The biggest mistakes I’ve ever made have all stemmed from the fact that, at the time, I didn’t stop to think about what I was doing.

That and a lack of adequate sex education in high school.

Was just one class on how a bra strap works really so much to ask?

Sometimes – because I’m only human, after all – in moments of stress, or surprise, or simple absent-mindedness, I forget to stop and take a breath and help my feet find their way back to the ground before deciding what to do next. The most important question I’ve ever learned to ask myself – and the learning process was a long and often-painful one – is: What if I’m wrong?

Which has been known.

On occasion.

Once or twice.

I guess.

It’s a tricky question to ask, because to swallow it too completely is to invite self-doubt, one of the most crippling human emotions you can encounter, into your house and down to dinner.

‘Come, come, eat, eat! What’s that? You’ve finished all the dumplings¹? Well please, please… here’s my happiness! You can eat that all up.’

What. An. Asshole.

The big mistakes I’m referring to are not the times when I’ve banged my hand in a door, or missed a three-point banana peel compost bin throw from across the room², or even that time I miscalculated the amount of space between the side of my car and the sharply-cornered metal bar at the back of the truck I was trying to sideslip around at a busy intersection in mid-morning traffic (the correct calculation was: $3,500 worth of space + x centimetres of empty white paper on a comprehensive insurance form where my signature should have been).

No.

The things I regret, the mistakes I’ve made, are the times when I’ve left human damage in my wake.

I’ve never committed any of the major crimes, I’ve never intentionally gone out of my way to make someone feel bad about themselves, and while I’m not bound by the Hippocratic Oath, I think ‘First do no harm’ is a good and important life philosophy to have.

But, like most of us, I’ve fucked it up more than once. I’m no stranger to the battery-acid wash of guilt through my stomach or that mental wince of Ah… could have – should have – handled that one better, man. There have been moments when I haven’t considered consequences, or properly recognised that someone may have a different view of the same circumstances. I’ve hurled hurtful darts and watched them fly home and wished I could somehow reach out and snatch them back out of the air, wished I could somehow smooth over the cracks in the earth that my big and clumsy footsteps have opened up.

I’m also not psychic, just as none of us are. I can’t see all things at all times and analyse every single possible outcome before I act. And while I don’t carry around a flagellatory catalogue of my past actions, I’ve done my best to learn from the times when things have gone wrong. To try to be a little smarter, to try to be a little more careful in my actions, to try to see where my personal foundations are shaky or dangerous and how to repair them so as to avoid making the same mistakes again. And I can comfort myself with the knowledge that I’ve learned to be comfortable with recognising and admitting to my errors, and subsequently working to repair the damage done.

I’m not perfect, but then, I wouldn’t want to be. The striving, the learning, the discovery and creation of what is uniquely mine, and mine alone, is too important to me.

And so what I’ve been trying to do lately is form a more sympathetic view of other people – which, indirectly, has lead me to a more sympathetic view of myself. I don’t believe the vast majority of people see themselves as the villain in situations that have turned sour. I know I don’t see myself in that light.

Well.

You know.

Sometimes.

But that’s a different story. And one that I hope is behind me.

The point I remind myself of is that whatever times there have been in the past when I’ve felt crushed or hurt, when I’ve felt small or angry or broken-hearted and thought You. You did this to me… well, I doubt very much the other party has imagined themselves to be sitting in a plush leather couch in their bunker control room, gently stroking a white cat, laughing as they considered the state I was in.

Maybe they felt that I was the one who had hurt them. Maybe they didn’t think of me at all. Really, I’m not sure it matters as much as I’ve thought it has in the past.

Don’t get me wrong. I would have preferred not to go through those times – and I’ll take steps to avoid them in the future. There’s a lot to be said about the importance of the preservation of safety and personal happiness.

But people are people and sometimes, mind-bogglingly myopic. They get it wrong. They get scared, or angry, or carried away, and they do stupid things, which have stupid consequences. I know I certainly do.

There’s a quote I’m not sure I’m fully on-board with yet – ‘There is no sin, only mistakes.’

Yeah, I’m not completely sold on that. But I will acknowledge that there are a lot of mistakes. A lot of mistakes.

And that’s just it.

