Encounter at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Johannes Vermeer, Study of a Young Woman, 1665-67

Some man said you weren’t as beautiful as

that floozy in a turban, but at least you have

a measure of gracefulness to offset your plain

features, thank goodness for virtue.

I had a laugh when he compared you to Mona

as if you had anything to do with her Leonardo

amused, together in that imaginary space

the gallery

admiring your pearl face

from the corner of my eye.

what you know that I don’t is worth a moment

the shape of Vermeer’s dirty brush and maybe

not by choice

and how to sit statue-still, a porcelain lady

hide your teeth and your dark womb thoughts

relinquish even your name

for father’s art.

–Nicole

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Fatal Friday – June 28

Sometimes, you find yourself mid-conversation with an intensely charged and intelligent woman in a space full of erotic toys and fetish gear. At least you do if you’re ever invited to a sex educators mixer. The event took place in the Sexploratorium, recently re-located to 317 South Street. We took our usual walking detour to get there, [not lost at all, ahem] toyed with the thought of hopping a wall into a churchyard, and finally wound up at the shop around 8pm.

Five hours earlier, we were sitting in a kitchen discussing our respective research for our Fulbright grant applications over custom gorditas and chocolate milkshakes. The conversation transitioned to past loves and romances, horrendous kissing techniques and bad dates. Eventually we stood up and got mint iced tea, finally deciding to make the sacrifice…. to actually put pants on. [Yes, it’s hot out there.] It’s been a while since we’ve had a proper Fatal Friday, you see. But hopefully we’re not out of practice.

Now, back to the Sexploratorium. Once inside, we did a whirlwind tour of the first and second floors, which were dripping with leather restraints, BDSM How-To books, gags, corsets and whips. Eventually we made it to the third level where we found a lovely setup of deep red, carpeted floors, chairs, and baked goods. The space was occupied by a varied and beautifully passionate group of fellow educators. Soon we were absorbed in conversation with two of these women, Susana Mayer, Ph.D and the Rev. Dr. Beverly Dale. Throughout the course of the evening, Nicole took a Sex and the Bible quiz, after which she learned that she was not erudite enough to be a Sexy Bible Scholar. While the Reverend Beverly Dale spoke with Nicole about the intersection of sexual and spiritual, Darragh spoke to Dr. Mayer regarding rape culture both here and internationally, touching upon the topic of ‘safe sex’ versus “responsible sex.” At some point, the conversations organically merged together and everyone ate homemade snicker-doodle cookies and exchanged business cards.

Before, the Reverend had observed to Nicole that part of spirituality is in righteous living. Speaking to us both, she elaborated on the beauty of a religion founded on incarnation–a God entering into human flesh–explaining that, for her, Christian faith should be the most loving, most sex-positive expression possible. Needless to say, we were blown away by the experiences and insight of these outspoken educators. We are seriously considering presenting a class ourselves, and most certainly attending some events that the program Passion 101 offers. We left with a giddy high from good conversations and the offer of a potential chance to put together a panel series.

However, our night was far from over. Making our way back to Broad Street, we devoured some vegetarian fare at Govindas, but we quickly rushed away to make it to The Venture Inn. There, we had a birthday to attend, or rather two birthdays, and we didn’t want to be late. We had a very festive drag show to get to.

Miss Scarlett Bleu, second from the left, performed two numbers on her birthday. She sang live to the whole place, and absolutely rocked it! Darragh screamed in delight as Miss Scarlett hit baritone lows and cooed of true love, the eve after DOMA had been knocked off its rocker. The night was particularly important, as Scarlett’s parents had shown up for the first time to see her perform in full queen regalia. At the end of her second number, she went over to where her mom was sitting and dropped down into her lap, at which point we both nearly cried. So touching, so supportive, so fun!

A successful Fatal Friday we think! 

-FF

Back to Basics…

This Spring has been a roller-coaster of feminist studies in and out of the classroom. Between two women’s studies courses and a lot of relevant experiences outside of school, I have really powered through the past few months by trying to lace a continuous theme of advocacy in to all my projects. Because of all my running around, writing posts on Fatal Femmes has gone to the back burner, but now that finals are almost over, I can begin to get back to the swing of things. Let this post be a summation of my feminism this semester as well as the jumpstart to a Summer of analysis and media critique!

