Tag Archives: 2014

Xena, Arizona Ranger

The other day I was listening to Marty Robbins, as I do now and again (after all, the man’s voice is like gelato, creamy and smooth). Specifically, the song Big Iron. Songs often influence, or interweave with, my writing. This song makes me think of the main protagonist of my WIP, who is a ranger, though not quite like the Rangers of the Old West, idealized or otherwise; not entirely unlike them, either.

The thing is, my ranger-protagonist is a woman. She’s not a gun-slinger, partly because her distance-vision is terrible, but mostly because there aren’t any guns in her world. However, I can definitely see her hunting down an outlaw and taking no prisoners.

So, on impulse, I stopped the music and began to re-sing the song to myself with the ranger being female. Then, when I reached the part about the outlaw, he became a woman, too. The result follows.

“Big Iron,” by Marty Robbins, altered lyrics in red.

To the town of Agua Fria rode a stranger one fine day,
Hardly spoke to folks around her, didn’t have too much to say.
No one dare to ask her business, no one dared to make a slip,
The stranger there among them had a big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

It was early in the mornin when she rode into the town.
She came ridin from the south side, slowly looking all around.
She’s an outlaw, loose and runnin,” came the whisper from each lip,
“And she’s here to do some business with the big iron on her hip,”
Big iron on her hip.

In this town there lived an outlaw by the name of Texas Red.
Many folks had tried to take her, and that many folks were dead.
She was vicious and a killer, though a girl of twenty-four,
And the notches on her pistol numbered one and nineteen more,
One and nineteen more.

Now the stranger started talkin, made it plain to folks around,
Was an Arizona Ranger, wouldn’t be to long in town.
She came here to take an outlaw back alive, or maybe dead,
And she said it didn’t matter, she was after Texas Red,
After Texas Red.

Wasn’t long before the story was relayed to Texas Red,
But the outlaw didn’t worry, those that tried before were dead.
Twenty folks had tried to take her, twenty folks had made a slip,
Twenty-one would be the Ranger with the big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

The morning passed so quickly, it was time for them to meet.
It was twenty-past-eleven when they walked out in the street.
Folks were watching from the windows, everybody held their breath,
They new this handsome Ranger was about to meet her death,
About to meet her death.

There was forty feet between ’em when they stopped to make their play,
And the swiftness of the Ranger is still talked about today.
Texas Red had not cleared leather ‘fore a bullet fairly ripped,
And the Ranger’s aim was deadly with the big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

It was over in a moment and the folks had gathered ’round.
There, before them, lay the body of the outlaw on the ground.
Oh she might’ve went on livin, but she made one fatal slip,
When she tried to match the Ranger with the big iron on her hip,
Big iron on her hip.

Big iron, big iron,
When she tried to match the Ranger,
With the big iron on her hip.

 

It certainly changes the mental imagery, doesn’t it? Don’t get me wrong, I love the original version of the song, too, and am as happy to sing it as to sing my slight adjustment.  Since doing this, though, I’ve tried flipping the pronouns in other songs, and it nearly always works.

Anyone who reads my blog consistently knows that I consider myself a feminist, and I in no way feel that I have to choose between feminism and loving and respecting men. Feminism, to me, means being considered a whole person, on equal standing with men, who are also whole people.

The culture I live in is riddled with messages that I don’t like. Few stories have interesting (much less powerful) female characters, and alternative feminist narratives sometimes seem to belittle, if not demonize, women who desire traditional female roles. It all makes me want to throw up my hands and shout “stop telling me what I should want and give me some better stories!”

Things are getting better in this regard, but progress seems slow. I will keep playing with songs and writing my own stories that neither limit women to periphery or symbolic roles, nor demonizes them if they make their mark on the world by keeping a home and raising children.


Errant Star

An short for BeKindRewrite’s InMon challenge. One of my darker characters decided to philosophize a bit. I should probably preface this with a tongue-in-cheek disclaimer, so here it goes: The views and opinions in this snippet are those of the character and do not necessarily represent those of the author.

