The God Side

DSC_0732I was halfheartedly listening to the radio a few days ago when a woman, finishing up her interview, declared flatly: “God is on my side.” I punched the radio off and sat in the silence wondering why those words provoked such a powerful irritation in me.

I used to be vehemently atheist and outspoken about it, but now the word “God” doesn’t offend me the way it used to. Now I allow myself the luxury of faith and the gift of prayer. But I still cringe with the irritation of the atheist at the incredible hubris of someone who dares to declare that they know God and hot his endorsement. It feels like the worst sort of name-dropping. It feels like a secret that loses its power as soon as the words hit the air. It makes me sad and angry at the same time.

A “side” is a terrestrial thing it is a construct of the physical world, it does not apply to the divine interconnectedness of life. God has no side, it is deep and round and dimensionless. It is incapable of choosing one person or one concept at the exclusion of another.

God– whatever that means to you– does not confine itself to a single person or even a single idea. God is not binary, God is not the winning team of a rivalry, God is not the big brother that can beat up your enemy’s big brother. If there is any “side” of God, it is Truth, and truth exists in all of us. God is on your side only in that there is only one side. There is no Point and Counterpoint, there is only baseline. Continue reading “The God Side”

Volunteer State- Part 1- “South”

IMG_5420I came to Nashville for the same reason that I’ve done a lot of things in the past 11 years­– to get away, to make a clean break, to start over. This is one of the less dramatic iterations, seeing as I don’t want to fully wipe the Etch-a-sketch clear and start over altogether, I just want to get clean, I want to unmuddy the internal so I can resume the life I am and have been building back in Detroit. Thank god at least for that.

I found this place on Airbnb, I liked the idea of going South, a direction I’ve never traveled on my own before, maybe if I go north and back, south and back, it will be like a seamstress reinforcing a stitch, making it hold tight. This particular place seemed rather perfect– a “writer’s cabin,” a “spiritual retreat.” Done.

It was hard to get away. I spent the night before driving down here sleeping on the kitchen floor of my childhood home alongside the heavy-breathing body of poor sweet Tansy, the dignified elderly doggy now struggling through her 14th year. We didn’t expect her to survive the night. I fed her water by hand an watched as her large head, slow motion, sagged one millimeter per second until it got low enough to where she could drink it herself. Time was slowing for her.

My alarm went off at 4am, signaling my cue to hit the road, I re-set it for another hour. 5:00. 6:00. 7:00. Maybe I wouldn’t go at all. Dad came downstairs and promptly reported to me that my cell phone appeared to be sitting at the bottom of Tansy’s water bowl. Ouch. Maybe I really wouldn’t be leaving.

The phone was revived magically by a bag of rice and Tansy even stood and went outside to pee. I was morbidly upset that she hadn’t died in my presence these past few days, would I now miss it? Do I dare leave only to have her perish while I’m halfway down America’s rusty spine? Did I even want to go? I went. Continue reading “Volunteer State- Part 1- “South””

just the tip- part 3


The lone god stood before her lone follower and addressed him in a voice loud enough for the others to hear. “From this day forward, if you want me as your god, you must make a gift of your own flesh to me. You must cut off the sheath at the tip of your manhood and offer it to me as a sacrifice. It will be painful, but, with your paid and your foreskin, you will gain total life satisfaction from this day forth, and nothing more shall be asked of you. This token shall grant access to my kingdom for you, your wife, and any children you create with your tip-less penis.”


The people were horrified. “Who would do such a thing to himself?” Can it even be done?” “Thank god my god didn’t make that rule.”

The man could not sleep that night. He saw his lazy neighbors, fat and laughing after long days of leisure but empty inside. He saw his weary neighbors, tense and waning after long days of regulation but solid within. Was it really possible to find a balance? On top of everything else, the man was lonely, he liked the suggestion that he may one day have a wife and children. Perhaps if he offered the tip of his penis, he would find a wife to use the rest of it with.