Through some kind of strange universal convergence, my recent days seem to be filled with people – friends, lovers, acquaintances –  all too ready to blame themselves, to belittle themselves and hold themselves responsible for a raft of troubles and sorrows. My Facebook feed right now is a laundry list of people who wish they’d done things differently.

I can appreciate that. I really and truly can. I think it could be one of the crueller elements of the human condition; this laying of blame and hatred and misery either externally or internally, or both.

But I learned a trick last week (thanks Deepak!).

It’s a meditation, rather than a trick, but I’m coming to think of it as an important ace to have up my sleeve. Maybe one day it’ll help me move on from the memories of some of my own personal mistakes. I’d like that.

Deepak Chopra, who spoke in Melbourne last week, spoke about this as one of the keys to being a more evolved type of person.

Sit or lie quietly, however you like to meditate (taking as given that we all have our personal favourites from that wide, wide range of meditative postures, after all), and move your awareness into your heart, ask ‘Who am I?’ and wait for the answer to come back. Then ask ‘What to do I want?’, ‘What kind of world do I want to live in?’ and, finally, simply spread your awareness throughout your body and say to yourself, ‘I am.’

I dig the idea of being a more evolved type of person, especially as they can apparently wish up whatever they want out of the raw firmament, according to every self-help teacher of the 21st century, which sounds like evolution to me, so I figured I could give this a shot.

And I started doing this last night, for all of about a second. I moved my awareness to my heart and I suddenly thought – or rather, suddenly realised – Hey. I’ve got this muscle in my chest. This thing is clenching and unclenching, and it’s pumping blood throughout my entire body.

That’s… awesome.

Clearly, I’m not the first person to consider this.

However.

I’d never thought of my heart in such a way before. I’d never brought my awareness to bear and considered the fact that this thing inside my chest that I can’t see is what’s keeping me alive, is what’s propelling me through each hour of my life. I started thinking about my brain and its electrical properties and movements and that went and blew my mind all over again (I know, I know. I’ve spoken about this before. At length).

Which lead me to a realisation.

I am, quite simply, a wonderful creature. By virtue of the fact that I have a beating heart and a ticking brain, a circulatory system, a nervous system, a biology that works so effectively and completely that I don’t even think of it until I make the effort to (and this is just on the biological level. Don’t even get me started on chemistry and creation).

By inference, you too are a wonderful creature. And it’s easy – it is so, so easy – to forget that.

Remembering this truth, in quiet moments of meditation and peace, I find it easy to think that I can forgive the mistakes of others. Because those errors in judgment, those moments of suspension of thoughts of consequence that resulted in me feeling angry or hurt or less than I ever wanted to feel… these are much smaller than I ever thought they were, when I stand them alongside the fact and the truth of who and what these people are, in their completeness. Thinking this, realising this, knowing this – yes, absolutely, I can forgive the mistakes of others.

Just as I hope they can forgive themselves for their mistakes, and forgive me for mine.

 

¹ And man, do I love dumplings

² Although what further depresses me in that situation is knowing that having missed that shot, I will also be missing out on the million dollars I decided would be waiting for me when I got home if I made the shot.

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SIMON SMITHSON is an Australian writer and editor. He is currently based in Melbourne, Australia, but frequently finds himself in Los Angeles and San Francisco. His work has appeared on both sides of the globe in print and online in publications such as BLIP, Every Day Fiction, Beat, The Loop, My Sinking Boat, and more. He has a tumblr at www.simonsmithson.com and he runs a lifestyle experiment at www.selfhelpless.net.

218 responses to “All the Mistakes We’ve Made”

  1. Zara Potts says:

    Well.
    I’m sure you know just how strongly this resonates with me.
    I would add that rather than “there are no sins, just mistakes” it can also be “there are no mistakes, only lessons.”
    It’s just when you keep making the same mistake again and again that it becomes a sin -especially if you are harming another person.
    It’s also the definition of insanity – when you do the same thing but expect a different result.
    I think that true love is when you consciously decide to not harm others. That you put your loved one ahead of your own needs and desires. I think if we all did this on a conscious level – the world would be a happier and more peaceful place.
    Love. Forgiveness. Gentleness. These are the things that make a heart beat strong.
    Oh and by the way, you have to be one of the most caring, loving, thoughtful people I know. I am so grateful to call you friend, brew.
    xxx

    • Simon Smithson says:

      I think I do know, brew.
      And yes. Some of the biggest mistakes I’ve made have also been the best lessons – which makes me think that maybe, they were no mistake at all.
      That’s one for those with more spiritual knowledge than me to answer, though, I think.
      Deepak… ?

