A Virtual Colloquy - What are YOU reading?!

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Do You Need a “Productive” Day of Rest?

A productive day of rest, picture of a desert picnic.

Monday is usually my most productive day of the week, but this one is different.

It’s the Monday after a glorious outdoor Sunday morning, an afternoon of rousing and hilarious games of pool and several shots of tequila, a Taco Bell dinner (because dammit the taco fries are back), and half a movie on the couch before I fell asleep.

I had planned on a productive day around the house. I had every intention of being a “productive” blogger type person today, but I’m not being lazy.

I’m thinking.

Recently, I ditched all the socials, as you might know, starting with Facebook. I didn’t miss it. Then I stopped looking at Instagram for a month. Then disabled it. But this past week, I began to miss it. Why? Is it just habit? Or something else?

You know what I think? I think, the way things are around here, I need that small connection with mostly strangers. I need a place to say, “Hey, look at this!” Or “Damn I’m happy (or sad)!”

I enjoy seeing the pictures there, the deep thoughts, the jokes (dirty or otherwise). It’s seeing other people’s view point of view, like hanging out at party or working a job with interesting people I can “turn off” if I want to. The bottom line is…I need some people.

I don’t need a lot of people. I don’t need constant contact or a boatload of friends to invite over. Maybe all I really need a small outlet, some folks to show off for. It’s the extrovert side of me, the explorer side seeking a platform to be seen and heard.

I like having the ability to share the wonder I see in the world around me. Is that so bad? I’m searching for new connections with other fascinated souls. Will I find it there? Or is there somewhere else?

But now, here I am, several hours into the day, thinking, “Did I just waste that time? Could I have been more productive with that hour?” Possibly, but then, maybe not. Maybe this is what I needed today.

Cultural Literacy is the key to Communication On the Internet

The best way to build cultural literacy is to read widely.
Last post about this gloriously written book!

Rebuilding a common cultural literacy doesn’t mean we all have to return to the same classical books as our grandparents. We don’t all need to read all the same dead western white guys to understand each other, but we probably should start reading (and watching, listening, and experiencing) a little of as many different works of art, from as many different cultures and backgrounds as possible, if we’re going to save civilization from ourselves.

“How does an audience identify an allusion? The whole system of signaling depends, quite obviously, on a high degree of cultural literacy – an easy assumption in traditional societies with fixed literary canons and a high capacity for verbatim retention of texts, but something of a problem for contemporaries, who often come to literary texts from a background of loose canons, little reading, and languid memory.”

The Pleasure of Reading in an Ideological Age by Robert Alter

That’s a lot of fancy words for we aren’t all coming from the same entertainment background. We aren’t all reading the same small collection of books these days, even more today than when he wrote this because our world has become infinitely larger and more connected virtually.

Funny story, and one you’re probably familiar with. My kids think the memes they find on social media are hilarious. Sometimes, when they show them to me, I don’t get the joke. Or the other way around. I think something is deep and wonderous and they look at me like, “Huh?”

We don’t get the allusion in each other’s media. We don’t see the signals. Once again, I’m reminded of the Star Trek TNG episode “Darmok and Jalad”

To understand each other, especially in the written word, we have to come from a similar background first of all. The more figurative the media, the more it relies on allusion, the more similar our backgrounds need to be for us to “get it.” I can’t understand why you say that the character is like Sisyphus if I haven’t heard or read that story. And you won’t understand that I “Trumped your sly comment with a better one” if you’ve never played the game.

Each nation, each culture, each generation alters its canon a little at a time. We build on the past, let some things go, and add new things, all in an effort to do what? Describe and understand the world around us? Communicate with others near and far, now and in the future? Too bad we can’t send messages back in time and warn them. “Don’t light that match mom!” or “Don’t invent that device!” But then, I’m not sure that would help us really. If we know anything from time travel movies, it’s that events are sticky. They seem to want to happen no matter what we do.

Unlike most children in the U.S., my sons grew up in close proximity to us, 24/7, not because we’re paranoid about someone taking them, or over-protective. It was because we liked them. I wanted to be around them more and figured they’d go to school later when we got tired of each other. I’ve talked about it before, but we unschooled instead of homeschooled. We lived as if school didn’t exist. I should write a new post about THAT!

