What Happens in Dayton…

Posted: April 26th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Blogging, Firsts, Friends and Strangers, Learning, Travel, Writing | 12 Comments »

Someone slid me their resume under the door of a bathroom stall once. A stall that I was peeing in.

It was certainly a memorable way for that person to “get her name out there,” but I didn’t end up hiring her. In fact, I had no authority to hire anyone at the time. Too bad she didn’t know that.

This all happened years ago. It was my first-ever professional conference, held by some women in broadcasting group. And I was as nervous and green and wide-eyed as a gal could get. But I was also working for CNN at the time. You may have heard of it. And little did I know the reaction those three letters on my badge would elicit from that mob of viciously competitive, turbo-coiffed, wannabe anchorwomen.

From the moment I slipped that lanyard over my neck I was stalked like a Coach purse at a T.J. Maxx. People applied lip gloss before approaching me, thrust their reels into my bag, and crammed their complete career histories into introductions at the breakfast buffet.

If anything the experience left me doubting whether I wanted to stay in TV news. Those women were not my people.

But last weekend, in Dayton, Ohio of all unlikely places, I had the good fortune of attending a conference with 350 humor writers (mostly women, with a smattering of husband purse-carriers and a gay man or two). And it turns out that those folks are my people.

And true to how I operate—now a jaded veteran of the conference scene—I learned much more outside the sessions than I did from any of the PowerPoint slides.

I mean, I met a totally witty and glamorous woman from Boca who it turns out home schools. I was shocked. She didn’t have stringy brown hair, and wasn’t wearing a poncho she and her five children weaved. She didn’t have a collection of KILL YOUR TV and MY CAR RUNS ON FRENCH FRY GREASE pins on her hemp bag either.

So that’s one thing I learned. Those homeschoolers can be anywhere really. You can’t pick ‘em out of a crowd any more. Which is kinda refreshing, right?

Other things: Since I got back I started journaling for ten minutes every morning. It took two writing teachers and a speaker at this conference urging me to do this before I finally drank the Kool-Aid. (Apparently I’m highly suspicious of smart people trying to teach me something.)

But here’s the thing. It turns out that dumping your early morning thoughts onto paper (yes, NOT your laptop) is wonderfully cleansing. It’s like the feel-good hit you get from clearing out your closet, but with your brain. And instead of “wasting” my words, as I feared I might do, I’ve found it actually warms me up to do even more writing.

So I learned that too.

And the keynote speakers were all so dazzling I sprang from my seat for standing ovations—either dabbing my eyes with my napkin, or waving it in big churning circles over my head howling, “HOOOOO-eeee!!!”

But after each speech I still wanted more more more.

Like, I want to be Connie Schultz‘s best friend.

I want Ilene Beckerman to adopt me. (She wrote her first book at age 60. Sixty!!)

I want to go back to college to have Gina Barreca as a professor. Or hire her to do stand-up at my next book club/wedding/kid’s birthday party/bris.

I want to get to the bottom of Alan Zweibel‘s relationship with Gilda Radner. Did they do it or didn’t they? I’m just saying, it’s human nature to wonder. Like how you want to know whether or not figure skating couples are schtupping.

I want to swap Italian-girl stories and meatball recipes with Adriana Trigiani.

And I want to have even one-eighteenth of the success that any of these writers have had. And for a math-phobic like me, that’s saying a lot. Or at least, I think it is.

Finally, a word about the Bombeck family. They were all there, and at our meals each one read their favorite column of Erma’s. (Cue more tears into my napkin—many from laughing.)

I’m no event planner but if you ask me this conference has legs. In the alternating years when it’s not being held, I think Bill Bombeck (Erma’s widower) should lead a workshop on spousal adoration. All I can say is, my husband does a damn good job of this himself but he’s not carrying around my autograph book from elementary school and reading from it lovingly. There’s always room to up your game, and I think the husbands of America can learn as much from Bill as us wives have from Erma.

I humbly clutch my housecoat for a deep curtsy to the attendees, speakers, and organizers of the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Thanks for the laughs, the insights, and the three pounds I gained from all those Midwestern desserts.

