ERMAgawd: Why You Must Take Risks and Find the Funny
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?
That Time My Dad Stole All My Money
Since today is April Fool’s Day, here’s a little tale from the vault of dad stories. You remember my dad, right? He’s the one who gave me free butt soap as a gift one time!
This is my dad.
Note* He is not a real pirate.
Well, several years ago, NOT on April Fool’s Day, my dad went to the bank and needed a check made for something. I don’t remember the exact details, but the bank was going to charge him money to get this check from his own account. Being the hardworking, farm-raised, former Navy man he was, my dad was not about to pay extra for this check from his bank account.
After going back and forth with the bank teller, my dad grew so angry he decided to CLOSE his account and take his banking business elsewhere.
Dad: “Close my accounts!”
Bank Teller: “All of them?”
Dad: “ALL OF THEM!”
Meanwhile, a week or so later, I went to the same bank at a branch in my town and asked to do a fund transfer from my savings to my checking account.
The bank teller stared at the screen. She tells me she needs a manager to look something over.
You know where this is going, don’t you?
So, the manager comes over and looks at the computer screen.
Manager: “It appears your account has been closed.”
This is the part of the story where the manager escorts me to a tiny desk in a corner, AWAY FROM THE PUBLIC so when they tell me my account has been hacked or something, I DON’T SCARE AWAY ALL THE PEOPLE.
I worked in retail for six years; I know EXACTLY what that tiny desk in the corner is for.
So now, I’ve been passed onto Man With a Mustache to sleuth out what happened to my entire savings account.
Mustache Man: “It appears your account has been closed.”
Me: “CLOSED? Who closed it? I didn’t close it. All my money was in there! Where is MY MONEY?”
Mustache Man: *scrolling through my account information* “Do you know a…Jerry Witkins?”
Me: *speaking between clenched teeth* “I need to call my father.”
I ring up dear old dad who greets me like he’s Mrs. Doubtfire.
Me: “Did you recently come into a large sum of money, Pops?”
Dad, in all sincerity: “Say, now that you mention it, I did actually find some extra cash.”
Me: “BECAUSE YOU STOLE IT FROM MY ACCOUNT!!!”
Dad explains to me about his trip to the same bank in his town and how he demanded to close his accounts. What he didn’t realize, and the bank teller didn’t explain to him, is that as co-signer for my savings account which my parents started for me as a child, he closed out MY account along with his.
And here’s the kicker, while he had no recollection of the sum of money in this “extra mystery account,” he figured it was one he’d started a long time ago and told the teller, “Yep, close it!”
Me: “You put that money back!”
Dad: “I’ll think about it.”
Me: “You march back into that back, tell the teller what you did, and put my money back!”
Dad did return my savings, and we had a good little laugh about it…much later. But because the bank had closed my account, I had to get a new account and new number. I wasn’t too upset though. This time, there would be NO co-signer.
Happy April Fool’s Day, everybody!
Tell me your best prank story, planned or otherwise!
My Friend Made Me Watch Twin Peaks and Now All I Have are Questions
My friend Heather is a smart, lovable lady who doesn’t watch a lot of movies. Ask her if she’s seen something and the answer is probably no.
A month ago, however, she messages me and tells me I need to watch the show Twin Peaks, a cult drama I had never seen. She described it as a small town murder mystery. Ok, sure, I wanna know what happened to Laura Palmer, the dead girl. I’ll watch.
So I reserve what ends up being a season one and two box set from the library, and I message Heather when it comes in so we can have a social media shared viewing party.
Only I never hear back from her.
I message her via text, I try Facebook messenger, and I tweet at her. But if Heather is bad at having seen movies everyone else on the planet has seen, she is terrible at checking social media. Like working for the CDC is so hard, Heather? Check your messages! I have questions about this melodramatic tv show you made me watch!
So I watched all of season one and over half of season two without her. In a state of growing irritation.
I hate this show. Now all I have are questions.
I finally heard back from Heather. Her phone died and it took days to get a new one. This loss would unhinge a social media person like myself, but Heather just went on living her life, working by day, eating pizza rolls like a boss at night, probably sketching something amazing because she is a talented artist too.
So by the time I heard back from her, I had my own melodramatic show to air. I wanted to know why she made me watch this ridiculous show.
Here are the screenshots of our text conversation in which I tell Heather she is a terrible human being for making me watch Twin Peaks.
