Refuge

Whoa. Week 52. A whole year’s worth of prompts. I think I missed two or three, but I’m still pretty impressed with myself. This is one of the weeks I missed sending in a prompt. But, I used one of the spares and came up with the bit below. I really don’t know where this came from since I haven’t fully explored some of the more interesting corners of my brain. I’m not sure I should, but then, it seems there is a goldmine of stories tucked away. Who knew? Not me. At least not me before this year. Many thanks to Cedar for creating this prompting page. It’s been a source of stability and fun in a strange year.

The spare prompt I chose was: The old man’s beard was soft and curly Spanish moss.

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Packs

I didn’t get this one up on time, but here is my More Odds Than Ends prompt for Week 51. I was prompted by Fiona Grey with I got him!” She waved her prize in the air and wiggled her hips, grinning at her mentor. He gave her a wistful smile, wishing they were as safe as she clearly believed. “I’m afraid they hunt in packs.” It’s short, but a niggle in the back of my brain thinks it may grow into something more. My prompt went to Mike Barker and he did a couple of different responses. Go check them out!

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Dancing Lights

It’s hard to believe that over at More Odds Than Ends we are at Week 50. Seems like just last month that we started down this road. In the last year of responding to and thinking up these prompts I’ve grown as a writer more than I could have imagined at the beginning of the year. This has been an absolute blast and I hope to keep doing it into next year. My prompt thie week came from ‘nother Mike: Five faeries, like Tinkerbelle, but all different pastel shades, danced down the dragon’s arm and spun around in a circle in its paw… My prompt went to Leigh Kimmel.

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Week 47 (rah!) Odd Prompt

Wow. Week 47.at More Odds Than Ends. An auspicious number for us Pomona types. 47 is our number. It carries a mysterious significance for us all. Hence the rah after the number (as in cheering for the number. Yeah, we’re weird. Deal.) So, anyway. I didn’t get a prompt sent in for this week so I stole one of the other prompts. I looked through the spare prompts but none of them really spoke to me. I ended up stealing ‘nother Mike’s prompt even though it was assigned to Leigh Kimmel. I’m pretty sure Leigh will go in an entirely different direction with it than I did. This is also another stand-alone prompt, not connected to any of my current works-in-progress. I did manage to send in a prompt for next week, so I’ve got that going for me this week. I’m surprised at how unproductive I’ve been this week. The only reason I can come up with right now is that the lack of a semester with all its rhythms is finally catching up with me. This is usually a slower week for me. The semester is winding down, by now, Tuesday evening, most students have left campus even though there are classes on Wednesday, and I’m in no mood to be hanging out on campus either.

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Week 46 of Odd Prompts

I have missed the last couple of weeks of Odd Prompts. Partly related to overall stress, partly to losing track of days. This response was due last week. I actually remembered to send in a prompt and received this one in turn from Fiona Grey: The cat and the tree were the best of friends, if an odd pair. And then, one day, the other lemon dropped. Once again, I couldn’t figure out a way to work it into Cursebreaker, so here it is in it’s solo career. On the topic of Cursebreaker, I will be working that into a full-length novel soon (as soon as I get book 2 out to beta readers…). For now though, enjoy the cat and its tree.

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And so it begins…

The Spring 2020 semester starts tomorrow. I just got back yesterday from 11 days in Belgium and Netherlands with my students. I have finished two out of three syllabi. And, those two are for the same class (2 sections). The third one, my class on Russian politics, is not in the online learning management system yet. The last time I taught it was before we got this new system. So, that will take some time to input all the modules and info for them. Fun.

On the “I’m grateful for…” side of things, I’m grateful I teach Tuesdays and Thursdays so I have tomorrow to work on getting everything uploaded and semi-functioning. I can spend the day working on that so that on Tuesday it’s all ready and looks like I’m totally organized. Ha!

On the WTF?! side of things, we have our first big meeting of the semester tomorrow as well. Oh, joy. I started seeing the emails for several meetings last week, but since I was busy doing pedagogically sound activities with students I was able to totally ignore most of them.

Continued: Monday Jan. 13.

