My second year of college I took an evening class in writing. From what I remember there were only about a dozen of us in the class, including the teacher. It was called “Writing for Publication,” or something hopeful like that. We were young. We didn’t know any better.
The class was taught by a middle-aged woman who had some success in getting published. Her big claim to fame was getting an article published in one of the airline magazines. We were in awe.
Anyway, every week we had to present something we wrote, read it in front of the entire class, and then listen to everyone’s comments. Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as it sounds. Writers live by a code. If I say nice things about the crap you write, then you have to say nice things about the crap I write.
Of course, in a writing class you have to be criticized at some point, so that was reserved for our teacher. She never criticized us in class, however. We had to meet with her for a private meeting so she could say it to our face. She had a sadistic streak in her, this Teacher in Green Shoes. There’s no other explanation for it.
I still remember my first meeting with her. My story had been a great hit during class. Everyone laughed at all the right places. Or at least, I thought everyone laughed.
When I entered her office for my private meeting, she motioned me toward a chair. She took the one opposite me. She had my story in her hands and was looking at it, not smiling. She acted like she was struggling for something to say, seeking a way to let me down gently. Finally she said with a sigh, “Well .. it’s not Erma Bombeck.” Embed from Getty Images
She let that hang in the air for a while.
I was confused. I was a 19-year old college student writing about 19-year old college student stuff. Erma Bombeck was a highly successful syndicated columnist writing about suburban life and motherhood. My mom — who was in her late forties, I might add – was a huge fan. She read her column every morning. She owned several of her books. “The Grass is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank” was a particular favorite.
Was my teacher saying I should try and write like Erma Bombeck? Was she saying I could never hope to write like Erma Bombeck so should just give up writing altogether? Did she think I was trying to write like Erma Bombeck?
Eventually I mumbled something along the lines of, “Uh, yeah… I guess I just… um, yeah.”
The rest of the meeting is a blur, but what I want to point out to you — and this part is significant, so pay attention — the key issue here is that she gave my story a C.
Holy crap, I got a C! Do you have any idea what that means? A C is not an A! It’s not even a B! Holy freakin’ cow, I got a C! Auuuggghhhh! Oh God… my life is over .. *sob*
This was serious. I had damage control to do and I had to do it fast. I analyzed the situation, reviewed my options, considered the possibilities.
Teacher in Green Shoes likes to read Erma Bombeck. I cannot write like Erma Bombeck. That has been established.
My mom likes to read Erma Bombeck. My mom quotes from Erma Bombeck. My mom also reads overly sentimental schmaltz.
My next story was the sappiest, most contrived piece of schmaltz there ever was. It was dripping with sentimentality. It was the story of an inspirational figure from my childhood — an uncle who gave up everything to go teach small children in Uganda. Or maybe it was Ecuador. Honestly, I have no idea. I made it all up so what does it matter? The fact is, I got an A!
She loved it. She recommended I submit it to Reader’s Digest for their “Most Inspirational Something-or-Other.” She practically gushed with how improved my writing was in just the course of one week. I think there were tears in her eyes.
Let’s all agree there were tears in her eyes, okay? She was moved, people. Seriously moved.
Of course, the rest of the class didn’t like it so much. They didn’t say anything against it, but I could see it on their faces. They looked confused, like I had let them down somehow. They were all prepared for something funny, and I gave them crap.
Oh well. I got my A.
Oh, and get this: I continued to get A’s because I now knew what the teacher wanted. As long as I wrote total crap, I got A’s. Because that’s what was important to me then. It was important to me that in this completely inconsequential course that meant nothing to me, my family, or had any bearing whatsoever on my future goals, I received an A.
That’s all in the past now, of course.
I told you all of this for a reason. It just so happens that at my current job, I write the staff newsletter. I’m allowed to have a bit of fun with it, too. Many times I’ll add little asides or comments, just to keep things interesting.
About a week ago, one of the staff members stopped by my desk to tell me how much she enjoyed my newsletters. “You’re just like Erma Bombeck,” she told me.
Whoa! Did you hear that? Did you hear what she said?! Erma Bombeck, people!
Boo-yah, Teacher in Green Shoes! I have arrived!
By the way, did you know that Erma Bombeck had a bit of controversy in her day? Maybe because I put her in the same category as my mom and Teacher in Green Shoes, I never realized she was woman, hear her roar. But back in the late 70s, she worked for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. She spoke and wrote on the subject openly, and for that had her books pulled from several stores.
I guess Teacher in Green Shoes had a point. I am no Erma Bombeck. But I’m working on it, and every once in a while, it’s kind of a thrill to be compared to her. If only for a short while.
So in memory of Erma, we will use one of her quotes to introduce our recipe for today:
Seize the moment. Think of all those women on the ‘Titanic’ who waved off the dessert cart.
Excellent point, Erma. Let’s have dessert!
This cobbler is wonderful with blackberries, but feel free to substitute blueberries, cherries or peaches instead. If using peaches, add a bit of cinnamon with the fruit.
- 3 cups fresh blackberries
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1 cup flour
- 1 Tablespoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk
Mix together berries and the 1/2 cup sugar; let stand.
Put butter in an 8″ square pan and set in oven; preheat oven to 350 degrees. While butter is melting, mix together flour, tablespoon of sugar, baking powder and salt. Stir in milk; mixture will be slightly lumpy. When butter is completely melted, take pan out of oven and pour mixture on top of butter — do not mix together. Drop blackberries on top of batter. (If you prefer more crust, use fewer blackberries.)
Bake in oven about 40 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm, with ice cream of course!