Joi Brooks

Email Marketing Specialist Podcaster Mastermind Facilitator

Email marketing isn’t rocket science. It’s more like making coffee. I search for an aromatic, whole‑bean roast and explore it’s character. I measure, grind and experiment over time. I mix the sweet with the creamy, stir it neatly and pour, hot and steamy, into my favorite mug. With an understanding of flavor profiles, I blend and pivot.

Inspiration? Email and Coffee | A Digital Café and Women in Email Marketing Mastermind are the foundations of my community.
About Me

Hello! My name is Joi Brooks. I’m an email marketing unicorn. And, pray tell… what does that mean?

For large business owners, I brainstorm with teams on short‑ and long‑term strategy and segmentation, develop HTML templates alongside brand messaging, produce content that builds and sustains momentum. I advise smaller business owners on strategy and with my tactical experience I handle creative, development, data management, and deployment for them, as well.

For women in email marketing, I facilitate a Mastermind. The virtual workshop is designed to assist women with their individual careers, their personal and professional growth, to share industry expertise, and provide a safe and collaborative environment. Meetings include industry discussions, hot seats, and workshops.

I also host Email and Coffee | A Digital Café, a podcast that spotlights an array of digital experts with lots of great experience.

Services
  • Email Marketing Strategy & Development
  • Template Development
  • Data Management
  • Deployment
  • Consulting & Training
Collaborations
  • Mastermind for Women in Email Marketing
  • Podcasting
Skills
  • HTML & CSS
  • Photoshop & Dreamweaver
  • Teleconferencing
  • Copy‑editing
Email Service Providers
  • SFMC
  • Marketo
  • SendGrid
  • Klaviyo
  • Pardot
  • Mailchimp
  • DotDigital
  • Upland Adestra
  • More
Education
  • 1973–1977

    SUNY Buffalo

    Bachelors Degree, cumma sum laude
  • 2001–2003

    Briarcliffe College

    Associates Degree, cumma sum laude
Experience
  • 2024–running

    PureRed

    Email Marketing Consultant
    2024–running

    Circana

    Email Marketing Consultant
    2024–running

    Curi

    Email Marketing Consultant
  • 2020–2023

    Rutgers University, NJ

    Digital Systems Specialist
  • 2019–running

    Personal Trainer Food

    Email Marketing Consultant
  • 2015–running

    InboxArmy

    Email Marketing Consultant
Testimonials
Email and Coffee | A Digital Café
Services
  • Email Marketing Specialist

    I solve problems. What’s challenging you? A 15‑minute free discovery call can reveal a lot. Hourly consulations and bespoke arrangements are available.

    I’m a doer. I manage myself, tasks within an email marketing project, and the timeline that delivers the tasks and completes the project. I’ve worked with agencies and brands directly. I deliver the most when goals, strategies and projects are well defined and the atmosphere is collaborative.

    An hour consultation fee is $250.00

    Project work is available at $150.00 an hour.

    Contract retainers may be appropriate and available upon arrangement.

  • Email and Coffee Podcast

    When professionals connect on a podcast, the results spontaneously promote talent, services and products, and the shared experience transforms the audience. It’s networking on steroids.

    We are all better together as long as we listen and learn. Email and Coffee | A Digital Café is a recorded hour of shared, enthusiastic, unsponsored, video inspiration.

    I can’t think of any better way for you, the expert, to demonstrate your expertise than through your own words and actions nor a better way for the audience to discover your talent and instruction.

    If your business rides the digital superhighway, become a guest host.

  • Women in Email Marketing Mastermind

    Workshop with unique and qualified women. Discover your frontier, nourish a new or existing career, and learn competence from other email marketing professionals.

    Goals: Network, Education, Accountability, Motivation, Validation, Confidence, Being Heard

    Women in Email Marketing Mastermind meets every week over nine weeks. Virtual meetings are confidential, personal, collaborative, and socializing encounters. Master your domain in a supportive environment.

    Sign-up to our waiting list and become a member of the Mastermind.

