Whose Fault, RI?

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What Is Political Competition?

True to form, and even at a great distance, former Cranston mayor and candidate for U.S. Senate and current candidate for Colorado governor Steve Laffey sparked an interesting discussion last night on Twitter.  Ian Donnis, of Rhode Island Public Radio, asked Colleen Conley, erstwhile RI Tea Party leader, about the strategy of the Rhode Island right.  The following statement from Donnis is what struck me as especially important: “most RIers are unaffiliated voters. They haven’t been offered an appealing alternative” to the Democrat Party.

What’s interesting is the perspective that the statement illustrates — as if there’s some naturally occurring organization called the RI GOP with lifetime membership and a substantial endowment, seeking mostly to further its own brand.  It’s almost an ontological question, what the RI GOP really is, and few people incline toward ontology.  So, the tendency is to conceive of politics as if it is analogous to other forms of competition, like sports or business.  It is neither.

  • At the end of the day, sports are games.  The outcome really doesn’t matter much at all.  The motivation is mainly entertainment, with some socializing and exercise mixed in.  For professional athletes, it’s more like business.
  • The motivation for business is profit.  Companies compete so that everybody in the chain can make a living, ideally in a way that they find fulfilling for more profound reasons.

The political competition is more a battle of worldviews, and it usually isn’t people’s primary means of expressing what they believe.  How we live does that — what sort of profession we go into, what sort of family we foster, how we spend our free time.

To some extent, therefore, Donnis’s suggestion is akin to faulting a persecuted religious group for failing to produce enough martyrs.

The knee-jerk progressive response to that analogy would be to scoff at the idea that a group that’s likely to contain a high proportion of people who are doing relatively well in life could be classified as “persecuted,” but in the political context they can be.

The media myth is that money and prominence translate into political power, but for that to be the case, it has to be transferred. The transfer could be in donations or public support for somebody else, or it could be a transfer from one area of a person’s life to a new area as a candidate for public office.  As national controversies are currently proving, that transfer leaves them open to attack against their non-political interests.

So, Rhode Island, why would people martyr the parts of their lives by which they mainly express their worldviews for a political lost cause that they can avoid or escape?

Illustrating the News Media’s Culpability

I’m inclined to place some substantial blame on the news media in Rhode Island and elsewhere, mostly because its reportage is in harmony with the narrative of the powerful (the unions, the Democrats, the progressives).  There are many more important examples, but for simplicity and levity, and because it’s of such little consequence, ultimately, I’ll use an illustration from my own experience.

When I ran for school committee in Tiverton (which I did entirely out of a perceived need and despite my expectation that it would be a miserable experience for me personally, if I won), a local woman named Deborah Janick made a big deal about a casual Twitter exchange I had with RI Future founder and Angel Taveras staffer Matt Jerzyk about the geography of the town.  Basically, I’d pointed out that parts of Tiverton more closely resemble burroughs of Fall River than sub-hamlets of Little Compton.

As a resident of my extended neighborhood in the Fall River range, Janick proclaimed indignant offense at my comment.  Representative John Edwards (D, Portsmouth, Tiverton) made a barb of it via social media.  And the local news media covered it as if there was sincere outrage creating a significant campaign controversy.

Unless I missed something, the reporters never mentioned the fact that Mrs. Janick was the treasurer of a new political action committee (PAC) called Tiverton 1st, with her very address in North Tiverton listed on its campaign finance reports.

An inquisitive reporter might also have discovered that one of the more vicious participants in the local debate, Gloria Crist, who pursued with gusto her role unleashing online personal attacks on her opponents, seeking to make them feel hated and awkward in their own community, was a “co-coordinator/chair” of the PAC. Crist works for the school department as a paid drama coach and has never been the subject of any media coverage, that I’ve seen.

Meanwhile, Linda Larsen (wife of Budget Committee candidate Mark) was also a “co-coordinator/chair” and is listed as having loaned the PAC $178.*  Not to be outdone, school committee incumbent Deborah Pallasch and her husband, Marc, loaned it a combined $1,556.  That doesn’t include the money that other conspicuous players in Tiverton politics gave as outright donations.

My point, here, isn’t to complain that the ref wasn’t calling fouls, so to speak.  Except for those being driven out of town by the ever-increasing tax burden or being educated by the teachers’ union that appears to have set the tone of local politics, these matters are hardly of dire concern.

The point is that this is just a small-scale and amateur example of the way Rhode Island’s political culture operates more broadly.  There was probably some bias in the coverage, but the result likely had more to do with the media’s sense of itself as a spectator at a sporting event.

