Congratulations to Jill Murray, winner of the latest Work Stew writing contest. The rules were simple: a short tale (600 words max) about a work holiday party, real or imagined.
I enjoyed all the entries: Paul Cohen and Kerry E.B. Black spun engaging stories of love lost and found. Randy Austin entertained with his signature creativity and wry sense of humor. Both Nina Slotkin Fortmeyer and MFC Feeley managed to sneak in surprise endings—no small feat with so few words to use. Non-fiction contributors Julie Davies and Rebecca Kerr gave us good glimpses into their long-ago lives. J. Alper captured what fellow competitor Michael T. Heath so aptly called the prowling of “the corporate savanna” and Mr. Heath himself, in addition to taking the time to offer thoughtful critiques of other entries, contributed a fine character sketch of his own.
Several of these were particularly strong contenders, and I recognize that another judge might easily have gone in a different direction. I myself have wavered between three or four, but in the end I chose Ms. Murray’s: I loved the fluid way in which her story unfolded, the three distinct characters, the pitch-perfect dialogue. Congratulations, Ms. Murray, and thank you again to all who played.
Nothing But Meat
By Jill Murray
“Are you a lesbian?” my boss Dee asked sharply, quick black eyes searching my face.
I set down the poster I was presenting. “Should I be?”
“Well that’s what Kevin’s telling everyone. I didn’t think it sounded right. Didn’t you just break up with someone?”
“Yeah, because he was a bad boyfriend, not because I’m into girls now. Who is Kevin?”
“Well that explains it,” she said, turning her attention back to the poster. “I’m not a fan of this font.”
“I’ll change it… explains what?”
She wheeled her chair out from behind her desk and leaned in confidentially.
“Kevin. From the Christmas Party. He’s probably upset that you don’t remember him, and that’s why he’s telling everyone you’re a lesbian. That and you danced with those girls.”
“Women, and you were one of them!” Wheelchair be damned, Dee could dance circles around all of us. “I thought we were a posse.”
“Well it’s none of my business. I just thought I’d check with you.”
I closed my eyes and the party came rushing back: Me in teal stretch velour, the dress mercifully playing up the positive aspects of my post-break-up weight gain. Dee wheeling up to me, a snow queen from the tips of her frosted bangs to the toes of her white pumps. She introduced me to Kevin as I searched for vegetarian hors d’oeuvres.
“You’re vegetarian?” he asked. “What a coincidence! I’m on the Atkins diet. I eat nothing but meat!”
Dee wheeled away and I watched my lifeline disappear into the crowd as Kevin regaled me with tales of fatty creatures recently ingested. I nodded politely as he told me what he hated most about vegetarians. “It’s that they won’t shut up about it. Blah blah blah who cares? I don’t care what you ate for breakfast.”
When he at last took a breath, I excused myself to the sanctuary of the ladies room. I found Dee there, innocently lacquering her daggered lashes with another layer of black mascara. “Isn’t Kevin great?” she asked. I wheeled her to dinner.
I ate my pasta with red sauce without commenting on it, and drank white wine as conservatively as a young woman at an office party is counselled to do. YMCA came over the speakers, signalling an open dancefloor.
Kevin lurched up to me, breath thick with the stale remains of the open bar, a bulb from the Christmas tree dangling from each ear. “Wanna dance?” he asked, throwing a log of an arm over my shoulders. My stomach lurched with a mix of revulsion at his breath, and envy at his freedom—to drink, let go, lurch, lean, and still do his job without comment on Monday. “It’s nothing to do with his work.”
“No thank you,” I said, ducking out as he brought his face too close to mine.
“That Kevin?” I asked. Dee wheeled back to her monitor, avoiding my eyes.
“He’s a programmer,” she shrugged. “They’re just like that. Bad social skills. You’re sure you won’t give him a chance? Great guy. Really nice.”
Work Stew in the News…
“Random Acts of Business,” the essay I wrote to launch Work Stew back in 2011, was re-published in The Huffington Post. It’s located in a section called ‘The Third Metric,’ which focuses on “redefining success beyond money and power.”
Also, Ashley Gross of KPLU (Seattle’s NPR station) talked to me about why I started the site, why I keep at it, and what I’ve learned.
Many Work Stew contributors came along for the ride: photographer Meg Heimovics Kumin and flight attendant-turned-gorilla caretaker John Safkow were featured in the radio version of the story (click the blue ‘listen’ button to hear it).
Devo founder Gerald Casale, python hunter Ruben Ramirez, high-rise window washer David Schmidt, lice remover Lisa Weisberg, former corporate lawyer Kevin McHargue, and carpenter Samantha Cole all made appearances in the accompanying print piece.
Work Stew went to the woods: I was honored to present at Islandwood’s tenth annual Circle of Friends event, where Cheryl Strayed, best-selling author of WILD and TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS, served as the keynote speaker.
My session, which wrapped up a weekend-long retreat, focused on writing as a tool for personal development. In my talk, I got to highlight the essays of several Work Stew contributors. Thank you, as always, for letting me share your stories.
Stewing on Stage: A Brief Story Slam Round-Up
I love swapping stories here at Work Stew. I think of it as a virtual water cooler where someone is always around with a tale to tell.
But there’s also something to be said for telling a story live—on stage, with no notes, to a crowd of people whose faces you can see.
I’ve done that three times now, at the Bainbridge Island Story Slam, and it’s really, really fun. If your community is currently slam-free, perhaps you should get one going? Feel free to reach out via Facebook or email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and I’ll explain the logistics, which are gloriously simple.
In the meantime, for a taste of the tales you might hear at such an event, here’s my latest. The theme was ‘Dating: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly’—but, as you’ll see, my story has a small connection to work as well.
My other slam tales, which focused more centrally on work, were about the summer job I had at Yellowstone National Park and my most memorable night shift.