WANTED: Instagram Micro Essays
We're excited to announce that we're expanding the micro-essay contest to Instagram. Participating is simple. Follow us on Instagram (@creativenonfiction). Post an original photo. Write a CNF-worthy caption (note: IG limits captions to 2,200 characters). Add the hashtags #cnfgram and #tinytruth. And we'll do the rest.
What will we be looking for? The same thing we look for in #cnftweets and submissions to the magazine: “True stories, well told.” Find inspiration in an amazing place, an unforgettable character, a moment in time, or current events. Use a photo (note: it should be a photo that you yourself took) to tell half your story and a crafted caption to tell the rest.
Every week we'll repost our favorite to our Instagram feed--and we'll share one in our newsletter monthly, and one on our website every third month.
Check out some of these early examples to experience the breadth of options this mixed media format offers… from travel essays to memoir to political discourse to research-driven exploratory narratives!
The train tickets we got off the black market in Cairo. We tried to buy them the legitimate way, standing in line at the Ramses train station, but the attendant shook his head and pointed us toward a scalper, who sent us to another guy, who charged far us too much. My husband, more content to stay at home than traipse all over Africa with me, fumed. He was already angry about paying a bribe at the airport to get his luggage. Think of it as a tourist tax, I tell him. No sense getting mad about it. You can’t change the way things are. We have a two-berth sleeper on the night train to Luxor with beds that fold up against the wall. We pull down one of the beds, sit cross-legged and play cards. I haven’t seen my husband in six months, and we aren’t acquainted with each other anymore. We’d talk, but we can’t hear each other over the metallic shriek of the wheels. The car lurches, and I spill koshary on his lap. Darkness comes early, and the train continues to rock through the night like a boat on rough waves. The bunks are too small for us to squeeze into together, so we sleep apart. My husband clambers into the top one because I’m afraid the train will shake me out of bed. In the morning, we see a tiny bullet hole has pierced the window. The cracks branch through the glass, but the panel remains complete, rifts and all. #cnfgram #tinytruths #latergram #travel #mystory
He placed his hand on my shoulder and directed my gaze at the moon. "You know, back in the Middle Ages, instead of the face of a man in the moon, they thought there was a giant man walking across it. A man who had been exiled to forever wander carrying a bundle of sticks. See him? See the bundle?” I saw him—legs outstretched in a gait that belied the monotony of eternal wandering. Behind him, the bundle loomed, larger than his torso and head, a blue-gray silhouette against the cold white. "Why was he exiled?” "Disappointed the Gods, I’d guess. Isn’t that why everyone is exiled?” I had to be disappointing the Gods that night. I could never leave things in the middle: books, bottles of wine, flirtations with inappropriate men. If exile were my fate, I would at least knuckle down. #cnfgram #tinytruth
For awhile, I carried my brother’s crime scene photos everywhere. I couldn’t bear to leave them–him–behind. What if our building burned down? What if the earthquake hit? Then I couldn’t bear to carry the physical photos because it could damage them. The police aren’t holding onto those negatives forever, I thought. I scanned all 24, saved them to a memory card that I tucked into my purse, and texted them to myself, one by one, over the course of a few weeks. Scroll through my iPhone camera roll, and there they are: my brother’s apartment door, mixed in with photos of the temple doors in Salt Lake City; my brother’s body in fetal position, jumbled up with downtown graffiti, like I stumbled onto his corpse on the sidewalk. Ever since the pictures arrived in the mail, I have these panic attacks: What if the police find them? What if they think I killed him? Who the hell stores pictures of a corpse in their filing cabinet besides a serial killer or a cop? Now that I have them in my phone, the panics are worse. It happened today, on a walk: What if I lose my phone and get arrested for murder? The scenario always ends the same way: my arrest. I am the one on the lam, not my brother. I am the one wanted for a crime, not my brother. I know it’s not rational: The police released those photos to me. I was 1,915 miles away when my brother died. And he wasn’t even murdered. Except he was. On the day I got the photos in the mail, I stripped nude and crouched in front of my couch in an identical position to the one in which he was found, the fetal position, the cops called it. I curled the fingers of my left hand—all except the middle one, which I extended almost straight, as he did in his last moment, one final fuck you on his way into eternity. I felt that fuck you. I felt it hard. "Looking at those photos fucked up everything,” I tell my husband. He knows what I mean: the writing, everything. Nothing is the same. I haven’t been the same. "I’m glad I saw them,” I say, and I mean it. “But I think, finally, I can say I took my research too far.” I carry my brother’s body around. I carry this secret around. The photos fucked up everything. #cnfgram #tinytruths
#cnfgram #tinytruth. Taxidermy: the word painted in letters that drip like blood down a jagged board nailed to a dying pecan tree. This image appears in more than one piece of fiction I've written. But it isn't until I see this neat sign, this bright Lone Star trailer off I-10 in Texas, across the road from Hruska's--known for its kolaches--that I write what I know about the taxidermist's daughter. Five days a week the school bus that stopped in front of my family's farm outside Roswell, New Mexico, also stopped at that pecan tree for the taxidermist's children. Nipple. Bone. Breath. Everything showed through the fabric of the sisters' worn out dresses, garments that resembled those worn by girls on Gunsmoke and Rawhide. Myra, the youngest girl, was a year ahead of me in school, her little brother the same age as mine. When the bus driver opened the door for them, we cleared a seat so the sisters could sit together, not because they requested this, but so they would not sit with us. The two older girls were quiet, but Myra was loud and boisterous. She asked to copy homework. No one replied. She cracked her gum and offered pieces to us from her grimy pocket. No one accepted. Shunned even by her sisters, Myra forced us to pay attention to her if only with our silence. The boy, his face caked with snot, always found a place with other boys, often with my brother, Johnny. They weren't close friends, but Johnny didn't ignore the boy's existence. After about a year, Myra and her family disappeared. Migrant workers were common in our farming community. We were accustomed to transient classmates. The bus no longer stopped at the pecan tree; the sign faded. When I was in college, my mother served on a jury down the hall from where Myra was being tried for the murder of her father and brother. Details leaked. The two had held her hostage in a trailer outside town, raping and torturing her until she got her hands on a gun and filled their bodies with bullets. Myra was found innocent. Self-defense. Her only defense. I put down my kolache and pick up my iPad. Haunted by Myra for decades, I attempt to acknowledge her presence.
