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Q&A with Barb Best…and Barb Best

(Barb Best is the author of the new humor book, The Misery Manifesto: A Self-Help Parody for the Self-Absorbed with cartoons by Roz Chast, Liza Donnelly and Andrew Genn. Published by Wise Ink.)

Q: Since I am as self-absorbed as your average PricewaterhouseCoopers accountant or locomotive engineer, I decided to interview myself. Is that okay with you, Barb?

A: (busy texting) Huh? What? Hum? Okay… sure.

Q: Rumor has it you have written a parody on happiness entitled The Misery Manifesto: A Self-Help Parody for the Self-Absorbed. W. Bruce Cameron calls it “Hilarious!” What compelled you to write this?

A: I wrote this book because Man’s Search for Meaning and A Dog’s Purpose were already written. Plus, I was inspired by the multitude of self-help books that instruct us on how to cultivate joy and vanquish misery. They are often written in a stiff style and the approach tends to be overly academic. Perfect for lampooning.

Q: The Misery Manifesto is a month-by-month survival guide. That’s an entertaining format, isn’t it?

A: Ha! (posting on FB) I just found the funniest cat video — where the orange tabby is high fiving the toddler, loses his balance, and falls off the breakfast table. The toddler laughs so hard that he spits oatmeal all over his mom. (musing) You can’t make this stuff up.

Q: That sounds like a comedy classic. Speaking of sharing…

A: Everybody wants to be happy. We all know that life includes unspeakable pain and suffering. My cockamamie and obscenely facile — don’t you love that word? Facile, facile, facile — formula is to embrace your misery. If done well, complaining and kvetching can be fun. Point is, enjoy the absurdity. Revel in it. You might as well laugh.

Q: So, aside from chocolate and Percocet, laughter is the best medicine?

A: One sec. (tweeting) Gotta RT this plug for the @EBWW conference on April 5-7, 2018. Oh, also this killer one-liner from @WendyLiebman. Wow, that’s an amazing photo of a hot cinnamon bun dripping in maple icing. Whoa! Get me a room!

Q: Like many of us, you seem to need some “me time” without your cell phone.

A: Right you are. A self-care time-out with a good book is usually all we need.

— Barb Best

Barb Best turns hassles into humor one laugh at a time on her popular blog “I Feel Your Pain” which appears at BarbBest.com and Alltop.com. Her comedy material has been performed by Joan Rivers, and her essays and light verse have been published in numerous print and digital publications. Barb’s books include Find Your Funny: The LOL Survival Guide for Teens with Joanne Jackal, Ph.D., Smiles to Go: Take-Out for the SMILE Hungry with Barbara Grapstein and 100 Fast & Funny: Ha-Musings. She is proud as spiked punch to be an Erma Bombeck Global Humor Winner. The Misery Manifesto: A Self-Help Parody for the Self-Absorbed is available on Amazon.

CPR for Dummies

When it comes to saving lives, I used to be such a dummy that I couldn’t even spell CPR. But I recently took a CPR class in which the instructor used me as a dummy. Now I am a lifesaver. And if you’re ever choking on one, I can save your life.

I was transformed from a nervous wreck who knew only the Heineken maneuver (“You’re choking? Have a beer!”) to a confident guy who also knows the Heimlich (“Pop goes the Life Saver!”) by Tom Henry, the dashing, funny, extremely impressive trainer who taught the CPR class I took at work.

I was among 17 aspiring heroes in the auditorium, where Tom had assembled the tools of his trade: masks, defibrillators and, of course, dummies, of which I would be the biggest.

“These mannequins and dolls are my second family, except they don’t talk back,” said Tom, 55, a former New York City CSI detective (“It was boring compared to the TV show,” he acknowledged) who now runs an American Heart Association-approved CPR training center.

The mannequins and dolls came in three sizes: adult, child and baby. Since the adults were only heads and torsos, Tom wanted to demonstrate on a real-life dummy.

