A hermit at the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop

Hermit at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

As I clutched the steering wheel with sweaty palms, I glanced over at the speed limit sign on the side of the highway and wondered two things.  Why don’t they have a separate highway for huge trucks? And why had I agreed to leave my nice, safe house and travel to the Erma Bombeck conference?

I had been excited to attend the Erma conference for the entire four months between the time I bought the ticket and the day it was time to make the big drive to the University of Dayton, Erma’s alma mater. On the actual day I had to leave my cozy warm home, family, dogs and cats, I got a little anxious.  Sure, I would get to spend time with writers that I know and love while learning new and fascinating things, but I was also going to HAVE to spend time with people for four days straight.  As an introvert, I lose energy from peopling.  So, I eased myself into socializing.

My shoulders were knotted throughout my entire NINETY-minute drive along side huge trucks.  Yes, people who flew or drove for days, I drove a whole hour and a half to be there.  Don’t hate me because I live in the middle of corn fields.   As soon as I got to my room at the illustrious Dayton Marriott, I decided there was no way I was going to the awards event at the library that night. I imagined a crowded library full of people I did not know, a standing room only event.  Nope. So, instead, I unpacked and hung up my clothes.  Then, I ordered room service and ate in silence as nature intended.  I was slightly disappointed by the WAY TOO MUCH guac on my turkey burger and the fact that this was a Pepsi establishment (I’m a Diet Coke purist), but overall I enjoyed eating without having to feed animals first or do dishes after.  I’m lying. My husband usually does the dishes.

 A hermit at the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop
 My light switch is off. 

At around 8, I received a Facebook message from one of my favorite writers, Her Royal Thighness.  She summoned to the bar as only someone royal can. I had a good couple of hours hanging out with the crew.  Then, the little light in my head turned off and I knew I was done with people for the night.  I got up and told everyone that I had to go read.  Some of them understood what I meant.

I tried my best to appear extroverted throughout the conference. I was super social for me but probably not really social compared to others. I did things to help myself survive the conference and get the most out of it. I had room service four times during the five days I was there, once was during dinner the last night because I wanted to go to the stand-up comedy show later.  I knew that I would not be able to do both. I cancelled housekeeping so I could go back to my room as needed and not have people in there cleaning.  I sat on aisles during presentations because I hate being smooshed between people.  I feel claustrophobic really easily.

I’m glad I was a little on the anti-social side.  I avoided the Erma flu.  Well, some people caught the flu. Others caught a stomach virus, which is NOT the flu.  I don’t know why, but people saying “stomach flu” irritates the piss out of me. At any rate, I’m glad I avoided both of the viruses that were going around. I did so with a combination of not shaking a lot of hands and using hand sanitizer like I was being paid to do so.

I really enjoyed most of the workshops I attended.  My favorite by far was “How to Uncover Your Voice and Get It Down on Paper.”  The speakers, Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, taught us how to set a kitchen timer and just write without editing or judging ourselves.  As a writing professor, I have known about free writing for years, but I had never really allowed myself the pleasure. During the last five minutes of the workshop, someone told me that Kathy Kinney was Mimi on the Drew Carey Show.  I had not realized that.  I just thought that she and Cindy were awesome workshop leaders.  I immediately followed them on Facebook and liked their page Queen of Your Own Life.

Kathy wasn’t the only famous person at the conference.  A lot of people were taking pictures with Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess, Alan Zweibel (one of the original SNL writers), author Amy Ephron, and writer, actor, and producer Cathryn Michon.  Honestly, I’m just not a fan girl.  I didn’t get pictures or autographs. I haven’t been star struck since I met Michael J. Fox when I was 19.  They are just people with cool jobs. They eat, sleep, and crap like the rest of us. I was impressed with knowledge they were willing to share with us, not the fact that they had been on TV.

The Erma conference is the best writer’s conference I have been to.  I am looking forward to the next one in 2018.  I know that I will probably have a mini panic attack while I am driving there along side semis, just like I did this year. I know I will bathe in hand sanitizer and fight the urge to wear a surgical mask.  My husband suggested that I should buy a bunch of hand sanitizer, don fairy wings and a tiara, and just go as the hand sanitizer fairy.  I think I might do it.  So, if you are at Erma in 2018, look for the short, chubby, awkward girl with fairy wings and claim your free bottle of hand sanitizer.  It could keep you from catching the plague.

16 thoughts on “Hermit at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

    1. Imagine if we ALL wore them. If we flapped them at the same time a hurricane would form in Africa, or something. 🙂

  1. You make me wish I had been there and really glad I wasn’t. It sounds wonderful and awful. I am much more introverted than you are. I could NEVER go to such an event/ordeal all my myself. I entered the contest this year for the first time, but I’ve been a fan of Erma’s since I was about 11 or 12. During the summer months when my parents were both working, it was just me and Erma all day long. I was sent a letter stating that my essay made it all the way to the finals and encouraging me to enter again in 2018. I definitely will, but I just can’t picture myself ever attending the conference. It’s just not logistically/emotionally possible. Being there vicariously through you is better anyway.

