“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.