2015-03-20 10.12.09

My name is Rebecca Schuman. I live in St. Louis, Missouri with my husband and our hilarious daughter.

I am a columnist for Slate and the Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Vitae hub, and author of the academic book Kafka and Wittgenstein: The Case for an Analytic Modernism and the regular book Schadenfreude, A Love Story, out February 7, 2017.

Please visit my official website here.

 

76 thoughts on “About Rebecca Schuman

  1. professornever says:

    just leaving a word of support. kudos on the Slate article and on having the courage to speak out. i published a piece in the Chronicle about my own decision to leave academe back in 2006 – just as you were starting your degree. I hoped to raise a red flag for other students, but got minimal response. if you can believe it, most of us read the Chronicle in print form back then! i remember feeling incredibly alone–the silence around this subject was deafening. but i imagine it’s also very hard to take the vitriole. the internet gives us great power to reach others, but also great vulnerability. keep a thick skin!🙂

    Like

      1. professornever says:

        hey rebecca,
        congrats on the popularity of your current CHE piece. I love it! and just read through the comments. I’m glad there’s so much support, but I also know how it feels to get those few commenters who reiterate that “you’re a loser” mentality that graduate school doles out so effectively. I still cringe a bit reading it after all these years myself.

        The link to my old piece is below. It’s actually an excerpt to a memoir I’ve written (but haven’t been able to publish yet) called “Professor Never.” It’s about my journey from corporate dissaffection, through graduate school to my “resignation” from adjuncting.

        http://chronicle.com/article/Not-Slinking-Away/46858/

        thanks for asking about the piece – and hang in there!!🙂

        Like

    1. Ann Bayliss says:

      Just tried to contact you through e-mail to say “thank you” for your articulate article published in the Chronicle. An adjunct limited to ten hours at any one Community College, but working many more hours than that as a part of normal responsibilities for 7 credits, I haven’t quit, yet, but am envisaging what role collective action could play in reforming the current problems in the system.

      Like

  2. LadyLawProf says:

    Both pieces are timely (yes: even the 2006 one, professornever, as I was in a personal maelstrom back then and wouldn’t — couldn’t — have received your wisdom as I can today). Thank you BOTH. Love what you’re saying and your conclusions.

    Like

  3. Shawn Warren says:

    Hello Rebecca,

    My name is Shawn Warren. I just read your piece in the CHE. I posted comment there but I wanted to contact you more directly.

    I have in development an alternative model for higher education that I believe improves the lot of adjuncts and condition of higher education. I would be grateful for any thoughts you might have on the model.

    Here is a link to its latest presentation: http://professionalsocietyofacademics.blogspot.ca/2013/07/a-new-tender-for-higher-education.html

    Thank you for your time and voice.

    Shawn

    Like

  4. Steve says:

    Hi Rebecca,
    I read your piece in Slate (Thesis Hatement), and to borrow a Clintonism (from the era in which I was in your current predicament), “I feel your pain”. After spending around four years working as as adjunct faculty in philosophy for shit pay, and unable to secure a tenure track gig, I left academia in 2000. It appears that the post-graduate serfdom of the capitalist colonized academy is far worse now.

    At any rate, I just wanted to say I appreciated the piece, and I wanted to reassure you that there is life after the academy. And despite what the cultural logic of late capitalism dictates, a graduate education has value well beyond being a means to a bourgeois professional end.

    Like

    1. Rebecca Schuman says:

      Thank you so much for this! Thesis Hatement was published but six short months ago, and indeed shit looked bleak at that time–and made bleaker from what turned out to be a very public burning of bridges. But things have settled fairly well for now. I currently have three part-time jobs that I like to varying degrees, and what I like best is that I never do the same thing two days in a row (and I often work from home). Thanks again for such an incredibly smart and kind comment.

      Like

  5. Anonymous says:

    Oh my gosh, I am just finding this network of academic defectors. I defended my German Lang and Lit dissertation in 1998 with two preschoolers in tow and a third baby on the way. My advisor congratulated me and suggested I publish with a good series “zat vould cost about $3000.” (?!) I chucked that idea and eventually left academia in 2000 after deciding that I could contribute more to the welfare of the world by staying home with my children than by fighting to promote myself in the esoteric Nabelschau that is Germania.

