Of Stoplights And The Law Of Averages

Because I got nothin’ else at the moment.

There are ten stoplights between my house and work. (I know, it’s a short commute.)

Of those ten, I will always stop at three in particular—no matter when I leave, or how many of the others I have to stop—or don’t stop—at.

Beyond that, it’s a crap shoot. Some days I can breeze through with only four total stops, other days it’s six. On rare occasions I hit only those three lights red, and on very rare occasions I end up stopping at 9 out of 10 (one intersection is always green).

But on average I stop at five lights on my morning commute.

Wasn’t that exciting?

Summer In The City

I am generally not a fan of summer.

Surprisingly, it isn’t because of the 6-8 weeks of +110℉ temps we endure in Phoenix; that I can deal with. It’s because of the early morning light.

As I’ve gotten older, my sleep patterns have become increasingly erratic. I’m almost always in deep sleep within moments of my head hitting the pillow and usually have no recollection of Ben coming to bed. Some (rare) nights I don’t wake up until my alarm goes off. Other nights are a series of one hour blocks of sleep punctuated by half-to-full hour gaps of wakefulness—or a single incident of waking around 4 am and then tossing and turning until I finally fall back to sleep moments before the alarm goes off. Thankfully, most nights are usually just a single incident of getting up to use the bathroom (something I’ve done since I was a teenager, so no…it’s not my aging plumbing) and then falling right back to sleep upon returning to bed.

I understand that sleep problems are a grossly underreported aspect of aging. I know my dad suffered as he got older, and when I was in my 30s I was incredulous when he told me he’d wake up at 3 in the morning and more often than not, struggle—or not be able at all—to get back to sleep.

I’m also beginning to understand why he had sheets of black plastic completely covering his bedroom windows.

We have dark grey curtains in the bedroom. Closing them—and the blinds behind—does an decent job of keeping the room dark at night. But at this time of year with the sun coming up so early, the room still starts getting light around 5 am. It also doesn’t help that the dogs have reset their internal clocks to match the sun. They used to sleep until my alarm went off at 6; now they’re crawling on top of me anywhere from 5-5:30, demanding to be let out.

I can’t tell you the last time I woke up fully refreshed from a typical night’s sleep. Lately it seems I’m as exhausted—or more so—than when I went to bed. The one recent time I do remember waking fully recharged and feeling good was either a Saturday or Sunday a couple months ago where I got up at the usual time, piddled around the house for an hour or so and then went back to bed, sleeping in until shortly after noon.

Me, Today

No energy today. Slept in until 10 a.m. Got up and mowed the front yard before it got too warm. Started laundry. Vegged in front of the computer/television the rest of the day. Fighting the urge to take a late-afternoon nap right now…

Something Something Arrow Backwards Something

There is a quote that is something along the lines of If it feels life is drawing you backwards it’s only because the Archer is drawing back his arrow to let you fly. Or something. I know I either blogged the original quote or sent it to multiple people in an email, but I’ll be damned if I can find a trace of it anywhere.

I kept that quote in mind as I was slogging through my employment at DISH, knowing that things couldn’t get much worse and the only direction I could go was up.

The other day it dawned on me that this could also be an apt description of society and civilization as well. Sometimes it just needs to feel like everything is going backward in preparation for a truly monumental leap forward.

Maybe that’s what is happening with the current situation in these United States. The longer 45 is in office, the more we’re drawn backward, but once he’s gone we’ll spring forward and regain everything that was lost and more with an energy and intensity not seen since the end of World War II.

At least that’s what I’d like to believe.

On Getting Old

I am finally coming to grips that I am no longer a young man. I am no longer in a targeted demographic and not only have the leaves fallen from the trees in the seasons of my life, the first cold blush of winter is fast approaching.

Last week a dear friend whom I’ve known since we were both in our early 30s turned 60. I sent him a birthday greeting inscribed:

Turning 30: We couldn’t wait. We were now adults.
Turning 40: We laughed it off by exchanging nose hair clippers as gifts.
Turning 50: We rationalized it. 50 is still middle age, right?
But damn Skippy, 60 is OLD!

And with us both being part of that generation that was decimated by AIDS in the 1990s, I hastened to add, “But all that really matters is that you’re still here and I am so happy because of that!”

