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Speechless in Dayton

It’s been a week since I returned from the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Most of the attendees have already posted on their blogs about their experiences there, but I have not.

Tracy Beckerman and Phil DonahueI am late. Very, very late.

It’s not because I didn’t have an unbelieveable time. I did.

Or that I didn’t connect with old friends and meet loads of great new ones. I did that, too.

It also has nothing to do with the fact that I went on spring break with my family the whole week following the conference, or that we had our kitchen and baths demolished while we were out of town and I had to set up a makeshift kitchen in the living room when we got home.

The issue is, I needed some time to let it all sink in. The sessions. The friendships. The moments of pure joy, feelings of connectedness, and inspiration. The sheer “Erma-ness” of the whole thing. Like a great brisket, my thoughts needed time to bake, absorb the flavor, and sit for a bit before being served.

I know, pretty poetic for a humor writer, huh?

This was my sixth Erma conference. I first went in 2004, so this was actually my 10-year anniversary.  For my 10-year wedding anniversary, my husband took us to Italy. For my 10-year Erma anniversary, naturally, I went to Dayton.

Although I had transitioned from attendee to faculty member several years ago, I realized there is still not all that much that separates me from the other writers. We all have insecurities about the work we birth into the world. We all want to be paid for our writing. We all want to be acknowledged on some level for our contributions and achievements. And we all want to be successful.

But how we define success is different for each person. Some people measure it by the dozens of newspapers or websites that carry their column or blog. Some measure it by the one newspaper or website that carries their column or blog.  We often quantify it by hits, likes, retweets and visits.

As writers, success is often marked more by response than output. 
Wouldn’t it be great if more of us writers could feel successful simply for writing?

Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and creating something meaningful, relatable and well-crafted is almost more difficult than childbirth. In the case of my book, Lost in Suburbia, the gestation period was actually the same. It took me nine months to write the book, and in the end, I finally had to give it over to God. More than anything else this weekend, I realized that for each of us, writing is the way we communicate our feelings and describe our world. It is not the way we work. It is the way we breathe.

Thank goodness for conferences like the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop for reminding us that it’s not about the swag, the sponsors, the number of unique visitors we have to our sites, and the people who want to compensate us for our work with “exposure.”  It’s about realizing that what we do has value, whether that value is felt by one person or a million, by friends or family or complete strangers. It’s about connecting with like-minded people. And it’s about recognizing how very lucky we are to have discovered this gift and love we have for writing

I want to thank Teri Rizvi, Bob Daley, and the rest of the University of Dayton crew for putting this conference together every two years; to Debe Dockins and the Washington Centerville LIbrary for graciously hosting the awards competition; to Patricia Wynn Brown for generously donating her time to be the Master of Ceremonies throughout the weekend.  Also, my pit crew, Michele Wojciechowski, Anne Parris, Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Suzette Martinez Standring, Joy Steele, Rose Valenta, Wanda Argersinger, Sharon Dillon, Michelle Momper and so many others who share my passion and support my goals.

To Betsy, Matt and Andy Bombeck for continuing to be a part of this celebration year after year.  To their dad Bill, in absentia.

… and to Erma Bombeck, for showing us that We. Can. Write.

— Tracy Beckerman

Tracy Beckerman, who served on the faculty at the 2014 EBWW, writes the syndicated humor column and blog, “Lost in Suburbia,” which is carried by more than 400 newspapers in 25 states and on 250 websites to approximately 10 million readers. She’s also the author of Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir and Rebel Without a Minivan: Observations on Life in the ‘Burbs. In 2014, she was the global humor winner in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition sponsored by the Washington-Centerville Public Library in Centerville, Ohio.

Long live Erma

women who write their livesA renowned feminist theorist, a septuagenarian New York Times bestseller, and the first editor of Ms. Magazine walk into a bar. No. Scratch that.

Three accomplished, poised women sit at an unassuming folding table in an auditorium at a university in Dayton, Ohio. A wide-eyed audience filled with mostly middle and up-and-coming middle aged women stare back expectantly. A few aren’t aware of the collective body of knowledge, depth and experience emanating from that table, and they are about to be blown away.

