That Tiny Website — Short Stories, Video Games, and Freelance Editing

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One and Three-Eighths

The following post is a short story intended to work through a concept I thought of for a character that will appear in a potential sequel to my current WIP. I’m not 100% sure at this point if I’ll do a sequel, though I am leaning that way. And the character that I want to play around with this technique with isn’t in the current WIP. So this is more of a me trying things out story than anything else. It might be good. It might not. But I want the idea on paper, so to speak.


It was serendipity, really. That song popping up when it did. I hadn’t been thinking about the song…about you. Not recently at least. Sure, you’d crossed my mind that day. You always do. I’d even talked to you. But right when things seemed their bleakest, you were there for me in musical spirit.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had anything serious. Or even serious enough to consider calling it serious. I hate how there are labels that need put to things. Boyfriend this. Girlfriend that. I just want it to be what it is sometimes. You know?

You can’t hear this. I mean, I could come tell you all of this. It wouldn’t be that hard. Through the main lobby, down the east hallway, then you’re the third door on the left. I’ve been there enough. It’s not that hard to remember, though it’s not like you’ve had many visitors to test that theory. I wonder where your mom and dad are. I hope your dad’s doing alright. You’ve always talked so fondly of him.

No. You can’t hear it. Not yet. I’m not ready. You’re not ready. And that’s the most critical piece of this. I can be ready for as long as I need to be. I can be ready to tell you for the rest of your life. But if you’re not ready, it’s all for nothing. And you’re too important for this all to be for nothing.

My sister says I can’t screw this up. Not again. I mean, it’d be the first time screwing things up with you. I don’t even want to think about that.

There’s a plan. And it’s a good plan. I know it is. She’s always been a good planner. And this will save everyone and everything. There’ll be stability and calm. Instead of having chaos, we can relax. We. Me and her. You and me. You. And me.

I want that.

You’re not ready though. You’ve been through a lot. You’re not even ready for her plan. We’ll get you there. I have full confidence in my abilities to ensure that you’re ready for my sister’s plan. We’ve made sure that people were ready before. You will be ready in time

You’re just hurt now. And that’s okay. You’ve lost so much in the past year. I know you’ll come through it stronger though. We’ll get there together.

I can’t open the door though. You’re so close. The song gave me so much hope. But I can’t see you. Can’t hold you. Can’t be there for you in the way you need most.

I hate this plan. It’s easy to play the long game when you’re immortal.

The Pros and Cons of Writing Your Own Choose Your Own Adventure Story on Twitter

In mid-December of last year, I had what I felt like was a brilliant idea. I was going to write a choose your own adventure story using Twitter polls. It seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, I’d watched the talented Joe Sondow start an awesome story thread about a raccoon. And I was at a bit of a creative standstill writing-wise. So I figured why not try it. But I needed validation because I was admittedly frustrated with how my writing was going at that point, hence leading off with a Twitter poll.

Ten points to the one person who understood the stop, go, Pennzoil reference. The story started in the very next tweet in that thread, so if you want to go read the story before finishing this post (as there will be light spoilers), click that tweet. I’ll wait.

Now that you’re back (or for those who never clicked away), I want to lead off by saying that there are several other awesome interactive choose your own adventure stories out there. I wasn’t made aware of them until after I had started mine. That said, once you’re done reading this post, I’d encourage you to check out the following CYOA story threads.

I’ve professed my love for choose your own adventure stories in the past on this blog. It’s part of what makes the Fire Emblem series appeal to me so much, particularly in its more recent iterations. I’ve played my fair share of visual novel games in my life because I love the style so much. I even went as far as to turn one of my short stories into a special reward for my patrons last year. Side note, if you want in on cool patron rewards, go support me. But that’s not the point of this post.

After two-plus months of working on this story (and still more coming), I have some thoughts on the pro and cons of choosing to write a choose your own adventure story via Twitter. Please note that this list may change in the future, as the story itself is still incomplete at time both of me writing the post (January) and of when this post is going up (February)1Normally I’d try to shift my posting schedule to make this more accommodating to when I’m actually writing the post, but keeping a more limited blogging schedule is one of my goals this year. It’s still early enough in the year that I really don’t want to fuck that up..

