Tag Archives: Junot Diaz

“While You’re Gettin’ Your Cry On — I’m Gettin’ My Fly On.”

A cup of brutal coffee and a bath with a wrinkled Bukowski.  Who said that mornings had to be unkind?

These days of waking in a vacuum of unpredictability — they make me think of all the big dogs that have come and gone, and suffered for centuries before me.  Like my own fellow comrades — the big-dogs-in-the-making — they had to have wondered, at times, about where the next meal would come from, or the next rent.

They would hang, like poignant ghosts, at their regular spots, hoping the bartender would eventually remember their faces to comp a drink or two, just when they would be about do a touchdown with the rock bottom.  (Those moments — are the best, in life:  Three minutes before a suicidal thought or the a late afternoon phone call giving you a break.)  And the bartender would nod, quickly, familiarly:

“This one’s on the house…”  

(Actually, I’ll never comprehend the hopefulness of that post-midnight line; for I prefer to not suffer from other self-afflictions besides that hideous empathy of mine.  That’s a handful already.  Don’t hand me any more.)

Only at friends’ barbecues — or at other people’s office parties at Christmas — the big-dogs-in-the-making could get plastered enough on free liquor, to not mind their misery in sobriety.  But elsewhere, at all other times, they could never afford enough drinks to get them there.  So, they would loom on their scuffed-up bar stools, waiting for the bartender’s charity:  The wrathful face of Hemingway and the disappointed one of S. Thompson.

Or perhaps, if their beat-up faces were lucky enough to have appeared in black-and-white print a couple of times by then (they were the big-dogs-in-the-making!):  Perhaps, a random nerdy fan would come out of the woodwork — or from behind a ping ball machine — and start lapping up their faces with his star-fucking gazes; then offer to pick-up their tabs with a handful of sweaty cash.  The female groupies would be less useful at the bar, but better equipped to restore their ego elsewhere — anywhere! — like the backseat of their boyfriends’ trucks, or the nook by the graffitied pay phone, near the john.

Somehow, the big-dogs-in-the-making would gain enough swagger to bed a woman:  because there was always some wide-eyed girl or sinister-eyed widow in the mood for the struggling artist type.  But then, someone’s heart would get attached, then broken; and the big-dogs-in-the-making would scurry back to their crammed in joints, with other struggling types crashing on their couches or sleeping in their bathtubs; and they would write for long enough to finish a pack of cigarettes.  Or to run out of their typewriter ribbon.  Or to forget about a drawer full of rejection letters from agents and publishers:

“At this time, we must regretfully inform you…”

And what did they do, with all those regretful notes, by the way:  so insincere, yet always signed “sincerely”?  Did they glue them with gum, onto a white wall painted by someone with zero of imagination, during a sleepless night of annoying heat and warm beer, in a vacuum of unpredictability?  Or did they tear them up, like I do, just in half — never wasting too much energy on anger, for fearing the flip side of it — then burry the pieces under an aged coffee filter from the morning before?  And just how long would they sit in silence until trying their hand at yet another letter, yet another submission — another hand at that cunty luck:  Would it take them a month?  a year?  a trip to Brazil?  another broken heart of another wide-eyed girl?

And then, there were always those with annoyingly stubborn writing discipline:  The respected academic of Nabokov and the celebrity hermit of Roth.  Every year, their friends would catch them at yet another book deal, another fellowship, another grant.  And surely, the big-dogs-in-the-making would feel the envy on the other end of the phone, as thick as aged honey; and just as grainy:

“Oh really?…  Congratulations…  We should celebrate…”

They had to have hated those ellipses loaded with a strained goodwill of their “friends”.  So many!  So many had to get lost during this game of chasing the impossible, often self-destructive but hopefully somewhat self-redemptive career.  Several had to be dismissed face to face, in a drunken fight when these “friends” dropped their pretenses.  Others — would flake off on their own, with enough time and enough demands from their bratty marriages and whiny children.  But the most relentless, the slowest of losses were those acquaintances sticking around for years, only calling after picking-up a few crumbs of new gossip:

“Saw you in The Paris Review…  Congratulations…  We should celebrate…” 

And the big dogs would lie:  Yeah, we should.  But they never would.

