The Start of a Journey

Autumn is a season of transition…the leaves changing colour, the start of school, the layered clothes. To be honest, I don’t really feel the feeling of “start” in this season. Strange huh? Given that I want to get married in September! Autumn is a melancholic season so it’s totally-me, and I like burgundy as a colour anyway. In spite of (500) Days of Summer being all about new beginnings with Autumn, to me it’s still more Journey’s End.

Vintage Autumn by Ocean Orchid

However, September is when you go back to normal after the holidays, if this year is normal at all.

First of all, I have 2 500-pages-each history books staring at me on the desk behind my Macbook screen. And as much as I just want to curl up in bed watching Doctor Who in preparation for the Celebration event at ExCel in November I’ll have to go through those books if I want, one day, my bio on Twitter to read like Dr Whatever-my-husband-is-called-like, Historian of the-most-useless-period-in-history. The hair is not mine, I’ve got extensions. And if you didn’t get the reference you need to set your priority straight.

Anyway, Gossip Girl spotting your favourite blonde on a campus in Bloomsbury isn’t the only new thing.

You may remember the conclusion about the world not needing more successful people in my previous blog post. I never really like to talk about those things because it feels like showing off and it makes me uncomfortable.

I ticked another box on the list of Perfect Young Christian Woman and future wife to the Perfect Young Christian Man, or politician for that matter. It isn’t mission overseas, though I applied for the International Citizen Service and passed the 1st round of selections (it isn’t exactly mission in a Christian way but I think it still qualifies).

For the next 9 months together with lectures, seminars, essays and preparing exams I will be busy pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone by coordinating a group of volunteers as part of Team v.

It’s kinda incredible they got me in after I said in my application that I want to swap lives with the Doctor, but then again I even have people who date me even if they know that.

I took the decision to apply because finding it seemed like an answer to a specific prayer. After depression, struggle and losing a job that didn’t make me happy but I didn’t want to leave for fear of the future I needed something that would make me happy. It’s as simple as that. Helping others makes me happy.

If I have to rationalise it, there is a dimension of the idea of leadership that I want to explore. Like one of my main girl crushes aka Lauren Dubinsky wonderfully put it:

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 21.25.59

There’s a lot of talk about leadership and management in the corporate world, but I think there’s a whole world outside of it that is much needier of a leader than it. This isn’t a sarcastic remark on the British political situation. No really, it isn’t, I promise.

Life as a 20something young woman in London isn’t easy, but honestly it has a lot of funny anecdotes you can blog about. And you can always post random pictures of Tom Hiddleston if you have none.

What I meant is that it ain’t too bad, it’s for other people that it’s not as nice, which is why I feel I have a moral responsibility to do something. I may not change the corporate world all by myself, become a Bishop or a PM (though I gained the nickname of Claire Underwood for a reason) but I can inspire a change and I’m going to do that.

It sounds so encouraging, maybe I should really write speeches for politicians for a living.

(c) Ocean Orchid

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How to be more successful (not really…)

Successful people are morning people. If that’s not just their propaganda, I’m doomed to be either the proof you can be successful as a night owl or unsuccessful. I’m beyond doubt a night owl.

A couple of months ago, during a weekend away in the countryside, I had the brilliant idea to wake up at 4 AM to see the sunrise, and then join the morning office of a Benedictine priory. Far from being a devoted Christian thing, that’s as close as you get to being in the Middle Ages according to Ken Follett.The Pillars of the Earth, Prior Philip

I started writing this post on paper that morning when left with nothing to do before my day, and this reinforced my idea that it’s useless to get up early in the day and you don’t really get anything done that you can’t get done in the night. The sunrise on the countryside is certainly beautiful, but the world is still not going to be functioning until later in the day. Unless you catch up on work being done during the night somewhere else in the world like when you work at Buffer (which, unfortunately, I don’t), or you do something relevant for what you are going to do later in the day I see very little reason to get up early when your focus grows in the night. So if you are a morning person fine, do that. If you aren’t, that’s another story.

