The Be Nice Project: A challenge for 2014

Most of the action has been moved over to my new website, but I want to invite you to join me on this new project: to be nice in 2014 …

That's me in Mexico in 2005. Yup, I was three stories up slapping plaster on a building. Miraculously, no one got hurt ... and from what I've heard, the building is still standing ...

That’s me in Mexico in 2005. Yup, I was three stories up slapping plaster on a building. Miraculously, no one got hurt … and from what I’ve heard, the building is still standing …

I’m trying to be nice. Honest. But it’s not easy.

For years now, I’ve been working on a book idea about loving your neighbors. The idea came to me after I went on a mission trip to Mexico in 2004. At the time, I hated flying, didn’t speak Spanish, knew zero sign language and was completely inept with both ball peen hammer and ball point pen. And yet I got on a plane and flew to Mexico to do construction at a school for deaf children.

It’s not as if I hadn’t volunteered before. I’d done a local mission project for several years, sponsored children through a Christian organization, and supported many charities. But getting out of my comfort zone and allowed me to get a better understanding of my place in the world.

It was a life changing experience, and it gave me the idea to write a book about how to love your neighbors. I figured if I could do it, anybody could. Although I still hate flying, don’t know sign language, can’t speak Spanish and can injure myself with writing utensils and screwdrivers with equal severity, I learned how to be giving and how to love my neighbor.

I tried to write. Tried for almost 10 years. But every time I got in front of the computer I went blank. I kept notes, clipped stories from the newspaper, did research, even had an agent interested in the project. All I had to do was send him the first three chapters. But no matter how hard I tried to write, it just never came together.

Then I realized why: I’m not very nice. Continue reading

New book (and website) on the way!

what the dog said cover of book

Stay tuned – the release of my debut book, What The Dog Said, is almost here! This collection of columns includes some of my favorites, a few penned by Bandit, and one new piece that my publisher called “a masterpiece.” Yup, that’s me. The Picasso of column writing.

And while we’re at it, I’ve finally updated my website. I admit it. Things move at a snails pace here at the Funny Farm.

So make sure you bookmark (and visit!) http://www.JoanneBrokaw.com – and sign up for my mailing list on the website, so you don’t miss updates on the book release, book signing party, and all the news from The Funny Farm!

Oh, just be nice

So I’m doing some research for my next book – yeah, I’m on a roll – and I think I’ve decided to explore The Golden Rule.

Do unto others, don’t do unto others, be nice, love your neighbor, what goes around comes around. The problem is that the more I muse about what it means to “do unto others” the more others … well, really annoy me.

More people seem to be cutting me off in traffic. Almost every restaurant or fast food place gets my order wrong. My neighbor walked her dog to my front yard, then let the dog meander in my garden and pee on my flowers – while I was standing there.

I don’t know if I’m noticing more how irritating life with humans is, or if I’m just more sensitve to it because I’m thinking about it.

I think that I’m generally one of those “be nice” people. I go out of my way to write positive comment cards when I go to the grocery store, for example, because I believe that if I look for positive I find positive. Plus, I know more people complain than compliment so it feels like I’m somehow balancing out the universe. I wave “thank you” when someone lets me in their lane on the highway or stops to let me cross in a parking lot.

Of course, I called some guy an idiot today  when he turned right in front of me at an intersection when I had the right of way. And every morning I mutter curses when I’m awakened from a sound sleep by a guy on our street who lets his dog out at 5 am and shouts “Go poo poo!” for several minutes.

I’d like to think I’m a nice person. But maybe I’m just a persistant bitch, and I’m only seeing it now because I’m looking for it.

Either way, for a the next month or so I’ll be exploring the concept of being nice and asking for reader feedback. You can share here or on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/joannebrokawwriter.

And for today? Just try and be nice.

Missing: my pants

Missing: one pair of jeans. These are not the missing jeans. These jeans shrunk drastically while in the dresser since last fall.

Missing: one pair of jeans. These are not the missing jeans. These jeans shrunk drastically while in the dresser since last fall.

I’m missing a pair of jeans. Not my favorite pair of jeans. But considering that the weather is getting colder and they are, at the moment, the only pair of jeans into which I can fit my fat arse, they are currently my most essential pair of jeans.

I can’t imagine where they are. I’ve looked in the obvious places, including the clean clothes piles, the dirty clothes piles, the “I can’t remember if I wore these or not so I’ll pile them here until I decide what to do” piles, and in my Jeep.

I don’t remember when I wore them last, but I can only assume that I wore them someplace, took them off, and then came home wearing no pants. Although you’d think I would remember that.

In any event, I’m not sure how to go about finding my jeans. So if we went someplace together and you remember me leaving my pants there, let me know.

Opening old wounds

I spent yesterday working on a new piece for my book. (Don’t you love that … “my book”?) It was a piece about Scout.

I hadn’t planned to write any new pieces about Scout. I wanted to pen a few new funny pieces, maybe even let Bandit tackle those. But I a dream Tuesday night, and I woke up with this piece almost written.

So I wrote it.

And I cried.

I cried as I thought about it and I cried as I wrote it and I cried as I rewrote it. Then I drank some wine.

Signing this book contract was good for me, because it’s forcing me to finish a project. But I didn’t expect it to be so catharic emotionally. It’s been a year and half since Scout died and it’s still so fresh, so raw. Even though I’m surrounded by dog love 24/7.

