Bea Hawkins, 2nd Place Essay Winner: Writing About Resiliency and Mental Illness

Sunday, August 11, 2019
Welcome to 2nd place winner, Beatrix Hawkins. I'm very excited that I was assigned to interview her, as her winning piece in WOW!'s essay contest, "Nomadic Spell," is now her first published work, and we both live in St. Louis! She is interesting and insightful, and this is an interview to read, learn from, and enjoy. Her essay describes a time in her life as a tween when she and her mom were homeless. Her insight into her life is something that will inspire all of us--no matter what our backgrounds. So let's get started!

Here's a bit about Bea: Bea Hawkins is a legal assistant by day and closeted creative nonfiction writer by night, who has lived all over St. Louis, Missouri. When she isn’t editing legal documents, you can find her making sarcastic comments to her husband, buried under a heap of their snuggly children and dogs, or daydreaming in her ever-growing garden.

Her first writing gigs began in middle school where she would barter editing and writing tips in exchange for help with her much-dreaded algebra homework. Forever fascinated with the human experience and the secrets we all keep, circumstances led her to try and empathetically rationalize a charmingly dysfunctional upbringing. She has learned so much about the Universe and humanity, and that we all battle the chaos hurled our way from time-to-time. And, like any other wildflower, it isn’t until you are completely ripped apart from where you once stood firmly, that you are able to see just how strong your own self-made roots truly are. It is always the deepest and darkest parts we bury, that eventually fight their way toward sunlight. Only recently, has she felt brave enough to share these parts with you.

“Nomadic Spell” is her first published work. She is currently working on a collection of essays involving the resiliency of the human spirit and staying afloat in the beautiful, but dark, waters of mental illness and unpredictability she experienced throughout childhood... and beyond... She is also working on creating her own website ( In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to her at[at]gmail[dot]com.

WOW: Congratulations on winning 2nd place with your essay, "Nomadic Spell!" In this essay, you share a very personal and heartbreaking period of your tween life when you and your mother were homeless. We are touched that you shared this essay in our contest, and it is so beautifully written. Why did you choose to title it "Nomadic Spell?"

Beatrix: Thank you so much! I'm still pinching myself that I won 2nd place among such an amazing and inspiring group of writers. This has been such a fulfilling and memorable time in my life, so thank you to everyone who makes WOW! the supportive and inspiring place it is.

"Nomadic Spell" was one of the most personal and shameful stories of my life. I managed to keep this secret of ours hidden for over 20 years and felt it was time to finally free myself from the shame of it, and I now feel stronger having shared it. I read a quote that said, "The thing you are most afraid to write...Write that." This struck me, and I had to try and find a poetic way to share such a confusing and life-changing summer that I survived. I wanted to capture the innocence I still had at the beginning of that summer, while letting the reader know I had grown up more than expected by its end.

I titled it this way because I truly felt like a nomad for most of my childhood and wanted to focus on a specific period of time that could stand alone and define me as an innocent wanderer. And although I thought of "spell" as a period of time, it was also very much an enchanted time where I was able to notice peace within chaos. I felt like I had been blessed in a way to have this inexplicable calmness washed over me, which shielded me at times from so many of the shocking things that were occurring. Although we were drifters that summer, I felt very aware of seeing all the beauty in any given place, and it helped me make it through things I couldn't understand.

WOW: That is an amazing way to look at that time in your life, and it is easy to see why your writing speaks to so many readers. Your resiliency,which you just described in your answer above, really stands out in your essay. "Nomadic Spell" also has an interesting ending--with the different colored lights and language as if you are driving, which from the essay, seems like you did too much of during that time. Why did you choose this format for the end? Is this the way you first wrote it? Did this happen during revision?

Beatrix: The ending did develop through revision. I played with the form of this essay many, many times and revised it more times than I can count. I read this aloud to my husband so many times before I understood the rhythm of how I wanted the end to be. Only then could I truly hear it and feel it, and hoped that tying the elements of the streetlights with the drifting wildflower theme would leave an impact and resonate with the reader.

I had it originally written in a more chronological format, ending with the phone call to my friend, where the reader was with me from beginning to end, already knowing my feelings and all the things I couldn't say. Then I started breaking it up into parts, lumping the sections that went together and could still flow to the next section easily. It then became clear that I would still introduce our innocence in the beginning and began to end it with the darkest thoughts and emotions I had felt all summer and leave the reader, instead, just now learning all the things I couldn't say, while still understanding the importance of my friend's point of view.

