Image Prompt 043 – Moon and Forest

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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 043-001 2018-08-10 Campus07-11-19 001

Image Prompt 043-002 2018-08-10 Welsh Dragon05-05-06 048

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Art Culture

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On my recent vacation, we spent a couple days in Asheville, NC, which is one of the centers of art culture in the state.  I just wanted to take a few moments to appreciate that about Asheville, and talk more generally about what I mean by art culture, and how I find it wherever I go.

First, what do I mean by art culture?

This isn’t just an artsy way to say “art and culture” or a trendy phrase I picked up somewhere.  To me, art culture, is a way of life, a way of being, and a way of being in community with others.  Art, as I’m using it here, is a very broad term that encompasses almost any creative endeavor.  That can be the art of cooking, the art of weaving, the art of book binding, the art of painting, the art of writing, the art of making, the art of architecture, and anything and everything in between.

So what I mean by art culture, is a person, place, or community, that embraces that definition of art and the support of art and everything that comes along with it.  This might mean having accessible studio space in a community, a university providing free materials for students to use in their maker spaces, a local community willing to pay artists for their work with an understanding of how time intensive it is to make, or a local business that encourages art related groups to come and meet there even if it doesn’t lead to extra revenue for them.

Asheville is a great example of the broad definition of art.  We visited the Lexington Glassworks, which is an example of both making in a very real way, as well as all the various ways that glass can be made into art.  We also visited the Asheville Bookworks, which had an exhibit of art by a local artist critique group and a lot of tools of the art trade like sewing machines, printing presses, other kinds of presses, and all the accoutrements needed to support those and other book-binding art.  We also took a quick jaunt out of Asheville on the Blue Ridge Parkway to the Heritage Art Center.  There was such a variety of wonderful art there that I wish I could have taken pictures of just so I could remember it better.

Asheville seems like a great example of art culture too, but I’m not sure how much of that is the tourism industry and how much is actual Asheville.  We weren’t there for very long after all.  But I can find great examples of art culture in my own local area.  The university I work for is incredibly supportive of the arts in general, and the development of maker spaces, making, and markers specifically.  Several of the locations where we hold local write-ins are incredibly supportive of our NaNoWriMo community of writers as well.  They know our usual orders, greet us by name at the registers, and don’t mind us taking over 3-6 tables as long as we’re not loud enough to disturb anybody else.  One of the local libraries works hard to help us reserve space, advertise our events (even the ones not held there!) and applies for grant money to support our writing events in November.  There are all kinds of fairs, markets, events, and conventions in the triangle area each year devoted to some kind of art.  Whether it’s cosplay, jewelry making, comic books, or literature you can find a convention that will celebrate your artistic endeavor.

Even when I didn’t live in an area that seemed to embrace art culture all on its own, I found ways to find and foster it for myself.  I organized a weekly write-in when I was living in Gastonia, NC, even though only two of us showed up.  It started with NaNoWriMo, but we enjoyed the time together and the space to write and talk about writing, so we continued to meet every week.  I found spaces online to talk with others interested in writing, sewing, and jewelry making.  I made the time to work on my art.  Somedays that meant a few minutes to brainstorm or time to write a paragraph.  Other days I spent the entire time sewing or bent my jewelry making tools.  I made art a priority wherever I could.

It may not be the most profound concept, or the hardest to foster, but I feel that it’s important, and I want to continue to build a sense of art culture in my own life and my community.

Vacation Time – Great Smokie Mountains

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This week is my annual vacation with my husband and his family.  It’s one of my favorite things that doesn’t have to do with NaNoWriMo.  It’s me and my husband, his parents, and my sister-in-law (SIL) and her husband.  I joke that I stole all my sister’s in-law karma, since she does not have the best in-laws and I have the ABSOLUTE BEST in-laws.

Seriously.  They’re amazing.

And that’s just the basis for the great vacation.  We all get along pretty well as long as no one brings up politics.  I can even handle the in-law’s standard poodle and SIL’s smooth coat collie for the week.  (I lam solidly in the cat-person camp.)  SIL is the alpha animal of all alpha animals, so the poodle is super well behaved when she’s around, and her collie is actually a service animal and as well trained as you think he is based on that.  (She trained him herself which is also kind of amazing.  Have I mentioned how much I admire my SIL?)  Even when he’s not working and just goofing around having fun he’s super polite and well-mannered and follows orders.

