Join author & artist Joanne Brokaw on Small Business Saturday, November 27, 2021

Join me and the other artists at Central Creatives for a three day holiday pop up event on Black Friday weekend. Stop up Friday 11/26, Saturday 11/27, or Sunday 11/28 for some beautiful, unique items from local artisans.

I’ll be there throughout the weekend but I hope you’ll stop up on Small Business Saturday between 11 am and 4 pmI’ll have signed copies of “Suddenly Stardust” available for purchase as well as a selection of jewelry, bookmarks, ornaments, photo frames, and a bunch of discounted “less than perfect” items. And as an added treat, throughout the day I’ll be doing mini-readings of some of your favorite columns as well as book excerpts and new micro flash fiction. All weekend you’ll be able to contribute to a collaborative poem, and who knows? I might even give some stuff away.

Central Creatives is located at 349 West Commercial Street, in the Piano Works Mall, East Rochester, NY, 14445, right off 490. Park at the end of the plaza near Ferrari Pizza and enter through the red door between Weaving Arts Guild and Penn Fair Golf. Then just follow the signs to the second floor (via stairs or elevator). Use the gallery entrance to get to my studio. There’s plenty of free, accessible parking at Piano Works and lovely restaurants nearby – make a day of it!

Visit me at online http://www.joannebrokaw.com.

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Get back to work, Buttercup: a”Suddenly Stardust” reminder for myself

“Suddenly Stardust: A Memoir (of sorts) About Fear, Freedom & Improv”, in progress, 2018

This morning, a memory popped up on Facebook reminding me that three years ago today I was almost done writing what would become “Suddenly Stardust: A Memoir (of sorts) About Fear, Freedom & Improv”. At the time, the book had no name and was a pile of loosely connected thoughts and ideas, but I was in the midst of the most creatively productive phase of my entire life and I knew in my soul that what I was writing would be transformative for both myself and anyone who needed to hear the message.

Three year later, and this book is not a best seller. It’s not a mildly mediocre seller. I don’t even promote it that often because I feel guilty taking money from people. But then I remember that my publisher needs to eat, too, and part of my job as an author is to not just write but also sell books.

I sold two copies “Suddenly Stardust” at an open house last week at Central Creatives CoWork of Art, where I recently moved into studio space. I wasn’t even talking about the book. I was just talking with people about pour painting and improv/writing classes I have coming up and the power of “Yes And” in all of them. People spotted the book themselves – or the book called them to itself as it sat all pretty on a display table. I don’t know how the magic of book sales works.

But it was a good feeling to know those books were going home with someone who might read the words and find courage to take a chance, to try something new, or at least see the world a little differently the next day.

Right now, I’m no longer in a creatively productive phase. In fact, I’m in a rut – physically, emotionally, mentally – which is especially frustrating since 1) my job is to help other people through their own creative ruts; 2) I have boatloads of resources at my fingertips so I have no excuses; and 3) at the new studio space I’m surrounded by wildly creative and incredibly supportive people.

I’ve been blaming this funk in on Mercury being in retrograde, and there’s some truth to that. But it’s also just been an exhausting, exhausting, exhausting 18 months and, while some wonderful things have definitely happened during lockdown, the struggle of trying to find the silver linings and keep moving forward while also being stuck in place is finally catching up. It would be easy to sit back and wallow in that.

Then I realize that sometimes I need to go back and read my own words, because when it comes down to it, I wrote them for myself as much as for the reader. And so my message to myself today?

“You’ve got business to attend to, Buttercup. The world is waiting.”

from “Suddenly Stardust: A Memoir (of sorts) About Fear, Freedom & Improv”

No one is asking me to move mountains. Just to put one foot in front of the other. Just to type a few words on a page. Just to open a bottle of paint and make a few brush strokes. I don’t need to know the next step or the end result or the why of anything. Just that if I’m not contributing my part – insignificant as it might seem to me – I may be holding someone else up, which holds someone else up, and on and on and on.

You can find “Suddenly Stardust” in ebook, paperback, and hardcover at your favorite online retailer. Or you can just click here: https://amzn.to/39zRZLs

If you’re interested in classes, workshops, and other events, or if you’re looking for a speaker for your next event, visit my website.

Exquisite Collaboration Poem: Into the Forest

“Gretchen and The Bear” by Carrie Anne Noble is available now from WordCrafts Press.

