Status Update 2020-08-15

The fire didn’t help my mood today, so I guess it’s time to get everything off my chest. This year has been really hard, and I don’t just mean COVID-19, the utter lack of social life, the months and months of isolation, or the complete clusterfuck that is the government’s response to it. This year has seen just about all of my long-term goals shattered…or at least delayed so much that it feels as though they’ll never come to pass.

First, the house. I don’t know how many months it’s been since I found out, but it feels like ages. The house I wanted to build—the one that I’ve spent all this time scrimping and saving for—will be delayed by a minimum of 2 years and might be as long as 15. I couldn’t get financed despite making six figures, having almost $150,000 worth of equity in the land, and owing less than $30K on it. Several banks and months of breathless time later, I found out it just couldn’t be done. The house is too different, they said; it wouldn’t appraise, and after the third bank finally explained to me—as the first two failed to do—that no matter what kind of loan I try to go for—standard, FHA, USDA, even commercial—if the house won’t appraise, I can’t get the loan.

Saying that the house won’t appraise is not quite accurate; the more accurate way to put it would be, it appraised at about half of the cost to build it. So, even with the land as equity, the bank still wanted another $80,000 cash…to build a ~2700-square-foot house, most of which was barn and garage.

To say that shook my foundation is…precisely accurate. Sixteen years ago, I knew what I was doing with my life: beginning to save for a house and land. Six years ago, I knew what I was doing with my life: finally buying land. My scrimping and saving had paid off, and I at last had something to show for it. Four years ago, I knew what I was doing with my life: I was moving into the camper because it would let me pay off the land faster and get into my dream house—that I had been designing, revising, and redesigning for over a decade. Last year, I knew what I was doing with my life: I was making it through the winter, gritting my teeth and giving it my last oomph, because this year was the time all of my saving, cutting expenses, and living more and more frugally at last paid off. Four months ago, give or take, that rock-solid vision upon which I’d based almost every major decision—certainly in the last ten years or so—crumbled.

That was hard. Not gonna lie, I’m still not over it—not really. I’m still at the bargaining stage of grief: if I just build a metal building instead, it’ll cut the cost by two-thirds, and I can certainly qualify for that—if I want to be in debt for something I don’t really want, if I want to compromise on the goal that I have given up so much to achieve.

It’s not even that I can’t live with less. I’ve literally spent the last decade inventing more and more ways to live with less. I know people with closets bigger than my whole living space. No, it’s more the principle of the thing that just keeps twisting the knife over and over: if I give up now, then what was all this for? Why shouldn’t I have just, I dunno, lived in nice apartments, had nice cars, had nice electronics—incidentally, the air conditioner is so damnably loud that I have to either turn it off or put in headphones to hear conversations when I’m on one of my seemingly countless conference calls. Why have I stayed at this job that I hate for so long? I’ll tell you why: it, like the camper, was a sacrifice I made, yet one more thing to “just push through” so that I could reach that glorious light just outside the tunnel. On the note of the job, I learned a wonderful word the other day: dogsbody. That is my role. It’s not my job title, but it’s my role.

So, I’ve spent a lot of time grappling with that. Sixteen years is a long time to do anything, and the feeling of being lost is just…overwhelming. But even as I’ve been trying to wrap my head around that, to figure out how to be okay with it, I got hit with the destruction of long-term goal number two.

Cloudy, the new mare the farrier gave me, suddenly started walking very stiffly and painfully out of the blue one Sunday about a month ago. I’ll spare the details, but long story short: the farrier said she had laminitis, and the vet clarified that she had foundered. For those who aren’t familiar with equines, their hoof is like fingernail material, and it’s attached to a membrane called the lamina, and that lamina is what holds it to the bone in their foot. If that lamina gets inflamed, it causes laminitis. That inflammation can put pressure on the bone—so much pressure that it can cause the bone to deform. That is founder. Left untreated, the horse will suffer an excruciatingly painful, slow death as they get to the point they can’t walk at all, and then they starve and die.

The cause? Too much grass.

