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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

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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.

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Cops, Dallas, and Life With A Badge

photo courtesy of Pixabay

photo courtesy of Pixabay

I woke up this morning to a world gone mad, and I’m not sure how to proceed with my day.

So I write. Without thinking too much, without editing my emotions, and without worry that I might say something that will offend you.

You’ll get over it, and if you don’t then you can find another blogger to read. I really don’t care.

Because twelve police officers were shot in Dallas last night, and five are dead. And the entire police community in America is changed forever.

Again.

I’m the daughter of a police officer; my dad is long retired from a small suburb of Rochester, NY. The scanner was always on in our house, the small black box with the row of blinking red lights calling out each report of someone in need or danger and the response that help was on the way. I know firsthand the toll the job can take on a family, a marriage, a life.

I think the vast majority of Americans understand that the police are the good guys. Are there bad apples here and there? Sure, and there’s no excuse for them.

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, why they make the front page, are the lead story on the news, are the memes most shared on social media.

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.

It happens every single hour of every single day of every single week of every single year. Officers doing their job.

Honorably.

* * * * * * * *

I know in my heart that most Americans believe the police are the good guys. But even so, I think they take for granted that when they dial 911, there’s an officer on duty – and take for granted what that means for him and his family.

If you’re in an accident on your way to work, for example, an officer is on duty and ready to respond – which means he’s not kissing his wife goodbye as she goes to work or seeing his children off to school.

If you come home from work at 5 PM and find your house has been burglarized, an officer is on duty and ready to respond – which means he’s not eating dinner with his own family.

If your neighbors are having a loud party and by 2 AM you’ve had enough, an officer is on duty and ready to respond to your noise complaint – which means he isn’t home in bed with his wife.

When you’re at your kid’s soccer game or school play, an officer is on duty and ready to respond to any call – which means he’s not at his own kid’s soccer game or school play.

When you’re with your family opening presents on Christmas morning, an officer is on duty and ready to respond to any call – which means he’s not with his own family opening presents on Christmas morning.

When an officer is on duty and responding to a domestic disturbance, mediating an emotionally charged situation between a husband and wife, he’s not at home working on his own marriage.

When an officer is on duty and spending time talking with kids on the streets of the city, shooting hoops and encouraging the kids to stay in school, he’s not at home helping his own children with their homework.

And when you want to exercise your First Amendment right to gather in peaceful protest of the police, dozens of officers will be on duty, making sure you are safe.

Even if they are not.

In other words, every day a police officer goes to work and leaves his own family in order to protect yours.

And now five officers in Dallas will never go home.

* * * * * * * *

Here’s another reality about police officers that most people never think about.

Every day they are yelled at, punched, spat on, slapped, kicked, cut. They’re called names by small children who’ve been taught by their parents that all police are to be reviled.

This is not an exaggeration; there is a growing culture across America where adults are actually indoctrinating their children with the belief that the police are out to hurt them.

The police deal with this. Every. Single. Day.

Imagine being the officer responding to a call for assistance today from a person who spit in your face yesterday. It happens all the time.

Think about what that’s like for a minute and then try that at your job. Gather up all of the people who don’t like you, conspire against you, undermine your work or authority, and do their best to make your life miserable. Put them all in a room, and then give them permission to talk openly and to your face about how much they hate you, hope you get fired, wish your dog dead, or even worse – because you know they’re thinking it – would like to slash your tires or put drain cleaner in your coffee. Now smile, help them in and out of their chairs, hold open the door, make sure no one falls on their way back to their office.

Sound like a fun way to spend 8 hours a day, every day? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

But the police don’t have the luxury of refusing service, even to people who hate them. It’s their job to show up when you call, whether you like them or not, whether they like you or not, and make sure you’re safe.

The truth is that unless you are a police officer, are married to a police officer, or have a child, parent, or sibling who is a police officer you have no idea what it’s really like to be a police officer.

But you have the right to judge and speculate and bitch and moan.