As part of the online book launch party yesterday for “Gretchen and The Bear”, by my friend, the delightfully talented Carrie Anne Noble, I invited readers to contribute to a collaborative poem.

Ten people participating, providing five random sentences in response to five prompts. I then arranged the sentences according to a pre-set pattern to create the poem you’re about to read. Note that no one saw what anyone else was writing, and that no verse contains more then one sentence from the same person. You can read more about the prompts and how they were arranged at the end of the poem.  Here’s what they created:

Continue reading “Exquisite Collaboration Poem: Into the Forest”

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.

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A belief in a God bigger than any book or religion

god in my head grisetti

Josh Grisetti has a lot to say about God in his new book, “God In My Head.” Or, to be more clear, what God said to him.

The two met while Grisetti was at the dentist and doped up on nitrous oxide and a dangerous combination of drugs he had lying around the house and took before the appointment in an attempt to ward off pain. The trip, or hallucination as he sometimes refers to it, spanned two hundred years and during it God answered Grisetti’s spiritual questions and showed him the mysteries of the Universe.

In reality, Grisetti was out for about forty five minutes, and didn’t actually leave the room. But did he meet God?

Sure. He met God. As much as any of us can meet God and live to tell about it.

I’ll confess that I skimmed parts of Grisetti’s book more than I actually read them, at least the parts about what God said to him. That’s partly because I was reading before bed and tired, but also because those sections interested me far less than his accounts of going to the dentist. Grisetti’s best writing was telling his memoirs; God was a less compelling storyteller. I found what God said to him sometimes really interesting, sometimes boring, sometimes as I’d expected God to speak, and occasionally so far out in left field that I didn’t have the brain power to sort it out.

Like the notion that God created humans and then came to earth so he could understand humans. I don’t get why an omnipotent God wouldn’t intimately know that which he created. At the same time, the death of human God exploding into God particles that exist in us all? Yeah, that actually makes a lot of sense.

Maybe the main reason that this book didn’t change my life is that I didn’t need it to. Grisetti and I have had the same sort of spiritual awakening, only mine didn’t include laughing gas and marijuana.

Some years ago, a writer, who identified himself as a former evangelical, was interviewing me for a book he was writing about his former faith. He asked me this question: “Do you believe that everything in the Bible is true?” I initially answered that yes, of course I did. Then I hesitated, and said I’d need to think about it some more.

To be honest, no one had ever asked me that question before, or I’d at least never pondered it for myself. I’ve been taught most of my life that the Bible is true. To question it was to flip a figurative bird to the Almighty, a sin from which you don’t return.

But now I needed to answer the question. Do I believe the Bible is true? And if I don’t, does it change my faith?

So I pondered that question for years and came to the conclusion that it doesn’t matter. If my faith is in God, then the book can be holy or it can be just a bunch of nice stories. God would still be God. But if my faith rested on whether or not I thought the Bible was all true, then my faith was in the book, not God.

And if my faith was rooted only in the God portrayed in the Bible, then I put God in a box that didn’t allow for him to be anything except what’s written on those pages, even if he existed in other faiths or spiritual paths. And if that was the case, God was not as big as eternity. He was only as big as the book that told his story.

That is not thinking that jibes with church. Or religion. But I think it lines up pretty well with God, the Creator.

And it lines up with science, too, because let’s face it. With all of our scholars and scientists and space travel, we only know a fraction of a fraction of what’s out there in the Universe. The human brain is a mystery; how can we be so arrogant as to assume we know what’s beyond the reach of our telescopes? Or through a black hole? Or what exists in other dimensions in space and time?

Contrary to what you might think, my pondering led me away from organized religion but towards a deeper faith in God, a more solid belief in the supernatural nature of the Creator of the Universe, a greater peace, and a more loving attitude towards man and beast. It awakened awe and wonder and the realization that I am but a small piece of a grand, grand puzzle stretching out in every direction for eternity, a puzzle filled with pieces of different shape and sizes and whose very existence I can’t even begin to comprehend.

At one point Grisetti recounts a story of going on a work study trip to Rome and bringing home a gift for his grandparents: a decorative rosary carved from stone. As a non-Catholic, he didn’t know what the rosary actually was for, other than being something you held when you prayed. And he still doesn’t know, despite the fact that a simple Google search would tell him. Instead, he says, “[T]here’s something about the mystique of it that I like. Not knowing somehow makes it more sacred, more magical.”

