Philoseophia Venereum: Ignis Amor Patriæ

Ignis Amor Patriae

Boom.

It began.

Bang.

The sky was instantly filled with fire and smoke. Down below, shouts and screams joined the din of the bombs bursting above. A distant dog barked and somewhere a child was crying. The breeze carried the smells of various burnt substances–probably fireworks, charcoal, and hamburgers.

“Our first fourth,” I whispered, fourth punctuated by another ear-thrumming pop.

“That’s not true. We’ve seen fireworks together before.”

“Sure, but not as a couple.”

Wikipedia

1936 – Credit

“I still remember our first ever.”

“I remember either our first or our second,” I said. “Red shirt with a glittery flag, braided hair, red-white-and-blue bow?”

She shrugged. “I don’t remember what you were wearing.”

Boom.

“Ha, ha.”

She giggled.

Bang.

“Ooh!”

“Ah!”

“Did you know,” I said, “that fireworks were originally conceived as an Independence Day celebration for their resemblance to flowers laid on fallen patriots’ graves?”

“No, I’ve never heard that. I thought they were just meant to be like, you know, ‘bombs bursting in air.'”

Zing. Pop. Crackle.

“Eh, you’re probably right. I only made that up.”

She laughed.

Pop. Bang.

“Wow! Did you see that one?”

“Amazing!”

In the background, a stereo playing The Star-Spangled Banner shook the ground.

“Did you know the anthem was originally written by a soldier during the Battle of Saratoga? In the middle of battle he wrote down half the lyrics but died before he could finish them. His friends finished it in his honor, and General Washington got wind of it. The rest is history.”

“Is that true?”

Zing.

“Yeah, not at all. I think the anthem was written past 1800.”

Boom.

She trilled. “Well, aren’t you an encyclopedia of imaginary information?”

“For example,” I said, “Betsy Ross got the inspiration for the American flag as we know it today when she was watching a fireworks display during the War of 1812. There was a shortage of explosives due to the war, so they only had three, which happened to be red, whi–”

Bang.

She groaned. “Okay. First, Betsy Ross didn’t design the flag we know today, a high-schooler did in the 1950s. Second, as the legend goes, it was in 1776 that Ross designed the first flag. But third, it really wasn’t Betsy Ross who designed the first flag. I think the basics were given by congress, and there were actually a lot of different designs all over for a while.”

“Is that true?”

“Fact by fact. At least, I‘m pretty sure.”

“You have my admiration.”

Zing. Pop.

“That I did know.”

Crackle.

I sighed. “My knowledge of American-themed trivia facts is pretty sad.”

“You have the right spirit. Flowers in commemoration of fallen soldiers, and a songwriter who died for his country . . . I don‘t think the facts count so much when you‘ve got the right spirit.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well . . .”

Bang, bang. Boom.

“So you don‘t remember who came up with celebrating with fireworks, or who designed which flag. You were still thinking about the things that matter–the people who fought and sacrificed themselves so we could sit here today and watch fireworks. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for them. You and I might never have met. They fought for that. They didn’t fight for facts or dates. That’s not what patriotism is about.”

“It‘s about love?”

“Yeah. Love for your country. Exactly.”

Our conversation was interrupted as the finale lit the sky. I watched in hushed awe, marveling at the display, and out of the corner of my eye, at the woman beside me.

When it was over, and we had clapped our hands and cheered ourselves hoarse, she shifted on the picnic blanket beside me. She rolled onto her side to look me in the face.

“Ah,” I breathed, “now that’s a spectacle.”

She giggled. “Charmer.”

“Charming.”

“So,” she said, “you were surprisingly quiet about philosophy tonight.”

“You did that pretty well for me.”

She beamed. “But I was sure you‘d be bound to go on and on about symbolism in all the shapes of the fireworks, or what it meant to be sitting here watching them, or how there was something meaningful about lying on a picnic blanket instead of sitting in a chair.”

“I was just thinking.”

“About what?”

