The Best Thing

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‘There will come a moment,’ my PT told me, quite early on in training, ‘when your body will start telling you things. Maybe it will be a pain that’s not normal, or a reaction to an exercise that you don’t like. When this happens, you need to learn to listen, and act appropriately.’

Yesterday afternoon I got back from picking up the youngest from School, came to sit down here to work and my body waved at me. The conversation then went something like this:

– Hi there! You remember that time when your PT told you I’d start talking to you?

– Yeah, I do as it happens…

– Well, this is the moment when I tell you that running 2k yesterday plus the anxiety of both going to the Dentist and your son’s school today has compounded to a situation where I’m forcibly shutting down higher brain functions for the evening. No more thinking for you, Missy!

– But, hang on, I planned to write tonight!

– Nope, if you do that you’ll get frustrated, angry and everybody will just go backwards and there is NO WAY that this is happening. Sorry. You have to believe the flesh on this one. Go play Warcraft all night, switch mind and body RIGHT OFF and we’ll come back to it tomorrow and you know what? You’ll not only feel better, but we’ll get more done. TRUST ME.

– I’m supposed to trust a body that wakes me up at 5am every morning with a hot flush???

– Look, M8, I can’t fight millions of years of evolutionary process, but how about I let you sleep through to 6am coz it’s Saturday… sound fair?

– Okay, dun. Someone needs to order me Chinese takeaway now…

– If you hang about I bet you can persuade Mr Alt to do that… ^^

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That, everybody, is what a decent night’s sleep and a lie in should look like and that’s not just my body talking. Also, the final iteration of my husband’s blog artwork has now become his logo, and I don’t thing he did it just to be nice. I feel it was used because it shows I understand what bike porn is and why my husband is so enamoured with it. Don’t look at me like that, fixating on inanimate objects is perfectly normal, or else consumerism wouldn’t be destroying society. So neurgh.

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I suspect, as has been the case a lot of late, I’ll look back on this week and know it was when a piece of the puzzle finally fitted and made sense. No more need to push the point.

It just keeps getting better.

Consider Her Ways

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Normally my blog posts are named after songs. Today, I’m taking a book, one that was particularly significant in my youth. I remember being astounded by the main story in John Wyndham’s anthology and it having a profound effect for weeks after reading: I can’t really tell you anything about it either, because by doing so ruins a narrative that really needs to be read unspoilt. However, what I can tell you is that birth forms a key component of the conceit.

I was reminded of the Wyndham after reading this Guardian article about how premature lambs are now ‘grown’ in artificial wombs and, I must admit there was a stab of horror at the pictures I saw. Initially my thought was more of a ‘Brave New World’ scenario but then the same feeling emerged that I remember after finishing ‘Consider her Ways’ for about the twelfth time: humanity mucking about with nature does not sit well in my head. Of course, without that evolution, I’d be dead by now. I’d have never made it out of hospital as a baby.

Science has always trodden a delicate path between interference and assistance.

I suspect this has a lot to do with current concerns over my own health, but there is discomfort in growing amounts over what counts as ‘good’ science and what feels ‘bad’: I’m not a religious person, but the possibility that people could pick the sex of their child or ensure it has certain characteristics does not sit well in my mind. The Universe works best with the full spectrum of both diversity and chaos: trying to counter that or effectively guide the course of Evolution feels wrong. I’ve read enough speculative fiction to understand that for every wonder discovery or great idea, there’s always a price to pay.

I knew my great grandmother only for a very short time. One of my earliest memories is of her using a cloth hankerchief to make a mouse as amusement, and it always worked. She passed away, I remember, as not as a result of gangrene but the surgery that was supposed to extend her life. She never regained consciousness after the operation to remove her infected lower leg. I’ve always held a fear of being sent into a medically-induced sleep not simply because of this, but an incident when I was 4 or 5 and because of bad dental hygiene I had to have teeth extracted, and was rendered unconscious to do so. I can still remember exactly how this felt, enough to make me shake as I type. It is another fear that needs to be dealt with, as I have with so many others in the last year.

