Sometimes your cat is a huntress

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It was a normal day.

Oof – what a way to start a story.  So rife with possibilities.  Anyway –

It really was a normal day.

Becca is off being a time traveler for the next couple weeks with her family five hours ahead in the UK, so it’s just me and Franny here at home.

Nothing too major was happening in the afternoon, so I went into the closet to get some audiobook recording knocked out.  A few times during my half-hour or so in there, I heard Franny meow out in the apartment proper.  I thought nothing of it and kept recording.

Then, I was startled by scratching at the closet door.  Oh no, I thought.  What the heck?  The cat was meowing nonstop and scratching at the door, so she obviously wanted my attention.

I opened the door to see the puss sitting on the floor with pride, a dead mouse in front of her.  Using her paw, she pushed it toward me gently.  Giving another purr, she looked into my eyes and waited for a response.

A few things went through my mind:

1. What the hell.

2. That’s a dead mouse.  Where did that come from?

3. Did she really kill this thing?  I mean, she’s killed flies and roaches before, but this is a MOUSE.

4. Oh my god.  She’s so cute.  She’s presenting it to me.  She wants me to have it.

This final thought taking precedence in my head, I praised her.  I mean, heck, she just killed a pest!  Huzzah, little Amazon!  Huzzah!

Out of meat, and with a cat that hates cat treats, I gave her some catnip to occupy her while I went to get paper towels with which to dispose of the catch.

When I came back from the kitchen, Franny was sauntering toward me with the mouse in her mouth.  It may sound weird, but she was ridiculously cute with the thing hanging from her pard.

Then she started to play with it.  She lay down and began throwing the animal up into the air and batting it with her paws.  I politely asked her to stop (also I made her).  Annoyed, but compliant, she set it down on her scratchpad, then turned away.  I picked up the dead animal and wrapped it in paper.  I disposed of the thing, and that’s when the fun started.

Franny had no idea where it went.

She was bereft, to say the least.  She began to meow and circle the scratchpad.  She pawed at the spot where it once was.  She tried to flip the scratchpad over.  This went on for about ten minutes, so I decided I would help the girl out.  I titled the scratchpad on its side so she could see there was nothing under it.  The mouse was gone.  The search continued.  For another hour, she stalked the living room, looking behind items, looking under furniture, pawing at the scratchpad, and meowing up a storm.

Poor thing.

Eventually she gave up the hunt, and resigned to be ready for the next one.

(WHICH I HOPE NEVER HAPPENS.  LET’S NOT FORGET THERE WAS A MOUSE IN MY APARTMENT SOMEWHERE.)

The moral of the story, however, is that I have the best cat in the world, and she is a mighty huntress, and I feel safer knowing she’s guarding us from ferocious rodents.

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Sometimes eleven-year-old straight boys like listening to Doris Day.

The year is 1996.  I am a fifth-grade student at Fountaindale Elementary School.  Fifth grade was the last year before the jump up to middle school, so I was pretty hot shit as one of the senior elite.

I was on the television in every classroom every single morning with the morning announcements.  The Vice-Principal himself drove to my house to pick me up one snowy morning so I could make it on the air in time.  I was a big deal.

So when Mrs. Music Teacher (whose name I have long since forgotten) told the fifth-graders that we would be able to vote on the song we sing at elementary school graduation, I was ecstatic.  I’m Artie Sievers, I said to myself.  I’m le grand fromage.  I’ll pick out something and, of course, everyone will think it’s golden.

I began the search.

My taste in music as an eleven-year-old was not much different that it is today.  That is to say, I was a sixty-year-old man.  My cassette tape collection ranged from Elvis Presley to The Beach Boys to Tchaikovsky to Ray Stevens (yes, the comedian) to some choice musical soundtracks.  One of my most prized possessions, however, was a tape that, if memory serves, was simply titled “Hits of the 50’s.”  An auspicious album, to say the least.  On it were my rock-out jams: El Paso by Marty Robbins, The Battle of New Orleans by Johnny Horton, Mambo Italiano sung by Rosemary Clooney, and other gems.

