Are you on tenterhooks? We are! On Tuesday, we announce the winner. Here are excerpts from our last three fabulous finalists: Victoria Hudson
, Wilson Diehl
, and Xian Horn
! Enjoy the long weekend and check back here on Tuesday for the big news.
All my best,
WEEKEND WARRIOR, CITIZEN SOLDIER, BY VICTORIA HUDSON
In her own words:
Weekend Warrior, Citizen Soldier
, written by Army Reserve Lieutenant Colonel Victoria A. Hudson, is a collection of narrative essays that capture snapshots of experience over the author’s thirty plus years in the Army Reserves, including five call ups for active service. Weekend Warrior will be the first book to describe the composite experience of an Army Reservist from a woman’s point of view in peace and war, and will answer the often asked question every war veteran is familiar with, “What was it like?”
One morning, I was walking the half mile from the hooches to the Civil Military Operations Center where my office was. The shortest route took me by the trash pit, a huge football length pit in the ground, about 30 meters directly behind the hooches and across a dirt road. We hated that pit. Every day, generally about the time we were either sitting out front of our steel rooms before work or after a long day, the trash was burned. That produced a noxious fog we were convinced was a toxic, grey cloud that hugged the ground and engulfed us all. Most everyone eventually developed some type of hacking cough that just wouldn’t quit. This particular morning, there was no fire burning, I could see down into the pit. I saw the hunter’s truck with traps on the bed in the back and a few on the ground. About ten feet from it was a soldier kneeling, something in his hands. I stood and watched trying to figure out what was going on a half a football field from me, down in that pit. The air was still, only mildly warm so early in the day, only about a hundred degrees. The sky was deep and cloudless blue. The drone of generators was muffled so there seemed a rare quiet. A deep crack shattered the silence. I jumped at the sound. The soldier reached his arm out and a moment later, another crack echoed. The soldier was killing the animals caught by the hunter. I slowly turned away and resumed my walk up the hill to the office. Tears streaming down my face, I choked on a sob as I shifted the gun at my side. The hunter only caught the cats, an anonymous American soldier had to kill them.
I wondered about that soldier. About what that soldier felt when given the duty assignment to kill cats. How was that listed on the soldier’s duty description, what did the soldier say when calling home and asked, “How was your day?” When that soldier returned home and someone said, “ You’re a hero,” did the stench of the trash pit and blood of kittens come to mind conflicting with requisite and known obligations in war? What nightmares haunt that soldier, I still wonder.
I could not have done that duty. I could not kneel in the dirt, hold an animal firm in my hand with the barrel of a pistol to its head and squeeze the trigger with such deliberateness. Kill, what had not harmed me or mine nor intended to do so.
Once a week I stood guard scanning through my weapon sight for targets infringing upon the security of the camp. On convoy, I was prepared to act with singular purpose to defend my soldiers, protect our lives, and ensure our mission. I was prepared to place a human being, centered in my weapon’s sight, and squeeze the trigger. That was not my primary duty, but would be my duty if conditions called for it. And more than that, I would direct and order others, subordinates, to place their lives in jeopardy, in order to further our mission and defend our position if circumstances so required. I would kill another person if the situation demanded I do so. There is no shoot to wound, no shoot to warn. Point a gun at a person in war one better damn well intend to shoot to kill, or be killed in the process.
NOT QUITE WHAT I EXPECTED, BY WILSON DIEHL
In her own words:
Every night at 1am as I nursed my newborn (and at 3:00 and 5:00 and…), I would stare at my shelf of condescending, soft-focus, Pollyannaish parenting books and think peevishly: why do they all lie? The answer came to me months later, once I was a little less sleep deprived and a little more socialized in the world of parenting: they’re prescriptive, not personal. Jonathan Franzen said at a reading once that we can only write the book we wish someone would write. For me that book is a funny, exquisitely honest account of the first year of marriage and raising a baby—one that would have made me feel less loony as I contemplated the merits of cloth (the environment!) versus disposable (my sanity!) at 3am or of an all-white wedding cake (classic!) versus an almond-specked one (the fiancé likes it!) a mere five months earlier. Not Quite What I Expected
will include pieces on merging a starving-artist-from-Iowa life with that of an emergency-room-doctor-boyfriend-turned-fiancé-turned-husband-from-Los Angeles, the challenges (read: must I go bra shopping again?!) of new motherhood, and other musings of a reader’s mind in a mom’s body.
When I found out I was pregnant my first thought was Yay!
My second was Holy fucking shit!
and my third was I will not be one of those moms who rides in the backseat of the car with her kid.
As much as I wanted to become a mom, I lived in fear of becoming the kind who wedges herself in beside the car seat, reading books in a singsong and offering a rotating assortment of toys and generally being excruciatingly entertaining while the dad sits in front, acting as emotionally distant chauffer and radio hog. I wanted to sit in the front seat, too, taking in the superior view, fighting for radio control, and enjoying not getting carsick. And I wanted to try to raise children who were independent enough to entertain themselves in the back seat without my constant cooing or offering of individually packaged snacks or barf bags.
It was a metaphor, I suppose, for wanting to prioritize my own adult needs and relationships over the inevitable mommy-ness of motherhood.
