The workshop for humor writing, human interest writing, networking and getting published

Erma Bombeck Wrighters' Workshop Banner

Houseplant psychology

jocelyn-jane-cox hsAccording to the ancient Chinese art of Feng Shui, houseplants help to create a positive flow of energy throughout a house. On the other hand, dead or dying plants have the opposite effect. Of course, keeping them alive and healthy can feel like an uphill battle.

Water, sun and the correct soil are obvious things to provide for your houseplants, but caring for them is actually far more complex than this. Though some might suggest a degree in botany, what you really need is a psychology degree, or maybe a master’s degree in social work because it’s all psychological.

Here are some tips on how to not become an owner of dead plants:

• Reverse Psychology: “Frankly, I don’t care whether you prosper or not. It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re wilted or perky. In fact, drooping suits you.”

• Healthy Competition: (To the fern) “Are you going let that little jade grow taller than you? And Aloe told me he’s going try and grow two more inches by next week. They’re all going to be bigger than you pretty soon — how is that going to feel?”

• Guilt trip: “I didn’t get my thumbs tattooed green for nothing!”

• Threats: “I can go pick up a whole fleet of fake plants any time I want, and those don’t require any of this high-maintenance TLC.”

• Motherly Nagging: “Please sit up, dear. Your posture looks terrible.”

• Hypnosis: (Waving a pocket watch back and forth) “You’re getting verrrry green.”

• Tough Love: “Look, we come into this world alone, and we leave it alone. What you make of your time on this plant stand is up to you.”

• Guided Visualization: “Inhale. Imagine that you’re in a rainforest, lush and verdant. Exhale. You are surrounded by friends. Inhale. A light mist covers your leaves. Exhale. If you work hard enough and do your share, you’ll protect yourself and your family from deforestation. Inhale. Only you can save the forest. Exhale. But no pressure.”

• Militancy: “Fifteen stretches! Now! And I don’t want to hear all this bellyaching — if you think that’s what plants did back in ‘Nam, you got another thing coming!”

• Begging: (Get on your hands and knees and let a few real tears fall down your cheeks.) “Please?”

(Disclaimer: I have only ever been able to motivate one type of plant with the above methods and that is the extra-hardy philadendrons. I have pushed many of them to the edge, then talked them off the sill. My husband, on the other hand, has two real green thumbs, without tattoos.)

— Jocelyn Jane Cox

Jocelyn Jane Cox’s two-year-old son runs circles around his crib while she types. Her husband is an artist who works mostly with packing tape and wire (true story). She has a collection of decorative mushrooms that she should probably mention less often. In addition to writing, she coaches figure skating — “a cold job but somebody’s gotta do it.” She blogs about the lighter side of parenting and homeownership at The Home Tome and write a bi-monthly humor column, Chronicles of Parenting. Her satirical book, The Homeowner’s Guide to Greatness, was an Amazon bestseller in the humor category. Her writing has appeared on Slate, The MidMamalodeIn The Powder RoomBLUNT MomsSammiches and Psych Meds and Mock Mom, among others. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

How I taught my daughter
to steal from a church

Cindy ReedI needed 12 mini-pumpkins stat for my younger daughter’s birthday party craft — the only activity I’d planned for the preschoolers who’d be descending on my home in a mere two hours.

Here is the craft, in case you want to save it to your “Super Fun Kids’ Parties!” Pinterest board:

Materials:

•12 plastic Dora the Explorer placemats

• 12 washable black markers

• 12 mini pumpkins

Steps:

1. Chuck a pumpkin on each placemat.

2. Distribute one marker to each preschooler.

3. Instruct children to color a face on the pumpkin.

4. Watch fun ensue.

Craft time: 20 seconds

* * * * * *

I grabbed my older daughter, Astrid, and we made our way to the pumpkin patch.

It was closed.

Who the hell closes a pumpkin patch on Oct. 28? This was crunch time. These pumpkins were practically medically necessary at this point.

