Thursday, January 10, 2008

If Writing Is a Bowl Of Cherries, Why Am I Always In The Pits?

I am thinking of entering an essay-writing competition, and I need your help. I want to win an Erma Bombeck award.

When I was a kid, I went through this weird phase of reading Erma Bombeck columns and books. While other 6th-graders were using their allowances for the Sweet Valley High books (which I eventually got hooked on, too) or choose-your-own-ending paperbacks, I was asking my dad to drive me to the public library and to wait in the car while I went to the humor section and grabbed an Erma Bombeck collection. I don't remember how this started; I think I saw her on a talk show, and found her hilarious, and then stumbled on her collections of columns while looking for joke books. God, I was a weird kid.

I've always loved parent humor. I shouldn't have been amused by it until 5 years ago when I became a mom, but something about hearing parents make fun of the absurdity of children and the American family has always tickled my funny bone. I have never in my life laughed so hard as I did the very first time I saw Bill Cosby--Himself on HBO. I couldn't have been much older than 8 or 9, but when he told the story of his 5 kids trying to get showers one night, and how they couldn't even be trusted to do that without pushing each other, getting soap in each other's eyes, tattling, coming down the stairs still wet because they didn't have enough sense to dry off, etc., and how it ended in a series of "beatings" from his frustrated wife, I could relate. I knew even as a kid that kids have "brain damage."

And that before we came along, our parents were normal, happy people. I used to watch my mom when she dragged me along to dinners with her friends (poor thing; she had no babysitter) and when she talked on the phone with her cousins; she was a completely different person then. She laughed. She spoke in a quiet, pleasant voice. She made jokes, some of them dirty. She was a pretty cool person. And then the conversation would end, or we would come home, and the smile would turn into a scowl, and the laughs would turn into screeches as she discovered the egg I had placed in my underwear drawer 6 months before thinking I could hatch a chick, or that I had put masking tape to the bottom of the cat's paws so I could watch her walk funny, or that I had gotten into my dad's carton of cigarettes and taken each cig out of each package and built a massive fort with them (all true stories of things I did while my mother was on the phone.)

In Erma Bombeck in particular, I saw a lot of my mom. She wrote about the things my mother would have written about had she had the time and talent. Reading her stuff, I got a glimpse of the person my mother was inside, the Joan underneath the Mom.

I don't have the talent that Erma did, but I strive to be like her in my writing. Last year, right after I started blogging, I found out about the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition. It is held each year by a Dayton, Ohio library (Dayton was Erma's hometown) and gives small monetary prizes to both local and international amateur essay writers. There are two categories: humor, and human interest. Here's where I need your help.

Rather than writing something from scratch, I thought I would re-work one of my blog entries to fit the criteria. Problem is, I I am having a hard time choosing. Not because I think every entry is fabulous, but because I am a pretty harsh critic of my own work. I don't know if I think anything would be funny enough for the humor category, so I was thinking of polishing up the entry I did about my dad. That one really came from my heart, and I am as proud of that one entry as I am of anything else I've ever written. But deep down I would like to get recognized in the humor category, since Erma is my idol, and she was a humor writer. Even though I don't find myself remotely funny; just cranky.

What do you all think? (All ten of you who read this!) Is there a selection that you think would work as a humor essay? Or do I go with a human interest, "serious" essay? Or am I completely wasting my time?


Robert K. said...

Tough call. Some of my favorite entries are short ones of Ains doing or saying something funny. Perhaps combine several entries into one coherent narrative? For example, you have several entries about Ainsley and her school that could be mined for comedic riches.

Anonymous said...

Ok - so I read over some of the old messages and I agree with robK (yikes) - most of the Out of the Mouth of Ains are pretty good and could probably be combined. I also thought the "Classroom Helper" was pretty funny - because kids say the darndest things. i do also think the one about your dad is excellent though. Oh yeah - and just to make you love Christmas more....were you aware there is a sequel to "The Christmas Shoes"?????

wanda y said...

I will have to admit that the "Zoo Trip" is my favorite! Hilarious!