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Muted joy: Learning to live, love and laugh again

Christy Heitger-Ewing(Editor’s Note: This piece first appeared in The Huffington Post on April 20, 2016. Reposted by permission of essayist Christy Heitger-Ewing.)

My mom had a hearty laugh and a gentle voice, both of which soothed and uplifted those around her. So when clinical depression snuffed out her sweet spirit, the world became muted. It was like going to an amusement park wearing earmuffs. Minus the cheers, giggles and screams of delight, the air was vacant, odd and lifeless. On April 2, 2013, the park grew dark, then went pitch black when Mom succumbed to the fight and took her own life.

I was at once stunned, sickened and unsettled. How was I supposed to move forward from this tragedy? How could I live when I couldn’t breathe? How could I feel whole with my insides hollowed out? How could I laugh in the absence of joy? I was completely lost in the world.

Before Mom’s death, I always saw the proverbial silver lining in every situation. Sure, I had my down days like everyone else, but I was ripe with positivity. When Mom died by suicide, however, suddenly everything I ever knew, everything I ever was, anything I ever believed in, clung to or hoped for was obliterated. As a result, happiness took a hiatus from my life.

I don’t remember the first 18 months after she died. I couldn’t tell you what I thought, did or said, where I went or what I wanted; I simply existed. As the months passed, my emotions weren’t quite so erratic, fragile and volatile. I no longer cried at the drop of a hat or whimpered at the mention of Mom’s name. Nevertheless, I remained trapped in a sea of sorrow.

I longed to feel something beyond the dull ache of emptiness that had settled into my soul like a clogging mound of dust bunnies. I was like a little girl, terrified of what may lurk beneath the unknown waters, yet intrigued by the mesmerizing ripples in the lake. If I stuck my pinky toe in and let it linger, would I get bitten? Or worse yet, pulled under and eaten alive? Even if I survived the experiment of returning to the land of the living, could I draw enough oxygen to continue? If I managed to carve out a small space within my heart for joy to grow, would I be able to nurture and preserve it? Despite being applauded for my resolute strength, inside I felt weak, scared and lonely.

Though my soul thirsted for levity, it eluded me. Something was prohibiting me from accessing joy, and I suspected it was Mom’s blessing. I desperately wanted to know not just that she was okay but also that she was okay with me being okay. I realize how ridiculously convoluted that sounds but grief is nothing if not complex.

I went to bed each night praying that I might subconsciously feel her presence. I woke up each morning hoping I’d find a sign from her that let me know she was still in my corner. Instead, months passed without my getting a heavenly head nod from Mom.

Then I got an e-mail from the director of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop I was going to be attending in a few weeks. I’d been selected to perform a stand-up comedy routine at the workshop and to do it on April 2 — exactly three years since Mom’s passing. Goose bumps covered my arms; this was my chance to test those strange but captivating waters.

“Are you nervous?” one of the fellow attendees asked prior to the performance.

“A little,” I said. “Mostly I’m excited.”

Still, as my slot drew near, my heart raced and I wiped the glisten of sweat from my chin. When my name was called, I inhaled deeply and stepped up to the mic, straining to catch a glimpse of the audience as I squinted in the bright spotlight.

I began my set and noticed that my formerly muted world now entertained sound. I heard bursts of laughter. I felt the reverberation of clapping. I caught wind of my husband’s distinctive chuckle, and that was soothing.

Then, at the end of my performance, I uttered the following words: “My mom, who was one of my favorite people in the world, died exactly three years ago today. And I think the fact that I’m doing stand-up comedy for the first time ever today, of all days, is her way of saying to me, ‘I know that you miss me and the joy we shared, but I want you to keep on laughing.’”

Professional comedienne Wendy Liebman, who emceed the show, came on stage, extended her arms for a hug, and whispered, “Was that really your first time? You’re a natural!”

As I exited the stage, members of the audience stood and applauded, a few of them wiping away tears.

After the show, my friends embraced and congratulated me. They encouraged and supported me. They mothered and nurtured me. The experience left me beaming. Because for the first time in a long while, I had allowed pure joy to seep inside my soul.

Mom’s hearty laugh and gentle voice didn’t just lead me to the stage; it lead me back to love, life and heart-healing laughter.

— Christy Heitger-Ewing

Christy Heitger-Ewing is a freelance writer living in Avon, Ind., with her husband and two sons. She’s a columnist for Cabin Living magazine and author of the award-winning book Cabin Glory.  She also regularly contributes to a variety of Christian magazines and anthologies.

