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Archive for the ‘fear’ Category

Back when it first came out, I went with one of my best friends to see the movie “The Help.” I recently just re-viewed it in the hopes of trying to catch some of the more subtle nuances that I might have missed in the first viewing. I have also now read the book on which the movie was based and can tell you that it is as good as the movie. I will try not to spoil anything in the plot  – but if you haven’t seen it or read the book, you might want to wait to read this.

The setting of the story is the Jim Crow South in the summer of 1963. Not only a dangerous time in American history but also a dangerous topic for moviemaking – Spencer1especially in our politically-correct, hyper-sensitive, still-racially-charged society. I admire any film maker that can tackle these subjects in any way and, while I do admit to some flaws in the movie, I still think it was one of those movies that made you stop and <gasp> think!

This is not a character review or a literary analysis of the storyline – I will leave that sort of thing to the experts. What I want to do is examine the issues raised in this movie and ask the important question – how far have we really come? What advancements have we made, as a society, since the moments captured in this story?

Race Issues

  • The Home Health Sanitation Initiative created by Hilly, to encourage separate bathrooms and sanitary areas for blacks and whites, is the perfect example of prejudice and intolerance shrouded in ‘science’ and ‘governmental policy’. Not unlike the Patriot Act or some of the anti-immigration legislation of our modern times, these types of policies are designed to create a sense of exclusion and delineating the differences between “us” and “them.”
  • The Sanitation Initiative hinges on the idea of ‘protecting your home, protecting yourself’ from those who simply look different – fear-mongering at its most hypocritical, considering that those people who you are trying to “protect” from are in fact serving daily in your home. Again, not unlike the anti-immigration laws which try to exclude those (and ‘protect our borders’) from those that serve us every day in restaurants, grocery stores and thousands of other businesses that we could not survive without.
  • Hilly’s mother, after one of Hilly’s most vitriolic and apalling statements towards Minny (her black maid), states that “Daddy ruined you” – implying that the father was the openly racist parent in the home. This illustrates what psychologists have long theorized – prejudice as a learned behavior, not an inherent personal trait. Children are taught to hate and usually will be intolerant towards the people that their parents hate. This should sound familiar to our generation – the prejudice now extends beyond blacks into Muslims and Hispanics. Think about what you hear parents say to their children about people who look or act differently – then wonder what lessons those children are really learning?
  • Threaded throughout the movie are those awkward moments in which Skeeter forgets that she can’t share normal everyday events with her black friends in public in the Jim Crow South. The social stigma attached to ‘intermingling’, even during such mundane activities as sharing a meal, riding in the same car, or even conversing on matters other than groceries and cleaning was tantamount to social suicide for those caught doing it – on both sides of the racial divide. Interestingly, as the former wife of a black man, I am fascinated by this particular concept – I can’t even comprehend that there was a time when it would have been illegal to even share a meal (let alone a bed) with a black man. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of his dream that one day we could “sit down together at the table of brotherhood.” This intermingling is now no longer illegal BUT I find that there are still some serious barriers up between the races – we can legally sit at the same table but how often do we do it? Are we still confining ourselves to our own communities and missing the opportunity to enrich our lives with diversity?
  • Minny asks Skeeter, who is writing the book from the perspective of the help, “what makes you think colored people need your help?” For whatever motivation Skeeter has for writing the book (other than her obvious goal to be a serious writer) the assumption was there that her actions was some sort of perverse philanthropy to the black maids. Fast forward 30 years to the creation of affirmative action – which you may or may not agree with – and the presumption that this racially-based assistance is a reparation system for past evils. What makes us white folk think that the minority communities need their charity or their help?
  • Hilly, who is perhaps one of the most cartoonish icons of the suburban white housewife with the prejudices of a common hillbilly, tells Skeeter that she is no threat but that she needs to be careful because “there are real racists in this town.” What truly makes me giggle is that, in Hilly’s mind, she isn’t a raging racist herself – which couldn’t be farther from the truth. But how many times have you heard someone make an off-color racial joke or call someone a derogatory name – and then follow it up with “but I’m not a racist or anything”? We somehow think that prejudice is on a sliding scale and that we MUST be on the lower end compared to, say, the Klan – and that we’ll be ok as long as we don’t start burning crosses. Hilly may be genteel and well-mannered in her prejudice – but that doesn’t make her (or us) any better than the charming skinheads in their white sheets.
  • The sight of Aibileen and Henry running for home and safety after the assasination of Medgar Evers sickens me – what is it to feel that sort of abject terror? What must that be like, to know that your life is endangered for something as inconsequential and uncontrollable as the color of your skin?
  • When Yula Mae is being arrested, Aibileen tells her not to fight, to go quietly. I don’t think this was any sort of homage to Dr. King’s message of nonviolence and peaceful protest – this is, I am sure, Aibileen’s purely practical advice on not riling the white police officers. Aibileen lived enough in the real world to realize that blatant resistance to authority will, at best, be an exercise in futility and, at worst, lead to violence or death. Have we really improved our relationships with our authority figures to no longer fear the system? As a woman who deals daily with “the good old boys’ club” and the bullying of a well-connected man, I can tell you that it is easier and safer to shut your mouth and suffer silently. People all over this country are stuck in abusive relationships, financially crises, and helpless situations because those in authority can’t or won’t help them.