    1. Linda, I know what you mean. The Monday before the conference, I kept telling myself that “this time next week I will be home again and it will all be over.” I hate traveling, especially without my husband. Overall, it was worth it, though. Maybe we can Facetime in 2018 and I can introduce you to people. 🙂 Hugs!

  2. You make me smile, Lisa — you may think you were hiding out — but you made an impression (good) on those you met at Erma — glad we got to connect — And I hate those trucks too!

    1. Thank you, Mary. That is nice of you to say. I came home and told my husband and son all about you and the furnace cat situation. I hope that worked out OK. Hugs, Lisa

  3. It amazes me how many of us are truly just like you. I guess writers spend so much time alone with our thoughts, that when we are in a crowd, it just unnerves us. I’m very outgoing when I’m with folks, but I need lots of breaks and down time. What makes it worse, is that I also have an illness that forces me to take meds that wear me out. I missed the whole last dinner, comedy show, and saying goodbye to everyone, so don’t feel like you’re alone. Come again in 2018 and we can support each other!

    1. Leslie, I was amazed with how many EXTROVERTED writers there were. There were people there who stayed up drinking late into the night. That sounded like hell to me. I always thought all of us creative types were introverts. Like, you I can be outgoing. I used to do stand-up comedy. I quit 10 years ago.
      Thanks for your comment.

  4. This essay was rocking the word processor!! I loved the part about avoiding the Erma flu… here I am in Western NY and somehow it managed to niggle its way through our house… I’m just coming out the others side. I understand your reluctance to travel alone… even back in my Kaplan days I never traveled alone.I’m okay alone with my beloved… but all by myself? Not so much. I’m an odd hermit… I get lonely but I’d just be okay if no people are around….see? Odd!!!

    1. I really do hate driving alone, especially. Those big trucks give me palpitations. Also, a couple of hours after I got home, there was a huge accident on the highway near Dayton caused by a “loose cat.” Put your cats in carriers, people!!

    1. Yep! When I was 29, I drove to Georgia for a week to do comedy. A nine hour drive. Would I do that now? NOPE.

  5. Dude, getting to spend time with you was easily one of my favorite parts of this year’s conference. We’re a lot alike. I nodded in agreement all through this. I picked up some kind of Erma bug, so yes please re: hand sanitizer. For an introvert, I hug more than you’d expect. I guess it’s an unconscious disarming coping mechanism. These conferences kinda scare the bejeezus out of me. I spend a lot of time in the bathroom crying in an attempt to let off stress and tension. And…oh yeah…alcohol. 😉 Loved what you said about talking to the speakers. Part of me felt like I SHOULD be doing that, and I wanted to, but I just didn’t have it in me this time. And I don’t like fan-girling. I broke down and got a picture with the Bloggess and felt kinda icky about it even though she’s positively lovely. But for every one of those moments, there are those where you spend $40 on a pile of books, tell the author you got a lot out of their last book, how great the advice was, and they look up at you, say nothing and push your book aside. NEXT. I’m too old for that shit. And I want my freaking $40 back.

    1. Hi Linda,

      I just found this comment in my TRASH. WTF, WordPress??? Bluehost, I’m looking at you, too.

      I only bought one book — the How to Get Published book, or whatever the exact title is. It’s in another room and I’m too lazy to go look at it. 🙂 Anyway, I bought that because you get a free phone meeting with the writers. I will be doing that in June.

      Love you!

  6. Dagnabbit! I commented a few days ago and it didn’t take. I’ma try this again.
    Spending time hanging out with you was one of my favorite things about Erma this year Lisa. We’re a lot alike. I so get where you’re coming from on this. These things really kinda scare the bejeezus out of me. I have to either pace back and forth in my room pep-talking myself into “going OUT THERE” to talk to the people, or I have to sit in the bathroom and have myself a good little Holly Hunter cry to blow off steam. But it’s totally worth it in the end. And I kept telling myself I should be going up to some of the speakers and carpe diem-ing the hell out of the networking opps, but I just didn’t have it in me this time. What you said about “they just have cool jobs” is right on. I got a pic with Jenny Lawson and felt kinda weird about it though she was positively sweet.

    1. Linda,

      I regret not going up and talking to Jenny Lawson. From what I heard, she probably needed the reassurance. She was having a hard time with her anxiety and depression. I feel for her. Mine is just all anxiety and probably some ADD thrown in.

      It was SO GOOD to be able to chat with you and you kicked ass on stage. I hope some day we can meet up again.


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