    I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for the alumna who have shown their generosity by gifting me a cup of coffee. Your support encourages me to keep scheduling new cohorts and innovating group dynamics!

Journal
  • 01

    It’s a challenge writing and laying out all the elements for an email campaign: articles, links, images, calls‑to‑action, subject line and landing pages. When all is brain‑stormed and discussed, arranged and re‑arranged, said and done—you’re most likely to send it out to your entire list, lock, stock and barrel.

    Then, once your campaign is distributed, the assumptions float to the surface: Were the links prominent? Was the image appropriate? Was the call to action eye-catching? Did the subject line influence open rate?

    A/B Split Testing will reveal many answers to these types of questions. With consistent testing and within time the cumulative results deliver a solid knowledge base that positively impacts the long-term success of your email campaigns.

    Let’s take a look at some simple split test protocols.

    Test 1: Subject Lines

    I live and breathe email. So, naturally I’ve seen every type of subject line there is; from the sales-driven to humorously absurd. Many clients ask: What do I think makes a great subject line? But the real question is: What do your subscribers think? Here’s food for thought.

    Personalized subject lines work well in general, but you won’t know until you try!

    Is there such a thing as over branding? If your newsletter subject line is an equivalent to name, rank and serial number, there’s an obvious element of recognition, but is it working in your favor?

    A utilitarian believes that everything serves a purpose, or just does not belong. Is short and sweet better than any other approach?

    Who are your subscribers, anyway? Consumers, distributors, constituents, prospects, proctologists? Each group speaks a slightly different version of the mother tongue. You speak their language!

    Subject line A/B testing is undeniably the easiest split test to manage. Your campaign content remains unchanged while you split the distribution of your email into equal portions, randomly selected, and release with separate subject lines.

    Picking the subject lines is the kingpin. Subtle or sassy. Generic or specific. Classic or contemporary. Test, test, test! Like a mad scientist, eureka - you’ll find revealing trends over a 3 to 6 month testing time period.

    Test 2: Content

    A good marketing manager will revamp content over time as a direct result of open rates and click thru metrics. What content resonates with your subscribers?

    Your stats are key here, numbers rarely lie. If you see a downward slump in open rates, check back to the better performing campaigns. What made them tick?

    To learn which stories best target your readers, prepare similar but separate features. Include read more links to help keep tabs on interest and watch the click-thru stats.

    If you’re looking to improve goal conversions, review link placement and color, wording, and graphics. Too many calls-to-action dilute your strategy, so focus on the your campaign’s action items and A/B test two distinct versions.

    Last word: don’t test subject lines and content simultaneously. It’s just too much information to digest.

    Testing Protocols

    A test should include a control page and your best effort to optimize performance. If you are getting started with A/B testing, your control page will be your current editorial content.

    Establish your test goals and determine an amount of time sufficient enough to gather good data. Identify unique clicks and/or conversions. Collect your metrics and confidently declare a winner.

    A/B testing provides an opportunity to resolve problems, increase conversions and goals, and challenge assumptions. Over time, testing your content will provide demonstrable results.

  • 02

    The Gmail inbox prioritizes mail according to reading habits. When an email is read, it gains a higher priority in the inbox; and when a message goes unread or deleted, its sender gets tagged and sorted appropriately.

    To predict which incoming message is important, Gmail automatically takes into account a number of signals, including:

    • Who you email: If you email Bob a lot, it’s likely that messages from Bob are important and placed in your inbox.
    • Which messages you open: Messages you open are likely to be more important than those you skip over.
    • What keywords spark your interest: If you always read messages about soccer, a new message that contains the word soccer is more likely to get placed in your inbox.
    • Which messages you reply to: If you always reply to messages from your mom, messages she sends are likely to be in your inbox.
    • Your recent use of stars, archive and delete: Messages you star are probably more important than messages you delete without opening.

    Gmail tabs are currently available and can be activated by each Gmail user who wants to take advantage of them. For those users looking for ways to reduce noise, all’s well for the subscriber, but tabs are one of the many Gmail tools that pose a challenge for email marketers.

