It Hurts to Be Beautiful

BOAW

Death and a generation can change a perspective in an instant.

When I first signed up to participate in August McLaughlin’s Beauty of a Woman Blogfest IV , I flip-flopped between a couple of different topics I might write about. Little did I know that in the days to follow, I would experience the most major paradigm shift of my life–the loss of my mother.

In my mom’s last week and the days following her death, my family has reminisced about all the things she used to tell us. Here are a few of our favorites:

  1. Good morning, Glory!
  2. You’ll catch your death of cold!
  3. Be sure to text me when you get home.

But the one saying at the top of everyone’s list was, “It hurts to be beautiful.”

My mother said that to me so many times throughout my life, and I must admit, I grew tired of it, even angry at times, as she’d pull my hair into a ponytail, spray hairspray that stung my eyes in her feeble attempt to hold my fine hair in place, make me wear itchy slips or scratchy wool sweaters, all the while, giving stern warnings that scratching would be most un-ladylike. I often thought to myself, “This is ridiculous. It should NOT hurt to be beautiful. Leave my hair flyaway and unruly! Let me wear jeans and my old, comfy sweatshirt.”

I saw beauty as superficial, and there were times I resented the importance my mother placed on it.

Then came my daughter, Andrea. Her relationship with my mom was so different from my own with my mother. The generational distance seems to soften grandparent-grandchild relationships.

My mother recited those same words to Andrea throughout her life: “It hurts to be beautiful.”

But as I learned during Andrea’s eulogy at my mother’s funeral on Thursday, somehow, one generation can make a huge difference in how words are interpreted.

Here’s an excerpt of Andrea’s eulogy:

One of Grandma’s earliest lessons was, “It has to hurt to be beautiful.” This was not so fun when I was a little girl, when beautiful meant hair pulling, itchy foofy clothes, and patent leather shoes that were too tight. But as I got older, I began to understand the true meaning behind this saying, and I believe what Grandma really meant was how important it is to always try to present your best face to the world—to be kind even to people you may not really like, to hold your head high, and to smile when you don’t feel like it. Given how much pain Grandma experienced so often throughout her life, and how many people’s lives she still managed to touch, I believe this concept is something she understood better than just about anyone else.

The deep sobs I cried upon hearing Andrea’s interpretation of my mother’s words were not tears of sadness, but joy and pride, maybe even a little shame that I had not seen it on my own.

How proud I was that Andrea took words that had often irritated me and turned them into something beautiful to remember my mother by. Though I’d learned the same lessons about “presenting your best face to the world,” I had not related it to “It hurts to be beautiful.”

It’s true that sometimes it hurts to be nice when you don’t want to be nice. To smile when you don’t want to smile. To hold your tongue when you want to lash out. To give when you feel you have nothing left to give.

All this time, I’ve grumbled that it shouldn’t hurt to be beautiful–on the outside. But real beauty radiates from inside, and it’s true that sometimes maintaining inner beauty might hurt just a little.

I smile when I remember the times my mom pulled my hair to make it look just right. I know very well that usually, when she told me “It hurts to be beautiful,” she was talking about outer beauty. But, in so many ways, she also taught me the importance of inner beauty.

I’ll always be grateful for what my mom taught me about beauty, both inside and out. And I’ll always be grateful for what Andrea taught me about my mom.

My mom, Andrea and me.

My mom, Andrea and me.

 

 

Posted in Life, love, nostalgia | Tagged , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Forever Under My Skin

For six mornings, I’ve woken to the thought that my mother is no longer with us. It’s something I’ve had to fathom with deep breaths. This morning, I woke with the thought that this is the day we’ll lay my mother to rest, and though I know it makes no sense at all, I told myself I never thought I’d see this day.

In honor of my mom, we tuned in to the Frank Sinatra station on Pandora. She loved to listen to Frank Sinatra, especially when he sang accompanied by Carlos Jobim.

jobim

I smiled when the first song began to play: “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”

There were many times throughout my life that my mother and I got under each other’s skin. In fact, the last time I saw my mom in a conscious state, only a few weeks before her death, we argued about something stupid–everything is stupid after you’ve lost someone.

