Winning isn’t everything
I’ve been on a bit of a hiatus when it comes to my own creative writing. It’s such a competitive field and it’s very easy to think you’re not good/smart/knowledgable enough as your next 10,000 competitors. I’m also not very disciplined. Being prolific also has a winning edge because failure can’t live with persistence. If I could master that, I might have a fighting chance. If being quirky and impetuous were recognised qualities I’d be chomping at the gold chocolate medal.
Second To None
I always believed that winning is everything. Nobody remembers who came second.
No one remembers who came second until that person coming second is hot on the heels of the winner. Getting to the top is one thing, staying there is much harder.
I subscribe to the UK’s number 1 writing magazine for writers and authors. Half the time I don’t get around to reading it and they pile up getting dusty in the corner of my chaotic study where many a pipe dream has come to settle and remembered as another whimsy but just not on a Wednesday. However, last month I decided to read it and found that they ran competitions. So, I entered my first writing competition ever. A travel narrative of 1500 words that transports the reader to somewhere they’ve never been. I used the basics of a story I wrote about going to Cowboy Church in Texas for the first time ever without ever mentioning that it was Cowboy Church because it’s all about show and not tell, right? I edited it to death – stripped it and added better and then sent it in. I didn’t expect anything because thousands of people enter these things who are way more talented than I.
I didn’t win.
But for the first time ever that didn’t matter. I was shortlisted with my name in print. I could have won. And maybe next time I will. Winning isn’t always everything if coming in a list of seconds gives you enough confidence to dare to try.
Proudly shortlisted – Jules Smith
Here’s my entry:
Love bug adults are attracted to light-coloured surfaces, especially if they are freshly painted, but adults congregate almost anywhere apparently reacting to the effects of sunlight. Love bugs help the environment when they are in their immature stage as they are attracted to flowers and are good pollinators.
I only went out of curiosity more than anything. I didn’t go expecting; I never do. Besides, there couldn’t be much in a field stretching out further than my eye could see. In fact, I couldn’t even tell you what else happened in that part of town or if there even stood a town there at all. All I recall is a gas station about half a mile down the road before I got there. And the car journey on the way. I remember that because it was beautiful. Speeding through nature, past buffalo ranches, open pastures, and the endless foliage of sage and brush. An adventure under the vast Texan sky which is bigger than any sky I’ve yet to witness. What I remember most of all is driving through a swarm of red and black bugs. They hit the truck front like a million bullets. Love bugs, they called them. Hundreds and thousands of love bullets banging into the hood like they were trying to get inside. The wise say you should always pay attention to your journey.
I stopped at the gas station which is why I remember the place. I got out of the car to straighten myself out. I don’t know why but I felt it necessary. I remember hoiking up my pale blue jeans that were pasted to the back of my thighs from the southern heat, and tightening my belt. Palming my summer top to iron out the driving creases and adjusting my cowboy hat. Showing the best you have to offer to whatever is about to greet you on the other side. I needn’t have bothered; judgement didn’t reside in that house.
It wasn’t anything special as houses go. You could pass it by without giving it a second glance. Not like some of the buildings I’d frequented in my time that made a point of their grandiosity: painted in gold with fresco ceilings, mahogany woods, old stone carvings, and windows bigger than doors telling timeless stories. Like I said, looking right seemed to be what people paid attention to.
I knocked on the front door but nothing happened. Thing is, it didn’t look like a door you should open and go into. Not that it was foreboding in any way, just a normal door. I suppose that’s why I knocked first. I waited and looked down at the scuffed toes of my boots pondering on how I might introduce myself, and at the same time, wondering how it was that I could scratch a new pair of boots within seconds of wearing them. When nobody came I turned the handle and pulled the door open slowly. Opening a door like that makes you look more like a trespasser than not and is likely to have you facing a side-by-side quicker than anything, yet it’s still how we open something when filled with trepidation. It’s funny how we act as humans. A lot of things we do make no sense.
