19 and Counting

When I was 19 years old, I had moved away from home. I was in college in a new town with new people and I did that with intention. I did that to get away from the influences of the small town where I was raised. I did that to get away from the classmates I had known all of my life.

And I did that to get away from my parents.

They still influenced me, though, even from 300 miles away. I hid my first tattoo for six months. They didn’t know I drank alcohol with my new friends–yes, underage. They didn’t know that I skipped classes because they were boring and attendance wasn’t mandatory.

I was asked, when I was 21 or 22, if I was a Republican or Democrat. I had always heard Republican growing up so I said Republican. She then quizzed me on policies and I learned I was a Democrat, despite being raised in a Republican environment.

In high school I participated in sports because everyone participated in sports. I didn’t enjoy them but it was the expected thing. I joined clubs because it was the well-rounded thing to do even though the only ones I really enjoyed were The Arts(tm). Theater, advanced art classes, after school scrapbooking classes. But these were not activities people expected of students in my school.

That was all 20+ years ago.

If I were to travel back to 1999 and stand next to myself, I would look like my own cool but black sheep aunt from out of town. I wouldn’t look like an older version of myself. I make a distinction between where I was raised and where I grew up. Because they were definitely not the same place. I did a lot more growing up in my five years at university than in the 19 years before.

Some of the people I went to school with, who never left that town or only moved to the next town over but kept all the same friends, would look* like an older version of themselves.

I make a distinction between where I was raised and where I grew up. Because they were definitely not the same place. I did a lot more growing up in my five years at university than in the 19 years before.

And I think that’s the real discussion, here. When you have lived in the same place, in a small community, your entire life, it is very easy to find yourself in a place of complacency. Sure, at 19 years old you are old enough to start thinking for yourself and questioning authority but there’s a saying, “You can’t know what you don’t know you don’t know.” You can’t ask questions if you don’t know there is a question to be asked. Until an outside influence points out that there is a different perspective, you don’t seek out that different perspective.

Once you get out of that situation, however–IF you get out of that situation–and you encounter different people with different experiences from different backgrounds, you then know there were questions to be asked.

And it’s easy, at 40 years old, to say, “I should have done better.” And you can think that all day, every day, for the rest of your life. And it’s not untrue. But I think people fail to realize how deeply embroiled a person can be in the systems of a small community. The best lesson isolation can teach us is ignorance.

*I don’t mean “look” in the physical sense, not entirely. I mean in terms of personality, values, priorities…


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It Makes a Little Sense

When I was nineteen, I spent a day in the company of a man with whom I had grown up. We met in the fourth grade, when I was 10 and he was 11 (he had gotten held back a grade). We were almost exactly eleven months apart in age, shy the length of a work week. We had grown up together, graduated high school together, and then coincidentally moved to the same other town together after high school. I went there to get away from high school; he had lived there before we met and moved back as an adult.

I spent the day with him in his house and I learned that the friendship we had kept for so many years wasn’t at all what I had thought it was.

He opened up, confessing his years-long crush, upon which he had never acted because he thought I was, quote, too good for him. I, the voluntary misfit artistic weirdo, was too good for the school heartthrob sports star but whatever you want to tell yourself, friend. When I explained I had never seen him that way; that he had been like a brother to me, he got angry. Like, every “it happened to me” story on the internet level angry.

And that confession coupled with that anger made me call into question everything I had thought our friendship had been. Except that it took twenty years for me to really, truly understand what had happened.

If I do, in fact,  understand.

Because today, twenty-one years after the last time we spoke, I am left with supposition and assumption. I can ask myself, “what was the motivation behind this?” until I am blue in the face, but I’ll likely never have the answer.

What triggered this trip down memory lane?

2019 should have been our twenty-year class reunion. But we couldn’t get it planned. So, one person took the reins and we had it set for July 10, 2020.

Cue shitgetsweird.mp3

Insert handbasket.gif

But before the shit hit the fan, I was simultaneously looking forward to and dreading this reunion. I had seen a small handful of classmates at a funeral for one of our teachers and the father of one of our class. It was a brief meeting and some of them I looked forward to seeing again, at the reunion, in a lighter atmosphere.

Others, like the villain in this story, filled me with dread.

