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Some of my favorite images from the year

Well, here it is. The end-of-the-year review. I feel like a lot has been said about the world in general, and I’m tired and a little sad tonight, so I’m not interested in recapping it (didn’t I do this last year, too? I remember being very melancholy last year at this time. Maybe that’s just who I am now.). So I’m going to go through the year I thought I was going to have, how it changed for me personally, and maybe some more things as I ramble on.

First, some goal-setting changes:
1. I love resolutions, but I maintain the flexibility to adapt them. I did this really well this year – mostly out of necessity but also because it just makes sense to set goals that way. To work toward what you want until you get it or don’t really want it anymore or figure out something you want more.
2. Instead of plotting all the short-term tasks needed to reach goals in a chart for each month at the beginning of the year, I plotted one month at a time and based the new standards for each month on the previous month’s actual accomplishment (it’s like I KNEW) (I did not know) (No one knew). I like this much better, and it gives me a much clearer picture of the real progress I’m making.
3. I took the month of December off from the reward system of checking things off. Mostly I did this to just take a break from it, which was needed. But also it gave me a chance to see what habits actually stuck when I removed the reward of a check mark or a crossed-off item. Very illuminating.

Official resolutions I made at the beginning of the year and how they went:
1. Read 120 books. I did not quite make it. But, considering that I went for about four months where I had the attention span of a gnat and couldn’t read for more than five minutes at a time (I read a total of six books during those four months), I think my final total of 96 is still pretty respectable.
2. Finish Fishbowl again – nope. Although I’ve made considerable progress.
3. Keep up with microfictions on Ello – yes…ish. I haven’t even checked lately to see if Ello is still a thing. But I have written a LOT of microfiction and short stories. I didn’t set a specific number to write every month, so I didn’t keep count, but that was the main creative writing I did.
4. Perform with Spiderweb – yes x2! I was in the last in-person show, collaborating with Sarah Ruth for Spiderweb Loves You on Valentines Day. And I had a spot in our online Spiderdead in November playing an original not-really-a-composition-but-more-like-a-prompt called Maybe Hope is a Terrible Idea.
5. Find a doctor – yes. Done.
6. Find a new dentist and eye doctor – not yet. Have people picked out to try, though, in the first few months of the new year.
7. Continue to build Pilates practice – yes, but not back with the in-person classes yet (although my studio has been great with upping the cleanliness standards and thinking outside the box and serving customers – really proud of the way they’ve done things). When we started working from home in March, I accepted a 30-day strength challenge with Jessica and Mary in my office, though, and I incorporated a lot of Pilates stuff in that and have expanded it and kept up with it pretty well. I may be able to test into Level 2 classes when I return.
8. Work – vague resolution about continuing to figure out what I want to do with my life that got put on the back burner when I was just happy to still have work.
9. Word of the year was “alive” and we know how I feel about that. So that’s that.

Goals I didn’t have at the beginning of the year but added and met anyway:
1. Reduce plastic use and trash production. I started putting trash day as Monday on my calendar (I needed help remembering some things – see note above re: attention span). I soon found myself finding ways to prolong it to another day to see how long I could go without filling up the trash cans. I’m up to three weeks (except in the kitchen because food-adjacent waste really shouldn’t sit in my house for three weeks but I just use smaller bags).
2. Reduce food waste – my fridge had a hard year and I think it’s on its way to dying. My freezer still works great, though, so I began freezing leftovers. I’m down to almost zero food waste, so I think that’s a habit I’ll keep even when I have a fixed/new fridge.
3. Automate shipments – toilet paper, toothpaste tabs (the Bits ones – plastic free packaging!), laundry sheets (also plastic free!), etc. I needed to take things out of my headspace this year, so I automated a lot of shipments of things I normally would just run an extra errand to get when I ran out. Now I don’t run out. Great decision – 10/10 – highly recommend.

Things I learned about myself:
1. I’m way more adaptable than I thought I was. Like…my response to chaos has mostly been to fight and thrive (relatively speaking).
2. I am very particular about who I trust. And I like that about me. I mean, I’ll extend a basic trust to most people – I don’t want into new relationships assuming they’re shady – but past that basic trust? It has to be earned.
3. I can like and get along with someone without trusting them or letting them affect me. This makes me good at standing up for other people, and I want to practice that more in the future.
4. I need to be touched. Like…regularly. I knew this already but I really really know it now.

