Someday They’ll Love Thi Nguyen

Oh Thi. Poor Thi. After a long day where a sweet toothy kid hiss and spits at you, after a fake tanned, long nail girl gives you a one star Yelp review, you come home to an empty home. Alone. Unnoticed, unappreciated, you swing back a glass to keep you inebriated. To drown out that little voice that says, “you’re not needed.” Which leads to the thought, “you’re not wanted,” to the inevitable, “you’re not loved.”

Maybe when you were young, you were dumb and you couldn’t see that Mom was barely scraping by. She didn’t have time. There wasn’t enough of her, spread too thin, you could never win.

But that’s ok. Let’s chase something that can be won! But ah, why life is such a delusion. That shiny city all glitz all glittery is an illusion. But it lured your stupid self into its provocative trap. Your mind rapt within it, your body wrapped in it, your soul warped from it. Thi, they don’t want you, they don’t need you. There’s somebody better, somebody brighter, a star. And it isn’t you.

Well fine! Because there’s this guy. And in his eyes, I AM the star. I’ve set the bar, I’m the one, the only! His arms surround me, holds me as I’m stationary and still, drinking up this moment in which I have forever wished and willed. But his eyes catch something better. Somebody better. Somebody blonder.

Oh Thi. Poor Thi. You’re blind. You’re lost. You’re confused. Why chase the ruse, when the risk is huge? But if my present, my now, is coming home to nothing, to no one, what else do I have to lose?

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We Made Something Beautiful.

I woke up today with Damien Rice in my head. His sound is eerie, delicate and bittersweet. And that’s exactly what I felt this morning — bittersweet.

Early November of last year, I auditioned for a little play called, This Girl Laughs, This Girl Cries, This Girl Does Nothing. The audition was strange. We were to recite our favorite children’s poem and then participate in a group improvisation exercise. I was intriqued and recited Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. I thought Shel Silverstein and Dr. Seuss were too obvious. For the improvisation part, I recall pretending to cry and collecting my tears in a mug. In any case, I got a part, a main part, and yesterday was closing night, our last performance.

Today, the realization that it was all over had set in. Bittersweet.  That word is such an oxymoron. But alas, all good things have to end right? The transient part of it makes it all more special to me, makes me grateful for the people I met, the personal evolution I developed as an actor/person and the pride I felt in creating something magical. I was a part of something bigger than myself and it made me happy. Days weeks months lived well.

The play, written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, is about three girls who are sisters, who are triplets. They’re related and so close in age but so so very different. They get abandoned in the woods at age 12 by a broken hearted father who was influenced by the evil step mother. The oldest, Albienne, is all about venturing out and moving forward, discovering the world and new places (This Girl Laughs). The middle child, Beatrix, wants to go in the other direction, back to search for Father as to why he could do such a thing (This Girl Cries). As for the youngest, Carmen, she stays in the woods (This Girl Does Nothing). The play follows the girls in their decision and their journeys that were set forth from that fateful day in the woods until the ripe old(er) age of 31.

Damn. I’M 31 RIGHT NOW. I AM 1 OF 3 DAUGHTERS. MY SISTERS AND I ARE RELATED BUT SO DIFFERENT. This play pulled at me in so many different ways and I felt I could play almost all the characters. I related to Albienne because she was the oldest. I’m the oldest in my family. She’s also about taking charge and being a leader. She’s an extrovert, meeting people and building communities. ALL ME. I related to Beatrix because of her attachment to the father. I have a wonderful relationship with my dad. He is the most interesting man in the world to me and I’ve walked the Sai Gon river with him.  I wanted to be the narrator of the story, because I’m a storyteller and a substitute teacher, and this play was written almost as a poem/children’s story in which I slay every day in the classroom. The only role I could not see myself in was Carmen. And guess which role I got. CARMEN.

 

Developing the Character

It was a struggle to figure out Carmen. She literally stays in one spot for YEARS, for the whole friggin play (the most I ever stayed in one spot was a month and that was a mandated isolation due to tuberculosis). I am not about that and despise people who are inactive and lazy. I saw Carmen as weird, not being curious of the world. I saw her as selfish because she didn’t want to help others anymore, she just wanted to help her own kids. That’s another thing, she gets married and has kids. She’s a mom. I’m soooooo far from that in my life right now.

