Thursday, March 27, 2014

Growing old, humor, and the elephant in the room

Your vignettes about growing old can be among your most powerful stories. I encourage you to include several in your memoir—your own stories or those of others. (If you missed Part 1 about growing old, click on this link: Growing old: the silly side.)

Now, your readers might assume an elderly person is a feeble, tired, out-of-date fuddy duddy, but don’t let them get away with that!

You have this opportunity to educate younger generations about old-timers. Life for all generations can be better if you share your wisdom and insights.

One of the best ways of doing that, or maybe the best way, is to start with humor, something light-hearted, funny, amusing …

Something like this tall tale:

Two old women were sitting on a park bench outside a town hall where a flower show was in progress.

One lady leaned over and said to the other, “Life is so boring. We never have fun anymore. For five dollars, I’d take off my clothes and streak through that flower show.”

“You’re on!” laughed the woman, holding up a five dollar bill.

The first little old lady wiggled out of her clothes and, naked, streaked through the front door of the flower show.

From outside, her friend heard a commotion inside the hall, and then applause.

In a few moments the naked woman burst through the door surrounded by a cheering crowd.

“What happened?” asked her curious friend.

“I won First Prize for Best Dried Arrangement.”
(author unknown)

When you start with humorous stories, you do more than entertain:

  • Humor gets your readers’ attention: it pulls them in and keeps them reading.
  • It connects your readers with you.
  • It can gain readers’ admiration and acceptance.
  • Humor endears you to your readers.
  • Funniness makes you seem real. You are no longer a vague author lurking in shadows. Instead, your reader has spent a happy time with you and feels like he knows you and, as a result, he likes you. He wants to know you better.
  • Laughter is a universal language, a common connector, a shared experience.
  • Humor lets you and your readers tackle the elephant in the room.

What is that elephant in the room? It’s the issues no one’s talking about (at least not to your face; they might, however, talk about them behind your back).

Here’s the elephant in the room:

When you grow old, your body is no longer young and firm, your hair grays, your face wrinkles, your neck skin droops and wobbles, your hand shakes, your mind forget things, and your balance isn’t as good as it used to be. You are considered undependable, if not downright dangerous, and they take away your car. Some day you’re going to die. You’ll be dead. Until then, your physical and mental health will continue to deteriorate. You’ll start to smell bad. You could end up dependent upon others to feed you, bathe you, dress you, brush your teeth, and carry out all your personal needs. It’s not pretty. In fact, some people consider it disgusting.

That’s the elephant in the room.

Humor, however, lets you acknowledge the obvious. It brings sensitive issues out of the darkness and into the light. It offers your readers a look at realities through fresh eyes.

And then something lovely can happen: Looking at aging in a humorous way can soothe tension and soften uneasiness younger people might feel. Humor can make old people appear less alien, not as weird and creepy as the younger generation thought. The experience helps them realize they don’t need to distance themselves from old-timers.

Looking at aging in a light-hearted way can also reinforce this truth: Aging is natural. It can help younger generations accept aging as a normal part of life that even they will experience. Chuck Swindoll says it this way: “… The story gives them permission to laugh at the struggles that every [person] inevitably faces.…” (Touching Others With Your Words)

Since aging is a normal part of life, oldsters might as well enjoy it! Make the most of it!

When you share stories about the funny side of old age, your message is something like this: I know I’m old, but it’s not a failure on my part—it’s a natural part of the cycle of life. It happens to everyone, so I choose to see the glass half full, not half empty. I’m making the best of my situation. I’m enjoying life as much as I can.

This next little story sheds light on another reality: Elderly people have Senior Moments. But hey, that, too, is a natural part of life! We might as well acknowledge it with light-heartedness. 

An elderly lady did her shopping and, upon returning to her car, found four men in the act of stealing it.

She dropped her shopping bags, drew her handgun, and screamed, "I have a gun, and I know how to use it! Get out of the car!"

The men jumped out and ran for their lives.

The lady, shaken, loaded her shopping bags into the car and sat down in the driver's seat, but she was so flustered she couldn’t get her key into the ignition.  She tried and tried, and then, slowly, it dawned on her. She jumped out of the car and grabbed her bags.

A few minutes later, she found her car parked a few spaces down the aisle. She loaded her bags, drove to the police station, and turned herself in. The sergeant couldn't stop laughing.