“Well, I was thinking about the anthem. We sing it so often that we don’t think about it much, and it begins to evoke nothing but fireworks and football. But as I thought about it, I realized there wasn‘t much I could say that would be more beautiful or meaningful than, well–O say, can you see . . .” I looked at her. “Sing with me?”

She nodded, and closing her eyes, sang in a seraphic soprano: “By the dawn‘s early light . . .

We rose our voices together in harmony. Here and there around us, other voices chimed in as we serenaded our love to our nation:

“What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
“Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
“O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
“And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
“Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
“O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave,
“O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”

The End

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To all my fellow Americans,

I think that far too often we’re too busy complaining about what’s wrong with our country. I know, I do that a lot, too. Sometimes political problems get in the way and we forget to appreciate what’s right with our country. Days like this, we celebrate those things. There are a lot of them.

I hope you had a happy, fun, safe Independence Day!

Categories: Philosophia Venereum | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Quoth Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee’s got a lot of the uncommon sense that a lot of common people could sure use. Very inspirational.

Categories: Imagining a Better World, Wise Words | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Short Story: The Job

A light rain was falling but I walked anyway. Maybe what I needed was to soak my head.

I pulled up my collar and pulled my hat down over my eyes and started down along the street. I probably cut a suspicious figure like that but I didn’t care. Let people think I was anything they liked.

I’d never had to do anything like this before. I ran a hand over the lump in my pocket. Could I do it? That pocket was worth a lot of money, but even more if I did my job right.

With each passing car I was doused by a spray of water, but personal appearance was the last thing on my mind.

By the time I reached my destination I was soaked to the skin. I felt cold and shivery and shriveled. Each step was heavier than I could carry, but I’m not sure it was just the weight of water. I was miserable—no more miserable than I had been for the past few days.

The rain pounded down around me, sparkling under the streetlights. Cars roared through the water on the roads as they crawled back and forth. I looked across the street at the square of light overhead and the figure standing in it.

Target spotted.

Watching her silhouette, I asked myself again if I was doing the right thing. The right thing—maybe, but who for? I reached into my pocket, opened and closed the casing, fingered the little circle that would finish this whole business soon.

I had to do this.

Ready, aim, fire.

Just cross the street.

I’ve done it a hundred times before.

Climb the steps.

Take a deep breath.

Ring the doorbell.

I reached into my pocket one more time just to remind myself it was there.

A large, broad-shouldered man opened the door.

Deep breath. “Good evening, Mr. Jones. Is your daughter home?”

 

The End

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The Elements of Forgiveness

Dear Readers,

Something dawned on me recently. It taught me a lesson that I realized a great many of us could do with learning, and all of us should be reminded of. So I’m going to share this experience with you.

The Elements of Forgiveness

by Ed Yourdon

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon via Compfight cc

Recognition

A couple years back, I hurt someone—even the best of intentions and the highest hopes can fall in disastrous ruin if executed poorly, but that’s another article entirely. The offense in question was mild, not serious at all, but of the kind that ends up getting blown out of proportion, and it was purely personal between that person and myself, so it won’t be mentioned. The point here is that I hurt them, and so they hurt me in return.

It’s not that they were consciously out for revenge, mind you—but they were hurt and they showed it, and that hurt me. They treated me coldly and unkindly, and that hurt me. I had not intentionally done anything to hurt them, but I had hurt them anyway, and that hurt me.

I felt guilty, I felt horrible, and even as soon as the next day dawned I knew I had to make it right—but I wasn’t given the chance. It would be a long time, nearly a year, before I would be given the opportunity, which I took at last and apologized, and did everything I could to make amends. Well, it came out right in the end—I was forgiven.

But I had carried my shame and my guilt for a long time before that happened. I had to deal with that. Sure, everything came out all right, I apologized, I was forgiven. I bore all the guilt and all the responsibility, I never once tried to shirk it or pin it on my friend, I never blamed them outwardly or inwardly. It was my fault. So I fixed it.