I think that’s how I like my faith, too. If I knew everything there was to know about God, if he could be packaged between the pages of a book or in a song or a workbook study, then he wouldn’t be God. But not knowing, having questions, pondering mysteries? To me, God is bigger and more complex and more wondrous than any book can describe. And I think that’s the same thing Grisetti came away from his encounter with, too. Whether he actually met God or not, he walked away from the experience with a bigger faith in a bigger God than even he, who saw him face to face, can imagine.

Click here to read what other Patheos bloggers are saying about “God In My Head,” by Joshua Steven Grisetti, as well as read a Q&A with the author and an excerpt from the book.

“What The Dog Said (And Other Adventures in Everyday Life)” on sale in April

book cover higher res
In honor of the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop that I just attended, and which I still have to write about, my publisher, WordCrafts Press, has graciously dropped the price for “What The Dog Said” for the month of April!

Yay!! You can get the ebook for just 99¢ at any ebook retailer – what a bargain! And you can take 40% off the paperback price by visiting http://wordcrafts.net/what-the-dog-said/ and entering promo code ERMA16 at checkout. (The links are at the bottom of the page – just click “trade paperback” and it’ll take you to the purchase page where you can enter the promo code. Same with the ebook; click “ebook-$5.99” and . it’ll automatically change the price to 99¢.)

It’s not Erma, but there’s still a little slice of life, love, and humor on every page.

What I Read in 2015

books for blog post 002smaller

With just a couple of weeks left in 2015, I thought I’d compile my annual list of “books I read”.

I keep the list every year, but I don’t always share it. Lately, though, I’ve found myself recommending a lot of books or just discussing what I’ve read, even if it I didn’t love it. So I thought it worthwhile to share my list with you.

The books are listed in the order that I finished them (vs any kind of ranking order), along with some general thoughts. Don’t be misled by the “finished reading” dates. I’m often reading several books at one time, so it’s not unusual to finish a couple of books within days of each other – although I have definitely been known to stay up for a few days straight reading (“Dead Wake”) or read a book in one day (“Nothing But The Truth”). Also understand that inclusion on the list isn’t necessarily an endorsement; a book is on the list simply because I read it in 2015.

Continue reading “What I Read in 2015”

A musing on the To Kill A Mockingbird read-a-thon

BN To Kill A Mockingbird Readathon roster
Pittsford, NY Barnes & Noble roster for the “To Kill A Mockingbird” read-a-thon.

This will be a quick post, informal and to the point. I hope. Often I have great ideas and because I want to be profound I put off writing and then lose the idea and never write it down.

And I don’t want to do this with what’s running through my mind.

So if it feels like maybe I’m rambling or am not making my point, or if you see typos or mistakes or places where maybe you think I haven’t thought through an idea, keep in mind that I’ve got just a few minutes between places I need to be this afternoon, and I’m writing this in between where I just was and where I’m going.

I got to take part today in Barnes & Nobles “To Kill A Mockingbird” Read-a-thon, to celebrate the release tomorrow of Harper Lee’s “Go Set A Watchman”. The readings started at 9 am this morning and end at 9 pm tonight, with guest readers taking half hour time slots to read the entire book from cover to cover. It’s a nationwide event, and I was at the Pittsford Barnes & Noble.

“To Kill A Mockingbird” is one of my favorite movies, not only because it’s so brilliantly done, but because it so brilliantly follows Lee’s book. (It’s pure joy when a movie does justice to a book, isn’t it? And it so rarely happens.) We could talk all day about characters and setting and story, but for now it’s enough to say that when I got to B&N,  I got sit and listen to chapters 17, 18 and 19, read by Judy Shomper, chair of the theater department at Brighton High School and Beth Adams, morning show host on WXXI.

BN To Kill A Mockingbird Readathon Judy Shomper
Judy Shomper, chair of the theater department at Brighton High School, reading from “To Kill A Mockingbird”.

As I came into the store, I could hear the sound of the reader echoing throughout the entire store, although I wasn’t actually listening to the words. But after I’d checked in, said hello to Beth and chatted for a minute, I settled in to listen to Judy Shomper and then Beth Adams read from the famous courtroom scene. You know what I’m talking about: Atticus is questioning Mayella Ewell about her beating and the accusation that it was at the hands of Tom Robinson, a Negro.

The word “nigger” is used throughout the text. Continue reading “A musing on the To Kill A Mockingbird read-a-thon”

“The Hand On The Mirror”: Can our loved ones speak to us from beyond the grave?

hand on the mirrorI was having a chat with my mom recently about making a will and telling us any plans for what she wants us to do with her … after she … you know … moves on to the next adventure.

