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Thoughts about Sue Grafton

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Sue Grafton was an author I made fun of a little but respected a lot.  To be honest, I always thought her alphabet series was a bad idea, and that some of her books spent too much time on personal details of the protagonist’s daily routines.    Maybe I’m not a big fan of the alphabet mystery novels, but I respect what Sue Grafton did.

Sue Grafton wrote a mystery for almost every letter of the alphabet (A is for Alibi all the way to Y is for Yesterday), and every alphabet book was a best seller (I think).  She didn’t use co-authors.  She didn’t skip letters of the alphabet (unless you count “Z”) just because they were inconvenient.  She found a popular formula and stuck with it for 25 books.  She probably wasn’t feeling well when she wrote some of those books, and she finished them anyway.

That’s what a stud author does.   I’m in awe.  Even if I’ve read only a couple of her books, I’m in awe.  A lot of readers are going to miss her.

Having said that, I hope nobody else tries to write that final alphabet book.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the publishing company (whoever it is) tries to make some money off the author’s name and characters.  With one more letter left, I’m sure some aspiring author would want to finish off the series.  But doing that is an even worse idea than the alphabet series itself, and Grafton’s family seems to have no interest in that.

I rarely feel any emotional connection with celebrities, even celebrity authors. I’ve emotionally bonded with stuffed animals, sock puppets, and even members of my family.  But I’ve never felt connected with a celebrity, not so much that it affected me when that celebrity died.  When a celebrity dies, I say (or think) “That sucks.”  And then I go on with my day.  I’ve never felt like writing anything about a celebrity on my blog, tweeting about the celebrity, or going to that celebrity’s funeral.

I was in ninth grade when John Lennon got shot.  That was a big deal, and we talked about it at school, but I was too young to be passionate enough about John Lennon to cry.  The most common reaction was: “Now The Beatles will never reunite!”  Then we blamed Yoko Ono some more for breaking up The Beatles.  That seems kind of shallow, but what else would you expect from ninth-graders?  Besides, you’re never too young or too old to blame Yoko Ono.  That was as close as I’ve gotten to caring about a celebrity’s passing.

But I keep thinking about Sue Grafton.  Even though I don’t read Sue Grafton books on a regular basis, I like her.  I like the idea of her, taking a silly idea and making a ton of money off of it and building a loyal fan base.

I’ve met only two celebrities face-to-face.  One of them hit on my wife, and the other one yawned in my face.  I don’t think I’ll write anything else about them, unless I decide to provide more details about my wife getting hit on.  Neither of those celebrities accomplished what Sue Grafton has, 25 alphabet books and fans who will buy/read every single one of them.

I kind of wish that I’d met her.

Literary Glance: Artemis by Andy Weir

Artemis by Andy Weir was doomed to get some bad reviews.  A few years ago, the author came out of nowhere to write a blockbuster first novel The Martian which was turned into a successful movie.  Critics love success stories, but they often hate the follow-up effort.  When you come out of nowhere and write a blockbuster, a certain percentage of critics will hate the second effort, no matter what.

I haven’t read all of Artemis yet (that’s why this is called a Literary Glance), but I see a warning sign in the first few pages.  The protagonist Jazz Bashara and a character named Bob are running somewhere in lunar gravity on the moon outside the city of Artemis with “a hundred kilograms of gear on.”  Supposedly, they’re in a life or death situation and exerting themselves mightily.  Despite this exertion, they’re carrying on an almost normal conversation:

Bob ran beside me.  His voice came over the radio: “Let me connect my tanks to your suit!”

“That’ll just get you killed too.”

“The leak’s huge,” he puffed.  “I can see gas escaping your tanks.”

“Thanks for the pep talk.”

“I’m the EVA master here,” Bob said.  “Stop right now and let me connect!”

“Negative.”  I kept running. “There was a pop right before the leak alarm.  Metal fatigue.  Got to be the valve assembly.  If you cross-connect you’ll puncture your line on a jagged edge.”

“I’m willing to take that risk!”

“I’m not willing to let you,” I said.  “Trust me on this, Bob.  I know metal.”

After a couple paragraphs the dialogue continues.

