May 29th: Giving Back…


On this Memorial Day, “giving back” seems an appropriate topic, so I want to share the following with you. When my kids were growing up in Orinda, which is a sheltered and affluent community in Northern California just outside of the city of San Francisco, I was a little concerned about the bubble we were in. With Orinda being very white and with fellow parents who were definitely more well to do than we were, I didn’t want my kids to think that Orinda was the norm. Also, having grown up in Europe myself, I didn’t want my kids to think that America was the world (as in the misnomer “World Series” which isn’t a world series at all).

In California, there’s an additional luxury/first-world problem, since we have it all in this state: beaches, mountains, great climate, cosmopolitan cities, some great universities, good wine, delicious food and incredible scenery. (Caroline just told me the other day that the people are better looking here than in the MidWest, but I can’t vouch for that).

In fact, we are a bit like the French in what we have, and that can lead to a certain complacency and national arrogance when it comes to your sense of place.

When the kids were little, we tried to tell them to open their minds and took them traveling, but one summer, Jon and I were sorely disappointed that when we proposed that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Australia, the kids balked, said it would interfere with their “social schedule” over the summer, and Caroline threw a hissy fit when she heard how long the flight was going to be. We were disheartened. Were our kids spoiled rotten already? My heart sank when I heard the fierce opposition of the kids over the dinner table. I mean, we got a great deal on the tickets but traveling to Australia was going to cost money regardless, and I feared dragging two pubescent ingrates all over Australia (and having to pay for it in more ways than one…).

I mean this was them on a ferry in the harbor of Sydney:

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And we were so glad we paid for this bus tour around Melbourne:

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Fast forward.

For parents who have kids this age and who feel the same way, or feel the same fears, things truly do change when your kids become adults. Both Caroline and Will have changed into caring, compassionate adults who no longer shun travel, they don’t fret over long flights nor do they hesitate to give back. Since going off to college in Chicago, Caroline has even mentioned once or twice how she’s realized she is very privileged and how grateful she is for getting the chances that she’s getting. Will’s the same way. He has been given a great education and is showing the stamina and resolve to want to be a success, but is also committed to giving back.

This week, I was touched seeing these pictures of Will working in the townships of Cape town, South Africa:

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Seeing these pictures, I suddenly remembered how Will at 3, was tearing down the corner at King Sooper’s in Denver, when we lived there. Denver is a pretty white city, or was when we were there, so seeing Asians or blacks was rare… so… when a big black guy stepped into Will’s path, almost colliding with the toddler, Will looked up and said a loud-mouthed: “Yikes!” I was so embarrassed and a trifle worried, for was my kid a racist?!

Well, seeing Will’s pics and work in South Africa, helping hundreds of people with the chance to have cheap/free glasses made me realize I didn’t raise a racist, or a spoiled, provincial kid. He turned out exactly the way I wanted him to be: Willing to broaden his horizon, eager to travel and giving back. But he was also giving back to me– he gave me the opportunity to be proud of him and the person he has become. I cannot take much credit for it, because raising kids really is a crapshoot and all you can do is do your best and hope and pray, but when they land on their feet like this, and, on top of that, are willing to look past the privileged place they call home, you realize life gives back, too. Humbled and grateful, I’ll sign off here.

PS I owe you a Henry Miller blog. Hope to write one soon about Henry and his mother and what she meant for his feelings about art and creating art. If you haven’t seen my GoFundMe page yet on the money I’m trying to raise to fund the travel to find Henry’s letters and manuscripts all over this country (in research libraries), you can find it here: http://www.gofundme.com/henrymillerrocks

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May 24th: I’ve been Wimping Out on You


The moral crisis of the 19th century has merely given way to the spiritual bankruptcy of the 20th. It is the “time of the assassins,” and no mistaking it. Politics has become the business of gangsters. The peoples are marching in the sky but they are not shouting hosannahs; those below are marching towards the bread lines.

~ Henry Miller, The Time of the Assassins, A Study of Rimbaud

I apologize.

Work has meant long days and I haven’t had much time to blog, let alone think a single original thought, but I won’t bore you with that sort of trivia.

I’ve been reading Henry Miller’s study of Rimbaud, an artist he felt great kinship with. I fell in love with Rimbaud in High School, but I will have to reread him, and polish up my French in the process…

And… Rome is burning: have you been following the news?

By Rome I don’t mean Rome and that enlightened Pope, but our country… it has all the hallmarks of an empire going down, and just with the Roman Empire, it wasn’t/isn’t Nero/Romulus or Trump per se– they were/are but expressions, results and symbols of the corrupt and decadent times we live in. We have sabotaged ourselves by not paying attention.

“Politics has become the business of gangsters” Henry wrote and the line has stuck because every time I see our dear President, I see a mafia boss who will do anything to throw anyone under the bus, as long as he and his family survive. The Presidency has been bought by the Trump conglomerate, and his base is still buying it and snorting it like crack cocaine.

In his study of Rimbaud, Henry makes a passionate plea for being a rebel and for leading the creative life, for therein lies our salvation. When people want mere bread and games, they have become enslaved and are incapable of revolt.

While Silicon Valley is still booming and buzzing, we have defunded the arts in our schools and have stifled the creative impulse. If you take that away and don’t stimulate people to think for themselves or think outside of the box, you create blind followers who will not contribute but who are very useful… no, absolutely necessary in authoritarian and repressive regimes.

Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg all dropped out of college, refusing to drink the Kool-Aid. They followed and nurtured their own inner light/creative impulse, rebelled against the status quo and created their own empires, which has kept our economy afloat on the world stage but now we need the innovators, the creators, the rebels, the freethinkers in our government… but where are they? Bernie Sanders was a disrupter but the system, corruption (yes, liberals engage in it too) killed his campaign. The system has become autocratic, incapable of absorbing change or what is best for the American people. We have become like Russia and not because Trump is in bed with dictators and demagogues.

Henry Miller got it. He’s saying the same thing over and over again. But he was sabotaged, too. Not because he was feared for being an original thinker but because America couldn’t stomach his sex scenes.

We need to rediscover him and the Henry Millers in our society, for they will lead the way, lift up the poor and always choose peace over war and love over hate.

