Review: Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

Simon, you are adorable. Yes, very adorable. Adorably oblivious, kind of silly at times but I love it.

9780062348678I’ve seriously just finished the book, not two minutes before starting this review, and take what meaning from it you will but my limbs are still all tremble-y and my stomach is all wiggly. But let’s move on to “serious review stuff.”

The book starts with Simon being blackmailed by a fellow classmate. This is bad news for Simon because he doesn’t want things to be messed up with Blue, a boy he’s been emailing back and forth with for several months. I’m sure you can guess where things go from there so I’ll leave the summary at that.

This book has a great voice. It reads very easily but not in a boring plunking along kind of way. It’s like Simon is talking to you and you are getting all his feelings and emotions straight from the words.

The story moves ahead at a nice pace. It doesn’t get too bogged down in boring high school drama stuff although there is just the right amount of that, too. Secret (or not so secret) crushes, jealousy, dealing with family junk, and of course the whole still secretly gay thing in Simon’s case.

The characters all have their own personalities, which is always great. Simon’s friends Nick and Leah and Abby aren’t just supporting characters. They all have their part in Simon’s life but also have their own things going on. I would say Simon and Leah do most of the growing over the story but that’s just fine with me.

To address the trembling limbs thing, Becky Albertalli does a fantastic job of capturing first time teen romantic encounters. The excitement, the thrill, the mild anxiety. Like Will Grayson, this book found me wishing I was a teenager again.

I also really appreciate the book because, as the title so nicely captures, those people who are deemed “different” or outside of the norm are put in a position where the are constantly battling at least one or more socially dictated expectation. And that’s hard and scary and no one should have to do it. As Simon said, “There shouldn’t even be a default.”

If you’re a David Levithan fan, or just a fan of good teen lit, you should read this book.

~Ren

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Moving Abroad: A Booklovers’ Worst Nightmare

Hello travelers. I was traveling this weekend (not far, but I still traveled!) and have just returned from a nice little mini-vacation. It was just what I needed. I feel refreshed, relaxed, and ready to dive back into all my responsibility. However, I’m still a bit worn out. Tired meme

I feel I have to come clean and tell you I’m straight-up poaching this blog from my bookstore’s blog (on account of said tiredness), but it seemed like it would be something my fellow travelers would like to read as well, not just my fellow book lovers.

As you might have guessed by the title, I’m here to chat about my impending move abroad and how it causes me endless anxiety in regards to my many, many books. My meticulously arranged bookshelves, once a source of joy now also fill me with dread whenever I look upon them. Alas, woe is me.

If you yourself are planning a move abroad soon, or just a normal move somewhere else in the country you reside in, let me give you some tips on handling the stress.

1. First and foremost, remember that books are just things. What is really important is what you take away from them.

2. Following tip number one, you can always buy more things. Think about selling some of your books before you go to get some extra cash for the move. I know living without books is not an option, but get yourself settled first and then rebuild your library.

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(Stephen and I understand how hard it is to part with your books sometimes, but it will be okay!)

3. Libraries are a thing. If you’ve been holding onto some books for a while like I have, and your still not really sure if you want to read them, make a note of the title and pick up a copy later.

Neil Gaiman: no longer on the fringe.

(Know who else loves libraries? ^^^ This guy.)

4. If you can, stash some books (storage unit, parents house, wherever) until you can come back for them or get them shipped. They will wait for you, I promise.

5. If, like me, you are trying to read as many books as you can before you go, you are probably now hyper aware of just how little time you have to read and just how often you waste time doing other things when you could be reading. Remain calm, breath. Don’t let that overwhelmed feeling cost you even more reading time! Everything will be okay.

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6. Now, this may be the most important rule to follow (after rule number 1). If there is a book you own that you truly love, re-read all the time, is a memory spark for an important time in your life, was a gift from someone you love, or that you just have some unexplained attachment to DO NOT RELINQUISH IT FOR ANYTHING! Trust me, you do not want to get to the end of your life and feel the regret and frustration of letting go of a book you have never been able to remember or find again. Hold onto those special books, keep them close, and never let them go.

