Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Authenticity at a Certain Age -- or The Authenticity OF a Certain Age. . .

First of all, because this is such a busy pre-travel week for me, I'm going to spread this thinking out into three posts -- and the last one is likely to be delayed a bit with our flight at the end of the week.  Still, I hope you'll read along and perhaps join in with a comment or two. . .
No connection with my theme -- although this pink tree poppy is authentic> I snapped the shot on an evening walk with my husband last week. . . 

So. . . Authenticity. Fairly big word. Even bigger concept. And for whatever reason, I've had it come up in conversation with several friends recently.

(Please excuse an aside, but you'll remember me fretting about how my friendships would be affected by this move to the city, away from my island. Turns out that, while new friendships are still elusive in my urban environment, I've found some really satisfying social situations, opportunities to meet and engage -- authentically, even --  with interesting, compatible women. More on that someday, perhaps, but meanwhile, I'm surprised at how sustaining and sustainable are the friendships with women who live elsewhere. Turns out the distance works differently on a friendship than it did when I had four kids in school, was working and taking courses and email wasn't yet a thing. . . .)
Growing in the same community garden, another tree peony, opening to reveal its authentic essence. . . .so intimate. . . 


The first explicit reference to "authenticity" that caught my attention was from a woman I've become close friends with since just around the time we listed our house for sale. We'd known each other for a year or two (mutual friends; took a watercolour class together - six weeks of Wednesdays), but not until a couple of months before our move did we arrange a coffee date. Then lunches then extended into another glass of wine because we were catching up on life narratives, filling in the back stories, comparing travels, talking about books. . .

I don't remember her using the word "authentic" at the time, but when we had lunch a month or two ago, she used it in the context of friendship -- and acquaintance, I suppose. I'm nervous to paraphrase -- she's likely to read this, so perhaps she'll help set the record straight -- but if I remember correctly, she was speaking of how clear this stage of life makes us about what's important, about how we want to spend our time (not just the minutes, hours, and days, but the years we know are limited) . . . and with whom. And this is what I hope I remember correctly: My friend is lovely and warm and open to meeting new acquaintances wherever, but what she insisted on during our walk to lunch was that she saves the best of her social time and energy for those who are "authentic," who are able and willing to be themselves in her presence.

Does this conception of "authenticity" and its connection to friendships resonate with you? Do you find that you're less willing to spend your time with those you find less sincere or authentic? Not that you expect anyone to be completely transparent, but perhaps that you're less interested in, less patient with, dissembling or guardedness. . .  Nor do you want intense and/or authentic engagement in all social situations -- sometimes I think we're relieved, if not glad, to maintain some superficiality, as long as it's comfortable, fairly mutual, not brittle. But are you like my friend (and me, I must say), increasingly careful of how you spend your time, not wanting to squander too much time in relationships that don't feel genuine?

That's all I have time to write today -- there's the sweetest baby to cuddle, and his Big Sister will be home from preschool soon, wanting some book (or seven!) to be read to her.  Next post will feature those transitional spring outfits I mentioned the other day (although the transition has well and truly been made now, it seems). After that, I'll pick up this topic by telling you about the second instance in which a friend mentioned "authenticity," giving the concept a slightly different twist. . . I'm curious to see if we can build a conversation around this, whether the word's been showing up in your hearing as well. . . .Let's talk. . .


47 comments:

  1. I most certainly have a strong sense of there being no time to waste on things that are unimportant. Yesterday I did the BBC life expectancy calculator and apparently I have another 25 years. And I have just re-watched Four Weddings and A Funeral (my tribute to the upcoming royal nuptials) and realised it was made almost 25 years ago...sometimes the constant calculating of time present, time past, time future makes me feel like TS Eliot. Things that I consider worthwhile get lots of attention, even though to some they would be completely trivial. Early nights. Long walks. Good coffee. Proper food. Old friends. Absolutely nothing that smacks of consumerism or ambition or status as I have never been interested in any of those. I have in fact turned down an invitation to attend a dressy do on Friday because...I cannot be arsed. The best thing is not feeling bound to do that which has little meaning for me. The trick is to find the sweet spot between obligation and self-interest, I believe. Authenticity is merely honesty, breathing.