“You’re going too fast!  If you trip you could crack your faceplate!”

“Better than sucking vacuum,” I said. “I’ve got maybe ten seconds.”

“I’m way behind you,” he said.  “Don’t wait for me.”

I only realized how fast I was going when the triangular plates of Conrad filled my view.  They were growing very quickly.

“Shit!”

Yeah, that last line of dialogue was the only part I found believable.

I’m told that I get nitpicky when I read.  I call it nitprickety because I’m a prick and nitpicky at the same time. Even so, I think the conversation in this scene is very unrealistic.

To prove my point, I tried to have this same conversation while I was running for my life.  I’m not in great condition, but I’m not bad.  I wasn’t wearing a ton of gear like Jazz and Bob.  I was just wearing my normal wardrobe.  I tried it, running for my life, full sprint, reciting the dialogue.

It wasn’t easy.  I had a hard enough time running for my life, even without trying the conversation.  When my friend trailing behind me tried to convince me to stop running, the best I could say (between wheezing breaths) was:

“Shut up… you dick… “  I wanted to mention that I was running for my life, but I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t mention the leak alarm, or metal fatigue or the valve assembly.

I couldn’t even finish a complete sentence (Is “Shut up, you dick,” a complete sentence?), not even for the sake of literature.  Either Artemis has unrealistic dialogue, or I need to start running for my life more often.

Artemis might be a good book, but I have to start up my cardio workouts again before I can judge it fairly.

What Is The Most Beautiful Word in English?

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This might be one of those questions that doesn’t have a definitive answer.  How the heck do you judge the beauty of a word?

First of all, beauty is subjective, especially when it comes to sounds.  Most people can agree to some extent about what looks good/bad, smells good/bad, or feels good/bad.  But sounds can be polarizing.  Try getting a bunch of listeners to agree on the quality of a single tune or song, and everybody’s opinion will be different.

The idea of a beauty contest for words might seem strange, but Reader’s Digest published an article about a survey determining the most beautiful word in English.  According to the article, the survey chose people from non-English speaking countries and asked which word was the most beautiful.  And in case you haven’t read the Reader’s Digest article yet (it’s making the rounds on several news sites), the most beautiful word in the English language is…

Mother.

To me, mother is a cop-out.  Don’t get me wrong.  Everybody loves the concept of the word mother.  But mother is not the most beautiful sounding word.  It has -muh in it, like mud.  It has an -er in it, one of the most common sounds in English.  Mother.  It’s okay.  I don’t hate the word mother.  But most beautiful?  That’s cheating.

Maybe asking people who probably aren’t native English speakers isn’t the best approach.  They haven’t been exposed to enough/any words.  They might be more likely to go for the safe answer.  When I’m unfamiliar with a topic and I’m asked a question, I usually go for the safe answer.  For example:

Who will win the Super Bowl this year?

The New England Patriots.

What is the stock market going to do?

Keep going up with occasional dips.

What’s the most beautiful word in German?

There isn’t one. Hahahaha!

(I can say that because my ancestors were German.)

Of course, non-native English speakers should participate in the survey, but it shouldn’t be exclusive to them.  Everybody should be included.  Don’t worry, I’m not offended that anybody got left out.  I just think the sample was chosen incorrectly.

Plus, the survey had only 70 word choices, and that seems limiting for a survey.  I’ve never counted every single word in the English language, but I think the number 70 seems a bit small.  Maybe the people being surveyed could have chosen from the words they already knew.

One possibility for the most beautiful word in English is melodious.  It sounds good, and the meaning kind of matches its sound.  I didn’t put much thought into this, though, so I’m sure there are better choices.

Schlock is my favorite word because it sounds vulgar (it isn’t) and it describes most of what I read and write.

Share is my least favorite word because I don’t like sharing and a former boss used to tell us to “shay-air” ideas so she could take credit for the best ones.

Moist and slacks are supposedly the most annoying words in English, and nobody likes moist slacks.  Moist slacks can be really annoying.  And they’re probably not beautiful.

*****

Rating words is fun to do, but I’m only one person.  What do you think is the most beautiful word in English?

