I just attended the Erma Bombeck Humor Writers Conference in Dayton, Ohio. I had the opportunity to meet several humorists that also happened to be lovely people. Many assumed I was one of them; an established writer who attended the conference to meet other writers and learn how to be more profitable. Those things did happen, but that's not why I went. I attended the conference as pilgrimage to Erma Bombeck's hometown and alma mater. To me, these place are sacred.
Erma Bombeck's writing came to me fatefully. I was a young newlywed frantically trying to finish college. As a B student, I was not even close to qualifying for any of the medical, dental or pharmaceutical schools my friends applied to. I wouldn't have gone, anyway, even if I had gotten into a program. I was about to become a mother.
I stood at a bus stop outside my Physics lab as a failure and an outcast. The university had no place for me, save a pathetic lab job where I was an indentured servant to a virologist who led research in HIN1 and West Nile Virus. I risked both pig and bird flu to run tests and wash dishes for eight dollars an hour.
I leaned against the bus stop sign, feeling unattractive, victimized and annoyed that no one made room for me on the waiting bench. I then noticed a badly beaten paperback in the rain gutter, titled I Lost Everything in the Post-Natal Depression. A bibliophile by upbringing, I promptly rescued the book, assuming it was a self-help book, and surely one I would need sometime soon.
After boarding the bus, I opened the book and began to fall in love with humor writing. Still largely egocentric at this point (I was only 22), I gratefully realized that other people experiences matched my own, along with the corresponding emotions. Erma Bombeck called herself the wife of the husband no one wants to swap with. A drudge. A loser. And yet, she clearly wasn't, evidenced by what I held in my hands and would not let go of until I reached the back cover. Erma Bombeck wrote a book so important it could be titled 'How a Mother Should Live', issued in every delivery room to rescue new mothers from the chronic mistakes of seeking validation through our children, expecting more from our husbands that they can provide, and, most threatening, taking ourselves far too seriously.
Erma Bombeck was not just a writer, she was a source of goodwill, and remains one still. When I first read her book, I felt like this woman threw herself to the wolves for me. She openly admitted that marriage is lonely and motherhood disenchanting without taking away from the joy and beauty of both. As "a simple average housewife", she knew she was written off by society as insignificant, but she laughed about it, encouraging her readers to join her in merrily commiserating how completely average we are most of the time.
Humorists write out of love. Say a bully finds your diary and threatens to reveal your most embarrassing secrets; a humorist is the friend that steps in and claims the diary is his. He takes the humiliation upon himself. They give of themselves, and often take away from themselves, to make us laugh. They work extremely hard at it, and for that I sincerely love them so much. And Erma especially.
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