This aversion to riding in the backseat was in part a reaction against the way they did things in my best friend’s family growing up. Emily’s dad was a Mennonite minister, and his wife’s job—along with sewing lovely quilts and making dime-sized pfeffernusse cookies by the gallon—was apparently to ride in the backseat while her son rode in front. (Janis also seemingly wasn’t allowed to have a job or wear v-neck shirts or carry purses made out of anything but quilted calico, all of which slightly terrified me.) In my family, the front seat was for grown-ups and the backseat was for kids. This was not negotiated or questioned, it just was. Like the fact that grown-ups earned money and kids got allowances, or the fact that my brother and I didn’t have to pay taxes until we were eighteen. In other words, childhood had its privileges, but riding in the front seat wasn’t one of them.
Long before I had a baby or a husband or pressing fears about what kind of mother I might become, I purchased a VW Jetta station wagon. Okay, I didn’t so much purchase it as acquire it as a gift from my parents, whose faith in my abilities to parlay an MFA in creative writing into a stable career and solvency was not mirrored by reality.
All the while, friends teased me for driving such a blatantly “family” car. More sensitive friends lauded my courage at putting my desires for a family so boldly “out there.” When I met my future husband, he likened my station wagon to his four-bedroom house—a clear sign of wanting kids. I didn’t want to believe I was so transparent. I argued with all of them that, no, it wasn’t that I wanted a family so badly, it was just that I wanted to camp under the stars in the back of the car with a cute guy like on the VW commercial.
Then along came the cute, camping-worthy guy of my dreams (a Jewish doctor with a four-bedroom house!), and along came a proposal and a wedding and a baby-on-the-way. Five years after its purchase, my station wagon finally seemed the perfect car for me, if somewhat scuffed up for the fancy neighborhood I acquired in the marriage.
You can imagine my surprise when, nine months pregnant, I learned that my car was not big enough to accommodate an infant and two front seat passengers. For months I’d been researching car seats, trying to find one that was safe, sturdy, lightweight, gender neutral, and not hideously ugly (pink-and-brown daisies, anyone?). I eventually bought the perfect one online, only to discover many months later when I tried to install it that it wouldn’t fit behind either of front seats or even in the middle of the backseat of my car.
 The latter was probably more of a preference than a rule, but for someone who has had a fondness for leather purses since I was five years old, this was beyond my capacity for comprehension.
LATE BLOOMER, BY XIAN HORN
In her own words:
As a woman with much joy and Cerebral Palsy, Late Bloomer
documents my pivotal journey to self-acceptance and assuming deeper residence in my body and spirit. Specifically, my process in overcoming denial, acknowledging and celebrating my feminine body and spirit.
I remember the time before my body. That is, the time when I ignored it completely. My body was an inconvenience, simply an abused vessel for my brain. I dragged my brain around, my brain dragged me.
Most people get acquainted with their bodies before their minds. They fall on their diapers over and over again and somehow learn to move forward.
Backward. Upward. Exploring the feel of tables and chairs. For me, it was the complete opposite: I stayed put and was perfectly content stationary. I was just an extension of my parents, what my mother lovingly called “the greenhouse flower.”
I was a year old before they knew. I just wasn't sitting up, month after monthly check up. For the first few years, I was either pushed (ala stroller) or carried. Carried until I was too darn heavy.
I first noticed it when I was nine. I was running for the elevator when I saw it - through a floor-to-ceiling length mirror in our lobby. My left knee went in. Every time! I was shocked. How did I not know?
Xian Horn first googled Cerebral Palsy at the age of 25.
For some puberty might have been enough, to look at your body, panic, wrangle with the changes, the blood, the hair - and grow up along with it. But, the more it changed the more I ignored it.
My first period came at 15, first kiss 18, and it was only then that I was forced to look. And yet, I was still unwilling. To face my form. My first love loved feet -and I hated mine -so HE never saw them. It didn’t help that everyone in my dorm was nosy: “When are you going to have sex with him?” “Are you going to have sex with him by Christmas?”
At the time, the words were enough to break me. I didn’t have the confidence to ignore it or to tell people to: BUGGER OFF! And then, he was gone. The next year and a half was for me. I started to
paint my toenails and sing. I started to like my feet and my voice –SPEAKING OUT!
As part of my ode-to-self journey, I took a meditation class at Wesleyan. The class was taught by a Shaolin Master named Tony from Brooklyn. Tony said (Brooklyn accent): “You know, we can heal you.” There was no magic healing button, and if there was, I wasn’t interested. So, it wasn’t until my last month of school, when he said: Just try it once, it won’t cost you anything - that I finally agreed.
It wasn’t magic, it was energy work.
And as he touched me, an electrical pulse – the ones you get from fuzzy sweaters in winter or balloons in your hair –went through my body. Master Tony would “heal” me in the morning and make us Vegetarian Lasagna in the afternoon. In no time, I found myself straightening up, lifting my
feet. Paying attention.
It wasn’t that I needed or wanted bodily healing, I never wanted to be like everybody else.
While I did not leave Wesleyan walking in the expected sense, I did leave connected. My body was no longer a fragile greenhouse in which I was obliviously imprisoned. My body was now a temple, one I was very happy to live within.
James Wright wrote: “Suddenly I realize That if I stepped out of my body I would break into blossom.”
For me, the blossoming began when I stepped INTO my body. The moment that I began chipping away the divide between body and mind – and gave love and attention to both.