One piece from that album, though, stuck out as a prime candidate for our fifth-grade graduation song: Doris Day’s Que Sera Sera (Whatever will be, will be).  This, I thought, is a masterpiece of tone.  This is what we want to communicate to the world: we leave elementary school behind to venture into the unknown.  We are scared and unsure, but whatever happens, happens.  We can’t control it, so let us not try.

My eleven-year-old mind exploded with genius.  I was so proud of myself for identifying this.  And – I remember thinking – the parents in the audience will love it!  It’s an old song, and all old people love old songs, right?  Oh, I was going to score some big points with this choice.

We were instructed to cue up our cassette tapes and bring them in to Music Class.  When the big day came, children filed into the room depositing their cassette tapes onto the table by the stereo in the front of the room.  I hadn’t bragged about my choice beforehand to anyone.  I thought I’d let it be a surprise.  I placed my tape with the others and took my seat in the brown vomit-colored risers.

Mrs. Music Teacher (whose only feature I can remember is a mop of purple hair on top of a teardrop face) played each cassette, one by one.  Some were good choices, I recall.  Some were ridiculous, heavy metal anthems that I’m not sure you could even find a choral arrangement for.  And some were flat-out bad.  I remember one kid brought in a recording of an instrumental piece.  All were contemporary music, though.  These children basically just brought in their favorite songs.  Anyway, finally the moment came when Mrs. MT placed my tape in the stereo.  I held my breath, waiting for the inevitable unanimous approval.

As the song started, however, I heard sniggers.  I heard mockery.  I heard all-out guffaws.  I heard “What the heck is this song?!”  I heard “This sounds like something my grandpa listens to!”  I heard “Turn it off!”  I heard “Who brought that in?  Who did it?  Huh?  Come one, who brought it?”

I opened my mouth to identify myself, but instead of doing so, I started laughing as well.  “Yeah, this is horrible,” I said to the kid next to me.  “Did you bring it in?”  The kid shook his head no.

Mrs. MT politely shushed us all and allowed the song to finish.  She betrayed no opinion on the material, but continued on with the next prospective selection.

When it was time to vote, nobody raised their hand for Que Sera Sera, including me.  In fact, a couple of kids still laughed when Mrs. MT held it up.

At the end of class, everyone went up and took back their cassettes.  I left the room without picking mine up.  A few days later I was able to snag it back when nobody was looking.

I don’t have it anymore, but I’d love to find the album again.  Still love those songs.  🙂

PS – The song we sang at our graduation was The Greatest Love of All.  Gag.

Sometimes you have a bench. And it’s all yours. And it’s amazing.

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In the American Museum of Natural History, there is a bench.

This is my bench.

(Pay no attention to the photograph above.  That’s not my bench.  My bench is so much more awesome than that bench.)

My bench is the best bench.  It is not a fancy bench, high-backed or elaborately carved. It is not an artsy bench, made of gum wrappers or heart-shaped paper clips.  It is not a famous bench, or an oft-used bench, or even an attractive bench.

But this it is my bench.

It is not my bench in the prosaic sense of ownership.  I do not “own” the bench.  I did not purchase the bench.  I did not carve the bench out of a giant sequoia.  I did not donate a certain amount of money to the museum to have my name engraved on the thing.  I did not put the hulking piece of wood there and arrange it with the objects around it to my liking.  But it is mine, nonetheless.

This is where I write.

Most every day, I take up my notebook and my pen and leave my Manhattan castle.  I ride the underground rails down to the 81st street stop.  I get off the train and enter the museum underground.  After flashing my handy membership card, I wander the museum at leisure for an hour or so. In this hour, I listen to instrumental music and make my way through the halls.  One day, I will be able to say that I have read every word on every plaque in every hall in the place.  

I’m not there yet.

Still, headway is being made, and that is what this wandering hour is for.

After my intellectual appetite is satiated, I head to my bench.  It is in an oft-forgotten, ill-frequented hall, in a boring section that hardly anyone goes to, behind a glass case.  If you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t know it was there.  🙂

Unfortunately, I cannot disclose to you, the reader, which bench is mine.  I do this for several reasons:

Reason One: You would go looking for it.  You would agree with me that it’s the best bench in the world and you would go there to write, too.  Then it would be really awkward when I went there one day and found you spread out like you owned the place and I had to punch you in the throat because you stole my bench, you cad.

