We had an open topic this season. Our only guidelines were that submissions be nonfiction with a minimum of 200 words, and a maximum of 1,000 words.
Thanks to our Guest Judges:
WOW! was honored to have guest judge author/editor/instructor Chelsey Clammer choose the quarter’s top winners. Thank you, Chelsey, for sharing your time and efforts to make these contestants’ dreams come true!
Chelsey Clammer is the award-winning author of Circadian (Red Hen Press, 2017) and BodyHome (Hopewell Publications, 2015). A Pushcart Prize-nominated essayist, she has been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Normal School, Hobart, The Rumpus, Essay Daily, The Water~Stone Review and Black Warrior Review, among many others. She is the Essays Editor for The Nervous Breakdown and a voluntary reader for Creative Nonfiction magazine. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.
Chelsey is also an instructor for WOW! Women On Writing. Check out her upcoming workshops: Face Your Fears II: Women Writers Anonymous, The Women Writers’ Book Group: Crazy Good Writing, When Life Fissures: Writing About Grief in Fragments, and Humor II: Your Best Defense Against the Hot Mess That Is the Holiday Season.
Melissa Grunow is the author of Realizing River City: A Memoir (Tumbleweed Books, 2016) which won Second Place-Nonfiction in the 2016 Independent Author Network Book of the Year Awards and the Silver Medal in Nonfiction-Memoir from Readers’ Favorite International Book Contest. Her work has appeared in Creative Nonfiction, River Teeth, The Nervous Breakdown, Two Hawks Quarterly, New Plains Review, and Blue Lyra Review, among many others. Her essays have been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net and listed in the Best American Essays 2016 notables. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction with distinction from National University. Visit her website at www.melissagrunow.com or follow her on Twitter @melgrunow.
Melissa teaches the workshop Ashes, Ashes: Writing Personal Narratives About Childhood for WOW! Women On Writing.
Naomi Kimbell grew up in Missoula, Montana, a small city on the Idaho-side of the state. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction from the University of Montana, and her work has appeared in The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Crazyhorse, The Iowa Review, and other literary journals and anthologies. When she’s not writing, she likes to wander through the woods, across hillsides, and visit small towns, taking photographs and shooting video to create impressionistic films with ambient scores. Since receiving her MFA in 2008, she has taught creative nonfiction, developmental, and college writing courses at the University of Montana, and she has facilitated memoir and cross-genre workshops for individuals with developmental disabilities and traumatic brain injury, people with severe and disabling mental illness, children and adults with chronic and terminal illness, and elementary school students. To learn more, view films, and read her work, visit her website at www.naomikimbell.com.
Naomi is also an instructor for WOW! Women On Writing. Check out her upcoming workshops: Music, Truth, and the Towns Inside Us: A Cross-Genre Exploratory Workshop, Tests, Menus, and Other Constraints: Writing Borrowed Form Essays, and Speculative Memoir: Can Untruths Set You Free?.
Sarah Broussard Weaver
Sarah Broussard Weaver is an MFA candidate at the Rainier Writing Workshop. Her work has appeared in Full Grown People, The Nervous Breakdown, The Bitter Southerner, and Hippocampus, among others. She lives in the hills of Portland, Oregon.
Thanks to our in-house WOW Judges:
As always, thank you to the WOW! staff for your careful deliberation and attention to detail. Special thanks to out to Margo L. Dill and Marcia Peterson for helping out with this contest. Excellent job, ladies!
Note to Contestants:
We want to thank each and every one of you for sharing your wonderful essays with our guest judges this season. We know it takes a lot to hit the send button! While we’d love to give every contestant a prize, just for your writing efforts, that wouldn’t be much of a competition. One of the hardest things we do after a contest ends is to confirm that someone didn’t place in the winners’ circle. But, believe it when we say that every one of you is a true winner.
