Identity

Identity:
“2. the condition of being oneself or itself, and not another:”

This piece, “Identity” is the start of a new creative venture for me. For years, I’ve enjoyed creating as a form of expression, but my paintings have not typically been very pointed, definitive or even backed by a simple narrative. The standard procedure for my art is to create it, reflect on it and title it by how it made me feel or give a nudge in a direction that I would like the viewer to consider while interpreting it. “Identity“is my “first” painting with a message, a deep reflection and critique of my true and perceived self.

The 18.5″ x 28″ painting uses an old door as a substrate which had various holes in it that I chose not to repair, but incorporate them to add to the textural aesthetic of the piece. There are lines that oppose direction, seemingly conflicted in their desires. Rich, segmented color that bleeds outside of the lines that they were once seemingly bound by. Deep scratches under the surface subtly shift the topography. Brilliant colors, whitewashed and stripped of their  luminosity. Without frame, the core is revealed on the right side, the left side showing the marks of being unhinged.

My hope is to continue to create pieces like this that will tell a story or invoke a story to be told, as I express my experience through artwork.

Hold Fast Hope
-Joel William

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The Journey

About six years ago I started using art to process my thoughts, to express what I couldn’t convey, despite writing a lot. Over the growth of my creative process, I have had many seasons. For a very long time, I created out of the dark depths of my being, putting myself in emotional places to feel the hurt and react. During those times, I felt like I perceived artists felt like…I felt disheveled, chaotic & untamed. I would drink heavily, sprawl out naked on my bedroom floor & dive into my darkest emotions recklessly. This lifestyle was taxing & I began to recognize that it was not sustainable & if I wanted to be healthy, I needed to change my process. I questioned if I would able to create out of healthy emotion, especially since my work was gaining momentum by destroying myself on a regular basis. I started to gain control of my creativity, painting with discipline & boundaries.

For a few years now, I have begun to manage my creativity with maturity, but it has still starts as an expression & then I would reflect upon the final piece, as if I were at its mercy. It sounds poetic, to be controlled by passionate artistry but it has felt voiceless. This process is me & I embrace it as part of the journey, but I have a voice & I have a message. I am beginning to lean into my technical skills, confident I will be able to say what I mean to say, to start the conversations we need to have. I want to challenge myself & those that choose to engage with my artistic expression.

When I think back to the way I used to create, I cringe. I feel embarrassed I was so naive & out of touch with my feelings…afraid to use my voice. It’s hard to put yourself out there, to be vulnerable & understand that change may come & break our comfort, but we can learn through the process. I’m glad the beginning is part of my story, part of the growth. I am also glad that my story isn’t done here. It is painful to see yourself in different season & love them all, but they are all part of your journey, so I am trying to embrace them.

The art I create will increasingly be me.
It will be strong, assertive, engaging, mysterious…true.

Sunless Sunrise

“We should not feel embarrassed by our own difficulties, only by our failure to grow anything beautiful from them.”
Alain de Button

It’s perplexing how we can know something in our core, believe something deeply embedded in our soul, yet we forget it and drift from its truth throughout various seasons of life. Though we often forget the truths we know, truths cannot not forget us and call us back to them over and over and over again, with grace and tenderness each time. While the voice of truth is loving, it’s been my experience that I won’t typically hear love and will be accompanied by a grey sky when I was hoping for a sunrise. I hope and long for warm revelations, light breezes and a lighter heart, but curated life is hardly life at all.

I have spent the last number of  years, particularly the most recent one, deconstructing my views, ideals and the way I interact with life. In this time, I have divorced the church, pursued a healthy relationship with and understanding of my sexuality, furthered my awareness of how I can (and must) interact with the moving world around me, along with countless other areas. This soul work is more than exhausting, but it is one of the most beautiful processes I have ever been part of.