I lost a few people I love this year (some COVID-related, some not), and that’s been hard. I also had a few heartbreaks, one in particular that was really heavy and terrible. I feel like I’m in perpetual heartbreak these days, and I don’t know how to not be. I’m really trying to seek joy in the midst of it anyway.

Finally, to end on a sort of positive note, some highlights:
1. Staying connected to Spiderweb even though it’s online and particularly to the You Are Here support group
2. Monday night text study
3. Book clubs!
4. So many artists adapting to online performance and sharing really beautiful things
5. So many local businesses adjusting to changes and finding new ways to serve customers
6. The Science of Well-Being – free course from Yale
7. Wake and Bake fundraising boxes of baked goods
8. Backyard hangouts with people who love me

Goodbye, 2020.

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First page of new planner. A reminder for when I forget.

I love resolutions. Even the ones I abandon halfway through the year (although I would not mind getting to a place where I don’t get all riled up about something just to fizzle out). I like looking forward and fostering hope for making new magic and dreams (and yes, a little madness). I have a lot of small goals for the year, but they all center on a few themes:

  1. Reading – I exceeded my original goal of 100 books last year (by two!), and so I’ve upped the challenge to 120 this year. I have three book clubs, because I love talking about books with people. I think it would be nice if I did that more here, too. Possible posts to look forward to are periodic recaps of what I’ve read and what I’m about to read. I really love what Brenda at Don’t Stop Believing did here, and I really adored some of the things I read in 2019, so you may see something similar around these parts soon. For this year, my focus is going to be on actually finishing the book club choices before we meet (I did this about 60% of the time last year) and reading some of the hundreds of books on my own shelves that I have squirreled away for “someday.” Someday is 2020.
  2. Writing – I finished Fishbowl in 2018…and then I edited it. Now I need to finish it again, because as it turns out, I have no problem killing my darlings. I may enjoy that too much, actually. So this year’s main writing goal is to get it ready to go to beta readers (yes, Maggie – you first)/an editor. I also have a short story project that I am working on, and I want to continue my microfictions on Ello (anyone else on Ello?). I haven’t posted there in a while, but I have a few that I should be ready to upload by the end of the month. I anticipate writing (maybe performing) something in collaboration with Spiderweb Salon this year, too.
  3. Health – I need to be better at keeping up with doctor’s appointments. Just…all of them. I’m terrible at this. That’s a big goal for the year. With my Pilates practice last year, I re-discovered how good I feel when I’m paying attention to strength and flexibility and alignment (hello again, dance!), so I want to continue to build there.
  4. Work – I want to continue to explore the next direction my work life should go. I don’t have a lot of answers here, but I have lots of advice and guidance. Sifting through all of that. We’ll see.
  5. Word of the year – I wasn’t going to have a word of the year, but then I kept seeing quotes about coming alive or being alive and every one of them made me tear up a little bit so now my word of the year is “alive” and I’m pretty enthused about it. My gut reaction for how to pursue this is through music, dance, learning new things, making beautiful things and feeding people, but I’m leaving the possibilities open. I have a short-term bucket list for the year that includes things like “read a book in Spanish with minimal need for a dictionary” and “start learning sign language” and “walk/run more miles each month”  and “brush up on music theory” and it will be fun to see how many of those I stick to. In related news, I may be in the market for a French horn or trumpet soon. You’re welcome, neighbors (but let’s be honest, you kinda have it coming).

Do you make resolutions? If so, I’d love to hear them!

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Sometimes I start longhand.

Andi Cumbo-Floyd’s second volume of Love Letters to Writers comes out on November 19, and I’ve had the privilege of reading an advance copy. I’m also reading/listening to Lauren Graham’s Talking as Fast as I Can and not participating in NaNoWriMo this month but living vicariously through others who are. So I’m doing a lot of reading and thinking about writing but not actually doing a lot of writing (well, not the creative kind that I like to do, anyway).