Frustrated that I couldn’t convince my mom of my side of the “argument,” I told her it was time for me to leave for Dallas, and I walked out of her room. I’m so grateful that something made me turn around and go back. I told her I didn’t want her to worry about anything, that I’d take care of it, and I’d even do as she requested, even though inside, I disagreed with her. But, something told me it wasn’t important.

I told her I loved her.

So this morning, when I heard the words to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin,” I smiled, believing it was my mother’s way of telling me she’d always be with me.

I’ve got you under my skin
I’ve got you deep in the heart of me
So deep in my heart that you’re really a part of me
I’ve got you under my skin

 

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Metamorphosis of Grief

I haven’t experienced grief very many times in my life, and for that I’m grateful. But now, as my family gathers around my mother in these last days of her life, I am experiencing my own grief, as well as others’. And I’ve learned that everyone deals with the pain of loss differently.

One of my siblings openly grieves, cries freely, shares the stages of my mother’s passing on social media, asks others for prayers. Another takes care of others, wants only family around and cries in moments, but mostly in private. One of my siblings said goodbye to my mother a few days ago, unable to bear her passing. And another of my siblings spends time with my mother, leaves for a bit to gather thoughts and reflect, then returns to her again, all the while, also taking care of others.

I’m kind of a combination of all of them. As the oldest, I don’t feel comfortable crying in front of others, though I’ve done my share. I’ve found I deal with my grief by planning, organizing and doing. I’ve taken most of the calls from friends and family and have headed planning my mother’s funeral. Most of all, I feel the need to write about my grief and what I’ve learned. But I’m conflicted about it, because I also feel it’s a very private process.

Still, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned.

We all deal with it differently. As you can see in what I described about how my siblings deal with grief, it can be ripe for judgment from any of us about how the other deals with it. Some of us may not agree with sharing on social media. Some of us may not agree with one of our siblings not being here. And some may not agree that I write about it.

In the end, we’re all entitled to process this pain the way we need to process it, and we shouldn’t fear judgment for it, certainly not from our loved ones. We’ve talked about this in the last few days, and I feel so fortunate to have sisters and a brother with whom I can talk about such things.

Finally, I’ve learned that even with all of its pain, grief holds a kind of magic. With all of the reflecting on my mother’s life, her time with us, and the time I’ve spent with family in the last week, my grief has turned to gratitude. This metamorphosis was helped along by a video my daughter put together of my mother’s life.

For five days, Andi gathered photos from dozens of my mother’s albums. From over 600 photos initially collected, she filtered down to 450 to create a 25 minute video filled with pictures from when my mother was about three years old to a photo of her holding Tommy, her first great grandchild.

Twice now, my mother’s bedroom has been filled with her children and many of her grandchildren as we’ve watched the video and passed around the tissue. I’m not sure my mother was able to see the stream of memories flowing past on her television, but I’m sure she heard the music and our commentary as we watched.

What a life my mother has had. What a life she gave to us.

Posted in Life, nostalgia | Tagged , , , , , | 21 Comments

Oghma Creative Media Blogathon: Sylvia Dickey Smith

Sylvia Dickey Smith’s post is part of a collaborative blogathon by authors of Oghma Creative Media during the month of February. Knowing many of these authors and their writing, I’m pretty sure you’ll find something that will make you laugh and learn. We’d love for you to visit, and if you so desire, comment, like or share!

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Women As Myth-Makers

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I make no bones about it; I am a lover of myth, folklore—story. Over the years, it seems to resonate at a deeper and deeper core of my being. I read folklore, and get chill bumps. The deeper meaning of the myth and the art of the storyteller come together to thrill my soul.

Story—myth—is what holds societies together. It creates full-spectrum color out of what would otherwise be a black and white world. Story adds meaning, excitement, hope, focus, inspiration, commitment, dedication, renewal, and foundation to our life. (To name a few. The list is endless)

We create not only our present, but also our future, by the stories we recount to others, and sometimes to ourselves, about who we are and where we are going.

