I’m Back. I think.

Well, it’s been awhile. Is anyone still out there? Is anyone reading this? If you’re still out there and reading my blog, thank you.

This blog has been on my mind for awhile. Why did I start it? Why did I stop it? I can’t even really answer the first question so we’ll go to the second question – I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 24, 2013. That diagnosis sent me into a black hole. I just didn’t function like I used to and lost interest in everything. That is the answer to question #2.

I was released from care last summer (5 year mark) and still no interest in blogging until recently. Until today.

As I was heading into to town today for lunch, I saw an older woman (70+) wearing waders and holding a stabbing device (like a spear) along the side of a creek. She was wading into the bustling creek with purpose. I started wondering what was she looking for? There can’t be edible-sized fish in there, right? Was she looking for frogs? Maybe for her grandchild’s terrarium? Or for eating later? I’m still wondering. Still. Wondering.

As I was driving back to the house after lunch (two hours later), I became struck by another scene. This new scene occurred by the same bustling creek where I had earlier witnessed the woman with the spear. I saw two young boys (maybe 9 & 6), a large toy John Deere truck and a grandma-type person. Both of the boys were wearing rain boots and had clearly been creek-stomping. The younger boy was holding the grandma’s hand and was dragging her along the creek toward the older boy.  The older boy was pushing the toy truck with water sloshing over the sides toward the grandma and the younger boy. This all seemed normal to me until I noticed grandma carrying a sledge hammer in her left hand while holding the younger boy’s hand with her right. Did the boys catch something that needed a beating? What was in the truck sloshing around? A frog? A chipmunk? A lizard? A squirrel? A snake? Did any of those animals require a beating? 

I can’t stop thinking about it. When I’m a grandma will I be called forth to carry a sledge hammer? I surely hope not.

Life after Breast Cancer: A New Normal


My brain is stuck. That’s why I haven’t been writing. My brain is swirling with ideas, but it can’t seem to land on anything. Writing has become h-a-r-d. I think I spelled that correctly.

I had to sound it out. (That’s normal, right?).

If you have been a follower of this blog, you know that I was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer. June 24th to be exact (the day after my birthday). Last year was a helluva year to say the least.

My course of treatment was a lumpectomy and seven weeks of daily radiation. Woohoo. I was also lucky enough to find out that my cancer was hormone positive. I’m kind of being serious here. Hormone positive breast cancers are easier to treat than hormone negative breast cancers. Why is this important?

With hormone positive breast cancer, Tamoxifen is the recommended course of treatment – one pill everyday for five years. Unfortunately, there are serious side effects to be considered. I was given the prescription in early December and had it for thirty days before I made my decision. After visiting multiple chat rooms, viewing multiple web sites, and discussing it with friends, I decided to try it. A fellow breast cancer survivor said to me, “Jenni, why wouldn’t you want to try anything to prevent getting breast cancer again?” I couldn’t argue with that.

There are a TON of side effects with this drug. The couple that seem to be plaguing me the most are chemo brain and hot flashes.

The hot flashes were to be expected. Not to be too TMI-ish, but I had a total hysterectomy (with ovary removal) after my radiation treatment and that surgery puts a women into surgical menopause, like immediately. This drug seems to make them a bit more intense. Menopause, Schmenopause.

What in the holy hell is the evolutionary reason for hot flashes? I mean, really?! Was it to signal eligible bachelors that you weren’t available for procreation, but were available for recreation? There had to be a better way. Just sayin’.

The “chemo brain” is a whole other story. I started taking Tamoxifen in January and after two weeks, I noticed a SERIOUS decrease in my brain function. My kids and my hubs can back me up on this. My brain WAS a steel trap. I NEVER forgot anything. ANYTHING. That was my most annoying/endearing trait (probs mostly endearing).

Not anymore.

Since I’ve been on this drug, I feel like I’m in a fog. I want to talk, but can’t think of words. They’re there floating in front of me, but I can’t reach them. In mid-sentence, I forget what I’m saying and can’t finish a thought. I want to comment on the stories of the day, but they become vague wisps of memories even though I just read them that day. I used to be analytical (I was a math major), and now I struggle with parsing an article.