Resist… and if you have some spare change, fund my new book: http://www.gofundme.com/henrymillerrocks

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How Henry Miller is really good for midlife crisis, or when you feel low and want to go travel…


I’m going to be honest with you: I’m swamped with work and deadlines, and while I’m reading Henry Miller religiously, I won’t have time to blog or write this week. Therefore, I’m giving you (for free) the opening of my Henry Miller novella which you can find here on Amazon. Here it is:

                           

Euro Trippy

A Novella about Midlife Crisis, Henry Miller

and True Love

© 2012 Inez Hollander

Author’s Note

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are made up by the author or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual events, locales, persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

This has been a labor of love. These characters have become like my children, so if you judge them, judge them with the softness of your heart. We are all flawed and it is what makes us interesting. Perfection is a bore.

“Life is radiant if only we’re bitten in the right place.”

                                                  Henry Miller, Black Spring

PART ONE

“What the expatriate artist feels in Europe is a spiritual rebirth: the old self dies; the new self feels immortal.”

                                                  Erica Jong, The Devil at Large

HENRY

     “Lul!” the cyclist cursed as he raced by in what seemed a twenty-first century reenactment of the Flying Dutchman. His pedal narrowly missed my kneecaps as I stumbled backwards, weighed down by my forty-pounds’ backpack. I opened my mouth in fleeting protest, tasting my own bad breath. My eyes stung with jetlag. The filtered light of the pale polder sun was as intrusive as the realization of daybreak after a night of too many beers and too little sleep.

     Maybe Amsterdam was a bad idea.

     “Sin city!” my mother had cried with an enthusiasm that seemed at once uncool and inappropriate. I had wanted to fly into Paris, following into the footsteps of Hemingway and Fitzgerald who, in the 1920s, had seen Prohibition-weary Americans arriving by the boatload. A heavily discounted ticket took me to this bicycle-infested city and canal cornucopia instead.

     So this was it: the city where Anne Frank languished in her Annex and Descartes wrote “I think therefore I am,” thereby egging on the European intelligentsia to think like modern-day scientists rather than medieval mystics.

     “All that history is just killing me…” (my mom again, after I talked about Europe before leaving) and then the stinger with a hand on my knee: “Loosen up Henry dear; this will be your year off…you might as well carpe that fucking diem…” I cringed.

     My mother had been pimping Europe as the locale of bar brawls, opium dens and falling hard for Europeans, who, according to my mom, all looked like “friggin’ Sophia Loren and Liam Neeson.”

     Rather than scoring some Bologna broad or Stockholm sweetheart, I wanted to find myself, or rather, see for myself whether Europe still had that dynamo power to awaken young wannabe writers like me. Yes, the power of pot was one thing but the allure of Gertrude Stein quite another. Maybe I had come too late. Maybe Europe, “Old Europe” had been diminished to a cavernous museum of drafty corridors and sad relics that could not even conjure up the magic of its own monumental past.

     I put on my sunglasses and glanced at the address my mom had so carefully written down: Herengracht 214a: use the orange bell and press hard. This was the wrong canal. The Herengracht was one canal ring further down. I walked on with increased vigilance, ready to ward off more homicidal cyclists hurtling themselves through space in my direction. The air felt slightly damp which was to be expected in a country that has defied the notion of sea levels. I marveled at the tall, stately canal houses with their gables, window shutters and warehouse hooks. Even though I had left California behind me at the other end of the world, it was as if I were walking onto a Hollywood set.

     The Dutch language with its pronounced gutturals bounced off the brick buildings whose corners were sometimes decorated with flower stalls. The women seemed to have walked straight out of Vermeer’s paintings: big-boned blondes with blue eyes that sparkled a freshness and daring that made me feel vulnerable and naked. Wafting out of the first coffeeshop was the skanky smell of Nederwiet, Holland’s most well-known and potent varietal of pot. Cigarette smoking in public places and restaurants had finally been outlawed in Europe too, but this did not apply to the coffee shops where college graduates like myself smoked themselves sick, much like the Americans who drunk themselves half unconscious, littering the sidewalk cafés of Europe’s capitals in the 1920s.

     I passed a street organ; its shrill music seemed a sure migraine trigger after the monotonous roar of the plane’s jet engines. The fellow who manned the organ shook a copper tin in my direction, begging for some tourist generosity. He winked at me and sang without inhibition. Something about tulips and Amsterdam. I stumbled on, and, slightly jittery and dazed, I was trying to prepare myself mentally for my meeting with the ice queen, June. June, the daughter of my mom’s best friend Jill happened to be working as an intern for a human rights organization in Amsterdam. While I would be bumming around Europe after having graduated from Berkeley, June had wasted no down time but kept padding her resume by landing this prestigious internship, after having graduated from Yale.

     Although there was no love lost between June and I, my mom Rita and Jill had been best friends in college. Upon graduating in the 1980s they had been roaming the streets of Europe before starting graduate school. From what I know it had been an outrageous bash, as if they had wanted to shed all their living-dangerously behavior before settling down in dull marriages and dreary careers back home.

     Eventually, my mom married my dad, a cigar-smoking venture capitalist, and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Jill married an obsessive-compulsive corporate lawyer (my mom’s words, not mine) and settled in Weston, Connecticut.

     Apparently, it had been their summer of excess and, after having picked up the forbidden Henry Miller at Shakespeare & Company in Paris, my mom had been reading Miller out loud on their many train rides through Europe. I can’t even imagine how June’s mother, who is definitely more repressed than my liberated hippie mom, reacted to all those passages with cocks and cunts.

     Of course at this point in time, Miller, at first banned from America’s puritanical mainstream was banned all over again by the feminists who condemned him for his misogynist depiction of women, but Jill and my mom, while equally aware and braless (I shudder at that visual) as their feminist peers, began to embrace Miller as an advocate of freedom. “Miller,” my mom told me over dinner one night, “personified not only the freedom to be and the freedom to love, but also the freedom to rebel against what he called the ‘air-conditioned nightmare’ that America had become.”