Writing this could be considered doing what successful people do, but the propaganda behind the successful people are morning people mantra implies a degree of action that hardly is an equivalent of my late night contemplations. Or early morning contemplations. Or up to midday contemplations. My mind is far from being functioning in the let’s conquer the world way until it’s fashionably late. I was born at 3.45AM in January and I think it wasn’t an early riser thing, it was a “I can’t miss out on the night” thing. Tales of day being a huge nap-time and my insomnia begin from day one, and you see a perfect example of unconditional love in the fact my mother never killed me for being wide awake when she had to sleep. The fact I look perfectly like Novalis itself should raise suspicions.

The reason why they say morning people are successful people implies a specific definition of success. I’m sure of that because it’s shouted all around that night owls are cleverer than early risers, so how can people who are smarter be less successful?

The dictionary definition of success lists 3 meanings: social status, achieving a goal and the opposite of failure.

Let’s start with the first, which is the meaning behind our mantra. If you didn’t notice, the flood of articles shouting the mantra from the rooftop come from places like Forbes and Business Insiders and anything dedicated to entrepreneurs really. It’s all about success in business. If you are in the Christian blogosphere you may find how to have a successful marriage but besides that, if your aspiration is to share newspapers midmorning over brunch with a husband of the like of Dr Tim Stanley (who has the same aversion for the before 10am time slots I have) after spending most night working on your next research looking like Philosophy in the Paradox of Acting, no one cares.

But as my dear friend and reputable life coach Jack Ori says:

Success has to do with achieving goals that are important to you, not everyone else.

So we leave social status behind and move on to achieving goals, which was our 2nd definition. The past few years have seen a rise in messages about how we can achieve whatever we want, but we were also hit by continuous messages telling us what we wanted. This has seen a rise in the number of failures too (as not everyone is good at the same things so why should we all have the same goals?), and reduced the smallest things to less than a success, while if I were ever able to cook eggs properly I would feel like the Queen of England.

There is also a third definition worth mentioning, and it’s that success is the opposite of failure. I have to agree with Jack Matson (Professor, innovation junkie, and a “frequent failer”) that failure is part of success instead. He theorised Intelligent Fast Failure as an integral part of the creative process, he had a TEDx talk on it and now he’s teaching to yours truly too. Then there are all those beautiful images with quotes about dreaming big enough and all.

But I want to go back to our first definition of success. Dalai Lama

Choose wisely.

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Short Cuts

This is not going to be another of those INFP posts quoting Tolkien to make a point about the poetry of life, getting lost, finding yourself and loving the wrong guy. I can’t assure I won’t be quoting Tolkien, but this is about a theatre festival dedicated to the Metamorphosis. Not Ovid or Kafka, it’s actually pretty fun stuff.

It’s day 502 of being in London and I went for the first time to a pub theatre. If I thought the Trafalgar Studios are intimate, I couldn’t imagine a pub theatre. But then, again, there was a naked Craig Gazey involved at the TS, so maybe it’s that. The Hen and Chicken had its fair share of gorgeous men too if you’re interested. No one fully naked with only a bag to cover, though.

Short Cuts is a festival of short plays running until the 7th in a fancy pub where a couple of pints will cost you almost more than the ticket and you’re likely to enjoy the show more than the pint. Come prepared. I suggest you finish your drink before the show because I risked throwing mine on stage at least once. At the price you are paying it, you don’t want it to end somewhere that is not your oesophagus.

The theme is the metamorphosis because all plays deal with change one way or another, using comedic styles very different from one another. There’s a metamorphosis already in that! This is mind blowing.

It is a new talent showcase on all levels, and everyone knows how I feel about new writing. Or if you don’t, in short I don’t buy into the positive thinking and entitlement culture that just because you want to do something you are going to succeed at it and you have a right to expect and demand attention. For this reason I am more critical to new writing than I am to the old stuff. And by old stuff I mean before Coward including Alan Bennett. So if I say that I enjoyed my night out in spite of the price of my pint of cider and that while I certainly have a favourite or two out of four the festival as a whole is a success I’m probably understating it. I can fairly say that I have seen productions of old stuff I liked less. Really, I did. I’m not in a position where I have to fake enthusiasm about everything because it’s implied in my job duties after all. Geeks especially are expected to like it more than the rest of the world, you’ll see why.

