How Much Do We Need Community?

What do a recent rap song, Johnny Cash, the movie Fight Club, and the Bible have in common?  A post on society and the ones we love.

“No man is an island, entire of itself…”  – John Donne.

This quote has stayed with me for over twenty five years.  I have used it,  in conversations, in my classroom.  I have felt it, when I was in my third year of college, after transferring to a university from community college.  Classes were huge, and I felt very alone.  Over the years, I learned the value of forming friendships for many different reasons, to handle difficult situations at work, to enjoy life a little more, to have someone to talk to, or to share a value with others (such as charity, faith, volunteerism, recovery).  People go to many types of places to feel a part of a community:  hobby/enthusiast groups, church, bars.  That’s quite a variety of places, but a lot of it starts because we need someone to talk to.  Some of us are fortunate enough for it to happen in the workplace.  It sure makes working a lot more fun.  Some are not that fortunate, and have to seek other places like the aforementioned.  I imagine, in early civilization, hunter/gatherers survived cold weather and wild animals better if they banded together to survive.  Farmers usually rely on a community to get their work done.  They have to get along to get things done together.  I look at these huge farms in the Midwest and I know just one man alone could have never gotten all that done.  Community seems, to me, to be a key to survival for mankind.

The Christian Bible preaches the value of community.  I made a promise to myself to use or read the Bible more often during Lent this year.  It’s not too much of a cheat if I found relevant verses in an online subject search, is it?  From http://dailyverses.net/community : “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:7 | NIV

Since the Dark Ages, even earlier, people have gathered together to appreciate art, music, and Literature to enrich their lives and minds.  I am seeing that as one way we “walk in the light.”  We still gather to do these things.  Sometimes we just enjoy them in a solitary way.  I don’t mean to contradict myself here….

Or, take this Bible verse about supporting each other, maybe even inspiring one another to be better people:
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works,  not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”  Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)
But yet, there is plenty of fuel to fire the opposing argument, that the lone wolf is that way because he chooses to be because he is totally independent.  In a current, popular song, that I just heard for the first time today while switching stations, by G-Easy, the lyrics go like this: “It’s just me, myself, and I/ Solo right until I die/ Because I’ve…got me for life.”  I at first thought the song might be a little narcissistic, then I watched the video (uncut lyrics).  It depicts a star who really struggles with himself and the fame that has come to him, perhaps realizing his large number of false friends.  Perhaps that just comes with fame and riches.  I may never have that problem.  I’ll admit the lyrics are catchy.  I was drawn to them after hearing Jonny Cash’s rendition of Empire of Dirt, a song that could make me cry on a gray day.  Similar themes, but quite a switch!
And then there was an article shared by a Facebook friend today as well, titled “Why Millions of Men Lose Friends in their 20s,” available at http://www.vice.com/read/why-men-lose-friends-in-their-20s?utm_source=vicefbus which totally touches upon the subject as perhaps not always being  a choice, or sometimes being a regrettable one.  “As we get older….we might start to wonder whether there’s a reason most wolves hunt in packs.”  As if most men interviewed by the writer seemed to acknowledge that life would be easier if they had a “pack.” By the way, the falling away of friendships in your 20s happens just as much to women.  But it was good to read from this perspective since I get concerned about my son in his young adulthood and his lack of community or even any concern for being part of a community.
Of course, modern technology makes it easier to do everything from the confines of our home, even conversing with others (through our acronyms, LOL). Thereby, it decreases active participation in a community.The quality of conversation has really declined, BTW.  🙂 On an average day for many, our survival involves sitting in our cubicle, pecking away at a computer under artificial light.  Hmmm…I am getting an image from  the movie Fight Club!   Ed Norton or Brad Pitt with a shiner, what a way to fight the artificially lighted cubicle!  The word “club” stands out here in my mind, almost as much as Brad’s shiner.  His character started out as a socially awkward young man, feeling withdrawn from society.  Modern culture seems to perpetuate that.  We were all so much thicker skinned in the past, but we did it through community and teamwork.  That was a key to our survival as a species.  It is even helpful today.  Without it, there may be many lone wolves, but I doubt their descendants will go too far.
I’ll put this in my own personal terms.  Sometimes I need something to do that I know will benefit someone else; that gets me away from selfish concerns or worries.  Or I need to talk to someone about anything that will get me out of my head or my worries (that sometimes can chase themselves like a dog chasing its tail).  I know community is a key to survival.  I also love my lone wolves, especially since my son is one of them, and I know he needs love and acceptance, even when he accepts it so tentatively.  I think they have an important place in our community, if for no other reason than to fix things, build things, produce art, Literature, or music to make us think or help us escape. Then there are also those who think up the theoretical ideas, yet can’t talk in a social setting.  They are still invaluable.  Perhaps the lone wolf is, at times, an inspiration to the broken-hearted or newly single?   They’d never admit it, but in some way, they do need us.  I just hope they realize they mean something to the rest of us.  Yet, I see that I have to accept anyone’s choice to be outside of community.  So do we just leave them be?  As a mother, I adamantly say, No.
I just hope our lone wolves realize they mean something to the rest of us.  Yet, I see that I have to accept anyone’s choice to be outside of community.  Take the example of my son.  One may speak to him and get very little reply.  It doesn’t mean he doesn’t respect you.  It’s just, you may have interrupted a thought process; he may have to work hard to switch that off.  But he may have really needed those kind words, even if you got very little response.  You see, I’ve been working on understanding this.  His mentor that we knew from church was learning this.  One day, he told me, “I got a smile and a chuckle out of him today.  It was a real smile!”  Yes, I believe it was.  Sometimes that’s all you get.  God bless him for trying.  Maybe we can’t change a lone wolf into a social being, but just let them know they’re loved and accepted.  Awkward can be awesome.  If we are truly a loving community that will survive together, we should be checking up on our lone wolves, and embracing those Emily Dickensens and Van Goghs, long before they’ve left us with nothing but their art or interesting memorabilia collections.
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Worry, and Impossible Things

