What’s A Time-Slip Novel?

The other day, when I was asked on Goodreads’ Ask An Author, “Where did you get the designation “time slip? I’ve not seen that before,” I was reminded that I hadn’t seen that term either before I published my debut novel, A CRY FROM THE DEEP

No, I didn’t know about time slip, only time travel. I’d read Diana Gabaldon’s novel, OUTLANDER, and in fact, an old movie—I’ll Never Forget Youabout a scientist who goes back in time and falls in love—inspired me to write my story.

Time SlipI first learned about time slip from David Burnett, of The Kindle Book Review. He had emailed me and told me he couldn’t find my book online to post his review.  He had received an e-book in advance of my publishing date, one of a number I had sent out on spec. (My plan was to have reviewers in place so that when my novel went on sale, the reading public would have some idea of what they were getting.)

I wrote David back, telling him that my book wasn’t published yet, but would be soon, and would he mind if I contacted him when it came out, so that he could post his review? At that point, I had no idea of what he might say, but my thinking was a review was better than no review. And those who are starting out with their debut novels know how important reviews are.

David replied, “You better let me know as I’m giving you a five star review.” Now, how wonderful is that?

When my book was published on Oct. 15, 2014, and David posted his review, I noted that he mentioned, “in a time slip novel”, etc. etc.  His term time slip both delighted and surprised me, as I hadn’t known there was such an entity.

Though a time travel story inspired my romantic mystery, I had used time in a different way. My protagonist, Catherine Fitzgerald, dips into the past for brief periods, in other words,  she slips in and out and out of time quickly and briefly, each time slip triggered by an image, a scene, or an object. How I  came up with that, I have no idea, but I do believe that Catherine had a say in it.

That is why I had such joy writing this story, as the characters spoke to me on occasion. And if you think that’s crazy, ask any writer. When you’re in the zone, the characters come to life and give direction. In fact, I had so much fun telling this tale, that I’ve now begun to write a time travel Y/A novel. I hope I can manage to finish this one, as it’s kind of personal.

For more on time slip, see Wikipedia.

Have you heard about time-slip stories before? And if so, can you recommend any? And thank you in advance for any comments. Always love to hear from readers.

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Cuba and Hemingway

Having just returned from two weeks in Havana, I have so many stories bubbling in my head. One of them has to do with Nobel prize-winning author, Ernest Hemingway. There are tours given by a number of operators to all of his haunts: the bars he frequented, the hotel room where he wrote, and his home outside of Havana.

It’s not surprising that he’s so revered by OldmanseaCubans. He loved the country and the people so much that when he won the Nobel prize for his novel, The Old Man And The Sea, he gave his award to the Cuban people for inspiring his  story.

Essentially, this book is about an old fisherman, a young boy and a fish; but it’s more than that. It’s about the power of the human spirit to keep going despite all odds. It’s also about the dignity of nature and old age.

To honour the writer, the fishermen of Cojimar—the little fishing village where Hemingway liked to hang out and drink with the locals—raised money for P1030741a bronze sculpture of Hemingway, which now sits in the bar, Floridita, where he liked to drink daiquiris.  

Hemingway was a man, larger than life itself. He bravely re-imagined how to tell a story by trimming unnecessary adverbs and adjectives. He got inside his character’s heads and gave us the inner dialogue we all have as we travel the ups and downs of daily living.

I  was surprised to discover that there were no chapters in The Old Man And The Sea, and yet, I didn’t feel like I was waiting for a break so that I could stop reading until the next time. Also, the storyline wasn’t one I would’ve ordinarily picked up, but once I started, I was quickly drawn in. And that’s because the subject matter is about life itself, through the mind of an unlikely hero—a fisherman.

P1030642Another stop on our walks through Havana was La Bodeguito del Medio, a tiny bar overwhelmed by tourists waiting for one of the mojitos lined up on the bartender’s bar.

The crowd wasn’t there so much for the drink as it was for the fact that Hemingway used to stop there to drink that particular rum cocktail.  The bar’s walls are covered with signatures, both outside and inside, paying homage I assume to the writer; and on one wall facing the street, is hung a rendering of Morgan Freeman. I suppose he was a fan as well.

