Bend to Berkeley and back to Bend

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This evening I got back to my new home of five years in Bend, Oregon, from my old digs of fifty years in Berkeley, California. I went there for the closing day and memorial party for the Caffe Mediterraneum coffee shop. That venue is where a huge chunk of my life was spent and I loved every minute of it, even the annoying ones. It has a large pole in the middle of the room which supports the ceiling and I considered it the center of the Earth, and still do.dsc07795-03

There must have been at least forty people whom I had known for decades at the closing. These were people with whom I had lived nearly my entire adult life, and many of them can say the same thing. Some of them were world famous scholars, some were famous radicals, most were just plain interesting to be with. This cafe was the epicenter of so much that happened in the world. I used to think … where is the most interesting place for me to be … the obvious answer was Berkeley because that was where so very many things were coming into being during my time there. The intellectual foment from campus fed us, and we fed it. Major stuff happened.

The Med was, in fact, the Center of the World for planet Earth.

The Adventure of the Hanging Baskets

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The Adventure of the Hanging Baskets.

It was a dark and stormy night, as it always is in London on Christmas Day at five in the afternoon. Trevelyan was standing on the East side of the London Tower bridge watching the bits of litter slowly flowing down the Thames. There was one of those baskets used by old ladies for hanging flowers in their windows, still with a few stragglers of flowers and papers hanging on. Curious? He wasn’t exactly depressed, but how can an American toff who just lost a thousand pounds cash be feeling good? He wouldn’t be getting his allowance for another week, and other than those skinny fingered thugs who just relieved him of all his gold coins in the beautiful leather coin purse his grandmother had made for him, he was penniless and he didn’t know anyone this side of the Atlantic ocean.

Some of his indolent young Harvard friends still back in Boston, typically sent abroad in the summer to do their obligatory European tour, would have jumped off the bridge. But Trevelyan, even though he felt miserable just now, wasn’t that kind of guy. No, no, now was a time for an immaculately dressed Harvard student to consider his options. He could go to the police and ask for their help; after all, they must have had plenty of experience with this kind of problem. Surely, they would put him up for the night, give him enough to eat, and have the resources needed to contact his rich uncle Grosvenor, who would advance the money Trevelyan was expecting to receive on New Year’s Day. No. No. No! He had been sent abroad to learn how to cope with the world, and damn it, that’s what he was going to do.

Perhaps he should chase down those thugs who relieved him of his cash, creep up behind them and bludgeon them with some convenient item. He had noticed a pile of bricks at the end of the bridge where he had just come from, and where the thieves were still visible walking happily away. They were skipping along and looked like a couple of happy school kids who just got bicycles for their Christmas presents. But for Trevelyan it was a thousand pounds sterling gone, and in cash too! … But for the robbers … Blimey, it was a happy day, they had never even seen so much money.

Trevelyan considered running after them and yelling something … “Help, help, stop those thieves!” That sounded like a reasonable thing to do, but the traffic noise would drown out his voice, and they were now vanishing into the infamous London fog. Perhaps he could track them down, Sherlock Holmes-like. He had noticed some unique little details about them. The ruby-faced fellow had an unusual lavender piping on his jacket and square-tipped shoes and he walked with a unique limp. Obviously, he was an ex-soldier, and the shoes corroborated that assumption and the limp too. That narrowed the suspects down a lot. And … if he was an honorable man and so reduced in circumstances that he would have to rob people, he probably would be staying at some flophouse for soldiers who were “down on their luck.” Now Trevelyan was getting someplace. His classic Harvard background education wasn’t a hindrance, after all, it had given him the tools to think. To think for himself, and the motivation to figure out problems and the courage to explore his convictions and to act on them too.

Well, an hour later after some similar cogitations he was sitting in The Sisters of Mercy Home for Fallen Heroes, reading yesterday’s Times that he had fetched from a basket hanging there, just like the one he had seen floating down the Thames. He noticed a hook for hanging another basked in the ceiling. Curious? A local constable, one of the big friendly fellows for which London is so famous, was sitting across the hallway from him, also appearing to be reading an old newspaper. Everything seemed artificially friendly, as things usually do in such establishments.

