Writing Challenge

I am in the middle of week two of a month-long writing challenge, being hosted by the sister of one of my best friends from college. You commit to writing at least 400 words per day, five days per week. By the end of the month, you have at least 8,000 words of (hopefully) useable writing. A few of us are doing creative writing. Others are doing more academic work.

Just knowing other people out there are struggling and striving to carve out the time for 400 words each day is inspiration enough to get me to put butt in chair and type.

Now to stop procrastinating, set the timer for 15 minutes, and see what I can accomplish today.

Winter is a time for creativity

The winter holidays bring out the creativity in people. I don’t know why exactly, but my current theory is that time of year is steeped in myth. Modern myths. Old myths. Truly ancient myths. The birth of the Christians’ Messiah being only one of the more recent entrants.

The Russians have Snegurka (“Snow Maiden”) and Dedushka Moroz (“Old Man (or Father) Frost”). The English, Old Man Winter and Jack Frost. The Norse had Vetr (Old Norse, “Winter”).1

There are older myths, too. For some, we have only fragments.2

In spring and summer we can ignore our own mortality. But winter suffers no fools. The elements can truly kill you if you aren’t careful – and even if you are. As the days get shorter and shorter, leading up to the Winter Solstice, even we secular humanists start looking for meaning in the world. Once it is officially “winter,” we know we have made it half way to the warmth, life, and rebirth of Spring.

What I most enjoy about this time of year – other than the food – are the retellings of myths. A number of authors I know have done some interesting things around Santa Claus in particular. In no particular order:

Charles Stross: “Overtime

Jim Hines: “Frosty

Nerd Rage: “Frost-Born

Penny Arcade: “The Last Christmas

There are many more. These are just a few of my more recent favorites.


1. If you trace these things back far enough, some of them converge. [return]
2. Presumably their adherents have long since frozen to death. [return]

Spiders and Suits, or Story Time

In High School here in Pennsylvania in the 1990s we had to take the PSSA – Pennsylvania State Standardized Assessment I think they were called back then – in various years. I think it was fifth, eighth, and eleventh grades. I’m sure they do something similar now. This was a few years before No Child Left Behind, Common Core, and teaching to the test, but you get the idea. Same shit, different sack.

I was having a rough week. Month, probably. Maybe even year. Looking back, it was likely the start of my problems with depression. (I wouldn’t be diagnosed for another decade, at which point a giant cloud was lifted from my outlook, and Much Introspection and Reevaluation Was Done.) At any rate, what does a smart, depressed person do when he’s forced to take a standardized test, where the rule is “if you finish early, sit quietly, and check your answers?” Since I couldn’t bring a book to read or anything productive to work on, I took out my frustrations on the essay.

The prompt was simple enough: spider silk can be spun into something as strong as kevlar. What would you make out of spider silk?

I proposed spinning it into cloth and making spider silk ties for businessmen. They’d be bulletproof, fashionable, and would sell really well to well-dressed dignitaries in third-world hellholes.

I used big words. I even proposed a multi-tiered marketing strategy.

Clearly, I was a man ahead of my time.

Enter: The Canadian Bulletproof Suit.

Whoever graded my essay wasn’t impressed and gave me the lowest score possible, most likely based on being unable to read my handwriting. But I’d already been accepted to Juniata College, was tired of school, and couldn’t have been paid to care.

I was also lucky no one had shot up a school yet or I’d have been hauled in for questioning for daring to write about bullets (even if it was about stopping them).