Gender Issues

  • Skeeter, the young female protagonist, is a recent college graduate who is excited to be taking her first job in what she hopes will become a burgeoning journalism career. Unlike her lifelongfriends, who have become wives and mothers, Skeeter envisions a life for herself in which she makes something different of herself than that which society expects. As Aibileen tells us in Skeeter’s introduction, Skeeter has “no man, no babies” and that is how she is defined as a person. When told that she is unlike any other woman because she says what she’s thinking, Skeeter does not cower or apologize – she states that she has plenty to say! Yet the women around Skeeter (until after the book comes out, when her mother appears to come around) spend a lot of time trying to silence Skeeter’s voice.
  • Then there is the idea that motherhood is not only an ideal rite of womanhood but one that women should compete to achieve quickly. “Once Miss Hilly had a baby, every girl at the bridge table wanted one too.” And while that has stalled a bit in modern times, we are now just encouraged to wait until later in life, not to abandon the idea of motherhood altogether if we want to. We are told that we’ll want babies someday and to just be patient – we are NOT told that it’d be ok if we just go through life spoiling someone else’s children.
  • “Eugenia, your eggs are dying. Would it kill you to go on a date?” What is so great about dating, let me ask you? I’ve done 2 different rounds of it at 2 completely different phases of my life and it isn’t all that fun. No single female ardently desires to do the bar scene and the meat market, no matter what they may tell you! And that famed biological clock ticking mentality is still alive and kicking – we are told we must find someone before we get “too old” or “too worn out.”
  • And, of course, when Skeeter explains that dating (with marriage as the end goal) isn’t a priority, her mother then immediately begins to question if she is a lesbian. That still happens, don’t be fooled. As an almost-middle-aged woman, I have to be careful to refer to my other half as my BOYfriend, otherwise people make the assumption that my life partner is a woman. Because, of course, a woman that chooses to remain single and independent must be a lesbian <insert sarcasm here>.
  • Skeeter’s mother’s almost-obsessive emphasis on clothes, hair, and other elements of physical beauty has not changed either. Skeeter is considered the social oddity, considered so different from her peers because she is not wrapped up in hair, makeup, clothes or catching a husband. Sound familiar to any of my generation’s women?
  • Stuart admits in one breath that he admires Skeeter’s outspokenness, her quick mind, and her independence but then remarks that she is like no other woman – seems to be a backhanded compliment to me. He compliments her on her writing but, when her book is published and she is a successful author, he leaves her. Why is it that, even in fiction, a smart woman can’t win the handsome prince?

Some of the themes in this movie are relatively universal for all women, regardless of what time period and what socioeconomic or racial communities they came of age in – sister-friends, bonding through food, cattiness and competition, and facing the ‘mean girls’. The Hilly character is perfectly crafted to be the adult version of that one girl that we all hated in high school – primarily because she represented the worse elements of humanity possibly.

