Cthulhu Baby Has Arrived

Sylvia, my fellow #thefinishing buddy, has sent me my very first Baby Cthulhu. AND I LOVE IT SO.

Some fuzzy cell-phone photos…

First, this little house. THEN THE WORLD.

 

TINY CAT. You will kneel before me!

 

The correct way to defeat a Cthulhu Baby is to sleep on it.

 

If I win #thefinishing, I will get two more baby Cthulhus. If Sylvia wins, I will make her a double-batch of my homemade soap…which will be so much soap. So very much.

Onward – I have things to submit tonight.

 

A Thousand Rotting Baby Seals, or: Guest Post Friday, The Spenceration

I’m getting really overwhelmed, you guys.

Overwhelmed by all the honesty-balls being thrown at my head. Overwhelmed by the sweet, funny, sad, strong, fight that lives in all of these posts. Amazed that when I met these people, they were all the smart and secure ones, and there I was, all alone in my fool insecurity – but the whole damn time, there we were, going ’round and ’round in our own heads.

Well, this is Spencer. Spencer is all ‘pinnacle’-ey: That is to say, he’s clever, a great writer, (you may remember him from Mount Rainier’s struggle with depression in this post) married to a beautiful and supportive woman, and has evil-gorgeous children. (You know. Evil gorgeous, like they could get away with murder. Kittens and puppies have it too, but it’s lessened because they can’t talk. Thank the gods.) His work has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Intergalactic Medicine Show and Brain Harvest. He also has one of them day-job things, and blogs, and twitters, and somewhere on this inter-web of horrors there is a link to his band, but I can’t find it and it’s late at night and he’s probably doing something clever, like sleeping. Here he is, in letter-form.

(And by the way, I don’t think this is ‘my’ internet, exactly, but I DO think that the CIC is a great idea)

Updated: Look what I found! http://www.reverbnation.com/pawnbroker

Updated Again: Links to Spencer’s Stories!

BLADE AND BRANCH AND STONE
THE DEATH OF ROACH
THE DEVIL’S REMATCH

My Pet Depression

An Essay By Spencer Ellsworth

You know the old adage: “If you’re going to confess embarrassing things, do it on a Canadian’s internet.”

So confession time, people.

At every writing-related-thingie I go to–convention, workshop, get-together–every one–I cry at some point.

This is not because something beautiful has been shared. This is not because I have connected to my muse. This is not because I wrote something really fucking amazing.

Don’t get me wrong.

(I’ve written some fucking amazing stuff.)

It starts when I come in contact with a lot of people who have had more success than I have, or who seem to be writing about something amazing, or who just enjoy writing more than I do.

I look into my soul, and I think about my own writing, and I think about how I’m not so hot on it, and that one novel needs to go out the door, and I wish I had more short stories out.

And I think about lots of stuff. Sometimes I think about how I was supposed to do more with my writing by now. I made myself a promise as a teenager that I would be all famous n’ shit. I question whether or not I really like writing. It sure is hell sometimes.

The frustration and sadness and etc all wells up, and then it taps into something much darker.

This CIC (Canadian Internet Confessional) is The Thing That I Like Least About My Depression, and teacher, here is my long-bandied thesis statement: I hate that my depression has latched onto my writing.

Yes, that nasty creature I call my depression, squinty eyed and cackling, waits for me to weigh my worth as a writer. Then it pounces, bowler hat perched on notched cat ears, and says, “I’ve been telling you for years you were worthless. And I was RIGHT!”

You, Wise Reader/Writer, may be Wise enough to have avoided this trap.

If you know what I’m talking about, though, even a little, I hope you recognize that this really has very little to do with your writing, and more to do with that nasty little creature, Depression, squat, hobbling around on stork legs, in a dinner jacket with a wilted purple rose at his lapel, under the embroidered words, “You suck.”

When I hadn’t sold any stories, he constantly reminded me of the fact. “How can you call yourself a writer when you haven’t sold stories?” But now that I have, he hits just as hard on other things. “You haven’t been nominated for awards.” “Nobody cares about another dumb SF writer.” “You haven’t sold to this long list of cool guy markets.” His breath rasps in my ear, stinking of a thousand rotting baby seals.

And he WILL make my cry.

Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different tactics, not least of which is personalizing the bastard. Last time I did the Mid-Writing-Retreat-Cry, I ran into a friend who suggested, “Go on a run. I know that makes you feel better.” So I did run, a lot. A little over seven miles. At the end of it, the adrenaline washed the emotion from my system and I was able to story.

Sometimes I call my wife and she talks me down a bit. Sometimes I just take a walk or otherwise take myself out of the situation. It helps to remind myself that there is more than just the writing world.

But I will cry.

To further deal with this black-pupiled, purple-irised bastard, I’ve been studying mindfulness meditation a great deal lately. Both in Thich Nicht Han’s famous book The Miracle of Mindfulness and Williams, et. al.’s book The Mindful Way Through Depression. Mindfulness is just awareness, really. Pay more attention to what you eat, do, love, and less attention to what you want.

In mindfulness, he’s still there. I wish I could say he went away. I suspect that the only way to really conquer him might be to put my arms around his pebbled, warty, mildew-ridden skin, pull him close, and tell him, “You’re part of me, and I love you, but you’re wrong. Writing is not about these things. Writing is about Story, and Story is bigger than the both of us.”

Because frustration is normal. Sadness is normal. Comparisons to other people are, as unhealthy as they are, normal. And his shifty purple eyes, pebbled skin and cracked fungus-ridden fingernails are the yang to the muse’s whispering crystalline wings. He is me, in the same way the muse is. He comes from dark places I don’t understand, but they’re still my dark places. Call them chemical imbalances, childhood trauma, bits of both… he is me. He is my darkness, and I need my dark places.

I’d like to end this blog with the conversion. And then there was no more depression, just like when we got rid of racism and war. But that’s not it. I get to live with it, and I get to fight it over stupid things related to writing, and you might too.

Nope. He’s still there. But so is Story, and whether I outrun him, out-think him, or pull him close and acknowledge that he is mine, Story will be calling in the background, and once he quiets down, I’ll hear it.

Guest Post Friday: Chang, on Where to Put Your Ass.

Well, I don’t even know how to introduce this – it’s an amazing post, and I feel very lucky to have it on here.

Chang came to visit my class at Viable Paradise and teach us yoga. At that point I hadn’t slept for a couple of days, my writing was pissing me off, and the most I’d done in terms of actual movement was to migrate from one chair to another. Chang’s class brought me back into my body, settled me down, grounded me – all the things that yoga does – and reminded me why I love it. And – surprise! – my writing stopped feeling like a fight and started feeling like a flow.

Anyway, that’s not all that this is about, but really, I don’t know how to introduce this. Chang is Chang. He’s awesome, and a brilliant writer, and has a big-safe-warm-kind of energy. He’s a rare human. His website is here and he tweets away as @bigbadchang.

And now…

Taming the Wild Voices

I’ve got voices in my head.  Voices that are telling me I was a fool for thinking I was qualified to write about yoga, writing and mental health.

“You’re a basket case, man.”

“When was the last time you wrote anything good?”

“When you do yoga it looks like a bad Dali painting.”

I hear these voices all the time.  But what I know is this:

I’ve started this post three times so far and not even come close to saying what I want to.

I’ve written four novels so far and not even come close to writing what I know I’m capable of.

I’ve been doing yoga for 11 years and not even come close to the full potential of what my body can do.

I’ve been on and off anti-depressants, ritalin and xanax and yet nothing gives me the calm of a great yoga practice nor the satisfaction of writing.

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I began writing at the age of 12, pursuing it on an off for the next twelve years before bailing because after several failed attempts at “mainstream fiction” I hated everything I wrote.  Similarly, I’d exercised on and off for years before giving up and resigning myself to the fact that I was just going to get older and fatter.  I figured I’d just have to keep seeing mental health professionals and occasionally drink myself to sleep in order to find peace.

Then one thing in particular changed everything.

Power Vinyasa Yoga.

The hot, sweaty stuff.  Not Bikram. The other kind.

When I began doing yoga my life was a mess.  I was unemployed, my marriage was under duress, I was stressed and becoming unstable.  My wife began doing yoga and loved it.  One night she begged me to come to class with her.  Two weeks late I finally did.  At first I thought I was going to die.  Then I made it to the end and left feeling better than I had in…  well… ever!

