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kellyrfineman July 28 2014, 15:17

ABOVE THE DREAMLESS DEAD: World War I in Poetry and Comics

Today is the centennial anniversary of the start of World War I, once known as "the war to end all wars." (If only.) It was 100 years ago today that Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, were assassinated by a Serbian nationalist. As noted in this recent article in The New York Times, World War I may not have ended all wars, but it did change how they were fought. For one thing, it introduced the world to the use of chemical weapons; for another, it involved an enormous amount of soldiers from many countries. More than 8.5 million people died during the war, and another 20 million or so were injured.

First Second Books will be issuing on September 23rd a spectacularly good (and horrifyingly awful, in the best sense of the phrase, meaning that it both horrifies and inspires a kind of negative awe) anthology pairing songs, a bit of prose, and the work of a number of war poets with the art of various comics contributors. The book is entitled ABOVE THE DREAMLESS DEAD: world war I in poetry and comics, and it is edited by Chris Duffy. The title is drawn from the final phrase in Wilfrid Wilson Gibson's poem, "The Dancers".

The anthology includes the works of Rupert Brooke, Wilfrid Owen, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and more. My only quibbles are (a) that it didn't include any of the work of Canadian war poet, John McCrae, who wrote what is arguably the best-known of the war poems ever, "In Flanders Fields", and (b) that it left out Rupert Brooke's most famous war poem, "The Soldier", a sonnet which begins, "If I should die, think only this of me/That there's some corner of a foreign field/That is for ever England." But I suppose one can't have everything, though I do strongly believe that McCrae deserved a place in the collection, though Duffy seems to have limited the book to British and Irish poets.

Here is a page from "Therefore is the Name of it Called Babel" by Osbert Sitwell, illustrated by Isabel Greenberg:

The full text of the poem can be seen here in the journal Wheels, wherein it was first published in 1916: Page one of poem, page two of poem.

And here's a photo I took of the page featuring Hunt Emerson's adaptation of a soldiers' song entitled "I Don't Want to be a Soldier" (sorry for the quality, but it's pretty hilarious if you can read it):

For an excellent "tour" of the book, with good looks at the cover art on the jacket and on the book itself as well as excerpts from inside, I highly recommend Gina Gagliano's post for First Second. Definitely a book/comic to be on the lookout for come September!

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kellyrfineman July 27 2014, 16:58

It's a quiet Sunday afternoon

I managed to get that chapbook I was talking about the other day submitted on Friday. Since then, I've done precious little writing-related stuff, which is about to change this afternoon.

I have, however, enjoyed my time away from writing, by attending Friday night Shabbat services, spending the day at the beach with my sweetheart yesterday, and with his (and my pseudo-) grandchildren yesterday early evening, followed by drinks while watching the Phillies game, and by breakfast this morning with my two girlies, who are seldom in the same place at the same time these days. Later today there will be birthday cake for my sweetheart, but until then, it's all yard work (him, and at his insistence) and writing (me).

First, I plan on writing a poem in my poetry diary, which got a bit overlooked of late. And then I will spend some time planning for this week, writing-wise and probably life-wise as well. There's a new idea that's been knocking around that I really need to start pondering more seriously, too. After that, there's a novel I'd like to finish reading.

I hope you are enjoying a happy Sunday, whether it's as quiet as mine or not.

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carriejones July 27 2014, 12:10

My tweets

slayground July 25 2014, 13:00

Poetry Friday: Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: "Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away."

- Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley

If you can't see the video player above, click here to hear Ozymandias as read by Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad.

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

kellyrfineman July 24 2014, 14:17

My thoughts on putting together a chapbook -- let me show you them

This is what I have committed to completing by tomorrow. Mind you, this has been on my to-do list for something like six months now, and I have already spent hours and hours and hours over days and weeks and months on it.

Here's what I have figured out about it.

1. There's a certain amount of hubris to pulling together a chapbook. I mean, you have to assume that somebody might want to read it, right? And who am I to go about thinking I'm good enough to be read? (Hmm . . . maybe this should be there's a certain amount of self-loathing to pulling together a chapbook?) I feel like I'm constantly having to get past my own self in order to commence work on the project at all. Nevertheless, I push on.