Writer’s Group Horror Story: The Blunt Guy

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Before the internet existed, it was tough to get free objective opinions about your writing.  There weren’t any websites or blogs, and even if you made a cool video, there wasn’t any YouTube to post it on.  If you were a writer without an agent, you had to find a writer’s group and hope all the other writers in the group were serious too.

But you didn’t want anybody in your group who was too serious.

At the time I was writing a humorous novel about a fake psychic who got coerced into solving a serial killer mystery.  This was in the early 1990s before the cable TV show about a psychic detective, so if there were similarities between my book and the TV show, my book was ten years first.  Anyway, my book was never published, though an agent once told me it was close, but I don’t think his definition of “close” matched mine.

This writing group was a good one.  I’d had complaints about a bunch of previous groups, but this one was ideal.  All the group members were serious.  There were eight of us.  We met once a week in the living room of the group leader’s house.  We critiqued two group members’ manuscripts each week, so we weren’t bogged down with reading.  The comments that we wrote and discussed were always respectful and well thought out.  Nobody said “This sucked!” even if the manuscript was rough.  We always knew the manuscripts were going to be rough.  We had full-time jobs that had nothing to do with writing.

Unfortunately, a woman had to drop out of the group (which was too bad because she was a good writer and a perceptive reader), and her replacement was a blunt guy who didn’t say much.

The previous month I had brought in a scene that the group critics had claimed was brilliant.  It showed my fake psychic in action, asking a potential client a bunch of leading questions and then choosing which answer to follow through with.  This is a technique that psychics use (I’ve had it done to me when I wasn’t aware of how it worked), and the scene went through the protagonist’s thoughts as he manipulated his client’s emotions and swindled him (but in the protagonist’s defense, the client left with some emotional burdens lifted).

One critic called it a perfect scene.  Another critic (the perceptive one who had just left) said she wished she could write something like that.  Another reader said it was one of the best scenes he had ever read.  I left the meeting feeling elated.  Maybe I got too cocky.

In this particular session a month later, I brought in a scene with a bunch of characters, some of whom would become victims and others who would become suspects.  There was a lot of dialogue.  I tried to write a little bit of banter for each character to make all of them stand out in some way.

Even though this scene wasn’t nearly as well-received, most of the critics tried to be gentle with their comments.  We prided ourselves on how we approached criticism.  We usually started off with the premise of “If this were my writing….”  That way, we kept absolutes out of the discussion.  Everything was a matter of opinion.

“Maybe I’d tone down the attempt at humor,” one group member said.

“Some of the characters sound alike,”’ another one said.  “Not all of them should be witty.”

Then came the blunt guy.  He was new to the group.  He wasn’t used to our style of critiques.  He hadn’t been a member the previous month and hadn’t seen my “perfect” scene.  This was his first exposure to my writing.

“You’re not funny,” he said to me, rolling up his copy of my manuscript.  “There was nothing humorous in this.  The protagonist isn’t funny.  His wife isn’t funny.  None of the minor characters are funny.  Was this supposed to be funny?”

Then he tossed my manuscript onto the coffee table in front of him.

“There wasn’t one goddam thing about this that was any good.”

I don’t think the g-d bomb had ever been used in that writer’s group before.  Everybody was stunned.

Nobody else knew how to respond, so the smart ass in our group said, “Other than that, Mr. Lincoln, how was the play?”

I seethed.  It was humiliating.   I could feel my face burning purple, but I couldn’t respond to the blunt guy, not right then.  There was nothing I could do but take it.  But then I saw my opportunity.  At the end of the meeting, the blunt guy handed us a chapter of his novel.  I had never read his stuff before, but the quality of it wouldn’t matter to me, not anymore.  I would find a way to massacre it.  I would have my revenge.  And I knew it was going to be sweet.

*****

To be continued!

The Five Best Ways to Beat Reader’s Block

Reader’s block is psychological. I know it is, and here’s a recent example.

Last week, I had a B&M Booksellers gift card and an empty schedule, and I wandered through the book store mindlessly. Two weeks earlier when I had no gift card and no time, everything caught my interest. The pressure that comes with extra spare time can cause reader’s block if you’re not prepared.