The spirit of Erma

Leighann LordThe vast majority of writers who attended the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop are raving about it.

Attendees particularly loved the way writer and comic Leighann Lord “rocked the house” in her closing-night keynote talk. Her humorous, inspirational speech garnered the highest rating for any keynote speaker since the workshop organizers began surveying attendees in 2008. Several offered to rate her “11” or “12” on the 10-point survey scale.

“Leighann Lord was flawless in conveying wit, universal resonance, laughter, profound insight, in short, the spirit of Erma. I didn’t want her talk to end. She is the epitome of grace and a wicked sense of humor,” wrote one attendee.

“Hilarious yet inspirational. A beautifully crafted speech that, amid all the laughs, brought it home at the end to the theme of passion for writing,” another observed. She “knocked it out of the park. So connected to the audience, so in the moment, so authentic,” another attendee wrote.

A record 231 attendees — 66 percent — completed an online survey that rated the workshop. The overall workshop, its cost vs. value, and the networking opportunities all received scores of 9 (out of 10).

A new record: 80 percent said the knowledge and connections they gained at the workshop will cover the full cost of attending or far more than cover the cost of attending.

Half said they would definitely attend again. In all, 86 percent indicated they would definitely come back or highly consider it — another record. The opportunity to network (with other attendees and speakers) also received the highest marks in workshop history.

Approximately 350 writers from all parts of the country converged at the University of Dayton, Bombeck’s alma mater, for the March 31-April 2 biennial workshop that’s become so popular that it sold out in less than six hours. It’s here that Erma first heard the words, “You can write!” from an English professor.Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff

The workshop’s emcee, Barbara Chisholm’s performance of Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, the inspirational tone of Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff’s talk, the quality of the faculty, stand-up comedy night, speed dating for writers and Pitchapalooza all received high marks.

040216UD-0475 copy“Patricia Wynn Brown is the perfect, gracious, funny and friendly emcee,” one attendee wrote. “She infused every emcee gig with joy and enthusiasm,” observed another.

PitchapaloozaPitchapalooza, billed as the American Idol for books, only kinder and gentler, “was so entertaining and informative that it could honestly be a reality TV show,” another attendee wrote. “The critiques were clearly given from a loving, respectful, supportive place. I think everyone in the room won.”

Barbara Chisholm and Bombeck familyA number of attendees said the one-woman show based on Erma’s life and writings surpassed their expectations. “It was top notch, memorable, and there was barely a dry eye in the house,” one commented.

The chemistry between writing partners/lifelong friends Kinney and Ratzlaff touched attendees during their uplifting keynote talk. “These women blew the doors off as far as I’m concerned. Motivating, inspiring, funny, and honest with a REAL message,” one wrote.

The attendee stand-up comedy night ended the workshop with howls of laughter. “Wendy Liebman is a total gem and the attendee comics were great. Supportive crowd, great leader, perfect way to end the conference,” said one attendee.stand-up comedy performers

Other highlights among hundreds of write-in responses include:

• I’m not sure how the staff can top #2016EBWW. It was stellar in every way. Workshops were on trend and helpful for all levels of creative people from novices to professionals. The faculty was incredible.

• I KNOW that Erma is so proud and so honored. This is the best gift that I have ever given myself, life changing!

• An unbelievable experience. The EBWW is unique among all conferences in its ability to foster a culture of support and collaboration, rather than competition, among the writers who attend it and become part of its community. …The EBWW feels less like attending a conference, and more like visiting family.Vikki Claffin

• Thanks for being the kindle for my spark. xoxoxo

• I love this workshop. Love, love, love. The content was great this year. Please keep offering sessions that focus on craft!

• I’m so glad I came and will stand in line to be sure to get into the next one! The mixture of topics and approaches in the sessions offered seems just right. The spirit of Erma Bombeck is wonderful and the family atmosphere is charming.

• The truth is you can’t put a value on the conference — the cost is one thing, but the connections, information and education I received are invaluable.

• My favorite writers’ workshop, bar none.

• The welcoming warmth of this workshop far exceeds any I have ever attended.

• I thought this was a remarkably well-organized and content-packed conference. The depth of expertise in the workshops was outstanding; people you might expect to be keynoters were workshop presenters. That’s really unusual.

• The spirit of the workshop seems to really carry the spirit of Erma throughout. It’s genuine. It is not contrived.

