Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sarah's Key: A Book and a Memory

When I was very young, my family lived in Germany and visited the Dachau concentration camp. I don't remember that trip, but I know that all during my growing up years, it was etched in my brain that I had been there, like some scar on my heart that I couldn't see but was quite aware of.

In September of 2001, I had the opportunity to travel to Austria with my husband. I was in the midst of reading a series of World War II historical novels by Bodie Thoene, and, having learned so much about that time period in high school and college, thought this might be my one chance to see a piece of it. The Berlin Wall had fallen long ago by this time, and most vestiges of the war are gone. But a few of the concentration camps still exist, like a grim warning, and so I asked at the concierge desk about how I might get to Mauthausen, the camp where Anne Frank's friend Peter died. 
I got a blank look.

I knew his English was good, but perhaps in Austrian they don't call them "concentration camps." I tried other words. Extermination camps. Labor Camps. Work camps. Places where they held Jewish prisoners of war. 

Still a blank look.

I tried to explain it. He shook his head. I asked a few others that worked in the hotel, and got the same response. A non-response. 

I finally found one person who acknowledged that he knew what I was talking about, but told me the Austrian's didn't like to talk about that anymore, and it was better to put it behind them. That was part of occupied Austria, and not who they really are. 

I tried to show my profuse agreement. Indeed! I did not think they were proud of these actions and places! I knew it was a horrible scourge on their nation! 

"So why do you want to see this place?" he asked.

"Because it's important to remember," I said. "If we keep the memory close to our hearts, perhaps it will never happen again."

He shrugged and slipped back into German. "I don't know where the place is. Very far north. You can't get there from here." And that is all I could find out.

Last summer, my family traveled to Germany. My niece, having just finished studying about World War II and having heard about our trip to Dachau from my sister, who was older and still have vivid memories of it, asked if we could visit there again. 

Our tour guide tried to dissuade us. "It is a terrible place," he said. "It is a terrbible way for you to end your visit to Germany. We don't want that to be the last image you take home with you of our great country."

But in the end, he agreed, and he could not have been a more impacting tour guide for us. He was so solemn, so sad; he cried several times as we walked though the gates in the above picture and on through the camp. He told us beautiful stories about the people in the town, the people who survived, the overwhelming feeling of the Germans that they could not stop the avalanche of evil around them. 

When I put Sarah's Key on my reading list for this semester, I knew little about it. I knew it took place in 1942 - but in occupied France, which I knew little about. It also balanced that with a narrator in the present day, which was not particularly interesting to me. So I went into the book with few expectations and no real enthusiasm.
This story, however, touched me profoundly, and brought back these memories. The book, if you haven't read it, is the story of a girl in German-occupied Paris during the war, who is rounded up in a French police raid that captured thousands of Jews and eventually sent them all to Auschwitz to die. When the police come, she locks her little brother in a hidden cabinet in their house, promising to come back for him that day, not knowing that she is being taken away to her death. This is all interspersed with a story in the present about a woman journalist who researches this round-up for the 60th anniversary of the event. Of course, their stories come together at some point.

What struck me so authentically in this story was how hard it was for the journalist to get information on the raid. No one wanted to talk. Places that were part of the horror of that event were leveled and built over with apartments. Books about the event were out of print and impossible to find. People who were witnesses did not want to talk about it.

I know this to be true. As though in erasing the memory, you can erase the reality.

We Americans are so different than that. We remember everything. We do it loudly. We talk and write and practice a sort of cathartic vomiting of emotion. We keep the feelings raw and close to the surface until the wounds scab over and eventually heal. While we are constantly paving over and tearing down everything that is past its prime, we keep sacred those places where terrible things have happened. "Beware," they say in their little memorial signs. "You are not so different today that this could not happen again if you aren't careful to keep it from happening."

Anyway - that's what the book has made me think about. It's a great book. If you haven't read it, you should. I wasn't excited about it before I opened the pages, but I read the entire thing in two days and didn't want to put it down. It might make you think. It might make you remember. But in the end, it really is about how healing takes time. A lesson we all can learn.