Slowly, the ancient ornate front door creeks open and in limps a red-faced fellow with lavender piping and square-toed shoes, obviously quite happy from having downed a pint or two of ale. Trevelyan says, “Alrightee mate, how’s it going? Haven’t seen you for a donkey’s years. Have ya minted any coin lately?” Without further fuss, he handed over grandma’s coin purse to Trevelyan. Curious? No, not for a Harvard student.


Dudley’s writing group prompt, “hanging baskets,” obtained randomly from the third shelf over to our right, the third book in, page 17, line 20, where were found the words, “The hanging basket.” We each then wrote for forty minutes and read aloud our stories. I recommend joining a writing group doing these random prompts. It’s fun, and it takes you to strange places in your mind that you didn’t know existed, but when you get there it feels familiar.

A possible Probaway Person of the Year, Palmer Luckey

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The Probaway Person of the Year won’t be decided for another month, until January 2017, but Palmer Luckey has done more than any other person to bring Virtual Reality into a functioning computer-mediated reality available to the public.

Palmer Luckey Oculus Rift

Palmer Luckey, the creator of workable Virtual Reality, Oculus Rift, speaking at D.I.C.E. 2014 Summit

There have been a few quick attempts to get VR out to the public before Luckey, by other giants of the media and computer world, but Luckey forced them to do it. The Oculus Rift VR reality system is probably going to be a grand opening for the entertainment media because it has enough quality to be satisfying. The lesser attempts are only introductory and stop-gap devices put out by others who are finally seeing the light of its possibilities. These early attempts are failures and soon to be forgotten because they do not have the presence to feel real, and often leave viewers feeling sick. Luckey’s machines pass that threshold of acceptability, at least for playing properly designed games, and the greater powers needed for fully functioning human reality are being explored. It will take vast amounts of money to explore the possibilities of VR, but Luckey has provided the impetus to invest the money, and the money is now flowing.

The Probaway method for searching for the Person of the Year is to look back from a postulated five-hundred years in the future and pick the event that will still be remembered at that distant time. A good example of how that strategy is used is to compare President John F. Kennedy proposing to send a man to the Moon in the early 60s, which will be forgotten after 500 years, with Neil Armstrong’s actually putting his foot on the Moon, which will be remembered, if of course there are sentient beings to do the remembering. The only other contender for that permanent fame would be Buzz Aldrin because he spoke the very first words spoken on the Moon. He said, “Contact light,” when the lander’s sensors detected the landing gear touched down. Of course the prepared words, “One small step for a man, one giant step for mankind,” will be remembered, even though they were said hours later when Armstrong stepped off the spacecraft ladder onto the surface of the Moon.

Virtual Reality is an entirely new medium. In about five years, plus or minus four, it will have enough computer power to create presence enough to really feel that you are talking with someone who is actually there. At first VR is going to be limited to games, but the VR games will feel completely different from other computer games because they will have more of the emotional feeling of immediacy, of being immersed in reality with computer-generated beings. A well executed VR game will be scaled to fit your body and thus will give you the sense of presence of actually being in the scene. It will probably be soon followed by the military using the technology to train soldiers for combat, and perhaps to engage in actual combat. It will be helpful for scientists to clarify what they are thinking about if they have more real models to work with. Education will be helped because the students will be able to engage more fundamentally in the realities of what they are exploring. Movies designed for VR will become more real, because of the personal presence felt, and there will be times when the VR will permit you to engage in the action of the movie, and affect the outcome, and thus to create even more presence for the viewer and virtual participants. These other virtual participants may be human, or not, and be alive and playing in some distant land.

Other people, I am considering for 500-year fame, would obviously include Donald Trump. At the moment Trump hasn’t done anything unusual other than being elected President of the United States, and someone was bound to be elected, so being elected isn’t unusual, it’s even a foregone conclusion. There is the chance that he will do something next year that will make him famous, or infamous, but not yet. Last year I chose Xi Jinping because he had conducted China from being a third-world country into being the greatest economic powerhouse on Earth. Perhaps Trump will do the same. He claims he will make America great again, but much of his personal track record for his companies is exactly the opposite. We will see, but:

It is rare to get onto the Probaway Person of the Year list and common to fail in attempting great enterprises. 