Nancy Baker Jones says, “Told long enough, or granted enough significance, stories become myth and myth become the psyche culture, the commonly held knowledge by which a culture defines and describes itself and its members.”

These myths do not develop overnight. Betty Sue Flowers is quoted to have said, “Myths do not emerge full-blown, like Athena from the head of Zeus. They’re made up of bits and pieces of other myths…”

In our historically patriarchal society, myth has been male dominant. Over the generations, men sat around campfires and told their tales (or wrote their books, sold them, and received rave reviews as if only men were authors.)

However, times are a changing. As more women find their voices, they begin telling their own stories, redrawing our psyche culture, altering the commonly held knowledge by which our world defines and describes itself.

I encourage women today to find that sacred place. Gather your memories around you, invite the stories of your life to unfold, and then write then down. When you do, not only do you discover your own stories, but you also help create a new mythology for us, for our daughters and for our granddaughters.

And as you write, let the words of golf champion, Babe Erickson Zaharias inspire you.

“It’s not enough to swing at the ball. You’ve got to loosen your girdle and let ’er fly.”

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Removing Our Masks

For years, I tried to decide on what my “brand” should be. Finally, as I re-designed my website a few months ago, it came to me:

Author of stories that unmask…

In thinking about past blog posts and many of the stories I’ve written, I realized that my goal in writing is to “unmask” my characters–bring them to a realization of who they really are. Sometimes I give them courage to remove their masks, and sometimes I show the consequences of leaving them on.

It’s the story of me.

nepoOne of my favorite books is The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo. A book of daily meditations, I read it almost every night before I go to sleep. Today’s meditation talks about our “inner doors.” I believe it’s the same thing as what I call our masks:

There exists for each life on Earth a set of inner doors that no one can go through for us. We can change jobs or lovers, travel around the world, become a doctor or lawyer or expert mountain climber, or nobly put our lives on hold to care for an ailing mother or father, and when we are done, though the worthy distraction could take years, the last threshold we didn’t cross within will be there waiting.

The most powerful and true statement in what Mr. Nepo says affirms that we keep coming back to those inner doors until they are opened. The mask continues to hide us until it’s removed:

Stranger still is how the very core issues we avoid return, sometimes with different faces, but still, we are brought full circle to them, again and again.

The inner door I keep coming back to, the mask that is hardest for me to remove, is my inclination to be who others expect me to be. Somewhere along the road, I developed a keen sensitivity to what others expect, and a susceptibility to becoming that person. Problem is, the “real” me is sometimes not happy with that, and eventually breaks free, often at significant cost.

And, as Mr. Nepo explains, I keep coming back to that door, that mask, again and again, and will continue to do so until, once and for all, I remove the mask of acquiescence.

It’s no wonder the haiku that summarizes The Red Kimono is about a mask:

porcelain mask

What does this have to do with writing? Everything.

We may not be aware of what those inner doors are, or aware of what masks need to be removed, but I’ve seen from personal experience that in creating my characters, in writing about life experiences (even if fictionalized) those inner doors often materialize.

Here’s a bit of a writing prompt. Listed below in black are a few things that Mark Nepo suggests to ponder. I’ve added my suggestions in blue, and have written my own answers in italics.

  • Meditate on an issue that keeps returning to you. Trying to please others.
  • Relate to it as a messenger and ask the messenger what door it is trying to open for you. Here’s a writing prompt. Interview this “messenger,” which is actually the issue itself. It might sound silly, but here are a few suggestions with my answers in italics. Again, I am interviewing Ms. Trying-to-Please-Others:
  1. When were you born? I was born when you were a child. You were the oldest of five children. I helped you to see how much easier it was to please than to deal with the anger that resulted if you didn’t.
  2. What do you hope to gain by hanging around? It’s what I help YOU gain that keeps me around. I help you avoid conflict and anger. When I’m around, you’re so much easier to get along with.
  3. What are you afraid of? If I go away, people might not like the person you really are.
  • How will your life change if you move through this threshold? Imagine yourself with your mask removed and write about it. If I remove my mask, people can take me or leave me. But only those who accept me for who I am will be a part of my life. What a weight lifted. I might just float.
  • How will your life be affected if you do not? Imagine this, too, though chances are, if you haven’t yet removed the mask, you won’t have to do much imagining. Write about it. If I continue to wear the mask of acquiescence, things will be just fine . . . for a little while, maybe even for years. But the “real me” is stubborn and strong, much stronger than the silly mask I wear. She will show her face someday.

