Instant Turn Offs and Ons

Instant Turn Offs and Ons

Instant Turn Offs and Ons

Fairy stories have a lot to answer for. Those anything-but-innocuous tales parents glibly recite at bedtime invariably rely on a single moment where two (generally outstandingly good looking) people fall instantly in love with as much volition as a carbon atom bonds with a hydrogen atom due to some law of physics. In the story of Snow White, the handsome prince succumbed in precisely this way despite the fact that Snow White lay pale and lifeless in a coffin, all but dead save for a coroner’s certification to the fact. He even convinced the seven dwarves to give her to him, to what end, one can only shudder to imagine. Apparently, the absence of any vital signs was not a turn-off in the slightest.

Such stories engender unrealistic expectations. I spent my teenage years searching in vain for love at first sight across crowded rooms where by all accounts eyes meet and destinies are sealed. All I ever saw across crowded rooms were other girls like me who hadn’t yet been asked to dance.

I am leery of claims of love at first sight and not due to any cynicism about love itself, nor an underestimation of the intensity of the reaction we can have to people based on nothing more than a single passing glance.

I speak from experience having personally fallen head over heels in love at first sight, with, for example, the Bondi Vet what with all that sun-bleached hair, delicious charisma and affection for small helpless creatures. Of course this is all one-sided since I’ve never actually met the Bondi Vet. When individuals sport casually swept back blonde hair, dimples and a charming way with Chihuahuas, it is all too easy to ‘fall in love’ with them. These attributes inspire a salivation of the libido, much like one might start to drool at the sight of a particularly delicious chocolate mousse. Upon further inspection and a degree of reflection this reaction habitually turns out to be a small miscommunication between our hormones and the muscular curve of some poor innocent bystander’s gluteus maximus.

Love-at-first sight is lovely and all, especially in the movies, but it is not a reliable indicator of love at all, (not the kind that makes us tolerant of other peoples’ flatulence, bickering parents or snoring). However, it does bear out the axiom my dear granny (MHDSRIP) never missed an opportunity to reiterate especially during a particularly seditious period in my life when I stopped shaving under my arms and painted my fingernails black: ‘the importance of the first impression.’

It is basic grooming and a sensible social precaution to habitually wash one’s hair, brush one’s teeth and to pick the shirt without the curry stains. The reasons are twofold: firstly, you never know who you are going to bump into on your way to the corner café for a loaf of bread and secondly, nobody needs to know what you ate last night the first instant they meet you. It is a case of too much of the wrong kind of information too early on.

If a first impression goes awry, one risks the dreaded instant turn-off. An instant turn-off is that gut-curdling revulsion that hijacks any possible future interest we might otherwise have in someone. Bad smells, and other general exhibitions of a too-familiar relationship with dirt are universal turn-offs. Dirty fingernails for example (especially long ones harbouring a month’s worth of souvenirs) stifle the human desire to be touched. Unless, of course, the hands belong to a mechanic or painter by trade, in which case a bit of ingrained car oil or Dulux velvet sheen might not only be tolerable, but rather manly. If they are the hands of a vet or a doctor, there really is no recovery. None that I am personally aware of.

A crush I’d been developing on a bloke at the gym once came to a giddy halt when I attempted a small conversation with him during a set of quadricep curls. I cannot be sure whether it was the month of garlic I detected on his breath (not a human rights violation, admittedly), or his set of blackened teeth, putting me in the mind of toilet-grime that made me suddenly remember I had a week’s worth of laundry that needed my urgent attention. I didn’t stick around long enough to find out whether he was caring for his dear old mother riddled with Alzheimers, or whether he was on the verge of discovering a cure for breast cancer. Traits I’d been searching for in men for years.

