Impressions

Impressions

A Chapter by SavvyCat
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"Impressions" explores Dr. Rose's current feelings on life. She longs for the freedom she felt as a child. On her first day at Chresthill Mental Sanatarium, her world is shaken by her patient, Altair.

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Dearest Valley, it has been awhile since I stopped to take a gander at your precious blossoms. I once gathered them into a neatly arranged bouquet, while I marched through green fields. My tiny hands would carry them to the meadow’s brook. There, I sat as time escaped me. Those rough fingertips had not yet been taught delicacy. My legs sprawled out in patches of dirt with neither a care nor thought for the word--lady. I would innocently pluck the pedals, unaware that my curiosity was destructive--a habit I would never outgrow. Even as a child, I knew I wanted greater things. So, I crafted my own crown, but it was made of withering flowers. Deep down, I knew my ambitions would hinder my ability to ever hold a bundle of my own or was it the other way around? I listened to the wisdom of the flowing blue stream, which learned its tune from the gentle song of the summer breeze. Such color and life, it could not be real but a painting. Yet, who could ever imagine such an image? I now realize, at the time, I did not fully appreciate the scene. I couldn’t grasp the love I felt for my surroundings because I was a part of the picture. 

Even if you frame a dream within your mind, it can still be shattered. I felt myself awakened by a cruel wind slapping against my cheek. 


“Rosalie! You ruined your new dress!” A voice echoed through time, but I quickly sent it back to the graveyard of my mind. I could still feel the sting. Though, I was not sure if it were my cheek or heart that hurt the most. 


That was the very moment that caused the image to fade from sharp realism into chaotic impressions. If my life had been documented on canvas, it would have turned into some strange abstraction, for I was no longer myself. I had become the kind of person who watched the clock tick by, who wanted the years to pass, and who moved through life so fast that I soon forgot about its beauty and mysteries. I wanted back into the world I had been forced out of. 



Spring


We think of warm days as inviting. If the new year is a promise for a better self, then spring is a time to reveal our metamorphosis. Out from the cold and dark, we shed our skin. With friends, we gather under the sun and do a rehearsed dance to show off our new wings. Even I was tempted to parade around in a silver gown lavished in lace and embroidered stars. The sun cast its light on the sequin embellishments, just as it did on the moon. I felt it fitting to be a remembrance of darkness on a bright day. Though we tread through radiant valleys, the reminder of where we came from still sat upon mountain tops in the form of melting ice. Before the hard white sleet has a chance to thaw, winter will be upon us once more. And so, we will never fully change, but continue life in this vicious cycle. Even so, I wanted to believe this would be the year I tore down the crystal walls that entrapped me. 


“Good morning, Miss Terra!” The sound of the roaring trains nearby nearly blocked me from hearing a man calling out to me. 


I turned to face the familiar leering eyes of Mr. Derwin. We met last spring while he was visiting his aunt. On Sunday, we were reunited, and I was invited on an afternoon walk. Mr. Derwin is a fine man, and the only fault I can find in him is being average. It seems a cruel thing to think, and I suppose it needs explaining. After all, the meaning of such a word can vary person to person. When I say average, I am not speaking to the man’s appearance. Surely, it would be shallow to grade a person's allure simply based on their physical appearance alone. In fact, I’ve heard Mr. Derwin described as quite handsome by many women: both young and old. He wore his dark hair slicked back, had a well kept mustache, and dressed properly. When I think about it, Mr. Derwin has many attributes, but they are also his faults. He is self-assured, kind...enough, and safe. I felt that he was perfectly complacent with both his life and society’s expectations of him. 


Just the same, I felt Mr. Derwin would find faults in me, if only he knew my thoughts. I was unsure, withdrawn at times, and daring. I had never been satisfied with my position in life. Even so, I would not fault him for faulting me. Therefore, I felt my thoughts were fair, and I didn’t see a reason why we couldn’t be friends. 


“Oh… How do you do, Mr. Derwin?”


“Quite well. Where are you off to?” 


“Work, I believe I told you this not two days ago...during our walk.” I teased. 


“Forgive me, it is hard for a gentleman to believe an accomplished young lady of decent means, such as yourself, would choose to work. Perhaps, you should consider a good marriage as an alternative.” 


