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Words devoid of meaning

Sammy SportfaceWords have no meaning.

Take these, for example.

By reading them you’ve gained nothing.

You want value from words. You want to be enriched. You don’t want people wasting your time. If this goes on for one more paragraph, you will stop reading.

This blows.

There are words I’ve heard my whole life that have no meaning for me. They don’t resonate. They just irk.

I don’t know what they mean and don’t intend to find out. Hearing them makes me feel unerudite, which may or may not be a word and I won’t check because I don’t feel like it. These meaningless works give me inferior feelings compared with those who say them to me.

The one that vexes me most often is “vis a vis.” Perturbed by its sound, spelling and ostentatiousness, I refuse to look up what vis a vis means. It may be something benign and simple, but it may also be something important and full of richness. Probably it’s pretty meaningless.

Finding out isn’t in me.

Vis a vis sounds sort of French or Italian; definitely it’s not Russian or Portuguese. Few non-English words get used as often as vis a vis in English conversation. Often high-browed English professionals say this along with some pretentious business professionals climbing the social ladder. There are many others.

The only French word I can think of that is easy to remember, besides of course la bibliotheque (means library), is déjà vu. Understanding romance, I know the meaning of that one so it doesn’t bother me the way vis a vis does. A beautiful maroon-haired woman taught me French for three years in high school so I studied the language in order to impress her.

When someone says vis a vis, my first thought is they’re trying to sound smart. This violates my belief that in speaking and writing it’s more essential to be clear than to sound smart.

Being lucid requires more careful critical thinking than confusing people with French or Italian phrases that most people have to stop to think of what you mean, and often don’t now. Use that word and they are bound to think you’re a jerk or pretentious or both for making them feel less erudite than you.

Maybe vis a vis is Latin. Never took Latin. For that we should all be grateful and less agitated. Writers don’t need to know the ancient roots of words. covers that.

Whatever vis a vis means I doth not care nor shalt thou. I’ll never use it in my writing or speaking unless intending to be obtuse, which is borderline repellant. And the next time I hear someone say vis a vis in my presence I will imagine a rainy night in a dark tunnel where I want that person to go for a while.

Maybe vis a vis should be italicized for being a foreign word. But it won’t happen here. This is about spite and retribution sprinkled with paranoia and insecurity.

Another word that lacks meaning is incredulity. So many people have used this in my presence over the years that  I have had to look it up to rise to the lofty heights I have professionally and socially. Incredulity means something like disbelieving or doubting. But anyone who uses it sounds so pompous and eager to sound intelligent that it makes me think of how life was better in third grade before people used big words.

Back then none of us knew big words nor cared about them. Things were more settled and lunch time less hectic. The word “thing” was cool to say. Deciding we needed to be more precise in our use of language, adults struck it from writing and speaking.

Things changed and got harder.

When someone uses the word incredulity, I am forced — by them — to think for a few seconds before I can understand what they meant. Dissection doesn’t spawn anything except frustration. Their point remains fuzzy even if I look it up and saw the person’s whole sentence on a piece of paper. They say something like “His incredulity is making me incredulous about him.”

This is either a double entendre — another pretentious word for which I do know the meaning (ha ha) — or word play, lazy writing or obfuscation.

This nettlesome situation makes me incredulous about anyone who says “incredulity” — more than their use of the word. I don’t credule them.

The third word that doesn’t mean anything — and comes up too often — is phantasmagoria. At least twice a day someone says this six-syllable word to me.

Whatever phantasmagoria is, or wherever it is, or whenever it is, I don’t want to find out vis a vis anyone.

— Sammy Sportface

Sammy Sportface is possibly America’s best blogger. He is only mildly interested in the truth. To read his new book, Wipe That Smile Off Sammy Sportface, go to

Spare the frame, spoil the grandpa

People have said for years that I will end up in the gutter. Little did I know it would happen when I went bowling with my 3-year-old granddaughter.

Jerry ZezimaAs part of Chloe’s birthday celebration, my wife, Sue (known to Chloe as Nini), and I (Poppie) recently went to The All Star in Riverhead, New York, with our younger daughter, Lauren (Mommy), and our son-in-law Guillaume (Daddy) for an afternoon of fun and, I will readily admit, humiliation, which is inevitable when (a) you are wearing bowling shoes and (b) you are defeated by a toddler.