Writers offered us constructive criticism, too. Attendees continue to want a greater focus on the craft of writing. Several suggested better organized breakfast roundtables, larger rooms for the sessions and healthier snacks (but “keep the lemon cake” at dinner).

The best recommendation: “A marching band to play “Our Love is Here to Stay” in 2018 and the Stones in 2020, although I’d trade them both for Billy Joel :).”

In addition to survey responses, nearly 60 writers tapped out literally thousands of words to capture their experience at the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. For links to their newspaper and online stories, blogs and podcasts, click here.

Audio recordings of the individual sessions or the complete workshop can be ordered here.

The next Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop will be held April 5-7, 2018. To keep in touch, like our Facebook page, follow us on Twitter and subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter. To subscribe, visit our blog.

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and executive director of strategic communications at the University of Dayton.

Bathroom stall to center stage:
a writer finds her groove

Kate MayerFour kids, three houses, eight cars and three colleges ago, I was a waitress at Denny’s. Many a Grand Slam breakfasts and chicken fried steak paid for community college. Whenever a posse of older women came, the wait staff would immediately hide in the kitchen, no one wanting that table.

Chimes of “not me, not me, not me” rang out like seagulls finding fries at the beach, and with good reason.

What pains in the as**! Dressing on the side, skim milk for coffee, lo-cal syrup, hold the mayo, extra mayo, no salt, eggs hard, fork is dirty, no ice please, decaf tea, substitutions galore, then separate checks and crappy tips.

I’m still traumatized some 35 years later.

So why then do I flock to a writing conference in Dayton, Ohio, a mecca of sorts of middle-aged (being generous here) women (and nine men) to pay homage and learn by sheer osmosis the writing and wit of Erma Bombeck.Erma typewriter

Here gather 350 women (and nine men), the VAST majority between the ages of 45-105 (except for the room crashed at 2 a.m, where four politically savvy, very smart, very drunk young women discussed writing, friendship, politics, parenting and marriage — an anomaly of demographics to be sure, but one I welcomed and not just because of the late-night pizza and free booze).

The Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop is every two years, and frankly, it’s not enough. Last time, I spent the vast majority of the conference between workshops, alone in a bathroom stall, pity party of one. I was in a dark place and looking for some light. And laughter. (You can read about that here.)

Kate_Mayer_standupThis year, I was on stage doing stand-up. Four minutes of hell that I will remember forever. From the bathroom stall to center stage, and it’s all thanks to the writers who flock to Dayton.

They, these 350 women (and nine men) who are all in some version of the same boat, want you to succeed. There is room for us all. I flee self-help, inspirational live-your-own-life spiritual bliss bullsh**. I despise it, and yet, that is exactly what I find here.

Like a spoon full of sugar, or a shot of tequila, I go for the workshops, the how-to craft, the social media tips, the networking and face-to-face opportunity that doesn’t happen on Facebook, or at larger conferences with bigger egos.

And yet, through the workshops, I find inspiration. Peace. Excitement. Energy. Encouragement. Talent. It all happens here.

Here are some of my brain dump notes, and you can find others by searching #2016EBWW on FB and Twitter:

Susan Pohlman:

• Is what you write a window or a mirror? If a mirror, it only applies to you and has limited audience. If a window, it offers a wider, universal story others can participate with.
• There’s a fine line where your story ends and someone else’s begins.
• Get it on the page. Even if it is crap.

Shannon Olson:

• Anytime you sit down to write your story, you have something unique to bring to the page.
• Be real. Share moments of emotional generosity.

Alan Zweibel:

• About Gilda Radner, Bunny, Bunny: “I wanted our words to touch each other again.”
• The jokes will come, but writing the truth must come first.
• There’s no secret to writing comedy. The secret is writing. The jokes will come.
• Do the work.
• The best writing touches the soul.

Wendy Liebman:

• You won’t suck. I won’t let that happen. Breathe.
• Control what you can: the jokes, the writing. Delivery. Your health and stamina. Ignore what you can’t control.
• Act as if it’s a great audience. Every single time.

Kathy Kinney:

• Surround yourself with positive people.
• You never know who you’re gonna meet who will give you a leg up.
• You don’t have to be 21 to have your whole life ahead of you. But it helps.
• Find a friend who doesn’t have an agenda.

Judy Carter:

• Suck up to others. Really. Do it.
• Get your foot in the door by finding your niche.
• Stand up is for alternative thinkers.
• If you have something to say, get out and say it.