Even in the open streets, his words felt constricting. “I can assure you, Mr. Derwin, I have neither the prospects nor the plans to pursue any at present. Now, do take care.” With that said, I began to slowly ease away.


“Then I am afraid I should warn you of my aunt’s schemes. She has sent out a letter inviting you to tea this Sunday. I will have to inform her of her faulty matchmaking at once--how disappointed she will be. She has taken such a liking to you.”


“Mr. Derwin, now you know I could never disappoint a woman as kind as your aunt. Please inform her that I shall be in attendance. However, only for the sake of keeping her in good spirits.”


“How’s two-thirty?” 


“Very well, but I must be on my way or I’ll be late. You do understand?”


“Certainly, Miss Terra. Good day to you.” He tipped his hat before continuing on opposite of me.


As I walked along, the live buzz of the city began to fade into a quiet road that led through rows of trees. Far in the distance, I could see my destination--a great white dwelling seen throughout the city of Cresthill. The great structure seemed to float above the rest of the city. When I was a child, I used to call it Mount Olympus, for I did not actually know its purpose. My mother refused to say, as if she was protecting me from the evil deeds of those who were godly. 


I stood below a large grassy hill and felt small compared to the long brick pathway. Along the manmade staggered stones were rows of purple tulips. I followed their sweet scent up the path and through an iron gate. Visitors were welcomed by a stone chiseled sign that said, “Cresthill Mental Sanatorium.” At last, I had a clearer view of the grand white stone building. The architecture resembled that of gothic art. Detailed images of religious idols were carved into the structure. Stained glass windows offered a calming feel of a sanctuary. Its massive size gave the appearance that it could house thousands. In spite of its alluring charm, I couldn't help but feel its beauty was somehow artificial. The flowers were strategically placed, unlike wild flowers that grew wherever they pleased. With my schooling, I had stolen the gift of fire--knowledge. I wished to share it with the world. However, I wondered...what would my punishment be? A voice from within warned me of the dangers that lay ahead, but the artistry of the building called to me like a siren. I was like an insect attracted to the orchid mantis. Every step I took, I was moving closer to a beautiful danger that surely meant to consume me. Once I made it to the two solid wooden doors, I knew I was being handed a box. Yet, what was within was still a mystery. If I opened it, what would I unleash upon myself and the world? I also questioned my right to another person’s mind. Especially since, I did not completely understand my own. 


....

Hall after hall we roamed--opening doors and closing them. 


“Your first patient is...1947,” Dr. Ford said in a rush. 


“19--what? May I ask their name, please?” 


“We prefer to call them by number, Miss Terra.” 


“Doctor…” 


“Ah yes, I beg your pardon ma’am. When I heard the University was sending a Dr. Terra, I assumed you were a man.” 


“Dr. Ford, I appreciate you helping me to become accustomed to how you do things here…”


“But?” 


“But, I find it problematic to call a patient by a number. They are people and should be treated as such.” 


He chuckled, “Ah, that’s where you’re wrong Miss Terra. You will soon realize they are barely human.” 


“Forgive me if I am being too forward, but I cannot understand how this kind of negative speech helps our patients. Is it not the purpose of these interviews to speak to their humanity? How else does one decide upon a treatment plan?” 


“Treatment?”


“Well, yes. How else can our patients be released back to their lives--to their families?” 


“I believe you do not fully understand, our goal is to contain them and try to minimize their outburst and behavior. These patients are very sick. My advice to you is to focus on your research and move on. This is not a place for those who are faint of heart. Now, you must excuse me. I have a class to attend to.”


“Of course.” I would say anything to get that man to leave. Before calling in my patient, I had to rid myself of the disgust I felt. “Mrs. Crowell, would you please send in my first patient.” 


Mrs. Crowell soon appeared in the room with a rather lanky man. I quickly stood and took the chart offered to me. 


“Miss Terra, this is patient 1947.” 


“Doctor…”


“Oh, I am so sorry Dr. Terra. We haven’t any lady doctors here. The whole idea of it is kind of exciting.” 


I quickly felt a soft spot for Mrs. Crowell, for I could see the kindness in her eyes. She was an old soul. “Rose, you can just call me Rose if you like. I feel as though saying “doctor” is kind of presumptuous anyway.” 