As reading about writing usually does, though, today’s selections have ganged up on me to remind me of why I miss NaNoWriMo when I don’t participate. It’s not the goal itself (although that’s a fun challenge) but rather the daily practice.

I balked at the write-every-day rule for a long time because I had a rigid idea of what that looked like.But what these two books and the reminder of what a month of intense word count goals can do for my writing have conspired to teach me is that writing every day is more about consistency than anything else.

I could use some more consistency in my creative writing practice.

I’m not going to try to start late and catch up for NaNoWriMo (although that would be entertaining). Instead, I’m going to set a measurable goal, just like we do every Monday in Andi’s online writing group, of setting a time aside for creative writing every day for the rest of the year. Lauren Graham outlines Don Roos’s Kitchen Timer method for doing so, and I’m going to borrow some of that structure to help with the goal.

  1. Every Sunday night, I am setting specific times to write every day and putting them on my calendar, just like any other appointment. I am also going to keep in mind that 15 minutes is longer than I’ve written most days this year, so if that’s the time I have some days, that’s the time I have, and that’s okay.
  2. During each writing appointment, I have exactly two things open. A current creative project I’m working on and my journal.
  3. The rules:
    * No internet
    * No music with words
    * No sudden spurt of cleaning or organizing
  4. Spend every minute set aside writing. If I get stuck on the project, I can switch to the journal.
  5. When time is up, it’s up. This is the part that I’ve skipped in the past, and I think that was a mistake. It felt good to go on in the moment when I was on a roll, but it also helped me justify skipping the next day (or two or three). Then I got out of the habit of writing daily. But I’m going to honor the rest of my schedule by ending my appointment when it’s scheduled to end.
  6. Monitor progress, but don’t let it prevent future progress. If I miss a day, I need to not dwell on it. If I only write 15 minutes a day for two weeks, I need to take the “only” out of that sentence. I tend to take myself less seriously as a writer if I don’t feel like I’ve spent enough time on it (whatever that means to me at the time). The truth is, though, that many authors have written whole books in the 15 minutes a day that all their children were asleep at once. There’s no reason that time frame can’t also work for me.

If you were to thumb through my handwritten journal, you’d find a motley array of scribbles – blog ideas, story outlines, bad poetry (all my poetry is bad at first), floor plan sketches, recipe ideas, daydreams about how my ideal job would look, etc. Knowing it’s there as an option takes away some of the resistance to a set writing time that I often feel.

I think that fighting that resistance is going to be key. Keeping my writing appointment every day can answer that annoying voice that tells me I don’t care enough about writing to make it a priority. Overcoming that voice (with the occasional assistance of CBD gummies and a qualified professional) can help me fight the anxiety that stifles the creativity I need to work toward developing more focus on my projects.

Definitely looking forward to that.

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Some of my favorite photos of 2018

This year has been…challenging. It hasn’t been terrible, but it also hasn’t been great. Even in not-so-great times, though, I can still learn and move forward. Here are five things I learned this year.

  1. So much of my 2018 has felt like busy work. We talked a lot about strengths at work, and my word of the year was “core.” One of the effects of examining my strengths and core values is that I realized how much what I do doesn’t match them. I didn’t write as many posts about core values (I think I finished two – hope and story) as I planned because I’m disappointed in how little time I make for the things I love the most. Expect more of these posts in the new year as I continue to unravel them.
  2. Setting high goals is good for me whether I reach them or not. I didn’t reach my goal of reading 100 books this year, but in shooting for it, I read 14 more than I did in 2017. I streamlined my budget and thus was able to purchase a keyboard and pay for the entire trip to the writers’ retreat at God’s Whisper Farm without putting it on a credit card. I got out more and saw more of Denton than I had the previous year.
  3. I am more disciplined than I thought I was. My planner looks like it was run over by a truck. Like I said, the year has been busy. Yet when I set a short-term goal with a deadline, I met it. I finished my first draft of Fishbowl (and have since dismantled it and now I need to write more to fill it out, but it’s going to be so much better). I made enough money with my freelance gig in my spare time in August (a month not historically known for an abundance of spare time in my world) to pay my rent (proving that I could probably make a living just doing freelance work if I wanted to).
  4. If I’m going to stick to an exercise plan, I have to risk something. I don’t tend to stick to a running schedule unless I am breaking in new, expensive shoes, because I feel like I have to justify the investment. I had no problem exercising in college because I was taking dance and PE classes (PSA: do not take modern, tap, and swim conditioning in the same semester. You will be so tired.), so both my pocketbook and my GPA were on the line. One of my resolutions was to either use my gym membership or cancel it. But it’s only $10 a month, so if I go even twice, my brain registers that minimal effort as getting my money’s worth. I recently started going to Club Pilates, and it’s considerably more than $10 a month. I have no problem making it there two or three times a week. Part of that is that I love Pilates (and I especially love it on the machines), but the main reason is that I am sacrificing other things to be able to afford it, so I’m going to get every session I pay for.
  5. Reading in Spanish is harder than I thought it would be, but I’m learning so much faster by doing so. It’s going to take me a while to get through this book, but I think I’ve found my favorite way to learn a language.

