Poem No 2

This year I made a resolution to learn two poems off by heart. Only two, because in 2020 I’d had a resolution to learn one poem per month and only managed one poem for the entire year – I thought I’d better decide on a more realistic goal for this year. So far, I’ve only managed one poem by Emily Dickinson:

712
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
And Immortality.

We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility.

We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –

Or rather – He passed Us –
The Dews grew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, My Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –

We paused before a House that seemed
A swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –

Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –

While learning this poem off by heart earlier this year, I found that I suddenly remembered the first stanza of another Emily Dickinson poem which is probably going to be my second poem of the year. I’d better hurry up to learn the rest of it, as the year is almost up. I still remember my one poem from last year, so my repertoire is slowly (very slowly) growing:

Poem No 1

Keep safe, world.

June Reading

June was an average reading month; as anticipated, I didn’t read as much as in May. Here’s the list of books I read:

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Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
After having caught up in May, I didn’t get round to continuing this novel in June (neither did my reading buddy). I’ve started up again and will catch up in this month of July. It’s a good read, I don’t know why I keep letting it lie.

Poetry:

Heinrich Detering (ed.), Reclams Buch der deutschen Gedichte.
A big two-volume anthology of German poetry from the Middle ages to modern times. I’ve read most of the first volume up to and past Goethe and Schiller in the chronology. At the moment, in July, I’m giving it a rest, because I’m focusing on women poets of the 18th century for Jane Austen July. But I will return to the German anthology again in August.

Short Stories:

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
I haven’t been reading much in the Arabian Nights, but I have made some progress. I’m at about two thirds.

Non-Fiction:

No non-fiction in June.

Novels:

  • Martha Wells:
    • Fugitive Telemetry.
    • All Systems Red.
      The first was the new novella in the Murderbot Diaries which I liked so much that I was motivated to red the first installment, All Systems Red, again. I mentioned it briefly here.
  • Laurie R. King, Locked Rooms.
    Number 8 in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. I haven’t posted about it, as I’m waiting until I’ve read another one, so that I can do a combined post. It was a good read, I love the series.
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, Klara and the Sun.
    My favourite read this year so far. Here’s my review.
  • Nancy Mitford, Love in a Cold Climate and Other Novels.
    A very enjoyable collection of three novels for which I wrote a review.
  • Yoko Ogawa, The Memory Police.
    The novel we read in my book club. It was very interesting and I’m still planning to write a review.
  • Caroline Alexander, The Iliad.
    This was a great reading experience, as I discussed here.

So, I didn’t read as much in June as I did in May. Not sure why I didn’t, maybe I just had too many other things on my plate. I’m still happy, I didn’t have a reading slump or anything. It’s a bit strange that I didn’t manage a non-fiction book. Maybe I’ll get around to one in July, although I haven’t got one planned at the moment.

Keep safe, world.

Bits and Pieces

I’ve enthusiastically started Jane Austen July and am already up to p. 88 of Persuasion (its very good) and have read some poetry by Mary, Lady Chudleigh and Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea. They aren’t contemporaries of Austen, since they died in the early years of the 18th century and Austen was only born in 1775. But I will get to the later poets eventually. The month is early yet.

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I thought I’d share this interesting poem from 1703 by Lady Chudleigh (whose marriage wasn’t the happiest):

To the Ladies

Wife and servant are the same,
But only differ in the name:
For when that fatal knot is tied,
Which nothing, nothing can divide,
When she the word Obey has said,
And man by law supreme has made,
Then all that’s kind is laid aside,
And nothing left but state and pride.
Fierce as an eastern prince he grows,
And all his innate rigour shows:
Then but to look, to laugh, or speak,
Will the nuptial contract break.
Like mutes, she signs alone must make,
And never any freedom take,
But still be governed by a nod,
And fear her husband as her god:
Him still must serve, him still obey,
And nothing act, and nothing say,
But what her haughty lord thinks fit,
Who, with the power, has all the wit.
Then shun, oh! Shun that wretched state,
And all the fawning flatterers hate.
Value yourselves, and men despise:
You must be proud, if you’ll be wise.

Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth Century Women Poets: An Oxford Anthology, 1990 (1989), p. 3.

Glad I’m living in the 21st century, where one can get a divorce (at least most of the world) when one’s husband turns into a tyrant.

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Partner and I got up slightly later than on workdays but not much later because we usually wake up early anyway and in summer it’s best to walk with Curious Dog before it gets too hot. Not that it’s been hot. This week was all about rain, thunderstorms (bad ones in places, but not were we live in Baden Württemberg), and cool temperatures between 18 and 23°C. Quite pleasant really (especially when one considers those parts of the world currently experiencing horrific 45°C and higher – dreadful!). Today it’s slightly warmer, tomorrow it’s supposed to be warmer yet, but on Sunday we are expecting the next wave of storms and the next cool period. Fine with me as long as the thunderstorms stay moderate.

So, we walked with Curious Dog in the pleasant morning sunshine, had a glimpse of the young stork and one of its parents and on our return, I read a bit of Persuasion. I managed to pull myself away from the novel to go grocery shopping. A couple of things I couldn’t get at my usual supermarket so maybe I’ll take another short trip tomorrow. We had lunch when I returned, just some corn on the cob and bread with our usual vegetarian spreads. We’ll be cooking a mushroom risotto tonight for dinner (well, Partner will probably do it). After lunch I put a load of washing into the washing machine and cleaned the bathroom. In between I took part in a short social call with my work colleagues (I usually join if I’m not otherwise occupied on my Fridays off). Then we had coffee and some lemon cake (baked by Partner yesterday – he’s the baker in our household) and now we are lazing around. I still need to hang up the washing, but that’s it with housework today. I’ll be doing some more tomorrow but am not inclined to overdo it.

My new work notebook arrived today. I’d ordered it in early April, but apparently there are delivery delays. Good thing my old notebook is still working (even if it’s having trouble installing updates to the operating system). I’m going to do the setup of the new one tomorrow or on Sunday, as I haven’t got time during the week. I must return the old one soon, so can’t dawdle with the setup. But it should be easy, as all my work documents are stored in the cloud and just need to be synched with the new notebook. Then I only have to install the tools I need and configure them (some of them take about an hour to configure which is a bit of a pain).

Yesterday I had an annoying workday, analyzing errors and checking the completeness of documents on our database. Earlier during the week thousands of documents had disappeared and we had to trigger a reload to the database. My colleague and I raised an IT ticket but didn’t get much of a response – we wanted to know what and why the disappearance had happened. So yesterday after analyzing the database all morning, I found that everything was available again after the reload. However, this afternoon, when I logged on for the social call with my colleagues, I was told that the documents had disappeared again. Very odd. My colleague raised another IT ticked, but since it’s Friday afternoon, I guess the issue won’t be solved until next week, cutting it very close to our next deadline. Looks like I can anticipate another stressful week. But I’ll be enjoying the weekend first.

Keep safe, world.

Dog Songs

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I listed this great little book by Mary Oliver (with illustrations by John Burgoyne) as one of my May readings, but I got it already in March. I can’t believe that I left it lying around unread until May. Did I read it already in April and forgot to list it? No matter. I keep taking it up to reread the poems and look at the drawings. I love them both. The poems are not mawkish or sentimental. They evoke the pleasures and griefs of living with dogs. They celebrate their lives by imagining how they might see the world. The pencil drawings of dogs that accompany the poems are also lovely. I don’t know if they are portraits of Oliver’s own dogs, because the poems are about the dogs in her life, but it doesn’t matter, they beautifully complement the poems.

Some excerpts to give you an impression of what the poems are like:

Where goes he now, that dark little dog
who used to come down the road barking and shining?
He’s gone now, from the world of particulars,
the singular, the visible.

