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Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2020 – Winner: ‘EVERY/OTHER’ By Keshuan Chow

 Every/Other

Keshuan Chow

 

I can’t remember where I first heard it, or when. All I remember is that the girl who said it was an Every. Long, silvery blonde hair, straight as corn silk, shiny with the echoes of a million others like her.

I brush my hair one hundred times, she said, as she pulled the brush along those long, long strands.

So I adopted the habit, in an effort to be more Every. Each night, I sat at my mirror, looking into my Other face. Looking into my Other eyes, dark like obsidian or black holes or voids. I would brush and brush, counting carefully. Always precisely to one hundred, so that I may become more like an Every. More like her.

Brushing my hair was soothing. So soothing that I never saw it as a chore. The sound evokes such calm that people trawl the internet for videos of women brushing their hair. What these people do with the videos I do not know. I imagine them leaning forwards, ear buds in, staring at the screen with a sort of manic grin.

The sound of brushing hair is otherworldly. (You can approximate the sound by putting the flat of your tongue against the back of your front teeth and repeatedly exhaling. It’s not an exact replica, but it comes close).

As a child, I was like a Bowerbird, eagerly picking up tips on how to be more Every. The Everys seemed to be of peak human stock: often blonde, or at least light-haired. Their noses were small and neat, their skin freckled adorably in the hot summer sun. They had eye creases which didn’t puff up and change location when they cried. They didn’t have epicanthal folds.

I remember attending auditions for school plays, year after year. Being an Other meant that I was consistently relegated to minor roles. It didn’t matter how hard I tried; the main part would go to an Every.

I, like the other Others, would be in the chorus, or cast as a Token. Once, I played a Japanese schoolgirl. Another time, a dirty Vietnamese street child. It was as though all of us who were Others were one and the same. It did not matter if I was Chinese, or Malaysian, or Japanese, or Viet. All that mattered was that I was Other.

The night before my Grade Six play, I scratched my face. There was a mole there, a blemish in my Other skin. It wasn’t like the light smattering of freckles I so coveted. It was dark, almost black, the same colour as my hair and eyes. I thought if I removed it, I would somehow be more Every. So I scratched and scratched, until I felt wetness. When I looked at my fingernails, they were caked in blood.

I did my chorus the next day with a plaster on my face.

I distanced myself from other Others. Picked a football team that sounded very Every. I surrounded myself with Every friends, friends whose parents didn’t carry their belongings around in plastic bags, or make them attend Chinese school. I read Every books, I watched Every television. When I flicked through magazines, the faces were all Every.

As I grew, and traversed the rollercoaster that was puberty, I would sometimes be noticed for my Otherness. Boys would actually say they liked me for being Other.

But I don’t want to be Other, I would say. I want to be like you.

They would say, We wouldn’t like you if you were Us.

No matter what I did, I was distinguished as an Other.

I tried my hardest to get part-time work, but suspected my résumé was often thrown out. My name broadcast me as an Other, and it was almost too hard to say. The Everys in charge of hiring probably didn’t want to bumble through an attempt to pronounce it. So it was easier to just not try.

Years later, I read research that confirmed my suspicion. Some Others had found that changing their name to something more Every-like landed them better jobs. It’s a strategy as old as time, really. People who were Others — women, the enslaved, the persecuted —  changed their names to become more acceptable, more appealing. Apparently, the onus is on the Other, not the other way around.

Eventually, I won a place at med school, where I painstakingly sweated out the letters that would follow my name. Afterwards, I would write out my complicated, unpronounceable Other name, then write those two letters: M.D. It is such a common mark of Others like me, that it could almost be a trademark.

Not OtherTM, but OtherMD. In fact, there were so many Others in my graduating class, that I almost felt more Every.

Almost. But not quite.

My habit of brushing my hair never stopped. Every night, one hundred strokes. It didn’t matter if I was up late, studying the bones of the hand (tip: use this mnemonic. So Long To Pinky, Here Comes The Thumb. Straight Line To Pinky, Here Comes The Thumb). It didn’t matter if I was passed out drunk on my friend’s bedroom floor. Whenever I remembered, I would swipe my brush through my hair one hundred times.

It was shortly after starting work as an OtherMD that I started to inspect the brush. For so long, the brush had just been an object, a prop. But as I rode the cresting waves into adulthood, it became an extension of my arm. A totem, or talisman, something that represented myself, my diligence. The parts of my personality I carefully crafted, just like my now-hidden yearning to be more Every.

I looked at my brush, after my one hundred strokes, and saw long black strands of hair tangled through the bristles. The dust collecting amongst the hair was abundant, and unsettling.

One morning, I put my hands on the back of my head, and felt it.

Maybe I’m imagining it, I said to myself, but my head feels smaller.

Don’t be stupid, said my reflection. Your head can’t get smaller from brushing your hair.

Every night, though, there would be more hair snarled into the brush’s bristles. And every night, more dust was caught up in the hair, grey and fluffy, like a cat.

It soon became clear I would always be an Other. Some of my patients insisted I had seen them before (Remember? In June last year?) and I would shake my head and tell them, No, I’m afraid you’re mixing me up with another Other.

They still could never pronounce my name.

So I shortened it.

When I met my now-husband, it was in a bar. He had the blonde hair and the blue eyes of an Every, and a devastating smile that made my stomach fizz. That night, I imagined my gastric bile, yellow and pungent, bubbles popping on the surface. (You can approximate this sound by bringing your lips together and then rapidly pulling them apart).

He took my hand, his white hand clasping my dark one. I forced myself to forget the names of the bones (do not, I repeat, do not mention the mnemonic). We danced. We kissed. His hand caressed the small of my back.

Later, he pushed his Everyness into my Otherness, over and over again, while he whispered my shortened name into my ear.

We married quickly. Everyone thought too quickly. Except my Mother, who told me I was lucky.

He’s a good man, she said. Rich. He will support you.

I didn’t want to tell her that all his ex-girlfriends were Others. That my Otherness seemed, to him, exotic. Something to be cradled and cherished, like a flower.

But not unique. Never unique.

