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Printed from https://www.Writing.Com/view/1634630
Rated: 18+ · Book · Writing · #1634630
Brief writing exercises and thoughts on writing. Maybe the occasional personal musing.

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This is my writer's scratchpad. I use this space to scribble down some quick thoughts and images that appeal to me. The idea is that when I don't feel like working on one of my stories but still want to write, the incomplete "droplets" I form will get posted here.

I have another (currently dormant) blog where I discuss politics, sexuality, spirituality, and whatever else comes to mind. It's called The Musings of a Confused Man  .
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April 24, 2019 at 12:54pm
April 24, 2019 at 12:54pm
#957448
This post is in response to today's "Blogging Circle of Friends prompt:

May is almost upon us and I hope I'll be healthy enough to tackle my garden. There is so much to do, if I want everything planted before the heat of summer. What are your plans for May? Gardening? Traveling? Writing?

Hopefully, may will be a continuation of the increased writing and blogging that I've been doing the past week or so. I hope to continue posting blog entries here as well as my main blog site  , where I get more spiritual and political.

I am also working on a writing project  , which is based on a single-player D&D campaign that my husband is running for me. I've quickly fallen in love with my character, a Halfling (Stout) monk who has just been sent out by the head of his monastic order to seek out new historical artifacts and documents for preservation in the order's great library. We've tried running a few campaigns (some with other players even) that have just fizzled. Hopefully we will do better this time. I think we will, because things have felt different from the very first session. There's been a lot more role-playing combined with a greater sense of my character having a clear sense of where he wants to go and how to get there.

I've actually needed this, as I've felt like my creativity has been stagnating for the past few years.

April 21, 2019 at 10:35am
April 21, 2019 at 10:35am
#957160
I don't know how well this fact is known by the people who read my stuff on this site, but in addition to being a writer, I'm also a witch. I am reminded years ago that I said something about writing on an email discussion list and a Wiccan elder commented that there is a strong connection between the Craft and any craft. Both are about creating and/or changing something. Both are about a vision and having the will and skill to make that vision into a reality.

I remember years ago, I was writing something -- probably a journal entry -- by hand. While part of my brain continued to focus on what it was I was writing, another part of me started to focus and pay attention to the process of writing itself. I observed how a handful of careful pen strokes against the paper would form a letter. More pen strokes would form another letter. After enough letters were crafted from individual strokes of the pen like this, a word would emerge. Then more words. Eventually, enough words, with appropriate punctuation added, would be crafted to create a full thought: a sentence. I observed how this process of making hundreds of tiny marks on the paper would eventually comunicate complex thoughts and idea. I saw this as a truly magical act with an incredible outcome.

This is why I often enjoy going back to writing some things out by hand -- providing I have the tools, materials, and environment I need to keep my hand from cramping up within five minutes. Yes, the forming of ideas, thoughts, and stories through clicking keys on the keyboard is equally powerful and magical. But it just doesn't have quite the same effect for me as and does not reveal the magic to me as well as watching that tiny ink marks transform into something far greater.
April 19, 2019 at 9:10am
April 19, 2019 at 9:10am
#956973
This post is a response to today's blog prompt from the "Blogging Circle of Friends :

Write about something you're very knowledgeable about, for example a favorite hobby or passion of yours.

I love programming computers. I started doing it in junior high. (I don't "draw crude images on the screen using Logo" on the Apple II computers in my elementary school.) I love it so much, that I made it my career. (In retrospect, that might have been a bit of a mistake. But that's a post for another day. Maybe).

So in the spirit of today's blog prompt,I'm going to give everyone a free lesson in computer programming. Don't worry, you don't need to have any previous knowledge. (Well, that's not entirely true.But trust me, you already have the knowledge you need for this lesson.) We're not going to delve into C, java, C#, the .NET framework, or any of those other weird terms you might have heard. All you need for this exercise is a way to write or type something. So get your pen and paper ready. Or open up Word, Notepad, Pages, or whatever. Because this lesson starts with an exercise. Ready? Here you go.

Write out detailed instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Pretend that a computer can understand the English language and will follow your instructions exactly as written.