No, they’d rather save up their new money for a better hermitage on the coast of New York.  Or maybe even of Connecticut, if they got fed up with all that grime and despair — with that cunty luck — and if they could finally part with their superstition that well-fed artists lost their edge.

I also think of the new big dogs — the ones that are living and publishing now.  They are all quite belligerent — Eggers and Sapphire — shooting out their words with such discipline and urge, that even the confused and the lazy can’t dismiss their names.  The ethnically ambiguous have come through in this century:  The hilarious Diaz.  The empathetic Smith.  The diplomatically graceful Lahiri.  They are all still quite young — and quite beautiful, physically — surfing through their academic careers to earn the respect of the white critics; but then always bringing it back to the streets, back to where they’ve learned to how suffer and how to make use of it; to the rest of the ethnically ambiguous and ethically confused:  To the rest of us.

And somehow, I allow myself the vague hope that maybe, in this century, it needn’t be so painful, it needn’t be so hard to get to one’s often self-destructive but hopefully somewhat self-redemptive career.

Because who said that the mere human suffering — wouldn’t be enough?

And with an empty cup stained by coffee and a cold bath with a soaked Bukowski, who said that mornings — had to be unkind?

“Do Your Thing — Like There Ain’t Nothin’ To It!”

“How do you never run out of things to say?”

My comrades ask me that, quite a lot, these days; and most of the time, they follow-up with their ready theories:

“You’re just so disciplined!”

“Maybe this means you’ve found your calling.”

“But you’ve never done anything half-assed-ly!”

And then, the voice of my most beloved soul that has witnessed my hustle from the East Coast, for over a decade, resonated on the phone last night:

V!  You’ve never procrastinated!  Not even in college.”

Damn it!  Well, today, you just watch me:  I’m gonna do some serious procrastinating, as if I have nothing to say indeed.

It’s an experiment that rings true considering my feet are so swollen from my weekend’s work, they’d look better on a cartoon character (or on the Michelin Man, if he were drawn barefooted).  For the last few morns, it’s been a slow start.  My sleep has been dreamless, so I find no material there.  And once awoken, I’ve been opening my shades to cloudless, clear skies outside.  So, even the weather can’t justify my proneness to heavy pontification today:  Oh, it’s summer alright!  No doubt about it.

As for the little break-up related chaoses of the last two months, they have quietly slipped out.  Finally.  Yes, there had to be a lot of work — and so much agony! — with all that self-searching in the name of growth, and lessons, and my future, better relationship.  (Lord, Shiva!  It was starting to feel so excessive.)  The Zen peeps say all human misery originates from a refusal to recognize the impermanence of things — a refusal to surrender, to let go. 

And if it weren’t for the previous break-up related chaoses, I could’ve carried on like this for years:  with this love, coming and leaving the affair, then cradling my misery as if it were my lovechild.  Holding on.  Refusing to let go.  But no!  Not this time around.  Yes, it took me a while to acknowledge my partner’s decision to quit; but once I heard it:  Oh, it was over alright!  No doubt about it.  (But then again, I hear I’ve never done anything half-assed-ly; and that must include my new ability to let go.  To surrender.)

So, you see:  I have no readily available material this morn.  So, you just watch me:  I’m gonna do some serious procrastinating!

Here comes — my morning coffee!  It’s the first thing I’ve done every day of my adult life:  Turn on whatever device is going to deliver my wake-up elixir.  It could be preceded by the whistling of a tea kettle or the laboriously percolating of my rusty drip machine; but the smell that follows is enough make me want to start.  Start what?  ANYTHING.

So, is that it then?  Is that why I never run out of things to say:  Because despite the losses and the regrets, the suffering and the unpredictable strife ahead — I adore the very act of living? Because I’m not done yet, with any of it:  art, craft; love, worship, discovery; friendship, camaraderie, motherhood?  And because it is a quality of my own motha’s spirit:  to be in awe with every activity, however new or habitual?

Armed with my chipped Starbucks cup containing about a liter of caffeine, I proceed to my laptop.  First stop:  The New York Times.  I roam, I skim through, click away.  I proceed to the NY Region section, linger on this summer’s production of Shakespeare in the Park.  I can already hear it:  The sounds of that City poorly absorbed by the man-made strip of nature running through its middle.  I surrender to the feeling of immediate gratitude:  for having lived in so many places; for having lived so much and so well.  So, is that it then?  Is that why I never run out things to say?

