How Not To Paint A Room

Admire with premature satisfaction….Return to hardware store….three times.

Allow enthusiastic daughter to begin painting walls before drop cloth fully spread. No harm, no foul, the carpet is going anyway.

Attempt to paint intersection of wall and ceiling.

Observe blue streaks on white ceiling. Remember you should have taped the intersection of wall and ceiling.

Tape ceiling at top of wall with half-inch tape purchased at hardware store. Find and apply two-year-old, one-and-a-half-inch blue tape over half-inch tape.

Observe more blue streaks on white ceiling.

Return to hardware store. Purchase wider, green tape. Apply wider tape over two layers of narrower tape.

Complete walls. Step back and gaze with premature self-satisfaction.

Look up. Notice blue streaks and spatters on white ceiling just beyond tape.

Locate two-year-old white interior paint in basement closet.

Stab meaty part of hand while prying open with screwdriver.

Wash and dress wound. Finish prying open old can of white paint. Watch rusty bits fall into paint. Stir anyway.

Use three-inch wide roller to cover blue streaks and splatters on white ceiling with old paint containing rusty bits. Attempt to create neat, squared-off border of not-quite-matching-white-paint-with-rusty-bits.

Fail.

Realize another coat is necessary to cover blue streaks. Exhausted, pledge to do in the morning, before carpet guys come.

Awaken to call at 8:40 am. Carpet guys will be here in 20 minutes. Oops.

Thrill to installation of new carpet. Looks great.

Look up.

Notice visibly uneven white paint streaks, not matching rest of ceiling, veering off from the edges of the ceiling into horse-tail wisps moving toward light fixture at center of ceiling.

Take old white paint with rusty bits downstairs, use up all kitty litter absorbing it, and toss it in garbage in frustration.

Return to hardware store. Purchase ceiling paint, new rollers and thicker drop cloth to protect new carpet.

Realize you threw away paint tray and disposable liner along with kitty-litter filled rusty-bits old white paint.

Return to hardware store. Purchase new tray and new liner. Add new brush and small roller too, just in case. Ha.

Also purchase long roller extender pole.

Spread new drop cloth. Use long pole extender to complete ceiling. Look up with premature self-satisfaction.

Look down at walls. Notice white streaks and white drip splatters on blue walls.

Frantically attempt to wipe of white streaks and spatters with damp paper towels, with mixed success.

Retrieve small amount of leftover blue paint from basement. Remove new paint liner with not-quite-dry ceiling paint residue from paint tray.  Pour blue paint directly into metal tray.

Paint over white streaks and spatters on blue wall. Step back to admire with premature self-satisfaction. Done.

Carefully fold slightly too-small drop cloth.

What are those two semi-circle marks new carpet? Flaws in carpet, right? Not? Drop cloth not as absorbent as claimed? Decide new chair and ottoman will cover vague semi-circle-shaped, possible-paint-stains on new carpet.

Sigh. Peel three layers of tape from top of wall. Miraculously, all come off easily and together. Walls look good.

Sweating, frizzy and lipstickless, in violation of every middle-aged woman rule imaginable, help FedEx guy who is delivering new chair, ottoman and desk.

Solve physics problem of getting large new chair and ottoman up narrow stairs and through narrow door.

Praise daughter lavishly for very effective help in getting masses of cardboard, plastic and Styrofoam outside for recycling.

Retrieve bits of Styrofoam blowing over neighbors’ yard. Cram into garbage bin. Collection tomorrow morning, no harm, no foul.

Next, solve weight-lifting problem of heavy box-o-desk.

Realize box must be lifted up the stairs one step at a time, as it will not slide up.

Miraculously, get heavy box upstairs, not pulling anything or otherwise injuring self.  Apparently. (See how it feels tomorrow.)

Open box containing desk.

Hold back tears upon observing level of assembly required: number of desk pieces, screws, pegs, and little cam-lock thingees that come with every Chinese-made piece of furniture, along with yet another Allen wrench.