“Jerry!” he said, pointing in my direction. “Come on up.”

I bounded to the middle of the spacious room and was asked to lie on the floor, next to an adult mannequin.

Tom gazed down and said, “The dummy is better-looking.”

Then he ran through the possibilities of why I might need CPR, among them a heart attack or a bad fall.

“If I hit my head,” I said, “I wouldn’t get hurt.”

“I can see why,” said Tom, adding that one of the first things to do is to take off the victim’s shirt in case a defibrillator is needed. “I am NOT going to take off Jerry’s shirt,” he announced.

My colleagues, both men and women, breathed an audible sigh of relief.

Tom then said mouth-to-mouth resuscitation might be needed.

“Am I going to lock lips with Jerry?” he asked. “No way!”

Instead, he demonstrated the technique used in pumping the victim’s chest to keep the heart beating. It didn’t hurt because Tom didn’t use full force — he saved that for the mannequin — but it did tickle.

When Tom was finished, he helped me up and announced, “We saved Jerry!”

My colleagues applauded, which also did my heart good, though I’m sure none of them wanted to lock lips with me, either.

“When performing CPR, you can’t worry about hurting somebody,” Tom said. “If a person is in cardiac arrest, they’re dead. You can’t make it worse. You can’t hurt somebody who’s dead. Although in Jerry’s case,” he added, “it might be difficult to tell the difference.”

Later, Tom used me to demonstrate how to perform the Heimlich maneuver.

“Despite what Jerry says,” he noted, “it doesn’t involve beer. You have to do this if a person is choking.”

Tom got behind me and put his arms around my middle, showing the class how to force out whatever might be lodged (a Wint O Green Life Saver, perhaps, or an entire Happy Meal) in my upper airway.

“You should be careful when doing this to someone who’s pregnant,” Tom advised.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’m not.”

“No,” Tom replied, “but you are kind of flabby.”

We used the mannequins to learn how to perform CPR and do mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

“If you were breathing into Jerry’s mouth,” Tom told my classmates, “you’d have to hope he brushed his teeth.”

“I did that yesterday,” I said.

The last thing we learned was how to use an AED (automated external defibrillator), which was demonstrated on a mannequin.

“We’re not going to jump-start Jerry,” Tom said. “He’s been through enough today.”

But it was well worth it. The three-hour class was fun, fascinating and vital. And Tom was a great instructor.

“You were great, too,” he said when the session was over. “In fact, when it comes to CPR, you’re a real dummy.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows BestLeave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.

Aging (un)gracefully

The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is teaming with prolific author Allia Zobel Nolan on a proposed humorous anthology about aging.

If accepted by a publisher, the book will feature a mixture of Zobel Nolan’s essays and “fall-on-the-floor-and-roll-around-in-stitches” humorous contributions from 30 or 40 authors and bloggers from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

It’s tentatively titled When Life Hands You Age Spots, Play Connect the Dots. She’d like to share an initial four-to-six funny essays on aging as part of the formal proposal. Deadline to submit essays for the book proposal is March 13.

“I need one of your funniest pieces on aging,” said Zobel Nolan, who has published close to 200 books, some for children, some humorous, some devotional. “Since it will be offered to a traditional publisher, this publisher would probably want all rights to this one particular piece.”

This book has a great shot at finding a niche in the market.

“Unlike titles that promise eternal youth…if only the reader did this or that…or sappy books about how wonderful it is to age, this book will deal with the bald truth of the sagging and the nagging, the pain and the profundities, the wonder and inanities of having a brain that knows everything there is to know about a lot of things, but a body that lacks the ability to do anything about it,” said Zobel Nolan.

For more information or to submit an essay for consideration for the proposal, email Allia Zobel Nolan at AlliaZobel@optonline.net.

Sharp like knives

(This essay is an excerpt from Kristen Hansen Brakeman’s upcoming book, Is That the Shirt You’re Wearing? It’s reposted by permission of the author.)

