Criticism vs Opinion

A few weeks ago I mentioned something from my writing class. When I presented work, I was given competing critiques by two of my fellow writers: one classmate said my characters sounded too old, while another said my characters sounded too young.
So: was this an example of criticism/critique or an example of opinion?
What’s the difference? Lucky for you I have been overthinking this topic for weeks, and I have come up with the following self definitions.
Criticism/critique can be substantiated by a specific thing. You can tell someone an actual reason why something isn’t working. For example, one of my classmates recently wrote a story in which the narrator called another character a “dick”. My critique was that I had a problem with that specific word choice to describe the character because up to that point (and the rest of the story) there was no specific example to make this word be an apt description. Further, the action the character did show clearly did not qualify him as being a “dick” in any way, shape or form.  Critique is when you can pinpoint a place where the story starts to lose momentum, or jump the shark.  It’s also something that the majority of readers will have an issue with.  I’m not saying to write to the masses- you need to forge your own path and be happy with what you put on a page- I’m just saying that if 4 out of 5 readers think the ending is crap, you really have to consider if the ending is indeed, crap.  Also, to be clear, I realize that critique can be a form of opinion, but it’s valid to really consider these points when rewriting.

Now opinion.  An opinion is something that may very well be unique to the specific reader.  An opinion is influenced by what a reader brings into the reading, what their background knowledge is.  In the case of my story, the reader that said the characters seemed too young was 25 years older than me, while the reader that said the characters seemed too old was 25 years younger than me.  They clearly had an age bias that was neither good nor bad, but may not have been valid.  At 25 one might not have any idea that a 58 year old may not have the energy to party all night, while an 80 year old may think that 58 year old characters talking about their sex lives seems juvenile.  Is either reader right?  Doesn’t matter.  If the characters consistently behave in the same manner and their words and actions are in a linear path, they’re probably written correctly for the story.  (this is not to say I have written a perfect story- just that my characters have a pattern that is logical throughout- I hope).

I realize that I am splitting hairs, because opinion can be criticism, and criticism can be opinion.  But when judging other people’s work, we must be careful to think about the why – why something makes us feel negative or positive.  When someone bestows upon you the honor of reading their work, you must go into it with a clear and open mind.  It’s like taking a standardized test:  read and respond to what is written in the text presented to you, and answer questions and form opinions solely on that.  Your life experience doesn’t matter:  what matters is the way the work was written.  Does what the author say make sense? The minute you think “Well, in my experience…” you are no longer giving criticism: you are giving opinion.  Your expectation is that the situation in the story will play out the same way the situation in your life did.

So I will ask you my friends:  what is criticism and what is opinion?  When reading something do you automatically bring in background knowledge?

I really want your criticism/opinion.


My Commandments

I have one of those Page A Day calendars on my desk, particularly, The Gretchen Rubin A Happier 2018.  It contains inspirational quotes, tip and just things that help my day get off to a good start.  A few weeks ago, the calendar talked about having a list of personal commandments to live life by.  So, it got me to thinking about what are the rules I want to live by.  So, here goes:

  1. Respect others
  2. Listen to what people are saying instead of spinning my interpretation on it
  3. Don’t hold grudges
  4. When in doubt, forgive
  5. If my instinct says that something doesn’t smell right, listen to that instinct
  6. Be a parent, not a friend
  7. Don’t worry about pleasing others, because someone is always going to have a problem with what I do
  8. The past is a nice place to visit, but I don’t want to live there
  9. Take personal responsibility for my actions (ie don’t blame others)
  10. Prepare for the future, but live in the present
  11. Try not to overthink things
  12. Talk to people, not at them
  13. Accept criticism gracefully
  14. Remember that some people are not as smart as me in some ways, nor as dumb as me in others
  15. Be open minded to new ideas
  16. Don’t worry about what others think of me
  17. Always know both sides of an argument before taking a stand
  18. Always check the weather before I leave the house
  19. If a subway car is empty, there’s probably a good reason
  20. Write things down- memory will only get you so far

There are probably others, but these are the things I really try to do, sometimes with more success than others.  I think it’s a good idea to have some sort of internal code of conduct.  Sometimes we reach a crossroads, and it’s nice to have a little roadmap as to what we value: it helps us choose the next path.

So, it’s homework day:  Think about your personal commandments.  What’s the code you live by?

You Matter

Ok.  It’s secret day.  First secret:  I buy the majority of my skin care products from the drug store.  I don’t use big name, expensive brands.  Second secret: I’m a little crazy with skin care.  There is nothing I hate more than dry skin, and the older I get, the dryer my skin gets.  It’s like the ‘be careful what you wish for’ thing- when I was younger my skin was a bit oily and I longed for it to dry out.  Well, I got what I wished for.

