Category Archives: Writing

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

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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.

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

50 thoughts on turning 50: #17 Be a link in the chain

tammy annemarie reunion

Tammy and AnneMarie at the reunion

Two summers ago, in 2012, my high school class held its 30 year reunion. I  had followed the planning on Facebook for the better part of a year. Although it didn’t matter.

I wasn’t going.

I don’t have fond memories of high school, the way some of my friends do. It was a stressful time. I was insecure and dorky and generally felt like I was just taking up space on earth someone else could better use. So the thought of meandering down that memory lane with what were essentially a bunch of total strangers didn’t appeal to me in any way.  (You can read my post about why I wasn’t going in this post.)

At the last minute, I went.

I can’t explain why. It was just this little feeling in the back of my brain that said, “Go.” So about 48 hours before the event, I called Anne, the girl organizing the reunion. I asked if I could still come and if she needed help.

The answer to both was “Yes!”

I suggested to Anne that maybe I could collect information from everyone, like current contact information, where they work, where they live, how many kids they have, stuff like that. She said yes, that she would use it to help give away door prizes (like who traveled the farthest to get there; the winner of that one: from Africa).

But I had an ulterior motive: I was on deadline for a column. When you’ve got writer’s block the best thing you can do is do something different. If I had contact information for people, I could get in touch with them later if I needed to. Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #7 Dear Diary

dear diary 002

I watched the documentary “Mortified Nation” yesterday, which showcases the stage show, Mortified, where ordinary people get up in public and read from their childhood journals, letters, stories and other personal writings. It’s part comedy, part therapy, and fully hilarious.

So of course I went and dug out my own childhood journal.

My childhood musings are not as valuable as say, the diaries and letters of Jacqueline Onassis, whose papers, it was reported today, are expected to fetch $1.6 million at auction.

But they are pretty darned amusing.

For the record, I did a lot of story writing as a child. Most of the stories I wrote featured talking animals, and in one case a talking sea sponge named Harry. Apparently I put that idea out into the universe when I was in elementary school and someone picked up the energy decades later to create a wildly successful cartoon. Although in all fairness, my sponge Harry didn’t wear pants, square or otherwise. But in my story we did go to the movies together to see “Peter Pan.”

I read my journal to darling husband last night, and I have to tell you that it made for some fine entertainment. Continue reading

Friday the 13th: new book, the emergency room and puffy fish lips

So how does an award-winning freelance writer, blogger and newly published author celebrate the release of her book? Why, by going to the emergency room, of course.

I’ve been battling bronchitis for six weeks now, and after seeing the doctor twice, doing antibiotics and steroids (oral and inhaled) I was still sick. So I went back to the doctor late on Thursday, and he sent me for a chest X-Ray and blood work Friday morning.

I expected when he called with the results that he would tell me that I had pneumonia, prescribe me in some antibiotics and call it a day. Instead, he said my chest is clear (no pneumonia) and my blood work was normal (no sign of bacterial infection). There was, however, something off in a test he ran to see if I was having a blood clot issue.

Apparently when you tell your doctor that you’re short of breath and feel like a cat is sleeping on your chest, it makes him wonder if you have a blood clot in your lungs. He’d done an EKG in the office the day before, but I didn’t connect that he thought my chest pain might be an issue with my heart. I’ve coughed so much over the last six weeks I’m in pain all over. He said, “I want to do an EKG” and I said, “Sure, yeah, whatever you want to do.”

When he gave me the results of my chest X-Ray and blood work, the conversation went something like this: Continue reading