As I set down the orange juice on the breakfast table, I was stopped in my tracks by the sight of my 12-year-old daughter, Samantha, struggling to cut up her pancakes. Holding her knife in her left fist like a ski pole and her fork like a video game nunchuck, she ground the two utensils together until her plate became a mess of shredded, torn pancake bits.

My future Mensa member and current household video-game champion had no more ability to use a knife than had our cat.

How did she escape learning this basic life skill? Looking back I admit I purposely kept knives away from my kids. I thought that giving a sharp object to a child could only end badly.

Whenever we went to a restaurant where knives were recklessly set on the table, the inevitable sibling sword fight would ensue, only confirming my suspicions.

It’s likely also that a diet of kid foods were partly to blame. One doesn’t need to cut up chicken nuggets, pizza, and macaroni and cheese. Though my kids often dine on more grown-up fare like salmon, shrimp and pastas; these are again, all fork-friendly foods.

After deciding to brush off the knife incident as a minor blemish on my otherwise spotless parental record, I was faced with another shortcoming.

My two older girls wanted me to bake a heart-healthy corn soufflé to serve our dinner guests. Rushed for time, I instructed them to start without me by gathering all the ingredients and opening up the cans of creamed corn.

With the front room finally tidy, I went to check on their progress. I walked in to find every drawer in the kitchen open as my daughters rummaged about, muttering, “I don’t know which one is a can opener. Is this a can opener?”

“No, I think it’s this thing,” the other one said, holding a corkscrew. “Or maybe it’s that thing there?” while pointing at a garlic press.

Astonished, I interrupted. “What? Do you mean to tell me that neither one of you knows what a can opener looks like?” I reached into the appropriate drawer. “This is a can opener!”

“Oh,” they said in unison.

“You’ve never used a can opener?” I demanded, only to be treated to shrugs and the onset of uncontrollable giggles. “Oh, yeah. Go ahead and laugh.”

I tried to impress them with the seriousness of the situation. “It won’t be so funny when The Big One comes and Daddy and I are squished under the entertainment center and you kids have to fend for yourselves. What will you do then? Huh? I’ll tell you what you’ll do. You’ll starve! I can see the story on the Ten o’clock News: ‘Local children starve to death in a kitchen surrounded by cans of food!’”

Now gasping for air, Chloe somehow managed to squeak out, “We won’t starve. We’ll order a pizza.”

I ignored her. “This weekend, the two of you are going to learn about the kitchen, and we will have a special class in advanced knife work.”

Morning came and after a half-hour of Show and Tell with the kitchen utensils and appliances, I presented my children with a stack of easy-to-cut French Toast.

I gave them a lengthy dissertation on proper knife holding technique and exact index finger placement for maximum pressure, and then encouraged them to try it themselves.

Chloe tried to flaunt her knife skills first, but soon food went flying over the edge of her plate. Samantha made a couple feeble attempts and then disregarded my advice and began mashing up her French Toast like she had her pancakes. Again, more giggles.

I was ready to admit defeat when my seven-year old asked, “Mommy, am I doing it right?”

To be honest, I forgot my overlooked third child was even at the table. But now, I was thrilled to learn someone had actually been paying attention.

“Why yes!” I gushed. “You are doing it right! Wow, girls… look at your much younger sister. See how well she wields her knife? Why can’t you two be more like her? Excellent job, Peyton. Here, have some more syrup and powdered sugar.”

I knew very well I had violated the advice of every parenting book by comparing the children to one another, but I didn’t care. I was feeling desperate.

Sadly, my efforts were all in vain. Chloe and Samantha soon abandoned their utensils entirely and resorted to ripping bites of French toast with their teeth, much like the feral children they were apparently meant to be.

The good news was that at least my youngest child would someday be able to enter civilized society.

In the meantime, I can only hope that some Silicon Valley whiz invents a game that teaches kids how to use a butter knife.

