20 Years Of Harry Potter

It’s 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published. I’m re-reading the series again to celebrate. It occurs to me I have a lot to say about these books.

Often I don’t talk about Harry Potter and how big a part of my life it was because it is so inbuilt into me – of course Harry Potter was a huge part of my life. How could it not be?

Memories of the HP books are woven into all my childhood memories. Visiting my cousins and seeing the first HP book on his shelf and starting to read it. Having Mum read aloud the fourth book to us because we were still pretty young and it was too scary. Reading the sixth HP book in a day when it came out. Reading the books at the Sport Carnivals instead of, you know, doing the sports. Re-reading the books again and again, like coming back to an old friend.

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Hogwarts Express at the Warner Bros Studio

Then of course, there was all the extra stuff that came with the books. Going to see the movies as they came out. Thinking that the Harry Potter Puppet Pals was the funniest thing ever. Still knowing that A Very Potter Musical might be the funniest thing ever (or at least the funniest thing on YouTube). Watching as HP became the global phenomenon it deserves to be, as it got a theme park and a stage play and a spin off series of textbooks that somehow got turned into a movie with more to follow (hi Fantastic Beasts!). Being excited with the advent of Pottermore and finally being sorted into our own houses.

I visited the Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio when I was in the UK last year, and it was magical in every way. Most of all, it brought home to me again that Harry Potter is not a just a magical world I can escape to – it is a shared love, a collectively adored series. There are strangers all over the world who love these characters and these books the same way I do – who know the feeling of escaping back to Hogwarts. Harry Potter makes me feel less alone.

HP

As the world celebrates 20 years of Harry, as I ponder again how seven books can make such an impact on the world and can produce so much more than just those seven books, I’m thankful again for imagination, for bravery, for stories and for the magic of reading.

I’m grateful for the world of Harry Potter. I’m grateful for the Harry, Ron and Hermione’s example of friendship, for the Weasleys’ example of family, for Dumbledore’s and McGonagall’s example of teachers who care, for Remus Lupin and Sirius Black, for Luna and Ginny and Neville, even sometimes for Draco (except not ever for Snape. Sorry guys).

I don’t think I would be the reader – or writer – I am today without HP. I don’t think I would have learnt to value the Hufflepuff qualities I have – of hard work and loyalty and compassion – without knowing that we are all talented differently and there is a place for each of us.

So, with 20 years done, it’s time to say thanks to JK Rowling and to Harry Potter. Let’s all agree the Cursed Child never happened and keep re-reading the books forever.

5 Reasons I’m Becoming A Vegan

People keep asking me why I’m becoming a vegan. I keep finding it hard to answer. So here’s my thoughts articulated in reasonably logical way.

  1. Health reasons. I have a condition that might respond well to this diet.
  2. To break unhealthy patterns. Changing my diet drastically will make me think more deliberately about what I am eating, and will mean I am being intentional about consuming enough protein, vitamins, vegetables etc.
  3. To avoid mass produced products. My foray into thinking about ethical fashion has shown me that the major downfall of our consumer culture is that it’s impossible to trace where everything comes from and how it was made. This applies to food as well as fashion.
  4. I’m becoming more and more uneasy about eating animals. I like animals. I have pet animals. I have an Instagram account where I take photos of animals. I want more distinction between my pets and what I eat.
  5. I want to live my life doing the least harm I can. Of course, this isn’t completely avoidable. I will hurt the people around me, I will leave an impact on the earth and the environment by living and consuming goods. But I want to try to minimize the harm I cause.

So those are my reasons. I’m transitioning slowly, and doing this properly; I’ve seen my GP, I’m doing research, and I’m seeing a dietitian who specializes in plant based eating. Overall, it just feels right. It feels like a healthier way to live, to thinking about food and to plan my life. I’ll keep you updated on how it works out.

Things The Kids of Ministry Workers Wish You Knew

Being in and around churches and ministry for so long, you learn quickly that people have definite ideas and expectations of what the kids of those who work in ministry should be like. The high school/youth group phase can be especially trying. Whatever ministry role their parents are in, here are a few things these kids want you to know.

Note: all these things are subjective. Some of these things are okay in context. But unfortunately they mostly happen outside of genuine relationships or care, and this is what is most frustrating.