I’ve become someone I’m unfamiliar with:

  • I almost went to the store in my slippers. Thankfully, they didn’t feel quite right on the garage floor.
  • I’ve gotten to work without my laptop (way more than once). By the way, it’s impossible to do my work without a computer.
  • I’ve gotten to work and realized I forgot my make-up. Not a big deal? What do you know! I’m 48 years old! Make-up is necessary!!!
  • I’m easily distracted like a toddler. Ooooh. Shiny penny……..
  • I’m unable to focus and I think it’s affecting my work (Shhh…….)
  • I described to my daughter what I was feeling and she said, “It sounds like when I was suffering from my concussion.” Great. A concussion that lasts five years.

In addition to my addled brain, I also have been diagnosed with radiation fibrosis.

Yesterday a friend checked in with me to see how I was doing. After I explained what was happening, she aptly reminded me that even though my new normal was frustrating, it was better than the alternative. That is absolutely hard to argue with.

Wait. What? Radiation fibrosis, you say? Check out my next post.



Oh, Yes He Did!

That silly plumber. Yep, he said it. (To get caught up, read this.)

“Mrs. Engledow, we have another problem.”

As he was blathering on and on and drawing pictures in an effort to get me to grasp the situation, my mind began to wonder and a demonic grin appeared on my face. I grabbed the wrench that he placed dangerously close to my hand, conked him on the head with it, and then chased him out of the house screaming profanities like a drunken sailor. Then, I . . . . . I snapped out of it and politely asked him what he proposed to do about this new “situation”.

Apparently, the manufacturer of our tub and it’s plumbing parts has been out of business for long time and we are one of a very few households in our area that still has this outdated plumbing. Yay, us! We feel so special. So, according to our plumber, the solution is to order yet another special part from a supplier located somewhere in Pennsylvania. And, that means that we get another visit from the plumber!

The same plumber has been in and out of our house for over an entire month, so I think that implies that he’s become part of the family. What do you give someone on your one month anniversary? A house key and a drawer? I can’t remember. If you know, send me a note.

I also followed up with our easy-going tile guy to find out when he will be installing our shower shelves and towel rack, and I have yet to hear back from him. I guess it’s a good thing that we still owe him money. I’m assuming that he’ll want the rest of his money, right?

The one good outcome from this last plumber visit is that we can now use our shower! We can’t take baths, but I can’t remember the last time I took a bath so we’re good. Assuming that his proposed solution of ordering special parts from Pennsylvania actually works, we will be able to take baths by next Thursday if we choose to do so. And. . . . maybe I will.

Oh, and we may also be finished with this episode of “House of Horrors”. Keep your fingers crossed.

Leaky Faucets and Red Wine

Can I just say, “Fricka, fracka, fudgesicle!”

Homeownership is both a blessing and a curse. At the moment, we are in the curse stage. This tale started innocently on July 2nd with a leaky bathtub faucet. This innocent leak has turned into a $1,000 nightmare. Here we are on August 9th and we still can’t use the shower in the master bath.

Thirty-year old houses can be tricky, but come on! We have a tile guy that I think used be a surfer in his previous life because time seems more like a guideline than a rule and we have a plumber that can’t figure out our thirty year old tub. To borrow a phrase from one of my husband’s cousins, “You only have to be 10% smarter than the tool.” I can see what he means now. (Thanks, Mark!).

If I hear, “Mrs. Engledow, we have another problem” ONE MORE TIME, you may see me on the evening news in handcuffs being dragged from my house while my bewildered children are seen in the background sobbing on the front porch.

Of course, this is all happening as I am going through my radiation treatments. I just want my own shower back. Is that too much to ask? I don’t think so, right?!

Right! Let’s relax and have a glass of red wine. Shall, we?

Red Wine

Three Strikes and . . . You’re Rejected

IMG_8742During the past year, I was invited to join a writing group. At first, I was resistant because I didn’t consider myself a real writer. All of the others in the group are either working on their MFAs, have an MFA, working on novels, or have been published.

My claim to fame? This blog. That’s it. But, my friend countered every one of my concerns, claimed that I was a writer and encouraged me attend one of the meetings. So, I did.

It was a little intimidating at first because they had the advantage of knowing each other already. But, of course, I was being silly because they were great! Over the past year, I have really enjoyed getting to know them.

At the last meeting, I read a short piece. Everyone seemed to love it and encouraged me to submit it for publication. There are, it seems, a bazillion online magazines available to those that desire to be published. You just have to convince the magazine that your piece is the greatest thing since sliced bread. Apparently, that is really, really hard to do.