Things are great! Well, at least very good.

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I’ve been grumpy the last few days because of obvious external happenings, and last night I didn’t get enough sleep. Many pleasant things happened since getting up and I now feel fairly near my normal ebullient state. So, perhaps now is a time to list our public blessings again. That’s a refrain I’ve quoted a few times this last month, but haven’t done enough with it here on the Probaway blog.

Some things that are  measurably better about our present situation.

Our life expectancy is approximately eighty years here in the developed world, and it’s almost as good everywhere else. That is an ultimate measure of the goodness of living now because it encompasses all of the good and bad things that can be happening to humanity as a whole.

World population is expanding, which is a close correlate of life expectancy, and it’s measuring the same things but in a slightly different way. It would be possible in a stable or even diminishing population to have great life duration without having many children, and so the population could be decreasing while living conditions for everyone were ideal. But, for a population to be expanding means that in aggregate things are on average good for the group.

Communicable diseases of the early twentieth century were the cause of death of most people. Tuberculosis was number one, and it’s now rare. I endured whooping cough, scarlet fever, mumps, measles, yearly colds, and my grandmother had smallpox, and escaping an epidemic of cholera in Illinois was my dad’s family’s reason for moving West … the list is longer, but you get the idea. Most kids these days get vaccinations which hurt for a minute, instead of the disease which hurt much worse for a week and then they died. All of that tolerated misery is just words to most of the modern voting public.

The total number of people killed in armed combat has been very low compared to the 20th century. There were about two-hundred-million people killed during that century and that averages out to two million per year. During Obama’s eight-year administration there were less than a million and that’s on a triple population basis. A simple multiplication would have expected forty-eight million during those eight years. (8 years x 2 million per year x 3 triple population base = 48 million) Things have been remarkably more peaceful than last century.

A hundred years ago, automobiles and even dirt roads to run them on were barely existent and it was a newsworthy accomplishment to drive from New York to San Francisco, and it took weeks to do it. Now we fly that route in a few hours, and in a few more hours to almost anywhere on Earth.

On the lighter side of how much better things are – A hundred years ago, in 1916, there were only silent black and white movies, and not many of those. Now we have thousands of high-definition full-color movies, and football games, etc, all of which are easily available from various distributors. Only a few years ago information was from newspapers and network TV and was filtered by the local publisher’s biases. Now, we have the internet, and we can choose a bias to fit our own preconceptions.

People complain about the unfair distribution of all of these things, but most of the bounties listed above are free or almost free merely by living in a modern country. Next year’s howl of unfair will probably be about the kid next door having a great Oculus Rift VR instead of a crappy cardboard thing that only uses your cell-phone and doesn’t have any good games.

But it’s time to complain because the fix is in and we are getting screwed!

Desert Notes by Barry Lopez – book review

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A friend (M) was going to loan this book to a mutual friend (J) but J didn’t show up at the group meeting, and since M was leaving town for a month he gave me the book in expectation that I would pass it on to J at our meeting next week. I agreed. Unfortunately for me I decided to read the book before then, because it is short and written by Barry Lopez, whose book Arctic Dreams I had read many years ago. I remember liking that book and was hoping this one would be as good. It clearly wasn’t! At least by my tastes. It is a rambling piece of wordy fantasy set in an unspecified desert place that sometimes reminded me of our local area here in Bend, Oregon. If you read it, there will probably be passages that remind you of someplace you have been, or lived, or thought you might like to visit when feeling despondent about the human condition. It is the kind of fictional abstraction where you might meet a salty old man who is certain to tell you things of absolute truth, with absolute conviction, that on closer inspection are absolute nonsense and of absolutely no value.

If you persevere through the seventy-eight pages, which is shorter than it sounds because there are many blank pages, (for example, pages 28 through 30 have only a single word) and there is rarely a word or thought that would be unknown to a nine-year-old boy. But setting these doubts, provisos, and innuendos aside, the book makes excellent bedtime reading because the images are clear, mildly interesting, and for me at least profoundly soporific.

For me, Desert Notes is a classic snoozer. 