I asked the directors, Bekkah and Lauren, why the eff did you choose me for Carmen? What did you see in me that resonated Carmen? Bekkah told me that I had a seriousness to me. Carmen has the most practical, blunt lines in the play. She usually has the last word in the scenes, the punctuated, emphatic end of a poem, because she’s wiser beyond her years, though she’s the youngest, she makes the most perceptive observations. She sees things the way they are and acknowledges them.

Is Bekkah saying I’m old? Alright alright so Carmen’s deep. But how do I show that? Bekkah gave me a note at the beginning, “Thi, your character does nothing, but you have to show different ways to do nothing.” MIND BLOWN. Bekkah kept posing challenging questions that really helped me get to know Carmen. Because how else could I? Carmen doesn’t respond when I talk to her. All I have are her words in the script, and that’s limiting. Bekkah asked, “What have you learned? What would 31-year old pregnant mom Carmen tell her 10 year old self?”

It took me 4 months to develop Carmen and I’m proud of what I came up with. But I really couldn’t have done it without the directors. Bekkah’s direction and notes made me more aware of things I could discover for Carmen, from her mannerisms to her internal expression of emotions. Lauren, the assistant director really gave me the encouragement that I was heading in the right direction in developing the character.

Al Pacino was asked once and I’m paraphrasing, “Which out of all the characters you’ve played, is most liked you?” And he answered, “Well, all of them. They’re my face, they’re my voice. It’s just some characters highlight different facets of me more than others.” Objectively speaking, Carmen is the least like me in personality, but what I’m most proud of is that I found myself in her emotions throughout the play. I felt everything she felt, because they were my feelings and I bared it all on stage. I grew as an actor because I was able to do that. I grew as a person because I found relation to someone that was so unlike me.

 

The Team

The play was produced by this 2 year old theatre company called Flat Tire Theatre Company. I had reservations coming into a group of people that all knew each other from college. Also, the average age among them was 25. What do they know? A WHOLE LOT. I was astounded at their skill set, their organization, their creativity, their work ethic, their kindness and their humility. Shae the stage manager, knew every cue, every set piece movement/change, she knew our meaning even when we were speaking gibberish. Martin, the publicity guy went all out to share about the show to the point that we had 5/6 sold out shows! The design team, Sam and Michael, and their resourcefulness and creativity managed to create a magical, imaginative world and tone with limited resources from dyed cloths, lights, free music and shadows.

 

photos courtesy Flat Tire Theatre Company, cast and crew

 

Something Magical

I have a lot of trouble with self promoting or even talking myself up. I think it’s due to years of Catholic guilt (I’m flawed and forever a sinner), first generation guilt (can’t validate your parents struggle as a broke ass actor), and Eastern values (it’s not about you, it’s about how you can serve the group). When I was a younger actor, I struggled with telling people about the shows or things that I had done or were a part of. There was a sense of shame that my acting wasn’t good, why would I want to burden people with that. I had social anxiety that it wouldn’t entertain people and they wasted their time seeing me. I was a coward, I couldn’t bear for people to see my art and judge it. So, I didn’t tell people. And when things I had worked on got unnoticed, shows I was in where no one I knew was in the audience, I felt sad.

I need that validation. I’ve always known that. But now in my 30s, I finally accept that part of me. But it’s not even about validation. It’s about being seen, being heard, being understood. Even if it’s with someone I don’t know. There’s an experience that was shared, a memory created and perhaps remembered forever.

No one in this production got paid. Cast and crew committed a lot of time and work and effort into this. Into something that closed yesterday. Something that is now gone.

After our first run through, day before opening night, Bekkah said something that really hit me that I was a part of something magical. She said, “We made something.” It’s not easy to make something. In a world of instant gratification and fatalistic destruction, it’s easy to consume, to destroy and to forget. What we made may have been temporary, but the fact that we made it, not for money, not for fame, but simply just to share it, has bred endless possible connections. Connection between performers and audience, connection among strangers through shared emotion and experience or time and space. Connection between colleagues, friends, and/or families. Those connections can be lasting. Those connections can be forever and even transcendent.

To me, those connections are something beautiful.

