So, John Calipari and beaches in Mexico

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So… Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Pizza

I like pizza. A lot actually. In my younger days I ran a pizza place. People would often ask me if I got tired of pizza.

Nope. No a bit.

I would say, well there are so many kinds of pizza, you know I can vary what I eat quite a lot. I said that, and it is true, but I didn’t do that. I mostly ate the exact same pizza. Thin crust Pepperoni and mushroom. I like it… a lot (did I say that already?). I would still eat it at least once a week, if I didn’t fear being mocked by my wife. She doesn’t like pizza, well that is not strictly true, but she likes white sauce pizza, which by my definition doesn’t count as pizza…and she has trouble with dairy, so no cheese. I mean come on!

In Canada we are supposed to be able to pursue a life of happiness unrestricted as long as what we do does not adversely harm others. While this is strictly true, it is not practically true. We all modify our behaviours based on our peer group. It is okay to like Justin Beiber, until your peers decide it isn’t cool anymore, so then you have to say you don’t like him anymore, even though you may actually still think he is talented, even if he is doing some weird things.

Something interesting happens when you become accepted into a peer group, you give up some of your personal freedoms to belong.  You give up some of who you are to feel connected to this group. I find that fascinating. To me this is one of the most interesting things about people. We will even do things that are terrible to others to belong to that group. Ask most school kids about having been or having done some bullying. Most have encountered it, and often they really didn’t want to hurt the other person, they just really wanted to look cool to the people they were with. I get it. I don’t remember bullying anyone, but I don’t eat pizza as much as I want…and I am an adult.

What is it about being in a group that makes us want so desperately to stay in the group that we give up part of ourselves to stay there. I have been part of groups where, I really hated who I was when I was in it, I didn’t like the group any better, but I was scared to be out of the group.

We, people I mean, are built for connection. We have lots of different diagnoses for people who don’t feel or are separated from that feeling of connection. It is an intrinsic part of what makes us human. If you are a person of faith, you would say that is how we are made, to connect to God. If you are a person who looks to science, you would say it was a survival instinct that continues through evolutionary processes. Whatever your reason of choice it is hard to deny this overwhelming imperative.

If I ever went back to university, i would study this. I would study what it is that makes us like this, and I would study what that leads us to do.

My dad was a military history buff. He had many many books on the subject and was very knowledgeable about it. I am not uninterested in that, but my angle is different, I want to understand the why. I want to see, not that we hurt others, or fought for this piece of land, but why we felt that need. How do we decide who sets the course, how do we decide that that once the course is set, it is more important to stay in the group than it is to say, well wait a minute. I don’t care about this, so I am not going to do it.

People in a group are so very interesting, and individually are just as interesting. We are all free to chart our own course and so we do, as long as our peers let us. The pressure to be a High School student trying to decide the next step, stuck between teachers and their pressure to get good grades and have options open, the guidance counselors telling you to figure out what you will be goods at, you parents telling you to find a career that will either make you happy or wealthy, and your friends who are just as confused as you, but don’t want to appear to not know what they want. I just can’t imagine how hard that would be. You have a whole life in front of you, but how can you possibly figure it all out. The signals from everyone around you are so confusing.

My advice? Relax, let’s go get pizza, we’ll have time to figure it out later, and the Pizza will be worth it!

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So, Superheros and Life.

I don’t read comic books. I have never read them. I don’t mean to say that I have never in my life looked at one or never in my life seen one. Of course I have, but as a normal thing, I just never got into them. I usually say to people, “I read books.” Which, although true, makes me sound quite judgmental and superior. Superhero movies are in vogue right now, Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Iron Man, Thor, etc. I have seen some of these and even enjoyed a couple of them, but I don’t think I really get it. What is the attraction to these “people”? Why do we turn to superheros to rescue us?

What is it inside us that makes us long for superheros? Now, some of you will read this and say to yourself, “well I don’t like superheros either.” I think we all do to a certain extent. We turn Tiger Woods into a superhero – Golfman, and are devastated when he turns out to be a person , a flawed imperfect, broken person. Or Angelina Jolie, who made a brave choice perhaps, but also (and often conveniently forgotten) broke up someone’s marriage. We take people and make a superhero of them. We don’t want to know the unwashed, unheroic truth of these people. We want Barack Obama to really bring hope and change, we want him to be more than just a man. The backlash for not living up to people’s expectation is harsh. We don’t just adjust our perceptions, we get frustrated and angry and decry them for being what we didn’t want them to be…human.

