My word of the year

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

As much as I love the idea of New Year’s Resolutions, I rarely make them.

Many folks choose a word of the year, and I’m one of those people. I choose a word rather than making a goal that I know, at a cellular level, that I can’t reach. Behind me, I leave a trail of unrealized New Year’s resolutions.

One year, I made the resolution to exercise. Cliché, I know. I got a gym membership, exercised a few months, then skipped the gym and kept paying the monthly fee because “I might go back.” Also, I didn’t want to face the nice lady at the gym and tell her I was a quitter — as if she already didn’t know.

One year, my New Year’s resolution was to read all the books in C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia. This was no doubt around 2005, when the movie version came out. What was I thinking? I had three children under the age of 10. When did I think I was going to have all this leisure time to read? (I read one and a half books in the series. Out of nine.)

At some point, I switched over to words of the year. “Fierce” was the word for the year I wanted to take more chances. “Ritual” was the year when I started to embrace the natural rhythms of my life — to honor my natural routines and start celebrating them as intentional rather than repetitive or boring.

But what is the word I want to choose to define 2022?

I’m starting this year feeling a little bit downtrodden. I notice I complain a lot more about things than I used to. My confidence in my own abilities has been dashed. I’m questioning my resilience as a mother, a wife, daughter, and a friend. I’m guilty of feeling sorry for myself when I have no business being anything but grateful.

The word that keeps popping in my head? Delight. Early last year, I read The Book of Delights by Ross Gay. This little book of essays is Gay’s own version of a gratitude journal. Almost every day, he wrote in his notebook about little observations of the things happening around him: he started noticing the little things, the mundane parts of our day that are so easily ignored, and started really seeing them for their beauty and their joy.

He observes nature, but also the beauty of the city, the hopeful business of humans being kind to other humans.

Delight is what I want to feel in 2022.

For me, it’s not enough to wait for delight to come to me — to hope that my eyes are open to it when it happens to pass by. For me, I need to absolutely pursue delight — make it a daily mantra, a regimen, a destination.

After the past two years of worry, outrage, illness, failure, dashed hopes, and loss, I’m going to have to do something pretty dramatic to turn this ship around.

This is going to mean sometimes shirking responsibility and doing something spontaneous. I think it’s going to involve a lot of taking off my shoes, to remind myself that I’m connected to this earth: to feel the shocking cold of snow, the squish of mud between my toes, the feel of sun-warmed grass. It’s going to mean saying no to more things so I can stop rushing, so I can spend more time with loved ones. Maybe I’ll stay up late, even if it’s Tuesday. Maybe I’ll find a park bench and just watch the contagious joy of kids at a playground after a long winter. It might mean learning something new, or going to a new place, or eating new types of food. Maybe I’ll pay for a stranger’s coffee or fly a kite. Mail a letter just to tell a friend that I love them.

I haven’t worked out all the details yet, but 2022, you’re giving me 12 glorious months to figure out what delights me. I want to reconnect with my inner child. I’d like to toss worry out the window and replace it with unabashed wonder.

I hope you’ll do that, too. Make 2022 a better year — not best, just better. Chase after what you want, and don’t stop until you’ve caught up with it, wrestled it to the ground, and given it a great big bear hug.

2022, we’re coming for you.

Originally published Jan. 13, 2022 on MyHuntleyNews.

Imposter Syndrome

Ever feel like a phony?

I have been feeling like an imposter for the last few days. I pride myself in being a minimalist, talk about simplifying life, and blog about wanting less…yet, if you were to come to my house today, you’d see that a corner of my bedroom has overflowing stash-and-dash boxes filled with who-knows-what miscellany, and I have laundry in various stages of dirty, clean, sorted, unsorted, folded, and yet-to-be folded throughout my house. There’s a suspicious-looking potato lurking in the very back of my fridge. I’m overdue to go through my closet and drawers to get rid of clothes I don’t want/need anymore.

