WRITING LIFE: Over in a Flash by Kristen Paulson-Nguyen

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“Thank you for coming,” I said to the director’s black cat, Loba, the only creature who had showed up for my micro-flash fiction class on Zoom. Loba passed in front of the camera a final time, blocking the writing contest director’s face. I waved to the director, then pressed the red “Leave” button.

Getting ready earlier in the morning, I’d washed my hair and even put on pink lipstick and navy eyeliner. Mascara, undereye concealer. I’d selected patterned hoop earrings to combat the gray clouds outside. At noon, the class start time, the director and I faced each other on Zoom and smiled. Minutes stretched.

“When should we call it?” I said.

“We’ll give it fifteen minutes.”

“Ok.” We waited for other faces to appear. We chatted about our lives, writing and otherwise, until 12:15.

I’d planned to fill the hour between noon and one teaching my first writing class. I’d been a class guest at my daughter’s school for magazine week, in GrubStreet classes, and at Brandeis University. I had prepared prompts and submission tips for my first teaching gig.

Now I felt a mixture of silly, embarrassed, and relieved. How to ground myself in this shaky new territory? It was lunch time. I’d walk my daughter’s bichpoo puppy, Hudson, and get lunch. Hudson, who weighed just ten pounds and had poodle curls, pulled me forward like a husky running the Iditarod. When we reached the corner of Centre and Prince streets, he strained toward the Arnold Arboretum. I pulled him back on to the path I wanted. My writing life was like this. My love of writing pulled me forward, and I followed behind, each step new. I tried to give myself plenty of slack—self-acceptance. I started my literary life at 49, and at 54, I’m thrilled to experience other firsts: first time presenting at a writing conference (HippoCamp, on August 15);  first time submitting a proposal to AWP (June); and first time producing an event for the Boston Book Festival’s Lit Crawl (June). Each first followed a pattern: initial euphoria; terror I’ll fail; anxious anticipation; then relief, excitement, and a burst of confidence when I pull it off.

The opportunity to teach the class had come about when my story won honorable mention in the 2020 Boston in 100 Words contest. The director asked me to appear as part of an online panel to give writing tips to those submitting to the 2021 contest. One of the 2021 judges happened to be a mentor and former teacher of mine. With her support, I proposed three free classes. The director loved the idea. I prepared a plan and promoted the class on social media. As the date of the first class neared, I created a PowerPoint presentation. The director, a former university instructor, and my mentor offered feedback. I revised, as writers do.

After I’d circled the block with Hudson I picked up a chopped salad and went home. I texted my mentor. “Nobody showed up!” I added both laughing and wide-eyed emojis.

“I’m sorry. It’s all part of it. Doesn’t have anything to do with you.”

“Thank you for the reminder.” I added a blowing-a-kiss emoji.

The director and I made plans to step up our promotion of the next class. I felt embarrassed, a bit depressed, but also grateful. I had the support of a mentor; the courage to ask for help; the ability to persevere; and the opportunity to try again. There was something else I was able to do. I went downstairs, where my husband and daughter lounged, and opened my PowerPoint. “Hi everyone,” I said. “Today we’re going to write flash fiction together.”


Kristen Paulson-Nguyen has been the Writing Life Editor at Hippocampus Magazine since 2019. Kristen’s work has appeared in the New York Times, Creative Nonfiction, The Boston Globe, and BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog, among other publications. Her micro-essay “Neighbors” won an award in 2020 from the first Boston in 100 Words contest (Pictured on the left is the contest director, Jane De León Griffin.) She can’t wait to speak at HippoCamp 2021. You can find her on Twitter @kpnwriter.

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