 

So that’s 2018. I’m looking forward to the new year and what it will bring.

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Friday Five 4

The title (minus the Friday Five) is what I just yelled in the office. We had our Thanksgiving lunch at work and there was a walnut/chocolate/candy (let’s be real – it’s candy on a crust) pie. I ate most of the piece and now I have all the energy and have to maintain because I’m going to see the UNT Jazz Singers tonight and don’t want to crash before/during it.

Here are some things I enjoyed on the intrawebs this week:

  1. The Bloggess opened up her comments section for all of us to post our blog links because blogging is fun and cathartic and no one who enjoys it cares that it’s allegedly dying. It’s alive in our hearts.
  2. I visit my library at least twice a week (more now that the laptop has given up the ghost…*sigh*), and I approve this message.
  3. The 31 best dance scenes in movies. Any of your favorites on here? Any not on here that you love? My favorites on this list are #21 (Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines!) and #31 (Steve Martin/Bernadette Peters with Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers in the background).
  4. I love these stories of complete strangers saving the day.
  5. And Jonathan Franzen’s 10 tips for novelists is inspiring as I start looking toward editing the novel in January.

What have you enjoyed this week?

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31 Days ofShort Stories (1)

Once upon a time, there was a young writer who started a book. It was National Novel Writing Month, and she wondered if she could do it. Write 50,000 words in one month (she could, but that’s another story). She didn’t make it to 50,000 words that month, but she did create a cast of characters who refused to leave her brain. They grew in her imagination, and every once in a while she would write down things they said and did. Pretty soon (in the grand scheme of the universe), she had a book.

Now she’s a young-for-her-age (jury is still out on whether that was meant as a compliment or not, but I’m going to count it as one) writer with a finished rough draft of a manuscript. Because it’s only a rough draft, though, and she is a perfectionist, completing this step didn’t give her quite the satisfaction she had hoped it would. Also, she forgot to celebrate properly. Others celebrated her, but all she could think of was how much more there was to do and how the darlings she had nurtured would fare during the process.

One of the characters is a storyteller. He makes up stories on the spot to entertain and delight (and sometimes sadden or provoke – storytellers are a tricksy bunch). So the writer decided that an appropriate way to celebrate this stage of writing is to do the same.

And they all lived (well, sort of…most of them) happily (eh…in a way) ever after.

All my 31 Days series in the past have been practical, how-to series. This one is a celebration and a glimpse into what I really love to write. I’m going to be telling short stories. I have some prompts, and I suspect I’ll have a few to-be-continueds to pick up on a subsequent date. I’m open to others. So if you think of something you’d like me to write, comment, email, DM, carrier-pigeon it to me, and I’ll try to give it a go.

I’m going to aim for 300-1000 words a day, but I don’t promise to stay within that range. Sometimes dialogue gets away from me. You may also see recurring characters or titles (written in a different style or with different characters). And each Friday is going to be a different story written from a Tumblr prompt that went around for a while.

In other words, I’m gonna have some fun with this.