He did not sleep that night. Solemnly, he rose and watched the sun rise. He entered his small kitchen and selected the paring knife he used to clean fish. He went to one of his lazy neighbors and borrowed some of the strong alcohol that the neighbor drank all day. He went to one of his diligent neighbors and borrowed a rawhide bone that the neighbor sucked on while fasting. Back in his small kitchen, the man cleaned his knife with the alcohol, he place the bone in his mouth and gritted his teeth against it. He stretched out the skin at the crest of his penis, which was flaccid and pliable with fear. He took the knife in his right hand and steadied the blade against the taut skin with an impossibly steady hand. In one deft motion, he swept the knife across the skin as though peeling a carrot. He moved so quickly that the sensation did not reach his brain until the blade re-entered the air. It was over. He fainted and did not wake for two sunsets and two sunrises.


When he arose, he saw the ring of skin at the tip of the blade before him. It was done. He was numb with physical pain but immensely proud of what he had done. His fingers pinched the gummy skin in his forefingers and laid the prize before the god. Upon seeing a piece of himself in front of himself while realizing that his body magically remained intact, a warm glow washed over him like a blanket of sun on his heart. He fell to his knees and felt glory-of-sacrifice and glory-of-freedom and glory-of-freedom-from-further-sacrifice all at once.

The man created an altar to display the foreskin for all to see, he found a long slender stick and encircled the ring of skin around it. People were fascinated. The men talked about it, they scrutinized their fringed penises while they peed. The women talked about it, they stole glances at their partners’ collared members while they had sex. Could it be that easy? Could it be that hard? In moments of desperation to end the cycle of alternating gods and they considered this new possibility.

There was a woman who was more unsatisfied with her gods than any of the others. She rose one day, resigned to converting, once again, from the god of ease to the god of rules. She dreaded the work that lay before her and the futility of it all. And then she remembered the lone man and his great sacrifice. How great must his god be to merit such an offering? How great must that man be to take such a risk?

She went to the man. She introduced herself. She shared her desperation and hope that there was something more. He welcomed her in. He listened as well. He shared his wisdom and eventually demonstrated the continued functionality of his remaining self. In time, they were married and had a family. Their joy was great and their loyalty to their god did not go unnoticed by the others.

Slowly, other men began to pare their penises as well. Each time, they would go to the first man because they wanted to be sure that they cut off as much (but no more than) was required by his god. In this way, they became followers of the new kind of god.

The god’s people had many children with their tipless penises and most of those children de-tipped their penises as well. Each new sacrifice was placed around the stick on the altar until the stack grew tall. Eventually it spilled over onto the ground and piled up all around. No one dared touch the sacred spire so it continued to grow. It was an inspiring testament to the power of this god. When the people tended to this growing throne, constructed meticulously with the ultimate sacrifice from the men of the god’s great flock, they knew they were a part of something greater. They felt peace in their minds as they went to sleep at night, after practicing the art of using their unsheathed members, always ready for action.


The other two gods still remained- indeed, they will always have followers, many of whom continue in the revolving door of utter dedication and utter abandonment- but most of people were monotheists and most of them preferred the god to whom they had already given a gift that could not be returned. They preferred the god to home their fathers and their fathers’ fathers had mutilated themselves for. Doing otherwise would undermine the sacrifice of their fathers and their fathers’ fathers and their fathers’ fathers’ fathers before him– each of whom had removed the foreskin that was now a literal part of the foundation of their god’s kingdom.


However, it cannot always be so. The time will come when the sacrificial pyre will reach so high that it will approach the swirling outer reaches in the realm of the gods once lost. The throne will make a bridge that bonds the human world to that of the untethered buoyant gods of old.

Up until that point the lone god will face a choice: she could destroy her mighty throne and prevent the return of those other gods, or she could allow the miracle of what her followers have built to come to fruition and risk undermining her own great power. Whether because of ego, humility or both, is not for me to say, but it is foretold that the great god will never destroy her sacred spire.

And  so the day will come when the sacrifices of so many crest the threshold of the great beyond– by just the tip– and the gods of old will be restored to this earth and her people.


just the tip- part 2


In an effort to acquire more followers, the gods devised ways to set themselves apart from they others. In the old days, there had been no need for sweeping rules because a god and his follower were in constant communication. Each day was filled with advisement and actions and mistakes and adjustments with limitless guidance and patience. But with many followers to each god, it became necessary for each god to come up with a platform, to lay out some basic tenants, and to even brand itself.

