Au Revoir, Dayton

Posted Apr 25, 2024

Kara Kinney Cartwright

“Comparison is the thief of joy, Mom.” The nerve of this kid.

Even as I basked in the glow of being selected as an Anna Lefler Humorist-in-Residence at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop, the fruit of my loins had written an essay of his own. I was excitedly preparing for the singular opportunity to hole up in a room at the University of Dayton Marriott when he casually informed me that he’d been awarded tickets to the Cannes Film Festival. Yes, that Cannes Film Festival. “You have your thing. I have mine,” he shrugged. “Don’t worry about it.”

A friend from Ohio agreed, texting: Excuse me, but Dayton is the Paris of central Ohio. Instead of cheeses, we offer auto parts and a wide variety of sliced white breads. So basically the same, alike in dignity.

Trés bien. So while I was debating whether I had enough sweatpants and Nutri-Grain bars to make it through two weeks alone with my laptop, my 26-year-old son was trying to figure out what qualifies as black tie. And yet, I ask you, which one of us dined in a ballroom sparkling with tiaras that may or may not have been bejeweled with authentic bejewels?

After the grandes dames of the writing workshop departed, I had a rendezvous with my manuscript. It’s wonderful to have a room of your own, to be given the time and space — permission, really — to write. To be a writer. It’s also terrible, like when you accidentally spend twelve hours rewriting the same three paragraphs over and over until words stop being words and there’s nothing you can do except give up (and then rewrite those three paragraphs flickety-flack more times). The soundproofing in the Marriott is excellent, but if you happened to walk by Room 419 that day, pardon my French. S’il vous plait.

In the late afternoons, to clear my head and avoid an embolism, I power-walked along the Dayton Riviera (technically, a sidewalk between the river and four lanes of speeding traffic), contemplating life’s great questions:

  • How many times can one order a turkey club on raisin bread from the restaurant downstairs before the waitstaff orders a wellness check?
  • If I jam two coffee sachets into the in-room coffee maker, will it try harder to make actual coffee?
  • Was that little stool I’d been sitting on all week supposed to be an end table?
  • Did Tuesday happen, and if so, where was I?
  • And, most importantly, have I been out of the room long enough for housekeeping to replenish my coffee stash so I can test the double sachet theory?

Not surprisingly, Erma Bombeck’s words best describe my time in Dayton: “I stare at that blank sheet of paper … and I think, ‘Oh God, suppose I can’t pull it off….’ I die. I die a lot. And then I pull myself together and give it my best shot.”

The big prize at Cannes is the Palm d’Or, which looks like a gold fern stuck to a paperweight. I’ve got four new chapters. Take that, les Frenchies. And merci, Erma. Merci beaucoup.

— Kara Kinney Cartwright

Kara Kinney Cartwright is the author of Just Don’t Be An Asshole: A Surprisingly Necessary Guide to Being a Good Guy. She is currently writing a sneakily supportive and somewhat sweary book about grief.