Friday, November 18, 2011

Love Over Gold

          The test of my true faith has come upon me.  Far later than is healthy for any man, I have accepted one last parting gift from my father and step out into the world once again on my own.

          No longer tested like some Job broken-hearted on my sofa with a tube in my belly and dreams in my head, today I go forth strong, healthy, and loved to find my way, earn my keep and leave no mess behind. 

          Life is wonderful.  I have no cause for complaint, no reason to doubt myself. 

            The test of my faith is the belief that I deserve the riches of love, trust, loyalty and good fortune here laid before me.  The true challenge is not to qualify and prevaricate, wonder about my worth and settle for half, thinking I am lucky enough for that.

            When disaster has struck in the past and hopes were dashed, I have consoled myself with the belief that life comes with both the good and the bad.  Lumps must be taken and swallowed, and the pieces picked up.  My faith seemed to be hinged on survival and pushing forward against the trials, over-coming instead of embracing.  My story reflects that belief.
            Today, I walk boldly into a new life with the restructured understanding that my mind creates my reality and I expect to find the world of my dreams where I live my passion, celebrate my joy, learn from my pain and live fully from my heart.  There is no more or less.
            Love over fear.
            The victory is mine.  Each and every moment, I have the choice to look at the two diverging paths and remember one is not one and the other the other.  Both are love and the choice vanishes as soon as I step forward in either direction.

            If we let it, fear creeps in and delivers doubt, creates an insidious dissonance in the question of whether I go this way or that.  Fear pretends there is a better choice between two equals and pries open an unsettled feeling that diminishes the power of faith.  Through that weakened crack pours the negative energy that makes us sabotage the very actions we wish to take.

            Like a mother and father who had divorced.  Trying to find balance in that separation, I have heard one voice urging me to follow dreams and another to just get a good job.  Somewhere my filters distorted the message that the path could be one and the same and both were about love.

           For every "what if I could..." that came to mind, a resounding "What if you can't..." has inevitably followed.  The last fifty years has answered the latter and proven I can still be okay, one foot moving inexorably before the other again and again and again.
            These last four years have put into words the faith that grows stronger within me.  The first heart-felt, intuitive, open-ended and loving question that moves my soul along with my feet is the one worthy of my focus and attention.  I set out this morning by sitting on this couch first moving my hand across these pages with scribbles no less important than the real steps I will take later this afternoon.
            In my head resounds the wonderful memory of the little boy on his mother's lap, one of their favorite books in both their hands, after his father has said good-night with a hug and a kiss and another playful shove.  Her voice so cheerful and strong repeats what she has read to his sisters before and would again many times after, "I think I can, I think I can, I know I can..."

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Thursday, November 17, 2011

Words in the washing pile: finding creativity amid the “everyday.”

Karin Cox is a professional editor in Australia (don't let that stop you from sending a manuscript for her review!) and the author of more than 28 non-fiction titles. In 2010, she published her first ebooks Growth and Cage Life, which between them have attracted more than 35,000 readers. We "met" through a link after a link after a link--perhaps one link too many that night, but turns out to have been worth the time at the bar.

This year, for the first time in my writing life, I signed up for NaNoWriMo. Actually signed up that is—publicly put it out there that I would strive to write 50,000 words in just thirty short days. So far, more than halfway into the month, I’m at just over 10,000 words. Fail! I’m still hoping to catch up, but if I don’t, I’ve made peace with my failure on this account. I know the reason is that my “everyday” took precedence over the time to do the one thing that I, like many writers, consider a luxury: actually writing.

“But,”—I hear the screams of ten thousand rabid NaNo-ers—“that’s the point. NaNo is about sacrificing the everyday for once, not about sacrificing your precious writing time AGAIN!” My answer to that is, “Try telling that to a seven-month-old girl who has no way of knowing why mummy sits tapping at a keyboard all day. Try telling that to a man who does hard manual labour in the hot sun for more than eight hours a day and then steps in the door to be handed an irritable child and have to make his own dinner so I can write. Try telling that to clients who are patiently awaiting their edited manuscripts so they can make their own writing dreams come true before the Christmas Kindle rush. Try telling that to the dishwasher, to the vacuum cleaner, to the ever-growing washing pile!”  

