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How Erma helped me reclaim my focus
and boot Dolores

Jennifer BeldenOn the decorative cork board hanging beside my desk you’ll find this quote from Erma Bombeck:

“Writer’s block is just another name for putting it off. You can train yourself to shut out the world and write.” – Erma Bombeck

Never mind the fact that I was procrastinating when I wrote the quote for my board.  I frequently defend my procrastinating by arguing with my Erma muse that she never had to avoid Facebook, which is the Devil’s agent when it comes to procrastination. On top of that, I have been having serious issues with maintaining focus of late, which I try to blame on peri-menopause but really, I’m just MORE distracted than usual. Which is highly distracted.

Procrastination and distraction are easily my biggest issues when it comes to writing.

They are closely followed, of course, by enormous self-doubt. That little voice on my shoulder sounds like a nasally 73-year old Italian woman from the Bronx. Her name is Dolores and she is constantly eating potato chips, which scatter crumbs that distract me, and then make me peckish, sending me in search of something to eat.

*sigh*

The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop could not have come at a better time for me, because I was in need of an intervention of sorts.

Fine, what I needed was a kick in the pants, and that is exactly what I got, in the best way possible.

There were plenty of reminders just to get back to basics. It shouldn’t have been such a relief to hear, repeatedly, that other writers — published authors, in particular — also struggle with the inner critic and that just sitting down to write is one of the biggest struggles; since I’m not unique in that, I need to quit fussing about it and just do it.  I think some version of the idea of Anne Lamott’s aptly termed “shi**y first draft” was brought up in many of the sessions, and while Bird By Bird sits close at hand on my desk, all too often the concept eludes me as I edit that pile of crap instead of letting it build like a pile of fertilizer.

Anna Lefler’s session on “Novel-Writing for the Faint of Heart” was the session that kicked it all off because it spoke TO me and had me doing mental cartwheels down the hallway. (Mental because, really, there was enough comic relief already.)  Quite honestly, I came away from almost every session with renewed focus and useful tools, accompanied by the feeling of  “how did she know what I needed to be told?”

As one who is likely to sit back and observe (feeling like the clumsy kid on the playground just waiting to join in), the openness and support of everyone I talked to was overwhelming — a feeling of “I’ve found my people,” which seemed to be shared by most everyone I spoke with. There were no big egos present, just kindred spirits. This year, I pushed myself to put myself out there more than I did in 2014, and I didn’t collapse in a heap of embarrassment or anxiety (or the Erma flu, so insecurity may have paid off on that regard). I may be outright social for the next conference in 2018!

Ultimately,  it is the spirit of camaraderie, the warm welcome, the feeling of inclusion in this magical club of writers and the heartfelt support offered that makes this conference so special. Over the course of the weekend, I felt the last piece of the puzzle snap into place as a long-overdue admission about my lack of love for some of the work I’ve been doing pushed me into resolution of my short-term goals and longer-term direction. It was freeing, to be honest.

I left brimming with inspiration, enthusiasm and with renewed focus. On the flight back to Dallas, when the fellow next to me asked what I do, it wasn’t an apologetic “oh, I’m a stay at home mom” or a mumbled “I’m a blogger.”

I said, with confidence, “I’m a writer.”

And since my return, with my Erma notebook full of reminders, I have banished Dolores and her chips to the VFW to play bingo while I write. Ciao, self-doubt. You can come back in time for cocktails, or when I’m trying to decide if that green dress I love still fits.

Many thanks to Teri Rizvi and everyone who makes the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Conference all that it is, and for all that it gives us. If I could bottle you all up and keep you on my desk next to my other items of woo woo, I would. 

In your place, I happily use my “You Can Write!” mug or the conference wine glass to try to recapture a bit of what it felt to belong and be confident. (Ish.)

— Jennifer Belden

Jenn is a Yankee adapting to life in Texas, where she is is called mom by two sarcastic kids and one ebullient (and flatulent)  spaniel and wife by one bossy guy. When she’s not writing on her blog, Momma on the Rocks, she can be found working on her first childrens’ book, drinking too much coffee and making creative excuses for avoiding the laundry.

