FRAGMENTED SOCIETIES

 

Feminism, Love and Identity in the Novels of Doris Lessing

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Authors Press,  India  ISBN 978 81 7273 9188  200pages

My introduction to the work of Doris Lessing was when I had the misfortune at fifteen to pick up a copy of Briefing for a Descent into Hell. I read it at a sitting and, scared the living bejeepers out of me, and gave me more nightmares than one can shake a stick at.

A year or two later I picked up The Grass Is Singing, then The Marriages of Zones Three, Four and Five,  and I was hooked. Here I knew was a marvelous writer. The style was direct, fluid, highly intelligent without any consequent loss of emotional intelligence, and she shied away from none of the big issues. I read everything I could find by her and finally devoured the mind bendingly brilliant The Golden Notebook  at least twice if not three times (I really don’t recall).

So when my friend and colleague Dr Ajit Kumar suggested we co pilot a project on Lessing I was very enthusiastic indeed. Some world class academics on Doris Lessing have contributed papers to the volume, and I have to say the cover design by the Graphic Artists in Author’s  Press is great.  The Authors (I include a biographical sketch of each author at the end of this blog post) have written on a vast panoply of themes and perspectives covered in Lessing’s Novels – sexual violence, racism, cold war politics, family, motherhood, sociological perspectives on colonialism, dynamics of child rearing, philosophy of gender, among others. There is some brilliant work here and the exhausting work of editing taught me an immense amount.

This is a book Doris Lessing herself was interested in seeing a proofed copy of  when she heard of it through the Doris Lessing Society, which greatly excited not only us but all the contributors. Sadly Lessing died on the 17th November 2013 and did not get to see it.

Central to Lessing’s concerns was the notion of woman in the world, in other words feminism in the broadest sense of the term.

The notion of any fundamental feminist theory rests not only on the struggle for female reproductive rights but on the idea of every woman’s legal and moral right to control of her own body. Similarly the notion of any fundamental feminist theory does not extend to female political rights but to the primordial recognition of women as co legislator with their male counterpart in any political and legislative dialogue. By extension the notion of any fundamental feminist theory rests not only on the struggle for equal pay between man and woman, but on the parity of productive potential between the sexes and the elimination of all discrimination on gender grounds, especially on the grounds of the necessity of maternity/paternity leave and childcare time. Finally a notion of any fundamental feminist theory postulates women’s full possession of their minds and bodies and thereby the radical elimination of all forms of sexual oppression, of any culture of rape of women, including rape within marriage.

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Doris Lessing’s writing has brought a revolution by her unique and deeply critical female sensitivity to the unfair or highly limited roles of woman and to their restricted representation in society and its literature. The book discusses in detail some of her approaches to discussing these very limitations and her approaches to these limitations. Her focus zeros in on female self definition despite the limitations imposed on them because of patriarchy and related social taboos. She portrays how women have overcome odds and liberated themselves not only from patriarchy, but also from mental, emotional, physical, social and political oppression.

A great writer. I was delighted to work with Ajit in editing it, and really chuffed to contribute and article to it on – The Golden Notebook.

Contributors:

1. Lili Wang is Professor of English in the English Department, Fujian Normal University, China. Her research interest lies in English Literature and has been teaching English for more than 30 years. Her recent publications include A Study of Doris Lessing’s Art and Philosophy (Beijing: Social Sciences Academic Press (China), 2007); “Lessing’s Paradoxes: ‘A Mind of Winter”(on Mara and Dann). Foreign Literature Studies. Vol.31, No.2, 2009; “Seeking for Traditional Mother’s Memory: A Comparison between Woolf and Lessing”. Foreign Literature, No.1, 2008. She has been a visiting scholar in Cambridge University, Berkeley, University of California, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Hong Kang University.

2. Amy Lee has a Ph.D. in Comparative Literature from The University of Warwick, UK. Her research interests include witchcraft and witchery, the Chinese Diaspora, female self-writing, contemporary fiction and culture, narratives of detection and marginal experiences. Recently she is working on young adult literature. She has published on women’s diasporic writing, life writing, and gender issues in contemporary fictions and film. She has taught professional and creative writing; and is dedicated to promoting creative teaching and learning in the secondary school sector. Currently she is an Associate Professor in the Department of Humanities and Creative Writing of Hong Kong Baptist University.

