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BLOT: (19 Aug 2015 - 09:44:20 PM)

Dear Doug-Then, Ten Pieces of Advice I Can Give You Now

I had a plan to sit down and write a series of posts—at least four or five—in which I addressed "Doug-then", meaning me in my teenage years, and chastised him for various things. Upon reflection, I don't think I have it in me to be mean to myself for multiple posts. Instead, I figured I'd put all of those ideas, and more, into a single post.

Ten is an arbitrary number, most definitely. I could probably come up with dozens of things to point out, or I could probably end it at half-a-dozen. If I run out before I reach ten, what I will do is edit the post to be, you know, "Seven pieces..." and you the reader won't know about it. I may be literally writing a paragraph that will never read. How weird is that, eh?

In no real particular order...

Goodbye, Doug-then, you've passed on the torch. I kind of wish I could give you a hug, but keep this in mind: you and I, we are the Million-Billion Dougs, stretching out into near infinite probability...all those lives we could have led. We are this life, though, standing on top a mountain of time, under an ocean of space. It is ok. As ok as it can be. Goodnight.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: August 2015


BLOT: (16 Aug 2015 - 01:15:10 PM)

"Cicadas sing a summer song of heat -"

Despite my last post about using the I Ching as a writing prompt hinted that it had ended poorly, I decided to give it a go. Talked to a friend about taking the image from one and applying it not only in different ways, based on circumstance, but in different media, and she asked a question for me to cast about. I will not share that, it is hers alone, but the image was one of a winter solstice, where you prepare yourself for the coming year, and how it is a time of rest, preparation, and beginning again.

I gave myself half-an-hour to write the following. Originally was going to be an hour, but I decided that I wanted something that felt even more immediate. It is based, though unspoken in the poem, on the paradox that for a person working in academics, late summer is our winter solstice, the time where you deal with quiet and preparations for a new year. The image in it is of someone sitting quietly, the hours stretching out to weeks, and the cicadas singing outside, about anything that comes to their mind. It is also a bit about a poet being inside of his own head while writing poetry, obviously.

"Cicadas sing a summer song of heat -"


Cicadas sing a summer song of heat -
A folk-some song, a ditty, a paean, an ode -
With no rhyme in their voice, no training.
On the counter, my cup of tea grows cold,
My carpets are a sea of silence, my doors
Are empty words. The non-noise of modernity
Drifts about like petals. My walls are blurred,
Lines masked in fog, their rhythm teases poetry.
This hour is long, already the shape of a week,
Has lifetimes yet to go before it can end.
I sit, I smile, I smoke, the book beside me closed.
The wide hour yawns wider, a second descends.
In days to come, life will explode, blossom
And embrace itself fully painted once more -
Watercolor and oil, lilacs and lily white -
For now lovely quiet crawls across my floor.
Cicadas sing a winter solstice of time,
And in their tale is an epic song of man,
Of traveling to a distant windswept isle,
Of pouring seawater wine out onto dry sand.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: August 2015


BLOT: (12 Aug 2015 - 06:32:58 PM)

A rather interesting image for today's hexagram casting: A tree by an exhausted lake, a man sits under the tree but cannot move (47 becoming 58)

I have been once again studying The I Ching because back when I was into most forms of divination—tarot and tea leaves and palm reading and candle dripping and so forth—it was the I Ching that felt most like something you could use in life. They were not so much fortunes, though they are also that, as states of being and a meditations on the changing forces in life. Sure, it is a bit tied up into a certain era of Chinese society, but I truly like it.

As part of my study of it, I am trying to now cast a broad "What's the mood of the day?" hexagram, which is point of study and something like a meditation image for the day and also a writing prompt [though the intensity of doing that, poorly, yesterday may have pre-emptively spoiled this lattermost enterprise]. Yesterday's was an image of clouds covering a blue sky, and how actions are prone to destructive reaction, so no-action is required. Today's, though, man...it hit right in the belt.

