Story Wonders: On Finding our Hearts in the Midst of Protest

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I am deep in a new writing project so won’t be writing much of my own today. I just have  few thoughts to share from others.

A lot is happening in the world, as always. Things are happening in my country that anger and sadden me.

Like the practice of standing up for myself and others, I am now looking for ways I can do that when needed but also seeking compassion for those who disagree with me.

Here are a few resources I’ve found over the years. I share them with you now if you, too, are looking to stand up for those in need while keeping yourself centered in compassion toward everyone.

Brave Girls Club

This organization has always brought women together from every part of life. They discuss what matters to them most and, only later, do their politics come up. Melody writes long, but her message in this post rings true:

People Before Politics

Pema Chodron, the Buddhist monk, has much to say about anger and how best to respond to it. Here is a piece of her audiobook from Don’t Bite the Hook of Anger.

I am still calling my representatives. I am still donating where I feel my money will do the most good in the world. I still disagree with much of what’s happening from isolationism in an increasingly smaller world to political appointees who don’t have my children’s best interests at heart.

And I still believe this:

if-you-think-you-are-too-small-to-make-a-difference-try-sleeping-with-a-mosquito-the-dalai-lamaBut the the Melody and Pema are helping me, I hope, to advocate with grace instead of flaming anger that burns me and those nearest to me more than anyone else.

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P.S. I wrote more than I thought I would. So it goes.

Story Wonders: Finding the Courage to March and Write

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I didn’t want to write about this because I am afraid. I am afraid that people I know and care about will think less of me because I went to the Women’s March last Saturday. I’m afraid they’ll be angry or disapprove.

But every time I started to think about what to write this week, the march is the only thing that wanted to be written.

I posted before about how crushed I felt after the election. It is beyond my understanding that a man so clearly abusive to women could defeat the first woman candidate for president.

I know. These are fighting words.

As Brene Brown said: “I don’t know Donald Trump so the most respectful thing I can do is take him at his word. And, when it comes to women, immigrants, African-Americans, Latinos, and our Muslim sisters and brothers, his words have been threatening and dehumanizing. I march to say that’s not acceptable or American. That is not the heart of the country I love.”

While this, honestly, got me moving that morning, something about marching against someone doesn’t sit well for me. My friend Diane helped with this.

First, she listened as I tried to tell my six year old why we were marching. I started by saying that we were not happy with the man who had won the election has said and done. My friend reframed it for both my little guy and me.

She said, “I like to think of it more as standing up for what we do want.”

Another woman had this to say:

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I agree with Diane, Mother Theresa, and so many others. My best self did not go to protest Trump. I went to say what matters to me most. That was the spirit I felt in Olympia, Washington, and what I saw in the crowds of pink hats from around the world.

The feeling of being there at my smaller 10,000 person march full of peaceful men, women, and children reminded me of a step back into time. I saw folks I am sure were there in the sixties. I saw young people. I saw people in crazy outfits. I saw angry signs and ones fun of humor.

When I think on what I experienced there and what I saw in the pictures around the world, I couldn’t help but remember the Whos chanting with every once of sound they had to be heard so Sour Kangaroo would not throw them in a boiling vat.

We know the election is finished, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t still here and paying attention. It doesn’t mean we don’t need each other more than ever.

Of course, I loved the marching band’s way of putting music to the words. (Didn’t the Whos have a tuba?) I would love to know who they are, so I could play next time!

Of everything I saw that day, I think my favorite was the Diane’s daughter Rena in her Captain America outfit with a a sign that said ‘Be a hero. Stand up for ALL Americans.” She even had a shield. Cars stopped to honk, smile and wave for her several times. (I wish you could see her better in my photo!)

Something about Captain America and what we tried to do with the march expressed that need to say what we meant.

I’m still scared to publish this, by the way, but maybe, Mr. Gaiman has a sliver of good news for me.

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Maybe, I’m stating to get it right because writing this sure feels more like ‘walking down the street naked, exposing too much.’ More exposing than even marching on a clear cold day for something I believe.

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Wednesday Wonders: Mr. G the Gingerbread Man Goes to Japan Part 1

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Do you remember Flat Stanley? The cut out that kids sent to their friends and family around the world?

My son’s kindergarten teacher gave his class a gingerbread man to send instead of Stanley. Quinton’s cut out is making his way around Tokyo with my friend from high school who came to visit us this past summer.

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Summer fun in Sumner, WA

(Quinton loved Marci Kobayashi-Smith so much that he decided to go there as soon as possible. On a boat. I should drop him off and come back for him the next day.)