    Don’t get me wrong–I LOVED the scholarship and learned a lot going through the PhD process. And I’m glad to have spent the years focusing on my family. But I have struggled with feelings of failure in the career world. And now my husband and I are unsure how we’ll survive the financing of three college educations and our own bleak retirement prospects. I am encouraging my teenagers to consider carefully how they’ll end up making a living.

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  6. Will Broussard says:

    Dr. Schumer:

    I’ve just read your article about MSUM and UDC and I just wanted you to know that there are many responsible, progressive, and clear-minded athletic directors who recoil at the suggestion that athletics is a needless drain on university resources, should be cut first to stave off budget deficits, or worse, only belongs on campus if the teams win.

    I’m a rhetorician by training (you’re not the only one to have struggled going the tenure track route) and I know that alliances can be more powerful precursors to action than creating unnecessarily excoriated droves of enemies. This is a story of misaligned university philosophies, possible abuse of the Morrill Act, administrative greed, and much more–why add university athletics to that list of culprits when I’m certain they had little say in the cuts?!? Isn’t this rage misdirected? And unnecessarily insulting to “shitty” coaches and student athletes who work hard and pridefully represent their institutions? And furthermore, graduate at a higher rate than their non student athlete peers, increasing the odds they’ll become productive, supportive alumni who can help their alma maters grow and perhaps one day reinstate these programs?

    University athletic programs are often the leading marketing arms of their universities, engaging alumni, inspiring future students, attracting investment, and spurring local and regional economic development. They get students in the doors at regional universities like MSUM and UDC. What’s done with those students after they arrive is out of their control, but why they’d be knocked for doing so is beyond me (see Murray Sperber’s Beer and Circus for more on this phenomenon. He too excoriated athletics for attracting good students to public institutions).

    The relationship between academics and athletics on college campuses, except in rare cases of institutional abuse, neglect, or lack of control, is a harmonious and mutually beneficial one. This desperate recasting of athletics as the mortal enemy of the core mission of higher ed is tiresome, almost always errant, and creates division where otherwise unity should exist.

    Like

    1. Rebecca Schuman says:

      I spent two years at Ohio State, so I have a particularly cynical view of NCAA sports, for one.

      This is an interesting point and I sort of see where you’re coming from (though it doesn’t matter if student athletes graduate with a higher GPA if there are no classes for them to take!!!!!! Which was my original point!!!!), but I barely touched on UDC’s decision, and concentrated almost entirely on MSUM, which kept its sports (and I have no problem with that). UDC’s decision is infuriating and deserves scrutiny because athletics are *not* more important than academics, they’re just not.

      Like

  7. Molly's Daddy says:

    “I spent two years at Ohio State, so…”
    Parsing your statement, you posit that two years at Ohio State makes one cynical of NCAA sports.
    A position not supported by logic or fact but by prejudice.
    I’m not defending OSU, or NCAA sports, just pointing out that many students might say: “I spent two years at Ohio State, so I really love NCAA sports”.
    Neither is an argument.
    Does the possibility exist that you weren’t good enough to secure a tenure track position?
    Maybe a little muckraking about universities that push through graduate students, who aren’t learning anything but are filling seats and grading tests on the cheap.

    Like

    1. Rebecca Schuman says:

      Aw, you figured it out. Academia is an awesome meritocracy and I just wasn’t good enough. Also, the NCAA doesn’t exploit athletes AT ALL. What am I doing working so hard, when you’re obviously the best muckraker evvies!!!!!!

      Like

    2. DM says:

      Pardon my French: what an absolute prick of a person this Molly’s Dad person is. What’s next? Not enough PoC in faculties because they’re just not intelligent enough either (it’s a meritocracy,right? so gender, PhD school, socio-economic background, adviser, lack of jobs and excess of candidates are just incidentals…).

      So sorry you have put up w/this, Rebecca, and sorry for my crass post (I guess I’m not elegant enough–must be reason I didn’t get a TT job,😉

      Here’s my response to Molly’s Daddy: Go F*ck yourself! And yeah, that includes an aggressive hand visual.

