Archive for October, 2015


On this beautiful autumn day, with its cool chilled air warmed by the sun, the beautifully colored leaves, just falling, the autumn flowers, I remembered how Jim said to me one day in September “I’m sorry to leave you.” He meant he was sorry to have to leave me alone in the world in the sense that he and looked at, saw the world from the same perspective, and our reaction to us, had been just the same.

And so this morning I share YouTube (unadulterated) of Lyle Lovett singing Closing Time which Jim liked too:


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I learned on Anibundel’s blog that this is National Cat day, and I’ve picked out the exquisitely satiric “Henry 2, Paw de Deux,” which also helps us to remember and miss the film critic, Ebert

For film and cat lovers.  A few questions.

Miss Drake

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CatsOct25year15 (Mobile)
Ian and Clarycat waiting around Izzy’s door

Dear friends and readers,

I was feeling that guilty about writing frivolous and personal blogs about my life, cats, flower bulbs and all I do — after I saw two extraordinary stories, one in the form of Sophocles’s tragic play, Antigone, at the Kennedy Center yesterday, and today, in the form of a remarkably candid film about what the experience of war is in these past two decades, Kilo Two Bravo — that I first wrote a blog (Barking up the Right Trees this past week), bringing together a group of stories revealing underlying semi-criminal behaviors (or criminal ones) in people like Kreon, in positions of tremendous power, who are responsible for present wars in Aghanistan, Iraq, Syvia … They are significant must-sees, both.

These experiences were part of another two weeks’ passing with memories of Jim: in August I had bought for myself alone and with Izzy, tickets for plays and operas (the first was Verdi’s Otello last week), across this fall and next spring. Kilo Two Bravo was the last of the summer’s film club and at long last Gary Arnold proved that he can offer a film worth getting up early to see, as well as his usual insightful information. Cinema Art is also going to have a season’s worth of operas and ballets from London (Covent Garden), only you have to phone that day (not buy ahead), lest it be cancelled. Not convenient, but they are on at good times for me: 4:30 and 7:00 (replays of HD productions or the HD production itself). I’ll try for them. Of Antigone, Izzy remarked we were sitting in around the same row in the second balcony in the Eisenhower theater the last time we came with Jim.

I did the usual things: teach, go out to lunch with friends, walk, Dance Fusion Workshop (I wish I had time to go there twice a week), almost finished my most recent paper for a coming conference (on Anne Home Hunter and Anne Macvicar Grant, two 18th century Scottish poets — I’ve told about this too often), read, posted to listservs, exchanged letters with friends (heard of yet more hideous deaths from cancer, of suicides driven by a medical establishment not telling the person of other choices), watched movies at night, blogged too. My friend, Sophie, is back from France for a while, and, taking Metro and bus to reach one another, she and I met at the National Gallery: there was a small exhibit of Vermeer paintings: I had forgotten how faded the colors and how out of seven known pictures, three have enormously pregnant women in the center. There was a new Pissarro on display too, a loan from the Louvre:

Rainy Weather (if you click it becomes very large and the picture compensates for the frame, for which apologies)

On the whole I prefer the peace of Pissarro to the reveries of Vermeer. Face-book objected to the Pissarro (“there are no faces to tag”): imbecilic.

I had planted bulbs first with my neighbor across the street, well this week on my own, in my garden I added daffodils, crocuses, narcissus, tulips. I had my gardening man set out and mulch two small plots in my garden right underneath side windows and remulch the circle around my small maple tree. It was not easy for me to do because my right arm is so weak, but I managed and then I watered them. I remember Jim said how important it was to water them, so I dragged that hose about to reach all three spots.

For the first time in a long time I went out to a review, a concert of Kander and Ebb songs, went back to my friend, Phyllis’s house and sat and talked and drank wine, and found myself driving him at night after midnight.

And I got ever closer to my cats — I have thought of a solution this week to the eternal problem of catness: as all know who had had much contact with cats at all, cats hate shut doors. But suppose like Yvette you want quiet to write, to sing, for privacy, after a long day at work. The problem is they don’t want to stay in the room with her. If she puts them out and they see my open door, they may come in for a while, but periodically they return to hers and cry. Now sometimes I would like to shut my door too — for quiet (not to hear Izzy’s TV program or music), to feel I won’t be interrupted — by said cats I suppose.