When life is hectic and people are dumping too much on you, and you’re not getting enough sleep, you just want to escape or at least get your hair done, but there is not enough time…..What can  you do?!  Short of pharmaceuticals, that is, which are wrought with their own problems… I have to try a “cocktail” of strategies to keep myself from cracking.  Here is my recent mixture:

* I am strengthened by biblical scripture and have tried to get closer to this since the beginning of the Lenten season.  I believe my pastor discussed this scripture at the beginning of Lent, and it is a staple of my spiritual diet lately.

Matthew 19:26: “But Jesus beheld [them], and said unto them, With men  [it is] impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible.

I have lived through parenting a teenager and being faced with realities I did not want to be a part of.  He has been in the E.R three times in his life  due to his playing with danger, and I prayed furiously, fighting the worry.  Yet, here he is.  After wavering and wallowing over his confusion after high school, when it seemed impossible to motivate him, he is taking a test today that will determine if he can get into trade school.  It involves some Algebra, and yes, I want to worry, but instead I’ll write my blog entry, which is actually a sort of prayer.  I am going to have faith, even if things don’t turn out the way I want, that things will work out just fine.

*I am rewarded when I look to Literature for an escape.  It is fairly inexpensive, and there is no hangover.  To believe in impossible things, one must be an optimist, and may even be a scientist.  I am probably a dreamer.  But guess what, someone has to dream up the ideas in the first place!  And it nourishes my soul.  From Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass: 

Alice laughed: “There’s no use trying,” she said; “one can’t believe impossible things.”
“I daresay you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

I had abandoned this book long ago, because it seemed so out there, it just lost me.  Well, it must be just what I need right now, because it is sticking to me like a well-balanced meal sticks to your sides.  I lick my lips in delight like a full Cheshire Cat after reading a chapter of this outrageous masterpiece of wordplay and riddles.  It’s the escape I needed from worry over my son who is a grown-up now, and over my job where I sometimes feel I am given an impossible task, where what I do is never enough.  But guess what, I am doing fine and I need to remember that.

