Writing Prompt: The Portal

Today’s a Nick Drake kinda day–a day when you take long walks, languidly pick up that hobby you promised yourself you were going to finish, catch up with loved ones over a nice, warm drink…and read pleasant little stories inspired by gorgeous, surreal imagery.

I’m a little overdue since posting my last writer’s prompt. I hope you read and enjoy, and have a wonderful Sunday!

Image credit: Pinterest.


The Portal

three-blue-portals“This is it.”  Dr. Ralph Kenon doubled the knot on the rope around his waist, ignoring the flash of the sapphire-lit sky above them.  “If there is any time to test the portal, it’s now.”

June stood, watching him with a wariness that she had always held.  She knew the cost of this trip–for months, they had traversed the cragged landscape, seeking the stone doorways that might–oh, Sera, might–bring them back home.  The portal that had brought them there–golden and glittering with the promise of abundance, riches–had been nothing more than a ploy of cruel universal physics.  Gold does not mean promise, or peace. How she wished she had been one of those companions who’d had enough wherewithal to provide Ralph counsel!

But no.  She was but his secretary: his faithful, devoted secretary who had been sure–absolutely sure–that what they had stumbled upon in the basement ruins of a demolished bank vault, would save them from the financial ruin that his previous perils and excavations had put them through.  Now, look at them. Look at them!

The others who had followed them were all gone.  The Tigmas–first George, then Pauline, and last their twelve-year-old son, Kris.  The policeman Mr. Myron Johnson had sacrificed himself to the beast who had found their resting spot that first night.  The newlyweds, Berturde and Guy, had succumbed to the Hunger Roots a couple of weeks after, just before they’d reached the City of Promise.  By then, it was only three of them left: Dr. Kenon, herself…and Sera.

June doubled her fists.  Dr. Kenon was inching towards the edge of the cliff; any second, the invisible field would snag him into its atmosphere, and he would no longer have a choice of remain or return.

Wildly, he threw his head back to stare at her.  His eyes distorted by those silly aviator goggles he’d always kept with him.  A momento of his mother, he’d said, on her final flight around the world. Everyone thought Amelia had been the only one, but Laura Kenon–oh, she had been glorious.  There just hadn’t been the press or the public attention to watch another woman make a grave mistake.

Under the front of living as a physician, Dr. Ralph Kenon had studied the energies of the universe, the hidden dimensions that were but a hair’s width away.  In the depth of the ocean, in the threshold of Egyption huts–June had been his longest-tenured secretary, and she had seen him in his more focused and his most psychotic episodes.

There was no proof as to where this portal would take them.  In the depths of Promise, its residents spoke of a multi-lensed “doorway” that flickered on the outskirts of the country.  “Oh, sure,” said one barkeep, tossing a spheroid glass to his counterpart across the room without spilling a drop of the iridescent liquid inside, “it’s always been there.  But no one ever goes there.  It’s just one of those things, like breath.  A lyric in a song.”

“But we sing songs where we come from,” Dr. Kenon responded.  The second barkeep bowed reproachfully but said nothing. He was built for expression only, a silent, judgemental sentient being with a purple trunk and soft, rounded shoulders meant to lie your mournful head between.  It was the first barkeep took orders and gathered regular stories so that passing strangers could understand the flow of the time in that sad, sweet city.

A city where what you wanted was guaranteed to be at your beck and call, if you only learned about it before it had already moved on.

Sera had remained generally present those first couple of nights in town.  Still, June could already tell that she was losing her when the young woman chose to look at everything else in the city but her.  At first, June blamed it on the illusion of the crystalline skyscrapers, the gloss of the marble-like sidewalks. Even the native citizens walked as if elongated by grace, striding with an elegance that made you want to lift your neck to meet them.  Even the streetwalkers, who spun around corner lights and giggled as they cuddled the thick metal poles, felt heightened in status. June kept her hand tightly around Sera’s, but the shine was too much for either of them. They parted that first night, just for an hour.  Then, in the morning, for two–June to find their houses of literature, Sera to explore the artful fountains that seem to shoot strawberry lemonade instead of water.