Monday, March 28, 2011

MFA Monday: Authenticity

“All writing is part memory and part imaginary. To know only one of these is to know the world only by half.” ~ Jack Driscoll, poet and fiction writer 

What role do our own experiences and memories play in the writing of a piece of fiction? According to Driscoll, a great amount. Our memories define for us what is important and what is not; they are the map and blueprint for who we are. And yet, they are more than the event and date on a calendar. They are fluid and changing, colored by the passing of time.

As a writer, it’s often easy to begin at an autobiographical place in which whole scenes of fiction might be written so as to be true to a memory. But Driscoll showed that a story may start in that place, or may start from a place of only imagination, but eventually, in the process, should become part both.  We as writers are to bring ourselves and our memories to the story with us, venturing from the truth in order to make it more honest.

Over at our group blog, Heidi Bailey wrote an interesting post today on how similar characters in our books can be to us. What do you think? Is it bad to have too much of yourself in your fiction, or does that make it more authentic?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I Finally Took The Dive

It has officially been a year since I started PRODIGAL. The book I now refer to as "the novel that will not end."

Not that I haven't finished it. I finished it last June. Then I took a few weeks off to let it sit and gel, and then started revisions. One revision led to another, to another, to another until in November I decided, "Enough is enough."

Until January when I decided "enough" does not necessarily mean "good enough" and began revising again.

I can honestly say I'm loving the revisions. I can't even believe sometimes that the chapters now are the same chapters I wrote last year. They are, I hope, dramatically better. I credit great critiques, my MFA program, and my super-star advisor for that.

But still, because I'm doing it through school and sending only 20-25 pages every three weeks, I hate to get too ahead in case I get feedback that will throw it all on its head again. That, and reading two books a week and writing another paper a week and there really just isn't that much time to zoom ahead.

It is starting to feel like it's dragging on forever. While I love revising, I'm starting to miss creating. I'm getting the teensiest tired of these old characters and ready for something new.

So I decided to do what I swore going into the MFA program I wouldn't (because it never even crossed my mind to think about doing it or not doing it before the program): I decided to write a short story.

You'd think that would be easier than writing a novel, right? Not so much.

First off, I was scared of it. It's been 20 years since I wrote short fiction, and I had no idea how to do it anymore.

Also, I have no idea how to do it anymore. Did I just say that? Well, it bears repeating, because a short story is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT beast than a novel.

I've been stewing about it for a while now, gestating a few ideas. I even sat and wrote a brilliant first five pages and then stalled out, having no idea where the story was going to go from there. I knew the technique I wanted to use, but not the content. So I let it stew some more.

Yesterday as soon as the kids were on the bus, I sat down and started hashing it out. Let me tell you, for people who think writing isn't work, it IS! It hurt my brain. I struggled. I wrestled. I wrote and deleted, researched, talked it out, batted ideas around and then dismissed them. Tried outlining and gave up. And then wrote some more.

And wrote. And wrote. I took a break for dinner, because that apparently is what families - especially kids - expect, and went back to writing. Obsessively. Until midnight I wrote. And I finished.

12 pages.

And I LOVE it!

Well, it's probably not the best short story in the world. It needs serious revisions probably. It's not life altering or anything.

But oh how good it felt to write something new, and to like it!

And, still on a high at 6:30 this morning, I got a call from someone who heard from someone else that they'd read my book, Some Kind of Normal. Her friend had recently lost a daughter to complications of type 1 diabetes, and she'd found my book, bought two copies for her other children who were having a hard time coping with the death. My book is healing their family, she said. It's allowing them to talk. To not feel so alone.

It's that kind of thing that makes me keep going.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The best 50 cents I've spent

Much to the dismay and confusion of my husband, I love reality TV. Not all of it, of course, but I can get sucked into an awful lot of it. I know it's not actually real. I know even the realest of them are somewhat contrived, but I like people watching. I find people fascinating. And face it, most of the people who make it onto these reality TV shows are not like us... they are bigger than life, wilder, less inhibited, with less scruples and lacking a filter between their mouths and brains.

I think it's this same thing that draws me to memoirs. I love memoirs. So much so that for a fleeting few days at residency I considered changing my major, or taking a semester at least to try out the non-fiction. Until I realized that I have absolutely nothing of interest to write about myself. (This blog stands as testament to that.)