However, I thought, “What the hell?” After receiving some online magazine recommendations, I did it. I submitted my piece to three lucky ducks. And. . . . . . . . I waited.

One by one the declinations came in (as expected). I mean, come on! It was my first time trying. It would have been a complete fluke to receive an acceptance on my first submission. Just so you know, these wonderfully smart, witty, clever writers in my group receive rejections once in a while too. And, that’s hard for me to believe because they are really talented.

So, I’m back to self-publishing. Here is the piece that I wrote for the group and I hope you enjoy it.

Bad Boys and Bad Books

“Who could ever really be attracted to a character like that? He’s really despicable. And, the plot? The plot is horrible and that’s being kind,” my friend exclaimed in an extremely irritated voice.

“Then, stop reading the book! You can’t get that time back,” I and the others at the tabled responded.

“I know. You’re right, but I can’t stop.”

With all of our most powerful best friend mojo, she still could not be persuaded. She had to finish it, and possibly read the two sequels. It was a national phenomenon and she wanted to know what it was all about.

Why would my friend put herself through this? Why couldn’t she dump this book? Why didn’t our mojo work?

I’ve experienced the sensation of making that one emotional and undeniably intense connection with a story where it grips me in its unrelenting embrace for hours and hours. Then, reality slaps me in the face with “Mom, I’m hungry. Mom, I need clean clothes.” My response? “MOMMY’S READING!”

I know my friend has experienced this same feeling with a book to the point where her family is wandering around in dirty clothes dumpster-diving for food. So, for God’s sake, why?

Then, it came to me. Bad books are like bad relationships. Hear me out.

The first encounter: You walk into the bookstore with a purpose. You’re looking for latest cerebral recommendation by the Fresh Air book reviewer, Maureen Corrigan. But, wait. Your eyes lock on to something. It’s a picture of a seductively styled monochromatic necktie. Something in your brain is triggered. You recognize this cover and then you remember that everyone wants one. Well, shouldn’t you want it too? Then, your heart starts pumping violently when you realize that it’s calling to you. It wants you too! So you flirt with the book by cradling it gently in your arms, flipping through its pages, and smiling coquettishly as you read the jacket cover. Then, you think, “Screw the so-called ‘good’ book. I want this one!”

The rose-colored glasses are cracking: It’s a cold and windy January afternoon and you have nothing to do. You grab your cup of coffee and sit in your favorite worn leather chair so you can have some alone time with your current book.  After the last time together, you were a bit disappointed. Expectations are high that it will be better this time and you will have a meaningful connection. You inhale sharply, your heart races, and you open the book anxiously. After a few pages, you realize something. “This son-of-a-bitch hasn’t changed one freakin’ bit!”  You slam the book shut, throw it on the floor and storm out of the room.

Best friends have gone by the wayside:  Pretty soon this novel is coming between you and your besties. You start declining offers to do things with your friends so you can eagerly get back to your book. Then, they eventually stop inviting you out afraid that you will talk about or bring along your annoyingly bad book. When you do attempt to whine to your friends, they beg you to dump this irritating novel and find one that treats you better. This is the last straw, they’re tired of being ignored and exhausted by the constant droning on and on about how awful it treats you, how unbearable it is, blah, blah, blah. You’re now this close to being one of those girls in high school that dumps their friends for the boyfriend.

The voice in your head is getting louder: Every minute you spend reading this sad, horrible book is a minute wasted. Pull yourself together, chica! You could be spending your precious time reading a novel that makes you smile, feel warm inside, long for your next encounter, that leaves you breathless and that welcomes you with a warm embrace the next time you caress its pages.  

The end is near: You are not a quitter, damn it. But, then, you finally have an epiphany and it forces you to see the relationship for what it is: an emotional tar pit. It must come to an end. You tell yourself that it’s better for everyone – you, your gal pals, your family, and your friends on Goodreads. You sadly place the book in the donation pile and sulk. It’s the weekend so you hole up in your house in your favorite reading chair and wallow in self-pity, red wine and a container of mocha chip ice cream. You begin to ruminate. “Why did I fall for that obvious and seductive cover? Why couldn’t I see the book for what it really was? Why didn’t I listen to my friends and end it early? What if I never find another good book that treats me right?”

