the spirit of erma
As I type this, I'm again 30,000 feet in the air (partaking!), headed back home after the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop. This very charming little conference at the University of Dayton (Erma's alma mater) is held every other year for authors, journalists, bloggers and other writers who specialize in humour and human interest writing. And this is the second year of the conference in which I was invited to speak.
It was, as always, so lovely (and a quick look at the tweets about the conference confirms this). It is very different from most of the ultra-techno-savy, major-brand-filled blogging conferences that I tend to go to; instead, while many of the attendees are certainly interested in earning a good living from their craft, I get the feeling that this isn't the primary reason most of them are there: they would much rather be inspired by talks given by award-winning writers, connect with other funny people, and generally revel in the joy of creating their work, even more than selling it. The result is, as you might expect, an atmosphere of true creativity, encouragement and collaboration, which is, to be frank, incredibly refreshing. It is for this reason that I consider it such an amazing honour to be asked to participate in this undeniably prestigious conference.
As before, the conference afforded me the opportunity to learn so much from these amazing people. Here are some of the moments that particularly resonated:
In the presence of awesome. On Friday, I was honoured to sit at the Bombeck table (where Erma Bombeck's husband and children were seated ... I know), next to a really charming woman named Connie Schultz. I liked her immediately, and we talked and laughed and I carried on like she was my homegirl. So imagine my mortification when I came to discover that the woman I'd been yucking it up with, the one about to take the stage to do the keynote, was Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, author and nationally-syndicated columnist Connie Schultz.
My anxiety eased somewhat when I reminded myself that I hadn't scratched myself with a fork, or anything.
That I can remember.
Anyway, she was wonderful, and had the entire room in uproarious laughter. Because she is a political writer, she talked a lot about how she has also managed to connect with readers who don't share her political views, and there was one bit of advice she gave to all the writers in the room that remained with me:
The angrier you are, the funnier you should be.
I love this thought, and I suspect I'll be pondering it for a long time.
A new type of woman. A happy coincidence: my sweet friend Kyran Pittman, blogger and author of the lovely book Planting Dandelions, was also one of the speakers at the conference, and I was lucky to spend a considerable amount of time just hanging out with her. Kyran is one of those people who you find yourself having really lofty conversations about deep subjects like sexism, racism and the meaning of life interspersed with topics like which website is the best for buying fabulous shoes. This time, Kyran and I played hooky during one of the sessions to sit outside in the beautiful Dayton weather, and our conversation turned to the need for young girls to have role models of older women who are smart, accomplished, strong, all of which adds to their sensuality. Kyran called these women lionesses -- isn't that great? Women like Susan Sarandon. And Helen Mirren. And Toni Morisson.
Man, I totally want to grow up to be one of those.
On meditation. I met Suzette Martinez Standring two years ago at the last Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop that I attended, and I can unequivocally state that she is one of the most generous people I have ever met: a spirituality columnist, she has sent me emails of encouragement and support unfailingly for the past two years, to my deep gratitude. In her session, she spoke of meditation and guided visualization as a way of cultivating creativity. And I knew we were soul sisters when she said:
I was the last person I thought could meditate. My mind is like a gerbil set afire in a bathtub.
(Told you these people were funny.)
Her session was incredible, and has renewed a desire in me to begin meditating again. Between Suzette's session, and finishing Marianne's astonishing book on the flight over, it just might happen, too.
Random acts of very sweet kindness. Friday night at dinner, I sat near the lovely Alexandra Rosas, who was kind enough to buy my book at the book signing that followed the meal. She was charming and funny, and I loved meeting her.
The next morning, I was preparing for my second presentation of the conference, and I was a bit flustered. I hadn't had a decent cup of tea yet, and nothing calms my nerves like a cup of tea. (I drink a lot of tea.) But there was only about 15 minutes before I was supposed to speak, so there was no time.
Suddenly, there was a tap on my shoulder. It was Alexandra. She handed me a steaming cup of chamomile.
"I just wanted to tell you I stayed up until 3 reading your book last night. I loved it."
Now, I know this is a small thing, but seriously, I got teary. The tea was exactly what I needed (how did she know?), and Alexandra's unerring generosity really got to me. I was so moved and grateful.
Did I love the workshop?
Yes. As always. And if you're a writer of any kind -- traditional or new media -- I strongly recommend you put it on your radar. The next one will be in 2014. Keep watching their site to find out more.
And thanks to everyone -- the staff at the University of Dayton, the amazing writers who came to my sessions, and the really lovely people I got to meet. You made the experience one of the highlights of my year.