Tassie Types is about growing up and growing older, facing the mirror, and laughing through it all. Here, you'll find stories of family and friends, courage and love, and laughing without fear of the future.

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April 27, 2018

Erma and the Bag Lady

I saw the bag of my dreams at the Nutcracker Market in Houston one November.  Shaped like a miniature typewriter, with rhinestone jewels for the keys, and Once Upon a Time scrolled across the top, the purse twinkled at me under the fluorescent lights.  I ran my fingertip over the tiny beads, snatched it off the shelf and hugged it tight against my chest before anyone else could see it.

The sales clerk had to pry it out of my hands to wrap it in tissue and place it in a shopping bag.  “It’s our very last one.” She noticed my tears. “You must really like typewriters.”

I wiped my eyes with the back of my sleeve, embarrassed at my show of emotion.  “I have to have it.” I sniffled, and lowered my voice to a whisper.   “I want to be a writer one day.”

I took my treasure home and displayed it on the fireplace mantle in my bedroom, where it gathered dust like a forgotten dream.  One day I’ll use it, I thought, even though it’s too dressy for everyday, and impractical, something to be pulled out for special occasions.  One day, I’ll be a writer.  But I knew that was impractical, too.  In the meantime, I kept my purse and my secret wish carefully hidden at home.

Few people knew I belonged to a writing critique group. Years ago I shared one of my stories with the members over French onion soup at La Madeleine.  In my usual self-deprecating style, I read the group, Spin Cycle, about the horror and humiliation of me teaching my first spinning class.

The group howled with laughter at the description of the middle-aged woman sweating on a bike, wearing spandex in a room full of young, fit people, her varicose vein pulsing to the beat of “I Will Survive.”  Whether they were laughing with me, or at me, didn’t matter. They were laughing, and it warmed my heart.

The leader’s belly bounced as he chuckled.  “There’s a workshop for humor writers.”  He grew serious, tapped out something on his laptop and showed me the screen.

The Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop.   I caught my breath, a spark of excitement igniting in my heart. He scrolled down the page.  Dayton, Ohio.  My shoulders slumped.  It might as well take place in another galaxy.  Recently divorced with three young children, traveling solo across the country was a work of fiction.  Then, I read the fine print at the bottom. Sold out.

Still, a tiny flame burned somewhere deep within me.  I slipped the workshop into my mental One Day file.

Intrigued, I subscribed to the Erma newsletter and learned the workshop was only offered every two years, and that it sold out within hours. In the meantime, my children graduated high school and college.  One got married. I remarried.

Almost a decade passed before the timing was right and everything fell into place like words on a page.  I continued following the website and saw the workshop was accepting humorous submissions for an anthology on aging.   On a whim, I dug out Spin Cycle and sent it in, then because I was aging too, promptly forgot about it.

On December 5 at 11:59 AM, the day registration was to open for the 2018 workshop, I was poised in front of my computer. At the strike of noon, my fingers flew across the keyboard, and with a flying leap of faith, I clicked submit.  And waited. My heart soared when the registration confirmation flashed across the screen. I performed a victory dance in my study. My one day was now only four months away.

When I joined the Facebook page for attendees, and studied photos from past workshops, every ounce of bravery dissolved in a puddle at my feet.  These women were writers, every one of them. They had books and blogs and bios. They had attitude and ambition. More than one wore a tiara on top of her pink hair.  I would never fit in. I feared I’d be the unfunniest woman in the corner of the ballroom, choking down hotel chicken while conversation and laughter rang out all around me.  To make matters worse, I didn’t know what to wear. Snow? In the spring? I packed boots and mittens, flip-flops and midis, prepared for anything and nothing at all.

The morning of my flight, I was wheeling my suitcase out of my bedroom at 3:00 AM, and as an afterthought, grabbed my typewriter purse off the mantle and stuffed it into my carry-on.

Two planes and one rental car later, I stumbled into the University of Dayton Marriott, weary from travel. In my room, a downy king-sized bed beckoned me and more than anything I wanted to disappear under the warm folds of the comforter and sleep away the weekend. I’d peeked into the bar where writers were beginning to gather, and I was certain room service would taste a lot better than an awkward dinner with strangers. One was even strutting around with a chicken hat on her head, but I was too chicken to ask why.

 

Somehow, in honor of Erma, I mustered up all my courage, hung my nametag around my neck and reapplied my lipstick. I pulled out my little typewriter purse. One drink at the bar, one pass through the bookstore, and I’d slip into the dining room and sit in a spot closest to the door.  I could stash my sparkly purse under the table if it was out of place, and crawl down there with it if I was.

