Posts tagged ‘ponderings’

September 8, 2017

What is There to Know?

by lisa st john

There is no other system that responds to aerodynamics and fluid dynamics quite like shifting sand.

Physicists have formulae for the behavior of solids, liquids, and gases but do not have an adequate scientific description of granular motion. Granular behavior doesn’t fit neatly into a single physical theory.

 

Long Beach Island

Why do you like games so much?

Because when I’m playing Bocce or Canasta or Scrabble I know there are rules, and if I play by these rules, with a little luck there is a chance I can win. Unlike real life, where you can do everything right and still get screwed.

 

Scrabble tile lost to the bushes

Games have a science behind them. They are analytical and organized, unlike shifting sand. But the beauty of science is that just because something doesn’t fit into a neat little theory is not to say that we know nothing about it. Knowing is not the same as universal truth. Science is based on change. Did the Sun and planets all revolve around the Earth back in Ptolemy’s time? Of course not. But was it “true” (scientifically) back then? Sure.

As artist Tim Minchin says, “Science adjusts it’s views based on what’s observed/Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved./If you show me/ That, say, homeopathy works, Then I will change my mind” (Storm).

I do not mean to discount belief. We must believe that sand moves in mysterious ways in order for us to know it as a fact. We can’t know something and not believe it. Aside from Gettier, knowledge must be justified, true AND believable. This is the logical analysis of knowledge.

Logic is important to me because without it, all we have is guesswork and belief. Logic isn’t always easy though. Take the Gambler’s Fallacy. If I throw two dice ten times and I don’t get a 7 then I am “due” to get a 7 soon, right? Wrong. The dice do not know (or remember) what the previous throws were. Every time you throw it will still be  6/36 chance that you will roll a 7. We tend to believe that we are “due” to get a 7 because it’s instinctual; it’s intuitive. Why do we believe weird things? Watch this 14 minute fun video:

Why am I going on about all of this? Because of fake news and social media and a HUGE lack of scientific, logical thought in our world today. We need sites like Snopes (no, we are not putting Robert E. Lee on the $20 bill) and Politifact (no, Katy Perry did not convince ISIS to lay down their guns) because we aren’t taught to think critically, and it’s a critical time to start.

We need knowledge.

We also need belief.

Crash Davis does not, “believe in Quantum Physics when it comes to matters of the heart,” nor should he. What does he believe in, you ask?

“Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hangin’ curveball, high fiber, good Scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, over-rated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there oughta be a constitutional amendment outlawing AstroTurf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve. And I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days” (Bull Durham).

It’s a great writing/mindfulness exercise. Rewrite Crash’s speech for yourself. I tried it. Here it is:

http://bovano.com/

I believe in double rainbows, the cock, the cunt, the wonder of the universe, the buzz of hummingbirds, real ice cream, red wine, that the poetry of my teenage years was angst-ridden garbage. I believe that Trump did “grab pussy.” I believe there should be a constitutional amendment making rape a high crime like treason and punishable by death. I believe in true love, soulmates, fuck-buddies and that only christians should celebrate Christmas. And I believe in the power of art.

What if we balanced every minute of mainstream media watching with an equal amount of poetry reading?

What if we didn’t comment on social media as much as we danced in our kitchens?

I would like to know.

 

Buy my poetry chapbook, Ponderings, HERE.

July 31, 2017

Art is My Religion

by lisa st john

Art is our new religion and museums our cathedrals.” Theodore Zeldin

Art is everywhere.

This is not a new idea. Alain de Botton’s beautiful talk “Art as Therapy” expands on Zeldin’s idea. He says that art’s function is in “giving us hope.” It reminds us that we are “not alone in our suffering.” Sounds theological doesn’t it? Recently, I realized I have a religion after all: art.

I got a last minute invitation to an event by The Secret City (“Sincere and fabulous community celebrations of the everyday creative life. With outfits”) recently, and it was nothing less than … spiritual. Artists getting together and

Chris Wells

sharing what they do with the rest of us, but also engaging us, inviting us to join them.

