Monday Challenge: Now It’s Personal

Hairy Frank eventually achieved levitation, but his mullet elected to stay behind and enlighten others. Namaste, Hairy Frank.

I’ve recently gotten back into journalling. I did it for many years, mostly in that awkward/angry period between 14 and 25, but stopped because:

1) Life happened. Shit got busy fast, yo.

2) I rather stupidly believed that, once I was past 25, I had most of life figured out. At least the stuff that I would have been journalling about, anyway. Which just goes to prove that, while age might come with its own indignities, nothing makes you cringe like Younger You. I mean, goddamn, I don’t regret stuff that I’ve done, but the stupid was thick on the ground some years.

All of this is a long-winded way of saying that I’ve started journalling again, and am currently trying to remember what faulty brand of logic led me to stop in the first place. Near as I can tell, it seems to be the same sort of logic that makes you stop working out just when you start feeling really strong and fit, because, hey, you don’t need it anymore.

Seriously, Younger Me: cringe.

I prefer to do my journalling offline, in an actual paper notebook, with a pen that spews ink. Like a Muggle. Not entirely sure why, though the possibility of destroying any incriminating evidence with nothing more than some gasoline and a BBQ lighter has come to mind. I’ve got so many safeguards on my computer these days–after the Great Hard Drive Failure of ’14–that I could reasonably resurrect anything if I had to.

So I’ve been getting my Carpal Tunnel on and scribbling in a notebook, filling it with…stuff. because that’s what a journal is, isn’t it? A repository for all the random crap that you don’t want cluttering up anywhere else, including the inside of your own skull? That, and drawings of dragons and robots.*

I recommend journalling to anyone who occasionally feels, to paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, as if there are too many thoughts inside your head. In the absence of a working Pensieve, a notebook can do.

And what do you write about? I’m so glad you asked.

Monday Challenge: write a journal entry. It may be your first, it may be your millionth. Doesn’t matter. What does matter is your subject. Write a journal entry about whatever the hell you’re thinking about right now. Your errands, your writing, your family, the way your neighbour has started doing topless yoga**. Even how weird journals are and how you don’t know what to write about. That was the subject of my first entry, and, damn, if that thing didn’t go on forever.

Go forth and write, goblins.

*To guard my thoughts. Obviously.

**Hairy Frank has a killer Peacock Pose.

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Monday Challenge: ALL HAIL SYMBOLITRON

*something something the human condition something*

I was cleaning out my guest room the other day and found my degrees. And a copy of my first thesis.* As I leafed the mess of paper, I remembered long—sometimes very long—afternoons spent in tiny windowless rooms, debating the various merits of post-colonialist discourse versus post-modernist aesthetics. Sometimes those arguments were fun, sometimes they were interesting, and sometimes they were absolutely infuriating, but not a day goes past when I’m glad I don’t have to do it anymore.

However, I do remember once, at the Grad House**, we got to talking about what would happen if you came up with the symbolism first, and then wrote the story. Short answer: it would probably suck. Or be critically acclaimed. Or possibly both, because the two are not mutually exclusive.

So, in honour of that drunken conversation many autumns ago, here’s this week’s Monday Challenge:

Go to the Symbolitron. It will randomly generate a story and the symbolic meaning behind it. Pick one from the list it gives you, and then write the opening for that story. 

And if you want to do it in a bar in memory of me and my colleagues, more power to you.

*The second one I haven’t seen since I passed it in for final marking. Either I really don’t want to look at it anymore, or it flapped its covers and flew away to start a colony of post-colonial research proposals of its own.

**A bar, because the first rule of grad school is why meet in your office when you can meet in a pub?

Monday Challenge: Guess Who’s Back?

“I had a headache once. Then I danced on some text.”

Today’s Monday Challenge is inspired by this goddamn migraine, which I thought was gone. It should be gone. I took the medication, got some sleep, did all the right things*. And yet, after a small intermission, it’s back.

Maybe it just slept in this morning.

