Friday, December 19, 2014

Dreamscape: A Short Story

I wrote a short story this week! I’m rather proud of myself, since short stories are typically difficult for me. This one was inspired by an exercise from the book Take Ten for Writers, which I highly recommend you get if you want creative prompts for your writing. I’m not usually a fan of writing prompt lists, because most of them bore me, but this book has awesome ideas in it that you can really take wherever you want to. So, without further ado, I present to you Dreamscape.

Dreamscape short story 2

The room was the most vibrant orange I have ever seen, and sensations bounced off its walls like baseballs. Bam! I reeled backward from the impact between my eyes. Whack! Another one drilled into the back of my head. Raising my arms like a shield, I collapsed on the floor, which sent a chill seeping into my body. The invisible sensations continued to pelt me, feeling oddly familiar. Maybe that’s just because I’d been feeling them for the past – how long had I been there? An hour? Two? I couldn’t remember the start of the barrage. I couldn’t even recall entering the room. Whatever was going on was far beyond my control.

The room stilled. Blinking, I raised an arm and glanced out. Nothing. No bruising bounces. No surprise savior. Just the glaringly-bright room. I uncurled slowly, moving carefully in case it started again. Every muscle, ever nerve was alert. Yet nothing happened as I first crouched then stood. Just a stillness that filled my ears to bursting.

Something was wrong with the walls, though. I squinted. They were shimmering, no, melting. From the corners inward, the room around me dripped away to reveal… utter blackness. It swallowed me immediately. My lungs squeezed, and, though I opened my mouth, I could suck nothing in. Where was the precious air I needed in order to survive? Shouldn’t I have passed out? Yet there was no blissful sleep. Only pain and the feeling of my insides shriveling up. How long could I possibly stand this?

Time didn’t matter; space didn’t exist. If there was a floor underneath me, I couldn’t feel it. I’m not even sure whether I stood or lay down. It didn’t matter. I only knew one thing: I was being suffocated, but I didn’t die. And my mind screamed to be released from these dual realities. I don’t remember it ending. There was no specific moment of release. I was unable to even gasp for breath, and then I was curled on the suddenly-solid floor, sobbing. When a chill like a winter day penetrated my body, the tears ceased.

Looking up, I found myself surrounded by mirrors, each portraying me a little differently. In one, I wore glasses, an exaggerated image of the ones I wore at school. Staring at the reflection, I brushed a hand across my face. Though I felt nothing, the glasses remained. Frowning, I moved to another mirror, suddenly remembering an English assignment from ninth grade. The next mirror showed me dancing; friends’ laughter coursed through my head. One mirror depicted me as taller than I was; another made me too short. Aunt Ruth’s disapproving glare came to mind as I spotted my grotesquely tear-streaked face; I imagined Dad’s rare smile when I came across myself holding a book about Law.

Ever so slowly, the mirrors started spinning around me. They picked up speed as I walked until all I saw was my blurred face flashing at me. My head ached until I came to one mirror that stood still. Fighting the glare of a hundred sheets of glass, I studied the image of myself. There was my scar from a childhood mishap. There was the mole and pimple, side-by-side against my nose. I wore my softball gear, as I had been since the beginning of this whole thing. None of the other mirrors had shown that. And none but this one had depicted my green eyes shining. Then a church bell pealed, and every other mirror shattered. Glinting pieces of glass flew through the air, but when they hit me, they turned into harmless drops of water cascading down my skin. And I raised my face to catch them like rain.

The picture in the mirror changed, brightening and filling in the edges with flowers. My uniform became a long, white dress, and a man whose face I couldn’t see wrapped his arms around me. Warmth spread through my body. A baby cooed.

And someone’s voice penetrated. “Lexie, are you all right? Can you hear me?”

fence-454558_1280The mirror disappeared and I slowly recognized things around me: the chain-link fence behind the catcher, the sandy dirt beneath my hands, the single cloud dotting a pure blue sky, my teammates and coach surrounding me, and my best friend, Susan, kneeling at my side.

Her gaze softened. “Lexie, you’re awake!”

A ripple of relief went through the other girls.

Blinking, I touched my forehead, which felt wet. “What about the mirror?” My fingertips came away red and my eyes widened. “Why am I bleeding?”

That was a dream?

Our school nurse, Mrs. Bradbury, bustled through the group, motioning the girls backward. “Come on, let’s give Alexa some space.”

Susan squeezed my hand. “You got whacked by a softball.” She grimaced. “You were out cold for ten minutes.”

Ten minutes? I stared at her.

As I was informed and eventually came to mostly remember, we had been at softball practice. Our pitcher threw too high, and I was unprepared for the ball to hit me smack between my eyes. I was treated for a mild concussion and didn’t play softball for the rest of the season.

Yet my experience never faded.

That was my sophomore year of high school, and I didn’t understand the dream, or vision, or whatever you want to call it, until right before graduation, when I walked into a church and everything clicked.

The dream was my life, particularly the most traumatic experience of it: the murder of my mother when I was thirteen. The bizarre sequence of events was my brain’s way of processing what my emotions could not, even two years after the event. The orange room was the intensity of my initial pain; I suspect the sensations felt like balls because of the event that rendered me unconscious. The dual realities of the blackness brought to life the deepest part of my grief: suffocating but never dying. The release of exhaustion came after six months of hard grieving.