There’s a strange stain on our area rug that I have yet to further investigate. I’ve asked the dog about it, but he refuses to answer my questions.

Oh, and we’re dangerously low on toilet paper.

And the thing is, I’m just so tired. I’m having a hard time getting myself motivated to do anything about any of those problems (although the toilet paper situation can’t be ignored for much longer).

But as I sit here, thinking (instead of folding laundry), I remember that overall, I had a pretty good week.

  1. I started the week with a meal plan, shopped accordingly, and so far, we’ve eaten at home — no convenience foods — every night this week. We stayed on budget for groceries.
  2. I knocked out a few chapters of an engrossing book I’m reading. Escaping into the pages of a good story for even just a few silent moments is my way of recharging.
  3. Kids all got to school this week. Homework got done.
  4. Carved out time for coffee with a friend, a thank you note, a phone call, and had some pretty thoughtful conversations with my kids.

Around me are stains and piles and stacks of reminders that I’m not having my most stellar moment. Still, I’m doing okay.

Sometimes, doing the best I can is enough. It has to be. Because not every day is going to be the best day ever. The goal is just to have some pretty good days most of the week.

If you’re feeling like an imposter, you are not alone. I mean, I bet even Meryl Streep feels like an imposter from time to time. If Meryl were in the room right now, what would you tell her? You’d probably take her hands in yours, look into her eyes, and assure her that she is definitely not an imposter: she is an undisputed national treasure! Is she perfect? No. Does she win Academy Awards for every movie she’s in? Not quite. But she tries her best.

What I’m saying is, talk to yourself like you’re Meryl Streep. You are a treasure. Maybe not a national treasure like Meryl, but you are a treasure to your family, your friends, and your co-workers. Despite a few crummy days every once in a while, you’re doing pretty well. And you can probably do one thing today that will make you feel less like an imposter. Finish a long put-off project. Or get to work doing something you’re really good at. That ol’ muscle memory will kick in and remind you that you are not a phony. You are you: a complicated stew of fabulous and flawed—but mostly fabulous.

Originally published Dec. 16, 2021 on MyHuntleyNews.com.

Singing My Hallelujahs

On a whim, I signed up for a community choir audition. My voice trembled for the entire audition. I struggled to reign in my voice, which doesn’t respond the way it did in my younger days. My voice now is weaker, and sometimes even raspy. To make matters worse, I had to sing the Star Spangled Banner. Unless you have a multi-octave range with a penchant for belting, the Star Spangled Banner is very difficult to sing. Our national anthem is, in my humble opinion, one of the most unsingable songs ever written.

Trembling aside — I found myself a few weeks later in the back row of the alto section, awkwardly clutching my huge book that contained the score of Handel’s Messiah. Thankfully, the alto section is robust, populated by confident-looking women who go by reliable names like Cathy, Deborah, and Amanda.

Rehearsals happen in my old college choir room, so each Tuesday night I’m flooded with memories about college friends who have slipped my mind for the past three decades. This is the same building where I met my husband, and the ghost of his shy former self still roams these halls. When I was a freshman, that tall lanky boy tried to catch my eye as I tramped up the stairs for choir practice. Over time, I came to look forward to seeing his shy smile as I passed him by the practice rooms.

Music has always been a big part of my life. Being one in a group of many brings chills down my spine. A choir makes you feel a part of something big and grand, and the harmonies you can create with others is unlike any other feeling. But now, after nearly two years of isolation and social distancing? Singing in a group borders on something divine.

(What was the jingle to that old Coca-Cola commercial? I’d like to teach the world to sing/in perfect harmony …)

Cathy sits beside me. She has performed the Messiah many times, so I lean slightly toward her, relying heavily on her to find my entrances and starting pitches. She takes me under her wing; I don’t know a single soul, so she introduces me around.

All through this pandemic, the concept of breath carried fear and uncertainty. Each exhale could potentially unleash an unwanted virus to a loved one; inhaling could bring that unwanted virus to my own lungs.

