The Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop took place at Erma’s alma mater, University of Dayton in Ohio, last weekend.
The conference, held every two years, sold out in just 12 hours when registration opened last December.
My friend and fellow writer, Shelly, and I hovered over our laptops filling out the online registration, hoping to clinch one of the 350 golden tickets, quickly snatched up by writers, bloggers, and Erma Bombeck fans nationwide.
Having attended the workshop two years ago, we knew what was in store for us. Being there is nothing short of magical. Imagine being transported to a planet where the inhabitants understand you in a way that people who’ve known you for years never have.
Imagine an entire weekend of laughing real belly-busting tears and crying unabashedly.
Imagine luxuriating in your dreams and having your courage and resolve fostered to achieve them.
One of the breakout sessions we attended was called, “Women Writing Their Lives.” The panel consisted of Ilene Beckerman, who wrote her first book at 60, “Love, Loss and What I Wore,” which later was produced as an off- Broadway play by the Ephron sisters; Gina Barreca, a humorist, professor at University of Connecticut and author of many books including, “It’s Not That I’m Bitter: How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Visible Panty Lines and Conquered the World;” and Suzanne Braun Levine, the first editor of Ms. Magazine and the author of six books, including her first e-book, “You Gotta Have Girlfriends: A Post-Fifty Posse Is Good for Your Health.”
The panel of women had the room vacillating between uproarious laughter and quiet, thought provoking silences as we scribbled quotes, not wanting to forget their quips of sharp wit and wisdom.
Towards the end of the session, a forty-something brunette stood up and walked to the microphone to ask her question. But what she said was totally unexpected and silenced the room with a pause and a collective beating of our hearts.
She introduced herself as Kate Mayer, from Newton, Connecticut. She explained that she was funny before what happened in her town. She was there at the conference to find her funny again. She expressed gratitude towards the women on the panel, and the conference for helping her do that.
Kate, a witness, a neighbor, and a friend to many who lost their children in the unthinkable tragedy at Sandy Hook School, stood before us, wanting to learn to laugh again.
In her blog, “Today in Newton,” Kate went from being a mom sharing her humorous musings, to a grief-stricken human, grappling to make sense of the inconceivable. While it has been difficult to begin laughing again, Kate has continued to write.
As Mary Lou Quinlan, author and keynote speaker Saturday night said, “You can write! Write to live. Write to laugh. Write to let go. Write to remember.”
Quinlan echo’s Erma’s English Professor at the University of Dayton, who told her something that changed her life. He said, “Erma, “You can write.”
At the conference in Erma’s memory, not only Kate, but all of us, were reminded not only can we write, but we can – and should – find small reasons to laugh.
Beautiful. Touching. Inspiring.