     Using Miller as their Bible and reason for being, my mom’s and Jill’s journey through Europe became a Dionysian quest for a mere delight of the senses: they gulped wine at breakfast, lunch and dinner, competed at finding the smelliest and runniest of cheeses and slurped at oysters, food that they would not have touched with a stick, growing up in the States. They stopped shaving their armpits and screamed with orgiastic joy when their Italian and French lovers praised their stale body odors or gorilla armpits. Liberated by the sixties, they pushed the boundaries of sexual decadence before the angst set in about HIV-Aids in the eighties.

     “Our mantra,” my mom told me, as she was clearing the dinner dishes, “came straight out of The Tropic of Cancer…” and here my mom looked at the ceiling in an attempt to jog her memory, but then flawlessly cited with an almost rapturous joy: “To sing you must first open your mouth. You must have a pair of lungs, and a little knowledge of music. It is not necessary to have an accordion, or a guitar. The essential thing is to want to sing. This then is a song. I am singing.”

     “But mom,” I said, “You’re tone deaf!”

     “You don’t get it, do you?” she looked at me, disappointed.

     “We sang and chanted our way through Europe like New World Aboriginals, renaming the land and redefining ourselves. It was as if we were being reborn, finding new voices and new selves.”

     To the latter I could relate, or hoped to relate once I set foot in Europe. I asked my mom what had happened after that…

     “We parted for business school and law school, and wept…saying goodbye in the airport. If I could, I told Jill, I would marry you…”

     “And what did she say to that?”

     “I never thought I would hear her say what she said then, knowing her straitlaced Baptist education, but Miller had set her free from all the prudes she had grown up with, so she said…”

     “Maybe I don’t want to know,” I said as I started clearing the rest of the table, but my mom was unstoppable especially when the truth serum of her fourth glass of wine kicked in.

     “She said, ‘Dahling I would marry you too, but we need cock in cunt country’.” My mom threw her napkin on the table and started clearing out the dish washer, all silently, as if to underscore the anticlimax of what came after they had said goodbye at that Atlanta airport: the familiar trajectory of school, marriage, a house in suburbia, the chocolate colored Labrador, kids, minivans, menopause and estrogen replacement therapy.

     Oddly, in a final tribute to Henry Miller and their shared summer of untamed abandon they had named June and I after the scorned writer and his second wife. June and I were born a week apart. It was as if they had dedicated a live monument to their summer of independence together by naming us Henry and June. Unfortunately, June and I were as far apart as our mothers had been close.

Here it was. The Herengracht. I took off my sunglasses to focus better on the street numbers. A wide hipped woman was busily scrubbing her stoop with bleach. I walked to number 214a, pressed the doorbell and looked back at the cleaning woman. I had never seen such devotion to a piece of sidewalk. I waited. Then pressed the doorbell again. I felt a sudden knot in my stomach. I disliked June but did not even know her that well. During the sparse reunions between my mom and hers I had been forced to play and interact with her while our mothers talked and laughed like hyenas over cups of coffee and glasses of Chardonnay.

     As a preschooler, June had been bossy and direct.

     “Why do you wear that shirt?” was my earliest memory of her saying.

     “I dunno…” I remember replying, twirling my hair and blushing.

     “It’s orange. I hate orange,” she said. She might as well have said “I hate you.” I never wore that sweater again.

     As a teenager June had been equally insufferable. She clearly showed her impatience over the fact that she had to spend time with me when my mother and I were in town. Her frilly hand gestures, the valley girl roll of the eyes and her smart comments made me feel like a retard. Moreover, once she had noticed she could make me blush, she seemed to take a perverse joy in turning my cheeks a bright red. The redder, the better.

     The last time we had met we were sixteen. It was a disastrous blush-heavy lunch at the Yale Club in New York City. On the way back to San Fran, I sulked in my airplane seat as if I were twelve again.

     “Never again—I don’t have to see her ever again,” I told my mom. My mom was chewing Nicorette in what was a lifelong battle with her cigarette addiction. When she did not smoke, she overcompensated with booze and food, gained weight and then started smoking again to lose weight and quit her alcohol addiction.

     “I am sorry hon–,” she said with blatant indifference, “It is such a roaring shame you two don’t get along…”

     So never again, and here I was, pressing June’s doorbell…an orange doorbell, why would you have an orange door bell?

     According to my mom, June had been in Amsterdam for two months. I anticipated that June would show off all her insider knowledge of the Dutch…and she would be bragging about that prized internship when all she probably did was answering the phone and making copies, human rights or not.

     Suddenly the door swung open. I was startled, stepped back and felt an uncontrollable redness and warmth enter my cheeks: it felt like a fucking hot flash and I experienced a sudden urge to flee. I bit my lip and looked at my shoes as if I were that toddler in orange again. With some people, our parents for one, but people like June too, we never outgrow the crib. How tickled she would be to see a bumbling and blushing Henry on her doorstep…did I mention that she was taller than me too?

     But then I heard a booming, baritone voice. Did I ring the wrong doorbell? Or did June travel to Amsterdam to have a sex change in one of those gender confusion clinics? I looked up at a balding man. Clearly not my childhood nemesis.

     “You must be Henry! From Frisco! Come in, come in!” He ushered me in with the forcefulness of a Dutch flood.

     “I am June’s landlord. She asked me to let you in. Come on up!”

     The Dutchman’s enthusiasm seemed genuine. My mom had told me that the Dutch and the Danes were the Latins of Northern Europe. “Pour a drink in them and they’ll party with you all night,” she had said as she was dropping me off at SFO. I had a hard time picturing my mom, my PR firm mom who was known for organizing glitzy parties all over San Fran, burning the midnight oil with this canal house dude. We entered a narrow and dark hallway that smelled of Brussels sprouts. Or was it wet socks? Definitely not the Calvin Klein fragrance which I associated with hoity-toity June.

     “By the way, my name is Dik,” the jolly landlord turned around on the steep and dank stairway.

     “Nice to meet you…Dick…” I looked up at him as my eyes were getting used to the dark.

     Dik unlocked the door to June’s place and handed me the key. June’s flat consisted of a small bed-sitting room with an ornate granite mantelpiece from a previous century and a kitchen and a shower stall off to the side. The real appeal of the place was a colonial and peeling balcony covered in vines, overlooking the canal. Sunlight came pouring in from the balcony.