Look on bright side. Still only 3 p.m.  This sucker WILL be built before dinner.

Plod mechanically through desk assembly using inadequate diagram.

Miraculously, assemble correctly first try.

Except, what was the glue for? Was I supposed to glue the wood pegs in? Feh. Humidity will take care of that.

Place desk. Admire with premature satisfaction.

Realize the one electrical outlet in room is on the wall opposite the only logical place to place the desk.

Discover the only extension cord you own is 1) brown, and sticks out against lovely grey and white new carpet and 2) two-pronged, not three-pronged, which won’t work for daughter’s new laptop.

Return to hardware store. Hardware store is closed. Give up, shower, go to dinner with happy, excited daughter. Promise to set up her laptop when we get home.

Inadvertently cause meltdown at dinner by reminding daughter not to use table as plate. Curse waitress for failing to bring plate. Demand plate.

Drive home insisting we listen to my classical station all the way, rather than channel-surfing pop stations.

Utterly innocent daughter apologizes.

Duh. Autism.

Bad mother.

Tell her it’s ok. We’ll both do better next time.

VERY BAD MOTHER.

Hold back tears.

Set up daughter’s new laptop with cord plugged in to outlet in bedroom, while she waits patiently, recovered from meltdown, enjoying new chair and ottoman in newly painted computer room.

And says she LOVES it.

“We did a pretty good job, didn’t we?”

“We did an AWESOME job. I LOVE my new computer lounge. I love watching this (new computer).”

“I’m so glad, sweetie. You were an awesome helper.”

Smile, with satisfaction.

And love.

Hold back tears.

 

Recovering,  while planning the next project,

I remain,

Your loyal, devoted, flawed but hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

Move over, Miss Jean Brodie

Am I delusional..about love with a younger man?

Got the all-clear from the radiologist (mentioned toward the end of “Divestiture, Episode One,”) who thought he saw something, which once snipped and biopsied turned out to be nothing, which made me feel, if not “young” again, at least “younger.” Ready to roll. New lease on life, and all that.

Time to dive back into the ridiculous pursuit of online dating!

Or not.

“For Online Daters, Women Peak at 18 While Men Peak at 50, Study Finds.”

Wait, what?

OK, I can understand aiming a little out of one’s league. Maybe even a little beyond the ballpark altogether. Study says everyone does that.

But a 50 year old man preferring an 18 year old girl?

That’s just creepy.

What the hell would they talk about?

Get real. The man in this equation is not much interested in talking. In fact, such a man likely finds intelligence and advanced education off-putting. Unless you’re as gorgeous as Amal Clooney. See end of article, referenced above.

Now look, I admit, when I tried this online dating thing before, I aimed a bit below my senior league, age-wise. A little bit more than the average “25% more desireable” below, as it turns out.

But for me, seeking men in that range still puts the guys well into their actual “prime” (e.g., into full-blown adulthood) and seems way less cringey than a 50 year old guy looking for a girl who could easily be younger than his youngest child. That’s just gross – and ridiculous. And dangerous for the fragile, still-evolving self of a teenage girl.

(And if you haven’t watched “Nanette,” as the NYT article recommends, do so now. Like it says, I’ll wait.)

Anyway what teenagers actually go on online dating sites? Don’t they have a name for how they intend to mislead and make fun of whoever pursues them, if they do? Catfishing, right? And aren’t they too busy Instagramming or Snapchatting each other? To make fun of the ancients they caught in their catfish net?

What the hell are these middle-aged men thinking?

Well, the same thing they’ve been thinking since the dawn of time, apparently. They are thinking about mating. And having some arm candy that won’t argue with them, won’t challenge their ideas about themselves, or challenge any of their ideas at all, or have any ideas – coherent ones, anyway, I guess.

