Monthly Archives: August 2014

Context is Everything


by Lillian Csernica on August 29, 2014

If you take something out of context, it is subject to misinterpretation.  A statement, a gesture, a name, a piece of clothing, an animal, a human being.

The other day a friend of mine told me that a guy she knows had surprised her.  He gave her a tube of toothpaste.  Me, I’d have taken that as a rather rude hint about my oral hygiene.  Turns out that my friend had made a comment about not being able to find the toothpaste she preferred.  The gentleman showed up with the cinnamon-flavored brand my friend much prefers to the seemingly universal minty fresh selection.  Now see?  At first I didn’t understand the context of the gentleman’s gesture.  I took offense, when it turns out that he had only the best and most considerate intentions.

In her blog, TalktoYoUniverse, my good friend Juliette Wade has addressed the delicate subject of how we decide who is worth our time and who is not.  The very idea of doing so may sound offensive to some people.  In a perfect world, everyone should be considered worth our time and attention.  Sadly, this is not yet a perfect world.  Life is short, our days are jam-packed with information and activities, and there are some people we really do want to avoid for reasons of personal safety.  Different social contexts demand different standards of inclusivity and exclusivity.  Juliette puts it very well:

“I won’t claim this is supposed to be easy. Everybody has a different balance of introversion and extroversion, a different threshold of safety – and maintaining that safety is vitally important. But I also think it’s important for people to realize that we are all gatekeepers. We are all constantly re-creating the inclusive or exclusive environment of our social milieu, whenever we say yes or no.”

Juliette and I are both familiar with the social context of the science fiction and fantasy convention.  It’s customary on Friday nights to have a Meet the Guests reception where the Guests of Honor are introduced and welcomed.  In a less formal manner, the rest of the pro guests who are part of Programming attend the event and we mix with the convention attendees.  The environment of inclusivity is wonderful.  When you’re a pro guest and you’re not a naturally outgoing person, the sudden atmosphere of familiarity can be a form of culture shock.  Let me offer some examples of different convention contexts in which I had to make snap decisions about how to respond to the person who wanted to interact with me.

1) I was in Las Vegas for a convention where my best friend and co-conspirator Pat MacEwen was on Programming.  (Pat and I take turns being each other’s roadie depending on whether or not we’re both on Programming.)  Pat and I were hanging out in the hallway outside the Dealers’ Room when a tall, beefy, bearded man came up to me and said, “I didn’t know you were going to be here!”  He said it in a voice of loud delight, which drew some attention from the folks around us.  At first I thought he was talking to Pat.  Nope, he meant me.  He had a copy of The Year’s Best Horror XXI where my first published story “Fallen Idol” appeared.  Like a lot of fans, he was working on collecting the autographs of all the authors included.  He very politely asked me if I could wait just a minute while he dashed up to his room to get the book.  I wasn’t busy right then, and Pat didn’t mind, so there I stood until the gentleman came back.  He was so happy and excited to get my autograph.  This kind of thing doesn’t happen to me all that often, so I was probably enjoying it as much as he was.  He thanked me, I thanked him, and we both went on with our day.

This is an example of a best case scenario in the social context of being someone “famous” meeting the fans.

2) I appear at many of the Bay Area SF cons.  The downside of being a regular face at these events became evident to me the year a particular fan decided I was his favorite person on Earth.  This fellow is well known to convention committees.  He is by and large harmless, although his manners could use some work.  As long as he’s taking his medication, he’s usually not a problem.  All this was explained to me after I contacted convention security to let them know this guy was following me around, sitting in the front rows of panels, and carrying on like he was my date.  My heart goes out to him, given the condition that he has to cope with, but to put it bluntly, he scares the hell out of me.

When it comes to dealing with someone who is known to have a mental illness, the issue of personal safety takes precedence.  Hand it over to the authorities and walk away.  Would I say this is an example of a stalker?  No.  It was only that one year.  I do take care to avoid him, but our occasional encounters since then have been within the proper boundaries.

