Spectrum: Shimmering

I haven’t a strong a sense of self; I have a strong sense of spirit.

Apparently, it’s common for autistic people to hold a “weaker” (Jawer, “Sense”) or “atypical” sense of self (Lyons and Fitzgerald).

Neuropsychologists Lyons and Fitzgerald, in their review, found some studies which attributed this to, among other factors, autistic individuals’ challenges with autobiographical memory and the narrative self. This isn’t my experience: I have an excellent autobiographical memory, and I can recall vivid details from the age of six months on, including the following snippets: lying on my back on my crib while the sunlight poured through the window, grasping my toes, and my brother, sister, and their friend coming into the room to giggle with me; watching dust motes in their golden swirl through the sunshaft that pierced the room when I was three; putting up the hood of my sweatshirt when I was five so that strangers would think I was a boy; and so on, with dozens of tiny moments sprinkled throughout my 59 years on this planet.

I can tell stories about each of these moments, too, and I can weave them into narratives.

My autistic friends have this ability, too: ask them about past moments, and you might be astounded at the detail of their memory and their skill in telling the story.

What’s missing for me, though, is a sense that this happened to me, whatever “me” means, for though the sensory and emotional details of the experience are vivid and easily accessible, the felt-sense of being the same person on the inside is not there.

I attribute this to an increased sensitivity to my internal environment, including the neurochemicals, hormones, emotions, and other responses happening within my body. That internal stew shifts and changes. It is affected by so many external factors: weather; external stress; the feelings and emotions of others; astrological factors; social and political events; noise; light… the list goes on. I feel my internal states acutely, and they shift.

So how I feel inside, which constitutes my own understanding of “self,” shifts and changes and varies in response to a myriad of internal and external influences.

Lyons and Fitzgerald grounded their study of autistic people’s sense of self on Kircher and David’s definition of “self”:

the commonly shared experience, that we know we are the same person across time, that we are the author of our thoughts/actions, and that we are distinct from the environment

(Kircher and David, as qtd. in Lyons and Fitzgerald)

This definition is problematic for me in a few ways: I don’t know that I’m the same person across time. I can conceive that this body, which continually and gradually shifts and changes in form from conception through the present moment, provides a container, a vessel, for the experiencing self–the conscious self–which moves and experiences through time. But I cannot hold that this is “the same person across time.”

I am not convinced that I am the author of my thoughts, or even, always, of my actions. Some thoughts simply appear. Some thoughts seem to be the result of specific processes. I have learned, through time, not to always pay that much attention to thoughts–I enjoy watching them. I enjoy considering whether they may have something informative or insightful to share. And I very much enjoy not identifying with them.

I certainly do not see myself as distinct from the environment. My experience of life–of being–is that I am an integral part of the environment, of all-and-everything. I am a cell in the greater being that is everything.

I am a cell, and I am a conscious cell.

I don’t have a strong sense of self; I have a strong sense of spirit.

For a while, it felt uncomfortable to me that I didn’t have a strong sense of self, that I would wake up sometimes, especially once I’d entered menopause, with its very different hormonal and neurochemical mix, with the feeling of “I don’t know who I am. I feel different inside.”

Learning about anatta and the concept of “no-fixed-self” in Buddhism helped to some degree, though I still felt some discomfort. And there’s the issue of agency, too, which can be problematic without a strong sense of self.

But the other morning, I came to a sense of peace with not having a fixed self: I realized that not having a strong sense of self is part of my personality–it’s part of who I am. So rather than being confused when I feel differently inside, I can realize, OK. This is just part of my experience. This is how I experience being alive.

I don’t have a strong sense of self: I have a strong sense of spirit.

I also realized that the “sense of self,” as most neuropsychologists present it, hinges on functions of the brain. This means that when the brain stops functioning, this particular understanding of “self” would also stop.

My sense of spirit is not connected to brain functions. (I know some neuropsychologists and philosophers will disagree, claiming that “consciousness” is a function of the brain. I disagree with them.) There is, within me, within each of us, within each cell, within each living being, within, even, the crystals of rock and sand, consciousness. Spirit. This infusion exists outside of the function of the brain. It was there, even in individual form, before the formation of the specific brain cells within our current bodies, and it will be present outside of our current forms, too, when those forms cease to function.