While he was in Havana, Hemingway

Hemingway's Typwriter

Hemingway’s Typwriter

also liked to write in room 511 in the Hotel Ambos Mundos. It was where he wrote some of For Whom The Bell Tolls It’s a small room, now preserved as a museum. It boasts a fine view of the city, a twin bed, a bookcase, various memorabilia, and his typewriter (protected by plexiglass).

In Hotel Mercure Hemingway SevillaSevilla, where we stayed, management also claims that Hemingway wrote some of For Whom The Bell Tolls on their premises, and displays a letter from the author, attesting to that fact. It seems that all of Cuba is calling Hemingway one of their own.

Although we didn’t visit his house outside of Havana, it’s listed in guide books as containing 4,000-6,000 books, which were appropriated by Fidel Castro when he took over running the country. As they say, if you want to be a good writer, you have to also be an avid reader.

Though I elected not to drink at any of the bars he frequented as the tourist prices of dauqiris and mojitos were twice what they were elsewhere and I didn’t see the point, I appreciated how many fans Hemingway still has. The museum guide at the Hotel Ambos Mundos mentioned that even the award-winning Canadian author, Margaret Atwood, had visited his room. And for a writer, whose occupation is often to sit alone in front of a computer, typewriter or notepad, that’s really something, isn’t it?

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Pushing Boundaries

For writers and artists, pushing boundaries is a natural act.  As creative spirits, we want to test how far we can go. Look at how the book Fifty Shades of Grey changed the publishing landscape. How about film and television? I’m stunned at the explicit sex and violence in prime time. We’re also pushing the boundaries in space with the recent launch of a joint Russian and American one-year mission to the international space station.

Manuel Roque

Manuel Roque at Vancouver International Dance Festival

And we keep pushing.

A few days ago, I went to see Manuel Roque at the Vancouver International Dance Festival. I wasn’t sure what I’d be seeing, but I wanted to take our granddaughter as she’s into dance.

It turned out to be less dance and more an existential comment on our times. It was billed as “…a celebration of the human race in case of it’s possible disappearance.”   The soundscape even included an excerpt from one of Stephen Hawking‘s works.

What was so unusual about this presentation was how Manuel Roque broke the fourth wall, that invisible wall between performers and audience. In theatre, the wall gives  performers the freedom to create a story for us, the audience, to contemplate and enjoy. An illusion of another time and place. We can watch life unfold without necessarily getting involved. Of course we do through our emotions, but if we decide to tune out, we can, and no one will be the wiser.

Well imagine my surprise, when during the performance, Manuel Roque began crawling off stage through that fourth wall, towards me. I was sitting in the first row. He grabbed my boot, and then proceeded to climb on top of me. Yes, that’s right. On top of me. Next thing I knew, I was hugging him. You have to know that before he left the stage, he had been crying out in different ways. So, when he climbed onto my lap, I felt sympathetic and put my arms around him.

When I described the event later to my daughter, she said, “It’s a good thing, Mom, that you aren’t a victim of abuse.” I hadn’t thought of that. Perhaps Manuel had the sense by looking at me, that I wasn’t vulnerable in that way. I’m now curious to know how he made his decision.

In the midst of my hugging, he continued climbing over me into the row behind and did the same to others for two more rows. What was also surprising is how effortlessly he did it. I did not feel violated, nor did I feel his weight. He succeeded in pushing the boundaries and etching his performance into my memory.

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Set of Manuel Roque at Vancouver International Dance Festival

Before the program began the stage was set with two white plastic chairs. I now see it’s where we can sit and let our imaginations take us to places we didn’t think possible.

This “dance” piece made me think about life and our connections to one another. What we can do and who we can be. The limits we set are in our control more than we think. It’s a lesson not only for writing but for life. It’s exciting to push those boundaries, to stretch ourselves and realize our potential.

I’d love your thoughts on thisHappy writing.

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20 Genders And More, Really?