Leighann Lord:

• If you don’t ask, you don’t get. No one is sitting around thinking about you.
• If the word ‘no’ frightened you, you wouldn’t be sitting here.
• Opportunity comes through friendships.
• Pursuing your passion is the gift you give other people.

Nancy Berk:

•Surround yourself with people who believe in you.
• You’re funny. Really funny. (To me. To my face, in the lobby)

Cyndy Ratzlaff:

• Your personal brand is a story you write about you.
• Leave digital breadcrumbs everywhere.
• Fan base believes they know us. Interact and build the relationship. Don’t let a share or comment go unnoticed.
• Readers read. Writers read. Colleagues are part of your tribe. Be a steward of that tribe. Share.
• Engage wherever fans want to play. Go there.

Adair Lara:

• Narrator is a hero if things don’t happen to them.
• Epiphany is the pay-off: when it stops being about you and starts being about the reader.
• You can’t go back and un-have an epiphany.
• Don’t be safe. If you’re being safe, you’re probably talking about other people.

It was like this for two days and two nights. I stole a little extra time from Leighann Lord because I mooched a ride to the airport with her, completely blurring the lines between “talent” and  “attendee.” Because that’s how this workshop rolls.

Eat dinner with a bunch of strangers, and learn about publications, editors, tips and leads. And second chances, career fails, good bras, in sickness and in health, menopause, tequila, online dating, great moisturizer, trolls, dark clouds and bright skies.

This workshop has something for everyone, regardless where you fall on the bell curve of writing. From polished, published professionals marketing a script, screenplay, or manuscript to a hospice nurse who always wanted to write, to an investment banker who thinks she might be funny — we all attend the same classes, taking what we need for this time in our life, and walk out lighter, braver and bolder.

The workshop also included a performance of the one-woman show, At Wit’s End starring Broadway and movie star Barbara Chisholm, and I sat near the back so I could sneak out if it sucked.

IT DID NOT. I was spellbound. Erma resonated because the tiny moments of the mundane had a far-reaching audience. Still. Her observations of parenting and housework had huge implications for the Equal Rights Amendment then. And now. Because there’s still work to do.

As Nancy Berk said during the all-woman in comedy panel: “Ageism is real, but here’s the thing: we are the lump in the demographic bubble. We are the majority. We sell out venues because they don’t see us on television.”

Thanks to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and the 350 women (and nine men), I for one will not forget the power of the pen, and our responsibility to use it wisely. With poise and humor, I can do both. Be funny and serious. Humor and activism. Doesn’t have to be all or nothing, and I hope the writers who experienced what I experience are tasked with continuing important conversations that may, in fact, inspire others to do the same to make the world a better place. One essay at a time.

— Kate Mayer

Kate Mayer is a potty-mouthed, somewhat irreverent storyteller, humorist and activist sharing life as she lives it in Newtown, Connecticut. She writes with humor, wit and a great amount of levity about parenting, teenage angst, aging parents, midlife, social issues and, sigh, gun- violence prevention. Her essays have appeared in Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, BluntMoms, Scary Mommy, BlogHer, The Mid, The Good Men Project, Midlife Boulevard, much in thanks to EBWW. She is a very proud Listen To Your Mother NYC 2012 alum. She blogs at http://www.kathrynmayer.com and is occasionally funny on Instagram and Twitter as @klmcopy. If you play well with others, find her on Facebook.

The tribe of Erma

stand-up comedy performersVirginia author Kimberly “Kimba” Dalferes says you can quote her on this: “Finding your tribe is life-affirming and feeds your soul.”

Dalferes describes the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in this way: “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.”

Humorist Wanda Argersinger blogs, “I have never attended any other conference where the attitude of the attendees actually infiltrates the air. You walk and breathe support, love, hope, admiration, curiosity and absolute acceptance of who you are. ‘These are my people,’ could be heard over and over again. ‘This is where I was meant to be.’”

From storyteller Kathryn Mayer, who “found her funny” at the 2014 EBWW and returned a renewed writer: “I find inspiration. Peace. Excitement. Energy. Encouragement. Talent. It all happens here.”

In all, more than 50 writers tapped out literally thousands of words to capture three laugh-filled days of learning and networking at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. These include essays from Lori Mansell, a long-retired school teacher who discovered it’s never too late to write, a couple of University of Dayton students, journalists, authors, magazine writers and bloggers.