“Let’s just take the pumpkins and I’ll leave a note,” I said. “We’ll come back later to pay.” I began to examine pumpkins and stuff them into the fair trade basket I bought to look like I’m about to head to the farmers’ market even though I never go.

“Isn’t that stealing?” Astrid asked. So innocent.

“Nah. It’s more like a rent-to-own situation. See? I’m writing in my best handwriting and leaving my name and number and how many mini-pumpkins we took.” I scrawled my explanation onto the back of a Dunkin’ Donuts flyer. “Look. I even made a little invoice that shows I know how much I owe them.”

I wedged the note inside the screen door of the abandoned pumpkin hut and heaved the basket into the car.

Astrid glanced across the parking lot. “Why don’t we just go in that building and ask?”

I followed her gaze. The world beyond the pumpkin patch resolved into focus. She was pointing at a church.

A church. I was quasi-stealing pumpkins from a church.

We crept in the side entrance, my confidence in the whole rent-to-own scheme wavering. To the distant hum of unfamiliar hymns, we tiptoed down the stairs in search of answers to our pumpkin dilemma.

“Mom, what’s that rumbling sound?”

I panicked. “THEY’RE GETTING OUT!” Parishioners, freed from their pews to go in peace to Cracker Barrel, stampeded like herd animals to the exits, ready to lose their church offering envelopes in the nearest collection basket.

We tore up the stairs. “Mom! Why are we running?”

I didn’t know. All I knew is that we were strangers in a strange land, and I had a load of hot mini-pumpkins in the passenger seat of my van. I imagined the Town & Country surrounded by pitchfork-wielding churchgoers demanding atonement.

I turned to Astrid. “Act natural.” We folded ourselves into the crowd. I tried to look like my soul had recently been nourished.

We ambled to the car and left with our loot, promises to return flapping in the autumn breeze.

— Cindy Reed

Cindy Reed blogs at The Reedster Speaks, where she writes with humor and clarity about family life, mental illness, and her underwear. She is a three-time recipient of BlogHer’s Voices of the Year award and her work has appeared on The Huffington Post, In the Powder Room, and Aiming Low. She teaches storytelling for bloggers at cindyreed.me and speaks frequently on the craft of writing.

Knock on wood, as long as you are healthy!

Jan MarshallIt was said that the safest place to be is in bed since the only accident there would result in a soft cuddly being that would take care of us in our senior years. It seems to be less of a threat recently so try not to worry.

The common wisdom is to keep active for a healthy life.

Out of the bedroom there are so many hazards with sports and exercising that one must keep a doctor on speed dial or attached to your iPad.

For seniors, white is a prominent color: the favored shade for wrapped elbows, knees and eyes because of sports injuries. When our tennis and lawn clubs require proper attire, it means bandages.

Bowling was never considered dangerous unless your fingers became stuck and you were flung down the lane with the ball. If you made a strike, it was worth the concussion. The new affliction: bowler’s toe caused by stress from trying to avoid stepping over the foul line or your whiney partner’s face.

The ocean’s exquisite stillness and ever-present surf teach us much about life’s ongoing process. Still, those senior beach boys better watch out. The danger: surfer’s ear brought on by waves bouncing off their bifocals into the eardrum.

Since more people are sitting at computers all day, they get a “barrel bottom.” (I believe a polka song was written for me that kept me happily rolling along). The medical term for the condition, though, is “secretary spread.” If you are an executive, it is known as the high-priced spread.

I just learned of a new pain which comes from twits who tweet. It is known as twitter thumbs. If you see someone with thumbs in an upright position, it is not because they are happy to see you. Nor are they hitchhiking as one anonymous Medicare Mama did. Someone told her to please stop lifting her skirt while seeking a ride as her blue-striped stockings were causing a distraction. She was not wearing stockings. Okay, it was me. Shaddup!! The upright digit you see is from the frozen fingers of texting fools, including me.

We are all members of the “Dancing with the Scars” club. It is a smash, excuse the expression. Join us and line dance to our theme song, “Our Achy Breaky Parts.”