Class Issues

  • The Celia Foote character paints a painful picture of exclusion based on her “white trash” status in the community. It is painful to watch how isolated and alone she feels, how she struggles to try to adjust to being wealthy and interact with people who go out of their way to show her what “place” they think she belongs in. If you ever think that we’ve evolved as a society beyond this, spend an afternoon at a country club or a yacht club or visit places like The Hamptons or Talbot County, Maryland – the elite can still make you feel as though you don’t belong.
  • Statements like “with them, it’s all about money” is simply a way to justify keeping people in positions of servitude and menial labor. In the movie this is said about the black maids but I think, if we listened long enough, we’d hear that phrase in our present day to describe the hispanic population.
  • And sadly, the Hilly’s of the world still exist, trying to make those that they feel are beneath them feel it – the humiliation tactics, the thrill of inspiring helplessness, the emotional abuse inflicted simply for amusement, the superciliousness and assumed superiority. Is anybody else thinking about our President right now…?

But there’s hope…

In case you fear, my gentle readers, that I walked away from this movie with no hope of redemption for the human race, fear not.

“You is kind, you is smart, you is important” – this simple phrase taught by Aibileen, the black nurse, to her young white charge Mae Mobley – I think we ALL could benefit from this daily reminder.

There are some of us, like Skeeter, who do care about their fellow human beings, who are uncomfortable with accepting things as they are. As Skeeter says, “maybe things can change” and I’d like to think I’m not the only one that hears this cry of hope as a call to action. Skeeter, in her quest to give a voice to the voiceless, to share their perspective, should serve as an inspiration to all of us. I understand the maids’ reluctance to help her as it truly was “a hell of a risk” and the danger of repercussions was very real. But they all soldiered on and refused to cave to the fear and intimidation and personal loss.

The maid Constantine was right when she observed that “ugly is something that grows up inside you…”. The key, though, is to overcome that ugly, to be stronger and braver and not let the hate win. Actually, Constantine is one wise lady as she also asks  “Am I going to believe all them bad things those fools say about me today?” She can overcome hate and prejudice by sheer force of will – I’m jealous of that strength, honestly.

But it is Aibilieen who most defines the courage needed to make changes: “God says we need to love our enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by telling the truth. No one had ever asked me what it feel like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.”

The life lessons to take away from this movie: courage is to be admired, never let others wound your spirit and your soul, ignorance won’t ever go away but you don’t have to blindly accept it, decent people do still exist in the world, mothers come around to accepting our lives, mean girls will get their comeuppances in the end, true friends come in all colors/shapes/sizes, people are grateful for the kindnesses you show them, and strong independent woman do not need a man!

THE END

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Nineteen years ago today, I was in college when the tragic events of Columbine High School unfolded with the eyes of the world watching. I know it wasn’t the first horrific act of terrorism in the world – but it was among the first that my generation had ever witnessed. I remember watching in horror the footage of high school kids, themselves columbine_window_escapejust a few years younger than me, jumping out of windows and running from their school covered in blood and mute in terror. Our tears flowed as security footage showed teachers throwing themselves in front of students to shield them from bullets. Shocked, we watched news footage of law enforcement teams struggling to respond to what was then unplanned-for and unheard-of attacks against children. We organized vigils on campus to raise awareness of the violence that had befallen our generation. We sold ribbons [one of which to this day adorns my work bag], to raise money to send to the fund organized to pay for funerals for the fallen students and teacher. We tried in vain to wrap our young minds around the senseless violence, the hate, the anger, the bloodshed.

Almost twenty years later, we now sit in the aftermath of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida. And the same feelings pour out – fear for our children, sadness that our world has devolved even further. I shudder to think of what kids must feel when they go to school now, wondering if one day one of their classmates is going to go off the deep end and bring an assault rifle in his tuba case. These children are now organizing walkouts of the classroom to raise awareness for their fear and their desire to be safe – further, and to my mind much more aggressive, steps down the pathway that I started down all those years ago on my college campus. From candlelight vigils to protest walkouts, young people are the ones who are begging adults to take note of their fear, their sadness, their desire for a better world. I just hope that those same kids that are walking out are now also making pledges to be kinder, more giving, more loving human beings. I hope cyber-bullying and “Mean Girls” will become distant memories. Just as we should have done after Columbine, we have to teach our children how to be loving, functioning adults who don’t need guns to solve their problems.