Yesterday I had a perfect plan to visit an overlook I love a bit east of Nashville, but a quick check of the weather had me erasing my plans. Instead of spending valuable time traveling, I determined I would stay closer to home, but still go to a soothing overlook that I am fond of, so I closed my eyes and dreamt of a sunrise. The shrill of the analog alarm announced that it was time to gather my things, time to set out on my adventure. I arrived to the spot overlooking the valley and set up my hammock 10 minutes before the sun should meet me. As I sank into my hammock, filled my nostrils with the scent of coffee and found a soundtrack for the birds to sing to, I fulfilled my end of the arrangement; I made space for a sunrise that would never come. As the moments passed, cold wind brushed my nose and the colors of the day remained muted. In this moment, of life letting me down, I began to wonder why I didn’t get what I wanted or rather what I actually wanted. In my mind, I believed that I wanted a sunrise, to bask in warmth as the earth awoke, but the coffee that grew colder each second reminded me the warmth I thought I wanted would not be found in this place. I wanted to leave, to pack up and go back to my couch with my dog and be comfortable, but something begged me to stay. The truth that whispered to me was the reminder that life is always happening, always asking us to listen and engage with it. I have recently struggled with the realization that I have unknowingly created a fairly comfortable life, an existence in which I choose my challenges and detour from discomfort every chance I get. I suppose I believed that truth was in light and darkness was void of truth, but I am finding truth simply is; truth is in all.

As I remember some of the portions of life in which I experienced deep growth and priceless revelations, they were more frequent in places and situations I would not willingly choose. I heard recently that we can not plan our own enlightenment, that we cannot pursue that which must be revealed to us through experience, but maybe we can be more willing to wait in the grey, to seek and engage with the life around us, always asking it of the truth it contains. What would life look like if I allowed myself to be a complex existence…a human…a human that had flaws, oversights and the like, but chose to embrace them instead of condemning them, knowing that they are allowed to exist and in fact must exist to be whole. I desire to be whole, to strengthen each area of my being. Not just the convenient or comfortable ones and I can do this within wisdom and discernment, that it does not need to be reckless or brash but if it is, that is okay too.

Who is to say what this journey may contain,
but I desire to be present in it and receptive of it.

Hold Fast Hope
Joel William

Every Once In A While

I have been so disconnected from myself for a few months now, my willpower broke with the weather and I spiraled out of control at a dizzying rate. For a couple of months, I took refuge in delusion, losing sight of what I value, what I want my life to be composed of. It shames me to say that I recognize my shortcomings but yet still tuck myself into bed with deception, fully knowing I will never find rest. My nights grow longer, my days fill with over thinking and stress, I neglect responsibilities and goals, I satisfy the short-term, well knowing that will never last. It can be discouraging and it can be overwhelming…

But every once in a while something happens to realign your spine, call it the sunshine burning off the fog of a few sleepless months. The air is warm to the touch and with your sight renewed and your soul restored, you find your footing once again. It is witty sarcasm and silly laughter, perfecting cannonballs and floating peace signs. It is scraping your ankle and showing off your scars, it is tasty sandwiches and half-filled whiskey flasks. It is slippery rocks and precarious hammocks, it is thunderstorms and being okay with getting stuck in the downpour. It is green-blue water and red clay shores, it is sunburned cheeks and blistered feet. It is probing questions and insightful suggestions, it is shared perspective and grinning agreement. It is a few cold beers and a few slices with extra cheese, it is subtitles and tired smiles.

There are no words to fully express how meaningful these types of moments are, but when you find them, hold tight to them; let them dig around your heart, let them plant goodness in your soul. Above all, cherish these blissful days of renewal, they are to be remembered during the inevitable dark days to come. Write them down with your ink, burn them deep within your memory, tie them tightest around your heart because no matter what sacrifice they demanded, they will always be worth it; they are pure and they are priceless.

 

 

 

A Place We Once Were

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The other day I was watching a documentary about wine and sommeliers. I have always been fascinated with old crafts, skills that are passed on through generations, so naturally I am intrigued by wine making. The whole documentary was very good, but one line ripped my chest open: “The complexity and the layers are there for those who want it.” This was in reference to the vast factors to the taste of any given wine, but I took it to heart; life is complex but life is simple. I’m trying to find that balance of simplicity yet being aware of all the wonderful accents that create such a rich comprehension of our my (our) existence. Upon hearing that quote, I thought about the way I paint and how it is a mirror image of my personality. I have been searching for the type of artistic expression that feels like “me” and at this point in time I feel comfortable with my paintings as a representation of myself.