So today, I present to you the adventures of Mr. G as told by Marci with pictures and text. Enjoy!

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Mr. G leaves the U.S. from my kitchen table. 

For this first night, we are enjoying a quiet night at home watching TV. There is a show about a neighborhood police officer on TV right now. I’m sure you can see him in the background.

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First we took a walk along the bike path next to the river and saw some egrets. Sometimes we can see blue herons there, too but not today.

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The Gingerbread Man discovered that stop signs look different here in Japan. They are triangles!

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Then we came up to a very busy street and he noticed something else–people drive on the left side of the road!

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Now we are back home and having a snack. Even though many things are different, somethings are the same. For example, we are enjoying a big red apple for a snack.

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Actually, he let me eat most of it. 🙂

And that’s all for part one! Stay tuned to see what Mr. G gets up to next week. Meanwhile, you can find more about his tour guide Marci by going to her blog and website.

May you find great adventures of your own this week and maybe even eat an apple-

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Postscript: After I posted this, I remembered today is the 75th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack. 

A part of me questions the wisdom of whimsy on such a day. 

The best part of me thinks a kindergarten gingerbread man free to travel to Japan somehow fits. I pray for more whimsy and far fewer moments of tragedy in all our lives. 

Wednesday Wonders: Seeking Life’s Rhythm

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Last night, the director kept stopping us in that annoying way that band leaders have.

“We’ve got to get those triplets sharp. Some of you are thinking you can just slip through them at a relaxed pace and it’s throwing us off,” he said.

“I am not in a parade up here waving at you like a princess from a float.” Here he wiggled his fingers at us like he does when he needs the whole note people to shush so the melody people with their quieter instruments could get heard.

And then he would have us practice. Again. Start at measure forty seven. Again.

We didn’t always get it exactly right. But he made us repeat until it was at least better. After three or four or more times, we got a little more together or the parts balanced each other out. If we remember to do it that way on concert day, it will be a lovely small miracle.

The band isn’t the only place where we humans in community need to be in sync or to quiet down so others can be heard. 

I just got off of teaching our last quarter this August 17th. This summer more than any before it, I felt the distinct pain of working through the time when other teachers are off. I have never had three whole months like many teachers get, but our college used to line up better with the K12 rhythm when we finished at the end of July.

I am not complaining, exactly. I adore my time off and there are even benefits to getting out so late. I will have time to help my kids get going in their own schools. I get to enjoy fall in ways that many others might not with day trips to the mountain while others are gearing up for their new school year.

But I feel apart. Separate. A little like I am playing triplets that don’t match the ones played in the next section. Or worse. Like that one instrument that comes in during the measure when the whole band has a rest.

This asynchronous rest of mine has taught me something. It matters when I am together with the group. There is a power in the rhythm of habits for writing and music practice that gets even stronger when others work along with me.

I am not going to whine about it (much more). Instead, I am going to remember that lesson the next time I am in charge of my own schedule.

May you find joy in the rhythms of your community-

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P.S. We’ll be playing at the Showplace Stage near the Blue Gate on Thursday, September 8th and Monday, September 19th from 7:00-7:30 . Come by if you’d like to hear whether we remember what the director said.

We’ll play Hogan’s Heroes, The King and I, and the Pink Panther along with a few others.

Finally, for just a little extra, here’s one of my all time favorites on rhythm and what it’s like to align with an even greater song.

Wednesday Wonders: On Breaking Rules

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I once cut in line.

It wasn’t that long ago.

I was following my six-year-old and eager to see the clouded leopard cubs at the Point Defiance Zoo. Not realizing that the ten-foot wide mass of moving children and parents actually signaled a place to wait patiently, I chased my own little boy up past the crowd straight to where a zoo worker stood, patiently holding back the mob and letting a trickle of people in to see the baby critters in their enclosure behind a protective wall of glass.

“Um, you have to wait your turn,” the soft-spoken young woman in the zoo uniform said to my back after I had passed her and peered toward the cubs with Quinton pulling me at full speed.

At this point my teenager, who could see there was a line, had abandoned us in embarrassment. He went to the back of the mass of humans and waited for us to join him there.

I stepped back to where the young woman was, still not realizing I had cut and trying to wrap my brain around what was happening while dragging along a squirming kid.

“Did you just cut in front of all these people?” a lady asked in a voice that carried across the chaos and made everyone turn to look at me.

As she spoke these words, she looked down on me in utter disdain. She reminded me a little of Mr. Dursley in female form with short cropped hair and the air of someone who always followed the rules would never dream of having a squirming kid.

I didn’t make eye contact with the much taller woman. Instead, I turned to the young zoo worker with long blonde hair.

