(Continued from previous post)
I was disappointed when I didn’t win a slot in the newspaper’s first Columnist for a Day contest. However, the following June, The Powers That Be repeated the contest, and I thought I’d give it another try.
I knew I had to do better at choosing a topic and title that would stand out among the other entries. After looking over some essays and articles that I had written for classes in nonfiction, I decided to revise a humorous essay. I thought the original version was a little wild, so I decided to tone it down. But I kept the title, “Confessions of a Household Failure.” I figured any title that included the word confessions would get the judges attention.
I wrote, revised, edited, and agonized over my entry. Finally, through some miracle, I typed the final copy and submitted it days before the deadline.
I was at work at the University of Arizona when the receptionist transferred a call to me. The caller identified himself as Mr. J and announced, “You’re a winner.” After he filled me in on the details, I hung up thinking, Wow, all those writing classes really were worth it.
The next day, Mr. J picked me up at work and drove me to the newspaper office where a photographer took the picture that would be included with my column. Several days later, another newspaper employee dropped off a page proof with the edits to my essay. I was happy that the editor had made only two or three very minor changes to the text. However, I was a bit disappointed to see that the title had been changed to “Cleaning up Her Act Has Been an Untidy Task.”
When my guest column was published, I took an unscheduled break from work and went to the nearest Circle K. I bought three newspapers. That evening, I cut my column out of each paper, went to a copy shop, and made lots of photocopies. I gave a copy of the column to anyone who seemed even remotely interested in reading it.
I got a lot of positive comments about the column. I never heard any negative ones, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t any. And If I were writing that essay today, I would change one sentence.
I wrote about what a slacker I had been when it came to helping my mother around the house. As a toddler, I had freaked out every time Mom turned on the vacuum cleaner. I think that was the reason why my parents put off requiring me to help out around the house. Then again, whenever I tried to help, I usually ended up destroying something.
As a pre-adolescent, my only required chores were to help Mom clean up in the kitchen after dinner and to keep my bedroom semi-neat. However, when I turned into a teenager, my parents decided that it was time for me to begin helping out with other household tasks.
I did help Mom with the housework. Sometimes. When I couldn’t disappear fast enough. But the quality of my help wasn’t up to her standards. She complained that I never vacuumed the entire living room and that I always dusted around knickknacks and doilies. (Yeah, I didn’t and I did.)
And I always avoided “decluttering” my bedroom until Mom threatened to ground me forever.
After I moved past adolescence, I decided that it might be a good idea to get serious about housekeeping. I suspected that basic domestic skills like vacuuming and dusting would come in handy when I moved into a place of my own and couldn’t afford a maid.
The first thing I did was sort through all the stuff in my bedroom and decide what I wanted to get rid of. Near the end of the essay I wrote: “I divided everything in two piles. The pile I wanted to keep was twice as high as the pile I wanted to throw out. ‘That’s it,’ I shouted. ‘There are only two ways to be rid of this mess—torch it or move.’”
Oh, heck, I was just trying to be funny. You know—exaggeration. It’s a device used in writing humor. I hope no one really believed that I would set my bedroom on fire, but you never know. Today I’m sure that I would get a lot of negative comments about that statement. And maybe a phone call from the fire marshall’s office.
I want to include that essay as part of my online portfolio. So I’m changing the ending to I either had to have a yard sale or move. More conventional and less shocking, but also less, um, dramatic and more boring.
And yes, I can include it. It’s my essay, after all. I got a nice certificate for writing the column, but I wasn’t paid. And Mr. J verified that I was free to submit my winning entry to a paying market.
In fact, a few months after the essay was published, I submitted it to Woman’s World as a reprint. I never heard from the magazine; I guess the editor didn’t think my essay was funny. Then again, Woman’s World canned its humor column about three or four months after I submitted the piece.