I used to be like my friend. I would put up with a crappy book to its horrible conclusion due to my pathological need to finish things. Then, one day, as I was forcing myself to read a particular mystery novel that came highly recommended, I had an epiphany.  Books are for enjoyment and this book was NOT enjoyable. That’s when I said to myself, “You have to schedule appointments to go to the bathroom, get little sleep at night and you’re wasting time reading this twaddle?! What the hell is wrong with you!?”  At that moment, I made the decision that this horrendous, unreadable book was no longer my master. I tossed it into the donation pile unfinished.

That, my friend, is freedom.

What do you think?

The Dog Ate my Homework

“Let’s see everybody’s homework today.”

Uh oh… I did something. Something that I had never done before. “What could it possibly be?” you’re wondering. Snake handling? Speaking in tongues? Hamster juggling?

Well, it’s really more like something I didn’t do. My homework.


There. I said it.

Maybe this photography thing is going to me more difficult than I thought. The assignment was really difficult and my pictures sucked. What was the assignment? I had to take pictures of four different types of motion. It’s harder than it sounds.

No way was I going to share my suckiest-suck-that-ever-sucked pictures so they could be used as examples of ‘what not to do’.

When it was time for show and tell, my stomach twisted into knots and my heart pounded. Confession time. Once I laid my soul bare, the instructor moved on like it was no big deal. Huh. Maybe it wasn’t a big deal. I paid for the class so why would she really care if some bored suburban housewife wanted to waste $130?

Why do I get myself so worked up? It’s a curse.

Then, the instructor turned to Mr. Picture-Perfect and said, “I’m sure you want to show us your pictures first.”

Background on Mr. PP: For our first class he shows up with a kick-ass camera, a camera backpack, multiple lenses, a tripod, etc. Either he’s an overachieving geek (like me – I was ALWAYS the kid that always showed up with all of my binders, books, pencils, erasers, rulers and protractor on the first day of school) or in the wrong class. This class is called Fundamentals of Photography which, I guess,  is better than Picture-taking for Idiots.  It’s designed for those that need help turning their cameras on. The first class is mainly devoted to labeling all of the buttons on your camera, including the ON/OFF button.

As the class progresses, I realize that he knows way more than he should for a Picture-taking for Idiots student. I’m starting to get suspicious. Then, the instructor gives us our homework assignment and she stresses that she does NOT want us to edit our pictures. We should “edit” our pictures as we are taking them. Basically editing = cheating. That seems fair.

Then, Mr. PP says, “I only take my pictures in RAW.”

Musings flying through my head at the speed of thought: Did I hear him correctly? He only takes in pictures in the nude? Why is he sharing that? It shouldn’t really have an impact on the assignment. Oh, wait. She does want three pictures taken outside – I guess taking his pictures in the RAW could be a stumbling block for this part of the assignment unless he has forgiving neighbors.

Observing the Say What? looks on our faces, the instructor proceeds to explain that RAW is a format setting on our cameras. Only professionals use this setting because when you take pictures in this format, each picture needs to be edited separately and you need to know what you’re doing. Okay, that’s cool. Hey, wait a doggone minute. What is this guy doing in our class and taking up precious class time on non-beginner stuff? Now I’m just irritated. At the least the instructor shut him down and told him that he would have to slum it with the rest of us and let the camera process his pictures. Take that Teacher’s Pet!

Now, back to the original story:  He blushed and shyly said, “Sure. I can go first.”


Okay, his pictures were awesome. Yes, he’s a good photographer. My point is why is he in our novice class? To make us feel even worse about our camera abilities? He should be in a couple of classes ahead of this one. He’s the fun-sucker. I know, I know. I need to just grow up, put my big girl panties on and act like I’m happy we have two instructors instead of one. More bang for the buck, so-to-speak. Yay!

Once the show and tell of the movement pictures was completed, our third lesson began. Aperture was the topic. We were going over the aperture setting on our cameras and I had trouble locating mine. She looked at my camera and found it for me. Then, I’m like “What’s this number four over here to the right? It doesn’t seem to change.” I offered her my camera, she studiously looked at it and then shrugged her shoulders. Without asking, she shared my camera with Mr. PP and he looked perplexed. Then, lightbulb! They conferred in secret and clearly uncovered the mystery. I looked at them searchingly and  they both blurted, “You don’t need to know that.” What? It’s my F@%$ing camera! Will you have to kill me if you tell me? Is the information over my head? Why does Mr. PP get a say in what I need to know?