Still, I managed to convince my advisor to let me put quite a few memoirs on my reading list this semester, and they have been some of my favorite books so far.

All this to say, yesterday I convinced a friend, in celebration of getting my third packet of homework off in the mail, to grab Starbucks and head to my favorite local used book store. It's not that I need new books. I still have five books left on my semester reading list that I need to read before I get to anything else, and then an entire shelf of other books I've bought that I want to find time to squeeze in.

But next semester will come soon enough, and I need to start building my reading list, and so this was my excuse for a little lit-buying therapy. And what's more fun than dragging a friend all over a bookstore yelling, "Oh - You HAVE to buy this!!" and piling it in her helpless hands.

O joyous time! A big bookstore, a cup o' joe, and ridiculously priced books.

I tried to keep to the "modern classic" aisle, where I managed to find 11 dignified books that I'd heard of and wanted to read. After two hours, we began the winding trek back to the register, making a detour through the evil and tempting "memoir" section.

"Let's just look," I said. "I have too many sitting at home to buy more, but let's just look."

Famous last words.

I pulled out a couple, put them back.

And then I found this:

Is that not the cutest cover you have EVER seen??  The blue concentric circle! The adorable goldfish! The title coming out of his mouth!! Even the spine is adorable... the same blue and white stripes, the goldfish with the title coming out of his mouth.

And that title: I am not myself these days.

Well, who couldn't say that every now and then?? My friend and I laughed about how that was exactly how we felt most of the time.

The cover was even full of reviews:

"brilliantly witty" 

"I laughed, I cried, I laughed again." 

"Very entertaining" 

"Especially good at dialogue, and, as in Coward's best plays, under the comedy lies the sad truth that even at our best we are all weak, fallible fools."

"His prose is graced with such insight and wit that the laughter is revelatory - and the tears - and there are tears to be shed along this extraordinary journey - are shed for people in whom everybody will find something of themselves."

Glowing, eh? Doesn't it make YOU want to read it?? Even though there is no actual synopsis, even though the word "tawdry" is conveniently hidden behind the price tag. Raves about dialogue and prose - certainly I could pass this off as a book for my reading list!

And that goldfish.. isn't that just the best??

And better yet - the book was FIFTY CENTS!!!

You bet your bubble-blowing fish-friend I'm buying! I pop it in my basket and check out, excited with my find.

Then I get home and look it up and nearly spit my water all over the keyboard, because THIS is what the book is about:

By day, Josh Kilmer-Purcell was a successful advertising executive; by night, he was a seven-foot-tall drag queen named Aquadisiac who sashayed around Manhattan's gay clubs in wig and heels, sporting giant transparent bubble breasts containing live goldfish.

Boobs with goldfish in them!! Drag queens sashaying!! Don't you think this might be the kind of thing they should at least HINT at on the cover??

I haven't stopped laughing since yesterday. I put the rest of the books on the bookshelf, but this one is still sitting on my kitchen counter because it makes me laugh every time I pass by it.

You know what the kicker is? On Goodreads it got higher reviews than all of the other "modern classic" award-winners I bought. Go figure.

It's killing me to wait to read it. Frankly, Three Cups of Tea is looking pretty boring about now, but I won't hold it against the author. After all, how can changing the world by building schools in terrorist countries possibly compare with boobs with goldfish in them?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

I've Been Excerpted in a Magazine!

A few months ago, A Sweet Life, an amazing online magazine for diabetics, contacted me. They'd heard of my book and wanted to know if I'd be interested in writing a few articles for them and having a chapter from Some Kind of Normal published.

Heck yeah!

So yesterday it shows up as their feature article on the home page, and you can read the excerpt of the chapter (from the middle of the book) here.

If you get a chance, stop by and see it. And if you're really feeling generous, you can leave a comment there. :)

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Day Your Heart Breaks

There is something I want to admit: I bought into it. Hook, line, and sinker, although I knew better, and should have been the rational person I've always been. But something about small pink booties and pastel plaid blankets in the softest cotton and the smell of baby powder and skin like heaven.

