Contest #179 shortlist ⭐️

59 comments

Contemporary Fiction Inspirational

It’s been five years since Tabitha totally and completely finished with school, but tonight she has homework. It’s due tomorrow. She’s put it off all week.

She places a piece of plain, white letter-size printer paper on her coffee table, in landscape orientation. She sits tall, smooths out the paper, and then smooths out her shirt. And then, smooths out the paper again. She rotates it to the left just a bit, because it’s not centred, and then to the right again. And then she smooths it out once more. Satisfied, she gets up and pours herself wine from the box.

The white paper glares up at her with its pristine impudence. Her scuffed coffee table, with its light brown faux wood finish, is muted beneath it. She rolls her eyes and considers putting the sheet away, but she doesn’t want to disappoint Charlotte.

Tabitha sips her wine and sets her plastic cup down on a folded up tissue coaster. She checks her implements: her laptop; a half-finished roll of tape; a mostly-sharp pencil; a pair of scissors that have been with her since childhood.

Homework is not something she ever expected to have to do again, outside of maybe helping her kids with it. She imagines helping her son with his history homework. She imagines guiding little Tabitha Junior through the water circle (or was it water cycle?). She imagines laughing nervously at math questions, and saying, “Ask your father, he’s the math guy.”

But there are no children. There is no father. There is Jerry, but he’s taking his sweet time popping any questions, and even if he did, it’s not like they could afford a kid. Can’t afford much of anything these days.

But she has homework, assigned by Angus. Exuberant Angus, with his easy attitude, his confident voice, his flannel shirt, and his furious sideburns.

“Make a vision board, Tabby!” he said a week ago, in what she assumed was a Scottish accent. He told her he was from Inverness, but she has no idea where that is and was too embarrassed to ask.

She supposes she could look it up.

Focus, Tabby! she chastises herself. It’s homework time.

She opens her laptop and asks her search engine a question.

“what is a vision baord”

The search engine replies, “Did you mean vision board?”

“Yes,” says Tabby, clicking the helpful link. Then, she reads, and there’s a lot.

There’s no shortage of guides and howtos and FAQs. There’s a whole family of boards: dream boards, affirmation boards, goal boards. Thousands of people offer their experiences and expertise. Even Oprah weighs in.

Tabitha’s head spins.

Many talk of corkboards, which she knows she’s heard of but isn’t totally sure what they are, so she clicks a link which takes her to another link which goes on and on, until she’s reading about the history of cork. Corks lead to wine, as all things do, so she finishes the rest of hers and pours another cup.

Focus, Tabby! she thinks when she sits down again.

She closes the research tabs and wonders if she should buy some corkboard. There’s many fine vendors selling it, but the prices seem all over the place. She notices there’s different sizes, and of course, different brands. Is that important? Are some brands of corkboard superior? She’s about to start another round of research, but stops cold.

Am I procrastinating? she wonders. This feels like college all over again. She used to think she had a gift back then, of endlessly being able to push work back and back and back, yet all the time appearing busy, but she’s learned since then that pretty much everyone was like that. Not Charlotte though, although Charlotte did say she used to be like that too.

“But then I got my life together!” Charlotte said, when they went out for sushi a month ago. She put her hand on Tabitha’s and started shivering, like she was exploding with excitement. “I have a gift for you!”

Charlotte handed her an envelope. “It’s an early Christmas gift!” Tabitha opened it up with a frown, suddenly self-conscious that she didn’t have a gift to reciprocate with – although, seriously, who does gifts in November? – and wondering if she could cover lunch for both of them and still make rent. “I think it’ll really help you, Tabby. You know, get your life together.”

Tabitha pulled a card out of the envelope, read it, and scowled at Charlotte. “What the hell’s a life coach?”

It turns out, Angus is a life coach. Flannelular Angus, with his powerful arms and wedding band. Gainfully self-employed Angus. Angus, who wasn’t still working the same job he had in high school, like Jerry.

“You put your dreams on the board! Your goals!” he said, when he gave her the assignment. “It’s like a compass that always points in the direction of your greatest desires. Helps you focus on the future, on what’s truly important.”

“Oh. What is truly important?”

“Well that’s up to you, isn’t it?”