Fine. Whatever. Uncharacteristically, I just let it go. It’s in the manual somewhere and I will find it.

The instructor may have been subliminally trying to convey to me that I needed to go back to using my awesome Kodak Disc Camera that I got in high school (and still own) because I will never be able to use a real camera. But, I’m going to ignore it.

Don’t worry. The fourth (and final) class is next week and I’m going to do my best to take some ass-kicking pictures. I will update my Flickr account with them so you can check out my awesomeness.

Take that, Mr. PP!

No More Pretending

I’m wallowing. I’m sad and I’m tired of pretending like I’m okay. Why do we have to pretend? I’m sick of it.

My firstborn, my baby is graduating high school this May (in about 6 weeks) and I feel like I’m drowning.

Oh, okay. I see how it is.  I’ve lost some of you already. I can tell by the sighing. Well, good riddance. I didn’t need you anyway.

For those of you that have chosen to stay, I’m tired of hearing:

“This is a part of life.”

You mean like dying and taxes?

“We all go through it.”

We all went through puberty and I don’t remember that life experience being all that great.”

“You will be fine once she leaves.”


“It’s what you’ve been training her for her whole life.”

What? I don’t get this one. You train for a marathon, not life.

“You’ve done a great job with her, she will be fine.”

Again, what? She’s not a dog I’ve trained to win ‘Best in Show’.

I worked full-time outside the home until 2005, so I know the twisted torment of dropping off your kids to be cared for by others. That internal struggle of wanting a bigger life for myself while also wanting to do the best for my kids was a battle I fought every day. I had finally come to peace with it until Rachel entered first grade. Nothing prepared me for her first day of school.

She was so cute with her backpack, her bob haircut with bangs and her big, trusting blue eyes. The elementary stood there glaring at me – it was the very same elementary I had attended (better memories was my hope for her). We stormed through those doors with purpose looking for Mrs. Baker’s class. After a few minutes, we found it.  A little anxious for Rachel, I began to fawn over her by messing with her backpack and asking her if she was okay. Then, we found her classroom. Without pause, she looked at me and said, “Mommy, here is my class.”

And, off she went. She marched into that classroom and never looked back. She left me dangling in that hallway with my reassuring mommy wave and smile. It was wasted because she never turned around. No hugs, no kisses, no formal good-byes. She was ready and I was not.

Trying not to look devastated (I had braced myself for clinging and some drama), I gave a nod to the other parents hanging around Mrs. Baker’s door. This nod attempted to convey these thoughts:

“I meant for her to do that.”

“My parenting is clearly without equal.”

“Just look at her, she is so ready for school.”

“She will leave your kid in a dust cloud.”

I sobbed for the entire commute to my office. However, I eventually recovered and moved on because, well, I had to. She adjusted beautifully and there was really nothing I could do about it.

It seems we did a helluva job with this one because, in addition to being a mature and loving young lady, she is graduating with a 3.6 GPA and a sizeable scholarship from the college of her dreams.

Despite myself and because of my husband, we actually have raised three kids that like being near each other and have fun together. All five us eat dinner together at the table whenever humanly possible and it’s wonderful and very Cleaverish. Ray has the goofiest sense of humor, tells stories that are only funny to her and eats everything I cook no matter what. Like the front tooth that disappears from a child’s smile, she will leave big gap at the table. We don’t know how to be a family of four.

Chicago in August will be tough. When we drop her off at her at her freshman dorm, she will very likely say, ” Well, here’s my room” and confidently walk into that new life without looking back.

And, I will sob all the way home.

Wishes for the Summer of 1980

The other evening, I was going through my junior high yearbook (our jr. high was 6th thru 9th) looking for a name for a story that I’m writing. Specifically, I was perusing my Freshman yearbook (1979-80). Going through the pages of this of brittle, worn and slightly discolored photo collection made me smile and cringe at the same time (if that’s possible). More cringe and less smile, really. If I was brave enough, I would show you my picture. It is the last official school picture of me in braces.

After I found the sought-after name, I just could not resist and had to read all of the yearbook scribblings. They were funny, sweet, purposeful, meaningless, generic, sincere and timeless. I also skimmed over many empty “Call me‘s” and “Let’s get together‘s” and “Good luck next year‘s” which are standard fare in any yearbook.

