I just returned from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, Ohio. What an adventure! I hope you don’t mind while I take a few posts to tell you all about it because there was too much goodness for one post. If you went, leave me a line and let me know what you thought. And if you’d like more info on it, visit Humorwriters.org. And if you’d like to read my first post about the workshop, you can find it here
Obviously, I’m no virgin, but I was new to the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, and for that reason the alums decided to brand us with the v-word. One Alum attendee even made us buttons that read Erma Virgin. It was all in good fun, and yet I slightly worried they might try to round us up and prod us with sticks. I chose to forgo the pin and just let the horrified pathetic look in my eyes reveal my inexperience (much like the first time I lost my virginity).
Immediately after I left my hotel room that first night, I got to feel what it was like to be a virgin once again. I was already a bundle of nerves, not sure what to expect. I played with my name tag and adjusted the new Erma bag on my shoulder. I paced in front of the elevator thinking, Should I run back and try to pee one more time?
I was debating this when the elevator doors opened, and there stood Gina Barreca, Dr. Nancy Berk, Sharon Short (all remarkable presenters at the event) and comedian Wendy Liebman, whom I have loved since I was a little girl (don’t tell her I said that, though). As I looked at each of their faces, I thought, Oh crap! Am I at the V.I.P elevator? Where is the regular people elevator?
And they looked back at me, probably thinking, “Awe, look at this country bumpkin. She doesn’t understand how elevators work.”
They actually had to wave me in and say, C’mon! before my feet would move. Not my greatest moment, but hopefully completely unremarkable for them.
The next 15 seconds went something like this.
Gina Barreca reaches out to shake my hand. “Hi, I’m Gina.”
“Hi Gina, I’m Rachel.”
Dr. Nancy Berk reaches out to shake my hand, “Hi, I’m Nancy”.
“Hi, nice to meet you, I’m Rachel.”
Gina Barreca says, “Where are you from?”
And I lift my name tag so she can see it, and also because I can’t remember.
“Oh, Ohio. Are you far from here?”
And I say, “No, just about 30 minutes north” and I point up because North is up.
“Are you staying at the hotel?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Good for you.” she says.
Then they get off on the 2nd floor. I get off on the first floor and as I’m walking to dinner, I cannot stop thinking, Do not point up when telling someone you live north! You are not an idiot! (I did it 37 more times throughout the weekend).
Luckily there was no time to over-analyze that meet-up, cause it was time to network. Disclaimer here: Network is their word, not mine. It actually says in the itinerary “Networking reception.” When I hear the word networking, it makes me think, “All I want to know is what you can do for me? How far will your network take me before I can dump you for someone with a better network? ” Since I am just a blogger and have no outside connections into the writing and publishing and film making worlds, I couldn’t help but think, “Who is gonna wanna network with me?”
I’m gonna say blog and they’re gonna say bye.
So I headed to the bar.
With a drink in my hand, I scanned the room for a conversation to nudge in on. There were old writers, young writers, writers with silly socks. Girl writers, a boy writer, even writers with vodka on rocks. (Sorry, that was a really bad version of the old Armour Hot Dog Song, but I couldn’t resist.) I decided to stick with what I knew, and so very un-cooly, melded into a circle of young-looking mom-types. To my surprise, they welcomed me with open arms!
“Do you have a card?” they asked. And I did! We exchanged cards and shared some jokes. And I thought, wow, this networking thing is kinda like when I talk to strangers in line at the grocery store. You just…talk to people. Who knew?
And let me tell you, I talked to a lot of people. I talked to just-bloggers, I spoke with people who had columns in a paper you’ve never heard of, and others who are working on their memoirs for 4 years now. There were novelist and children book authors and a few people who would just shrug and say, “I don’t really have anything gonig on right now. I just wanted to be here.” What a great answer!
It’s amazing how quickly you forget you’re a virgin when you’re hanging out with the…ahem…experienced ladies.
It was a great time, and I only fumbled once, when I was asked, “So what do you write?”
A correct answer could have been, “I have a humor blog that’s doing well. I’ve been featured on Blogher a few times and have a pretty good fan-base of people not related to me. I’ve also been working on something that could end up a novel. I don’t know, but I’m enjoying where it’s going so far. How about you?”
Instead, I gave the worst answer possible. I grimaced and rolled my eyes and said, “Oh, I just have like…a mom blog. It’s nothing. It’s just for fun.”
And then my heart would grimace and say, “Mom-blog, Rachel? Did you really just say that out loud?”
And then my brains would say, “Shut-up, this is hard! I was not prepared to talk about ME!”
And then I’d realize I completely zoned out while the other person was telling me the amazing writing-thing they do! Thank God I was collecting all those contact cards.
So, I did trip over my tongue a couple times throughout the night, but no one poked me with a stick, no one walked away from me in disgust. Everyone was pleasant and a lot of people shared my insecurities…even some of those experienced gals. I stayed up all night thinking, I should have said this. I should have mentioned that. Why didn’t I try something else? But I was also thinking, I can’t wait to see so and so. I hope I run into whats-her-face again. Tomorrow is going to be so amazing!
That first night at Erma was everything I thought it would be and more. It was scary and fun and funny and left me smiling all night long. Just like the first time I lost my virginity.