*Music.  It relaxes me, it awakens me, it pumps me up, and helps me forget the little nit-picky things that can really bother me.  I especially need it when driving in traffic to get to work in the morning.  Case in point, horrible traffic on the way to work yesterday.  I was playing Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head.”  Just the right song makes me not care that I am getting to work later than I had hoped (For Pete’s sake I am always  there before my contract time anyhow)!  So, I sat in a line of cars at the light yesterday jamming to Coldplay’s Politik, enthralled in the notes that went higher and higher, trying to sing with the notes (I was singing “eyes” in every note up the ladder while Chris Martin was holding and breathing through that word….Eyyyyyyessssssssssssssssssss).  I hope I looked as crazy to those around me as I felt, since I truly did not care what they thought.

 

*It has been too long since I had a true vacation, and I am feeling that one will be in order pretty soon.  Therefore, my photo with this entry is of another time, in another place, when I was on vacation with family, including my nine year old son who was amazed at the beauty of the mountainside he had never seen before.  It was a place where you think of the silence or the birds singing around you, and what beautiful wonders are just ahead as you make your way through the trees or up the hill.  That is the best.  Those memories also help me to hang on, but they are certainly helped along by prayer, song, and a steady diet of just the right reading at the right moment.

 

So, I sit here after dropping my son off early for his test, knowing he just wanted to get out of the car and away from my questions or reminders.  I know how my worry bothers him; I dealt with the same thing from my mother.  I am working on it, as I know it is to my physical detriment, in other words, not very good for my health.  Heck, my worry bothers me too.  But I have sent out my prayers for things to work out, and for him to never give up, which I hope he has learned from me.  Now I think I can fill my mind with something else.  It is a beautiful day, and there is still more to read about Alice!

 

 

 

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Ah, Nature!  Nothing to worry about if you just know what to hold onto.  Colorado Mts. , 2005.

A New Morning

As I sit here sipping coffee, to go along with my Advil-to-chase-away-my-wrist-pain, I am grateful.  Here is a new morning, and my little dog Bixby is as spunky as ever, chewing on his miniature toy by my side.  A part of me wants to feel old, but a much needed good night’s sleep has renewed me.  I have come to a good place in my life, started saying yes to things I formerly wouldn’t, the dog being one of them.  These things have brought such rewards and my life is full, not empty, and not lacking,  but full of goodness.  So I’ll take a moment and be grateful.  I realize there must be a Bible verse that communicates all of the hope and gratitude I am feeling.  Thanks to the internet, (which makes so many dubious things available, so why not just the right Bible verse), here it is:

Lamentations, 3:22-23, KJV:  22 It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed , because his compassions fail not.
23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. 
     It being Lent, I wanted to do something selfless.  The fact that I have not given up much because I am so sporadic in my asceticism, (meaning I have practiced it as a response to anxiety or extreme emotion, never on purpose, so choosing to do so is hard for me lately), leads me to try other ways of being selfless.  I just in the last six months have started feeling healthy again after an extremely emotional year in my family.  As a result, I’ve decided to give things away for Lent, donate things more,  and to actually study the Bible more.  So, I looked in my long untouched Bible to verify the verse the internet brought me at my request before I shared it.  It’s officially verified.
     Now, don’t get me wrong.  The Bible has been unused for a while, yet I am a woman of faith who attends church and likes to stay involved in many of the good things happening there. I have read probably 80-85% of the whole Bible in my lifetime, due to a religious upbringing that included four years in a religious private school.  Having said that, what people use the Bible for at times frightens me.  The many possible interpretations unnerve me.  People who interpret the Bible and have no give or compromise on what they think it means are scary.   The fact that the Bible contradicts itself in many places is quite confusing.  How many different men were involved in its production?  What can a person in search of spirituality do with all this?  I don’t know,but I do think attending church and listening to the sermons of a person well-educated in the Bible is helpful.  Bible discussion is helpful, though I would probably run the other way when someone takes the Bible literally and argues until they’re red in the face because, for example, I don’t think women have to be subservient to men.    What my love for the Bible comes down to is the story of the New Testament.  The story of Jesus is touching, redeeming.  Someone once said to me, but it’s only a story.  “Is it, really?”  I asked.
     “Well, no one can prove it,”  he replied.
     “That’s a definition of faith, isn’t it?”    Even something unproven is still possible.  Believing in the possible makes my world grow.  That makes sense in this expanding universe.  Studies show that faith, which is akin to positive thinking, is healthy for the soul and the psyche.  I may slip at times, but I am finding my way to appreciate each morning of a new day, and the possibilities it brings.
     His mercies are “new every morning.”  When I believe that, I can feel the sun’s rays on my face at daybreak; it is a glorious feeling, of a power far beyond mine.  I am glad there is a power beyond mine, because sometimes I am week, and I like knowing there’s someone  I can rely on and ask for help. This gives me comfort, just like the sunrise that comes and gives us the promise of a new day.