I ordered an icy cocktail from the bar and strolled by a table set up with Erma swag for sale– mugs with You Can Write blazoned across them, T-shirts with He Who Laughs…Lasts lettered on the back– when I spotted copies of the anthology I’d submitted my story to months ago.  Laugh Out Loud. I drew in my breath. The cover was bright red, with laughing faces framing the title. I quickly turned to the table of contents and searched for my name. Then my heart sank. 40 Women Humorists Celebrate the Then and Now, Before They Forget.  They’d chosen forty women humorists… My silly spin cycle story by an unpublished mom from Houston must have crashed and burned on the editing table. I took a huge gulp of my vodka and cranberry to drown my disappointment, my typewriter purse sagging at my elbow.

I was thinking about skipping the banquet when a woman behind me tapped me on the shoulder.  She had an engaging smile and a copy of Laugh Out Loud in the crook of her arm.  “I love your handbag!” Her excited voice carried and soon a group gathered around us, admiring my typewriter.  “What a perfect purse for a writer.”

My bag glowed and glittered from the attention.  Somehow, it had introduced me to women who were just my type.  Although it was too small to hold much more than a few freshly printed business cards and my hotel key, it was growing on me. It held my heart and a whole lot of dreams.

The woman gestured to two writers beside her.  “Want to sit with us at dinner?”

I didn’t hesitate. “Yes!” I smiled, grateful for the invitation.

We entered the ballroom, chose a table and sat down.  As the waiters served us wine, my new friend leafed through her copy of the anthology.  She checked out my nametag again, and looked at me, wide-eyed. “Why didn’t you tell us you were one of the humoristsin the book?”  She pointed a polished fingernail at Spin Cycle.

I stared in disbelief at my name on the page.  I grabbed her book and turned to the table of contents. It was then I noticed it was divided into two sections, Then and Now. My story wasn’t listed in the first part, but it held a glorious place in the second.

My heart soared. Suddenly I was more than a middle-age mom with a Mac.  I wasn’t just full of wit. I was a writer. What a novel idea! Not only that, I was a humorist. It said so on the cover.  And hearing someone say it out loud made me believe it could be true.

The highlight for me was getting to do a book signing. Really? You want my autograph? A new chapter of my life had begun.

They call first time workshop attendees virgins. They even give us special stickers to wear on our nametags that indicate our innocence. From that moment on, we are wined and dined and welcomed into the fold. We’re handfed M&Ms between sessions, along with a heaping serving of support and encouragement. The whole weekend, surrounded by funny, talented women, (and a few men), left me hungering for more.

Famous authors and cartoonists, motivational speakers and publishers dared us to believe in ourselves, to use our gifts of humor and heart to connect with others.  We were inspired to open our writer’s eye, develop a unique voice and style, write memorable memoirs, and pitch book ideas. We learned to battle self-doubt and writer’s block.  Stand up comics taught us how to tell jokes and made us laugh so hard we understood why there were complimentary Depends in the hotel lobby ladies room.

Most of all, it was empowering to hear the three little words Erma Bombeck’s English professor had once told her that changed her life.  You can write!

At the end of the workshop, I didn’t mind being left holding the bag.  In fact, I carried my little typewriter home with pride.

Erma once said, “When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.’”

I’d like to think she’d add, “Life is short.  Buy the handbag. And never stop purse-suing your dream.”

 

  1. Lynne

    April 27th, 2018 at 9:54 pm

    Oh, this piece is wonderful! And I truly did love your purse. So happy you signed my book. You can write!

  2. Tassie Haney

    April 28th, 2018 at 4:41 am

    Thanks Lynne! I can’t believe I actually got to sign books. What a memorable weekend!

  3. Mary Lu Strange

    April 27th, 2018 at 10:20 pm

    Fantastic story. Welcome to the Tribe!

  4. Tassie Haney

    April 28th, 2018 at 4:39 am

    Thanks Mary Lu! I’m happy to be part of the Tribe. I felt like I found my people at the workshop.

  5. Elaine Ambrose

    April 28th, 2018 at 1:16 am

    Excellent! I’m thrilled you’re one of us. We’re forever connected as authors in “the book.” And, I want that handbag.

  6. Tassie Haney

    April 28th, 2018 at 4:37 am

    Thanks Elaine! The book is amazing and I love your story. Music keeps the memories alive.

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