The mirrors blurred experience and what hadn’t yet happened, which is why I hesitate to call it a dream. Together, they represented my identity crisis throughout high school. I was studious for my teacher and a party girl for my friends. My Aunt Ruth, Dad’s sister, felt I was too emotional, and Dad was only happy when I thought about pursuing a Law degree. I lost sight of my real self until I entered that church and learned how God saw me.

I’ve been a teen grief counselor for twenty years now, and I often share my dream with deeply hurting kids. When they ask me what the white dress and the faceless man mean, I tell them that I take it in two ways. One, I am the bride of Christ, and only with that perspective can I see myself correctly. And, two, God was giving me hope for my future, which would include my husband, Jake, and our daughter, Clarissa. I tell these kids that, even though I didn’t realize it then, that experience showed me that my life mattered. It helped me realize that I wasn’t alone.

The strangest dream of my life taught me that God always has a plan.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Pictures and Principles: What I’ve Learned Through My New Camera

My life has been consumed this week by two things: 1) finishing my Beauty and the Beast retelling, and 2) my new camera. I’ve really missed having a digital camera, so I am extremely excited to have this one. I’ve played with its picture and video capabilities quite a bit since it arrived on Tuesday. As for my retelling, Through Time is finished, and I officially submitted it yesterday morning, prompting a pit to settle in my stomach immediately. I’ll probably worry about it a for a week, but then I should be able to forget about it. Winners will be announced on March 1, 2015. So, I have a while to wait.

In honor of all the fun I’ve had with my camera in the last few days, I decided to share some of my favorites from the pictures I’ve taken with it, along with some life principles I’ve discovered while looking through them.

Read the directions.


In some ways, life is meant to be lived with abandon, open-hearted and free. But that doesn’t mean it’s supposed to be lived stupidly. Reading the directions, whether they be for school, for a process at work, or for a new camera, gives you understanding that enables you to use it correctly. And God has given us an instruction for life: His Word. These directions will bring light to your path. (Psalm 119:105)

Look for sunshine.


It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the negatives of life. There are days that it feels impossible to stand. But God never leaves you alone. He spreads jewels of hope all around us; we just have to open our eyes and look beyond the clouds to the sunshine. This has definitely been an exercise for me in the past few weeks: finding things each day to be thankful for. And it’s remarkable how many things I discover when I just look with open eyes.

Enjoy God’s Creation.


I make no secret of the fact that winter is not my favorite season. I’m not fond of cold. But winter is still part of God’s Creation and it is beautiful. I’m always better for having let go of my dislikes and stepping out into the wonderful world God has made. Don’t let your aversion to some aspect of the outdoors keep you from discovering the many joys and lessons it holds.

Find the unique.


One of my favorite parts of photography is finding a unique way to take a picture, a special way of telling a story through the photograph. And sometimes, in searching for that unique angle, I discover another side to something ordinary that I never knew about. This is the ceiling fan in my room, and, to me, it looks like it’s going to take off and fly. Find your own unique experiences. They may just change your whole outlook on life.

Hear the music.


For me, this is literal. I play piano. I’m bad at practicing but always enjoy coming back to it. I also listen to music and sing almost constantly. My head is full of melody and lyrics. And there is something magical about music. But this doesn’t have to be literal. There’s music in a child’s laugh or a bird’s call or a fire’s crackle. Music is emotion and wonder and beauty; never get too busy to hear it.

Embrace the Stillness.


Because I listen to music so much, it’s sometimes difficult for me to quiet my mind. But it’s amazing how rejuvenating stillness is to your soul. God tells us to “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) It’s in the quiet moments that we often get our deepest glimpses of God. A little over a week ago, Braden Russell posted about The Importance of Being Still on his blog, The Storymonger. It inspired me to embrace stillness, and I highly encourage you to check it out!

Ultimately, these things all come down to one point: Enjoy life. Don’t let it slip through your fingers because of carelessness or apathy or misplaced priorities. Life isn’t meant to pass by; it’s meant to be LIVED.

How do you live life to the fullest? What kind of pictures do you like to take/look at? Let me know in the comments!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Writing Update

First, a few helpful links from the past couple of weeks:

Cut the Clutter from Your Sentences - Go Teen Writers

How to Grow Your Blog Platform: Essentials for Your Success - The Writer's Alley

How to Write Science Fiction When You're Not into Science - One Year Adventure Novel

Second, some updates from my own writing:

  • I’m nearly finished with edits on my Beauty and the Beast retelling.
  • Said retelling also now has a title – Through Time.
  • I’ve cut approximately 5000 words from the manuscript in the last week – I have about 1000 more to cut before I reach admissible word count.
  • In the last week, I’ve only written 986 words, but that’s because my project is my retelling, which I’m actively cutting.
  • Lately, I’ve barely been scraping by on the Go Teen Writers’ 100 for 100 challenge, but I’m still in it. Are any of you doing it? If so, how’s it going?
  • I recently bought Take Ten for Writers by Bonnie Neubauer, and I’ve already written a 7752 word short story based on the first exercise. That was my most recent non-retelling writing. The prompts in this book are fantastic!
  • I’m considering starting a serial story on this blog, possibly about a dragon saving a princess from a prince. What do ya’ll think? Would you read it?

So, that’s what my writing looks like right now. I’m madly scrambling to get Through Time down to 20K words or fewer; my submission letter for the contest went out this morning. Once it’s submitted, I’ll probably mess around with some shorter pieces and, in general, relax before getting into edits for Raiders’ Rise. How’s all of your writing going? Did you do NaNoWriMo? Are you gearing up for editing or drafting right now? I’d love to hear about your projects in the comments below!