It might sound defeatist, or like an excuse, and in some ways it is. And I am disappointed that my novel won’t be finished by the end of the month as I hoped, and that it won’t now make that Christmas Kindle rush. But I realise, as the month goes on, how ambitious it was of me to attempt to sacrifice my everyday to the Grand Poobah of Word Count in the first place. Don’t get me wrong, I have also written more than 4000 words of a novella this month. I have edited more than 150,000 words of other writers’ works, and I’ve written more than 2000 words of a commissioned non-fiction book. All of those words are paying words—words that keep the wolves at bay and pay the mortgage; at present, my NaNo word count does not (and that’s a very good thing, judging by my current results). The biggest factor is that, in the juggle between creativity and the everyday, my everyday life wins out. I can’t forgive myself for putting writing above my family, my house or my friends—not even for a month.  

A month in the life of a small child is an aeon. This month, my daughter learned to sit unassisted. She learned to properly crawl, not just commando roll around. By the month’s end, she will probably say her first recognisable word (please let it be “Mama”). This month, I got back to nature and camped with my sister-in-law and her lovely family at the beach. This month, my parents who live more than eight hours away, came to visit their youngest grand-daughter for a weekend. This month, one of my dearest friends, whom I’ve known more than twenty years now, flew back to Australia from Scotland for a brief visit. Even while writing this post, I stopped to take a Skype call from a very dear friend who lives in London. These are everyday things, the comings and goings—and lovings and laughter—of friends and family, the small satisfactions of paid work, the smiles of a child. Yet all of these them are considerably more important to me than 15,000 words (the amount I have fallen behind). Essentially, life is not a word count. Life is not something you do when you’re not writing. Writing is something you do WHILE you’re living your everyday. The everyday IS the writing. The meaningful discussions you have with the people you care about are the true word count.  

Every day, tiny gems fall out of those relationships. Seeds of novels and stories are born from thoughts that happen while I’m at the sink, at the gym, in bed, reading, feeding my child, washing my dog. And when I do have that blissful time to write, these everyday moments will blossom from the page, adding an honesty that is difficult to merely “imagine.” These are the truths the old chestnut “Write what you know,” speaks of. There is another writing adage that relates to this topic “Write every day. Writer’s write!” And that is true. Regardless of how busy I am, most days I find the time to write something—a blog post, a poem, an outline, even a sentence or two. Sure, there are days when I feel a volcano of resentment boiling inside me. When an idea is burning itself into my brain like a brand, and all I want to do is lock myself in my study and scrawl it down, oblivious to the squalling and sweepings, the feedings and fussing of the household. But then I realise that the idea came to me in a rare moment of peace—while folding the washing, or in a rushed shower, or while feeding my child—and that it stemmed from something that had cropped up during my ordinary day. Yes, there are many rare finds in the washing pile (aside from the five dollar notes I sometimes, but more rarely these days, find in my partner’s pockets).  

Strangely, I have also discovered that my creative brain has a way of compensating for my overcrowded everyday. As my life grows busier, my creative output actually increases. The less time I have to write, the more writing I do, because those snatches of time become far more precious. There is no time for writer’s block. No time to procrastinate (Unless you count Facebook, and let’s face it, who does? Facebook is a necessary part of promotion. More excuses? Perhaps). My limited time also means that I am less likely to dismiss any idea out of hand. I clutch any small stem of an idea, treating it like a creative branch overhanging the roiling river of life. All of my ideas are now hastily scribbled down and left to germinate, or in some cases, to petrify and fossilize until I unearth them years later and dust them off. Then, when I find the time—and I am assuming that I will, that my everyday will sometimes include rare breaks, beautiful moments of solitude and space for washed-clean, sparkling prose—I will take those ideas, those “washing-pile words,” and I will grow them. I will knit in a little of my everyday, and a little of my imaginings, and I will craft them into novels that transform some other reader’s everyday into something extraordinary. Perhaps not this month. Perhaps not this year. But “everyday” is still one day closer to that dream.  

  Follow Karin's exploits on her blog, facebook and twitter .
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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

To the Wolves and Sheep Who Cry enough

Just as the sense of the Occupy Wall Street Movement began nearly overnight, it seems evictions of parks in cities around the country have tried to put an end to the uprising in one fell swoop.  We are on the verge of a precipice and our collective energy as a culture and society, the kind of world we want for ourselves and our children, teeters in the balance.