      And yes. First do no harm. That’s an important one to remember. And those who don’t address their mistakes – who don’t take the time to understand history – are doomed to repeat them, and the problem becomes compounded when they drag others down with them.

      I guess the classic case is the abused who grows up to be the abuser. You would think it would be the opposite way around, but until the lesson is learned, it’s hard to break the cycle.

      Thanks, brew. I appreciate it. Right back at you – and I’ll buy you a drink when we get to LA.
      oxoxox

  2. Jude says:

    “I am, quite simply, a wonderful creature. By virtue of the fact that I have a beating heart and a ticking brain, a circulatory system, a nervous system, a biology that works so effectively and completely that I don’t even think of it until I make the effort to.”

    Yes you are a wonderful creature Simon Smithson – but you forgot the most important thing of all – that you are a person with a big heart, a sensitive heart and a caring and compassionate human being.

    I love that you question…who you are, why you’re here. And I’m sure one day you’ll find some of those answers. I look forward to the day when you write about it. Meanwhile, I love that you share your exploration and I look forward to reading more about your journey through your life.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Well thank you, Jude. As are you – I remain grateful for your kindness, your hospitality, and your delicious whitebait (was it whitebait?) sandwiches.

      I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had some wonderful, wonderful teachers along the way. And I’ve had wonderful friends and people in my life, people who have shown me patience and consideration and understanding, and helped foster some of the growth I felt like I’ve done.

      And I’ve had the time and the opportunity to be able to work some of this stuff through, even if I have lapsed into paralysing over-analysis from time to time.

      I look forward to that say as well, Jude. In the meantime, by all means, there will always be a seat available and reserved for you only on the ride.

  3. Greg Olear says:

    A great piece, as always, Simon.

    Forgiveness is, by and large, good policy. JC was on to something there. And self-forgiveness, most of all. Grudges are just too exhausting; they’re like paying to store furniture you’ll never again use. I would add, as a codicil to “do no harm,” that you should also begin by assuming the other party has not meant to do you any harm, and go from there. How much heartache stems from perceived slights that are not really slights?

    I’ve heard, and done, the meditation that goes further than “I am.” It fills that in. “I am______.” Repeat over and over and over. Shakti Gawain stuff (I assume you’ve read her? If not, you should; you’ll like).

    And thanks, obviously, for the shout-out.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      That JC. He knew his stuff, all right.

      Yeah, I think self-forgiveness is an important call to make. I heard a great line about resentment once – ‘It’s like drinking poison and expecting someone else to die.’ Bang on the money. Resenting yourself? Well, that’s just awful.

      I do not know this further meditation, or this Shakti Gawain. I’ll check it out.

      And as for slights that are only perceived – I like to crack this out at each and every opportunity as a great illustration of when interpretations go horribly wrong. This should be, I don’t know, the anthem of the cognitive psychology movement or something:

      http://www.motivatingquotes.com/cookie.htm

    • Sarah says:

      Perceived slights – the first thing I thought of when reading this was something so trivial but somehow seems to fit.

      You know when you call tech support for something and you get transferred like 50 times? Or when there’s a huge error on your bank statement NOT in your favor and you call the bank to try to figure it out? I always have to consciously remind myself that the person I finally reach on the other end of the phone did not cause whatever it is that’s causing me to need to make that phone call. He didn’t hit my computer with a virus or steal my identity and a few hundred bucks out of my account. Conversely, I get so irritated with people in similar customer services positions who are automatically snippy and bitchy with me from the get-go just because they’ve had at least 20 people chew them out already that day. Hey, jackass, none of those 20 people was me so how’s about you at least fake some decency, mmkay?

      • Simon Smithson says:

        Yeah, that shit cuts both ways – it’s nice to think that if you’re extending your understanding to someone, that they’ll extend it back to you. I think we’d all be a lot more relaxed if we could remember to do that.