Moving anywhere with shelves and shelves full of books in tow is always scary and rather daunting, but you can do it. I believe in you!

keep calm

~Ren

Review: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

ready playerThe term I saw thrown around a lot in other reviews was ‘nostalgia porn.’ Which I don’t disagree with, it’s just for me it isn’t really nostalgia porn because I didn’t grow up in the 80s, I wasn’t that big of a gamer and the knowledge of the era I’ve acquired is limited. For me, it was a bit more like an encyclopedia of all these games and facts and famous people, a few of which I’ve heard of and a bunch of others I was completely clueless on.

I will say that Cline succeeded in not totally bogging down the story and boring the reader with all the references to vintage games and old school movies (or should those adjectives me switched?). He was immersive and thorough but not suffocating. If anything, the whole book got the gamer in me twitching again and thinking I should pick up a controller sometime soon.

So, future set book where the world has finally gone to shit and everyone escapes into the amazing virtual reality that is the OASIS (ISWYDT Cline). Eccentric game designer plants Easter Egg in the game for players to find and win his fortune. Let the games begin!

I’m not really sure what to say. This was an adventure on a grand scale. Our hero, Wade, must explore the vast world of the OASIS, race against his fellow gunters to find the egg, and, at all costs, stop the corporate Sixers from getting there first. Cline has a great imagination and spared no expense in creating and fleshing out the OASIS.

The ending really got my pulse up. I knew Wade was going to win it but that didn’t make the fear and excitement any less enjoyable. I crafted a tweet about it that went something like this:

Me reading the end of RPO: Oh man…yes! Not Shoto! Woo! Take that! Wait, what? No! Wait, WHAT?! Holy crap! *faints*

‘Twas a good time.

I would say if you consider yourself any kind of nerd, like a good adventure, or want to drool over an awesome virtual reality world, you should pick this book up.

~Ren

Imagining You

Hello, travelers. I’ve got a few things I want to get done tonight and it’s already late, but I also wanted to write to you since it’s been a few days. So lighting round of blogging, go!

Today I bought my planner for 2016. I’d actually been putting it off for a few days. The planners came into work at the beginning of the week and every time I walked by the display I thought, ‘Hey, I should get my new planner’ and then just kept walking.

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People close to me will find this avoidance odd because I’m highly organized and have a love for notebooks and office supplies of all kinds. But I think I’ve been putting it off (albeit not for that long) because 2016 will be the first year of my life where I can’t see what my life will be like. I don’t know where I’ll be living, who my friends will be, where I’ll be working, where I’ll shop for my groceries or where I’ll get my hair done (I’ve had the same hair dresser for 16 years, it’s kind of a big deal to me).

We are all guilty of imagining the future. In fact, trying to imagine what my life will be like in the coming months makes me think of a John Green quote I’m fond of:

Imagining the future is a kind of nostalgia.

If memory serves, I think it was actually John’s wife who said this and he stole it and put it in Looking For Alaska. Writers, am I right? And for me, this statement definitely feels accurate. I don’t have any clue what life will be like in New Zealand but I catch myself all the time thinking about what it could be like and what I hope it will be like. Sometimes I find myself missing what I’ve haven’t even gotten yet.

I feel suspended in this place of limbo, caught between the life I’m still living and the yet-to-be-revealed life I’ll have in New Zealand. I’m moving from a place well-loved to a place unknown. It’s thrilling, in some ways, and terrifying in others. I’m reminded of another of my favorite quotes:

It is only the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more. 

(Can anyone name that quote’s origin? Book, author, or character? Or all three!)

I’m not looking upon death, and only looking upon darkness in a metaphorical sense. And I’m only a little afraid. But the sentiment holds true. What truly is worrying me is simply all the unknowns.

That’s life though, isn’t it? One big string of unknown things, one after the other, shaping and shifting who you are. Who wants to know everything and have everything planned out? (Yes, friends and family, the irony is not lost on me.) So I shall say to you, go forth, ye fearless travelers! Seek out the unknown and revel in the mysteries of life!

Sweet dreams.

