THIS IS WHERE I COME FROM. AND, I MIGHT BE A LITTLE IRREVERENT. AND ALSO IRRELEVANT. AND I KINDA DON’T CARE.
Posted in Uncategorized | Posted on 27-04-2012
Spoiler alert: This is one long ass post. Mea culpa. But I hope you’ll read it. It’s from the heart. And also, I want to know who is possibly going to hell with me some day, so by all means, please feel free to comment! I am hoping for some fun company.
I mean I really hope you get past St. Peter if I can’t. NO really.
With the recent demise of my laptop, and my quick junket to Ohio for the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, I haven’t written in a while. I’m literally feeling twitchy and hearing voices in my head and I only hope these words will flow in a way that makes sense.
The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop takes place every other year and draws humor and human interest writers from all over the United States and Canada. There are folks in attendance and/or presenting who are just beginning their writing journey and some who are household names and even Pulitzer prize winners. But they are writers, one and all. These are “my people”.
To be in the presence of Erma’s very gracious family (see photo below) and hundreds of writers is literally an exercise in laughter and tears. Erma Bombeck passed away in 1996. If you’re not familiar with her work, she wrote eight books which are still timely and relevant, and most of all, hilarious. If you want to know what talent and heart is, read her stuff. The fact that she has a legion of admirers who first came to know Erma by picking up her columns and books their moms left lying around, tells you all you need to know. My bf from the conference, Dawn, wrote beautifully about her here. Don’t let the lumberjack shirt throw you off–she’s hilarious and beautiful, too! I learned as much from the presenters at the conference as I did in speaking to other writers in the elevator, over a
73 drink s, and at an event I think was supposed to be, dinner.
Being a writer, and also a mom, can often be isolating. I don’t work in an office. My kitchen counter is my desk. My co-workers eat Gogurts and mostly aren’t even adept at wiping their own arses never mind have the ability to give me constructive feedback on my work. And when you write non-fiction, and you blog, it can often feel like a self inflicted set up. You’re really putting yourself out there. When you write fiction, as someone so brilliantly said at Erma Bombeck, your writing is subject to scrutiny and criticism. But when you write non-fiction, your life is subject to scrutiny and criticism. (I’m paraphrasing because I regret to inform you I forget who said it! Was it the booze? Was it my aging brain…I dunno. Just know this brilliance didn’t come out of my mouth. What came out of my mouth was, “What time will you be at the bar?” and “What kind of fish IS this anyway?”)
What she said resonated with me, because I’d been thinking about this whole putting myself out there a lot lately.
Recently, a friend of mine who happens to be religious, told me she passed my blog on to some of her friends because she thought it was hilarious. “Thanks!” I beamed. I always appreciate when people pass it on, and since I don’t get a lot of feedback with this gig, I soaked in the glow of the compliment for a second before she continued, “And some of them loved it but(ugh oh)….. some of my Christian friends said they were shocked I passed it on to them and said, “Namechangedtoprotectmyfriend! She is irreverent!”
*Please note in no way did I want to shoot the messenger. I simply offered her more hummus and a, “Really?” which was a few octaves too high (which is unfortunate because on a good day I sound like Lisa Simpson.).
I’m not going to say that didn’t sting a little. If someone said, “I think your writing is lacking because of A….” or “You’re kinda not funny, but thanks for trying.” then fine, noted. But irreverent? To me, that means disrespectful. Or lacking a reverence for God. Or mocking religion and by extension those who hold it dear.
I’ve known a lot of people in my life. Some who never set foot in a church or synagogue except for a wedding or funeral, some like me, who attended mass every Sunday and every holy day from the time or their birth to the time they left their homes for college/the real world/Amsterdam/wherever, and some who I’m pretty sure pray for my imperfect soul today. Regardless of whether you’re super religious or not religious at all, I do not stand in judgment of you. It’s personal. And if I’m going to judge anyone at all, I’m going to judge you on your actions and the way you treat others. Period. That whole love your neighbor thing? I’m loving you til you give me good reason not to. Innocent until proven guilty. If you move next door to me and need to borrow a cup of sugar, a bottle of vodka, my bible, by all means. Just ask.
Certainly, if I make fun of anyone in this space, it’s usually me.
Yet, I briefly contemplated, “What am I even doing here?” I am making people laugh, sometimes, I think? But am I giving the mistaken impression that I’m irreverent? Or if that’s what they truly think, then AM I irreverent? And ultimately, I have to say, I’m comfortable with who I am. If you land on my blog and it’s not for you, no big. Move on. There’s plenty of other stuff to read that might suit you better. But deep down I had to wonder, if someone thinks I’m irreverent, will they, if they know me in real life, judge my kids? Who are…innocent until proven guilty?!
Enter Erma, and “my people”.
There’s Iris. My blogging friend. I forget how we “met” online but if she’s not one of the funniest bloggers out there I don’t know who is. I sat next to her during a session at Erma, and she told me about a recent post she’d written, which I missed due to computerfromhell,where she’d contemplated hanging it up. “Tell me more!” I pressed, when she showed me a mind blowing comment she received from a reader whose husband was undergoing cancer treatment and how Iris’ blog helped her. Please read about it here.
