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The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop will be held March 31-April 2, 2016, at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. Check back for registration and program details.

The middle-age guide to Halloween

Alexandra RosasHalloween is nigh, ready or not. October is in our face, even if middle age has us blinking and rubbing our eyes to see it clearly. When you’re as old as the trees in front of your house as I am, Halloween preparations take a turn. Special measures you used to take to ensure your child’s safety now need to be taken for your safety.

You may not like being a pedestrian in the dark (pesky uneven sidewalks) and you may get colder than usual (darn that aging thyroid), but you still have to get out there and walk the long orange mile of jack o’lanterns and scarecrows propped up on adirondack chairs. When it’s a middle age you who is taking the kids out on all hallow’s eve, it won’t just be the ghosts and floor boards creaking in the night, it’ll be your knees.

Well, friend, I’ve got you covered, like a sheet off of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab. So, lend me your greying head on down to your bunion toes. With just a few painless adjustments designed with your safety in mind, you’ll be able to groan and moan along with the best of them. (Moaning will be for our fallen arches and groaning for our aching backs, but who needs to know, it’ll just sound that much more authentic.)

How To Be Safe on All Hallow’s Eve (geriatric crowd edition)

1. With your advancing short-term memory loss, it’s a good idea to plan a route and draw out a map with familiar landmarks. No one is saying you’ll get lost, but ’tis better to have it and not need it, then to be found frozen behind your neighbor’s house in the morning. (Oh, but she was sooo close to home!)

2. Aging eyesight makes contrast between light and dark a necessity for clear vision. Walking in the dark against a dark sidewalk isn’t going to help you. Bring along the glasses you’ll need for your night blindness – or not, if you’re okay with feeling your way around like a naked mole rat.

3. Choose face paint over face mask any time you can. Masks will muffle your voice, causing you to feel disoriented when you hear it; throw in the night blindness and hyperventilating panic that will make you think it’s the big one, Elizabeth, and you’ve got the makings of full-blown chaos and confusion. Say YES to paint and no to the EMT call.

4. Bright colored clothing, for real. Go as Gramma Neon. Be Seen, Be Safe, that’s my new motto (patent pending).

5. Wigs, capes, costumes: the triple threat! Wigs will overheat you when you’re already hot-flashing, capes will make you feel claustrophobic because of the string tied around your neck waddle, (a new thing that takes getting used to) and costumes?? Just wear what you wear when you shovel snow. Go as “Mrs. She-Just-Gave-Up-One-Day.”

6. Stop muttering and talking out loud to yourself when you cross the street. Wits about you, people! Small, darting children – yes, motorists are prepared to be on the lookout for those on Halloween night, BUT doddering off-kilter adults? You’ll catch the drivers off guard, not a good thing if you plan on doing this again next year.

7. Please don’t go inside anyone’s house. The home owners will grab you, throw you inside, and then lock the door behind you. All you’ll hear is them shouting, “Kids! Surprise! Your new gramma and grampa are gonna babysit tonight!”

8. Older men, watch your choice of costumes. With your hairy ears and eyebrows, the werewolves of the night will find you and drag you back to their den to be their new alpha male. Ladies: now is not the time to stop the botox you just discovered. You’ll look ripe for the picking when they come looking for lost souls of the dead.

9. Once home, have someone with good vision inspect your candy for hard and too-sticky-to-chew pieces. Last thing you want on a night like this is to bite down and crack a tooth, or pull a crown, or snap your bridge in half, all from cheap peanut butter twists or stale popcorn balls.

10. Finally, TAKE CARE. Remember that this is the only night of the year that the door to the underworld is open. The departed are allowed out to harvest souls. Be careful, with our one foot in this world and one foot almost into the next, we are the tenderoni that the underworld seeks. *I know we’re starved for having someone look at us hungrily the way they once used to, but this kind of lip licking and eager hand rubbing in our direction, is not what we think we want.

Are we ready, troops? All right then, everyone grab their neon vest and flashing pumpkin necklace, we’ve got our job cut out for us staying on this side of the underworld for a few more eves.

– Alexandra Rosas

Alexandra Rosas is a storyteller for the nationally acclaimed The Moth, as well as a contributor to several anthologies and weekly columns. You can follow her on twitter @gdrpempress and on her blog

Spider spasms

Colleen Rankin-WheelerNot all spider spasms have a documented, and written in stone, name.

