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Giving Value: A practice in blogging

It’s about time I put an actual blog post on this blog. Mostly people have contacted me saying I should call it an ezine since blog seems ill-used here. I don’t often post my opinions, and I don’t cover popular topics. Is this, really, a blog?

IT IS NOW !! MUAHAHAHAHA.

**

The echo chamber

A general word of advice in blogging is to give value to your readers, to provide some service that they find worthwhile. This theory is so well accepted that I hear it at least five times a day through various social networking sites and how-to-blog services.

The very existence of such an echo chamber should serve to make the irony of a statement about providing value so stark that serious readers couldn’t ignore it. However, the statement merely provides the words which the reader should repeat as the writer so that his reader can repeat them, (seemingly) ad infinitum.

However, it is also said that, while web viewers claim to view the internet for entertainment and education, they in fact expect to learn nothing and, while browsing hundreds of pages, somehow manage to learn nothing. Also, the subjects of their entertainment are so abused as to weather away fascination, and yet they, the readers, keep plugging away at article after article waiting for some new tidbit to come up that they can gleam or meme, twist or copy as long as they can link. Millions of readers of this type exist, just as do millions (probably only thousands, but what the hell) of blogs.

To change tactic a little bit

Gold. The word looks closely related to God. For all intents and purposes, it doubles, either critically or actually, for a god. It replaced the materials in the scales of justice. It has moved countries and reshaped societies. It has single-handedly killed more men than any other artificial force on this planet, fueling wars (even [or especially] the religious ones), driving slaves, falsely empowering some men over others. In its mythic power, gold has generated false cities and idols, and even fabricated tales of glory.

One story in particular matters to us today because it shows a symptom of blogging as a means of American entrepreneurialism, which we usually hold so high. The people of the gold rush weren’t concerned with adding to the wealth of our nation, though a drive for success fueled them as mightily as any tycoon; the rushers wanted, as many of us dream, to get rich, preferably for as little effort as possible, but who’s going to complain about a few days’ worth of digging?

Unfortunately, quite a few of them died trying (for a fun expiriment, research how many actually died), and the ones who survived their trials merely settled wherever they ended up. The greatest problem they faced, as anyone playing the game Oregon Trail soon learns, was a lack of planning. The thoughts that run through your head–generated by the basic managerial imagination we each have, honed to greater or lesser extents by experience–are not sufficient to survive the trip. Even the people that did survive found out quickly that they had no idea how to look for gold or even where to find it. But the west coast looked pretty good by the time the Rockies were behind them, I bet, and you can read a brief history of Seattle if you want to see where the survivors’ remaining entrepreneurial instinct took them.

Blogging, to writers, resembles these traits. We put our ideas onto electronic drives where they appear as pixels to whatever ghostly visitor happens to stumble across them for whatever reason. Just like the ’49ers, we bloggers barely grasp the technology, hardly fully or in a way that would benefit us most, and more importantly we understand or misinterpret the tools and benefits of social media. Yet despite the technical inability of most writers and our lack of ambition to succeed in the ethereal communities of the internet (as opposed to our ambition to succeed in the commodifiable community of publishing), we press on into this dream. Why?

Blogging: A mythopoetic

Because we hear tales, of course, great tales of success. The recent movie Julie and Julia highlights the basic success fantasy that lies under most of our attempts: write blog, gain readers, break the media ceiling, get published. In what ways is social media most useful to us? Doesn’t matter; people will find the blog somehow, and my uneducated efforts will help. How hard do I have to work at generating compelling content, and what does that even mean, anyway: compelling content? I can write, we answer; I have thoughts.

To these arguments, I answer with an Eve6 lyric: “The liar in me says something’s gonna happen soon because it must.”

Despite our overpowered fantasies, there is no moment in which, climactic, the phone will suddenly ring, filling our voicemails with phonecalls from studios seeking our hands. In the current market, where blogs are a cute fuzzy place where MFA students and other writers post their cute fuzzy brains, there’s only one instance in which that might happen, and I promise you that you don’t want to follow that path.

Ashley sent me an email copied from her friend Steuart [sic] that addresses this hope:

I think that there are some individuals that understand social networking sites and how to leverage them effectively, but most don’t. Typically, the larger the company/corporation/label/band the more they -don’t- get it.

