Category Archives: Writing

Back from Erma, flu-free

erma workshop logo

I awoke slowly, a tiny ray of light peeking through the curtains as I tied to open my eyes. The dog was breathing in my face, his wet nose crammed into my right eyeball. My eyes hurt, but I don’t think it was from dog slobber. They felt itchy and irritated, and when I finally hauled myself out of bed and looked in the mirror, I could see they were also red. I panicked.

Uh oh. Do I have pink eye again?

I’d recently gotten back from the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop in Dayton, OH, where I spent four days socializing and eating dessert before dinner. The sessions were instructional, the keynote speakers inspirational, and the message one of encouragement and embracing one’s mission. We all left feeling empowered.

And for some, nauseated.

What do you get when 350 women and 9 men check into a hotel for a weekend-long humor writing conference featuring top notch guest speakers, dessert with every meal, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

You get the flu, that’s what you get.

Prior to the conference, most of us had joined the Erma Attendees Facebook group, taking time to learn each other’s names, discuss packing lists, and admit fears about attending the premiere workshop for humorists.

After the conference? The talk was all about who caught what from whom and when.

Patient Zero clearly brought the dreaded virus with them to Ohio, because a few attendees were struck down the first night and didn’t recover until it was time to head home. A few others got sick over the weekend; as I left the hotel on Sunday morning, I saw several people who looked like they might not make it out the door.

And then as people returned home to their corners of the country, like a giant domino chain of nausea and fever, one by one others fell. Someone even started a Facebook poll to track who was sick, since so many people were posting “Me, too” in the comment sections of other people’s posts.

Me? I got lucky. My stomach was upset, but that could have been from all the cheesecake; I don’t usually have dessert at every meal. I checked my temperature every hour, just in case I was burning up and didn’t know it. Nope, no flu here. But my eyes were killing me, and I was afraid that in addition to my business cards maybe I’d also passed out pink eye. If the next discussion thread was about who caused the painful temporary blindness, all fingers would point to me.

Not how I want to be remembered. Continue reading

Plucking words from the universe and dancing with my muse

radiolab muse elizabeth gilbert

Click the photo to go to Radiolab.org and listen to the podcast.

I just got back from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, OH. I attended in 2004, 2006, and 2008, and then last summer, while at St. David’s Writing Conference, I met three women and talked them into going with me this year.

I’ll write more about the actual conference later, when I’ve recovered from four days of cheesecake, teaching, and social interaction. It was, as expected, fabulous. But I wanted to share one thing with you now.

As I drove from Rochester to Dayton, I binged on past podcasts of RadioLab. One in particular stood out: “Me, Myself, and Muse.”

If you read my blog, I often lament about having great ideas that I don’t follow through with, or about book ideas that I don’t write and then see someone else has written them.  I get stuck, and overthink, and talk a lot about things I want to do but don’t, and it’s been going on for while. Too long. Like, if this whining was in a plastic container of leftovers in my fridge it would have not only gone moldy long ago, it would have sprouted a civilization that developed a cure for cancer.

I’m even on deadline, right now, right this minute, for a book I’m contracted to write that is just completely stalled, and I’m spinning my wheels creatively.

One of the reasons I was back at the Erma Bombeck Writing Workshop was to get my creative self back into alignment. Some time ago, I went from a very successful stint as a music blogger, with regular paying freelancing gigs, and lots of paid blogging and writing, to walking the dogs and binging on Netflix and bemoaning the fact that I offer nothing to the world. To be fair, things had changed in the music and publishing industry, and magazines and newspapers I’d been writing for were sold, which meant those paid writing gigs were gone. And I got jaded and lost my passion, for life and writing. (And there was also that stalker, too, who caused me no small amount of aggravation and was the last straw in the camel’s backpack that led to my taking a break from regular, serious writing for a while.)

The last few years have been a process of stopping, starting, reevaluating, doing well, crawling under a rock, taking stock, and emerging with wings that aren’t quite unfurled. Other parts of my creative life have emerged – improv and, most recently, stand up.  But the writing is now in a different climate, from a different perspective on life, and amidst a great deal of disorganization in my creative life. I spend a lot of time sitting at my desk wondering if I have any words left and, if I do, where I’d find them under this pile of folders and books and notes and dog toys.

So the message of this podcast has really stuck in my head and heart, particularly the part where Elizabeth Gilbert says:

“I kind of believe the world is being constantly circled as though by Gulf Stream forces, ideas and creativity, that want to be made manifest. And they’re looking for portals to come through in people. And if you don’t do it, they’ll go find someone else. And so you have to convince it that you’re serious and you have to show it respect and you have to talk to it and let it know you’re there.”

It haunted me the entire drive. And then the first workshop session I went to at Erma was with Alan Zweibel, who among many, many, many things, was an original writer for Saturday Night Live. He told us that the secret to writing is to write, and that we should focus on the process, not the product. There there are words out there, he said, and they just need to be plucked out and put down.

There it is again.

I’d never thought about my ideas or creative inspiration being something outside of myself. I always felt like creative inspiration was supposed to be inside of me, and if I wasn’t feeling it, it was because I didn’t have any.  But what if ideas and creativity are constantly swirling around me, like bits of the universe that I can reach out and catch, if only I open my hand? Well, that’s another story. Because then, what I’m lacking isn’t the creativity. What I’m lacking is the work. And I have total control over that.

