Prompt – Jan 19

Write about something mysterious.

In the natural world there’s lots of very unexpected, seemingly mysterious things that happen. Caterpillars turning into moths and butterflies. Jellyfish, as a whole, but specifically the ones that are immortal. Seeds being underground yet knowing which way to send their shoots and roots. Hibernation. Monotremes. I say “seemingly” mysterious, because of course we can eventually come to understand more and more about each of these things as we study them. But nevertheless, each of these is just one tiny example of the cacophony of unregulated nature. It’s beyond our expectations, wild, and works just fine regardless of our intentions or knowledge.

Then we move into physics, where lots of mysteries abound; quantum mechanics and string theory, and such. Theories are great, because they give us a way to examine something we don’t really understand, without tying us down to one way of considering it. Because we fundamentally don’t know. Anything that has an uncertainty principle you know right away: it’s mysterious.

Here’s a person-made mystery that is delightful in the overall shape of it – when Agatha Christie, famous mystery novelist, when missing for 11 days. No one knows where she went, but there was a massive manhunt after her abandoned car was found. She resurfaced at a spa. Two years later she divorced her abusive husband and good riddance to bad rubbish. Of course, the actual details hold no delight – a woman who was gaslit by a cheating husband for years, who drove off into the night after kissing her sleeping seven-year-old daughter, and checked into a hotel under her husband’s mistress’s name is most likely suffering from crippling depression, not out for a lark. Yet the symmetry of being famous for writing mysteries then being at the center of a mystery, which remains unsolved to this day, is intriguing.

So there are some mysteries, have fun.

Prompt – Jan 15, 16, 17, 18

A real doozy of prompts. I have been AFK for remote schooling, so I haven’t been checking email.

What is a life lesson you feel everyone can benefit from learning?

Embrace being the side character. In the view of nearly everyone in this world, that’s what you are. Don’t think about policy in terms of if it helps you, think about whether it helps society. If someone is going through stuff, don’t make their experience about you, because you are the side character to their processing. Just support them or give them space (or whatever else they express). Don’t assume that your neurological status is the default. Put it in perspective if your cousin’s friend’s testicles swell up after getting the vaccine. Did he also get kicked by an ox? Just because you heard a story, doesn’t mean it’s the story. Put yourself in the backseat once in awhile.

What is a cause you’re passionate about and why?

Social systems that actually work. Why: because hello? Our entire country is completely broken?

What is a superpower you’d love to have?

I’m mad because I read two other responses to this prompt before answering it myself. I usually try to avoid reading any other prompts before replying. Right now, I’d have to say “be able to focus at will” because I have two 10 year olds getting up to hijinks and shenanigans while I’m trying to work (and blog). But if you ask me another time, it’ll be something else.

What book is next on your reading list?

The first of the Witcher books. We’ve played the game, and we’re watching the show. I didn’t realize it was based on a book, so here we are. I’m finishing a senior community murder mystery first (the murder wasn’t in the senior community).

Prompt – Jan 14

Write about a challenge you faced and overcame.

I don’t believe for a moment that everyone isn’t going to talk about Wordle in their response, so let me join the masses. Obviously, it’s disingenuous to write about not (yet) getting COVID. That’s not something that’s been overcome. We’re still dealing with it, and it’s not like a marker of having done something individually, strategically correct. It’s luck. And most of my life is successful because I was able to start out with so much privilege, so that’s not something I’ve overcome. That leaves games. They’re explicitly a challenge, and you either win or you lose (or you draw, I guess).

Every morning, once the kids are off (OR ARE STILL HERE DOING REMOTE SCHOOL), I sit with my tea and my smoothie and I work on the Wordle. I’ve been using Bob’s two favorite starter words, but I’m going to go back to my original starter word. It feels like cheating to use someone else’s starter word strategy. Six chances! To guess a five-letter word! Clues! A super easy way to share your result without revealing the word! It’s got everything.

The other day it took me all 6 tries. Let me tell you, once you fail try 4, you are sweating bullets. Will you get it? Nothing is certain. You just match your wits against the clues given.