I brushed my hair on our wedding night, while he was sleeping. This time, the hair didn’t just snarl in the brush. It started falling out, drifting down in a dark mist, collecting in a puddle at my feet. When the hair hit the ground, a cloud of dust puffed upwards, rising into the air like curling fog. I breathed in that dust, the dust that came from me.

I turned my head. The back of it looked flat. My head was shrinking, my features disintegrating. In my quest to become more Every, I was losing myself.

Slowly, each day, my skin cells were dying. And dead cells turn into dust.

When my daughter started growing, I felt her Everyness inside of me. Twisting and stretching, she would kick me from the inside, angry at the fleshy prison of my womb. She kicked so hard she cracked a rib.

It’s a known complication, said the doctor. You Others are built to have small babies. But this baby is half Every, and this baby is Big.

What should I do? I panted, breathing through the pain.

The doctor looked at me squarely, over his glasses. Try not to laugh. He wasn’t even joking.

The first glimpse of my daughter was a thatch of black hair, peeking through the lips of my labia. The midwife asked if I wanted to see, with a mirror. At first I said no, but then I said yes.

Black hair. Black, sticky hair. How very Other.

Four months after she was born, the last of my hair fell out. Nature’s cruel trick means that a Mother at her lowest — sleep-deprived, hormonal, with stretch marks and sagging breasts — is also destined to lose her hair. Of course, I was already losing my hair, but the hormones sped up the process. Each time I had a shower, I saw strands getting caught in the drain. And swirling in the water was the dust that came from me, slowly but surely washing away.

My daughter was born looking Other, but over time began to look more Every. And shamefully, I was relieved. They say girls are born with every egg they will ever produce already in their ovaries. I marveled at this fact, and thought about the grandchildren that resided in her belly. Mendelian genetics means that she might have blue-eyed babies. Just think — in only two generations, my Otherness could fade, and end up as nothing more than an interesting anecdote, or something that results in an almond-shaped eye.

I still brushed my head once my hair fell out. It had become such a ritual; a ritual I couldn’t break. It didn’t matter that my scalp was scratched and bleeding, that dust fell from it like the crumbling wings of dead moths.

It didn’t matter that I was shrinking, slowly fading from existence, becoming Invisible like I’d simultaneously wanted, and not wanted, to be.

The last day I brushed my head was when the last scrap of skin dissolved and fell away. I sat staring into my mirror, now no longer flesh-and-blood. All I saw was a gaunt skull, empty-eyed and grinning, staring back at me.

Finally White.

With no connective tissue to hold me together, I collapsed onto the ground in a clattering pile of bones. (You can approximate the sound of clicking bones by putting the tongue on the roof of your mouth, and drawing it downwards quickly to break the vacuum).

It was then that He approached, all black cowl and shroud and large, curving scythe. Just like I had dreamt last night, and every night before that.

He stroked my head with a skeletal hand, bone on bone. It hurt in a way that was both tangible and sweet.

Come with me, Child, said Death.

Yes, I replied. I will come.

Death gathered me into the folds of his cloak, and made me look in the mirror one last time.

Congratulations, he said.

I stared, entranced, at the sight of my bones. The same bones that are inside every other human. (Remember the mnemonic?)

Congratulations, Death repeated, as he brought down the scythe.

You have what you wanted. You have now become an Every.

 

Categories
Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2020: Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2020 Winner – Keshaun (Keshe) Chow

Perito Prize 2020 – Transcript of Our Podcast Interview With Perito Prize 2020 Winner – Keshuan (Keshe) Chow

 

You can find the audio version of this excellent interview with Keshe on our podcast host https://www.buzzsprout.com/507109/6577582 and its available on all podcast sites like Apple and Spotify.

 

Perito:     Welcome to Episode 1 of the Perito Podcast 2020, a special Podcast series all about celebrating the writing and creativity of this year’s Perito prize and anthology.  In this episode we are pleased to be joined by the winner of the Perito Prize 2020 Keshe Chow. Keshe wrote the story ‘Every/ Other’ which can be found in the journal section of the Perito website and was selected by the judges as the winning short story for this year.  Hi Keshe and a very warm welcome to the Podcast and well what an incredible story you’ve created, a bit of a warm up question for you so what’s most important do you think ambition, talent or opportunity, we’ll put luck in brackets on that one as well what do you think?

Keshe:     Okay thanks so much for having me today James, first of all I think with this question it’s a bit of a difficult one because I really think it depends so much on the situation and I think depending on what situation you find yourself in different aspects of those three things would take precedence over the other.  I think if we’re sort of talking specifically about writing and publishing I think probably it’s a combination of all three, I think you definitely need to have the drive to just absolutely put your head down and do the work and get the words out and then obviously there’s an element of having the sort of innate ability to use words and just craft them in a certain way and definitely sort of like opportunity and luck is a big part of it as well because so often writing is so subjective, I think different people respond to different things and what one person enjoys a lot another person might find just too out there or too dry or too bland or too like upbeat or too depressing like it’s very, very subjective so I think it just depends so much on that kind of dual factors of the audience and the writer if that’s what we sort of talking about.

Perito:     (1.54) It’s an interesting point you make about subjectivity within the kind of books and writing, I think that is such an important thing, often people will not read outside of a certain subject matter.

Keshe:     Yes.

Perito:     (2.05) I only read Italian detective fiction blah, blah, blah, I only read American…

Keshe:     (laughter)

Perito:     …something or other and when it comes round to read other stuff there does seem to be a, oh I know blah, blah, I could possibly read short stories well might not, they’re micro stories, they’re really short you can eat them in bite size chunks and you get the satisfaction of the whole story in one, I think that’s what I’ve tried to do with this anthology certainly is put together a collection of stories which is as diverse as possible so everyone’s going to find something there but it’s such a difficult thing to get through and people realise that books are so important to people as well, that’s a good point.

Keshe:     Yeah story telling is just so important really and that’s just what part of what makes us human really, I think the ability to share stories and you know communicate ideas through words and things like that.

Perito:     (2.54) So thinking about kind of sharing your ideas out there. What made you enter the prize and how did you find out about it in the first place?