What we need to do is buy new doors for our rooms. Our present doors are more than 60 years old and not in good shape. We could replace them with doors with flaps on the bottom. I could push Ian in and out of each and then push Clarycat in and out of each. What I suspect is that if we resolutely left the doors shut, they would not be happy. They would spend time on one or the other side of these doors making complaining sounds and waiting.

Nothing characterizes catness more than this reluctance of theirs to tolerate a shut door and their way of sitting or standing expectantly waiting — or seeming to wait. Also going into tight drawers: both my cats will do this, though Ian more often. Sometimes I wonder how he got in, as some of my drawers are small and don’t open all the way and it becomes hard to pull him out. He has himself to cooperate and turn his body into a line and then push his head up and then he leaps out to the ground. One of my Internet British friends has rescued a new cat to join their family, Ella or Elly:


She looks nervous and sad in the way cats can — it is not easy to adjust to what will become her home. She waits looking about her.

Before Sunday is over I wanted to share another poem. On Victoria, a listserv, people were talking of whether women used the underground trains in 19th century England; I reminded them of William Egley’s (1826-1916) Omnibus Life in London (1859) where we see an intermingling of classes and genders:

Omnibus Life in London 1859 William Maw Egley 1826-1916 Bequeathed by Miss J.L.R. Blaker 1947 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05779 (click to make very large)

at which someone contributed this good poem by Amy Levy, the later 19th century English Jewish poet: she had rather travel on an omnibus, wander about amidst everyone in ordinary life than live the privileged but restricted life or princess-women:

“To see my love suffices me.”
–Ballades in Blue China.

Some men to carriages aspire;
On some the costly hansoms wait;
Some seek a fly, on job or hire;
Some mount the trotting steed, elate.
I envy not the rich and great,
A wandering minstrel, poor and free,
I am contented with my fate —
An omnibus suffices me.

In winter days of rain and mire
I find within a corner strait;
The ‘busmen know me and my lyre
From Brompton to the Bull-and-Gate.
When summer comes, I mount in state
The topmost summit, whence I see
Crœsus look up, compassionate —
An omnibus suffices me.

I mark, untroubled by desire,
Lucullus’ phaeton and its freight.
The scene whereof I cannot tire,
The human tale of love and hate,
The city pageant, early and late
Unfolds itself, rolls by, to be
A pleasure deep and delicate.
An omnibus suffices me.

Princess, your splendour you require,
I, my simplicity; agree
Neither to rate lower nor higher.
An omnibus suffices me.
— Amy Levy

Sophie and I have promised to meet someone beyond the museum next time, perhaps the Penn quarter, find ourselves a cafe for less money, and then (like Amy) walk about the city — for later November when I hope the variegated leaves and balmy weather will not have gone altogether.

Poem and picture also remind me that Phyllis paints: and what does she paint? her oeuvre includes photo-like pictures of people on the Washington Metro, which has its own anonymous spirit, its feel. Which she captures. It’s not an especially kindly one, not abrasive, but you are given a sort of privacy in public a liberty to be, while in transit. The ambiance is quite different from the NYC subways:

The art of Phyllis Furdell: a collage of several paintings

In comparison do not Egley’s Victorians above look all crowded in and uncomfortable? See how the woman on the left looks so kindly at the rich family across from her, the daughter has already learned to keep a disdainful guard on her face and body. Amy Levy will have none of that. Our 21st century people have learned to live in their own space are and take advantage of the time and space to read …

Miss Drake

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Susan Herbert, After Pissarro, Girl with a Stick (click to enlarge)

I know it’s fall when my two cats bunch their bodies up against the heat grates in the walls and go on serious searches for sun puddles.

Dear friends and readers,

This morning waking up I heard from Yvette’s room a female singer crooning softly over and over this song:

“You’ve Got A Friend”

When you’re down and troubled and you need a helping hand
and nothing, whoa, nothing is going right.
Close your eyes and think of me and soon I will be there
to brighten up even your darkest nights.