The power in social networking sites doesn’t have anything to do with your own individual or your group’s/company’s presence on it. You don’t need a twitter account to leverage twitter to your advantage. The power of social networking sites are in the PEOPLE that comprise it. From a marketing standpoint, twitter is best viewed as the ultimate in word-of-mouth amplifiers, NOT just another place to plaster plugs for yourself.

Marketing over social networks and the internet, as things sit now, is not about yelling the most and yelling the loudest yourself; it’s getting other people to do the yelling for you. As it pertains to the music business, people will be happy to start ‘yelling for you’ IF your music is good, with very little extra effort on your part. But if that takes up 95% of your efforts…well you’re doing it backwards and doing it wrong.

The only way in which Steuart’s breakdown of social marketing rings true is through viral marketing. It works one way: you produce something so astounding that it constitutes a freakshow, it doesn’t matter whether it’s genteel or actual freakishness. Child prodigies, the “LEAVE BRITNEY ALONE” guy, Shamwow… the list goes on quite a while and is mostly comprised of multimedia, not text. Companies trying to break into viral marketing attempt to break it down to a list of rules, but really it flows from this basic socio-instinct: one thousand quirks snap quite suddenly and almost inexplicably. That’s all it takes to generate a meme, as irrational as it is unpredictable.

Social networking as marketing

If you’re serious about your work and the work you make has value on its own, people are less likely (in my own, brief experience) to take the effort to spread it around. If anything, they’ll expect you to succeed on your own without their help outside of their continuing to view what you produce.

So what’s the right answer here? Buy a spambot that will get a thousand other spambots to follow you so that you have a thousand viewers, none of whom are listening to you because they’re all just bots that help you feel cozy at night? Well, no; the answer is work hard and do your research, even though I know that doesn’t sit well with some of you.

My strategy for maximizing my Twitter experience is relatively simple and, if I knew how to code, could be mostly automated.

  1. If the tweep have over two thousand followers, it’s unlikely we’ll be friends.
  2. If the tweep has a follow ratio larger than 1.5, same goes.
  3. New tweeps are found only by crawling retweets from friends and follow fridays, though some friends prove their recommendations more worthwhile than others.

I’m beginning to add people by channels, but it’s proving largely unnecessary as I’m fairly aggressive about following the tweeps my friends retweet. I use several websites to aggressively cleanse my list of followers and followees (contact me if you want a list, but I’m not certain I’ve got the best tools). If you don’t follow back after a few weeks, toodles. If you follow me and you’re a spambot, you get BLOCKED. If you follow me and I’m not sure I want to follow you back, you have three weeks to respond to any of my posts via mention or retweet or get blocked. I strictly maintain a near 1:1 ratio and keep Twitter bloating to a minimum.

Also remember that despite the upgrade in technology, this basic axiom still applies: You will be your greatest supporter. Connections through a network will amplify your advertising, but if you don’t speak out on your own behalf, how can you expect that of others? Rather, even if your fans/viewers are inclined to send out a message on your behalf, it will generally be in the form of a repost/retweet, which necessitates that you have something fresh in the stream for them to repeat when the mood strikes.

But such a force will strike rarely and in full force only on others who are paralleling your struggle. You have to work hard and work reasonably. You have to sing like an angel and then shout like a demon about it. If you’re not prepared to do this, you’re not prepared to succeed. If you’re not prepared to do this, you’re setting out on the Oregon Trail without a shovel. If you’re not prepared to do this, you’re chasing the myth rather than living the dream.

And for those of you who are prepared to tread down the well-worn path of celebrity and political gossip rather than make the psuedo-tantalous trip up the path of creativity, fair you well with your immediate success, and may you keep your viewers. May you carry your banner into the mudpits that might’ve been fields, and may bugs sting your ankles forever.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Criticism, Humanistic, Journalism, Publishing

A Brief History: A view of sexual ethics today

Does social media work for blogs? Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.

I started this blog with my Facebook network, mostly friends, some family, and a few acquaintances. The first week’s readership was small, the next doubled, and the next doubled again. I had about thirty or thirty-five readers consistently interested in my work. Some were close friends in Boston and family, others were friends with whom I am hardly connected any longer, hadn’t seen since high school, maybe longer.

