I Am Not Your Negro: James Baldwin’s Call to Action is On US

The Oscar-nominated I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, is a must-see. You can stop reading now and just get to the nearest theater today.

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I was lucky to be at the Montclair Film Festival and Montclair Fund for Educational Excellence sponsored screening last night. Producer Hébert Peck (and brother of director Raoul Peck) was present to introduce the film and for a Q&A immediately following. MFF Executive Director Tom Hall introduced Mr. Peck saying that I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO was Hall’s favorite film at the Toronto International Film Festival. It’s easy to see why the film attracted Hall. It is a powerfully told history with a direct and unapologetic stare down of today’s audience.

During the Q&A, Hébert Peck shared that James Baldwin’s sister, Gloria Karefa-Smart, who also serves as executor of the Baldwin Estate, gave director Raoul Peck 30 pages of notes and letters Baldwin had written in preparation for a book about the legacies of Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and how they intersect. “You’ll know what to do with this,” she said. The resulting film, I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO, is at once a eulogy to three slain leaders, a painful and necessary reminder of where we’ve been (and are) as a country, and a call to action to confront and dissect the role racism, overt and covert, plays in our lives. That call to action is for white Americans, and it’s as true today as when James Baldwin said it on the Dick Cavett Show.

It is entirely up to the American People, whether or not they are going to find out in their own hearts, why it was necessary to have a N***er in the first place….If you think I’m a N***er, it means you need it. And you need to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that. (link) (NSFW/language)

According to the Q&A following last night’s screening of the film, the filmmakers behind I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO wanted to make sure James Baldwin weighed in on current events. Even more than the wonderful PBS American Masters episode “The Price of the Ticket,” I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO forces its audience to confront the lack of difference between the racial divide of the 1950’s and 1960’s and today. The clips of Black Lives Matter marches and Ferguson, the reminders of Rodney King, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, and more are intercut with mobs of classmates spitting at and violently harassing Dorothy Counts as she walked to school, boys being searched while stripped down to their underwear, hateful crowds holding Nazi symbols and screaming racial slurs at Black demonstrations, and more.

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Dorothy Counts, on her way to school. Seeing her experience prompted James Baldwin to return from Paris.

And more. There is much more.  A moving, but brief section about Lorraine Hansberry’s visit with Bobby Kennedy begs to be expanded in someone’s next film. This documentary includes clips and images from films, television shows, news shows, history. I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO reminds those of us with the privilege to forget that we’ve seen this before. We’ve been here before. And it asks us all to stand up, find the strength and humility to confront our own conflicted morals, and fight as allies. It’s not pretty. And it won’t be easy. But the future of our country depends on it.

You can find showtimes here. The companion book edition, including never before published writing by James Baldwin, comes out on Tuesday.

 

Sharing on the moonshine grid at yeah write.

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Ivanka Trump needs to have a hard conversation with her father.

Several years ago, a year or so before my father’s illnesses kept him indoors, we went to pick up dinner for a family gathering. He drove. As we were leaving, he almost hit a pedestrian as he was pulling out of the parking lot. That’s what prompted me, the daughter who lived farther away and only saw him every two months or so, to have a supremely difficult conversation about whether he should be driving, especially at night.

Ivanka Trump needs to have a supremely difficult conversation with her father about his mental capacity, or lack thereof. Here is some reading for her to get started.

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Exhibit 497,392

Even in a bubble of Yes Men and protective restricted social media use, some of the reality must seep in somewhere. There is nothing romantic or nostalgic about memories of Eva Braun, Imelda Marcos, Mirjana Markovic, or any other enablers and beneficiaries of leaders who abuse their power and humanity. Ivanka Trump still has a chance to redeem herself.

The task falls to Ivanka Trump* because she’s the only one he seems to pay attention to for more than 23 minutes. It won’t be easy. Many of us are having or have had these hard conversations with our aging parents.

The task also falls to Ivanka Trump because it’s in good part on her. She has to own the responsibility for what she has wrought.