Each layer tells a story, a place which we once were. I have fought my layers for so many years, hating their existence, loathing who I am because of them, until the other day. I was painting and spilled some chemicals on part of the painting I didn’t want them but instead of getting frustrated or stressed, I rearranged my thoughts, kept calm and made it work. I didn’t plan for the cap to not be fully screwed onto the bottle, but I went with it, I learned from it and did my best to just enjoy the process of creative expression that I hold dear to my life. In my paintings, I have layers…lots of layers. Typically, I start with a sub-straight, a surface which to build upon. Sometimes it comes distressed, character ridden from the start and sometimes its a clean slate, open waters for my imagination to sail upon. I then lay down the base layer, the foundation of emotion that directs the painting. It is movement, it is frustration, it is happiness, it is stress, it is surrender; it is my everything, it is I entirely. Each painting is a milestone, an emotion that might only exist for a short time, but has been captured for the foreseeable future. After the emotion layer, I distress…I reshape and redefine; there is scraping and cutting, sanding and gouging. I find solace in the destruction I use when I create this layer, it becomes a beautiful harmony I seemingly hear for the first time, every time. The next layer is the color, the vibrant colors that let me fall in love with life all over again. I know there has been so much before the color arrives, but its beauty in those first minutes after they are laid down is one of my favorite parts of the process. As the color settles in, the character of the distressed layer begins to shine through, the emotion of the first layer takes shape. The beautiful color soaks in and highlights the pain and the deepest cuts, creating the most wonderful accents the colors could not comprehend ever existed; scars and stories. The next layer is more color and more distressing, but with chemicals and not physical damage. It is a refining process, one to even out the highs and lows, absorb the good and adjust the bad. The final process is to seal it all in. The colors intensify, the valleys shine and an exhausting process of spilling my guts into a painting is complete. Each direction you see it from will tell a different story, whisper a secret you never knew. It may look dull from a distance, but it will captivate you from up close. You will reach out your hands, begging to touch the character, to but brush the texture and you may, if you desire to be close, for it is a story for all, a comfort for few.

You and I are both going to change; we will grow, we will stretch, we will evolve until the end. Some will love your foundation, the strong beginning of it all and some will love your color, the joy you breathe, the way you see. There will be some that remember your days of darkness, never letting you bloom, confining you to the cold. I have tried to separate the layers for years and I have layers…SO MANY DAMN LAYERS, that it feels impossible, entirely overwhelming to be known and I usually just fall victim to poisonous preconceived expectations and perpetual feelings of letting others down for not being what they expected of me. I have been this way since I can remember, but the last six months I’ve seen a transformation. I’m starting to be okay with not being able to show all my layers at once, but I have been trying to be as true to who I am as a whole. There are those that won’t understand, there are those that like some of my layers and not others and that is just fine. I remember hearing once that if you know what you’re looking for when you buy art, it’s just decoration and loses it’s artistic capacity, as it is reduced to something you want it to say instead of listening to it. The same is true of you and I; our flaws, our pasts, our strengths, our stories, all compose unique, wonderful individuals that cannot exist without every layer. Even when wine is bottled, it never stops developing in flavor; wine is never still. Even when we feel as if we are at our ends, we are only beginning. You can hide your layers, I have for years, but they are better if you just take a deep breath and embrace your full self; be a whole person. Use each chapter of your life for something bigger, for the final product. Make your mistakes, writhe in pain for a season, but move forward and grow from what you’ve experienced; the end is never the end, only the start of something new.

Take heart, hold fast hope.

Evening Hymns & Quiet Hope

The silence said everything I never wanted to hear but I digress.

Recent stress-filled days have come and gone but I will rest easy tonight. A good conversation with a dear friend, a few refreshing pints and a little bit more optimism than I have been wearing lately warms my heart. I have been caught off guard at break-neck speeds over the last month, scrambling to find balance and breath, but the dust settles and I realign my spine to the posture I desire. Lately when I have felt lost I put on some Evening Hymns and quiet my soul, discard the worries that keep me up and night and rest in the beauty of the known and unknown alike. It’s not always easy, it’s actually often-times the most difficult thing for me to do because I never stop, but I am grateful to hear of another journey that lends hope to mine. I have been distracted, by smooth skin and sharp wit, by day-dreams and hopelessness. I lost track of the work I was doing, the journey I was on and why I was headed there…in simple, I lost my spine. When faced with a seemingly daunting situation, I forget who I am. I revert back to insecurities and second-guessing my abilities, the very things that I know I am not. It’s hard not to play the comparison game these days, especially in the social mecca of Nashville. For example, I work very hard to do my job to the best of my ability, always pushing my capacity and in one conversation, one person innocently responding to hearing I’m a custom woodworker with “Oh that’s great, how long have you owned your business?!” and everything I’ve worked towards collapses in my soul because I’m reminded that I’m not further along than someone might expect or I might wish to be. This is terribly common in my life and has always been difficult to swallow because I start to get anxious that I’m not in the right place or that I’m missing out on something key, that I will inevitable choke and fail.