— 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.

Wrestlemania matches: The Norton Anthology of Literature edition

Paul_Lander(Editor’s Note: This piece by Paul Lander originally appeared in the humor journal, The Higgs Weldon.)

Brett Hart Of Darkness Vs. Sgt. Slaughter House Five

Rowdy Roddy Pippa Longstockings Vs. Jimmy ‘Lord Of The Superflies’ Snooka

Kane Mutiny And Captain O’ Captain Lou Albino Vs. The On The Road Warriors

The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter Hearst Hemsley Vs. Henderson The Rain King Kong Bundy

Norman Mauler And Jules Verne Gagne Vs. Pride And Prejudice: Jane And Stone Cold Steve Austen

To Killer Kowalski A Mockingbird Vs. A Portrait Of An Artist As A Young Mankind

George ‘The Animal Farm’ Orwell Vs. Tony Atlas Shrugged

Moby Dick Murdoch And Ivanhoe Koloff Vs. Blood And Gore: Flannery ‘True Blood’ O’Connor And Gore Vidal

— Paul Lander

Paul Lander is not sure which he is proudest of — winning the Nobel Peace Prize or sending Sudanese peace activist, Fatima Ahmed Ibrahim, to accept it on his behalf, bringing to light the plight of central Africa’s indigenous people. In his non-daydreaming hours, Paul has worked as a writer and/or producer for shows on ABC, NBC, Showtime, The Disney Channel, ABC Family, VH1, LOGO and Lifetime. In addition, he’s written standup material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in McSweeney‘s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. In 2015, he placed second in theNational Society of Newspaper Columnists’ annual column contest in the online/blog/multimedia category for his pieces in Humor Times and was named the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop’s “Humor Writer of the Month” in April.

Menu at the college campus ice creamery

All Flavors Homemade from Momma’s Recipes

Freshman Freedom Swirl—Sprinkled with our hot salted tears.

Fudge Shui—Two scoops guarantee you’ll keep your dorm room clean.

Rum Raisin—You might be drinking, but are you pooping?

Virgin Vanilla Bean—Comes with a single cherry.

Ebony and Ivory—The yinyang since you’ve been gone. Are we happy for you? Are we sad?

Ginger-vite Ice with Candy Floss—So delicious in your mouth, where your teeth are. Speaking of which, did you brush?

Orange You Forgetting to Call Your Mother?—Special delivery at parent’s request, live streamed for proof of life.

Additional Toppings

Butterscotch kisses

M&M—Better on your ice cream than on your iPod!

Mixed Nuts—This best not describe your choice of new friends, thank you.

Peanut Butter Chips—Ha! Only a test, is your epi-pen with you?

— Peyton Price and Alexandra Rosas

Peyton Price is the author of Suburban Haiku: Poetic Dispatches From Behind the Picket Fence. You can find her at suburbanhaiku.com. Alexandra Rosas is a storyteller for the nationally acclaimed The Moth, as well as a contributor to several anthologies and weekly columns. You can follow her on twitter @gdrpempress and on her blog.

The temptation to resist change

Mary Farr(This is an excerpt from Mary Farr’s newly published book, The Promise in Plan B: What We Bring to the Next Chapter of Our Lives. Posted by permission of the author.)

Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them — that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.

Lao Tzu

I’m convinced that few of us actually choose to change much. Instead, we tend to resist moving with the flow until all else fails. Rarely do we resist, like a woman I knew who simply said no to the altered life that stood before her when her husband died. Instead, she retreated to an empty farmhouse on a remote hilltop. At age 94 she had no intention of changing anything, including her cloistered lifestyle. Living with other people would have required more adjustments than she was willing to make. She chose isolation.

I met Florence Sedgwick in the hills of western Wisconsin. Over the decades following her husband’s death, she had withdrawn from her small farming community. Only an occasional bit of gossip reminded local residents that she ever lived there.