I love my wife, not because I don’t see her (very few) flaws, not because I think her good qualities outweigh her bad qualities (though they do), I love her because her flaws and her strengths combine to make her the person I know. The whole person. Good and bad. Perfect and imperfect. Smiling and angry.

Yet, I don’t apply this to other people, and certainly not to myself. Every time someone turns out to be flawed in a way I didn’t expect, I am disappointed. I should be disappointed with myself, but I am disappointed by that person. Batman turns out to be Bruce Wayne with a car and a cape. Superman turns out to be Clark Kent without glasses…and a cape. 

We should revel in their humanness, we should be excited and relieved when a person who was one dimensional turns out to be multi-faceted. That should be a good thing. There are no superheros. There are real people trying to be better than they were. There are real people who rise to occasions and do more than expected, who help others when everyone else is just watching. They are not superheros, but they are flawed, failed, imperfect people who somehow find a place inside themselves to do more than wait for someone else to do something.

I remember 30 years ago a plane went down in the Potomac river. 6 people survived the crash, one of those, a man named Arland D Williams Jr. was among them. As a helicopter hovered overhead Mr. Williams helped the other survivors by passing them the rescue ropes so they could be pulled to safety. When the helicopter returned to him after transporting others to the shore, the wing had submerged and Williams was gone.

I would like to think that I would act similarly, but I truly do not know, nothing in my life suggests I would have the courage necessary to be that selfless. Mr Williams was not a superhero with incredible powers or even a cape, he was one of us. A flawed person, who somehow acted in a way that was extraordinary. I don’t imagine he was a perfect person, but what he did astounds me. He acted in a way that I wish to live up to. I doubt anyone would recognize me if I dressed as Arland D Williams Jr at a Comicon though.

The unwashed truth is that all of us have our flaws and our strengths. The stories that interest me the most are those that don’t pretend we are other than that. I like to know that ordinary people sometimes do incredible things, not incredible people sometimes do incredible things. I don’t care about that. That is not a real thing. Life is not about that.

Life is about trying, despite our flaws, to be better today than we were yesterday, to treat others better. George Matthew Adams once said “I say to myself that I shall try to make my life like an open fireplace, so that people may be warmed and cheered by it and so go out themselves to warm and cheer.”

Be a fireplace not a superhero, in the end it is more meaningful and will impact more people, though you may never know it.

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So… Self Image

I have a mirror. Actually I have 2 of them, one in the bathroom and a full length one in the bedroom. They work fine. I can see myself in both of them. The picture is roughly the same in both. Neither one shows the picture of me I have inside my head. I just don’t look like that. I don’t.

My view of myself is a cobbled together affair of different times and places and wardrobes and hairstyles. The end result though is my mirror is lying to me. It is not showing who I really am, it is conspiring with the world to show a view of me that bears no relationship to the person that is trapped inside.

It starts with my age, the mirror continues to show me as a middle aged man. I am not, I am young, I am not so young that I have no experience, but not yet 30. Inside I am about 28. I can do anything, My hair is not gray. My whole life is still waiting to happen, there is so much time left, how will I fill it all. The mirror does not reflect that at all, in it I am 47 (almost 48), my hair is almost white. My life is passing by so quickly and my best efforts to slow it down are useless. Who is this man in the mirror, who is this old person?

It continues with my weight. I see it in the mirror, but in my head, it is not so, I am thin – well thinner at least. I am not this heavy, old man that my mirror shows me. I can touch my toes, heck, I can see my toes. My mirror does not reflect back the leaner, more fit man in my head. It shows a man who has paid too little attention to exercise and far too much time to his  plate.

I make jokes about my weight and my age, but in reality it is painful to see myself. I am not happy with the mirror, this reflection of what all of you see. I am not him, I want to shout to everyone wherever I go. What you see is false, it is a facade, it is not me, not the real me. Oh please, can you see past this exterior to the person on the inside?

