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Thursday, July 17, 2008

First Person Essay Finalists

The Wave-inatrix is again happy to note that the Rouge Wave has been inundated with a new wave of - Wavers - who might be, at this moment, confused. This is a screenwriting blog, right? It says so right up in the little red wave icon thingy.

Welcome to the Rouge Wave, new Wavers. This is a screenwriting blog. And the Wave-inatrix holds one truth to be self-evident: writers write. And aspiring or established screenwriters can do themselves no better favor than to not only read excellent writing (did anybody go buy the New Yorker yesterday?!) but to stretch their muscles and write in other mediums. Essays, plays, short fiction, novels - hell - twitter! As the goddess Nike says - Just Do It. Story telling is story telling, regardless of the rules and expectations of the particular medium you are writing in. And this is no less true of a first person essay. Often, a first person essay is mistaken for a jr. high homework assignment. Blah blah blah. Blah blah. No. A good first person essay should take us into a time and place, a world and your experience. It should contain both specificity and universality. It should elicit emotion and revelation. It should move the reader.

The Wave-inatrix was just floored by the quality of the submissions I received. If I ever had a doubt that Wavers were great writers, it was put to bed by this particular Rouge Wave competition. So here are the top three first person essays. Please take the time to read them. They are short - 500 word limit - and they are beautifully written. Read. Enjoy. Vote.


by Tracee Andrea

I was fourteen. And before my family's annual vacation to Cape Cod, my mother and I went shopping for clothes, which included our usual drama. She had ideas about what I should wear. I had mine.

“Youth!” my mother muttered as I held up baggy tops and shorts. “It’s wasted on you kids. You don’t know what you have until you lose it.”

But I knew better. After a lifetime of being taller and wider than my peers, hiding was my best defense. I won most of the battles, but she won some, including “just one” tankini: “See, it’s not even a bikini- you have a whole top!” I figured no one who mattered, like my classmates, would be there, so I let it slide.

Our first morning at Cape Cod, I went straight for a bathing suit. The only one there was the tankini. Reminding myself that no one who mattered was there, and not wanting to stay away from the water, I pulled it on.

We stayed on the beach, so all I had to do was step off the deck. Although I managed to slip on dry pavement, my toes curled into the full, grainy sand, allowing me to amble along. The breeze pressed my t-shirt against me and lifted my ponytail, but it didn’t break my stride. The sun made the dark ripples of water sparkle.

I pulled off my t-shirt and dropped it in the sand, along with my towel. The low whistle didn’t even give me pause as I approached the sea’s edge, where the sand hardened into a wet slab. The water licked my toes and encircled my feet; the thrill of its coldness made my skin prickle with goose bumps.


I glanced back to see Colin- a boy whose family also rented a house on the beach. Although our parents got together for dinner, we had little to say to each other.

“Oh, hey, Colin.”

I edged further into the water for some serious swimming.

“It’s- you- hi.”

This made me pause. What was his problem? As I studied him, Colin’s eyes drifted down lower to my enhanced cleavage. Was he looking at my…

I folded my arms tight.

“See you around.”

And with that, I strode into the sea as fast as I could- which wasn’t very fast because of the water- until I got deep enough to swim.

But Colin waited for me, eyeing me as I splashed up after my swim. And once I was sure he wasn’t joking, he was the one who made my skin prickle with goose bumps when he slid his arm around my waist, standing close enough for me to see how his eyes were as dark as the water, and leaned in to press his warm lips against mine, giving me my first kiss, right there at the water’s edge, with me in my tankini.

by Maria Clara Mattos

I was five. Six? Five. Maybe six. It was Carnaval. For those not acquainted to the word or the feast, that’s when the whole country – the whole country! – stops for four days. Nobody works, everybody drinks and dances and parties on the streets. For someone like me, shy, white as a ghost (and by that I mean transparent with green veins showing in my face), and totally averse to crowds, Carnaval was, is the moment when I think “why was I born here?” The only thing I liked about it was the costumes we typically wear on this date. Ballerinas, my favorite.

Every Carnaval, my parents took me and my brother and sister to this condo in the countryside called Quitandinha. I won’t bother trying to explain this name ‘cause I wouldn’t be able to even in Portuguese, my mother, father and holy spirited language. Anyway, for me, Quitandinha was the dream place. There was an old woman who walked around with her poodle dressed in costumes (typically ballerinas, just like me!) and a seahorse-shaped swimming pool where I not only swam, but also nurtured the secret wish of becoming an oceanographer. Secret because anyone who knew me for five minutes would know I wouldn’t go anywhere further than the sand. But one has the right to pretend being adventurous when under the blue waters of a seahorse.

