Dashing my dreams in Dayton

April 10, 2024
April 10, 2024 Betsy Voreacos

Dashing my dreams in Dayton

“You really have a way of getting people to spill their life stories,” Newfound Friend Number Two remarked while sitting in a Marriott Hotel lobby in Dayton, Ohio last week. This was in response to the rather innocuous question of why did you move from Colorado to Asheville? Her answer had everything to do with death and dying. She was caring for an aging-out-of-life parent and a spouse (whom she still loves, so no upside there) who has six months to live. As the conversation grew, so did my awe. I don’t have a nurturing bone in my body, I confessed to this friend who was a stranger not ten minutes before.

“But you have three kids!” she scoffed. “Of course you’re a nurturer.”

Oh honey, if you only knew.

Newfound Friend Number One shared the story of a brain injury her husband sustained at a construction site. Not an ultra-debilitating brain injury, but bad enough. It wasn’t due to a fall from a collapsible scaffold. Nor was it a head-hit from an errant crane. It was an act of God. While hanging a bigger-than-life-sized crucifix, the cable snapped and down they went. She weeps a lot. I witnessed it. Not, she claims, because of her life but because of the HRT.

Newfound Friend Number Three who protected her loved ones from an in-house grizzly bear (for real, not a code word for a family member) by locking herself in the bathroom, resides in rural Virginia amongst a slew of less ferocious animals, and does a really impressive contortion of character when given a mic.

I watched the UConn vs Iowa women’s basketball semi-final with Number Four, a woman from Newtown, Connecticut. Yes, that Newtown. The one where the most heinous of humans slaughtered a school-full of children, forever scarring every single resident of the once obscure town. But before long we were connecting on a completely different level – laughing as we shared stories of our sordid youth and (lovingly) rolling our eyes about the youth we in turn had raised.

Along came more and more Newfound Friends including the travel writer from Atlanta who apologized on behalf of her parents for gracing her with the name of a stripper; the proudly-confident, fluorescent-pink haired voice-over professional from Oregon; the Cincinnati mother who, against (almost) all odds, birthed an IUD baby – kept it, loved it, had two more; the trans man from Boston who self-deprecatingly laughed his way through the absurdity of his newfound body.

As well as author Anna Quindlen, actor Kathy Kinney, and slam poet Barbara Fant, I met a cat/dog (take your pick) woman with synesthesia (google it) who admitted that despite growing up in the same county as I, got the heebie-jeebies looking at my purple sweater with its big, bold orange flowers. There was the one who proposed to her spouse on Leap Day in the tail end of the last century (still married) and appeared on E. Jean Carroll’s talk show at the same time I was working at CNBC. I probably wrote the promo copy. I was sure I had bored the asymmetrical-haired woman from California with my Taylor Swift ticket acquisition story until she handed me a friendship bracelet (look up the TS / friendship bracelet correlation if you don’t inherently know this) adorned with four white beads:

E   B   W   W

Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop

And that’s where I was with my newfound friends.

Last fall my Moth-winning, story-telling cousin, Karen, asked if I wanted to attend this event with her. I responded with a resounding YES, just as long as we can have separate rooms. You know, the sharing of snores, fans, and bathrooms can foil the best of friendships.

Erma Bombeck has been my idol for as long as I can remember – I’ve read all of her books multiple times and at different stages of life beginning when I was a teenager torturer, right through to the years when I became a torturee.

I hate to think there’s anyone out there who hasn’t been touched by this incredible writer, but just in case…the upshot is that over a span of 30 years beginning in the mid-sixties, Erma wrote about life as a suburban housewife and mother back when it wasn’t in vogue to poke fun at those (including oneself) who chose that path. She was funny, smart, inspirational, cutting-edge, and oh, so profoundly human.

For as long as I have professed to be a writer, I’ve been inspired by this plaque hanging above my desk:

Gotta admit, I was nervous in the midst of these people. Sure I can write. I pen a blog and post it to Facebook, sweating it out as I count my likes. I can whip up a tear-jerker of a eulogy for someone I don’t even know. I can get a kid into college with a killer essay (their moral issue, not mine). I can write ad copy for products I would never use, websites for sites I would never visit, birthday poems for those turning 21, 50, and hopefully 100 (my mother is currently 98.5 years old). But put me with some 400 random strangers, all of whom are legit writers, and my knees quake way worse than the tremor that hit my home state on day two of the conference.

Even since my first piece was featured in the Oreland Sun back in second grade, I’ve dreamed of becoming a published author. (Note below the obvious reason for not aspiring to become a poet.)

Tommy got a brand new gun,

Let’s go out and have some fun.

Christmas is a time of giving, 

And I’m so glad that I am living. 

When I attend my class reunions, which I always do, somewhere between “How many kids do you have?” and “Are your parents still alive?” comes the inevitable “Have you written your novel yet?”

I’ve written three. They’re all incarcerated in my computer and will never see the light of day.

I felt totally out of my league at this workshop, surrounded by so many masterful writers. Still, I got to my classes early, took copious notes, jotted down meaningful messages, and didn’t play a single game of Words with Friends during any session.

“So what was your biggest takeaway from the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop?” my friend texted upon my return.

“I’ll get back to you on that,” I answered.

I’ve been mulling it over for a few days and finally saw that lightbulb icon flashing above my head.

I didn’t learn a thing about sentence structure or grammar nor did I figure out what a dangling participle is. But I did learn something way more important.

It’s okay if we’re not the exact version of the writer we dreamed of becoming our whole live-long lives. It’s okay and perhaps even necessary to pirouette, to pivot, to rewrite our goals.

And if we cut ourselves a break and stick with what we do best then maybe, just maybe, when we meet our maker, whoever he, she, they, or it turns out to be — we will finally find peace within our prowess. If our words touched even one single soul, stirred one heart, changed one perspective, or made one human smile, then we have done what we were put on this earth to do. Even if we’re not the most published, the most popular, or the most talked about writer in the history of the world.

I learned that as we bumble our way through to the pinnacle of our pens, not to get stuck on the I’ll never be and the I wish I were voices running rampant in our heads, but rather to embrace the I am. I AM a writer and so are all those newfound friends of mine. We are witty, weird, wacky, wordy, whimsical, wayward, wise, and wonderful writers.

However we craft our words, whether it be in the form of a novel, a poem, a podcast, a Moth story, an essay, a memoir, a speech, a Substack, a news article, an ad campaign, a TikTok, or a blog born while sipping bourbon in a hotel bar, we all have the power to make the world a better place.

And that, my friends is quite a gift.