He pointed to the other end of the counter where four pale men were reporting a carjacking by a mad, elderly woman described as white, less than five feet tall, glasses, curly white hair, and carrying a large handgun.

No charges were filed. (author unknown)

Like Chuck Swindoll says, "Humor makes difficult truths easier to accept." 

Your task: Challenge your readers’ preconceived notions of being old.  Shake ‘em up a bit.

Looking at old age in a light-hearted way, oldsters and the youngsters together, lets everyone breathe easier. It defuses, it disarms, it helps remove mysteries. It eases awkwardness younger generations probably feel, and can make way for compassion and respect.

I encourage you to write a few vignettes about aging. By starting with one or more humorous stories, you establish a connection with your readers, and, of great importance: you make it possible to be heard later. (More on that next week.)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Growing old: the silly side

Old people’s stories, I suspect, proffer more oomph than young people’s stories.  
They share richer wisdom.

Send more potent messages.

Tug stronger on hearts.

They offer valuable lessons for all of us—stories that would bless our kids and grandkids and great-grandkids—if we’d just write them.

What stories can you write about becoming elderly?

Keep in mind that growing old is a touchy subject.

Kenny Rogers nailed it when he said, 

Growing older is not upsetting; 
being perceived as old is.”

If you’re my age, you know the surprise—the dismay, hurt, sadness—of being perceived as “old.” I guess there are two reasons for that. (1) Young people assume being an old-timer is a negative thing, and (2) you don’t consider yourself an old-timer anyway.

Harsh words, these: old as Methuselah, old as the hills, older than dirt, old fogy, past one’s prime, aged, antiquated, hoary, tottering, feeble of mind and foot….

But we are so much more than those words! Oh, yes, we are.

So, shake up your readers a little. Challenge their preconceived notions of being old

Plan on writing several vignettes and remember to do this for your readers: “Make ‘em cry, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em wait” (Wilkie Collins). But start with something funny.

Humor endears you to your reader.

Funniness makes you seem real. You are no longer a vague author lurking in shadows. Instead, your reader has spent a happy time with you and, as a result, she likes you. He wants to know you better.

Laughter is a universal language, a common connector, a shared experience.

Somehow, laughing together earns you a right to be heard later, when you and your readers need to consider the serious stuff.

Humor can lighten the mood when writing about heavy topics—and old age has its heartaches. Humor can provide much-needed perspective and balance.

So, start with something funny, or at least amusing, about growing old. Make ‘em laugh.

Perhaps your grandkids think of you as an important businessman or a dignified pastor or a very proper little old lady. But do they know about your funny side? Practical jokes you pulled? Outrageous hilarity?

Here are a few smile-worthy quotes I’ve collected over the years. Perhaps they’ll give you ideas for your “old fogy” vignettes.

“I believe you should live every day as if it’s your last. That is why I don’t have any clean laundry—because, come on, who wants to wash clothes on the last day of her life?!”  (Cathy Ladman)

“‘Old’ is when your friends compliment you on your new alligator shoes and you’re barefoot.” (Phyllis Diller)

“I got my doctor's permission to take an aerobics class for seniors. I bent, twisted, gyrated, jumped up and down, and perspired for an hour. But, by the time I got my leotard on, the class was over.” (author unknown)

“Two elderly ladies had been friends for many decades. Over the years they had shared all kinds of activities and adventures. Lately, their activities had been limited to meeting a few times a week to play cards. One day they were playing cards when one looked at the other and said, ‘Now don't get mad at me....I know we've been friends for a long time.....but I just can't think of your name! I've thought and thought, but I can't remember it. Please tell me what your name is.’ Her friend glared at her.  For at least three minutes she just stared and glared at her.  Finally she said, ‘How soon do you need to know?’” (author unknown)

“You know you’re getting old when someone tells you your pantyhose are wrinkled and you aren’t wearing any.”  (author unknown)

“I had to give up jogging for my health. My thighs kept rubbing together and setting my pantyhose on fire.”  (Roseanne Barr)

“Mid-life women no longer have upper arms; we have wingspans. We are no longer women in sleeveless shirts; we are flying squirrels….” (author unknown)

“Women over 50 don't have babies because they would put them down and forget where they left them.” (author unknown)

Surprise your readers. Give them a chuckle. Maybe you need to shake them up and change how they view elderly people those enjoying their golden years.

Write your stories on old age and, in at least one vignette, make ‘em laugh.