Unfortunately, from Columbine to Parkland, there have been hundreds of mass shootings in between. All perpetrated by people who are seriously mentally ill, monumentally angry, and completely lacking in conscience and moral guidance. We, as a society, now see these shootings on such a regular basis that I’m afraid we are becoming complacent to them. I fear they no longer strike the fear and horror in our hearts like Columbine did. How can we accept these acts of hate as everyday events?

I recently went through a training with our town police representatives on active shooter responses. In our world today, after September 11th and all of these domestic terrorist attacks, I no longer train just for everyday house fires or car accidents – now we have to drill on active assailants and mass acts of terror. Hearing some of the unedited 9-1-1 calls and radio transmissions from Columbine, I was physically ill with the sounds of the abject terror and bewildered shock in those kids’ voices. And those same scenes are just replaying and rerunning at every one of those mass shooting incidents. And now to think that teachers are having to be trained in defense techniques and combat skills to protect kindergarteners from lunatics with rifles! What is wrong with our world? How can we fix this? The same questions that ran through our minds 19 years ago after Columbine are still begging for answers now.

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At the annual banquet for my volunteer fire department last week, I was both honored and amazed to receive my 15-year service stripe. 2017 marked 15 years of volunteerism and endless learning about fire, rescue and EMS operations for me – but those years have also taught me lessons in brotherhood, loss, service, upheaval, fear, bravery, disenchantment, persistence, change, frustration, giving, and surviving.

Here is what I *thought* fire service would be: 9474973637_cb6f92dcc0_b

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is what I *hoped* fire service would be:  firefighters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is what the fire service really *is*: moe-larry-curly-fire-pole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And in the immortal words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that. But, seriously, to the men and women that I have had the honor of serving with for the last 15 years, thank you for all that you do. And thank you for letting me serve beside you.

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Regrets collect like old friends
Here to relive your darkest moments
I can see no way, I can see no way
And all of the ghouls come out to play

And every demon wants his pound of flesh
But I like to keep some things to myself
I like to keep my issues strong
It’s always darkest before the dawn

And I’ve been a fool and I’ve been blind
I can never leave the past behind
I can see no way, I can see no way
I’m always dragging that horse around

Our love is pastured such a mournful sound
Tonight I’m gonna bury that horse in the ground
So I like to keep my issues strong
But it’s always darkest before the dawn
Shake it out, shake it out

annyalice.deviantart.com

artwork by AnnyAlice

Shake it out, shake it out,
And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off.

 

‘Cause I am done with my graceless heart
So tonight I’m gonna cut it out and then restart
‘Cause I like to keep my issues strong
It’s always darkest before the dawn.

Shake it out, shake it out
Shake it out, shake it out,
And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off.

I tried to dance with the devil on my back
And given half the chance would I take any of it back
It’s a final mess but it’s left me so empty
It’s always darkest before the dawn.

And I’m damned if I do and I’m damned if I don’t
So here’s to drinks in the dark at the end of my road
And I’m ready to suffer and I’m ready to hope
It’s a shot in the dark and right at my throat
‘Cause looking for heaven, found the devil in me
Looking for heaven, for the devil in me
Well what the hell I let it happen to me

Shake it out, shake it out
Shake it out, shake it out,
And it’s hard to dance with a devil on your back
So shake him off.

“Shake It Out” by Florence and the Machine

Written by Paul Epworth, Tom Hull, Florence Welch • Copyright © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group

 

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I have spent the better part of the last 2 years thinking that I am now permanently damaged goods. Besides the constant sense of bitterness and the fragile state of my already-heavily-damaged ego, I have questioned if these experiences have made me unfit for future human relationships. Forget about the male-female romantic type of relationships (of which I fear I am permanently unfit) but even just the simple human interactions. What happens if I am too screwed up to ever have a normal friendship again??

If you had asked me 10 years ago where I envisioned my life would be at this juncture, you can bet your sweet bippy that it never would have occurred to me that I would be more lost than I was at 18 – rootless and struggling with my faith, my self-esteem, and my future – I thought I had outgrown these sorts of emotions. So now I feel that I am too messed up, too crazy, too jaded, too broken – damaged goods.