I bought into it, even though I was proof it was a lie. That's the power of parenthood, I think, that when you are holding the tiniest person ever, this creature that lived in you, that grew inside you and who came out with your eyes and a future wider than the world, you want to believe. You want to believe so badly that any other option isn't even fathomable.

Your child can do anything. They can be anything. Anything they set their heart to is possible. We live in that kind of world, right? We live in a place where opportunity is endless; where determination and motivation are all it takes to be what you want to be.

You can do anything.

If we are lucky - the luckiest - we believe this. We've been taught this from the time we could understand, that the world is our oyster and limits are something we set on ourselves. We can be anything we can imagine.

Somewhere along the way, we learn this isn't true. For whatever reason - for economics or intelligence or personality or opportunity or people around us, but eventually the world presses into us that this is a lie.

When I was young I wanted to be a brain surgeon. I'd been told all my life I could be anything I set my heart on - that I could work hard enough to make any dream come true. But my lack of skill in chemistry and my interminably shaky hands and my need for sleep spoke otherwise. I remember the moment I realized this - that I could not do this. Even though it was a vague dream, one I'd rarely spoken of and one I'd invested little in - this was a shock. I could not do anything I wanted do. I could not be anything I wanted to be.

This was a lie.

But it is one thing to know this yourself. I found other loves, other dreams. I found enough. I was enough.

And then I had kids. And I believed again that anything was possible. Anything they wanted to do, they could. Whatever dreams they kept were possible. I - well, I had been less than perfect. My limits were not theirs, and their lives were new and sparkly and wide as the sky. They came into the world with a blank slate waiting to be filled. They were possibility personified.

I have to stop here. I reach for a kleenex and wonder if this day ever came for my own parents. If it did, they sure didn't tell me. I don't remember them leaning over the dinner table one night saying, "Honey, I love you and all, but you can't carry a tune to save your life. Give up the idea of singing and find something more practical, more aligned with the gifts you have instead of a pipe dream that will never come true." Or something along those lines.

But there is a day, and I can't help but think all parents get to this realization, where we know suddenly the world is a much smaller place for our kids than we hoped. That there are limits for our children. Gifts they are given, and gifts they are not. Dreams they may dream that we know will never be, because something critical is missing.

Yesterday - heart surgeon, concert violinist, Olympic swimmer,  veterinarian, astronaut.

Today - maybe not.

And maybe the thing that breaks my heart is not that they can't do it - because I know there will be other dreams, other careers, other wonderful amazing things they will accomplish and be in life - but that I see the walls in front of them, and they do not. Because they still believe: "I can do anything. I can be anything." And yet I know that not to be true.

And oh, today, how I wish I didn't know that not to be true.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Things We Carry (A Book and a Memory)

In the winter of 1990-91, I was a senior in college, getting ready to graduate, and in love with a soldier. It had been an on-again, off-again relationship that began again in the fall, shortly before Iraq invaded Kuwait and the United States declared war. Like so many other military intelligence officers, he was deployed overseas in the first real war of my life.

I remember that time in the way one tucks something in their heart so deeply that it becomes not a faded memory but remains as alive and emotional each day as it was then.

There were months that fall of letters, envelopes numbered so we would know which came first, as the mail between us seemed to always come in small floods with droughts in between. I went on with school, my classes and activities changed only by the small on-campus protests and heated discussions about war over oil.

He, on the other hand, sat in the desert, waiting. Months of waiting that walked the line between intense boredom and the looming fear of imminent fighting. They waited, our troops, in the sand for months for the right time to attack. For the time when negotiations wore out. For the equipment to arrive, to fail as the sand crept into its crevices, and then be cleaned to working order again. His letters and tapes were filled with stories of funny things he and his buddies did to keep busy, to entertain themselves, but underscored by the idea that it was likely a great many of them would not make it back.

That was before the war, when no one knew. When Vietnam rose like a shadow over them as the model of what war had become. When the Iraqi troops yelled loudly and waved threats wildly, and we believed them all.

And then, one cold January day, the waiting ended.