~Ren

Review: Burning Down George Orwell’s House by Andrew Ervin

I picked this ARC up at the MPIBA trade show back in October, firstly because of the title, secondly because there was a wolf on the front cover, and thirdly because it took place in Scotland, where I had recently returned from. Sadly, I did not make it to the Isle of Jura, where the story takes place, but that wasn’t going to deter me.

burningBurning Down George Orwell’s House tells the story of Ray Welter, once a big time advertiser in Chicago who finds himself on a fairly remote island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. After months spent pushing large, gas-guzzling SUVs onto the American public, Ray has a change of heart about who he is and what he’s doing with his life. His wife has left him, he’s racked with guilt and he has no idea who he is.

So he packs up what few belongings he has and blows all his money on a six month lease on George Orwell’s old house, the same on in which he wrote most of 1984. Ray has been obsessed with 1984 since he read it years ago. So what better place to come and rediscover yourself? But Ray has to contended with the locals on the island, most of which who are very pleasant and other much less so.

Okay, I liked this book for a few reasons. First off, it was set in Scotland. Every time I picked up the book it made me very nostalgic and I got to practice my Scottish accent in my head while I read. Not much really happens in the book as far as action or adventure or anything like that. It was really a story of self discovery and introspection and reflection, which can be really boring and preachy if you don’t do it well. But I would say Ervin did a very nice job.

The story and Ray’s own journey seemed dependent on the story of 1984 but not in a way like it was a crutch. Ray’s journey seemed almost a mirror of Winston Smith’s journey but inverted. Smith was opposed to the oppression of Big Brother but in the end admires the regime. Ray puts himself in a world he feels is very similar to that of Big Brother (the advertising world) and works to manipulate people into thinking they want something and then tries to escape our very Orwellian world.

I feel like the book is very topical to our own day and age. So much of our lives can be, and will be, dictated by what we are fed by the media, by our government, by however is looking to make a buck off of us and keep us in line. I appreciate very much Ray’s struggle to figure out who he is and what really matters to him. It’s a very admiral thing to do, especially since not everyone is so quick to question the way things are.

I certainly don’t think this kind of book is for everyone. I would say you have to enjoy more literary types of work to pick this book up. But I certainly liked it.

P.S. There’s a werewolf and lots of scotch, too.

~Ren

Vanquishing Your Nerves

Good afternoon, my fellow travelers. I have an interview tomorrow, so, like my blog on disappointment, I thought perhaps writing a blog about nerves would help me to calm down.

Let’s see how this goes.

There are a few reasons this interview is making me more anxious than other interviews I have done. 1) It is a Skype interview, the first I’ve ever done, so nightmares of slow wifi and even slower computers keep plaguing me. 2) It’s an international interview, where there is not only a time difference but a day difference as well. I’ve already messed up once, thinking I’d be spending my Wednesday night talking at my computer only to realize yesterday that I would be spending Tuesday night talking at my computer. Nice save, but now I’m just paranoid as to if I’ve really gotten it right this time. 3) It’s a small one, and of less consequence, but I’m afraid the accent and colloquialisms may trip me up some and I’ll find myself asking things like, “What?” and “I’m sorry?” way more often than I’d like.

So there you have it. My interview fears. Oh, and I guess there is also the small fact that I’m interviewing with the HR Advisor for Hobbiton and this is an interview for a job at Hobbiton. But that’s no big, right? I mean that’s only been my dream job for that past two years.

Excuse me a second…

bilbo-faints

Okay, I’m back. I honestly try not to think about that ‘small fact’ too much. It freaks me out and I start getting my hopes up. Which is not a bad thing, really, but I’m trying to save myself from any possible disappointment (you know, since that’s been a bit of a theme lately).

And it would be a huge disappointment. Being so close to a job and a life you’ve dreamed about  for years only to be told, “Sorry, we don’t want you.”

But let’s focus less on the potentially soul-crushing disappointment and more on dealing with the general stress and anxiety that comes along with job interviews.

I’ve had several interviews throughout my adult life, some for jobs I was more qualified for than others. What I am reminding myself of as this interview looms closer and closer (tomorrow, eek!) is that there are jobs that are skill-based and jobs that are training-based. If you are interviewing for a job as a doctor at a hospital, you can’t just have good people skills and know that the heart pumps blood. If you are interviewing for a job at the local shoe store, you don’t need to have gone to fashion school and have a passion for footwear.

