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I had an important deadline Saturday, had to submit something or I’d miss my chance. I found out about this deadline in January. Jan.u.ar.y. I’ve had many weeks to make this happen. Here’s how I worked on it:

  1. Stared at the information.
  2. Thought about how much I wanted that thing.
  3. Stared at the information.
  4. Wondered why anyone would ever consider me for that thing.
  5. Clicked away from the page, telling myself I couldn’t work on it then because I had so much going on and I had to do some homework before I’d be ready to work on that.
  6. Ignore it for a few days.
  7. Repeat from step one.

Over. And over. And over again.

I finally started working on this on Sunday. Yes, when I had hardly any time left to get my work in order. Of course.

Every night last week, I sat down to work, and every night I pushed away from my computer, telling myself I would never finish and shouldn’t be trying anyway because I’m all wrong for this opportunity.

Needless to say, this is horrifically frustrating.

So what’s my story? Clearly, as is true for so many people, particularly women, particularly women of color, I keep running smack into the solid granite wall of Impostor Syndrome.

There are plenty of reasons to love the amazingly talented Viola Davis. Having her call out Impostor Syndrome just moments after being handed her Academy Award was kind of amazing.

I read  about this thing years ago, maybe as long ago as 2011. I recognized myself then, recognized the ways I tear myself down, doubt myself, struggle against the fear that I’ll be unmasked at any moment. On one level, I was relieved to discover that I wasn’t alone, that there was actually a name for the way I thought about myself. At the same time, it was disturbing to discover the realness of what I was doing. I recognized it, but I didn’t try to do anything about it. I didn’t know what to do about it. Yes, there were things I’d learned about stopping a thought, replacing it with a better, kinder, more based-in-reality thought. I’d seen that work when I tried it with bad body thoughts (it’s a body/fat acceptance thing … fodder for another post). But I don’t seem able to catch myself when I sank into Impostor fears, at least not immediately, not quickly enough to stop myself from sinking. I figure out what I’m doing only after I’ve fully shot myself down.

I may have only learned about Impostor Syndrome a few years ago, but I’ve been letting it hold me back for so much longer. All those times I didn’t stand up for myself, just accepted whatever awful treatment was doled out to me …Yeah, that was me believing I deserved to be treated like crap, that whoever was cutting me down was simply seeing me for who and what I really was and letting me know. When a supervisor lost confidence in me and stopped backing my play, I never questioned it. It made perfect sense to me. Clearly she had finally realized I was a fraud.

I had been planning to write that I’ve been losing the fight against Impostor Syndrome for my whole life. But I’ve been trying to track back to when I first felt unworthy, and it’s definitely not my whole life. But it is easily the last 15 years, and that’s a painfully long time.

I shrugged it off a moment ago, but stopping the thought really does have to be step one here. I can’t fight the cycle if I don’t see it coming and cut it off at the knees. I need to see those moments as they happen and shut them right down.

And, in some ways, this is a perfect time to be pushing myself in this way. I’m about to be putting myself out in the spotlight in a couple of ways that will surely trigger Impostor Syndrome again and again. Ramping up my vigilance now, at the start of this “spotlight season,” will be good for me … and it will be challenging, and exhausting, and demoralizing … and so helpful in the long run.

Yes, I can already see that this has to be part of my Be Your Own Cabana Boy self-care plan. Maybe one of the most important parts. Seeing myself clearly, not putting myself down, not standing in my own way … these things are as important as feeding myself well, as getting enough sleep. It all comes back to that comment I threw in so casually at the end of yesterday’s post: I’m worth it. Those L’Oreal ads were clearly onto something. I’m worth this hard work, so it’s time to put in the time.

Is Impostor Syndrome something you’ve dealt with? If so, what have you done to push back against it? If you’ve never faced this, I’m super happy for you, and I’m also super curious about you! How do you think you’ve avoided it?



In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week.
I’m following the lead of Vanessa Mártir, who launched #52essays2017 after she wrote an essay a week for 2016 … and then invited other writers along for the ride!


It’s the 10th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!

Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see all of today’s slices!