“Do you want to be buried in Massachusetts?” I asked, because that’s where she’s from and I wondered if she’d like to be back with her family.

“I don’t care,” was her reply.

“Do you even want to be buried?” I asked. “Would you rather be cremated?”

“I don’t care what you do with me.”

“OK,” I said with a laugh,”I’m going to have you cremated and then we’ll sprinkle your ashes on top of Mt. Greylock.” That’s near her childhood home in the Berkshires.

She laughed. “That sounds fine. I don’t care.”

I gave her an evil little giggle. “OK, then, since you don’t care, I’ll carry your ashes around with me all the time. Mwahahah! You’ll be with me twenty four hours a day! You’ll never escape me! How’s that sound?” I assume not so great, since my mom can be finicky about spending time with me. The last time I asked if she felt like doing something she said, “Nah, I’m going away with you next week. That’s enough time together.”

By now we were both laughing. “Do whatever you want,” she said. “I won’t be around so I won’t know anyway.”

That conversation was on my mind as I read Janis Heaphy Durham’s “The Hand On The Mirror: A True.s Story of Life Beyond Death.” Continue reading ““The Hand On The Mirror”: Can our loved ones speak to us from beyond the grave?”

50 thoughts on turning 50: #23 Confessions of a non-recovering introvert

This post originally appeared in 2013 on my Heavenly Creatures blog at Patheos.com. I generally write about animals and faith and God on that blog, but when offered the opportunity to read and write about this book for a Patheos roundtable, I jumped at the chance. Turns out it wasn’t only a good read; it profoundly changed the way I view myself, making it a must to include in my “5o thoughts on turning 50”.

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Quiet-book-imageI’m an introvert. When I said it to friends a few times over the last couple of weeks, I’ve gotten responses like, “You? You’re so talkative” or “I remember you as so outgoing” but almost always, “You’re not an introvert.”

Really? How would you know?

You probably base your idea of who I am on what you see on the outside, without knowing what’s going on inside of me most of the time. Sure, I can put together a party and play the happy hostess. But inside, I’m usually freaking out, because I have a difficult time talking to lots of people at once. You see me as talkative because I try to go out into social situations only when I’ve built up enough social energy to carry on a conversation; you don’t see me in my alone times, just me and the dogs, walking in the cemetery and recharging my batteries.

I can talk at length, and even in front of a crowd, about a topic dear to my heart. But it’s impossible for me to speak when I don’t believe what I’m saying. Want to talk about human trafficking or positive dog training methods? I’m all about it. Which girl should get a rose on “The Bachelor”? I’m out – or rather, I end up musing about why women would value themselves so little that they’d compete for some guy on a game show and throw their emotions around so trivially; usually everyone else wants to talk about which girl is the biggest bitch.

I’m always asking questions to strangers, like “why do you believe that” and “how did that make you feel”, surrounding myself with gads of acquaintances but few real friends, avoiding conflict and loud noises (and people who wear copious amounts of perfume or cologne), always aware that there is a social line that, once crossed, can throw me into panic or drain me to the point of physical exhaustion.

I get it. I sound cuckoo. In fact, for years (and years) I thought there was something wrong with me. Let’s face it. In our culture, we revere the outgoing, bold, confident risk takers, those who set goals and go after them with wild abandon. Those of us who spend a lot of time thinking and wondering but not always doing are viewed as weak.

That’s why I was so relieved to read Susan Cain’s “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” The book could have been subtitled “Joanne: An Owner’s Manual.”

For the first time, someone has taken the side of the introvert and shown how important they (we) are in an American culture, dispelling the myth that all introverts are recluses who avoid human interaction or that extrovertism is the ideal. And she uses neuroscience and research to back it all up.

Newsflash: there’s nothing wrong with me. Continue reading “50 thoughts on turning 50: #23 Confessions of a non-recovering introvert”

50 thoughts on turning 50: #21 Reading the Bible

Judges 19 and 20 - one of the stories in the Bible that still haunts me.
I used a daily devotional Bible and kept a journal of notes and questions. Judges 19 and 20 – one of the stories in the Bible that still haunts me.

Religion, faith and spirituality have played a large part in my life – both good and bad. So it only makes sense that I address the issues as I muse on 50 years.  There’s no way I can tackle them all in one post so I’ll break them up.