And then call 911 when you need help.

And a cop will show up.

That’s the job, folks.

Mathematically, the probability is small that a police officer will be killed in the line of duty. But the possibility is there every time a cop gets a call. No one knows what’s behind the next corner, closed door, dark alley.

Or amidst a peaceful protest.

I pray for the men and women in blue who go out every day and do their jobs, with honor.

Be safe out there. And thank you.

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“What The Dog Said” now available at Barnes & Noble in Pittsford, NY

my book at barnes and noble 009 my book at barnes and noble 005

Here’s something I never expected: to see: my book on the shelf at Barnes & Noble in Pittsford, NY! Big thanks to Ann-Marie at B&N in Pittsford for ordering the book for their store after I took part in the “To Kill A Mockingbird” read-a-thon. I’m so grateful! I stopped in yesterday and autographed them, so go on over and pick up a copy … you know, before the holiday rush. Don’t make her sorry she took a chance on my little collection of essays!

You can also pick up a copy of the book at Penfield Veterinary Hospital in Penfield, NY. The amazing staff takes care of Bandit, Bailey and Murphy, so if you’re looking for a veterinarian, we highly recommend them.

50 thoughts on turning 50: #6 Mrs Robin offers a lesson in failure and perseverance

After a week, Mrs. Robin finally has a secure nest - with a little help from darling husband.

After a week, Mrs. Robin finally has a secure nest – with a little help from darling husband.

Over on my blog at Patheos.com, I mused yesterday on the journey of a robin trying – and failing – to build a nest, first in our neighbor’s window and then in our garage window. It’s been a week and each nest attempt has been blown away.

But yesterday, she picked a new spot and with a bit of help from darling husband, it looks like she’s on her way to setting up home sweet home.

You can read the whole post at Patheos – but her story offers up a lesson in failure and perseverance.

Sometimes I’ve felt like, when I fail, it’s a message from God to quit trying to do what I’m doing, because it’s not his plan. Other times, I’ve abided by the adage that if at first you don’t succeed, try again, because God is just testing your faith.

Those are both messages I’ve gotten from church, religion and the Bible – God puts obstacles in your way to stop you from going down the wrong path, and that God puts obstacles in your way to test your faith and see if you’ll give up. (Watch for a post later on the lessons I’ve learned about faith/spirituality vs. religion.)

And yes, I’m slightly screwed up by it all: I suffer from a terminal case of paralysis by analysis. No matter what I want to do, feel called to do, or am asked to do, I question and analyze and weigh the pros and cons until I don’t know what to do. So I do nothing.

But there’s Mrs. Robin, meeting challenge after challenge, and when that happens she just picks up and starts over.

I think there’s a lesson in there about just getting up each morning and doing what you’re supposed to do that day. Less questioning, more doing.

This is one lesson that I’ve got in my head but have to work at every day to put into practice.

 

Dream of Jacob painting

Landscape with the Dream of Jacob, by Michael Willmann (1630–1706)

Not long ago, in addition to experimenting with the practice of saging my house to rid it of negative energy, I started to keep a dream journal.

Those of you who have been regular readers of my blog know that I have weird dreams. Dreams where I’m running and a lot of dreams where I’m running in my underwear. Dreams of being in old houses with strangers, or strange places with family. We’re talking full length, detailed moving pictures in my sleep.

Long ago I started reading about dream interpretation but I never really kept a regular journal of my dreams. So a couple of months ago, I started writing down what seemed like random images that passed through my brain at night.

Let’s just say I should probably not eat before bed if I want to get a good night’s sleep.

I’ve been told that if you keep track of your dreams for a couple of weeks, you should start to see some patterns in the symbols and content that can then lead you a better understanding of what’s going in your life or subconscious. Or sometimes the dreams can just freak you out.

A few days ago, for example, I closed my eyes and as soon as I’d started to drift off a very tall man appeared, towering over me. Then he bent down and reached out a hand, as if to help me up or invite me someplace.