The Tao Teh Ching – #30 – Revealed by Lao Tzu – Rendered by Charles Scamahorn

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When you use these methods to help princes,
They will not raise armies to keep their people safe.
Their methods will attract goodness as the response to their leadership.

Where armies are raised, briars and brambles soon grow; and
Assembling a great army is followed by years of bad harvests.
Good princes do what is needed and then stop.
They never take by visible methods.
They achieve their purpose and are never sybaritic;
They achieve their purpose and are never extravagant;
They achieve their purpose and are never arrogant;
They achieve their purpose and never appear to;
They achieve their purpose and are never directing.

If you display a virtue, it will be weakened;
That is not the proper way, and
What is not the proper way soon dies.

31

We always need more kindness, humor and accomplishment.

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This blog — Probaway – Life Hacks ~ Many helpful hints on living your life more successfully, presently has 3,309 Posts and 1,474,912 Views, according to WordPress’s automatic counters.


The bracketed comment within the post, Light from many lamps – Quotes on mature actions, #7 (2014/03/16) feels at this moment to be among the best on living one’s life more successfully.

#7. “The mintage of wisdom is to know that rest is rust and that real life is love, laughter, and work.” Elbert Hubbard [The action terms would be – kindness, humor, and accomplishment. It is wisdom to know that idleness brings boredom and despair; a happy life is filled with kindness, humor and accomplishment.]

What feels good is the ease of doing any of those kinds of actions. Just choose to do things you can easily do. You don’t have to be a Buddha, a Christ, or a Confucius to do a kind act. I have seen toddlers give a toy to another child, which brought a smile to the face of both children’s faces because of the successful accomplishment of a kindness. If a toddler with a vocabulary of only a few words can do that, surely it is within the capacity of an older child, of an adolescent, of an adult, of a mature person of a sage, of you to be kind.

It is physical acts of kindness that make the real difference because that is love shown in an immediate outward expression where it can be understood by the other person to be supportive of them. Laughter is a wonderful thing too, and it is most wonderful when all of the people are being relieved of some confabulated intellectual stressor that they are all experiencing. Unfortunately, a great deal of laughter is mocking other people in a hurtful way and that is the direct contradiction to the first idea of expressing kindness. It is humor that is kind to everyone and helps them to live their lives more abundantly. Work is generally associated with accomplishment, but work is simply doing some physical action and it can be counter-productive to acknowledged accomplishment. The word accomplishment has built into it the idea of a worthwhile task completed in a competent way, but work does not have that connotation, only an action.

Happiness is to be involved in expressing kindness, humor, and accomplishment. Contentment is to be basking in a life that has given those things to others.

 

 

 

The processes of magical thinking do affect the outcome.

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I am defining magical thinking as the belief that by postulating the existence of some imagined power a real power comes into existence and that by summoning that intentionally created power and propitiating it you can influence real world events. For example, a person might choose to believe that they have a spirit guide that is protecting them and therefore that they can do statistically dangerous things or even impossible ones safely and successfully, which belief gives them the power to do those things. That belief is in agreement with Saint Augustine’s famous statement, “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe,” but with magical thinking that idea is not limited to seeing what you believe but is carried forward into physical actions. With that concept, it becomes possible to convince people of unknowable and untestable assertions, and with the pomp and beauty of the church it becomes a glorious feeling to accept the faith.

It appears that most people I meet here in Bend, Oregon, believe in supernatural guiding spirits of various kinds that help them cope with their everyday lives. They are quite certain that their personal spirit works for them and are willing, even eager, to discuss many examples of that guide taking them safely through many seemingly impossible situations. I don’t have an external guide, although I do have a local garden gnome I’ve named Samumpsickle and discussed my first meeting him in a post, 2015/03/14, Confirmation bias and be careful what you wish for, where I wrote, “Confirmation bias seems to be the guiding principle for people’s lives. It seems we have such a powerful need to believe in our personal version of the way the universe works that we only accept new input of information that is consistent with our personal reality. It is comforting to believe that we are always right, because we can then proceed with our lives in an orderly way, as if things will behave as we believe they should.” When I visit Samumpsicle and ask him for advice, which he can answer with a simple smile indicating yes, no or hum, I am not asking a supernatural being, I am asking my own inner self, projected onto this smiling piece of painted concrete. By posing my question in that simple, but categorical way, it lets my subconscious answer it.