My dad always told me that the 30s were the best years of one’s life and that I should live them to the fullest. Unfortunately I squandered the greater portion of that decade pining over a man who would never give me what I wanted and trying desperately to fill the void that left behind, but when I look back I’d have to say that yes, in spite of that I still worked those years for all they were worth. [oink]

But it wasn’t until my 40s—and the cancer diagnosis halfway through that decade—that I finally became comfortable in my own skin. Instead of constantly beating myself up over not ever losing those 20 pounds so I would feel confident enough to wear a tank top to the Pride Parade, it was far easier (and more satisfying) to just accept who I was, love it, and move on.

And with apologies to my dad, I would have to say that my 50s—despite the career ups and downs—has been if not the best, then at least the most…satisfying so far.

Now I’m not even remotely close to having one foot in the grave yet, but if I am to be completely honest with myself—based solely on the lifespans of the men in my family—and barring anything unforeseen (accident, incurable terminal illness, being sent to a Nazi Death Camp or Nuclear annihilation stemming from an ill-timed Presidential tweet), I probably have about another 25-30 years ahead of me.

And I’m okay with that. Being this age affords me the luxury of no longer suffering fools gladly and allows me to speak my mind perhaps more often than I probably ought to and still get away with it. Of course it also has drawbacks, almost all of them physical. I can’t go bounding up and down stairs the way I used to. Getting up off the floor has become a major proposition. And the knees. OMG, the knees. But considering the other myriad health issues I’ve dealt with over the course of my life, this stuff is small potatoes.

And I love small potatoes!



…even with as much as I hate snow, the idea of this (i.e. living in the middle of nowhere, away from all the insanity) is looking better and better.

I doubt I’m alone in this…


Bodies aren’t meant to stay the same. We are supposed to grow and change. We shouldn’t be making people in their 30’s, 40’s, 50’s, etc. feel like they need to strive for the bodies they had in their teens and 20’s. Or making people feel like they ‘need to get their bodies back’ after they have had children. These mindsets aren’t healthy and change is inevitable.”

As I’ve written about before, I have to say that cancer (and to a lesser extent, simply getting older) was my own body image wake up call. Among the other things it changed in my life, cancer obliterated my decades-long obsession with losing weight. Except for during my 20s when I wore size 31 jeans, I’ve always been—in Sears catalog parlance—husky, and when the weight started padding on in my mid-30s, my mantra became, “If I could only lose another 20 lbs. I could…wear tank tops to pride parades, get a boyfriend, win the lottery, blah, blah, blah.” (Truth be told, even when I was wearing size 31 jeans I considered myself fat.) After I came through on the other side of the cancer treatment however, for the first time in my life, none of that was important any more. I was actually comfortable in my own skin and I learned that it was so much easier to just take care of myself, eat as healthy as possible, and simply accept who I was rather than to fixate on what size jeans I had to buy.


I just can’t any more.

I’m tired of having to “Mark All As Read” the entire contents of the Politics folder of my RSS Reader multiple times on a daily basis without actually opening anything. After the abysmally depressing things I read today (and still reeling from the knowledge—glaringly obvious to anyone who didn’t vote for the joker in the first place—that not only is Trump fundamentally unqualified to be President, he and the Cabinet of Deplorables® he’s surrounding himself with are fundamentally unprepared for the Presidency) tonight I deleted all the feeds completely.


I’m sure that come tomorrow I’m gonna be jonesing for an outrage fix, and I’ll still go to the various websites manually now and then to stay informed, but the daily—nay, hourly—barrage of horrible news has become too much for me. When the possibility was raised today that any number of America’s nuclear-capable enemies might take immediate advantage of Trump’s ineptitude following his swearing-in, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

And considering this news, reading nothing but whining coming from the tech blogs over Apple’s new MacBooks, I have a feeling that my “Tech” folder may be next on the chopping block.

As Ben Teaches His Students…

…actions have consequences.

We’ve filed for bankruptcy.

Obviously this was not a decision that we came to hastily, but rather one that we’ve been mulling for nearly a year. The single greatest precipitator of this was the loss of income we’ve both suffered by moving back from Denver. Ben knew beforehand that he’d take a cut in pay by returning to Phoenix, but I foolishly believed that while I knew I wouldn’t immediately return to my pre-Denver salary (earned through years of raises at a single company), I would at least match what I was making in Denver; not have to return to what I was making in the 1990s.