One god mused: “People are noble, they want to work hard for a life of purpose. If I can give them rules that will guarantee a life of meaning, they will flock to me in great numbers.” So he made very strict rules for people about what to eat and when they could make eye contact and what to think at sunset and how to sing a song so that people could focus every minute of the day on the instructions and be sure that their life had meaning. Many people enjoyed the freedom of not having to think for themselves and they did indeed come to him in great numbers.


Seeing this, another of the gods said to himself: “That is folly! People are lazy, they would rather think of nothing at all than have to be obedient all the time. If I promise them that following me will guarantee that nothing will be required of them, they will flock to me in great numbers.” So he offered one hundred holidays per year and encouraged gluttony in all its forms and took away all the rules about what people could do with their bodies (he even gave some suggestions) so that people could know that they were truly unbound. Many people enjoyed the freedom that came with not having to think at all and they came to him in great numbers.


These two gods were so successful that, in time, the number of gods dwindled and humans followed one or the other. In time, this left the two powerful gods with many followers and a single other god with one loyal human to her name.

The last of the gods looked at the other gods and puzzled. She had remained non-aggressive, un-competitive for all this time. She believed in inter-deitic harmony, she mourned his now-distant brothers and sisters, and she ached over the folly of the competition between the other two gods.

She watched as the strict god constricted his rules ever tighter, constantly pursuing a greater purity. There was only one day of rest in an entire year and smiling was forbidden. The tired people who followed that strict god became ever more shrunken and weak. In their minds they were confused, the purpose they devoted to much energy to seemed out of reach. Any time they made a mistake they lost favor with their god and started over again. They hoped they wouldn’t die before they had a chance to re-accumulate their liberation. In desperation, many defected to join the ripe people of the lazy god.

She turned then to watch how, at the side of the lazy god, the people regained their color, they unclenched their minds, they smiled and stretched. She saw too how they stared at each other with expressions of constant bewilderment, each moment was a question that never received an answer. The lazy god removed boundaries even further to show his people how free they were- they need not leave the bed to relieve themselves, they need not ever bathe. Any time they followed the old ways of caring for themselves and their surroundings, the lazy god mocked and belittled them so that they stopped, and retreated back into their filth in shame. In time, many defected back to join the strained people of the strict god. The image of the pinched and confused expression on the faces of the people as they defected back and forth embedded itself into the mind of the third humble god.

She knew that it was only a matter of time before she lost her only follower if she did not act and she knew that the people of earth were doomed to absurd and empty fates without her help. But how to proceed? She saw she could not have the hardest rules, nor the weakest- that had already been done and anyway, it wasn’t working. There was logic in both, but neither was quite right.


She said to herself “people are both noble and lazy, if I promise them that following me will mean that their life will have both purpose and comfort, then they will flock to me in great numbers.” She determined that she would make one very strict rule, the ultimate requirement, which, once met, would promise his followers that no broken rule in their future could remove from her favor and guidance. So she puzzled mightily about what that rule should be. Kill your firstborn child? – That was no way to grow your flock. Mate with the foulest person in your village? – That was no way to build your great nation. Cut out your tongue?– That was no way to have praises spoken in your name. She puzzled some more. And finally found her answer.

read the next part of the story here

just the tip- part 1


Before there were humans, the earth was a massive vacant stage filled with pleasures and tragedies and experiences that went unfulfilled with no actors to carry them out. The gods of the outer atmosphere yearned for a way to fill the void, but they were formless and could not do it themselves. And so they created humans in order to experience the world vicariously through them.

A god gave of its essence to its human creation, an expenditure of energy that took eons to accumulate. So for each person, there was a god and for each god, a person. Every person was loyal to his or her god and, in return, the gods tried to make their people happy.

IMG_3634One of the things that made people happy was having sex, so it was not long before they made little humans that needed playing with and caring for and watching over. This created a dilemma, for now there were more humans than gods. And though the gods had created the first humans, the newer humans were only theirs indirectly, so it was not clear to whom each new child belonged. The parents argued and bargained and fretted over whose god the child belonged to, the gods pouted and fought and wooed the child until, ultimately one of the gods won.

In this way, the one-person-per-god order was utterly disrupted and free-market divinity took hold. Continue reading “just the tip- part 1”

Road to Rhode Island

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Written in honor and memory of friend and colleague Steven Kolberg, whose battle with cancer and and dance with life ended today.

We drove to that strange state
packed tight in the car and buckled in
with greeting cards and a somber air.

