Friday, February 27, 2009

Thoughts Behind the Words: Pieces

Today I finally finished the first scene from my AAP writing project [read it here]. I had basically one goal to this scene: setting the stage. Not just the character and her personality, but her house, and her job, and some of the things she likes. There are a few elements I wanted to add that didn't fit in, but that's always going to be the case.

I also carefully set up and took the picture that was mentioned in this scene, as I hope to continue doing. There's on thing you may have noticed if you read it: I excluded something from my picture. That would be the mask Nia saw. There's a distinct reason for why I'm not including it in my pictures, which will come out later.

The main character hasn't really been speaking to me much yet, but I trust that she will. I'm looking forward to getting to know her. There's another character I wanted to introduce in this scene, but that will have to wait until the next.

A random note... I've been considering naming every scene after a song. This scene is, because it just randomly happened that way. Basically, I'm having fun doing every kind of inter-related thing that comes to mind. For example, some of the inspiration for the concept behind this story came from Red's album Innocence and Instinct. This first scene has the same name as the first Red song I ever heard.

I'm also facing a question I face when I start out any story: how dark do I make it? My concept of what is dark and what's not is very... skewed. So how much do I limit it? Basically, my stories are all character driven. Always. Every single time. They explore things about the human mind and emotions, about life, and death, and hope, and pain. That means that there are many opportunities to go down paths that might be too intense for people who haven't walked them before. I always have a choice to face. I'm not sure yet exactly where I'll go (though obviously whatever I do will be Clean Place friendly – my rule is that if I can't post it on CP, I shouldn't be writing it).

So, there are some early thoughts. We'll see where this story goes.

- Elraen -

Thursday, February 19, 2009

February 19th

Today is the two year anniversary of my first real internet friend meeting. I decided to do a blog post in honor of this, though I'm not really sure what I should and shouldn't say. If you're not a member of the Christian writing forum Clean Place, some of this won't make sense to you... but some of it might.

Two years ago today Kal, EveningStar, Emerwen, Linte, Linte's older brother “Nat” (then a member of CP), Maranar, Telpe, my mother, and I all piled into the big 15-passenger van we were borrowing from Linte's family (my family's van had broken down a matter of days beforehand). We got lost on the way to the nearby ranch – we tend to get lost on the way to meet Cpers, for some odd reason – but we managed to get there on time. After wandering around in the dark for a while and playing a somewhat unsuccessful game of cellphone tag, we ended up with Rivus and his choir, beside a campfire, beside a lake, beneath the starlight.

Rivus was (and remains) one of my closest friends. I had started talking to him the day he joined Clean Place, 8 months earlier. We had been planning this meeting together for nearly six months. I think the word that most of the Cpers involved associate with that night is “awkward.” Because, after all, here were all these crazy Texan teenagers (most of them girls) dropped in middle of a big choir from Tennessee just to see one teenaged guy who they had only met online. And it was awkward. But that's not primarily how I remember it.

I was so nervous before hand. I couldn't eat dinner, because I knew I would throw up. I couldn't think all day, and almost no school got done. As we walked around looking for him, I was walking out ahead very fast with Emerwen, waving my hands around in the air (if you know me, that's what I do when I get so nervous I can't deal with it anymore). I was 15 years old. Those of you who knew me in person back then, or even online, probably know that I was not the same person when I was 15. I was painfully shy and quiet, I was angry inside, I was depressed, I had just been through two extremely painful broken relationships in the space of three months, and though I hated my life I hated myself most of all. I was scared of everyone. This was at the beginning of the five darkest months of my life, which eventually were what God used to completely transform me.

Rivus was 16. He was very different then too. Because of some recent events and painful circumstances that we had been put in together, and were walking through together, I was more inclined to trust him than most other people. But to be completely honest, I was terrified of meeting him. At the time I was afraid I would make him hate me.

One very vivid memory comes to mind: his choir and the group of Texans were walking together to the campfire, down a dimly lit, badly paved path. I was beside him, and we were talking about random things – basically both doing our best to make conversation, something neither of us were good at. We had discussed multiple times while planning the meeting the fact that I tended to be very quiet, and I would probably spend most of the time by myself in the shadows (which was, and to some degree still is, my method of dealing with groups). But as we walked, suddenly he looked at me and said “you're not hiding in the shadows!”