A special highlight: Keynoters Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff are producing five video features of stories from their sprint writing workshop that encouraged writers to find their voices.Cindy Ratzlaff and Kathy Kinney

Here are links to newspaper and online stories, blogs and podcasts:

Amy Abbott: Afterglow

Amy Abbott: Erma Bombeck’s Forever Legacy

Wanda M. Argersinger: A Legacy Like No Other

Anne Bardsley: Erma Summer Camp

Jennifer Belden: How Erma Helped Me Reclaim My Focus and Boot Dolores

Nancy Berk:  Showbiz Analysis: Legendary Author Roy Blount Jr. Talks Creativity, Satire and Pie on Parade.com. Listen to podcast here.

Nancy Berk: Showbiz Analysis: The Drew Carey Show‘s Mimi Elevates Kathy Kinney to Queen of Her Own Life on Parade.com. Listen to podcast here.

Betsy Bitner: Together in a Spirit of Humor, Times Union in Albany, N.Y.

Valentine Brkich: Let the Sessions Begin!

Valentine Brkich: Welcome to No Man’s Land

Patricia Wynn Brown: Ride ‘em, cowgirl

Lisa Carpenter: 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop: 13 Things I Loved Plus a Few Me-Loved-Nots

Helen Chibnik: Secret Passion (illustrated and recorded by Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff)

Michelle Poston Combs: Like a Greased Watermelon

Kimberly “Kimba” Dalferes: Can I Quote You on That?

Julie Danis: The Olga Stores: The Best Seamstress of Section A of the Block Association of EastWest Warsaw (illustrated and recorded by Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff)

Lexie Digby: Erma’s Essence

Lori B. Duff: Men, Women, and the Equality of Functional Pockets

Lori B. Duff: How to Fly Without a Driver’s License in 27 Invasive Steps

Amy Eddings: She Who Laughs, Lives More Fully

Estelle Erasmus: Pearls of Advice from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Conference (#2016EBWW)

Christy Heitger-Ewing: Muted Joy: Learning to Live, Love and Laugh AgainHuffington Post

Bonnie Jean Feldkamp: MomWriter, Cincinnati Family Magazine

Sharon Tjaden-Glass: Walking Through the Fear

Rachel Grise: Erma Bombeck and the Marriott of Despair

Stacey Gustafson: Got My Funny Back at Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop 2016

Stacey Gustafson: Quotable Quotes, featuring Alan Zweibel, Cathryn Michon, Joel Madison, Wendy Liebman, Leighann Lord, Kathy Kinney, Judy Carter and Jenny Lawson

Katie Hamlin: Ermafied

Lori Herlihy: Emulating Erma

Mary Hirsch: Life Without a Name Tag

Ann Hudock: 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and a Belated Thank You

Hillary Ibarra: Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

Natalie Kirland: Erma Bombeck Spirit Still Alive Through Writers’ Workshop

Becky Koop: Whim to Revelation, My Erma Bombeck Workshop Legacy

Myron Kukla: Strange But True Tale

Kate Mahar: A Little Something About My Day Job

Lori Mansell: Queen for a Day

Lisa Marlin: Yes, Mr. Dickens, It Was the Best

Kathryn Mayer: Bathroom Stall to Center Stage: A Writer Finds Her Groove

Mary McCarty: Lesson from Bombeck Workshop: It’s Never Too Late, Dayton Daily News

Kelly McKenzie: If Only I Had the Chance to Meet Erma

Julie Osborne: From Virgin to Queen

Gianetta Palmer: An Ode to the EBWW…2016 Version

Lisa R. Petty: Hermit at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

Susan Pohlman: When Erma Calls

Yvonne Ransel: My Happy Place

Julia Roberts: Great Advice From the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

Julia Roberts: The Erma Gap

Julia Roberts: The Power of Erma Listen to podcast here.

Anne Saker: Erma Bombeck Lives on in Admiring Writers, Cincinnati Enquirer

Sheri Saretsky: Mother…Wife…Boss…But Writer?

Sharon Short: Authors to Offer Free Events Tied to Writers’ Workshop, interview with Roy Blount Jr. and Gina Barreca, Dayton Daily News

Pam Sievers: When the Only Thing Left to Do is Write

Suzette Standring: Women: Stop Apologizing As a Preface to Comments, Huffington Post

Molly Stevens: Who Was Erma Bombeck and Why Does She Still Matter?, (Maine) Bangor Daily News

Becky Sydeski: 13 Things to Remember for the Erma Bombeck 2018 Conference

Janine Talbot: EBWW — A Cast of Characters

Janine Talbot: Can Great Minds Who Think Alike Survive Collaboration?