Science has made things immeasurably better in the last 50 years, yet it is still regarded by so many with a sense of trepidation. It is on days like yesterday I can understand that feeling, but the rational part of my brain knows that to move forward, this is yet another fear that needs to be overcome. Without science, there would not be a legitimate cure for asthma on the cards in my lifetime. When people with no other form of potential cure take gene therapy and the result is remission of their cancer? Science is amazing, and without it we’d all be lesser beings. Sometimes, taking the risk with the consequence is the best way forward, especially if it allows you more time to live.

The flip side of Science’s wonder remains the financial cost to the recipient.

When my husband and I spoke about the possibility of surgery, his first response was brutal, yet damning: at least I have the provision to do this without having to make a financial decision first. I am well aware of friends in the US currently in a state of near-permanent dread over what will happen to Obamacare, who have had to set up GoFundMe accounts in order to pay for unexpected medical expenses. I understand only too well that medicine is nowhere close to universally accessible to the people who need it most, and that this is intrinsically unfair. It may seem we live in a world full of wonder and potential, but if this is only available to a select few, is it really so brilliant to begin with?

There’s a lot to think about over my morning porridge today.

Stronger

Rupert Murdoch’s been around a long time. He’s a shrewd businessman and his media empire is, like it or not, as much a part of my ongoing existence as the three times weekly milk delivery and today’s trip to the supermarket. However, I don’t have to like that, and I am now especially dismayed that of all the people that could have been picked to speak on a major US network behalf of London, his organisation decided to choose the woman who, as we have spoken of before in this Parish, is hardly an ambassador for anything. In the interests of balance therefore, and because I hold a public platform, let me put a few things straight.

Some people MIGHT be cowed, but many others are defiant, confident and reassured at the actions of both the Police, NHS and counter-terrorism services. Many people believe that Tobias Ellwood (born in the USA) is an absolute hero, and hope that if we were the one stabbed in a public place, someone as selfless and brilliant as him would be the person who would come to our rescue. However shoddy and underhand Teresa May might have been in Prime Minister’s Question Time mere hours previously, she did a better job of sounding like she was in charge than Cameron ever did in his entire tenure, and her speeches both last night and this morning have a genuine ring of determination. Yeah, she could be a credible actress, but maybe giving her the benefit of the doubt at this moment is acceptable.

Admittedly, there could be those who are afraid this morning too, but not of terrorism. The guy who did this didn’t check his laptop into the hold of a flight from the Middle East to get here. This isn’t someone who appeared out of left field either: the security services knew who he was. This wasn’t terrorism so much as opportunism from someone who will now be remembered for years to come as the man who killed a policeman in the Houses of Parliament.¬†As far as making a name for yourself goes, that’s a pretty terminal approach. PC Keith Palmer was 48, slightly older than my brother. He’d been an officer for 15 years and was part of the Metropolitan Police’s parliamentary and diplomatic protection command. Palmer and Ellwood will be the lasting takeaway for me in all of this: two heroes, in differing guises, who should never have had to have suffered any of what they have and now will as a result of another British born man’s actions.

Oh, and I’m absolutely determined, galvanised and totally united this morning, over quite a few issues. People like Ms Hopkins don’t ever speak for me, at any point ever. Networks like Fox News in the US run sensationalist, often borderline fictional reporting to maintain a reputation for journalism long upheld by Murdoch’s other newspapers and media outlets, and I’m even more determined never to allow that form of ‘news’ to be taken seriously. I’m pretty convinced that if Donald Trump’s son thinks tweeting the Mayor of London over ANYTHING counts as diplomacy in the current climate, he needs to go back to being a male model (or is that not the one who’s NOT sitting on a tree stump in all those memes, I get confused.) Mostly this morning the position is simple: stop doing stupid shit so that people pay you attention.