This morning—while taking a break from writing a novelette, one that shows sex in the 50s—a letter to the editor in a recent Maclean’s magazine caught my attention. The writer mentioned that the government of Ontario’s sex ed. program is planning on teaching six genders, when in fact, there are more than 20 genders considered in some countries.  More than 20? What? I had no idea.

genderbread-person-gender-identity-graphic

From Sam Killerman’s Website

I was aware of that there were more identities than heterosexual and homosexual. The transgender and transvestite population have been making news in print, film, and television in the past several years, but 20 genders and more, really?

As a teen growing up in Winnipeg during the 50s, society from my perspective was largely heterosexual with the odd person who wasn’t. (Note the word “odd”, but that was how this person was viewed back then.) That odd person was considered a “fruit”, “pansy”, “homo”  and “queer”.  They were not nice terms; they identified those who didn’t fit the so-called norm, the general public’s view of men and women.

As I think back, these names were born out of ignorance. Those men and women who were gay—not a term used back then—were relegated to the sidelines. Many back then didn’t dare show their sexuality for fear of being ridiculed or ostracized in some way. So, in essence, we didn’t know that there were more than the “odd” person in our midst who were of a different gender than straight male and straight female. It must’ve been very painful to live in fear of being discovered for who you really were.

When I became a social worker, and also an actress, I ran into quite a few gay men, who became dear friends. I lost a couple to Aids in the 70s, a tragic time for all. On the positive side, it was the time that gay men and women were emerging from the shadows. By then, I had moved with my family to Vancouver, a city that embraced diversity.

I also worked in mental health in the 70s and 80s, a time when homosexuality was a diagnosis, a condition that psychologists and psychiatrists tried to cure people from. I never bought it. I kept thinking, why would anyone choose homosexuality when society was so unkind as a whole?  It’s not a choice. We are who we are.

Desert HeartsIn the late 80s, during the Vancouver International Film Festival, I saw Desert Hearts, a film about two lesbian lovers. The audience was full of female couples, who hooted and hollered when the action got steamy on the screen. I enjoyed their free expression and their obvious joy at seeing two women in love with one another.

Today, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited and queer community celebrate together annually in Gay Pride Parades worldwide. In major North American cities, it’s common to see same-sex couples embrace or hold hands on the streets. See GLBTTQ Canadian Rights Timeline.

In recent years though, as more and more states in America have legalized same-sex unions, there’s been a backlash in the mid-western and southern ones, where lawmakers have tried to prevent same-sex couples from marrying. I can’t believe the fear that drives them to block a union of love they don’t understand. These lawmakers believe it’s an un-Christian act. How do they know that Jesus wasn’t gay? Or some of his followers? What are they afraid of? It’s not catchy.

From Wikimedia

From Wikimedia

No one can influence anyone to be one gender or another. You just are, however you’ve come into this world. And the beauty of that nature needs to be celebrated in all its colors. No wonder the rainbow flag has been adopted to represent the variety of genders in our midst.

Of course, I had to look up these 20 and more genders, and found that The Daily Beast reported on Facebook’s 51 genders. Wow! Prior to reading this, I was of the mind that there were basically three main categories: heterosexuals, homosexuals, and transgendered persons. Obviously, from reading this list, sexuality is more complicated than that. And if you step back and consider our world with over seven billion people, why wouldn’t it be?

Thoughts? I wonder how we can move forward in society without fear of the different and embrace all the colors of the rainbow. Surely, there’s room for all of us.

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What’s So Special About St. Patrick’s Day?

The Greens of Ireland

The Greens of Ireland

Ah, I love the Irish. I toured Ireland with my husband, Robert, in 2009 to visit my first cousins, who, prior to that, I hadn’t met.

I fell in love with the land and its people. St. Patrick’s Day is celebrated now world-wide, wherever the Irish are and where the people who love them live.

March 17th, the day Saint Patrick died, commemorates the arrival of Christianity in Ireland. But why celebrate his death? Because in the Christian religion, that’s the day he began living with God, his Father in Heaven. According to the church, that’s when true life begins.

DSCN8571

The Three-Leafed Shamrock photo by Diana Stevan

On St. Patrick’s Day many wear  shamrocks and/or green clothing (known as the “wearing of the green”).