I’ll keep the master list of posts here for reference:

Day 1 – Overview
Day 2 – The Case of the Missing Pen
Day 3 – Autobiography of a Real A-Hole (A Microfiction)
Day 4 – Lola Panter, Private Eye
Day 5 – Soulmates (Part 1)
Day 6 – Roger
Day 7 – If You Were a Hat

I’m also linking up with the Write 31 Days community. If this sounds like something you’d like to do, jump over and join us (to include your link to the blog or social media account you’re using to participate, see the dropdown under “linking up”). Or just linger and read. We like that, too.

 

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What I'm Into

I had to use the picture of ice cream because I just had my first snow cone of the season on Friday. That’s usually more of a May thing. Clearly, I’m slacking.

June was chaotic but mostly the fun kind. I traveled a little and worked a lot and played as much as possible.  Here’s what June looked like:

Favorite things to watch/read:

  • Michelle and I have decided to watch Supernatural together, because we are both scaredy cats but also we love the actors on this show. This way, we can watch the boys with their adorable quips and adorable etc. with someone who won’t make fun of us if we happen to watch it through the holes in the knitted blanket we’re hiding behind.
  • Inspired by this list, I am starting the whole Arrow/Flash/Supergirl/etc.-verse over again and watching it in order. I’m about to start The Flash again, and I am ridiculously excited about it.
  • Rupi Kaur’s The Sun and Her Flowers is my favorite book I finished this month. I love Kaur’s poetry. I recommend starting this book at an outdoor jazz festival and catching snippets of it on lazy afternoons sipping craft beer.
  • Leigh Kramer’s A Storied Life is wonderful. I definitely ugly-cried toward the end, so you should be prepared for that.

Favorite events:

  • I drove to Virginia to attend the writer’s retreat at God’s Whisper Farm (next year is June 21-23, if you want to go ahead and mark it on your calendar now). It was the first time I have driven halfway across the country by myself and the first time I led a workshop at a writer’s retreat. It was relaxing and inspiring and I recommend it to everyone.
  • I finished a rough draft of my Fishbowl manuscript. I won’t allow myself to touch it officially until September when I read through it and give it a first round of edits. Ever the loophole seeker, however, I have a pile of notes that I keep jotting down for when I tackle it seriously again. For now, I’m basking in the first step.
  • I got to help Hope with her tabling event at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship assembly in Dallas. Getting paid to lure people with chocolate and talk about trade and coffee and hang out with Hope? Sign me up always.

Random favorites:

  • Pear liqueur. It may be my new favorite thing. Mix with pineapple/mango juice. Or whiskey.
  • Seeing students get more involved in civic events. We have had quite a few around town lately, and it’s exciting to see a bit of a younger crowd there.

What I’m looking forward to:

  • 3rd annual Hemingway party coming up this month. We’re going super easy (but always delicious) on the food and super plentiful on the hooch. You’re welcome, neighbors. Also, come on over.
  • 24in48 readathon! Few things thrill me as much as a weekend where I don’t leave the house (except for that one thing I’m leaving the house to do that weekend).

What are you into lately? I’m linking up with Leigh Kramer – hop over there to read more and add your two cents!

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_Tell me a story..._ (1)

I have waited for this day for quite a few years. The moment I would wind down and type those final words.

“The End.”

Today, I finished the rough draft of my Fishbowl manuscript as I had it outlined. I expected to feel a rush of relief. A sense of accomplishment. Maybe even some euphoria.

Mostly, though, I feel like it’s not really finished.

As I wrote, I tried to stick to my outline, trusting that the story would expand to fill the gaps. What I discovered along the way were more gaps than I anticipated.

So. Many. Gaps.

Technically, I finished what I had planned to finish. I’m going to celebrate that.

(I am. I promise.)

I don’t think I’m actually done, though. I think there’s more to this story and these characters than I’ve managed to eke out.

I’m going to follow the wise counsel I’ve received to let it lie for a month or two before picking it up to edit.

But I suspect editing may really mean finishing.

Meanwhile, if you want to raise a glass to the quasi-finished Fishbowl, I’ll take it.

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Favorite thing about summer. FAVORITE.