Yes, my long-term goal of beautifying the pasture and giving the herd all the grass they could want—one I have spent many thousands of dollars and many hot days in furtherance of—turned out to be the cause of her suffering. Overnight—actually, within a couple of hours, not even overnight—I had to move the whole herd out of the six-acre pasture I’d lovingly made for them and forced them onto a tiny 3/4 acre plot that I mowed as bare as I could. Cloudy got to spend her time in a 500-square-foot pen so that I could give her her pain medicine and put therapeutic “sneakers” on her feet to ease her suffering. The only good news in all of this is that she’s doing much better: she’s still wearing the sneakers, and she and Ebony are both on diet medication to help them get the weight off, but at least she’s getting around like her usual sprightly self.

Still, the fact remains that I have 14 acres that I have been slowly—painfully slowly—seeding, weeding, watering, and cleaning up so as to give them a safe and nutritious place to live, will not be used for that purpose any longer. I hate it. I detest the fact that they are stuck on a yellowing patch of ground, forced to look out at the beautiful (and probably delicious) grass that surrounds them on three sides.

I feel like a monster.

Once again, I’m screaming at myself, WHAT WAS IT ALL FOR?! Why do I have 14 acres if they must live on less than one? What am I going to do with all the rest of that land? I haven’t been cultivating it so that I have to mow it myself; that was supposed to be for them!

To make matters worse, though Ebony and Cloudy are the ones on diet medication, I cannot help but worry about Ivory, who has fat deposits all over her; rather than the smooth (albeit rotund) profile Casper has, Ivory has got lumps here and there all over, and it seems like they’re only getting worse. The vet says that yes, she’s fat; however, donkeys are more resilient to founder than horses are but I can’t help but worry: what if he’s wrong? But, she’s on 3/4 of an acre that has hardly any grass and is shared with three others; how can she be getting worse? Is there something inherently wrong with this grass that makes them fat? Have I unwittingly doomed my herd by choosing a grass that’s “too good”? Are they all grazing a ticking time-bomb that’s going to do them in one-by-one?

But, what can I do? They’re my herd, and I love them. I see them morning and evening, give Ebony and Cloudy their medicine, love on everybody…and that’s all I can do. Like this damn house, all I can do is wait and see if the medicine and the tiny pasture made a difference.

And, to top it all off—as if I needed any more of my long-term goals shattered, the last two of the hedges I planted three years ago died. Not major in the grand scheme of things, but I swear, it feels like kicking a wounded puppy: it’s just gratuitous. I can’t help but feel like, “Really? Was that really necessary?”

The lack of social contact has not helped, though I don’t think COVID is entirely to blame. In trying to figure out who to talk to about my frustrations, I have realized that I literally don’t know anybody who plans long-term like I do. It occurs to me that I don’t think people do that. Am I…am I crazy? My best friend and his boyfriend: not long-term planners. I mean, my best friend has finally gotten around to getting his house fixed after talking about it ever since we were roommates (4 years ago), but it’s not like he planned it. Okay, yes, there are a lot of renovations, and he has planned those out over the next year or so. So, yeah, that’s long-ish-term planning. But it’s not 16 years. I remember as a kid watching Disney’s Hercules and not being able to conceive of Hades’s plan taking 18 years. A lot of years later, I suddenly have a lot of empathy for him. The whole taking-over-the-world thing, yeah, not so big on that, but still: I feel like I’m one of few people who actually has a sense for what it feels like to have that kind of planned investment go up in smoke.

Granted, lots of people have kids that take 18 years to become adults, but I don’t think that most people having kids really think that far ahead when they’re conceiving. I mean, sure, people want kids, but 18 years old is kind of the “end” of having kids—not the end, but certainly a major transition towards not having kids (assuming they leave the house, go to college or get a job or join the military). And, those who do look ahead towards the 18-year mark are usually doing that as a result of having had kids: “okay, maybe this wasn’t all I hoped it would be, and now I want some me-time again”.

My favorite coworker doesn’t strike me as much of a planner, either. I mean, she and her husband are doing very well for themselves—DINKs and all that—but up until recently, she didn’t have any motivation to retire because she didn’t know what else she would do besides work. And it’s not that she’s a workaholic; it’s just…what she does with her time. I see that and think, “Wow, it must be amazing not to be constantly striving for something that is forever out of reach; it must be nice to take each day as it is, for better or for worse, and just go with the flow.”