The tweet above shows today’s puzzle, and that it’s Wordle number 209. Everyone gets the same puzzle (same word) each day. The website shows you a grid of 5×6 blank squares. You type a word. You hit enter. And you see what the result is. On my first attempt today, I got the 4th letter correct, but in the wrong location. On my second attempt (using a completely different word), I found out two more letters, and where they also don’t go. Now I knew 3 letters, but not their locations; only where they don’t work. On my next try, I got all 3 letters in the right place, but the word I guessed was wrong. On my fourth try, I got the right final letter. Finally, on the fifth try, I got the full word. This is not guaranteed, even with 4 right letters! Something that the game doesn’t tell you is whether any letter is used more than once (not relevant to this specific game), and in my experience, when I’m really stuck and getting frustrated, I need to try some letters twice.

So, this is, decidedly, a challenge. It’s popular, so it’s fun to see how you fair each day against others. My team at work all plays, and we share our results in the team channel then stumble all over each other not to spoiler the word before everyone’s taken their shot. It’s a low-stakes challenge, and a feel-good challenge, so I do have perspective. But man do I feel great when I figure it out each day (so far; I am sure I’ll miss one sometime).

You can play it here. There is no app for it (only rip-offs).

Prompt – Jan 13

What does your ideal day look like?

I’ve been thinking about this all day while I work, and I don’t feel like I have a great answer. Or, a satisfying answer.

If I get only one day that is ideal, I get to sleep as much as I want, no one talks to me, the dishes are done and the house is clean, there’s plenty of groceries in the house, and I have no childcare responsibilities. The weather is accommodating, I can either watch TV, or draw, or paint, or knit (or crochet!), or take a walk, and I can decide any of them on a whim. I have no deadlines or responsibilities, no task to accomplish.

If I get a string of ideal days, I do actually want to see my family (which I’m sure is somewhat reassuring to them). I wake up on my own schedule, and no one needs me to do what they need to do, but we are all congenial and happy to see each other. Breakfast is leisurely over the crossword, and I can share tea with Bob (coffee for him). After breakfast, I can do whatever I would like to do, for my own personal fulfillment, which might be anything. Literally anything. But nothing with a deadline, unless I’ve given it to myself. No one needs me to schedule their appointments, because they can do that for themselves. No one needs me to call insurance, because insurance in our country is magically socialized and it just works. There’s a thunderstorm in the afternoon that clears up after 22 minutes. During this time, I do something that feels productive but low-stakes. Perhaps read a chapter of a book. I make a dinner that everyone will eat, and I get to be creative while making it. It’s a real meal, not things thrown together. Everyone eats it and appreciates it. I enjoy making it and eating it. The dishes are done. I might participate in the dish washing, but I might not. They get done anyway. I stay up late puttering around on creative projects and go to bed feeling content.

Another ideal day. The kids are excited about whatever takes up the majority of their time. Perhaps Grant is in college or trade school, and the twins are working, or taking a gap year, or something. They all like what they do, and they can’t get enough of it. It drives them, and they all adopt at least one puppy or cat, that they can’t stop raving over. It’s fun to catch up with them. They don’t live at home, but one or more may live nearish. Bob and I decide to go to the lake house for the weekend. We call and invite the kids, and some are going to join us. We make a run to the grocery store to stock up the house when we get there. It’s fun picking out cheese. We stop by the house to get the dog, and grab our supplies. We listen to music on the ride and halfway through switch to a podcast we both like. It’s not about murder, so I will listen to the murder one tomorrow in the shower. We get to the house and throw open every window right away. It’s a sunny day and still just a touch cool. The breeze feels good as we unload the car and get things carried inside and put away. The dog is paddling in the shallow end of the pool, then gets a little too near me to shake. We laugh about it, because she does this every time. I even have a towel for it hanging on the back of the chair, right there. I am able to light the candle that I keep at the lake house, and it’s a bit of a treat. We have a quick, simple lunch, then take a bottle of local wine on the back patio. We stretch out and enjoy the quiet. The still-damp dog curls up with us, but that’s ok, we’re going to go swimming in a few minutes anyway. We swim for a little while, but then I get out because I want to go check on the wild flowers in the field. I’m going to pick some to draw tomorrow. I get my wellies on and the dog comes along. She has to jump really high to see over the grass, so she’s like a canine exclamation point on my meander. We gather up flowers for the table, and a couple specific specimens that I want to look at more closely later. The three of us take a walk into town to get ice cream at the local shop. We can see the lake down at the end of the street, and the shine from the sun is blinding. A young couple pet our dog and we talk a bit about her with them. We stroll back home, in time to see the first car turn into the driveway. I put our daughter to work setting the table for dinner, then she helps me start making dinner. A little bit later, our younger son arrives and he talks to Bob about sports things that he’s involved in. They’re both really happy about the outcome of the sports event. They like talking to each other about it even more. Our son comes and helps finish up making dinner so our daughter can go show her dad some photos from her most recent trip abroad. She loves to travel, and does a lot of solo traveling. We stay up late playing Clue, and then euchre, and it’s pretty late when we all finally turn in. We have well-worn old quilts and soft beds. When we get up in the morning our other son is sleeping on the couch with his shoes still on, and we’re all happy he came. We set the boys to making breakfast and take some tea outside to breathe. Deeply.