      • Greg Olear says:

        It’s OK to vent at those people, Sarah. It’s part of their job. Plus, they so often don’t know what they’re doing and refuse to take initiative that it drives one bonkers. After all, even JC got bad at the moneylenders in the temple. ; )

  4. Andrew Nonadetti says:

    Simon, it has been a very long night here (and not in “the fun way”) so I’m not particularly eloquent… or coherent… or able to focus my eyes on the keyboard. But I wanted to thank you for this piece. It resonates with me on many levels, not the least of which is forgiveness of self. There are monsters in the world but they are a rarity. I’ll revisit this again after some sleep.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      It’s been a while since I’ve been that tired. I miss it, in a strange way – there’s something a little pleasurable about being exhausted and being able to go to sleep (and nothing pleasurable about times when you have to push on through). So thanks for reading, and I’m glad you got something out of it.

      • Andrew Nonadetti says:

        Well, if you miss that level of fatigue that much, the reproduce case for achieving it is fairly simple. Step 1: Reproduce. The rest runs on its own accord. End of case.

        Being unable to forgive yourself is self-sabotage at its finest. To refuse to acknowledge that yes, you were wrong and no, there’s no way to turn back the hands of time and undo it is to doom yourself to always being “that person”, even if only in some small part. I have often said that I can’t be who I am now if I wasn’t who I was then and I rather like myself now. Yet there are a few things – one of which I mentioned in my debut piece (I love saying that, you know) – over which I still impose guilt upon myself. And, intellectually, I know that I am not that person anymore, that that person was all flavors of fucked up, that, if I were in those situations now, I would handle it differently. But, perhaps because I can see the solution so clearly now, I can’t dispel the notion that I should have been as wise, strong and/or compassionate then.

        Dammit.

        On the bright side, it should make for good reads for you all in the coming months. In the meantime, you have written true wisdom above and, in the writing, offered someone, somewhere a chance at peace. Well done.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Check.

          Dear Janeane Garofalo…

          Hindsight. What a total motherfucker. Sweet, sweet ignorance, I’m sure, would stand me in such wonderful stead.

          But, unfortunately…

          And yes. It’s a process. A learning process, and that’s all about gain, even if the lessons can seem to unpleasant and regrettable at the time, and even after that.

          “I have often said that I can’t be who I am now if I wasn’t who I was then and I rather like myself now.”

          Exactly.

          “But, perhaps because I can see the solution so clearly now, I can’t dispel the notion that I should have been as wise, strong and/or compassionate then.”

          Exactly-er.

      • Greg Olear says:

        I’m taking note of this never-tired business, Simon…we’ll show you what fatigue is like when you’re here. [cue: evil maniacal laughter]

        Anon: reproduce. Ha! Truer words were never spoke.

  5. Lorna says:

    “By inference, you too are a wonderful creature. And it’s easy – it is so, so easy – to forget that.”

    This is the one thing I am always telling myself. It so easy, but my brain makes it difficult. In recent years I have found that when things become difficult for me, I simply surrender them to the universe to take care of. I release the need to control the situation and all the “what if’s” and “why” and it’s funny how the pain subsides and the problem seems to become no big deal.

    Sometimes I hate my over active imagination for all the scenarios it creates in my heart. But other times it is a beautiful escape.

    Forgiveness…… for me, lately, has been an issue. I think you nailed in this sentence

    “Maybe they felt that I was the one who had hurt them. Maybe they didn’t think of me at all. Really, I’m not sure it matters as much as I’ve thought it has in the past.”

    Just last week I asked myself, “why do I find it so impossible to forgive when it has been so freely yielded upon me by others”. When I stopped and thought about some of the people who have forgiven me, it blew my mind.

    Maybe this read is just what I need to get past that last little hump. Thanks Simon.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      What’s up with that? I can be so amazed by other people, but when it comes to telling myself that, well, there’s where the difficulty comes in.

      Ah, the imagination. That guy. Man. I like him a lot, but sometimes he needs to straighten up and fly right a little more.

      I can clamp onto situations too; it’s something I’ve learned along the way. I think there should be a balance between action and relaxation. The traditional advice, I think, is to let go of expecting outcomes. Which can be very difficult, as we’re naturally goal-oriented organisms.