That's all I want you to do for this lesson. Not hard, right? I mean, I'm betting you know how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Heck, unless you're allergic to peanuts or something, I'm betting you've actually made a few of them in your life. So you can probably do so without even thinking about it. (That will actually make this exercise hard. And that's part of the point, believe it or not.) So get writing out your instructions. When you're done, we'll finish the lesson.

All done? How'd you do? Let me ask you few questions.

Did you remember to state up front that the reader will need a jar of peanut butter, a jar of jelly, and a loaf of bread? How about a knife? If not, the computer is going to be lost and confused when it gets to the part of your instructions that mention theses things. "Spread the peanut butter on the bread. Wait, I'm supposed to have peanut butter?"

Did you mention opening the jars of peanut butter and jelly? If not, the computer may stand there confused as to how to get the peanut butter out of the jar.

Did you mention using the knife to spread the peanut butter? The computer may use its fingers (or whatever it uses like fingers) to spread it instead. Messy! (And do you want to eat that sandwich now?)

If your instructions said to spread the peanut butter on one slice of bread and the jelly on the other slice (me, I always put the peanut butter and jelly on the same slice of bread and then just put the plain slice on top), did you specifically mention making sure the sides with peanut butter and jelly are facing each other when you put the two slices together?

Did you think to describe how to accomplish simple operations, like opening a jar and spreading something on a slice of bread? Sure you know how to do that sort of thing because you're human and these things are practically muscle-memory. But computers don't have muscle memory. They need to be told how to do these things. Every time, because they don't remember how they did something from before. They only know about what they're doing right now.

So, now how do you think you did? Unless you've done an exercise like this before, I'm guessing you missed some stuff. I know I did. I first did this exercise -- except it wasn't presented as a lesson in computer programming -- back in fifth grade. My teacher had the entire class do this. And then she surprised us by choosing some of our instructions at random (or maybe she picked those she knew would be funny), pulling out a jar each of peanut butter and jelly, a loaf of bread, and a knife and started following the instructions. One set of instructions didn't even mention taking the bread out of the wrapper, so "put the peanut butter on the bread" resulted in setting the entire jar on top of the still-wrapped loaf. Embarrassment and laughter ensued. I don't remember what my instructions looked like, but I'm sure I missed a bunch of stuff.

So don't be too hard on yourself for whatever steps you might have missed. It's kinda the point of the exercise. I bet if you rewrote your instructions now, you'd do a lot better. In fact, if it'll make you feel better, go ahead and do it now. If you do, understand you're actually engaging in the central activity of computer programming.

To do computer programming, you have to look at a task you want the computer to accomplish, understand all the details of what's required to accomplish that task and then express it in a way (write code) that tells the computer how to go about it. The computer needs to know:
1. What inputs and/or data does it need (like peanut butter, jelly, and bread).
2. What tools does it need (the knife).
3. What operations does it need to execute on their inputs (the steps to follow)
4. What's the final output (a yummy sandwich!)

Learning a programming language is simply a matter of learning a particular way to communicate this information to the computer. Knowing how to identify and break down the task is the more important part.

I will note that back when I was in college, I tutored a number of women in their thirties who were taking their first programming class. They often came to me because they were struggling. I found that the reason they were struggling is because their instructors focused way too much on the details (grammar and syntax) of the language. So I'd sit down with them and talk about the assignment in terms of what the program needed to do. Once they started thinking about the assignment in terms of identifying the steps the program needed to take to accomplish the task, they caught on pretty quickly. The moral of the story is that there were a lot of college instructors back in the early-to-mid-90's that were just awful at teaching computer programming to newcomers. (Or maybe colleges were just terrible at making sure newcomers to programming that were taking night classes -- as were most of the students I was tutoring -- got into the appropriate introductory classes.) I sure hope things have gotten better in the past 20+ years.