(I can attest that not only is this mindset a horrific thing to live with, but it is completely false.)

I had a great conversation about a month ago with a good friend of mine. I was stressing out about something I thought was the end of the world and she calmly but purposively communicated that I need to stop stealing the joy of the good things in my life with the overthinking and stressing of all other things; when the stitch catches, it all unravels for me. I have been working on changing that, slowly but surely, and that conversation has been a hopefully reminder that I am looking too closely at the negatives and unknowns in my life and not rejoicing or accepting the knowns. I’ve adjusted my focus, I’ve been clearing my heart, soul and mind and letting the fear and falsities fall to the wayside; it’s not over yet, so don’t stop fighting for it…you’re doing a great job.

Hold Fast Hope.

What’s Next?

Raw and scar covered fingers reach for honey soaked chamomile and in my tenderness, this night feels more clear than those of recent days. Warm air steadily brushes my tired arms and subtly tickles my nose and I find the breath I’ve been holding in.

Exhale.
These past few weeks have been trying, filled to the brim with physical pain, mental stress, a restless heart and answerless questions, but even so there were wonderful moments that nearly left me in tears of joy. I’m not going to try to hide it…I get moody. I have highs and lows like anyone else, but I don’t believe it’s because of a chemical imbalance or anything like that, I believe that it’s just the unique person I am, the sensitive, creative, seeking soul that I call my own. I recently stumbled across a short interview with Jim Carrey about depression and spirituality. He spoke of being on medicine and how it just made everything “okay”, but he wanted the highs and the lows, to experience it all. I have never been on prescribed medication, but I have done my fair share of medicating, diving head-first into alcohol, working/business, relationships, apathy and so on. I have grown over the years and know myself well enough to recognize when I start to medicate and I’m usually swift to cut if off and seek the cause of my pain, but sometimes I sit in it for too long. I’d say I’m a mostly positive person, I have countless things to be happy about and grateful for and I try as often as I can to acknowledge them, so why do my lows feel so damn low? The last weekend granted me a new perspective and at the risk of sounding self-centered or whatever, I’ll do my best to explain.

A few months ago I was part of an art show and had a few of my shirts for sale and this guy came up and asked to buy one. We walked to the trunk of my car, pulled out the shirts, got him the right size and the night went on. I later found out that said guy wrote one of the most influential albums of my earlier years. I remember driving 3 1/2hrs to see his band play with a few other of my favorites and that show is still up there in my top 10 favorite of all time. Fast forward to about a month ago, I get a text from him asking if some of his friends bands and his band could play a house show at my place. I was ecstatic and we started working out the details. The show was this last Friday and as he pulled up to the house, got out of his car and walked towards me, I must have been smiling ear-to-ear; he was wearing the shirt he bought from me…but he completely forgot it was me he bought it from. I didn’t say anything for fear of sounding stupid, but at one point he was in the living room and glanced at the painting he was standing next to, the original. He looked at me and said wait…I laughed and said yeah, you bought that shirt off me, that’s the original. He lit up and started telling the story to his friends and explained he didn’t even realize it was my house, just wore the shirt because he loved it. Later his band played my living room and even though it was after 11:30pm and I was certain the night was going to end with a noise violation citation, time slowed down and I soaked it all in. There in my own home, stood someone who wrote songs I knew every word to wearing a piece of art I created.

MIND BLOWN!

