She laughed to keep from crying, and it became a way of life as she enriched millions of lives, including mine.
Though she’s been gone since April 22, 1996, Erma Bombeck lives on and will live on for generations because she not only laughed to keep from crying but she turned that laughter into words to uplift and feed the spirits of millions.
She laughed to keep from crying because her tears began early when her father came home from work one day, went into the hospital, and died the following day. She was only nine years of age.
Erma was left to a mother who grew up in an orphanage, the same as I, after the death of my father. She married when she was only 14 years of age. She saw her mother go bankrupt, losing all of their worldly possessions. Yet Erma was strengthened.
She was strengthened by using her talents, by honing her skills as a writer that began in a Dayton, Ohio, junior high school paper. She found humor to be a way of dealing with her life, of coping with a stepfather whom she long resented before she finally let go and realized how much he loved her as his own.
She first wrote obituaries, and once commented that she could make them die in alphabetical order. She wrote for a local newspaper before gaining national syndication.
I, too, wrote to keep from crying after I suffered a nervous breakdown in Mountain Home, Ark., after one too many moves as a minister’s wife in 1981. I wrote to survive.
And I wrote to Erma Bombeck because I instinctively knew that I needed a mentor, someone far more successful than myself who would encourage me in my wild pursuit as a writer. She always wrote back, herself, not through a secretary.
Writing to Erma became a turning point in my life! With each letter I was strengthened. I jumped for joy! I went into orbit with her words of encouragement.
Once she said, “If you have talent, it can’t be held down.” Another time she said, “Just think what you could write if you gave up defrosting and flushing.” And she was known to say “If you do housework right it will kill you!” She also said, “Nothing would please me more than seeing Sarah Hudson Pierce’s picture on a book jacket.”
Although I’d published numerous poems and columns for publications that paid in copies only, it wasn’t until late 1985 that I finally sold my first poem for $5. I sent her a photocopy of that check; she quickly wrote back and told me that I’d inspired her February 26 1986, syndicated column. I was ecstatic! I knew I’d make it with her encouragement.
Erma Bombeck made a difference to everyone she touched. She knew what she was doing. She lives on!
— Sarah Hudson Pierce
Sarah Hudson Pierce is a syndicated columnist, the author of five books and the host of her own television talk show for nine years. She is president of Ritz Publications, a company she founded in 2002.
That’s what a big part of parenting is comprised of. I went to college to get a degree and skills in a field of study, so I would know how to do all the jobs that were required of me. I had kids, and suddenly a list of new job titles popped up for things I didn’t even know I would have to do, like:
Sippy Cup Lid Fastener
I am the person in charge of making sure this lid is on right because if it isn’t, that bad boy is going to pop off when someone throws it across the room, or I sit on it in the middle of church and have to go up for communion with a soaking wet ass.
Off tables, chairs, out of beds. No place is too big; no crumb is too small.
This is a bi-hourly issue in my house where my kids run around like a category four hurricane and pull every pillow in our house off their base. Pillows are moving around in mid air like they are controlled by Carrie-like telekinesis.
There is nothing more important to my cats than not being put inside the toilet.
*This applies to all household pets.
Everyone always needs a blanket. Even if it’s 97 degrees outside, someone, somewhere in my home, will ask for a blanket. Instead of vibrant, energetic toddlers, my living room often looks like the sitting area of a nursing home. Except instead of people knitting, they are eating Goldfish crackers out of Sippy cups and putting puzzles together with the wrong pieces.
Toilet Paper Re-Roller
Because that four-mile trail of toilet tissue isn’t going to roll itself back around the cardboard tube that someone chewed on before casually tossing into the toilet water.
Whether it’s in a bucket, a trash can, a blanket, a towel or your bare hands.
It only takes one pocket full of tissue to travel that daunting journey through the wash-and-dry cycle to make sure you never skip checking a pocket again.
Sometimes fast, sometimes ridiculously slow, always more than 40 times because the toddler brain does not respond to anything that isn’t presented in the form of food, bright colors or fun sounds.
No one sympathizes more with delivery drivers than parents. Except we don’t get paid, and the request often comes in the second your butt cheek grazes a couch fiber. The tips are also worse: “Mommy, the goldfish taste better when the other side is facing up.”