I believe I have separate lotions for every part of me.  I don’t go anywhere without hand cream.  My life is a constant battle to not have my skin crack off.  So I use a product on my face known as serum.  It goes on before moisturizer, and adds an extra level of protection.  I’ve been buying No. 7 for a few months now, so I recently went to replace it.  Unfortunately, I did not remember which particular formula I had bought, so I began reading the packaging for the four different serums that they manufacture.  While I was comparing and contrasting, a young (very) salesperson came over to me.  She was asking me what problem I was trying to overcome.  Here’s the third secret:  I don’t like being helped in a store unless I ask.  I am perfectly capable of figuring things out on my own.  So I was a bit ornery when I responded “Well, you tell me.  You see my skin.  Which serum should I be using?  Am I spots, wrinkles, fine lines or industrial strength?”  She looked at my face and then she replied, “Well, actually, your skin looks great.  Seriously, it’s in really good condition.  Which one do you use now?  How long have you been using it?  You could be the commercial as to why you use it, because your skin looks great.”

So what’s the point?  Was this just a big ploy to tell you how great my skin is?  No.  And yes.

Take care of yourself.  This doesn’t mean spending a lot of money.  It doesn’t mean being a slave to advertising.   But it does mean washing yourself properly and using products that will keep your skin healthy.  Just take what you have and be the best you that you can be.

Sorry, you can’t reverse time.  You can’t become younger.  You can’t make wrinkles go away, or reverse damage, or any of the things that skincare claims.  No one is ever going to tell me I look 44 because I use a serum.  But you can do your best to maintain what you do have.

Take care of your mind.  Take care of your body.  Take care of your skin.  These are the things you have.   Work with what you have and treat them kindly.  There is no miracle cure once things go south.  Maintain what you have.  It is not vain to take care of yourself.  You matter.  Treat yourself like you do.

I have received absolutely no compensation for talking about No. 7.  It was just a detail to my post.

The Week in Review

And here it is, Sunday again.  No snow in Manhattan, but gross weather.  So here’s a snapshot of my life, which may or may not be a future blog post

What I’m reading:

“Portrait of a Lady” Henry James (reread for book club, and as it’s about a million pages and I haven’t read it in 30 years, this could be on my list next week.)

What I watched:

“Annihilation” (I don’t normally like sci fi but this was cool)

Top Chef

Big Bang Theory

What I did:

New York Botanic Garden Orchid Show

Parent Teacher Conferences

What I listened to: 

Celine Dion

Backstreet Boys

Black Panther soundtrack

Spotify Run Wild playlist


Deborah Cox

Third Eye Blind

Interesting Tidbit:

I took the online quiz to be a contestant on Jeopardy.  The questions are not particularly hard, but you have 15 seconds to type in your answer, which can be challenging since you don’t have much time to actually think, which is sort of like being on the show.  And you all know I’m spelling challenged.  I find out next week if I passed or not.

Random Question:

Do you keep a journal?  You know I obsessively keep a planner, so I’m always jotting things down in there, but I also keep a one line a day journal which is neat cause I don’t freeze at the open page.



Gratitude Saturdays

This week had its challenges, both trivial and significant.  Weather forced me to cancel the dog’s grooming appointment (a long overdue grooming).  A friend’s Mom passed away without much warning.  I spilled an entire bowl of cream of mushroom soup.  But here were some things that allowed me to look on the bright side.

1) IFC Center for showing Oscar nominated short films

2) Quad Cinema for showing documentaries and foreign films

3) New York Botanic Garden Orchid Show

4) Tulips

5) Chevrie goat cheese

6) My gym being two blocks away

7) heaters that blow hot air so I could dry my sneakers that I was stupid enough to wear outside during snow

8) Friends who listen to you whine about insignificant things

9) My daughters teachers, who are awesome




I made a resolution/goal to be more stylish.

I know.  How does one do that?  What did I even mean?

I always wear black.  It’s sort of a joke amongst my friends- whenever one of them is doing something and they ask “What should I wear?” I say “black”. To me, a black dress, or pants or whatever always wins out.

So to be clear, when I said I want to find style, I don’t mean changing the color of my clothes.  I just feel the need to add a little oomph to my wardrobe.  I’ve seen my hair go from brunette to blonde.  I’ve seen new wrinkles appear in unlikely places.  I don’t wear heels anymore.  I’m a bit heavier than I used to be.  So I feel an internal need to add just a little something to my wardrobe.

Enter Stitchfix.  We know my love. (and no- I am not getting a kickback- it’s just been a really good thing for me) Last month, my stitchfix box included a scarf.  Not a heavy duty one, but a pretty thing meant to be warn as an accessory.20180309_073145.jpg

So, I got the scarf on a Saturday morning.  I loved it.  I thought it was the right thing for me.  I was meeting my family for lunch that day, and along with a pair of leggings and a black t shirt, I tied the scarf on.  And then I went to lunch.

