Onions

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And so the day begins. My grandson is staying overnight. He shared a room with one of his aunties and she has taken charge until later in the morning when my husband takes over to cook pancakes as promised for breakfast. The others are still sleeping but the day has begun.

I have snuck off to write. That’s the operative verb, to sneak off, to slink off, to leave the room unnoticed, just so that I might be able to get in a few minutes of writing time before the rest of the day begins and I lose this opportunity, the best opportunity as I see it, early weekend mornings for writing practice.

I watched Shrek with my grandson last night and the word onion comes to mind. Shrek tells Donkey that an ogre, like an onion, is layered. In other words, an ogre is not simply a function of his external appearance nor of his behaviour. Underneath the layers of hardness, of ugliness, at least in our terms, there is also a thoughtfulness and tenderness that might surprise even the thickest of donkeys.

It takes time to get to other layers of experience.

Today I will clean out the fridge. It is giving off a bad smell as though something had died in there. On a first inspection I cannot locate the source. Smells like this are disturbing.

It’s hard to get into this writing imagining that at any minute I will be interrupted but more than that feeling guilty that I should not be here writing, rather I should be there in the kitchen with my grandson, though he does not need me at the moment. He is happy to trawl through his Thomas the Tank books while my husband prepares the pancakes.

I am free to write now but my mind is tangled up in the topmost layers of my thoughts and it is hard to get down below to where I prefer to go.

I prefer to go below because to me below is where the deepest meanings reside. They do not live on the surface along with all other superficialities. Though the surface is always our first port of call.

I will need to empty the fridge completely in order to find the source of that bad smell. I will need to write for some time in order to get down to the deepest layers of meaning.

My grandson is calling, this writing will have to wait.

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68 Comments on Onions

  1. Penal-Colony
    March 18, 2011 at 10:33 pm (7 years ago)

    … and sometimes the deepest meanings reside on the surface, where we forget to look for them and where they impose themselves like a bad odour.

    John

    Reply
  2. rosaria
    March 18, 2011 at 10:54 pm (7 years ago)

    Ah, getting to the bottom of things takes time, and willingness. I do hope you get to that source.

    Reply
  3. The Elephant's Child
    March 18, 2011 at 10:56 pm (7 years ago)

    Even your so-called superficialities are beautifully expressed. Thankyou.
    And good luck with the fridge – in my experience fridge smells can be quite tricky to track to source and eliminate. And even better luck in finding time and space to exercise your craft later.

    Reply
  4. Anthony Duce
    March 18, 2011 at 11:32 pm (7 years ago)

    The writing here is so good. I’m glad I’m not the only one that has to settle in, and get through a few layers in order to feel comfortable doing creative things.

    Reply
  5. Ocean Girl
    March 18, 2011 at 11:45 pm (7 years ago)

    Hello Elisabeth, your grandson calling is your new core. It is still soft and new but it is your new core forming.

    Reply
  6. Rachel Fenton
    March 19, 2011 at 12:36 am (7 years ago)

    But all the colour is in that onion's skin – and surface or centre; onion is onion.

    Reply
  7. Jonas
    March 19, 2011 at 12:43 am (7 years ago)

    I enjoyed this.

    Reply
  8. Marja
    March 19, 2011 at 2:12 am (7 years ago)

    Be gentle to yourself and indeed find a time te be quiet. What is inside will come to the surface. Give it time to evolve but for now just enjoy your grandson. We can learn a lot from these little ones who are in touch with their core.

    Reply
  9. Two Tigers
    March 19, 2011 at 3:16 am (7 years ago)

    Finding time to write can be hard enough when other obligations call to us – household, family, etc. – but it isn't just about sneaking off to steal an hour here and there to set down some words which will eventually collect into a piece of good writing, it requires a certain intense indrawing of attention, down to those depths you mention, E. It is like entering a trance state, or a transcendent state, and the fewer distractions the better. I must say though, with all the other demands you struggle to balance, you never fail to deliver something here that is well-considered and well-presented and always leaves me with echoes of thought and feeling long after I'm done reading. Thank you.

