Pocket Full of Words: Holly Lisle’s Blog


Video & Podcast Test: How To Write Suckitudinous Fiction

I chose one of my funnier articles on writing fiction and turned it into both a video and a podcast. I’m testing new software that I hope to use for a number of different applications, including workshops, and I’d like to know how these two formats work for you.



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Replay of HTTS Q&A Live Writing Chat #5

holly-chat-5It starts with technical difficulties, as so many of my chats do. This time, the problem was that things Jean and I had set up previously that didn’t work because of software limitations we did not discover until we went live. REALLY big fun.

But the chat picks up speed a couple minutes in. I have a live workshop in the middle. There were some great questions.

You can get the workshop download, watch the replay, and get the free course I recommend all from this link:

How To Think Sideways Q&A Live Chat #5

No login required.

I also have a link on the page for folks who discover they can’t reach the Flash Fiction course from new accounts. (This is an “old account breaks new account” issue, and I have to fix it from my end.)

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Don’t miss the Writing Live Chat FIVE, Aug. 18, 2015

The chat will start at 1PM EDT. It may run over an hour (the last one did).

Here’s your invitation if you haven’t yet signed up:

Here’s our discussion schedule:

  • Genre: Discussing What Genre Isn’t, and Why This Matters
  • When To Go to War Over a Book…And When NOT To
  • Writing As A Business (or A Hobby): From Getting Paid to Going Full-Time
  • Products—Novel, Short Stories, Ring Cycles, and Everything Else: A step-by-step walkthrough on deciding which products you want to create and how to go about placing them
  • Tips from the How To Think Sideways Class: Dealing with Fear, Criticism, Perfectionism, the Real WorldTM, and More

I have some questions, and will be taking more LIVE as we go through each section. And this time Jean Schara will be running the questions and getting them to me, so we should have a slightly smoother experience.

The replay plus downloads, if any, will be available from the link I’ll post here after the chat is done. No login necessary for this.

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HowToThinkSideways.com will become HollyLisleOnlineWritingSchool.com


How To Think Sideways is going to change domains as well as software.

We’ll be moving to Holly Lisle Online Writing school.

And we’ll be adding some domains, because while HollyLisleOnlineWritingSchool.com is a good URL from an SEO standpoint, it’s a pain in the ass to type.

So HollyLisleOnlineWritingSchool.com

will be just the main page, surveys, and the shop,





which will be class and workshop launches and split testing,


and HLOWS.com,

which will be the community and classrooms (’cause, dammit, SHORT NAMES MATTER)! And the stuff you’re going to have to use everyday if you’re active on the site is going to be EASY.



For a while you’ll have both the old logo and the transitional logo on the new site so folks can be sure they’re in the right spot.

Then the main transitional logo will be there by itself. I have no date yet on the move. Dan and I are both hauling ass, with me looking for reliable cloud server space at the moment, because TigerTech has been telling me for a while that I have outgrown them. UGH!

I’m drinking my damn tea, but with the shop dead, I’m not working any six hours a day at the moment.

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Isolated Malware Incident: Incident Report for AWeber

After receiving a number of reports from folks who received the Tuesday HTTS newsletter and reported that it was showing warnings that the links connected to malware, I received the following email from Aweber that applies a BROAD stroke of overcompensation on Google’s part:

AWeber Network Status July 28, 2015 1:50 PM
To: Holly Lisle

[AWeber status] Resolved : Isolated Malware Incident

Isolated Malware Incident

Incident Report for AWeber

New Incident Status: Resolved

Google has removed the malware alert from all emails sent through the AWeber service. Emails should no longer be flagged as containing possible malware. Thank you for your patience as we’ve worked to resolve this incident.
Jul 28, 13:50 EDT

We have disabled all links redirecting to problematic URLs, and we are actively engaged in conversations with Google to have the alerts removed from emails sent through our service.
Jul 28, 09:37 EDT

We have identified an isolated incident of a website that uses AWeber has been infected by malware. As a response, Google has marked all links from AWeber customers using click tracking (redirecting through clicks.aweber.com) as potential malware. We are working with Google to clear the misapplied alert as well as the AWeber customer to resolve the isolated malware incident. Please know that the AWeber system has not been infected by malware. We apologize for any concern or inconvenience this has caused. Thank you for your patience.
Jul 28, 09:11 EDT

I put the HTTS newsletter on hold following these reports. I have now reset it to be delivered on Tuesdays again.

Thank you to all the folks who reported the problem.

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Hacking anti-cancer with green tea and attitude

Green tea---the first step in hacking anti-cancer

Green tea—the first step in hacking anti-cancer

My research starts with two core assumptions:

  1. I am not a helpless victim of my life, but an active and engaged participant capable of making changes and altering outcomes.
  2. I am bigger than my cells.

It starts with two core philosophies:

  1. Life is wonderful and worth hanging onto.
  2. Joy is a process, not a goal, and is an internal program I run intentionally and mindfully. It’s something I’ve modded into my personal copy of OS-Human, not a fantasy I chase.

And it starts with two core attitudes:

  1. Learn everything, because nothing is wasted—the weirdest bit of arcane shit may some day save your ass.
  2. I’m probably not the first person to ask this question (where this question=x) and therefore, I can probably find some answers quickly, but if I am the First Asker, I can work with that, too.

