(Editor’s Note: Helen Chibnik responded to a call for observations from writers about how the EBWW changed their writing lives. Here’s her response, followed by her blog: “I cannot tell you how much I got from that workshop. You would think that the workshop content would be the best part but it wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, the content was worth five times the price, it was wonderful and I still use the timer that Cindy Ratzlaff and Kathy Kinney gave us. I use it everyday. It reminds me of so much I loved about the pair of them. Anna Lefler’s session inspired me to work on a novel, to write more and care less about what other people might think. But, for me, that workshop provided a community of people who think like me, who understand what it means to be a mom, a professional, a daughter, lose a loved one, and to fail and to still find something to smile about. People who feed on humor for therapy, even for survival sometimes. I don’t think there is a another collection of smarter, happier and more insightful people than the Erma attendees.”)
I attended the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop last April and responded to a request for comments on successes attendees have had since that time.
If you know this particular group of people, you would know that successes are measured in many ways. “I finally found the courage to ask for what I want” or “I finished and published my novel” are both acceptable answers. I thought long and hard about my own answer to this call for success stories because I did not finish a novel, nor did I find the courage to speak up.
I found my people.
Every meeting, everyday, every meal, snack, session and after-hours moments led me to the most interesting, loving and funny people you could imagine — and not always in the knee-slapping belly-laughing kind of way.
I sat next to a woman who lost her 16-year-old daughter to suicide. She shared her story with me, how she came to terms and now was looking to find her “funny” again. It’s as if “funny” was a drug. Of course, there were outlandishly funny people there, including stand-up comics, humor bloggers, even TV personalities known for their funny side. And there was no shortage of fiction and non-fiction writers of satire. The most hilarious new greeting came from a person who told me, “I don’t even know why I’m here! I’m not even a writer!” She was looking for something new.
Some of us find our people at Wal-Mart, some at Armani.
It’s important to find your people, no matter what age you are. I first found my people in college, where I learned how to party and realized the value of hard work. I found my people in my first “real job” where all of us post grads suffered under the hands of a boss who made Michael Scott (from The Office) seem average. I found my people when my twins were born, and a bunch of the moms of twins joined together in joy and misery. I found my people at Erma.
From every stage of my life I’ve found my people because I go out and be where we can find each other. I’m not always looking for them, I don’t know who they are, what they look like or when they will show up. I know it when they come, however, because they fill up a space I didn’t know was open, and it just feels right.
The best piece of relationship advice I ever got was from a friend, a young professional version of myself. I will never forget what she said while I was despairing about meeting that someone. “Just do what you like to do,” she said. “You’ll find like-minded people who like to do what you like to do, and then you can do that together.” In fairness, my mother probably said that to me many times, but, let’s face it, a mom’s advice is usually only good in hindsight.
I spoke to my friend, the advice-giver, recently and even though it had been years since we last spoke, it was as if it was just the other day that we parted.
Once you find even one of your people, they will always be with you — despite distance and time. They will never leave. They’re your people after all, and you are theirs.
— Helen Chibnik
Helen Chibnik is a writer and part-time music teacher who lives in New Jersey with her husband and teenage daughters. Her work can be found in Working Mother Magazine, Your Teen for Parents and Family Fun. Follow her blog, Instagram and Twitter as Helensgoodideas.