Every so often I meet someone and think, “I want to be like them when I grow up.” In this case, I met two! Sandy and Teri are retired English teachers, now writers, and best friends. They have infectious energy and the kind of confidence that comes from living life and knowing what they want out of it. I sat down with Sandy and Teri to talk about the empowerment of writing, their friendship and being downright funny women.
Sandy and Teri met just four short years ago. Although they have always considered themselves writers, they’ve been able to give it the time it deserves since they retired. Teri writes poetry, performs stand-up comedy and recently wrote a full length play called The Faculty Lounge. Sandy has also dabbled in stand-up and writes a blog called A Second Helping.
How did you two meet?
Sandy (S): We met in a poetry class at Women Writing for (a) Change four years ago. I could just tell she was going to be a friend. It was almost immediate.
Teri (T): At that stage in my life, it was nice to meet new people. I didn’t know I had room in my life for more friendships!
S: This is really true –when I retired, the only plan I made was that I would take every class I could at Women Writing. And now I have this huge circle of people that I had never met before. It’s been wonderful.
T: There’s something about teachers who share a common philosophy.
S: I think if we would have taught together, the school would have burned down because we would’ve had way too much fun! We were always trying to do interesting things with our students. Plus, we never really drank the Kool-Aid. We did what we had to do…We always found ways to sabotage – I mean circumvent – mean compliment – I mean support – I mean, get away with s***! So I think we really had that in common.
What makes your friendship so special?
S: I think we champion each other. There is absolutely no competition between us. We just hold each other up.
T: Plus, we’re really honest with each other. If Sandy says something about my writing, I really take it. When I’m upset about something and I tell Sandy, she doesn’t respond right away. Then she’s lay out this really logical response, always being really mindful of my feelings, yet giving me a different perspective. I just love that. I love that element of friendship.
I just did Brew-Ha-Ha. I was due to start off one of the stages at 6:30 on a Thursday. There wasn’t anyone around at 6:15. I thought, I’m going to have to get out here and do my comedy in front of a bunch of empty chairs. Sandy walked up and down Sawyer Point and gathered me an audience. And there was not an empty chair. That’s what she does for me.
Tell me about your writing. Did you always write?
S: I started writing seriously in 1993 when I went to the Ohio Writing Project. It’s for teachers, and the philosophy is that you become a writer yourself so you can become a good teacher of writing. This was a watershed moment for me because, to be honest, I got so much validation for it. I thought, “Maybe I am pretty good at this.”
Before I started the blog, I had my little group at Women Writing. Two or three people would ready my work. I want people to hear my words and know I’m here — you start thinking about that when you get old. That’s the reason I did it. The first time I posted something, five minutes later, ten people had read it. That was already seven more than had ever read anything! It just kept growing from there. One post got 5,500 views!
T: I have always written. When I was teaching, I always wrote whatever I assigned. So I always made the assignments things I wanted to write about. But that was the extent of my writing.
Since I started writing more, I had so many jokes about being a teacher. So I decided maybe I can write a little play. At first, I called it “The Teachers’ Lounge” but we couldn’t figure out where to put the apostrophe so we called it “The Faculty Lounge” because there are no apostrophes. I would read this particular scene and I just got so much support from everybody that I just thought, “I’m going to do this.” At first, it was an hour long and I had several readings, one in New York with friends who are on Broadway. Sandy flew up to surprise me. I just kept working on it. Then I decided I’m going to produce a full length play.
S: Three nights, sold out. It was unbelievable!
T: …and now it’s just sitting there collecting rejections. I just got another one. And had I been younger and decided this is what I wanted to do for my life’s work, these rejections would be harder. But now I just laugh!
When did your writing evolve into standup?
T: That happened when I was teaching. I guess I’ve always been a funny teacher. Someone gave me a gift certificate to the Funny Bone and I used it for lessons. I took a class, then had to develop an eight minute routine. I had invited everyone I knew! Then I thought, ‘What if I’m not funny??’ It worked out really well, though, and I got a big write up in the paper.
S: Our humor is about everyday, relatable things. When you see younger comics, it’s usually scatological humor or they talk about sex or drugs. But I think we talk about things that are relatable.
T: That’s what I used to say, I’m not like those 27-year-olds. I’m older, I have life experience and I am getting laid! Because none of them are, and that’s what their whole act is about. I think we both know what’s funny. To both of us, it’s about getting to the punch line. There’s a difference between being amusing and telling a joke. You want a burst of surprise where they burst into laughter.
Describe what it feels like when people laugh at your jokes.
T: Just wonderful!
S: …And it’s not just an ego thing. They’re relating to what you’re saying and they’re having a good time. And you realize you’re able to make someone have a good time, and that is just a really thrilling thing.
Tell me about An Evening of Female Comics.
S: Teri has organized a comedy night through Women Writing for four years. All female comics. And she’s been wonderful. This year, she got this idea to train writers to do the acts.
T: They were all humor writers who had never done stand up. I challenged them to take a piece they had written and turn it into stand up.
What is your favorite piece?
S: I wrote a piece called Making Love: The truth about a 43-year marriage. I got an email from a young woman that said “You may have saved my marriage. I have two small children and I’m always b*tching at my husband.” She called her husband and said “I’m going to start making love today.” That’s really exciting.
T: The Faculty Lounge is my favorite piece.
What advice would you give to new writers?
T: Do not be afraid to write poorly. I used to think it had to come out fully formed like Athena from Zeus’ head. It’s okay to write poorly because good things can come out of bad first drafts. So just go for it.
S: Just be yourself. That voice is your personality in writing. Forget what your English teachers told you. Because they’re not writing teachers. Read the kind of writing you like, then figure out what they did that you liked so much.
Join Teri for Meaningful Mondays: Women Poets in the Courtyard at Arnold’s in Downtown Cincinnati on Monday, September 14th.
Subscribe to Sandy’s blog, A Second Helping, here!