For The Disinclined
Maggie Van Ostrand
|"I can't go to
Dayton. I don't know anybody. I shouldn't have signed up. What was
That's what was going through my head, even as I packed the 4Runner
with supplies for my dog, Moppet. He was to accompany me on the drive
from Pine Mountain, California to the Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop
in Dayton, Ohio. He would act as my buffer, someone I could talk to
each day after workshop ended. I could tell him how humiliating it
had been, that every writer there would know every other writer, except
me, the Outsider.
I'd read about writers' conferences for years. One can hardly avoid
it, since every writing magazine lists a huge selection in the back
of each issue. Still, year after year, I invented a million excuses:
I should stay home and meet that deadline (what, I don't have a laptop?);
I don't like to meet new people (the whole literary world's against
me?); I'm too old for a Workshop (how old is old?).
This year, I finally noticed the magic words: Erma Bombeck. If there
ever was a trustworthy name, that's it.
Setting aside misgivings, I signed up for the 2004 Erma Bombeck Writers'
Workshop immediately, before I could come up with more anti-attendance
excuses. It was the best decision I ever made since I began writing
fulltime ten years ago.
Though I don't usually consult the stars or anybody else before making
life-altering decisions, it came in handy that my astrological sign
is Gemini, the Twins. I figured that with a Gemini personality, I
wouldn't be lonely; I'd always have each other.
With that in mind, on the Workshop's first night with the everybodies
who, in my head, would all know each other, one of me Velcroed to
the wall of UDayton's Kennedy Union, less a wallflower than a wallweed.
There the real me clung, watching writers watching other writers,
the public me pretending to be unafraid. I decided to take the bull
by the Bombecks, appear hip, slick, and cool, and project a comfortability
I did not feel.
I would wither all with my Bombeckian Attitude of Confidence.
It was at this point that the Spirit of Erma took over completely.
I found myself accidentally talking truth.
"I wish I had stayed at home, writing," I said to a stranger, adding
how out of place I really felt. "You, too??" she replied, her face
giving birth to a huge smile. "I'm much happier at home, too, just
me and my computer."
This was a shock. Somebody else felt the same way?
We chatted on about the perils of being in a solitary profession and
the difficulties (spelled p-a-i-n) of networking. Before long, we
were struck by the sudden realization that there might be others in
that very room like us. Ya think?
"Let's reconnoiter," my new best friend suggested, "and we'll each
bring back two more writers to this same spot in 15 minutes." We peeled
away from each other, drunk with a new sense of discovery.
Not yet armed with enough fake fearlessness to approach any of the
Bombeck family in attendance, or Tim Bete who was pointed out to me
as the man who put this entire event together, I did manage to meet
several other writers that first night. Turned out they pretty much
all felt the same way. Shy.
While the idea of bringing our prey back to the same spot in 15 minutes
didn't quite work out as planned, we did run across each frequently
over the course of the Workshop. We recognized each other easily --
we glowed. We had each accomplished the seemingly impossible -- we
One of the people I ultimately met was Suzette Martinez Standring,
then Vice President of National Society of Newspaper Columnists, http://www.columnists.com
(she is now President), and we struck up a friendship resulting in
my joining that organization. After the completion of the Erma Bombeck
Writers' Workshop, she invited me to be guest columnist on her website
About a month later, we both were invited to audition for a Lifetime
TV reality show pilot, shared some laughs and got column material
out of that novel experience, and met again at NSNC Conference in
New Orleans. Suzette will be a lifelong friend, as will be the many
other writers I first met at the Bombeck workshop in March. Lifelong
friends are what they promised when I signed up, and that's what I
Each night after Workshop ended, I returned to Moppet and shared with
him the events of the day, even as he shared with me by word of tail
his happiness with his sitter, a kind young woman who came to the
hotel room from the local veterinarian's to be with him. She, too,
has remained a friend.
Moral of the Story: Take the fear from in front of you where it inhibits,
and place it behind you where it impels.
Copyright Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus"
Pubished July 12, 2004