Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Travel and independence and Getting On....Part 1

That screenshot, above, of the GoogleMap directions my sister and I followed this past May from our hotel on the Île St. Louis to Père Lachaise Cemetery is, itself, something of a guide to where I'm going. It's also meant as a promise that, for all the meandering you'll see me doing over the next few posts, I'm going to get back to talking about Paris. More specifically, I'm going to write about what visiting Paris with my sister taught me about myself and how significantly it refreshed my independence. I'm even hoping that by (finally) writing about this here, I might better commit to "taking my practice off the mat" to borrow a yoga analogy, and push myself to maintain independence(s) over the next 20 years or so. But there I might be wandering a bit too far. . .
So one step at a time. My sister and I began our walk from our hotel on the Île St Louis, but my peregrinations here will travel back in time. Waaay back. All the way back to 1967 when I flew to London by myself to visit my grandma and meet the rest of my Dad's family. On that trip, I traveled on my own by train from northern Yorkshire to Glasgow and then from Glasgow back to London. When relatives failed to meet me off the train in London (because, I later realized, my letter advising them of my itinerary was sent to the wrong address), I even managed to find my way to my aunt's on my own. At 14. (And yes, I'm pretty sure I was first terrified, felt sick, tried very hard not to cry--and those big black Ldondon cabs never looked so comforting!)
I'd been prepared for that trip by many summer and/or weekend excursions around the Greater Vancouver area on public transit, in charge of younger siblings. The summer I was 12, for example, even if my Dad had left the car for mom, as he often did, she would understandably elect to stay home with the three little ones (4, 3, and 1) rather than try to go anywhere with the whole tribe. But she wanted to expand our horizons beyond the triangle of playground programs, library, and Kiwanis pool that structured most of our days. So regularly, she'd decide on a day trip for "the big kids" to take "the little kids" on. Stanley Park was an obvious choice, a relatively safe adventure in those days, as long as everyone made it on and off every bus in the chain of transfers. But sometimes, as when we went all the way to Lynn or Capilano Canyon to walk across suspension bridges and marvel at waterfalls, my 12-year-old self picked up worry skills to last a lifetime. Competence as well, yes. I learned to phone the Transit Authority for instructions on how to get from A to, well, at least M, if not X. Learned to write down all the directions, organize all the fares, collect and hold all my siblings' transfers or at least worry ferociously that they hadn't lost them. In fact, writing this, looking back at this paragraph and the one before, I see so clearly how intertwined those two have been in my travel narratives from early on: Competence and Worry.
Of course, if I organize my post around those two poles, I'm obscuring the wonder and discovery and fun that my mom surely hoped for when she sent the 6 or 7 of us (!! Yes!! Ages 12 down to 6) out to the bus stop at the corner with our packed lunches. Not only did we have all of that, but we built memories and trust between us that persist even now, although we might argue over which park so-and-so got lost in for those scary ten minutes or how many times that sister ran across the suspension bridge. Someday, I'd love to write more about that magical freedom we enjoyed, a freedom that seems rare to childhood these days. But that would be a wandering too far in this post. So for now, we could just agree that while Wonder and Discovery and Fun are huge motivators for travel, the actual logistics of getting to those have been marked, from early in my life,by an oscillation between Competence and Worry.
In Paris this past spring, I got a chance to see my Competence come to the fore in a way that it often doesn't when I travel with Pater. He and I are very good travel companions in many ways, and it would be very wrong to leave the impression that I don't shoulder my share of travel challenges, decision-making, way-finding, etc. But I haven't taken the opportunities I might have to test and strengthen my independence.
What's motivated me to get back to writing about what I learned while Google-mapping my way around Paris with my sister? Oddly, it's all the cycling Pater and I have been doing around the city lately. I'll explain what I mean by that in Part 2 of this little series, not wanting to lose your attention with too many words at once. For now, I'll leave you with a couple of photos taken on one of those pedal adventures. And I'll ask you: have you become more or less bold, confident, and/or independent in your travels, big or small, since you were young? Does the thought of doing things on your own discourage you from doing them at all? Do you or don't you have a significant other to rely on as a travel companion? And what difference, if any, does this make to your enjoyment of, and ability to, travel?

