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Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese (book review)

Sometimes its worth trudging through the slow parts of a novel to embrace the parts that shake you to your core, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese is that type of book. It starts with the birth of the protagonist, Marion and his twin brother, Shiva. The well-written opening scene grips your soul and as you fall in love with the boys at that moment. Their mom is an Indian nun. Their dad, a British surgeon. The babies are left at the hospital in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to be raised by their new guardians. Who, by the way, weren’t expecting two newborns to land in their laps anymore than they were expecting to embark on a romantic relationship.

As the boys’ life progresses, the reader gets glimpses of culture from all three geographical influences as well as the dismal reality of third world medicine and the good intentions of worldwide aid a. The political revolution of the time is also an interesting aspect of the story as well as, the twins’ coming-of-age which is all largely dosed with complex family drama. The relationship between the brothers is portrayed in a way I felt as if I now know how twins really are with each other, the good, bad and ugly of being that close to another human being.

The cast of characters doesn’t stop with the twins, Ghosh, Hema and Genet are also intriguing and important people to the story. Ghosh is everyone’s favorite for good reason. The world would be a better place if there were more people like Ghosh. Hema’s character shows the way a mother’s love has nothing to do with blood and everything to do with the innate ability to love. In every book I’ve ever read, there’s a character that disappoints and leaves me shaking my head. Genet is that person in this story.

Be sure to pick up Cutting for Stone. This true life novel is worth the read not only for the historical aspects, cultural introduction, medical knowledge but the tug of humanitarian heartstrings of life laid raw. Well done, Mr. Verghese!

 

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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter & Sweet by Jamie Ford

Jamie Ford’s, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is one of this years MustReads. Another historical fiction novel that makes a person stop and wonder how much is fiction and how much is history. The book takes place during one of the most conflicted and volatile times in American history. It’s hard to imagine a novel that sucks you in about the internment of American-Japanese families during World War II but this one does. Mr. Ford touches on part of American history we should all know more about, but my belief is this is part of the US’s dark history that schools tend to skip over. Heartbreaking and warm, light and heavy, hopeful and hopeless all at the same time. When rating a book, I look at the emotional gamete and this one runs them all.

It’s all about a tender friendship between a Chinese boy and a Japanese girl who are both subject to prejudice and bullying. Their natural friendship, family and school life is meshed together in a great story. Jamie Ford does a fantastic job and weaving the past and present and bringing them together at the end. The story is set in Seattle, Washington, and is described in a way, I could almost smell the air.

My only disappointment was a bit of the timeline. There wasn’t really an internet support group to the local-everyday-people of America let alone home computers in 1986. (’96 maybe, the timeline could have been researched a bit more and I think pushing it ten years in the future wouldn’t have been a stretch.) I was a senior in high school in ’86 and there were things that the author portrayed that weren’t exactly spot on… Otherwise, this is a great read that leaves you scratching your head and wondering what we were thinking as Americans.

Although the book is a little slow to get going, I highly recommend it, push through the first few chapters and you’ll be hooked.

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Twain’s End by Lynn Cullen (BookReview)

Twain’s End was one of those books I picked up, put down, picked up, swore off, picked back up and couldn’t put down. My impression of Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain is forever skewed because of this novel. Its one of those situations I had to ask myself, how much of this is historical and how much is fiction. Apparently, Ms. Cullen’s did her homework, remember that old saying stranger than fiction? The documents and historical records show that much of this book could be exactly the way it happened.

The story is about Clemen’s secretary, Isabel; her devotion, love and relationship with him. It also highlights Mr. Clemen’s relationships with his his alter-ego, (Mark Twain) as well as his wife, daughters and other women in his life. Not to mention, their physical and mental ailments. The book is written well and gives the reader a sense of ‘being there’.

One thing a person doesn’t normally think about is the time period when the slaves throughout this country became free, the affect and impact it had on the families that had believed slavery to be nothing more than a way of life. Heartbreaking and tragic, the things Clemen saw from his father and the way those experiences shaped his life. How did children of this time period cope? Sam Clements didn’t fair well at all, his upbringing plagued his love and twisted him from the inside out. He really is a jerk, and the ending was all too real life. Painfully real.