I hadn't noticed it until he pointed it out, because I was so wrapped up in the moment. I remember being shocked, but not upset with myself. And I realized something, starting in the moment and continuing as we rode home and I lay awake in bed afterwards: Rivus was the first person I had interacted with in two years who I was not afraid of. I couldn't explain it to myself. I just knew he didn't scare me, and it made me so happy I wanted to cry. That was the first night in my life that I believed that maybe I do need friends... and maybe that's not a bad thing. Maybe sometimes relationships aren't terrifying and painful, but beautiful. Maybe sometimes it's alright to laugh. Maybe I didn't have to be afraid.

It's been two years now. I've met so many Clean Placers since then – over 30. Every single meeting has been different, but every one has held elements of that first meeting. Each one has re-echoed the message that friendships are worth it, that we are called to walk not alone but side by side with friends. It's a message I have needed to come back to over and over and over again. It's a message that will be engraved even deeper into my heart in the coming months as Anywhere comes to stay with us, I hopefully get to see Legossi again, and Midget comes to visit.

For right now, February 19, 2009, two years after that first meeting... the memories are a proof to me that some things don't change, and that some things are just worth it. It's something I hope I can never forget.

Clean Place meetings:

"Nat," Rivus, Kal, Mar, Telpe, Em, Linte, me, and ES
February 19, 2007

Me, Rivus, Mar, and Telpe
June 6, 2007

Mar, Linte, Em, Legossi, Telpe, Kal, me, and ES
September 21, 2007

The Clean Place Moot 2008
June 16, 2008

Telpe, Em, Linte, Lissi, Mar, and Me
October 13, 2008

Rivus, Younger Fern, me, Elder Fern, and runningtiger
December 13, 2008

Me, Warrior Maiden, Younger Fern, Elder Fern
December 15, 2008

Monday, February 16, 2009

Input Please?

I started a new writing project today. On Clean Place, the Christian writer's forum I'm on, we're doing a project called “Adopt A Plot,” where essentially we all post plots and “adopt” a plot someone else posts, and then we write it.

I adopted a plot that one of our mentors posted:

Your MC decides to participate in Project365 (where you take a picture a day for a year), and after a few months, he/she notice that in several of the photos there is a mysterious presence (it can be a person, an item, but it can't be a blur). He/She starts to investigate, but are they ready for what happens next?”

As most of you reading this probably know, I am actually participating in Project 365: Elraen's Project 365

So, I've had a few ideas with this. One is that the story is named after my Project 365 blog (Photographic Melody). Another is that I hope to actually take some of the pictures I'll be mentioning in the story, just because I think that would be beyond awesome (I love tying things together, and letting my writing and my reality collide... though sometimes I can hardly tell the difference between the two).

I'm almost done with the first scene. But, I have a question: does anyone want me to post the story here on my blog? I don't know how many people who aren't already on Clean Place read this... I know Liz does, and my mother does, and I have a sneaking suspicion that Esteleth and Rose look at it from time to time. So, if any of you want me to post the story here on my blog, please let me know. If you wanted I could also kind of talk about some of the “behind the scenes” stuff, some of what goes through my head when I write things like this.

It's very tempting to give away spoilers right now, but I won't. I'll keep them to myself for the next few weeks.

- Elraen -

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Emo Anti-Valentine's Day

Pictures speak louder than words.








Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Raen's Review: Innocence and Instinct


I have been anticipating this CD for some time. I'm doing my best to review it objectively, rather than as a fan. Most of my interpretations of the songs are drawn directly from the band's quotes as well as my personal thought process.

Most bands go through what people refer to as a “Sophomore Slump,” meaning their second album lacks power and seems to have an identity crisis. Red completely shattered that tradition. Their debut album, End of Silence, was a good album, but it was under developed. The complaint most often mentioned (and my greatest complaint) is that most of the album sounded like the same song, with the exception of Pieces and Already Over Pt. 2. Sure, the basic beat changed from song to song, but that was as unique as they got. As good as the album was, it had issues with variety.

