There I was, typing out a story on a manual typewriter in response to the prompt “I started to sell my positive pregnancy tests” when someone tied a bib around my neck and began to feed me chocolate pudding, at first by spoon, and later via a pudding-covered finger.
Did I mention that the typewriter sat in the middle of a railroad track, and my fellow “Write Fight” competitor sat across from me typing away (and being fed pudding) as well?
Revolver had promised to distract us from our task – a single elimination writing tournament on the banks of the Mississippi. Write Fight was one of many artistic events in this year’s Northern Spark, an all night arts festival modeled after the French Nuit Blanche (literally ‘white night”). This year the festival took place almost entirely within the newly renovated St. Paul Union Depot complex.
The distractions for the rounds prior to ours seemed like nothing – whirling dancers accompanied by didgeridoo; middle-aged women leading sing-alongs of “Happy Birthday” and other familiar songs; audience members whispering suggestions into the writers’ ears. As the mother of three children, the wife of a drummer, and a career marketing writing gal, I’d managed to write several novels undeterred by the chaos of everyday life.
Things change when someone shoves a fingerful of pudding in your mouth. It was not so much the pudding, but the fact that the pudding pusher’s hand covered my view of my typewriter. Somehow I managed to keep up with my story of a hapless self-employed woman who sells pregnancy tests at home parties (demonstrating how they can be turned into Christmas ornaments and jewelry). My writing went down hill when my pudding pusher dripped a glob of chocolate pudding on my ‘a’ key.
Such a common letter as ‘a’ is very useful in writing, but when one’s dominant pinkie is hitting the other side of the keyboard, writing becomes tricky. At first the ‘a’ key was slippery. Then when enough pudding dripped down into the typewriter case, my left pinkie began to stick to the ‘a’ key. Enough pudding also splashed its way over to the ‘s’ key, and soon enough, the ‘s’ key became unusable as well.
I managed to conclude my story. My protagonist gave up trying to sell her positive pregnancy tests and instead rediscovered her childhood talent for juggling. She was able to juggle 10 tests at once, and began to light them on fire, eventually auditioning for and winning “America’s Got Talent.”
FINALLY time was called, and my competitor, a heavily bearded man who appeared to have survived the pudding feedings without a single drop of chocolate on his beard, read his story first. I went second and heard many laughs and loud applause, even though I had to practically make up half my story because my paper had been stained with pudding drips and, of course, was missing so many a’s and s’s.
The contest was decided by audience response, and after an initial survey, we were tied. For a moment I still wanted to win. Then I remembered I really wanted an exit. I had brought along three teenagers, one of who had to work the next morning at 8 a.m. If I won my round, I might be competing until well after 1 a.m. Thankfully, my opponent was judged to be the winner after a second round of applause.
I heard about the distractions planned for the semi-final and final rounds – but it seemed nothing compared to what we had just gone through. It occurred to me later what I go through to promote my writing sometimes feels a lot like forced pudding feedings on a railroad track: awkward, public humiliations one willingly accepts to further the writing career.
Well. In the end it makes a funny story and I got a blog post out of the deal. And now that I’ve washed all the pudding out of my clothes, I know I can survive anything.