PS Over the weekend I have seen the adolescent dream of seeing the Cribs live come true. I’ve also seen Klaxons for the first time in their official position and not in a club in their spare time, swooned over Miles Kane like a teenager for Justin Bieber and sang along and danced to Kasabian who were bloody brilliant. It was 2008 all over again. All for free courtesy of Newham Council. You’re welcome.

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An Anthology of Madness

There is something great about literature. It’s the undeniable confirmation that when you wake up in the morning you can rest assured you’re not alone. That maybe, just maybe, someone out there knows how you feel. You can tell yourself that as many times as you want, but it will never feel real until you read something and you feel like you wrote it yourself. Some books just reach you down under your skin, straight to your bones, and change the person you are in a way that a 1000 people could never do. Because 1000 people are not that one person, and will never be.

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“We are anxious human beings, desperately seeking approval because we’ve invested our hope for happiness in things which will inevitably let us down.”

An Anthology of Madness. Of Guilt. Of Pain. Of Grace. Of Love. Of Friendship. Of Faith. Of Compassion. Of every deep intimate human feeling. Of what it’s like to be a Christian in a broken world where everyone is as broken as I am. Of what it’s like to seek for an answer without a question, and have all questions without an answer.

There is no preaching. No self-righteousness. No religion. This is just the tale of a journey like all the journeys of the heroes with a thousand face. It’s the journey of a saint and of a sinner. It’s St. Agustine and Jack Kerouac. It’s the poetry of the Romantics. The honesty of its words is the most powerful tool in the world. You cannot put it down, because to put it down feels like killing a part of yourself, and when it’s over it feels like a part of yourself has died in the way it dies when a great love becomes a dormant fire.

I feel part of something big, like a revolution. We’ve shared tears and laughter and blood and ideals and the feeling that the world is a little better now we know we are there for one another. Those words of a humble creative and broke(n) man made me feel for the first time what it means to be Brothers and Sisters in Christ. The Church never managed to do that. I think in 40 A.D. we showed up on Sundays for one reason: to celebrate the fact that everything was going to be okay. We should do that more.

I wish even non Christians would read it, because it’s the most powerful prose I’ve read that was written in this decade.

I have been blessed with an advanced copy, but now it’s available for everyone to feel. Buy it on Amazon. 

Italics by Max Andrew Dubinsky. Picture by Sarah G.

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Jam & Dram

Believe it or not it was sunny today in London, and it was sunny one week ago. The light sunburn, however, is all today’s, as last week I traded the golden disk in the sky for whisky, waffles and gorgeous Scotsmen. Ahem. The reason being that Jam & Dram organised by The Whisky Lounge was held indoors, in what by night turns into a hipster club in Shoreditch. And this was a very hipster whisky fair, not what you would expect to have going on in a room with people tasting whisky. It may be my taste in literature and films but the idea of whisky gives me mental images of the Earl of Grantham and political discussions after dinner in a noble house or at the Club. Or Don Draper. Or Chuck Bass.

Chuck Bass drinking whisky in bed in Gossip Girl

Even Chuck Bass dresses too posh for the event, which was really casual and friendly. If their aim is to bring to people you would see drinking Jack Daniel’s to the kind of whisky you expect to see only in the house of the parents of the Made in Chelsea cast then it’s been the greatest success.

The concept behind Jam and Dram is brilliant. The core of the event was not the waffle stand, though if you’ve never had waffles with bourbon chocolate sauce and champagne cream you have half lived. It wasn’t even the blend whisky-making class or the expo of maybe 50 different whiskies: islay, speyside, India, Japan…

There were 3 bands, each of which had a chosen blend (because another aim of the group was to erase the prejudice in favour of single malt whiskies) we had to vote at the end of the day. The blend and the band were meant to represent each other, like a woman and her perfume. Speaking of which, I’ll gladly accept a bottle of Coco Noire…

During the day I learnt that some whiskies are very feminine (or like an exhibitor said ‘good for the morning), that cocktails work amazingly with whisky as they do with vodka and that I have a fine taste, the confirmation of which always makes me happy.

