I wish S-Club wasn’t stuck in my head

For the first time in a while, I’ve been feeling consistently okay about being.

Not “being” anything in particular, just being. I exist, I wake up every day and have a plethora of interactions. I learn more about the world around me. I’m finding it easier to put intention towards areas of choice. As if empowered somehow to rediscover who I am and who I want to be. It feels like a gift of sorts, standing in stark contrast to most of the past few years. The joy in simplicity isn’t hidden under layers of emotional debris. It’s sitting right there. At worst, I dig a little to find deeper meaning, or the inane complications hiding amongst the mundane. It’s not a struggle to look at the expanse of years ahead of me and crumble under their weight. Yep, pretty okay.

One of the defining harbingers of this mindset has been the ability to redefine my lens. When something goes wrong, if I can’t simply brush it off I’ll balance it out. Sure, I may have an initial negative response, but I cast my net a little wider to examine why that’s happening. Is there something about the situation that’s conflicting with my values? Are my values relevant in the given scenario? Or is it worth shifting my expectations, giving more leeway to the notion that things don’t have to work out in my favour? That people are more often ignorant than malicious, and being generous towards their intentions helps both of us cope? Assuming more of others, that things are less likely to be about me than I think? In short, the hallowed advice of “don’t take it personally”. It’s helping.

Coupled with the above mentality has been a willingness to accept that there’s probably more to everything than I see. That opening myself to opportunities instead of hiding behind a pre-generated negative mindset is helping more than it’s hurting. That things are scary/challenging sometimes, and that’s part of the process. As Chris Gethard reiterated many times in his book “Lose Well” (I’m shilling hard for it, but it gave me a lot. The only good thing to do is pay it forward), nothing will replace hard work. There’s no shortcut or quick fix, and things won’t come to you without it. Sometimes, even with it.

I’m sure this all sounds very lofty, but in so many words I’m on an upswing. I’m doing exponentially better than I was. Taking medication for my depression has lifted a lot of the strain and allowed me to take my life back. I stepped away from it for a while, and I’m uncovering so much that I left behind when I did so. I have a back catalogue of catch-ups that’ll see me through to next year. I have places to go, things to see, people to hold closely. I have stories to live and all the time in the world to tell them. I have another shot, and that didn’t seem like an option a few months back.

So I’ve got a lot to feel okay about.

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Back in the saddle for a bumpy ride

Be proud. I went and did an open mic set all on my very own. It went fine.

I guess the meds are doing something, because I woke up on Wednesday wanting to try out some new material. It’s been a while. The last time I did a set was at the insistence of my therapist. I did the set, things went fine. Then I was too depressed for months and found the drive to get back up was beyond me. I knew that while I wanted to really try my hand at improving, it wasn’t gonna happen if I didn’t push myself out of my comfort zone and do something about it. So I did nothing. Consistently. I realised that I’d first tried it out maybe 10 years ago, that if I’d kept at it I’d be a lot better by now. But I wouldn’t get better at all without actual practical experience. So while it would be tough to sign up for open mics, stay out late listening to white dudes make shitty rape jokes, and deal with potentially mediocre sets for a while, it’d be a necessary evil.

Last night I had no real plans. My girlfriend was gunning for a burlesque game show, but I wasn’t in a burlesque mood. My friend runs an open mic that’s within walking distance from my home. I’d never been, but I knew that if I did bomb hard, I could very easily run home and cry. Always have an escape plan. I looked up some jokes I’d been considering telling. I worked over some of the wording, and practised one in which specific wording would lift the performance. I weirdly didn’t feel as nervous as I had in the past. This was all low stakes, just a Friday night open mic at a bar. My friend was hosting, and I had every hope she’d put together a pretty friendly room. At worst I had backup plans to go drink with friends afterwards. Plus it was a venue I hadn’t tried before. It’s cool to take the temperature of new places.

I walked in 5 minutes after sign up, and joined a line of white dudes. Assumptions confirmed. The scene hadn’t changed all that much. By the time I got my name on the list, I was 13th. After all the booked spots, and with a show that rightfully pushed non-cis males to the front, it’d be a while. The show started at 9.30pm. Spoilers, but I didn’t get on until around midnight. Once again, the scene hasn’t changed.

