Things I Need to Improve On: A Comparison on How to Improve in These Areas at Age 14 and Age 27

When I was 14, I wrote a lot of my adolescent thoughts, sorrows, and dreams in this little journal.

Not gonna lie, I’m still super proud to say I drew the dragon on the cover.

Sometimes, I like to take a little trip down memory lane and re-read some of my old entries. Usually this results in me wincing at my own teen angst and wishing I could explain to this kid how all those “end of the world” scenarios were real trivial, and to encourage her to believe in herself every once in a while.

During one of those recent trips, I stumbled upon this little excerpt, which I call: “Things I Need to Improve On: A Brief Excerpt from the Journal of Lindsay Mustafa Davis, Age 14, Dated August 27th, 2004”

I was astounded to find that the list of improvements I made at age 14 is startlingly accurate to the one my 27 year old self would make.

I also laughed when I thought more about what I considered “being responsible” and “doing my best” at 14 compared to 27.

So I decided to do a little remix of this list, and take into account both my own adolescent thoughts and my grown up thoughts, both riddled with their own anxieties and desires to be seen as “having it together,” because funny enough, that didn’t seem to disappear after 14 years.

I call it: “Things I Need to Improve On: A Comparison on How to Improve in These Areas at Age 14 and Age 27”

1. Being responsible

Age 14:

  • Pay attention in class so you get good grades and have a good future.
  • Complete homework before 9 PM because that’s what responsible students do.
  • Clean the bathrooms every weekend without Mom asking more than once because you’re a good daughter!
  • Load and unload the dishwasher as needed because, again, you’re a good daughter and the only one who helps your mother around this house, darn it!

Age 27:

  • Balance a budget without going broke each month, even though this budget also includes Northern Virginia rent.
  • Wash the dishes right away instead of letting them pile up for a week like a gross person.
  • Meet quarterly goals at work to avoid the boss’ wrath and the crushing sense of defeat.
  • Make time to call your parents at least once a week, then fail at it and worry your parents don’t think you appreciate them enough.

2. Being honest to myself

Age 14:

  • Understand and embrace both your strengths and your weaknesses a la The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Teens, which was required reading for all incoming freshman of the James Wood High Class of 2008.
  • Realize when you are taking something too seriously and need to apologize for something you’ve done wrong because your friends already don’t like you and you need to grovel to maintain their good graces.
  • Tell your parents and teachers the whole truth all the time no matter the consequences because if you don’t, your mother will find out, and you don’t want that.

Age 27:

  • Tell people when you are too anxious to deal with shit, even if admitting you struggle with a mental illness is still stigmatized.
  • Apologize to your husband when you hurt him without getting indignant about it or spiraling into a panic over whether or not you’re being too “submissive.”
  • Understand when you are acting out an unhealthy pattern and choose to either be the stronger person and break the habit or keep going down that path, because sometimes acting enlightened is too fucking exhausting.

3. Doing my best in everything

Age 14:

  • Don’t turn in half-assed assignments because instead of doing your best work, you spent more time talking on the phone with your 3 crushes.
  • Even though it seems everyone could care less about the tenor sax section in Concert Band, resist every urge to not play the difficult parts in band class and let the brass, flutes, and clarinets carry the load instead.

Age 27:

  • Spend an hour a day writing without taking a Facebook and/or YouTube break every 5 minutes.
  • Make regular three-to-five day attempts to eat well and excercise before taking the path of least resistance and eating pizza three times a week while binge-watching Hulu.

4. Ignoring taunts

Age 14: Let the bully’s comments slide off your shoulders.

Age 27: For the literal love of Jesus, STOP ENGAGING WITH INTERNET TROLLS.

Epilogue: What I’ve realized about self-improvement lists that is true at age 14 and age 27:

  • Making these lists is easy.
  • Living them out is tough.
  • And I’m still loved whether or not I “succeed” in them.
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Am I Arabic?

Imwas, my father’s family’s village, in 1968 after its destruction during the Six-Day War

Am I Arabic?

It’s a question I ask myself a lot lately.

I ask it when I fill in surveys asking for my race and ethnicity, when people hear “Mustafa” in my last name and ask me how I got it, and when my boss tells me I add more “diversity” to the office.

How do I explain to people, and even myself, that I still see myself as one of the whitest white women to ever exist?