Overall, this book has inspired me to start my own research for a historical fiction novel. It left me thinking of the stories that haven’t been told about this era, the way people had to cope and adjust. Lives like Mr. Twain’s all too often get sugar coated and turned heroic when the reality was right place at the right time (or wrong place at the wrong time), either way, Twain’s End is worth the read.

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Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver #bookreview

Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall brings back memories of the movie Groundhog’s Day plus my own horrible high school experience.

When I was a kid, my dad took me to see the Bill Murray’s blockbuster hit. On our way home, he told me every student in America should have to watch that movie over and over again until they could successfully write about underlying meaning of the story-line.

As I listed to Lauren’s debut novel on audio, I thought the same thing. Every teenager should have to read and understand this book. It delves deeper into the life of Samantha, the main character, than the Groundhog Day’s or maybe it’s just Sam is more relate-able than Phil. Either way, high school sucks and then you die. Really, that sums it up in seven words. But the self-discovery of the young woman’s repetitive week is worth the read. Its nice to know most people who bullied eventually know what they did, eventually know the hurt they caused.

As for the ending, I don’t want a spoiler alert, but really, it couldn’t have ended any other way. The reality of the book has to have the finality of the story (if that made sense…) Overall, a good read that delivers a classic lesson.

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Half the Sky; turning oppression into opportunity for women worldwide

Women should read Half the Sky. (Men should too.) I don’t normally read non-fiction. This title was on a recommended reading list of my college-aged daughter. (Her degree is International Policy.) It intrigued me just reading the synopsis and to think these stories are REAL. Heart breaking, horrifying, intense and true life…

This book tackles the atrocities that women in developing countries face on the daily. Did you know the sex trade/trafficking of young women is a bigger problem today than the slave trade was of the nineteenth century? Did you know the mortality rate for young girls is significantly lower in developing countries? One’s got to stop and ask why don’t girls get taken to the hospital when they are sick? Why they don’t get immunized like their male siblings? Why is it rape victims in developing countries endure the wrath of their president, abductions from the government and dehumanization tactics? Again, this is not fiction, this is real life for many women all over the world.

More horrors for women of the world are prostitution, obstetric fistulas, genital mutilation, acid attacks and no means for fixing what gets broken, physically, mentally or psychologically. The sad truth in many of these places is laws ring hollow if they are not enforced. Traditions, rituals and customs are difficult if not impossible to change.

The second part of this book tackles the difficulty of just that; change. I’ve always been one of those people who want to save the world. This book poignantly points out, sometimes the world doesn’t want to be saved. In Half the Sky, the husband/wife authors describe their own attempts to buy prostitutes out of slavery, and the social conditions that make restoring these women to a normal life so difficult. Beyond that, they delve into the inadequacies of laws and who are (or aren’t) enforcing them.

When you get down to the root of the problem, it’s the invisibility of the oppression. The answer is to expose and educate those that are hidden and ignorant. These stories are more powerful than statistics, they bring to light what is happening to the women of these developing countries and what can be done about it. (donate here) Kristof and WuDunn make the moral arguments these ladies can’t, they speak truths that are hard to hear and almost impossible to believe. This is the start of making real change, real growth and real progress.

 

 

 

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Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult #mustread

Small Great Things, possibly the most important read of the year!  Modern day American racism is the theme and Jodi Picoult portrays it brilliantly.

(The book…) In a nutshell, Ruth is a black labor and delivery nurse who has done her job well her entire (long) career. She’s also a single mom who’s raised an incredible son in an upper-middle-class neighborhood. In comes a couple of racist jerks (whom Jodi portrays PERFECTLY, in tone, description, etc.) and they have a baby boy. (You see where this is going right?) Of course, Ruth is their nurse. Turk, the baby’s father, forbids Ruth to have anything to do with his son. He makes quite a stink about it until Ruth is told not touch or interact with the newborn in any way. That’s all fine and dandy if nothing happens to the child, right? No spoiler alerts in my reviews-imagine the worst, the best and a twist you’ll never see coming-and that’s the book.

