Ok, y’all know I love me a good writers conference. After I left a career in corporate sales to be a writer, I made attending writers conferences part of my ongoing education goal. I’ve attended at least one a year since 2012.
Well, this year something magical happened. I GOT INTO THE ERMA BOMBECK WRITERS WORKSHOP!
ERMA BOMBECK, FOLKS! ONE OF THE FOREMOTHERS OF FUNNY!
The Erma conference happens every two years, and the last two times I tried to get in, it sold out. No joke, this conference sells out faster every year, like in four hours or less.
So this year, I marked my calendar, I had my morning off, I was holding my credit card in hand with my laptop and my phone ready to GO!
And then, I flew to Dayton, Ohio and proudly wore my newbie sticker that said “Erma Virgin”. Yes, that is what they gave us. Be still my humor-loving, former Catholic heart.
I’ve been to some stellar conferences and always left inspired, but there was energy like you can’t imagine at this conference. (In fact, the organizers said this was the highest rated conference to date!) I got my schedule, planned out where I was going to go, and then immediately threw that out the window, tried something new, made great friends, and gave it all my best!
ERMAgawd, here’s why you should go!
Taking risks leads to opportunities and learning lessons.
You all know I like to say yes to new experiences, but being the newbie here, I was admittedly nervous.
A fair amount of the workshop focused on stand up comedy with the hilarious Wendy Liebman. Wendy’s been a stand up comedian for over 30 years. She’s performed on Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon, Kimmel, and been a finalist on America’s Got Talent.
It seemed like everyone was talking about the stand up classes. Everyone I met was trying stand up or working on their bits. But I had no intention of going. I’m not a stand up, so that’s not for me.
You guys all know I went, right? LOL
I had planned what workshops I was going to attend the night before they started, and that was the last time I looked at that list. If the stand up classes were getting all the buzz, then I decided to go and see what I could learn from them. After all, I like working in different formats because it teaches you new things about your writing.
After the first class listening to people tell jokes, my gears just started rolling and I spent that night coming up with some material. So the next day, I got up with a bunch of other brave, risk-taking people and did a minute of stand up. And I got laughs! Good ones! That is a very good feeling. One that I’m interested and willing to try again! All because of a risk.
A risk, and the ever delightful and supportive Wendy Liebman, who just happened to be on the same flight to Chicago as me, and who gave me wonderful feedback and encouragement while sitting at our departure gate despite the fact that it wasn’t even 6am yet. Bless you, you’re so kind and charming, and I’m eternally grateful.
Find the Funny
The other classes I attended were about finding the funny, whether it’s using it to add heart or get through hard times. Or even just on Twitter.
One of my favorite workshops was with Lauretta Hannon, author of The Cracker Queen. She had a lot of great tips on being comfortable with writing your story, even the dark parts, while being ok with yourself in the process. I can’t wait to read her book after she shared some examples of how to use humor to write about the tough stuff, and also where to let the dark moments speak for themselves, because we know not everything we go through will be funny.
Both Lauretta and T. Faye Griffin, another presenter, reiterated that making people laugh is a gift. Some of the best writers out there have the ability to make you feel something or learn something, but do so through humor, and that is a very special skill.
It’s kind of mesmerizing to me how many different ways there are to be funny. You can do stand up, you can tell a story, you can caption a photo, you can come up with a punchy headline, you can tweet just to name a few. If there was one takeaway from this conference, it is that “funny” is all around us, and we have the skill to shape it.
I’m so grateful for this opportunity. The crowd at Erma is one of the most supportive I’ve ever seen, which is appreciated because I took one other risk while I was at the conference and signed up for Pitchapalooza, “the American Idol of books”.
In a room of roughly 100 people, I put my name in a hat that probably had at least 60 of those people’s names in it. Only 12 were chosen and I was one of them. I got to pitch my book for one minute to a panel of judges and get feedback on my pitch.
I swear I thought the audience would hear my heart beating through the microphone, but I had practiced my pitch beforehand and gave it my all. I didn’t win the contest. (Way to go, Liz Dubelman, who did win! She was the first person to say hi to me at the conference, so I have a soft spot for her as a human being. Thanks!) I got really positive feedback and simple tweaks to improve my pitch, and was even complimented on my performance! And that’s a win in my book!