As the moderator steps up to the podium, I reluctantly wrap up my small talk with the fascinating woman to my right, who is both a landlord and an extremely sharp marketing executive with a warm wit, and turn my attention to the panel. I try to engage the part of my brain that is capable of following what I’m sure is going to be a serious, academic discussion. This means switching from my ongoing worry about whether Kurt is lost somewhere in Cincinnati with our assumedly naked, hungry children. He’s probably out of gas and stranded in the Bad Part of town. Probably the one that appears on “The First 48″ most frequently. Oh, God.

And then best-selling author, tenured English/feminist theory professor and recent Friar’s Club inductee Gina Barreca bares her upper thigh so we can all get a good look at her tights, which are printed with pinstripe stockings, and I’m whisked away for the next hour and a half. The van has GPS and enough Goldfish Cracker crumbs to sustain the kids for a few weeks, and Kurt has been making me look bad by taking them for ice cream and the park all the time while I’ve been gone, anyway. I am allowed to be here and soak it in fully. And I do.

As the pace picks up, it’s a wild ride. Gina frames longstanding feminist debate with a confidence that precludes a need for her to throw anybody under the bus. It’s more about empowerment than it is about wasting time on those people who haven’t yet decided that women are simply human. And that giggle we do when we’re listening to a man tell us a long story about getting his car detailed? She’s on to us. We’re not listening, and we’re not having a good time. We have to stop speaking in the interrogatory. This is not a question? I actually do have a name? It makes no sense to introduce yourself with a question mark at the end? My brain is singing. Oh, to be free for a few days of the endless quest for preparing the next meal, for matching up socks, for ferrying small children.

And it just gets better. Ilene Beckerman is telling us about how she accidentally published a book, which was turned into a Broadway show, directed by none other than Nora Ephron. And she did it in her 60s. She’s wearing a turquoise, sequined head scarf over her long, straight, delightfully lavender hair. Her nose ring glints in the stage lights and I can see her heavy eye makeup eight rows back. She’s a beautiful gypsy, and she’s hilarious. She assures us that she doesn’t deserve to share the stage with these other women, but it’s all lies. Her story is incredible and real, and I know I could sit with her for hours and soak it all in and still leave wanting more.

I’m not sure what to expect from Suzanne Braun Levine. She looks so polished up there, exactly what I’d expect from someone with a list of accomplishments like hers. I’m intimidated, really. She has sat, elbow-to-elbow with Gloria-freaking-Steinem and casually changed the way women are perceived by society. Everyone in this room is in her debt. I’m actually a little nervous. And then she’s telling us about how it all went down, about how Ms. started as a one-shot gag, an offshoot of New York Magazine. The editor thought it might be amusing to have a woman at the helm for this one-time publication. But women were hungry for that platform, and they raided every newsstand in town, and as is the case so often, money talks. Just like that, a new era was hatched and our voices grew more powerful overnight.

Suzanne keeps talking and I can hear stereotypes I didn’t know I had shattering in my head. She’s real. She’s strong and she’s hilarious, warm and self-deprecating. She explains that her kids don’t even quite realize that she’s an accomplished woman. She leaves newspaper clippings and awards lying around conspicuously sometimes, just in case they happen upon them and are shocked to realize this woman is their mother. I love it; I get it. I’m not going to be editing a groundbreaking magazine any time soon, but I get that dichotomy. No matter what I do, to my boys, I’m always going to be their mother first. It’s a powerful realization.

It’s one of my many, many powerful realizations that I hit on during this all-too-short session at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Many of them come from women in the audience. A woman asks about how to help shepherd the younger generation through the current “geek culture.” Why aren’t there stronger comic book heroines? Where’s the Black Widow movie? Another woman asks how to protect our loved ones when we want to write about them. The unanimous response: just do it, and as Gina points out, your relatives are never going to read what you write, anyway. ;)

Oh, and about that moderator. Because this workshop seems hellbent on giving me value for every second of the full two-and-a-half day experience, the moderator could run her own workshop if she wanted. Pat Wynn Brown is incredible. She deftly manages a complicated, rapid-fire discussion, adds her own stories (I’d pay good money for a book about her experiences as one of the first female mail carriers in Columbus) and juggles questions from the audience as well as any TV host I’ve seen. It must have taken hours to pull together the questions here (and she did this twice, two completely different discussions with the same women). But that’s not enough for Pat. She’s also our beloved emcee for the whole event. We get to enjoy her introductions and anecdotes at every meal, as if dessert with every meal wasn’t enough of a gift. I might be a fangirl for Pat at this point.

