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April 15, 2014

BEAM: A life more ordinary

“Most of you are going to be ordinary. You are not going to the moon. You’ll be lucky to find the keys to your car in the back parking lot. But some of you are going to be great things to yourselves. You are going to be the best friend someone ever had ...” — Erma Bombeck

No one wants to be called ordinary. It’s almost an offensive word, a monstrosity of a term that clashes against the very notion of what it means to be an American.

By golly, this nation births only the exceptional. We rise above the commonplace, conventional and mundane, and strive for the unique. Ordinary is how neighbors describe a serial killer’s everyday life on the 6 o’clock news. Extraordinary remains the goal of everyone else.

So why do many of us still feel so very, very average?

Humorist Erma Bombeck was no different. Her days as a housewife of the 1960s were spent being a wife, a mother, a friend. Yet her honest, witty writings about living this ordinary life were one of the things that made her special. Back then, it wasn’t the norm. Few mothers spoke of their duties in less than endearing terms.

Not Erma.

“One thing they never tell you about child raising is that for the rest of your life, at the drop of a hat, you are expected to know your child’s name and how old he or she is,” wrote Erma.

That was the beauty of Erma. Transcending social conventions and relying on an exaggerated authenticity, she connected with her readers. In return, they loved her for her tenacity. Erma made ordinary cool.

With a career spanning 31 years, Erma wrote more than 4,000 newspaper columns and published 15 books, many of which were best sellers. In the final years of her life, 900 different newspapers printed her thrice weekly column.

Not too shabby for a gal who lived on the less green side of the septic tank.

Over the weekend, 350 aspiring scribes gathered at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop in Dayton, Ohio, to celebrate the life of Erma while learning some tricks of the writing trade. Held every two years, the conference attracts a plethora of famous keynote speakers and other guest lecturers making it one of the hottest tickets around.

With talk show host Phil Donahue, novelist Lisa Scottoline and “The God Box” author Mary Lou Quinlan slated to speak, this year’s event sold out in 12 hours.

Forget Paul McCartney. Erma is where it’s at.

Throughout the three-day workshop, the attendees intermingled in ways only writers can. Contacts were made. So were some friends. Piles of business cards were exchanged; each designed to make the giver unique.

We asked each other about writing styles and platforms. A few ladies searched for ways to expand their own pursuits, unwrapping fellow writers’ credentials in the pursuit of a golden ticket to glory and fame and, dare we say it, book deals. Standing out was the name of that game.

No one wanted to be ordinary.

At the final dinner, overlooking the ladies wearing tiaras, one-of-a-kind necklaces and self-made tees, Erma’s photo shone upon an elevated screen. Her smile leapt from the projected image. She looked like a wife, a mother, a friend, a woman perhaps striving for something a little less ordinary.

Don’t we all?

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at adbeam47@aol.com

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