Every writer has been a gracious participant through the whole process, from the beginning of one season to the next. We’ve written emails to authors, agents, and publicists who have donated books to our contest, and we’ve shared our delight regarding the true sportsmanship among our contestants. It doesn’t matter if it’s one writer who placed or another who tried but didn’t; all writers are courteous, professional, and wonderful extensions of WOW! Women On Writing’s team. Writers’ essays and e-mails fill us with enthusiasm.
Kudos to all writers who entered, whether you won or not, you’re still a winner for participating.
To recap our current process, we have a roundtable of 4-7 judges who blindly score equally formatted submissions based on: Subject, Content, Technical, and Overall Impression (Style). That’s the first step of the process. If a contestant scores well on the first round, she receives an e-mail notification that she passed the initial judging phase. The second round judging averages out scores and narrows down the top 20 entries. From this point, our guest judge helps to determine the First, Second, and Third Place Winners, followed by the Runners Up.
As with any contest, judging so many talented writers is not a simple process. With blind judging, all contestants start from the same point, no matter the skill level, experience, or writing credentials. It’s the writer’s essay and voice that shines through, along with the originality, powerful and clear writing, and the writer’s heart.
We’ve enjoyed reading your essays, each and every one of them. The WOW! Women On Writing judges take time to read them all. We recognize names of previous contestants, writers familiar with our style. We enjoy getting to know you through your writing and e-mailing. Remember that each one of you is a champion in our book. We hope that you continue to enter so we can watch you grow as writers and essayists, because each season is a rebirth of opportunity.
Now on to the winners!
Drum roll please....
1st Place: Susan Wadds
Victoria, British Columbia, CANADA
Winner of The Writers’ Union of Canada’s 2016 short prose contest for developing writers, Susan Wadds’ award-winning short fiction and poetry have been featured in literary journals and anthologies, including Room and carte blanche magazines. The first two chapters of her novel, What the Living Do, won Lazuli Literary Group’s writing contest, and was published in Azure’s winter 2017 issue.
A graduate of the Humber School for Writers, Deepam is also certified in the Amherst Writers and Artists (AWA) method of writing workshop facilitation. Annually, she hosts international writing and yoga retreats.
Susan divides her time between Sebright, Ontario and Victoria, British Columbia.
Visit her website at https://deepamwadds.com/writer/, and connect with her on Instagram @deepamwadds.
Once We Were Sad
My lover is like a stone or a rock. But one that if cracked would spill hot and viscous. He holds tight his grief as though he doesn’t trust his spine.
I remember years ago coming back to Paris after driving through Holland, Germany, Macedonia, Greece and Italy with Alex, a man I had once loved but had come to detest. I should have known it wouldn’t go well. Alex curled around his disappointment as if it were a precious stone—disappointed by my hair, my eyeshadow, my shoes. It wasn’t his fault, not really. My transformation over the two years that had separated us—from mountain girl in cotton skirts and corduroy shoes to the urban-heeled sophisticate—coupled with his—buoyant full-lipped adventurer shed for boiled barley and a glass of water—had set us both up. We both saw it. But we took to the road anyway. We made do. We tolerated each other. Barely. And we fucked as if we weren’t fucking. We looked the other way while our bodies performed insertion and spasms, which at another time would be considered pleasurable.
This isn’t what I set out to say. I wanted to point to the way I held in my grief once back in Evelyne’s flat in Paris. Not grief for him. Not yet. No. After fourteen hours up the Adriatic coast, through the Alps and into France in the dark dead of night. Rain, I think. I hurried away from that dirty red Renault and Alex idling on the sidewalk.
It’s important to say here again that it wasn’t entirely his fault. I’d fallen in love. I mean, it wasn’t supposed to happen. But it had. For two and a half years back in my own country, my internal needle had been pointing to Alex, to Amsterdam. But two months before I set sail, this other guy. David. Sailed into view. Better looking than Mick Jagger, but that wasn’t the point—just the hook. In the midst of our sweat and our tears and sliding in and out of each other from pore to pore to pore; in the midst of our soul-binding hunger for one another, David told me not to cancel my trip; that I had to go. He loved the part of me that didn’t need him. If you stay, he said, we will be ordinary.