And then something happens that I will never forget. Something that will keep me lining up for this conference as soon as the registration opens until they stop having it or until I am no longer here to enjoy it. A young woman approaches the mic. She’s shaking, and as the room grows quiet, she says she is so glad she’d taken the leap to come here, because the experience has helped her to find her sense of humor again. She’d been hilarious once before, she explains, and then she adds: “I’m from Newtown, Connecticut.”

Now. Like everyone in the world with access to media, I’ve thought long and hard about Newtown since that awful day in December 2012. But I didn’t quite understand the weight of what it must mean to be from a place that is now so marked that a mere mention of the town’s name can bring a room to tears, instantly. Her bravery and courage fill up that room with compassion and love, and I realize that this workshop is about so much more than networking and developing a so-called platform.

It’s about the why: Why we’re compelled to write down the stories of our lives. Why humor is vital to every human, everywhere. Why we’re all in this together.

I could regale you with fantastic stories involving insomnia, wine and a**ing it up in front of Phil Donahue. I could recount the incidents leading up to my three-day investigation into where the hell the hotel housekeeping staff was holding hostage my Erma Bombeck wine glass. I could easily write this much about any of the workshops I attended. I could tell you about the instant bonding that so often occurs among Bombeckians, and how I’m already counting down the days until 2016, but I’m still savoring so much of it, just for me.

I will say this. Wherever writers gather in community, something special will happen. There’s an energy we share, and it’s capable of changing this world. I am beyond lucky to know so many people who aren’t afraid to drag the bodies out into the light and examine them fully. I’m even luckier that so many of them will point out the stray upper-lip hair and the mismatched socks.

Long live the spirit of Erma Bombeck.

— Sarah Hunt

Sarah Hunt wears many hats: freelance writer and editor, humorist, mom of two, wife of one, optimistic procrastinator, list maker, taxivan driver, killer of plants and insufficient housekeeper. She is a cheerleader for her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, and has finally embraced her Midwestern sensibility and comfortable shoes.

Women at work

Barbara Cooley copyIt’s not the hushed, conspiratorial sound of men in boardrooms or the exalted “C” suites.  It’s the squeal of greeting, laughter and recognition; the high-pitched tone of excitement.

It’s not the back-slapping, checking-you-out-for-the-right-spot to insert the knife of betrayal, or firm handshake/secret test of strength of men in suits.  It’s the hugs and hands on the arms of old friends, the hugs and hands on the arms of soon-to-be friends.

It’s not the jostling of men for place in a hierarchy of power or even just in line for the restroom. It’s the sending forward of the woman doing the most desperate dance in the Ladies Room line, the woman best prepared for the book pitch.

It’s not the stampede to get to the front of the room or a seat at the head table.  It’s the invitation to the person all alone to join a table of strangers; it’s the speaker everyone wants to meet showing her complete lack of pretense by joining the group at the table by the kitchen.

It’s not the arm shielding the test answers so others can’t see; it’s not the “I made it on my own so you’ll have to make it on your own.” It’s the finger pointing out the correct answer, it’s the suggestions and ideas, and the “here’s what worked for me” comments.  It’s the generosity of “I made it, you can, too, and here’s how.”

PitchapaloozaIt’s not the heartless critique of a flawed presentation or a failed marketing campaign on Fifth Avenue.  It’s the standing ovation and hooting and cheering as a show of support for the frightened woman who ventures out of her home and onto a limb. It’s her female audience saying, “We won’t let you die alone out there.”

It’s the quiet murmur of collaboration, the hand on the shoulder in support, the set-up for the punch line, the laughter that says I know what you mean, the applause that says you nailed it, now keep going…

It’s the filling of empty cups (okay, and wine glasses, too) and it’s the shoring up of others’ confidence and self-esteem.  It’s the healing of wounded parts, the sharing of insecurities and doubts, and it’s the rekindling of each other’s spirits when our inner flames have gone out.