Pro – There’s interaction to drive (and inspire) your story

I want to lead off with a point that might go without saying, though it wasn’t something that was initially obvious to me upon starting to write my story. When I started my story thread, I fully went in expecting 3-4 people to participate in the story. On good days. It had been my experience with a lot of Twitter stuff I’d done in the past. And the first few polls did start out like that.

Eventually though, the story started to get some traction. And people started getting really excited about certain things in the story. One of the throwaway characters I wrote into the story’s introductory section, Jeff, ends up showing up again later because of how frequently people commented about him. This all despite the fact that he wasn’t supposed to appear again at all after early in the story. It’s a feeling really similar to when I published my 2011 NaNoWriMo project chapter by chapter as I wrote it on my blog. The interaction is amazing.

Con – You can’t flesh out the whole story on Twitter

Let’s take a look at one of the choices that appears very early in the story to help explain this concept.

Ignore the typo in the choices2Also ignore the leading tweet posted above it. The way mid-thread tweets post on WordPress is arguably my biggest pet peeve about the platform. Well, that and a lack of natively supported footnoting in the free version of WordPress. But I digress.. There are four different options in this poll, with three of them getting fairly equal support. In an ideal CYOA storyline, each reader/player would be able to make their choice and progress down the path based on that choice rather than having to be stuck on what the majority voted.

It wouldn’t have mattered in that poll specifically. It’s early enough in the story that the basic plan I had for each of the four options was essentially the same. But as the story gets closer to ending, there are some major decisions that will get made that will have a massive impact on the possible endings available in the story. The fact that I won’t be able to play all of those out on Twitter is a bit saddening. Granted, that means I may well have a Twine project on my hands down the line. But that’s neither here nor there.

Pro – It’s a great way to do a CYOA story — even with limited planning

I went into writing my CYOA story with zero planning. Hell, for the first six or seven polls, I was just making up choices with no plan in mind as to what would happen if people picked the answer in question. Weirdly, that didn’t stop the story from working. I’m sure part of that was because it was still very much in an introductory section of the story. But it was kind of nice to write a story without being overwhelmed by whatever was coming next in the plot. For a little while.

Con – That whole limited planning thing caught up with me quick

Right around day four or five of writing, I realized that in order to keep people engaged in the story, I really needed to come up with a plan. That’s not to say I necessarily needed to come up with the whole choose your own adventure story right then, but I did need to have more structure than what I had at that point. Over the next week or so, I came up with the basic shell of where I wanted to go with the story once it ended. Unlike a typical story, however, I couldn’t just come up with one ended. I took some time and thought about where all the story could potentially go and realized that if the story was told in all of its logical iterations, it’d have six distinct endings. If I truly built out the story in full, there could even be a potential seventh ending, though fortunately my voters made caused that outcome to not be needed.

 

Illusion

This short story is a response to one of Poke Traveller Lola’s November writing challenge prompts. The prompt I’ve chosen is “I’m no illusion”. Just as a warning, this story does get a bit dark at a couple of different points. Just a warning in case you need that.


“It’s not coming clean,” I mumbled.

“What’s not?” yelled Sara from back inside the house.

I continued scrubbing, trying my hardest to get the dust and grime off of my car, hoping to get it even remotely close to the shine it once had.

“Whatever I got on my car,” I shouted, my voice echoing through the cavernous garage.

“How did it get on there?” she asked, walking out the side door and making her way towards me.

I felt the palm of her hand touch the back of my arm. It was cold; a pleasant reprieve from the summer’s oppressive heat and stickiness. She ran her fingers up my forearm towards my shoulder, her fingertips catching ever so slightly on the sleeve of my black t-shirt. Sara caressed the back of my neck with a soft, fluttering motion that never failed to get my attention.

“I don’t know,” I replied, tossing my soapy rag against the car’s quarter panel. Someone had to have hit one of the puddles by work and splashed it onto the car.

“We could take it to a detailer, you know?”

“I’m not spending a couple of hundred bucks just to get shit off my car.”

“But is it worth your time?”

“Yes!” I yelled incredulously.

“And your frustration?” Sara retorted, her eyes drilling holes in me.

I sighed and picked up the rag.

“Sorry, hun,” I said. “I just want it off.”

“I know. Try again after you’ve calmed down?”

“Yeah.”

Sara took the towel from my hand, tossing it into the bucket of water placed by the car’s wheel.