I think I just realized that aside from my parents, everybody in my life is way more laid-back than I am. And yet even my parents aren’t long-term planners! They have moved so many times on what seems like a whim to me—leaving 2 acres to go get waterfront property, leaving that three years later to live on four acres, leaving that, oh, 5 years later to follow my sister to college, leaving there, what, 7 years later to move to BFE in east Texas, talking like they wanted to move to Arizona and then actually moving to Arkansas instead (that’s the wrong way, guys!), living there about a year, and now to a different BFE in east Texas. I mean, yeah, I’m one to talk: I moved 13 times in 12 years, constantly going into smaller, cheaper apartments or to get closer to work, but it was all part of that vision: save as much as I can so I can quit renting and buy my house and land. I don’t think they had that overriding goal, and I can’t help but believe that if they were planning long-term, they’d have picked a spot, settled there, paid it off, and gotten to watch all the plants they planted grow and mature, what they’re finally doing now (though they haven’t been at their current place long enough, yet, to know if they’ll actually stay there, or if they’ll up and move again—they say they never want to move again, but that’s what they’ve said the last three houses, so…).

Long story short (okay, I know, way too late), I know literally nobody that I can talk to who can actually grasp the intensity of let-down I’m feeling right now. My best friend—ever the cavalier type—would probably laugh at me. Not in a cruel way, but in a “oh, Jack, you’ve gone and done it again!” kind of way. And, while I know he means well, that…isn’t what I need right now. My dad—who, bless his heart, got to bear the brunt of my emotional outburst on learning that Cloudy had foundered (the dam broke, and the water spilled)—advised me not to think so much about the future and live more in the moment.

And here I am…stumped. I’ve realized that I don’t even know how to live in the moment. My version of living in the moment is, in two months, I’ll finally have the property paid off. My dad advised me not to focus so much on that, but I told him—quite firmly—that I need a win this year. After all of my other plans have fallen through, I need to actually achieve a long-term goal—one, incidentally, that he suggested: “Buy land, pay it off, and then build on it; don’t get trapped thinking that you have to build on it right away and plunge yourself into debt.” It’s been fascinating to watch how his advice has changed over the years. I remember a few specific instances where he’s changed his stance on things. I’ve never said anything about it, but…it’s interesting. I remember talking about speeding drivers. When we were both younger, he told me that we have a duty to get in front of them, to slow them down because they don’t need to be driving like that. A few years later, it was, “I get out of their way; that lets them go past at their pace and lets me carry on at my pace.” Years ago, he told me “Save, save, save. Live frugally, well beneath your means.” And by gosh, I took that to heart. Now, he says, “Spend some. Live a little. Live in the moment more. There’s no guarantee that tomorrow will come.” And of course, all of his advice has merit (well, except the getting in a speeding car’s way—as that speeding car, I take offense that any non-cop [and most cops, too] believes (s)he has the right—let alone obligation—to impede my driving when I am operating my vehicle in a reasonable and prudent manner). But, I digress. The thing is, yes, there is absolutely merit in living a frugal life. That’s why getting the property paid off is so important to me. For the first time since I left my parents’ house, I will be both debt-free and rent-free. My annual expenses will be so much lower that I could literally quit my day job and write for a living if I wanted to. Or, I could keep my day job and pay cash for a house in a few years. The possibilities when you’re debt-free are so vast and diverse, and having a big chunk of cash you’re sitting on only broadens your options even more. And I am so close to being there. I’m so ready to be able to breathe, to not feel like I have to keep working at a job I hate, to be able to spend money on whatever frivolous thing I want (though I suspect that I’m still going to want the house before very long, so…yeah, more long-term planning), to finally be able to rest on my laurels after all these years. But, I’m not there, yet, and I really need this win.

I’ve digressed a lot. My dad says to spend some money—not put myself in arrears, but he says he knows I wouldn’t do that—but to do something nice for myself, to live a little. And I’m stumped. I don’t know what I would do. Go on vacation? I’ve got horses who need medicating. Buy a nice stereo (I’d really like a nice stereo)—and put it where, exactly? The camper is so full, I’m having to move stuff to storage. Buy a nice car (I’d like a Cybertruck—don’t judge; I think they’re cool)—and let the constant weather exposure ruin it (I don’t have a carport or anything)? How am I going to “live a little” when I’m as constrained as I am right now? How can I do anything but continue to plod along this Sisyphean path, striving to get out of this very frugal living situation I’ve gotten myself into?