My thoughts came back to the moments in the car, and I wanted to make a play on those words. I also remembered feeling powerless at that time, and thought of how traffic lights direct us where and when to go in life, causing us to slow down, go, or stop in a moment's notice. This quick, sudden direction made me think of ending the last few "paragraphs" as short, and hopefully powerful one line sentences.

I think of revising as a literal way of re-envisioning how your story unfolds. What do you want to say and what are the sentences with the most impact that can get you there? I'll ask myself this over and over until I feel it.

Writers have to be our own kindest, yet strictest, critics. We're all here, hoping to leave readers with one story, one moment...just one sentence...that leaves another soul stuck there in an emotion with you. That's what I search for when I read, and pray that I am able to give that back when I write.

WOW: I love this. So many writers almost fear that revision process--feeling like they are never finished. But this example you just gave us does two things: one, it shows us why you chose what you did and how you got to that point, and two, you knew when you were done with the essay with how it felt and sounded to you. I like that you included how you read your piece out loud. So, switching gears, your bio mentions that you are working on a collection of essays about "resiliency of the human spirit and staying afloat in the beautiful, but dark, waters of mental illness and unpredictability she experienced throughout childhood." Is "Nomadic Spell" part of this collection? How far along are you on the remaining essays? When you finish, what do you plan to do?

Beatrix: Yes, I am working on this collection, and 2019 has been a huge push for this to move away from just a dream to an actual reality! I currently have a very rough draft of ten or so essays, with "Nomadic Spell" absolutely being a part of this collection.

I've been working very hard on going back to older pieces to edit them to stand on their own as well and have had a burst of new creative energy where I've added three additional creative nonfiction pieces to the collection, as well as a few brief poems that go with many of the themes throughout the essays.

My hope is to get my first very rough draft completed by the end of year and ready to submit to an editor for help with revisions. My goal is to start submitting a completed manuscript by this time next year.

I feel that the stigma about mental illness is still strongly negative, and my hope is to take a step toward changing the perspective to be more empathetic. I hope my essays shed a compassionate light on the people who love, and are loved by, those often shamefully stamped, "Mentally Ill."

I've written myself out of hell and battled my own demons with a pen and paper. Writing has 100% saved my life at times and has always been a way for me to dissect and reconstruct my understanding of things that have occurred in my life. It's a healing and empowering experience. I hope that my essays explore looking at the worst events in life, and leaning into the poetic and deeper meanings that resiliency allows us all to see, just when we may have thought there was nothing left.

In the meantime, I've also been reading as much as I can, while seeking out communities like WOW! where I can submit other creative nonfiction flash pieces and hopefully find readers who are interested in hearing more, which has been an intimidating experience I'm trying to overcome. WOW! has given me confidence to continue down this path rather than standing at the starting point, too afraid to take that next step. I cannot thank you all enough and will definitely keep you posted!

WOW: Your collection sounds like something I would love to read. And we are so glad that you have found WOW! to be supportive and helpful on your journey. That's definitely one of our goals as an online community of creatives. No haters here! (smiles) Your bio also says that this is your first publication! How exciting is that! What did you do when you got the news that you had won 2nd place and that part of the prize was publication?

Beatrix: Yes! This has been beyond exciting and one of the happiest moments of my life! Through happy, blurry tears, I immediately sent the link to my husband...who then sent it along to every person we know. I couldn't wait to tell our daughters; and when I came home, there was lots of squealing and "Oh my God" and "I'm in shock!" statements from yours truly. Then, in typical mom-fashion, I gave many "follow-your-heart-and-tell-your-truth-and-anything-is-possible" speeches to our daughters, who kindly looked back at me with eyes that were witnessing something happy, something inspiring, something true.

With the support of my husband, I then very nervously sent the link to my friend of twenty-nine years, Winks, and let her in on the story I'd never been brave enough to share. Her support and encouragement in return was the extra icing on the cake. After happy tears and feeling like that part of my life could rest in peace, my husband and I wrapped up the night with a champagne-induced party for two in our living room. It's been a super happy and positive time in our family because I've always wanted to be a writer, to be open, and to embrace my authenticity. And, that finally felt very real for the first time, thanks to WOW!