Keshe:     How I found out about it was probably through like a writing blog or something, to be honest I don’t really remember, I spend a lot of time late at night kind of just like when I can’t sleep and stuff (laughter), it’s like cruising around on the internet and I probably came across it at one stage and I had this already written because it was a very personal story so I had it kind of sitting there and I hadn’t really shown it to anyone and it was just kind of private and I thought it kind of feels the brief of that sort of inclusivity and exclusivity that you guys were trying to hit in the Perito prize and so I thought why not just send it in, I didn’t really expect much of it as I said to you when you first contacted me it was like completely unexpected that it sort of impacted on anyone really, cos to me it just was like this weird little story that I’d written late at night when I couldn’t sleep and yeah so that’s basically why I entered, I just did it on a whim.

Perito:     (4.00) Sometimes the best stories are done late at night where you’re plugging into the depth of creativity that you just might not…

Keshe:     (laughter)

Perito:     …that well is really deep and draw it out.

Keshe:     Sitting alone in the dark it definitely brings out some interesting ideas (laughter).

Perito:     (4.15) Actually you can kind of sense the whole sitting alone in your dark bit of the story actually that does come out.

Keshe:     (laughter) yeah, yeah.

Perito:     (4.22) So let’s think about the story then some people won’t have read it yet but one Judge described it as stunning and I think probably what I’ve just said there probably get the tone and the kind of the setting of the story.  Tell us what Every/Other is all about?

Keshe:     So basically it is a piece of fiction but it’s kind of loosely based on a lot of my experiences growing up as a person of colour in Australia so I’m Chinese Australian, I was actually born in Malaysia migrated to Australia when I was about 2 and a half so I don’t really remember much but grew up in quite a traditional Chinese family and sort of straggling those two cultures where you’re trying really hard to assimilate into like an Australian very white nominated culture which it was back in the 80’s when I grew up, you know it’s a long time ago now but yeah it basically was, it was difficult from an identity point of view because there always that element of having two sides of your lives, you know you’ve got the life that you have at home where you’ve got like really traditional Chinese values or whatever as a culture you identify with and then trying to sort of, yeah basically integrate into a greater society where some of those aspects might not be so easily accepted the general public.  So yeah that’s basically what it is about, it was just about sort of my experiences and that’s why it was so personal because there were difficulties obviously growing up in that sort of environment and fantastic things as well and I look back on it now and I think I’m so lucky to have that sort of rich cultural heritage and Australia is so multi-cultural but there were definitely aspects of it growing up that I found very difficult because everyone wants to be included and especially when you’re a kid you just want to be like everyone else, you don’t want to be the strange one or the odd one out and so having anything that sets you apart from others can be quite a difficult experience and I think it’s hard to know what that’s like unless you’ve experienced that.

Perito:     (6.29) So it sounds like that Every/Other has come from a place of not just social exclusion but certainly exclusion in general, it really drives that exclusion concept quite harder and makes a serious impact on the reader, was that only the place that you were coming from when you decided to write it or were there other elements outside of just the historical sense of social exclusion that you’d experienced?

Keshe:     I think I didn’t really have any specific agenda when I wrote it, I kind of just started and it just kind of came because I think it was from a such a deep place that it actually didn’t really take me very long to write, it kind of just flowed once I got the idea, so I don’t really know what exactly what things it encompasses because I’m close to the story I think but I think that it was really just trying to show that dichotomy of having two different aspects of your life and trying to kind of, I guess it kind of almost self-rejection and self-hatred that can come when you realise you are different from the majority and that can be really damaging and I think that’s what I was trying to get across that sort of, I guess it’s social exclusion from others can then lead to a kind of self-rejection and then that’s the real damaging thing when you sort of don’t accept yourself anymore because society at large is telling you that you’d be better off being different.  Yeah I don’t know, I mean like I experienced a really good childhood, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t like it was awful or you know, I was bullied or anything like that.

Perito:     Yeah.

Keshe:     It was just that there’s all little things and I guess being a marginalised person and this goes for any form of marginalisation is that you’re always questioning, you’re always second guessing, it’s always like, you know, if I miss out on this opportunity is it because I’m actually not good enough or was it because I’m different, it’s always having that thing in the back of your mind where you’re like people seeing me for me or are they seeing me because I’m a stereotype or a token of my culture, there’s so many different aspects and it’s very kind of complex growing up as a marginalised person and again I think it can be really hard to see that if you’re not from a marginalised community and I think it’s fantastic that there’s so much push nowadays to understand diverse voices and marginalised voices and that the culture overall is really trying to raise up those voices nowadays and like your anthology and the contest and everything it’s just such an important thing because historically a lot of the marginalised voices, and I’m not just talking about marginalised from a cultural point of view which is obviously what I was writing about but from any point of view, historically those voices haven’t really been heard and if it was written about it was written about from a viewpoint of, you know, the other side not from the person themselves so yeah it’s amazing that now there is that sort of really deep push to celebrate and raise up those voices, I think that’s just so fantastic.

Perito:     (9.31) You mentioned about self-hate and…

Keshe:     (laughter) yeah.

Perito:     …this actually came across from, was something that you wanted to write about or is that just coincidental that that came across?

Keshe:     I think it was probably a bit coincidental and that’s obviously really strong language, there were definitely a lot of times growing up where I felt like I wish I was just the one blue eyed person but overall I’ve really over my life come to like an acceptance but it is very hard to question whether you really like who you are and that has so many different aspects, I mean obviously as a child and as a teenager most people are kind of question that I think everyone kind of goes through, those of angsty, phases of trying to find out who you are and kind of rejecting each version of yourself and things like that, like I actually I have robust mental health so I think overall like I’ve been able to navigate those aspects quite well but it definitely, especially for people who are even more marginalised than myself I think that mental health is such a massive thing that we have to bear in mind that sort of the sort of lack of inclusion can really seriously impact on people’s mental health or just feeling stigmatised for whatever reason that may be.

Perito:     (10.51) That’s a good point. I found the sentences where you encouraged the reader to make sounds for themselves was particularly engaging and kind of the clips and clops as you brush your hair and things like that.