            The mayor of Oakland supports conspiracy theorists on both sides, having let slip the comment that she was part of a decision-making conference call.  Within hours, parks and peaceful demonstrations have been cleared away as easily as authorities might wish the underlying trouble can be swept away.
            Like the bail-outs that prompted the unrest, this attempt to carpet the disenfranchised should only be one more dying gasp from a system that is doomed, collapsing as predictably as the visions of December 2012 and the end of the world. Gasping for any last victory, the wicked witch melting into a puddle of her own foul evil comes to mind.

Only who are the villains and victors is still in question. Who will sweep the remains into the bucket and celebrate is left for us to decide.
            The force of change that a small percentage of the ninety-nine represents and invites could expire as surely as the fast approaching chilly winds of winter could blow us all inside and back to life as we have known it.  Having stepped up to raise the cry and hue, it is up to the rest of us who have been displaced from our foreclosed homes, laid off from an unbalanced economy or are just too busy trying to make ends meet. We all are the ones who can keep this momentum rolling for a better balance. 

            For my small part, I return credit card invitations in their postage paid envelopes as an irritant with a note reminding them of the damage this kind of debt can cause.
            Artists must create fine works of music, painting and poetry that shed light on the inequalities and celebrate the common heroics of the constant struggle to maintain a decent life from day to day. The poor and the unemployed must hold our heads high, maintaining dignity and integrity in the face of our poverty and earn the riches we all deserve.
            The wealthy, in addition to feeling proud for what we have accumulated and accomplished,  must recognize that at some point enough is enough and is, in fact, diminished when our neighbors are hungry.  In the middle, we must look up from our frantic and desperate pace of grinding stones with our noses to sniff the fresh air and celebrate our good fortunes and the love in our lives.
            Whether or not the Occupy Wall Street Movement has been leaderless or is the sinister plot of the unwashed and unemployed, a healthy discussion is taking place.  Whether or not there is a one and a ninety-nine, a simple or silent majority, a tea party or a tweet party, we must unite and become the one hundred percent who are for love. 

     Heading into 2012 and the end of the world as we know it, we must leave the fear that there is not enough for everyone behind to shrivel and evaporate in the puddle of the wicked witch where it belongs.
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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Imagine: it's easy if you try

A little more than a year ahead of the Mayan Calendar's end of the world as we know it in December 2012, our good ol' Western version, accepted by most, will reach the symmetrically perfect date of 11/11/11 in just two days. 

            Many have embraced significant meaning in the perfection and will honor the moment in different ways.  However deep and spiritual one wants to think about it, there is no denying energy is focused and can be powerful.
            In alignment with the date, the moon will also be in its fullest hours.  At the same time amazingly, a rare asteroid big enough to wipe out 125 million years of dinosaurs will pass even closer to earth than our favorite silvery orb, the muse to so many poets and lovers.
            Coincidental or by design is decided by individual beliefs, of course, but we know the subject will be on many tongues and at the heart of collective meditations around the world.  It is impossible not to be curious about the effect.
            My first experience of this kind of conscious concentration came on the Sunday after John Lennon's death when we as an international citizenry who had benefited from his life could honor a universal moment to envision peace.  My spine tingled that afternoon and the concept has resonated with me ever since.
            Despite the occupation of the One over the ninty-nine, there is a significant percentage of optimists who have methodically moved forward on the love that Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Lennon knew is abundant.  The violent deaths of each and so many others are unable to stop this relentless movement toward a world that is united.
            Focused on 2012 and otherwise, there are numerous activities preparing us to avoid conflagration by joining ourselves in thought and practice.  The movement against Wall Street frustrates the established authorities because it lacks cohesive leadership, but in the collective agreement by diverse populations that change must happen lies the very source of its beauty and power.  Here in Vermont, this passion has inspired two individuals to step onto the world stage through their organizations and the Good Earth Singers, channeling this energy of connection to good purpose.
            No matter how twisted and perverted they may have been, the Gadaffis and Hitlers of the world still represent that noble desire to create something better.  Ego winning over altruism, however, their fear that love could not be shared ultimately left their dreams in ruins and hurt the rest of us far more than they helped.
            The point is that we as humans have an inherent urge to surround ourselves with beauty and create connection with those we love.  We want to make our world a better place.
            These moments of perfect symmetry, as simple as numbers dancing in alignment, can unite us in ways just as language, culture and environment can actually create separation.  Like music that stirs the soul, art that nourishes the visual appetite, and the tiny hand of a newborn, we bond in appreciation that we are more alike than different.
           By a combination of sheer luck and fierce determination, a fragile flower emerges between the slabs of a sidewalk.  The onslaught of relentless pedestrians, wrapped in their busy schedules largely unaware of the beauty at their feet, still step around and over nature's persistent reminder, while there are some who actually pause to ponder the miracle of its existence and survival.

