The “Black People”: A Camping Story

boys on trail

We found our camping spot without any trouble, compared to last time when we started late, couldn’t find the road, got turned around and then learned what a “soft shoulder” on the highway really meant. We had sat on the side of the road for hours with a man that had stopped to help, getting his own truck stuck in the process. Luckily, he had AAA and all we had to do was wait; all the while wondering if the “kind stranger” was really a psycho killer waiting for his chance to strike.

The tow truck driver was quick and efficient, pulling our truck and trailer out of the sand and then the stranger’s, righting both our vehicles on the side of the highway. When we told him where we were headed, he was happy to lead the way to the entrance road, stopping to give us a few pointers: head down the road about a mile and then pull off to camp, look for a better spot during daylight. It seems so simple once you know where the road is, but it seems that our memories of childhood camping spots, twenty years after the fact, aren’t as clear as we thought they were.

We went looking for the perfect spot at daybreak and have been returning to it for the last fifteen years.

This was the second time we had pulled our tent trailer, filled to the gills with three days worth of food and supplies for the five of us, out to what we now called “our spot” in the desert for a few days escape from city life.

Three kids piled into the backseat of the truck; my husband’s daughter, age 10, and our two sons, ages 3 and 5. They were so excited to be out in the wilderness again. The boys spent most of their days digging holes and playing army, bb guns within reach just in case there was an attack. Nikki spent her time reading and writing stories. She would play with the boys for a while when they begged her to join in their game. Listening to them was one of my favorite parts of camping. I wish I could have recorded them and all the fantastic stories they came up with together. From Indiana Jones scenes and Nazi invasions to Civil War reenactments and Star Wars scenarios, you just never knew what they’d come up with.

We took long hikes with the kids. I’d pack our adventure backpack, the one with all their favorite tools: binoculars, magnifying glass, baggies for collecting, bandanas, and first aid kit, with snacks for the “trail” and a few extra bottles of water. The kids all had their own canteen they carried, ones they got from Santa Claus the year before. The boys had their cowboy hats and camouflage on, bb guns slung over their shoulder for protection.

We’d head out away from the trailer in the direction of some rocky hill off in the distance. At first, the kids led the way and we followed along behind. They said they were “scouting” for a good trail to follow. We’d watch them walking and talking ahead. Every once in awhile, one of the boys would stop and stand alert, crouch down and signal for us to do the same. They’d pump their bb guns and fire a few rounds into a bush and then signal that is was safe for us to keep going. They’d scared off whatever bad guys that had been waiting to ambush us.

At some point in the walk, they’d get hungry and tired and we’d sit under a big creosote to picnic on salami and cheese or nuts and granola bars. That’s about as far as the trail went. From there, we’d begin to circle back toward the trailer, at some point ending up with us in the lead and the kids dragging along behind. The enthusiasm for the adventure had waned and they had reverted to simply three kids camping with their parents. We spent much more time getting back than going out, stopping every few minutes to let them catch up or to rest and get a drink of water. By the time we got back to camp, they acted like they had been dragged across the open desert for days, flopping into camp chairs and begging for someone to bring them a coke.

We got comfortable in our own chairs, thinking they’d be good to relax in one spot for at least an hour, but within minutes they were up and around again, digging through last nights campfire, looking for rabbits and birds in the bushes, and eventually back to being “bored with nothing to do.” Maybe we could play a game or build a rocket or pile these rocks up! We would have sworn they had been on the edge of death just a few minutes ago, but kids recover more quickly than their parents.

A “long” walk, a snack, a board game, lunch, another walk, a snack, a short foray into the wash on their own and then the sun started to set. I went inside the tent trailer to start getting dinner together while Dad and the kids built a campfire and dragged camp chairs around it.

When I came out to the fire, a bag of buns, a cylinder of Pringles, and a package of hot dogs in hand, they were all happily tending to a small fire in the fire pit they had dug out and surrounded with rocks the last time we were out here. Nikki was walking back and forth beside the fire relating the story of the ghost of a gold miner with pet goldfish that wandered the rocky desert chanting “Who’s going to feed my fish?” Dad and Tom were kneeling next to the fire poking it with sticks and finding little things to set on top of the logs to watch melt and burn. Jake, the youngest, was standing just at the edge of the firelight staring out into the darkness.