After all, I might love falafel, kufta, and baba ganoush, but I had to look up how to spell those last two words right.

I might have the olive skin, deep brown eyes, curly hair, and hooked nose of my father and his family, but I’m still “white” to most people. To some, even an “exotic” white. They know there’s “something in me,” but they don’t know what it is.

I didn’t become emotionally invested in the Palestinian cause from birth. Instead, I learned about the conflict through talks with my Christian college chaplain and through books and plays written from a white perspective.

I have walked comfortably in this world as a white woman, and no one has ever suspected I might be anything else.

Hell, I barely have either.

I didn’t start using “Mustafa” as part of my last name until I was 24 years old. No one coerced me into doing it. I wanted to start embracing this side of my identity.

But it’s been 4 years, and I’m still not sure what it means to be a “Mustafa.”

I know what it means to be a “Davis” like my mother and even like my husband’s family. But I still don’t really know what it means to be a “Mustafa.”

So am I Arabic or white? Am I both/and, either/or, or none/neither?

There are stories about people who have a black parent and a white parent, a Latinx parent and a white parent, or come from other racially blended families.

But I have yet to find a story of someone with an Arabic parent and a white parent.

I want to claim my family’s story and identity in a way which is true and genuine, not to earn a cheap badge for the sake of “diversity.” Most of my life, I only had one family identity. Then one day, I discovered the second family. Now, as a married woman, there is a third.

And I’m still figuring out how to be a part of each of them.

I want to learn and engage with both sides of my story, but is it possible when I have to study more than live through one aspect of it?

How do I do this?

White People and Black Art, Part 1: How Jordan Peele Taught White People Voting for Obama Doesn’t Make Them Less Racist (Or: Why White People Need to Watch Get Out)

For Black History Month, I’ll be doing a series about films, comics, books, and other forms of media which predominantly feature people of color in the cast and/or are created by people of color. Since I am one of the whitest people to ever be white, I will not be writing as an “expert” on black culture or art. I also acknowledge that black art is not made with white people in mind, because everything else is catered to our desires anyways. Instead, I share these musings as one seeking to educate her fellow white people on why black lives and black representation matter, and what we as white people can learn about racial tensions and interactions from these art forms.

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains major spoilers for Get Out.

*****

Film Title: Get Out

CDN.Collider

After Get Out received four Academy Award nominations, I took out the Amazon gift card we received for our wedding and finally bought the movie.

I hadn’t seen it since the weekend after it came out, all the way back in late February of 2017. The first time I saw the film, I went in not knowing what to expect. Why were all the white people acting so weird around Chris? Why were all the people of color acting so strangely? What would happen to Chris? What did this family have to do with all of it?

In true white feminist form, I even had the audacity to think Rose would be an innocent in all of this. Watching the film a second time, I wondered why the hell I ever thought this to begin with.

What I remember most from that first movie-going experience was how uncomfortable I felt. I recounted my past interactions with people of color and all of the microaggressions I had committed. I remembered my “I would have voted for Obama for a third term” quips, my awkward attempts at “blackcent,” and even my “I’m a middle class white woman with an Arabic father whose struggles I have never dealt with, but I STILL know and understand oppression!” attitude.

I also left better informed not only as to how people of color feel when I and other white people make those blunders, but how those microaggressions can quickly shift from small to full-scale attempts to whitewash people of color.

Some of the microaggressions we see in the film are pretty obvious once they are displayed to us in all of their awkwardness. When we hear Mr. Armitage say “I would have voted for Obama for a third term” and call Chris “my man,” we see how he demeans Chris’ blackness by acting on stereotypes. When we see the woman feeling up Chris’ arms and the Japanese man asking Chris to speak on behalf of all black people about the African-American experience, we understand how wrong it is to make one person a spokesperson for their race and to remember to respect people’s boundaries.

Jordan Peele also uses this film to show white people how these microaggressions can very easily become something more malevolent.

The whole plot of Get Out revolves around a science that’s meant to create black bodies without blackness, black minds devoid of black consciousness. The Armitages literally round up black people via their daughter Rose, and then auction off their bodies to their white friends and family. They do this with no sense of irony or shame. They do this not caring about the fact that they are ripping black people from their bodies and planting their white friends and family in them. Because of this operation, the white people get all the “benefits” of blackness without living any of the experiences. They get to put it on like it’s the latest fashion accessory and not the lived experiences of another people.

