Tag Archives: Art

Do You Want to Dance? Or Do You Want to Dance?

Napoleon Dynamite dance

“What are you gonna do today, Napoleon?” “Whatever I feel like I wanna do. Gosh!” (Image/firstandmonday.com)

I’m probably a sucky dancer. Like, to people who evaluate dance quality.

When I was a little kid there were a lot of weddings to attend because my parents are from relatively large families. I remember my aunts trying to coax me onto the dance floor, but something about dancing in the center of the room with a bunch of people watching made me super-shy and I didn’t want to.

Eventually, they’d let me scurry off to do something else.

I got into school dances around 8th grade because then I was allowed to be close to a girl. High school dances were always fun. And by the time college rolled around, bottled Budweiser, the ice luge, and test-tube shots from the shot girls were more than enough to erase what little shyness existed during my social and physical prime. We be clubbin’. Yaeeyaae.

When I was the editor of my college newspaper, the president of the Black Student Union invited me as her date to the BSU homecoming dance. I was the only white person in the banquet hall. Despite having a dozen friends in the room, I still froze up pretty hard when she drug me out to the dance floor.

That was an opportunity to demonstrate courageousness in a life where I often hadn’t needed to. And I wasn’t up to it because I was worried about what everyone else was thinking.

Later, I ended up engaged and married to a competitive ballroom dancer who knew how to navigate dance floors of all types. She always wanted me to dance with her.

I did sometimes. But I mostly declined.

It was always about bravery. It was never rooted in not actually wanting to.

It was rooted in being judged by others and deemed inadequate. It was rooted in being judged by my partner and deemed unworthy.

3 Critical Dancing Tips That Aren’t Actually About Dancing

“I have spent all my life with dance and being a dancer. It’s permitting life to use you in a very intense way. Sometimes it is not pleasant. Sometimes it is fearful. But nevertheless it is inevitable.” – Martha Graham

1. It Doesn’t Matter What You Think

Your opinions regarding how good or bad you are at something couldn’t be less relevant. People are wrong all the time about most things. It’s because we’re not divine or psychic.

I stumbled on this excellent thing from Brian D. Buckley somehow several weeks ago, and loved it. In his post “You Do Not Even Have To Believe in Yourself” he recounts the story of famed dancer and choreographer Martha Graham who he learned about after clicking a Google Doodle honoring her.

He wrote this:

“The story goes that another artist came to Ms. Graham to talk about her own worries. She ‘confessed that [she] had a burning desire to be excellent, but no faith that [she] could be.’

“Martha’s response:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

“I love this because it removes entirely the idea that you might not be good enough.

“She’s not saying you are good enough, she’s simply saying it doesn’t matter. That variable isn’t part of the equation. There is art inside you that exists nowhere else, and you must bring it out, and that is all.

“This doesn’t mean you can be passive. You can’t wait for the Muse or your inner self to inspire you, nor can you merely dump your feelings on the page. Every art is a craft, and you are expected to forever push your skill to its limit. That’s what it means to ‘keep the channel open.’ And of course, keeping the channel open is tremendously difficult.

“But most artists – myself included – tend to make it even harder by piling worries and doubts on top of the work itself. Am I good enough? Will they like it? Will anyone remember this a year from now, or ten, or a hundred?

“None of that is your job. It isn’t part of the equation.”

2. It Isn’t Even About You

Mark Manson—a writer I admire very much—just published a new piece yesterday called “3 Important Life Skills Nobody Ever Taught You,” and it’s phenomenal.

I’m including two of the three here because they are must-share “dancing” lessons.

Because everything we have ever experienced or will ever experience involves ourselves, we mentally and emotionally treat EVERYTHING that happens to us as actually being about us.

“But here’s a newsflash: Just because you experience something, just because something causes you to feel a certain way, just because you care about something, doesn’t mean it’s about you,” Manson wrote.

But then he wrote the most-important thing I’ll read today, or possibly ever, and it speaks to the heart of why I was afraid of my wife thinking I was a shitty dancer, or hundreds of black students at a homecoming dance thinking I was a dorky white kid who needed to go back to the barnyard square dance where I belonged.

“When people criticize you or reject you, it likely has way more to do with them — their values, their priorities, their life situation — than it does with you,” Manson said. “I hate to break it to you, but other people simply don’t think about you that much (after all, they’re too busy trying to believe everything is about them).”

3. There’s Value in Doing Things Just Because We Can

You know how the internet and inspirational posters took the phrase “Dance like no one’s watching” and made it cliché, so now it’s lame to say even though it totally makes sense because we’ve all secretly danced by ourselves at home when no one was watching (except for our dead relatives and creepy binocular-using neighbors)?

You’re not dancing because you’re at a dance. Not to be close to a partner or find one after midnight on the dance floor. Not to win the approval of a bunch of peers who are clearly superior dancers to you, OR to win the approval of judges in a competition you want to win.

You’re doing it just because.

If someone wanted you to explain why, there might not be an answer.

I felt like it? Works for me.

Manson wrote that people need to learn how to take actions without knowing what the results might be.

“But most of life — that is, real life — doesn’t work this way. When you decide to change careers, there’s no one there telling you which career is right for you. When you decide to commit to someone, there’s no one telling you this relationship is going to make you happy. When you decide to start a business or move to a new country or eat waffles instead of pancakes for breakfast, there’s no way of knowing — for certain — if what you’re doing is ‘right’ or not,” Manson wrote. “And so we avoid it. We avoid making these decisions. We avoid moving and acting without knowing. And because we cannot act on what we don’t know, our lives become incredibly repetitive and safe.”

Paralysis by analysis is the saying, I think. Using the fear of the unknown to avoid taking any action at all.

I think that’s how we die in the suburbs after spending 35 years punching clocks, and where most nights were spent in the living-room recliner watching Law & Order and shit.

Some people may genuinely not want to do certain things.

Genuine things, authentic things, actual things—REAL THINGS—are always okay. Those things are truth.

But sometimes we pretend things are true that aren’t just because we’re afraid of something.

I think most of the time we pretend things are true because we’re afraid of change.

Because we don’t know what might happen next. Scary!

And maybe we’re not good enough. Our opinions don’t matter!