Please don’t share your strongly negative opinion about their parent/s ministry. Way to make things awkward.

Please don’t follow up a comment with ‘but don’t tell your Dad/Mum/parents that!’ That puts them in an uncomfortable position, and it’s usually because you said something without thinking – and now they carry the burden.

Please don’t start off small talk with ‘it must be so hard to be (insert name)’s kid!’ They appreciate you’re trying to connect. But it’s a deeply personal issue and asked out of the context of a relationship, it might be really hard to answer.

Please do respect their privacy. It’s hard enough growing up, making decisions and figuring out life while feeling like there’s a whole audience watching.

Please don’t ask them to fill in for a ministry position just because they are always around. There might be someone else who fits it better (and appreciate the opportunity more).

Please don’t label them as ‘PKs’ or ‘MKs’ (pastor’s kid or missionary’s kid). It implies that all kids of those in ministry are the same or have the same struggles.

Please don’t assume that because their parents are in ministry, they will automatically be Christians. They might be seriously struggling with their faith or they might disagree with their parents or their church on theological issues. Respect their autonomy by giving them space to work these things out – like you would for anyone else in the church.

Please do put in the work to build a genuine relationship. Yes, you know their parents and might have heard some stories about them, but that’s not the same as knowing them or having a relationship with them. You can help them feel less isolated.

Please don’t assume they know who you are (or should know who you are).  Even if you have met them once or twice before, don’t be offended if they can’t place you. They probably meet countless people at church every week.

Please don’t use them to get to their parents. Don’t try to impress them, and don’t ask them to share information about their parents. It puts them in a very difficult position (especially if they are still a teenager).

Please don’t play favourites. Don’t give them special treatment, or always pick them out from the crowd.

Please don’t hold them to a higher standard either. Don’t expect better behavior than you would of anyone else their age.

House-sitting

Recently I house-sat for some friends. I took care of a 5 month old pupper named Potato and worked on my assignment. It was almost like a holiday. A really productive holiday. Here’s five ways to make the most of house-sitting and have yourself a mini-retreat.

1. Buy nice food

Plan to cook a new recipe or an old favourite. Or just buy snacks you like. Mix it up, shop differently and enjoy the change in routine. If you’re really needing a change, trying eating vegan or vegetarian while you’re away from home.

2. Explore a new local area

Take the dog for a walk. Or just go for a walk. See what you can find without using Google Maps. Enjoy new scenery.

3. Plan a nice outing

You might want to use Google Maps for this part. Find a nearby cafe, restaurant, theatre, art gallery, bar or anything that you wouldn’t normally be close to. Plan an outing there, alone or with friends. Pretend to be a local and live it up.

4. Try different routines

Outside of your normal setting, try doing things a little differently. Try eating breakfast before your morning shower. Try showering at a different time of day. Or take a bath. Use this opportunity to experiment with how you do things – you may find it works better. Or you may just appreciate your normal routine even more.

5. Work hard at a project

This one is more optional. I had an assignment to do, so I worked really hard at being productive which I was house-sitting, planning in my breaks with nice outings and Potato walks. But if you have an ongoing project you never have time for, this could be a chance to make serious progress. Writing a story? Sorting out photos on your laptop? Finishing a drawing or art project? Whatever it is, a change of environment might help more than you realize.

Here’s a few more pictures of the pupper I looked after; thanks for letting me hang out with you Potato!

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This Is How It Feels

Some days, it’s like there’s white noise all around the inside of my brain.

It’s like there’s a static noise in my head. For anything to get into my head and make sense, it has to penetrate this fog of noise. For anything to come out of my head and to be useful and coherent, it has to travel all the way through that white cloud that’s blurring the world and making everything hard.

Some days it’s like my thoughts get stuck on loop.

I keep repeating the same (usually untrue or unhelpful) concept or idea or set of words – anything really – over and over in my head, because I can’t shake the hold it has on me. I can’t redirect my thoughts. When I try my brain sabotages me and I end up back where I started, fixated on the same idea I was trying to escape.

Some days I have to sing all the words to hymns I know to drown out the chaos.

I’m scared to hear where my thoughts are going and I can’t convince my brain to think about productive or useful things – so I sing ‘How Deep The Father’s Love For Us’ or ‘Come O Come Emmanuel’ until I don’t want to think the bad thoughts anymore.