Annette Januzzi Wick: Erma Made Me Miss My Mom

Jan Wilberg: Three Days with a Name Tag

— Teri Rizvi

Teri Rizvi is the founder of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Worshop at the University of Dayton, where she serves as executive director of strategic communications.

Quotable quotes

(Editor’s Note: Author and blogger Stacey Gustafson offers quotable quotes from the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.)

160401 EBWW 2016 Friday Burgess

Alan Zweibel

• “A lot of comedy comes from the same place pain comes from.”
• “Fun doesn’t happen until it’s ready to be seen by others.”
• “Once you write something, it’s in the hands of a different god.”
• His comment to Roger Ebert after his terrible review of North, “Roger, I just have to tell you that I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate your sweater.”
• “What I remember (about North) is the process, how I felt doing it.”
• “It’s important the we (writers) all get together.”
• “Success is a different animal. The victory is important.”
• “It’s important to get together with writers and share experiences.”
• “I love short stories.”
• “Adrenaline kicks in for deadlines.”

Cathryn Michon

Cathryn Michon

• “Our people are just a hashtag away.”
• “Women don’t always feel comfortable about their bodies.”
• “If you have an idea people really want to talk about, you have the power.”
• “What does an independent book store need? Loyalty.”
• “The way you make impossible stuff happen, like books, blogs, is your core belief that this is something that needs to be out there.”
• “I spend everyday not to be an insecure person…I’m passionate about that.”
• “Creating the work is the most important thing.”
• “Making short video content to support longer projects is a good idea.”
• “We have the power to capture moments now.”
• “Grow your audience by listening and responding.”
• “The goal is trying to be the most authentic.”
• “In the niches are the riches.”

Joel Madison

Joel Madison

• “The writers’ room is like a high school locker room.”
• “Comedy is aggressive. It doesn’t attract women.”
• “Sarcasm doesn’t read. It only works orally.”
• “Every line must serve story, character.”

Wendy Liebman

Wendy Liebman

• “Took me 10 years to get comfortable on stage.”
• “You only have control over you.”
• “Write everything down; write every day.”
• “Perform as much as humanly possible.”
• “You need an audience. They help you shape yourself.”
• “Get on stage as much as possible. Try a new joke each time.”
• “Make it known that you want to perform.”
• “Surround yourself with people who believe in your talent.”

Leighann Lord

Leighann Lord

• “Networking is critical. Talk to other comedians. Be ready for those opportunities.”
• “Generate content everyday. Twitter, Instagram…”
• “Prepare to be flexible.”
• “What if I forget (my lines)? Acknowledge it. Trust yourself. Your brain is going to give you something.”

Kathy Kinney

Kathy Kinney

• “Make your own opportunities. Improv skills will help you in every area of your life.”
• “Find your voice.”
• “Even your own family likes you better when you’re on TV.”
• “Say yes to everything.”

Judy Carter

Judy Carter

• “Suck up. Find someone with a similar audience.”
• “Do material based on an audience.”
• “Be able to have a group that can relate to you.”
• “Form a relationship with your fan base.”
• “Stand-up is not about being perfect. You must be present. Let the audience in. Audience wants to see you be present.”

Jenny Lawson

Jenny Lawson
 • “Worst criticism is inside your own head.”
• “Awkwardness brings us all together.”
• “Success looks different to every single person.”
• “I must be the biggest butt of the joke (in my stories).”

— Stacey Gustafson

Stacey Gustafson is an Amazon bestselling author, humor columnist and blogger who has experienced the horrors of being trapped inside a pair of SPANX. Her book, Are You Kidding Me? My Life With an Extremely Loud Family, Bathroom Calamities, and Crazy Relatives ranked #1 Amazon Best Seller in Parenting & Family Humor and Motherhood. Her short stories have appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul and seven books in the Not Your Mother’s Book series. Her work appears in Midlife Boulevard, Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and Better After 50. She was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month. Enjoy her blog, Are You Kidding Me? at StaceyGustafson.com or follow on Twitter @RUKiddingStacey.

Ride ’em, cowgirl

Brown, Patricia Wynn(Editor’s Note: At the 2016 EBWW emcee Patricia Wynn Brown regaled the audience with some amusing stories attendees shared about how they registered within the first six hours before the workshop sold out. For more registration sagas, click here.)

Some of you went to extreme measures to be able to get your registration in under the wire to be here.

