but I usually didn’t put it on unless I was passing someone within six feet.  This should, in theory, mean that I’m at low risk of passing the virus to anyone or getting it passed to me.  Or so say those with epidemiology and fluid dynamics experience.  (For the purposes of physics, air is a fluid, if you weren’t aware.)

This meant a lot of changes in my life.  No more Sunday afternoons at my favorite café with my writing friends.  No more evenings at a friend’s place for D&D.  No more visits to family without serious planning for before and after.

Thankfully, there were a lot of online tools available for me to make adaptations to my usual routines.  My Sunday afternoon write-in moved from a café to my NaNo region’s discord server.  Roll20.net gave our D&D group an online space to play.  My work access to a paid Zoom account gave me the ability to host a weekly meet up of friends to replace the once-every-couple-months party another friend used to host.  For a lot of things, this works alright.  I’m still able to see and laugh with my friends on Friday nights.  I’m still able to get my Sunday writing in with those who join me on discord.  I’ve recently started having an hour long Zoom call with my parents every Wednesday.

For some things, not so much.  I was able to enjoy playing in and running some sessions of our D&D pseudo-campaign over the course of April through September.  Most of the group does NaNoWriMo, so we took a hiatus for October through December.  We started back up in January, and I realized that I could DM with about the same level of enjoyment, but that I struggled more to engage as a player.  I’m currently on a semi-hiatus from the group so that I don’t ruin anyone else’s fun.

Similarly, the online write-in doesn’t work for everyone.  A few of my favorite regulars from the in-person meet up don’t get the same things out of an online meet up, so they haven’t been coming and I miss them.  I totally get that it doesn’t work for everyone though.  I just hope we can get back to in person eventually and I can see them regularly again.  As an added future sadness, the café we used to meet at was one of three locations of a local café chain, and they’ve (possibly permanently) closed the two secondary locations, one of which was ours, so even when all this is over, we likely can’t go back to our favorite spot.

Seeing family became a logistical nightmare.  Things didn’t seem too bad for travel that summer, so after everyone quarantined at home for two weeks, my husband and I traveled to his parent’s house to spend a little over a week relaxing and hanging out with his family.  His sister was already there (as emergency help for training two poodle puppies) and her husband joined us a few days later.  It was really great to see family, especially since we hadn’t seen sister- and brother-in-law since the previous summer.  It was a chance to decompress and not worry about work and have a little time with the people we cared about.  Husband and I also quarantined for two weeks after that just to make sure if we picked something up in transit we didn’t spread it any further.  We’re all lucky and no one in the family has had any exposure due to that trip or since.

By the time the winter holidays came around, cases were on the rise and all the Thanksgiving travel spreading was becoming obvious, so we decided not to travel for the holidays.  We leveraged online tools again.  We spent a couple hours on Zoom calls with my mother’s side of the family on Christmas Eve, with my parents, sister, and niece the morning of Christmas, and with my husband’s family for nearly four hours later that day.  It was a reasonably good solution.  I’ve never seen that many of my relatives in so short a time before.  With an aunt in Washington state, an uncle in New York state, and the grandmother on that side in Florida, it’s rare to have that entire side of the family together all at once for any reason.  Similarly, my husband’s family is spread across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia, so we usually only get together once or twice a year.  It wasn’t the most ideal holiday option, but with the risk of picking something up in transit, it was the safest option we had.

All that said, I’m still doing pretty well meeting my social needs.  I have a few friends who started Twitch Streaming recently, so that’s one way that I get in a little social time.  I’m also a member of several discord servers, some for in-real-life acquaintances and some for online-only communities.  These have given me a place to chat and talk and interact with others when I need it.  Between that, my weekly Friday Zoom with friends, Zoom meetings at work, and actually living with another human, I’m doing alright.  I don’t want this to be forever, but I can probably last another year without any significant issues with my ability to meet my social needs.

The pandemic has also led to some routine changes that have been beneficial.  I’ve realized having a consistent bedtime and wake up time all seven days of the week does amazing things for my quality of sleep and my general wellbeing.  So the habit of setting my work wake up alarm for every single day regardless of whether I’m working is going to follow me forever.  I sleep so much better, I get to sleep faster, and I wake up more reliably on-time.  It’s pretty amazing.  It also means my weekend days feel longer.  I’m not sleeping until noon and going to bed at midnight.  I’m waking up before six and going to bed around ten.  That’s consistently four additional hours of awake time, which means four more hours to read, game, craft, or get stuff done.  It’s been really great.

Being stuck at home with very few outside dining or entertainment expenses has also meant saving a bit of money in pandemic conditions.  We’re being more thoughtful and frugal with our grocery purchases as well.  Between that and consolidating out debt at the end of 2020 it’s put us in a better financial position going into 2021 than we’ve been in for five or ten years.  It feels really great, and with any luck that trend will continue past the end of the pandemic too.

I feel incredibly lucky that I’m doing so well in pandemic conditions.  I know the isolation can be depressing for many, the stress of working remotely grates on others, and the overall stress about the world as a whole can be downright oppressive.  I’m able to insolate myself from a lot of this and rely on my partner to filter the general news and world happenings into times and places when I can deal with it, and I don’t find the isolation of working from home and social distances as stressful or depressing as some do.