WOW:  Oh my gosh, I absolutely love that story. I love that you were so excited and your family was, too; and you then had the courage to send your story to your friend. How amazing! I can only see things going up from here for you with your career! What is your writing routine like? We read that you write at night. Is this every night? Why night?

Beatrix: My writing routine is very much like me: good intentions sprinkled on a hot mess sundae. I went through years of putting writing on the back burner, always waiting around for all of that "extra time" I foolishly assumed writers had in spades. All of my "somedays" seemed to be further out of reach, while writing was always churning beneath the surface. I learned it would never happen until I dedicated myself to make the time and make it a priority in my life. I found it easiest and the least guilt-ridden, when I make time to do this at night. Even if it's only 15 minutes in a notebook or on my phone - it's 15 minutes of creativity, reflection, or observations personal to me within a fleeting moment, that didn't exist before. That's how I try to think of it and that I owe it to myself to keep practicing...even when I don't feel like it. I now make myself write at least 15 minutes a day...even if it's about how lame my own 15 minute daily writing rule is...

And, if some sort of inspiration strikes during the day, in the middle of the night, etc., you have to jot it down, or it will be lost forever. I can't tell you how many crumpled Post-It notes I've found stuck to an old gum wrapper, or tucked in a purse pocket - and it instantly jolts me back to the one idea, the one sentence, the one word to run with that night.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for taking the time to read and share something so personal to who I am, from a place of where I've been.

WOW: You are so welcome, Bea. By the way, I wanted to mention that I wrote an entire women's fiction novel in little increments like that, almost every day, and it really does work--for any of you reading this that wonder how small increments can build books, they can. Thank you, Bea, for letting us into your world! Best of luck to you with your writing!

Margo L. Dill is the managing editor for WOW! Women On Writing, where she also teaches classes. You can find out more about her own writing on her website, Look to the Western Sky. 

Inspired by Bea's story? Enter your own creative nonfiction essay in our next contest. Details here. 


Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--Thanks for doing this interview. I do NOT thank you for providing a link to Bea's story. No, indeed, I do not. Reading her story made my mouth gape. "Nomadic Spell" made me realize (again) I definitely need to work on honing my skills when it comes to creative nonfiction. Getting THAT moved by Bea's story and awed by her craft made me pissed that someone that young (who knows how old she is; I just know she's way younger than me) is THIS talented.

So thank, Margo. Or rather, no thanks. ;)

(I love sarcasm just like Beatrix.)

Bea--Get your butt in your chair for more than 15 minutes a day, so your collection can be finished quicker. Ser. I. Ous. Ly. I will be in line to buy your book WHEN it is published. (Not if. When.) Your "Nomadic Spell" is raw and honest, yet it doesn't wallow. It's a story that represents many more people than we probably assume. It's a tale that people like me--who had an idyllic childhood--cannot imagine.

And yet I have mental illness running through my biological roots (I'm adopted) so I have a small stream of crazy trickling through my life at all times.

I adore your "good intentions sprinkled on a hot mess sundae" comment. I might frame that one--giving you credit, of course.

Do you belong to a writing critique group? If not, why not? Since you live in St. Louis, Margo could give you some suggestions, I imagine.

And sorry. I forgot to say congratulations. I entered this same contest, and didn't even make it to the list of finalists... but I did get a critique (Thank you sooo much, Angela, for that gift) and plan on revising it.

You got second place? What is the first place piece like? (Sioux said, a bit suspiciously, like 'Can the first place winner's piece be ANY better than Bea's story?')

I might read it and have to say to myself, "Those judges were whack." ;)

And now, if you're reading these comments, and you're sitting down, keep that rear end in your chair... and get back to writing. (You have two St. Louis fans in love with you. Get busy.)

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Love your essay. Essay writing is something I have dabbled in but never seriously persued.

Too bad you don't write for young readers because, like Sioux and Margo, I too live in the St. Louis area. I'd invite you to join my critique group.

Hmmm. Maybe just maybe we need a monthly St. Louis area WOW group?


Lisa Ricard Claro said...

Beautifully written. Haunting. Looking forward to reading more from Bea.

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