Today? The Bible. Or more specifically, reading the Bible.

A few years ago, author John Marks interviewed me for his book, “Reasons To Believe“.  He had introduced himself to me as a former evangelical and he was writing a book about religion and faith. I can’t remember a lot of the questions he asked, because years later I still dwell on the first one: “Do you believe everything in the Bible is true?”

Of course, I told him, but as the words came out of my mouth I felt this check in my gut. Wait, I said. I don’t know. I haven’t really thought about it like that.

Turns out that a lot of my answers to his questions were “I don’t know” or “I hadn’t really thought about it.” How he managed to actually find enough to use for the book is amazing.

I met John in 2005; over the next year or so we talked many times but his questions challenged me. So I set out to read the entire Bible, cover to cover, to find out if, in fact, I believed everything in it was true.

My answer to that question today: I still don’t know. But I can tell you this. After reading the whole Bible, I have a heck of a lot more questions than answers. Continue reading “50 thoughts on turning 50: #21 Reading the Bible”

The ebook of “What The Dog Said” is 50% off through the end of June

what the dog said cover of book
Life is messy business, and that’s just fine with humor columnist Joanne Brokaw. For almost a decade, she’s been musing on life’s ups, downs and inbetweens, taking readers on a journey filled with laughter, dog hair and even a few tears. From her heartwrenching chance encounter with a soldier in an airport to her confession as an office supply addict, from parenting advice to holiday observations penned by Bandit, her blogging Border Collie, Brokaw invites readers to join her again in the mundane (but often hilarious) mishaps and adventures of everyday life

In celebration of the 20th anniversary of my 30th birthday, my publisher, WordCrafts Press, is offering the ebook version of my book What The Dog Said for just $2.99 through the end of June. That’s 50% off the cover price.

What The Dog Said is available at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and everywhere else you purchase ebooks. The paperback is also available online at Amazon and B&N. If you’re in Rochester, NY, you can purchase it at:

Penfield Veterinary Hospital
1672 Penfield Rd
Rochester, NY 14625
(585) 381-2441

A portion of the royalties from every book sale benefits Rochester Hope For Pets.

If you’re any good at math you’ve figured out now that I just turned 50. If you aren’t good at math, my series of posts, “50 thoughts on turning 50” should have given you another clue. Either way, check out my June column in Refreshed Magazine, where friends who celebrated their 50th birthday before I did shared some words of wisdom.

 

50 thoughts on turning 50: #17 Be a link in the chain

tammy annemarie reunion
Tammy and AnneMarie at the reunion

Two summers ago, in 2012, my high school class held its 30 year reunion. I  had followed the planning on Facebook for the better part of a year. Although it didn’t matter.

I wasn’t going.

I don’t have fond memories of high school, the way some of my friends do. It was a stressful time. I was insecure and dorky and generally felt like I was just taking up space on earth someone else could better use. So the thought of meandering down that memory lane with what were essentially a bunch of total strangers didn’t appeal to me in any way.  (You can read my post about why I wasn’t going in this post.)

At the last minute, I went.

I can’t explain why. It was just this little feeling in the back of my brain that said, “Go.” So about 48 hours before the event, I called Anne, the girl organizing the reunion. I asked if I could still come and if she needed help.

The answer to both was “Yes!”

I suggested to Anne that maybe I could collect information from everyone, like current contact information, where they work, where they live, how many kids they have, stuff like that. She said yes, that she would use it to help give away door prizes (like who traveled the farthest to get there; the winner of that one: from Africa).

But I had an ulterior motive: I was on deadline for a column. When you’ve got writer’s block the best thing you can do is do something different. If I had contact information for people, I could get in touch with them later if I needed to. Continue reading “50 thoughts on turning 50: #17 Be a link in the chain”

50 thoughts on turning 50: #12 Technology doesn’t always win

A visit to my local used bookstore netted me a few titles to keep me busy. For a little while, anyway.
A recent visit to my local used bookstore netted me a few titles to keep me busy. For a little while, anyway.

I heard a happy statistic a few weeks ago that while sales of adult ebook sales were up 4.8% through August of 2013 to $647.7 million, sales of hardcover books over the same period were up 11.5% to $778.6 million over the same period.

I’m not a fan of ebooks. I like real books. I like smelling the paper and reading at the beach. I like pulling out a book I read years ago and finding pencil marks in the margins and fingerprints on the pages. I just can’t seem to fall in love with an electronic device; there’s romance in books. My whole life – 50 years now – I’ve been reading books, and lots of them.