Unfortunately our financial obligations were based on maintaining something close to what we’d been making in Denver, not to a combined yearly income loss of nearly $20K.

While we were pretty good at juggling our bills, it was obvious we were both slowly sinking into a black hole of debt that nothing short of a much better paying job, a winning lottery ticket—or bankruptcy—would ameliorate.

This is something I’ve never had to deal with before, so I am understandably upset—even though almost everyone I know (family and friends alike) have gone through bankruptcy at least once and has come out the other side okay.

Ben fell behind on his car payments to such a degree that the creditor was not only threatening immediate repossession, but also was also totally unwilling to even consider discussing reaffirming the loan until he brought it current—something we were financially unable to do. So Ben turned in his car. This was a sad day for both of us because many fine adventures were had with Marvin. (My Anderson is long paid for and considered exempt property, so I’m still good on the transportation front.)

Because of this (and any number of other things that have happened over the past nine months) 2016 will henceforth be known as The Year Of Suck in this household.  And we haven’t even gotten to the elections yet—that with Herr Drumpf’s recent rise in the polls in key swing states basically bringing him within the margin of error with Clinton—has me terrified.

“Never underestimate the stupidity of the of the general public.” ~ Scott Adams, (American Cartoonist, b.1957)


Me In Social Settings

And it’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older. But I wasn’t always this way. Yeah, I’d always been somewhat shy, but I was never one to avoid interaction with people. I really think the tipping point was when I lost the full use of my voice and I was no longer able to be heard in loud gatherings. I think that also speaks to my discomfort in large crowds…

That could also be why I took to blogging with such gusto—and against all odds stay with it. In its own twisted way, it allows me to be heard.

For Posterity, Warts and All

Inspired by seeing Joe Orton’s obsessive diary keeping as depicted in the film Prick Up Your Ears, I began to record my own life events—both mundane and salacious—from late 1987 until mid 2002.

Lately I’ve been going through those old journals, attempting to convert them from  their original ancient Word and WordPerfect formats into something readable on today’s equipment. Word 2016 won’t open any native document prior to the 97-04 format, but Apple’s Preview application has no trouble (go figure), allowing a rather painless cut-and-paste into the new format. But nothing I own will open the old WordPerfect documents save for Apple’s own TextEdit—which unfortunately also displays all the garbage that WordPerfect threw into those documents in addition to the actual text. It’s a very time consuming process to weed that crap out and get it in a usable format. And the very few files that I for some reason password protected—even if was able to recall passwords from 20 years ago—are lost completely.

As I’ve written about before, the Mark who existed prior to the 2003 cancer diagnosis is very different from the one who came out of that ordeal, and nothing has brought that into sharper focus than going over those old entries.

It’s worth noting that while my own obsessive journaling started sputtering out a few months prior, it came to an abrupt end at the time of my diagnosis for two reasons. Firstly, I really didn’t want any written record of the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing at the time because I couldn’t come up with words to describe any of it without sounding full of self-pity, and I was just not that kind of person—knowing full well even then that I was going to come out of it okay. Secondly, only a few months after completing treatment and on my way to a full recovery, I discovered blogging, and while I couldn’t be quite as open and unfettered with my words being published for anyone to see as I could when writing only for myself, blogging did scratch the itch that journaling had ignited.

While I’m not proud of a lot of the things that are recorded in my journals (much of it is embarrassingly cringe-worthy at this point), they do accurately represent one gay man’s journey through his thirties while looking for love and living in San Francisco in the late 80s and 90s. In spite of the AIDS specter constantly looming, there was sex; lots of it. There are many names in those journals of men with whom I was obsessed but am now unable to conjure a face for. There were broken hearts and hearts broken.

San Francisco was even then an extremely expensive place to live, and while I generally made enough to get by (if only barely), angst about money was a recurrent theme. (Some things never change, even now.) But there were also reflections on the magic that existed in that city, whether it was catching sight of the fog spilling over Twin Peaks on an August afternoon, or the way the sun glinted off the bay, or the first evening after daylight savings kicked in and you found yourself walking home from work in the crisp dark air, or something as simple as a smile exchanged with a handsome stranger on the train.

