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On Being A Storyteller by Lisa Lawler

There are many different reasons why writers write, and we have various different goals we hope to achieve through our writing, but what we all have in common is that we are Storytellers. (And Storytellers, it turns out, have quite an eclectic ancestry: Modern storytellers are the descendants of an immense and ancient community of holy people, troubadours, bards, griots, cantadoras, cantors, traveling poets, bums, hags and crazy people. – Clarissa Pinkola Estés. Indeed!)

 

As long as there have been human beings, there have been stories. Stories are what separate us from the other life forms on our planet and make us human. To some extent, we ARE our stories, because we give meaning to our lives by telling stories that make sense of the past and that reveal our dreams and desires for the future.

 

As Storytellers, we have many important functions.

 

Storyteller as Community Builder

People take on the shapes of the songs and the stories that surround them, especially if they don’t have their own song. – Neil Gaiman,Anansi Boys

 

Our stories have the potential to build connections in a world where, despite all our technological advances, we are cut off from one another in the way that really matters. In stories, we can look at the world through eyes other than our own. Protagonists can live in a different country, different culture, a different time, even a different world.

 

This ability to step outside our own lives and into another’s ultimately changes us. It expands minds and hearts. It provides an opportunity for building bridges across superficial differences and divisions.

 

“You have yet to understand, my friends, that the shortest distance between a human being and Truth is a story.” – Anthony de Mello

 

Storyteller as Teacher

Stories live in your blood and bones, follow the seasons and light candles on the darkest night – every storyteller knows she or he is also a teacher. – Patti Davis

 

In our stories, we can share our insights into history, not just the dry, boring facts and figures, but what it must have been like to live in those times and in those places. We bring the past to life and we help modern readers to experience it, and, therefore, to remember it.

 

Not only that, we put forward ideas and values for readers to weigh up and see if they are a good fit as a way to live their own lives.

 

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it. – Hannah Arendt.

 

The teaching function of the storyteller is a particularly important one. Our stories are going to touch hearts and minds, and those stories can strengthen and nourish. But stories also have the power to weaken and damage. So a Storyteller is a person of immense influence with a huge responsibility.

 

The Celtic people, for example, insisted that only the poets could be teachers. Why? I think it is because knowledge that is not passed through the heart is dangerous: it may lack wisdom; it may be a power trip; it may squelch life out of the learners. What if our educational systems were to insist that teachers be poets and storytellers and artists? What transformations would follow? – Mathew Fox

 

Storyteller as Healer

Stories differ from advice in that, once you get them, they become a fabric of your whole soul. That is why they heal you. – Alice Walker

 

Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. – Barry Lopez

 

To put it mildly, life isn’t easy. It has its moments of torment and suffering and almost unbearable heartache. As storytellers, we can dig deep into our own sorrows and fears and say, “This happened to me (or to my character) and this is one way to deal with the pain. And if I or my character can do it, you can do it, too. Don’t give up. The world needs you.”

 

We can heal through humour: what we can laugh at no longer holds power over us.

 

We can heal by reminding others that nothing lasts forever and that life can get better, that we have it within us to overcome all challenges that face us. Stories can teach us to never give up, and remind us that, as Neil Gaiman put it, “dragons can be beaten”, because whatever does not kill us can serve to make us stronger.

 

We cannot wish old feelings away nor do spiritual exercises for overcoming them until we have woven a healing story that transforms our previous life’s experience and gives meaning to whatever pain we have endured. – Joan Borysenko

 

Storyteller as Inspiration

Australian Aborigines say that the big stories – the stories worth telling and retelling, the ones in which you may find the meaning of your life – are forever stalking the right teller, sniffing and tracking like predators hunting their prey in the bush. – Robert Moss

 

Storytellers have the power to set their readers’ worlds alight, to share new ways of thinking about the world and about who we really are, inside and out. Storytellers place before their readers heroes to emulate, ways to move past difficulty and ways to relate to people.

 

Stories are hardwired into our brains; they show us how to live, they teach us, they entertain us, certainly, but they also bring us closer together, inspire us, change us, heal us.

 

So, if we have a story we yearn to share, let us honour it and nurture it, for we never know whose life it may touch and what changes it will bring about.