I set the hot dog fixings on one of the camp chairs and asked if anyone had seen the roasting sticks.

“They’re right here!” Tom said, reaching beside the fire to pick up the long wooden handled roasters his Dad had made the previous week.

Nikki threw herself to her knees beside her brother and reached for one of the sticks. Tom grabbed his stick and I slid a hot dog onto each. Dad helped them to keep them from burning up too quickly.

“Jake. You want a hot dog?” I called to my youngest, still watching the desert. No answer.

“Jake.”

“Jake!”

He just stood there, stock-still, looking. I walked over to him to get his attention. That kid always could get completely lost in his thoughts and not hear a word of the world around him. I walked up and knelt beside him, putting my hand across his back.

“Baby. Pretty out there, isn’t it?” I thought he might be watching the last of the sunlight seep out of the desert. He didn’t answer. He just stared out into the increasing darkness; his little brow furrowed.

“What ‘cha looking at, baby?”

Without looking away, “The black people.”

I laughed lightly and looked out into the darkness. “The black people?”

“Yeah.” He said in his tiny most serious voice.

“You mean the shadows? They do look like people.” Looking out at the bushes and trying to see what he saw.

“No. Shadows are under bushes.” He said, and then in a whisper, “The black people. They’re dancing.”

A chill washed over my body. What could he possibly be seeing? I turned his face to look at me and smiled nervously. “You have a clever imagination kiddo. Those are just shadows in the dark. The moon is coming up.” And I turned him toward the fire. “Let’s get a hot dog.”

He came with me but glanced back over his shoulder as we went. I refused to let his imaginings creep me out any more than they already had. I didn’t look back, even though the hair was standing up on the back of my neck.

As we joined the rest of the family, the kids were “sacrificing” a hot dog to the camping gods and Dad was dutifully putting blackened but cold hot dogs in buns because the kids said they were done and he wasn’t about to argue with them.

“Everything ok?” he asked as I reached for a hot dog to cook for Jake.

“Sure. He was just fascinated by the shadows.” I considered relating the story to him but thought better of it. I’ll tell it in the light of day, no need to freak everyone out with that. We had enough ghost stories already.

Jake sat beside me as I put a hot dog on the roaster and then helped hold and turn it as I kept it above the flames. When he said it was done, I put it on a bun, and he sat in a camp chair quietly munching it while staring out into the darkness.

Once we had finished eating and the kids had had enough of playing with the fire and singing silly songs, we all went inside the trailer to snuggle in for the night. Teeth brushed, jammas on, they all settled down in their sleeping bags, side by side, like three pigs in blankets. Everyone got a kiss goodnight and then Dad and I got into our sleeping bags on the other side of the trailer.

Once the lights were out, the giggling from the kid side commenced, followed by “Don’t touch me!” and “Mom!” and then more giggling.

“Ok, you guys. Settle down.” Dad’s business voice.

The ruckus quieted a little, picked up again, and then finally settled into quiet snores. They were asleep and I lay there next to my snoring husband, still wondering what in the world he could have been seeing out there.

Warning: Changes Are Ahead

What is the purpose of the yellow light at a traffic signal? There are two classic schools of thought, right?

“Go real fast!”
and
“Slow down!”

Honestly, though, the yellow light is a warning that a red light is imminent? What you do with that information depends on a lot of things; your personality, where you’re headed and why, how far from the light you are, etc.

The purpose of a yellow light is to warn you that things are about to change. It’s to prevent you from being surprised by a hard stop. If you’re paying attention, you won’t have to slam on the brakes at the last moment. If you’re close to the intersection, you’ll hurry up to get through and not be in the intersection when cross traffic gets there.

I think we get a yellow light in our lives from time to time as well. If we’re paying attention, we’ll get a warning that things are about to change suddenly and, hopefully, make some decisions based on our own needs and desires.

We meet people that change our lives for worse or for better. We get test results that make us think about the future and start plans. Our bodies slow down, ache and take longer to recover, making us realize that the ultimate red light may be just around the corner, prompting us to do the things we’ve wanted to do or say the things we need to say.

Don’t let the red light take you by surprise. Pay attention to your surroundings and the road ahead. See the warnings, not as a hindrance or a burden, but a reminder that we don’t have all the time in the world. Create the thing, go see the place, repair the relationship. There’s so much to do.