    Reply
  10. angryparsnip
    March 19, 2011 at 4:00 am (7 years ago)

    What a interesting post.
    I wish I would have found more time for me years ago. I really needed to be a little selfish with my time but as "Laoch" said there is really never enough time.

    cheers, parsnip

    Reply
  11. Murr Brewster
    March 19, 2011 at 4:49 am (7 years ago)

    It's hard to write in your slinking-off spot when your writing mind is still in the kitchen with an otherwise-occupied grandson. Maybe you can do yourself the honor of slinking off just to dust off a little frenzy and not require yourself to write (another layer of guilt). At first.

    Reply
  12. Windsmoke.
    March 19, 2011 at 5:16 am (7 years ago)

    Cleaning out the fridge is like peeling an onion ring by ring layer by layer just like life, you never know what you'll find in the end, happy cleaning better you than me :-).

    Reply
  13. Zuzana
    March 19, 2011 at 6:49 am (7 years ago)

    Dear Elisabeth,
    enjoy the time with your grandson, writing can wait.
    I totally recognize and can relate to those odd and sudden smells in the fridge.;)
    As well as the fact that candid and substantial writing takes time as one has to look deep and long within.;)
    Have a lovely weekend,
    xoxo
    PS: I made myself a full plate of pancakes yesterday.;) Hope yours (your husbands) were as tasty as mine.;)

    Reply
  14. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 7:32 am (7 years ago)

    Too true, Odradek, of Penal Colony – who goes by another name, but I have not fathomed it yet – too true.

    The story of the Emperor's New Clothes comes to mind. There the 'filthy' evidence was very much on the surface and still people, with the exception of one small boy, chose to ignore it.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  15. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 7:33 am (7 years ago)

    I've cleaned out the fridge, and found out the source of the bad smell, Rosaria, but I've not reached any depths in my writing, not yet, not today at least.

    Thanks, Rosaria.

    Reply
  16. Snowbrush
    March 19, 2011 at 7:35 am (7 years ago)

    If you're like me, you can be there better for someone if you write when it's important to you to write. Again, if you're like me, you can't write later that which you want to write now because you won't be in the same place in your thoughts later. Fortunately, Peggy is very understanding of this, but my cat and my dog are not. We can't have everything we want, eh?

    Reply
  17. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 7:36 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Elephant's Child. I've located the source of the bad smell in the fridge, as I have just now told Rosaria.

    Two chicken necks that I bought a week ago for the dog and did not freeze. I had intended to give them to the dog the day after I bought them, and promptly forgot. They were hiding behind something else. Shame on me.

    Reply
  18. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 7:38 am (7 years ago)

    I'm sure most of us have to settle in before we can lose ourselves in whatever creative task is to hand, Anthony, unless pf course we are lucky, which can sometimes happen.
    And thanks for your kind words here, Anthony. You give me heart.

    Reply
  19. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 7:41 am (7 years ago)

    My grandson is three now Lisa of Ocean Girl, and in July, as he will tell you, he is going to become a big brother.

    He is very much a part of my life, and although I dislike losing precious writing time, I do not begrudge my grandson this. He is like life itself, essential.

    Thanks, Lisa.

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 7:57 am (7 years ago)

    Onion is onion, as you say Rachel, but I tend to peel off and discard those hard and dry outer layers however colourful.

    Still I take your point. The flavour is the same in the centre as it is on the surface, though the texture might be different.
    Thanks.

    Reply
  21. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 7:58 am (7 years ago)

    I'm glad you enjoyed it, Jonas. Thanks for letting me know.

    Reply
  22. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 8:02 am (7 years ago)

    We learn an enormous amount from our little ones, Marja, as you well know. It's just hard to find enough time for everything. I'm good at compromising though.

    Still I would not compromise time spent with my grandson, certainly not at the moment while is so young and at the moment with a new one on the way, especially vulnerable.

    Thanks, Marja.

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 8:03 am (7 years ago)

    I agree, Laoch, there is never enough time and so we have to make it, namely to make rom fpr the things that matter to us whether they be writing or caring for our grand children.

    Thanks, Laoch.

    Reply
  24. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 8:08 am (7 years ago)

    You are so right, Two Tigers, to wrote meaningfully you cannot sneak up on it, nor plunge into it with a mind preoccupied.

