Lessons On Boundaries

I’ve been on a hiatus from the life I was leading through most of this year and the last. One notable conversation I had in this time made me realise the importance of boundaries in my life. 

I’ve always been a boundary tester, a rulebreaker, a label hater, an opposer of all things that feel restricting. But now I think I also need to learn how to define and maintain boundaries in my life. It’s very exciting to be able to flow and ebb and dissolve and rise from chaos. But it’s tiring and now it feels futile. 

I think all human beings and interactions need some kind of boundaries but most of our world is entrapped in boundaries set by other people that have become prisons. In that, I have no regrets over who I have been — in testing the world I live in and finding where I want to go, how far and in what way. Boundaries are only good when you set them yourself.

My boundlessness has caused systemic corrections like violent reactions from people, actions that feel like profound betrayals and my own sense of feeling drained and exploited. The cycles I go in are to love in a burst of passionate emotion and give and give because it just feels good to give — attention, affection, objects, time, energy, commitment. Unsurprisingly I’ve drawn takers, most notably the abusive men and a handful of manipulative friendships. 

With complete objectivity, I can see how I fit their scripts as well as they fit mine. But even someone who enjoys giving runs empty eventually. And the fellow actors in my scripts have punished me for not being perennial while having reached a point of not giving anything back. Balance off whack. And the solution? Boundaries, defined better, well and early.

All this is probably really obvious to anybody outside of me. But I can feel this understanding at a cellular level now. I’ve been figuring out what boundaries mean to me (outside of ‘prison’ or ‘control mechanisms’). I’ve been navigating the kind of emotions that rise, how many of them are remembered traumas and how I can proceed in spite of them.

So what has this looked like? It’s been about saying no to a work project, something that caused me a lot of agony because it runs so against the grain of my work ethic (kill myself if need be but deliver, deliver on time, deliver over the promise but DELIVER). I know this comes from a very early place of not fitting into the education and social systems (gender role, nuclear family unit etc.) and so overcorrecting in a bid to ‘be okay’.

It has been about getting off the stage. I needed to face my fears about the stage, I needed to break the victimhood of being gaslit, violated and hit for being visible and I’ve done it all. It was a hard choice getting off the stage once I’d fought my way to it feeling like a place of comfort. Especially so because I wondered whether I would ever get back on again and whether my entire life of performance would have to go hand-in-hand with reliving traumas. Saying goodbye to anyone or anything is always hard only because of this — because you don’t know if it’s the last goodbye. Thankfully, for me it wasn’t. 

And then it was about learning to walk away from situations and people. This was actually the easiest thing to do, perhaps because I’d done the more visible things like work and stage before this. Years of not having a choice of escaping traumatic situations, of being blamed and shamed for those situations made me have to grow a Warrior whose motto was never back down, take everything head on, offense before defense etc. It was so exhausting and it never really felt like me. Worst of all was being related to by the world as if that was my entire being, not just one facet developed as a defense mechanism in certain situations. That’s what all the harassment of last year (“Manhater”) was about. I’m a Creator, not a Destroyer or even a Warrior. Now that I know I can be the other things if I need to, I can retire them until further notice. All I had to do was walk away from some situations.

I’ve found help in watercoloring. Oddly enough, this is the one artistic medium that never appealed to me, even though I actually had some formal instruction in it. Maybe that’s exactly why — anything that came from the system felt like an imposition, an imprisonment to me. I started on watercolours after a friend took it up and shared his works with me. There’s something soothing about working with water, about the gentle brushstrokes, the undramatic (I used to think boring) colours. And I’ve resolved that this will not be one more thing that I turn into a competitive, goal-oriented thing. I’ve been carrying my kit to events, coffee with friends and even meetings. I joked to a friend that this is my new hipster behaviour. He just smiled and said, 

“It’s not a hipster thing, it’s just a Ramya thing.”

which is the nicest thing I’ve been told in a long time. I’ve been painting swatches, squiggly nothings, letters etc. Sometimes they look good, sometimes they’re unmemorable. And always, I feel accompanied, well-adjusted and complete with that brush in my hand.