Nobody speaks for anyone at a distance. Those with a proven record of exploiting situations will continue to do so as long as they’re allowed to get away with it. The only sure fire way to ensure people are held accountable is to do that yourself. Yes, you can be kind and understanding, but if somebody says something without thinking and is clearly talking only to deflect interest towards themselves? CALL THEM OUT. You can do this without resorting to libel. You don’t have to threaten anybody ever, either, because if you do that ends up making your actions no more noble than the person you’re throwing rocks at. Everybody has a voice on Social media, so let’s start using those for good and not evil, shall we?

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This is your daily reminder not to believe everything you see on Twitter or are told on the news, and to verify your reports from trusted and approved sources before deciding the Sky is falling. It is a reality check that tells you that home born nationals are just as likely to be as dangerous as anyone who arrived here from overseas. Most importantly, in the era when everybody can speak for themselves, that’s what more people should really be doing. If you don’t think your version of the Truth is being taken seriously, write it down and get it seen. If you don’t like how Netflix has taken Asian manga and turned it into middle class entertainment? Bitching about it on Twitter might get you noticed, but you’re far more likely to gain traction with a blog or Tumblr post that can be read and retweeted in the right places. Let us not forget that the successful challenge to Article 50’s triggering, which resulted in Parliament’s involvement, came about as a result of a blog post.

If you don’t think somebody is speaking for you? Time to do that for yourself.

Moving On Up

People like to tell me stuff.

I don’t belong in a particular group online, and have pretty much ploughed my own furrow ever since arriving in Internetland. This means that my feet straddle a lot of overlapping groups… and inevitably I’m nearly always standing at the fringes, looking in. This is absolutely not a problem, because what it gives is a brilliant level of objectivity. However, inevitably, there are days when this is not the case.

Occasionally however, I can’t avoid being the object of somebody’s ire, and when that happens there is only one meme that works.

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This was the first graphic I ever made for myself when LiveJournal was my home. Ironically I left that place after a Warcraft-related spat which made me realise that some people take that game far more seriously than others. Then came the swift reminder that the only way never to get involved in an argument is to have no friends. However attractive that might seem to be on certain days, it’s realistically impossible to live your life like that online. I have therefore tried my best not to contribute to any more virtual drama than necessary, but yesterday I broke my own rule and told someone something I was cautious about revealing to them when it initially took place, but on reflection I now have no problem now revealing.

It takes time to really get to know people. Social media expects a lot from its users on any given day, that the person you became fast friends with is different to the one who takes time to show themselves. Like life itself, judging everybody with the same set of criteria can often put you on a hiding to nothing. The problem is, of course,¬† judging anything is bad. Everybody should be equal. You and I know the truth behind that is a long way from reality on most days to begin with, so you accept what there is and deal with it. That means, at least for me that there’s a list of people who I don’t communicate with or consider as important who are very much the opposite for a large number of people in my sphere. Many of these people are muted in Tweetdeck for reasons that I’m not reticent over either. The key is that I don’t spend all day and night reminding people of the fact it is done.

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In the end, it is all largely irrelevant anyway, unless the person you got to know and then subsequently remove/spurn/ignore decides they don’t like this turn of events and decides to retaliate. As a rule, this for me goes one of two ways: brief flare of indignation and then silence, or else it is months and months of petty, vindictive spitefulness in the hope that I’ll change my mind or get deflected from the path forward. This blog is full of observations from both sides of that fence too: I use all my relationship failures as fuel for posts, so as long as you know that’s how I work, I think we’ll get along just fine. For the record, everybody gets treated the same. That’s a problem for some people, that much is obvious, especially when being kind and polite is mistaken for more than it really is. That’s my issue however, and not yours.

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Of course, the reality of virtual spaces is simple. I respect those who return the favour. I can hold a secret for a lifetime, and you’ll never know the real truth. The people who are my friends know this without needing to be told, but love to be reminded, and so I do. Caring and compassion are very simple when the World is not watching, and I’m doing my best work away from your prying eyes, and not using it as blog posts. This is a world of superficial distractions, like it or not, and the good stuff never gets seen unless both parties decide to make that happen. If you want relationships to really succeed on social media, cultivate them away from the screen. Your pocket friends may be brilliant and inspiring, but only if you give back to them as they do to you.