Hexagram of water under lake with a line change in the first line

The image of this one is a lake whose water has dried up. There is a trickle of water in the bottom, but the ground water and the filling streams are not flowing into the lake. Alongside the lake is a dead tree, and under it is a man. He sits under the tree because any action will increase his exhaustion. Since he cannot act, he can only inwardly prepare. The lake will refill, and when it does it will have a quantity of water above and below, so that the lower lake flowing upwards fills the one above, and the lake flowing downward fills the one below, and they maintain one another, representing something like people and situations feeding each other for the better. For now, though, it is necessary for the man under the tree to wait and to not move outwardly, but he must move inwardly, learning himself before the water returns.

Considering that the number one way I would describe my mood lately is as "exhausted", there you go. It's me, so in my mental image of the man by the lake, I picture him smiling and staring into the waste. Of course, even a dry lake bed is a monumental thing. And hey, let's focus on the waiting and resting until the better times show up.

Anyone reading it, feel free to take it as a writing prompt and run with it.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: August 2015


BLOT: (02 Aug 2015 - 01:21:20 PM)

A Brief Shout Out for the Microscope Explorer Kickstarter Campaign

My primary reason for giving a shout out to the Microscope Explorer Kickstarter campaign is greed: the next stretch goal is something I want, and it is damned near to getting it. I have backed it, and look forward to whatever I get from it, but it is good to be greedy, as well.

This is not the only reason for my shout-out, though. I am also a fan of the sytem. I have not played it, much, but I want to play more of it, and it is unique enough in several key ways to be different. It doesn't need my love, I feel, but I gladly give it.

What makes Microscope (LGT: publisher's site) different is that you are not roleplaying characters, but collectively roleplaying a history shared between all players. This is its main difference. Another crucial difference is that you start with the opening and closing chapters already decided, so all you are doing is adding in details, meaning that campaigns can take a couple of hours or they could take dozens, and whenever you walk way, it will be complete.

To give an example. Let's say you start with a campaign about some fantasy world that collects all of its books of magic into a single library. The opening period might be, "The Great Library of Thomas is founded on the Island of Abrexis," and the closing one might be, "The Library is found to have vanished one night." Then, in the first pass, you might add in that there was a mage war over the library, a long and bloody conflict, and that a school of esoteric magic was formed on Abrexis to try and find the rules of magic out. As you keep going around, you add more periods (broad eras), events (more specific moments that fit under the periods), and scenes (played out or narrative bits that fit under events) to flesh out the world and history. A plague across the world isolates the Library. A great king runs his kingdom with anti-magic laws and forbids his people to visit the Library. A great university opens up on an archipelago near Abrexis, and considers itself a rival organization.

To me, this is when it gets cool. Even with that much detail, one group might decide to focus on scenes related specifically to the Library. Others might focus in on the anti-magic kingdom. As you play out scenes, and ask and answer key questions to the world, the vibrant moments of history start bubbling up. Wherever any group ends their campaign, you know the history of the Library from start to finish. In real history, you never know all the details, it is only the details you want to focus on that ends up mattering to you.

In this way, you could have only a few major periods with lots of events in them. Or you can have lots of periods with only a scattering of events, and then have some events with lots of scenes. You can play out all of the scenes, are make them more narrative. Each group can play to its strengths and weaknesses.

There are a couple of basic rules. You play to various focuses, as dictated by a rotating lens (sort of like a first player, kind of a rough GM type for a round). You avoid collaboration as a player is creating a historical element, except scenes were everyone plays out characters as needed. Once added to the table, an element becomes canon. You start out with a palette that says things you want to add that might not normally be found or things you want to avoid that might normally be assumed as a given for a genre (in the case of the Library, maybe magic can only effect the four classical elements, and not humans directly).

A lot of people use their Microscope campaigns to collectively create a game world where they play. I have not done this yet, but I can see it working nicely. That's kind of why I want the stretch goal, which will focus on world-ending elements, so that we can better blend it in with Apocalypse World or horror RPGs.

It has a couple of days left, and I would highly recommend you back it at something like the $20 level, so you can get Microscope and Microscope Explorer. And even if you don't, I'd say to try Microscope itself out. I have burned out on Kickstarter a good deal, but this one of the rare ones I am enjoying getting behind.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: August 2015


BLOT: (31 Jul 2015 - 10:26:54 AM)

Poem: "I, This Thinking Thing"

I have written a poem. One of my first poem-for-poetry's-sake since I don't know when. I've had a few incomplete bits over the past few years, but the last poem-for-poetry's sake I remember writing to completion and enjoying was "Eventually, Someone Says I Love You", nearly six years ago, which was a poem whose whole point was that the young couple-to-be never once said anything about love and seemed to be making a poor attempt at it—which of course is the greatest testament to their love—, and is one of my more beloved attempts.