 

And that is the power and the magic of being a Storyteller.

 

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. – Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

~*~

Lisa Lawler

Mind Your Memes by John Holton

I’m fascinated with memes. I’m not talking about Grumpy Cat (but isn’t she adorable?), I’m talking about the kind of memes that Richard Brodie talked about in his 1996 book Virus Of The Mind: The New Science Of The Meme. The idea of a meme was first proposed by Richard Dawkins twenty years earlier, in his book The Selfish Gene, where he compared it to a gene: where our genes are units of genetic transfer, memes are units of cultural transfer. They’re thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that are the building blocks of our mind.

Here are some examples:

  • “Polite kids say please and thank you.”
  • “Everything you do goes on your Permanent Record.”
  • “You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, I’m tellin’ ya why, Santa Claus is comin’ to town.”
  • “Step on a crack, break your mother’s back.”
  • “Boys do better in Math and Science, girls do better in Language Arts.”
  • “Be American, Buy American!”
  • “Drinking Coors Light makes you attractive to the opposite sex.”

It doesn’t matter whether the meme is true or false, right or wrong; a meme, like a virus, replicates itself and spreads to as many people as it can. We spread the memes that we’ve taken on, sometimes without even knowing it, and others do the same. Like these:

  • “To be a writer, your spelling, grammar, and punctuation need to be perfect.”
  • “It’s so hard to sell your book to a publisher.”
  • “Short stories are a waste of time; if you want to sell your writing, you have to write a novel.”
  • “No one takes self-published books seriously.”
  • “Good writers got ‘A’s in English in high school.”
  • “The best books were plotted out extensively before they were written.”
  • “An outline of your novel is a waste of time.”
  • “Western novels are out of fashion.”

Again, it isn’t important that a meme be right or wrong. A good meme is just one that catches on, that gets replicated to as many people as possible.

My point in telling you all of this is that your memes can prevent you from achieving your goals. When you say, “I am a writer,” you might feel like your mind is rebelling against the whole idea, and you might not know what it is that’s causing the distress.

It doesn’t matter. It’s something you can overcome. You own yourself. You decide what goes on in your mind. You can reject any negative reaction you have, even if you don’t know what meme is causing it. Fill your mind with positive memes. Force the negative ones out.

I know you can do it. You can make the sky green and people fly like birds. You know how I know that?

YOU ARE A WRITER! That’s what writers do!

Straight ahead!

~*~

John Holton

Trek To The Sea by Chris Kincaid

The other day, I saw an amazing video.

A slight depression in a sandy beach began to move and shift. A small black object wrestled to the surface, all flippers and new-born awkwardness the tiny sea turtle emerged. For a moment it craned its neck in all directions, then started off with determination towards the sea. Dozens of its brothers and sisters followed, all aiming for the same destination, sand still clinging to their backs. Their instincts told them to get to that giant body of water as soon as possible.

They traveled over beach debris, climbing what to them must have been insurmountable dunes. Occasionally they would veer from their route, but their instincts would send them back in the proper direction or the toe of a giant human spectator would nudge them back on course. Shadows from seagulls flying overhead crossed their paths, and only the handful of people watching the exodus kept the birds from snatching up the helpless babies.

Finally, the newly hatched sea turtles splashed into the water. Their awkwardness on land forgotten as they swam to safety and began the lives they were born to live.

As writers, we face the same hurdles to be overcome. We know what we want to write but we struggle to get those first words on paper. We don’t always know where our stories are going but we have faith that they are going in the right direction. We sometimes feel like we are all alone in our task, but in fact our companions are just inches in front of us or behind us. Predators surround us which would like nothing better than to steal all of our thoughts and our motivation. There are unseen supporters aiding us when they are able.

A few of us will not make it, we will not find our way to the sea of publication, or even to the lake of completion. If that happens, when that happens, we simply need to begin again to dig out of our nest in the sand. When our writing reaches the water and is set free, the fight will have been worth it.

Easier Said Than Done by Tia Bach

There are so many ways to motivate yourself to write. Heck, I think I’ve written about several of them in my many terms as a ROW80 sponsor.

But I’m here to admit something… I suck at inspiration most of the time. What works one day, doesn’t work another. It’s like parenting. You do some magical thing and the kid listens. Then, the very next day, they are savvy to your tricks and look you dead in the eye and do whatever the heck they want to do.