None of them were vocal. Few comments, no real feedback. But they were there; the stats were there. Their presence pushed me onwards when I might have otherwise abandoned the attempt.

Then I joined Twitter, and in the first week I grew a network of around a thirty I followed and thirty who followed me, give or take after you deleted the spammers. Readership doubled again; Facebook readers remained and tweeps came and retweeted. The next week I had about a hundred following and a hundred followers (my ratios are good, huh?), and readership doubled again to over a hundred independent viewers.

That’s five weeks (six minus the foundation week), and my blog has grown by two to the fifth power. I don’t see any reason that the growth will stop until I run out of tweeps, and I feel convinced that I’m barely touching Facebook’s real potential at this point.

Even so, the differences, to me, go like this: dropping an ad into Facebook is like dropping a penny into a pool. A small splash, the water ripples for you, and the penny sinks. Dropping an ad into Twitter is like dropping a penny into Jell-o; it riggles along until you drop something else in it.

As for the following piece, I apologize only to Jennie. You asked me not to write about you; too bad.

**

Aside from porn, I in my youth never had a consistent form of sex in my life. The girls I knew were horny, and I knew how to push those buttons, but they were also smart, wily, and conflicted.

One time during college I took Justin to my friend Ashley’s house. I had just broken up with Christina and he was about to leave for Marine boot camp, so I worked out a little double date for us with Ashley and her friend Holly. I intended for Ashley to give Justin a thrill to remember Plano by before he went away, but he was too straight edge for an offer like that, or else he was just downright embarrassed by the straightforward nature of the scenario.

Justin said that he didn’t know what to do, wouldn’t know how to handle our dear Ashley. So I showed him: I walked up behind Ashley, pulled her chin to the side, and attacked her neck with gentle nibbles. She moaned, she shuddered, and she asked me incredulously, “How do you do that?”

The scene reminded me of the one time in high school when Ashley and I almost got together, the time that essentially guaranteed we never would. Younger, seventeen, I had invited her to my home in order to invite her to prom. She hesitated, and I told her to take her time. We laid down on a couch together and watched The Princess Bride. She had her back to me, pressed against me, and I cupped her breasts with my hands, ran them down her swimmer’s body. She turned hot, and then she got up and walked away. We didn’t go to prom together.

When I left Justin alone with Ashley in her living room, Holly acted in the same way as Ashley had. Young, virginal, she squirmed against the carpet of Ashley’s bedroom when I poured cold strawberry sauce on her neck. She let me ravish her with my hands and tongue, neither asking me to stop nor initiating anything herself. I could taste the heat of her blood under her skin; I had my hands down her pants, rubbing her as she panted. She told me not to stop, but I asked her if she wanted to go further. Eventually, still in each other’s arms, we fell asleep. She left in the morning, and nothing ever became of it.

Jennie had the same initiative to not-sex that Holly had, the same seemingly religious impulse that contradicted directly with her will to fleshy desires. Her motivational conflict resulted in sinusoidal sexual patterns. Three weeks on, three weeks off. My pillow talk verges on the ridiculous, so we’d have sex and then talk about religion, her relationship with God, the pursuit of truth in my life. Perhaps I cyclically inspired her religious fervor; perhaps she was fucking with me under the guise of religion. Sometimes it’s hard to tell where sincerity ends and emotional games begin.

And yet I’m a man who respects principles, never the one to force the issue of sex where it’s not mutual. Perhaps this lack of a will to power on my part is what leads to what seems like an inevitable disappointment in my relationships: that the girls I date, though educated, expect the male to take the sexual lead, to direct the sexual course. If so, how chauvinistic, and what a lack of interest in my desires.

I want the girl to be interested. I yearn to please her, no matter how shallow our relationship is. I want her to enjoy being pursued, to give remuneration. I’ll only go so far before they initiate a next step: there’s nothing I hate more than a cold fish.

Jennie and I eventually came to an end over this misfortune. One day after another three-week asexual stint, she came over to bed me again. By the time she left, I knew that I’d had enough.

And yet I’d put up with much the same treatment from my very next girlfriend, Christina. Our relationship really comes in two parts: sophomore year and senior year. The whole of our sophomore ride, though sexual, lacked sex. She spoke of respect and fear and how she was still a virgin, though I highly doubt whether that statement was true. Still, I respected her wishes, and we kissed and fondled and I went down on her without her going down on me. And we didn’t sex, contrary to my mother’s belief.

