Letting go of the known and soaring into the unknown

A message to a friend struggling with a major life change:

Sometimes, when we embrace who we really are – whatever that means – it sets us off on a completely different path than we or anyone we know ever imagined we would embark on.

And because new things are scary, even when we think we’re putting our feet forward, in reality our hands are firmly gripped to the walls of our past, and we content ourselves with hanging perilously to the Cliffs of the Known rather than venturing into new territory.

Even when it’s painful. Even when it’s exhausting. Even when it’s robbing us of the sustenance we need to survive.

Because clinging to the known feels safer than letting go and facing the vast, scary unknown.

What if we fall?

But what if we don’t?

Sometimes, the only way we will let go of the past and see what’s truly meant for our future is if someone stomps on our battered, bloodies hands as they struggle to grasp the rocks crumbling under our fingertips and forces us to let go.

And in that split second, when letting go of the shards of rock seems like madness but we have no choice, and we’re angry that someone has abandoned us and betrayed us, and we see our fingers release and feel the split second of weightlessness before the anticipated plummet, we surprise ourselves by the realization that we’re not falling at all.

In fact, we’re floating.

And while it’s hard to get used to our wings, because we’ve never unfurled them before, and it’s scary to look down, because we don’t knows what perils await us, very soon we realize we’re not just floating, but soaring.

And then we’re seeing the world from new heights and new perspectives. And the landscape we imagined as dangerous is actually lush and green and filled with fresh waterfalls and crystal seas and beautiful things we never saw when our faces were smashed against our past.

Never forget that you have been created for wonderful things, and you are an important link in a chain of small interactions and experiences that make the world go round.

Following your heart and embracing all you are means that everyone benefits.

Depriving yourself of all you are means we all suffer with you.

Sometimes the only way to let go is to have someone rip your fingers from the ledge of who you were and shove you into the sky of who you are meant to be.

Letting go hurts in the moment, and sometimes we leave a limb behind because our grasp is so tight.

But when it’s time to let go, let go.

We all need you to keep moving forward.

We all need you.

“Suddenly Stardust” is here!

I’m so jack6.000x9.000.inddexcited to announce that “Suddenly Stardust: A Memoir (of sorts) About Fear, Freedom & Improv” is now available for purchase!

I almost never rave about something I’ve written, but I’m absolutely in love with this book. And the advance praise has been so wonderful:

Law Tarello, MFA, and faculty at The Second City, says, “Don’t let her humble and even occasionally timid way fool you. Joanne Brokaw is a powerhouse theatrical improvisor. As a student she was willing to break out of her perceived comfort zone and on stage she used her considerable emotional range and life experience to expand the parameters of what her scene partners thought possible. Her reflections in this book are all at once insightful and revealing. If you have any desire to expand your horizons as a performer, Joanne’s stories can certainly prepare you for what and who you might encounter.”

Austin Scott, from the House Improv Theater, Gainesville FL, calls it, “A fascinating memoir that recounts the transformation from beginner to capable improviser and the emotional growing pains that come with that metamorphosis” adding that “Suddenly Stardust is essential reading and earns its place on my bookshelf right between Truth in Comedy and the UCB Manual.”

Scott Baker, one half of the comedy improv team Isaacs and Baker, says, “Finally, someone who gets it! Improv isn’t about being funny. It’s about letting go of fear in all aspects of communication and your life. Joanne Brokaw really gets it and conveys it!”

Veteran comedian Wendy Liebman calls “Suddenly Stardust” a “guide to life, showing how improv can act as a template for living fully with others. Improv can help us appreciate every single moment, be more creative, and remind us how stellar we are. Say Yes, I’ll get this book, And read it in one sitting, like I did. And then cherish it like I do.”

Carrie Anne Noble, author of the “The Mermaid’s Sister” and “The Gold-Son”, says, “”In Suddenly Stardust, Joanne Brokaw takes the reader backstage (and onstage) with her as she braves the challenging and terrifying world of improv. Her lessons learned will reverberate long with readers—and perhaps inspire them to say, “Yes, and” to purposeful, compassionate living a little more often.”

Comedian and storyteller Richard Hughson admits, “I was at first dismayed to see there were 142 pages, about improv for God’s sake! But this book is not about improvising on stage. It’s about improvising your way through life, complete with all doubts, fears, truths, failures, and successes. To anyone who is considering this – you will love this book.

Roberta Gore, author of “Saving Grace”, says,”Brokaw reminds us in Suddenly Stardust that time spent studying whatever it is we happen to love–be it yoga or ceramics or surfing–will likely reap a harvest of fruits we never knew we planted. Yes, improv teaches us to be looser, more creative performers. But much more importantly, it teaches us to listen, and give, and take, and color outside the lines.”

The ebook and paperback editions are available right now, and a hardcover edition should be available soon. For more information and links to the book at Amazon, check out the Books page on my website or visit amazon.com/author/joannebrokaw.

“Suddenly Stardust” is published by WordCrafts Press.

And don’t forget that I’m leading workshops this summer at The Focus Theater and at Writers & Books. For a full listing of events, check out the (always updating) list here.

It’s my birthday, and here’s what I really want

happy-birthday-cake-candle-celebrate-celebrating-1

Tomorrow, I turn 55. I can’t believe it’s been five years since I started my “50 thought on turning 50” blog post series, in which I noted that I might be 60 by the time I actually finish the list.  (My Ancestry DNA test came back and said I’m a hearty mix of Irish, Italian, and Procrastinator.)

