Friday Fiction: Old Dog, New Tricks

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I’m going to try this feature one more time. Behold the return of Friday Fiction!

I went to writing-prompt-s.tumblr.com for my writing prompt today, which gave me …

The year is 2070. You have just moved into a Seniors’ home, and the LAN parties are amazing.

Okay, I think I can crank a couple hundred words, at least, out of this prompt. Let’s see what happens. I’m writing autobiographically but changing names for reasons.


“Welcome to Beechwood Estates Senior Living Community, Mr. Jones! My name is Carla and I’ll be helping you and your wife settle into your new apartment. Nursing staff is available with the touch of a button on your watch, so if you ever need anything all you need to do is just push this button right here.” Carla gestured to Mr. Jones’ wrist to show him what button to push, then went to do the same with Mrs. Jones and her watch. She continued the orientation speech. “Dinner will be in the main dining hall at 5:45, although you can always cook on your own here in your apartment. Tonight is gaming night, so you’ll want to be ready for that.”

“Oh, I love games. I presume the usual stuff, checkers, gin rummy, that sort of thing?” Mr. Jones asked.

Mrs. Jones piped up. “Don’t let him play checkers for money, he’s a shark.”

Carla chuckled. “No, um … we do game night a little differently around here. It’ll take a bit of preparation for you to play.”

“You guys do roleplaying games? They never told me that in the sales pitch.”

“Actually, no,” Carla said with a smile. “Well, not tonight, at least. RPGs are the first Tuesday of the month. Jim Watson is our game master and he puts together a really good campaign.” She looked around and noticed two 14-inch tablets on the dining room table. “Do these run Windows or Linux?”

“Windows,” Mr. Jones responded. “I never could get the hang of coding in Linux. I know, I’m a bit of a Luddite compared to most of the youngsters here.”

“Windows is fine. Here, let me just …” She fumbled on a ring with multiple flash drives on it until she found the one she was looking for. “Can I install something on your tablets, Mr. and Mrs. Jones?”

Puzzled, Mrs. Jones asked Carla what she was intending to install.

“Oh, we have some of the classic computer games here on a private server, and tonight is our LAN night. I think tonight we’re playing Minecraft, did you used to play that one?”

“You know, I never did get into it,” Mr. Jones said. “Stacy used to dabble with it back in the Teens, but it was never anything that caught my fancy.”

“I think you’ll love it, Mr. Jones. Some of the other residents have taught me how to play – it was way before my time, of course – and it’s kinda fun. The throwback graphics are interesting and a big change from the graphics in today’s games. They stopped updating it decades ago, but we have a copy of the last workable version and that’s what we play on game night.”

Mr. Jones smirked. “You know they were throwback graphics when the game came out, Carla. We played Skyrim and The Witcher 3 and The Sinking City, and the graphics for those games were incredible at the time. They’re nothing compared to what’s out today, but we always stuck with the classics. There was a point in time that we stopped getting new games, they’re always so complex and hyper-violent these days, and most of them are console based. We never played console games, so it’d be like trying to learn how to ride a bike for us. We’re just used to the tablets these days.”

Carla asked Mr. Jones to enter his passcode into his tablet, and she began work installing the Minecraft client on his tablet. It only took a few seconds before she was done, and she repeated the process with Mrs. Jones’ tablet.

“There now, you guys are all set, server information is already loaded in so you’ll go straight to the LAN when you start. Minecraft starts at 7:00. That’s when I get off, but I’ll stick around to introduce you to the other residents on the server.”

Mrs. Jones spoke again. “Oh, you don’t have to do that, Carla, I’m sure we’ll be fine.”

“Don’t give it another thought, Mrs. Jones, I’m happy to do it.”

“Well, thank you, dear.”

“Okay, it’s getting close to dinnertime. I don’t think you two have had a chance to stock your fridge yet, so let’s get you over to the dining hall.”

Carla and Mr. and Mrs. Jones left the apartment and the three of them got into the Jones’ golf cart. Carla directed them up the street a short ways to a large building where people were already starting to take their places at long dining tables.

Dinner was a simple affair, fried chicken with green beans and mashed potatoes, and the Joneses were able to make quite a number of new acquaintances with Carla making introductions.

After the plates were cleared, some residents left the dining room to go about their evening, but many stayed behind and started pulling out their tablets to prepare for Minecraft night. Carla was seated beside the Joneses and started her tablet up as well.

Mrs. Jones remembered vaguely what to do so she forged ahead, saying hello in chat and getting a lot of hellos in return. Mr. Jones was a little slower and Carla helped him get started, introducing him when he’d logged in and giving him some pointers on what to do to get started. He’d spawned in the middle of a wooded area, but off in the distance he could see some other buildings. He wasn’t far from friends. Carla helped him to fell a tree and build a crafting table from it, then use the table to craft the tools he’d need. Eventually another player found him and together they put up Mr. Jones’ first shelter. The player’s name was Fred, and he was very helpful.

