There’s so much good to say about EBWW and nothing bad — other than it’s ruined me for other workshops. How do I love thee, Erma? Let me count the ways.
I’ve attended three: 2014, 2016 and 2018. Mingling with hordes of strangers isn’t my thing, and that’s only one of my strengths. To steal from Nora Ephron, I always feel like a wallflower at an orgy of overwhelming decency, friendliness and support. It’s sooo good, surely it’s too good to be true. But being me, I stand up to that. Even if it flattens me.
In 2014, I took only craft classes, which were all outstanding. In 2016, I chatted recklessly with whoever let me, was amazed that a few people remembered me and took mostly humor workshops. Before attending in 2018, I met my deadline and completed a first draft of a book-length manuscript.
In the process of climbing to that summit, an idea came to me that solved a perennial problem of my work. (I’m a psychiatrist. Don’t worry, I’m off duty.) You know how that goes. You think you’re a genius; you do the research; someone else has gotten there ahead of you. Imagine my surprise to find nothing. I wrote it up, submitted it cold and — Oh, my God, the editor wanted it. I got the revisions in before this year’s Erma. It was published this September. (That’s started a second book. See what happens?)
This time, I attended mostly publishing and marketing workshops. I was rolling my suitcase behind me on the last day when I saw publisher Donna Cavanagh of Humor Outcasts/Shorehouse Books (who I recognized from a panel workshop) exit the hotel elevator, rolling her own suitcase. I took a deep breath and introduced myself to her. She was so lovely and interested that I took another deep breath and pitched my book. As George Addair said, “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.”
She asked me to send her a few sample chapters. Then she asked me to send her the whole thing. Then she said she was interested in publishing it and connected me with my editor. See? Erma is magic.
In 2016, Amy Ephron gave a lunch keynote and said, in passing, that she preferred writing essays to books. A book, she said, takes years. “It’s a commitment.” You don’t say. It’s been three years, and I have miles to go before I sleep. I can see why people don’t finish.
“You can write,” Erma’s mentor told her. “You can write,” EBWW in turn told me. OK, I’ve succumbed. I believe it. Worse, I believe if I write really, really well, the reader will whip through my years of effort in a matter of weeks, if they’re slow readers. “He who laughs…lasts,” Erma said. If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry. Either way, I’m finishing the damn thing.
After the workshop, many participants posted about their experience to the private Facebook group, usually hilariously. This year, I submitted for the first time, a mildly snarky post-mortem, which, shockingly, set off a brief firestorm. Shocking, because the thread started to slide nowhere good. Brief, because Patricia Wynn Brown, our emcee (a.k.a. Mother Superior) and Teri Rizvi, EBWW creator and administrator (a.k.a. M’Lady ) understood my point had been misinterpreted, tracked the thread and doused it. Firmly, kindly, even therapeutically. No judgment but no nonsense. I’ve been to lots of writing workshops as well as professional conferences. I’ve never seen anything like it. They both deserve Ph.Ds in group therapy process. And that’s my professional opinion.
It’s amazing enough that their attitude was they were just doing their job. But by “just” doing their job, they gave me a gift so rare, it broke me open. I am always the rock, doing for others at that level of integrity. Do-no-harm is my true north. It’s far easier for me to be an appreciative audience than a risk-taking humorist. Humor always has an element of aggression in it, which makes me second-guess myself and keep my mouth shut. When my post went south, I sighed to my self: See? Shouldn’t have taken the risk. Shouldn’t have posted.
We all know it’s the kiss of death to creative work to hold your self back. But sometimes, when you don’t, things go agley. By stepping in, Pat and Teri freed me from the work of keeping the space safe, freed me from self-blame, freed me to stumble forward. They said, “You can write. Keep writing.”
EBWW is technically superb, of course. But what makes Erma stand alone is her administrators’ relentless commitment to keeping the workshop experience safe, for everyone. That’s always been radical and subversive but now, given what’s happening at the national level, more than ever.
They deliver that safety seamlessly workshop after workshop in concert with remarkable speakers and teachers. No detail is too small. No problem unsolvable. All communication channels open, all the time. They care. I care. Everyone who attends, cares. Appreciates. Is awed. My tribe. How do we love thee, Erma? Let us count one way. We love to the depth and breadth and height our hands can reach when feeling in our wallets for the cash you need to spread more laughs and grace. #25Kin25days
— Daniela Gitlin
Daniela Gitlin is stuck in that awkward stage between birth and death. (Sadly, not her turn of phrase. Author anonymous. Too good not to steal.) She and her husband, empty nesters, live just south of the Canadian border in rural, upstate New York.