Gone Missing

geocache

My geocache went missing! What’s a geocache?! Seriously? You’re missing out, friend! Go check it out. What do you need to play this game? A smartphone and the app, a pen or pencil, and some trinkets, coins, buttons, or whatever you have lying around that you’d like to leave behind. I collect things to take with me on geocache hunts. Buttons, coins, cards, stickers, small toys. I even bought a small bag of “Live a Great Story” buttons to leave behind because it was just such a cool thought. Most of the caches I’ve found lately have been pretty sparse, nothing much in them to trade, but I leave something cool for the next person that finds it. It’s probably because the ones I find are out of the way, out in the desert, or along mountain trails. I tend to travel most in those places where people are not.

I lost a geocache (a dying hobby of nerds) and I didn’t have a negative reaction. Sure, I was sad to have lost it after all those years of having it up there, but I do have pictures and shit happens. Who knows what happened to it and who besides me even cares? I thought as I sat on the hill, “I should write about this experience.” I mean, I know a lot of people that would lose their shit about it, blaming it on kids these days or the times we live in, but really, who knows what happened to it. People are weird and do strange things. Maybe some kids were hiking and brought it back to camp and forgot about returning it. Maybe some drunk 20 somethings thought it would be hilarious to fuck with a geocache geek. Maybe a BLM person found it and thought it was trash hidden under a rock. Or maybe it dropped into a time portal when someone came from the future or another world. Or a hawk decided it was a cool thing to take to its nest somewhere on the mountain. Maybe I’ll find it years later, hidden in the cleft of a rock a mile away.

Moral of the story, we don’t need to jump to conclusions or dwell on the fact that something we had is gone. We can choose not to react and move on.

I’ve replaced it. Maybe it will go missing again! Too bad I can’t put a tracker on it!

Why Consume So Much Information?

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Photo by Alex Jones on Unsplash

I get discouraged when I spend a lot of time reading, listening, and experiencing but rarely creating. I feel like I’m consuming life instead of adding to it when the scale tips more to the input than the output side of creativity.

And then I heard the analogy of “a block of clay.”

The artist is in all of us, born within us. What we spend most of our life doing is gathering a block of clay to sculpt in the future.

I gather clay by reading, watching, and experiencing life. I stay curious. I research and study. I travel and listen. And each experience adds to my block, making it bigger and bigger.

When I make time for myself to reflect, I look at the block of clay and start peeling away pieces, chiseling out parts and sculpting it into a piece of artwork that is unique from my hands, from my perspective. My story, my article, my social media post is the result of that creative time.

The time we spend consciously gathering input from any source added to the time we take to reflect and process it, equals our creative output. That output can be anything, from poetry, painting, music, and storytelling, to our children, our businesses, and our homes.

What are you gathering these days? Do you know what that creative output will be or are you still searching for it?

Success vs. Fulfillment

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What’s the difference between success and fulfillment?

Successful: adjective, accomplishing an aim or purpose.

Fulfilled: adjective, satisfied or happy because of fully developing one’s abilities or character.

Is it that others may decide if you’re successful but only you decide if you are fulfilled?

If someone asks me to do something, they decide if I have successfully accomplished the task. If I decide that I want to learn to play guitar, whether I’m successful at it or not is up to those that hear me play.

On the other hand, I decide if my chosen task fulfills me. I decide if the job I do is fulfilling. No one can answer the question “Is this fulfilling?” for me.

A relationship, a job, a goal can be successful but unfulfilling, or fulfilling and unsuccessful.

In life, I choose to work toward the feeling of fulfillment. I can choose to feel good about an unsuccessful attempt. I can’t choose if I’m successful.

You Really Are the Master of Your Own Universe

You know how some toys are kind of boring if you just buy one part and so you keep buying accessories? The car, the clothes, the house, the spouse, the kids, the career. It just goes on and on.

There are video games like that too. Sure, you can download it and play for free, but you only get two levels and then you have to pay to upgrade. You play more but now you see that you have to buy a couple extras, charms that help you rack up the points and levels faster.

Humans aren’t like that at all. We’re a whole, functioning human being right from birth. All our accessories are built-in. Sure, we need a bit of extra care at first, but we learn and grow quickly with good support and before you know it, we’re out in the world on our own, doing our thing whatever that is.