Okay, maybe I don’t mind this one so much. Probably it’s because they’re my babies. But, I draw the line when someone says, “Can you scratch my butt?”
Searcher of Socks
If I had a dollar for every sock that lost a pair, I would be able to keep buying socks instead of wondering when the day will come when I finally find a gigantic pile of discarded singles.
A collective list of useless skills, which will be useless beyond the first years. A lifetime of memories and the chance to look back on people who have kids after you shake your head and say, “I remember those days. Hey, while you’re up, could you turn my goldfish crackers, so they’re facing the other way?”
— Christina Antus
Christina Antus lives in Denver with her husband, three kids and two cats who still haven’t caught the red dot. When she’s not neglecting laundry, or avoiding the grocery store, she’s writing and making mediocre meals for her family. You can find her overthinking things on her blog, or you can follow her on Facebook.
I should have known better.
Usually I put a hard stop to the up-sell, but the cosmetics salesperson caught me at a vulnerable moment.
I’d come in to get my makeup done for a party. The bright fluorescent light at the makeup station spotlighted every age spot and discoloration.
“Are you wearing at least SPF 30 every day?” asked the makeup artist. Nope, not year-round, I had to admit. After our session, she led me back to the sunscreen section. As I was browsing, desperate to prevent further sun damage, another salesperson pounced.
“How do you take off your make-up?” he asked. “I’m just a soap-and-water gal,” I said, putting up a little resistance.
“That’s fine,” he said, “but let me show you this amazing Japanese-inspired cleansing system.” Too much time and money later, I left with a special cleansing oil and a fancy clay-based sponge. That night, I dutifully used the new oil and sponge to remove my make-up and hung the sponge in the shower to dry.
The next evening, my husband emerged smiling from the bathroom. “Is that your sponge that our son is using?”
I walked in to find him reclining in the tub, gently cleaning his (ahem) with my new sponge. I rinsed it thoroughly and found a new hiding place.
My friends wanted to know — would I use it again? Of course. I’m a mom. Rinse and repeat.
— Courtney Bennett
Courtney Bennett is the mom of three kids, two typically developing girls and a boy with special needs. In addition to parenting and blogging, she works in education policy for a university. She has contributed pieces to Sunset magazine, Psychology Today, parenting magazines, public radio and the op-ed pages of The Philadelphia Inquirer. She spent a long time in school avoiding the real world and holds a Ph.D. in communications and an MSc in social psychology.
For the first time in my life I have something other than basic cable.
I like a few channels not provided by the local cable company on basic cable like AHC or Military Channel, NFL Network, DIY Network and Cooking Channel, to name a few. My telephone company in conjunction (cahoots) with DISH Network kept offering me a deal that sounded too good to be true. I’m slow to change things that don’t really need changing. I’ve been a customer for more than 20 years and the only thing that ever changed on my cable was my bill: it kept going up.
But this year, now that I’m back from a six-week holiday break and a two-week-long stomach ache, I’m shaking things up.
The deal offered was so good it took six months of weekly conversations with the same customer service rep before I was (somewhat) convinced that they weren’t going to pull a switcheroo and charge me a fee every time I turn on the television. They didn’t ask for a credit card number up front, they didn’t charge for installation and now I have something called a HOPPER and an additional remote for each television. They also brought three additional devices (joeys?) in the house that need to be plugged in, which has created an even bigger problem: where do I plug them in?
I guess I could run a line next door to my neighbor, Merlethem Shatz’s house. She wouldn’t find it until spring, anyhow, because she doesn’t go outside in the winter, except to get the mail.
I used to complain about the basic cable because there were so many channels that didn’t seem to belong. Included in my plan was a bevy of local artists singing off key at local church functions, local school sporting events that I didn’t follow and 15 channels of various religious groups all vying to save my soul if only I would be one of the next 10 callers to send in $10. I had two shopping channels, six news networks, five sports stations and the Weather Channel, which kept me informed on what Fat Guys Were Doing In The Woods.
All of this I had to pay for.
Shoot, I could have just walked around town and seen most of that on any given day. For free.