      Like

  8. Molly's Daddy says:

    Wow! Haven’t near gotten over it yet have we? Actually NCAA athletes, in particular DI, scholarship athletes, are more like PHD candidates than you seem to think.
    They don’t think about the odds when they choose that path, they have talent and it requires self confidence to put yourself through it.
    Academia exploits grad students because, like athletes, they expect to buck the odds and so they are willing victims until they wake up with a sort of Buyer’s Remorse.
    Again, for a writer, words are important. I didn’t say you weren’t good enough, I merely asked if that possibility existed. I know everyone needs a break, at some point someone has to say: “Yes” whatever that means.

    Like

    1. Rebecca Schuman says:

      When you cajole a visibly-concussed student (who has been mildly concussed for two months), to make up nine weeks of work because he couldn’t be bothered (or wasn’t physically able) to complete a single paragraph of his work all semester, so that he can get that D-minus he needs to graduate, so that he can play on pro day, so that he can have any chance whatsoever to make the four years of glamorous slavery worth it, then you can talk to me about the NCAA. I have had Ohio State football players in class. They were wonderful kids (and smart too), but they *were* exploited. I watched it happen.

      Do you think I really haven’t thought about everything you’ve said? Do you really think I didn’t spend much of the last four years sobbing about how I almost certainly wasn’t good enough, and how heartbreaking that was after dedicated ten years of my life to this pursuit? How stupid do you think I am, that I don’t know what I’m talking about and that I should treat blog comments like they’re going to be published on Slate? For Christ’s sake.

      Like

  9. Molly's Daddy says:

    I don’t think you’re stupid at all. A few more words in your statement such as: “in the two years I was at Ohio State, I had a visibly-concussed student (who has been mildly concussed for two months),… would have been an argument that supports your conclusion.
    What you describe is abuse and although the student is complicit, it is wrong and should not be tolerated. Wherever, whenever.
    I went to Moorhead State College (as it was known then) because my father wouldn’t let me take a scholarship to other schools that wouldn’t have accepted me academically. He said: “If you go as an athlete and you get hurt or aren’t good enough, you’ll be out on your ass.”
    As a high school student, I couldn’t be bothered and I was academically punished for it. Many teachers have told me: “No one gets a 64 on a final (when 65 was passing) by accident”.
    1500 SAT scores weren’t enough to get me into any eastern schools when I was ranked at the bottom of my class but my wrestling was good enough to open the door in Washington Square and other places.
    In 1965 the problem was the reverse of what we see today: the Baby Boom and the idea of universal college flooded the admission offices.
    College was affordable, loans were cheap, almost grants and it was actually possible to “work your way through school” with menial jobs.
    Dad may have been right; as it turned out at Moorhead I was hurt and not good enough. On the other hand, the guys who were ahead of me placed in the Nationals and maybe I would have been the Ace of NYU.
    I hope you haven’t actually spent the last four years sobbing and I am sorry for your disappointment but it seems you’re doing okay. Your Slate article is a big hit.
    I don’t like it. I think it unfairly portrays MSUM. The lack of state and federal support is the problem in my opinion. The lack of jobs for bachelor degrees isn’t helping.
    Today the supply/demand equation is reversed. The infrastructure and faculty has been built and the cohort isn’t there.
    Understand, it is very difficult for an institution to expand intelligently, it is almost impossible to contract sensibly.
    The window of opportunity for athletes is of very short duration; I think for college professor it’s a bit longer.
    Don’t give up on your dream, come to terms with it.
    Maybe with the notoriety of your Slate article you could get a position as a tenure track prof in a J school.

    Like

    1. Rachel Kitko says:

      Your recommendation that Ms. Schuman not give up on her supposed dream of a tenure-track job in US academia is like encouraging someone not to give up on his or her dream of becoming a Zeppelin pilot.

      Like

  10. Molly's Daddy says:

    For starters, I don’t expect it to boost enrollment which I believe is at the root of the troubles.
    I most certainly am not in the administration, although I have met some of them.
    The last time I visited the campus was July. https://secure.forumcomm.com/?publisher_ID=1&article_id=406683
    I didn’t see the climbing wall but I was impressed with the renovations and additions to the Center for the Arts.
    I was disappointed that the library wasn’t open when I was there but it was undergoing a major renovation.
    President Edna has announced her retirement (before the article) and the search process is underway. It saddens me that the immediate, critical job for the new leader will be to stave off financial crisis rather than expand opportunities.
    Meta politicians like to compare Education to Business so I’m afraid a “Turn around specialist” will be selected instead of the visionary presidents I had the pleasure to know while I was a student there.