One day during that sophomore year I had come home with Christina to introduce her to my family. Of course my parents were aware that I had had a sexual adolescence, much to my mother’s annoyance. Christina and I were upstairs watching a movie in the main upstairs room, one open to anyone who walks up the stairs and where my father spent a good deal of his time during those years. Because of the projection TV, we had the lights off.

Mother called up the stairs, “Greg, turn those lights on!”

“We’re watchin’ a movie, ma!” I hollered back. Christina had fallen asleep; she lifted her head off my shoulder.

My mother yelled, “Turn them on, Greg! I know what you do with girls up there in the dark!”

I looked Christina in the face after my mother said this; she had turned ashen, mortified. I felt embarrassed on her behalf, stood up, and marched downstairs without pausing the movie. Mother retreated into the backyard, and I pursued her. Of course, the TV room was only separated from the backyard by a thin window, and I’m relatively sure Christina heard every word we shouted.

“Mom, I’m not having sex with her.”

“Oh, bullshit!” My mother using profanity was rare; though she allowed it from my sister, she had slapped me the one time I had used it around her.

“She’s a good girl, ma! She doesn’t want to do stuff like that.”

She snorted a laugh. “That’s what Elvis said about Marilyn Monroe, and no one believed him either!”

I balked. “What?”

My mother’s finger shot into the air and shook with the exaggerated tremble of her angered body: “Elvis and Marilyn Monroe!”

A lull entered our conversation. I asked, “Are you serious?” I gave her a few seconds to answer before I finished, “Well, I guess that’s it, then.”

Christina and I broke up not too much later though for an unrelated reason. At the time, the reasons had seemed plentiful and the complaints against one another could have doubled as a code of law, but I recognize after some distance from our relationship that the split basically resulted from a mutual dislike of having a long distance relationship over the summer; she’d return to Houston and I to Dallas. Officially she broke up with me while she had me trapped in her Chevrolet Malibu on a long car ride out of town through rural roads. But I didn’t fight too hard to keep her around, either.

That summer I worked a menial job, a temporary night-shift construction gig that paid fairly well and let me destroy things. I called Christina every few nights to let her know how much I missed her until one night I perhaps overdid it, singing her a song that was playing on the CD player of my truck. When the song was over, she told me that she didn’t miss me and that we were through. She hung up, and I went back to work.

Bryan, Michelle, and Sydney came to my house a week later, and we all got sloshed on spirits, playing drinking games with Irish cream and vanilla vodka. Sydney and I slipped off to my bedroom while Michelle and Bryan caught up and made out; it was my first actual sex since I had broken up with Jennie, the first time in my life that I had had sex drunk, and the only time I had sex drunk with someone I wasn’t having sex with regularly sober. Of course it was a mistake.

One of the reasons Christina had broken up with me was Sydney’s reintroduction to my life. She had asked me to promise her that I would never cheat on her, and in one of the more controversial moments of my life, I had refused. Very few friends of mine have agreed with my refusal or my reasons for giving it.

I don’t make promises I can’t keep. In one of the introductory moments of my relationship with Christina, she had asked me to promise that I would never make her cry. I refused that request as well. She had smiled then, pleased with my candor. On this occasion, though, my blunt honesty seemed to her a fault.

I’m a writer, defined in my terms mostly as a person with an over-active imagination coupled with the disposition to record his thoughts. As a child, my parents caught me in any number of obvious lies, since I let my imagination run away with me. I grew older, though, and as I did I tried to reel in my mind’s propensity for exaggeration. The method I underwent in this pursuit was an evaluation of the human condition, an amateur exploration into why humans do the silly things they do. In this vein—a path which included observing my friends, asking them to observe me, and any art with a psychological angle I could ingest—I discovered that humans are capable of quite a few very silly actions, not the least of which is unexpected infidelity; and by unexpected I don’t mean that his partner doesn’t suspect (most suspicion is unwarranted, and most warranted suspicion is put aside), but that the person himself does not suspect.