The problem is, even in my behaviour I have created a false mirror. I wear a mask, it is one of my own choosing. It is not the mask that exists in the mirror, but it is a mask nonetheless. A part of it exists because of the mirror. I see this false person in the mirror and I feel the need to protect myself from others. I have developed a habit of hiding my true feelings. I have heard from people that I am intimidating, that I am  gruff, and harsh. That is not how I feel inside. Inside I am a marshmallow, all soft and squishy. I am emotional and I hurt for people who hurt. The mirror doesn’t show that either, it shows a man who doesn’t much care what you feel, but it just isn’t so.

My mirror is lying to me and to the world, it shows a false picture of who I really am, maybe they all do, maybe we are all sitting inside our heads searching for a way out. Searching for a place where we can really be seen by others. Really be seen for who we are, for all our faults and all our talents.


My mask is lying too. It shows a facade, a construct of who I think you should see. Churches are supposed to be places where we can be freed of the obligations of who we look like and think like and just be ourselves, but we all bring our mirrors and masks with us. We all still hide who we are, behind the chubby, old, gruff face. Can we blame others for only seeing that, at least at first?

I want to get rid of my mirror and my mask, but the truth is, I feel safer with it in place. I long for a place, if not for me, for my children, where there are no more mirrors, where we can all be exactly who we are inside. Where we can be liked or loathed for who we actually are, not just the outward presentation of who we are.

How does one even start a journey like that? I have no idea, I truly am making up things as I go along. I am doing my best in a confusing world. Some days it just feels like my best is not good enough and so I put on my mask, and I look in my mirror, and I just…carry on.

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So, Politics and Hockey

Here I am on a Saturday morning during the winter Olympics in Sochi. The U.S. hockey team is currently playing mediocre hockey in a determined effort to lose the Bronze Medal game to Finland. As I watch this terrible game and see professional hockey players, each paid millions of dollars to play a game, essentially put forth the minimum effort and in that process, show the world they could care less about a Bronze medal. A Bronze medal! At the Olympics! These were the best hockey players the US had, they were chosen for the honor of representing their country. Chosen! These spoiled hockey players show no respect for their country, for the Olympics, for each other. It is embarrassing. 

At the same time, in the province in Canada where I live, the Premier has spent public money to go to Nelson Mandela’s funeral. She did not go to represent Alberta, we would not have expected that, Alberta had no exceptional connection to him, though he was undoubtedly a great leader. she went because she had a personal connection to him. She spent our money to go and do that. This person who was selected by her party, she received 37,400 votes. In a province of 3.6 million people, 37,000 voted for her and she became the Premier.Maybe she was the best person for the job? Maybe she was the best person available, and maybe she is the best person in Alberta and should be the leader of our province? Maybe that is true. How would we know? Our system is not designed to find the best person, it is designed to find the most popular of a group of insiders put forward by themselves. It is a broken and flawed system.

The two things got me thinking. What if we treated politicians the way we treat hockey players? What if they started off in local politics, working hard, getting noticed, and then the higher levels noticed and drafted them to go up to the next level, Provincial politics, where they worked hard and got noticed, and then the best of the best got drafted and payed millions of dollars to represent us and they could only stay in the Majors (National politics) if they were really good at it, smart, improved the country, genuinely tried to make life better for the people that put them there. 

I wonder what the world would be like if that was the way it was. I don’t expect it to happen, we will continue to elect the most popular of a small group and hope against hope that they will do better than the last “most popular” person. We will continue to pay millions to the people who play kids games at a high level and we will continue to cheer for them. We are wired to long to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and for millions of people around the world, sports teams fill that void. Sometimes and usually rarely, we are rewarded for that cheering and those teams excel and the players are better people than the rest. Sometimes they live up to our hopes. That is more than I can say for our politicians, they never seem to. The power corrupts, or the system corrupts, something does and the good among them drop to the level of the rest and seem indignant when called to question for anything.

I wish there were politicians worth cheering for and I wish the system rewarded the selfless and classy among them, but it does not. It rewards those who play the game…I guess both systems do that…Sigh!

