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Author Archives: ianmdudley

About ianmdudley

Writer, lover, reader, father, taxpayer, husband, and son, though not necessarily in that order.

I think Tesla may have been involved in the manufacture of my glass bowls

Ever have one of those days where you break some glassware, and as a result trap your kids in a room that they can’t leave until you sweep up all the glass because they aren’t wearing shoes and when you ask where their shoes are, of course they don’t know, because why would they and you have to sequester the dogs because they never wear shoes and you can’t have them hurting themselves when they come to investigate the source of that loud crashing sound and oh yeah, said dogs chewed up your only dustpan at some point in the past so it doesn’t work well and while you’re looking for the vacuum cleaner the kids suddenly really need to go to the bathroom but they are at that age and size where there is no way on this green Earth you can carry them over the danger zone and then, as the icing on the cake, just as you vacuum up the last remnants of the broken glassware you knock over another one and it crashes to the floor and shatters into a million pieces in a million directions, covering the area you just picked up then swept then vacuumed and all the while the dogs are howling because they want to be let loose and probably need to go to the bathroom too and oh, did I mention that you’re really tired and had been planning to go to bed right after putting away the glassware you’d taken out of the dishwasher but in the process bumped some other glassware causing it to break?

Yeah, me neither.

 
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Posted by on 24 November 2019 in Angst, Life, Parenting

 

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I got distracted trying to find a distraction-free writing tool

Sure the battery life is great and the keyboard has arrow keys. But will it blend?

Writing a haiku? Fine, it might work. But a novel?

So it’s the middle of November and many of you are no doubt participating in Nanowrimo.

I am not.

I should be writing. I should be wrapping up the short story that is almost, unbelievably close to done.

I should be wrapping up the third Marlowe and the Spacewoman novel, the first draft of which is two thirds done.

But I’m not.

Instead, I got lost down the rabbit hole of process.

Not the thought process of writing, but the mechanical process of writing.

As is clear by the sizeable passage of time since I’ve generated any prose, I am prone to distractions. So as I sat down for one writing session, I thought, “Hey, I should Bing* search ‘distraction free writing’ to see what options I have.”

Because obviously I should spend the precious free moments I have for writing doing anything but writing.

Why distraction-free writing? Because I wanted yet another excuse for why I don’t write I wanted something that would force me to write without opening another tab in my browser to look up something inconsequential to getting the story done, such as which font I need to download in order to properly spell “procrastinate” in some weird language like Old or Middle Latin.

(Those are totally languages, so don’t leave any angry comments below!)

And boy, did that search give me some cool results.

First I encountered a lot of apps / programs that, really, are just bare-bones text editors. But not only could I just use Notepad instead for that, but my laptop is 10+ years old and takes forever to boot. So long that I switched from Winblows to Linux, which also, it turns out, takes forever to boot.

Just slightly less forever than Winblows 7 with 10+ years of programs installed on it.

So I realized that apps were out. No, I needed a distraction-free hardware solution that didn’t take until the next ice age to boot.

The Alphasmart gets lots of play during Nanowrimo, but it has a teeny tiny LCD display that is just too small for me.

Enter the Freewrite, which claims you will double your hourly word count.

And exit the Freewrite, when I see that it costs $549, only does one thing (allowing you to type documents), and has no arrow keys because going back to edit is for losers.

But wait, in a shocking surprise substitution, enter the Freewrite Traveler, which also claims you will double your hourly word count.

And exit the Freewrite Traveler, when I see it costs $369 (on sale, normally $599!), has all the same issues as the Freewrite, and, oh yeah, isn’t out yet.

I was starting to lose faith and therefore was forced to redouble my searching efforts.

Which is how I stumbled across the Pomera DM30, a compact, instant-on device with a folding keyboard and E-Ink display.

That can be had now for (as low as) $208, uses a Japanese keyboard layout, has be be imported from Japan, and is also distraction-free since it can’t do anything else.

Well, that’s not entirely true. I sometimes am forced to use a Japanese layout keyboard at the day job, and let me tell you, nothing is more distracting than trying to hit the space bar or figure out where the friggin’ ‘:’ and ‘;’ keys actually are, inaccurate labeling on the keys notwithstanding.