     “You can close se curtains,” Dik was jumping forward with an almost diabolical energy and closed the see-through drapes.

     “June told me you can sleep on se couch, and oh, se shower’s over dere, towels are dere and if you need anysing, just let me know. I live downstairs.”

     Dik’s th-s sounded like d-s but mostly like –s, the sibilance of hissing water that seemed in perfect harmony with all the water I had seen inside the meadows with the black and white cows, while on the train, and here in Amsterdam in the canals, along the narrow streets. As if Dick was reading my thoughts, he said cheesily: “Welcome to Amsterdam, se Venice of the Nors.” He grabbed my hand with an iron grip and then left as fast as he had come.

     I dropped my heavy backpack on the tattered Persian rug and stepped onto the dry rot balcony. Down below was Dick’s green garden, bordering the brackish canal. Were those marijuana plants down below or did I have pot on the brain now that I had landed in dope heaven? I turned around and stepped inside again. I was soooo relieved June was out. I felt fragile in my jetlag-induced state and knew I would not deal so well with June’s constant scrutiny and denigration. In fact, on the flight I had already looked up where the Amsterdam youth hostel was in relation to June’s address. I needed a way out if things were really intolerable. But after a long hot shower that leaked into the kitchen, I fell down on the couch, exhausted. Before closing my eyes I noticed the moisture stains on the ceiling, and in the corners, the plaster cherubs staring down at me. The Old World. Grand. Even in its decay. That was my last thought. Sleep came over me like a heavy, narcotic trance.

*****

     Rita is speed-dialing her cell phone in the car.

     “Jill? It’s me…Rita…

     Jill is stirring homemade soup.

     “What’s up? Good to hear your voice.”

     “Nothing much—I am on my way to get my mammogram.”

     “What? You’re breaking up, honey…

     Jill tastes her soup with her pinkie in the air.

     Rita speaks louder: “The OBGYN technician is going to flatten my chest meat to make hamburger patties out of them…”

     “Oh…mammogram: there’s nothing like having your tits steamrolled on a cold shelf and having the living daylights pressed out of them.”

     “After my first mammogram, my breasts were so much in shock that I thought they would never perk up again…”

     “Don’t you think, Rita, that that damn machine is a man’s invention…?

     “Yeah, we need a pappogram…some fucker of a flatiron that squashes dicks to check for prostrate cancer…”

     Jill laughs and says: “Well if it is any consolation; I just had my biannual papsmear…”

     “You mean mamsmear; it’s about time we make the terminology gender-appropriate…like Viagra should be renamed Miasma, because that’s what it is like for middle-aged women who are suddenly faced with Viagra boners when they themselves have become as dry as parchment paper.”

     “Don’t get me started…”

     Silence.

     “Oh Jill…we’re getting old…my friend the oncologist…remember Tina?”

     Jill adds sherry to her soup, takes a swig from the bottle and says “Yeah…” while wiping her mouth.

     “She says that we should lop ‘em all off. Breasts, that is, before they develop bumps and need biopsies.”

     “Really, Rita, who cares about them anyway…after I was done nursing, mine shriveled like prunes, stretch marks included. No one ever told me about that…”

     “It’s La Leche—the breastlatte feminazis. It’s their best-kept secret. A tit conspiracy of sorts.”

     Silence.

     “Didn’t you see Henry off today?” Jill is going through her rack, spice rack that is.

     Rita’s voice is breaking: “Shit…I think I am full-blown menopausal. I bawl over nearly everything. Dropped him off at SFO and wept all the way home…”

     Jill puts down the nutmeg: “Rita, are you okay?”

     Rita parks her car in front of the grocery store.

     “I am fine…but I do ask, is this all there is? Having children, letting go, checking for gray roots in the mirror, budgeting for retirement, pondering whether we should learn to play bridge, gradual hearing loss, urine loss, forgetfulness, death, oblivion.” Rita lights a cigarette and as she exhales: “Henry Miller was spot on you know. This country is a fucking treadmill. The American Dream is dead. All we have is wet dreams for status, more consumer goods, gadgets, stylish junk…”

     “What brought it on?”

     “Henry…at the airport…him walking away from me, into the terminal…his youth…Europe…and me just a walking fossil in that damn departure hall. All of a sudden I felt like such a Has Been who wasted all her best years on all the wrong things.” Rita inhales. “I think I left all that was good in me, in Europe, so many years ago. America is…the back door to civilization…we have become the ‘dregs and debris of the disinherited,’ Jill…”

     “Miller again…but Rita, dear, aren’t you idealizing that summer we had?”

     Rita exhales, saying nothing.

     “You are not smoking again, are you?”

     Rita drops ashes in her lap and gets up, out of her car to get rid of the grey and hot ashes.

    “Gotta go, Jill. Talk to you later.”

    CLICK.

END QUOTE

Wanna read more? Go to Euro Trippy on Amazon.

Miller is falling through the cracks of the American canon, so do check out my GoFundMe campaign here. If everyone pitches in $10, we’ll have a book before you know it…

Or read my Henry Miller blog.

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Why You Should Go See Dorothea Lange at the Oakland Museum…


Thanks to an invitation from our dear friends, Ken and Melanie Light (Ken Light is a well-known photographer who was greatly impacted by Depression photographer Dorothea Lange– and, for the record: his work on the Central Valley is also part of the exhibit), Jon and I went to see the Dorothea Lange exhibit at the Oakland Museum. I can recommend it highly and I hope this piece may trigger you to go there.

Mind you, I’m not a photography expert or scholar but there was something about the famous Migrant Mother picture (see below), and additional pictures taken at the time of that scene, that provoked me.

DL

When Jon and I came home, we watched the two excellent Dorothea Lange documentaries that now play on PBS and we were floored by some of the other pictures we saw. Dorothea Lange was a genius whose portraits show a vulnerable intimacy between photographer and the person who’s staring back at us through Lange’s lens. She captures their soul in a split second, but even her landscapes, a doorway, kids running through a street in Ireland have a pictorial quality, aesthetics and sense of composition that take your breath away.

