How grounding the helicopter let this writer set sail

Registering on a whim years ago, I slipped away from family obligations to enjoy my first Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop. It is no exaggeration to say I laughed ‘til I cried.  But what I remember most is wondering if … IF I could be the kind of writer people would actually want to read.

My first piece of Erma swag, a deeply yellowed and slightly crunchy mousepad, now hangs on my office wall as a reminder of when the writing seed planted. Over the years, Mary Oliver’s “The Journey” nestled next to Erma’s mousepad. A plaque “Well behaved women rarely make history” joined the wall party. A flying pig landed nearby proclaiming anything is possible. And, a knight in shining armor, sword in motion, stands tall to slay my inner critic. But, while my walls sag with the paraphernalia of encouragement, my writing never works itself loose from the hard drive.

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EBWW mousepad, my first Erma swag.

Last fall, while cleaning the tumbling debris of a decade old clutter pile, I uncover a tiny watercolor quote long forgotten. “Don’t wait for your ship to come in if you haven’t sent one out.”  Karma speaks – it’s time to sail.

A self-diagnosed introvert, I can competently address a room of 500 people, but in a social gathering, walls are my friends, observation my forte. Sometimes in uncomfortable situations, I experience a quirky mix of verbal diarrhea and tongue tie. After a cocktail party-ish gathering, my thoughts swim furiously, rerunning dialogue over and over, revising spent script, longing for another chance meeting to perfect tone and vocabulary.

In my world, EBWW is a 56-hour cocktail party. For 2016, I make a commitment to myself. Instead of rerunning the cocktail chitchat through my mind, I decide to set sail, focus on the presentations, and share my ideas without apology. I leave EBWW the first two nights overwhelmed by encouraging feedback from attendees who listen without judgment, and faculty who embolden with abandon.

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Then, in the waning hours of the conference I share my projects with a few newly met attendees whose judgmental criticism slaps me breathless. “Oh, that’s wrong, that’s not a good idea.” “That’s not what people need. Don’t do that.” “You’re way off… that’s not right … you don’t really know-”

And that’s the precise moment the workshops coalesce into my own writing revelation.

A month ago, I would have sponged up those judgments and let them swim like sharks in my head until they devoured all the positive feedback I’d collected.

But not this time. I listened politely. Then with Cindy Ratzlaff‘s voice still flowing through my thoughts said, “You’re not my audience. I’m a photo taking, travel loving, almost grandma, recovering helicopter mom, who works every day to silence the call of judgment. I experienced an epiphany moment (thanks Adair Lara), when creating such a vivid scene for discovery (thanks Susan Pohlman), that I live a message rooted in my childhood backstory (thanks Judy Carter). I’m determined to spread my message. Don’t tell me that I’m wrong. I merely see the world through a different lens. It’s taken me 55 years to understand that I am Queen of my own life, and the rest of my life starts today (thanks Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff).  I’m going to use every single bit of talent God gave me in this life (thanks Erma). And, frankly, if you don’t back away now, I’m enlisting the help of my new Italian cousin, Gina Barreca, to help me show you what kind of impact a loud, smart woman can make.”

Of course, I’m still working on the introvert stuff, so I didn’t actually say anything aloud, but as soon as my naysayers paused, I excused myself and slipped away. The next time I see them, I’m going to tell them that I hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate, hate the shirts  they’re wearing (thanks Alan Zweibel).

Drifting off to sleep Saturday night, the only rerun in my mind is the lullaby Leigh Ann Lord so humorously crafted.

It is my distinct pleasure to be named the Local Human Interest winner in the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, for my essay Revealing Ink. I’m finding my voice (thanks Sharon Short) and polishing my craft (thanks Katrina Kittle).  And, thanks Teri Rizvi and my alma mater University of Dayton, Debe Dockins and the Washington-Centerville Libraries, and all the staff, volunteers, faculty and attendees who provided the workshop “intervention” that birthed  my detox.

A version of this essay is also published on the Blog Roll of HumorWriters.Org.