“Shower or lunch first? And before you answer, I’m joining you for both. Choose wisely.”

—–

I stared at the clock on the wall through the darkened room. A quarter after one. I think. Could be just after three. I can’t tell. It’s not backlit and I’m not turning a light on. Fuck that noise.

I hate this night. I mean, I hate every night. The thoughts going through my head that keep me from getting to sleep. Sure, they start innocent enough. There’s a girl. We’ve got a date coming up. Thursday night. We’ll get dinner. Maybe go to a movie, to a bar, or bowling. It all depends on the girl. The dates all start mostly the same. They all end the same way. Either I drop her off at her place or we drive to our own homes separately. She does whatever she does. I go home and try to sleep. I try to think about how I can stop this cycle.

It doesn’t stop.

It’s after midnight though. That I know for sure without knowing exactly what the clock says. Through the blinds, a car slowly makes its way past my yard and down the street. It’ll turn at the intersection. Statistically speaking, it’s one of the local cops, scouting the neighborhood to make sure there’s no crime. They come by a couple of times a night on their patrols. No one else comes by this late.

I lean my head back, leaning the back of my chair until it touches the wall behind me. If I close my eyes for just a second, maybe sleep will come like it does in the movies.

—-

“This is…”

“It’s not good, is it?” I asked, cutting Sara off.

She set her fork down on the edge of the plate.

“No,” she said. “It’s honestly disgusting.”

“Yeah,” I replied, “I was afraid of that.”

“But hey! You didn’t burn it tonight. That’s progress.”

“Right. Yeah.”

“Hey.”

Sara grabbed my hand, holding onto it with both of hers.

“You’ll get this,” she said. “I know you’re trying.”

“I am,” I answered. I followed my half-hearted response with a deep sigh.

Sara walked to the pantry and dug around for a few moments before poking her head out and shrugging.

“How much money do you have on you?” she asked.

I reached in my back pocket and grabbed my wallet, thumbing through the bills to get a rough count.

“Two fifty,” I replied. “But I’ve got to get gas and pay the internet bill. I don’t get paid until next Tuesday.”

Sara stared at the calendar over the counter. If it were me, I’d be doing the math in my head. Eight days. $250 to live off of. One, maybe two tanks of gas needed to get me to and from work. She’d likely need tank as well. Though I didn’t know what was in her purse, there was a good chance she’d come ask me for that gas money when the time came. Being a student didn’t pay well. At least that’d be over soon.

“How’s pizza sound?” Sara asked.

“Sounds like money,” I answered.

“Please? It’s a night away from our house.”

“It’s not our house,” I insisted. “We’re just renting it.”

“I know,” Sara answered. “But one day we will have a house that’s our house.”

She walked over to me, wrapping her arms around my neck. From my seated position, I rested my head against her side, only for her to pull me in closer, practically trying to drive me through her ribcage and literally into her embrace.

“We’ll go to the all-you-can-eat place and bring home enough for meals for a few days. I’ll even ask for a mac and cheese pizza. Please?”

—–

My eyes are dry. Whenever my eyes get dry, Ben Stein’s voice comes into my head. That reference hasn’t been relevant in decades. It still happens though. Some things just have an association with them though, whether I want that link to be there or not.

Songs are the worst. Don’t get me wrong, I love music. But I hate how I can hear a song and immediately snap back to a feeling or a moment or a person that I’d tried my hardest to forget comes charging back. Sure, there are positive musical associations my mind makes. “The Entertainer” by Joplin was my first piano recital piece that people did more than clap for me on. I’m transported back to my first night with Sara whenever “Aero Zeppelin” by Nirvana comes on. Even the theme to “The Exorcist” is calming, as I associate it with high school bonfires and hot cocoa.

When Sara and I split, the first song I heard after we went our separate ways was “Through Glass” by Stone Sour. No matter when I hear it, I’m taken back to that moment. The complete and total silence echoing through my head before my car’s engine started and the song came blaring through my speakers was deafening. While I yearned for something, anything, to break it, the song did me no favors. I didn’t have to look in my rear-view mirror to know that my face was a disaster. My hysterical sobs assured that would be true.

My house is dead silent. Not even the airy breath of the furnace pushing heat through the vents is present right now. Just that song, repeating through my head on loop. I want to cry. My eyes are too dry.