First, January 16th was the last feminist dinner party I was invited to by my friend and the activist artist, Phoebe Bachman. This dinner marked the end of a multi-meal performance piece that Phoebe was hosting for the long-term research project, “Women Making Activist Art in Public Spaces,” that she had been conducting for months on feminist creators. I was so thrilled and honored to be included in her work as both a documented subject and as a participant. I guess I was a little surprised that I was picked because although I am very open about my feminist politics, I never count myself as an artist. I write and paint, film and edit, but I never seem to consider myself as a creator. I have begun to rethink the idea in recent weeks.

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Following up with her work, Phoebe officially presented her art and research on February 4th at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. I silently joined a “tour” of spectators that she was walking through her exhibit the night of the opening. Although I had been aware of her methodology and work throughout the process of watching her plan everything for almost a year, I was thoroughly impressed by the final execution. She knowingly glanced up and caught my eye and asked me to speak out about the experience of being a participant. I was so content to speak on her behalf. It was wonderful to be a part of someone else’s work. She inspires me.

In February, Temple University’s branch of HerCampus, run by my friend Jaimee Swift, asked me to sit on two informational panels. The first was titled “Young Women in the Media.” Like Phoebe’s dinners, I felt that I held a unique place being the only self-identified academic (or budding academic) in the group. Regardless, I still have a few documentaries under my belt and have picked up an interest in band photography and headshots so I was still counted as media maker. As usual, I was impressed by the women I that I was being associated with and thrilled to sit with them. The other panel was silly as it was about Valentine’s Day and Romance. I tried to be serious at parts when asked to discuss safe sex and consent, with added knowledge about sex toys and why it’s important to communicate partner-to-partner. I was excited to bring two of my friends, Karley Cohen and Tom Diaogistino, onto the panel last minute. They had completely different perspectives and experiences that completely added to the discussion.

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Also in February was the Women’s Way tenth annual Women and Influence Conference at Moore College of Art in Philadelphia. I went with two fellow feminists, Melissa Fabello and Nuala Cabral. It was exciting to see accomplished women acknowledged and celebrated, but Melissa and I had a few comments about how to improve the event as a whole. Firstly, we noticed that although Women’s Way did a great job coordinating the conference, many of the workshop sessions lacked interactivity. The topics seemed stiff and centered around business and entrepreneurship, less about the “issues of importance to women, girls, and their families in our region” that the program highlighted. Throughout the day there was great debate as to whether or not women could truly have it all. I hope to attend next year.

I spent quite a bit of time preparing for my first workshop this semester in early March. I was asked by Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania to host a media literacy session for their Pot of Gold, or bi-annual adult volunteer day. More than happy to accept, I included in my proposal that Nicole should join me to speak. As my collaborator, she deserves to share in the sharing of knowledge. I was particularly proud of her the day that we presented because not only had we created the workshop together, but it was also her first ever public speaking engagement outside of classroom presentations and our first ever as a team. The workshop was great and the feedback we received was amazing. Comments ranged from “It was thought provoking and on point for what’s going on with tween and teen girls today” to “This workshop invoked a lot of great conversation. It really could have benefited if it was given more time!” 9 out of 10 guests recommended the workshop for future audiences. It was the first time I had ever really worked with adults without children being present. This allowed for flexibility of material, faster teaching and discussion, more examples of current events and, of course, a wide range of debate. After the two sessions we hosted, Nicole and I took time to reflect on being what we called “novice masters,” a term we use to explain the odd relationship we have to our highly specific studies and those outside the field. Being students, particularly undergraduates, we are learning all the time, but to give back by breaking down what we absorb we are the closest thing to “masters” or “experts” that those unfamiliar with such schools of thought may interact with at the time. If anything, it’s a responsibility that we do not take lightly.