WTF, Japan? WTF?

But these devices (the Freewriti, as the plural for Freewrite is written in Old Latin, and the Pomera) were instant on, and that really appealed to me. There was no way I’d pay $250+ for (yet another) computer/word processor, so I was reluctantly leaning towards the Pomera, even though I knew the keyboard would drive me crazy and the $208 price still felt a bit steep.

That’s when I discovered HPCs.

HPCs are, for those of you who are young or who are old but not nerds, Handheld PCs. Small computers either running proprietary OSes (such as the Psion 7 running Symbian) or Windows CE.Some are tiny and literally fit in the palm of your hand (such as the HP 100LX which runs DOS), and others are slightly larger with nearly full-size keyboards (such as the NEC MobilePro 900C or Psion Netbook Pro).

They also haven’t been made in at least 15 years.

But I found a new old stock (so still in the box, woo-hoo!) Psion Netbook Pro on eBay for ~$130 and, after weeks of searching and researching and viewing YouTube videos of it (and the Pomera and the FreeWriters and the HP 100 and 200 LXes and the older Psion 7 that goes for $450+ on eBay), I ordered it.

It came with Windows CE (duh), Wordpad and a bunch of outdated Microsoft Office viewers.

And nothing else.

Which I found a little…lacking.

So I spent another week or so doing more research, discovered someone selling a CD with a bunch of licensed programs for Win CE, including a more full-featured word processor than Wordpad that could save documents as Microsoft .doc files.

So for another $48 (including shipping), I ordered that.

And waited 18 days for it to show up. The first 13 of which were spent in the originating post office. For some reason.

Some incredibly frustrating, but unknown to me reason.

Side note: the USPS package tracking sucks. That is the scientific term to describe it – I’m too polite to use the informal term that immediately comes to mind.

Now did I use my shiny new (old stock) distraction-free writing computer during all this?

Hell, no! It only has Wordpad! Yeech! I’m no masochist!

(Well, OK, maybe I am, but not when it comes to my writing.)

So if you’re thinking about dipping your toes into the whole distraction-free writing world, I have one word of advice for you:

Don’t.

* I didn’t use Bing. No one does. I used a different, functional search engine. That doesn’t spy on me.

 

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Rabbit holes, unlike their makers, are not cute…or to be trifled with

I have friends who are always going on about getting lost down a rabbit hole on the internet.

This post is for them, assuming you stumble across it in your online queries.

Be careful about rabbit holes. They are dangerous.

Just as an example of the type of peril you may face, take my recent foray into the topic of “rabbit holes” on Wikipedia.

Reading about the warren of twisty little passages, all alike, soon reminded me about Watership Down.

Watership Down is a book (and a subsequent animated movie) about rabbits. Well, it’s about people and society and government, but dressed up in cute fuzzy cotton tail bodies. I saw the movie first, probably around the age of eight or nine.

My parents, with a desperate gleam in their eyes, said, “We need a break from you, even for just an hour and a half. There’s a movie about rabbits on the telly. That’ll be fun, yes?” Which seemed like a good idea all round until the fate of the first warren is revealed.

If you’ve seen the movie, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t. The stuff of nightmares. For young children and, shortly thereafter, the parents who have to deal with those children.

I read the book a few years later, 7th or 8th grade. And loved it. Amazing book. So good I tore through it at a considerably faster pace than the teacher expected us to. Which meant I was so far past the point she would quiz us on every Friday (to prove we’d been reading it) that I failed each and every test.

This of course leads me to the movie Se7en.

Like the book Watership Down, it’s a great movie, amazing. Fincher is one of my favorite directors. Right up there with Wes Anderson.

Like the movie Watership Down, I will never watch it again. Grueling. Soul-crushing. The non-rabbit stuff of nightmares.

Fincher also directed Alien 3, which was maligned at the time by the Alien fans, but which I think is actually the best movie of the bunch. Yes, it had problems: budget overruns, studio interference, and (surprising in a Fincher movie) really bad CGI. But the story is the kind of dark-humored, grisly horror that doesn’t involve a stomach-churning ending with a box that I can get behind.

