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Finding your tribe

I could feel the tiny glands in my armpits firing off, one by one. I fidgeted, pushed the lettuce around my plate, and smiled blankly at the gentleman beside me, too distracted to make conversation.

It was no use. I would be a nervous wreck until my speech was over.

The organizers of the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop had given me five minutes to speak about NSNC during the Friday lunch program. I had plenty of public speaking experience, but — if there was one thing I knew about these Erma folks — they didn’t want anyone to interrupt lunch unless laughter was involved.

I had stayed up late in my hotel room the night before, standing before a mirror in my Spanx, rehearsing my remarks, timing myself, and making sure I inserted a few decent jokes. The pressure was palpable. How could I plug NSNC and make hundreds of humor writers laugh in five lousy minutes?

“Let me introduce Lisa Smith Molinari of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists for an exciting announcement!” I gripped my index cards with clammy hands and headed to the podium.

With 400 people staring up at me, I thought my bladder might let loose.

But then I remembered, that just a few years ago, I was one of those people out in the EBWW crowd, wondering if I could succeed at my dreams of being a columnist, looking for others who wondered, too.

I told the crowd my story. About the nights sitting alone at my home computer, figuring it all out by the seat of my double-digit-sized pants, with nothing but a can of Pringles and a Diet Coke to keep me company.

That is, until I found my tribe. Joining NSNC and attending EBWW gave me information, inspiration and a whole bunch of new friends with the same hopes and dreams.

I asked for a show of hands, how many at the luncheon were NSNC members, and arms popped up at every table. I could see that the other attendees were surprised that their new friends were “newspaper people.” I explained to them that, despite its traditional name, NSNC is not just for newspaper people.

“NSNC members are columnists of all types, including bloggers…anyone who is a serial essayist,” I explained, hoping that they wouldn’t think we were a bunch of axe murderers.

I heard murmuring in the crowd, and could tell that they were skeptical that NSNC was open to bloggers. I made an offer to prove it: “Anyone attending the conference this weekend can join NSNC for a free 2016 membership.”

No sooner did I retake my seat, now starving and ready to wolf down my salad, than I was inundated with people crowding around me, grabbing at the NSNC sign-up cards I had at the table, asking me, “Are you sure I can join?”

I never got to eat my salad, but I was filled up with emotion over the deluge of 153 new NSNC members, and I was excited about finding ways to make them feel welcome in our tribe.

Erma Bombeck, who passed away on April 22, 1996, wrote her columns on a typewriter, alone in her bedroom. She once said, “It takes a lot of courage to show someone else your dreams.” But when Erma — a housewife in a world of serious journalists — mustered the courage to approach others with the idea that she might be a columnist, she became a phenomenal success, published in 900 newspapers each week and writing a series of best-selling books.

And I’d like to think, if Erma were alive today, she would have a successful blog, too.

With this spirit that Erma inspires, NSNC welcomes aspiring and established writers of columns in all applications — be it blogs, magazines, newsletters, newspapers, or alternative media.

Come to the table, and share your dreams with us. Join or renew your membership here.

— Lisa Smith Molinari

Lisa Smith Molinari is the president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists, one of the partners of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Her work has been published in The Washington Postseveral anthologies, various magazines, websites and other publications. Her blog, “The Meat and Potatoes of Life,” is an expanded version of a weekly newspaper column that runs in military and civilian newspapers. In 2013, she won second place (under 100,000 monthly visitors) in the online/multimedia category of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists’ competition and was a finalist in the Robert Benchley Society Annual Humor Writing Contest.

Reflections of Erma