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend.

If the sky above you should turn dark and full of clouds
and that old north wind should begin to blow,
keep your head together and call my name out loud.
Soon I will be knocking upon your door.
You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call and I’ll be there.

Hey, ain’t it good to know that you’ve got a friend? People can be so cold.
They’ll hurt you and desert you. Well, they’ll take your soul if you let them,
oh yeah, but don’t you let them.

You just call out my name, and you know where ever I am
I’ll come running to see you again.
Winter, spring, summer, or fall, all you have to do is call, Lord, I’ll be there, yeah, yeah,
you’ve got a friend. You’ve got a friend.
Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend. Ain’t it good to know you’ve got a friend.
Oh, yeah, yeah, you’ve got a friend.

I thought I’d try to find out who was the female singer and put a YouTube on this blog on the thought I could save and return to it that way and maybe others coming here, a few, might be comforted by its truths. But I could not find the original composer for sure: it might be Carole King. Far worse: all the Videos and YouTubes I could find were framed and there were continual runners beneath or above telling of the singer’s career commercially. Or the camera would pan to an audience of upbeat smiling faces. The older ones where James Taylor and Carole King were dressed simply and said little were over-voiced with someone telling you they were “dressed like so-and-so.” The newer ones had King in glamor clothes, e.g., belting the song out as if it were cheer from Ethel Merman. One showed Taylor grown older dressed simply, singing, but the song was cut off when he got to “They’ll hurt you and desert you …”

It’s increasingly near impossible to find a YouTube or Video without tasteless countervailing voice-overs, commercial runners, or the person him or herself performing in front of a large audience.

Still you can find the lyrics and imagine the lingering music if you can remember it. Piano, soft saxophone. Perhaps there is a podcast somewhere.

Ian while I was gone (Sept 25th)


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Caroline’s calico cat

Dear Friends and readers,

These couple of weeks of autumn used to be my favorite time of year. No enforced happy holidays, rarely burning hot, not freezing cold, the glory of the variegated leaves, fall flowers. I am still alive to its calm and ease, but to do so I’ve been tiring myself out in it so that I sleep each day until a quarter to eight (with the help of blogging at night and trazadone).

My teaching is now going well, and all that has to do with Tom Jones plus novel and The Poldark World takes say three full days of the week up, I go to movies with friends, the occasional lecture, even a cabaret musical. A few highlights and one disappointment:

Probably few but scholars in love with book history might have found Nicholas Smith’s talk on David Garrick’s library fun, but a group of us did. His abstract:

David Garrick, the celebrated actor, playwright, theatre manager and book collector, assembled a private library of considerable distinction. Rich in English drama and books on theatre history and the theory of dramatic character, the library was recognised as an important scholarly resource by eighteenth-century editors of Shakespeare and other English dramatists, and by literary and musical historians. Garrick extended liberal access and borrowing privileges to friends and acquaintances, even if these privileges were, in the case of Dr Johnson, abused and unacknowledged. In this presentation I will identify the surviving documentary evidence in British and American archives that enables a study of the formation and dispersal of Garrick’s library. I will focus in particular on the controversy over Garrick’s will, the role of Mrs. Garrick’s executors in the division of her property, Robert Saunders’ sale of the general library in 1823 and the location of Garrick’s books today. I will also reveal why Mrs. Garrick’s executors resisted the Trustees of the British Museum’s claim to Garrick’s copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio.

Garrick’s folly on his estate: A temple to Shakespeare (painted by Zoffany)

He became interested in Garrick’s library when he was looking for a rare copy of Plato and found it among Garrick’s books. He talked about how one discovers what books comprise a library; about the hunt through auction catalogues, about the world of jealous rivalries (sometime sordid goings on) between bibliomaniacs (he called them); there were two wills; how Garrick hurt his wife in a will that forbad her to marry on pain of losing her legacy and left the library away from her — a huge part of which were French books (she was French). He read her poignant entry on the last book Garrick owned. How it was a huge library for a private person for the time (by then people were owning 30,000 volumes!). Then there was which library owns what Garrick books (Hereford library in England has a majority — forsooth because he was born there; then there’s the Folger, the Berg Collection, the British museum, Houghton Library). We heard of big sale events (1823 a threshold). He collected for the same reason as he bought two houses, expensive decorations for them — to raise his status. He had surprisingly few of the plays he put on at his Drury Lane Theater.