The results have not been bad at all. I fell sick a fortnight ago — the kind of dark, no-end-in-sight sickness that afflicted my very soul. I couldn’t breathe sometimes and spent hours coughing or gasping or just passed out in some version of asleep. I don’t think this is a coincidence at all. An ex friend once told me that phlegm represents pain. It had to threaten to choke me before I could release it willingly. For the first time in I-can’t-even-remember-how-long, I spent an entire week in bed, not checking my email, not answering my phone, drifting between sleep and fevered wakefulness. The past week has been returning to the world and I’ve given myself permission to do it slowly and without apologising. It hasn’t been bad at all.

I’ve also been meeting friends. Yes, it turns out I do have a lot of friendships and people who are genuinely happy to see me. Some have even been from places I had labelled Trauma Points inside my head — Twitter and Poetry. But I’ve been doing all this with boundaries (as far as possible). Limiting my time, what I say, what I ask about, the things we do.

Maybe a wall can have my back too.

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AgentsOfIshq: ‘You Should Wear Maroon For Your Skin’ And Other Advice I’ve Ignored As A Non-Fair Woman

I’m very thrilled to report that AgentsOfIshq has run my piece on surviving dark skin prejudice and reclaiming my pride. I called the piece ‘Golden Girl’ but they changed it to

You Should Wear Maroon For Your Skin’ And Other Advice I’ve Ignored As A Non-Fair Woman’

which also works, in my opinion. Please go read. It’s not a rant, I promise.

They also carried a collage of my lipart journey, to illustrate how I found my self-worth in colour. I’ve been a longtime fan of this website so I’m very happy to add my story to all the wonderful ones in their collection.

You can also read a version of the same on my own (other) blog XX Factor which is where I usually speak about vanity, sex and other bodily matters.

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August Is Good

Birthday month came and passed. The birthday was sweet. I’m now officially in my last year of being able to write The Thirty Diaries. Soon to be officially middle-aged.

Yesterday I asked a friend if he’d let me know when I started looking old. He paused and said, “Uh okay, if you want me to.” I said yes, I did. I had about as much trouble dealing with the natural fact of ageing as the average person. But I never wanted to be that old person who still thought they were young. That’s all I want to say about Im-feeling-old.

August has been very nice but then it is the month of Leo and this sign is always good to me – with its people and with how it manifests in my own life. I’ve started a couple of new projects. It feels good to feel productive and I’ll admit it, I have missed the nerdy ordinariness of being an office worker. The glamour of entrepreneurship or creative fields have never been their draw for me. And I tired of that very quickly, not the least of which is people’s crazy perceptions about it. “You have such a glamorous life! You’re so lucky to have a talent.” – Sigh, no, it’s a whole lot of grit and hard work, just like any other job. “How irresponsible to quit a respectable job to do this..what is it that you do?” – No more irresponsible than starting a marriage based on other people’s decisions or having a baby because it’s the thing to do and yet here we are Mrs.Motherhood-is-so-haaaard. Oh well, I can flash a little bit of respectability now as needed.

I spent a lovely Sunday dipping into different conversations, events and people’s lives. A literary gathering devoid of the pressure to manage or create or even, well socialise. This is so tiring now. The more I’ve written and performed, the less I find I need to talk to people. I’m quieter inside and outside now, the more expressive I get online and on stage. Another friend catchup disguised as a workshop. And then a party that was unlike anything I’ve attended at least in the last few years. Maybe proximity to the sea does that.

I’ve been meeting more friends and few colleagues or fellow poets. I’ve been letting myself feel the ache of stress in my shoulders, my stomach and my uterus. I’ve been allowing the possibility of crushes or even fleeting interest to breeze through my day. And they pass. August is good, so good. I just wish it weren’t so ephemeral. But maybe that is the beauty of it.