And thanks too, ladies, for only passing me toilet paper under the door of my bathroom stall.


12 Comments on “What Happens in Dayton…”

  1. 1 By Word of Mouth Musings said at 7:14 am on April 27th, 2012:

    Ok, so I took a break from grinding my gluten free wheat wannabee and found my name up in lights with the funny and famous right here on your blog.
    Be still my beating heart.
    On another note, you and I could cruise home school conventions and offer to bling over the crunchy crowd – it would be a civic duty.

  2. 2 Sarah said at 7:27 am on April 27th, 2012:

    Love this very much, and miss the conference very much, and also – there were more homeschoolers there?? I’m a weirdo homeschooler, too. I did meet one woman but maybe I should have stood up and demanded the rest of them identify themselves. ;)

  3. 3 Nancy Davis Kho said at 7:52 am on April 27th, 2012:

    so glad we were there together and got to break it down on the flight home. A wonderful and inspirational weekend – and yes, Bill Bombeck sure set the bar high…

  4. 4 Stacey Hatton said at 11:47 am on April 27th, 2012:

    First of all, three pounds on your slight frame is just…probably from our late night fabulous talk and the shared pizza! Delish. Secondly, the only thing I passed you under the stall was laughter b/c you are a hoot and I hope we keep in touch! Great blog post. Felt like I was there…

  5. 5 kristen said at 12:26 pm on April 27th, 2012:


    You’re on. I like the way that business mind of yours works.

    Besides, I’m always looking for an excuse to “cruise the home school conventions” as you put it. I assume when some of those mamas get out of the house to attend such events they really let loose.

    I’ll pack my beer bong.

  6. 6 kristen said at 12:31 pm on April 27th, 2012:


    So happy to reconnect on the Information Superhighway. Let’s definitely stay in touch.

    It was an honor to shove pizza down my throat late-night with you. Felt like we should have been in a dorm room.

    Ah, you make me young again.


  7. 7 kristen said at 1:15 pm on April 27th, 2012:


    I can say this of our return voyage: My children will never be in marching band.

  8. 8 kristen said at 1:23 pm on April 27th, 2012:


    Don’t all you homeschoolers have some kinda whistle you do in public to identify yourselves? If you don’t, give the kids that assignment for Sociology class tomorrow.

    Also, do you get the kids to do crap around the house that you don’t want to, and make it into a lesson?

    Like, “Clean the refrigerator, and estimate the cost of all the organic produce that’s gone bad.” Or, “Vacuum the house. How many cubic feet carpet did you clean? And how many of hard wood?”

    I might have to run an after-school homeschool program over at my house.

    Look out for my next blog: After School Homeschool. It’ll be brilliant.

  9. 9 Tracy Beckerman said at 1:30 pm on April 27th, 2012:

    Love this post and love the way you write. I’m a new fan and am now subscribing to your blog. You go girl. Bet we’ll see you giving a keynote at ebww 2014!

  10. 10 Alexandra said at 1:52 pm on April 27th, 2012:

    Stalking you till the end of days for that necklace.

    Keep your eyes and ears open, you never know from where the quiet and the meek shall pounce.

    Loved meeting you, genuinely did.

    Shhh…I met two new fave people there, and you were one of them.

    You know, because of the necklace.


  11. 11 kristen said at 1:56 pm on April 27th, 2012:

    Oh Tracy, I’m all flattered and shit! Thank you for the kind words.

    As for you, Empress, will I have the pleasure of your company at Mom 2.0 next week? If you liked my Dayton-grade wardrobe, wait for what I’ve got in store for Miami, honey.

  12. 12 Mama Needs a New Pair of Boobs | motherload said at 4:18 am on May 4th, 2012:

    [...] met a dazzlingly funny and friendly woman named Leslie at that Erma Bombeck workshop I went to and keep yacking about. She writes the fabulous, hilarious blog The Bearded Iris: A Recalcitrant Wife and Mother Tells [...]

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