Hello. My name is Leah and I am not a humorist.
Last month, I attended the Erma Bombeck Workshop where I spent four days surrounded by funny people…in Dayton, Ohio, no less.
Humor was not limited to sessions such as “The Secret to Writing Funny” by Alan Zweibel, an original Saturday Night Live writer, multiple Emmy winner and current executive producer on Showtime’s Inside Comedy or Wendy Liebman’s “Stand-Up Comedy Boot Camp.” Wendy has been performing stand up since 1985 on shows like Carson, Letterman, Leno, Fallon and Kimmel to name a few. These workshops were intended to help humorists learn to write funnier and learn the basics of stand-up comedy.
At the first networking event, I found myself in a sea of funny. I was intimidated for the briefest of moments. It’s not that I don’t have a sense of humor. I’ve made people laugh once or twice in my life. I’ll admit it was in person and alcohol was probably involved to some degree, but I can be funny. However, my writing doesn’t fall in the humor category as my pieces tend to make you feel something else. I focus on human Interest and have been known to make grown men close their office doors because they’ve been reduced to a blubbery mess upon reading one of my essays. Thank goodness my stuff doesn’t fall in the humor category or that would not be a compliment.
As I made my way around the room, the question inevitably came up time and time again, “So, what kind of writing do you do?” at which point I felt like I should just start my introductions with “Hello. My name is Leah and I am not a humorist” if only to get that out of the way. One particular woman was shocked to learn I was attending the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop if I wasn’t writing anything funny and had no plans of it in the future.
Woman: I’ve been attending Erma for years. How about yourself?
Me: I’m an Erma virgin (I had the button to prove it).
Woman: Oh, what kind of writing to do you do?
Me: Human interest mostly.
Woman: Then what are you doing here?
Woman: Human interest is great, but writing humor is so much harder.
Woman: Well, I’m sure you’ll get something out of it regardless. This is a great group!
Me: It was nice meeting you. I see someone I should say hello to across the room.
I spent the rest of the evening thinking of wonderful comebacks in defense of human interest and kicking myself for not thinking of them on the spot. In her defense, I don’t think she meant to trivialize the type of writing I do. …Okay, maybe she did. Either way, as a newbie and already feeling a bit like a fish out of water, I carried that conversation with me throughout the conference.
Here’s what I learned:
Erma Bombeck wasn’t solely a humorist. Even when she was being funny, there was always an element of human interest in her writing. She took the every day and shined a spotlight of reality onto it. She allowed us to laugh at what seemed monumental, breaking down what once appeared as insurmountable into tiny morsels of digestible truth. Most importantly, she gave us permission to laugh at ourselves and taught us we all experience the same daily tribulations when it comes to being a woman, a mother, a partner, a writer. She taught us to connect with others and ourselves and find humor in the ordinary because after all we’re all only HUMAN.
I spent the next few days attending sessions to improve my craft, getting advice from experienced and successful writers who were quick to share their wisdom with me, who connected and related to me as a writer yes, but also as a person.
Alan Zwiebel didn’t have a personal chauffeur drive him from the hotel to the University of Dayton. I know! Shocker right? He actually rode the shuttle bus, sitting next to me making small talk. He is down to earth and funny and approachable.
Anna Lefler, author of The Chicktionary: From A-Line to Z-snap: The Words Every Woman Should Know and Preschooled actually offered to take a copy of the pitch I had written for Pitchapalooza (an event, where 20 random attendees are selected to pitch their book to a panel of agents and publishers) back to her hotel room to review that night. I gave her my last clean copy and thought if I never heard back from her, I would use my handwritten one to do the pitch. That night, I received an email from her with detailed feedback showing she not only followed through but really took some time to review it. I am now her biggest fan. Buy her book! Buy two and give one to a girlfriend!
