Alter

I don’t really have much to put into this post. I usually have lots of good ideas (or “good” depending on your perspective) for Christmastime blogs but this year, it seems, festive ideas are just out of season for me. Genocide was a real heavy hitter to start of with. And, honestly, I’ve been very tired this week. Not anything in particular, just not sleeping well.

But, in the spirit of combating the vibe of recent weeks, I have this inspirational quote for you, from someone who would know. Samantha Power said, “It is easy to get used to the morning news, habituated. But don’t. The morning news is yours to alter.”

The big question, of course, is how. And, like I said, I’m too tired to tackle that. Even so, I can know that it is possible to change the world. Somehow. Things are not set in stone. Or, if ancient Egypt can teach us anything, it’s that even if things are set in stone, they are not unchangeable forever. As I book I read recently put it, stone crumbles.

I want to offer you Christmas cheer. And I do have plenty to share. But I’m writing this late Wednesday night and the words just aren’t happening. Awake until 1 am on the reg is not my optimal sleep cycle, no matter how late I’m able to stay in bed. Nothing life-threatening, just not ideal. Psh, what’s ideal. I know that many are feeling it, this time of year. Tired, that is. Lots to do and high expectations of doing it all and doing it right.

So here’s my thing for today, I guess. It’s okay to do little, and it’s okay to do it half-bad. It’s okay to have some meh in your life if it means that you have some space where you can just kerflump when you need to. Worry less, rest more, relish calm when you can. We can alter the course of the world. But take care of yourself, too.

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He Was My North

Once again, Tuesday proved to be my adventure day. Adventure in the relative sense, of course. I went into Traverse City and wandered around the “Commons” which appeared to be a really cool insane asylum repurposed as a hip shopping center. Anyway, I went to a brunch place and had red velvet pancakes, which are Important. Cream cheese in addition to whipped cream. Very Important. Obviously tremendously delicious.

After wandering around for a bit, nosing through the shops, I found out that it was, in fact, an asylum! The location was a state hospital and everything, very creepy. It didn’t close until 1989. Still, it’s a cool place now. Lots of interesting shops, chic hipster kind of vibe. Yes, I did have to look up how to spell chic again, I still think chiq or chique are better options. Anyway.

On my way driving back, I decided to just meaner around because I figured it was the likely last day of warm, sunny, pleasant weather until spring. I ended up going the opposite direction of Empire to Leland and the little historic district of Fishtown. Basically little shacks on the water, very destitute-fishermen-turned-touristy. Then I had the best sandwich of my life from the Village Cheese Shanty. Which, obviously, was Even More Important. I mean, a place called the Cheese Shanty. We were destined to find each other.

Just to be clear, the sandwich was the day’s special: turkey, cherry goat cheese, kream mustard, sunflower seeds, cucumber,  and lettuce on homemade pretzel bread (different from pretzel buns which I’m not wild into). Life changing. Such. A. Sandwich.

Moving right along. On Wednesday, I took a sec to do nothing (as per usual) and watch a couple movies that I’d been meaning to check off my list. Namely, Trolls and Moana. The first was alright, pretty nice. The second was marvelous. Moana in particular I enjoyed. The whole wandering over the horizon just to see what’s on the other side thing. That’s kind of my scene.

There’s really not much else to report for this week, just work and life and stuff. I like having thoughtful thoughts to think for you, but I feel kinda like I’m fresh out. I did really have a pleasant day on Tuesday. And Wednesday was plenty nice as well.

I was just thinking how I didn’t really have any existential angst nor contemplative philosophizing for you this week. I’m feeling pretty good, which is nice. But, as I was wandering through the internet as I wrote this, I encountered afresh the wonderful poem by W.H. Auden, Funeral Blues. Which is also a lovely jazz number and also an amusing satire on dictatorship–at least, according to the play that he originally wrote it for. So I’ll leave you with that thought. Tyranny is satire, doves can’t wear mourning, and compasses aren’t attracted to human beings.

The View from Empire

Greetings, friends. Thank you for taking a sec to read this, even if it’s just the preview on Facebook. I appreciate you.