Of course, there are a lot more things you need to learn to be a computer programmer. For example, we haven't covered functions (also called procedures and subroutines in some programming languages). These are reusable pieces of code that can be called from different places in the program. For example the steps for opening a jar is pretty much the same regardless of whether the jar contains peanut butter, jelly, pickles, or the assortment of screws that my dad has collected over his sixty years of doing carpentry. So you might write an "open jar" function and then in your instructions for making the sandwich you say something like "take the jar of peanut butter and perform the open jar function on it." It's a lot easier than saying "pick up the jar of peanut butter in one hand and grip the lid with your other hand and twist in a counter-clockwise direction" and then say the exact same thing for the jar of jelly.

And that's the nature of everything else you would learn if you kept learning how to do computer programming. All subsequent lessons teach you different ways to understand, break down, and describe how to accomplish the desired goal so they computer can do it.


April 18, 2019 at 12:53pm
April 18, 2019 at 12:53pm
#956915
This blog post is in response to today's blog prompt over at the "Blogging Circle of Friends .

"A writer said, a problem a protagonist can walk away from, is a book a reader can walk away from." ~ unknown. I saw it on Tumblr. Dp you agree with his statement? How important is the tension or the protagonist's mission to a story?

I want to start my post by making a statement that many people might find controversial: The protagonist can always walk away from a problem. Frodo absolutely could have stayed in the Shire, allowed the Nazgul find the ring, and watched as Sauron enslaved or slaughtered all of Middle Earth. Katniss could have kept quiet when her sister's name was drawn as tribute, and stayed comfortably in District 12 while everyone watched Prim die horribly. Instead, both of those protagonists made different choices, and as a result underwent hardships, overcame obstacles, and lived out a story. They made those choices for reasons. I maintain those reasons are central to the story. I also maintain that this is the best understanding of the above quote: That in good story telling -- whether on the printed page, on the screen, or in the interactive story-telling environment of an RPG -- understanding the motives of the protagonists (and in many cases, the antagonists, but that's probably best left for a separate blog post) is absolutely essential. It's the fact that Katniss loves Prim so deeply that she is willing to volunteer to face near-certain death herself in Prim's place that first draws you into the Hunger Games. If Katniss's name had simply been drawn at random instead, it might have still been a good story but without the same power and intensity. If Katniss had simply decided she wanted to participate in the Hunger Games simply because she thought it would a lark,(1) well, I think that would just be too unbelievable to continue reading.

This is something I've been exploring as I learn to play Dungeons and Dragons. Right now, hubby and I have started a single player campaign (he's the DM, I'm the player). I'm playing a Halfling monk with a somewhat detailed backstory. One of the things that we had to discuss is what my character's motives for taking on this campaign is. Because "getting gold and magical weapons" by itself just isn't going to matter to my monk (though I have a few ideas how he might use that gold, based on his backstory and personality). It's also not going to hold my interest as the player. So we've worked together to figure out what it is about this series of quests and adventures that make them worth taking up in my monk's mind.

Notes:
(1) Now, a story in which she didn't know what the Hunger Games were all about and didn't realize just how terrible they would be could be an interesting story in its own right. Then the story would be about her discovering what she had gotten herself into and how to deal with it now that it's too late to change her mind. But as the story was actually written, she knew exactly what the Hunger Games were about because she's watched them in previous years.


JarredH

Give me pen and paper and I shall create entire worlds and fill them with adventures.
April 17, 2019 at 12:07pm
April 17, 2019 at 12:07pm
#956833
I haven't done a daily prompt from the "Blogging Circle of Friends in forever. So here we go:

Hemingway was famous for his six word memoir "For sale:baby shoes, never worn." Now, it's your turn to create a six word story. Have fun!

Couldn't bear living. Now I thrive.
August 5, 2018 at 8:55pm
August 5, 2018 at 8:55pm
#939182
The following is the first entry on a writing project   I've started. Currently, I'm hosting the project on another site, though I may cross-post here if there's enough interest.

I sat with my back against a fallen tree in the small, secluded glade at the Falls of Serenity. My eyes were closed as I tried to still my mind as I waited for my patron to make her presence known to me. It was not long before I felt the familiar icy chill on my skin. I heard her cold yet seductive voice a few feet away from me. “Hello there, my sweet child.” Did she call me a child just to annoy me? I am an adult of twenty years, after all. And I’ve certainly grown up a lot since I foolishly bound myself to her four years ago. Being forced to work for an arch-fey goddess who wants to plunge the world into cold and darkness tends to have that effect on you.