But then, what was I thinking? Am I as delusional as these fragile-egoed guys? Covering up my mirrors, believing that my inner beauty, when I can access it, on those rare occasions when I can keep myself from being a patronizing, superior smartass (see previous paragraph in re: challenging ideas, or ideas at all, etc.,) will create a glow that can erase twenty years from my face and attract a  much younger man? (hey, c’mon, even I’m not ridiculous enough to believe that I could erase those years from the rest of me – just, you know, HEY! MY FACE IS UP HERE! kind of thing. It’s just that my face looks a helluva lot more like that cartoon up at the top there than I seem to think it does.)

Remember that magnificent Maggie Smith film performance as Miss Jean Brodie? Where she was always strutting around, announcing, “ay-ee em in my-ee prrr-eye-eem” and “give me a gurr-ul at an im-preeshnable a-yeege, and she is my-een foreverrrrr” – which doesn’t work out so well – turns tragic, actually, because in addition to harboring an unfortunate admiration for fascists and a penchant for inappropriate love affairs, she has a disastrous tendency to encourage same in her young students.

Miss Jean Brodie was truly delusional. Please don’t let me go full Jean Brodie  (of course you don’t have to worry about the fascist thing, just the inappropriate love affairs. Or more accurately, the pursuit of them.  The delusional, ridiculous pursuit, or hope, or belief in, the possibility of love with a younger man. In my defense, however, Mike was two years younger than I am. So there’s that anyway. But two years. Not twenty.)

But I digress. I was talking about inner beauty, radiating from the face.

From the face you get the smile, the intelligence, the spirited repartee.

Oh, I forgot. Spirited repartee need not apply.

It gets worse. The study suggests that for online dating, the level of interest in women declines precipitously based on age, and that the men on these sites, while dipping way down to the teenage shallow end (snark) rarely look more than a year or so above their own age on the deeper end.

OK, hell with that. I elect to believe that Real Men Don’t Use Online Dating Sites, and I intend to take my business (and my inner beauty) elsewhere.

Perhaps to organizations with “silver” or “senior” in their names.

Places that have shuffleboard and shuttle buses, God help me.

I’ll be the hottest babe there!

Hell with that. Break out the Oil of Olay and get me to the gym.

I’ll keep you posted.

Until next time, I remain, your devoted, not-really-humble-enough, and certainly not-very-obedient, servant,

Ridiculouswoman

Mirror, Mirror…

Maybe I should cover up those mirrors…

Mirror, mirror…

It must be the frosted glass shades that soften the light of the LEDs in the brass light fixtures in my downstairs bathroom.

The lights above the two large oval mirrors shine down from above. That bathroom had two sinks when we moved in, and I didn’t even think of reducing those to one when we redid it – I should have, and I should have put the laundry there also – live and learn – I’ll never be able to afford redoing it now, unless I win the lottery.

The lights are quite bright, despite those white glass shades.

Every time I catch a glimpse of my face in one of those mirrors, lit by those lights, I see a beautiful woman.

I think, “damn, Annie, you’re cute! You’re beautiful!”

So I try to take a selfie that won’t show me holding my phone, taking a selfie.

And in the photo of me, taken when I think I look gorgeous, I see a hag, a crone, with wrinkles and sallow skin.

What’s going on here?

Do I own magic mirrors?

Is the camera in my phone defective?

Maybe I should cover those mirrors.

You must know of that wonderful film called “My Brilliant Career” where the protagonist, an independent, unusual young woman in late 19th century Australia, played by Judy Davis, becomes despondent about her life and prospects, believing she is plain, and frustrated with efforts to marry her off – until a wiser older woman she is visiting covers all the mirrors in her house, forcing that young woman to realize that her character, intelligence, sense of humor and grace make her attractive. And, spoiler alert, she does attract a really nice man, but ends up turning him down to maintain her independence and pursue her dream of being a writer.

Covering up the mirrors was a good idea. I’m going to stop taking selfies in good light with a bad camera, and I’m going to stop being so concerned looking my age.

