Writing Practice and Reflections, March 30 2020

I’ve been doing a thing for a while where I go through and do timed writes to random images from Lorem Picsum, which is a tool intended to provide random placeholder images but which also works decently well for doing just a writing prompt thing.

My method here is to go through five sequences of writing based on different random pictures, taking five minutes for each.

Another day, another practice write.

I’ve been collecting some pieces together here, normally I don’t string things together across days, but the Renee story (as I’m calling it after the only named major character so far) and the Lao story both appear here, as they did in the last post. However, my random photos got really random today, so there’s five different snippets I did here and only two are related. 

Did a little free verse because one of the images just totally blanked my mind.


Image 1: A man standing on a pier overlooking still waters. There is heavy mist, and hills in the background. Literally feels like it could be 1:1 with the image that first inspired the Renee story yesterday.

But that was the weekend. I knew that on weekdays I’d let Renee go to school, and then I’d be alone.

I was never one to think about things like loss. I think that’s half the reason I came home; it was a place to meditate.

So on Monday I went down and stood by the harbor, looking out into the mists and the still waters.

Something about it made everything else seem impermanent, like it would just fade away.

It also reminded me of something:

Nothing changes on its own.

I let the chill come over me, feel the wet on the air. The fishermen had gone out, and there was just the smell of the ocean butting up against land. I looked around, seeing how much I could see of the hills that surrounded the harbor. To the south, where we lived, the house that overlooked the bay, was just about as far as I could see before the gray and white washed away the world.

And to the north I couldn’t see anything. Those were the wild hills, places nobody had bothered to go and live. Life on the south hills and in the valley was good enough for us.

Sometimes I’d wondered why that was, back when I was a kid. Now there are nature trails, a little effort to preserve something we only recently learned to value while also exposing it to us. Us to it. Works either way.


Image 2: A cafe patio and brick building, with bright red and white umbrellas (and maybe an awning?)

“Anybody up for a trip outside?”

The old brownstone had been getting to Irvin, and he couldn’t handle being cooped up any longer.

“You know that we can’t go.”

He grinned apologetically. The thinking machines bobbed up and down in the vats, the pressurized coolant keeping them from overheating with dramatic results.

Sometimes he liked to test them, see when they’d answer collectively or individually.

The way he understood it, they never said we unless they really meant it. They’d work around it when there wasn’t a consensus, or in the rare case that they couldn’t communicate the concept between themselves.

He wondered what their minds were like; did they see and feel like us, or did the Progenitor machines have a different meaning.

He sat on the steps leading up to the next floor as he thought. For that matter, were humans really individuals?

He knew he had to get out for air.

The rooftop garden was barren like a desert. Just desserts for nobody caring to put in the work. Irvin had tried, but he just couldn’t make anything grow. Turns out that having a hectic schedule and other more interesting things to do meant that gardening was nigh-impossible.

The delivery instructions poured in as he got down to the truck, the luxury of a modern world where everything could talk to each other.

Image 4: A four-lane (or so) road cutting through grasslands. Made me think of Utah/Idaho for some reason, or more particularly the childhood trips between Arizona and Montana.

The road stretched before him, but Irvin didn’t let his mind return to the machines. They’d been in his apartment for three years now, just happily doing their thing. Whatever that was.

He wondered what would have happened if the Progenitors had seen us now, if they hadn’t wound up in a crater somewhere in Nevada instead of the stable low earth orbit that the machines told him they should have.

Sometimes he wondered if he was crazy. He’d stopped the truck to stretch his legs and stumbled upon something that changed his whole understanding of the world.

Surely back when they were building the highways in the 20’s they’d had to have noticed something. Did they just not pay attention?

Or had the machines called to him because they trusted him for some reason?

All he knew is that they’d told him not to tell anyone, and he never had. Sometimes he thought about getting a shrink. Or a priest. Someone who was required to hold things in confidence. I mean, it wasn’t like they talked to him everywhere, just when he was nearby. If he’d lost his mind, it was very easy to find it again.

Still, he could have lived without the little jolt of energy that passed through him whenever he saw an unmarked van pull up in front of his apartment.


Image 3: A pug wrapped in a blanket, sitting on a path through a forest.

the totem stands between
two parts of one forest
in a clearing of dirt
the elders have dressed it
not because it needs
but because it thinks
and it is right to do so

sacrifice is a tricky thing
too much and you lose
yourself
your friends
your mind
too little and you lose
the chance of a better life

maybe it’s better to abstain
if all that stands to gain
is just a little glory
but maybe it’s the hope
a light in the night
taking part in the fight
that makes it worth doing

maybe that’s the trick
that a sacrifice requires
not just an offering
but a purpose
and when you feed it both
there’s a chance
to lift the spirit up
to give a second try
to become more

i pass the totem
and i nod to it
like an old friend
because i know
it has seen more
than i ever have
and ever will

it was the stars in the skies
that tell half-hidden lies
and cast their light
that set my path
but on that night
i learned
so many secrets.


Image 5: A white flower blossoming next to a window frame? Room is dark, edges of photo are indistinct due to cropping.

Lao heard the man on the other end say something that he had to take a few moments to believe.

“Lao, that miracle plant just blossomed into a white flower.”

He checked his notes and compared them to the image that had been sent from the planet.

“That shouldn’t be possible, none of the samples were of plants that would bloom like that…”

He wished he were a better botanist, maybe he could figure out what the flower was if he had been. He was a hard-core genetics guy, and he knew all of the plants that he usually worked with like the back of his hand.

“Is that a problem?”

Lao took a few steps back from the transmitter.

“It’s not a problem, it’s a solution. We can look at that flower and see if it has our mystery gene, the thing we’re looking for. Then it should be trivial to splice it in. At the very least, it’ll help us narrow down the list of potential candidates.”

The orbiting colony ship passed to the wrong side of the planet, resulting in abrupt blackout. There had been talks of putting it in a synchronous orbit, but it would’ve meant burning extra fuel, and with the efficiency of the current method they saved enough to keep it up indefinitely and still bring the whole thing in for a safe landing once they figured out the phenomena and came up with a cure.


I’ve rearranged the order here for the sake of reading; the image number shows the order in which these things were written, but I’ve combined the two parts of the Irvin story. The second part of the Irvin story was one I forgot to set a timer for, but I think I wrote for about five minutes (the word count looks about right).

One thing that I find surprising is often how easily things come to me that used to be really difficult (like names).

Less fragmentary writing today. Still some. Really happy with the volume of free verse, the structure of the list in the second stanza. Actually just really happy I came up with anything given that prompt. If you look at raw output versus time, I think that was probably as high as anything here, which is interesting because there were a couple things I was trying to do there.

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