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So, Valentine’s Day

I grew up in a house where we did not celebrate “greeting card” holidays. No Mother’s day, Father’s day, definitely no Valentine’s Day. My dad just did not believe in it and as kids we ignored my mom on this subject and did what my dad said was right. He wasn’t right, not on this subject, not at all. It is good to pause and remember the people around us, who are in our lives and matter to us. I get that lots of flowers and chocolates get sold, but I don’t think that is the most important thing about Valentine’s Day. The most important thing about Valentine’s Day is letting the person you love, or like a lot, know that you feel that way. You really should not wait for Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s Day or Grandparent’s Day. You should be telling those people all  the time, but at the very least you should do something to show they are special on that day.

My dad was not trying to be a jerk and I think that many of the men (and yes it is usually the men) who resist Valentine’s Day are not trying to be jerks. Some of them are jerks, but many are not trying to be that.  They are trying to resist a culture that tells us to over do everything. “Don’t just get her chocolates, buy her a diamond…or a car!” Resisting culture is perhaps a good thing, we can debate that another time, but don’t resist culture at the expense of the people you love. That is not jerky, but it is foolish. In relationships both sides need to feel valued and special, or they seek that elsewhere.

I love my wife, very much. This year I did not buy her flowers (not her favorite thing anyway), I did not buy her chocolates either. I did make her a cheesy/funny card (but I forgot it at work). What I did was to make her a gift, I put thought into it, I tried to make it special, it didn’t come out as nicely as I wanted, but I still gave it to her. It didn’t cost me much except time and thought, but I wanted her to know today and everyday, that she is important to me, that I still, today, after 17 years, choose her. I want her to be my special someone as long as she will have me. It is funny that sometimes it takes the prompting of a special day for us to remember to say the things we mean. I hope that she knows, and that I tell her in ways that mean something to her, how important she is to me, how much better my life is for having her in it, that I would choose no other for this journey we are on. I hope she knows that already, but at the very, very, very least, I am going to make sure she hears it today.

Sure Valentine’s Day is a greeting card holiday, sure we have the romantic gesture shoved down our throats, and sure some of us kind of dislike that, but don’t take a stand and discover you hurt the person who is most important in your life. She likes flowers, does it really hurt to get her some? To have them sent to her place of work so she can let others know that you value her? Is that wrong? She likes chocolate (and really who doesn’t), is it so bad to go and buy something before they go on sale so that she knows you value her more than money? She likes jewelry, is it so bad to watch for something that might catch her eye and get it early in anticipation of how she will feel when you give it to her?

I love my wife, and I didn’t spend money this year, but I was not taking a stand, I was trying to show her how I feel in a different way. The money is irrelevant to this. I wanted to express something and tried to find a way to do that. I hope I succeeded.

Go thou and do likewise!

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So, Wednesday

I’m having a bit of a tough week. It is not one of those weeks that some people have where they lose their jobs and their dog runs away. I am not experiencing a country music kind of week. It is still a tough week for me though. I went to visit my father yesterday. He is in a long term care facility. He didn’t know who I was, and was not really responsive to any questions or conversation. I drove 45 minutes each way to have a conversation with a man I love who no longer knows me. He looked at me and I could see him searching my face for a clue to who I was, I saw him come up with nothing. It hurt. I felt lost, I felt beyond lost actually. I felt rudderless, I felt anger and sorrow and frustration, and guilt. I don’t visit him as often as I think I should, I know I should do better, but some times I simply can’t bring my self to do it. I can’t face that pain. I can’t face that longing. I can’t face that I was not a better son when I had the chance to be. There is huge pain in realizing that I have been found wanting. To the depths of my soul I want to have a conversation with this man, to get his advice, on anything at all.

I got home from the visit to receive a work email. Things aren’t going well there either. Nothing that is truly in my control, but it affects me. I feel responsible, I feel like there must be something I can do, should do. I just don’t know what. At the same time, things are going well there. It is really one area that there is an issue. I wish I could change it though. I feel helpless.