I kept my eyes closed for a few more moments before saying, “Greetings my mistress.” I reluctantly opened my eyes and looked upon her lithe, elegant, and almost featureless form. She was wearing her usual armor, made of some strange metal that I do not recognize. All I know is that it seems more rare than even mythril and exudes power. Everything about Auril exudes power.

“I have a task for you,” she said.

I sighed. “Am I going to have to kill someone?” So far, she has spared me from doing so, though she has made it clear in the past that I cannot expect that to remain true if I am going to continue to serve her and benefit from her blessings. I pray that I find my freedom from her before that days comes. I’m not sure my relationship with Uri would survive if I turn murderer for this ice queen.

“Not this time. You may have to kill things. Nothing you’d likely consider a person, though. Will you do as I ask?”

“Like I have a choice,” I muttered quietly, momentarily forgetting about Auril’s keen hearing.

“You can walk away any time you want, young one. You can simply break your contract whenever you’re willing to give up the power I have granted you.”

Therein lies the trap, I groaned inwardly. “No, Mistress. I am yours to command,” I said, trying to sound subservient.

“That’s more like it,” she replied. “My sister has started to gain a foothold in this region. I can sense where her followers have erected her statues in the mine in the mountains northwest of the capital region.”

“And you want me to travel to the mine and destroy Titania’s statues, breaking her foothold.”

“You understand me clearly. Fortunately, Titania’s followers just recently finished their construction, so their power is rather weak. The guardians that shield and protect them should still be relatively easy for you to overcome. Enter the spatial rifts that contains each statue and defeat the guardians you find there.”

I frowned. “Spatial rifts. Aren’t those usually deadly for mere mortals to pass through?”

Auril smiled as she held out a frost amulet in her hand. The amulet floated out of her hand and moved to hover near me. “This will enable you and anyone physically touching to pass through these rifts unharmed.” I reached out and took hold of the amulet. I felt a jolt of energy, as cold as anything that comes from Auril. I brought the chain holding the amulet around my neck and, after a moment’s hesitation, engaged the clasp. As the amulet now hung from my neck, I could feel the boost of power it gave me, both chilling and delighting me. Auril smiled her dark approval, then continued, “You may take anyone you wish with you to complete this task. Even that annoying sister of yours.” She sneered as she mentioned Uri. Those two have hated each other since the day Auril came into my life. Not that I blame Uri. This woman wants to turn our world into a ball of ice shrouded in darkness. Any Druid would take issue with that, though Uri’s dislike of Auril seems to be a bit more personal than that, if you ask me.

“Not like you could stop her from coming along anyway,” I said. Don’t poke the polar bear too much, I mentally warned myself. You don’t to end up a ball of ice yourself. But I was right and Auril knew it. Uri and I were inseparable and the only way the frosty goddess could change that was if she actually killed my sister. And I think she knows I’d likely abandon her for sure if she did that.
May 27, 2013 at 1:36pm
May 27, 2013 at 1:36pm
#783524
I found today's blog prompt from the "Blogging Circle of Friends someone curious:

You like being female/male because....

To be honest, I like being a man because...well, I'm a man and I really cannot imagine what it'd be like to be a woman instead.

Sure, I've wondered what it would be like to be a woman at times. But I can't really imagine what it would be like. And I'm not sure I'd want to. In many ways, I enjoy being a man. I enjoy my body the way it is and it feels comfortable to me. Lately, I've been talking to and reading books by trans people. I've paid close attention to how they often felt at war with their birth sex and even their own bodies. I can't really imagine what that would be like, though I imagine it must be a horrible thing to experience.

So why do I like being a man? Because that's what I am and I'm comfortable enough with that to take it for granted as a natural part of my personality and identity. And for that, I'm thankful.

JarredH

Give me pen and paper and I shall create entire worlds and fill them with adventures.
May 14, 2013 at 11:23pm
May 14, 2013 at 11:23pm
#782695
I haven't done one of these in ages. I figured I was overdue.

