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What’s really wrong with men

Alisa SchindlerMy head is cloudy. My body aches. I’m a drippy, stuffy mess, but as mom, there’s no time for that, no time at all. Children must be corralled, lunches made, activities organized. So even though I’d like to lie down, close my eyes and nap, I’m moving and shaking, although the shaking might just be from the chills.

My husband comes downstairs, a look of exhaustion fixed on his face.

“What’s wrong?” I ask, busy doing what needs to be done.

“I can’t breathe,” he says. Can you hand me a tissue?” He looks at me pleadingly, like a little boy.

“Here,” I say annoyed and hand him the tissue box. Can’t I have this sick day? Can’t being sick even be about me?  “Would you like a sticker now?” I ask sarcastically.

“Maybe some juice?” He makes puppy eyes, but at the moment, I just think he’s a dog.

I try to take a deep calming breath but my nose is stuffed, so I just swallow a little mucus and choke, but no one notices. If I wasn’t so weary, I might have something snarky to say. Instead I just hand him a cup of juice, but I do it with a scowl.

Because if he has a cold, it seems like pneumonia.

If he’s nauseous, he’s hacking in the bathroom some inhuman sound reserved for dying animals.

If he’s under the weather, it’s a blizzard in Minnesota.

So while there’s definitely something wrong with my husband, mainly he just sucks at being sick. And if I’m not feeling well, his symptoms somehow worsen. Not that I think he does it consciously, but…

Me: I don’t feel so well.

Him: Me either.

Me: My head hurts.

Him: Mine, too. And my throat.

Me: That’s weird.

Him: Yeah, I’m really achy.

Me: Really?

Him: Yeah. In fact, I think I need to lie down. Could you make me soup?”

Apparently, women aren’t allowed to be sick. Ever.

And it’s not just my husband. I’m prepared to throw all men under the bus here. According to women everywhere, men just can’t handle the pain. They wheeze and whine, they moan and complain, they need lollipops and cool compresses, while the wives nurse the baby while standing up, cooking dinner and overseeing homework, all with a 103 temperature, a broken leg and three broken arms. Yeah, three.

It makes me re-think some of the turns of phrase I randomly use without thinking, like “Take it like a man” or “Man up.”

How did these become part of the vernacular? I think ‘Take it like woman’ is more appropriate and from now on I’m telling my boys to ‘Mom up,’ because if there’s something we know how to do, it’s suffer.

Don’t bother passing me the tissues, I’ll just get them myself.

Marital Disclaimer: Just to be clear and not because he’s reading this, my husband is very manly. He’s the coach of everything, he kills spiders, climbs ladders, fixes stuff and likes nothing more than chips on the couch and sports on the TV. In fact, my husband can beat up your husband, unless of course he’s sick.

— Alisa Schindler

Alisa Schindler is freelance writer who chronicles the sweet and bittersweet of life in the suburbs on her highly entertaining blog www.icescreammama.com. Her essays have been featured on Mamapedia.com and Bonbonbreak.com as well as in the book, Life Well Blogged. She is a member of “Yeah Write,” an online community for writers, where she has won the Jury Prize multiple times in the group’s weekly essay writing contest.  She has just completed her first novel that she feels comfortable showing to someone other than her mother.

Clothes call

Jan MarshallI beg your indulgence. I fear I am going mad. The fashion world is making all styles smaller than usual, and my washing machine seems to be shrinking everything else, even those items I’ve never washed.

There is noise emanating from my bedroom. Yes, it is true. My clothes want to go back in the closet. They have revolted. Not simply because I stretch them to distraction. They whisper about my fickleness, and they take it personally.

They are not wrong when they talk of me forgetting them whenever I purchase something new that does not cut off circulation.

It is true. I can love my outfit, not be seen without it off my back for weeks, but alas, as soon as another catches my fancy and fits my fanny, well frankly, the others no longer exist in my memory.

Hello. My name is Jan and I am A CLOTHES SLUT.

At this moment a sailor outfit wants out. It claims white is not my color, and it is quite militant about that. I have pleaded and cajoled, but I know the rage it is experiencing is actually from neglect. Aside from the fact that I just bought a big-boy combat shirt at an Army surplus store and I am blinded by love for this kaki cookie, the sailor blouse is a size 6.  I have not been a size 6 since, well since I was six!