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    1. Oh yes, those time calculations! They can be hilarious -- and mind-boggling!
      Much wisdom in your comment, but I must say "MERELY honesty, breathing "??? ;-)

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    2. Perhaps merely isn't the apt word. I'm not sure which one I am grappling for. Oh, those qualifiers....

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  2. I read somewhere that you need three things for a friendship to take hold: proximity, so it's easy to see each other; unplanned interactions, so you see each other regularly without having to make appointments; and privacy, so you can exchange confidences. Certainly, after creating bonds, you don't need these anymore--I can go for years without seeing my best friend (we met when we were babies and she's like a sister), but we talk by phone and email sometimes. And when I do see her, we pick up as if our previous chat had been the day before. OTOH there are some people I worked with who were very dear to me but who, despite my efforts to stay in touch, have moved on. Authenticity? Maybe now that I no longer have power to hire and fire they just don't have time? I thought I was more interesting than that!

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    1. Yes, those three things make sense to me, and it's why I'm finding it so much harder to build friendships in my new urban life -- and why the old ones can be sustained at a distance.
      I've found the same thing about some former colleagues, but I remember how little time I had for a social life when I was working and try not to feel it's personal. Don't always convince myself. . .

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  3. I found this post fascinating. I have always been careful about how I spend my time. I have found that although I enjoy being sociable, I need time to myself to recharge. I do best with friend "groups". In this way I can enjoy an activity (book group, mah jong, Pilates, movie group) without an overly taxing demand on my time. I have 2-3 very close friends for whom I am willing to drop anything to "be there". In this way, I can nurture and preserve the people closest to me while enjoying the company of others.

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    1. This also makes sense to me, BuffaloGal. The watercolour classes I've just finished acted as something like a friend "group" -- and my classmates all spoke of coming back in the fall, so that may continue for me. Meanwhile, I'm lucky to have those very few who are much closer friends (although they live further away). Works for social introverts -- sounds as if you're one as well?

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    2. Sounds like we're two peas in a pod

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  4. I call it "realness" (which is nowhere near as articulate, but I mean the exact same thing - and I apply this concept broadly). I have never had difficulty drawing boundaries. I've been saying "no" loudly since I can remember. And I rarely feel a twinge of guilt (guilt isn't so much one of my issues :-)). The thing I value most about my friendships is their authenticity (in all kinds of different ways - cuz everyone's authenticity is unique, though you know it when you see it). In fact, potentially, the thing I value most in the world is authenticity. It appears I have a bit of an opinion on this one! :-)

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    1. I can imagine you as a Four, saying your loud and firm "No"! quite authoritatively ;-)
      And you got it -- Realness, aka authenticity, is top priority for many of us, although it might manifest itself in diverse ways. You do have a bit of an opinion on this, and I share it!

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  5. I have so MANY feelings about authenticity.

    I'll just list two, and they have to do with relationships across generations. When my mother and stepfather first started really ailing, I realized I wanted to make all all my relationships more authentic now, because otherwise I would have to use capacity to keep up a front in my old age and I didn't want to waste it on that. Second, it is now my priority to make my relationships with my children as authentic as possible, because if I don't work to have them know me from an adult perspective it won't happen.

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    1. Oh yeah!! You're already jumping ahead to Part II of where I hope this post will go -- which doesn't surprise me, you being in the advanced class ;-)
      We not only want our friends and other relationships to be authentic -- or real, as K.Line puts it and which works for me -- but we're also increasingly, I sense, wanting space to be our authentic selves. Being where you are in the sandwich makes that urge even more urgent. . . Tick-tock, tick-tock. So much to chat about here. Thanks for pushing the conversation ahead. . .

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    2. Gosh yes, so much to think about in having authentic relationships with one's adult children. Stopping parenting but still being available as a parent; being oneself after perhaps stepping into another persona as a person...

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  6. Lots to ponder here for sure. And after a lot of soul-searching, I realized that while I value authenticity in my friends, I also don't always live up to that ideal in my own interactions, sometimes striving too hard to be all things to all people. But then, reflecting further, I concluded that if that truly were at the core of one's personality, then that's a sort of authenticity too, no?
    Frances in Sidney

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    1. Interesting. You're pulling the discussion to where I want to go next as well, just as LPC is. I suppose it's a natural progression of the topic. I think I'm much the same way, trying to be authentic but occasionally (often?) compromising in the interest of getting along. And I suspect some of that is authentically me, the conclusion you're speculating about as well, right?