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Closing The Thirties Story

The last time I wrote here, I was on the other side of a birthday. And it just struck me that I’m now in the last leg of The Thirty Diaries. Appropriately, I’ve had an article published on Arre titled ‘My Tinder Bio: Not Here To Mother 20-Somethings‘. My overall mood, as in the article is breezy, slightly scarred but relieved and hopeful.

I’ve started a few work projects and am realigning how I find myself as a professional. My work ethic is always priority so systems, organisation, quality and timeliness are at the forefront. But I’m also considering my health and the moral/emotional implications of my every action. I’ve learnt that I cannot afford to neglect these.

I thought my 20s were dramatic, full of corporate fast-tracking, flashy/useless pedigreed boyfriends, cancer devastation in the family and dealing with the post-millenium (read: Recession-riddled) economy. Have my 30s been saner? Well.

There was the BIG FAILED ENGAGEMENT. This has undeniably coloured my experiences of this decade the most. One part of this is the realisation that relationship matters will always influence my well-being and identity more than other things. After all, my 20s were also driven as response and survival instincts to one heartbreak and one abusive ex. I did become a workaholic, something I recently learnt could be close to a condition called ‘high functioning depressive’. I learnt very early to substitute professional success for emotional stability and romantic happiness. But as with any other addiction with roots in emotional tangles, it created structural cracks in my being. A lot of the things I’ve experienced in my 30s have been these, including the heavy darkness I’ve struggled with through the better part of the decade.

The other side of it is the world’s reactions to me. The 20s were about my fighting back suffocating pressure to couple up and to succeed in tradition-approved ways. I naively thought the 30s would be easier since this pressure eased up as those folks seemingly gave up on me. But the broken engagement brought them crawling back with attacks. As recently as three months ago, people who I’d never met were influencing my work by declaring that I would wreak my married colleagues’ relationships. There’s the r onslaught of people’s expectations on what kind of a ‘Strong Woman’ I should be. It’s countless people outraged that my ex is dating someone, all culminating in the expectations that I should ‘rescue’ the new girl. It’s men I’ve rejected needling me about my failed engagement with statements like “Uske talent ki kadar karni chahiye“. It’s younger people putting me on a pedestal, then expecting me to rescue them from their life decisions and attacking me when I don’t play knight in feminist armour. No, the world is just as awful in my 30s, albeit in a different way.

In that sense, my script is still the same. I’m constantly at war with the world because of who I am. I have to be, because the only choice is to surrender to a life of silent harassment and abuse. There have been a lot of times in my 30s where I’ve felt like I couldn’t go on (which I never felt in my 20s). The ‘magical’ rescues in the form of career wins and passionate friendships have been fewer. Or maybe I’ve just felt the shadows deeper. This is, I’m learning, who I am. I feel fear deeply and my reactions to it may seem disproportionately strong. I am a crab. I retreat into my shell and in that sense, I’ve done that with my entire bruised and assaulted past.

I went to a condolence visit this week, in honour of a deceased family friend, the mother of one of my school classmates. I was quiet and awkward. My past does not give me a reason to feel comfortable or happy in it. I was overwhelmed by the people expressing great warmth and pleasure on seeing me. I also met people who had not been nice to me (notably this gentleman who shuffled awkwardly, then asked why I wasn’t married). I realised that people who harass other people about their romantic choices or their bodies are desperately unhappy about their own. I told him, “I don’t think I need a reason to NOT get married, I need a reason to be married.” He shrugged and then said, “Yeah, that’s right. Smart you are. Don’t make that mistake. No one is happy.”. Sigh, strange as it may sound, that did not vindicate me. I don’t want to hear about other people’s misery, least of all people who’ve added to mine.

Almost magically (so I guess magic is actually still a part of my life), my Arre article showed up online just that instant. It felt like the universe was telling me that all things were okay. The three year old grand-daughter of the lady who passed, came and sat on my lap and told me stories. Her mother hugged me and I learnt that she’s a Ph.D., making me very proud of the world I came from, even if it wasn’t always nice.