My old cable stopped on channel 99 and took about two minutes to flip through. Now, the channels number into the hundreds, and I’ve yet to make it completely around and back to channel two.
I’ve got three free months of every movie channel. Who knew there was more than one HBO channel? Why do you need more than one HBO channel? More channels that offer VOD for free and VOD you have to pay for (this sounds like a pesky personal problem) and several other stations I’m afraid to push the SELECT button on because an extra charge might be incurred.
I now have the ability to perform social media functions on my television, which opens up a whole other can of worms. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for technology, but I’m just a bit late to the party. I have an IPOD — the original one with the clicking wheel and it works perfectly fine. I’ve seen no reason to upgrade — so they say — to the Nano, Mini or implantable thingy in your left nostril that I’m sure is just on the horizon.
I don’t want to become so wrapped up in “the newness of everything” that I forget how to leave my chair to go to the bathroom. And with my addictive personality it wouldn’t take very long before my butt and recliner became more than just friends and I ordered a supersize box of Depends to keep me dry. (Who needs Costco when you can order directly from Amazon on your television?)
I know I wanted to shake things up, but the new satellite system couldn’t have come at a worse time. I have two novels that are nearing completion, and they deserve my undivided attention. I suppose I could put myself in timeout, but I learned something new today when the technician came to finish the installation: My new laptop can communicate with the new satellite system. I’ll be able to work directly through the television.
There’s only one problem: I had to unplug the television so I could plug in the laptop.
Now where did I put that extension cord…
— Gianetta Palmer
Gianetta Palmer lives in the North Georgia Mountains and is the author of Reflections On A Middle-Aged Fat Woman and Scrunchie-Fried. Visit her at www.middleagedfatwoman.com or www.GianettaPalmer.com.
What if you saw a child trying hard to accomplish something positive — a young boy or girl doing something they enjoyed, maybe trying something new, putting everything they had into it with the playful, non-perfectionist glee many of us lose as adults? And hovering behind that child was another person saying, “That sucks! You’re no good at that! What the hell are you doing? That’s stupid!”
The person behind the child might be another child, a discouraging parent, a toxic teacher or some random jerk — anyone who found sick satisfaction in infusing insecurity in the heart of a child who was having fun trying to accomplish something.
What would you do?
Would you confront the other person and tell them to shut up? Would you remain silent, rolling your eyes in disgust? Or … would you sidle up beside the bully and reinforce what they were saying, telling the now-deflated child, “Yeah, you loser! You don’t know what you’re doing! You’re an idiot!”
Unless you’re a total a**hole, you wouldn’t choose the last of those options.
And yet, if you’re a writer or a creative person of any sort, there’s a good chance you’ve said these things before — to yourself.
A couple of weeks ago, as I was outlining my new online workshop on how to deal with writer’s block, it occurred to me that many of us have something worse in our heads than the “inner censor” or “inner critic” we learn about in writing classes. We have an inner bully — a voice that tells us terrible things about our writing — a voice that tells us things we would never say to anybody else.
“My writing is terrible. It’s stupid. It sucks. I’m a crappy writer. I’m always going to be a crappy writer. I might as well just quit writing and go do something useful with my life, such as repeatedly telling myself I’m a crappy writer.”
Recognizing our writing weaknesses in a constructive manner, so we can work on improving them, is a good thing. That’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about the silent tantrums we throw in difficult writing moments, shrieking to ourselves about how pathetic we are. Most of us who write have done this before. Some of us do it regularly.
The things we tell ourselves in these moments can sound startlingly similar to the hypothetical bully at the beginning of this article: “I’m no good at this. What the hell do I think I’m going to accomplish? This is stupid. I can’t write.”
Ultimately, this self-bullying drags down our spirit and squashes our self-esteem — which is the exact opposite of what we need when we’re trying to get past a moment of writer’s block.
So what do we do about it?
“Stop bullying yourself” is the logical answer. For some people, however, it’s not that simple. We’ve been self-bullying for so long, it has become a reflex. We fall into it subconsciously whenever writing gets hard, whenever we reach a point in a story, an article, a poem, a book, that we’re not happy with.
If you are one of those writers for whom self-bullying is a reflex, for whom, “Just stop bullying yourself,” is impractical advice — because you do it without even realizing you’re doing it — then how do you get over it?