Every second was a spin of luck, every moment a chance to laugh for the first time since arriving in this barren world.  She and Sera raced around like children, finding more and more and comparing notes later and later in the day. Finally, it was only when they curled into a single bed at night, just before slumber took them over, did they have but seconds to learn who’d had more to share.  In the end, June would spend many hours waiting, head drooping as she squinted at the illuminated web in the window that represented their clock. On the moments she did rise early enough to see Sera slipping out the hotel room door, she tried to stop her, to ask if maybe they could meet for lunch.  “Too dependent,” was what she heard, just before the door snapped shut once.

Only Dr. Kenon stayed rigid during that week, collecting the necessary supplies and verifying the stories of the three stone rings and the night that would arise and give them a chance for home.  When he had pinpointed the day they would activate, he hastily gathered the ladies as they were about to steal away towards their separate agents and told them the good news. June immediately looked to meet Sera’s eye, as they always had when they were both parties to Ralph’s excitable nature.

But Sera was smiling at a mother and her son as the latter chased a cubold drifting down a waterspout’s sparkling stream, beside a marblesque sidewalk, along a picketed lane.

The night before they were to part, Sera suddenly demanded they spend the evening exploring together—”Just you and me,” she told June.

She dragged June through alleys and under fences, and demonstrated that you watched the best music there, not heard it.  The accidental dropping of crystal marbles by an elderly gentleman upon glass steps lingered in June’s mind as they climbed to the peak of a pyramidal park.  The sound reminded her of her brother, and she began to cry, doubling over at the wretchedness of the memories. Sera’d turned away and waited until June had wiped her eyes and risen to her feet, shaken out her skirt and tightened her low bun.  Then, they’d fed on juicy buns and jumped over light stones with other festival-goers in one of the city’s cobbled squares. June thought this showed hope, that maybe she’d been imagining the distance between them all this time.

The morning that Dr. Kenon woke June up, Sera was already gone.  The second bed in their room (which Sera had taken to lying in so as not to rouse June in the middle of the night) was made, and what few articles of personal belongings she’d bought and collected had disappeared as well.  Only a note lay on her pillow, and in that note too few words: “I’m sorry. Good luck.”

Dr. Kenon pushed June from the room as if it had always just been them.  “We have three days to get to the portal before it shuts down,” he said gruffly, and waved down the cab that would take them to the outermost limits of town.

Now, the waves of return lifted Dr. Kenon’s feet from the crumbling cliffside floor.  His rope snapped behind him but remained tied to the iron stake he had drilled into the ground yards away.  Behind it June squatted, holding her coat still against the wind. Even from the distance, she could see the fright in Dr. Kenon’s bug eyes.  Soon, he was no longer over the cliff’s edge, and drifted aloft by some instinctual force that lured him towards the rippling lenses. The portals were doing their job.

“Go,” June called, and hugged herself.  They had played Rochambeau to determine who would go first.  Dr. Kenon had attempted chivalry, but what best displayed the proper gentlemanly nature here?  Go first, and potentially plummet through an unstable set of energy fields into internal implosion and your death.  Stay behind, and risk abandonment, solitude.

Dr. Kenon became a silhouette, then a dot.  The pools of rope strung out into a single line.  It was one of his biggest weaknesses, depth perception.  It always had been. When he had been measuring out the amount of rope they’d need to reach the portals, he’d asked her to check his math.  He always had. It was the afternoon before they’d left, just before Sera had burst into the courtyard and enticed her with pastries and an evening of togetherness.

June had looked at the math, taken but a glance, before pushing the pad back to him and turning away to smile.

Dr. Kenon was still a good couple of meters when the rope started to strain, but June was quick.  One pull on the loose end, and he never even felt the jerkback as he plunged into the first sheet of energy.  It converted him to light and thrust him into the second portal, which transferred into an as-yet-undiscovered equation that passed him through a world of dimensions, choices, and opportunities.  Only the strength of his will would determine whether it would lead him home.

