Friday, September 28, 2012

Of Cockroaches, Childhood Education, and Crazy Dreams

via Wikimedia Commons
No matter how crazy, I always pay attention to my dreams, and the past couple of days, while I was down with the flu - or maybe it was food poisoning - or perhaps a tinge of toxic shock - anyway, I was a sick puppy, and had some wild dreams.

For example, in one dream, I was working in a fast food restaurant, assembling hamburgers. My job was the last step before wrapping, to lift the lettuce leaf at the bottom and slide in the giant cockroach.  Mmmm, crunchy!

And then I dreamed I was sitting at a long oval table, pitching to a group of people that included President Barack Obama, about not just maintaining but increasing funding for early childhood education. I told them, "We know for a fact that 85% of brain development occurs before the age of five years old, yet in the US, we only spend 14% of public education dollars on that age group." (This is a true statistic, btw, not simply a fever dream.)

I remember noticing how gray the President's hair has gotten, and then I turned and specifically pitched Words On Wheels to some of the other people seated at the table, like Michelle - WOW being a new organization I'm involved in.

The third crazy dream was going into what I consider my adopted home town, to the boutique toy store there, and staging something of an intervention on the owner. The toy store had long had a reputation for staying open 24/7, and the owner was melting down, trying to cope with all the demands of the business and staff the store himself every night, just in case somebody wanted to come in and buy a Barbie doll or a toy train or an Elmo at 3:00 a.m. (In this case, not a true story. The toy store exists, but it's not open 24/7, and never has been.)

toy store trains
toy store trains
(Photo credit: horizontal.integration)
I believe in dream interpretation, although I know that sometimes dreams are just noise, the brain sorting through loose papers, so to speak. Even though Clarissa Pinkola Estes says we are all the significant parts of our dreams, I'm pretty sure I am not a hamburger, nor a cockroach, in some symbolic way. I will confess to being a somewhat dubious cook at the best of times, but I don't ever add bugs to my dishes, gross!

I probably dreamed about Words on Wheels because our organization is reaching the "ready for prime-time" stage, with the website and PayPal links going live this month, and our training videos for our volunteers also almost ready to launch. (Words on Wheels will match screened, trained volunteers with traditionally under-served facilities like homeless shelters, battered women's shelters, and low income child care centers; the volunteers will bring books, music, bubbles, and other literacy-promoting experiences to the children, targeted at kids 0-5, and leave the kids with the books, maracas, etc.)

My brain prolly threw in Obama and company because a) all the political stuff going on right now, and b) WOW is initially launching in the Waukegan, North Chicago, and Zion areas of Illinois. It's not altogether inconceivable that someday we will be pitching to the Obamas and their friends for contributions and/or publicity, though I doubt I will be the one doing the pitching.

Toy Store
Toy Store (Photo credit: damozeljane ☼)
But the toy store... oh, do I "get" that one! Because the toy store owner was melting down by trying to do too much, because he felt that he had to have someone on site 24/7, that it would be some kind of betrayal to periodically close down. And I have been internally melting down because I haven't been blogging, visiting back, or even keeping up with my writing this past month. In my dream, my team was trying to educate the toy store owner that all the pressure he felt was purely self-inflicted, that even if it had been tradition, he didn't have to keep the store running 24/7. How many Barbies did he actually sell at 3:00 a.m., anyway?

Sometimes it's okay to take a break. Sometimes when life - and the flu - and family, and other commitments - crash down on me, it's okay not to push push push to keep up with a whole bunch of goals that I set for myself. The toy store was still there - my ideas are still here. Even if I close up shop for a little while, unannounced.

I love writing, and blogging, and my blogfriends, and my ToastWriter friends, and my musician friends, and yet sometimes it's okay to just say, time for the beach.

photo by author. Yes, perfect beach day.

Time to read, to sleep, to dream.

Have you ever had any crazy dreams that helped get you back on track?

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Monday, September 17, 2012

The Next Big Thing - Feels Weird To Say About Myself

Next Big Thing

via Ruth Madison
I usually don’t participate in chain-letter type things, and it feels really weird and immodest to call MYSELF The Next Big Thing. (Even though when I'm not suffering from the doubts I would tell you that my writing kicks ass.)