Speaking of unexpected deliveries, Amazon shipped us an Amazon Fire TV stick with a tablet we bought. We didn’t order it, didn’t really want it, but assumed it was some sort of promotion. Fast forward a couple of years. We decide to use it. Except after considerable effort to set it up, we discover we can’t log in.

Contact Amazon tech support.

What’s the serial number on the box it came in?” Um, don’t have the box any more.

What’s the order number from when you bought it?” Um, we didn’t. You sent it to us for free, with a tablet. Here’s that order #.

Amazon never has, and never will ship Amazon Fire TV sticks for free.” And then, the implication that we’re thieves so thick we can detect it in the chat text, “What is the serial number or order number?

The conversation ended with “You might as well just throw it away.

But aren’t our landfills full enough already? Especially with e-waste? How is that being a responsible steward of the economy, Amazon? China’s not taking that crap any more, so it’s just gonna start piling up and at some point, if we aren’t careful, it’s gonna crush a rabbit warren and wipe out a whole community of cute little bunnies.

So you see what I mean? Rabbit holes aren’t just dangerous…they are downright deadly!

 
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Posted by on 2 September 2019 in Angst, Life, Reading, Technopocalypse, Writing

 

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Look! Up in the Sky! It’s a Moonlighting Superhero! No, It’s Just An In Over His Head Improv Student!

If you were peeking surreptitiously through my window tonight and saw me groaning in pain as I reached under the kitchen sink to grab a garbage bag, you could be forgiven for wondering:

“Is he a mild-mannered writer by day who uses Krav Maga to fight crime at night? Is that why he’s so stiff and in such obvious agony now, having over-exerted himself during the off hours in his zeal for intemperate Justice?”

Honestly, right now it feels exactly like I do go out at night, but not to pummel ne’er-do-wells. Nope, sadly I think it’s more akin to them pummeling me.

But that is not the source of my discomfort.

No.

It’s something much simpler:

Improv comedy.

That darkest and deadliest of the comic arts, requiring its oh-so-foolish practitioners to work…without a net.

Dangerous stuff. Really gets the heart a-pumpin’.

Yes, instead of finishing his latest short story or the third book in the Marlowe and the Spacewoman saga, this mild-mannered author / engineer by day is moonlighting as an adrenaline-seeking improv artist during his “down” time.

And I’m not very good at it.

You see, in Comedy Which Is Improvised, as lay people call it, the audience expects to laugh. Ideally by something you or your fellow artists are saying and performing on stage.

You know, acting out wacky and hilarious scenes based on prompts from the people sitting in the dark in front of you, fidgeting in their seats, hungry for entertainment.

Ravenous, even.

And if you aren’t wacky and hilarious?

Well, the audience still needs to feed. And if they don’t get the delicious comedy they expect, there is a substitute they will accept.

Pain.

Turns out if you can’t make with the funny using words, the audience will eat up pain.

A very specific type of pain.

Self-inflicted.

Sure, you may think it’s funny to punch a castmate in the face and break their nose. Especially if they’ve been hogging the stage all night and stepping on your lines.

But not the audience. Oh no. From them it’s nothing but shocked gasps and indignant muttering and offers to testify on your castmate’s behalf at the assault trial.

But.

But!

Fall flat on your own face?

First a silence so deep descends upon the audience they can hear your teeth crack from the impact.

And then, a beat later, laughter.

Uproarious, gleeful laughter.

The more self-inflicted and gasp-inducing your injury, the more they lap it up.

And once they’ve supped on your personal misery, they discover too late they’ve developed a taste for it.

They want more.

They need more.

They. Must. Have. MORE.

More of your saucy, delectable pain.

So this past weekend I ended up flinging myself upon the hard, unyielding boards I was trodding in a desperate attempt to find a balance between killing myself (too much pain) and angering the audience (not enough).

Oh, how they laughed at my anguished wailing, how they chortled at my plaintive whimpers, how they guffawed at the gush of my hemoglobin all over the floor of the stage, hot and sticky and metallic.