I’m going to walk through the world believing I am the beautiful woman I see in my magic mirror, remembering that it is intelligence, wit, grace and the kindness I am trying to convey that might make me attractive. I’m going to believe that my belief in myself will make others believe I am beautiful, too – inside and out.

I’ve seen a few photos of me, lately (taken by my brother, at a Cubs game, with a better camera than mine) where I look, um, unobjectionable. Tolerable. Even, dare I say it, attractive? In them I look relaxed, confident, happy, like I’m having fun (and who doesn’t have fun on a sunny day at Wrigley?) and like I’m not concerned about what others think about me – only concerned about having fun with the people I’m with, in that moment.

And I have seen a photo of me having fun by myself, last night, celebrating my acceptance into a rigorous Chicago area choral group. I was actually trying to use my camera as a mirror (oops) to discreetly reapply lipstick (see “Middle-Aged Woman Rules”) while sitting at an outside table at a local restaurant, straining to see – which struck me as funny – and remembering how appalled my Grandfather, Father and brothers would be, me putting on lipstick IN PUBLIC, for God’s sake, which also struck me as funny. These men believed, and those still with us still believe, that ladies are supposed to excuse themselves to do that, elsewhere. Unseen. Just come back looking better and let whoever you are with try to figure out why.

So I was laughing about that, and about bothering to put lipstick on in the dark, trying to use my phone’s reversible camera as a mirror, and I accidentally snapped a selfie.

And here’s what I found on my phone today:

IMG_20180816_195917.jpg

Not too shabby, huh? Bad light and all?

Actually, I messed with the photo to brighten it up and somehow managed to delete the original before it was backed up, so I messed with this one to try to darken it back down to look like it looked originally. Whatever. You get the idea. I look happy, relaxed and unworried about being ridiculous, taking a selfie in the dark.

Mike found me when I had stopped looking, or at least when I had made peace with the possibility of never finding “the one.” And then he showed up.

He helped me understand that I didn’t have to try so hard, that I would be more attractive if I just chilled out a little, enjoyed the moment and took the pressure off.

His favorite picture of me was taken on our honeymoon, in the morning, before make-up, where I thought I looked disheveled and washed-out.

He loved it because he thought it revealed in my face my innocent heart, undisguised by artifice or excessive concern with my looks. He saw ME when he saw me, and he loved what he saw.

I’ll take another look at that picture from time to time, to remind myself that there’s someone inside me, behind the lipstick, worthy of being loved.

In the meantime I want to be the kind of person who has that effect on others – reminding them with a smile or a conversation that they are seen, that they are loved, that they are worthy of love – and that they are beautiful.

I’m sure you’ve seen that viral video by Shea, from Chicago, of people’s reactions when they are told they are beautiful, and all the others inspired by it, so I didn’t link any of them here – but if you haven’t seen them, just search “people react to being told they are beautiful.”

A Visible Woman

Patrick … saw me – he treated me like I was actually there…not …invisible

For Patrick, from Erie, Pennsylvania

A young man struck up a conversation with me as I was waiting outside by myself for a table at a very tiny, very crowded Thai restaurant in Wrigleyville.

He looked a lot like a young Jason Bateman (not that I’m a big fan of Jason Bateman – it just bugged me so much that I couldn’t think of what actor this guy reminded me of that later that night, I thought of a movie trailer I had seen that guy in, and Googled it by the little I remembered of the plot, even though it wasn’t the type of movie I’d ever go see,  and I lucked out by finding it on the first try).

We’re going to let it slide that the younger-Jason-Bateman-look-alike’s initial purpose in talking to me was to encourage me to accept a table outside on a hot, muggy night, so he could show his visiting Dad and Uncle the very quirky décor inside the crowded little place. He was afraid they wouldn’t get in, and because his visitors were from out of town and might not have another chance, he wanted them to see the inside. Fair enough.