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  7. Lots to ponder here, and I tend to agree with what your friend said, at least in some sense. I do find that authenticity is important to me, and I increasingly have little patience when I am situations where I feel pushed to be something I don't feel like being, to fill some role for example. In some ways my thoughts echo what LPC is saying, but are different as well, but I'm not sure I can articulate it yet. I am looking forward to your thoughts as they develop.

    But I think the nice thing about surviving middle age is the ability to just say "enough" and insist on being seen for yourself as well as seeing others for who they truly are, and deciding how to spend time accordingly.

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    1. Hmm, I think you're articulating it pretty decently for a start. Especially when you speak of "the nice thing about surviving middle age" -- it's true! We begin to realize we've accumulated some wisdom and we might as well act on it. Go Us!

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  8. I love this post, Frances. But I've just deleted what I want to say... twice. Guess I need to ponder more:)

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    1. On purpose?! Or with the, um, aid of technology. I hate losing your words. Pondering's good. Deleting not so much. xo

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  9. As we get older, friendships become more important, I think. I am less inclined to spend time pretending to be someone I'm not. I maintain my friendships through communication although sometimes there are few opportunities to "get together". I also acknowledge the need for "continuous intake" at a certain age. We will need those book club friends, yoga friends and walking partners in later life. Widowhood
    can be lonely if we are dependent on a partner for companionship.

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    1. You make a really good point, Mme. I agree that I'm not nearly as willing to pretend or to play roles anymore. At the same time, as you say, there are good reasons for "continuous intake." My mother came to regret being a bit too "discerning" in her friendships. There may well be a time when we need to be more flexible in whom we befriend -- although I wonder if we won't find ways of being authentic and demanding authenticity even then.

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    2. Your mother being a bit too discerning in her friendships: I think when I was young that is how I was, but the older I've gotten the less I've been that way. I'm a very much an introvert, but I have more friends at the age of 61 than I ever had in my younger years. I think I've become more open to finding friendships where I can and I've also become more accepting of other people's quirks. I do have very clear boundaries, just as I did as a young person - but I'm a bit more open than I was when young.

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    3. That's a happy change, Jeannine, and will probably serve you well over the next decades.

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  10. In my mid-sixties, I'm a long way off from the entrance and a lot closer to the exit door. Time is limited, no longer the endless commodity I thought of when I was younger. I agree with your friend's sentiments. This quote attributed to Coco Chanel "Hard times arouse an instinctive desire for authenticity." Maybe not hard time per se as in "limited times". I noticed as I get older, there's less tolerant for superficiality. I have to remind myself that I will never be perfect, that it is important to still be tolerant, kind and accepting of others. It doesn't mean we will be best friends, but the path to aging gracefully is much easier that way. Amelia

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    1. Yes, I think it's good to remember that we can have a range of acquaintances, but it does seem that for our closest friends, at least, "authenticity" or whatever we might call it, becomes more important with age. . .

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  11. Interesting discussion going on & Amelia’s last paragraph is very true . Though having read biographies on Coco Chanel & her WW2 activities I’m not sure she is a good model for authenticity :) I’ve had to think about my response . It’s a Yorkshire trait to be blunt , which can be the next step from authenticity . Perhaps you have some of that in your yorkshire blood ? So I have to be careful sometimes . There’s a balance to be found between honesty & kindness . But there are limits & I don’t need people in my life that I can’t trust & I would rather have my own company . Close relationships , to be healthy , need to be honest . A marriage where you can’t speak your mind must be draining & I know people who are worn down by keeping the peace . It seems to apply to relationships with adult children sometimes too . Such a lot of balancing to be done in life .
    Wendy from York

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    1. Hi Wendy, I don't think Mater will appreciate my cluttering up her comment section, but I can't help but chuckle at your Coco Chanel comment. Very true, come to think of it. Appreciate the humor and the bluntness. Amelia

