19 April 2019 - 5:00 pm

Writing Spark #51

Magic exists in the world. Why does your character despise using it so much?

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14 April 2019 - 10:00 am

Weight upon me

I haven’t posted here in a while. Here is why, what’s been going on with me, where I am, and what I’m doing about it.

Last year was mostly a struggle.

I don’t want to get into the particulars at this point; suffice to say that 2018 was hard, I survived, and I came out of it at the end… okay. Able to carry on. I guess that’s not saying much.

The worst and probably most illustrative part was when I wound up in hospital for 4 days with a massive infection – the medical staff were concerned and looked after me well, while I was calm and pretty philosophical about it all. It was more of the same kind of pressure that I’m used to; it just took a different form than usual. I narrowly avoided needing surgery and was eventually released to look after myself again.

It was all part of a downward spiral, though, and it became impossible to avoid recognising that. I’ve tried to deny it for so long, determined to believe that I can keep pushing on, that it’ll swing back up if I just hold on. I’ve been holding on so tight that my knuckles are white and my hands have been shaking for a while now, and I know I can’t maintain this grip for long.

Most importantly: it’s not getting better; it’s only getting worse. My health, the amount of stress I’m carrying, the financial burdens.

There are things that have slipped away from me that I didn’t truly notice for a while. Things I put down ‘for now’ to try to catch my breath or refocus or get back on my feet. Spoons I gathered in to use in other places. Spoons I had intended to only borrow, to eventually return to where they came from: things I meant to get back to. But didn’t.

In many cases, this was around my writing, and was visible in all the places I went quiet. This blog, Inkspired, publishing, my writing group (though there were many reasons I put that on hiatus), all of the in-progress projects I haven’t made any progress on in a while. Things I love and enjoy slipping through my fingers. For the record: it’s not because they’re unimportant or that I fell out of love. I’ve missed them and I want them back.

I’m tired of being strong.

I’m tired of many things. I’m tired of working every weekday. I’m tired of walling off Sundays to rest, so I can survive working every weekday.

I’m tired of trying to do the right thing for everyone else. I’m tired of carrying the weight of supporting my family. I’m tired of not complaining about it. I’m tired of being stressed about money and bills.

I’m tired of struggling with my health every day. I’m tired of trying to count and budget spoons. I’m tired of letting people down. I’m tired of not being able to do everything, not even everything I want to. I’m tired of having ideas I can’t follow through on. I’m tired of soldiering on anyway. I’m tired of trying to believe that what I can do is enough.

Most of all, I’m tired of being tired.

This year, I’m trying to make changes.

I’m working to pull out from under the strain before I buckle and fall and can’t get back up again.

Making changes is more energy, more spoons: more work. Different work than just keeping on where I am. It’s pulling yet more pressure onto myself, in the hopes of lessening it later. It’s borrowing spoons from next week, from six months from now, in the hopes that the lighter times will come before I have to pay them all back.

It’s the only way that things will change. It’s my only hope of climbing out of this hole I’m in and getting to someplace better. I’ve been scraping to make ends meet and put enough aside to be able to get out of the physical place I’m in (moving is expensive). My health is hanging by a thread, and I’m trying to push towards treatment while also balancing the cost of it all. I’m trying to manage how others are impacted by the changes I need to make, to be as kind to them as I can, while not sacrificing my own needs in the process.

It is hard. I’m struggling and I am so very, very tired.

I am blessed in many ways.

It’s important to remember those as well, especially now when everything feels so dark and heavy. It’s easy to lose sight of the good stuff and just see all the problems rising up around you.

I have wonderful people in my life, for whom I am eternally grateful. They support me, even if all they can do is listen to me when I need to talk or whine or complain or just shout into the void. They offer practical help too and I know I can call on them if I need to. They don’t make me feel bad for making the choices that I need to make. I hope they know how precious they are, to me and the other lives they touch.

I have a good job, and I work with great colleagues. My job provides me with some stability, and I work hard to make it a priority. It pays my bills and allows me to live fairly well and support my family. I get to explore things that interest me, I feel like I make a meaningful contribution, and it gives me some satisfaction. The security I have here is so very needed, particularly in the current political climate and job market. In this, I am very lucky. I work hard to try to keep hold of what I have and it means a lot to know that it’s worth the effort I put in.