The deal was. What the deal was. Was. That we would meet for Christmas in Rome. Before I sailed on to Morocco. That was the arrangement. The reason I said yes. The reason I agreed to travel with Alex, a man whose brilliant colors were washing bare. Two years is a long time, after all. I’d go. I’d see Greece.
It’s okay if you take a lover, I’d offered David, choking just a little.
Strips peeled like wallpaper from my skin as the plane lifted. They rolled out in the vapor trails. You could see them from the twenty-third-row window seat.
But now. Then, I mean, when I was back in Paris with Evelyne waiting to leave for Rome. A letter from David arrived in Paris. No money. Can't come. Broke. Sorry.
This is the part where I held the sorrow in the way Alex had held in his disappointment all the way from Amsterdam to Hania to Paris. It was my turn to conceal.
This: Evelyne was kind. But I kept quiet. I wrote letters. I told my grief to my journal. There was more. There’s always more. What I carried back from Greece. What I discarded in Paris. I looked down through the tall windows to the winter bare Rue Daumesnil. I pressed my hands to my belly; my emptied belly. The blood had stopped by then. If it isn’t clear, I will say it now—on account of the fucking that pretended not to be fucking, my belly had required emptying.
But what I’ve wanted to say all along. The thing I’m getting to. About speaking; about letting those who care in. Maybe we don’t believe anyone could love us that much. Or that our pain is rare and precious. What Evelyne said was, You don’t know how to share. I didn’t understand—I’m the one who tears the bread and puts the fat half in your mouth. I prepare linens and oranges and wine for your arrival. I bring red and yellow tulips for your table.
So now. Today. When my lover makes small talk, Did you sleep, dream, eat? and I answer asking after his pulse, the things he carries, or the gash left from his father’s leaving, he says, I’m OK. That’s when I understand. About the bricks and mortar of separation. About silence that isn’t silence.
Then. I could have said, “My heart is breaking.” I might have let Evelyne hold me while I wept. I could have let my rock crack. Trusted my spine.
What Susan Won:
2nd Place: Jackie Pick
Jackie Pick is a former teacher who only recently embraced her true calling as a word monkey. She is a contributing author to both Multiples Illuminated anthologies, as well as Here in the Middle and So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood. Her essays have been in the literary magazines The Sun and Selfish, as well as various online sites including Mamalode, The Herstories Project, and Scary Mommy. Jackie is also co-writer and executive producer of the award-winning short film Fixed Up and a proud member of the 2017 Chicago cast of Listen To Your Mother. A graduate of the University of Chicago and Northwestern, Jackie lives in the Chicago area with her husband and her three children. You can follow Jackie on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, where she mostly just apologizes for not updating her blog.
Every year, the blizzard of holiday activities, holiday shopping, and holiday parenting nibbles away at my holiday cheer. The season’s greatest test of my mettle is the elementary school winter concert. By mid-December, I yearn for quiet and an IV drip filled with eggnog, both of which earn me tongue clicks and impressively raised eyebrows.
This past year, I’d gotten everyone ready and had ten luxurious minutes to dress in something other than my usual straight-from-the-hamper chic, when my twins handed me a note from school dated three weeks earlier:
“FESTIVE CONCERT ATTIRE REQUIRED”
With the resourcefulness of a half-dressed MacGyver, I sprang into action. I found their ill-fitting dark slacks crumpled up in their under-bed ecosystems, then ran to find and use the iron for the first time since Buffy went off the air. Over my shoulder, I yelled, “Please find dark socks, dress shirts, and something resembling a hairstyle.”
When I returned, they were even less ready to show up in public. One son had brushed his hair so as to either brutalize his waves into submission or in homage to Crispin Glover. The other had stuck his head under the faucet to tame his cowlick. They stood there in misbuttoned shirts and black socks. I dropped my plans of pre-concert photos, tossed them their pants, grabbed my own clothes, and hustled everyone into the car.