Once he’d gotten acclimated and introduced to another couple of players in game, Carla said it was time for her to go home, so she signed out, shut down her tablet, and wished both Mr. and Mrs. Jones luck with Minecraft, explaining that she’d be back on site at 10 am the next morning if they had any questions.

Mr. Jones sat back and marveled at his good fortune to find a senior community that was active in the ways that he used to be. He looked over at his wife, smiled, blew a kiss, and went back to exploring his new cubical digital world with his new friends.

It was going to be a good home for them both.

Valhalla Does Not Discriminate

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Today’s blog post comes with reading homework, since my post builds on that and I really feel weird posting the entirety of someone else’s writing on my blog as a quote, so I’m going to get to a point in this post where I’ll ask you to click on a link and go read the story there. My post will likely make sense without the reading homework, but I want you to read the absolutely amazing piece that brought me to tears and inspired today’s post.

There is a Tumblr account, writing-prompt-s, that has posted hundreds, possibly thousands, of writing prompts since its inception in May 2016. Back on November 1, they posted the following prompt:

Valhalla does not discriminate against the kind of fight you lost. Did you lose the battle with cancer? Maybe you died in a fist fight. Even facing addiction. After taking a deep drink from his flagon, Odin slams his cup down and asks for the glorious tale of your demise!

This one prompt resulted in over 110,000 notes on Tumblr, but the one that I want you to read comes from a Tumblr user named prismatic-bell.

All the links that I’ve provided up to this point are mostly for reference, although if you’re a writer I would recommend going to the first link and following writing-prompt-s for yourself. They are prolific with their writing prompts and I found many of the ones I browsed through looking for the prompt above to be inspirational.

This is the link I want you to click and read. This is your homework before continuing with today’s post. It, like the rest of the links that I put on this blog, will open in a new window, so you won’t lose your place here.


The old man suddenly appeared inside the entrance to Valhalla, and a booming voice cried out to him, “Come closer, and tell us your tale, you who would enter my hall!”

The old man timidly approached Odin’s throne, cleared his throat and simply said, “I was … distracted … and walked in front of a bus.”

The Allfather took another long drink of mead before stating, “Only those who died fighting may enter this hall. Since you are here, I do not think you are telling me the whole story. One does not fight a bus! What distracted you?”

The old man cleared his throat, plainly intimidated by the majestic presence before him and started his tale.

“I … I was talking to myself. Well, not really. I was listening to my own voice inside my head. It was telling me that I was worthless, that I was friendless, that I was a waste of the skin and bones I’m made of and the air that I breathe, and I was trying so hard to tell myself that wasn’t the truth, but my voice inside my head wouldn’t stop putting me down. I never stopped putting myself down and telling myself all these horrible things about me.”

The lines of Odin’s face softened as he began to understand who and what the old man’s enemy was. “When did this begin?”

Now that he had started, the whole of the old man’s story came out in a flood. “I’ve been putting myself down for as long as I can remember. I was bullied throughout school, I was sexually and physically abused as a teenager, I was psychologically abused well into adulthood, I never felt like I had any close friends … I always felt so alone and incapable of anything. I never did anything with my life. I wanted to end it so many times, but I just couldn’t. I was too scared to.”

Odin One-Eye regarded the old man for a moment before speaking. “You spent a lifetime fighting your own mind, an enemy that never once gave you a moment of peace in all those years. You died fighting that enemy, even though it was not that enemy that killed you. To fight an enemy that’s as relentless for as long as you did takes bravery, strength, and courage the likes of which many here do not have. To be considered brave among such company is a high honor indeed. You have earned your rest.”

Immediately the old man noticed a peace of mind that he could not ever recall feeling. His mind was clear of self-harming thoughts for the first time in his memory. Odin then offered the old man his horn and bid him to take a long drink from it. Those who were listening to the exchange between the god and the old man gasped audibly, which caused many others to stop what they were doing and pay attention. The hall was considerably quieter now as the old man drunk and Odin continued. “You have just drunk from the Mead of Poetry. This is a gift that is not given to many, even here in Valhalla. It will serve you well here.”

The old man thanked the Allfather and went to take his place at a table full of food.

It wasn’t long before another came before Odin and told her tale. She had an eating disorder and had essentially starved herself to death. The old man paid close attention to the conversation, and when she had left the throne the old man spoke with a confidence he had not experienced in life as he effortlessly told the tale of the newcomer, painting her as a true hero of Valhalla for her struggles against the enemy in her mind.