 

This interactive event included music by the Secret City Band, dance by Energy Dance Company, guided breathing, a shared ice cream treat by Cashewtopia, an amazing musical interaction by Sxip Shirey, a powerful a cappella protest song by Prana, fabulous memoir excerpt reading by Chris Wells, the most wondrous “Ukulele Anthem” by Amanda Palmer, and visual art provided by Martyn Thompson: meditation, music, singing, mingling, recitation…sounds like

 

AFP

church. It felt much better than any church-going I have ever experienced. It was a truly joyful celebration. We weren’t celebrating our union with a separate-from-us god; we were celebrating art and artists and the harmony that our union with them can provide. We need this. We need to connect with art so we know there are others like us. We are not alone.

 

“In times of dread, artists must never choose to remain silent.” –Toni Morrison

 

This brings me to how we connect to the arts. What can we do to promote and enjoy and partake in the magical making of things? One way is Patreon. We do not have to be insanely rich Medicis to support the arts. With crowdsourcing and gofundme and kickstarter, indiegogo, et cetera, we can all make a difference in the world; we can all be patrons. I give a little + you give a little + someone else gives a little = an artist has the money to record an album. That’s about as mathematical as I get, so … .

Let’s be kind.

Let’s share art,

and let’s be fucking joyful.

August 28, 2016

Nesting into Fall (or) those philosophy books I took out of the library were worth every late fee.

by lisa st john

“I believe you are your work. Don’t trade the stuff of your life, time, for nothing more than dollars. That’s a rotten bargain.” Rita Mae Brown

philosophy

 

Nesting is that weird thing that happens to some pregnant women towards the end of their nine-month ordeal, glow-time, happiest fatness, hemorrhoid awakening, pleasetakeitoutnow uhm, term. But teachers get it too, and it starts in August. Sadly, New York State doesn’t start school until after Labor Day (I’d much rather have June off than August) so I am getting the nesting urge a bit late this year.

I am cleaning and filling the hummingbird feeders, catching up on all laundry, emptying sand as best as I can from the car, looking for clothes that don’t show cleavage, stocking up on everything from cat food to toilet paper, and OH how I wish I could pee ahead of time. I’d save up, like, thirty pees just for September. Urinating any old time you have to go is a blessed luxury; it’s one of the best things about summer break. Truly.

Don’t believe me? Ask a teacher.

Rookie Teacher First Day Worries:
What if the kids don’t like me?
What if the kids won’t listen to me?
What if I am boring?
What if the principal comes in while I’m teaching?
What if a kid acts out or misbehaves?
What if I am no good at this?

Experienced Teacher First Day Worries:
I’m not here to make friends. Where’s the free coffee?
How do I listen to (and learn) the names of 50 kids named Megan and 80 named Tyler?
What if the kids are boring and won’t talk and just want to take tests and stuff?
I hope the principal comes in while I am teaching; I could use help with this year’s group.
Unless someone has a knife and tries to use it NO ONE is leaving this room.

I hope I can sprinkle some love of poetry on them while I teach them how to be good humans.

Empathy 101 anyone? That degree in Comparative Literature can sit in the back for now.

Goodbye long, slow mornings. Goodbye midnight (I’ll probably see you in a week or two while I reach for the insomnia pills). Goodbye drinks before five. Wait. Scratch that.

See ya’ Summer. Thanks for never really leaving me. I will tuck you in well. We’ll share some sweet dreams with Fall when she wakes up. Until then, I have some teenage minds to warp.

ponderingsYou can buy my chapbook, Ponderings, HERE at Finishing Line Press.

July 23, 2016

Mystery and Majesty

by lisa st john

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There are horrors all over the world. It’s as if the news just smells of death. Part of me wants to delete my AP News app. Part of me knows I need it to … just know. But knowing doesn’t mean bowing down. Knowing doesn’t mean giving in to only a small part of the reality we share.

Sometimes knowing means cathartic, empathetic crying. Sometimes knowing means sending supplies, or helping a crowd funder, or signing a petition, or starting a petition, or fighting back. Knowing also means not forgetting.

If I forget to run outside at the possibility of a rainbow after a summer storm, what am I knowing then? If I forget to smile at sun-blonded boys diving in the sand to make the catch, or to laugh as a puppy braves the waves in sheer puppy-joy excitement, then what do I know?

