Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Un-Doing Days

In Classes, Craft, General, Musings on July 12, 2011 at 4:54 am

It wasn’t long ago that I purposely set my alarm clock for5:30 a.m.every morning, slipped out of bed before the sun rose, and sank my toes into the slightly scratchy carpet of our then-apartment with a cup of coffee and readiness to write. The darkness, the slither of silence, the burnt chicory smell of good java—these things were my company as I took special time for myself before my “real work” several hours into daylight later.

Those were my “doing days” as I’m thinking of them now. I wrote so early because once my colleagues and clients awoke there’d be emails to exchange and the mounting pressure of “must-get-it-all-done” riding hard on my spine. In my doing days I was so proud of how much I did—writing freelance articles, a book, a novel, editing manuscripts, recording book reviews–in such quantities that I’d sometimes look at my “to-do” board with a feeling of terror, wonder at how I would get it all done, and if working for myself was folly or fortune. The higher and tighter my shoulders by the end of the day, the greater the sign that I’d somehow measured up, that I was capable of carrying a load so heavy without fail.

Once I became pregnant I was amused and annoyed by the most ethereal sense of distraction that came over me—my mind flitted wherever it pleased and could barely be reined in, a flying creature with barely any mass. I was tired, so so tired all the time, and could not roll out of bed so early, and if I did, I’d sit staring at the blank page wondering what I thought I had to say. At the time it was infuriating, but now I look back and see my body beginning to help me make a shift that would change the shape of my days forever. For a spacy mind was the least of the changes having my son would bring.

 Three years into my son’s life, the map of my working life looks like a seismograph. From doing almost nothing for the first three months of his life, to rallying back around to writing a novel in his nap hours, to putting him in nearly-full time daycare only to feel the familiar pains of a body that is doing too much…I have begun to circle around to this new place and time. These are un-doing days.

Today, I sat at the top of a man-made rainforest, where blue butterflies the size of my palm circulated with what looked like a brash certainty in their freedom. If I stood still long enough, they skimmed the top of my head, grazed a cheek, teased my eyelashes. The heat of the building, the chatter of tourists–none of it bothered me. I was completely enchanted by their flight. I realized, I could sit here for hours and do nothing but watch them fly. And in that seemed the crux of the lesson I am beginning to learn, and which I hope my readers will take to heart too: there is value in stillness, in rest, in observation.

I am undoing old habits of working too hard and too long. I am taking more time off, and spending more moments relishing my son’s short-lived youth. There are fewer achievements, shiny and hot with effort, to hold up on a platter over my head, and yet, there are deeper seams to tap now, both creatively and in my work, roads that I have refused to take out of fear of letting go, stopping.

And how does this play out here? Everything is going to change now. You’ll see a new website very soon, with this blog integrated in it.  I’m going to be teaching more–stay tuned for some new twists on my classes that will allow for more interaction–and doing less of other things. In a nutshell, my new goal and direction is to write, and to thus bring to all of you the lessons and experimentation and thoughts on craft that I, myself, am continually integrating into my own work.

 Come, un-do with me.

The Thousand Things

In General, Mothers and Writing on June 2, 2011 at 3:52 am

On the phone with a writing client today I say, “It’s a crazy week,” and he laughs knowingly.

“It’s always a crazy week,” he says. I can’t read his tone. Is he chastising me?  It does seem that I say this to him each week during our standing appointment. Is this his impression of the person he’s hired to “coach” him through seeing his manuscript through to publication? “It’s always crazy, for everyone,” he amends, but somehow I still feel guilty.

The day spins out like a yo-yo flung too far and gone slack. I’ve finished several critiques and a book review on time and suddenly it’s time for the one truly luxurious part of this day, of the month: a trip to get lunch and pedicures with dear friends, if only I can get out the door–already thinking ahead to the after-pampering plans. The last time I let someone pamper me like this was the morning of my wedding, nearly 12 years ago. I am not in the habit of stopping, resting. Resting is the thing I do at night, when my body crashes against the waiting cup of my bed.

The pedicure is a blur of lovely sensations–warm water on my toes, strong hands on the tender points of my soles; a massaging chair that shimmies like I am crushing a small person, making us laugh; even the act of cutting away the calluses feels good, restorative, like dead hours shaved away. And the slick red paint that I never bother to apply myself reveals ten little shiny reminders that there are feet somewhere below my head, the tiny little fort of brain matter where I am tucked away most of the day, forgetting about the hard packed earth that holds me up.