From what I saw, I realize that Lange seemed to bristle at the term “social documentary” or “social documentarian”, even though she was hired by the government to shoot pictures of how the Great Depression had affected the country. These pictures told more than words, or reports of the Depression, so her pictures were very effective social documentary that, in some cases, led to change, programs and relief. That said, the fact that her pictures haven’t aged and have a timelessness about them, seems to stem from her mission that it was not about “circumstance” but “universality.” Her pictures, she seems to say, are not about the Okies on their way to the Promised Land (California), but they are snapshots of what she called “the human condition”.

Now, back to the Migrant Mother. Lange stumbled on the scene and made several pictures– apparently, she promised that the pictures wouldn’t be published and Lange didn’t even ask the woman’s name. The picture was published and became one of the most iconic pictures of the Depression, and, as one of the documentaries implied, one of the most famous pictures that came out of America in the 20th century. As the picture went “viral” over the years, the identity of the woman wasn’t revealed until much later. She was Florence Thomson, and not, as everyone had always assumed, a white woman but the descendant of Cherokee Indians. Thomson never received anything for the picture and while the exhibit slanted this message a little by saying Lange didn’t make much money off this picture either, the picture did bring her fame and may have led to the Guggenheim she subsequently received. When Thomson fell ill later in life, the fame of the picture did lead to some funds to pay for her health bills, but that was it.

Iconic as the above picture may be, I have always experienced the picture as somewhat staged– the worried look in the distance, the hand to the face, the averted gaze of the clinging children… Was she waiting for her husband to come home, or was she waiting for God(ot)?

It wasn’t until last night, that I saw one of the other pictures in the series and this one, to me, is the more powerful one:

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Mother and child, as old a composition as the devotional paintings of Mary and her infant, but here (as opposed to the other picture above) we get to see the wide angle of the rattiness of the surroundings, the ragged clothes, the tent pole, the jumble of clothes in the background, the dirty dish, and look at the box she’s sitting on: Is it a box for beer (ale)? It almost reads Happy Tale, which obviously, this picture contradicts in every way.

The woman’s gaze is introverted, not upon the landscape that has betrayed her and her family, but she seems to be focusing on her own thoughts and worries. And then there is the breastfeeding. In a country where women today still cover themselves in entire tents not to be seen breastfeeding, this woman lets it all hang out, quite literally. She has nothing to hide anymore, nor does the half tent behind her which cannot even contain her family or her stuff.

The luminescent white breast looks almost distressed and empty, an apt metaphor of how the country had sucked people dry in the Great Depression. The fatigue that this picture exudes is also quite overwhelming. The child seems to have fallen asleep without the defeated mother noticing and while she holds on tight to the baby, her attention is elsewhere and not fixed on the baby. And yet, a mother’s love cannot be denied. The family was hungry on a daily basis; the children they interviewed many years later told us that the mother would spare food out of her own mouth to give to the children, and even though her breast might have been partially empty, she gave everything she had left to her baby. This picture says more about the hunger and drama of the Depression than the more famous one above.

So to me, this picture is just as iconic, so why wasn’t this picture picked and proliferated? You’ve guessed it. It was probably because of the breast. I mean, on American television, genitalia are always blocked out with out-of-focus bars which has always looked ludicrous to me.

The human body, I’ve always told my kids, is part of Nature and nothing to be ashamed of. Showing a woman breastfeeding is not pornography. This is as sacred a picture as a painting of Mary and her baby Jesus by Leonardo da Vinci. The real obscenity here was the poverty and the circumstances that caused this picture. Yes, I’m sorry, this is Henry Miller territory again but it shows, I hope, that America’s relationship with the human body was and is still a troubling one. Lange and Miller were virtual contemporaries and their ways of seeing and documenting scenes (warts and all) was quite similar, yet America averted its gaze, like the two children in the top picture.

A country that cannot look at the human body or will prevent others to see the human body is a country that doesn’t want to look in the mirror, and thus lacks introspection and a level of maturity.

Under the current regime, we’re entering Dorothea Lange country again but we avert our gaze from some of the root causes, taboos and that which is right in front of us: People trying to provide for their families without the least bit of government relief, health care or help.

Go see that exhibit, and go watch those documentaries on PBS: Pictures do speak louder than words.

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Of Endings and New Beginnings…


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The last few days have been days of endings and new beginnings and there’s nothing more exciting than that.

As I told you in my post last week, I decided to leave my abuse & conflict work for Nextdoor because I have two major clients right now and the Miller project, so the conflict work got in the way. I decided for a clean break and went into the city today, to return my laptop, say goodbye and get the hell out of there.

I won’t miss Civic Plaza in San Francisco either: It’s the home of the dispossessed and disenchanted — this weekend, I read that there are 61 billionaires in the San Francisco Bay Area, yet 14% of the city’s children is hungry on a daily basis. You’ve heard that right: This is not Rio de Janeiro but San Francisco…

We should all be ashamed of ourselves, and yes, after Donnie goes to prison (the orange make-up will look smashing with that orange jump suit), I want him and his cronies to live under the bridges in this country so that they can get a taste of their own medicine. Bernie was spot on. We are not America anymore, we are a country where the poor are getting poorer and the rich richer. It’s doubtful that I will ever hit the jackpot, but if I do, I will give my time and money to combat poverty and hunger in this country. We can and should do better.

Another ending: I finished the first draft of my campus novel and murder mystery which deals with academic patriarchy, plagiarism, sexual harassment and abuse on our college campuses. I witnessed this up close and personal for several years and I had to get it out of my system.

But aside from this being a roman à clef, this is also a murder mystery, and now that I know who the murderer is, I need to go back and rewrite some bits and pieces. I think it was EL Doctorow who said that writing is “like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

Of course the murder is made up but the plagiarism was real. The person I worked with received tenure, but copied several passages from Wikipedia (!) in a book he got tenure with. Here’s an example.

This is Wikipedia:

The two letters were preceded by a foreword with a biography of the artist and followed by a third letter, both written by David Koning to camouflage the true contents. The revenues from the publication were used to provide assistance to Jews in hiding

And this was in the book that led to tenure (no quotation marks, because imagine our college elite quoting from Wikipedia!):

Two of her letters [were] preceded by a foreword with a biography of the artist and followed by a third letter, both written by David Koning, to camouflage its true contents. The revenues from the publication were used to provide assistance to Jews in hiding. 