Inspiration and motivation are easier to talk about than to put into action. There is no magic pill, potion, contraption, carrot, or method that will ensure you get your butt in the chair to write.

What we have to rely on is our passion for writing plus a good kick in the pants from the friends who understand said passion. For now, I encourage you to do what’s necessary to produce results—promise yourself a treat for every 5,000 words, turn off the Internet for a set amount of time, go to Starbucks and don’t go home until you hit your goal. Whatever it takes.

If you need a new spark of motivation, visit all the amazing ROW80 blogs and see what’s working for people. Then try it. For the last two years, I’ve written a book during NaNo. Why can I write during November and struggle the rest of the year?

Honest to God, I don’t know! It makes me crazy. I dabble from March to October and then BOOM—write a book in November, shelve it for December, edit it like crazy January through March, and publish it in April/May.

I WILL break the spell this year. How?

I don’t know yet, but I will. Knowing all of you will be rooting for me will be one huge push to get me there. One thing I can tell you… if you love to write, you will find a way. Plus, you’ve taken a great first step by joining ROW80 and surrounding yourself with others who get it.

May this round grace you with motivation, inspiration, and WORDS via whatever path you choose (or paths, as the case may be).

~*~

Tia Bach

Honoring Who You Are by Eden Mabee

Honoring Who You Are…

will make you a better writer

(among other things)

Do you know who you are as opposed to who you want to be? Do you respect that person’s needs and passions? Do you even know those needs and passions?

If not, now is the time to find out. And I mean now–not tomorrow, not next week, or the next day you have off from work. No, not even this evening after supper when you can finally relax in your favorite chair with your feet up and soothing music playing in the background. Instead, this evening watch that show you love so much. Watch and think about why you like it so much and what brings you back week after week. Don’t worry. It’s not only “OK” to start learning about yourself now and do some of the work later. If you are doing things right, you’ll be doing a lot of the discovery later.

Why do you want to do this?

Well, knowing yourself will help you understand how you best deal with difficulties and help you initiate real change. Accepting yourself will make the process more pleasant. Acting combination of the two in your daily dealings with yourself will make you a better writer. (Really, it will help you in all sorts of ways, but as this is a writing challenge, pardon my focus on that activity. The initial exploration and discovery will help in any area you want to immerse yourself in)

Now, as this post is about you, indulge me please as I discuss myself for a moment and explain how knowing and respecting my process and myself… my personal way of doing things, has made me a better writer.

Having things “Just So” seems to be a trait of many writers, and using pen and paper are my “just so” items. I keep shelves of dog-eared dictionaries and reference books. Little tweaks complete each experience… different music genres, writing flumped on a bed or leaning at a high-top table offer various moods for the session. When I include these things for my process, I write more, I write faster, and I am usually happier with the result.

I’ve learned (sadly through trial and error more than through any amount of deep analysis) what I need to make my writing work. And the “work” has regained some of that early on sense of play it once had, so I tend to send more time at it. With the extra time and practice, I write more, and my writing has improved. Win-win!

However, this is a new development. I mean, I used to do those above things all the time when I started writing. I used to fill notebook after notebook with stories, character sketches and poems. Even after typing in several of them, I still have over two crates full on the floor by my desk, begging their turn at the keyboard. Then… one day, I stopped scribbling. I forget if it was a move from of our more crowded apartments or the excitement of a new computer… or even the push to post wordcounts after some writing challenge or sprint. Likely, it was all those things and more… Either way, I stopped. I felt like I was writing in the Dark Ages, and that everything I did was unprofessional and sloppy. Where was my determination to place Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard? All that paper wasted! (And here I’d gone to college for Environmental Science and Forestry). Wasn’t I taking more than twice the time to get a draft done by winging things longhand as opposed to organizing my story in a Scrivener Binder? (Not knocking Scrivener, btw… I love the program.)

What am I trying to say here?