And maybe everyone will point and laugh and call us shitty dancers. Maybe she’ll stop wanting to kiss us. Their opinions matter less than ours.

So dance.

Maybe that means buy the plane ticket. Change careers. Buy the ring.

Maybe that means take a chance. Have an adventure. Start your family.

It doesn’t matter what the dance looks like, and it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks of it—not even you.

It only matters that you do it.

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Are You Paying Attention?

close up of dandelion seeds flower

(Image/Reference.com)

I think about how we treat the people and things that matter most.

The way we “Maybe later, kiddo” our children who want us to play with them, or want to capture our undivided attention while demonstrating something that’s important to them but maybe less so to us.

The way we deliver some snide comment during an argument to the person we profess to love while leaving the house in the morning before work.

The way we are totally oblivious to miracles like electric outlets, light switches, running water, indoor plumbing, safe neighborhoods, the mobile web, stocked pantries, ice cubes, appliances, motor vehicles and on-demand high-definition video.

We take creature comforts for granted until they’re unexpectedly unavailable.

If I’d somehow known one morning that it would be the last time I’d ever see or speak to my wife again, would I even think about saying some shitty thing I don’t really mean before driving off like a huffy prick? Would I even leave her side for a second? On the last day?

How many dismissive “Maybe later, kiddo”s are you dishing out if you know there’s no tomorrow for one or both of you?

Almost everyone is going to be more mindful of their priorities, the things they want to do and say, the people they want to be with, and how they want to be remembered if we all somehow knew: This Is The Last Day.

I don’t mean to be morbid.

But I think it’s obvious that we’re capable of focusing our attention on the things that matter most when we’re painfully motivated to.

And since people die unexpectedly every day, one wonders why we’re all so good at Blissful Unawareness with the frequency we are, but more importantly, with the most precious things in our lives.

Paying attention is hard. I feel ridiculous even typing that. But all I need to do to prove the point is remind you that breathing is just about the most critical and fundamental condition required to be alive, and deep, mindful, intentional breathing is a super-healthy thing to do mentally, physically, and spiritually, and many people know it.

But: When is the last time you were aware of your breathing?

We Have a Vision Problem

Or at least I do.

We have a nasty habit of only valuing things which interest or impress us, while dismissing the things and people who don’t.

My wife was passionate about marching band-related things. And I was a narrow-minded shit eater, so I would poke fun at it, acting as if the marching band high school or college kids’ interests and skills were somehow inferior to those of the football players I was there to watch and which interested me.

I wouldn’t stop there. If I was met with resistance, I’d walk everyone through my “irrefutable” logic about how football programs generate most of the athletic program money for both high schools and colleges, and how millions of people tune in to watch football games on television while not many people tune into marching band shows, even if there were such a thing.

I was right. Right?

You better not be nodding. I was totally NOT right. And even if there was a way to be “right” in an opinion-based argument, why would we exert energy shitting all over something that means so much to the people we love?

I think “Because we’re assholes” comes close to hitting the mark.

Maybe you think playing Pokémon GO, or studying backgammon, or pursuing careers in ballet, or commercial fishing, or comic book stores, or personal training, or music, or golf course design, or alternative health food stores, or laundromats is stupid, and so are all of the people who like those things.

I still accidentally judge things without fully understanding them. I accidentally do it when I’m not paying close enough attention.

We often don’t SEE things as they are.

Like the advanced gymnast or ballerina leaving the avid basketball fan unimpressed, even though the gymnastics feat or the ballet routine might have required more strength, discipline and athleticism than some great basketball play.

I watched Straight Outta Compton for the first time this weekend. It’s the story of how the rap group N.W.A. flipped popular music on its head in the late-1980s with raw, profanity-laced gangster rap that described daily life on the hard streets of Compton, Calif. for hip-hop legends Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E.

The movie was awesome if you can handle the graphic language and subject matter. I’m sure many people can’t. And I can understand why nearly 30 years ago, parents who love their children didn’t want them listening to young men lyrically celebrate gang violence while championing gratuitous sex and using worse language than George Carlin and Andrew Dice Clay.

How many times have you heard it (almost exclusively from white people)?: “Rap?! That’s not even real music!”

I’ll let musicians debate what is or is not music.

Perhaps a better question is: What is art?

Many people obsessed with Conway Twitty, Iron Maiden and Creedance Clearwater Revival went out of their way to lift up the music they love while tearing down this new thing that sounded, felt, and looked different.

I’m not asking people who love rock and country music to “like” rap music. People are allowed to like whatever they want, which is kind of the entire point.

I am suggesting that I think if we really SAW what these men did and do—mindfully—for what and why and how it was, maybe more of us would respect the artistic genius involved in sampling tracks and writing rhymes. Do the Rascal Flatts really have more talent than Method Man?

This idea of SEEING things as they are—with mindfulness—is important to me, and I think, should be to the world.

People see NASCAR racing on TV and they think it’s easy and boring because it’s just a bunch of people turning left over and over again, and since most of us drive cars, maybe we all secretly think we could do that too.

But when you see what a pack of 43 cars looks like with just a couple feet of room to the front, rear, and sides of them while screaming down a straightaway at 200 miles per hour, you really SEE what it is.

People see DJs playing music at a party or night club and they sometimes think it’s easy or unimpressive because it’s just some person playing other people’s music, and since most of us play other people’s music, maybe we all secretly think we could do that too.

But when you see what DJ AM could do to mash up musical genres, and transition from a rock track, to a hip-hop track, to an electronic house music track with flawless beat transitions, and making sure the final lyric in the previous song flowed seamlessly into the lyrics of the new song live with real vinyl records with a thousand-person audience, you begin to SEE the talent for what it is.

A lot of us don’t necessarily “like” things, but we grow to appreciate them because of some personal experience we have that helps us achieve perspective.

We don’t necessarily walk away loving poetry slams or the sport of hockey, but when we understand what something’s about—when we SEE them for what they really are—everything changes.

Value and appreciation rise. We treat things better. We enjoy life more because now there’s more to enjoy.

Sometimes I don’t pay attention to things, and then life problems emerge.

Sometimes I don’t pay attention to people, and then a bunch of things break—like homes and families.

