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 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 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 Salon, Brevity, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, The Normal School, Hobart, The Rumpus, Essay Daily, and Black Warrior Review, among many others. Her third collection of essays, Human Heartbeat Detected, is forthcoming from Red Hen Press. Chelsey received her MFA in Creative Writing from Rainier Writing Workshop. You can read more of her writing at: www.chelseyclammer.com.
Melissa Grunow is the author of I Don’t Belong Here (New Meridian Arts Press, September 2018) and 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 and 2018 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.
Sarah Broussard Weaver
Sarah Broussard Weaver is currently in her second year of the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program at PLU. Her work has appeared in Full Grown People, The Nervous Breakdown, The Bitter Southerner, Brevity, Crack the Spine, and Hippocampus, among others. She lives in the hills of Portland, Oregon.
Melanie Faith is a poet, fictionist, photographer, auntie, and professor. Her craft book about how to write flash fiction and nonfiction, entitled In a Flash! was published in April 2018, and a craft book for poets, Poetry Power, was published in late October 2018 (also by Vine Leaves Press). Her historical poetry collection, This Passing Fever, set in the 1918 influenza epidemic, was published by Future Cycle press in early September 2017. Her Jane-Austen style Regency novella was also published in September 2017 by Uncial Press and RONE-award nominated. Her writing has been nominated for three Pushcart Prizes. Her short stories were recently published in Red Coyote and SunLit Fiction. Her poetry most-recently appeared in Prometheus Dreaming (May 2019), Up North Lit, Meniscus, and in Fredericksburg Literary and Art Review. Her photography recently appeared in Barren Magazine, Fourth & Sycamore, Harbor Review, Sum Journal, and And So Yeah. In 2018, two of her craft books were published, and her next book, Photography for Writers, was recently published by Vine Leaves Press. Learn more about her latest projects at: www.melaniedfaith.com/blog/.
Thanks to WOW Judges:
As always, thank you to the WOW! staff for your careful deliberation and attention to detail. Special thanks to Margo L. Dill, Mary Horner, and Angela Miyuki Mackintosh for helping out with this contest.
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: algae
algae is a recent graduate from Texas A&M University where they wrote a creative thesis about Mexican American experiences in the Rio Grande Valley entitled “Las historias son para ti.” They funded a creative writing scholarship under the same name. This piece, “Bordertown Synopsis,” is an excerpt from that anthology and has specific geographic connections to her hometown, Roma, Texas. algae’s work has been published in The Eckleburg Project and Fudoki Magazine’s online platform. They love grapefruits and can be followed on Twitter @writer_algae.
When the sun goes down, small critters come out to play, feasting on your skin. You either stay at home watching young cousins play video games or go out to your culture’s grand traditional way of a birthday party, swaying to cumbias, corridos, and banda. The streets are always covered in a fine layer of dust and the vehicles behind you are stuck trying to see past your clouds of chaos. A pair of recent graduates die in a car crash caused when they were too high to see past those clouds. The year was 2015 and your sister’s boyfriend knew them. Only those closest to them remember their good qualities; everyone else glorifies some person they never met or bad mouths the long gone for ruining a front lawn, judging their ‘bad decisions,’ not caring that they never had a chance to live.
Your guelita is always eating that pink sugar-coated sweet bread that your tía brings over from the other side of the river because your guelo isn’t here anymore to walk her over the bridge to get some. And because the guilt of his death consumes her, she never stops eating those sweets; her sugar rises, her figure grows plumper, and the disease your mother tried so hard for her not to get has finally won over. All those Easters and Christmases and Halloweens are in the past and you just want everyone to get better.
You pray every night to a saint you don’t really know you believe in so that those monsters in your head won’t ever rot you away. You struggle with your mental health and you can’t tell your favorite cousin in fear they’ll judge you due to cultural beliefs. Depression and anxiety aren’t real, and you just need to grow up.
You can see your old school mates become college students, go on to get their Masters, go on to become parents; they come home for break and have stories to tell. They say that this place never changes, that it never evolves. Yet when they’ve been away for so long they don’t know the little things that have changed over time. It may not be so noticeable to them that our small bordertown is a historic national landmark and that those before us have uplifted us in order to pursue our dreams. We come from a unique background, straddling two borders, two cultural ideologies; slowly becoming Americanized in all the ways our parents vowed never to let us assimilate into a society that belittles our values, our existence.