Just for you, dear readers, I have chosen a few personal messages written especially for me by my young, hopeful, Sophomore-to-be peers. These notes are “as written” for your unedited pleasure. The names are missing or bogus in order to protect the innocent and to prevent embarrassment (mostly mine). Here we go . . . .

Jenny, I wish I could have been better friends than last year or this year but theres always next year. Jenny, I seriously hope I see you this summer. I have to go but I’ll never forget you. Take it easy alright. Love,  Asswipe Smith (9th grade boy)

This entry is on the FRONT cover of my Freshman yearbook. What does it even mean? Where does he have to go? If you wanted me so badly, why didn’t you call me or send your friend over to find out if I liked you?! He didn’t even spell my name correctly (it’s Jenni). Did he write this same drivel in every girl’s yearbook? What a dickwad. Really.

Jenni, You’re a great person, student and friend! You’ll be sucessful in anything that you decide to do! I’m really gonna miss your cute face this summer, so keep in touch! Have a wonderful summer and freshman year! Love Always, Hope Sunshine! (9th grade girl)

Lots of exclaiming here! Oh, and by the way, we will all be Sophomores next year, not Freshmen! She must have been too excited for the summer to think straight because as I  recall, she was a very smart girl!

Jenni, We’ve had fun in Spanish. Really weird & crazy! Lots of Luck in the future & have gobs of fun this summer! Love, Fiesta Burrito (9th grade girl)

Gobs (tee, hee) – that word makes me giggle. When was the last time you heard it? You know, I wish I could remember that weird and crazy Spanish class. It must have been one helluva class since that’s all she could think of to comment on in my yearbook.

Jennifer, To the girl I thought was a boy. My 1st real romance. I’ll always remember you and I hope you’ll remember me. Hope I see ya’ this summer. Good Luck Next Year!!! Love Always, First Crush (9th grade boy)

In his defense, I didn’t get my bosoms until every other girl got hers first (it was touch and go for a while). And, when we first met, I had a rockin’ Dorothy Hamill haircut that was complemented by my tomboyish demeanor. It could explain the ‘boy’ thing. Oh, and I do still remember him.

Jenni, I don’t have much time. Math was pretty fun. Katerina’s bugging me. Good Luck next year + in everything you do. I know I will see you this summer. Love, Harry Hormone (9th grade boy)

This one just struck me as very strange. I guess I should just consider myself lucky that he had time to write anything at all. If it hadn’t been for that bitch, Katerina, he would have had time to pour his heart out to me in a long, well-written sonnet.

Last one,

Jenni, We only went out twice, (thanks to you) but I had a very nice time with you. Your such a sweet girl. I hope to see you alot this summer. Have a nice Summer and good luck next year. Love Always, Prisoner of Love (9th grade boy)

I’m pretty sure he’s in jail now, so it was a good thing we only had two dates, don’t you think?

Enough of my special notes and odes to a joyful summer. This trip down Puberty Lane makes you want to go get your yearbook, doesn’t it? What are your favorite ones?

An Evening with a Critic

A couple of nights ago, I attended a small gathering at a local university where we were treated to an evening with Maud Newton who happens to be a highly respected book critic, author and blogger. A friend of mine who is in the MFA program at this university invited me to attend and I was very delighted she did.

Being in the presence of actual* writers and MFA students is overwhelming and intimidating. Overwhelming because writers have a language all their own that I can’t understand. I suppose it’s not really a revelation since most professions have their secret languages with specialized acronyms and buzzwords. (I could mesmerize you with insurance jargon, but I’ll spare you.) Embarrassingly enough, I did accidentally discover that I had been using MFA incorrectly. It actually stands for Masters of Fine Arts and not Mother F@#$in’ Asshole. I’m a quick study though. I’ll get it.

Also, writers are really, really intelligent people. So, in addition to using their secret language, they can be intimidating by their effortless use of brain-scrambling words. Words that don’t come up in my daily life and would probably raise eyebrows at my dinner table. Words like hyperbolic and bucolic. I did make a mental note to look up bucolic as soon as I got home from the lecture. (It sounded like a terrible ailment. “Did you hear that Sharon is bucolic? Poor thing.”)

Maud was not what I had expected. She was maybe thirtyish (you don’t often hear the name Maud unless it’s shouted in a nursing home) and petite with a dark brown bob and smart-looking glasses. I found her to be interesting, witty, lovely, real, smart, impressive and introspective. She made me want to be a part of the literary world, to learn the secret language.