“Not at all, you earned it dear. Can we settle on Dr. Rose?” 


“Certainly, thank you.” My words came out softly, but also dismissive of the older woman. For a moment, I felt intimidated by the man’s staggering height, for I knew nothing of him and we were now alone. “Please, have a seat.”


I took note of his compliance as he sat quietly and soon felt at ease. He wore a loosely fitted white button up shirt with black trousers. His shirt was neither tucked in nor fully buttoned. My attention was soon drawn to his feet by the sudden tapping of his left foot. I wondered if he was nervous. The way he carelessly lounged back in his seat would state otherwise. Unlike me, who used all my strength to keep from tripping over my own words. I focused on his socks and noticed they had holes in them. Suddenly, I became increasingly aware of the draft in the room. 


My eyes focused on his chart as I sat. Just then, a strand of hair fell over my eye and I quickly pushed it back. “Hello, my name is…”


“Rose…or was it Terra? Rose Terra, I presume...Miss Doctor? We really should decide on this before you have everyone calling you a different name. You see, it would be best if Mrs. Crowell called you by your surname. It is what a man would do.” 


“I’m no man.” I couldn’t tell if he was testing me or actually trying to help. 


A grin pulled at his lips and he responded, “Yes, I might not have much of a mind, but I do have eyes. And I must ask, may I call you Dr. Rose?”


“By your own account, you cannot. You may call me Dr. Terra.” 


“Very well then.” I caught his sideways smile through my peripherals as he combed his fingers through his blond locks. His disheveled hair fell back over his forehead, and I noticed the front strand had a mysterious white streak. 


My eyes moved from this nameless man back to his file. “Now that we have settled that...I should tell you, I will be your assigned doctor moving forward.”


He crossed his legs and placed his long fingers against his chin. “And what is your specialty?” 


“Psychology. We will meet every Tuesday and Thursday to speak. In order for me to determine how we should proceed forward, I need to ask you a series of questions. Some might feel invasive, and I don’t require you answer them all. My first being, what’s your name? I don’t see it written here.” 


For the first time, my eyes met his gaze and I felt lifted from my seat. I had not noticed his left eye was a deeper shade of blue and his right a lighter crystal hue. Moments passed as I remained captured in his gaze, but he stayed silent. 


“Is there something you prefer to be called? Perhaps, a nickname? I refuse to call you by a number.” 


The only sound that broke the uncomfortable silence was that of the ticking clock. “Well, that’s fine. Let’s move on. Do you feel like you are being treated well here?”


Such a question seemed to spark his interest as he leaned forward against the table that separated us. “No…”


“Would you like to talk about that?”


His eyes were on me now. I could feel his gaze; it followed me. “No.”


A sigh unknowingly escaped my lips as I spoke, “I would like to state my purpose for being here. It is to help you. At the moment, I am not sure how, but I feel like a conversation could…” Again, I had to push the hair from my face. 


“Altair,” he calmly stated as his eyes watched the movement of my hand. 


“Altair?”


“That’s...my...name,” he said with a sarcastic bow. 


“Oh...Altair, like the star.” I could not remember the last time I smiled and it showed. I was surprised at the turning of my lips, but it didn’t stop there. I could feel the delight all over my face, in the wrinkling of my eyes, and in the apples of my cheeks. 


His eyes widened in response before his face turned soft. “They underestimate you, Dr. Terra--land of the rose.” 


“Excuse me?” 


“I just mean, it must be hard to be a female in this world.” 


“I suppose it can be, Mr. Altair, but it's the only world I’ve ever known. I see here that you’re quite the artist.”


His eyebrow perked up before he inquired, “Is that what it says, quite the artist?”


My lips parted for a moment before I could answer, “Well, no. In truth, these charts are usually lacking…”  


“Details? Is that your purpose, to fill in the details?”


“No, not exactly. You see, the details mean very little if you don’t understand them.”


His expression turned a bit more seriously as he sat back and contemplated my words. “Indeed.”


“What kind of drawings do you work on, Mr. Altair?”


“They are maps.”


“Maps? Of the world? The country?” 


“Of the universe.” 


“Would you say space is something that interests you?” 


There was that silence again. It seemed to come from nowhere. 