Some spider spasms are created at the precise moment that the spaz occurs. It is important, however, that the individual engaging in the spaz do his or her best to remember every movement that the body makes, beginning with the spastic facial expressions, arm flaps, leg kicks, the sounds made during the spaz, and ending with the final position that the body comes to rest in when the spaz has come to a complete and total stop.

It is also highly beneficial to the credibility of the individual naming the spaz if he or she has a witness that can attest that the spaz in question is truthful and correct. I pride myself for having named several spider spasms.

My most recent was born of ignorance on my part. A friend was telling me that my spider worries were over for at least the duration of winter, as spiders will not be “in season” during the cold spell. I believed her.

So, later in the week, filled with confidence, I walked outside to the wood pile to bring in wood for the fire. I load up my arms, stand up and catch detectable movement on the piece of wood closest to my face. Crawling toward my bare arm was the star of the 1956 motion picture “TARANTULA.” (As I have also made mention, fear magnifies objects, so this may have been the stand-in for the star.)

My eyes bugged, and the scream emitted from my vocal cords could only be heard by dogs. My armload of wood was thrown up and away from my body. It was most unfortunate that my husband’s truck was in the line of fire of the hurling wood. As I stepped back trying to distance myself from the spider that was on the wood on the truck, I tripped over the wood pile, fell backwards and rolled in dirt and wood chips, all of which stuck to me like I had put them there on purpose.

Out of this was born “The Spider wood-chuck Huck” spaz. You can only lay claim to this one if all steps described are followed. And that includes falling over a wood pile and ends with rolling in dirt and wood chips. I enlisted the help of my husband to retrieve the wood off his hood, and once again, as is so common in dealing with spiders, the spider had disappeared! I walked away from this experience a little wiser, a little less trusting. And from now on, the men in the family can get their own wood.

 The “HOLY S@#T” spaz is an unexpected encounter with a spider. It usually occurs when you are in the course of performing a task. Whether it be indoor, or out, you are concentrating on what you are doing, about to do, or need to do when without notice, a SPIDER! It is at this moment that you create this loud, lung-filling, sucking-of-air sound. There is an abrupt stop to the movement of your feet, your head snaps back quickly, eyes bulge, and the ONLY thing that comes to mind and escapes your lips is “HOLY S@#T”!!

The “HOLY S@#T” spaz is fairly easy to master. It is actually one of those spasms that comes naturally to most people. Generally speaking, this spaz is followed up by the individual staring continuously, never blinking, while backing up. Putting as much distance between the spider and yourself is of the utmost priority. Once you have established ample distance, and are able to collect your thoughts, you look for something to kill the spider with. This can range from a lead pipe, a book, a shoe, a tire iron, a large unused air compressor, even a thrown-out, unwanted microwave oven.

— Colleen Rankin-Wheeler

Colleen Rankin-Wheeler was born in Crescent City Calif. She is a licensed cosmologist in four states, a writer of numerous humorous shorts, as well as a member of Daughters of the American Revolution. When she was five, she had her first encounter with a spider. From that moment on, it was “ME against THEM.” In her debut book, A Day in the Life of a Spider Spazing Freak, she attacks her fear of spiders head on with hilarity and sarcasm. She is married to whom she refers to as “The Hottest Guy from High School,” David Wheeler, and is the proud mother of two sons, Dimitri and Christopher, both of whom she has lovingly passed along a generous dose of aracanaphobia.

How to review your own book

Con ChapmanFor those who want to be writers, the situation grows worse every day. There are increasingly fewer publications that review books, and space in the ones that remain is reserved for celebrity and political bios and big-name novelists whose works are supported by large advertising budgets. Funny how that works out.

But you’ve got to believe in yourself before anyone else will. If you can’t get somebody else to review your book, why not review it yourself?

Mark Twain did. So did Samuel Langhorne Clemens, so that’s two Famous Writers right there.

Twain was a master of the literary hoax, passing off invented characters as real in squibs written for seat-of-the-pants newspapers that sprang up like mushrooms after a rain in the mid-19th century following advances in printing technology. Those publications were desperate for copy and less interested in fact-checking than making a splash, and Twain wrote more than one review of his own work that he palmed off on such papers, often generously waiving his freelance fee. As a critic, he found his writing to be exceptional, well worth the reader’s time and money. In this regard, Twain was ahead of his time and other, less perceptive critics.