Within a month I was going 3-5 times a week.  Soon I was volunteering at the studio.  Then working there.  After six years I opened my own studio.  Since 2006  we’ve taught to over 10,000 people, seen their lives change before our eyes and grown an amazing community.

All this because I know that without my yoga I would be dead, divorced or worse.

My yoga practice has made my body stronger and my mind calmer.  I think better than I used to, with greater clarity and focus (for a guy who couldn’t drive without 30mgs. of ritalin coursing through him that’s a pretty amazing change).  People find this hard to believe but I’m completely serious when I say yoga helped me understand sequential logic, vital to such things as programming, algorithms and even math (back in the day I had the SAT scores of 750 verbal and 340 math.  Couldn’t add my way out of a paper sack but damn if I could read!).  The constant repetition of a set series of postures that can be arranged in a modular fashion to produce a certain end (work the hips, work the spine, work the heart, work the shoulders, etc.) all require a certain routine and path to achieve completion.  This helped me to understand the order of operations in everything from modular synthesis to HTML – even jazz!

Yoga got me writing again.  I missed the mental effort, the workout writing gave me but hated what I was writing because it was what I thought everyone wanted to read.  When I finally gave in and began writing science fiction I felt liberated and I’m writing better than I ever was.

Yoga has especially helped me understand the craft of writing better.  My yoga practice helped me realize that for me to have a strong functioning spine I would need to maintain consistency, practicing regularly and often.  Our bodies are made to be moved physically and when we don’t do that we allow them to break down faster than they really should.

Through yoga I began to understand that the same thing happened with regards to writing.  To write well, pretty much all the great writers have said the same thing:  one must write regularly and often, and read often.  It’s really only through a regular discipline that we can achieve mastery at anything.  Stephen King says “Writing equals ass in chair.”  I say to my students “Yoga equals ass on mat.”  Not on a SUP board.  Not while eating chocolate or watching TV. You’re either doing yoga or you’re not.

In writing we learn to keep only the essentials, remove the excess so that all there is on the page is what we need to say what we want, no more and no less.  Similarly, in yoga we learn to weed out the extraneous, remove the excess and arrive at a place of simplicity; a clean and unadorned mind and body (tattoos and jewelry are okay, though).

Another parallel between yoga and writing is that there is no end state, no goal state. No one practices yoga to suddenly find themselves blissfully at the top of the highest mountain peak with no one there beside them, having achieved it all.  There are peaks and valleys and plateaus upon which I as a writer land and occasionally lament.  Eventually I find what I need to move beyond this plateau, either by pulling back from where I’m at or pushing myself slightly.

Same goes for writing.  The best writers keep evolving, challenging themselves and writing new and different works.  The human brain, of which I assume you the reader are in possession of, thrives on challenges to maintain its strength and growth.  Without this, it will stagnate and often degrade sooner.

#

Yoga has brought me many things but the main thing it has brought me is a sense of calm and peace with myself.  I still have challenges, I still have dark days, days when I’m pretty sure it would have been a better idea to stay in bed not just for that day but for the previous week.

Through yoga I’ve learned to accept these things as they come, not change them but to simply be with them.  Sooner or later things change and the obstacles are gone and the path is clear once more.

Yoga may never get rid of the voices.  It hasn’t, in fact.  It’s added to them.  Now instead of just voices I have that say, “You suck” and “Give up, loser-king” I hear ones that say, “Write shit and edit later” and “Get on your mat for an hour then the world will seem normal, possibly better.”

And those are the best kind of voices to hear.

Guest Post: Anne Becker on Fear and Writing

Anne was my roommate at Viable Paradise. Between forcing me to eat, telling me to stop over analyzing my writing, and on one special occasion going all drill-sergeant and making me do push-ups, she was the very best roommate a girl could have had. She also bought candy corn, and I sure do love that sugar-flavoured wax.

Anne paints amazing miniatures, breeds Shiloh Shepherds, has many blogs – this is the latest, created for Blazie. In between, she writes brilliant fiction. She’s got some association with theatre that I don’t remember, and thus you may read the words below in a strongly projected voice, because that’s Anne.

As I read this post last night, I was nodding all the way through it. Yep, I’ve done that – I’ve felt that way – yep, this is the life of a writer as I know it. You think you’re the only one?