A smaller thing to be grateful for is that I finished paying off my car last year, which means I’m back to being totally debt-free. That is one particular source of stress I am now free of. And no more payments means a little more money I can put aside this year – which is how I’m scraping together enough to make other, more impactful changes. It’s a slender chain of progress, moving so terribly slowly, but progress nonetheless.

It’s so easy to forget about these things, so I strive to keep them in mind. I am grateful and they make it easier to be hopeful for other parts of my life to get better, too. I would not be here without them.

So, looking forward.

There is a lot coming up for me over the next few months. I am preparing to move house: a long, hard job, because I am downsizing to relieve some of the financial burden, and we have way, way too much stuff. The next couple of months will be packing, sorting, selling, cleaning, and moving. It is daunting to contemplate but I’m keeping a balanced perspective; breaking it down and taking it one bite at a time. We’ve started and progress is being made.

It looks like I might have another business trip coming up, shortly after the house move is done. I got to visit one of our US offices last year and I’m joining a new project soon, so I might get to visit another of our US offices to kick that off. Which is great and exciting! But the thought of international travel makes me tired and I have to be careful with scheduling to manage my energy well enough to be useful while I’m there. I am looking forward to it, though.

And it looks like I have surgery coming up this year as well. Not related to the hospital stint I had last November, but they did spot an issue while I was there, and follow-up has shown that there’s something I need to have dealt with. It’s going to mean about a week in the hospital and at least another week before I’m fully mobile again.

I guess it counts as major surgery but honestly, I’m mostly looking forward to getting it done. I’m not worried about it. Those with chronic conditions will understand the relief of having a medical issue that they can do something about and might actually get solved. I made a surgeon laugh when he was surprised about how calm I was about it and I said, “Oh, I collect chronic conditions. It’s nice to have something I can give back for once.”

So all that takes me through to July, possibly August, depending on public hospital system waiting lists. It’s a lot, and I have to keep reminding myself to take it one step at a time so I don’t feel overwhelmed. But I know that, at the end of it all, things will be so much better for me. I just have to get through it.

Right now, I’m doing okay. I’m still so terribly tired and I’m still struggling. But I’m making progress and I have some positive goals to aim for. I have support I am so terribly grateful for. I’ll make it through. I’ll get back to the things I let slip and pick them up again.

Like this blog: I’m aiming to start posting here again more regularly, though perhaps not frequently to start with. I’m kick-starting a few other parts of my life as well, getting more balls rolling, because I’m sick of waiting. I want to live my life.

I am tired and I’m lucky and I love all of you, even if we haven’t talked in a while. I hope we’ll talk soon.

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12 April 2019 - 5:00 pm

Writing Spark #50

While on a hike, your character discovers a small tower buried beneath the ground.

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6 April 2019 - 5:20 pm

Time out of Mind: Epilogue

(New to this Asylum? Start at the beginning!)

Congratulations! You have made it through our time-twisted story and emerged from the other side, hopefully victorious. 

I hope you have had fun and created at least a little something unexpected. I would love to hear what you thought of the challenges, and the bonus challenges as well. 

For today, our challenge is done and the Asylum releases you. Go forth and be inspired! Spend your time wisely.

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6 April 2019 - 4:20 pm

Time out of Mind: Challenge #5

(New to this Asylum? Start at the beginning!)

Both teams now know there’s something strange going on with this pivotal person’s timeline. Now we have both agencies sending their teams to find the same person, to kill or to protect or simply to find out what’s going on. 

After all, it is not a simple thing to fake historical records. One of the first things that the manipulation of time did was to make historical records more reliable and enabled the agencies to be able to do thorough, accurate research. For someone to have changed those records to lay a false trail through history has a number of implications. 

More than that, it is possible that this person has changed more than their own personal history. They could also have changed the records around the pivotal moment itself, perhaps inflating its importance, or their role in it all. If history is not reliable, what can they truly believe in? 

The teams do find some breadcrumbs to follow, a hint here and a clue there, and the trail leads to a particular time and place. One team might be more efficient than the other, but thanks to time travel, they both arrive at the same moment to try to answer the same questions. 

The person in question is, in fact, there. Not only that, but they are ready for the teams’ arrival. Expected it, perhaps. 