I’ve played a few innings in the position of commentator in the statewide league, so the news was how I was having difficulty on the local field. (Never mind that, to the extent any of it mattered, the fact that it was news at all was the sum total of the difficulty.)

How This Plays Out

In that light, Donnis’s blaming the Republican Party for its plight is like blaming the highly successful businesspeople and military officers who have made and continue to make the decision that Tiverton is not a community in which to invest their lives.  They sell their houses at a loss and move on to other states, not unlike Steve Laffey.

That doesn’t totally absolve such folks of their portion of the blame.  Rhode Island’s condition is the fault of Rhode Islanders — natives, new transplants, insiders, outsiders, and everybody else — and it will not improve until they stop tolerating it. It’d be presumptuous to fault those who’ve been able to leave, but to an extent, walking away from destructive behavior is a form of tolerance.

As for those still here, I’d venture to say that they will not stop tolerating it until the state and local media correctly identify the real power bases in Rhode Island and begin investigating them as journalists are theoretically supposed to investigate the powerful.  If that sort of thing were expected, perhaps groups like Tiverton 1st wouldn’t get away with personally tarring their political opponents in the name of status-quo righteousness.  Or better yet, perhaps they’d never even try, opting instead for civil debate of issues that actually matter.  Tolerance can suggest approval, after all.

At the moment, it appears very much like those who follow Rhode Island politics and government report on it in the way Red Sox fans might cover a series against some inferior team or Apple devotees might cover competing tablets.

Cassandra, Blame Yourself

I know, I know.  If that’s the story I want told, it’s up to me to make sure it is.  Some of us have been trying.  Of course, it doesn’t help when (for example) the Providence Journal spends the first year of the RI Center for Freedom & Prosperity’s existence with the apparent editorial directive to refer to the organization as if it’s a partisan GOP front group.

Today’s paper brings the news that four out of five Rhode Islanders have no idea that the state is preparing to implement a government-run health benefits exchange.  The Center for Freedom & Prosperity spent a good portion of last year warning about the dangers of the supposed healthcare reform. When the exchange becomes reality (wreaking its particular havoc), perhaps we will be to blame, in some sense, for having failed to offer an attractive alternative.

But it’s very difficult to make an alternative attractive when people don’t even know what it’s an alternative to — whether it’s a specific public policy or an entrenched political machine.

 

* Note: The initial version of this post wrongly called Linda Larsen the wife of school committee candidate (now elected member) Jerome Larkin.  I regret the very sloppy error and thank Mr. Larkin for his gracious correction.  I’d note, however, that the correction has minimal effect on the point being made in those paragraphs.



  • Dan

    This is why I don't use my full name in the course of RI political discussions. If I had, instead of Bob Plain's totally dishonest attack piece on my pseudonym, there would now be an attack piece on me, personally, up on the RIFuture blog, complete with my full name and picture inviting further harassment. My workplace would be bombared with calls from union soldiers like Pat Crowley, demanding that they let me go. My family would become a target. Speaking political truth to power is simply not worth sacrificing my career and family's well being in this case, so unfortunately the thugs and enablers have won that battle.

  • Jerome Larkin

    Justin-
    I am not married to Linda Larsen. My last name is Larkin. Both two syllables and alliterative but a consonant and vowel away nonetheless. It's an easy mistake to make but when making a political point, especially publicly, one should be more careful: it takes away from your overall message. Linda's political donations are her business, not mine. My wife is named Sara Farley.
    Jerome Larkin

    • Jerome,

      I agree, it was a stupid, sloppy error made while trying to squeeze a lengthy post into a busy day. I'm grateful for your gracious correction.

    • Just double-checked…. I knew there was some connection. She appears to be the wife of Budget Committee candidate Mark. That doesn't stop its being a foolish mistake that I regret. I just like to trace my foolish mistakes to figure out why I made them.

  • Justin, are you still upset because Deb called you out on your comment? Move on.

  • Lee Tavares

    Time for Justin to get out of town 1 Your constant BS baffles me how can you attend mass and be Eucharistic minster on the weekends and such an idiot during the week.

    • ECCG

      Lee Tavares' grammar baffles me. But from what I can make out, he lacks class.

    • That's an interesting comment to leave in response to an essay about how people are intimidated and driven away from civic participation in Rhode Island.

      Tell me, are your writing in your capacity as a school bus monitor?

      • I'm just curious Justin….are you now bashing being a school bus monitor? I know a lot of moms that do that job because they need to be home with their kids out of school hours.

        • Nothing in my reply can be remotely construed as "bashing."