3. Ajit Kumar has done his Ph.D. research work on Doris Lessing’s novels at Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra, India. He is a well published scholar of Doris Lessing. He has published many research papers in national and international journals of English studies. He has presented many research papers in national and international conferences and seminars. He has written the Introduction and Textual Notes of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights. He is engaged in editing a book on British Women Authors. He was honoured with Best Research Paper Award in World Conference AIAER-2010.

4. Pamela Grieman is the managing editor of the American Indian Culture and Research Journal at the University of California, Los Angeles. She received her doctorate from the University of Southern California.

5. Oran Ryan is a writer. He has written novels: The Death of Finn (Seven Towers, 2006), Ten Short Novels by Arthur Kruger (Seven Towers 2007), and One Inch Punch (Seven Towers, 2012). He has written plays: Don Quixote has Been Promoted (2009, Ranelagh Arts Festival) for the stage and Radio: Preliminary Design For a Universe Circling Spacecraft (KRPN, San Francisco, California 2010) He has lectured on James Joyce, has written and published short stories, poetry and literary critical articles. He is currently working on his next novel titled Hardcastle Dies Laughing.

6. Florica Bodiştean Ph.D is Associate Professor and Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences of Aurel Vlaicu University, Arad, tenured for the following courses: Comparative Literature, Theory of Literature, Stylistics of Poetic Texts and Literature of Children and Adolescents.. Main published studies include: Representations of Femininity in Tolstoy’s Novel War and Peace; Heroic and Erotic in Hemingway’s War Novel; A Vision on Femininity in the Romantic Historical Novel: Walter Scott, Ivanhoe; Tristan and Isolde, or On the Conventions and Liberties of Medieval Eros; Patterns of Femininity in the Heroic Epic. Homer: The Iliad and The Odyssey, The Renaissance Woman vs. the Woman of the Middle Ages in Cervantes’s Don Quixote. She has published books: Marin Preda or About the Complexes of Creation (doctoral thesis, 2002), A Theory of Literature (2005, second edition – 2008), Poetics of Literary Genres (2006, second edition – 2009), Literature for Children and Adolescents Beyond „Story” (2007), Heroic and Erotic. Essay on Feminine Representations in the Heroic Epic (2013). She is the member of the Romanian Writer’s Union, editor-in-chief of “Journal of Humanistic and Social Studies”.

7. Ambalika Biswas is Associate Lecturer of English at Royal Thimphu College an international college under Royal University of Bhutan, is educated at Rashtraguru Surendranath College with Bachelors and Post Graduate degree in English from University of Calcutta. She has a specialization in Indian Literature, T.S Eliot and Gender and Literature. Ms. Biswas has done her Bachelors in Education from Loreto College, University of Calcutta. Prior to teaching at Royal Thimphu College she used to teach as a part time lecturer at P.N Das College, Palta (West Bengal State University).

8. Feruza Shermatova is a current Fulbright visiting scholar at University of Washington, Seattle, WA, who researches how gender is expressed in Kyrgyz language. She got her Ph.D. in comparative English-Kyrgyz linguistics namely, the issues of translation of syntactical stylistic devices from English into Kyrgyz in 2011. Her primary research interests focus on stylistic analysis of fiction and linguistic problems of fiction translation.

9. Baliram N. Gaikwad, is a Fulbright Post-Doctoral Fellow at African American Studies, University of Florida, USA. He achieved Doctoral degree in British Literature from India and has authored several research papers on British Literature and Dalit literature. Dr. Gaikwad works as an Assistant Professor and Chair, Dept. of English at Acharya and Marathe College, Mumbai.

10. Chung Chin-Yi has completed doctoral studies at the National University of Singapore. Her research centers on the relationship between deconstruction and phenomenology. She has published in Nebula, Ol3media and the Indian review of World literature in English, Vitalpoetics, Rupkatha, an Interdisciplinary Journal on the Humanities, KRITIKE: An Online Journal of Philosophy, SKASE Literary Journal and Thirty First Bird Review, Linguistic and Literary Broadbased Innovation and Research, and Humanicus: an academic journal of the Humanities, Social Sciences and Philosophy. She has 4 years of teaching experience at NUS, teaching exposure modules and higher level electives. She presented papers on the Beckett centenaries in 2006 in Denmark and Ireland and recently at the Theory Culture and Society 25th anniversary conference.