It is believed that St Patrick used the shamrock, a three-leaved plant, to tell the story of the Holy Trinity to the pagan Irish.

I loved Ireland so much that I incorporated a lot of what I saw into my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep, where half my story takes place.

In the following excerpt from my prologue, which takes place in 1878, Margaret O’Donnell prays to St. Patrick, thanking him for his help.

““`

While her father went off to arrange a rowboat, her grandmother braided some fresh primroses into Margaret’s long auburn hair. She couldn’t see the ocean from where she sat, but the thought of James waiting for her on the ship was enough to make her squirm.

“Now, Margaret, you’re goin’ to make your old granny cross if you don’t put a stop to your movin’. I can’t promise you a handsome head if you keep twitchin’ this way and that.”

“Sorry, Granny, I’m too—”

“I know, child. You don’t have to tell me,” said the old woman as she wove in another primrose.

“All I can say is the good Lord’s been lookin’ out for you. Goodness knows what you would’ve done if he hadn’t come back.”

What she would’ve done was marry Barnaby Athol, the middleman for their landlord, to keep from starving in the future. After she’d accepted his offer, she’d prayed to St. Patrick, telling the saint it wasn’t Barnaby’s withered leg that repulsed her, rather it was his mean ways with his tenants. She silently thanked the saint for bringing James back.

““`

And may the luck of the Irish be with you. Any comments or shared stories are always appreciated.

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Why Do Writers Write What They Write?

 

The question of why writers write what they write 180px-Beloved_by_Toni_Morrisoncame up a while back, when I caught an interview that Stephen Colbert did with author, Toni Morrison, a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize winner, who started writing at age 39.

Stephen asked Toni Morrison if she was undergoing a mid-life crisis at the time. She responded that her decision to write could be defined as that. She had noticed that there were no stories of how racism affected black girls, poor girls, and the hurt they experienced because of that. So, she wrote Beloved, The Song of Solomon among many.

I recently read, Blessed Are The Contrariansby Rob Piccoli. This is a book of essays which raises big questions about religion, politics, nature and health. Rob is both a philosopher and a conservative writer living in Italy, who uses examples not only from his native country but also from America, as well as ideas from Montaigne, Emerson, G.K. Chesterton and others. Because he is well read and educated, he wrote his book because he could offer a unique perspective on the conflicts happening today.

I thought about the novel I had just written, and why I wrote what I wrote. A Cry From The Deep is a story of love everlasting, the kind of love I grew up with. As some of you may know from reading my blog, I’m a sucker for romance, the kind that’s respectful of both sexes. It seems we have less and less of that kind in films and stories today. The romantic dance of love that men and women are capable of doing sometimes gets lost in today’s busy world, in the liberal openness of our times, and in the overt sexuality in films. I’m not advocating for censorship but I am advocating for more romance in our lives.

I think I wrote the kind of novel I wanted to read. One where love, the idea of eternal love, was there. The commitment that kept a couple together, and I don’t care if they’re straight or gay or whatever, but the idea of love everlasting is one I hope we don’t lose sight of.

Why do you write what you write? What got you started? What did you feel you needed to say? 

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The Hard Truth In Fiction

When I read a novel, I want to escape and get into someone else’s world for awhile. I want my imagination to run wild. I want to cheer for the protagonist when she fights for what she believes; I want to fear for her life when she’s in jeopardy; and when she falls in love, I want to feel her excitement and revel in that wonderful emotion. Do I want to be reminded of the ills of the world? Of course not. For that, I follow the news or read the odd non-fiction book.

But even though much of fiction is an escape from boredom and other trials of life, there are countless tales that have a veiled message about social issues of the highest magnitude—race, religion, politics, war, etc. Or a story could refer to one that hits home regardless of the bigger issues that divide, like divorce, illness or death. There is hard truth in fiction.

