All in a day’s work. A piece of work. Grunt work. Dirty work. It’s good work if you can get it. Work your fingers to the bone. Work your way up. Work your ass off. Work like a dog. Work yourself up. Work your magic. Keep up the good work.
Right now, my grandparents, who are in their 80s, are working to rebuild their house after it flooded with four feet of lake water during Hurricane Harvey. They are sorting through papers and linens and photographs, in rooms stripped of drywall, on floors stripped of carpet — an unwilling excavation of home.
Right now, one friend begins the heavy work of grief after her wife passed away suddenly, while another friend prepares herself for the hard and joyful work of birthing her son.
Right now, famous women are coming forward with stories of workplace harassment, while countless women from all walks of life are filling social media with personal stories of sexual violence on the job, on the streets, at home…
I am thinking about all of this as we wrap up our Proximity Issue 16: WORK — all the ways we work to survive, to persist, to find joy. Work defines our stories, our lives, our livelihoods. Work is labor, of the body and the mind. Work is art. Work is political. Work is survival.
Here, in our second annual Prize Issue, we share six incredible essays that explore the theme of work. Although each of these essays recounts, on the surface, a story in a literal workplace, they transport us in very different ways.
In “How to Burn Shit,” Joseph S. Pete describes a part of life in an Iraq war zone that few of us have encountered; while Gabrielle Montesanti, in “New York Nanny,” explores a far more interior and emotional battlefield.
Richard Gilbert, in “That Day At Joe’s,” reveals the work of a journalist as he gives a new ending to an old story; and Hannah Craig offers a lyrical appreciation for the lives and labors of immigrant workers in “Apology.”
Two of our essays take on workplace sexual harassment directly. In “It Takes A Boom,” Blaire Briody reveals a sweeping picture of the North Dakota oil fields, through the eyes of a lone female oil worker; while E.C. Kelly, in “Millennial Paperweights,” offers an intimate dissection of an unwelcome touch, and a cutting critique of her generation’s treatment in the workforce.
Together, these six essays represent the winners of our Narrative Journalism and Personal Essay Prizes, as well as runners-up in each category, and one editor’s choice selection. Congratulations to these six well-deserving writers. We are honored and excited to share their voices with you.
We round out this issue in an unconventional way. We cannot discuss work without acknowledging the larger cultural moment, in which a massive spotlight is shining on workplace sexual violence and harassment. So we are sharing a roundup of links to important essays that give voice to this moment, as well as an essay by educator, activist, and scholar Melissa Gibson, “On Decency.”
Finally, we share a story we originally published two years ago, “Borderline Mother,” by Laura Maschal. Laura was fierce, compassionate, and kind — a social justice warrior, an animal lover, a committed wife and mother and friend. We were devastated to learn of Laura’s sudden passing last week at the age of 39, and we are re-publishing her beautiful essay here — her first published creative work — in her memory.
A special thank you to fellow editor Maggie Messitt for her editorial assistance (in the midst of a doctoral defense, no less), to Liz Wyckoff for reviewing submissions in record time, and to our judges Adriana E. Ramírez and Ted Conover for so thoughtfully approaching the task of judging this issue.
Carrie Kilman, Editor