In my blog post of 2016/06/28 – “Magic and risk were discussed today,” I asserted that  “When it comes to risk my goal is not to be smart but to avoid being stupid.” 

My personal goal is to first see a person’s reality from their perspective, and that includes their confirmation biases, before I analyze their experience for use in my life, from my worldview perspective. That view obviously includes my confirmation biases. This last week I haven’t given much back in my conversations with others because I haven’t been able to be sufficiently into their worldview to respond appropriately. To have spoken up with my current perspective would have been to have broken the magic of the moment.

The processes of magical thinking usually do affect people’s actions in a positive way because they help people gain confidence in their actions being right and they can then act with purpose.

Magical thinking works for those who believe their spirit guide is on their side.

Now is a time to revisit my Doomsday considerations.

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I’ve been feeling gloomy lately, because of what appear to be precursors to the disintegration of world civilization; thus now seems like a time to revisit and repost some of my earlier posts on Doomsday. There are many posts on that subject but I will begin with this one from January 13, 2010. The new editing tools offered a few minor spelling and grammatical touch-up suggestions, which I will follow.


Who wants to die on Doomsday day? Not I!

The Doomsday Clock is past Midnight 1945-07-16  and still running

Doomsday when it finally arrives full-blown is very unlikely to be the end of humanity. The reason for such a bold statement is that if all of the H-bombs in the world’s arsenals were exploded in a war it would not equal the Chicxulub meteor which exterminated the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. There were many animals which survived that extreme event including our mouse-like ancestors or we wouldn’t be here and neither would the birds or alligators. If that exact event happened now there would be a similar devastation to the wild animals for the simple reason that those animals do not know what they need to do to survive such a violent change in their environment. Humans do know how to cope with many environments and are more widespread on the planet than any other creature. We get along quite well all the way from the South Pole to the depths of the jungles, deserts, and cities.

With the immediate atomic bomb devastation of the Doomsday war and the several year-long Nuclear Winter, most humans will die. Depending on how things develop during the war the human population will drop far below the current 6.8 (7.4 = 2016) billion people and perhaps well below the early Roman era of one hundred million. But most people will not be killed by the atomic bombs or by a few weeks of radioactive poisoning but by the total disruption of the food supply. The attacks of the first few days may kill a few billion people, almost all of them in cities and in heavy fallout areas, but the real problem will be that the creation of food will be disrupted.

If Doomsday repeats itself there will be repeated drops.

The destruction of food creation happens in several ways. 1. Destruction of existing food supplies located in cities, along with the people in those cities. 2. Destruction of the distribution of food chains to bring food from supply depots to the people. 3. Heavy overcast from dust in the air preventing the crops already in the fields from maturing. 4. Lack of distribution of seed for next year’s crops. 5. Lack of fuel for transportation to bring seeds and fertilizers to the areas where they can be used. 6. Lack of fuel to operate the farm equipment which is needed to plant, plow, cultivate and harvest the crops. 7. Infestations of insects which, without insecticides, will eat what few crops are available. 8. Lack of skilled farmers to operate the equipment. 9. Lack of knowledge of where and how to distribute what crops are available because of lack of infrastructure. 10. Continuing hostilities and threat of new hostilities and problems of local organized and unorganized hostilities. 11. And, the unknown unknowns and the unknowable unknowns which will probably bring on the worst problems.

All the same, there will probably be many pockets of people surviving in many different places and for very different reasons for the first few months. Those surviving for over a year and certainly those surviving for more than five years will have to be members of functioning social groups. These groups will have been successful in solving all 11 of the problems mentioned above. Perhaps they survived from simple luck at the beginning but will continue surviving because of coordinated social activity which creates food. Those living in the Southern Hemisphere will have the best chance of surviving the first months after Doomsday but they too will probably have difficult times creating sufficient food because of the disruptions.

When talking about these awful things to people many, perhaps most, of them say they hope the bomb falls right on them. They want to die in the first instant of the catastrophe. That is unnecessarily fatalistic and gloomy because there is hope and if one prepares properly the chance of moving on to a brighter day is made more possible. A couple of years afterward might even be a wonderful time, not so much that life is as easy as it is right now but because things will be getting better every day and there may be a feeling of creating a wonderful new society.