Now that I’m feeling more settled in my job and its happenings (though by no means totally on top of things), there’s really not a whole lot to say. It’s hard for me to gauge whether there ramblings of the life updates are more interesting to you. Obviously, the cats are Reason #1 for reading so over included a couple later in the post. I thought for today I’d mostly just describe one afternoon for you. Kinda cheesily poetic and kinda combining philosophising and daily life.

On Tuesday, I drove down the road a ways just to explore a little. In the next town over, there’s a little park on Lake Michigan and I stopped to read there for a while before getting dinner. It wasn’t quite blustery and it wasn’t quite chilly but it was windy and cool cloudy and the first day that really felt autumnal.

I walked along the beach a while but mostly I sat in the car and read. I had parked right in front of the water, maybe ten yards away. The sky slowly darkened as the clouds went from lightly overcast to a duller blanketing. My windows were cracked so I could hear the water with its steady white noise. The sea grasses trembled in the wind and the trees shivered with the first oranges and yellows of the season.

I don’t know if I’ll return here often, but during my time there I certainly thought about it. It’s only fifteen minutes away from school on a relatively flat drive (I’m constantly evaluating topography from a driving-in-snow perspective). Coming here in winter with no other visitors, sitting in my car by the water, reading contentedly before heading to dinner in the village. It sounds very appealing. I just might make a habit out of it.

 

 

How, I ask you, am I supposed to deal with such cute cats.

Anyway. One other note. On Wednesday, I finally went and got my Michigan drivers license. And, because it happens at the same time, I registered to vote. So that’s handy. I reflected to the coworker I went with that voting in Leelanau County, Michigan is going to feel very different for me from voting in Pierce County, Washington. Things will not be nearly as aligned to my preferences. Here’s hoping with that, I guess. At least I can vote on some statewide stuff as well. Votes always matter but I guess I’ll feel like my vote will count more here, if that makes sense.

Good luck this week, have a happy equinox. Register to vote, if applicable.

Welcome

So this week, I’ve had a better handle on the day and such. Things haven’t been totally passing me by and I had myself together enough to write some bits and bobs through the course of the week, as I typically have done. Hurray, routines are forming!

Anyway, I now have some standard shifts under my belt and I kind of even know what I’m doing. The job itself doesn’t really entail a whole lot, it’s mostly just making sure you know where students are, they get to where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there, and you handle problems and pass them off as the situation requires. Even the lateness of the hours hasn’t proved too much of a problem (yet).

There’s truly not much else to say about the job itself. Its activities don’t really merit a long discussion unless you’re the one actually doing it. In a broader sense, though, there are things that I’m still trying to figure out. As I’ve hinted before, my role here is primarily that I have a Role. Our head of school is fond of saying that we’re all teachers, all of the time.

Since it’s the beginning of the school year, I’m still getting to know people and routines and processes and all that jazz. In particular, I’m trying to get to know my three main charges. Which is hard largely because, as this blog has shown repeatedly, getting to know people isn’t my forte. So I’m working on that. Trying to be a compassionate and interested listener as I pry answers out of them. But I’m also trying to do something else.

I’m trying to create an atmosphere. Or, rather, participate in the creation of one. Most of the time, it’s not really a conscious choice, just how I am in situations where I don’t really feel totally comfortable. But I’m trying to be open and friendly and encouraging in each interaction I have–students, staff, whoever. The other staff here are also pretty excellent with that, so it’s not at all like I’m doing this on my own. But it’s something that I’m thinking about because it’s the first time I’ve really had occasion to do anything of the sort.

I titled this post Welcome because that’s what I think I’m striving for. Welcome, belonging, feeling at home. I wish this were a reality for more people in more places. At work, at school, at home, at church. Even at the grocery store, the dentist, the library. Everywhere has the possibility of giving that peace, few places manage it. Or so it seems to me.

The feeling of belonging is so elusive and so essential. It means so much to each individual as we move through school and work and life. How much more so for communities, for nations. On a note totally outside of this school but, I think, quite related, it’s got me thinking about immigration. And from there, living in diversity. And prison. And all the people that people don’t like.

I say it all the time and it kind of annoys even myself, but it’s such a thing that matters–and such a thing that seems to have so little traction right now. Jesus was very clear: love everyone. Welcome the immigrant, the homeless, the unclean, the criminal, the unpleasant, the different.

Thinking about the ‘American dream’ and how easy it is for people in power to snatch that dream from any and all. Also, I once said here “love the lukewarm” and I think about that a lot.