I’m thinking of loaning it to my petite friend as a foster outfit, to live with her until I am able to use kale as my primary food source till my old clothes are no longer noisy and vengeful. I have not had a good night’s sleep in ages. The clothes are loudly vindictive. They purposely fall off  hangers, cling to one another or play hide and seek when I am in a hurry.

Fortunately, I am now seeing a clothing counselor.

Dr. Plink, the shrink, (although why they are called that I’ll never know since I am the same size since I began therapy) thought it best that I go on a journey alone to find myself. I packed my shirt and left a note for the clothes. I am on my way to me land, and I do not have a map.

Hey, don’t blame me for my heft. It is said that television makes us appear 10 pounds heavier. I have three.

Thirty pounds of fake fat, perhaps an optical illusion. Still, I am on a train for Katemoss Mountain to find answers and maybe a cupcake.

(Perhaps soon my one-size-fits-all pantyhose will no longer fall on their knees begging for mercy).

— Jan Marshall

Jan Marshall has devoted her life’s work to humor and healing through books, columns and motivational speaking. As founder of the International Humor & Healing Institute, she worked with board members Norman Cousins, Steve Allen and other physicians and entertainers, including John Cleese. Her newest satirical survival book, Dancin’ Schmancin’ with the Scars: Finding the Humor No Matter What! is dedicated to Wounded Warriors, Gabrielle Giffords and Grieving Parents. She donates a percentage of the profits to these organizations as well as to the American Cancer Society and the American Brain Tumor Association.

You called?
14 reasons I didn’t pick up

Vikki ClafinA friend recently called me, upset because she got a $350 ticket for talking on her cell phone while driving. “It was important,” she wailed. But it seemed no amount of explaining would convince Officer DoRight that the need to move her massage appointment from 2 to 4 p.m. constituted an emergency.

Cell phones have changed the way we communicate with family, friends, co-workers and even spouses. 20-something newlyweds text each other while in the same room. Couples have proposed or divorced via text messages.

But of all the changes we see cell phones making in our culture (including the apocalyptic demise of grammar and spelling), one of the most significant is that we’ve somehow come to expect 24-hour availability from anyone on our speed dial list.

In the old days (yeah, anything before 2005), people would leave messages on answering machines and wait patiently for a return call that evening, or even the next day. We understood that people had lives and were not attached to their phones like portable oxygen masks. But we’ve gradually come to expect that if you have a cell phone, you’re expected to answer every call and return every text message right freaking now.

So today, I’m offering up my list of 14 reasons (no matter how crazy I am about you or that we’ve been friends since 1963) I might not pick up when you call.

1. I’m in the shower. It’s hard to hear under a waterfall, and my phone insurance doesn’t cover water damage (or stupidity, like, say, taking your cell phone into the shower).

2. I’m in a restaurant. People who have normal-volume conversations with someone across the table will pick up their cell phone and start shouting loudly enough to be heard in Botswana. Yes, the caller can hear you, but so can everyone else for six blocks in any direction.

3. I’m at work, and my crazy boss assumes my phone conversations will be about, well…business. (But if those fabulous boots we saw last weekend are now on sale, text me.)

4. I’m driving. If you don’t have $350 worth of news, leave a message and I’ll call you at the next truck stop.

5. I’m having a massage. Yep, as in naked, lying on a warm table, incense burning and a CD of crashing waves, all working together with a massage designed to bring the feng back to my shui, totally obliterated by your multiple redials, simply to remind me to pick up some creamer for your coffee.

6. I’m having sex. In the movies, they always stop and pick up. Seriously?? My phone has sailed out the window, been tossed down the hall, and one time, thrown under my car. (Don’t ask.) Even during bad sex (Bahahahaha! I crack myself up), in which case we’re going back into the bedroom until we get it right. I’ll get back to you tomorrow.