Some days I can only articulate my thoughts in the written word.

So I write and write and write and write until there are no more words. The important thing isn’t that people read what I have said; it is that I have found words for what I am feeling.

Some days, all this or some of this happens and I can function anyway. I can be polite and social or at least not catatonic. Other days I am blank eyed and mute, unable to form coherent thoughts or follow complex arguments.

Some days my rocky mental health makes me run from people, run from deep emotional connection and hide from the world, isolated and alone. Other days it makes me cling to the people who make me feel safe, who understand the mess inside me and just take each day with me as it comes.

Some days I get sad for no reason. There’s no one thing wrong – it’s just that I have depression, and sometimes my mood is illogical or unstable. Sometimes I get sad. Sometimes I get very very sad. Then sometimes, it will go away again.

I’m not trying to shift blame or excuse my actions – I’m trying to explain. Things aren’t easy at the moment and this is how it feels. Getting through a work shift or focusing for an hour to work on an assignment take a huge amount of energy and effort. Little things can unbalance and upset my day, can derail my thoughts and leave me wobbly.

This is how it feels, at least right now. If I had more words, more insights, I would share them. If I had more answers, I would share those too. But I don’t. This is all I have right now. The reality of my lived experience. The sadness I carry and the fears I hold.

I’m hoping one day it won’t feel like this, at least not so much. I’m hoping for a good day, then another good day, and then eventually some good days in a row until suddenly I can’t remember the last bad day.

That’s all I’ve got right now.

Out Of Control

I like to be in control.

I like to feel I am on top of a situation. I like to know all the relevant information and to feel I can make an informed decision. Then, I like to know that I have the ability to follow through on the decision. I like to know I can implement the plan without too much fuss or stress.

This works sometimes. I can control my schedule, my exercise, my eating, my spending and how I use my energy. I actually get joy out of discipline, out of control and measured responses, out of patience and necessary self-denial.

But I can’t control everything. The idea of someone having power and influence over me, the authority to direct my life and make choices for me, can be scary. I have quit things or said no to things because I fear it will take over too much of my life, or force me into certain paths of decisions. Sometimes that’s a healthy fear. Sometimes it’s not.

Self-control. I can control myself (most of the time). But there’s often things in my life outside of my control. When I have a chest infection, I can’t exercise the way I want to. When I eat dinner with friends or family, I eat what has been prepared and served. When my university changed the structure of my degree, it extended my time at uni for an extra six months. All outside of my control.

Though these are things I want to control, it doesn’t always work out that way. When we try to control other people, we quickly learn we can’t. Sometimes, people simply have different priorities and focuses than we do. No one is in the wrong or the right – we just want different things.

There are many things in my life that not only are out of my control, but should be out of my control. I am learning that it is not always good to be in control. My life is not my own. I am not the one pulling the strings or writing the script.

I easily forget that I am not God. I am not the one who is in charge and it is not my responsibility to ensure the world is run right. My idea of how the world should be run is not always right and even if it was, I have no authority to change things – not the kind of power God has.

Even my own life does not belong to me, but rather, I have given it to Jesus. Christians say that phrase often and easily – give your life to Jesus – but it is a heavy, serious thing. I have given control of my life to someone else. I have given up autonomy. I have submitted to a good God who knows more and knows better than I do.

I have acknowledged that when I try to control and manipulate things, people get hurt and the world is worse. I have accepted that I do not know best. You would think this would make giving up my life easier – but it doesn’t. It is the most difficult thing I have ever done. It is the process of daily denying myself autonomy and submitting to Jesus instead.

What does this look like? It means choosing kindness when I would rather be cruel. It means prioritizing relationships and people when I want to hide away. It means choosing to be generous with my money when I’d rather spend it on myself. It means that in all my decisions, I consider God’s glory and his will as the first priority, before my own wants and desires.

Because even though I struggle with wanting to be in control, I am learning: I can trust God with all these things. I can hand over these worries, these fears and the situations in my life that I don’t like and I can trust that God is good and is in control of all things.

A lot of the time this means my life will not look like what I might have envisioned. But that is okay. I believe God has a better vision for my life than I do, because he values my eternal safety over my here and now safety.

It does not mean my life will be easier or ‘better’ by human standards. In many ways, it will be harder. But that is okay. God does not want an easy or unchallenging life for me. Rather, he wants life to shape me to be more like him.