I’ve read blog after blog from people who’ve thought similar things and tried to change their writing process either to streamline it or to make it “work”; some have succeeded, and so many others have not. My process could have benefitted from some streamlining, but it worked. It worked well for me, and my attempts to adjust things reduced my productivity dramatically. A computer with internet (or even a solitaire game) offers me too many ways to escape my own head and the page. Trying to learn how to type correctly as opposed to my four-finger hunt-and-peck never worked the way I hoped it would. Irregular changes in computer software, crashes, viruses… it all amounted to distraction and reduced wordcounts.

It took me years to figure out what went wrong. I was trying so hard to fix something that wasn’t broken, because I kept looking at what wasn’t instead of understanding what was and accepting how I did things. I couldn’t even make a meaningful change without knowing what the actual process was.

In order to get anywhere, it helps to know where you are starting.

I sabotaged myself for over ten years because I couldn’t accept how I worked and who I was. I don’t want to see all my writerly friends do the same thing to themselves. So please, take some time to look at what you do and why you do it. Take regular account of what inspires you, what turns you off, what distracts you and how you feel after a break (do you feel refreshed and ready to go or are you inspired to take a bit more time off?) and so many other things. Learn how to work with yourself.

Discovery takes time. You’ll (hopefully) be working on self-discovery for the rest of your life. It is a process well worth your time.

(For more about the person we are versus the person we want to be, watch this video by Kelly McGonigal; it’ll help in making those changes if you choose to, or at least help you pick your battles better.)

Oh, oh. You’re a writer? You’re it! By Beth Camp

You may find yourself invited to play tag these days. A kind of virtual blog hop tag where you answer four questions about your writing process on your own blog and then tag two or three others to do the same, sometimes within the week, sometimes on a specific schedule. The questions are a little innocuous, and yet, there’s something endlessly fascinating about the responses, that allow the reader to look behind the door or under the veil.

Essentially we are being asked: Who are we as writers? How do we do what we do? Here are the “official” questions:

  • What am I working on currently or just finishing?
  • How does my work differ from others in this genre?
  • Why do I write what I do?
  • How does my writing process work?

Not everyone wants to play, even if they first say yes, for we all know how hard it is to say no.

So when one of my writing friends hit a wall and couldn’t post her response, I invited a colleague from my working days, Sandy Brown Jensen.

Sandy writes poetry, paints, teaches writing, and has embarked on something called digital storytelling, combining voice and image in a video. She is committed, each day, to be creative, to inspire others, and to write. In this photo, she talks about a painting by her sister, Cheryl Renee Long.

And here is Sandy’s video using VIMEO, “The Current is Everything” — her response to the first question: What am I currently working on?

Her video brought me to tears, in the way something true and exceptional evokes that emotional response.

Technology continues to change how we read and how we write. Yes, I carry my Kindle with me everywhere, a neat repository of books read and unread. I have used a computer for decades now, the keyboard invisible as I type, research immediately accessible. And we will all learn new techniques for publishing, marketing, and now, perhaps digital storytelling.

Here at ROW80, we are an online community of writers. We bitch and moan, we make goals, we celebrate our struggles and our accomplishments. And each week, we inspire each other.

What is it that keeps us writing is some inner voice, sometimes dark, sometimes stubborn, sometimes that germ of creativity, characters that grab us and do not let go, our irrepressible connection to that which is essential – our unique voice. Sometimes we work slowly. Sometimes we suffer from what is truly known as writer’s block, that inability to put the words we want down on paper.

With each twice-weekly check-in, we build our own progress towards our writing goals. We persevere. We will challenge ourselves, regardless of the medium, to tell our stories from the deepest part of ourselves. As Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones, ““Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”

So if someone invites you to play tag, consider saying, “Yes!” Dive into those four questions. Articulate who you are as a writer and write!

~*~

Beth Camp

Self Publishing: Come on in the water’s fine! by Alberta Ross

In the run up to this round there was a query about self publishing. I said I would post something but as so often happens life has taken me firmly by the hand and led me away from the straight path. I am not today going to go through the various processes I took to reach self publishing. I have been re-posting the original ones on my website . The frustrations and angst can be found there:)

Today I want to encourage any who falter on the edge to take the plunge and dive in to the clear, and growing ever clearer, waters.

