05/17/16

Rejection Turned Writing Break

 

d6dabc193499b1e8baaaf0884a759743I am currently shopping When A Raven Pecks Out Your Normal to literary agents. I have been rejected 63 times already. The last rejection was the first one that provided me any feedback. Its feedback included some of  what my beta readers tried to hit on but, didn’t quite. But, I’m not sure I can rework anything now with this project that started its infancy — rough outline and lots of thinking about it — back in 2009 and I did the final rewrite and typed The End in November of 2015. In January, I started looking for literary representation.

Sixty-three rejections may seem like a lot. It is. However, I had determined that I wouldn’t quit until at least 122 no-thank-yous filled my email, giving me one more rejection than what it took Robert M. Pirsig to get Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance accepted for publication. In my efforts, last week’s feedback from one agent willing to take just an extra minute and explain their thoughts on my work, although good  – drilling down to the core of why this manuscript is unique and a hard sell, created a feeling of futility in me. I felt like I should just quit. It didn’t matter that this one agent said I was a good writer. I’ll be 50 years old in November and the traditionally published novel evades me. I wrote my first “book” at 8 years old. By 18, and hundreds of short stories and essays later,  I had written my first full-length novel. Today I have probably 30 novels in various states of completion.

However, When A Raven Pecks Out Your Normal was the one that felt like professional-caliber stuff, my magnum opus, if you will. This was the story I needed the world to see. But rejection #63 about killed any energy and motivation I had, even given that it was the nicest of the entire haul of rejections.

In a way, I have quit. Allow me to elaborate. Last week, I lamented in my Sno Valley Writes! blog that I was at that cusp of quitting, and needed some encouragement, advice, what have you, from my fellow writers to keep my writer’s sanity. Truly, I was as close to quitting writing as I have ever come. Many an artist friend responded and told me to not give up. My ever-supportive spouse said to keep fighting. But, none of that was helping.

Then, a good friend of mine, fellow writer, and Sno Valley Writes! member, Sheri J. Kennedy, suggested I take a break. No writing, no editing, no forced morning pages. Just say goodbye to my butt-in-chair attitude on my writing life. She firmly, but lovingly told me to do this until I was rested, rejuvenated, and willing to get back into it. She even gave a nod to that fact that #LifewithAutism has been extremely trying on my patience bandwidth. She keyed in that I needed to give myself permission to take a break. Much like I urged all my fellow writers back in 2008 with the creation of Sno Valley Writes! to give themselves permission to be writers, I needed to give myself permission to not write.Creative-Cycle

But not doing anything as a writer has never been a part of my life. The creative cycle always includes a marker of self-doubt, and angst. I normally acknowledge it, feel pissy about it for a few hours (yes, just hours) and fly right through to loving my writing again. This time has been different. I am at the six-day mark. No writing. No pitching. No editing. No journaling. And until this particular post, no blogging. When that voice said I should be working on The Perthshire Gargoyles, or pitching, or editing Wilderness Rim, I just pulled a Nancy Reagan and said, “No.”

Given that I’ve written this blog post, a seeming necessary step to acknowledging my writing sabbatical, I may be slowly coming out of the writing funk I’ve been in. The key word is slowly. Being a writer in a society that puts little value on art and stories seems a fool’s journey. However, as another fellow writer, Bill Reynolds, said to me, “Writing is not a habit. It’s an identity.” I have identified as a writer for as long as I can remember.

Bill also said, “I once read, ‘we are all writers.’ In the sense that those of us literate enough to write, do write, we are indeed all writers. But we all do not say I am a playwright, an essayist, a novelist, or even a ghostwriter. We may all read, and many of us will say that we are readers, or avid readers. But only a select few of us will identify as editors. Writers will often critique or review the writing of others. In that role, we may say we are critics. One who does art may, or may not, identify as an artist. If they do, they may further qualify as a painter, sketch artist, sculptor, potter, actor, glass artist, illustrator, dramatist, director, or writer. I am a writer, a novice in the fictional and creative art of writing, still-in-all, I identify as a writer regardless of the acceptance or opinion of others simply because that is what I do. It has nothing to do with being published, what I write, how good or skilled I am, what anyone thinks of my writing, my grammar or spelling. The only thing that currently matters is that I write. It is what I am. If you write….”