    This is one of the reasons I suspect I will never make a fiction writer of any significance. I never allow myself the time or space.

    It is as much as I can manage to tackle the non fiction, but it too requires a certain time taking and plunging into non-distracted depths. I do my best with what I have, and often wonder what it might be like if all I did with the bulk of my time was to write. Would it be better or worse?

    Thanks, Two Tigers.

    Reply
  25. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 8:10 am (7 years ago)

    As mothers and parents, I think it is difficult to be selfish with our time, Parsnip. We have to get through our priorities – the care of those little ones – and then maybe there's more time to try to be creative and to play.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 8:12 am (7 years ago)

    Hi Murr Brewster. I try at times to do one thing at a time but this morning was an exception. Our grandson stayed the night. I hoped he might sleep in a while I wrote but no such luck.

    Thanks for the suggestions. I'll keep on trying.

    Reply
  27. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 8:15 am (7 years ago)

    Better me than you indeed, Windsmoke, but the deed is now done. The fridge is immaculate and you can see everything in its place with room for more.

    So now I can feel virtuous, which I would not fell were I to continue to ignore our overfull fridge.

    In that sense the smell was a blessing. It forced me to take action.

    Thanks, Windsmoke.

    Reply
  28. Elisabeth
    March 19, 2011 at 8:17 am (7 years ago)

    A plate full of pancakes, Zuzana. It sounds lovely. My husband's pancakes were excellent, though my grandson only ate one. He's not a big eater. Still we've had a lovely day now. The fridge is clean and I managed at least to get up this post, however trivial and to me superficial it might seem.

    Thanks, Zuzana.

    Reply
  29. Kat_RN
    March 19, 2011 at 9:48 am (7 years ago)

    Sometimes, the light and air that are only found on the surface, are what we really need. I enjoyed this post because I feel like you shared a real moment. Don't stress, just write.
    Kat

    Reply
  30. Jim Murdoch
    March 19, 2011 at 3:07 pm (7 years ago)

    My dad always told me that I couldn’t do two things at once and I, of course, assured him that I could walk and chew gum at the same time. He was right, of course, but, as is the case with many platitudes, what he said was not what he meant. He meant that I couldn’t devote the needed attention to each thing to do it as well as it could be done. My point was also valid: some things don’t require your full attention anyway to do them well. Writing is not one of those things. Yes I ‘listen’ to music while I write but if I’m honest the music is on to block out noises that I would find more distracting and if the music I play is the wrong type – songs primarily – then, again, my attention is divided. I can’t imagine many more things being more distracting than a kid especially a silent kid. I always find that kids require silence like most criminals require darkness to cover their crimes. So, yes, you left him reading his Thomas the Tank Engine book but is that what he’s doing now? Our bird is exactly the same actually. Occasionally he’ll get relocated to the bathroom so he can exhaust himself screaming at his own reflection but after a while this lull descends on the flat and it’s only a matter of time before you realise that he’s being quiet which probably means he’s concentrating on destroying something, the top of a door or his shelf which I really don’t worry about because he’s already gnawed at it and ruined it.

    Our water is out again. This morning I had to go out and collect some bottled water that Scottish Water had dropped outside one of the local primary schools. The packs came in sixes and so I decided I could handle two packs of six which amounts to 24 litres which amounts to 3st 10lbs plus packaging and that’s a lot to carry uphill when you’ve hardly done any exercise for the past four years I can tell you. Now, however, we’ve had cards delivered telling us that the water is back on and I’ve just watched our upstairs neighbour go out. You may recall that last time this happened her young daughter turned on all the taps to see if there was any water and we ended up getting flooded and I’m just waiting on hearing the drip-drip-drip from the hall. A smelly fridge I could cope with. This I hate. So, like you, I am writing but I am listening at the same time. And that’s annoying because I like to let my writing absorb me and I know I’m holding back today.

