"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, October 1, 2012

I'm not Lisa*

As you can see on the side panel of this blog, I have two books of humor essays, culled from the columns I write for the Placentia News-Times (I am currently on hiatus until the election is over, but plan to return).

A few light-months ago, someone took me to task for having the audacity to mention Erma in the titles. Most people know this refers to the late but very great Erma Bombeck. She is the queen of the Slice of Life Humor Essay, having written over 4,000 columns before her very untimely death in 1996. The unnamed individual believed that it turned Erma-lovers off, to have someone mention her name in connection with their own writing.

When someone criticizes something I have done or said, my first instinct is to say, "Oh, no! Maybe they're right! Maybe I'm not funny, maybe I didn't think this through, maybe I am as dumb as I look." Or something to that effect. If confronted head-on, I tend to fold and claim stupidity. If it's something in writing, I'm able to walk away and examine it, to see if I truly am an idiot.

So after months of examination, I can finally see the forest and the trees. Here's my answer:

I didn't name my books after Erma because I think I am the next Erma Bombeck. No one is the next Erma Bombeck. She came along in the 60s with a fresh voice, who said out loud what so many wives and moms were thinking: Why the hell does anyone think housework is fun and childrearing is easy? Of course, she said it in some truly hilarious ways. She was both talented AND unique for her time.

There are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Ermas now. We all feel free to tell the world just what happened to us today and why we have to laugh about it because otherwise we'd have to sit down and cry and that makes our faces puffy. There are so many of us doing it that, when I was looking around to try to be syndicated, lots of newspapers and magazines said, "No slice of life pieces." I can only guess they are inundated with men and women who had a bad day and want to write about it in a funny way.

It's cheaper than therapy.

Erma led the charge. She was the first, and no one will ever replace her. Her followers (like me) work like crazy to be funny and poignant, as she was, but we all know she created the blueprint for us.

I like to think karma made me a humor essayist, because Erma and I share the same birthday - February 21 (not the same year).

I used Erma in my books' titles because 1) I share her sense of humor, and 2) I aspire to be like her. Some people think I'm as funny as Erma, and some do not. Humor is subjective and that is just something humor writers have to steel themself against. If I don't quite make it up to her quality (in some people's opinions), at least everyone knows where I'm aiming.

So the answer is that I made the right decision. At some point, I plan to put out one more Erma book. I like things in threes.

*The reason for this post's title is that, when I was first criticized, I thought, "Well, I'm not Erma," and this song jumped, immediately, into my head.

BTW, this is from an episode of Hee Haw. Loved Buck Owens.


Debbie Haas said...

I think your titles are perfect! They show your genre, aspirations, comradeship with (many mothers feel the same!), and recognition of the unique, the great Erma. Thanks for keeping her alive!

Gayle Carline said...

Thanks, Deb!

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