Then some years later when I was on a date, catastrophe struck when our pizzas arrived. My date proceeded to roll his rocket and gorgonzola pizza up and began to eat it, not slice by slice, but as if it were a Turkish doner kebab. Men have disappointed me in all sorts of ways in the past, from arriving drunk to forgetting my birthday – all of which I have somehow found it in me to overlook and forgive. Yet this pizza-rolling gesture seemed beyond the pale. I think I over-identified with that pizza. I couldn’t help feeling that if you could take a gourmet pizza and squish it all together in a roll, that it ‘said something’ (I’m not quite sure what, perhaps a lack of respect for the gorgonzola) about what sex would be like. And I didn’t fancy it.

Physical turn-offs for me include (but are not limited to) smoking, excessive facial hair especially nasal and ear and funny odors that don’t seem to belong on the human body. One man I dated smelled like sour milk with a dash of dog food. I enjoyed the conversation but my nose wouldn’t let me take it any further.


The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

I once knew a man who smelled like ginger, tangy and delicious. My nose quivered in his presence. I have also known men perfect in all respects, save olfactory. The smell of perspiration on a man especially if it is the result of a day’s hard labour or exercise can be maddeningly arousing. If he’s prepared to sweat, he may just have the kind of stamina that won’t require any nasal spray delivery technology. But any tang of past a sell-by date and it’s all over in a single inhalation.

I have often contemplated that if I could only just sniff a man, I could tell if it was going to work between us, much like one might sniff a rockmelon to tell if it is ripe enough. But most people prefer not to be sniffed immediately. It makes them feel peculiar.

Some of my friends confess to being instantly turned off by flab, baldness, hairy backs, hairy eyebrows, too much gold jewelry, and high pants especially if the crown jewels are squished in half. I think that’s a little shallow. I have no gripe with the vagaries of hair follicle longevity, metabolism or fashion incompetence.

When it comes to the physical, personally I think a person’s eyes, hands, teeth and feet tell you everything you need to know about them.

Hands tell us how someone spends their days, how they touch and hold the things they love. Bitten down nails are an indication of anxiety, stress and possibly a lack of self-confidence. Strong arms promise protection. Warm eyes indicate generosity. Shifty eyes insecurity. Cold eyes emotional constipation. Small feet… well, we all know what small feet indicate.
Perhaps particular traits themselves are not so much responsible for the instant turn-off, as the extrapolation as to what those traits mean. In the case of dirt, it’s imagining that with cleanliness clearly so low down on a person’s list of priorities, the dental hygiene (implicated in kissing) and genital hygiene (later on) probably won’t fare much better and will perhaps fare even worse. Never ever ever when one is dating someone does one want to be weighing up the odds of catching something from him.
If a racist slur slips out, or he confesses that he’s a recreational cocaine user, womanizer, pervert, has an AVO against him from a previous girlfriend, only likes silicon breasts, or thinks breaking wind in public is hilarious, I feel that switch inside me flick and there’s no going back. Much like that scene in Seinfeld where Jerry’s new love interest pulls up alongside him in her car and sees what she think is Jerry picking his nose, while Jerry insists, ‘it was a scratch, not a pick.’

There is a world of difference, is there not, between a scratch and a pick.

However none of these is as a big a turn-off as stupidity, though my sister claims that if an IQ can be offset with devastatingly good looks, celebrity or millionaire-status who cares? Personally, I care. Nothing irritates me more than having to explain a joke or what’s going on in a movie to my date.

But just as suddenly as we can be grossed out, we can also be turned-on. Instant turn-ons blind us to a person’s myriad personality flaws focusing us rather too intensely on an individual trait, such as exquisite hands, muscular arms, a hairless chest or an enormous bank balance.

Men in bookshops do it for me. Especially in the poetry or self-help section. Savage wit. Good listeners. Open-mindedness. Men who don’t use derogatory words to describe overweight women. In my twenties when my favourite book was Tom Robbin’s Jitterbug Perfume, I fantasized that someday I’d walk past a man reading that very book and he’d look up at me and I’d smile and he’d smile and our eyes would meet across the book and a lot of pashing would ensue. Of course, he’d be AFL-qualifying large and rugged and a human rights worker who’d set up an orphanage in a Third World country. He definitely wouldn’t already be married.