When I began at the end of 2009, here in the UK anyway I cannot speak for the rest of the world, self publishing tended to mean ‘Vanity Press’ with firms offering everything from okay to very dubious packages, in return for vast amounts of money. Well, they seemed vast to me, because I went into the process with so little money available it was laughable. ‘Vanity Press’ had a very bad reputation and trying to wend one’s way between them and the good publishers needed a lot of research and good luck.

For reasons which can be found on the website, I was determined to get my book printed. It was a book, so what more natural than to read it up. In books, magazines and on the web itself. It could be done was what I found. For as little, or as much, as you wished to spend.

As little as possible meant me learning the skills. I am not actually as ancient as I make out but I was retired and only just computer literate when I began the dive. I could buy books and groceries on line, and I had typed my book on the machine. That was it!

They had only come into UK homes a few years earlier. I had not learnt about DTP, PDF, photo manipulation, uploading, downloading or any such stuff. All I knew about formatting was to rely on what I was presented with when I started up the machine. I could just about cut and paste.

I tell you about this ignorance to demonstrate how easy self publishing turned out to be. It took time to learn the skills, because of my Dyspraxia, all new knowledge has to be given time, but once learnt the process was all about following instructions.

I can follow patterns, recipes and self assembly furniture plans. If they are clearly written life is simple.

I began with a printing firm down here in reality, and the very helpful gentleman guided me through the first lot of formatting and PDFing and then when his prices for the finished book became higher than I wished to charge readers I turned to Lulu. Lulu issues instructions that are very clear and simple. Take it easy, take it slow, voila I had a printed book.

E-books, almost unheard of when I began, was another skill I tried. Smashwords? – Amazingly good instruction, and again, when I eventually decided to Kindle, it was just a matter of following step by step. Along the way I learnt how to make trailers, music and photo manipulation. I am not a world expert but if one looks there are helpful instructions available and mostly offered free.

It is possible to do a basic self publish for as little as the cost of a proof copy, (do not neglect the proof copy, much can go wrong between computers). From there, one can add what one can afford, do not spend more than you can afford. Work out those sums. What would a first time, unknown author, realistically sell (okay one might hit the jackpot but. . . just in case it takes until the second or third book to make money, keep the costs down to where the rent and food can still be paid for if the miracle doesn’t happen:)

It is not as exciting as creating new worlds, of falling in and love with one’s characters, manipulating plots – it is painstaking and frustrating in various little niggles, but that exciting part of creation needs publication to entertain others. It is definitely worth the angst. To take charge from beginning to end makes that book truly yours. The best part is being in charge of what is the price of the publication and your share of it.

It is you and the platform (lulu, Amazon, Smashwords etc) who have to make any money on the book, so, as opposed to book prices that need to go through agencies, publishers, book distribution centres and shop keepers all of whom need their cut, one’s profits self publishing are higher. You can even give them away to create a buzz, prizes, review copies, if you have spent next to nothing on the process this can be of a real benefit.

So what I am saying is that if you really want to self publish, set aside time, (take time off from writing if necessary) read, research, read all instructions until it understood and in your being, then go for it.

If as sometimes may happen one has to begin again, well then, begin again. It is not a race, it is not a life saving event. Enjoy the learning process. Enjoy the experience and enjoy the reward of achievement.

Come on in the water is fine:)

To read how I came to self publishing start of at http://albertaross.co.uk/to-go-it-alone (the first) and follow on, a couple of the posts are about writing the books but most are on the process of self publishing.

~*~

Alberta Ross

 

 

 

 

Joe Blumfield Moments by John Holton

In the movie Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, there is a scene in which Guinevere Pettigrew, a nanny whose responsibility is for a young American actress, and Joe Blumfield, a designer of women’s lingerie, both middle-aged adults, have left a party and are sitting in an alley, talking about life. At one point Joe tells Guinevere that while designing lingerie has its benefits (“none over twenty, I suspect,” Guin says), he had started out designing men’s socks. After discussing the intricacies of making a heel, he decides that he’s had enough of the lingerie business and he’s giving it up to go back into hosiery design, saying “you know where you are with an honest pair of socks.”

I call moments like that “Joe Blumfield Moments.” They’re the moments where you realize you haven’t done something in a long time, and you miss it, and decide that you’re going to do it. It might not involve chucking everything to go back to it, as it did with Joe, but still, you resolve that you’re going to do it.