I didn’t care, because I was just hungry, for Thai food specifically. I’d sit anyplace if I could get fed. The hostess was true to her word in seating me in about five minutes. During that five minutes, another nice couple put in for a table and waited, this young man showed up with his guests, and two huge parties of 8 or so all left simultaneously – so the other couple, the young man and his guests, and I, all got to sit inside, under the impressive collection of toy robots, street signs, Cubs paraphernalia, etc. And I ended up sitting at a two-top right next to younger-Jason-Bateman guy, diagonally from his Uncle, who sat opposite his Dad.

After checking with me to see if I was a person who liked to talk (HA! Ok, stop laughing now, followers who know me) he skillfully apportioned his conversation between me and his Dad and Uncle, and managed to engage all of us in comfortable conversation for the duration of our meals.

I introduced myself and he told me his name was Patrick, that he was from Erie, Pennsylvania and had been in Chicago for about two years. The rest of it was pretty light stuff – how he ended up here, his educational background and job, and then mostly baseball and other sports, recreational opportunities on the lakefront, the relative severity of winters in Erie (regular snowfalls of 6 feet or more) and Chicago (regular bouts of subzero temperatures) etc.

When I had finished my meal and settled up, I told Patrick as I was leaving that it had been nice to meet him and wished his Dad and Uncle a pleasant visit.

And as I did this, Patrick stood up (well, sort of half stood up, but hey, it was a tiny, crowded restaurant) and shook my hand good-bye.

Let that land for a minute.

When was the last time you met a young person (I’d say he was maybe 26?) who had been raised to observe often forgotten courtesies, like rising when a lady (or anyone older than you) was arriving or departing? I was touched, and charmed, especially because it seemed like an unconscious habit – this is something Patrick does for ladies and his elders, I suspect, without really thinking about it.

But what really made my day was that Patrick saw me – he treated me like I was actually there, not as if I was an invisible woman. He just marched right up to me and started talking (about me maybe sitting outside, but we’re letting that slide, remember? He was gracious enough to keep talking to me once everyone was seated.)

I’ve seen posts by women my age, or even quite a bit younger, who wrote that they felt a kind of freedom in their invisibility, knowing that because of their, erm, maturity, nobody would really pay much attention to them in public (unless they made a spectacle of themselves, and as we know, I’m the one who specializes in that – see the latest episode related over there in the “Snark Tank”) and they could go about their business without worrying about what anyone thought and without being accosted for attention from others. They were fine with whatever attention they got at home. From their still-living husbands.

Invisibility doesn’t work for me – while I have always enjoyed my own company and have been happy in solitude when I have chosen it, I still crave social contact with adults who are not emotionally dependent on me to help them cope with shared grief.  So a casual conversation with a good-mannered person (ok, man, but as the supply of them is inverse to the age of the woman, I’m trying to enjoy the company of women, more, too) who may only have been talking to me because he had good manners, can make my day.

So thanks for treating me as visible, Patrick. It made the difference between a day that might have included weeping and a day that didn’t.

(And thanks also for seeming genuinely surprised that I was old enough to have had my heart broken by the Cubs in both ’69 and ’84 – things your Uncle remembered in detail, but that certainly occurred before you were born).

Looking forward to my next encounter with a nice man (ok, person) with good manners and the grace to seem surprised by my age, I remain,

Your humble, devoted, lonely but hopeful,

Ridiculouswoman

Rules of Attraction, or, Love in a Time of Confusion

Is appreciating the physical beauty of another human even allowed, anymore?

I’m not ogling, I’m…I’m…appreciating!

But when does a smile become a leer?

Is there, now, any appropriate way for one adult human to indicate attraction toward another adult human? Is appreciating the physical beauty of another human even allowed anymore?

