Category Archives: Writing

Introducing Rochester Night & Day

rochester day and night header

I love blogging, but sometimes it gets lonely blogging alone. I do blog as part of a team at Patheos, but I don’t actually see other bloggers or even interact with them in person. I prefer to write alone, but I work best when I have human contact every once in a while.

So I’m really happy to announce a project that I’ve been working on with local writer Rachel Leavy: Rochester Day & Night, a blog about the city where we live and write.

Yay!

We’re not fancy web designers and right now we’re working out the kinks in the blog, but we’re both excited to write about the things we love and the places that inspire us – and even rant about some of the stuff that just ticks us off. We’ve got a great guest blogger, who goes by the pseudonym Ms. Red, who’ll take you on an underground trek through the city’s bar bathrooms, complete with lots of sass and snark.

I hope you’ll take some time to check out intro blog posts from both me and Rachel. Leave a comment, share a thought, or suggest a story. If it has to do with Rochester, we’re interested!

 

Recharging my creative batteries at the Irish pub

Sitting at a local Irish pub and writing.

Sitting at Barry’s Old School Irish Pub and writing.

As a writer, the biggest thing I struggle with is staying motivated. Working from home, I’m easily distracted by things that need to be done in the house, by the dogs, by Netflix. If I pack up my stuff and go someplace else to work, I often forget files I need or simply go blank sitting in the coffee shop.

Part of my problem is just not feeling comfortable out among people. Writing is such a personal thing, too intimate an act for a public venue. I’m comfortable at home, but retreat into my shell. I’m out of my shell in public, but my thoughts are often too shy to leave my brain and meet the page. I feel like, if I’m writing in public, I should be creating something worthy of public scrutiny, when really I may simply be musing on my blog about reality TV or cats.

It’s like wearing a mink coat and then having everyone realize that underneath you’re still in your pajamas.

Today, I’m at Barry’s Old School Irish Pub, in the village of Webster, NY. While researching my Irish ancestry, I got involved with the Irish American Cultural Institute (IACI), a group focusing on Irish cultural heritage – movies, literature, history. They’ve been welcoming and kind, and very patient with my endless questions and novice knowledge of my fairly recently discovered ancestry. I’ve been working with Barry’s owner Danny Barry on some social media for the IACI, and immediately fell in love with his little village pub.

While I’ve always been enamored of my Italian heritage, it’s been my Irish genealogy that’s connected with my soul. As I’ve waded through old records and documents, I’ve met my great, great, great grandparents and researched their journey from Ireland to Massachusetts, putting together pieces of the family puzzle, and immersing myself in my blue collar, mill working, large family.

I can feel the Irish blood pulsing through my veins.

So today, I sit at a corner table in this small bar, Irish music playing over the speakers, the owner’s wife and mother among the employees behind the counter, baking and cooking and laughing and singing. When I asked if it was OK for me to hang out and write (Danny had already told me it was, but I hate being in the way), they not only welcomed me but told me to take the cozy corner table, with the padded seats and bright window light. They said it was the best place to work, and assured me that I wouldn’t be in the way of the lunch crowd.

They’ve refilled my coffee, chatted away, and given me updates on the delicious treats as they come out of the oven. And for the first time in a while, I’m able to write. Maybe it’s the mournful bagpipes mingling with the scent of fresh pumpkin bars, the laughter of the family dancing with the fiddle, or just the warmth both physical and spiritual. But I’m eager to fill the blank page with words, to once again open a vein and bleed on a page, to be creatively naked in public.

Where’s your favorite place to recharge your creative batteries?

 

Finding Emma Moore

The likely spot where Emma Moore's body was found in 1855.

The likely spot where Emma Moore’s body was found in 1855. The circled area is all parking lots and buildings now.

For a couple of years I’ve been doing some research on three women who died in our area in the 1800s. Just everyday women, but their stories really stuck with me. One of them is Emma Moore. Regular readers know that I’ve been taken with the story of the single woman who disappeared in November 1854. Her disappearance sparked a city-wide panic; the mayor refused to investigate, insisting she left town of her own accord. Her family had no reason to believe she was leaving town, and they feared the worst. The citizenry rose to the occasion and formed committees to do their own investigation. Thousands of people assisted. Rumors of screams heard near her home that night sparked committee members to question witnesses all the way to the lake. A line search was conducted from Brown’s Race to Irondequoit Creek.