The EarthArk Project – logo shows seeds shipped to Antarctica

If The EarthArk Project has succeeded in storing lots of various seeds and other stuff in the deep Antarctic mountains then much of the Earth can be restored. Not the animal life so much but the plant life can be saved and those surviving people will enjoy seeing the world come back to life. It will be a wonderful adventure.


Here is a list of links created in 2010

The EarthArk Project – Index page is listed by date posted.

Heavens to Betsy! A Christmas story.

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A Christmas story.

It was Betsy’s thirteenth birthday, which was a bittersweet day for her because it was also Christmas Day. Her parents always told her they gave her twice as many gifts as they would have if her birthday was any other day, one for her birthday and one for her Christmas present. But their hypocrisy always became apparent when they gave her a pair of shoes, that is one for each foot they said, or a pair of socks, or the most birthday ruining gift of all—mother brought a pair of baby boys. Imagine her surprise and chagrin when Bob and Rob arrived in her personal world on her birthday, which had been upstaged already by Baby Jesus. Now her birthday party and gifts would be divided between two more, and probably it would be much worse because their family was already poor and they claimed it was a stretch of the family finances to even get her some new shoes. And for Betsy even the word “new shoes” was a cruel joke because those new shoes for her were always the old shoes that were now too small for Jesús, the boy next door named after the original Jesus. Christmas was always boo-hoo day for Betsy .

Their family lived on an ancient street named for the old Roman god, Saturn. There was still a statue plinth where it was claimed Saturn once stood, but that was removed long ago and put into The Vatican, just a short walk from Betsy’s home. It was squeezed into a display room full of other old Roman gods. There they could be safely ignored, or occasionally on special days like Christmas simply mocked with little gifts placed at the foot of the statues.

Vatican museum

Vatican museum of Greek and Roman gods.

The favorite gifts were horse droppings. They were called balls, which was a comic mispronunciation of the competing god to the Classic Romans called Baal. Somehow that was considered appropriate and in good taste, but the statue room soon stank of Baal-droppings and even people used to the horsey stench avoided that room later on Christmas night, except for the local fifteen-year-old boys. They had an initiation ceremony for a local boys club that evening where their prospective new members were forced to stay all night with the stinky old gods. It was a scary place being stuck in a dark smelly room with a bunch of dead gods. It was made even more terrifying for those boys, because the older members would surreptitiously make strange noises from down the long and echoing stone halls designed to scare those younger initiates. And it worked! Sometimes kids would come running out of that ancient god mausoleum screaming in terror and thus they never became members of the Secret Order of Baal Droppings. The “S O O B D.” (Pronounced “the soobed.”)

All of these things happened on Betsy’s birthday. Well, what’s a girl to do … to get even? And on the day after Christmas she would inevitably be in trouble and brought before the priests for questioning and repeatedly asked, “and why did you do … that?” Her simple game, because for her it was a game, was to sneak in through a secret door of The Vatican, and play inexplicable tricks on the older boys who were playing tricks on the younger ones. The old priests were in on her game because she was an otherwise model child and she always confessed in comic detail all of the things she did to scare those boys. It was one of those super secrets known only to the most inside of the insiders at The Vatican.

Ultimately little Betsy grew up and did many wonderful things, and later she became canonized herself and she is now known as Saint Betsy.

She is still known to us centuries later as the trickster saint and sometimes when some trifling little thing happens unexpectedly she is remembered with the words …

Heavens to Betsy!


 

The story was written at the Dudley’s bookstore writer’s group. The prompt was based on a combination of words selected by the other participants: … A person’s name, a date, a year, a place, and a prompt. Today’s general prompt was, “Why did you do that?” To make it more fun and personal each person in our group of six was given a piece of paper and asked to write a person’s name, we each then moved our paper clockwise, and wrote a date, moved again and wrote a year, etc. The timer was set to forty minutes. After it rang, we each read the results of our efforts. The story above was mine. Later, I added the picture from the internet and buffed it up a little.

My personalized writer’s prompts were: Betsy – Christmas Day – Saturn – Why did you do that?