Category Archives: Slowbloom

Over a cuppa

#OverACupOfTeaToday …

I would tell you that my heart is heavy and light, full of emotion, swinging wildly from one end of the spectrum to the other.

cuppa Assam

It’s World AIDS Day, and I think about all the people we’ve lost, before their time, due to fear. I still remember Mark, a beautiful, warm-hearted man who welcomed me when I first moved to Seattle. He was sweet and kind, and we had a special connection. My heart aches for the people around the world whose families have been destroyed, and who are denied treatment due to lack of access or funds. I hold the Bush administration complicit in the deaths of many people in Africa, due to their withdrawal of funding for comprehensive sex ed, in favor of abstinence-only sex ed.

It’s also the 60th anniversary of Rosa Parks’ act of civil disobedience. I can’t remember when I learned that she was an activist, trained for action, not a tired woman acting alone, but it blew my mind and made me so angry when I did. I know it was long after I finished all formal schooling. How much more powerful a story, and one that mainstream educators didn’t want us to know: collective action can and does push the needle. See also: ACT UP.

I saw a young black girl sitting at the front of the bus this morning, while I sat toward the back. I was struck by the ordinariness of it. There was no friction or conflict about where either of us sat. We sat where we chose. I was pleased by it, aware at the same time that there is still so much work to be done to reach true racial equality, as the Black Lives Matter work has made abundantly clear.

The past returns, in Yeats’ ever widening gyre, but I don’t believe it trends toward anarchy, as he predicts. History repeats, and the echoes reverberate. Some lessons it seems we need to learn over and over, with a node to Santayana.

I despair over humanity ever finding a sustainable peace, as the fresh wave of refugees, driven from their homelands, seek safer ground and find themselves rebuffed for the same reasons the German Jews were in the 1930s and 1940s. It’s Bosnia, it’s Sarajevo, it’s Rwanda, it’s Syria. It’s Armenia, it’s Tibet, it’s fucking “ethnic cleansing” which let’s be honest is state-sanctioned murder. If these are the examples I can list off the top of my head, I’m sure there are an equal number of atrocities I’m missing. And most of them haven’t been made into movies, sanitized for Hollywood audiences.

I try to take the long view, to see that progress is happening, even if it’s not on the timeline I’d prefer. In HALF my lifetime, gay people in America went from being persona non grata to having access to marriage. There’s still a long way to go in terms of protections, particularly for trans women of color, but given that 20 years ago there were NONE, this gives me hope. Hope for American culture to shift on things like gun ownership, access to health care, housing, gainful employment, and a standing down of the military. Hope for acceptance of all people. No, not just acceptance or tolerance, but celebration of the variety and diversity of what it means to be human, across sexuality, gender, religion, race, ethnicity, ability, age, and any other variable you can name. It may be naive, but the alternative is too painful to bear.

In my slowbloom way, I choose to return my focus to what I want. It’s easy to get distracted by all the things. It’s hard to admit what I want.

This is what I would tell you over a cup of tea today.

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Dragons and Poison Chalices

I tweeted this a couple of weeks ago as a reminder for something I’ve been meaning to write about. There are people who I have judged as standing between me and something I wanted. I saw them like dragons, sitting on an enormous hoard, mean and greedy, doling out precious medallions to those they deemed worthy. I thought I had to curry favor, swallow the poison they offered, and try to survive it until I had cleared the obstacle and attained whatever goal I was in pursuit of.

dragon

It turns out that isn’t true, though. It’s true there are certain individuals who hold enormous influence and hence power, but as the saying goes, “All roads lead to Rome.” In other words, there are many paths, and while there might be One Ring To Rule Them Are, there is no singular route.

When I can recognize a dragon now, I realize this is fear speaking. Fear warps our ideas of what is possible, narrowing down all the possibilities until there are none left. When I see the dragon, I can relax, because it tells me what I’m seeing is a mirage, a lie. I can relax, and see that there are other options. There are always options, even when it feels like there are none.