    As a marketer, best start planning to negotiate potential challenges:

    • Combine email with other channels like blogging and social media.
    • Increase email marketing engagement. If your recipients engage with your emails by clicking on them, it is more likely that your messages will stay out of the spam mail tab and land in the inbox.
    • Set expectations at opt‑in. If a person isn’t anticipating your message and offers, your email will most likely get assigned to the spam mail folder and ignored. When you are clear with subscribers from the beginning—how frequently they will receive your emails, why these messages provide value—you increase the odds that your emails will be seen.
  • 03

    I liken Facebook to a great house party: you invite friends and associates, eat, drink and be merry, play games, watch videos, share photos, listen to music and chat into the early hours of the morning.

    But when it comes to Twitter, the art of tweeting may prove a challenge. If there is a party, it may be anywhere. For every tweet, there’s a retweet or reply. And for all the hashmarks and unique usernames, there’s a few words and perhaps a tiny URL.

    If Facebook is your gabby cousin, Twitter is the strong and somewhat silent type. But, don’t be fooled. When all is said and done, Twitter is networking gold.

    Behind every successful business venture lies a focused mission statement. While it’s standard to root objectives within the content of an About Us/Mission web page, Tweeting opinions, news and factoids, events, deals, tips, updates and so much more continues to serve your goals and substantiate connections with customers on various levels.

    It may be surprising how a few characters can well deliver brand enthusiasm. Twitter’s strength lies in its ability to pull short stories together into a bigger picture.

    Small businesses considering a Twitter launch or strategy will benefit through a little research. What types of conversations help demonstrate your brand and provide points of connection? Building that consistent message will retain customers and invite prospective followers of like‑mind.

    You are what you tweet, and this is a very good thing!

  • 04

    As a friend, I’ve behaved abominably, historically overstating relationships and never qualifying their value. But am I any different than anyone else? We throw the word and concept of friendship around without consideration.

    “I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Jane.”

    “What are friends for?”

    “I’m having a party this weekend and inviting all of my closest friends.”

    “We’ve been best friends since high school.”

    “I’m having dinner with my work friends.”

    “I don’t like the friends you’re hanging around.”

    What is friendship? Some common ground between people where they can equally exchange tangibles and abstracts. Give and take. You invite me over for dinner and I bring dessert. I tell you my problems, you console me and give advice. We may argue from time to time, but we always make amends.

    Do this over time and we’re friends.

    Shit happens when this over simplified arrangement gets trampled on. You hate my dessert and I tell the world about your problems. Aside from culinary distaste and breaches of confidentiality, there’s jealousy, well‑being or lack‑there‑of, success and failure, and all the other permutations of life.

    Let’s face it, no one is an island and we all leapfrog through life for one reason or another. Mostly shiny object syndrome. It applies to people as well as things.

    But I propose that friendship, like marriage, is nothing more than an arrangement. Both are based upon mutual, prearranged objectives. Marriage merely includes extended family and babies. And love‑making aside, it’s the friendship that withstands time.

  • 05

    “I’m bored,” said me every summer, from elementary school through adolescence.

    Those days, I’d take on any chore or activity suggested. Mow the lawn. Weed the garden. Walk the dog. Clean my room. Ride my bicycle to kingdom come and back again.

    Report cards note that my work habits were excellent but I sometimes lacked self‑control, needed to better listen when others were speaking, learn how to rest quietly and use time to my advantage. My teachers also reported that I did not always participate well in group activities.

    Pretty much sums it up to this very day.

    If I had not grown up as a baby boomer, but instead been a gen‑x or millennial, my focus‑factor would have knee‑jerked teachers to suggest some sort of attention deficit disorder and professionals to hand out a script so that today I’d be overmedicated and point‑blank addicted.

    Truth be told, I’m simply industrious, and when my hands, mind or mouth are not busy, there’s bound to be trouble.

    I’m at my best with a list of projects to accomplish that exclude social activities.

