Billable Hours-Faculty Edition



I was recently caught off guard in the very best way. I was on a Zoom call with some colleagues in both academia and in industry and the call was wrapping up. We were sharing ‘good-bye’s’ and ‘have a good day’ sign offs and I brought up a big conference that we would all likely go to. As I mentioned it, my colleague, who is in industry, brought up a good point that we in academia often forget about.

“I lose so many billable hours if I go to this conference.”

As I get entrenched in the grants and contracts portion of my position, I had never thought about my work the way my colleague in industry does, as a billable hour. We talk about our time in percentages and buying out our time means x number of hours per week, but I had NEVER considered how many billable hours I would be able to give to each of my projects and then figure out the value of those billable hours. If there’s 40 hours in a typical workweek, I’m spending 10-12 of them grading and class planning, which is more than 20%. When you think about it, it’s a skewed model, but what if my ONLY job was to work on grants and contracts?

What does it mean to be a younger faculty member? It means counting that, acting as your own boss in many ways, and hustling for the next collaboration, grant submission, and publication while teaching, advising, and participating in service for the university.

When we begin thinking of ourselves as entrepreneurs, what happens to the public science for the public good? It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. If I start thinking of my time in billable hours instead of science for the public good, will it change or alter the nature of my work? Will it devalue it or help it increase in value? I don’t know the answer, but it’s caused me a pregnant pause.

Back to the conference conversation: I can’t go due to a major event that I cannot miss, but when I think about it in billable hours, it makes even more sense to NOT go. Part of me really hates to miss it, another part of me is bummed that I think of it in billable hours or as a % of my time and value, but the travel, money, and trying to gauge how many meaningful connections I MIGHT have aren’t tangible enough.

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Easy Come, Easy Go

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Summer 2017 was by far, one of my most productive and fruitful professionally speaking. As I reviewed my weekly plan and then crossed things out, it was most satisfying on many levels.

To count up: seven grant submissions, one manuscript that I first authored, and prepped for one new course and one returning course in my roster.

The things I couldn’t control: manuscripts I wasn’t first author on, an extra NSF grant at the last minute that I said yes to, and the weather (bc we all know you can’t control that).

The other “wins” of summer 2017? SUP–so much paddling this summer, I’ve caught the bug! I was able to spend extra time at home with my family, hike some tall peaks before it got too hot, reroute some summer travel and take a ladies road trip to the deep south, and read 30 books! I save all of my “pleasure” reading until summer and my list had grown to be massive this summer! As soon as I start class planning, I stop reading for pleasure since I’m reading all day. It’s a habit that I love and hate. I wish I could read more during the academic year but I just don’t after I’ve read things all day.

Overall, I’m really pleased with how the summer unfolded and am already trying to formulate my fall plan. I’ve added a new course and am unsure how much time it will take so I’m hoping to get my plan done after the first week of the semester. I’ve also already blocked one day a week for “my work” and will religiously keep it blocked unless something comes up. Overall, I’m working on religiously guarding my time this year. It’s a constant goal and I usually fall off of the wagon at least twice, but with the accountability of a great women’s writing group, more responsibility, and even less “space” to screw things up, I’m going to try REALLY HARD!

May the odds be ever in your favor this fall! Welcome back to a new academic year!

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Summer Slam!

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Summer is moving whether we like it or not and my summer writing plan was nothing short of lofty. Six grants, two-four manuscripts (other authors collaborating), some work travel, my endless summer reading list, funded grant work that needs attention, and VACATION. I mapped it out by week and gave myself some measurable and very manageable goals in order to stay motivated. I made adjustments as needed and didn’t feel bad pushing one thing back and pulling another forward or vice versa.

So far, so good. Four/six grants submitted. One manuscript mostly drafted, another in editing mode w co-authors. Other two manuscripts are resulting from a post-doc project, we’ll see if the post-doc comes through on their writing responsibilities (hard to know sometimes).

I cut down the conference circuit in a big way this summer. I had planned for three, I ended up going to one. While I know there’s trade-off’s with this, there were several factors that helped make my decision to stay put. 1: money. Some of this is getting way too expensive. 2: time. I’ve got plans for my personal and professional life and they don’t involve traveling for conferences. 3: value. Value? As in, what value is this adding to my dossier?