The size of the dragon is an indicator of my level of investment. The bigger I think they are, the bigger the clue is that this is something close to my heart. If it were the size of an anole, I wouldn’t see the person as standing in my way at all. Because I don’t care, there’s nothing at stake. When the dragon fills the landscape, however, blotting out the horizon, this should be the mother of all signs.

I’m not obliged to slay it, like St. George, but facing reality head-on is like taking a sword to a dragon. So often, the reality is nothing like what the fear projected up on the screen.

It’s easy to blame the dragons for not achieving. I couldn’t. THERE WAS A GIANT SCARY DRAGON SITTING IN THE MIDDLE OF THE PATH. Except after I relaxed out of the paralysis, I found another path with an anole instead of a dragon. And it climbed up on the wall and flared its throat flag and it pointed further down the path.

I’m gathering my community of support. We are small but mighty. And this community reminds me daily that there are people in the world who can support my dreams and don’t feel threatened by them. So when you find someone who cheers you on, wholeheartedly, without fear that you are going to diminish them, cling tight. Give them chocolates and beer and octopi emoji. And if they don’t run screaming from the room, you’ve found a true friend.

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A man, a plan, a canal ..

I’m a person who likes order. I like predictability. I like feeling in control. The first half of my life, I had a plan. Things went according to this plan. I had no reason to question why plans wouldn’t be a good idea. Until the plan stopped working. As soon as I no longer had a plan, I floundered. I believe they call this “your twenties.”

At the end of my twenties, I came up with a new!improved! plan. I went to graduate school. I learned things. I found work that paid better and was more satisfying, until it wasn’t. I left that job, spent a couple years working with a therapist, and felt that my life was getting back on track. I tricked my brain into thinking we had a plan.

Moore theater ceiling

Which leads me to today. From the outside, things are great! Awesome! I have a fantastic partner, a good job, and time to work on my writing. This was my latest plan. Get a job that supports my writing. Except … this plan isn’t working quite the way I thought. I felt I had set my expectations appropriately. It would take time to adjust to full time work and I probably wasn’t going to be writing A LOT. I’ve created a structure to support my writing – I meet up twice a week with friends. I’ve been writing, and mostly just wandering around in the weeds (cf. “floundering” above).

I thought more about my current dissatisfaction. Why was I so unhappy? I mean, my life is good. I realized it was The Plan. Plans come with built-in expectations, like old Craftsman houses with built-in cupboards. Unlike the Craftsman cupboards, though, these built-ins are often promises that don’t work out.

I thought about what Greg (my therapist) would say to me, when I was feeling like utter crap. “You don’t have control, but you have a choice.”

And then he would ask me:

What do you want?

Those four words seem so simple. It turns out I *always* know what I want. Kurt Vonnegut knew that. He said, “Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” My desire is clear, and yet complicated by American culture. Many of the things I want are not what I was told were desirable. I have a strong desire to please others, but ultimately, I have to please myself. Not at the cost of others, but not by sacrificing myself either. This is a delicate dance for me. I yearn for a bit more narcissism, so I can stop caring so much about what other people think of me.

The other thing I know about myself is that structure supports me. I feel best and get the most done when I have structure. Structure. Plans. Control. I assume by now you are detecting a theme.

The problem is, these things aren’t working for well for me. I thought I just had to get through winter and I would feel better. (Yes, I’m still judging my feelings. That’s probably a whole other blog post. What if feelings were just feelings, and I didn’t have to categorize them?)

Back to the theme (another structure! The layers of meta run deep.) – what if I could let go of my plan and just focus on what I WANT? When I asked myself that yesterday, the miasma and shame and sadness started to lift (or maybe it was the handstand). I wasn’t a failure, just because The Plan wasn’t working. Some of you know I’ve spent some time considering what failure is and what it means to me.

What if failure is the inability to access and respond to our own desires?

I decided that rather than focus on the future (i.e. The Plan with its attendant expectations/results) I need to return my focus to the moment. What do I want? Like meditation, I expect (ha!) this to be challenging, but instead of pushing satisfaction to the future, I can focus on creating it in any given moment.