— Kristen Hansen Brakeman

Kristen Hansen Brakeman’s comedic essays have appeared in The New York Times’ Motherlode, The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Working Mother Magazine, Scary Mommy and on our blog. Her debut collection of comic essays, Is That the Shirt You’re Wearing?, will be published in May 2017. She has appeared on Huff Post Live to endlessly debate the use of the word “Ma’am,” is a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books, and a guest blogger for the Christian Science Monitor. Real humans have compared her writing style to both Erma Bombeck and Nora Ephron, but possibly they were intoxicated at the time. Brakeman works behind the scenes on television variety shows and lives in the suburbs of Los Angeles with her husband and three daughters.

Novelist Bonnie Jo Campbell to serve as finalist judge in Bombeck Writing Contest

Award-winning novelist and short story writer Bonnie Jo Campbell will serve as the finalist judge in the human interest writing category in the 2018 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.

Bonnie Jo Campbell is the bestselling author of Mothers, Tell Your DaughtersOnce Upon a River and American Salvage, among other works. Author Tom Bouman, writing in 2009 for the national British newspaper The Guardian, places American Salvage on the Top Ten List of Rural Noir novels alongside Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice and The Complete Stories (1946-1952) of Flannery O’Connor. Campbell was a National Book Award finalist, NBCC Award finalist and a Guggenheim Fellow, and the Boston Globe  called her a “master of post-industrial landscapes.”  She rides a variety of bicycles and a donkey in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

“Her characters are flawed, quirky and hardscrabble. Her storylines are original, inventive, unpredictable, sometimes bleak and sometimes hopeful. The writing style is absolutely beautiful, and Bonnie can pack an entire story into one page — a requirement of our contest,” said Debe Dockins, coordinator of the competition at the Washington-Centerville Public Library.

“Erma had that capacity for evoking great emotion within the confines of a small space and Bonnie’s short stories pack a wallop. The fact that she is both an Erma Bombeck fan AND a teacher of creative writing bodes well for anyone whose essay makes it to the final round,” she said.

Campbell, an adventurous soul who has hitchhiked across the U.S. and Canada, scaled the Swiss Alps on her bicycle and traveled with the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey Circus selling snow cones, joins humorist Dave Barry as a finalist judge. Barry will select winners in the humorous essay category.

The writing competition, held every two years in conjunction with the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, pays tribute to hometown writer Erma Bombeck, one of the greatest humorists of the 20th century. The next contest opens Dec. 4, with previously unpublished 450-word entries in humor and human interest categories accepted until Jan. 8.

Four winners will receive $500 and a free registration to the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, slated for April 5-7, 2018.

In 2016, 563 writers from around the world entered essays — roughly 253,350 words. Nancy Cartwright, the voice of Bart Simpson, and Daryn Kagan, syndicated columnist and former CNN anchor, served as the finalist judges for the humor and human interest categories, respectively. The nearly 50 preliminary judges included nationally known authors, columnists, screenwriters, stand-up comedians and a longtime writer for David Letterman.

— Teri Rizvi

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

Medical update with mom

Conversations with friends and family have changed as I’ve gotten older. It seems all my conversations now include a medical update. The following is a typical conversation with my mother.

Me: Hi, Mom.

Mom: Who is this?

Me: It’s me, Cindy, your daughter.

Mom: OH, Cindy, you’ll have to speak up I can’t hear you.

Me: It sounds like you got a party going on. Do you have company?

Mom: No. it’s the television. I keep it loud so I can hear it. I have no trouble hearing the commercials which they blast. Hold on while I lower it ….ok, I’m back.

Me: That’s better. You really need to get a hearing aid. Anyway, how are you? Have you worn the perfume I sent you?

Mom: No, not yet, my knee’s been acting up so I put BenGay on it and wouldn’t have been able to smell the perfume. Last night I really stunk. I was a mix of BenGay and Vicks vapor rub when I got in bed.

Me: I just bought a brace for my ankle that’s been acting up. How’s Uncle Tony?

Mom: Uncle Tony just had emergency hip surgery.