How did I think I was going to combat this? By taking a date.

He is much younger, has a cool career . . . how would it have looked to these people who had tormented me as a child for me, an internationally published author, to show up with a (gorgeous) professional musician. And what was better, he was good at running interference. He had done it for me before.

Of course, none of that happened.

But it has made me understand, at least partly, why I cannot let go of the person I was bringing with me as a beautiful buffer.

It’s less that I love him. I do, that is not up for debate.

It’s more that despite the slim chance we’ll ever see each other again, I cannot let him go.

I can’t let him go because he will stand up to people twice his size if he thinks someone he cares about is being mistreated. Because he’ll openly admit on his very public social media that seeing the Freedom Tower or hearing his own song on the radio made him cry. Because he’ll openly share his struggles with depression in the hope that it will give someone else courage to seek help.

Because he is a chivalrous feminist and if you don’t believe that’s possible, you haven’t seen real chivalry (spoiler: it’s not the misogynistic alpha male garbage that gets promoted as chivalry).

Because he is the person I think of whenever anyone places a blanket statement of defamation over the male gender as a whole. Because he is one of the few who knows we don’t mean all men but is still willing to use his race and privilege to fight for women. Because when he talks about celebrity crushes, it’s women like Topanga Lawrence, Hermione Grainger, and Felicity Smoak who rev his engine. Because he’s kind and intelligent but no bullshit but also a total goofball.

Because he is the antithesis of every horror story on the internet. He is not going to creepy stalk a woman through the bar. He would be that guy who would hand a drugged drink to the person who drugged it and say, “if it’s safe, you drink it.”

And even though I am not afraid of men, I am not hyper vigilant about men in public spaces, I am aware that there are threats. And the potential of finding a threat makes me want to hold on tight to one that I know for absolutely certain is not a threat. Even if he doesn’t want to be held.


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And the Culture of Toxic Positivity

I am a positive person.

I don’t enjoy being around people who complain all the time. I don’t enjoy being around people who always have something negative or damaging to say. It’s just not a good feeling for me. I don’t like it.

But there is a point where even positivity can become toxic and damaging.

It’s in the moments where you are complaining about something that is actually a real issue, something valid to complain about, something other than those things you can’t change and which don’t really affect you anyway–those moments when you’ve been sick for days and you need to be upset about it or when an error at the bank causes your account to be overdrawn, real, legitimate reasons to be unhappy–and someone comes along and chirps at you, “Cheer up, you have it so much better than others.”

When, as a positive person, you get an off vibe from another positive person.

A friend asked the Facebook vox populi what they value most about her. My gut reaction to her question was “realistically positive.”

Like, she’s a super positive, loving, caring, warm human but she is not like that all the time. She has moments where she hates everything. She gets sad. She gets angry. And I think the key is she doesn’t apologize for feeling feelings. If she’s angry, she takes a beat to figure out the best way to express her anger in order to accomplish something.

So many people choose chaos when they are angry. My friend chooses diplomacy and order. She’s angry, sure, and she’ll let you know but there’s no screaming, no profanity. Just well chosen words that let everyone know what’s on her mind.

And then she turns her sunbeam back on.

It is the thing I value most in our friendship because it aligns with my state of being.

I can’t handle people who are just perpetually sugar coated. You need to find a balance, my dude.


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Ideas!

My overactive brain has recently decided it wants to put together things to help other authors connect with readers. Organize blog tours, set up a convention with opportunities for panel discussions… Ideas for DAYS!

The problem is that I am that person who gets EXTREMELY disappointed when I organize something and no one participates. Like, deeply, in my bones disappointed. I go through a whole myriad emotions–sad, angry, frustrated, defeated. It’s enough to make me dread trying again.

But try again, I will because I am a planner, an organizer, a social creature. I can’t help but try to bring people together. It’s who I am as a type A extroverted empath. I just want to assemble the masses. That’s why fostering a community has been one of the keystones of building my platform as an author since the beginning.

I’m just a single, individual, very smol person and it takes a lot more than just me to get things done on the scale I want them done.

But, don’t, for a second, think that’s going to stop me.


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I Am Part of the 97%

I have struggled to write this poem for months.