As we sit here at the one-year mark with vaccines on the market and plans for distributing them as quickly as can be managed, I’m hopeful.  I know the distribution plans aren’t necessarily going as well as planned everywhere and different places are doing better or worse than others, but the vaccines exist, and they are getting to people.  My state is actually doing pretty well.  They keep opening the next phase early because they’re filling appointments and getting vaccines out fast.  It means that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  There will be a time after, and we’ll be able to redefine what normal is (because it’s not going to ever be quite like it was before), and we’ll be able to move forward again.

But for now, we just have to keep going and keep our spirits up as we wait in the interminable time between before and after.  I hope that we can use the time to improve and to be better and to think about ways that the After Times can be better than the Before Times.  Being able to redefine what normal means is an opportunity to make normal better for everyone.

Image Prompt Response 074 – Red

Standard

I chose the image of the moss-covered, stone stairs leading up a hill for my twenty-minute prompt this time.

Red:

After months cooped up inside her apartment, Kelly was glad to get out of the house for a while.  She’d been doing alright with online meetings for work and seeing her friends in online spaces and doing occasional calls with family and her best friends, but it was getting old staring at the same walls all the time.

So she’d driven up the mountain to find a place to hike for a while.  It was safe enough to be out in nature as long as there weren’t too many people.  It was still early in the season, and the parking lot hadn’t been very full, so she figured she’d be alright.  She kept a mask in her pocket anyway, just in case.

The first part of the trail was a little busy, so she put her mask on and picked her way around people a little off the trail most of the time.  She was an experienced hiker and even had a little climbing experience, so she was willing to go off trail a little, always careful where she stepped to avoid damaging anything, and she managed to get out away from the others by taking the more difficult option when the trail forked.  It wasn’t long before she came to her favorite section of the trail.

There were stones set into the side of the hill to help make a rudimentary set of steps to get higher up the hill.  They were covered in moss and could be very slippery in the wrong conditions, which was part of why this was a harder trail, but it was dry and bright today, so she was able to walk up them quickly to the top of the hill.

There were remains of a railing that hadn’t been kept in good repair.  Back from an older period of trail tending.  These days the goal was to change as little as possible.  The trail was there to keep humans off the rest of the mountain, so they didn’t damage things.  It wasn’t necessarily there to make the climb easier.

When she crested the hill, the light blinded her for a moment.  She held up a hand to shield her eyes and blinked quickly, her eyes actually watering from how bright it was.  She hadn’t been expecting that this early.

When her eyes had adjusted, she was able to lower her hands and gaze out at the mountains spread out before her.  She was so glad she’d moved up here.  So much better than being stifled in the city.

“Haven’t seen you around before,” someone said from her left.

Kelly shifted to her right as she grabbed her mask out of her pocket, slipping it over her mouth and nose and wrapping the elastic over her ears.

“Never got that reaction before either,” the voice said.

Kelly couldn’t see anyone on the trail to her left.  That was weird.

“Down here,” the voice said, so Kelly looked down.

There was a fox sitting just off the path, front legs straight, head held high, tail wrapped around it’s feet.

“You seem surprised,” the fox said.

“That’s because foxes don’t talk,” Kelly replied.  Had she slipped and fallen?  Hit her head?

“Oh, right, you aren’t used to this,” the fox said, looking down at itself.  “Is this better?” it asked before being enveloped in a puff of smoke.

The smoke cleared to reveal a slim figure about four and a half feet tall with fox ears poking out of it’s red hair, amber eyes with vertical pupils, and a bushy fox tail swishing slightly from side to side.

“No less unbelievable, but it’s been a weird year, so what the hell, I’ll roll with it,” Kelly replied to the fox person.

“They said belief was down these days, but I didn’t realize it was this bad,” the fox person said.  “How about we start with names, then?  You can call me Red.”

“Kelly,” she replied.  “Nice to meet you,” she added.  “Do you get human diseases?  We’re dealing with a pandemic, that’s why I put the mask on when I heard you.”

“Oh dear, a plague?” Red asked.

“We’d probably have called it that back in the day,” Kelly said.  “It’s a potentially deadly disease at any rate.”

“It shouldn’t hurt me any,” Red said.  “Never heard of a puka getting a disease before.  Probably because of all the magic.  Keeps us healthy.”

“Magic, right,” Kelly said.  “Is that how you do the fox to mostly human thing?”

“That doesn’t take magic,” Red said, waving one hand in denial.  “That’s just something puka can do.”

“Cool,” Kelly said, carefully taking of her mask.  “So what’s a puka doing here anyway?”  She might as well have a conversation.  It had been a long time since her last face-to-face conversation.  So what if it was probably just a hallucination brought on by a head injury.

“I like to visit and people watch,” Red said.  “Been a while since anyone’s been able to see me.”

“Not everyone can see you?” Kelly asked.

“Only humans with a little magic of their own can see us these days.”

Image Prompt 074 – Woods Near Maggie Valley, NC and GA Renaissance Festival

Standard

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 074-01 Family Vacation 2007 - Maggie Valley 018

Image Prompt 074-02 GA RenFest 2011-05-29 244