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“Anything to declare?”

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ErmaThat’s what he asked me.

“Anything to declare?” asked the Canada customs official.

Such a loaded question! They should really consider rephrasing that standard question asked by border services agents of all international travelers. You’re asking a woman if she has anything to declare?!

Oh, do I ever!  Let’s have a cup of coffee and talk about it! Indeed, I have something to declare!

I’ve taken a few days to reflect upon my experience and learning at a humour writers’ conference I recently attended. I now declare that I was deluged with new inspiration while at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop held bi-annually at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio. By the way, you may not know this but the word deluge is a French term for being word-swarmed. But you know, there are advantages to being deluged, or word-swarmed – in addition to all the mind-blowing quotes I garnered from the speakers, I was able to pick up a few gems from the attendees too. For example:

Boom Boom Boys:
File this under “It’s Not What You Think …”. Please just know that I will be petitioning Drum Corps International to reschedule their 2016 competition not to coincide with the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.

Beta reader:
This is not the video player predecessor to VHS, but instead an indispensable trusted confidant who will read your work and provide you with much needed feedback before publishing (but not a professional editor, qually indispensable).

The FuckItBucket:*
I-am-so-done-tormenting-myself-over– useless -crap…

The Dayton Dribbler :
Not to be confused with the University of Dayton basketball team’s March Madness success, but rather the highly over-rated Marriott shower pressure.

The Quiet Zone :
Can we not all just agree that sleep is for sissies, retirees, and that man in 14C on UA4461? Also, is probably not the best gathering place for the Boom Boom Boys.

Ermatologist, Bombeckian, Bombie, Ermite, Bombette :
One of a massive throng of several hundred women (and eighteen men) ravishingly beautiful, startling witty and extraordinarily talented writers.


“Ma’am, anything to declare?” the customs official repeated.

I have words to declare, sir. Enough words to sustain me through many writing projects. 

And with that, my passport is stamped – a most noteworthy and emphatic endorsement of my efforts –  and I am on my way.

This post was brought to you by a deluge of words and inspired by an amazing coffee cup.


* Okay, look. I know I don’t usually swear on my blog, and actually rarely swear at all, but when I heard this phrase, I fell in love with it and can’t seem to stop thinking about it. And since I am now over the age of fifty, I can put ‘restraint’ in my FuckItBucket.

Bring it (getting ready to be Bombecked)!

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Very soon, I’ll be boarding a plane for the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton Ohio.  My first experience with this workshop (and any writers workshop, really) was two years ago.  I would guess that eighty percent of the 350 attendees were woman like me, of a certain age like me.  Throw in a few punchlines and a little wine and you have a fermenting cocktail (which I will affectionately refer to as the Dayton Dazzler)! While in the company of so much comedic virtuosos (both the faculty and the attendees), not to mention the neighbouring drum corps competition, I was able to come away profoundly inspired but also a little intimated (and moderately deaf). I wrote about this anxiety in a post-workshop post about The Burdon of Bombeck (as in, “Hi my name is Astra and it’s been sixteen days since I last wrote something funny”).

There have been so many questions posted on the attendees’ Facebook site by newbies!  I feel I’d be doing my part as a veteran Ermatolgist (as coined by the ever wit-faced Amy Sherman) to address them so the freshman Ermatologists have as much fun as us upperclassmen!

Do people have wine in their hotel room?

You don’t get out much do you? People have wine in the hallways, in the bathrooms and occasionally even in the bar. Bring it.

Do I really need to bring business cards?

You must have some other mechanism by which to make yourself truly unforgettable.  Bring it on.

Is it okay to wear bathrobes and fuzzy slippers to the sessions?

Not many people can rock that look but if you can … I say bring it!.

Carry-on or checking a suitcase?

You can’t take liquids in a carry-on (unless three ounces is what you call a drink, in which case we likely won’t meet this weekend), so I say bring it (the suitcase that is)!

Will there be t-shirts?

There will be t-shirts, glowsticks and glow necklaces, Hang Ten foam fingers, sun-visors, ball caps, slotted sunglasses, and over-sized multi-coloured beach balls.

I’m actually not 100% sure about any of that but it will be an event worthy of such rockin’ stuff!

Do people change for dinner?

Absolutely; I’m a totally different person at dinner. Who isn’t?

What goes on Saturday night?

What happens in Dayton, stays in Dayton (that’s all I’m gonna say)!

What a difference two years makes!

Can’t wait to be Dayton Dazzled and Bombecked!



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You can tell an awful lot about a woman by the contents of her freezer.

I have a friend who, despite having three kids, has a truly immaculate home, unlike my own home with three kids which seems to be rife with kid clutter and dog dirt. Whenever I come home from her place, I am inspired to tidy up just a little.  If nothing else, to at least wipe the dogs’ drool off the patio door. Well, this time I went for broke:  I cleaned out my bottom-drawer kitchen freezer!

There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about my kitchen freezer. In fact, a freezerful of je ne sais quoi. As I was cleaning it out, I was not at all surprised by the number of containers with unidentifiable contents, or the amount of food with freezer burn beyond rehabilitation.  I was, however, a little grossed out with the amount of dog hair I cleaned out of my freezer – which seems to be immune from freezer burn. Pretty sure this explains the string of declines for any dinner invites I extend.