My growing love for technology—and the horrific amount of time and money spent acquiring it—is spelled out in excruciating detail. Trips to computer fairs and installing hardware or software are so obsessively documented that I want to reach back in time and slap the shit out of that Mark, telling him to get the fuck away from that glowing screen and go to the beach!

There were also many a rumination about spirituality and attempting to find meaning and my place in the universe; pondering alien life and reincarnation—oftentimes punctuated in the same entry with a description of an unexpected orgasmic encounter with a total stranger in some public venue.

I knew even as I was recording those encounters for posterity that some day, with older and wiser eyes, I’d recoil in horror, and ask, “What were you thinking?! You were such a fucking asshole!” And sure enough, I now find myself doing exactly that. Really, Mark…you’re damn lucky you didn’t get yourself killed or arrested. ANY NUMBER OF TIMES.

Ah, the innocence of youth.

And yet I am reminded of two quotes from a onetime favorite book, Illusions, the Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah, that I always kept in mind when recording my adventures:

“You are lead through your lifetime by the inner learning creature, the playful spiritual being that is your real self. Don’t turn away from possible futures before you’re certain you don’t have anything to learn from them.”


“Live never to be ashamed of anything you do or say is published around the world—even if what is published is not true.”

I So Need This

I realized the other day it’s been fifteen years since my bare feet last made contact with a beach. It’s no wonder they ache.

The Obligatory End of Year Post

As 2015 rapidly spins down into memory, I figured it was a time to take quick stock of the past year.

It’s been an interesting one, that’s for sure. I don’t think either Ben or I anticipated moving back to Phoenix—at least not this year—and yet that’s exactly what happened. I wish I could say it was a bittersweet departure from Denver, but I can’t. On the other hand, I also have no regrets about the past four years we spent there. We wanted an adventure, and that’s exactly what we got in Colorado.

As for the two resolutions I’d made a year ago, I managed to fulfill both of them. What a shock! I’ve taken a a lot more pictures than I did in 2014, and I got the hell out of DISH.

Now if only the next chapter in my employment saga would start, I’d be a happy guy.

In March, we visited Ben’s cousin and his partner in Atlanta, then drove to Columbia to spend a day with our friend John. At the end of May, we saw Bianca Del Rio’s Rolodex of Hate, and last month we saw Chris Hardwick’s Funcomfortable show.

Next year I’m looking forward to taking more photographs and seeing Donald Trump’s campaign (and by extension the entire republican slate) implode, wither and die. And then there’s the whole getting a job thing that needs to happen sooner rather than later.

A large winning lottery ticket would also be nice. But I guess we’d have to play in order to win…

Well Now I’m Just ANGRY

A couple weeks ago I got a call from a recruiter back east. Normally I don’t bother working with out-of-state agencies because it has been my experience that it’s a complete waste of my time and resources: I send them everything but a blood sample and I never hear a word back from them. But this one sounded a bit different (and actually spoke English), so I went ahead with all the required paperwork and actually landed an interview with a local company. The position was described as “customer service/deskside support.” It was with a well-known financial services company that ironically occupied the same building of the company that summarily dismissed me twelve years ago after I received my cancer diagnosis.

The recruiter was serious about getting me in there and hired, so much so that the account manager coached me on the phone yesterday at length about the type of questions I’d be asked (he had actually worked for this particular company prior to going into recruiting) and offered some very useful tips about how to turn the interview to my advantage.

I was still nervous as hell when I arrived at the today because I hate selling myself—and as experienced I am in my field, I am notoriously bad at answering off the cuff technical questions. (“Where in the Windows registry do you find x?”) As it turned out, however, I shouldn’t have been so worried. The position they were interviewing for bore no resemblance at all to the description they’d given the recruiter. It was a call center help desk position and I’d be on the phones 100% of the time. It was also third shift.

Needless to say, it was the shortest interview I’d ever had. I explained this was not what had been sold to me by the recruiter, and thanked them for their time. Even the I.T. Director who was sitting in on this said he was surprised that with my background and experience I’d was applying for this particular job.

I went out to my car and called the recruiter. I explained what had happened and she verified the job description they’d been given. Nowhere did it mention “100% phones” or that it was third shift. She apologized profusely.

And to think I lost sleep last night worrying about all the possible interview questions that would be thrown at me today.