            On this day, long anticipated and fast approaching, like any other day, we have the opportunity to ponder our lives and those around us, the love that provides warmth and joy, and the fear that stops us from trusting it.  We make choices every day, but on this particular one, there are many who are choosing to make it special.
            Please join us...and on 11/12/11 as well as...
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Monday, November 7, 2011

What is Your Life Whispering to You?

Guest Post By Cheryl Shireman 

I believe life whispers to you and provides direction. I call that life force God. You can call it whatever you want, but there is no escaping it. If we are open and brave enough to say yes, life will take us in directions we never expected, and you will live a life beyond your wildest dreams.
Those whisperings often come in the form of a “crazy” idea or a nudge to move into a certain direction that seems odd or silly or daring. Then there is that moment when you think, Well, that’s weird. Where in the world did that come from?
And then there’s the second moment, when you have to make a choice. You can dismiss the crazy notion, and probably even come up with a dozen reasons why it’s a bad idea. You don’t have the time, the money, or the resources. Besides, who are you to do such a thing? What in the world were you thinking? So, you dismiss the idea. We always have that option - to say No.
But it comes back - that whisper. Sometimes again and again. But if we are practical, and safe, we can squash the notion until it is almost forgotten. Almost.
Such a notion came to me a couple of months ago. I began to think of an anthology composed of women writers. An anthology that would be published before the rapidly approaching holiday season. The title came to me almost immediately - Indie Chicks. It was a crazy notion. I was working with an editor who was editing my first two novels, and was also in the middle of writing a third novel. Working on three books seemed to be a pretty full plate. Adding a fourth was insane.
But the crazy notion kept coming back to me. It simply refused to be dismissed. So I sent out a “feeler” email to another writer, Michelle Muto. She loved the idea. I sent out another email to my writing buddy, J. Carson Black. She loved the idea, too, but couldn’t make the time commitment. She had just signed with Thomas & Mercer and was knee deep in writing. I took it as a sign. I didn’t have the time for the project either. Perhaps after the first of the year, when final edits were done on my own novels. I dismissed it, at least for the present time. I’d think about it again in another couple of months, when the timing made more sense.
A week later I surrendered, started developing a marketing plan for Indie Chicks, and began sending out emails to various indie writers - some I knew, but most were strangers. I contacted a little over thirty women. Every one of them responded with enthusiasm. Most said yes immediately, and those who could not, due to time commitments, wished us well and asked me to let them know when the book was published so they could be part of promoting it.
One of the first writers I contacted was Heather Marie Adkins. Earlier this year, while I was browsing the internet, I came across an interview with Heather. The interviewer (oddly enough, Michelle Muto) asked Heather, "When did you decide to become an indie author?"
Heather’s answer was:  About a month ago. My dad had been trying to talk me into self-publishing for some time, but I was hesitant. One night, I sat down and ran a Google search. I discovered Amanda Hocking, JA Konrath, Victorine Lieski; but it was Cheryl Shireman that convinced me. This is the field to be in.
I was shocked (Astonished! Flabbergasted!). I had no idea that I had ever inspired anyone! To be honest, it was a bit humbling. And,okay, yes - it made me cry. So, of course, I had to invite Heather to be a part of the anthology. Heather not only said yes, but she also volunteered to format the project - a task I was dreading.
As Heather and I exchanged emails, I told her about how I had been similarly inspired to become an indie writer by Karen McQuestion. My husband bought me a Kindle for Christmas of 2010. Honestly, the present angered me. I didn’t want a Kindle. I wanted nothing to do with reading a book on an electronic device! I love books; the feel of them, the smell of them. But, very quickly, I started filling up that Kindle with novels.
One day, while looking for a new book on Amazon, I came across a title by Karen McQuestion. I learned that McQuestion had published her novels through Amazon straight to Kindle. Immediately, I began doing research on her and how to publish through Kindle. I had just completed a novel and was ready to submit it through traditional routes. Within 48 hours of first reading about McQuestion, I submitted my novel, Life Is But A Dream: On The Lake. Twenty four hours later, it was published as an eBook on Amazon. Within another couple of weeks it was available as a paperback and through Nook. Did I jump into this venture fearlessly? No! I was scared to death, and I almost talked myself out of it. Almost. The novel went on to sell over 10,000 copies within the first seven months of release.
