Whatever could I possibly be so excited about?
Well, the NYCMidnight Short Story Challenge, of course!!
And now, for some history. This is going to wander. I apologize in advance, but I’m having a seriously awesome moment of clarity, and I’d like to share with you the twisted and crazy path that got me from where-I-was to where-I-am. For the record, my right now is pretty fucking awesome, and the NYCMidnight contests play a part. So stick with me.
This morning, I read some blog posts from my old, defunct blog Tales of Creative Recovery. Reading over the linked post, I hardly recognize myself. That was only four years ago. Was I really that insecure? Damn…
The truth is, back then, I’d given up on writing fiction. It wasn’t that I didn’t have ideas… it wasn’t that I lacked the time (well, any more than I do now)…
Back then, I felt storm-beaten and time-worn. At that point in my life, I was exhausted on every level. I’d completely lost touch with myself.
That little blog containing all of 13 posts became a catalyst. It pushed me back into writing for myself. Blogging and writing had become a task of telling friends-and-family about the kids. Tales of Creative Recovery reminded me that my own life’s journey is both valid and important.
When you become a parent, you lose your identity almost immediately. During labor and delivery, the doctors and nurses give you encouragement and support, and they call you by name. The second the baby is born, they suddenly start calling you “Mom.”
And it doesn’t stop.
Pediatricians, teachers, your children’s friends… I ceased being Shanan and became “Mom.” It hit me one day when my daughter was in preschool. I was at an awards ceremony, and a little girl came up to me and said, “Amber’s Mom? Can you help me tie my shoe?”
Ayup… that’s me. “Amber’s Mom.” “Matthew’s Mom.”
My blogs started reflecting my new place in the world. Everything became “about the child.” Pictures of art projects, proof that I was “the best parent in the world” because we made paper snowflakes and coated the kitchen with glitter. Report cards. Photo after photo after photo of smiling faces, smudged with dirt.
All of my personal writing time became devoted to putting on this show.
And then one day, a good friend came right on out and said: “It seems like you’re trying really hard to show that life is perfect. What’s wrong?”
Nail. Head. WHAM!
The more I put out to the world about how perfect my life was, the less personal strength I felt. As I kept up appearances, my soul shrank and my personal writing diminished and ultimately vanished. My creativity ran dry. Even my passion for doing things with and for my kids faltered.
The year 2012 turned it all around. I’d stopped blogging my children’s lives, and instead, wrote about my own passions. When I looked inside, I found them easily. They were there on the shelf where I’d left them. Dusty, to be sure, but ready for use.
When I took up the keyboard and wrote those 13 posts on my Creative Recovery blog, I remembered who I was. I also realized the horrible example I was setting for my children. I’d lived like I didn’t matter to myself.
I started writing again. I joined a local writer’s group. I made time for me and for the things that matter personally.
It still took some time… In 2014, a friend encouraged me to enter the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest. I can’t tell you just how much courage it took to press “Accept” on the entry form. When I got my first prompt, I was terrified. The contest runs over the course of 4 weekends, spread over 5 months. In 48 hour windows, contestants write 1000 words or less based on a prompt. That time commitment… saying, “I will devote an entire weekend to writing something that isn’t required by my job or a client. I will do this solely for myself.”
Enter Mommy Guilt, stage left.
But I did it. I wrote the thing. I took it to my critique group. And then I scored points!! And the other writers on the contest forum enjoyed it! And I advanced to round three!
The kindling that smoldered from my year of creative recovery blazed to life, and each subsequent round of the contest catapulted me further into the realization that writing is my life’s work. My purpose. Me-at-my-authentic-core.
The rest, they say, is history. Since that first NYCMidnight contest, I’ve written and published my first novel. I’m half-way done with the sequel. I have a couple other projects in the works. I regularly blog for a few different sites. And now, as of yesterday, I’ve been offered a full-time writer/editor position with a company.
How, you ask, does this affect my children?
Well… I’m happy. There’s less stress in our home. I engage with them, and I not only encourage them to follow their passions and dreams, but now I lead by example. We spend time doing fun things as a family. I look over their homework, and we talk and talk and talk. They are proud of my accomplishments, and they tell their teachers and friends all about my publishing success. I’m proud of their accomplishments, but I don’t try to wear them as my own. I spend less time snapping pictures, and more time living within the same frame as them.
I really have a soft spot for the NYCMidnight contests… each time one comes around (twice per year for me… Flash Fiction and Short Story), participating reminds me of just how far I’ve come. I look back to when I felt like I had to recover my creativity to now — when I feel strong enough to pull the ears off a gundark.
So yes, I’m excited! This weekend, I get to start another round of NYCMidnight. I have no idea what my prompt will be. (Please, NO MORE GHOST STORIES!) I’ll celebrate it like the spiritual practice it’s become for me. I’ll let it carry me forward yet again. Who knows what will fall out of my brain this time… but whatever it is, it’ll be another reminder that I’m living the life that I love, because I’m totally worth it.
Do you feel like you’ve lost some of your identity because of parenting, or because of the job you’re in, or for any other reason? What personal passions are collecting dust on the shelves of your life? Comment below and let’s talk about breaking your cycles!!