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I had plans for this weekend, things I was so sure I was going to get done. Such good plans. And here it is, my long weekend on the wane, and I’ve done next to nothing. It’s shameful, actually, such complete shirking of my duties.

But at the same time, how can I be expected to get anything done from my mundane to-do list when I am so busy keeping a laser focus on Sweden. Sweden! Who would believe this? Sweden! I mean, when you think about what happened the other night, about how they’re having problems like they never thought possible … how can you really, truly focus on anything the fuck-all else?

So I’ve given myself a pass, forgiven myself for my inability to pull my thoughts away from Sweden.

When people listen to THOTUS¹, how do they decide to believe him? How do they turn on the news and hear him talking about “what happened last night in Sweden,” and know they haven’t heard anything about Sweden. And they go online and there’s nothing about Sweden except the thousand articles trying to suss out what the hell THOTUS was talking about. How do folks do all of that and still decide to believe him, still decide to listen attentively when he speaks? How do folks do all of that and not come out the other end convinced that he is a pathological liar, that he makes up stories just because, makes up stories when he doesn’t need a story. He could talk only about Paris and have enough material to sway you. He could talk about Brussels and have enough. He’d have more than enough if he talked about Turkey, but he wouldn’t do that because … well … Turkey.

My point is that he doesn’t need the story. There are enough real stories already. He doesn’t need to throw another country into the mix. And yet he went in with Sweden. And not as a casual throwaway, tacking it onto the end of a list. No, he goes on a bit: “Sweden. Who would believe this? Sweden! They took in large numbers, they’re having problems like they never thought possible.”

Really, just why in the all-encompassing fuck does he need to do this?

I taught basic composition classes at a community college for years. The course was prep for a very rigid test for which students would be expected to write a specific kind of essay. It was a test they had already failed at least once by the time they landed in my class. The essay prompts offered up two topics, students picked a side … and then had to have something to say about the random issue they chose.

Students would often ask me if they could just invent some “evidence,” tell a story that illustrated the point they wanted to make even if the story was constructed out of whole cloth on the spot. And I can see why making up a story feels like a good answer. You can craft the story to fit your point perfectly, and what better “proof” is there than the this-really-happened argument?

But I always warned students again storytelling. I would tell them that, if they really wanted to make up a story, they should first assess themselves: how well could they lie? Because good storytelling is about lying, as Mother Zora taught is in her folktale research. So I’d ask my students how often they told lies. Did people always believe their lies? Were they good at not caving in or getting confused and giving pieces of the story away? Were they able to lie and stay calm and focused or did the lying make them flushed and nervous or excited — not good for concentrating on getting an essay written.

I asked them a bunch of questions … and then told them that unless they were consummate liars, making up a story was a bad idea. I had a few receipts, stories of students I’d taught who had chosen not to listen to my warning, who decided that telling a story was the right option for them. And how dramatically they crashed and burned on their way to a lousy score on the exam.

Clearly, no one has told THOTUS that telling stories isn’t going to help him pass this exam. What’s more, it’s just too easy to turn the stories on their heads and fill the empty spaces with the truth. He tells lies — and his people tell lies — that would work if we didn’t live in 2017 in a country with stable internet access and a solid corps of investigative journalists. It’s so outrageous to me, it’s actually hard to fathom what he could be thinking.

Maybe THOTUS is all muddled by what happened the other night in Sweden. Perhaps he needs a nice sauna followed by a romp in the snow. Or perhaps he just needs to admit that this job isn’t the right fit for him, that he was wrong to believe all of Vladimir’s pep talks about how he could so be president.

I understand THOTUS’ issue, though. I told my students not to make up stories unless they were spectacularly good liars. And for the most part, they were able to see themselves clearly enough to know that they weren’t good enough liars. They could think back to times when their lying was detected and the results were distressing at best. But THOTUS doesn’t have this history to evaluate. He surrounds himself with genuflecting toadies. He distorts all facts until they say what he wants to hear. When he looks back at his past, he doesn’t see times when lying tripped him up. He’s already revised those stories into examples of “so much winning!” The end result? He may actually believe he’s a good liar. So he keeps diving in and telling his team to dive in alongside him.