Reason Two: You would broadcast it.  You would Tweet about it: #bestbenchever.  You would Instagram it with a hazy filter.  You would create a video of you extolling the bench and post it to Vine.  Or you’d tell your friends over brunch: “Hey, I heard about this awesome bench, guys.”  No thank you, sir.  Not gonna let that happen.

Reason Three: I’m incredibly superstitious and I feel like if I tell you it won’t be a good writing spot anymore.  No joke.

Anyway, back to my bench:  it’s glorious.  Out of the way, against the wall, with hardly any foot traffic that happens by, it’s my personal Shangri-La.  Without fail, every time I sit there I am able to write well.  And if not well, then at least prolifically.  

It is there that I have traveled back to 19th-century London.  It is there that I have flown through the air with faeries.  It is there that I have journeyed into a dystopian future, crossed the Golden Gate Bridge in a horse-drawn carriage, kidnapped a child with a senile elderly woman, shared a first kiss, thrown a punch, and even checked my email.

It’s one of the most precious and exciting places in the world to me right now, and I’m so glad I found it.

Just wanted to share.

🙂

Sometimes you have a *click click* ssssssssss-steam leak.

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While we were on vacation our apartment was left unattended from 18 December to 11 January.  (Sorry, burglers.  Even if I had told you this before the fact, there really wasn’t much in there to satisfy.)

This was the longest stretch it had been sitting empty in, like, forever.  As least in the four years I’ve lived there.  Needless to say, I was a bit concerned.  Not I’m-going-to-set-up-a-nanny-cam-to-make-sure-everything-is-ok-everyday concerned, but at least I-think-about-it-every-so-often-and-hope-everything-is-ok concerned.

I had left a card for our superintendent (complete with Christmas tip) and let him know we were going to be out of town for that stretch of time, asking him to keep an eye on things and grab our mail if it overflowed.  All seemed well.

The vacation happened.

We come back home (after an exhausting day of traveling, much of which was delayed) at 2am.  We open the door to our apartment and there, in the middle of the kitchen floor, is our window A/C unit.  That was IN the window when we left.  There is the Christmas tree, star akimbo, wearing only half our ornaments.  The rest are on the ground in various pieces.  Curious.

We put down our bags and investigate.  There is no sign of forced entry.  There’s nothing stolen.  There’s nothing broken.  Everything in the apartment is a little sticky.  Everything in the apartment looks like it got wet.  The floors are sticky.  The walls are streaked.  The dishes look like they had dirty water in them at one point.

“There must have been a leak,” we say.  “But why is the A/C moved?  Why did the tree obviously fall?  And why is it not messy?”  One would assume that, if there was a leak, things would be much dirtier and disgusting than they are.  Especially since someone obviously came into our apartment to do something (in theory, fix the leak).  And where did the leak come from?  There’s no origin point in the ceiling or anything.

Confused, we went to bed.

The next day was Sunday, so I couldn’t talk to the super.  It’s his day off.  We cleaned instead.  All the stickiness.  All the warped books.  All the streaks on the walls.  It was so weird.  We couldn’t even ask our cat what had happened because we took her with us!

When I finally caught up with my super, I got the story.  And it all makes sense:

During the deepfreeze that hit the east coast, the heat was cranked up.  We have radiator heat.  The force from the steam must have been so powerful that it popped the cap off the radiator.  Steam billowed into the apartment (for how long, who knows? A day? A week? I shudder at the thought.)  A neighbor saw the steam and thought it was smoke.  They called 911.  The fire department came.  My super couldn’t find the keys to our apartment.  The fire department climbed up the fire escape, busted the A/C out of the window, knocking over the Christmas tree right in front of the window.  

They came in and did whatever needed to happen to fix the radiator, but the place was still moist.  I imagine it was rather like a steam room.  The super and fire department left, closing the door behind them.  The steam could not escape.  Now that it was cooling down in the apartment, it turned to liquid and rained down from the ceiling over everything.  And then we came home at 2am on the 12th of January befuddled to no end.