2. I have to pick and choose among my own work. This is difficult, because, of course, on any given day I may like (or loathe) every single poem I've ever written. Also, on the one hand I am trying to select my best work, and on the other hand:

  I am thinking that the poems that I consider my BEST work that haven't been published yet ought to get submitted to journals first, where odds favor them being repeatedly rejected, but still, sometimes poems get accepted

  I am thinking that a chapbook made up entirely of poems that have already been published someplace wouldn't be that interesting

  I can't always figure out which are my best poems, although I have my suspicions

  I have poems that I am especially fond of, which may not actually be my "best" poems, that I kind of want to include

  poems that seem perfect one day and therefore must be included don't appeal to me after I've let the collection sit for a while

  my chapbook is supposed to be, say, around twenty pages, and I have only picked 12 poems for it; or, conversely, I have picked 37, and can't seem to decide which of those ought to go in the collection and which ones ought to go back in the file

  other stuff and bother

  some or all of the above.

3. Why bother? I might get rejected even after all this to-and-fro-ing. And I might not.

4. Once I have selected the poems that I think ought to be in the collection, I have to put them in some sort of order. Suddenly, I realize that I have 14 wry or humorous poems and four that are super-heavy, sad poems (or some other, similar conundrum) and I cannot for the life of me figure out how to intersperse things without seeming unhinged or, worse, creating an expectation that "this is what these poems are like", which turns out to be a false one, but it's too late, people already put the collection down and walked away. So I take some out and put some other ones in and start over. Or I put the whole thing down and slowly back away.

Or I figure out that some things go together, subject-matter wise or thematically or whatever, but not all of the poems work that way, and then I have to figure out what to do about it. At this point, I resort to pulling down various and sundry chapbooks from my bookshelf, to see how they were organized, and then I fall into reading the poems again, because they are there, and my, they are so very good - are mine anywhere near this good? - and then I start rocking quietly, wondering why it is that I thought this was a good idea anyhow?

5. There is no "right" answer. This is what I've finally figured out, after spending the past two months repeating the actions in the previous two paragraphs. Today, I'm resolved to push past/through it and arrive at an order. Then it's on to the next step . . .

6. A chapbook needs a title. Of course it does. And as many writers will tell you, coming up with titles is hard. Books should be written on the topic, but as far as I can tell, they haven't been. A common practice is to pick the title of one poem from the collection to stand as the title for the work. Even Billy Collins, Kay Ryan, and Mary Oliver do this. Probably I will do this, too. But did I mention that it's hard? Which one title speaks for the collection as a whole? Speaks for me as a poet? I guess eventually I will pick one that seems best (or least bad) and go with it.

7. As has already become evident to you if you've read this far, there's a lot of whining involved in the process. Maybe not for everyone. Maybe, once I have done this more than once, or more than more than once, I will get good at it. Perhaps it will be a speedier, simpler process. I will only find out if I finish this one and move on.

And now, I am off to sort and compile and shuffle and whatnot. But first, there will be tea. It can only help.

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kellyrfineman July 24 2014, 00:53

Woodland Litter Critters ABC by Patience Mason, illus. by Robert Mason

Patience Mason was kind enough to send me a copy of her self-published abecediary, Woodland Litter Critters ABC, which has one of the clearest alphabets, in both capital and lower-case letters, that I've seen in a while.

Each page features different "litter critters", which are small creatures assembled by Patience from items she finds on her woodland walks -- what some people might consider cast-offs, or detritus, repurposed creatively by Patience and photographed by her husband, Robert. The very last page of the book includes some photos with diagrams that explain what some of the "critters" were made of, which would allow readers to make some of their own critters.

Patience's sense of fun is plain to see, and the entire project just goes to show how creative people can be.

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kellyrfineman July 22 2014, 23:13

Working on poetry this week

Well, mostly.