It’s different from other workshops and conferences; it’s the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. You might mistake it for fun and games and nothing more, but your estimation would fall foolishly short. It’s the sound of joy, laughter, friendship and support. It’s the joyous sight and sound of women at work.

— Barbara Cooley

Barbara Cooley is a writer and personal historian who manages to find the humor in life even when her bread lands butter side down. Widely published in neighborhood newsletters, and the occasional local newspaper lost and found, Barbara has also published several pieces in publications known only to an elite few. As the owner of Your Life & Times, Barbara helps people capture, preserve and share their family’s story through photographs, heirlooms, recipes, memories and more. She lives and works in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she and her husband, Jim, share their home with rescue dog, Tai, who enjoys the bread on the floor no matter which side it lands on.

Wannabe Erma Bombeck

Suzette Martinez Standring(Reposted by permission of Suzette Martinez Standring. This piece was syndicated this week through GateHouse Media.)

Wannabe you. Do you ever wish you were somebody else? Maybe it’s not a bad thing.

Recently, close to 400 people felt that way about the late Erma Bombeck, whose wit was forged on the hot anvil of motherhood, a state known for its sweat and tedium. Erma knew you could either break out laughing or crack up in other ways. The widely syndicated humor columnist and author died on April 22, 1996, yet she remains a standard bearer for light and laughter. Erma “wannabes” are legion.

Recently I went to the biennial Erma Bombeck Writers’ Conference at the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. A ballroom full of humor writers has strong therapeutic value. Aside from the thrill of big-name speakers and programs, the energy carried something uniquely “Bombeckian,” a rare camaraderie among strangers to befriend, connect and help each other. Being a veteran of many conferences, it’s my observation one is lucky to pal around with one or two new people. The Erma lovefest set me to musing.

Was it because Erma’s adult children, Matt, Betsy, Andyand other family members always attend? Phil Donahue of talk show fame shared memories of Erma as his friend and neighbor all those years ago. Erma came alive on his TV clips with insights timeless, classic and hilarious. Was it a mass hypnosis of warm and fuzzy?

I think I have it. “Bombeckian” energy plugs into permission to be real. That started with Erma, and I would sum up her legacy as show up with your hair down and heart open. Conference banners read, “You can write!” It’s the famous affirmation from University of Dayton professor Brother Tom Price to a then young and insecure Erma Bombeck. One sentence changed her life.

No matter what we do, it’s common to feel unworthy. How many times have I heard, “Who am I to [fill in the blank]? Or “I’m nobody special.” Dreams ooze into nothingness because of a perceived lack of experience or credentials, or gee, all the interesting stuff happens to other people. This is where Erma reveled in beige. She once wrote, “I wondered what I had that was unique and ironically enough, I discovered something. I was ordinary, painfully middle of the road, bare-boned Ohio Midwest beige, Our Town ordinary … Ordinary. That was to be my turf.”Erma, typewriter

When I think of the subject of motherhood, what can be said that hasn’t already been said? Yet family life is ever fresh through the generations. Erma Bombeck is a woman who spun gold from life’s everyday filaments, and thousands still follow her light. That weekend I understood it’s not just about being funny. It’s about memorable connection. It’s that no one should feel alone, and laughter is the warm wrap offered in the cold. Erma mastered “this is me” and her message still gives that permission to others. This week will mark 18 years since she passed. Wanting to be like Erma Bombeck — in ways beyond writing — is a very, very good thing.

— Suzette Martinez Standring

Suzette Martinez Standring, part of the 2014 EBWW faculty, is the award-winning author  of The Art of Opinion Writing: Insider Secrets from Top Op-Ed Columnists and The Art of Column Writing: Insider Secrets from Art Buchwald, Dave Barry, Arianna Huffington, Pete Hamill and Other Great Columnists. She’s the former president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and writes a national spirituality blog and newspaper columns for GateHouse Media. “My writing goal is bring folks together, think outside the box and laugh at ourselves through the bonds of faith,” she says.

Worshipping at the Erma Bombeck altar

Gina Barreca(This piece by Gina Barreca originally appeared in The Huffington Post on April 18, 2014. Reposted by permission of the author.)

The difference between women’s humor and men’s humor is the difference between revolution and revolt. It’s the difference, in other words, between Erma Bombeck and The Three Stooges.