How do I know that God has the best intentions for me though? How can I trust him? How can I believe all this pain and sacrifice is worth it? Well, a God who was willing to give up his life for me must be trustworthy. A God who loves when he has right to hate must be merciful. A God who keeps his promises will keep me safe.

I can rely on God. In fact, I must rely on him. I don’t have the power to control things. But God does. I can rest safe in the knowledge that he is in control and he is good.

Things I Liked In April

Each month I do a post covering ‘things I liked’ – from articles to videos to tv shows to books to anything in between. April has been a bit of an upside down crazy month for me, so my list is not as extensive as it has been previously. But here’s my list of what I liked in April. What have you liked this month?

New Doctor Who 

Doctor Who season 10 has aired it’s first three episodes. I’m hesitant to comment on the overall quality of the season yet, but I am just enjoying watching something so familiar yet new. I like Bill, our new companion, and I’m not ready to say goodbye to Peter Capaldi as the Doctor yet. I have Opinions about the storytelling and themes but I’ll probably write a whole thing about that later on.

Break The Twitch

A site for all your minimalist needs. Lots of helpful thoughts on living simply and changing your habits of buying, spending and eating more than you really need.

Friends

My friend has written a post about deliberately cultivating friendships. I like her post and I like my friends who are intentional about doing things together. My weekly writing group just had a writing retreat, and it was refreshing, relaxing and totally achievable without too much stress.

Using Social Media Differently 

I’ve deactivated my Facebook, and don’t think I will be returning. I’ve also changed how I am using Instagram – I now have an account for my blog, searchingforgrace_blog and a separate account called animals_abound where I will be taking and posting pictures of all the animals. All of them.

Imagination – Part 2 – Escapism

Hiding from reality in books, tv shows and other alternative worlds is a common tactic people use to unwind. It’s so common, we gave it a name – escapism. We disappear from view, from ‘the real world’ for a few hours, to live through characters with more interesting lives, or worlds with more exciting adventures. We lose ourselves in the make believe. We escape.

Why do we like escapism? Wherever it is that we prefer to escape to, there’s a pull towards leaving our own world and problems to dwell in another world. We are attracted to worlds where the problems are usually easier to solve, or at least, there’s different problems to solve. There’s a clear issue or tangle to sort out. There’s a more obvious divide between right and wrong, good and bad, truth and lies.

The good guys are good and motivated by honor and charity and justice, and the bad guys are bad and motivated by greed and hate. Even when the good guys mess up, it just makes them more relate-able, more like us – and in the end, they still sort it all out anyway.

That last part is the key – the thing that draws us towards these stories is that we know there will always be a resolution. The story line finish, the plot points will resolve and there will be a clear solution to the problem. Most of us will be dealing with the same stressful things next week, or even next month, as we are today. Our problems are generally ongoing and exhausting, without a clear end or fix in sight. Not so in the fantasy lands we escape to.

Of course it’s not just fiction that we can use as an escape. Some people use work or their area of expertise or a hobby or interest area. They spend all their time reading about it, or only interacting with others who share this niche interest. Of course, when you only spend time with people who share this hobby, and never talk about things other than the hobby, there’s no risk of deep friendships developing. It’s emotionally safe – and it’s escaping true emotional connection and accountability.

So there are many forms of escapism that different people use in different ways to cope. Is that so bad? Well, like most coping mechanisms, what is helpful in small doses becomes unhelpful when we rely on it and use it constantly. Finding the balance between disappearing to other places to recharge, and living more in fake worlds than in the real world is a tricky tightrope to walk. Generally, when you’re consistently avoiding your real life problems by investing emotionally in fantasy worlds, storylines and characters, there starts to be a problem.

I have certainly spent times in my life on the wrong side of that balance – where the stories I am viewing and reading seem more real and important and interesting than the real people I see day to day. When life is hard, it feels like, well, why not? Why not escape for a while and check out emotionally until things are better? But of course, the difficult things don’t just go away. They will still be waiting when I get back. They still require my time and energy to tackle and solve.

So I’m trying to be more aware of my flights of imagination and the joy of escapism as a useful coping strategy, without relying on it to avoid the difficult things in my life all the time. I am trying to find that delicate balance between enjoying something and being consumed by it.