It’s complicated


Run away with me to the pink kisses and orange embraces, where the land ends to where the Pacific curves and bends endlessly. As Sun’s long arms cloaks me, wraps me, swaddles me into a lazy slumber, and my eyes droop in the shadows of palm trees. An easy sigh escapes my lips as I float away into you.

Oh LA! How can one resist you? Your beautiful bronze skin in constant glow, your spine like the horizon beckons me to you. And I follow your soft fingers along the sweet zephyr with eyes closed and quickened heart. I was young. I was dumb. And I fell so quick and deeply into you, where time stopped. And so did logic.

It takes me years before I break away from your charm. Your spell. Holy hell, I’ve only just woken up into obscurity. Curiously, seriously, I am lost.

You’re big, you’re cold. You’re a sprawling city, gross and gritty. You held me tight only to throw me far across the 405. And I believed your lies. You chewed me up and spat me out, pressing me down against your Skid Row pissed on pavements. So scarred. So scared. So acutely aware.

The shroud’s become transparent and the smog is finally lifted. Let’s be realistic, I’m just another statistic, to your sadistic collection. I opened myself to your constant rejection, when all I ever gave you was my devoted adoration. Like the waves tumbling over and over, pummeling rocks into sand, I suffer and subject myself to you, crumbling, breaking, broken.

Oh what a masochist I am! LA what have you done to me? I’ve lost all autonomy, I’ve succumb to your mindless insanity. Like the heavily sedated, obnoxious boobs and mutilated faces, I’ve carved, chopped and severed sensibility for a farce, slight possibility of an LA legacy. I don’t recognize myself anymore.

I’m NOT myself anymore. And THAT is what pulls me back into your good graces. Your consuming embraces. Your many faces. I’ve reinvented myself, keeping afloat, keeping relevant in your eyes, so that I don’t bore you. So that I won’t be forgotten by you. So that I may be special to you?

And then I step over the edge and see myself in your vast vastness. Your blank eyes and empty contemplation. Sun shines too bright above me, as I see my harsh reflection in the sea. And I finally see, that you cannot see. Pity. You and I, LA, we’re one and the same. We’re both desperate souls in an endless ocean of soulless, mindless, pointless atoms desperately clinging to an impossibility.

I am exactly where I’m supposed to be

Joke of the Day! MY LIFE!

No seriously, Joke of the Day!

Actor: I’m an actor in LA!

Snarky Person: Really? What restaurant?

So I’ve recently met a new server at the restaurant I work at, and surprise surprise, he’s an actor. As we were sizing each other up and asking how our respective acting careers were going, (not much since we both find ourselves working at the same restaurant), a stark difference between us stood out like a fucking diaper rash on a pristine baby’s bottom … AGE.

Ugh. He’s a young 26yo pup, around the same age as me when I came down to LA (25) to seriously pursue this. Don’t get me started on the 23yo starlet that’s auditioning up the ass as I cover her shifts since oh-I-have-nothing-to-do-since-I-have-no-auditions-and-all-the-time-in-the-world …

Bitter much, Thi?

The kid asked me, “How long have you been pursuing this?” What a loaded question. To answer this question, I was forced to do the math. I came down here, August 2011, about to turn 25. I am now 31 and by August, it’ll be 7 years. Fuuuuuck. Instinctively, automatically, immediately, I berated myself. You’ve been here 7 years and what do you have to show for it?! You’re in the crux of your 30s and you’re still working at a restaurant alongside highschoolers? You suck, you’re nothing, you should just quit and die as your dream dies too. 

Hahaha, as I write my thoughts out, I literally just lol’ed (I’m so current). Because seeing that thought process on paper kinda makes it sound and look soooo dramatic that it reminds me of a kindergartener crying the biggest tears as her clip gets moved down the behavior chart, from “ready to learn” to “needs improvement”.

I’ve been subbing for a kindergarten class for the past few days and everyday one kid or more cries. Whether it’s my fault or not (telling them what to do, moving their clips down the behavior chart, not giving them a sticker, paper cut, mispronouncing their names, missing their mommy, etc.), they cry as if it’s the end of the world and they’ve lost an arm. So, to make them stop crying, I ask them, “Are you bleeding?”, “Did you lose an arm?”, and “Is it the end of the world?” As they answer “no” to each of these questions and reflect why they’re even crying, I squash their woes with my ace question, “Then why are you crying?” and lo and behold, it’s a fucking miracle, they stop crying and realize they’re being silly drama queens.