From “Bazougey” in Mary Oliver, Dog Songs, Penguin 2015, p. 41.

“Please, please, I think I haven’t eaten
for days.”
What? Ricky, you had a huge supper.

From “The Wicked Smile”, p. 83

A puppy is a puppy is a puppy.
He’s probably in a basket with a bunch
of other puppies.

From “How It Begins”, p. 1.

I’ve had dogs in my life since I was about 10 or 11 and I often think back on all of them – Cindy, Rolf, Rex, Liese, Rolf II, and Arwen (a rather strange name for a dog, but she already had it when we got her – she was a lovely dog, but didn’t exactly remind one of the daughter of Elrond. Even the colour of her fur was wrong. Arwen II (called Annie, when she came to us, but as one of our neighbours also had this name so we had to change it and somehow, my parents stuck with “Arwen”). And, of course, Curious Dog has been with us now already for more than 6 years. How time flies. What an independent puppy he was, and what a handful when he was in his teens! And now he’s all grown up… The “dog songs” sing to me.

For dog lovers or people who live with dogs and enjoy poems, the book is a small treasure.

Keep safe, world.

May Reading

This morning I felt a bit of Weltschmerz. Memento mori and all that … what’s the point of reading or anything really when it all ends in death? I think I was feeling gloomy because Partner isn’t here, but sometimes I just have these sad feelings. However, they went away when I got up, showered and had breakfast and especially during my lovely walk with Curious Dog. CD is the best and the sun was shining, the birds twittering, the flowers in the fields, the crisp morning air… It made me feel thankful and glad to be alive. The point of life is loving-kindness (I think).

Anyway, here’s the list of books I read in May. Most of them I’ve already posted about (a rather astonishing feat of efficiency that I hope to be able to keep up – sometimes I wait so long to post my reviews that I start forgetting the details).

2021_06_01

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji.
I’ve managed to catch up. It’s very good, although also very strange. Eventually, I’ll write about the reading experience. I’m glad my friend and I chose this classic to read.

Poetry:

  • Mary Oliver, Dog Songs.
    A lovely little illustrated volume of poetry celebrating the author’s dogs. This one I haven’t managed to post about yet, but it’s on my to-do list. If you like poetry and dogs, it’s for you!
  • Tim Kendall (ed.), Poetry of the First World War.
    A very good selection, with some biographical information about each poet and a good introduction. Due to the subject matter, the poems can be very brutal. They really show up the horrors of war, but also the fleeting joy that is sometimes found in unlikely places. I’m glad I read it.
  • Heinrich Detering (ed.), Reclams Buch der deutschen Gedichte.
    A big two-volume anthology of German poetry from the Middle ages to modern times. I’ve only read a bit of the first volume and find it very interesting.

Short Stories:

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments.
Not really short stories, more like folk or fairy tales, but they are good. I’m a little more than half-way through.

Non-Fiction:

  • Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: A Biomythography.
    See my review.
  • C. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism.
    See my review.
  • John Bayley, Elegy for Iris.
    See my review.

These three books were all very good in their own way.

Novels:

  • Sally Wright:
    • Watches of the Night.
    • Code of Silence.
    • Breeding Ground.
      See my review. I liked these crime novels. They were a good read and I went on a small binge.
  • Laurie King, The Game.
    See my review. I’ve now reread the first seven novels of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series. Soon I’ll get to ones that I haven’t read yet (but the next couple or so will still be rereads). Also a very good series.
  • Ellery Queen, The Glass Village.
    See my review – an unexpected good read.
  • Louise Erdrich, The Beet Queen.
    Read last weekend, the review is still pending. I enjoyed it a lot.