But in the choir room, breath is the beginning and end of it all. Before we sing a single note, we loosen our shoulders and stretch our neck muscles, and the practice of stretching makes me feel as though I’m sloughing off the weight of the world I carry with me, leaving it in a heap on the floor. Then we fill our lungs with delicious air, all for the purpose of singing. The more air, the better: the Messiah has long phrases and difficult cadences that make the singing feel like an Olympic event.

Joining a choir is a tiny act of rebellion: it’s my way of reclaiming who I was before. Before the pandemic. Before I raised my children and attached my identity to their milestones, their challenges, and their passions.

I’m rejoining the world. I was afraid the world was lost to me, but here it is. I will drink in the air around me and fill my lungs unapologetically. I will attempt to hit most of the notes that Mr. Handel has written. I will sing my Hallelujahs.

Originally published Dec. 9, 2021 on My Huntley News.

We Don’t Have to Go Back to the Way Things Used to Be

Would I lie to you?
Would I lie to you honey?
Now would I say something that wasn't true?
I'm asking you sugar
Would I lie to you?
— "Lie to You," Eurythmics

The world lies to us. 

We accept these lies as truth, even when evidence points to the contrary.

This point was driven home over and over when our family moved into our little house.

  • You don’t need “as large of a house as you can afford.” 
  • You don’t always have to have a car payment.
  • Family members don’t all need their own rooms and their own bathrooms.
  • Master suites, family rooms, and spare bedrooms are nice, but they are not essential trappings of a happy life.
  • The things your neighbors and friends have aren’t necessarily things you need to have, too.

During the pandemic, more lies were exposed:

  • You don’t have to put in long hours at the office to be productive at your job.
  • Being busy isn’t the same as being productive.
  • Being productive isn’t the same as being happy.
  • Your job doesn’t define you.

Slate’s podcast, What Next, explored the changing landscape of workplaces in a post-COVID world. In the episode, So, what happens to WFH now? workers and employees are rethinking what the work week should look like after being disrupted by the pandemic. Should we all go back to the way it was? Or is it maybe time to try something different?

The financial strain my husband and I felt when we were paying for a house we could barely afford, exacerbated by a 4 year salary freeze at his job that seemed to keep us even further away from ever getting our feet planted firmly on the ground forced us to take a step back: Is this right? Does it really have to be this way? Does this make sense?

Ask yourself those questions every day. Don’t take someone else’s word for how you should be doing things. It’s okay to stop, let your brain settle, and reassess. We don’t have to go back to the way things used to be.

Originally published July 26, 2021 on My Huntley News

And So It Begins

The smell of school supplies intoxicates me.

Not the old school supplies I find at the bottom of my kids’ backpacks in June. Those are just sad-looking pencils with their eraser heads worn down to gummy shadows of their former selves, old dried-up glue sticks, and crayons that are pitifully short and stubby.

August school supplies are the ones I like. Fresh notebooks, folders with all four corners intact. Glue sticks banded together in shrink wrap, ready for sticky battle.

This year, school supply shopping for my two high school-age teenagers was pretty low-key. The mile-long school supply lists of elementary school days are a thing of the past. The kids are living in a digital world—and a nearly paperless world. Their Chromebooks have replaced the Trapper Keeper from my youth in the ‘80s. (I had one with a striped kitten on the cover, and the velcro closure gave a satisfying riiiiiip when I opened it to file away my beloved xeroxed copies of sentence diagram worksheets—thanks for asking.)

After the second day of high school this week, my daughter casually mentioned that she needed a handful of notebooks. My son requested a binder. I grabbed my purse and sprang into action. 

School supplies stir something inside me. Even though my school days are long behind me, the muscle memory kicks in: as soon as late August hits, the sunlight slants differently; the air feels heavy with anticipation. It becomes imperative to buy armloads of notebooks and pens. The urge cannot be ignored.