But, you say, the frontier closed long ago, stealing a line from Frederick Jackson Turner, and he’d like it back, please. Where am I going to find a similar wide-open space in the 21st century where lawlessness reigns and the only rule is what you can get away with?

As the man said to his wife when she caught him looking at porn websites — “Duh, that’s what the Internet is for!” Every major online bookstore accepts, nay encourages, readers to submit anonymous reviews. And who better to remain anonymous about than yourself?

Of course you’ll need an assumed name, or your ruse will be too transparent. Twain had a large collection, including “Sergeant Fathom.”  Where can one find a dependable, low-mileage, one-owner nommes de plume these days, after so many reviewers were retired as part of the Obama administration’s “Cash-for-Critics” buy-back program?

I don’t know about you, but I find the roll of U.S. Secretaries of Commerce to be a mother lode of potential book reviewers’ names. Start at the beginning of the list with William C. Redfield, or “mix and match” pairs such as Daniel Roper and Roy Chapin, SECCOMMUS nos. 5 and 6.  If you find they’re all taken, there’s a veritable cornucopia of current and former members of the Federal Communications Commission to choose from.

If you prefer a less WASPy-sounding name, I suggest borrowing from menus at Middle Eastern restaurants. “Sojok Ghanough” will give you an air of diversity, although there are 90 calories in just one bite.

A position as a fictitious reviewer is not open to just anyone. Amazon.com requires wannabe-critics to make a purchase, then wait four to five days before penning their first critique. While you’re cooling your heels, you can spend your free time shopping for handguns, for which the waiting period is shorter.

As a reviewer, you will be inclined to be harsh on your subject in order to establish your objectivity in the reader’s mind; this is a temptation you should resist. Come down too hard on yourself and you may be discouraged from ever writing again. Instead, note your reservations primly and diplomatically near the end of the review, right before you resume your unstinting praise of the author’s vision and the “evident merit” of his work. I borrowed that last phrase from the form email rejection that The New Yorker sends in response to my submissions; I find that it never grows tiresome, no matter how many times I read it.

One frontier newspaper that Twain did not write for was the Sedalia Bazoo, published in my home town in Missouri. Its masthead bore the motto, “If you don’t blow your own bazoo, no one will blow it for you.”

You can find me blowing my own bazoo on the Internet. Just don’t look under my real name.

— Con Chapman

Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer whose works include The Year of the Gerbil, a history of the 1978 Yankees-Red Sox pennant race, 10 published plays and two novels, Making Partner and CannaCorn (Joshua Tree Publishing). His articles and humor have appeared in magazines and newspapers including The Atlantic Monthly, The Boston Globe and The Christian Science Monitor.

They’re called what?

Cindi LabadieAccording to a number of sources, the third set of molars are called wisdom teeth because they erupt when people reach the age of wisdom — between 17 and 25 years old.

Now I ask you, did the person who called them wisdom teeth ever teach high school or raise teenagers? I have done both and, trust me, those third molars are misnamed!

I drove one of the hooligans to high school one day only to find he had forgotten to put on shoes.

Another hooligan had his tongue pierced at this age. I DO NOT want to ever know what type of object is used to do that.

There was the late-night escape to Taco Bell through the window when I was awake. The gang of hooligans could have just as easily used the front door.

Fishing trips during school hours, grape cigar (and who knows what else) smoking, Mohawk haircuts, skateboarding down steps and other flashes of brilliance are just a few of the reasons I think “age of wisdom” may not fit.

We’ve been through wisdom teeth extractions in this family.

One thing I must remind you of is that I am not a medical type person and not known for a kind bedside matter. Born and raised in the Midwest, I believe I am the practical type.

If you have a headache, take an aspirin. Sore foot? Sit down and read a book.

I am not interested in your bowel movements, shoulder movements, eye movements or any other kind of movements. Perhaps it is a good thing I did not pursue any type of medical career.

Two of the darlings are rather close in age, and their wisdom teeth came in around the same time and needed to be removed. I didn’t want one having the procedure and regaling the other one with horror stories so I decided to schedule them both for the same day. Knowing I only had to be nice for one or two days solidified the decision.

My first hint that this may not have been the smartest move was at the pre-op consultation. We three were seated in a room and asked to view a short movie about the procedure.