Then there was that time when I was introduced to a colleague who had recently joined the law school at which I was lecturing. He had just left a very lucrative practice at the bar to join the faculty and become a teacher. In what I thought was a very friendly and engaging manner, I asked him why he’d left the bar. And he replied, ‘I don’t feel like talking about it right now.’ I found this incredibly rude. It infuriated me. See, men normally don’t brush me off that way. But, there was courage there. He wasn’t a sissy or a people-pleaser. It’s a long story, but I am now married to that man.

In the movie American Gangster (2007) Denzel Washington said, ‘the loudest man in the room is the weakest man in the room.’ This explains why I don’t like loud men. Or weak men. I don’t mean physically. Biceps are of course nice especially if the veins stick out a bit, but they’re not mandatory. I’m talking emotionally. Nothing is more of a turn-off than a man who can’t commit in a relationship.

By implication then, the biggest turn-on is a man with emotional guts who knows how to use his words, and can make a sentence with the following words ‘Love’ ‘You’ and ‘I’. I’ve always been sufficiently considerate to reassure men that size doesn’t matter. But I’ve been hiding behind the truth all along. Size does count. When it comes to turning a woman on, it is the size of a man’s emotional courage that counts.

Published in Vogue, Australia, October 2009 under the title ‘The Heart of the Matter.’

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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Writing Is Not for Wusses

Writing Is Not for Wusses

Writing Is Not for Wusses

Writing Is Not for Wusses… so Zip Up Your Warrior Suit (You’re Braver Than You Think)

Being a writer is not like any other profession. Our work is literally who we are. Not to laud it over book keepers or bakers who do an honest day’s work, every time a writer ‘goes to work,’ we’re in the business of self-exposure. Come to think of it, writing has more in common with a career in pornography than any other.

We’re petrified of being humiliated. Terrified of feeling too much. Afraid of revealing too much and being rejected. Anxious that we’re not good enough. Frightened that it will, in the end, all have been a waste of time.

Fear eats us for breakfast. It decides how brave we get to be in each moment. If we’re not careful, we become fear’s bitch.

So we need courage. Big brave boots.

What feeds courage is our presence. We have to gather ourselves into the moment and banish worrying about the future and the gazillion ‘what if’s…?’ that just want to come and raid the party.

Fear by its nature is future-oriented. It thrives on uncertainty. It sabotages our vulnerability and whips it until it’s cowering in the corner, afraid to step out and test what the world is like when we’re undefended and real. Fear whispers, ‘People will laugh.’ It sniggers, ‘You’ll look foolish.’ Fear undermines our conviction. It tests whether in fact we have found a solid piece of ground to stand on we can call our own. And in this way, it helps us get clarity.

So what can fear teach us?


The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

It can teach us to look at our lives and work out who we are. Unapologetically.

It can embolden us to feel the things that have happened to us deeply and to write from a place of trembling.

We can learn to trust that when we write authentically from our personal experience that it speaks into the universal experience, the great soup in which we are all bobbing around with other soul-dumplings, who far from laughing at us, will knock into us gently with a ‘yes, me too…’

And in Pink’s words: we can learn to be ‘brave in our beautiful mistakes.’

I salute you as you launch into your writing. It isn’t for wusses. Bring forth gently what needs you to be strong.

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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Keeping Faith

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Keeping Faith

You can tell when someone is hungry.

People who are hungry have dry lips. Chapped with dry bits that stick every so often when they talk. They do not pause to lick them, the frayed seams at their mouths. Most of my clients at (POWA) People Opposing Women Abuse, a women’s crisis centre in Johannesburg were hungry. In that gnawing frantic way when someone literally hasn’t eaten proper food in days. It made me feel both guilty (for not being hungry) and helpless because there were strict policies in place about client-counselor boundaries. We were, for example never to dispense money or food. Apparently it feeds dependency and we were trying to help women become independent. These were the official rules and I was shocking at adhering to them. I lack self-restraint when confronted with someone who is starving when I have say, cash in my purse or a sandwich in my bag.