The short version is that we lived and worked from home, together for 18 years. They had a very similar canon of books, tv, movies, and music as we did because that’s what we knew and shared with them. As we grew, so did they. New movies. New books. New music. Human events unfolded around us. All of it happened in light of what we already knew, our own family’s background canon.

So, when we write a story, share a joke, or make a reference, all of us almost always get the allusion. Until…cue dramatic music…they began to move in circles outside our house. Noooo!!! Once, they found social media, got jobs, friends, and then started college, it all changed. Their canon shifted from ours. And I know that shift isn’t over. Now that they have moved out on their own it will keep growing and changing as long as they live. We’ll be coming back together for holiday gatherings and sharing our worlds with each other for a long time to come.

Michelle? What they heck? What does that have to do with reading?!

It’s the same with books, not to mention articles, movies, and music. The artist creates his work from the memory of his own canon, assuming that the audience has a similar enough background to understand the allusions. If I read something by someone that is so far outside my world, it’s more difficult for me to understand the deeper meanings of the references the creator is trying to convey. That’s what happened to me when I read, “The 28 Mansion of the Moon.”

I think most of us tend to remember that when we’re reading a book but tend to forget that we need to do the same when we read or watch anything, especially on the internet. Here we are with the world at our fingertips. We can see and hear everyone all over the world, but are we communicating? Rarely. It’s not because we’re mean and evil, or less smart than we ever were. It’s simply because we are assuming that everyone we see and hear has the same canon, the same cultural background, as we do. Translation is not simple. We may even be speaking the same language but come from entirely different worlds.

It’s going to take humanity a long time to adjust to this new development. Let’s hope we don’t destroy each other in the process.

Click over to my original post, “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” to read my initial thoughts on this book!

Find “The Pleasures of Reading in an Ideological Age” on Thriftbooks and read along with me. If you do, be sure to comment so I know you’re out there. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Will the negative effects of social media destroy civilization?

Social media quote from Ready Player Two on book cover background.
The second of only two posts on this book!

“A world where people don’t go outside and touch each other anymore? Where everyone sleeps their lives away while reality collapses all around them?
Sometimes I think my parents are better off. They don’t have to live in this utopia you’ve all created.”

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

I honestly (most of the time) don’t believe the negative effects of social media and the internet will destroy the world as we know it, but I was in a bleak mood when I wrote this, so prepare yourselves. I’m not always this pessimistic, but lately, I’ve felt overwhelmed. I try to assume positive intent. I attempt to see things from a different perspective. But man…when everywhere I look (and I’ve been off social media for over a month now, mostly just looking at the physical world around me) all I see are zombies. I want to scream…WAKE UP!

Maybe I need some new friends? A new location? One of my sons has been out in the world recently. His reports come back positive for the most part. My youngest leaves for university in a few weeks and I’m looking forward to hearing his perspective of a whole new world.

Can we overcome the negative side of social media and use it in positive ways?

I can’t think of how to put this into words. This line just killed me. In fact, the whole book was overwhelmingly sad to me and not because I’m a technology hater. I love the internet. I loved social media, until the past couple of years. I see so much potential, so much to create with it.

But it seems the Ready Player Two characters are only reliving the past through virtual reality, escaping into old movies and music, instead of using the new medium to create and collaborate. I’d hoped the second book would build on the first. I’d hoped that the first book had taught humanity a lesson and that the second would be creative in showing us how we could build on this new technology in innovative and exciting ways. I wanted to see Lazarus soar to the skies with his new wings, with the lesson learned about flying too close to the sun.

Maybe they’re right. Maybe the internet is what ends up destroying us. We just can’t have nice things.


Have you read Ready Player Tw0? Did you read Ready Player One? Or watch the movie? Comment and let me know what you think!

Read my previous post about Ready Player Two, Reality is Not the Curated Fragments of Life in the Media.

If you’re interested in my monthly reading newsletter, where I describe all my juicy immediate afterthoughts of the books I read, along with various other hilarious tidbits, subscribe by signing up for it on my Autobibliography page!

Reality is Not The Curated Fragments of Life in the Media

Curated fragments of life quote with book cover background.

“Now instead of following their favorite celebrity on social media, ONI users could become their favorite celebrity for a few minutes each day. Exist inside their skin. Live short, heavily curated fragments of far more glamourous lives.”