I may have never given tours of a fictional town dug into the hillsides of farmland in New Zealand but damned if I wouldn’t rock at that job! I think a big cause of peoples’ stress when they’re staring down an interview is they get too caught up in imagining what the specifics of the job are going to be. They worry too much about how they won’t have any experience with the fine details and minutia of a given job and forget that nearly all of that stuff is learned on the job anyway.

It’s almost assured the interviewer knows this. What they are looking for is whether or not you have a good head on your shoulders, if you have a good attitude and a better work ethic. Even if your last job and the job you are interviewing for are drastically different, there are skills that can carry over. Customer service skills, working with others, managing inventory, working on a computer. Lots of jobs require these things, so if you’ve even had one job before, you’ve already got the foundation laid for the next.

If that doesn’t help, look at it this way. You got an interview. If the company didn’t think you could rise to the job, they wouldn’t waste time interviewing you in the first place.

I hope this has been helpful, dear travelers, and helped you go from this…

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to this…

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…I should watch Avatar soon…

Have a good evening, travelers. I hope it is a peaceful one.

~Ren

The Nature of Waiting

A good evening to you, my fellow travelers.

I was hit with several moments of inspiration on my way home tonight so you can add this entry to the list. The nature of waiting.

Since I decided to make the move to New Zealand some, lordy, two years ago, was it? Dang…anyway, yes. Since I made the decision, my life has seemed to shift into one big, drawn out waiting game. I’m waiting till I save enough money, I’m waiting to apply for my visa, I’m waiting to book a plane ticket, I’m waiting to apply for jobs. Just hurry up and wait already!

This is a rather frustrating and exhausting way to live your life for such an extended period of time. Things aren’t so bad in the beginning, but steadily get harder as the days count down. It is similar to the wait leading up to a big trip, but different in that it is still easy to go about your normal, everyday life because your normal everyday life isn’t going to cease to exist once you leave.

That’s what I’m struggling with now, travelers. I keep getting so caught up and distracted with thinking about what I have to do to be ready for the move, what things I need to take care of before I arrive, what needs to be done before I leave. I get so wrapped up thinking and worrying about all that that I forget I’m still living a life right here right now. I forget there are things that need to, and can be, attended to this very moment.

Don’t worry. It’s not like I’ve let myself get so distracted that I’ve forgotten to feed my cat for the past three months (that’s what the Old Man is for). It’s sillier things, like doing the dishes, working in the garden, rearranging my room, or cleaning my car. Right now, 3 months doesn’t seem like a whole lot of time to get done all I need to get done. But 3 months is 3 months, and my mother would be the first to assure me there’s still plenty of time for me to mow the lawn.

I guess what I’m saying is that, if you’re anything like me and often get buried deep in your own thoughts, try not to get so buried that you forget to keep living your life right now. Don’t get so busy thinking about what your life might be like that you ignore what you have right now. Because, at the risk of sounding a bit dramatic, at some point, life as you know it is going to end. And once it’s over, there may be some things you miss you didn’t even know you cared about until they’re gone.

Do me a favor, dear travelers, regardless of if you’re about to embark on a big, life changing move: take a day just for you, to do all the big and small things you’ve been neglecting or putting off, no matter how big or small or how silly or serious. Be present and listen to what you really want to do, right then and there. I don’t think we do this often enough.

Don’t let the waiting detract from the now, and don’t let the future distract from the present.

~Ren

Dealing with Disappointment and Other Unpleasant Feelings

I’m not so sure how to start this post.

The reason I want to write an entry on this topic is because my own life is currently filled with disappointment and other unpleasant feelings and emotions brought on by a variety of different things.  And while we are friendly with each other, my fellow travelers, we aren’t that close. And I’d hate to bring any of you down from whatever nice and happy place you might be with my own drama.

So instead, I think I shall speak as if I was giving advice to someone dealing with the same things I am. Here we go.