Yesterday, I put in my proposals for next spring's New England SCBWI conference. And I had a small editorial project land on my desk, so I attended to that as well. But for the rest of this week, I'll be working on poetry -- the writing, typing, and editing thereof.

I'm putting together a possible chapbook to submit for consideration at a small local press, and I'm working on a very personal poem for my sweetheart, who has a birthday this weekend, and I'm working on a bunch of other poems.

And next week, I'm probably switching my primary focus back to picture book revisions. Of course, some of my picture books are in rhyme, and most of them resemble poetry one way or another, so perhaps it's a distinction without a difference.

Meanwhile, I am quietly celebrating a small piece of good news, which is that a poem I wrote was listed in the "top ten" poems for Day 3 of National Poetry Month's posts at Robert Lee Brewer's Poetic Asides blog at Writer's Digest. There are still at least a handful of days unjudged, so I'll keep checking back there. Meanwhile, something small to celebrate.

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kellyrfineman July 21 2014, 15:47

Why is it so hard to own the good stuff?

I'm not talking about money or about actual possessions, here. I'm talking about personal accomplishments. And maybe you have better self-esteem than me, and this won't make any sense to anyone else, but

why is it so hard to register and take pride in one's own accomplishments and successes?

I've been thinking about this in the abstract for more than two weeks, and been mulling this blog post for more than two days, and I'm still not certain I can articulate this well, but I hope you'll let me try. What follows is not intended as anything like a brag, but more like a reality check, as I hope you'll see:

I've been writing seriously for about 12 years now, or since the autumn of 2002. I spent those first few years hoping for a sale, sure that would mean I had "arrived." My first publishing credit was a poem that appeared in an anthology called Summer Shorts in 2006. My response was underwhelming, in part because I'd had to edit the poem in a way that I objected to, but still ... I'd been published. I should have been celebrating and happy, right? And I was, but it was short-lived, and then I found myself not bothering to mention it much as years went by.

My next publication was a poem that appeared in Highlights for Children magazine in 2007. I don't know about you, but I'd always wanted to sell a poem to Highlights. That, I thought, would mean that I had "made it" as a children's writer. This poem was actually my first-ever sale, before the one in Summer Shorts, but it took a couple years to get published, in part because it was a seasonal poem about Hanukkah and had to go into a December issue. I was so happy to sell the poem, and pleased to see it in print, but again, it was a short-lived happiness.

I had poems win awards from Writer's Digest Magazine, including one that won third place (and earned me money and mention inside the magazine). I had poems published in online and print poetry journals. I had poems appear in anthologies for adults and for children. All of these things felt big when they first happened, and quickly lost their shine somehow. While the rejection letters far outnumber acceptances (still and always), there came a time when I realized that the rejection letters no longer had any sting to them - I mostly shrug and move on. There also came a time when I realized that my celebrations of any publishing successes in the arena of journals and such were extremely short-lived. Mostly, they consist of me squealing when I get the acceptance email, then telling my sweetheart about it, then, essentially, shrugging and moving on.

In 2012, my first-ever picture book came out from tiger tales books, a small, independent press in Connecticut. I was thrilled to have a book out. Pleased as punch with my editor, who is the delightful Jamie Michalak, now a full-time author. In love with the illustrations by Mònica Armiño. Finally, my own book!

Now, though, it is 2014, and I haven't sold another picture book (yet). And I find myself forgetting what a triumph it is to have a realio, trulio book out in the world. It's so easy to say "but it's just the one book", or "it's not from a major publisher". I forget that it not only came out, but it was also picked up by Barnes & Noble. (Lots of books aren't.) Not only was it picked up by B&N, but it was also featured in their "summer" collection on their picture book walls, all across the United States. (Lots of books aren't.) It is hard to place poetry anywhere, and I'm lucky to have poems in award-winning anthologies for children. And to have poems in anthologies for adults. And in journals and magazines.

Yet most days, I still feel a bit like a failure. All of these years writing, and I feel as if I have nothing to show for it, despite a shelf full of books and journals and magazines that say otherwise.

My friends, that ain't right.