Try These Intermediate Steps
Recognize you’re doing it. And when I say “recognize,” I really mean just recognize it. Don’t tell yourself it’s bad. Don’t beat yourself up for beating yourself up. “There I go, bullying myself again! Man, I’m an idiot!” No. That’s just switching bullying tactics. Instead, for starters, just acknowledge your self-bullying messages, and recognize they’re not useful.
Question what you’re telling yourself and how you’re saying it. “This writing sucks.” Is that true? Hey, it might be — because on some days, everybody’s writing sucks. Some days, my writing sucks dismally. The way I solve that, however, isn’t by beating myself up. The way I solve it is by interrupting my self-bullying and switching from, “This sucks,” to the alternative thought: Keep working on it.
At other times our writing doesn’t suck, in spite of what our inner bully is saying. We’re just tired, or headachey, or in a bad mood. Bullies like vulnerable people, so when we’re not feeling well, they attack. So be aware that what your inner bully tells you might not be true. Don’t believe everything he or she says.
Don’t personalize or catastrophize. Remember: our inner critic can be useful. It helps us recognize what we need to improve upon. Our inner bully will try to make us feel helpless.
“This isn’t my best writing.” That’s okay to say. “This needs work.” That’s okay, too. Those are things we can fix. But “I can’t write” isn’t true, nor is “I’m a terrible writer.”
(How do I know that last sentence isn’t true? Because terrible writers don’t care about the quality of their writing. If you can recognize weak spots in your writing, then trust me, you’re not a terrible writer.)
Watch for the subtleties in what you tell yourself. “This writing sucks” is one thing. “My writing sucks” is more encompassing. “My writing is shitty today” is writing you can work on. “I’m a shitty writer” carries a catastrophizing permanence that causes people to give up.
Say your self-bullying thoughts out loud so they’re not lurking subtly. Then ask yourself: Is this something I would ever say to somebody else? Usually, our self-bullying thoughts are things we’d never say to another person because they are mean-spirited — and we should stop saying them to ourselves for the same reason. Saying them out loud helps us hear how terrible they are. It makes them easier to confront.
Making Your Inner Bully Go Away
Permanently shutting down your inner writing bully might not be realistic. These thoughts can creep up on us at inopportune times, such as when we’re under a tight deadline. We can, however, train ourselves to intercept and respond calmly to our self-bullying thoughts, and make them stop — at least temporarily.
When I was growing up, I was taught that if I ignored bullies, they would go away. In reality, that worked sometimes but not always. When it comes to the bully in your head, however, it will work all the time once you train yourself to really ignore him or her.
Ironically, however, step one is acknowledging your inner bully’s presence. Once you do that, you begin to understand that, unlike real-world bullies, when it comes to your inner writing bully, you are in total control — because your inner bully is you talking. Over time, you can learn to confront and disarm your negative self-talk.
So be nice to yourself. And keep writing.
— Dave Fox
Dave Fox, a former EBWW faculty member, is author of Getting Lost: Mishaps of an Accidental Nomad and Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!), both Amazon bestsellers. This article is based on a lesson in his online workshop, “Write-Brained: Overcome Writer’s Block and Write with Confidence.” The workshop is the first in a series of courses on the mental and emotional challenges that hinder writers, and how to overcome those challenges.
The new champion of movie rentals, Red Box, has given us less options, which are ridiculously modern and shoddy, along with a mechanical dictatorship.
We couldn’t get up and go to the local Blockbuster? This is what it’s come to?
Blockbuster — and the indie movie stores it put out of business — went out of business because we prefer to stand at a “box” and make a selection from 20 movies, half of which seem to incorporate Zac Effron, Seth Rogen and Kevin Hart.
I think the real reason was because the “front booth guy” at Blockbuster — usually a geek trying really hard to become assistant manager to impress the sales floor girl, a 19-year-old eternally just out of his reach, a sprite that will only work for another three weeks, getting bored, skirting off to her next job at Sports Authority before taking college courses in Spain in an attempt to find her true self, and foreign love from a 55-year old classical guitar player — was forcing you to pay the late fee of five dollars and 40 cents.