Still, this seemed like fun and a neat way to connect authors and networks. It’s an interview about upcoming work and you get tagged for it. At the end I’ll tag five six (I could easily tag 16, but I held it down) more authors who may opt to do the same interview on their blogs. (Or to blow it off entirely, their choice.)

I was tagged by Ruth Madison, who writes some amazingly sensual and interesting love stories featuring disabled people (though I hear her newest work goes in a different direction). I'll be interviewing Ruth and reviewing some of her books later on this blog.

What is the working title of your book?
CLOSE KNIT. Though I've lately been thinking, I may want to make that the name of the series, and have the initial book be titled CASTING ON.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
My agent originally suggested it, but then, the more I researched and worked on it, the more intrigued and challenged I was. Could I tell a romance that included multiple storylines, hot sex, and knitting?

What genre does your book fall under?
Women's fiction. (With hot sex. And knitting.)

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Drew Barrymore headshot
Drew Barrymore headshot (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
LEXY, 28 - She's flirty and confident on the outside, hurt and vulnerable on the inside. I can totally see Drew Barrymore as my Lexy.

GAVIN, 28 - all the hot men of Hollywood rolled into one delicious if somewhat inhibited package - Jessie Pavelka
(I'd embed his picture here but then I'd have to kill you. You'll just have to follow the link for a peek.)

AMBER, 27 - this rising star actress and former foster child is everyone's friend, no one's best friend. I 'd cast Izabella Miko or Scarlett Johansson (though Scarlett would need a to get a breast reduction).

FELECIA - 40-something cougar - Alyssa Milano, perhaps, though she's a little young. Her  hair in this shot is much as I imagined Felecia's, and most men would have a very hard time saying no to her.

DANIEL, 26  - tall blond surfer, such a nice guy with atrocious style in clothes despite being gay - Chris Evans (not that I'm casting a slur on how Chris Evans dresses! And I have no idea of his RL sexual preference).

CRISTINA, mid-thirties - Mommy, wife, boss, friend -  Elpidia Carrillo

NAOMI - 60-something, warmhearted busybody - Glenn Close, Sigourney Weaver

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Can a free-spirited sex goddess and an uptight screenwriter untangle the patterns of the past and knit their lives together?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

It's represented by Alison J. Picard, of the agency of that name. I'm going for traditional publishing, though if that doesn't pan out, I may consider self-pubbing some ways down the road.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Ugh! Three years. (Some extenuating circumstances).

 What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The Friday Night Knitting Club, Knitting Under The Influence, Dirty Sexy Knitting, 50 Shades of - nah! Not that one - though I do some things with knitted materials that Christian Grey never dreamed of.

Who or What inspired you to write this book?

Among the things I wanted to explore is how a love relationship develops within a close-knit circle of friends, when people within that group put in their advice and "help," to either make the relationship work, or perhaps to break it up. How the blooming relationship, itself, affects the group dynamics and helps the others discover things about what they want, or don't want, from life.

Kind of like "Friends," only these friends are multi-generational. I love "regular" romance, that focuses like a laser beam on the heroine and hero, but... decided to see if I couldn't weave in the other threads.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Los Angeles is a featured player in the story, as well, from the San Fernando Valley (we locals just call it The Valley) to Dodger Stadium, the Renaissance Faire, the Griffith Park Planetarium, the Getty, to Venice Beach. There are so many very different neighborhoods in LA, so many different vibes and people, and it was fun showing them off as my characters experiences their toils and conflicts.

And one place we had to go was the West Hollywood Halloween Carnaval, because the only thing better than a rollicking party is one with wings.

via Flickr Creative Commons by Clinton Steele

So, who do I see as The Next Big Thing?

RYCJ of OEBooks - blogger and author of the Rhapsody romance series, as well as other sexy, romantic stories. From Leiatra's Rhapsody:
Leiatra, a professional counselor, wife, and mother innocently opens this novel trying to discover why men cheat. Her lessons learned are so profound and perplex that before long, an educated woman who had taken for granted what she recklessly imagined she knew, finds herself entangled in a cascade of sexual indiscretion so deep that she risks losing her business, friendships, and the people most meaningful to her. Do you think you know why men cheat? Do you really want to know why men cheat? ...or do you prefer to believe otherwise?