Disappointment is one of the worst emotions to feel. We’ve all experienced it and it’s a total bummer. It’s even worse when disappointment becomes such a recurring theme in your life that you become somewhat desensitized to it. You know it’s there, you acknowledge its presence, but it doesn’t have that deep, visceral effect it used to.

This isn’t so alarming if it only ever happens with people you’ve just recently met. In those situations I’d say it’s a very good sign. You’re self-esteem isn’t so fragile or nonexistent that even the rejection of passing acquaintances can totally shatter you. It may, however, be cause for worry if it happens when you lose someone close to you.

This is where disappointment gets tricky.

Disappointment in others and disappointment in yourself are two very different things. Let’s focus on the former first. If someone else disappoints you, it could just be because they’ve fallen into a rut and they need a good friend like you to kick them in the ass and help them get back on track. It could be because they are really just a sucky, self-centered flake that doesn’t really care about you and you’re better off without them. The tricky part comes when you have to distinguish between the two, and it isn’t always easy. Sometimes our brains have the dumb.

Luckily, disappointment in yourself is almost always a precursor to some good self reflection and a much needed attitude adjustment. So that’s nice, but can still suck, because changing who you are, even when you want to, isn’t the easiest thing.

So what am I try to say with all this, dear travelers?

Well, a few things. First, if someone you know is disappointing you, try and be as perceptive as possible. Look at your situation as objectively as possible. Think about what you know of the other person and try and figure out if they need a kick in the rear or to be kicked to the curb. Try not to get caught up in what I call, “pre-college friendships”: those friendships that formed only because you had to see the other person everyday. They can be great while they last but that doesn’t always mean they were meant to endure.

I know it’s hard to leave something familiar behind. Ending a long friendship is like losing an appendage. You have to learn to adapt to life without it. But trust me, if things aren’t working out, you owe it to yourself and to the other person to end things before they totally deteriorate and you end up hating each other. Hanging onto something just because it’s familiar is no way to live life. Opportunities are missed and regrets are made. And that’s no fun for anyone.

Second, if someone kicks you in the rear or kicks you to the curb, be as perceptive as possible. Consider your roll in all the happenings and be honest with yourself about whether you were being an ass or an innocent bystander and your friend is just crazy. Most importantly, learn what you can, change what you can, and accept what happened.

But be warned, often the brain has the dumb, as I’ve said, and brains with the dumb are very good at conjuring up doubt and fear and self-deprecation (and not the humorously self-aware kind). The only way to combat this is to get to a place where you don’t need other people to like you and want to be with you just to validate who you are. I wish I could tell you all the steps to getting there, but sadly, there is no map for that journey.

I think that’s the secret, dear travelers, the secret that isn’t really a secret because it’s what we’ve all been told since we were young. Being completely comfortable in your own skin, wherever you are and with whoever you’re with. That’s what it takes to deal with disappointment, in all its forms.

I have one last thing to say, then I’ll stop lecturing you. While you’re deep in the throes of dealing with disappointment and a case of dumb brain, please please please, I beseech you, remember to be honest. Honest with others and honest with yourself. Disappointment can manifest as anger and anger often leads to irrational thought and shouting about things you aren’t really upset about. Try to keep a calm head and be truthful about what has disappointed you and caused you grief.

I know it can be hard to be honest with people, especially if you’re trying to tell them you honestly don’t want to see their face anymore. And maybe I’m only saying this because of my own personal experiences, but respect people enough to be honest about how you feel instead of stringing them along. Don’t keep someone on your hook just because you don’t have the guts to be straight with them (I hope the How I Met Your Mother reference didn’t lose anyone).

Nobody’s perfect. Not you or me or that guy who lives down the street or Hank from the coffee shop. But we can all strive to be better. If you’re feeling disappointed with life, remember: be honest, be thoughtful, and be open to change. Accept that things end and new things will begin.

Happy travels.

~Ren

Review: Armada by Ernest Cline

A lot of people are calling this the new Ender’s Game, which I get and understand why they would say that. But I also really hate doing that to books because I feel like it just sets people up to read it solely for comparison with whatever that similar other book may be.