I’m disappointed, yes. But more than anything else, I’m angry. I’m angry because I thought this might actually be “the one.” As I’ve quipped on Twitter, “Looking for a job is like looking for love. You have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find your prince.”

Adding insult to injury, while sitting in my car talking to the recruiter who sent me to this debacle, I received a call from a local recruiter I’m working with who informed me that I was not selected for the State job I’d interviewed for last week. This was the second time I’d interviewed with those folks, and the second time I did not get selected. And of course, the recruiter got absolutely no feedback from the client as to my performance in the interview, so I have no idea what I could’ve done differently to win them over.

I hate interviewing because you never know what kind of crazy ass questions you’re going to be asked. Two weeks ago I interviewed for a short-term contract at a firm I’d contracted with back in the late 90s that also went nowhere. I was asked to describe how to make a PBJ sandwich. Seriously. (Okay, now that I know why that particular question was asked it does make a little bit of sense in the Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass environment that is modern Corporate America, and I’ll have the proper response ready if I’m asked it—or something similar—again, but it caught me totally off guard at the time.)

Just as a job seeker you’re looking for your prince, companies also seem to be looking for someone who fits their pre-defined glass slipper perfectly, and I’m starting to feel like one of the ugly step sisters.

But I am trying to stay positive. I keep reminding myself that after my position “had been eliminated” following my cancer diagnosis, it was nearly a year before I was working again full time, and we’re not even halfway to that point yet. And I also gained a few good interviewing tips from this experience that I hadn’t known previously.

Still, I’d like to get back to work because every day that I’m away from the enterprise computing environment, the more my skill let deteriorates and my ability to answer those off-the-cuff technical questions with any degree of accuracy gets even worse.

Advice to My 20 Year Old Self

A meme I’ve noticed making the rounds recently is “Things I Would Tell My Younger Self.”

As fascinating as this little thought experiment might be, I long ago realized that alerting my younger self to any of the myriad major things I might wish to warn him about—assuming he would even listen—would ultimately fundamentally change the course of my life, and as much as I bitch and complain about aspects of it at times, I wouldn’t change it for the world.

So to prevent any major life alterations—as much as I might want to tell him to buy a thousand dollars worth of Apple stock in July 1982 and hold onto it no matter what, if I had to offer up advice, I’d ask him to only do three things:

  • Do not toss out the notebooks of classic audio gear brochures he collected in the late 1970s, because he’ll want them someday to remind himself that audio equipment wasn’t always black plastic crap—and if nothing else, they’ll be worth a lot of money.
  • Do not toss out any of his architectural drawings. I know they’re a pain in the ass to move, but trust me…he’ll want them someday to remind himself that he actually once knew how a house went together.
  • Do not give the notebooks of Hallcraft floor plans and renderings he collected into Dad’s care. He’ll just throw them out, and someday he’ll will want them to scan and post on a website. Never mind he doesn’t understand what those words mean. He will soon enough.

Because in the area of things, these are the only items he will regret no longer possessing.

Health issues, jobs, friends, and love affairs…just let them unfold on their own. Own the scars. Each and every one of them will put him on the course that will ultimately lead him into Ben’s arms, and when that time comes, he wouldn’t want to change that for the world.


Well That’s Unfortunate

I took Anderson into the MINI dealer yesterday to have some recall work done (the passenger seat air bag sensor that’s been wonky for the last six years). While the recall repair didn’t cost me a dime, I got the car back with a multi-page list of recommended repairs. Thankfully, none of them were critical, and all the major mechanical systems were in good shape. But still, the total (should I win the lottery and decide to have the work done) for all the recommended repairs came to a whopping $3400. Even if I were working, this would still have given me pause.

Curiosity drove me over to the Edmunds Blue Book site to see what the car was actually worth at this point, and I came away severely disillusioned; it came in at $164 less than the cost of repairs.