Keshe:     (laughter)

Perito:     (11.04) Was there any specific inspiration of this technique of writing that you encouraged or was, you’ve mentioned that you wrote this story quite quickly was it just like ah that’s, were you making these sounds, were you brushing hair and then you were like I’m just going to put that in because that feels the right thing to do.

Keshe:     I think that writing is such a rich sensory experience really, like often when you write and you write about all the senses, we’re not just using words we’re trying to evoke memories of sights and smells and sounds and things like that and it was just an extra way I think of kind of reaching out to the reader and having them kind of engage, I think one of the things is that I kind of want to, whoever read it, to really understand where the protagonist was coming from like actually sort of put themselves in her shoes, in this case and so that was just a way of kind of engaging someone whose just reading rather than them just reading words they’re actually kind of interacting with the material and it was experimental because I was kind of like oh this is kind of maybe a little bit too weird and I definitely had some readers who read it when I was like looking for feedback and they were like I didn’t like that bit (laughter) they were like that’s too strange and I think my parents will have said the same thing but again everything is so subjective I just thought it was like a device basically to engage someone and actually sort of get them just feeling like they could put themselves in the story rather than just reading it from a distance.

Perito:     (12.42) Well it worked, it definitely worked.

Keshe:     (laughter)

Perito:     (12.45) So as you know the Perito prize is about inclusion, access, inclusive environments it sounds like you’d already written the story before you came across the prize…

Keshe:     No.

Perito:     …but do you think other people or would you if you entered next year, would you find these sort of topics difficult to write about if you came up with things organically from scratch?

Keshe:     Yeah, so I think I already mentioned like I did really find this particular story very difficult to write, I mean it wasn’t difficult from a point of view of the time it took it came very quickly but once it was written I was kind of really shy about it. Like you know I mentioned to you before the Podcast started that I hadn’t shown my parents yet and I’ve shown very few people and actually once it was written I kind of sat on it for ages, kind of too afraid to let anyone read it because firstly I thought it was really weird and secondly it was so personal that I really felt as though it was like a piece of me and I kind felt that anyone reading it would know so much more about me than a lot of people do, so yeah it’s like kind of scary to be putting it out there but I think on the other hand it is an important topic to write about, I think writing what you know and writing about diversity and culture and inclusion and exclusion is really important especially in the current climate because like I said we are, and as a society as a whole I think we are really trying to hear from diverse voices which is a really good thing and I feel kind of like I can’t ignore that side of myself and be kind of true to myself anymore like I have up ‘til now so yeah it’s kind of a big thing, very scary to be putting myself out here like I am but I hope that it helps people understand what that sort of thing is like, yeah, but I’m not being very articulate at the moment but I think it’s just.

Perito:     (14.46) No I think it’s perfect.

Keshe:     and difficult to speak about.

Perito:     (14.50) I had a question about the hardest thing come up with the story for the competition, but I think you’ve answered that one quite clearly.  How long have you sat on the story before you decided to submit it?

Keshe:     I don’t actually remember, I don’t have a very good concept of time to be honest, as particularly a lot of my writing is done late at night when I can’t sleep so I kind of just, I either manically write really fast or like I sweat out individual lines over many, many months.  This one I wrote very quickly in the night but I think it was probably earlier this year and I was writing other things and getting feedback from readers about this and then the first person I actually showed at all was someone who put out a call on like a critic where it’s saying, “I have something really weird would anyone like to critic it” and I was like, “well I have something really weird as well do you want to read it as well” and I was kind of like sweating cos I was like, oh my goodness this is kind of scary to have anyone read something so personal but yeah like it was once it put it out there it kind of became easier to then decide that it was a story that needed to be told.

Perito:     (15.58) I think it’s important for you to understand that we had over 300 entries for the Perito prize this year.

Keshe:     Wow.

Perito:     (16.04) and so many of the stories have the same sort of impact, so you’re definitely not alone having written something that’s dynamic and unusual and that is entirely the point of the prize is to get people to think literally and laterally about all the themes of the competition as well and then ideally when people read these stories they will sit there and think, gosh I hadn’t viewed things from that perspective before, and because it’s bite size chunks it gives people the ability to understand the message in lots of different ways, so don’t ever feel that this is exactly what you should have done and I would say that the competition has been waiting for your story to come on in.

Keshe:     Thank you.

Perito:     (16.48) So the ending is quite specific, I was kind of in two minds we kind of, we ruin it a bit like a movie review on IMDB.

Keshe:     Yeah (laughter).

Perito:     (16.58) And as I read it, it’s what maybe you had in mind as a way of concluding this story did you add it later or did you, what did you learn about your story as you wrote it out, I guess that you can tell people about that journey that you went through I suppose in the dark room and how long it took you to write it through, but what was that bit where you hit that point in the story you just thought, you know what to hell with this bang I’m going to do it, or was it kind of much more calculated?

Keshe:     I spent a long time actually planning it in my head before I wrote it down, I think that’s why I can write it in such a short amount of time, it took a couple of hours to get all of the words out but I had been thinking about these concepts for a while and kind of formulating it in my head a little bit and I guess what I really wanted to get across with that ending was just that, that loss of identity can almost be as bad as death itself, like it’s just so tragic to really be yearning so much to be something different that you kind of lose yourself in the process so again like I don’t know whether I should be giving it away but it was very metaphorical I hadn’t like.

Perito:     (18.11) It’s your story Keshe so you tell it how it is.

Keshe:     So I mean I had one reader who completely, who thought it was literal and so kind of missed that point but most people kind of understood that it was like a metaphorical death and so yeah that was basically just it, I think while I was writing it I kind of, because I’m now at a place in my life where I can look back and think, no actually I really do accept myself and I accept my culture and I want to impart that onto my children that I am proud of my heritage and proud of my culture and that all of that sort of stuff that I struggled with growing up, you know that was so damaging and sort of maybe I didn’t see it at that the time that it was as damaging as it is so my parents probably will feel quite justifying or just they were always kind of like, you know you have to accept that side of yourself and things.  I think it was just kind of straggling my whole life journey up to now and so I think that it was a little learning process was just realising that I have come to accept myself so in this story the fact that the protagonist doesn’t accept herself as almost like a metaphorical death, if that makes any sense?