When you go to drop off your older sister for her first year of college someone calls your traditional breakfast tacos ‘burritos’ with a gringa accent and you can’t help but laugh; then immediately regret. It’s not their fault. They don’t know any better. After all, they weren’t raised by the magical delta. All you can do is pray for those that refer to melted cheese as kay-so. They want so badly to take your traditions, whitewash them, clean of your culture’s impurities.
All the elderly around here respectfully mourn those who pass before their time and you watch them pray for the souls of so many under the shade of trees in their front lawns. The old men sit in highchairs and sleep with an old baseball cap their nephews had bought for them while the wrinkle-faced women tend the weeds and pretty, potted plants. Even then, as you lie under that shade, the sun’s heat waves are burning blisters onto your skin and you want to scream. You want to get out of your clothes, get out of your skin. Even in the winter the heat never stops, and you see social network statuses of some girl you went to college with on a vacation to Hawaii. She can afford it because they have found oil on her father’s land.
You find out over summer break, after your first year of college, that your childhood friend had an abortion and you’re the fourth person to know. You hate yourself for not being able to physically be there for her during her struggle, having to hide it from the world. You can’t let it get to you; you need to be strong for her. You need to remember the trust and love that bonds you. You must never put more value on the harder memories.
Remember the days that you laughed even after you’ve broken their ama’s best chair. Remember the friends that threw a surprise party for your birthday two weeks late, made you climb the roof when they knew you’re scared of heights then watch the sun go down as it shined into your eyes realizing you have to seize the life before you.
Living in this border town is like being under that piercing sun. You want to leave; you need an escape. I’ve been wanting to run ever since I can remember, but the sun is burning the town’s brand onto my back. I will carry these memories and experiences with me. I will always come home. Because I can walk to my front lawn and I can smell the jasmines that my mother took from her childhood home and carried them to my room to reduce my stress levels. I can walk down my street and see the times I sold Girl Scout cookies; Samoas, the ones whose name changed to ‘Caramel Delights.’ I can hear my grandma saying Que Dios te bendiga instead of ‘Goodbye.’ I can feel the maza warm in my hand as I stand around a crowded table making tamales for Christmas. I can taste them, too.
I can go into my room knowing that it’s small and cramped, that maybe it gets too cold for my taste during the winter. But my home soothes the ache and pain of the mistreatment and hardships, struggles and hypocrisy that comes with this town that make Roma the place I would never change.
What algae Won:
2nd Place: Linda Petrucelli
Each year over three hundred million tennis balls are manufactured globally. Very few of those used in America are recycled, which annually results in over one hundred million tennis balls consigned to US landfills. But two, at least, have escaped that fate.
A woman, who suddenly reminds you of Venus Williams, grabs a pair of tennis balls from a canvas bag, balances them on her lap and then takes out a box cutter from the pocket of her teal-colored uniform. Your legs dangle over the side of the bed as you wriggle your toes encased in hospital-issue footies. A searing pain fries your low back beneath the stitches where the neurosurgeon has opened you up and closed you. You wince, distorting your face but discounting the pain. You’ll do anything to get back on your feet.
The uniformed woman tells you take it easy. She has deftly slashed an X in the neon balls and then opens the metal frame of a walker. Your walker. She pushes it toward you. She leans down and sticks the fuzzy yellow orbs onto the walker’s rear legs, a bumper car for the elderly.
In Henry V, his archenemy the Dauphin, sends the king a barrel of tennis balls, implying that Henry was a softy. That gift of tennis balls marks the beginning of the Hundred Years War.
Early in your marriage, you battled your husband on the courts of Duck Creek Park, but you never beat him. Him and his dinks and chips and lazy lobs. You would rather he show a display of force. You would rather slam from the baseline and groan every time your strings met the ball. You would rather crawl down the corridor on your hands and knees, dragging your IV pole like a Roman cross, than use the walker with the big yellow balls. You’re rehabbing after back surgery, damnit, not heading for the nursing home.
Tennis balls are hollow spheres filled with gas. Each one is pressurized so that there’s actually more stress on the inside of the ball than on the outside.
The surgeon flipped on the screen and showed you an MRI of what happened. Just above your tailbone, the silver river of your spine is interrupted by L4 collapsed over L5. Spondylolisthesis Stage lV (the worst). The sorry result of a rogue wave that jackhammered your body the day you knew you should never have gotten into the water, but you went in anyway. You left the doctor’s office convinced you could heal yourself. You didn’t need surgery—so you went to the chiropractor and downed turmeric and fish oil. You stretched your hamstrings and sat on tennis balls to awaken your glutes. But the pain and numbness kept getting worse. And then you weren’t able to walk to the post office. And then you weren’t able to walk.
