Sundays at Valli

I love free slices of deli meat,
when they ask you if it’s cut
the way you like.

Today I ask for honey
roasted turkey.
It’s cold and salty.

When I was a kid my dad
always asked for a slice
of American cheese for me.
I never chewed,
let it melt on my tongue.
If we were lucky
there’d be freshly baked
chocolate chip cookies
by the bakery.
Mostly bird bits
in the latter parts of the day.

It’s one of those Sundays
where you pick up items
you don’t recognize
and ogle at their contents.

A jar of honeyed nuts.
Walnuts, pistachios
almonds, corn flakes
precisely aligned.

Smoked baby clams
in a can are $2.99.

Who uses the olive bar
and feels the need to
try seven different
types of olives?

And who among us
has braved cow tongue?

How do you cut a pomelo
and what citrus dream
does it taste like?

I put raw fruit
on the belt to avoid
using more bags
to bring home
to my cupboard of bags.

While we were away
at the grocery store,
our dog tipped over
the garbage can, sifted
through coffee grounds
and vegetable ends,
slurped up leftover
tomato sauce,
gnawed rib eye bones.

Containers licked
clean, now littered
across the house.

When our eyes lock,
her ears droop.

I want to be mad,
but she just wants
to try everything.

Blueberries

The blueberries were on sale.
Hundreds of containers sat on a table
in the front of the store,
over-ripening,
simply wasting away.

I placed the abandoned fruit in my cart.

They’re best when left in the freezer,
less mush, more tart,
but I’m eager to try them.

My bird helps me, picking up her deflated
piece and setting it down into her dish.
She clicks her throat in approval.
Her beak looks like it’s been stained with ink.

The whole world is not in my hands;
it’s a pale blue dot I roll between my fingers.

 

Through the Roof

The tree outside my window
with its decaying crabapples,
jaundice yellow leaves, and
the garbage bag the roofers
left behind, claimed by the wind,
now streams from a branch.

A black cape without an owner,
it waves goodbye to summer
when there was a man in every
window. They wore shoes
made of thunder, and they
stormed us from all sides.

Drilling, hammering holes,
peeling pieces off our home.
The deconstruction, a slow,
agonizing exposure, took days.

I awoke to knocking, sideways
picture frames, couches covered
in debris rained from the skylights,
and man crashing through ceiling.

A Room of One’s Own

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I’m lying on the floor of my office, watching the clouds outside my window upside down. This is the exact spot my dog likes to sunbathe in. I can see why she likes it so much.

Patches of light poke out from clumps of cloud. It’s been a while since I’ve made a conscious effort to watch the earth turn.

My eyes wander from crabapple to crabapple in the tree outside my window. I just Googled “crabapple tree”, and learned that it’s formally known as a Malu, and there are 55 different types of these trees. (Just to make you think I know a shit ton of things about trees.)

The crabapple tree begins to thrash in the wind underneath a restless sky. Jagged, gray clouds have begun to swarm and dominate the fluffy whiteness. The tree’s branches shake like violent pom-poms.

I’m reading Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad. I’m only 15 pages deep. I probably won’t finish this book, even though I really like it. Honestly, I haven’t finished a novel in at least two years, but have started and stopped plenty. I’ve dog-eared the pages of this particular book at least three times. I enjoy it, and it hooks me every time, but so do news articles, long-winded social posts, and everything else.

For example, this morning I sat transfixed in bed on a BBC article about the hundreds of Caravan migrants at the Mexican border right now. I burst into tears, quickly swiped them off my face, and grabbed Egan’s national bestseller. Because this is what I do every time I’m overwhelmed by reality—I reach for fiction, and sometimes I try to create it myself.

I’m reading about a narrator who’s a kleptomaniac in treatment. She just brought a date home to her New York apartment. He’s excited that her bathtub is in her kitchen, and asks to take a bath after they fuck. He uses some bath salts that the narrator stole from her best friend.

I stop reading. I make a note in my notepad about the tub drawings I’ve been sketching every weekend for the last three months. It says, “Draw tubs in other rooms of the house.” Then I yell downstairs to Sean, who’s immersed in gunfire erupting from the television.

“I want to go to New York. All the writers are out there.”

“The writers for Red Dead Redemption are in New York.” Right now he’s playing Half-life II and counting down the days to the release of the game he really wants to play.