I can’t explain why, what provoked it, but a memory flooded into my brain and refused to leave. It prodded at me, urging me to talk about it, share my story.

My story is not a special one. It’s not even a particularly tragic one. It is, unfortunately, not even a unique one. But it is a story that I have had to accept and one that might help someone else find the courage to tell their own.

I thought that putting it into verse would make it more palatable to people. It would be art rather than a dissertation, entertainment instead of testimony. No matter how I have tried, the rhythm is wrong, and the words are out of place. Or the words are flattened into the beat. If I rhyme, I am writing to a child. If I don’t, I lose my grip on making it poetry.

So, I will stop trying to force what does not want to be.

I will tell you this story that leaves me numb, like I wasn’t really there as it unfolded, but I will tell you in prose. I will tell you in sentences that offer subjects, objects, verbs, and predicates and I have to hope that you will stay until the end, even though it does not have a happy ending.

When I was nineteen, I was in college. It was my first year and I had gone far enough away from home that I couldn’t go home on the weekends. It was a special trip for holidays, and I was forced to leave my comfort zone and find myself.

But then I learned a boy I had grown up with had moved to the same town. He was not in college. He had lived in that town when he was younger and his father still did, so he moved back after high school. And we made an effort to spend some time together at the house where he lived alone.

This house was in a new and undeveloped part of the city. Dirt roads, newly constructed homes, and the closest neighbor one hundred or more yards away.

It was also a twenty-minute drive from the college, and I didn’t drive.

None of this was important—I would be spending the afternoon with an old friend. We had known each other since we were nine years old. Ten years is a long time when your brain and personality is constantly under construction. None of the information about where he lived or that I didn’t drive was important—until it was.

As we sat in his living room, he in a chair and I on the sofa, another friend called. He talked to the friend, another of the kids I graduated with, without leaving the room, while I sat quietly and listened, because what choice did I have?

But as I listened, he lied.

It began by him telling the friend I was there. Which was, of course, true. Followed immediately by the announcement we were “hooking up.”

“Hooking up” has always been a strange turn of phrase for me. Perhaps it is my social awkwardness, my inability to understand nuance, but it is ambiguous, in my mind. It almost always means something that happens between people who are more than friends—I can’t think of an instance where it doesn’t but I won’t say unequivocally that it never means anything platonic—but sometimes it means becoming a couple, sometimes it means sex.

Regardless of the meaning, it was a lie.

And he knew it. He gave me a sly wink and shushed me with his finger to his lips. Don’t let on to his friend that he’s not getting lucky.

He ended the call and apologized for lying. “He would have expected it, considering . . .”

“Considering, what?” I asked. It was at this point when he, one of the most sought-after boys in my high school, an okay student but a star athlete across the state, confessed to a long-standing crush on the self-proclaimed misfit, the high school weirdo. He worked hard to overcome a learning disability and be a good student, I skipped class to smoke on the football field and graffiti bathrooms. He was adored by all; I was feared by them. But, according to his version of the story, I was too good for him.

“But maybe now, we can put all of that behind us and get together.”

I told him he was my friend, a brother, and I didn’t, couldn’t see him in that light.

He told me it was my fault for the low-cut top and tight jeans I had worn to his house.

I don’t remember what happened after that. My memory jumps from mid-afternoon sun in his living room to full night in someone else’s house, where I found someone willing to take me back to the college.

I lost hours. I don’t know what happened. He was angry. He wouldn’t answer when I called again days later. He tried “hooking up” with another girl (in the house where it was nighttime) like it would change my mind.

But that’s not even the real story.

Because that story is one that practically any woman can tell you about an encounter with a man. “He told me he liked me—romantically, physically—and I told him I didn’t feel the same way, so he got angry.” It’s almost formulaic.

The real story is hours spent on school buses or partnering for school projects. The real story is the day we spent selling advertisements for the school newspaper, when the whole staff piled into a van, but we had to partner up every time we went into a business and he was always my partner.

The real story is that Pearl Jam makes me think of sharing headphones because we rode the same bus before we could drive to school but after his brother had graduated and we lived in a rural community so the bus ride to and from school lasted thirty minutes and Pearl Jam’s Ten was fifty-three minutes long, so we’d listen to half in the morning and half in the afternoon.