    Like

    1. Rebecca Schuman says:

      President Symanszki should have thought of that before she embarked on a grand plan to raise the institutional profile with no backup, and caused the enrollment deficit her damn self. If they need a “turnaround specialist” that’s their own fault, and if nobody wants to enroll there because they heartlessly axed half the faculty, that’s their own fault too. I am fighting for the students, and more than I can count have emailed me to thank me for it. Tomorrow when the axe comes down, many faculty who have sent me messages of solidarity will be devastated and some may even be ready to speak on the record. Why don’t you reserve your judgment about the “bad” thing I’ve done until then?

      Like

  11. Allison Shertzer says:

    Rebecca, your articles are absolutely hysterical and true and I think you’re the best thing to happen to Slate in 2013. Thanks so much for the laughs. I’m never assigning a paper again.

    Like

  12. Will says:

    Your latest article on Slate made me question that validity of your argument. It’s as though your assumptions about writing essays is based on an idea that you had while previously writing your own: that the point is about consuming content and not about mastering process. No one will care about the B on your World Lit paper and how attitudes towards cultures change. Everyone will care about your ability to synthesize and reify according to your gathered wisdom. You argument attacks the intended products and not the producers. Students produce unworthy academic insights because professors are typically so incredibly self-absorbed and lack proficient training. The accommodation you suggest, of which oral exams is one, are so incredibly contrary to the current knowledge available about student performance and skills that I think you should research pedagogy before going in the wrong direction. If anything students need more writing. Thank you for wit regardless, I’ll take my answer off the air.

    Like

    1. Rebecca Schuman says:

      Current pedagogy research is also trending away from traditional essays, and back to oral activities, if L2L and not old-school.

      BTW, if you want a line-by-line correction of your comment, which has some serious writing errors, I’ll do it for $25.

      Like

      1. Anonymous says:

        You are clearly missing my point, and I wasn’t aiming to insult. Rather the type of info you hastily retorted with, may have been valuable bits for a reader.

        Like

      2. Will says:

        You are clearly missing my point and taking offense where it was not given. Don’t you think your readers would have benefitted from any particularized information correlating to the “trends” that you blustered in retort?

        Like

  13. AC says:

    Regarding your latest Slate column about essays: I’m a graduate of St. John’s College, and have to point out the graded work in the program is almost entirely essays. Fans of the program would have a hard time disentangling the essay-writing traditions from the overall virtues of the school.

    Like

  14. JS says:

    Hi Rebecca,
    I love your writing at Slate and wanted to contribute a longer post then what I can do in 140 characters on Twitter. I agree with almost all of your criticisms of academia today. I would like to add a few things, though. In my view the biggest issue are the overproduction of PhD’s, especially in the humanities, and the collapse of public funding for higher education. I am recently tenured professor in a social science discipline at a midsize public university in the south. We have both a Masters and PhD program. I argued for years to greatly reduce or completely eliminate our PhD program, since I think it is deeply unethical to put these people on the market after years of poor or complete lack of funding. We keep admitting more and more PhDs each year for toe reasons. One, we use them as cheap labor as lecturers because the university is not approving new tenure lines. Two, even more cynically, because we have to have a large-ish PhD program to climb in the rankings, which is of great importance to the administration, even though it would have zero impact on any if us. I find these reasons abhorrent and have resigned from the graduate program because I don’t want to perpetuate this system. I also advise students not to go into a phd program at all in the current market.

    The second issue has to do with the hiring and your recent post in UCR and MLA. This practice is outrageous, but is not universal in other fields. In my discipline we don’t interview at a conference but fly 3 finalists for in campus interview. The MLA way seems insane. I will say, though, that it has not been my experience as a member of the search committee that only Ivy grads with book contracts are in contention. We just hired an excellent non Ivy candidate with only an RR not a published piece. Our other interviewee had same credentials. So, while it is certainly getting much harder, it is not equally dire across the fields.

    I look forward to more of this debate.