My good friend Kristin is a huge inspiration for me. She’s got a laser focus and she just wrote a post about focusing on what you want.

Mary Oliver asks:

Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?

I’m replacing plan with want. What do you want?

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On Rejection

CakeSpy has a lovely post up about the process she went through when her book proposal got rejected. As an artist and creator, it’s incredibly hard to separate rejection of our work from rejection of ourselves. In my own process, if I am being true to my work, I put pieces of myself in it. These artifacts are extensions of myself, little arrows I shoot out in the world, with the hope they will hit their mark.

love every wish

It was when I got to this part that I recognized my own response to rejection:

But I’m not anorexic or bulimic anymore.
I let myself have the freaking cake, and raised it one by adding a cup of milk. And then, while I was eating that cake, I acknowledged to myself that I was deeply, deeply hurt.

In some ways, it felt awful “sit” with the awful, gnarly feelings of rejection. But even less bearable? Trying to ignore those feelings and then constantly feeling them on the periphery of my thoughts, lurking in the shadows.

When I can recognize that I feel hurt and can sit with those feelings and then articulate what I believe those feelings are telling me, I always come out the other side realizing that thoughts generated by those feelings aren’t true. Something happened recently and I felt awful. I went for a swim and let myself listen to the thoughts that arose. They told me I was unlovable. Once I stopped avoiding the pain and actually faced it, I realized those old beliefs aren’t actually true. I am loveable. I am worthy of love. We all are.

Learning to face those painful feelings was hard. I’ve already detailed what I learned from therapy. My conclusions was:

I had to learn that what I had to offer was enough. That I am enough. That I have value and what I have to offer has value. If what I have to offer doesn’t work for someone else, it’s not my fault. It’s not their fault. It’s just not a fit.

But I have another piece to add – or perhaps an addition to it’s not personal. I can think of two concrete examples where decisions were made behind-the-scenes that had nothing to do with the people who were affected. There is so much that we will probably never know about the decision-making process, particularly when it comes from an organization with a lot of people.

Cakespy also said:

By strengthening connections to people and things that don’t have to do with my work, I don’t have to place all of my self-worth on the work.

This is the other thing that rang like a bell. I make my best effort and put it in out in the world, but how the world receives it isn’t an indictment or endorsement of me as a person. It’s just a piece of information that what I’m offering doesn’t fit. It might have nothing to do with me OR what I’ve put into the world. It find that incredibly comforting, and I return to those examples as reminders that there are often reasons I will never know that have nothing to do with me.

I hope you find that a source of comfort, too, and I’m curious like Cakespy, how you respond to rejection.

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Do. Try. Do be do be do.

At the beginning of 2014 my friend Louise Knight encouraged people to pick a word as their theme for the year. I loved doing it so much, I decided to do it again this year. Last year my word was return. That turned out to be a great word. It was the same idea as meditation. In other words, whenever I noticed that my focus had changed and I was distracted by something, I could gently return my attention back to what I wanted to create.

Last year, while working with my therapist on issues around fear, he told me: Curiosity is the antidote to fear. Armed with this knowledge, I began experimenting. I would try something out and see what kind of results of got. Fear leads to paralysis; curiosity can unlock that frozen state.

Failing is something queers do

This brings me to this year’s theme. Yes, I realize it’s the end of February, but I chose it at the beginning of January. I’m just now getting around to writing it up. I first thought it should be curiosity, but that wasn’t a verb. It didn’t impel me to any action. I considered experiment, but that too wasn’t compelling enough for me. And then I landed on the sticky verb try

Those you familiar with Star Wars will remember Yoda’s famous injunction:
“Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

Yoda gives this instruction to the young Skywalker after he watches his ship sink in the bog. For many years I subscribed to this approach. But recently I’ve come to realize that this sets up a false dichotomy: Do, or do not. There is no room for effort, for error, for learning by failing, which is how we all learn.