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

Let’s put an emphasis on “heavily curated fragments” and talk about that for a few paragraphs, shall we?

In the “Earl,” that’s what they call IRL (in real life) in the book, we all project a curated image as we move through our daily lives. At work, at the grocery store, at the playground with other parents, etc., people mostly see what we want them to see. We don’t walk around with our life story on our sleeves for everyone to see.

The more time we spend with people though, the more they know us and our secrets, the things we try to keep from the public eye. We don’t hide them for nefarious reasons. We’re not hidden criminals…I hope…mostly. We all have a public and a private image.

Inevitably, those small quirks that make us unique, or those bad habits we try to hide from public view, slip out into the Earl from time to time. We react badly to an offense. Our children thrash our last nerve. A rough day at the office turns into road rage on the way home, the middle finger goes up, harsh words are spoken. It happens. But we quickly return to our persona.

At home, with our closest family and friends, we are a different person. Our guard goes down and we are more ourselves.

On the internet, social media especially? How much more so? How many different personalities do have? How many “heavily curated fragments” of ourselves do we present? It depends on the individual. Celebrities, politicians, people that depend on public favor, I’m sure have a lot of work to do maintaining an image that doesn’t do them damage.

You can’t please everyone all the time.

Humans are flawed. We make mistakes. We ruin things and create messes with people. That doesn’t make us bad people, but when you’re trying to sell an image…well…it’s best to curate one that is appetizing to as many people as possible.

But what about us “normal”? I’m not selling an image to my family and friends. Or am I? This blog is one curated image that I project to the public. It’s certainly not all of me on the page. There are other sides of me that are my private thoughts, though it may seem like you’re getting all of me.

And escaping from dull reality into fiction isn’t a new thing. We used to tell stories, then read books, listen to the radio, watch movies, and then tv.  We have always wondered what someone else’s life would be like and assumed that it would be better or more exciting than our own. It usually isn’t.

What if we could see our own lives curated in the same way? Would we be jealous of ourselves and wish to escape into that life?


Have you read Ready Player Tw0? Did you read Ready Player One? Or watch the movie? Comment and let me know what you think!

If you’re interested in my monthly reading newsletter, where I describe all my juicy immediate afterthoughts of the books I read, along with various other hilarious tidbits, subscribe by signing up for it HERE!

But I’m Not Arguing That With You!

“Refusing to put your time and energy into arguing, and ignoring someone completely, could be a better use of your resources.”

13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do” by Amy Morin

This will be the last post about this book, but there is so much more in it. I’m trying to limit myself to five short posts about each book, but I just couldn’t pass up this last one.

No Need To Argue

In person and online, 99% of the time there is no real need to argue with people. We waste our time and energy, two of our most precious resources. When we argue our point with words, all we do is set people around us on the defensive and create more drama to live through.

What can we do instead? Live our own lives the way we want to and walk away from arguments.

I can hear you already…but…but…what if people are wrong?!

You’re not going to change other people’s thoughts or behavior by arguing with them.

You’re just not. I’m sorry.

People are mostly social creatures though, and if your life is peaceful and joyful, they’ll want to be around you. And subtle daily influence changes hearts and minds, not social media comments and intense words about how wrong they are over lunch.

No More Passive Invitations

“Technology has changed the way we interact with people. Social invitations are often sent over text message or social media. And rather than ask, “Do you want to go shopping with me?” many people are inclined to say something more like “I’m going shopping. Let me know if you want to go.” Wording it this way means you don’t have to face rejection.

And while it also means you don’t have to put someone on the spot, saying “You can join me if you want” is also a way to protect yourself.”

13 Things Mentally Strong Women Don’t Do by Amy Morin

Oh, boy, did it feel good to read those words in print. I’m not alone in this! It’s actually something a lot of people are doing. At first, I thought passive invitations were a great way for someone like me, extroverted but terribly shy, to carefully and tactfully extend invitations to friends. If no one responded, no harm, no foul! A few years into this new social tactic and I realized that I wasn’t doing myself any favors.

While I do enjoy being alone, quiet time to myself, and small events, I’m not an introvert. In person conversation and connection with others is what fuels me. After a few days of being alone, I start to crave social interaction to build up my creative energy. But I’m naturally shy. I don’t know why, and I’ve worked hard most of my life to overcome that tendency.