It’s up to us — the people for whom he works — to call out his lies and call him out as a liar. This is all part of not normalizing what we’re seeing, not letting anyone convince us that any of this is okay.

As for me, I’m annoyed to know that I spent my whole weekend worried about the state of affairs in Sweden, where Sweden is doing quite well and not in need of my worry.

My students who lied on their essays failed the writing exam. It was sad for them, but not catastrophic. THOTUS failing in his job could be cataclysmic. Do I wish he didn’t have that Pennsylvania Avenue job? Sure, but he does, and I’d like him to not get us all killed before we have the chance to vote him back to civilian life. Getting him to stop lying every time he opens his mouth might be a step in the right direction.

__________

¹ Titular Head oThese United States



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In 2017, I’m on my #GriotGrind, committed to writing an essay a week.
It’s not too late to join! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!

Also? It’s Slice of Life Tuesday!
Head over to Two Writing Teachers to see what the other slicers are up to!

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This is Mr. My President and Mrs. My First Lady’s last night in the White House. I’m sure they’re doing it up, dancing and laughing through every room, singing old songs and clinking glasses. I’m betting there’s even a little cuddling under that last piece of mistletoe they saved just for this night. I’m sure they’re looking forward to having the tiniest bit of their real lives back — they won’t get too much of a return to normalcy, but that smidgen will surely feel like heaven.

Just about every day since Mr. My President was elected, I have said a prayer for him. (Does this surprise you? You couldn’t be more surprised than I’ve been.) Every clear night, I’ve given up my wish on the first star for him. I’ve prayed and wished for his life, for his health and safety, for the health and safety of his family, for him to have the love and support of his rockstar lady-wife and his fabulous daughters, for him to find the way to be the president we voted for.

Eight years of wishes. Eight years of dreams. And now I have to learn to say goodbye.

It hasn’t been an eight-year love fest. There have been those times … those times when Mr. My President has annoyed me, angered me, disappointed me, driven me crazy. He has backed things I’ve wished he wouldn’t, and turned his back on things I know he should have picked up and carried. But he’s always been my president, and I have always loved him, will keep on loving him. I love his poise, his sense of humor, his intelligence, his graciousness, his calm, his speechifying, his love of children, his measured contemplation of issues, his friendship with Uncle Joe, his love for his family … and most especially, his love for Michelle. For eight years he has stood center stage showing us what Black love can look like, showing us strength and grace, swagger and humility. And now, in his last act of modeling classy behavior, he will hand over this country to a man he would surely rather read for filth. And he will do it with dignity. Of course.

Thanks, Obama.

(Surprise me tomorrow morning and change your mind about Leonard. It’s really the one thing I’ve most wanted you to do these last eight years. There’s still time.)

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… all of the things, apparently.

I pulled a prompt out of my writing prompt envelope tonight, and it said: “What I never tell anyone is …” I started my freewrite and the first thing on the page was, “I never tell anyone how scared I am pretty much all the time. Of so many things.” That wasn’t what I was expecting to write, but that’s what came out.

I wrote for about 20 minutes … and uncovered a whole host of fears I wouldn’t have imagined myself to be carrying. Mostly I’m afraid of screwing things up … whatever those “things” might be — my job, my friendships, my health. I’m afraid of being too quiet, too loud, too clever, too dull, too serious, too frivolous. I’m afraid of the spotlight, but afraid of being ignored.

WTF?

This isn’t something I’m aware of 24/7, but then I’ll suddenly notice it, notice how tense my shoulders are, how tense my jaw is … and I’ll have to force myself to unclench.

What is that? Why am I so constantly afraid? And of such just-live-your-life things. And have I always been? I know we have a family joke about how fraught with tension I was, even as a small child, but is that real? Have I always been afraid?

People who’ve known me a while might point to things I’ve done that seem “brave,” whatever that means. I’ve traveled alone. I’ve done a lot of public speaking. I’ve read my work in front of audiences of people who aren’t just my family and friends. I stood up to a surgeon and his staff who wanted to sterilize me.