On Saturday, I had lunch in Philadelphia with Jenn Hubbard, a good friend and a most excellent author. We got to talking about these sorts of things, and Jenn reminded me exactly how hard it is to sell poetry anywhere. There are great poets all over the country and world, and publishing venues aren't as abundant as they could be, and the competition is terribly stiff, and it's difficult to get an acceptance.

Oftentimes, a "sale" to a journal means you get paid in copies of the journal itself, and there's no money. Jenn reminded me that it does not mean, however, that the sale is unimportant or that it is not a huge success. The same reasoning applies to sales to anthologies, where payment per poem tends to be on the low side (because how else could they afford to put out an anthology with a lot of poems inside?). Given how difficult it is to sell one's work, actually selling anything is a huge deal, and deserves to be celebrated.

Interestingly, I had already decided to take a sort of step back and to start celebrating things like actually getting drafts of picture book manuscripts completed, as I mentioned in this post, which concludes as follows:

An author's work is rarely done. So those plateau moments when one major thing has been accomplished and it's not time to start the next step are truly worth celebrating. Because really, life needs more celebrations.

I plan on sticking by that from now on, and on trying to remember that even if I'm feeling a bit like a failure on a given day, there's no basis in fact for that. Not just because I have that shelf full of stuff that says otherwise, but also because I keep writing.

Edited to say: I haven't been sad or upset about this, just wondering why it is so hard for me (and possibly others) to feel good about the things they have done, or to wish for something "more" even when you've achieved a measure of success (however small).

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kellyrfineman July 20 2014, 19:34

I love good news, don't you?

Last week, I received my contract for two poems that are going to appear in the forthcoming National Geographic's Book of Nature Poetry, edited by J. Patrick Lewis. To say that I'm excited is a gross understatement, especially since National Geographic's Book of Animal Poetry (in which my poem, "Sea Jelly", appeared) was so gorgeous!

And on Friday, I got an acceptance from U.S. 1 Worksheets for a poem, which will appear in their yearly journal next spring.

Color me happy!

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slayground July 18 2014, 13:03

Poetry Friday: There are two things from Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers

There are two things:
True things.
And lies.
When you figure out
which is which
it's like you are on the inside
of the balloon
looking out,
seeing the pin coming toward you
in the sunlight
but not being able
to move away.

Or maybe,
the thing is
that all of us are two people:
the one inside
the balloon.
And the one
holding the pin.

This poem is featured in the epistolary novel Finding Ruby Starling by Karen Rivers. Though the majority of the story is conveyed in letters and emails, one of the characters, Ruth, has a poetry journal hosted on tumblr - which, as of this posting, is not an active account in real life. (Yes, of course I checked!)

View all posts tagged as Poetry Friday at Bildungsroman.

View the roundup schedule at A Year of Reading.

Learn more about Poetry Friday.

carriejones July 16 2014, 12:07

My tweets

carriejones July 15 2014, 21:20

My Daughter is in Israel so I am Learning About Hate

So, since my college-aged daughter went to Israel on July 6, people keep asking me in person, in private messages, and social media some things that are sort of freaking me out.

The first is this:

Wait, are you Jewish?

This is sometimes followed with, "You don't look Jewish."

At which point I don't know whether or not to say, "Um. How does Jewish look?"

Because the thing is that I am not Jewish by heritage or conversion and I want to know why this is suddenly a defining question about me because my daughter has traveled to Israel. Would they ask if we were Muslim if she had gone to Iran, Kuwait? Would they ask if we were Hindi or Buddhist if she went to India? Nobody asked if we were Catholic when we went to Ireland.

The second question is:

Is your daughter Jewish?

And same thing. Same answer. She is not any more Jewish than I am.

But it leaves me with a weird gasp in my throat because most of the times that people ask? There's a look on their faces. It's not a look I'm used to seeing because I present like an able-bodied, middle-income, white woman who is most likely Christian.  And that look on most of these people's faces when they ask in person if I am Jewish? It's the face of bigotry.

It's not a face I like.

And it also makes me wonder why they ask? Why does it matter? Jewish people are not the only people who visit Israel or who live in Israel.