And life carried on, but without even realizing it, I was still hurt. To be fair, I had been treated unjustly. I had been hurt too. There was a lot that my friend could have done a lot sooner; like give me a chance to make things right, which was much more in their power to gave than it was in mine to create. Just to speak fairly, they could have done the human thing and met me halfway. Granted, they never knew how much they had hurt me, too—but couldn’t they have made an effort, like I did? Just a little?

I never blamed them though. I carried all the guilt and all the responsibility, and I never once let myself blame them.

At least, that’s what I thought.

 

Confessing your Anger

And then only recently, I realized that I was still hurting, but I didn’t quite know why. And, well, I realized it was because I was still wounded a little by what had happened; I’m a writer, I’m an introvert, I’m sensitive, and I value all my relationships highly. Well, this was a valuable relationship, and it was wounded for a while, and it healed, but I didn’t—yet.

And and that’s when it came to me: I was angry. I was bitter toward my friend for the pain they had caused me without ever as much as an apology. But I had never been willing to admit it until that moment. I had never been able to let myself think a thought of blame against them. And then I saw that that was my mistake.

I denied my anger. I bottled it away in my heart so tight that it began to poison me from the inside. I lied to myself. I told myself I never blamed them. But secretly, unknown even to myself, I hated them for everything: I hated them for the way they had treated me, I hated them for their blindness, I hated them for their hypocrisy, I hated them for leaving me so long to suffer on their behalf. In the core of my heart, of course I still loved that person; you can hate and still love. But somewhere in my heart, I did after all hate them.

I just never let myself believe it. I shouldn’t have done that; I should have been honest with myself and accepted that anger and that hatred. I should have opened myself to it, recognized it, and admitted to my disbelieving self that it was, after all, there. I hated them, and I should have confessed it a lot sooner.

Now, if this was a romantic relationship, if I had loved this person that much, I would have confessed to them personally that I felt that hatred for them. Without that pure, open-hearted honesty I can’t believe in the strength of a relationship that intimate and that sacred. With a woman I loved, I would have worked it out with them. I would have gone through the same process I’m about to describe with her. I would have asked her to help me learn from the experience and find a way that we could both, in future, be more considerate of each other. (And to be realistic, it might have ruined our relationship. But if that’s true, then obviously we didn’t have a relationship worth preserving anyway.) But in the case of this particular friend, it was not necessary for our relationship to have that close a bond. We didn’t have to live with each other, and thank goodness. So this didn’t concern them. This was something I had to work out for myself.

And so I had to confess my anger, let it go, and do the one thing that I had never done for them, because I never thought it was possible or necessary: forgive. I never forgave them because I never admitted that there was anything I had to forgive.

 

Cleansing Yourself

And then, when I accepted that I hated them, I didn’t want to hate them anymore.

I realized that my bitterness was selfish. There was no good reason for it. It was unnecessary and unhealthy.

Step one was letting the anger take control of me. I let that happen. I let myself hate. And then I felt dirty. I was filthy with hatred, and I didn’t like it. The next step was to clean myself.

That old, half-forgotten pain, the resentment, the anger, the hatred, all of it: I washed it away, I washed it right out of me and let it flush down the drain. I let it go. And the miraculous thing was, then, it was gone. I didn’t hate them anymore.

Like dragons starved in their cages, I had let my emotions free; they came out, strong with desperation, hungry for escape, eager to unleash their fury. I let them ravage until they had tired themselves out, I let them consume until they had their fill, and I let them destroy until they had destroyed themselves. When their energy was spent, I slew the dragons. They died, and with them, all the anger and all the hate they had fed on was dead with them. It was over.

Then there was only one thing left to be done. Repair the damage.

 

Healing

I had to forgive my friend for what had happened. I had to let go of the past, and accept that what had happened, had happened, and it didn’t matter anymore.

People make mistakes. But you love them anyway. I had made mistakes, and after all, I had been forgiven. They still loved me as much as I still loved them. Sure, we’d hurt each other, but that’s a small thing between friends. Anything either of us did was nothing compared to all the good things we had done for each other; forgiveness was just another one of those natural things friends do.

I didn’t blame them. Not because they hadn’t done anything wrong, not because I was taking all the responsibility, but because we had both done what we thought was best to make up for it, in our own ways. I really didn’t blame them now—because there really wasn’t anything to blame them for.