If you’re still a young ’un, what have you learned by watching friends, colleagues, or loved ones get on in years? Have they surprised you? How have they role-modeled for you that old people can still be young at heart, even comical?

Your stories are important. They can be anchors for your kids, grandkids, and great-grands as they help loved ones through old age—and as they face aging themselves someday.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Celebrating Jessica's memoir, Part Two

Today we continue celebrating with Jessica Errico on the release of her memoir, 
(Click this link for Part One of our Q & A with Jessica.)

How long have you been writing? What kinds of training did you receive?

Writing has always been in my DNA.  Since elementary school, I have dabbled in writing stories, mostly drawing from personal experience. In sixth grade, when I desperately wanted my ears pierced and was waiting on my parents’ permission, I wrote an essay about a caterpillar that wanted the same.

Later, in college, I concentrated on art and psychology. It wasn’t until I was a mother of two young children that I got serious about studying the craft of writing. It seemed the perfect creative outlet for me while the kids were napping, and my “creative juices” didn’t involve making a mess!

Have you attended writers’ conferences? Do you belong to a critique group? If so, what do you find most helpful about them?

Back in the mid-eighties, my husband encouraged me to invest in my writing. I was invited to join a Christian critique group on Bainbridge Island, Washington, that provided accountability for me. What a privilege to share my writing with other sisters in Christ! Due to my association with Elaine Colvin and Kay Stewart, I learned of opportunities to submit my writing and had a couple of devotionals published.

During those years, I attended writers’ conferences in Warm Beach, Washington, and even traveled to California to attend one at Biola University. Those were enjoyable, intense events, where I assimilated lots of information and attended workshops to learn about writing as a craft.

Tell us about your published devotionals.

I was fortunate to have wonderful contacts in the local writing community. For example, I learned that Mary Beckwith was compiling an anthology of devotionals geared to women contracted by Regal Books. I submitted devotionals that were published in the first and second anthologies: Still Moments and Songs from the Heart. My humble writings were printed alongside others by Shirley Dobson, Edith Schaeffer, and Gloria Gaither. I was thrilled! Payment was in the form of free books and a sense of accomplishment. These may be out of print, but they are on my bookshelf!

Jessica, you’ll be glad to know I found both devotionals for sale through Amazon. For our friends here at SM 101, I’ve included titles and links for both:

Do you have a writing routine?

Now that my book is finished, I don’t have a fixed routine. Yet, while writing my memoir, it took precedence along with my commitment to Bible Study Fellowship. I forced myself to invest several hours a day typing at the computer.

What were the hardest parts of getting your memoir to publication? Did you ever want to give up? If so, what kept you going?

The sheer discipline of writing it was the most difficult part for me. Yes, there were times I wanted to give up, months when I didn’t write a word. But I knew God had called me to write my story, and I always came back to it. Plugging away at one chapter at a time helped me not to be discouraged by the enormity of the project. And I think it’s essential to have a couple of encouragers who will pray for you along the way.

I also struggled with how to format my story—whether to break it into sections for readability—and what kind of theme would pull it together for the reader. These were big unknowns and I really wrestled with them. I committed to listening for God to show me how to do it. He used unsolicited comments, the books of others, and even a movie to give me little nudges.

Then I had to decide whether to pursue the traditional publishing route, or to self-publish. After much hand wringing, I opted to assume the financial risk of self-publishing in order to get my message out more quickly.

If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently about writing and/or publishing your memoir?

Not to beat myself up for being inconsistent with a writing schedule.

What hope can you offer memoirists struggling to finish their stories?

Don’t give up! If you need some encouragement to stick with it, share a section with a trusted friend, or another committed memoirist. Sometimes it just takes a quick pat on the back, or nod of approval, to keep going. Remember, our stories can bring glory to God and hope to others.

Tell our SM 101 group about specific activities you’re doing to market/publicize your book. What advice can you give to those who have not yet published?

The fun has just begun! I need to remind myself, as well as your readers, that we can meet the challenges of marketing with an upbeat attitude, perseverance, and grace. I’m currently sending off samples to chain bookstores in hopes they’ll carry it in their inventories, and I’m looking forward to scheduling author book signings as well. It was a surprise to hear of so many folks purchasing my book in an E-book format!

Would you like to write another book?

I’m thinking about writing another memoir about how, in answer to my neediness, God gave me the sweet unconditional love of my husband.