As I shared that story with Heather, another crazy notion whispered in my ear - Ask Karen McQuestion to write the foreword for Indie Chicks. Of course, I dismissed it. We had exchanged a couple of tweets on Twitter, but other than that, I had never corresponded with McQuestion. It was nonsense to think she would write the foreword. I was embarrassed to even ask her. Surely, she would think I was some sort of nut. But, the idea kept whispering to me and, with great trepidation, I emailed her. She said yes! Kindly, enthusiastically, and whole-heartedly, she said yes. Karen McQuestion had inspired me to try indie publishing. I had inspired Heather Adkins. And now the three of us were participating in Indie Chicks, that crazy whisper I had been unable to dismiss.
The book began to develop, and as it did, a theme began to form. This was to be a book full of personal stories from women. As women, one of our most powerful gifts is our ability to encourage one another. This book became our effort to encourage women across the world. Twenty-five women sharing stories that will make you laugh, inspire you, and maybe even make you cry. We began to dream that these stories would inspire other women to live the life they were meant to live.
From the beginning, I knew I wanted the proceeds of this charity to go to some sort of charity that would benefit other women. While we were in the process of compiling the anthology, the mother of one of the women was diagnosed with breast cancer. Almost immediately upon learning that, Michelle Muto sent me an email. Hey, in light of *****’s mother having an aggressive form of breast cancer, can I nominate The Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer? I mean, one of our own is affected here, and other than heart disease (which took my own mother’s life), I can’t think of anything more worthy than to honor our sister in words and what she’s going through. A daughter’s love knows no bounds for her mother. Trust me. I know it’s a charity that already gets attention on its own. But, that’s not the point, is it? The point is there are 25 ‘sisters’ sticking together and supporting each other for this anthology. I say we put the money where the heart is. We had our inspiration. All proceeds would go to the Susan G. Komen foundation for breast cancer research.
The stories started coming in. Some were light hearted and fun to read. But others were gut-wrenching and inspiring - stories of how women dealt with physical abuse, overwhelming grief, and a host of bad choices. It was clear; these women were not just sharing a story, but a piece of their heart. I felt as if I were no longer “organizing” this anthology, but just getting out of the way so that it could morph and evolve into its truest form.
Fast forward to just a few days before publication. Heather was almost done with the enormous task of formatting a book with twenty-five authors. We were very close to publishing and were on the homestretch. That’s when I received an email. An unlikely email from someone I didn’t really know.
Beth Elisa Harris and I were involved in another indie project and Beth sent an email to all of the authors in that project, including me. She attached a journal to that email. For whatever reason, Beth had been inspired to share a journal she wrote a few years ago. She cautioned us to keep her confidence and not share the journal with anyone else. I tend toward privacy and don't tend to trust easily. This is a HUGE step for me. I've only read it once since I wrote it.
Intrigued, I opened the journal and began reading. It dealt with her diagnosis, a few years back, with breast cancer! Before I was even one third of the way through the journal, I felt I should ask Beth to include this journal in the Indie Chicks anthology. It was a crazy notion, especially when considering her words about privacy and trust. We didn’t even know each other, how could I ask her to go public with something so personal? I tried to dismiss the notion (are you noticing a pattern here?), but could not. I wrote the email, took a deep breath, and hit send. She answered immediately. Yes. Most definitely, yes.
Indie Chicks: 25 Women 25 Personal Stories, with foreword by Karen McQuestion and afterword by Beth Elise Harris, is now available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. The book includes personal stories from each of the women, as well as excerpts from our novels. And it began as a whisper. A whisper I did my best to ignore.
What whisper are you ignoring? What crazy notion haunts you? What dream merely awaits your response? I urge you, say Yes. Live the life you were meant to live. Say yes today.
Indie Chicks is available for $.99 at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