Personally, I know very little of astrology and so far as I am aware, there is no star of Melinoe, much less an errant star (planet). Melinoe is, however, a minor figure in Greek mythology, a nymph of the underworld associated with ghosts, nightmares, the moon, and madness. Cheery stuff.

 

I was born under an errant star. So are many great men, their restlessness driving them to fame. But it is said that men born under the ascendancy of Melinoe’s star are destined for great madness, or for the bringing of death, or both together

I have heard it said that there is no fate, that we make ourselves. It may be so, for as I look back, every step I have taken was a choice made freely. Every time I took a life I had clear reason, a purpose. If I knew nothing of star-wheels and prophecies I would never think twice. And yet, I was born beneath the influence of Melinoe’s wandering light.

Which begs the question: Am I an unwitting slave to cosmic patterns? If so, the blood on my hands is blood on the stars. They are the murderers and I am but their tool. Is that why some stars are tinged with red?

If not, if I have done these things of my own will, have the stars, since before my birth, been following me?


An Exercise in Eccentricity

In my last post, I asked some questions and promised to give my own answers in my next post. This is that post.

The questions remain open to be answered, though. I really do need some outside input to help break me out of my usual creative patterns.

So, if you intend to answer these questions, please do so BEFORE READING THIS POST! I don’t want to influence your answers.

That said, here goes nothin:

1. Make up a constellation and a brief story for it.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away… there was a great wolf spirit and a great serpent spirit roaming over a primordial world, and they were brother and sister. They were sent to shape the world for creatures who would come after them. 

Now, the wolf was an orderly creature who liked patterns and measures, while his sister serpent loved all things unpredictable and chaotic. For a time, they worked harmoniously, each one seeing the beauty in the other’s plans, but after a while their ideas came more and more into conflict. Unwilling to compromise, they parted ways, each one traveling over the surface of the world and shaping it according to their own desires.

When the siblings had covered the world, they began to run across and change eachother’s designs. As time went on, it seemed as if they would completely undo their own work and leave the world as formless as when they had begun. And so the Great Spirit reached down and scooped them up to release them in the sky where they would have more space to shape and form and would not interfere with the creatures that were to come.

The eye of the wolf is the fixed polar star, ever reliable. The serpent runs through the chaotic band of many stars, and her eye is red and inconstant.

2. What is your favorite holiday (excluding Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter) and  why?

 4th of July.  I absolutely love fireworks, and New Years is too insane. The 4th is, at least around here, a laid-back holiday filled with grilled food, family, and explosions. Sparklers, and elaborate fireworks displays never fail to fascinate and awe me. Thank you, Chinese inventors! I am also fond of my home nation and like to have a set time to celebrate its existence.

3. Name an object you would like to see featured in a story

 I want to read a story that involves a magical lint brush. Why? Because the non-magical kind don’t work nearly well enough to solve my cat-hair issues.

4. make up a name for a spell and tell me what it does

Brightsnap: brightsnap is an alchemical transmutation creating silvery beads that explode on sharp impact, exuding a blinding light for as long as a minute. Because honest uses of brightsnap are rare, it has been outlawed and knowledge of the ingredients and process have been suppressed. On the black market, the beads now fetch a high price. 

5. Choose a plant and make up a symbolic meaning for it

I’ve been doing this one for a while, so I will pick one I haven’t yet added to my list. 

Trillium: a meeting of ways/convergence

6. What is your favorite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not)

This is a tough one for me. You already have my favorite ghost poem, so I must think of something else. I am very fond of several E. A. Poe stories and of some of the folk-tales I have come across. Poe’s work is pretty well-known, though, so perhaps I should highlight the latter. I have little tangible reason as to which folktales and ghost stories speak to me, and which don’t. Here are two very different ghost-stories, both with roots reaching far back into human history.  The first one is a vengeful ghost tale, and the second is a sad one.