There in the back yard,
I was surprised that he could see me,
and that he looked like himself
and that the lawn was lush green with life

It had the strange feel of a graduation party combined with a wake:
An uncle here, a high school friend there,
“Amy says hi” and “What’s your favorite beer these days?”

But there was a gurney on the yard with a thick body bag over it,
which turned out to be a kayak but oh my god, the thought!
And there was his comment about not being able to taste sugar or feel temperature or read anymore.
And there was a mountain of pill bottles just across the counter from the spread of submarine sandwiches and brownie platters and veggie dip.

We told stories,
and laughed
and paused awkwardly because what do you say?
This is his last party. Continue reading “Road to Rhode Island”


Originally published in Periphery Magazine ; Audio version here


Listen. There was a time when people did not speak. The entire human vocabulary consisted of a single noise. It was an even hum, a length of m’s strung together, monosyllabic and vowel-free. “Mmm” one might say, and the response would be “mmm” right back.

These early sounds carried only one meaning: acceptance. A birth or a death, a sunrise or a sunset, a flood or a fire, a snowflake or a bud: each was greeted without bias or emotion. It simply was, so it was simply accepted. Mmm.

Acceptance begets acceptance, so humans rarely spoke alone. When someone let out an “mmm,” it would often meet the ear of another person who, likely enough, was feeling acceptance right at that moment, or who wished to say “I accept your acceptance” and would “mmm” in return. The mmm’s merged together and the song grew.

And, when enough humans mmm’d together at just the right tone, the hum would catch at something invisible deep in the ground. There is only one resonant frequency of the planet, and the human hum matched the chord. Vibrating like a guitar string plucked by human voices, the very earth would sing- humming its one beautiful pure note, sounding its acceptance in return. Of all the animals, only humans could cause the earth to hum, which is why the humans were entrusted as the Keepers of the Earth. This bond was reinforced each time they joined together in the sacred communion of acceptance. Mmm.

At this time, there was no hate, because there was no sound for it. There was no love, because there was no word for it. Emotions existed, but they were like shadows that the heart never cast in the universal light of acceptance. There was only one thought, only one feeling, and only one note but it was perfectly tuned. It was that way for a very long while.

Listen A woman and a man lay in the early afternoon sun. They joined their bodies together in the way people sometimes do, and occasionally they would “mmm” in the way that people sometimes did. Within that the moment when tension gives way to release, the woman’s acceptance crossed over into something more and she cried out: “mmm!” It was the same noise as every other human noise had always been, yet something about it was undeniably different. That’s because it didn’t mean “I accept” or “I acknowledge” or even “I concur,” it meant “YES.” Through the experience of pleasure, she had come to know approval, and a new word was conceived.

With their bodies still intertwined, the man stopped and stared at the woman. Her eyes shone and her lips curled up at the edges- it was the first smile the man had ever seen. Seeing her this way, something shifted in his heart and he understood what she had meant. He spoke back at her in the new way. “Mmm!” “Yes.” “I agree with your agreement.” “What we did was good and what you said about what we did was good” all this was said with the new sound. The feeling was utterly new but immediately recognizable. Yes.

Approval begets approval, and so the new sound spread rapidly. Humans began using their noises to agree with things: “mmm” to a sunrise, “mmm” to a meal, “mmm” to pleasure. It was a beautiful time of affirmation and encouragement and approval. When enough mmm’s were hummed, the earth still sang back, but it was weaker than before because the sound was changed, and it was shorter than before because these mmm’s caused the people to break out laughing, so great was their joy.

Listen– A woman watched as her father lay weak on his deathbed. She had witnessed many passings in her life, but none since the new word had been born. She hummed over his frail body, a song of acceptance of his release from life, a song of approval of what he had done with it– and then, the old man’s peaceful stillness was broken by a sudden shallow gasp, and his last living breath passed through his open lips. The woman’s song caught in her throat and the tone shifted: “mmmm!” This sound, it was the same but also different. It was not an expression of acceptance or approval. It was a rejection, a dismissal, a curse: “NO.” The woman had discovered pain and its remnants were this new word.

The other mourners looked at the woman. There was an ache in her eyes and her cheek was wet. It was the first tear they had ever seen. The anguished sound carried a feeling that echoed in the heart of each person and the room broke out in a swell of “mmm.” Together they joined to express a sorrow that they never knew existed with this new sort of sound.