The hour was early which made me feel like I shouldn’t be going inside just yet but a few people were milling around a long table and chatting. I stood for a moment trying to search for something familiar even though I’d never been before. I put my friendly smile in place as I approached and fiddled with the cotton tassels that edged my pretty tunic. I should’ve made sure they knew I was coming, I thought. Maybe it might pay me to be less impulsive. Turning up unannounced in places all the time without consideration to how others might feel. I always did things like that and thought about them afterward despite constantly berating myself for doing so. But this time it didn’t matter because as soon as they noticed a fresh-face I got sought out with smiles and kind words. Greeted with friendly hugs and doughnuts for breakfast. Not just any buns but an array of all different kinds from plain to jam filled and even those with icing and sprinkles on top. Each cake a different sweetness but just as yummy. And that sweetness didn’t dissipate whatsoever. This sugar sprinkled itself all through that room and didn’t leave a spot untouched. This house that you might well drive past without a notion contained more love inside than I’d ever witnessed. And not the kind loaded with sugar-coated pretence that we often come across, but something more akin to warm honey. The kind that mends you from the inside out. That’s the best I can explain the feeling. I’ve known love and I’ve lost love, like we all have the same. But this kind was different. I considered myself impervious to this particular magic but somehow it found the cracks where the mortar had fallen out and seeped in. I’ve gotta tell you that this scared me half to death. I find myself wary of anything too good to be true. Surely it would find a way to trip me up or turn sour. The thought of losing something wholesome like that can’t fail to give you the fear. And if you took to it and lost it, that only goes on to blacken another piece of your heart and leave you tutting at the world with folded arms. Best to keep your guard and stay protected if you can.
But that honey love, well, it stands alone. It neither forces or betrays. It lets you have a taste and leaves the spoon in front of you should you wish to take some more. It doesn’t run out or turn bad and it has no agenda. You can test it all you want. I think that’s what unnerves me the most of all – I can’t find a way to prove its unreliability or insincerity because it doesn’t give up on you. Well that doesn’t fit my script. And that makes me laugh inside a little and shake my head. What gets into us to make us so contrary? All that any one of us is looking for is that warm, honeyed love. We try and seek it out in everything we do. Folks tend to substitute other things to make that feeling come about. They buy themselves trinkets or convince themselves that this next thing will be the answer. Now, don’t get me wrong, there ain’t nothing better than a fine pair of new boots to make me go giddy with excitement but in the end it’s just a passing treat. Like most treats, they are quickly digested leaving you hungry again. The good stuff isn’t found in the pretty toys or the grand facades, it’s found inside. Like I found inside that house that you wouldn’t likely pay heed to as you passed it by.
I received my message. Loud and clear. Like being struck by a piece of two by four. “Never give up, never back down, and never lose faith”. I’d never heard a delivery quite like it, but then I’d never come across the real cowboys before. Those that stand up and tell it plain and simple. The salt of the earth kind that stick to the rules and don’t quit on anything. And, perhaps I hadn’t had reason enough to listen in the past. Serendipity, chance, coincidence? Call it what you want. If it’s real enough and meant for you, you’ll find it and know. And you’ll listen. You’ll hear what you need to and not just with your ears.
There’s always a hum in Texas. Day or night you can hear the strumming coming from the long grass or trees. There’s always a background noise. A sense of something more going on that you haven’t quite connected with. This time it somehow resonated when I stepped outside of that little house. I felt wholesome. The wilderness no longer barren; the rustic frontier no longer a divide. Limitless possibilities beckoned. Like I’d been pollinated with something sacred. I drove away with the dust spraying out from my back wheels – leaving the detritus on the country track behind me.
I’ve only ever been to that house in a field a few times but I think about it often and what I might’ve missed had I kept on driving. Sometimes you can end up somewhere quite unexpected and find the something that’s been missing. The something, as they say in Texas, that makes you feel “gooder”.
The house I live in is another world away from the one I found out there in the middle of a field. But that doesn’t stop the honey coming or being available like I thought it might. It’s still there for my taking. The love still finds a way to reach me from that little house thousands of miles away as fast and furious as a swarm of springtime love bugs.