3) At yet another con I was on my way from Point A to Point B when I heard a voice behind me call out, “Mrs. Csernica.”  Now that’s weird.  Nobody ever calls me that except for the boys’ medical personnel.  So what happened?  My fight or flight response kicked in and I had an adrenaline surge.  I spun around to see a perfectly nice-looking young man in a blazer walking toward me.  He didn’t look like security.  He didn’t look like hotel staff.  He had a con badge, but I couldn’t tell if it had any of the special markings that show if the person is Con Ops, Programming, Con Suite, DIY track, etc.  I was trying to place him in context by looking for any physical indicator of his rank, station, function, etc.  As I stood there, trying not to panic while I figured out who he was, the young man introduced himself and explained that he wanted to tell me how much he’d gotten out of the panel I’d just finished.

Now this particular example deserves two paragraphs.  You see, in the atmosphere of casual familiarity that prevails at cons, we don’t do last names.  Only the serving staff says things like “Sir” and “Ma’am.”  Given that I’m in Northern California, there’s an additional layer of informality underlying all of that.  I am an old-fashioned girl.  I will not address someone who is older than me by his or her first name until I am specifically given permission to do so.  I do not call my doctors or the boys’ doctors by first name even if they identify themselves that way during appointments or phone calls.  On the other hand, I do not stand on ceremony if it would look like I’m trying to make somebody else look bad by doing so.  Context context context.  My point here is once I got over the shock of the young man addressing me as Mrs. Csernica, I mentally awarded him fifty brownie points for showing that level of courtesy.  I also gave him five extra minutes of my time I might not have spared otherwise because I was indeed on my way to another commitment.  We talked about the lyrics he was writing, his music, and where he wanted to go in terms of career.  Since our first meeting I’ve crossed paths with the young man three times, and on each occasion he has won my regard again by doing something gallant that made my day easier and more fun.

There is no substitute for genuine class.  He has it, and it’s not an affectation or a manipulation or a pose.  He’s just a sweet guy with good manners.

Today’s world is complicated.  We don’t know who or what we’re looking at, and even if we think we do, there are so many nuances and subtexts and private preferences that we’re probably going to guess wrong.  Some people are obtuse.  Some people are aggressively oversensitive.  Most of us are just doing the best we can as the ground rules keep on changing.  The best strategy I’ve come up with for navigating through daily life is this:

Give people a chance, but trust your instincts.

  When in doubt, ask very politely for clarification.

It’s a lot like speaking the language in a foreign country.  When the natives see that you’re trying really hard to do it right, they’ll usually cut you some slack.

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Filed under Conventions, fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Horror, Humor, romance, science fiction, Self-image, Writing

My Story, For Anyone Who Wants To Know


Charlotte captures some important thoughts here for artists, whether you’re a poet or a painter or a computer whiz or into making found art.

The 365 Poetry Project: Year 3

It seems to me that I’ve been on a very long journey to arrive at a point where I could comfortably call myself a “poet” or a “writer”, but in reality it’s only been within the last 2-3 years that I’ve put much thought into the matter. For as long as I can remember I’ve dabbled in it as a fun little hobby, but never really thought of it as anything more than that.

In the fall of 2011 I met someone that changed my thinking- a writer. Not one of those people who sulk and brag and love to tell people they’re writers for the glory of it, but a person who actually wrote, and loved it. He had a way of analyzing life, of taking it in and examining it, of finding the beauty and the logic and the chaos in the world around him, that I was…

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How to Get a Free Fantasy Anthology


by Lillian Csernica on August 25, 2014

Ladies and gentlemen!  Boys and girls!  I am delighted to tell you than I have been authorized to offer a free copy of Fantastic Stories Fantasy Super Pack #1 to my friends and followers who will do me, the publisher, and my fellow contributors the kindness of reviewing the anthology.  Leave a comment and I’ll contact you about format and email address.

This anthology includes my short story “Maeve.”

The editors at www.fantasticstoriesoftheimagination.com present thirty-four wonderful tales of fantasy. More than seven hundred and fifty pages for your reading pleasure. Escape today!

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Filed under fantasy, Fiction, Goals, history, Humor, science fiction, Writing

Doing the Happy Dance


by Lillian Csernica on August 18, 2014

I am delighted to share with you the latest milestone in my writing career.

As of 2:17 a.m. this morning, I have completed this edit of my current novel!

What does this mean?

I made several improvements in the story.
I expanded the role of one character and reduced the role of another.
I fixed the errors in my Japanese words and phrases.
I cut one hundred and fifty-two pages from the manuscript.