* Do I think Ivanka Trump will actually do this? Probably not. So really, it’s up to anyone who gets Donald Trump’s ear for more than two seconds. Perhaps his daughters-in-law? Ben Carson? He used to deal with brains, right? I really don’t know.  Help.

 

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Donald Trump Doesn’t Know Who Frederick Douglass Is. Happy Black History Month!

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I’m not making this up. Click here.

Maybe our Electorally Elected POTUS without a mandate doesn’t know who Frederick Douglass is (or the other totally unknown and obscure people like Harriet Tubman and Rosa Parks…) because Douglass dissented loudly and publicly, even when, importantly when, he was the guest of the POTUS. And our EEPwam doesn’t listen to dissent unless he wants to whine about it on Twitter.

So, since the text may be too long to hold his attention, here is a video of the Frederick Douglass speech: What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?

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Glad I Saw It: Patriotic Pride

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This is our new flag; it’s so new I haven’t even ironed it yet. I purchased this thinking I’d put it up on inauguration day, but I didn’t want to wait. It is a hopeful sight, and I need that as much as possible.

Since moving to the suburbs, we’ve always had different flags. American flags for Memorial Day through September 11th, Halloween flags, Thanksgiving flags, peace flags. And the day after the 2016 election I put out our Stars & Stripes upside down. It can be a little corny, but there you go.

This particular flag is because I believe this land is OUR land. This flag is because I believe in equality. This flag is because I believe in inclusiveness and intersectionality. This flag is because the person who will be sworn in as the Vice President of the United States of America doesn’t consider everyone equal. This flag is because I love my country and I pledge to work hard to make it a more perfect union.

Want your own Patriotic Pride flag? I got mine at Pride Shack.

Shared over at yeah write on the moonshine grid.

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Review: Difficult Women by Roxane Gay

9780802125392_db20bShort Answer: Roxane Gay’s DIFFICULT WOMEN is a must-read. (You can read one of the stories here.) And it’s one you should invest in because you’ll want to read many of the 21 short stories more than once.

Long, General Answer: I loved this collection. Many of these stories have been available in some form since 2009, others for a few years, and I am mortified that I hadn’t come across them before. Each story is moving, discomfiting, thought-provoking, and painfully comforting. I wept after several stories. I recognized myself in several stories. I was angered and horrified and soothed during several stories. DIFFICULT WOMEN includes traditional prose, magical realism, flashback, internal subtitles, and more. An alert reader will notice repeated allusions to characters (perhaps in various evolutions) across the stories. And the themes of public and private mourning, loss, punishment, internal and external pain, self-acceptance, and finding home play peekaboo with the reader, making each story more layered as the collection is devoured.

Yes, I’m gushing.

Short, Specific Answer:

I deeply appreciated being challenged by the characters. The female characters aren’t only “difficult women” because of how they interact with their fellow characters, although they do make life complicated and sticky and difficult within their stories. The dozens of difficult women Gay has created are difficult because they don’t allow the reader to feel comfortably satisfied with their choices. THEIR choices.

Long, Specific Answer:

The characters in DIFFICULT WOMEN don’t do what the reader wants them to do. They don’t concern themselves with being inspiring or heroic. They make choices to survive, heal, move on that don’t fit into what we’ve been taught overcoming “bad stuff” looks like. They are much more real. Most of Gay’s characters have suffered deep trauma, painful loss, disappointment, betrayal, and each approaches getting through her private mourner, healing on her own terms. Each woman’s choice forces those observing (whether fellow characters or the reader) to confront the judgments connected to choices that aren’t easily swallowed or meme’d or understood.

Characters settle into disappointing lives that are good enough, are loyal to men who are adequate, depend on lovers and spouses who are sometimes exceptional, allow themselves to be beaten and bitten and broken, and refuse to stand up for themselves in ways that inspire movements. They survive.