 Then there is a rushed hurry to get my son on time from daycare, a burst of arms and bared teeth as he explodes toward me the moment I enter the room, and I remember that we parted this morning in frustration with each other over limit testing and not listening. I gather his towheaded sweaty boy sweetness into my arms and kiss him all over his face, and tuck him into the car, stop by the store, make it home to begin dinner early so I can make it to an evening exercise class.

And somewhere between the fresh gleaming raspberries gathering an inedible dusting of sand from his sandbox, and the lasagne noodles boiling into a mass of glutinous rectangles I can’t do anything with, and speaking for 15 minutes to my producer at the radio station where I have been slogging through a book commentary I hope to record while my son peppers me with questions about the baby who was temporarily kidnapped yesterday, and remembering to drain the spinach I set in the sink,  rescuing my son from the top of his play structure, making sure he doesn’t have an accident on the living room floor, calling the auto mechanic who never called me back, fielding a tantrum borne of disallowing television…a big rush of air leaves my lungs and I find myself slumping to the floor of my kitchen,  broom in hand, task abandoned.

Here, the cold of the linoleum pressed against my bare calves is jarring and enlivening, a cool, hard contrast to that watery womb I soaked in earlier. I never was very good at switching channels–a child who was forced to go back and forth between her parents’ houses weekly until I was 16–I hate this zig-zagging energy of moving from one thing to another. And yet…that is how my life moves, how children move,  how a freelancer’s business moves.  But sometimes, in the spaces between the thousands of things, thousands of harmless and normal activities of a day, I feel as though I am a creature made of steel being asked to bend like rubber. I feel as though I will crack under the strain of constant shifting.

I wiggle my red painted toes. In a few minutes I’ll be stuffing them into tennies and we’ll be heading out to an exercise class, an hour of another kind of motion, one that seems to help keep my disparate parts from turning into useless jelly, gives me fortitude to keep up the bustle. 

But in this moment I don’t want to put on my shoes, or move off the floor, or do anything but listen to the sound of my son talking to his toys in his sandbox outside, even though I know in a moment I’ll have to run out there and pluck stickers from his socks, or brush sand off his snacks.

Right now, I am still. Right now, stillness is perfect.

A Year of Spaciousness

In General, Musings on January 3, 2011 at 5:02 am

 I will not begin the New Year with an apology for my lack of posting. Instead I will begin it with a sense of gratitude that my life is so full, and yes, occasionally overly-full such that I can’t even take the time to post a blog.

My writing partner and friend, Becca Lawton, and I are declaring 2011 the Year of Spaciousness. I suppose this might conjure running along vast open spaces like beaches or wild meadows–and it certainly can. But to us it means setting up our lives to be able to include all the important things, without pushing those things to the wayside, or letting stress and overwhelm rule the day. We want our lives to be big, billowing with creativity, family time, various regimens of health and writing and socializing that feed us. 

To make a spacious life means to decide what is important and what can wait. To ask, at the end of my life, will I say “I wish I’d done more of x…” Or hopefully: “I’m so glad I made time for”…making shadow puppets and playdough sculptures with my son; staring into my husband’s eyes over coffee or lunch, just the two of us; writing in messy, wild bursts, and then burnishing those words to a powerful, potent gleam; testing the edges of the amazing vessel of a body we’re all given, seeing how strong and fit I can make it; spending time with people who make me laugh and nod, and feel so far from alone.

So in my year of spaciousness I intend not to care a whole lot about bottom lines and the desolate predictions of the publishing industry. I will work hard, but not so hard I neglect my family or my health. I will joyfully tend to my writing with care and craft, and I will choose events and people that are the real life equivalent of an wide, open, inviting shoreline crashing up against a vast and powerful ocean.

Will you join me?

Milk & Ink Anthology Benefit

In Business of Writing, General, Mothers and Writing on November 4, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Milk and Ink is here now, if you didn’t know already! This anthology of stories, essays and poems by writing mothers celebrates the intensity of being both mother and writer. It also will inspire all to recognize the power of living true to your passions and life purpose.

