All posts by scatteredstudentjessica

Summertime Sadness Isn’t Just an Annoying Song, it Can Actually Be a Fact of Life

Every day, the sky’s a little brighter. The days have begun to stretch, and fair winds blow in from far afield, bringing the faintest whiffs of flowers and verdancy to come as the temperature starts to rise. Right now, its lovely, a world on the brink of warmth and light, and in a short month or two, that warmth will swell into joy…for most people. I will be in hell.

You know that thing where people really struggle with depression in the Winter and come alive in the Summer? I have the exact opposite of that, and I’m not alone. For about a tenth of all seasonal Affective Disorder cases, the Winter is wondrous and its the scorching sun that instead brings acute suffering. This happens enough that it has its own name, Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder. Creative, I know.

Lack of naming creativity aside, the condition is real, and it sucks. Psychologists speculate that factors for this might include disruption to routine, too much light, temperature and societal expectations. After all, Summer is a string of parties, beaches and places where bodies are expected to be showing in full force. If any of those things don’t work, there’s obviously something wrong…right? Wrong. Anything someone doesn’t want to do or doesn’t enjoy needs to be totally fine. Thankfully, most I know are pretty good about letting that be ok, but a startling number also had no idea this feeling in the middle of their favorite season could be a thing, so I figured the topic could use a couple words.

I only really have two main points I want to get across, here. First, if you’re like me and find that your energy goes down and your anxiety goes up when the temp soars above 75, you’re not alone. We’re here, and there are more of us than you think. I’m not a Facebook user, but if you are, consider I Hate Summer,  a group with almost 10000 members who are at least a little in a like mind. Don’t be afraid to stay in the cool if you need or want to. And remember, if you’re an introvert like me, that every party isn’t required. That said, if you have something you feel like it could be fun to do, try. The season’s horrible, but you might find something, however weird or simple, that makes it even a little easier to breathe. Mine’s bubble tea, and it would be swimming if I had any good way to get to water. Inhale, exhale, one day at a time. You’ll make it through. I’m still really sorry for what’s coming.

If you’re someone who adores Summer, let me start with the fact that I’m really happy for you. Winter is Brutal for so many folks, and we’re finally coming out of that. Its your time to shine, to breathe and stretch and dance and do all the hot, sun-burned things your heart desires. You’ve earned it. Its been a hard year, a hard couple, really, and it looks like this Summer will be freer than the ones in recent memory. So go get ‘em! My only request is that you try to understand and remember the friends or family who might not want to be tanning right beside you. That sun you love can feel oppressive, stifling or painful. Parties can be loud or overwhelming, especially with the crowds allowed by outside venues. Fireworks and flies are not always welcome in what could have been an otherwise peaceful evening. Give them space. Help them breathe, the way they hopefully did for you when everything was frigid and black and slippery with the stupid ice you hated so much. Maybe do an inside thing once in a while, and if you want to be outside with them, which is totally valid, try and find places with shade or that stay away from swimsuits, depending on your person. All that said, also don’t forget to savor every bright, beautiful day like the jewels they are for you, because I meant it, earlier, you earned it.

Everybody has a season. But it isn’t always Summer. If we remember that, if we take care of one another in whatever weather makes us falter, we just might all make it through the year without falling down… too hard.

Yeah, Actually, I’m a Writer… on Twitter!

Every writer has known the dread of a blank document, of grappling with the crushing weight of unwritten pages and unformed words. Sometimes, it all seems too much. Sometimes, its hard to know what to say. But Twitter is here to solve both of these problems, and provide a heap of creative connection besides.

