I preface this statement by making one thing clear about a part of my life: I have never tasted alcohol.
That’s right: I’ve never had a bottle of beer, a glass of wine, or sipped any particular cocktail known to man. I’ve never asked for one, and I’ve never needed one. I don’t see alcohol as an agent of good in this life. What good does alcohol bring, anyway?
Which brings me to the point of this story: while I have Irish in my blood (and proud of it), seeing the insane debauchery on this St. Patrick’s Day Saturday makes me feel grateful that I don’t drink on that day - or any day.
For anyone who does drink responsibly - even on St. Patrick’s Day - who believes this writer is somehow going to slander them, this is not about those people. It is about those who believe getting drunk gets you to have fun, only instead to have you do things you probably would regret years, months, weeks, days…better yet, even minutes later.
This St. Patrick’s Day Saturday in Rochester was a cold one, with snow falling throughout the day. It was no matter to the crazy young people dressed in Irish green, some even sporting taped green mustaches (why wasthata good idea?). As the day wore on and people went from bar to bar to bar finding an opening to get plastered, one thing stood out in my mind: Does anyone realize what happens to your brain when you get blitzed on alcohol?
From what I understand, it makes you do crazy things - and some of those things you don’t take back. You scream “Whoo!” just to be the center of attention. You call your best friends names you probably would never call them in your life. Sometimes you even fight with other potential patrons, cutting in line just to get inside a bar, only to have you stopped cold by police. I saw that happen for the second straight year in Rochester alone. And of course, when you wake up Sunday morning, you may end up with the motherlode of all hangovers.
Now I’m sure some will read this column and do one of three things: mock my straight-and-narrow approach, call me derogatory names, and basically make the assumption I don’t know how to live it up and party. I know those may come my way, if at all. Yet I have no shame in admitting such things as not getting drunk on St. Patrick’s Day - there’s no real reason for it at all. I’m fully aware it’s the one time of the year where people use it as a reason to “be Irish” (especially if there’s no Irish ancestry at all) and get drunk during the holiday weekend of March. While there are those who will be civilized with their drink - and likely get a taxi to get them home, there will always be those who will act like hooligans after their favorite team loses, traffic and police be darned.
It’s possible the insults will come, but I won’t mind. I’m comfortable in knowing I don’t need alcohol to have fun - especially on St. Patrick’s Day. And I certainly don’t need it to look like someone I’m not, or someone I’ll regret being not long after the haze of the drink has settled itself out.
On the Friday afternoon after my birthday, I decided to do something I had never done before. I donated to a radiothon - pledging $25 to Golisano Children’s Hospital during the “Drive for Miracles.” I decided to do so in honor of a little girl I came to meet, the daughter of a former co-worker. She had a CDH - a congenital diaphragmatic hernia - and it gave her less than 25% chance of survival. Even with the odds squarely against her, she found a way to win her earliest battles. This girl’s name was Grace, and she became an inspiration to those who weren’t exactly believers in miracles. And I’m not ashamed to say it, I was inspired.
I had given a donation to her mother’s team for the Stroll for Strong 5K that took place at the University of Rochester last summer. When I saw Grace for the first time, I knew I was in the presence of someone special - regardless of the odds they were still facing. Grace was a little girl with a big will to live, and it showed.
And then came February 16, 2013, with the news I read on Facebook, that little Grace had fought her last battle after 17 months on this Earth. Early that morning, she passed away after undergoing surgery.
My heart is grieving for Grace’s family - her mother Jennifer, her father Vincent, her big sister Avery, and the Johnson & Esposito families who gave so much to help their little girl find a way to beat the odds and become living proof of defying them. It is because of them that Grace was the living miracle she will always be known for. Her organs were also donated for anyone in need of them - insuring the potential for more miracles to emerge. Even on the other side of life, it seemed Grace had the potential to give others hope. If that doesn’t move you in any way about how hope can come out of such a sad story, then there’s nothing else I can say.
To Jennifer, Vincent and the entire Johnson/Esposito family, please know my thoughts and prayers are with you always. You gave so much to give Grace a fighting chance, and even with the news of that morning, you allowed her to leave her mark on so many. It is because of you that Grace left her mark of inspiration and hope, and may it never leave.
Everyone is familiar with the hymn “Amazing Grace,” especially with its legendary opening stanza. Yet there’s another verse in the song that may somehow fit the moment:
Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess within the veil,
A life of joy and peace.