“Oh.”

Tabitha purses her lips and lets out a horse snort. Definitely procrastinating. She takes a sip of wine and looks at the daunting white paper again.

What to put on it? What are her dreams? This is dumb, isn’t it? Dreams were great for kids, but when she looks into the future all she sees is more and more crap piling up and fewer and fewer opportunities slipping by each year. She sees a buzzing grey blur, ever expanding, swallowing up every horizon. All she hears is a ringing in her ears, and all she smells is the crisp ozone of burnt electronics.

She finds it hard to breathe, so she takes another sip of wine. Her mind wanders, and as it often does, it wanders to her rent.

I could put money on the board. But she fears that’s crass. What would burly Angus think, if she dreamed of something so petty as money? On the other hand, her board is bare and if she doesn’t put anything on it, it will remain bare. She decides if she’s going to do this thing, she might as well be honest about it – at least, a little honest.

She gets up, digs around in her wallet and purse and finds a twenty. It seems like a waste to put a couple solid meals on a vision board though, so she puts it back. Then she digs around her miscellaneous drawer and finds a nickel. She returns to her coffee table and tapes the nickel to the top left corner of the white sheet.

There, she thinks. She sits back and enjoys her vision board, which is ninety-eight percent white paper and a nickel taped to one corner. It’s starting to come together.

But then she’s out of ideas. She decides to look for some inspiration on the internet, and does an image search for vision boards. Immediately, she regrets it.

Holy!” she exclaims, seeing all the colourful inspirations. When she side eyes her own little be-nickeled paper it makes her feel small. She takes another sip of wine, and dives deep into a visual journey of mounting inferiority.

It’s clear to her that these boards were put together by people who have dreams. People who have goals, ambitions, and hopes. People with real lives. Professional vision boardists. What is her little paper compared to them? She has nothing to put on her board because, she concludes, she’s not a real person. She’s not like Angus. She’s not even like Charlotte. She bets Charlotte makes a new vision board every day. She wishes dearly she could be like these illustrious internet people, instead of a mere shadow of a person.

Wait, she thinks. Is that… a dream? She looks at the images of other people’s vision boards, finds one that looks real pretty, gorged with photos of exhilarating vistas and vapid snippets cut from magazines. With a click, she sends off the thumbnail to her printer. A moment later, she cuts it out and places it on her own board.

Is this cheating? she wonders. A vision board within a vision board; an aspiration to have aspirations. What will Angus think? She decides to continue being mostly honest, and gets some more tape. A moment later, the top right corner of her vision board, fully one-sixteenth of the whole sheet, is filled up with a smaller, cooler, and blurrier vision board.

She sits back, and a timid smile flickers on her lips. It is coming together.

Her image search, while soul crushing, did reveal some important secrets to her. One, it’s okay to write stuff on your board, so it doesn’t just have to be pictures. And two, the pictures don’t have to be photos, they can be hand drawn.

She remembers being pretty good at art back in her school days, and even though it’s something she hasn’t done in years – because who has the time, and as her father is fond of saying, “There’s no future in it” – it occurs to her it’s something she wants to take up again. Well, that’s a dream, isn’t it? With a trill in her heart she decides to draw something inspirational.

She starts off with two heavily stylized figures, smiling and holding hands, inside a heart. The style is stick-figure, but their faces tend more towards distorted realism. Their eyes are too big, their expressions – unnerving – and the shading implies a mania behind the toothy grins. The end effect is surreal and unsettling, but she nevertheless likes it and decides to keep it. After all, it’s only fitting she and probably-Jerry would appear on her vision board.

Then she erases the sideburns on the man.

She decides that she needs lots of practice for drawing people, but that’s okay. It’s an aspiration. Next she draws something else, a still life. Indeed, she remembers the last still life she drew in Mrs. Dew’s class, and for a moment she’s connected to herself across space and time. Her mind grows quiet in supreme focus and her hand moves of its own accord, retracing those ancient lines.

When she’s finished, she sees she has sketched a perfect roll of toilet paper, with the leading sheet hanging off to one end. The shading gives her a chill, and when she sees the gentle pattern in the two-ply – so real she can feel it – she grins.

