Erma Bombeck and the Flu

I know there’s a joke in here somewhere.

… I opened the window and in-flu-Erma!*

“Huh?” – you. Let me explain:

I recently returned from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton. The workshop was uplifting, inspirational, informative, fun, and, apparently, contaminated. I began my journey home last Sunday morning filled with renewed passion, brimming with ideas and motivation. By the time I pulled into my garage half a day later, I was filled with new fever, brimming with body aches and chills.

I spent the following several days in my husband’s recliner watching Netflix, sipping tea from my new Erma mug, and alternately layering on blankets and kicking them all off in a sweaty panic that left me shivering, exhausted, and indelicately profane. The days are a blur to me, except the discovery that I was not alone. The Facebook group for conference attendees began to look less like a networking platform for writers, and more like a hospital ward roll call as more and more of us posted about our ailments.

You Can Flu

As my mind melted into the flu fog, I feared that all I had learned at the workshop would fade into the mist never to be rediscovered. Practical tips on getting published lost forever in the shrouded moors of my memory. Soundbites, precious wisdom nuggets, and the inspired surety that I CAN WRITE – all wandering in the haze that might inexorably claim them.

The Facebook group flu fighters and flu sympathizers continued to post. Complaints of headaches and wracking coughs, jokey attempts to out Patient Zero, and our pathetic commiseration soon looked a lot like witty banter. My contributions evolved from “flu here” to attempts to make my Comrades in Condition laugh. And it dawned on me: I’m back. And then I made this t-shirt to share with the group:

Erma Bombeck Lousy Flu Shirt

I realized I needed to write a post to go with it. And that brings us to the here and now. To my fingers once again flying over the keys as I try to paint a picture with my words. I find myself where I belong, in my element, plucking words out of the air, shaping them, bending them to my will where I can, and abandoning them where I am unable. My purpose realized, my passion ignited and leading the way, I am my fullest self – as I was when surrounded by like-minded individuals at the conference.

Just like that, the vapor thins a bit and I can see into the foggy wasteland of my mind. Hidden among the debris and rolling mists is all I took away from the weekend.

Just there! Alan Zweibel regales us with stories pulled from his own memory moors. His career is sweeping and impressive and more than I ever dreamed of for myself, and, yet, he refers to the collective room as “us” and “we” when discussing the craft of writing. Because he believes that we are doing the same thing, even though he’s him and I’m me.

Look! Here’s Katrina Kittle leading a class on description. As a strictly non-fiction writer, it’s not entirely applicable to me. But wisdom nuggets don’t care who you think you are. They plop themselves down in the midst of all you were certain of, and detonate. In the mess following the mind blow an altogether new thing emerges. I still need to decipher this new thing, work out what it all means, but I know already that I love it.

Conversations with other attendees, (is that patient zero?), laughing, crying, awkwardly managing both at once, a solid ten minutes obstructing sink access in the bathroom while talking to Kathy Kinney. It’s all coming back to me.

Snapshots and pearls shake off the miasma and begin to organize themselves once more into coherency. Hallelujah!

Several months ago, after deciding that the number of hours I spend sitting in my desk chair was incompatible with physical health, I raised my desk up and ditched the chair, creating a new standing work environment. I tell you this now so you can understand why, at this moment, the overwhelming feeling I have is holy shit my legs ache! Ah, yes. The flu. Despite the recent change in fog density, I am not all better. Standing at my standing desk while writing this is more activity than I have engaged in since arriving home from Ohio. I can’t do it a moment longer. So this post, which very well may be utter nonsense borne on a flu-addled fog, ends now.

*Part of a historical nursery rhyme dating back to the 2016 Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop flu epidemic.**

**Look at that- fiction!

Embracing Forty


Today I am forty. Time has certainly stamped its passage on my person. My body carries the years in various and sometimes surprising ways. And yet, as I face this milestone birthday I don’t feel the dread our culture says I should. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t delight in my ankles that now click strangely, or the two lines between my brows that serve as irrevocable proof of too much scowling. But I accept these changes as I’ve accepted all the weird changes my body has gone through up until this point. Why shouldn’t I embrace forty with the same optimism and celebration that I felt for all my big birthdays?   

Remember turning ten? Double digits! Back then getting older was called getting bigger, and it was the best.

How about fifteen? “Oh my God I am as far away from ten as I am from twenty! Soon I’ll be independent! Look! Boys!”

Twenty was a great. It felt very much like the perfect age, except for one small inconvenience that was cleverly solved on my next birthday.

At twenty five I felt like I really came into my own. I was a real grown-up and I click-clacked through my grown-up life in my fabulous grown-up high heels.

I threw myself a party at thirty. This would be the last big birthday in my life as I knew it. I celebrated my untethered freedom, understanding that soon everything would change.