That completely changed in Innocence and Instinct. Every single song has its own unique character, things that make them stand out in a powerful way. They added in more acoustic elements, employing the use of acoustic guitar for some of the intros, and piano and strings play a role throughout the album. Some of the vocal harmonizing that goes on is beautiful. They toned down the amount of screaming they use, letting the melody and the emotion of the lyrics speak for themselves. But what I love the most is the theme of the album.

From the moment Canto III (Intro) starts up with its haunting chanting in Latin and echoing, piercing piano chords, there's a connection to something that's beautiful just because it's so desperately real. Then Fight Inside, the first single that was released, crashes in with heavy guitars and lyrics that define the entire theme of the album:

And it finds me, the fight inside is coursing through my veins

And it's raging, the fight inside is breaking me again.

That's what the album is about: the fight. The struggle between who we are and who we want to be, what we love and what we hate, the person others see and the person we see, our longings and our shame, our faith and our agony. It's a battle of the soul, where Heaven and Hell collide in a raging battle... a battle between innocence and instinct.

Death of Me follows, a track where there seems at first listen to be two primary characters, until you realize that the singer is actually addressing himself. This was the third single released, and the first music video for the album was made for this song. It's another of the hard-rocking songs that we came to expect from Red after End of Silence.

Mystery of You changes the pace a little, with a remarkably unique intro that's somewhat reminiscent of Linkin Park's work. This song basically deals with feeling left alone. The instrumentation in this is absolutely brilliant. I would say it's easily in the top four tracks on the album.

Start Again follows in somewhat the same vein musically. It details the longing to start again, to heal a broken relationship, to get a clean slate – whether with God or in relationships with people. The vocal work is stunning, but probably the strongest part of the song is the intro and the outro. Both are masterfully done.

Never Be the Same was the second single from the album. The first time I heard it, months ago now, I wouldn't have believed it was Red except that I recognized Mike Barnes' voice. I can easily see this one getting a good deal of air time on the radio, as it's on the softer side of rock. The use of piano is very well done, and the lyrics are a beautiful picture of regret. You led me hear, but then I watched you disappear. You left this emptiness inside and I can't turn back time.

The softer track is followed by the hard-hitting Confession (What's Inside My Head). I've heard multiple reviews refer to Never Be the Same as epitomizing innocence. If that is the case, then Confession epitomizes instinct. It's a picture of shame and anger and rage. The song ends with the desperate plea take this away, help me escape, take this away.

Next is the song that Red co-wrote with Benjamin Burnley of the secular hard rock band Breaking Benjamin. [Anyone who has talked to me much within the last few weeks will have heard about this song, because I've been listening to it dozens of times every day.] Shadows is another song about feeling lost and abandoned, and longing to be loved and rescued. It can be summed up by the last few lines of the chorus: I'm holding onto You, I'll never let go. I need You with me as I enter the shadows.

Slowing down the pace, Shadows is followed by a cover of Duran Duran's Ordinary World. The original was before my time (early 90s if I have my facts right), but at the time it was immensely popular. I haven't heard the original, but I can tell it's a cover because it has a melody that's quite different from Red's usual style. This song seems like the kind of thing to listen to late at night after a long day; it's quieter than their usual style, and the vocals are smooth.

Next is the hardest song on the album, Out From Under. This continues on a similar vein to Breathe Into Me from End of Silence – it's a desperate call for rescue, a glimpse into the nightmare of life without hope. I would also consider it to be the darkest song on the album. The intro has a muted sound to it, which crashes into intense guitars and raw vocals.

The last track on the standard CD is Take it All Away, my personal favorite. It is mostly acoustic guitar and piano, with achingly fragile vocals and a haunting melody. It's a final picture of brokenness, when the anger and hate and the rage have bled away and all that remains is an aching emptiness. But it ends with a resolution – a recognition of God's presence, of His ability to take it all away.

For those of us who bought the deluxe edition, it doesn't end there. Overtake You follows, a track that reminds me of Wasting Time. It's not so much about fighting as knowing that you'll overcome: I know that I'm dying right now, and it seems that I'm so far gone, but not for long. I'll just be strong and keep knowing that now I will overtake you. I would love to hear this one live.