So last night, in spending some time with my nearly-perfect friend (who will be known here only as “The B”) I discovered that I am not alone in the feeling of being ‘damaged.’ “The B”  is tall, gorgeous, outgoing, funny, intelligent and charismatic – and yet feels that she isn’t good enough. We actually spent quite a bit of the evening arguing over who is crazier, more angry, and/or more flawed. How is that a woman who is almost the perfect ideal of a female in current American society share the same sense of inadequacy that I have? “The B” is the kind of woman that I want to be when I grow up – how can SHE feel that she’s as crazy as I am?!

Is it a woman thing? Are we, as females, programmed to feel inadequate in some way at all times in our lives? I don’t think that’s exclusively the answer – although I DO believe that females specialize in feeling insecure and flawed. But I know many men who suffer from some of the same feelings that we have, especially the men who have been through shattering divorces or other life-altering events. These men are normal, everyday guys who have managed (just like “The B” and I) to get out of bed and face each new day. So, no, I don’t think it’s just ‘a woman thing’ – I actually think it’s more widespread than that.

My evening with “The B” has helped me to realize something very important – we are ALL damaged goods! There is not a single person, no matter how good it looks like they may have it in life, that is truly content with who they are. Maybe it’s trauma (emotional or physical) that has damaged someone, maybe it’s simply born in them – but we ALL feel that we have flaws. I am so glad to have company in the Damaged Goods area of the department store of life! Does it make me a bad person to rejoice in the company I keep?? I have truly wonderful friends that have helped me to realize that they too struggle with the damages in their lives – and if they can survive, so can I!

So, to”The B” I send the assurance that we are both crazier than hell, totally screwed up, and yet totally lovable!! And we are not alone – there are a lot of us that are Damaged Goods – and we should stand proud!

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Those two words have never applied to me, EVER. Hi, my name is Becky, and I am hopelessly out of touch with the way my body is supposed to work in any coordinated movement.

When you are the fat kid growing up, the choices for showcasing whatever god-given body skills you have are slim. My mother enrolled me in the requisite “little girl” dance classes – and even I have to admit how ridiculous that was! The ballet tights and tutu must have made me look like the hippos in Fantasia – those fashions were not invented for chubby little girls. And yet I actually truly loved dancing. From the graceful and ordered movements of ballet to the all-out noisemaking in tap class, I really liked dancing. But, when you reach those dreaded pre-teenage years and realize that you don’t look good in that spandex, you give up the love of the activity in some twisted sense of self-preservation and damaged ego. When all the little girls around you are tiny and petite and graceful – and you are everything BUT – you decide that maybe you should find a new hobby, maybe knitting or reading or underwater basketweaving. Anything that didn’t require spandex and coordination…

I was never athletic either. I tried softball for a few years when I was 11 or 12 but I never tore up the field with any outstanding skill. Despite a lifetime love of baseball (instilled in me by my dad, the walking baseball encyclopedia, and my brother, the consummate Yankee fan) and the wish that I could play, I was often stuck in right field for the safety of all parties involved. I was too self-conscious to hit, I was too fat to run, I was too scared to field a ball. Yep, Derek Jeter I wasn’t!

So, now having a brief background into my non-athletic past, I hope you will now allow me a moment of utter pride in the smallest of victories- I actually am trying a team sport again! After 20+ years of being too self-conscious about my weight, my body style and my general lack of coordination, I am actually leaping into a new game – vintage baseball. More to follow on this great sport (!) but I just had to share my joy right now! I actually got out on a field with a bunch of very athletic and very coordinated guys and tried something *gasp* athletic with them! What am I thinking?!

I am so grateful to those guys – this is just my small way of saying thank you to them – for putting up with me. The first practice I sucked big time – and the second week was only marginally better. The guys are being very tolerant of my general lack of skill and are being very understanding as I learn the body mechanics needed to play. Sadly, I am paying the price for hiding my body and not developing any athletic grace for the first 30 years of my life. Or, rather, I should say that my poor teammates are paying the price. But I am working hard to improve – I even now have my own private batting/throwing coach (bless my wonderful coworker and friend Jen) – and practice every day to try to improve. For love of the game, I am trying, dammit!!