On this particular day, Nolwazi, my client was not only stomach-clenchingly hungry, she was quiet with fear. I’d seen her twice before – once with a broken finger I noticed had never been treated, now locked in a crooked curl, and once with a broken rib and split lip. Today I noticed tufts of her hair missing. With enough force behind it, the human hand leaves an almost perfect imprint on the body. When she lifted her blouse, her torso was patch-worked with a tapestry of contusions. With careful sorrow she said, ‘Every time was a comma, this time it’s a full stop.’ It startles you every time – how a woman who has never been to school or read a book can sprout a bouquet of lyrics.

During the years I worked as a legal counselor to raped and battered women at POWA, stories like Nolwazi’s walked through our doors on an hourly basis. Hers was an ordinary case. The ones that shocked me with an invigorating wince always had a twist to them – a particular gruesome contortion of violence, a fatality, a child. The few available shelters we nagged for spaces were always choc-a-bloc with waiting lists that makes becoming an organ recipient seem like the 12-items-or-less queue at Coles. Without this observation taking anything away from my love of small helpless furry creatures, there are more shelters for homeless animals than there are for abused women.

I looked haplessly at Nolwazi. She looked back at me. We both knew the score here. We already had a domestic violence apprehension order in place. Her husband had simply ignored it. He’d spent time in jail before – petty theft, car theft, assault. Our AVO bothered him less than the emptiness of his beer bottle.

If we were trying to locate the silver lining to this black cloud, at least Nolwazi had left her relationship alive. A woman can die (in a manner that would rate low down on one’s lists of ‘preferred ways to die’ as death by a hammer to the head or a chisel in the chest tend to) trying to leave a violent relationship. ‘Separation assault,’ as it is known, is common and often fatal. Abusive men, their thuggish proclivities aside, are terrible dogs in the manger and would rather murder than be walked out on.
A few weeks before, another one of my clients, Zuki with a honeyed complexion and the face of an angel – the half that hadn’t been permanently disfigured – had been thrown through a glass window by her husband in full view of their four-year old boy of. But she didn’t want to divorce him or have him to sent to jail. ‘I just want him to say sorry ….’ she uttered.

I was still reeling from the loss of a client several weeks before in bizarre circumstances. Yvonne had come to see me to secure a maintenance order from her husband who worked as a prison warden. He had threatened to kill her if she went ahead with her claim, so we took out an AVO. On the day of the maintenance hearing, he was allowed through security with his firearm – after all, he was a respectable prison warden. There in open court, he shot Yvonne Ramontoedi dead, in full view of the magistrate, knowing he’d be out of the overcrowded jails within the year (without having to pay a cent of maintenance – all around, a win-win situation for him). Assimilating that degree of misogyny is like trying to absorb broken glass through the muscle wall of your heart.

What happens when you hear enough horror stories, is that the brain performs a fascinating neurological trick. It anaesthetizes the natural response of shock, the way flesh will concede a certain numbness if hit enough times. People often pass out into a state of unconsciousness, to protect the psyche and the body. Without my realizing it, this is what was happening to me. It’s a form of burnout. But that word doesn’t do justice to the incremental withdrawal of emotion from life, a detachment which over time, fragments the integrity, the inner stitching of the spirit.

Now you might be asking yourself why on earth I was sitting across from women like Nolwazi, listening to horror stories, not being able to help them, and feeling guilty, helpless and at times, furious and mostly very sad. It’s a good question. My father asked it of me often.

‘God you look like hell,’ he’d say.

‘I’ve had a bad week at work,’ I’d mutter.

‘Met any nice abusers lately?’ he’d joke.

I’d scowl.