Must we revert to formal introductions, chaperoned courtship, and a kind of Regency-romance style of communication? (with apologies to Rhett Butler, played by Clark Gable, whose cynical proposal of marriage to Scarlett O’Hara/Vivien Leigh in the 1939 film, Gone with the Wind, is echoed in the image above – credit where credit is due). “My dear sir, it cannot have escaped your attention that I find you to be the embodiment of male pulchritude (translation – “damn, baby, look at that butt! And those sculpted arms!”) and that I would greatly enjoy appreciating you more closely, you gorgeous hunka…”

Oh, wait – I digress. That’s not exactly Regency style, and is clearly off-limits. If you say it out loud.

What if you say it with your smile and your eyes? Bad? Wrong? Certainly ridiculous, in my case.

But if online dating is just too creepy and scary, and when merely striking up a conversation with a person to whom one is attracted feels perilous, how is anyone going to find love?

Or more to the point, how are adults to find each other to share (after an appropriate period of “getting to know one another,” probably vetting by trusted friends, and maybe a background check and some medical testing), erm…. how shall we say this? to share, erm, … mutually consensual physical affection?

There’s a chapter in my book called, “God Help Me, I’m Turning Into Betty White!”

No offense, Betty, I love you – everyone loves you – I’m just referring to that shtick you do, where you look sideways at a much younger man – with obvious, intense and substantial appreciation.

The chapter in the book recounts a fleeting incident of that kind of thing, where the younger man almost certainly didn’t notice me noticing him, and I noticed how ridiculous I was being anyway.

But Betty has been doing that bit, or playing characters who behave that way, probably since she was younger than I am now. And it is (was?) funny because women of a certain age are not supposed to feel, and certainly not supposed to display, desire. Because that would be ridiculous, right? Hilarious?

Well, it may be ridiculous, and maybe hilarious, but it doesn’t make it any less real.

Is the Betty bit ok, anymore? Or is that not OK? Seriously, I’m asking. I used to think this sort of thing was utterly harmless. And for God’s sake, Betty White is pretty damn harmless. And funny.

But if women object to being objectified, men get to object, too. It’s a goose/gander thing, right? Equal is equal.

Does that put any form of appreciation for another adult’s physical beauty off limits?

Case in point: I was in the local drugstore (pharmacy, or “chemist’s,” for you users of British English) the other day, looking for this little loofah thing I could have sworn I bought in that store, but I couldn’t find it.

So I went looking for a store clerk to help me find it – and as I turned toward the sound of someone asking an unseen clerk for help, I saw a stunningly handsome man striding around the corner of the aisle, toward the unseen clerk who was trying to help him find what he wanted. They later resolved the problem by ordering the item for him at the desk.

Where I waited, at what I hope was a decent, respectful distance, for my turn to speak to a clerk to help me find what I needed, which, it turned out, they also didn’t have.

But I waited long enough to ….um,….appreciate this guy. Trying to be discreet, but still. I appreciated him long enough to notice that he was the embodiment of my current (unattainable, I suppose, much to my regret – but see, “lack of youth and beauty finds recompense in experience and enthusiasm,” above) ideal – jeans, work boots – obviously made his living working hard, and from the look of him, working mostly outside. Black hair. Good natured with the clerk. A nice, nice looking guy, who appeared to be the kind of guy who knows how to do stuff.

And look absolutely amazing while doing so.

I mean, this guy could stop traffic.

(And actually did, later, when we both tried to pull out of the parking lot at the same time. You know how that goes – you go and stop, because you see another person pulling out, and then they stop because they see you, and you both wait a sec, and then you both start going, until someone makes a decision about who gets to go first. In this case, he backed his pickup truck – my new favorite vehicle, when driven by the likes of him – out a little, saw me coming, and stopped, but I stopped too, and then we both started and stopped again, and then I waved him on, laughing).

He was laughing too, flashing a blindingly beautiful smile. A smile that suggested that he knew I had appreciated him, and (sadly, to me) thought it was funny.