*Warning: if you haven’t seen the show, there are spoilers ahead.
This song is three minutes of teenage torture. Get your shit together, Donna! This is not a healthy relationship!
I have questions, people! And clearly a lot of disdain and anger.
And now I find out the show is being revived and airing on Showtime! People are eating pie and dream dancing all about it on Twitter.
Also Heather has stopped replying to my texts once again. I think the owls got her.
Your turn. What do YOU think of Twin Peaks?
My Husband and I Cannot Be Trusted to Pick Out “Our Song”
My husband and I are celebrating two years of marriage this month. And we’ve been a couple for a decade.
We should probably have a song picked out by now.
I mean, we kinda do. We have the song we first danced to. The song we sang at our wedding. We’ve recorded two CDs for family covering songs we love. Given my husband is a professional musician, there is no shortage of music in our home.
Yet, on a recent car trip, a specific song came on the radio and Joe’s eyes lit up in excitement as he said, “Do you know what this is?”
“Think Tia Carrere.”
It was Dreamweaver by Gary Wright.
“This should be our song,” said Joe.
“Um, I’m not sure I agree with that. Even if it is the soundtrack for a great scene in Wayne’s World.”
I politely suggested another song.
Bird on a Wire by Aaron Neville.
And that, is when my husband gave me a look that said “we will not be figuring out what our song is today.”
Also, he was less than enthused when I started playing this song after he exited the bathroom later that day. *shrug* I still say it’s got a good groove.
What’s your song? How did you choose it?
What song recommendation do you have for Joe and I?
Because clearly, we can’t be trusted.
What I Was Up To While I Was Away
I’ve missed you. How the heck are each of you?!
I’ve been busy working on projects. Lots of projects!
So, here’s what I was up to while I was away…
Co-Hosting a Film Screening
That’s right! My talented and inspiring new friend, Stephanie Sharp, invited me to co-host a private screening of the indie arts collaboration film, Indie Kindred.
Are you ready to get inspired? Watch this!
The film and movement behind Indie Kindred comes from storyteller and filmmaker, Jen Lee. You might recall that name when I talked about The 10 Letters Project, which another local writer and I are emulating in a local magazine.
Indie Kindred is the story of makers paving their own paths, finding other creatives they can work with, and collaborating to make something good. Indie + Kindred + Collaboration.
So, 2 weeks ago, about a dozen of us makers (artists, designers,chefs, writers, and repurposers) met in Stephanie’s home for some good food, show and tell, a film screening and makers chat. Most of us did not know each other. Now, we’ve created our own private group of local makers online and have plans for a second gathering and retreat! Because as Jen Lee so eloquently puts it “Doing it yourself, doesn’t mean do it alone.”
Interested in hosting your own screening or meeting other makers? There’s a public facebook community for Indie Kindred!
A sampling of the work shown at our makers meetup.
Held Auditions and Cast a Show
Three days. Eleven hours. Almost 40 auditioners. And now…we have a cast!!!
La Crosse joins 40 other cities giving motherhood a microphone in our debut, live, on-stage storytelling event, Listen to Your Mother! I’m so pleased to be working with each of the cast members we selected to share their stories and to raise funds for our local YWCA who has worked to end racism and empower women and girls.
Behind the scenes at auditions.
Here’s an accurate account of my life right now…
And here’s what I came across on the internet and thought you might enjoy…
Me whenever anyone offers me caffeine lately.
This Tumblr account that imagines Kylo Ren living at home with Han and Leia.
This comedian talking about what we do when the doorbell rings.
(found via the hilarious Darla of She’s a Maineiac)
This book we bought for our nephew. Ok, actually for his parents.
You can’t beat this hilarious bedtime story for adults.
That’s what I was up to while I was away.
What have YOU been up to, friends?
Overwhelmed? Try Out These Self Care Tips
It’s entirely possible I’ve taken too much on.
Well, I’m not admitting anything, I’m just saying it’s possible.
I’ve been having a tough go of things at the day job, and in my attempt to focus my energy on the things that I love, I’ve said yes to a multitude of projects and commitments.
I now find myself busier than ever with a full-time job, part-time freelance assignments, rehearsals and show dates with an improv group, a once-a-week adult storytelling class, a twice-a-month writers critique group, and oh yah – I’m directing and producing a Listen to Your Mother show this spring and auditions are in less than a week!