It is a significant relationship only when both real and virtual truly combine.

Walkaway

It is important, as we mentioned last week, to be able to step back and be objective when living in any space whose rules are defined not just by us. Obsessing about anything can be both destructive and ultimately dangerous, and nowhere is that more true than in an environment where it is easy to shout into the void and never experience dissent. The ‘echo chamber’ concept of social media’s used as a stick to beat me with on an almost weekly basis, and I thought it bore more investigation after the latest incident where someone cited the concept as the reason why a relationship had failed.

Wikipedia considers a media echo chamber as ‘a metaphorical description of a situation in which information, ideas, or beliefs are amplified or reinforced by communication and repetition inside a defined system,’ which in this case will be your own feed and blogs. Effectively an individual ignores basic points which are obvious to those outside the space as not being fairly represented within, if at all. It is a basic concept of curation but executed at the expense of truth: as you remove people from a space which you can and should control and organise, it can appear from certain angles to be censorship of those who disagree with points of view or who cause contention when doing so.

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Since the US Election, I’ve made a point of being more politically active, and this has upset a significant portion of my existing readership, enough to cause many of them to leave of their own accord. It also happened in the run up last year, when it became apparent that being disparaging of Republican ideas and sentiments was going to get me into trouble, and yet I’ll still peddle this line regardless. The key here is that I’m not singling out anyone in my feed as an issue, but by being disparaging of a wider viewpoint, those who hold it as sacred will logically assume I’m attacking them. The same feeling is undoubtedly true when I won’t agree with people’s views on Warcraft, feminism, cosplay, breasts, chocolate… and the list goes on and on.

At no point do I ever single someone out as being unreasonable until the Unfollow button gets hit, and only then does it becomes personal.¬†The very act of removal is confirmation to them that something has happened that I don’t like. That’s why Mute can often be considered the coward’s solution to a problematic follower: far easier just to remove them and kop the flack. In fact, it would be fair to assume that had I been more careful and considered my choices to begin with, then there wouldn’t be an issue, but it is often hard to form considered opinions of people when they’re not standing in front of you: that’s why Facebook’s friends of friends concept is such an addictive one. If person X knows you and two genuinely close friends, their choices will be people who mesh with you, right?

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The truth is, of course, utter bollocks. That’s why some of us refuse to allow Facebook to dictate terms, and will reassess ‘friends’ on an almost weekly basis. That’s even more true when there’s a contentious issue: I am more than happy to disagree with people, and that happens with predictable regularity. What I’m not prepared to entertain, at any point, is someone else deciding a) what I am thinking and b) what I should do as a result of this. We can not vote the same way, like the same music or even agree on anything at all. I am able to do civil and polite with the entire planet right up to the point where someone points a metaphorical finger at me and states what I have to do because this is what is wrong.

That is the moment when trust is lost, but not always for good.

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I’ve disagreed with people before, but if when engaging them in dialogue I can believe that there is still a basis for communication, that’s how it works. Everybody can not see eye to eye from time to time, after all. If it becomes apparent that there’s no point in trying to communicate because what I believe isn’t considered either relevant or important, then it is time to reassess. Maybe it is not just my outlook exacerbating the situation: this same person isn’t listening to others either, apparent by the interactions with others I can read and see taking place around us. If their interest is unnecessarily obsessive, or inward facing, or they’re just a shitposting troublemaker? Time eventually shows up the flaws.

If you wait, everybody fucks up eventually, and it is how those moments are dealt with that becomes the real measure of their online persona.

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Why do I do all this navel gazing, I hear some of you ask? I learn from it and it helps me understand how this part of the World works. It allows me to grasp how human beings react in certain situations. Many people, often without realising, reveal sides of themselves online I suspect they wish weren’t as public as are currently the case. It is a delicate balancing act, which most of the sane and sensible individuals deal with by not pressing Tweet or posting on Facebook to begin with, because their real lives are more important than the virtual one.¬†As a writer I balance between disparate worlds on a daily basis, and sitting here trying to find the right sentences to use becomes another part of the understanding process. To communicate successfully to others is no mean feat, I am now discovering, and to make the best job takes far more effort than may people ever really grasp.