7. I’m on the potty. I’ve never been one to pee and chat simultaneously. And if it’s a long conversation, does one flush while talking (which can be heard by the person on the other end, forever outing you as a toilet talker), or do you come back and flush after you both hang up? Social etiquette sites don’t address this one, so I’ll call you back when I’m done, okay?

8. I’m going through airport security. These people are cranky monkeys (particularly after being yelled at by pissed-off travelers all day long), and when they say “Ma’am, put that phone down now,” unless you have an unfulfilled fantasy about being strip-searched while the contents of your luggage get tossed around like a fruit salad, you should just Put. The. Phone. Down.

9. I’m writing. Even Hubs knows to stay clear unless the house is on fire and it’s reached the hallway, but otherwise wait until I come out, all bleary-eyed and brain dead from four hours of editing my latest draft post. Too often, a great thought is working its way into a post, but irretrievably vaporizes after a 10-minute phone chat about where to meet for lunch.

10. I’m getting a tattoo. No, I’ve never had one, but I can see the unfortunate result of leaning over to grab your phone while Mr. Nasty Needle is filling in the exotic bloom on your left breast, which now looks less like a Bird of Paradise and more like a really long party favor.

11. I’m at the gym. It’s obvious that the guy on the treadmill next to mine, who has been arguing with his wife (apparently named “You Bitch,” because he’s been calling her that for the last 45 minutes), seems to believe that we’re all either deaf and can’t hear them as they loudly resolve which one of them had an affair first, or that we can hear and are fascinated by their dramatic, reality-TV life.

12. I’m getting a pap smear or a mammogram. In the first, all I can do is peer over the sheet to see a couple of people seriously focused on my lady parts, and in the second, I’m pretty much out of the game because my breast is securely sandwiched between two metal plates, both positions effectively preventing any movement on my part, up to and including reaching for my phone.

13. I’m watching a movie. I prefer movies to TV shows because I don’t like interruptions (After the seventh senior incontinence commercial, I lose the plot and the mood).  I tend to turn my phone off for movies, even though it’s the 17th viewing of The Notebook.

14. I’m at a wedding or a funeral. Looking coy and slightly embarrassed when your phone goes off during someone’s wedding vows is only slightly less rude than actually answering it and getting up to leave the service, with an audible whisper, “I’m sorry, but I’ve got to take this.” If you’re that busy and important, skip the service and send a card.

So unless you’re a family member with unresolved anger issues and feeling the need to vent (again) for an undetermined length of time, a stalker ex-boyfriend who still believes we’re destined to be together, or an English-as-a-ninth-language sales guy with a condo in Rio you’re selling for half price because, dammit, I deserve it (in which case, I’ll get back to you, yeah, never), I promise to return your call as soon as I’m not doing any of the above activities.

In the meantime, as they say, “Your call is very important to me. Please leave a message, and I’ll get back to you as quickly as I can.”

— Vikki Claflin

Oregon writer Vikki Claflin writes the popular humor blog, Laugh Lines. Two recent pieces have been published in Life Well Blogged: Parenting Gag Reels — Hilarious Writes and Wrongs: Take 26.

Little boys with hammers

Magnolia RipkinThere have been many little boys in the storyline of my life. They have been a mixed bag of babies, toddlers, kids, young men and full grown (but not grown up) ones. They all, from time to time, pick up a hammer, and wield it. No matter what age, they all do the same thing. They weigh it in their hand, look at it for a long moment, savoring the potential.

I can still picture my little brother wearing nothing but a diaper stumbling around the house with our father’s hammer, like a little drunken avenging angel. The hammer was too heavy for him, but he was going to find a nail to hit, and hard. My son has built a lemonade stand and learned the hard way that a hammer requires a measure of accuracy to operate.

Although power tools are likely the preferred implement these days, the hammer is one of the most basic tools since man used rocks to hang skins on cave walls. Generations of men and boys have felt the satisfying smack of a perfect delivery when the hard metal head connects with the head of a nail, or a cat.

Hammers are integral in the acquisition of hand-eye coordination and visual accuracy. They are also a great motivator for emergency response systems. Nothing can cause a mother to move faster than seeing her son careening along behind his sister, wielding a hammer.