So in two different areas of my life yesterday, I felt helpless and lost. I felt and feel like I am letting people down. It hurts to feel like the guy who doesn’t succeed, who doesn’t do the amazing thing at the amazing time and doesn’t save the world, or the girl, or even myself from the situation that is going awry. I don’t even know if it is all that awry. Am I being too sensitive?Am I failing in that way too? Or wait, if I am failing that way, maybe not failing in the other two? I’m not sure.

I feel a bit like an automaton. I am going about my business trying not to show my feelings to those around me. I really don’t know what else to do. This is my coping strategy. It is not a good one. It is just the best I have come up with after 47 years. I feel like I am failing myself as well as those around me. I feel like if I don’t show it to people then maybe it is all in my head. They won’t even notice the pain, the torture. Maybe I am capable of fooling everyone. Perhaps, but should I?

Last night, I got a text from a friend about the Ken Ham/Bill Nye debate. I was asked if I was watching it.

I wasn’t.

I didn’t.

I feel like that sort of thing is like a politician’s speech, you bore your enemies and convince your friends. I don’t think too much of those debates. So I chose not to watch it.

Today I was inundated with a pile of stories about how bad it was about how nonsensical the Christian (Ken Ham) was in the debate. The general consensus seems to be that people who watched are further from God than they were before. This saddens me also.

I don’t talk about it much on here, but I believe in God. I didn’t always but I do now.

It is during weeks like this that I experience both sides of a debate in my head. I turn to God and wish I could feel Him changing my circumstances. I don’t though. My experience of God is not like that.

He doesn’t steer my ship that way, but He is with me, experiencing my pain and wishing with me that the pain wasn’t there.

I came to believe in Him rationally. I know many people cannot accept belief in God as rational, but I won’t debate you. I know God is. I feel it, even on days like this. I just don’t think I can argue you into believing what I believe. Nothing in my life has ever shown me that people are able to change their views midstream. Certainly not by arguing with someone.

God is my companion. God comforts me in times of sorrow, God strengthens me in times of weakness, God celebrates with me in times of joy. God is the place I go to in times of need. God is like my safest place. When I am away from it, I want to go back, when I leave it, I am aware that there is a separation.

I miss my dad today. I wish I could change circumstances. I wish I was stronger in my life. I wish…

I think on days like this, during weeks like this, it is terribly easy to miss that the sun shining (even though it is cold outside). It is so easy to miss that my life is quite good. Things are not perfect, but they rarely are. Today of all days, I must look and see that yes, it is a tough week, but it is not a country song week. My dog is still at home

I am at least grateful for that.

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So, T.V. News and the dark side of the force.

My brother Rob stopped watching the news. When he first told me, I thought he was a crazy man. How can you be a thinking, caring, informed voter, without watching the news. I first heard this from him at least a year ago, and he continues to not read or watch the news. When we get together, if we talk about the news, he genuinely has no idea what we are talking about.

I contrast that to my Father in Law who always has the news on. My wife and I watch it every morning and I pay attention throughout my day. We know what is going on. The thing about it is, we are not happier. We are not better, we are in many ways much worse off.

Since 1991, when crime peaked in Canada, the crime rate has been on a continual decline. That is only true if you do not pay attention to the news. We have a 24 hour news cycle and to fill that time, they report all the crime in minute detail. They drone on about it. If you watched the news daily, as i do, you would speculate that crime is getting much worse, but it isn’t. It just isn’t. So am I better off watching the news with a cynical eye and knowing that they are over reporting everything? Nope, studies show that optimism is good for you. You live longer, you eat netter, you are nicer to be around. I posit that I am not more optimistic when I watch the news, I think, in general I am more cynical, and maybe even more depressed when i watch the news. That can’t be good, and maybe it is time to be like Rob and just…quit.

I thought he was on the dark aside of the force, and I was on the good side, but I am now not so sure. I think perhaps my knowing every tragic thing that happens in my city, my province, my country, my continent and around the world, is not such a good idea. I think that is maybe how the dark side wins, it convinces us that it isn’t in fact the dark side at all. Hmmm, I wonder what else that might apply to. I will have to muse on that another time, for now…

I’m coming Rob. You and i will be blissfully ignorant together.