Milk & Ink focuses on the experience of motherhood, but it also speaks to everyone: fathers, daughters, and sons. This anthology, not only in its stories, but in its creation and promotion, seeks to acknowledge the need we have for one another.

Most important, though, proceeds of the project will be donated to Mama Hope, which supports women and children in Africa in a variety of projects.
To purchase copies you may visit one of the following links:

In Fiction Writing, General, Musings on October 9, 2010 at 7:56 pm

It seems the perfect season to write about demons as skulls, ghosts and wicked pumpkins are slowly arising all over town. Even with another week of Indian Summer–temps in the 80s–there’s a crisp, whispery edge to the wind, and the light does not linger as long.

It’s the season of writing demons for me. The season in which I question the purpose and necessity of writing. The season in which I look at whatever I have produced in the year and wonder what it is all for. No matter how successful I have been, how much praise or validation I’ve received, come October, when many cultures believe the veil between the living and the dead is thinnest, death starts to crowd the edges of my certainty, and my writing rises up around me like paper ghosts, moaning their unknowable fates.

 Sometimes I can channel the darkness into the writing. Other times it means I need to percolate and wait for the post-holiday tsunami that almost inevitably follows around the New Year.  Mainly, I’m learning that there’s no point in fighting it. My psyche goes underground. My sense of purpose becomes buried as if in a mountain of fallen leaves. It’s a season of reading and taking in, a season of teaching and helping keep others afloat.

What does Fall mean to your writing?


If you want an autumnal writing jumpstart, Fiction’s Magic Ingredient begins October 18.

Final Billing

In General, Mothers and Writing, Musings on August 2, 2010 at 3:27 am

Death is on my mind (read my prior post). It’s unavoidable, and crushing, and I continue to remain completely dumb in the face of such tragedy. And so I’ve been digging through my fiction for something appropriate. I came across this story, first published in Zaum, the literary magazine of my undergraduate Alma Mater, Sonoma State University. The rights have reverted to me, though, so I’m free to share my thoughts/feelings on death the only way I know how (it’s also on my Scribd profile:

 Final Billing

 Jack and I spent our first date walking through the wet grass at the new end of the cemetery, assigning fates to the dead strangers. Dutiful Mothers became neurosurgeons, beloved uncles, sea captains. “Vincietta Grana,” he said, pronouncing one woman’s name in such an American way, all flat vowels. “Born 1910, died 1995. She was an expert lace maker who brought the tradition over from the old world and kept it alive until lace lost its novelty on household appliances and pets.”

I corrected him, saying her name so she sounded as Italian as she surely was in our collective imagination. The ‘c’ sounding like something chilled, a little flick in my voice at ‘Grana’ recalling practiced Italian phrases from my one visit to Italy. He liked that about me; he said, “You’d sound good with an accent. Any accent.”  So I tried to sound Japanese and he said, “Well, maybe not.”

On our way out we passed a white awning, pitched and ready over eight green velvet-clad chairs. They faced an open plot, a sinkhole inside an ocean of mismatched green squares of sod, nourished by the dead, supposed to form one convincing lawn. The contraption that lowers caskets into the ground rested on top. Jack said, “Those front row seats must come cheap,” and then we giggled.

I knew right then I could love him because he could joke about death.


 Our second date was his mother’s funeral. I stood behind his family hedge of slumped shoulders and crumpling knees. It seemed wrong to wear black since I didn’t know Jack’s mother, worse that the only black outfit I owned was a cocktail dress that showed too much leg and cleavage; it hadn’t been washed since I wore it two weeks earlier on a date to an Irish pub with an Irish thug whose end-of-evening overtures nearly amounted to date rape. The smell of pub was so pungent on the dress, I hallucinated that the flowers crowning his mother’s “new home with a lawn” as he called it, actually smelled like beer and cigarettes.

 So many of his relatives had amusing incarnations of the features I liked in his face—that slightly folded right eye, the strong dimpled chin, black hair that turned blue in the sunlight—that I felt like I was in some kind of Kafkaesque dream, and soon, if we stayed together, my face would begin to look like theirs too. Unsure of appropriate behavior I smiled at their questions, answering awkwardly, “Yes, I was invited,” feeling cheap and badly-dressed, like a hooker, hired to distract him.