Before texting and smartphones and wireless and seemingly instantaneous information access, the word about the first attacks came by word of mouth. It spread like a wildfire, at first, loud cries of the bombs and missiles falling, but soon settled into something like a hush as we all gathered where we could, in the dark of dorm or fraternity TV lounges and the student union and local bars. In darkened room filled past-standing-room-only, we watched as every station played the live news feed of the air strikes. The dark of the sky, the wail of the sirens, the fireworks of anti-aircraft ammunition screaming through the sky at our planes.

It was days that we sat like this, huddled together, classes forgotten, watching the war unfold in front of our eyes as it happened. The letters stopped for a while - I had no idea where my soldier was, not even in which of the three countries that our military was spread over. Secrecy kept them safe.

Eventually, we drifted back into the too-bright sunlight, back to class and activities and life because we had to, a little less than normal, still wondering how many men and women would make it home, and how many would come in body bags.

When I sat this week to read my newest book, The Things They Carried (by Tim O'Brien), this is the scene I kept sweeping back to. Different war, and yet so much the same.  It is not just that O'Brien writes with something akin to poetry in his memoir, or that his writing makes me want to stop and underline and dog-ear and commit to memory pieces of thoughts and stories he shares. It is that, deep inside, it feels much like a story I lived - not exactly in the story but alongside of. It is, what I think agents and editors call, Resonance.

There's a beauty in the title that probably first drew me to this book, even before I knew what it was. O'Brien doesn't disappoint. His first chapter, titled like the book, begins this way:

"First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love letters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack."

I love that O'Brien continues in this vein, the mundane objects and philosophical things they carried laid out in their separate sections:

"The things they carried were largely determined by necessity. Among the necessities or near-necessities were P-38 can openers, pocket knives, heat tabs, wristwatches, dog tags, mosquito repellent, chewing gum, candy, cigarettes, salt tablets, packets of Kool Aid, lighters, matches, sewing kits, Military Payment Certificates, C rations, and two or three canteens of water."

And then this:

"They carried the weight of memory. They took up what others could no longer bear. Often, they carried each other, the wounded or weak. They carried infection. They carried chess sets, basketballs, Vietnamese-English dictionaries, insignia of rank, Bronze Stars and Purple Hearts... They carried diseases, among them malaria and dysentery... They carried the land itself."

The book itself, like war, is not neatly laid out. It is not a clean, beginning-to end tale, but more a cathartic release for the writer. I identified so personally when he stopped in the middle of describing one incident to say this:

"I feel guilty sometimes. Forty-three years old and I'm still writing war stories... I should forget. But the thing about remembering is that you don't forget. You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present... as a writer, all you can do is pick a street and go for the ride, putting things down as they come to you. That's the real obsession. All those stories."

and then later this:

"Forty-three years and the war occurred half a life-time ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That's what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story."

and also this:

"In any war story, but especially a true one, it's difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. What seems to happen becomes its own happening and has to be told that way." 

I don't know if this book resonates so deeply with me because I feel a connection with it - both as one who came close enough to reach out and touch war, and as a writer. The language itself and the stories he tells, the characters that seem so well delineated, the pieces of his own heart that he reveals, are enough, I think, to make any reader fall in love with this book.

Monday, March 7, 2011

MFA Monday: The Evil of Adverbs

Before I write, two quick links...

I redesigned my website to be cleaner and leaner - like my writing, I hope. :)  As my publisher decided not to go ahead with publishing a book club edition of my book right now, I've included the book club questions for discussion on the website that are easily accessed and printed off. If you know anyone who wants to use Some Kind of Normal for a book club (I know a few already that have, which is SO exciting!!), let them know about the questions page.

Also, over at my Four Corners Critique Group blog we've been a little lax in posting lately, especially me, so I've decided to start posting parts of my reading commentaries over there. This last week I posted a few pages about The Importance of Plot as seen in The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein. There's a few spoilers in it, but hopefully it's interesting. Luckily, my advisor likes my commentaries to be in my own voice and not some higher academic-sounding psuedo-intellectual voice.

Okay - on to today...

The evils of adverbs....

This is what I heard somewhere down the line while learning from books and blogs about how to write. Adverbs are evil. Cut them out.

How refreshing then, to show up to a lecture at residency and hear one of the great writers/faculty say this:

"Adverbs are necessary for a writer. They contextualize things in time and space. If you take them out, you've lost something important."