Legends say that I once almost puked only at the smell of whisky, so you would never expect me to have had one of the best times in my life in a place like this, but I did.

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Night Works and past memories

I know what it felt like when Marty McFly was sent back to 1955 and back to the future again.

Back To the future

I know it because even without a DeLorean (or a TARDIS or any time machine you can imagine) stepping into The Miller was like being sent back straight to a summer somewhere between when Alex Turner started dating Alexa Chung and when it was over. The place would have been the Rocket, or Circolo Magnolia with still the stage indoors only but the beer garden open for that random fag someone in your group really needed to have. But everybody spoke English and nobody was posing as cooler kid because of their latest trip to London to see that unknown indie band they kinda scouted or a famous indie band everybody in the room wanted to see but couldn’t. And that amazing denim you’re wearing? That cool new designer from CSM with a pop up on Shoreditch High Street (and a few things imported in that cool multi-branded shop at the Colonne btw). Whatever, nobody is really going to listen to what you said about it.

Girls are either blonde (but rarely it’s their natural colour) or brunette (and it’s mostly the natural blonde ones), but there’s always a shade of red lipstick to go with it. Maybe a fringe and a hat too. It’s London’s style baby, and it was our dream.

When I stepped into the pub the atmosphere was then surreal, and for a while it didn’t feel like a new happier life. I didn’t spend my time reminiscing, and in fact I went as far as enjoying the first half of the night which was Night Works’ music with a very annoying light flashing straight at me. 3 free drinks help you forget everything about it looking like a scene already played in a long run, just with you in the audience for a change. But something has to be said, no place that tries to look like London looks like London.

Shit just got real (sic.)

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Nothing but the Blood

If there is something I dread more than be(com)ing a fashion blogger is be(com)ing a Christian blogger. There’s nothing wrong with being one, and there are so many I read that are amazing and make me unworthy of being one anyway. The reason why I don’t want to be one is that I don’t like the idea of putting a narrow definition to myself, alienate part of my readership and feel the obligation to keep up with the expectations it comes with. This is something many of you and especially So Worth Loving well know I’m trying to leave behind my back, somewhere between a happy time with pink trench coats and leopard print fake furs and when I realised life is a bitch but I’m bitcher.

I like to make people have a good time and escape their lives by reading a wannabe-witty account of the life of your average 20something in London, someone that is me yet is not me, and all can relate to on some level. Unless you really hate Doctor Who.

So let me talk about this wonderful book and be reassured I’m not going to discuss religion all the time, even if that’s the 2nd religious post in a row. Or third. Whatever.

‘Nothing but the Blood. The Gospel according to Dexter’

Dexter

Everybody knows I’m borderline blasphemous anyway. 

If you don’t know who Dexter is, either go to watch the series and then come back here or forgive the spoiler and carry on.

Dexter is a killer who only kills people who killed innocents. He’s almost heroic in the way he runs after justice, whether it’s arguably a very twisted idea of justice. And this is why Zach J. Hoag’s book is awesome.

It’s not yet another book with an impeccable hero who never failed and always got it right (yes, my favourite character in the Chronicles of Narnia is Edmund, OK?). Well, one reason is that it’s an essay, but then how many moral essays addressing Christians revolve around a fallen figure not to criticise it? It’s almost like talking about angels using Gabriel and Castiel (Supernatural, if you’re asking).

I consider literature (and sometimes films or TV series, but mostly literature) a more powerful way to teach about Christianity than using the traditional teachings.

If I’m a decent woman I owe it all to Oscar Wilde and none to the Catholic Church. If it was for the Catholic Church I would be seeking revenge over bullies and abusers which never paid the price of what they did to me. So I’m biased towards using such a controversial character to reflect on God.

But then you read two lines like “I wonder if darkness is defined by light. If so, darkness can’t exist on its own” and it all makes perfect sense.