I must say in my own defense, pathetic though it may be under the circumstances, that I had not been bowling in years, while Chloe is a regular at the lanes.

Not only that, but she uses a special contraption that is designed to give kids an unfair advantage over incompetent grown-ups such as yours truly. Here’s how it works: An adult places a bowling ball on top of this thing. Then a child pushes the ball down a ramp and onto the lane, where it rolls, slowly and steadily, until it knocks over some or all of the pins.

Did I mention gutter guards? They are used so a child’s ball can’t go where the aforementioned people have long expected to find me.

But none of that mattered because we were there to have a good time, even if, as required in order to use the lane, we would also be keeping score.

After settling in at Lane 20, we entered our names into the overhead electronic scoreboard: Mommy, Nini, Poppie and, of course, Chloe (who was playing with the assistance of Daddy).

My first ball, I swear to God, went straight into the gutter. I recovered enough to finish the frame with a 6.

I didn’t feel so bad because Sue’s first ball went straight into the gutter, too. In fact, her average roll traveled approximately four inches before the ball plopped into the gutter, although she displayed great versatility by throwing gutter balls on both sides of the lane.

“Bowling isn’t my sport,” she acknowledged.

But it appears to be Chloe’s sport. After Guillaume placed the ball on top of her kiddie ramp, Chloe pushed it onto the lane and typically knocked over most of the pins. By frame 5, she had racked up a strike and a couple of spares and was comfortably in the lead when she pushed a button on the control device and wiped out all the information on the scoreboard. The game, essentially, was over.

“I am crediting your granddaughter with the victory,” said the nice young man at the counter, likening it to a rain-shortened baseball game. “She beat all of the adults.”

Then, sensing my humiliation, he gave us another game for free.

“Try to do better this time,” he said with a smile.

I did try. Really. So did Lauren, a streaky bowler, and Sue, who continued to throw gutter balls and even used Chloe’s kiddie device and the gutter guards in a couple of frames. They didn’t help much.

In one of the later frames, Chloe said, “I bowl with Poppie.”

She took my hand as we walked up to the line. Then she helped me throw the ball, which rolled straight down the lane and, incredibly, knocked over all the pins.

“Poppie got a strike!” I exclaimed.

“Poppie strike!” declared Chloe, who must have sensed that I needed assistance, so she gave it to me in the next frame, too. I got a spare.

That helped put me over the top. At the end of the game, my score was 114. Chloe had 99, Lauren 91 and Sue 42.

Chloe, clearly the best bowler in the family, showed a maturity beyond her three years and sacrificed herself so poor Poppie, utterly embarrassed in the first game, could claim victory. In short, she let me win.

I was bowled over. And, thanks to my granddaughter, I didn’t end up in the gutter.

— 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 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.

Extra! Extra! Extra!

Paul_LanderTown Happy When Medical Marijuana Facility Catches Fire

A Medical Marijuana hot house in California caught on fire sending clouds of THC-filled smoke into the air. At a press conference, a police spokesman told reporters, “I’ve never seen the town this happy before.”

A local reporter asked: “What? People are happy to see a local business burn down?” “No,” the spokesman said, “I’ve never seen them actually this happy. Apparently, inhaling the fumes had a positive effect on everyone.” And, residents at a local senior facility reported they haven’t felt this pain free in years.

Celebrities like Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg and Woody Harrelson have already arrived to do what they can. Snoop Dogg breathing in deeply said: “Now that’s some good sh**. Uh, I mean, what a shame…” Willie Nelson did have to be reminded a few times as to why he was there. And Woody Harrelson couldn’t stop giggling and asking people to sing along to Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry.”

The only down side to the Cannabis-filled smoke was an increase in appetite among some local pets who somehow got into a local supermarket and ate everything in the snack aisle.

For MTV’s Real World, There’s No Place Like Nome

MTV’s Real World announced its latest destination — Nome, Alaska. An MTV spokeswoman insisted the choice was not made because the show had already been everywhere else. In fact, the MTV spokeswoman related, “Five super hot horny hunks, five nympho-maniacal, surgical-enhanced, amoral coeds with only each other to generate heat. Trust us; the pipeline won’t be the only thing getting laid in Alaska.”

MTV believes its formula of promiscuous young people, plenty of alcohol and a place where the nights are 18 hours long should make Alaska party central. Nome cast members will call a 10,000-square-foot, totally state-of-the-art igloo home. “We believe everyone’s going to have an Arctic blast,” the MTV spokeswoman assured.