At the airport Starbucks while waiting for my flight, I spent some time with Cindy Ratzlaff. She is a Simon & Schuster exec who was named to Forbes 20 Best Branded Women on Twitter list. What did we chat about? It wasn’t writing or branding or pitching myself. Maybe I missed an opportunity there, come to think of it. However, talking about raising children in today’s world and how different that is than when we grew up felt like I was discussing parenting with a girlfriend, over a cup of coffee at my kitchen table.
Throughout the conference, I experienced so many of these moments that confirmed my decision to attend my first Erma. I learned about branding and novel-writing. I have a notebook full of tips on finding my voice, writing the perfect scene and crafting compelling essays. I gained confidence in myself and my craft and came back with a renewed spirit toward completing my novel. I came home braver, too, with the words of Kathy Kinney (Mimi on The Drew Carey Show for those of you who live under a rock), ringing in my heart: “Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
However, the biggest takeaway for me was that I may have signed up for a conference full of humorists, but amidst the laughs I found the greatest example of human interest I have ever witnessed.
Erma would be proud.
— Leah Vidal
Leah Vidal, author of Red Circle Days, shares her work weekly at www.littlemisswordy.com. Her writing covers current events, health and wellness, parenting and daily tribulations. She is most at home sharing life’s little moments — those that plant the thought-provoking seed of self discovery. Leah’s blog has been featured and syndicated on BlogHer, Freshly Pressed on WordPress and fitness and parenting sites. Leah paused a career in public relations to raise two children and has never looked back, except on the days when it would be nice to have an office to escape to or at least a desk to hide under. Her family currently lives in Puerto Rico, where she is a fitness-focused (physical, spiritual and mental health) mom of two and wife of one, who enjoys combing the beach for sea glass, avoiding the kitchen and making words come to life.
I have never been a man of many hats, not just because I am afraid I’d get stuck in doorways, but because my head, though empty, is too big to fit even one hat over.
But that changed recently when, after a bout with skin cancer on my nose, which is attached to my head and is almost as big, I was urged by my dermatologist to buy a hat.
“Get one with a wide brim,” he suggested. “It will keep the sun off your head — remember, the rays can penetrate your hair — and will protect your face, including your nose.”
“To cover my whole nose,” I replied, “I’d need a sombrero. Or a beach umbrella.”
“A regular hat will do,” my dermatologist said. “But get one.”
So, for the first time in my life, I went hat shopping. To make sure I didn’t buy anything that would make me look even dumber than I already do, I brought along my wife, Sue, who likes hats and has great style. I, unfortunately, have a fashion plate in my head.
“What kind of hat do you want?” Sue asked.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’ve never worn one.”
What I didn’t want was a baseball cap. I haven’t played baseball in half a century. And even then I was awful. Plus, to conform to a look adopted by just about every guy who wears a baseball cap these days, I’d have to put it on backward, which would assure, at least, that I wouldn’t get skin cancer on the back of my neck.
Sue and I went to three stores and all we could find were — you guessed it — beach umbrellas.
No, I mean baseball caps.
Then we spotted a mall store called Tilly’s.
“This place is for young people,” Sue noted as we walked in.
“I’m young,” I countered. “At least in my head. And since I need to cover it with a hat, I guess we’re in the right place.”
Indeed we were because the store had all kinds of hats.
The first one I saw was a straw hat with a brim as wide as my shoulders. Naturally, it didn’t fit over my head.
“One size fits all,” said a young (of course) salesperson named Dana.
“You mean one size fits all except me,” I replied. “Do you have a measuring tape so you can see how tremendous my head is?”
“No,” she said, spying my cranium and trying not to imply that the tape would have to be as long as the first-down chains in a football game.
Sue and I walked to the back of the store, where I saw a felt hat with a wide brim and a band. I tried it on. Incredibly, it fit.
“I look like Indiana Jones,” I told a salesperson named James after seeing myself in a mirror.
“You’re a lot younger than the guy who plays him,” he said, referring to Harrison Ford, who looks great in a hat.
“I’m going to get a feather,” Sue chimed in, “and stick it in the band.”
“Then I’d look like Super Fly,” I said.