 

Fear

I’ll do it tomorrow. I’m too busy today.

There are other things that are more urgent.

No way—not tonight. I need a mental health break tonight.

I’m tired. Why don’t I have any energy?

I just don’t have enough willpower to follow through on anything these days.

I’m bad at self-discipline.

Why the hell did I even want to do this? Why did I even sign up when I knew I would just—

Fail.

That’s right. You know those voices in your head, don’t you? The ones that start all in innocence. There’s always tomorrow, right? Gosh what a day. I just want to go home and sit around and watch a movie. Everyone deserves a break, even me.

Then there’s the guilt: I can’t neglect my kids/husband/girlfriend/cocker spaniel/goldfish. They get so little of my time as it is. It’s not fair for me to take time for this away from them. And I have so many chores to do.

Then there’s depression: Maybe I’m just not cut out for this. My life conspires against me. I never seem to finish anything, why should I be surprised?

And then anger.  At yourself. Or at someone else within range.

Why?

Because you started—or considered starting—a project that you care about. A project that you’re doing just for you. And the fear sets in.

For a long time I was in denial about the fear. I’m terminally busy and easily distracted and addicted to multi-tasking. I would add things to my plate until I was so stressed that I was ready to scream and then I would cancel them all because not having any free time to work on “my own stuff” was driving me crazy—only to relax for all of a week before committing to something else and beginning the cycle anew.

Why? Because when I had free time I didn’t have any excuses. All the responsibility for getting something done or not getting it done was mine. All that was waiting for me when I came home was the blank page—be it a sketchpad or a word processor screen.

So I sought distractions. Lots of them. And I didn’t even notice what I was doing when I opted to read instead of write, or post on discussion boards instead of getting out the drawing pencils.

I would even give myself a little salve to convince myself that I wasn’t really avoiding my creative work. Like, I would tell myself that I would catch a few minutes to draw on lunch, and I would pack up my drawing pad and all of my pencils. I would feel great hauling that stuff to work, parking it right by my station.

Did those ever come out of the tote bag come noon? Nope.

Same with writing. I would tell myself that I would clock out for a late lunch in the afternoon and do a fifteen-minute writing challenge.

You guessed it. Something—extra work, lunch with friends, lack of inspiration, or just getting distracted—would intrude, and I would end up not writing.

A couple days and I’d start feeling guilty. A few more, and depressed. Then in a couple weeks the anger would set in and I’d sit there trying to figure out why I was in such a bad mood, why I felt like striking out at something.

I think it wasn’t until I read the introduction to Paolo Coehlo’s The Alchemist that I started to get a hint of what I was doing. Paolo writes in that introduction about the obstacles that rise up between us and accomplishing what we really want to do with our lives. Most of them are rooted in fear.

Fear of gambling all this energy and effort in pursuit of something that I might fail at—worse, failing at something that I really cared about. Fear of losing friends or hurting loved ones by prioritizing something for myself ahead of other obligations. Fear of appearing “selfish”. Fear of proving that I really wasn’t capable of succeeding at my dreams. Fear that what I thought was my life’s calling really wasn’t.

It took a while to absorb this after the initial hit. Slowly I chipped away at what I was starting to perceive as a self-destructive cycle. Slowly I became more aware when my brain did that little skip and slide away from sitting down and working on my writing or art.

Then one day when I was in one of those funks (meaning I felt that I’d failed, again, and was tempted to give up, again) I found one of my previous journals. I opened the first page in that journal and I read it.

It shocked the heck out of me. There in front of me was the proof of the cycle. The me that had written that page was feeling exactly the same for the same reasons as the me who was sitting there, moping and angry and reading it.

That was the breakthrough. In that moment the Fear was seized by the scruff of its scrawny neck and dragged out into the light, mewling and hissing. There was no way that it would ever hide from me again. Now I know its face.

So these days, I’m not perfect. I still slack, and I still let myself get distracted when I shouldn’t. But now I’m conscious of what I’m doing. I come back around to my goals faster.

I know that if I avoid, I’m really giving in to the fear. And that usually makes me mad enough that I squash the fear back down into its hole, kick myself in the butt, and get that butt into the chair in front of this computer.

Whether I succeed or fail…it’s the only way I’ll have a shot.