You called your husband, sobbing into the cell phone to come pick you up. Neither of you spoke on the drive home, and you wished he would just tell you what to do. But he didn’t.
Tennis balls are covered in felt. If tennis balls weren’t fuzzy, they’d zip through the air so quickly that they’d make the sport nearly impossible to play.
You are wobbly on your feet. Venus tells you slow down, take your time. You’ve been given that advice all your life. But it’s your nature to forge ahead. You tip the walker to the right, swish the privacy curtain and take three steps fast. You imagine yourself hurtling over the handles, a child flung over a bike. Until—the rear legs with the optic yellow fuzzballs grip the linoleum under your stockinged feet. Steadied, you stop. Mustering a modicum of dignity, you inch the walker forward, step by step, slower this time, under Venus’ watchful eye.
Since 2015, old balls that have lost their bounce may be placed into reBouncesTM bins to be recycled. These balls will be re-pressurized and given new life to bounce back for another game.
Patience is not a trait you’ve been blessed with. In this instance though, it may help. That’s what you’re thinking the next morning you wake up. No longer tethered to the IV pole, you thrust your feet into your slip-on Keds and head down the corridor, pushing your walker along the polished floor, trying to hold your head high.
After you’ve passed the nurse’s station, you return to your room, flushed from the effort but slightly triumphant. Sitting in the corner is your husband, waiting for you with your food tray. As you glide towards him, he says nice balls, in his soft and slow kind of way.
What Linda Won:
3rd Place: Humsini Acharya
Humsini Acharya is trying to figure it out. She is currently co-founding a senior tech start-up. But, she realized how much her soul needed art and writing after a classic quarter life crisis. This is her first WOW! Contest. She is so glad her existential fueled Google searches led her here, as this whole experience has encouraged her to continue writing and finding her voice. She recently published an article about representation in Rock and Ice, a popular climbing magazine. She is a graduate of the University of Colorado, Boulder, with a B.S. in Engineering Plus - Mechanical Engineering Emphasis and Neuroscience Concentration. You can find her at her blog, on Instagram @hummus_panini, and more generally on hikes, trying to pet as many dogs as possible.
Cultural Angst at a Cultural Exhibit
Don’t you just love it when the past twenty years of repressed biculturalism and internalized racism vomit themselves up in the middle of Free Day at the Denver Art Museum? I sure do.
There was a temporary exhibit, “Linking Trade,” examining the cultural influence of the Silk Road on surrounding regions, with artworks across Asia spanning 2,500 years. Now I could go on for pages about the influences that occurred during the era, the melding of cultures through dialog, cross symbolism, and adaptive art styles.
But most importantly (obviously) it related to me, and had me thinking of history and humanity, art and antiquities, alliteration and appropriation, the typical stuff.
It was personally exciting because Indian culture and history was represented, not as some Apu facsimile or fetishized yoga class (as it so often is in Granola Town, CO), but just...as is. After two decades of museum visits to see renowned portraits of dead old white guys or Euro-centric history, I got to see my culture, how ever disengaged from it I am, represented in a dignified way. It’s very odd to see the history to which you technically belong presented back to you within the lens of the culture you grew up in. It brought a deep sense of irony, both populationally and personally; and I just can’t resist trying to bumble my way through what I think it means.
Museums have this amazing ability to both highlight the eminence of a culture or time, and (through keeping these artifacts of culture or time in hermetically sealed trophy cases) highlight its brevity. I was astonished at the amount of seemingly everyday items that were on display: everything from bowls to knives and teacups. Yes, they all had beautiful craftsmanship, but beyond being pretty to look at, they were deemed important purely because they were old. Kind of like the Queen.
It made me wonder, 3000 years from now what will be on display? (Assuming humanity hasn’t collapsed by that point.) What will be the remnants of our zeitgeist? The dove? The peace symbol? Perhaps the numerous memorials we have to revolutionary leaders? Or maybe just Kim Kardashian’s ass? (Hey, it would make sense, silicone lasts forever.)
Further, why do we enjoy looking at old things in the first place? Simply to learn about history and the people that came before us? Or are we lying to ourselves, and we just do it to seem smarter? Or to connect to some fundamental truth about humanity? About culture?