I still got it! With the stick figures and the toilet paper, about half her board is full. She feels inspired to write next, and decides to indulge that inspiration.

She writes: 5 tomatoes.

Then: loaf of bread.

Then, line after line, she jots down what groceries she’ll need the coming week. She gets up to check her fridge, her cupboards, confirming all she needs. She’s tired of wasting time, going to the store uncertain of what she has and what she ought to buy. Fed up with buying impulses. Her mother always nagged at her to make a list, but it always seemed like such a bother. Never had she guessed it could be fun.

When she finishes, she remembers a flyer she got a couple days earlier. It’s still in her recycling, so she digs it out and – there! – she clips a coupon for mayonnaise. It’s the last thing she tapes to her vision board. Then the last last thing she does is pencilling in “vacuum” in the bottom left corner.

She sits back and beholds her work of art. It’s disheveled, disjointed, and distressingly utilitarian. She has no doubt Charlotte and Jerry would make faces. But, the board’s not for them. It’s for her. She takes a sip of wine, reasonably satisfied.

When she sets her cup down again, she sets it down too hard and some wine sloshes out. A drop splatters the vision board. For just a moment her breath catches in her throat, but then she figures, Yes, the wine belongs there.

When she meets Angus the next day for their second appointment, she’s nevertheless nervous.

“Yes, well,” he says, while beholding the paper at arm’s length, “you can’t really fail a vision board. So no worries there, Tabby. The important thing is it works for you.” He sets it down, though his eyes linger mistrustingly on the figures inside the heart, their faces leering at him. “It seems like organization is an important thing for you? And the future?”

“I guess,” she says, and then frowns. “It was hard. It’s like, it doesn’t make sense to really have dreams, with all the… stuff going on.”

“Like it’s overwhelming?”

“Yeah.”

“But you made a grocery list.”

“Yeah,” she says. “I guess that made it a little less overwhelming.”

Angus nods. “You write a thing down and you can stop worrying about it.” The stick figures continue leering in mockery. “Let’s focus on lists for this week.”

January 03, 2023 22:59

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59 comments

Laurel Hanson
16:01 Jan 04, 2023

There is an expectation in the vision board idea that it is supposed to produce a life-changing epiphany, but there is also the the realization that it could produce a horrifying absence of vision. Tabitha has walked a line in between - a vision of life as it is- the blurred imitations, the "probably-Jerry," the prosaic shopping list. Having big dreams is like the American way, but it can also be a burden to feel we should have them, let alone achieve them. Her vision board ends up being unexpected and real. Also as a pretty serious list-m...

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Michał Przywara
21:39 Jan 04, 2023

Yes, lists are a superpower :) They might not be sexy, and people's eyes will glaze over, but the results can't be denied. "Having big dreams is like the American way, but it can also be a burden" - that's a great way of putting it. It's one more of those things you "should", which can sabotage you if you're not already on a solid foundation. Thanks for the feedback!

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Wendy Kaminski
15:47 Jan 04, 2023

Your idea of a vision-board-board is so meta, I can't stop giggling. :) "...ninety-eight percent white paper and a nickel taped to one corner. It’s starting to come together." lol :) "When she sets her cup down again..." This little hidden gem did not escape my notice. The fact that she's drinking wine from a cup makes made me start laughing all over again. I envisioned a sippy cup at first, then she spilled it (perfect!). Might I recommend a sippy cup?? Don't ask me how I know. :P Brilliant, as always. :) Thanks for the great laughs to s...

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Michał Przywara
21:43 Jan 04, 2023

The meta board's going to be the new big thing, mark my words :) I was hoping to end up with kind of a sad, ugly board, perhaps a little alarming, but at the end of the day they're supposed to be meaningful to whoever made them. Looks like Tabitha was at a place in life where organizing her groceries was a good step. Sippy cups might make it onto her next board :) Thanks for reading, Wendy! Glad you enjoyed it :)

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Wendy Kaminski
17:56 Jan 13, 2023

It was the new big thing, all right! :) Congratulations, Michał!