My thirty-first birthday was memorably uncomfortable. My body was stretched beyond reason, carrying a ten pound passenger. My son arrived two days later.

For my fortieth birthday I’m having the biggest party of all. Far-flung friends from different chapters of my life are coming to visit and celebrate with me. I couldn’t have thrown this party at any other point in my life. I wouldn’t have these friends had I not lived the entirety of my forty years.  

Tonight I will wear a dress in the most perfect shade of cobalt blue. Underneath it I will don the underthings known only too well by women my age. Underthings that smooth, suck, lift and support. Underthings I didn’t need at twenty. Instead of lamenting my forty-year-old, post-kids body and its corresponding underthings, I’m going to revel in the dress I simply could not have owned half my lifetime ago. In the mirror will stand my imperfect form in its lovely dress looking its best, underthing-assistance notwithstanding.

Next I’ll apply make-up. Like the underthings, I accept the tools of the trade. Concealer and foundation help create a close-ish proximity to my twenty-year-old complexion. She didn’t have my laugh lines or the dark circles under my eyes. She didn’t have all those laughs or the hefty responsibility of motherhood either. Time’s presence might be written all over my face, but a few strokes of a pencil will bring out my eyes, unchanged.

At the end of the night I’ll take off the dress and the underthings and likely sigh in sweet relief. I’ll slip into something more comfortable. (No, actually comfortable.) I’ll wash off the makeup and apply the arsenal of skin care products that I didn’t have or need or know about at twenty. I’ll check on my sleeping children and fall into bed with my husband, all of whom I also didn’t have at twenty.

Why bother dreading forty? There is only one alternative to aging, and it is far less appealing. The passage of time will continue to mark me and take from me, but it will also continue to give. To dread forty is to throw in the towel on the rest of my life. My first forty years were full of various experiences, relationships, changes, surprise, and wonder. I expect no less from the next forty.

Kids are bad at all the stuff they do

Here’s why I’m a worse mom than you: instead of feeling proud and happy that my son qualified for the A-level swim championships, I’m annoyed that I now have to spend two weekends going to two different championships because my daughter is in B-level.

Here’s why I’m an even worse mom than you now think: instead of sucking it up gracefully, I spent this morning trying to subtly convince my daughter that she didn’t want to swim in her championships at all, (which I’ve taken to calling “optional final meet”). To be completely fair, I did also try to convince my son not to swim in his.

To my dismay, both kids are keen to participate and Sally even irritatingly wisely said, “It doesn’t matter if you’re in A or B, or if you win or come in last, it’s that you try hard and have fun.” What the hell? No, what matters is that swim meets are a thousand* hours long and that both championship meets are forty** minutes from home, meaning that on consecutive Sundays we need to drag everyone out of bed at dawn, drive, and then sit around for a thousand hours in order to watch a total of four minutes of my child swimming. And, to make it worse, on each of those Sundays we’ll be dealing with the non-swimming child complaining of boredom.

Parenthood is many things, but above all else, it is doing stuff you don’t want to do.

We sit through performances and recitals where singers can’t sing and dancers can’t dance. We play tea party and Minecraft and feign interest in doll houses and Pokemon. We hang bad art on our refrigerators and read the same stupid book twenty-seven dozen times.

“But the performances and the recitals aren’t about raw talent, it’s our precious children learning to express themselves. Look how adorable,” you say.

“Bad art? There is no bad art! Your child’s drawings are developmentally on point. They are expressions of love and hanging them proudly shows your child that you value their efforts, you fucking monster,” you say.

Sure. All of that is true.

I love my children despite their complete and utter lack of any appreciable talents. I’ll beam with pride, “awww” with parental devotion, and take five hundred photos at the shitty concert just like you. But, did you attend these concerts or stand out in the weather to watch a children’s sporting event before you had kids? Of course not. If these things were at all good, then we would choose to attend them regardless of our status as parent. But they’re not good. They’re crap.

Kids are bad at all the stuff they do. It’s not their fault. They’re born not knowing a damn thing. One could hardly expect a person who takes a year to figure out walking to be a great dancer a few short years later. A person who regularly finds herself outwitted by a bathroom stall lock, or who can’t manage to eat a meal without creating a mile wide radius of food debris, can’t reasonably be expected to produce great things.

Kids suck at art

So I will attend two swim championships. I’ll cheer my daughter and remind her to keep swimming and stop waving at me, all while knowing that she’s the greatest kid out there. I’ll feel proud when Luke comes in first, beating all the other kids who can’t do butterfly for shit, because he can’t do butterfly slightly better than they can’t. And after the meets are over and behind us, we’ll move on to some other thing I don’t want to do.

*All numbers greatly exaggerated for sarcastic effect. It is safe to assume this applies to all numbers I ever say, unless explicitly stated otherwise.

**Example of actual number. If it were an exaggeration it would have more zeros.