‘Why on earth do you put yourself through that?’ he asked. ‘It’s making you bitter and twisted. Not to mention angry and exhausted.’

Of course my father was right. I was all of those less-than-delightful adjectives. A young woman in her mid-twenties should not be fielding accusations of bitterness, twistedness, anger or exhaustion. It’s not an appealing quartet of adjectives, especially when one is, despite feminist denials to the contrary, eager to get a date with a man with spectacular abdominal muscles. The way my father described me, I sounded like a spinster. A loser. Someone fat and unlovely with no prospects of ever living with or loving anyone other than a couple of over-fed cats.


The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

What was true was that since I started working at POWA, I always felt a hair’s breadth away from uncontrollable fury. Chilled and mellow were probably the last two words that would have sprung to mind to describe my response to vaguely sexist remarks about a woman’s appearance, life choices or sexual preferences that did not involve her enslaving herself to patriarchy by say, getting married.

And turning to my father, forgetting for a moment that he is a decent and wonderful man, I’d sort of yell at him: ‘Because women are being raped and battered all day, every day, behind closed doors, and because ordinary people like you think to do nothing, say nothing and rather just pretend the problem doesn’t exist! You’ve got three daughters, this is also your problem!’
‘My darling, have some smoked salmon on a bagel,’ my mother would interject.

And seething, I would.

The worst life experiences have a way of settling, over the course of time into an emotional resilience, presuming they do not break us. I am not a fan of the idea that ‘what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger,’ but I suspect there is an element of truth to it, as long as it doesn’t glorify suffering. I abhor suffering of any kind, especially when inflicted on women and children. In a choice between being ennobled by suffering and leading a perfectly untarnished existence, no-one but a fool would choose agony over easy street.

When I stopped doing this work, I did so as a matter of my own survival. I vowed I never wanted to see another battered woman as long as I lived.

Fourteen years later, contemplating the options for my next book after the success of Secret Mothers’ Business, I came across a letter given to me by one of my clients at POWA many years ago. It was written in pencil, like a child who hasn’t graduated to her pen-licence, with little love-hearts and smiley faces all around the border. ‘I will never forget you or what you did for me,’ she wrote, promising me that someday she would find a way to repay me for all I had done for her. If I remember correctly all I had done was make a few phone calls to arrange for her and her lesbian lover to get into a shelter that would accommodate them and for her daughter to be assessed by a doctor for possible sexual assault.

That letter bored its way into the Pandora’s box of my heart and unleashed a chaos of memories I thought I had so masterfully repressed. For the first time in over a decade I began to wonder about all those women whose stories I’d borne witness to, and whether any of them had escaped the violent cyclonic hell of their lives. And suddenly I remembered her. A woman with a neat leather handbag, who had come to tell me that her sister whom I had seen a few days earlier had been stabbed to death by her boyfriend with a pair of scissors.

A day later, I wrote the opening line to the book that would become Things Without A Name: ‘There are not many useful things you can say to someone whose sister has been stabbed to death with a pair of scissors.’ Faith, the voice through whose eyes the story takes place is a counselor at a women’s crisis centre, who has, like I had, seen too much pain etched on women’s faces and bodies and has lost her faith in love.

Despite the darkness of the book’s setting, I wanted this to be a story of hope and deliverance. I wanted readers to love Faith because she did not love herself. But in writing her, I think I helped Faith to love herself better.

Things Without A Name is a story about names: the things we name, the things we cannot. I made the decision early on to name all my characters after real people who have lost their lives in gender violence. Right at the back there is section detailing in one or two sentences, the circumstances of each person’s death. Despite my publisher’s concerns about this inclusion because it might make readers ‘uncomfortable’ and is somewhat voyeuristic, it has thankfully survived, a signpost for those who choose to know the path I traveled through this book. Though this is a novel, I don’t want people to forget that Faith’s story took root in a place of real pain and human faces across the table from someone whose sister was stabbed to death with a pair of scissors. While I scrounged for something useful to say.