My nanny, Aparecida (literally, "appeared" in English) accompanied us to take care of me. What she really did was lock herself into the closet to read gossip magazines and threaten me, saying she’d go away if I told my mother. One night, we heard screams coming from the seahorse. We ran outside. A drunk Aparecida appeared (pun intended) from its deep blue waters, her face blurred with lipstick, her wet clothes a reminder to me that she was in fact a woman (she had breasts!). When my mother saw me ogling at Aparecida’s improper and shameless tits, she took me away, promising a new ballerina costume for the big event to come.

It was Carnaval. I was five. Six? Five. Maybe six. And I fell in love. In Quitandinha, there were Carnaval balls. Four of them. One for each day. I, in my new blue ballerina outfit, saw this boy in a Tyrolese costume: tall, well, taller than me, older – maybe even 12 - with Romeo-ish hair and a seriousness in his face that made me see him as a real man. I don’t remember much of him, but I do remember his presence in my five-or-six-year-old life. The next ball I went without a costume. Just white pants, t-shirt and a belt. I was mature, I was in love, I would have breasts someday, I was a woman. Such a woman I was that I approached this boy and took a picture with him. Holding hands. The smile in my face a reflex of the ecstasy in my eyes while kids danced behind me without my notice.

When Dope Was Dope

by Millar Prescott

The din of prepubescent exuberance pealed through the neighborhood signaling to all that the prisoners had been released. No more classes. No more homework. No more Mr. Gemmel. We were indeed truly free.

I broke the world record as I pedaled home that day. How could I not have? My tank was full of highly explosive and lethal super-duper rocket fuel made from a mixture of 2 free tickets to Playland (courtesy of the school board), a stellar report card (recommending a pass from grade 6 to 7), and a massive dollop of anticipation (I was to start my paper route the next day). By the way, that rocket fuel, I'm pretty sure, was the very same super-duper concoction that sent Neil Armstrong to the moon almost two years to the day later; although I suspect he used a different recipe.

Anyway, the night before the newspaper's district manager, Mr Gibson, phoned to say that Phillip Major was moving and his paper route would be available and if I was still interested I could have it but would have to start in two days. Oh my! So soon? One had to be twelve years old in order to deliver papers. I was only eleven but my mother, reluctantly complicit in the deception, gave her blessing. After all, I would be twelve soon enough, it was for a good cause, and I had already sub'd for Brian Simonson on occasion without scrutiny or incident. In the newspaper delivery business the most sought after routes were those consisting of a large number of papers over a few blocks. Phillip Major's route was not one of these. Route 11 was, in fact, the complete opposite. Route 11 by all accounts was the worst in the district. Fifty papers over seven blocks. Simonson's route, by contrast, was ninety papers over three blocks. Route 11 sucked. But, I'd do it.

It was the Summer Of Love. As I carried the headlines door to door, sweet scents of weed and patchouli wafted unrestrained through doors and windows. The songs of the day were the anthems of the generation. Flower power was fueling a revolution. Martin had a dream and Bobby spoke of hope. Fathers and sons and brothers were soon to return. The medium was the message and I was the messenger.

Route 11's fifty papers were a heavy load. That was then. I'm not so sure it would be any lighter today.

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Anonymous said...

"And we hold this truth to be self-evident: The difference between writers who make it in Hollywood, and those who don't, is that those who made it never quit trying."

"And the Wave-inatrix holds one truth to be self-evident: writers write."


Julie Gray said...


Kirkland said...

For all those moaning, "I thought this was a screenwriting blog...?" I say to them, think of the personal essay as the script (script/screenwriting--get it?) for a documentary. And documentaries do get nominations for awards (perhaps you've heard about the Academy awards?). So, shut up, quit moaning, and do something constructive. Like writing, maybe. Every word you write helps you to improve as a screenwriter. Structure, editing, storytelling (even truth is storytelling) are all valuable skills you need as a screenwriter. And the essay, the personal essay, is just another way to tell a story, twist it enough and it becomes fiction and ultimately a screenplay...

So, what am I saying here? Anyway you can write works: essay, fiction stories, a grocery list (think of it as an outline), so just shut up and write.

PJ McIlvaine said...

Amen, Sister Julie!