Social media gave me an escape from the rigorous practice of approaching people directly and now I’m so out of practice that the simple act of asking people out to lunch takes an incredible amount of effort. Texting or, god forbid, calling another human being (even my Dad) is making myself vulnerable, presenting myself in a way that I have the chance of being shot down. My ego has been fragile lately and I don’t know if I can survive another hit. The more time I spend away from people, the more fragile I feel and the less likely I am to present myself to others.

The more chances I get to interact with others, the thicker my skin becomes and let downs aren’t as painful. When I’m built up with yes’s, the no’s don’t hurt as much. But…opening myself up first? What if the first answer is no? Lately, I feel like I get more no’s to my attempts to connect, than yes’s. It makes me put up walls, and that just keeps the yes’s out too.

I know I need to throw out those social media, passive request crutches to socializing, but it’s so hard. Just like getting strong physically, so it goes with becoming emotionally strong, baby steps. Ask a friend out for coffee, or a walk, or anything. Getting a “no thanks” or “another time” doesn’t mean you’re a horrible person, it means they’re busy. Some days are harder than others, but the more I try, the more likely I am to find a yes, so I keep asking!

Unachievable Goal – Understanding the World

Unachievable goal? Maybe. But it is still the reason I read, write, question, and explore the world around me.

“I am a man committed to understanding the world and how it operates, all the while knowing that I haven’t much chance in succeeding in this endeavor. What I do know is that the world is too rich, too various, too multifaceted and many-layered for a fellow incapable of an hour’s sustained thought to hope to comprehend it.”

From “The Personal Essay: A Form of Discovery” by Joseph Epstein

Lately, though, I’ve felt more overwhelmed than usual. There’s just so much coming in from so many directions that I have no time to process and reflect. I find myself needing to take several steps back, limit my exposure to the world, and refocus. What is currently most important for me to focus my energy on? What/who needs my immediate attention? I’ll tell you right off the bat what’s not…any present moment’s crisis outside my home.

Yes, I know…pandemic…forest fires…election…my high school friend’s cat…my ex-co-worker’s girlfriend…my distant cousin’s dinner plans… I’m sure they are all important to someone, but I just can’t right now. I need to start smaller. I need to focus here at home.

Myself. My family. My home. That’s what comes first during “SHTF” times, most times actually. Like Mark Manson writes about, there are only so many fucks to give, only so much energy each person has to deal with what life throws at them.

I’m limiting my input to books and a small group of friends and family. Social media, other than posting my reading quotes daily, is gone. My output focus will reflect those inputs alone for the foreseeable future.

“It is unlikely that many of us will be famous, or even remembered. But not less important than the brilliant few that lead a nation or a literature to fresh achievements, are the unknown many whose patient efforts keep the world from running backward;…”

F.L. Lucas “The Value of Style” quoted in Joseph Epstein’s “Heavy Sentences”

And that quote is why I write here instead of simply in a notebook at my desk. It helps me keep my mind right, which helps me run my life in more peace, and in the long run, helps my family and closest friends run theirs. While I’m at the work, I might as well share my discoveries here. You never know whose hands it will land in.

Get A Hold of Yourself, Man!

 I paused on these lines and thought, “That happens to me all the time,” underlining it so I could find it again later.

It’s the reason I post quotes like this on Instagram these days, a text has jogged a thought. I used to underline it and maybe make a note in the margin and leave it at that. Sometimes, if the passage struck me in a significant way, I’d write about it on my blog. Usually though, the thought came and went, and I rarely went back to it. I’ve always been jealous of people that can pull quotes from memory while they write or speak years after they read the book.

This quote got even more interesting when, at the end of my reading hour, I flipped back through the pages to create something for my daily post. I had highlighted several passages, but my eye went to this one again. Copying it down into the graphic, I was pulled in another direction.

“The condition, known as hysterical blindness, may be partial or complete, including one, several, or all objects.”

Have you ever been “blind with rage” or so upset you can’t see straight? That’s a form of hysterical blindness, anxiety so strong that your vision clouds and you feel blind. What causes that kind of anxiety? Huge transitions, deep grief, loss…global pandemics.