We then went out to eat in a nearby Thai restaurant with its delicious food and talked with enjoyment some more. A friend and I shared a half-carafe of white house wine.

I saw two movies. Learning to Drive (with my friend, Vivian) had its merits, mainly good feeling (as did A Walk in the Woods with Emma Thompson and Robert Redford):


Written by Sarah Kernochan, directed by Isabel Coixet, 3 of the producers women — about a woman learning to drive. It’s a very free adaptation of an essay by Katha Pollitt. For what it aims to do, it is well done. Patricia Clarkson plays an aging woman scholar (a favorite type this summer, vide Lily Tomlin in Grandma) whose husband leaves her for a much younger woman, her student; she has never learned to drive, part of her dependence on this man. Over the course of the movie, she develops a relationship with a Sikh, payed by Ben Kingsley, one of whose jobs is teaching people to drive: he is idealized, a very good man, and their relationship is paternalistic (he acts first as father figure) and gradually they seem to fall in love. But he has just married through an arrangement a Sikh woman played by Sara Choudury (I’ve seen her in Indian films). What’s appealing is the attempt at a juxtaposition of the two cultures — we see primal emotions and desires as they are dealt with in two disparate cultures. As with Grandma, the scenes are photographed in real places and realistically; as with I’ll Dream of You, all ends well enough but issues are shown that matter in intelligent ways. Vivian agreed what made it was there was no falling in love, but stepping back from delusion. I recommend it in the same spirit I did Lily Tomlin in Grandma. It’s more of a comfort film for our time: here we see the strangers with only one or two relatives of a younger generation to have a tie to making it somehow.

Ralph Fiennes’s Invisible Woman about Dickens’s 13 year liaison, life with Ellen Ternan and separation from his wife was the disappointment. What was the problem is the film-makers were unwilling to show Dickens to have been the shit he was in this situation — they cannot get themselves to. The two actors, Felicity Jones self-involved (and like Ternan so much younger than the man) and enjoying the wind and sea and Ralph Fiennes talking earnestly to her remind me of numbers of their scenes together done with real delicacy in the film, and Kirstin Scott Thomas as Nelly’s desperate mother; the cinematography is also well done, tremblingly effective, the abysms of poverty in London are captured, the connections between the theme of “the buried life” in the play and Dickens and Ternan’s lives as well as lines Dickens wrote for social causes quoted:


I’ll write about this film separately as well as a proposal I wrote to do a paper for a volume on costume drama, on the two Other Boleyn Girl films, Gregory’s book and Wolf Hall, book and film: Men Under Dire Distress: The Tudor Matter: it’s not Henry VIII and his six wives who so fascinate but a depiction of masculinity that undermines modern norms and taboos utterly together with strong and yet enslaved women. I’ll write about these separately.

I’ve handed in proposals a course description for the spring at Mason’s OLLI to teach Gaskell’s great novel, North and South and will share that here.

Elizabeth Gaskell by Emery Walker

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South: A Tale of Manchester

Daniele Denby-Ashe as Margaret her heroine, our consciousness for the novel

Gaskell wrote introspective domestic fiction, strange melodramatic gothics, political historical fiction, an influential passionate and great biography (of Charlotte Bronte) and novels of social protest set across the landscape of Victorian industrial cities, covering disability and emigration. Born to Unitarians, becoming a clergyman’s wife, she wrote fiction from her earliest years, published in magaizines, and lived for many years in Manchester, and her tale of this city, North and South centers on a strike (covered by her frequent publisher, Dickens in Hard Times and Marx in the newspapers), on religious controversies of her era, injustices in the navy, the psychic pain of displacement for her heroine and heroine’s brother, and in its central romance issues of class and region. We will read her book in the context of her varied and full oeuvre, the 19th century, and see how it also fits into other Victorian women’s novels, from Bronte’s Shirley, Eliot and Harriet Martineau to suffragette and new women’s novels (Elizabeth Robins’s The Convert). She is an intriguing and exciting novelist; and this novel will give us a chance to view (outside class) and discuss Sandy Welch’s 2004 film adaptation for the BBC, North and South.