He turned right, I turned left, and that was that.

And the day just continued like that – it was a lovely, sunny day, I was in a good mood, wearing a bright rose-orange t-shirt, jeans and shades, and my hair was blowing around, fetchingly, I thought, in its naturally curly state, and good-looking men were walking, biking and working outside, all over the place.

And I smiled at them.

That’s OK, isn’t it?

Or isn’t it?

The more I think about it the closer I come to another panic attack.

The men I smiled at that day weren’t seeking attention from me. They were just out and about, doing what they do.

Was I wrong to smile at them, appreciatively?

Seriously, I’m asking. Was that wrong?

Because I’m not very good at hiding my, erm, appreciation for good looking, talented, kind, effective men who look like guys who know how to do stuff – fix things, build things, open things that won’t open, close things that won’t close, etc.

Handy man. In the practical and the James Taylor sense (“I fix broken hearts, baby I’m your handyman…”)

What do I do now? Seriously, what do I do?

Get me to a nunnery?

Still hoping to find affection, somewhere, and awaiting your sage advice, I remain, your humble, devoted, confused, anxious,

Ridiculouswoman

One Moment To Get This Off My Chest

Let’s just take a moment for a quick dip in the Snark Tank, so I can vent a little, and then try to get back to trying to be nice (but remember, I own a T-shirt that says, “Pretending I’m a pleasant person all day is exhausting” and another one that says, “I’ll be nicer if you’ll be smarter…”

So, a snarking we will go…

Fiction Friday – Obsession and Possession: Confessions of a Book Hoarder

Some books … become part of me…

The best times of my life have been spent in imaginary places. Or real places that have been populated with imaginary people. I’ve learned more from great novels than from any history book or non-fiction treatise I’ve ever struggled through.

Humans thrive on narrative and storytelling – we make sense of the world by telling stories about it. The stories may be true, or myth or some combination of the two, but a narrative will always stick with me where a dry list of facts may not. Tell me a story, though, in words, or words and music, and I’ll remember.

Some of my best friends are fictional characters. They’re always there for me when I need them, getting into and out of the same scrapes and adventures, saying witty or silly or profound things, expressing their hearts in a way that touches mine. I’ve been a nerd a long time, and often a lonely one, and I’ve always found a friend in a book.

Maybe that’s why it is so hard for me to get rid of books. I used to be unable to get rid of books at all. I’ve gotten more ruthless about it, especially with new books (or books new to me.) If they don’t grab me right away, I ring the bell and shout, “Next!” (See the latest entry over there in the Snark Tank.)

But if the book grabs me, holds my attention, makes me stay up all night to finish it, well, it’s MINE, MINE I tell you! And will be for life. Nothing can induce me to get rid of books that have befriended me, helped me through hard times, and give me something new every time I reread them.

I love historical fiction and speculative fiction, and there are a few books in these categories that have changed my life, or, more accurately, become absorbed into my life – become a part of me.

There is only one series, however, that has very nearly spoiled me for all others. Reading anything else is really just a break from rereading these – the Patrick O’Brian Aubrey-Maturin series: the extended tale of a British Royal Navy captain and his particular friend during the Napoleonic wars.

These are not easy books. The first especially requires a leap of faith – just suspend disbelief and trust that you’ll get it eventually.

I first came upon these books for kind of a silly reason – I have a strict “read the book before you see the movie” rule. Back in 2002 or so, I heard that Russell Crowe (and back then I was still in the throes of a pretty serious Russell Crowe problem) was to star in a film called “Master and Commander.”

So I marched off to the library and that book. And something told me I’d better take the next two in the series as well.

I sat down to read it, and I didn’t budge for about 14 hours other than to address basic needs. I remember thinking it was complex, the language hard to follow, but something about it just captured me. The book had a helpful diagram of a ship in the front, and a helpful scene where one of the seamen explained to one of the characters what many of the ship’s parts and the sailor’s expressions meant.