I’ve worshipped at the Bombeck altar since reading her three-times-per week columns in the newspaper when I was a kid, so to have delivered the keynote speech at the conference held in her honor two years ago was such a privilege that I decided to go back and give three talks this year.

This year’s 2014 conference at the University of Dayton was so much fun many of the sessions, filled with hundreds of women (and dozens of men) were probably illegal in Ohio.

Not that it takes all that much to get women laughing. When you put three women together for more than 13 seconds, we’re hilarious — and we’re unstoppable. We’re laughing so hard we have to wipe away our mascara and cross our arms under our bust for extra support. Yet there are guys all over America going around saying “Whatsamatter, honey, can’t you take a joke?” when his female companion doesn’t laugh at the work of Adam Carolla (“The reason why you know more funny dudes than funny chicks is that dudes are funnier than chicks”), Jerry Lewis (When asked about his favorite female comics, Jerry Lewis responded “Cary Grant… Burt Reynolds… I don’t have any”) or The Three Stooges.

Believe me when I say that women really do not like the Three Stooges. If you’re sitting next to a woman who’s cooing, “Oh, darling, I simply adore the Three Stooges,” she’s faking it. In fact, I believe you can eliminate blood tests at the Olympics by merely showing The Stooges: you laugh, you play on the men’s team. Women do not do the eye-poking, head-banging, butt-slamming humor that the Three Stooges do so well.

Have you ever seen two women go up to each other at a conference, a wedding, or networking event and, by way of greeting, say, “Pull my finger?”

Men do it all the time. In the Three Stooges paradigm, men insult each other by way of indicating affection.

“Hey Frankie, you’ve had that jacket since 1992. I’ll buy you a new suit just so I don’t have to look at those stripes!” That’s their way of saying, “Hi, how ya doing, how’s the family?” And it’s impossible to insult Frankie because he’s going, “Suit’s still good. Can’t button it, but it fits all right.”

If you say to a woman, “Barbara, you’ve been wearing that suit since 1992,” Barbara will lock herself in the bathroom until she can order new clothes from a catalog. She won’t think it’s a funny joke.

Actually, men often think women don’t have a sense of humor because women rarely tell jokes.

Instead, like Erma Bombeck, women tell stories.

We have totally different ways of communicating. When a woman says, “Let me tell you something funny,” you better sit down and pour yourself a cup of coffee. You’re going to be there for quite some time.

Erma Bombeck wrote humor challenging the underlying assumptions of traditional domesticity. While some of it can be placed in the self-effacing tradition (“After marriage, I added 30 pounds in nine months, which seemed to indicate that I was either pregnant or going a little heavy on the gravy”), her essays often contained less sympathy and more bite than the conventional “good mother” was meant to possess (“So you swallowed the plastic dinosaur out of the cereal box. What do you want me to do, call a vet?”).

When Bombeck quipped, “I don’t think women outlive men… It only seems longer,” she challenged the system that would have us believe women live easy lives.

Women’s humor at this last conference, where the brilliant Patricia Wynn Brown was the MC, went from the riotous yet moving stand-up of Judy Carter to the erudite inspiration of author Suzanne Braun LevineMs. Magazine‘s first editor, Ilene “Gingy” Beckerman, author of Love, Loss and What I Wore and dozens of panels and talks in between. The casual conversation — the heart of the conference — was about everything from politics, crowd-sourcing, blogging, publicity, deadlines, time/work/sex balance to chin hairs, a topic about which I had a few words to offer.

Humor, the conference proved, is everywhere. And Bombeck taught women to forage for humor — to find it, to hunt for it, to gather it up in its raw state.

Author of When You Look Like Your Passport Photo, It’s Time to Go Home, A Marriage Made in Heaven … or Too Tired For an Affair and All I Know About Animal Behavior I learned in Loehmann’s Dressing Room, Bombeck’s column ran in over 900 newspapers and she became the best friend of every harried, fraught, overworked and imperfect woman in the world.

I’ll take Bombeck’s fresh laugh over Moe’s whack to the forehead any day.

— Gina Barreca

Gina Barreca is an English professor at the University of Connecticut and a feminist scholar who has written eight books. She regularly writes columns for the Hartford Courant, The Huffington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Psychology Today. In 2012, she served as a keynoter at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and returned to be part of the faculty in 2014. Learn more about Gina here.