Sorry, I’m not supposed to talk to strangers. Especially after a witch told me that my dreams are my spirit guide trying to contact me.

And then there was that dream I had in which the deer heads on our living room wall were actually people in disguise, and when one of them quit his job as deer head on my wall, I kept asking, “Miles [he told me his name], you can’t leave! You see everything! What should I do?” (For the record, the deer heads on my living room walls never freaked me out until after that dream.)

A lot of the content of my dreams lately has focused on me striving to get someplace – to the airport, to the upper floors in a house, anyplace – with other people thwarting my progress. They go to the airport without me, leaving me to pack and check out of a hotel. As I start to ascend stairs, they call me back or pull on my legs to keep me from leaving. They distract me or ask me to do small things that become large projects until I can’t move my legs to even walk or leave.

The key, though, is that in a lot of the dreams I have a choice to move forward but don’t. I turn around, or I handle the mess left behind, even though I don’t necessarily want to. I’m thwarting my own progress.

You don’t need to be a psychiatrist to interpret those dreams.

But last night I had a different kind of dream. I had been asked to be in a wedding for someone I don’t know, had purchased an elaborate bridesmaid’s dress and had taken some sort of dance classes required in order to be ready for the big day. It wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to do, but I had been asked and so I did it. Then the scene shifted, and I was out in public at some event with a lot of people – and there was the wedding, off to one side, taking place without me. Someone with the bridal party – I think it’s the sister of the bride but these are strangers so I’m not sure how I know that – told me that the bride changed the wedding date and since she didn’t really want me in the wedding to begin with, she didn’t bother to tell me.

Uh, OK. Talk about feeling a little cast off and rejected, even in my dream. I mean, it was a ver elaborate dress and those dance classes were really difficult.

Then I turned around and spied some friends – acquaintances, actually – in a crowd, and suddenly I was sitting in a big cushy chair with a child. We were reading a book and the child turned his face to me and I could see that in real life, he is the son of a musician friend I met years ago, a little boy with Down Syndrome that I’ve never met but who I know by the photos his family shares on Facebook.

In the dream, we were just sitting there and reading, and there was still a happy party going on (the wedding was in full swing on the other side of the room), but where I am it was all nice and quiet and cozy. Then the boy’s mom came over to me and says, “Thanks for reading with him. He likes stories.” And the boy got up, gave me a hug, and then fell asleep on my shoulder.

Those of you who know me know this is a dream. Children generally don’t like me. Or maybe I’m not a huge fan of kids. Either way … dream.

I could interpret these dreams a few ways but a I woke up this morning, the realization came over me that sometimes when we try to be someplace we’re not supposed to be – whether someone tries to force us there or we just choose it out of obligation – we miss the moments of grace and peace we’re meant to have, and that maybe those people who are holding us back don’t really want us there – they just don’t want us to go.

Someone told me recently that wanting to stay is not the same as not wanting to leave. I think that can apply to myriad situations: relationships, jobs, where you live, creative pursuits.

But here’s the important part: you don’t really have to go anywhere to move forward. Who you are supposed to be can coexist with the you that everyone is afraid is leaving. They are not mutually exclusive or two different people. They are you, but you at different stages, you with different gifts, you pursuing who you are supposed to be, not some version of you that others want you to be.

Of course, I also dreamed last night that I was in a room filled with Indians who had been shot in the forehead with arrows, except that no one was actually dead. They were still alive, except that their eyes had little “x”s on them, like the robbers in “A Christmas Story” after Ralphie shot them with his Red Ryder, carbine action, range-ready BB gun with the compass in the stock (and that little thing that tells time).

So all of this dreaming may simply be cough medicine-induced randomness, since I have been doped up on codeine cough medicine for more than a month. Although I’d like to think that my subconscious has messages for me that my waking self won’t listen to, or that God talks to me in dreams because it’s more mystical. Maybe the cough medicine just helps the message get through.