And Julie. A dear, funny, funny friend from the Erma 2010, who expressed similar thoughts on her blog, here.
Then I met a new, fun friend at Erma who blogs at MomoFali. (It was my important job at Erma to rescue her from her hotel room should the sausage heads at the bar try any pyro tricks…but that’s not relevant here. We lived. Yay!) She wrote a moving post here about how the people at Erma get it…that regardless of what anyone is going through, it is okay to laugh through the pain. A to the men. We all have a right to laugh our way through anything.
I said to Iris at the conference, “Don’t quit. The risk you take putting yourself out there is a risk not everyone will understand, or even appreciate. But that comment right there is why you can’t quit. You have a gift and it would be wrong not to share it.” I said to Julie after the conference, “Don’t quit. You have a book in you. I know it.”
And I would say to Momo Fali, never stop laughing. And, I live 1000 miles away from you so you’re on your own with the fire in the middle of the night shizz from now on.
All of these women, these wonderful writers, they get it.
I thought back to my own life. The times I know for sure I provided much needed comedic relief and the times I know I needed it. My sister was killed in a car accident when I was 15. I don’t remember all of the details from that time period, I just remember the house was dark, both in mood and physically. I was the only one living at home with my parents. I think at that point my parents didn’t have the energy to muster to lift a shade. And I can’t say I blame them. I remember my mother taking me out for lunch a month after my sister died for my 16th birthday, and bumping into a priest and a nun from our church. “It’s Janet’s birthday!” my mother tried. And I don’t remember what they said, I only remember they looked at me with such sadness I wanted to tell them to stop. I just wanted to crawl away. I didn’t want anyone’s pity. The truth was, I probably had enough of my own to face.
And the thing I turned to was my faith, that better times had to be ahead, and to writing. Most of what I wrote no one ever saw, but it helped me. I don’t think it was funny back then. I only wish I had had something funny to read. I only wish the internet existed. That there was someone out there who spoke to me, like an Iris, and made me laugh, and forget, if only for a few moments. I always thought life is exactly what you make of it, and I knew my sister lost her chance to forge ahead and so I had no choice but to try.
I thought back to a little over a year ago. (Are you seeing the thinking theme? Do you know how long it takes to get from Ohio to NH these days? I might have well ridden home on the freaking chuck wagon…way too much time to think. Look what happens when you call me irreverent…you go from dead fish to dead loved ones in one fell swoop!) My dad had passed away. He was 83 and had beaten back several illnesses over the course of a decade and finally, had a serious stroke. My family stood guard at his bedside and watched him slip away over the course of a few days, but before he lost consciousness and ultimately passed on, he joked with us, and with the nurses. He asked them all about themselves–with slurred speech no less. I left the room at one point to call home to check on my kids. I came back and my sister said, “Just so you know, dad is now referring to you as ‘the muffin top’. He just asked, ‘Where’d the muffin top go?’ I laughed then and I laugh now thinking about it. My father faced his mortality head on and with a sense of humor. To me, there is dignity in that.
I learned what I know about humor first from my family. If you weren’t quick on your feet you’d get annihilated at dinner. When my dentist gently asked me yesterday, “Janet, please turn your chin for me.” and I answered, “Which one?” I just couldn’t help myself. The hygienest roared laughing, told me I was terrible –but asked if she could use the line. The ultimate compliment. I laughed, and said, dryly, “Sure, it’s not copyrighted.” Maybe she’ll repeat it and it will give someone who’s having a rough day a laugh.
I thought about the days after my dad passed away. I was away from my kids for three days while he was in the hospital and while we made funeral arrangements. The ninety minute car ride home seemed like an eternity as I wondered how I would tell three kids six and under that their grandfather was gone. I got off the highway and handed the toll worker a $20. He scowled at me for giving him a big bill for the fifty cent toll, huffed theatrically as he counted out my change. “You have a great day, too!” I beamed, all the while thinking, “Hey jackass, I have no change because I spent it all at the vending machine at the hospital!” I could have used a laugh right then.
Later that weekend, my 2 year old would crash his head on into the coffee table at bedtime when I could no longer see straight, and my hubs and friend would drive off with him to the ER for stitches, bleeding, as I fought back tears. The next day I had to face reality—-my father’s wake and my four year old’s birthday—same day. I felt sorry for my family and for myself—if that toll worker had only known what I was going through! But in time and with distance I’ve thought about him, and wondered, who knows what was going on in his life. Maybe his wife left him. He couldn’t pay the mortgage. His son just died. Or, maybe he was just a big douchewaffle. WHO KNOWS!
All I know is if irreverent is the worst they can say, I’m okay with that. This is my space. To say what I want. If I make you laugh, all the better. My blog, and this life, is exactly what I make of it. And if you want to come along, I am so happy to have you. And if you don’t, I truly hope you find what you’re looking for. No one can be all things to all people, and no one, if they’re being honest and true to themselves, should try. But, just know:
I’m working on the grand assumption that God has a sense of humor. He made me, didn’t he?
And if not, I’m just going to grab St. Peter by the shoulders on judgment day and say, “But I know people!” and hope he has mercy on my sometimes irreverent, imperfect soul.
And I will hope I was a sliver of what Erma Bombeck was. She said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”
Use it up, people, use it up. Whatever your talent may be.