When we are living in a constant state of anxiety, we can’t think straight. Our minds, flooded with adrenaline, are blind to even obvious solutions to our problems, and we make terrible decisions.

I’ve been given a pretty healthy ration of shit lately for turning off the news channels, unfollowing/unfriending people that consistently share negative and nasty news articles on social media, and generally staying out of the loop when it comes to politics. How can I possibly make informed decisions if I don’t have all the “facts”? I’m hiding my head in the sand!

Stand by for imminent cliché…

We live in the information age, where we can be bombarded and inundated with “news” from all over the world 24/7 and I don’t think it’s healthy for any human being to live under that kind of stress.

I look around at my friends and family online and I see them under constant stress about things completely outside their control causing anxiety to the point of hysteria. I saw in it building up in myself, becoming blind to my immediate surroundings, so I put a stop to it. It hasn’t stopped me from completely freaking out from time to time. These are stressful times and, honestly, I’m tired of pretending they aren’t.

By opting out of the 24/7 news cycle, I’ve been able to focus on what is in my immediate realm of responsibility, my family, my home, and my neighborhood. My anxiety has lessened tremendously, and I’ve been able to think more clearly and make better decisions that benefit my life and those around me.

Reading the paper, watching TV news, or popping over to social media for a moment, reminds me of those old movies where someone is screaming hysterically and someone grabs them by the shoulders, slaps them hard across the face and says, “Get a hold of yourself!” We’ve all whipped each other into such a frenzy, we can’t possibly make logical decisions.

What else can I do but take a big step back, protect myself, and wait for the storm to clear? Humans have survived on this planet for a long time without knowing what everyone is doing, everywhere, at every moment. I don’t need anyone to make a law, start a movement, or create a boycott to make a decision that keeps my mind and body healthy and neither do you.

Social Media Animals

Let’s face it, I don’t get out much. I’m sure you can relate. Social media is the majority of my total social interaction these days, so I do spend an equivalent amount of time trying to figure out how to make it work. BC (before covid) you could have told me to get a life, but now I’m not allowed, right? So here I am stuck between my books, my immediate family, and my smartphone.

“Man And His Symbols” edited by Carl G. Jung was recommended to me by another book…lost that thread of the tapestry but that’s what’s nice about them, when you step back you can still see the big picture even if a few threads are missing. This morning, in a chapter about “The Process of Individuation” by M.-L. von Franz, I found this…

“We know from studying the social behavior of the higher animals that small groups (from approximately 10 to 50 individuals) create the best possible living conditions for the single animal as well as for the group, and man seems to be no exception in this respect. His physical well-being, his spiritual psychic health, and, beyond the animal realm, his cultural efficiency seem to flourish best in such a social formation. As far as we at present understand the process of individuation, the Self apparently tends to produce such small groups by creating at the same time sharply defined ties of feelings of relatedness to all people. Only if these connections are created by the Self can one feel any assurance that envy, jealousy, fighting, and all manner of negative projections will not break up the group. Thus an unconditional devotion to one’s own process of individuation also brings about the best possible social adaptation.”

I read this and took a deep breath. This is it. This is the piece of the puzzle I was missing when trying to understand why I get so frustrated with people on the internet, supposedly “connected” by social media. We think we are so “evolved” that we don’t need to understand our instincts, follow our intuition, or listen to our unconscious souls to move well in this world, but I’m really starting to think that it’s just not true. Technology does make many things easier, but I feel like we are losing ourselves in the learning curve of the new.

These social media connections aren’t created by the Self (that unconscious “real you”), they’re connected by the Ego (our drive to be noticed and accepted by the group). They are draining our social energy, like being at a party non-stop for years. We jump online every chance we get to interact, defend, and accuse until we flop on our couches exhausted, only to pick up the remote and watch the “news” or the latest sitcom’s for hours. At the end of the day, we check one more time to see if anyone in the world needs our attention before we collapse into bed, only to start the whole process over again the next day.

Social media is short-circuiting our drive to set ourselves apart and develop ourselves into individuals. This process is complicated, takes time and energy. It takes quiet reflection. But when we do it, we turn a light on that only others that have done the work, or are in the process of doing, can see. That’s when we create our small group of real connection, the one that builds a community and makes us bigger than our own individual whole.

