what Erma Bombeck taught me (just this past weekend)

This past weekend I joined 350 other (mostly) female writers from around the country at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton. I started reading Erma’s columns in first grade and I never really stopped, since my mother, besides staking every one of Erma’s columns to our refrigerator with a giant fruit magnet, also had every one of her books around our house. Even fifteen years after her passing, to anyone who tries to combine parenting with a sense of humor, Erma is the North Star. (Funny how all weekend each speaker, and every attendee, called her by her first name, as if she were our dear friend. To anyone who loves her writing, that’s how it feels.)

Need I say I loved every moment of this conference? Here are just a few things I learned from Erma and her tribe this weekend:

-I learned that we can put it to bed forever: women are funny. Yeah, you heard me, Christopher Hitchens, wherever you may be.  You heard me, Jerry Lewis (cause I sure heard you; I was in the room when you told the Aspen Comedy Festival that we weren’t). I mean, I already knew it. But now? I think we might actually be funnier than men.

-I learned women “of a certain age” are funny. Scratch that: especially women of a certain age are funny. The comedy world may have a different point of view. As Tina Fey rocking-ly put it in Bossypants,

“I know older men in comedy who can barely feed and clean themselves, and they still work. The women, though, they’re all ‘crazy.’ I have a suspicion — and hear me out, because this is a rough one — that the definition of ‘crazy’ in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to f*ck her anymore.”

But they’re wrong. So never mind the tweet from one man at the Erma conference claiming it was a sea middle-aged women tittering about “menopause and mah-jongg.” Never mind showrunner Lee Arohnson saying “Enough, ladies. I get it. You have periods.” They’re saying that because when they see women making other women laugh, they’re not sure just what we’re laughing about. And that makes them a teeny bit afraid.

-I learned that when a retired public schoolteacher tries stand-up for the first time, and I make assumptions (based mostly on her conservative hairstyle) about how funny she will be, and then she makes me laugh until I hurt myself, that I have just been schooled.

– I learned, thanks to the hilarious and feminist Gina Barreca, that “humor is a way to make trouble, a way to get at issues.”

– I learned, thanks to the hilarious and prolific Adriana Trigiani, that writing comedy can be a spiritual gift to those who read it.

– I learned from the wise Katrina Kittle that the character I thought was there merely to spice up the background of the novel I’m starting to (think about starting to) write is actually the heroine.

– I learned, from Erma’s adult children reading her essays to us (and making us bawl), that you can laugh with your kids, and maybe even at them, and they’ll grow up to love you all the more for it.

When I read Erma- even now- I laugh, and I feel less alone, and I marvel at how she always managed to make herself the subject of the joke. No snark. Lots of love. I wonder what she’d be writing about now, what she’d think of this damned mob of scribbling women taking up where she left off, telling the truth and making women laugh, on thousands of websites and blogs and stages everywhere.

I like to think she’d be pretty proud of what she’s started.

me with Bill Bombeck, April 21, 2012

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Nancy Davis Kho April 23, 2012 at 11:47 pm

hear hear, well said! Love the picture of you and Bill.
Nothing at all to add, except to say that the retired school teacher would have put Jerry and Christopher in detention with Dakota, Cherokee, and Wyatt.


Gooddayregularpeople April 23, 2012 at 11:48 pm

Oh, that picture is fantastic. What a treat for us. Readings of the Bombeck’s favorite pieces, chosen and read by them.

Fabulous. And the speakers? Worth all the planning and adrenaline to get there.

So loved this conference, and being able to meet so many new people that speak my language.


You are a beautiful person: inside and out.


kristen from motherload April 23, 2012 at 11:58 pm

Also loved it when Connie Schultz said, “The angrier you are, the funnier you need to be.”

Dedicating my beer with the neighborhood moms to Erma this evening!


Lisa Rae @ smacksy April 23, 2012 at 11:59 pm

High five.
xo L


Kpiccini April 24, 2012 at 9:12 am

So glad you got to go to that conference, it’s a perfect space for your talents and I know it had to be life changing and obviously motivating.

I have so much respect for you and Erma Bombeck , sounds like a perfect fit to me. Good luck with the new STORY!!!! 🙂


Barb Best April 24, 2012 at 12:52 pm

Insightful quote from Tina Fey. Beautiful pic. You captured the soul and spirit of the workshop.


Karen @mom-mom-mom April 24, 2012 at 1:28 pm

Wouldn’t the world be a better place if we could all just laugh at ourselves? EBWW was like Disneyland for me. Thanks for putting it into words~


Tracy Morrison April 24, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Oh this is so beautiful. When people ask me what is the most important thing that I want my kids to know/to have – I tell them that I just want me kids to have a really, really good sense of humor. xo


sharisim April 24, 2012 at 2:29 pm

Just wonderful, Amy. 


Campbelldayton April 24, 2012 at 2:53 pm

So glad to meet you there! It was fantastic!


Courtney April 24, 2012 at 3:52 pm

That sounds fabulous! My 8-4 job and having two little ones at home right now don’t afford me the chance to go to something like that rightnow, but I would LOVE it!


The Mommy Psychologist April 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm

Absolutely- women are hilarious! If I couldn’t make fun of myself, I’m not sure how I’d get through the day.


Kristin Alexander April 24, 2012 at 7:39 pm

The last “lesson” you mentioned – the one about how laughing with and even AT your kids through writing can be a bonding experience – THAT is at the crux of why I write my blog. And why I have always loved Erma. Hope to make the conference in 2014. It sounds AH-mazing. 


Sarah April 24, 2012 at 7:50 pm

So cool, Amy. Your Instagram photo was the first mention of this conference I saw online (this year or ever before) and I’m so intrigued. Thanks for the great wrap-up post. I want to be there someday! 🙂


MarinkaNYC April 25, 2012 at 1:32 am

I love this post, Amy.  So glad we were all there together.


Jen Mitchell April 25, 2012 at 1:51 am

I read the tweets from this workshop all weekend. It sounded amazing and now your post… wow! I would love to attend this next year. 


Kyran April 25, 2012 at 2:50 am

love the picture (and kicking myself for being too shy to ask for one). Thanks for capturing the spirit of the weekend so well. And for being part of it. xo


Erin April 26, 2012 at 1:59 am

YES!  (And who took that picture – she has an artist’s touch!)


Yuliya April 26, 2012 at 4:26 am

I don’t even have a comment worthy of this post, but needed to say that you summed it all up so nicely. 
Erma’s kids reassured me and the rest of the women who dare write about their children that it’s all going to be OK, no one will be scarred for life.


Anna Lefler April 30, 2012 at 2:03 am

What a fantastic post!  You really captured the emotional underpinning of the weekend – and the stakes for everyone there.  Lovely.

(I wish we’d had more time to chat, dangit – but it was so great to see you!)




Janet aka Muffintopmommy May 3, 2012 at 7:30 pm

What a beautiful recap of EBWW. I loved so much of what came out of EBWW, but Gina Barrecca saying humor is a way to make trouble might be my fave–thanks for reminding me she said that! (I blame the wine.)

Pleasure to meet you!


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