Brendan Coyle and Richard Armitage as master and working man (Welch’s film)

Yvette and I went to Michael Weiss’s annual ice-skating show in remarkably remote Maryland (over an hour’s drive) two weeks ago, and to a picnic with her social club last Sunday. I gardened with my friend and neighbor Sybille today: we planted bulbs again in two patches of ground prepared for flowers *by me in part) especially: daffodils, tulips, crocuses, narcissus — lovely colors on the packages at any rate. And with watching Danger UXB (I’ll write a separate blog on this one too), reading women’s books at night, e.g.,

Dinnage’s Alone! Alone!: Lives of Outsider Women

There’s something strange or worth remarking upon in Dinnage’s book: the first section on “solitaries” really is about highly unusual women, women who stick out as solitaries and just about destroy themselves: Gwen John, Simone Weil, and — not so strange — Stevie Smith. In life circumstances type she’s more like Pym. It seems to me solitary people include far more than this obvious kind. Second section is partners and muses: Clementine Churchill, Ottoline Morrell, and Dora Russell. What really unites them is their lives are the direct result of a specific powerful or much respected man treating them in a way that estranges them from others, either by setting limits to what they can do (Clementine) or leaving them, and quite abruptly (Morrell and Russell). So the first women have no man and want none (it seems) and the second set are a function of a specific powerful man deserting or estranging them. All had families with money

Rachel Cusk
A promotional shot in 2007 of Cusk for her book

Rachel Cusk’s Aftermath:

I was told she was castigated for the book. Surely it cannot be that people are angry she is exposing details of what went wrong. She does not. But she does as I’ve seen hardly anywhere show what a rotten soul-torturing time divorce is — how others treat her, it seemed to me a simulacum of widowhood. Bitter, exhilarating in its causticness. Cusk shows how women alone, especially with children and older are taken advantage by crook types in all areas of life.

and playing with my cats I got through October 2nd through 10th.

Yaroshenko Nicholas Aleksandrovich (1846-98), Portrait of a Lady with a Cat — sent me by my kind Internet-friend, Sixtine, niece to Francoise.


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Duck and waterbird pond at Saltram House

Dear friends and readers,

I thought I’d bring together in one blog the photo-essays of Izzy’s and my trip together:

Photo Essay #1: We were 3 days in Leuven for a Trollope conference, and she wandered with an alert eye after reading about the place: Leuven is a city of churches (still under the influence of the Catholic church — we stayed at the Irish college, a catholic institution there since the 14th century); of waterways, and despite the bombing of World War Two many of the patterns of the older streets and buildings still stand. Others have been built to fit into the ambiance. They have squares in the center and a friendly street life outside restaurants and cafes. I walked with her the first evening.


Photo Essay #2: The Leuven Botanical Gardens. Izzy’s time there under trees — it rained and makes for misty strangely lovely photos — don’t miss the strange statue where we see hands and head peeking out of the ground:



Photo Essay # 3: Devonshire and Cornwall. As Izzy says, we visited many places. Berryhead, Exeter estuary, Saltram House (a separate blog will be devoted to that), Plymouth, ferry ride to Cornwall, Edgecumb formal gardens in Cornwall (below part of a stairway/balustrade), Labrador Bay: to quote my friend, “ships gathered there to go to Labrador to buy salt cod and to take settlers there. This was a very common occurrence and was an important trade for South and East Devon ships. Finally, a 14th century Romanesque church and environs … represent only some


Izzy’s delightfully wry photographic essay on our exploration of Saltram house while we were in Devonshire. She picked out just the right object and details about it to characterize the experience:

Saltram House: an Georgian-era aristocratic house near Plymouth, originally owned the Parker family, eventually the Earls or Morley, but given up to the National Trust in 1957. The furniture and other contents were given up with it, so they too remain on the house, which is now open for visitors to tour. Although that does necessitate some of the rooms being kept relatively dark to preserve them, enough so that I wasn’t able to photograph everything.