So there you have it, taking risks and finding the funny is what Erma is all about. I’m so glad I could attend and so grateful to the conference organizers, presenters, the keynotes (btw, I hope I wasn’t the only one who noticed all the female keynotes got standing ovations), and my fellow attendees. I’m still riding the highs and energized by all of you!
What are you currently learning about your writing right now?
What’s inspiring you?
The wide world of the interwebs has been on a role lately. It gave us these amazing gifts and scattered them across our Facebook feeds, blog readers, twitter timelines, and one of my particularly favorite time wasters, YouTube, and its endless rabbit hole of clips to watch.
With the new year already flying by, friends and family alike are feeling overwhelmed. Adding in the loss of David Bowie and Alan Rickman only heightened all “the feels” and I think we could all use a little entertainment that makes us smile, or better yet, bust a gut laugh.
I Give You These Gifts the Internet Gave Us
Go Ahead and Laugh
Because everyone loves a good pun, Comedy Central sent out the hashtag request to #InternetABook, and Buzzfeed collected 29 Hilarious Literary Internet Puns. Don’t judge me, but my favorite one was “Moby Dick Pic.” I died laughing.
Reaching ERMAGHERD status – James Corden and Tom Hanks acted out Hanks’s film career in a matter of minutes and it’s spectacular.
Stop everything you’re doing right now and take this quiz. Wes Anderson has to be one of my all time favorite film directors. I will watch anything that man creates, even if it was an ad revival to bring back yellow pages on the home shopping network. (But why would anyone want that?) Anyway…
I got: Jane from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou
“You and Jane share a tenacity and a love of words. Whether you’re also a journalist or not, you’re always searching for the truth and greater meaning in life, just like Jane. You’d make an effing great duo.”
Brace yourselves, children, because Anne of Green Gables is back!
Or check out celebrity nano-impressions by Ross Marquand! See celebrity impressions in common day snafus. My fave: Brad Pitt forgets what he was going to say.
In honor of Alan Rickman, let’s talk about that time he pranked Harry Potter with a fart machine. Don’t you wish you were a fly on that set?
And Now For Some Self-Care Super-Stories
August McLaughlin is my sister from another mother, and she penned this awesome post about 5 Empowering Questions to Ask Yourself Daily for a Groovier, More Impactful Life. I am all about the side hustle right now.
Kirsten Weiss of the Para Your Normal blog shared 5 Mantras to Boost Your Magick. Let’s just say, the universe has been telling me this for awhile, and I’m ready to listen.
My friend Liz from Be. Love. Live. is offering free life coaching now – and I jumped at the chance. Liz has 20 years of experience as a mentor and coach and her blog is one of my favorite motivational/inspirational blogs. It’s real, she’s on a journey too, and it’s full of her beautiful photography not stupid posters with kittens hanging from tree branches. (Note* I have nothing against kittens on tree branches.) Check out Living Intentionally: How to Take Control of Your Life One Moment at a Time.
“Raise your hand if you’ve felt completely overwhelmed sometime in the last six months.” That’s the comaraderie you’ll find with Heather at Hiya Tootsie who gifts us with How to Handle the Overwhelm: a 6 part strategy.
If inspirational just isn’t your thing, then I leave you with Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck. He’s got this thing figured out, and it’s funny.
What’s been making you laugh this week?
How are you following your dreams?
This is my husband, Joe.
To clarify, he’s the non-reptile one.
Joe likes road trips, playing 2 recorders at once,
and making his wife sing songs with him.
Whatever he says, it’s typically entertaining, so I like to share it with all of you!
Recently, we went to see the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens. We both really liked it! And I guess he had the movie on his mind one night when I overheard this…
Joe: Aiding and abetting…
Joe: Chewbacca lovers.
Me: What about them?
Joe: I don’t know… They’re up to something.
Then, a few nights later, he made this random statement.
Joe: I wish I had some coconut oil.
He claims that dream came from a Facebook ad in his feed about coconut oil being a fix-all solution for any problem. Sure, Joe. Whatever you say.