The side column is flooded with editorials on this weekend’s Gay Pride Parade.  The photographs of those well lived-in faces — bohemians and lovers, subversives and revolutionaries, and local leaders — they all seem so different this time.  Yes, there is still joy and flamboyancy, and utter emotional freedom.  But I cannot ignore those who are tearful or hysterically relieved.  I roam through the pictures of the same sex couples, some with their children, all looking like they’ve all suddenly learned to let go.  Yep, New York has done it again:  It stepped up to the plate and despite its relatively small territory, it gave its people enough room for their dignity.  Oh, it’s New York alright!  No doubt about it.

I pour myself the second liter of coffee and proceed to my books, spread all over my joint and in different stages of being read, yet equally marked-up.  Here is Junot Diaz, both of his bestsellers on my desk.  Like me, he is bi-cultural; speaks fluently in two languages — and irony.  He is badass, you can tell; has lived a lot, and well; learned some serious letting go.  Zadie is right underneath him, but oh so equal.  She is funny and brown, always good to flip through.  A master of dialects, she is so far ahead of me — so worthy of my worship!  But in our empathy, we are equal.  In my bedroom, I find my favorite Manhattanite, Tony Kushner, and his shit never gets old.  Or maybe, I’m in the mood for some melancholy:  I wander into the living-room and find some Lorrie Moore, on the floor, near the balcony.  I park my coffee, get lost.

And is that it then:  Is that why I never run out things to say?  Because there is still too much to read, to learn; because others have not procrastinated from speaking?  They speak in different voices — some in awe, others in surrender — and in that likeness and difference, I can always find inspiration. 

Or is it because we are all so equal, in our love for the human race?  Because we dwell in the very act of living — anti-procrastinating — none of us running out of things to say? 

Still, you’ve just watched me doing some serious procrastinating.  I did that!  And how did I do?

Pretty. Little. Liar.

“Because there are enough lies in life, 

so you better be in control of your own fiction.” 

“But I didn’t know that I loved her!  Not after she left!”

The night before, this man had challenged me to a writerly duel:  to commemorate a story of a woman whose departure he regretted the most, in his life.  He slouched on a high chair outside of a club filled with pretty honeys galore.  With his black, dense Persian hair in a cloud from his own cigarette, he hung that head low, frowned, avoiding my eyes, and confessed his loss of that one woman — the one that every man must have in order to become a man; the one that has changed his heart, for good — for the better! 

The following day, after my words had been published, he rang me up immediately, to justify his truth.  He must’ve sobered up a bit:

“You wrote that I loved her!” he objected to my story, seemingly irritated.

“Didn’t you?”

“I mean, well, I did.  I did!  I did, but I didn’t know I did.  I didn’t know I did until, you know, she left me.”

Oh, c’mon!  Don’t give me this shit!

It was my turn to be irritated.  The truth, in actuality, was a lot more brutal than I made it sound:  “A first lesson in the fragility of love and the preternatural cowardice of men” (Junot Diaz, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao).  In my writing, I had been forgiving to his one crucial fault, never calling him any low name, never scolding for the lapse of his better nature.  Yes, I would side with the woman — that one, that good one, like me! — that has changed his heart for the better.  For good!  On behalf of her truth, I had written that day’s rant blog; even though she had left long ago, in pursuit of an even better truth.  On behalf on her truth and of my own, I’d spoken — because I too had just left a man that “did and did, and didn’t know, didn’t know he did”.  Fuck you, I thought:  It’s MY fiction!

“But you wrote he was all that — ‘holding his own’,” another reader — my brother who’d always changed me for good, for the better — was saying soon after my own break-up.

I had rung him voluntarily, for some truth; because I had been digging around for it, desperately.  Perhaps he would know, I thought, what had gone wrong in my love, before I left it.  Perhaps, he could’ve seen the signs while its truth was still happening.

“Well, truthfully,” my brother confessed, “he didn’t.  He did NOT ‘hold his own’.”

Brutal.

But fuck you, I thought:  My lover was MY fiction.  How else was I supposed to be in love — but all in, despite the other player’s truths, more obvious to others than to me?  Yes, we all do this:  We fall in love with the wrong people, ignore the signs, go out on the limb and lose ourselves; only to go scrambling for truth later.  And yes, I had done it again — for love, for good.  For the better. 