But that bigotry against them, and against the Palestinians is real and horrifying. Just look up #israel or #hamas on your favorite social media and you will see calls for death, for genocide. You will see death. You will see hate. And if you have a heart inside your chest, what you see will take away your hope or it will dent it, break off a piece of it.

And, yes, I know that I am lucky. I know that even though I grew up poor, I still grew up white in a country and world that still has glass ceilings and color barriers and hate crimes based on all sorts of things. I know that I can hide my biological differences. But just because I am lucky, doesn't make the bigotry okay. Bigotry is never okay. Demeaning other people, dehumanizing others because they believe differently, worship (or not) differently, vote for the opposite politicians you vote for (or don't vote at all), identify as a different gender than you, are feminists, are women, are gay or questioning or straight, are poor or wealthy, larger sized or smaller sized, are a different race or ethnicity or ability or income. None of that matters. Listen. We need to get to a place where we love people as people not as labels. We need to get to a place where someone like my daughter can visit another country because she simply wants to learn as much as she can about other cultures and experience as much as she can in the limited time she has on this earth.

Which leads me to the third question that was on my Facebook, a question that has been implied over and over again after Israel and Gaze began firing rockets and missiles at each other:

Carrie I love you (so please don't take it personal) but why would you even let Em go there? I know she's a free spirit and will most likely do whatever she wants, but wouldn't she also listen if her mom would tell her to go somewhere safe istead?

That comment was in response to my Facebook status, which said:

Em just texted me that sirens are going off. Then she texted she loved me. Now she is not responding. Must not freak out. Must not freak out. Must not freak out. I am totally freaking out.

The person who wrote that is a super lovely person, but the judgement in her question pretty much increased my blood pressure to dangerous levels. Seriously, I could feel my pulse in my head. That never happens to me. Not even after running or mountain climbing or arguing with my siblings.

And I responded like this:

I appreciate our concern NAME OF PERSON (I am not putting it here because she really is nice), however it has nothing to do with Emily being a free spirit. It has to do with her being an adult who is over the age of 18, who has a life to lead as she sees fit, not how I see fit. We discuss everything before she does it, but the choices are always hers, as they should be. She is a brilliant kid, a passionate advocate for human rights, resourceful as heck and calm in a crisis. When the other young adults she was with were freaking out, she was calming them down, cracking jokes, explaining military strategy, hugging the crying ones. I will never try to make her live her life according to my expectations of safety. Because if I did? She would do nothing. She would never ride in a car. She would never have been a flyer in cheerleading. She would not go to Harvard, which is in a city, which is more dangerous. She would have never log rolled or played soccer or taken Krav Maga or rode horses. She would never be able to enter the career paths she is considering. Yes, she sometimes choses to do dangerous things, but it is never for the sake of being dangerous. It is almost always for the sake of broadening her understanding of the word and/or helping others. I want my daughter to live the fullest, most well-traveled (if that's what she chooses), amazing life possible. Yes, I have to hold my breath sometimes because of her choices. I was a wreck when she cheered. I was a wreck when she hung upside down from a trampoline or jumped off a roof during stunt camp. It doesn't matter. It is her life. Not mine. Military parents (and spouses) go through this and much worse all the time. People need freedom to grow, to make choices, and not to be coddled.

I believe what I wrote, but the comment still rattled me. Actually, it still does. Why do we all think it's okay to judge other people so much and about so much?

We all, including me, need to understand where our judgmental attitudes come from. We need to practice empathy. We need to work towards understanding. No, I will never know what it is to be a man, to be transgender, to be a billionaire, to be Muslim, to be autistic, but I will know what it is like to be epileptic, female, victimized, assaulted, stalked, to live in a car, and to be poor. It's not all the same thing, but what is the same about us all is that we are all humans. We all can be loved. We all can love. We all feel. We all can respect. We can all be respected. We can all try a little bit harder not to live full of hate and instead live full of love.

And sure. We are going to screw up.

And sure. We are going to suck sometimes.

And sure. That will stink.