 

Sunrise, my son, and the birds he loved to chase.  Circa 2008.Sunrise524403_3714407267762_133138129_n

Anxiety, The Phantom (Poetry)

By Pamela Schloesser Canepa
Anxiety, The Phantom copyright, 1.05.16
A windy night brings it. Bam!
The back porch door slams
And I’m left to wonder what is there
What glowing eyes in the night will glare?
I am like a child, four years old again,
My fear and imagination bends.
What hoodlum or phantom lurks here?
I sense something evil crouching near.
Gone is all hope of sleep.
I must be ready in case he leaps.

“He” is my fear of things unseen,
Politicians and terrorists threatening me,
Bills, undone tasks, that won’t let me free,
Narrow minded people judging me
Worry for my son, in his melancholy
TV news feeding branches of my anxiety.
Things that make me think I have no weapon,
Realities that happen, with or without mention.
My canine detects no offending thief,
And only morning daybreak brings relief.

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Virgo Super Cluster!

In my lounging yesterday, during my foggy sinus induced stupor, I turned on Netflix to the show, Cosmos.  Even in my fogginess, I found something I could take away and share with friends and family:  our cosmic address!  It is as follows:

Earth

Solar System

Local Group

Milky Way Galaxy

Virgo Super Cluster (of galaxies, that is!)  All located in the…..drumroll….

Observable Universe!

 

I, for one, have thought about just how small that makes us.  We live in the Virgo Super Cluster of galaxies which, I’m pretty sure, contains a countless number of planets.  How very small we are indeed!  But how awesome, it just ensures me that there is a God.  None of this could be random chaos.  I will have to admit, though,  that knowing just how small we are makes me feel bigger just for the effort.  Yes, I feel bigger for discovering and knowing just how small we are!  Who knows what we may discover to be observable in the next ten years!  Here’s the thing, though.  All of this existed long before we ever discovered it.  Indeed, we are very small, but part of something so huge and infinite!  So why do we fight over borders and plots of land that someone designated as theirs?  Because, we are very small-minded.     That is sad, indeed.  But I continue to be thankful for those who look to the stars and discover possibilities instead of building up walls.    We are definitely all part of something much, much bigger.starsGalaxy-920761_960_720

Shrinking Violet – No More Hiding

“There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other
people won’t feel insecure around you.”  Marianne Williamson

The dream goes like this:  I am sick.  I cannot speak or make a single sound with my mouth.  I hear beautiful music and it frustrates me, yet pleases me at the same time.  I open my mouth and feel pain, but cannot produce any expressive noise or words. I move closer to a plant that is growing beautiful flowers; they are orchids or lilies.  I take the outer petals of the flowers and eat them.  Suddenly, I am singing beautifully.  I am growing, and I am life.

In a training session for elder duty at my church I was asked to look at this poem in relation to my faith.  The first thing this line reminds me of is the term “shrinking violet.”  While my reasons for being a “shrinking violet” were probably not to protect others feelings, my role as shrinking violet certainly was not enlightened.  Digging deeper into my faith has caused me to dig up a lot that I haven’t thought about in a long time. There are dark spaces inside, but there are also places that filter in the light.

Among the dark spots on my faith journey are the many times I stuck to being a shrinking violet, not to prevent others from feeling insecure, but to avoid conflict.  Avoiding conflict was a constant goal of mine, or perhaps we should say it became more of an instinct.  Needless to say when avoiding conflict is your ultimate goal, one is not living fully to their potential. There is also a saying “Don’t squander your talents”, “Don’t hide and your light under a bushel.” Evidently people do this all the time, and I’m not so unusual. But when we were singing that song about this little light of mine in Sunday school, I suppose I didn’t get the metaphor. Or maybe survival was more important to me.