But lately, I’ve been seeing a lot of people that look like they are searching for their missing piece. They wander from job to job, adventure to adventure, and relationship to relationship, never really getting anything from the experience and lamenting that the whole thing even happened while they transition to the next. They proclaim loudly that they won’t give up, they’ll find that career, place, or person that will complete them and make their lives better. That job wasn’t right for me. This place doesn’t have what I need. This person didn’t give me their all and left, so they suck.

What if I told you (lol) that you don’t need any of that to be complete? What if you have the power to stand on your own two feet, to control your own destiny?

You do.

Every time we start a new job, try out a new location or enter into a new relationship, we could be learning more about ourselves and the world around us. We could be using that information to make our lives more interesting and more comfortable for ourselves and those around us. It doesn’t matter what the job is or how long the relationship lasts. It doesn’t matter what kind of relationship you have: long or short term, purely sexual or platonic. It doesn’t matter if you buy a house and live there for ten years or rent out a basement and live there for three months. It doesn’t matter if you go to college right out of high school, wait until you’re 45, or ever go at all.

What does matter? It matters that we learn something about ourselves and that we connect with other humans in as many ways as possible, that we live every day no matter what’s going on.

The Stoics have a decent idea, “Memento Mori” Remember, we die. We don’t live forever and (as far as we know) we only have one life. We need to stop wasting time.

Nothing is a waste of time if you learn something from the experience. That one night stand you had with that hot babe you met? Not a waste of time if you enjoyed it and look back on the moment fondly. That two years you spent at an expensive university, only to drop out and work at an amusement park? Not a waste of time or money. You gained experience, you met people, and you had fun in ways you never knew existed. And money? You can always make more. Money was created to spend. And what about that “failed” marriage? Did it “fail” or did it just serve its purpose and now you’re both moving on to something else? That job you spent five years at and then switched careers gave you fresh insight about your abilities and a set of skills that you can use anywhere.

What exactly do we think we’re working toward? What are we stockpiling for the future? What will we do with all of this shit we’ve accumulated? We’ll die. That’s it. And all your stuff will be redistributed.

So why not stop working toward anything and just enjoy what you have? If you don’t like the job you are in, find another one. If you don’t like the area you live in, move. If you don’t like the relationship you’re in, move on. Stop collecting things and start experiencing things. If you have no friends or family to experience it with, do it alone! Maybe you’d find it more fun or fulfilling if you had someone to share it with? Then blog about it and post pictures on Instagram! Or start dating…anyone, right off OKCupid! Or join a club online or in person!

You are a complete package all by yourself. You don’t need anything to start living and experiencing the world around you. Just live, damn it! Why not?

We all walk around acting as if we are pawns in someone else’s game but we’re absolutely not. It’s your life. Do what you want with it.

You do have the power. You’re using it right now.

Mind Your Own Business

Can you imagine how much we’d all get done if we just focused on our own lives and stopped worrying about everyone else?

But…Michelle! Then the bad guys would take over!

How? If we all were taking care of ourselves and the people closest to us, wouldn’t that spread out over the world like a virus? Here I am, putting on my own oxygen mask first, making myself stable and secure, then I look to my partner, my children, my family, and friends. Each of their lives is made a little better and then they do the same. It spreads across the world.

Too simplistic you say. So, you do nothing. Instead, you sit in your house and gripe. You watch TV, scroll through social media, and see all the things so far away that you can’t do anything about. You demand that somebody do something about those horrors. You decide the best thing you can do is make a poignant post about how awful people are and that if we had only elected this other person or passed this law, all of this would be better.

Meanwhile, your partner is lonely, you don’t know where your children are, the house is a mess, your mom could use a phone call, and there’s nothing to eat in your fridge. You are tired, grumpy, and overwhelmed because you’re not taking care of yourself. All of these are things YOU could do something about right now, but you’re too busy following politicians and arguing with strangers about why they should be thinking a different way.

What can I do to make the world a better place right now? Take care of myself and then the space and people around me so that they can do the same.

Don’t just “start” with yourself, focus on yourself and stay right there. Do what you need to do to be healthy, happy, and strong right where you are. Then move outward and support others on their journey to be healthy, happy, and strong where they are.