 

It Can Be the Little Things, Too

I used a large-scale example, but sometimes we let little, everyday annoyances push us a little further than we should, too. Forgetting is good, but forgiving is better. It’s a positive stance, rather than a merely neutral one, and it can be the turning point in a bad day. The everyday mistakes deserve to be forgiven, and they can be forgiven in the same way.

People can be frustrating—they can do the stupidest things. So now you’re angry with them, and don’t try to tell yourself you’re not, don’t try to suppress the feeling; admit you’re angry, admit that they’re an idiot. Kick a table—it’s the idiot, tell it so, hurt it (and possibly your foot), admit it’s an idiot. Even if it’s not physical, make that admission.

Then, let it go. Your anger is spent, now wash it away, breathe it out. Get rid of it. Now forgive; maybe they’re just having an off day. You have those too. So they’re an idiot; you can be an idiot in your own ways too, you know. They’re only as human as you, they’re no more an idiot than you are, and they deserve to be forgiven as much as you do.

 

by Luc De Leeuw

Photo Credit: just.Luc via Compfight cc

A Few Reminders

Counting to ten really does help. Patience is important. Not to overlook and to forget, but so you can calm down and take a step back to remember all the reasons that you’re being unfair.

Take a good, long look at yourself in the mirror. Think about how little you’ve done to earn forgiveness yourself, and yet how much you still deserve it—simply because everyone does.

They’re not seeing from your perspective, but their own. Things may look different from over there. That’s why communication is important. Most of the time, people don’t even realize they hurt you unless you tell them. Showing it, on the other hand, usually only makes matters worse, because they may not understand why you’re suddenly treating them so coldly.

Sometimes it’s best to forgive and move on. Especially if it’s a first-time offense, just forgive it and let it go. There’s no reason to make a big deal out of it if you don’t have to. You don’t always have to talk it out.

Bear in mind, God forgives. If they’re worthy of His forgiveness, you would put yourself above Him and say they’re not worthy of yours?

 

One Last Lesson

And I think something else to be learned from this parable. It was good of me not to shirk the responsibility for my actions, and to own up to my own mistakes; but to shoulder as much guilt and shame as I did was really very unfair to myself. It’s hard to learn from an experience when you’re spending all your time wishing it had never happened. I blamed myself impractically, blowing my own crime out of proportion, and I blamed myself too long. I never let go, I never moved on, and I never forgave myself.

It’s wise to take responsibility for the mistakes we make. And if it’s in your power to make it right again, you should. There’s no hiding from that. But that’s part of letting go and moving on. You did wrong; that was an accident. Now you’re doing the right thing. Forgive yourself, and trust yourself to make good.

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Read an Interview, Enter a Giveaway, and Pick Up My eBooks FREE

That doesn’t leave too much left to be said, does it?

Alicia Roque Ruggieri, author of “The House of Mercy”

I was lucky enough to have the chance to meet fellow novelist Alicia Roque Ruggieri a few months ago when she reviewed Gone Like the Shadow. She recently asked me to give an interview for her blog, and how could I refuse? You can read the interview here, and enter for a chance to win a signed copy of one of my books! While you’re there, subscribe to her blog for more authorly musings, author interviews, and giveaways. Better yet, buy her novel and add it to your TBR list! This isn’t a commercial, guys, this is about art and literature and the opportunity for a magical reading experience – please, take a look, you might like to read her book. It might be perfect for your summer reading pile.

And while you’re on Amazon, you like free books, right? You like mysteries, right? You like me, right? My first two novels, The Second Death and Red and Lowring, are available free for Kindle now through the 15th! Even if you’re not going to read them for a while (the whole series should be wrapped up in 5 – 10 years, you can just wait and read them all straight through then), download them now for free while you have the chance!

Thanks for keeping current – and don’t forget to take a look at that interview!

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The Secret to Beating Writer’s Block for Good

When I was writing my last novel, I met with an obstacle I hadn’t encountered with any of my previous books. It was a feeling of insufficiency that left me too petrified to write.