Jawer, in a series which explores connections between autistic people’s weaker sense of self and their gifts, writes that “synesthetes, savants, those with an Autism Spectrum Disorder, the highly sensitive, the gifted, the prodigious, the psychic… have a degree of access” to “the ‘seed ground’ of where we all come from.”

A sense of spirit, a sense of being connected to the greater consciousness, while embodying my own unique and individual portion of consciousness, the divine bliss of being a part of everything and all-that-is, the experience and memories of lifetimes before and lifetimes yet-to-come, that is a gift.

If having this gift means that I haven’t a strong sense of self, I will take it. Even if this were something I could choose–and it’s not, it’s simply who I am–I would choose it. I would choose energy, spirit, the infinite, over the limited sense of self.

Works Cited

Jawer, Michael. “Sense of Self in Autism.” Psychology Today. 7 Aug. 2014. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-too-much/201408/sense-self-in-autism. Accessed 1 Jan. 2019.

— “Sensitivities as Markers of an Infinitude.” Psychology Today. 16 Dec. 2014. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-too-much/201412/sensitivities-markers-infinitude. Accessed 1 Jan. 2019.

Lyons, Viktoria and Michael Fitzgerald. “Atypical Sense of Self in Autism Spectrum Disorders: A Neuro- Cognitive Perspective.” IntechOpen. 21 Sep. 2012. https://www.intechopen.com/books/recent-advances-in-autism-spectrum-disorders-volume-i/atypical-sense-of-self-in-autism-spectrum-disorders-a-neuro-cognitive-perspective. Accessed 1 Jan. 2019.

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GloPoWriMo: Day 7

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Identity

The Gardener walked with the Breath
along the path between
the back fence
and the prickly pears.

The stalk of a century plant
stretched above them.
“It’s blooming,” said the Gardener.
The Breath exhaled.

“Too bad plants don’t breathe,”
said the Gardener.
“Oh, but they do,”
said the Breath,
“through stomata.”

They walked
under the songs
of mockingbirds.

The footsteps of
a black cactus longhorn beetle
scuffled
among the fallen
pads of the prickly pear.

“Beetles breathe
through spiracles,”
said the Breath,
before the Gardener
had a chance to ask.

The crossvine
bloomed, too.

They picked
snow peas
for lunch.

“It might be the last
harvest of the season,”
said the Gardener,
tying a straggling
vine to the trellis.
The Breath
sighed.

“What will you do,
when I am no more?”
asked the Gardener.

“Move on,”
came the reply.

Daily Prompt: Write “out a list of all of your different layers of identity… These are all ways you could be described or lenses you could be viewed through. Now divide all of those things into lists of what makes you feel powerful and what makes you feel vulnerable. Now write a poem in which one of the identities from the first list contends or talks with an identity from the second list,” from the Na/GloPoWriMo site.

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Lighthouse: He’s Who?

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Max called as the sun rose the next morning.

“Are you up, sunshine?” he asked.

I was. “I couldn’t sleep last night,” I said.

“Me, neither,” he replied. “Will you come over? I need to show you something.”

Of course I would.

“Come to my house,” he said, “not the flat.” He gave me the address. It was near the beach overlooking the lighthouse.

He asked me to come in a few hours. He wanted to bake a loaf of bread, he’d said, and he’d just be taking it out of the oven around ten. “We’ll have toast and tea,” he said. I could hear the smile in his voice.

I was too excited to sit in my apartment. I figured if I walked along the creek, I’d day-dream my way along for a few hours, imagining I was retracing the migration routes of woolly mammoths, and I might take even longer if I sat on a log to listen to the vireos sing from willow branches or watch dragonflies dance over water.

I was too excited for any of those things, and I arrived while the morning shadows still stretched across the road. I checked and rechecked the address. It could not be right. This was the house where Septemus Sevens lived, with the windows in the back that I stood under that night when I spied him writing his blog.

Perhaps Septemus had moved out, and Max had taken over the lease.

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But no, I discovered as I climbed the steps. Septemus Sevens himself stood on the front porch.

“You’re early,” Septemus said.

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“I’m here to see Max,” I replied, trying not to blush.

“You’re here to see me,” said Sept, pulling me towards him.