For me, the most difficult stories were the ones that included characters who invited violence and abuse. As someone who works with those affected by domestic violence, it was tough to hold off on inserting my own experiences. The difference in these cases was the characters’ choices to use pain and physical pummeling, both sexual and fight-style violence, to work through their feelings of anger, guilt, and emotional pain in their journey towards healing. In one story, “Baby Arm,” it even brought the main character to an all female fight club where ribs are broken and spines are bruised and pain is reveled in. However, in no story does the physical punishment as healing become more clear than in “Break All the Way Down.”

A lot of people decided I went crazy after the accident. They kept waiting for me to strip naked in a shopping mall or eat a cat or something. When I took up with an asshole, they breathed a sigh of relief. “Your situation is still fixable,” my mother said when I was still taking her calls.

I am not crazy.

“Break All the Way Down” addresses mourning and sorrow and guilt after a very public tragedy. How can a woman mourn publicly in “acceptable” ways when a raw, shouted “Are you fucking kidding me?” is the only response that makes sense? It’s a beautiful, horrible, hopeful, fucked up story about survival. Don’t pass it by.

Some Things That Surprised Me, short answer: 

Roxane Gay employs elements of Magical Realism in several stories. “Water, All Its Weight,” “Requiem for a Glass Heart,” and “I Am a Knife” all create a context in which unbelievable realities are, indeed, the reality.  One woman’s baggage is the water (and the mold it creates) that follows her, and it repels everyone from her parents to lovers. Another woman, made of glass, is married to a stone thrower and they have a glass child. Their differences create tension borne of careful care and love. Heartbreaking. Another woman saves her sister’s life and later saves her sister’s child, both times by using her fingernail to perform surgery. She is a knife.

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Some Things That Surprised Me, last answer:

The variety of the characters and storylines is magnificently balanced with the recurring themes of loss, sisterhood (in several forms), survival by any means necessary, and escape. The women portrayed survive by escaping their trauma, scandal, pain in socially unacceptable ways that make it difficult for their families and communities to support them wholeheartedly.

In the first story in this collection, “I Will Follow You,” the main character sets up the reader to understand the choices throughout the book when she finally understands why her sister stayed with a man who seems undeserving.

“North Country,” one of my favorite stories in DIFFICULT WOMEN, returns to mourning via isolation. The main character isolates herself in every way possible: she takes a job where she is the only woman and the only Black person; she lives in an apartment with no windows; her groceries even belie isolation in their condition and scarcity. Her loneliness on the inside demands to be balanced by her loneliness on the outside. And oh my the journey to accepting her sadness is beautiful.

Another of my favorite stories is “La Negra Blanca.” This story about Sarah, a high achieving college student who earns money in a strip club, addresses issues swirling around assumptions and identity and prejudice and expectations with a matter-of-fact, dry voice that leaves the reader unprepared for the story’s climax. The antagonist is caught in his own version of identity politics, which is juxtaposed with the foil of another male character. The main character’s decision not to report a rape is HER decision, no one else’s. And she’s tired, and she just wants quiet.  It was when I re-read this story that I started connecting the “difficult woman” web Gay has created. The reader wants punishment of some kind, any kind, for Sarah’s rapist, but instead he is rewarded with a “brave new world.” It’s a layered, angry story.

“Strange Gods” is painful and crazy-making, like much of the collection. Based on a personal experience of the author, it feels familiar and foreign all at once. It’s told in a journal-writing style first person, and I can’t really tell you more about it other than you must read it, and perhaps you should not read it. I recognized myself, and you may too. It’s beautiful and infuriating and frightening and sad. And, like many of the women in DIFFICULT WOMEN, it emphasizes that surviving something doesn’t necessarily mean you’re strong in the traditional sense — just that you survived.

DIFFICULT WOMEN is a collection you’re going to want to keep around for re-reads; don’t lend it to friends. Buy them their own copy.


Other, more professional, reviews of Roxane Gay’s DIFFICULT WOMEN

The Washington Post

USA TODAY

The Guardian review

The Brock Press

Kirkus Reviews (why didn’t it get a starred review?)