In the seventeen months she lived on this Earth, Grace Esposito gave joy to so many - from her family & friends to so many people in the Rochester community who were touched by her story of survival. Even as she is now an angel in peace, she will always be remembered as a girl who stared down adversity and defeated it. She beat the odds. She inspired so many, and will continue to. She will always be a miracle angel.
Thank you, Grace.
GRACE ELIZABETH ESPOSITO
September 19, 2011 - February 16, 2013
Two nights, two shows, one guy writing it…and an all-female ensemble taking the stage. If you’re in Rochester on 1/31 & 2/1 and you need an idea for some great entertainment - this is it. Even for a staged reading, it’s worth a look. Check it out. Be there. The ladies will be in charge.
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Throughout the last few hours, there has been so much said and reported about the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. More than two dozen people were killed, with the gunman and his mother among the dead.
Also among the casualties were 20 children - that’s right, 20 children. These are children who will never grow up to see graduations, or learning how to drive, or experience the difficult yet rewarding journey of growing up in life.
One person had to snatch it away from them. That’s what makes it all heartbreaking.
I’m sure other people have been or will be more eloquent in their reflections on the tragedy, but I will try to explain my thoughts on the events in Newtown. To be fair, those thoughts are hard to express - since to be honest, it’s hard to describe how anyone would even want to go into a school, take a gun, and start opening fire. The callousness of such an act has never made sense - and it never will.
My heart aches for the lives lost, but what gets me more about this day is the parents of the children lost.
It’s hard to imagine - mothers and fathers (and maybe grandparents or other relatives) dropping off their kids to school on the way to work, or watching them get on the bus. They probably assumed their kids were going to school to keep learning, or have fun at recess, or at least come home with homework they would try to assist them on. Instead, for many parents in Newtown, the end of the day would lead to their lives being forever altered - knowing their children wouldn’t be coming off the bus again, or waiting to be picked up, or just running to them. They will be left a void in their hearts, in their souls - and it can never be filled. It’s there forever.
To my friends and acquaintances who have children, it may be a bit cliche but it’s true - if you see your children tonight, make sure you tell them how much they mean to you, and how you love them. There may come a day when you may not get that chance again, so every day you walk the Earth and see your son or daughter, it’s a moment to cherish them. It’s a moment to embrace them. Just as life is fragile, so is time - especially the time with the ones we love.
There will certainly be endless debate over what drove the gunman to commit this heinous tragedy, and also debate over the need for more gun control - especially since an assault weapon was reportedly used. Yet on this Friday night in December, all of those things should remain in the background. It’s about the children whose lives were taken away so callously, and the parents who had them ripped from their lives, never to return.
Thoughts and prayers for the dead and grieving in Newtown
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On the eve of Sara Bareilles’ 33rd birthday, I’ve penned this tribute about the impact this singer-songwriter has had on my life - as a writer, and as a person.
It was 2008, and I was starting to live my post-collegiate life in Rochester, New York, working in television. There was a song I was starting to hear in commercials and on the radio. It was later discovered this catchy tune only came to existence after her record label’s executives reportedly felt her great album had one thing missing: a single.
In a state of duress as similar as Bruce Springsteen must have felt when he wrote “Dancing in the Dark” circa 1984, she penned that upbeat number that was actually a kiss-off on one of pop music’s great cliches: the love song.
And Sara Bareilles found that hit, and the launch to her career was on. “Love Song” became the world’s introduction to this brilliant singer-songwriter of Eureka, California - a woman full of soul, with a sailor’s mouth, and a yearning heart.
It was after hearing “Love Song” for the first time on her MySpace page that led me to buying her album Little Voice, and no surprise, “Love Song” was the opener. Yet I listened to the rest of the album: the wanting to escape to “Vegas,” the noirish feel of “Come Round Soon,” the epic beauty of “One Sweet Love,” the Broadwayesque style of “Fairytale” (you could just imagine a dance number to this when you hear it!), and the eloquent resignation of the finale “Gravity.”
Yet there was one track that stood out the most, and it may have been one of the more difficult tracks to pull off. The song was Little Voice’s ninth track, “City,” which had an industrial style clashing with an orchestral arrangement. When you hear its lyrics of Sara realizing the night just isn’t getting anywhere and just needing someone to hold on to, this writer can only imagine such a scene playing out. The narrator walks alone on the city streets, the lonely soul in a sea of bliss - needing someone as an escape from her depressed state of mind. I can only say this: if only I could be such a person one time in my life.