Brenda Moguez - blogger, poet, novelist, lyricist.  From her blog post Shall We Dance:
As the pages in the new WIP accumulate, my characters grow fierce. Their voices, once faint and willowy on the page, are now a force. Their strength rises from the page as heat off the asphalt on a two-lane highway does in the Mojave Desert. I am in awe of them and the story as it welds its power on the page, and over me.
 ...I am sitting there now. It’s the crosswords of Imagination Avenue and Ethereal Way. And let me tell you, it’s like hell, heaven, a sandy beach at midnight, a thunderstorm over Miami in August, its hot chocolate chip cookies out of the oven, the third glass of pink champagne. It’s goodbye after a ten-year love affair, its hello to come-hither flutters from Mr. Lanky. It’s all this, and some kind of special. 
Brenda is still waiting for The Call from an agent, which I am sure she will receive, and until then... I'm getting my fix of her beautiful writer's voice from her Passionate Pursuits blog.

Karen Wojcnik Berger - blogger at Bibliophilic Blather, author of Until My Soul Gets It Right and A Whisper To A Scream. Each book in the women's fiction series takes on the life journey of a different character or characters. From Until My Soul Gets It Right:

You can’t run away from yourself.

Catherine Elbert has never been good at making decisions, whether it was choosing an ice cream flavor as a small child, or figuring out what she wanted to be when she grew up. The only thing Catherine knew for sure was there had to be more to life than being stuck on her family’s farm in Wisconsin.

While watching a PBS travel show, Catherine becomes entranced by Portland, Maine. The ocean. The lobsters. The rugged coast. Nothing could be more different from the flat, nondescript farmlands of Burkesville.

Despite her parents threatening to disown her and her brothers taking bets on how many days until she comes home, Catherine settles on Peaks Island, off the coast of Portland.

She is finally free.

Or so she thought.

"Until My Soul Gets It Right" is a story about growing up, making peace with your past, and finding a little love along the way.

Valerie Bowman - her debut novel Secrets of a Wedding Night releases this week and has been garnering rave reviews. (I know she's absolutely buried in promo for it, now, so she won't be answering these questions, but she is on a blog tour if you want to cyber-stalk her.) I met her at RWA12 and she is a lovely person as well as an exciting new romance author. I preordered my copy of Secrets of a Wedding Night:

Lily Andrews, the beautiful, headstrong Countess of Merrill, is rumored to have authored a scandalous pamphlet. Secrets of a Wedding Night has scared the ton’s young ladies away from the marriage mart. The young widow soon meets her match when recently jilted Devon Morgan, Marquis of Colton, issues her a challenge:  write a retraction or prepare to be seduced!

Eleanor Brownn - inspirational speaker and author of Mile 9 and 44 Life Lessons. I've met Eleanor in person at my ToastWriters club, and she is truly inspirational.
Lifelong couch potato Eleanor Brownn was facing 50 when she decided to train for the 26.2 mile Los Angeles Marathon.  MILE 9 is a personal memoir that tells the inspiring story of the spiritual lessons she learns along the way as she travels past her doubts and fears to challenge a notion she's held in her heart and mind since childhood: the idea that she's "too fat" to participate in life.

Kelly Hashway - blogger and author of YA (young adult) and MG (middle grade) novels. Her debut novel, a YA paranormal releases in January. Touch of Death:
Jodi Marshall isn’t sure how she went from normal teenager to walking disaster. One minute she’s in her junior year of high school, spending time with her amazing boyfriend and her best friend. The next she’s being stalked by some guy no one seems to know.

<snip> Jodi’s deadly to the living and even more deadly to the deceased. She has to leave her old, normal life behind before she hurts the people she loves. As if that isn’t difficult enough, Jodi discovers she’s the chosen one who has to save the rest of her kind from perishing at the hands of Hades. If she can’t figure out how to control her power, history will repeat itself, and her race will become extinct.

One of the things I love about blogging and the internet, is all the fabulous talented writers I never would have otherwise met and read. (Which sometimes, I curse, too, because I have SO MANY great books yet to read.)

Do you know a talented up-and-coming writer? 
Please share, in the comments below.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mathematician By Day - Rock Star By Night

Computer programmer and mathematician by day. Rock star by night.  