And this morning, this picture came up on my memories. Maybe life is about creating your place in the universe. Or maybe it’s about discovering it. I hope I can enter the 40s with wonder.

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I really like this picture of myself. I think it's because I remember the exact moment I took it. Yes, it's a selfie! I was experimenting with my new phone, my first cutting edge, high end one. It was a year after my world crashed around me and people expected me to shrivel up and die (because apparently the only other choice after a failed engagement is for the woman to become a marriage-wreaker). Of course I was devastated. But astonishingly I still felt hungry, laughed at funny things, blushed when a nice looking member of the opposite sex noticed me and felt good about looking good. Vanity was a sin in the world I grew up in but when my world crashed, all bets were off the table. This was shot just before I went to a Landmark Session, as I spent the hour before enjoying the sunset on Marine Drive. When that experience never gets old, then how can I? As long as there's a sunset over the water, I'll still belong to this world no matter how many of the millions wish I didn't. #throwback #nostalgia #selfie #selfies #selfie_time #selfienation #vanity #flyingsolo #allthesingleladies #recovery #healing #selfrespect #independence #feminism

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Judgements In June

Judgements. Let’s think about that.

Last month a stranger told me that their first impression of me was that I was an attention-seeker. I’ve analyzed this statement in so many ways. What’s wrong with liking attention and seeking it? How do we assign very different judgements to the same conclusion? Why is your first thought of a stranger, the most uncharitable view that you can take about them? What does it say about you when you react to the unknown with a negative view?

I pondered why I was thinking so deeply about a stranger’s words. Because they pricked. Even as I’m unapologetic in my art, my words and dressing, I know that a lot of people consider ‘attention-seeker’ an insult. For a stranger to assign one of the worst labels they could think of to me, when they didn’t even know me – feels like unprovoked malice. Why, why would you want to hurt me when I didn’t do anything to you? Except exist, that is.

They said, they had read my blogs later and decided that I deserved the right to do what I liked with my body and my life. But shouldn’t that be any person’s right, regardless of their backstory? Do my past traumas serve as tickets to your empathy? Why are we so stingy in our willingness to treat other human beings as deserving of kindness, empathy and warmth?

In the same conversation, I said,

We are all looking for our own stories. Judgement is really a fear that our stories are not what we’d like them to be.

And as soon as I said it, I knew it was true. Nice, hmm? 🙂 Yes, that happens to writers sometimes. We realise the truth as we voice it. Maybe that’s why compliments makes us feel like frauds – because I don’t know any better than you where that thought came from but it just happened to enter the universe through my words.

Maybe human beings don’t really judge because actual judgement is an objective analysis and does not change based on who you are and how you are feeling. Maybe human beings react with fear and call it judgement. And how can you feel anything but empathy for someone who is too scared to empathize back?

 

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This is not new. But it is a fresh look at a bleak world. Stay kind, always. It may be the only hope someone else has. And someday, that someone may be you. The last time I was where I went today, someone saw my patterned lips and decided to think the very worst of me. Judgement is cold, cruel and reduces someone's personhood. They told me about this opinion much later, after learning about my life and deciding that I deserved to do as I liked. I think a person's backstory should not matter. Kindness is universal, 24 x 7 and free. If you cannot be kind in your mind to a person, do not let them occupy space in your mind at all. It's really better that way, for you and for the world. Keep the stories in your head cruelty-free. This is a #NyxAmethyst heart painted on freestyle atop #FacesCanada Addicted. The eyes are #Colorbar Amethyst Spark with #LakmeAbsolute ShineLine and some #L'Oréal SilverSpice for highlights. The speckled peace of mind is my own. #peace #mentalhealth #crueltyfree #kindness #empathy #beauty #style #fashion #makeup #makeupblogger #lips #lipart #lipstick #IWear #ILip

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The news of Anthony Bourdain’s death has triggered off a waterfall of statements about mental illness, about suicide, about depression and more. I’m trying to stay away from it all because it’s so triggering, the thought that some of the same people mouthing these words are so cruel, so vicious and so thoughtless otherwise. It shouldn’t take a death to remind you to be human and if it does, I’d like to think that the reminder lasts longer than a few days. But perhaps that’s just the way my tired mind is working these days so I’m best kept away from the breaking news analysis.