There’s a lot I would like to quote and a lot I would like to say about what’s in it for everybody, but I would make reading the book useless instead of something you’re intrigued to do. It just really went down my skin like few other non-fiction books, and I took Philosophy at uni so I read a lot. I think it would be a perfect basis for a dialogue between atheists and believers, because if you eliminate the principal premise you are left with a beautiful account of humanism. I believe this is relevant, because besides my reasons not to be agnostic I think the question whether or not God exists is irrelevant, and the outcome of it when the last day comes doesn’t change the human potential for good. If God exists and I was right then it’s God-given and imago Dei. If He doesn’t, then it’s a result of a coincidence in the middle of chaos but it’s still there. And this is why choosing Dexter is brilliant and necessary: Dexter is no man’s land in a cultural war where there’s a lot of misconceptions but also lots of common ground. One for all, we are all the same humanity, wherever you think this all comes from.

The greatest thing about Christianity for me is that the beliefs build a community of people, and this is a feeling I’ve been craving all my life. Belonging. This is why this relational theology rings so powerful and so right to me. And if the Gospel is all about restoring our relationship with God, I think restoring our relationship with our neighbour is a first step that would set things right unnoticed. We may not kill people (I don’t, at least, I don’t know about you), but Dexter’s struggle with a broken world is our struggle too. But if there’s darkness there is light, so humanism is what really matters. We matter.

I hope this book will reach people from all walks of life, and those who don’t believe will be able to go past the assumptions linked to the primary audience of the book and will grasp the universal teaching (if there’s anything universal at all in this world) between its lines.

Click on the link and buy Zach J. Hoag’s book.

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Bright Young Things: on Victoria’s Secret and being a woman

There are moments when being a religious humanist is pretty hard. Feeling connected with religious people comes pretty rarely. Maybe it’s because religious is more an etiquette I’m given by atheists because I’m not an atheist and I go as far as actually going to church. I’m an anti-realist, so I don’t believe you can know reality outside of your experience of it and I have an experience of God. It is no Sputnik in the sky or old man with a beard sitting on the Sinai saying “you, yes. You, no” to people, to say it with professor Parodi (University of Milan), who is an atheist by the way. But God is there when I look out for Him/Her/It. It’s the greatest thing outside of me, comprehensive of all, and the most minute thing inside me. Does this God listen to my prayers? Yes and no. I can’t tell, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is alive and as of 2 hours ago happy and grateful for his life, my grandmother died, my guinea pigs died and ignorance and idiocy are still spread. And the TARDIS never came for me, but I still have a pretty kick-ass life even if not a flat in Chelsea and an engagement ring. So some are answered, some are not, for some there’s still time and some can’t possibly be.

If you require blind faith in the literal interpretation of everything said in the Bible to mark a religious person then clearly I am not (and so wasn’t Augustine of Hippo who is a saint and one of the Fathers of the Church and a few others philosophers made saints, just saying), but I do believe my mind and its doubts are God-given as much as anything else and I’m no less than what this perfect divine intelligence behind the world wanted me to be in His infinite love and grace. If I have blind faith in something, I have blind faith in this. If I was given the choice of picking one reality to exist in itself it would be this.

But in days like this I wish I was an atheist and I could say there’s no God because I really wish God answered my prayer about idiocy and ignorance. I find it degrading when I read stuff like this controversy on Victoria’s Secrets new Pink line, which is clearly for college girls who have a campus and not for pre-teens like Christian people are saying. But most of all, as Sheldon Cooper said, I weep for humanity when I read the dichotomy between being beautiful and trendy and caring about what you wear and being clever, dedicated, interested in the world outside of you. Why can’t a woman be both? When a woman poured expensive perfume on Jesus during Passover, Jesus said the woman has done something beautiful to him when everyone was thinking of the money you could give to the poor by selling the perfume. He appreciated she prepared him for burial, which in a sense is a vain thing to do in the face of him dying for our sins and useless in the face of resurrection anyway. Vanity is a sin in the Catholic tradition but the origin is not biblical, and anyway even if we admit it as a sin it’s still plain silly to say things like:

I want my daughter (and every girl) to be faced with tough decisions in her formative years of adolescence. Decisions like should I be a doctor or a lawyer? Should I take calculus as a junior or a senior? Do I want to go to Texas A&M or University of Texas or some Ivy League School? Should I raise awareness for slave trafficking or lack of water in developing nations? There are many, many more questions that all young women should be asking themselves… not will a boy (or girl) like me if I wear a “call me” thong?