The movie pointed out potential risks ranging from soreness, jaw paralysis and ended with the ultimate disaster — death. At first,  the hooligans were laughing and joking about the cheesy film, but as risk after risk was listed, the room got quieter and their complexions paler. To lighten the mood, male hooligan says to female hooligan, “I’m going to tell Dr. T. to use the rusty equipment on you.” To which female hooligan replies, “Be quiet. I’m going to ask him if you can bring your blankie.”

The day of the surgeries arrive. I have not only the two patients, but also the younger two hooligans with me. I had enlisted my Mom to meet me at the office to come get the younger two and take them to her house for a while so I could do my motherly thing and get the kids settled comfortably at home following the procedure.

The teeth extractions went well.

We were told that each person reacts differently to the anesthetic.

One child is a bit nauseous from the sedation, and the other one is having way too much fun.

My mom shows up, sees her two grandchildren with gauze-filled cheeks and dribbles of blood and starts to cry. Child number one is throwing up, Child number two is humming; three and four are scared. As I am trying to get three and four into their car seats in their grandmother’s car and send them on their way, there is a small collision at the intersection. It is a small collision that makes a LARGE noise because it involves a car and a fire truck.

On the (mercifully) short ride home male hooligan is alternating between loudly humming the Mario Brothers theme song, trying to look in his sister’s mouth and pointing at the “beautiful trees.” Female counterpart is swatting at her brother or puking.

We arrive home. I decide to get female child safely in her bed and instruct Mario Man to stay put and tell him I will be right back. I get back outside only to see the van is empty, and Mr. Personality is across the street visiting with the neighbors.

The healing is uneventful. We should have installed a revolving door as a bunch of teenagers showed up over the next few days to watch movies and commiserate with the patients.

The youngest of the hooligans had her wisdom teeth pulled today. She went by herself to the pre-op consultation. I’m happy the extractions are done, and she is on the road to recovery. This is the same person who spent nine years (NINE!) in braces and rarely complained.

It went great. The anesthesiologist assisted us to the car. At which point the patient started laughing and continued laughing. Next, we dropped off the Rx at the pharmacy. As we made our way home she was still laughing and then began to cry. Simultaneously. I did not know this was possible. We pulled up to a stop sign, she saw a car she recognized and the sound escalated to a low wail with laughter thrown in for good measure. I asked her if she was crying or laughing and she shrugged her shoulders, gave a small laugh and then we are home.

She is resting comfortably now. Hopefully, I won’t feel the need to eat a dish of ice cream every time she does. That would definitely not be showing wisdom!

— Cindi Labadie

Cindi Labadie, mom to five and wife to one, blogs at “Seemingly Ordinary.”

Love means never having
to say you’re sorry

Hillary IbarraThe other day Matthew approached me and said casually, “A couple of moms came up to me tonight and thanked me for coaching the soccer team.”

Eyes narrowing over a sink of dirty dishes, I looked up and demanded, “What’re you telling me that for?”

I really have to get a handle on this jealousy thing. It’s been raging for a robust 12 years. Just the slightest hint of another woman can send my radar beep-beeping all over the bleeping place!

My husband and I have gotten in many freeze-outs because of my overactive imagination. Our freeze-outs consist of communicating only on a live-or-die basis, looking at each other only if we can look cock-eyed with triple-pronged daggers, and rubbing nothing but jabby elbows and feet that could use some serious lotion in bed. The only time we ever get in a freeze-out is when I breathe fire first. It portends an apology; I’m going to have to say I’m sorry for something silly — again — and it wounds my pride. I’m always the one who apologizes, and it’s so very predictable and tedious and conflict-resolving…

For instance, there was that time, quite early on, when I found those pictures — hard evidence, my friends! — that proved my husband took me on a honeymoon hike to the same hill he had enjoyed with an old girlfriend. I stewed and fumed for a good two weeks over that one.

Or the time in San Antonio when I started the mother of all marital brawls outside the Alamo on a ghost tour because I demanded to know if his gold cross necklace, the one I had stolen for my own adornment, came from another woman. And just why had she given it to him for his Confirmation in the first place? Did they like each other that much? He promptly deserted me outside the old fort. I tried to spy the 666 they claim is seared on the Alamo’s wall as I pondered apologizing, but the green-eyed monster blocked my view.

Then there was that time I got mad at him for watching a show about the tango while I was gone on a Mom’s night out, and the film was partly filmed in Brazil — Brazil! And don’t we all know the out-of-control, mind-blowing and dangerous sexiness that goes on in Brazil every day?!?