Pater waiting patiently for me to take a photo
And here's the photo I took as he patiently waited


34 comments:

  1. the travel thing- the competence and the worry- the coincidence.
    A few years ago, my therapist brought my travel competence to my attention. I had just returned from a trip to Europe with an 8-year-old Wee Guy. We'd visited London and then on to Paris where we'd met up with my husband before taking the train to the south of Spain. In the middle of a counselling session, where we were patiently trying to dissect my lack of confidence in myself, she simply asked, Do you not realise how capable and strong you are? You've just safely transported your child to UK and Europe - not many mums do that by themselves.
    It was a huge revelation, and the rest, as they say, is history!
    Definitely bolder and more confident. Keep on traveling :)

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    1. What a wise counsellor! And why is it that some of us can't see our own strengths for what they are? I think of your myriad accomplishments and abilities and marvel that you could ever lack confidence. Then I look in my mirror....

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  2. Sometimes I think that you must be my sister separated at birth because I used to take my cousins (4 toddlers under 6) downtown on the bus. I changed cloth diapers in the VPL bathroom and took them to restaurants on my own bit of money. I sat up on the train across Canada and got paged in Central Station because CN had not charged me enough money. Having no more money (18 years old) I hitch-hiked from Kamloops Junction home. Certainly the girl is the mother of the woman and those young girls we used to be were highly competent. Since Monsieur has no desire to travel as I do, I will continue to discover more of the world on my own!

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    1. Do you suppose we ever sat on the same bus? Would we have given each other a wry nod of recognition, shy smiles?
      I picked up the odd young hitchhiker back in those days but never would have had the nerve to thumb home alone from Kamloops! Taking a London taxi in a pinch pales in comparison! And I so admire your continued solo international travels!

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  3. I love travelling with my partner, but I also love travelling alone. When I travelled through Europe at 19 with friends, several times I struck out on my own and occasionally found myself in difficult circumstances, but managed to make my way out of them, and that brought confidence and yes, that feeling of competence. Two years ago, I was supposed to accompany my mother to London to visit family. For health reasons she had to back out, but I went anyway. I had a wonderful time visiting my brothers and my nieces and nephews and they were great hosts, making sure I got to plays, to the Orangerie for lunch, to Kensington Palace for an exhibit on the women who lived there (the walls whispered secrets; it was wonderful). The most fun I had, though was wandering around London on my own, going back to the Museum of London, which I hadn’t been to in 30 years, walking down the Portobello Road and Westbourne Grove, shopping at Ottolenghi, sitting in Italian restaurants by myself and drinking rose wine. I was also scoping out hotels for a future trip and something about being out on my own and planning a future trip with my partner and friends was so freeing. One of my brothers said to me with some surprise” you’re getting really familiar with London!” Yes, or at least a small part of it. Of course mixed with the feeling of confidence was worry over that future trip and whether my spouse and friends would like the decisions I was making!

    Brenda

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    1. I'm so happy you serendipitously arrived at that delicious opportunity--so freeing! I love having Paul as travel companion as well, but the image you sketch here has me sighing "oh yes!" We need to have lunch soon and chat. I haven't heard enough about your London. Nor about that ensuing trip you were planning for, although I think it went very well, no?

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  4. I was an expert traveler when young. Not from taking care of younger siblings, as you did, but just because it suited my particular cognitive and physical talents. When I traveled recently with my daughter, I realized how much my skills have changed. I won't say deteriorated. Better judgment, worse memory, less stamina, in short. In my case I feel like it's a lesson of a different sort - who am I now that my quick thinking and big memory is fading? Who am I, now that I know more already than anything I might yet learn?

    I think I should travel by myself again soon - just for the jog to the brain. I am looking forward to what you have to say here.

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    1. I think my abilities and experience are tightly intertwined as I'm quite sure my parents wouldn't have entrusted me if the abilities weren't manifest. But I've begun to see how I'm letting some of those atrophy. Like you, I won't say "deteriorate" although my better judgement and greater knowledge (and, for me, heftier financial support) are set off by much poorer hearing and eyesight. Your focus on a different identity or a different aspect of self is interesting as travel already produces ample opportunities for exploring ourselves or even for having ourselves revealed, involuntarily, in uncomfortable ways. So much to think about ...how will I be able to stay on track?!

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  5. This is interesting to think about. I don't have a significant other and am quite competent and confident on my own (I am used to doing things for myself). But!! when travelling with a companion who is also competent and is willing to take the lead, I have been known to stop paying attention entirely. I have been to many restaurants and shops I could never find again!

    Your 'triangle of playground programs, library, and Kiwanis pool' brought back those childhood summers so vividly. Our pool was Kinsmen.