11. Shahram Kiaei is a faculty member in the Department of English, Qom Branch Islamic Azad University, Qom, Iran

12. Sushumna Kannan is currently Adjunct Faculty at San Diego State University, USA. She has an MA in English (Literary and Cultural Studies) from EFLU, Hyderabad. She has submitted her PhD thesis titled “Akka Mahadevi, a saint, poet and rebel?: A Study in Feminist understandings of Tradition” at Centre for the Study of Culture and Society, Bangalore and awaits defense. She has attended conferences, national and international, and has presented papers. She received the Regional Fellowship for doctoral work at France for two years. Having worked at several colleges in and around Bangalore.

Eliot Roger’s Last Video

The Mass Shootings at UC Santa Barbara campus in California on Friday night, 9.30 pm the 23rd May 2014

Elliot Oliver Robertson Rodger (born 24th July 1991) was a 22 year old socially maladjusted youth who subscribed to a number of pick up artist and ‘men’s rights’ accounts. A deeply lonely person who was born in the UK and grew up in Calabasas and the Woodland  Hills in California, he wound up living in the San Fernando Valley in his twenties. He was bullied in school and had an obsession with Dungeons and Dragons. He began a long agonizing teenage years with little social contact and no relations with the opposite sex which grew to the level of a profound misogynistic obsession. Later on he acquired a BMW car a  Sig Sauer P225 P6 9mm German Semi-Auto Carry Pistol, and three Glock 34 hand guns, all legally purchased. He had some contact with the police. Once when his family called the police when increasingly worried about his behaviour and the videos, and one memorable occasion he called the police, having performed a citizens arrest on a roommate for stealing candles. The room mate was later charged with petty theft. If this was any indicator as to his personality and social skills, it is little wonder why Eliot Roger was without friends.

There is also some indication that suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition which if not properly treated can inhibit ones ability to function in society, depending on the severity of the condition. His videos about his lonely life have all but disappeared off the web, why he feels women hate him so much, how being alone on spring break is an unspeakable agony, and why he would drive around and avoid areas where he would see couples together kissing or embracing, which would arouse intense feelings of anger and jealously. Despite saying this he also videoed couples kissing. So disturbing were his posted videos to his family  that they went to the police fearing he might act out his rage and sense of personal injustice.

There are problems associated with the notion of future crime, as in one cant arrest someone because of an intent to break the law. However you can sit them down and interview them and see what their intentions and their state of mind is based on years of experience and investigative skills. You can also keep an eye on them. Rodgers’ family were terrifyingly correct in their predictions, despite the fact that seven police did turn up at their son’s apartment, took him outside and gently questioned his intentions – asking if he had suicidal thoughts. He was quiet and rational and convincing and assured them he was not suicidal, despite the fact that in the apartment carefully hidden were several guns, two of which he intended to kill himself with, machetes to hack people with, and hammers to smash in their brains with, along with a 144 page manifesto detailing his murderous and torturous intentions.

The flatmate Cheng Yuan Hong, 20 years old, whom Rogers previously arrested for stealing three candles worth $15, was later hacked to death with a machete, along with Weihan Wang, 20, of Fremont, George Chen, 19, of San Jose, in the apartment Rogers intended, as he wrote in his 144 page manifesto or autobiography to turn into his killing room cum torture chamber.  I think he succeeded to some extent in his intention.

Generally speaking the autobiographies/manifestos of lonely psychotics are usually incredibly tedious inflated nonsense, and Rogers’ efforts do not disappoint this expectation. One would truly wish they would take a few classes in creative writing before they embark on writing lengthy monomaniacal tracts they are going to post mortem inflict on the police investigators and court systems. I say this especially because Roger, on his Google+ page, modestly describes himself not only as a philosopher but as a writer as well. “I consider myself a sophisticated, polite gentleman, unlike most boys my age. My father is of British descent, and my mother is of Asian descent, so that makes me Eurasian.”