The time has not yet come to send the book to my agent.  I have another sixty-six pages to cut.  That will be easier now that the plot has come into clearer focus.  I need to double check a few fine points of Tokugawa period clothing.  I also want to verify my fictional locations on a map of Satsuma (now Kagoshima) so my travel times and overall timetable are still correct given some of the changes in the story.

Even so, I did it!  I got all the way through the edit!  I had hoped to be done by the end of July.  I am eighteen days past that deadline, which all things considered isn’t that bad.  Now for the fun part.  While I finish the clean up work on this manuscript, I’d better get to work on the second book of the trilogy!  Fortune favors the prepared mind.  I want to be ready just in case Lady Luck offers me a three book contract!

 

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Light That Candle


by Lillian Csernica on August 16, 2014

It has been a long and difficult week all over the world.  So many losses.  So much upheaval.  I’ve seen a lot of information out there about depression and how to cope with it.  I’ve seen a lot of really stupid remarks by people who have no idea what it’s like to live with the big Black Dog day in and day out, to go to sleep (if you can) with the Black Dog sitting on your chest and then wake up to it gnawing on your heart.

One suggestion I’ve heard several times is to go do something for other people.  Get out of your own head, away from your own life, and help somebody who needs it.  You could make all the difference.  With that in mind, I’d like to share seven events from my life, seven moments where the kindness of strangers made a huge difference to the suffering I was enduring at that time.

1) When I was ten years old, I had to have surgery to remove the birthmark on the right side of my rib cage.  I don’t remember where the hospital was, but I do remember it was a long way from home.  In those days parents weren’t allowed to stay in the same hospital room with their children.  That meant my mother had to get a hotel room down the road.  Fortunately, I could see the hotel’s sign from the window of the my hospital ward.  Even so, I was alone, I was scared, and a bunch of strangers were about to wheel me into an operating room so the doctor could cut off a chunk of my skin.  There was another girl in the ward.  She was pretty, with long blonde braids.  I don’t know what happened to her, but her jaw was broken and it had to be wired shut.  She couldn’t talk, right?  The night before my surgery I stood there at the window crying.  I wanted my mother and I wanted to go home.  The blonde girl stood next to me, put her arm around me, and leaned her head on my shoulder.  She let me know I was not alone.

2) One Halloween when I was in high school a good friend of mine told me that if we dressed up in costume, we could get in to see “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for free down at a theater near the beach.  So we got dressed up and off we went.  For some reason my friend got his wires crossed.  There was no such offer.  By then it was too late to do much else.  As we stood there, disappointed and trying to salvage the evening, a woman who was standing in the theater lobby walked over and put money on the ticket counter.  All she said was, “You’re in!”  We thanked her up one side and down the other.  I had never seen the movie, so that was quite a memorable Halloween.  This was not a terribly serious situation, but even so, a total stranger stepped up and did something generous and kind.

3) When I was in the hospital on bedrest before Michael had to be delivered early, there were three perinatologists on rotation in that hospital.  The one I liked even before he spotted the problem and had me admitted to the hospital immediately.  The second one I don’t remember all that well.  The third doctor was one of those tall, aloof, distinguished men who may be brilliant at medicine but lack something when it comes to their bedside manner.  Once it became clear that I would have to stay in the hospital until a) Michael reached a safe length of time in utero, or b) the crisis came and he had to be delivered, I had to resign myself to the long haul.  Chris had brought some icons, including the one of my patron saint, St. Irene of Chrysovolantou.  The third doctor came into my hospital room one afternoon.  Now that in itself was odd, because “morning rounds” happen in the morning, right?  The doctor had brought me this big beautiful coffee table book.  It was full of gorgeous photographs of the work of Faberge, who is famous for the jeweled Easter eggs made for the Russian royal family.  It’s funny how you believe your impressions of people.  I never would have expected such a gesture from this doctor.  And yet, he offered me the book, making a sympathetic comment about all the time on my hands and how he’d noticed my icons and thought I might enjoy the book.  One of my nurses let me know it was the doctor’s own personal book, too, not something from the hospital library.