Disapproval begets disapproval, and the new sound spread rapidly. The chorus of consensus was broken and people began to speak this other “mmm” to lament and dissent and express discontent. It was unpleasant but satisfying. Some people tried to stop it but they could not, because there can be no head without a hind and there can be no “yes” without a “no,” not for long anyway. And once their hearts had grown to know the emotion of pain, truly there was no going back. When enough mmms were hummed, the earth still sang back, but it was even weaker than before because the sound was distorted, and it was shorter than before because these mmm’s caused the people to break out crying, so great was their sadness.

From there, new noises with new meanings continued to come about. Like ever-expanding concentric circles, each new sound revealed another, until there were “mmms” of every possible kind. There was an “mmm” that meant “I’m tired,” an “mmm” that meant “are you sure?” There was an “mmm” that meant “I don’t know” and an “mmm” that meant “I dare you.” There was an “mmm” that meant “I love you” and even an “mmm” that meant “I love you too.” People were limited only by the physical range of their voices– it was an exciting and occasionally noisy time.

As the mmms expanded, so did people’s emotional capacity. Human hearts learned to express feelings that matched every variation of the sound and every situation that prompted it. With so many things to communicate, there were abundant occasions to speak, and the constant vibrations of the humming noises sang out all the more. The “mmms” created chords and dischords, harmonies and disharmonies. When enough mmm’s were hummed, the earth shuddered and sputtered, but it did not truly sing as it had once before.

Listen– A woman bent over a bowl of rice as she prepared a meal for her family. Suddenly, a crow landed on her shoulder and with a booming “maw!” he snatched a grain from her bowl and flew away. The woman was so startled that called “mmmaw!” in response. Now she was doubly surprised- she had spoken an entirely new sound for the first time. The noise brought with it a new sort of feeling– the crow had taken something and the woman wanted it back. She watched as the crow returned to his flock and cackled and crowed with the other birds. “Maw” they all said to each other and she understood. This was a word of possession, of ownership, of competition. “Mine.”

The woman dropped her meal preparations and ran to share the discovery with her neighbors. From their doorsteps, they heard the sound of a crow coming from the body of a woman. Seeing her parted lips as she belted out the sound, they understood the power of this innovation and they immediately wanted the new sound for themselves. They responded in turn. “Maw!”

Change begets change, and it was not long before people turned to other animals for inspiration. From the cat they adopted a rattling “prrrr,” from the dog, they acquired a clipped “rart!,” from the other birds they delighted in a dizzying array of sounds from “liip” to “skree” to “walloo” and “tititi” and many many, many more. People wondered how it was that they had heard these sounds so many times before but never taken them for themselves. Eagerly they stretched their mouths, lips, tongues and throats in strange new ways, speaking in a jangle of sounds. They gained access to consonants and vowels and configurations previously untapped until words developed, then sentences, then languages.


As the range of noises expanded, so did people’s intellectual capacity. Each new meaning gave rise to a new thought, and the human mind expanded to ever-greater reaches of knowledge. Like a cauldron of entropy, new words and new ideas bubbled forth.


In time, humans became so intelligent that they learned how to master the world around them. They tamed and caged wild animals. They engineered massive structures. They mined rich minerals deep in the earth. As people’s brains got smarter and their dominion over the earth increased, they lost respect for other beings. They began to think that their power meant they were better and that their control gave them license to exploit. They began to think that Keepers of the Earth meant People over Earth.

All the while, people talked and talked. With so much to say, they no longer bothered to mmm.

A hummingbird in an orchard of diluted nectar may stick its tongue down every flower but never extract satisfaction from the faded fluid. A person in a world of modern language may lend his voice to every word but never conjugate fulfillment from the flat sounds. Words could never give what the hum gives so freely, but the humans had lost it, they became head-wise and heart-foolish. They forgot to remember the keystone beneath it all. They forgot to remember that the world used to murmur back.

Sometimes the earth would agitate itself with a quake and a sputter, in a weak and desperate attempt to remind humans of what they are capable of together, but such tremors only made the people talk more. The earth, weary with the effort of strumming itself, returned back to dormancy like a bear who wakes to find that the long winter has not yet passed. The earth has not truly resonated with its own songs for centuries.