Perito:     (19.30) It does yes, yep, I’ll leave the listener to read or listen to it and make up their own minds but I think one of the things we’ve hit on here is getting feedback, now I know a lot of people who would be entering the prize or considering entering the prize will be either wary feedback, I personally as a writer I have (laughter) often had. I get quite agitated when it comes around to feedback cos either people are too slow, they don’t understand or they don’t want to do it and they say they will and they don’t and all these other things but it sounds like you’ve got some really good critical constructive feedback from various people.  How did that process work for you and are there any tips you can give listeners about how maybe they could get something similar going?

Keshe:     So I started creative writing again this year actually and so prior to this year I really had no concept as to how to get feedback or the need to get feedback and critics and I just joined like a heap of writers groups and critic groups online just kind of researching like I always kind of do, yeah so many people were just like it’s invaluable to get feedback because sometimes just so close to your work that you just can’t see when something doesn’t make sense or when something sounds a bit awkward or when things could be framed in a different way and sometimes it’s just really minor tweaks like swapping a word or just changing two sentences around in terms of their order, it can be just so minor but it can just make things so much more powerful and so one thing I found with critics is that, I mean I feel like, because I’m just starting out I feel like anyone offering to read my work is doing me like a huge favour so I feel it’s just they’re so generous with their time so I always kind of offer to reciprocate so it’s always, that’s one thing that I always do and yeah I guess like when I’ve had feedback, so sometimes like I said some readers don’t really get the point I’m trying to make or sometimes they are critical of what I’ve written I think, you know it can be really painful to hear that especially when you’ve written something very personal but just with anything because I think as a writer you always feel so sensitive and so much ownership and it’s kind of like your little baby that you’ve written and put out into the world that I think you can be really sensitive to anything negative but it’s important also to realise that when you’re writing your not really always writing for yourself, you’re really writing to get a message out there…

Perito:     Yeah totally.

Keshe:     …and the more people can hear that message then the more impactful it will be so it kind of serves a good purpose to make sure that you’re reaching as many people as you can with your message.  Yeah and so when I’ve been giving feedback I find it so helpful to try and really zero in on all of the positives as well, like I think it’s really easy to pick apart other people’s work but I think it’s just so important to raise everyone up and make sure everyone knows that everyone has good aspects to their work and there might be things that need tweaking but they’re keeping everything positive and being constructive is just so valuable.

Perito:     (22.54) That’s great advice.  So what was the most valuable thing about going through this writing process for you, sounds like you’ve had a lot of experience in the past but this is quite a recent return to writing, is there kind of something that’s really struck out and said, do you know what I feel better because I’m writing or I feel more creative or so and so forth?

Keshe:     Yeah from a personal point of view I mean I’ve always loved creative writing and I was saying to you before we started today that I had to take like a bit long break from any creative writing at all because I was very focussed on my academic career so that sort of took precedence for many years and so just being able to kind of stretch my brain in a different way is just so fantastic.  I think that having something as well, I mean obviously this year has been exceptionally stressful for virtually everyone in the world and for various areas and so just having something else to kind of focus on and nurture is just so nice, and it’s sort of like a personal journey because I’ve come back to it after such a long time away.

Perito:     (24.09) So has the prize made you think differently about how inclusion access and how accessible the world we live in actually is, was this something that was already plugged into you, with you before or do you look around the street and think, you know what that’s social exclusion, that’s someone’s feeling marginalised, someone can’t access, there’s a lack of inclusion here and there and everywhere?

Keshe:     Yeah, well I think that anytime you hear those words about inclusion and exclusion and accessibility it just puts the emphasis on it more and it just brings it to the forefront of your mind and one thing I particularly loved about the way that you guys framed your competition was that you made a point to say that it could, like the material could be submitted in a whole lot of different ways, like it didn’t necessarily have to be just pros on paper for people who might not find it easy to write because of various reasons or you know whether that’s like a physical reason or even just like you know a mental reason that there were other ways that they could submit work, I mean I just don’t see that very often, I think most of the time a lot of these things that you can participate in are very prescriptive and narrow in the way that you can participate and so I just thought it was so fantastic that you guys extended that and made it a point to say, you know we welcome everyone this isn’t gonna be like some de-ambitious, unreachable thing to take part in that only certain parts or some parts of society can take part in, it was like we welcome everyone, we want everyone to be included and we want to make it a positive thing, I think that’s really, that was likely to see that because obviously we read so much and a lot of it is so kind of rigid especially in the publishing world (laughter) yeah so that was real nice to see.

Perito:     (26.04) That is definitely, that is very right, yeah I found from previous writing and that’s why when we created this general experience it was all about trying to say to people and as a dyslexic myself grown up being called stupid at school it was very much a case of, if you can’t spell that well you can still be creative, everybody can be creative and everybody can express themselves in lots of different ways and I think we wanted to really draw out that by not creating barriers like for instance you have to be in South Australia and you have to be in this tiny part of South Australia and you have to pay 25 dollars and you have to be this and you have to be that.

Keshe:     Yes.

Perito:     (26.43) And I don’t think they’re setting out to be exclusive because they hate other people…

Keshe:     No, yes.

Perito:     …but it’s more the case they want to limit the opportunity to reward people in certain areas, certain things and I think we felt that wasn’t the right course of action it is building, I mean we can’t help everybody whole 100% of time but I’m glad that’s come across…

Keshe:     Yes.

Perito:     …and you felt like it was something that you wanted to get involved in that’s great.

Keshe:     Yeah for sure.

Perito:     (27.11) Finally then so any recommendations or tips for people entering next year?

Keshe:     I mean I don’t really feel like I’m experienced enough really to give out too many tips, I guess just like writing something (laughter) that’s probably the first step, I think so.

Perito:     That’s great advice.