Okay, perhaps not a “rock star” at the level of, say, Adele or Carlos Santana, or the latest manufactured celebrity American Idol has vomited upon our national consciousness.

via Gekko Projekt - used by permission

But Peter Matuchniak is a composer/performer on TWO of my favorite new 2012 releases, his own Uncover Me, and Gekko Projekt’s Electric Forest. And (unlike the nonresponse I got from Adele and Carlos Santana) I was able to actually score an interview with Peter to talk about his music, and the process of songwriting, composing, and putting together an album. It’s both similar – and very different – from putting together a novel.

Did you come from a musical family? How did you get started as a musician?
When I was young, my family had a piano in the house, and I would quietly play away on it, making up my own songs. I was mortified at 8-9 years old when my mum got rid of it, because “nobody was using it.”

I discovered much later that her father, who was a judge in Poland, was also a well-known musician and had his own radio show where he’d conduct an orchestra and play guitar on the air. The music we heard at an early in our home in London was classical, and my parents never “got” why I was drawn to “modern music:” Pink Floyd, Genesis, Suzi Quatro, Yes, Camel. I had no formal musical education, but taught myself how to play guitar. I don’t really read music, and although I have written out parts for others I’m much better at playing by ear, composing organically, and recording my ideas.

via Peter Matuchniak - used by permission
Later, I traveled in India, and while playing guitar for fun, landed a stint there as a commercial jingle artist with an old musical and childhood friend. I realized the benefit of having to compose to a tight deadline and strict requirements; sometimes I only had one day to compose a one minute jingle.  I had to work on it, present it, and then, good or bad, just move on to the next one.

So you’re a world traveler. How did you end up a citizen of the United States?
I love London, no question, and I love to travel, but never thought about living elsewhere.  Then my brother talked me into a seven week USA road trip, many years ago; we ended driving over 7,000 miles. During that trip, I fell in love with the place, particularly New York, and decided I wanted to move for “an extended period.”  I began studying job ads in various U.S. newspapers and noticed that computer programming was a popular career.  So I finally decided to stop traveling, get a “real job” in London that would help me land an opportunity in the U.S.  I quickly got hired in San Diego and decided to marry my fiancé and we moved together on a whim really.  And we’re still here, 23 years later, living in Orange County where we’ve raised our children and made our home. [Bev: Peter hinted at a story of meeting his wife in India and following her to Hong Kong. If Peter doesn’t tell me to buzz off, I may pursue this thread, later, as it feels like it could be seeds of an intriguing romance novel.]

Uncover Me
My review of this album is here
Let’s go back to the idea of: “Write it, and let it go.” How do you KNOW when you are done writing a song? Because I can noodle with something I have written for weeks, months, years.
Sometimes an artificial deadline can be very helpful. For example, on my album Uncover Me, I was determined to release it by ZZ date. That meant I had to decide: It’s got to be downloadable on iTunes and Amazon by YY date, which meant it had to be sent in by such date, which meant the mixing and final master and cover photos had to be done by XX date, which means all the recording had to be done by WW date.

Yes, but how do you KNOW? That it’s not your ego pushing it out there, while it’s not yet ready for prime-time?
If, when somebody gives me feedback, I need to defend and explain a song, I know it’s not ready.

So, how long does it take you to write a song you’re happy with?
For the song Uncover Me, I had a dream about actually writing it, sprang out of bed, played with the idea and immediately began recording it.  I had two versions, one in a minor key, and one in major.  I just tied them together with lyrics from my dream and was done in an hour, just before work. For other songs, like Falling Ash [Bev: which with its companion piece Rising Sun is an operatic fugue, more reminiscent of Rick Wakeman’s solo work than a pop or folk song] I started the first bits when I was 17, and finished it decades later. Some of those ideas I had back then still aren’t finished. I write what I can, and then move onto something else.

short samples of the Uncover Me songs here

Songs with lyrics, vs. songs that are instrumental only. Songs that are layered with lots of instruments and vocals, opposed to songs that are more stripped down. How do you KNOW?
You don’t, always.   Sometimes I write a song and I know it needs lyrics, but unless there’s something specific in mind I either “jam out words” that turn into lyrics, or I leave the song on the shelf and come back to it later when inspiration hits. Other times, like Uncover Me, I just knew, the vocals and acoustic guitar, perhaps with a flute, were enough.