Like in other intensely written novels of this type, one should ask themselves (especially if they are white), what if it was reversed? What if the prejudice was the other way around? It’s unfathomable. Well, to most… To me, this book clearly turns the spot light on NOW. Not back in the 90’s, 60’s, 20’s or when slavery was still legal but RIGHT NOW in everyday life we are living. Jodi shows that this type of prejudice is still prevelent in today’s world.

If you don’t believe racism is alive and growing, ask yourself, would YOU want to be black in today’s society? In this country? I know I would not. On a personal note, I have two black nieces. As a white, middle-class married mom, I like to believe things are way, way better than they’ve been, but when I have my brother’s children, it is so blatantly obvious that there isn’t as much change as we think. Racism is alive and well. On a political note, it could be why we have the current administration in the White House. Could modern day racism be to blame? I agree with President Obama that is it not the love of the current president that put him in office but the hate of Barack that did. Anyway, no need to turn this book review into a political rant.

Five star story. Check out Jodi Picoult’s Small Great Things, you’ll be glad you did.

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Glacier Bay (Alaskan Cruise; Part II)

My Grand Princess cruise was so remarkable; I’ve broken the blog into parts. The first was all about the things I learned about the economics of the multi-billion-dollar industry and my overall impression of the experience. Welcome to part two; Glacier Bay.

On the morning we arrived in Glacier Bay National Park, I noticed immediately something was different on the ship. My coffee was in a ceramic cup. When I asked the employees, they explained that there was to be zero paper waste on the day we were at the National Park. This made me ponder a few things, one; just how much paper waste we were creating daily and two; why the ship only designates one day to be environmentally friendly. I pondered this the rest of my journey, especially each time I threw a paper cup in the trash.

The Huna Tlinglit people have called this area ‘home’ for as many generations as have been documented. There are no reptiles that live here but there are over one-hundred and fifty species of fish, over forty species of mammals, two-hundred seventy-four species of birds, and three types of amphibians. The park is roughly the size of Connecticut with only fifty-five full time employees. More than a half of a million visitors come each year to see the glaciers, ninety-five percent via cruise ships. For environmental reasons, the number of boats a day are restricted and regulated.

Two-hundred fifty years ago, there was one gigantic glacier. In 1750 it began to retract and fill a sixty-five mile long fjord. It’s retreated a total of sixty miles, five of those miles just in the last nineteen months (One twelfth melted in the last year and a half!) Today there are over twelve-hundred glaciers. Jonathan B. Jarvis, a former director of the National Park Service was quoted as saying, “I believe climate change is fundamentally the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced.” In the last fifty years, Alaska’s annual average temperature has increased more than twice of that of the ‘lower 48’. Ebb and flow have always been a factor in this part of the world, that being said, the higher temperatures will have a long-lasting effect on the entire planet.

The word, dynamic means ‘of process or system characterized by constant change, activity or progress’. There is not a better word to describe this amazing place! The opportunity to study the biological and most fundamental geographical processes are presented to scientists because of Glacier Bay.

Even though we stayed on the ship, this stop on the cruise was worth the price of admission!

 

Photo Credit: Richard James Plato

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Alaskan Cruise; A bucket list trip (Part One)

Do you have a bucket list?

Recently I found a scrap of paper that was a bucket list I had written in 2010. Surprisingly, I’d done most of the things I had dreamed of only seven years ago. The one that still couldn’t be crossed off was “Take an Alaskan Cruise”. Ironically, my uncles and cousins invited me to join them on the Grand Princess’s first 2017 Alaskan voyage shortly after my discovery of the unfinished list. The price ran a little over $2,000 and included unlimited food and beverages for ten days. I told them, “I’m in.” It seemed a little expensive, but room, food, transportation; it all adds up and $200 a day seemed doable. I quickly registered with the cruise line, booked my off-shore excursions and packed my bags.