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    1. Oh, those childhood summers, so long ago, yet at certain moments so piercingly present.
      Yes, it's the easy surrender to another's travel leadership that is worrying me or, more accurately I guess, challenging me. I've traveled with a friend who probably could be a logistician for, say Médecins sans Frontières and I pretty much handed tickets and passport to her and didn't mind at all. But domestic politics complicate the situation with my husband, and I want to maintain confidence in my ability to travel independently. More to follow on this in future posts...

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  6. Worry as a young child may be a lot of burden and it stays deep inside
    But confidence built on those premises stays even deeper,it is great to feel it (again? Discover? Remember? )You really have to be a proud woman and now enjoy only the confidence,not worry,even in the company
    As a 16 year old I traveled alone to Germany to learn german in an unknown familiy ( not mine) and flied back with a plane alone. It was a good way to become confident
    But nothing to compare with you
    I traveled a lot with my son around Europe when he was little
    I like to travel alone for city breaks and all the worries are connected only with health issues
    Looking forward for your next post
    Dottoressa

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    1. It sounds as if you've maintained a lifelong confidence in your ability to travel solo, and that you know how to enjoy doing so. I wonder if this might be more common to European women than to North American ones, at least of a certain age. Of course, though, many national differences, and class, and education...

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  7. You got me thinking...brought up in the south east of England, Europe was really very close. You got used to taking a day trip to France. I never travelled alone but certainly struck out with a friend to take bikes down to the south of France, travelled with a couple of friends to the riviera, popped across for lunch in Boulogne with another. In recent years I have travelled in Europe with just a friend or two and flown solo to visit my daughter in Nantes. We also had a mother-daughter week in Philadelphia and New York. One day I will travel alone and stay by myself - Rome really appeals. Oh, just remembered! Took myself off to China for two weeks to join complete strangers on an ultramarathon. So: travel alone does not worry me. Officially. Forgetfulness does.

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    1. When I was growing up, road trips were the norm, rather than trains or planes, and I'd say there was always a sense of distance and vastness as well as an awareness of being on the edge of a continent. I want to think more about this before I start generalizing, but I do wonder about the difference. Travel was always something I wanted, though, and that I felt within my grasp.
      You ran an ultra in China?! wow! Now that you won't forget!

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  8. Maybe,as an only child who like to socialize I had to develop comunication skills.
    And as we were in(- semi)comunist ex country, we were craving for wide world full of miracles
    I also had to travel professionally
    As a young girl I travelled with my parents ,so I wanted to give my son same experience and my ex husband travelled only for his bussines(alone)
    So,it seems that I had no other choice except to stay home :-)
    Dottoressa

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    1. It's so interesting what shapes us, and I'm also interested in the way we keep shaping ourselves, becoming aware of influences and responding to and challenging them. the adventures continue, right?😉

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  9. Hubbie & I travelled a lot for thirty years . Most of Europe plus the U.S. & Asia , hiring a car & finding our own way , hoping to find decent places to stay . We loved it , then twenty years ago we got our dogs & didn't want to be without them - so we explore the UK instead & love that too . I began to wonder if I still had the confidence for foreign parts & then a couple of years ago began to have an annual holiday with my sisters to mainland Europe . I found I still manage to read maps & haven't lost the urge to follow my nose down narrow alleys . It was enlightening . I feel it is important to have these little forays into independence - we never know what is to come
    Wendy in York

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    1. Our travel narrative evolves in response to so many different life changes. Dogs are a good example, and this is why we don't have a dog for this period after having loved two fabulous Golden Retrievers in a row. Someday, we'll get something smaller but equally spirited, I hope.
      I'm most interested in your reference to practising independence in anticipation of what may be ahead. This unspoken is what's lurking behind my post, I think. I want to enjoy traveling with my fellow as long as I have that privilege, but I want to b able to manage on my own as well, should I have to. And it's not just about competence, but also about desire. It's reassuring to know that we still have that "urge to follow our noses" -- that's a big part of being really alive, imho.

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  10. I enjoy traveling with my husband and I have no fear of going alone. I am the navigator. Before our trips, I study the maps so I have a good sense of where we are and how to get around. I love this part as much as I love the actual travel. It gives me confidence I can get us almost anywhere. My husband is the guide. He remembers people, landmarks and has a keen eye for safety. While I am looking at a map, he is watching the traffic. We have a system and it works.

    I believe travel is healthy and stimulating, especially as one gets older. It requires all your senses, problem solving and coping skills. You are always learning new things. Travel keeps me young!