Actually the only really well written manifesto that got wide publicity and made me think was the Unabomber’s manifesto. (I believe he has come out with another book since) . Rogers tended towards a slightly bombastic epic style, depicting himself as the lonely hero planning a day of retribution against a world that had wronged him horribly,  that day of Retribution being May 24th 2014 wherein he would kill as many people as he could around Isla Vista, having first of all dispatched his housemates.

“After that, I will start luring people into my apartment, knock them out with a hammer, and slit their throats. I will torture some of the good looking people before I kill them, assuming that the good looking ones had the best sex lives.” 

Not very polite nor gentlemanly. This he did not do, mercifully.

So Eliot Roger, having hacked and tortured and murdered his housemates, leaves his apartment and drives around and makes one last video.

“Hi, Elliot Rodger here. Well this is my last video. It all has to come
to this. Tomorrow is the day of retribution, the day in which I will
have my revenge against humanity. Against all of you. For the last
eight years of my life, ever since I hit puberty, I’ve been forced to
endure an existence of loneliness, rejection and unfulfilled desires.
All because girls have never been attracted to me. Girls gave their
affection and sex and love to other men, but never to me. I’m
22-years-old and still a virgin. I’ve never even kissed a girl. I’ve
been through college, for two and a half years, more than that
actually, and I’m still a virgin. It has been very torturous.”

Eliot Roger then goes on to say the following:

“I will take great pleasure in slaughtering all of you. You will finally see that I am, in truth, the superior one, the true alpha male. Yes, after I have annihilated every single girl in the sorority house, I’ll take to the streets of Isla Vista and slay every single person I see there. All those popular kids who live such lives of hedonistic pleasure while I’ve had to rot in loneliness all these years. They all look down upon me every time I tried to join them, they’ve all treated me like a mouse.”

Rogers, displays all the symptoms of paranoia, self aggrandizement, blaming the world for his ills, blinding himself mentally to any sense of personal responsibility. This worldview extended to thinking that the world and women in particular are ‘out to get him’ by denying him sex. There is never a moment when his delusional narrative slips, when he might for a moment think there is something in himself that is stopping him achieving a healthy life and a healthy sex life. His illness is fed more than anything by a misogynistic ideology, a view of women as ‘sluts’ and an object of sexual seduction and manipulation, which in turn demand from him that he be an ‘Alpha Male’ in order to be attractive to these creatures, hence the use of pickup artist websites and the filming of couples which in turn fed his revulsion and jealousy of happy couples.

As reported on countless channels and news sites , a deadly shooting happened near the UC Santa Barbara campus in California on Friday night, 9.30 pm the 23rd May 2014. The police confirmed the mass murder’s identity as 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, son of Hollywood producer Peter Rodger, assistant director on The Hunger Games movie franchise. Just before going out to embark on his mass shooting Eliot Roger emailed his 144 page manifesto to around 30 people, including his parents. They heard about the shootings on the radio.

Occupying the ground floor flat of the Capri apartment building about 500 metres from the Alpha Phi sorority building, Rogers left the flat at about 9.15. At about 9.27 the shootings began. Eliot Rogers attempted to get access to the Alph Phi building but failed. He intended to kill everyone in there. Instead he killed Katie Cooper, 22, Chino Hills, Veronika Weiss, 19, Westlake Village, Christopher Ross Michaels-Martinez, 20, San Luis Obispo, and then he killed himself. As well as the dead, he wounded 13 people, all of whom remain unidentified as yet.

All Along the Watchtower

Battlestar Galactica as Theology

The excellent Battle star Galactica, which I loved watching, does have a heavy dose of theism running through it, which makes it even more interesting to watch because it touches on subjects other more conventional series rarely dare to go near. Not only that but it holds the view that those who do not embrace Gods Plan for them, are in trouble. For instance Gaius Balthar the brilliant womanising egomaniac scientist who caused the death of billions (incidentally hands down my favourite character) is consistently in one form threatened with death or ruin or being found out (which would entail the death penalty) if he doesn’t do Gods bidding, which is usually the Cylons’ bidding. Its an interesting if not delightful vision of God, and an even more delightful vision of God who didn’t do squat to stop mass genocide by encouraging Gaius not to allow the beautiful Cylon alien lover into his life and into his mind.