Phil Donahue saved my writing soul

Katie MayerI went to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop desperately seeking my funny. Not sure what to expect, but there was plenty of funny to go around.

When you’re surrounded by 300+ women writers and a handful of men all of whom are genetically talented, it has the distinct possibility to leave you crying in the bathroom. Forever alone. A girl and her cellphone. And a quite possibly a cocktail.

The Erma groupies had the goods, and it was more than a little intimidating: books and columns and syndication and by-lines. Comics and screenplays and blogs and podcasts. Thousands of followers. YouTube and fan clubs.They had proof.

I got nuthin’. And not only that, I had lost my funny and was dying, quite literally it seemed, to try and get it back. I was counting on Erma to come through: help me find my funny.

After Sandy Hook, I could no longer poke fun at the town I love to call home. It’s not easy to make fun of everyday life when that life stops abruptly with a simple, non-assuming text alert: LOCKDOWN.

So when Ermies asked what I wrote, I told them I was an advertising copywriter: ‘I’m the kind of writer who gets paid.’ It was all the funny I could muster.

A couple pressed. What do you WANT to do? What do you LIKE to write? I so wanted to answer honestly: I write congressman and senators. I write f***ing a**hole board of ed members from neighboring towns who think it’s funny to make ammunition jokes to grieving parents. I write letters to the editor and speeches about gun violence and blog about it sometimes, to Paul Revere warn people: WE WERE JUST LIKE YOU!!! Newtown is you! Don’t you get it? This could happen to you because it damn well happened to me!! This is not some made-for-TV movie; this is my life and it will be yours if we don’t do something now!

But it’s the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop and these people are funnnnnnyyy! Everyone is a comic writer! People laughing, hugging and drinking, and everyone seemed to already know each other. Birds of a feather, you know? This was the place to be — surrounded by talented people not afraid to share what they know.

I’m telling you, my tongue swelled up to the size of my a** and 26 funerals of tears were right beneath the surface every single time someone asked what I wrote. So I asked them instead, and they all answered the same: “I’m a humor writer, we all are all,” one writer waved her hand to include the crowded room. “Like them, like Erma!” Family, work, marriage, school, kids, sports, divorce. I wanted to say that. I used to do that. But not anymore.

I did not belong here. I did not belong anywhere. 

Phil Donahue to the rescue. Seriously, who wudda thunk it? Selected as the keynote speaker because he and Erma were Dayton neighbors and lifelong friends. He talked about love, friendship and his never-ending admiration for Erma, her groundbreaking work, her bravery to say what hadn’t been said and the power of the written word. “This power is in your hands,” he said. “You have the distinct opportunity to write about everyday life and share your stories.” And because we had the talent, we have the obligation, the responsibility, to do so. Or something like that. I don’t know really, because all of a sudden, in a room of 400 talented writers, he was talking to me. Just to me.

And then he said something about putting your children on a school bus expecting them to be safe, to come home, and when they don’t …

Can. Not. Breathe.

A writer gently puts her hand on my shoulder. One of the first but far from the last of powerful, life-changing and life-affirming moments of the conference. I was sad, yet so very determined to tell our story, because it is only through our stories, funny or not, that the world can become a better place.

My three days in Dayton were extraordinary, and when the laughter died down I learned this above all: the line between tragedy and comedy does exist, and while laughing in the face of any horror is nearly impossible, the only way through the tears and darkness is with laughter and light.

*Please commit to doing any action possible to make a positive change where you live, so our story doesn’t become your story. Join a group in your community. Send an email. Be a friend. Find a cause. Share on Facebook. Hold a sign. Make a difference.

— Kate Mayer

Kate Mayer is a writer in limbo, trying to find that delicate spot between writing what she loves and paying the bills. An irreverent storyteller with a bad mouth and big heart, she was selected to read at the 2012 NYC Listen To Your Mother Show. Today Kate is a forever ambassador for her home of Newtown, Conn., and dedicated advocate for gun violence prevention. She attended EBWW2014 in a desperate search for her funny, and yet discovered so much more.

