Category Archives: news

50 thoughts on turning 50: #32 Nothing but the truth (but whose truth?)

I often read Young Adult books, because I like to see how authors are dealing with difficult topics in a way that young people can understand them.

In this election cycle, I’m reminded of the YA novel “Nothing But The Truth”, by Avi. I read it years ago, and have reread it several times, because it’s an excellent portrayal of how what we see on the evening news – or, with the advent of social media, online – is only a snippet of the truth. And how that truth is filtered and distilled down through the eyes of each person involved in the process of telling the story.

Here’s the premise of the “documentary novel”: Phillip Malloy is a ninth grade student. During the morning announcements, the school has a policy that all students must stand and remain silent during the playing of the National Anthem. Phillip, however, happens to be in a homeroom with a teacher who not only tolerates tomfoolery, he joins in it himself. So Phillip talks and does homework while the teacher cracks jokes. But when the school reassigns all students to new homerooms, Phillip finds himself in Mrs. Narwin’s homeroom. She also happens to be Phillip’s English teacher. And Mrs. Narwin takes the rule of silence during the National Anthem very seriously.

Phillip continues to play the class clown and hums along with the National Anthem in his new homeroom. The more Mrs. Narwin asks for silence, the more Phillip acts up, until she sends him to the principal’s office.

What follows next is a domino effect of events: suspension from school, a civil rights lawyer, national news. It’s a game of telephone, with lives and careers at stake.

What’s so brilliant about this book is that it’s told in transcript style, so readers see the actual conversations between teacher and student, parents and child, parents and local politician, politician and local journalist. There are letters from the teacher to her sister, newspaper clippings, memos from the school board to the teachers in the district. It allows the reader to see the motives behind all of the participants: a dedicated teacher who loves her students and doesn’t want this one punished (she just wants him to stop humming during the National Anthem); a student who knows he’s being a smart ass but doesn’t want to get in trouble at home (because there are bigger issues going on here, including parents expectations at odds with a child’s wants and needs); parents and politicians with their own agendas (and not always with the child’s best interests at heart); a school board on the eve of a budget vote (and dollars often take precedence over people); a journalist with her own goals (and an inability to get the facts right); a conservative talk show host charged with stirring up controversy (and ratings).

The reader gets to see how a complex situation gets boiled down to a headline or sound bite, until a teacher is ruined, parents are vindicated, a politician is elected, and a student is left to navigate the turmoil it all leaves behind.

It’s fiction…or is it? The book was published in 1991, but the premise – the way the story is manipulated, the way the public reacts to a news story without knowing any of the real story – happens every hour of every day. And with social media, every second of every minute of every hour.

This short fiction book – you can read it in a few hours – will remind you that behind every headline is a whole story, and behind every story are real people, with real lives, and that what we pass around as truth is really nothing more than rumor.

Go read it. Now. Before you spout off on social media or forward a story you haven’t actually verified or make a judgement based on a three minute news story that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story…and ruin relationships and friendships in the process. It’s an important lesson to learn in this emotionally charged election year.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.



Raising funds to cover vet bills for the dogs injured in the Add En On kennel fire

Screenshot 13WHAM FB page

Screenshot 13WHAM FB page; click photo to read the story

This past Sunday, a devastating fire destroyed local animal kennel Add En On in Mendon, NY. While some of the dogs and cats managed to be saved, sadly more than a dozen didn’t make it out alive.

Those who did survive and who needed medical treatment were taken to Veterinary Specialists and Emergency Services in Brighton, NY. Unfortunately, one of those dogs had injuries so severe he needed to be euthanized.

If you’d like to make a tax deductible donation (note that some of the crowd sourcing sites are not tax deductible) to cover the veterinary costs for the dogs who were injured, you can do through Rochester Hope For Pets. In the designation box, make sure you designate it to OTHER and specifically write in there that it’s “to pay for emergency expenses for the dogs injured in the Add En On fire.” The money goes directly to the charity which then disperses the funds as designated.

Make sure you designate your donation to help the dogs injured in the Add En On fire.

Make sure you designate your donation to help the dogs injured in the Add En On fire.

Rochester Hope for Pets is a local charity that offers financial assistance and grants to pet owners to help cover one time needs. It’s the charity I designated to receive my publisher’s charitable contributions from the sale of my books and I’ve also made donations – because I was a recipient of a grant when Scout died, which covered his final expenses.

And one last note: you do not have to take your dog to an animal hospital within the Monroe Vet system to have your expenses considered for a grant. That’s important to note. If you have a need and would like to apply, visit their website for more information.

Caledonia Jane Doe identified, and the next chapter of her story begins

In 1979, the body of a young girl was found in a cornfield in Caledonia, NY. She had been shot in the head and in the back. She remained unidentified for more than 30 years. Today, she was identified as Tammy Jo Alexander.