I’ve got my eyes set on a big conference next year that’s abroad, so it will take some excellent scholarship and pooling of resources in order to get me there. It’s also a conference where my research can really take off and I can learn a ton, so I’m willing to sit back for a summer and do the legwork at home. Not slamming myself with conferences has given me the time, space, and permission to plow through more research and writing. It also opened up some more time to do my favorite thing: GO HOME. An extra week is like finding a billion dollars in your winter coat when you pull it out of the closet the first time it’s cold. PRICELESS.

I also love my college town in the summer. With fewer students in town, it’s really quite lovely and I forget to take advantage when I’m on the road all of the time. Between paddle boarding to happy hours with friends and hiking, it’s really quite lovely. I need to leave more DURING the semesters when the kids are all here ūüėČ

Funded projects are getting the attention they deserve and my endless summer reading list has added up. I amass articles and books all year and once the summer hits, I download, print, check out, and read. I try to break my days up into halves or thirds, spending each chunk writing manuscripts or grant submissions (usually mornings when my brain is really fresh), and then reading and/or grant work in the latter part of the day. I do not work weekends in summer as a personal rule and shy away from evening work as well.

Have I found the magic formula yet? No. But I like how this summer has shaped up. While I’ve adapted to changes in travel and scheduling, it’s really been all for the better. It’s opened up more space and time to slow down a bit and really think about some things. It’s given me time to do some things I enjoy besides work in the town I call home. It’s given me the gift of permission. I will likely never have another summer like this, life has this funny way of doing what it wants, so I’m taking the gift of less travel and more space now instead of trying to arm wrestle it into submission.

I hope you’re having a great summer, no matter how much you’re reading, writing, or relaxing!



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I Forgot About That TT Offer

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Pic: waiting for your career to ‘take off.’

I sat in our grad seminar a few weeks ago and the topic was about job hunting and interviewing. I have some experience and wanted to share my journey.

As I sat chatting with our great grad students, I had forgot about the tenure track position I was offered and TURNED DOWN when I was finishing grad school. I had forgot all about it until that day.

I know people will argue that sometimes we should go for the job, the money, or the happiness. Other’s will say to never sell out, to wait.

And that’s what I did.

I had forgot about this offer and then quickly realized the next thing:


But I don’t think I would have made it to tenure. The job was marginal (to me), the location was less favorable (to me), the quality of life looked dreadful (to me), and to sum it up: it wasn’t for me.

I burst into tears after that interview as soon as I boarded the plane. A mix of exhaustion, fear, and “holy crap” over came me. My flight was later grounded due to lightning and I was never so happy for an overpriced hotel room that I paid for. The department head called me four days later, offered me the job, and I said I had to think about it. I called him back to turn him down and he upped the salary but I still said no. I really NEVER LOOKED BACK (until a few weeks ago).

If hindsight is 20/20, then here’s the take away: I held out. I took a lower paying position, without any hope of tenure because it’s the kind of work I wanted to do. I took another position that was soft-funded with negotiations that performance would turn it into something better. I negotiated other benefits that were important to me instead of money when I maxed out the dollar signs. I was never unemployed and I didn’t even have a long enough memory to remember I turned down a TT job until seminar a few weeks ago. That’s how forgettable the “steady” job was, even at the end of graduate school. I was under employed but it never felt like it until I looked at my pay stubs because I wanted to see the long game.

Not everyone has the luxury of holding out like I did. It was just me. No partner, no kids, not huge bills hanging over my head. I could be tenured but I don’t know if I would have been happy.

I then said the thing that I felt was the most important, “leaving the profession was the best thing I ever did.” You can always go home, you can always go back, but you cannot waste the opportunity that plops itself in front of you, even if it’s not the “safe” bet. By saying no, my career took off. It took a while to see the tangible benefits and it was frustrating. I can recall many conversations with my family about how hard the struggle was. IT WAS HARD FREAKING WORK.