    I’ve finished my article on Tamarisk Row. Carrie’s still to read it. One of the new things I learned about in this round of research is Murnane’s co-opting of Proust’s expression, 'le moi profond', the 'deep self' as Murnane chooses to call it. Proust maintained that this inner, creative self stands in a very uncertain relationship to the human individual in which it resides and I tend to agree because it’s only when I get fully involved in a piece of writing and then look back on it sometime later as I have being doing with the new book that I start to see that the writing has revealed things I was not expecting. I don’t find this happens so much with poetry although reading though my collection certainly give the body of the poems a different flavour to reading them individually at the time they were written. A hidden meaning? Overtones? Undertones? We get used to thinking about ourselves superficially. Let’s face it very few of us engage in deep conversations on a daily basis but that doesn’t mean there are not depths there to be plumbed or, landscapes to be explored. Exploration (whether vertical or horizontal) takes time and none of us will get very far without the right equipment, training and state of mind.

    Reply
  31. The Weaver of Grass
    March 19, 2011 at 3:47 pm (7 years ago)

    I think we women are rather like those onions in that we have to have so many layers in order to cope with all that multi-tasking which is so part of our lives.
    Hope that something in the fridge does not turn out to be a dead something!

    Reply
  32. Kirk Jusko
    March 19, 2011 at 8:10 pm (7 years ago)

    Peeling an onion, and peeling back the layers of one's own personality.

    Both may bring tears to your eyes.

    Reply
  33. KleinsteMotte
    March 20, 2011 at 12:21 am (7 years ago)

    A glimpse into a day of your life at it's best! No tears needed. This onion is still at it's otter layer but I'm guessing something of depth may soon appear.

    Reply
  34. Ellen
    March 20, 2011 at 12:49 am (7 years ago)

    The layers of who we are come easily to some and harder for others. The process of the peeling, the timing of this is a time when the moments (hours for me when I write), unfurl…less like an onion and more like petals of a flower. To reach the center and gaze heart open…ahhh the a hah moment reveals itself.

    Reply
  35. Jerry
    March 20, 2011 at 2:23 am (7 years ago)

    I think that at times it is good to stroll along the surface with relaxed thoughts. Inner subjects are reserved for special times.

    Reply
  36. Meggie
    March 20, 2011 at 6:29 am (7 years ago)

    One of my favourite hates~ cleaning out the fridge!
    When I was feeling really low, I always used to clean my oven~ I figured I could not feel any grimmer! (is there such a word? haha)

    Reply
  37. Kath Lockett
    March 20, 2011 at 8:13 am (7 years ago)

    'Writing will have to wait'.

    Oh I hear you. I haven't done any writing – proper writing – since January. With three part time jobs (two involving writing and I'm loving it), I'm feeling guilty that I'm chasing the almighty dollar instead of the next punchy line.

    "Parfait! Everybody loves parfait!" yells Donkey to Shrek. My life feels like a few compressed layers of parfait at times….. 🙂

    Reply
  38. Elisabeth
    March 20, 2011 at 9:44 am (7 years ago)

    I try not to stress too much about the business of finding time to write, Kat, but sometimes it gets the better of me.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

    Reply
  39. Elisabeth
    March 20, 2011 at 9:56 am (7 years ago)

    Unlike you Jim, I tend to think in depth a great deal of the time, though I don't always come out about it, to anyone. It creeps into my writing but I can never quite do justice to my internal reveries. I fear they'd be too boring for most readers. My children often accuse me of analysing things too much. But I can't help myself. It comes so naturally. I look for layers of meaning.

    It is rare for me to write without half an ear cocked for whatever else might be going on outside, and yet background music would be a terrible distraction. I can tune out certain noises even as I listen for those silences to which you allude – the ones little children make, like your bird when we know we must attend to them or else mayhem will descend.

    I'm looking forward to your Murnane review. I'll look out for it. For now tonight I fear I might be coming down with something, a cold or a sore throat at least, so my head is not quite my own.

    At least I managed to clean out the fridge and locate the offending source – old chicken necks for the dog. They slipped behind something and could only be remembered by the smell they let off.

    Thanks, Jim.

    Reply
  40. Elisabeth
    March 20, 2011 at 10:06 am (7 years ago)

    Cats and dogs can be like children, Snow, demanding of our time and energy, while spouses tend to be more understanding, at least mine is most of the time, but there are moments when he resents my 'skulking off' to write or blog or essentially to be way doing my own thing to the exclusion of all else.