Her body was found in March 1855, in one of the races that powered the saw mills. She was about six months pregnant, and it’s believed her body may have been there the entire time.

I’ve wanted to find the place where her body was found, but for a long time all I had to go on was “in the race, behind the Thorne Building.” No one seemed to know where that was; the Thorne Building wasn’t on any maps. I tried the library, the landmark society, maps. I just didn’t have enough information to go on.

If I’m being honest, I didn’t really try that hard; I had a lot of news stories to read through, and other women I was also researching. But I always had Emma Moore in the back of my mind.

About six months ago, I started going through the mounds of research I’d amassed over the last year, and found a very detailed description of where her body was found – down to the direction of race, how many rods in distance from the post office, what the walkway over the race was made of. I had details; now I needed to find a map.

This weekend was the annual River Romance along the Genesee River, so I took advantage of the chance to explore the city, from the river to the rooftops of the library. Today, I brought along my new information about where Emma’s body was found. And while on the tour, the guide, Hal, pointed to an area where he thought the mill races used to be – where we were standing, in a parking lot.

Later, he emailed me a map detailing the buildings I’d mentioned, all from the new research I’d just waded through. The map is from 1875, twenty years after Emma’s body was found. I probably didn’t even bother to look at that map when I was researching in the library, thinking too much had changed since 1855. But low and behold, there it is. The spot where Emma Moore’s body was found.

The area I circled is now parking lots and buildings. (For those of you in Rochester, that’s a block of buildings near the corner of Exchange Street and Main Street, just over the Broad Street Bridge.)

There’s still a question about whether she lay there the entire four months, or if her body washed there from farther up the river or race. Or if it might have even been held someplace else and dumped there during the winter. I have stacks of research to still read through.

But for now, I’m happy to find the spot where she was found. I’ll be going back to snoop around.

RELATED POST:
Emma Moore, Sarah Bardwell, and Me

Sharing my essay “The Unsung Celebrity,” in honor of Officer Daryl Pierson

In honor of Officer Pierson, who was killed this week in the line of duty, and in support of law enforcement in your area, consider putting a blue light bulb in your porch light.

In honor of Officer Pierson, who was killed this week in the line of duty, and in support of law enforcement in your area, consider putting a blue light bulb in your porch light. You can learn more a http://www.GoHeroes.us or by clicking the image.

This week, a member of the Rochester Police Department lost one of its own when Officer Daryl Pierson was killed in the line of duty. By all accounts, the 32-year-old was a remarkable officer, recognized more than once for his character and exemplary work; he was also a member of the Army National Guard. He was a devoted husband and father, with a 3-month-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, who had just started kindergarten on the day Pierson was killed.

Included in my book, “What The Dog Said”, is a piece I wrote a few years ago about meeting a soldier in an Ohio airport. While this piece isn’t about a police officer, I think the message is fitting in the wake of Officer Pierson’s death, and I’d like to share it with you here. (Note: I recently learned that while serving in the Army, Daryl Pierson spent time in Korea defending the DMZ, which makes this piece even more fitting.)

At the end of the piece, you can find links to ways you can support Officer Pierson’s family as well as first responders in your area.

One last word: If you like the piece, feel free to share the link to this post, but please don’t copy the story and paste it other places. Thanks for being considerate of the copyright.

Joanne
East Rochester, NY

* * * * * * * * * * *

The Unsung Celebrity
by Joanne Brokaw

He looked like just another fresh-faced, Midwestern college student heading back to classes after spring break. Tall and handsome, dressed in jeans, a hooded sweatshirt and baseball cap, he was surrounded by what could only be his family, gathered together to send him back into the big world.

I was returning home to Rochester, NY after spending three days in Dayton, OH for the Erma Bombeck Humor Writer’s Conference, where we’d been encouraged to see the humor in the mundane, the laughter in our surroundings and the comedy in our pain.

Maybe that’s why I noticed the young man. A woman who I assumed was his mother was wrapped tightly around his waist, reluctant to say goodbye, a gesture I was all too familiar with whenever I used to send my daughter back to college, an entire hour from home.

I was with two other women from the conference, chatting and laughing, and the young man ended up behind us in the security line. I leaned across our group and tapped him on the arm. “Where are you going that your family is going to miss you so much?” I asked with a smile.

“The DMZ in South Korea,” he responded politely. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #24 Follow The Improv Brick Road

Carol Burnett Wikipedia

When I was a young girl, I wanted to grow up to be Carol Burnett.