I don’t mind aging. For me, the hardest part of having a birthday: the presents.

I’ve been told I’m a hard person to buy presents for because I don’t like to get presents. I’m swimming in stuff over here and despite a lot of effort to manage the clutter, it’s a never ending battle. Giving me gifts or knickknacks or books just adds to the stress. I change my mind a lot about where I shop, eat, or get my hair done, so people often spend money on gift certificates I’ll never use.

I know, I know. I sound ungrateful, but I’m really not. I appreciate that people care about me and want to show it on my birthday. And honestly, I’m not opposed to going out to dinner or receiving small gifts of things I really need or want (although right now, I don’t need or want much of anything).

So for those who can’t resist my “please don’t give me anything” plea, here is a list of ideas of things you can do for my birthday.

Continue reading

WXXI’s Connections with Evan Dawson

Quick note: I appeared today on Connections with Evan Dawson on WXXI radio. The topic: parking meters, and the City of Rochester’s plan to enforce paid parking. While the City reversed their decision yesterday, the guests – Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation; Arian Horbovetz, creator of the Urban Phoenix blog; Jason Partyka, member of Reconnect Rochester; Bleu Cease, executive director of the Rochester Contemporary Art Center; and little old me – had a great conversation about exploring downtown, and ways to attract people and create a more vibrant experience for visitors. You can listen to the podcast of the hour here, on the WXXI website.

Rochester Post Magazine cover story

It’s been a while since I’ve written a feature profile, so when Rochester Post Magazine approached me this spring about writing a piece, I debated whether or not to take the assignment. But the interview subject – Natalie Rogers-Cropper, principal dancer for Garth Fagan Dance – was too intriguing to pass up. The summer issue of Rochester Post came out in July, and my story was the cover! Rogers-Cropper is fascinating, and I’m honored to have been able to tell her story. And the magazine is gorgeous! Alas, this is the last issue the Post will be publishing, so get our copy of the magazine now.

Insomnia (humor column)

(photo courtesy of Pixabay)

In yesterday’s blog post about the free writing exercises I did in a session with Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, authors of Queen of Your Own Life, at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, I mentioned a column that had run in Refreshed Magazine that won a 2015 Evangelical Press Association Award. I’d been surprised to learn about the honor, because I didn’t even know the column had been submitted to the contest.

In fact, the column had originally run in the Christian Voice Magazine, I think, and was reprinted in my book, “What the Dog Said“. It was borne from a free writing exercise; I set a timer, wrote, and hoped something wonderful would come out. Success.

(Side note: I’m not really big on awards, but I will say that I am really proud of the fact that this column won an award from a religious organization, despite the fact that there is zero religious content. It’s just a general, humorous piece, and it got a perfect score from the judges, proving that humor doesn’t have to fit into a box to resonate with readers.)

I realized today that the link to the column reprint was no longer working, so here, here’s the column. This was pretty much what I wrote in the 10 minute writing sprint. See, you don’t have to be a genius to be a writer. You just have to write.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

INSOMNIA

It’s after midnight and I can’t sleep.

I have a column due in the morning and I have no idea what I’m going to write about, so I keep turning over thoughts in my head. The problem is that the column ideas are being pushed aside by weightier items demanding my attention.

Take the fortune cookie I ate today. Continue reading

Erma, Fiction, and Free Writing with the Queens

One of the sessions I attended at the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop a few weeks ago was with Kathy Kinney and Cindy Ratzlaff, best friends and authors of the book Queen of Your Own Life.

My year started with the rug being pulled out from under me, and while the shock of betrayal definitely threw me off course, in the end I realize I’ve been given a gift: the chance to pursue the things I feel like I’m supposed to be pursuing, and learning to become the human I’m supposed to be.

This is a year of change, of healing, of forgiving and being forgiven, of saying “No” to others and saying “Yes” to myself, and to demanding that people who say they love me actually treat me with respect – and, I’m realizing, learning to respect myself.

In other words, I’ve been given permission to put myself first.

But enough blathering about me.

Erma. The workshop session. So…

Kathy and Cindy gave us all timers, and we did 10 minute burst of free writing using prompts. I always say that I don’t write fiction, that I don’t know how to write fiction, as if  you have to have been born with some magic talent for making sh*t up. What I got out of this session? I can do anything, if I just stop thinking about how much I don’t know how to do it.

A lesson for life, in this year of discovery and change.

Here are the three writing exercises, and what my brain banged out in each 10 minute burst. I actually love free writing, and have used it to create some great stuff. I won an award for a column I once wrote, which was basically a free writing exercise. (An award, I might add, for a contest someone else entered on my behalf. This fact will become relevant in a minute.)

Kathy and Cindy gave us four elements, and the only guide was that the elements should be in whatever we wrote. I’m posting what I wrote, with almost no editing (in fact, I didn’t even fix the places I’ve spelled the names wrong), but I can see nuggets of stories that could be explored, hints of how these fictional women are becoming the queens of their own lives.

So who knows. Maybe I do write fiction. Or maybe I’m learning fiction has a bit of fact nestled inside. Anyway, timers ready? And, write… Continue reading