Sometimes I don’t SEE a thing or a person or a situation or a talent or an opportunity or a lesson for what it really is.

I don’t see the miracles, nor respect the talents, nor appreciate the opportunities in front of me, and it’s not because I’m blind, or obtuse, or ungrateful.

If there was only a whisper: Pssst. Pay attention! THIS matters!, I think maybe I’d drop everything for a few extra minutes of laughter and joy with a little boy who’s growing up too fast, or that I would have during my marriage, or that I’d SEE others and their differences and life’s many opportunities as they really are.

But maybe the whispers are already there. Maybe it’s the tuning and listening that’s the problem.

You know—to the people closest to us.

The things that matter most.

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The Other Law of Attraction: Self-Worth and Gender Identity in a Mixed-Up World

What is this? Is it good? Bad? Valuable? Who gets to decide? (Artwork by Wassily Kandinsky)

What is this? Is it good? Bad? Valuable? Who gets to decide? (Artwork by Wassily Kandinsky)

What do women want?

I think many guys started kicking the question around long before possessing the intellectual capacity to connect those random and inconvenient erections to their sexuality.

What will make her like me?

Because that’s really important to us when we’re young. Is it because we like being liked? Is it because we like feeling accepted by another in a more intimate way than platonic friendship? Is it because we think it’s cool to have a girlfriend, and maybe our guy friends will respect us more, and the other girls will want us more?

But I think these are questions that, to varying degrees depending on an individual’s particular circumstances, men ask themselves constantly. I perceive the vast majority of (heterosexual) men, regardless of their relationship status, to crave the He’s Attractive to Me label from as many women as possible.

I believe we view it as a measure of our self-worth. That if women find us attractive, we’ve really accomplished something. Men have been known to crave financial success, social status, material accumulation, career advancement, fame or recognition, respect, achievement in athletics or other competitive ventures, and physical fitness.

There are MANY good and virtuous reasons to crave some or all of those things.

But I think when we scrape off all the Pretending, we’ll discover that the ultimate motivation is usually: “I want women to think of me as attractive and want me, sexually. Because that’s what will most improve my status and standing in the eyes of others. And what other people think of me is very important and influences all of my decisions.”

What do men want, and what will make him like me?

I don’t know how girls commonly experience this attraction/social/sexual awakening, nor how much they value what boys want and why, nor to what extent that carries through to adulthood.

But there appears to be little room for doubt that most women share, while perhaps framed differently and motivated by different wants or needs, men’s cravings for romantic and/or sexual interest, and care intensely about how others perceive them.

Is Beauty REALLY in the Eye of the Beholder?

If you don’t get obnoxious with the spiritual meaning of the proverb as I just did, I really like it. “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” is an adage made famous by the philosopher Plato, or William Shakespeare, or author Margaret Wolfe Hungerford, depending on which random internet source you believe.

The phrase suggests that beauty cannot be judged objectively, for what one person considers beautiful, admirable, interesting, or valuable, will not necessarily appeal to another person.

But its spiritual meaning is that everyone gets to decide for themselves what’s awesome or not-awesome. It means our children’s objectively shitty grade school artwork is more beautiful and meaningful to us than something offered from the fine arts community. It means that mangy rescue hound from the shelter missing his right eye and which walks with a limp looks more beautiful to its owner who adopted him than all those fancy-pants dogs prancing around at the Westminster Dog Show.

And I like that.

But, it has a kind-of dark side, too. One which makes me really uncomfortable because it’s part of The Big Secret Lie most of us buy into, and which seems to cause the majority of our mental and emotional problems in adulthood (which are at the very core of all of our relationship problems—exacerbating all of the rejection, self-worth, anxiety and mental health issues which wreak havoc on our relationships and families, ultimately perpetuating the Cycle of Horribleness).

In the framework of human worth and attractiveness, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then that STILL means that other people have the power to define what is and is not attractive. It means other people have the power to determine another person’s worth. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then that means other people get to tell us who and what we are.

If Person X finds you beautiful, but Person Y labels you ugly, are you beautiful or ugly?

If Person X finds you worthy, but Person Y says you’re unworthy, are you worthy or unworthy?

If Person X says you matter, and Person Y says you don’t, do you matter?

Who Gets to Tell Us Who and What We Are?

There is a fantastic conversation happening beneath the Our Marriage is a Steam Train post about how we define what is masculine or feminine, and to what extent men struggle with their identities RE: Being a Real Man.

Active commenter Travis wrote: “Frankly, I don’t think we’d have the common stereotype of ‘women love bad boys’ if men who exercised their muscles of emotional investment and accepting influence were what they really hungered for.”

Lisa G. wrote: “I remember reading about experiments where a woman was crying in a public place and several people stopped and asked if she was ok. Then they repeated it with a man and no one stopped, they even looked away. It’s all so horribly depressing the messages we give men to not be allowed to express a full range of human emotions.”

Another from Travis which really gets to the heart of the matter: “I found… a fair amount of scientific studies that support my assertion that women are repelled by men who display the very same ‘nice, sweet, sensitive, vulnerable’ characteristics they say they want in us.”

He shared Elite Daily’s 5 Scientific Reasons Why Women Just Won’t Go For The Nice Guys, which I suspect will, in some form or fashion, ring true for most readers.

Are women genetically hard-wired to want assholes because so-called Nice Guys are boring?

I’m staying away from pretending I know a thing about biological science.

More importantly? I don’t think it matters.

Why? Let me ask it again: Who gets to tell us who and what we are?

RE: Attraction

We are attracted to whatever we are naturally attracted to.

People commonly accept or reject the romantic or sexual interest of others based on two things, one of which is natural attraction and perceived compatibility, and the other which is based on what we perceive others’ opinions to be about those choices.

In other words, you like whatever you like for whatever reasons you like them. Who knows why? You just know it when you feel it.

That’s primal.

But you make deliberate choices about personal traits you consider attractive based on a different set of criteria. Ideally, our long-term partner will foster feelings of primal-want within us, but we’re attracted to so many more things.

As adults, those are ideally rooted in shared values and mutually respectful boundary enforcement so your life doesn’t suck.