Bill is correct. I am a writer. I’ll come back to it, eventually. However, the break right now is needed. You can’t write for an entire lifetime nonstop without taking a break. We’re Human. Breaks are part of the deal, whether it’s a night’s sleep, a vacation, even an afternoon nap. You have to rest. That’s where I am right now: Writing Rest.

See you again when I’m done taking a writing rest.

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04/21/16

Free-Range Fiction: The Gray Nothing’s Scar

This piece below was birthed by a flash fiction prompt by Chuck Wendig for his April 15, 2016 writing challenge; However it morphed into an added chapter for WHEN A RAVEN PECKS OUT YOUR NORMAL. Regardless, I think it stands on its own and gives you great insight into my protagonist’s mental health state. So although this is flash, it is now an excerpt of the novel I’m currently shopping. It’s just a mere 434 words, as the challenge was to do ~1,000 words. I will likely flesh this out even more and stick at a spot in the book that needs to bring the reader back to the fact that the protagonist’s POV is very unreliable. Please comment your thoughts below. Thanks for visiting and reading. ~C.


The Gray Nothing’s Scar

By Casondra Brewster

I didn’t like looking at it in the mirror. I didn’t like mirrors most days. How did they work? Is it a wonder that tales of old made mirrors magical tools? Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who’s the Nothing Monster down the hall? It’s me. I am the monster, the boy with a scar that looks like a third nipple. An accessory nipple. It’s hereditary thing. Two of my cousins have it as well. I think the raven pecked out their normal, too. I poke at it. I pretend that someone stabbed me there. It looks like the skin swallowed up a knife wound. I had a fight with the colors black and white. I am Gray. I’m caught in the middle. White wants to kill Black. Black wants to kill White. But they both have to destroy me first to get the other. I stare at the scar. Poke. Twist. I make death gurgling sounds.

There’s a knock at the bathroom door. My mother’s voice calling my name: “Nothing?” I hear her. But I cannot speak. The words are stuck in the scar, what’s left of my bio father’s bloodline. Further proof he gave me nothing but shit.

“I am nothing!” I scream. There’s a pounding in my head.

“Nothing, Open the door!”

I see the colors merging. White’s icy hot kill shot aimed right below my left pec. Meanwhile Black’s flamethrower of darkness hits from the other side.

Perhaps I should just lie down and let them consume me, the Gray Nothing that I am. They can deepen the scar, for no one sees me. The Universe sliced a piece of Black and White and created this broken nothingness called Gray. Broken. Nothing. Scarred.

I look back in the mirror. My face winks at me, both frightening and comforting. Black is comforted. White is frightened. I poke the scar again and imagine my bio father sucked into this star-shaped scar. The anger comes then and my fist breaks the mirror. I bleed and wipe my hand on the scar. I put my shirt back on. I sigh and open the door. My mother is standing there. She looks so sad, her eyes exhausted with concern.

“Are you alright?” she says quietly, looking behind me at the broken mirror.

“I am the Gray Nothing,” I say. I walk past her feeling the scar bleeding.

04/14/16

Free-Range Fiction: Chef Coast

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A fellow writer, S. Rain Lawrence, nudged me to get active in my Free-Range Fiction again this week and try out the flash fiction challenge by the ever penmonkey, Chuck Wendig. So, I rolled the dice and got Chef’s Coast. I took creative license and dropped the posessive, to create the 2,000-word story, called Chef Coast. I also saw this meme with Stephen King, which along with some dreams from my husband and I this week, the story took shape. If you enjoy this, please, please comment here on the blog — it takes just a second to prove you’re not some hacker bot and leave your love, suggestions, and comments. I do not poo-poo any positive response on social media, but the love here will help me down the road when I’m trying to sell my brand to agents or publishers. I appreciate you taking the extra step to support me in this manner.

Without further ado…

CHEF COAST

 

On the shores of Lake Superior, Chef Coast’s life changed forever. He had been ordered by his doctor to take two weeks off from his restaurant in New York City. Completely offline. No computer. No phone. Nothing.

“I want you to go somewhere and find some quiet. Be in nature. Take some photos. Hike slowly. Smell fresh air. Get away from the city and your too stressful job.”

Chef Coast returned to where his father had taken him as a boy to camp, fish, hike, and just watch the sun rise and set on the greatest lake in the world.