Thankfully, nothing was damaged, no claims need to be filed.  Some of our books have warped covers, but that’s pretty much it.  Our Fosse-esque steam leak (it’s not really Fosse-esque unless you describe it like this post’s title, but that’s ok) was minor.  All’s well.

Now we just have to keep our eye out for mold!

Good to be home!!  🙂

Sometimes Connecticut is the best place. PART ONE

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After a crazy busy summer filled with a massive overhaul of my novel for my agent, house managing a sold-out run of an Off-Broadway show, and spending three weeks playing war for Army, a vacation was in order. 

An acquaintance of my gal Becca just bought a house in Fairfield, CT right by the beach and was going to be out of town for the month of August.  Take it, she said.  Use my beach pass, she said.  Have a good time, she said.  

Thank you, we said. 

So one Wednesday evening we rented a car, packed it up with our belongings, and drove north.  We knew that her son, a twenty-something who is normally off in school somewhere, was going to be present for the duration.  Oof, I said.  Human interaction.  Easy, Becca said.  It’ll be ok. 

When we arrived late that night, the son was not at home.  He had left the key under the mat for us, however.  So we grabbed our bags and went up to the door. 

We were a few feet from the front door when we heard a meow.  Suddenly, out from the bushes, springs a mangy cat.  Oh dear, I said.  Must be a stray.  Its fur was matted and scraggly and its meow was deep and scratchy.  

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This cat is more well-groomed than our Connecticut cat.

As we tried to open the door, the cat tried to go inside.  Hey there, I said.  Don’t go in there.  We shooed it away.  It didn’t move.  I walked away and called it so that Becca could at least get inside.  It didn’t move.  We set down the leftovers from our fast food dinner on the other side of the driveway.  It certainly appreciated our offering but came right back as soon as we went to open the door. 

Is it their cat, I asked.  It can’t be, Becca said.  She said nothing about a cat.  It must be a stray.  It has no collar and no tag. 

Finally we managed to get inside and slam the door in the cat’s face.  Thank goodness, we said.  Then we set about exploring the house, which was lovely.  We were offered the master bedroom on the third floor, which we gladly took.  We settled in for a good night’s sleep. 

In the middle of the night an incident occurred to which I was not privy, as I was sound asleep.  There was a knock on the door and a shadowy figure opened it up.  Hello, it said.  Becca, sleepily, responded in kind.  Did you feed the cat, it asked.  No, Becca replied.  OK, it said.  Have a good night. 

SO IT WAS THEIR CAT!  The epiphany may not be as profound as it was in person, but you get the idea.  We basically just told a cat to go screw itself because we weren’t going to let it in its own house or feed it either.  C’est la vie. 

The next day was a bit overcast, but we had already decided to do the beach.  It’s our vacation, darnit, so let’s start it off right.  After quietly taking the beach chairs from the garage (since the son’s bedroom was right across the hall from the garage), we loaded up our rental car and set off to find breakfast. 

Find it we did.  Siri, ever helpful, suggested Home On The Range, a small café in a quaint downtown area.  It had, without a doubt, the absolute best French Toast I’ve ever eaten.  The sweet little old lady that runs the place works there all by herself, taking the order, cooking up the grub, and clearing away your plates and serving as cashier when you’re through.  We would spend two more mornings savoring her wares. 

After we were stuffed, we went to the beach.  And there was nobody there.  Oh sure, there was a lap-swimmer.  And a couple strolling.  And an old man sitting on a beach chair.  But that’s it.  It was deserted.  The ominous-looking storm clouds may have had something to do with that. 

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Still, we were determined to have a good time.  Let’s not take the chairs, we said, as we may not be here long.  It’s a good thing we didn’t.  After frolicking a bit in the waves, Becca set out to carve words in the sand while I took pictures. 

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Artie plus Becca plus Rising-Tide Cat.

Then, after about ten minutes of watching the tide come in ridiculously fast, we skedaddled.  It was no more than a few seconds after we got back into our car that the clouds burst open and a monsoon began. 