And, to the question of how to maintain MTV’s hipness factor, MTV responded that it’s all in how you look at it. For example, one person’s spear fishing is another person’s “all you can eat, live sushi bar.”

ABC Announces New Show, Pole Dancing With The Stars

To capitalize on the success of its trademarked Dancing with the Stars and the box office power of the Magic Mike movie franchise, ABC announced plans for its latest TV entry, Pole Dancing With the Stars.

A spokesperson for ABC raved, “The show has something for everyone. Both male and female viewers will get the thrust of what we’re going for.” Adding: “And, for some of our celebs, this a chance at a whole new career that doesn’t involve using the phrase, ‘Would you like fries with that?’”

The show’s producers said the format would include allowing members of the studio audience to stuff dollars into contestants’ G-strings and thongs. And celebs will be given their very own stripper aliases. The show’s producers teased that people would have to tune in to see which celebrities were anointed “Silicon Valley” and “Thunder Down Under.”

The show will have a humanitarian angle with each exotic dancer wannabe “making it rain” for their favorite charities — although contestant Shaquille O’Neal did warn, “I hope that pole ain’t holding up the building.”

— 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 stand-up material that’s been performed on “Leno,” “Letterman,” “Conan” and “Last Comic Standing.” His humor pieces have appeared in Huff Post Comedy, McSweeney’s, The New YorkerSanta Fe Writers Project Journal, Humor Times, The Higgs Weldon and Hobo Pancake. In 2015, he placed second in the National 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.”

I’ve never been to Spain,
but I blog in Oklahoma!

Leslie BlanchardI was lying in my bathtub this morning when my husband came flying in with his usual sense of urgency.

“Do we own a net?”

“A net?”

“Yes! A Net!”

“No, but put it on the list and I’ll be sure and pick one up next time I’m at Walmart,” I said dismissively, with my characteristic lack of urgency (most pronounced in all matters of household maintenance, of which I’ve grown decidedly weary and largely unmotivated.)

“Get out, of the tub! I need your help! We have birds in the house!”

I wasn’t sure at first that I heard him correctly. We have had  NERDS in the house. We have, on occasion, even had TURDS  in the house, but I think he just said we have BIRDS in the house. Which, I supposed, would explain why he’s asking for a net. Sometimes, I just need a minute to process things.

And, then I Really put it all together — I realized that we had literally jinxed ourselves with a conversation we had earlier today.

My husband and I had our first two children in our early 20s.  At the time that we had these little girls, we were friends with several couples, approximately the same age as us, that also had two children. The difference being, these couples stopped reproducing themselves after two children. About six years after we had our first two, we caught what is often referred to as a “second wind” and had three more children. One more darling girl, capped off by two perfect sons. Suffice it to say, our second wind blew harder and more powerful than our first wind. The irony, however, is that many of our closest friends are now “Empty Nesters” while we are still deep in the throes of childrearing.

We see these Empty Nesters everywhere. We cannot seem to escape them. They mock us on social media with their newfound freedom. Still young and beautiful, they frolic about, flaunting their utter lack of responsibility. They travel to Europe, dine at fancy restaurants and attend wine tastings in Napa. We can’t verify this, but we are pretty convinced they probably make love whenever, wherever, right smack in the middle of the day, while they still have energy.

My hubby and I were sharing our morning coffee today, wistfully gazing at pictures of our best friends from college  prancing all over Facebook. There were pictures of them smiling merrily in a Gondola in Venice and shooting Limoncello in Rome (probably toasting their own reproductive wisdom and foresight).  Naturally, our conversation turned to wondering if we, too, might one day become actual “ENs.”

That’s when I’m pretty sure we jinxed ourselves. Instead of getting birds out of our nest, we actually let a few more in! 

Back to the bird situation: In the absence of a household net, My husband requested two towels. I was further instructed to hold one towel up vertically, “Like a bullfighter in Spain!” I made an on-the-spot decision that this might not be the ideal time to mention to my Beloved that I’ve never seen a bullfight, never been to Spain, and at the rate we are going, probably never will.

My man proceeded to impress me with his proficient use of towel #2. He tossed it over the first bird and released her tenderly into The Great Outdoors. The remaining bird, he pointed out, was the male. “This is going to be trickier,” he explained as though he were a bonafide, card-carrying member of The Audubon Society. “The male bird’s lack of direction is probably what got them into this situation to begin with!” (It seriously took my husband a full 32 years of marriage to admit this obviousness?)