I later read in an interview Sara did with a prominent magazine that “City” may have been one of the hardest recording experiences in her life - she didn’t know if she had her vision completely fulfilled, and she broke down once it was finished. To Sara, if you ever wondered if “City” worked, it certainly did - the hairs stand up every time I listen to it, and can’t help but feel moved by it. If there ever was a theme for someone longing to break from the depression and loneliness of 21st century life, who knows - “City” could be that song.
I’m not ashamed to admit Sara Bareilles is an influence on my writing life. I must have had written short theater scenes with her songs in my mind, when it came to describing the female heroines. For my recently-finished novel The Lovely Nature of Yum-Yum, part of the personality of the title character - a reggae-loving, determined optimist of a music journalist who falls for a struggling young man - included Sara as one such muse. It was also followed in inspiration from Jean Seberg a la Breathless, the Rochester dub scene, and the brilliant actress Emma Stone.
Yes, there were the two deserved Grammy nods for “Love Song” that followed - and the follow-up Kaleidoscope Heart, that gave Sara her first #1 album - certainly one of the greatest moments of her life. Then there were the celebrity-fueled videos (including one directed by an Oscar-nominated actor) and the judging of & guidance given to a cappella groups on national TV. Then there were two life-altering trips along the way: one to Tokyo to inspire in the country’s post-earthquake recovery, and a state fair to Indiana where a falling stage claimed the lives of seven people.
Through all the success and heartbreak in both personal and professional worlds, Sara has remained a brilliant musical genius in her own right - plumbing the depths of her own soul to give wonderful little song stories to all lonely hearts of both genders. She can be full of brassy soul one moment, then rock out the next, before bringing the mood down with a tender, vulnerable ballad. Then she can also tell stories about her life, complete with an F-bomb or two. I would know, for I was able to see it myself.
In April 2009, I was able to catch the final show of Sara’s Gravity Tour at Turning Stone Casino in Verona, along the New York State Thruway. She sang with her band for over an hour, with no opening act. I was able to be close enough to the stage to see her and the band close up - being witness to a unique cover of U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” playing ukulele on her take of Rihanna’s “Umbrella,” and providing a sneak preview of the Kaleidoscope Heart tune “Gonna Get Over You,” before appropriately ending solo on “Gravity.” It’s too bad I didn’t stay at Turning Stone long enough afterwards - if she came out to see her fans, I would have loved to tell her thank you for the music.
Maybe now on the occasion of her 33rd birthday, I can.
Sara, if you see this ode - thank you for the music you have given over the last few years. Thank you for the wonderful quirkiness that you bring to an industry that seems to have little interest in such a thing these days. Thank you for staying true to your muse, and allowing so many fans to come along for the ride. I came when I first heard “Love Song,” and I’ve stayed for the rest of the journey.
After months of planning, and sketching, and 28 days of writing & finishing & revising & refinishing…
The Lovely Nature of Yum-Yumis completed. My first novel is done.
Whether or not there’s a future for it is unknown right now. Yet the fact remains this: it’s wrapped up. As someone who loves to write, it’s one of the proudest moments of my life.
As I’m writing this post, I’m back in the North Country part of New York State where I was born and grew up. It’s a good 3 1/2 hour drive from Rochester, but the drive to see the people I love - including my rambunctious little nephew Tristan - is always worth it.
As I have gotten older, I’ve come to realize something very potent about the holidays - and yes, it may be a little cliche, but the feeling is definitely true. As much fun as gift giving can be, the holidays serve as a reminder of how grateful and thankful we are for the things we have in our lives. To me, the holidays are not about Black Friday ads, madcap shopping sprees, and overstuffing yourself on turkey, gravy and cranberry sauce. It’s about being with your family and friends, sharing in the wonder of the season.
On this 2012 holiday season, I am thankful for the wonderful people I have in my life. The first group is absolutely and always will be my family - two parents who have been married for 32 years and remain as much in love as they ever have been, a sister who is a great counselor and a great mother, a future brother-in-law who is absolutely great with all things technology if something breaks, and a two-year-old who would beat me in the “cutest Rielly” contest every time - and I wouldn’t mind it, either. Tristan is the best nephew a writer like me could ever ask for, and he’s a charm.
I am also thankful for my friends in Rochester. It is a small inner circle, and it contains people of different backgrounds - musicians, writers, booksellers, even a pastor! - but what makes them great is their friendship and support. To those people, and you know who you are, the presence you have in my life has been, and will always be, vital when I live and work in the Flower City. You are all amazing, every single one of you…I just wanted you to know that.