Okay, all of that is true. And more. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t also afraid. I’m terrified every time I have to read. I’m often afraid when I’m traveling. I was entirely afraid during that hospital experience. I was so afraid during one of my surgeries this past summer that I cried through almost the whole pre- and post-op period. I may be able to do “brave” stuff, but that doesn’t erase the fear.

And I certainly don’t want to get rid of fear all together. There are plenty of real things for me to be afraid of.

Job security was a big one in the mass of fears that spilled out in my freewrite. That surprised me, but it’s real. It’s something I would have dismissed before the debacle at my last job. Seeing how quickly and easily I could be cast out was a real eye opener. Seeing how casually someone I’d worked with and thought I could trust could knowingly sacrifice me for her own gain was shocking. So this fear of about safety on the job is new. And rough. I hate worrying about whether I’m giving ammunition to the wrong person, not making myself useful enough to the right one. And yes, that’s in my head … but in my current job, it’s also real. I see that happening around me all the time. Feh.

So, fear. It’s hard to admit that I have so much of it, that I carry that stress with me regularly. And that it comes in many forms and from many directions. Yesterday, walking away from a friend’s house, the first handful of blocks of that walk had me tight with worry because people hadn’t cleaned their sidewalks, and I was so afraid of slipping and falling and messing up one or both of these bionic (but still breakable) knees of mine. I carry that fear — of slipping and falling — all the time. When I’m going up or down a flight of stairs or an incline, when I stand up on the subway or bus, walking down the street. Yes, I’ve had this particular fear for many years, since my knees were first damaged and a bad slip or fall would put me in bed for a few days, unable to do more than hobble slowly and painfully around my house. There was a brief, shining moment after my first knee surgery when I forgot about it, forgot to worry about falling. That was glorious. It was a revelation — Oh, this is what it feels like not to be disabled! But it didn’t last long. Less than a year later, I was in pain and moving toward my second surgery, back to worrying about uneven pavement, every flight of stairs, the slippery tiles on the subway platform.

Carrying fear all day every day has to be chipping away at me, shortening my life. Certainly making me curtail my movements, my plans. Fear is what makes me bite my tongue in conversations — and then feel frustrated when someone else says the thing I’ve been thinking all along. Fear is what has kept me from expressing my feelings again and again — God forbid I should tell someone how I feel and get slapped down with rejection. Of course, I’ve had plenty of rejection even when I haven’t put myself out on any limbs, so have I really protected myself by not being honest about my heart?

In The House on Mango Street, Esperanza’s mother talks to her about shame, about how it holds you back. And that’s real, of course. Shame has played a big part in my life, too. But I think fear has played a bigger role, a more dominant role. How sad is that?

So, what do I do with this realization? What’s the next move, the next step? How do I shut the fear down? Is that even the right goal? Should I be investigating it to see where it comes from? Is that the secret to releasing it? Do I acknowledge it and then crush it harder and harder until it’s compressed into diamonds or coal? And then what? Does it somehow become valuable to me?

I’ve been working on developing a better relationship with my anger, feeling it, living with it, embracing it, using it. Clearly there’s some equally serious work to be done with fear. Okay. Here we go.

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In 2017, I’ve committed to writing an essay a week. It’s only Week 3, and I’m beat!

It’s not too late to join if you’re feeling ambitious! Check out Vanessa Mártir’s blog to find out how!


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Click on the badge to check out today’s Slice of Life posts at Two Writing Teachers!

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And so, Dylan Roof is guilty. On all 33 charges against him. Guilty.

And I’m glad of that. Of course I am.

When I shared the news, a friend commented that he wouldn’t be happy until Roof got the death penalty.

And I get that. Of course I do.

But …

Is it wrong that I want worse than death for him? I don’t know what that means, but that’s what my heart said when I saw the headline. He is clearly incapable of remorse, and I don’t believe in the death penalty … but in his case I want something visceral and inhumane and deep enough to reach whatever shred of humanity is still left in him.  And then I want it to go further.

That was my response to my friend’s comment. Is this who I’ve become? I think it is.

And I get that. Of course I do.