    As you say, Snow, we can't please everyone, inlcuding ourselves – and our fellow bloggers – all of the time.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  41. Elisabeth
    March 20, 2011 at 10:09 am (7 years ago)

    Women and their multi-tasking tendencies are very much as you say, Pat, like the layers of an onion.

    I've said it now a few times here since I wrote the post, the fridge smell is gone.

    I threw away the putrid chicken necks that had hidden in the back of the fridge and all is now well.

    Thanks, Pat.

    Reply
  42. Elisabeth
    March 20, 2011 at 10:11 am (7 years ago)

    Tears to the eyes, Kirk, indeed. I cry most times when I peel onions. I rarely cry when I write. I often get upset when I peel back layers of my personality. It can be painful.

    Thanks, Kirk.

    Reply
  43. Elisabeth
    March 20, 2011 at 10:13 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Kleistemotte. I posted onions in a hurry. More depth as you suggest will follow in the fullness of time.

    Thanks again, Kleinstemotte.

    Reply
  44. Elisabeth
    March 20, 2011 at 10:16 am (7 years ago)

    The petals of a flower are far lovelier as a metaphor, Ellen.

    I'm sorry it did not come to mind as I wrote this post. It probably reflected my state of mind at the time: onions rather than flowers.

    Thanks, Ellen.

    Reply
  45. Elisabeth
    March 20, 2011 at 10:18 am (7 years ago)

    Jerry, you're right of course, there is a time for deeper contemplation, but my habit is to dig deep too often perhaps.

    Sometimes I can get too heavy, though hopefully a little light can shine through too.

    Thanks, Jerry.

    Reply
  46. Elisabeth
    March 20, 2011 at 10:20 am (7 years ago)

    Cleaning out the oven, Meggie, grim indeed. Give me the fridge any day. At least it's mostly white and marginally shiny. The oven on the other hand is black as pitch.

    Thanks, Meggie.

    Reply
  47. Elisabeth
    March 20, 2011 at 10:22 am (7 years ago)

    Parfait is perfect, Kath, a better layering experience than onions. At least it can be light sweet and fluffy.

    Survival has to come before art, Kath. Your novel like my serious, in depth writing will have to wait.

    Thanks, Kath.

    Reply
  48. Ruth
    March 20, 2011 at 12:48 pm (7 years ago)

    Getting to the deep inside through writing is the pain and the glory. May you find the time soon.

    Reply
  49. JeannetteLS
    March 20, 2011 at 1:32 pm (7 years ago)

    sometimes I have found that letting myself fully wallow, wade, splash, and enjoy the outer layers does something far deeper. I shut up long enough to allow what is almost ALWAYS fomenting deep below emerge on its own, bursting through the outer layers more like a volcano. I do not dive that well sometimes. Sometimes I Simply have to let the depth float up to me… the trick is in my shutting up and paying attention

    Reply
  50. Elisabeth
    March 21, 2011 at 4:57 am (7 years ago)

    I hope to find more time one day, Ruth, in the meantime I'll have to make do with writing in those nooks and crannies.

    Thanks, Ruth.

    Reply
  51. Elisabeth
    March 21, 2011 at 4:59 am (7 years ago)

    That's another way of thinking about the business of writing Jeanette, isn't it? The idea of sitting still and allowing things to rise to the surface from the depths.

    Sometimes you don't winkle ideas out or fish for them, instead you need, as you suggest, to let them surface of their own accord. If they must they will.

    Thanks, Jeanette.

    Reply
  52. Phoenix
    March 21, 2011 at 10:58 pm (7 years ago)

    Upon first glance, Elisabeth, this post seemed almost like a ransom note 🙂 "I only have a little bit of time, they're waiting, I have to get back…" lol maybe you feel a little bit like a kidnap victim sometimes?

    We always have two choices when it comes to layers: Live with the layers exposed, thus baring our hearts and throats to an often cruel world; or bury the feelings, past, sensitivity, and, yes, smells deep down underneath and only come upon them when we have set aside the time.

    Personally, having done both, I would again choose what you have chosen: keep things below the surface, safe and tucked away, until it is safe to retrieve them. From firsthand experience I can tell that existing with a heart on your sleeve does not make for a very happy life.