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    1. I love the way you describe your teamwork as a traveling couple. We have something similar, except .... I'm still trying to articulate the problem we bump into once or twice each trip. I'll save that for an upcoming post but there are some gendered politics and marital negotiations and personalities at play. I actually think it's useful, unpeeling stuff that can be uncovered or ignored at home. Always learning, as you say, even about one's self

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  11. Right after finishing school I went to London by myself, but working at the offices of Amnesty International helped me make some friends. At 23 I crossed the Atlantic for the first time to spend 3 months in Eduador. There were friends of my parents living in Quto, but I also travelled around the country, finding places to stay as I went. In 1979 I took off to Peru where I lived for two years. And there were many more trips after that. I've always felt completely safe and secure of myself while travelling alone (as long as I've got a decent street map). Recently I have started hiking by myself, and I enjoy it very much.
    What impresses me, retrospectively, is how much of this feeling of competence I owe to my mother who never uttered one word of apprehension. And those were the times before email and SMS, when a short international call to say I had arrived safely at the other end of the world was all she would hear from me in, say, six weeks!
    So trevelling on my own ist no problem at all, but letting my son do the same is the real challenge.

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    1. Those are some impressive miles you logged very young and I marvel with you at your mother's restraint. As mothers ourselves, we can now be sure she had apprehensions but managed not to voice them to you. What a gift!

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  12. Lots of food for thought here and lots of memories. We were all so much freer back in the day - life was simpler and a lot more innocent. Like you, we more or less took ourselves around the city using buses from an early age, often with siblings, then alone.

    Having spent so many years living as a single Mum, husband No 1 having other plans, I had to develop my independence just to survive and did loads on my own. I refused to stay home just because I didn't have a companion although I was always aware that I was usually the only lone female - do other people only go anywhere when they have company?

    Now, my new husband does a huge amount of organising and it is a bit of a relief to lean on him, but I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge last September of getting myself across Northern Italy by public transport alone and with only a few words of Italian. Felt very empowered! Anyway, this is practically a blog post on its own and apologies for taking up so much space in your comments box!

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    1. So much freer, and a greater opportunity to develop that sense of competence and independence!
      I had short tastes of the single mom life when my husband was away (a weak comparison, I know) and I so admire what it must take to keep up a full independent adventurous life while so very responsible for, well, everything. And I know what you mean about those who never seem to do things on their own -- when we lived in different cities for quite a few years, commuting on weekends or every few weeks, some friends would marvel at my being able to cope. Really, so many live whole lives on their own. It's not such a big deal!
      Please don't ever apologize for comments here--I welcome your contribution to the conversation.

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  13. So much to comment on here. When I was young I was fearless concerning travel, although I did not travel abroad alone. I did take off on a bicycle alone for a couple of months with a couple of hundred dollars in my pocket at one point, but that was about as exotic as my adventures got. Traveling with my spouse, I was usually the navigator, but took over more and more as he was able to do less and less. often Even though I often deferred to him, I also ventured out for brief periods on my own wherever we went and enjoyed that solo time of exploration.

    In this new single life I have not yet been very adventurous, and it surprises me as I always thought I would be. I wonder if I have lost those skills, or am just still in a homebody phase. I don't think I want to lose independence. When we traveled we did not have a dog at home and now I do. I don't really want to leave her long, or my lonely cat, who lost his best friend. I wonder sometimes if this is an excuse though.

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    1. Traveling along on your bike for a few months on a couple of hundred dollars sounds exotic and fearless enough for me!
      It's part of what I'm wondering about here, the way that our traveling patterns change, yes, but more the way our dependence and independence fluctuates, for some of us at least, with changing circumstances -- and how strikingly that can influence our, what, actual personality? our sense of identity? others' sense of us? In so many ways, I feel as if I could just hunker down happily and quietly on my island for quite some time, if not the rest of my days. And perhaps that would be as authentically me as the version who keeps hauling herself off to Europe, or even just over to the city . . . So sometimes, if we make excuses, we might be making them for some very good reasons, intuited ones we might not yet be ready to articulate. All food for thought, no?

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  14. As you observed to Mardel, independence fluctuates. I've done a lot of solo travel for business and some for pleasure. At first the independence is heady, but there are only so many solo dinners I can muster before I feel melancholy. (I notice there is a culture of private 'restos', on the AirBnB model, where strangers can gather while traveling to dine together, some very special meals.) I suggest anyone re-uniting with it try a weekend or long weekend and see how it goes. Also, there is the safety issue. A woman traveling with a child, or with another woman is dealt with differently than a woman alone. I am sad to say it and am not paranoid, but... it is a consideration. Have had a few scary encounters and was mugged. Do not let it stop me, but I'm mindful.

