Musings on the pause, reopening, and the children

From NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo’s daily press conference, May 5, 2020.

Let’s get one thing clear, right off the bat: I’m not a scientist, or a doctor, or a politician, or anything even resembling a smarty pants. I’m a writer, artist, and performer who tries to help people push past fear to embrace their creativity. In the grand scheme of the universe, I’m just a dreamer with a pen and a paintbrush who wants us all to get along.

So keep that in mind as you continue reading – and if you can’t, if you’re already preparing to debate anything related to the current pandemic, it’s OK to  stop reading right now and go find something else to do.

Still with me? OK,  here goes.

Continue reading “Musings on the pause, reopening, and the children”

Exquisite Quarantine Poem: WINGS

Give and Take Tonya Wihelm
“Give and Take”, by fine art and portrait photographer Tonya Wilhelm. This image is part of her Couch Project Series. Used with permission.


I don’t know how it happened today.
My feet came off the track!
I was minding my own business.
What are these feathers on my back?

With labored effort, but growing strength
I steel to flex my curious appendages
Slow, stiff, I rise
Past life, loves, and sins now long gone vestiges

What will be there for us to come back to?
What awaits us on the other sides of our walls?
Will the divisive ones remain strong in their ways,
To crumble down the peaceful bridges, once and for all?

To careen and crash across interstates
Careless and proud, angry and a fool
Courting concussions from blunt truth
With abandon and a trickle of drool

If flavor’s your wheelhouse and cravings abound,
Just do what the old canines do,
And salivate so unabashedly, dude,
Like zebras who live in the zoo.

*     *     *     *     *     *

The first person was given the prompt WINGS as inspiration, and instructed to write four lines, with the 2nd and 4th lines rhyming. The other contributors added the same and got to see only the last line of what the previous writer penned.

– Alyssa is from Twin Cities, MN
– Jenean Roth is a lover of words read, written, spoken, dreamt, and arranged in entertaining ways.
– Justin Rielly is a playwright, theater artist and radio host based in Rochester, New York.
– Ty Gagnon is an improvisor, cook, writer, weirdo.
– Debbie Miller is a Brooklyn, New York writer who writes magazine articles, plays, humor, and monologues.Visit her website at

“Give and Take”. Tonya Wilhelm is a fine art and portrait photographer. This image is part of her Couch Project Series. See them all on Instagram:

Click here to learn how you can take part in the Exquisite Quarantine Poem project.

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Exquisite Quarantine Poem: DAWN


frozen wave against sunlight
Photo by Hernan Pauccara on

The first poem in our Exquisite Quarantine series was written in February, just before life came to a screeching halt. It was part of an exercise I did with a group at my monthly creativity workshop.

The instructions for everyone were to write four lines based only on the last line of the person who went before them; I wrote the first line. No rhyme or other structure was required. The first names of the participants are listed at the end of the poem.

Here’s how you can take part in the Exquisite Quarantine Poem project.

*    *    *    *    *    *    *


Over the hills, the sun appears
Orange delight, aglow with life
Heralding the hope of a fresh start
A new dawn breaks.

And I see it all again
I look forward to night again
It hides all the ugly.

The mask can’t hide it all, though
Some starts to seep out like a
bit of silly putty in a mold and
looks a bit sick.

Love is an affliction!
But best not an addition
I’m not likely to fall again
Said the little red hen.

Life is running away from me,
I cannot reel it in.
What can the future hold,
Oh dear wren?

Wren, oh wren, sweet, sweet wren.
She had a bird-like figure
which explains the name her parents c hose.
But why didn’t they choose Robin? We’ll never know.

All we can do is move on, and look to tomorrow
The night will end when the dawn breaks
The light will shine and the fields sparkle
Morning always brings hope of a better day.

Except Monday mornings
Everybody hates those
When you woke up mourning
Wanting your alarm to enclose.

These people are so quiet
I think they are planning to kill me
There are enough of them
I think they could do it.

Absolute action will lead to satisfaction
Something so simple will never cripple
Calming airs and perfect pairs
Affairs that never cease.

April, Aprille, Chloe, Ian, Jeff, Peg, Curtis, Laura, and Jennifer


Welcome to The Funny Farm

Greetings, wonderful reader, and welcome to my blog. Or as I like to think of it, my big laundry pile of words.

Regular readers know that I’m technologically inept even on a good day. During The Pandemic Pause, I’ve been slowly updating the blog and trying to make sense of more than a decade of posts – most of which have confusing categories, no tags, and even no titles. It’s like trying to sort socks and finding a spacesuit in the basket. Where did that come from and where does it go?

While there’s still much to sort, I’ve separated some popular posts by topic, which you can access via the menu. To keep reading posts in chronological order, just keep scrolling. The most recent posts will show up at the top.

Stay healthy, take care of yourself, and take care of each other!

Join me for an Exquisite Quarantine Poem Project

photo courtesy of pixabay

Here in NYS, The Pause is extended for several more weeks. Boring! If you’re itching to try something new, join me as we create an  Exquisite Quarantine Poem.