It was a mixed bag. I tried to sit up front so that comics would know they had someone listening. For the most part, the bar was filled with dudes just waiting to do their material and leave. Most of them weren’t listening to whoever was onstage. They were just thinking about their own sets. However, as other attentive comics did their sets and left, it was basically just me sitting up the front while a rowdy bar talked over whoever had the mic. Rough. I felt awkward being so close. Still, I tried to give everyone the respect they deserved for getting up and giving it a go.

I felt pretty shitty for the people who got drowned out. They had some great jokes, and probably felt like they were pounding sand talking to a bustling room. One of the female comics got a temporary reprieve by calling out one of the dudes at the back. “Hey ________” she started “should I tell everyone how you’ve been blowing up my Facebook? Maybe shut the fuck up, or I’ll start reading your messages verbatim. I’ve got time.” Hell yeah. People filtered out, the room quietened down. By the time I got on, people were at least half listening.

The set went well enough. I’d had two beers in the two or so hours I’d been sitting there, so I was a little looser than I’d expected. Still, I didn’t step on my own toes or fuck up any punchlines. I naturally fell into a very singsong-y Rhys Darby style delivery. Was it pandering? Some. Did it catch people’s attention? It did. All of my jokes landed, and got somewhere between a chuckle and a laugh. For such a sparse room, I was pretty happy with the reception. I’d written notes on my hand, and this morning I still have the following scrawled but faded:

  • Winter Gloves
  • Video Game Saves
  • Hakuna Matata
  • Ghost Crowd
  • Office
  • Kegels
  • 50 Cent

Maybe I’ll try this again soon. See if it sticks this time.

Better starts somewhere

It’s 2019, and it still feels like the world doesn’t really know much about New Zealand. We’re seen as a three-way cross between Lord of the Rings, Flight of the Conchords and Lorde. So basically, Lorde of the Conchords.

What the international community doesn’t know, is that secretly, deep down every New Zealand male thinks he’s MacGyver. I’ll explain.

There’s a phrase in Aotearoa, “No. 8 Fencing Wire Mentality” (or as its otherwise known, “Good Ol’ Kiwi Ingenuity”). It Is Known that there’s nothing a Kiwi bloke can’t accomplish with a spool of versatile No. 8 fencing wire, and a little bit of outside the box thinking. The adage has informed an adventurous spirit as part of our national consciousness that pushes New Zealanders to enthusiastically try new things, push boundaries and create solutions we didn’t know existed. It’s truly a wonderful part of our culture.

Put together a big rubber band and a ravine et voila (that’s French for “Good on ya mate”): You’ve just discovered bungee jumping. Or combine some nitrogen and alpha particles you had hanging around to split the atom, as Ernest Rutherford did. It may have taken a while for advanced technology to make it down to Enzed, but we’ve always been lifehackers through and through.

Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for the tragedy we suffered yesterday. MacGyver was great, but even if he were armed with No. 8, he couldn’t fix this. The Christchurch mosque shootings were a devastating attack that have irrevocably rocked the country’s foundations. We’re all wounded, angry and confused. In the wake of the shootings, amongst the sincere goodwill and love for our fallen brethren, has been resounding shock. There are a couple of refrains I’ve heard. “How did this happen?” “This is not who we are.” I’ve heard the prominent shooter referred to as an Australian first, almost underlined as if to say, this was not our fault. We didn’t do this. To distance ourselves from it. Because that makes things easier.

There is nothing easy about this. Much as we want to distance ourselves from this horrific loss of life, we’re all at some level culpable. Because while we may not have done this, we have not done enough. But we need to. I know we’re all hurt, and it doesn’t seem like the time to have a hard conversation, but we have no choice. We need to do more.

We need to talk.

It feels like the resounding logline of our fair country has always been “we’re not as bad as other places”. Sure, with settlers came conflict, disease and war, but we moved on. We signed the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840 to move forward as one nation together. Whenever accusations of racism have come our way, we’ve pointed elsewhere to redirect the sentiment.¬†Look at the United States, at Australia. Now THEY need to sort themselves out. We have to look back at ourselves, and the nation we need to be.