“That’s what I’m saying.”

“Let’s take a trip,” he says.

“Yeah.”

I stopped fighting my need to escape Illinois, because I realized that I can travel when I choose to or do creative things that push my imagination in my down time. And so far it’s been working. I have never wanted to live a life I need to escape. I moved so much when I was a kid, so I find the thought of moving around and trying to find myself in places outside myself versus inside, super exhausting.

I prefer warm socks. Wine. Fumbling around with a pencil in my office. Flipping one of my dog’s ears inside out or rolling it like a tortilla. In the comfort of a consistent home. You know, like a lot of people.

When I stop to think about it, this town home is the first place I’ve ever lived in that I’ve actually enjoyed. It’s not to say I hated anywhere else I’ve lived—I just didn’t prefer it.

The third floor apartment I lived in before my current home drove me crazy. I was literally stalking flies in my underwear late at night.

The kitchen was a joke. I couldn’t reach any of the pots and pans in the cabinets, and there were at least three fake drawers you couldn’t open. The cracks in the ceiling. The paint the landlord said he would fix. Then there were the groceries up three flights of stairs. The angry laundry room notes. And the shit in the closets that started to accumulate. I hate holding onto things I don’t need, things I begin to feel the weight of.

One day I was so mad that I swung open a closet and started heaving everything onto the floor. Sean was horrified at the wordless drama, but I was having an angry blast. It felt so good to see dusty games we never played, random pieces to things we didn’t even know existed come crashing to the floor, forced to explain their existence.

It’s not that I’m any less crazy, it’s just I feel more at peace here. If that makes sense. I have established my nooks. Sean sits in a spot on the couch downstairs that’s sunken in from his days of excessive gameplay. In my office, there’s a sign on the wall that says, “Create.” It’s colorful and corny. I found it in the two-dollar section inside Target. I realize it’s the only reminder that I really need. Every now and then, Sean and I call to each other, and then we resume our respective hobbies.

A car engine vrooms down the street. I call to Sean, “That sound is annoying. It’s just noise, not music.”

“It’s music to someone,” Sean calls back. And I begin Chapter 2 of my book.

Letter to 13 year old me

I want you to know that you were right before you felt the need to be right.

The dog in the picture that sits inside your arms is different now. She’s a longer, daintier half breed. People stop you on the sidewalk to tell you how pretty she is. A beagle on stilts.

But you don’t forget the now deceased animal of your past. Small with soft ears too big for his head. You once sat up all night cleaning the worms he vomited onto the couch. He was one of those puppy mill puppies that was broken when you got him, but you were prepared to love him anyway.

You were fiercely jealous when he curled up next to your brother at night. Once you snuck him out of your brother’s room, but he stumbled his way back.

The dimly lit space behind you was too snug for him. The neighbors complained about his howls through thin apartment walls. And your mom didn’t feel well enough to chase him around. So another family loved him instead.

You were a clash of color. A smorgasbord of thrift store finds. Musty, knitted sweater. Yellow beanie. Yellow like sunshine. Yellow like madness. You put every single one of those rings on in the morning as armor. You knew you belonged here.

Why do I keep coming back to you?

What is left for me to forgive? To criticize? What is there to learn from you that I haven’t already internalized?

Today you match everything except for your socks, because you can never find the partners. You wear an engagement ring on your middle finger. Your grandma’s watch on your left wrist. It has since stopped ticking. You remember the day it stopped ticking and felt a little more alone, until the next meaningful conversation rolled around, and you stopped paying attention to time.

It’s raining. There’s a spider outside your window. You left it there because you admired the amount of work and time it put into its web. Your dog is asleep on the couch. Your man is washing the dishes you filled with dinner. You had a good day. People see you. This is the present. This is the love you surround yourself with. It loves you back.

You were right before you felt the need to be right. Thank you for allowing yourself to be huge by nurturing the most fragile parts.

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Bath time with Frida Kahlo

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I’ve been thumbing through, “The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portrait,” for the past week or so. It appeals to me that someone can use both writing and drawing at the same time, in the same place, to capture their inner world.