 Afterwards, at the wake that nobody called a wake, I worried that my presence, my foreign body would remind him of what he’d lost. Or that his three jocular brothers standing in a row, each of whose chins appeared slightly larger than the last, would take him aside and council him out of my acquaintance.

Though he and I had walked side by side between these two official dates at least six times in the cemetery chaperoning our dogs, we had never really touched. I had to imagine the shape of his torso under his baggy t-shirts. That cocktail dress was more skin than I’d planned to show so soon. But he asked me to stay the night and even though I knew better—a man in grief is like a leech, my mother once said—I stayed. He said, “It’s a relief,” meaning her death, not necessarily my being there, and though I didn’t really know, I said “I know.”


One night after making love he wanted to know how my mother died.  . I only told him part of the truth: that she died after a prolonged illness. I didn’t tell him that in the last week of her life (I was eleven), I snuck into her room after my father warned me to leave her be. I climbed up on her bed, straddled her body, watching her labored breathing and that I gripped her by the shoulders and said, “I need to know when.” And I didn’t tell my father that she opened her eyes then, and tried to make a smile, the folds of her nightgown swallowing her neck so that she seemed to be just a disembodied face. She said, “Apparently I missed the four o’clock boat, but they’re sending another one.” And when I should have cried, I laughed. She, too, was funny even at the end.


 I stopped counting the number of our dates after ten, thinking I would jinx things. We got along so well, with our shared love of bluegrass music—particularly melancholy fiddle solos—puddle jumping, and loss.  I feared that if one of our dogs died the spell would be broken, and so I became the leash-Nazi—Jack’s words. The dogs had to stay on the sidewalk, in our sight, like naughty children. Any sudden leaping or bounding away and I grew frantic and punitive, taking liberties with Serge and spanking him on a few occasions too many. Jack treated me like the bad stepmother at one point, refusing to let me hold his baby’s leash.

Once, when our dates were somewhere between the hundreds and the living together, he stopped in front of the grave of Mr. Edward Worthington and his dearly departed wife, Mrs. Edward Worthington and said, “Wow, he gets double billing in death, and we don’t even know her first name.”


We weren’t going to get married. Maybe I was afraid of becoming Mrs. Jack Pullman at the end, subsumed in the tomb of his world. Or that our shared interests of bluegrass music, puddle jumping and dog walking in cemeteries would give way only to loss, or that one morning I would wake up and there would only be my head floating somewhere above my body, unattached, with his chin and that crooked eye.

I said, “We don’t need the government sleeping between us,” though I knew it hurt his feelings. And he gave me that tiny gold ring on Valentine’s Day, shyly, as if one any bigger might offend me, like the ring might be a tether, a muzzle, a leash.


It was three years before we went on another “official” date.

“I’m feeling stifled by myself,” he told me, after my failed perm made me feel unlovable. He said. “I think we need to start seeing each other.” He knew I’d laugh. By then, after there was nothing but familiar territory on each other’s bodies, on our routine paths through the cemetery, past the soggy new neighborhood community of which his mother was now a resident, perhaps he needed something fresh. And though we both harbored the possibility that a baby might be the next step, our dogs, Mimi and Serge regularly disabused us of this idea by shitting in the house and disemboweling garbage cans in ritual mischief. So we dated again. We started with movies and dinners, bowling and even shopping. But somehow we always came back to walking, counting the “Misses Misters” as we began to think of them: Mrs. Frederick Garner and Mrs. Allen Dietrich and Mrs. Samuel Elling. And if I had known that dating would lead to fighting, I would never have allowed us to start.


 He said, “You look tired,” as we laid yellow daisies on his mother’s grave a year later. She got her own name on her headstone, but his father’s name was already etched there next to hers, his birth date the open end of a clause waiting to swallow the rest of his life: Jackson E. Pullman Sr. 1945—

“I’m not tired,” I said, though I was. I wanted Jack to say something funny. Instead he complained about an old running injury in his ankle, and I said, “You’re just jealous of the dead: they get all the attention.” I didn’t know where it came from either, though of course I was thinking about my mother. And even though he was mad, I didn’t feel obliged to make it better. I didn’t care at the moment what the consequences would be. I pushed him further. I said, “No more trophies, Mister high school champion, no more awards ceremonies. Your mother isn’t here to defend you from the world.”