One doesn’t generally think of Twitter and writing in the same sentence, but the hashtag #VSS365 began changing the landscape when it sprung to life in 2015, with a rotating cast providing prompt words every day of the year to be written into a VSS, (very short story,) that then gets posted back to the hashtag by any who participated. Since then, the genre has expanded to include poetry, contemplative work, and any other creative piece that can fit in 280 characters. And its not alone. Other hashtags have since since popped up to join the scene with words or phrases that seek to stimulate writers weekly, daily and every interval in between. Most of them are cross-genre and have few, (if any,) rules so that its easy to dive in, and many have specific accounts to coordinate and post so that those few rules are clear and in one place. An example smattering of other popular prompts, with requirements and without, include #BraveWrite, #VSSDaily, #HorrorPrompt, #VSSHumour, #MoonMystic and #ConverStory. MoveMePoetry is also an excellent resource community if you happen to be a poet, extremely active on Twitter and a few other platforms. In case this post leaves you with more questions than you have answers, their discord server is a haven for writers of all types and there are many lurkers who know about all these prompts. Poke @MoveMePoetry for details, if you’d like the link, its an open place that welcomes all.

One last thing of note, if you want something a little more immediate than one prompt running over the entire day, there are a few real time writing extravaganzas where a prompt word is released every ten minutes or so over a preset period, and people craft responses and comment on work in real time. SlamWords and FastPrompt are two very popular examples of this, and both are very friendly to jump into.

To post to any of these prompts, all you have to do is write something up within the character limit and put it out into the world with the appropriate hashtag attached, either in a thread/quote or in the tweet itself. That’s all it takes. Congratulations. You’ll have just created and connected. Magic, right?

But Wait, That’s So many Things! I can’t!

Fear not! Not only do you have no requirement to do every prompt out there, but there are also resources that gather them into one place. I bring you… @TheWritePrompt, an account that tweets out all the prompts for the day in a nice, organized list every morning, like this just one of Today’s tweets:

If at any point you get confused, have questions or become overwhelmed, people are super helpful. Yes, dear reader, people. The plus to doing these writings around hashtags is the fact that others can see your work. If there is one main coordinator, they will likely retweet anything put to that tag, which means other kindly author folk will notice and say wonderful things, or give feedback, should you ask for that. And if there are no leaders, people tend to keep a lookout for new folks and amplify them a little. Bonus, you get to meet some more wordsmiths who can help. Many are the days when I’ve been unsure of a process or a prompt and someone’s been able to set me on the right path. Too shy to do that? That’s ok, too. You can look at other contributions or the main account, (usually a quick google will bring you there,) to see if that might make things easier. Either way, you’ll only find excellent stories and wonderful poems and a welcoming community ready to read what you have to say inside these screens. If you’re one of those writers who sometimes struggles with length, might want some prompts or is seeking new connections, do hop in and give one of these a try. You won’t regret it. Maybe you’ll even see me there, @musicfairy15, the girl with the weird poetry and the unicorn love. I’m also happy to field questions or just to chat, so don’t be afraid to poke me on your way to that blank document, or when you’re in the bowels of the alphabet looking for just the right word.

Pictures Are Worth Words, Why Don’t They Have Them?

Every month, you click through thousands of pictures, perhaps even more. You keep up with friends, shop for important or beautiful things, gather information from snazzy infographics. It makes sense. The internet is visual, pages on pages spreading before you in the interconnected, brightly colored smorgasbord of content inherent to its very nature. And it should be. Pictures are gorgeous, and our class text makes very clear how important it is that content catches the eye. But for some people, a picture alone doesn’t work, no matter how fancy the page. Some people need words. Thankfully, the internet has ways to make that happen. But content creators aren’t using them.

When people use words to describe a picture, its called alt, (alternative,) text. Not only does it help Google sort your images into better search results, it also makes images accessible to people who use screen readers, software that speaks everything on the screen and makes devices accessible without sight. More information on this technology can be found here. Without alt texts, screen readers might announce the word, “Image,” or read the file name such as “078GUU.jpeg, according to this thorough article. Such extraneous words when trying to look through a page are at best unhelpful and at worst cluttering as a totally blind user trying to scroll through a web page or a social media feed. But with good alt text, the pictures become relevant, clear and often interesting. Some platforms are beginning to attempt to bridge this gap with AI, but as this page so clearly illustrates,  it frankly does a terribly inadequate job, often spouting things like, “May be an image of cup.” Thankfully, humans do much better, though results are still varied.