You swindle him out of it, this time, but he gets even the following week, dropping the iron fist on you, forcing the full payment, or no movie. You’d prefer to pay rather than walking out empty handed, absent of your copy of I’m Gonna Get You Sucka. You close your car door, cursing his existence, declaring you’ll never return there again out of spite, declaring how much better you are than him, resorting to intellectual superiority, “He wouldn’t know the first thing about Spinoza!”
So when Red Box comes along, you jump for joy because it’s a box, similar to that of the phone booth from Dr. Who. You feel like, for a moment, you’re traveling in the future as an electronic mechanical miracle delivers you a movie, like magic.
Sure, there are late fees, but there’s nothing you can do about it — because it’s a robot enforcing the payment. You have to pay; you rush back to the machine Tom Baker once called a co-star, fearful of accruing late fees, because, as opposed to the finagling you might have gotten away with at Blockbuster, here, with the box, there is absolutely no negotiation. You pay.
We prefer robotic technology just taking our money over a real human being, forcing a power trip on us for a couple of bucks. The robot technology we listen to, because they don’t listen back. The robot technology is a firm warden — the kind that enforces a lockdown for humming. On the other hand, the humans are subjected to our reasoning; our pleas; our theories of how “taking our measly little late fees aren’t doing anything for your career man — it’s only padding the coffers of the bosses on the top floor!” you say to the cashier. You’ve resorted to espousing the ideologies of leftist hippies, irate with the idea of anybody making a dime off of your laziness to return a movie about a basketball team that’s from a tiny little town, and has no hope of winning their district, much less the state title, until their coach, a forgotten man who once punched the best player he ever had, shows them the way, all the way to the big time, with the help of a drunken hillbilly that lives in the forest, cooking squirrels, drinking whiskey for breakfast, with the basketball IQ of Larry Bird on steroids.
Now, the robotic box is in charge. As a result we have the worst movie selection known to mankind since the Betamax aisle.
— Shane Stay
Shane Stay is the author of Why American Soccer Isn’t There Yet and co-author of The Cairo Project; a former professional soccer player; comedian; producer; and founder of Leaf Dressing. In 2008, Stay bottled the award-winning Leaf Dressing, co-authored a book, published a magazine story, worked clubs as a comedian, played restaurateur and professional soccer, and received a Master of Arts degree from Southern Illinois University. He has contributed humor pieces to Smoke Magazine and The Idiot. He blogs about soccer and other subjects at shanestay.com.
For 20 years I have driven my four children crazy, and to school. The early morning commutes to educational institutions all began when my oldest started kindergarten and it has continued to this day with my youngest in the sixth grade. That’s a lot of drop-offs behind me with several hundred more still on the horizon.
I have the responsibility — meaning, of course, the privilege — to do this at least until Grace is 16, so we’ve got four more glorious, bonding years ahead. That’s a lot of time to keep following along behind minivans and SUVs. That’s a lot of opportunity to impart words of wisdom to a member of the younger generation just before she leaps out hoping no one has noticed her mother is in the car and has a voice.
We usually listen to the radio on the 10-minute drive to Grace’s school, continually adjusting the volume — she turns it up on the console knob and I click it down on the conveniently placed steering wheel button. I raise my eyebrows. She lowers hers. Most days we chatter over the music — most days. Occasionally, though, if one of us has not slept well the night before, the only noise inside the car is from the overly caffeinated DJs playing today’s top hits.
But we do have sound…right up until the moment I steer into the school’s circular drive. She always turns the radio off as we pull alongside teachers who wave cars forward before drivers stop and spill out kids toting backpacks half their size.
This past Friday was a DJ-day. Entering the drive, Grace stared straight ahead and spoke, “Don’t embarrass me today.”
Surely she was not talking to me.
“Don’t shout that you love me when I get out like you did yesterday.”
I guess she was talking to me.
“I didn’t shout,” I claimed.
“Yes, you did and everyone looked at me.”
I scanned the sidewalk where kids trudged along like zombies toward the school’s front door. I doubted any of them were awake enough to notice anything happening outside of their own heads before the first bell.
“That’s not true,” I refuted.
“It is,” she said, “when I’m the victim.” She abruptly opened the door and swung her legs out.
I laughed. Loud. She turned and scowled.