    And what about those social activities? It isn’t that I don’t care about other people. It isn’t that I don’t like other people. But given the unique combination of being action‑oriented and an athletic spaz, relationships with others translates into providing‑for, working‑with, eating‑, talking‑, walking‑, drinking‑, or smoking‑together and love‑making.

    It is with no wonder that the first 40 years of my personal life and professional career were frustrations from hell. Or that the better half of my married life was in the kitchen, in the yard, catering to Harry or the dogs.

    Free time for me is the very definition of disaster. The concept of vacation? Wait, what? Save every dollar, make plans, spend every dollar, travel hundreds of miles, and do… nothing?

    I have discovered all the things I do badly so that, now, I can spend more time doing things I do well. I’ve finally got a rhythm working on my behalf. It took 60 bloody years to get here, but in retrospect, it’s been time well spent.

  • 06

    I love everything about food. Planning, shopping, creating, cooking, eating. My love affair started when I was young and I can prove it once I dig out the photograph I know is buried somewhere with me eating spinach in a high chair. The passion grew into infatuation and what started out as eating healthy greens turned into very a bad behavior. Potato chips and ice cream before breakfast. Sleeves of cookies or chocolate bars as an afternoon snack. Multiples of everything. I no sooner finished one meal then I started thinking about the next.

    I was chubby.

    Puberty exasperated already unhealthy eating habits with sweet and salty cravings. My sister, thin as a rail, went as far as to nickname me Crisco. Food was unequivocally a control issue and dieting developed into a preoccupation.

    As a teenager, I decided to become a vegetarian. That lasted twenty years, but bowls of rice and bags of homemade trail mix aren’t thinning and I can vouch for 50‑pound weight swings.

    At 40, I put meat‑fish‑poultry back into my diet but swapped out the carbs. The informal keto diet worked for ten years, but I was embracing pretense, ignoring nasty habits and unsustainable management.

    Control IS THE elephant in the room. In my late fifties, motivation to control everything went critical mass, fostered by years and years of contrived external constructs as ways to cope.

    I was 60 when I finally had my singularity. I happened to be watching a re‑re‑rerun of The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond‑girl Barbara Bach, as Russian spy Anya Amasova (Agent Triple X), innocuously delivered the line that would change my life forever. Talking with James about survival tactics, she said, “It’s very important to have a positive mental attitude.”

    Bam.

    It started simply with a food journal. Then I created a spreadsheet and documented calories. I experimented with total daily calories, watching fat, protein and carb intake as well, learning about my secret sauce and discovering that my body weight would maintain at 1800 calories a day, lose moderate weight at 1400 calories, and drop pounds in buckets at 1200 calories.

    I surrendered every attempt at control and nurtured a self‑awareness based on what I could actually perceive through touch, sight, hearing, smell, taste, and sense of time and space. As I was resetting the very way I approached life, the world around me exploded into view. I consciously practiced making better choices, cultivated that positive attitude and scrutinized my actions, inactions and reactions. I took ownership. I accepted blame without guilt knowing that I could make better decisions in time.

    This morning, I enjoyed a hot and creamy oatmeal breakfast; a homemade slice of focaccia, a green salad with oil and vinegar, all in a small portion, for lunch. Tonight I’ll have a chicken or fish for dinner, alongside roasted, red‑skinned potatoes seasoned with rosemary and thyme and brocilli. A single handful of nuts and berries in season. Real sugar and cream to sweeten my coffee.

    A chocolate‑glazed eclair filled with rich custard is possible but not probable. Perhaps, cut in half or just one single fork‑full. I’m still in love with all‑things‑food but I’m grateful for its proper place in the big picture of life.

  • 07

    Her parents were snowbirds and had spent their winters in Florida for years. But as she sat at the kitchen table, sharing a Sunday brunch of lox and bagels with cream cheese, she was pleading with her mother to reconsider their trip.

    “Ma, your 75 and dad is 80. You’re driving a Ford Probe all the way to Florida…”

    She was cut off in mid-sentence, “No, we’re driving to Joanie’s and staying with her for the holidays. Then we’ll drive to Miami.”