It didn’t need more cowbell?
*laughs* No. For a song like Across the Pond, there are no lyrics except a whisper at the very end. That song started with chords, in MIDI, and I always had very clear ideas that I wanted it to reflect American jazz, essentially what I was hearing in my headphones on my first flight to New York, and that it needed a saxophone solo.  Lionheart Betrayed is a very intimate song about leaving home, England, a bit like turning my back on a place, my childhood roots.  For this song it felt right to keep it simple, with me doing vocals (because I couldn’t have someone else singing those words), although I’m not really a singer. On Running Back To You I went with a dirty, urban sound. [Bev: I absolutely love that song, though I admit, for those like myself with domestic violence issues, it was also somewhat triggering.] I needed Ted Zahn to vocalize the Down in New Orleans vibe, with his distinctly American “Woodstock” like singing style, as it didn’t feel right to have it sung with my English accent, though the use of New Orleans was more symbolic than intended to suggest the physical city. All the songs on this album revolve around the theme of displacement and reinvention.  Our ability to create, destroy and reinvent, either physically or spiritually.  The two parts of Landscape Burning act as bookends for the album and its inner concept.

How does the modern music business differ from what it was when you began?
As a teen, it was much, much harder to break in as an independent artist; but once you were in, there was much, much less competition.

The advent of the internet, with YouTube, social networking and outlets like CD Baby allow any independent artist to directly market their music, but since so many do there’s a lot more choice for the consumer and although we have a better reach it doesn’t necessarily turn into proportional sales. [Bev: Much like the self-pubbed literary market.]

The indie market has always existed. For my first band, as a teen, I put together a 40-minute cassette of three songs of our original music: two songs about 8 minutes each, and one about 20 minutes long. I used a tower of cassette decks and made copies, about ten at a time. I ended up selling over 3,000 copies for 2 pounds each.  Once we got some traction the orders came in from around the world and appeared in a lot of music papers and fanzines.  When I worked one summer at Virgin Records I noticed that a lot of other independent artists operated this way and Virgin had their stuff stocked on the shelves.  The internet would really have helped us all in that regard.

via Gekko Projekt - used by permission
Build-A-Band – 21st Century Style.  How?
In London, as a teen, I formed bands with my friends.  Since moving to the US and being away from playing in bands, I turned to Craigslist as I didn’t really know any musicians.  That’s how I started my first band here, Evolve IV, and also when I came across with Rick Meadows (Gekko Projekt’s bass player), who knew Vance Gloster (Gekko’s keyboardist and co-songwriter), who knew Ted (vocalist on my album), who knew David Gilman (flautist)…and so on.

When I settled in the U.S., my initial priority was my wife and family; I spent many years coaching my kids in AYSO soccer and so on. You can’t earn a decent living and spend enough time with your family and dedicate adequate time and energy to your music.  There simply aren’t enough hours and something has to give.  So, while I never abandoned my love of music, and would still play and record song ideas, as far as actively pursuing my music as a career… that got put on a back burner. But I would still take down names and contact info whenever the opportunity arose; for example, I heard Natalie Azerad perform with the Pink Floyd tribute band Which One’s Pink? and her vocals on Great Gig in the Sky blew me away.  I’ve always loved that vocal style and knew it would work with my ideas.  So I asked her right then if she might be interested in working on my album “sometime in the future,” and was delighted to be able to include her on Uncover Me.  [Bev: She sings some of my personal favorites on the album.]

So how did you assemble your solo band?
I found that a lot of better-known or accomplished musicians, people like Natalie, well-known drummer Jimmy Keegan, vocalist Ted Zahn, and many others, were happy to contribute; all I had to do was ask.
For my album I extended my reach to those that make a profession of this.  I struggled at first with the idea of compensating them for studio time, maybe even paying for gas and so on, since I had only ever played with friends who did it for the love of it and I had those preconceived notions about being in a band.  But I didn’t want to compromise and had to change my mindset from whether I could justify it.  As the album developed, I decided, I am worth it.  It allowed me to create and release the album I wanted, from cover art by Patrick Carney to jacket photographs to vocals and instrumentation all the way to mastering it.  
[Bev: Note to self-publishing authors – you, too, need to decide you are worth it. Please, hire professional editors and cover artists, rather than rushing out a substandard product, simply because you think you can do it cheaper yourself. Remember, it’s got YOUR name on it. Do you really want your brand to scream, “I’m a cheapskate and an amateur”?]