Sometimes, the choice is clear:  To alter the truth to fit the story.  Other times, the split between truth and actuality is not even visible.  Because the truth — is a matter of an experience.  It’s an opinion.  Because no artist creates for the sake of THE truth — we create for the sake of OUR truth.  The way we see it, perceive it (and it’s all very specific):  The way.  The truth.  Happens.  To US.

So, last night, when I got inside an elevator with three middle-aged men breathing down my neck — and down my backless dress — I gave jack shit about their truth.  They could’ve been in town and in this fancy hotel for a vacation with their families.  They could’ve been each in the midst of their very happy marriages, with healthy kids in college and their own college sweethearts sleeping dreamily in their beds that they wouldn’t have to make in the morning, for a change.  They could’ve been sweet and clumsy — good men slightly discombobulated by the presence of my brazen sexuality and of that goddamn backless dress.

They could’ve been, but last night — they weren’t!  All three rode down with me, from the Penthouse to the garage, and they flirted, unapologetically:

“Come on in,” one of them held the doors, waiting for me to join them.  “You’re in for some trouble!”

“Am I?”

The doors closed.  It was just the four of us:  Me, in my goddamn backless dress, and three middle-aged men in the midst of their dissatisfactory marriages, in town for their conferences, their infidelity, on the hunt to satisfy their mid-life crises.  (See how it’s done?)

“We’ve been watching you all night,” another one said.  I wasn’t sure which one of them was speaking; because for the entire ride down, I would be facing out, giving them the full view of my exposed back — and not a sliver of fucking hope!

“Have you?” I said over my shoulder, turning my head just far enough to be seen, but not far enough to see.

“We have!  We have!” the third one chimed in, spraying me with his drool.  “You were texting viciously on your phone and crossing and uncrossing those long legs of yours.”

“Was I?”  I had decided to give them as little as I possibly could.  But then there was that goddamn backless dress!

“You were…” one lingered, and I could feel the shivers of disgust bounce down my spine like pearls of a broken necklace.

“You were doing a little Sharon Stone act.”

They laughed.  Brutal.

Yes, these men could’ve been sweet and clumsy — good men, slightly discombobulated by my presence.  But TRUTH be told:  They weren’t!  And I had already forgiven them for their faults.  I hadn’t called them by some low names, scolding them for the lapses of their better nature.  But I was sure that they would reappear in my words — my fucking fiction! — and I wouldn’t even need to alter the truth to fit the story.

“But you wrote…”

Just a few weeks ago, my own former scorned lover would ring me up and give me a laundry list of all the untruths he had to object to.  But truth be told:  Fuck you, I thought!  My life — is MY fiction! 

Hands On! Balls — Out!

No way!  No way I could’ve foreseen what this year would bring!

Almost a year ago, I was merely picking up the pieces.  For I have lost myself in a love, as I have done so many times before; and it would take my falling hard — so hard! — to never do that again.

Of course, as before, I’ve gotten up, gotten myself a job and an apartment, fixed myself up, fell back into another love.  Didn’t like the job, got a better job; made lists of desires and dreams, went for them.  Started a project — balls out! — got an odd gig to support myself through it; the gig went under, but I already had something else lined-up.  Watched a love depart — fell down again.  Got up, continued the project, left the better job, became self-employed.  Made more lists, with new desires and clearer dreams.

True to my feline nature, I tend to land on my feet.  Never out of a job or a dream, I am not the one with a failing ability to survive.  But oh so much time has been wasted on the anticipation of the fall!  Fears have turned my memories of time into rubber.  Days, pages of journals, other people’s attention has been wasted on my doubts.  And every single time, in the past, I noticed the faces of my comrades get skewed by a slight disappointment:

“A Woulda Coulda Shoulda — just doesn’t become you, V!”

No way!  No way I could’ve foreseen that doubt would suddenly become a new allergy of mine, making my entire body short circuit with impatience and annoyance:  I know better than that.  I AM — better than that.  These days, I shake it off, like a midnight shiver or an atrocious sight I’d like to forget.  And forward I launch.  Balls out!

 

“You know who would’ve have been eighty years ago?”  a beautiful boy-child was asking me last night.