4) My son Michael’s birthday falls in late April.  Depending on how things work out on the Old Calendar, Russian Easter will happen right around then too.  We’ve often celebrated Michael’s birthday as part of the big annual open house held by his godmother (when she was still with us) and her husband.  His godmother would make a cake for Michael and we’d sing “Happy Birthday” to him.  A lot of people came to this open house, as they continue to do every year.  On the day I’m thinking of, a man was out in the backyard with the rest of us watching us give Michael his cake.  Later the man came up to me and handed me a twenty dollar bill.  He wanted me to get something for Michael.  I thanked him and assured him I would.  People want to help Michael.  They want to do whatever they can to make his life better or easier.  I didn’t know this man, and I will probably never meet him again.  I will always remember him for his burst of compassion for my son.

5) One evening a friend of mine who lived up in the East Bay came down for one of his rare visits.  He’d borrowed his father’s Porsche.  We went out to dinner and I brought Michael with us.  (John wasn’t around yet.)  We didn’t go very far from home, and we had a good time at the restaurant.  My friend held Michael while I ate my dinner.  Being a young man, he didn’t have all that much experience with babies, so this was an adventure for him.  Unfortunately, when we were ready to go home, the car wouldn’t start.  From there it was one thing after another until I could get ahold of Chris and have him pick us up.  The point of this story is that we were parked next to a KMart that had an enclosed area before you entered the actual store.  It was getting later and colder, so I sat in there with Michael while my friend tried to get the car working.  The staff of KMart were getting ready to close, but they were very kind.  This was back before I had a cell phone, so they let me call Chris, then offered me whatever blankets or baby supplies I needed for Michael.  At this point I was starting to get really upset, worrying over Michael, so their concern and assistance meant just that much more to me.

 

6) Now this story happened not too long ago.  I was meeting my Japanese teacher in a local coffee shop.  I’d been rushing around all day getting things done so I could meet her in time.  I had made a mental note about my pocket money, but somehow I got hung up on an earlier version of events and forgot giving some cash to John.  When I went to the cashier to pay for my drink, I suddenly discovered I had no money.  I was so embarrassed.  I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t want to impose on my teacher.  The young lady behind the counter took pity on my confusion and told me not to worry about it.  There was enough in the tip jar to cover it.  How kind of her!  She didn’t have to do that.  My lesson started on time with no undue awkwardness.  I’ve been back to that coffee shop more than once, and I’m a heavy tipper!

7) In Santa Cruz there is a wonderful street named Pacific Avenue.  If you want to be formal about it, it’s the Pacific Garden Mall.  Time and time again I’ve gone there with my mother, my sister, my husband, my son John.  I’ve gone Christmas shopping there with my best friends.  I once ran through a torrential rainstorm there and bought a painting for two dollars from a UCSC student who spoke French.  I’ve given money to street musicians and talked to the man who makes animal balloons outside the candy store and I spent a lot of time in the Borders when it was still there.  Aside from an international airport, Pacific Avenue is the best place I’ve found for people-watching, especially on a bright Sunday afternoon.  You never know what you’re going to see, and I mean that.  No matter how bad things feel, no matter how dark it’s gotten inside me, if I hang out on Pacific Avenue for a while, something will happen to make me feel better.  And so I salute all of the people, the shopkeepers and sales clerks and food service folks and the entertainers and the tourists from all corners of the globe.

If you ever get the chance to light that candle instead of cursing the darkness, take it.  Speaking as someone who has been in desperate need of a little light, I can assure you that a single candle flame can make all the difference in the world.  From that little blonde girl in the hospital with me to that doctor whose human side I got to see, there have been people out there kind enough to light my way and keep me going despite all the depression, the grief, the trauma, and the pain I’ve endured.

God bless you.  Every single one of you.  You don’t know it, but you may have saved my life.

 

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Filed under birthday, charity, Depression, dogs, Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Family, Food, Halloween, love, Self-image, Special needs, Writing

New story — “Reality Check”


by Lillian Csernica on August 9, 2014

 

Idea Factory

Recently I saw a blog challenge that appealed to me, so I cranked up the Idea Factory and took my best shot.

You will find the result at Write Like a Wizard.

Many thanks to the lovely and gracious K. Nycole Lee for this opportunity!

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Historical Writing: Always an Adventure!


by Lillian Csernica on August 5, 2014

 

Why do I write about history?