Be BOLD. Be UNCOMFORTABLE. My most formative growth has happened when I’ve been uncomfortable, pushed, and smack dab in the middle of some cognitive dissonance. If I wasn’t uncomfortable, I wasn’t learning. So get uncomfortable, get bold, and see where it takes you.

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Faculty Interrupted


Hi there! Long time no write….I wish I had a better set of excuses but sadly, I don’t. I guess the quote is true, “life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.” I made plans and then life happened.

Let’s see…since four months ago…..

  • another semester
  • a few more grants
  • promotion (yay!)
  • development trip to West Africa
  • holiday (that I spent in West Africa)
  • new semester
  • new class
  • new opportunities
  • adapt and change

Opportunity has been knocking and I’ve been answering. Probably more than I should but I’ve been answering nonetheless. Some great things have happened, the highlight is the promotion. After a semester of negotiating and working with my department head, it finally happened right before the end of the semester. I was and am elated. Being promoted from a contingent research faculty to a more permanent faculty member has been a goal for two years. The biggest difference to me is that I don’t worry every day about being a contingent faculty member. The stability alone was worth every ounce of effort the past few years. While it was always part of the ‘master plan,’ it was certainly not a guarantee and I find myself with more time to worry about doing my job instead of if I’ll have a job. Big difference.

I said “yes” to another development trip and left the day after Christmas for West Africa, returning the day the new semester began. Nothing like the last minute. The work was similar and very different to my trip to Nepal last year. I was teaching agribusiness curriculum and capacity building to college faculty to expand their programming to a masters level program. The country was painfully beautiful in so many ways and the work was hard and easy all at the same time. These are not vacations, these are hard work. The conditions alone sometimes seem impossible to many westerners and adapting to the situations is key. I have to hand it to my squad stateside and abroad for this one. I said “yes” on a shorter time frame, was asked to produce more curriculum before I left, and cut the holiday short with my family and friends at home. They always have my back and take good care of me. I even had a “why didn’t you pay us to live in your house?” moment while gone and a friend took the wheel and helped me manage my business after an online payment fail. It takes a village to keep me on the straight and narrow for sure.

Returning the day the semester began was really great and really terrible all at the same time. Besides exhaustion, I felt behind the game for almost two weeks. I did everything I could before I left and while in country, but if there’s no current, no internet, and no water-you don’t get much else done in a day in the US (maybe the water isn’t a big deal to class prep, but the other two are more important).

So, here we are. Halfway through the spring term. I’m teaching a new course, developing another, working on my scholarship, my pubs, and it’s grant season for me. As my position evolves, so does my place of work. A new funding model, new classifications of faculty, and other changes keep us all on our toes and adapting.

“It is not necessary to change. Survival is not mandatory.”

I’ll ry not to go four more months between posts. But I make zero promises ;~)

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I’ve Met Mr. Magoo



I’ve been on the struggle bus with an undergrad researcher this fall. He’s been fighting me the whole way and needless to say, I hit my personal “full” line with him this week. Seven weeks of not taking instruction, fighting back with me every week, arguing with me about due dates and other trivial things, and finally….for the last three weeks, he’s refused to take any mentoring-all my words passed right through his head and exited as soon as they entered.

I’d been in touch with his academic advisor, who is a great advocate for all of his students and our dialogue had been productive.

  • I’m frustrated.
  • And I’m out of strategies.
  • So I admitted it to my student.

Part of being a mindful and self-aware faculty member is knowing when you’ve hit your limit. Your stomach tells you when it’s full. Your body tells you when it’s time for bed. My “stress bone” (wherever that is) was screaming pretty loudly at me and while I read the students latest attempt to convince me that I’m wrong and he’s right, I thought, “why am i fighting this so hard?”

There’s a few reasons: I am an educator, I love helping students, I believe anyone can be taught, and I’m aware of my imperfections so I try to remain unbiased.

But–in a society where we only want to blame one party but never look anywhere else, the students academic advisor shed some light on the whole situation for me that helped me finally pull the plug and have a ‘come to jesus’ with the student.