Star Tribune review (IMO, it missed the mark)

Publisher’s Weekly

 

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Glad I Saw It: Resisting Weariness

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I’ve been sensing, both in myself and in those around me, a weariness — an overwhelming despair — thinking about the years ahead led by a President who is unqualified, dangerous, and hateful. Hillary Clinton anticipated this for us on Day 1.

On Christmas Eve, at my parents’ church, I noticed a bowl of bookmarks with the quotation Hillary Clinton highlighted in her November 9th speech. I took just one, but I wanted to take dozens to hand out to people who needed a pick-me-up.

Seeing this sentiment reminded me of a recent conversation I’d had with neighbors about my fear that post-inauguration much of our activism will sink into complacency for those not directly affected by policy changes or fears of further oppression. It is especially for those of us with the privilege of secure economics, citizenship, race, and the societal security of heterosexual relationships and “acceptable” religious backgrounds to shrug off the weariness and continue to work for equality on all levels. And why should we? Precisely because we have the choice not to. We have the choice not to, so we must make that choice to benefit those who don’t have it.

Do The Most Good.

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Books as Escape: Giveaway

nicole-blades-book-cover-the-thunder-beneath-usCongrats to Steph and Daria!

I’m currently finishing Nicole Blades’ new novel The Thunder Beneath Us, and it’s been a great escape from, well, real life. Following Best, the main character, through her personal drama –familial, romantic and work — is an entertaining, chapter by chapter dip into a world without a homegrown, gold-plated Axis of Evil. It was a Holiday Swap gift this year already, and it’ll be going into a couple of family stockings this holiday, for sure. But I also want to share a couple of other books with you all. Books that can be escape, if only for a short time.

9780385353304First up: Emily St. John Mandel’s STATION ELEVEN. I describe this as a more hopeful version of The Road, but that doesn’t really do the novel justice. The web of character relationships and various methods of survival will keep you focused on the novel and not current events. At least for a short while.

The novel received a starred Kirkus review. And this excerpt is from the NYT review:

If “Station Eleven” reveals little insight into the effects of extreme terror and misery on humanity, it offers comfort and hope to those who believe, or want to believe, that doomsday can be survived, that in spite of everything people will remain good at heart, and that when they start building a new world they will want what was best about the old.

da0574f71bc4f8678bdaae471156a985-w2041xThe second novel up for grabs is THE GALLERY by Laura Marx Fitzgerald. This is a middle-grade novel that will also entertain adults. The story includes several interesting characters and intertwines mystery, art appreciation, and history in the storyline. Set in 1929, readers will enjoy the historical references as they join the main character, Martha, in attempting to unravel a life-and-death mystery. Recommended for ages 8-13 by those in the know, I’d probably raise that to 10-16. Either way, a worthy addition to your list of escapist reads.

From the Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s website:

It’s 1928, and twelve-year-old Martha has no choice but to work as a maid in the New York City mansion of the wealthy Sewell family. But, despite the Gatsby-like parties and trimmings of success, she suspects something might be deeply wrong in the household—specifically with Rose Sewell, the formerly vivacious lady of the house who now refuses to leave her room. The other servants say Rose is crazy, but scrappy, strong-willed Martha thinks there’s more to the story…

Live in the USA? Enter by clicking the link below, and make sure to comment below letting me know which novel you prefer! Happy reading!

Get a new book —> a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Self-Care in the Age of Trump

835d1979bb79907b87b46f53b66711d5It’s going to be a marathon, folks. And we need you all primed, warmed-up, and ready.

Many people have expressed feelings of helplessness and hopelessness to me in recent days. The adrenalin of the immediate aftermath of the election has waned, and the disinformation and sheer number of horrific developments and (belatedly discovered) conflicts of interest surrounding Trump is overwhelming. It’s important to manage the input in order to produce useful output in defense of yourself and others.

I’ve been there. Often I am there. And I want to share a few techniques to help you get through this marathon with your sanity and physical well-being intact. I hope you’ll share useful techniques in the comments as well. Please.