This is a serious problem that most writers will understand. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, what we call “writer’s block” is essentially just the fear of failure dressed up until we can’t recognize it away.

Photo Credit: horizontal.integration via Compfight cc (altered)

Photo Credit: horizontal.integration via Compfight cc (altered)

Of course, that’s something I’d dealt with before, it wasn’t entirely new–but it had never been as bad as it was then. In this case, the difference was that this novel in particular dealt with a lot of personal emotions, and a lot of story and heart was based on the spiritual experiences of a person I care very much about. I felt like that was a lot to live up to, and I began to be afraid I couldn’t pull it off.

Every writer deals with inspirational blocks like this, usually emotional. Oftentimes they’re a feeling of insufficiency, a fear of failure. Some resolve this problem by allowing themselves to write as badly as they need to. As long as they’re writing, right? And then they can make it all better in revision. Some people say this releases them and lets them write more freely. But I disagree with the whole idea for a lot of reasons.

My main problem with telling yourself you can write poorly is that it’s like saying you can build a house out of cardboard and then paint it to make it look like it’s brick. How much pride do you really have in your work if you’re willing do to a slipshod job and later make it look like you didn’t?

When writer’s block comes around writers have two choices: to write poorly and let themselves fail “for now,” or to write well. So I chose to well and I got through my block. I didn’t weasel my way around it. I forced myself straight through it.

I’m not saying it works 100% of the time, and even when I chose to “write well” I didn’t always. But just the choice to work my hardest, and to accept that it was okay that it was hard, freed me and gave me the strength to keep going. Honestly, some of my best work came out in moments like these. In the worst of times I was willing to do my best, and that meant I was really making the effort for my art.

 

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What about you? How do you deal with writer’s block? Are you in favor of the “write badly now, revise later” method, or do you use a method more like mine, or do you have a completely different method of your own? Please share!

Categories: Writing Passion | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Read This Now — No Excuses

Stephen McCranie

Click. Read. You’ll be happy that you did.

 

Click on the image, follow the link, read. No excuses. No distractions. No delays. Do it now and read. I don’t care if you’re a writer or an artist or a human being. Go read this, even if you’re a Martian. Everyone needs to read this.

Read it. Now. Why are you still here?

 

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Changing the World Starts at Home

Because here’s the thing. Here’s the thing that a lot of us, too many of us, myself included, don’t get, and certainly don’t live by.

"Be the change you want to see in the world."

Mahatma Gandhi

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

That’s it. Do you realize how much better life would be if people lived by their ideals before they started forcing them on everyone else?

If everyone in the world had to earn a license before trying to improve other people, very few people would be legally authorized to improve the world, and it might actually improve. Only the people who were actually successfully living by their grand theories would be granted these licenses, and only those people would be allowed to tell people how to live their lives.

Because obviously, they know what they’re talking about by experience. Their theories are more than theories. Most of us build our theories on ideas, whims, desires, and as for facts, a few, but only the facts we like.

by Виталий Смолыгин

Photo Credit (altered)

But you have no right making a “better” world if you’re not trying to be a better person. Until you have a real tangible idea of what a better world is, because you’ve lived it and seen it first hand, you don’t know what you’re fighting for.

 

Be the Change You Want to See

Don’t try to control the world just because you can’t control yourself. And for once be honest with yourself and admit that that’s exactly what you’re doing.

The best, the only way to lead is by example. You can’t tell people they’re living their life the wrong way and expect them to like you, much less believe you. If you want them to believe they could be living a better life and buy into your formula for it, you have to be giving them demonstrations and free samples. Live the life you’re advertising.

by Fran Hogan

Photo Credit (altered)

Be the person you’re telling them they should be, be the better world you want to exist. Even when it’s hard. Show them the effects and the benefits of living the way you want to live. Treat them with the love, the kindness, and the sympathy you think the world needs.

Don’t be a hypocrite and a bigoted prude. If you’re not living by your “morals” then you have no right preaching your empty theories. You want to help people improve? Support them on their terms, not yours.