The advisor likened the student to mr. magoo. Not because he has poor vision, but because of his stubborn refusal to admit there’s a problem and that he is indeed part of it.¬†College is a place to stretch, to practice, to self-regulate, and to be challenged. Learning how to fail is equally important and my message is clear: you’re failing but in order to correct it, you have to admit it to yourself first.

I’m stubborn, but I’m also exhausted and my stress bone was aching at the thought of trying to muddle through more of this students work with no real direction, no ownership of the problems behind it, and the continued notion that “it’s all of my fault” without accepting any responsibility.

I shared my concerns with the student, let him go for the week, and got an email “how can i be better?” In the meantime, I laid out a plan of achievable benchmarks, sent it to the advisor and student and said, “i need ¬†break-i’m at a conference next week, see you in two weeks.” I can’t battle like that every week and I’m learning that I don’t have too. Instead of taking time to reflect, this student continues to miss the mark, insisting a meeting where he will defend himself to me because it must be my fault, will fix things.

I refused to meet with the student. I’m taking my two weeks and I told him why, “I’m taking a pregnant pause for both of us to regroup on this.” I want him to think through the benchmarks, I want him to meet with his advisor, and I want him to assume some responsibility over his education and his research. I need to do the same-think through my responsibilities to him and my other students, what I can offer, and what my upper limit is on the capacity for my time and resources. I’ve learned that the absence of anyone to fight with is a powerful tool. ¬†On the outset, it sounds cold, but it’s for self-preservation at this point for me. I cannot reason with a student who will not take the reins of their life. Self-regulation, motivation, and self-awareness are all skills that should be kicking in and until this student assumes responsibility for those, I cannot help. I can coach, I can mentor, I can praise effort, but I cannot assume his share of the work.


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Modeling Behavior: Apologizing



As someone who is mostly and usually human, I make mistakes. Somedays, you could fill a pretty big bucket with them and other days maybe a rocks glass. Ok, most days you could fill a bucket. Sometimes, I make little mistakes, other days I make giant, non-refundable ones. So, I have to suck it up buttercup and apologize.

I made an apology worthy error this spring with a graduate student. I was unaware of this at the time and a colleague mentioned it to me. I apologized twice on this one. I first apologized to my colleague, saying there was no excuse for my behavior and noting I would address the student as soon as I could. I then did something else.

I thanked my colleague. 

Not for pointing out something I did wrong or putting me on blast, but for being kind enough to let me know that I had unintentionally made a mistake. I was clueless. My colleague and I had a good talk and we both walked away without any hard feelings. I don’t know always know how people respond to me and not everyone takes me the same way. I get that.

The student was equally pleasant to address. My apologies are simple. I make no excuses for my prior behavior and I assume 100% of the responsibility.

“I’m sorry ¬†I made you feel ______. That was unacceptable behavior and I will do my best not to do that again. I try to model the behavior that I want from my students so I hope you will forgive me when you’re ready.”

The student was gracious. The interaction lasted a few minutes and it was done.

The art of apologizing is really very simple.

  1. DO: Address the issue in person. Over the phone if you physically cannot meet. Text apologies or email apologies are only good for small things–typo’s or a slip in reading a calendar. If you apologize over a text, you’re not really apologizing and you didn’t really mean it to begin with, especially if it’s important (it usually is), and something bigger than the “i’m running 10 min. late.”
  2. DO: Keep it simple. The best apologies are the most simply crafted. They’re not novels.
  3. DO: Refrain from¬†“if” or “but” statements in your apology or defending your action. Those two words imply you’re not actually sorry or that you’re trying to place the blame back on the person. This never works. “I’m sorry but…..” but what? You’re acknowledging you made a mistake, so if you’re really apologizing, don’t relinquish responsibility¬†or minimize it to devalue how the other person feels. Even if you don’t use “if” or “but” you can still half ass it by getting defensive-grammar isn’t the caveat, it’s your message.
  4. DO: Understand it’s a one sided communication. I acknowledged my mistake and guilt and left it at that. I asked NOTHING of the person in return and did not try to make a single excuse for my mistake.
  5. DO: Give it time. The person might not respond. Ever. And that’s going to have to be ok. I acknowledged people’s feelings, owned what I did, and moved forward.