First things first: I toss into my cart some notebooks for my daughter. A binder for my son. Now, it’s my turn. Some of the shelves are picked over, as if a pack of hungry wolves feasted on the loose leaf. I run my hands along the colorful boxes of markers, and consider buying a brightly colored lunch tote before regretfully placing it back on the shelf. 

Forget Jan. 1st. The first day of school is New Year’s Day. Everything begins again. It’s all about the tangy scent of a freshly sharpened Ticonderoga pencil poised over a blank page. It’s the time of year to gather your supplies, speak your goals out loud, then write them down. It’s time to claim the year by scrawling your name across it in thick block letters. Set your agenda. Make it your own. 

Originally published Aug. 23, 2021 on My Huntley News

Don’t Bail on Beach Party Barbie

This piece was originally written July 12, 2009, just after my daughter’s second birthday.

I just know that if Beach Party Barbie were alive, she wouldn’t be my friend. Even before I took her out of her pink-bedecked box with the plastic window in front, I admit I detested her perfect body, her long, silken blonde hair, her unrealistically shaped body. If you ask me, every woman secretly hates Barbie, at least a little bit. Doesn’t she represent an unattainable goal, born of an era when women were judged by their looks rather than their brains and hearts.

Today, I attempted to make a Barbie cake. I remember seeing these cakes in bakery windows, Barbie’s arms reaching out, as if to greet her adoring fans, as she stood on a paper doily, cloaked in rich buttercream frosting, a strapless gown artfully piped onto her body by the baker’s steady hand. I wanted one so badly, but birthday cakes in my childhood home tended toward the practical rectangle or round variety, decorated with homemade frosting and candles.

For my daughter’s second birthday, I knew I was destined to make her a Barbie cake. But like I said, Barbie and I don’t get along. I think she may have been sneering at me behind those thick, glossy lips of hers. The cake baking was a near disaster, with the batter nearly spilling out over the edge of the cake pans: then, the cakes came out the wrong size, and when I inserted Barbie through the middle of the cakes, her chocolate “skirt” only reached mid-thigh. Then there was the frosting, which I carefully whipped and cooked in my double boiler, meticulously setting my kitchen timer so that my “seven minute frosting” was authentically cooked for seven minutes. I tried to do everything right, but it came out all wrong. As I was globbing on the lumpy frosting, watching it drip sadly down the side of Barbie’s bundt skirt, I had to bite my lip from bursting into tears. My Barbie Princess cake was more like a Barbie-Floating-in-a-Toxic-Cloud-of-Misshaped-Pink-Asbestos cake. This would never do.

I think my husband’s exact words were, “Don’t bail on Barbie!” He knew I was ready to give up. I had given it my best shot, but Barbie won. Her glassy eyes stared at me in a victorious glare, and I knew she had defeated me. Even inside the clump of chocolate mess I had attempted to create, she still looked magnificent, long blonde hair billowing defiantly over my asymmetrical mess of a cake. I started thinking things like, “There’s always next year. Next year, I’ll get a better Barbie.”

My husband can do many things. He knows how to build things, how to fix things, and how to deconstruct and rebuild things. But watching him work magic with pink whipped frosting positively makes my heart go pitter-pat. Like a sculpture, he took Barbie, set her straight, fashioned a bedazzling stage for her out of a cardboard box and some foil, and he made all my Barbie cake dreams come true. And as I watched him, I realized that in some ridiculous way, this Barbie cake represents all my shortcomings, and why, for some unexplicable reason, I was lucky enough to have married the one person in the world who knows just when to step in, smooth out my imperfections and add a few sprinkles on top, just to add sweetness.

My daughter’s birthday cake was not a disaster after all. She loved it. She shouted, “PRETTY!!!” when she saw it. But you and I know that the Barbie cake wasn’t for her; it was for me. I had my childhood dream fulfilled today. I thought I could do it myself, but I needed some help from my very own Prince Charming.

Happy birthday, sweet daughter. Next year’s cake can be just for you.