It is never an easy task to shout anywhere; to have confidence in a virtual space is not as simple as many would believe. What matters more is to find a voice, and once that is accomplished to learn the best means by which you can explain yourself to a wider audience than just yourself. It is a vital part of human development, and without that internal belief it can be a hard and painful journey to take alone. More importantly still, thinking why things happen and to understand you are as responsible for events that happen around you as anyone else is an important means by which one defines your overall significance (or otherwise) in the communities you are a part of.

The people that surround you are as much a measure of your personality as you are yourself, and knowing that means a constant reassessment of your aquaintances can never be a bad thing.

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From time to time indignation rises to a point where I decide that yes, I’ll let genuine annoyance consume me. This morning, it was a Guardian Red Carpet snapshot from the BAFTAs that did it. Yes, I KNOW mostly this is about frocks, but there are some of us who get a bit tired of the fashionisas deciding only the beautiful people get a showing, and often it is only about who wore the best dress according to the reporter. This is sexist, because in the main it precludes good looking men.¬†Hang on, I hear some of you cry, what are you on about?¬†We’re just looking at frocks, stop making it about bodies… but isn’t that EXACTLY what happens when a bunch of stick thin women are the only ones you decide to highlight? Where’s the body positivity? Where are the ‘normal’ women and the men in all this? Fair¬†enough, Tom Ford gets a look in wearing a velvet tuxedo that I’d like to own, but it is hardly fair. Fashion makes me crazy, because what people choose as ‘interesting’ rarely includes diverse shapes, or a range of sexuality.

In fact, anyone with an extreme view that won’t grasp the significance of EVERYBODY needs a really good talking to at present. Take, for instance those I know who now push themselves as ‘active’ feminists in response to the Orange Twat and his influence in the US and beyond. This man¬†may be a pariah, but only¬†SOME men are: you can get as upset as you like about them, but in the end it won’t help. Your bigger threats come from a wider stage: ignorance, stupidity, plus¬†a staggering lack of respect of anybody who does not agree with the feminist PoV. In shock news, everybody is allowed an opinion of their own, and just because that doesn’t mesh is not an excuse to start threatening and throwing around pronouncements of fear and ignorance. It’s like any kind of basic fundamentalism, and it is just wrong on so many levels that it defies belief. The only way anything changes is when EVERYBODY gets a fair shout.

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There’s another Guardian article here about the lack of diversity¬†in the acting craft¬†but as is typical in the UK, it is class that is considered more important than whether an¬†actor’s sexual or physical characteristics are put to the fore. I feel that maybe the obsession with money that many people’s lives revolves around is the greater issue still: after all, when you’re staring at Adele’s handfuls of Grammy awards, do you consider the working class roots she hails from or are you considering the state of her bank balance? When Daisy Ridley¬†dazzles in what could be Victoria Beckham are you imagining you’d be there or just having the money to afford that? Mostly, you stare at the unattainable as an escape, a release, a way to forget how shitty your life is… but would you want that?¬†Maybe that’s why I don’t need to stare or imagine, because I’m lucky enough to have a life that makes me happy. Mostly that happens because I refuse to let other people ruin the time I have trying to convince me their future’s the only version of reality that matters.

That’s why feminism really hacks me off. However, it isn’t just that cult at fault: there’s the hardcore religious, the blinkered gamers, the arrogant and selfish parents, the holier than thou foodies… the list is endless. All these people, trying to sell me a ‘version’ of a reality: the truth¬†is less about aspiration and more wrapped around basic survival than I think any of us like to accept. If you choose to sign up for any one of these, and in many cases they end up being as insidious as veneration, the speed at which reality can desert you is quite staggering. That’s why you really shouldn’t get upset when your heroes get political, because those are the people who genuinely grasp what a potentially perilous situation current developments in the US and across Europe place the planet in. Don’t tell your musicians to stop making political statements and stick to singing, because the fact you’ve found high profile people who get that it isn’t just their brand that matters is something rare and precious.

