Our Fall 2008 Essay Contest’s prompt was inspired by Jill Butler’s book, Create the Space You Deserve: An Artistic Journey to Expressing Yourself Through Your Home. Jill offered a favorite quote from Winston Churchill: “We create our dwelling and afterwards our dwellings create us.” She believes it runs both ways simultaneously. That is, as we create ourselves, we create our homes, and in the creating of our homes we have the opportunity to recreate ourselves.
Natalie Wendt took first place with her essay, "Going Forth and Coming Home." It's a fabulous essay, and today we'll share an interview with Natalie touching on her many adventures, as well as some tips about entering writing contests.
Natalie grew up in Idaho, graduated from College of Santa Fe in 2005, and traveled extensively Asia, Europe and North America. A former resident of Sravasti Abbey in Washington state, she now spends her days as a substitute teacher in Spokane’s elementary schools. Her writing has appeared in “Q View Northwest,” “The Fig Tree,” and “The Spokesman-Review.” This is the first contest she’s ever won.
Interviewed by: Marcia Peterson
WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in WOW!'s Fall 2008 writing contest! How do you feel?
Natalie: I’m thrilled! I’ve never won first place in anything before. It’s very exciting. I’m a regular WOW! reader and it’s wonderful to be a part of it. I’m really looking forward to the Premium Green subscription too!
WOW: That's great, and I think you'll love Premium-Green . In your essay, you talk about the lure of an uprooted life, and how nomadic life was your dream. Why do you think you felt that way? It seems so adventurous!
Natalie: I think part of that impulse came from growing up in a small, close-knit community where I didn’t fit in. I felt claustrophobic in my hometown. Everyone had known everyone else since birth. Being a nomad seemed like the opposite way of living. I’m fortunate that my family treated my wanderlust as normal. My parents always encouraged us to experience new things and learn about the world, and they didn’t complain when we went off to see the world! My younger sister is a globetrotter too. It seems natural to me.
WOW: You've really acted on that wanderlust, traveling all around the world. How did you decide where to go? Any favorite places?
Natalie: I went to India for pilgrimage and to go to Buddhist teachings. Both of my main spiritual teachers lived in India for decades, and I was able to meet many of their teachers in India, which was very special. During my three months there, I basically went wherever His Holiness the Dalai Lama was teaching, and the traditional Buddhist holy places.
Everywhere else, I went where I found a place to stay! I didn’t really have enough money to travel as long as I did, but I do have a huge extended family and a lot of friends who live abroad. I stayed with cousins, friends of cousins, second cousins I’d never met before, my best friend from third grade, a friend’s ex-boyfriend, and my own ex-girlfriend, among other people. As a result, I ended up it places I never would have thought to go, like a Welsh college town, a suburb of Frankfurt, and a genuine Tuscan villa. The only places in Europe I went out of my way to visit were romantic Italian cities: Rome, Florence, Venice and Verona. I went for the food, the art and the atmosphere, and it was everything I hoped.
My favorite places were Dharamsala, Bodh Gaya and Bangalore in India, and Rome. Dharamsala’s the Tibetan capital-in-exile, and Bodh Gaya’s where Buddha became enlightened. Bangalore is a beautiful city in southern India, and I loved it because it was the first place I stayed on my trip. And Rome’s just irresistible.
WOW: It sounds like you've had some great adventures, Natalie! Have you always been interested in writing? What other writing have you done?
Natalie: Writing has been my passion for most of my life. When I was in high school I had a ‘zine. I constantly wrote short stories, essays, and terrible poetry. I didn’t share my writing with many people though, and I went through a long phase of not showing my work to anyone.
Last summer I started submitting my work. I’m still quite new to it, but I’ve had some success. I’ve had a handful of nonfiction articles published. My first published fiction piece will be up the Homestead Review website very soon as a runner-up for a contest.
WOW: Congratulations on your fiction contest success and published articles. Currently, you're substitute teaching at the elementary school level. How's that going? Are you interested in a career in education?
Natalie: Substitute teaching makes every day an adventure. My degree is actually in Elementary Education, and I started working in a classroom when I was barely twenty years old. I was still a student back then and at times I felt way too young to be teaching anybody. Traveling and getting more diverse life experience has helped me be a better, more confident teacher. I was recently offered a classroom of my own for next school year. It’s tentative until the education budget is worked out but I’m excited about it. Spending a day with six-year-olds is a lot like going to another country. I never know what will happen and it keeps me flexible.
WOW: That's great that you'll be getting your own class. Your students will be lucky to have you as a teacher. Are you working on any other writing projects?
Natalie: Yes! I write almost every day. Currently, I’m piecing together my notes from my trip into narrative form, and working on a young adult novel set in rural Idaho. I regularly contribute to my local gay and lesbian monthly newsmag, Q View Northwest.
WOW: You sound very busy! Finally, we have to ask (you are a first place winner, after all): Do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?
Natalie: If you’re interested in entering, go for it. Contests give you a deadline, writing guidelines, and incentive to put out your best work. It’s like writing assignments for a class, but with prizes. Contests that give you a critique are especially great because you get feedback.
Other than that, edit. For years, I tried to write things perfectly the first time. It didn’t work, and later I would read through and cringe. I’ve found that when I dedicate more time to editing than to writing, I’m happier with the end result and I’m more likely to get published. Write, edit, edit, edit, and then put it aside. Pick it up later and edit again. And good luck!
WOW: Super advice, Natalie! Thanks and best of luck with your various endeavors.
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