Which is why today, I don’t have the strength to lift my damp, still blood-stained costume out of the washing machine.

Or a garbage bag out from the cabinet under the sink.

Today I learned it’s a good idea to have, if not a medical degree, at least an Associate’s Degree in anatomy if you want to get into the dangerous, high-stakes life of improv comedy.

Or, if you have the knack for it, be funny.

Either way, I think I’m in over my head.

 
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Posted by on 26 August 2019 in Art!, Conspiracies Out To Get Me, improv, Life

 

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Oh No, My Kids Are Nerds!

All of my D&D dice are loaded

Guess which of those die rolls was mine. Think “unlucky” if you need a hint.

The other morning, out of nowhere, the kiddos burst into our bedroom, jumping up and down and screaming about playing D&D.

Now when I say morning, I mean “morning” in the sense of “weekend morning when I can sleep in until 10:30am or so without consequence” and when I say “burst into the room” I mean in the sense of “very, very much before 10:30am”.

I’m an ugly man. I need my beauty sleep. But it seems like, ever since I had kids, I keep getting uglier.

(Unlike the Missus. With these early bird spawn, I have no idea how she avoids it.)

But I digress, and will distract you from my unsightly visage by returning to the tale at hand.

My kiddos somehow learned about Dungeons & Dragons and now are extremely anxious to play it.

Like right now. Not five minutes or an hour or a day from now, but five minutes ago now.

I did not play D&D when I was a kid. Not that I didn’t want to. I found the concept intriguing.

Exciting.

Exotic.

But my friends were too cool to play D&D. Or any other role playing game.

No, they wanted to log into BBSes, use a z-modem client to allow for interrupted downloads, play chess, and use numbering schemes involving mega-Hertz and / or baud rates and nothing else.

You know, cool, non-nerdy things.

Or at least the coolest, non-nerdiest things you can do without atheletic prowess and above average hand-eye coordination.

As you can easily imagine, the trauma of being denied D&D games as a child resulted in my psyche forming a protective layer of scar tissue when it comes to all things RPG-related.

It was a purely defensive response that came about shortly after I realized playing D&D by myself just wasn’t cutting it.

Six weeks into that disastrous, sanity loss inducing solo campaign…

The long and the short of it is that I had a miserable childhood full of self-loathing, bitter disappointment, and a lot of shiny, mint-condition dice with a varying number of sides.

I was filled with as much ennui as an overworked and illiterate Parisian barista with dreams of writing the Great French Novel.

Years later, when I became a father, holding two red-faced, howling baby kiddos in my arms (they never liked it when I held them), I had two epiphanies:

One: Holy crap babies can be loud!

And two: I will never let them suffer the way I suffered when it comes to RPGs.

I vowed to raise them in a world without the siren lure of D&D.

The nurses were unimpressed with this vow.

Initially, I planned to go back in time and prevent Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson from ever meeting, let alone creating the game. But I could only figure out how to quantum leap into my own body during that time period, which was, in 1979…well, let’s just leave it at too young to dissuade anyone from becoming friends with or inventing anything.

So time travel was out. I had no choice but to go with Plan B:

Hide it from them.

While the kiddos were very young and not very mobile, it was easy to protect them from the existence of such games. But no growing kiddo is an island, so I knew I could only delay the discovery.

Inevitably, they would learn about role playing games.

Some hooligan on the school playground, furtively beckoning them over and asking if they wanted to try some GURPS. For free.

At first.

Most likely it was the seven year old next door who talks non-stop about Pokemon and My Little Pony and that the Missus and I decided was a bad influence. We banned the kiddos from hanging out with her, but they must have anyway, just to spite us. Her mom probably drove them to the local gaming store in the mall, where they have weekly gaming sessions.

WHY DID I NOT KNOW OF SUCH THINGS WHEN I WAS A KID?! So much pain could have been avoided!

But, availability of weekly mall sessions aside, I’d made up my mind about my kiddos and RPGs, and I wasn’t going to waffle or flip-flop now.

I had a plan. A beautiful plan, which I thought I’d executed flawlessly.