A Ramble in Which I Ask for Help

I am not sure where I am going with this post, but then I figure this blog is mostly here for me, so I am allowed to let my mind wander sometimes.

As usual, I am thinking about the craft of writing, the thread of stories, of characters and places and worlds (Earth, and the worlds of imagination).  My WIP takes up a lot of thought and a lot of time, but I am making more progress on it than I ever have before. Not only the actual writing and editing process, but the world-building questions that underpin everything.

Astronomy and calendars have been one focus lately. Did you know that the Mayans (and some other Pre-Columbian Mesoamerican cultures) had two to three calendars in order to map time? All the hoopla about 2012 being the end of the world seems to have evolved from the fact that the “Long Count” cycle ticked over to the same length of time believed, by the Mayans, to have preceded the creation of mankind (a more in-depth scholar of these things than I may correct me, but that is how I understood it).

Anyway, I am fascinated by the different ways humanity has found to keep track of the passage of time. Did you know that the Romans changed the length of an hour throughout the year in order to account for what we call “daylight savings?”

In order to stoke my creative furnace, I have some questions I would like you to answer, if you are willing. I won’t steal your ideas (unless you want me to), I just want to get my sluggish brain thinking about these things again. Consider it an idea-bouncing contest. I will answer them, myself, in my next post.

1. Make up a constellation and a brief story for it.

2. What is your favorite holiday (excluding Christmas, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Easter) and  why?

3. Name an object you would like to see featured in a story

4. make up a name for a spell and tell me what it does

5. Choose a plant and make up a symbolic meaning for it

6. What is your favorite ghost/folk/scary story (can be humorous or not)

 

Characters are rummy. So are people outside written stories, though, so I suppose that is as it should be. I like my protagonists and antagonists all to be people I can empathize, and even sympathize with. In that sense, I suppose, I don’t write fairy-tales. There are behaviors that bring destruction or redemption, choices made that could have been different, but the paths are those of people, not symbols. I speak no word against fairy-tales or allegory. I love both, they just serve a different purpose.

One of my favorite characters from Tolkien’s mythos is Smeagol/Gollum. He ain’t pretty, and he’s rarely nice, but he feels very real. He could go either way at his crossroads, and the paths he chooses are understandable, if disastrous for him. His is a very human story, one that is easily recognizable in others, but hard to see in ourselves. I hope readers will see characters in my work that they do not want to emulate, but to whom they can relate nonetheless.

Aaand it is probably time to bring this ramble to a close. I need to go see if the little inch worms that have camouflaged themselves in yarrow petals are still about. My garden sorely needs some care, but at least it is alive, aye?

 


Brooding on Monsters

Forgiveness of others when they wrong me is a fundamental, though often challenging, requirement of my faith. I understand why it is so important, and why we often need help to accomplish it. I desire to be forgiven when I wrong others.

As far as extending human understanding, and even the idea of forgiveness, to some people, I seem to have limits.

Listening to the news has recently brought before me a recurring theme in my life: There is a homicidal torturer that lives under my skin. She longs to take predatory humans, especially sexual predators, into a brightly lit room and vivisect them over the course of several days.

There. I have said it. Yes, I know that many predators are also victims of predation or other horrible circumstances. I also believe that there is a predatory strain, an impulse, a siren call to dominate others, imbedded in humanity.

Obviously, I am no exception. I want to torture certain people, I want to murder them, and when all is said and done, both stem from that desire for domination.

I want to dominate and destroy an aspect of humanity (by proxy of humans that openly manifest it) that exists within me. Even more ironic is the fact that the predatory aspect I contain, that I hate so much in others, would be my motivation and means for attempting to dominate and destroy the aspect in others.