And there was that ugly misunderstanding about the cleaning lady. I like to blame that on hormones but this jealousy thing isn’t really based on science…

I always have to apologize, because I’m always the one who starts it — all of it, any of it and for any reason. I have a serious defect called Needs to Talk about Every Little Thing That Gets Her Goat, Even Outlandish, Hugely Improbable Wild Imaginings. Love means never having to say you’re sorry — unless you’re the feisty, jealous one in the relationship.

Not so long ago we fought about a commercial with young, skinny women in bikinis rubbing their svelte bums as they dash from a car. Not many people can start a three-day war over 20 seconds of television, but I can.

“What the heck is this?” I demanded.

My husband unmuted it and turned it up because he thought my question was one of curiosity. What I really meant was: If you don’t change this right now, I’ll know that you’re secretly cavorting with supermodels — blondes, no less! — at business luncheons.

I need to go to jealousy management. But, stink, that would probably mean I’d have to go through some nine-step program, which might include learning to really apologize for all these petty arguments I start — even the ones I haven’t apologized for yet. Or learning tiresome, effective techniques to prevent them in the first place. I would have to practice my soulful eyes and clasped hands and sincerely articulated, “I’m sorry,” instead of sticking out my tongue, adding a garbled, “Fine! Sorry then!” or pulling skeletons of old disputes out in a nice Powerpoint presentation to shore up my defense.

I wish it were give and take. I wish he would throw me a bone every now and then. I can’t remember — honest to goodness cannot recall — the last time he said sorry…but, then, I can’t think of a time when he started a fight about the mailman coming around too often or our parish priest making small talk with me or my obsession with 18th and 19th century British literary heroes (all of whom wore plenty of clothing by the way, including top hats and gloves!). A good friend suggested I train our Yorkie to say ”Rar-ree” for him. (I would do it, if the dog would pay attention at all.)

But love, I suppose, means never having to say you’re sorry to a hot-tempered, hyper-imaginative, jealous woman who doesn’t know how to hold her tongue. And ain’t he the lucky one?

But maybe someday, in our golden years, he’ll look back at me with gut-wrenching sincerity and pronounce softly, “I’m sorry, too, sweetheart…” and then with slight perturbation add, ”…for something…sometime….uh, I suppose.”

And with a self-satisfied smirk, I’ll gently reply, “Baby, love means never having to say you’re sorry….”

Unless you’re me.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org. She has dreams of playing the banjo, living in Jane Austen’s childhood home and writing for more than spam artists and 50 loyal readers but can’t seem to find them in the laundry. She is the mysterious blogger at No Pens, Pencils, Knives or Scissors. In her spare time she likes to threaten to sell her children to the zoo, and their little dog, too.

A day in the wife

Linda Roy7 a.m. “Your breath smells like you brushed your teeth with sadness.”

That is the first thing my 8-year-old Miles says to me upon waking.  Alright, I get that morning breath is the stuff of death warmed over, and I’ll admit that I sometimes feel like I flossed with the fear of humanity, missing a spot right around the bicuspids before rinsing with the tears of lost souls, but man, that was deep, kiddo.

His breath? Sweet as the SpongeBob bubblegum toothpaste he’s just hastily brushed with. “Why can’t grown-ups have fun toothpaste, too?” I often wonder until discovering the mojito-flavored stuff. But what happens if I’m pulled over by a cop and he gets a whiff of my minty fresh hint of alcohol breath?  “It’s breath spray, I swear, officer!” His reply would most likely be, “Nonsense! Grown-ups don’t have fun-flavored toothpaste!”

10 a.m. I’m half heartedly applying the day’s war paint and 15-year-old Max strolls in with “What’s with all the makeup? There’s so much. It looks terrible. Are you gonna be one of those old ladies who pencils her eyebrows in?” Apparently, that ship has sailed.

Excuse me?

I blame it on the bathroom lighting, but the truth is, I’m so sick of putting on makeup that I haven’t done it in months. I’d probably feel more put together, more vital, more camera ready for the store surveillance cameras at Target. But it’s a monotonous chore applying layer upon layer of moisturizer, primer, concealer and foundation. And really, do they make a concealer for the soul?

How’s that for deep?

In life’s background, I need the kind of incessant chatter that makes me feel less alone and more a very real part of the communal fabric of life.