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I could have resisted.

I could have said no.

He would have stopped.

I was shocked. But I wasn’t so shocked that I was unable to resist. Septemus Sevens was pulling me towards him.

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Septemus Sevens was bending me over his knee and leaning towards me.

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Septemus Sevens was kissing me, and the word “No,” exited from my life for then and for good.

heswho05

Only. I knew these lips.

That thing he did with his tongue. Someone else does that.

heswho06

It wasn’t the type of trick that two men would know.

And that warm scent of cinnamon and roses. That was Max’s soap.

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And this feeling of ecstasy and bliss. Only one person I knew exuded those emotions.

“Max,” I said, woozy from the kiss.

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He gazed at me with galaxy eyes.

“You are Max,” I said.

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Then it hit me full force.

“What the fuck? You’re Max?”

“You arrived early,” he said.

“When were going to tell me? What is this?” My dream crashed with the full impact of the moment. I came so close to turning, running, escaping this end-of-the-world town, and racing home to my bigoted dad and controlling mother. At least I could deflect their manipulation and deceit.

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“You’re here early,” Sept said. “This wasn’t how I planned it. I was going to be the Max you know, the Max you kissed yesterday. And we were going to have a nice day, and maybe make-out a little, if you wanted, and then, if the time seemed right, and if you trusted me and were ready to be open-minded, I was going to explain that I had a true form, and then, not until you were ready, I was going to ask you if you wanted to see it. But you came early.”

His voice. It’s always done something to me. I cannot object to anything when I hear his voice, not back then, on that first day he spoke to me in his true voice for any length of time, nor any day since.

I closed my eyes and imagined how it would have been. “Tell me again what you’d planned?” I asked, and he told me again, slowly, in detail, describing the cinnamon toast and Darjeeling tea.

“I’m not sure I can pretend it was like that,” I said at last. “But at least I can give us a chance to make it through this way.”

heswho10

“This way is kind of a shock,” he said, “especially when we’re both high on love.”

“I wanted to surprise you!” I said. “That’s why I came early! Plus I was too excited to see you.”

heswho12

“I never lied, you know,” he said. “When you asked if ‘Sept’ was panromantic or pansexual, I told you that I was both.”

He was right. Still, he’d presented so many surprises.

heswho13

“This was the reason I wanted you to read ‘The First Truth’,” he said. “I hoped it would prepare you for this.”

“Wait,” I objected. “You mean you didn’t have me read it so that I would have an awesome, life-changing, spiritual awakening?”

“No,” he said, bashfully. “I meant it literally. I’m not my body–not in this form nor in Max’s form. And I wanted you to be ready to look past that to see who I really am.”

“I thought you were trying to teach me something,” I confessed.

“Not hardly,” he chuckled. “I don’t want to be your spiritual teacher. I want to be your boyfriend.

heswho14

It didn’t make sense to me. What could Septemus Sevens possibly see in me? I had a hard enough time accepting someone as cool and hip as Max Culper might like me, but Septemus? An Enlightened Being? I didn’t get it.

“But I’m so prejudiced,” I said. “I said horrible things about extraterrestrials to you. You should hate me, not want to be close to me.”

“Now I’m glad you kept reading 77 Truths,” he replied. “You remember Number Four, right? ‘I am not my conditioning.’ Everybody has prejudices, byu” he continued. “There’s not an exception. It’s part of being someone with a mind. What I love is that you look at yours. You don’t let them fester. When you become aware of them, you start unpacking them.”

heswho15

I looked up at him on his pedestal. I had no interest, at the time, in taking him down from it. It took a few decades for me to learn that a deeper love awaits when the pedestal is removed. But back then, I was happy to have him high up, for he reached down his hand, and he offered to pull me up beside him.

If I had a chance to be something more, he was offering it.

“I’ve been watching you, byu,” he said. “You are doing the remarkable. When you work, and you focus your attention on your task, the wormtail shrivels, and you shine.”

“You see me like no one else has,” I said, blowing him a kiss.

heswho16

“So what do you think?” he asked. “I know I don’t have floppy hair, and I don’t have dark brown squinty eyes or an awesome skinny bod, but like this? Can you at least stand to look at me?”