“Maybe that’s a loaded question. I suppose everyone since the beginning of time has had such an interest.”


“Have you?” He muttered. 


“Of course.”


“In what particular?” 


“The idea that the universe is vast and full of possibilities."


“Does it ever make you feel...lonely?” Suddenly, he seemed very far away. I felt like my hand could reach him from across the table. However, even if it did, I wouldn’t really reach him. 


This question prompted a careful answer. Had I ever felt lonely? Of course, I had--all the time. But, there was a line I couldn’t cross in here. By the time I found my answer, he had already read it on my face. “I-I could understand how it would. The universe is so large and endless. It’s beyond our comprehension. It has a way of making you feel small and unimportant in comparison.” 


“Dr. Rose, it is becoming increasingly clear that you could never be...unimportant. I drew them because I am home sick.” Even though he had intentionally defied my wishes, as many had today, I didn’t mind so much. I couldn’t help but feel him calling me by Rose was a strange term of endearment...rather than insolence. 


“Why does space remind you of home? Did you live in the country away from the city lights?” 


“No.”


“Then you are from the city?”


“No,” he chuckled. 


I felt he thought this was some sort of game. “Well, can you tell me where you are from?”


“It’s very far from here.” 


“How far?”


“Not of this world, Dr. Rose.”


I paused to think before asking, “Are we speaking of dreams, Mr. Altair?”


“No, I don’t have them.”


“Do you sleep well?”


“Not at all.”


“When you do sleep, do you ever dream?”


“Do you?” 


“Not in a while.” 


“I think you will tonight.” 


I could nearly hear the quicken tune of my beating heart. It was a song orchestrated by Mr. Altair. A sudden knock at the door startled me from the trance he had me under. 


“Your next patient is ready to be seen, Dr. Rose.” Mrs. Crowell called out. 


I wasn’t sure if I was sad or glad for the intrusion, but either way I felt relieved. “Well, our time is up for today. We will meet again at the same time on Thursday. Could you bring one of your drawings to our next meeting?”


“No...”


“That’s fine. I know that art can be...personal.”


“No, I mean, I will make you a new one.”


“O-oh.” I slowly stood and felt that strand of hair in my face again. “I look forward to seeing it. Thank you.” 


When he stood, his hand reached and gently brushed the single brown strand behind my ear. The feeling of his fingertips stroking against my face forced me to gasp. “Mr. Altair, you can’t do that…” I firmly stated and took a step back. 


“Ms. Rose, I just feel I need to tell you a few more things to help you along. May I?” 


I just nodded.


“If Mr. Donald is assigned to you, don’t leave your drink unattended. He likes to spit in them. Mrs. Dollwood is a compulsive liar. She will lie about me and about you too. Dr. Ford is touchy with the women. Try not to be alone with him.”


“And what of you? Any warnings for me concerning yourself?” 


At that, he smirked and said with his hands tucked into his pockets, “Now, we both know me saying so would spoil the fun.” He leaned in and whispered, “I looked forward to knowing your expert opinion of me. Until Thursday, Dr. Rose.” 


...



© 2020 SavvyCat


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You’re working hard, but you’re running into a few things that are getting in your way, So, since you can’t fix a problem you don’t recognize as being one, and the issues are unrelated to talent or your potential as a writer, I thought you’d want to know.

One minor problem is your font. No one uses Courier anymore. Use Times, or Times New Roman. If your word processor is MS Word, do an indent of about two or three spaces via the top menu bar, and drop the white-space between paragraphs. This site will translate a word document, except for em-dashes (use two dashes instead).

One major problem is that because you know the story, the setting, the characters, and your intent for the scene, anything you leave out because it seems obvious to you won’t be caught as you edit. As you read, the words act as pointers to images, characterization, situation, and much more, all stored in your mind. So any blanks will automatically be filled in. And when you read, you hear your own voice performing the story, alive with emotion.

It’s one of the reasons the outside-in “Let me tell you a story” approach doesn’t work well on the page.

Let’s look at the opening lines, not as the author, but as a reader who has no access to your intent, and who cannot hear the emotion you place into the reading (or the gestures, the facial expression, and body-language)—one who must make-do with what the words suggest to them, based on THEIR background and understanding and what has already happened in the story.