On the cliff’s edge, June rose to her feet as the lightning dissipated, and the sky began to clear.  An uncertain calm resonated in the breeze, leaving her arms free to dangle as she stared through the rings to the mountain range far beyond them.  She spoke but one word, as the perimeter of the first portal began to disintegrate, and the second crumbled like the shell of dried meringue.

“Sera.”

Fin.

NaNoWriMo, Here I Come

I was talking with my friend Rebecca a while ago, who was telling me about a challenge she had undertaken at her barre exercise class. “The goal is to complete 45 barre classes in 30 days,” she told me.

I was no mathematician, but those numbers gave me pause. “Wait. That means you’re gonna have to do at least two classes per day sometimes.”

“Yep,” she said. I could tell by her determined, terror-stricken grin that she had come to this revelation long before that moment. As someone who worked full-time (and oftentimes double-shifts), as well as–you know–having a social life in other endeavors, adding that type of commitment would definitely force her to make some adjustments to her daily routine.

“Yep,” she said again when I voiced this, but this time her expression softened into a serious resolution. “I don’t know how I’m going to manage it–but Ima manage it!”

To my glee and admiration (and her own initial shock), she did more than that. She completed her challenge well before the deadline, even giving up some of her favorite pastimes temporarily to make the challenge a legit priority.

I’ve repetively told her how proud I was of her. I hadn’t doubted that she could do it; she is someone who is quite resolute when she plans out activities. In fact, her dedication inspired me.

Despite writing more in general (primarily personal journals), I have not focused any time on actually writing a novel itself (there are other reasons for that, but anyway…). Perhaps I’ll have a day of delight and bust out a page or two, but by the next day, the inspiration is MIA.

Seeing what Becca did with her challenge reminded me that sometimes, the key to success is just deciding to do it–and then, just commiting to it. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

And I’m going to do it by adding a resource that I never have before. I’m using the aid of National Novel Writing Month–also affectionately known as NaNoWriMo.

What is NaNoWriMo?

Well, aside from being really fun to say (and debate its pronunciation among others: “Am I saying it right? Am I–am I saying it correctly?”), and residing in the best month evah (*ahem*Scorpios of the world unite*cough*). NaNoWriMo is a non-profit global organization that promotes the creative drive of novelists everywhere. What started as 21 writers in 1999 has since exploded into a resource with sponsors, education programs, word-tracking capabilities, and more. Beginning November 1, novelists will blaze into a flurry of writing with the goal of getting out at least 50,000 words–a solid start to any novel–by the end of November 30.

Despite my love of writing, I’ll confess that signing-up the word-tracking “required” for NaNoWriMo intimidated me. As a child, my writing was my private safe haven. The most publicly I ever shared my works were in college, both in my creative writing classes and my slew of WWE wrestler slash fanfiction that I posted on an online, members-only private forum.

(The Rock and Triple H. Mmmm, those were good times.)

Timidly, I clicked the link to the NaNoWriMo site. The image of a typewriter and a bagel (half-eaten) lured me into its embrace, while the “sign-up” button beckoned me closer.

Scrolling down further granted me an excerpt of NaNo’s vision statement:

NaNoWriMo believes in the transformational power of creativity. We provide the structure, community, and encouragement to help people find their voices, achieve creative goals, and build new worlds—on and off the page.

From NanNoWriMo.org. LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ORGANIZATION

…They said my favorite word.  “Creativity.”

…How have I denied my urges for so long??

But NaNoWriMo doesn’t just promote writing and creativity–it thoroughly enforces it. Apparently, over 900 volunteers will organize “communal writing sessions” throughout the world during November, giving its attendees both a place and a sense of support that has never been seen before 1999.

Weighing the Odds…as They Crush Me

I continued to peruse the site, building hope and promise that maybe–maybe this could help me get on track towards finally getting over my fears of writing.

Why do I think it will work? Apparently, several novels were penned with the help of the challenge.

  • Wool by Hugh Howey was a fun, freaky scifi series book that I utterly enjoyed when I found it on Amazon.
  • Water for Elephants is another. Heck, that one was turned into a movie starting Robert Pattison, Reese Witherspoon and Christopher Waltz.