    “Okay, so I don’t mean the drive itself. I mean the entire trip. You’ve been complaining that dad isn’t feeling well… so, why are you going to take him miles from his doctor to spend the next 3 months away from primary care. What if something happens?”

    “You’re just nervous about getting married,” her mother flipped the spotlight. “We’ll be back in March. You’ll get married in February, just like you’re planning. And in the summer, we’ll throw a big party for you and Harry. Shit or get off the pot.”

    She sank back into her kitchen chair, stared into her coffee and reconsidered. Was it pre-wedding jitters? Her mother sure had a way with words. She had no answer and let it go although she tasted the anxiety like the onion-topped bagel mouthful she’d just finished chewing.

    Monday night, she’d try again by telephone but it would grow into an argument. The plans were made. The hotel was paid for. The bags were packed. Her parents would leave on Wednesday morning. Period. The end.

    Her parents would spend a merry Christmas and happy New Year with her sister in South Carolina without circumstance and would continue to drive down to Miami, the usual trip like every other year. And she would continue with her wedding plans, making arrangements with a justice of the peace, organizing a small dinner party with friends, getting reservations at Gurney’s in Montauk for a weekend honeymoon.

    But like the best-laid plans of mice and men, the phone call came a week after she returned from her honeymoon. She was back at work, newly married, sitting in her office, desk piled high with work left undone.

    “Hello, Joi-Joi.” The voice on the other end of the phone was her dad’s.

    She said, “Hey there, daddy! What’s up?” It was unlike him to phone her at work.

    He paused but then said the words she unexpectedly expected, “Mom… she’s gone.”

    “Wait, dad… What d’ya mean? Where’d mom go?” she asked, not wanting to hear the answer.

    “She’s dead,” and he broke down, sobbing.

    Turns out, her mom woke up that morning, felt suddenly ill, and then it was over in amoment. A massive heart attack.

    In the days to come, her brother-in-law, Klaus, would drive to Florida, pack-up her dad and bring him back to New York. She’d arrange for transport of her mother’s body from the hospital to the funeral home. She’d call the cemetery, dad’s doctor and lawyer and begin the arduous task of burying mom and caretaking dad. And when Joan came up that week with Klaus and dad, she’d introduce her brand-new husband to a grieving family.

    The honeymoon was over.

  • 08

    Birds and Bees
    Public school sex education was a handout with black and white illustrations and clinical conversations about body parts at a time when I had no idea why anyone wanted to get naked together, not to mention touch each other.

    In time, I’d develop crushes on boys and Hollywood stars, but I was in no way prepared for the onslaught of my own desire. Gushing hormones would be my demise. I would become preoccupied with sex and men. I fantasized about it with them and manipulated people, places and things accordingly. It was nothing less than obsession and I hadn’t the slightest idea what I was doing.

    At first, falling in love with Thorne was heaven on earth. Our relationship blossomed and we became intimate. Then my body took over. From auto-pilot to hyperdrive, I left my mind, friends, family and eleventh-grade life behind at lightspeed. When the relationship came apart at the seams, with all the toxic behavior and adolescent drama, I staged a half-hearted suicide. When that failed, I decided to take off for the summer and consequently joined up with a commune in Vermont.

    It was not a true decision, I simply ran and relied on chance. Everything that happened from late July through August did so as cause and effect, over and over. The path was thoughtless… careless… textbook examples of irresponsible behavior. It amazes me that I lived through the summer.

    I did return for my senior year in high school. It appeared as though I’d settled down, but I had not faced my obsession and pernicious behavior and would not acknowledge them for years to come. I otherwise appeased my parents and agreed to therapy. Mind you, I have nothing against the concept of therapy, and I would develop my own techniques given the hours and hours I spent with a professional psychologist, but the process at the time fed my obsessions and gave me license to talk about myself in the pretense of progress.

    Boys and Girl
    Thorne was paradise compared to every relationship that followed. There were twelve years of Natt, five years of Roy, two years of Tom, relationships without prospects, lackluster attempts at the time being. In my mid-thirties, I gave up dating all together, which simply created a millpond of desire that led up to meeting my once-and-future-husband.