We had quite a battle on our hands with that male. Eventually, my husband managed to capture him and carried him flapping like crazy to our back door. Trying to be of assistance, I said frantically, “I’ll crack open the door, you thrust him high up in the air, with some force, and then when he starts flapping, jump back in the house and we’ll slam the door quickly behind you, before he has a chance to change his mind!”

It was infinitely harder to rid our home of the male of the species, which we sincerely hoped wasn’t some kind of FORESHADOWING of our future.

That little guy dug in and resisted his own emancipation. But, no matter! We now feel confident that we have a pretty merciless exit strategy planned for when the time comes to show THE BOYS the door.

— Leslie Blanchard

Leslie Blanchard is a wife of one and mother of five, who writes the blog, A Ginger Snapped: Facing The Music of Marriage And Motherhood. After she received a journalism degree, she became the “Wind Beneath My Husband’s Wings” and didn’t write anything for 27 years, except her family’s Christmas letter. All that changed with the invention of the iPad with a waterproof cover. Now, she lays in the bathtub all day, neglecting her other responsibilities, and writes about life outside the tub. Her essays are titled after songs because, as she and her hubby puzzle through a marriage or child-rearing problem, they sing the song that particular issue reminds them of (with a pertinent lyric change here or there).

Erma made me miss my mother

Annette WickAt a recent writer’s conference, I sat enraptured by a performance of At Wit’s End, a one-woman show that brought Erma Bombeck, the famous columnist and humorist, to life on stage.

Tears arrived, not so unwelcome. The story of Erma and the arc of her life made me miss my mother.

Erma was dead and my mother was not. But the mother still alive was not the one I missed. The mother I missed was the one who raised us.

The family home was sold years ago, but the exact location of Erma’s If Life is A Bowl of Cherries, had been burnished in my mind.

Erma’s book, published in 1978, held such an esteemed position in our home that it was placed next to Pope John Paul II’ s Crossing the Threshold of Hope, published in 1995, and the brown and white collection of books with World Book Encyclopedia Edition, 1972, embossed in gold.

At least, that what I recalled before the home’s contents was dismantled.

As At Wit’s End unfolded in memory for Erma’s children seated in the audience, I built my own Greek memory palace, recalling the golden shag carpeting of the family room where a bookcase held those hardcovers and a piano was situated next to said bookcase. And then, tears rolled like my fingers used to move across piano keys.

As I mentally constructed that mnemonic device, I saw myself arguing with my mother over moving the piano from the living room, where there was privacy, to the family room. By then, I had given up piano lessons, but I still tinkered, mostly when no one was around, because I hadn’t practiced enough to play long stretches or memorize extended passages.

I had lobbied for the piano to stay in the living room. There would be no volume debate over TV vs. piano. In the living room, I could play tunes from my older sister’s piano book, songs such as A Time for Us, Memories or Moon River, and my mother could sneak in, sit on the bench or stand like she was working a crowd, and sing along.

Nowadays, when I sit in Activities with Mom, many of those same melodies waft around the room. For me, the songs of Bruce and Adele are not ear worms. Instead, I hear Someday there’ll be…. A time for us…Jean, Jean, roses are red all the leaves have gone green.

After the piano move, the instrument sat unplayed through protest and neglect. Erma’s book became the lone remaining memory I had of Mom in that corner of the family room.

My mother and Erma were born a year apart, Erma in ’27, Mom in ’28. But Erma birthed her children about 10 years before Mom. Mom married later in life, which was how my father’s mantra or moan of “10 years too late” came along.

Reading Erma’s column must have been informative for my mother, but also a bit alarming. Erma was rearing teens when Mom was raising babies. Erma’s words were foreboding.

In her humorist tones, Erma set the stage for so many homemakers. But my mother, perfectionist, child of the Depression and fabulous cook, took a more solemn approach to those homemaker duties.

My proper mother threatened to wash our mouths out with soap or swear to the truth on the Bible, or saved piles of Styrofoam meat containers to send us home with her breathtaking cakes and cookies.

She was a woman who ran her finger across the tops of our dressers to ensure we dusted on Saturday mornings.

However, she also smiled, sometimes laughed out loud, whenever I spied her reading Erma’s book or columns.