But people are ALSO attractive or unattractive to us based on that little nagging voice in the back of our minds. What will my friends think? What will my parents think? What will my extended family think? What will my co-workers think?

Psychologically and emotionally healthy people with strong boundaries don’t make decisions like that, of course. But most of us do.

I know personally at least three men who dated or married women (one started a family!) only to later divorce after coming out as gay, and then living as an openly gay man thereafter.

I won’t pretend to know every thought that went through these guys’ heads when they made the choice to couple with women, but one assumes it was done in the spirit of “What will everyone think of me?!”

KNOW THYSELF

Not to go even further down the nerd rabbit hole than usual, but it dawned on me within the past year or two that I’d misinterpreted a scene in one of my favorite movies for the past 15 years.

In The Matrix, the story’s hero Neo walks into a kitchen where he is to meet a spiritual guide of sorts. She is known as The Oracle. Neo has been told he is someone very important. The prophecies refer to him as “The One.” But he feels just like a regular guy. He has the power to save the world, he is told. But he can’t figure out how or even whether to believe it. The Oracle is supposed to help him achieve The One status.

He and The Oracle lady exchange pleasantries, and then she asks him the question which begins an exchange I spent years not understanding despite many repeated viewings.

Oracle: “So, what do you think? Do you think you’re The One?”

Neo: “I don’t know.”

The Oracle points above the door Neo used to walk into the kitchen. It looks like this:

photo-mat_temetnosce

Oracle: “You know what that means? It’s Latin. Means ‘Know thyself’. I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Being The One is just like being in love. No one can tell you you’re in love, you just know it. Through and through. Balls to bones.”

She kind of gives him a little once-over, looking inside his mouth like a doctor would a patient in a basic check-up.

And then they have this exchange:

Oracle: “Okay, now I’m supposed to say, ‘Hmmm, that’s interesting, but…’ then you say…”

Neo: “But what?”

Oracle: “But, you already know what I’m going to tell you.”

Neo: “I’m not The One.”

Oracle: “Sorry, kid. You got the gift, but it looks like you’re waiting for something.”

Neo: “What?”

Oracle: “Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That’s the way these things go.”

Spoiler alert: Neo is totally The One.

So why did The Oracle say he wasn’t? Was she high on crack?

I just never thought about it correctly. I have a real problem with that sometimes. About everything. Maybe lots of people do.

When it’s later revealed that Neo is, in fact, the badass with world-saving abilities, he’s as confused about it as I was.

But it’s cleared up for him, and the simple answer cuts to the heart of this discussion on attraction and gender identity, and how much or how little others should be able to define us.

No one can tell you who you are.

Am I Good Enough?

That’s the very question on which this blog was founded.

When you love your spouse and want to stay married, but they would rather suffer the many consequences of divorce more than live with you even one more day, you lose your very sense of identity.

To be sure, our spouse’s opinion of us should probably rank higher than that of others or what we assume society at large believes we should be.

I think the conversation about what men and women find attractive, and how society judges men and women relative to stereotypical standards, and how that ultimately damages our interpersonal relationships is a worthwhile conversation.

Until men are allowed to be vulnerable without facing sexual rejection, how can we expect men en masse to pursue emotional intelligence in this macro fight against dysfunctional relationship dynamics?

We probably can’t.

But, as individuals?

Not all men or women. Just one.

Just me.

Just you.

Who gets to tell you who you are?

Because in my battles with insecurity, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy as the clock wound down on my marriage, and then in my dating struggles as I carried all that baggage into single adulthood, I was asking all of the wrong questions.

Am I smart enough?

Am I handsome enough?

Am I rich enough?

Am I funny enough?

Am I talented enough?

Am I tall enough?

Or, more simply…

Am I good enough at [insert whatever thing here]? Am I worthy of her attraction?

I’ve been doing this for three years.

In the first year, I wasn’t good enough. Because I knew that I wasn’t.

In the second year, I wasn’t good enough. Because I didn’t think I was.

In the third year, I discovered that I am, indeed, good enough. Because I know that I am.

Like I KNOW that you are.

And if you don’t know it too, then I guess you’re not good enough, even though I already know that you are.

What are you waiting for? Your next life, maybe. Who knows? That’s the way these things go.

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The Eye of the Beholder

“La Lecture” by Pablo Picasso

Little-known secret: I’m not particularly cultured or well-educated.

Sorry to disappoint you.

I mean, I have some refined tastes and I’m well-mannered when you’re not the shitty driver next to me I just muttered murderous things to from the safety of my vehicle.

But I don’t know about things I should know about.

I have a reasonably high IQ, so I can learn things quickly and fake people out. But because I committed most of my youth to athletic pursuits and wasted almost all of my reading and viewing hours on fictional escapism, I’m now more ignorant than a person who writes things as often as I do, and is raising a human being, should be.

I think we can all agree our Trivia Crack percentages paint a pretty distinct picture of our education and should be listed on our resumes. Yes, I’m ashamed that while I win the vast majority of my games due to my nearly 9-out-of-10 correct answers in Sports and Entertainment, my scores in Geography (79%), History (77%), Science (77%), and Art (76%), leave something to be desired.

What kind of a fraudulent writer gets 25 percent of his questions wrong in the Art category? This guy.

You see, I’m guilty of wanting to be the guy at parties that knows everything about everything, but I’m evidently not willing to put in the work to do so.

I love film.

But I’ve never seen Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, or The Shining. But I’ve watched Back to the Future and Office Space and Terminator 2 a combined 14 million times.

I love music.

But I’m not obsessed with Elvis or The Beatles (though I acknowledge their greatness), and I don’t really get why everyone loves Bob Dylan and The Clash. I dig The Doors and Robert Johnson and Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones, but I almost never play their albums over the new music I get so much joy out of discovering and sharing.

I love books.

But I’ve read so little of Twain and Orwell and Salinger and Hemingway and Dickinson and Vonnegut that I literally feel shame when I think about how much I’ve ignored the best at what I aspire to do. I just always liked reading Dean Koontz and John Grisham and Michael Connelly novels so much, I never stopped until I was old enough to gravitate to non-fiction.

Am I wrong, or bad, or dumb for making those choices?