Me: Oh, no. What happened?

Mom: He was walking to his car to go for the physical therapy he gets for his shoulder on account of the car accident when he slipped and fell on ice. Turns out he needed a new hip. Now, the therapist comes to the house. He’s so happy he no longer has to make the drive; the lucky bastard. I should give him one of my walkers.

Me: One of your walkers? How many walkers do you have?

Mom: Two. My drugstore had a sale, buy one, get one 50 percent off. You never know when you’ll need one.

Me: You never know.

Mom: He was home in a couple of days. The surgery went off without a hitch.

Me: I remember after my surgery they told me I needed to eat something before I could go home. They gave me a Saltine cracker. I was just diagnosed with high blood pressure and they give me a salted cracker. Then the sock they put on me before surgery went missing. Since I was unconscious and immobile during surgery, it’s a mystery how it happened. I wonder if everybody looked at my foot. Sure am glad I had that pedicure.

Mom: Did they give you medication?

Me: Yes.

Mom: How many you on now?

Me: Three.

Mom: Three? Ha! That’s nothing. I’m on eight. A rare side effect of the new medicine my doctor just prescribed is death. Death! Can you believe it? The information packet advised me to contact my doctor in case of a rare side effect. I would think death’s a rare side effect, wouldn’t you?

Me: I most certainly would.

Mom: Well, how can I call my doctor if I’m dead? Death is permanent, not temporary; unless it’s a soap opera. On soap operas people come back from the dead all the time.

Me: True. There’s no coming back from death. Death is a nail in the coffin.

Mom: Coffin?! I don’t want to be buried. I hate coffins.

Me: Not many people like them.

Mom: I want to be cremated. Remember that in case I drop dead from this medicine meant to help me. Can’t believe I’m on another drug. When you’re young, they tell you “Don’t take drugs.” When you’re old, they tell you, “Take drugs.”

Me: I’ll remember — cremation, no burial.

Mom: Have you and Ralph decided to be buried or cremated?

Me: Yes.

Mom: And what does he want?

Me: He said he’ll be dead and for me to surprise him.

Mom: I gotta go, time to take my pill.

Me: Ok. Bye. Talk soon.

Mom: Maybe, maybe not, depends if I up and die from this pill before then. You know how I hate to complain.

And that concludes our medical update.

— Cindy Argiento

Cindy Argiento’s first column appeared in the Greensboro News and Record as a Personal Ads feature on April 30, 2002. Later that year, her first “As I See It” column appeared in the High Point Enterprise, where it would become a regular feature for several years. Her columns also have appeared in the Reidsville Review, Eden Daily News, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Freelance, Hopewell News and Foothills Paper. Other essays have appeared in Chicken Soup For the Soul books, Family Matters and Married Life. Three of her pieces were recognized as a finalist, semi-finalist and honorable mention in HumorPress.com “America’s Funniest Humor” writing contest. She blogs at Cindy’s World.

The gift

“That’s why you didn’t get chocolates! You got the gift of no longer being humiliated!”

Those were the exact words spoken by my nine-year-old daughter after I revealed the contents of the big box on my dresser on Valentine’s Day. I’d be lying if I said that didn’t sting.

I thought I had done a good job of keeping my feelings to myself, but obviously, I failed.

Mothers know better than that. Well, the good ones do.

You probably want to know what was in the package.

Tucked carefully inside the cardboard box was a shiny new black folding mirror for my car.

You see, back in December, there was a single vehicle accident involving myself, a bag of peanut M&M’s and my garage wall.

But none of it would have happened if I hadn’t volunteered. It was the perfect storm of paint, glitter, and asshattery. As mothers under the influence of Pinterest do, I took an easy task and created a nightmare.

Impaired by a bizarre glitter injury, my body and soul needed chocolate. Over 48 hours had passed with no sleep or shower, but I would not be deterred.

With my disheveled hair covered by a baseball cap, pulled lower on my face than necessary, I double checked to make sure I was wearing a bra and set out for the store.