Electric Forest
My review of this album here
What’s the difference, between being an old a more mature artist, compared to being a fresh young kid? Seems like many artists in their twenties are extremely… passionate and energetic, shall we say, while older artists display a deeper level of artistry. What’s better, what’s worse?
One dynamic with a young band is: The Girlfriend In The Room, at a jam or recording session. Some band members would ignore her, some would play to her, some would simply feel threatened or competitive just because a woman was there.  We’re talking about the age of silly teenage boys.

As a younger musician, some band members would become very defensive; if someone went over to experiment with a riff on your keyboard or guitar, there could be this whole territorial “but that’s MY role in the band!” reflex. You were a lot more wrapped around ego. More likely to be mortified if your band-mates didn’t like a piece you played for them, to take it personally.

As a more mature artist, it doesn’t usually bother you if there are wives or girlfriends or anyone in the room. If somebody wants to pick up your bass, or guitar, or try your keyboards, you’re more interested in what they are trying to do musically than whether your status in the band is threatened. Letting go and accepting help – it’s all much easier to deal with. If your band-mates don’t like an idea you have, you can shelve it, or put it aside for your personal CD, which has its own benefits.

Gekko Projekt - if you're wondering what progressive rock sounds like, here's a nice taste

Peter Matuchniak favours a progressive style of guitar that features melodic solos and graceful chording, clearly influenced by the likes of Steve Hackett (Genesis), Dave Gilmour (Pink Floyd), Andy Latimer (Camel) and Steve Howe (Yes). Always drawn more to composition and melody above pure technique and over-indulgence, Peter Matuchniak lets sounds and textures guide the music first and foremost.

Find Peter:
Personal Website

Peter, thank you so much for your time and very interesting chat. I look forward to seeing you and Gekko Projekt play at a venue near me, soon.

Monday, September 10, 2012

I've Interviewed - And Tagged!

Have I been abducted by aliens? No. (Though I wouldn't mind if said aliens looked like Jeff Goldblum, circa Earth Girls Are Easy. Post-makeover version, please.)

 via 25 Greatest Male Grooming Moments in Movies

I have been interviewed by the amazing RYCJ at OEBooks, and have been interviewing (guitarist Peter Matuchniak, coming to this blog in a few days.)

I've also been tagged as The Next Best Thing by the awesome Ruth Madison, and am working on that post, prolly out next Monday.

I finally got all the business cards I collected at RWA#12 in Anaheim (uhm, from July) and SoCal Lady Blogger (I think that meet-up was May) entered into My Contacts and Twitter, etc. Because while I might always procrastinate, I do get around to everything... eventually.

FYI, if you postpone your housecleaning long enough, you too can find dust bunnies on top of your furniture.

Word.I followed the RNC and the DNC on TV, quite interesting.  Any of you who've been around here know I don't shy away from politics or controversial subjects, though I do try to avoid being partisan here. Disclaimer: Yes, I am a liberal, but I am not a registered Democrat, and I may not vote for Obama. I believe it's not only possible to have educated and civil discourse on the issues, but vital that we as a people learn how to do so.

Let me again encourage everyone to educate themselves on the issues, and VOTE. And if you live in one of the many states that has newly instituted voter ID, make sure you have a current ID that meets your state's standards; for many married or newly divorced women who've changed their names, your voter registration and your photo ID may not match.

If you want to be a stand-up guy/gal, please help your elderly neighbors to get theirs, too.  The process can be confusing even for someone who is young and computer literate.

Reading, of course, is a constant distraction. I have been reading many of the stash o' books I brought home from RWA. And on my Kindle. And piling said books on my desk so I can review 'em.

@Diane Tulak

I thought about cleaning my desk, too, but settled for clearing up the stack of papers on the floor near my desk.  It's a start!

What have you been postponing lately? 
Is your desk clean or messy? 
Do your dust bunnies have grandchildren?

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