His silence was worse than any yelling. It went on for days, interrupted only by the harmony that our mutts tried to inspire, forcing us to take them out, throw them balls. I wanted to trump his mother’s death with mine, because I was sure I had more pain than he did.


 And just when we were trying to decide who should pack and move, he went for that physical exam, and once again we had something big in common.

Cancer patients can get very needy, even clingy, one wife told me during one of his chemotherapy appointments. My husband is like one of my children, she said. This is when it occurred to me, like a forgotten item on a list of errands that we had never gotten to seriously consider having them.

He said, “I’ll give you all the sperm I’ve got,” and I did feel better even though I knew he didn’t mean it. He couldn’t stand the idea of me and a child having fun without him. He felt guilty when we left the dogs at the kennel to go out of town for a weekend. And while he was sleeping one afternoon I remembered that the last time we’d visited his mother’s grave as we bent forward over her headstone, he allowed me to dig dirt out of the granite letters of her name for the first time.


When he was still in the hospital, I didn’t ask when he would be leaving the way I asked my mother; I didn’t want to know. I just hung around, waiting, and even snuck in the dogs with the help of the night nurse, a mousy little redhead named Vivian who had, I think, fallen in love with him those final weeks. I didn’t blame her. Serge whined a bit but licked his face and Mimi came out of her aloof mood long enough to rest a paw on his knee, unprompted. He said to all of us before we left, “Don’t drink all the beer, you kids.” And I said, “You too.”


At his funeral I wore the same little black cocktail dress, because it was still the only black in my closet; it had been hanging between his suits and jackets though and this time it smelled like him, like wood smoke and soap. His brothers’ chins all seemed the right sizes, and I pinched myself for wishing that they would be riddled with cancer too, which would eat away at their shapely jaws, their plump earlobes, their stubbled cheeks; as if by dissolving them I could recreate him.

I also wore high heels on his last day above ground. I wanted to feel their spikes dig into the soft ground with every step. I wanted there to be effort, to notice every plane of my foot as it sunk a few inches below me and then rose up again.

When I came back one week later to make sure his headstone was clean, I waited by the car first as an elderly couple passed by traversing the flat stones, admiring the flowers placed on some of them, reading the inscriptions. I heard the man say, “Fifty-five, so young!” And I wanted to rush over to him and say, “How about thirty-eight?” But instead, I kneeled in front of Jack and imagined aloud different fates for him: a Texas breeder of racing greyhounds, a native winner of the Tour de France, a blues guitarist in an Irish Pub.

 These were the only accents I could manage.

Building a Web of Light

In General, Mothers and Writing, Musings on July 30, 2010 at 7:36 pm

Before I was a mother there was nary a subject I was afraid to tackle in my fiction. Fiction is, after all, a safer realm to explore those dark realities and questions that we often can’t in our daily lives. I wrote with almost cavalier freedom about a child who’d lost her arm, a teen mother who cracked under the burden of sudden motherhood, about drug addicted parents and their adult children and the vast gray areas in the human experience that have always fascinated me.

And then my son was born two years ago. And it physically hurt to see tv shows in which children were going hungry, much less a movie or book featuring abuse or worse.

Today, my friend Alegra Clarke and family have to do one of the worst things I can imagine: attend a service for the death of a baby. A baby who was abused (not her own). A family member. She has blogged about it so eloquently already, as has our friend Nina.  And I am not even capable of coming up with the beauty these two have put into words about this subject. I’m merely trying to add to the  support around her and her family, to help build a web of light, so to speak, around something so unbearably dark, to prop them up, help them know they aren’t alone, and though I honestly don’t know have the strategy, to tell them that they will get through this.

 I think some of you out there have already been through this kind of thing, and worse. And it is my hope that some of you might have a story or word to share that softens the terrible blow of this all–because it can’t take away the sharp agony, the stink of what-if and regret–but like Alegra says in her own post, sometimes we can only do what we know. Write. Tell Stories. Love the people in our lives. And like Nina says, be good to him. To all of them. To each other.

Telling Stories

In General, Musings on July 26, 2010 at 9:12 pm

It’s been a tough week for people I care a lot about in some very heavy ways. Life and death stuff. Stuff that makes one’s soul shrink in at the edges. And it makes me think about the power of story. How, when there are no easy platitudes to express one’s deepest sympathy or horror, story is often the only thing we have. Sharing our own. Turning to others’ stories to find ourselves and our way back from terrible things. Remembering the joyful times. Weaving new stories.