Managing Input

  • Don’t go into the light! Shut off your devices for long periods of time. We’ve gotten so used to BREAKING news and alerts and push notifications and the 24 hours news cycle, that it seems normal. It’s not. The news will still be there when you return, and it will probably be better, more useful, more accurate news. I promise.
  • Focus on what most matters to you. Choose one or two issues and stick with those. Believe me, I also feel like the world is collapsing around me. Between the VRA, Education, LGBTQ equality, Muslim registries, anti-Semitic acts, rising Hate Crimes, the continued need to assert that Black Lives Matter, Reproductive Rights, Banking Regulation, and a general realization that we have elected a demagogue with white nationalist leanings, it feels like it’s all too much. It’s not! Choose two issues that mean the most to YOU, and focus on those. That doesn’t mean you can’t sign petitions (although it’s better to call your elected reps) or join in on activities for other issues, but try to stick to news and alerts about your chosen issues. Become an expert on THOSE. And don’t worry, if you’re connected to social media, you’ll get plenty of updates for everything else.
  • Choose which media you’ll consume. Pick your favorite news outlet, and then add one or two more. Stick to just those. Are you an NPR junkie?  Trust Mother Jones? Love your New York Times? Have you subscribed to The Financial Times since your business professor required it? Or are you a strictly Alternet or HuffPo news consumer? Stick with what you love and add one or two others that have at least a marginally different point-of-view. Give those outlets your love – as in subscribe to them!
  • Don’t waste energy on “fake news” items. Come on now, you know, don’t you, when something is probably fake or at least wildly exaggerated? I mean, I know it’s tough, especially in an election year, because we WANT certain things to be real and that may dampen our intelligence quotients. But before you get angry/excited/blindsighted/thrilled with a piece of news, see if it’s reported on elsewhere. Twitter can be particularly helpful for this – Facebook, less so. When in doubt, remind yourself of this fake news guide from On The Media. And definitely don’t share it, even as a joke. Seriously, some people will believe it.

How to Step Away Effectively

  • Music. Have a trusted CD or playlist or station (without news!) that you can listen to when feeling frazzled. I like the Magnolia soundtrack, several mixed CD’s from a friend with great musical taste, The Cranberries, a classical music station, and 80’s channels. Joy Division and Joan Armatrading are reliably effective.
  • Books. Escape into a novel or a book about a subject you love. I know several people who find great satisfaction in reading cookbooks. I’m currently reading one or two chapters a night of The Thunder Beneath Us by Nicole Blades, and I have Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood on standby. If you commute, try to read in the AM and PM every day. Audiobooks are acceptable as well, but I think actually reading is more subversive these days.
  • Friends and family. Or not. Just get out. Go to dinner. Get coffee. Visit a museum. Take a walk in the park. Go to the gym. Visit historical landmarks. Window shop. Shop. Take a class. Feeling really stressed? Treat yourself to a massage or nail buff or whatever. Indulge in experiences.

Overwhelmed with how to resist? There’s an App for that!

Want to know how to resist effectively ? There’s a newsletter for that from Michael Skolnik.

Want even more weekly acts of resistance? Wall Of US is a site for that (and newsletter).

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Betsy DeVos is Unqualified – Public Education is Worth Fighting For

15171116_10209753069575205_1088501174931198732_nFor the last several years, I have spent my fall supervising (consoling, supporting, commiserating, listening to, advising, crying with, laughing with, critiquing, boosting, hugging) student teachers. They have been an amazing, diverse, and skilled group. We need young people to want to become public school teachers. We need young people to be enthusiastic and determined and confident and humble in their desire to become public school teachers. The current New Jersey Governor has done a number on the hopeful enthusiasm new teachers have. And the push and pull between various advocates on all sides have also muddied and confused the education waters — with paperwork being the one true result to rely on. And still, people hear the call to teach in public schools.

