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Mini Sledgehammer: June 2010

We shattered our record of participating writers at this month’s Mini Sledgehammer. Thirteen stories had our minds whirling with fantastic metaphors and surprising plot turns. Thanks for hosting us, Blackbird Wine Shop!

The winning story was “Unspelling,” by an anonymous writer who, in the author’s words, was “responding to four very fun prompts.”

Prompts included:
a hippie
a doctor’s office/clinic
“a pretty clear case of…”
correcting spelling


This place, man, it’s like the primordial soup of civilization. It’s the place misspellers wash up. It’s the place where words really matter, but only the words in your head, see? Because these guys – these differently abled, word-decoding challenged girls and guys (excuse my political incorrectness, but hey, isn’t this just one planet we’re on?) couldn’t spell to save their lives, and they’re here to save their lives. Keep that in mind, okay? They came here; they weren’t drafted. These muscley young men in their late 20s to their 40s—plus that guy with a cane and a scruffy beard, a Vietnam vet and a classic unschooled human being; and yes, these dedicated future nursing assistants, always female and often recovering—they came here of their own accord, their own volition, and I, the mere MFA-holder, the no-better-than-they student of the world, hired for $10 an hour, am not responsible for their well-being. Just, I am told, their ability to spell. That is all. Not to say I don’t live for my job, sabotaging the multiple offers I get from Wall Street moguls, high-tech company presidents, and community newspaper editors all the time to work for them… and make maybe $14 an hour. Instead, I choose the Portland Community College Writing Center.

Enough about me. Because hey, on Tuesdays this is a clinic, and I have reflected on my role here in this helping environment. Yes, I correct spelling; it is my responsibility to get these eager beaver community college students fully vested at PCC Rock Creek campus, on their way to a two-year degree and no longer dumped into developmental ed. I correct their spelling, but really, isn’t that just code for the canon, for supporting mainstream writing and thinking, for fucking these already marginalized young minds? Isn’t that morally bankrupt and just plain wrong? I think so. In fact, I know so, and I have an MFA to prove it. Haven’t you, like, ever heard of “unspelling, “ also known as “invented spelling” in the little kids’ schools? This, man, is what I secretly pursue: the truth behind the letters. Believe me when I tell you, I’m the most subversive thing in the Writing Center clinic on Tuesdays from 11 to 4 at Rock Creek campus in Hillsboro.

Take Judy, for example. I know from previous encounters she’s living in a place called Jessica’s House, where recovering addicts learn to spell “addict.” Ha ha. Sorry. I am being terrible. But Judy, she’s a pretty clear case of the unschooled writer. Her spelling of “convalescent,” as in “the contrast between convalescent homes and assisted living facilities for CNAs working in the field today,” was so frightening, man, I had to take a lude. Which I hadn’t done since, like, 1980. I took the lude, then I studied Judy, with her gaping mouth, her crooked teeth, her insatiable volubility, including interrupting me every millisecond, and I said, “You are going to have to break through this wall you have, Judy, of always relying on spell check. Isn’t that what your people call a dependency, Judy?” She looked up from the little end table there in the Writing Center clinic seating area, a scared and scarred 35-year-old woman who had been misled to think all she needed to be complete was good software. “You have so much inside you, Judy”—I meant that, man, I really did. I mean, with my MFA, all I’d gotten was a lousy $10 an hour job with no reimbursement for mileage, very few tax breaks, and retirement as distal as nirvana—and did I say I am 40, and thinking about these things, finally? Becoming more and more like my blessed goddamn parents? Sorry. Anyway, Judy broke into a wide, toothy, genuinely peace-loving grin. “You really do,” I continued, “and you can’t let this broken down heap of civilization codified in rules and regulations make you small, Judy. Spell “facility” for me, Judy!”

She put her head up like a wolf.

“F A S I L I T Y,” she said, kind of loud, kind of wolf-like.

“Not so loud, girl. But that’s fine. Don’t you ever stop writing just because you can’t spell. You hear me?”

She leaned in close. “Sure do. But I have to ask you about something.”

“Proceed,” I said.

“My COMPASS score? My placement score?”

I pulled out the keyboard tray from my PCC-regulation PC. My fingertips started dancing on a few of those keys.

“I’ve got powers, Judy. I’ve got ways of making the numbers look good. You’ll be in Writing 101, for college credit, next term, baby. I promise you.”

Judy smiled uncertainly. She rose and left our table, leaving her horrifically misspelled missive on top.

© 2010


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