“I dunno,” I was chuckling, tickled to the outer edges of adoration by this creature’s innocence and kindness.  “A suffragette?”

“Amelia Earhart!” he said with such a surplus of conviction, I had to stop chuckling.  “The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.  The fears are paper tigers.”

Damn, I thought, he just did that!  That beautiful boy-child simply launched into a quote by the very epitome of courage, on courage — balls out! — and with his uncensored act of curiosity and goodness, he then resurrected me.  Because that’s what they would much rather do — my comrades! — remind me that a Woulda Coulda Shoulda just doesn’t become me.

Let me do that one again:

“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.  The fears are paper tigers.”

When I started my rant blog — 157 days and nearly 30,000 hits ago — no way (NO WAY!) I could’ve foreseen the obstacles and the lessons.  There would be, of course, lessons in my own craft and discipline.  I had hoped for those!  But even then, I couldn’t have imagined the amount of skill that a curiosity equipped with courage could deliver.  The unforeseen has also brought on quite a bit of unexpected pain.  I could NOT have predicted the insecurities of others that my acts of personal courage would activate.  Neither was I prepared for being misunderstood, dismissed, or hated upon.  I had no idea so many humans anticipated another comrade’s fall, in this world!

And so, recently, when yet another human had given me grief — hitting below the belt this time, via his intimate knowledge of me — wrathfully, I thought:

“Don’t you dare doubt yourself!”  (Well, actually, I first thought:  “What the fuck?!”; then gathered my graces and thought the other thing.)

Because I could waste more time on making new lists of how I want my art to be perceived.  I could worry about my image and the memories I would leave behind.  I could undermine my courage or my character by writing retractions to suit every single person I could’ve possibly offended along the way.  I could do all that; but a Woulda Coulda Shoulda just doesn’t fucking become me!

Every visionary I have ever admired, every artist ahead of his or her time, every leader that had stepped up during times of historical changes — they all had to have had these growing pains.  I may not have the audacity to aspire to be in the same category with Susan Sontag or Zadie Smith, Vladimir Nabokov or Junot Diaz.  Roth, Bukowski, or Lahiri.  I am no Frida Kahlo or Yoko Ono; and I am a fucking galaxy away from Lady Gaga.

But I do have the audacity to aspire to their courage:  The courage that is takes to make up a mind — and to act.  The courage that demands to finally put away all those lists of desires and dreams.  To stop venting to your comrades about the challenges and the fears, the betrayals and the growing pains.  To stop apologizing for your vision, for your ability to dream.  To undermine your talent, skills, education, history — with doubt.  To retract for the sake of those whose most treasured outlet in life is to tear down those who scare them — those who fucking dare to dare!  But to make a decision — balls out! — and to do.  To act.  To be:  To be precisely the YOU that your talent, skills, education and history has created.  To live up to the potential of the magnificent, the authentic being that every one of us — already IS.

And so I say:

To every dreamer that may have stumbled upon this page by accident or every comrade that continues to return to it by devotion:  A Woulda Coulda Shoulda just doesn’t become you.  Make a decision and go for it:  Balls out!  

Don’t you dare doubt yourself!  If your vision is true, don’t retract it.  Get to the edge and jump.  

Your people — truly your people — will stand by you, I promise:  Because in their eyes, you are already already equipped with wings.  They’ve just been waiting for you to start soaring.

There will be many challenges.  But there will also be new heights, new sights, new comrades.  And as Amelia Earhart once dared to say:

“You can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.”

Let me do that one again:

“[T]he procedure, the process is its own reward.”

Balls out, comrades!  See you in mid-flight.

Till Death Do Us Part — or NOT

Learned something new last night, loves…

(Actually, considering the newsworthiness of this week was off the hook, I learned quite a lot, via my Week in Review by Twitter.  Every 140-word op-ed came with a new ache of discomfort and my stubborn choice of silence.  No commentary, thank you.  I’ll take the fifth.  Yep:  Grace was an antsy lil’ thing last night, so I can’t say I was restful.)

Every time I crave a better piece of writing — or am about to lose all hope for the mankind — I reach for Junot Diaz.  Or Zadie Smith.  Or Comrade Nabokov.  But during the last hours of my seventh day:  Esquire it was.  I balanced the pages on my naked skin, watching them mark me with black ink.  (Written on the Body. Forgot about that one.)  Half-way in a out of sleep, I waited for the voices in my head to hush down (fucking Twitter, with its schizophrenia galore!); when out came a term I’ve never heard before:  No Fault Divorce.