      You’re welcome, Lorna! Glad you got something out of it.

  6. Irene Zion says:

    Simon,
    I’ve found that forgiving others for what you think they’ve done to you is a damn sight easier than forgiving yourself for anything whatsoever. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

    • Andrew Nonadetti says:

      Not by a long shot, Irene. Odd, isn’t it? But, like most things, it gets easier with practice even if it never truly becomes “easy”. The trick is practicing….

      • Irene Zion says:

        Practicing is hard, though, Andrew.
        Practicing entails mulling over what you feel guilty about,
        stewing in it.
        Not like practicing the piano when you were 8.
        or the accordion, if you were Victor.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          True enough but, as I believe I’ve said elsewhere, we cannot fix what we ignore. One of the few worthwhile instances of “no pain, no gain” is spending time with your demons and giving them their freedom. The accordion, on the other hand, should probably remain ignored (my heart belongs to the bagpipes, I’m afraid).

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Oh, I’m so on board with the both of you.

          @Irene: Yeah. My stockpiles of slack are much greater when I’m distributing it to other people than when I’m distributing it to myself.

          ‘Hey guy! Want some slack? Say no more – I’ll cut you some.

          When it comes to myself it’s much easier to say ‘So sorry. Out to lunch. Come back later.’

          I hope it does get easier with practice, as Anon advises (I’ve grown attached to that nickname).

          But yes. As some wise people have said, the way out is through. I don’t think ignoring this stuff is the way to go. It can be tricky to work your way through it, and it takes time.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Simon!

          Anon and I BORE you?

          Well humph to you.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Oh!

          I read your comment and I thought ‘What?! I didn’t say that! I couldn’t have said that!’

          Well-played, Irene.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          It’s okay, Irene. He just made a mistake. 🙂

        • Irene Zion says:

          Yeah.
          Well, Simon, I am just too bored to talk to you right now.
          (Can you see that I am yawning?)

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Forgive me?

        • Irene Zion says:

          Anon/Andrew,

          Oddly, I am NOT too bored to speak with you.
          I also enjoy the bagpipes.
          Victor took accordion and a wind instrument, I believe the clarinet.
          Both his music teachers begged his mother to stop wasting her money.
          He tortured them.
          That is not on topic,
          but I am weary of the topic….

        • Simon Smithson says:

          Oh, I get the feeling I’m going to be hearing about this for a while…

        • Irene Zion says:

          Oh it is humiliating how easy I am.
          Of course you are forgiven, Simon.
          I wasn’t even serious to begin with.
          I was just playing with you.
          I could never be angry at you.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          I can see why you think you couldn’t be angry at a stellar individual such as Simon but, as with all things, with the right amount of practice….

          😀

        • Simon Smithson says:

          @Irene: Oh, I know. I was just playing back.

          @Anon: Ixnay on the racticepay!

        • Irene Zion says:

          You are right again, Andrew/Anon,

          I should try harder to be angry at Simon.
          Let’s see….
          1. He’s a foreigner.
          2. But he
          does speak English.
          3. He’s too cute for his own good.
          4. But, he’s nice to look at.
          5. He eats weird pasty things.
          6. But I make lots of pesto and that’s pasty too.
          7. No, it’s too exhausting to do this, Anon/Andrew.
          8. I’ll practice tomorrow.

        • Andrew Nonadetti says:

          Perhaps you would be less exhausted if you only had to type one of my names. And, given that “Anon” is shorter and I’ve grown to like it, you would cause no offense and save some energy if you stuck with that one.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          I believe it’s pronounced ‘ferrener’.

          And I wish I wasn’t, if that helps at all? Oh, California, how I miss you.

          Thanks for the list of merits and demerits, Irene. It’s a nice way to start the day.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Ittedanon Werdna/ Nona,

          .derit yrev ylneddus ma I.

        • Irene Zion says:

          Simon,

          You have no demerits. You are all merits.

          God, it is so hard to be annoyed at you.

          You are too perfect.

          Except that Florida is WAY WAY WAY better than California.

          That’s the only thing.

        • Simon Smithson says:

          I guess I’ll have to visit Florida so I can see for myself. I liked what I saw of Miami in Dexter.