—–

“Are you excited for your first day, Dr. Carrier?” I asked, wrapping my arms around Sara’s waist as she fiddled with the clasp of a necklace.

“I’m nervous,” she replied, leaning back into my arms. “I don’t get ready for something 90 minutes before I need to be there if I’m excited.”

“You’ll be fine.”

Sara latched the necklace, tucking it under her shirt. I leaned my chin over her shoulder, placing soft, patient kisses along the side of her neck.

“This isn’t the day for that,” Sara replied between giggles. “When I get home, alright?”

“I’m just trying to calm your nerves,” I said.

“I know.”

She turned around and embraced me, resting her head against mine.

“You’ve got this,” I said.

“I know. You do too.”

—–

It’s after four now. I can’t quite see the minute hand because of the way the shadows are hitting the face of the clock. But it’s some time just before the half-hour. Part of me wants to know the exact time. Part of me doesn’t care. Most of me though just…is.

This was always the cycle when things were good. Sara would have these days where she’d work overnight shifts at the hospital. I’d stay up so that she could have dinner — more commonly known as breakfast to those not working at night — when she got home. We’d share eggs, bacon, and bagels, take a quick, usually uneventful shower together, then curl up in bed and sleep until three or four in the afternoon. We’d occasionally get awoken by a delivery driver knocking at our door or the garbage truck’s chimes that sounded out as it reversed during turnaround. But most days, as the world pressed on around us, we slept. Our fluffy comforter was our armor against the noise of the outside world.

My body hadn’t corrected to living in the daytime. Not yet. You’d think a year and a half would be enough. Apparently not.

Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick. Tick.

—–

I woke up to the afternoon sunlight skirting past the edge of the blinds and into my eyes. I blocked it out with my arm, annoyed that nature dares exist, then rolled over and faced away from the window. Sara was still asleep, her raven hair obscuring her face from the trickles of sun that tried to reach her. I resisted the urge to wake her. I knew she needed sleep. We were both exhausted, though not for the same reasons.

Sara’s least favorite part of her job — or at least the part of it she complained to me about the most frequently — was the days where she was the on-call doctor. From what I could gather, it was a hard gig for most doctors. But for a pediatrician like Sara, being on-call combined the uncertainty of her normal job, the potential exhaustion from a night of sleep interrupted, and the fear of losing a patient too young to tie their shoes in the middle of the night, and suddenly being on-call was its own special hell.

For me, this was month six of unemployment. The company that had employed me as a security guard had gone under, leaving 130 employees out of work. Though I’d tried my best to find a job, there just weren’t a ton of companies looking for an ex-security guard with an English degree, three year-plus gaps in employment due to health issues, and a preference to not work nights.

Sara said it was fine. Repeatedly. She said I’d find something, especially if I looked beyond security work. At first, I believed her. But at this point I was losing faith.

—–

The sun is going to come up soon. I think. I’m not sure what time the sun rises in November. Fucking time change.

My head is being held up by the bookshelf to my right, though my eyelids don’t have similar support. I want to walk to bed or to crawl myself to the couch. If I do that though, I’ll wake myself up. If I wake myself up, I’m going to go through this all again. Another hour or two or three or four or more of not being able to sleep. Only this time, somewhere along the way, the sun is going to come up. And for as easy as it can be to sleep with the sun out — thank god for the inventor of the blackout curtain — falling asleep in daylight is a whole other matter.

My neck is going to hurt after this. It’ll be ten or eleven in the morning when I inevitably slump forward, my head will crash into the floor, and I’ll wake up in a daze. I’ll be confused for a few seconds, then I’ll get up, take a lukewarm shower, and move on about my day with three to four hours of sleep. My head will hurt from the combination of the neck stiffness and lack of rest, but at least I will have slept.

As I feel my eyelids come together, I hear a squeak coming from the front of the house. The front door is just out of sight, but I recognize that sound. The sound of a key turning and a creak follows. My eyes stay closed as the sound of the door shutting and light footsteps echo throughout the home’s main floor.

“You’re not actually here,” I grumbled. “You’re the just the bitters and the brandy playing tricks on me.”

“Cole, get up,” Sara said, her voice exhausted.