Erma’s perspective was from the nonconformist’s view. The “I’m busy writing, so I’ll slip some money under my door for the children to go to McDonald’s.” And Mom secretly found comfort in Erma’s words. Someone out there knew how to let go of the limitations of the times.

What remains is a mother who let go of those constraints, of the need to be perfect, who cares little for her appearance (mostly because she doesn’t know to), and who lets other people cook and care for her.

I see Mom now, surrendering to her dementia, and to modern times when she doesn’t have to recall her children’s names or faces or where they lived. A wife who doesn’t have to remember to iron a husband’s shirt or buy his favorite ice cream.

A woman whose only saving grace is her laughter and smiles and, occasionally, running a finger across chair rails and medicine cabinets to make sure somebody is doing his or her job, a job that no longer belongs to Erma or Mom.

— Annette Januzzi Wick

Annette Januzzi Wick is Cincinnati-based writer, teacher and blogger.  Annette attended the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop to “find my funny.” She’s still looking. Learn more at or

The Erma gap

Julia RobertsLast week I was at the Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop in Dayton, Ohio, surrounded by about 450 humor writers, all brought together by  Erma Bombeck’s wit and her audacity to live her life large.

The conference and speakers were a great inspiration to me, and I dared see myself as rubbing elbows with the likes of Amy Ephron (bestselling author of  A Cup of Tea and One Sunday Morning) or Cathryn Michon (Hollywood producer, writer/director/producer of Muffin Top on Netflix.) When I returned home, I faced the inevitable bitch in my brain who mocked me soundly for getting too big for my britches. This is the gap.

There’s a gap between who you imagine you could be and who you are now.

Erma Bombeck was raising three kids in a tract house in Centerville, Ohio, and she dared believe her life could be bigger than that, that her talent could bring her into millions of readers’ lives, onto television and more. It was not that her current life was lacking, but that she could pursue her gifts wherever they took her. She lived a fully realized and authentic life. The workshop that bears her name is a living legacy for how to do just that.

Because of Erma’s connections in the humor world and the respect she still commands, great speakers are the hallmark of this event. The keynoters alone were generous and inspiring, and I have to admit, bragworthy.

Roy Blount, Jr. (of Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me fame)

Amy Ephron

Kathy Kinney (who played Mimi on the Drew Carey Show) and her friend and writing partner Cindy Ratzlaff  (Simon & Schuster exec)

Leighann Lord (stand up comedian and syndicated humor columnist)

Just walking around hobnobbing and hosting sessions on humor writing and performing were comedy greats. I took a session with the Emmy Award-winner, Alan Zweibel — Gilda Radner’s writing partner on SNL and co-creator of The Gary Shandling Show. Like every comedian, he could recall his first joke to make it on air — you remember this one — about the new stamp commemorating prostitution from the U.S. Post Office, for 10 cents. If you wanted to lick it, however, it would cost a quarter.

Genius joke.

Everything you ever dreamed of doing with your writing and sense of humor was modeled there, brilliantly. Stand-up comedy? Who better to mentor your first time on a stand-up stage than Wendy Liebman? She brought her skyhigh talent from her usual haunts like Jimmy Fallon and HBO, to our little Dayton, Ohio, stage in the main ballroom at the Marriott. Man, were we lucky. She was hysterical.

Is novel writing in your sights? There were agents, authors and even a Pitchapalooza to help you hone your next steps — whether you were in the get-your-ass-in-the-seat phase or the get-your-ass-out-there phase. I greatly appreciated the keep-yourself-going insights of Anna Lefler (author of Preschooled). 

Want to speak? Write a syndicated column? Or work in a writers’ room? There were ample guides and sessions and experienced people to model all of that for you. I attended Joel Madison‘s workshop on the Writers’ Room. As we actively helped him punch up a script, he told us the writers’ room is one-third think tank, one-third competition and one-third pigsty, and the mental maturity level is equal to that of a 7th grade boy. (Duh, we’ve all seen TV sitcoms, right?) Does that sufficiently explain why those rooms are still 98 percent men? I think his other insight might explain it even better. He explained that Hollywood is not an idea business, it is a relationship business.

I came home AMPED UP. I had listened and laughed with Leighann Lord who spoke about her stand-up career, her parents getting old, her relationship to Erma and how she got started in the business. She was so connected to the audience, so alive with humor and goodwill, that I could see how I would like to speak, who I could become. Powerful. Funny. Inspiring.