There are times when it’s okay to use escapism as a temporary form of coping. Sometimes, you can’t deal with the difficult thing or react to the hard conversation straight away. Sometimes you need to pull yourself together for a few more hours of class or work or social interaction. Sometimes, if ten minutes of escape into a book or to your Instagram feed is what you need, it’s okay to do that. Sometimes that is what will help you keep it together until it’s an appropriate time to process what has happened emotionally.

However, spending hours in these escapes, constantly checking out from real life and avoiding work and responsibilities in favor of an alternative reality is where you run into a problem. It’s where I can see I am struggling, if I’m spending all my time in the fantasy world of a book or tv show rather than staying on top of my uni work and talking to my family.

There’s a big difference, at least for me, between watching the new episode of a tv show I am watching and then talking to someone about it, than spending hours scrolling through the internet for more gifs and reviews of the latest thing I’ve watched. This is when I need to stop, take a break and start focusing where I am right in the moment, and what demands are making me want to run.

Everyone deals with these things differently. Maybe escapism isn’t the temptation you face or maybe you find it easier to visit these make believe worlds without neglecting real life. But i think a lot of us still have work to do in finding that balance between a healthy coping mechanism and an unhealthy avoidance strategy. I know I do. I’m going to keep working on it.

Animals Abound – Part 5 – Animal Helpers

Today I’m talking about animals as trained helpers and assistants. I’ve already talked about why can be good for your mental health here, but now I’m covering more specific ways animals can be helpful to those who have barriers to overcome in participating in society or living independently. The range of ways animals can help are as varied as the animals themselves. I’ll quickly cover the main categories these helper animals fall into. Thanks to this site for their helpful information on this subject.

Guide dogs – Dogs who (usually) help the visually impaired, by identifying and avoiding potential obstacles as their owner moves around both the home and wider society. These dogs are trained to a high standard, and can often even navigate busy streets and shopping centres for their owner.

Hearing dogs – Dogs who alert their hearing impaired owner to events happening around them, such as a siren, a ringing phone or doorbell. Dogs are trained to then physically touch their owner in different ways to let them know the type of sound happening, often within seconds of the event happening.

Service dogs – This name is given to dogs that assist people with a physical disability, or a disability that doesn’t clearly fall under the visually impaired or hearing impaired category. As a result, this type of dog is the most common. They can pull wheelchairs, retrieved dropped objects, close and open doors and turn lights on and off. Skilled companion dogs are very similar, except that they worked under the supervision of a facilitator who is not their owner. This is usually a family member or caregiver.

Seizure response dogs – Some dogs can predict a seizure, but this is not the function of most seizure response dogs. These dogs can activate life-saving alert systems to summon medical help. The can also roll a person into a safe position or retrieve medication needed to halt a seizure.

Emotional Support/Therapy Animals – often, these animals aren’t dogs. They can be a cat, rabbit, horse etc. The main role of these animals is to assist people with mental health issues by providing a stable, comforting presence. A therapist may prescribe a therapy animal to help someone deal with panic attacks, PTSD, depression or a range of other issues.

Facility animals – are a type of therapy animal. Supervised by a facilitator, these animals (usually dogs or cats) work in healthcare or educational settings, to provide companionship, emotional connection and sometimes assistance during physical therapy sessions. These animals can be a coping mechanism for people facing serious medical challenges.

 

I also want to mention the use of animals in autism therapy, because I read some really interesting things about it here. Horses have been used to help non-verbal children contact to another living creature and begin communicating. The rhythm and balance needed to ride the horse can also help increase balance, which is a common issue for kids with ASD (autistic spectrum disorder). Dogs are also used with children with autism, as service dogs, by helping keep the child safe and alerting the parents of potential danger. Cats can also play this role, though this is less common.

The innovation used by people in training these animals impresses me. The dedication and emotional intelligence of these animals amazes me. As I talked about in this post, I think that including animals in more spheres of society will only make society richer and more empathetic, not only towards animals but also towards each other.

The doors, literal and figurative, that these animals can open from people who otherwise might be excluded from society, or have to live without independence and autonomy, is phenomenal. Can you imagine the freedom it must give a someone who is blind to know that they can get on a bus and do their grocery shopping independently like anyone else? Or the reassurance it gives a parent of a child with autism to know that they can leave their child playing in the next room, because their service dog will alert them if the child is in danger or needs help?