Prompt – Jan 12

What emoji(s) do you like to use?

First of all, all of them.

They have the ability to confer joy or happiness in a way an exclamation mark doesn’t or can’t (as the standard-bearer of excitement in the punctuation world). They also can convey sadness, weariness, anger, annoyance, and frustration. But my favorites are the happy and gratitude-laden ones. These are the ones I use in work Slack the most.

My top favorite for a long time now is Sheepy, also known as Party Sheep.

Sheepy is just being Sheepy, and with Sheepy comes smiles and happiness, rainbows and a carefree willingness to scamper across the page. Sheepy doesn’t have a thought in it’s head, but has a lot of joy to share. Love it. A+ emoji.

Another top favorite (perhaps tied neck-and-neck with Sheepy) is Piggy.

Piggy is overtly happy to see you, like a puppy. Combined with the lolling tongue and the hopping, this pig is a delight and is bringing you happiness in his lil pink existence. Another A+. Can’t be improved.

On the next tier of favorites, we have rainbow walk. It is exactly what it says on the tin.

This one is a bit sophisticated, with the way the rainbow walks, the colors moving forward (and trailing behind) – it’s overall well constructed. And it’s still joyful and fun. I give this one an A, because it’s more restrained (and I like my emojis to be boisterous).

My final non-standard favorite emoji is dancing bear.

It doesn’t necessarily look happy, but I get a happy, eager vibe from it. This bear has done something and is excited for you to know about it. A perfect mix of a 6-year old ready for praise, and an adorbs stuffie. Good on ya, dancing bear, I’m proud of you. A.

I like to use these particular emoji in celebration, to tell people good news, to thank people, and to acknowledge content with a bit of joy. As a professional woman in the workplace, I don’t tend towards sparkly pens or feathery notebooks, or girlboss merch. I tend towards these tiny squares (or lozenges, whatever shape Slack tucks them into) of personalized connection with what someone else has said. In a fully distributed environment, the words on the page are what are most important to our work, and being able to say “I have heard you” in a way that feels both satisfactory and kind matters to me. As does injecting the occasional emoji to illustrate the tone I am taking in a message of my own (often, crying laughing 😂, because I’m a woman Of A Certain Age). Emoji give me a chance to smile in my words more often than I do in my actual physical self (because of my resting face), and through and past all the jokes about us returning to hieroglyphics, this layering of meaning is, well, meaningful.

Prompt – Jan 11

What does it mean to live boldly?

This is not a phrase I have ever used, so I’m not sure I can comment on it. It is likely somewhat different from living italicized, though, because living italicized gets mixed up with living quote marks, especially when it comes to book titles, movies, tv shows, and newspapers. Don’t even get me started on living strike-through; it’s difficult enough as it is, particularly when the text size is small. Living camel case is, predictably, a rollercoaster, and not for the faint of heart. Living footnotes is really off topic1. Living underlined is probably the closest in meaning to living boldly, so using this flawless logic, we can dig into what living underlined really means and come to an understanding of living boldly.

I do not know what living underlined means. Maybe, shoes on, like a physical underline? All the time? We can agree that sleeping in a bed with shoes on is a bold move, but is it living boldly? If you just turn your body horizontal, does the underline have to move too, i.e., do the shoes need to go under your back (or stomach, however you sleep)? This is hard. I’m shocked and a little saddened to learn that Aristotle never even came close to covering this, one of the biggest – if not the biggest – philosophical question of our times.

Perhaps to live underlined doesn’t refer to your physical self. I feel I am on the verge of a breakthrough here. Perhaps it means that the horizon (the future, the potential of the individual) is existential. And if that is so, then being underlined means that you have the capacity to determine your own horizon; that you are, in a sense, on top of your own future. So by being underlined, you are taking control and making deliberate choices, rather than letting life make decisions for you. You are opting in.