It begs the question: am I just throwing up hurdles for myself? My mom accused me of that a long time ago, and I’ve seen a bit of it myself. Sure, I could go on vacation and have somebody tend the horses…I just don’t really want to go on vacation that badly; I want the land paid off, and if I go someplace, that’s going to set me back that much longer. I’m sure I could find a place to put the stereo, but again, while it would be nice, it’s not what I really want. Same thing with a new vehicle, and if I play my cards right, maybe I will have some kind of housing before the Cybertruck is ready to ship.

I think that what it has come down to is, after all these years, this seemingly endless lesson in patience, I still haven’t learned the lesson. After all this time, a consolation prize is about five weeks away, and I am grinding my teeth to get there (literally, apparently: a filling on one of my molars fell out, and it was a big sucker). See, I’m terrified that something else is going to happen that, like the house and the pasture and the hedges, is going to snatch paying off the land out of my grasp at the last minute. The house seemed like a foregone conclusion: great credit, lots of equity, nice house: should be a shoe-in. The pasture was a foregone conclusion: it was beautiful this year (still is, except the weeds are encroaching). The hedges, well, that’s just shit on a sundae. There have been little threats: the filling, throwing my back out really badly last week (damn paper wasp stung me while I was putting a ladder in the truck to take to the barn, I jumped, came down wrong, and threw my back out—that was twelve days ago, and today is the first day that my back really hasn’t hurt all that much), the truck needed some gaskets replaced…it feels like the sharks are circling, and I desperately want to just achieve this goal before it gets away. They can’t take it from me once I get it: the land is paid off and will be (until I do a cash-out refinance on it to build the house, that is…). I just have to get there. I could technically do it right now, if I were willing to sell off all my stocks, a portfolio I’ve been slowly building over the last 5 years or so. But, as well as the market is doing right now, I hate to pull out, and I really hate to lose what I’ve built up. Could I rebuild it? Yes. Do I relish the idea of having to start over from scratch? No. Do I like the idea of having zero liquid assets if something goes wrong? Hell, no. So…have to just…wait.

So, about the fire: I built myself a fire pit earlier this year and then expanded it a few months ago. The property provides lots of firewood, and it’s a simple pleasure: use a few matches or a lighter, get a pretty fire to watch while sitting under the stars and drinking a beer or two. It’s…simple: the frugal man’s cheap entertainment. And, it’s been very good at relaxing me after stressful days over the last month or so. But, it didn’t work today. Instead, my mind just got stirred up, and so I put out the fire and came in to write.

But wait, there’s more. I’m curious how many people imagine themselves as president / chancellor / prime minister. I mean, I assume that everybody does it at least once, but then again, I also assumed I wasn’t the only one who thought really long-term. And, even if everybody does imagine it, how many give it serious thought?

I ask because I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it lately. I’ve been so frustrated with our political system, and while I really don’t want to stick my neck out there for the paparazzi to bite off, to plunge myself into the public spotlight, I just keep having this feeling like somebody’s got to make things better, and I certainly don’t see either of the candidates doing it. I say “either”, but there are third-party candidates. Jo Jorgensen is running for the Libertarian party, and I really do like her platform, but as always, it’s too little, too late: even I didn’t know who the candidate was until I looked it up a couple of days ago, and if she were going to stand half a chance, she’d need to have gotten her name out much more widely—about a year ago. So, of course I’ll vote for her, but I know it’s not going to pan out, and frankly, there are parts of her platform I’m not too crazy about. Granted, she’s more Libertarian than I am—I draw the line at giving businesses free rein to do whatever they please. I have not forgotten history lessons about the antitrust legislation at the dawn of the 20th century, the Flint, Michigan environmental disasters, or the fact that Walmart and others have gone into communities, undersold the competition, and set themselves up as regional monopolies. That last one happened in the town where I live. It wasn’t Walmart but a grocery store. There used to be a family-owned grocery store. Admittedly, they weren’t great, but they had a bit of selection. Chain grocery store comes in (one of the little bitty ones, kind of like a Walmart Neighborhood Market), and within a year, the mom-and-pop grocery store that had been there for decades was no more. And now, you cannot get a decent dessert to save your life: a good apple pie, good cake…they don’t exist at this place. For someone who turns to food to cheer himself up, it’s terrible. It doesn’t stop me from eating; it just takes away the pleasure of doing it.