I took him in. He was beautiful. He wasn’t human, but he was gorgeous: elegant, graceful, expressive, and endearingly goofy.

“I think you’ll do,” I said. “In a pinch.”

heswho17

We talked nonsense until our voices hurt and the sun moved behind the house and the porch fell in shadows. I recall that the bread in the oven burned and we didn’t even notice until we were so hungry that we made our way indoors.

Our world contracted to include only the two of us and expanded to include every impulse of creation in every galaxy in the multiverse.

When he spoke, space echoed through him.

heswho18

“Happy, byu?” he asked.

Happy didn’t come close. It was the end of the world and I’d found the source here at the center of the universe, on the front porch of a little blue house on the bluff above the beach overlooking the lighthouse. Bliss!

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My Digital Life: The Blue-Green Density

Blue. That’s what I remember first. Blue of the sky.

To the other side, green of the sea.

I stand where sea and sky merge into light, as if that merging is my genesis.

At that moment, all potential exists.

I’m a man.

00101

Click.

A woman.

00102

I could be anything. Nothing is determined; nothing is set.

00103

Click.

My nose is smaller.

Click.

My chin shrinks.

Click. My ears protrude less.

My forehead is pulled into a softer angle.

I feel myself settle into… me.

At this moment, I want nothing, and I have no thoughts. Is it bliss? It’s a state I’ve tried to return to, sometimes succeeding, more often failing. It’s the state of waiting, of potential, when everything is possible and nothing determined.

00104

From this expanse, I feel the urge to create.

00105

What is it that is at my core? What’s behind these clicks that fashion me into myself?  I want to explore and understand. I want to know the perfection at the center of this process and to bring my life and all I create into alignment with it.

00106

And with the stirring of that desire, I’ve stepped outside of the vastness of potential.

00107

No matter how far I walk, I travel nowhere.

00108

The blue doesn’t shift. The light doesn’t fade. The green doesn’t dissolve.

00110

Am I traveling if space travels with me?

00111

If I’m the only point in space, is it still space?

00112

No matter how far I walk, I get nowhere.

Maybe it’s not that I don’t have space. Maybe I don’t have time.

00109

Maybe this process is designed to bring me into space-time.

Click.

I’m wearing a shockingly pink shirt.

00113

Click.

And now, I’m dressed like a 21st Century Vamp.

00114

Click.

There are bunnies on my feet.

00115

I have a name: Sondra.

Click.

Donetta-click-Margarite-click-Sabrina-click-McKenzie-click-Yesenia.

Click.

Chavez-click-Yashimoto-click-Junaby-click-Solomon.

Click.

Yesenia Solomon.

The space flashes to white and time enters in. Five minutes.

Click.

You ask about my back story? That’s it.

I am Yesenia Solomon, and I am a Sim. This is how I came to be, and now I’ll tell you about my digital life.

00116

Next Chapter >>

Shift 47: Celebrate

celebrate01

I graduated.

The next morning, I went for a long run on the treadmill. With every pace, I thought of Tracy and how she gave me the gift of form. I’m not running like a hungry, scrawny teenager anymore. I’m running like a miler on the USM track team.

After the run, I prepared breakfast for everybody at YOTO. I knew it was one of the last meals I’d be preparing as a resident. But I promised Marquis and Luiza, who’ll be around for another year or so, that I’ll come back on weekends when I’ve got a chance and make pancakes for breakfast and tofu tacos for lunch.

celebrate02

Deon threw a party for all the YOTO kids and staff.

He said he wanted to celebrate all of us–those who were graduating and those who had another year or two to go.

celebrate03

I was alone in the kitchen while I was pouring lemonade for everyone, and I listened to the voices and the laughter from the living room.

I don’t know when I’ve heard such happiness. I felt a feeling like family, and it felt so amazing I had to soak in it.

celebrate04

When I brought the tray of lemonade out to everyone, I found Aadhya standing alone.

“You feeling OK?” I asked her. She’d been having dizzy spells and headaches. Her acupuncturist said he thought it was nothing serious–low sodium levels, that’s all. But she seemed to be looking sad and thoughtful more than usual.

celebrate05

She shook her head, took a deep breath, and smiled.