I knew very little about Frida. Just that she had a sweet unibrow. And I could recognize her famous self-portraits like a lot of people. A few months ago I bought a pair of bottle cap earrings with quarter-sized portraits of her painted onto them. I wore them around a music festival I attended with a friend. A lot of people were delighted at the sight of Frida dangling from my earlobes.

All but one of the drawings in this diary I’m reading never made it out. It was her space to make sense of things. I had to read the translated notes because I don’t understand Spanish, but I still found myself examining her multi-colored writing. She wrote in colored pencil and left scratch marks and scribbles, as one would do with a pen. It’s nice to know someone as regarded as she had visible second and third thoughts, could allow herself to stumble on paper.

It turns out she was quite the writer too. Here is one of my favorite letters, one of the many written to her beloved Diego:

Diego,
Truth is, so great, that I
wouldn’t like to speak, or sleep,
or listen, or love.
To feel myself trapped, with no fear
of blood, outside time and magic,
within your own fear,
and your great anguish, and
within the very beating of your heart.
All this madness, if I asked it of you,
I know, in your silence, there would be
only confusion.
I ask you for violence, in the nonsense,
and you, you give me grace, your light and
your warmth.
I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors,
because there are so many, in my
confusion, the tangible form
of my great love.

Frida suffered from a lot of physical ailments throughout her life. She beat polio in her childhood, and in her later years was in a near fatal accident that left her physically impaired for the rest of her life. She had close to 35 operations in her lifetime, and was unable to bear children. Much of her art depicts misplaced body parts, parts outside her body. And a spiritual and sexual longing to reproduce. It’s no wonder she painted so many self-portraits. Despite her immense pain, she found a way to steal her own joy and find love in her life.

Many consider her to be Mexican hero, who appealed to Mexican women and more broadly to the plights of women everywhere, but a lot of her critics thought her work was intensely self-directed and incapable of moving past self.

“I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best,” the artist once said.

Essayist Sarah M Lowe wrote, “Her work was deemed so excessively personal and self-referential that it is thought incapable of expressing universal emotions or the human condition. In time, her self-portraits, though they never cease to shock, have overcome some of the prejudices against women painting their own lives.”

I started drawing women in bathtubs a few months ago. I’m not exactly sure of the reasoning behind the choice of vessel. I know that both baths and drawing calm me down when I’m feeling overwhelmed by the weight of things.

And baths are where some of my best ideas have come from.

In a college writing class I wrote a metafictional story about this woman who takes a bath and gets the idea to write the story of her life. There’s a talking shower head that is encouraging her to write and also shouting innuendos.

The woman rockets from the bath in a Eureka-like moment, water spilling all around her and plummeting to the carpet. She runs butt naked into her garage and wrenches out these old, dusty bins filled with her old journals.

She searches one of her journals frantically, dampening the pages with the water falling from her hair. She finds the passage that is supposed to help her define this moment of certainty. She realizes the passage is in fact not the missing piece she needs to solve her life story. She’s frustrated at her younger self for leaving such a poorly constructed record of her life. She scoffs and criticizes every line in that single passage then moves onto mocking some others. Finally, she flings the journal across the room.

Looking back at this piece, I realize it was about my idea process and the frustration I face in creation, particularly writing. When I have an idea, I feel that well-known mania, and I need to write. RIGHT NOW. URGENT HURRY. A lot of times I lose the feeling. Then I over complicate the idea. I rage about the hopelessness of memory. The idea vanishes as quickly as it comes.

Drawing these bathtubs was my way of coping with my issues with writing. I love these hours I spend shading, erasing, coloring. It’s obvious I don’t have formal training, but this doesn’t stop me from getting better and sharing my work. Putting my work out there has only made me feel braver.

For now, the bathtubs seem to be working. Drawing has helped me reunite with writing. I’d like the two to become friends. Like my girl Frida, I’d like a space where I can combine both worlds.

Tonight I walk with lightning

Lightning

My partner and I walk
in hazardous conditions;
a silent picture
before the thunder rolls in.

What I know about lightning:

The colors can be
green, blue,
abrasion red,
neon sign yellow,
pink as grapefruit,
bruises on flesh,
violet, cyan,
and flames.

Also,
no two bolts are ever
exactly the same color.

That negative charges
live in clouds
while we step
on positive landmines.

Oh, and lightning never
strikes the same place twice,
which everyone knows.