We arrived one minute before we had to be there. My daughter was crying because she was too young to sing in the concert. My son was crying because he had to sing in the concert. His twin brother was crying because he had icicles in his hair from sticking his wet head out the window on the way to school.
Meanwhile, I tried to look casual as I yanked my skirt out of my underpants, a repercussion of getting dressed in the car.
And there we stood in the vestibule, panting and feral, surrounded by happy concert-goers not hissing at their children to please hold it together.
At 6:30, my husband took my daughter to get seats. I grabbed my boys by the shoulders and steered them toward their classrooms down a hallway reminiscent of the running of the bulls. We weaved our way, trying not to get gored by the PTA, the bake sale, or the tech club. I tossed the boys into classrooms I hoped were theirs, then made the return trip through the gauntlet. Parents offered polite nods as they stiffly ran-walked back to the gym to vie for seats.
A sweaty haze from the eager audience gave the gym all the acoustic and olfactory qualities of a yurt. The thick air made it hard to spot my husband and daughter as did the neighborhood tradition of chair dibs. Here, we save seats with sartorial splendor, strewing scarves and sarongs, boho bags and boyfriend jeans across seat backs, daring anyone to challenge our territorial markings with a need to sit.
I spotted my husband, who’d draped an entire vintage t-shirt collection on a chair for me. I sat down, looked around, and clenched.
Everyone in a three-row radius was nice.
And they wanted to talk. About their concert excitement. About their kids. About their kids’ concert excitement.
My excitement fizzled out many days prior because my kids performed the entire show for me nonstop for weeks. And when not giving sneak previews, they were little information snipers, spraying me with behind-the-scenes data like perfume spritzers at the mall. “Can I interest you in the backstory on ‘Winter Wonderland?’” they asked every time I walked past.
I want to be excited, but I’m tired from parenting. And working. And volunteering. And from tending to their illnesses, which have been nonstop for six weeks. Keeping up, catching up, trying to do it all, and being present—even though being present feels as though I’m emptying out the last of myself.
But, with a closer look around the room, I saw mismatched shoes and under-eye bags and worried glances among spouses. I saw grumpy toddlers squirming on laps and eyes closing for moments longer than a blink, in reverie or reset.
To a person, we were up to our jingle bells in seasonal stress. All of us trying to be in the moment, to remember who we are and what we’re trying to be. Trying to both be seen and, at inopportune moments, not to be noticed.
I softened and inhaled. The room smelled like feet, so I tried again, breathing only through my mouth, and took in everything: my kids entering the room like on a forced march. My kids refusing to open their mouths more than a millimeter when they sang despite belting out these tunes in my face for weeks. At least, that’s what I thought was happening. It was hard to tell, exactly, because I watched the whole thing through the view screens of everyone else’s phones.
I closed my eyes and just listened to the last songs. By the 8th day of Christmas, the kids were four measures behind and also, somehow, four measures ahead.
Maybe it was the youthful enthusiasm, or the treed partridges, or the Spanx chafing my Bûche de Noël, but finally, amid the blessed imperfection, it hit home that this was the vocal equivalent of fingerprints on our walls—a real, messy, sweet measure of a moment.
Then it was over. Before we could gather our children, the teachers announced that at the next concert in the spring, the kids would be playing recorders, which they would be bringing home to practice on.
On our way out I stopped at the tech club table.
Because maybe there was a way that the spring concert could be Skyped.
What Jackie Won:
3rd Place: Joanne Lozar Glenn
Joanne Lozar Glenn is a freelance writer and editor, teaches writing in adult education programs, and leads destination writing retreats. Her books include Memoir Your Way: Tell Your Story Through Writing, Recipes, Quilts, Graphic Novels, and More (co-author, Skyhorse Publishing, 2016); No One Path: Perspectives on Leadership from a Decade of Women in Technology Award Winners (editor-in-chief, Women in Technology, 2009); Applying Evidence-Based Laboratory Medicine: A Step-by-Step Guide (coauthor, AACC Press, 2009); 25 + 1: Communication Strategies for Business Education (co-author, NBEA, 2003); and Mentor Me: A Guide to Being Your Own Best Advocate in the Workplace (NBEA, 2003). Her poems and memoir essays have been published in Ayris, Brevity, Beautiful Things (River Teeth), Peregrine, Under the Gum Tree, and other print and online journals. She is currently working on a book-length memoir.