So. Asking myself these questions, I know for a fact that I’m being a silly drama queen. At first glance, at face value, on paper, where I’m having this conversation with someone 5 years younger than me at a job I hate, it’s easy for me to dismiss all the progress I’ve made throughout these 7 years. So let’s don’t. 

I’m making the most consistent money I’ve ever made before, being able to afford to travel to Spain, Hawaii, Viet Nam, Nola, or to do anything (i.e. Burning Man, Coachella) whenever I want! I’m driving a car that has blue tooth and windows that work! I have goddamn health insurance people! (Still no parking spot, but oh well. Win some lose some.)

I’m so much more confident than when I was at 25. I don’t get as nervous as I used to whenever I’m in front of people, because I’m getting in front of people more! I’m on stage, I’m making people laugh, I’m storytelling and being vulnerable and sharing myself and people are enjoying it and I get a high out of it and it validates me.

My acting is so much better where I’m making specific choices that make my personality shine because I’m actually proud of who I am. I’m currently rehearsing for a play in which I’m a lead actor!

My writing is so much better because I’m able to tap into my experiences and feelings and express it in a way that I could never have done at 25. I’ve been working on a pilot, writing poetry and short stories that I’m proud of. 

I’m calmer, less neurotic, less driven and less defined by the lack of tangible measurable results. I don’t judge myself so critically and have these unrealistic expectations for myself. I’m just acutely aware of where I am right now and am ok with it. I accept it. I’m not bleeding, I haven’t lost an arm and it’s not the end of the world. I am exactly where I’m supposed to be right now. 

drama queen

All you need are Friends and Music

I know my last post was a bit negative so let’s compensate with a different mindset. Some gratitude (a helpful article on how gratitude is effective in the workplace). Some perspective.

Although the world is ending around us, I can still find the silver lining in my personal life. I am truly grateful for my friends and I have such an amazing community of people that I trust and love and am comfortable enough to show my neurotic overthinking woes or my first second third pilot drafts. If I need a hug, they’ll hold me. If I need to vent, they’ll listen. When I’m hating myself and define myself by my failures, they hold me up and look me in the eye, showing me how much they appreciate me. How much they value me. I matter. To them. A simple “how are you.” An email blast to let everyone know it’s my birthday. Watching a movie with me even though they’ve already seen it. A shared meal, shared time, shared experiences.

I work with a lot of kids and I’ve seen how much pressure they’ve put upon themselves. And at such a young age, they define themselves by their limited experiences and accomplishments. Most of the time that’s defined by things, because it’s in front of their faces, because it’s measurable, but it’s not sustainable. I saw high performing overachieving high schoolers get wrecked up by the scores they get, the colleges they get in/or not get in, the student government positions they hold. And when I told them to not define their accomplishments by those things, they asked me point blank, well, what do you consider your greatest accomplishments?

My relationships with others. I’m so grateful that I have been able to maintain friendships with people I’ve known since diapers, since middle school, high school, college, Spain, work, this summer. I’m grateful that I get to be a part of their lives, and share within their milestones (weddings, first borns, second borns, birthdays). This year, I’ve officiated two weddings — that my friends wanted me to be a part of their wedding and to hear what I had to say, was an honor!

I am seen. I am heard. I am loved.

I’m also grateful for music. Especially Spotify. OMG, because I have access to so many different artists, different sounds, moods, tones, beats, rhythms, there’s a song for every moment that I live. It heightens my happiness but also sympathizes with my sadness. How someone I’ve never met can create and share something that truly understands the minute changes, ebbs and flows of my feelings and thoughts throughout the day is OMG fucking mind blowing. It’s a connection that transcends human understanding that is felt within every inch of my body. And I LOVE it. And it makes me happy.

 

The Contrast Becomes the Definition

“Everybody always asks if you have a career, if you’re married, if you have children. Like if life was some kind of grocery list. No one ever asks us if we’re happy.” – Farrah Gray.

I’m totally guilty of that. Especially last year, when I was turning 30. That list was on a loop in my mind that eventually got me crying on my 30th birthday. And then I got tuberculosis, ended up in the hospital for two weeks. Waking up in the hospital, completely disoriented, I realized, I could’ve died, but I didn’t. This caused a shift in the expectations I had had for myself. After the whole TB/hospital/isolation ordeal, I still didn’t have a career, I still didn’t have a partner nor children, but I was happy. The mere fact that I had almost lost my health and got it back made me really happy.