The poetry of the Counting Crows says it well. Sometimes there is, “…the feeling that it’s all a lot of oysters but no pearls/All at once you look across a crowded room/To see the way that light attaches to a girl… .”

“Survival is insufficient”

(“Survival Instinct Star Trek: Voyager qtd. Station Eleven).

Jack and Amanda Palmer with Thor and Friends put on a fabulous show at Le Poisson Rouge Wednesday night. In answer to her unspoken questions, all I can say is that we need to keep making art. Without art, what’s the point?

Remember the animal cracker scene from Armageddonanimal_cracker

Grace Stamper: Baby, do you think it’s possible that anyone else in the world is doing this very same thing at this very same moment?

AJ: I hope so, otherwise what the hell are we trying to save? (Armageddon)

We need to remember things like:
-The majesty of whales right beneath the boat who come up to breathe with us.
-inevitable sunrises
-soft breezes
-libraries
Modigliani

Beauty is here–maybe not on the surface all the time, but it’s here. Babies are being born and people are still falling in love. Life is a lot like whale watching. You look out at the sea waiting for a glimpse of the magic and your heart knows it’s always there but we don’t always see it because we don’t take the time to look.

May 30, 2016

Some Things I Know

by lisa st john

 

I may not know the difference between a rosebush and raspberries, admittedly. But there are some things I do know.

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I know rain at an outdoor celebration staved off by kindness.
I know the universal joy of sharing a meal with the blurred line of friends and family.

I may not know why Pi can do what it does, or why ferns speak fractals and they, in turn, speak chaos.

But I know the blissful tears of the father and the harmonious tears of the mother. I know that the tenuous strands of young love spin and weave, creating the strength of an unbreakable union.

With the multitude of horrible things in this world—things I do not want to know—I am indebted to the goddess of perspective for allowing me to also see the first hummingbird of the season, and to hear the “wild rumpus” of worshipped children.

And if there is a secular word for “blessed” then please, someone tell me. Because I am.

I know pain, but also gracious healing. I know fear, but also comfort. I know the darker side of turmoil and the gentle light of peace. And right now, in this moment, I am alive with all I know.

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Ponderings is available at Finishinglinepress or you can get a signed copy from me directly 15.00. paypal.me/lisastjohn

May 1, 2016

One of Those Days

by lisa st john

Maybe it’s the rain. Maybe it’s my internal work clock (quarter four has begun). Maybe I really, honestly, thought I would get my sabbatical. Strike that last one. That would mean I no longer expect the worst in order to appreciate what I actually get. That hasn’t changed. Has it?IMG_4422

I could have gone to a writer’s retreat this weekend but I was beyond tired. I am glad I stayed home to rest but at the same time I am angry for not pushing myself.

Pushy Me versus Tired Me: A Conversation

“How are you going to be a writer AND a teacher if you can’t muster up the energy to drive four hours to Boston?”
“My hematocrit was 33! They wouldn’t let me donate blood. I must be anemic again.”
“Blah, blah, blah… .”
“I just got back from a long weekend in Cincitucky
           “Did you get any writing done?”
“No, but it was such a beautiful time—it felt so good to hang out with my son and see him thriving in his adult world and—
“Travel is good. Travel is fodder for writing.”
“Gee, thanks. I am going to Isla Mujeres the day after graduation, and to Provincetown in July, and to San Miguel de Allende in August and LBI after that and–
“What the fuck are you running from?”
“I am not running from. I’m running towards.”

Anaïs Nin said that we write to “taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.” Maybe Iraintulip2’m not ready. Maybe I’m too ready. Maybe Stephen King was correct about writing and teaching (not compatible). We’ll just have to see.

Until then, I live off the crumbs of what I can muster. A blog here, a poetry reading there, the Chronogram Word Café series, The Bard College Institute for Writing and Thinking, you know. Here and there.