Listen. One day, there will be a pair of lovers in a crowded bar. The voices of the crowd will clamor together loudly and the couple will not be able to hear each other speak. Their minds will be full of thoughts but their words will be useless in the throng. So, the woman will draw close to the man and she will utter a single sound against the soft of his neck: “mmm.” He will feel the vibration of her sound, he will feel her acceptance of that moment and of him and of what they are sharing, and he will be overcome with its purity. “Mmm” he will say in return. Their eyes will meet and they will sing their simple song together, feeling the peace of that noise and knowing in the base of their souls that there is some truth to what they have just done.

In time, they will have a child. They will greet her each morning “mmm” and each night’s lullaby will be “mmm.” They will “mmm” to her first step and fiercest tantrum and silent sigh. They will feel a quality in every “mmm” that removes their desire to speak and eases their need to be right and that gently hums them into an acceptance they had never known before.

Together, as a family, they will sing as one.

One day, because unity begets unity, more people will join in. The words of the unfinished sentences will fall from people’s mouths and they will join the song. The different words and languages and tones will start off disjointed, but they will merge and converge and settle into a single tone until each dialect’s and tribe’s and individual’s sounds engage into one perfect harmony.

People will be overcome with the power that their simple song has to join them together, but even so, they will be humbled by what comes next: the very earth will tremble.

It will tremble in recognition of a sound more powerful than all the words of all the languages that have ever been and can ever be spoken. The birds will call out and the animals will shift and pace, anxious in the face of the aura looming. The miners low in the caves and the builders high on the skyscrapers will lock eyes in fear of the unstable ground beneath them, but the power of their unity and the purity of the chord will keep them from dropping the note.

Then, at last, the earth will pick up the song. To the unfamiliar ears of the people, this sound will seem to come from nowhere and everywhere. It will envelop them completely like a sweet wind that carries away every thought or judgment and leaves behind only truth, this is the song of universal acceptance.

Though no living soul will know it, the sound will be ever-so-slightly different from was it was once before, a flat note made sharp from the carved-out caves and mounded-up mountains that altered the planet’s resonance. The earth will be changed by what the people have done to it and the people will be changed by what they have done to the earth. The humans can no sooner forget their intelligence than a plate of glass can be reassembled, their hearts can no more easily un-feel feelings than can minerals be un-mined from the earth. But it will not truly matter that the players have changed. What will matter is that there is still a frequency at which the voices of the earth and its people intersect and that they can still commune together after all they have been through.

Amidst the hum of our native tongue, humans will once again become worthy of their post as the Keepers of the Earth, and all will give way to acceptance of that great and glorious mmmmmmmmm.


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mmm                                                                                                                                 mmm
mmm                                                                                                                 mmm
mmm                                                                                              mmm
mmm                                                                    mmm
mmm                                                 mmm
mmm                 mmm



I’d like to feel about Christmas the same way that I feel about Halloween. In other words, I’d like to just enjoy it and have fun. I grew up celebrating both holidays with unqualified joy. Each year through my childhood my family would pick out pumpkins for carving, and, a month later scout for a Christmas tree. But as an adult I can’t bring that same sense of celebration to both because they are just not the same. The difference is that one holiday is religious and one is not, and, as a non-religious person, I’m not sure that I can celebrate Christmas without committing some sort of moral perjury. Continue reading “Christm-ish”

Earth god, Sky God


Screen Shot 2014-07-06 at 8.51.28 PMWhen I was young, my God lived in the sky. With angels and believers by his side, He looked down at me from Heaven, and I sent my prayers into the air so that He may listen.

As an adult, I lost that God. He does not exist to me now. There is no one watching, listening, guiding, or even judging. He no longer serves as an explanation for everything I cannot understand. There is no room for God behind the last known star in the sky.

I don’t want it to be this way but it’s just the truth. Sometimes I miss praying. More often, I miss the security of Knowing. The loss is deep. Continue reading “Earth god, Sky God”

On Solitude

NCT Trail P 096

People, like deer and celebrities, tend to cluster amongst themselves. Anytime you should encounter a sitcom star, be still! Lower your gaze. Chances are good that his Emmy-winning girlfriend and the whole supporting cast will come trundling after. Continue reading “On Solitude”