When the kiddos were old enough to understand and start experimenting with nerdy things, I locked them in a closet with a tablet and didn’t let them out until they’d watched all three seasons of Star Trek.

(The original series, since there is no other legitimate Star Trek and you all know it!)

I thought it worked. Not only did they avoid Star Trek, but after that just looking out the window at the night sky gave them fits.

No way they’d want to experiment with anything even remotely nerdly, no matter how “cool” or “da bomb” their friends said it was.

My plan seemed to be working. I put a basketball hoop up in our backyard, and they took to it like tuna to a can. Running, shooting, taunting each other every time they missed.

It was perfect.

Until this recent morning, when, out of nowhere, they dragged us out of bed at the crack of dawn and made us buy the Player’s Handbook 5th Edition.

(Well, wait outside the local bookstore until it opened, then buy it.)

And now I’m crying.

Crying tears of joy.

I’m having the second childhood I always wanted but never had.

For the first time since my age hit double digits, I’m happy.

Inexplicably happy.

Almost happier, even, than the day the kiddos were born, except I just rolled a three on my check initiative, and that kinda takes the edge off the whole thing.

 
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Posted by on 21 July 2019 in Angst, Life

 

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With humidity like this, who needs a steam cleaner?

It was a hot summer night. The sort of hot that left you feeling warm all over.

Really, really warm.

The sort of warm that led to misdemeanors. And maybe, if you were lucky, a high crime or two.

My kind of night.

Unlike me, a fair number of the good citizens of this city were loitering in the shadows and the sickly yellow pools cast by the sodium streetlights, listlessly nursing the futile hope that the evening air would provide some relief from the ungodly warm.

As I passed one particularly rundown tenement, I was met with the hard stare of an old man slouched on the stoop, his suspicion baked in by the oppressive weather. Knuckles white and unyielding, he held a struggling, foam-covered cat in one hand and a straight razor, paused mid-air as I passed, in the other.

Just before he passed out of my peripheral vision, he resumed shaving the cat, I could only assume to help her beat the heat too. Didn’t look to me like either was too successful in that endeavor. But if one was less successful and less happy with the result than the other, this hissing told me it was definitely the cat.

I’d been tailing a mark in the green light district, where the road signs never slept and the cars never stopped. It made crossing the street a real exercise in life insurance actuarial tables.

And not the good tables.

My mark was a married man, but his wife had a hunch he didn’t act married. Hired me to get the scoop, dig up the beans, look under the rocks for the ugly, ugly truth.

You’d be surprised how much ugly truth can hide under a rock.

Even a small one.

As a general rule, I hated this sort of work, but as an even more important general rule, I liked having the dough to pay my bills. Office rental doesn’t come cheap, and neither does life insurance in my line of work.

Plus the slap and tickle on the side cases generally worked out better for my clients than the shoot and stab murders I sometimes found myself (and my clients) embroiled in.

What’s a little infidelity when you get to wake up the next day still alive?

Of course, more than once, my efforts on these more unseemly cases led to murder after the fact. After I reported the bad news to the aggrieved spouse.

Sometime right after.

There was probably irony to be found in this, but for the life of me I couldn’t see it.

The jilted spouse turning to murder then getting arrested before paying my bill might have contributed to that myopia.

And if life in my line of work had taught me one thing, it was that some wrongs even eye doctors can’t fix.

– – –

I’m bored and my imagination tends to wander when I should be trying to sleep. Tonight, unlike most nights, I didn’t ignore the impulse and then realize the next morning just how stupid the idea was. No, instead I jumped on the Missus’ computer and started typing away.

My apologies.

 
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Posted by on 23 June 2019 in Mystery, Noir, Story, Writing

 

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If you cut down a tree in a forest while on Ambien and don’t remember, did you make any noise when it landed on you?

Black hole phobias and baggage retrieval concerns aside, 2019 has provided plenty of material for me to stew over. And when your D&D alignment is Lawful Worrier, you don’t really need a large portion of angst to get a good ol’ knot in the stomach rolling (or is that roiling?).