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I’ve decided that being angry about the world is now a waste of my time and effort, and instead I’m going to fight back in the only way I know: with words. That means if I read something that upsets me, I’m going to respond. I have a list of letters that are going to be sent this week, and a number of topics to address, and this should allow my indignant middle aged grumpiness full and unimpeded space to spread and grow in the weeks that follow. Mostly, it is an exercise in sanity, as I understand that the best way to deal with stupidity is to expose it as the hypocrisy it is. A lot of the time people decide their truth is that based on no real facts, and even less actual evidence. You just agree with the person you spoke to last, or the last piece of news that you had any empathy with. That’s not understanding, it’s simply meek acceptance of untruths force fed to us since childhood. Girls can wear blue. Men deserve red carpet space because women think they’re attractive, and don’t care they’re not in a dress.

It is time to grasp that the future is everybody’s to dictate, and not just a chosen few.

Your Game

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If all you care about are numbers, success can be easily devolved down to a 1/0 equation. I mean LOOK AT MY INFOGRAPHIC PEOPLE I have a 30% increase in mentions from last month! But that is frankly nothing compared with the WHOPPING 50% rise in engagements! What is my secret? I’ll tell you, it’s the fact that I’ve only picked up 11¬†followers in the last month. I don’t give a flying fuck about who wants¬†to follow me, but if they meet a certain criteria I will pretty much automatically turn them away at the door. If you’re here to play the ‘only way to win at Twitter is with a six figure audience’ card and you’re NOT Stephen Fry?

Don’t waste my time, amateurs.

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The thing is, however, that some of these people clearly aren’t fucking about on Twitter and have worked quite hard to get the numbers to work for them. Once upon a time, they were¬†simply robot accounts with minimal if not no actual human content attached. However, once Twitter got wind of the fact their game could be botted and people could rack up enormous high scores and never actually¬†engage their users? These accounts¬†are no longer simply regurgitated monthly links to blog posts. There’s a complex game involving monetising and SEO via websites that some people play with as much commitment and dedication as you follow your favourite team. It’s not exactly going to make you a hit with the ladies, but becoming a smart marketeer clearly makes ends meet. Except if you looked closely at the¬†596k followers attached to my sample account above, there’s likely to be a fair proportion of not real people in that total.

I however, strive to seek out real people as a matter of priority.

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While some might obsess over¬†popularity, I crave reality wherever possible. That means that yes, I go look at people’s feeds and read their biographies long before I press ‘Follow’. I keep a pretty close eye on what is being said or referenced too, and that means when someone leaves I’ll pretty much always go back and check why.¬†You can consider it the equivalent of running a busy entertainment complex and constantly doing customer feedback to ensure the people who come to talk, eat and enjoy themselves are getting the maximum experience for their time spent. Yes, this does mean I listen to criticism too: I’ve cut back on stuff that won’t make sense to you if there’s not appropriate context. When I get cross at something, when before I would have done a bit of leery subtweeting, I now instead throw pot plants. This has helped me cut the drama in my feed down to an absolute minimum.

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When success is now defined as a man in the White House who has billions of dollars earned but not one ounce of decency or compassion to his name, that concept¬†holds no thrill for me. If being bigger and better than anybody else is your definition of achievement, I’m not interested. This, for me, is a slow and brilliant story that doesn’t rely on my ability to fool a robot and everything on my skill as a writer. As I refine the process of replying to Tweets in both concise and increasingly creative ways, I want less and less to do with anyone who seems to think they know what I¬†want without asking. If your version of ‘interacting’ is simply throwing anything you believe I want on my feed in the vain hope I’ll be grateful, without taking the time to both talk and interact? This is not respect, it is simply lip service, and in the end you will never truly succeed at anything without being able to care beyond a basic set of variables. You might be happy with the size of your referrals, but I honestly don’t care. That’s not what I’m here for.

That’s a journey that I’m only just beginning.