  1. POETRY READING Friday, May 6, 6 pm in the Reference Room of Stone Ridge Library. Join us as Tina Barry, Patricia Carlin and Lisa St. John read from their latest works. A reception will follow the readings!
  2. TRAVEL, write, rinse, repeat… .

p.s. (Was SO PROUD to be a part of Chronogram’s Poetry Roundup. Thank you Ninraintulipa Shengold, for your fab review. My favorite line: “Ponderings debuts a nonpareil poetic voice, lithe, quirky, and fanged.” I’ve always wanted fangs.)

Snippet from a poem that doesn’t quite exist yet:

I will buy the $110.00 bra without a coupon—without even checking with Ebates. Feel the power? The dollars I

give

away don’t count somehow. This much to the students in Isla Mujeres whose mother is homeless; this much to GOFUNDME so Mrs. ___ can stay home with her husband while he dies; this much to Amanda Palmer’s latest Kickstarter because without art what’s the fucking point?

This phase is supposed to be over. Hospice therapist said so.

Ponderings is available at Finishinglinepress or you can get a signed copy from me directly 15.00. paypal.me/lisastjohn

November 29, 2015

On Teaching Poetry and/or Humans

by lisa st john

How will we get this content covered? IMG_3730How we fit these standards in? Discipline is not my job. I’m not a psychologist. I don’t have time for this. I’m not their parent. That should really be “his/her parent.” Is grammar gender-neutral now?  I don’t teach reading–I teach “fill in the blank.”

Really?

I just teach kids.

I could pretend that grammar, punctuation and spelling were my muses and that a world without run-on sentences would be paradise, but that would be a lie.

I prefer to think of teaching young people a little more about what it means to be human a much more important (and infinitely more rewarding) endeavor. Mark Twain said to never to let school get in the way of your education, and I heartily agree.

I hear eyebrows being raised. That’s okay. If I’m afraid of being questioned than what am I doing trying to teach anyone anything? OK. I will stop this mini rant for now, back to teaching poetry.

When I hear a teenager say, “I don’t like poetry” I get excited because now my goal for this class has changed—they’ve upped the ante. Dear Student: I will find the poem that reaches you. I will find a way for you to make a connection to the world through words. I will help you see the lyrics of language as powerful. And yes, dear student, your song lyrics are poems. You didn’t know that? Let’s do some analysis. Do you want to start with Led Zeppelin or Lauryn Hill?

“I wish I was the full moon shining off your Camaro’s hood.” If that isn’t poetry, Sir Eddie Vedder, I don’t know what is.

Words matter.

And I can’t think of a shorter sentence that is as important as that one.

If the evolution of a giraffe’s neck is not poetry than what is?

If the Fibonacci sequence is not art than what is? And doesn’t that analogy make Pi the magical Pied Piper of the universe? Where is the Periodic Table of Element’s chemistry recipe that makes hope? Which impasto brushstrokes of a van Gogh dance someone awake at night?
Football’s perfect catch is poetry.
Learning the Spanish word for word (palabra) is poetry.

Lesson #1 The Myth of the Hidden Meaning

There is no correct answer to what a poem “really” means in the back of some dusty teacher’s edition. You speak English. The poetry we are going to study is written in English. All good?

Lesson #2 Poetry Can Mean Whatever You Want

Uhm… no. There are correct interpretations–many of them–but there are also incorrect interpretations. Richard Wilbur’s “Death of a Toad” is not about unicorns or war or peanut butter. It’s about…you guessed it! The death of a freakin’ toad. Of course, it’s also about death and contemplation and mourning and…yeah.

I love teaching. I actually miss interacting with kids when I am away from them for too long. They have so much insight and depth. People who don’t work with teenagers probably don’t understand that, but they (the teenagers) are soulful creatures.

If I could stop sucking on the glass nipple of television (as Stephen King coined) perhaps I could write more and still grade papers and still make phone calls and still fill out the paperwork and read every single word of everything. But there is something to be said for Jessica Jones and reruns of House and counting how many times I’ve seen Armageddon (I know, I know) but Bruce Willis and Steve Buscemi are brilliant, to say nothing of Ben Affleck, animal crackers, and Liv Tyler’s tummy. Plus it has a kickin’ soundtrack. Anyway…

Are the arts and the media so far apart? You know when you fell in love with Sawyer from Lost that he was named after Tom Sawyer right? The wild mischievous boy who got everyone else into trouble?