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Next was another workshop, later in March, for the GirlTalk Summit hosted by the YWCA of Greater Harrisburg, PA. I was asked to do a presentation on media’s glorification of teen pregnancy, a controversial, but incredibly important topic. I suffered through research by making myself watch “16 and Pregnant,” “Teen Mom” and a few other shows that I really could care less about as a viewer, but as a budding media scholar I do understand that their impact is intense and widespread. I ran three sessions with about two-dozen teenage girls aged 15-19. Some of these young women were already mothers, many watched the shows I discussed and all were identified as “high-risk.” Being from the intercity placed them into a special category that sociologists, educators, politicians and paperwork like to use. I was just excited to interact with young people close to my age that had ideas about how to start talking about what they cared about. I found that when presenting, I must learn to sum up lofty ideas with more examples. Nonetheless, I am happy to have participated. The experience was very important to me.

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The tail end of April was all over the place. Out of the blue I received an email from a former professor from a few semesters back who asked if I was interested in teaching one of my favorite articles from his class to his current students. I was ecstatic. The writing, “Fraternity Gang Rape,” started with a brief summary of America’s sexual history and eventually discusses present-day rape culture. The day I was to teach, I was surprised to find out that my mentor chose not to assist or comment and left both of his classes up to me. I excitedly spoke as I moved around the classroom. Students, my own peers, followed up with me via email and gave me wonderful feedback. It was an amazing time and really gave me a better idea of how much I think I would enjoy teaching.

During the last weekend in April I was ask to present yet another workshop! This time, I occupied the upstairs lobby of the Warner Hotel in downtown West Chester, PA during the ninth annual West Chester Film Festival. The experience was special because I was also a nominated director. My documentary “The Voices of Time Before They Are Silenced: The Holocaust” was up for Best Pennsylvania Director. During the workshop, titled “Lights, Camera, Action: Women’s Sexuality In and On Film,” I found myself very comfortable with the material I had arranged. I think it was a touchstone of confidence in understanding that I know what I’m talking about. Pretty cool if you ask me! A great discussion was peaked post-speech and carried on for about half-an-hour with yours truly as moderator.

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As of May 7th, I can also say that I may add state lobbying to my feminist activism this semester. Just earlier this week, I went with a few fellow feminists to the Capitol in Harrisburg, PA with Women’s Way. The organization was supporting the efforts of the Polaris Project to advocate for stronger human trafficking laws in the state. According to Polaris, Pennsylvania is at the bottom of the scale when it comes to safety for “victims” or survivors of slavery and does very little to fully prosecute pimps and other traders. Lobbying was really interesting. It was much like a performance of suits and ties and smiles and handshakes. I credit Women’s Way and Polaris and all the other activist group present, but there was something sad about having to dress up to talk about real issues, problems outside the marble and stained glass of the Capitol Building.

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At the Capitol talking to a Senate Rep

While all this was going on outside of school, I was also a student in two women’s studies courses, as aforementioned. One was a foundations course treated as a history class on women’s rights and activism in America and the other was an upper level topics called “Male Perspectives of Women’s Studies.” New to Temple, Dr. Edward Onaci taught both. As the semester eased on, he became more flexible with the format in which he chose to teach. Eventually, both classes came to rely and appreciate a circle approach to roundtable discussion. No raising of hands, just commentary and dialogue. No yelling or fighting, just debate and civil conversation. It reminded me of the circular education paradigm that Gloria Steinem spoke of during a speech I witnessed in November 2012. She emphasized the importance of shared knowledge passed through or across teachers to students and from generation to generation. This approach opposes our current academic institutions’ way where education is treated as another form of class that oppresses those who seemingly do not have access. In “Male Perspectives” I found great frustration in reading the works of men like Rousseau, men who believe women’s place in under them, in society and in the every other context. I have realized that, as Lynda Lange explains in “Feminist Interpretations of Jean-Jacques Rousseau,” if nothing else, perhaps reading the works of a man as sexist as Rousseau, who is “the very embodiment of misogyny,” will encourage feminists “to read and view more works by women.”

Lastly, my future endeavors. Besides giving Fatal Femmes a make-over, which Nicole and I both agree that it needs, I have a lot of other projects going on that need time and love ASAP. These include, but are not limited to another workshop for Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania coming up Fall 2013, possibly photographing LadyFest in Philadelphia in July, learning how to be a peer health and sexuality educator for Temple University in Fall through the HEART Wellness Resources Center on campus, becoming a Women’s Way media intern this Summer, traveling to Los Angeles to volunteer as a student scholar for NAMLE (the National Association of Media Literacy Education), animating an abstract documentary about gender literacy and word structures titled “WoŸman,” and trying to kick as much as butt as possible on the side.