The door closed and off she went in a blur, away from the car and my noise, a victim of her mother’s love.
— Lisa Marlin
Lisa Marlin is the mother of four children ranging in age from 27-14. “Don’t embarrass me!” is a common plea of her kids and yet, surprisingly, when their antics make print, they’re the first to ask for additional copies! Her work has been featured in The Denver Post, The Dallas Morning News, Dallas Child Magazine and Writer’s Digest Magazine; the latter was as a contest winner for an essay she penned on her lifelong addiction to words. She blogs at www.lisamarlin.com. Find her on Twitter at lisa_marlin.
For the past 40 years, which is how long I have been in journalism, I have had a nose for news. So I guess it was not surprising that the news I received recently involved my nose.
Who knows what news you will receive about your nose until you go to the dermatologist, which is what I did and was told I had skin cancer on — you guessed it — my ear.
No, actually, it was on my nose, which is my most prominent feature with the notable exception of my mouth, a cavelike aperture made even larger because it frequently contains my size 11 foot.
But back to my nose, which is nothing to sneeze at.
“I think I know what this is,” said my dermatologist, Dr. Adam Korzenko, who has a practice in Port Jefferson Station, New York.
“Yes,” I replied helpfully, “it’s my nose. Believe it or not, it was this size when I was born. I couldn’t lift my head until I was 3 years old.”
“No,” the good doctor told his patient patiently, “I mean this little red spot.”
“In my case,” I countered, “the red spot isn’t so little. If I stood on a street corner, cars might actually stop.”
“I am going to do a biopsy,” Dr. Korzenko said, “but I am 99 percent sure this is a basal cell carcinoma. It’s not life-threatening, but you should have it removed.”
“My nose?” I exclaimed. “That would involve dynamite and jackhammers. You’d have to hire a construction crew.”
“You can keep your nose,” Dr. Korzenko said reassuringly.
“Good,” I responded, “because nobody else would want it. But I have to ask a question: How could I have skin cancer? I am not a sun worshipper. And if I go out on a sunny day, I always slather myself with sunscreen.”
“This probably goes back to when you were a kid,” Dr. Korzenko said. “It’s very common. I see 800 cases a year. And it’s really nothing to worry about. But you should have it taken care of.”
The skin, Dr. Korzenko said, is the body’s largest organ (sorry, guys), which is why it is important to have it checked regularly.
A few days later, the biopsy came back positive.
“Are you positive?” I asked the nice person who called with the news.
“Yes,” she said. “We’ll book you with a surgeon.”
Not long afterward, I went to East Setauket, New York, and sat in the office of Dr. Evan Jones, who was ready to do a Mohs procedure.
“Mohs?” I inquired. “Please tell me Larry and Curly won’t be assisting.”
“They’re on vacation,” said Dr. Jones, adding that he would numb my nose with a local anesthetic.
“I don’t care where it comes from,” I said. “You could even use something imported, like beer. I could go for one.”
“Then,” he explained, “I’ll take off a thin layer and run a test on it. If I need to take off another layer, I will until there are no more cancer cells.”
The procedure lasted about an hour, most of it spent waiting for the results to come back. Dr. Jones took off one layer and a tiny bit more before saying, “OK, you’re all done.”
The next day, I went to see Dr. Gregory Diehl, a plastic surgeon in Port Jefferson Station.
“I don’t want to end up with a third nostril,” I told him.
“You can breathe easy with two nostrils,” he said.
“Maybe you can use spackle,” I suggested. “Of course, then you’d have to throw in the trowel.”
“I have a better way,” said Dr. Diehl, who explained how he would take skin from the upper right side of my nose and use it to seamlessly cover the cancerous area that was removed during the Mohs procedure.
It was ingenious. And artistic. And swell, even though my nose didn’t swell any more than it did before.
Now I am cancer-free, on the mend and looking as lovely as ever. And I owe it to Drs. Korzenko, Jones and Diehl, all of whom are credits to their profession and good guys to boot.
I may not be a doctor myself, but I am going to give everyone a prescription: Go to the dermatologist regularly and wear sunscreen.
The nose knows.
— 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 McClatchy-Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows Best, Leave 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 currently president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.