And so…

11 a.m. The View

12 p.m. The News

1 p.m. The Chew

2 p.m. The Talk

3 p.m. The Kitchen

3:30 – 4 p.m. The Kids.  That’s not a show. They’re home.

Showtime!

4 – 6 p.m. Vacuuming through the Stepfordian motions.

6 p.m. Did I really forget to go to the grocery store again? For the third week in a row? I’ve got a half dozen chicken tenders, a bag of frozen peas and carrots, a box of spaghetti, a can of cream of chicken soup and a container of stale french fried onions. What would Betty Crocker do?

The kids file into the kitchen and the mood is full-on trepidation.

Max: What’s that?

Me: Chicken spaghetti!

Max: Chicken spaghetti? What is this — Honey Boo Boo?

Me: No! I got the recipe from The Food Network. Kids love it!

Me: I guess in terms of reality TV show recipes, it’s like…what’s that thing the Duggars make?

Kevin: Children?

Me: No, tater tot casserole.

Max: Well, this is horrible.

Miles: I’m not eating it.

Kevin: Just chew quickly and swallow it fast. You won’t be hungry anymore.

8ish: Time to swap the clichéd yoga pants for PJs and a good book. I’ve been on page 78 for three days reading the same three paragraphs before passing out. Tonight will be the night I make it to page 100, so help me God.

— Linda Roy

Linda Roy is a humorist, writer and musician living in New Jersey with her husband and two boys. Her blog elleroy was here is a mix of humor and music she likes to refer to as “funny with a soundtrack.”  She’s managing partner and editor-in-chief at the political satire and pop culture website Lefty Pop and was named a 2014 BlogHer Voice of the Year. Her work has appeared at The Huffington Post, Humor Outcasts, Scary Mommy, In the Powder Room, Aiming Low, Mamapedia, BonBon Break, Midlife Boulevard, Funny Not Slutty and The Weeklings. She is also a contributor to the upcoming humor anthology Clash of the Couples. When she’s not writing, she’s fronting the Indie/Americana band Jehova Waitresses. She’s on  TwitterFacebookPinterestGoogle+ and Bloglovin’.

Handbag survival guide for men

Dan Van OssAccording to Mintel, a market researcher, U.S. handbag market sales reached $8 billion in 2011, up from $6 billion in 2006. I can only assume that this $2 billion increase is due to concurrent rise in sales of those little Kleenexes you keep in purses, but I have no report for that.

Perplexed men, including me, ask, “Why this fascination with handbags, enough to cause an increase in sales in five years equal to the Gross National Product of Greenland?” (Note to Greenland: Consider building more handbag factories). Let’s take a look.

The scientific hope for a sub-atomic handbag

The handbag section is an area of your average department store that, if designed by men, would consist of a single medium-sized cloth sack with a drawstring on it hanging from a stick, suitable for carrying any number of objects, but, of course, with an almost criminal lack of style.

As with shoes, there are about as many handbag styles as there are overly dramatized reality TV shows, and with less apparent purpose to the male eye. You can choose from Totes, Satchels, Saddle Bags, Backpacks, Hobo Bags, Shoulder Bags, Clutches and Evening Bags, Wallets, Travel Bags and Diaper Bags, not to mention Doctor’s, Drawstring, Half-moon, Messenger, Evening, Flat, Trapezoid, Baguette, Bucket and Bowling Ball bags. Some bags even have bags of their own, like a kangaroo mother’s pouch for her baby; bags that fit inside larger bags, and pocket books inside that, and wallets inside that, quite possibly on down to the atomic level, where scientists may someday try to successfully collide a Gucci electron into a Versace molecule without blowing up Bloomingdales.

Hey, Rocky, watch me pull a rabbit out of my handbag!

But each of these bags (so we’re told) provide an important function, indecipherable to males, who could successfully use a Wal-Mart plastic bag for everything from carrying their lunch to their grandmother’s ashes and not think anything of it. These functions include, but are not limited to, carrying everything in the known universe. A woman’s handbag is like a magician’s hat; curious things appear out of it that make you wonder why they exist, such as

• A program from the spring vocal concert of your 1st grader (now in college)

• 23 kinds of stuff you put on your lips

• Coupon for 5 percent off knee waxing (expired in 2003)

• 14 kinds of gum

• Approximately 12,468 receipts

• Small pets

• More bags (see above)

Men, to understand this a little better, it may help you to compare the contents of a woman’s bag with the contents of your garage, with its shelves of car parts from that Chevy you had once but never restored, 14 rolls of ill-fitting weed whacker string, boxes of malfunctioning Christmas tree lights you curse at every November, and 34 different kinds of ancient insecticide you got from your grandfather’s garage that you never use and have probably already given you cancer. Where the analogy falls apart spectacularly is that you have no need for nine different garages, to be switched out every few months, with giraffe-skin-patterned doors and eight zippers on the walls.