When I speak of trying, I speak of failing. I mean making the effort and not getting it quite right, but learning something with each round. There is a wonderful children’s book, The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires that describes this process wonderfully. There is a little girl and in her mind, she envisions the most magnificent thing. She sets out to create it, but her first attempt doesn’t hit the mark. Nor does her second or third. But in each attempt, she learns and sees something that she can adjust that will improve her product until she attains her goal.

When I try to do something, with focus and intention, and I see the result isn’t what I intended, I have hopefully learned something that I can apply when I go back to do it again.

I read in the book Art & Fear a story about a ceramics teacher who demonstrated this very concept I’m describing:

The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

By Yoda’s definition, those focused on quality were “trying.” I like to think of those focused on quantity were trying in the way I’m describing. Even young Skywalker kept making the effort. In today’s tech world, people talk about iterating. Would Yoda say, “There is no interate. Only do.”? I don’t know, but I like to think of him exhorting Luke to iterate!

Do, or do not, it’s not a zero-sum. I wrote last year about failure, and it’s the fear of failing of that keeps us all from trying. What if the first effort is a failure? Or the second or third or tenth? At what point do we define our efforts as a failure? For me, I’m going to put that at the end of my life, so I can have as many chances as possible.

We can all make the effort. We can keep aiming our arrows and drawing back the bows. As one of my yoga teachers says, “No effort is wasted.”

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What I learned from therapy

I feel like I could make this a super duper short thing, a medium thing, or a super looong thing. I’m going to aim for some happy medium, though.

For the tl;dr crowd, here is the distillation of what I learned and what I apply in challenging moments: Ask yourself: What do I want? Be honest (about what you want). Be kind (to yourself and others). Tell the truth.

Once we lose our fear of being tiny ...
Once we lose our fear of being tiny, we find ourselves on the threshold of a vast and awesome universe which dwarfs – in time, in space, and in potential – the tidy anthropocentric proscenium of our ancestors. ~ Carl Sagan

By the end of 2010 I was a worn-out husk of a human. I’d managed to leave my job gracefully, but not without paying a price. I’d lost all my self-confidence. I didn’t trust myself. I thought I was just exhausted and needed to rest. But after two years, it became apparent that rest wasn’t the only thing I needed.

I knew I was having problems when I was interpreting everything with the same level of fear. It didn’t matter what it was. My internal sense of things was waaaay off, but I could only tell by extrapolation. So I found a therapist.

There were many things that I worked on over the almost two years I worked with G:

  • There was learning to look for support. Everywhere I looked, I saw a threat. Learning to scan for support was HUGE.
  • There was the piece about needing to be seen. I’d learned at my previous place of employment that being my whole self was unacceptable (or had interpreted various signals that way). So I made the choice to stop sharing the parts I felt weren’t acceptable there. As anyone living in the closet can tell you, it’s exhausting. And demoralizing. So I worked on being brave and telling the truth when people asked me questions that I thought they didn’t really want to know the answers to. And guess what? I started having amazing conversations. And I don’t remember anyone running away, screaming, as fast as they could. But maybe I just blotted out those memories.
  • We spend A LOT of time talking about my feelings. As I joked recently, if I’m talking about my feelings, I’d better be paying you to do so. But seriously, I didn’t understand my emotional landscape. I felt totally out of control. I had to learn that it was a) okay to have feelings; b) okay to feel them; and c) okay to not act on them.
  • Which brings me back to fear. Everything I talked about ended the same way: “And then I’m going to die, alone, in a gutter on the street.”
  • Which is patently not true. Saying these things that I feared out loud took the power away, in a profound way. Saying them to a compassionate witness was life changing.
  • There’s a Part II to fear: the illusion of control. I hate feeling out of control. As I began to relax and breathe and learn to understand my feelings, I became less and less overwhelmed. For me, it turned out, my sense of control and safety were directly tied to my inability to understand what I was feeling. When I couldn’t understand what I was feeling, I felt out of control. In other words, my sense of control had nothing to do with my ability. Learning to be present in the moment, slowing down, and uncoupling my response from my reaction was probably the core of the work I did with G.
  • The antidote to fear is curiosity. I’ve been trying this one out. When I feel afraid, I don’t “whistle a happy tune” like Anna in The King and I. Putting on a brave face equals dismissing my own experience. Instead, I take my cue from Doctor Who. He is always curious, even when it appears that death is imminent. I’ve been experimenting and testing it out. Turns out, curiosity is a like a magic wand that releases the straightjacket of fear. If you are feeling gripped by fear, I encourage you to give it a try. Start with something small. Something that feels doable. You can do it!
  • I had to move from criticism and judgment to observation.
  • I was crabby about happiness, which I now find hilarious. So G encouraged me to consider what might satisfy me. So much easier for me to work with than happiness.
  • I had to learn what I value matters to me.
  • I had to learn that I am safe. Always.
  • I had to learn to bloom at my own speed, in other words.