But …

Would there ever be a punishment that could fit Roof’s crime? I can’t imagine what it would be. Nothing anyone would or could do to him would ever erase what he has done, would ever make him understand that what he did was wrong, would ever bring anyone peace. So my wish for something “visceral and inhumane” doesn’t serve me or anyone else.

What, then?

Maybe a guilty verdict for Michael Slager. Maybe for Daniel Pantaleo. For Timothy Loehmann. For Joseph Weekley. For Stephen Stem. For Jeronimo Yanez. For Darren Wilson …

Maybe a country in which I wouldn’t need to write this.

Maybe.

I always wanted to believe we would grow up to be that country. Of course I did.

But …

At least today Dylan Roof is guilty. At least there is that.

It isn’t enough.

Of course it’s not.

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It’s 2014. The last tired days of 2014. I am no longer that soft, biddable girl you knew. I am no longer willing to go along to get along. I will no longer laugh if, when I’m at the water fountain, you tell me I can’t drink there because it’s whites only. I will no longer bite my tongue when you tell me Mick Jagger would be better looking without his nasty nigger lips. I will no longer bow my head at your command as if I owe you the freedom to touch my hair. I will no longer waste my breath educating you when you ask me why, if I wash regularly, my skin is still so dark.

It’s 2014. It’s 2014, and we are all grown up now. And I have grown into a woman who speaks when she has words, who believes in the value of that speech and refuses to clog her throat choking down all the things she’d like to say. I have grown into a woman who won’t let her voice be taken. I will say what is in my mind, what is in my heart, what is burning through the lining of my stomach after so many years of holding my tongue to make nice.

It’s 2014, and I am tired. More tired than 52 years warrants, tired like almost 400 years of rape and murder, like 400 years of holding my tongue, swallowing my truth, waiting my turn, waiting for the society I live in to finally-and-for-all accept that I am here, that I am who this history has made me and who I have made myself, that I am worthy, that I can think, that I have a heart full of love, that I am beautiful, that I’m not going anywhere.

It’s 2014, and I am not going anywhere. I won’t be put down, I won’t be made small. I will take up every inch of the space that I need. And then I will take the inches and feet and miles of space that I want.

Michael Brown is dead, and I can’t change that. Darren Wilson will never have to pay for killing Michael Brown, and I can’t change that. But I can honor Michael Brown, I can honor Tarika Wilson, Eric Garner, Eleanor Bumpurs, Ramarley Graham, John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, Kimani Gray, Oscar Grant, Yvette Smith, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo. I can honor all of those lost by being here, by opening my mouth, by saying their names, by remembering, by taking up space, by being the truth of the Angry Black Woman. Because I am angry, angrier than I am tired, angrier than I am sad. I am angry, and you don’t know me angry. You only know my smile, my shyness, my willingness to let you be right, to let you go first.

It’s 2014, and that girl doesn’t live here anymore.

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Too many things I don’t have the ability to write about.  Really just two.  Really just one.  How long will black women have to live in the world before we are seen as valuable, before we are no longer reviled, ridiculed, devalued, dehumanized, dismissed?

I can’t write about Chibok’s kidnapped daughters because my impotence chokes me.  I can’t find any way to talk through my horror and sadness, my spitting, explosive anger, my inability to do anything.  Anything.

Which you’ve heard from me before.  When Sean Bell’s killers were acquitted.*  When Trayvon Martin’s killer was acquitted.  When Abeer Qassim al-Janabi’s killer got life instead of a death sentence.  Because that is always the problem for me.  These horror stories so demoralize and enrage me with their ability to show me a) just how little room there is for me in this world and b) just how little I am able to do about it.  And so I rail and cry and then, eventually, I shut up.  Because I still don’t know what is the thing I can do that can actually make a difference.  Because my pain floods with so much rage that I can’t form coherent thoughts.