My upbringing in a household with one alcoholic parent and the other frustrated and constantly the peacemaker taught me  that I should be the person to avoid conflict. Maybe because the peacemaker was the woman? Perhaps that’s how I learned my role ? Maybe I took the role of man to be “rules the house with anger.” To this day I can’t stand sitting at a table when someone pounds it in excitement, anger, or frustration. Fortunately, my dad went on to rehab when I was 20, and was no longer a drinker. By that point, my habits and misconceptions were set.  However, I must give my dad thanks for strongly encouraging me to go to college, because when I went through high school, my life was not geared towards that. The only honors class I took was English, because I just love that subject and wanted to see if I could do it. It seems that drying out helped him become more supportive and encouraging, even if it was through long-distance.  So I have to say, I went to college and excelled because he told me I could do it, so I wanted to prove him right.  He even funded my first two years.

Flash forward to age 25.  I am about to get married to an attractive guy I met at a party.  He blew me away with his ownership of me.  How he could not live without me or bear to see me with another guy.  I actually did have second thoughts the day o f the wedding.  I did not heed them.  I am a sort who usually sticks with a choice I have made.  Abandoning the relationship would have hurt him.  Calling off the wedding would as well.  Everything seemed to hinge on preserving his feelings.  What about mine?  They were on the back-burner.  I had to be the peace-maker.  His heavy drinking did not help matters.  But I was still the peace-maker.  I had earned a college degree and a professional job in management,  but he overshadowed and made me second guess every decision I made.  Saying certain things at a party could set him off as well.  I obviously wasn’t growing as a person.  My spiritual growth was stunted.  Sunday morning would be a hung-over day just as much as Saturday.  Then came my pregnancy, and the birth of our perfect baby.  Keeping the peace was more important now.

Let me tell you, that only lasted so long.  Knowing my son would one day understand all the horrible things my husband was saying to me, the accusations, the name-calling, even thinly veiled threats, made me fear the way his perception of a mother’s role or even a wife’s role might turn out.  Would he one day believe all those things his dad was saying TO MY FACE and I would just try to go into the other room, being a survivor, never a fighter.  My only way to fight back was to preserve my dignity and my sanity and leave.  Looking back, it is apparent that I was forever shrinking so that he wouldn’t be insecure around me, or because of me.  But this was also motivated by fear.  Insecure people grow angry, they manipulate, they try to cut you down to size.  I would allow that so his anger would JUST STOP.  I did not want my son to grow up in that household.  Sadly, he later came to see his dad as the outcast family member, cut-off.  For years, he would fight to defend this perceived “underdog.” But that is an entirely different battle.

For the most part, I have raised my son as a single parent.  There were some relationships.  They grew stale or were revealed to be the wrong situation, for one reason or the other.  I pride myself on the fact that I did not get married prematurely again.  I did not jump into another family situation or have another child,  thus making myself dependent on a man.  I can’t see how some women go through pregnancy alone, my hat’s off to you.  I have often used my gifts as self-therapy, not always to help others.  But I would like to share them with the world.  It still purges my spirit to produce something with my gifts, words, a song, prose or poems.  The world may take it or leave it.  And I still have my voice.  I feel an increasing need to speak out with this voice.   I want to speak and plant seeds with my words.  Ideas will grow, and there will be no more shrinking.      violet--isolated-on-whi

Nikki Giovanni, You Inspire Me!

From July 16, 2016:  My inspiration comes from many people and places, but one that is quite memorable is the poet, Nikki Giovanni.  I am fired up right now, because I got to hear her read at a luncheon today!

I love her smile here, and her lack of make-up or artifice.  She is herself, at home and comfortable in her own skin.  The first day I heard of her, I was not any of those things.  I was 20 years old, unsure of myself, finding myself the only one of my peer group in college, and how I got in I wasn’t always sure; I certainly assumed for several years I would not be going.  My self-esteem was hinging on some “boy” I was having some “sort of” relationship with while in college.  I thought about it, and him,  entirely too much.  Should I keep it going?  Should I forget it, tell him it wasn’t what I wanted or fulfilling me spiritually?  Geesh.  What a waste of time, mulling over such a wishy-washy situation.  Had he wanted more, I probably wouldn’t have, so why wasn’t it that simple for me?