“Is there a line?” I asked her in a half whisper.

She smiled kindly at me and nodded.

I mumbled something about not knowing that, stammering about a need for more signs even as I knew I was in the wrong.

I literally hung my head, still holding on to my boy and making my way back to the teenager.

We moved on to the tigers, never getting to really see the cubs that day.

Yesterday, something happened that reminded me of that moment only this time I was the Dursley lady.

Quinton and I made the trek up to our favorite mountain lake at the top of Chinook Pass. Lake Tipsoo sits in a place full of traffic where thousands of travelers stop at the crest of the highway. In the past the tourists trampled it, but now the rangers and signs guard the area, telling all  to kindly stay on the paths rather than kill the wildflowers, butterflies and tadpoles with our clomping feet.

I spent a good deal of motherly energy teaching Q how important it is to walk gently so we all can enjoy the beauty.

Right before we left, he insisted we go back to view the tadpoles one last time and see if we could find that salamander who hides under the foot bridge.

“Mom! There’s a lady in the water!” Quinton said as we got to our favorite spot.

Sure enough. Some foolish and uninformed woman stood up to the middle of her calves in previously untouched mud. She had not seen or ignored all the signs telling her not to wade, not to touch, and not to leave the path. She was squashing the tadpole territory and looked like she enjoyed doing it.

I did not make a cutting comment to her. I did not, as my son suggested, tell her not to do that.

I took his hand and we left even as she spoke to my son about how cute the tadpoles were. I got the feeling she thought I was a mean mom for not letting him get a better look.

In my head, I was furious and didn’t trust that I could say anything to her without making the whole situation worse.

I wish I could have said something kind and true to her, but even as I imagine it, I can’t come up with a good thing to say.

So, dear readers, here are my writing prompts for you today:

Non-fiction

When did you break a social rule like cutting in line or stepping off the path? Did someone point it out to you? How did that go?

When did you see a rule broken and it hurt your heart? What did you do? 

Fiction

When did your character break a rule or see a rule broken? What happened next?

And if you ever successfully pointed out a transgression with a kind heart, I’d sure love to hear about that!

May you walk gently and get to see the leopard cubs,

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Wednesday Wonders: Why a Closing Japanese American Church Matters Today

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Bulletin with a photo of the stained glass from the Tacoma Japanese American Episcopal Methodist Church on Fawcett Street in Tacoma complete with my prayer doodles

Last Sunday, I went to the closing ceremony of the Whitney Memorial United Methodist Church, a congregation of Japanese Americans who voted to shut their doors this spring.

I sat in the back of Puyallup United Methodist Church in a different pew from where I sit most Sundays.

Here I saw Shirley DeLarme and Ann Berney, two former pastors of PUMC, and many of my church friends. The origami cranes hung from the ceiling in gold, red, blue, and primary colors that danced and twirled.

The company filled my heart and the decorations reminded me of countless hours I spent with Japanese students in my younger years as a teacher. The futomaki I ate afterwards reminded me of them even more with the rolled nori and stuffing probably designed to suit the tastes of the American-born.

Running through my nostalgia, however, was a stinging thread of sorrow. 

I saw the pain in the faces of those who had lost their church community that opened on September 22, 1907. I heard the anguish in the voice of their Pastor Karen Yokota Love as she reassured them that they had not let their ancestors down. Even as Whitney Memorial presented generous gifts of the cottage they owned, stained glass and the original bell from their church, I ached.

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The church bell Mr. Mizukami said once came from a train

I could not escape the loss the closing of this church represents to our community.

Those cranes hung from the ceiling came from the 2014 United Methodist conference held at the Puyallup Fair Grounds. Here the ancestors of those remaining members, including then church pastor Seichi Niwa, found themselves interned in 1942.

After the war, member Greg Mizukami told us, only ten percent of the population retuned to the once thriving church community then located on Fawcett Street in hilltop Tacoma. In spite of this they continued to do the work of Christians everywhere, helping the poor and the immigrant communities, even though many of the congregation never returned and the church never fully recovered.

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The Fawcett building still stands and is now owned by the University of Washington.

Over one hundred years later, we still face the effects of the anger and fear from World War II.

When I asked him, my father once told me how terrifying it was to live with the fear of a Japanese invasion. He spoke of black outs and air raid sirens, of forts built to guard Puget Sound, and of fear of spies both rational and irrational.

I get that. I feel it now when the news brings stories of American citizens pledging themselves to foreign powers and then viciously killing innocents. I feel it when I wait hours in line for security checks even for our college’s graduation ceremonies. I feel it whenever I think  on September 11, 2001 or San Bernardino this last year.