While I know that in practicing the art of removing adverbs makes you choose stronger verbs, sometimes it just isn't enough. Maybe what's giving adverbs a bad name is the repetitious use of the "-ly" words.

My crit partner pointed out that in the span of a page, I used three "-ly" adverbs and they began to stick out. My main character ate silently, said carefully, chewed deliberately.

Maybe it sounds like lazy writing because I relied on the easy words, but I couldn't just get rid of them. Each of those adverbs displays a necessary mental picture - informs the reader about something by showing instead of telling, and I needed them.

What, then, is a writer to do? According to my professor, use adverbial phrases. Instead of relying on the easy "-ly" word, replace it with an adverbial phrase or clause that says the same thing, only better.

Here's how it's changed:

Original: "They ate silently for a few minutes before Alicia put her spoon down..."

Change: "They ate, unspoken words building in the silence until Alicia put down her spoon..."

Original: "'I'm still upset with the way you left,' Alicia said carefully."

Change: "'I'm still upset with the way you left,' Alicia said, measuring each word with an equal balance of honesty and trepidation.

If you are guilty of peppering your first drafts with -ly words, don't cut them all. Go back and see if you can replace them with adverb phrases instead. It will not only get rid of the repetitious and somewhat lazy feeling of the writing, it will give you the chance to write something even better.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Okay - not me. You don't need to help me (you can breath a big sigh of relief right here). Although, if you have an extra hour or two to spare, you can send that my way, because I sure could use that!!

No, this isn't about that kind of help. It's about this Help. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett, to be specific.

I haven't been as thorough as I'd like to be about writing what I'm reading. Fact is, I'm reading more than I can write about, which is pretty darn cool when you think about it. Books that I don't have much to say about, I'm just putting to the side, but this book I have to RAVE about. RAVE I tell you.

Am I the last one in the world to read it? I know it just came out last year, but everyone and their kitchen sink has recommended it, so I feel like I'm the last one on the bandwagon here, but that's okay. I'm on it now. And if you haven't read this book, you absolutely should. Join our bandwagon. It's a heck of a ride.

When I told a friend she needed to read this book, she asked what it was about. I kinda scrunched up my nose and said, "Well, if I tell you what's it's about, it won't sound that interesting. It's much better than it sounds." Because this is the vague synopsis:

The Help is about three women from unlikely backgrounds that band together to make a difference during the 1960s civil rights movement in Jackson, Mississippi.

I suppose if you are a civil rights fanatic, or if you love historical fiction from that era, you might be salivating at that, but personally, I wasn't. I picked this book up because everyone said I needed to. And because someone who has impeccable taste in books and from whom every suggestion I've taken I've loved recommended it. And because she said the southern voice in the book reminded her of Babs' voice in my own debut novel.

(which, I must digress for a moment, is the hugest compliment I've ever gotten, but which is probably overly generous, because reading this book made me want to hide anything I've ever written in shame)

As I've been writing my commentary for school, though, I've come to realize this about the book:

It's about secrets.

Oh yeah, baby, a TON of secrets. Women hiding things from their friends, from their husbands, from the readers. There is the tension through the entire book that if even one of these secrets is spilled, the universe will shift on it's axis, lives will be lost, people will be maimed, love will be killed, worlds will be changed.

They are secrets, TONS of secrets, that come with dire consequences. One character does something in the beginning that is afterwards only referred to as "the Terrible. Awful." Tell me if that isn't attention grabbing.

And these women - these amazing characters - are so real, and alive, strong and full of gumption, that you will WISH you were their friends, wish you were in on their secrets.

I can't say this about very many books, but I was hooked from the very first page. The first paragraph. The voices (there are three of them) are so engaging and unique and well done, you will be sucked in immediately.

This book is 451 pages, including the acknowledgment and the author's notes at the end, all of which I read. I began and ended this book in one day. It is that good.

(I don't know what the cover is supposed to mean though. I'm guessing the three birds represent the three main characters, and the two black maids are the two together and the one white gal is the one on the other side, but That's all I've got. There are no birds in the book, so I'm at a loss for what it means. It's beautiful though.)