This new poem grew out of three things. Its initial creation was my own feelings about my failure as a brother after Shawn died, all the ways that I could have done something proactive or reactive, though mostly all I was able to do was to feel sad and angry about the whole mess. That version of the poem would have probably been less good, and would have been something like an extended mea culpa of self-hatred with word play. The structure, below, was one that I had in mind from early on, but it would have been more hamfisted in the original. That version is unwritten, and as far as I am concerned, can stay as such.

The other two things were two conversations I had with a friend. The first was about the use of the word "I" in a number of her poems, and how I used to use the word "I" too much, and how "I" is dangerous in poetry. Not only does it take all of your existence and compress down into a single word, but it disrupts the reader: they have to either decide the poem is about them, and accept all inside, or read it as merely about the poet, which has its place but must be used carefully. Which means, of course, I wrote a poem in which "I" is essential to the structure because, you know, I am petulant about rules.

The second conversation with the friend was, in part, actually about Shawn. Along the way, I started talking about Martin Buber's I and Thou, the notion of how recognizing someone else's infinity and complexity can help you to understand your own, but I feel understanding your own infinity is a lot harder than realizing you are a complex space-time-event. It is easy to label yourself with multiple labels—nerd, librarian, friend, lover, mediocre dancer, smoker, poet, reader, swamp-rat born, etc—but kind of hard to realize that none of those labels mean anything except as the shallowest of starting conditions. We project ourselves unto the world, but often only in broad strokes, and therefore reduce the world to a pitiful cognitive dissonance. Just because we are being honest about who we think we are, does not mean we are not liars [with apologies to E.M. Cioran].

In such, the poem became a love-letter, but the "eventually, someone says I love you" unvoiced love moment is the poet getting comfortable with what "I" might mean, again. Along the way, the voice—which is of course, me, but hopefully not so much that it cannot understood by others—stops seeing itself only as a series of labels, and starts seeing itself as a relationship between others. In the end, when asking what the other person might be thinking, the only answer is a voiceless question, "...?". Communication of self becomes only an ampersand, which should probably be unvoiced in the reading-aloud of the poem.

Therefore, nearly unique to my writing, this is a love poem to myself, but also a love poem to those who have sat beside me and talked about things both silly and sublime and sultry and paltry and pathetic and sad. All of you. Hello, world, you know who are.

Due to the complexity of the line structure, I have posted this one as an image. It might not look great zoomed in, but click it and you can see it a little more full-page.

Text of poem, readable via PDF link in this blog post

You can also see "I, This Thinking Thing" as a PDF file.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: July 2015


BLOT: (26 Jul 2015 - 09:59:35 AM)

Micro-Reviews for the Stories in Reggie Oliver's The Sea of Blood

UPDATE June 30, 2015. A Reggie Oliver fan contacted me to let me know I was incorrect when I described four of the stories as new. There are, in fact, two stories new: "The Rooms are High" and "The Trouble at Botathan". The other two I considered new were previously published: "Absalom" in The Ghost and Scholars Book of Shadows 2 and "The Druid's Rest" in Terror Tales from Wales. I am leaving the tweets alone since my idea was to not edit them, but wanted to add this note and thank the fan for correcting my error and providing previous publication information.

As I read through Reggie Oliver's The Sea of Blood—a survey anthology of many of his major tales plus a few new ones—I started out with the new stories and posted micro-reviews of them on Twitter, with the hashtag #SeaOfBlood [though obvious, it made for some odd bedfellows since many of the other tweets with that hashtag are either dedicated to the show Hannibal or to real life tragedies]. Then, after finishing those, I went back and read the "older" stories, some of which I have read before, and continued the trend. This worked well up until a dentist appointment gave me a chance to read several stories at once, and my rhythm got off, so I had several backlogged and decided to just get them all out, here, rather than over a week or so on Twitter.