May was a great reading month. I read a lot, probably due to the couple of long weekends we had, with the public holiday before Whitsun and then Whitsun (or Pentecost) itself. Lots of time for reading and the weather was pretty bad, too. It was nice to hunker down cozily with a hot cup of tea or cocoa laced with rum and read crime and other books. Probably won’t get round to so many books in June, but it’s early yet.

Keep safe, world.

Memoirs and Poems

Owing to the public holiday we had on Monday, this working week has been a short one, only three days for me, as I don’t work on Fridays. Next week will also be only three days, as there is another public holiday on Thursday (Corpus Christi), but that’ll be it for public holidays until November, I believe (since October 3, the Day of Unification in Germany falls on a Sunday this year). Since quite a few colleagues have taken one or both of these weeks off, and there were no particularly onerous deadlines, work has been somewhat relaxed. A relief after the ridiculous business of the previous weeks. No doubt it will pick up again, but I’m enjoying the lull while I can.

Iris

As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, last weekend I read John Bayley’s memoir of his marriage with Iris Murdoch, Elegy for Iris. I picked this book up earlier this year because I read a review or watched a BookTube recommendation (can’t remember which) and thought it sounded interesting. And it was. It’s Bayley looking back at how he first met Iris Murdoch, remembering their early marriage and some of the highlights in their lives. It’s about how they led a somewhat unconventional marriage, about their work and friends and about how Bayley coped as Murdoch sadly sank into Alzheimer’s. It’s very moving.

One little detail that filled me with glee was Bayley’s account of how their homes always got covered in dust and their gardens went wild because they never had time or much inclination for cleaning or gardening. I have much sympathy for that, as I struggle with these annoying chores myself and frequently both my home and my garden look rather bedraggled.

I found that Bayley has written two more memoirs, one called Iris and the Friends about Murdoch’s last year of life and how Bayley dealt with that and the third part Widower’s House about Bayley’s life after Murdoch’s death. I haven’t read the other two memoirs, but they are on my TBR list.

I read the first memoir Elegy for Iris, because I like memoirs in general (as well as autobiographies and biographies) and ones about writers in particular, and in addition have a special interest in how people manage in old age. We all grow older and might as well get some pointers on how to lead a good life in old age. Of course, I hope I’m not going to get dementia… but I still like reading about how people cope with the negative stuff as well as the positive.

Weirdly, I haven’t yet read anything by Murdoch although she is a well-known author, both of works of fiction and works of philosophy. Since I found her life so interesting, I’m hoping to read some of her work sometime (not sure when, as usual… there are so many books to read).

I’ve finished reading the poetry anthology Poetry of the First World War, edited by Tim Kendall (Oxford World’s Classics). It’s very good. Very powerful about the horrors of WWI, about the unexpected and fleeting pleasures, about the daily dreadfulness of the trenches, about courage, fear, gallows humour, love and death. I found it a well-made anthology, with short biographical details about the poets (so many of them tragically killed in the war) and useful explanatory notes.

Since somewhere in that anthology I read someone’s opinion that Germans didn’t have great poetry (a statement inspired by the enmity naturally felt by the English and their allies during the war), I decided that I didn’t know enough of German poetry. I haven’t read German poetry since high school as I’m always very focused on English language literature. Thus I did some research and bought myself a two-volume collection of German poetry Reclams Buch der deutschen Gedichte (Reclam’s Book of German Poetry, Reclam being a respected publisher of German literature). It’s organized chronologically and I’m currently reading poetry from the Middle Ages in Middle High German. Actually, I read them, kind of guess at the meaning because Middle High German is quite different from modern German, and then read the modern German translation which is fortunately provided below the poem as a kind of footnote. It would have been easier to read if the original poem had been on the right page and the translation on the left, but I guess that’s a minor quibble.

Here’s a cute little poem in Middle High German by an unknown author that I remember from my high school days (it’s really well known and probably in every anthology of German poetry that covers the Middle Ages):

Dû bist mîn, ich bin dîn
des solt dû gewis sîn.
dû bist beslossen in mînem herzen.
verlorn ist das slusselîn,
dû muost och immer dar inne sîn.