If we love only those who love us, we are shirking our responsibility, nay our opportunity to live in the Kingdom of Heaven. Love your enemies. Bless those who persecute you. Build welcome wherever you can, with whomever you find yourself, because we are all hoping to get it somewhere.

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Shel Silverstein wrote, “If you are a dreamer, come in.” Would that we could all offer such a welcome.

The Land of No Routines (Yet)

So here’s the thing. I’d forgotten it was Thursday again. Michigan has not been good for my normal routines yet. And I haven’t really had time to process much new-job-wise. But also, not much has happened. I’ll do my best to fill you in.

In my dorm, there are currently four freshmen and sophomore boys who arrived yesterday. It was a bit of a whirlwind of registration for them but for me I mostly just introduced myself and handed out keys when they were ready. This morning, they left for “Exploratory” so they’re out at an outdoor center and then camping for the next couple days. I’ll visit them this afternoon, but otherwise I’ll be here.

Saturday will be the real start for me, and then we’ll see. First impressions, things seem good, doable, reasonable. The timing of the shifts will be an adjustment, much more so than Korea, but I think it’ll be okay once I get into a routine.

Most things, I think, will be better once I get into a routine. I’m a very routine-based person. Not in the boring way but just in the sense of having a baseline of activity from which I can depart occasionally. Okay so maybe in a boring way. Whatever, I’m over it.

As a random aside, the dining hall has some flags hanging around and I want to tell you about them because it’s a random assortment. On one side are state flags: West Virginia, Indiana, Washington, Illinois, North Carolina, Montana, Texas, Colorado, California, Iowa. Which, oddly, excludes Michigan. The other side has national flags: Costa Rica, the Bahamas, Guatemala, Russia, Germany, Spain, Canada, Thailand, Mexico, Israel, Turkey, Bangladesh.

So that’s a thing.

Chantel is sitting across from me at the lunch table and complaining that I asked her to tell me what else to say when she’s only had four hours of sleep. She told me to add that it’s a valid argument, which I agree. Time will tell but I’ll probably get there before too long. (She’s a house parent in the girl’s dorm).

I’m sorry for this post being late again. I know that most of you truly don’t care but it feels weird to be. Going back to the routine thing, I’ve usually had a good blog routine and I don’t have one right now. I don’t like that. But I’m working on it.

Chantel was also so kind as to provide a fitting conclusion to this post: to anyone reading this, send good vibes. Welcome to the start of the school year.

The Start of My Modeling Career

Last May, I lost my longest Duolingo (Russian) streak after 74 consecutive days of practice. I was sad, and got over it quite quickly. But after I got over it, I continued to practice Russian on Duolingo. And today was my 432nd straight day.

I have very little personal discipline. It’s something that I’ve been aware of for a long time, and I’ve tried a number of things to try to work on that. In this moment, at least, I am very proud of my Duolingo streak.

My sister gets angry when I don’t post updates on the Arizona kitties, plus they are absolutely Very Very Cute. So here’s a picture of them being their cuddly,  yin-yang selves.

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Anyway, I promised to tell you about Michigan and what is happening (spoiler: I don’t know).

The school I’m living at is right on Lake Michigan, which is nice. It’s a quick walk from my door to the beach. And it is a very nice beach, very sandy and, well, beachy.

There’s also a large protected area right around the little town: the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. And by dunes, I learned, they really mean Dunes. Because they are very tall, very steep, and very deep. I hiked a couple miles through it (and hiking up and down steep sandy slopes is, like, Very Hard) and it took about an hour to get from the parking lot–viewing Glen Lake–to Lake Michigan. A lot of sand.

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Away from the dunes, I’m just here, getting through training to be a house parent to some freshman and sophomore boys. It’s a thing. The job mostly entails making sure disasters don’t happen and dealing with the small ones as they inevitably occur. The main thing is staying up very late.

It’s hard for me to give you more details than that at this juncture because I don’t really know. I know more than I did last week, so it’s probably for the best that I didn’t say much then. But the students don’t arrive until next Wednesday and school doesn’t start until the following Monday so it’ll be a sec before I really get a picture of what my life is going to look like for the rest of the year.