History gives me an opportunity to get the big picture on how different countries have tried to make different strategies work. Economic strategies, military strategies, and the more cultural and artistic strategies that come under the heading of fashion.

A good example is Scotland. Not the wealthiest of countries, Scotland has a long history of internal clan conflicts and the border wars with England. The weather in Scotland tends toward clouds and rain. Sheep do well on the landscape of Scotland, so you see a lot of wool in their clothing styles, notably the kilt. I know a lot of people who have spent a great deal of time looking up their family tartans. The truth is, clan tartans are an invention of the Victorian period. This is one of those nasty facts that bursts the romantic bubble of many an amateur historian.  At one time the Scots believed carrying the paw of a mole in one’s sporran would protect against rheumatism, a common ailment in that climate.

I’ve written often about my fondness for Japan. Feudal Japan was an era of strict social classes, laws about fashion, and precise rules about social etiquette. While the tyranny of the Tokugawa Shogunate was eventually its own undoing, I must confess I find a certain comfort in having so many matters of culture spelled out for me. Modern Japanese also enjoy the two-edged sword of knowing exactly who they are and where they stand in whatever social context they find themselves. In the time of the Tokugawa, clothing, hairstyles, personal ornamentation, and weaponry were the indicators of social position. I find it one of history’s most humorous moments to see all that grandeur reduced to the common everyday business card. That has become the crucial indicator of status and context for the Japanese. Westerners are advised to bring plenty of their own. Otherwise there are business available to produce cards very quickly with one side in English and the other in Japanese.

tvtropes.org

I write romance novels, so I get to take a close look at the techniques of wooing in various times and places. Medieval Europe had the concept of courtly love.  Eleanor of Aquitaine’s daughter by Louis VII of France was largely responsible for this idea. Knights were measured against the Code of Chivalry to see if they met the beau ideal of those times. The real purpose of the concept of courtly love was education in respectable deportment.  Bored noblewomen can be dangerous noblewomen, as Eleanor of Aquitaine herself proved on more than one occasion.

From About.Com, Medieval History:

“The woman was Eleanor’s daughter (from her previous marriage to King Louis VII of France), Marie de Champagne, and she had come to Poitiers to take charge of the education and training of the young people at the palace. She had her work cut out for her. The Poitevins had not been accustomed to the ways of court life for generations: the young men were boisterous, bragging warriors; the young women had led isolated lives and were free at last from the confines of the family estate. Religious study had not taught these pubescent pupils how to behave. Marie realized that a subject that could hold their interest was necessary to use as a vehicle through which they could be taught manners and respect. One subject sprang immediately to mind.”

Novels from the Regency and Victorian periods entertain me because they’re all about clothes and money. Social position is the bottom line, and so many of the characters are looking to trade up. Finding someone you can love for the rest of your life is nowhere near as important as finding someone with a respectable income of so many hundreds or thousands of pounds per year. In my own mind I often encounter a struggle between the romantic and the pragmatist.  I may know how history worked in real life in a given period, but that doesn’t mean I have to adhere strictly to realism.  A romance novel is, after all, escapist literature.  When I run away from home through a book, I want the author to make the trip worthwhile!  And so I do my best when choosing romance over realism and sentiment over survival.

Oddly enough, ancient history holds little appeal for me. The mysteries of ancient Egypt focus so much on the afterlife. I know more than I ever wanted to about the process of mummification. I find it interesting that the Egyptian gods have animal heads, also found in the Hindu pantheon. What does this similarity mean? What exchange of culture might have gone on that modern archaeologists have yet to discover? As with so many cultures, the most noteworthy people are the upper classes, especially the royalty. The lower classes, especially the slaves, had a hard life. Not a lot of romance there for me. I can’t stand desert climates.

One of the most fascinating aspects of history is food. For the first romance novel I ever wrote, I had to go looking for Basque cookbooks because the novel was set in Navarre. It took quite some doing, but I finally discovered what my heroine would have for breakfast: chestnuts boiled in milk and sprinkled with nutmeg. Compare that with the necessity in Egypt of having many festal days where the upper classes distributed beer and bread to the lower classes. If not for that, many people of the lower classes in Egypt would have starved to death. In Medieval Europe, bread, watered wine, ale, meats such as venison, game birds, and roast pork, and large wheels of cheese made up the main meal. I do have a number of cookbooks that provide recipes from the Middle Ages. The key difference in culinary art between the Middles Ages and the Renaissance came down to the use of spices. The Middle Ages saw lots of spices thrown in for rich flavors. Renaissance cooking became more selective, creating unique dishes centered around particular flavor combinations. My research in this area taught me the pleasure of chicken prepared with cinnamon.