Memory Lanes

Memory is an imperfect thing. Over the years, I’ve heard “that’s not how I remember it” so many times, I’ve lost count. When I was younger, I blamed it on everyone else’s lack of attention to detail. “Oh, yeah, sure you don’t remember it that way, because if you did, you’d know you were so wrong.” But then I started getting the same remark from people that had no stake in their version of events being right and I started to think maybe I was misremembering.

I’ve also gotten “remember the time” a few times over the years, only to wrack my memory trying to remember the time and not finding a clue. At first, I blamed that on them too. They are probably thinking of someone else. I never went there or did that. I never would. And then there were pictures and I still don’t remember being there. It’s like looking at photos that slipped in from an alternate universe. Or maybe it’s me that slipped into an alternate universe. And if I did, what happened to the me that was here first?

It seems that events and details fade in time. Details about my life, things that have happened, relationships that were so important to me at one time have started to fade into the background. There were things I swore I’d never forget every detail of, things I wrote scarce words about in my journals, that I can’t recall as clearly as I used to.

They say time heals all wounds. I’m starting to see how much it does, especially if we don’t have detailed reminders about the past. I wonder why humans are set up this way. Why do we have such imperfect memories? Is it because it’s not important to our survival? Maybe it is better to let those things fade away.

What about holding on to anger and pain from the past? Are we right to be angry about old hurts and insults, knowing that our memory is so unreliable? Is it helping us to stand the high ground on a memory that is most likely wrong and changing each passing year?

I’m starting to wonder if it’s not better to just live in the moment and experience the world and the people in it as it is presented. Yes, you’ve probably done something to hurt me or piss me off in the past, but if you haven’t done it lately, maybe I’ll let it go. It doesn’t mean I have to relate with people I believe have caused me harm, but I don’t have to hold a grudge and carry that anger and insult with me into the future.

We could be holding on to memories that aren’t exactly true. In fact, it’s very likely we don’t remember it as it really happened but as we experienced it. And everyone else is doing the same. It’s like we’re all walking around in worlds of our own making and not realizing that everyone else is living in a different one, their own alternate universe. Actual infinite universes, right in our own heads.

Lean In To Fear

I checked my email just before dinner last night and there was a cool message (seeming directly at me at that very moment) from Zen Habits.

“What if we could fall in love with the way things are, in this moment?

Try it right now: notice what you’re resisting, what you don’t want about this moment. Maybe it’s stress, maybe it’s uncertainty, maybe it’s pain or anger.

See if you can turn towards it, open up to it, maybe find gratitude about it.  See if you can love it, even a little. Maybe a lot.”

What was I resisting at the moment? What is it that I fear most? Loneliness. Abandonment. When I begin to feel it, even the slightest tremor and react as if I’m being tortured. I reach out to grab something. I text, I call, I scroll through social media. If a text isn’t answered I begin to panic, contriving multiple scenarios about why it isn’t being answered, and in an effort to control the situation, I start a battle that usually ends either with me begging to be forgiven or the other party walking away from the crazy person.

I realized a few years ago that it’s an attention tactic, starting battles with people I love, and that fear triggers it. Yesterday was the first time I leaned into that fear, faced it, and let it wash over me successfully. It wasn’t on purpose. I didn’t plan on doing it. Several things just happened to fall into place at the right moment. And now I find myself sitting here wondering if I can do it again. I want a reminder to look at, something that says “lean in to fear” maybe. Something to remind me that it’s just an emotion and I can survive it. I’ve done it before.

I started test it today. Instead of my typical behavior of texting or scrolling through my Facebook and Instagram feeds when I’m bored, I’m taking a deep breath and naming the fear.

“There is that feeling that fear. I’m alone in this room, but not in the world. And even if I was, so what? I won’t die.”  And then I’m going for a walk, reading a book, working in the yard, or cleaning my house. I’m setting a timer for thirty minutes and doing something even if I might not finish it.

It seems to be working. But I’ve been wrong before. I’ll be wrong again, I’m sure.

The strangest part is that when I am alone, I enjoy it. I was raised in a busy house. I grew up in the city. I worked at amusement parks. I have loving parents, a doting husband, and children that love me. I crave being alone in a room with no one interrupting, responsibilities set aside, only myself to cater to. When the opportunity to be alone presents itself, I jump at it…as long as I have something to do while I’m alone. Drive for hours? Clean the house? Write a blog post? Sure! In the past, working alone was always nice. I could play the music I wanted to hear, focus on my task, get a lot of work done. It always felt good.