Chibok and all those missing girls are resting on my heart, weighing me down, filtering into everything.  How could it not?  Hundreds of children taken, a government barely rousing itself to acknowledge there might be a problem.  I thought of those girls this weekend, as I spent time with my 15-year-old niece.  Every time I looked at her beautiful, half-baby, half-grown-girl face.  And again, my pain is flooded with rage.  Because I noticed.  I noticed that, although the girls were abducted on April 14th, reporters — when they finally started talking about it — kept saying April 22nd because that’s when they first bothered to make note of it.  I noticed that, even though the number of girls taken was closer to 300, the number immediately became “more than 200” and “some 200” … as if that was somehow less terrible, less something we should be paying attention to.  I noticed that, the minute the stories began about selling the girls to Boko Haram members, reporters started referring to them as “young women” … as if calling them “women” instead of “girls” would make it okay that they were being sold into sexual slavery.  I noticed that it wasn’t until lots of people in this country held rallies and made #BringBackOurGirls trend that mainstream media finally decided there was something to talk about.  And I noticed that those stories all started by talking about the surprise of the trending hashtag and the number of rallies and not about the girls, not about their families, not with enough of the accurate details such as how long ago those children were stolen.

And I noticed that today 8 more girls were kidnapped from another Nigerian village.

We’re close enough to April, that I’m still connecting my thoughts to writing poems. And, too, I’m remembering Sonia Sanchez talking about using form poems when your emotions are running you and you need some way to harness the chaos.

Stolen

Girls.
Their lives
used as pawns.
This is a game
played too many times.
These
girls. Ours —
our hearts, our
lives, our last hopes.
Thrown to the fire,
Who
will come
for them now?
Who understands —
to us they are all.

And I also can’t write about Leslie Jones. Tressie McMillan’s piece about Jones gets it so right (despite her title), right in a way that I still can’t get it. Kimberly Foster gets it equally right. Yes, yes, Jones is supposed to be a comedian.  Yes, comedians make jokes about uncomfortable things, or uncomfortable jokes about difficult things … or difficult jokes about ugly things …  Yes, I understand.  But even through all of those lenses there was something wrong with Jones’ Weekend Update sketch.  Deeply wrong.  And her response to the criticism is almost more disturbing than the SNL piece itself.

And I can’t write about any of it.  Can’t. Because what is there to say, what can I say that will lead to any kind of desired result?

Years ago, I went to a Marx Brothers film festival.  In Paris.  There weren’t many people in the theater.  I was there with a friend, and we laughed and laughed.  One or two other people laughed along with us, and I realized that they must be English speakers.  Fluent English speakers.  Because the film was subtitled, and how can you subtitle the Marx Brothers?  You would have to keep freezing the frame and inserting long explanations: 1) this is what he said, 2) this is what it meant, 3) this is why it’s funny.  Who has time for all that explication?  How can anything be funny at the end of all those annotations?

That’s how I feel about Leslie Jones’ SNL skit.  If it needs this much context-setting, this much explaining, the joke isn’t working and I don’t see how anyone can find the funny in it.  And Jones’ inability to acknowledge that there could be a possibility that she took a wrong turn, that she was playing for the wrong audience in the wrong moment is maddening.

For now, I’m still in Arun mode.  It surprised me when I was thinking about these stories today and poems kept composing themselves in my head.  But I’m going with it, letting them loose:

My
body.
No temple
this. Not in your
eyes. You only see brown
skin,
kinky
hair, full lips.
You think you know
something about me.
You’ve
watched your
tarted up
master-slave tales,
had your Saartjie dreams.

My
body.
My temple.
Full of wisdom,
heat, contempt for
all
you think
you know. I
once listened, let
you tell me what to
see.
No more.
That’s over. I
don’t need your leave
to see my fine self.

And I keep trying to work on my comic, and I keep trying to find a way to sustain real conversation about race.  And I keep getting slapped in the face with … well, the reasons that I need to keep doing my work.  Nearly 300 black girls can be swept away in one moment and the world barely blinks.  The FBI’s list of missing persons is 40% black women — 65,000 wives, mothers, daughters, aunts, sisters, friends, cousins — and yet we almost never hear about any of them.  My heart is heavy tonight, and I don’t have the space for any of this.

_____

SOL image 2014
Slice of Life Tuesdays is hosted by Two Writing Teachers.

__________
* That first time, I kept thinking that if I tried to speak, I’d find my way.  I tried again and again to process, to find a path. Eventually, I retreated to silence.

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