In Get Out, we see not only how we humiliate and discomfort people of color, but how we rob them of control over their bodies and culture.

Let’s look at the guy who “buys” Chris: Jim Hudson. Jim explains how he will control Chris’ body while Chris himself is confined to becoming a passenger in his own body in the Sunken Place. As he explains himself, Jim tells Chris how it was his photography skills that captured the attention of the art dealer who is blind, and he even goes so far as to tell Chris, “I could give a shit what color you are…I want your eye, man.”

In this moment, Jim tells Chris, “I want your physical eye, but I don’t want the embodied experiences that made this eye possible.” After all, physical vision is not the only thing necessary to make thought-provoking and emotion-inducing art. What makes Chris’ photography so fantastic is how it reflects his experiences, joys, sorrows, and whole human story, from the absence of his father and his mother’s loss all the way to where he is when the story starts. To remove Chris from his body is to take away from the story he tells with his photographs.

Therefore, not only is Jim robbing Chris of his body; he is robbing him of his story and his authority to tell it. Even if Jim could see through Chris’ physical eyes, he would not be able to capture images as Chris once did, because he would not feel the beauty and pain Chris experienced. Chris and his stories would be trapped in the Sunken Place, safely out of the way of white people like Jim and their own desires.

This desire to whitewash the black experience causes us to turn a blind eye to the plights of people of color. It’s why we chant “All Lives Matter” in response to “Black Lives Matter.” It’s why we complain about “reverse racism” when people of color call out systemic racism. It’s why white feminists accuse other women of being divisive when they bring up issues women of color, trans and queer women, and women with disabilities encounter. We fear dealing with the experiences of people of color, because we fear dealing with our own racism. As such, in these seemingly insignificant everyday actions, we attempt to confine people of color to our own Sunken Places.

And we need to stop.

White people can understand that black people and other people of color not only have different skin colors but different experiences as well. This is not only allowed but necessary if we are to do the work of dismantling white supremacy. Once we acknowledge that people of color experience America in a very different way than we do, we can actually work on making change happen in our own interactions and in the systems with which we engage daily.

As uncomfortable as this movie may make us, it is good for white people to realize our racist tendencies, regardless of how “colorblind” we claim to be. When we see other white people acting out our own patterns and feel Chris’ discomfort and witness attempts on his life, we might be inspired to think more before we speak and act when interacting with those of different races.

If you’re a white person who hasn’t seen Get Out, I highly recommend it. Jordan Peele is a master storyteller, the pacing is solid, and the scares can be endured by those adverse to the horror genre.

But more than that, it’s a story about how our good intentions can become harmful actions if left unchecked, and we owe it to our siblings of color to wrestle with and understand our own selves so we can work to dismantle white supremacy forever.

My Second Session with the New Therapist

Office

ChiroAssociates.us

I met with my new therapist for our second session last Wednesday.

During our first session back in December, we covered all of the basics: introductions, symptoms, triggers, an outline of my family dynamics.

It was nothing strenuous or profound. I did not leave with high hopes or a soaring self-esteem, but I did walk out feeling content with how we connected and the hope that we had solid ground from which to build a relationship.

This second session, on the other hand, was the most exhausting one of my life.

It began easily enough. She asked me how my holidays were. They were good.

She asked how I felt overall. I told her I was OK.

She asked if I had experienced any intense episodes. I had.

She asked what happened.

What I wanted to tell her was that my husband Bryce and I had a discussion that went from civilized discourse to mild argument, which caused me to downward spiral into a panic attack that left me in tears, gasping for air, and berating myself for being both a terrible partner to my husband and a pathetic excuse for a woman.

I only got as far as saying an argument took place that resulted in a panic attack.

And then I found myself silent.

She asked about the topic of our discussion-turned-argument. I said I couldn’t remember, and for a moment, I really couldn’t. After all, it had been weeks ago, and sometimes I mercifully wipe my mind blank of the details once a panic has passed.

It didn’t take me long to remember the topic, yet when I did, I did not want to share it with her.

