What happens when 350 people, predominantly women, truck in from all across the U.S. to spend three full days laughing (and a little crying), eating (mostly desserts) and baring their souls to each other?
Magic. In a place called Dayton. That’s not a punchline.
Last week, the tribe of Erma gathered once again for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. This is a biennial event, and we had not been summoned since 2014. That’s a long time for tribe members to be out in the world without their safety net. The nice thing is that it’s a big net, and it’s strong enough to hold everyone.
Why am I sharing this? Because for those of us hanging out here in the middle-aged cheap seats, sometimes it feels a little lonely and the bleachers look a bit empty. A gathering such as the one last weekend reminds midlifers that we are not invisible; what we have to say has meaning, purpose and validity (and that we can still party like rock stars).
This event was not all hugs and kisses and tequila shots. The conference was jam-packed with workshops, speakers and keynotes. We began each day at 8 a.m. (I know, right?!) and the evening activities — dinners, speakers, book sales and did I mention tequila shots?—often extended to way past this midlife gal’s bedtime.
In the conference sessions I attended, I could not scribble fast enough to capture all the writing, publishing and comedy gold that was shared. However, I did manage to grab a nugget or two that I frantically scrawled in my workshop notebook. Here are a few gems:
Kathy Kinney, famously known for her portrayal of Mimi on The Drew Carey Show, is also a wonderful writer. I’ve just started reading Queen of Your Own Life (which Kinney co-wrote with her best friend of over 30 years Cindy Ratzlaff), and I’m loving their wit and wisdom.
Wendy Liebman, a gifted comedian (she’s been featured on HBO, Showtime and Comedy Central), coached the brave Erma women (and a few men, too) who performed stand-up the last night of the conference. This, in addition to her work as a presenter and panelist. Clearly a true believer in giving back to the community. New fangirl here.
It was a crazy thrill to listen to Alan Zweibel discuss the ups and downs of his amazing career. He was genuine, funny and truly insightful. I also loved this quote from him regarding the writing process: “Working with a writing partner can be like having a deranged pen pal.”
Leighann Lord brought down the house with her delivery of the final night’s keynote. Standing ovation type of stuff. I highly recommend checking out her syndicated humor column The Urban Erma.
Brian Klems is one of my favorite folks to follow on Twitter — @BrianKlems. He dishes writing wisdom every day. Also check out his book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl.
Gina Barreca’s new book If You Lean In, Will Men Just Look Down Your Blouse? was released just last week by St. Martin’s Press. Barreca delivers the battle cry for loud smart women everywhere.
From a conference rich in information and insights, my biggest takeaway by far was this: finding your tribe is life-affirming and feeds your soul. You can quote me on that.
— Kimba Dalferes
Kimberly “Kimba” Dalferes is a native Floridian who currently pretends to be a Virginian. Her accomplishments have included successfully threading a sewing bobbin, landing a 35-pound Alaskan King salmon and scoring a ceramic sangria pitcher at an estate sale for $1. She also sometimes writes books such as “I Was In Love With a Short Man Once” and “Magic Fishing Panties.” Her humor column – Dock Tale Hour – is published by Laker Magazine. She is often found hanging out on her blog The Middle-Aged Cheap Seats.