2017. Alright, so now that I have my health, has that happiness lasted? Absolutely not. I still don’t have a career, still making devastating mistakes in the dating thing (nowhere near marriage) and thank god I don’t have children. But does this shit matter towards my happiness? No. Because last year, I was happy without it.

I heard the phrase “optimal happiness” recently. Reflecting upon this phrase, I wonder, doesn’t putting these two words together make it redundant? Shouldn’t happiness be the highest, the best you feel? And if optimal is a qualifier, doesn’t that dilute the meaning of happiness? Also, who is to say that one is entitled to happiness? What if you’re a shitty person? And you deserve sadness, trial and tribulations and unfortunate events? But then … just wait a minute …

You can’t have happiness without sadness. The contrast becomes the definition. 2016, my health was deteriorating. I was losing it. So when I slowly gained it back, I was happy because that lost was felt. 2017, I didn’t lose anything. There was no contrast to gauge a sense of happiness.

And now reflecting on this past year, asking myself, Thi, are you happy? I’m not. I’ve been feeling very very very low.  The other week, I had a bad case of the Mondays where I had such an aversion to my surviving jobs. I hated the monotony of my life. I hated the thankless kids and rude adults as a substitute teacher by day and a waitress by night. I hated that I wasn’t being creatively challenged or fulfilled. And I’ve been sad, mad, angry, frustrated, upset (more redundancy for ya), and then I wonder. Is this perpetual hell hole necessary for that eventual happiness on the bend? Or am I delusional? That there is NO bend, NO horizon, just more hamster wheel to spin.

HOPE. You HAVE to have hope. Because if you don’t, what is the fucking point?

Birthday Blues

Happy birthday to me. You’re one year older, one year wiser. You could’ve died, but you didn’t. You a survivor.

Happy birthday to me. For that one day out of 365 days, you’re special. You matter. You’re validated. Celebrated.

Happy birthday to me. But there’s this dark cloud hanging above. And I just can’t rise above. Instead I fall into a black hole, out of my control.

Happy birthday to me. When Eve bit into that apple, she knew coldness. And that black holes hit soulless. Doubt creeps in. The truth lies within.

Happy birthday to me. You’re not special. You never were. Facebook lists how many more people have your same birthday. Today. Same day.

But so what? Mitigate that expectation of validation. Why do you need it? You don’t. You won’t. You’re not a small kid figuring out her motor skills awkwardly. You’re not a pimply teen working out the intricacies of puberty.

You’re an adult. That what is most important is not validation from anyone or anything. It’s the waking up in the morning, to smell, to feel, to laugh, to heal for another day, and then another day, and then another day. Soon, you’ve hit the year mark, where there’s always sun after the dark.

You’re 31. You made it this far. Sit down. Be humble.

I WON!

moth winner

So I’ve been telling stories around town (check out my progress and others shows I’ve done) and a popular storytelling show I go to is The Moth. It’s an open mic where you have to tell a 5 minute true story on theme.  There’s judges that score each storyteller. The person with the highest score goes to the Grand Slam where 10 winners compete, telling a new 5 minute story on a new theme.

If you want to tell a story, you put your name in the bag and they pull out 10 names for the night. The theme of the night was deadlines. Not only was I called up, (I was the 6th storyteller, usually the 1st storyteller gets judged the hardest because judges have to calibrate their scoring), my story barely made the time constraint, but I also won the night! Whoo! I told a story about getting tickets to a music festival. It was a stressful time and I relived it as I retold that story.

Here’s my certificate! Don’t mind the smudge, it was from a celebratory beer, cheers!