Putting Down Roots: Not for the Timid

My husband and I both enjoy gardening, but we typically don’t garden at the same time. Our styles and techniques couldn’t be more polar opposite. I’m a timid gardener: I don’t often trust my own intuition about what plants need, and I usually have an uneasy feeling that a neighbor or passerby will see me in the garden and click their tongue at the inept way I’m doing whatever it is I’m doing. The only time I really hit my stride is when attacking a sworn weed-enemy (I’m looking at you, creeping Charlie!). Once I get going, I love removing weeds. Maybe it’s because weeding is a lot like my day job as an editor—there’s something satisfying about taking the excess (words or weeds) and removing their chokehold on the beautiful, colorful bouquet in the center, whether that bouquet is made of flowers or paragraphs.

By comparison, my husband is a confident gardener. When he looks at our garden, he sees a better version of it in his head, then he somehow knows how to make it happen. His laser focus identifies hostas and grasses that have expanded to thick clumps so that he can divide them up into more manageable plant babies. He digs deep beneath the roots, pulls them out, sticks them in a wheelbarrow, then plants them in their new home in a different corner of the garden. 

His physical, visceral attack on the daisies, the brown-eyed Susans, and the coneflowers comes across as almost violent to me. How can you take a shovel, disrupt the earth beneath these delicate flowers, and rip them from their home? How do they tolerate the shock of leaving the cool, damp earth, only to have their roots exposed to the unforgiving sun? Then, after a bumpy wheelbarrow ride, how can they possibly endure having their roots squashed back into a gaping hole before being assaulted by frigid water rushing from the garden hose? I shudder to think of it. I rarely stay to watch. I, the timid gardener, can’t take the spectacle.

Is it much different when we humans pack up our belongings and move to a new home, a new city, a new job? We feel exposed and tender and a little bruised, and there are moments when we may feel the shift is too much to bear. But slowly, gradually, our roots repair themselves and start reaching down deep toward the center of the earth, while simultaneously spreading our arms out, to embrace our new environment. We discover that the corner of the world where we were planted might have been good for a while, but there are so many other beautiful places to establish new roots. We discover we’re hardier than we think: delicate in appearance, but strong and sinewy where it matters.

It never fails. My husband, the violent gardener, knows what he’s doing. He knows that sometimes the most delicate beings are oftentimes the strongest; who are we to underestimate them? Before long, the daisies, the brown-eyed Susans, and the coneflowers are dancing whimsically in the breeze in their new spot. They stand tall, rising to the occasion of being dressed in sweet-smelling mulch contained by crisp, sharp edging. Heads are faced upwards. Faces are open and smiling. Ready to face this new world.

Originally published July 1, 2021 on My Huntley News

Small House Exhaling

During the cold months, our little house holds its breath. When the wind starts gusting and the chilly rain chases the last few leaves off the trees, we close its doors and windows and it stands firm, boldly bracing its wood and brick frame against the elements. For the long midwestern winters, our house wraps its arms tightly around our family, pulling us close to the core of the house where the warmth is unwavering.

When we bought this house a few years ago, we knew it would be a tight fit. Our previous home was lovely and large, but it was stretching our bank account to the point where we couldn’t keep up. This newer house is half the size of our old one; there is no “family room” or “dining room.” We basically have one large room that, besides the kitchen, serves as our primary living space. But instead of tight, it began to feel cozy. Instead of us all escaping to our own corners in the evenings, we were drawn to our living area where games, puzzles, and movie nights kept us close to each other. The shared space provided more shared experiences, which led to more conversations, more inside jokes.

When the cold begins to be chased out by crystal-blue skies and warm breezes carry the scent of damp earth, we are ready. We’ve been holding our breath and waiting, to the point of feeling restless.

This is when our house, holding its breath along with us, begins to exhale. The curtains are pushed aside to open the windows. The little porch in back, affectionately known as the “reading porch” is open for business once again after being closed off for the coldest days. Beyond the reading porch through French doors awaits our screen porch (yes, a porch off a porch—one can never have too many!), where I spend most Sunday afternoons sipping an iced tea and delving into whichever novel I’m reading; beyond that are the beloved flowers and plants in our yard. There are a couple of cardinals that frequent our back yard; I suspect they have a nest nearby.