I heard her set a plastic bag filled with something down on the counter. Or at least that’s the sound I thought I heard. I rubbed my eyes. Hard.

“Why is my head fucking with me like this?”

“I’m no illusion, Cole.”

I leaned back against the bookshelf, trying to get comfortable again. I felt Sara sit down beside me, the palm of her hand covering my own, intertwining her fingers with mine.

“It’s another bad night isn’t it?” she asked.

I didn’t answer. I couldn’t.

“Where has the rabbit hole gone tonight? Is it somewhere I can pull you out of?”

I felt tears run down my cheeks, but I wasn’t crying. My body was releasing them for me, completely against my will.

“Cole.”

I shook my head, the right side lightly knocking against the wood of the bookcase.

“Cole. You can’t keep doing this by yourself. You can’t keep doing this to yourself.”

“It’s going to all go away,” I whispered.

“What is?” Sara replied calmly.

“You. This house. Everything.”

“I’m not going anywhere.”

“It’s been eighteen months since I worked.”

“I know.”

“I can’t keep letting you down like this.”

“You’re not letting me down.”

I squeezed Sara’s hand. She was there. I was sure of that. I didn’t want to open my eyes. Not because I feared she’d be gone if I did. It just hurt too much between the tears and the fatigue to do so.

“You were gone tonight,” I said. “All because I can’t control this. There was a story to it and everything.”

Sara pulled my head into her shoulder, stroking my hair repeatedly kissing me on the head.

“I’m not going anywhere,” she answered.

“I’m broken, Sara.”

“You’re not. But you can’t do this alone.”

We sat there for some amount of time I couldn’t begin to estimate. I didn’t even notice that Sara had stood until she was grabbing my hands and trying to pull me up.

“Come on,” she said. “Not sleeping only makes it worse.”

“I know. But I don’t think I can.”

“Then come hold me until I fall asleep. You’re always good at helping me.”

“Yeah.”

I walked up the stairs trailing Sara, my hand still in hers. We stripped off our clothes and crawled into bed, though her arms wrapped around me instead of the opposite as we’d discussed.

“This is a trap,” I joked.

“Just lay against me,” she replied, her hands running through my hair. “I love you.”

“I love you too.”

I don’t remember falling asleep. The last thing I recall feeling was the light touch of Sara’s fingers in my hair. Sure enough, the sun was out when I woke up, but instead of the beams falling on Sara’s hair, they landed on the sheet beside me.

Was she gone? Had I actually dreamed her like I initially thought?

I climbed out of bed, grabbing a pair of pajama pants out of the drawer, and making my way downstairs. Before I’d even made it fully down, I came to a piece of notebook paper taped to the wall with a bright pink sticky note on top of it.

Ran to IHOP for day off breakfast. Back soon. Love you.

I peeled the sticky note off of the notebook paper. I knew what the paper said. It was the same paper that Sara left me every day. I’d read it so many times that I could recite the instructions at the top of the paper from memory, even without re-reading it.

Hey. Here’s some options when you’re ready to talk to someone. If you want me to call, I’ll be there and help you. If you want to do this yourself, here you go. Whenever you’re ready, I’m here for you. However you need me. -Sara

Beneath Sara’s instructions was a list of phone numbers for five therapists Sara had suggested I see. I knew I clearly didn’t need to see all five. These were just options. The list has been the same for the past six months. Just pick one of the numbers and call. That’s all I had to do.

Pick one.

Call.

Pick.

Call.

“Good morning, handsome,” Sara said.

“I didn’t notice you come in,” I replied, putting the paper down to my side.

“I know. You busy or you ready for breakfast? Or lunch? Or whatever this technically is?”

I mashed my lips together and stared at Sara. She didn’t deserve to deal with this. She held herself and me together on a daily basis. I couldn’t put her through this. Not anymore.

“Can yo…can..” I fumbled over my words. “Can we eat? Then will you help me? Please?”

“Of course.”

WIP Update #5/NaNoWriMo Update

This is going to be a combined update for a couple of different writing-related items at this point, as I felt like neither of them were long enough to warrant their own post at this point. That said, both were important enough that I wanted to be able to post about them on the blog.

In September, I asked many of you (both here and on Twitter) to give me your thoughts as to what topics you’d like to see if I did another NaNoWriMo Tips series this year. I got a lot of good ideas for what topics I could potentially talk about and even had started talking with a couple of different folks about potentially guest blogging for the series this year, as it seemed like a good idea.