As was his nature he had made a list of everything the doctor told him to do. The one thing he hadn’t checked off after a few days was “Take some photos.” So he browsed the little boutiques on Main Street in Paradise, Michigan, which wasn’t much, but enough for him to find a first-generation digital camera. It was on a “gently used & clearance” section of the store called “All You Need & More.” The man behind the counter was a crusty, old, and limping creature who had seen too much in his life, he wore the ribbons of pain and joy all over his face and his piercing eyes made Chef Coast feel like he was rudely interrupting the old man’s solitude.

“Will that do, eh?” he grumbled.

Chef Coast tapped a finger on the huge behemoth of a camera, “I will need the data card for it, if you have it?”

“Should be in it,” he said. “Otherwise, I can’t help youse. What I can help with is this, and he pulled up a little baggie with various cords and charging bricks for the beastly Cannon.

Chef Coast looked at the camera and sure enough the digital data disc was in it. He scoffed and nodded, “This will do me.”

The man gave a bit of a sneer when Chef Coast held out his credit card, the old man noting the scars on the Chef’s hand, “We prefer cash,” he said.

Chef Coast looked like a scolded school boy, cramming the credit card back in his wallet and emptying the cash out to cover it. He hoped the diner down the way would take his card for dinner.

“Appreciate it,” the old man said, “Especially on the gently used consignment items.” Chef Coast’s face relaxed and he nodded. “The previous owner’s estate had a tab it needed to square up with our establishment.”

Chef Coast raised an eyebrow, “Well, I hope we’re square now.”

“Indeed,” the old man shoved the money in the registered and it dinged when he closed the drawer on it.

Chef Coast got in his rental SUV from the place down in Sault St. Marie and steered the vehicle towards White Fish Point and the Lighthouse. It was a scenic drive he and his father used to take as well. There wasn’t too much traffic on the road, it was a middle of the day on a Wednesday and only the early season tourists, including him, were here on this mid-April day. Patches of snow still flecked shaded areas and some of the higher elevations throughout the Peninsula. But the sun was out and he was starting to forget about his New York Life. His doctor would be pleased. Chef Coast was pleased.

Once at Whitefish Point, he parked and fiddled with the camera a bit. It looked like it was all ready to go and had enough battery to last enough until he got back to his motel room and his lap top. He headed towards the platform built around the working lighthouse hosting a few tourists and those giant binoculars to look out onto the water. The wind whipped as it often did here in Spring, but the sun was so brilliant, the water so clearly of Superior – with its not quite blue, but not quite green colors swirling in the surf at as it hit the upper Peninsulas’ northeast tip. He found a spot on the platform and gazed out, thinking of his father and how he himself must look like his old man now, squinting into the lake that looked like an ocean. His father worked in the shipping industry, however. Chef Coast toiled in the cut-throat stainless steel prep tables of competitive restaurateurs. He felt alone. His father was never alone, his union buddies never farther than a beer run away. He raised the camera up and looked through its lens out at the water. He decided to put it in manual mode – harkening back to his high school journalism classes, before he decided chefs could make more money. The water was soothing, even within its monstrous power. Click, click, click went the aperture. He snapped away, getting lost in the landscape, shifting his view ever so slightly after a few shots and then clicking the button again to capture the scene. After he had a full panorama of shots of Lake Superior, he focused his lens on the beach. There was a grandfather type entertaining two young girls. He looked through the lens at them and sharpened the focus. What he saw through the camera lens, however, was not what he had just seen with his naked eye outside the camera’s lens. He blinked, brought his line of sight out of the camera and looked plainly down on the beach. Grandfather and two granddaughters. He poked his nose down below the viewfinder and looked through the lens again. The man and the two girls had hair all over their bodies. Laughter from them showed fangs. When the smaller of the two girls held up her hands to the man, he could see dark, sharp claws. Chef Coast shook his head, brought the camera down and looked again with just his eyes. Just three people, one old, two young. He looked at the lens. He removed it, took it off, and put it back on again. He tried to see if there was something funny about his camera – maybe the old man at the gift shop had played a practical joke on him? He certainly was the butt of too many coworkers’ pranks to believe the “All You Need & More” was selling hoaxes in the form of cameras.