Then there’s jewelry. I could go on and on about the delights of dressing up my heroes and heroines in the bijouterie of their particular time periods. From the hair ornaments of the geisha to the cameos of the Victorian period, from the jeweled inlays of the Egyptian pectoral collars to the prayer ropes of the Middles Ages made from ivory beads or garnets or even pearls, the treasure chests of history are overflowing with splendor and detail. I once visited the Smithsonian Institution and saw the earrings of Marie Antoinette. How she didn’t end up with earlobes stretched like King Tut’s I’ll never know.

History is full of little questions like this, alongside the larger mysteries. And so with every novel I go exploring!

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Camping? Out!


by Lillian Csernica on August 3, 2014

 

 

I live in Northern California, amid the coastal redwoods.  There are lots of campgrounds in my area.  Some are the dirt-and-firepit variety, some have these little cabins you can stay in.  Many of my friends think camping is one of the greatest activities there is, for friends and family alike.

I do not share their opinion.

I will admit that when it comes to the Great Outdoors, I’m something of a sissy.  Yes, I can chop firewood and I have done so.  Yes, I have caught and cleaned fish.  I carry field guides so in the event I get stuck somewhere and have to forage, I don’t pick the wrong berries or mushrooms.  I know how to take care of myself in the Great Outdoors, but that doesn’t mean I go looking for opportunities.

What do I have against camping?  Bad memories of all the times I was forced to spend weekends away from home in the company of My Cousin The Eagle Scout.  I am a writer.  My natural habitat is a library.  This has been true since I first learned to read and write.  When I was in grade school and junior high, I’m convinced there was a conspiracy to break me of my bluestocking habits and train me to become some kind of wilderness survival expert.  This didn’t go well.

I remember a night when I had to sleep in one of those tents that looks like a gigantic international orange wind sock.  I was and still am incapable of pitching a tent anywhere but over a cliff, so My Cousin The Eagle Scout set it up.  Only later did I find out he’d set it up on top of an ant hill.  What’s more, ten feet away on the other side of a thick growth of bushes was a fifty foot drop into the river below.  If I’d gone the wrong way in the dark looking for the outhouse, I might well have died before anybody realized I was missing.

I worked at various Renaissance Faires from age 18 to 28.  I was young then.  My body hadn’t suffered some of the major damage it’s taken in the course of car accidents, torn muscles, and all the changes childbirth brings.  It was easy enough to camp out inside the booth where I worked.  The worst part was the dust, which contained hay from the hay bales along with the chemicals Faire used to fireproof everything.  Not the best breathing space for my asthma.  As time passed and I accumulated more mileage, camping out became more and more painful because of the damage I’d taken to my left shoulder, hip, and knee in the big car accident.  After I got married, I’d camp out on the grounds of the fencing booth in a much larger, somewhat more luxurious tent.  My husband knew about camping.

Once the sun goes down on a Ren Faire site, a whole world comes to life that most people never know about unless they’ve been part of it.  Given that I worked a twelve hour day managing a pewter booth, I wasn’t really up for the kind of partying most people enjoyed.  I also wasn’t up for the yellow jackets, the spiders, the snakes, the skunks, and the occasional drunken reveler who mistook our tent for his own.  One night we did have a cat wander by and demand entrance.  The kitty curled up between me and Chris and went to sleep.  Come sunrise, the cat meowed politely to be let out.

I’ve slept in cars, I’ve slept in RVs, I’ve slept in campers, and one unforgettable night I even slept in the back of a pickup with only carpet remnants for a blanket.  I was not born to rough it, even though I seem to have done a lot of that in my adventures.  So please forgive me if I’m a bit of a killjoy on the subject of camping.  In the words of one of my Ren Faire employers:

“MY IDEA OF ROUGHING IT IS DRINKING DIET SODA!”

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