Everything is breathing out, releasing pent-up energy and endless waiting. We are ready to fling open the doors, hop over to the other side of the welcome mat and explore past our front steps. Our garage yawns and sets the bikes free, the skateboards, the kites, and other things that “go.” Now is when we exhale, when we stretch our tired limbs. Now is when we take in all the good things that lie beyond our doorstep.

Originally published May 4, 2021 on My Huntley News

York Album Project: The Road Home

Facing the pandemic’s isolation, high school songwriters join forces to release collection of original music.

by Carol Pavlik

York Album Project: The Road Home

ELMHURST, IL—Anthony Poli knows firsthand what a demanding schedule is like at a high school like York High School in Elmhurst, Ill. But when school was disrupted by COVID-19 at the end of his junior year in 2020, Anthony found a new rhythm in his days; one that allowed more time for creating something of his own. 

Poli’s original song, “Dream,” is the second track on 2021’s York Album Project, entitled The Road Home. This marks the 7th album that musicians from York have released since 2015, made up entirely of original songs, under the guidance of Music Production teacher Chris Gemkow.

“Personally, I’m glad quarantine happened,” says Anthony, who says he shares a friendly creative rivalry with his sister, Alyssa. “I think I’m specifically lucky being a musician because I can lock myself away in my room and play for hours. I can record and perfect my craft.”

Alyssa agrees. Her song, “Take Me Back,” is the 4th track on the album. Featuring her warm vocals accompanied by piano, she sings, Your image stuck in these four walls / so I started writing these old song / you can see right through my words / I was singing at you.

“I wrote this song one day when I was just feeling confused and like my head was all clouded,” says Alyssa. “Writing this song was really therapeutic in the way that it helped me understand my emotions better. Songwriting is a really productive and effective outlet for me.”

‘Just you in the studio’

Chris Gemkow, who runs a popular Musicians Club at York, knew that with social distancing measures in place and the uncertainty of whether school would be held in-person or remotely, he couldn’t rely on recording in the school’s recording space like he’d done in the past.

“We were going to have to have something to work on independently then come together as one,” says Gemkow.

Instead of recording each song in the school’s recording space, Gemkow reached out to Grant Mitchell, a York grad who now works as a professional music producer and performer.

After 26 students submitted tunes to be considered for the project, a panel of peers narrowed it down: ultimately 13 students accepted the invitation to be part of the project. Each musician recorded at Boulevard Studios in Oak Park, with Mitchell heading up the recording process.

For Mitchell, working with the York students brought back memories of his own high school days at York.

“My social group was mostly the musicians at York,” he remembers.

Not only was it nostalgic, but Mitchell enjoyed working with artists that didn’t have previous experience in a studio. “There is a lot of talent and amazing songs,” he says. “I think part of my goal for this project was that I wanted each mix to represent what the artist wanted.”

Gemkow knew the recording experience could be an eye-opening process for the students. “It had to open up their perspectives on what the recording experience can be like when you get the support of a professional.”

“[Mr. Gemkow] told me to write what I wanted to write — not what I thought other people would want to hear.”

~ Kathryn King

Kathryn King, who recorded her song, “Seventeen,” said the thought of going into the studio scared her. “I was actually really nervous because I’ve never recorded anything in a professional studio or anything like that,” she said. “But Grant was super helpful and supportive when it came to recording in the studio and mixing the final drafts of my song.”

Anthony says Mitchell created an environment in the studio that fostered creativity. “It’s pretty rare to come across someone who really cares about the production of music that much, yet is also willing to let you just let loose in the studio,” he says. “We had a phone call beforehand to get on the same page and it was a really easy and simple process from then on.”