Allegory: she is unconscious, few vitals, gone through godly membrane. Passed, we say, politely. But what if she is not all the way gone? What if she is suspended, in arrest? Perhaps a flash of heat, electricity, or plunge into ice bath. Perhaps she is only sleeping—stale, nostalgic dreams. Fear slumped into habit, and she went off every day—left dreams on the bedside, in drawers—took lunch and banal inventory. A good day is productive, hauls an objective yield—of fish, of numbers, or meetings from which people leave feeling smug. She went off to tend to another’s weak vision, and yet with her own stake, acres on which to collect thermoses and tote bags and to-do lists; a place at which to share the collective delusion that any of it matters. Or, that any of it matters in the right way. This is not the vision worshipped in schools. Here, people are not nimble and principled, but sallow, satisfied, driven by fear or comfort. The weak army of the smiling and effective ascends, soars even. She let the dreams at home collect pollen and skin cells and hideous mites. She failed her history classes, on the wars and ravages; she slipped the noose of the lessons of the lynchings. The colossal weight excised from the textbooks, her conscience mute. And though ruddy and plump, a malignancy has stolen her. No more rock and roll roiling her pulse. Only endless wars and work and foodstuffs and consumptive inertia. She is America, an autoimmune disease, an ouroboros, the worst sort of recidivist. The tragedy was falling asleep at the helm of disaster. The tragedy was sailing headlong at myth. The tragedy was slowing her pulse and letting her body drift toward Florida, Ferguson, and every other post-racial mirage. No matter that the vessel wasn’t sound to begin with, she should have steered it better. But she is on the iceberg now, swirling search lights over the gridlocked government and the slain in the noon streets and the white hands caked with gunpowder and the pale indoctrination in the schools. The ship is listing still, but starlit and woke, at last. And those stars? They are the sky on fire. #cnfgram #tinytruth #blacklivesmatter
#tinytruth #cnfgram My son was ten years old. The antibiotics they gave him at the first emergency room weren’t working, and the thing was just getting bigger. I’m talking about an abscess that festered at the base of his spine. It was the size of a strawberry, rising out of his skin like a tiny volcano, looking like it wanted to wipe out villages. That first E.R. visit took us by surprise during an out-of-town trip when I lifted his Star Wars T-shirt and saw it there, red and damp and pissed-off. Opting for drugs over drainage, the attending doc sent us away with two bottles of pink liquid that had no chance of working. Three days later, with the thing growing by the hour, I hauled him back in because it was Sunday afternoon and because I had to teach the next day and because I had already cancelled my 10 am class twice this semester and because I wasn’t sure our regular doctor would see him if I waited for the more civilized option of Monday. I abused the E.R. For convenience. I knew this was not that kind of urgent. Emergency rooms give me whiplash. It’s all hurrying up and abruptly stopping and then starting the next long stretch of nothingness and waiting. Nothing felt urgent about the way they ignored us. We waited while the on-call doc negotiated a transfer to the urban hospital ninety miles inland. We waited while nothing at all seemed to happen. Did we belong here? Should I have sucked up and cancelled class? Was my drive toward convenience wasting our time and everyone else’s and exposing us to unnecessary infections? I couldn’t know. Hours turned into more hours and we schemed an escape through the ceiling tiles. Then the attending descended on us with a nurse named Steven King (I’m not kidding) and they attacked my son with a syringe of ineffective novocaine that ran in rivulets down his sides. It had to be drained, working pain killer or no, and they forced the pus out with needles and squeezing while my son begged them to stop and yelled that it hurt. He refused to cry, and I wrapped my unknowing self around his upper half in a futile, protective gesture. The volcano disgorged its innards in one urgent eruption.