At first, I told myself it was because the topic (a slight difference in political opinion) wasn’t important. Then, I told myself if she knew what happened, she would judge me for being too argumentative. Then I feared she would judge my husband for being too pushy, then judge me for being too submissive, and then I outright feared her having so much power to judge me when I needed help.

For what felt like forever, but was probably more like a minute, I sat in silence, my legs crossed, my hands clasped together, my head down, my shoulders tense, my forehead beginning to sweat.

I couldn’t find the next words to say. I didn’t want to find them, either.

I had met this woman on exactly two occasions, and I already feared her opinion of me to the point that I could not share anything with her, even if it would allow her to help me (which I did not trust her to do).

Going back to the topic of the argument, she suggested that I write down the details of those incidents in the future so we could talk about them more in depth. It was a solid suggestion, yet it took all of the energy I had within me not to run out of the office and never return.

I knew she was a doctor who needed to know how to help me, and I needed to do some work, too.

But I didn’t want her to help me. I wanted her to leave me alone.

I think she sensed my resistance, because she backtracked to the holidays again. I still didn’t want to say much to her, but I was willing to talk about spending time with my family, so I relented and gave her the information.

From the holidays, she asked about me and my mom. From there, she asked about her and my stepdad. From there, she asked about me and my husband. Gently and slowly, she helped me peel back those layers, but only enough to take quick peeks before closing them up again. She knew better than to cut too deep into an already frightened soul.

Finally, miracle of miracles, I told her more about the argument. I explained to her why I felt attacked, the contents of my thoughts, the ensuing exhaustion, and the patterns I noticed. She was able to give me some solid advice in regards to being a good spouse and having a solid sense of self in the midst of those heated moments.

It ended up being a really productive, albeit very stressful, session. I was glad I stuck around, and I was even more grateful she understood how to honor and work with my limits.

The session came to an end. We shook hands, and I walked out of her office still a bit shaken but feeling more solid and secure than I had in weeks.

I even made sure to schedule an appointment for February.

I’m looking forward to getting to know my new therapist more and actually allowing her to get to know me. I’m still afraid of being vulnerable, and that I will never have a bond with this new therapist quite like the one I had with my former. This being said, I need to keep telling myself that’s OK as long as, in my time with this new person, I grow and become more well.

I’m taking baby steps right now, and it’s hope in these little steps that gets me back in her office.

I Went to Church for the First Time in 9 Months

Episco door

Two weeks ago, my friend Shirley came to visit from Atlanta.

We met during a Spiritual Formation conference at Eastern Mennonite Seminary in June 2016. I was a Christian “none” who wore pink Chucks and asked unnerving questions. She was a purple-haired Episcopalian who wrote a thesis on Buddhism and Christianity and talked openly about how much she loved her cats.

We became fast friends.

Shortly after my husband and I married, she sent me a message about her plans to attend a conference in Alexandria, about an hour’s drive from our abode in Ashburn. She asked if we could loan her our couch, our kitties, and our board games.

I was more than happy to oblige.

The weekend was filled with lots of laughter, IPAs (for her and my husband), storytelling, and yummy food. It was refreshing, energizing, and wonderful for all of us.

And then Shirley had to ask me, the absentee Christian who had all but abandoned traditional church, if I was planning to attend a worship service on Sunday.

I wanted to be a good hostess and a good friend, and I figured if I was going to creep back into regular church again, Shirley would be a great person with whom to do this. As such, we spent Saturday evening surfing the web for local Episcopal congregations. We decided against the one 10 minutes down the road, whose website boasted a picture of an altar-housed American flag, in favor of a non-flag-flying church in a small town about 30 minutes away.

For the first Sunday in nine months, I found myself crossing the threshold of the red door characteristic of Episcopal churches.

It was a tiny sanctuary, quaint if you will. Most of the pews were empty, and the occupied ones contained no more than 3 people each. There were no kneeling bars, but there were adorable cushions embroidered with scenes both biblical and rural, from the Magi following the star to a map of the state of Virginia, from the Annunciation to cats snuggling in wicker baskets.

I also winced in internal discomfort when I noticed a plaque dedicated to past church members who served the Confederacy right above the pew of a black family in attendance.