    Like

  15. JudahFirst says:

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your stuff, Rebecca, although I’m no scholar and have nothing to do with academia.🙂 My brother, however, spent years as a student, teacher, and college professor, only to be forced out of his last teaching gig due to his refusal to pass students who could not grasp the concepts he was teaching. (He was forced to graduate several inept electrical engineers … think about that the next time you step into a new high-rise.) I know he would croak if he found out I was telling anyone his story, so all must remain anonymous, although my whole family would like to see him vindicated after practically giving away the last 10 years of his life to an utterly thankless system that really has nothing to do with education and everything to do with the almighty $$$.

    End of rant.
    -C

    Like

  16. Humans Are Weird says:

    Haha, hi again. I like you and your style. Kudos, once more. PS, if you’ve not yet met, you should check out (I command you),

    http://theunemployedphilosophersblog.wordpress.com/

    He’s a cool dude. Writes well. Thinks well. And is, in a way, fighting against the machine of Academia. You might get along, have babies, create purple jackets, and then sell them to me for free. As gifts, I suppose. What? (I want a purple jacket, is my point.)

    Like

  17. mm says:

    Don’t hate me for suggesting this. You’re a brilliant writer and I just learned that you have an MFA. Is this right? Did you ever apply for creative writing professor positions? Many schools now look for candidates that have a PhD and MFA. These professors are often handed the “world literature” classes. You’d be perfect. I know academia is corrupt, etc, but it seems just as corrupt as these on-line publications that merely provide “contracted” work.

    Like

    1. guest says:

      I’m not the blogger, just a commenter, so is it OK if I mildly disdain (rather than hate) you for suggesting this? You’re right, creative writing jobs (CW, in the lingo) now often look for someone a PhD and an MFA.

      But don’t kid yourself that “CW” markets are exempt from the absurd pressures Rebecca writes about in these pages. Your MFA can get just as “stale” as your PhD; search committees want to know that you have recent, relevant publications in your MFA genre (and a couple of future books in you); search committees in CW have just as narrow an idea of what your dissertation ought to have been (most likely, something produced in one of the half-dozen universities that offer a PhD in Creative Writing). A “real” PhD in literature might count against you (unless you’re a poet), and will count against you if you’re not actively publishing fiction or poetry, and teaching the same.

      Not to say that I don’t wish The Schuman every happiness, and she does write and publish, and if a CW job in non-fiction or muckraking journalism came her way and she wanted it, great. But there’s an angst-wiki for CW jobs, too, just as there is for English and German jobs.

      Like

      1. mm says:

        My suggestion was directed solely to Schuman. Her fans can’t help wanting her to stay in academia. I have a few tenure-track colleagues I would definitely swap for her or people like her.

        Like

  18. Stephan Lindner says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    Just read your piece on Powerpoints and want to tell you that you are generally one of my favorite writers on slate (though I like American supermarkets more than German supermarkets …). One question regarding the Powerpoint article: what did you do instead of uploading your slides on a website? Not making the slides accessible at all? I wonder how your students liked that.

    I also really liked your post on how to name professors and how that is entangled with male privileges. Sorry to hear that it provokes a lot of hateful responses.

    Stephan

    Like

    1. Rebecca Schuman says:

      Nothing on my slides warrants making available. All important information in my class is gleaned through discussion. I teach a literature seminar, after all! Plus, we’re deep in a unit (mandated by the school, but one I love) where students assume leadership of the class for 40 min. per session, & I forbid PPT from them, so we’re in a whole other world of discussion-based fun right now. It’s going AMAZING, btw, the kids are obsessed w/Dostoevsky.

      Like

  19. bob ernst says:

    You are one of Slate’s shining lights. Truly. I look forward to reading your columns and send pointed messages to my friends to push them into reading them as well. As a former professor, I recognize so much of the bad old Ivory Tower that I feel vindicated to have left some 35 years ago. Would that the academic world reserved places of honor for those with your obvious gifts. Life sucks but we don’t have to like it or be content in leaving it that way. Keep up the struggle.

    Like

  20. (Almost) College Graduate says:

    I just read your recent Slate article ‘Confessions of a Grade Inflator.’ It was interesting, but seemed a tad short-sighted and whiny about grading and professor roles within the higher education system. After noticing your Wittgenstein quote below, I highly highly highly recommend you read the blog post below. The author’s tagline is the same quote, and it provides a level of depth that I have never seen in Slate. Be careful though, it’s a bit dense and coarse.

    http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2011/08/grade_inflation.html

    Like

    1. Rebecca Schuman says:

      Actually, my tagline is a switch of Wittgenstein’s. It means: If you can’t be silent about something, then speak up.