Well, admittedly, I got a little carried away on this post. Think of it as a shattering of the mask.

I hope you’ll try the writing exercise. You might be surprised at what comes out of it.

What mask do you wear?

 

Posted in attitude, Authenticity, Mark Nepo | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Proof I May Be a Robot (or Meet KBNelson 2.0)

Jan Morrill:

Karen Nelson’s post is part of a collaborative blogathon by authors of Oghma Creative Media during the month of February. Knowing many of these authors and their writing, I’m pretty sure you’ll find something that will make you laugh and learn. We’d love for you to visit, and if you so desire, comment, like or share!

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Originally posted on Karen B. Nelson:

I love my blog. I love talking to interesting people and sharing helpful articles. I dig the occasional blog hop or writer’s group challenge. But the truth is, I have a whole professional identity that I’ve worked hard on, gone to school for, and would just really like you to know about.

I talk about books because I’m a writer. I talk about education because I’m a teacher. But I’m not just talk – I’m here to help anyone who needs assistance with editing their manuscript, meeting a publisher, starting a class, or looking for a little encouragement. If you’d like to comment here, that would be great – but please take a moment first to check out my website, KarenBNelson.com to see what I do when I’m not hanging out with you wonderful people.

It still seems weird to think of myself as “new and improved”, but that may…

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Oghmaniacal Blogathon: Twenty Sentences

This post is part of a collaborative blogathon by authors of Oghma Creative Media during the month of February. Knowing many of these authors and their writing, I’m pretty sure you’ll find something that will make you laugh and learn. We’d love for you to visit, and if you so desire, comment, like or share!  

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Steve and I did a fun and interesting writing exercise together some time ago. I meant to write a post about it then, but as often happens, life got in the way. I forgot.

But lucky for me, while searching my computer for another file, I came across these sentences and now I have a post idea for this sunny, but frigid Monday morning!

Our little writing project began after listening to a few of the twelve hours (yes, twelve hours) of The Great Courses audio program on “Building Great Sentences” :

Great writing begins—and ends—with the sentence.

Whether two words (“Jesus wept.”) or a sentence in William Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom!, sentences have the power to captivate, entertain, motivate, educate, and, most importantly, delight.

By the way, here’s one of those Faulker long sentences:

From a little after two o’clock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that — a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler, and which (as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house) became latticed with yellow slashes filled with dust motes which Quentin thought of as being of the dead old dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling blinds as wind might have blown them.

Personally, I think sentences can be too long. I lose my train of thought and have to start over again. But perhaps that’s more a judgement on myself and my reading abilities that it is of the author.

It appears I’ve meandered away from talking about our writing prompt. Here’s what we did:

  1. We wrote the first twenty sentences that came to mind, with little thought about those sentences.
  2. We then picked a few of those sentences and lengthened them according to some of the guidelines discussed in the “Building Great Sentences” audio course.

So, here are the twenty sentences I first wrote. The sentences I chose to expand are in blue:

  1. I love dogs.
  2. Driving makes me happy.
  3. Blue used to be my favorite color.
  4. I’m hungry for a bear claw.
  5. We’ve missed three episodes of 24.
  6. Not sure when I’ll exercise regularly again.
  7. I need an oil change.
  8. I can’t wait for Santa Fe.
  9. Tommy’s smile is the sweetest.
  10. Family above all else?
  11. Let’s paint something.
  12. I miss the ocean.
  13. The wind whispers secrets to me.
  14. What does Scarborough Fair mean?
  15. Soon I’ll be moving again.
  16. I’ve had a good life.
  17. What’s new for today?
  18. I have more than one secret.
  19. I have much to be grateful for.
  20. Maybe we’ll get a dog soon.

