April 24, 2012

College boys aren't cute anymore

College Boys aren't cute anymore
(and other irreverent, semi-relevant things I learned from Erma Bombeck.)

This past weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop held at Erma's Alma mater, the University of Dayton. It was a whirlwind weekend filled with a lot of funny people and informative writing workshops all celebrating the groundbreaking writing of Erma Bombeck (one of my heroes.)

To honor Erma, I thought it appropriate to pass on a bit of what I learned at this fantastic workshop that bears her name, style and humor.

1. College boys aren't cute anymore.

The workshop ran Thursday through Saturday on an active college campus. It was here I realized I'm old and probably sporting mom jeans without realizing it. I vaguely remember college, thinking I was fat then and wishing I could get into a pair of my college "fat" jeans now. In my twenties I could  drive by a college campus, or even attend a college bar, and get a few glances from the undergrads. It was still within the appropriate boundaries to ogle anyone over 18.

Not anymore. The moment hit me in between sessions while I was scarfing down my third free cookie and searching in vain for a diet coke. There were children here. Wait- what? Don't you have to be a certain age to attend this workshop? Then I realized it was Friday and this was college. These children didn't tag along with their working moms to the workshop. They lived here. Screw the cookies, can someone get me a drink?

2. The older I get, the longer I'm willing to stand in line to pee.

What genius decided that men and women can complete their bathroom business in the same amount of time and therefore built bathrooms with a ratio of 1:1? Let's be honest, it was probably a man. Maybe he did it on purpose. Maybe he was sadistic about it, deciding that the longer the women had to wait in line, the shorter the line for beer, food, or anything else might be.

At Erma's workshop, the women outnumbered the men by at least 25 to 1. And because none of us wanted to miss anything, we all waited to pee until the same time, in between sessions, of course. Before having my son, this would not have mattered much. I'd either hold my water or kick the men out of their bathroom for a minute and do what I needed to do. But as we've established, college campuses are now filled with children so walking in on young boys in the bathroom isn't the kind of networking I was hoping to do at the Erma Bombeck workshop.

And as we've also established I'm old and postpartum so holding my water isn't an option either. Hence, long lines I had no other choice but to endure. Solution? Miss a few minutes of workshop time and drink less water. Apparently with age comes wisdom, maturity and for me, lower standards.

3. Life is too short not to talk to people on the bus.

A woman sat down next to me on the bus that was shuttling us between our hotel and the conference. I put her between 60 and 70 years old, a bit of  a gypsy, her white hair covered in a shimmering head scarf, her nose twinkling with a flowered blue nose ring. We started talking- she asked me what I wrote, she told me she was a grandmother and how she had five living children and one she'd lost when the baby was just two. We discovered our politics were similar which is when she told me how glad she was she sat next to me.

"What do you write?" I asked half way through the drive to campus.

"Oh, memoir," she said before casually adding, "I'm speaking today at lunch."

"You're Ilene Beckerman?" She nodded. "I didn't know I was sitting next to a celebrity!" We laughed and finished our morning chat over breakfast.

She was concerned she wouldn't be funny during her speech. Boy, was she ever wrong.

What I took away from my encounter with Ilene, aside from the wit she dispersed during her official talk, was that behind the veil of publishing we're all just writers. Some of us are successfully published, some of us are just starting out.

It applies to everything in life, doesn't it? Parenting, too- we're all just riders on the bus hoping for someone to chat with to make the time more enjoyable. If you don't put yourself out there you never know who you might miss.

4. I'm not scarring my son by writing about him.

In the age of social media, we all worry about how our constant updating and photo sharing could potentially affect our kids. Us bloggers take it a step further by documenting every embarrassing or humiliating thing our children do. Do we use their names, post their pictures? We're constantly navigating the web, trying to get our voices heard while protecting them at the same time.

My mother read Erma Bombeck while I was growing up and in many ways I feel she passed her down to me. I'm hoping this blog is my way of passing it down to Tank- the belief that you shouldn't take yourself so seriously and that laughing at yourself is the best medicine and a great ice breaker.

The Bombeck family, Erma's husband and children, were at the conference and infused the whole event with Erma's presence. We saw Erma as more than just as a writer, but as a wife, friend and mother. They took turns reading their favorite pieces written by this phenomenon, who was cherished by the world- their Erma.

Not once did any of them talk about their need for therapy at the hands of Erma's typewriter. Instead they showed us a beautiful legacy her family is proud to honor publicly every two years. My new motto when deciding what to post about Tank is "what would Erma do?"

I can only hope my son will read my pieces one day with fond memories. I hope he reads how adored he was and that his mother was never laughing at him, but at herself as she strove to be good enough to be his mother.

At the very least I hope he decides not to change his name.

5. Short and sweet is good enough.

For years I've been struggling to write a fiction novel because I thought it would give me legitimacy as a writer. Well, guess what? I don't want to write a fiction novel. Not right now, anyway. Right now life is moving fast and after meeting successful humor writers I've decided I like the success of a completed article. It fits my life. It fits my schedule. I like feeling finished. I like making people laugh and writing material people can relate to. And let's face it, parenting is good inspiration for laughter. The world needs more of that these days. If short, sweet and wildly funny was good enough for Erma, it's good enough for me.

Erma put it best herself when she said, "when humor goes, there goes civilization." So with my style of writing, I'm doing the best I can to keep civilization from going under. Thanks for that, Erma. Laugh on.


Fran said...

Always loved reading anything Erma wrote. How wonderful you were able to attend the workshop. You are witty and always write from your heart, keep it up.

Missy said...

Great wrap up. I, too, felt suddenly old when I looked at all the college kids lounging on their lawns, drinking beer!

Rita said...

That conference spoke to you deep down...I thought it might as I've always thought of you as funny and honest just as I remember Erma being as we watched her on Good Morning America. Keep making us laugh and we'll never quit reading.

Jeanne said...

All great takeaways!

Kelsey said...

I really appreciate your thought about our children not being scarred by our writing about them. My children are young enough that they don't mind yet, but I do sometimes wonder what they'll think of this whole blogging thing when they're older.