Cover of book depicting skeletal woman in white walking across a sea of blood

The basic rules of the micro-review are simple. They must fit inside of a single tweet (so, 140 characters) and must include the name of the story, the hashtag #SeaOfBlood, and then whatever idea I felt best encapsulated my feelings about the story. Some are comments. Some are actual reviews. Some are other things. They are presented below in the anthology-order, which is roughly chronological order I believe. I give them to you unedited, so [sics] are appropriate, where appropriate. Those marked with "*" after their hashtag were not posted to Twitter, so therefore show up here for the first time. Footnotes are of course added after the fact, to talk about details.

A fuller review of the collection should hopefully surface in a day or two.

If I had to pick five favorites from the collection, it would be "The Dreams of Cardinal Vittrioni", "Among the Tombs", "A Donkey at the Mysteries", "Mrs. Midnight", and "Holiday from Hell". Read those five, and you will see the bits about Reggie Oliver I like the most. Of course, I do not have to pick just five, but life is arbitrary, by and large.

Weird Fiction, Reggie Oliver

1: I tweeted more details, spoiling the "1-story, 1-tweet" rule [though the review was entirely in the first, above, tweet]: "To explain, going to spoil it for you. Dude has a 'blue room' in his house that makes people real horny from 12am-3am. So he puts these virginal, waifish women in it, and then BAM...freaky sex for three hours while they can't control themselves. Eventually, has an older royal woman + this young sweet thing visiting. Puts YST in the blue room, but the RILF tricks him into torrid sex. So the ending is a little bit, 'Ha, dumbass, you plowed a fat old chick!' But damned if Oliver doesn't almost make it work."

2: There are some stories, with "The Constant Rake" being one, where the human drama is tense enough that little or no supernatural obviousnesses is required, though Oliver will then work in scenes of spookery which feel tacked-on. In some, like "Mr. Poo-Poo", it is dreamlike enough that it still works, in others, like "The Constant Rake", it actually detracts.

3: It is Ramsey Campbell to which I refer, here. While the story is definitely Oliver, it has touches of Campbell in the dialogue and the descriptions of horror.

4: achondroplasiaphobia = "fear of little people".

5: For one bit of homework, see "The Botathen Ghost" by S.R.Hawker.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: July 2015


BLOT: (19 Jul 2015 - 03:58:30 PM)

My thoughts on Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman

There are three broad ways to read Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, all of which center on its relationship to Lee's much more beloved To Kill a Mockingbird. The first, most correct way—and also the way I suspect history will remember the book—is as a draft of the story that became Mockingbird. Watchman is rough, mechanically. Though capable of beautiful moments, and full of the style of storytelling I personally heard growing up in the same rough region of the world, it is also prone to having sentences or paragraphs repeat themselves, of interjecting constitutional law into sections that should be emotional climaxes, of cliches, and of meandering off into the specific past while the non-specific present lingers like wool gathering. In this way, it is a literary marvel, a rare glimpse into the writing process as the internalization of place's spirit with no easy answers for the person crafting it, much less the reader, and can be invaluable to other writers.

The only problem with this reading is that it is not how the publisher sold it to the public, meaning Watchman was forced to stand up in a way different than how it was crafted. It is a phenomenal rough draft, but it is undeniably unpolished.

The second way to read it, and the way I would whole-heartedly recommend against even if there is merit for it, is as an alternate universe to Mockingbird: a world with similarly named characters and places but not meant to be the same world. It will be satisfying for many to read it in this way at the moment, for it allows people to set aside Mockingbird entirely from discussions involving it, but in the end it removes the book from its process and from its potential, leaving it exposed as a lesser written tale that is more honest in many ways but much less lovable.

The third way, which is the way I read it, is to take it as a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, or perhaps a stepping-back to see a broad picture of events. This way is flawed, for sure, and requires the literary equivalent of blurring the eyes at a few inconsistencies in world building between the two, but it allows the reader to take Watchman as a monumental exegesis on the paradox of the Southern Soul (one of many examples, and perhaps unintended, is how the anti-racism book still manages to dive into broad racist tropes). It is a time when the South was so passionate about striking back at what it saw as another wave of Northern aggression that many Southerners turned on themselves and held up a falsely idealized version of the past as proof of inherent greatness, as if by convincing themselves that the War Between States was actually just about State Rights and nothing else might be proof that the South is equal to the North by way of being better. Racism is not the creation of the South, but the South has to wear it like an albatross, and this novel is partially a tale of that.

