Posted in A Cartography of Sin, Nonfiction, writing contests

On Constant Discomfort

This was my entry for the first round of the Yeah Write Super Challenge #3. My group was tasked with writing a personal essay based on the prompt “Discomfort”. This piece got me into the second round.

I can’t swallow. I’m a cornered animal: all quick heartbeat and panting. Most of my consciousness is screaming, “Calm down!” This part of me knows that it’s just a bad dream. That none of what the other part of me is saying is true. But that other part is good at convincing me otherwise.

I wake Kris gently with a soft shake and softer apologies.

“Nightmare?”

“I know I’m being crazy but I need to have this conversation so I can calm down.”

We calmly discuss that no, we definitely didn’t kill someone and carry them around in a garbage bag looking for a place to hide the body. No one has found the body because there isn’t a body. No one is going to find the body because again, there is no body.

No one found it.

No one will find it.

We didn’t kill anyone.

“There’s no way we forgot about killing someone.” It’s almost all statement. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah.” He nods the way he does when I ask if we need milk.

“Okay, me too.” I pretend to fall back asleep.

 

At some point during my development a box labeled, “Everything will make you uncomfortable” was checked. Sounds. Words. Habits. The way people drive. Competing noises. Being touched. Everything sets me off. And for most of my life I thought it was for no good reason. It was in full bloom from my early adolescence until my early twenties, the physical and mental discomfort exhausting. Sometimes I could keep it under control. Usually I would get to a point where I had to walk away. For a long time I just didn’t interact with other people.

It’s part nature: several branches in my family tree ended in suicide. It’s part nurture: when I told my father not to touch me he would answer with “I’ll remember that when you want something.” But I never asked him for anything. Especially not that.

It has a name: OCD. It manifests in ways people would find shocking if I let them see. Because my OCD looks like OCD. It doesn’t look the way it does in listicles and on television. It’s not freaking out if my pens aren’t lined up neatly.

My OCD is avoiding washing myself because I can’t without crying.

It’s an urge to keep used sanitary napkins.

It’s saying, “I’m pretty sure I’m going to be dead a year from now.” And believing it.

But OCD isn’t just obsessions and compulsions. It’s those and at the same time an awareness, and embarrassment, of how crazy the obsessions and compulsions are. OCD is a tiresome, unending battle between the part of my brain that is crazy and the part that is not.

It’s forcing my soap slicked hand between my legs, after the tears, laughing and asking myself, “Dude. Do you really want to walk around with a stinky vag?”

It’s feeling panicky at the idea of throwing away a used pad while realizing that I’m this close to becoming a hoarder. That shame is unbearable.

It’s thinking I’ve murdered someone while being mortified that I could believe I have the capacity to kill. And it’s having to remind myself that even if I am dead this time next year there’s no way of knowing it right now.

 

 

When I was nearing my mid-thirties I had to get a physical. A male nurse took my vitals. The two parts of my brain fought between being completely distressed and recognizing that I was safe. That my overreaction to someone not even touching me was ridiculous. By the time the female doctor came in I was climbing the walls. She looked at me, signed the forms, and left the room. She came back, handed me a card, and said, “You’re in crisis. I’ve made you an appointment. They’re waiting now.”

At the mental health facility I spilled secrets like marbles. I experienced every emotion: a dizzying cyclone of disclosure. A psychiatrist took notes, had me answer unending questions, and gave her initial diagnosis: OCD. PTSD. GAD.

The acronyms made me laugh. I didn’t wash my hands twenty times a day and had never fought in a war. I was just nervous. And for some reason I was having lots of really bad panic attacks lately. Also, could she chill with all the D’s? I didn’t have any disorders. And I was not going to take meds. There was nothing wrong with me.

She scrawled a prescription onto a pad and handed me a set of instructions. “It will get worse now that you’ve disclosed. You’ve opened up a part of your brain that you’ve been using a lot of energy to keep closed. You’re going to need help dealing with this.”

I noticed she was careful not to touch me. That was what allowed me to trust her.

Posted in writing, writing contests

Final Contest Update of 2016

The results of the first Fiction War (The Great Flash Fiction War?) were due to come out today. I was excited. The prompt, “I can’t leave her, she’s already gone.” took me down a new path: time travel. And let me say, I absolutely love the piece I developed. With FW taking the top 15 people, I also thought I had a really good shot because that’s been my sweet spot in NYCMidnight.

Kris is off until Thursday so we walked the dogs and then decided to grab lunch. On the way I looked at the site and a list of titles were up. And mine wasn’t there. And yes, I’m bummed. And I did that thing I do where I set a time limit on my sulking. In this case it was about 1:15. I gave myself until 3 pm which is a little longer than I usually allow this type of indulgence.

But today’s a little different.

Today marks the final chance for getting published in 2016. And so today’s rejection was a little more sobering. And felt a little more final.

That said, here’s what I can take away from the last few months…

  1. In the past I rarely entered contests. In the span of the last few months I’ve entered three.  I didn’t have time to devote to it while working at MEA. I didn’t have time to devote to much while working at MEA. But especially not to writing. Not the type of writing you have to do in contests.
  2. When I last did NYC Midnight I earned 0 points.  This fall I earned 15 points in the first two rounds: enough to pass the first elimination but for that darned tiebreaker. There is a huge difference between earning squat and coming in the top five after two rounds.
  3. I’d never heard of Yeah Write before a few months ago. Now I’m a bit of a lurker. Eventually I’ll put stuff on the grids regularly but for now I’m meeting other writers, critiquing and chatting. Checking out other people’s stuff on the grids. I made it past the first round of their inaugural fiction contest.
  4. Since October I have written 4 solid pieces of flash fiction. Historical fiction/suspense, romantic comedy, contemporary speculative, contemporary sci-fi. All four of these could be cleaned up and submitted for publication now that they have been knocked out of contests.