He went to the edge of the platform and took photos of the lighthouse only. It’s light dark in the presence of the sun, but oh how the glass of its tower shimmered in the Upper Peninsula spring sun. Chef Coast took a big breath, let out his anxiety over the scene on the beach and took more photos of the arrow-like lighthouse, painted all white, with a red-clay colored roof.  Then he maneuvered his way off the platform, nearly being mowed down by the two little girls he had hallucinated over, they were crying for “Grandma!” The old man followed shortly after them and he smiled and nodded to Chef Coast.  It made Chef shiver, but he blamed it on the wind coming off the lake.

He made his way to the beach, stepping gingerly around patches of snow laying in the shade of the lighthouse, he wasn’t really dressed for snow or sand, but it was vacation, and he could easily drive back to the hotel with the heat blasting and melting or blowing off any detritus from Whitefish Point. Right now was all about pictures, all about checking off the doctor’s list.

Within moments he was in the spot to look up from the beach and take a shot of the lighthouse. What would he do with these photos? His inner critic chimed in his head. He shook off the negativity, feeling the spray of the very cold Lake Superior sprinkle upon him. It was about taking the photos. He had no commitment to actually use them.

“What a waste,” the inner critic said, sounding dreadfully like his mother, for whom he had not seen since his father’s death.

“Just take the photos, Coast,” he mumbled to himself. He decided to do a panoramic from the water’s edge to the capture the whole tourist scene. He started to make a 180-degree semicircle around himself. But, he had to keep stopping every time he looked through the lens at any human in his line of sight: hairy monsters, skeletal monsters, wart-covered monsters, all of them, monsters. He wished he had a wife or a cherished friend with him at this moment, or best yet, his father were still alive. He could see if they saw what he saw – monsters in the skin of banal tourists. The realization then jack-hammered his heart and his adrenaline spiked. Monsters.

He scrambled then as quick as he could, looking all of his 45 years, to the rental. He tossed the camera on the passenger seat, locked the doors and looked out. No one was chasing him. No one was paying attention to him at all. He looked in the rearview mirror, no one behind him. However, his cheeks were flushed with the anxiety of what he had just witnessed and the sprint to the car. He took the time on the drive back to Paradise to practice the breathing exercises his therapist had taught him.

“Jesus, Coach, you’re a mess. The doctor was right, you need to get a grip,” he harangued himself all the way back. For 20 minutes, stuck behind a very slow tractor-trailer, he pissed and moaned at himself to “quit being a wimp.” He pulled into the gas station next to the hardware store and filled up his vehicle, breathing deeply, and calmly talking to himself in his head.

Just as he was putting the nozzle back in the pump, a huge group of bikers pulled up to the gas station, stretching out the whole length of the station and the hardware store. One by one they pulled up to the three pumps and started filling up. Chef Coast was blocked from moving forward or from reversing out of the station. He noticed he just had to wait for one more biker to move around and then he’d be clear to move out. So he pulled the camera up and placed it on the dash so he could see through the viewfinder without actually touching the camera. More hairy creatures stood before him putting gas in huge road bikes. There were a few women on the backs of the bikes that had long fangs and whose eyes looked completely black.

When back on the road he decided to skip dinner and just order a pizza for delivery at his motel room. Back at the Paradise Lost Motel, he did just that. When the delivery kid was at the motel room door, he answered and asked if he could take the kids photo because he was learning to use his new camera. The kid shrugged and made it look like he was posing for a billboard advertisement for Little Caesars, holding out the pizza box just right. Chef Coast put the viewfinder up to his eye and saw that the kid was mutilated and decaying all over. He snapped the photo and kept his best poker face.

“Everything alright, mister? Does the camera work?”

Coach Chef nodded and paid the kid, “Keep the change.” He practically closed the motel room door on the kid’s face.

He put the pie box on the tiny table in the room, and went in front of the mirror. He lifted up the camera aimed right at the mirror and looked through. Scales were all over his arms and legs, and his head had a ridge of thorny bones in the center of his head. He couldn’t look through the viewfinder and see his face, however, the camera so behemoth in size.

He put the camera down and stared and stared into the mirror. He touched his arms, it was skin. He picked the camera up again, and looked through the lens. Scales, slime, and a mutant pale yellow cast looked back at him.