A friend said to me “but they are using it for evil. You want to use it for good.” She means that I want to use it to avenge the weak who are harmed and even killed by those who have the power to harm them. She has strong feelings about cruelty, and she has seen much first-hand as she tries to rescue animals from horrific abuses. She, like me, wishes she could pay the inflicters back, perhaps starving and beating them, then putting them in rings together and forcing them to fight and kill each other while people watching place bets.

There is a grim satisfaction in the thought. An eye for an eye is just. But then I remember that I do not believe that I am the judge. I am a fellow defendant, or at best, a plaintiff.

And yet, without that sense of outrage, that anger, that horror, I would have no motivation to act, to try and stop genocide, or human-trafficking, or rape. Great struggles against these evils are born from the anger, the sense of there being such a thing as justice and injustice.

Righteous anger is, I believe, just that. It is right, and it is anger. Some acts, and the people who perpetrate them, need to be stopped. Given the dangerous monster under my skin, I see the need for an impartial system to stop them, but sometimes the systems do not have the reach, the power, or even the desire to do so. What then? Is a mob, or a movement of the outraged better or worse than the lone avenger driven by righteous anger? A movement is certainly harder to stop, and they have achieved great things, like the Civil Rights Movement combating social injustice. But groups can easily become predators, too, or take their vengeance too far.

After all, not everyone agrees on just causes for anger and action, or the extent of just punishment.

But that is really another issue. What I am trying to process, here, are my own murderous desires. God help me, I know that though my anger may be right, those desires are not. They are understandable, but corrupt. If they are any less horrible than the acts they clamor to avenge, it is not a very great difference.

“Love the Sinner, hate the sin,” is one of those sayings that is too short to be helpful. For one thing, it has become trite, and for another, it is wide-open to all sorts of interpretations and actions. Even if I take it in what I believe to be the right way, I find it rife with complications. How do you love someone when they have done truly horrific things to others? How?!

Perhaps distance makes a difference. It is far easier to simplify matters from a distance, to empathize and demonize ideas of humans rather than real ones. But that is not the whole story. Chances are that I have met perpetrators, predators, and been unaware. I have not yet had to look someone in the eye, knowing horrible things they have done to another person, and try to separate something human from something monstrous in my mind.

I have no solution to this yet, other than the mysterious power that rests in prayer, questioning, and seeking. I am not sure I want answers from others, either. This seems to be one of those instances where I need to find the answer for myself. People vary so much in what makes them angry, how they react, and what they feel or believe is right. Everyone might have a different “answer,” and unless I find this one myself, I will not  trust that it is mine.

I am not even entirely sure why I am writing this post, but I desperately needed to vent, and one thing I do believe is that this world could always use a bit more honesty.

So here I am, raw and snarling. Today, I do not like what I see in the mirror any more than I like what I see in the news. I leave the can of worms of “News Media Bias” unopened, and I ask you to leave it closed, too. I cannot deal with that argument right now. However, I do believe that the sensationalism, the constant barrage of horrors and the voyeuristic hovering, has an effect on me, and on others.

There is good advice to be had in Philippians 4:8

Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.

I need a bit more of that right now. Predators must be fought, but if we forget what it is we fight for, then what is the point? Perhaps that is the beginning of an answer for me.

Perhaps the monster in me wants to fight against something it hates, but God’s will is that I fight, instead, for something I love?

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Of flowers and world-building

I am no J.R.R. Tolkien. The thought of even trying to create something as deep and profound as his Arda makes me want to give up.

Still, world-building is important even when one is not writing about a fictional world. If I write about my home city, I still have to build it into the story for the benefit of people who do not know it.

But the truth is, I am not writing about my home, or even my world. A while back I made the decision, rightly or wrongly, to not fear using elements from Earth. This may cause confusion (and a major re-write) later on, but my thought-process went something like this:

I am writing in English, with the characters speaking English, which means I am already acting as a translator (because it would make no sense for these people to speak English).

Moreover, these people are human, which begs all kinds of questions on a world which is not Earth.

I borrow from cultures around me (one must begin somewhere, and “write-what-you-know” applies to fantasy and sci-fi, too).