I sometimes wonder if the part of my brain that gives me weird story ideas and insults like ‘shambling pubefarmer’ is also responsible for the migraines. I mean, there’s got to be something twisted about that little nest of dendrites, right? It can’t be totally normal. When it’s working as it should, I get stories about blood and magic and guns and monsters. But every now and then it throws a rod and the energy that would go into making an idea goes into trying to force-eject my brain from my skull.

Just a speculation, of course.

Anyway, Monday Challenge: something that should be over—that whoever it was happening to thought was over—has continued. Perhaps in a different form, or in a different place. Or maybe in the exact same shape it used to take, stalking around your life or your head. And is it possible to make it go away, once and for all?

*As opposed to the shit I would have done ten years ago, when my thought process could have been described as “just take the edge off with some rum and half a pack of cigarettes, because you’ve got another section of your thesis due tomorrow and that fucker ain’t gonna write itself.”

Monday Challenge: Anything To Declare?

“And I see here you’ve claimed your suitcase is a sovereign nation…”

I just got back from a week in Cuba with friends. There are many stories I could tell of that time—Hector the Crab King, the Kamikaze Nightclub Bat, the Trouble with Troblins—but I’m going to tell the one that happened before I’d even set foot on the island.

When you’re flying internationally, on the last leg of the flight, someone comes around with customs forms for you to fill out. Name, rank, serial number, most recently committed crime, that sort of thing. Just the basics.

And, significantly, any controlled or banned substances you’re bringing into the country.

I’ve never been entirely sure why those sections are included. Perhaps customs officials use it to catch the stupider of the smugglers. Or maybe some people don’t realize what they’re bringing is illegal. “Holy shit, no illegal drugs or firearms? Do I ever feel silly! Better go to the bathroom and flush this kilo of heroin and AK-47. ”

Before any of you get on the phone to Homeland Security or whatever the Canadian equivalent is*, no, I was not smuggling anything illegal. But I had gotten very little sleep the night before, and I didn’t read the customs form carefully enough. I assumed I was checking that I had not brought drugs, firearms, or illegal llamas into the country.

Instead, I had checked that I had.

And not just one thing, either. According to that customs form, I was bringing everything. Liquor? Sure. Drugs? Why not? Animal products, plant seeds, toxins? Hey, check out my suitcase full of kittens, daisies, and ebola.

Thankfully, before I approached the customs window and got taken away to a dark windowless room by the Cuban police, the Husband spotted the mistake. He’s a pharmacist, so it’s just second nature for him to double- and triple-check every document he sees. So, instead of the story of how Steph Was Never Seen Again, this becomes the story of Steph Having Another Laughable Screw-up In A Lifetime Of Them.

But it almost didn’t.

Monday Challenge: someone is having trouble at customs. Did they do anything wrong? Maybe. Or maybe they just screwed something up. Or this can be as Kafka-esque as you like.

And in traveling as in the rest of life, remember: read the damn directions.

*One dude with a German Shepherd and a stern look. But not that stern.

Monday Challenge: Haunted

In retrospect, we should have paid a little more attention to this sign outside the door.

My house is haunted.

I’m, like, ninety percent sure of this. For one thing, the stats are there: 

-Our house is almost a hundred years old, which is pretty fucking old for North America. Shush, Europeans.

-I know for sure that at least one person died here.* 

-There’s an attic, which horror movies have convinced me is essential to any haunting.**

Now, to be clear, I don’t think it’s bad haunted. If there’s something living inside the walls of Chez Snow, it’s the type of spirit that randomly rearranges your books and puts your action figures in compromising positions. Not the type that wants to wear your skin like a cheap suit. 

It’s just that things move when I’m not looking. I’ll put everything away for the night and wake up to find books left out. Maybe the cats are more literate than I thought.

I’ve thought of setting up some kind of Misery-like trap—“The Groot bobble head always faces South.”—but if this thing has been here since we moved in, it’s had time to read that book by now.*** I’d probably find Groot in the same position but Knifehead and Gipsy Danger having anatomically improbable sex. 

Monday challenge on the table: things keep moving around when you’re not looking. Who’s moving them?