“Cool,” said James, giving me two thumbs-up.
On the way out, I saw another hat, a khaki boonie that made me look like Bill Murray in “Caddyshack.”
“This one fits, too,” I said in amazement. “And the brim covers my nose.”
A salesperson named Anna smiled but was too polite to comment, except to say, “It looks good.”
“Now you have a hat to wear when you get dressed up and one for lounging around outside,” she said at the register, where we paid a grand total of $25 for both.
“You know what they say,” I noted. “Two hats are better than one.”
— 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.
Bikini season is fast approaching ladies and you know what that means.
Time to shave those hairy legs! It also means time to shop for a bathing suit.
First, a full assessment of your body should be done. It should be done naked, in front of a full-length mirror. This way you can pinpoint your problem areas to work on. I know there are people who would have no problem with this as they like their bodies. I don’t personally know these two people, but I do know I don’t like them.
While taking a good look at yourself, you realize things have changed with age. You suddenly come face to face with certain facts.
Fact #1 — double chins on a newborn baby are cute, on a middle-aged person, not so cute.
Fact #2 — rolls on the thighs of a baby girl as a result of wearing a diaper are acceptable. Rolls on the thighs of an older woman as a result of wearing a thong are not acceptable.
Fact #3 — dimples on a baby’s skin, such as arms and legs are adorable and kissable. Dimples on an older person’s skin, especially in places not meant to be see, not adorable or kissable.
Some of us choose to get in shape for bathing suit season early, like January. Every year many people make a New Year’s resolution to lose weight and exercise. I am not one of these people. I learned not to make promises I can’t keep. However, adding exercise and sports to your everyday life can be a plus in losing weight and getting fit. Only, I would not choose bowling, a sport where you play and eat at the same time. You’ll be dropping the ball, but you won’t be dropping the pounds.
Luckily, today, suits are made to fit women of all proportions. In theory, there is a perfect suit for every woman, whether she is pear-shape, curvy, has a tummy bulge or no waist at all. Today, different suits are designed for different occasions, be it relaxing by the pool, working out in the pool, or looking for sea shells while strolling on the beach.
All I know is that no matter what suit I pick out, somehow it will look different on me than it did on the super model who wore it while parading up and down the fashion runway. She, by the way, is one of the two people I mentioned earlier.
After all is said and done, bathing suits will be bought. They will be bought by men and women, the young and the old, the fat and the skinny. Some will be a perfect fit and some will not. Some people will reap the rewards for all their hard work of dieting and exercise.
However, I think credit should be given to the guy who you will see strutting around in a speedo, with his stomach hanging way, way, down over it. This guy has guts and is obviously under the wrong assumption that he looks good in his suit. Oh, and need I say it, he is without a doubt, the second person I mentioned earlier.
— Cindy Argiento
Cindy Argiento’s first column appeared in the Greensboro News and Record as a Personal Ads feature on April 30, 2002. Later that year, her first “As I See It” column appeared in the High Point Enterprise, where it would become a regular feature for several years. Her columns also have appeared in the Reidsville Review, Eden Daily News, Gilroy Dispatch, Hollister Freelance, Hopewell News and Foothills Paper. Other essays have appeared in Chicken Soup For the Soul books, Family Matters and Married Life. Three of her pieces were recognized as a finalist, semi-finalist and honorable mention in HumorPress.com “America’s Funniest Humor” writing contest. She blogs at Cindy’s World.
In our second day at Retirement Camp (that’s what I’ve decided to call these 10 weeks in this “active adult” community in Arizona), I guess I agreed to play pickle-ball.
It happened like this. We were driving around the area, each of us getting more and more excited over all the offerings that we’d be able to take advantage of.
Kathy: “So would you like to play pickle-ball sometime? Oh look, there’s a Culver’s.”
You see what happened here, right? She thought I was excited to play pickle-ball, when in fact, I was anticipating a Butter Burger and scoop of frozen custard in my future.