After I had left my job to work in high tech, I looked into the plagiarism claim as a student and fellow lecturer had hinted at it, and once I looked closer at the book, I was shocked.

I wrote a report of 12 pages on several stolen and verbatim passages (from Wikipedia, other scholars etc) and sent it anonymously to the Privilege & Tenure Committee. Several members of the committee got the same letter, and as far as I know, NOTHING was done with it.

You wonder why.

Because my letter was anonymous? Because it hit too close to home? Because the University had not done its own due diligence in doling out tenure? Or was it because said professor already received tenure and people with tenure are above the law? I mean their behavior has to be pretty, pretty bad. But apparently, plagiarism doesn’t qualify as such.

Now, if grad students or undergraduates had engaged in that kind of sloppy plagiarism, they would have ruined their academic career or, in the case of undergraduates, have failed the class. So this is serious stuff and when a University doesn’t want to open its eyes to this kind of academic deceit, the University itself is part of the problem.

So when my letter went nowhere, I had to cleanse. I didn’t want to see a shrink or go on a peyote binge, so writing was liberating. And… as the saying goes: If life gives you lemons, you might as well make lemonade.

Interestingly, as I was writing this book, a bunch of sexual harassments scandals at Cal broke, the Chancellor resigned because he had mishandled sexual harassment on campus, and now I feel sort of vindicated, plus I hope that there will be a market for my tell-all book. Of course, I use pseudonyms and disguise many of the characters, so no one should feel offended, except for the perpetrator(s) maybe, yet these guys tend to be such narcissists and sociopaths that they would never even recognize themselves. Funny how this story is eerily familiar, i.e. the University is a perfect microcosm of the country we live in right now.

I look forward to moving on and finding a publisher, so if you know of anyone, let me know.

 

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May 8th, 2017: Time for the 25th Amendment yet?


You know, Jon and I had a wonderful and relaxing weekend, riding our bikes, meeting friends for dinner, reading, immersing myself again in Tropic of Cancer, trying to stay away from the news, watching the sunset– in other words, America before the Fall.

May 8th, 2017 is the 63rd anniversary of my parents who got hitched in 1954. It was a hopeful time: they had survived WWII, and well, the Cold War seemed like a piece of cake from our current perspective, but then when the Berlin wall did come down, we all thought that our Western liberties and way of life truly were here to stay. My parents are both deceased and, in a way, I’m glad that they don’t have to witness the charade that is the White House. Their world, I realize, was a lot more predictable than ours is and the current horse and pony show is putting everyone on edge.

Take for example the following development of today, which put some severe cracks in the serenity I felt over the weekend:

2017-05-08_1724 We all knew Sally Yates was going to testify today about Mike Flynn being damaged goods and the President probably knowing about it, but Flynn was his buddy. It was Flynn after all, after he moved into the WH, whom he summoned at an ungodly hour to ask what was better: a weak or a strong dollar? (Wharton Business School diploma? My ass). These two men and conspiracy theorists were Siamese twins at campaign rallies and when Flynn had to go, Trump was peeved and never said a bad word about this man who was seen sitting next to Putin at an event in Moscow. Whatever. I’m not a journalist and you can read all about it in the fake news, which, as it happens, really isn’t so fake at all, because the real fakery and lies come from Don’s Twitter account.

The above tweet he opened with this morning was a real low point for me. Here he was going after Sally Yates, who spoke up but was retaliated against by Trump who… fired her because she was doing her job and protecting our democracy and constitutional process.

For a president to go after and intimidate someone who is about to testify, is the stuff that dictators do. Use the strong arm to suppress free speech and the facts. This tweet was followed by several other delusional ones tonight in which Trump tried to deflect and seemed to obsess so much about this hearing that he’s basically showing his own anxiety, and possibly guilt. At this point, I realized: this is not about Russia any more. This is about how severely mentally ill the president is. Because besides NPD, which everyone can see from a mile away, he’s delusional as well, suffers from paranoia, has no clear sense of reality and who’s who and what’s what, and well, he may be experiencing from Alzheimer’s, too, as he’s struggling with short term memory issues. He is, in other words, a national security risk.

But everything hinges on the GOP, and judging from the Sally Yates hearing in which two Texan senators tried to smear her for being partisan rather than doing her job as an AG (it won’t stick, because she’s as clean and real as integrity comes), the GOP is not going to do anything any time soon. So the country is taken hostage by a madman who’s probably more incompetent than Woodrow Wilson was after his massive stroke. And with that, they shit on the American people and put the whole world at risk.

Nonetheless, I call on the GOP to do what’s in the best interest of the country and world security. There are a few lone GOP souls who put party aside and watch out over the fate of the country, and one of them is John McCain. I’ve written him a letter to thank him for his service, because this man is more than a war hero. Like Sally Yates, he’s speaking out and doing his job.

In my mind’s eye, I see Donald Trump being rolled out of the WH in a straitjacket, because I swear to God, Dictator Trump truly is unfit to remain president of the United States. The sooner the GOP comes to this conclusion, the sooner the country will be saved. Saved from WWIII, and maybe even more important: saved in the court of world opinion.

After the Macron win in France, we’re the only country and morons in the free world who, like the German people in the 1930s, voted a megalomaniac psycho into power. There’s a lot of making up to do, even if Trumpster gets picked up for the looney bin tomorrow.

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May 4th, 2017: When Remembering Also Means Making up for Past Mistakes…


And so the one minute of silence descends upon the Netherlands again…To remember the war dead.

Growing up in the Netherlands, this was a big deal for a country that had lost more than three quarters of its Jewish population to the death camps…

In fact, growing up in the Netherlands, that was the only war everyone always talked about…

It was not until I wrote Silenced Voices that I realized that in my family there were two girls too, pretty much the same age as Anne Frank, and their father, who lost their lives in WWII. It was never even mentioned or remembered on May 4th, and it’s only now that I realize how jarring and unjust this amnesia has been.

So this May 4th, I pay tribute to these girls: Willy and Joke Francken…29. Fre with Willy and Joke, Kali Jompo, early 1930s

Having survived the internment camps

And with hunger gnawing at their bellies

They considered themselves lucky

Until they heard their dad had died in a Japanese prison…

This may have sealed their own fate,

For war widows were evacuated out early

To end up in the crossfire of the Indonesian Revolution

where Willy and Joke were butchered by an angry mob.