    I can say this now, on the other side of menopause: sex is over rated. When I met Harry, however, I was in no more control of my ego or id. It was serendipity that ultimately took control.

    Man and Woman
    Harry was a bad boy, a profile that attracted me to men. He drove fast, drank deeply and could not control his emotions. But Harry was a worthy challenge. He was a creative genius, worked hard at whatever he did and fiercely protected me. And, unlike any other man in my life, Harry uncovered inherent strengths I hadn’t myself professed.

    Husband and Wife
    Unfortunately, our first year of marriage was no honeymoon. I was forty. Mom was seventy-five. Dad was eighty. My sister, Joan, was married and living in South Carolina with two teenage children. Harry was working a construction site in Pelham with long, hard hours. We had no sooner eloped than were dealing with my mother’s sudden death, my heartbroken father following suit and a work accident for Harry that took our lives further down a rabbit hole. Within four months, we’d bury both my parents, execute their last will and testament, sell their home, and take off for Seattle, Washington.

    The plan was for Harry’s two brothers to move soon after and settle down to life in the Pacific Northwest. In 1996, Harry and I had bought a mobile home in Snohomish on a horse’s acre of property. Soon after, Bob and his wife Marsha rented a small home on Whidbey Island while they broke ground and began building a home on the piece of property they owned together with the third brother, Kenny.

    Kenny, with his wife Flo, never made the move out west. The reason they didn’t was never apparent, other than they’d decided to move south instead of west. As a result, ill will and a growing distrust over who-said-what-to-whom distanced the three brothers.

    Harry was one of five brothers and five sisters. The family of ten ranged in ages so that Patricia, the eldest sister, had a daughter that was older than the youngest sister, Madeline. Harry was the youngest boy. Their father worked to keep food on the table for all those kids and the eldest boy, John, was Harry’s surrogate dad. When I met Harry, he was living with John in a small house in Lindenhurst, NY. When Harry and I left for Washington, Harry and John remained in close touch, sending each other videos and letters.

    Most boys play ball with their father and brothers. Harry would fish, build things and fix engines. Any day of the week it was normal to find the boys working on boats or cars, straightening up the garage, operating lifts with heavy chains, handling every sort of power tool imaginable. Every weekend without fail, they’d rise early and go fishing on the Great South Bay. Harry told me that his dad would sometimes drag his sleepy head fishing before school started. His dad was strict and the fish they would catch would be for supper. It wasn’t sporting, it was survival in earnest.

    I grew up in a small, sustainable family. Harry’s Episcopal, western-European roots were polar opposite to my Jewish, eastern-European ancestry. My family holidays were somber in contrast to his lively. For his family, any day was a reason to gather. There were long drives to the Pocono’s, boat rides to Fire Island, camping, hunting, birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, all with an assembly of brothers, sisters, mothers, fathers, nieces, nephews, daughters, sons, grandchildren, friends and dogs.

    There were hug-feasts and good-cries. But there were also arguments and fist fights. Eventual melodrama at every get together, sponsored by copious amounts of beer, wine and liquor.

    We spent five years in Washington, moving three times. From Snohomish to Mount Index to Mount Vernon. I had a decent job in publishing and we were able to make ends meet, thanks to additional bits and pieces of my folk’s inheritance. Although the Puget Sound was breathtaking, the mountains drop-dead gorgeous, the summers dry and temperate, the gray-dome over western Washington depressed Harry to no-end, and he’d give way to homesickness.

    One morning, shouting over the morning weather report — “rain with sunbreaks” or perhaps it was “sunbreaks with rain” — Harry announced, “Pack your bags. We’re selling the house and moving back to New York.”

    In 2000, we bought a house in Lindenhurst, not far from his brother John. Harry was on-again-off-again with brother’s and sisters, but we’d otherwise made fast friends in the neighborhood.

    I was forty-five. Although we’d tried, Harry and I did not have children. I was at menopause junction and a lot more than the landscape was changing.