The sun was just peeking over the horizon when Erica crept out of the small shack her family lived in. The seven year old shivered slightly as her bear feet stepped into the dew-covered grass, instantly making them damp and chilly. She silently slipped around behind the house, through the hedgerow that marked the family's back yard, then began to run across the meadow. She slowed her pace as she approached the old oak tree. She knelt in front of it and placed her hands on the rough bark. "Grandmother Tree," she said, "Thank you for your shade and your acorns. Thank you for letting me play in your branches. May your life be long and may all who benefit from you appreciate you."

A grizzled old voice came from behind her. "There are not many adults who still practice the old devotions. It's surprising to hear them from a child."

Erica spun around, startled. A burly man with greying beard and a squint in his left eye stood there. Erica thought he was smiling, but it was hard to tell with all the lines and scars on his face. "Oh hello," she said.

"Hello, young lady. So tell me, who taught you to bless the tree like that?"

"My great aunt, sir. Her name was Mathilda. She went to be with the ancestors three years ago."

The man nodded. "I see. I knew a woman named Mathilda who lived around here once. A short, pudgy woman who made the most delightful meat pies. She said the secret to her pies' great taste was that she still honored the old ways when she made them."

"That definitely sounds like my great aunt, sir. And to my knowledge, she was the only Mathilda this side of the Shelti River."

"Then it could be, Erica. It's sweet that you still give thanks to the trees. Do you follow any of the other old practices?"

"Yes sir. As many as I remember from what Aunt Mathilda showed me." Erica frowned. "Except it upsets my parents, so I sometimes have to be careful to make sure they're not looking."

The man nodded. "Yes, many of the adults frown on the old ways. They think they are foolish. Or even dangerous."

"But you don't think that, sir?"

The man laughed. It was a loud, grating laugh. Yet Erica found it comforting. He said, "No, dear girl. I think the old ways are important and that the people are hurting themselves by forgetting them. Indeed, it gives me great hope to see one such as yourself keeping those ways alive."

"Hope, sir? What for?"

He smiled. "That doesn't matter right now. You don't need to concern yourselves with the ramblings of an old man like me. But I wonder if you would accept a small gift."

"I have nothing to offer in return, sir."

He laughed. "Ah yes! Your aunt taught you well, to know that it is bad form to accept a gift without having one to give in return." He lowered his voice and spoke as if sharing a conspiracy. "But you have already given me a gift with your blessing to our friend the tree here. Hearing that has brightened my day immensely. So you see, it is I who owe you a gift in return anyway."

Erica pondered this, then nodded tentatively. The man reached into a pouch that hung from his belt. When he removed it, he held it out to Erica so she could see the small copper coin in his hand. She reached out her own hand and stopped when her fingers were just inches from the token. She glanced at him and he nodded before she picked up the coin. Pulling it to her face, she studied it. On one side was a strange symbol. On the other were the figures fo a man and woman dancing together. "It's not like any money I have ever seen, sir," she said.

He laughed. "Indeed not. It's a good luck charm of sorts. Many people who followed the old ways in the past would carry such tokens with them. I would like you to have it."

"Thank you, sir. If you're sure?"

"I am." A woman's voice echoed from the direction of Erica's home. "Sounds like your mother is looking for you."

"Yeah, I need to get on with my chores. If you will excuse me."

"Goodbye, sweet Erica. Perhaps we will meet again."

She began to walk away, but stopped after a few paces. A thought had occurred to her. She turned back to him as she asked, "What is your name, sir?" But the old man was gone. She looked in every direction but could not see him. She wondered how he could have gotten out of site so soon. She wished she had gotten his name, as maybe her father could tell her more about him, as Mathilda was his father's sister.

Then another thought occurred to her. She had never told him her name. Yet he had known it.


JarredH

Give me pen and paper and I shall create entire worlds and fill them with adventures.
March 11, 2013 at 10:47pm
March 11, 2013 at 10:47pm
#777339
From "Blogging Circle of Friends :

The topic is the death penalty. Are you for it or against it and why?

