I made extensive preparations for this day. I set aside repetitive work that could be interrupted without penalty. Made sure I had some good snacks. Then I settled to my task and waited for the show to begin.

The Edna Staebler Personal Essay Contest judges were meeting to choose the winner. I had taken to calling the event “The Brawl”.

Perhaps you’re wondering why I care so much about the contest results meeting. Well, my nickname isn’t Contest Catherine for nothing. I am the front line, the filter, or for my fellow romantics, guardian of the contest entries. Not only did I process all of the work (every last one of those 109 essays and 221 poems), and correspond with all of the entrants, (that was me sending you those confirmation emails), but I am the only one who knew the identities of our contestants.

I ensured that nary an unsuspecting coworker stumbled upon my secrets.

Furthermore, the judges are a highly educated, well-versed and delightfully opinionated bunch who don’t hold back with matters of the heart, as the content submitted to contests are. My knowledge of the complexity of the personal essay was about to reach highs otherwise unattainable. I hoped to overhear how the stylized writing of certain essays would sway one judge or another, and how the group would come to an accord. You learn a lot by being a fly on the wall, and I knew that this would be one of the best learning experiences of my life.

Back to The Brawl. The judges took their places around our conference table, armed with coffee and pages upon pages of notes. I debated putting plastic sheeting around the office. Would it be a blood bath? Do I read too many crime novels?

Discussion began immediately, but tentatively. It was clear everyone had something to say, but weren’t sure how to proceed. Understandable, after all: the contest is in its second year, and only one judge was returning. There was a smidgeon of tension already detectable in the room. Preparations for battle were over and it was time to get down to business. I was so excited that I could barely concentrate on my own work. Knowing my enthusiasm to witness history in the making, the judges I invited me to take a ringside seat, but I declined knowing I would get absolutely nothing done (as opposed to the minimal things I managed sitting 15 feet away).

I waited for the claws to come out, for pre-planned persuading techniques and psychological warfare to erupt.

Know what I got? Nothing. Zip, zero, no dice. No fights, no exploding tempers, no tears. Passionate discussion on the merits of each essay in the running, yes, but no toe-stepping or trash-talking. make for a classy group, what else is there to say? I suppose I’ve outed myself as the least classy with my thirst for a (friendly, witty, well-deserved) brawl!

I was treated to excellent conversation on the merits and the interpretation of the personal essay. It turns out some of our judges are excellent sleuths too. I overheard, “This reminds me of So-and-so’s style of writing,” and I just grinned on the inside because So-and-so did write that piece! I had to keep my facial expressions neutral in case I tipped anyone off. It was a struggle. I probably deserve a cookie.

A mere three hours later, the whole thing was over. A relaxed group of judges leaned back in their chairs, smiles on their faces, ready to take on the next challenge (which was to eat lunch, in this case). I couldn’t take it any more and finally burst out with, “Well, don’t you want to know WHO won?”

“Oh yeah!” they cheered, “Let’s have it!”

Oh come on, you didn’t actually think I was going to spill the beans did you?