If an author truly cares about a subject, it’s hard to keep those cares from seeping into the writing. Whatever bothers the author in life often bothers the protagonist in a story. Those seeds of discontent find their way onto the pages, whether it’s conscious or unconscious. The trick is maintaining a balance, so that the writer isn’t preaching through the mouths of his characters, unless, wink-wink, the character is a preacher.

my-sisters-keeper-lgMy argument is that as long as the author isn’t beating the reader over his or her lovely head with an unending lecture delivered by one of the characters in his story, then there is a place for social issues in fiction. Often fiction presents these dilemmas in a subtle enough way that the truth is easier to digest than if it was expounded upon in a book of non-fiction.

Jodi Picoult has made a name for herself writing stories about families dealing with health concerns as well as others. In My Sister’s Keeper , she shows how leukemia impacts a family and puts pressure on one daughter to help her sister, who is suffering from the disease.

In the books The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, racial prejudice is illustrated in all its ugly colours.

Anita Shreve in All He Ever Wanted wove in the horror of anti-semitism. It came out of the blue in a story about a professor who was obsessed with a woman who All He Ever Wantedcoudn’t return his love. I hesitate to say more, as I don’t want to divulge any more surprises.

In Televenge Pamela Cable’s mammoth work about the vagaries of televangelism, a charismatic preacher preys on the vulnerable. Yes, it’s about  a woman dealing with a cheating husband, but it’s set against the backdrop of a much larger social issue.

In my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep, Catherine Fitzgerald, an underwater photographer, is passionate about the environment. The fact that oceans are being polluted and that salvagers are raping the sea bottom in pursuit of treasure galls her no end. And because the environment is something I deeply care about, the threat to our oceans crept into my story and into my character’s thoughts and words. It wasn’t planned. It just happened as I began writing.

In fiction that tackles serious matters and gives us the hard truth, the reader not only escapes for awhile but is hopefully enlightened at the end of the book as well.

Please leave a comment, don’t be shy. Also, if you know of any books of fiction that have highlighted some social issue and yet managed to entertain you, I’d love to hear about them.

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The Rocket – A Great Movie To Lift Your Spirits

The RocketWith endless bad news on TV, I found a lovely escape and a great beginning to the new year when I watched The Rocket, an inspirational Australian film I took out of the West Vancouver Library. I didn’t know what to expect but the cover said it had won a number of awards—turned out to be 28 wins and 28 nominations—and  when I checked Rotten Tomatoes, it had received a 98% rating. Impressive.

I’ve seen a lot of films in my life (due largely to my acting and screenwriting ventures), and in fact, have produced a few short ones with my grandson, Michael Stevantoni, who’s won a few awards. I’m in short, a movie buff. Have been since I was dragged to the cinema when I was five. My mother couldn’t get enough of them, so we’d walk close to a mile in Winnipeg in all seasons, as we had no car, and sit through newsreels, cartoons, trailers and two features. Yes, two features.

Rotten Tomatoes is right. The Rocket does not disappoint at any level. It’s a winner from the first frame, when we’re introduced to the lead being born in Laos, one of twins, which apparently in their culture is not a good sign. This fact dogs him throughout the story.

The cinematography of the Laos landscape is stunning, as is the story about this young boy and his family and how they manage to survive when a proposed dam threatens their home and livelihood. The rocket in The Rocket refers to both unexploded mines left from America’s covert war in Laos and a rocket festival, where anyone with the ability to build one that pierces the clouds to bring rain can win a prize beyond their wildest dreams. There is even a wonderful James Brown look-alike character who’s down on his luck but plays a big part in this young child’s life.

Though it was filmed in a foreign culture,  the family dynamics between the husband and wife, the child and his parents, the husband and his mother, are universal. The acting is superb and I didn’t detect a false note anywhere.

And as a writer, I welcomed the message in this story. Don’t give up despite the odds!

If you’ve seen this movie, I’d love your thoughts. If you know of another great movie that lifts your spirits, I’d love to hear about it.

Have a great year!

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From My Vantage Point The World Is Promising

P1020986It’s almost year end. From my vantage point, I look back at what I’ve experienced but also look ahead and wish for what I’d like to see happen.