This year, we’ve booked a cabin in the mountains (and by that I mean a cabin-themed house big enough to sleep 8 adults).  Each couple is cooking two meals to cover dinners, and the younger generation has collectively packed enough board games to fill the entire week.  As I joked in our group text message “it hurts nothing but our backs to bring more than we can possibly play.”

So I’ll be spending a week day-tripping to Asheville, Black Mountain. and other lovely spots in the NC mountains, enjoying the hot tub and scenery at the cabin, playing board games, and enjoying time with five of my most favorite people.  Below are some of the photo highlights of the trip so far.

Image Prompt 042 Response – This Is Not Our Basement

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I selected the image of Scotland cityscape for my twenty-minute sprint this month.  I hope you enjoy the beginning of this idea.

This Is Not Our Basement:

Michael made his way down the stairs into the basement to investigate the weird noises.  His roommate must have left one of her weird experiments running, because the combination of bubbling noises and sharp knocking sounds made no sense and wasn’t rhythmic enough to be music.

The light was still on, but she’d put up a red filter so it didn’t do more than make sure he didn’t trip on the stairs.  He didn’t see her as he reached the bottom, but that didn’t always mean anything.

“Claire?” he called out, hoping she was there and would answer him.

No response.

Michael walked further into the room, checking to make sure there wasn’t anything strewn across the floor.  All he saw were faint markings, like she’d been drawing on the floor with chalk.

“Claire?” he called again.  “If you’re down here, let me know.”

Michael kept walking toward the back of the room.  There were two rooms, so she might have been in the other one with the door closed and not hear him.

When he reached the center of the room, right under the red light, his foot hit something less than solid.

“What the…” he started.  Before he could even finish the sentence, he was pulled forward and the light went out as wind rushed up around him.  He couldn’t tell if he was falling, or if a wind was coming up from the floor.

His foot hit solid ground again and he stumbled as the sudden light nearly blinded him.

Michael took two steps and then finished his sentence.

He as standing on a path leading down a hill toward a city.  A European city by the look of it.  He looked behind himself to find more hill, and beyond that more city.

“Claire?” he said softly.

“Michael?” she asked, popping up from the grass beside the path.

“This is not our basement,” Michael said.

“I told you not to come down without asking,” Claire said, hurrying to his side.  “You aren’t hurt are you?”  She actually grabbed his hand so she could take his pulse.

“Confused, but not hurt,” Michael said.  “Where are we?”

“Dundee, Scotland,” Clair said.  “I was testing out a portal.  You at least answered the question of whether it stays open after someone goes through it.”

“How do we get home?” he asked.

“Same way we got here,” Clair said.  “It’s a two-way portal.  You just have to back into it.”

“So I just walk backward?” Michael asked.

“That should do it,” Claire said.  “Let me get clear first,” she added before hurrying off the path.

Michael took two steps backward, then another two.  “You sure about this?” he asked as he took two more steps backward.

“That’s not good,” Claire said.  “It should have worked.  Let me try.”

Michael stepped off the path and Clair started in front of him and walked backward several steps.

“It’s not there,” Claire said.  “That is not good.”

“So you’ve said,” Michael replied dryly.

“It means we have to find another way home,” Claire said.  “It was supposed to be a one use portal, which I thought meant in one way, out the other and it closes until that person goes back the other way.  Apparently that means open, go through once, go back through once, and it closes.  And it doesn’t distinguish direction, so when you came through, it closed.”

“This is what I get for trying to pay the rent on time,” Michael said, sitting down in the grass.

“I thought I gave you the rent,” Claire said.

“You gave me June rent,” Michael said.  “It’s the first of July.  July rent is due in four days.”

“Oh, damn, sorry,” Claire said, biting her lip.  “I’ll figure out how to get us home by then.  Or at least get a check cut.”

“Why are you not freaking out?” Michael asked.

“I specialize in magic, this isn’t that big a deal,” Claire replied.

“And we’re in another country without any papers or permissions,” Michael pointed out.

“At least they speak English,” Claire countered.  “Much easier not to get noticed this way.”

If I realized you were this much of an optimist I might not have let you move in,” Michael groused.  “So what’s the plan, and how can I help?”

“The plan is to find some supplies and open a portal home,” Claire said.  “If you have any cash, or your cell phone on you that would be helpful.  I have my phone but no cash.”

Michael started pulling things out of his pockets.  He had his phone, three receipts from yesterday, eighty-five cents in change, and his wallet which revealed four dollars and one emergency check.