It makes sense to borrow ecology, weather-patterns, geology and other world aspects, as well, for two reasons: 1. I am not clever enough to come up with a working world whole-cloth  and 2. if I manage to make it all up, I lose all of the rich symbolism and cultural significance that already exists in our world (and therefore needs a lot less explaining).

Ok, then, I will go ahead and write the story around what I know and go from there.

My reasoning might be quite flawed. I would love for you to chip in and discuss it with me, if world-building interests you.

So, what has this to do with flowers?

Floriography is a word for a tradition found in several cultures in which plants or flowers are used to convey meaning or even a message. It’s fascinating, though not very reliable. Even in the same culture, some flowers have very different meanings, and when a flower’s meaning relies on its color or variety, things get even more complicated.

In the cultural history of my home state, both indigenous and colonial, this symbolism sometimes reaches the level of belief or superstition. Instead of symbolizing something, a flower or plant is thought to be a vessel of the thing itself. That kind of superstition has bled into my writing and is becoming a significant thread in the narrative.

The thing is, I don’t agree with many of the “meanings” given to flowers in the past. That isn’t an indictment of tradition, but a mere matter of taste. For my story, different significances and superstitions may be needed, and to that end, I am creating a new floriography as I go along. If this ever happens to be published, such a list will probably be in Appendices for those who are interested.

So, you see, my world-building is rather haphazard. Some things echo Earth (oh, hey! There’s an oak-tree and some raspberries, and is that person singing Wildwood Flower?) and some things diverge (there are several fictional plants already, plus, you know, mythological beasties and stars and more than one moon…).

Why am I telling this to the internets? Well, I am looking for thoughts and opinions on this matter. I can’t make a good, informed decision on anything without input. So, what are your opinions and preferences when it comes to world-building? Are you a stickler for consistency? Do you try to science out if the place you are reading about is Earth (past, present, future, parallel)? Do you like fictional worlds to be completely new and interesting? Do you like familiarity? Do you even notice when there’s an oak-tree in T’naké’lorilin’arpa’liél?

For me, I think what is most important is whether or not the world, in and of itself, makes sense/works. I am not above or beyond changing my opinion, though.


Akallabêth

According to Pages Unbound, today marks the anniversary of Sauron’s downfall! I will take their word for it. To celebrate the occasion, the Tolkien Society is holding a Tolkien Reading Day.

The ways of participating are:

  • Grab the event button from Pages Unbound and put it on your blog.
  • Read a book by J.R.R. Tolkien this week and post a review!  If you do, Pages UnboundTolkien Society, and I all want to know so that we can read it!  (Find reading suggestions on the Tolkien Society’s Bibliography.)
  • Spread the word on social media.
  • Link to any past posts you may have made about Tolkien, his writings, or even the movies in the comments on this post.

 

To fulfill the second option, I am going to yammer about the Akallabêth, that short history of the Númenoreans tacked onto the end of J.R.R. and Christopher Tolkiens’ Silmarillion like an afterthought.

There is a great deal to be found in this story; far more than I am capable of finding as I am poorly read in comparison with J.R.R. I suggest you go digging for yourself.  The tale offers a deeper understanding of Aragorn, from The Lord of the Rings, as well as of his people. Echoes from the third age are given context and a deeper poignancy.

“Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three.
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree. “

This verse pulled at me before, but now it nigh brings me to tears. I know what Aragorn’s ancestors built, and what they lost, and why that white tree, just a seedling, was on board. The emblem of Aragorn’s family, a white tree crowned with seven stars, has a long history behind it.

Isildur, who used to be, to me, a mythic figure who cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand, but then fell victim to its snare, is now a man who made sacrifices, suffered immense loss, and persevered. I have learned that his was not the original line of the kings of Númenor, but only an offshoot. Knowing more of them, again, increased my appreciation of who Aragorn is, and what he must mean to his people.