The semester started today. I’m grateful that my schedule is Tuesday/Thursday this semester. We did have a meeting this afternoon, but at least I didn’t have to teach today. Tomorrow is three classes back-to-back. Oh, joy. More and more I think that work puts a real crimp in the work I really want to do.

You might have noticed that I’m doing a weekly writing prompt exercise over at More Odds Than Ends. I’ve posted them here. Last week’s was “Old Keys.” I had fun writing it and I’m very much looking forward to continuing this exercise in the foreseeable future. Waiting to see what the next one will be. In the meantime, I greatly appreciate your reading them and I’ve love to read any comments you might have.

OK. I’m off to bed. Long day tomorrow. Here’s to a good, and less stressful Spring 2020 semester.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Old keys

The Week 2 of Odd prompts found me sorting through a coffee can of old keys. I’m traveling with my students and this has been a welcome change.

******

Old Keys

I pulled the can off of the top shelf in the garage. The left side of the two-car garage had been my dad’s workshop/home appliance repair area. He’d spent hours and days puttering around out here, in all kinds of weather, at almost all hours of the day. If mom hadn’t insisted he get some sleep, and preferably in their bed, I truly believe he would have slept out here as well. Now I was cleaning it out along with the rest of the house so it could be sold.

The can was heavy and there was a metallic rattle when it shifted. Probably a bunch of screws and nails. All saved “just in case.” Dad never threw anything away because, according to him, you never knew when you might need it. He wasn’t really a hoarder, except when it came to screws, nuts, bolts, washers, and nails. I’d already found about 10 coffee cans full of all of those. This was probably one more.

I peered into the rusted Folger’s coffee can. Holy crap. It was filled with keys. Keys! Not just a couple dozen or so (something I would expect to find in a house that had been lived in for almost 50 years), but almost a full coffee can’s worth. Did any of these work on the current locks? Knowing dad, they probably worked on the original locks for the house.

“Michael! Where are you?” My wife’s voice came through the door that went into the house from the garage.

“Out here, in the garage. You gotta see this!” I yelled back, staring into the Folger’s can.

Jenna appeared in the doorway. “What did you find?”

I simply handed over the coffee can. “What am I supposed to do with these?”

“Wow. That’s a hella lot of keys. Can’t you just throw them out?” Jenna looked up at me.

“I suppose. But…something tells me I have to go through them just to be sure. Who knows what dad put in there. Besides, some of them might go to the current locks in the house. I’d feel better knowing we accounted for them all.”

I took the can back and followed Jenna back into the house and went through to the kitchen. I unceremoniously dumped the keys out on the kitchen table.

Jenna started sorting through them. “A lot of these look the same. Why don’t we start there? Find your keys to the house. We can compare them and see if any of these are house keys.” She pulled out a chair and got to work sorting keys.

Thank God for my wife. If I’d been alone, I would have simply stared at the pile on the table. I had mostly made it through the weeks after my parent’s deaths because of her. She took care of all the practical stuff and just told me where to go. And I went. The police to deal with the aftermath of the accident, the hospital to see them and be there when the machines were unplugged, the funeral home. Everything. She handled it all and pointed me in the right direction. Now she was helping me do something as mundane as sort keys. How did I get so lucky?

“Michael. What could this possibly go to?” Jenna was holding up an antique key with a fanciful design on the handle end.

I stared at the key. “That looks like it might actually open that bottom drawer in the old dresser in their bedroom. I have no idea what could be in there, but why don’t we try it?” I took the key from her and headed into the master bedroom.

I had to stop at the door and take a deep breath. I hadn’t touched this room yet. I couldn’t bring myself to go through their clothes, my mother’s jewelry, anything. In this room, their room, they were still alive. I pushed down a sob and felt Jenna’s hand on the small of my back.

She gave me a hug. “I know. Let’s just see if the key fits and then go back to the kitchen. It’s probably something your dad found and couldn’t throw away. It is a beautiful key.”

I nodded and moved into the room toward the dresser that sat next to the window. I don’t know that it would qualify as an antique, but it was old. And damn if it didn’t look like the key was made for that bottom drawer.