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Michał Przywara
21:41 Jan 13, 2023

Thanks so much :D

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Suma Jayachandar
13:45 Jan 04, 2023

Michal, I did consider writing for this prompt and went Tabitha for a while sans wine😂 What a hilarious take on perils of coming up with a vision board if you are not a Beyonce' or Oprah. On a serious note, you totally nailed the don't-dare-to-dream hole most of us inhabit. And if we try hard, the best we could come up with may turn out to be the toilet roll or stick figures whose sideburns we may have to erase or worse still a grocery list! I found the entire paragraph beginning with- She starts off with two heavily stylized... brilliant. ...

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Michał Przywara
21:57 Jan 04, 2023

Thanks, Suma! "don't-dare-to-dream hole" That's a great way of putting it, and it sure seems like it sometimes. Looking at the news, it all seems dire, both in the short term and the long. And then I hear stories of young people, recent high school grads, and how bleak their future looks compared to twenty or forty years ago. But, a grocery list is doing something, and that's got to be better that doing nothing at all, no? "Could this part read better" Oh, that's interesting. I tend to drop words - sometimes, I think this is dialectica...

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Suma Jayachandar
07:30 Jan 05, 2023

Lists are definitely useful. They are bit sized dreams well within one's reach. Yeah, the modified sentence makes it easier for non- natives like me😊

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AnneMarie Miles
06:18 Jan 04, 2023

I, for one, have no shame in putting money on my vision boards 😂 Bring it to me, vision board gods! 💸 Tabitha might want to look into a money altar next. This was fun, Michal. I totally related to Tabitha. Having taken a mini vision board course for work-related reasons (yes, visions boards have infiltrated the workplace), I know what it is like to stare at a blank piece of paper and ask, "what even is a vision board?" The rabbit hole tangent is so real, I'm wondering if this was your own experience? 😅 Weird coincidence- I have recently fo...

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Michał Przywara
21:50 Jan 04, 2023

Thanks, Anne Marie! "Perfectly titled" - yes, I think it's time "whelm" stood on its own feet as a proper word :) Yeah, some of this was based on personal experiences, like Googling what vision boards are - and of course, any rabbit-holing down Wikipedia or wherever else. But that's something most writers are probably familiar with :) Most people, really. "It's really hard to have aspirations and a goal when you're bogged down by all of life's adulting demands." Yeah, that's a great takeaway. But I've seen this happen - and experienced...

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AnneMarie Miles
22:46 Jan 04, 2023

Absolutely! I have used brain-dumping to move from overwhelm to (my new favorite word) whelm many times. Thanks for the reminder!

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Riel Rosehill
23:11 Jan 19, 2023

I'm late to the party but this was deserving of the shortlist! ⭐ This story reminded me I have a vision board I've not looked at for years and now I feel like updating it - Tabitha drawing toilet paper definitely made it sound like fun 😃

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Michał Przywara
02:52 Jan 20, 2023

Heh, thanks Riel :) Yeah, I guess that's the point of it. It's got to be relevant to the person making the board :)

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Story Time
19:04 Jan 19, 2023

"She sees a buzzing grey blur, ever expanding, swallowing up every horizon. All she hears is a ringing in her ears, and all she smells is the crisp ozone of burnt electronics." This landed on me like a brick. I really like how you played with form here. There's an unraveling tone to the story where we go on the ride instead of the ride being pre-determined. Great job.

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Michał Przywara
21:50 Jan 19, 2023

Thanks, Kevin! Unraveling is a great word. I kind of had this idea of thinking about a concept that was too difficult to think about, with that passage, like an uncertain future. Glad it worked out! I appreciate the feedback :)

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Philip Ebuluofor
20:15 Jan 14, 2023

Congrats.

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Michał Przywara
20:35 Jan 15, 2023

Thanks, Philip!

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Philip Ebuluofor
14:29 Jan 24, 2023

Welcome.

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AnneMarie Miles
20:42 Jan 13, 2023

Woohoo!! Congratulations Michal! 🎉🎉🎉

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Michał Przywara
21:41 Jan 13, 2023

Thank you :) :)

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Mary Lehnert
19:08 Jan 13, 2023

I’m dizzy Michal. You have a seriously agile intellect. You might get a few irate Invernesserites though! Well deserved short list. My sincere congratulations

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Michał Przywara
21:33 Jan 13, 2023

Thanks, Mary! I'm very happy you enjoyed it :) It was a little different from my usual stories, and it turns out experimenting pays off.