Ah…I am bending towards transmedia, and that discussion is for another time.

I have a few different blogs here all hanging out together like a Shakespeare salad (you know, that salad where Horatio tricks Iago into thinking that Benedick really loves Juliet and Othello wants all of Gloucester’s land, and… .). Sorry about that. It’s what happens when I don’t blog often enough.

I will leave you with a somewhat stolen poem.

“Poems Stolen from the Muses of My Students: A Collage of Class Write-Around Exercises and Then Some”

Textured moments crinkle into a powdery dust (that might be a church), and she reads the quavering shadows and knows that it was all real sometimes.

Run if you will, but know the ripples move regardless; they are the travelers. Whose routine is it to sweep the monkey’s cage? Who the lion’s den? My pre-alarm clock dreams are nothing like the silhouette of your bra through sheer white soaking wet lace. But neither is my breath a true wind. Riddles in sheet music, strangers in time—we are eating the microphone instead of the sword.

So, yeah. I guess you could say, “swallow,” but would that crush your stark circadian rhythm?

Damn it Helen. If only it were that simple.

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Oh, and please don’t forget to buy my chapbook, Ponderings, at Finishing Line Press or Amazon (and if you could, an Amazon review would be wonderful. I need them).

p.s. This post was almost sabotaged. Here is the evidence: erfy

September 15, 2015

Two for the Price of One

by lisa st john

 

Two for the price of one. What if I only want one?

kidstattoos

Life or death; prosperity or poverty; winter or summer; light or dark—no. We get both, not either or. As King Lear says, “I have taken too little care of this.” Tom o’ Bedlam may not be my problem to “take care” of, but my mindset sure is. Leave it to Shakespeare to create a “semi-apocalyptic” world hundreds of years ago. My own chaos is never black and/or white. Whose is? The glass isn’t half empty OR half full; it’s both. Paradox or no, it’s both. Maybe there are two of Schrödinger’s cats, but that’s a question for another blog post.

When I Google “two” I get “Two player games.” By the way, Google (the noun) doesn’t want us using Google (the transitive verb) unless we really mean we are using their search engine. I think that’s hilarious. As if I would stop saying, “I need to Xerox that handout,” or “Please get me a Kleenex.” Humph. Who do they think they are trying to control language? Good luck. Not going to happen. The word “too” gets me to ToonTown, and “to” is, of course, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” (Not “How to Kill a Mockingbird” unless, maybe you are one of Schrödinger’s cats.)

But if it’s about “and” instead of “or” why are questions like the following still coming up? Can we be both a mother and an artist? (Why don’t men have to ask this question?) Follow that last link to Amanda Palmer’s awesome open letter. Can’t mouse back over there? Try here. It’s worth a read. Kimya Dawson knows. Virginia Woolf knew (before she put stones in her pocket anyway). I guess we all know it’s possible We could get all existential (slash absurdist) over it and realize that, “What is called a reason for living is also an excellent reason for dying,” but Camus wasn’t a Goddess. What the fuck did he know about “and?” Women know “and” inside and out. lilygoddess

“Would you like to feed your child or get some sleep?”
Uhm…and.
“Would you like to have a job or stay home with your kid?”
Again…and.
“Are you depressed or joyful?”
Uh…yes.

I want to look both in and out of my windows. It’s not easy being human.

missy looking out

 

 

 

 

 

 

You can still buy my poetry book Ponderings, HERE.

August 25, 2015

Perforated

by lisa st john

Unlike some of my sisters out there in the world, I do not choose to wear the veil that covers me. My friend calls it a “Saran Wrap” of sadness. I didn’t realize that I had it until she told me. But it’s there. It’s a veil. It’s thin and breathable but it’s there. I’m not sad all the time anymore, but I wasn’t sure I could ever say, “I’m happy” again and really mean it. Not until now.

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It has been 1,006 days since my husband, Kent, died. But it’s also been 10, 588 days since my fabulous son was born. He will be 29 years old this year, and that blows my mind. He is handsome and gentle and intelligent and successful in every sense of the word. He has a beautiful fiancée and just moved into his first (fabulous) home. I have been hanging here trying to help out and trying not to get in the way. And I think the veil got thinner.