The next thing I know, we have a date for a lesson with our neighbor, Rick. He stops by to go over some of the rules and the first thing he asks is, “What kind of shoes do you have?”
Oh no. I am not going to buy a pair of pickle-ball shoes just to join my list of “special occasion” footwear long forgotten, but lined up neatly in my closet — I dust them annually: golf shoes, cross country ski boots, water work-out shoes, tap dancing shoes and here’s the biggie — my curling shoes. That’s right, I took a curling class one long winter, and you cannot curl without shoes adapted for the purpose. However, would you toss or sweep? Nope, I’m playing pickle-ball in tennis shoes, even knowing I could catch the edge and go tumbling. It was a risk I was willing to take.
Pickle-ball is the official sport of retirees in Florida and Arizona and as such, is part of the orientation here, I am convinced. As the thermometer works its way north of 90, it feels more like hazing to me. It’s for people whose knees and backs don’t support tennis anymore, but who still have the competitive spirit. I have great knees and a strong back and no competitive spirit (except for euchre), but a trip to Culver’s — I’ll play for that.
It’s played with a wiffle ball on a badminton size court, with a tennis net and oversized ping pong paddles. It features a “kitchen,” the seven-foot strip of real estate on each side of the net, and sometimes you can go in the kitchen, and sometimes, you can’t. I’m still working on that rule. I just know I love to cook, so usually, any chance to be in the kitchen is good with me. You play in partners (usually) until the first team gets to 11 or if you’re me, until your ice water runs out. Then I’m done.
A week or so after our lesson, Kathy asked if I’d like to play in a novice tournament. I swear I thought she said “would you like to play with other beginners?” Realize, we had not stepped on the court since our only lesson. I agreed and as luck would have it, we were paired with Phil, 82, and Patti, 85, a former tennis champion who had the right court shoes, I might add. I won’t tell you the final score, but on many occasions, I slipped a bit closer to death in the kitchen, and wasn’t one bit sorry. They reached 11 before my bottle of water was half gone, and on many occasions, I slipped a bit closer to death in the kitchen, but I was only there looking for my frozen custard, so it didn’t really matter to me.
— Pam Sievers
Pam Sievers writes a weekly blog from her home in Lansing, Michigan, or wherever she might be traveling. She’s a retired Girl Scout executive and when not writing, she loves to quilt and plan her next trip.
My sister laughed out loud when I told her that one of the few things I could do about the Meniere’s Disease that I’d just been diagnosed with was to drastically reduce my intake of salt.
Why? I’ve been known all my life for over-salting my food. Before I even bother to taste it, I douse everything I eat. When a meal begins, everybody in my family automatically hands me the salt shaker.
I even carry a little packet of salt in my wallet, for Salt Emergencies. Such as? When we order take-out pizza at the library where I work, but when it arrives I find that the library’s sole salt shaker has gone missing.
It’s long been my claim that I’d rather go hungry than eat under-salted pizza.
Pouring salt on my food is one of the cornerstones of my identity. “Would you like some soup with your salt?” my brother-in-law will joke, watching as I rain salt into his delicious home made fish chowder.
I’ve always been lucky enough to have very low blood pressure. So when dinner companions cautioned me about the health risks of covering my entrée with salt, I’d respond with a cheerful: “Not to worry. I‘ve got low blood pressure. I‘m just self medicating.”
Then came my Meniere’s diagnosis. And wham! Just like that, I’m one of those women who scan the ingredient label of each item before placing it in my shopping cart, and grill waiters about the sodium content of the soup.
The only silver lining? The man in my life and I are in this together.
On the very same week that I was told to eliminate salt from my diet because of Menieres, Mark was told to eliminate salt from his because of his skyrocketing blood pressure.
What are the odds?
In the two decades we’ve been together, Mark and I have shared many things. A love of reading. Good conversation. Taking long walks. Visiting museums. One more thing we now get to enjoy together? Shunning salt. “It isn’t a ghastly ordeal,” we tell each other. “It’s a fun new adventure!”