There are other revelations, too, most of which I will leave alone. Part of the joy of reading the Akallabêth is the discovery of connections and new information. I will mention one more thing, however. Umbar, later to fight for Sauron in his final confrontation with the Free Peoples, was founded by the Númenóreans, and the Harad were among their conquests during a time of brutal expansionism. This story can be found elsewhere, but the Akallabêth tells us more of why they settled in Middle Earth at all, and adds yet more depth to all of Tolkien’s stories of Arda.

There is more to the Akallabêth than a deepening appreciation for the mythic tapestry of The Lord of the Rings, however. It is its own complex myth, woven together from threads of many other human stories.

Avalon hidden in the mists, echoes of Old Testament kings, the search for eternal youth and life encompassing an obsession with death, and most of all, a retelling of the legend of Atlantis.

After all, the name “Downfallen,” which is “Akallabêth” in Adûnaic, is said to be “Atalantë” in Quenya.

This story is relatively short, and, as one might expect, it is beautifully told. If you have already read it, it deserves revisiting, and if you haven’t, I suggest you wander off and find a copy. If you like audio books, Martin Shaw’s rendition of the Silmarillion contains the Akallabêth.

Hope rather that in the end even the least of your desires shall have fruit. The love of Arda was set in your hearts by Ilúvatar, and he does not plant to no purpose.
Akallabêth, by J. R. R. Tolkien


The Great Iconoclast

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Images of the Holy easily become holy images- sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not. But the same thing happens in our private prayers.
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All reality is iconoclastic.
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-C. S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
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Happy are Those Who Struggle

A thoughtful and beautiful post on spiritual struggle couched in an examination of The Lord of the Rings. Stephencwinter’s blog has many great posts like this. You should go check them out!

Wisdom from The Lord of the Rings

If Sauron were leader of the Fellowship, setting out from Rivendell in possession of the Ring, what would he do? Gandalf knows that it is a question that Sauron has asked himself. Sauron knows that the Fellowship left Rivendell and that they possessed the Ring. He knows something of each member of the Fellowship and that there are hobbits among them. And Gandalf knows that he fears that the Fellowship will go to Minas Tirith and there one of them will wield the Ring, assail Mordor with war, cast him down and take his place. Boromir counselled  that they should go to Minas Tirith but not that one of them should wield the Ring. He hid this desire even from himself.  And Gandalf and Galadriel were tempted to wield the Ring as well. Remember the occasions when Frodo offered the Ring to them, first to Gandalf at Bag End in…

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Language and Perception

One moment last night can be described in similes; otherwise it won’t go into language at all. Imagine a man in total darkness. He thinks he is in a cellar, or dungeon. Then there comes a sound. He thinks it might be a sound from far off-waves or wind-blown trees or cattle half a mile away. And if so, it proves he’s not in a cellar, but free, in the open air. Or it may be a much smaller sound, close at hand-a chuckle of laughter. And if so, there is a friend just beside him in the dark. Either way, a good, good sound. I’m not mad enough to take such an experience as evidence of anything. It is simply the leaping into imaginative activity of an idea which I would always have theoretically admitted- the idea that I, or any mortal at any time, may be utterly mistaken as to the situation he is really in.
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Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them- never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?
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-C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed
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This could pass without comment, and for the most part, I will allow it to do so. I read this passage, this morning, for the first time. I am sure subsequent readings will reveal other facets, but for now, two things strike me.
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One moment last night can be described in similes; otherwise it won’t go into language at all.
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Someone whose writing I greatly value and respect feels the same restrictiveness of language that I do.
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Five senses; an incurably abstract intellect; a haphazardly selective memory; a set of preconceptions and assumptions so numerous that I can never examine more than a minority of them- never become even conscious of them all. How much of total reality can such an apparatus let through?
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Yes. Just… yes. If I could remind myself of this constantly, I would, and if I could teach others one fundamental rule for interacting with each other and the world, it would be this.

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