Learning to pay attention to what I want in any given moment has been an interesting process. I’d say most of the time, what I want does not cause me to feel any internal conflict, so getting it is easy – or falls under the category of “wishful thinking” (like an extended trip around the world).

All of these things were layered over time, building on themselves. It was in this way that I learned to neutralize the things that I felt held power over me.

I felt broken and damaged, unloveable and lacking value. I had to learn that what I had to offer was enough. That I am enough. That I have value and what I have to offer has value. If what I have to offer doesn’t work for someone else, it’s not my fault. It’s not their fault. It’s just not a fit.

Solar blooms

I love that I picked slow bloom as the organizing principle for my blog. It gives me permission to focus on opening up in only the way that I can. I can let go of comparing myself to others and continue to return to my desires.

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Update on Liberated Life Marketplace

I’m still selling my cards (through January!) at the Liberated Life Marketplace.

I decided that in addition to offering up the dahlias, I’m also making sets using images from SE Asia, Japan, and Florida. Here are some sample images to give you some idea.

Japan

torii hall with lantern

Kinkakuji

orange pagoda, green hills

crossed knot

SE Asia

tree framing door

faces in stone

sunrise

Some variation on the apsara:

apsaras

Florida

brown pelican in flight

ibis

burrowing owl

So apparently Florida IS for the (snow)birds. I have a couple other images with birds – a snowy egret as well as a triad with an anhinga, roseate spoonbill and an egret.

Also have:

Triple dolphin action

And something similar to this one:

cypress reflections

Also, if you are in Seattle, I’m happy to meet up and hand off pictures, minus the shipping charge. Or if you don’t want to use PayPal, let me know and we can work something out!

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Slow Bloom at the Liberated Life Marketplace!

llpMarketplaceSquare-1

2014 has been a year of transformation for me. In the spirit of trying new things and seeing what sticks to the wall, I’m offering my note cards for sale! I love to create, using a mix of things. I love sharing how I see the world. Creating note cards is one such avenue of expression.

I was invited to participate in The Liberated Life Project Marketplace this year, which is how this offering comes to you!

Even though the prevailing wisdom says, “A picture’s worth a thousand words,” there are things the pictures themselves can’t tell you. So I will. I started making cards for my mom several years ago. A few years later, I posted a few of my dahlia pictures on FB and I had another friend say, “If you ever make your pictures into cards, I would totally buy some from you.” A seed was planted.

I’m offering two different sets of note cards. There are 5 cards in each set, each with a different image. The cards are 5″x7″ and blank on the inside.

The first set contain details of architectural elements from Bethesda Terrace in Central Park.
rail detail

I was there in October with my mom, partner, and niece, and in my slow bloom fashion, lagging behind them. As I approached the staircase that leads down to the fountain, a man walked up the stairs. He wore a khaki vest and an air of authority. He asked if I knew anything about the Terrace.

I said, “No, I don’t. But I don’t have time. I have to catch up with my family.”

He said, “Well, did you know that all the details are different? Every design element that on first glance looks like it should be the same is actually different.”