One major victory that I’ve already won is ensuring that I’ll have Sundays off, which will enable me to go to church. I visited one in Traverse City last week and it seems like a pretty cool place. It would be the first affirming church that I’ve attended and that has every possibility of being a game changer. I haven’t really thought of it as a huge issue for me, since none of the churches I’ve been to have been very overtly homophobic, but at the same time I think it’s going to be tremendously liberating.

Most of the ‘training’ this week has been kind of vision casting from our new Head of School, just talking about the point of the school and how we do things. A word that comes up in every sentence, it seems, is ‘model.’ If we want students to know this or have this value or understand this, how do we model it for them? And that’s something that I want to be really deliberate about. In particular, about sexuality insofar as I am able because it’s something that I have worked through myself and wish other people could have an easier time of it.

How do I model acceptance, not just of others but of self? How do I model self-care? How do I model environmental stewardship? How do I model empathy and compassion and kindness?

There are so many things to model. And I’ve thought about it before. But now it’s literally my job. So here’s hoping on that.

More Than This

Surprise! It’s Thursday (or is, at least, when this is published). This very much caught me off guard because I’ve lost track of the days in the short time I’ve been officially resident in Michigan. Because, guess what, I live in Michigan now. I really wanted to talk about the last part of my drive and first impressions but apparently it wasn’t to be.

Suffice to say, for the moment, that I have arrived safely, am settling into my school apartment, and things seem generally to be looking up. I feel like I have some valid feelings about things but 10/10 it all seems at the very least livable and twenty times better than Korea (though work training stuff doesn’t start until next week).

Ugh, there’s so much I wanted to say but because I try to post these at mostly the same time, even being in the eastern time zone I’m running late today. Luckily (or not, I’ll let you be the judge), I have something that’s been hanging out in my drafts for a sec. It’s long-ish, thoughtful, maybe controversial, and I’m not sure that a) I express myself well or b) I know exactly what I’m trying to express. But it’s a thing so here you go. Good luck.

I was reading an article about Queer Eye a while ago (because how else was I, a temporarily unemployed gay man, supposed to spend my time). I didn’t agree with everything that was said but overall it was quite remarkable, chock full of immensely insightful and quotable lines. One particular bit really shouted at me and I’ve continued to think about it. The author had been talking about comfort zones for different groups of people, and how it felt to live your life entirely outside of the majority’s zone. She said,

Many political roadblocks would be more navigable if the general public did not so often mistake their comfort zone for the moral high ground.

What would it be like to consider for a moment, not only that your way of life isn’t the only one, not only that it may not be the best one, but that it may not even be a good one? To realize that other people’s perspectives have more than just heartwarming value-added witticisms but an entirely new and sometimes better way of doing things? I want to challenge you, even as I strive to challenge myself, to simply be mindful of the thoughts we have and the decisions we make and the reasons we make them.

What have you done lately to listen to someone very different from yourself? Have you critically evaluated your worldview, tested its assumptions, and investigated alternatives? Do you believe that you are living by the best possible system of values? If you believe that your values are the best, how closely do you adhere to them–in deed and not just in word? When you are confronted with someone living outside of your comfort zone, are you willing to consider their actions and motives in a generous, loving, compassionate way?

I have two thoughts about this, the first has been clear to me but the second has taken more time for me to really recognize. First, learning from the lives of oppressed people helps those people secure themselves in a society where they were previously marginalized. For example, as LGBTQ+ people become more accepted, they can live out of the closet more comfortably (there’s a lot to this but you get the gist I’m going for, I hope).

The second, though, isn’t about the marginalized group at all. When you learn about other ways of life, you’ll inevitably encounter some things that strike you as better than what you’re doing. You come to identify the harmful and oppressive mechanisms in your own system that you had previously not noticed because you were simply accustomed to them. For example, the more straight cis people engage with not-straight and not-cis people, the more clearly they can see the hurt done by cleaving to strict and unattainable standards for gendered behavior.

When you willingly relinquish the power that comes from living in the comfort zone of the majority, you will learn–I hope–that sometimes the seaweed is actually greener in somebody else’s lake. Giving up your privilege and power doesn’t mean you become oppressed, it just means you take a step toward the place where the rest of us live–outside a comfort zone that we didn’t construct. As someone who still resides in a multitude of privileges, I can only tell you this about stepping out: finding that you have more to learn about living a good life is scary but also invigorating. The status quo isn’t as good as it gets. There is more than this life you’re living.