It also makes me think about the stories we tell ourselves to get through difficult times, when we’re too afraid to shine the light into certain depths, and the ones that wrongly limit us.

Human experience seems indelibly linked to the creating and expressing of stories. Children do it almost as soon as they can talk, and adults sometimes never stop.

This week, share with me your thoughts on how stories have saved you, or caused you trouble.

Here’s a snippet of one of my stories, Endarkenment, which will appear in the forthcoming Milk & Ink Anthology: A Mosaic of Motherhood

“I knew it was dangerous, but I thought of her thin body pressed against mine, sobbing, how frail she felt in my arms. I thought of her mother, who had never done right by her and I knew that I would break policy as sure as I knew her mother was a kidnapper.”


Reasons to Write (that have nothing to do with publishing)

In Craft, General, Musings, Publishing on July 15, 2010 at 3:21 pm

Lately several of my editing clients/students have asked me the questions that always make me cringe: “Should I continue my pursuit of writing? Do you think I have a chance to be published?”

The first question: Should I continue? Always gets linked to the second: Do I have a chance to be published? And as much as I understand the need to link them, I feel it’s a mistake.

Why? Well let me first say that of course every writer wants to have an audience, earn big advances, achieve some level of fame or notoreity, and feel as though he or she has “arrived.” But if that is the ONLY reason you write, if there is no joy, sense of discovery, larger purpose, creative outlet, then frankly, I think that you are writing for the wrong reasons. UNLESS you are one of those wonderful quick study types who can pick up a craft, produce a commercial product, and therefore make a living at this thing called writing.

 My clients and students are the dreamers, hopers, and wishers (cue a little Kermit singing here), and I am among them. And if I can do one other thing beyond teaching a writer about the craft, it is to say this: Write because it gives your life meaning. Write because you need to express yourself. Write because you like the challenge of getting better at something. Write to be creative. Write to share with a small, but selective audience. Write to know yourself and the world better. Write for the sheer, primal, age-old joy of telling stories, a most basic human impulse if ever there was one.

And don’t let one person (or many, for that matter) ever make the decision for you about whether or not you should give up.

My Friday Four

In Business of Writing, Craft, General, Musings, Publishing on July 9, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I like this whole week in review concept. I’m often late to pick up on a strategy, so no surprise here. With half  of my face numb from the dentist (Dr. Root Canal), here are my thoughts and insights about writing and reading, et al from the week:

1. I am embracing the digital reading revolution with more gusto, have reconnected with my kindle for those “gotta have ’em now” books, while at the same time I bought three print books from my local independent bookseller, two of them BIG, meaning I spent over $14 on them (Tana French’s The Likeness, Mr three-first-names’ Shantaram, and and I’ve pre-paid for French’s new hardcover Faithful Place which goes on sale next week). I want the privelege of doing both forever. If for no other reason that there is no replacement in the digital form for children’s books. Kids are tactile–want to feel, heck, even eat, the pages of good books. You just can’t chew on an ipad with the same delight. For the same reason I want my son to experience nature rather than see it on TV, I want him to hold real books in his hands. I want him to experience reality.

2. Storytelling IS the story. To ME, as both a writer and a teacher of writing, I will never be satisfied by a book that takes shortcuts to telling its story. I hold myself to the same high standard I do my students and clients, and when I read a masterful book, I thank the author for caring so much about me, the unknown reader. I do not deny anyone their entertainment–I watch trashy shows, I read People magazine, for goodness sake–but I have no shame about demanding excellence in my reading.

3. Despite all my snobbery, it occurred to me this week that the need to create exists in all of us and it is a magnificent impulse that should be foster. And for some of us that means writing a story with a lot of pimples, no matter the outcome. The need to create is beautiful, it helps us be better people and we should all tend to it in our lives no matter the form it takes. Therefore, I have greater appreciation for even the roughest of drafts that may fall upon my desk from that standpoint.

4. Finally, the most significant insight of my week is that every writer needs to find that loyal and perfect cache of readers who know how to give constructive criticism in a way that doesn’t make you want to slit your throat. I’m lucky to have a solid little core of these people. They don’t coddle me or pretend my work is perfect, but they get my work, and they help me make it better. Big smooches to you folks: you know who you are.