People have been saying “this is not who we are” ad infinitum. It’s the most understandable thing in the world, but it’s also a lie. Every time, I hear this is not who we want to be. By recusing ourselves, we’re continuing to live in the illusion that this is not our problem. It is. Now is the time to listen to the voices that these terrorists tried to silence. Instead of being defensive, we need to open our ears and hearts to those who have had so much taken by this harrowing assault. Following the actions of March 15th, their words will be amplified. When minority voices detail their experiences, we have no choice but to listen. Because we’ve ignored them for far too long.

Did you know that incidents of hate crime are not recorded by the police? We’re all too quick as a nation to decry the actions of Neo Nazis, to preach our nation’s history of racial harmony. Yet when a co-worker makes a sly racist comment, we’re all too quick to ignore it or look past it.¬†Yeah, but he’s not actually racist goes the sentiment. Dave says some dumb stuff sometimes, but his heart is in the right place. Maybe it’s not. I’m not saying it can’t be, but clearly there’s something behind the comments. We need to listen. We need to talk with Dave and Bruce to figure out where these views come from, and we need to help them understand that what they’re voicing is not okay. That we’re all human beings deserving of love and respect, irrespective of our culture. That racial superiority is a myth perpetuated by narrow minded bigots. That thinking less of another does not raise you above them. It just makes you small. Because this is all part of who we are. This Ethnocentric rhetoric didn’t sprout from nowhere. It’s been feeding for generations, since the first European settlers arrived in our country. Thinking it doesn’t exist because it’s not prevalent is naive, and we’re too clever for that.

Gun laws will change. Online white supremacist dialogue needs to be closely monitored and acted upon. Otherwise why the hell did we hand over our privacy to the Five Eyes Network? We need to call out systemic inequality, and the organisations who benefit from it. We need to call in those who show signs of alarm, and help them towards a more inclusive path. We need to lead by example. Rather than pointing out how we’re not as bad as other countries, we need to become how we see ourselves.

This should not be who we are, but for many of us, it is. Many of us don’t understand how the smallest spark of intolerance can catch alight, stoking the flames of hatred. We need to come together as a nation and stomp it out. From the ashes of a terrible disaster, we need to rise anew. We need to have difficult conversations, and work to make our country the great land we believe it can be.

It won’t be easy or quick. No. 8 wire can’t fix this, but we can. We have to.

Hate is waste in any form

We’ve lost sight of our humanity.

I don’t know what words I have right now that make sense, but I do have a lot of feelings. First here are some facts:

  • At least 49 people were killed in Christchurch earlier today.
  • They were Muslims attending ritual prayer. People of all ages and genders. Children too.
  • 49 people are dead.
  • This was a planned, coordinated, terrorist attack.
  • 49 people were slaughtered.
  • One of the central terrorists was galvanised by far-right rhetoric that’s been stewing for years. Internet literate, he was a denizen of 8chan and the like. He released a manifesto littered with memes and references, in-jokes for the ‘chan crowd. He announced his intentions in advance and posted the information on 8chan’s “pol” board.
  • 49 people routinely living their lives no longer have them.
  • This white supremacist live streamed his attack on Facebook for the world to see.
  • 49 individuals no longer exist, after white supremacists marched into two mosques and murdered them while they prayed.

Those are facts.

There are a ton of feelings going around the internet right now. Outrage, disbelief, sorrow and pain. Why does this keep happening? Why here? This is not who we are. I’m not sure what to make of it all. I know that this is the largest terrorist act committed in New Zealand history since the Aramoana massacre of 1990 took 14 lives. New Zealand is not a country known for radicalism, hatred or faith based violence. That doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. Like any colony, there have always been undercurrents of ethnocentrism and race based hatred. Racism is alive and well by any name, whether or not it’s getting airtime. Of course we’re shocked at the gravity of this situation, at the meaningless loss of life, the violence and suffering. The sad, sad truth is that this has always been there, bubbling under the surface.

We’ve lost sight of our humanity because we’ve all been complicit in letting hate live. I’ve heard the words “bloody Maoris” uttered without irony. I’ve seen conservative pundits like Duncan Garner espouse notions that non-white ethnicities are getting free rides, taking advantage of the system. I’ve seen commenters on local news sites bemoaning “diversity hires”, promoting a meritocracy without an understanding of how systemic racism undermines true equal opportunity. Unchecked privilege running rampant. I’m by no means saying any of these people wished anything like today’s tragedy to come into being. I am saying that we have no right to wash our hands clean of the consequences, when we’ve allowed racist sentiment to go unchallenged.