The existence of evil (genocide, evil deeds, disease, war etc.) doesn’t disprove the existence of God. It also doesn’t prove it. Its just that God seems more interested in making Gaius Balthar a believer than stopping the death of billions of his beloved children.  The existence of a well designed universe (the stars, planets, the beauty and order of the universe, human and non human intellect etc.) neither proves nor disproves the existence of  God. It does however demonstrate a well ordered universe for which a good explanation is needed. If in the case of the well designed universe or the existence of evil or the existence of consciousness or miracles or private revelation, the balance of probability shows in favour of the existence of God (it actually doesn’t by the way – not by a long shot, but go with me on this one) rather than not, this does not in any way constitute what even remotely might be considered a proof of Gods existence. Probability can never replace evidence. You cannot employ scientific methods on a subject (God) and start weighing probabilities. Its something of a desperate attempt to prove the ultimately disprovable. R. Swinburne has a book on it, which I finished recently, or rather dragged myself kicking and screaming through recently. You can get it here. Be warned though, its heavy going and feels at times like logical legerdemain than good argument.

Battlestar Galactica however is addictive viewing. The world ends and a race of robots chase forty thousand human survivors across space as they search for a mythical Earth spoken of in scriptures and prophecies and suffusing the dreams and longings of the leaders and followers with equal measures of hope and despair as they struggle internally to survive with what little they have left. They are outnumbered, outgunned and with a divided leadership with something of a penchant for massive internal strife. Worse still there are enemy agents in their midst, agents that are almost so human that they are indistinguishable from humans, agents who are capable of sexual and psychological manipulation at the highest levels of leadership and of the intelligentsia, of regeneration, resurrection and rebirth. These enemies within, these humans who are not humans who do not know they are not humans, but robots who have yet to be ‘switched on’ Manchurian Candidate style are in a position to destroy the leadership of Battle star Galactica and  perhaps the entire fleet. So the enemy is everywhere. These are foes in which no amount of intelligence gathered  is ever lost, even if you shoot them out an airlock into the cold emptiness of space. They also have a plan, and they seem to have won the war. This space chase for the last forty thousand survivors is a a mere mop up operation, so one might think.

The kinds of tension that such a virtual pressure cooker of circumstances is the complex mind bending, reality distorting, hyper-violent story of Battle star Galactica where nothing is as it seems and God has a plan to save mankind, right down to the tiniest of events, down to what appears to be the most tragic and impossible of circumstances. No event is trivial, no death accidental. Randomness or evolution or natural selection or dreams and hopes and the ancient prophecies are all emanation from the all good all wise all loving God, who has gifted all his beings, whether they be human or robot or a blend of both (Cylon is the name for the robots, and they have evolved into being part machine part organism). Some of the brightest and most brilliant are inadvertent puppets of the Cylons until they discover what evil they have done through their selfishness and negligence and some of the most nondescript of the crew do the most good and make the smartest moves of all. No one in this show is free of wrongdoing, just as no one is completely evil.

This is a series that thankfully defies description and defies convention in the best possible way. Its a space opera and its not. Its feminist and yet some of the female characters commit horrifically unethical acts, pro gay both in the military and in civilian life and yet this is not even an issue that is open to debate, pro equal rights and yet filled with all kinds of injustices, pro democracy yet it feels at times like a military dictatorship. It debates just war theory, the death penalty, the ethics of torture, abortion rights, the limits of democracy, the power of unions in an unjust labour situation, the power and necessity of sexual self expression for a healthy being, the stratification of society, education rights, the value and values of spirituality, the debate between science and religion, polytheism versus monotheism versus strict scientific rationalism versus atheism, historical inevitability and the cyclical nature of history, and the meaning of comedy.

Most of all this is a story that though set in a science fiction genre. As the story progresses, it talks all the time about a plan, a plan set in motion since the beginning where an all benevolent  being wants his children to live together in harmony. This theology is of course debated, dismissed, disparaged, and renewed throughout the story. In the end the answer is there is no answer, but a deepening of the mystery of the human and non human will to live, will to power and will to survival and will to understand, the necessity of reconciliation, and the egoless embracing of  wisdom.