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    1. These are worthwhile observations, Duchesse. The independence has to be balanced against its costs. I've never felt threatened when I've traveled on my own, but a friend was assaulted in India (in a five-star hotel, no less), and it's foolish to completely forget that possibility. I've also been thinking about the cost that independence exacts in lost time with the one I love. . . My mother, perhaps, should have developed more independence at my age, but then she only had 6 more years with my father . . . and they spent their travel time together, wonderfully so . . .

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  15. I love this post - and can't wait to hear more. You know, I found my way around England at the age of 14 and I seriously relate to the kind of anxiety / moxie combo to which you refer. We think of young teenagers as being so soft and requiring assistance - but I was seriously fucking tough (I realize now, when I look back). Sometimes I wonder how I did it, multiple times a year (I was a boarding school in Somerset), given my utter hatred of noise/crowds/bright light combo. And it was freakin' Heathrow. But it was a different time and maybe that's when I developed this interesting anxiety reflex :-) We may never know. Now I just have to fix it!

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    1. Very impressive, traveling via Heathrow at that age -- my trip at 14 was through Gatwick, and it wasn't all that in '67 (although, mind you, it was an 18-hour flight that stopped for refuelling at Frobisher Bay. Yes, truly!). I do think that my own tendency to worrying (aka anxiety) is actually a well-honed response to early responsibility. It actually made sense for me to look ahead and anticipate possible problems -- such as, might my 7-year old sister miss the bus and be left on that street corner alone if she didn't stop dawdling?! Now that the circumstances have changed, though, it's tough to retool.

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  16. Seems I have even more to say: In some ways I've got totally rusty relying on Scott to do the navigating while we vacation (exceedingly compatibly). He really likes to do it and I prefer to just get there! But I agree (and Ireland proved this to me) that figuring it out for myself is its own sort of fun. I'm an excellent navigator, apparently, having watched Scott for all those years :-) BTW, I've learned that Scottie can't deal with certain weird cities well (Amsterdam) because he totally ignores landmarks. When things get concentric and you need to rely on knowing that you've already seen something (as a means by which you get to the next thing), he's not so strong. Makes me feel kick ass in the old sections of European cities.

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    1. Oh, so much that resonates here. Paul and I are both quite good at overlapping parts of the navigating stuff. He has a better innate sense of direction, but I'm much better (quicker!!) at reading maps, and I remember street names and some types of landmarks. I have better peripheral awareness. . . .I often defer, which makes me mad at myself, especially if it turns out I was right and his instincts wrong, so it was a real pleasure when in Paris with my sister to see how well I could do on my own. At the same time, I got a clear sense of what it means to take on that responsibility more fully -- as he probably tends to. Now to figure out how to move forward without disrupting the domestic politics too much. First World Problems, indeed!

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  17. Interesting piece. Recently, an older woman, maybe in her seventies, in an SF restaurant where I often dine, alone or with friends, and know the staff and the maître d', asked me how I was brave enough to dine alone. She said she was worried about being able to do so if something happened to her husband. I've always been comfortable traveling alone and dining alone. It has never occurred to me to feel otherwise. I am the third oldest of four, but much closer to my dad than to my mom, and I think I have his instincts and style. He was decisive, independent, and optimistic. I'm brave when I travel, I like seeing new things, and exploring unfamiliar places. I enjoy trying things even when there are challenges. I was part of a married couple for years, we traveled together often, and I note in retrospect how much control I ceded to my mate's plans. I didn't feel upset about doing so, particularly because he was British and Transylvanian, and we often were traveling to places where he had family or memories. I haven't been able to do much traveling recently for a variety of reasons; I look forward to doing more soon. My plans would change if I were a part of a couple again, but so far I have chosen to remain on my own, and I am comfortable with that for the present because I can't imagine doing the work required to form a new loving partnership with another person. Maybe that will matter more soon, but not yet.

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    1. I'm always surprised how many people are afraid to dine alone. I've always enjoyed it, maybe because solitude was often hard to come by for me.
      I really relate to what you say about how much changes as a couple and also about the work required for a new partnership. I've long thought that I wouldn't do that again, although it's been so worthwhile in this marriage. . . (perhaps even because it's been so worthwhile in this one)

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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