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    2. My dad had that trait of bluntness, for sure. I think I'm more judicious than he was about when there's a need for full-on "honesty" and when the confrontation is either unkind or not worthwhile.
      I think you put your finger on something when you speak of trust; this is the important component that authenticity or honesty or realness triggers, isn't it? And it's hard to be authentic or honest ourselves when we can't trust whomever we're with. . . And yes, the balancing. . . always!
      Amelia: I never mind these conversations among readers -- I think they enliven the place ;-)

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  12. I generally try to avoid using the term „authenticity“, because I find it very complicated and unclear. As I understand it, it seems to be based on the assumption that there is a core of “realness” in a person (or a relationship), and “authenticity” describes the degree to which this “realness” is shown in that person’s (or persons’) behavior. The problem I find is that there is no way of determining neither the “realness” nor the “authenticity” of its expression. Both concepts appear absolute and timeless, while they are subject to change and development, just like every other aspect in life (the historian speaking here).
    I share many of the experiences described in the comments above: that nowadays I care more deeply about certain things and cannot be bothered by others which I used to find important, that in my attitude towards people in some ways I am more demanding and in others more forgiving than I used to be. If I find that I am more focused and at the same time more relaxed than, say, two decades ago, this is a very pleasant spin-off of aging, but I would never say that today I am closer to the “real me” than I was at the age of forty-six (or twenty-six or sixteen…).

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    1. I'm suspicious of the word myself, although I think we all have a sense of what it's gesturing toward. (If we were to wander into Cultural/Critical Theory, I find much in Judith Butler that's persuasive).
      But "authentic" is the word that I've been hearing, and so that's the phenomenon I'm responding to, curious about.
      This is so true, being at once "more demanding and . . more forgiving. . . more focused and at the same time more relaxed" -- it's interesting, isn't it?!

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  13. Another one of your excellent posts and comments as well. All of you were thinking and working very hard while I was sleeping and than I did a lot of reading,nodding and silently approving
    I am here on a very slippery ground, trying to find the right nuances in a foreign language,so I'll say it simple
    I am sincere to myself and to the others-it is the easiest way for me to be peaceful and content. I don't lie but I might not say everything to everybody. I do not show different faces to different people (including family-ancestors or offspring-,friends,acquaintances,bussiness contacts,etc....)-althought,of course, there are,and should be,facets shown only to the nearest and dearest. I like to meet and spend time with similar people,but-as Eleonore has said- I am more forgiving than before.
    Nevertheless,I've learned to avoid people who are exhausting,I need my "me" time and have learned to find it or fight for it
    On the other side,it could be nice and quite refreshing to spend some time with acquaintances with similar interest,if I wish to.
    There are still some situations,connected with bussines,when I have to spend some time with different kind of people-I know it and I can bear it. Or,I'll choose not to-to my disadvantage,but I could make the choice.One is more (and less as well) brave with years
    Looking forward to the second part
    Dottoressa

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    1. Hi Dottoressa, thank you for mentioning the very slippery ground of trying to find the right expression in another language. So many of my comments never come off as were intended. Worst for me, writing was never my strongest subject in school. The price for not paying attention during English Lab. I enjoy reading your comments! Amelia

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    2. Amelia,thank you very much!
      It is frustating indeed,especially in discussions like this,when you like to express subtle thoughts and it end in simple sentences.
      I must say-I didn't notice at all that you are not native speaker,you English is excellent to me :-)
      D.

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    3. You both -- and Eleonore as well -- do so well in a second language -- I am so impressed, inspired by, and honestly, more than a bit envious of, your language skills.

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  14. An interesting word, authenticity. I agree with those posters above who used slightly different words like real or honesty.

    I have had pretty clear boundaries for most of my life and I am good at rejecting people who as Dottoressa says are exhausting. Some people just take all the oxygen in a room. I am aware that friendships must be nurtured and tended like a garden. The older I am, the more aware I am of how precious authentic friendship and companionship is, outside of long term partnerships. I look to my mother who made new friends well into her 80’s while still maintaining old ties. I hope I can do that. Brenda. I am curious about where you will go next!