-Darragh Dandurand Friedman

Fatal Adventures 1.19.13–Mosex Revisited

MUSEUM OF SEX
233 Fifth Avenue (@ 27th Street)
New York, NY

In my head I’d imagined it bigger. Something on the scale of the PMA, or even Philly’s City Hall. From Darragh’s description of her first visit, I’d built up a picture of an endless maze, a pictorial journey through the History of Sex. Standing on fifth ave, my expectations around my ankles, I held back the urge to mutter “Really? That’s it?”

The first floor sex shop was surprisingly less shocking and more, I don’t know, coy? It seemed a little too clean, too well put together, like Barnes and Nobles trying to be kinky. There were popular novels, too, such as 50 Shades of Grey, and shot glasses, and coloring books. Hiding in the back of the shop were the actual sex toys, which were only vaguely intriguing. (Why a cupcake?) The shop itself could have made a succinct exhibit, Commodification of Desire, or The Sexual Consumer. But the next floor above made up for all that.

The museum calls it Universe of Desire. To me it will always be the floor where I first saw porn. Or as they put it,“As human behavior becomes more clickable than physical, we can’t help but wonder what this means for our most basic, biological impulse: sex.” says Mark Snyder, Director of Exhibitions and Co-Curator of “Universe of Desire.”  The black walls really help the screens of copulation to stand out, as if they weren’t going to have all your attention anyway. Out of all the kinks, all the video installations, it was the animated cartoon sex reel that made me nauseous. I think because of how exaggerated the motions were. Come on, cartoon dude, she’s not a kabob. I stood there wincing until I’d seen the video through. At least this exhibit helped me discover what I’m not into. One object that I did like on this floor was the orgasm quilt. It was, as you might imagine, a quilt with orgasming faces on each panel. The images came from this project, The Beautiful Agony, dedicated to the beauty of the human orgasm. It gave your eyes something still to rest on, pleasurable instead of demanding. There was a lot of stimuli in that room.

Beyond the digital sex exhibit, the floor I liked the most was called Sex Lives of Animals. It came closest to fulfilling my desire for information as well as arousal. Besides learning about the shocking and ridiculous ways animals get it on, you also get to look at some fun sculptures and pics. Deer threesome, anyone? Or if that’s not to your taste, how about camel masturbation? People laughed in this room, or snorted with embarrassment, or grabbed their friend to point something out. Not the hushed, dark, weird space of the porn floor at all.

MOSEX is an experience that everyone relates to in some way. But going through it feels more like a carnival atmosphere than a museum. There are huge holes in the structure and content, none of which seems logically organized. Sexy sex in other cultures is omitted (Anime? Manga??). Religious attitudes towards sex are never referenced. This is not a scientific inquiry, ladies and gents. But that’s okay, because its target audience is the 18-25 crowd. Girls taking pictures of themselves in front of the exhibits, guys copping a feel of their girlfriend’s butts….the visitors themselves are sometimes more interesting than the exhibits….galleries….whatever they are. I’m still mentally digesting everything I saw there, not sure if there’s any real insight to be had…other than, as much as we may like to have the sex ourselves, perhaps we like even more the suggestions and the possibilities available by watching others have it?

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If you’d like to check out their other exhibits, here’s the website: Museum of Sex.

–Nicole

Fatal Friday (actually Tuesday) Diez – Tiny Post!

I have just missed Nicole so much

For weeks we have been out of touch

I’m in need of a hug

And the sight of her mug

Made my heart do flips, twirls and such!

_

I’ve been dying from a cold

I feel like I’m 50 years old

It’s a sad thing to see

There’s not much left of me

But I’m still here, or so I’ve been told

We spent our time together

On the web, for worse or better

Finding articles and art

And other sites world’s apart

Some that will be shit forever: http://www.jesus-is-savior.com/Evils%20in%20America/Feminism/feminism_is_evil.htm

My limerick could be brighter

My rhymes could be tighter

But this will have to do

And we still love you

This is all you’re getting out of this writer.