What follows is a love song, a departure from the theme of the rest of the album. I personally haven't formed much of an opinion on it yet, but some of the lyrics are absolutely beautiful. Somewhere between brokenness and healing, Mike Barnes sings I can feel you breathing, sunlight burns inside and I feel so alive, and help me now, tell me how, how can this last forever.

The finishing track is a stripped and re-done version of Fight Inside, bringing the album to a conclusion. Nothing and Everything is completely done in piano, strings, and acoustic guitar. It's a mellow, haunting, thought-provoking piece. They changed the lyrics in one section however: the bridge of Fight Inside whispers it's nothing, it's everything, it's nothing, it's everything. In Nothing and Everything, Mike Barnes simply sings it's everything, it's everything. It implies a realization, a conclusion to the fight and denial that's been raging throughout the album – a kind of release.

The whole album is a powerful, intense, beautiful piece alive with emotion. There are the customary, signature hard guitar riffs with a liberal sprinkling of piano and string work. I'd been waiting two years for this album. I was not disappointed. My expectations were met and surpassed a thousand times over.

It's an interesting album in that it never comes outright and says “Jesus” or “God,” even though Red is a Christian band. They've made an effort to reach out to the mainstream, and I believe their new album will bring them farther than ever before. I messaged the band and asked them if they write their songs with direct Christian meanings or just leave them open to whoever wants to interpret them, and they replied and told me “all of our song are written with Christian themes because that is who we are.” I think they can speak for themselves.

Overall, I would say this is the second best album I have ever heard, second only to Skillet's Comatose. I've heard a lot of music over the past two years, but I would only classify a small fraction of it as being “good.” Innocence and Instinct isn't just good; it's brilliant. Its strength lies not primarily in the brilliant instrumentation, strong guitar work, or vocal talent, but in the raw, bleeding, honest emotion portrayed as they give us a glimpse into the greatest struggle of all time – the struggle of the human soul.

[Final note: do you like the banner at the top of this post?  So do I.  I made it with two awesome friends of mine - it was a collaboration, and I am absolutely thrilled with the way it turned out.  I never could have done it alone; these girls are AMAZING with graphics.  You can see the full size by clicking here]

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Fragile on the Inside

I had been considering posting thoughts on my blog url for some time now, and for various reasons feel led to do so today.

The phrase “fragile on the inside” originally comes from the song Orchard of Mines by Globus (if you haven't heard it, LISTEN. It is epic. Whether you like rock, classical, or anything in between, there's a good chance you'll at least vaguely like this song). It's part of the chorus, which in full is as follows:

You seem like an orchard of mines

tread careful, one step at a time.

And you seem to break like time

so fragile on the inside

you climb these grapevines.

Would you look now

unto this pit of me on the ground.

And you wander through these

to climb these grapevines.

Those first two lines are my favorite, and have been since I first heard the song, more than a year ago now. It conveys an idea, an idea that has become more and more firmly rooted in my head and my heart these past several weeks and months.

Everyone is fragile on the inside.

All of us have our battles, our struggles, the ghosts that haunt us. All of us have been or will be broken, betrayed, and alone at some point in our lives. And all of us will hurt. Every single person I pass on the street is a broken person, in some way or another.

I am a broken person. I am fragile on the inside.

What does this mean in the end? It means that I have to be aware of that in all of my interactions with every single person I meet. They may look so much stronger and so much more confident than me, but they are fragile on the inside too, and what I choose to say and do could either build them up or shatter them. Tread careful, one step at a time. Even the people who really are happy and peaceful inside have either been broken at some point or will be. That means that every single person on the face of this planet shares the exact same need: they need to be loved.

Even my teachers. Even my boss at work. Even the patrons I serve at the library. Even the guy and the girl making out in front of me in chapel. Even the guys who make crude jokes and use ugly language. Even the people who have hurt me. They are all fragile on the inside. They all need to be loved.