My daughter laughed when she saw me enter the noodle shop.  “What?” I said. (I mean, I am a Mom, so I’m used to being laughed at)  and my daughter answered “You look so happy.  I’m laughing because you’re smiling.”

So there you have it.  Clothes and such do affect how I view myself.  I feel better when i wear an outfit I love.

Is this shallow?  I don’t know.  Part of me doesn’t want to care about what I wear.  Part of me wants to be above physicality. (this is my emotional baggage- I have all sorts of issues due to my Mother’s attitude towards physical attractiveness)  But, what’s wrong with liking what you wear if you’re only doing it for yourself?

I think I am always going to struggle with doing things that enhance my appearance.  I have visions of my mother who wears sunglasses at night, indoors if she is not wearing make up.  I hear her voice in my head saying “What? no lipstick?  What kind of dress is that?  Did you buy a new dress for _______”.  I think my Mother is incredibly shallow when it comes to these things.  I tend to want to go to the exact opposite direction.  But- is that the right way to go?

So, at 53, I’m starting to reconcile my looks and my appearance.  I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s OK to like what I wear, love what I wear, as long as I’m doing it for me.  And it’s OK if I feel a little better if I am pleased with how I look.  These have been lifelong struggles for me.  But I’m getting there.




To Flirt or Not to Flirt

I’m going to try to define a word that people may have differing opinions on: flirt. defines it as “to court triflingly or act amorously without serious intentions; play at love; coquet.”  But how accurate is a depiction such as that?

I am a flirt.  I play with people using words.  I tease and use quasi seductive language, banter and repartee (sometimes more witty than others).  When I do this, I have absolutely no intentions, sexual or otherwise. (seriously- just ask my husband)  I do not flirt with intent: I just think it’s fun.  When I write fiction, I am drawn to (attempting)  writing clever dialogue and interchanges between characters.  I am a huge fan of 30’s and 40’s movies starring Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant, and of course, The Thin Man series.

But do other people see it as “fun”?

When someone flirts with you, do you automatically assume their attentions are amorous?

What’s the line between playful and intrusive behavior?

See, once a week I need you all to write my blog for me.  What’s your personal definition of a flirt and flirting?  Do you like to flirt, or be on the receiving end?  Is flirting bad?  Should flirting be only between two people who are single and interested in one another?  Or: Is flirting just another form of communication between two people?

Do you consider yourself a flirt?  Why, or why not?

Ok.  Opinions please.  What do we think?

The Stovetop Smoker

My Husband likes food.  He loves to go to new restaurants and try new things.  He really loves things that are smoked.  Now, we live in an apartment with no outdoor access, so smoking food is not the easiest thing for us, but one day we were out and saw an indoor, stovetop smoker, and an idea was born:  Husband said, next time I needed to buy him a gift, that was what he wanted.

Now, when Husband says that he wants something material, I usually get it, because he really doesn’t covet much.  But an indoor, stovetop smoker?  I smell more than cedar chips.  See, Husband is not great at reading directions, and putting those directions into actions.

I told him “Here’s the deal.  I don’t want to smoke meats.  I don’t really like smoked meats.  This is not a hobby I want to pursue.  So if I get you a smoker, it’s all on you.  You learn how to do it, and you’re responsible for it.”  He said “of course.”

So I bought him a smoker for the December holiday season.  And January rolled around and he kept saying “We should break out the smoker” and I would ignore the use of the word “we”, and tell him he was free to use it anytime he wished.  And the smoker sat untouched for January.

February strolled in and he said, “Let’s smoke salmon today.”  And I went into the cabinet where I had put the box containing the smoker and handed it to him.  “Have Fun” I said.

“Can you help?”

“When I bought this for you, I specifically told you that this was not a hobby I chose to pursue.”

“But I don’t know what to do?” (he was whining by now)

“Guess what?  Neither do I.”

“Yeah, but you know how to read instructions”

And all I could think was , yup, this man has two masters degrees.  “I have faith in you.” I said.

Which led to more whining.  So I said, “Here’s the deal.  I will stand next to you while you do it.”

“If you do it once, I’ll get how it’s done.”

My frustration level was at about 1000.  This is not something I had any interest in doing, but how much of a fight was this worth?

I read over the really simple instructions for making smoked salmon.  I told him how easy the process was.

Whining by him.

So I stood next to him in the kitchen, reading him the instructions as if he was a three year old with finger paints (because yes, that is the level of complexity- finger painting)

And the meal turned out fine, if you like smoked salmon, which I don’t.  But anyway.

The other day he wanted to make smoked chicken thighs.  I said optimistically “You remember how to do it?”