If we accept that premise, and also accept the previous premise that living underlined is akin to living boldly, we can therefore claim with confidence that living boldly means to grab life by the horns. Impeccably reasoned, A+.

  1. So let’s not even go there.

Prompt – Jan 8, 9, 10

I missed some days, so I’ll lump them all together. You can expect Mondays to be like this as I don’t check email over the weekends (and that’s where the prompts are sent).

Jan 8: What do you like most about your writing?

I don’t think about the things I write down as “my writing,” to begin with. It’s not a body of work to be considered as an entity.

That said, when I am writing things down, I appreciate a turn of phrase. It’s a little bit of a game to make a particularly onomatopoeic phrase, or run some consonance through a paragraph to bind it together, or make a callback to something previously mentioned, or bury a joke. So I guess when I do one of those things, and it makes me happy to have done it (even if it’s not done particularly skillfully), that’s what I like.

Jan 9: What do people incorrectly assume about you?

Sometimes people think I will have an English accent. I once had someone tell me that I must LOVE the Cure (because I was born in England). I obviously have vague concerns sometimes that people think I’m more or less competent than I really am, but I’m not sure that’s a valid response here. Someone once told me that she and her office mate thought I was a huge bitch when they first met me (I work with neither of them, and never have). I am a midsized bitch at best.

Jan 10: What are 5 things you’re grateful for today?

FIVE things? In this economy? Jesus. Well, let’s see what I can drum up here. Foregoing the obvious “my family” one (though if I run out, I will be using it):

  • Increased representation in high profile places (movies, tv, government, etc), as it is important for so many folks, and it’s vastly more interesting. It will only make us stronger.
  • My phenomenal job, which is rewarding on many levels and gives me opportunities I could have never dreamed up on my own.
  • To have been born when I was and into such privilege. I could wish for less pandemic and fewer unprecedented events in my lifetime however. Although, watching the end of capitalism is certainly… eventful.
  • To be (temporarily) able-bodied. I read once that we should consider being able-bodied a temporary state, as everyone experiences disability at some point in their lives. I am currently in a state of ability, and I really am grateful for it.
  • Tea and toast. I’m not being trite. I genuinely look forward to my cup of tea every morning and my warm sourdough toast with salty butter around lunch time. In those moments, I need nothing, I want nothing but what I have, and I am relaxed.
  • My family — I did not run out, this is number 6. But I am grateful for my knuckleheads, they’re my favorite.

Prompt – Jan 7

What makes you laugh?

I find a lot of things funny. I laugh easily, but not necessarily often. Sometimes, you have to saturate in the grip of humor, though you may not be actually laughing. Or perhaps that’s just me. I can find something deeply funny but my face doesn’t reflect it. Considering how often I’ve been told I look bored or angry when I feel content or happy, and that I remind myself to “big smile” on Zoom with colleagues, it may be true that the connection between brain and face is a bit borked. But it’s not that elaborate things are necessary to make me laugh out loud. Indeed, it’s often the simplest.

Just the other day, I made a comedic movie recommendation, and the funniest movie I know is Clue the Movie (1985). I have been utterly charmed by this movie for a long time. Three different endings? Yes please. Witty and yet low-brow writing? “I prefer Kipling myself, ‘the female of the species is more deadly than the male.’ Do you like Kipling, Miss Scarlet?” “Sure, I’ll eat anything.” Byzantine logic? Of course, it’s a murder mystery movie, and you get brilliant scenarios like the 1+2+2+1 (or is it 1+2+1+1?) argument. Lovely, standalone, out of context lines you can use in any scenario, like “communism was just a red herring,” and “We’ll stack the bodies in the cellar, lock it, leave quietly one at a time, and forget that any of this ever happened.” This movie makes me laugh out loud.

I love puns. Considered by some people to be the dumbest form of humor (based on a premise I have no intention of accepting), puns are linguistic marvels. I think the thing I value about puns is that they’re a form of a game. Commingled with my adoration of puns is my love of crosswords (though crosswords aren’t particularly funny, the clues can be amusing), because they both rely on double meanings and deliberate misleading for the sake of surprise. We pun a lot at work, which is not so surprising given the very smart and down-to-earth people with which I work. Usually while we are ostensibly to be doing something else, a topic emerges that captures everyone’s fancy, and down the rabbit hole we all cheerfully go. A recent example is breakfast foods. Though we many, many years ago had a long running punder about the names of each of us in IRC. It makes not a bit of sense without the context, so I can’t recount it, but trust me, that one had me laughing.