Now is the time to decide what has really been driving all of this. What are this person’s goals? Why would they have set up such a trail, when they would have known that these agencies would send teams to meddle with the timeline? Was that their aim all along? Why is this particular place and time important? 

The trap is closing. Now it’s time to find out what it’s all about. Tell us what happens when all three parties are finally in the same place at the same time.

Bonus challenge: circles within circles. Put as many circles or circular images in as you can.

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6 April 2019 - 3:10 pm

Time out of Mind: Challenge #4

(New to this Asylum? Start at the beginning!)

The first team is not pleased to arrive home from their next mission to find their work undone. They worked hard to prevent that pivotal moment. It might have been undone, but they are not to be outdone. 

It’s time for some more drastic measures. After all, this is an important occurrence; if it was worth fixing once, it’s worth doing twice.

But they’re not quite reckless enough to risk encountering themselves or the competition that clearly interfered; that’s a risky business and it’s usually best to avoid running into another version of oneself. There are lots of stories about what happens to time travellers who do this and few of them end well. You are encouraged to use your imagination to think about what these stories might entail.

So this time, the team is seeking to go further back in time to solve the problem. They are focussing on the person responsible for the pivotal moment, and locate a particular spot in that person’s life where they can interfere. Perhaps it is a near-death experience that they want to make an actual death experience. Perhaps it is a formative moment that sent the person down a certain path, which is ripe for guidance in a different direction. Think about what they might look for and what they might do to this person, within the rules set down by their agency, though this might be classified as an ‘extreme case’. 

Now that your team has a plan, send them off on their new mission to prevent the pivotal moment from happening. 

Before we run off on this new adventure, it’s worth wondering what the competition is up to. After all, the timeline must be maintained, and that means that the person and their history leading up to that moment must protected. What are the timeline protectors doing to ensure this?

There is a wrinkle, though: the person is not where the records say they should be. Whether one team or both appears, this person is absent. In fact, they might find something else instead: a decoy or perhaps a trap waiting for them.

Tell us the story of what happens when one or both of these teams goes to find the younger version of our responsible person.

Bonus challenge: the grandfather paradox. Have a member of one of the teams encounter one of their ancestors.

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6 April 2019 - 2:00 pm

Time out of Mind: Challenge #3

(New to this Asylum? Start at the beginning!)

Your team has stopped the pivotal moment from happening and history has been changed. Ultimately, they believe, for the better. 

Enter their competition. After all, it would be infeasible for there to only be one agency tasked with making sure that history isn’t ruined. Perhaps this other agency was established at a different time or by a different governing body; whatever the cause, their perspective on the matter is a little different. To this agency, protecting the integrity of the timestream is paramount and time travellers must not make large changes. No-one has yet found time’s breaking point, after all, and this agency would prefer that we never did because it would suck if reality completely unravelled.

It’s possible that they have different information about the pivotal moment and its impact. It’s possible that they simply have a different perspective on the validity of this moment. Perhaps it is an important lesson for humanity to learn or a trial that must be endured, or a key to a future possibility that will better everyone’s lives. Or perhaps it is simply human nature expressing itself in the most fundamental way. 

Whatever the case, this agency believes that the original pivotal moment must be protected at all costs. Good or bad, the outcomes must come to pass. Even if this means constructing a new way for the person responsible to make that moment happen.

So this agency also tasks a team to go back to the pivotal moment. Again, take a moment to decide how big this team is, the type of persons that are tasked with protecting the timeline. Their skills, their personalities, their likely tactics. What are they allowed to do and what are they willing to do?

How the pivotal moment was averted is part of historical record now. As are the impacts of it not happening. Send your new team back to set things right and show us how they do it.

Bonus challenge: sounds good. Use as much alliteration and assonance as possible.

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6 April 2019 - 12:20 pm

Time out of Mind: Challenge #2

(New to this Asylum? Start at the beginning!)

You now understand what your pivotal moment in future history is. You have an idea of the impacts it had and how it influenced humanity in the decades and centuries that followed. But have you forgotten about the time travellers? Because it’s time to bring them in. 

With a discovery like time travel, there’s bound to be some trouble. Someone steps on the wrong butterfly and a tsunami never occurs. Someone tries to kill their future mother-in-law because holidays with the extended family are such torture. Someone accidentally bets a science fiction writer to start a religion to prove a point. Chaos ensues. 