Steph Nickel wrote a tremendous sponsor post not long ago about trying something new, and gave some great thoughts on things you can do to explore new territory. The thing I took away from the post was her Joe Blumfield Moment: she had gotten away from writing poems and wanted to get back to it.

I recently found notebooks in which I had written story ideas, the beginnings of outlines, character sketches, snippets of dialogue, descriptions of places, and whatnot. When I had my stroke, I put them on a shelf and forgot about them, having decided that writing was no longer an option. By the time I realized I missed writing and wanted to get back to it, I had forgotten about them. Finding them was a real Joe Blumfield Moment for me. I missed those characters and the stories I was going to tell with them. I’m not going to stop what I’ve been working on, but I’m setting time aside for those old projects.

I’ll bet there’s a facet of your writing that you’ve been ignoring, a project you started and never finished, a subject that’s near and dear to your heart that you used to write about all the time but, for whatever reason, you decided not to write about anymore. Maybe it’s time you got it out of the storage locker of your brain and played with it again.

Why don’t you?

Be kind to yourself. Have a Joe Blumfield Moment.

~*~

John Holton

Are You Prepared? By Ryan King

Note from Kait:  FOUND IT!  I knew I had more sponsor posts floating around…

~*~

As writers, our job is take all those tiny sparks of ideas and make something jaw dropping out of them. No pressure. [[::wink::]] And whether we realize it or not, we’re always trying go bigger and better. Take your goals for instance. When you made them, I’m willing to bet you thought “This is what I’m going to accomplish”.

 

And now you’re probably thinking that you bit off more than you can chew. It happens to all of us, even to us sponsors. You didn’t think we had super powers did you? [[::laughs::]] You could change your goals, of course. But what if you could actually accomplish them? Well, you can.

 

No one goes on road trip without packing some essentials, filling up the car or knowing where they’re going, at least not most people. Ever heard of a climber taking on Mount Everest without gear? Nope! You can reach your goals BUT you have to prepare. Doing the prep work gives you the tools in order to succeed. And you do what to succeed, don’t you?

 

Fear not, dear pantsers, I’m not about to tell you to start outlining that novel of yours. [[::bites tongue::]] See? You have nothing to worry about. So what preparation am I talking about?

 

Preparation Tips

 

Get Sleep – While it might sound counter productive to sleep when you’ve got this big goal hanging over your head, a rested writer is a more productive writer. Don’t cheat yourself. You need a recharge as much as your computer does.

 

Make an Appointment – ROW80 knows you have a life, a busy one at that. And as much as we’d love to be able to clear our calendars to reach our goals, we all know real life doesn’t work that way. In order to get your goals done, you have to give your goals the time they deserve. Make an appointment with yourself each day and treat it like a real appointment that you have to be at, even if it’s only for 5 minutes.

 

Get Exercise – Unless you’re one of the writing undead, your body and brain needs blood and oxygen to function correctly. If you’ve been sitting long enough to collect dust or you seem to be getting stuck on something, take a break. Walk around. Go to the gym. It’ll help to get those juices flowing again.

 

Eat Right – I’m sure you think that gallon of espresso and 5 pounds of chocolate is what you need to get your goals done but once that buzz is over, you’re going to feel it. Sure, have a little. Treat yourself. But do remember your body and brain need fuel, not just nitro. If you feel good, you’ll do good.

 

Show Up – Mentally. It’s been a crazy day and the last thing you want to do is write. I get that. But you know what? Your brain is lying. You actually want to write. If you didn’t, you wouldn’t have made that goal. Have some hot tea. Relax. Meditate. Listen to music. Find what works for you and show up, mentally.

 

Stay Positive – We writers are our own worst critic. I guarantee you no one can slam us better than ourselves. One thing is certain. If you don’t believe that you can reach your goal, you won’t.  Stay positive. Focus on what you did do and not on what you didn’t. Big things are built using smaller pieces. You can do it.

 

Have an Idea – Whether you plot or pants it, know what you’re going to write before you sit down to write it. Just jot yourself a note at the end of each writing session about what you want to accomplish during the next. It can be a paragraph or just a few words. But having an end goal at the start of each session will help you stay on target.

 

That said, if you remember nothing else, remember this: You can do this.

~*~

Ryan King