What does one do on vacation in Connecticut at ten in the morning when it’s raining?  Why, go to the movies of course!  Eating popcorn and drinking soda for brunch, we sat with one other couple in a giant movie theater and watched The Butler (which I highly recommend, by the way). 

Back outside, the sky was no longer angry, but it wasn’t too happy yet, either.  What to do?  Go to the Barnum Museum, of course!  It’s so close, after all, in Bridgeport, CT.  Let us away, I said. 

Unfortunately, the Barnum Museum was hit pretty hard by a tornado a few years ago and is still not open to the public.  Sigh.  Back to the house to regroup. 

Upon arriving, we were met with a shirtless, skinny, tattoo-covered young man sitting on the front stoop smoking a cigarette.  The son, we guessed.  We guessed correctly.  After exchanging pleasantries and learning that the cat did, in fact, belong to the family, we scooted upstairs to plan our evening.

 We decided to venture north to New Haven, to The Original Frank Pepe Pizza Napoletana.  It’s this amazing little pizza place for which people line up down the street to get a table.  It’s been around since 1925 in the same location and owned by the same family.  Check is out at pepespizzeria.com.  It was scrumptious.  Certainly different than our usual New York City pie, but amazing nonetheless. 

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Only slightly tipsy from the entire bottle of wine we drank, we decided then to stroll the campus of the Ivy League member Yale University.  We imagined ourselves in more scholarly pursuits than our art schools offered us.  We dreamed of singing in the Whiffenpoofs and eating in the Spoonery.  And we watched all the kids move into their dorms for the start of the semester.  None of them looked smarter than us, we decided, so we totally should have gone to Yale. 

Because Becca had never been, and because there was one right by the entrance to the highway, and because we had nothing better to do and because we were on vacation, gosh darnit, we went to IKEA.  This activity needs no greater explanation.  It was pure, unadulterated, built-it-yourself furniture bliss.  We didn’t buy anything, but boy howdy did we make some I-want lists.

Full of pizza, popcorn, French Toast, and tired from a fun-filled day, we made our way back to the house to sleep.

It was a good first day of vacation. 

Stay tuned for PART TWO in my next post!

Sometimes it’s your birthday.

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A BIRTHDAY TALE.
By ME.

It is 2013.  In the United States of America. 
He wakes up at 8:30am.  He gets out of bed, stretches, and pads to the kitchen.  He fills the cat’s bowl with food and makes himself a large glass of chocolate milk – it’s his birthday, after all.
He sits down at the table and opens up the computer.  After checking his email and the news, he types in that most popular combination of letters and presses “Enter.”  His screen becomes a mosaic of blue and white, with colorful pictures spread throughout.  Here’s his cousin at her bachelorette party.  Here’s his co-worker at Coney Island.  Here’s a Buzzfeed article from that annoying guy that he hates talking to.  And there, in the upper-right hand corner, is the World.  And it’s lit up.
His breath catches in his throat.  There’s a tiny red number there – 1.  He had expected something larger.  He licks his lips nervously.  His fingers twitch as they drum the keyboard.  Slowly and carefully, his thumb moves across the touchpad and he clicks. 
The World reveals more information, but he only looks at the number of people.  The rest is irrelevant.  He knows what the rest says.  He clicks again, bringing up a picture of him on vacation in front of a picture of a pretty sunset he once saw.  He scrolls down, past the personal information, to the messages beneath.  There they are.  In gleaming black and white, each underneath their sender’s name. 
There are so many.  And it’s only 8:30 in the morning.
He smiles.  He has passed the Test of Self-Worth set down in those sacred Laws of Social Media.  He is now free to go about his day (and, truly, his year) secure in himself and his worldly offerings.  Oh, the disappointment and shame that would accompany anything less than exemplary display of cyber affection witnessed this morn…  He is free from that torment for at least another year.
He shuts his computer and takes a swig of chocolate milk.  It’s gonna be a good day.

Sometimes you start a story at 16. And finish it at 26.

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Ah, high school.  Those ripe and rare salad days.  The virgin landscape of yesteryear.  That delightful time when anything can – and does – occur.  When all roads are open to you, and everything is possible.

