Life in General

Shattered Dreams

Posted by on Oct 29, 2016 in Life in General | 0 comments

Shattered Dreams

“9-1-1-: What’s your emergency?”

“There’s been a really big accident. Please help! My best friend’s not moving and there’s all this blood. Please send help!”

“Okay, what’s your location?”

“I’m outside of the school…”

Even though I know the above conversation is staged, my throat clenches as I listen to the mock emergency call broadcasting over my school’s loudspeaker. The student I’m hearing is one of my juniors, and the terror in her voice sounds real.

After the call ends, I shepherd my class outside, as instructed at that morning’s staff meeting. We sit on bleachers temporarily erected a safe but short distance away from the highway that parallels our campus. It’s a busy road, and I am surprised and impressed to see that authorities have all four lanes blocked. Average people who may not know what’s going on are stopped en route to wherever they were going, delayed without an alternative while we experience the simulation. Apparently, some of them posted about the big, seemingly fatal accident outside the private school on social media and expressed concern for the students involved.

It’s not hard to understand how onlookers could think the accident scene was real. A legitimate-looking two-car crash spills across two lanes of the highway, two totaled SUVs sprawled among automobile debris. Each one holds a student of mine, trapped, bleeding, and either unconscious or semi-conscious. A third student, injured but mobile, wanders along the edge of the scene in a shocked state of confusion and disbelief. A fourth sprawls across the shoulder of the road, dead the moment her head collided with and scraped across the rough asphalt. Her beautiful face, now embedded with shards of glass and scraped raw, reminds me of ground meat. Blood runs from her in three places, puddling in the grass on the side of the road.

I struggle to display the right balance of emotion. I know the scene is not real, but I want to model how my students should react to what they are seeing with the respect and reverence an actual accident of this magnitude deserves. At the same time, I am working hard to keep from crying. I am a writer, after all. I have a vivid imagination, and I love my students dearly. It’s too easy to envision the tragedy depicted a few yards in front of me as something very real, and I have to breathe deeply several times in order to ease the clenching of my lungs.

This entire scene is staged as part of the Shattered Dreams program, a two day accident and funeral simulation designed to increase awareness of the possible effects of distracted driving among teens. It is a powerful program, but I’m not going to outline it here because a lot of the impact is lost when everyone in the audience knows what is going to happen next. I will, however, share a few details about why this program is so important. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015:

  • 35,092 people died in car crashes
  • 10,265 of those were alcohol-related fatalities
  • An estimated 2.44 million people were injured
  • 6.3 million police-reported crashes occurred, the official US Government website for Distracted Driving, reports:

  • In 2014, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers.
  • Ten percent of all drivers 15 to 19 years old involved in fatal crashes were reported as distracted at the time of the crashes. This age group has the largest proportion of driv­ers who were distracted at the time of the crashes.
  • The percentage of drivers text-messaging or visibly manipu­lating handheld devices increased from 1.7 percent in 2013 to 2.2 percent in 2014. Since 2007, young drivers (age 16 to 24) have been observed manipulating electronic devices at higher rates than older drivers.


These statistics are sobering, which is why our school participated in the Shattered Dreams program. We care for our students and don’t want to see their lives ended before they have a chance to begin.

This year, as students participate in Red Ribbon Week activities across America, please take a moment to really let the magnitude of this situation sink in. It only takes five seconds to cross a football field at 55 miles per hour. Looking down for even a moment can potentially end a life. Please don’t let it be yours.

For more information, check out the following link:


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Posted by on May 15, 2015 in Life in General, My Writing Journey, Uncategorized | 0 comments


“Keep a diary, but don’t just list all the things you did during the day. Pick one incident and write it as a brief vignette. Give it color, include quotes and dialogue, shape it like a story with a beginning, middle and an end—as if it were a short story or an episode in a novel. It’s great practice. Do this while figuring out what you want to write a book about. The book may even emerge from within this running diary” (John Berendt at Writer’s Write <>).

I’ve tried writing every day many times, but each time I stop for two reasons: because my writing time is VERY limited, so I want to make very word count, and because these attempts consistently felt like the daily list mentioned above. However, I firmly believe that writing is like mining—you have to dig through a lot of dirt to find anything of value. I need a way to practice writing without consequence in order to mine the nuggets worthy of public notice, so I’m resolving to try again with practice on the level of the above quote. (Thank you John Berendt.)

With that in mind, I sat down to write about today and realized that I had no vignette, brief or otherwise. May 14, 2015 was just like every other day of walking half-asleep through my usual routine. I had no way of differentiating this day from most others.

Ruminating about how to approach this deficit of significance let me to thinking about writing scenes. Conventional wisdom states that each scene has to have a goal. If it doesn’t, how will you know what should happen or when the scene is over? If I’m going to write my day as a vignette, then shouldn’t I identify my goal first?

This question flowed into an examination of how I spent my day, which boiled down to proctoring finals for my high school literature classes. During the other 179 days of the school year, however, I am teaching. In order to plan what to teach, I have to begin by considering my objectives, or goals: What do I want students to learn or master in each particular lesson, and how will I know if my goal was achieved? My thoughts circled back on themselves at this point (a frustratingly common occurrence) to ask again what my goal for the day was.

That’s when I realized that I’ve lived each day mostly goal-less. I have overarching life-goals, of course: to live a peaceful life; to have a happy marriage; to be a good mom, a good writer, a good teacher. But what does that look like on a daily basis? If I don’t have small, micro-goals to achieve each day, then how do I know when I’ve attained my life-goals?

Henry David Thoreau wrote that he wished to live deliberately “and not, when [he] came to die, discover that [he] had not lived” (Walden: Or, Life in the Woods). This has been one of my driving desires since my high school years, but how will I know if I’ve achieved it. I’m beginning to think the answer lies in setting small goals.

What about you? Do you think that setting and keeping track of daily goals is important? Why or why not? If you do, what goals do you aspire to on a regular basis?

Photo Credit: <a href=”″>e1</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(license)</a>

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