It’s inevitable that rules emerge about what you can and cannot do when traveling in time, for everyone’s sake and sanity. It’s also fairly inevitable that an agency is created to attempt to fix such occurrences, to try to put things back to how they were always supposed to be. An agency that attempts to right what other time travellers have put wrong. They work for the betterment of humanity through fixing history.

Give the agency a name. Perhaps a symbol or a badge they wear. 

How big are the teams they send back in time to repair things? A single person, a pair, a handful of personnel? Focus on a single team and decide who they are and how long they’ve been doing this type of work. How good at they at their work? Take a moment to think about what kind of persons make up this team.

What sort of tactics are they allowed to employ in the name of fixing history? What must they avoid? How ruthless are they allowed to be, and how ruthless is this team in particular likely to be? 

Because this team has been selected for one of the most important missions in the history of this agency: they must go back and prevent the pivotal moment from happening. Whether it led to good or bad things for humanity, it was a mistake and should never have happened. Humanity’s future history should have been different and it was time to fix it.

The orders have come down. The coordinates have been entered. The team is geared and costumed up and ready to go.

Now tell us the story of the pivotal moment again from the point of view of the team sent back to stop it from happening. Show us how it never comes to pass.

Bonus challenge: splintering. Use as much fracturing and splintering imagery as possible.

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6 April 2019 - 11:10 am

Time out of Mind: Challenge #1

(New to this Asylum? Start at the beginning!)

You have an idea about the pivotal moment in our future history. The one that determines the path humanity will take. Now think about that moment in more detail.

Think about how the moment itself unfolded. How it was communicated to the world. The pictures and videos that came out about it, the ones that would become iconic. The symbols and songs that would come to stand for it. 

Now think about the person ultimately responsible for it. If it could be traced back to a single person, who would that be? The person who made a discovery or cracked a mystery? The person who was in control and gave commands? The person who stood out front of it all, in the spotlight, or the one in a lab or a control room, far away? Who is, ultimately, credited with this moment having come to pass? How did they get to where they could have such an impact?

Walk this person back to just before the moment broke. Consider all they have done to be standing there, on the precipice. How sure are they that they are about to succeed? Is what’s about to happen even what they intended? 

Now tell us how it all happened and unfolded.

Bonus challenge: go purple. Include as much heavy, wordy description as possible, as flowery as you like. 

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6 April 2019 - 11:00 am

Time out of Mind: Prologue

Welcome to the Asylum. The doors are closing behind you, so settle in and make yourself at home; you’re going to be here a while. Or perhaps no time at all; it’s hard to say. Because today, we’re going to delve into time travel and see where – and when – it takes our minds. 

Some time in the future of Earth, wondrous human minds discover how to bend the fabric of time. At first, it was just about creating a window to the past, and it allowed a new rush of truth to obliterate the biased histories we’re all used to. But, inevitably, that was not enough. Seeing the past is not enough and it’s not the same as being there. So of course, the most brilliant of minds turned to making travelling through time a reality. 

No-one is quite sure when they succeeded, because once time travel has been invented, it has always existed. But succeed they did, and now, no-one can be truly sure what has been changed. The only people who can know are the time travellers themselves, as their disconnection from the time stream allows them to remember the original and the changed time streams. Which has a whole other set of implications for their poor, stuffed brains for you to keep in mind. 

There are a few truly decisive moments in history that caused ripples for years to come. The end of a particular war, perhaps. The detonation of the first atomic bomb. The discovery of a new technology, like the internet. A pandemic with an awful death toll. Moments that determined the path of the decades, even centuries that followed. 

Today, we’re going to start with such a decisive moment. One that changed something important in the way that we live, a change that spread out into the future and altered the path of humanity. What was that moment? Was it a new discovery? Was it something starting or ending? A revelation? A creation or a destruction?

What impact did it have? Was it the start of a downward spiral or ascension into the stars? Did it bring death that razed the planet, or did it allow humanity to transcend death entirely and enter a new state of being? How did the future unfold, following this moment? Good or ill, it’s up to you. 

Take a few minutes to decide what this pivotal moment in time is, and what followed. Our future historians are going to be very interested in it, so let’s give them something to work with.

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