Actually, it’s a ghastly new adventure.
But we’re making the best of it. I’ve always characterized our relationship as an ongoing conversation. Now we have a brand new topic! And going grocery shopping gives us plenty to talk about.
“Who knew that there was so damn much sodium in V8? 481 mg per serving! Are they insane?”
“And Cheerios! 140 mg of sodium? Really?”
“The folks who make this chicken noodle soup are obviously trying to kill us.”
There’s stealth salt, we’ve discovered, hidden in nearly everything. There’s even salt in romaine lettuce! (But only 5 mg, so pigging out on romaine — if that’s what you want to do — is okay.)
And then there’s the joy of finding something delicious with a reasonable salt content.
“We can still enjoy vanilla yogurt! As long as we do it in moderation! Hurrah!”
Although I toyed with the idea of holding a little ceremony in which the two of us threw away our salt shakers and pledged ourselves to a new life, I can’t quite bear to part with mine.
I do take comfort in the knowledge that the low-sodium life is better for us. Experts agree that we should eat no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day. Instead, most of us eat at least twice that amount. Of course, I was always willing to take that risk. Over-salting my food was one of the few ways a mild-mannered librarian like me could live on the edge.
This new way of eating is a challenge. But at least I’ve got company. (And everyone knows that the couple that shuns salt together, stays together.)
But if I ever hear that a meteor is heading toward earth and will destroy us in an hour? I‘m going to dust off my salt shaker and spend that last hour enjoying a big batch of Matzoh Brie with as much salt on it as I damn well please. And Mark will be right there with me.
— Roz Warren
Roz Warren is the author of Our Bodies, Our Shelves: A Collection of Library Humor. This essay first appeared in www.womensvoicesforchange.org.
This week I took a plane ride from Las Vegas to New Jersey.
During this trip I kept pondering whether the 600 milligrams — or whatever dosage of Xanax I swallowed minutes before take-off — were kicking in. Why wasn’t I sleeping? Or was I asleep? Or was I imagining I was sleeping? What the hell was going on? What is this plane ride about?
I tried to see if the delicious drug, an anxiety assuager, was making me see the chairs in the airplane differently. Did they look more fuzzy? I looked over them as if they were below me or not the main point somehow. Was I asleep again and dreaming that I was looking over the chairs? It seemed I wanted to stare at nowhere yet was somewhere but really just nowhere.
The flight attendants looked like flight attendants but somehow sort of far away as if they didn’t know who they were and were just walking up and down the aisle because that’s what they do. It was them over there and me over here.
Was I asleep? Why can’t I get to sleep?
Was the plane high in the air? How high was I?
When I got my drink, a Diet Coke, I took some sips, put it down, and then forgot it was there. Maybe waking up from what may have been sleep, my left arm knocked the cup several inches to the right.
This wasn’t my intention. It just happened. While tripping on Xanax on airplanes, I tend to knock my drinks around by accident. I do like a sweeping motion with my arm across the tray table without thinking it through beforehand.
I didn’t really know where I was other than flying around somewhere or just sitting in a chair somewhere. There were people beside me, but we weren’t talking. One was reading. I stopped reading ever since I started writing sports blogs because you don’t need to be well read to write sports blogs. All that’s required is that you create a pen name such as Sammy Sportface and write about your plane rides fueled by Xanax.
So I sat there wondering what I felt like, how much my anxiety had been reduced, whether these were bogus placebo pills and therefore not quelling my well-founded anxiety about flying in an aluminum tube 60,000 miles above sea level with someone else I didn’t know in control of whether I lived or died.
Where was I? How high is high? Why was I sitting there? What is an anxiety reducer? How does it work? Was this the last plane I would ever take because I don’t like being crammed in a seat and tortured? Why so many questions to ask when all you’re doing is sitting there theoretically relaxing? Was I the only one clenching the seat in front of me when the turbulence rocked us?
Was it foggy on the plane? Sure seemed so. Things were blurry, softer, less meaningful. It was all not worth caring about.