The first impression as we sailed from San Francisco was the ship seemed to want to ‘fleece’ money from me every day.  Between the spa, art gallery, on-board shops, cheesy pictures, wine tasting, craft time, internet connection*, etc. They wanted more and more money. Even a thorough tour of the ship was over a hundred dollars (I passed on that even though I was very curious). I sucked it up financially and justified it as spoiling myself. (*the internet was SO expensive and super slow, the tower computers left-overs from the late nineties.) They also pushed booking the off-shore excursions at every opportunity.

The first stop was Juneau where I had signed up to go ‘gold panning’ with a salmon bake. The guide dressed the part and was very knowledgeable about the area. (Did you know, Juneau was voted the ugliest state capital in the country?) Anyway… We got to the river and he passed out the pans of dirt and showed us how to swish the water around and get the gold out. I learned the term ‘pay dirt’ came from gold panning and it wasn’t the little flecks the miners were after, but those flecks promised more from the hills and identified where they should start mining. Every person on the tour found gold. We all rushed to stake our claim and find more. But NO ONE found any more. I thought maybe we were doing it wrong or needed to dig deeper. The guide confessed to me he had gotten the original dirt from about six miles up the river where there was known mines that had been successful and still operational. I felt a little gipped. Our driver then took us to where the salmon bake was going on. It was a huge picnic area where a team of cooks prepared the salmon, beans, salads and blueberry cake dessert. It felt, ‘commercial’, buffet style. We were herded through the line, ate and then shuttled back to the ship. (Buffet or not, the food was magnificent, and up to that point, the best meal of the trip.)

Next stop was Skagway where I had signed up for river rafting through the eagle preserve and a ‘ghost and goodtime girls’ tour. There were no rapids on the river although it was relatively fast moving. We saw a few eagles, but no other wild life. The tour guide explained we were still a bit early for the animals. A nice lunch was provided when we were done floating down stream and the information on the Tlingit tribe was incredibly educational. The Ghosts and Good Time-Girl tour was also educational and horrifying at the same time. The gold rush wasn’t easy for anyone, especially the women.

During this time, I was (confidentially) informed that the cruise line was getting part of the money I had spent on the tours. Really?!? Oh yes, the person continued to tell me most of the souvenir shops were also owned by the cruise line and the majority of the money spent went to them.  As I walked back to the ship, I started paying a bit more attention to the shops and stores. It was obvious which were locally owned. I’m big about keeping my money local and was disheartened to learn the residents weren’t getting my cash.

Glacier bay was beautiful. More on that in part two of this blog.

Ketichan was the same as the first two ports. We went restaurant to restaurant trying to find one where it wasn’t a chain or owned by the cruise lines. As we entered the shops, our first question was “Are you locally owned?” Approximately, one in seven were. Since I felt the cruise was getting more and more pricey, I hesitated to spend any more money with the shops that weren’t bonafide locally owned. I did not want to put more money in the pockets of Princess.

Our last port was Victoria, Canada. The stop I had been looking forward to the most. I was confused though why we spent 6-9 hours at each of the other Alaskan stops but in Victoria we only had four hours. Then it became obvious. There were no cruise owned shops and restaurants. Victoria didn’t rely on the commerce from the cruise goers and since Princess wasn’t making additional money on that stop, we were hustled in and out. Such a disappointment.

Victoria was the one place I would consider re-visiting. It was an amazing city! I rented a rickshaw and kicked back indulging in the recreational weed from Skagway and a local Canadian beer. The rickshaw driver was brutally honest about the politics and life in that country. Regarding the political climate, he said, “If the US is Thor, Canada is Loki.” Once I let that settle in, I lost a little respect for our neighbors to the north. I entered the port through customs so I could get a Canada stamp in my passport. This wasn’t necessary for the cruise folks but it was necessary for me. (lol!)

Once done with Victoria, we did a straight shot back to San Francisco and was back earlier than expected. I think there was plenty time to have stayed in Victoria a few more hours, but that’s just my opinion. By the time it was all said and done, my spa treatments, the internet connection, the art and dress I bought not to mention the restaurants we went to that weren’t included*, the price of my cruise had doubled. (*The buffet and food available for free was very average. The best food on the ship was in the restaurants that weren’t included in the price and although they were cost effective, it still added up on my final bill. If you ever do cruise the Grand Princess, I highly recommend The Crown restaurant, just know it will cost a bit more, but it’s well worth it.)