It is also partially a tale of what happens when you grow up past your own stories, a victim to their splendor, like Jean Louise "Scout" Finch had to do. Towards the beginning, she writes that the historical version of events is at odds with the truth: to her, the way a story is most fondly remembered is the way it is best told. And, towards the end, she is told that much of her displeasure at facing Atticus at odds with her image of him is because he is finally letting her see him as a human, and—ironically, since this was written before—it is like a message to those who felt betrayed by the Goodman Godlike Atticus, who once strode unscathed on a sea of Jim Crow Laws looking toward a future it would take the South decades to reach, turning out to be just a man of his time. Mockingbird is a book about worshipping fathers, while Watchman is a book about loving them.

To Kill a Mockingbird is undoubtedly the better book, and Mockingbird's Atticus is the better character, but Go Set a Watchman is a better love letter to a place. Like all passionate relationships it endures its hate and makes itself because of it. The way I understand it, there was once a plan to release Watchman as an actual sequel to Mockingbird, which would have resulted in better editing and likely a stronger focus. It is perhaps one of literature's great missed chances, like the way we will never see Herbert's own vision for the seventh book of Dune, but such is life.

On Words

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: July 2015


BLOT: (13 Jul 2015 - 09:20:30 AM)

Day in the Life #13923: I apparently only have room for one creative endeavour at a time, a mild break-up with Goodreads, and miscellany

Some days are the kind of days that require glasses of extra strong tea with extra sugar, and today is some of those days. I feel hung over and exhausted, though have no reason to feel as such, and it is mildly annoying to know that the day will likely be spent recovering from some fictional last-night that would have earned the suffering.

Speaking of fiction, I have been trying to write. I say, "try", but generally would consider myself as having successfully written a decent fictional story that manages to combine my love of meta-fiction, weird fiction, and Alabama into a workable tale. I have written stories before, rough things that often were full of error or hid their inconsistencies inside of being very short. This is the first time I sat down wanting to write something that I was sure other people would read, and could appreciate. Could talk about.

The story is called "Night Showers", and deals with a writer's investigation of an Alabama town's urban legend about twenty people committing suicide one night back in 1917. As he explores this, he starts moving on with his life, and then it gets kind of weird. The title meant something different in earlier drafts, and now is kind of kept as an artifact, but I like it. I'll include a sample of it, below.

I am giving this story "two weeks to stew" and then I will sit down and do another read through, and then I will try and find out where/how to get it published. In the interim, I have two other stories I am working on, both set in the same rough part of the world as "Night Showers", though they are unrelated to it. And those three will be a start, or a finish. Time will tell.

The downside of this is that other creative projects, such as Doug Talks Weird, have taken a back-seat. I have been scripting episodes and doing research on them, but haven't got far enough long to really record any until at least this Friday. I want to try and build up a small stockpile of possible topics, and then try and do something weekly for about 10 weeks. After that, I'll figure out where I want to go from there. I just need to sit down and get those 10 out. If I can get it episode 13, I think I can consider it a full project, especially if I can keep improving the quality throughout those 13. After that, maybe we'll look at a second season of 13. Could be fun.

Possible/Probable topics for episodes I have planned:

There might be something like a round-table via Google Hangouts thing on Lord Dunsany, and maybe I will record and discuss my talk about HPL and his science horror, and that will be a good start to the whole shebang.

Speaking of things dealing with reading, I think I am going to be having a mild break-up with Goodreads. I like the website, and will continue to keep posting stuff to it, but for the past 18-months, I have posted book-reviews and tracked my reading lists on it, and not on my own homepage. I think it is time to bring back my reading tally to my site, and to prioritize posting my book (and movie, and other) reviews, here. I'll post them to Goodreads, too, at least shorter versions of them, but this site needs some love. I've let it rot a bit.

I think that wraps it about up. I have a review/discussion of the indie horror movie Resolution coming up, maybe today. Keep an eye out for that. As for the rest, I don't know. Let's see what bubbles up, here. On to the story sample.

Me in 2015


"Night Showers" Sample

"Would your mom like me?"

"Of course, why wouldn't she?"