Surprise: I’m not a fan of technology.

In fact, when people assure me that this or that technological advance is going to eliminate something – like ebooks putting bookstores out of business and making paper book printing obsolete – I only laugh.

I’m 50 years old now, people. I know a thing or two about technology and life.

Back in the 80s I was The World’s Worst Bank Teller. This was before I went on to become The World’s Worst Promotions Specialist, The World’s Worst Small Business Owner, The World’s Worst Mother, and The World’s Worst Veterinary Office Receptionist (just to name a few of my career choices).

It was also, believe it or not, before  ATMs were as prevalent as they are today.

ATMs were predicted to do away with human bank tellers.
ATMs were predicted to do away with human bank tellers.

The Automated Teller Machine was developed in the 1960s and started being used around the world in the 1970s. But it was in the late 1980s, when I was a teller, that the push was really on to replace actual bank tellers with machines.

I remember each of us taking turns standing in the lobby, offering to help customers make deposits and withdrawals using this high tech cash dispenser. There was a learning curve, but before long people were bypassing the long lines to conduct simple transactions, like getting cash or depositing their paycheck.

The future, the financial prognosticators spoke with certainty, would soon find people doing all of their banking by machine. Human tellers and employees, we were assured, would become a thing of the past, or at the most relegated to a few select hours of branch availability a week to accept mortgage applications, process loan papers and make sure the machines were working.

I left banking only after a few years – it was gently suggested I find a career path that didn’t involve adding numbers – but I never forgot those dire predictions. Because, as it turns out, they were wrong. In fact, quite the opposite happened.

While ATM use is daily use for most Americans, banking didn’t go completely “humanless”. Banks actually found people using their services more. They kept or extended office hours. They relegated the mundane tasks of depositing and withdrawing to the money machines, but found other ways to connect with their customers, in person, in the office, on the phone, and online.

Human bank tellers and other employees didn’t go away after all.

It was the same dire prediction when the Video Cassette Recorder debuted for mass consumer use. The motion picture industry predicted doom as consumers took their viewing choices to their homes. No one would ever go to the movies again, they wailed. Speaking before Congressional hearings in 1982, then Motion Picture Association of America head Jack Valenti said, “I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.”

In other words, death to the movies.

But instead, there was a rise in people going to the movie theater. Hollywood produced more movies. In 1985, there were 470 movies released with a gross box office of about $3.7 million dollars. In 2013, there were 686 movies released, with a gross box office of about $10.9 million.  Add in DVD sales, Netflix and other streaming sites and the reality is that the motion picture industry benefitted from this new technology.

Trivia sidebar: The #1 movie at the box office in 1985? “Back To The Future”. In 2013? “Catching Fire”. Interesting, isn’t it, how our views on the future have gone from rosy technology to post-apocalyptic doom? But I digress.

Yes, technology makes things easier, but it never replaces humans. It might change the way we interact with each other, but in the end, people like people. They like doing their banking with a human. They like going to a theater with other people to share a theatrical experience.

And they like books. And bookstores. While big chain stores are struggling and going under, there’s a backlash rise in independent stores. The indie bookseller has adapted to the marketplace, and small stores have become havens for book lovers, complete with cafes, gift shops and other things that draw those of us who love a good mystery, a cozy chair and a cat wandering amongst the stacks of hardcovers and paperbacks.

Technology changes the world, but we adapt with it to maintain our personal connections.

My prediction? With the rise in social media and the electronic clutter that overwhelms us on a daily basis, we’ll start sending each other letters and cards again. You know, get out a pen and a piece of paper and write a letter. Put a stamp on it. Give it to the mailman. Go to the mailbox and take out envelopes and open them up and think, “How nice! Aunt Gloria sent me  birthday card!” Check back with me on my 100th birthday and see if I was right.

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

 

Thoughts on “The Alchemist”

“The boy felt jealous of the freedom of the wind, and saw that he could have the same freedom. There was nothing to hold him back except himself.” – The Alchemist

My new friend Pauline and I went out recently (she’s a writer, too; you can check out her blog here) and we got to talking about the book, “The Alchemist.” I’d started to read it a few years ago but couldn’t get into it. But after a tipsy conversation Pauline and I had at an Irish pub before she went home to Colorado, wherein she told me what effect the book had had on her life, I decided to pull it off the shelf and give it another shot.