I peered closer and was delighted by this new information. I thanked the volunteer and ran off to tell my family. We then spent the next thirty minutes exploring the variation and variety that we would have otherwise missed! I was delighted that my speed meant I learned something special about the place, as well as opening my eyes to the details I would have otherwise glossed over. Sometimes it really pays to go slow(er).

**

The second set are made from dahlia pictures. I’ve been taking pictures of the dahlias in a garden in Volunteer Park, down the street from where I live.

peach dawn

Regulars will know that I have a particular fondness for dahlias. I love their bright, bold, throw-caution-to-the-wind blooms. I love their variety. They remind me that I have my own speed of blooming. I’ve posted this quote from May Sarton before, but I’m going to repeat it here, because this is the heart of this blog and also the inspiration for the dahlia cards:

“It does not astonish or make us angry that it takes a whole year to bring into the house three great white peonies and two pale blue iris. It seems altogether right and appropriate that these glories are earned with long patience and faith … and also that it is altogether right and appropriate that they cannot last. Yet, in our human relations we are outraged when the supreme moments, the moments of flowering, must be waited for … and then cannot last. We reach a summit, and then have to go down again.
Maybe patience is the last thing we learn.”
~May Sarton; Journal of a Solitude

In addition to my note cards, there are many other wonderful offerings, from books about transformation to coaching and mindfulness/livelihood support, to prayer flags and other beautiful artwork. Even if my offering doesn’t appeal, I encourage you to go check out what other people have to offer. Perhaps you will know someone that will connect with a piece in just the right way.

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Fall in Love With Your Work

I am using this space to promote my friend Maia, because I believe in the generosity economy described by Kelley Eskridge.

wall starfish

I met Maia in the winter of 2011, when I was traveling around SE Asia. We met in the charming town (if you could even call it that!) of Chiang Dao. She boldly inserted herself into a conversation I was having with another woman I’d met that evening, and we became fast friends. In fact, in the three years since we met, I’m surprised to realize that that evening was the only time we have ever been face-to-face.

In the fall of 2012, I was spinning my wheels and lacked direction. I knew I wanted to move in a different direction than the one I’d been going in, but I couldn’t seem to figure it out on my own. Maia invited met to participate in her online class, Fall In Love With Your Work. This definitely appealed to me. I have always struggled to love what I’ve been paid to do.

In slowbloom fashion, another layer of myself and my history were revealed through this process. I began to clarify what I valued (hello (hu)manifesto!). I came to understand some of what I considered my failures in previous employment situations. And I took the first steps in opening back up, after having shut down. As a matter of fact, this entire blog exists because of her encouragement!

I’m saying all of this because Maia is offering her course again. She is a gentle and compassionate teacher, and if you are looking for more clarity in your own life, or have questions about what your right livelihood might be, this course is for you.

So stretch yourself! Go sign up. Registration closes on September 29th. Please contact me for a discount code if you’re interested!

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On the internet, no one can hear you scream

This post is about dreams. I know, rule #2991480932 of the Internet: DON’T TELL ANYONE YOUR DREAMS. NO ONE WANTS TO HEAR IT. So, you’ve been duly warned. I’m going to talk about dreams.

Ivar's clam

I have had recurring dreams nightmares for pretty much all of my adult life. There are two themes. In the first one, I’m leaving on a trip. I get to the airport. I don’t have my passport. I’m always going somewhere that requires a passport. I don’t have enough time to get my passport before my flight leaves.

In the second type, I’m experiencing some kind of danger. It’s always vague, but present. I’m always paralyzed and incapable of getting out of harm’s way.

Except, something has changed. Several months ago I had the travel dream, right up to panicking about the passport. When I checked my bag, the passport was in it.

This morning I had the second dream. Except instead of being unable to flee, I got on my bicycle and rode up an insanely steep hill. And I stood up on my pedals (which I’m currently terrified of doing, because the last time I did that, when I was ten, I fell off my bike and scarred my knee for life).

Something has shifted, and it’s showing up in my dreams. I’m not so afraid of what the world is going to fling at me. So bring it on.

For those of you who read to the end, bless your hearts. To the rest of you, well, bless your hearts, too.

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