And as I got into I came to care very much about the characters, Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin, and struggled to savor the writing while fighting the impulse to read ahead quickly to discover what would happen next.

Here was a world recreated in great detail; here was honor, duty, adventure and a great deal of humor. Parts of these books made me laugh out loud, sometimes laugh so hard I cried.

I confess I haven’t read all of Jane Austen, but I know Patrick O’Brian was a fan of hers, and his books are like, you should pardon the expression, Jane Austen with balls.

I don’t know why I like books that contain famous battles or details of military history. I’m pretty much a pacifist – but I just love stories of brave people doing brave things in pursuit of what they perceived to be honorable goals.

I finished those first three books in less than two days and raced back to the library to grab the next four or five, because I couldn’t imaging the agony of having to wait for the next one.

The devotees of these novels who started with them when they first began to appear often had to wait two years between books. I think that might have broken me – I just had to know what would happen next. And while I enjoyed the Harry Potter books, I never really understood the impulse to wait outside a bookstore at midnight for the next installment – but I would have camped out for a week for the next one of these Aubery-Maturin books.

I’m a member of a Facebook group devoted to these books, where no one thinks it is weird that you use eighteenth-century language (“Give me joy!” or “I have the honor to report…” or “grass-combing bugger!” or “would one of you learned coves explain, in terms amenable to the meanest understanding?”) I’ve read the complete Aubrey/Maturin novels, all twenty of them, five times. (They are now mostly available as a complete set in a 5 volume hardcover, but you might be able to find the 20 individual paperbacks used online somewhere, and there’s a 21st, but it is unfinished and sad). I just can’t get enough of Jack and Stephen’s world, and I find something new in these books each time I reread them.

So, Jack, Stephen, you have spoiled me for all others; you have stolen my heart and earned my loyalty for as long as my eyes can read.

When I finished the series from the library, I was able to locate an online bookstore devoted to all things Aubrey-Maturin, and at what was then far too great an expense, as I was grossly underemployed at the time, enduring a sad and difficult time in my life, I purchased the entire set. They now occupy the shelf formerly occupied by my Mike’s chess books. When Mike was unable to read them or concentrate on them anymore, he piled them all into the car and drove them off to give them to a young man who was supposedly trying to start some kind of chess club or school, but who was unhelpful and singularly unappreciative of the effort this dying man took to deliver those books to him.

I kept a few of Mike’s poetry books, the ones that contained poems he shared with me and that we could discuss together, but a great many of the rest went to the hospice chaplain, who shared Mike’s love of poetry and whose friendship, right at the end of Mike’s life, was a great gift to us both.

That made room for me to bring my books downstairs, into our little library room. The speculative fiction I enjoy now has its own separate bookcase filled mostly with William Gibson and Neal Stephenson (Neuromancer my brain to entirely new places, as did Snow Crash. Sharing the shelves with Patrick O’Brian are Colleen McCullough’s The First Man in Rome and George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series (absolutely hilarious – someone Fraser has managed to place his hero at every major British and American military engagement of the nineteenth century). Those are good and a nice diversion from the next go-round of O’Brian. McCullough eventually starts writing more like a Roman historian than a novelist, so for me that series kind of wore out, but the first two, The First Man in Rome and The Grass Crown are especially good.

These worlds the authors have created or recreated refresh me, comfort me, keep me company and help me through hard times. When I have to come back to the world I actually live in, I feel refreshed, strengthened, but also supported, knowing that there are a few, a self-selected few thousand people on the planet, who love these books as much as I do, and the human connection that results from just knowing they are out there gives me hope and gets me through my days.

You’ll either get completely hooked on Patrick O’Brian, or you won’t get through the books at all. There really is no in-between that I’ve ever heard of with these.

So if you set sail, I give you joy and wish you fair winds and following seas. Let me know if you decide to embark, and if you sign on as crew for life with Captain Jack.