This project is based on the Exquisite Corpse, a technique created by Surrealists in the early 1900s, in which participants add to a work one bit at a time, with no one seeing what the previous participants contributed. I’ve done this in my in-person creative workshops and I thought it would be a great way to spur some creative thinking and connect with others during this weird time of isolation.

Here’s how our Exquisite Poem will work: Continue reading “Join me for an Exquisite Quarantine Poem Project”

Five Minutes From The Funny Farm: Sunshine, Birdsong And A New Day

It’s a new day! On today’s episode, let’s go outside, where winter has left its mark but spring is peeking through the debris.


This is what happens when you lock a humor writer/improvisor who doesn’t know how to use a video camera in the house with two dogs and a cat during a pandemic. I warned you it wasn’t going to be pretty. Or professional.

Visit my website
Follow me on FB @joannebrokawwriter
Check out my latest book, “Suddenly Stardust: A Memoir (of sorts) About Fear, Freedom & Improv” wherever books are sold. Available in print and ebook editions.

Five Minutes from the Funny Farm: Working from home

Because of the Covid-19 virus and the need to help flatten the curve, maybe you’ve been forced to work-at-home. Congratulations! You’re joining millions of people who’ve been working at home for decades.

Maybe there was a time when, because you worked a “real job”, you called a friend or family member who worked at home and said, “Little Jimmy has a fever and they won’t let him come to daycare. You’re home all day. Can I send him to your house?” or “The furnace repairman is coming between 9 and and 5 pm. Can you go to my house and let him in? You can even hang out there all day. I have HBO.”

Admit it. You’ve always envisioned us sitting around all day in our pajamas, watching Netflix and eating Cheese Doodles.

Well, haha. Jokes on you. Only two of those things are true.

But hey, we work from home folks are nothing if not compassionate, and we’re happy to welcome you to the club! Here are some tips to help you acclimate to your new lifestyle.

Continue reading “Five Minutes from the Funny Farm: Working from home”

Five Minutes from the Funny Farm: Gnats, Toilet Paper, and Gray Hair

In today’s episode of Five Minutes from the Funny Farm, I relate the story of the gnat that flew up my nose, introduce my experiment to see how long one roll of toilet paper actually lasts, and bitch a little bit more about my gray hair.


This is what happens when you lock a humor writer/improvisor who doesn’t know how to use a video camera in the house with two dogs and a cat during a pandemic. I warned you it wasn’t going to be pretty. Or professional.

Visit my website
Follow me on FB @joannebrokawwriter
See all of my videos on my YouTube channel
Check out my latest book, “Suddenly Stardust: A Memoir (of sorts) About Fear, Freedom & Improv” wherever books are sold. Available in print and ebook editions.

A dream of two lions, a tiger, and a visit from the muses

Image by Marcel Langthim from Pixabay

Last night, I dreamed that I was … well, I’m not sure where I was but it was a room in a house I didn’t recognize. There was a door from the back of the house into this room and a door in this room that went out the front of the house. There were people in the room, no one I can specifically recognize, but I seem to remember a maroon couch that I was either standing on or near.

And at one point in this otherwise nondescript dream, a tiger walked in through the back door, silently and in no particular hurry, and walked past me as he made his way through the room and out the front door.  I felt his fur gently brush my skin and felt warmth radiating from his body.

I stood frozen in place as he passed, and when he was gone I said out loud, “A TIGER just walked through the room. Did anyone else see that?” Some people nodded like it was nothing exciting. Some people hadn’t even seen it. For everyone else, it was a non-event.

A bit later – because it’s a dream and I don’t remember what else was happening or how long it took – two lions came into the room. Except they didn’t just walk through. The first one came right up to me, sniffing me the way a dog might sniff a visitor to your house, and then settled herself near my feet as the other lion padded over and also gave me a once over. And then he started licking me. My feet, my legs, my hands. He gnawed softly on my shin and gently, but with intention, butted my side with his enormous head.

As with the tiger, I could feel their fur, could feel the heat from both of the beasts and smell the faint odor of animal, and I was frozen in place by their sheer power as it pressed against the air in the room.

These lions were not necessarily friends. It was clear to me, if not to anyone else, that they were dangerous predators there to investigate me and, if I was found wanting, would have gladly devoured me in a heartbeat.

This time, everyone else in the room was as frozen as I was because, apparently, two lions hanging out are more interesting than one tiger just passing through.

After what felt like an eternity in dream time, the lions both stood, looked me in the eye, and then sauntered out through the front door like the royalty of the jungle that they are.

As they disappeared over the threshold, someone in the room whispered, “That was a fucking LION.”

“No,” I replied aloud. “That was TWO fucking lions.”

And then I woke up.

* * * * *

Continue reading “A dream of two lions, a tiger, and a visit from the muses”

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

“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


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

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.


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.


* * * * * * * *

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.






“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, 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.