      I’ll take your criticisms with a grain of salt, and if you ever become a teacher, you can come back to me in a few years and let me know how much you love grading time.

      Like

  21. matt says:

    Hi Rebecca,

    I read you most recent article in Slate and I think it’s fucking awesome. I literally made this rant a day ago or so. I’m at a large Uni. in the midwest and the sense of entitlement is ridiculous. Like you said, if they didn’t have to work hard when they were younger while in the hell would they do it now. Great article, keep it up.

    Like

  22. jordansigler says:

    I read your article and I think it’s embarrassing that you admit you have the moral capacity to live with the cognative dissonance of your decisions to curve grades like that. Your a part of the anti-intellectualism that’s ruining this country because you allow the banal-complacent-student to rule. This is why we don’t have an intelligent populous that’s able to think critically. I found this article at a time when as a senior at Texas Tech I’m going around and asking my professors why the fuck they aren’t doing their jobs. It’s sad that as a journalism major at a four year “university” I get mocked by my classmates for reading literature in my leasure time. University’s thanks to professors such as yourselves are no longer places of higher education where thought happens. Now universities model trade schools. I’m a first generation collee student, I looked forward to college my entire life to learn awesome things. I went into journalism because of Hitchens, Camus, and Orwell, Hemmingway, Twain. Not once in four years have they been named. The only two journalists I’ve heard mentioned were Bernstein and Woodward. This “journalism” program is set up more for reporting. I now tell people I’m graduating with a reporting degree. Anyways, thanks for being the change.

    Like

  23. Clementine B says:

    Just to say, I absolutely love your articles in Slate. They say out loud what I can’t say because I still have some hope I’ll get a proper job in academia some day. There is definitely bravery (or is it recklessness?) involved in denouncing such issues as institutional lies (you’ll get a job!), exploitation, and – well, grade inflation, which is a reality, and not just because of students’ pressure strategies. So thank you, and please keep writing.

    Like

  24. Prof.Murphy says:

    Just a fan writing to tell you a fan. I’m a recently-tenured professor in social sciences and enjoy your take on things. Any chance you can add an RSS feed to your blog or to your Slate articles?

    Like

  25. protectinglisbeth says:

    Thank you so much for your “Hands Off Your Grad Students” article. I’m the author of the hero article on Thought Catalogue. Here’s to hoping others will learn from my stupidity. Please keep writing with audacity. Hats off to you.

    Like

    1. Rebecca Schuman says:

      Good! First try to find a semi-lucrative job that makes you happy doing literally anything else. Then, if and only if that doesn’t work, try the doctorate, with the knowledge that it also might not make you happy (but also might!).

      Like

      1. Sinister Monk says:

        New reader here. I took this road. I had a lucrative and non-terrible career, and I left it to pursue my life’s dream. I’ve nearly completed my degree at a wonderful institution that has provided me with more support than any grad student can ordinarily expect. This is why I have to leave academia when I’m done here. My research and teaching are too close to my sense of self-worth. I can either be a mercenary careerist in an organization or I can do research. Not both. Clearly I am “unsuited.”

        Like

  26. JB says:

    Came late to the piece evidently, but hugely enjoyed it. With a writing voice like that, I can see how repressed you must have been in academia and it rings with my own frustrations. Sounds like you’ve made a way better choice. Looking forward to your future writings.

    Like

  27. HangingOn says:

    I just found your blog after googling “I hate the academic job market” while procrastinating during the writing of a cover letter for a job I’m unlikely to get. Now I have a much better way to distract myself– reading your articles and posts! I’m currently hanging onto academia by my well-bitten fingernails (German historian) and contemplating letting go and heading back to my hometown (Eugene! well, Springfield, really) with my family. Additionally, I’m sure I’ve also given at least my first kid the finger when she was sleeping, but memory of that period of my life exists in a haze of sleep deprivation and I didn’t have a camera handy. So, keep writing!

    Like

  28. Kathleen casey says:

    Read your piece about gymnastics scoring systems in The Dallas Morning News. I don’t know much about gymnastics and the new scoring leaves me in the dark, but I enjoyed your writing.

    Like

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