Jason Bauer in the Mondovi Co-Op Equity claimed she buried a fortune under her hay shed. A butcher from Bob’s IGA insisted that she was once committed to a mental institution. A World War II veteran in the local nursing home insisted that she set fire to a bunkhouse up the valley on the Werlein farm, a fire that killed her supposedly philandering husband.

PromiseinPlanBNevertheless, after years of speculation, nobody really knew much about Florence, or Flossie, as she chose to be called. All this struck me as curious, because the unpainted fortress she called home was only a few miles from town and within riding distance of the place where I kept my horse Dixie. Every time we rode through the hills, I wondered.

Flossie’s story was both troubling and seductive. I saw something deliciously alluring about the idea of vanishing, of casting off the complicated relationships, damage and responsibilities that sapped me of energy. That trip back to the drawing board to plot a new course for my children and myself had often felt daunting. Yet as she told her story, it was evident that Flossie bore the burden of estrangement and sadness that accompany a choice to retreat. Though she spoke with enthusiasm about her life on the forty, she clearly longed for human contact.

And so it happened that Flossie Sedgwick and I became unexpected friends.

— Mary I. Farr

Mary Farr is a retired pediatric hospital chaplain, teacher, motivational speaker and author who has devoted more than 30 years to exploring the worlds of hope, healing and humor. Her latest book, The Promise in Plan B: What We Bring to the Next Chapter of Our Lives, has been published by Shorehouse Books. In all, she has written five books, including the critically acclaimed If I could Mend Your Heart and Peace (Intersections Small Group Series).

I was young. I was foolish.

Ankur Mithal“It will improve your career prospects significantly,” they told me.

“But what good is a promotion without an increase in compensation?” I protested.

“When you meet someone, do you talk about your designation or your salary?” they posed.

“But when I am all by myself, I need money to live,” I countered.

“Your near and dear ones will be able to proudly proclaim that you are now a supervisor in this company and no longer a mere employee,” they suggested.

“To be proud, they will first need to stay alive, for which money is required,” I countered.

“You will have so much more responsibility,” they said.

“My personal responsibilities are also growing,” I beseeched. “Besides, more responsibility will mean more work.”

“Don’t be so self-centered, thinking only about yourself,” they said.

“Who else should I think about?” I asked.

“You don’t see the big picture, do you?” they sneered.

“I am not in a position where I can admire pictures of any kind, or any kind of artwork for that matter,” I confessed.

“You focus seems to be very short-term. You have a life ahead of you. Think of the higher value you will command in the long run by doing a higher level job,” they argued.

“Higher value will come from a higher compensation,” I persisted, “and anyway, like someone said, in the long run, we are all dead.”

 “You will get a lot of job satisfaction from the higher responsibilities,” they prophesised, while showing the light with, “People at your level beg for promotions.”

“I have no complaints about the job I am doing,” I insisted.

“You will have people at a lower level reporting to you, who will look up to you and seek your advice on important issues. Your workstation will be three inches longer than the employees and you will have a chair that swivels around. You will have the privilege of buying your own gas with your own money and driving in on your own, as the Transport will be withdrawn. From one amongst many cubicles in a row, we will move you right next to the toilet so that you are accessible to your people.”

Under this final fusillade of clinching arguments, I crumbled.

I accepted the promotion.

I was young. I was foolish.

My compensation became half of what I was getting earlier and I started doing the work of three people.

Shortly thereafter, the company was under severe financial stress. In order to save money the company promoted everyone to a supervisory role and halved their salary.

Now, not only is my salary half off what it was earlier and I do the work of three people, I am back on the lowermost rung in the hierarchy with nobody either reporting to me or looking up to me. But I get to keep my three-inch-longer workstation, the swivel chair, my own gas in my own car and a place right next to the toilet.

— Ankur Mithal

Ankur Mithal is the author of What Happens in the Office, Stays in the Office and Some Method Some Madness: Managing BPO in IndiaHe blogs at Dark Office Humor.