I think we, as humans, often start to think that we're the only one feeling the way we do. We start to think that no one else has ever felt so alone, so in need of someone to love us. In truth, everyone has felt that. God made us that way, because He made us to need Him, and if we were not fragile, we wouldn't need Him.

What would happen if I dared to look at everyone I meet as being fragile on the inside? What could God do with that? It's an interesting thought.

God bless,

- Elraen -

Thursday, February 5, 2009

A Familiar Friend

I wanted to write this the day of, but I've been rather busy, so a day late will have to do.

As of February 4, 2009, it was exactly 7 years since the first day I started reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time.

We'd only been living in our new house for a few months. I was 10 years old, and I wanted something to hold onto. I hated change, and I never dealt well with it. Maybe that's part of why The Lord of the Rings meant so much from the beginning: it made sense when nothing else did.

I watched the first movie shortly after that. I watched it in theaters five times. It was the first movie to make me cry. I didn't finish the books for between two and three months, as it was a heavy read for a 10-year-old.

My parents had been Tolkien fans since college, and my older brother and sister had both already read them. It became almost a family tradition. The Two Towers was released in theaters, and I went to watch that. By now I had read the books twice, and had gone back and re-read The Hobbit (which I originally read when I was about 8 years old). I saw that in theaters four times. By now I was already starting to get a reputation as a Tolkien freak. My friends called me Frodo. I had my mother make me my “Galadriel dress” (which I still have, though we had to add a ruffle a few years back due to how much I grew).

It was around the time The Two Towers was released that I started work in earnest on what is now known as The Gallery. It started with a poster with pictures of all the members of the Fellowship on it. I begged my mother to be allowed to hang it up, and she said I could put it in the stairway leading to the girls' room (basically because that was an out of the way corner). After that I asked for the The Lord of the Rings calendar pages at the end of 2002, and she let me have them. The original poster (much torn and patched) is still there, as are all of those calendar pages. But now there are well over 200 other pictures.

I read The Lord of the Rings twice a year in the beginning, and watched Fellowship of the Ring at least twice a month, despite my family protesting I watched it far too often. I read The Silmarillion when I was 12. That Christmas The Return of the King was released, and I was finally allowed my dream: I got to see it in theaters on opening day. It was an experience I'll never forget, partly because I was in costume, and partly because I spend most of the movie crying my eyes out.

It was because of The Lord of the Rings that I started to put a lot of effort into my writing. I wanted to make stories like that. I had been writing short pieces for as long as I could remember, but at the age of 11 I started my first fantasy novel (which, after two more starts and major reworks, was finally finished in 2007 and is now in the process of editing). I wrote dozens of poems based on The Lord of the Rings.

It was near the end of 2005 that my brother and I discovered the music videos for Lord of the Rings, and suddenly we realized that we actually liked contemporary music. Suddenly the kids who never listened to anything but Lord of the Rings soundtracks were obsessed with Queen and Creed (not the best bands to start out with, but we were rather clueless). I heard Relient K for the first time about a year later, in a Lord of the Rings video.

When I started obsessively browsing the web for Lord of the Rings websites, I came across several beautiful wallpapers and banners. I knew I wanted to do that too. That was how I started graphic design. Even now a good 50% of my graphics are done by experimenting with Lord of the Rings pictures and themes. It was through a Lord of the Rings forum, Arwen-Undomiel, that I really developed my design skills (not to mention making some absolutely incredible friends).

Basically, I would not be in my current major if not for Lord of the Rings.

But there are a few things that, to me, are more important than all the things I did... more important than the hours spent writing elvish poetry with a quill pen on paper I had aged, the hundreds of dollars spent on merchandise and swords, the rambles on the differences between and origins of Quenya and Sindarin that I can spout off to anyone who will listen. I grew up so much through those stories. They became my way to make sense of the things that I had no way of understanding.

The year I was 14 I had no good friends. I was getting over the end of the closest friendship I had ever had at that point, I was alone, and I was terrified. I had no one to talk to about anything. I didn't even know how to talk about things. But I knew the story of The Lord of the Rings, and above all else, that story had taught me to believe one thing: no matter what's happening, no matter what might happen, even if you don't have any hope, even if you're alone, you keep fighting. Never give up on light. Never stop trying to do the right thing.