Before I left the dealer, I asked the Service Manager about two cosmetic items that didn’t appear on the estimate: the passenger headlight lens and the driver’s side seat cover.  The passenger headlight lens has gotten severely oxidized over the last two years. I tried buffing it out myself with one of those $25 kits a little over a year ago, but the results were…disappointing. But yes, the dealer had some voodoo magic capable of bringing it back to like new for a meager $40-60. The other item was the rapidly disintegrating edge of the driver’s side seat cover. Because of the way I get into and out of the vehicle, this has been an issue with every car I’ve owned; the difference being the damage is much more extensive this time because of the mileage I’ve racked up on Anderson. I paid a premium for leather seats in the last couple cars I’ve owned, erroneously believing that the leather would handle the abuse a bit better. (Hint: it doesn’t.)

The Service Manager suggested getting the seat cover done through a local upholstery shop, since because of the age of the car MINI probably wouldn’t have any more in stock and would have to custom fabricate one anyway, making it hella expensive (well over $1000 just for the cover itself, not including installation).

I’m not averse to getting a new MINI as an alternative to shelling out that chunk of change (plus an additional $1600 down the line for a new clutch in about 20K miles) once I’m gainfully employed again—but I’ve enjoyed not having car payments these past couple years, and frankly it’s not going to be easy to say goodbye to lil’ Anderson in any case. We’ve had some grand adventures, and I’ve can honestly say I’ve never bonded with a car the way I have with this one.

So yeah.

All this has done is contribute to what I can only describe as a sense of melancholy that has overtaken me of late. Between this, my recent aborted employment adventure that I had so hoped would be “the one,” some ongoing problems Ben is having with one of his students, the general level of stupidity screeching from a certain portion of the population, and the fact I’m pretty much sleeping like crap every. single.night, I’m feeling drained.

I think Ben and I are both also feeling a little disappointed that our return to Phoenix hasn’t been full of sparkle unicorns shooting rainbows out their asses as we’d hoped. When I start feeling that way however, I have to remind myself that it usually takes a year or so for me to get into the groove of a new place after a move. While Phoenix isn’t “new” to me per se, relocation is still considered a major life change and stress producer.

At least it’s finally cooled down and we can turn off the air conditioning for the year.

How’s that for a non-sequiteur?


Too Much STUFF

I came to the realization this morning that I am a digital hoarder—and I suspect so are a great many other people.

The only reason there aren’t intervention shows about it is because the hoarding is virtual and hidden. There are no horrific physical piles of stuff for camera crews to step over; you won’t ever be found dead in your home, buried under a pile of roach-infested garbage, but I suspect the problem is just as real.

Why else would companies now regularly be shipping terabyte drives with their new systems?

I came to this realization this morning while trying to clear out my downloads folder. This is where I throw everything from software installers to cat memes and nekkid menz. When I started there were over a thousand items. I’m down to about two hundred and at the point where I just want to do the equivalent of shoving it all in a closet; moving it all into my equally unruly “to be sorted” folder just to get “downloads” cleared out. The irony is that nothing in the “to be sorted” folder ever gets sorted and currently stands at over a thousand items itself.

And don’t even get me started on my meticulously curated “Menz” folder. I remember back in 2002 a friend dubbed me “The Porn King of Phoenix” when I had something like 10,000 pictures. Now I’ve got six times as many and frankly I don’t even know why any more. Years ago when I was living in San Francisco I stopped going to the pride parades because I thought, “How many pictures of pretty men do I really need to take?”

I know some of this hoarding comes from blogging. I run across a handsome face or other interesting picture and think, “I’ll repost that.” Most of the time it happens, but there’s a higher probability that it will simply get filed away and forgotten. I fear that if you compare what I’ve actually posted to what I’ll culled off the internet with the intention of reposting we’d both be shocked.

Dare I say it’s the same thing as my late father’s habit of keeping stuff—and by stuff I mean junk—because as he used to say, “I’ll need it someday.”

I know without even looking that hundreds of images in my collection that are 800 x 600 pixels in size or smaller could easily be classified as junk now, simply because the resolution is so poor and need to be discarded—regardless of their content.

Time to start weeding.

Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.

I’m not going to just throw all the stuff in a closet; I’m going to do the equivalent of buying a storage shed and transfer everything onto an external hard drive. Out of sight, out of mind, but still accessible if I “need it someday.”

Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt, y’know.

You are not here…

You are not here just to fill space or be a background character in someone else’s life.

Consider this: Nothing would be the same if you did not exist. Every place you have ever been and everyone you have ever spoken to would be different without you.

We are all connected, and we are all affected by the decisions and even the existence of those around us.