The real story is how it all started when I was eleven and he was twelve and he cornered me in not-quite-public, with no more than a curtain shielding us from our fifth-grade classmates who were rehearsing for Peter Pan, and he pinned me to the bed that had been borrowed from the nurse’s office to be used for the Darling children’s bedroom scene, and pushed my legs open so he could lay between them. And he was hot and smelled of sweat and wet cloth and he was so much heavier and stronger than I was, so I closed my eyes and turned away from him. But because he held my hands above my head in both of his, he had put himself at a disadvantage, and after a few long minutes, he stood up and left me alone with something I would soon bury beneath the next eight years of friendship until another day when the only thing keeping me safe was his choice. Because he didn’t assault me but did everything to make me understand that was his choice not to.

And I can’t face him. I don’t want to face him. He’s married, now, with kids, and I don’t want to face him alone, without backup of my own. Because I always wonder if those moments that mean so much to us—that stick with us or resurface without warning—if those moments mean the same thing to the other person.

No one who knows us both knows this story. People who know me have heard it but no one who knows us both. They’d never believe me. I was a weirdo. Still am. He was the high school heartthrob. He was Andrew; I was Allison. They’d never believe me.

And that’s just one of my 97% stories. Or is it two?


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More on the Subject of Patreon

A common discussion among the Patreon creators community is what a successful Patreon campaign looks like and what it could mean for each of us.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about this question.

A lot.

And what I’ve come up with is something maybe a little off script.

See, my current day job is in a corporate mall hair salon. I enjoy it, most of the time, but it comes with a fair share of headaches. One of the things I enjoy most is the people. As an extroverted personality type, I need people to function properly. I spent a lot of time in isolation before getting this job and my creativity suffered for it.

But now, I feel like the place where I am doing the job has become a drain.

That is due, in part, to the state of the world at the moment and especially now that the governor of Colorado has eliminated the risk dial and turned restrictions and mandates over to individual cities and counties. The county where I live has put into effect what they are calling “Free to decide,” which has and will continue to create holy chaos as everyone starts making their own choices.

Corporations are still going to require the strictest policies, opting for national regulations over local.

The State of Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies that is in charge of licensure for people like me in the personal services industries is still abiding by CDC recommendations meaning everyone with a DORA license must (should) also follow those regulations.

And us poor schmucks with the licenses get caught in the crossfire. Maybe literally given our Congressional representation *eyeroll*

But all of that is only part of it.

The other part is I work with nine other women. We are split 60-40 liberal to conservative, which shouldn’t be a problem except that nothing in our lives is done without political slant anymore. Wear a mask, you’re a liberal. Carry a gun, you’re a conservative.

Support basic human rights? Liberal.

And that’s the clencher right there.

The four “conservatives” I work with: openly and regularly refer to trans people as “it;” constantly malign Black Lives Matter; refuse to believe in white privilege; and decry the science behind the mRNA vaccines; believe liberals are lazy and entitled for wanting “free stuff,” among a laundry list of other things I am forced to listen to every day I work with them (which is every day I work). They refuse to keep their “political”—and I use that term ironically—conversations within their sphere. You are welcome to discuss whatever you want with your clients but don’t share those conversations with me or my clients, thirty and forty feet away.

Inside voices!

So, I feel like all of that negativity and—yes, I’ll say it—hate is draining all of the energy from my creativity. To that end, I would love to make a steady, reliable $500/month from Patreon to pay for rent on a studio salon. I could work the hours I want and write when I want. I could even write in my studio between clients. I’m still not sure I have the clientele to make this work but if I could, I think getting out of the toxic environment I find myself in currently would be a game changer. And I’d still be putting their patronage toward my writing, just in a round-about kind of way.


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Subscription support Platforms

Why do independent artists sound like they’re begging you for money all the time?

The answer? Because we probably are.

The thing is the creation and promotion of art, in any medium—be it paint, sculpture, music, writing—is costly for the artist. And even a represented artist ends up spending a lot of their own money to fund their dreams.

I can skim over the costs of being a professional musician, having known several of them over the years. But obviously, my knowledge is in the costs of being a writer.

So

Let’s talk about that.

First, let me begin by saying, obviously, there are ways to do it for free. It’s like trying to get to China in a rowboat, but it can be done.