Keshe:     After like it’s so easy to keep all of these stories kind of locked up in your brain and again like you alerted to in the last question there’s so many times where, like sometimes the barriers are external like we discussed but often they’re internal as well, often it’s kind of like, I’m not good enough for this, or like I can’t spell well so why bother entering or, there’s so many sort of like personal demons if you will but like you have to fight to sort of participate in something like this and also like I said when it’s something very personal and this topic and all of the sort of things that you sort of talk about they are very personal to people because you know a lot of these things and exclusivity or accessibility they can be sometimes painful things to write about from a lived experience so I think kind of just getting it down, and whether or not you even send that off or let anyone else see I think just getting it out there and knowing that your story is valuable and needed is probably the first step to overcome, that’s the only thing I can think of.

Perito:     (28.52) I think that’s a lovely piece of advice, I hadn’t thought about the number of stories that maybe have been written but never sent.

Keshe:     Yeah.

Perito:     (29.00) Well I’m really glad you sent in yours Every/Other was certainly a worthy winner amongst many this year.

Keshe:     Thank you.

Perito:     (29.08) So it’s been brilliant to find out more about you and your winning story but now it’s time to sign and tell listeners about the upcoming anthology that is available from Amazon around the world and the audio book which will feature Keshe’s work alongside a variety of other entries for the 2020 competition and will hopefully be available on Audible and other audio book sites as well.  Now thanks again to our special guest 2020 prize winner writer Keshe Chow, thanks Keshe.

Keshe:     Thank you.

Perito:     You’ve been tuning into the Perito Prize 2020 Podcast Special Edition, thanks for listening everyone, everywhere.

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Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2020 – Runner Up: ‘Mary Poppins Was Wrong About Pie Crust’ By Lucy Grace

Mary Poppins Was Wrong About Pie Crust

By Lucy Grace

 

Dear Judith,

Today at work Jerry from accounts said my piecrust was perfect and the colour of caramel like Sarah’s hair. He didn’t say it to me, they never speak to me, but I heard them in the kitchenette.  It wasn’t even his pie. I only make it on Sundays, with enough to last for Monday lunch. They didn’t ask if they could eat it, they just stole it. They never said. They said other things.

“What’s that awful smell in the fridge?”

“I’m guessing it’s Martin’s lunch again. It lingers.”

“Well, uh, there’s nothing in here that looks like food.”

“Usually in a green box. Martin has a thing for eggs and onions – I dread to think what his kitchen smells like.”

I don’t know what they’re talking about. My kitchen smells like a kitchen, what else would it smell like? I doubt they have kitchens, they’re too young. They’ll stay as thin as those too short trousers they wear if they keep eating things from packets for lunch every day, skinny in the wallet as well as the body. And someone really should tell them that tumble drying can shrink clothes in peculiar ways, sometimes just lengthways. And that if they bought socks all the same colour like my brown ones, they will always be able to make a pair. I never suffer from cold ankles.

It takes me three minutes to walk to the office kitchenette to collect my lunch, two and a half minutes to walk back (I am quicker on the downhill stairs) and three-quarters of a minute to set up my desk with the blue cloth, cutlery, flask and cup. I eat my lunch at 12.35pm. At weekends I eat at 12.30pm because my table is in my kitchen and it takes nine seconds to open my fridge and I can be ready with my cloth and cutlery before the clock chimes. But of course I don’t have a clock that chimes. That would be too much. I hope I’m writing this right, Judith.

*

I haven’t eaten with another person for twenty-two years. Not an actual person. There’s Radio Four in my kitchen, and the odd-bods who work in my office, but they mostly eat in the upstairs kitchenette and I eat at my desk so that doesn’t count.  When I was nineteen, I went to a pub with a misused carpet with the girl from the bus stop who made promises. She ordered pie. I tried to stop her, but she said I was a bully and she could eat what she wanted and I wasn’t the boss of her and did I think she was too fat? She said so many words so quickly, they fell out of her mouth like teeth and I couldn’t catch them all. And by the time I’d made sentences out of them, she had gone. The pub smelled funny and the tables were too close together so I left. She wasn’t too fat. She ordered cottage pie and that isn’t even a pie.

*

Grandad always made me wait for the chimes before eating pie – he said the neatness of the hour made the pastry taste better. His table is still in the same place and it’s the same table anyway. Everything is the same in the house, apart from the sharp knife with the butcher string handle, because the string began to unravel and dragged in the washing up bowl so I bought a new one. The girl in the shop made quite a fuss because of all the blood on the blade and the floor and she wouldn’t listen to me explaining that the only way to test a blade is to run your thumb across it, not along it, but in all the noise and shop lights I must have muddled my ‘across’ with my ‘along’ and there was the blood. It was only because of the way I banged my head when I fell that the ambulance had to come but the ride was white and quiet and it made a change from the bus. They said I could lie down. I was just glad it happened on a Saturday. The scar is a white threadworm on my left thumb.

*

The secret in piecrust is cold hands, Judith. I have cold hands and chilblains, but they’re on my feet, the chilblains.

“Don’t overwork it, lad, leave it alone,” Grandad would say.

Grandad was good at leaving things alone. Some days I didn’t speak to anyone. I showed the driver my free bus pass and the dinner lady my free school-dinner pass and the shopkeeper Grandad’s free milk coupons and they didn’t need to speak to me at all. It is better to have passes and vouchers to show people because then they don’t see you. At work I have a pass which hangs around my neck in a plastic wallet. It opens doors too. That’s even better, as people don’t even have to look at my face, they can look at my middle and they’re done with me.

Grandad showed me how to make pie.

“Measure your flour carefully, lad. Too much flour in your piecrust an’ you’ll go from tender to tough.”  Then he would say,

“This is the only time in life it’s good to be flaky,” and laugh wetly until it turned into a cough, and have to go outside for a cigarette for his lungs. I didn’t like the smell, but I liked to watch him smoke the neat little roll-ups from the flat tin. I would stand behind the brown kitchen curtain and watch him leaning back into the weak sun, his floured fingers on the fence.

*

Mary Poppins said in a film on the television that a piecrust promise is easily made, easily broken.

Judith – I don’t think Mary Poppins has ever made piecrust, it is not as easy she thinks. Her promises must be rubbish.