The old man, from that day forth, turned the stories of conflict that he had heard before Odin’s throne into epic tales of bravery and strength and courage, qualities that he now understood that he possessed throughout his life. He became known as one of the skalds of Valhalla. The hall was filled with his stories of the heroes that came before Odin that he told to his many friends there.

 

Maybe This Will Help …

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Early on in the life of this blog, I started a feature that I called Friday Fiction. The idea was that once a week, I would create a short story to share with you, my readers. That lasted all of three episodes before I ran into a fierce and unrelenting case of writer’s block which has persisted to this day.

Recognizing that I was suffering from this affliction, I found a Kickstarter project called the Writer’s Block Tarot. It intrigued me and, after reading the description of what the project would be like, I was sold and put my name in the book, quite literally.

The package that I ordered consisted of a tarot deck themed to writing rather than readings, as well as a pack of nine genre cards and a book to explain everything. I’ve been waiting patiently for it to arrive, which it said it would do in April.

I picked up the package from the mailbox yesterday.

The deck was created by Vivian Caethe and illustrated by Amber Peter. The cards are very lovely, photographic pieces of art in and of themselves. Just like a regular tarot deck, there are 22 Major Arcana cards and 56 Minor Arcana cards, split into ten pip cards and four court cards (King, Queen, Knight, and Page) in each of four suits (Keys, Pens, Pages, and Clocks). As the companion manual explains:

“In the Writer’s Block Tarot, the Major Arcana cards represent larger aspects of the plot and characters that the protagonist(s) experience as they go through the story. The Minor Arcana represent the detailed aspects around them that can influence the plot, both conceptually and directly.”

Just like with a regular tarot deck, cards change their meaning depending on whether they’re dealt right side up or upside down. Again, quoting the companion manual:

“A right side up card’s meaning is intended to convey the “loyal” meaning of the card (how it is represented in the spread in relationship to the other cards) versus the upside down or “disloyal” meaning of the card. This is similar to the concept of the synonym and antonym of a word. Loyalty and disloyalty in this case refer to the innate meaning of the card and how well it is conveyed in the situation in which it is placed.”

As an example of one type of card, card 10 from the Major Arcana is the Try/Fail Cycle. “This concept contains all the attempts the character makes to reach the end of the conflict, and their results.” The other type of card, for example, is The Eight of Pens from the Minor Arcana, which deals with Rage. “What enrages [the character]? What makes them so angry that they can barely speak? How do they present this anger?” (These quotes are exemplary and not the full description of each card in the companion manual, which goes into far greater detail for each card.)

Just as with most tarot decks with companion manuals, several spreads are included, and the writer is encouraged to do a spread for every major character in the piece. The writer is also encouraged to either use the deck as the manual suggests or use it in a manner which works for the individual – there is no right or wrong way to use this tool as a means to jumpstart a story.

I’m going to use the deck to write a short story this Friday to try to resurrect the Friday Fiction feature of this blog, and then on Saturday will write about my experiences using the deck. Here’s hoping everything works out according to plan.

I Was Prompted To Write This

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In response to yesterday’s post a dear friend of mine suggested “Perhaps some journaling prompts would help?” What a brilliant idea!

So I did a Google search for “journaling prompts” and it offered an autocompletion of “journaling prompts for depression,” and since that kind of fits what I’m doing here I went with that. The first result I got was a list called 119 Journal Prompts for Your Journal Jar, written by Marelisa Fabrega on her blog Daring to Live Fully. These prompts apparently are in turn compiled from a now-defunct blog written by a blogger that went by the name of Megg called Sunday Scribblings, and for my own reference I’m including links to both here.

Now, to be fair, these prompts aren’t specifically geared to depression, they’re much more general writing prompts. But they do seem to be effective, and so today I’m going to pick one of those prompts and write about it.

Today’s prompt is from a section that Marelisa calls The Sky’s the Limit. It asks the question “What would you do if money were no object?” That tends to imply a limit in and of itself, however, in that it implies that you’d only have a single response, and that’s not the case for me. I have a list of things that I’d do, so we’re going to alter the prompt to “You’ve just inherited five billion dollars. What will you do with it?” I chose five billion dollars as my limit here because the most expensive thing that I’d consider doing if money were truly no object would be to buy a sports franchise, and nowadays that’s not something you can even do with a billion dollars. It’s not something that actually makes my list of things I would do, but it would certainly be something that I’d consider in passing.

The first thing I’d do is pay off our debt, my mother’s debt, and my daughter’s student loans. After that, I’d buy a second car for us. Nothing terribly fancy, but something nice and useful, probably a small-size SUV, something that we could put a few friends into and that would haul a trailer full of camping gear. (For those that don’t know, my hobby involves camping, and a nice camping site in my hobby would be very comparable to the trend called “glamping” – glamour camping. There would be actual beds with actual furniture in large canvas pavilions made to look as they did hundreds of years ago, and that kind of gear takes up considerable amounts of space, hence the trailer for camping.) Then I’d pay whatever money would be required to get my mother out of assisted living and into a nice place of her own near us, specially built for someone who’s wheelchair bound, with a live-in nurse to help take care of her for the things that she can’t do herself. Those would be what I would consider to be the emergent situations that would need addressing.