I don’t know. Maybe.

What does it mean that I know Chandler’s last name on Friends and the specific date Marty travels back to in Back to the Future and that I’m close to a walking encyclopedia on the Chicago Bulls of the Michael Jordan years, but that I’ve never read The Catcher in the Rye or Fahrenheit 451?

What does it mean that I generally prefer cinema to stage performance, and photography to oil on canvas?

I started thinking about cars.

About fashion.

About architecture.

About food.

About wine.

About politics.

About religion.

Ask a hundred people about those things, and it’s almost certain no two people will align exactly.

Heidi Klum married Seal and I was like, what the-!?

Emmy Rossum married Adam Duritz and I was like, what the-!?

Tom Arnold married Roseanne Barr and I was like, what the-!?

But maybe there’s nothing to understand.

Maybe trying to is a big waste of time.

There are people who want to live in desert mountain caves and kill people who don’t agree with them because they believe in different versions of the same story.

I don’t understand why they wouldn’t rather be nice to people and attend fun parties on Saturday and hang out on the beach and go to a great concert and watch a ballgame on television more than blow something up. But they wish I was dead, so it doesn’t matter that I don’t get it.

Kim Kardashian is the most popular person on Twitter. Her stepdad is now a woman.

So is one of the Wachowski brothers.

I adore this painting by Pablo Picasso.

I don’t like the one above at all.

But I bet most art fans do.

Just like most music fans love The Clash.

Just like most literature fans have read the classics.

Just like most film buffs have seen Casablanca.

Whatever I am needs to be okay. Whatever I am IS okay. I secretly think all the things I like are better than all the things you like, but I’ve learned enough to finally understand that input gets filtered and measured so differently from human to human.

The diversity should be celebrated because it’s anything from boring.

Maybe so long as no one’s getting hurt, we just let people be themselves, no matter what.

We know what we know. Love what we love. Want what we want.

And most of the time, there isn’t any “right” or “wrong” attached to it. It just is.

Every day more things are created. More things to get to know and love and want.

Things you get to make and put out there.

Things I get to make and put out there.

And not everyone is going to get it or love it or want it.

But some will.

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The Human Mosaic

mosaic tiles

“I love pizza.”

“I love pizza, too! It’s my favorite!”

“What’s your favorite kind?”

“Deep dish with white sauce and chicken, tomato and spinach!”

“Wait. What? That’s barely even pizza.”

“Of course it’s pizza. I get it from pizza makers. What’s your favorite kind?”

“Normal stuff! Pepperoni. Sausage. Mushroom. Extra cheese. Tomato sauce. New York-style crust, preferably.”

“Sausage? Thin crust? Gross!”

A couple of human beings with a shared passion. And still disagreeing.

One of the worst things about me is my ability to make people feel like I don’t respect them when my personal tastes differ from theirs.

It might even be why I’m not married anymore.

Because my perfectly intelligent wife couldn’t flip through TV stations and pause on 16 and Pregnant or some other morally bankrupt show without me making some snide comment about it that made her feel like I didn’t respect her.

Because everything I do is so smart and righteous!!! Excuse me while I drink too much and air hump something, puke in the bathroom, and play Grand Theft Auto V all morning while I recover from the hangover.

I’m such an asshole sometimes.

“I love music.”

“I love music, too! It’s my favorite!”

“What’s your favorite band?”

“I mostly listen to whatever is popular on the radio!”

“…”

“What!?”

“I love peanut butter.”

“I love peanut butter, too! It’s my favorite!”

“Crunchy or creamy?”

“Creamy, of course!”

“God.”

“I love wine.”

“I love wine, too! It’s my favorite! What’s your favorite kind?”

“I like many wines, but lean heavily toward dry reds.”

“Ohhh. You’re one of ‘those’! I like sweet wines!”

“Like boxed white zin?”

“Yes!”

“God.”

I wonder why it is that so many of us have so much trouble accepting that other people have radically different tastes and points of view, then embracing and acknowledging that it’s not only okay, but preferable to everyone liking the exact same things.

“I love God and want to go to heaven!”

“I love God and want to go to heaven, too! Also I’m gay and pro-choice.”

“Burn in hell, sinner.”

Why do we fight it? Politics? Is that why? The political arena is a useful place for healthy debate and exchanging ideas. But out here, where 99 percent of us live, why do we treat people like shit because they voted for the other guy in the last election?

If an asteroid was going to destroy the planet tomorrow, I wonder how many people would care about who voted for who.

“I love reading.”

“I love reading, too! It’s my favorite!”

“What do you like to read?”

“French poetry, biographies, and romance novels. Want to borrow a book?”

“…”

We’re all different. But we’re all the same, too. We all have different interests and passions and beliefs.

Many people like sports! But golf fans don’t have much to discuss with auto racing fans. Soccer fans don’t have much to discuss with baseball fans.

Many people like sex! But straight people don’t like the same things as gay people. And the things that make one person feel good can feel like a violation to another.

Many people love beer and movies and food and clothes and dancing and charitable causes and writing and pets and an infinite number of other things.

Hobbies and passions that unite massive amounts of people. Yet, even within those groups of common interests, there are people with radically different tastes and opinions about what is “right” or what is “best.”

People knew it was okay to enslave African people like property and treat them shitty.

People knew if they hijacked airplanes and flew them into buildings that they would die martyrs and be rewarded in heaven.

People knew the world was flat and that the sun revolved around the earth.

People knew Y2K was going to cripple the world’s infrastructure.

People knew Bill Cosby was a good man.

People know they’re right and people who disagree are wrong. The people who are wrong know they’re right.

Maybe nobody really knows anything. And maybe thinking we do is holding us back from being the best versions of ourselves.

Maybe creamy peanut butter is actually better than extra crunchy peanut butter.

Maybe popular music is actually awesome. After all, it’s popular!

Maybe people who don’t like craft beer actually still like beer.

Maybe people who prefer white pizza actually do qualify as pizza lovers.

Maybe we’re always just too close to the mosaic to see what everything really looks like from the big-picture perspective. To see why that piece is here and that piece is there. And why they’re all different shapes and sizes and colors.

Step back and look.

A little bit further.

There.