Good descriptions differ a lot in length and focus, perfectly natural when there are so many types of images. They might be brief. “Model wearing a red floral dress with a sweetheart neckline and short sleeves,” for example, to accompany a listing in a shop that might have a wider description below. It might be long, “Two toddler boys, one with red hair and the other with blond, demolish a chocolate cake. The blonde-haired boy has frosting all over his face,” for something like a social media post or perhaps a description in a picture book. The above article suggests making sure you’re brief, no more than 125 characters, and clear in detail. Think about it like you’re trying to describe the image over the phone, and don’t include too much extraneous content. I’ve seen those same standards reflected in other research and real-world examples, but it’s very flexible, depending on the needs and preferences of an author. Its also an incredibly interesting art, because you get to decide what’s relevant, and that will very much depend on what kind of context or message your visual carries. Take the example of the two boys above. If they’re wearing yellow shirts, one is white, one is black, and they’re in a kitchen with blue walls, how much of that matters? All of it? None? If it’s a housing advertisement, perhaps the kitchen needs some love. Skin color is generally important these days, so an author might want to add that regardless. But so much around what gets highlighted has to do with purpose, so there’s no one right answer. This might make some people feel daunted, which might mean it gets neglected altogether, but that can’t continue to stand. Leaving images unlabeled is shutting a whole group out of the beauty, uniqueness and wisdom the Internet has to offer.

As of February 2021, a New York Times article states that 60.6% of home pages have no alt text, and a study in 2019 of 1.09 million tweets with images found that only 0.1 percent included it, as well. Please, help put an end to babbled file names and unhelpful descriptions. Here is a full guide on how to add alt text to some of the top social media sites. And if you want even more advice on writing descriptions, you can check out Alt Text is Poetry, a really unique project with a great mission to humanize the process while making it better for all involved. Shine a little bit of light into the darkened jumble at the heart of the net, one described picture at a time. Your visually impaired viewers will thank you.

Shhh. My Phone and I are Trying to Sleep!

You’ve heard it all before. Blue light can keep you from sleeping, social media is distracting, everyone needs to unplug for true rest. Articles like this one from Sleep Foundation encourage complete cutoff, providing tips for a technology free bedroom. But is that the only way? I’m not going to even begin to say all of the points here about blue light and distractions and stimulation are unfounded, science would prove me wrong. But technology is so very customizable, powerful and ever evolving. It seems only fitting that some of that tech, on smartphones specifically, would be put toward helping people get a good night’s rest. Granted, I have a bias here. I am a frequent user of the Muse S, a headband designed to track brain waves and body movements for sleep and meditation tracking overtime, and I love it dearly. I also had technology forcibly taken from me in an abusive situation, and so when I first resisted this idea, I thought it was simply dear old trauma, deciding to turn me obstinate once again in the face of scientific evidence. But it seems I’m not the only one who thinks the baby shouldn’t be thrown out with the bathwater, here.

This article from PC Mag outlines some ways technology can neatly interface with the evening hours including sleep tracking, meditation, white noise and light/temperature control. It also highlights the fact that such devices can be used to obtain and maintain a sleep schedule, something incredibly difficult for many, and aid in comfort the whole night through, for every sleep cycle. Granted, some of these can be set to work independently, without prompting, but I’d argue that its still technology, still the interconnected world treading, however lightly, in the peaceful, sacred space of bedroom.

If you’re thinking about price, you’d probably be right to. Some of these devices, like Muse, can be expensive, but I found the headband, as well as these sleep headphones by the wonderfully named Acoustic Sheep, on eBay at a fraction of their normal price. If you don’t want something external, there are a plethora of apps, too many to name, on Google Play and iOS, designed to help you drift off and remain aware of the quality of your nights, serving up everything a user could possibly want between them. So why, I ask, is there this stigma around technology in bed not keeping up with what software and hardware can do? Why do we continue to paint mobile devices as an enemy to peace when they are fully equipped with tools to help us rest and recharge? Perhaps I’m looking at this with too narrow a lens, not seeing something important. But I’m not doubting the efficacy of the facts that the interconnected world can be a hindrance, and nor for that matter is the very article I’ve sited to prove it can be a force for good. I just don’t think it’s the enemy people would make it out to be, and that amidst important awareness of how it can hurt, we need to remember how it can help, as well.