 

Big Foot, Brad Paisley and an honest man

Hillary IbarraWhile listening to Brad Paisley’s tune, “The Mona Lisa,” one evening in the car a few months back, I asked my husband, “Do you feel like the frame that gets to hold the Mona Lisa?”

As soon as he paused, I knew I was not going to get what I wanted from that question.

“Uh, I don’t know. …What does that mean?”

“It’s in this song by Brad Paisley. Haven’t you heard it?”

Of course he’d heard it. The man, not raised in the South as I was, loves country music nonetheless.

“Yeah, but I haven’t really listened to the lyrics. I don’t know if it’s good or bad.”

“It’s good, obviously!” I cried. “The Mona Lisa? One of the most beautiful paintings in the world?”

“Okay, but I don’t know the lyrics.”

Really? Humph.” I crossed my arms, disgusted.

“Mama, I feel like the frame that gets to hold the Mona Lisa,” my eldest boy said in sympathy and some fear.

“Thank you, Berto. I’m glad at least you do.” I threw a dirty look at my man. “Even he knows it’s a good thing.”

Of course I should know better. My husband is completely lacking in the ability to dissemble for the mere sake of romance. It’s a good thing, but there are times when I wish he would talk pretty to me like some hero in an Austen or Bronte novel. Or a Brad Paisley song.

Once when my husband and I were newly engaged, we had plans for a big date night, but when he arrived, I could tell by the look on his face he was too tired to go anywhere. So I decided to amuse myself the best way I knew how. I asked him a provoking question inspired, as we women sometimes are, by a foolish magazine article I had read.

“Which feature of mine do you like the best?” I asked him, eager to hear the reply.

I give him points now for not groaning aloud.

“I don’t know. What do you mean?” he responded wearily.

“Well, do you like my hair? My mouth? What?”

“I don’t know,” he repeated.

At this point, I became exasperated. “How about my eyes?” I asked, pointing him in the right direction. “My eyes are nice, right?”

His answer could only have come from a very, very weary man.

“You wear pretty eye make-up sometimes,” he said.

I’ll never forget the warm and fuzzy urge I had to hit him over the head with my makeup bag.

“You have got to be kidding me!” I fumed.

“I like all of you,” he responded hotly. “It’s not any one thing. It’s the whole package.”

My man may not know how to speak sweet nothings, but he has no problem having a little fun at my expense, like the time he pretended to get a running start in order to shove my gargantuan foot into a sneaker — at the shoe store.

Or the time when I was shopping for new socks after my third child, and I couldn’t find socks for my shoe size. Until I did. That’s when I discovered I was now wearing the extended sizes. That evening I laughingly asked my husband what I would have to do if my feet continued to grow with pregnancy — buy the extended plus sizes?

“No,” he said. “We’ll just cut the toes off.” Then he laughed himself silly.

“I am not a wicked stepsister!” I shouted after one of his little jokes.

“No, you’re my big-footed Cinderella,” he responded gallantly.

I can just picture how that fairytale might have played out if I had been in Cinderella’s shoes. The King would have adjured the Duke to find “the big-footed gal who wears these size 10s!” And my stepsisters would have been petite little things with size 6 1/2 feet. When the Duke showed up, they would be surreptitiously stuffing the toe of my slipper with tissue just so they could claim my Prince. But no dice. I’d have my other glass slipper stashed in a duffle bag over my shoulder.

I heard another Brad Paisley song recently. It has a beautiful chorus:

To the world/

You may be just another girl/

But to me/

Baby, you are the world!

I dare not ask Matthew if I am his world. He would likely reply, “You’re part of my world. Arizona. Maybe a slice of Texas.”

As for that whole Mona Lisa misunderstanding, my husband listened to the lyrics and later texted me this:

I am the frame that gets to hold the Mona Lisa, and I don’t care if that’s all I ever do. 😉

I texted back: That’s all I wanted to hear.

And I tried to ignore the wink at the end.

— Hillary Ibarra

Hillary Ibarra has had several humor pieces published on Aiming Low and humorwriters.org. 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. 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