Once all that was done, I’d start looking toward the future. I’d pay to have a nice house built to specs for my wife and I, large enough to have a few extra bedrooms should friends need crash space in the area for hobby reasons, but not opulently designed or with extravagant features like an in-house theater, for instance. Nice but not gaudy, someplace with some lovely scenery that’s not too far away from town to be convenient, and designed to be as carbon-neutral as possible. And then I’d start on my legacy.

With a large chunk of what was left, I’d start a foundation similar to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, something that would underwrite various other charities and their causes, and that’s where the large majority of the money would go. My main vocational focus would be on the administration of this foundation, doing research into and making decisions about which charities would receive funding from the foundation. (This part of the “if money was no object” question has varied somewhat over time, but the creation of a charitable foundation has always been the centerpiece of any large sum of money that I would acquire.)

Once that was done, I’d invest in a college degree for both myself and my wife, if for no other reason than to say we’re college graduates. We would effectively be retired, so these degrees would be in something that we wanted to study in depth rather than something that we’d feel a pull to do to make money, though my degree would likely be in something that would further my goal of non-profit administration for the foundation.

I’d also allow myself enough money to get my pilot’s license and to invest in a small Lear jet so that we could travel the country. This isn’t as much an extravagance as much as it is the fulfillment of a childhood dream of mine. I’ve always wanted to learn to fly.

We’d reserve enough to maintain a comfortable lifestyle for ourselves for the rest of our lives and we’d establish a trust fund for my daughter and her future family, so that they would be able to live comfortably as well.

The one ongoing splurge that we’d allow ourselves would be the ability to travel extensively. We’ve been married for going on fifteen years and we still to this day have not had a honeymoon, and I’d very much like to rectify that situation. There are so many places that hold such history that we’d love to go experience for ourselves, so that would be our one really guilty pleasure with this sum of money. (Aside from the plane, of course.)

So now that I’ve written what I’d do with five billion dollars, I’m going to challenge you to share what you’d do with that much money. Would you splurge or save? Something in between? Would you buy something extravagant, like my plane, or would you save it for future generations? Would you do something charitable, and if so, what? Tell me in the comments. I’d love to hear what you’d do if money were virtually no object.

Taking a Short Break (Sort Of)

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You’ll notice that I haven’t written since Saturday. That’s partly because I forgot, partly because I couldn’t think of anything to write about, and partly because I’ve been working on an offline writing exercise.

For the next few days I’m going to be making that exercise (which is long and very introspective) my writing priority instead of blogging. If there’s something that happens that seems especially worthy of sharing, I’ll pop back in here and write up something quick and dirty.

… like last night, for instance.

My wife and I have been keeping our distance from the SCA, that historical re-creation organization we belong to, for some time, for various reasons: our heads aren’t screwed on right enough to deal with large crowds of people, our schedule has been preventing any sort of eventing on the weekends, the money really isn’t there for us to even daytrip an event, and finally my wife doesn’t really have anything to wear even if we could make an event.

We mentioned this to a very dear friend who got in touch with another dear friend and together they’re going to work to provide my wife with at least one outfit to wear at events, to help facilitate us coming out. This is a very generous gesture, so for the two of you that conspired to make this happen, and you know who you are, thank you so much for this priceless gift of removing one of the many obstacles that are preventing us from being social and around people that love us and care about us – that’s a situation we both desperately need more often.

Anyway, last night.

Last night we treated one of these dear friends to dinner and got to meet her newborn son for the first time. I was on baby duty while she took care of the business of getting my wife’s measurements (SCA garb is generally custom made, so getting measurements is an important step in the process) and ordering fabric. Being an only child and not living in a neighborhood with younger kids than me – all the kids in the neighborhood were months apart in age, three of us within 12 days and two of us on the same day (we think there was a block party but no one will confirm that) – I never had the exposure of taking care of an infant, so this was a relatively new experience for me. Supposedly I did pretty well, as I was more or less able to keep him calm and quiet the majority of the time I held him. There was dinner, there was SCA business, there was a lot of visiting, and we broke things up around 11:00 or so.

It was one of the better evenings I’ve had in a while. I don’t get much opportunity to interact with my friends in person these days, so the experience felt overwhelmingly … normal. I miss that feeling. It made the usual goofing off on the internet all night feel artificial and forced. Fortunately with the change in schedule we can start to do something about that.