I’m going to assume this doesn’t happen to everyone and I’m going to try to summarize the feeling the best I can: What else does life have to offer?! I experienced something I’d never even dreamed about dreaming about, but it left me speechless, nearly in tears. This happens fairly often as I recognize how significant a moment is, how grand its impact, right in the middle of it. It nearly breaks me every time, but I’ve witnessed countless dreams come true and I stagger back trying to keep it all together. I don’t understand why these things happen to me, but I hold them dear, dwelling on them with thankfulness and hope that I can use them for more than a good story, for something that gifts life to a tired soul. In the days after though, I usually sink in a deeply reflective posture and feel so insignificant at the thought of having experienced something so inspiring. I think my lows tend to be as low as they are because I can’t see the next high to chase after, as no one could foresee or predict what just happened. I have some vague long-term goals, typical to most, but I can’t plan this stuff and it kicks my ass every time.

I want my highs and lows, to live in the known and unknown, to experience happiness to the point of tears and sadness the same. I’ve wished for easier times and for longer good times, but I’m learning to take life for what it is, letting chapters open and close. The seasons are shifting to change again and actual (and metaphorical) spring cleaning has begun as I prepare for whatever the next step might be.

My eyes are open, my heart the same.

The Fear Is What Keeps Us Here

I settle into a cup of black coffee on a porch off of Belmont, my ears ringing with the loveliest of sounds. The weekend is winding down, but I think it’s only just begun. On Friday, I felt a creative storm brewing and instead of listening to music at work, I opted to start an audio book. I have a bunch of titles on my list of books to read, but I impulsively decided on “Scary Close” by Donald Miller. I’ve been a fan of Donald’s writing ever since reading Blue Like Jazz and I enjoy how he questions things and the transparency he provides. For whatever the reason, I couldn’t have chosen a better book to listen to, it was if the stars had aligned. In the book he talks about learning to be himself, dealing with a performer personality, pursuing romantic love, moving to Nashville and so many other things that have been on my mind lately. I found myself laughing out loud as the words were nearly spot on to what I have been thinking over the last month or so. The book ended up being fairly short with a run time of a little over 4 hours, so after I finished it I just soaked in the mindset it left me with.

In these days, more than any other days I’ve known, I’m learning to set aside fear and pursue what I want out of life. When I stop and think about it, I fear a lot of things that have held me back: fear of letting down my family, fear of failing in relationships, fear of not doing enough with my time, fear of falling back into negative habits or cycles, fear of truly being known and not loved for who I am…the list goes on and on. Over the last month or two though, I’ve started to change my mindset, I’ve started to abandon those fears and simply be myself and chase after the life I want. I understand that we don’t always know what’s best for ourselves, but it’s a starting point and I have to believe that the things in the depths of my heart will lead me home.

Yesterday I went out riding bikes downtown with my friend Pat and I was trying to film a trick that I just couldn’t get to work out. I started to get frustrated because I knew I could physically do it, but it just wasn’t happening. A few times I thought about stopping and doing something a little easier that I had already done, but I knew deep down I didn’t want to settle for easy. While I was waiting to try the trick again, an old man walked by me and asked if I was going to do a trick, I replied with a little laugh and said “I’m trying” and he responded with “That’s all you can do…keep trying and trying” smiled and kept walking. That quick interaction lit a fire in me, because this guy got it…this guy understood what it was like to want something and what we need to do if we really want it. I decided to keep trying and eventually got what I had wanted. I like to think that I’m someone who doesn’t settle for things very often, but I know that there is a fear deeply rooted in my bones that keeps my true desires at bay, keeps me hesitant, keeps me drowning in self-doubt. Lately, I can honestly say I have been the happiest I’ve been in a long time and it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve been choosing to be happy and let go of the paralyzing fear in my chest. Some areas have been easier than others and some will most likely take years to get past, but I’m going to keep trying…keep pursuing the life I have dreamed about for so long.

What is it that keeps you blanketed in fear, what keeps you from moving forward? For me, the journey started when I began to identify the fears and figure out where they stemmed from and created plans to conquer them. In this season it’s been a lot of personal reflection on the past and how it shaped my thought process, be it the environment I grew up in, the romantic relationships I’ve been in, the ‘what-ifs’ and ‘could’ve beens’ and other things. I know there will be a season that I finally see a therapist and gain some professional insight (as I have been wanting/needing to for a while now, but always find reasons to not) but this is how I’m starting, this is where I simply begin to grow.