All of this said, not everything is going to work for every person. Some find tea helpful before sleep, while others don’t find it does anything or don’t like the taste. I can’t stand white noise, instead preferring natural sounds or an audiobook if I’m going to listen to something, and I wouldn’t be able to sleep at all without any tech nearby. There are as many ways to get comfortable and relax as there are stars in the sky, and not all of those are going to involve fancy devices or even the common smartphone. That’s ok. But its also ok, in my opinion, to bring as many things into bed with you as you need to feel sleepy and at peace, no matter how many apps or devices that means. So whatever your bedtime routine, I hope these words have ruffled no bedspreads, and that all readers find cozy comforts when laying down tonight. Me, I’ll cross a few wires in hopes for sweet dreams.

Delicious is Always Possible: My journey Into Cooking in Bite-Sized Spaces

My apartment is a 250 square foot postage stamp. My stove is free-standing, my slightly small refrigerator connects to no upper cabinets, and my counter is… well… barely a counter. And I love to cook!

I know what you’re thinking, its impossible, impractical, maybe even stupid. But I’ve picked up some tips over the years, starting with an air frier and instant pot and working my way in to things like magnetic knife blocks to hold knives, stray utensils  and magnetic measuring implements. So when I heard about this assignment, I knew immedietly that one of my topics had to be making cooking work, stupid small style. To illustrate this, I invited a friend, and her cat, to come make some deliciousness happen with me.

One of the tried and true pieces of advice when it comes to cramped living is to keep things simple, and though me and my porcelain doll collection resent those words, I figured it would hold true in this case, so we armed ourselves with this brilliant page full of four ingredient recipes and selected a roast chicken. We also made some hamburger patties to save for another day. A little more research and we had this list of 10 tips to success, ready to guide us on our way.

For some of the tips, I’d have had to order things to try properly, so suggestions like over-sink cutting boards won’t be discussed here, though they are great ideas. Many were successful, however, starting with tip 2, peeling vegetables over a paper towel, which we expanded to chopping. The page suggests this to make cleanup a little easier, but we found it also gave us more surfaces to work from. While I was doing meat prep with one cutting board, my friend was using my desk as another impromptu chopping station, and it came out unscratched. I wouldn’t trust the method with fruits or squishier things like tomatoes, but the carrots and celery were more than fine. Rinsing and reusing, (tip 4,) also served us in good stead, as I don’t have a dish water and sudsy tubs will only hold so much. This was something I was doing anyway, but it always pays to pay a little extra attention, and though it may have added a bit more time, it cut down a lot on clutter in the end. We also were able to use the fridge as an impromptu balancing space for cooling ingredients, a modification of tip 7 which recommends using the fridge top as a foundation for drawers using hotel pans. Though I wouldn’t try it if you weren’t using an edged pan or were dealing in any way with liquids, it was a fine spot for some cooling rolls and allowed the wonderful cat a little more room to play without fear.

Nothing really fancy was used as far as appliances go, just an air frier, an electric oven, and an instant pot. I regretted deeply that I had no emersion blender as cannily suggested by the article, just to play with, but the night went off without a hitch even without additions such as that. The chicken came out delicious, as has every recipe I’ve tried from the same page, though in future I would probably drive it up to five ingredients and add little button mushrooms to satisfy my fungi addiction. In the end, the answer to the question, “is it possible to cook in tiny spaces with multiple people and fluffy friends? A resounding YES! Hopefully, if you at all struggle with the same sorts of squishy, cramped problems, one of these resources will be of some help. Just remember that space can be multidimensional and that recipes don’t always have to be twelve steps long to be delicious and I’m sure you’ll do fine, no matter the size of your kitchen.