Fact is, I was in college, being challenged, and enjoying that greatly.  I was working part-time, not always enjoying it, but I was paying bills, albeit barely.  I was going home to an apartment that was partly mine and a roommate who, it turns out, was not as great a friend as I thought.  I didn’t even always want to hang out with her.  I was not a drunk or a partier, (maybe twice a month), but I was somehow just at an emotional low.  Maybe I was short-changing myself? I wanted more emotional fulfillment.  So, I had read something by Giovanni and then saw this quote from her, that somehow just really clicked with me; I even copied it down and put it somewhere safe to look at again and again.   Here it is:

      “There is always something to do.  There      are  hungry people to feed, naked people to  clothe, sick people to comfort and make well. And while I don’t expect you to save the world I do think it’s not asking too much for you to love those with whom you sleep, share the happiness of those whom you call friend, engage those among you who are visionary and remove from your life those who offer you depression, despair and disrespect.”

Nikki Giovanni

I was wasting all this time with some college boy who didn’t even care if I thought about him, living in an apartment with a friend that was no longer a friend, and feeling unfulfilled.  The only thing that fulfilled me at that time was diving into the Literature and texts I was assigned.  Oh, and some of them really saddened me.  There was Gothic Literature such as Mary Shelley.  Existentialism.  I really felt it all.   But I survived.  I moved back home with Mom for the remainder of college, continued working, and paid for a lot of my own college.  I made time for other friends, and my college relationship pretty much ended when he went away to an out of town school.  But Nikki’s words stuck with me.  There is a world out there in need,  why should I stay in here in my own head worrying about things, when I can go out there and make my world better?  And look at all the energy we sometimes spend on an unhealthy or one-sided relationship, or even friendships that no longer serve us, when there is so much more to do?
You could say I live her advice.  I suppose the last part of her quote is what I put to use back then, regarding who you should engage among you, and who you should remove.  Lord knows, I had to practice it many times repeatedly over the course of my life.  I also took a good amount of advice from the Bible, but how confusing that can be to a young person.  Nikki’s quote on sick people, hungry people, those needing clothes, is also a reminder to someone like me who had all that I needed.  I was getting an education, but it wasn’t making me happy and I felt so alone.  I can say that got better.  It is also true that I struggled with depression at times.  I had to sometimes just do something good for another person in need.  Sometimes I had to just get busy and get out of my head.  Analyzing existentialism or the deeper meaning of Gothic Literature can be a gloomy subject.  But it was very deeply satisfying when I could take a break and do a good thing, or have fun in the sunshine for a while.  One day, I would like to be able to consider myself a successful writer.  There is no amount of money or number of books I will assign to that.  Giovanni herself said something like that today, about how money won’t fulfill you.  You just need to have some of it to stay alive.  It thrills me to say that Nikki Giovanni has influenced me.  I’d like to put that on the back of a book one day!
And as for teaching,  yes, like Nikki said, we need more black children to grow up, get educated, and go into space!  We need them to become scientists, like  Neil deGrasse Tyson. (Who, by the way, is really cool!)   It is much needed for the equality of the races.   Imagine, if I could turn the right student on to a book about space or time travel, and in turn, encourage him to explore space!  Such an honor it would be.  It gives me something to remember when I look at that sea of faces every August.  They all have the potential.
Nikki also mentioned how our language is changing.  (Look at the definition of marriage.  Just recently it was decided by the Supreme Court that two women or two men can now marry).  Think of the definition of equality; she mentioned how a black man and white woman could not have married 60 years ago.  The world is changing and so is our language.  We need to observe and we need to write about it.  So I am writing right now.  She said, “Everyone go out and buy a notebook to write in today.”  I already have one.  I thought it was lost, but it has turned up again!  And I also have this space here for writing.  So I am inspired again!   Indeed, there is so much to do.    Life is good!