I came home with a NEW VISION of who I could/should be. Yes, I was going to find time in each day to write my novel. Of course I’d be bringing my creative assessment tools into writers’ rooms.

Then suddenly, devastatingly, I …saw … the… gap.

First, you see your shiny future of who you could be. Slowly you remember who you are now. Plus, brave, beautiful you needs a nap. Needs to unpack. Maybe do some laundry. Not only do those visions fade, but your sense that you deserve them, or could realize them, begins to vanish.

Next thing you know, you’re pretty sure you’re stupid and can’t do anything.

And just in case you get any bright ideas about trying, you throw up resistance about even the smallest accomplishments — like making dinner. (OMG, At the Erma conference there were beautiful meals and fascinating — and funny — people, your mind says as your lifeless body throws some hot dogs in a pan.)

It took me several days to remember that there is always a retraction after a big conference. It is only natural. After great expansion, comes retraction like a rubber band.

At the conference you had an empowered feeling, praise, hope and constant companionship, and hey, you envisioned a bold and amazing self. It was there for you, and you knew you couldn’t go back to pretending that nothing you do matters.

Not long after you get home, and talk about it, you hear the “arrogance” in your stories. You see you had “fooled yourself.” Maybe you eat a cookie or two to feel better about your loss. Now you’re back to lowered expectations and “safety.” Now you clearly see the gap between who you are and who you know want to become, and it hurts. (More cookies, if you’re me. Maybe some jelly beans?) You go about proving to yourself that you can’t have that new vision, because of painful thought, painful thought and painful thought. 

Who is telling you this new story of who you can and can’t be? You think it is just you, being realistic. You have to recognize that the icky, painful person in your head who is dissing you and keeping you down is not you. It is only a part of you. It is just one voice.

It is the gatekeeper — who will tell you lies and keep you afraid, rather than let you live a bigger life. It is one voice —  like the mother in the Rapunzel story, Tangled, or the Old Nick in the movie Room. And just as those heroines had to distrust the gatekeeper, you have to face your fears, take the risk and see yourself in the bigger world. Remember when you walk through the fear, it will be exciting, with freedom, and sunlight and love.

I retract after each conference or event I go to. If you’re still in retraction mode — this blog’s for you.

It would be easy to pretend that I got going gangbusters the minute I got home. It would be easy to ignore that hard and painful week as unimportant. I was hoping, if I shared, this might help some others who are still in retraction. It’s time to reclaim your whole self and plot to quiet or escape the tyranny of your gatekeeper.

— Julia Roberts

Julia Roberts founded Decoding Creativity to help writers achieve clarity on their creative thinking style and process. She has her MSc in Creativity from SUNY/Buffalo State College and is a certified creativity coach (Martha Beck, Eric Maisel). She is the author of three books, most recently Sex, Lies & Creativity (Difference Press, 2014). She is also the founder of the Storytellers Summit, an annual virtual conference for writers.

Erma summer camp

Anne BardsleyGet ready to rumble for the 2016 conference! This year was a blast! I roomed with two writer friends with an adjoining room to two other Facebook friends. Another friend was just two doors away. We jokingly referred to ourselves as “The Cool Kids!”

Arriving a day early was an added bonus that allowed us to get settled in, meet people and have time to scour the schedule.

All three of us in room 473 got chosen for the Stand Up Comedy Night. There were endless rehearsals, and I actually knew their routines by heart. I couldn’t keep my own routine straight in my head. This caused our relaxation period, complete with Jellyfish shots. Who knew they calmed the brain so well?

I sponged in so much from each presenter:

Cathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff: In the keynote luncheon, “If not now, when is the time to become the queen of your own life?” This will be a reference guide for my new woman’s group, The Solid Rock Sisters.

I wish the conference was an additional day. I missed their class, but I bought their book. I am working on my Queen-self currently. Their story is so honest and inspiring. I wish they were my neighbors. Their keynote at lunch was fabulous.

Alan Zwiebel: Be prepared when opportunity arises. If I ever need a talking horse, put syrup on their lips and they look like they’re actually speaking. (A reference to when Saturday Night Live interviewed Mrs. Ed after Mr. Ed died. Hilarious story!)

Katrina Kittle: Use vivid descriptions. Show the reader: She did not just drop her purse. “Her Dior purse spilled over and four tampons rolled onto the meeting floor.” Take the reader into the story.