The most common argument against this analysis of the human scene is that there’s always choice. At some point in the inception of an affair, an attached lover has to choose to cheat on his significant other. In my opinion, such a view shows the thinker’s naiveté: to assume that any given person chooses before he acts generally gives that person too much credit; people act for any number of unconscious reasons—unconscious here implies a lack of choice, which must be conscious—and in an attempt to explain such actions attempt to insert their motivation, usually foolhardily and in direct contradiction to the actor’s situation. Therefore, unexpected infidelity occurs; not only does it occur, I believe (possibly through my own inexperience with infidelity) it is the norm.

For this promise Christina asked, and I refused not because Sydney herself, a drugged up pitiable slut approaching me primarily for my pity and presumably for my help, was a threat to our relationship but rather according the principle, perhaps silly and idealistic: I won’t make promises I can’t keep. Any married man will tell you that’s no way to make a relationship work, and it’s not. But I’m nothing if not idealistic.

Sad and drunk, I fucked Sydney and enjoyed through an alcoholic haze my first experience with sloppy, self-serving, and artificially extended drunken sex. She left, and I didn’t see her again for weeks. Sydney called me and asked if we could get together again, but I refused her offers. She’d ask me if we could just be friends, say that she needed my friendship. I would take her to a movie to find out; in the dark we’d hold hands, then the kissing started, and by the end I was so excited for the sex to come that I accidentally backed my truck into a light pole. So, no, I guess at that point that I, without other recourse for sex, and she willing to give sex, could not just be friends. I didn’t see her again before she left for the Air Force.

I did, however, have to call her again. Shortly after our sport fucks my urethra itched and urinating at first began to hurt and then to sear, to burn. When I examined my penis, I saw that the skin around the urethra had turned scaly and looked like the dried-out remains of a sunburn. I called my family doctor and made an appointment; when I arrived, he asked me to remove my shorts and lay down on his table. I did, and he shoved a cotton swap inside me; the sudden sharp pain caused my body to tense involuntarily, and my hands flinched. He laughed, saying, “I bet you’ll remember this before you go sleeping with loose girls again.” Later, when I told my first primary care physician in Boston about the experience, my doctor would tell me that painless screens for STDs have existed since the mid-nineties but that some doctors still prefer to use the swab just to reinforce sexual morality. Good for him, I guess, but as you’ll see soon, dear reader, it hardly worked.

I had Chlamydia, a bacterial infection easily cleared up by antibiotics within a week. I called Sydney to let her know that I had gotten it and that she might want to be screened herself, and she became indignant, told me that I couldn’t possibly have gotten it from her. I told her that it had been over a year since I’d had sex with anyone else, and she maintained that I was mistaken. I asked her who else she had currently been sleeping with, and she mentioned some guy I didn’t know out in Allen who could find out on his own just how painful the disease was. My friend Bryan told me, though, that she was having sex with his brother Jay as well, and I felt compelled to warn him; when Sydney found out why Jay had stopped having sex with her, she called me up, chewed me out for violating her privacy, and refused to speak to me ever again, a promise which lasted a few years and ended with little or no real effect since without a real need for my pity Sydney has little reason to keep in touch with me.

I’d have a few other sporadic sexual partners throughout the first semester of my junior year. The most significant of these were the two intellectual extremes, Emily the education major who never let the contradiction between her devout views on conservative Christianity and her open sexual policies bother her and Courtney the educated debater who evidenced a disparity between knowledge of books and of the world usually reserved for romantic novels.

I don’t remember how Emily and I found each other, only that the first time she approached me about sex she asked if we could get drunk first. I refused, and she said she’d drink before she came over. I told her that if she showed up drunk I wouldn’t have sex with her; if she couldn’t fuck me sober, she wouldn’t fuck me at all. She agreed, and so the affair started. Twice a week we’d get together, and she progressively climbed the kinky ladder until she went past where I was interested in going, which was where we stopped: Sex itself contents me for a long while, and I don’t need any spices added to it until the repeated flavor makes itself monotonous. She wanted to start off on the heavy side, and my lack of interest caused her to pull away.

Courtney was something altogether different, a student from one of the courses I was peer instructing, just the sort of relationship I had promised myself not to get into when I took the job. However, my responsibilities included entertaining the students and getting them involved with social groups on campus (Goal number one is student retention!), and I had invited a few of the students over to meet my friends and to attend various parties. The male students I invited declined, but the females came in a small pack of three: Sarah, Andrea, and Courtney.