There are certain questions -- a lot of them seem to be "hot topic" questions too -- that leave me feeling like the question is wrong. This is often because I feel like there are dozens of other questions that have been passed over in order to ask the "big question," questions whose answers will either greatly impact the answer to "the big one" or in some way invalidate that question altogether.

The death penalty question is one such question for me. I think that to really tackle it, we first have to tackle some other questions about our criminal justice system and what purpose we think it is supposed to serve. For example, a lot of people assume that the purpose is to punish criminals. It's an assumption that makes a lot of sense, considering how it works. A criminal is put on trial and once convicted -- assuming zie is convicted -- is handed down a sentence (fine, prison time, and/or death). They do something bad and the system does something harsh to them in return. That bears a great deal of resemblance to how a parent might punish an unruly child.

I admit I don't particularly care for that view of the criminal justice system. For starters, I think that a system of punishments (at least not alone) isn't terribly effective with children or adolescents, so assuming it will be effective for grown adults who clearly didn't learn their lessons about behaving like a civilized person in childhood strikes me as dubious. I think punishment for adults tends to fail as both a deterrent and as a way to get them to change. (And if we're just punishing them for the sake of punishing them or as a form of "comeuppance" with no other goal, well that's vengeance and not justice at all.)

I'll further note that I find the idea of rehabilitating criminals -- whether through punishment or any other means -- as troubling anyway. Oh sure, it's a great idea in theory. The problem in reality is that rehabilitation only works for those who actually want to change and find a better way of living within society. The thought of a criminal justice system that's trying to sort out who actually wants to be rehabilitated and who doesn't frightens me in its own right.

In the end, the one thing I think the criminal justice system can do is try to protect past victims and potential future victims from criminals. If a criminal is taken of the streets and removed from the general population for a period of time, that is time that I, my family, my neighbor, and almost everyone else is safe from said criminal's hurtful actions. It still begs the question of how long to protect the population from any particular criminal and gets back into my questions about the problem of a system that seeks to rehabilitate.

However, I do feel that the one thing that seems obvious is that those violent criminals who repeatedly prey upon and hurt other people deserve to be removed from the population permanently. That can be done as a life sentence. In some cases, that may be done through removing such a repeat offender from this world altogether. I'm not totally sold on even that possibility, but I'm open to it.

But in the end, I still think we need to start thinking about how we look at criminal justice -- and justice in general -- on a more fundamental level.

JarredH

Give me pen and paper and I shall create entire worlds and fill them with adventures.
February 5, 2013 at 1:05pm
February 5, 2013 at 1:05pm
#773928
From "Blogging Circle of Friends :

Name one of the best decisions you ever made.

I would have to decide that it was when I decided to go into therapy back in 2011. I had spent the previous few years going through unhealthy and horrible relationships. The last one was with D, and as I realized there was problems in the relationship, I talked to my friend Marisa about the possibility of seeking professional help from some of my issues. (To give one example, D told me that he needed some time alone to work through a few things that were bothering him, and I just about had a nervous breakdown, wondering why he wouldn't talk to me about it or let me help him.)

As things went through total meltdown (and I found out just how toxic a person D really was for me), I ended up making an appointment with my therapist, Felicia. I was a complete mess after our first session, as Felicia led me to the realization that I was codependent. I was in tears after that session and spent the next couple days feeling like I had emotionally been run over by a bus. Marisa told me that this was perfectly normal and actually a good thing. In the long run, I found out she was right.

With Felicia's help, I learned to see myself in a new light. I quit defining my worth solely in terms of what I could do to help other people. I quit needing to be needed. Plus, I started putting my own needs on the same level as the needs of those around me -- and above their wants or whims. I started pushing back when D (who eventually got back in touch with me) tried to emotionally manipulate me by appealing to my need to "be nice." I started setting boundaries with peoplend defending them, even refusing to continue talking to a few people if they continued to refuse to honor my boundaries.

I was fortunate in that I only spent about three months seeing Felicia (though her phone number is still in my contact list "just in case"). But the lessons I learned from her -- and the encouragement and praise I received for implementing them -- will stick with me for the rest of my life.

JarredH

Give me pen and paper and I shall create entire worlds and fill them with adventures.

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