Pembroke Magazine

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​Published at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, Pembroke Magazine has been printed annually since its founding in 1969.


A BRIEF CHRONOLOGY OF PRETTY, creative nonfiction by Heather Breed Steadham

Six months before conference: forty-year-old woman, mother of three, wife of middle school teacher, mostly unemployed in order to pursue degree in writing and rather broke as a result, registers to volunteer at conference so fees will be paid. Beseeches friend in area for bed in order to avoid hotel costs. Talks two colleagues into carpooling twelve hours across four states so gas can be split three ways. This conference is vital to her career.

Isn’t it?

Two weeks before conference: forty-year-old woman, daughter of feminist nonprofit executive director, taught practically from birth that women are strong, smart, and bold, seeks advice from faculty on what to bring to said conference. One professor suggests “an extra piece of luggage to bring back magazines and books” and “business cards.” Another professor, male, tenured, Pushcart Prize-nominated, advises, “A remedy for hangovers? Aspirin? I’m coming to the conclusion that the most valuable time spent at a conference is at the parties. Especially if you are charming and witty, and it doesn’t hurt to be pretty, either.” Forty-year-old woman is immediately livid. Would male professor have replied the same to a male student? Do men even have a comparable aesthetic goal to achieve? Is a woman’s value as a writer inextricably intertwined with her ability to entertain and visually please simply because she is a woman? “Okay. I will bring my pretty if I can find it,” replies the woman instead. She wants to bring attention to the level of absurdity of his statement, but she doesn’t want to burn any bridges. She vows to only attend to his comment insofar as it makes her laugh. It’s ludicrous.

Isn’t it?

One week before conference: forty-year-old woman, former beauty queen, now aging and overweight after three c-sections, looks at the gray emerging from her hairline and the lines surfacing around her eyes. Saves fifty dollars from grocery budget to pay to have her hair dyed. Asks her sixty-six-year-old mom to buy a curling iron so she can do her hair daily at the conference, because she knows that’s her best feature. Has mom also buy her several hundred dollars in beauty creams and serums. Packs them all up, then takes picture and posts on Facebook: “Bringing my pretty.” Four toiletry bags worth. It’s a joke.

Isn’t it?

Week of conference: forty-year-old woman, starting out later in life than many writers, trying desperately to make the most of her time in school and do what she can to launch her career, gets up at six every morning and applies face creams, styles hair, artistically (and beautifully) makes herself up. She posts selfies on Facebook, asking if she is successful in bringing the pretty for the day. She tweets, “OMG! I sure hope I win ‘Best Hair’ today at #AWP15.” Because it’s a joke.

Isn’t it?

Last day of conference: forty-year-old woman, after a week of wearing her carefully selected, most flattering dresses, dons a relatively comfortable pair of jeans. Yet even though her feet are bleeding from a week of sun-up to way-after-sun-down walking in pretty flats, instead of choosing her Converse tennies, she bandages her feet and slides them, oh-so-carefully, back into the shoes that have brutally assaulted her. She plasters on that smile for one more day, then feels great relief as she casts off the shoes and sweeps her hair into a ponytail for the twelve-hour drive home. It’s been a productive trip.

Hasn’t it?

Day after conference: forty-year-old woman, mother of three, wife of middle school teacher, daughter of nonprofit director, former beauty queen, interstate traveler, spent after four a.m. arrival home, opens email to see acceptance from national publication, a submission she sent before attending conference. Hugs two-year- old daughter who crawls into her lap. Hugs her tight. Daughter has messy curly hair, dirty face, last night’s pajamas. Forty-year-old woman, unshowered, eye makeup running, greasy hair pulled back, finally feels pretty.

Doesn’t she? 

Heather Breed Steadham is a creative writing MFA candidate at the Arkansas Writers MFA Workshop. Her favorite movie is Labyrinth, her favorite song is “Little Wonders,” and her favorite food is the kind you eat. She’s working on finishing both a middle grade and an adult novel at the same time, because brain scrambling is just the kind of habit the Goblin King would be sure to appreciate. You can follow her on twitter @hbsteadham.