View it as if you found this on a table somewhere, have not read the little blurb you provide, and are seeing only the words on the page:

• Dearest Valley, it has been awhile since I stopped to take a gander at your precious blossoms.

As a reader, I have to ask, where are we? You know. But for the reader? They’re missing what’s going on and who’s being addressed. They’re wondering how can someone write a letter to land, and of more importance, why?

“Take a gander?” may be a common expression in your area, but in mine it’s archaic for those who recognize it. If we knew when this takes place, as we read, it might be more meaningful, but we don’t. So it appears that you’re trying to sound, “folksy,” as the narrator. But it doesn’t work, because the reader can’t hear or see your performance. Have your computer read this chapter aloud to hear what the reader gets. Unfortunately, without being able to hear and view your performance, the words act as pointers to images, characterization, situation, and much more, all stored in *YOUR* mind. But without you there to explain…

Think about the situation. The reader, at this point, doesn’t know the three things that will provide context to make the words meaningful: Who am I? Where am I in time and space? What’s going on? But you have that before you begin reading. The reader lacks it. So “precious blossoms” can only mean that they are extremely valuable for unknown reasons. Not what you meant, but it is what you said.

So we’ve read one sentence and by its end your intent for the meaning the reader should take and what the reader gets have diverged significantly. Will they figure it out? Sure. But how will a reader react to finding that they want off on a tangent? And of more importance, will that understanding retroactively remove that confusion? A confused reader is one who is closing the cover.

• I once gathered them into a neatly arranged bouquet, while I marched through green fields.

Based in this, the speaker is a soldier. Who else marches? Again, not what you meant. But again, it is what you said, and the reader has only what the words mean TO THEM, unless you provide context. So…from that reader’s viewpoint, would you bet that the term “green fields” creates a picture in the reader’s mind that matches the image you held while writing the words?

My point is, that instead of talking in overview, about things meaningful to you, if it matters place the reader into that field, focusing on what matters to the person viewing them, in real-time.

Start your story with story, not history. If something is worth mention then it’s worth experiencing. Remember, our medium is serial, and as such dramatically slower than life. But if talking about someone crossing a room takes longer than to actually cross it, your story may feel like slow motion to the reader. And of equal importance, the last thing you want to do is open a story with a lecture on what happened before the story opened.

In the end of the first section, what do I get? It appears that someone unknown remembers being slapped on the cheek for ruining a dress, and feels that it ruined their life. Conclusion: This person is an idiot. Sorry, but if a child being punished with a stinging cheek slap as a very small child ruins their life, this person isn’t going to be able to handle serious problems, and so, isn’t a protagonist worthy of a reader’s attention.

In short, devoting 372 words, and placing the reader on the third standard manuscript page, just to tell them the protagonist was once punished, seems unnecessary, given that at the appropriate time, and as part of living the story, your protagonist can be reminded of it, and react to that by some necessary event.

• We think of warm days as inviting.

Do we? I was once doing work in a post office in Minneapolis, and heard one of the workers lamenting that spring had arrived and he’d put the snowmobile away. “Fun-time is over,” he said sadly. So you can’t assume that the reader shares your viewpoint. Why not show her enjoying the spring weather? Show the reader her world from the inside-out, not the outside-in. Don’t talk about it from the comfort of your chair. Or as the writer’s maxim puts it: Show, don’t tell.

My point is that after all the words that must be read in getting to this line there’s STILL no one on the stage but the invisible narrator droning on about YOUR philosophy of life. The reader is seeking something happening. They want to be made to say, “Oh my…what do we do now?” not “Uh-huh.”

It’s not that you’re doing something wrong, not about talent, and not about good or bad writing. It’s that because of a serious misunderstanding we all suffer, you’re not writing fiction. You’re providing a transcription of your script for delivering it aloud to a reader who lacks performance notes—which is what about half of the hopeful writers do (the other half presents a chronicle of events. So you have LOTS of company

Someone hails your protagonist and what happens? The reader expects her to respond. Instead, you stop the action. One line into the actual story and you stop the action to talk about things that have absolutely nothing to do wither answer to the man saying hello. You’re thinking in terms of plot and events. But that’s Story, with that capital S. Readers do NOT want a history lesson from someone not on the scene. They want story with a lower-case s, and that’s lived, not talked about. They want to become the protagonist and experience the story, not hear about her from a dispassionate outside observer.