Overall, the service was good. Most of the crew was from Italy. Most of the staff from the Philippines. I also met employees from Ireland, Russia, Mexico, Jamaica, and Brazil. As I got to know these fine employees, they explained they have contracts anywhere from 3-9 months. To me, their wages were very average to low, especially for the USA, which explains why there were no employees from my home country. Our specific cabin steward was so helpful, friendly and overall fantastic. A late twenties young man from the Philippines, he told me he worked nine months on the ship and then home for three months then back on the ship. His daughters are 4 and 6 years old and he proudly showed me pictures of them. He mentioned how he loved his job and the cruise line was good to him. It made me wonder what types of opportunities he would have if he stayed local to be with his kids and wife.

The entertainment was good too, and included in the price. We watched four movies that were all relatively new releases, a magic show, comedian, two variety shows with singing and dancing and an amazing woman who did impersonations. (She was my favorite.) There is  always something going on during the ‘at sea’ time.

As we lined up to disembark (ship talk, lol), I started to really pay attention to my fellow cruisers. Their bags were as full as mine, I’m sure many of them spent as much money as I did. There were 1,700 of us. Do the math. Do you really think it’s THAT expensive to operate the boat? Let’s say the average customer paid $3k, that’s OVER FIVE MILLION DOLLARS for ten days at sea. PLUS, the money they made on the souvenir shops and restaurants on the stops. It felt as if I was nourishing the corporations that I loathed. Yes, I had fun. Yes, I enjoyed my family’s company. Looking back however, for the money we paid, we could have done a five-star vacation on our terms, time and schedule. Which reminds me of a joke, a little ship humor.

A wife tells her husband, “Hurry and get dressed for our dinner at the captain’s table tonight, honey.”

The husband rolls his eyes and replies, “All this money we paid and we have to eat with the staff?”

I’m not saying don’t cruise, but don’t expect the eighties version of the Love Boat or you will be sorely disappointed. If you’re going to do the off-shore excursions, book directly through the company and not the cruise line, the locals make more money that way (and don’t forget to tip the guides). Shop local if you can, ask to be sure. Many stores, it’s obvious. Don’t be pressured to book their spa packages, as they are expensive and average, unless you really like spas. (Ok, my massage was better than average, but the rest of my services were very average, the mani/pedi lower than average, poor.) Look up free and inexpensive things to do during the stops, there are plenty. If only I had done more research before booking through Princess. (You know what they say about hindsight.)

My bucket list is almost complete now. I’m content that I did the Alaskan cruise, the company and weather were divine, but wish I had done things a bit different. Learn from my blunders and happy cruising.

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Would you date Johnny Depp? Based on his handwriting…

For years, we’ve all been entertained by the amazing, yet humble and oh-so-hot Johnny Depp. Happy birthday to this legend! Back in the mid-80’s his then wife, was a make-up artist in Hollywood and introduced Johnny to Nicholas Cage who encouraged Johnny to seek out an acting career. With that endorsement, Johnny to tried-out and got the role of Glen Lantz in Nightmare on Elm Street (did you even remember that was him?) This launched his career in film and the rest is history. 21 Jump Street, Tim Burton/Edward Scissorhands, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, etc…

When you look at his signature, you think he must be joking, and in a way, he is. His signature shows he’s able to laugh at himself even though there is some personal pain shown. (In fact, there are indications of self-harm, or ‘cutting’ in some of the writing I looked at.) The autograph is illegible and quick, like his mind. The word Neurotic comes to mind when I look at his writing. This term isn’t usually used in a psychological sense anymore, but it fits Mr. Depp. Nervous, with compulsive actions, obsessive thoughts and a lot of stress is all seen in his penmanship. He holds a grudge, so don’t piss him off, (just sayin’).