 

04/6/16

#LifewithAutism: Awareness Is Not Enough

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It’s April. It’s when people give a nod to Autism Spectrum Disorder, wear more blue clothing, change their facebook profile photos (am guilty), and, maybe, pat an Autism parent or person with Autism on the back for their daily victories. It’s Autism Awareness Month, or so many organizations that profess to help people with Autism would have you believe.10001400_10209232697436819_224584925434164933_n

Autism Awareness:  It’s a phrase that irritates me. Awareness rarely helps anyone, hence, my irritation. As little as fifteen years ago awareness was so necessary. There I was sitting in Walter Reed Hospital trying to figure out why all the teachers and caregivers were saying my son was not OK, wondering why the doctors were just as confused. Understanding the spectrum of Autism was just beginning. By that point, early help was gone for my son, because the medical community wasn’t aware enough. The schools weren’t aware enough. But to continue such a campaign today makes me cringe. Just because someone is aware of something doesn’t meant they are going to do anything about it. If you’re a person aware of the disorder, what are you going to do about it? Are you even asking yourself that question? If it doesn’t affect your daily life, you’re likely not even asking yourself such a question. And why would you? It doesn’t affect you. Awareness is a limp biscuit without action. Action in acceptance and support.

I have to ask myself that question: What am I going to do about Autism? One in 68 families in America have to ask that question (although there is new evidence that this might be 1 in 45! Dear goddess!). It affects me each and every moment of my day – including invading my nightmares. My son suffers with Autism. I always use a word like suffer, or endures, or fights; because, it’s a battle, it’s a sentence to a particular kind of prison, and it’s a bitch that makes you hurt. That suffering, battling, and hurting are only amplified by the lack of acceptance and support. Autism Sucks. Awareness is pointless without acceptance. Awareness is pointless without support.

Acceptance. Acceptance comes from first respecting that it exists (I get so tired of having to explain that my son is not Rain Man and yes, does have Autism Spectrum Disorder). That respect opens the door to understanding. Understanding Autism is difficult; I get that, because Autism is a spectrum. Many of us whose lives are affected by Autism will tell you: If you’ve met one person with Autism, you’ve met one person with Autism. No two people enduring #LifewithAutism are the same or need the same services. My son is fortunate, he can communicate basic needs. I often tell people he has a different operating system. What he can communicate was learned through conditioned experience. But when an experience is new, when it’s super emotional, or his comorbidity diagnoses take over – it can take him a very long time to process what is happening, and how to respond to it. Something that happens today he may not be able to tell me about it for five days, or ten, or even a year. But, because he is “verbal,” people assume he’s not on the spectrum. Whereas my friend whose son is also on the spectrum, may not even be able to communicate basic needs, desires, or emotions. In the Autism community we label that as levels of affectation – moderately, severely, etc. I dislike the terms low-functioning and high-functioning. Those are misleading and further hinder acceptance. My son can’t do dishes without pain. I know what you’re thinking: really? Yes, really. It took him nearly a decade to communicate this to me. Something about the in and out of the water overloads his sensory processing. If we knew how to undo this, we might be able to find a cure for Autism. He can shower, we believe because it’s not in and out. We have to accept this and move on and find ways that he can be independent and participate in life. But can society accept that something seemingly simple like washing dishes causes him a complete meltdown? It was hard for me to figure out, to accept. In part, I understand society, but we still need society to accept it.

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Support. Support for the individual with Autism and their family is so desperately needed. The world needs to include us in its bigger vision for the future because we are many. It’s ridiculous that every advocate (normally a mama bear with claws out in perpetuity) has to fight the same battles at the same institutions over and over again. Why one family with Autism receives services from our community, government, or the medical field and others do not, is not support, it’s the opposite. I blogged last year that I am constantly having to put on my Autism Warrior armor. Every. Single. Day. This happens regardless if the battle is in the home with a sensory overload that lead to a moment of self-harm, or the various levels of government that say they have programs to help my now adult child, or fighting every person in my community to be more understanding, supportive, and accepting of my son. Support for me seems even further away. As a parent, your child is born and you imagine 18 years of growth and sharing, and you know as you nurse them or change a diaper that this moment will not be forever.images