    Harry’s previous accident at work developed into chronic back pain and a degenerative condition. He’d had surgery in Washington and his back was fused. Out west, I was the bread-winner, but that was clearly not going to cut it in New York. Harry would have to find work. In the meantime, he spent most of his time fishing and my fried fish dinners developed into a fine art.

    On the morning of September 11th, I was standing in front of the television waiting for the weather report. I worked not far from the house, so I would leave at ten-to-the-hour. It was 8:46 when the first tower was hit and the weather report preempted. I shouted for Harry, who was outside with our neighbor Joe, more-or-less a single father. They were getting ready to go fishing. The three of us stood in front of the television watching the world-as-we-know-it end. Joe’s kids were let out of school early and soon my house was a mix-match of 3 elementary-school-aged girls, one rottweiler, 2 grown men, and one woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

    I cried that day, like the motherless child I was. And I unhinged a little bit every day after that. I couldn’t find a reason to cook, clean, work, shop, not to mention entertain. Regardless of Harry’s masculinity, I wasn’t safe. The sky was falling.

    My desperation scared the bejesus out of Harry. He cleared a wide path around me. The alternative for me was to seek out professional help on my own. My family physician prescribed Zoloft and recommended a therapist.

    For a year, I popped a pill every day and talked my heart out every week. Unbeknownst to me, my body had yielded to time and I was in the eye of menopause. The medical impact of Zoloft camouflaged pleasure, pain and mid-life crisis. I felt less and less about more and more and flatlined. I became rational, intentional and deliberate.

    I needed to stop taking the Zoloft. And in time, I would have enough with the weekly sessions. Memory mining my folks, my sister, my past, my present, my future, my hopes, my fears. At the end of each hour, it was the same. “We’ll pick up next week. I want you to think more about why you fill-in-the-blank.” The conversations were repeats of repeats. I needed to stop talking about obsession and start breaking bad habits. Thankfully, parting words with my therapist were courteous. In comparison to the conversation with my physician. When I suggested I wean myself off Zoloft, “Emphatically, no,” and “I’ll tell you when you are ready,” were his bottom line. But, I was ready. And as my mother found out ages ago, the surest way to get me to do something was to say “No” without discussion.

    I Googled everything about Zoloft and planned out my exit strategy. I expected vertigo but I didn’t expect night sweats and a dead-on-arrival libido. The night sweats would last ten years. The libido never returned.

    Harry and I continued to love, honor and obey each other without abandon. And although I cared more than ever, I was a gray alien and he was lost in space. He made the mistake of suggesting I go on hormone therapy only to receive a whiplash of spousal verbal abuse. He’d avoid that topic in the future.

    Post menopause, I became amiable. I enjoyed my life filled with gardening, dog walking and technology, but as Harry aged, he’d need to discover on his own how to lighten his load in order to survive. Harry’s second career after his accident was as physical as his construction job, just in different ways. He discovered that he needed to flex mental muscle to solve problems when brute strength failed. He became a CDL truck driver and eventually a successful machinist and truck mechanic.

    Life and Death
    Harry’s change of life was insidious. One day, he admitted to shoulder pains and we got him to the doctor. The next day, his x-rays resulted in a whirlwind of checkups. And there it was. Cancer. Within a week of diagnosis, he lost his voice. The small-cell cancer was entwining around his larynx, growing from the top of his lung.

    We barely comprehend the millions of motions our bodies take part in. And there we were, blind-sighted by facts, in a screeching halt that chucked us to the other side of midnight.

    The chemo and radiation treatments held the cancer at bay for a year, but it recurred in his liver and became the perfect storm. His liver ablation, scheduled for late March in 2020, was almost canceled as the hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients. After the surgery, treated like an outpatient, he rested at home. Along with the cancer that was eating away at his resolve, the news, politics and hysteria from the pandemic pillaged and plundered.

    I began preparing myself. I started with gratitude, taking inventory of everything we had together. I suggested he reconnect with family and friends. I imagined my life alone. We made an appointment with our lawyer and drew up a will.