But I also know that locking up people who have done nothing wrong is never the answer to keeping ourselves safe. It wasn’t the answer then, and it isn’t the answer today.

The effects of unjust incarceration devastate individuals and communities.

The effects last for generations.

I saw those effects Sunday.

I do not want my grandchildren to see a ceremony one hundred years from now like the one I saw Sunday.

I pray we all know grace and peace even in times of fear. May we know this for our own tranquility, for those we might otherwise hurt, and for the generations that will follow us.

I don’t believe Whitney Memorial United Methodist Church let their ancestors down.

And I intend to work like my hair is on fire to be sure I don’t let my descendants down.

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The Lesser Holidays Part One: International Women’s Day

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Recently, I looked up International Women’s Day while drafting my next column for The News Tribune. I had never heard of the holiday until my immigrant students brought me flowers, so I was quite surprised to learn that the celebration began in the United States.

Perhaps we dropped it in the U.S. because it was started by socialists and the holiday played a role in the Russian Revolution of 1917. This would also explain why so many of my Russian speaking students always remembered the date.

Or perhaps Mother’s Day took it over. Not all women are mothers, though, so I’m rather in favor of Women’s Day as we look at ways to improve our world. I sincerely believe that gender equality is in the best interest of my two sons as well as a benefit to my nieces. 

The personal essay I wrote for the Tribune speaks to one way we can move in this direction. It runs on Monday, March 9th, the day after International Women’s Day. The editor and I finally agreed on a title: Listen to What Women Say, Not How We Sound. (Titles are such a challenge for me!)

I’ll link to it here on Monday and then move on this March to holidays that usually don’t involve long vacations or fireworks. I write this wishing you all a fabulous Women’s Day this Sunday, March 8th. May we all hear each others’ voices. Beauty with Brown Eyes

Mother Tongue Tuesday: Arabic

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The young woman stood before me speaking English clearly with an accent that rounded out sounds. Her eyes lit with joy as her tight curls framed her face.

She struggled with her writing, she said, and wondered if she could join our ESL classes. When she told me she spoke Arabic, I understood the trouble. Most of the Arabic speaking students I have met wrestle with writing more than with speaking, and I imagine I would struggle much more with written expression, too, if I studied Arabic.

Arabic uses a writing system that, like Dari, reads from right to left. The alphabet has 28 letters that are, for the most part, nothing like the English Roman alphabet. A quick look at Wikipedia had my eyes spinning in their sockets when I tried to begin to learn this system.

Here’s the alphabet’s pronunciation from the BBC’s language page. (Which I just found! Hurray!).

Other Arabic Tidbits according to the UCLA Language Project and the BBC’s Fantastic Language Page

  • Arabic is a Semitic language in the Afro-Asiatic sub-group varieties of Arabic.
  • 200 million people speak Arabic as a part of their everyday lives. About a billion people use Arabic to study the Qur’an.
  • Arabic words adopted into English include cotton, lemon and guitar. (I always wondered about that guitar word. It has a non-English feel.)
  • Many plurals in Arabic are formed by changing the word in the middle rather than adding a suffix. (In English we often add the suffix -s.) For example, one dog is kalb and two dogs are kilaab.

I asked a wise friend who stretches far beyond the American Top 40 to tell me her favorite singers in Arabic. She could not narrow it down to one, so I picked a Moroccan singer at random for you from her list so you can hear this language of our world yourself:

 

Mother Tongue Tuesday: Moldavian

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Before my students educated me, I had pictured the Soviet Union as one solid mass of land with only Russian speakers across the expanse.

I also never heard of the tiny landlocked sliver of Moldova tucked between Romania and Ukraine until many of my students said they came from there. When I began to listen, I heard the melody of their language ringing differently from Russian and found, even though I know a smattering of Russian, I could not catch any of what they said using that knowledge.

After running to my computer to find out more, I discovered that Moldova is a tiny country that Stalin carved out of Romania, a place I had heard of because of Bram Stoker, gypsies and Ceausescu.

Although Russian speakers flooded Moldova during the Soviet era, the language of the natives remained Romanian. It fascinates and irritates me how often language is used for political power.

Romanian is, not surprisingly, a Romance language, according to ethnologue.com which is why Romanian sounds so far from the Slavic Russian.

I once had an Italian student in class with the Moldovans. While they couldn’t understand one another outright, much of the vocabulary was the same or similar.