The alone I fear is in my head. It’s not being physically alone. It’s the feeling of loneliness, the feeling that no one is out there, no one understands me, or wants to know me. It’s that lack of connection I fear and the reason that social media has been so attractive to me. It’s an instant gratification when that feeling lurks in the back of my mind. At any moment I can go there and “like” and comment. I can post a cat picture and get a response. See? There are people out there. They see me. But it isn’t connection, not really. It’s a false sense of security and it’s become an addiction and a new source of anxiety for me.

It’s not inherently unhealthy. Facebook has been an incredible source of entertainment for me over the years. I’ve made new friends, found old ones, and gotten to know people I would have believed lost forever. Lately though, when I consider walking away, I have panic attacks. If I’m not posting, if I’m not getting likes, if I’m not sharing what I love and what I’m doing, am I really alive? Am I still here? There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t share something. I don’t read articles and think, wow, that was interesting and informative. Instead I think, I need to share this on my wall so everyone can see it. Only sharing can validate my experience, give me the feedback that makes me feel better. If I’m reading a paper magazine (yes, they still exist) I feel like I’m missing out because I can’t share it.

I’ve never been one to cut things completely out of my life. I’m a moderation type of gal, one that likes to work to keep the good parts and overlook the bad, use the positive aspects and leave the negatives on the floor beside the trash can.

There are things I very much enjoy there, and I don’t want to lose those. I think I’ll experiment right now in creating new habits that add so more joy to my life that the negatives get pushed out. What can I do? You know what I’m going to say, don’t you? Spend less time on social media by doing something else.

I’ve taken the buttons down from my main screen so that I have to search them out instead of habitually click. That’s step one. I’ve uninstalled them before. Doing so just caused me more problems than it solved. I am a writer and the world does operate on social media these days. I need to use it, not run and hide in the hills. If my fingers can’t automatically click the icon from my phone’s main screen, it creates a pause between the thought and the action. It works for me.

Step two is to create times when I do see what’s up on my feeds. Over lunch was perfect for me today. I munch on my sandwich while I scroll thru and laugh at all the silliness my friends and family post and then I put it away until dinner time. While I cook dinner will be another time I catch up and then put it away again.

I think that’s enough to work on for one week, don’t you? I wish I knew where this fear came from, but I doubt it would really help anything to drag that out. I don’t care how I got into the ditch; I just need to find a way out of it so I can get moving again.

I wrote a “post-it” reminder and stuck it to my computer and I think I’ll write another and keep it in my pocket all week. I’ll check back in with you guys in a week and tell you how it’s going!

Reassurance IS Futile

resistance cactus

A cactus will grow with very little soil or water.

I heard Seth Godin say on a podcast recently, “Everyone has self-doubt” and “Reassurance is futile.” He also said that we don’t HAVE to hear criticism if we don’t want to and I’ve decided he’s completely right.

I have been crippled with self-doubt in the past. There are few things that I am truly confident about and writing is not one of them. I’m confident about my use of words and my grasp on English grammar and spelling but, expressing my opinion in public terrifies me. Do I really have anything to add to the conversation? Surely, it’s been said before. Am I sure I’m seeing clearly and have a right to say so?

My Dad and my husband are two of my loudest fans, but I’ve often thought that if I had just a few encouragers out there, a few less biased people with some positive feedback, some unsolicited reassurance, then I’d learn to put my self-doubt behind me. I’d be more confident. I know deep down that it’s just not true. I’ve had positive feedback and reassurance from several corners and the next day I’m just as doubtful about my message. He’s right. Reassurance is futile.

But you know what’s not futile, learning to stand on my own two feet. Accepting that I may make mistakes, I may not always be on top of things, and I have much to learn, but I still have my own perspective on this world and I have every right to tell it as I see it. I can put the self-doubt aside for a moment, write out what I want to say (even imperfectly or wrong), and post anyway.

For the critics? You may think I’m wrong. You may not like what I have to say. You may think I could say it in a better way or not bother to say it at all. And that’s ok. This message isn’t for you. You can move along and read something else.

For everyone else? Thanks for reading. I very much appreciate it.