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Suma Jayachandar
17:53 Jan 13, 2023

Congratulations!

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Michał Przywara
21:39 Jan 13, 2023

Thanks! :)

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Kate Winchester
18:27 Jan 11, 2023

You’re story is very relatable and it was fun to read! I laughed when she switched the $20 for a nickel. I also thought it was funny that wine was spilled on it. Great job!

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Michał Przywara
21:33 Jan 11, 2023

Thanks, Kate! Yep, other plans for that twenty :) I'm glad you enjoyed the story!

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Susan Catucci
19:33 Jan 10, 2023

This was really, really good, Michal - the more I'm thinking about what I just read, the more I like what it said. Life can pass you by, that's what "they" say, and so there is a reason why there are counselors and life coaches and inspiration wherever you can find it. It's not easy to see the world clearly, your own world especially, among all the clutter. So, faced with pinning down your goals and ambitions can certainly be daunting, especially if you're trying to be proactive for the first time and not just letting life happen to y...

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Michał Przywara
21:38 Jan 10, 2023

Thanks, Susan! That means a lot :) I think you got exactly what I was going for. Particularly "trying to be proactive for the first time and not just letting life happen to you". In a world where so many people are shouting about what you should do, or should want, or should dream, it can be hard to hear yourself. And isn't that really the point of all these life affirming exercises anyway? Figuring out what's actually meaningful to you and pursuing it, whether that's a dream for world peace or just organizing your weekly shopping. I w...

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Susan Catucci
22:53 Jan 10, 2023

A pleasure, as always. I should mention I enjoy character study, always have. It's the subtle points that carry so much meaning if you can spot them. An aside: Years ago I gave a movie I really enjoyed that was a character study to a friend, Searching for Bobby Fischer. I later asked what she thought and she said, "I don't know; I kept waiting for something to happen." So, there it is.

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Rama Shaar
20:16 Jan 09, 2023

I didn't peg you as someone who would know what a vision board is! Well, I am Tabitha. I procrastinate so bad and I tried at the start of 2023 to make a vision board but failed. I must say you captured the voice of a hopeless procrastinator who feels like she's doing it all wrong very well. I do hope Angus helps her look a little deeper within (and maybe shed that boyfriend she doesn't know she resents), but figuring out she has a talent worth honing is a very good start!

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Michał Przywara
21:36 Jan 09, 2023

Thanks, Rama! Heh, actually I only had a rough idea of what a vision board was, but this prompt just sunk its teeth in, and it led to lots of research. I think I'm more of a list man myself, or even better, just leaving a mess of post-its scattered around the house haphazardly. I too am a hopeless procrastinator though :) I'm glad you enjoyed it! I think Tabitha is on the right path, though the going is a little slow in the beginning. I appreciate the feedback!

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Marty B
05:03 Jan 09, 2023

Love the line- 'Corks lead to wine, as all things do, so she finishes the rest of hers and pours another cup.' Great description of procrastination! Tabitha -does- have goals, she has specific and compelling goals which because they are so important to her -she is scared to share them on a Board or with Angus. She wants two kids, wants a husband, and to have a career doing art which pays enough to have money to buy lunch for her friend and pay rent. Angus is letting Tabitha down. He gave an assignment instead of listening. She needs...

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Michał Przywara
21:47 Jan 09, 2023

That's a great take! I think you're right, especially about "she is scared to share them". Maybe when the future looks bleak or insurmountable, dreaming seems embarrassing. Certainly, nobody likes being judged, and the point about "instead of listening" is a good one. Glad you enjoyed it, Marty :)

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Lily Finch
01:40 Jan 09, 2023

Michał, this story is bang on for vision boards and how someone with no direction can seriously come up with an end product, a grocery list. In Tabitha's world, that is progress, but Angus sees a grocery list instead of a vision board. He adapts to the situation, and his comment is, “Let’s focus on lists for this week.” She believes her vision board is great but fails to see that she is limiting herself because she dares to dream. Life without dreams could look like a list if we were to put it to paper. Thanks for the great read Michał. LF6

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Michał Przywara
21:51 Jan 09, 2023

Thanks, Lily! Yeah, she seems a little gun shy at first, but gradually warms to the idea. It doesn't seem like she really considered the future seriously before, so maybe that got the ball rolling. But lists are beautiful tools - I stand by that :) Thanks for the feedback!