”Just help me one more time.  Then I’ll know it.” He said.

”Place wood chips in small pile in center of smoker.  Place piece of Tin foil on top.  Put rack atop that.  Add chicken thighs.  Close cover.  Put on stove on medium”  I said, from memory.

”Wait, what?” He said.

The smoker may end up in the donation pile.


Yesterday I told you about the trip to the Spy Museum.  Now, let’s backtrack.  When I originally bought tickets, I asked my daughter if she wanted to join in on the excursion.  She said no, because she had a very long to do list and limited time.  No worries.

When Husband and I got home from the museum, we went into her room where she was seated at her desk doing homework, and we told her all about the place, the questions, the simulations.  We told her it was fun.

We are horrible parents.  We told our kid we had fun.  Without her.  And she got all sad and mad and teenagery.


Because she wished she had gone.  She felt she didn’t accomplish anything she set out to do, and it would have been a better use of her time, and more fun, to have gone off with us.  (for the record- she got more done in the three hours we were gone than I get done in a week- but I do lean towards the slacker side)

I feel for daughter.  She lives in a stress induced bubble, where every task before her appears to be life altering and tantamount to her having a future.  She also is a teenage girl dealing with issues that social media present and dramatic school mates.  She has moments of insecurity where she’s not smart enough, or pretty enough or talented enough.  Teenagers try to  appear to be super confident, but we all know that is a façade.  They are unsure if the face they present to the world is the one that the world wants to see.  Sometimes they overthink to a point where they are paralyzed and can’t do anything: sometimes they act without thinking.  To put it simply, being a teenager sucks.

I talked to her and told her it was OK- it wasn’t a lifetime opportunity to have gone to the spy museum that day, but, you know how it goes when you talk logically to a teen…

So she moped.

Later that day she used the dreaded B word.  She told me she was bored. (There are words that we never say in my house, I’ll probably blog about that now that it’s come to mind, and bored is one of those words)

I stormed into her room of a thousand and one objects and I looked for something to occupy her mind.  I pulled out her Nintendo DS which had probably not seen the light of day in awhile, and handed it to her.  She looked at me as I plugged it in to charge and handed it to her, along with her pink box of games.  She was skeptical as she opened the case and browsed titles she hadn’t thought about in awhile.  And out came Cooking Mama.

Now, parents don’t often say this, but thank goodness for video games.  This was the exact break my kid needed.  It reminded her of being a kid.  It got her brain working in different ways.  It made her laugh.  It tool her out of her funk.

She came out later laughing, telling is that she didn’t know how the game developers expected an eight year old to figure out the “Kit: An American Girl Game”.  She had to google stuff.  I didn’t care.  I was thankful to the developers.  They made my teenager laugh and be happy.

So what’s the moral of the story.  I don’t know.  Just remind your teenagers that nothing is the end of the world, it’s OK to mope, and life has its ups and downs.


Mission: ____________

I’m going to tell you a secret about my husband: he wants to be a spy.  Seriously, if he could go back in time and learn stealth, agility and how to look inconspicuous, he would be a spy.  Loves the movies, loves the books, loves anything about the genre.  So, when I read that a spy museum was opening up in the city, off we went.

Now, Spyscape is kitschy, and a bit silly, but we loved it!!!  Basically you go to kiosks and answer questions about logic, risk taking and personality.  There are a few active rooms where you try spy techniques.  Personally, I loved the surveillance room, where you don a headset and need to look around the room and spot what your handler is telling you to look for.  So much fun.

After you complete all the circuits, they tell you what your spy job would be based on the answers and abilities you possess.  My husband was assigned Agent Handler.  I was a hacker.  I was actually a little bummed because I always thought I would make a good profiler. But hacker it is.

Why hacker you ask?  Well, here’s a little secret about me:  I’m a math girl.  After going through all the tests, my math skills are what stood out above all else.  I get those questions where you have to figure out what pattern comes next in a sequence, or which number is next in a sequence.  There it is, my dirty little secret:  I’m good at math related things.

I see patterns.  I can draw a correlation between two things that seem to have absolutely nothing in common.  I’m an analyzer of information, and I’m really good at it.  My brain is fueled by logic.

So what’s the problem?  Well, I don’t want to be a math girl.  I want to be a writing girl.  Every day I try to be a writing girl.  My goal is to write a novel, so every day I go against my natural type to try for something else.  Some days it is easy to blog and to work on my book:  other days it’s a slog.  But I keep going.

And that’s my little message for today:  no matter what anyone says, be true to yourself.  Go for your dreams.  Though maybe you’ve been labeled as a hacker, that shouldn’t stop you from being a novelist.  Now you try it:  fill in the blanks.

I’ve been labeled a ________________, but it’s not going to stop me from being a _______________.

What are your words?