What were their last thoughts?

What did Joke feel when she reassured her mother that she was OK while dying in her mother’s arms?

What went through your mind, dear Willy, when you had cried out for your mom and then were never heard of again?

Your deaths were hidden– the massacre you were part of was hardly even mentioned in Dutch history books, until I put pen to paper and suffered with you, just writing it down…

I apologize, my dearest Willy and Joke, for not unveiling this story any sooner but as I wrote in my book, it was taboo to even remember.

So every May 4th that rolled around, your deaths were like the stone that had been thrown down the well with no echo coming back.

People may object. The war dead in the Indies are commemorated on August 17th but by holding two separate events (to do justice to historic synchronicity), there’s an implied imbalance because May 4th always has been the bigger day and deal, with a national holiday on May 5th. August 17th is the mere after thought and footnote of WWII in Europe.

I apologize, my dearest Willy and Joke, that you, for a long time, were not even considered part of the war dead. And I apologize to Peddy, your dear dad:

27. Ferdinand (Peddy) Adriaan Marie Francken (1897-1945)

Tortured by the Japanese for more than a year, what were your thoughts, dear Peddy? Was there any news coming through about your wife and the three children you would never see again? My great-aunt didn’t even know where you were buried and the honors that were bestowed on men who had resisted the Nazis in the Netherlands, were never given to you posthumously. In fact, just getting to see your papers, your cause of death, your heroic gesture of giving your Red Cross package to someone else as you felt the end was near, those papers were kept from your wife, and I had to move heaven and earth to see them as they were still part of Secret Archives.

You died a hero, Peddy, for queen and country

Sadly, that country never remembered you either,

Or ever, on May 4th.

There was just the silent suffering of your wife

And only son, whose miraculous survival

would always be compromised by trauma

and having been abandoned, not by you

or your daughters

But by the country that cared, but clearly didn’t care enough

as your death was part of the colonial collateral damage

that Holland, that enlightened little country by the sea,

would rather forget about because all colonialism was suddenly bad.

I know, dear Peddy,

from your letters home that yes, while you may have been part of the colonial elite,

you cared for your workers and worked alongside them

rolling out rubber in the barn…

and picking coffee on the steep slopes of Kali Jompo.

 

But you are no longer forgotten.

You may well be the dearest great-uncle I’ve ever had

Because wrestling with the demons of your past

and documenting your last days, you are my hero,

for when times are tough, I often think of you and tell myself

to snap out of it, because my days will never be as tough

as the best day you may have had in prison.

Dear Peddy, Joke and Willy,

Your story is as important as Anne Frank’s

And I apologize for the insensitivity of our country, The Netherlands,

for making grand gestures on May 4th,

But never remembering or recognizing your horrifying last hours on

March 15th, 1945 and October 28th, 1945.

Rest in peace.

I would like to add a postscript to this piece. From people in the Netherlands, I heard yesterday that the commemoration is now two minutes of silence and that this year especially, there was lots of attention, media and otherwise, for the victims in the Dutch East Indies, whom, as I said in the piece, are also commemorated on August 17th, in The Hague. On behalf of my family, I applaud the organizers and anyone who was involved in broadening the attention to victims worldwide. That said, I’m saddened that my great-aunt and her son aren’t here anymore to hear, see and feel this belated recognition.

 

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May 3rd: Life’s Too Short for People to Rain on My Parade…


IMG_2613No, my office assistants are not dead or sleeping off their hangovers: they’re conked out from the heat, because, as I told you yesterday already, the weather has decided to skip Spring altogether and now we’re in the middle of Summer.

Working from home is great, and normally I don’t miss AC at all, but it’s a little bit stifling in the room where I’m typing this, so I have taken off most of my clothes and feel like total trailer trash, but hey I’m working on a book on Henry Miller, so I might as well act the part.

The title of this blog sounds ominous (clickbait if you will) but I did have something of a breakthrough mentally today, and part of it is the boost that http://www.gofundme.com/henrymillerrocks has given me.

There are two more things that contributed to the above title:

1) On Sunday, Jon and I were at SFMOMA and we were looking at the works of mostly dead people: For some reason, my eye was drawn to texts like these Matisse (1869-1954), Diebenkorn (1922-1993) and Arbus (1923-1971).

There’s no way in hell that I could ever equal the contributions of above artists, but since I’ve published a few books, I have noticed that in library catalogues around the world I’m listed as Inez Hollander (1965-). Creepy huh? As if the world is waiting for you to die to fill in the missing bit of info. Over the weekend, I thought, well, what will that closing date be? The final curtain. The point of no return. And more important: How much time is granted me to finish the books I really want to finish?

2) Over the weekend, I received a Whatsapp from my sis in the Netherlands. In tears. She was cutting her holiday in France short because her 23-year-old nephew (from her husband’s side) was having some friends over in his new Amsterdam apartment and since summer has come to The Netherlands, too, he opened the doors onto the balcony, stepped outside… and came down, balcony and all. Dead. CPR yes, but dying on the way to the hospital.

A freak accident you may say, but it can happen to all of us. And we have to pay attention when these tragic accidents happen. It’s God’s or life’s way of saying to us: LIVE NOW. Don’t put off the things you’re passionate about. Honor these moments, honor the young man who died when his professional life had just begun, and tell people that life’s too short for other people to rain on your parade.

So… what did I do with this?

I had already stepped away from my Conflict & Abuse work for Nextdoor for two weeks or so because I have other clients, and more clients coming in, but there was always the understanding from Nextdoor that I could step back into the queue and open myself up again to fighting neighbors and (mostly) Trump voters who call me a cunt, asshole, racist (because my name is Inez and they think I’m Mexican), and fucktard when I suspend their accounts, because they have been violating Nextdoor’s Guidelines. People are very angry in this country and civility is something our grandparents seemed to have taken with them into their graves.