But it's part of the process, right? And that process has to be full of hope - hope to be better, kinder, hope to make the world less full of hate, bombs, dead children, trafficked women, murders, poverty, and war. We start with ourselves and simultaneously work on the bigger picture. Isn't that what being a person is about? I hope so. I really really hope so.
kellyrfineman July 15 2014, 15:56

Where I was for last week's Revision Camp

I was in Louisville, Kentucky

I would say I neglected to mention that I was away from home during last week's Revision Camp, but that would be a falsehood. Why advertise that your house is unoccupied, save for a not especially fierce housecat? My sweetheart was attending a Tai Chi Symposium, learning from five Chinese Grandmasters in each of the five major styles of tai chi (Chen, Sun, Wu, Wu/Hao, and Yang, for those who keep track of such things), so I went along for the ride and the hotel stay and, as it turned out, the bourbon.

We had a very nice, albeit smallish, room in the historic Seelbach Hotel, where I did most of my revision work. Our first full day in town was Sunday, and since the conference didn't start until late afternoon, we managed a nice foot tour of town on our own. We went to the Visitor's Center, where we had our picture taken with a wax figure of Colonel Sanders and picked up passports for the Urban Bourbon trail in Louisville.

Then we visited the Frazier History Museum, which is, as best as I could tell, essentially a collection of weapons, ranging from mail, armor, swords, and pikes to rifles and pistols, with the occasional Native American weapon here and there. They do have Daniel Boone's family Bible, so it's not all weapons, but it's close. Nevertheless, it was interesting (until we got to the guns), since they had a lot of information on battle tactics in various eras.

We saw, but did not pay to visit, the Louisville Slugger Museum, in part because the factory is not operational on Sundays, and in part because we lacked sufficient time to make it worth the admissions fee. But it is a really cool-looking building.

One of the other things we appreciated about Louisville was the amount of public art. It is everywhere downtown. There are tons of sculptures (probably literally, since most of them are metal and/or concrete), and even the little fences they had surrounding trees planted in the sidewalks were wrought iron sculptures featuring trains and beds and more. And there were Louisville Sluggers in metal up and down the section of Main Street near the museum, commemorating various feats achieved with that brand of bat.

Here's what my work space looked like during my Revision Camp. There were two different work areas, the desk and the bed, and I spent most of it on the bed because the desk was simply too high (or the chair far too short) to make the desk practicable for any period of time. I managed to finish drafting and revising two of the picture books I started back in June, and I have to say I'm pretty chuffed about both of them.

As you already know if you read my report from revision camp last week, it took far longer than anticipated, and I was reminded once again that the process takes as long as it takes. And that I was overly ambitious in my planning, since I had something like five picture book manuscripts plus a poetry collection with me, and I "only" got two picture books finished. But you know what? That's actually a pretty huge accomplishment, and I'm not complaining. In fact, I'm celebrating it (still). As I said in Friday's update, "really, life needs more celebrations." It may be my new motto. (Or one of them, at any rate.)

My beloved had a rather full schedule, starting with outdoor tai chi at 6:15 each morning and running until as late as 10 p.m. most nights. On Monday night, I attended the opening banquet with him, and on Thursday, I went with him to watch the Grandmasters' Showcase, which was a really awesome display of tai chi prowess. And I made short trips of my own for sight-seeing and shopping purposes most days. But each day, he had a two hour break from 4:15 to 6:15, and he had Wednesday night completely free, so that's when we participated in the Urban Bourbon tour. That's my Seelbach Cocktail and his Old Fashioned at the Old Seelbach Bar that you see to the right.

Here's me by the lobby staircase holding our Urban Bourbon passports as we headed to the Old Seelbach Bar. (Note the gray hair - I haven't dyed it in months, and am now debating whether to bother again.)

Now we are home, and I find that I kind of miss Louisville. It's a great town to spend time in. I am not quite as tired as I thought I might be, and we are practicing making Old Fashioneds and Manhattans at home, having procured some bourbon during our travels, as well as the various bitters we needed, etc. And life is still good.

And I have more revisions to work on.

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