“Of course I’m OK!” she replied. “It just hits me sometimes, all these life shifts. You’ll move out so soon, dear one! I can’t help but feel a little sad with all this joy and pride I feel, too.”

celebrate06

I promised, for the millionth time, that I’d keep in touch. San Myshuno is still only separated from YOTO by a short ride on the RT. I’ll be over so often! I keep telling myself, and Aadhya, too, that I’m not leaving. Moving out doesn’t mean leaving.

But of course, it’s a change. That we can’t deny.

I took my guitar out to the porch. Karim was talking to a friend of his.

celebrate07

Pretty soon, Luiza,  Adriene, Clara’s husband, and Emiliano joined us.

They were listening to me play. I made up a song, taking snatches of other tunes I’d heard here and there, and stitching them together the best I could to make something whole.

celebrate08

I played my best.

Marquis and Nadja came out to listen. Britney was there, too. Every note I played blended with what came before, and I tried to put all the feelings of life into that song.

At that moment, I wasn’t alone. None of us were.

celebrate15

Then earlier tonight was my Mentors’ Dinner. Every graduating YOTO kid has one. The kid invites the six adults who’ve helped the most–the ones that, if it weren’t for them, there’d be no graduation.

Of course Deon was the first on my list. I invited Ted, too, but he was in the back country. Aadhya came, and Britney, and Clara Bjergsen, and Nancy Landgraab. I mostly invited Nancy because I felt a sort of connection to her, after we went through that grief experience together. She always tells me that I really helped her. I don’t think I did–but I think that by her saying that, she helped me. I started seeing myself as someone strong who can help other people, thanks to her. And I’ve got a feeling this is a good way for me to see myself.

We held the dinner at the fancy restaurant I like across from YOTO. I’m sort of addicted to their stuffed bamboo rolls.

After we ate, the waiter brought out a birthday cake.

“What is this?” I asked. “My birthday’s not for a month and a half!”

Deon shook his head. “I knew you’d think it was silly.”

celebrate09

Clara said, “There’s nothing silly about it! It’s your re-birth day! And we’re all celebrating!”

celebrate10

Britney spun the noise-makers, and Aadhya began to sing the happy birthday song, and I felt so many tears behind my smiles. No one has sung that song for me in four years.  She even sung my gran’s version, “¡Feliz cumpleaños!”

celebrate11

We danced after cake.

While I was dancing with Clara and Deon, I didn’t feel like a kid anymore.

I felt like I was taking my place with them.

celebrate12

I made it. I had so much help. And I had to rely so much on my own self. And that combination of help and self makes me feel like I can sail through any storm, and, if I’m really lucky, maybe I’ll be able to pass it forward someday, too, just like Deon did for me.

celebrate13

The party ended.

I took the RT to San Myshuno, the whole time, feeling with my fingers the outline of the key in my pocket. My own key to my own place.

And now, here I am on the balcony of the flat I’m sharing with the violinist in San Myshuno, looking out over the world as the east begins to signal that dawn is coming soon, and I’m ready for the rest of my life to start.

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Author’s note: This is the end of “Shift.” Thank you so much to all of you who read along. This story turned out to be meaningful to me–I’m not sure why, but I’m grateful that it was. And I’m grateful, too, to all of you who shared it with me. Thank you for reading, and thank you for your comments. May you, too, find that the combination of Help and Self allows you to accomplish great things, even if those great things are simply moving with grace through the shift of life.

Shift 29: Paperwork

jr2paper09

This year, I’ve got a packful of stuff I’ve got to do. Sometimes, I miss the easy days when I only had to worry about what I’d eat and where I’d sleep and would I be warm enough. That was simple. And at the end of the day, if I’d eaten and was laying down to sleep someplace safe, and if I was warm inside my sleeping bag, I felt that I’d been a success. Maybe I’m more cut-out for survival-mode than get-ahead mode.

Now I’ve got all this worry-stuff to take care of, in addition to school and cross-country.

Like, I’ve got to get my identity straightened out.

I wondered how the other kids handled it. Like Marquise. Did he have his papers?

jr2paper01

“Is Marquise your real name?” I asked him one evening.

“Yup!” he said. “My mom had delusions of grandeur. It would either be Marquise or Prince. Or The Duke.”

He didn’t ask me if Jazz was my given name, but I think he knew it wasn’t.

jr2paper02

I brought up the subject again when we were working out.