My eyes and thoughts remained, for the most part, on this jarring example of Christian racism during the opening prayers and music. But the priest’s sermon drew my focus away from the walls. A seasoned metropolitan priest new to this particular parish, he began his sermon with jokes about Virginia Tech and University of VA fans and ended by calling out his own racism and the racism of our current administration and white Christianity, all while walking among us instead of standing behind his pulpit.

I sighed in relief upon realizing there are those who resist systemic evil in the name of Jesus, exist in flesh and blood, and do not just use Twitter as their pulpit.

After the sermon, as is traditional with an Episcopal service, we prepared for Eucharist, a meal I had not consumed at the altar in such a long time. So when the time came, I walked up to the bars, knelt before the priest, and partook of the bread and wine again.

Despite the hiatus, I did my best not to consume the meal too hastily. I savored the light, delicate wafer as it sat on my tongue and as I slowly chewed it. I let the small sip of wine saturate my taste buds, rich and sweet, before letting it fall down my throat.

It had been so long since I had known those particular tastes, and I wanted to hold onto them as long as I could.

After final prayers and final songs, and after taking pictures of our favorite kneeling pillows, Shirley and I had lunch at a nearby cafe, which boasted a much larger attendance than the tiny congregation. Over turkey sandwiches, kettle chips, pickles, and Coca Cola, we talked about God’s restorative work, living with mental illness, and eradicating white privilege and supremacy. In short, we had communion one last time.

And as I said my good-byes to my friend, I realized I had enjoyed my time with the congregation.

Yes, I had issues with the plaques on the walls, but I also had hope that restorative work could be done.

Yes, it was a 30 minute drive on a chilly morning, and it had been a bit unnerving to step into a church building again, but I had partaken of a physical and emotional communion, and I felt refreshed and excited.

To be honest, I do not know if this congregation will become my faith community, if I will search for one closer to my own home, or what my next step in this journey will be.

But I know that as long as my spiritual pilgrimage lasts, there will always be those to house me along the way, from visiting friends to small town churches with cat pillows, and everywhere in between.

Church of the Gibborm or Church of Christ: Why Christians Need to Start Listening to Their Runaways

Marvels Runaways

Deadline

If you haven’t watched Marvel’s Runaways on Hulu yet, please do yourself a favor and either add it to your Watchlist or subscribe to the week-long free trial now.

Because it is wonderful.

There is only ONE straight, white male character in the teen group. There are more women than men in the main cast. The moms are solid as characters and villainesses in their own right. Among the teens are a Latina and two LGBTQ characters, a black teen boy acts as group leader, and a purple haired Social Justice Warrior crushes hard on the jock with a brain.

Not to mention the parents, evil as they may be, are damn attractive.

Parents

I’m looking at you in particular, Mr. Minoru.

But the diverse casting and hot parents aren’t the only reason to watch this show.

It is a great show for those who have run away from American Christendom, and it offers a challenge to those who would uphold it over Christ’s Church.

The runaways’ parents, also known as PRIDE, support the Church of the Gibborim, a growing, Scientology-esque faith headed by PRIDE member Leslie Dean, who is also Karolina’s mother. The Church espouses a propserity-ish Gospel and claims members who have enough potential can go “Ultra,” although we are not really sure this is an achievement worth pursuing once we learn what it could mean.

Not to mention, once every year, PRIDE performs a literal yearly sacrifice of the most lonely, marginalized, and abandoned person they can find to revive a being who, at the beginning, is seemingly decrepit. In return, PRIDE receives power and wealth.

The teens discover their parents in the middle of a sacrifice, and they turn to each other to figure out what to do next. They know their parents cannot find out what they know, because they could be just as disposable as any of their previous victims, despite being their own children. As a result, the Runaways grow closer to each other, and as the adults suspect their children might be onto something, they get outright manipulative with how they try to get their kids to confess/keep quiet.

Before you accuse me of making links that are way too broad, please consider this:

American Christendom has a history of sacrificing the LGBTQ+ community’s full inclusion into the Church at the altar of so-called “orthodoxy.”

Its abusive leaders go to great lengths to silence and slander their victims when they go public.

It tells us God is a God of freedom and prosperity, but only when we become “holier” or “better” than we are now.

It proclaims harmful theology and covers it up by describing it as “taking a hard stance against sin,” and doing so for the benefit of those who have sinned or are backsliding.

And y’all wonder why people leave in droves.