Have they put something in my drink? Did my own kid rufi me? Or is it possible that my sadness has found a quiet spot? Their joy is contagious. Even the German Shepherd, Missy, catches it. She ran sprints around the new house yesterday, almost knocking over the yet-to-be-hung bazillion-inch television. And I swear that dog was smiling. We call her “Soul Puppy” because her love is so curative. How could I cry when a sweet little pup was licking my face? What right did I have to be mourning when I could instead take part in the supreme joy that is puppy romping?

The breeze here is warm and inviting. The sky is bluer than I ever remember. The world is lush with life and newness and bliss. Now I not only recognize it, but feel a bit of it too. The veil is thinning. So all of you joyous people out there, please remember: SHARE. Dance in the grocery store and sing while driving and laugh and laugh and laugh. Those of us with veils need it.

p.s.: Thank you artists. Thank you for making “a joyful sound” and sharing the beauty.

p.p.s: Shout out to some of my favorite artists: Kaileigh Osarczuk, Amanda Palmer, Karhu Moon, and all the laughing children of the world.

I just got this message from Finishing Line Press: “Your book will be going to print very soon. I will keep you updated on when your file leaves for the printer.” Oh yea. You can get it here.

August 5, 2015

It’s Just Stuff

by lisa st john

 There will be joy…whether we want it or not.

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Cone Dog Millionaire?

Loss and grief are unforgiving teachers. Are you ready for the quiz? No? Too bad; so sad.

All we can do is decide how to react to moments. We cannot choose the moments. All we can do is be good to ourselves so that we can be good to one another.

“Aren’t you sad…devastated that he’s leaving?”
“I, uhm…want him to be happy.”
“But you’ll have to get on A PLANE to see him!”
“Yes. And that’s how I am going to spend my money.”
“But he is your only one, what about saving for your retirement… .”
“I’d like to think I raised a good adult, even though he is my ‘only one’ (!?). Now he is off being an adult. ‘I never seen a hearse with a trailer hitch.’ Do you know that song?”
What?!”

Recently, someone told me that I don’t respect money. This is true. It is just stuff. It is used to get more stuff. Or it is used to help create experience. I like to think that is what we taught our son. Experience over things, moments over regrets.

Recently, someone told me that I shouldn’t always pay for her dinner. “Do you forget,” I asked her, “that you wired me money all the time when I was pregnant and alone and couldn’t work anymore?”

“No. I guess I forgot…”
“Twenty-nine years ago I stole a bag of rice from a grocery store. I paid for the can of beans. You taught me that beans and rice make a complete protein—healthy for the baby.”
“Yea, but…”
“You taught me how to ask.”

My late husband used to tell the story of a college friend who didn’t have drinking money. My husband used to tell him, “If I’ve got enough for one beer, I’ve got enough for two. Let’s go.”

I like to believe that this sentiment is alive and well in the world at large and not just in my own life. Can I afford to buy a recent high school graduate a new car? No. Can I afford to give a few bucks toward her crowdsourcing effort? Hell, yeah. It’s just stuff.

“What do you mean you don’t balance your checkbook?”
“That’s what ATMs are for—checking my balance.”

My logic works kind of like this: I got a refund for a $200.00 deposit I put on a rental house for my last vacation. I forgot about putting down the deposit. So now I have a brand new (free!) $200.00 that I didn’t have before. (Well, technically I did have it but I forgot it so… .) Now I have a new $199.00 camera. For FREE! (Sort of.)

There is no amount of money that can buy anything worthwhile. There is no amount of money that will bring my husband back. I am stuck here; I am stuck here without him, and I will be damned if all he taught me about living in the moment is going to go to waste. I hope I die broke. I hope I helped make many experiences along the way.

“Does it get easier? The loss? The grieving?”
“I don’t know anything about easy. I just know about change.”

p.s. My first chapbook, Ponderings, will be out at the end of this month. I just proofed the first set of galleys from Finishing Line Press. Buy it. And if you can’t let yourself laugh at weird, stupid stuff like trumping your cat, well, then… .

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