“So, do you have your papers?” I asked.

He chuckled. “You mean like an AKA registered stud?”

“Guh! No! Birth certificate!”

“Yeah, I knew what you meant,” he said. “I’ve got it all.”

jr2paper03

Turns out that his school had everything he needed. He’s still going to the same school that he was attending when his mom went into rehab and he took to the streets. So he’s got the birth certificate, Social Security Card, transcript, all of that. All he needs to do to apply to college is keep up his grades, take the SAT, and fill out the FAFSA and college application.

“You better get proof, yourself,” he said. “Brown-skinned girl like you. You don’t got proof, you’ll be shipped right across the border.”

“My mom’s people haven’t lived in Mexico for generations,” I said. “Not since the border was drawn. It’s like they say: we didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us. And my dad’s folks came from Germany before the war. They were Jewish.”

He’s right, though. These days, anybody that looks anything not-white needs proof they belong here. Most days, unless I was camping up in the high country, I didn’t feel I belonged anywhere. I was about one inch from disappearing.

I didn’t even know where to begin.

One night, Britney, the overnight counselor on duty, joined me.

“Aadhya told me you were thinking about getting set up to go to college,” she said.

jr2paper04

“Yeah,” I replied. “Sometimes, it feels like it’s as easy as destiny, and sometimes, it seems insurmountable.”

“Don’t worry!” she said. “You focus on your grades, and I’ll help with all the rest!”

“For real?”

“For sure!” she replied. “That’s my specialty!”

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“I’d like to do it myself,” I said. I’ve gotten to where I’m starting to feel weird about always having other people do stuff for me.

“Uh,” she said. “It’s a mess, frankly. It’s a lot easier if you leave it to me. I know the system. I’ll have to contact your old school, get in touch with the hospital where you were born, maybe contact attorneys. It’s a mess. But it’s a mess I’ve been through before, dozens of times with lots of kids. It always works out. I even know the loopholes we can use when it doesn’t work out.”

jr2paper05

“Can’t I just keep my current name?” I asked. I had to try one more time.

“Well, you can, yes,” she said, “but after we establish your given identity. Then, once we get that straight, we can fill out more papers to change your name to what you’re using now. And sure. We can do that fine. But first we’ve got to go back to your birth name.”

jr2paper07

She gave me a little time alone, and then, maybe half an hour later, she swung back around to check in with me. We sat together in the study. No one else was there. I told her why I was worried about becoming Jenny again. She said it was a common worry. Most of the kids here are running from somebody, as much as they’re running from something–or pushed out by circumstances. Usually, it’s circumstances plus not having an ally. Or worse, having somebody who means you harm.

She said YOTO’s got procedures in place for ensuring our safety. She’d keep me informed every step of the way. And if it seemed like Uncle Scott would get wind of where I was–or even that I’m still around at all–they’d do whatever was necessary to keep me safe.

I asked her if there had ever been any bad situations with kids who were scared. She said there hadn’t. There had been some tricky moments, but they knew what to do, and they had contacts at the police department, CPS, and the courts who were ready to step in at a moment’s notice.

“Aren’t you tired of hiding?” she asked. “It won’t get resolved until it gets resolved. And the sooner you can be yourself, the sooner you can share all your full glory with the world.”

I thought about track season coming up. I’d be on the varsity team. So far, I hadn’t really been able to concentrate on track like I’d wanted, so I wasn’t making it to States. But this year. I’d hoped that this year would be different. And if I make it to the State Championships, all the coaches around will notice. Even those coaches who paid attention to me back when I set the 880 record for my age group. I bet some of those coaches would recognize me. Sooner or later, unless I just give up on ever doing anything good, somebody is gonna know that Jenny Trevalyn is still around. Because when you let your star shine, you’re gonna get noticed.

I think I want to let my star shine.

If YOTO can keep me safe from Uncle Scott, then what’s to prevent me from being Jenny to the world?

I let myself daydream for the first time in a while. And in this daydream, I wasn’t some character from a fairy tale. I was me. I was running the mile and I was breaking the record, and everybody in the track world was paying attention, and when the record was posted, it said this: Girls Track & Field Records – Mile Run: Jenny Trevalyn, San Myshuno High.

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