*

This morning the woman in the paper-shop said I had cold hands. She touched my fingers when I paid; I don’t know why because the paper cost exactly twenty pence and she didn’t need to touch me. Twenty pence is a single coin. I have that ready before I go into the shop. When the price of that paper goes up I will swap to a different one which still costs a single coin and has too many parts to it, but I don’t have to read them all.

She said,

“Cold hands, warm heart,” and smiled right at me. I had my gloves on so she didn’t know if my hands were cold and my heart is inside me anyway. Her hair is shiny like conkers. I look at her hands every day, they are pale and soft like raw pastry. I wonder if there would be a mark if I pressed them, gently.

*

She wasn’t in the paper-shop today. It was a fat man instead and he didn’t say anything about my hands or my heart.

*

Perfect piecrust has secrets, not promises. Grandad told me that. He said,

“You want little bits of cold fat in the crust – they’ll melt when it bakes. That’s the secret of flaky crust. Never tell other folk our secrets, lad.”

Does it count if I write them down?

*

Judith – she is back! It has been the fat man in the paper shop for twenty-six days and I thought she had gone forever but this morning she said,

“Cold hands, warm heart,” and I was so happy I walked to the bus stop forty-five seconds more quickly than usual.

*

My cupboard:

  • Two white cups, one for tea and one for coffee.
  • Saucers, none (unnecessary).
  • One drinking glass, medium, chipped.
  • One plate, green.
  • One bowl, for everything else.
  • One white enamelled pie dish with a blue rim, medium-sized.

*

Today isn’t a pie day, but I have thought about it a lot and know it’s risky but I am nearly forty-one and after writing up a pros and cons list like you suggested I’ve worked out the probable hazards and Grandad isn’t here anyway so I’m going to make the pies a day early and take them to her tomorrow. Antiques Roadshow won’t be on but I will hum the music instead.

*

This morning it was difficult to open the door to the paper-shop because I was carrying two pies in a bag. The bell jangled when I went in so she knew I was coming. When I gave her my single coin, I put her pie-cup down on top of the stack of papers and it looked tiny in my man’s hand and maybe not the right size. She didn’t say all the four words. Instead she smiled with the whole of her mouth and said, “Warm heart,” and I felt yellow like softened butter.  I smiled back, just a bit, without teeth, but I didn’t say anything because I didn’t have anything to say.

*

Jerry from accounts stole another pie. I had put it on the second shelf of the fridge, at the back, with a pink post-it note where I’d written DO NOT EAT and underneath that I’d written POISONED because they are too vain to risk getting sickness and diarrhoea in front of Sarah’s hair. I wrote it with my left hand as a disguise.

At 12.30pm I left my desk and at 12.33pm I reached the kitchenette, which was too soon for someone to eat a whole pie, but there on the worktop was my dish, scraped out with crust remnants on the edge. I was rageful. They are short-trousered idiots, I don’t know how they managed to get a job at all. Perhaps they cannot read. I went back to the stairs, but everything was ruined so I went to the toilets instead even though they smell purple and the long lights give me a headache. In the first cubicle I had a seven-minute sit down on the lid and the door opened and some people came in and I heard Jerry from accounts say, “Perfect pastry, just like Sarah’s hair,” and I hated him.

*

This morning I got to the paper-shop at 08.02 and she was there.

“I’m Jo,” she said.

Her words are as small as the pies. It is perfect. On the walk home I thought about cold fat, melting between the cracks.

 

*

This is the last page I will write. It’s a bit annoying thinking about what has happened in the day just to write it all down. Judith said, neuro-typical or not, it is Important to Process Events in order to Feel Things Properly. She has a fixation on Feeling Things, she’s always wanting to talk about Feeling Things. She said to pretend I was writing to her, to make it easier, but I have ended up writing to me. I still speak to her on Wednesdays anyway. The social services cardigan lady said it would either be medication every day or Judith’s leather chair every Wednesday, to Ensure the Stability of my Mental Health. Some people use so many words. One in seven is clearly better than seven in seven, so I chose the chair.

 

*

Tomorrow is New Year. I know I said I wasn’t going to write again, but I bought a green notebook. I have good news:

Jerry from accounts left work.

I took in a medium-sized pie in a foil dish to celebrate, with a note saying HELP YOURSELF. People wondered where the pie was from even though I held the pen in my right-hand. I didn’t eat any because other people might have licked the knife.

I still make pie on Sundays, but now I make two, and use both cups. I’ve bought another glass. Later, maybe tomorrow, I’ll tell Jo about Grandad and his pies, not anything worth mentioning really, but just so she knows, about piecrust and secrets and things.

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Perito Prize Winners

Perito Prize 2020 – Third Place: ‘The Little Black Stool’ By Fatema Matin

THE LITTLE BLACK STOOL

By Fatema Matin

 

When people think of accessibility, they may think of sophisticated software or state-of-the-art technology. They may think of equipment that changes lives in previously unimaginable ways and therefore equipment that is expensive. However, accessibility tools don’t always need to be complex. Sometimes, they can be as simple as a little black stool.

The little black stool that lived in our kitchen was like a member of the family. Well, it was to me at least. It was about fifteen centimetres high and I grew up using it every day. The top of the stool was designed with a pattern of circular holes and it had four reliable, stubby legs. It was made of cheap plastic, so it wasn’t worth much in terms of money but when we moved house twenty years ago there was no question of forgetting the stool and leaving it behind. The stool came with us. Whenever I needed to wash my hands or wash the dishes or help with the cooking the stool was there. Whenever I needed to reach up to put something away or to get something down, the stool was there ever loyal, ever helpful. I loved that stool. It meant a lot to me because I have Turner’s Syndrome and kyphoscoliosis which make me shorter than average. When you are shorter than normal, a stool like that is the best tool you can have.