For my 50th birthday, I wanted to do something really fun but different than the standard night out with girlfriends or surprise party. So I invited all of my friends to join me at a free improv workshop. I’ve never done improv, but it sounded like a fun way to celebrate turning half a century.

If you don’t know what improv is, think “Whose Line Is It Anyway”, seemingly spontaneous silliness and frivolity, with lots of laughter. When I threw out the idea, several people said they’d like to join me. But when the time came to actually sign up for the free workshop, everyone bailed.

The general excuse was “I’m too afraid to …” Get on stage. Speak in front of people. Look stupid. Act stupid. Say something stupid. Be judged for being stupid.

Pick a fear, or borrow one of mine. I have a long list from which to choose.

When I was younger, I loved female comedians and actresses like Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Marlo Thomas, and of course, Carol Burnett. In fact, when I was younger, I wanted to grow up to be Carol Burnett.

Not be like her. Be her. She was skinny (like me) and had a short haircut (like me, although I doubt her mother forced the hairdresser to give her that super short pixie so she could “get her money’s worth” at the salon).

But more importantly, Carol Burnett had something I desperately wanted: beauty. To me, she was beautiful not only because she had a pretty face but because she was funny. And that beauty made her fearless. Which made her more beautiful.

Maybe it was her ability to step into any character role and make people laugh, whether she was Eunice arguing with Mama or Scarlett O’Hara making a ball gown from velvet curtains. Whatever it is, I wanted it. One year, for Halloween, I even dressed up like the washer woman character that opened her show, complete with my dad’s giant work boots and a bucket full of “suds” my mom made by cutting up sponges.

joanne Oct 1974 as Carol Burnett washer woman (1)

Me, dressed at Carol Burnett’s washer woman. Wearing my dad’s work boots; my mom made me a bucket of “suds” with old sponges.

As we all know, who we want to be and who we are frequently are at odds, and as I grew up my fears generally dictated my life. Fear of being judged, fear of being alone, fear of looking stupid. Where once the seeds of laughter and humor had been sown in my soul, soon the weeds of fear, judgment, and bitterness choked everything positive before it had an opportunity to sprout.

It’s not that I never had fun; I just never let the fun dominate my life. Fear ruled with an iron fist.

So when everyone backed out of the free improv workshop, I went alone. I had no idea what to expect, who would be there, or what I’d be doing with these total strangers. Just going to the class was, at least for me, an adventure far outside my comfort zone.

What came next was a journey I had not planned to take. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #22 Flowing with the river of life

life is a river

For most of my life, I’ve been consumed with finding my purpose in life. I believe that I’m here for a reason – that God created me for something and that I’m not here by accident. And yet I’ve never really felt like I could put my finger on what that reason and purpose was.

Then a few years ago, I stumbled on a quote by Cardinal John Henry Newman, which reads in part:

“God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I may never know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons.”

I wrote about it in this post, 50 thoughts on turning 50: #17 Be a link in the chain. But I wanted to take that thought a bit further today, after reading an article last week written by local sportswriter Scott Pitoniak, in which he looks back on forty years spent working at his dream job. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #21 Reading the Bible

Judges 19 and 20 - one of the stories in the Bible that still haunts me.

I used a daily devotional Bible and kept a journal of notes and questions. Judges 19 and 20 – one of the stories in the Bible that still haunts me.

Religion, faith and spirituality have played a large part in my life – both good and bad. So it only makes sense that I address the issues as I muse on 50 years.  There’s no way I can tackle them all in one post so I’ll break them up.

Today? The Bible. Or more specifically, reading the Bible.

A few years ago, author John Marks interviewed me for his book, “Reasons To Believe“.  He had introduced himself to me as a former evangelical and he was writing a book about religion and faith. I can’t remember a lot of the questions he asked, because years later I still dwell on the first one: “Do you believe everything in the Bible is true?”

Of course, I told him, but as the words came out of my mouth I felt this check in my gut. Wait, I said. I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it like that.

Turns out that a lot of my answers to his questions were “I don’t know” or “I hadn’t really thought about it.” How he managed to actually find enough to use for the book is amazing.

I met John in 2005; over the next year or so we talked many times but his questions challenged me. So I set out to read the entire Bible, cover to cover, to find out if, in fact, I believed everything in it was true.

My answer to that question today: I still don’t know. But I can tell you this. After reading the whole Bible, I have a heck of a lot more questions than answers. Continue reading