Geez, I’m digressing again. It’s late—almost 0100—and I’ve got a lot to vent, so cut me some slack. So, president: I’ve thought about what my campaign slogan would be: “Give Threes a Chance” (because I’d be running as Libertarian, “threes” refers to 3rd party and is a play on “Give Peace a Chance”). Corny, I know, but hey, I’ve got plenty of time to come up with something better. The vision would consist of three things: bringing dignity back to the White House, bringing facts back into public policy and discussions, and bringing compassionate efficiency to the bureaucracy. My website would have my stances on all the issues, and they’d be broken up into three versions, called “The Poster” (the pithy statement that fits on a poster, “The Short Version” (or maybe “tl;dr”—I think that might actually appeal to fellow Millennials, though I don’t know for sure; in any case, it’s a one- to two-sentence description of my stance), and “The Long Version”, a nuanced explanation of my stance.

Somewhere prominently on the home page, I’d state that political discourse has been distilled down into posters for too long, and we have suffered the consequences. Healthcare, COVID relief—medical and economic—and relationships with minorities and foreign powers are complicated, and thinking that we can just shoot from the hip with a shotgun and hopefully “fix it well enough” is terribly myopic. While I recognize the need for something short to put on posters and get people to chant (hope and change, make America great again, etc.), actually tackling these issues in a way that is genuinely intended to benefit as many people as it can is hard, takes an interdisciplinary team of experts, and most certainly is not as simple as yelling the party’s mantra and expecting things to improve. So, while I understand the need for pithy sayings and even a quick summary for those who want to make a quick decision as to whether they’re for or against me, the foundation of my platform is taking a nuanced approach. I would point out my experience in systems engineering, in understanding the inter-relatedness of complex systems, and knowing when to bring in subject-matter experts on those pieces and—importantly—deferring to their expertise, admitting that they know better than I do and trusting their judgment. I would point out that economics, healthcare, and even foreign and domestic relations are complex—and interrelated—systems that need to be analyzed and fixed systematically rather than trying to throw money at healthcare without considering its effect on the economy or on people in their social interactions. You can “fix” an overheating car by putting ice in the engine compartment, but it won’t fix the problem for very long and will probably cause more problems than it solves. That’s exactly what we’ve been trying to do, and we need to take a step back, consider the much broader picture, and find and fix the root causes of the problems that have been deadlocking government officials for my entire adult life.

I would point out that, although I do want to push for systemic solutions to these problems that just aren’t going away, my job as President is to run the bureaucracy, not to make laws. I would point out that especially with so much technology available, there are so many ways we could streamline so many different aspects of the executive branch. I would say that the executive order is a powerful tool, but it’s been used way too many times to try to skirt around the limits constitutionally put in place to keep the president from becoming an autocrat. I would push for legislation to limit the power of the executive order to only affecting the executive branch: no more carrying out “unofficial wars”, no more legislating from the Oval Office; that is not the President’s job, and with very good reason. And, importantly, I would lead by example: I would issue a lot of executive orders, but they would be directed at the executive branch to conduct kaizen studies—if they haven’t already been done—to figure out what processes can be streamlined or completely automated. And, that’s where the “compassion” in “compassionate efficiency” comes in: I know that there will be a lot of people displaced by that, and I know that those people have bills to pay and mouths to feed. The challenge—and I haven’t worked this out completely, yet—will be to find out where those people can be placed to give them meaningful work to do. Maybe it increases throughput: maybe two people working serially now shift roles to work in parallel to get twice as much done. It’s my hope that a change like that could be made in immigration and in the FDA reviewing 510(k) and PMA submissions. Maybe it introduces entirely new services the bureaucracy can offer. I don’t know, yet, but I do want to make sure that in the zeal for efficiency, we don’t forget the humanity. Again, this is a complex system, and changes need to be assessed holistically.