Sing What? A Mini Guide to Singing Bowls and Their Many Uses

What do you think of when you hear the words, “singing bowl?” That meditation thing, maybe, or the loud gong in yoga classes? A weird bell instrument that has to do with chacras? Something Buddhists use while chanting ohm? All technically true. But singing bowls are both more, and less, than any of those things. I have been using them for the last five years as a way to steady and center myself, but they have all sorts of uses, and  here, I’m going to outline what they are and how to play them with the help of this post from Shanti Bowls.

Though their beginnings and history are uncertain, singing bowls are tentatively traced to the Buddha Shayamuni period, (560 – 480 BCE). They have strong associations to Tibet, so strong in fact that they’re often called Tibetan singing bowls, a slightly inaccurate misnomer, though the Tibetan gifts stall at Midtown Global Market is actually where I got one of my favorite bowls. Regardless of their origins, they’re quite prolific today, and made all over the world. They also come in two different types, metal and crystal, with different sounds and price points depending on material and size. I’m personally not lucky enough to own any crystal bowls, but I have three wonderful metal ones, one of which you can see in the visuals associated with this post. They’re popular enough that I’ll have several options, however, should I ever be in the market.

Part of the reason the bowls have endured in popularity through the ages is their usefulness. Most obviously lauded for their relaxing qualities, some have claimed to find success easing the body with their vibrations, not curing but helping to relieve stress, symptoms and pain. Others believe that specific notes can activate and open specific chacras in the body which allow for increased empathy, clarity and other benefits, beginning with the root chacra at C and rising all the way to the crown chacra at G, though I do not subscribe to this modality. I simply find the feeling of them reverberating against my hands to be soothing and enjoy the clear, steady notes they can create. Speaking of notes, its high time for less nattering and more tutorials, so let’s dive into how these unique instruments are played.

Bowls can be played two different ways, either held in the non-dominant hand or set out in front of you on a flat surface. If you choose the latter, you’ll need a cushion or ring to keep it a little elevated so whatever’s underneath doesn’t dampen the sound. I found this method awkward and felt it lessened my connection with the sensations and sounds, so I always hold mine cupped in my palm, just be careful your fingers don’t touch the sides. Then, its time for the mallet, which should be held in the hand most comfortable with movement. The simplest way to play is one that will likely come naturally, striking the bowl, which is as simple as it seems, just gently tap the bowl and allow the note to ring. But if you want to understand why they have their name and really dive into the experience, you’ll likely want to make it sing. To do this, place the mallet on the outside of the bowl and turn in a circle, never breaking contact. Don’t worry if it takes a minute, the friction might need to build up a little before you get the bowl really playing, and if it doesn’t come at first, that’s ok, too. It took a couple hours for me to really understand how to produce sound, and I’m still not perfect at it. To see someone really impressive and also get a taste of what crystal singing bowls are like as opposed to metal, this lady is wonderful once she gets going. Play quietly for most soothing effect, I find her bowls a little piercing at high volume.

Finally, a few parting thoughts. If you have interest in learning to play after reading this and you don’t have a market  or other shop to experiment with, I’d highly suggest trying to find reviews or demonstrations of any bowl you’re looking at online to make sure its one  that sonically pleases you, as you don’t want to be irritated or overwhelmed when trying to relax. Bowls often have two notes, one higher and one lower, so be sure they’re both sounds you want in your world. For those who feel that the bowls are overly associated with spiritual practices you don’t understand, remember that they are like many other things in this life, a tool. There might be talk of charging crystals, clearing negative energies or finding enlightenment, but bowls and the clarion songs they produce can be used in limitless ways, as mystical or as mundane as the one who wields them. I like to wish into them, myself, and imagine that the bowl’s voice is holding it sacred, carrying my hopes up to the sky, something you won’t find on any page. So whatever your interest, if you’re at all intrigued, I hope you’ll consider giving one of these instruments a look to see how it can destress, enliven or otherwise improve your world.