I understood that concept, though it wasn't for another two years that I understood that it's one that comes from God. I understood Lord of the Rings long before I understood the Bible or really knew how to pray. I was a spiritual embryo until I was 16. For me Lord of the Rings is just another sign of God's enduring faithfulness, and His hand in my life: even before I really knew Him, He was teaching me through the only channel I left open.

I would spend long stretches of time sitting alone on the stairs, talking to a picture of Legolas. He was the only one who was there to listen. It kept me sane some days, though I'm sure it sounds much the opposite. Some days I also talked to a picture of Boromir. I would say hello to them even when I just walked by.

When I joined Clean Place a lot of things changed. I think for most people, their first impression of me was “that girl who's freakishly obsessed with Lord of the Rings.” It was all I talked about, and anyone who dared mention liking it got absolutely smothered by me. Within those first few months I was a member, Lissi and I had a few very long, drawn out conversations about Elvish history. When Rivus joined, I asked Faith if he liked Lord of the Rings, because that was the way I judged how “cool” people were. When she said he did, I decided it was OK to talk to him.

A lot has changed in the nearly three years since then. People say I don't seem as obsessed anymore. That's true and not true at the same time. I have realized that it doesn't need to be my entire life. I've grown beyond that, through God's grace. I've realized that some things are more important than how many times I've seen The Fellowship of the Ring.

But I'm just as much of a “fan” as ever – perhaps more so. As I grow older, I find more and more relevance and meaning to different parts of the story. It's like an old friend I can always come back to on a dark night or a lonely summer day, curled up in some corner of who I was, who I am, and who I hope to become. Things I learned from the stories have stayed with me.

And in the end, that's part of why I've allowed it to take a bit more of a back seat in my life. Didn't I learn from the stories to always do what's right? If I spend my whole life lost in another world, how could I do that? It's because of what I learned from the stories that I have changed their role in my life. I don't know if that makes any sense at all in my head, but my heart understands it.

One way or another, the stories are part of who I am, and that will never change. They have left a mark on me that's far too strong to wash away. God works in funny ways. He's awesome like that.

And it all started because on a night in February of 2002 a 10-year-old opened a battered, 25-year-old paperback of The Fellowship of the Ring and started reading.

- Elraen, the Wandering Star -

Monday, February 2, 2009

Water Travels

...this is a completely true story.

Ten years ago, an excited seven-year-old dragged her five-year-old sister into the bathroom.

“OK, you have to see this,” the older sister said. She unrolled a fair amount of toilet paper and stretched it across to the windowsill, where she weighted it down as her little sister watched. After that she turned on the facet and cupped her small hands to catch the water. She moved back to the paper and dumped water as close to the middle as she could.

The water crawled across the paper in either direction, more and more of it getting soaked. Eventually the middle was so saturated the paper broke in the middle.

“See? Wasn't that awesome?” the older sister said, smiling.

“What happened?” her sister asked.

“I just proved that water travels! Did you see the way it moved up the paper?”

“Ummm...” the five-year-old looked doubtful. “OK.” She walked out of the room, leaving her older sister feeling somewhat crushed.

Ten years later...

I had been ridiculed for the “water travels” story so many times I didn't dare bring anything related to it up, or else Telpe would automatically tell the story at the most embarrassing possible moments. Over and over I had been told how ridiculous it was. I would never be allowed to forget that stupid “experiment.”

On February 2, 2009, I sat on the end of the second row in Biology II, sipping from a tall thermos of coffee and trying to focus on what my professor was saying about plant's water nutrition system, the osmolarity of plant cells, and the amount of pressure involved.

“So you see, because the plant cells are hydrophilic, the water keeps traveling upwards,” the teacher explained. “Toilet paper is taken from the same material as trees, so if you take a long section of toilet paper and put water on it, you can prove that the water travels up it.”

I choked. Emerwen, who sat beside me, gave me an odd look.

“I'll have to tell you a story later,” I whispered.

“Yes, you will,” she agreed, nodding slowly.

I smiled to myself. After ten years, I was finally triumphant. The childish proof that “water travels” had been proven valid.