When his brother Bones dies from a car accident, my father is already sick, his chest coppery from the radiation, his once-thick hair white wisps on a too-pale scalp. All he can say is Why? Sometimes that means “Why Bones?” and sometimes it means “Why me?”
At the wake, a woman hugged him. “God’s will, Bern,” she said. “Everything happens for a reason.”
He sighed, shook his head, turned away.
He retires early from his factory job. His garden lies fallow. His fishing rods collect dust on the pegboard in the basement, where he once got so drunk, so despairing as to throw eggs at the cinderblock walls and a hammer across the room and then end up lying in the bathtub with a clothesline around his neck, threatening to leave it all, my mother, us, everything. Even though he always said he had the best damn wife, the best damn kids in the world.
We are in the kitchen, the hammer incident long past, everyone grown and gone. This time when he stands at the table, leans his hands on the captain’s chair, and asks “Why me?” I, too, have an answer for him, oh yes I do. The words fly out of my mouth faster than I can think them.
What did you expect, smoking all those years?
The sag of his jaw. The droop of his unblinking eyes.
If this were a movie we’d be in flashback: my aunts, gossiping around this same table about my mother’s nervous breakdowns while I chop vegetables and my father delivers my mother to the hospital. Tini gets sick for attention, they said. Their husbands didn’t cook, grocery-shop, diaper-change like their sister’s did. Bern spoils her.
Did they understand their anger? Do I understand mine?
Only this: Sorry isn’t something I know how to say.
Instinct and a vague hope of sitting, maybe talking, with my father, just the two of us, push me to drive, again, the eight hours of highway between us. But it’s a holiday, the official start to summer. Brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins fill the kitchen, claim every lawn chair in the back yard. No time alone, no words to ask for some. Instead I kneel on the floor, pin and hem his new pants. He’s lost so much weight the old ones slide right off his frame.
A dry rage thrums, thrums, thrums inside me. I blame everyone for not getting what I want, for not seeing that I want it, that I should have it. But I must know better, because when I get home, I book a plane ticket for a trip three weeks away, right after grades are due. I vow to find the words I need, the time I want.
I never guess he will pass in his sleep the night before I arrive.
That afternoon I walk endless loops around the block with the sister who dodged the hammer, until my feet swell and blister. In the evening I heat meals for the siblings I could not wrap my arms around that awful night, the mother I always thought of as broken. I stay awake long after everyone goes to bed, use my words in a eulogy I didn’t know I would write, one I doubt will be delivered. Eulogies were for Protestants. I’d never seen them in any Catholic funeral. But somehow we get it into the service.
The west-facing stained glass windows brood in the mid-morning shadow. There behind the pulpit, avoiding the mourners’ eyes, I unfold my notepaper and breathe deep. For myself, for my father, for all the air his lungs can no longer hold. The dimness makes it hard to see. I feel hot, then cold, the paper so shaky that I place it on the lectern and track each word, each line, with my finger until finally, blessedly, my voice steadies, I reach the end, and return to my pew.
Many years and many deaths later, I will come to think of summer as our family’s funeral season instead of the months when, after Sunday Mass, we’d pack up the Buick—cooler, grill, charcoal, lighter fluid, the old green Army blanket—and head to the lake. And I will think about how easily pious or jealous or smart-ass words arise when what we crave is small comfort in a time of great fear.
On my bookshelf I keep a photo of my father taken maybe after my smart-aleck remark, maybe before, when sorry wasn’t something he knew how to say either. He is watering the garden, arcing the hose so the spray falls gently on furrows just beginning to sprout. I remember readying the camera, walking toward him quietly, shutter cocked. I managed to press it down at the exact moment he sensed my presence and in spite of everything turned toward me, smiled. And I remember my mother, so much stronger than we knew. Nursing Bern the whole time he was dying. Never once breaking down.