The good news is that I’ve had reader’s block before. A few years ago, I wrote a post about how to defeat reader’s block, so I went to my own blog and read it (I hope that doesn’t sound self-congratulatory). Some of the book references in my old post are dated, but the strategies still work. I used tips # 1 and 5, and now I’m set with books for the next few weeks.

Unfortunately, I have to get back to my regular busy schedule soon. These books that I now want to read might last a long time.

Dysfunctional Literacy

Cover scan of a Classics Comics book When I was a kid, this was the only way I could read Moby Dick without getting reader’s block. Who am I kidding? It’s still the only way. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reader’s block doesn’t get the respect that writer’s block does.  People (especially writers and artists) can sympathize with writer’s block because a writer is creating something, and creating something can be difficult.  Reader’s block gets less sympathy because all a reader needs to do to read is read.  Complaining about reader’s block is like being the kid with all the toys in his room griping about being bored.

Reader’s block can be frustrating and deserves to be taken (just a little) seriously.  Yes, reading is more passive than writing, but it still takes mental activity.  Reading requires concentration and a willingness to get through difficult exposition/narration (hopefully with a payoff).

“Block” can happen with even the most passive of…

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The Introvert’s Guide to Partying

Since I’m an introvert, I don’t really want to go to a couple Christmas social gatherings that are coming up this week. Parties are okay, but there are other things that I want/need to do. I know, I know, it would be poor manners not to go, especially since others took the time to invite me. I like the people who will be at the gatherings; I just don’t like parties.

A few months ago, I wrote out some guidelines for situations like this. I might not always want to go to parties, but if I attend them anyway, I know what I need to do in order to have a good time.

Dysfunctional Literacy

Somebody in this picture isn’t having fun. (image via wikimedia)

Partying does not come naturally to a lot of introverts.  Getting wild and crazy in public seems easy for an extrovert, but staying in a loud, crowded environment for a long period of time can be a burden to an introvert.  I should know.  I’m an introvert, and I despise parties and social gatherings.

Since I don’t want to become a recluse, I’ve had to develop a game plan for parties.  It’s taken time, but I can now manage going to parties without getting bored or stressed out. Keep in mind that I began developing these strategies decades ago. Things have changed since then, especially technology.

When I started going to social gatherings, it was considered weird or rude to read a book, magazine, newspaper or anything while you were at a party.  If you stood alone, you were a…

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The Ten Worst Bad Words, Ranked in Order (U.S. Version)

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People have been ranking the worst bad words for generations, and nobody has ever quite come to an agreement.  I should know.  I’ve been around for several generations, and I’ve heard the arguments. Even George Carlin couldn’t settle the argument, partly because he didn’t include enough words and partly because times have changed since then.

When I was a kid, the only objective way to rank the bad words was to match each one with the severity of punishment given for saying it.  Some bad words meant getting beaten while others simply got you sent to your room (which for me, wasn’t a punishment).  There was no cable or internet back then, so all we had for reference was our parents’ reactions.

Racial/ethnic slurs weren’t argued about because some of us were taught that slurs were worse than profanity, but the punishment for racial slurs was inconsistent in the 1970s.  Some parents (like mine) punished all racial slurs worse than they would for profanity.  Other parents didn’t punish their kids at all for slurs.  Don’t get me wrong.  I didn’t have the urge to say racial slurs.  I did, however, love yelling out profanity if I could get away with it.

Please don’t read any further if you’re offended by profanity.  The term “bad words” is used in the title, so that should give you fair warning.  I’m not using symbols in place of letters to hide the profanity.  Sh*t means shit, and everybody knows it.

I’ve left out some words because I don’t hear them often.  The words below are commonly written or said or thought of.  At the very least, everybody knows what each word below means:

(Honorable Mention)

Hell- Hell is a four letter word, but it’s a place, not a body part or body function.  I have a tough time making a bad place a profane word, so if it’s bad, it’s the mildest of bad words.

Crap- Crap was considered a bad word when I was kid, but I don’t think it should have been, so it’s not on this list.

Ass- Ass can be a jerk or a donkey, and even with context it can be tough to tell, and that’s why it ranks as honorable mention.