I know you’re using first person pronouns, but the viewpoint is that of an external narrator, not the one living the story moment-by-moment, and actively making judgments and decisions. Is there really any difference between the a narrator talking about events and the same narrator using first person personal pronouns to do the same thing? In neither case is the narrator on the scene. So how real can it be for the reader?

Remember that misunderstanding I mentioned? It’s that we all leave school believing that we learned to write, and that since writing-is-writing, the word “writing” that’s shared by the profession, “Fiction-Writer, and the skill we used to write so many essays and reports, refers to the same skill-set. It doesn’t.

But we, universally, miss that point because we forget something of equal importance: We forget that professions are learned IN ADDITION to the general skills we call The Three R’s, that we’re given in our schooldays. So though you’ve demonstrated the enthusiasm for writing, have the necessary perseverance, and, have a story, you’re still using the report-writing skills we’re given in school because no one told you there was another way.

But look at the differences: Reports are nonfiction. Their goal is to inform the reader clearly and concisely, with a minimum of emotional content. So it’s fact-based and author-centric, as is the writing of this story. Things are explained, and reported by the all-knowing author, recalling events as a kind of detailed history. And how many history books have been called, page turners?”

The goal of fiction, on the other hand, is to entertain the reader by stirring their emotions. We want the reader to identify with our protagonist, and cheer for them. We want them to worry when our protagonist is in trouble. We want the story to feel as if it’s happening to them, in real-time, and be presented so realistically that if your protagonist trips and falls the reader puts out their hand to try to stop the fall. No way in hell can our report-writing skills do that job. That takes a methodology that’s emotion-based and character-centric. In other words, the skill-set of the working fiction writer.

So…I’m pretty certain that you weren’t hoping for something like this in response to posting the story. Who would? But you can’t use the tool you aren’t aware exists. Nor can you fix the problem you don’t see as being one. Or, as Mark Twain so wisely put it: “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

So given you have everything needed but a resolution for those “just ain’t so issues, that’s what you need to address. But while this may seem like terrible news, there are some “silver-lining” issues. First, you’ll find the learning fun, like going backstage at the theater for the first time. Then, when you master the techniques and the protagonist becomes your co-writer, the act of writing becomes a LOT more fun. Without that, yours is the only voice. The characters all speak with it. They all hold your views, and act according to your script, EVEN-when-it-conflicts-with-their-personality and background.

For a better idea of what I mean, and how telling the story from the protagonist’s viewpoint influences the reader’s perception of the action (and the character’s behavior), try this article: https://jaygreenstein.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/the-grumpy-writing-coach-8/

Your local library’s fiction-writing section has lots of books by pros in writing, teaching, and publishing. So it’s a huge resource. But my personal suggestion is to pick up a personal copy of Dwight Swain’s, Techniques of the Selling Writer.

It’s an older book, one that talks about your typewriter. And he, like the men of his time, assumed that the truly serious writer is male. But that aside it is the single best book on the nuts and bolts issues of creating scenes that sing to a reader, and linking them into an exciting whole.

For a kind of overview of the issues he covers, you might check the articles in my writing blog. Many are based on his teachings.

But whatever you decide to do, the most important thing is to hang in there, and keep on writing.

Jay Greenstein
https://jaygreenstein.wordpress.com/category/the-craft-of-writing/the-grumpy-old-writing-coach/

Posted 6 Months Ago


I am impressed! I am also humbled by your ability. You are an excellent story writer. I strive to be at your level someday. This story is deep, interconnected, and quite interesting. Well done!

Posted 6 Months Ago



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Added on March 20, 2020
Last Updated on March 20, 2020
Tags: romance, love, friendship, soulmates, starman, historical fiction, 1900s, asylum, mental sanitarium, fiction, sci-fi, space, loneliness, isolation, entrapment, social distancing, quarantined


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SavvyCat
SavvyCat

Birmingham, AL



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Mother, teacher, artist, seamstress, writer, & animal lover...who enjoys traveling, dancing, cooking, books, music, films, tarot, & being a nerd! more..

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