To those who are reading this right now, I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving and you’re spending it with people you love and care about. I hope you get to do the same thing for Christmas and New Year’s as well - for the holidays are all about the people in our lives that mean the world, that are special, that we would be so different if it weren’t for them. I have those people in my life, and I value them so much. I don’t take their presence lightly. Without them, I wouldn’t be the writer and hard-working person I am now. They arethatimportant.
So if anyone expects me to be braving the cold and madhouse ways of Black Friday, no worries here; I’ll be sleeping in the morning, at my family’s house, not thinking about work or rushing to the store. Let’s face it, the cliches do have a way of holding true - the holidays are all about the ones we care about, and who care about us. Savor those moments, and enjoy them.
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I’ve got my first MuCCC project set to go for 2013 - but I’m going to need some casting help!
I’m planning the scene anthologySHE WILL HAVE HER WAY, with two performances considered for January 31 and February 1. The anthology will include 11 scenes featuring only female characters. The show is being planned right now as a reading, but all details are subject to change, depending on cast and script availability. Multiple-role casting will be strongly encouraged.
If you catch this posting in the Rochester area, are an actor, and want to take part - email at email@example.com or reply to this Tumblr post!
A theater director looks at the stage and while trying to figure out the right setting for the scene she’s working on, she gets taken in by the joy of the theater.
Character: Nicki (a theater director)
2. “The Princess Guild”
Three princesses gather together for the monthly meeting of the Princess Guild – and they have to deal with the constant no-shows of their fellow princesses, besides the regular other issues they face.
Characters: Thumbelina, Rapunzel, Aurora (“Sleeping Beauty”)
3. “Sandman Tells All”
A famous explorer known as The Sandman comes out to plug her autobiography, and explains how she got her famous sleeping powers.
Character: Sandy Q. Sanderson (aka “The Sandman”)
4. “The Vicious Fairy”
A fairy specializing in nightmares gets back on the beat to scare a teenage girl, but the girl refuses to give in…or maybe the fairy has a bit of a struggle to get her groove back.
Characters: Valerie (“The Vicious Fairy”), Laura Matthews (a teenage girl)
5. “A Special Place”
A young girl gets a new roommate in a mysterious daycare center, run by a governess – and the two girls realize they have more in common than they first believe.
Characters: Leah (a young girl), Naomi (a young girl), Miss Rachel (a governess)
6. “The Truth Does Set You Free, Maybe”
A young woman has had one too many to drink, but something weird happens – as the night wears on, she’s not afraid to be honest with herself…and her life’s current direction.
Character: Megan Johnson (a young woman)
7. “A Trio’s Allusion of a Beckett Piece”
Three girls sit together on a bench, and talk about…well, no one really knows, actually. This scene was written as a tribute to Samuel Beckett’s 1965 short piece Come and Go.
Characters: Elle, Kit, Jen
8. “Stepsisters’ Lament”
Cinderella’s stepsisters watch the royal procession down the street, and muse about why neither one of them got the Prince’s hand.
Characters: Anna (the older stepsister), Drew (the younger stepsister)
9. “Unusual But Real (Phobias)”
Two young women discuss unusual but actual phobias.
Characters: Woman #1, Woman #2
10. “Somewhere Only We Know”
As two friends prepare a dinner party, one of them decides to tell a surprise to her friend – she has romantic feelings…for her. Then again, it’s only the beginning of what may be a night of surprises.
Characters: Valerie Walker (a young woman), Bianca Shepherd (a young woman)
11. “Happy Birthday”
Suburban mom Andrea celebrates her birthday alone, but she refuses to take joy in the proceedings; her daughter has gone missing, after finding a boy she met online.
Character: Andrea McKenzie (a suburban mother)
It’s been a very long time since I’ve posted anything on the Tumblr page, but to disclose my next writing plans, I had to use this forum.
I’m putting together a novel for National Novel Writing Month, and will be writing and finishing it up in November. The novel is calledThe Lovely Nature of Yum-Yum, and it’s about a young man who starts a new job at a local arts magazine and falls in love with a free-spirited music reviewer. It’s set in Rochester during the fall. That’s as far as I’ll go on details for now.
But next month will be the fulfilling of a life-long dream: to finish a novel, and to actually put it on paper. Hopefully all of the ideas sketched out - from the characters to the storyline - will come out to make a decent full work. I’ll find out at the end of November, when it goes in for certification.
I’m sure everything will tie itself together in the end. At least I’ll have 30 days to write it all out, edit it all out, and finish it all out. I can’t wait to get this novel done. It’ll be a lot of fun too.
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