I am no mental health professional or even activist. But I think we would all benefit from being just a little kinder in our minds. This doesn’t mean big, flamboyant gestures. It doesn’t have to be about massive charities or over generous contributions or zealous activism. It just means be a little slower to judging other people. It’s actually a better way to live too. Being kind is an act of generosity. You can only feel generous when you feel abundant. And you must feel abundant in order to be abundant.

I just thought I’d share that. June begins on a more hopeful note, which is odd for me since I don’t like monsoon (triggered allergies mean three months of labored breathing). Still, it’s the half year mark, it’s a month to my birthday, it’s the season of hope for our agricultural economy so in all things, it is about looking up. I hope you’re doing okay, I hope the world will be kind to you and I hope you’ll remember to be the same.

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Perspective

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

The View Changes Everyday

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

Insomnia

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

 

The World Will Always Have Crying Children

I was watching Greenleaf, the Netflix show about Black Christianity. The episode showed a young child born with health complications and having to undergo numerous operations to live and a family struggling to let him go and be released of pain. Every time the sleeping child was shown on screen, I cried. The series also tracks a serial child predator. Nothing gory has been depicted (yet) but these seem linked. The child on the operating table was probably just the story giving its viewers a chance to cry and grieve over the fate of children.

In a life where nothing seems to be real or honest anymore, the only thing I feel moved by, is children. Children in hope, children in pain. I carefully avoided writing about or thinking too much about Asifa Bano earlier this year. I know I was being self-preservationist. That was okay too lately it hasn’t been feeling right.

Last week I was reading a book called Rust & Stardust, a true crime account of the events that inspired Nabokov’s Lolita. It brought up so much and I think that is still continuing. I always thought triggering things took a person back to an experienced past trauma of the same nature. I did not expect to be reliving violence, gaslighting alongside the sexual abuse I’ve experienced. It was a lot.

I remember where the story of my abuse stopped. The actual actions had ended years earlier and with minimal pain. Now that I know other survivors, I know I was lucky — I was not related to my perpetrator, he did not penetrate and my family believed me when I told them what my guitar teacher was doing. I was so lucky that gaslighting was not added to the trauma. Years later, I saw my guitar teacher at the doctor’s clinic. And he looked so old and tired and fragile, I could feel nothing but pity for him. Pity. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf tells Frodo about Bilbo that

“Pity stayed his hand. Pity probably saved his life.”

(I can’t find the above quote in exact in the book so I guess I’m remembering the movie). Pity definitely saved me from living a life inside a horror movie. I know this because I lived with someone who does that, who can only see monsters in love and has turned into a monster themselves.

Back then, I also remember reading Lolita, possibly around the same time as my run-in with my music teacher. The book also changed my life. It allowed me to see him as just a man, a human being and not a larger-than-life demon. It allowed me to stop being afraid, if that makes any sense.

 

 

 

I was silent for nearly a decade, probably because I really was okay after that and maybe that’s also my way of processing. Ten years later, The Vagina Monologues triggered the memory again, allowing me to take it out and examine the feelings at work there. When I said Lolita had helped me get over it, I encountered a lot of upset reactions. People got angry, people felt self-righteous then remembered I was a survivor too so got self-conscious.

Speaking to Harrish Iyer was one of the saner parts of this journey and possibly how we became friends — because we had each made decisions to not be victims in the situations that we found ourselves in.

When I read the story of Sally Horner, I was horrified at a whole new level. The story Lolita is a tidy, sweetened account in comparison to what happened to the actual victim. I felt I owed it to her and other victims like her to read the book.