          Somebody using a fake name specifically called out a detail from my life in the community and said I should leave town. It seems unsporting, to say the least, for her to say such things anonymously and not to divulge the fact that she's an employee of the local school district.

          That's a relevant fact that readers should consider when assessing the discussion, just like the fact that the woman who made a frivolous controversy about my Twitter comment was the treasurer of a local PAC that received a really big loan from an incumbent member of the school committee.

          People should be ashamed to behave that way.

  • May I ask how you know she's an employee of the school district if it's an anonymous name? If you know for sure the person is a bus monitor, I would totally read your post with a different meaning.

    And I don't really see the relevance as to what Deb does for T1 and her calling you out on your twitter comment. Feel free to explain.

    And I know a lot of people who should be ashamed to behave the way they do. That's just the way things are I guess.

  • Lance

    Wow. As a newcomer to civilian life all I can say is there is some awfully thin skin out there. First, how can a thinking human being conflate mass with being an idiot? Easy, it's an ad nominee attack–meaning the author is unable to refute the origina comment. Ergo, ignore it. Next, school bus monitor? I see no bashing other than it is a job that requires no qualifications other than adulthood. Either way, get over it. RI is in bad shape because people can't talk to each other, they stand in their ideological corners and refuse to acknowledge another point of view. No, no, not me, I am open to others ideas. Right. Start talking to each other about solutions, not labels for God's sake. If you don't start solving the myriad problems that the apparent acquiescence to apathy I see by RI leadership (no offense to real leaders), then someone else will solve you problems for you.

  • Phil Spadola

    "Dan" does not put his "John Hancock" to his comments because there is no "dan" or because his is a coward. No other possibilities exist.. Put up or shut up.

    • Dan

      Phil – You used only your first name for years of posting here. Were you a "coward" all those years? I think everyone here knows exactly why you and Plain are so intent on personally identifying all critics of labor and progressivism in Rhode Island. As if identifying me as Joe Blow of Elm street would make a difference to anything we are discussing here.

      I witnessed Pat Crowley of NEARI target an intern – yes, intern – at the state house with a series of RIFuture articles in an attempt to get him fired. Simply because of conservative remarks the intern had made. Do you get that it wasn't really about that intern at all?

  • Phil Spadola

    Isn't it interesting that on a blog that constantly speaks of freedoms that the name of an American patriot is half deleted by censorship . How fitting of the radical right wing.

  • That is interesting. It's an automatic filter, though. (One would have thought technology could differentiate.) I'll see if the setting can be changed suitably.

  • MoniqueAR

    "Time for Justin to get out of town"

    Huh. What happened to "COEXIST"ing?

  • Phil Spadola

    Since I cannot write the name of one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence whose name is John Hancock without being censored can i write the names of two of our Presidents named Johnson?

  • Phil Spadola

    So let me get this straight… I cannot write "cock a doddle do" or "cockamamie" or "cocksure" or etc. etc..

  • No, you cannot mouth off like a disrespectful jackass as if you haven't been well aware for years of how much we try to strike the appropriate balance for civic an civil discussion.

  • Phil Spadola

    Let me guess that it's permissible to write "cock the trigger" on a right wing blog without being censored. Please let me know because I would'nt want to go off " half-****ed".

  • I fixed the filter a half hour ago, FYI.

  • Phil Spadola

    I'm glad that I have forced you to recognize and respect the First Amendment. Don't chicken out. Study your bible…"Rejoice not thou, whole Palestina, because the rod of him that smote thee is broken: for out of the serpent's root shall come forth a cockatrice",

  • Phil Spadola

    Justin Let your readers know that the posts that I.ve written have been changed by you. Don't give them some cock and bull story about filters.

  • Or readers who care can investigate the Intense Debate plug-in, which has a "profanity filter" that does the following: "The following words will be replaced with asterisks (*):"

    Some versions of that technology can recognize standalone words versus parts of other words. Apparently, this one does not.

    Anyway, whatever you want to believe…

  • Justin, you still haven't said how you knew the anonymous poster is a school bus monitor?

  • Max

    "Justin, you still haven't said how you knew the anonymous poster is a school bus monitor? "

    @RCwiek, are you trying to sniff out his source so you can make them a target too?

    Phil, I think that was the biggest clown act I've witnessed on this blog. Unlike others here, I'm actually a little surprised.Complaining about filters and the 1st Amendment?

    • A target for what? And no…I just think he's full of it.

      • Oh, Renee. You know "Lee." If you didn't know she was a bus monitor, give her a call to confirm.