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Sunday, November 6, 2011

How Sharing Wealth Attracts Prosperity

          The broader and more sophisticated grows the world wide web, the closer are we able to connect to total strangers, creating community in all corners and companionship even as we sit alone.  The ripples of nearly every conversation can wander near and far.

            Countless acquaintances with neighbors have been deepened online and some connections with people on the other side of the world who I may never meet face to face have struck deep roots close to the very home of my heart.  In the typed word and instant access, there is an intimacy that allows us to pass quickly beyond the normal boundaries of body language and social preconceptions.
            As a corollary to all of this networking, the way we take products to market has also radically changed.  For nearly every item and service, websites have become the most important storefront and suddenly the good idea of a sole-proprietor home-based start-up can become an international phenomenon.
            The internet quickly made travel agents as rare as an outhouse.  The big name record labels in the music business floundered and flopped practically over-night.  Borders book store is solid evidence that brick and mortar are turning to dust while even publishing giants in glass and steel skyscrapers are unable to do as much for an author as a good book going viral by word of mouth and tweets.
            The date of this Friday creates the wonderful numerical pattern of 11/11/11 and there are those who see this as an energetic confluence that opens an especially powerful portal to a new way of relating in this world.  A precursor to the transformation predicted for the end of the world as we know it in December 2012, the idea is that souls are shifting in preparation to be leaders as the big day approaches a year from now.  Survival of the fittest, some say, will be focused on those who share and distribute rather than on those who horde and accumulate behind high walls of protection. 
            Vulnerability attracts support instead of attack.  Honesty establishes clarity.  Truth invites forgiveness.  Living from the heart, we release love. 
            Fear shrivels and dies behind those high walls where the supposed wealth has no currency and the food runs out.
            Most likely, the Apocalypse will be far less dramatic: perhaps a collapse of the financial houses of cards and mirrors or the Occupy Movement sweeping the world grows as powerful as the internet and actually creates the change being demanded.  We already feel the tough times.  Uncertainty plagues our enjoyment of Sunday afternoons, thinking about challenges in the week ahead. 
            And as our various and individual existential struggles about marriages, happiness and the best schools for our children's future take their toll, tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes instantly provide perspective.  In all of the natural disasters, beyond the initial shock, I am struck most by the consistent stories about neighbor helping neighbors and strangers on the other side of the world rallying to send food, clothing, and other essentials, a currency of emotional support, obliterating borders that seemed otherwise impenetrable.
            In that spirit, I have come to recognize that it is not only our right as writers to organize well chosen words in pretty patterns of bytes to stand out amongst gazillions, but that we actually do better for ourselves by reaching out to pull each other along.  Competition has been silenced by cooperation.
            With the ability to self-publish just coming into the living room of every person with a computer and the urge to write a novel combining with the availability of Kindles, smart phones and Ebook readers for people to enjoy them, the incredible onslaught of information at our fingertips will only grow to a never-ending tsunami of its own, overwhelming every mind searching for worthwhile fodder upon which to munch.
            With so much information available in clicks from one to another, it is better to give the bulk away to attract the most loyal to the most delectable morsels.  Blogs and ebooks, music, videos and all the news that's fit to print can occupy our waking moments and some courses are recommended to be subliminally absorbed in our sleep. The supply is so great, unless the quality is immediately evident, obscurity is just a fast click away and payment will only be given to those most outstanding works.
            To sharpen the focus, writers are sharing their talents and platforms with each other, countless stepping stones in the sea that link us all together, like-minded and disparate, drawing together in support.  This week, I will join the ranks of the many by presenting some of the best that I have discovered, transforming my humble site, I hope, from one of self-proclamation to one that you will find more interesting and informative.
            I look forward to your feedback and suggestions in these exciting times ahead.
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