What do YOU think the Chewbacca lovers are up to?
And in case you missed it, celebrity themed movie marathons are back! Every wednesday night this January, we’re watching an Emilio Estevez film and celebrating #EmilioFestevez!!!
Watch along and live tweet the film using the #EmilioFestevez hashtag.
And now, there’s a Facebook group for that!!
Movie marathons are bi-monthly, and if Twitter’s not your thing, you can hangout on Facebook too. Find out the movie lineups, share your ideas for future marathons, and meet other film-loving fools like you! Hope to see you there!
I’m a fan of the ‘Save Link’ option on Facebook. Only I’m terrible at actually going back and looking at all those saved links.
At any given point and time, my laptop has at least 10 tabs open of blog posts waiting to be read.
So, in honor of New Year’s being just around the corner, and it being a time of year for renewal, I thought I better clear out my digital queue.
Here’s what I meant to read, and just finally did.
Self Care Tips and Do Good Ideas
My year has been another one of transition and change. It’s been full of stress. And I’m not a good model for slowing down. These posts gave me some food for thought.
In need of some manageable, quick tasks to help you feel refreshed? Check out 15 Easy Things You Can Do That Will Help When You Feel Like Shit.
Want to reduce your stress level by 68%? Who knew all you had to do was read before bed!
And then when you’re ready to reflect, make some new goals, and treat yo’ self, read 26 Things Every Person Should Do For Themselves At Least Once a Year.
Ready to put some good in the world? 15 Things For When the World is Shitty and Terrifying.
Writing Tips and Blogs to Read
This year I became a freelance writer, writing both for local magazines as well as online sites. And I’m still plugging away at my book. Here’s hoping I can reserve more time to write in 2016.
Struggling with some aspect of your writing? Watch out for these culprits: Doubtful Writing Habits You Should Forget About.
How to Be a More Productive Freelancer in 20 Minutes is both a funny read and good advice from the seriously silly Schmutzie. Read for a laugh, stay for the tips.
Jane Friedman is a stellar resource for any writer and she nails it with 5 Reasons You’re Experiencing Writer’s Block.
Now, need a kick in the pants to get going again? Advice in Six Words: 17 Inspirational Writing Tips.
Just For the Fun Of It
It’s not Jess Witkins’s Happiness Project without a little fun involved!
Because it’s not time wasting when important questions are being solved. Which Jane Austen Heroine are You?
I got Catherine Morland. No surprise there. 😉
Because this is so real it hurts: What Marriage is Really Like.
And lastly, this beautiful round up courtesy The Bloggess, who shared all three Bad Lip Reading versions of Star Wars in We’re Those People.
Your turn! Show some linky love in the comments below to the posts you’ve been reading or feel free to share one of your own. Let’s keep the blog hopping non-stopping! Cheers, friends!
I am not a photogenic person. I never have been. I simply don’t have one of those faces that effortlessly looks amazing all the time.
I have one of those faces that requires work. It is great for making really awkward faces. I have a big nose, that scrunches up when I show any kind of emotion, and I have gigantic teeth. No, literally my teeth are so big, I’ve had NINE removed, and I still have a full set of teeth.
You may be thinking, “That’s…a fun fact. Thanks for sharing?”
Those selfies you see on my instagram account probably required like 20 or more shots. My photo collections from trips I take or events I’m involved in are all staged. You will not find candids, because when people try to take candids of me, they look like this…
That is a real, undoctored photo my husband took of me while storytelling.
And I was telling a funny story! Why do I look so…so…annoyed?
Have you ever watched America’s Next Top Model, that show hosted by Tyra Banks? She’s always telling the girls to smile with their eyes, she calls it SMIZE. Well, if the photos from above are any indication, the only contest I’m going to win is for the smier – I can sneer with my eyes, you guys. Or maybe it’s smudge? Cause I’m judging you with my eyes. All I know is, look at that epic scowl, folks?
And that’s why I’ll never be a teen model.
Also I’m pretty sure there’s an age clause in the contract that requires the model to in fact, BE a teenager. But I haven’t looked into it, who knows?
How do you feel about photos of yourself?