With this in mind, the nomination of Betsy DeVos to head the Department of Education makes me angry and frightened and determined to resist. Keep in mind that the President-elect has said he’d like to eliminate the Department of Education, whether colossal and immediate neglect or by slow, starvation-induced attrition.


This is reprinted with permission from a Facebook post by Shannon Carey. I added resource links.

I have been obsessively reading about Betsy DeVos. So that you don’t have to sink into the disgusting morass of arrogant, white-supremacist, homophobic hate-filled profiteering in the guise of “philanthropy” that I encountered in this research, I will bullet point some important information about her and what she represents, here.

1. She is a billionaire by birth (her dad ran an auto parts empire in MI) and by marriage (her husband is Dick DeVos of the Amway empire. Yes, that Amway, of pyramid scheme fame).

2. Her father helped fund and found Family Research Council (classified as an anti-gay hate group by SPLC in 2010) and Focus on the Family. These organizations demonize LGBTQ people and women who take control of their reproductive and emotional health.

3. Her brother founded Blackwater, a “private military firm.” Remember them, my Bush-remembering friends? Cozy with GWB, ran unchecked “security” in Iraq, killed Iraqi citizens with impunity. Now known as Academi.

4. Her mother was instrumental in getting Proposition 8 passed in California. Proposition 8 outlawed gay marriage in 2008.

5. Her family is very chummy with the Kochs, and they are a very integral part of the republican establishment.

6. Her husband was instrumental in getting “right-to-work” (aka: right-to-work-for-less) passed in Michigan. In MICHIGAN. The family is known to be obsessively and vehemently anti-labor, and have supporting union-busting legislation all over the country.

7. She has devoted much of her adult life to advocating for an expansion of charter schools and introduction of vouchers. She’s been more successful with charters, and Michigan is awash in for-profit charters, especially in Detroit. Google the recent NYT article on Detroit charters — it’s a travesty.

8. It’s been widely reported that she has never gone to a public school, worked in a public school, or been a public school parent. This is not insignificant.

9. Tr__p has advocated for nationwide vouchers, and while he cannot pass this without Congressional approval, her financial resources will very likely play a large role in herding House and Senate cowards towards what would very likely be a complete travesty in public education.

Public education is the the last and only social service we offer to every young person in this country. One could argue that it is the only structure in place — inadequate as it is — to combat the vast inequalities in our country.

Parents, teachers, students,and anyone concerned with an educated and cared-for populace should watch this appointment with eagle eyes and a spirit of resistance. Call your reps to let them know we cannot appoint someone who fundamentally does not believe in the tenets of providing people with a free and excellent education. Work with your local unions, parent groups, and school boards.

Deep breath. Take care of yourselves.

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Complacency = Complicity; Don’t Stand Idly By

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If you aren’t condemning what is happening, if you aren’t paying attention, if you are shrugging because you aren’t (yet) personally affected, you are complicit. No matter who you voted or didn’t vote for, don’t waste time with finger pointing — we need 30 fingers each to point in all directions. Including inward.

Please don’t stand idly by. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” The President-elect has been showing us who he is for decades, and from whom he is willing to take guidance. His hiring of Steve Bannon, a passionate anti-semite, white supremacist and propagandist, should have been a non-starter when Bannon became the CEO of the Trump Campaign. But we were in denial.

With Bannon as the Trump Administration’s Right-Hand-Man, there is no more denial. Bannon will now have the most powerful position(s) in the President-elect’s administration. And that is just one highly-influential, has-the-ear-of-the-President-elect person. #NoNormalization

What can you do? One thing — Demand your elected officials condemn the hiring of a white nationalist to the President-elect’s senior staff. You can find Senate contact information here: http://www.senate.gov/senators/contact/, and US Representative information here: http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/. Call them, leave a message, write an email or an ACTUAL letter, message on FB, Twitter, etc. It will take all of ten minutes to do them all, once a day. Have more time? Visit their offices with a letter in hand.

Thank you to Kim for pointing me to Christy Moore’s “Yellow Triangle.”

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