Beautiful.

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The Level Playing Field

typewriter

I will never be able to run faster than Usain Bolt or swim faster than Michael Phelps.

I will never be as intelligent as Neil deGrasse Tyson or Stephen Hawking.

I will never throw a football as well as Peyton Manning or dunk a basketball like LeBron James.

I lack the physical prowess, mental aptitude and genetic resources necessary to be a great athlete or a genius astrophysicist.

But I look down at these keys I punch expertly like an old pro: 26 letters, 10 numbers and a handful of symbols.

That’s it.

That’s all there is.

And my fingers dance. A beautiful sound I fell in love with during my days in the newsroom. An orchestra of tapping. The sound of a thousand word choices being made simultaneously in the great exchange of ideas.

One of my biggest childhood regrets is that I never learned how to play an instrument. I’ve owned two guitars, pianos and keyboards, and a full drum set. And other than some average-at-best trumpet playing in middle school, I’ve never been able to make music—something I love very much.

I have a mother and sister who are both very talented, musically.

I wish I’d inherited those same gifts.

Equal Opportunity – Since 1878

The modern QWERTY standard keyboard has been around since 1878. I once made the keyboard a metaphor for dating after divorce. It totally worked.

That’s how long everyone has had to get to know these keys: 136 years.

I haven’t taken any polls, but my guess is there is a higher percentage of proficient typists living in 2014 than there’s ever been given that so much of our time is spent in front of computers or mobile devices all using the same keys.

I just look at it. It’s simple genius. My brain completely ill-equipped to understand how I’m able to punch all these keys in exactly the right order to make each sentence. Endless possibility. That’s what this device represents. A world without limits.

This is the keyboard used by William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe and the New Testament Gospel writers. (Just kidding.)

But it WAS used by Mark Twain. By George Orwell and Hunter S. Thompson. By Charles Bukowski and Jack Kerouac. By Ernest Hemingway.

It was also used by Mark Zuckerberg to create Facebook. By Bill Gates to create Microsoft. By Larry Page and Sergey Brin to create Google.

Just look at the keys in front of you.

Punch these buttons one way, and you have Not-So-Bright-Internet-Message-Board Guy: “wtf your a idiot every moran know the knicks goin all teh way !!!!!111!!!!11!!!”

Punch them another and you end up with my drivel.

But somewhere in that endless sea of possibilities is the perfect combination of keystrokes. The perfect combination of words that make magic. That change lives. That introduce new ideas. That will pen the next Oscar-winning film. That will earn the TV news anchor her first Emmy. That will win the Noble Prize for literature.

And you don’t have to be the strongest. Or the fastest. Or the smartest. Or the best. You just need to have the keyboard and be brave enough to tap it. Disciplined enough to rewrite. And courageous enough to ship it.

You might even rescue someone 1,000 miles away.

The internet has made it easy. And we have no more excuses.

You have a song to write that will stir our insides.

An idea to share that can help change the world.

A story to tell that might save a life.

Everyone uses the same keyboard. No advantages. The same keyboard. The world’s greatest achievers. Using this exact same tool. What might be possible?

I was wrong.

I am a musician.

This keyboard, my instrument.

Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap.

A glorious symphony.

Calling you. Calling me.

Go create.

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Misunderstood: The Rule of Thirds

Billions. More people than we can even imagine. And, given the opportunity, they will love you. We should focus on them.

Billions. More people than we can even imagine. And, given the opportunity, they will love you. We should focus on them.

My younger sister, a talented musician and vocalist, is afraid to write and share original music because she’s afraid of rejection.

“What if people think it’s bad?” she said, when I pressed her on why she’s not writing new material.

A Grammy-winning musician who teaches at the university she planned to attend after high school was making promises to her.

He was going to assemble the finest musicians he knew to play her music in studio.

He was going to get her studio time in Los Angeles and a record deal.

He was going to do all kinds of things for her.

Open doors. Grant opportunity.

But then he didn’t. He didn’t do any of the things he said he was going to do. And now my sister feels like she failed. Because the gatekeeper didn’t hold up his end of the bargain. Because she’s waiting for permission to create her art.

“You don’t need permission to make what you love,” I told her. “Make it and share it. Good art will always be found and shared.”

You can see the doubt. The fear.

It’s the same look I have when I make excuses for… anything. It’s because I’m afraid too. It’s because I don’t know whether I’m good enough.

At writing. At work. At being a father. At being someone’s romantic partner.

“Have you heard of the Rule of Thirds?” I asked her.

She hadn’t.

As I explained it, I realized that the Rule of Thirds applies to more than just art.

That all of us are misunderstood. By someone. By our partners. By our parents. By our children. By our friends. By our co-workers. By our supporters. By our critics.

We Are All Misunderstood

By someone.

It’s because we’re the only species of which I’m aware in which two of us can look at the exact same thing and describe it completely differently.

Did she leave him for someone else? Or did he drive her into the arms of another?

Is that same-sex couple’s union an abomination? Or an example of love and courage in its purest form?

Was that deadly attack an act of terrorism—of pure evil? Or an instance of patriotism and the pursuit of justice?

Sometimes it can be as simple as words on a page. One sentence.

Without visual cues. Without tone of voice. Without knowing how the other person felt when they wrote the sentence, we apply how we’re feeling in a particular moment to fill in the knowledge gap. To apply meaning (that’s probably only correct a third of the time) to the sentence.

Relationships break over this type of misunderstanding all the time.

The Rule of Thirds

The rule exists to help artists understand and deal with criticism, but I really think we all need it as people to understand that the world does not see us as we see ourselves. Sometimes, that’s good. Othertimes, it’s bad.

Here’s the rule:

With anything you do or create, one third of people will love it (or you); one third will hate it (or you), and the remaining third won’t care at all.

This is an idea worth embracing, because there are a lot of people out there like me who aren’t very thick-skinned and who have an unhealthy desire to be liked and accepted by everyone.

I might get 40 nice comments on a post, but once in a while someone will let me have it, and I tend to focus on, and feel shitty about, that one comment. Should I ever expand beyond the WordPress bubble, I imagine this will get infinitely worse.