ArmadaSo, I call this book a fun, fast-paced, space adventure peppered with lots of nerdy references and knowledge. For a brief summary, our hero, Zack Lightman, finds out one day that the video game he’s been playing for years is actually a training simulator to help prepare civilians for an impending alien invasion cuz we done fucked up again and pissed some people off. Classic humans. Subsequent mind-blowing space adventures occur and it is a race to save all of humanity.

But! There is a twist at the end. Cline hints throughout the book that something feels off about the whole situation, which I liked because it kept me wondering the whole time what the heck was really going on. The reveal was steady, but not so drawn out that by the end of it you were just pissed off and frustrated and just wanted to know what the fuck was going on. So kudos to Cline for good plot twist execution!

The book contained a large array of varied and interesting characters. A book is only as good as its supporting characters, I say…okay I don’t really say that but it certainly does help to flesh out the book and having good supporting characters can help your main characters to look that much better.

Finally, the feels. Ah, them feels. So hard to escape. I love them and hate them. I won’t say exactly what it is that caused the most feels for me because it will give something kind of big away, but…the book takes place over the course of two days and in those two days Zack gains and loses so much. It is a classic ‘roller coaster’ situation going on and I did not appreciate it one bit, Mr. Cline! Anyway, be warned. There are feels.

There were maybe one or two times when the technology seemed a little too convenient and all powerful but only in the most minor of ways. It never made any sort of significant task to be done too easy for the characters and wasn’t just used as a device to move the plot forward. Let’s just call that my one nit-picky serious review thing.

I really enjoyed this book. I only gave it 3.5 stars because I feel like, if Ernie Cline had decided to go about writing it differently, it could’ve flesh out the world and the new tech and all the characters much more and that would’ve been pretty sweet since they were all pretty cool.

Overall, I certainly think Armada holds its own and that sic-fi fans and nerds everywhere will enjoy reading it.

~Ren

Job hunting is hard…Foreign job hunting is harder…

And foreign job hunting is harder still when you’re 3 months out from your arrival and don’t exactly have what you’d call a ‘career.’ I mean, I call book selling a perfectly respectable career, but it isn’t exactly the best paying, doesn’t come with the best benefits and still classifies as retail unless you’re working for someone like Baker and Taylor.

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Today I spent the morning tracking down the email addresses to various bookstores in the Waikaito region and anxiously reading over my CV and cover letter before I drafted up a polite plea for a job and sent six identical emails whizzing off into cyber space.

As of writing this, I’ve had one reply.

waiting-meme

Hey, one is better than none, am I right? Sadly, the reply didn’t say anything along the lines of, ‘You’re CV is amazing! You’re hired! Can you fly down early and get started tomorrow?’ Nothing like that. But! They did encourage me to get in touch closer to my arrival. I’d say my foot is sufficiently in the door. Okay, maybe more like my big toe is in the door, at least touching it.

What’s really got me freaked out is the email I’m waiting on from a former Hobbiton tour guide who I sort of made buddies with during my first visit. Late last year, after emailing him a thank you post I had put together to all the kind people my mother and I met during our stay, I casually mentioned my plan to move and asked if he could help me out getting a job at Hobbiton. He said he’d be glad to and to get in touch closer to my arrival (been hearing that one a lot, I have). So Saturday I did just that.

His reply showed up in my inbox a few hours after I sent the email. He said he’d make a call Monday (which was tomorrow for him) and get back to me with any information and maybe a contact name.

As of now, still nothing.

I may be in danger of losing my shit here, people.

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The highly anticipated reply to this email is even more angst-inducing than the ones from the bookstores because the dream, the big beautiful scenario I’d love to see play out, is to work at Hobbiton. These past couple of days my imagination has been running away with me, giving me fantasies of waking up one morning to an email smiling happily at me from my inbox. I open it up and it says, ‘It’s all sorted. They love you! You start as soon as you land. Let’s get a pint at The Green Dragon.’ A girl can dream, right? A reply of any other kind just puts me back at square one, which is me, standing outside the dark tunnel of unemployment, and there is no light visible yet.

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(They messed up the phrasing but whateves, you get the point.)

Not having a job before I leave won’t stop me from going. It would just be a nice thing to have. Don’t fret though, fellow travelers, I shall survive one way or the other.

~Ren