The softcover is available through me ( for $15 (which includes shipping), and you can use Paypal; or on Amazon. Kindle and Nook versions are also available.

Thanks, Jessica, for your interview, and again, congratulations on publishing your memoir. Flannery O’Connor said, “When the book leaves your hands, it belongs to God,” and I know you’re eager to see all He will do to hearten and heal others through your story. Bless you for the hard work you put into it.

Bionic and bilingual, author Jessica Errico is passionate about people, art and writing. Her travels throughout the United States, Europe, and parts of Mexico, have given her a rich appreciation for natural beauty, cultural traditions, and spiritual heritage. Educated at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA., she has worn many hats: art gallery manager, full-time mom, newspaper columnist, worship leader, and director of a pregnancy care center, to name a few. Her favorite titles are: wife, mother and grandmother! 

When not preparing for her Bible Study class, Jessica loves to read, write, scrapbook and spend time with friends.  An avid Qwirkle player, she enjoys sweet fellowship with those who also cherish the Lord!

Be sure to check out Jessica’s blog, Mother Daughter Tango.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Congrats to Jessica Errico on publishing The Mother Gap

Congratulations to Jessica Errico on publishing her memoir, The Mother Gap, her story of trying to connect with her alcoholic mother.

“All of my life, I yearned for a loving relationship with my mother,” Jessica told me recently.

“When there is a lack of maternal affirmation and approval, a daughter can grow up emotionally needy. Add the inevitable fall-out of alcoholism in a family, and the ensuing emotional scares can seem overwhelming.”

Here’s what Jessica shared with me in a recent Q & A:

At what point did you realize you needed to tell your story?

Decades passed before I knew I had to write my story. The first urges to write were driven by pain and anger. Thankfully, I didn’t embark on this memoir until I had experienced healing in our relationship. The hard work started after Mom passed into heaven; that’s when I felt I had something significant to say.

Who is your reading audience?

The Mother Gap will appeal to daughters and mothers, ages 18 to 89, who experience pain and discord in their relationships; and to the family and friends who love them.

What can readers expect to find in your memoir? What’s the most important message you want to leave with them?

In The Mother Gap, readers will experience my journey as I attempt to forge a bridge to my mother. They will discover how the love of God was able to heal one daughter’s battered heart, and be encouraged to trust Christ for reconciliation in their own relationships.

I’m calling my book a “ministry memoir” because I’ve included “Bridging the GAP” questions (at the end of each chapter), to be used for personal reflection or group study. Truly, Jesus is able to heal hearts that open up to Him. By choosing to forgive, as He has forgiven us, we can finally lay hold of peace and contentment.

What did you learn about yourself from reflecting on the past, something you hadn’t realized before?
I realized anew just how much I need a Savior! It was sobering to remember just how much resentment and bitterness I carried for decades. I needed forgiveness just as much as I needed to forgive.

What did you discover about others and about God that you wouldn’t have recognized if you hadn’t taken time to look back and to write your memoir?

In the process of writing, I had the opportunity to truly reflect on the tangible ways God loves us! In reviewing my mother’s life, and my relationship with her, I was able to clearly see God’s Hand of provision and protection. I realized how many times He wove good things into our lives, and I am able to worship Him with increased thankfulness!

How has writing your memoir changed you? What different person are you today after having written your memoir?

Finishing my memoir brought an inner release I cannot adequately describe. Perhaps it was the task of honestly assessing the past, coupled with my goal to encourage others, that led me to let go of what I couldn’t fix, and better depend on my Redeemer.

How can we buy The Mother Gap?

The softcover is available through me ( for $15 (which includes shipping, and you can use Paypal), or on Amazon. Kindle and Nook versions are also available.

Next week: More about Jessica’s training, her writing practices, the publication process, marketing, and encouragement to others writing memoirs.

Bionic and bilingual, author Jessica Errico is passionate about people, art, and writing. Her travels throughout the United States, Europe, and Mexico have given her a rich appreciation for natural beauty, cultural traditions, and spiritual heritage. Educated at Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, she has worn many hats: art gallery manager, full-time mom, newspaper columnist, worship leader, and director of a pregnancy care center, to name a few. Her favorite titles are: wife, mother and grandmother!

When not preparing for her Bible Study class, Jessica loves to read, write, scrapbook, and spend time with friends. An avid Qwirkle player, she enjoys sweet fellowship with those who also cherish the Lord!

Be sure to check out Jessica’s blog, Mother Daughter Tango.