I think it’s the latter, and there was one artifact that really made me realize that. (Cue back to that whole biculturalism and internalized racism schtick.) This piece, a sandstone statue of the warrior goddess Durga, spoke to me. (If world religion were a comic book, Durga would be Wonder Woman.) Now I’m not religious, I have a very basic knowledge of Hindu-Indian culture and religion from the failed attempts of my parents to put me through the Indian equivalent of Sunday school. Yes, I’ve visited the homeland every four years or so since I was born. I’ve been to temple after temple, berated by the elderly that I have no reverence for my homeland. In fact, I’ve seen statues of the same goddess in temples older than Christ among my people during the holiday that celebrates Durga. And I felt nothing.
But this statue? The statue locked in a glass case while a bunch of white liberals exclaim their fascination while humble bragging about the time they “Eat Pray Love”-ed their way across New Delhi and it, like, totally changed their lives? This is where I suddenly feel a deep and spiritual connectedness to my people?!
Something about seeing this badass warrior goddess, worshipped by millions of people, locked in a box for people to glance at really spoke to me. How often had I felt trapped in a box, while my predominately white town looks at me purely for my surface level “Indianess,” purely to feel more worldly and exotic, but never taking the time to actually read my backstory or placard? Certainly, I doubt the original intent of making this statue was to allow an angsty first generation Indian-America kid to project all her feelings of cultural dichotomy onto this inanimate object, but it happened, nonetheless. The big difference between this statue and the one in the temple was that this one was just like me: out of place.
That’s why I found it so wonderfully frustrating trying to suss out what these pieces mean, in general and to me. Are they art or antiquity? Are they a testament to the stubbornness of human culture to stand the test of time, to remain relevant millennia after your peak of prosperity through the production of art? Or is it a reflection of the fragility of power—that every culture will end up as nothing more than museum pieces one day? Or does it allow us to connect and examine deeply the idea of being part of a culture, part of humanity? Ultimately, to both make and appreciate these antiquities is an art in of itself. It transforms an ancient reverence for the present to a physical history. As, seemingly with every piece of art, this exhibition’s meaning is unique to each consumer.
At the very least, this exhibit prompted at least one angsty yuppie to think beyond the problems of this century: to be amazed at the sheer combination of power and fallacy in the human race and the never-ending complexity of what it means to belong. (All while wondering which knockoffs are available in the gift shop.)
What Humsini 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.
Check out Mari’s award-winning books, Journaling Power: How to Create the Happy, Healthy Life You Want to Live! and Heal Yourself with Journaling Power
“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
“Heal Yourself with Journaling Power is a breath of fresh air in today’s stressful world. The idea that all you need is a pen and paper to change your outlook, create a new life story, or even enhance your health and wellbeing is revolutionary. Author Mari L. McCarthy takes readers on a guided journey to a more fulfilled life through motivational wisdom and journaling exercises. What I appreciate most about this book, as with all of Mari's journaling workbooks, is the individual nature and deep soul connection with the journaling work. Everyone will find their own aha moment as they work their way through the journaling exercises, making this book a deeply personal experience for each reader.” ~ 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:
Pandemic 101 for Dummies by C J Maust, Houston, Texas
Healing by Sam Gill, Toronto, ON, Canada
Sex Education by Nellie English, Barcelona, Spain
How to Cure Mange by Susana Romatz, Eugene, Oregon
Two Cups of Hot Water, Please by Miranda Keller, Puget Sound, Washington
Nobody Said It Was Easy by Melinda Hagenson, Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin
Ghost Hunting in Diablo Valley by Nikki Blake, San Francisco, California
Congratulations to our Essay Contest Honorable Mentions! Your essays stood out and are excellent in every way.
Deceitful Death Certificate by Michelle Dwyer, Cedar Park, Texas
Grievous Injuries by Mary Fairhurst Breen, Toronto, Canada
Sidewalk Worship by Patricia Donovan, Manasquan, New Jersey
Mugwort by Dana Perry, Brooklyn, New York
Notes from My Past and Present to My Daughter’s Future by Courtney Messenbaugh, Lafayette, Colorado
This Quarantine is Brought to You By the Letter S by Joy Givens, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Dancing in Rain Boots by Eve Driver, Wellesley, Massachusetts
Trinity by Kia Carrington-Russell, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia
Twists of Fate by Carley Centen, London, UK
Hands by Anne B. Henry, Mountain Top, Pennsylvania
What the Honorable Mentions Won:
This brings the Q3 2020 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!
Check out the latest Contests: