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9 new books for February

The blog still doesn’t seem to be behaving itself, but I’m sure you’ll excuse us if we’re limited to a more stripped-down appearance for a while. After all, it’s the end of the month, time to look forward to what’s on offer in February. It may be the shortest month, but there’s no shortage of new titles to look forward to. So this is the first of three posts loaded with goodies …

Blood of a Thousand Stars by Rhoda Belleza

This is the sequel to Empress of a Thousand Skies, and tells the story of a high-stakes battle for control of the galaxy. On the one side there’s Nero, ambitious media star who’ll do anything to win; facing him is the Empress, Rhee, who has to make a choice between cutting a deal with her enemy or possibly losing her crown. And between the two, there’s the assassin, Aly, out for revenge even if it takes him to a place he never wanted to go back to, and the Princess Kara seeking the one piece of technology that will allow her to remember, and erase, who she is.

Buy Blood of a Thousand Stars from Amazon.

Outer Earth by Rob Boffard

Earth is in ruins. The last refuge for humanity is the vast space station known as Outer Earth, a place that is overcrowded and filthy, and a place from which there is no escape. But all is not well on Outer Earth; there are dark forces at work that threaten chaos, and if they succeed there is no place left to run. This this breathless, high-octane space adventure is an omnibus edition that contains all three of Boffard’s Outer Earth novels, Tracer, Zero-G and Impact.

Buy Outer Earth from Amazon.

Semiosis by Sue Burke

This debut novel is a first contact story unlike any you’ve read; and it’s already winning praise from such luminaries as David Brin, James Patrick Kelly and Adrian Tchaikovsky. Colonists from Earth have found a new world. It’s not perfect, but they don’t have much choice, so they settle down to make the best of it. What they don’t realise, at first, is that there is another intelligent species already living there. Is there a way of opening communication, so that they can forge an alliance that will benefit both humans and aliens?

Buy Semiosis from Amazon.

Memory’s Blade by Spencer Ellsworth

It is the concluding part of Spencer Ellsworth’s gritty Starfire trilogy, and John Starfire, tyrannical ruler of the empire, has to be stopped before he carries out his plan to destroy humankind. Meanwhile, the alien Shir have emerged from the Dark Zone and are busy destroying the galaxy’s suns. The only way that Araskar can hold them back is to join with the Resistance, led by John Starfire’s wife, and she wants him dead. The very survival of the galaxy is at stake in this rip-roaring space opera.

Buy Memory’s Blade from Amazon.

Outpost by W. Michael Gear

Donovan is a paradise, a beautiful planet that offers everything the colonists could want. So why, when Supervisor Kalico Aguila arrives on Donovan, does she find that the colony has failed, the government overthrown, and the surviving colonists gone wild? And what has all of this got to do with the ship Freelander that turns up in orbit having been missing for two years, and how come the whole crew are dead of old age? And just to make things more complicated, there’s a brutal killer on the loose. Solving the mystery of Donovan could make Aguila the most powerful woman in the solar system; or it could kill her.

Buy Outpost from Amazon.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

It’s not easy, living forever. Tom has had an illustrious past, acting with Shakespeare, exploring with Captain Cook, carousing with F. Scott Fitzgerald. But there are times when you just want a quiet, ordinary life. So Tom moves back to London and becomes a history teacher. Which is all well and good, until he meets the French teacher. There’s a secret society that looks after people like Tom, it’s called the Albatross Society and it has a lot of rules. One of the rules is: don’t fall in love. That’s the rule Tom is about to break, with extraordinary consequences.

Buy How to Stop Time from Amazon.

Mission to Methone by Les Johnson

2065, and surveyers studying an asteroid that may be suitable for mining make a remarkable discovery: it is really a derelict alien spaceship. For the first time, humanity knows that we are not alone in the universe. Unfortunately, what we do not know is that, across the galaxy, alien races have been at war with each other for millennia. And that war could be coming to our solar system. But Methone, a tiny egg-shaped moon of Saturn, may hold the answer; if we can get there first.

Buy Mission to Methone from Amazon.

Pride and Prometheus by John Kessel

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley and Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen were published with five years of each other, so it is perhaps no great stretch to imagine that Mary Bennet might encounter the enigmatic Victor Frankenstein when he travels to England to fashion a bride for his Creature. But as Frankenstein seeks out a female body he can use for the Creature’s mate, Mary tries to penetrate the dark secret she senses that Victor is keeping from her. John Kessel’s latest novel is a remarkable mash-up of Gothic horror and Regency romance.

Buy Pride and Prometheus from Amazon.

Aliens Abroad by Gini Koch

The latest in Gini Koch’s ongoing series featuring the alien adventures of Katherine “Kitty” Katt is another blend of sf action and steamy romance. The discovery of a new planet at the opposite end of the galaxy that seems to be the twin of Earth could just provide the much-needed answer to the growing number of alien refugees arriving on Earth. But the planet has problems of its own, which is why Kitty and her husband, Jeff, find themselves swept away on a mission they weren’t supposed to be part of aboard the spaceship Distant Voyager.

Buy Aliens Abroad from Amazon.

The post 9 new books for February appeared first on Best Science Fiction Blog.

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How P&G and In Kind Direct Bring #ComfortsofHome to Those in Need


P&G UK and In Kind Direct

No one should have to go without essential everyday products, particularly vulnerable people who are reaching out for a helping hand—and trying to get back on their feet. P&G UK has spent the last 16 years working towards this vision with In Kind Direct, a UK-based organization founded in 1997 by HRH The Prince of Wales that distributes consumer goods donated by companies to charities working in the UK and overseas.

In essence, it helps charities of every type and size give essential quality products to those in need and combat the issue of hygiene poverty. A new campaign shows how P&G and In Kind Direct are providing the #ComfortsofHome to those in need, and helping non-profit organizations and charities make a difference to their beneficiaries.

Three short films showcase the role P&G has played in providing quality branded products to help charities tackle hygiene poverty and offer back dignity to those in need. The campaign features two charities as case studies, Baron’s Court Project in Hammersmith, London and StreetScene in Bournemouth, as two longstanding beneficiaries of P&G donations.

For the past 25 years, the British charity StreetScene, for example, has provided residential and other support services for various addiction problems through its Bournemouth and Southampton rehabilitation centers in the UK. StreetScene is one of the hundreds of charities that has been benefitting from the product donations P&G makes to In Kind Direct for many years. A new campaign shows how providing the #ComfortsofHome helps them to make a difference to their beneficiaries.

"When you’ve had to leave home because of domestic abuse, the last thing on your mind is to pack your toothbrush and toothpaste, let alone your make-up." #HygienePoverty #ProductGiving

— In Kind Direct (@InKindDirect) July 13, 2018

Long before people go to foodbanks, many have already given up essentials such as toothpaste and toilet roll. When someone can’t afford to maintain basic personal hygiene, this can have dramatic consequences on their self-esteem. But we can change that.

— In Kind Direct (@InKindDirect) July 14, 2018

Since the partnership with P&G began in 2002, more than £45 million worth of products have been donated to In Kind Direct, which in turn has helped over 2 million people across the UK. An expanding array of partnerships, such as Amazon, helps ensure that everyone has access to life’s essentials and that no usable product goes to waste.

Join @AmazonUK and other high street brands to help make a difference to vulnerable people's lives #ProductGiving

— In Kind Direct (@InKindDirect) July 15, 2018

P&G globally firmly believes in making an impact in local communities. Through P&G UK’s work with In Kind Direct it’s able to donate and use some of the most iconic and beloved brands as a force for good. Find out more about the partnership and its social impact below:

No one should have to go without essential everyday quality products.

We've spent the last 16 years working towards this vision with @InKindDirect, helping UK charities of every type and size give essential products to those in need.#ComfortsofHome #ProductGiving

— P&G UK and Ireland (@PGUK) June 28, 2018

Our partnership with @InKindDirect means our surplus products reach charities, and in the process, save tons of products from reaching landfill.#ComfortsofHome #ProductGiving

— P&G UK and Ireland (@PGUK) June 28, 2018

“Jim had only grown a beard due to the high cost of shaving. We were able to order a razor for him and he was so thrilled. He went upstairs with a full beard and came down clean shaven, feeling ‘ten years younger’."

Sharon Atter, Manager, St. Vincent’s Care Home #ComfortsofHome

— P&G UK and Ireland (@PGUK) June 29, 2018

“I received a cleaning and toiletry hamper when I attended the summer festival with my family. This was amazing as it had so much useful stuff in it. Having the extra support makes a huge difference.”

Jean, Young Mum, Under 5s Stay & Play#ComfortsofHome

— P&G UK and Ireland (@PGUK) July 2, 2018

We’re proud to support @InKindDirect in reducing #hygienepoverty across the UK by donating surplus products to those in need. Together, we have reached over 2 million people since 2002.#ComfortsofHome #ProductGiving

— P&G UK and Ireland (@PGUK) July 3, 2018

Together with @InKindDirect we have supported charities like @BaronsProject, to help people who are homeless or living with mental health problems focus on getting back on track.#ComfortsofHome #ProductGiving

— P&G UK and Ireland (@PGUK) July 4, 2018

From quality deodorant and toothpaste to washing tablets and air freshener, we have donated over 5,000 different lines of products to @InKindDirect.#ComfortsofHome #ProductGiving

— P&G UK and Ireland (@PGUK) July 5, 2018

“Even one bottle of shampoo, one Gillette aftershave, etc. does wonders for people’s self-esteem.”

Denis Onyango, Development Manager, Africa Advocacy Foundation#ComfortsofHome #ProductGiving

— P&G UK and Ireland (@PGUK) July 6, 2018

“Mothers living on their own, on low incomes, can let their personal hygiene slip because of depression or lack of funds. @InKindDirect not only fills the gap but helps them feel special.”

Theresa Burke, Scheme Manager, @homestartuk #ComfortsofHome #ProductGiving

— P&G UK and Ireland (@PGUK) July 9, 2018

“The money we save on cleaning products, washing up liquid, toilet paper, razors and hand wash allows us to keep many of the activities going, these can be life changing and even life saving for some of our clients.”

Michael Angus, Director, @BaronsProject#ComfortsofHome

— P&G UK and Ireland (@PGUK) July 11, 2018

“We use the products to help teach and encourage members how to keep themselves clean and tidy, helping them develop greater independence."

Janet Sullivan, Chief Executive, @mencap_charity#ComfortsofHome #ProductGiving

— P&G UK and Ireland (@PGUK) July 12, 2018

Some of the amazing @PGUK #volunteers hard at work refurbishing one of our refuges with @HabitatFHGB. The teams travelled from across the UK to refurbish the rooms & garden of the refuge which houses women & children feeling #abuse. A huge thank you for your help & support.

— Housing for Women (@Housing4Women) July 12, 2018

Over three quarters of a million packs of surplus P&G products have been donated over the last 16 years with @InKindDirect#ComfortsofHome #ProductGiving

— P&G UK and Ireland (@PGUK) July 13, 2018


The post How P&G and In Kind Direct Bring #ComfortsofHome to Those in Need appeared first on brandchannel:.

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Chic Spaces in Hidden Places

There are places in smaller cities with super chic upscale lifestyle shops/destinations with which are attempting to jumpstart or add to burgeoning ‘downtown’ areas. Please see examples below:


– Oxford Exchange (Tampa) –

– Forty Five Ten (Dallas) – – Ashley Brian (runs the shop)

Greenwich CT –

Savannah, GA –

Baldwin PopUp – Sometimes you need to come from outside the big apple to provide those of us that live here the inspiration we always desire. Fortunately, if you happen to be looking for just that, go directly to 100 Mott street and enter into the Baldwin pop up shop, a new lifestyle space where the artwork, clothing, instillations and the brand’s story are laid out in the most effectual of ways.

The entire shop and fall collection is inspired by the juxtaposition between city life and the wonder of mother nature. Every detail was thoughtfully curated and alludes to Matt Baldwin’s Midwestern roots near the iconic Flint Hills in Kansas, from the waving wheat in the front window to tables inspired by the topographic silhouette of the region.

March 27, 2018, New York, NY – MAISON-DE-MODE.COM is excited to team up with Simon on a unique retail experience at The Houston Galleria in time for Earth Month in April. The brick & mortar location is designed by BOFFO co-founder Gregory Sparks and will be open from April 9th until May 15th, 2018. The store will be located on Level 2 next to Saks Fifth Avenue.

MAISON-DE-MODE.COM provides fashion lovers with a one-stop shop for the ultimate luxury ethical closet. Product offerings span multiple categories including ready-to-wear, jewelry, handbags, footwear and accessories. Brands that will be shoppable in The Galleria location include EDUN, Prabal Gurung, TOME, Amour Vert, Khokho, Behno, Bottletop, Azlee, Bibi van der Velden, and Brother Vellies to name a few.

“This is the beginning of a great alliance with Simon; their portfolio of leading luxury properties in top markets around the country make them a key asset for us as we explore our physical future,” states Hassan Pierre. “Their many locations allow the flexibility we need as a digital platform to reach our dedicated regional customers as well as tapping into their built-in customer base. We have our eyes set on Fashion Valley (San Diego), Stanford Shopping Center (Palo Alto) and Miami in the near future,” comments Amanda Hearst.

“Simon is thrilled to team up with MAISON-DE-MODE.COM to create a destination for sustainable, ethical, luxury fashion starting at the Houston Galleria this April. Simon seeks to support entrepreneurs like Amanda (Hearst) and Hassan (Pierre) who have a dynamic approach to today’s retail and a sensibility for the environment. We have had great success proving concepts in our premier properties and look forward to MdMs launch with us,” said Zachary Beloff Simon’s National Director of Business Development.

Simon will be celebrating the launch with a private in-store cocktail followed by a dinner hosted by Amanda Hearst and Hassan Pierre. The store will be open to the public on April 9th.  Later in the month, a special Earth Day event will take place on Sunday, April 22nd where shoppers will be able to mingle with and get style advice from local influencers, sip prosecco and browse the collections. MAISON-DE-MODE.COM will also donate 10% of net proceeds from Earth Day sales to a local Houston charity.


About Simon: Simon is a global leader in the ownership of premier shopping, dining, entertainment and mixed-use destinations and an S&P 100 company (Simon Property Group, NYSE:SPG). Our properties across North America, Europe, and Asia provide community gathering places for millions of people every day and generate billions in annual sales. For more information, visit


About MAISON-DE-MODE: Launched in October 2015 by Amanda Hearst and Hassan Pierre MAISON-DE-MODE.COM is a hybrid luxury ethical fashion retailer fusing concept brick and mortar experiences alongside a seamless online boutique, specializing in unique ready-to-wear, fine jewelry, accessories and home goods.

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Jason Mraz Opens Up About His ‘Two Spirit’ Sexuality: ‘I’ve Had Experiences With Men’

Jason Mraz is opening up about his sexuality.

The “I’m Yours” singer, 41, revealed in an interview with Billboard that his wife of three years, Christina Carano, helped him embrace his sexual identity, which he explored during their relationship.

“I’ve had experiences with men, even while I was dating the woman who became my wife,” he said.

“It was like, ‘Wow, does that mean I am gay?’ And my wife laid it out for me. She calls it ‘Two Spirit,’ which is what the Native Americans call someone who can love both man and woman,” the Waitress alum continued, adding, “I really like that.”

In June, Mraz penned a Pride-themed poem, writing, “I am bi your side,” a line that the star had included but “didn’t realize was going to be so telling,” he said to Billboard.

RELATED: 26 Celebrities Who’ve Opened Up About Their Sexuality

“Two Spirit” was coined in the early 1990’s at a conference for gay and lesbian Native Americans as an umbrella term with no specific description of gender or sexual orientation, according to the New York Times.

This is not the first time Mraz has opened up about his sexuality.

In a 2005 interview with Genre magazine, he said he was “bisexually open-minded,” telling the publication, “I have never been in a sexual relationship with a man. If the right one came along, then sure.”

“I had a gay friend I was hanging out with just about every day. We were basically best friends. It took me about three months before I realized, ‘Oh my god, we’re dating,’ ” he shared. “Right before I moved to California he gave me a pretty strong-willed kiss goodbye, which I have never experienced before. Unfortunately, he had a little bit more facial hair than I like.”

Mraz’s first album in four years, titled Know., is set for an Aug. 10 release.

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Bachelorette’s Rachel Lindsay & Bryan Abasolo Say They’re Waiting to Hear About a TV Wedding

Lights, camera, “I do!”

Since getting engaged last year on The BacheloretteRachel Lindsay and Bryan Abasolo have said they want to tie the knot “sooner rather than later”  — and that hasn’t changed!

“We want to get married as soon as possible,” Abasolo told PEOPLE on Sunday at the “Will You Accept This Rose Smoothie” Charity Event in Studio City, California. “We are just waiting on… certain things.”

The couple said they are working with ABC to plan a possible televised wedding special.

“We’re just waiting to hear from the show,” said Abasolo, 37. “There are just so many engaged couples from the show in front of us.”

“Technically we don’t have to wait, and we really don’t care if the wedding is on TV, but we feel like we owe it to the fans that followed us on the show to give them that,” Lindsay added.

And Lindsay, 32, does see some perks to letting ABC front the bill.

“I never thought I would have a big wedding, I always thought that when I get married it would be a small, simple ceremony, and then have a big party afterward,” she said. “Now, I’m thinking, if the network is paying for it, I want a great band performing.”

She also wants to make sure both of their different cultures are represented during the ceremony.

“I want it to have all of both of our families and I want both of our cultures celebrated. I’m mixed race and he’s Columbian, and I want all of our cultures to be celebrated.”

RELATED: The Bachelorette‘s Rachel Lindsay Dishes on Wedding (& Baby!) Plans with Bryan Abasolo — ‘I’m Ready!’

As for what Abasolo wants?

“I want everyone to have a good time. Weddings aren’t about you, they’re about the guests, so I want for our family and friends to come together and have an incredible time celebrating our love,” he said.

Abasolo previously teased the possibility of having two ceremonies: one in Dallas, where the couple lives, and one in Colombia, where he is from.

“We don’t know,” he admitted. “Colombia has come on to the radar recently.”

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I Survived A Plane Crash – And You All Need To Know About It

Kevin Dooley

Nobody ever listens to the safety demonstration. Have you noticed?

It’s a very strange thing to watch, if one is mindful enough. There you sit, in a packed airplane cabin with a hundred, two hundred other people. You’re all about to experience something that the human beings of centuries past couldn’t imagine in their most fantastic fantasies. This winged metal tube, in which you have a window seat, is about to take flight—at dizzying heights and dumbfounding speeds. Some of you aren’t scared. You’ve done this a thousand times before. Others of you are gripping your armrests with sweaty palms, over and over repeating in your mind the widely-spread platitude: you’re more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash.

It’s true, of course, but not very helpful if your winged metal tube should malfunction.

And why shouldn’t it? The parts are made by humans, the safety checks are completed by humans, the plane is flown by a human, and we humans manage to fuck up a great many things. In fact, given the ineptitude of the average person, and the statistical likelihood that one of these average people is in some way responsible for the safety of your flight…well, it’s nothing short of a modern miracle that the planes don’t all go down.

And still we sit, muttering reassurances to ourselves, thumbing through Instagram one last time before setting our phones to airplane mode, gazing out the window at the runway below—everything but actually listening to the flight attendant standing at the front of the cabin, demonstrating proper safety procedure in the event of a crash.

Is our collective attention span really this low? Do we really care more about our Twitter feeds than our lives? Are we, as a species, really this contemptibly distractible? Perhaps—but I take a more charitable view. Everyone who gets on a plane knows what they’re getting into. We know how high we’ll be, how fast we’ll be going, and how utterly powerless we’ll be to prevent the catastrophic. I don’t think we take the safety demonstration lightly because our priorities are somehow askew. We do it because deep down, in the event of disaster…we truly believe we have no chance to survive.

She was a talker. God damn, she was a talker.

I felt bad, really. The poor woman was scared to hell. She’d only flown twice before in her life, as she’d mentioned to me several times, and both of those times were when she was a little girl. She hadn’t been on an airplane since ’78.

I wasn’t alive in ’78, but I’d been on an airplane only the week before. I traveled a lot for my job, and though I’d long been used to flying, my heart rate still climbed in those few minutes before takeoff. It’s not that I was scared—just an unconscious physical response, I guess. Kind of like that feeling you get before boarding a roller coaster you’ve already braved once before.

It really is something, when you think about it. Flying, I mean.

I nodded politely as the woman next to me—Martha, her name was—told me all about how she was on her way to visit her mother. Her husband couldn’t get work off, so he was flying out to meet them on Saturday morning. In the meantime, she was totally alone inside this winged metal tube (her words).

“You’re not alone,” I told her. “I guarantee half the people on this plane are as scared as you. They’re just hiding it.”

“Why would they do that?” asked Martha, who was clearly making no effort to hide her own unease.

Before I could answer, the flight attendant had activated her microphone and begun speaking over the airplane’s sound system.

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for flying…”

I won’t tell you what airline I was flying, or where to. Legally speaking, I can’t. But once the attendant got through those details, she commenced her presentation on seating posture, oxygen masks, and all the rest. Hardly anyone was paying attention, but Martha’s focus was rapt.

“Oh, Lord, is all this really necessary?” Martha moaned.

“Don’t worry,” I said. “You know, you’re, like, a thousand times more likely to die in a car crash than a plane crash.”

Martha looked unsure about my comment, as though she were trying to decide whether it made her feel better about flying or worse about driving.

From the row directly in front of us, a middle-aged brunette woman in a gray robe turned around. I suppose robe is the right word—the garment started at her neckline and ruffled down to her ankles. The fabric was loose-fitting and the color dull, and it was hard to distinguish the sleeves in the mess of cloth. It looked positively puritanical. The woman looked at Martha kindly, and patted her hand, which was clenched, white-knuckled, on the armrest.

“God will be with you, dear,” she said. “He’ll be with us all. Forever.”

“Mm, thank you,” Martha said. I recognized that tone—it was the one I used every month or so when I tried to get the Mormon missionaries off my porch. Was that what the woman in the gray robe was? An evangelizer? She’d already turned back around; she didn’t seem very interested in continuing the conversation she’d started. She just seemed…what was the word?


That’s it. Docile. Like a house-trained cat. Passive. Submissive. Broken.

I’d met people like that before, and almost without exception they were all religious. I shared an uncomfortable glance with Martha before trying to push that subservient, manufactured smile out of my mind. It’s unsettling, isn’t it, to meet someone who’s given themselves up completely to an ideology? I’m not talking about your average religious person—they’re practically indistinguishable from godless folks like me, save for the occasional prayer or funny hat. No, I’m talking about the zealots, the fundamentalists, the people who have been stripped of all individuality and soul and filled in with whatever poor substitute their dogma demands.

The people who obey.

I silently chided myself for jumping to conclusions. I’d been raised in an aggressively secular household, and many of my friends growing up had truly terrible experiences with religion. I suppose I’d always somewhat looked down on people of faith, on the very idea of faith—but the truth was, I knew nothing about this woman in the robe. Whatever else she may have been, she was the kind of person to try and comfort a frightened stranger on an airplane. That had to be worth something, right?

The plane took off. Once we were in the air, Martha seemed to relax a bit.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” she asked me, as though I had been the one prepared to soil myself prior to takeoff.

“Nope,” I said with a smile. “Nothing to it.” I placed headphones in my ears and leaned back with my eyes closed, the surest signal I knew that I did not wish to be disturbed any further.

I can’t remember what I was listening to. I think it was a Kanye album—one of his first, as the others hadn’t come out yet. If you’re interested in a small blast from the past, I was listening on my old iPod nano. And yes, a flip phone rested in my pocket, safely on airplane mode (though I wasn’t sure why). If I had known my newfangled gadgets would soon become relics, maybe I would have appreciated them more.

I sat like that until Martha tapped me on the shoulder. I opened my eyes and took out one earbud.

“Drinks,” she said, gesturing to a flight attendant who was standing at our row, staring at me with that famous pair of Christian virtues, patience and long-suffering.

“I’ll have, uh, juice mixed with Sprite.”

“Apple, orange, cranberry, pineapple, guava or peach?” she asked.

God, what a choice. They had guava juice? What did that even taste like?

“Apple,” I said non-adventurously.

“Right away, sir.” The flight attendant visited the next row, and Martha turned to me.

“Good decision,” she said. “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!”

I remember that very distinctly. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. I’d heard the phrase before, of course, but I don’t think I’d ever actually heard someone use it, unironically, in conversation. It sounded somehow completely natural and totally out of place all at the same time. I don’t know why I remember that so clearly. Maybe because those moments were the last good ones I had on that flight.

“Excuse me,” I said. “I need to use the restroom.” I stood up, glancing around at the cabin, and Martha pulled her legs in close so I could pass by. I looked down at my iPod as I entered the aisle, hoping to restart my music, then stopped. Something wasn’t right. I jerked my head back up toward the cabin.

Holy shit.

There were people in gray robes everywhere. Somewhere from one-fifth to one-sixth of the plane, it must have been. I stared, wondering how I hadn’t noticed them all before.

I was immediately uneasy. Don’t be stupid, I told myself. I knew it was ignorant, what I was feeling, nothing but an intolerance of people who dressed and believed differently from me. They weren’t behaving suspiciously. Every one of them was sitting placidly, hands folded in their laps. This was just a few years after 9/11, so I was naturally on edge, but I felt a small wave of sympathy for Muslim or middle-eastern fliers—what would it be like, I wondered, to know everyone on the plane felt this way about you?

I peed quickly and left the bathroom without washing my hands. I had a small twinge in my throat. Those people in the robes had me tense, and I wasn’t sure why. They’d all gone through security, hadn’t they? At worst, they were a harmless cult. What could they possibly do?

But there’s so many of them…

And there’s even more of us, I thought. And none of them looked particularly imposing, did they? Most looked…kind, really. Like the brunette woman seated in front of Martha. A little superstitious, perhaps. But kind.

Still, I wasn’t the only one on alert. As I walked back through the cabin, I noticed a few other passengers glancing around nervously at the travelers in the gray robes. They looked like I felt—aware that something was out of the ordinary, but certainly not wanting to be insensitive or bigoted.

And they’re sitting so still…

I decided I’d had enough of my own mental fearmongering. I sat back down in my seat and tapped the brunette woman on the shoulder.

“Excuse me,” I said as she turned to face me. I chose my words carefully, not wanting to insult: “I couldn’t help but notice your robe, and there are other passengers on the plane wearing the same thing. I hope this isn’t offensive, but I’m curious as to its significance?”

She smiled brightly, apparently to indicate that I wasn’t being offensive at all. She seemed excited at the opportunity to talk about it.

“It’s called a shield,” she said. “Meant to protect us from the outside world. Figuratively, of course—we don’t believe it has magical powers or anything like that. It’s an external demonstration of our internal commitment to follow God.”

She said this all without taking a breath—it seemed a bit rehearsed, as though she had used these exact words to hundreds of other people who had asked. Perhaps this was the verbiage she’d been instructed to use. But it seemed benign enough, didn’t it? I began to relax, and nodded, as if to demonstrate that I was open-minded to her peculiar fashion choices.

“I know they’re not much to look at,” she went on, “but that’s on purpose. They’re blandly colored as a symbol of this earth’s fallen state, and they’re loose fitting so as not to inspire fleshly lusts. And…between you and me…they’re very comfortable!”

She said this last with a small giggle, as though it were an off-color secret, like she probably shouldn’t have spoken so lightly about her sacred garment but couldn’t resist a bit of friendly banter. There was a lot to unpack in her explanation, and it all seemed a little overwhelming, so I simply smiled again and asked:

“You say ‘we’—who’s we?”

The brunette woman was positively beaming at this point. “You see that man with the silver hair up near the front? On that side?” She pointed up in his direction.

He was hard to miss. He was tall and held himself taller. A robed woman sat on either side of him. I nodded.

“His name is Saul. We believe Saul speaks to God and makes His will known to us.”

I had flashbacks to broadcasts, newspaper clippings—David Koresh. Jim Jones. Marshall Applewhite. All of a sudden I felt as though these people could be somehow dangerous. This was a cult. And if they were all unflinchingly devoted to a kind of prophet—well, that man could make them do whatever he wanted, couldn’t he? I could sense Martha (who had been listening in) tense up beside me.

“Does God’s will involve Saul having sex with you and the other women in your group?” Martha blurted out, with a surprisingly timid voice for such a crass question. I gaped at her.

The brunette woman’s smile faltered, just a little bit, as she turned to Martha. “You think we’re crazy, of course.” She said it like a question, challenging Martha to respond. I could feel the people in the rows around us starting to stare. We’d drawn their attention.

“Not—no,” Martha stammered, clearly regretting her outburst. “It’s just—”

“To be frank, ma’am, it is a sin to lie with a man one is not married to—but no woman lies in Saul’s bed if she is not first married to him,” the brunette woman said. Her voice was calm; her eyes afire with fervency. “In fact, I can say proudly that I have never once lain with a man I was not married to. I am untainted. Can you say the same?”

The words poured out of her mouth like poison-laced sugar. And, judging by her reaction, Martha could clearly not say the same. But things had obviously gone too far, and other passengers started to speak up all at once, their voices overlapping in a sea of diplomacy.

“Hey guys, let’s just…”

“I think we should all respect each other’s…”

“Excuse me, but maybe this conversation is a little too personal for…”

Martha sat back in her seat, struggling to compose herself. For her part, the brunette woman casually pulled a small black hairbrush from her robe and began to brush her hair from her eyes.

She had very nice hair. Well-brushed.

The tension was thick. I made one last hopeful attempt to diffuse some of it, praying Martha kept her mouth shut.

“So…where are you going?”

The brunette woman turned back to me.

“The same place as you, I presume.” The excitement had left her voice. In fact, she now seemed downright nervous. I didn’t completely blame her—Martha had put her in an embarrassing spot in front of a big crowd, and she’d managed to comport herself with some measure of dignity.

“Well, right,” I said, “But I mean all of you. What are you all doing on this plane at the same time?”

The brunette woman glanced at everyone sitting in the rows around us, all of whom were clearly listening in and making no effort to hide it. Then a smile crossed her mouth—stifled at first, then growing wider all at once, as though she couldn’t help herself.

“You’re about to find out,” she said.

For just one moment, it was like someone pushed pause on the whole scene. Everyone around just stopped dead. Mouths hung open. Then, finally, from one of the passengers:

“What did you just say?”

The scene played again, in an uproar. Every single person who heard what the robed woman had said all did something different. Martha clutched at her armrests again, looking shocked. One man called over for a flight attendant, while the previously sleeping man sitting next to the cultist had removed his headphones and was staring at her intently. Myself, I wheeled around and looked through the cabin again. All at once, I realized why these robed people had made me so uneasy—why I’d had that twinge in my throat.

Except for Saul and his group up in the front, the people in robes were spaced out completely evenly throughout the cabin. One robe seated in every three rows, staggered on each side. It couldn’t have been by accident. They were placed strategically. And just as this realization sunk in, and my throat clenched tight, and the hairs all over my body stood on end…a strong, deep voice rang out through the confusion.

“Attention, passengers! Could I please have everyone’s attention?”

It was Saul. Of course, it was Saul. And one glance in his direction betrayed exactly how he’d managed to convince all these lonely middle-aged people to follow him. He was absurdly tall—6’5” at the least—and his silver hair was still speckled with the remnants of its jet-black past. His face was  lined but strong, and eyes were totally transfixing, the kind of eyes that make you stop and wonder if you’ve ever seen something that blue before. His presence was commanding. Each passenger in the plane was looking at him, and he had every drop of the attention he asked for—I couldn’t help thinking that in another life he might have run for president.

But here he stood, before the cabin of just one plane in one small corner of the sky, hands outstretched to the masses like some kind of Christ, apparently ready to deliver a message from on high.

“There’s no need to be alarmed,” he began. “Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Saul, and these people you see in robes around you are my friends—the Keepers of the Kingdom.”

“Nobody cares!” came a man’s voice near Saul. “Sit down!”

Saul turned to look at the man directly. “I will not,” he said simply. I couldn’t see the man’s face, the one who’d yelled—but he didn’t yell again. Saul continued.

“The Keepers of the Kingdom,” he repeated. “You’re probably wondering—what does that mean? Well, I’m going to clue you in on some marvelous secrets. Secrets about life, the greatest mysteries of the universe. If you’ve ever felt the dull ache of existential angst, a pain which I’ve known all too well, you’ll want to listen close, because all your questions are about to be answered. Even if you’re deluded into thinking you’re perfectly content with your existence, you’ll want to listen too—for I give my solemn vow that if you believe on my words, you will have eternal life.”

The cabin was totally silent, save for this man’s voice and the low thrum of the plane. We were travelling at upwards of five hundred miles an hour, and yet all was still.

“God exists,” Saul continued. “God exists, and he cares for his creations, his Kingdom on the earth. Did you know that? Well, know it now. Know it with every fiber of your being, deep in your soul.”

His voice had a unique quality to it—he did not seem to be intentionally projecting, speaking loudly as one often does in front of a crowd—and yet all could hear him. He sounded light; conversational.

“Perhaps you are skeptical. Perhaps you say, show me proof. Well, here I am. I am your proof. I speak to God face to face, as God spake unto Moses, as a man speaks to his friend. And my friends around you, they know this. They have watched me in rapture, seen the very finger of the Lord, and they are here to bear witness of these truths to you. Friends, do I speak the truth?”

“Yes,” forty voices chanted in unison.

“Well,” he said, “you have your witnesses. You have people—not just a few, but many—who are willing to stake their reputations, their very lives, on the claims I make to you today. This is where your faith comes in. All you must do is believe.”

[Their very lives]

Saul paced down the aisle slowly—stepping forward every five seconds or so—and every head followed his movements. He was an exceptionally gifted speaker, charming and charismatic as they come, far more reverend than televangelist. I never for a moment believed what he said…but I could at least see the appeal.

The passengers, for their part, just sat watching in stunned stillness.

“The world is fallen, dear friends, and it is my sad duty to revive it. To lift it back up. This is why I speak with God. This is why I’ve mailed a document to every major newsroom in America, a document containing the words of God, the Truth of God. The message will spread. God’s will be done.”

“God’s will be done,” the voices chanted.

“Yes,” Saul said. “God’s will be done. But sometimes God’s will requires sacrifice, and sacrifice requires bravery. It requires humility. It requires submission. Will you submit, like Abraham, like Job? Do you know how? Believe me, friends, join with me, sacrifice with me—and witness the mighty hand of the Lord.”

The brunette woman in front of me stood up, still clutching her hairbrush, and every other passenger in robes did the same. She yanked the handle off her hairbrush and tossed it to the cabin floor, revealing a long, sharp blade. And without a moment’s hesitation, she drove it into the face of the man seated to her left. He hardly made a noise before he slumped back, lifeless, and with considerable effort the woman pulled her knife out of his head.

The plane dissolved into total pandemonium. Dozens of people had been slaughtered at once, all across the cabin. The attackers were ecstatic, rapturous, stabbing at throats and eyes and guts as quickly as they could. Blood sprayed on faces and windows. A fine red mist actually hung in parts of the air. And through it all, Saul strolled down the aisle, watching the carnage without expression.

I turned back toward the brunette woman as she swung her blade at my neck. I lurched backward just far enough that a deep cut opened on my collarbone instead of my jugular. I screamed, and the brunette woman screamed, and Martha screamed as the knife was turned toward her, finding her hip on the first strike, then her chest. She fell backward as the plane lurched violently in the air.

The brunette woman lunged for the knife, still embedded between Martha’s ribs, but the plane’s movement knocked a suitcase loose from above and onto her head. She fell to her knees, and as she made to get up I wrung her neck with all the strength I could muster. I pressed my thumbs so hard into her throat that the skin punctured. She kicked out weakly, and her face turned dark, and I watched a blood vessel in her eye pop like bubblegum, turning the off-white eyeball a brilliant shade of veined pink. She wilted, surely dead, and I wheeled around to face the chaos.

It was madness. Other passengers—the normal folks—were fighting back, like me. One man held a robed woman’s arms behind her back while another stabbed her in the chest, over and over, with her own hairbrush blade. I couldn’t tell if she was sobbing in pain or bliss. Spots of red grew on her bosom, rose petals floating down the stream of crude fabric. Truth be told, passengers were emerging victorious all around the cabin. These men and women in robes weren’t trained killers—they were middle-aged, most of them, and weak. They had blades, but nothing more. They seemed indifferent to death, and we were creatures fighting for life. Looking at the scene, the gap between us and the rest of the animal kingdom felt very small indeed.

And the plane lurched again, more violently than before.

Martha groaned at my feet. She tugged loosely at the hem of my pants. The knife was still embedded to the handle in her chest.

“I can’t…I can’t breathe,” I barely heard her gasp. “My husband…” Then her voice trailed off, her eyes rolled back in her head, and Martha never finished telling me about her husband, who would be flying out to meet her on Saturday morning.

I wrenched my gaze away, looking around me frantically, hoping to gauge where the closest threat would come from. But the people in robes were few and far between now, putting up their last desperate fights against the passengers. Blades hung in the air but weren’t swung—it seemed the whole plane was in a standoff. There was little in motion, except the plane, and except Saul, who was walking toward me down the aisle.

I braced my foot on Martha’s chest and wrenched the knife free. I strode toward the unarmed prophet fully intending to slaughter him.

“You lost, you fucking asshole!” I spat down the aisle at him. “You’ll all be dead by the time this fucking plane lands!”

He held out his hands, almost apologetically, not breaking step.

“And who,” he said, so calm amid the chaos, “do you suppose will be landing this plane?”

I wheeled around and saw the door to the cockpit had been broken ajar. There was a light laugh behind me. Saul was close now, but not in attack mode. He didn’t seem up for the dirty work. He spoke kindly.

“I told you, friend,” he said. “We all must submit.”

Then Saul’s head was over his feet, and he flew backward through the cabin, and I flew with him. The last thing I remember was catching a glimpse of a blue shoelace—attached to one of the dead or dying passengers, no doubt—as our plane spiraled down from the sky.

I don’t know where we landed, exactly, and I don’t know how I survived. I woke up alone in a hospital bed, attached to wires and tubes and machines.

As my body woke, the pain started to rush through me. Everywhere hurt. But in those first few moments, all I could think was, I survived a plane crash. Oh my god, I survived a fucking plane crash. How the fuck.

My heart rate climbed, a machine started to beep, and in the snap of a finger a nurse entered the room, followed by two male doctors and one woman in smart business dress. They all regarded me with almost reverent attention.

“How did I survive?” It was the first thing I said.

The doctors looked at each other for a moment before one spoke. “The same way anybody survives one of these things,” he said. “Pure luck.”

I closed my eyes. “I don’t feel lucky,” I said.

“Actually, you should,” the other doctor said. “You’re in a lot of pain right now because your entire body is deeply bruised. You have two broken bones and several deep cuts. You have 42 stitches in your thigh and…78, I believe, near your clavicle. But, incredibly, it doesn’t look like there will be any lasting damage. In a few months…well, I can’t make any promises, but almost certainly it’ll be like nothing ever happened.”

I lay in stunned silence as he ran a series of tests on me, shining lights in my orifices and jotting down notes on a clipboard. After a few minutes he turned to the dressed-up woman and nodded. She pulled up a chair and sat next to my bed. The doctors and nurse left the room, closing the door behind them.

I can’t tell you what the woman’s name was, or what firm she worked for. But I can tell you that she called me by name and introduced herself as a legal representative of the United States of America.

It didn’t make much sense. “I thought…I assumed I’d be talking with the airline’s lawyers,” I replied.

“No,” she said. “I’m afraid not. You won’t be able to talk to them about anything. For that matter…” she paused, looking at me sternly, “you won’t be able to talk to anyone.”

I must have looked startled, because she held up a hand. “Don’t worry,” she said, “you’ll be taken care of. Financially, I mean. You’ll be compensated for your trouble rather handsomely—in fact, I daresay you’ll never have to work again if you don’t want to. And of course, your medical bills will be covered; that goes without saying.”

I was too numb to feel any sort of relief at this comment. “So why are you here?” I asked.

“Because,” she said. “We screwed up. The Keepers weren’t even on our radar, and we pride our radar on being very, very precise.”

She went on: “Saul Silver sent out a manifesto to over thirty major news organizations, but it won’t ever see the light of day. We’re making sure of that. It’s in the best interest of this country, and its citizens, that Saul’s message not be successfully delivered.”

“Why?” I asked.

She looked at me patiently, like a schoolteacher might regard a particularly obtuse child. “Because,” she said, “if Saul were to succeed in using terrorism to deliver a message he considered important, others might try to do the same. He would be held up, in some circles, as a martyr. But you were on that plane. Do you think Saul was a martyr?”

“No,” I said. “He was…a fraud. A psycho.”

“One or the other, yes,” the woman said. “Or perhaps a little of both. But still, surely you understand the precarious circumstance our country is in. We’re already terrified of extremism from outside our borders. To introduce this new element would…disrupt the social order.” She seemed to choose that last phrase carefully.

“But other cults have already…I mean, what about the People’s—”

The woman interrupted. “Yes, of course, Jonestown and Waco and all the rest. I know. But…I suppose you’d have to read Silver’s manifesto to fully understand.” Her tone made it clear that I would not be reading anything.

She stood up, glancing at an expensive wristwatch. “Our people will be in touch with you shortly,” she said. “In the meantime, your plane was felled by some sort of mechanical failure. That’s all you know. You’ve never heard of Saul Silver, nor the Keepers.”

A doctor knocked on the door.

The woman locked me in eye contact. “Do you understand?”

I nodded, she left, and the doctors came back in.

It’s been well over a decade, and America has long forgotten my plane that fell out of the sky. Plenty have crashed since. I wonder why.

It took a while, but I eventually got back on a plane. And now I fly regularly again. I mean, you’re way more likely to die in a car crash, right?

In other news, the world continues to ignore the in-flight safety demonstrations. I don’t mind anymore. What’s the point, really, when the only difference between your death and survival is (as the doctor said) pure luck?

And yet, I still don’t feel lucky. I’m pissed off. Because, as I sit here, no longer bruised and broken and with only some faint scars to remember it by, I realize the doctors were right about something else: it’s like nothing ever happened.

But it did. It did happen.

And I just wanted you all to know. TC mark

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Instagram Influencer Charly Jordan Reveals The Truth Behind Her Favorite Posts

1. The ‘oops’ volcano picture that became a call to action

Instagram Photo

“This was taken the first time I went to Koloa, Hawaii on a Timothy Sykes charity trip. We were exhausted after doing charity work all day and we decided to go on this helicopter ride afterwards. It was one of the most insane experiences I’ve ever had. I could feel the heat from the molten lava as I was flying over it. The lava would hit the ocean and steam up and it was amazing. To me this was one of the most epic things I’ve ever done. It happened half a year ago and I posted the photo on Instagram a couple weeks back, right when I received it. Unbeknownst to me, the volcano had recently erupted. I’d been in and out of the country so I was a little disconnected at the time I posted the photo with a really lighthearted caption. Someone from Hawaii immediately called me out and others started commenting the worst things. But I love Hawaii! I never would have intentionally posted something insensitive. I decided to keep the photo up but I changed the caption into an apology, explaining that I had no idea what was going on and also encouraging people to channel their energy into helping those who needed it.”

2. When you’re not quite ready, but you make it work anyway

Instagram Photo

“This is the first trip that I ever did outside of the US — to Mexico with H Collective. I was so nervous and I was the one with the least amount of followers on this trip. I was starstruck by Brandon Woelfel. He’s this tall, thin, super artsy sweet guy. And this was the first time I’d met someone I really looked up to. I wanted him to shoot me so badly but I didn’t want to ask him. Finally, towards the end of the trip, he asked me to shoot and said he wanted to do something he’d never done before—shoot fairy lights under water. I didn’t have any makeup on and I didn’t feel camera ready but I decided to make it work. He basically just told me exactly how to pose and what to do. And this photo ended up being the first photo in the book that he published!”

3. The photo that belies the journey she took to get there

Instagram Photo

“This was taken on a trip to South Africa. The levitating guy in the background  is Rory Kramer, the videographer for the Chainsmokers. But the interesting thing about this photo is the journey I took to get there. When you go somewhere, you never know what’s going to happen. Before hopping on the 12-hour flight to South Africa, I had to take a 12-hour flight to London. This was the first time I’d been on such a long flight and I inadvertently ate a meal with nuts in it. I am massively allergic to all nuts, and my EpiPen was beneath the plane in my checked baggage. I didn’t know what to do! Luckily, I had some Benadryl in my purse. You have to take about six Benadryl (enough to make you hallucinate) to counteract anaphylactic shock, so that’s what I did—in between gasping desperately for breath and ignoring requests from the flight staff to take my seat. I honestly thought I was going to die right there on that plane, but I didn’t. By the time I got to South Africa, it was so windy that a lot of the planned activities were canceled. Ultimately, I flew 24 hours to be somewhere for just six days (and almost die along the way!).”

4. The black sand beach that absorbed her tears

Instagram Photo

“There were four or five other girls on this black sand beach shoot and none of them were talking to me. When it comes to taking pictures, girls can be very competitive. I was just kind of sitting there while they were doing group pictures. Looking back, this photo reminds me of the competitive nature of Instagram. Their behavior really shook me, and made me feel insecure. I remember lying there wondering if my body looked good. I think exclusion is a form of bullying.”

5. How to spin disappointment into a win

Instagram Photo

“This was taken in Honolulu, and it was a really sad day for me. I was in Hawaii shooting for a well-known brand that flew me out there with another model. We’d been shooting for maybe two days and we were supposed to be there for five but halfway through the trip they decided to send us home because they said it was easier / cheaper to hire models in Hawaii than to pay us our day rate. I got angry and then I decided to turn this into a good situation. I told the other model we were going to stay in Hawaii anyway. I have a friend on the island who picked us up and let us stay at his place for the next week and we continued to take pictures and videos and spin the whole situation into a positive. I’m so glad I decided to stay and explore rather than let some weird grown man make us feel bad. This photo was taken ten minutes after he told us he was sending us home. I had been crying, but my eyes look really clear because I’d just been crying.”

6. The visible shift from travel to high fashion

Instagram Photo

“This is the first time I ever did a photo shoot in New York City. I’d flown out there for the H Collective magazine we were shooting. I was nervous because I’d never done a topless picture—this was the first time I’d done anything like this. I was 18 years old, staying by myself in the city. I had all of these expectations and I showed up and it was just me and the photographer and his dog and we shot on a couch in his apartment. He was super nice and we shot for three hours and this picture was one of the first I posted that did really really well on my account. These pictures were kind of a turning point in my career whereby I shifted from strictly travel / fun to high fashion.”

7. The nature shot that captured Reddit’s attention

Instagram Photo

“This picture was definitely a turning point in my career (before the couch picture). This is what got me into the nature scene. It was taken in Eden, Utah, in this little secluded place that takes hours to get to. I went there to meet my friend Zach Allia. So this guy pulls up with like five kinds of birds (owls and falcons) in his truck. He was a professional bird handler. The handler is standing right behind us. When he tilted his hand the owl extended its wings. This photo ended up being on the front page of Reddit for two weeks in a row!”

8. The (actually) magical rainbow

Instagram Photo

“I have a lot of busy days but this was one of the most chill days ever. It was really magical. It doesn’t even look real. Earlier that day I’d met someone I’d looked up to for a really really long time, Jay Alvarrez. He’s one of the first people who started traveling for Instagram and he kind of pioneered the influencer market. What I learned from meeting Jay is that 95% of the time when you meet someone, there’s no way they’re going to be anything like you thought. He was the great person I thought he was gonna be, but at the same time, he was different from what I expected. He’s a very exotic, eccentric person. To me, this photo represents the fact that you should never make assumptions over social media.”

9. Another day, another rainbow

Instagram Photo

“This is the Na Pali coast and it’s really really hard to get to. We did a three-mile hike to get to this lookout point but the most important aspect of this shoot was that I was able to get amazing pictures because I cared about the person taking the photo. Something I don’t think people realize is that I’ve had to completely sacrifice romantic relationships because I travel so much. What’s a relationship if you don’t see someone for a three-month stretch? I just haven’t been able to keep up with people. But just because I don’t date someone doesn’t mean that I don’t fall in love. There are several people I’ve had to consciously step away from in favor of pursuing my career. This picture is symbolic of love, happiness, and heartbreak.”

10. Damn, this is my life

Instagram Photo

“This was taken recently, at EDC in Las Vegas. I’ve been to EDC several times because I was born and raised in Las Vegas, but this last time was the first time I went as more than a regular spectator. This year Insomniac brought me and a photographer out to shoot, which was mind-blowing. To actually work an event I’d grown up loving was amazing. We were let in two hours early so we could shoot the sunset before anyone else got there. You can see I’m kind of blissfully enjoying this. It’s my hometown and I’ve come so far in the last year and a half to be able to do this. It was a moment. In this picture I realized, damn, this is my life.” TC mark

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