After her presentation was over, there was the usual Q&A session. She acknowledged someone in the back and he asked her the question, “What do you think the role of a book critic is?” Or maybe it was closer to, “What do you think your role is as a book reviewer?” It was something along those lines.

We all want to ask the brilliantly conceived question that makes the audience sigh with jealousy, but this was not that question. I’m not that knowledgeable of this new world that my friend has introduced me to, so maybe it was a good question (. . . nah, I still don’t think so). She gave it the old college try (a few times) only to leave the inquisitor dissatisfied. What did he really want from her?

In my mind, I stood up and provided this answer:

Begin scene, aaannndd. . . . . . ..  ACTION!

A review of a book or essay is, at its core, an opinion. It’s usually a well-informed opinion, but an opinion just the same. It’s like a movie review. I peruse the movie reviews in my local paper, listen to Bob Mondello and Kenneth Turan on NPR, and follow Roger Ebert on Twitter. Over time, I have discovered that my likes and dislikes of movies are similar to Mr. Ebert’s (not always, but mostly) so I tend to lean more on his reviews for insights. “Will I or won’t I plunk down my ten dollars for this movie? What does Ebert think?” (I really should have WDET bracelets made.)

Regarding books, I would think it’s a similar process. You start by reading the pans and praises of multiple critics to find the one or two that speak to you. You read the positive review by the critic, read said book the critic recommended, and like it. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. If these three actions frequently result in a happy reader (you), then you have successfully found a person that responds to the written word just as you do. (By the way, you can have more than one go-to critic.)

You may have to kiss a lot of frogs (or read a lot of drivel from both the critic and the author) in order to find your prince or princess. But, it will be worth it.

It’s a beautiful relationship because there are only so many reading hours in a day and who wants to spend them reading pure junk? Let your bookish better half do it (or multiple better-halves). Now, you are free to read only the good, the profound, the thrilling, and the poignant page-turner.

A book critic’s relationship to us as book consumers is not black and white nor should it be. Can they make us read a book of poetry or a novel? Of course not, but they can offer some sound guidance and then it’s up to us to either heed it or discard it.

[Standing ovation from the crowd and then Maud asks me and my friend to have coffee with her.]

End scene, aaannnnd….CUT!

The evening was fantastic and I’m glad that I’ve been introduced to this world of writers and avid readers.

Since I’m currently in the market for a personal book critic, I have gone to her website to investigate what she recommends in the way of authors and books. These are the books that I have added to my ever-growing list: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark and A Childhood: The Biography of a Place by Harry Crews.

Only time will tell if it will be a good match.

*I make this distinction because I don’t consider myself an actual writer. I’m a poser. I was a math major for crying out loud.

Letter Days

Same shit. Different Day. Come home, pull in garage, lug in multiple bags like a pack mule, let dog out, go to mailbox to fetch the junk mail and the many money-sucking envelopes. . . .

Letter from IU confirming that we are not eligible for any financial aid (fine!)

Another letter from IU, no, wait. . . it’s a bill from IU for one of my daughter’s high school courses that counts as college credit

Doctor bill from one of multiple visits in an attempt to cure the many mokuses (moki ?) that invaded our abode

Then….a letter. A regular handwritten letter.

A handwritten gem – it’s been so long since I’ve seen or received a handwritten letter. Why had I received this little surprise?  Well, I had forgotten that I signed up to get weekly letters from the The Rumpus. (Score one for aging.)

My First Letter from The Rumpus

It was a funny, interesting glimpse into someone else’s life. It made me smile and the cool thing about these letters is that you can write the author a return letter if he/she provides an address. My letter came with a return address – should I write back?

What do I say? I haven’t written a real letter since probably high school or college.

Letter writing is a dead art, don’t you think? By the way, letters are art – the writer’s words transformed into images for us as we read those magical pages. A snapshot in time – what mood was the writer in that day? What was she thinking or doing?

Compared to instant communication, letters are delayed gratification. And, what’s wrong with anticipation and delayed gratification? Absolutely Nothing!

However, waiting for anything these days seems to be considered old-fashioned and obsolete. You know what? Who cares? We need to slow down a bit and write a letter. What do you think? Who would you write a letter to?

Click here to start receiving your own letters. (The monthly subscription is less than a couple of coffees and will make you smile. I promise.)