My unpoetic attempt at a translation:

You are mine, I am thine,
Of this you should be sure.
You are locked in my heart,
The little key is lost,
So now you have to stay forever.

I’m quite enjoying my foray into German poetry. It will probably occupy me for a couple of months at least, as I usually only read a few poems each morning before getting up.

Keep safe, world.

Striking Poems

I wanted to quote a couple of poems (though the first one is just an excerpt) that resonated with me when I recently read them.

Forgetfulness

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read, never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

[…]

By Billy Collins in Janet E. Gardner (ed.), Literature: A Portable Anthology. 4th Edition.

That’s exactly why I started this blog (ok, some other things crept in but my original urge was to keep a kind of book journal). Pity I didn’t start sooner.

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Here’s a poem that speaks to me whenever I hear of the latest lapse by politicians and other influential people, although it applies to myself and everyone else, too:

The Design

Goodness is required.
It is part of the design.
Badness is understood.
It is a lapse, and part of the design.

Acknowledgement of the good
and condemnation of the bad
are required. Lapses
are not understood.

By Thomas Kinsella in Patrick Crotty (ed.), The Penguin Book of Irish Poetry.

Keep safe, world.

Striking Poems

I came across some more brilliant poems in the poetry sections of Literature: A Portable Anthology. 4th Edition, edited by Janet E. Gardner et al. The three poems below spoke to me of our times.

Emily Dickinson’s short poem (written ca. 1862) reminds me of the polarization of our society, where each side deems the other side dangerous or crazy:

Much Madness is divinest Sense –
To a discerning Eye –
Much Sense – the starkest Madness –
‘Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail –
Assent – and you are sane –
Demur – you’re straightway dangerous—
And handled with a Chain

And this one by Langston Hughes (written in 1951) seems so relevant for race relations in the US (and elsewhere):

Harlem

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

And here’s just the beginning of a poem by William Stafford (written in 1962) about animals killed by traffic. I read this just a day after my last post, where I wrote about this exact topic. Very odd it was, to find this poem just at this time:

Traveling through the Dark

Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
[…]

Keep safe, world.

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Aemilia Lanyer

On Friday I stumbled across an interesting poem by Aemilia Lanyer (also known as Emilia Lanier). I found it in an anthology that I’ve had for some time but hadn’t had a look at the poems in it: Literature: A Portable Anthology. 4th Edition, edited by Janet E.Gardner et al. Lanyer was the first Englishwoman to consider herself a professional poet and she was quite the proto-feminist. She lived from 1569 to 1645, a few years earlier than John Milton (1608 to 1674). Her poem “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women” really struck me, because it reminded of Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Last December I reread Paradise Lost together with a friend. I had last read it about 25 years ago while I was at university. I didn’t remember much about it except that I had rather liked it. I had, however, completely forgotten how much I had disliked how Milton interprets Eve’s role. She is shown as being responsible for the fall of man, because she enticed Adam to eat the forbidden fruit… and so on and so forth, the traditional view. It was quite funny finding all my outraged exclamation marks and notes in the margins of my old battered Oxford World’s Classics edition.

Well, Aemilia Lanyer’s poem judges the actions of Adam and Eve quite differently, seeing Eve as a simple and ignorant woman who was deceived by the serpent Satan and writing about Adam:

But surely Adam cannot be excused;
Her fault though great, yet he was most to blame;
What weakness offered, strength might have refused,
Being lord of all, the greater was his shame,
Although the serpent’s craft had her abused,
God’s holy word ought all his actions frame,
For he was lord and king of all the earth,
Before poor Eve had either life or breath.

Aemilia Lanyer, “Eve’s Apology in Defense of Women,” verse 5.