Judy Carter: Everyday life is really funny. Your pain has a humorous side, as well.

Elaine Ambrose: Snag the reader with the first line and keep it rolling. Be aware that you might lose the reader if the first paragraph isn’t compelling.

My example from a story offering tips to moms with young kids, “Moms, the string from a pork roast should never be used for an at-home tubal ligation, even on your worst day.”

Make sure to laugh and sing every single day!

Wendy Liebman: Funny lady. Wish I learned more about her stage presence and her craft. I so love her style of humor.

Leighann Lord: She made me laugh and cry at her dinner speech. She was funny, tender and real. I love her even more now.

Pitchapalooza was great! With only one minute to sell your book, your words better be well chosen and interesting. Get them down, Anne!

My face was soaked watching Barbara Chisholm performing At Wit’s End. I was close enough to watch Erma’s family reactions. One tear from her daughter and I joined right in. What a lovely performance and a sweet tribute to Erma.

And from my roommates I learned things that I will carry with me for life. They transformed me with their talents, such as:

In Yiddish, schvitzing is sweating. Thank you, Parri Sontag. I’m now bilingual and can sweat like a Jewish gal.

The Oscar Meyer bologna song, Bob Dylan style, from Linda Roy. I sing it daily now.

How to hide under-eye circles, from our class president, Vikki Claflin. Priceless!

The magic of fishing panties and tequila from Kim Dalphres. I’m cool now!

Marsha Kester Doyle taught me to steal a half bottle of wine (okay 3/4). Bless her heart.

It was so much to learn in so little time, and the staff was so sweet and professional, as always.

This really is a sisterhood. There is so much sharing of ideas and contacts, without competition. It’s takes a village to make a writer.

Can’t wait until 2018. I will be 30 pounds thinner then. Oh, wait! Now that I am a queen, I love myself as I am. I will just show up as myself, wearing a majestically jeweled crown, with a big smile on my face! I’ll blend right in with all the other queens.


— Anne Bardsley

Anne Bardsley lives in St Petersburg, Fla., with her “wrinkle maker” of a husband and two spoiled cockatoos. She’s still recovering from raising five children. She is so happy she didn’t strangle them as teenagers as they’ve given her beautiful grandchildren. She is the author of How I Earned My Wrinkles: Musings on Marriage, Motherhood and Menopause. She blogs at

13 things to remember for the Erma Bombeck 2018 conference

Rebecca Sydeski1) 350+women ( and a handful of men) in a room, bus or hotel is very loud. Pack earplugs. And pray for the poor bus drivers.

2)  Food, especially chicken and desserts, are plentiful. Bring more elastic waisted pants.

3)  The currency at this conference is business cards. And Erma Bombeck-etched wine glasses. And laughter.

4)  It’s possible to make new and instantaneous BFFs. Even so, introduce yourself to someone new every chance you get.

5)  There’s so much to learn besides writing stuff. Be open to possibilities. Presenter Shannon Olson had the cutest haircut and she let me take pictures of it so I can show my hairdresser how to cut my hair.Shannon Olson

6) Don’t bring any books, crossword puzzles or any other personal pastimes. You won’t have time for any of them.

7) But bring an extra suitcase for all the books you will buy.

8) Dayton in the spring can be windy and cold (2016) or warm and sunny (2014). Pack accordingly. Everything you own.

9) Take the day off Monday after the weekend. You will not be useful to anyone. Not even your pet.

10)  Remember that no one cares what you write (or don’t write) or what you wear. And if you are cold, Gina Barecca will loan you her coat and Hermes scarf. (Emphasis on loan — she will chase you down the hall if you “forget” to return them).

11)  The name “Trump” was said 134 times. Please, God, let that not be a name we discuss next conference.

12)  Bring a case of reading glasses next time. Even though I brought four pairs, I only came home with one.

13)  Laying in bed after a long day, reading all my new friend’s blogs, with the strawberry yogurt Chex mix that was provided as a snack after lunchtime, was divine.

Becky BathroomOh, and one more:  Don’t get caught using the men’s restroom. The next time you try, there will be a sign on the door that says, “This restroom is for men only.”

— Rebecca Sydeski

Rebecca Sydeski writes a (hopefully) humorous blog on the subject of airline passengers, from her perspective as a flight attendant for a major U.S. airline for the past 37 years. Her blog can be seen at

Reflections of Erma