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Essay from ThePensters Writing Contest Medalist #1

Nobody liked Julia Simmons, and nobody knew why. As far as I knew, she had never done anything bad. Instead, I believe it was her presence that annoyed the students at Russell Secondary. Julia was like a small gnat; she never bit anyone, but constantly annoyed with her buzzing. At seventeen, she was a scrawny five foot one. Her wiry brown hair had a life of its own, and her second hand clothes left a trail of gossip. The most annoying thing, however, was Julia’s small black notebook. She carried it everywhere. And whenever Julia had a spare moment, she wrote inside it diligently.

My friends and I always wondered what she put in there. One day, I tried to read it, just to satisfy my curiosity. At lunch, I sprinted past and snatched the book as she took a bit of her tuna sandwich. Unfortunately, the lunch monitor snatched it back before I could get a good look at the first page. All I can remember are the neat, white letters on the front:

Julia Simmons

After lunch, my friends and I talked it over. None of us had the faintest idea of what a Penster was. In the end, we decided that ‘Penster’ was synonymous with ‘witch,’ and that Julia used the notebook to carry the recipes for potions. And all of a sudden, we had a reason to pick on Julia Simmons. She was casting spells behind our backs, so we had to defend ourselves. Whenever something went wrong, it was now always Julia’s fault. If Patrick MacDonnell contracted a hideous case of acne, it meant Julia had slipped potions into his coffee. If Lindsay Johnson broke her ankle, it meant Julia had sung to the moon the night before. The stories only got worse.

Sadly, I was at fault for most of them, though I regret everything now. Eventually, the stories got so bad that Julia had to switch schools. None of us ever saw that black notebook again.

It has been fifteen years since high school, and I currently work as a journalist for the New York Times. Though the job is amazing, it was the interview that impacted me the most. That day, I was understandably nervous, but it was completed without any major mishaps. After the interview, I was seated next to an attractive young lady. I am not sure whether it was post-interview adrenaline, or her wavy hair, but I decided to ask her out.

“Man that was intense. You want to go grab a coffee and wind down? I’m Mark, by the way.” I extended my hand for her to shake, but she didn’t take it.

“Aren’t you worried I’ll slip something toxic into your drink?” she replied sarcastically.


“Uh-huh. Not so witch-like anymore, am I? For the record, the reason I switched schools was because I attempted suicide.” She laughed dryly, “I always wanted to tell you that.”

“Julia, I am so sorry. I never realized – “

“But that’s just it, isn’t it? You never realize until it’s too late!” She took a shaky breath, “Do you get it Mark? Words hurt.”

“Julia, you might never forgive me, and I wouldn’t blame you. But before you leave, tell me what a Penster is, and set something right.”

She sighed and looked up. “A Penster is a person who writes about the everyday. People only write about the big things, but the small things are just as important.

It seems the background is often forgotten because everyone passes it by. But the ignored world is beautiful. I have always wanted to record it and help people realize the beauty, because sometimes, small things are all you have.”

We both became silent after that. Then, I realized that the world desperately needs people like Julia. We need people to help us appreciate beauty, because only when we appreciate what we have can we be truly happy.

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