We’ve lost sight of our humanity because of money and power. Because we know that there’s a link between publicising white supremacist terrorists, giving them airtime, and encouraging copycats. Yet we still show their photos, print their names in block letters, publish their manifestos. We give them the attention they so crave, and other would-be terrorists see them. It emboldens them to know that if they acted in kind, they’d become a martyr for scores of others like them. Yet the media still gives in depth information on who exactly it was that perpetrated these terrible tragedies. Because it drives clicks, and more engagement means higher advertising dollars. YouTube, Twitter and Facebook still allow the relentless hateful rhetoric of the alt right to be broadcast unimpeded. Make no mistake. Anti-Islamic sentiment is hate speech, just as Anti-Semitic, Anti-Black, Anti-LGBTQ+++ and any other speech that denigrates people because of their ethnicity, religion, gender or sexuality is. But all of this speech, furthered by demagogues such as Alex Jones, Jordan Peterson and Donald Trump, is hate speech that emboldens hateful people to reaffirm their beliefs. YouTube, Twitter and Facebook allow this speech, because they know it’s immensely popular and it makes them a lot of money. Sure, they’ll develop algorithms that seek out and delete comments about white men, but comments¬†by white men are all open season.

We’ve lost sight of our humanity because this hateful rhetoric is being used by politicians to appeal to their constituency. Sure, party leaders like Doug Ford and Andrew Scheer won’t directly spread this hateful rhetoric by name, but they’re all too happy to consort with the far right in an effort to garner their votes. Conservative leaders will not openly condemn the actions of Neo Nazis, because they know that these Nazis are part of their voter base. Yet they’ll share the stage with hatemongers like Faith Goldy and refuse to denounce them as the extremists they are. It’s clearly more important to get into a position of power whereby you can manipulate laws to serve your business interests, than to oppose hatred and spread acceptance.

The truth is that today’s terrorism will be widely condemned back home in New Zealand. Most New Zealanders are not racist Islamophobes. Our country is one of immigrants, whether it was the Maori migration from Polynesia, British colonial settlement, Chinese immigrants ushered in to clean the last remnants of the gold rush, that random Frenchman who arrived and proclaimed himself king, or any number of people just seeking a better life for themselves and their families. We’re a wonderful ethnic melting pot, and our strength as a nation is only emboldened by encouraging newcomers to share with us their culture. We’re a country that is overwhelmingly filled with loving, caring people. We’re also part of the global community that the internet has created, and this means we have to be vigilant in condemning hatred in all its forms, no matter where it is.

We lost 49 of our own today, and that’s fucking devastating.

I have an instant pot, I’m not going anywhere

I was watching some CNN documentary on Netflix about sex all around the world.

It wasn’t particularly well made. Clunky, obvious edits, an obviously professional, but uncharismatic host. There was an episode on India and its sexual culture. They were talking to a trans woman about her life, about the culture that surrounds gender ethnicities in India that diverse from the “norm”. She said she used to be a software engineer, but post transition she’d been softly forced out. She’d taken up sex work as her only means to get by. I’ve got no moral quandary with sex work. It’s real work. I was sad at what had transpired, that she’d been more or less forced into it out of necessity, not out of an active desire to choose that career.

I thought about trans people worldwide, and how they so often suffer for something as arbitrary as gender. Why do people give such a shit about it? What even is gender, as far as people are concerned? For all the baseless pearl clutching over this notion that trans people want to assault others in bathrooms, that they’re deviants, etc. It’s all fear. It’s fear of inconvenience, fear of change. People don’t want to have to think about what words they use when addressing someone. They don’t want to be embarrassed by using the wrong pronoun. They’re afraid that they might be attracted to a trans person and, does that make them gay??? They’re afraid that the world they live in has grown and adapted, and it’s evolving to a point where they don’t feel like the centre of attention anymore, and that’s alarming. Or something, I dunno. Empathy isn’t always a breeze.