So I wrote my manager this afternoon and told him I was bringing back my Nextdoor laptop next week. After a full day of working conflict and abuse, I was usually drained and numb and indifferent and ready to do nothing for the rest of my day, my week, my month, my life, and you know what? I can’t afford to be generous with assholes anymore. They’re eating away at my life, my soul and that’s not worth any paycheck. So fuck them. They can yell and shout and poison the atmosphere with their belligerent behavior but I have a book to write. And more than one. They can go take their ball and play somewhere else because they can’t have access to my playground anymore.

So this afternoon, I wrote another chapter for my campus novel and I’m one or two chapters away from having a final first draft. And all of that in my undies. Henry would be so proud.

Do me a favor: share this blog. We live among the dead. Or as Henry Miller would say Death in Life is the worst thing that can happen to a person. Live now.

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May 2nd: Password Hell


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Not sure why hell is on my mind but we went from Winter and incessant rain to hellish heat which triggered a rabid hunt for bike shorts and shorts in general and well that took a while…

Then when I finally thought I had an extra hour to pen another chapter of my novel, I restarted my computer, put on some music, did a little deep breathing and stretches, and then, opening my eyes and looking at my screen, I got all sorts of login boxes asking me for passwords. I’ve been here before and apparently, it’s a major Apple bug but of course with my befuddled brain I couldn’t remember what I had done last time to fix it.

So that meant endless reading on Apple forums. The key was, aha, that my keychain thing wouldn’t even launch (spinning beach ball– which meant I had to look up again how you do a force quit on a Mac and I had to do all of that on my phone because my internet wouldn’t budge because of the damn keychain issue as well).

However, after much trial and error, I found the solution (taking the Keychain folder out of the Library folder– which, in case you’re interested, is invisible on the new operating systems) and aaaaaaah, the annoying login boxes were gone but it meant I had to change a bunch of passwords on things I use regularly, which meant changing passwords on my phone and desktop and by the time I was done with that, I had lost my window of creative opportunity because now I have to start thinking about dinner, and shit… give Frankie his insulin shot.

Working from home is swell but every time I do work in an office, I’m ready to kiss the tech support guys (but not really, because they aren’t really hot and usually have a lot of facial hair): troubleshooting these things on my own can consume hours of reading and frustration, and I usually can figure it out but feel pretty damn stupid and I admit the stuff interests me as much as tax returns (Donald’s excluded).

OK. I have to tell you an upbeat story now because studies show negative people live much shorter lives, so if I tell you a Debbie Downer story, I should offset it with a Happy Harriet story, just to increase my life span.

So here goes: I got an email from a mother of a former student of mine and she needed a children’s poem translated into Dutch. She’s Dutch herself but having been out of the country for long, she didn’t dare do it herself. I happily translated that one as it was a nice change of pace from translating instructions for home alarms and translations for the iOS interface of an app (thankfully, the word keychain was not part of it) and when I sent her the poem back, she was over the moon with it. I don’t get that kind of job satisfaction every day but to be appreciated like that is a big part of why we get out of bed in the morning at all.

After that I went for a ride but I came back huffing and puffing because it was sweltering hot.

Back to Henry Miller: http://www.gofundme.com/henrymillerrocks.

My donation progress meter is stuck at $1945, an important year for the ending of WWII in Europe and Asia but it was also important for Henry, as the war forced him to leave France, and really closed off his French period (he would return to Paris later in life, but never felt the same again about it). Coming back to the States triggered a profound culture shock (see The Air-Conditioned Nightmare) and an uphill battle to get his novels published and read in the US. I should do something with that number, 1945. I mean, for my Henry Miller blog. Like take pp. 19 and 45 of Tropic of Cancer and do a close reading.

When I was studying in Chapel Hill, I had an awesome American Lit prof and when we were doing Moby Dick, I will never forget how he showed us that the first chapter of MD was a microcosm of the entire book. Lots of foreshadowing of things to come and lots of symbolism. Now that’s the sort of fun I like. It beats not progressing on that novel, keychain frustration, interface translations and bike rides in the blistering heat (what was I thinking?).

I need a drink.

 

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April 30th: Getting Away From it All…


There are always chores to do at our house and Jon was power washing the deck furiously yesterday, as well as doing laundry and getting rid of shit from the garage (amen!) and we were headed down the same path today, but instead we dropped everything to see the Matisse-Diebenkorn exhibit at SFMOMA. We hadn’t been there since SFMOMA had been enlarged, so it was high time.

The weather was absolutely glorious– when a day in San Francisco makes you feel like you have died and gone to heaven were it not for the occasional whiff of urine, pot, and several deranged homeless people who were yelling their demons away. My. Everyone seems angry these days.

The exhibit was very well organized, with Matisse paintings hanging alongside Diebenkorns, showing the strong influence Matisse had had on Diebenkorn and then Diebenkorn reminded me of Wayne Thiebaud, and so and so forth. Not so much the Anxiety of Influence but a healthy cross-fertilization: taking someone else’s cue, appropriating it without straight copying and making it new again.

It was a bit like a trip down memory lane because when the kids were little, we’d often escape our house remodel on the weekend and end up near SFMOMA, with the kids rolling in the grass at Yuerba Buena Gardens. It was so funny, because when the kids were babies practically, I had copied this Matisse, which hangs in our chalet:

images-2The kids had seen that one for years and then when we wandered into SFMOMA one day and saw the original, Will’s jaw dropped to the floor after which he came running to me and said: “Mom, mommy, they have YOUR painting!”

If only we had that painting for real– we could probably have financed our entire house remodel with it.

 

 

We also saw Diane Arbus’s famous twins:

imgres-1And I really should have taken a picture when I went to the bathroom because when I walked in there, I felt I stepped inside someone’s womb because the entire ladies’ room was painted red, from floor to ceiling, to stalls. Very trippy. I was somewhat tempted to take a peek inside the men’s but decided against it.

The day was meant as a day away from Henry Miller, but life works in mysterious ways because when we entered the sculpture garden, we saw this:

Turns out, this is some smart advertising from a rental car company, a sharing economy outfit, for at this company people rent out their own cars. You can rent a convertible Fiat, a Tesla, you name it. Next time. Maybe we’ll drive to Big Sur and back.

Hope your Sunday was equally fun. Good luck with the Monday. And don’t forget to smell the roses.

 

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