Another important thing to remember is that a perfect world isn’t as far away as it seems. The individual, if they look for it, can tap into that world, and experience paradise in their own life. It’s there for anyone who chooses it—it’s a choice. The world is what you choose to make it, so choose happiness.

We all need to spend less time trying to change the world, and more time trying to change ourselves.

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One Destination, Thousands of Roads

by Karen Arnold

by Karen Arnold

“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”

- Lewis Carroll

Where am I headed?

Am I on the right road?

Is this what I’m meant to be doing?

Did I make a mistake?

We spend altogether too much time worrying about the past.

Those things in the past you regret or long for are long gone and what you did is done. What has been is gone, and whether you wish it could be again or wish it had never happened, it has nothing to do with your future. It’s a part of who you are now, but it isn’t and won’t be a part of who you become unless you let it.

I’m all for learning from the past, evaluating previous performance to enhance the next, etc. but it does take time. And the more time you take to figure out how to get where you’re going, the less time you spend actually getting there. The trick is to plan well enough to make the trip faster, don’t plan so much it slows you down.

You have one destination. When you get there, you’ll see that. Just remember that wherever you’re going, there are a thousand roads to get there. Some are easier, some are harder, but they’ both lead to the same place, and they’re both beautiful in their own ways.

You may not know where you’re going and you’re bound to take the wrong path sometimes. That is true. But if you just keep moving forward with your eyes open, that doesn’t matter as much as we think.

 

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Categories: Imagining a Better World | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Short Story: Tears

Tears

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons (altered)

I can only imagine the tears behind the puffy, watery red eyes, buried into her pillow at night when nobody’s around. She hides her face there and stores the tears away where nobody will find them, behind a smile and a laugh. I don’t know why she’s crying . . . Separated parents, a patriarchal father, a critical mother, grades, boys, failure, disappointment, love, hate, fear . . . maybe? Why would I cry, if I were her?

I can’t see her crying, I can’t hear her, I just see the red eyes and the salty cheeks and the quivering lips, and the pillowcases streaked with tears. And then my eyes fill to brimming and I have to look away, but I can’t. Those eyes are everywhere I look.

I don’t know her name. I don’t know who she is, maybe we’ve met, maybe we haven’t, I don’t even know where she is. All I can tell you is that I see those eyes and I know that though she’s the one who’s been crying, I’m the one who’s miserable because of it. Her tears are spent but mine don’t seem to run anymore. They can’t escape my eyes, I can’t escape hers . . .

I can’t even see her face. It’s just those eyes. Laced with rosy veins, ringed with purple, downcast, avoiding my gaze, glistening like crystal. Sometimes I think I see stars hanging on her eyelashes, maybe they’re just rogue tears, maybe more, I’m not sure.

I love her. I do. It’s not because she’s weak or because I think she needs me to be her hero . . . it’s because she’s so strong and I don’t want her to have to be, I don’t want anyone to be, I don’t want to be, not alone, not like this.

I don’t know exactly what I’m doing or how to do it. I can’t see her, I can’t find her. Who is she? Where is she? What does she want? What does she need? How can I help? What am I looking for?

I don’t care if I don’t know what to do. I’ll figure it out. I’ll do this somehow. People have done stronger things before. I may not have half their courage, but I have half their task, so maybe that’s not a problem.

I want to find her. I want to look into those eyes and smile just to show them that everything’s all right. I’ll wipe away her tears and mine will be free to run down my smile, and I’ll dry them with my sleeve. I just want to find her, and I’ll look into a thousand pairs of red eyes to do it. I’ll open all of them to see what’s behind them.

What should I say when I find her? How will I know? It always comes back to that . . . How will I know? Maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll never know who she is. Maybe I’ll just have to keep trying.

I won’t give up till I find her and dry our tears. It seems like that’s the only thing I’m really sure of. But as long as I know that, I can figure anything else out. Wish me luck—and—and please, for both our sakes, just be patient, and wait like me, and I promise, we’ll find each other.

The End

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Categories: Short Stories | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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