Sunday, March 11, 2012

My losing Erma Bombeck contest entry

Well, I'm officially a loser, at least when it comes to the judges at the Erma Bombeck Humor Writing Contest 2012. I'm taking it well, no worries. I learned a lot during the writing process, primarily that I have a hard time writing humor essays in 450 words or less. However, it was a good exercise in practicing ruthless editing, and for packing more into less.

I did get judge's comments, so that's something unexpected and appreciated. I think there's such a healthy dose of well, subjective judging (duh, that's the name of the game), and it's hard to tell what will really resonate. I think there's an element you can never account for, and that's personal taste. Here, it's hard to say if they are really looking for something closer to Erma's voice, or maybe they got too many in the same genre, or maybe my smart-assery doesn't play well in Dayton, or maybe it really wasn't that strong, maybe it was a little trite or seemed to try too hard... who knows. The winning entries covered the gamut and I enjoyed reading them for various reasons. It was fun, though, and I'm definitely going to enter more contests for the challenge and little thrill it brings.

Here's my entry, follow by the judge's notes.

Behavioral Modification

I’ve got all the parenting books. I’ve got the one about sewing yourself to the baby until college, the one where you sneak pureed spinach into cake and no one even notices!, the one by a doctor-turned-vitamin-salesman, and a shelf or two devoted exclusively to shaping your child’s behavior in seven days or less.

What does a parent do when Johnny won’t listen? It’s all laid out in How to Talk so your Kid Will Pretend to Listen. A Good Parent pulls Gandhi-type pacifist strategies out of their parental knapsack and merely exudes a calming presence, one that will facilitate a successful voyage through the sequel Never say Never – Seriously. Here, parents are encouraged to parent gingerly, intuitively and with relentless positivity.

If, for instance, one were presented with a precarious situation involving two small boys hiding behind the couch, jabbing at each other with homemade Popsicle shivs, a typical, Bad Parent reaction might include swift action and a lot of “negative speak”. This would be Wrong. Morally and emotionally Wrong, even marginally abusive. Good Parents employ an enlightened, delicate touch:
“Hello, small people who live in my home and who have every right to embark on their own valuable pursuits! I can’t help but notice you stabbing your brother in the cornea with a crude weapon. Now, I’m positive this is all on the up-and-up, but if I may, I’d like to suggest an alternate activity. Some Parcheesi, perhaps? No? Well, I’ll let you get back to it, then. It will be interesting to see where this fun game is headed!”

Soon enough, the stabbing will end and everyone will have learned valuable lessons about emergency room co-pays and the importance of checking inside the couch for possible shiv-making materials.

By now, I’m convinced the only behavior-shaping going on is the effect the publishers’ head games have on my wallet. Well, I say enough. I say the time for revolution has arrived. Down with these guilt-inducing panic manuals.

It’s time we demanded guides we can really use. I want to see titles like Places to Hide Until Johnny Turns 4, or Babytalk: The Answer is Always “Milk”. I’d find a behavior guide like That Gleeful Laughter Means Someone Just Voided the Warranty on your Laptop far more instructive. And while we’re at it, give it to me straight about the dreaded teenage years. Let’s stop pretending they don’t turn into pod people. How about The Feeling Is Mutual but Hopefully Fleeting?

Meet me at Random House at noon on Saturday with your indignant protest sign. I’ll be the one gently coaxing a 3-year-old boy from the roof and passing out chocolate chip cookies. You won’t even notice the spinach.
Judge's note: Although your essay Behavioral Modification wasn’t chosen a winner, it was in the top 20 and made it to the final round of judging. Here’s what your judge had to say:

This one made me giggle. Clever framing and a few funny lines make it a fun read.

Although your essay wasn't chosen as a winner, we appreciate the time you took in entering and encourage you to keep writing. There were 524 essays received this year and the judges had their work cut out for them!


Jason D. said...

Sarah...I LOVE it. I giggled, and maybe even peed in my pants a little...but you won't even notice.

Sarah Hunt said...

Thanks, Jason. :) I won't tell about the pee, or blog about it, or make it my FB status, or send a mass text. No worries.

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