I want to know
if “lightning” is a verb.
Because “lightninging”
is slightly unsettling.

Most journalists say:
“there was thunder and lightning”
to avoid using the verb at all.

I hold my boyfriend’s hand,
as we speed up on uneven
sidewalks under slices
of sky carved by knife.

Rocks in pavement cracks —
They’re on standby,
raised like hairs.

Suddenly, I’m aware
of thunder in my chest.
Is it a first love flashback?
It’s been such a long time.

I laugh at such young girl
thoughts from a grown girl.

In my head I write this poem:

The first time I was in love,
 
I stood on a boy’s porch step
and waited for a kiss.
He had freckles
drip dropping
across his face.
I waited the whole night.
I didn’t lean or make my body
obvious as a sunflower
following sunshine,
 
or bowing to rain.
 
I just took a seat near him,
so close to his mouth
in my own mind.
 
And then it happened.
 
He smelled like metal
and trees all at once.
He kissed me slowly.
 
It felt like a naked swim.
 
The current was charged,
but failed to kill me.
 
I ran home in the rain.
My feet never slowed.
I could barely breathe
as I reached my door.
I slammed it behind me.
 
My heart was drenched.
 
I have forgotten how to pray,
but I wonder how many people
in the world right now
are asking for rain.

Or how many moms tell
their kids that thunder
and lightning are angels
bowling and striking pins,

or God is angry.

We round the next block.
A man and his shepherd
hustle across the street.

The sky lights up in sections
like different parts of a chorus.

The wind whines a warning
so we lengthen our strides.
My legs are short so I run
to keep up with my partner,
who has long swimmer legs.

By the time we reach home,
clouds have swallowed
the light rays,
shooting stars
bent like boomrangs.
Our love is a safe,
seasoned one.
I have to feel around
for a pulse,
but it’s there.
It comes in little waves.

I tell him I’d push him
out of the way
if a tree was struck.

I hope I would.

There’s a story behind
the cloud curtains.
It’s covered in veins,
flickering signals telling us

we’re alive until the clock strikes
in places where time ceases to exist.

We wait to feel the first drops
before the sudden downpour.

I want to smell the earth
beneath the concrete.

Really, being kind isn’t that hard

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It was my first year of high school gym. I slumped in the bleachers with the rest of my classmates, waiting to be assigned a locker. This is how the first day of anything went—a lot of sitting, waiting and shifty-eyeing other people.

Some girl would squeal in excitement, reminiscing with her friends about a scandalous evening she had over the summer. Everyone sitting around their group leaned in for free deets.

The gym smelled like new sneakers and various scents of Britney Spears’ perfume and Axe Body Spray. Straight hair, strategically placed accessories and clean clothes—our best attempts at first impression making.

I was wearing one of my favorite dresses—a striped purple one I found at the Salvation Army. There was a ring on every single one of my fingers. The one I wore on my middle finger was a plastic eyeball with baby doll lashes. Even the weirdoes dressed to impress on the first day of school.

The hour dragged on, and only a handful of students were assigned lockers. You could tell by the crossed arms and leg shakes that people were starting to get bored and antsy.

I sat transfixed on one boy, who hiccuped a high-pitched cartoonish laugh after calling another boy a “wittle baby pie.” He had large, pink gums and a pair of glasses with inch-thick lenses. The other student, who wore a pair of faded jeans and a sideways smile, sat in a clump with a few of his stone-faced friends and glared at the boy with the glasses. Then he called him a disgusting pile of shit. His friends snorted laughter.

The glasses kid laughed too. After five minutes of listening to them, I became enraged. It was clear that the boy with glasses had some form of autism. Though he seemed to be defending himself just fine, throwing out sing-song, emasculating comebacks, it was clear this was quickly becoming a Lord of the Flies kind of situation. Others were staring at him and cupping their bursts of laugher with their hands.

I stood up in the bottom row of bleachers and called up to the boy with the faded jeans. I shouted, “Hey, what the hell is wrong with you? You should know better. Leave him alone.” My ears surged with blood, as I whittled him down with my eyes.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“Don’t tell me you’re sorry,” I seethed.

Then he apologized to the boy with glasses.