My favorite type of joke is the Tom Swifty. They do not make me laugh out loud, but they do give me a very deep level of satisfaction. A truly well executed Tom Swifty is a work of art. I’ve talked about these before, so I won’t here. Here’s a quick one, for your troubles: “Let loose the dogs of war,” Tom said, dogmatically.”

But these are all things that are geared towards coaxing a laugh. They are meant to be funny, and so they often are. I am, of course, okay with this! Professional humor is wonderful, I’m glad that people do that. I don’t find all comedians funny, but we have space in our society for those who want to draw laughter. The best of these are those who make us think as well. But professional comedy aside, it’s the unexpected situations that arise in everyday life that give me the most opportunity for laughter.

My kids make me laugh. Eleanor tries to, as a natural clown, and often succeeds, with Henry happily playing the straight man to her goofiness. Grant accidentally makes me laugh, or incidentally makes me laugh, just by being himself. The other day, we were all trying to watch a movie, and Grant couldn’t stop climbing on everyone and everything. Frustrated, I said, “Grant! Please sit on your booty and sit still!” and he cried out immediately, “but I can’t! I can’t sit still!” and though this isn’t intentionally funny, we laughed and laughed.

I have a condition that my friends have called The Laugh Button. It’s when I am overwhelmed with mirth, and I cannot stop laughing. I cry from laughing. I start wheezing from laughing. I laugh long enough that others have stopped laughing, and then resume laughing at me laughing. And I can’t help it, it is involuntary and deep. It’s like someone presses a button and I’m helpless to the waves of laughter that slaughter my ability to do anything else for long, long minutes. I think the last time I fell prey to the laugh button was when my husband told this joke during a family road trip:

Knock Knock!
Who’s there?
Hatch who?
Bless you!

I’m laughing at it even now. It’s a pun, it’s a knock knock joke, it’s a combination pun and knock knock joke. It’s a sucker punch of unexpected funniness. It’s contrived, dumb, and a throw-away joke. It absolutely slays me, I love it so much.

Prompt – Jan 6

Who is someone that inspires you and why?

I’ve been half thinking about this all day, and I don’t really have a satisfactory response. When I was little, I’d be awed by famous types (living, dead, and fictional), but all too often found out that they weren’t quite who I thought they were as I grew. No one is perfect, and some people are downright deceptive. Now, of course, we can’t rely on the social media portrait of someone, as so many of us tend to only talk about our best traits or moments, painting a photorealistic yet fake image.

I read a lot of artist biographies, and I do find compelling these stories, particularly of women. I don’t know that I would say that Frieda Kahlo or Elaine de Kooning inspire me. I don’t imitate their style of work, and our lives are vastly different. I don’t copy their habits, I don’t use their media (except incidentally). But I nevertheless find them interesting and am inspired by the join of their desire to create, and their work. Their ambition where it manifests into output, I suppose. That’s a trait I would like to emulate and find inspirational.

Similarly, I am intrigued by people who are true to equality. So, the work of Ruth Bader Ginsberg. I’ve read her biography and about her many different places, but I can’t claim to want to do what she does (practice law), though I find that her steadfast adherence towards making America a more equitable place is inspiring.

I also have friends who I don’t want to be like, but that have inspirational traits. For example, I have some friends who are fiendishly funny, or brave about confrontation, or able to phrase their thoughts so well and succinctly (or all three). Those are traits I again find inspiring, without actually wanting to Mr. Ripley my friends.

I wonder, today, if perhaps the best inspiration is to yardstick against yourself. Not try to be like anyone else, since surely that is doomed for failure and unhappiness, but just try to improve your own self against yourself. My children inspire me to be a more even-tempered mother. I don’t want to be a different mother for them, but be better than I am; the next evolution of myself. It’s perhaps solipsistic to say that you should be your own inspiration, but surely aiming for improvement based on your own potential is obtainable and realistic. I’m not saying it’s easy (that’s why therapy is so often hard), but there’s only one person you can truly, sustainably be, and that’s yourself. You do get to choose and cultivate your traits, so you might as well choose to be your own best self. I mean, not me, I desperately need a nap, but you. You should do this. Inspire yourself.