Contest #205 shortlist ⭐️

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Fiction Sad

So, you went and said the word you shouldn’t have as a teacher. But that was the whole point of teaching morality and ethics – to educate on discrimination. And you thought since you live further up north, there’s no way the parents and school would react as harshly as they do in Florida, right?

           Well, you were wrong.

           Doesn’t matter if the students agreed with you in class. Doesn’t matter if some of them had revealed privately to you that they were members of the community. Really didn’t matter that you went out of your way to give them articles and videos about people from the community, using their own words, to explain how they’re being discriminated against. That might have made it worse actually.

           And now your ocean is leaking.

           But you’re educated, right? You went to school, you have a teaching degree. But not a degree in English, or math, or history – you know, things public schools want you to have. No more luck in private schools now. Just find a job, a temporary one, just while you go back to school.

           Here’s the thing that no one told you though – each rejection, even from fast food places, tears another hole in your ocean. It’s emptying out fast.

           For years, you worked to fill the ocean up with good grades, getting comments from your college advisors that you’d make a great teacher. Even your classmates chimed in saying you were good! Wave after wave of validation was poured into your ocean, crescendoing in finally getting a teaching job, a tsunami of triumph roaring with your soul. And then each time you knew a lesson went well, the kids laughing, the praise that what you taught mattered, all that just piled onto your ocean, filling it up and shimmering a beautiful shade of navy blue.

           As the twentieth job rejection hits you, your ocean is basically the kiddie section of the local swimming pool.

           It’s all a temporary setback. It’s all a temporary setback. This becomes your mantra, your rope to hang on to sanity with. The summer is over, and you’ve been desperate for any contact with your students.  But the crisp autumn air whispers the harsh truth to you – “you’re an adult; you shouldn’t be seeking validation from children like this.” But it’s still all a temporary setback. Just a temporary setback.

           Your daily ritual isn’t working anymore. Temporary or not, you’ll still never get to say goodbye to the teens you used to teach and laugh with.

           Your ocean is empty.

           You’ve been sitting alone in a dry desert, looking up at the sky for a rain cloud of affirmation, but really, you’re just sitting by yourself in the community college cafeteria, just a few years too old to feel at ease. Look on the bright side though, classes are easy. They can’t throw anything at you that you didn’t already see when you were eighteen and so eager to turn your lake into an ocean.

           But there it is. Amidst the dry sands of rejection, the scorching winds of self-loathing, there’s an oasis. A pond you used to drink from when you were younger. Before you wanted to be a teacher. This water nourished you, comforted you, excited you. And here it is again, only in fleeting quantities of course, but it’s here…

           The creative writing classes at the community college.

           That feeling of being out of place slowly evaporated as you posted week after week, seeing feedback from other eager writers. You couldn’t believe it, but people were actually handing you cups of fresh, cool, lifesaving water with each comment. The challenge of writing something, anything, just a thing with meaning, was daunting, but the thunder clouds above your head were a promise, not a threat.

           The rain was coming to refill your ocean.

           At the end of two semesters, you stood in joyous triumph as your shoes were getting soaked with the rain. Your socks were definitely damp, and even though you hate that feeling in real life, here, in your heart, the sounds of splashing puddles and squelching wet socks make a symphony of ecstasy.

You’ve done it. You didn’t plan on it, but you’ve charted a new course for your life. You’re going to refill your ocean while being a writer.

The community college did run out of creative writing classes though. And you still need to save up some money for grad school, give it another year to accumulate time and savings. But you feel the cool wind in your hair, the feeling of water at your toes. You could still be a writer before grad school. And like many who braved the seas before you, you had a slight arrogance – maybe you could publish stories and make it as an author before you go to grad school for creative writing.

Of course it would be hard! Of course you need to put in the effort! But you know this. You already did so to become a teacher, and you’ve always had the upmost respect for artists. Deep in your heart, before you even first think of using the ocean as a metaphor, you know it won’t get refilled overnight. But the two-inch sea level at your feet drenches you in courage. It’s worth a try…

Why do you write?

It’s obvious, isn’t it? It’s something you enjoy. You’ve been told you crafted great stories. You’ve already won praise and publication within a year. It’s your new dream to keep you going.

Why do you write?

Okay, so you do already feel it. The pain. Writing is something you enjoy in the sense that it feels good to finish a story and be told it’s amazing. But actually writing? It’s kind of painful…

Why do you write?

There's something romantic about switching from being a teacher to a writer, isn’t there? At least you have to convince yourself of this. Before high school inspired you to be a teacher, you did in fact tell your middle school teachers you wanted to write. So it’s like returning to your original dream, right? You were meant to write! At least… you must convince yourself of this everyday you’re not a teacher…

Why do you write?

Fine! You know it’s selfishly all about money, making a living. And yeah, it’s a joke that you chose two of the hardest jobs to make money with. But you’ve tasted that sweet nectar, that beautiful feeling. You used to earn money doing something you love! You can’t settle for less anymore. It is selfish – so many, probably most people, do something they don’t care about to make a living. So why can’t you? Because teaching, even for a year, spoiled you… there’s no going back. Happiness is going to keep evading you until you recapture that feeling of earning money while loving your job.

Why do you write?

Because your ocean is empty again.