An open letter to Mr. Bombeck

Brown, Patricia WynnDear Mr. Bombeck,

Who wouldn’t love you! When you came to the first EBWW conference and spoke, you said right out of the shoot: “Sometimes I feel like Prince Phillip.”  And, of course, you meant you followed behind your love, Erma. Yet, you did an outstanding job in your talk that day and at each conference you attended you have won the hearts of the attendees.

You were unable to attend this 2014 conference, yet everyone in the room fell in love with you anyway. Why? Because you are like Cary Grant, who once spilled a drink on Erma. Matt told me about that. You have the special something that appeals to people. I think what you have is a very good spirit about you, and it is there even when you are not.Bill_Bombeck

Our conference this year was a hit. God bless Teri Rizvi, rightfully crowned HOMECOMING QUEEN this year. We were all so sorry you could not attend. I missed you very much. As I have written to you, you are my Atticus Finch. Every girl I know wanted an Atticus Finch for a father. I believe with all of my heart that you are that to your three children. Some dads want to be Atticus, but they have problems that prevent them from doing so. In your case, you could be that for your kids. It shows. To see your three kids with all of the people at the conference and how they respect every person, and honor their mother with their attendance, and somehow accept me, well…as my mother would say if she were here: “Those are some good kids there, those Bombecks.”

Which brings me to the petition the Princess Louise Lucas from San Diego started. (I did not bribe her.)

Princess Louise started a petition to ensure I could move into your basement and be adopted, even if you do not have a basement. There are four pages of signatures. They can vouch for me. I am quiet (when sleeping), neat (always), I love your kids (they are giving me advice about my Wild Irish Rose son), and of course I adore Norma, your secretary.  And Cousin Dee Dee and I want to sit on a swing and talk and tell stories as she did with Erma when they were kids.

Done deal.

So when I move into your basement, once you sign the papers, I will be steadfast and true. I will abide by the rules of the house. I will pick up after myself.  I will not tell too many stories at dinner (although I have some good ones). And I will honor Erma all the days of my life.

You see, Erma got me through. When our own son, BOY WONDER, was going through his crazy days of fun and hijinks, I would read Erma to calm me down. Any story would do, but the ones about Andy helped most. You know what I mean.

Mr. Bombeck, you mean the world to me…and not in a stalker way. You raised kids who make me feel like I am an OK person and welcome at their table. You have supported the conference and you support writers. You are the BOMB…eck. And that is a good thing.

I am mailing you the petition that Princess Louise, in a tiara, passed around the conference via U.S. mail.

Know that every person who signed their names would do anything in the world to help you in any way.

Also, please tell Norma to write a book.

Love Always,

Patricia Ann Marie Wynn Brown
A wanna’ be daughter

— Patricia Wynn Brown

Patricia Wynn Brown is a performer, producer and author of two books, Hair-A-Baloo: The Revealing Comedy and Tragedy on Top of Your Head and Momma Culpa: One Mother Comes Clean and Makes her Maternal Confession. She has performed her humor-memoir Hair Theater® shows across the U.S. She is a featured humorist in a PBS documentary, A Legacy of Laughter, about the life and work of Erma Bombeck. She also is a three-time winner of the James Thurber Summer Writing Contest. Her new DVD featuring women who have lost their hair to chemotherapy is called The Hairdo Monologues: When Monsieur Chemo Styles Her Hair. She served as emcee at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in 2012 and 2014.

Writing is messy business

bombeck_2014_merchandise“Writing is messy business.”

That’s how “Agnes” cartoonist Tony Cochran describes the inspiration behind a new commemorative cartoon that he created with “Funky Winkerbean” and “Crankshaft” cartoonist Tom Batiuk for the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. The two cartoonists are part of the faculty.

A limited number of signed cartoons will be available for $15 at the workshop, with all proceeds benefitting the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Endowment Fund.Bombeck cartoon

In addition, “You Can Write!” coffee mugs ($9.99), a set of 12 Erma notecards with inspirational quotes ($10), water bottles ($5) and short- and long-sleeved T-shirts ($16.99 and $19.99)  will be offered exclusively through the University of Dayton Bookstore at the workshop.

Approximately 350 writers from around the nation are traveling to Dayton for the sold-out April 10-12 workshop. It’s held biennially in Erma Bombeck’s honor at the University of Dayton, her alma mater.

Reflections of Erma