So the takeaway, from the podcast and the sessions and the whole conference? It’s all there for the asking. All of it. ALL OF IT. The only thing that’s required of me is the work. The muse will join me in this dance of creativity once she sees me out on the ballroom floor and believes I’m going to stay there for the entire song.

Food for thought I wanted to share with you.

There’s so much to say about the conference, which is still digesting in my soul, and I’ll write about that in a separate post. But right now? I’ve got some work to do.

Writing in Real Life

refreshed magazine mar 2016One of the misconceptions people have about writers is that we loll around all day in our pajamas while brilliant prose magically pours forth from our fingers, usually minutes before deadline. We don’t work, therefore we’re always available for lunch, errands or babysitting. We can do whatever we want, whenever we want, and we make gads of money doing it.

OK, yes, sometimes I work in my pajamas, but most of the time I get dressed. (Yoga pants and sweat shirts count as getting dressed, right?) And yes, I am free during the day to run errands and have lunch with friends, and I used to babysit (we all know how that story ends). I also grocery shop and cook and do laundry and pay bills and answer the phone and let in repairmen. And I would clean, if I was the kind of woman who cleaned.

In between real life, I write. [Click to continue reading at Refreshed Magazine]

What I Read in 2015

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With just a couple of weeks left in 2015, I thought I’d compile my annual list of “books I read”.

I keep the list every year, but I don’t always share it. Lately, though, I’ve found myself recommending a lot of books or just discussing what I’ve read, even if it I didn’t love it. So I thought it worthwhile to share my list with you.

The books are listed in the order that I finished them (vs any kind of ranking order), along with some general thoughts. Don’t be misled by the “finished reading” dates. I’m often reading several books at one time, so it’s not unusual to finish a couple of books within days of each other – although I have definitely been known to stay up for a few days straight reading (“Dead Wake”) or read a book in one day (“Nothing But The Truth”). Also understand that inclusion on the list isn’t necessarily an endorsement; a book is on the list simply because I read it in 2015.

Continue reading

Writing, daffodil bulbs and being a catalyst for change

I’ve been having a bit of a frenzied few months, covering Fringe Fest, traveling to Western Massachusetts to visit family, doing improv, taking classes.

What I haven’t been doing is writing.

I’m on deadline for my next book – that feels weird to even say that, “my next book”, as if my last book was some sort of literary milestone. It’s just a collection of previously published columns, with one new piece written after my dog died. It was done more for me than anything else, to put a period at the end of a difficult, depressing, and unfruitful time in my life. It let me say, “Here, I accomplished this in the midst of the turmoil, and now I’m on to bigger and better things.”

It’s a little thing. It’s nothing.

I’ve been doing a lot of research for this next book, which feels like an actual writing project that’s going to be worthy of the effort. A book I authored. But I’m rabbit trailing while searching at Newspapers.com, and reading books and filling the pages with sticky notes to mark trivial bits of info I want to go back to. I’ve got piles of files of stories I want to include but none of the stories actually written yet.

The book is a collection of stories about people buried in Rochester who made contributions to science, society, entertainment…or just have weird and interesting stories.

Mostly the latter, because I love a good weird story, a tale of a totally random action that sets in motion something that changes the world.

Like the story in the video above, about educator Stephen Ritz, who turned his classroom in to a garden and transformed his students’ lives.

Here’s my question: who gave him the daffodil bulbs? Continue reading

Covering the Rochester Fringe

It’s been a few years since I’ve covered entertainment – and really, very little I covered was local – so I was surprised and thrilled to be offered a press pass to cover the First Niagara Rochester Fringe Festival for my favorite local website, RochesterSubway.com.

I’ve never been to the Fringe, and to be honest, given my dislike of crowds and traffic I probably wouldn’t have gone had it not been for the pass. But the list of events is mind boggling. So I got together with a friend and we bought tickets to a bunch of comedy and impro shows (before I knew I had a pass), and then I made a list of other stuff I want to see (that I wouldn’t see otherwise).

Yesterday, I went on what may be the coolest tour of Rochester that I’ll ever take, Remote Rochester. It’s an immersive street theater, thought provoking walking tour that has you traveling the streets of the city with 49 other people, all of you connected by a voice speaking to you via headphones. For two hours you contemplate life, death, nature, technology, yourself, and other people. It was brilliant. My review will be up at RochesterSubway.com soon.

Watch here for links to reviews and other stuff I’ll be writing about Fringe. And thank you Fringe and Rochester Subway, for giving me a chance to go back to doing something I loved, but forgot I loved: experiencing cool stuff and then writing about it.

You can see the full line up of shows at this year’s fest on the Rochester Fringe website.

You can find links to all of my posts from the Fringe here.

Writing for Rochester Subway

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One of my goals for 2015 was to pitch a story to RochesterSubway.com, my absolute favorite local website. It’s a great source for local history as well as current affairs.

I pitched it, and the site’s founder Mike Governale liked my idea! So I set off to write about a building next to where I do improv, on East Main St in the city of Rochester. The name “Martha Matilda Harper” is etched over the front door, and I thought it might have been a school. But a quick google search told me there was a much, much more interesting story to be told. You can read more about Martha Matilda Harper here!

And for National Nurses Week, I did a short piece on Ida Jane Anderson, the first registered nurse in New York State. A reader who liked the story sent me a photo from the 1920s of his aunt, who worked at the Park Avenue Hospital; I’m working on a follow up.

You can check out more at RochesterSubway.com. And if you’re in town, check out RocCity Transit Day flash mob!