10.  Bastard- You have to be an elitist jerk to think having unmarried parents is grounds to insult somebody. But there are a lot of jerks out there, and using this word is still frowned upon.

9.  Damn- Damn is short for damnation, and damning somebody is pretty bad. It’s so commonly used, though, that it’s lost some of its effect.

8.  Dick- Any variation of dick (cock, shlong, prick, etc..) should be ranked about the same as dick. Dick can be a person’s name.  Cock can be a male rooster.  Shlong is just a shlong, but it’s cool because it has the word long in it.

7.  Asshole- Being an asshole is worse than being an ass because you have to dig deeper to get to the asshole. As ass can do stupid stuff unintentionally.  An asshole is a jerk on purpose.

6.  Shit- Shit is bad because it refers to a gross body function and it’s four-letters. This is the best word to say when you’re in sudden pain because it’s bad but it’s forgivable (if you’re around reasonable people).

5.  Pussy- This is the female version of dick, but it’s worse because it refers to a female body part.  Pussy is usually used to an insult a guy, implying that he’s a wimp.  Most guys would rather be called a dick than a pussy.

4.  Bitch- This is the female version of bastard, except being compared to a dog is worse than being told you don’t have a legal father, and insulting a female is worse than insulting a male. Calling somebody a son of a bitch is more acceptable than calling a woman a bitch for the same reason.  It’s also worse to call a woman a bitch than it is to call a guy a pussy.

3.  Fuck- This is bad because it’s a blunt four-letter word for sexual activity. Saying “motherfucker” or “Fuck you” doesn’t make fuck much worse than when it’s used by itself.

2.  Goddamn- Maybe goddamn isn’t a word because it’s a form of damn, but people say this a lot, and god is not usually added to other bad words. Nobody says “Godshit” or “Godfuck.”  It’s just Goddamn.  Goddamn is worse than fuck because you’re invoking eternal damnation by the ultimate deity, and that’s worse than wishing fornication (even self-fornication or fornication with one’s mother) on somebody else.

1.  C***- Whoa! When I was a kid, you’d never say this word in front of adults.   In fact, I don’t know anybody who says this word on a regular basis.  Plus, it’s the female body part, and nobody with any respect is going to call out the female body part.  Plus, it ends with –unt, which is almost as bad as –uck.  C*** was worse than pussy because it’s four-letters and is usually directed at a female.  I’m not even willing to spell it out because I know if I had said it as a kid, I would have been disfigured by the punishment.  As an adult with a blog, I might be brave, but I’m not that brave.

Some might argue c*** shouldn’t be on the list because it’s rarely used.  I understand that, but I think it’s rarely said because it’s so bad.

*****

There it is!  The ten (or more) worst words ranked in order.  What do you think?  What words do you think should be added to the list?  Which words do you think are ranked in the wrong order?

“Don’t Quit Your Day Job” vs. “Follow Your Dreams”

It’s tough to find the ideal job situation when you’re creative. If you use up your creative energy at work, your employer usually gets the credit for it. If you’re not creative at work, then your job is probably a drag and it saps your creative energy, even though you’re not using it.

I’m not being negative; having a job is good. It’s just that sometimes I daydream about having lots and lots of time to focus on the stuff I want to work on.

I don’t want to risk my income by doing anything impulsive. I’ll do what I can to hold on to my day job and focus most of my energy on that. But not everybody thinks the same way I do.

Dysfunctional Literacy

(image via Wikimedia) (image via Wikimedia)

“Next month, I’m quitting my job and writing for a year,” a friend of mine said at a party.

He’s not really a friend.  He’s the husband of a coworker of my wife.  I hardly know the guy, but I don’t have a lot of friends, so I just say he’s my friend.

Anyway, his wife is going to support him while he sits around and writes a novel all day every day for a year.  It’s been a dream of his all his life to be a writer, and for a year he gets to live his dream.  He says maybe he’ll be successful and get to continue living his dream.  He has a good job now, and he knows they won’t hold it for him, so after a year (if he’s not successful writing), he’ll have to start sending out resumes and get ready for…

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Old Things That Are Tough To Explain: Why Did So Many People Smoke Cigarettes?