Romanian and Moldavian Tidbits from UCLA Language Project

  • Moldavian is considered a separate language from Romania for largely political reasons.
  • It is now written in Roman script rather than Cyrillic since the Soviet Union collapsed.
  • It shares 70 percent of its vocabulary with other Romance languages, especially Italian.
  • Word order is mostly subject-verb-object (like English).
  • Romanian has masculine, feminine and irregular grammatical genders.

When I see the news of Ukraine today, I see the faces of my students and their families who live in Eastern Europe. In looking up Moldova, I learned that the country is also living on edge as they watch events develop in the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. Language and language teaching has a remarkable power to divide and also to unite. As I watch the news, I am rooting for the uniting.

We all have babies, after all, no matter what language we speak, and I’m betting you can guess what this commercial actress is saying about diapers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Richard Sherman and Harry Potter Have in Common

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The Seahawks and the words in a story. The two don’t seem to have much in common, but experiencing the buildup to the Superbowl within a few miles of Seattle’s epicenter has me thinking of crazy connections.

Many years ago I took a fiction writing class through the University of Washington. The instructor and the text informed me that, in order to write good fiction, I had to use conflict. And the higher the stakes, the better the tale. If the character fought death itself, this would be the best story of all.

I decided then and there that fiction was not for me. Secretly, I still loved reading it and tried to ignore that conflict pulled me into and through all of my most favorite tales from THE UGLY DUCKLING and IS THIS THE HOUSE OF MISTRESS MOUSE  to THE HOBBIT, the Harry Potter series and THE DAVINCI CODE.

But I would not be a part of writing such things, thank you very much. I needed to keep myself above all of that. I needed to focus on compassion and altruism and things like that there.

I squeezed my eyes shut to my need to write and look at fiction in the face until my life hit me full on with it’s own conflict. Until I could no longer avoid the conflict deep within all that is around me. I could be a vegetarian, sure. But the animals I refused to eat still ate each other. Plants have feelings to some degree or another, and I must eat something.

On top of that, I lost babies in miscarriages and in other ways too difficult to explain in this post.  After life brought me so low I could not get off the couch, a novel saved me. A story with life and death stakes. A story where the main characters discover things about themselves while running from bad guys attempting to kill them in unspeakable ways.

Saying a story saved me sounds exaggerated but it’s not. I remember that couch and that book holding me in this world when nothing else would. And then I remember picking up my pen to save myself once more by writing words I needed to hear.

That escape from the prison of my own mind Neil Gaiman described in my last post let me find light. And the only way for me to get to that light was to sink into a story while the thing that pulled me through that story was – you guessed it – conflict. Shooting and stabbings and burnings and other such dreck.

Like Greg Garrett, I feel deeply torn about cheering for my team to bash the other. But another part of me knows that the conflict drawing us in holds blessings in the shape of good deeds and a wonder that is a community.

So as I watch the Seahawks move to this battle full of hits and tackles like the one that took out my sweet husband’s knee umpteen years ago, I step back and see, too, the joy that it’s bringing the people around me: The kids in their green and blue. My friends Ginny and Robin in their a Capella singing group on MSNBC. The happiness that is a sporting event that pulls people together in parties with nachos and laughter.

Only a blend of bookworm and sometime football fan could pull this up but, for what it’s worth, here are five things football players and story characters have in common: 

1. The stakes are high. Both Harry Potter and Richard Sherman could die in the fight. Really. This, I know, is not the best reason we watch or read but it is a driving force that we cannot deny. I think admitting it helps us work through it.

2. They are fighting to win. Maybe the characters will not get what they want or the players will not catch the ball but, in trying, they win my heart as long as they do it with some semblance of grace and chutzpah.

3. The antagonists of a story and the other team (those Broncos this time) also have my sympathy on some level. It’s part of the conflict to be able to identify with the other side and be able imagine what it feels like to be on the other side.

4. The football game, just like a story, has a beginning, a middle and an end with a climax and even an epilogue. If the Seahawks win, it will be hard to get enough of the play by plays afterward. If my team loses, I will shut off the TV and make a bigger plate of nachos while listening to my brother-in-law grouse about officials. (In stories, I shut the book and complain to my family about how I hated THAT ending).

5. Players and characters become better through the effort. This is something I think draws us all into the games and stories. We love to see others grow and cross our fingers that we are doing the same in the stories and games of our own lives.

Yes, I’ll be watching on Sunday. I’ll see the giant young men slam into each other while the better part of me cringes when the players are injured as I know they will be. But I’ll also celebrate that we have something to cheer for. Something that gets us talking and pulls us from our lows to find yet another story. This one happens to play out on a screen rather than between the pages of a book.

Go Hawks! And may we all find the best in ourselves whether we win or lose the conflict that brought us to the game or story in the first place.