While King was still in the process of writing, she says Mr. Gemkow gave her advice that she took to heart: “He told me to write what I wanted to write — not what I thought other people would want to hear. I think it made the song more enjoyable.”

Gemkow says keeping the York Album Project extracurricular is key for putting out an authentic album. “It isn’t part of a class,” he says. “We’re not held to any curricular standards—we have the freedom to be creative and have the freedom to change. Those that do it are the ones who want to be part of it, committed to it without the framework of, ‘I wonder what I have to do to get an A?’” 

“Those who do [the Album Project] are the ones who want to be part of it, committed to it, without the framework of, I wonder what I have to do to get an A?

~ Chris Gemkow

Reflecting back on the years he participated in the project as a York student, Mitchell says he arrived at college with a lot of experience and knowledge that most of his peers didn’t have. “It was not only the fact that [York] allowed me to explore that side of music production, but just the community there—the ease of finding similar-minded musicians—that was great. Mr. Gemkow was huge in fostering that.”

Over the past year, Gemkow has missed the usual activity of the York Fine Arts department, curtailed by a year disrupted by the pandemic. “We get daily inspiration from everyone in our immediate circles,” he says. “There’s a palpable energy that exists every day. Whether you want it to be there or not, it’s there. It can’t help but affect you.”

“So much has been lost from our normal lives,” he says. “Having this creative project provides something to motivate you to keep going forward with something. Maybe it makes everybody realize that creative energy still exists. It’s a reminder that we can’t wait to be back in the same space together. It’s still there.”


The Road Home is available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music, and all other streaming platforms under the artist name York Album Project. Since its release in January 2021, the album has already reached listeners in Australia, the UK, Mexico, Canada, and the Philippines.

On May 18, 2021, York Album Project’s 8th album, Finally Can Breathe will be available to stream on Spotify, Apple Music, and all other streaming platforms under the artist name York Album Project (cover art by sophomore Alyssa Poli). Stream or download the album from Bandcamp at yorkalbumproject.bandcamp.com.

I’ve Heard How This Story Ends

Recently, I was listening to an episode of NPR’s “Fresh Air,” in which book reviewer Maureen Corrigan proclaimed a recent book by the British author Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun, to be a “masterpiece.” My ears perked up, because I recognized the author’s name: in fact, I had just picked up one of his previous books and was about four chapters deep.

Without warning, the reviewer compared the new novel to a previous work by the same author—the very book that I had on my nightstand! And then, without warning, the reviewer blurted out a spoiler!

Nooooooooooo.

I mean, the novel, Never Let Me Go, was written in 2005, so maybe it’s my own fault for taking so long to read it.

But.

My initial instinct was to throw up my hands: what was the use? Now I knew the mystery that I had been trying to figure out throughout the first four chapters. I would have to abandon the book. The ending was ruined.

But the more I thought about it, the more curious I became: I already knew what happened at the beginning of the story. Now I knew something about the ending, too. But how did the story get from point A to point B? What happened in the middle?

Nicholas Christenfeld, a psychology professor from University of California San Diego researched this very phenomenon: If people read a story, but the ending was “accidentally” revealed to them, they actually enjoyed the story more. So in a way, spoilers don’t ruin the story; they actually enhance them. Christenfeld likened it to driving on the scenic Highway 1 along the coast of California: if you’re already familiar with the road and know what it feels like to drive it, you will actually be able to appreciate the scenery more. I can say that about certain famous paintings like Van Gogh’s “A Starry Night,” or Monet’s Water Lily paintings, too: each time I see them, my familiarity grows; I seem to notice more details each time I look at them.

That night, I picked up Ishiguro’s book again. I read and read and read until my eyes grew heavy and I began dozing off. When I awoke the next morning, I voraciously read more chapters before I even had my coffee. 

Now I am working toward the end, the dangling carrot the book reviewer had so tantalizingly set before me. I can’t wait to unravel the story.

Photo by Zetong Li on Unsplash

Originally published April 5, 2021 on MyHuntleyNews.