 

….for tonight.

 

Punching People Is A Bad Idea — A Personal Tale About Desensitization of Violence

As was briefly mentioned in the most recent Fatal Friday post, I punched someone. I am not proud of it. In fact, I am still a little shocked that I had the capability to become so angered by a stranger’s stupid comment  that I used my agency for physical violation. Although Nicole summed up the situation fairly well, there’s more to it than she or anyone else knows. While the moment of violence lasted less then a minute and no blood was spilled nor response made from the punched party, I now realize that although I consume mass amounts of media, I am still not desensitized…as proved by my shock…and I think that is a very important thing to acknowledge.
First things first: on Friday, November 2nd, I went to film class at 10am where I watched the war movie “Brothers” (2009, Jim Sheridan). The film has a brutal PTSD subplot which included the audience witnessing the origin of the main character’s mental disease: a violent murder inflicted on one American solider from another with a rusty pipe.
I winced in my chair and I’m sure other students around me did as well. Later in the movie, this same character cannot function in everyday life as he used to after he returns home, largely due to the emotional stress he’s holding in. Instead, it bubbles up and explodes in the form of a deranged attack on his wife’s new kitchen, a gift from his brother. He smashes it to bits, again with a metal pipe. With his family in terror, the police arrive at his home and he pulls a gun threatening to kill himself. Personally I found this overwhelm hard to digest. (A few days later when we deconstructed the film in class, it was not nearly as striking as it had been when I was emotionally invested.) Nonetheless, when the movie ended on Friday and the credits began to roll, my 150+ classmates immediately got up and exited. I was left sitting alone in a semi-dark lecture hall recounting the story, my feelings about the characters and the apparent lack of sensitive response my peers seemed to show.
About 12 hours later is when I punched someone for screaming, “…and you should’ve sucked his dick too…” in my general direction. Whether or not the comment was for me, I assumed it was and became enraged, throwing my moral and logical reasoning out the window. Almost instinctively my reaction happened, as if I could not find another way in that split second to get rid of the “thing” that bothered me. It’s as if I thought that by punching the guy who said it, the comment would just disappear as if it had never been uttered. I’d like to think I was being defensive, but I was being reactive.
For back-story  I have never been in a fist fight nor have ever found the desire to prove myself in such a way. As an only child, I received a lot of emotional attention and mental stimulation so the idea of physical confrontation has never had much appeal to me. I was always taught to practice civil discussion if an issue came up. I try to be fair and open and listen to all sides, so, in reflection of my actions, I am appalled at myself.
But onward with the night for the tale is not over yet! After a mentally sobering walk to my friend’s place for a get together, Nicole and I watched “21 Jump Street” (2012, Chris Miller, Phil Lord), the stupid comedy about two young cops trying to make a name for themselves by working undercover in a high school to bust a drug ring.
The movie is filled with on-screen death, explosives, vulgar behavior, weapons, drugs, hyper-masculinity and blood…but the catch is that it’s hysterical. Oh the magic of cinema that it can take reality and spin it and interpret it in so many ways! While watching “21 Jump Street” I laughed, snorted even, at the bathroom humor and obnoxious characters. They meant nothing to me. Their failures were my entertainment and for that matter, were supposed to be. The blatant violence was for my viewing pleasure; such an odd phenomenon in our culture.
I still feel the shock of my hit, but I cannot help to wonder why. Is it because I truly do not have a physically violent nature? I think that’s part of it. Or is it because we women are not meant to be reactive, to respond and defend our own honor? And even if the comment was directed at someone else instead of me, would it be an embarrassment that I defended their honor since I am a woman? Perhaps I was not aware how terrible it feels to hurt someone, to see their face offended and their body trying to hide away from the blow. Did I subliminally think that because of all the violence I see in the media that I would feel more heroic? More bad-ass? Is this what violence has become?
The line becomes clearer now: our world is desensitized. To gore. To sex. To anything and everything that used to be taboo. We have gangster rap and kiddie porn, 3D movie theaters and Playboy, non-stop social media and overwhelming advertising. EVERYWHERE. In theory, exposing the individual to constant consumption could begin the proactive dialogue of why the world is the way it is and how our trends and behaviors are created and effect us, but instead we expose society to media without media literacy education, thus the conversation is never had about its consequences, good or bad. This is a problem because real life and what we see on TV becomes blended together in a tangy concoction of moral disregard and confusing agendas. Media is neither good nor bad, but the weight it carries in our world is outstanding.

