‘Both of Helen’s feet bled steadily as she walked. She fought to ignore the blisters making a nasty soup of blood and puss in the heel of each of her merino wool socks. It was nine a.m. With each passing hour she lost a little more of her will to continue. She held on to the memory of her ex-husband’s laughter at the folly she displayed in thinking she could make this journey. She carried her daughter Meagan’s doubt, freely given when she had told her of her goal. Their lack of support was perhaps the only thing left to propel Helen forward to Santiago.’
So begins the short story that fully and completely consumed me for one hour back on March 20th when I first noticed the quickly approaching deadline for the Writers’ Community of Simcoe County‘s Word by Word Short Fiction Contest. I had mulled it over in my mind that I wanted to enter the contest, but never actually got around to writing anything for it.
The Camino de Santiago had been at the top of my mind for some time. The anniversary of my walk to Santiago de Compostela was quickly approaching (May, 2014), and I was fondly remembering the journey and watching the movie The Way (Starring Martin Sheen with cameos from the director, and his son, Emilio Estevez). I was reliving my Camino and it was looking for a creative way out.
You know when you just KNOW? The story consumed me like a fire. I may have tweeted something about a 63 year-old woman possessing my body to the #5amwritersclub crew. It was true. Helen had entered me and proceeded to furiously tell her Camino story to me. I love it when creativity of that magnitude takes hold and doesn’t let go until the end.
What I just KNEW was that I had a winner on my hands. I don’t say that to brag or to suggest that my writing is great, or even good. I say it because sometimes when you write, the honesty’s too much–oops, musical interlude. Sometimes when you write, you just know that you’re writing something honest and from the heart and meaningful.
When the hour was done and I had a short story in front of me–something to submit to the contest–I sat still for a minute. I needed a rest, I needed for that powerful 63 year-old woman to leave my suddenly exhausted body. I needed recoup time for the creativity exorcism of her departure.
And then, after she left my body, I read the story. AS MYSELF. And, you know when BRIAN, the geek from The Breakfast Club, looks over his essay and knows for certain that he has said exactly what it is he wanted to say? For me, it might be the pivotal moment of the entire movie. He reads over his work, and then he gives himself a little WAY-TO-GO tap on the arm. “YOU DID IT!”
That’s how I felt when I read HELEN FINDS HER WAY TO AFTER, the short story I wrote for the contest.
And then I submitted it. And then, in the beginning, I fully believed it would somehow make the shortlist for the contest. I felt so great about it. Helen’s story was honest and true and difficult and wonderful. Her ‘saviour’ was a simple man who had become a little bit cosmic while spending far too much time on the Camino as a way of escaping the pain of the death of his spouse. He gently talked Helen through her last few miles to the cathedral when she thought she might not be able to walk another step. It resonated with me. I felt it might resonate with others.
As the weeks passed, of course, I convinced myself that there was no way in hell the story would make the shortlist. It meant something to me only because the Camino means so much to me. But something in the back of my mind wouldn’t let me give up on this story. The fire with which it was delivered kept burning brightly. It kept saying, “You got this. YOU DID IT!”
Come what may, I would be proud of the story. Not because of its words, but because of the way I had connected to my creative side while I wrote them. Only once in a blue moon that kind of ferocity takes over while you’re writing. You don’t recognize it while you’re IN IT, because you become not a writer but the act of writing itself. It’s when you finish that you realize magic took place. Because it’s when you finish that you come back into your body with a soft landing and realize the other you had taken over. The one that has no connections to the work-a-day life you live. The one that is connected only with creativity. You tapped into the flow so fully and completely, that you left yourself behind.
Camino de Santiago, Spain. 2014.
Some pictures from my own Camino journey ~ the most inspiring journey I’ve ever been on!
And then the shortlist was announced. I read it over two, three times. Because something told me my name would be on it. Not for my sake, but for Helen’s sake. Something told me she would make it past the finish line and carry me on her back.
Alas, my name was not on the list. And neither was Helen’s. The story that consumed me for an hour and caused me to leave myself behind had only, after all, meant something to me (and maybe to Helen, who now felt like an actual living breathing woman).
I deflated back to the ground and told myself, “See. Of course it wasn’t good enough. You have to get over this Camino obsession.”
And then another contest deadline came into my radar and I thought, ‘maybe if I just rewrite this story, or write a different Camino story, it will win the next contest. Or the next.’
So I sat down and began to write another Camino story.
And then I received an email.
Congratulations on making the shortlist in the Writers Community of Simcoe County’s Word by Word contest. It was a very competitive competition this year and we are thrilled to be able to offer you a place in our final five stories.
This was one of those times when I secretly thought that the universe had somehow gotten something wrong. As much as I am a total pessimist when it comes to my writing, I honestly and sincerely thought Helen should have made the list. And then that email came. It was a magical second life in the contest. I had made the shortlist because one of the original Top 5 was disqualified (it had been published elsewhere as the result of another contest).
I thought, ‘okay, I’ll take it.’ But surely that was as far as it was going to go, right? I was honoured to know now that it had made #6 in the competition. It meant that Helen actually did touch people. I could take that #6 and be happy.
Yesterday, it was announced that the contest’s final round judge, Carly Watters (Senior Agent for PS Literary), chose my short story as the 3rd Place Winner from the Top 5 stories.
You know when you just KNOW?
I am beyond thrilled with this win. Not because I won a prize. Not because it’s proof that I’m doing something right. Not because it’s a celebration of my writing. It’s for none of these things. I’m thrilled because that day back in March when Helen came into my life and furiously told her story I wanted so badly for her to be rewarded for her efforts. Sometimes creativity hits you like a truck and your job is to just keep up with it…just allow it to run its course. Helen was real for that hour…because I allowed her to be. She won this honour, not me. This win was all Helen’s doing. Thank you, Writers’ Community of Simcoe County, for giving me a reason to explore the Camino and creativity in the same breath. Thank you, Carly Watters, for seeing something in my story worthy of Top 3 placement. Thank you, Helen, for visiting me on that day when I had no inspiration and a quickly approaching deadline. And thank you, my Camino, for breathing life into Helen and allowing me to get out of the way and tell her story.
I am filled with gratitude.