The 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Left Me Speechless (which is quite an achievement for a writer)

20140412_091927It’s been a week since I returned from the 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. Most of the attendees have already posted on their blogs about their experiences there, but I have not.

I am late. Very, very late.

It’s not because I didn’t have an unbelieveable time. I did.

Or that I didn’t connect with old friends and meet loads of great new ones. I did that, too.

It also has nothing to do with the fact that I went on spring break with my family the whole week following the conference, or that we had our kitchen and baths demolished while we were out of town and I had to set up a makeshift kitchen in the living room when we got home.

wojo photobomb

Betsy Bombeck and Michele Wojciechowski (photobomb)

The issue is, I needed some time to let it all sink in. The sessions. The friendships. The moments of pure joy, feelings of connectedness, and inspiration. The sheer “Erma-ness” of the whole thing. Like a great brisket, my thoughts needed time to bake, absorb the flavor, and sit for a bit before being served.

I know, pretty poetic for a humor writer, huh?

This was my sixth Erma conference. I first went in 2004, so this was actually my ten year anniversary. For my ten year wedding anniversary, my husband took us to Italy. For my ten year Erma anniversary, naturally, I went to Dayton.

Keynote speaker Phil Donahue

Keynote speaker Phil Donahue

Although I had transitioned from attendee to faculty member several years ago, I realized there is still not all that much that separates me from the other writers. We all have insecurities about the work we birth into the world. We all want to be paid for our writing. We all want to be acknowledged on some level for our contributions and achievements. And we all want to be successful.

But how we define success is different for each person. Some people measure it by the dozens of newspapers or websites that carry their column or blog. Some measure it by the one newspaper or website that carries their column or blog.  We often quantify it by hits, likes, retweets and visits.

As writers, success is often marked more by response than output. 
Wouldn’t it be great if more of us writers could feel successful simply for writing?

Putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and creating something meaningful, relatable and well-crafted is almost more difficult than childbirth. In the case of my book, “Lost in Suburbia,” the gestation period was actually the same. It took me nine months to write the book, and in the end, I finally had to give it over to God. More than anything else this weekend, I realized that for each of us, writing is the way we communicate our feelings and describe our world. It is not the way we work. It is the way we breathe.


Suzette Martinez-Standring and W. Bruce Cameron


Rajean Blomquist, Abbie Gale, Michelle Lamarca, Linda Wolff








Ilene Beckerman and Anne Parris

Debe Dockins and Teri Rivzi

Debe Dockins and Teri Rizvi







Thank goodness for conferences like the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop for reminding us that it’s not about the swag, the sponsors, the number of unique visitors we have to our sites, and the people who want to compensate us for our work with “exposure.”  It’s about realizing that what we do has value, whether that value is felt by one person or a million, by friends or family or complete strangers. It’s about connecting with like minded people. And it’s about recognizing how very lucky we are to have discovered this gift and love we have for writing.

My session:  "Surrounding Your Brand"

My session: “Surrounding Your Brand”

I want to thank Teri Rizvi, Bob Daley, and the rest of the University of Dayton crew for putting this conference together every two years; to Debe Dockins and the Washington Centerville LIbrary for graciously hosting the awards competition; to Patricia Wynn Brown for generously donating her time to be the Master of Ceremonies throughout the weekend.  Also, my pit crew, Michele Wojciechowski, Anne Parris, Bruce Cameron, Cathryn Michon, Suzette Martinez Standring, Joy Steele, Rose Valenta, Wanda Argersinger, Sharon Dillon, Michelle Momper, and so many others who share my passion and support my goals.

To Betsy, Matt and Andy Bombeck for continuing to be a part of this celebration year after year.  To their dad Bill, in absentia.


L-R: Matt Bombeck, Andy Bombeck, Me, Betsy Bombeck


… and to Erma Bombeck, for showing us that We. Can. Write.

©2014, Beckerman. All rights reserved.

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The Latest Lost in Suburbia Column: Too Many Slow Cooks in the Kitchen

cavemen cookingI was catching up with a friend over a cup of coffee at her house when my eye caught the gleam of something new and shiny in her kitchen.

“What is THAT?” I exclaimed adoringly. She followed my gaze to the new appliance on her countertop.

“Oh, that’s my new slow cooker,” she boasted proudly. “I LOVE it!”

“A slow cooker?” I echoed. “What does it do?”

“Um… it cooks slow,” she smirked.

“Yeah, I figured that.”

“And it does all the cooking for you,” she added.

I found this piece of news very intriguing. As someone who is severely kitchen-challenged, I was definitely up for anything that could do the cooking for me. I had tried to teach both my kids and the dog to cook so I wouldn’t have to, but that never quite worked out, although the dog was somewhat better at it than the kids. This slow cooker thing seemed like the perfect solution.

“Okay, I’m in,” I announced. “How does it work?”

“Well, you go out and get all your ingredients for the meal you want to make, chop them up and pre-cook them if necessary, and then put them in the slow cooker for four to six hours.”

“Wait, you mean I have to go out and get the food?” I replied. “And I have to prep it and cook some of it before the slow cooker does?”

She looked at me dumbly.

“Well that doesn’t seem like a great deal!” I complained.

I was really surprised. From the way she had raved about the thing, I had actually assumed the slow cooker would do the supermarket shopping and maybe even fold the laundry for me, too.

And the fact that I had to chop and pre-cook, too, definitely seemed like a bit of a scam. If I was going to drop a wad of bills on a slow cooker, I not only wanted it to dice, slice and cook the meal for me, I wanted it to eat it, too.

I had been duped by this kind of bait and switch once before. We had an oven with a self-cleaning feature and when I tried to use it, not only didn’t it clean the oven, it smoked up the kitchen so badly the fire department thought I had torched the place. Of course, I had set several fires in the kitchen before so this wasn’t a completely unreasonable expectation on their part.

Smoke aside, however, the oven was such a mess afterwards I had to spend two hours sand-blasting it. I finally realized when they said it was self-cleaning, they actually meant I was going to have to clean it myself.

Not wanting to get caught in this kind of misunderstanding again, I decided I needed to be very clear about my kitchen appliance requirements.

“Are there any slow cookers that completely prepare the meal for you and all you have to do is just serve it on a plate?” I wondered.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s called ‘Take-out.’”

©2014, Beckerman. All rights reserved.

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