Monday, April 14, 2014

Leaving the Toilet Seat Up at Erma Bombeck Writers Conference

If you're a humor writer, what better fun than going to a conference of humor writers, for humor writers, about humor writing? The Erma Bombeck Writers conference only happens every other year, and if you want to get in, you have to strike fast. It sold out in twelve hours.

Fortunately, I made the cut, though I got into a secondary hotel, playfully nicknamed Redemption Island by its outcasts. That meant a shuttle, and missing a shuttle meant forking over thirty five bucks for a taxi, and worse, risk running into a certain cab driver who told anyone who boarded that he hated Americans. Kind of a weird way to ask for tip.

Still, it was a four day conference, and that meant my house would be empty of me, so I created a dummy in my clothes and left it in my favorite chair, with slim hopes my wife would be able to tell the difference. If you know history, you know the word 'guy' comes from Guy Faulkes who was executed in 1606 after trying to blow up the British Parliament. Afterward, kids would drag dummies through the streets and to this day in England they hang Guy in effigy every November. We guys were named after this dummy, so nobody should be surprised if one has trouble telling one from the other.

The weather was perfect, the polar vortex shoved back into Canada where it belonged, and the daffodils were blooming, as were we very-weary-of-winter Ermites (as we started to call ourselves). When I got to the hotel, I learned I forgot just one thing, a brush. That meant I would have to arrange all four heads on my hair manually every morning.They didn't object, though a couple of them decided to celebrate their new freedom by standing up to look around, so I looked a bit like a unicorn. I also left the toilet seat up, because, well, you simply don't do that at my house with two daughters and a wife. Still, it felt liberating in a Gloria Steinem sort of  way. And when I saw the pool was about the size of the enlarged liver of a drunk,  I took this as a sign I should skip swimming and any other form of exercise and get to know fellow writers in the bar.

At the conference itself, I quickly ascertained we guys were considerably outnumbered (using mad math skills my daughters claim are genetically bequeathed to all guys).  I suspect if we had been at a Dave Barry conference, the odds might even or go the other way.  A couple of us guys got together and counted up the male attendees listed in the program. Even allowing for Ronnie being a woman, and Val being a guy, we guestimated eighteen guys ... out of more than three hundred attendees,bringing to mind Custer on a certain wind swept prairie.

These woman touches manifested in the made- for-rabbit lunches featuring salads, fruits and veggies ... and chocolate cake smothered in sugary frosting. Most writers conferences don't feature the variety of cakes, cookies and brownies that adorned our plates.

Still, we guys weren't dismayed, despite some tense moments in a a few very pro-women sessions, particularly the panel, "Women Writing Their Lives - Truth Telling, Wisdom and Laughter" with Suzanne Braun Levine, Gina Barreca and Ilene Beckerman.  While my sympathies were with the women, I admit there were a few moments where I thought I might have to defend myself by tossing a piece of cake as a diversion while I made my escape.

I went to this conference with some very defined goals, the first to hang with and connect other people of humor, who would rather laugh than cry when reading, or at least laugh while crying. I also wanted to introduce everyone to the Humor Writers of America, because we need to band together more than just once every other year. And I wanted to kick myself in the butticus about blogging, because, frankly, I suck at it. As George Dubya Bush would say, Mission Accomplished on all fronts, and you are reading the results of one of these goals.

As often happens, I got way more out of the conference than I expected. I got to appreciate the raw comedic talents of humorists who bravely tackled Stand Up Night. The pitch sessions also brought out writers who were tentative about their abilities, but still had the courage to stand up and tell everyone who and what they were. The resulting enthusiastic applause was not fake or sympathetic, but was well earned and authentic.

We were all reluctant to leave, and I'm sure a few people shed tears. I shed tears, too, but it was because when I got back to my car, I discovered my car door dented and scraped from some inconsiderate lout (who obviously wasn't an Erma attendee).


author of seven books and founder of The Humor Writers of America

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