When we lead with our Ego, we have tons of superficial connections with people that don’t share our light. That’s when the battle for control begins, jealousy and envy creep in and take over our life’s work. That’s when we decline into chaos, ripe for a bigger Ego to come in and claim they can clean things up for us, dispel the bad guys and make everyone fall into line and do what’s right. Politicians and super stars are great at this.

I struggle with my use of social media, you know that. There days recently that I think, “Well, Mother Nature has sent us to our rooms to think about what we’ve done, but I sure wish she would have taken away our smartphones.” I know forced learning doesn’t help in the long run, but these days…I just don’t know. You wouldn’t be reading this if we didn’t have the internet. I wouldn’t have found the book recommendations that have made my life better. I would have been able to post quotes that have encouraged friends over the years without social media. I don’t really want it to go away.

Then I think, maybe soul searching just isn’t for everyone. If you’re interested in taking the journey, this book is a great start to creating your own road map. Which leads me to the quote I shared on Instagram this morning.

Find your own path by the light of others ahead of you, as well as your own.

Disputes Over Ideas – Confusion of Language

Once again, the more I read about it, the more I see the similarities. Our current situation isn’t unprecedented. The end isn’t written in stone though. We could end up in a different place, as we have many other times when unrest began.

I finished watching “Trotsky” on Netflix yesterday and was out watering my trees this morning. I don’t have sprinklers. I like taking half an hour early each morning and inspecting the property while I water; a tree needs trimming, a shrub needs to be shored up, etc. It’s relaxing and meditative too. I get a chance to take a good look at what I have around me.

It’s early when I water in the summer, usually about an hour after the sun comes up. I’ve already been up for a couple of hours, reading and journaling. I’ve gone for a walk or done my yoga practice for the day.  I’m starting to get hungry for breakfast. And I’m thinking quietly, without other voices.

Today I was thinking about the book I’m reading, “A People’s Tragedy,” and the Netflix show “Trotsky.” And that led me to what I discovered about George Orwell. Well…maybe I didn’t “discover” it. I’d heard that he was a Democratic Socialist before, but when I read his books I assumed he had changed his mind and was writing to denounce it because that’s what I got from the stories. It turns out he was lamenting that the political philosophy was hijacked by thugs and ruined.

I’m getting the same feeling from the book and show today. The author of the book and the producers of the show have obvious sympathy for socialism. They are building up the benefits and positives, which they are correct about, and then showing why it failed and that it wasn’t the socialism/communism/or Marxism, that was the problem. It was bad humans.

The strange thing is what I’ve noticed about where my mind goes with the same information. I read what happened and I think, “That’s why it doesn’t work because of bad humans.” From what I’ve learned, all I see is an opening for bad people to do very bad things. Their system of government would lead to some wonderful things if we lived in a perfect world. But we don’t. And so far, it’s always ended in so much death and destruction.

I’m still studying and I’m learning a lot. I’d like to find more books about the history of Marxism and what evolved from it over the last 100 years. I’d also like to learn more about the democratic socialist movement we have today in the United States. I won’t say I’m looking for unbiased information. I don’t think that exists, but I would like to find several points of view.

A side note, I’ve tried discussing things like this on social media with friends, but it seems to me that we are all coming from different corners and we all have different definitions for words and phrases. It’s like we attempted to build a tower to reach the heavens and have been afflicted with the confusion of language, a “Tower of Babel” story. Each time I make an attempt, I’m baffled by people’s reactions and have to retreat.

Maybe it’s better to have discussions in smaller groups, so that we all have the chance to actually be heard. When I post a topic, everyone comes running at me from every direction. Friend A comments and before I can answer them, Friend B and C join in and then Friend D comes throwing insults to Friend A, replying to him instead of my post. Ugg. It’s anarchy and completely pointless.

The privacy of speaking instead of publicly writing would probably help too. Just because I commented on something or posted it, doesn’t mean it’s gospel. We seem to have lost the concept of batting around ideas and discussing things openly. We’re all making statements and defending our stances more than attempting to understand each other.

Instead, I simply post a picture of my cat. Sometimes we can agree that he’s cute and fuzzy, but then there’s always that one person that doesn’t like cats, the one that heard cats are evil and I’m evil for having it as a familiar, the one that wants to save them all from destruction and used by cults, and the one that thinks it’s just mean to keep one as a pet. Sigh.

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