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Lily Finch
22:58 Jan 09, 2023

I agree lists are necessary for life and organization. LF6

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Raey Kubiak
23:18 Jan 08, 2023

I enjoyed your story very much. I think Tabitha's reluctant behaviour is exactly as anyone's should be when faced with such a horrible and imperative question "What do you want from life?", usually imposed by the Others who see lack of vision or focus they could relate to. Well done.

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Michał Przywara
21:49 Jan 09, 2023

Thanks, Raey! Yes, there does seem to be an expectation that everyone has "the right" dreams, and if you don't, there's something wrong with you. But life doesn't really work that way, does it?

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Tommy Goround
14:19 Jan 07, 2023

Yes. People have less babies under pessimism. Except India. India will take over China with next census? Wonderful characters. Clapping.

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Michał Przywara
21:17 Jan 07, 2023

Thanks, Tommy! Yeah, pessimism is a powerful force. Not absolute though :)

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Kelsey H
09:06 Jan 07, 2023

Tabitha was a great character here, I found her very relatable, especially since I also googled vision boards after seeing this prompt. I really love her struggle with what to put on her board, you really got down that realism that generally people are just focused on the day to day of their bills and relationships and job rather than planning out some big life picture. When she starts getting things down and feels the enjoyment of creativity again was very satisfying to read, although I think Angus's reaction was perfect too. - Yes, well,...

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Michał Przywara
21:31 Jan 07, 2023

Thanks, Kelsey! Ha, yeah, Angus was being a little diplomatic :) I guess if you're being of service to someone, it's not really about your opinions or tastes - unless, of course, that's what you're being asked about. Glad Tabitha was relatable on some level. Thanks for the feedback!

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Kelsey H
22:16 Jan 13, 2023

Congrats Michal! So happy to see this get a win, I really enjoyed it!

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Michał Przywara
22:51 Jan 13, 2023

Thanks, Kelsey! :)

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Zack Powell
21:42 Jan 05, 2023

Thought for sure that you were going to do the New Years Eve scramble prompt, so this was a pleasant surprise, especially since I considered this to be the toughest prompt of the bunch (though to be fair, I only learned of the existence of vision boards last Friday when this prompt manifested). This is great. Probably my favorite thing about this is how the various little details build up here and then until they complete their own little vision board of sorts. The Jerry details (has had the same job since high school, hasn't proposed yet) ...

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Michał Przywara
04:35 Jan 06, 2023

Heh, something about this prompt just grabbed me. Part of it was, it was the first one of five, and part of it was my immediate reaction of "how can you write a story about a vision board? Also, what is a vision board?" And that, coupled with the "Adults" tag/theme. So that kind of informed the story, and it was nice to veer away from the more traditional holiday themes. "This is inspirational, yeah, but it's also a little funny and a little sad and a little pensive." Very glad to hear that, as that's what I was hoping for this week. A bit ...

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Zack Powell
17:56 Jan 13, 2023

Congrats on the shortlist, Michał! This one definitely deserved recognition.

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Michał Przywara
21:40 Jan 13, 2023

Thank you! It was an exciting notification :)

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Helen A Smith
17:02 Jan 05, 2023

I didn’t even know what a vision board was until recently! But then I remembered it sounded like the sort of thing that gets discussed in largely pointless work training courses. On a deeper level, the story conveyed the modern pressure on everyone to have amazing life goals when just getting through the day can be challenging. Being organised and coming up with something even if it was a shopping list is good! Life coach Exuberant Angus has to come down to earth with this ‘client.’ Made for an interesting off-beat read and great interpret...

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Michał Przywara
21:47 Jan 05, 2023

Thanks, Helen! Yeah, I think you're right: "modern pressure on everyone to have amazing life goals". Doesn't make too much sense unless you've got a good foundation to stand on. I appreciate the feedback :)

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