    Thick skins are built for a reason. So much depends upon it. Red wheelbarrows and all that.

    Reply
  53. Jane Kennedy Sutton
    March 22, 2011 at 1:12 am (7 years ago)

    I love to write, but I love spending time with my grandson even more.

    Reply
  54. Elisabeth
    March 22, 2011 at 10:03 am (7 years ago)

    A ransom note, Phoenix, that's an intriguing way to view this post. I sometimes think I play my cards very close to my chest as the saying goes. At other times, I fear I am far too open.

    It's like tiptoeing over a tightrope, this blogging/writing business, but hopefully there's a trampoline below to catch us if and when we fall.

    Thanks, Tracy.

    Reply
  55. Elisabeth
    March 22, 2011 at 10:04 am (7 years ago)

    It's a pity we must choose between these two activities, Jane, writing and caring for our grandsons.

    I prefer to be able to do both, and mostly I can.

    Thanks, Jane.

    Reply
  56. Marylinn Kelly
    March 23, 2011 at 4:44 pm (7 years ago)

    We are confronted by layers and choices. Sometimes there is no choice, there is only what is. Finding a way to fall into step with that, to be peaceful with it and not wish it were otherwise, is task enough for any day.

    Reply
  57. Elisabeth
    March 24, 2011 at 10:26 pm (7 years ago)

    You're right Marylinn, it is hard to find a path each day through the layers, somewhere to settle for each moment, but we do our best and writing helps.

    Thanks, Marylinn.

    Reply
  58. Robert the Skeptic
    March 24, 2011 at 11:54 pm (7 years ago)

    We've had a couple of sleep-overs with the grandkids in our new house. Morning breakfast resonates in my memory and, we hope, will build lasting images in theirs as well.

    Reply
  59. erin
    March 26, 2011 at 12:53 pm (7 years ago)

    i know this onion. i know this onion.

    you must make a fire. you must put the musky husk of sneak and slink to it. once burned this fire removes all smell of onion.

    it takes time and distance to get to that inner spot. elizabeth, you have to throw out certain things. you have to serve yourself. the others too. but you matter equally as much.

    i know this onion. i know this onion.

    xo
    erin

    Reply
  60. Elisabeth
    March 27, 2011 at 10:17 am (7 years ago)

    Your sleep overs with grandchildren sound like fun, Robert. I imagine they're in abeyance for the time being.

    Get better soon and enjoy your grandkids' company again.

    Thanks, Robert.

    Reply
  61. Elisabeth
    March 27, 2011 at 10:21 am (7 years ago)

    The musky smell of 'sneak', Erin burning on the fire. I'm comforted that you know it well, too. And it's so hard to find the balance between one's own needs and those of beloved others.

    Thanks, Erin.

    Reply
  62. Reader Wil
    March 27, 2011 at 12:30 pm (7 years ago)

    I agree with you that people are like onions with many layers. The outside layer is what we see when we meet people for the first time. Before judging a person we have to see what the inner layers are like.
    Thanks for your visit. Yes Gouda cheese is lovely. My Australian family think so too!

    Reply
  63. Elisabeth
    March 28, 2011 at 3:52 am (7 years ago)

    Thanks, Reader Wil. It is all about what's on the outside and the inside. Both are important but we usually meet the outside first.

    Reply
  64. Alittlesprite
    March 30, 2011 at 1:50 am (7 years ago)

    I always love that first morning alone time, when it's just me and my coffee and my writing.

    Reply
  65. Alittlesprite
    March 30, 2011 at 1:50 am (7 years ago)

    p.s Thankyou for becomming my number 40 🙂

    Reply
  66. Elisabeth
    March 30, 2011 at 2:57 am (7 years ago)

    I agree it's one of the best things in the world, Little Sprite, that early morning writing with a first cup of coffee or tea or whatever else you might take.

    Thanks.

    Reply
  67. Elisabeth
    March 30, 2011 at 12:00 pm (7 years ago)

    I'm delighted to be your number forty, Little sprite. That's a good number, in more ways than one.

    I wish I were that age again, or come to think of it, do I?

    Reply

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