Say whaaat?!  How come I never got me one of those?

For a second, I forgot which publication was marring my skin with its biodegradable colors (because as you may have read or heard, my darlings, it’s been a book on the topic of Zen this entire week).  I forced myself back to reality, for moment.  Yep:  still Esquire.  My Bible to Mankind.

“Damn it,” I thought.  “No fucking way I’ll be able to go to sleep now!”

Sure enough, the voices in my head went up a hundred decibels, like a choir of Cleopatra’s eunuchs.  Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda started bouncing in my frontal lobe, like steel bullets inside a pinball machine.  Before being tempted to reach for a shot of NyQuil, I leapt out of bed and went digging for my divorce settlement — a document I make no habit of viewing, ever! — issued by some New York Honorable So-‘n’-So who has never met me, let alone heard my side of the story.  Nope:  In my case, my darlings, my fucking story was retold by some attorney with a Chinese name, hired by my ex-husband, the plaintiff:

“The defendant has waived HER right to answer or respond.” 

(Again:  I took the fifth.)

And considering I was on the opposite coast of the country, that’s one way to put it.

There’s no way the Honorable So-’n’-So could’ve known that I was cradling myself to some state of forgiveness, for a duration of a single climate season, since the tragic separation from a friend.  ‘Cause that’s exactly what my hubs was to me — a friend, first and foremost.  Because I was planning to do this “till death do us part”, not the Honorable So-’n’-So “do us part”; and from my idea of marriage, you better be friends if you want to survive until there is no more sex to keep the two of you together.

But it didn’t work out for us that way.  Shit went wrong.  Things fell apart.  And by mutual at the time admission, we “couldn’t do it anymore”.

Despite suffering from a temporary amnesia toward my former self, I had enough presence of mind to recognize what was best for me, at the moment:  to run.  The same way I had fled from the broken marriage of my parents a decade ago (fucking irony, eh?), I took myself across several time zones; because the temptation for reunions with the hubs (the friend and plaintiff) — out of fear or stubbornness or love — would’ve been too great to resist.

But before I departed, we agreed that it was due to no particular one’s fault.  Instead, it was a hundred of little faults, from both of us.  Endless little fights — about my silly habits and his lovable ones; fights that were thrilling in the beginning, because they lead to moments of clarity — and sex; fights that would eventually look comedic; and we would crack each other up, making the hubs’ single dimple appear on his right cheek while I shook my mane at just how I much I adored that fucking thing.  But neither of us could remember when those fights flipped.  Before we knew it, they became little barnacles of cancer which would then be the eventual end of us.  Those fights belonged to a different category:  No longer little catharses, they became struggles for power; and that power had nothing to do with forgiveness but everything — with being right.

Last night’s Esquire piece said it best:

“Fighting matters to a marriage because what matters most to a marriage is forgiveness, and forgiveness doesn’t come for free.  You have to fight for it.”  

Truth be told, my fellow broken-hearted, I didn’t want to be right.  Most of the time, I didn’t want to have the last word either, because I didn’t even know what that last word would be.  (It’s a foreigner thing, or a writerly thing:  I need time to formulate my words — in order to be poignant, or perfectly understood, or “brilliant”.)  So:  I threw in the towel.  Because I feared losing a friend, first and foremost.  Because I knew that despite the resilience of one’s forgiveness, there indeed exists a point of no return.  (I had seen happen, a decade ago, with my parents.  Fucking irony, eh?)  Because secretly I knew that time and space — and in my case, several timezones of space — would heal.

I left.  Gypsy — out.

By leaving I admitted my fault, my comrades.  I chose to find someone to blame (which is how our fights got cancerous, remember?) — so, I blamed myself.  It was easier that way.  I had to lose enough to learn the one prerequisite to forgiveness — remembering THAT which is worth fighting for, or THAT worth walking away from; yet still, I had to leave enough behind TO forgive.  Which is why the settlement to my divorce had to be called Abandonment — another little fault in a sum of all others.  My price of forgiveness; and my own asking price — for keeping a friend, first and foremost.