The poem can be found online, it has 12 verses. It pairs Eve with Pontius Pilate’s wife and Adam with Pontius Pilate and speaks about giving women freedom. I found it very interesting. I wonder if Milton had read it before he wrote Paradise Lost? It’s fascinating when texts seem to speak to each other by showing different interpretations of the same original source, in this case the biblical myth about Adam and Eve.

I also found out that Aemilia Lanyer may have been Shakespeare’s “Dark Lady”, about whom he wrote some of his famous sonnets. Very intriguing. Maybe next year I’ll try to find a copy of her poems and check out if I like the rest of them as well.

Keep safe, world.

Monday Miscellanea

Today, I’m giving the book on diaries by Thomas Mallon a rest. I was too sleepy last night and only managed to read half of the chapter on “Creators”. Had to get up early for work as usual on a Monday and didn’t want to miss out on sleep.

Had another lovely early morning walk in the woods with Curious Dog. It was quite cool, but I only wore a short-sleeved blouse and didn’t wear a jacket, because that would have become too hot. A little bit of toughening up probably doesn’t hurt. I kind of admire people who swim in freezing water or walk barefoot in winter. Every year that we’ve been on vacation to the North Sea or the Baltic (and we’ve been going there with just a couple of exceptions every year since 2002) I think about taking a dip in the sea, just to see what it’s like, but I’ve never actually done it. Just wading generally seems cold enough. Maybe I’ll try it this time? Though it might backfire. Should probably not try this out in the Corona pandemic year. Where was I, anyway? Oh yes, walking with Curious Dog. The valley was full of gently billowing thin mist, floating above the fields but below the top of the surrounding wooded hills. Very pretty. By mid-morning all the mist had dissolved and now it’s a hot late summer day again.

As I logged in to work today, my virtual private network (VPN) connection was still on the blink. So, I did the stuff on my computer that I’d found on the IT support pages in the company portal last week and it actually worked. After the fix, the VPN was quite stable, not completely, but almost. Very motivating. It’s much easier and more effective to work when everything isn’t freezing up once a minute while the VPN reconnects. But then I shut the connection down for a few meetings, as I didn’t need it for them. The VPN slows everything down at the best of times so I disconnect when it’s not needed. Afterwards it was the same old problem. What a pain!

There were a lot of calls today, like always on Mondays. Most of my meetings, that is, online calls, are on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I have trouble getting anything else done on those days, except the usual quality checks and answering e-mails. Tuesdays and Thursdays are very light on the calls, much better.

This evening we have dog school again for Curious Dog. Already at the autumn/winter location, an indoor horse-riding arena. Looking forward to it. CD will be excited.

Yesterday’s Tatort (Crime Scene) TV series “Funkstille” (“Radio Silence) was weird. An American couple with a daughter who were double agents for both the CIA and the Russians. I found the story too obvious and the American couple were too German (also, atrocious American accents, very fake). The best part of it was the conflict between the parents and the daughter, who finds out about the double agent thing and fears that her entire life was a lie.

A couple of days ago I came across a poem in my copy of The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse edited by Daniel Karlin. The poem is by William Allingham (1824-1889):

Writing
A man who keeps a diary, pays
Due toll to many tedious days;
But life becomes eventful – then
His busy hand forgets the pen.
Most books, indeed, are records less
Of fulness than of emptiness.

Since I’m reading Thomas Mallon’s book about diaries and my blog is also a kind of diary, I was struck by this. I don’t actually agree with the poem (and I dare say Mallon wouldn’t either). An uneventful life is not necessarily “tedious”. Even if days are much the same, the things are still different. One reads different books, one has different moods, one sees the special elements in small things. And then when something does happen, it’s fun to write about it. According to Mallon, there are both diarists that do as Allingham says, keep a diary on mundane days and forget about it on eventful days and those that only record special events (such as a travel journal). So, the poem is just a reduction of the wide range of diary writing. Still, it was nice to stumble across it.

Keep safe, world.