Updates may be on a strange schedule this week, because we’re gone away. I hope they’ll go up at the right times, but if not you’ll just have to rest assured that my Type A personality with fix it as soon as possible. Or whenever I’m not playing D&D on a beach somewhere.

*That would be the previous owner, who—according to her children, from whom we bought the house—passed away quite peacefully. Of course, if I was selling a house, that’s what I’d say, too.

**Because where else does the ghost live? Obviously.

***If it hasn’t, get on that shit, ghost.

Monday Challenge: Obey Gravity! It’s The Law!

Standing on the ground was overrated, anyway.

Been reading more science fiction lately, mostly in the form of short stories, because 1) my attention span in shorter in the summer and 2) the best way to keep what attention remains is through spectacle. I’m pretty sure that’s the reasoning behind every summer blockbuster ever made, but since I love meaningful explosions, I’m okay with it.

In science fiction, however, especially space exploration, it’s amazing how many planets are just like ours.

Sometimes it’s explained: terraforming, the space equivalent of gentrification, goes on a lot. Other times it’s not. And I get why: you want characters that relate to the (hopefully) human audience, so your aliens need some kind of bridge to make them easier to understand or feel sympathy for. This is the premise on which the entire original series of Star Trek is built.* Go to a strangely earth-like planet, bang one of the locals, leave. Probably with space herpes.

Of course, this is a vast generalization. There’s lots of science fiction out there in which the environments—and therefore those who live in those environments—look so different as to be nearly incomprehensible. That comes with its own set of difficulties: how do you explain the body language of a species with shared bodies? What expression indicates sarcasm in a hyper-intelligent shade of the colour blue? Nevertheless, at least these attempts show that someone’s trying to explore their own imagination. They’re thought of what it would be like if something in the physical world as we know it was different.

So, now you get to as well.

Monday Challenge: Write a scene in which one of the fundamental laws of nature (gravity, the speed of light, conservation of energy, the makeup of a breathable atmosphere, whatever) is different. Maybe it was always different, maybe it just changed in the last five seconds**. Either way, find a thread of change and follow it to see where it leads.

*Well, that and the limitations of budgets and special effects in those days.

**Though if it’s breathable atmosphere that’s changed, that’s going to be a short scene.

Monday Challenge: First Steps

STFU n00b.

I’m starting something new this week: I’m going to learn acrylic painting. I draw (mostly ink and markers) and I used to dabble in watercolours, but this will be a new experience.

I expect it to be messy.

Being a beginner at something is both exciting as hell and frustrating as trying to explain superhero retcons to non-fans.* Exciting because: new thing! I will make all the things! And they will be great! Hey, do you think this paint is poisonous? Frustrating because: why does new thing not come out like I imagined? Why am I not great at this right now? I AM GREAT AT EVERYTHING.

It’s probably for the best that Snowman’s working a lot of hours this month.

There’s a great scene in the Engineer Trilogy by K.J. Parker in which one of the main characters, a nobleman in hiding, has to sew something for the first time ever. Because he can’t reveal his ineptitude for fear of being discovered, he can’t ask for help. So he instead looks at the materials and the tools and works out what sewing is from the first principles. It’s a very funny little scene in the middle of what is a near-constant storm of grimness**, and it gives a great look at learning to do something for the first time ever.

We all have to start somewhere with skills. I’ve been learning to code in Python for the last couple of weeks, and, boy, was that eye-opening. And I expect that acrylic painting will be the same.** Writing sure as hell was: a mixture of thrill and frustration, interspersed with moments of brightness and wild inspiration.

Or, if you want a relatively universal example: remember having sex for the first time?***

Monday Challenge, in honour of my upcoming +2 Art Skill: Write about something trying to do something for the very first time. Awkwardness, frustration, wild inspiration, and all.

*”No, see, it’s fine because in this timeline, she’s really that girl’s sister, except they were both exposed to Zorg radiation, which made them think they were the same person….”

** But with less of a possibility of creating a roboctopus army.

***Spoiler alert, virgins: it’s gonna be awkward.