Maybe there lives in each of us a grace that, if we allow it, upends who we’ve shown ourselves to be. Maybe instead of apologizing or forgiving, we just nod to the people we’ve been, the memories we carry. Some that sparkle like sun on a lake, some as heavy and scratchy as that old green Army blanket we hauled to every summer outing. Over and over again being astonished at its heft and coarseness, and then, now, the relief of finally being able to lay it all down.
What Joanne Won:
THANK YOU TO OUR CONTEST SPONSOR:
It is the sincere desire of our sponsor that each writer will keep her focus and never give up. Mari L. McCarthy has kindly donated a prize to each winning contestant. All of the items in her shop are phenomenal and can help you reach your writing goals. Write on!
Journaling Power Heals The Issues In Your Tissues
As writers, we know the importance of keeping a journal and committing to Morning Pages. Mari L. McCarthy, The Journaling Guru and founder of CreateWriteNow, also knows this firsthand. Over twenty years ago, she was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and lost the feeling and function of the right side of her body. The doctors weren’t helping, and neither were the prescription drugs, so she turned to journaling as a way to heal and recapture her quality of life. Her transformation was nothing short of radical. Over the years, she’s helped thousands of people put pen to paper and transform their lives, too. Her self-paced journaling courses are incredible and will inspire your best writing and best self. Journal every day and the possibilities are limitless.
Visit CreateWriteNow and find out more: www.createwritenow.com.
Congratulations to Mari for winning the COVR Visionary Award for her international best-seller, Journaling Power: How to Create the Happy, Healthy Life You Want to Live!
“If you’ve ever doubted the therapeutic and transformative benefits of journaling, you need to read Mari L. McCarthy’s Journaling Power. A powerful tool for positive change, this book also contains the inspirational journaling exercises and encouragement that Mari is famous for, so you can embark on your own journey of transformation.” ~ Angela Mackintosh, Publisher, WOW! Women On Writing
Thank you, Mari! You continue to inspire.
Congratulations to the runners-up! It was very close, and these essays are excellent in every way.
Click on the titles to read:
Carpet Promises by Diane Reukauf, Alexandria, Virginia
Won’t Ask, Won’t Tell by Adrianne Aron, Berkeley, California
Nostalgia by Lin Wilder, Fort Collins, Colorado
The River by Cheryl Fines, Brandon, Manitoba, CANADA
Imperfectly Matched Socks by Barbara Altamirano, Watertown, Connecticut
My Closet, My Self by Chaya Sara Schreiber, Baltimore, Maryland
You Kept Your Boots So Shiny by Lynda Allison, Bowmanville, Ontario, CANADA
Congratulations to our Essay Contest Honorable Mentions! Your essays stood out and are excellent in every way.
Say Map by Katherine Champney, Manassas, Virginia
56 Hours by Kristin Gallagher, Miami Beach, Florida
Spit by MM Lynch, Toronto, Ontario, CANADA
Golden by Joan Hicks Boone, Burnsville, Minnesota
Flight Path by Kathleen Cain, Arvada, Colorado
Finding My Voice by Christina Hamlett, Pasadena, California
I Am, Therefore I Art by Pepper Hume, Bartlesville, Oklahoma
Have You Ever Felt Sorry for a Therapist? by Aimee Carlson, Granger, Indiana
A Dream for Dylan by Melanie Ormand, Sugar Land, Texas
The Price by Ann Kathryn Kelly, Dover, New Hampshire
What the Honorable Mentions Won:
This brings the Q3 2018 essay contest officially to a close! Although we’re not able to send a special prize to every contestant, we will always give our heartfelt thanks for your participation and contribution, and for your part in making WOW! all that it can be. Each one of you has found the courage to enter, and that is a remarkable accomplishment in itself. We’re looking forward to receiving your entries for our next contest. Best of luck, and write on!
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