        I don't expect I could do anything to convince you that I try to be very careful before writing such things. I suppose I could come close, in this case, but it would require me to publish the steps by which I figured out who "Lee" is, including online documents showing her home phone number, home address, and perpetual spelling errors. Is that the outcome that you want?

        Personally, while I reserve the right not to take anonymous commenters seriously, I still don't like to out them, myself.

        • Actually, I don't know any bus monitors/drivers named Lee. I just thought it was odd that you said it was an anonymous poster then mentioned she was a bus driver. Which is the reason why I took your earlier comment in a different context. Not a big deal really. I'm just curious by nature.

  • Dan

    Phil's sole purpose in posting here is to antagonize Justin. Whether the antagonism centers on the blog filter being used, site traffic, or some other irrelevancy is besides the point of the behavior.

    Frankly, Phil should hesitate before using his full name here for an entirely different reason – shame.

  • Phil Spadola

    Let the readers decide. Shame should be reserved for those who cloak their identity and launch spurious personal attacks or those who invent such characters. I was just having some fun, that is after a more serious original comment. If I remember correctly there have been comments on this blog in reference to all things Tiverton which centers on who is using multipe identities.

  • Dan

    Phil – Are you ashamed of the years you spent commenting on this blog while "cloaking" your identity (using your first name)? If your comments in this thread don't qualify as "spurious personal attacks" on Justin, I'm not sure what would. The "just kidding around" Bob Plain defense is a particularly lame hypocrisy, although I can't say I'm surprised coming from a progressive.

  • Phil Spadola

    I wish I had not. I was new to blogs and passwords and user names. As I read morecontent online and read comments of those using names other than their given name the more I started to regret my own involvment in that .

  • MoniqueAR

    "When I ran for school committee in Tiverton"

    Thank you for running, Justin. Ultimately, what matters to changing the state is getting the right people into office. There's no chance of that happening if the right people don't run.

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  • Wow that was strange. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again. Anyways, just wanted to say wonderful blog!

  • I like what you guys tend to be up too. This type of clever work and coverage! Keep up the wonderful works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to my blogroll.

  • Fantastic blog! Do you have any recommendations for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m totally confused .. Any tips? Appreciate it!

  • Have you ever considered publishing an e-book or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog based upon on the same information you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my subscribers would appreciate your work. If you are even remotely interested, feel free to send me an e mail.

  • Hey! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this post to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  • Hello! This post couldn’t be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my good old room mate! He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this page to him. Pretty sure he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

  • I really like your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you create this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz answer back as I’m looking to construct my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. kudos

  • Hi! Do you know if they make any plugins to protect against hackers? I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard on. Any suggestions?

  • I just added this blog site to my google reader, excellent stuff. Cannot get enough!

  • Hey I am so delighted I found your weblog, I really found you by accident, while I was searching on Digg for something else, Nonetheless I am here now and would just like to say cheers for a remarkable post and a all round thrilling blog (I also love the theme/design), I don韙 have time to browse it all at the minute but I have book-marked it and also added in your RSS feeds, so when I have time I will be back to read more, Please do keep up the superb job.

  • Hi! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us so I came to take a look. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m book-marking and will be tweeting this to my followers! Exceptional blog and terrific design.

  • Do you have a spam issue on this website; I also am a blogger, and I was curious about your situation; many of us have created some nice methods and we are looking to exchange methods with other folks, why not shoot me an email if interested.

  • Howdy! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest writing a blog post or vice-versa? My website addresses a lot of the same topics as yours and I think we could greatly benefit from each other. If you’re interested feel free to send me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Fantastic blog by the way!

  • Hi there! This is kind of off topic but I need some help from an established blog. Is it very difficult to set up your own blog? I’m not very techincal but I can figure things out pretty quick. I’m thinking about creating my own but I’m not sure where to start. Do you have any tips or suggestions? Many thanks

  • Do you have a spam issue on this site; I also am a blogger, and I was curious about your situation; many of us have developed some nice procedures and we are looking to exchange solutions with other folks, why not shoot me an e-mail if interested.

  • Hey there would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re working with? I’m looking to start my own blog soon but I’m having a hard time making a decision between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your design seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something completely unique. P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask!

  • The other day, while I was at work, my cousin stole my iphone and tested to see if it can survive a 25 foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My iPad is now broken and she has 83 views. I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  • Woah! I’m really enjoying the template/theme of this website. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very difficult to get that “perfect balance” between user friendliness and appearance. I must say you’ve done a superb job with this. In addition, the blog loads extremely fast for me on Opera. Exceptional Blog!

  • Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in trading links or maybe guest authoring a blog article or vice-versa? My blog covers a lot of the same topics as yours and I think we could greatly benefit from each other. If you might be interested feel free to shoot me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Fantastic blog by the way!

  • I was wondering if you ever thought of changing the structure of your site? Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little more in the way of content so people could connect with it better. Youve got an awful lot of text for only having one or two pictures. Maybe you could space it out better?

  • Hello there! Would you mind if I share your blog with my myspace group? There’s a lot of folks that I think would really enjoy your content. Please let me know. Cheers

  • Hello there! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers and starting a new project in a community in the same niche. Your blog provided us useful information to work on. You have done a extraordinary job!

  • Hey there! I just wanted to ask if you ever have any issues with hackers? My last blog (wordpress) was hacked and I ended up losing several weeks of hard work due to no backup. Do you have any methods to stop hackers?

  • Hey I know this is off topic but I was wondering if you knew of any widgets I could add to my blog that automatically tweet my newest twitter updates. I’ve been looking for a plug-in like this for quite some time and was hoping maybe you would have some experience with something like this. Please let me know if you run into anything. I truly enjoy reading your blog and I look forward to your new updates.

  • Howdy, i read your blog occasionally and i own a similar one and i was just wondering if you get a lot of spam responses? If so how do you reduce it, any plugin or anything you can suggest? I get so much lately it’s driving me mad so any help is very much appreciated.

  • Greetings! I know this is kinda off topic but I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog article or vice-versa? My site covers a lot of the same subjects as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other. If you might be interested feel free to send me an e-mail. I look forward to hearing from you! Fantastic blog by the way!

  • Hello there! Quick question that’s totally off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My blog looks weird when browsing from my apple iphone. I’m trying to find a theme or plugin that might be able to correct this problem. If you have any recommendations, please share. Thank you!

  • Hey there would you mind sharing which blog platform you’re working with? I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m having a difficult time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique. P.S Apologies for getting off-topic but I had to ask!

  • Good day! I know this is somewhat off topic but I was wondering which blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting tired of WordPress because I’ve had issues with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform. I would be awesome if you could point me in the direction of a good platform.

  • Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic however I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest writing a blog post or vice-versa? My blog discusses a lot of the same topics as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other. If you happen to be interested feel free to send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Terrific blog by the way!

  • Today, while I was at work, my sister stole my iPad and tested to see if it can survive a thirty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is totally off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  • When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now each time a comment is added I get three emails with the same comment. Is there any way you can remove people from that service? Many thanks!

  • Hey there! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you knew where I could locate a captcha plugin for my comment form? I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having difficulty finding one? Thanks a lot!

  • Howdy! Do you know if they make any plugins to safeguard against hackers? I’m kinda paranoid about losing everything I’ve worked hard on. Any recommendations?

  • I’m not sure why but this web site is loading incredibly slow for me. Is anyone else having this issue or is it a issue on my end? I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

  • This design is steller! You definitely know how to keep a reader entertained. Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Fantastic job. I really loved what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it. Too cool!

  • My partner and I stumbled over here from a different web page and thought I might as well check things out. I like what I see so i am just following you. Look forward to checking out your web page repeatedly.

  • Hey! I know this is kinda off topic nevertheless I’d figured I’d ask. Would you be interested in exchanging links or maybe guest authoring a blog post or vice-versa? My website addresses a lot of the same topics as yours and I believe we could greatly benefit from each other. If you are interested feel free to send me an email. I look forward to hearing from you! Fantastic blog by the way!

  • First of all I want to say great blog! I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing. I’ve had a hard time clearing my thoughts in getting my ideas out. I truly do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are generally wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips? Kudos!

  • I love your blog.. very nice colors & theme. Did you make this website yourself or did you hire someone to do it for you? Plz reply as I’m looking to create my own blog and would like to know where u got this from. many thanks

  • Hi, I think your site might be having browser compatibility issues. When I look at your website in Chrome, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up! Other then that, wonderful blog!

  • Does your blog have a contact page? I’m having a tough time locating it but, I’d like to shoot you an email. I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great website and I look forward to seeing it improve over time.

  • Hiya! Quick question that’s completely off topic. Do you know how to make your site mobile friendly? My web site looks weird when browsing from my iphone. I’m trying to find a template or plugin that might be able to resolve this issue. If you have any suggestions, please share. Thanks!

  • First of all I want to say fantastic blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you don’t mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing. I have had trouble clearing my mind in getting my ideas out there. I do take pleasure in writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes tend to be wasted just trying to figure out how to begin. Any recommendations or tips? Thanks!

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