But, meanwhile, I am just tickled to death that I have tried something new, something that required almost every ounce of courage I own.  This was a HUGE step for me and, without the confidence I have pieced back together as I have shed some of these pounds, I would never have been able in the past to be brave enough for this. While I lack (and probably always will) a natural sense of grace or athleticism, I have something even better – HEART!

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My good friend and coworker, Mandy, is leaving us tomorrow, off to spend 5 years in vet school in New Zealand. I am so happy for her – what a phenomenal opportunity – but I am also going to miss her terribly. She was the only other one of my coworkers that voluntarily worked the Sunday shift with me; she is a ray of sunshine when I walk into work; and I learned a lot from her on how to deal with feisty animals, worried owners, and errant toenails.

Her departure (along with my friend Steve’s recently) has gotten me to thinking – what am I staying here for? Why don’t I just go?

Truckin’, like the do-dah man / Once told me “You’ve got to play your hand” / Sometimes your cards ain’t worth a dime / If you don’t lay’em down.

I took a long drive around the county last week, to test the emotional waters to see if I would miss this area. While I do admit that it is a beautiful place with lots of history and interesting little spots, I also had to face the ghosts of a lot of painful memories and shared moments. There was almost no road I could turn onto that didn’t hold a shadow of some part of the last 10 years – and so many of them reminded me of things that I had lost. Not just my husband but some good friends, some interesting jobs, and yes even some parts of my self. I think that in some ways in might be better to just get away from those shadows that are haunting me, to leave and start fresh somewhere else.

Busted, down on Bourbon Street / Set up, like a bowlin’ pin / Knocked down, it get’s to wearin’ thin / They just won’t let you be, oh no.

But then, in the same breath, I realized that I would truly miss some of the people that have made this part of my life journey so enjoyable. I have a wonderful group of friends that watches out for me, cares for me, and treats me right. I have a fire department pseudo-family that is there for support when I need it (and frustration when I don’t) – just like a real family. These people are the treasures that I have found in Maryland – and I’m not sure I can leave them. How will I watch my godkids grow up? How will I keep the connection to my fire department brothers and sisters? How will my circle of friends stay intact if I’m somewhere else? How will I feel if I have no roots again?

You’re sick of hangin’ around and you’d like to travel / Get tired of travelin’ and you want to settle down.

I am, in total honesty, lured by the thought of just running away from my problems. A new area with new people offers me the temptation of forgetting. Maybe I can escape those unpleasant memories if I just have a new location? Forget for a minute that the psychological and emotional damage of the last 10 years (both self-imposed and inflicted by others) will travel with me, like some really ugly Louis Vuitton baggage. Forget for a minute that it is damn hard to start over in a new place where you don’t know anyone and are trying to get used to a new job, a new home, and a new locale. Forget for a moment that there are days that I’m not sure I have the energy or courage to get out of bed, let alone move halfway across the country. The lure of a NEW PLACE beckons me like a kid to a candy store.

I guess they can’t revoke your soul for tryin’ / Get out of the door and light out and look all around.

A NEW PLACE where no one knows anything about my personal life, where the sordid details of my marriage weren’t ground in the gossip grist mill for everyone’s enjoyment. Where I can live in a home that doesn’t mock me with its memories. Where I can go out to dinner with a man and no one gives a hoot – let alone have passed it on down the gossip chain with amusing little embellishments. Where I can live anonymously without worry that my ex will recognize my car in a parking lot and cause damage to it or me. Where I am just a nameless face in the crowd and not worried about running into any of my former in-laws. Where no one will remember that I used to be fat or married. Ahhh, the lure of that mythical NEW PLACE.

Sometimes the light’s all shinin’ on me / Other times I can barely see / Lately it occurres to me / What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Mandy is lucky – she isn’t running from anything. She doesn’t leave behind the bitter and sad memories that I do; she gets a fresh start without all the emotional baggage. Granted, that is mostly due to the fact that she has been smart enough NOT to get married. But, regardless, she isn’t running away from the past – she’s running to an exciting new future. She is truly off on a new adventure – and she better realize I’m going to come visit her Down Under! Good luck, Mandy, and safe and happy travels!

Truckin’, up to Buffalo / Been thinkin’, you got to mellow slow / Takes time, you pick a place to go / and just keep truckin’ on.

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