Do you know how to smize or better yet, smier?
If you google “will mermaids take over our jobs” you will, in fact, find a slew of mermaid job opportunities.
I thought it was important you know this. Because Professional Mermaid is a thing.
I was recently out to coffee with a friend who had heard about a documentary (later outed as a docufiction) called Mermaids: The Body Found. It aired on both Animal Planet and the Discovery Channel. You can see film clips about mermaid sightings, their evolution, and history here.
Or you can look on YouTube and find the whole thing – but I’m not responsible, related to, or acquainted with whoever put it there.
I think the show’s worth a watch, if you can get past the narrator referring to them as “underwater apes”. That’s as bad as calling a tyrannosaurus rex a “big lizard.”
But this story gets better.
During its US premiere, Mermaids: The Body Found received 1.9 million views, the largest the network had seen in six years.
A vast majority of those viewers missed the teeny tiny, somewhat hidden disclaimer behind this mockumentary, and believed that shit WAS REAL.
As a result, thousands of people started writing letters to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration demanding action.
What if the mermaids started eating all our shrimp and caused a food shortage?
What if they were after OUR JOBS?
In what bored, cubicle-trapped mind, would you fear that of all the possible things that could possibly happen, MERMAIDS swarming the workforce, overtaking your career, would be something worth writing an angry letter about?
Like a pack of mermaids are gonna scuba their way inside the nearest factories and corporations and start mass applying for jobs with 401k plans?
Or like, you’ll be in a video store with your family, looking for a movie to watch, when suddenly the clerk shouts out from her tank behind the register that ‘Free Willy’ is her pick of the week and she highly recommends it?
Do you know that only 36% of the population even voted in the last federal election?
We can’t remember to vote for the bi-pedal humans that LEAD us, but we’ve got time to get pissed off about mermaids?!
Wait for it, it continues to get better.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration got so many letters that they issued a statement. And in that statement, they said that mermaid migration leading to infiltrated job opportunities was not a concern of theirs as 1) mermaids aren’t real and 2) if it ever DID happen, it’d be a problem for immigration, so please stop writing them letters about mermaids.
This is too rich. I mean, this story is like eating a decadent cheesecake. Or a crab cake. Either way, I want another bite.
While researching mermaids (and finding the definitive proof they exist, but I don’t have time to talk about that today), I also found these gems.
- Plan your next vacation at Weeki Wachee Springs State Park – Home of the Weeki Wachee Mermaids
- Check out Tears of a Mermaid, the short film starring Hannah Fraser, who works to promote education and conservation of ocean life. She took a unique approach to not just deep dive, but dance, with one of the deadliest ocean predators, the Tiger Shark.
- Another ocean conservationist and entertainer is Mermaid Melissa. You can even hire her for parties!
- Watch the trailer for Funny or Die’s latest Sophia Coppola film, The Little Mermaid
What do you think? Are mermaids real?
And will they take over our jobs?
Last but not least, this week is the final #Keanuthon countdown.
We had a great time watching The Matrix last wednesday. Hop on the hashtag #Keanuthon to see all the fun!
This week we’re watching Constantine, one of my favorite Keanu Reeves movies. He plays John Constantine, a man who has “been to hell and back.” He’s on a mission to prove himself. Co-starring another favorite actor of mine, Rachel Weisz, together they team up to solve the mystery of her twin sister’s untimely death.
I hope you join us for one more round! I’m looking forward to it!
Hubby and I are thinking of hosting a scary movie marathon in October.
Interested in joining us for a #ScreamingScreening?
I met Keanu Reeves last week.
By now, if you read my blog, or follow me on any social media account, you’re well aware that my husband and I have been hosting a Keanu Reeves themed movie marathon all September long called #Keanuthon. I’ve been live tweeting the films with friends and followers every wednesday.
So when we serendipitously ran into and MET Keanu Reeves last week, I guess people wanted to know the story.
To begin, we unknowingly kicked off #Keanuthon on his birthday.
At the end of our hiking trip, we decided to grab a beer and then get dinner because it was still the weekend after all, and beer is delicious.
Do you believe in signs? Cause this is the part where shit gets crazy.