I also recently wrote this short story that I really liked. In rather exciting news, it seems that a lot of you liked the story as well — which is great considering that the story itself is intended to very much be an introduction to what would likely be a larger story, if not a full novel. I took a poll asking people whether they’d rather see me do the NaNoWriMo Tips series again this year or if I should do the full version of this story on my blog for NaNoWriMo.

The results of the poll are irrelevant for reasons I’ll get into momentarily. The story won by a decent margin (69%-31%). But that’s not the reason I’m writing this post.


I’ve been working on my current work in progress novel for quite some time now. I’ve written four different posts to this point sharing where I’m at in the process of getting it to the point where I could look to publish it, all with varying levels of working having been done when I wrote said posts. In my most recent WIP post, I went through this long list of things that allowed me to get to the point where I had written three drafts of the book. Within that list was a note mentioning how I had a mental breakdown that led me to write a blog post about the duality of writing. Even still, there was a footnote buried in that list1I use the term buried loosely here. It’s obvious the footnote was there. That said, I know full well most of the views I get on my posts come from folks who don’t click on the footnotes. I’ve looked at the data. mentioning how this wasn’t just a one-time occurrence. Granted, the breakdown that led to that post was a one-off, but the act of breaking down was not — and is not — an isolated incident for me.

I’m finally starting to get the help I need to be able to deal with some of the stuff that caused everything I described in the paragraph above. I’m sure it’s going to be a long process — mostly because I’m already realizing there was a lot more that I need to work through than even I initially realized — and I’m not particularly ready to talk about it here yet. That may well be something that happens in the future. After all, the whole reason I started blogging/writing back in 2009 was because of a suggestion given to me by the therapist I had gone to see then when I told her I couldn’t afford to come to our second appointment. But that time likely isn’t any time soon.

That said, I bring all of this up because of something that happened somewhere along in the process of finally reaching the point of realizing that I need help. I found the place from which one of the characters in my book is coming from. I admittedly didn’t expect it. The character isn’t necessarily the character I was looking to continue building on in the next draft of my book. But at the same point in time, doing so not only makes a lot of sense to me but feels a bit more meaningful.


I say all of that to say I won’t be doing NaNoWriMo Tips in November of this year, nor will I be starting a NaNoWriMo project based on the short story linked in this post. If you’re looking for NaNoWriMo help, I would encourage you to pop over to r/nanowrimo on Reddit, as it was a great resource for me last year. I likely will still turn that short story into a book in the future, as it’s a story that has existed — at least in part — in my head for nearly six years now.

This November will be dedicated to working on my work in progress and helping to build it out to where I want it to be. I’m hoping that between whatever notes my editor has for me by that point, my own quick plot consistency review I’ve been working on, and the newfound voice for one of the story’s characters that this edit will go a long way towards getting my work in progress to a finished product.

New Patreon Goal Reward Up!

It was (rightly) mentioned to me earlier this week that I don’t advertise my Patreon enough. That’s a completely accurate sentiment. I hate being the person who is annoying about advertising myself and my writing/podcasting/etc. I am a human, not a brand. And I don’t want to portray myself as anything else.

That said, I barely ever talk about my Patreon on this blog. The last time I talked about it was when I posted the link to the Q2 Patreon Q&A, which has been months ago at this point. So why talk about it now?

I’ve started a new goal system on my Patreon. Once I get to 10 patrons, I’ll be doing a raffle for a chance to win a signed copy of my first book An Epilogue to Innocence. Not only that, but the winner of this copy not only gets a signed copy of that book, the book will have handwritten annotations with my thoughts on the book and the short stories within it in the book. It’s to be determined whether I’ll actually write these IN the book or whether I’ll post-it note them or provide a supplemental document. Because let’s face it — my handwriting is garbage.

In addition to that raffle, I am still doing various perks at different levels of support. These perks include the ability to submit questions to the quarterly Q&A before the general public, signed pictures of not me, a monthly bonus blog post, and a monthly patron-exclusive podcast.

If you’re interested in becoming a patron, just click the link below. If you happen to read this post and would be so kind as to share the post with others you think might be interested in my work, that would be amazing.

Become a Patron!

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