Though my goal to write was not to become a famous, popular author, it was nice to know that NaNoWriMo had served as a solid foundation for serious writers who, perhaps, just needed that extra boost of accountability and community support to keep going.

I scrolled down further on the front page, my heart lightening with each line–and then clenched as two sets of numbers suddenly rolled into view.

  • 798,162 active novelists
  • 367,913 novels completed

Welllll, son of a mother. That’s…a lot of writers.

The Game Plan

If I do Nothing, Nothing will happen.  If I do Something, Something has no choice but to occur.

–Anonymous

Just looking at those stats alone was enough to make me sway and bring back some of my original fears to start writing again. Out of such a high number of novels completed, there is bound to be a notable percentage of those novels that are actually brilliant, witty, emotionally life-changing, literary masterpieces.

That being said, I appreciated about NaNoWriMo (aside from the heavy promotion of nurturing creativity) is that it is not a contest. In fact, they make a point to say that this is a community, a place to support each other as everyone works towards our same, singular goal: to complete our 50,000+ word works.

During a time when physical ability has been a heavy strain, writing is one tool that makes me feel sharp and alive. That–and I can’t say this enough–I love to write. At this stage in my life, I want to do more than leave my random scrawlings in a handwritten notebook.

I have good ideas for novels. I know I do. And I want to share them with others to evoke the joy and delight that my favorite novelists and writers have done for me since I was a child.

If the initial goal is to write at least 50,000 words in 30 days, that averages to 1,667 words per day.

Is it possible? Well, sure. Many things are possible.

But there will be days when the desire to sit and type will wane. There will be days when the last thing I will want to do is stare at my dumb computer screen and paw through the slush that will be the first draft of this novel. There will be times when I’ll feel like I’ve written myself into a hole, and the hole seems a bottomless pit with no hope for landing.

And then, there will be those days when I just think: “This sucks, and I hate everything and what’s the point.” And then, I’m gonna run from my desk like Ron Swanson.

…But.

The very reason I’m joining this challenge is because…I have unofficially written for nearly 30 years, and I have yet to try and publish anything. My self-esteem and fear of producing boring, laughable crap has left me prone, stuck.

I have family and friends who have long since been writing and have successfully published. They were able to push past the inner fears and life struggles, bear down, and do what they needed to get their work to the masses.

I envy them. I admire them.

I want to grab them by the lapels and screech, “How did you do it?!”

But, more than anything…I want to join them. Maybe not in just publishing books, but also in the power of their desire.

I want to know their strength and their ability to commit to a project. I want to know what worked for them. I want to know what didn’t.

But…you know? I actually already kinda do.

I’ve talked with the family members, and I followed the blog of and occasionally chatted with an old friend as her books ranked higher and higher on Amazon.

I truly think I have all the tools I need. There is nothing left but the doing.

Final Thoughts

I don’t want live in excuses or fear anymore. I don’t want to procrastinate.

Committing to this challenge will allow me to hold myself publicly accountable for writing a novel for the first time. Honestly, I’m not even sure what the layout of the site is much beyond the sign-up button. Once I finish writing this post, though, I will find out.

If musicians can lock themselves in studios for 72 hours to get an album done, and my friend Rebecca can dole out multiple barre classes in a single day and still rush into work that same day, then I can sit, plug my ears, shove my insecurities aside, and freakin’ write.

…Wish me luck.

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.

Calvin Coolidge

Any other first-time NaNoWriMo novelists out there? I’d love to hear what’s driving you this year!

I am Afraid to Write. Here’s Why.

A few days ago, I was talking on the phone with someone I admire greatly and who is, among many things, a talented writer. As I was explaining the plot of a story I’d outlined a couple of years ago to get his thoughts on it, he suddenly cut me off.

“Did you notice,” he said carefully, seeming hesitant to call me out, “that every time you mention one of your stories, you end by saying how much it sucks?”

I hadn’t noticed and flushed with embarrassment, grateful that he couldn’t see my reddening face. Jokingly, I tried to downplay my self-condescension, explaining that I used to be more creative in my childhood and adolescence. Why, I’d even written 30 short stories and two fan-fiction manuscripts over the course of two years in college!