I’ve been listening to season 3 of Serial. I thought I’d give it time to finish, for the season to come to an end. To wait and keep my ear to the ground for blow back, in case it wasn’t great or took unconfirmed liberties. I heard no ill mentions, so I loaded it up. Holy hell is it ever damning of the criminal justice system. Season 3 is based around one court in Cleveland, and the cases that run through there. They talk with prosecutors, suspects, police, other citizens, etc, and try to present a top down view of how the system spirals between everyone it touches. It’s harrowing, hearing how minor convictions lead the marginalised into a life of crime. How the actions of the police are complicit in this system. So much brutality and coercion, with no regard for the lives they’re throwing away. Individuals losing years of their lives to prison for crimes they didn’t commit. Innocents left to rot in the shuffle. The show has an obvious liberal bias, but even taking that into consideration, it’s mind-blowing how careless action on behalf of the system is perpetuating the behaviour it condemns in the first place. It’s not like “the system is corrupt” is newsworthy anymore, but that doesn’t stop any of this from being bracing to listen to. It’s totally unreal, and for so many people that’s very much the reality of their life. Who knows if bringing in a radio documentary crew and drawing attention to it has the power to change anything, but as a total bystander, I fucking hope so.

It’s quite the world out there. Maybe I’ll stay in tonight.

Tastes like home fries

At the close of any year, it’s hard not to be contemplative. We arbitrarily divide time by journeys around the sun, so it’s only natural to try and find meaning in why we do so. How can I condense this collection of 365 days into lessons I can take forward? If the past 12 months haven’t meant anything, why did I bother living them? In a sprawling, gratuitous year like 2018, I’ve been scrambling to make meaning of the madness.

Let’s see how this goes.

It only dawned on me, as I walked to my now traditional Sunday dive bar brunch, that in The Year Of Our Lord 2018, I’ve actively pulled in my locus. I’ve been here for over five years now. It’s the second longest I’ve lived anywhere. Moving to Toronto was the biggest shift in my adult life, and whenever something goes wrong, it’s the first place I start to question “why?” It’s only for a split second, and says less about any desire to not be here, as it does to my need for context. I know that this was the best decision I could’ve made. Despite the URL, I have no doubts about where I am. I think though, that I’m constantly looking for signs that I’m heading somewhere. An understanding about where I am helps me better see where I’m going. This year, I’ve started actually seeing my neighbourhood. It’s always been there, even if mentally I’ve been elsewhere.

I was a little (quite) stoned one night and on the lookout for some kind of comfort food. I thought to the Chinese/Polynesian place I’d passed a million times and never entered. I went in and had a WEIRD experience. I’ve found myself going back time and time again (often sober) and really coming to appreciate the place. It’s thoroughly mediocre. I’m sure I could get much better food elsewhere. I could order without leaving the house, but I have no way of knowing if their food would be cooked with so much goddamn heart. It’s a cute little unassuming hole in the wall. There are seats, a desk, and a door going back into a kitchen. There’s a gangly teenager at the desk. The kitchen is nothing but a dude and his elderly mother. He’s the nicest bloke, apologetic about things beyond his control, always tossing in a free coke or remembering your name the next time you walk in. His mum always has a smile from ear to ear as she throws in dashes of her own spice mixes and sloshes oil around in a pan. They’re the type of people who work so hard and never complain. It’s nice to appreciate people like that, y’know? I want them to succeed, so I keep coming back, despite the plethora of alternate options. Also it’s uncomfortably cheap, and the portions are huge. Also that.

I’ve had a local coffee joint for a few years now. My girlfriend and I love making it part of our weekend ritual. If I’m ever working from home it’s a total treat to grab a mocha or flat white to take back home (or, more accurately, finish on the walk). The owners are apparently lovely, so the employees tend to stick around for a while. They’re all friendly, and great at what they do. It’s always nice to chat with the British beanie dude about his new indie folk obsessions or stand up comedy. It’s the kind of place in which I now know where they keep replacement cup lids. It’s this kind of place because I’ve wanted to help out and restock the lids before, I want to see them keep ticking along. This place being around grounds me in my area, it’s a connection to ritual, comfort. There are so many great options for coffee around this city, but none of them are this place. They might be technically “better”, but better is subjective, y’know?