Over the years, I had classes with both of them. The guy with faded jeans had a deadpan sense of humor and turned out to have a lot of home life problems. I laughed at his jokes when I was sure he would no longer aim them at loners.

The guy with glasses sat behind me in biology. He picked me flowers and shared his candy with me. I liked to watch him draw super heroes on his Punnett squares and listen to him go off into long tangents about his favorite Marvel characters. He received one of the highest grades in that class.

All throughout school, I was that person who said things in uncomfortable situations. Or I made situations uncomfortable by saying things. One summer I gained 15 pounds after eating Steak and Shake’s five-way chili and Frisco melts with the new boyfriend I was in love with. Everyone thought I was pregnant, so I stampeded the rumor. I stood up in a math class, announcing to my wide-eyed peers that I wasn’t pregnant, just fat and happy, and to tell the others.

Being brave, as some people would define this, had no impact on the extreme levels of loneliness I felt, but it did loosen the amount of knots I carried around inside my body on a daily basis. I spoke my mind to free myself from my internal prison.

A loss of words

I’m approaching 30 now, and I still speak up, but I’m not exactly the same fiery girl who goes sniffing around for things to speak out about, mostly because there’s an endless amount of things I don’t entirely understand.

At the same time, I’ve missed some easy marks to be that person I know myself to be.

When I was on vacation in Virginia, I saw this man pushing a shopping cart full of groceries and a kid with a bowl haircut. The kid was kicking his chubby legs, pointing, and making outrageous proclamations about all the deli food. The man, who was expressionless, white-knuckled the front of his cart. I walked past them.

The sound of crashing metal clanged in my ears, and I swiveled my cart around to see the little boy sobbing into his arms. The man was walking away from him toward the deli counter. Did he really just whip the cart with the little boy into a display?

I didn’t want to assume to worst of this man, but the way he grabbed the cart and jerked it toward him told me that he did intentionally try to hurt the kid.

I held the bottle of wine I selected for the night and stood in the middle of the aisle, staring at the man, following him with my eyes. I felt the words wash over me. I didn’t say them.

A few weekends ago, while I was walking my dog, I saw this woman inching across the street with a full bag in her hands. It was hard to see her face. The streetlights had yet to turn on, but I could see she was pushing her entire body into a cane. She grunted with every step. There was a point where she missed a step and feverishly clung to her cane. I feared she might collapse into the street.

I quickly walked towards her, but my dog started to growl at the sight of this limping figure. I calculated how I’d manage Maya and help this woman get to her car. Then two other figures appeared in the driveway she just came from.

They all appeared to know each other. So, why was no one helping her get to her car? Demands filled my lungs, and I was ready to fling them at these two unmoving idiots. Maya tugged on the leash, jolting toward a loud rustle in some bushes. We followed the sound and shuffled into our home.

It’s times like these I wish I had done something different, spoken the right words or shown compassion for my fellow human being. I understand and identify with the sentiment “not my circus, not my monkeys,” but this is not an excuse for me to bypass my feelings in micro situations where I know I can make a difference.

I think it’s easy to maintain the mindset that we’re only responsible for ourselves. I’m arguing less for massive displays of courage and heroism and more for little acts of common decency. It’s so fucking easy to be kind and make a minuscule impact when the opportunity presents itself.

I want to and can do better.

Linden

The sign says Greenspire Linden
It tells you the tree is hearty,
built to last in urban areas.

I’m as wild as a horse
in suburban ones.

We don’t belong here
in the middle
of impeccable lawns.

I crush the thought,
a mosquito that bit
through the protection
covering my arm.

I tell the thirsty
to please be quiet,
so I can surrender
to strength in silence.

 

 

 

 

 

Why I blog

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So it’s been well over four years since I started this blog, and I have a confession to make: I didn’t know where I was going with it, but I’d like to know going forward.

I wrote some poems, some stories, some rants, some day recaps, some reviews. Little of this and that. Not a whole lot of themes or intent, just doing.

I’m okay admitting this. I started this blog not really knowing a whole lot about blogging and just needing an outlet. Maybe I would write things that relate to other people. Maybe not.

I enjoy literary writing, which requires a good deal of time and thought. I’m proud of a lot of those pieces and wanted them to be shared outside my blog in a collection with other strong writing. I have sent a lot of my work to small lit presses. I waited months for a response. Sometimes, I didn’t want to wait and posted on my blog.