Setting aside the murderous potential of a 5-year-old and his dad’s hammer, the male and hammer construct is important. The role of modern males is so fraught with contradictory messages. They must be strong, and gentle, and fatherly and warriors. Men must be everything. To this I say, let them have a hammer. Let them learn to put up pictures, scare their siblings and drop it on their own toes. These are all critical life lessons. Nothing teaches planning and caution like a blackened-impact wrecked thumbnail.

And ladies, the next time you see a hammer just lying around, pick it up and feel the power of potential mass construction. It is exhilarating.

— Magnolia Ripkin

Magnolia Ripkin is like that mouthy opinionated aunt you always regret inviting to family dinners. She drinks too much, then tells you how to run your life. Although she is usually right, it feels like you just got a glass of cold water in the face. Channeling Erma Bombeck and Dear Abby, this matriarch can be found flinging out blunt advice on her blog magnoliaripkin.com. She is also the editor in chief at bluntmoms.com, a contributor to the upcoming anthology, I Just Want to be Alone and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.

Faith, love, hope
— and letting go

Mary Lou QuinlanHere’s an opportunity to support an excellent cause — and meet one of the headliners at the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop.

For the past 18 months Mary Lou Quinlan has toured the country with her moving one-woman show called “The God Box, A Daughter’s Story.”

Next stop: Off-Broadway’s historic Cherry Lane Theater in a performance to benefit Gilda’s Club.

The performance, one of five in March, is slated for 7 p.m. on Monday, March 3. To order tickets, click here. All proceeds will go directly to this free cancer support center, which was founded by Gene Wilder in honor of his wife, Gilda Radner. Tickets include the show and a wine reception.

Quinlan is a nationally known marketing expert, an inspirational speaker and the author of four books, including The God Box, which became a New York Times’ bestseller in just three weeks. She co-wrote the play with Martha Wollner of the Labyrinth Theater Company.

What’s behind the popularity of The God Box? It’s a heartfelt story that speaks to life’s deepest lessons of faith, love, hope and, ultimately, learning to let go.The God Box

When Quinlan’s mother died, she discovered 10 boxes filled with her mother’s worries, wishes and prayers spanning two decades.

“The more I reread what she had written, the more I realized that these notes filled with loving words were more than mementos,” Quinlan writes in the book’s introduction. “Fingering each slip of paper, I could reclaim her sparkle and common sense, her humor and optimism and — above all — her enduring spirit. And ever my guardian angel, Mom would continue to teach me about myself, even after death.”

Quinlan donates all the proceeds from ticket and book sales to health, hospice and cancer care, as well as charities and not-for-profit organizations dedicated to women, family and educational causes. To date, she’s raised more than $180,000.

“It’s the perfect show for mothers, daughters, girlfriends — anyone who ever loved,” she says. “You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll want to call your mother.”

Here’s the March touring schedule:

7 p.m., March 3, Cherry Lane Theater in New York City to benefit Gilda’s Club

2 p.m., March 9, Arcadia University Spruance Theater in Glenside, Penn., to benefit Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

7:30 p.m., March 10, Saint Joseph’s University Bluett Theater to benefit Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

7:30 p.m., March 11, Innovation Studio in Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia to benefit Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia

5 p.m., March 22, Bickford Theater  in Morristown, N.J., to benefit Cancer Support Community Central New Jersey

For a complete calendar of events, click here.

Deadline pressure

Erma Bombeck Writing Competition(Reposted by permission of the author, Sharon Short. This piece originally appeared in the Dayton Daily News Feb. 16, 2014).

Tomorrow at 8 a.m. marks the deadline for the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writing Contest. Entries may be made online.

If you’ve hesitated to send in your humorous essay or human interest story, there are plenty of reasons to still do so, explains Debe Dockins, community outreach and development coordinator of the Washington-Centerville Public Library.

“The grand prize of $500 and registration to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop are of course strong incentives,” says Dockins. “But we find that all kinds of people — men and women, young and older — like to enter the contest. Everyone has a story to tell, and finding a voice to tell it in a meaningful and compassionate way — or a humorous way — is important.”

