My Weekend with Erma

A few weeks ago, I went to my first Bruce Springsteen concert.  For almost four hours, the Boss delivered his hits plus some and never slowed down once. Impressive for anyone, let alone a 65 year old, right? There’s a reason he’s nicknamed The Boss. As a matter of fact, some would call him the biggest rock star in the world.

I jumped right in to “the pit”, dragging my daughter with me as we shoved our way to the front of the stage. My word for the year is “adventure”, and I wasn’t about to waste a minute.

Erma Bombeck

Cut to a couple of days after the Springsteen concert, when I left for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, held every two years in Dayton Ohio.  Put on in honor of Erma, my writing idol since childhood, attendees and faculty are humor and human interest writers from around the country; these are the people who
leave me tongue tied and intimidated by their sheer level of talent. People that have spent their lives dedicated to stringing together words to make you nod in recognition, to make you chuckle, to make you full-on belly laugh.

In other words? These people are my rock stars.

Yes, I fangirl over humor writers.  Get positively stupid around them. If there was a Tiger Beat for humor writers, I’d totally be the first subscriber.

Because I’m in such awe of them, before I arrived at the hotel I worried about what I would do if I ran into someone I admired in the elevator or the lobby.  An awkward encounter with a well-known humorist years ago taught me that I cannot be trusted to open my mouth in front of anyone of that caliber; I can’t remember what I said to Dave Barry that made him look at me funny; probably something along the lines of, “Gwaaahhfuuusneeblesnrrrkrk! Muhhh!”

Yep, as soon as I opened my mouth I apparently suffered some sort of mini-stroke. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

And the trauma has stayed with me for life, my friends.

Yet when I got there, the atmosphere at this workshop put me immediately at ease.  The famous humor writers in attendance didn’t set themselves apart like cossetted celebrities. As a matter of fact, they weren’t even the least bit intimidating. Hanging out, talking, and drinking wine with us mere mortals, without fail each and every person I encountered was warm and down to earth. I was comfortable, able to be myself. No weird looks.

I was home.

So when, after waiting a lifetime, or at least the long two years after you discovered the conference’s existence, you finally get there, what do you do?  You jump right in, and you don’t waste a minute.

Case in point: When you are at the coffee bar in the morning, and standing next to you is a mega famous author who just happens to have written the book currently on your nightstand, you strike up a conversation.  And then you walk with her because she happens to be running your first session. And she doesn’t even call for security.

Lisa Packer and Gina Barreca EBWW2014

Me and Gina Barreca. At EBWW, stalking is totally acceptable.

And when the winner of the Thurber Prize gives you an opportunity to read some of your work out loud, with a pounding heart you do it.  Then you float for the rest of the day on his positive feedback.

And when a well-known comedian and writer asks if she can sit with you at breakfast, you say yes. You try to play it cool but in your head you’re like a twelve year old girl who just got invited backstage to meet One Direction and all you can think is, “Holy crap I can’t believe this is really happening and please God don’t let there be anything in my teeth!”

And when a famous columnist calls you over, introduces herself, and wants to know what’s in the bag of stuff you just bought at CVS, you introduce yourself right back and let her paw through your bag. And are grateful you didn’t just buy hemorrhoid cream or anything that involves the words “Summer Breeze”.

So I spent three days in the company of the most fabulous, talented, and supportive group of people I have ever met. People who get it. People who get me. We laughed until our sides hurt, we teared up, we learned from the best.  Not once did I have to tell someone I write humor and get that awkward silence in return. (Why is it that no one ever knows what to say? It’s humor, people. Not competitive macramé or the Occult.)   I want to thank each and every one of the organizers, faculty, and attendees, including the Bombeck family, for the got-your back, supportive, inspiring atmosphere.

And by the time I left?  I had 350 new rock stars.

‘Cause Springsteen’s got nothing on the Bombeckians.