And here are the expanded sentences I wrote:

jan and jubieI love dogs, though I’m not sure if it’s the memory of dogs that I love after nine months of not seeing my beloved Jubie and Bear, which, as I think about it, is long enough to have brought a new life into this world, though not long enough to lose memories that can still bring tears to my eyes.

Blue used to be my favorite color, until one day I realized I don’t have to be limited to only one, because why shouldn’t we be allowed a multitude of favorite colors out of the thousands that exist in the world, and so, today, I love azure blue and eggplant purple and taupe and shocking pink and…

jackWe’ve missed three episodes of 24, a show I’d waited for three years to return, but when at last it did, I’d found someone to replace Kiefer Sutherland, a man who takes me on adventures I’d once only dreamed about, and who entertains me so, I forget to turn the television on.

“I need an oil change” was just another thought that popped into my head as I wrote these twenty sentences, and it was true in the literal sense, until I read the one sentence in the context of the twenty, and then I wondered, with a bit of trepidation, if instead it was meant to be a metaphor because feeling rather creaky and old lately, perhaps an oil change would help me run anew.

Tommy's smileTommy’s smile is the sweetest, his grin so big it crinkles his nose, so full of happiness it trickles through to his arms and legs until they flail with joy, so ready to be shared it overflows and spills onto whoever is lucky enough to catch the contagious joy of  a child.

Let’s paint something, meet in a room with bright colors and brushes, where we’ll work together but separately, talking as we paint, until, hours later we have created more than one masterpiece.

I miss the ocean, but when I see the boundless blue complexion of the sea, smell her salty aroma, hear all that she whispers to me, I realize she is like a dear friend, who, though I may not have seen for years, makes me feel like I never left her side.

I have more than one secret, though to some, I don’t have many secrets and to a very few, I have none, which is a wonderful, freeing feeling compared to the weight of secrets I shared with hardly a soul in the past.

These were first draft sentences. Some need some polish and refining. Still, I think they are so much richer than the first twenty. Maybe that’s why I like editing so much. My first draft is like sketching in pencil. The editing is like adding the color and texture.

Give this exercise a try. I think you’ll enjoy it.

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Oghmaniacal Blogathon–The Writer’s Scotch and Salad Diet, Part Deux

Jan Morrill:

Join Oghma Creative Media authors in February for our blog tour. Bet you’ll laugh some and learn something, too! 😄

Originally posted on Sorchia's Universe:

My first offering to the Oghmaniacal Blogathon. During February, the authors of Oghma Creative Media will blog and reblog their little hearts out. You’ll get a daily sample of their writing and links to their works to brighten up these dreary mid-winter days. If you enjoy their blogs, please give them a “like” and peruse (and maybe purchase) their published works.

Cover by Oghma Creative Cover by Oghma Creative

In a previous post, we discussed salad (see the Writers Scotch and Salad Diet, Part One). Today, a bit about the second leg of the diet—Scotch—a vital element of my book Just Like Gravity.

Some time ago, a friend and I rationalized that it should be possible to get all the nutrients you need from various alcoholic beverages and mixed drinks:

• Vitamin C and fruit from screwdrivers
• More fruit servings from Mai Tais and wine
• Grain from beer and rye

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Rod McKuen’s Time Machine

mckuen2

Yesterday, poet and songwriter, Rod McKuen, passed away at the age of 81.

For me, music is like a time machine that takes me back faster than almost anything. And, in a flash, Mr. McKuen’s words return me to when I was a girl in the ’70s, hovering in the chasm between “ew, that’s gross” and “oh, how romantic” when it came to love.

My mother used to listen to Rod McKuen constantly, especially when my father, an Air Force pilot, was stationed overseas. While driving, she liked to listen to his poems set to the music of the San Sebastian Strings. I think it might have been her way of escaping the insanity of trying to raise five children, by piling us all in the car around bed time, then driving around until we fell asleep, lullaby by Rod McKuen.

Our car was just like this one, except dark green.

Our car was just like this one, except dark green.