Fresh peaches that practically burst when you touch them. Snow cones. Festivals and retreats and reunions. Lounging and reading. Air conditioning (because it’s already dabbling in triple digits here and Lord have mercy).

Ah, summer.

I don’t have to talk myself into fall and winter. I have made my peace with spring being my least favorite season, because allergies.

But the people looooove summer. And I just…don’t. But I also know how annoying it is to me when people complain about winter (just…shhhh. Let me enjoy the five minutes a year I’m not in a constant state of sweat and nausea in peace). Therefore, in the interest of not being the gnat swarm at everyone’s picnic, I decided to follow Joy the Baker’s lead and make a summer bucket list.

I know the purpose of a bucket list is typically accomplishment, and there’s an element of that in here. Mostly, though, this is a list of the things I’m looking forward to doing this summer.

  • Finishing Fishbowl. I’m super close to finishing my first rough draft of a full-length novel. Like…within-the-next-couple-of-weeks close. I’ve been playing with this manuscript for so long that I can’t imagine it being finished (well, the first step of finished, anyway). And it may expand in the editing process later, as I have pesky notes of a side view, and I’ll have to read it through to know if that’s a distraction or an important part of the story. But the bones will be written. So, so soon.
  • Road trip to Virginia to the writers’ retreat where I will be presenting my workshop. There are still spaces available, and you can read about it and register here.
  • Leave the house on purpose at least twice a week for fun. Not because I have work or errands or a meeting. Just to join civilization. It’s not something I need to do every day, but life is richer when I get out regularly. Summer is an easier time to do that.
  • 3rd annual Hemingway party. There may be dancing this year. There will definitely be alcohol and mixers and lots of food.
  • 24in48 reading challenge! July 21-22. Sign-ups are coming soon. I’ll keep you posted.
  • High school reunion in July.

I also need to settle into a better daily rhythm with the things I know that feed my soul. I started off well in January, but the goals have sort of fizzled. No, that’s an understatement. My resolutions tracking sheet (post forthcoming) is a desert. As most of the resolutions I set are activities designed to help me maintain balance and sanity, it makes sense that I have been scattered (tidy euphemism) as of late. I’ve been in survival mode for about three months. I know that there are other factors involved, so getting back to stability is not as simple as checking things off a daily to-do list, but the things on the list can help.

What are you doing this summer?

 

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Core Value – Story

 

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I have danced around a way to express this particular value. I struggled (and still struggle) with finding the exact wording I wanted to say everything that it encompasses. I’m still not sure that I found the right one, so I’ll just call it “story” and say a lot of other words to go with it.

First I want to detail what story is not to me.

Story is not an argument for a position. A better word for that might be “reason” or “data.” It’s not that story isn’t strong enough or even true enough for belief to take hold. It’s just that one person’s story is so customized to his or her individual needs and position that it doesn’t always translate to the common good. For every story that supports one way of thinking, there is usually another equally valid, equally true story that supports the opposite point of view. I get frustrated, therefore, when people expect me to be dissuaded from my opinion by their story alone.

[I’m sure the frustration is mutual. Our stories are powerful that way.]

It’s not that I don’t believe them. It’s that I also believe others.

Thinking through this concept started as “listening.” But listening does not encompass the whole value. Story also creates empathy. When I hear where someone is coming from, I feel for them. Even if I come from a very different place. Even if I still disagree. It softens my sharp edges toward them.

[Not that I thrust sharp edges at people, of course. I don’t know where you heard that.]

Story also creates curiosity and wonder for me. I think that’s what I love most about it. Hearing the stories that people tell about themselves – the specific ones they choose out of the millions they have to choose from – makes me want to know more about them. I love it when they tell stories they didn’t mean to tell about themselves (not so much when they tell others’ stories for them).

My love of story is the main reason I write fiction. When I told my aunt about the premise of Fishbowl, she asked to hear about one of the scenes when Bob and Jenny talked to one another. I read her one of my favorites, and she responded, “That’s just how it is. That’s wonderful.”

Just how it is. Best compliment I can imagine getting.

When I hear a person’s story, I know I’m hearing their world just how it is (in their mind, at least, even if that reality exists nowhere else). It’s an honor to be trusted with that.

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