(Author’s note: Anne Becker was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to write about this stuff all that well…but at least she faced up and wrote it.)

Quote Time

Plant growing out of the middle of the Alaska Highway illustrates this point.

A traumatic event doesn’t doom us to suffer indefinitely. Instead, we can use it as a springboard to unleash our best qualities and lead happier lives.

— Jane McGonigal

Yup. Truth. That’s from her Ted talk, “The game that can give you 10 extra years of life”.

Tomorrow is guest post day!

Drop it like it’s hot yoga

Dear Hot Yoga Class:

I don’t know what I did to piss you off.

I’ve been doing yoga for most of my life. All of it, if you count the toddler years I spent sleeping with my butt stuck up in the air (‘Child’s Pose’).  The concept of hot yoga seems flawed to me – if the whole point of yoga is to gradually increase my flexibility by stretching the fibers of my muscles, then doesn’t super-heating myself to the point that I can stretch them *beyond* my own point of flexibility sort of…defeat the purpose?

What I’m saying is, isn’t it cheating?

More to the point: Isn’t it, oh, say, a wee bit dangerous?

If the whole hot-yarding-on-muscles-thing isn’t, surely the attempt to stand in a tree pose (looks like photo above, only less serene and more sweaty, stinky swearey people) on a soaked towel atop a slippery mat would qualify. I felt like the floor was taunting me. “Fall, you fool! Right on your fool face!”

Also, attempting to grab my feet and go into any kind of balance pose was ludicrous. You know what feet are covered in when a room is that hot and humid? Sweat. You know what’s hard to get a grip on? Slippery-eel feet.

I try my very best not to hate anything without giving it a shot, though. Some things are harder than others – for example, the first Twilight book is waiting for me on my bookshelf. If books can laugh, it is positively cackling.

It always weirds me out when people dislike things without trying them. My dad hated yoghurt, but had never tried it, which caused this conversation to happen throughout my life:

Me: “Just try it. It’s good.”
Dad: “Nope. I hate yoghurt.”
Me: “How can you hate something you’ve never tried?”
Dad: “Why would I try something that I hate?”
Me:  “But – the – I don’t –“

Cue end of conversation, because I don’t know how to argue with that logic. I don’t even know what that logic is. 

So, hot yoga. What’s your deal? Why did your instructor tell me to ‘work to really compress’ my spine? Why did she insist that  spinal pain in the neck was okay? Why did she tell the only guy in the class to move his knees closer together in a pose that was surely crushing his testicles–unless they had retreated in fear?

(Is that what they do? I have no idea. It seems like if cold=retraction, then hot should = more extension, but I don’t know if there’s more to be had, or if balls are just . . . . You know what? This is an unnecessary tangent.)

Yeah, we’re all grownups, and no, we don’t have to do what the fancy teacher says even though she stands on a box made of mirrors. (Mirrors!) But a teacher has a certain power. That’s why there’s all those laws about what they can and – mostly – can’t do. So if a ‘yoga’ teacher tells a room full of people to bend their necks as far backwards as they can and then maybe just a leeeeeetle bit further, they’re probably going to try. Everyone wants the teacher to like them.

I guess my problem is in the use of the word ‘Yoga’. If they called it ‘Hot Aerobics,’ that would be fine. You sort of expect to have to protect yourself from overzealous instructors in aerobics. People have an idea that yoga is safe, and healing, and that lets them drop their guards a little and maybe trust a bit too much. A good fundamental rule of yoga is to always, always listen to your body. If there was a hierarchy in the studio it would look like this:

It’s also possible I just had a bad teacher, and hot yoga is actually brilliant. I mean, the ‘Hot’ part wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be, so there’s that. I’m sure I’m a bit more detoxified than I was before I sweated through my clothes in a 105°F/41°C room. Maybe it works for other people, but it’s not a relationship I’ll bother continuing.

In conclusion, Hot Yoga: I’m sorry. Please know that it’s not me, it’s you.

Old-Ass Ideas

Oh, that photo? That’s just mars. MARS. We are living in the future, and I’m sick of dealing with old-school shit.

(This is prompted by nothing, by the way. I’m just generally pissy about it.)

Things that are difficult: Talking about problems. Admitting to needing help, facing mortality and saying goodbye.