Listen. Be open. Learn. Mostly, love.

Ever On and On

This is my last post in Korea, in all likelihood forever, but I don’t have a lot of profound thoughts to share. Mostly just an attempt to convey my heartfelt gratitude for the people who have become my friends here.

Before we get too far into that, though, a quick gallery of Béégashii and Lucy, possibly the cutest animals that have ever existed, I love them so much.

 

 

When I left for Korea, my step-mom sent me with a note and I’d like to share a part of it with you. She’s had a number of interesting journeys herself and I think her perspective on it all is important.

The saying that it is more about the journey is true, but sometimes I wonder as I look back on my life if we ever reach our ‘destination’ this side of heaven? I wonder if the destination is actually the present–being fully in the moment, right where we are planted–to live fully, contented, wide-eyed, learning, yearning, giving, loving–to whomever is right in front of us?

The destination that is both where we are and just out of reach. I’ve done a fair bit of traveling and who knows where else I’ll end up. Clearly, I’m all about the journey but  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, bloom where you’re planted. That’s been difficult here but I think the blossoms have been all the more beautiful for it. As they say in Mulan, the flower that blooms in adversity is the most rare and beautiful of all.

My time in Korea has really been… something. I’ve been trying to figure out positive and succinct ways to describe it, preparing for the inevitable deluge of questions when I get home, and it hasn’t been easy. I think I’ve managed for the job, though, so I’ll start with that.

This job consisted of three parts: the students, the coworkers, and the workplace. The students were decent, the coworkers were incredible, and the workplace was awful. I’m truly and deeply grateful for the great teachers that I got to work with who (very slowly because I suck at it) became close friends. A heartfelt shoutout to all of you, thank you for bearing with me and welcoming me into your cool kids club. I’m glad that most of my students were interesting, smart, and hard workers–it made teaching them much easier and much more enjoyable. And I’m happy to say that I will not have to work at that branch or a Korean English academy again.

I am also extremely grateful for the community I found at church. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I came to Korea on that front, but the place I ended up was definitely the place I was meant to find. I learned, I grew (I hope), and I made connections–again, slowly but definitely surely. Knowing you guys, studying with you, serving with you–all have been wonderful experiences.

I also want to make sure to mention the one Korean person I actually knew coming here, and say a big thank you to her and her family for meeting with me and making me feel welcome. So thanks, Yoona and your family. We had some fun adventures together.

As is usually the case, the people make the place. Thankfully, the internet will continue to keep us together, as much as it is capable. I will not be deleting my Kakao, so feel free to send me your favorite Muzi emojis. I will also request, for those of you in Korea, please send me any and all Paris Baguette pictures and updates because I will never not want those.

For those of you at home, or those who just know people who travel, I have a request. Please do not ask me how Korea was. It’s a country, it is many things. And do not ask me extremes (favorites, hardest, ect.) because I’m bad at those. There are many things that I appreciated and things I very much did not. If you really want to know, think of specific questions. What kind of food do typical Koreans eat? Did Seoul feel like a big city? Do people still wear hanbok? How do you read Korean?

In the meantime, I’m in a mad rush to pack up my entire life (yet again), teach all my classes, get all my paperwork and plans in order, and say goodbye. I’m on a plane out of the country on Saturday night, twenty-four hours after I finish teaching my last class.

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A summer sunset over the Hangang

 

So I’m leaving Korea and going on. I have some ideas but I have no intention of keeping my feet and every intention of being swept off. Sometimes, I’m learning, the important journeys are the ones you didn’t mean to make.

In Which Little Is Done

I’ve been trying my darndest to come up with a topic for this week and I have failed. Normally, that wouldn’t stop me since all I put on here anyway is random nonsense. But, like, I really have nothing. Very little happened this week and I haven’t even been thinking any thoughts of note. While I try to figure something out, enjoy this two-for-one cat picture.

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I hope you enjoyed that little interlude. They’re so nice.

The main event this week was movie night which, not to sell it short, is now a typical feature in my week. This week, it was Moulin Rouge with a friend who hadn’t seen it before and now understands the magic. Such a fantastic movie, so many emotions. And honestly, the songs in it are pretty much all better than the originals. Even if I really like the originals. Just so good.

