“Are you kidding me???” was my first thought when I found out I made it to the top of the waiting list for the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop this year. And once I was there, it was a fun weekend of kidding around with some of the funniest kidders around. A conference tradition is a stand up comedy show on the last night. Stacey Gustafson was the first person I met who was one of the few attendees brave enough to sign up to be in the show. I remember thinking that I’d never be able to stand up in front of hundreds of people, read something I wrote and wait (and pray) for laughter – especially with an audience full of humorists!
Just showing up for the conference was about all the courage I could muster. Since last fall, Lyme brain had not only taken away cognitive function, it had also taken away my self esteem. Truth be told, I almost cancelled the trip. I was terrified to go and look like a forgetful, mumbling, bumbling idiot – at the queen of humor’s name-sake workshop no less. But alas, I couldn’t finagle a refund so off to Dayton I went.
There were many ups and downs during the trip (see some photos at the end of the post), but I will tell you the biggest highlight here (I will save the funny lowlights for another post.). The conference sessions were led by some really heavy hitters in the writing world. At first, I found myself slinking further and further down into my seat during the sessions, thinking I belonged at the conference less than I – as a lefty – belonged in that right-handed college lecture hall desk, writing in a right-handed spiral notebook. My smudged notes and my inky covered pinky were very symbolic of how I felt in a room full of confident accomplished and talented writers.
But then a strange thing happened. The more writers I met, the more I realized that even those who had written multiple books or had a syndicated column or had gazillions of monthly online views all had something in common: they had doubts about their ability at some time or another. And then another strange thing happened. As the hours went on, I started to feel like I did belong at the workshop honoring the late great Erma.
By the end of the second day, I found myself sitting in the front row of a session led by Dan Zevin, the 2013 winner of the Thurber Prize for American humor and the 2014 National Society of Newspaper Columnists “Humor, over 50,000 Circulation” winner. (Incidentally, my blogging friend Darcy of So Then Stories won the “Blog and Multimedia Columns” category!! She’s one funny lady – you should check her out.) Dan’s session was a hands on workshop (or pens on?) where he gave us writing prompts, a short time to respond, and the opportunity to read our writing result to the room. I sat in awe of story after story being read. How did they come up with that brilliance in a couple of minutes?? And how did they have the courage to read it to a room full of people??
It was time for the last writing prompt of the class. “A character on a train sits down and takes his shoes off and massages his feet.” I scribbled furiously for the 2 minutes (which seems like 2 seconds when you are being timed!) and came up with…
I was riding on the train to Toepeka and I was in a real jam because of the guy who sat next to me. I tried to shoe him away but he sat a foot away from me the entire ride. I knew he was a total heel when he started massaging his bare feet. I wanted to haul off and sock him. What an arch hole!
Then the strangest thing of all happened. When asked who’d like to read their story out loud, my hand went up in the air. What the heck?? I DON’T READ OUT LOUD. What are you doing hand?? Get down from there. Before I knew what was happening, Dan pointed at me…and I started reading. It’s no stand up show, but was a big step for me. I’m not the hand raiser. Not the public speaker. Not the put myself out there and risk crickets type. But I did it. Erma’s conference gave me that. And then Dan gave me something more: a compliment.
After I finished reading, I looked up – shaking and red-faced I’m sure – and Dan said five simple words “That was funny! Really funny!” As I exited the classroom, I thanked him for the fantastic session and he again complimented my story. The Erma Bombeck website describes their writer’s workshop as “very supportive to both new and established writers looking for the kind of inspiration Erma received from University of Dayton professor Brother Tom Price: ‘You can write!’”
I’m sure Dan Zevin has no idea that his words felt like my “you can write” moment. Several months later, my foggy Lyme brain is still preventing me from writing often (it’s embarrassing how long this admittedly ordinary post took me to write) but when I get discouraged and want to just quit, I pull out my smudged spiral notebook and remind myself that I was funny. Really funny.
Will I be signing up for the stand up show alongside Stacey at the next Erma conference? Probably not. But I will at least feel like I deserve to be in the audience.
My trip in photos. Well, a few photos. I will post more with the funny “lowlights” post.
My “I may throw up before I get there” airport selfie.
After seeing my hotel room, it was VERY tempting to just hide the whole time. Comfy bed, flat screen and…silence!
Luckily I soon found some of my blogging buddies: Hairpin Turns Ahead, Notes From the Shallow End, The Shitastrophy, Science of Parenthood, and Elle Roy Was Here so didn’t retreat to my hotel room retreat. It was like a reunion with classmates I had never met.
Cake was served at EVERY lunch and dinner. And the best part? Everyone ate it! There was no “oh, I couldn’t possibly eat that fattening dessert.” Every bite was gobbled up on every plate at every meal. At EBWW, you really can have your cake and eat it too.
My end-of-first-day selfie: more tired, more puffy but also more happy that I went.
Phil Donahue was the first keynote speaker. I had no idea he and Erma grew up together and were life-long friends.
The workshop was a magical experience. Erma truly does live on at this conference.
If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy Monkee-ing Around at the Carry On Warrior Book Signing.
***Please pardon my site’s appearance as I’m going through a redesign and migration to a self-hosted site.***
Stacey Gustafson is putting herself out there in a brave way again, with the cover reveal for her new book, Are You Kidding Me? My Life With an Extremely Loud Family, Bathroom Calamities, and Crazy Relatives. I can’t wait to read this book when it is released this fall because I have an extremely loud family, more than my share of bathroom calamities and…well…some relatives read my blog so I will just leave it at that.
I will leave you with a little teaser for Stacey’s book: Hop into your minivan and get ready to cruise through the crazies of Suburbia! Humorist Stacey Gustafson makes an entertaining tour guide in Are You Kidding Me?, a brash, voyeuristic peek inside the topsy-turvy world of suburban motherhood, midlife madness, and all points in between. If you’ve ever called SWAT on a neighbor, faked a heart attack in church, or pulled your hair out while questioning the sanity of your family, Stacey’s tongue-in-cheek brand of humor will resonate with you. Enjoy the ride and don’t forget to fasten your seat belt.*
*I received no compensation for helping Stacey promote her book.