I’m melting

Connie BerryI’m not sure anyone else has noticed this, but apparently what used to be 210 pounds in 2010 looks a lot like 240 pounds in 2016. I think I might be melting too.

Naturally, I have many pairs of the same pants I wore comfortably at this same weight six years ago. Today, I have to lay on the bed to zip them, and then I have the inevitable waistband fold all day. And I’m thinking I should be proud of myself because I can wear the same pants.

Oh, I can, but with a couple of glitches. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll put a bobby pin in the zipper to yank it up if I have to. It’s just that I can remember them being loose at this same weight six years ago. Apparently everything has been redistributed or something, or I am truly melting. That puddle under the Wicked Witch of the West got much wider after she melted. Why I can’t look like Glinda, Good Witch of the North, is beyond me.

I spend 30 minutes on the elliptical nearly every day of the week, and if I so much as look at a piece of penne, I gain three pounds. It’s enough to make me throw my hands up in the air and make the drive to Dairy Queen.

All of this is nothing new, of course. I’ve been wearing swimsuits that cover me from neck to mid-thigh since I was in fourth grade. Back then, I had a little red number that looked like a bandana only it had an “apron” on it. Even when I was in elementary school, I had to cover this midsection. I can truly say that my belly has never, ever seen the light of day, except for one quick drunken skinny-dip hot tub session that involved my best friend from second grade, all grown up before her wedding. I think her mom was there, too. And her younger sister. There were no men, naturally. But there was wine. Ah, everybody should do the same with their best friend from second grade. Come to think of it, we did that well past sundown.

I digress. I try to wear jeans at least three days a week so that I can remind myself to get on the elliptical. Jeans require that whole fastening thing. I could easily live the rest of my life with an elastic waistband. If you wear a long shirt, nobody has to know. The upper half of this Rubenesque-like body simply requires the extra-long, extra-large man-shirts they sell at Walmart, or what I like to call “tunics.” Coverage is key.

This whole conundrum can likely be attributed to gravity. That’s who I’m going to blame anyway. Somehow bringing a little proven science into it makes me feel better. It’s natural. It happens to all of us.

In my head, I know this. I realize I can’t look like I did in 1982, when my hair was feathered just so and I could still tuck my shirts in. But life being what it is, my head, and sometimes my heart, are still back in 1982, so I think the rest of me is just the same as well. But it’s not.

I can usually, and thankfully, fast-forward my whole being to the present. Then I’m grateful that I’ll be 55 in September, that I no longer, as my indomitable mother knew, care much about what other people think. But then again, she was a little bit of a thing. And one of those people who you would swear was 5’ 5” when she was really only 5’ 2” on a good day. She just stood above the rest of us, even though she was short.

Ultimately I gotta do my own thing. It might be a whole bunch of sweatpants. They make them really nice these days.

— Connie Berry

Connie Berry grew up reading and loving Erma Bombeck. She is former editor of The Catholic Sun newspaper in Syracuse, N.Y., and a new resident of Martha’s Vineyard where she was copy editor for the Vineyard Gazette. She lives on the island with her husband and youngest son. Her two older children read her blog, thejoblessgoddess.blogspot.com, from Syracuse.

Finding human interest in the funny

Leah VidalHello. 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?

Me: (silence)

Woman: Human interest is great, but writing humor is so much harder.

Me: (silence)

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-snapThe 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.

The cool cat in the hat

Jerry ZezimaI 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.”

Sue agreed.

“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

Cindy ArgientoBikini 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.

My brush with death in the kitchen

Pam SieversIn 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.”

Pam: “Great!”

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.

It’s a low-salt life for us

Roz WarrenMy 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.

Sportface flies the Xanax skies

Sammy SportfaceThis 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.

On Xanax.

— 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.

Reflections of Erma