It is making me go all volcanoes and lava inside and then the exhaustion of tears. It’s bringing up memories of other traumas I’ve suffered. And the world around is not made for dealing well with it. This week someone I considered a close confidant (who had sat with me as I cried through the book while reading it) told me that I was being paranoid and negative and imagining that the world was against me.

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ALWAYS MAKE ROOM FOR THE FLOWERS This was shot at a 2012 Open Mic at IBar. I was neck deep in a bad life. I had quit a respectable life 2 years earlier. I had wandered into Open Mics that had just begun and quickly fallen into a relationship with someone I met there. Before I knew it, I was stuck inside a cage, tiptoeing around the explosive emotions of someone who did not really like me, hated anyone who seemed like competition. I stopped performing (or reading since that's what we used to do then) because it was just easier than dealing with the punishment. I also stopped going out and meeting friends, stopped talking to people. This was partly because he didn't like it but also because no one in the world was interested in knowing that a human being still existed under the label of 'girlfriend'. I had committed the crime of being single till 30, then dating someone younger than me and living with him before marriage so I was made to feel like I should be grateful I was not getting whipped in the street. My only outings beyond domestic chores were the fortnightly Open Mics where I was grudgingly tolerated so long as I played his adoring audience. On one such Monday, I waited all day for evening to come. It had been a very difficult few days, struggling to cope with his family's 'Hum to ladkewale hain' misbehaviour, his gaslighting abuse and my own financial worries (I couldn't work but all expenses were still split in half). We left in total silence and walked to the road. As he hailed a cab, I said, "Wait" – the first thing that had been said all evening. I turned and bought this flower from a seller on the road. He raised his eyebrows, smirked and then fell silent, probably deciding to save his barbs for his rap set coming up later. I know it's a weird thing to carry a flower in your hand just because. People assume that a woman with a flower has been gifted that by a man (everyone at the venue cooed over how romantic he must be, noting the engagement ring on my finger as well – also visible in the picture). But that night, this flower held my hand like no lover or friend ever has. #nostalgia #flower #memory #abuse #gaslighting #IPV #GBV

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This time round, I know what to do. I ended that conversation. I was angry with this person that day but now I am not. They are unable to deal with a world that is so ugly and I do not judge them for it. But I do not need to bear the trauma of their gaslighting in addition to my own.

I also think (and I can only speak for myself here) that we must be mindful of triggers but we don’t all have avoid them. I must face these triggers when they occur — maybe slowly, selectively and in my own ways. To avoid them would be to live fearfully which is not something I want to be, a creature of fear. It also dishonors the traumas faced by people to avoid and thus invalidate them. I’ve had it done to me so many times, I am not about to do that.

Sally Horner died in 1952, Asifa Bano in 2018 but what happened to them, happens to countless other people in hundreds of different ways, every day. Adults hurt children, men hurt women physically and emotionally. I cannot change the world (though I want to think I’m damn well doing my part with XXFactor, SXonomics and more). But at least I can make sure to honour what happens and bear witness to these lives.

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A little ornament for my mirror. This is my Upsy-daisy to remind me that at least my reflection will smile at me. It has been a hard two days. First I made my way through a very triggering book on child abuse, for work. It brought up so much baggage, I'm still bruised internally. Then I was cut out of two different conversations about a trauma I had suffered. I met another friend to take my mind off the wounding stuff only to realise they were going through something very hard. And finally someone I considered a confidant who I had spoken to about being abused tried to convince me that I was just being 'negative' and 'paranoid'. Okay, this is not okay but I am. What does that mean? It means happiness and trust in this horrible world are distant dreams for me. But I'm not letting the people around me project their fears onto me. Maybe we are all monsters inside but some of us can live with that. This is for the flowers that still blossom in this city, regardless of its hate, its greed and pollution. #crochet #flower #flowers #daisies #crafts #craft #craftsmanship #craftswoman #craftswomanship #needlework #crafting #Ideart

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Let the tears flow. Let the flowers bloom. Let the children cry.

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If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page and the Youtube channel. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram.

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