    I was stone cold sober since the day Harry was diagnosed. I embraced reality with a passion equal to the hope and faith I discovered, to the benefit of my years in therapy. Harry confessed, “You’re my rock. You’re taking care of everything. I don’t know how you do it. I love you for that. But, I’m sorry…I’m not gonna make it. You’ll need to sell the house. Maybe move in with your sister.”

    I’d reply, crossing my eyes and shaking my head, “Shut up! You’re a survivor. Don’t give up!” Absolutely frozen with fear.

    I could not always find the perfect words to comfort him. So, we shared hugs and kisses. Nostalgic movie moments. Awesome grilled cheese sandwiches. Although his appetite waned, whatever he wanted was on the menu. Cheese cake. Hot dogs. Crusty baked cauliflower. Homemade beef barley soup with hot buttery crescent rolls. Apple pie with whipped cream.

    Meanwhile, Harry would go to work without fail. He’d take time off here and there to receive his treatments and then return to work the very next day. The job switched up his hours so that, being immuno-compromised, Harry could work a later shift and avoid contact with other people. His supervisors loved him. They ran a raffle and he won. Wink-wink. A huge, flatscreen TV!

    The world continued to panic around the pandemic and argue about the vaccine. Harry wanted the shot with all his heart and soul. I spent every free moment trying to squeeze an appointment out of the internet and finally prevailed. His first Pfizer shot was in April, and he took it well. Complained about a sore arm but stood tall. On a sunny Sunday in May, while undergoing staged immuno-therapy, Harry returned for his second booster.

    I insisted he stay home from work the next day. He was tired and chilly and achy. I stood by, feeding his face, comforting him with blankets, taking his temperature, happy to find it was normal.

    The next day there was no stopping him, and he went to work. And I thought, “Can’t keep a good man down.”

    “I’m so tired,” he said when he came home that afternoon. Onto the couch, with the remote in his hand, he slept only waking for food.

    Men love their remotes almost as much as they love their couches, and I discovered early on in married life that it’s totally illogical to wake a man who has fallen asleep on the couch to tell him to get up and go to bed. That conversation goes nowhere.

    That night I left him sleeping on the couch, as I had many times. He looked so comfortable sleeping in front of the TV he’d won in a make-believe raffle. I didn’t have it in my heart to wake him up. Instead, I slipped off to the bedroom and in time fell asleep myself, propped up in bed, reading my Kindle in the dark. It was 12:30 in the morning when I woke up, stiff from sitting, and discovered he hadn’t come to bed.

    I took off my glasses and switched on the night light. I noticed the time as I walked to the living room. I also noticed Harry stretched half across the couch and the floor. I couldn’t help but think, “It’s happened. It’s over.”

    In the very same moment, “Harry, wake up!” I touched his cheek and realized he was ice cold. I tried to lift him back onto the couch but he was too heavy. I rested him on the floor. I put my face to his face, to feel, smell or hear his breath. I instinctively crossed his arms onto his body. I covered him with his favorite blanket. I called 9-1-1.

    My entire life merged into a pinpoint in time. Like clay on a pottery wheel, serendipity had crafted me, every spin molding me perfectly for this singular moment.

    I reported to the police. I recalled for the medical officer. I telephoned my sister, Harry’s nephew, and his boss. It was a long night, a lonely morning, and the first day of the rest of my life without Harry.

  • 09

    WARNING: This may cause you to think deeply and give you reason to reconsider all things.

    I know that i know nothing.

    This is not imposter syndrome. This is known as the Socratic Paradox.

    Part and parcel of the Socratic Method, this type of philosophy became the foundation for 2,000 years of human knowledge.

    A 5th century b.c.e. philosopher from Athens, Greece, Socrates urged everyone to question everything. He was quoted to have said that the unexamined life was not worth living.

    Which is what entangled Socrates in his own dialectics.

    You see, his style of critical examination encouraged the youth to explore truth and reconsider tradition, culture and society.

    Ultimately… Socrates life didn’t end well.

    He was accused of impiety and corrupting the youth and sentenced to self-imposed death by Athenian law.