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Finding her funny

11:55 PM  Apr 11th, 2014
by Michelle Tedford

“I was funny and lost my funny and came here to find it again.”

That’s Kate Mayer, a writer attending UD’s 2014 Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, who said her friends used to say she sounded like Erma Bombeck — “if Erma said f*** more.”

And then the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened in her backyard.

She never pretends to be in the center of the tragedy. But she knows many of the families and wondered if it was OK to laugh.

And she kept writing her blog, “Today In Newtown.” Pre-shooting, she made a mommy wish list including Spanx jeans and tampons with timers (think about it; it’s brilliant). She wrote about plungers and dog puke and tweezers, a very funny word to say but not so funny if you forget them on vacation.

Post-shooting, there are lists of the things tragedy teaches you and how Halloween is just not the same. It’s open and honest and important writing. But, as her friends who lost kids told her, she had lost her funny. And they wanted it — her — back.

The biennial workshop attracts 350 writers from around the nation for a dose of creativity and inspiration in the belly-laughing, mascara-running, donkey-snorting way that honors the legacy of one of UD’s greatest graduates. When Mayer attended the opening night session April 10 with Phil Donahue, she purposefully took off her green gum-band Sandy Hook and Newtown bracelets, which she always wears to remind others not to forget. She carries her town with her always, but she sees how it changes the way people respond to her, and she didn’t want to change them that night.

For them, she said, “I wanted to just not be Newtown. I wanted to be me.”

And then Donahue spoke about the power of writing to change the world so tragedies are not repeated, so our children are not killed on buses or airplanes or in marathons. He mixed heartbreaking tragedy with humor. And the laughter of the room hugged Mayer tight.

Afterward, Mayer went up and gave Donahue a Newtown bracelet.

Today, she put her bracelets on as she attended sessions, including one by Kelsey Timmerman, who talked about writers creating a personal mission. That resonated with Mayer: link people with stories to change communities.

“If I tell my story, maybe I can keep our story from becoming theirs,” she said.

And so, in a session about women writing their lives, Mayer got up and said she was from Newtown and was trying to find her funny. And the attendees clapped and cried and hugged her tight.

7 Responses to Finding her funny

  1. Sallie Opicka says:

    Grateful to have been at the event, let alone the session where you ‘fessed up’ and got your just deserves. Inspiring, to say the least, and ‘awesome’ certainly does fit for you! Glad that Dayton’s weather was so perfect for the weekend – it’s raining on and off all day today. Much love to you and yours . . .

    • kate mayer says:

      Hi sallie, thanks for your kind words and generous support at the workshop when I outed myself. I hoped to find my funny; what i found was that and inspiration and support and kindness and the balls to keep writing! xo from Newtown

  2. Kate, when you told me you were from Newtown, I didn’t know whether to say anything or nothing … whether you were tired of the name of your town conjuring such sadness … or wanted the sadness recognized. I was so touched by this story and how you took Phil Donahue’s words and internalized them. I keep thinking of what Judy Carter said … that humor is mess to success … that it is okay to be serious and show transformation THROUGH humor. That’s what Erma did. Not only you –but the people of Newtown — need to laugh again. You are all still here … and are meant to live a joyous life. Children are innately joyous. And the best way you can possibly honor their memory is by living joyous lives — lives worth living. You are a beautiful, kind, funny dynamo of a woman, and I am so blessed to have met you at the airport that first day. I hope you’ll keep in touch and share your writing. And I think the fact that you have come out on the other side of such a tremendous tragedy is truly inspiring … and will continue to inspire your readers! Hugs from Tampa!

    • kate mayer says:

      Not to be worried, Newtown will not be defined by our tragedy, but instead by our response. The love, kindness, joy and activism is evident everywhere. No where stronger than the families directly affected; their friends and neighbors look to them in awe. You my friend, are a very vital part of my own healing, and for that, I am forever grateful. Keep laughing sister, and I’ll cheer you on all the way! xo

  3. Brian McCann says:

    Kate , My wife, Nancy told me your story when she arrived back home from Erma B writers conference this weekend. You touched her heart and inspired her. This was Nancy’s birthday weekend. You and the many other attendees provided my wife one of he best birthday celebrations ever…openness, sharing, caring and plenty of laughter. Thanks for giving to my wife… your gift of giving, laughter and happiness are around the corner…
    best to you, Brian from Doylestown, PA

    • kate mayer says:

      Well happy day to Nancy! Whatever she told you about EBWW, it was ten times better. Everyone went there with different intentions, and I was so very grateful to be surrounded by such kind and generous and snotblowing funny women and too few men. Glad she was inspired by my Newtown zipcode, but that’s nothing compared to what these writers did for me. Love from Newtown!

  4. Barbara from Grand Rapids, MI says:

    This has brought me to tears – and smiles – all over again. Humor has the power to heal and I am so very grateful you have found your funny again and so very grateful for you. Keep writing!

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