However, if any artist—writer, musician, painter—wants to make a real living out of their art, they can’t skate by on free. At least not all the time.

Sure, you can recruit a trusted, honest, sympathetic group of writers to serve as beta readers and forego a developmental editor.

You can use the spelling and grammar checker in MS Word or Google Docs and forego the copy editor (warning, the grammar bot doesn’t catch everything!).

I have enough experience with graphic design that I can comfortably make my own covers. I am learning to sculpt in Blender so that I can make my own covers without using stock photography. And Creative Commons is free, but you can’t always find what you want there.

You can go to Pexels or Pixabay and download videos for trailers or teasers, but the really good stuff is only available with a free account.

The point is for everything we can do for free, there is a paid version that is going to offer a little more. There are sites like Bookfunnel or AllAuthor that send out newsletters with new releases, but you have to pay to be part of them. AllAuthor offers instant book cover mockups but maybe four or five layouts for free. If you want more, you have to sign up for the pro account.

Wix is an incredible website design and hosting platform. But if you want your own dot com, you have to pay for that. If you want your own contact@you.com email, you have to pay for that. If you want to sell your books directly from your site . . . yep, you guessed it. A paid add-on.

And most of these things are cheap. Five to ten dollars per month or maybe $100 for a year. Not much if that’s all you need. But when you need ten things that are $100 per year . . .

So, we sign up for Patreon or Ko-Fi or similar because—especially in the beginning—it’s hard to make the kind of money we need from book sales alone. Maybe you sell 1000 copies the first week or the first month but then you sell five or ten the next month and three the month after that. But with subscription services like Patreon, all you need is 100 people who appreciate your work enough to give you $5/month and BOOM! Your website is paid for, your advertising budget is secured, maybe your registration for a con or two. And all each person had to invest is the cost of one (or two, in my case) cup of luxury brand coffee each month.

That’s why you find these video game players on Twitch who are making a couple thousand dollars a month. Because 1000 people pledge $1 to see their content. That’s the breakdown. It really is that easy and that hard, all at the same time. The support subscription model really is pretty awesome.

Providing you have the kind of content people want to pay for. And that’s where the real work starts.


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Regrets

January, 2015 – I faced a pretty big fear and started a conversation with someone on whom I developed a crush over the course of our then three year friendship. It was the first real one-on-one conversation we had had in private and it was one of the most comfortable and easy conversations I had had in a long time.

January, 2017 – I still hadn’t told him how I felt and got that thrown back in my face when he became “Facebook official” with a new girl.

January, 2018 – He started the new year sharing Queen’s Somebody to Love and changing his relationship status back to “single.” I decided to give him some space to heal. Time . . . got away from me.

January, 2019 – He publicly confessed to a lifelong struggle with mental illness and shared that he was starting medication and therapy for it. He told me he’d always be there for me if I needed him. He self isolated, shutting down his social media accounts.

January, 2020 – I signed a contract to publish a book series in which he is the inspiration for one of the main characters. He doesn’t know. Maybe never will.

January, 2021 – I haven’t talked to him in two years and my heart still hurts for him every day. I worry about how he’s doing, all things considered. I worry about his health as someone who seemed to get the flu at least twice every season. I hope he’s happy. For his sake even if that means he’s happy not with me. I hope he’s still doing what he loves. I still miss his voice. I still miss his intelligence, his wisdom, and his humor.

I am still angry with myself for keeping quiet. I’m a strong person but when it comes to offering up my heart to get it broken, I am a frightened child. I’ve been betrayed, manipulated, and abused. I have been blamed for the breakdown of someone’s mental health. I have been cheated on and cheated with. When I rejected the advances of a childhood friend, I learned he was never a friend at all.

I am not harder for it. I still love with everything I have. I’m just the jerk who does it from a distance.

I know that my desire and ability to love someone is not a reason for them to love me back. And them not loving me back does not negate my feelings. I still love him. I hope I’ll see him again some day. I’m not holding my breath for it to happen but maybe I won’t run from it either.


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Out With the Old

I am not a proponent of new years resolutions, generally speaking. While I’m not an extremist zealot about it, I do, sometimes, think seriously about the ridiculousness of time and dates.

