Dayton, You Complete Me

Posted Nov 01, 2022

When I board my flight home on Sunday, I will have been in Dayton, Ohio for 18 days. The longest stretch of time I have ever been away from home, international travel included.

It’s been enough time.

Enough time to harbor an unhealthy obsession with one particularly beautiful maple tree in Carillon Park. Enough time to rhapsodize with John the Beer Pub bartender on our shared love for the work of Guillermo Del Toro. Enough time to smile my daily thanks at the breakfast waitress for filling my water canteen from behind the bar.

Enough time for the front desk clerk to know that I will need Pepto Bismol chewies because I ate Cheetos for lunch. Enough time to know that there has been an abandoned scooter off the path along the river for 14 days.

Enough time to decide that Bruce is my favorite Uber driver. Enough time to know that the shortcut to Panera Bread is down Jasper Street. Enough time to know that the house Pinot at the Spaghetti Warehouse is Dreaming Tree, and that the 14-layer lasagna will require even more Pepto Bismol.

Enough time.

It has been enough time, and I refer not to just time for writing. Time I have. Time we all have. Time anyone can carve out for themselves, if they really try. No, what Dayton has given me, what the Humorist-in-Residence program has given me, is time not just to write, but to complete my thought.

Time to write I have. Time to think, not so much.

The iconic image of any writer is that of a tortured soul huddled over a typewriter or a laptop. But that is not the kind of writer I am. Because 80% of my writing takes place inside my head. By the time I am banging away at my laptop, my friends, it’s already been written.

By that time, I’m just getting it down.

Dayton afforded me the luxury of the time to think. In daily life, that’s tough to come by.

Maybe…(doorbell)…my protagonist…(phone)…has fled…(supervisor request)…her hometown…(student request)…to try and…(laundry)…rebuild her life…(mailman)…after the devastating…(landscaper)…loss of her husband…(Zoom meeting)…and her subsequent humiliation…(dinner time)…from a disgraced attempt at…(sons walk in door, end of thought).

Disgraced attempt at what????? What??!!!!

I thought in Dayton. I mean, I really thought. Can any woman with children or career imagine having 17 days to just think?

I thought while I walked. I thought while I used the gym, the pool and the jacuzzi. I thought while I visited restaurants, shopped, went sight-seeing, spoke with locals, sat in parks, wandered historical exhibits.

I took notes, on everything. Notes about the people I met, the places I visited, the topography, the light, the fall foliage, the traffic, the city. I talked to the homeless, the workers, the volunteers, the vacationers, the visiting corporate clients at the hotel.

And I thought, alone in my room. Now, as an introvert, this is not as scary as it would be for an extrovert. But believe me when I say, even for an introvert, seventeen days of being alone in my own head has been daunting.

Liberating. Alarming. Exhilarating.

Some thoughts this week were incredibly destructive. Like the urge I have to transform the pinecones I’ve been collecting into Christmas ornaments. The observation that burlesque dancing classes might be a good idea. And the harboring feeling that maybe, just maybe, dating sites aren’t all that bad after all.

On Saturday night, the last night of the Erma Bombeck conference, I remember a new friend asked me about my plans during my stay. I turned to her and said, “Well, tomorrow it’s time to face the music.” She knew what I meant. No more workshops, no more networking, no more book signings, no more keynotes. No more glamorization of the writing process. Just me. In my head. Coming to terms with who I am as a writer.


So it is almost over. I have five days left here in Dayton, pages and pages of material, and I will return home on Sunday with answers to questions too private to share. Maybe they were not the answers I wanted, but they were the answers I needed. I have discovered who I am as a writer, for perhaps the first time in my life.

Dayton has completed my thought.

Thanks for the time, Erma.

— Mary Oves

Mary Oves, a college English professor in Galloway, New Jersey, mother of three grown sons, and a freelance journalist and blogger for the past 35 years, is one of three 2022 grand prize winners of the Erma Bombeck | Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence Program.