I was in line when I noticed the blood.

See, when you accidentally stab yourself with a screwdriver while opening a canister of glitter, it hemorrhages quite a bit. Blood was flowing from my hand down my forearm onto the crisp white tiles of the floor. The napkins at the register coupled with a Purell wipe from my purse were my only cleaning supplies. I was the Lady Macbeth of the Chevron Station on Highway 8. So much for staying low key.

By the time I got home, I just wanted to sleep.

As soon as my garage door opened, I attempted to navigate into my parking space carefully avoiding Santa’s workshop on the left and the glittered elves on the right.

I failed.

CRRRRUUNNNCHHH.

The exterior shell of the mirror was destroyed and my insurance agent husband, a more Scrooge than St. Nick, was infuriated.

There would be no claim. We do not file claims.

By February the mirror was barely holding on. Every wire and cable were exposed like the robotic assassin from the Terminator. To make matters worse, one of those wires made a screeching noise akin to primeval cat shriek every time I locked the doors.

That was embarrassing.

I felt it, but I guess I was saying it too. Otherwise, my nine-year old’s reaction would’ve been more like my sixteen years old’s.

One look in the box and then over at me. “Nothing says romance like car parts, right Mom?”

—Heather Burnett

Heather Burnett is a mother, writer, reluctant housemaid, overthinker and creative Genius Behind the Word to Your Mother Blog.

Going old school

I was watching my brother’s kids for a week, and it was all going swimmingly. I stayed at their house in my hometown. The first day, I made breakfast and got the kids to school, the same one I had gone to. Dropping them off in the morning was no big deal, but to pick them up in the afternoon, I had to show a signed permission slip to a woman holding a clipboard at the door. She had a hard time letting go of her suspicions about me until the third day.

I got there early every afternoon and sat in the lobby with other people, waiting for the bell to ring. Once school let out and kids began streaming into the lobby, I noticed something about backpacks. Parents would reach into them immediately before they even get to their cars — sometimes before they’d even had a chance to say anything to their kids. Parents seemed a little frazzled as if there was a lot riding on the contents of those backpacks. There were questions right out of the shoot. And meaningful pointing to papers.

I pictured me in the last half of the 1950s, right here in this lobby, holding my book bag, walking down these steps with my friends. After a half-hour meander home — I’d say “hi” to my mother and eat a snack before going back outside to play. When she asked how school was I could say “Fine” without having to come up with any evidence.

There’s something transcendent about being in your old school after these many years have passed, and mostly it’s the universal school smell, which hasn’t changed one bit. Of course, everything looks smaller than you remember it, but not as disappointingly puny as the brontosaurus at the Museum of Natural History turns out to be, especially after you’ve told your kids, “You won’t believe how huge it is!”
For the first few days of picking up my niece and nephew in the afternoon, none of the other mothers said anything to me as I sat down. Mostly they stared as if I had Danger tattooed on my forehead and just spoke among themselves.

Then on the fourth day, when it seemed they were running out of things to talk about and the pauses between comments were getting longer, one of them looked up at the stately portrait hanging above us. She said, “Who was Raymond J. Lockhart anyway?” Before I could realize no one was looking in my direction, or that Dr. Lockhart had been dead for thirty years, I piped up helpfully, “He was Superintendent of Schools when I went here.”

Everything got quiet. All eyes averted from me. Luckily, the school day was over, and the bell rang, and soon backpacks were being unzipped, and papers were careening slightly through the air. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought questions would follow, questions like, “So . . . What was this school like then? What were kids like back then?” And it wouldn’t have killed any of them to tell me I looked good for my age. And I had some good stories about this school I loved. We had more in common than they would know, but I understood.

— Linda DeMers Hummel

Linda DeMers Hummel is a Baltimore-based freelancer. This piece is from her memoir, I Haven’t Got All Day. You can find more of her writing on her blog www.lindadhummel.com.

Reflections of Erma