2014 has been a wondrous year for our family, health-wise and travel-wise. Robert and I had a magical trip to Machu Picchu and a cruise around the horn, landing in Buenas Aries. We and our daughter Karen drove our grandson, Michael, down to L.A. for his first year film studies. We also flew twice to see our other daughter, Robyn, and family in Toronto, where we saw a number of Soulpepper Theatre plays, featuring our son-in-law, Diego Matamoros, and heard our granddaughter Chloe sing in a local community centre.

I also published my debut novel, A Cry From The Deep. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of learning the business side of all that and getting on with my other writing.

Though the news on TV is often troubling, from my vantage point, the world is promising because of all the fabulous people and cultures within it. I think about how we can work together to ensure a better world for our children and grandchildren. We need to accept and celebrate one another’s differences, whether it’s faith, colour of skin, or sexual orientation. We are not that different when it comes to what we all want out of Life.

We also need to clean up our planet, treasure nature and what it offers us in its beauty. Yes, it’s a big job, but when I think about what one person can do, like our 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner,  Malala Yousafzai, just think of what we can do if we work hard to promote a message of peace, tolerance, and charity.

So, whether you celebrate Hanukkah this time of year or Christmas, or are an Atheist, or a Buddhist, or a Muslim, (who do celebrate Christmas in a way) or whatever, I hope that together we can join hands and make a better world.

Wishing you and yours Peace and Joy in the coming year.

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What Dreams Tell Us

 From Life Magazine  September 1995. Photograph by Bill Binzen

From Life Magazine September 1995. Photograph by Bill Binzen

I’m a believer in what dreams tell us. I grew up in a house where dreams were discussed over morning coffee. My mother and baba would get out a tattered dream book to find out what their dreams meant.  For them, everything in a dream was symbolic of something else.

There were many times as a child, when I was about to go to school, that my mother would say, “Be careful today. I had a bad dream.” Often, that meant that she had been laughing or singing in her dream, which to her meant that the opposite would occur and she would soon be  crying over some disaster. She believed that dreams foretold the future, even though I could not remember one time when she was right.

I do remember one time that could be true. It was when my husband, Rob, dreamt his mother and aunt were sitting together in hooded cloaks. It was a scary dream as they weren’t talking; they were silent. A few days later, we learned that his younger brother had passed away. Was the dream foretelling the tragedy, or did my husband dream that because his younger brother, who was sick with cancer, was on his mind? I think the latter, though dreams like that do give you pause. It seemed that Rob had connected with his family across the miles.

Film Noir Wikipedia

Film Noir Wikipedia

For twenty-five years, I worked as a clinical social worker and saw many people in therapy for all kinds of problems. One of the subjects that would crop up from time to time were dreams. Some recurring dream or nightmare that plagued the person who came to see me.

One client told me she was afraid to go to bed at night because she kept dreaming about a spider crawling on her. She would wake up in terror. In my interpretation, the spider was symbolic of how she was feeling about her life. She wasn’t in control. She was allowing others to dictate how she should be. I suggested she could change the outcome in her dream. She could tell herself that the next time the spider appeared she’d be ready with a slipper to shoo it away. That conscious thought could seep into her unconscious and make a difference. She went one step further. When she returned to see me, she told me that she had put a slipper under her bed and after that, she didn’t have the nightmare again. She also began to feel stronger in life.

I also had recurring nightmares as a child. Night and the CityIn my early elementary school years, my parents would take me once a week to a double feature at the cinema. I saw many film noir movies, the kind that featured John Garfield, Richard Widmark, or Robert Mitchum. They were black and white stories about killers on the loose. Tall shadows loomed large on the screen. Is it a wonder that I dreamt of some man­­­­—with his shadow—climbing up the staircase to my bedroom, getting closer and closer until I woke up in a panic just before he reached my door? I continued to have those nightmares until I took karate lessons in my early twenties. Once I had some fighting skills, those nightmares went away.

So with that kind of background, is it surprising that I’ve featured dreams in my debut novel, A CRY FROM THE DEEP. Catherine Fitzgerald, an underwater photographer, is bothered by nightmares after she buys an antique ring at a flea market. In her case, her dreams have nothing to do with her reality or do they?

What about you? Have you been ruled by dreams? Do you have some dream that has stayed with you? What do you think dreams tell us?

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