Don’t believe me? Google “the art of an apology” and see what pops up. Even better, I got a TON of practice in my 20’s when I was teaching because I screwed up all of the time! ¬†I found the best apology strategy was: acknowledgement, acceptance, stating it, and moving forward. Students can be moody and need time to process, just like adults. I have yet to have a student come back around after a proper apology.

The other thing: modeling the behavior I want to see. As a professor, I’ve got eyes watching me always. If I’m mentoring grad students, undergrad researchers, or anyone, I want to model the behavior I would like to see from them. Owning my mistakes, apologizing, and being sincere are three impactful and important things for students to see so they can model it in the future when they make a mistake. I don’t go mouthing off intentionally so everyone can see me apologize ;~)

What does a half-hearted apology sound like? “I’m sorry about _____ but I didn’t do ______ so just to let you know….” You can fill in the blanks and get the picture. Someone didn’t think they did anything wrong, they want to clear THEIR conscience-not your feelings- and honestly: THEY DON’T REALLY WANT TO APOLOGIZE.

I’ve received those too and so will you. As someone who works with students almost each and every day, it’s important to me to not just model behavior, but to hold myself to that standard as well. It’s an excellent reminder that we’re all human, we make mistakes, but how we rebound from them is equally important.

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In Defense of “Free Time”



Running, busy, over committed. Three words most adults use on a regular basis. The notion that we have to be in that perpetual busy contest is killing us and selfishly, it’s driving me crazy.

I’ve had a few days in the recent past where I am busy. I’ll pack a day in order to get a day free. Not free of work, but my time is free to me to write, to catch up, to reflect, to shove off early, to accidentally take a nap without .

Facebook is showing me 1,390 back to school posts and I love them. But what I hate hearing is “we had such a busy summer” because then I wonder, “when did they have time to actually enjoy the summer?” I don’t hold anything against people for that statement, but I wonder how people would respond if the post said, “we had tons of free time this summer.” I imagine a lot of people would guffaw and reply smartly, “must be nice” but I wonder if anyone would say, “my family did too, so we went out to catch lightning bugs almost every night.”

I’ve learned to guard my time but it does get away from me on occasion and then I have to have an internal chat with myself. Heck, I overcommitted this week, had to apologize, and then had a stern reflection while swimming laps. But, what would happen if you set aside free time? Would you even know what to do? Would you want to fill it with something? Or simply read a book? Would you feel the need to defend it to someone? Or would they celebrate it with you?

I understand that we’re busy, but busy doing what sometimes? This culture of busy isn’t working but what will it take to stop it? Idle time seems like a decadent dessert, a luxurious morning sleeping in, or simply freeing ourselves psychologically that we always have to be busy.

I noticed myself wanting to be un-busy on a recent trip to see my sister. She was a great hostess and we kayaked, went to the beach, and had some really yummy meals. One afternoon of my visit we ate lunch and she said, “what do you want to do?” I recommended we do nothing, watch a movie, take a little siesta, and simply enjoy some free time.

When my life gets too structured, it makes me nervous and I fight it. But too little and I’m frazzled. In defense of free time I’ll end with this–free time gives us the freedom to think, the play, to be curious. Carve out some free time for yourself so you can be free, be curious, and give your brain a little breathing room to do what it’s really good at, even if it’s simply to take a nap.

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What If We Quit Trying to Create Screensaver Moments?


(that’s my desk, it’s not screen saver worthy)

The academy is fraught with misconceptions about old men with white hair who sit around all day smoking their pipe while wearing sweater vests and discussing philosophical questions in a cloud of smoke.

Sadly, about 90% of that is untrue. The sweater vests and the discussions are about the only two things in that statement that remain intact at all here in the academy. And maybe some old guys ;~)

Academia, like many professions, is built on notions and stereotypes that simply do not hold up anymore. As someone who sits in two worlds, I can say that these stereotypes are about as far from true as possible. I sit in the agriculture world too and trust me, it ain’t all stereotypes there either.

Instead of perpetuating these notions, it’s time to get real and quit trying to create screen saver moments for others.