I knelt down in front of the dresser, put the key in the keyhole, and slowly turned it. A soft click and a small release of pressure told me it did indeed unlock the drawer. I glanced over at Jenna who had knelt on the floor next to me. She smiled at me and made a “go on” gesture with her hand. I pulled open the drawer not knowing what to expect.

“Holy shit!”

“Oh, my God!”

Jenna and I yelled simultaneously. The drawer was filled, filled, top to bottom, front to back, side to side with $100 bills. There had to be close to a million dollars or more in that dresser drawer. In cash.

“Michael, look!” Jenna’s hand was shaking as she pointed to a white envelope sitting in the middle on top of all the cash. She picked up the envelope, glanced at it and handed it to me. Her eyes were wide.

The envelope was addressed to me. I tore it open and pulled out the single sheet of paper inside.

Seeing my father’s crabbed handwriting made me tear up again.

Dear Michael,

Congratulations. You found the key and figured out where it fit. This is your real inheritance. I didn’t want to put it in with the other investments even though it might have made more that way. Do with this as you see fit, although I wouldn’t spend it all in one place. That makes the IRS suspicious and you know how I feel about them.

I had to laugh. My father’s dislike of the IRS was a legend in the extended family.

There’s $1,750,000 in here. It’s all yours, son. I love you.

Dad

P.S. Your mother says she loves you too.

Water dripped onto the paper. I took the Kleenex offered by Jenna and wiped off my tears.

“Well, Dad. You finally did it. I’m speechless.” I looked up to the heavens and laughed.

******

This was actually kinda fun to write. My father was not like this in terms of fixer upper coffee cans full of screws, and he didn’t have a workshop in the garage. But for some reason he was front and center while I was writing this.

Writing prompt and traveling

Writing prompt from More Odds than Ends: octopus ink and cuttlefish quills from Cedar Sanderson.

******

“Dammit.” Jonathon shook the small bottle. Nothing.

“Edwards!”

“Yes, sir?” the almost sibilant response came from his immediate left. He jumped. “Dammit! don’t DO that! You’re lucky I’m out of ink. If I’d spilled it on this document I would be extremely unhappy with you!”

“Yes, sir. I apologize.”

“Damn straight. I need more ink and a new cuttlefish quill. Now.” Jonathon tamped down his rising impatience. He knew that it would take a few minutes for Edwards to produce enough ink to refill the bottle. The octopod did not like to be observed when producing ink. It could be an annoying habit, but one Jonathon was willing to put up with in light of Edwards’ other talents.

******

I’m traveling with my students this week, so I think my next prompt will be inspired by that.

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians from Pixabay

New year, new decade

The second decade of the 21st century is ending (yes, I’m aware of the whole 19 vs. 20, 9 vs. 0 thing. I go with 0 is the lowest number, therefore 9 is the last of the decade). As we enter this third decade I am looking forward to a number of changes both big and small. I will start my full-time writing career this year. I will leave academia this year. We will move to a different place this year. Those are the big changes. And, they are quite big. And stressful. But, full of adventure and potential!

I have spent a fair amount of time this past year assessing and evaluating my life, my attitude, and my desires. Discovering that not only can I write fiction, but that I like to write it, and I’m actually pretty good at it has been eye-opening and mind-blowing. I have loved this kind of story as long as I can remember. I’m the kid who went through the children’s section of the library faster than the librarians could keep up. I discovered all those color fairy tale books…Red Fairy Tale Book, Yellow Fairy Tale Book, etc. I headed for the YA section as an elementary school kid. I ate up the science fiction, swords and sorcery, urban fantasy, etc. I loved thinking about how one would create such worlds, what kind of stories would happen in those worlds. I never thought I had enough ideas and creativity to actually create and write stories in those worlds.

Now, in middle age (OK, fine. Late middle age. Whatever), I am creating not one, but several different worlds, and dreaming up stories in those worlds. This is loads of fun! I wish I’d known about this before. But, then, I would not have taken the path that I have, and I know for certain that I would not have had the courage to let anybody read anything, never mind submit something for publication. I know now this is what I want to do and that I can do it and that I will be successful. I’m a much stronger person now then I was even a decade ago.