We appreciate your zeal, valor, creativity — and the fallout within some of your families because of your single-minded determined focus to be here today.

For example:

Gianetta Palmer had no power, no Internet and no front door most of the day. She had to outsource the registration process to someone else.

Janet Sheppard Kelleher was out hunting and had to leave her tree stand for lack of Internet service in the South Carolina Low Country and high tale it to a restaurant with WiFi. Didn’t we all? (We’re sorry that Janet’s surgery prevented her from joining us.)

Jane C. Rosen’s aging dogs are still mad at her for speedwalking them in the morning so she could register West coast time.

Samara Rose traded her firstborn child for a registration.

Anne Parris scheduled having her dog fixed around her need to get in right away on the conference site to register.

Janie Emaus nearly bit her dear old mother’s head off when mother dared to call her at registration time…merely to say hello.

The best: Stacey Hatton registered for the conference while in stirrups — for her annual pap exam. I say, Ride ’em, cowgirl.

We thank all of you for your heroic efforts in being part of our magnificent group of people this weekend.

— Patricia Wynn Brown

Patricia Wynn Brown is a performer, producer and author of two books, Hair-A-Baloo: The Revealing Comedy and Tragedy on Top of Your Head and Momma Culpa: One Mother Comes Clean and Makes her Maternal Confession. She has performed her humor-memoir Hair Theater® shows across the U.S. She is a featured humorist in a PBS documentary, A Legacy of Laughter, about the life and work of Erma Bombeck. She also is a three-time winner of the James Thurber Summer Writing Contest. She served as emcee at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2012, 2014 and 2016.

Battling with grays and strays

Lynne CobbGrays and strays — just another dandy way that menopause shares its, dare I say, hair-raising, life-altering change.

About three years ago, I colored my hair for the last time. The gray was in for the win, and my scalp became irritated from the dye. My last, paid-for hair hurrah were highlights and low-lights, which camouflaged the incoming gray. Midlife was sucking the life right out of my melanin production, creating a source of natural color streaks. Albeit gray in color, the strands contrasted with my brunette beginnings, thus giving me, um, a new type of highlights.

My trusted hair stylist loved the look and told me to embrace it. Now, when you put your mane in the hands of someone you trust, it’s all good. Bless his heart, I thought, he was just trying to be kind.

So I questioned his sanity.

“Are you joking? You really just said, ‘Embrace it.’ Like, don’t color it or fight it, right?” I released an evil laugh.

He wasn’t joking.

I wasn’t convinced I could embrace the grays, but I didn’t want to erupt in hives. So, on his wise counsel, I ditched the dye.

The next bit of advice he gave me was a huge adjustment, too.

“Your hair texture is changing, so don’t shampoo every day.”

What??? He’s now a comedian? Again I asked, “Are you joking?”

Trying not to question his sanity, I had flashbacks to greasy hair during my junior high days. Back then, when the hormones were going crazy, I had more oil oozing from my scalp than a rig in the ocean. Heck, I even used grease-fighting dish washing liquid on my limp locks.

Panic-stricken, I wondered how I could not shampoo daily, especially since the hormones are again going crazy. Hot flash anyone?

Totally not on board with this, especially since gray, flat, greasy locks are not confidence boosting, I begrudgingly listened to my stylist, and every other day became “No Shampoo Day.”

Well, it took a few weeks for my scalp to adjust, and then I started to embrace this new way of life. I had to admit, my hair was healthier looking, plus I had extra time every other morning, so I was able to increase my exercise routine. Win.

The alternate scrub day also reduced the cost of shampoo and hair products, another win. And the extra time afforded me an opportunity to really inspect the lines on my face and notice other changes in my new appearance. Like more hair.

Healthy, strong hair.

Lots of hair.

Hair that isn’t on my head. Well, technically, it is on my head. Just not where I want it. Oh yippee — hair started sprouting on my face.

Glimpses of the bearded woman from the circus stared back at me in the mirror.

I had heard of women developing whiskers during “The Change,” but of course, I was immune. My body would never humiliate me that way.

Hah!

Not only do these suckers appear faster than a dandelion in April, they are just as difficult to control.

To add insult to injury, they act like weeds, too. Pluck a wiry beast from the chin, and two days later, wham, it pops up again. Under your nose. As in, a mustache.

Great.

Now I wonder if I should pluck or shave. So much for the extra time I had gained by not shampooing…

All the money saved in hair products is now spent on magnifying mirrors and wax. And trust me when I say that beauty hurts — waxing the ‘stache is a rip-roaring blast. (Note: Never wax and plan to go anywhere but home afterwards. You’ll thank me.)