In 1979, the body of a young girl was found in a cornfield in Caledonia, NY. She had been shot in the head and in the back. She remained unidentified for more than 30 years. Today, she was identified as Tammy Jo Alexander.

In November 1979, the body of a young girl was found in a field in Caledonia, NY. She had been shot and dragged into the field, and then shot again. For more than 30 years, she remained unidentified and her case unsolved.

Until today. Her case is still unsolved, but we now know that the girl is Tammy Jo Alexander, a teenager from Brooksville, Florida who was last seen in 1977.

For three decades, the Livingston County Sheriff Department has followed thousands and thousands and thousands of leads, never giving up in their attempt to identify the young woman and track down her killer.

According to news reports, a girl who went to high school with Tammy Jo contacted Florida authorities to ask if anyone had ever reported her missing. Apparently, no one had. Ever. With that new missing person report, police in New York were able to heat up their investigation and, using DNA from Tammy Jo’s sister, identify their Jane Doe.

With a name, I can search for information. Here’s Tammy Jo Alexander, c. 1977, the year she went missing and two years before her body was found in Caledonia. She was 13 years old when she disappeared from Florida.

Tammy Jo Alexander, c. 1977, the year she went missing and two years before her body was found in Caledonia. She was 13 years old when she disappeared from Florida.

I mused about the case of Caledonia Jane Doe back in 2010 on my blog, when I was reflecting on my own life, my own wasted opportunities, my own sense of going through the motions of life rather than living them. Her story haunted me; Who was she? Where did she come from? Were her parents looking for her? And what would she be doing right now if she hadn’t met with such a tragic end?

My goal, at the time, was to research and then write about her story. I didn’t have any hope of solving a case or even shedding light on it. I just felt like there was  story to tell and I should tell it. Over the almost two decades I’ve spent writing, I’ve done countless feature stories for magazines and newspapers. I’ve interviewed celebrities and regular folks. I tell stories, often stories people can’t tell themselves.

But when I started researching Jane Doe, I quickly realized that I was out of my element. No person to interview. No name to Google. Almost no place to begin and, if I’m being totally honest, no idea where to start. I’d never researched a police case before, and I wasn’t familiar with places to even begin, or what to do with the information once I found it.

So rather than charging full steam ahead – which is what I felt like I should do – I put the folder on the desk and moved on to other things. But I never forgot about her.

Over the last few years, I’ve got more savvy about researching local history and genealogy, developed better techniques for managing mountains of information, newspaper clippings and notes (I love paper, so my filing system involves lots of folders and boxes). I dove headfirst into stories about women in the Rochester area in the 19th century (Emma Moore and Sarah Bardwell being chief), and while I never forgot about her, Caledonia Jane Doe stayed on the desk.

But I confess that as I watched the press conference today in which the Livingston County Sheriff announced that they had identified Caledonia Jane Joe as Tammy Jo Alexander, I felt a twinge of regret that five years ago I didn’t stick with my own research.

The important thing is that the unidentified body found in the cornfield thirty five years ago now has a name. Her headstone will have a name and my folder labeled “Caledonia Jane Doe” will be replaced with a new one labeled “Tammy Jo Alexander”. My curiosity is piqued again. Why did her family not report her disappearance? Where was she in the two years from when she was last seen in Florida to the time she was found in Caledonia? Her story is still waiting to be told.

Potty mouthed princesses, feminism, and my own little rant

You never know what’s going to show up in your Facebook timeline, and this week it was a video of young girls dressed as princesses dropping the f*bomb for feminism.

Angry young girls. With big f*ing attitudes.

The video is a series of rants about sexist society and a potty-mouthed call for better treatment of women.

Oh, and it’s also a promo to sell t-shirts for a group called FCKH8.

It’s a charged rant, with little girls throwing out the word f*ck repeatedly for two and a half minutes. They make some good points, pointing out issues like pay inequality and rape. But there are some problems with this kind of video.

Oh, so many problems.

First, the use of such a charged word actually distracts from the issue at hand. People are talking about children swearing, not inequality. It reminds me of the story about how Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton joined the bloomer revolution and started wearing the scandalous “pants” that showed their ankles. When people started focusing on their clothing instead of voting rights, they went back to their more restrictive and traditional dress in order to keep the focus on the most important goal.

Don’t get me wrong; I like a good curse word as much as the next sailor. But swearing doesn’t make you strong. It just makes you shocking. And that shock value is being exploited in a video rant with a lot of accusations but no solutions. As they say, if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.

Second, the object of the accusations about inequality of women is the vast and anonymous “society”. Yes, women often earn less than men for the same job. Yes, rape and date rape are serious issues. Yes, there are issues of inequality. But I think the issue of respect for women is often a “do as I say, not as I do” problem. Because I think if women respected themselves more, “society” would follow suit.