While the competition is stiff — hundreds enter — Debe adds that judges attempt to give “constructive criticism and advice to every writer. Erma would have really liked that. We honor her memory as we go through the judging process, and we hear from entrants that they appreciate judges taking time and providing advice about making the pieces stronger.”

An initial panel of judges review all entries; finalists are sent to the final judges. (Full disclosure: I have the honor of being one of the judges. At both the initial and final rounds, pieces are blind-judged. The judges do not know the identities of the entrants.)

Erma Bombeck was one of the most beloved humorists of all times. A 1949 University of Dayton graduate, Erma lived with her husband and family in Centerville, Ohio, and touched readers around the world with her witty and wise columns and books about life’s everyday trials — and funny moments. A beloved luminary from and of the Dayton area, Erma passed away in 1996.

“A local writer, Sarah Rickman, formed a committee in 1997 to explore having a contest in Erma’s honor,” Dockins says. “And so the competition began that year, focusing on the areas that Erma mastered — humor and human interest.”

In 2000, the Bombeck family began donating Erma’s papers to her alma mater, the University of Dayton. Teri Rizvi founded the biennial workshop that year; she is currently co-director with Annette Taylor.

“Teri thought it made sense for the University of Dayton to include a writing competition as part of the workshop, but realized that Washington-Centerville Public Library had one in Erma’s name. It made sense to partner,” Dockins says.

Since then, the writing competition has been co-sponsored by Washington-Centerville Public Library and the University of Dayton.

“Our entries and our judges come from all over the country. I think that speaks to both Erma’s legacy and to the fact that the kind of writing she really championed is as appealing to writers and readers as ever,” says Dockins who, as a teenager, was a fan of Erma’s work.

“I still remember reading If Life Is A Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing In The Pits and laughing out loud,” she says. “Now, I feel lucky to coordinate the writing competition held in Erma’s name.”

— Sharon Short

Sharon Short writes the weekly “Literary Life” column in the Dayton Daily News. She is the director of the Antioch Writers’ Workshop and an accomplished writer. She has published two mystery series, a book of columns and the recent novel, My One Square Inch of Alaska.

Downsizing: Keeping the quirk!

Barbara YoungerCliff and I don’t plan to spend our golden years in our 180-year-old Victorian house, despite its eight fireplaces, heart pine floors and bedrooms so big my daughters built small cities with appliance boxes.

Life here can be cold (in the winter) and maintenance, including cleaning those handsome floors, is a bear.

We’ve been looking at smaller houses. New ones.

New means windows that open and close. Walls that aren’t cracked and porch floors that hold paint. And new promises, maybe, a few less spiders and the bug who shall not be named (but that name starts with an R).

We’re starting to crave normal. Closets. Ceilings you can reach with a stepladder. Hot water that appears in less than five minutes.

“These new houses don’t have many built-in bookcases,” I said to Cliff after we toured a model. “And the open floor plan don’t allow much space to add our own.”

“You’ll need to give away a large quantity of your books,” he said calmly.

Say again?

Cliff hates to get rid of anything. Fruitcake tins. Consumer Reports highlighting electronics long off the market. T-shirts from his freshman year. That’s college AND high school.

He’s never put pressure on me to clean out my stuff either. He’s not a husband made nervous by clutter.

His words shot daggers into my book-loving heart. But c’est vrai. I own too many books. Bookcases stuffed with them in five rooms.

I’d keep only my favorites. Let the book weeding commence…

You’ve maybe done it, too.

Every volume represents a bit of you. A hobby. A trip. Your vocation. A story you love. A birthday present from a friend. An intriguing period in history. Childhood books torn and worn. Self-help that didn’t end up revamping your life but sure made fun reading.

The easy part of the project was gathering the sturdy liquor boxes.

“It’s your lucky day!” the woman said. “Take them all.”

I went through my library three times. With each pass, though, I got tougher, even more ruthless.

Here’s my takeaway tip, my book-thinning rule, the deal I made with myself:

You can pull a few books back out of those boxes.

That’s allowed. And I did. And it assuaged the trauma, some.

Right before I carried the last load to the car, I rescued a final volume, Edward Lear: The Complete Verse and Other Nonsense.

Because even if my house is new and normal, I don’t want myself, or my writing, to be 100 percent normal.