As I left the salon, I told my stylist he was brutal.

“My lip! I came in to look beautiful and it looks like you punched me!” I cried. I even paid and tipped him — what is wrong with this picture?

“Awww, the redness and puffiness will go away,” he consoled, while offering me some salve to put on my sore yet baby-bottom-smooth upper lip.

“At least now you can’t run away and join the circus.” No, he didn’t say that, but I think we both thought that. Okay, I thought that.

Blinking away the sting of the tears, I booked my next torture beauty session. I will win the battle of the grays and strays because the circus is just not an option. Yet.

— Lynne Cobb

Lynne Cobb is a metro Detroit freelance writer, with articles, essays and blog posts featured in major and local dailies; national and niche magazines, and various Websites, such as Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and Midlife Boulevard. Recently, a blog post was published in the popular anthology Feisty after 45 – The Best Blogs from Midlife Women. Keep up with Lynne and her “Midlife Random Ramblings” at lynnecobb.com.

Mile-high incarceration

A long flight is like a prison sentence. The food is terrible; they won’t let you exercise much; and even if your cellmates seem nice, you just wish they would leave you alone. You want to make a run for it, but you’ve heard nobody gets very far.Hillary Ibarra

I have many flying issues, not the least of which is that when I’m traveling, it is psychologically impossible for me to use the restroom in a meaningful way. Never mind the minuscule lavatory on the plane with its creepy loiterers and a commode that sounds like it’s going to suck you into another dimension. No, even in an airport bathroom, if I think even one person knows what I am doing in that stall, I cannot do what I must.

Sure, I know it’s purely strangers coming and going, but there could be that one lady in the corner freshening makeup and communing with her cell phone. As I exit she’ll slip me a sinister note: I know what you did in the last 10 minutes. Then on a connecting flight hundreds of miles later I’ll get to my assigned seat only to find a picture of a potty taped to the snack tray.

Because of these hang-ups, I sit on the plane squirming in increasing discomfort, fully aware that if I release the gas torturing my belly and preventing me from crossing my legs, my fellow passengers will be horrified as I become airborne in a whole new way. You know the situation is bad when as the plane lurches during extreme turbulence, all you can think is: I hope I get the chance to use the restroom before I die.

On this last trip to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, I had to fly on a tiny aircraft, the kind assigned to passengers going to boring places — mostly in the Midwest. The flight attendant referred to the pilots as a captain and his first officer, and I couldn’t help but be skeptical and afraid, because neither one looked like he was quite 18 years old. I could just picture the airline executives saying to these lads, “Well, you really do need some flying experience in case you have to transport passengers somewhere other than Ohio, so here’s a plane that holds about 50 people. Now get up there, you young devils, and have some fun! But not too much…these people don’t like excitement!”

My fear of flying is always exacerbated on the descent. I can feel the plane losing altitude by degrees, and I am always suspicious. Are we supposed to be doing that now? It seems too soon. Why isn’t the captain saying anything? Does he know we’re about to nosedive? Does he want to keep us oblivious, enjoying our last few moments? I don’t see any buildings out the window. We’re going to die!

Of course, the captain does eventually come on to say we’ve started our descent into some city or other, and I breathe a sigh of relief even as I resentfully think, Well, why didn’t he say so?

For me the descent also causes nausea akin to morning sickness. I sit pale-faced and erect, trying not to look toward the ground. My queasiness simultaneously reminds me of car sickness as a child when I had to puke into my mom’s purse and the time I threw up a sausage and egg biscuit while flying during my first pregnancy. I have to chant to myself repeatedly, “Do not think about what you ate for lunch! Do not think about what you ate for lunch!” Which means, of course, that I think about what I ate for lunch down to the last limp fry and sesame seed in disgusting detail.

When we finally hit the ground, I am desperate to get that first whiff of non-recycled air as we taxi like a snail to our gate and then wait 10 feet away from it for at least a half hour before the ground crew waves us in.

I then watch my fellow prisoners being released row by row and wonder if my time will ever come. Miracle of miracles, it does, and as soon as I complete my drunken stagger down the gangway to freedom, I make a beeline for the fast food.

Brutal experience has taught me that nothing quite builds an appetite for greasy food like constipation, imprisonment and fear of death.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org and was recently published at Hahas for Hoohas. She is a mother of four who 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.

Reflections of Erma