Things that are easy: Sweeping everything under a rug, denial, laughing it off.

Why is it that being tough has this stupid association with being mute? Seriously. I want to know. Is it so much easier for most people to talk about their problems? That’s the hardest thing for me to do. I loathe talking about my feelings. Admitting to myself that I have any feelings other than ‘happy’  and ‘sleepy’ feels like admitting weakness.  Which is stupid, and for some reason has really started pissing me off.

I spent a long time not talking about my feelings and being – as I was once called by a dear friend – ‘emotionally anal-retentive’. Now I talk about my feelings all the damned time – on this blog, with my boyfriend, with my family, with my therapist, with my friends.

You know what?

The old way was easier. Waaaaayyyyy easier. Having lived out both sides of this particular story, I feel confident in saying that the weakness lies in not talking about it. Talking about feelings sucks. It causes crying. Crying makes my eyes itchy, which also sucks. The whole thing. Made of suck.

It takes some serious fucking strength to get everything out in the open, tear it to shreds, and start to glue it all back together. It’s hard. It hurts. Some wounds are really old, and they take a lot of work to open up, and then they just bleed all over everything. It’d be easier to just duct tape them shut again and ignore them.

I think we need to work on changing our opinions of the word ‘strength’. I have, in the past few years, been alternately terrified and angry and helpless and a lot of other feeeeeeelings, and in denial, I was weak. Still, I said goodbye to my father forever, so I forgive myself some denial because that? Is also made of suck.

So now I take weird little white pills, and I talk about my damned feelings whenever they come up. Those are things that make me strong. They’re the things that are making me a whole human.

To those who disparage people dealing with depression in any way they choose: You have a right to your ridiculous, out of date, old-ass opinion. I have the right to mock you mercilessly for it and suggest that you also look into the currently accepted shape of the planet. (Round. FYI.)

If you’re really unlucky, I will tell you how your hurtful comments make me feel. For hours. Just because I can.

Guest Post Fridays: Bill Blais on Being Normal

Bill is a writer, teacher, parent, and master of medieval studies. His book, Witness (currently on my shelf, and brilliant!) won a Next Generation Indie Book Award, and can be bought on various reading devices here. He has just finished a blog tour for his book ‘No Good Deed’, which is part of a series, and has some seriously rave reviews going on here. Bill blogs here, is on twitter as @onemoredraft.

Since he’s a new parent, and every-bloody-person I know right now is pregnant, I assume there is a) something in the water, and b) a space for things that need to be said about parenthood. Bill’s going to say a couple of them.

Shooting The Wild Duck

As is my normal practice, I wrote a long and rambling post for today (several incarnations of it, actually, with each one longer than the one before), until I finally got out all the junk and started listening to what really needed to be said.

And that, that little thing right there, is the most important thing: “what needed to be said.”

See, when Gwen asked me to write about something depression-related, I immediately thought I had nothing to offer. I have some 2nd- or 3rd-hand exposure to depression through some family and friends, but nothing direct (which I realize makes me unfairly lucky).

Then I remembered the first weeks following the birth of our baby girl this past spring.

I won’t bore you with the details because that’s a draining, angry, confused, guilt-ridden couple of pages you don’t need to slog through right now. Basically, if you have children, you probably know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, you can’t. Simple fact.

Kind of like depression.

As I said before, I don’t really know what it’s like inside the head of someone who is truly depressed, but after my first weeks of parenthood, I did some research in medical journals and such and found that all the misery, doubt, fury, powerlessness, fear — even the guilt-multiplying second-guessing — was not an expression of my worthlessness as a human being, but actually fairly normal.

But nobody had ever told us.

Obviously, just talking about a problem won’t cure the problem, but keeping it hidden makes it more likely to fester into something worse. By making a problem public, we can also remove the associated spectre of guilt that hangs on it, allowing us to better address the problem itself. Moreover, we can help prepare others for what may come.

I know, that seems a little hokey, after-school-special-ish of an ending, but the truth is that Gwen has already done a better job than I have. And if you want further proof of the value of such an endeavor, just read some of the comments on her site.

Gwen proves that, difficult though it often (usually) is, knowing is better than not knowing, and sharing makes us all better.

-Bill

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Books!