Just as I hope we will see more and more animals out and about in society just for the fun of it, I also hope it will become more and more normal to see students at university with their guide dogs, people in the workplace with their service animal and children at school with a therapy pet. I hope we can become more and more open to removing the barriers – whatever they are – to including people in all parts of society. I’m excited to see how animals can help us do that.

You can donate to Assistance Dogs Australia here or Guide Dogs Australia here. If you’ve heard other stories of animals helping people, please let me know – I’d be interested to hear about it.

Imagination – Part 1 – Anxiety

“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety,” – Deepak Chopra.

I have always been an imaginative person. I have also always been a person prone to anxiety. Do these two things go hand in hand? Is it possible to have one without the other? Or does my imagination mean that when my brain tends towards panic, it has more capacity to picture all the worst scenarios and disasters that could result? Does my anxiety force me to consider all the possibilities, and so, in the process, open up new worlds and outcomes?  Is it possible to separate the overthinking hyper-vigilant part of me from the opportunity-seeing, world-creating and story-telling parts?

When I was little, I had two imaginary friends. They lived in the linen cupboard in the hallway. They would sit there obligingly, until I wanted to get them out and use them in my imaginative games. Sometimes they would stay happily in their cupboard-home for months at a time. But inevitably, when times of stress or sadness in my childhood world came along, out would come my imaginary friends, and I would disappear into the make believe world and stories they came with.

From my teenage years, I have a small collection on a hard-drive of half finished creative projects and stories and worlds I would create in an attempt to escape the difficulties I faced in my ‘real life.’ Inspired in a burst of creativity when I was struggling, the motivation to create and imagine would always fade as my mental health stabilized or I made peace with whatever hardship I was facing at the time.

My blogging started in the midst of a season of doubt and questioning. From this season came the urge to write, to overthink, over-analyse and overshare. This blog was then born as a safe space to process and write out my thoughts. My blog’s tone is constantly changing and evolving, which reflects my constantly changing and evolving creative desires and needs – never able to settle to anything for long, always finding a new thing to think and write about.

Recently I also realized I was using social media to escape. That I was scrolling through my Instagram feed looking for distractions and browsing Facebook to avoid thinking about the difficult things happening in my life. This was leading to an addiction to my phone that was making me unfocused in situations where I wanted to be present. So I quit some social media sites and drastically changed how I used others. I took apps off my phone and gave myself boundaries and limits.

I needed to do this, because social media had become another shiny make believe world I could go to when I wanted to distract myself from reality. My imagination was making it easy to lose myself in the things I saw on my feed. I used the outrage cycle of the internet to inspire my own writings and creative outputs. But it came at a cost – I was anxious, distracted, constantly reloading and rechecking all the various apps. When there was nothing new to distract me, I would feel a sense of panic at being left alone with my thoughts.

This constant link between my anxiety and my creative abilities scares me at times. Does my anxiety open up these creative worlds and give me inspiration? Am I reliant on my anxiety to be passionate and excited about creating things? Or is my imagination a safe place to fall back on when the real world gets too scary? Do I escape into make believe worlds when I can’t handle reality? Obviously neither answer is particularly encouraging for me. Either I’m dependent on anxiety to propel me or I’m hiding from reality.

But despite the anxiety and catastrophe-creating abilities that come with an over-active imagination, I am thankful for the creative inspiration it gives me. It’s nice that there’s an upside to my brain being prone to stress and panic, considering all the other not fun side effects. I’m trying to be more aware of my imagination as a useful coping strategy, without relying on it to escape all the time. I’m trying to be more deliberate in my creativity, planning ahead for my writing projects. So I’m trying to blog regularly, rather than overflowing with constant ideas and new posts for two weeks and then writing nothing for a month.

It’s important to harness your imagination and use it, as the good gift it is, without letting it control you. So I am taking back control over my imagination. With that, comes a small measure of control over my anxiety as well. If I’m less in the habit of giving my brain free rein, even in the good things, then it’s easier to be disciplined when I want to spiral into panic.

I’ve been given both an imagination and anxiety. I’d like to have one without the other, but I’ve learnt that just not the way it works. So I’ll take the good I can get without letting the bad over run me.