You can understand why my main hobby right now is drinking coffee.
Hobbying like a boss.
My days off were out of the ordinary this weekend, so I tried to plot out some time to relax.
You know, in between 2 radio interviews, 2 improv shows, a six hour shift tabling for the health clinic I work at on VDay – One Billion Rising, and one of my writers group critique sessions.
I did manage to spend Valentine’s Day Eve with my main squeeze, also known as He Who Says Weird Things While Sleeping. We stayed true to our tradition of watching a very un-romantic movie together. For example, past Valentine’s films have included Tremors and Silence of the Lambs. This year we watched The X Files (1998 movie).
Anyway, enough about my crazy week, because I’m sure you’re all just as swamped with projects, commitments, running little people places, and whatnot as well.
Here’s a few of the things I managed to sneak in so I achieved some self care time.
Most of you know I’m a huge fan of audiobooks and it’s the only way I get so much reading done. I listen while I get ready for the morning, while driving in the car (even though I only have a 15 minute drive), and while I get ready for bed at night.
It is not unusual for my husband to find me sitting on our bathroom floor just listening to a good story. It’s my zen moment at the end of the day.
2. Take a bath.
I know baths aren’t for everyone, but I sure love them. They are so relaxing to me, and I did manage to sneak one in. They are also a great time to listen to an audiobook!
3. Indulge in a guilty pleasure.
For me that involved watching a few episodes of Felicity on DVD. I watched while I ate my lunch or folded laundry and enjoyed an old favorite show.
BTW, Felicity and Ben are broken up right now…again, and Noel is trying his very Noel best to move on, but it’s not going so well. Javier, on the other hand, is still my favorite.
That may not seem like a lot, but in their own way, each gave me a little escape and some relaxing down time.
And I did just run across this gem of a blog post, and wanted to share it with you, my fellow busy bees. 23 Way to Treat Yo Self Without Buying or Eating Anything
How are you practicing self care this week, friends?
The Internet Gave Us These Amazing Gifts
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…
Who Would You End Up With in a Wes Anderson movie?
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!
Breaking Bad Writer is Bringing Anne of Green Gables back to Television
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?
Sh*t My Husband Says While Sleeping: Star Wars Edition
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.
Joe also talks in his sleep. Sometimes he laughs about things like crackers and email, and other times he stresses over where to store hot water.
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!
Easy, Breezy, Beautiful? My Awkward Moment Told in Gifs
“There’s a hole in my pants,” I realized, about 20 minutes before I was going to speak to a group of twentysome middle school students.
“There’s a goddamn HOLE! In my pants.”
Naturally, I did the only thing I could do at that point.
I texted a friend ala Margaret Cho-style, as in “YOU ARE NOT GONNA BELIEVE WHAT I JUST DID!”
Let me backup.
I am transitioning to a new role in my job. I’m leaving my basement-located office work for the wide, open world of sex education where you get to say things like “Have you seen my uterus?” and that’s not considered a personal question. Also, the air smells like puberty about 80% of the time.
My colleagues and I are now learning the material for the multiple talks our clinic provides, and we were each given a focus talk to prioritize.
Guess who got STDs??!!
I mean I PRESENT on sexually transmitted diseases.
Anyway, I arrived at the middle school, checked in at the office and since I was there early, excused myself to use the restroom before heading to class.
It was there, in the bathroom, when I noticed I COULD SEE THE FLOOR THROUGH MY PANTS!
I was wearing a brand new pair of dress pants I’d purchased the week before and not worn yet. The seam below the zipper had unraveled and created a diamond shaped hole, through which the orange tile floor was all too crisp and clear.
Only I didn’t say fudge.
Like anyone in a serious situation, I immediately took inventory of anything I could possibly use to fix this major wardrobe malfunction.
Hand soap. Paper towel.
“This bathroom is useless to me! I have nothing!”
I debated my options. My limited options.
“That’s it,” I thought. Only thing I could do was teach the class. I was going to have to make the best of the situation.
I had worn a top that was a little longer that day, and had a tank top beneath it.
I stretched and pulled and yanked that tank top as low as I could get it to go.
Then I walked in front of that class like…
And for the duration of the 40 minute class, I kept my legs well crossed and stood in the shadiest corner of the classroom I could find while still being able to point to the front screen as needed.
When it was over and I packed up, I got in the car like…
Soooo, how was YOUR week?