Heck, maybe not even 50 percent normal.

I’ll sit in that brand-new living room and let the quirk of Edward Lear, whose limericks are almost as old as my old house, inspire me.

— Barbara Younger

Barbara Younger writers an upbeat, witty blog, Friend for the Ride: Encouraging Words for the Menopause and Midlife Roller Coaster. Healthline placed Friend for the Ride on its list of Best Menopause Blogs of 2013.

Three degrees of celebrity dog whispering

Marci RichYou never can tell what each day will bring. One morning you’re driving to New York City to join the audience of Katie Couric’s new talk show as a member of her blogging crew, the next thing you know, Rigby Sue Sarandon, one of Susan Sarandon’s two sweet puppies, interrupts her grand entrance to make a beeline for you.

Once upon a time, no canine grapevine was quite as effective as the “Twilight Bark,” the alert system popularized by Disney’s classic animated film One Hundred and One Dalmations. But as social media has changed for humans, it stands to reason that the ways in which household pets communicate across great distances have also undergone a paradigm shift. Although I didn’t know it yet, something was afoot, and I suspect that Sandy, our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, had a paw in what it was. She’s not much of a barker, but she does have her own Facebook page

…and the Sarandon dogs — Rigby Sue and Penny Lane — each have their own Twitter accounts. (Sandy has been clamoring to get on Twitter. She wants to parody the Honest Toddler by calling herself the Candid Spaniel, thereby cashing in on the adorably snarky tot’s popularity. I told her not to obsess over the commercial aspects of her brand — that she should instead focus on her art. She walked away from me.)

I imagine that somehow — whether by status update or tweet — a communication chain commences. Rigby (whom Sarandon acknowledged on national television has CelebrityDogWhisperer (2)addiction problems — perhaps to Twitter?) ignores the stage manager’s directions and scrambles over to where I am sitting. Just as she is about to dive into my arms (I’m sure that was her intention), an ABC official scoops her up and carts her back to her owner. Rigby, although our time together was brief, I will always remember you…

Just as I will always remember another celebrity dog whom I happened to meet (by coincidence? by canine social media intervention?) less than four hours later.

After taping ends, my husband and I leave the ABC Studios in midtown Manhattan and drive across the George Washington Bridge toward Tappan, the hamlet where he grew up. We are spending the night with one of John’s old school chums and his wife. In residence at Mike and Mary Jane’s are two dogs. One belongs to their adult son. The other, Ka’ala, is even more tenuously related — her owner is the best friend of their adult daughter. Ka’ala and I really hit it off. She brings me toys to inspect, sleeps outside our room that night, and is the first to greet me in the morning (after John, of course).

Now as far as I know, Ka’ala is not wired into social media.

But her owner, Hayden Panettiere, star of the new ABC musical-drama Nashville, is.

Imagine the scenario: Sandy is posting status updates on Facebook, the Sarandon pups are tweeting and Ka’ala, sensing — with the innate sixth sense of the canine — the chain of coincidence, logs into Hayden’s Twitter account to follow the action.

Is there a new Disney animated film somewhere in this scenario? Pixar perhaps? Pete Docter, call me.

So, to recap, let’s all play Three Degrees of Celebrity Dog Whispering!

Ka’ala is owned by Hayden Panettiere, who stars in Nashville, which was created by Callie Khouri*, winner of the Academy Award for her screenplay Thelma & Louise, the iconic film starring Geena Davis and…

… Susan Sarandon, owner of Rigby Sue and Penny Lane. Rigby Sue made an enduring connection with…

The Midlife Second Wife, owner of Sandy.

Wait — what? The Midlife Second Wife is not a celebrity? Look, please do me a favor. Don’t let Sandy know.

*Callie Khouri is also of Lebanese descent, and so am I, on my father’s side. But that’s another blog post.

— Marci Rich

Marci Rich blogs at The Midlife Second Wife and The Huffington Post. She won a BlogHer Voices of the Year award in 2012, the same year The Midlife Second Wife was named one of the top seven blogs for women 50-plus by The Huffington Post. This essay, complete with numerous celebrity dog photos, also appears here.

Reflections of Erma