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    1. I hope that I will continue to make friends, as your mother did.
      As for where I'll go next in this discussion, a few commenters have already shifted in that direction. . . .but again, it comes from hearing another friend use this word "authentic/ity"

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  15. Lots to think on here. I've been seeing more articles written about the importance of social engagement as part of healthy aging, factoring more than even physical health or finances. My current friendships are minimal, and I'm fine with that, for there is a lot of social engagement in my workplace, even friendship. I know that once I retire I will need to find more social engagement, but I dread finding those people with whom I can be authentic. I find I don't make friends easily and it takes awhile to warm up to true authenticity, or to use another term "kindred spirits."
    Like you, I'm becoming more aware of the fleeting nature of time. Family relationships are a priority now and in the future, but aside from those, friendship with non-family is, as well. How to make it all work?
    Sometimes, if I give myself time and an open mind, I find that those people who I've thought lacking authenticity, turn out to become delightful kindred spirits with whom I can be authentic.

    Looking forward to the next installment, but if you're busy getting ready to leave tomorrow, perhaps that will wait for another day. There's much to think about here.

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    1. Have to pack up now and head to the airport soon, but I wanted to acknowledge that I've read your comment -- and I recognize that place you're in of feeling at your social limit with work, but knowing you'll have to re-engage differently after retirement. . . .I suspect you'll do just fine, but it is a challenge.

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  16. Such a thought provoking post and agree with many commenters. I too have recently recognized my time as precious. As well as wanting to spend time with family and genuine friends, I think it is important to have the time for oneself so that my "authentic" person can be revealed.
    When I was working, there did not seem time for that or at least (for me) it was not high up on the list....racing about doing this or that....
    After re-reading my comment, apologies that it is not better written but I think you will get the gist !
    Thank you
    Suz from Vancouver

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    1. As I said to Lorrie, above, hurrying now to get out the door here, but just want to say thanks for commenting -- and I do, indeed, get your gist. And you point the way, in your first paragraph, to what we'll chat about next. . .

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  17. I've never wanted to waste time on relationships that were less than authentic, so now that I am 69 it is no different. It does mean that I have fewer friendships than perhaps possible. On the other hand, it doesn't mean that all my friendships are intense. And I am always ready and open to meeting new people and exploring where a friendship can go. It also means that I am willing to let friendships go as circumstances or people change. I hope I am making sense.

    slf

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    1. Just quickly, as I grab my suitcase (pater's urging me to pack up): Yes, you're making sense, absolutely. I think our sorting process gets more efficient, so we can afford to be open in the initial stages of acquaintance. . .

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    2. slf...I agree with so much of your comment. I am also 69. Like you, I am "open to meeting new people and exploring where a new friendship can go." And, I am willing to let friendships go as time and circumstances dictate. I also like your statement that not all your friendships are "intense".
      My husband and I have had this conversation. He and I are so different in our maintenance of friendships. He has his close friends (3-4) who are long, long time friends and makes time for them frequently. He keeps his circle of friends small while mine may seem large and undulating but it is not as intense as his is. It's an interesting dynamic. We each admire the characteristics of the other.
      Charlene H

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  18. Authentic implies a yes/no judgment, which, as recent life events have taught me, can be so wrong. People respond differently to others depending on context. Perhaps this is just semantics, but maybe something more fluid like seeking out generosity of spirit?

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    1. There's definitely a judgment made in assessing "authenticity." It's the word I'm hearing though, and wondering about. It seems for some, it's becoming something of a deal-maker/breaker in close friendships, at least. . .

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  19. Hmmm, thinking this over I realise I have always been extremely conscious of authenticity in friendship, to the extent that I have always only spent time my time with people who I consider to be authentic. As a result I have a very small circle of friends and we don't need to see each other constantly to sustain that friendship. Just now I'm at an interesting stage in life in that I've moved from an intellectual city environment to a totally different rural one and am discovering potential for friendship in people who would never have been in my circle during my main career. In Britain we would talk about socio-demographic groups at this point (and really mean 'class'), and I'm busy observing myself negotiating emerging friendships with people with whom I would previously never have spent time with, city professional life being as hermetic as it is.

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    1. Missed this comment earlier, when I was in transit I guess, Linda, and I like the way you complicate the question with reference to class and to urban/rural divides. I've been lucky to have moved in some diverse contexts in my life and your comments absolutely resonate. Some of the friends I made in a fairly remote, resource-based small town we lived in for seven years when the kids were small and some of the friends I made on our island, for example. . .

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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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