I’m writing this from my aforementioned dive bar brunch. I’ve searched for years for a “local” a bar or pub in which I could feel totally welcome. A place where I could either be ignored or find connection, depending the mood. I may have found it, even if I rarely drink here. There’s a jumbo hound prone on the floor. A man walked in earlier, took one look at him and said “aren’t you friendly and large?” Right on man, right on. The vinyl just changed from reggae to Dylan. There’s a jar of candy canes near the door for people to help themselves. There’s a timeless air to this spot. In a way, I come here to exist outside time. I pull out my keyboard and soak it in. It’s just me, a plate of eggs and home fries, and whatever rabble walk through that door. It’s the kind of bar where the bartender will, without fear, casually throw out “I’m just disappearing for a few minutes. Don’t let the place burn down.” Who would want to? It’s all drifters here, and this place feels like home. It’s been ten minutes already. I hope she makes it back. I think we all need whatever it is this bar gives us.

Putting it all together, it paints a pretty clear picture. These places aren’t new, and I didn’t just arrive here. 2018 has been year of withdrawing, cocooning out of necessity. It’s been hard knowing what holds me up when I feel like I’ve been endlessly falling. I’ve retracted, and sought foundations I could call on. In my lowest ebbs, I’ve sorely needed sight of land. Finding stability within my radius has helped me understand, in some small way, where I am. In other, subtler ways, having these touchstones has taught me something else. I am here. In times where my tether to reality has been gossamer thin, the feeling of belonging has kept me anchored. It’s stopped me from drifting to places beyond return. It all sounds trite and maudlin, but it isn’t. I know where I am, and I love it.

In times where meaning frequently seems out of reach, that’s a lesson worth taking forward.

Think I could get them to analyse each other?

I don’t really know how to start, so I just will. I feel like that’s the first step. I feel like what I’m gonna talk about, I’ve probably talked about before. Who can remember these things? I talk about a lot of stuff here. Anyway.

I had my first session back with my original therapist in a while. Why am I making the distinction? Because I’m in the bizarre mirror-world scenario of having two therapists at the moment. It’s not that I left one for another. I’m seeing them concurrently, kind of. See, maybe ten or so months ago I mentioned to my GP that I’d been off and on depressed and anxious. She let me know that Ontario does actually provide OHIP coverage for certain therapists, that the wait lists were long, but she could put me on one. I jumped at the chance, then forgot about it a week or so later. Perhaps six weeks ago, when I found myself at the bottom of a deep emotional trough, I realised it’d be a wise decision to go back to therapy. My original therapist happens to be very good, so she was booked solidly for 6 weeks. As in, no openings whatsoever. Having enough benefits coverage for two more sessions, I booked ahead. In the meantime the OHIP sponsored therapy came up and reminded me that was a thing I’d signed up for. So I went and did two sessions with a new therapist, knowing I’d be going back to my original one for two sessions.

It’s weird. It almost feels like I’m cheating, but I’ve made them aware of each other. So it’s kind of more like a poly relationship, but my metas won’t ever meet. I’m careful about what I mention about one to the other, because I don’t want to muddy the waters of treatment. But of course they’re curious, while at the same time applauding the actions and methods of the other. So it’s not like it’s unsupportive. Look, it’s fucking strange, okay? At the same time, it’s so hard building up a therapeutic relationship with someone new. Her style feels rigid and doesn’t gel succinctly with the way my brain does. Still, she definitely knows what she’s talking about and I have every confidence that her methods would be very helpful in the long run. I’m so lucky to have OHIP coverage, so I want to put the work in. My original therapist and I both agree it’s worth sticking with the OHIP therapy in lieu of my original therapist until the end of the treatment module, that it would benefit my mental health to do so.

At the same time, the fact that my original therapist is right is what makes this so difficult. We stepped into that room and got right into it. She knows me so fucking well. She understands how my mind works because we’ve done the foundational work. She gets my struggles and tailors her suggestions explicitly to how she knows I operate. She expertly pinpoints the right areas of my long, scattered rants. She calls me on my shit and doesn’t let me off the hook. It’s exactly what I need. And I feel raw right now because she’s right about everything. We hadn’t seen each other in so long that it was an info dump where we constantly tried to taper down into workable ideas, solutions and talking points. Still, there was so much I never even got to. It’s hard to know where to start, what to talk about, because there’s so much.

To be honest, I think that’s where I want to leave things for now, because it fits where this entry is. This stuff is too fresh and I haven’t worked out where I am with it. Expect that I’ll probably work through it over the next while. If that’s your thing, you know where to reach me. If not, well it was nice knowing ya.