But one day, my big brother stepped on it (the blob!) and it snapped into pieces. The stool died an unnecessary death after a long term of faithful service and my heart was broken into as many pieces as the stool. Slightly ridiculous, I know. We had another stool in the kitchen, but it just wasn’t the same. It was completely the wrong height! When I stood on it I was raised two feet above the ground! It’s kind of hard to explain but when you stand that high above the ground, you physically can’t bend your knees to reach the sink or the counter without the threat of unbalancing and slipping off. I also didn’t need to be two foot in the air every time I wanted to reach the lowest shelf of the cupboard- my family were mindful enough at least, to put most of what I used on a daily basis there. The only other option was to kneel on the stool for prolonged periods of time to be at the right height. but that was uncomfortable! My knees began to hurt so I stopped.

My brother didn’t see fit to replace the stool and no one else missed it like I did- no one else needed it quite like I did- so I wasn’t allowed to complain about it. Instead of replacing it myself- after all, I wasn’t the one who broke it- I do the stubborn thing and force myself to manage without it. My elbows may be by my shoulders, or I may be kneeling on the stool in front of the cooker flames just so that I can see into the cooking pot, but I still do everything that I need to do.

I guess that I’ve always been a bit stubborn. I remember, when I took a GCSE in Textiles, I reached the medals of the sewing machines reasonably well and got on with my practical work just fine. This made me so happy because I felt almost the same as all of my peers in the class. However, the technology department saw fit to arrange for the construction of a wooden pallet which slotted under the desk onto the floor. There was no need for me to feel quite as targeted by this as I did because the wooden block was meant to make the equipment more accessible to me by raising the pedal. It was meant to be a positive thing. Unfortunately, at the time, I couldn’t see it that way. I couldn’t help but feel singled out and I cried tears of shame. Needless to say, I refused to use it. I never touched it. Not even once. I told you I was stubborn.

It’s a pity because something I would have appreciated would have been making the jigsaw in the Resistant Materials Room more accessible. I learned for the first time how to utilise the incredibly sharp rotating blade which moved at incredibly fast speeds. There I would be, kneeling on a stool so that I could see what I was doing and be able to move the object forward towards the blade at the correct angle. The jigsaw was fastened to the counter and if you didn’t hold the material you were using tightly enough, the object you were holding would escape from you and rattle alarmingly around the teeth of the saw. My fear was one that one day I would get startled and topple off the stool backwards, injuring myself in the process. I felt confined and less mobile kneeling on the stool and I didn’t even want to think about falling forward onto the jigsaw! It just occurs to me now to wonder why I never spoke up. Why didn’t I say something about my struggle that a low stool would have alleviated? Things would have been a lot easier. I think that I’m just so used to getting on with the resources that are already available in all parts of my life rather than go out of my way to get what I need. Get a suitcase down from the top of my wardrobe? No problem. Put a board game back on top of my mother’s wardrobe? No sweat. It’ll be difficult but I get things done. Just don’t ask me how.

Anyway, that was thirteen years ago. The stool-less situation continued until my older sister Aysha glanced at me one day recently and asked me what I had been doing.
“I was washing the dishes,” I replied.
“Yes, but why is your chest wet Fatema?” she wondered curiously.
“That’s what happens when you’re shorter,” I sighed miserably.
My older sister is married and she has lived in her own house for about five years now. The next time I went to stay over at her house after we had this conversation, I noticed something new in the kitchen- a low stool, about fifteen centimetres high. I used it every day. No longer did I have to drag a heavy, solid wooden chair from the living room to the kitchen every time that I wanted to reach ingredients for myself and cook or bake. Everything that I needed to do in her kitchen, I could do more comfortably.

Then, each time I returned home, I would return to a kitchen where even getting a glass for water was sometimes slightly less than straightforward. You see, the tall stool is sometimes moved from the kitchen- I’ve yet to know why the person who removes it doesn’t put it back- so that when I need it, it isn’t there. I would get so frustrated that rather than hunting it down and fetching it back myself, I would place a foot on the washing machine door thereby raising myself to reach a glass from the cupboard. Okay, I’ll be honest, at other times I would just be frustrated at being so small.  At those times, dragging the tall stool across the kitchen annoyed me. To get myself a glass, I would disregard it and place my foot on the washing machine door anyway.
My older brother got irritated when he caught sight me doing this because he thought that I would break the washing machine door over time (I won’t). He told me never to do it again but he never once considered my need for that little black stool. I doubt he even remembers that it existed which makes me furious because I think about it every day. I don’t feel comfortable enough to request that my family leave a glass on the draining board at all times for me to access.
“Sure,” I thought bitterly, “I’ll stop stepping on the washing machine when I stop being so short or when I stop being frustrated about it.”

I hate being so short. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t want to learn how to drive. When I catch the bus, I’m the same as every other passenger travelling alongside me, but the thought of getting into a car especially adapted for me makes me feel embarrassed about myself and different from other drivers in an awfully obvious way that makes me squirm. People think that you get used to being short just because you’re born that way but it’s been more than quarter of a century and I haven’t gotten used to it yet so I’m pretty sure that I never will. I know that I should be more grateful. After all, people need all sorts of accessibility equipment to move, talk, hear, see and even simply to breathe. However, maybe I could take some steps towards being patient. I’m going to stop stepping on the washing machine from now on. I could find a driving instructor to accommodate me…and maybe, just maybe, I’ll even let go of my stubbornness and buy a little stool.

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Perito Prize Winners

A Thank You From Changing Places – The Perito Prize Charity 2019

 

 

Dear Perito Prize Winners & Competition Entrants,

We are delighted to to receive the donation of £100 from the sale of the Perito Prize Anthology 2019 to Muscular Dystrophy UK. We know we can beat muscle-wasting conditions more quickly by working together so thank you for all your support. Please extend our thanks to everyone who supported and contributed so kindly towards this.

Muscular Dystrophy UK know that every day counts for people with progressive conditions. That’s why we fund pioneering research to improve the lives of people today and transform those of future generations. And why we’re driving change so that muscular dystrophy becomes better recognised, people get the best care and support and potential therapeutic drugs reach people faster.

With your support we can be here for everyone affected today, tomorrow and every next day. Together we will bring forward the day when we beat muscular dystrophy.

If you have any questions about previous or future donations, please call our fundraising hotline on 0300 012 0172 (Mon-Fri, 9am-5pm).

Thank you again for your generous support.

Kind regards