Writers and people before me who have a thing to say or two about writing have always said this: write for yourself first. And if anything else, I’m happy that I have been able to do this in my lifetime.

Reasons I write

  1. Emotional release
  2. To know more about myself and what I think, even if it’s hard to articulate
  3. The craft of writing. Because getting better at something I like is fun.
  4. To connect with other people
  5. To create a name for myself

Emotional release

Writing for emotional release and understanding is a well-known use of the trade. Emotions are complex, beautiful beasts and if you don’t spend getting time to know them and how you use them, life can get pretty hazy. Not saying writing is the only way to get intimate with your emotions, but it’s my way of doing so.

To know myself

I want to know what I think and why I think that. Being authentic, no matter how painful it is and what I learn about myself, has always been one of my life goals.

It’s so easy to get caught up in what other people think, especially when we’re connected to each other’s opinions and thoughts more than ever before. This blog was supposed to be a spot where my thoughts could free fall. I say “supposed to” because I think I went through a few big life phases during this blog, but was unable to fully capture this experience openly. Because I was afraid of what other people think about me.

Along the way I also learned about “boundaries” and have grown to appreciate my privacy. I allowed myself to go through these changes on the other side of this blog. I write very personal things, and sometimes I’m not always aware of how this information can open myself up in vulnerable ways that some people may try to take advantage of. People who are not actively trying to understand their emotions tend to do this, and are not always aware of or care about how their emotional responses affect other people.

That being said, I’d like to continue to write what I mean in the best way possible, regardless of how others use their emotions.

The craft

I’ve spent more time and energy on writing than I have on any other passion or skill in my life. Why stop now? I’m not a perfect writer, and I don’t intend to be, but I’m not done learning. Do you see the headings I’m using in this blog? I more recently learned why that’s important for a reading experience. Learning about writing and implementing what I learn is very rewarding to me.

Don’t get me wrong: writing is still pure agony. But then the agony is also plain fun. And maybe that’s sadistic, but there are worse things.

To connect with other people

Notice that “to connect with other people” is fourth. Especially for writers trying to figure out their groove and niches, writing for people before knowing what interests you is not something I and others who write recommend.

That being said, I care about my work being read. A few months ago a woman commented on my blog about combatting anxiety. I appreciated her comment and thought about it a lot.

To make a name for myself

I still struggle with this one just as a lot of writers and people who want to be known for something they put a lot of heart and time into something do. Because I care about the artistic experience, I don’t want to come out with quick, easy material that isn’t accomplishing my emotional and self-awareness needs in writing for the sake of being provocative and being known.

However, marketing myself and being confident about my talents needs to be on this list. I want people to know me, and I think it can be accomplished since I require a lot of honesty with myself.

What I dig

Since starting this blog, here is what I learned that I like to write:

  1. Poetry
  2. What I’m reading or watching
  3. Current events
  4. Travel logs
  5. Stories
  6. First hand accounts

I have always been overwhelmed by my amount of creative interests, which is why I tried not to limit the types of content on this experimental platform I created for myself. I even started putting my sketches on this site, which is another creative interest I tacked onto my interest load.

This has made planning and consistency for this blog highly problematic. The amount of times I overthought form and ended up with no blog at all is very frustrating to me. And looking at this blog as a whole entity is also very interesting and confusing to me.

Blogs you liked the most

Writers are nothing without their readers. And that’s where I’d like to improve this year. I renewed this blog because I’d like to be more consistent, open and aware of my audience.

Here are the blogs you viewed/liked the most:

What this list tells me is that people tend to click and engage with posts about my family, sex, life goals, best tips and relationships the most. This makes sense because they are the most articulate and often openly emotional.

Based off the stats I have on this blog, I also learned that 2015 was my best year. I posted only 15 blogs that year, but received the most amount of views. It would appear that in my case quality over quantity makes a big difference.

I’m sure I could spend a lot longer on analytics. I’m telling you about them because I want you to know that I care about what both you and I like and want to create more of it. In reorganizing this blog and strategizing from this point forward, I will be more consciousness of what content works and doesn’t.

In the end, this stuff does come from the crevices of my heart, so it means a great deal that you would choose to spend time on it. Life is short and your time is important. Thank you for reading!