Heading into this new decade, I’m feeling almost like I’m a new person. I no longer care about the criticisms of people who are not close to me and not supportive of anything I do, unless that something is on a path or trajectory they approve of. I’ve removed several toxic people from my life. I’m publicly taking stands on things and some of those stands are not popular with a number of people who probably now consider me a “former friend.” Whatever. I prefer friends with whom I can vehemently disagree, discuss issues, and then go and have a wonderful time at dinner. I’m making sure that the people who are in my life are people I know have my back and I have theirs.

I’m starting my new year by traveling with students. If that doesn’t test strength I don’t know what will! I hope everybody has a great new year’s eve, and a strong start to the new year and the new decade!

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Reading Breadth

I just read a post at Mad Genius Club discussing reading and cultural heritage. This post was based on an article at Intellectual Takeout analyzing 7th and 8th grade reading lists in Minnesota public schools in 1908 vs. 2019. Both of these posts got me thinking about what I read, and how much I read (or don’t sometimes). The post on cultural heritage struck a chord. Many people home school these days because they don’t feel that their kids are getting a good enough education in the public school system. (Right now, I can hear teacher friends and friend who have teachers as friends screaming that I’m blaming the teachers…No. I’m not.) The teachers are teaching the curriculum that was ginned up by the politicians in their various states. Believe it or not, the federal government and Betsy deVoss have very little to do with what a state does or does not do in terms of education curriculum. Like many things the federal government decrees, it gets states to fall in line via the simple expedient of blackmail. The feds threaten the subsidies to states if states fail to do what the feds want. The states have become so dependent on the feds for budgets for education and other areas that they fall in line like good little boys and girls (Go look up the history of setting the legal drinking age to 21. Blackmail via highway funds.)

It’s become very fashionable to distance oneself from our Western, European, Judeo-Christian cultural heritage. All the “best” minds will explain (at dreary length) how that culture is corrupt and led to all sorts of evils like slavery and colonialism and racism and…and…whatever else they can think of that they don’t like. But slavery existed (and still does in many parts of the world) long before Western civilization was a twinkle in any one’s eyes. Racism is the normal course of human interaction. Doesn’t make it right, but it’s a normal human reaction. Just go to any fully integrated high school cafeteria at lunch time. Kids self-segregate. Doesn’t mean they don’t like kids of other races, just means they’re more comfortable with those who look like them. Also doesn’t mean they don’t hang out with kids of other races, just not all the time. Do you hang out with the same exact set of friends all the time? Or do you mix it up. If you read, you understand that while aspects of civilization created and even encouraged those ills, other aspects worked to end them and make them the anathema they are today.

Where was I going with this? Oh yeah. Reading and cultural history. It’s important to understand history. How can you say where a society, country, organization went wrong or right if you don’t know and understand the history of it? How can you understand and know the history if you don’t read? And, it’s not just history books of all stripes we need to be reading (and our kids too), it’s all kinds of books from fiction to fantasy to fairy tales to poetry to essays on life, the universe and everything, to opinion pieces on the outrage topic du jour. All of these give insights into culture, history, and social mores. Reading should be done in such as way as to give you a depth and breadth of knowledge and experience such that you are able to take in many factors and understand the outcomes and consequences (both intended and unintended).

Groups and individuals will always interpret the same book/article/essay in different manners. That’s what reasoned, analytical discussions are for. To figure out where those interpretations are based and why they appear. Sometimes reading different analyses on the same book or essay reminds of this meme I saw on Facebook a while back:

25+ Best Memes About the English Teacher | the English ...

You don’t have to explain why, but it bears remembering that when you read an analysis or interpretation of a work you are reading the author’s analysis/interpretation of another author. It’s fine to agree, as long as you’ve read the same original piece. Thus, basing your own analysis/interpretation on your own reading and not trusting somebody else to read it and interpret it the same way you do.

All of this is a long way of saying that reading everything, even things you find disturbing, angering, whatever, is the best way to develop your own critical thinking skills and pick up some knowledge and maybe even appreciation for your own history and that of the culture in which you were raised.

Try it. Read something and see what happens to your brain.