          Apart from all the blood.

          But the Cuban food looked delicious!

  7. Matt says:

    Very thoughtful post, amigo.

    “A mistake doesn’t become an error until you refuse to learn from it” is a bromide that’s always sat pretty close with me. And pretty fully illustrates the one thing I find most difficult to forgive: refusing to learn from your mistakes, which inevitably just leads to repeating them. I recognize that this doesn’t always stem from malice but….well, the surgeon might MEAN to do no harm, but one who keeps killing people on the operating table isn’t exactly one you should trust your life to, you know?

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Thanks, man.

      Yeah.

      Difficult waters to navigate.

      Because, after all, the point of making mistakes is to learn from them. But, if you don’t learn, and you keep repeating, well… yeah. That’s no good for anyone. Especially in the surgeon scenario.

      From my experience, on the whole, the rate of incidences of bad surgeons is thankfully low. But there’s still plenty of danger out there. And that’s where awareness comes in – the awareness that stems from ourselves and from each other, that point where you have to say ‘Hey, come on. That could be done differently.’

      Of course, this requires deftness and tact in great amounts. And a willing to listen from the other party, whoever that may be.

  8. D.R. Haney says:

    All of my attempts at mediation have resulted in sleep.

    I think I’m more forgiving of others than I am of myself, which is, I suppose, a slight rewording of what Irene wrote. Not that I forgive automatically. I’ll stew and storm about things — flaws more than mistakes — but, ultimately, it requires too much effort to stay mad at people.

    But I don’t know that it’s anger that I feel at myself as disappointment, and lately even that requires effort. I don’t have the energy for anything other than the business of staying afloat.

    I think I’m now going to go meditate, so as to sleep.

    • Simon Smithson says:

      Duke, I love you, buddy, but you’ve retained your position as the King of Comment Board Typos (in a hilarious fashion, I might add… and I’m now going back and double-checking every word as soon as I write it).

      But it’s nice to know that you can soothe fights and arguments.

      Disappointment. Yeuck. Nasty feeling. And one that can probably be soothed over with a healthy dose of forgiveness and understanding as well.

      I’m sure there are some wise sayings about grudges and the holding of them, not the least from Maynard James Keenan. He wrote a song about them once.

      Oh, here’s a good one, courtesy of Google. From a man, who, incidentally, has the same name as my grandfather:

      “To carry a grudge is like being stung to death by one bee. ~William H. Walton”

  9. Lisa Rae Cunningham says:

    Simon, you really do make me smile. And your ability to make me laugh spontaneously is pretty awesome.

    “I doubt very much that the other party has imagined themselves to be sitting in a plush leather couch in their bunker control room, gently stroking a white cat, laughing as they considered the state I was in.”

    This is perfectly timed. You’re my hero.

  10. Judy Prince says:

    Damn and thunderation, Simon—you’re waxing poetic here! Loved these bits:

    “I’m no stranger to the battery-acid wash of guilt through my stomach or the mental wince of Could have – should have – handled that one better, man.”

    And: “I’ve seen hurtful darts fly home and wished I could somehow reach out and snatch them back out of the air, wished I could somehow smooth over the cracks in the earth that my clumsy footfalls have opened up.”

    And: “I doubt very much that the other party has imagined themselves to be sitting in a plush leather couch in their bunker control room, gently stroking a white cat, laughing as they considered the state I was in.”

    Gorgeous post, Simon!

    You and Irene nail the fact that it feels near-impossible to forgive ourselves. I can see the the wisdom in the Catholic church’s ritual of confessing to a priest and doing some penance, even though I’m not Catholic. The notion of being forgiven for something we feel guilty about is powerful in any system.

    The prayer I posted to you some weeks ago has me astonished some mornings not only because it has me say that “Cosmic Birther” (read God or Love or whatever word you want) releases me from the binding effects my mistakes—-but it further has me say “as I release others from the binding effects of their mistakes”. The first bit about myself is way helpful, but the second bit means I intend not to flog someone else—-not only for their recent mistakes, but for assuming that they will continue to make those kinds of mistakes. Something like this: “Oh hell, she had an affair while she was living with wotshisface, so that’s a pattern. Watch