Most people I meet and know seem to like me. Maybe they mean it. Maybe they are being fake. I guess I don’t care as long as they don’t make me feel bad.

But there are others who clearly don’t like me.

Why does this person over here think I’m so nice and makes me feel cared for and respected, while this other person makes me feel like the lowest form of pond scum imaginable?

There are people who think I’m a shitty writer.

Why do these people over here think I’m special and talented while these other people think I’m worthless?

Should we spend our time trying to convince all the people who don’t like, respect or appreciate us, that they’re wrong?

That seems like a colossal waste of energy.

Because the truth is that one third of people are always going to think you suck. Let them.

Another third won’t pay any attention at all. I don’t pay attention to all kinds of things. How can I fault them for that?

Then there’s that last group.

The people who save our lives.

Make Things For One Person (Or 2.4 Billion)

In your artistic pursuits, everyone has one raving fan.

In your life, you have the equivalent of that.

So, maybe we need to be making things for that person. Living for that person.

Maybe we should be making things for the third in our corner. Maybe we should be living for those people.

There are people in my life who think I walk on water. People who tell me I’m their favorite writer. People who think I’m smart and kind and worth something.

Why not live for them? Why not write for them?

People will doubt us. Hate us. Tell us that we think, feel and do things that we actually do not think, feel or do.

People will tell us we’re bad.

That our work has no merit.

That we’re not good enough.

That our honest efforts toward love, friendship, and living a life geared toward constant improvement is something else entirely. That it’s dishonest. That it’s selfish.

We all have critics. Sometimes, harsh ones.

People who will never change their minds. Because they won’t. Or because they can’t.

The results are the same either way.

I know I can’t please everyone. Even people I really want to.

My best isn’t good enough.

It never will be.

And that’s just going to have to be okay.

There are about 7.25 billion people on this planet. One third of them are going to think I’m a stupid asshole. One third of them will never, ever care, no matter what I’m doing.

But that last third?

They’re going to love me.

They’re going to love you.

That’s 2.4 billion people.

People who will think you’re amazing just the way you are.

People who believe we’re more than what we think we are.

Wow. 2.4 billion.

That’s a lot of people to reach.

We better get started.

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The Catch-22

remember-to-breathe

Chest heaving, tears running down my face, the words pour out of me.

I couldn’t hold them in if I wanted to.

It’s compulsory.

Involuntary.

It just happens.

I recently revisited Charles Bukowski’s brilliant So you want to be a writer?” 

“if it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it.

unless it comes unasked out of your heart and your mind and your mouth and your gut, don’t do it.

if you have to sit for hours staring at your computer screen or hunched over your typewriter searching for words, don’t do it.

if you’re doing it for money or fame, don’t do it.

if you’re doing it because you want women in your bed, don’t do it.

if you have to sit there and rewrite it again and again, don’t do it.

if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it, don’t do it.

if you’re trying to write like somebody else, forget about it.”

After some more awesome in the middle, he finishes with…

“when it is truly time,

and if you have been chosen,

it will do it by

itself and it will keep on doing it

until you die or it dies in you.

 

there is no other way.

 

and there never was.”

Yes.

I want to be a writer.

And that doesn’t mean I just want to spew a bunch of words onto your screen.

It means I want to help you feel something.

Not sadness. Not anger. Not fear.

Even though I appreciate people’s empathy.

But rather, amusement.

Curiosity and wonder.

Hope.

Uh-Oh

This entire process has been a journey of healing. Of self discovery. The pursuit of happiness.

I’m seeking purpose. Opportunity. Healthiness.

I crave connection, laughter, fun.

And that’s all coming back. It’s working.

As the dark clouds of divorce dissipate, I sometimes get a glimpse of tomorrow.

There is more smiling. More comfort. More peace.

And that’s all well and good. It’s what I’ve wanted more than anything for more than two years.

But there’s a casualty.

My writing.

Because life after divorce is my muse. Fear, anger and sadness—my fuel.

And things are better now.

My life has improved.

So, naturally, I’ve created a new problem for myself.

Shit. Now what do I write?

And now I sometimes don’t know what to say. I wrote about Subway the other day, for God’s sake. I don’t particularly like Subway. But that’s what I’ve been reduced to.

That can’t be who I am. The guy who writes about Subway. I don’t want to be him.

My rule has always been: Write what’s on my mind. And when important human stuff—the inside stuff; the stuff that really matters—is at the forefront of everything I do and feel, that’s a good thing.

But I can’t be forcing it like that Subway post. That’s what me forcing it looks like. The sort of thing that makes Bukowski turn in his grave.

These words. These sentences. They’ll never be for everyone. They’ll never even be for most.

They’ll be for kindred spirits.

People who want to feel.

People who want to think.

People who want to grow.

People who don’t want to settle. People who believe there’s more to life than this. That pain and anger and sadness will not define our futures.

That’s what this is supposed to be about.

I still want to laugh. I still want to have fun. In fact, I need those things.

But mostly this needs to be about taking an honest look at ourselves. And asking the difficult questions. And taking responsibility for the choices we’ve made that brought us here. And making promises to ourselves to make better choices today because tomorrow doesn’t have to be like yesterday.

We don’t have to hurt. Or be afraid.

Yet, we do hurt. Yet, we are afraid.

I’m scared every day of running out of things to say. Of disappointing someone.

Of disappointing you.

Yes, you.

Or worse, not mattering at all.

The Blogosphere and Self-Doubt

The longer I do this, the more I notice.

I see the writers doing what I want to do. Being who I want to be. Geniuses. Artists.

The keyboard, their microphone.

The internet, their stage.

Am I good enough? To play in the same game?

My personal insecurities about my real life poisoning my happy place.

If my son’s mother won’t keep me, who will have me?

How will I meet people? When? Ever?

Who?

Why?

Where did all my confidence go? I know I used to have a bunch laying around here somewhere.

I’m not a genius. I’m a B+ guy who has to work hard for an A, and is lazy enough to get a C.

I’m not an artist. I just get mistaken for one by people with liberal definitions of what that word means.

I’ve been afraid of this for a while. I’ve written about it before. Writer’s block. But those fears have surfaced again, stronger and harder than before, as sadness and anger have given way to new fears and anxieties.