Last year was a constant barrage of how horrible 2020 was and talk of yelling Jumanji instead of Happy New Year at midnight and the more those talks continued, the more I thought about this arbitrary thing we call a year.

At 11:59 pm, November 1, 2001, I was not mature enough to drink alcohol. At midnight, sixty seconds later, I magically matured. I feel like New Years Eve is the same concept. 12:01 am January 1, everything resets and all the problems of the previous year are erased.

So I don’t get on board with resolutions.

Goals are a little different to resolutions, though, and I saw someone else talk about the things they are leaving behind in the coming year–everything from judgment to junk–that no longer serves them. So I thought I’d try a little of that.

First off, goals.

I obviously have two books coming out this year. I heard a lot of excuses regarding the status of the first one and why C0VID was to blame for it’s low performance but truly I hope it’s because it’s the first of a series and people are waiting until they can get all three. Because I don’t find comfort in the idea that in a year of homebound free time, the reason people, who are boasting about reading 2-300 books in 2020, did not buy mine.

No, I’m far more comforted by the idea that sales will jump in September with the release of the third book.

But in addition to that, I want to put out some short fiction.

I don’t know that I want to get involved in more anthologies. They are a lot of work for what amounts to “exposure” in the long run.

Sure I have awards from Dragons Within and an LGBTQ bestseller for Fractured Realities but …

A lot of work for very little pay off.

That’s not saying I won’t take the opportunity if the right one comes along; I just don’t plan to seek them out.

In terms of what I want to leave behind–I have taken on a great deal of anger in 2020 and I don’t like it. I am not an angry person but circumstances–

I have absolutely heard people outright refuse to be vaccinated then in the next breath suggest none of this is ever going to end; masks and isolation are life now, concerts and festivals and conventions will never come back. Well yeah, Karen, if you refuse to get a FREE AND SAFE vaccine, then, yes, you’re correct. It will never end.

But I don’t want to be angry. I am a positive, kind, pleasant person. My customer service voice IS my normal voice. I want to be that person again.

So I guess that’s my how we’re starting 2021 post. If you want to follow along on these quests, follow me here and join me on Patreon.

My Music and Me

Someone said to me recently, “I would love to just sit and listen to you talk about music for hours.”

While this person was meaning to compliment me, saying that my passion for and love of music was something they appreciated in me, it was a bittersweet statement. Because music is such a huge part of the fabric of my being—despite not actively being a musician, in any way, any more—it is something that I love to share with other people.

But so often I find that other people are, if not completely disinterested from the start, easily bored by my musings and gushings and overall zeal when it comes to the topic of music.

One of the easiest parts of my Patreon to maintain is my music Monday posts, where I share a video (or occasionally a playlist) of some song. Sometimes it’s a song with a deep, important meaning to me; other times it’s just a cool song that I want other people to hear. I’ve even decided to dedicate one music Monday per month to artists I discover on TikTok, for the sole sake of sharing.

Because it is easy for me, it is free to the world. But even free, I can’t get anyone to be interested.

In the same vein, I used to “work” for a small—now defunct—independent record label called Tranquilizer Records, based out of Toronto. It was started by the person who helped to form the band promotions team I was part of and I don’t think it ever made any profit. But my “job” (which I have put in quotations because it was strictly on a volunteer basis but it was still work and a job because I put A LOT of time into it) was as a podcast host. I had a weekly show, one hour per, where I talked about music and played music.

In retrospect, there was probably some royalties issues in that but they were technically not my royalties issues and I was told I could do whatever I wanted (within reason).

So I played a lot of whatever I wanted to play. I had only just embarked on a indie label showcase series where I picked an independent record label each week and talked about their bands and played some of my favorite songs from those bands. It was a good time.

For me.

I’m not sure anyone else ever got in on that good time or if I was talking exclusively to my cat the entire time.

So, while I would love to have an audience for the ravings of a musically inclined lunatic, I just don’t have the track record to suggest that that is actually something people want from me.

More evidence for the gremlins in my brain who occasionally like to wander through, scoff at whatever I’m doing, and tell me I’m boring, before shuffling off again.

If, in fact, you are interested in learning more about my music Monday posts or anything else I’m working on, join me on Patreon.

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