One day during Thanksgiving break when most of our friends had left but she and I remained, she came over to watch a movie with me. It started friendly enough, sitting on my couch together. Then she leaned against my shoulder, and I tensed. Her head fell to my lap, and I didn’t push her off. She mentioned that she felt cold, asked me to lay down with her; I removed the back cushions of the couch and put my left arm under her head and my right hand on the flat of her stomach; even through her shirt I could tell that she had lied.

Courtney had fallen asleep by the time the movie was over, and she unconsciously nuzzled into my arm. I tried to get up without waking her, but she came two and yawned that she had better get going. I walked with her out my front door and down the cement steps to her car. She opened the door, and right when I was about to thank fate for letting me out of this pickle without too much drama, she turned and asked me for a hug. I put my arms over her shoulders and slid my hands down her back, pulling her in a soft and sensual hug. Her breasts pushed into the soft tissue of my stomach just under my ribs; the wire of her bra tinged the excitement with discomfort.

“What is this?” she asked me. “What are we?”

I sighed and looked away from her, loosening my arms.

“Couldn’t we be together?” She had heard my arguments against dating my students, but it wasn’t forbidden; it was just something I had decided not to do. Cheers to my moral stamina, since that was the only boundary between what she wanted and what I’d give her.

I still wasn’t looking at her when I said, “I’d rather not.”

She moved her arms in between us, placing her forearms vertically against my chest. When I turned my head to look down at her, I saw that she was searching my eyes for a tiny flicker of passion to kindle her hope, her slightly pouting lips complementing her expression. I kissed her suddenly and stepped past my qualms without much difficulty.

We dated for several months. She met my parents in the spring, and they liked her, a first in my young life. Around my friends and at parties, we would make out, falling asleep together on the carpet of my living room so as not to blur her strict Christian principles, which kept her from wanting to go further. We talked about her religion, which I was only beginning to move away from completely at the time, and about the affect of learning how to debate on children, which in my opinion is to stunt the process of forming a personality by means of restraining spiritual nutrition (that is, restraining the child’s ability to gestate opinions and information outside of his field of hand-me-down beliefs). Her opinion was somewhat different.

One day she came over and we went into my room together. The lights out, we kissed in my bed. My hands roamed and then she directed them; my teeth pinched and then she moaned, breathed heavily. For the first time, I put my hands under her shirt and felt her flesh, the studs of the aureole. Following my own desires, I reached down and unbuckled her pants, rubbed my hand over the top of her simple white cotton panties. She lifted her hips, pushing against my hand so that I could feel her rough pubic hair through the soft cloth.

I pulled my hand away, stopped kissing her, and sat up. I can only imagine the look on my face as strained and irritable.

“What’s wrong?” she asked me, her voice strained with more confusion than worry.

My hormones and the tease of the situation brought out my grumpiness, perhaps to an unjustifiable extent. “I shouldn’t have to stop myself for your sake,” I said. “You’re a smart girl and willful. You know that you don’t want to go this far.”

Now fear started to creep into her; she sounded a bit like a mouse: “I know. Thank you, though.”

“Don’t thank me for holding you to your morals. Stop yourself next time!”

She placed her left hand on my arm, but I stood up and walked away. “You should go.”

Courtney didn’t say much as she buttoned her pants and adjusted her bra. She asked me if I was sure, and I hugged her and kissed her cheek and told her I’d see her tomorrow.

Of course I didn’t. A couple of weeks went by before she finally sent me an email about how things wouldn’t have gone any farther than they did, which made me laugh a little to myself. It also said that she felt afraid because she knew she wouldn’t have been able to stop me if I had decided to continue. I let out a bark of a laugh and replied with something terse and nasty. For some reason, we’re awkward around each other every time we happen to see each other these days.

Sometime in this period, Jennie came back into the picture, our lack of serious relationship putting her religious qualms to bed, I suppose. She pinged me out of the blue one day, asked me whether I’d be willing to hook up with her if she just came over that evening, and that was the beginning of something casual and fun that ended when she began to date Mani.

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Author: Greg Freed

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Filed under Creative nonfiction, Criticism, Humanistic, Writing