You know in your heart that one day they’ll be going off to college and moving into their own space. Having a child with Autism doesn’t mean that will happen. Right now, the doctors are telling me I have a forever 12 year old. As a parent, you can’t imagine such a thing until it’s upon you. But that doesn’t mean that I give up trying to find him a life independent of me. Just like the diaper days, I’m not going to be here forever. So now my goal is not waving him off to college or a career or his own apartment, but who is going to take care of him after I pass and how does that look so that he is safe, healthy, and happy. I wish that worry and process on no one. Because there is no help, no one road map, no resources. Many parents of children with special needs will tell you the same because once they leave school – it’s on you and you alone as the parent and advocate to figure it out. We’re all stumbling in the dark. A little light from the outside world, you know — support — would be great. So many families like mine need sheltered housing and employment for our members with Autism. They are capable, but employers need to care to participate in Autism acceptance and support. Infrastructure needs to be in place for them to have housing. I often say that if I won the lottery, I’d set up an Autism Commune. It shouldn’t have to wait until I hit the Powerball.download (1)

If you’re aware of Autism, but your daily life is NOT affected by Autism, I challenge you to move to acceptance and support. I urge you to donate your time, your resources to an organization of your choosing (my favorite is The Association for Science in Autism Treatment), and communicating to our city, county, state, and federal leaders that programs need to be in place to provide for people with Autism after their main caregiver cannot provide care anymore.

Don’t just be aware. Push it to Acceptance and Support. Please.

03/29/16

Yoga Every Day: Day 156 – Practice with Intention

images (22)Nearly six months into this Yoga Every Day lifestyle I’m undertaking, the results are

slow but sure. As the old adage says, you didn’t get out of shape overnight, you won’t get

in shape overnight. However, I have way more flexibility and strength, body awareness,

and am learning about the power of intention. All of the real life and dvd yogis I follow

all talk about intention. It can be set at the beginning and revisited at the end, or, as I

often do, almost a silent internal monologue with myself to stay in the present and move

forward positively. It is just as important as any downward dog or pigeon pose done

perfectly.

So, let’s talk for a moment about intention, because lately it’s some of the most satisfying

part of my yoga practice. For instance, my old Army knee injury is acting up. I can’t let

that stop me from practicing, so as part of my intention, I imagine that my ujjayi breath is

sending healing energy to my knee. It’s amazing how the warmth of intention fills all

around my knee, even when it’s being particularly stubborn. When I’m in a pose and

things are “stuck” or I’m doing well on one side but not the other (left side triangle pose

always feels like I’m a wooden doll with no joints), I concentrate intention and breath and

things slowly ease into a flow that’s more successful.download (20)

Such a practice of intention is also teaching me patience (if I keep practicing, my fitness

level will be so much higher), gratitude (man when my knee feels better I’m way grateful

for its ability), letting go of negativity, forgiving myself, sending out love and healing to

myself and those around me.

My point is that yoga is exercise for your mind and spirit, too. The breath of life is a

multiplier to your health, as is your mental intention. Today, I was frustrated before my

practice. My son is struggling with heartache, misunderstanding, and lack of

organization. It put a burden on me this morning. When I got on my yoga mat, I took a

moment to realize that he is still young, still learning, and my patience and counsel — not

my anger, frustration, and early-morning yelling is going to help him succeed. I let it go.

And the poses came stronger, more fluid, more succinct. By the end of my practice, I

remembered how hard the teenage years were and sent some peace and love out into the

universe for me, for him, for the world.download (19)

Raising an athlete has taught me that mindfulness and the mental game is just as

important as the physical prowess — whatever the activity. Yoga is no different. If you sit

on your mat and say, “I can’t do it.” You won’t. If you give yourself the space to

acknowledge the feelings and how they affect your body, your performance. My knee

will probably often give me trouble, but the mindfulness of my position on the mat, how I

use it and how I need to forgive myself for days where it just won’t let’s me heal, let’s me

progress to my body’s ability. I grow stronger instead of hurting myself or pushing myself

too soon.

Our society is in such a rush. Yoga teaches patience — with ourselves, our bodies, and the

world. Patience breeds respect. Respect breeds love. And we all could use a little more

love. Now, that’s some intention.

Next time, we’ll distinguish between intention and dedication for your practice. In the

meantime, the divine in me, acknowledges the divine in you.

Namaste,

~C.