I also wanted the title to echo the withheld emotion and unexpressed loss through which Faith moves towards the hopeful whispered exclamation at the end‘…There is a name for this, what I’m feeling…. I just know there is a name for this.’
In naming the desolations of our history, we are able to claim them, and bury them, rupturing the silences that hold us back. Because, as Faith comes to understand, ‘things without a name, still matter.’

Published in Vogue, Australia, December 2008

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

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Why Talent is Overrated in Writing

Why Talent is Overrated in Writing

Why Talent is Overrated in Writing

What stops many people from writing is the belief that they have no talent. This is what I think about talent:

Talent isn’t enough: talent guarantees zilch. It’s not a ticket to a publishing deal let alone a bestseller. It’s not even a boarding pass. It may get you to the terminal, but it has nothing to do with take-off, and even less to do with the journey and the arrival at our destination. Getting to where we want to go, is strangely disconnected from talent and has more to do with stamina. People who are blissfully untalented, often succeed where exquisite writers fail, largely because they have muscle in places the ‘talented’ neglect.

Talent often tags along with serious neurosis: those who are brilliantly gifted writers, are often serious nut cases. I say this with great affection. They are blessed with a form of self-consciousness that is at once both their writing strength (it makes their writing glimmer with depth and takes a reader into some of the most hard-to-reach internal spaces), but turned on itself, can be paralysing. They over-analyse and overthink ‘what others will say?’ They become crippled with self-doubt and shattering vulnerability. So they self-sabotage. They don’t write. They don’t finish.


The 7 Day Writing Challenge

WINGS: Words Inspire, Nourish and Grow the Spirit

Talent infers a false sense of entitlement: having a natural talent for writing doesn’t make us special. Believing we’ll be discovered with little to no effort, based on one or two off-the-wall success stories of famous writers who became multi-millionaires overnight is a little, well, delusional. No matter how good we are, we are all subject to the same rules of the game: hard work, perseverance and refining our craft. Talent is not a short-cut, although it might give us a head start. Hares are outrun by tortoises who put one foot in front of the other.

If you’re fortunate to have natural talent – mazeltov. For the rest of us, writing is damn hard work. And funnily enough, the more we practice, the more talented we become. As Gary Player famously said of his golfing success, ‘The more I practice, the luckier I get.’

Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?

How to Make ‘I’ Contact

One of the first rules of public speaking is to make eye contact with the audience. That’s how we connect and earn trust. In writing, our challenge is to make ‘I’ contact. We have to be connected in with our own story in order to connect people in to our story. Who we...

How to Touch What Is Beautiful

‘I did not survive to be untouched.’ – Mark NepoToday, my friends, is my 52nd birthday. I know, right? I don't look a day over 50.The past year has been a mix of magic and mayhem. I count among the highs my discovery of ocean swimming and the return of my writing...

This Is Not the Story I Wanted to Write

This is not the story I was planning to write.But sometimes the stories we don’t intend to tell are the ones that most need to be shared.It begins with a typical night out: drinking and dancing at a club. Except the drink a guy handed me was spiked. I have no...

How the Scariest Moment of My Life Reminded Me I Am Safe

It was 2am on the second night of my recent visit to South Africa and I was wide awake with jetlag. I trundled down the stairs of my parents’ home, made myself a cup of coffee, called my husband in Australia, checked my emails and called my friend Katrina to discuss...

What Would Happen If You Just Stopped?

Yep, you know what I mean. Just stopped. Did nothing. If you'd asked me this question during the past 18 months while I worked 14 hour days, 7 days a week, it would have baffled me. I love hard work. I've got what we call 'zeitzvleis' - 'sitting-flesh' - I can do...

A Simple Exchange of Niceties

Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake. - Wallace Stevens The first available appointment was for next week only. That was in nine days time. Enough time for hands, brains, eyelids and knee joints to form according to the charts. I took a walk. I needed...