It was like a plane full of see-through pillow cases.
Next thing I knew the plane landed.
Where was I?
Had I been sleeping the whole time? Is all of life a dream, as Descartes once suggested?
What was going on? Where had I been?
None of it added up.
It was all as mysterious as the sky.
Which is really high.
— 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 Amazon.com.
Did you hear about a school that is training bartenders, hairdressers and Uber/taxi drivers to become counselors? The theory is that these people come in contact with many humans and their assorted problems. So a state grant will be provided to teach these folks to deal more effectively in handling our pains.
In a crash course, they learned to listen creatively, communicate responsibly and, in general, take the role of a helper.
Today, I did not appreciate their effort, that is, until day’s end,
ME: Taxi! I’d like to go to Francois’ Beauty Salon, and could you hurry, please?
CABBIE: This compulsion for promptness — do you look at Francois as a father figure, thus your fear of displeasing “daddy?”
ME: Huh? I’d just like to be on time, or he’ll give my appointment to someone else.
CABBIE: Ah! You see the other customers as a symbol of your resentment toward a brother or sister. Perhaps you have a little sibling rivalry going.
ME: [sotto voce]: I can’t wait until my car is repaired.
CABBIE: What was that?
ME: Never mind. Just drop me off here.
CABBIE: Did you know that leaving a dollar tip on a $10 ride indicates a holding back, an unwillingness to let go . . .?
ME: And did you know that my slamming this door on your nose reflects my uncompleted relationship with Pinocchio?
ME: Same to you, fella.
ME: Hi, Francois. Today I’d like a change. How about a short haircut?
FRANCOIS: I can see an obvious conflict that I must bring to your attention. You think by changing your outer self, your internal enemy can be placated.
ME: In that case, cut it for both of us. The real reason I’d like it trimmed is because it gets in my eyes while I’m playing tennis. I’d just like to be able to see the ball when I miss it.
FRANCOIS: You don’t want to miss. You probably are extremely competitive, which stems from your need to be in charge. …I sense that you are agitated. Tell me, what are you feeling right now, at this very moment?
ME: You really want to know? I’m feeling great hostility toward your leotards. As a matter of fact, I’d like to be perfectly candid. I never thought you had the legs for them.
FRANCOIS: Well, I never . . .
ME: I can believe that. Good-bye!
ME: Set ‘em up, Joe. I’ve got a little story I’d like you to know.
BARTENDER: Lady, can’t you just ask for a drink like everyone else? I sense a bit of the exhibitionist in you. Were you ignored during your formative years?
ME: Listen, these are my formative years. Being ignored would be the highlight of my day. Why don’t you simply give me a Bloody Mary,
BARTENDER: I sense a deep-seated fury raging in you. Obviously you could have chosen from over 1,000 cocktails, including a Sweet Casis. Why did you choose that prticular mix?
ME: I did it for purely medical reasons. My body craves the vitamin C that’s found in the tomato juice.
BARTENDER: I think you chose the Bloody Mary because it reflects your preoccupation with violence, blood and gore.
ME: Were they a rock group? Actually, I’m getting nauseous. Leave me alone.
BARTENDER: I can see your rage. Who do you suppose really is the recipient of your wrath?
ME: I’m looking at him.
BARTENDER: Oh, no. You don’t mean me. I’m merely a therapeutic stand-in for someone else in your past. Tell me, who are you angry with?
ME: I’m not angry.
BARTENDER: Ha. You can’t kid me. If you’re not angry, then why are you pouring your drink down my apron?
ME: It was a childish impulse. I once accidentally set fire to my hoola hoop, and for a moment because of your beer belly I was transported in space, and I attempted to put out the flames.
BARTENDER: Ah! Now we seem to be getting somewhere, but your time is up. Why don’t you go home, take two martinis and call me in the morning?
ME: Listen, whatever you say. You’re the doctor.
— 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.