It was during this impressionable time in my life that I explored every creative outlet I had in my body.  I acted, I sang, I danced, I composed music, I wrote plays, and of course – I wrote fiction.  Although recently undertaken as a solid professional goal, the urge to write was bred in me long before a whisker showed its face on my chin.  Now, there have been little stories swimming through the river of my mind for as long as I’ve been a sentient being, but it was in high school that the idea of THE NOVEL first reared its head. 

THE NOVEL came to me one day after watching a performance of Puccini’s La Boheme at a waterfront amphitheater.  It was a beautiful evening, and Rodolfo and Mimi sang of their love as the sun set behind them.  I was with my first love, and I had never felt more alive before.  I went home and immediately knew what I was meant to do with my life.
Well, not really.  That never happened.

Really, I have no idea where or how I got the idea for THE NOVEL in the first place.  But it appeared one day and I said, “Hey, that’d be a cool book.”  So I sketched out some ideas and wrote a chapter or two in a journal and promptly forgot about it.

Cut to my sophomore year of college four years later.  Going to school in Philadelphia, I was working part-time at Adventure Aquarium across the Delaware River in Camden, NJ (which, at the time, was considered the most dangerous city in America – fun fact).  Every day I had to get on the PATCO train which connected the two cities and ride it across the Ben Franklin Bridge.  While on this commute one day, I suddenly remembered THE NOVEL.  (I should mention I was going to school for musical theatre at this time, so I had entertained no intention of writing.  Ever.  Not that I was against it – it had just never occurred to me.)

Being an ambitious lad with an hour of nothing to do every day while commuting, and not being one of those silly bookworms who read on the train, and not being one of those crazy teenagers who listen to music on the train, I decided I liked the romance of writing a novel on the train.  I found my old red notebook and set to work with a serious mind.

I plotted out THE NOVEL and created a map of the world (Yes, it was an epic fantasy.  Of course.).  I wrote a few chapters and was so pleased with the novelty of it all.  This was so different than going to voice lessons and dance class and crying in Meisner studio and dealing with hot girls who were actually crazy.  Alas, all good things end, however, and my time at the aquarium drew to a close.  I typed out what I had written and saved it on my computer.  And promptly forgot about it again.

So it went for the next few years – I graduated and got my first professional acting gigs.  I fell in love, fell out of love, moved in with people, moved away from people, had other day jobs, and eventually moved to New York.  During all of this, THE NOVEL would stop by my head to say hello every now and then.  I wrote a couple of chapters between acting gigs, I rearranged a bit of dialogue when going through a breakup, I edited the map anytime I saw a cooler map in another epic fantasy book.

I actually got a lot of writing in during Army basic training.  After the day was over and our drill sergeants released us for the night, I’d sit up in bed with my little notebook, scribbling away about fairies and magic with my M-16 semi-automatic rifle by my side.

Anyway, there came a point when I realized I had finished the darn thing.  So I said, “Neat!” and promptly forgot about it.

Cue me making the decision that I’d like to start writing fo’ realsies.  THE NOVEL is ecstatic.  Happily, I read through it, prepared to start the editing process.  I am appalled.

Here is the problem with beginning a novel at 16 and finishing it at 26:  it was written by at least ten different people. 

I could point out exactly what section each author wrote.  And not because I remembered when I wrote what.  It was because it was so blatantly obvious.  I will highlight a few of these authors:

The 16-year-old wrote like Tolkein or Dickens:  long, luxuriating sentences that carried such weight of import that you wanted to take a nap after every period.  You lost track of the subject of the sentence after hearing how beautiful it was in the moonlight.

The 21-year-old wrote like David Mamet:  whole chapters filled with dialogue.  Occasionally there’d be a “he said” in there, but that was about it.  Otherwise, it was action-action-action.

The 26-year-old wrote with a sense of motivation: whole pages where we followed the characters’ thoughts and feelings, their wants and desires, and then a little blip about what them doing something to get it.

It was like somebody with multiple personality disorder wanted to write a book.

So here we are, a year later, and my agent suggests (not wrongly) that I give it yet another go-through to clarify some points.  Sigh.  How much longer shall I continue to edit, trying desperately to unify these many voices into one?  Only time will tell. 

Hopefully it’s not another ten years.