"Don't know, I just want to know if she would. What would she like most about me?"

Marie and I are behind The Gulp, sat down on some old deck chairs Wendy keeps out there for smoke breaks. Marie occasionally smokes—one time when I came over to hang out with her, she giddily put about half-a-pack away—but is trying to stop, seems to be embarrassed by the addiction, like she woke up one morning with it as a character flaw. She still likes to take the breaks, though, and so when I showed up to grab a coke on the way to Henshaw's for another of our long rambly talks, she asked me to join her.

"Your eyes."

"Get out, loverboy, you've been reading too many sappy paperback romances."

"You gave those to me to read, woman, and I haven't, yet. Plus, Mama likes people's eyes. You wait and see. She'll eat yours right up."

Marie smiles, but she's fidgeting enough with her fingers I get the feeling that getting her away from the table might be good to cull her cravings. We walk a pace down the road, towards the old movie theater.

"You texted saying you have been having dreams about naked girls in the woods?"

"Naked girl, singular. Let's not act like it is a syndrome. And 'girl' is wrong, would be better to say female. Sometimes, it is out in the pine trees. Sometimes out in a clearing. Sometimes in a large house, but I can hear the trees creaking in the wind outside. Each time, it starts with me waking up on the ground, laying on my back, and then standing up, and seeing her across the way. Speaking of across the way, when will Charleen's reopen? I need some cleaning supplies."

"You might want to buy them from us, because Quik-By's closed."

"Since when?"

"Since last January, had a big sale after Christmas."

"I bought photo frames from Quik-By just a week ago, talked to Charleen. Couldn't have been closed then."

"If you are talking about those tacky frames you still have in your backseat with old bridge art on them, you bought them from Wendy. I remember her giving you a deal because no one else wanted them. I think this heat is getting to you."

Antioch's sizable heat makes the town look like a sleepy little village out of a Ray Bradbury story, bright and empty. Cars stretch out on either side of the road, betraying occupants in the buildings, but the owners only rarely make an appearance, and then mostly as shapes walking in the distance—up far enough way that the sun off the sidewalk makes a mess of the air between us and them—trying to get to better places, meaning places with air conditioning. A few of the shimmering shapes turn and wave. We wave back. I am not precisely sure to whom.

"You were telling me about sex dreams."

"They are not sex dreams, you vixen. Ok, so I wake up, stand up, and there she is. Each time, she starts out as a little naked baby on a deep red blanket. As I walk towards her, and I always walk towards her, haven't once chosen not to in these dreams, she gets bigger. Older. A few feet in, she is maybe a toddler. Then school-aged. Then a teenager. Then older still, but no precise age. Turns out the blanket she was on was a dress—because now she is wearing it—and she is as white as moonlight, her hair still the color of ink. Her eyes are strikingly green, her lips a shimmering purple. Every time, she sings to me, different songs, only the songs are so quiet that I taste them more than hear the lyrics. At some point, most of the way across to her, I look down where she was and she's gone."

"Gone."

"I usually wake up. Only last night, hands came around from behind and covered my face, blocking my sight, and I could smell the honeysuckle on her fingers and feel her pressing up against me. I have her hands in mine, and though they are soft and warm and gentle, I cannot budge them. I go to talk and she giggles and shushes me, and I feel sharp teeth bite into my ears and fur press against my back, and then I woke up, like I had run a race."

"You know what this means?"

I stop to look at her. She has a look in her eyes that suggests that she has a dozen dirty jokes going on underneath. We are mostly back to The Gulp at this point, and she leans against me and kisses me. "This means you are psychic. My sheets are red, and your witch powers are trying to get into my bedroom. I don't blame them. I am hot, you know? August hot."

The fact that this is our first kiss goes unmentioned, as does the implication of her suggestion. Her break is over and I feel like I need to say something to mark the occasion.

"Turns out your suggestion to call on the old post-mistress, Mrs. Harrison, got me nowhere. She talked about her aunt, and her aunt thought it was some sort of sex-cult thing. Conversation went on too long after that. People belong to many sex cults around here?"

She winks at me and bites her lip with a little puppy dog face before going inside. Another gentle rumbling brushes up against my feet.

OTHER BLOTS THIS MONTH: July 2015


Written by Doug Bolden

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