Recently, I wrote a blog post titled “Though Dead, Yet They Speak” marking the 20th anniversary of the deaths of the Monks of Tibhirine and Henri Nouwen.
But there is another person who also had a profound impact on my life like those gentlemen. And through her humor and writing, she spread good news to other women. I forgot about this lady who died 20 years ago yesterday in my hometown of San Francisco. And even today, she still speaks.
The ’90s were a blur; from 1990-1999, I had six children. I was actually living the life Erma had been writing about for decades. Nineteen ninety-six was one of the few years of that decade I didn’t have a child. I had one at the end of 1995 and would have another in the summer of 1997. I had two in the ’80s and two more in the first decade of the 21st century. A total of 10. I would’ve engraved and framed the words Erma would have crafted regarding my chosen lot in life. And yet, that is just what she did throughout her career: craft words and stories that highlighted the life of the American woman, the American mother in particular, and all her cares and responsibilities. Women, who felt invisible doing all that needed to be done to maintain their homes, could turn to Erma and laugh as if they were sitting at their kitchen table with a good friend. That good news produced laughter, encouragement and perseverance. Definitely good news for the weary woman.
Perhaps I couldn’t have grouped her with the monks and Brother Nouwen anyway because their content and their lives were definitely different than Erma’s. So it seems. The monks by their lives’ and Henri by his writings changed my life spiritually. But Erma packed a spiritual punch in many of her writings as well, and it behooves us to remember and admire how she wove great truths into her writings.
Of course, we all remember her essay, “When God Created Mothers.” She loosely translates the Genesis record and she nails it on the head as she describes the mystery of motherhood and its incalculable worth. She wraps up the essay with the sublime:
Finally the angel bent over and rang her finger across the cheek.
“There’s a leak,” she pronounced, “I told You that You were trying to put too much into this model.”
“It’s not a leak,” said the Lord, “It’s a tear.”
“What’s it for?”
“It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness, and pride.”
“You are a genius,” said the angel.
Somberly, God said, “I didn’t put it there.”
Her words were not just for the mother, “the one who was overkidsed, underpatienced, with four years of college and chapped hands all year around,” but for any woman. Many of her writings were for women in general, and for older women in particular. And for the woman who looked in the mirror and thought it was too late for her, she wrote these gospel-like words:
“For years, you’ve watched everyone else do it. …And you envied them and said, ‘Maybe next year I’ll go back to school.’ And the years went by and this morning you looked into the mirror and said, ‘You blew it. You’re too old to pick it up and start a new career.’ This column is for you.
“Margaret Mitchell won her first Pulitzer Prize for Gone With the Wind in 1937. She was 37 old at the time. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith was elected to the Senate for the first time in 1948 at the age of 51. Ruth Gordon picked up her first Oscar in 1968 for Rosemary’s Baby. She was 72 years old. Billie Jean King took the battle of women’s worth to a tennis court in Houston’s Astrodome to outplay Bobby Riggs. She was 31 years of age.
“Grandma Moses began a painting career at the age of 76.
Anne Morrow Lindbergh followed in the shadow of her husband until she began to question the meaning of her own existence. She published her thoughts in A Gift from the Sea in 1955, in her 49th year. Shirley Temple Black was named Ambassador to Ghana at the age of 47. Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister of Israel. She had just passed her 71st birthday.
You can tell yourself these people started out as exceptional. You can tell yourself they had influence before they started. You can tell yourself the conditions under which they achieved were different from yours.
Or you can be like the woman I knew who sat at her kitchen window year after year and watched everyone else do it. Then one day she said, “I do not feel fulfilled cleaning chrome faucets with a toothbrush. It’s my turn.
I was thirty-seven years old at the time.”
She preached that we can have a second act, or a third act; shoot, some of us can have sequels.
In 2007, more than 10 years after she died, the year my first column was printed, I was 48 years old at the time. Act II.
— Donna Fentanes
Blogger Donna Fentanes is a mother of 10 kids living in Pacifica. She mixes humor and philosophical musings with everyday life.