The first bar we went to was near the bluffs we were hiking in, but when we got there we learned it was closed. Like really closed. The place was condemned.
Our second stop was to a new brewery in town, which neither of us had yet tried. Also closed. (Not also condemned.)
At that point, we got out of the car and decided to walk around downtown and just bum til we found a place. So we find a bar we’ve frequented aplenty, buy our drinks and head upstairs for a table by the window.
Now, we’re in the bar approximately a half hour, chatting about our hiking trip, making future plans, blah blah blah, when I look across the street and start watching this guy standing outside a restaurant.
“You know, my contacts are a bit dirty, but that guy looks like Keanu Reeves,” I said.
“Oh yah,” said Joe, turning around.
We stare at the man. We watch him take a drag on his cigarette and run his hand through his hair.
“It’s uncanny,” said Joe. “Even his mannerisms.”
“Huh,” I agree, nodding.
We go back to talking about whatever else we talked about.
Once we finished our drinks, we headed out to get dinner down the block, but the Keanu Reeves lookalike was still outside. We started to wonder…
Joe suggested we cross the street “for a better look.”
Mid-street crossing I was in the mindset that this was just an extreme lookalike situation, and I bet he gets asked this all the time, but I’m going to ask for a picture because I’ll tell him about #Keanuthon and how funny it would be if I posted that I met Keanu Reeves (but it was just a lookalike).
Understand that at this point I’m walking up with full confidence.
And when we’re 3 feet away…
*laughter* “That’s really Keanu Reeves,” Joe said.
Everything after this happened SO FAST. I halted in my tracks. I thought Joe was pushing me forward, he thought I was pushing him forward. The REAL Keanu Reeves heads inside the restaurant and I hear Joe say, “We’re eating here.”
The entrance to the restaurant has a few stairs down to the floor and again, we’re pushing one another.
All Joe can say is “It’s really him.”
And all I can say is “BUT WHY???”
Why is the REAL Keanu Reeves inside a restaurant in my city when we’re in the middle of hosting #Keanuthon???
We walk further into the restaurant, past the bar, looking around for confirmation. Surely others are freaking out like we are. It’s KEANU REEVES, Duuuuuuuuuude!
Nothing. There’s no response.
The bartender directs us to the hostess desk for a table. We ask the hostess if we can sit in the bar.
“Can we sit at THAT table?” my husband asks. She nods.
You guys, we sat at the table NEXT TO Keanu Reeves!
There’s no chair for me, so I walk a few tables over to move one and slide it to our table, right next to Keanu – who turns and looks to ensure I have plenty of room to fit.
HOW SWEET ARE YOU, KEANU?!
We get our menus and we’re both acting like crazy people, giggling and muttering “BUT WHY?”
Joe keeps telling me to “make my move.”
I’m feeling like a creep, but I figure it’s now or never and I gotta just say hi and that I’m a fan and we’re hosting this marathon. (And that I’m NOT an axe murderer.)
I literally turn in my chair and tap Keanu on the shoulder. He’s a foot away or less. He turns around, extending his hand, and says…
“Hi, I’m Keanu.”
I lose it again. I’m laughing. I can’t believe I’m in real life right now. I’m shaking Keanu Reeves’ hand and laughing.
I pull myself together enough to say that I’m a fan and that, it might sound crazy, but my husband and I have been having this movie marathon with all of his films and we’re live tweeting his movies.
I also show him the #Keanuthon poster I made on my phone so he believes me.
“You’re doing what?! That’s crazy” Keanu said. “What films are you watching?”
I read him the lineup.
Keanu: “Constantine! Nice!”
Jess: “That’s my favorite one!”
Keanu: “You should do one of the weird ones. You should watch A Scanner Darkly.”
Jess: “Ok. This is just so crazy. Could we get a photo? No one’s going to believe this.”
Keanu: “Yah, let’s get a photo.”
More Examples of How Lovely Keanu Is
I introduce Keanu to my husband and we ask a friend of his to take our photo. Afterwards, I’m totally ready to slink away. I’m stunned and fangirling and don’t want to take up any more of his time. I don’t even look at the photo, I’m just grateful for what has happened.