“That is not going to get us home, but we can at least write the check and get that home,” Claire said.  “I can transport it directly into the rent box, so they won’t hit us with late fees.”

“But it will overdraft my account and charge me a ton of money.”

“I swear to pay you back for all of that, plus interest, and an apology gift for you ending up here with me.”

Image Prompt 042 – Scotland Cityscape and Stonehenge

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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 042-001 2018-07-13 City Scenes 020

Image Prompt 042-002 2018-07-13 Day One05-05-09 008

The Importance of Breaks

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It’s been a very busy time at work for me lately, and that leads to an internal pressure to keep up with everything and not let myself get behind or have to ask for support to complete my work.  This is problematic in itself, that I am driven to appear perfect and able to keep up even when I can’t.  That’s something I’m working on.  And one way I’m doing that involves breaks.

I am fortunate in that I work at a university with a culture that generally supports work/life balance.  I also work in a department full of amazing people that’s housed under a department run by an amazing dean who really cares about how we’re doing.  This means that I’m discouraged from working late, working through lunch, or generally over-working myself.  They want me to have time to rest and recharge.

I’ve been either skipping my lunch break or taking a much shorter one the past couple weeks as I try to stay on top of everything during my busiest time of year.  Yes, it’s weird for a university employee to be busiest over the summer, but my role is a bit backward that way.  I have been eating lunch, my body wouldn’t let me get away with skipping meals, but I haven’t been taking that time to step away from work and think about something else for a while like I usually do.

Breaks are important for your brain.  And not just long ones like your lunch break or not thinking about work overnight.  There’s science to support that small breaks, like watching a funny cat video or taking a short walk, are good for your brain.  A lot of the advice I get as a writer about how to get past a block involves a short break like a snack or a walk.

With it being Camp NaNoWriMo this month, and my goal to finish the re-write of book two in my Swords and Shields series, I should be taking the time I get for lunch to write.  I’m going to try to be much more intentional about that this coming week.  Today I’m going to take my lunch break, and make sure I’m not pulling any extra time for the week.  I’m going to get caught up on the one item that effects people other than me, and then I’m going to work really hard not to stress about the rest.

Not stressing is a skill I’m still developing.  The pressure to work hard, probably harder than is healthy, that permeates the working world in the US is hard to escape and hard to overcome.  I have a week-long vacation coming up that will hopefully help with that.  In the meantime, I just need to remember to take my breaks where I can, whether it’s my lunch break or a couple minutes to watch a video or read an article between work tasks.

Do you have any strategies for making sure you’re taking the breaks you need?  Or generally how to keep your usual work/life balance when things get busy?

The Hands that Mold: Vixen

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For those new to my blog, the Hands that Mold series of posts is about the people in my life that have helped shape me into the writer I am today.

This post is about Vixen.

To start with, that’s not her real name, but in the interest of anonymity, she’ll be Vixen today.

I can blame meeting Vixen on Manda, who introduced me to a great series of books and its fan run fanfiction site.  Vixen and I were both actively posting at the same time back then.  I was looking for a new beta reader for my fics, and she was interested in one for hers, so we started swapping chapters back and forth and helping each other improve rough drafts.

In the process of all this, we also started emailing back and forth pretty regularly.  We’d talk about all sorts of things.  What strangeness I was dealing with at my job, or what she was doing in her training programs with the hope of landing a job in the near future.  We also talked a lot about Aussieisms and Americanisms.

Vixen is Australian, so there were times when I’d have to explain what I meant when I used a word, or she’d have to do the same.  One of the fun ones I remember was when we sent each other pictures to explain what a biscuit was.

Vixen and I exchanged work regularly for a couple years.  I might not be able to pick out specific things she helped me learn to catch on my own like I can with other beta readers, but I know that my work improved over the course of our time working together.  She was a huge fan of my fanfiction and excited about my original stories as well.  She was a huge help during the editing process for Strong Fort Spathí.

We don’t email as much as we used to, and haven’t shared stories as much either, but Vixen still had an impact on me and my writing during a very important time for me.  She helped me have the confidence to put my stories out there, and was never afraid to tell me when an entire chapter was easily summed up in a sentence and thus really not needed.  I definitely needed a reader who would be that brutally honest with me back then, and I probably still need one like that now.

Have you had a beta that wasn’t afraid to share hard truths to make your work better?  Or a pen pal you had to explain your language usage to?  I’d love to hear about others’ experiences.