But before drifting off, I would watch my mother’s face, so deep in thought as she listened, and I wondered what in the world she liked about the silly words, the melancholy music so heavy with cello. I’m sure I rolled my eyes at the mushiness of it all. Of course, there were so many things that gave me cause to roll my eyes at that age–like when I couldn’t get one of my four siblings to scoot over to her side of the back seat.

The SeaSilly as I thought Mr. McKuen’s serenades were, as an adult, I came across the very same album my mother used to listen to, and in a whoosh of sentimentality, purchased it. I was tickled to find I’d memorized many of his poems and even remembered them decades later.

At twelve, the “ew” factor often kicked in with excerpts like this one from “The Storm”:

I’d like to crawl behind your eyes sometime and see me the way you do. Or, climb through your mouth and sit on every word that comes up through your throat.

But today, I’ve been there–in relationships where I’ve struggled to figure someone out. I understand and think back to watching my mother’s face, and wonder what thoughts it brought to her mind as my parents’ marriage was falling apart.

When he wrote that he “worried when you laugh too loud,” I remember thinking, “Huh? Why would that worry you?” Now, I understand.

Still, as a young girl who dreamed of one day being a writer, and especially who dreamed of being in love, many of his words gave me shivers, placed me in a state of awe, like this excerpt from “Do You Like the Rain?”

Sail the rain that falls upon the sea tonight. We’ll ride the rain to France and back and see the world through European windows.

In my opinion, The New York Times described Rod McKuen perfectly.

For a generation of Americans at midcentury and afterward, Mr. McKuen’s poetry formed an enduring, solidly constructed bridge between the Beat generation and New Age sensibilities.

Some may have never outgrown the feeling of “ew” over Rod McKuen’s mushy poetry. Maybe I love his poems now because I’ve lived some of his writing. Maybe it’s because his words take me back to my childhood and cast a different light on what I saw happening to our family then.

My first thought is to say I’ll miss him. But, the power of words is that they’re always here with us. My day will be filled with songs of The Sea and all the memories it brings back.

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The “Me” in My Characters

goetheToday, I read the following quote on Facebook:

Every author in some way portrays himself in his works, even if it be against his will.

                                                          – Goethe

I’ve always known a part of me is in each of my characters, but I’ve also been surprised at just what part of me comes out unintentionally. Often, I don’t see it until I go back and re-read or edit something I’ve written.

Sometimes, it is in the process of interviewing my characters that I learn what part of me is in my character. This happened when I interviewed Nobu from The Red Kimono.

In the following excerpt from my blog post, Happy Hour with Nobu, I learned what part of me Nobu said I’d given him:

sake

I decide to close with a question I’ve asked others. “Is there anything you’d like to answer that I haven’t asked?”

Nobu flashes a broad, wise smile and for the first time, I see how handsome he is. “Yes. Of course,” he replies. “Like many of the characters you have created, I know that I am a part of you. You should have asked me, ‘What part of you was created from me?’”

An interesting question. “Okay, Nobu. What part of you was created from me?” I am a little afraid of his answer.

He straightens and I can tell he’s shaken off the sadness of his last answer. “The writer. As with you, I write in my journal those thoughts and feelings I am afraid to share. Perhaps because I don’t want to cause someone pain, or perhaps I don’t want to anger them. Anyway, as you know, I often decide it best to keep such feelings to myself. Still there is a part of me many do not know. Maybe one day, after I am gone, someone will find my journals and will know who I really am inside.”

* * *

Of my three point of view characters in The Red Kimono–Sachi, Nobu and Terrence–Nobu is most like me. His conflict is between doing what is expected of him and doing what he desires to do, without regard for what others may think.

Sachi is the part of me I wished to be–childlike, even childish. Fearlessly petulant. Adventurous, independent.

Steve has told me I do my best writing in a child’s voice. I found that interesting, since as I said, I believe Nobu is most like me. On the other hand, I do enjoy the freedom and playfulness, even orneriness of writing in Sachi’s and Jubie’s voices.

Writing gives me a second chance at childhood.

I’d love for you to share what part of you is in your characters. Does that trait appear in many of your characters? Is there a part of you that you’d like to create in a character, but haven’t? Why?

Leave a comment and let us know!

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