I’m not at the point of wanting to throw in the towel but I’m definitely licking my wounds a little. At the end of the day, though, I’m celebrating the four things above as well as meeting some new people and recommitting to my craft. I’ve written more in the last few months than I have in years and while it’s not daily and I’d like to do it more, I’m definitely back at it. And that is good. Something will come out of it.

So… with no wins and contests over until January what’s my plan? There are a few journals and magazines that have caught my eye so I’ll be on Duotrope, finalizing, and submitting. There’s still December. And there’s 2017 for a fresh new set of contests.

Posted in writing, writing contests

Contest Updates

Taking a break from Wednesday, which is always the craziest day of my week, to update on my progress in two writing contests.  I’m going to go pretty deep here.

NYCMidnight

I’ve done this contest before and gotten 0 points.  0 points in round 1, 0 points in round 2.  Hell, there have been times that I didn’t even bother entering round 2 because I was so dismayed I didn’t get any points.

Let me tell you this truth: when you are a good writer and you don’t even get one little point it stings like hell.  Especially when what you wrote was good.  Writing, in general, is a painful passion.  So much of your brilliance has to be edited to death in order to shine, ideas you have fall flat to others despite being so vibrant in your mind’s eye, rejections are de rigeur, contests are fleeting snatches at hope that usually leave you empty-handed.  And, on top of that: no one but other writers understands that.  No one really gets just how hard it is to do this.  And people view it as a hobby.  Which it isn’t.  The amount of time it requires goes far beyond anything a sane person would devote to anything this thankless.

That said, I had an epiphany a while back that a.) I wasn’t writing and b.) if I wanted to be a writer I’d have to write and c.) I wasn’t writing.  So I put myself back in the game.

Round 1 of NYCMidnight yielded me a fantastic 12 points.  Fourth place.  Last night I knew the results were coming out for round 2.  And I knew I had a decent shot.  The round 1 and 2 combined scores, if in the top five in your group, move you beyond the first cut.  I noticed my name near the top of my group, but not in one of the five coveted yellow spots.  I also noticed that my score was the same as the person in fifth.  I didn’t win the tiebreaker.

My round 2 submission (RomCom/nuclear power plant/jar of honey) earned 2 points.  So of the top 15 writers I came in 14th.  And you know what? I’m okay with that.

But it’s okay that other people are not okay today.  There have been tears and anger and a lot of emotion — and I think that is a testament to just how painful a passion writing is.

This round of contests has been pretty eye-opening for me.  I am returning to my more chill self of yore and while I have never been one to settle for being just okay, I got through two rounds getting points each time and were it not for the tiebreaker, I could have moved on.  Who knows, somewhere in the multiverse a version of me probably did.

And so I am out of NYCMidnight after ranking in the top 15 both of the first 2 rounds and 5th overall in the first two rounds.  Am I a little bummed?  Sure — I would have loved to move up.  But I am learning that this is progress.  I’m doing what I love.  And I’m getting better.  And I have met some really amazing writers doing it, some of whom are moving on and others, like me, who are collecting their thoughts today.

Yeah Write Super Challenge 2

First, I would like to formally apologize to the judges for exposing them to my round 2 submission.  It was terrible.  Every bit of feedback y’all provided at midnight was spot on.  My favorite being: Fiction requires tension.  Because, well, that’s fiction 101.  I probably should have bowed out gracefully.  The prompt freaked me out the moment it came onto the screen and no matter what, I couldn’t come up with anything.  A friend posited a really creative take but I failed at incorporating it (two judges agree with me on this. And yes, variations of the word “fail” were common).

I still checked at noon and no, I did not make the cut.  But again: I’m okay with that.  Probably because I knew there was no way in hell I was going to.

And while I’m not at all surprised, that doesn’t mean I’m ambivalent.  That doesn’t mean I’m tossing my hands up and saying, “That prompt was stupid!”.  Because it wasn’t.  I just could not wrap my head around how to do it right.  But I still wrote a story and edited the shit out of it in an attempt to make something that accomplished the goals of incorporating the two parts of the prompt in such a way that they were essential to the overall story.

Here’s what I took away from Yeah Write:

  1. I loved the feedback, as tough as it was.  There wasn’t any tension.  I didn’t show how I was incorporating one of the prompts at all, and the other could’ve been better.
  2. Having a community of writers is incredible — I  loved providing and receiving feedback from many talented writers.
  3. YeahWrite is a great place and you should totally check it out.

That said…

When’s the next one?

What Next?

My final 2016 goal is to start submitting.

Contests provided validation and toughened me up.  I’m ready.

In closing: huge shout out to the folks at NYCMidnight, YeahWrite and Fiction War for making these contests possible.  And also to the amazing writers I’ve stumbled upon who have allowed me to read their submissions at a time when writers feel most vulnerable.

And to those who are feeling defeated and like throwing up their hands: it’s okay to feel that way.  It’s brutal.  I feel the way I do because of where I am in my journey and the experiences that have brought me to this moment.  You feel the way you do because of where you are in yours and your set of experiences.  Neither of us is right.  And we may never feel the way the other does.  But we did it, and we learned, and now we wait for the next contest and do it all again.