When I was a kid, if you could take down a couple packs of cigarettes a day, you commanded respect, even from people who hated smoking. To become a smoker, to join that club, you had to endure coughing fits and the embarrassment of your smoker friends laughing at you as you got used to the poison in your body. It was a rite of passage. Nowadays, you just blow out water vapor.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not necessarily anti-vaping. If vaping had been around as an alternative to cigarettes decades ago, a couple friends of mine might still be alive. But every once in a while I see a bunch of young people standing around vaping, seemingly trying to look cool, and I think:

What a bunch of wimps.

Dysfunctional Literacy

This old ad would probably be considered to be in poor taste today. (image via wikimedia) This old ad would probably be considered to be in poor taste today. (image via wikimedia)

Back when I was a kid, almost everybody I knew smoked.  My parents smoked, and my friends’ parents smoked.  My brothers smoked, my friends’ brothers/sisters smoked, and even a couple of my friends got started in their early teen years.

Things have changed.  Now, nobody in my family smokes.  The relatives who had smoked when I was a kid either have either quit or… you know.

Yesterday my youngest daughter asked me for permission to use her own phone to look up what a lit cigarette looks like.  She said she didn’t know how yellow/orange the lit end of the cigarette would be, and she wanted to get the color exactly right for a poster she was making for a school project.  I thought it was strange that she asked me for permission, but…

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Annoying Words in English: Soulmate

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When it comes to annoying words in the English language, soulmate doesn’t get enough credit.  I’ve never seen it on any list of top ten annoying words.  Moist is supposedly the most annoying word.  Slacks is right up there.  My own least favorite word is share, but soulmate has always gotten on my nerves too.

It’s not a new term.  I remembering hearing it when I was a teen in the 1970s, and it made me cringe even then.  I don’t cringe easily.  I didn’t cringe during The Exorcist or the first Alien movie.  I was a little disturbed, but I didn’t cringe.

Soul mate, however, just got on my nerves.

First of all, the words soul and mate don’t go together.  Something about them together just doesn’t sound right.  Maybe it’s just me. The word soul goes together with trainCheck goes with mate.  But soulmate sounds like it’s trying too hard.

Even worse, soulmate sounds pretentious.  Couples who claim to be soulmates act like they’re superior to other couples.  Soulmates tend to be young couples in the early stages of their relationships and have no clue about what kind of hell is about to rain down upon them.  Any couple can be soulmates in the first six months of a relationship.  Try again after six years.  Maybe 20.

Maybe the term soulmate is annoying because soulmates can be annoying.  The average schmuck doesn’t like being around couples who are too into each other.  Soulmates can remind us of the problems we have within our own relationships.  Or remind us that we aren’t even in relationships and we really want to be in one.  Seeing the bliss that soulmates share just kind of pisses off the rest of us.

So screw you, soulmates.

It won’t last long anyway.

My wife and I aren’t soulmates.  We’re just married.  We had to work at it.  We had to fix some things and work on issues.  But we’ve been together over twenty years.  Both of us have made mistakes, but neither of us have made the kind of mistakes that spouses see as unforgiveable.  After all this time together, I think we might make it.  We’ll probably make it.

If I ever start a divorce blog, then you’ll know we didn’t make it.

My daughters claim that I’m triggered by the term soulmateAnnoyed is not the same thing as triggeredAnnoyed is a negative reaction at the sight/sound of something but moving on.  Writing a blog post is not triggered behavior (unless I use all-caps and exclamation points).  Triggered is shouting people down, trying to get people fired, putting hands over ears and shouting “Blah!  Blah!  Blah!” or curling up into the fetal position in a corner.

I’ve never told anybody to stop saying soulmate.  I’d never do that.  If somebody followed me around saying “Soulmate.  Soulmate.  Soulmate.  Soulmate.  Soulmate.  Soulmate,” I might have to do something about it.  But otherwise, I’m okay.

I promise, I’m not triggered by the term soulmate.  And if I were, I’d just rant to my wife about it.  She can always calm me down about these things.

*****

If you’re triggered by soulmates (or anything else), these two books from Dysfunctional Literacy can help you to calm down and relax.

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