because we would have our right to sin which came with our free will, thank you very much. Things are not mutually exclusive. People want companionship as much as peace in the world, and knowing that my potential husband is attracted to me because I do good stuff and because I wear attractive lingerie is part of that. Peer acceptance is part of growing up, and if someone wants to be something other than a doctor or a lawyer it’s her right to want to be so. We have our unique talents, and not all of us would make good doctors. I know I wouldn’t. People say I would make a good lawyer but I have no interest in being one whatsoever. People in religious contexts constantly struggle between doing the right thing and doing the sinful thing (which most of the time is just being normal, especially in our times where the mythical Good Woman is so separated from reality). But I’m both body and mind, and there’s no shame in that. My value, intelligence and self-respect are not hidden in my underwear choices. I’m glad my father never wished for me I didn’t face a choice about what to wear under my clothes, and my mother went as far as buying me pretty underwear at all ages. They judged my ability to prioritise between my beauty and my goodness strong enough to let me face both questions. It should be like that for all women.

For your information, I wouldn’t buy a Call Me thong but that’s just personal preference. I’m classier than that. 

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Love Never Fails

Love never fails

I was talking to my best friend once again about my doubts in a specific situation that splits the world in two with no in between. On one side those who think I’m so strong to carry on with a tragic love that may or may not bring to a happy ending but I know I won’t be half as happy trying to settle down with someone else. On the other side those who think I’m stupid, I’m being used (for what? It’s not even like we do have sex…), or whatever else because, let’s face it, I must have bought a lie that was only a nice way to dump me. What was the lie or possible truth doesn’t matter. I have faith in many things that people consider stupid, like that my car and stuffed animals have a soul, that the Doctor saved the Earth so many times, that post-rock is the sound of Heaven and well, God. So I have faith in love, of all kinds, and this one in particular. Just sometimes the sun disappears (metaphorically, I know the sun in England isn’t real). It was in one of those moments that I received the email that told me I won a t-shirt through the Good Women Project.

It was a break-through moment. There was light, and Castiel…oh, wait, that was a random Supernatural fantasy. Anyway it was like God was talking to me directly and answering the question I didn’t really speak out loud, because all Alessandro had on his Whatsapp was along the lines of I’m fat I’m ugly I hate myself I’m sure he’ll never be back because he can choose so many more beautiful women and I’m nowhere special so why me?

The reply I got was “Love never fails”. It was on the t-shirt*. God’s love for me never fails and I was born His image, so my love never fails. I don’t know if it’s love, I just know that every day that goes by I am amazed to see that he really exists. And that my first and most felt prayer was to keep him safe, like Lady Mary when Matthew was at war. And I don’t know what will happen in the future, just that whatever happens this won’t have been in vain.

{This post is the last part of a series forThe Scintilla Project 2013. See you next year}

*The tee is from The Greatest of These Ltd.

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Wanderlust

Not all those who wander are lost

By Jana Zee

Getting lost is not one of my specialities. I may leave for wanderlust, even if I can’t travel through time and space, but I don’t get properly lost. The worst I do is to read Google Maps the wrong way and realise that if I tried without I would have gone the right one. I’m very intuitive about spaces for some reason. The only spaces where I truly get lost are imaginary. I can spend an entire sleepless night lost in my thoughts or in a book I can’t put down. It wasn’t rare to see me hide a book under the notebook when I went to uni straight after reading all night and taking it out if only for a few line every time there was a break of some sort. I wasn’t even lucky enough to be Lost in Austen.

My father is the one who gets lost all the time, usually to avoid a queue. We always get where we meant to go, but it’s usually me to save the situation. I really wish I got lost for once, proper lost, and never made it to the right place because of a diversion. Find the love of your life when you go to the wrong place, and never leave. Wouldn’t it be romantic?

But the story I can tell, my story, is no romantic at all. Or I don’t see it as romantic like many do. I see it as tragic, and not in the romantic sense. Not like the stories you hear sung by a soprano. I’m not a heroine who bravely fight the odds of her love, save a kingdom and save her man. I’m just a dreamer who wanders.

{This post is part of a series forThe Scintilla Project 2013}

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