But 2019 has definitely been the year that giveth when it comes to bad news, and halfway into the year it has started to take its toll.

In particular, the irrational fears gnawing away at me have made it difficult to sleep. Difficult enough that I ended up with a prescription for Ambien.

The doctor’s thinking went something like this:

Worries prevent sleep → Lack of sleep inhibits ability to deal with worries → Worries prevent sleep

Robert Jordan’s less famous Wheel of Fear concept, which he eventually cast aside for the Wheel of Time concept. Would have been a very different series had he stuck with his original idea.

Basically, the expectation is if I can finally manage to get a decent night’s sleep, I might be able to snap out of it.

Why am I blathering on about this? Because it’s important to convey to you that I’ve been prescribed sleeping pills to help with my anxiety.

Remember that.

Which leads us to the side effects of Ambien, or, in my case, the generic version called zolpidem tartrate. This is all straight from the information sheet provided to me by the pharmacist along with the pills themselves:

After taking zolpidem tartrate tablets, you may get up out of bed while not being fully awake and do an activity that you do not know you are doing. The next morning, you may not remember that you did anything during the night. (Emphasis theirs, and it case you can’t tell, that whole thing is in bold!). Reported activities include:

  • driving a car (“sleep-driving”) Holy F*ck! And come to think of it, I had a friend who sleep-drove naked while on this! I weep for my neighbors.
  • making and eating food OK, that doesn’t seem so bad…unless I’ve sleep-driven to the drive-thru and didn’t bring enough cash (BECAUSE I’M NAKED!!!!).
  • talking on the phone Hello there, Mom. It’s 2am. Do you know where your kids are? Besides me, obviously, since I’m on the phone with you.
  • having sex Also doesn’t sound so bad, except bummer that I won’t remember. Wait, who am I having sex with? That’s an important detail!
  • sleep-walking Compared to the rest of this crap, that seems downright tame. It’s not like I’m apt to start using trapezes without a net…right?

So there I am, having gotten through the side effects list, feeling understandably…anxious. But hey, no problem, I tell myself. Just hide the car keys, my cell phone, warn the Missus about surprise conjugal efforts, maybe barricade the bedroom and/or refrigerator door. And strap on a parachute, in case I find my way into a Cirque du Soleil show.

But then I kept reading the info sheet, more out of curiosity than anything else since I’d understandably, having read to the end of the list, thought I’d gotten through the side effects section.

Expect it turns out I hadn’t. The initial list of side effects was on page one. The continuing list of side effects was on page three. And in between? A lot of dry material about calling your doctor if anything weird happens, how to safely use the medicine, etc. You know, standard boiler plate: don’t take with alcohol or while operating heavy machinery and the like. So I can be forgiven thinking I was done with things that might go wrong and kill me.

Buried on page three is where the manufacturer listed the “most common” side effects (shouldn’t the most common stuff be on the first page???), and at this point things got a little surreal. Either that or Big Pharma is screwing with me.

So what are the most common side effects of Ambien née zolpidem tartrate? Allow me to enlighten you:

  • drowsiness Um…OK? Are you sure that isn’t a primary effect of a…sleeping pill?
  • dizziness I suppose that isn’t too shocking. You’re really tired after taking the pill, probably gonna have a balance issue…
  • diarrhea Will I, should the urgent need arise, go to the bathroom in my sleep to prevent an unpleasant mess/embarrassing episode, or will drowsiness and dizziness prevent me from preventing a horrible incident?
  • grogginess or feeling as if you have been drugged What the actual f*ck! Are you trying to tell me that if I take a drug designed to make me sleep, I will feel tired and drugged? No way! How is that possible? How on Earth could the FDA possibly let you market a sleep aid drug that makes you…GULP…sleep, but at the same time have a distance suspicion that maybe, just maybe, you took a drug to get that way?

So at this point I honestly don’t know whether to feel worried about this drug or be looking around for the hidden cameras capturing my reaction to the absurdity of this moment.

The only thing I do know is that the thought of taking this pill to help me deal with my anxiety is making me…anxious.

 
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Posted by on 9 June 2019 in Angst, Life

 

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