But then, life happened. I graduated and, in my eyes, failed to integrate into adulthood. Through the struggle to stand on my own two feet and several bouts of severe writer’s blocks, it wasn’t until now, in my 30s, that I’d finally decided to place more attention on how I truly wanted to live.

Despite this newfound desire, my creativity is still recovering. The mental freedom I used to feel as a child is nonexistent. Even a 400-page manuscript that I’d completed four years ago was shoved into limbo after I dozed off in the middle of editing it–twice.

Now, I’m lucky to draft a 10-page story outline, let alone a full-length novel. I was too afraid to write beyond that.

“What are you afraid of?” my friend asked.

I paused, running the question through my mind and letting the silence on the line balloon between us. When the answer formed, it was a lot longer–and more heart-rending–than I’d expected it to be.

Why I am Afraid

This isn’t the first time I’ve explored my fear of writing. It has been, however, seven years since I really looked at the root of the problem. While some things remained the same, time (and neglect) have allowed the number of fears to multiply.

As each reason poured from my mouth, a new one flooded my head right behind it:

  • There are only a finite number of plots and themes that are recycled throughout storytelling. What would make anyone read mine when they could read somebody else’s? Someone much more talented?
  • My plot will be stupid.
  • My plot will be boring.
  • My characters, setting, climax, and resolution will be an amazing conglomerate of boring and stupid.
  • I’ll start drafting a book, then get bored and stop. Therefore, I’ve wasted my time getting started in the first place.
  • Everyone (fanatics and critics alike) will ridicule every book I write, calling them crappy, mortifying, and just plain awful.
  • I don’t have the intelligence, maturity, or skillset to write the story the way I want it. The premise will sound good, but then I’ll have to flesh out the details. Of which I will do a miserable job.
  • I should be putting my time and energy into “more important, productive” activities. Like a full-time corporate job, and socializing with friends, and…um…laundry.
  • All the time spent writing the book, editing the book, submitting the book, promoting the book, publishing the book…will all be for nothing. No one will read it.
  • I’ll get a literary agent who doesn’t represent me to his/her fullest, and my book will end up in horrifying obscurity, not seeing the light of day until 500 years later, when I will be adored only because my book will serve as the only remnant of an otherwise forgotten time.
  • I have a former very close friend whom I knew throughout high school who is now a lauded, bestselling author. I have other friends, family members, and clients who have also published books. So, then…what void is left for me to fill in the writing world?

This list is more complete than the one I gave my friend during our call. After reciting about three or four, I trailed off, again embarrassed to be exposing this part of myself that I hadn’t realized ran so deep.

My friend, to his credit, remained matter-of-fact. “Well, you need to get them out somehow. Otherwise, you’ll run them through your mind over and over again, and you’ll never get out of your own head. You might also be surprised at how many writers share your fears. Maybe it will help you and them to get them out. Maybe you could add it to your blog.”

And, well. Here we are.

Writing Full Circle

I have re-written this post about three or four times in the last few days.

Why?

Because I was afraid to write about being afraid to write.

Throughout the years, I’ve written about my issues with social anxiety and chronic depression without much hesitation. That is probably because they are more familiar issues to address. I know the signs for when they onset; though I can’t always regulate them, I’m somewhat learning how to keep them under control.

What I struggle with now is different. Being afraid to write doesn’t disrupt my life in the same way anxiety and depression do. I’ve been able to ignore the urge to fight it by writing in other ways to satisfy it. Writing prompts. Fan fiction. Blog posts.

Other people publish books. I wasn’t meant for that.

Logic tells me that most of my fears are unfounded. Common sense tells me that they’re all ridiculous. Practicality tells me that, even if any of these fears were founded, writing is a skill that I could easily improve upon.

The first step to overcoming a fear is admitting that you are afraid.

The second step is to embrace the fear.

And the third?

Grab that fear by the hand and dance in the rain under a waxing moon until you’re both laughing and twirling, and the fear has faded among the heated mist that rises from the earth during a sweet, smoldering summer evening.