Women want men to see them as more than pretty princesses in need of rescue, and the girls rant that society teaches that boobs and butts are more important than brains. But I’d argue that women teach that, by participating, for example, in shows like “The Bachelor” and related spins offs, like “Dating “Naked”. If women started respecting themselves, we might see a change in the way “society” views us. We might see women who begin to believe that they are not the sum of their body parts, but instead complete spiritual, emotional, creative – and powerful – beings.

Feeling exploited as a women? Cancel your subscription to “People” and “Cosmo”. Stop deifying celebrities – and strive to become a society that erases from its vocabulary words like “Kardashian”.

Third, women have reduced motherhood to a dirty word, but the reality is that the future of humankind literally depends on women’s ability to reproduce. Talk about power. And that power includes the decision to not reproduce. Without women, humans would disappear. If you’re alive, you can thank a woman for that. So rather than treating men and women as biologically equal, it might be time for women to claim that power and flaunt it. Yup, I can lead a company – and grow a human being inside of my own body. Equal? Puleeze. Try and exist without us, men.

Fourth, this is going to be my own little rant: ladies, stop complaining about how fucking hard your life is. A group of women used modern technology to create a business, and then a video containing explicit language, and aired it publicly on the internet. Tell me, how is that female oppression? In what way was their opportunity to do that thwarted by male domination? How, exactly, did “society” silence them?

The reality is that in America, women enjoy rights that millions of other women around the globe would die for. DO die for. Pakistani teenager Malala Yousafzai was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her bravery, after being shot in the face by the Taliban – because she wanted to go to school. She did it without some ranting video exploiting cursing children for shock value. She simply stood up for what was right.

And got shot in the face. And then she stood up some more.

You want “society” to change the way it treats women? Women, start behaving as if you deserved respect. Start being better role models for young girls by putting your actions into motion every day, instead of just your mouths. Set the bar higher, and behave in a way that demands that men behave like gentlemen. Stop bitching about what other people do and don’t do, and instead get up every morning, look in the mirror, and roar.

You already have the power. Use it.


It’s time to say “Thank You” to our police officers

(Video of the moving eulogy by Lt. Eric Paul at the funeral of Officer Daryl Pierson)

It’s been more than a week since Rochester Police Department’s Officer Daryl Pierson was gunned down by a repeated parole violator he was trying to apprehend, and just a few days since Pierson’s funeral and the community-wide gathering in his honor. While there was a memorial last night at the East Rochester High School football game (Pierson grew up here, attended school here, and lived here with his wife and two young children) the press has moved on to other, more pressing subjects.

But this morning, a young wife and her children awoke, just one of thousands of days ahead of them as they learn to live without their husband and father.

And this morning, hundreds of police officers across our community pinned on their badges, strapped on their guns, and went out to do the same job that killed Officer Pierson.

For you.

It’s been on my mind this week that while our community has rallied around the Pierson family, the Rochester Police Department and other area law enforcement, it’s only natural that our devotion will wane as we move farther and farther from the event that shook our city just 10 days ago.

That bothers me. I’m the daughter of a police officer; my dad is a retired Gates cop. I know firsthand the toll the job can take on a family, a marriage, a life.

I think the vast majority of people in Rochester understand that the police are the good guys. Are there bad apples here and there? Sure, but they’re a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the family of men and women who wear a badge.

That’s why you hear about the bad ones; it’s not a big news story when a cop goes to work and no one complains, when he serves a warrant and takes the criminal into custody without incident, when he stops a car and apprehends the suspect and no one is killed.

I know that you believe they’re the good guys, too. But even so, I think most people take for granted that when they dial 911, there’s an officer on duty – and what that means for him and his family. Continue reading

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 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.

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

You have the right to take naked photos of yourself – but should you?

(7/5/15: I  honestly don’t remember what this video was, but it’s obviously been taken down. I guess there is some ability to retract what you put out online. Who knew?

It seems like the subject of nakedness keeps baring itself in the news. A few weeks ago I wrote about a contestant on a reality show called “Dating Naked” who was suing the producers and cable channel because an image of her naked crotch was aired without being blurred out.

A few days later, a group called Go Topless hosted a Women’s Equality Day event, in which they urged women to don bikini tops printed to look like naked breasts to protest laws allowing men to go bare chested in public but not women.

And this week, the naked truth hit the headlines again with news that Apple’s iCloud was hacked, and that nude photos of celebrities were stolen and released on social media.

The initial reaction to news like that might seem to logically be “Don’t take nude photos of yourself and you won’t have to worry about nudes photos of yourself won’t be leaked online.”

But a blog post by writer Chuck Wendig got me thinking. He points out that the naked photos of actresses Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence that made their way to the internet weren’t leaked – they were stolen. He made some good points about our rights and the way society makes the victim the problem, rather than making the criminal the problem. Continue reading