Delighted with my Saturday morning’s accomplishment, I gathered the family (except the dogs) around the kitchen frig and presented them with my handiwork. “Ta da!” I announced, to a primarily indifferent audience.

“What’s that?” asked my husband, pointing to a little square Tupperware container amongst the ice cube trays and frozen treats.  “It’s Fishy” I whispered. “It’s fishy?” he asked. “Why does fish get its own corner of your freezer?” which would be a very good question in a normal household. “Shhh! Not fish,” I corrected, “Fishy.

“Fishy’s alive?!” screamed my daughter jumping up and down. Sigh.

“No honey, Fishy is not alive.  He is still very much dead.  He just happens to be still very dead in our freezer.” A now thoroughly confused husband then said, “I’m going to regret asking this, but what is a dead Fishy doing in our freezy?”

“Well, when he died, we were on our way out the door and didn’t have time to give him a proper funeral.”

“Sooo, when exactly did Fishy die?” asked my husband, glancing over at the fish bowl on the kitchen counter that contained a very much alive Beta fish.

“Three years ago.” I answered “Give or take …”

Needless to say, after having her dead fish replaced with a new alive one, the urgency surrounding a proper pet burial had diminished, and we all sort of forgot about the whole thing – until today.

Despite the wasted food and a long-overdue funeral, I truly feel like I accomplished something that morning.

The patio door, however, is still covered with dog drool.

This essay was written for the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition.  It didn’t win but was great fun to write.  I put on my best “Erma”.  As many of you know, I learned so much from the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop held every other year in Dayton, Ohio, its faculty and most importantly its attendees.  You can read the winning entries here.

Is there a name for the phobia of not being funny? The Burden of Bombeck…

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Forgive me Father, it’s been 16 days since my last funny blog post.

You cannot imagine the pressure I’ve been under lately.  Mind-boggling.  When a little unexpected cash came my way recently – legally I might add – I was thinking about what I should do with it.  I could have and should have put it towards some pretty stimulating expenses like the credit card, fixing the dishwasher and getting the carpets steam cleaned, but I really wanted to spend it on myself.  So I took a leap of faith and registered for the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop in Dayton, Ohio.  I had been thinking of taking my writing to the next level by attending a writer’s workshop.  I realize that taking my writing to the next level might actually mean taking my writing to the recycle bin, but that’s ok.

So, now it’s been two weeks since I returned from the workshop and I haven’t written anything funny.  It’s causing me a great deal of stress and chardonnaiety.  The bar on Funny has been ratcheted up a few notches and I suddenly have Amuse-Anxiety.  Surely there is a support group for that?

Hi my name is Astra.  It’s been 16 days since I wrote something funny.

What if I post something and it’s not funny?  What if I get no cackles and snortles and get only a couple of ahems and smirks?  That’s simply not good enough for me anymore.  I’ve been Erma-lightened.  I’m good with Snarky but I need a little Side-Splitting Slapstick.

As I write this, I’m imagining the University of  Dayton scouring the blogs and books of us attendees to see if we actually learned anything.  I imagine they are slowly weeding out humour imposters in a devious plot to create a purer breed of humourist for the 2014 conference.  If  I don’t be Funny, they may stumble upon this one and I’ll be revealed.  I’ll be on the Not Funny list.  I don’t want to be on the Not Funny list.  No one who’s attended the Erma Bombeck Writer’s Workshop wants to be on the Not Funny list.  It’s enough to make me turn a whiter shade of pinot grigio.

“So?  So? How was it?!” several friends and family members have asked me since my return.

Oh, God! Again, with the pressure?!

I’ve spent considerable amount of time these last two weeks reading all these outrageously funny blog posts of other conference attendees (now we’re talking not just the Funny list, but the Funny A-List) that had me peeing my pants … all over again.  I’m am writing every day, just like a good girl, though I’ve started at least a half dozen blog posts that have piddled out (smirk) before I find the proper finishing punch line.

And there’s Erma…

I’ve got this image of her over my desk for inspiration and yet when I look at it, all I imagine her saying is, “You really are at your wit’s end, aren’t you?”

I’m overwhelmed (you’ve probably realized that already – and the fact that I have an over-active imagination!), but I realize now that attending this conference was just part of setting my stage and I think it’s ok to have stage fright while doing that, right?  Who am I writing for anyway?  As Nancy Berk said, “Being in a room with 350 accomplished or aspiring humor writers can panic even the most confident.  Is there room for me?  The answer is – ‘Yes’ – if you use what you learn.”  I’m trying not to second guess myself too much when I recall Anna Lefler telling me to “…hone my craft, become a better writer and avoid premature e-publication.”  But most of all I am starting with Kyran Pittman‘s profoundly simple statement that I will take to heart:  “Real writers … write”.   So, I am gathering all their advice in the first of many steps in kick-starting my writing goals….

Just do it …

Of course the greatest of inspiration comes from Erma herself, “It is probably true that every person has a book in him fighting to get out.  What is crucial is that if something is going to happen, the wannabe writer has to commit by putting all those hopes and dreams on the line.  It’s time to stop talking about clever titles and get the book written.”

Thank you, Erma

and all those from whom I learned and by whom I was inspired at EBWW 2012

And now let’s move on to clever book titles…

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