  • We’re hustlers.
  • We’re entrepreneurs.
  • We’re teaching.
  • We’re advising.
  • We’re researching.
  • We’re publishing.
  • And we’re running.

Toward the next thing, toward the next grant, toward recruiting the next set of students, toward the next research project that’s unpaid but we hope will lead to something paid.

We are not sitting around chatting for long. The academy isn’t going to remain this stone thing in an ivory tower. It’s crumbling around us. Funding continues to be cut, pressure to increase enrollment is up, pressure to recruit, pressure to submit grants, pressure….Insert the song by Queen now.

Sometimes, it helps to have some real talk. I call it “come to jesus” talk and it means no disrespect to anyone but the tone is set. I had this talk with a grad student recently. He had failed. Failed miserably and instead of owning it, he tried to flee the scene of his ‘crime,’ doing no work. I let him think he was running for a week and then he had to face his own music.

And he got tears in his eyes.

I didn’t yell. I didn’t have to.

Continually creating a screen saver moment for him wasn’t going to work. He wasn’t going to learn. And if someone had taken a picture of our meeting, it would hardly be worthy of an instagram post.

But it was real.

Vivid, living, and in color. There were no rose colored glasses.

This semester, I encourage all of us to quit trying to create screen saver moments. For ourselves, for our students, for everyone. While there are accomplishments and victories to be celebrated, when we try and glamorize our hustle, we’re feeding into the stereotype I outlined in the first sentence of this post and academia is the polar opposite now.

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30 Minutes a Day



Writing. Your best friend. The bane of your existence. The bread and butter of an academic. Seeing your name published is rewarding but mandatory if you want to play in the game, dance with the devil, whatever crappy figure of speech you’d like to insert.

After getting almost nothing from a grad student after a summer worth of payment, I had to tackle a manuscript and go it alone. (that issue is a ball of wax that i melted in a prior post) Filled with vitriol, caffeine, and fortitude, I opened the file and got reacquainted with my writing. I had set it aside to give the student ample time to write on it and had given myself the deadline of a trip to get the draft drafted and passed off. A month later and with sparse additions from said student, I ripped it open like a bandaid from my skin and took the nestea plunge.

Since no one eats an elephant in one sitting, I knew I wasn’t going to bang the rest of this out in one sitting either. I then consulted my calendar, said several curse words, and decided that the weekly email I get from the¬†National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity was correct and that 30 minutes a day was a lot more manageable than the 83 hours it was going to take to get this one out into a journal’s hands. I’m no dummy at this point and I’m aware that I will not and cannot sit down and write on something for hours at a time.

Employing the 30 minutes a day has worked. REALLY WORKED. I’ve been able to do it the first few weeks of the semester almost every day with the exception of weekends and the weekend I dipped out early to go see my sister for my birthday. I can be taught and I do listen most of the time. Here’s what I’ve done, maybe it will work for you too:

  • picked the morning, morning works for me cognitively. if i can’t do it in the morning, i do it before i leave. it’s like my exit card.
  • closed the door or eliminated distractions. we’re a friendly group, but a closed door means “try not to disturb.”
  • left a printed copy of the manuscript on my desk, front and center to remind me
  • keep a log on my desk so i can track it, the reward is worth it of being able to write it down (screen shot below)
  • selected a piece to work on each day, a chunk, not the whole thing
  • weekly email check in’s with a virtual writing group

Screenshot 2016-09-05 09.57.53

I made my planner in a word doc, but it was after going to an Anthropologie store and seeing one that was put together neatly, coveting it, but not wanting to spend $18 on it. My colleague was with me as we were traveling for work, and she purchased one. I came home and made my own, printed and stapled together. It sits on my desk in a booklet, much like the one from Anthro, but not quite as pretty. It serves as an excellent reminder to write each day.

There are days when I do go over 30 minutes. But if my schedule is tight, I know I can spare 30 easily and will often leave a note in the printed out copy of the manuscript of where I want to pick up the next day.

Thirty minutes a day. I can do almost anything for that amount of time including writing. If your strategy isn’t working, maybe give it a try?

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