All I can think to talk about is how soon my time in Korea will be over. I’m overwhelmed, really, and so I’m not preparing nearly as much as I need to be. I have two weeks and a couple days. That’s it. While I’m definitely ready to be finished, I’m not currently ready to be telling you about my year in review, so I’ll save that I guess. Next week is a holiday and I only work Monday and Tuesday (though I’ll also be working this Saturday) so I should be able to concoct some good musings by then. Or not. We’ll see.

In the meantime… nope. Still got nothing. I’m sure I’ll meander around until I get a decent word count because, as you all know, I can ramble until I confuse even myself.

I’ve been reading again this week, finished three books. One stand alone (or I guess there’s a sequel but it ended nicely and I don’t want to read it) and the first two in a series. None of them were incredible, but all were decent. The first was just a straight-up gay romance and I was all about it (I honestly didn’t realize I just said ‘straight-up gay’ until several hours later). Pleasant characters and some surprisingly realistic moments in the midst of straight-best-friend-turns-out-to-be-bi fantasy land. The other is a fantasy series, intrigue and theft, and such like. The characters are pretty thin and nothing I want happens with them, but the plot is super interesting so I’ll continue to book three for that reason.

Man, I miss reading in the sun. In the warm.

Next week, I’ll definitely have some things to say. Hopefully, I’ll have done some packing, had a nice start to the holiday, and tell you about my big adventure coming next Friday. And then it’ll be my last week and then I’ll be on another adventure. So here’s to that.

Winter; Discontent

Hi.

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The most precious

She is the most recent unintentional adoptee of my sister’s time in Arizona. I call her Lucy and she is my heart. I mean, look at her.

Monday marked, hopefully forever, the end of the colder-than-cold weather. It was also the start of level up testing so it was simultaneously stressful and relaxing. We had some big classes to get through and we’re only provided with the materials moments before testing starts so it’s a little rough. Sort of like five minutes of furious activity followed by eighty minutes of reading the news, looking at Facebook, and making sure no one’s cheating. We finished off a long day by watching The Incredibles which was, of course, a delight.

It snowed on Tuesday night, lots. And by lots, I mean maybe two inches. It was absolutely gorgeous in a way that made me want to cry a little, which is perhaps more reflective of me than the landscape but what can I say. Small beauties should be felt deeply just as much as obvious ones. Though it was extraordinarily beautiful, particularly that frozen waterfall near the grocery store, I haven’t been 100% rosy in my attitude.

The incredibly cold weather, in combination with a number of other factors, has provided me with ample opportunity to brood in a dark, wintry mood over the last few weeks. Or months, really. Not continuously, but enough. So here are a few things I’ve been turning over in my head a bit.

This blog has often seen me write of the power of stories. Sometimes, I weigh myself against the adventures enumerated therein and I find myself wanting. I judge that I would not live up to the challenges of living the life of–or even in the same story as– a hero. But also that my life, this real life, is a poor substitute for the seemingly flesh-and-blood trueness I find in books.

Then I berate myself for my ingratitude and blindness. By any account, my life has held plenty of adventures. No dragons have been slain, no deep magics harnessed, no destinies foretold and averted, changed, or fulfilled. Yet I have seen far horizons, I have heard a dozen tongues, I have stepped on the soil of many countries.

Have you ever read that poem by William Carlos Williams about the Brueghel painting? Landscape with the Fall of Icarus? It’s kind of terrible in a blunt, realistic way. But what if Icarus lived? What if he crashed into the sea, swam to shore, and lived the rest of his life in ashamed obscurity? I think another poet actually wrote that counterfactual. Several poets, probably.

Sometimes the winter gets to me a little so I’m sorry for being a bit of a downer this week. Of course, the moment the idea came into my head, I spent a good while imagining alternate adult lives for Icarus and that was thoroughly distracting. By the time I came around, the oppressive wintry mood had vanished entirely. Anyway, there are some thoughts from my brain to yours.

There’s a tricky balance between contentment and complacency; maybe a little discontent every once in a while is healthy. Who knows. Whatever. Anyway. It’s February and that’s… a relief? Terrifying? It’s something. I’ll let you know when I figure it out.