A majority of Americans, most of whom profess Christianity, enjoy Marvel entertainment. We love seeing the good guys beat evil. A majority of these same Americans would probably have sympathy for the teens in Marvel’s Runaways. The kids do not see this “greater good” for which their parents say they strive. They see only evil and corruption, and they both resist and flee their families with the audience’s support.

So why do these same American Christians devote so much time and energy attacking Christendom’s runaways? Why do they accuse them of doubting too much or being too progressive instead of dealing with the very real evil which has consumed this branch of Christianity?

Have the planks in their eyes permanently blinded them? Has the throne become too comfortable to leave? Do they not realize that they bear poisoned fruit and we are sick from it?

American Christendom, y’all need to be listening to the cries of those who are leaving, especially when what you claim is for their own good is actually killing them.

The Church of Christ does not bear the poisonous fruits of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, ableism, classism, ignorance, fear-mongering, or shame. She bears the fruit of the Spirit, which is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When people run away from Christianity, they do so because they do not see good fruit, and because they are starving, they move on to find it elsewhere.

When you’ve become the Church of the Gibborim, or the Church of America, it’s time to tear down the walls and start gardening again. Maybe when we see real fruit growing, us runaways will return.

Sometimes, Anxiety Wins

anxietyart

Anxiety by Giuseppe Cristiano

You try to keep it at bay by exercising 30 minutes a day or cutting sugar out of your diet.

You try to keep it under control with deep breathing, yoga, prayer, and spending time with loved ones.

You try to reason with it by finding the cycles, patterns, words and wording, and reminding yourself they are “just thoughts,” even when they feel like the most true statements in the world.

You try to fight it by telling it you’re more than those dark thoughts say you are, by saying you’re beloved despite all of the flaws it hurls at you like jagged stones, and by asking it kindly to shut the fuck up.

Sometimes, you win.

The thoughts quiet to a dull roar and gradually subside. Calm returns, and you continue your routine, maybe a bit more weary than you were before but otherwise unscathed.

Other times, you are pummeled.

The stones cut deep, and the blood flows freely. You curl into a fetal position, out of defense and because everything seems to cave in on you. But still, the stones continue to hit, and they hurt something terrible, and when they finally cease, you lay there weary and languid, wondering if you will ever find the strength to rise again.

And as you nurse yourself slowly back to health with tears and fitful sleep, you wonder why nothing worked. You wonder why the medication or the lifestyle changes or the therapy sessions or any combination thereof didn’t fortify the floodgates.

Maybe you’ll even wonder the most paralyzing, frightening thought of all: was it all my fault?

 

You’ve had these experiences countless times before, but even though you’re used to them, each time can feel more unsettling than the last. Even if your recovery time is better than it has been in the past, it still shakes you to your core and leaves you trembling after the dust has settled.

Because, damn it, what did you do wrong? What could you have done better? What could you have done to have a fighting chance, to not be crushed, to stand strong and not lose the battle?

It’s a terrible question, crushing in its despair and isolating in its seeming loneliness.

And yet, most of us with a mental health condition have asked it.

I wish this wasn’t the case, but I have to admit it:

Sometimes, anxiety wins.

This shit happens. It still does and probably, to some extent, always will.

And it’s not because we didn’t try hard enough, or because we didn’t love ourselves enough, or because we didn’t do enough yoga, or because we consumed a teaspoon more of sugar than usual.

It’s because the exercise, medications, diet, and techniques don’t stop the attacks. After all, they are our tools, not our cure. They are our assistants but not our salvation. We carry them to support us in our lifelong diagnosis.

Sometimes, they keep the anxiety at bay. Other times, they fail us.

And that’s OK. And you’re OK.

You’re OK.

I know it can be hard to believe. The sense of hopelessness following an anxiety attack, combined with the cultural expectation that we hold ourselves together at all times, can be crushing.

But the hard days are as inevitable as the good, no matter how high your dosage or how many times you went to the gym or your therapist this month.

And when they happen, whether you stand victorious or lay defeated, you are OK. And you have permission to let go of the expectation that you’re only OK if you “won” the battle.

Because it’s not all about winning. It’s about surviving long enough to feel like we’re thriving again.

You are OK, beloved. You had a hard day, and you are OK.

And I’m glad you’re here.