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So,… my dream

I had a dream last night. I don’t normally have much recollection of the content of my dreams, but I remember last night’s. The dream was kind of petty for this particular dream to be the dream I remember. It went like this, I was golfing with some friends, it was fall and their were multi-colored leaves all over the ground. It was a rainy fall day. The bit I remember clearest happened right at the end. I went up to putt and there was a ball in my path. One of my friend’s balls was right in my way. Instead of waiting for him to mark it (and I was aware in the dream that that is what should happen) I whacked his ball off the green into the trees. I missed my putt, it rolled past the hole and curled to the left. I walked over to it and went to line it up again, when I noticed another friend’s ball in my path again. I treated this the same way as I had the first, sent it off into the trees. Then I woke up.

I am sure I could read a ton into the symbolic gesture of sending my friend’s balls off the green. I am quite confident that a psychiatrist would do a number on me, perhaps sedate me, certainly we would be planning years of therapy. My take away upon waking and the feeling I still have this morning, is that I was a jerk in that dream. Now perhaps I haven’t captured the internal feelings as I launched their balls, because for me it wasn’t about beating them, it was funny to me, in the dream. That doesn’t help my jerk feelings this morning though. what kind of guy thinks it is funny to do that to a friend. Oh I get that it was a dream and I get that friends play jokes on each other. The thing for me is that I am a jokester. I play jokes on others. the event in the dream didn’t happen, but it could have, it is exactly the sort of thing I would do. That is what is troubling me this morning.

I think I may be a jerk. If any of my friends read this they will laugh, “oh you are they might say.” I don’t know if I have ever felt it that overwhelmingly though. Waking up from that dream, I realized I don’t want to be that guy. Real change in oneself is hard, it takes time and commitment, and it produces mediocre results and a great deal of frustration and backsliding. I just don’t want to be the guy who always does the jerk joke. I thought, as i woke up, “Wow you are not nice.” I want to be nice, and if that seems too far away, I want to be nicer. I have a lot of nice friends, so I know what it looks like, and it does not look like me. The question is, can it? Can I be nicer? I think I can, I know I want to, I get the challenge. 

See, I will be trying to do this, within my everyday life, so the same things that always prompt jerky behaviour will be happening. I will be reinforcing bad behaviour even as i strive to not do those things. My friends will expect the bad behaviour. It will take years before the different me is seen regularly, and much longer until that guy is acknowledged (if ever) by those friends. The thing is, I won’t be doing it for them. I don’t want to have that dream again. i don’t want to reflect on the person I am and say, “Jerk.” Today, I would settle for, “less of a jerk.” 

I want to be different, I want to dream about helping others, being kind to others, I want to do that and wake up and think, “yep, that is who I am, no one will be surprised if I act that way”.

This may take a while, I’ll have to get back to you on my progress.

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So,… Shtick

Quick name the guy who costars in the tv show Mike and Molly? Everyone knows it is Melissa McCarthy, but what is the guy’s name. What is the actor who plays Mike’s name? I had to look it up, it is Billy Gardell. I don’t watch the show, it is too over the top for me. Clearly though, Melissa McCarthy has become the star, she does the shtick.

Another show that caught my attention recently was The Crazy Ones, the show where Robin Williams has returned to TV. I don’t watch this show either, it makes me sad. Robin Williams is a gifted person, he is a great actor, who rarely shows his chops, he is also an incredibly talented comedian. This show, however, is just a sad vehicle for Williams to do the shtick that he did as a much younger man. 

It started me thinking, what is my shtick, what are the patterns of thought or behaviour that I have really outgrown, but I fall back on when I am lazy, or stressed, or not paying attention?

I recently listened to a radio broadcast in which a man confronts his friends about their perceptions that he was an a**h***. His words, not mine. In the end he acknowledged that he probably was, but that he was not going to change. That made me sad too. Change is hard, very hard. We have to put in lots of time, effort and practice to change who we are and how we act. It is worth it though. I don’t want to be the poor excuse for a man I was when I was 20.

What patterns do I fall back on that I thought I had outgrown. I may do like that young man and simply spend some time in erstwhile conversation asking some people in my life and finding out what they are. Once I know, know for sure,and from the outside, I can put in the work to change them.

What is your shtick, what do you fall back to?

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