You might be wondering why I called this blog post ‘All along the Watchtower”. Aside from it being one of the most marvellous songs ever written by Bob Dylan performed by Jimi Hendrix, and it being a catchy title for a blog post, its a song deeply embedded in the storyline of Battlestar Galactica. It acts as a mnemonic and a mantra for the continuing self discovery of the central characters. its one whose use you will hopefully love as much as I did when I was finally made to watch this wonderful series.

Feminism and Woody Allen and the accusations meted out against him

 

I recently finished putting together a book with a good friend of mine, the incomparably cool Ajit Kumar, on the equally incomparably cool Doris Lessing. We collected a series of essays on the Author from experts from round the globe and contributed an essay each ourselves. Its due out this year from Seven Towers. Personally I loved writing the piece on Lessing. Previously I had worked on another piece on Virginia Woolf for another volume, and what engaged me more than anything during these writing projects was the absence that hung behind both of these authors, the matrix of patriarchy that they struggled against and wrote against that was everywhere around them and yet at the same time was the most intangible and pernicious of foes. Basically I hold this to be something of a self evident truth when it comes to feminism: 

The notion of any fundamental feminist theory rests not only on the struggle for female reproductive rights but on the idea of every woman’s legal and moral right to control of her own body. Similarly the notion of any fundamental feminist theory does not extend to female political rights but to the primordial recognition of women as co legislator with their male counterpart in any political and legislative dialogue. By extension the notion of any fundamental feminist theory rests not only on the struggle for equal pay between man and woman, but on the parity of productive potential between the sexes and the elimination of all discrimination on gender grounds, especially on the grounds of the necessity of maternity/paternity leave and childcare time. Finally a notion of any fundamental feminist theory postulates women’s full possession of their minds and bodies and thereby the radical elimination of all forms of sexual oppression, of any culture of rape of women, including rape within marriage.

 

I said something not unlike that in the introduction to the Lessing volume, and I unashamedly say I hope this book sells by the truckload. I only wish my essay were half as good as some of the other contributors.

 

I suppose I mentioned the Lessing book to partly announce my feminist credentials, partly because of late I have become obsessed with the life and career of Woody Allen, and why he is being tried and of found guilty in the new incredibly powerful arena of justice – the media – for raping Dylan when she was a child. No evidence of any substance exists to either try or convict Allen of this despite the fact the judge in the case told Allen his behaviour was grossly inappropriate and despite the fact the prosecutor in the case said he had probable cause to prosecute a case against Allen but wouldn’t because of the vulnerability of Dylan as a child and despite the fact that Allen changed his story about being in the Attic that day. If there were actual evidence, rest assured he would be convicted, and should be. What astonished me most is the amount of unclear dubious opinion based conjecture about a Allen’s guilt, especially in the artistic community, and much of it based on the opinion of those whose job it was to prosecute the case, and the presumption of guilt many of the most fair minded people carry about him. This is the hub of it all: Presumption of guilt based on public opinion is extremely dangerous. It involves the handing over of our critical faculties to authorities or to the court of public opinion – not a wise move ever. I personally dislike Allen, and always have, though I love many of his movies. I have no agenda in keeping him out of reach of the law if he committed such a horrific crime. My point is this: the trial by media of Allen does nothing to advance the cause of encouraging victims of abuse to come forward. It is tawdry and vicious and involves the dredging up of events that are two decades old and were already dealt with at length. Further more if there exists evidence he has committed a crime – why not prosecute the case? Furthermore again, how come no other potential victim has ever come forward? The presumption here underlying what I am writing is that the assumption is Dylan is lying or is somehow suffering false memory syndrome. Not at all. I cannot make such an assumption, nor can anyone else.  Nor do I evenly remotely hold such an opinion. If anything the Allen- Mia Farrow – Dylan saga has all the elements of a Greek tragedy where a couple who have long parted ways are still engaged in a terrible almost inevitable struggle thorough the next generation, where each is forced to take sides against the other. It is something we have seen far too often. It can not end well.

 

On a personal note,  I expect my obsession with Allen never to go away. I will be gathering biographies of him, and re reading his books, and maybe even watching a few of his movies. The other good news, having had what is probably my last ultimately pointless debate on Facebook, I finally decided to close my account. I have spent far too much valuable reading time on Facebook, and everything you say and do is harvested in data centres and monitored. There’s real evidence out there to actually support that theory. My friends know how to contact me. That’s all that matters.