The ceremonial changing of the handbags

Another function of the handbag is to tell other women that you have a new handbag. Much like the Raving Otters of Saskatchewan, who proudly grow a new tail each month for the purpose of telling the other female otters to — well, no, that doesn’t really work; maybe it’s like the magnetic crystals in homing pigeons that allow them to… um… or — well, to be honest, I’m not finding a good analogy from nature, which explains why men continue to be so confused when Purse-Changing Time occurs. Did the old one break? No. Do I need to glue that thing on it again? No. Did it spring a leak? Does it need an oil change? Is it molting? Of course not, silly man, now, fetch me my Macy’s catalog; I feel winter approaching and my lipstick needs to be protected by a new fur half-moon clutch.

So, men, we are left to ponder the intricate bond between a woman and her handbag, possibly now as clueless as when we started (the men, not the woman). Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some Christmas tree lights to go curse at.

— Dan Van Oss

Dan Van Oss is the curator of the Dubious Knowledge Institute, and divides his creative time between writing, music recording and performance, painting and photography. He lives in the Iowa City, Iowa, area with his wife Nancy, three beautiful stepdaughters and a Golden Retriever named Jack.

Love hurts, cake helps

Muffin Top: The MovieIn a recent survey, 96 out of 100 of women say they think a bad thought about their bodies every day, and romantic comedy “Muffin Top: A Love Story” says those other four women are lying, or in a coma.

“Muffin Top” is a hilarious, romantic antidote to our culture’s photoshop madness, and its core message is this: Be happy now, not 10 pounds from now. The movie’s fans say, “Muffin Top is not just a movie, it’s a MOVIE-MENT!”

Wait, how does a movie that isn’t even out yet have fans?

Crowdsourcing, driven by social media, is creating an audience revolution. Last fall, “Muffin Top” fans saw the movie’s trailer and came together to 1. Create a nationwide red carpet tour, 2. Create screenings in their own towns, and 3. Create Girl’s Night IN Video On Demand parties to raise money for Girl’s Inc., the national girl’s empowerment organization.

Using Kickstarter, “Muffin Top” tapped into the female audience frustration as movie theaters are flooded with white male super heroes in spandex. The campaign to create a 10-city red carpet tour with the film’s stars went viral and raised 122 percent of its goal because people loved the trailer and embraced the film’s slogan “Love Hurts, Cake Helps.”

Now Muffin Toppers are using audience empowerment platform Tugg.com to create Girl’s Night Out screenings at their local multiplexes. For more information, click here.

“Muffin Top” is about a women’s studies prof who gets dumped and goes into a body image shame spiral, eventually learning that the first step to finding true love is loving YOURSELF.  I co-wrote and directed the film, which also stars David Arquette (Scream)  Retta (Parks and Recreation)  Dot Marie Jones (Glee) Haylie Duff (Napoleon Dynamite) Gary Anthony Williams (Key and Peele) Melissa Peterman (Fargo)  Marissa Jaret Winokur (Tony Winner Hairspray)  Diedrich Bader (Napoleon Dynamite) and Maria Bamford (Arrested Development).

Kickstarter fans created a free, fan-generated party kit PDF that will be on the film’s website with recipes and ideas for Girl’s Night In viewing parties that raise money for Girl’s Inc., the national organization that teaches girls to be strong, smart and bold.

“Muffin Top” is distributed by Mar Vista Entertainment and will be on all Video On Demand platforms Nov 4, simultaneous with the Muffin Top Red Carpet of TRUE Beauty tour, the Tugg.com screenings and the Girl’s Night In VOD parties. Muffin Top’s MOVIE-MENT is an audience revolution.

View the movie’s trailer here. For more information, visit Muffintopmovie.com and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

– Cathryn Michon

Cathryn Michon is a best-selling author, stand-up comic, actress and Hollywood screenwriter, director — and the creative catalyst behind  Muffin Top: A Love Story. In 2014, she was part of the faculty at the EBWW.

Reflections of Erma