This is a lot of changes. This is a lot of work. There is no way one person can achieve all of this by himself, and that’s coming from a guy who always amazes people with his throughput. To that end, I’m going to need a cabinet. I am not the smartest person in the country, but again, these problems are hard, and I need the smartest people in the country working on them. And, it’s not enough to have just one smartest person in the country on each topic. Each person brings a certain perspective to life, and that perspective can emphasize or conceal vital details that need to be considered when making policies that affect millions of people. As someone who experienced culture shock firsthand when leaving the white-bread town where I grew up and moving to a big city, I know that it is entirely possible for people to have no concept of what it’s like to be brought up in a different environment, and I need that kind of perspective. So, I might have the biggest cabinet in history: at least two people for each area: economics, healthcare, defense—you name it—I want different opinions to consider. And, I want those opinions to be voiced, presented, and debated—ideally in an open forum like CSPAN or something similar—so that the people can learn different perspectives as well as weigh in with their own. I realize we can’t do this for every topic that comes across my desk, and there are certain cases where decisive action is needed, but particularly for these big challenges, people need to be informed—I need to be informed—and I can’t think of a better way to try to get a feel for the whole picture than to bring people together in a respectful forum and let them talk it out.

Yet all of this debate and discussion seems as though it will slow down my progress, not give me that massive lift I’m going to need if I’m going to try to achieve all of these things in four short years—maybe eight, if I can prove myself worthy. To that end, I’m going to have to empower my cabinet to make decisions on my behalf. I cannot be the roadblock getting in the way of the progress I want to make. I need to share my vision with my cabinet—of dignity, fact-based, holistic solutions, and compassionate efficiency—choose them for both their subject-matter expertise as well as their understanding and support of that vision, and then trust their decisions. If we’re all rowing in the same direction, we’ll get there a lot faster if I let people move their own oars than if they have to come ask permission before each stroke. It’s risky, I know: politics has way too much opportunity for corruption, and as president, it’s ultimately my responsibility if it goes wrong, but there is too much for one person to do, and I have got to get out of the way and let the cabinet make progress. If there’s an irreconcilable deadlock, “the buck stops with me”, but other than that, follow the vision.

In the days between election and taking over the office, I’d already have my transition team ready to work with the outgoing president’s bureaucracy to get us “hooked in”, so to speak, to do as Bush and Obama did, where there was a pretty clean changeover at 12:01 PM. From an engineering perspective, that transition time would be like learning a board support package: to make this LED turn on, what registers do I write? To issue an executive order, what is the process I must follow? That time would be crucial for getting our feet under us so that come swearing-in, we can hit the ground running. I have to admit, I haven’t researched that enough, yet, to know the scope and breadth of the questions that need solving. I certainly would want to have my cabinet established before then. It’s a lot of interviews that need to be done, so I might well start doing that even before the election, with the understanding that if I don’t win the election, it’s all off.

Incidentally, the only other president who was an engineer was Herbert Hoover. I think it’s unfortunate that he came to be associated with the Great Depression, but his problem was that he let politics get in the way of good, sound judgment. I firmly believe that had he put aside his political hat and donned his engineering hat at the time the news of the stock market collapse, things could have gone a lot better. We’ll never know, but that is one more thing that sets me apart from other candidates: I’ve studied history and am determined to learn from it.

I don’t quite know, yet, what I’d want to have achieved in the first hundred days. I think a big part of the reason for that is, while I know what problems face us today, I don’t know what problems will be facing us four years in the future. I suspect, though, that all of today’s problems—maybe with the exception of COVID-19 (I hope)—will still be there because, as I said at the beginning of this part of the entry, I don’t have much faith in either of the candidates. I suspect that healthcare will still be an issue, that there will still be fierce arguments over gun control and immigration. I expect that tensions with China will continue to escalate as their Silk Road Initiative gains footholds. I truly have no idea what the economy will do. If things continue at their current rate, it will almost certainly contract. I know the stock market (which is not the same thing as the economy) is due for a reckoning, but until the ultra-wealthy find better places to stash their money, it’s not going to happen. Regardless of any of this, I plan to prioritize the issues as little-big, little-big: achieve something small while learning the system, then use the lessons learned to achieve something big. Take on something small to give us a bit of a break—maybe a couple of small tasks—and then tackle the next big issue.

So, the upshot of all of this is, I’ve thought about this a lot. It kept me up last night thinking about it. I wonder if it’s normal for someone to think this much about it. Am I putting more thought into it than other people, or am I doing the same thing most people do at some point in their lives?

With that, I’ve got to close out. Maybe thinking about being president is just a nice distraction from the frustrations this year, or maybe there’s more to it than that. Either way, I’m at almost 6000 words, and that’s quite a lot, even for me. Gosh, that was a lot to get off my chest!

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