KEANU TELLS ME TO LOOK AT THE PICTURE AND SEE IF I LIKE IT!
It ends up looking really hazy for some reason. I show it to Keanu.
“Let’s take another one. Here we’ll move this way. Jess, you get in the middle.” Keanu is allowing us a second photo op and he remembered my name!
Soooooo, long story short, that’s how we got this baby.
There you have it. That’s how I met Keanu Reeves. And he was wonderful. As he always is.
(Oh yah, I did ask him why he was in town and he was here for S & S Cycles – there was a conference or show going on and he’s into motorcycles. So I wished him a great trip. And a belated happy birthday.)
With that said, #Keanuthon is going strong with a bonus feature this week.
Today at 4pm CST we’re watching A Scanner Darkly (requested by Keanu Reeves).
This is “one of the weird ones.”
It’s an animated movie set in the not too distant future and tells the story of an undercover cop who gets too close to the world of mind-altering drugs. Reeves costars with Robert Downey Jr, Woody Harrelson, and Winona Ryder.
- the filming of this movie took 23 days, while the animation took 18 months
- Robert Downey Jr wrote all his lines on post-it notes and stuck them around the set so he could read off them, then they were edited out during the animation process
- In Arctor’s kitchen there is a drawing of a head in a box next to the phrase “Time to thaw Walt out!”. This is a reference to the urban legend that animator Walt Disney had himself cryogenically frozen.
- This is the highest-grossing digitally rotoscoped animated feature, grossing $7,659,918.
Also this week…
We’re watching The Matrix on wednesday night at 8pm CST.
Co-starring Laurence Fishburne, Carrie-Anne Moss, and Hugo Weaving, Keanu Reeves plays Neo, a computer hacker who’s about to learn about multiple realities.
- It took the actors six months of training and four days to shoot the opening action scene
- In the first half of the movie, half of Keanu’s lines are questions, averaging roughly one question per minute
- For my literary nerds, the room that Neo is in at the beginning is room 101, and is a tribute to George Orwell in 1984, where room 101 is where a prisoner gets placed to face their worst phobias
Tune in and live tweet with us using #Keanuthon to follow the fun!
Maybe it was the onset of school starting (him being a teacher and all). Maybe it’s the change of the seasons. Whatever the reason, my hubby has started talking in his sleep again.
If you’re new here, this is my husband.
And then there are times, when he’s fast asleep, and he says shit like this:
Joe: It’s hot.
Me: Are you too hot?
Joe: It’s time to install the hot tub.
Me: Hot tub?
Joe: Where should we put it?
Joe: Don’t you think we need one? To store all this hot water?
I don’t… Yah, we’re not getting a hot tub. We’ve never discussed getting a hot tub, and if we ever DO get a hot tub, I am confident that Joe would not install it himself.
Where do YOU keep your hot water?
P.S. We’re coming up on week 2 of #Keanuthon. Thanks to all who watched Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure with us! We found out it was his birthday on the 2nd, so what a great day to kick off the party!
Here is one of my favorite tweets from the event, which came from my movie-clueless friend, Heather. This was a legitimate question she asked before coming over. Oh, Lawd.
This week we’re watching Point Break, the one where Keanu plays an FBI agent who goes undercover to catch a bunch of bank robbers that might be surfers. Costars include Patrick Swayze (with what is possibly the most epic of surfer hair imaginable), Gary Busey as his FBI partner, and John C. McGinley (who you may know as Dr. Perry Cox from Scrubs).
The preview promises 100% pure adrenaline!!
Watch along with us at 8pm CST this wednesday and live tweet the movie using #Keanuthon. Hope to see you there!
Enjoy your week, everyone!
Hey Lads and Lassies,
Thanks all for playing along with last week’s post Five Truths and a Lie. All of you made admirable guesses and many of you left your own five truths and a lie for me to guess, which was super fun. Thanks!
As promised, the answers are revealed this week and I decided to do so via vlog. Enjoy my muppet voice!
Still wanna play along? Leave five truths and a lie in the comments and I will try to guess which is the lie.
Or write your own blog post! Link back here so I can see it.
Happy week everyone!