Writing and wine … better than therapy …

Breaking news: I’ve signed a contract with Wordcrafts Publishing!

As every writer knows, the public doesn’t consider you a “real writer” until you publish a book. It doesn’t matter if  you’ve published articles or won awards, and when you say “No” they quickly change the subject.

Well,

 dear friends,  you can pity me no longer, because today I signed a contract with Wordcraft Publishing to publish a compilation of my columns and essays.

Ta da! Real writer!

Making the deal even sweeter, a couple of Bandit’s pieces will also be included. Really, he’s probably going to be the bigger celebrity out of all of this. But I can live with that.

The plan is to have the book out in time for the Christmas season, so I need to buckle down and get to work. I need to first select as many of my favorite columns as I can find, and then pen a few new pieces.

Stay tuned for more news!

Reflections on a fallen tree and the brevity of life

This is one of the trees that stand tall over my house. The trees shield us from rain and snow and the sun's rays, provide a home for squirrels and birds. I've never realized how incredibly gigantic this tree is or what power it holds for both life ... and death. Photo (c) Joanne Brokaw

This is one of the trees that stand tall over my house. The trees shield us from rain and snow and the sun’s rays, provide a home for squirrels and birds. I’ve never realized how incredibly gigantic this tree is or what power it holds for both life … and death.
Photo (c) Joanne Brokaw

Coming home from today from a walk at White Haven with Bandit, I took the detour down Main St in East Rochester (they’ve got the street to our house completely torn up with construction) and came across what was clearly an emergency situation.

There was a man directing traffic as a fire truck came towards the intersection, and a crowd of people stood staring at a giant tree that had fallen across the road. I could see the front of a car under the tree. I waited as the fire truck was in place, until I was given the go ahead to turn.

My first thought? I should run home and get the camera. It was a big tree (100 years old, I later learned) and there are always cars parked on that street. It seemed like one of those “moments in history” when it seemed appropriate to capture the images on film (digitally, speaking). I’ve taken lots of nature photos like that- trees down in cemeteries, a train derailment just a block from my house, snowstorms that shut down our town, and the like. I think I’m drawn to the power of nature vs. man in those situations.

But when I got home, I could hear my neighbor telling someone there were people trapped in the car and I decided to skip the “isn’t that interesting” picture-taking opportunity. A giant tree falling is opportunity for photos of nature; people trapped in a car is gruesomely voyeuristic.

Then I saw tonight on the news that the tree fell on a car that was driving down the road, killing the driver and sending the passenger to the hospital.

Imagine for a moment what exact timing there has to be for the tree to fall on the car at the precise moment the car is driving past. In a fraction of a fraction of a second, you’re before the tree, then under the tree, then past the tree. It took longer for you to read that sentence than it takes for you to drive past the tree.

What are the odds?

And what if, under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t have been driving down that road? With Lincoln Rd. under construction, all traffic is routed through town. What if you weren’t really supposed to be there to begin with, but on that one day you happened to drive down that road, a tree happened to fall?

What are the odds?

A few years ago, a train derailed just up the street from my house. Cars were hanging over the overpass, had fallen onto the road below, and had skidded just feet away from homes in the neighborhood where the trains speed by several times a day. While there was damage to cars parked in the lots right next to the tracks, no one was hurt. Which is a miracle, when you consider how much sustained traffic is on that street, how many people are walking to and from cars, up and down the road. And yet no one was hurt.

What are the odds?

But today? Someone is driving down the road and BOOM. Under bright sunny skies, a tree falls on their car and they’re dead. It’s sad and eerie and a little difficult to comprehend.

Even eerier for me was to realize later that, had Bandit and I left our walk at the park just a few minutes earlier, we’d have been driving down that exact street, possibly at the exact moment when the tree fell.

Who decides when it’s your moment to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? What supernatural forces are at work that keep you just a few minutes longer where you are or that would have you be in exactly one place in exactly a specific moment?

I wondered later about a giant BOOM Bandit and I had heard while walking. At White Haven (which is a cemetery memorial park; ironic) we’re just a mile or two away (as the crow flies) from where the tree fell.  It’s possible that what we heard was the tree falling, based on witnesses who heard it fall and said the sound was terrifically loud. In fact, the BOOM scared Bandit because it sounded a lot like thunder. It’s what actually ended our walk. Bandit is frightened of thunder, and given that we’ve had two days of storms, when he heard the BOOM, even though the skies were clear and sunny, he made a beeline back to the dogmobile.

I’d wanted to stop walking a few minutes earlier. I’d been feeling a little queasy all morning and was ready to head home. But at a fork in the road in the cemetery, Bandit (in what is a very regular occurance on our walks) stopped, and when I said, “OK, you pick which way we go,” he opted for a longer route back to the dogmobile – until he heard the BOOM.

What are the odds?

I wouldn’t normally dwell on my own mortality, except that last week I celebrated my 30th birthday for the 19th time. Last night darling husband and I were out to dinner and I was musing about how I’ve accomplished nothing of value in my life, left no mark, and wasted much time and opportunity. And really have no prospects that things will change in the near future.

I suppose birthdays are like that, especially as you get older, moments for reflection and a little bit of self-pity.

But I think today the lesson learned is that there’s no value on worrying about the past or fretting about the future when you don’t even have control of this exact second. There are no odds. There is force at work greater than our desires, our plans, our wants, who controls the moment for reasons we will never understand in this life. The only moment we have is now. That is the only thing we can be sure of.