Although even before buying tickets in what had once been the stables, one is treated to the sight of a duck pond, filled with a crazy amount of ducks of different types:


Her fifth and last photo-journal blog of our trip: London. Alas she did not take any photos for the second day (which she and I spent together), but she snapped away on the first: Camden Town and St James Park where it is necessary to take as many photos of water-fowl as possible



Miss Drake

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From Danger UXB (one of the great anti-war mini-series)

This is the anniversary of Jim’s dying two years ago. He has lost the ability to speak back as of October 7th and on October 8th he was beginning that terrible ordeal/agon of literally dying.

I feel I’m living through these days for a third time: the first two years ago, as he lay dying; the second last year when somehow I kept the sense of it all at a distance; and now:

On October 3rd this year when Jim would have been 67 I felt how uncanny it is that he is not here, how weird is death in comparison to how we feel about someone’s existence. We have to feel deeply that the person we are attached to has deep reality, and yet they are no more than 98?% water (as I’ve read in different places). I felt haunted the way I had for a time after my father died. Then it was the irretrievably of never being able to make contact again, and I felt such a strong desire to I projected psychologically a presence hiding somewhere, invisible, silent.

It’s not like that for Jim. I have this sense of the unbelievability of existence itself. I can hardly believe I am here concretely if he’s not. I don’t know why I don’t vanish away softly in the night — like one of Lewis Carroll’s mad figures — if he could so vanish.

I’d call such feelings are one of the origins of religious belief. Tonight we would have been married 46 years, met 47 years ago.

I remember Shakespeare’s lines as Prospero: we are such things as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded by a sleep.

And also that 90th sonnet: Do not drop in for an afterloss … in the onset come; so shall I know the very worst … which compared to loss of thee will not seem so

Jenny Diski’s latest entry as she moves into death is devastating. Her cancer is for now (what a sardonic joke in such words) in remission, for how long (ditto) the doctors can’t say (as they know nothing). Like the heroine in Wit, she is dying in immiseration because of the effect of the treatments on her, her lungs gone, she has (like Hilary Mantel) been made to look awful so that she is alienated from her body. at once feeble, unable to walk steadily and fat. Why should she care say the heartless neat doctors and nurses. She opens with talking of letters she has received; I was almost tempted to write. We learn in this one she has two grandchildren and we know the father of her daughter, once her partner-husband died a couple of years ago. So her daughter parentless.

People have asked me (well one person) what is gained by telling of Doris and me, well the same thing that is gained by her telling of these dreadful symptoms, her pain, her feebleness, how others will not help except for the Poet. Insofar as you can stop people from mouthing nonsense about triumphs, conquests, and bravery and instead tell what cancer is, you help a little in the pressure to do fundamental research. The research that is done is expensive surgery to prolong life and pills that cost huge sums — all garnering profit. What they discover fundamentally is a bye-product and not much sought. The TTP was signed yesterday: a key provision fought over was the US on behalf of the pharmaceuticals (like the fascist gov’t it is) to give them the right to charge outrageously for 5-8 years; 12 was what was wanted and the “balance” is it’s just 6-8 and uncountable thousands excluded because of the price at least until then.

I omit all the provisions which supercede workers’ rights and hand a good deal of the world over to corporations (with military backing) to exploit and immiserate everyone who is not in the elite genuinely rich and well connected.

Cancer is our great and ever spreading plague — like the engineered (in effect) famines and mass diseases of early times — India, Ireland. Settler colonialism now exterminating the Palestinians a little at a time — punctuated by the terror of lethal bombing.

Diski speaks for us all — she says don’t talk about bravery so instead I’ll say she writes what she does because she cannot help herself and thinks truth has a function in the world that helps others– if only by saying see here I am, is this the way you are? if so, we are not alone.

Diski (before cancer)

She does say it’s hard not to feel what’s happening to her is a punishment — like it’s hard not to feel the death and disappearance of someone is uncanny. But what it’s vital to remember is not to take what happens ever as a punishment. That is your psyche doubling in on itself and wanting to find some reason, some ultimate meaning for what is happening. For me not comfort, but that way madness lies.

Miss Drake

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