Last week I competed in my eighth or ninth NYCMidnight writing contest. I really enjoy them and have learned a lot over the years writing short stories and screenplays under their timed model. You get a certain number of days to write a certain length piece with provided genre and prompts. It's always a challenge- I've had to write horror and romantic comedy, ghost stories, political satire, and more. This last week was the first round of the BIG event- the short story contest that draws thousands of people from all over the world. We had 8 days to write a 2500 word short story and my my prompts were: Historical Fiction, An Anniversary, and A lawbreaker. I landed on the real-life 16th century Irish pirate queen, Grace O'Malley. I've been wanting to research and write about her since I read about her in the Rebel Girls books with my kids. In her 50s she was imprisoned for...being a pirate and causing troubles for the Crown, and she and Queen Elizabeth 1 met and became political allies. My story suggests that they also became lovers in the night. It was super fun to write but took a lot of time and research for accurate references and language and stuff. I had several friends edit it for me, it was a whole thing.
So on day seven of the contest, I started getting weird, like I do every time, and was obsessively tweaking the piece, drinking coffee, snacking, and pacing around in my skull. My snacks happened to be a giant back of dark chocolate.....which I then left out and my sweet idiot dog ate. Dark chocolate is toxic for dogs at high doses, and this was that. SO, hours before the deadline for the contest, I found myself on the phone with the emergency vet and poison control while at the grocery store getting stuff for dinner. They told me how to make the poor dog puke it up with Hydrogen Peroxide and to DIG AROUND IN THE VOM to make sure there were adequate chunks of chocolate. So, I called Robb to let him know the plan and he said he'd already fed the dog dinner, and I got snappy about how that was a bad idea and now our vom digging would be even worse. He gently reminded me that this whole mess was my fault, so knock off my shitty attitude. I hung up and thought about it for a minute, feeling it out. I was angry....but not at him. I was embarrassed, scared, guilty, worried...but Robb was just the closest target, it wasn't actually about him. So, I texted back, "I'm sorry. When I feel destabilized, sometimes I lash out," and he wrote back 'THERAPY IS WORKING.' When I got home we worked together, calmly, effectively (it was like the chocolate river from Willy Wonka), to action the disgusting business and the dog is fine now having learned no lessons at all. Hopefully I have.
So, THEN, I scrambled to finish up my last minute edits and got it out by 9:20pm. Whew! That was pretty good for me. In years past, I'd turned it in literally at the 11th hour- like moments before midnight. I was feeling like a cocky over-achiever until the submission page told me that I was late as it was now 12:20a.m.
So, it turns out, the previous eight times I've competed in the NYC MIDNIGHT contest, I lived in Michigan, on the same time zone as NYC. So when the deadline of MIDNIGHT came up, we agreed on the same midnight. Here, now where I live....notsamuch. I've had a year to get used to living on PST while the rest of the bloody country seems to be on EST, but, alas, I forgot. NOT like it was in the reminder emails or the contest name (NYC MIDNIGHT) or anything.
BUT I came out of the bedroom laughing. It had still been a really positive experience learning about this cool woman and writing her fictionalized love story. And the likelihood is I won't actually win money from this contest, I just do them for the experience and feedback- which I'll still get, even though my late entry won't be considered for moving on to the next round (turns out idiocy isn't a decent enough excuse). In both cases, I felt dumb and maybe guilty, but I didn't feel shame and self-loathing. That's progress. THERAPY IS WORKING. Then, a few days later, I was circling around in the bumper-cars game that is the Trader Joe's parking lot (WHY IS IT ALWAYS THE WORST?! WHEREVER YOU LIVE, IT'S A TERRIFYING DEATH TRAP) and I could feel my blood pressure rising, and the tightness in my belly, and I almost turned around to just head for home, but instead, I paused and searched the next nearest Trader Joe's, and after my GPS stopped saying, "IT'S 250 FT AWAY, YOU DUMB FUCK," it led me there and I had a much more peaceful, satisfying parking and shopping experience, with only a few minute extra time spent on the task. THERAPY IS WORKING. Historically, I would have either slunk home totally devastated that I was such an anxious doofus that I couldn't even complete the simple task of putting the car somewhere to buy some food, or I would have kept circling the lot until a spot opened up, and, sweating, wedged my car in there whether it fit or not, and been jumpy and panicky during the whole trip, side-eyeing all the zombies who were trying to COVID me and get to the good grapes first. This isn't easy work I'm doing with my therapist. It's been hard, messy, scary- I'm getting into stuff with her I haven't ever really dug into- I'm learning stuff about myself I find baffling and frustrating and scary, and sad. Really sad. But I'm ready, I want to do it. And clearly all of this self-work is self-working, and it's helping me not rage at my family, my computer, other drivers, my dog, myself. I'm talking to myself differently in my head. I don't need to find someone (Robb, always Robb) to blame for everything because I'm not blaming myself constantly- being more gracious and generous with myself makes me more gracious and generous with him, and actually improves my accountability. I can forgive myself for making small errors in judgement when I'm not terrified they're indictments on my person. I can DO something bad without BEING bad. It's a big shift. Anyway. Dog's alive, story is done, I got the good grapes.