You see, I’m not afraid to hit ‘Publish’ when my sadness outweighs my fear. When my anger is more pronounced than my anxiety.

In fact, I can hardly help it. Writing just happens.

Maybe I can overcome them.

The fears. The insecurities.

Maybe I can shed them completely.

Or maybe I can tap into them for fuel once again.

Because the mind is extraordinarily powerful.

Even mine.

The Self-Inflicted Wounds

I still feel it sometimes. The pain.

I just hide it better now. Smile more now. Laugh more now.

Cry less now.

I still feel it when my young son wants me to stand at the window and wave goodbye to what used to be my entire world driving away in the opposite direction.

I still feel it when I drive by the hospital where my wife met the man she was with when she left.

I still feel it when I conjure up these moments.

Intentionally.

To just… feel.

I wish you could feel it, too. If only for a moment.

It’s happening now.

Horribleness on demand. Only muted.

A surge of anger where there used to be rage.

A tinge of sadness where there used to be breakdowns.

My body still tenses. My smile disappears. My eyes narrow. My stomach tightens. My teeth clench. My swallowing becomes more difficult.

That’s when I forget to breathe.

Remember to breathe.

In.

Then just a bit more.

Then, pause.

Then, out.

To keep those dark clouds moving.

To stay alive.

Isn’t that where inspiration lives?

Isn’t that where real stories live?

In life?

Breathe in.

Then just a bit more.

Pause.

Then, out.

Stay alive.

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Writer’s Block

I need this to matter. For someone. Because I don't know how to write for just me. That might make me vain. It definitely makes me needy.

I need this to matter. For someone. Because I don’t know how to write for just me. That might make me vain. It definitely makes me needy.

I lose sleep over it.

Writer’s block.

Because this project matters to me. Other than my son and job, I don’t dedicate energy to anything like I do this.

I’ve grown to love it. I might even need it.

As more people begin to pay attention—some I know, most I don’t—the pressure mounts. To punch these keys in such a way that provides value for those of you kind enough to read.

And that right there—is where I try to stop myself.

Because my goal here has always been to simply work through this unexpected new reality in which I find myself.

Divorced.

Alone.

Scared.

Depressed.

My journal. To explore who I was, who I am, and who I want to be.

And if telling these stories—stories told with honesty—can help just one human being feel better about themselves or rethink their life choices a little bit, I’ll have done something meaningful.

It’s a wonderful fringe benefit of being honest with myself—having people tell me that these stories matter to them. That honesty matters.

I feel a little better about my life each day now.

I credit friends and family.

I credit God.

I credit time.

I credit you.

I credit this.

What Is This Thing?

And now this exists. This… thing. This place where I write. I don’t know what it is. I don’t know what it can be. I don’t know what I want it to be. But I know it needs fed.

And I know I want it to matter.

I want it to be relevant.

I want it to be cathartic. To write and to read.

I want it to entertain. And inform.

A small, positive contribution to humanity, regardless of how many people ever see it or ever care.

I just need one.

Just one shitty husband to change his life—to actively choose to love his wife and save his family.

Just one lost soul lying to herself and everyone around her to start choosing honesty. To choose the truth and feel freedom free from the shackles of living a lie. To really start to feel alive—outside the shadows, with nothing to hide.

Just one young man to learn from the sins of my past and build a strong foundation with the girl he loves to create something lasting. A relationship that will produce beautiful little children who will get to find out what family is supposed to look and feel like. The blueprint for marital success. So that they may grow up making positive choices and being part of generations of people who contribute positively to this planet.

It only takes one. One brave person to influence somebody so profoundly that this new person develops the courage to do the same.

The ripples take effect. And good spreads.

I’m not strong enough or smart enough or credible enough to be the influencer. I don’t know a goddamn thing about what it takes to be a good person, or the meaning of life, or what happens after we die, or how to feel peace when you lay down at night.

I’m an absolute failure at marriage and at always doing the right thing even when no one’s watching.

But I AM brave enough to try. To shine a little light on my skeletons. To try to reach that person who IS strong enough to instill change in their life and the lives of others.

In the hopes that some other husband doesn’t lose his family. That some wife doesn’t have to be afraid. That some innocent children aren’t poisoned by the anger they had no part in creating.

I’ll never know. And that’s okay. Because I have a good imagination. And that’s my fantasy. That one story can make a difference for one person who can REALLY make a difference.

Now What am I Supposed to Write About?

Before, there was scandal. Sex. Drama. Anger. And sadness.

I actually cried writing at least three of these posts. Maybe more.

I understand why people read that stuff.

But, what now?

As the scandal fades. As my anger fades. As I transition from Total Freakout Spaz to Typical Divorced Single Dad Guy, is any of this going to matter?

What will I write about?, I wonder.

I’m scared to lose whatever relevance this has.

Things will come to me.

Old, embarrassing stories. Things I remember from my marriage that are applicable to the idea that we all need to be giving more and taking less.

New stories about dating whenever I get around to trying that again.

Stories about my son as he continues to grow and evolve and experience life and the human condition now that he’s being exposed to all of the challenges that school brings—academically, socially, spiritually.

Even though I want this to be a healing mechanism for me—a way to grow as a human and as a writer—I’m absolutely guilty of wanting to keep you.

I don’t know how to write for nobody. And I don’t want to know what that looks and feels like.

I wrote once about The Fear of Losing What We Love.

And now I’m afraid to lose you. To lose this. Because this is the first and only good thing to happen to me as a direct result of my wife leaving.

Now, I feel like I need you.

I’m going to write a bunch of self-indulgent crap once in a while. I think this may even be self-indulgent crap. But it is sincere.

I’m going to write a bunch of nonsense once in a while. I’m nothing if not juvenile. But I want this to be bigger than that. (*wink*)

I’m afraid of so many things in this world. Some big. Some small.

And that fear is paralyzing. It prevents us from trying.

This—the words on this screen—is me trying.

This is what I know. All I know.

And I hope it’s enough.

Not for me. I’m never satisfied.

Not for everybody. I’m just not tall enough.

But for one.

Just one.

Maybe it’s you.

Hi.

I need you.

And so does everyone else.

Go be great.

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