I know now why I couldn’t read it before. I wasn’t ready for the message.

The book, which I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, is an allegory about a shepherd boy named Santiago who goes in search of his treasure. On the journey, he learns lessons about life, personal calling, and love.

In this new (scary, undefined) season of my life, it’s applicable because it not only holds a mirror to show me where I’ve been and what’s been holding me back, but also shows me that there is more beyond the reflection, and that I am the only one keeping me from stepping through the looking glass .

It got me thinking about what someone referred to as this security blanket of fear and insecurity that I seem to have wrapped myself in; this friend noted that it might make me feel safe but also holds me back, adding, “We are running out of time in this great thing called life…if you don’t throw that security blanket away now then it will be never and that would be really sad…”

This friend is right. And it’s a little scary that, despite what has felt like progress these last months, someone still saw it. Because I’m not secure at all and I don’t want to be held back anymore.

But wanting to move and knowing where to go are not necessarily the same thing. Do I have dreams? If someone came to me today and said I could have one of my dreams come true, I don’t know that I’d even know what to ask for. I don’t have a dream job. I don’t have a passion. Do I?

God knows I tried to explore some of that last year. Dog training? Job at the animal hospital? Starting (and stopping) various writing projects? Not only did none of it make me happy, most of it made me feel miserable, because I failed at it all. Not because I’m bad at the things I tried, but because none of them are my dream and none of them made me feel fulfilled.

I was at my happiest 8 or 9 years ago, when I was doing publicity for a local band, mentoring a few musicians (including John, my son I never had), volunteering for local causes, and even going on that trip to Mexico. (Yes, friends, for those of you who don’t know this story, I – who hated to fly, couldn’t speak Spanish, didn’t know sign language and once almost killed myself with a folding chair – flew to Mexico to do construction at a school for deaf children. Twice.)

I was giving and giving and giving, and it was the act of giving that renewed me. It was a wonderful season in my life.

So what happened?  The season changed – the band moved to LA; John died; my work in Christian music became empty; the volunteer projects changed; the well started to run dry and rather than stand back and refill, I kept giving.

I tried to find another band to work with, I volunteered for other projects, I started a writing group with a friend, but in truth I was exhausted. Eventually I was starting to feel annoyed in the company of other people. But rather than taking time to reflect on why that was or the dangers of not addressing it, I simply redirected my (exhausted) energies. 

Somehow, I had convinced myself that helping other people was not enough; that I had to turn it into something with my fingerprints on it. A book, an article, a … whatever, as long as it was something that would prove to the world that I had been here and made a difference.

I tried desperately to bring in income through my writing, but when it was financially successful it exhausted me creatively, and when it was creatively fulfilling I felt like I was writing in a vacuum.

Other areas of my life were also struggling, and while I recognized it I had no ability to change it. Fortunately, when most of your life is fulfilling and positive, you’re able to manage the parts that aren’t much more easily. But when you let failure and defeat creep in, you begin to see the dark shadows that have been lingering in the corners, and rather than shed light on them you invite them to take up residence.

In the introduction to “The Alchemist”, Coelho writes:

“I have known a lot of people who, when their personal calling was within their grasp, went on to commit a series of stupid mistakes and never reached their goal – when it was only a step away.”

Yup, that was me. I had forgotten my calling. I had forgotten that the ability to make people laugh is a gift, or that being able to introduce Person A to Person B so that they can make their dreams come true is, in itself, priceless. I was blind to the fact that I lived in every dream I made come true for someone else.

I have this quote written down in my notebook; I don’t know who Sonny Melendez is or where I saw a video, but here’s what he said:

“Our job is to first find our gift … then when you use that gift to give back, without asking or needing anything in return, that’s when you’ve really arrived. That’s what makes you who you are rather than what your title is.”

Perhaps, like me, you’re trying to find out who you are. Perhaps, like me, you convinced yourself for too long that a dark cave was the safest place to be. 

Perhaps, like me, you’ve recently decided that, consequences be damned, you will not just exist but live, and that while you’re still not sure which direction to move, you’re willing to just move in order to simply feel the sun on your face and the wind at your back.

If so, consider this: “To realize one’s destiny is a person’s only real obligation.” It really may be that simple.

This is a new season. My drought is over, washed away by laughter and love and renewing of the spirit. And I believe, as Coelho writes, that the Universe is conspiring in my favor.

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