I feel encouraged as I move forward, as I finally let go of fearful thoughts that have held me hostage for so long. I know this is a long road, but it’s worth it, because I want it all; I want healthy relationships, an open mind, a deep love, an unapologetic passion, a thankful attitude, a determined work ethic, an honest tongue, an adventurous spirit, a compassionate response, an authentic romance, a contagious joy, an uninhibited laughter, an endless awe and rest in Creator and creation.

Choosing Happiness

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Sometime I just don’t get it…sometimes I just stop and wonder why I’m not happier.

I genuinely enjoy my life for countless reasons I am aware of and most likely even more that I am not aware of, so why is it that I often times find myself unhappy with my current situation? I believe it’s because I day-dream of the next step, you know, the future and current “have-nots” and forget to consider what makes life truly special and how wonderful it is to be where I am at right now, in this very moment. Today I treated myself to a personal day of decompression, reflection and relaxation. It contained Cruz-cuddles, an apple fritter, one small Americano, a scenic drive, a 4 mile hike which was mostly in the rain, some Explosions In The Sky, a detour route and some Regina Spektor on the way home and now, I sit in a favorite coffee shop and settle into a creative mindset. I have been doing more to create a fulfilling life, one of happiness and desires as it pertains to my day-to-day living and it has been incredible. For starters, I’m slowly adapting a mindset of a 5 day work-week. I work a lot…like a lot, a lot. When I’m not at my normal 40+ hour/week job, I’m creating art, practicing drums, riding bikes, organizing house shows, etc. and if I’m not careful, it all slowly over-takes me and leaves me beyond exhausted and not being to give 100% to everything, because I do too much. I’m letting my weekends be weekends again, filling them with camping, hiking, friends and adventures, the things that renew me. During the “work week” I have a mindset of creativity, organization and focus. Dividing my tasks and time has helped me focus on the current and look forward to the rewards of keeping my head down and working hard. I am seeing that balancing my time and focus is extremely important, but even more than that, I’m finding that happiness is choice and I’m choosing it more than ever.

Instead of being bitter I don’t have the freedom of making my own schedule and “having to work for someone else” right now, I am choosing to be happy in dedicating myself to my job and learning a trade that will benefit me (and others) for my entire life. Instead of being annoyed that my financial situation requires roommates, I am choosing to be happy in the fact they are genuine guys that I am not only able to talk to, but can share life with. Instead of being sad that I’m not playing music with people at the moment and constantly living in the “glory days” of playing shows all the time, I am choosing to be happy with practicing constantly and pushing myself to be a better drummer, whether I ever play another show again or not. Instead of being discouraged that I am single and my romantic life is less than I desire, I am choosing to be happy that I am learning who I am and what I want in a companion and knowing that I won’t allow myself settle for less than a love filled with dedication, companionship, passion and gentleness to name a few; a woman above all and I am okay with being picky and patient for her adventurous heart. Instead of feeling sorry for myself that riding has taken a backseat to the way it used to be, I am choosing to be happy with spending time laughing with my friends, exploring the city and the healing powers pedaling gives to my body, heart and mind. Instead of feeling the guilt and judgment of not being able to have an answer when people ask where I go to church, I am choosing to be happy in my season of seeking to know G-d in creation, the quiet times, reading and deep conversations with loved ones. Instead of being overwhelmed at the pace of living in a city, I am choosing to be happy and spend as many nights sleeping under the stars as I can, absorbing the wonder and grandeur of a slower living, being in an environment that makes me feel whole. Instead of beating myself up with thoughts of inadequacy and how I could do better, I am choosing to be happy in the art I create and let it be part of my timeline and be content with putting it on display. Instead of being discontent with my body type, unavoidable genetics and countless physical insecurities, I am choosing to be happy with my uniqueness and desire to pursue a healthy lifestyle with the cards I was dealt.

There are so many other areas I am choosing to be happy, but those are the main ones in this season. For me, happiness is largely tied to balance and learning when to hold back and when to let go. As I work on time management, financial discipline, stronger personal boundaries and such, I have found it is easier to have a healthier and happier mindset in my day-to-day and the things that once were difficult becoming increasingly easier and easier to maintain.

 

Don’t give up, don’t back down…take time to figure out your happiness and pursue your dreams, they are yours for the taking.