As you wait for the next semester of classes, the summer heat is sweltering. Your plan to keep trying to get published is just as hard as you expected. But what you didn’t expect was that the heat would penetrate your skin and reach your soul.

All the praise, all the validation, all the comments you got on your stories, they were all just a few months ago. But that doesn’t matter. Heat couldn’t evaporate an ocean, but it sure can dry up the puddle that you were splashing around in. You’re back to sitting in a desert, wondering how you ever felt so confident you could refill this vast emptiness.

There’s a way. There’s a way alright. Like an addict, you seek out your dealers. Your classmates and professors aren’t available in the summer though, and your friends aren’t exactly going to constantly support your writing via text. That’s too much to ask of anyone. “Hey, can you spare a few hundred gallons of water to make me feel better?” But you need something, just a few drops will do. You crawl online and seek out satisfaction from strangers.

A weekly writing contest. Different prompts each week. Cash prize too. Comments, likes, followers – salvation.

This was it, this was how you’d slowly refill your ocean while waiting to get published elsewhere, while waiting for grad school, while waiting for a book to feature your name on it…

Each like is a cup of water poured out for you. Each comment is a gallon. A follower? A nice inflatable pool amount.

Your desert isn’t empty again as you return to bow down before the computer each week. Each prompt is a mandate. Each story is a ritual. Each submission is a prayer.

Your God is Validation.

What a terrible religion you’ve anchored yourself too – and it’s not the one that fired you from teaching high school either. The sun is constantly beaming down on your ocean, drying it up. Remember how you felt that each “like” was a gallon jug? Well now it’s a flimsy water cup, the kind that you’d stand around the office cooler with, making chitchat with your coworkers. Not that you even know what that feels like.

But water is water. So you return to kneel at the foot of the website. You must complete your ritual, your soul aches for your new God.

And suddenly, you lose something. You didn’t notice at first, but you don’t feel like playing video games anymore. You were also taking art classes in case you wanted to be an art teacher. But now, God forbid you pick up a stylus or a paintbrush. You bought books, didn’t you? You thought they’d help you grow as an author, or at least provide some entertainment. But a mountain of guilt lies on top of each cover. You can’t bring yourself to open any of them.

There’s a gun pointing to the back of your head, commanding that you perform this sacred ritual, this ceremony to call forth the God of Validation, and you must do it every week. Every second that you don’t, your pathetic excuse for an ocean burns away. You aren’t allowed to even want other hobbies, much less enjoy them. How could you when there’s a gun pointing to the back of your head, forcing you to kneel for your new religion.

And you put that gun there.

Why do you write?

Because if you’re going to make a living writing, you need to constantly practice.

Why do you write?

Because you need validation from strangers online.

Why do you write?

Because you’ve forgotten what it’s like to have a God that loves you, or a sense of purpose in life.

Why do you write?

        Because it’s the only way you know how to refill your ocean.

July 05, 2023 01:51

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12 comments

Helen A Smith
11:19 Jul 16, 2023

This achieves a number of things. It’s entertaining, accurate and funny. It does feel like a ritual every week and writing is a form of validation. Great metaphors used here Allan. It does feel like looking for an ocean in a desert or even a cup of praise will do. The idea of writing to make a living is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Also, it’s gut-wrenching if you put your heart and soul into something and it’s not appreciated. Why do we do it? Driven to it, I guess. Great story and well done.

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Allan Bernal
16:52 Jul 16, 2023

Thank you, I'm glad it was relatable!

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Zatoichi Mifune
18:34 Jul 15, 2023

Interested why you didn't label this creative non-fiction, as far as I know, your bio styles up to it (matches up). Congrats on the shortlist, surprised at the little number of reads. Too little time, I suppose? I will follow you and read more of your stories when I have the time. And more water towards your ocean. Great story. I enjoyed reading it, I'm interested by it and I'm going off to think more about it. Peace.

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Allan Bernal
18:59 Jul 15, 2023

Thank you so much! And I did debate labeling it as creative non-fiction, just decided against it in the moment

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Mary Bendickson
15:46 Jul 14, 2023

Here's water towards your ocean Congrats on the shortlist. Good luck with the rest of your writing. Yes, this community has great support.

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Allan Bernal
15:55 Jul 14, 2023

Thank you so much, being shortlisted still means so much to me and so does your support!

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Hannah Lynn
12:53 Dec 31, 2023

Keep writing 😊

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09:00 Sep 05, 2023

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Amanda Lieser
13:20 Aug 08, 2023

Hi Allan, Oh my, do I feel a bit called out! But only in the best sense. You did a wonderful job of putting feelings to paper. I loved the pacing of the story because each time you chose a single line paragraph, it echoed in my heart. This was a great shortlist since it turned the contest on its head and allowed a bit of forced self reflection on all of us since we only get to read the story because of the platform it addresses. Nice job on this one!!

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Philip Ebuluofor
17:50 Jul 18, 2023

I saw myself in it. Congrats.

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Shahzad Ahmad
22:01 Jul 17, 2023

Great writing Allan. You have managed to sum up the writing rationale in all its micro detail. All the travails, the excitement et al have been captured and linked to the context. Really engaging.

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Angela Ginsburg
07:07 Jul 17, 2023

Your MC and I should get coffee. So much to talk about….

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