I am not yet desensitized. I can still feel and hurt and be blown away by something meant to blow me away. The media can frame anything the way it wants, but deep down I know (and sometimes have to remind myself) that the Himalaya mountains will never be as beautiful on television as they apparently are in real life, that physically intimate interactions are at my and my partner’s discretion and will not be acted out “as seen on TV” in sexy soap operas or music videos and that as long as I can actively work on being media literate, I am closer to a human being than any scripted character or photo-shopped model in an advertisement has ever been.
-Darragh Dandurand Friedman (darraghdandurand@aol.com)

Fatal Friday–Nueve

Despite twenty-some years of observing others, on Friday I discovered that my judgments are still too hasty. People’s character is infinitely more complex than society’s roles would suggest. And perhaps still more complex than one mind can understand alone.

No doubt you are rolling your eyes now……Hey, get to the good part! What DID you two do last Friday night?

For starters, we witnessed Gloria Steinem give a lecture. Who is she, you ask? Gloria is a writer, lecturer, editor, and the feminist activist. She was speaking at Haverford, to a full house of women and men.

In the course of the hour, she expanded on her theory of the interconnected nature of current social justice movements. She stressed that as long as the construct of racism exists, sexism will never go away, and vice versa. With her particular humor, she made it current by addressing the looming presidential election. She noted that rhetoric over the years has tried to make us believe our vote doesn’t count or is somehow meaningless. She also made it very plain that she considers Romney/Ryan’s proposed policies about women’s bodies dangerous and multi-faceted. One of the best moments of the night was when she asked “Why are ultra conservatives against both birth control and lesbians?” Food for thought. Her answer was because both allow women to have sex for pleasure not procreation. What I loved most about her (besides her wit) was her understanding of everything affecting everything else. She used the circle in her explanation; an idea world is modeled on a endless circle, not an inverted triangle of hierarchy.

Darragh geeked basically the entire time, and after the talk Gloria was signing autographs in the lobby. After waiting in the line, Darragh presented her book to be signed. Not a book written by Gloria, no. This was a vintage book of erotica, a real nightmare of pasty boobs and butts. Gloria looked at the book and made this face:

But being the wonderful person she is, she finally signed the cover “A Terrible Book–Gloria Steinem.” It’s true, I swear.

Flushed with these events, we got our picture snapped by this lovely organization:

(And spoke to its organizer. Keep an eye out for future collaborations.) What could get better than meeting Gloria Steinem in the flesh? While waiting for the train back to Temple, we engaged a neighbor in friendly chat. Her name escapes me, but she listened with good humor and recognized Gloria’s name as a famous feminist. After she got off at her stop, Darragh and I kept chatting pretty much continuously from the train station to the center of Temple campus. We met up with her gentleman there, and then things got a little funky.

A kid was urinating on the bellower. Now bear in mind this was 11:30 on a Friday night. North Philly has seen much odder in its time. But it bothered our guy friend, and he went over and slapped the kid around a bit, as you might discipline a bad, drunk puppy. Naturally, this kid had a group of garden-variety assholes around him, five or so. They started yelling and oooing and ahhhing. In the confusion, Darragh thought one of them told her to “get over here and suck my dick” or some variation of the usual crap. Long story short, she dropped her bag and punched the offending drunk in the face.

Wait, WHAT? Yes. Trust me, if I was making this up, it would be more believable.

For the record, I have never seen her get physically violent before. It was about thirty seconds of what appeared to be total disregard of consequences, pure emotional response. This is very out of character for my partner; she is someone who plans ahead, who has the future firmly in front of her eyes. Before Friday, I would have said it was impossible for her to do that. I guess the old cliche proves true again…..as it turns out, nothing’s impossible.

–Nicole Beck (nikolbolt@gmail.com)