IMG_1441

Someday I’ll love Thi Nguyen

a poem inspired by Ocean Vuong’s, Someday I’ll Love Ocean Vuong


Thi, don’t be afraid. Just breathe in. Breathe out. Be still. Listen. It’s most calm at night between the deep hum of a low flying airplane and the steady soft snores of your next door neighbor. As the four walls of your tiny studio reverberates Time’s breath, you notice how transient life really is with every exhale. It’s not cold in 80 degree LA weather, but you wish to see your breath, as if it’s the only indicator of a life worth continuing. A 5 year old kid leans his soft hair and warm head against your hand as he struggles with personal space and sharing. An old couple walks ahead of you as fast as they can but they wobble. And you wonder where you fit. To fit in the crook of your father’s arm as a toddler on that discolored white carpeted couch or to kiss your mom good night on a cheek full of dark brown freckles from years of Sai Gon’s hot sun, you notice now that both parents have wrinkles abound as Time surrounds and suffocates all. With no discernment. Hands clasp praying for some reprieve. Not. More like clumsy hands trying to grab Time down for control. No. To hold on, to wait for you as you hope to make some kind of impact to Time. To beg. Yes. Maybe to impress, maybe to stand out, so that instead of Time suppressing you down, Thi, you rise and live on beyond it into legacy. And then you look into the mirror, and you see a ghost in the roots of your hair, as it turned white over night.

Time

I wish you could see /your history is chaining you/ We could let go and never lose /Nostalgia is killing us. – RAC (Doe Paoro), Nostalgia

Ocean, don’t be afraid. The end of the road is so far ahead it is already behind us. – Ocean Vuong, Someday I’ll love Ocean Vuong

All time is all time. It does not change. It does not lend itself to warnings or explanations. It simply is. Take it moment by moment, and you will find that we are all, as I’ve said before, bugs in amber. – Kurt Vonnegurt, Slaughterhouse Five

There is no time. Many become one. – Interpreter, Arrival

Time is moving so fast that I can’t seem to keep up. Kids are getting younger and every day I’m at my oldest. Nostalgia is killing me as I keep looking back at Youth and looking at her with resentment as she has her whole life ahead of her, more TIME ahead of her. The more I keep looking back, the more that gap widens between me and Time, where Time leaves me behind. Alone. With nothing.

Last week, I was feeling really sad. The song Nostalgia came on my Discover Weekly Spotify list and the lyrics just resonated with me. I had this sinking feeling that I was entrapped in a toxic circle of my own doing. Procrastination. Every day I tell myself, I’m going to write a few things toward my script, or I’m going to write creatively like a poem or even a blog post to express myself. And yet the last post I did was in December. Shit. Three months have already passed! See! Where did the time go?

Then a few days ago, I went to this poetry reading/talk. Ocean Vuong, this kid who writes for the New Yorker, a poet and an essayist, read his poem with this line: “The end of the road is so far ahead it is already behind us.” Fucking blew my mind. I went from, Oh shit, Time is so far ahead of me, it lapped me, to Oh shit, Time isn’t a straight line, it’s a  CIRCLE. (This poem is so visceral and poignant, it inspired me to write one myself.)

Now, that wasn’t the first time I encountered Time as being circular. This concept kept getting introduced to me through ALIENS — whether it was from a novel or a Hollywood movie, apparently this concept was always the most PROFOUND THING offered by out of this world creatures. Ha, it’s so foreign, it’s out of this world.

But that concept never took on a personal level for me until Vuong read it out loud. Coincidently, Vuong was an alien. He was born in Viet Nam, immigrated to USA when he was 2. But anyways I’ve digressed. I think what made Vuong such a powerful and effective vessel for me was that he started the poem out with, “Don’t be afraid.”

Is that what I’ve been feeling? Fear that I may never catch up to Time? That I may never fulfill a goal, a dream, a passion, let alone FEEL fulfilled? Fear that instead of blaming it on the lack of Time, it is I that should be blamed for my shortcomings, my wasted potential, my failings? Yea. All the above.

But why????? Why be afraid? JUST FUCKING DON’T. Fear, Time, Fulfillment … all these things aren’t even tangible like this hard ACTUAL scratched up aged cheap wood coffee table in which I write this blog post on.  They are ideas and concepts who’s meanings are adjustable to one’s own mind and experiences. So why can’t I just CHANGE MY MIND? I CAN!

All time is all time. Take it moment by moment and it isn’t scary or monolithic. It’s approachable, it just is. It’s a CIRCLE. Circles aren’t sharp like the pointy ends of a line. I think of a line as stagnant, but a circle is always in motion. It’s the easiest thing a small child can draw. It surrounds things and everything that is within the circle, it bounds it and becomes ONE. And instead of feeling alone, I’m a part of something ALIVE.