The good news… He’s private yet friendly. There are suggestions that even though he’s in his fifties, he still likes to ‘tie one on’ and party is not a foreign word to him. Chatty, when the mood strikes him, he can start a conversation with just about anyone. Johnny is a deep thinker and may even self-title himself a philosopher. He doesn’t watch his own movies even though they have made him a household name, for him, it’s all in a days’ work. He’s not concerned with time even though he values every minute. He jokes he doesn’t need love, but it’s really what his heart craves. He wants to be a better actor, father and person. Even though he’s probably fine at all of those things, he feels there is room for improvement in all aspects of his life.

The J and D initials are the bear and the dog. These traits imbue his personality. The bear needs his down-time and to be left alone so he may better serve those in his life. He’s a better actor when he has the opportunity to just ‘chill out’ by himself. Like a bear, he’s docile unless provoked but once provoked, he can be downright scary. The dog in his last name shows loyalty and friendliness. Plus, his bark is worse than his bite. There is an indication he is still concerned what others think of him and always wants to put his best foot forward. One would think once you rise to stardom like he has he may have the attitude of like-me-or-lump-it, but Johnny Depp genuinely wants people to approve and like him.

Quotes from Johnny Depp

I am doing things that are true to me. The only thing I have a problem with is being labeled.
I think the thing to do is enjoy the ride while you’re on it.
Me, I’m dishonest, and you can always trust a dishonest man to be dishonest. Honestly, it’s the honest ones you have to watch out for.

 

I pretty much try to stay in a constant state of confusion just because of the expression it leaves on my face.
With any part you play, there is a certain amount of yourself in it. There has to be, otherwise it’s just not acting. It’s lying.
There’s a drive in me that won’t allow me to do certain things that are easy.

If someone were to harm my family or a friend or somebody I love, I would eat them. I might end up in jail for 500 years, but I would eat them.

 

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Celebrity Handwriting Analysis this week, Amy Schumer!

Happy birthday, Amy Schumer! (June 1, 1981)

This week’s celebrity handwriting analysis is this funny lady. When I started looking for her signature to analyze I thought, This can’t be it, surely this is just some random person making a scribble in one of Amy’s books. The more I searched, the more I found myself shaking my head and thinking, Amy, put down the pen… step away from the writing instrument. Well, she can’t be good at everything, so if her only fault is her penmanship, we can let her slide.

I know this may come as a shock, but Amy’s writing shows she’s out-going, outspoken, and loves attention. (Weird, right?) She also tends to portray more confidence than she’s feeling. Otherwise, her writing has high qualities of honesty and truthfulness. The ‘what you see is what you get’ is endearing and likable. With Amy, if she’s happy, you’ll know if, if she’s pissed, you’ll know it… she wears her heart on her sleeve. There’s plenty of privacy in her writing too, she’s protective of those closest to her and may still struggle being a recognizable star.

Adaptable and well adjusted, (well, for the most part well adjusted), Amy enjoys conversations and can make friends easily. When it comes to making decisions, Amy likes to talk things out. Overall, she’s pretty chatty (another surprise, right?) There’s also consistent indications that she’s a peace keeper, a lover (not a fighter) and a person that truly has empathy for others.

Amy’s a daddy’s girl. (Okay, I read her book and know she’s a daddy’s girl, but it’s in her writing too… really, it is.) She has a can-do attitude but may be a downer if the project isn’t something her heart is invested in. She’s all about serving other’s, possibly to a fault. She’s forgiving. She’s intelligent. She’s kind. She’s flexible (possibly in more ways than one… just trying to be funny. lol…)

For years, I’ve enjoyed this young woman’s talents and now I’ve peeked at her writing, I totally want her to stop by, ride my horse and smoke a lefty. Happiest of Birthdays, Amy! Cheers to many more!

Quotes by Amy Schumer

I’m a woman with thoughts and questions and shit to say. I say if I’m beautiful. I say if I’m strong. You will not determine my story – I will.

I will speak and share and fuck and love and I will never apologize to the frightened millions who resent that they never had it in them to do it. I stand here and I am amazing, for you. Not because of you. I am not who I sleep with. I am not my weight. I am not my mother. I am myself. And I am all of you, and I thank you.

Nothing good ever happens in a blackout. I’ve never woken up and been like, ‘What is this Pilates mat doing out?’