I am by nature and culture a hacker, with my day gig being to hack writing, my hobby being to hack life, and my life goal being to successfully and completely hack joy.

If you’re going to hack joy (and hacking joy is essential if you’re hacking anti-cancer), then you modify and adopt one of the core rules of writing—Don’t write the boring parts.

You modify it to “Don’t feed the boring parts of life.”

You can program your life to skip over the boring parts, and give yourself more time to think about and live the stuff that actually matters.

Here is my life-hack for skipping life’s dull spots.

That which is necessary, but which does not interest me, I automate.

My personal weird example:

I have decided that clothes are a non-optional social convention, but that they are not interesting. Wearing clothes, therefore, must be done, but doing it does not need to interrupt my thought.

So I have have a seasonal wardrobe that consists of fourteen short-sleeved women’s T-shirts (this means they’re made of high-grade cotton rather than T-shirt cotton, and that they come in blindingly bright colors, which I like). When it gets colder, I swap these out for identical shirts in identical colors, but with long sleeves.

I also own seven pairs of denim shorts, and seven pairs of denim jeans.

Life-hack note: If a social occasion mandates a dress, I’ll have to go out and buy one, and all the crap that goes with it.

I rotate my clothes directly out of the wash, with fresh clothes always going to the back, so that all shirts and pants wear out evenly.

I hang shirts to the right of my sweater storage bag. (Sweaters are not clothes, because they’re intriguing to make—they incorporate arithmetic, geometry, spatial puzzles, colorful yarn spun from cool fibers, and complicated stitch patterns which have histories and lore. I like designing and making my own sweaters).

I hang shorts/jeans to the left of sweater storage.

I have a little plastic three-drawer container on the floor where most folks store shoes. (I own three pairs of shoes: classic blue Converse sneakers and two pairs of Sketchers walking shoes which sit by the front door, so shoe storage is not an issue for me.) This little container holds socks and underwear. All my socks are identical white cotton, which goes with jeans and sneakers. All my underwear is identical. Nice…but identical.

With my system set up, I reach right for shirt, left for shorts, down for socks and underwear. I can do this in the dark in about ten seconds and have my clothes for the day. Everything will match, everything will fit, and I will be appropriately and comfortably dressed for any situation I’m likely to encounter.

I had to replace my summer shirts recently. I walked into JC Penny, found the St. John’s Bay section, picked out seven V-neck and seven U-neck short-sleeved T-shirts in my size in colors I like, and was finished with my wardrobe shopping for the next couple of summers in under ten minutes.

Having spent some concentrated time one day outlining and then building this system, I don’t ever have to waste time or thought on what I’m going to wear again. My vividly colorful uniform frees my mind to do better things.

I’ve designed most of my life this way.

And I mention this because part of my hacking anti-cancer has to be automating the stuff that is necessary but isn’t interesting, so that I’ll do it and benefit from it while getting to think about and do the things I actually love.

It turns out that doing what you love helps you hack anti-cancer, too.


Back to hacking anti-cancer

The thing about hacking (not cracking—assholes crack) is that it rewards thought, humor, exploration, curiosity, lots of reading, and is a helluva lot of fun. Hacking at its best is the process of thinking and working with joy. You cannot hack cancer, because there is nothing fun about cancer.

Anti-cancer, though, is entirely hackable.

To hack anti-cancer, you ask the question:

What can I do to give myself the healthiest cells possible?

That’s it. It’s such a simple question.

And the first answer is astonishingly simple.

Drink green tea.

The virtue of green tea is not just that it’s full of anti-oxidants. It’s that cancer cells excrete a pro-inflammatory factor called “nuclear factor kappa B” (NF-kappa-B 1, 2), and green tea contains large amount of the catechins that block its actions.3, 4, 5

I’ve never been much of a tea drinker, but after I discovered that green tea is an actual weapon against cancer, I went to Tevana at the local mall and asked the girl at the counter, “What do you have in an organic green tea?”

She set an enormous tin in front of me and popped it open, to display what looked like a bunch of bright green dried grass clippings. It was Guyokuro Imperial, a Japanese green tea, and two ounces of loose leaf cost eighteen bucks. I almost balked—but with some questioning, I discovered that you can re-use the leaves up to three times, you only need a teaspoonful to make three big cups of tea, and it stores well.

Also, after some slightly deeper thinking, the stuff costs a whole less than having to pay for radiation or chemo somewhere down the line. That may come someday, but how about I do what I can now to point myself away from that?

I am a big fan of the following concept: Prevention is better than Cure.

Partly because prevention is cheap and cure costs like hell. Partly because I like breathing, and I want to do a lot more of it.

  • So I have been drinking three big cups of green tea a day. Mostly Guyokuro Imperial, but also cheap, boxed, bagged organic green tea from Whole Foods. I like the stuff that’s mixed with pomegranate—but the Guyokuro is genuinely delicious.
  • Along with this, I’ve eliminated all but one soda a day. Have cut out sugar (turns out sugar feeds cancerous cells in preference to healthy cells, and running your blood sugar high makes it easier to activate the pre-existing proto-cancer cells we all carry around inside us). I’ve also cut out natural sweeteners (excluding that one can of diet soda a day).
  • I was already exercising—I’ll hang on to that. In the work-and-stress crush of the last couple years, I got out of the habit of meditating. For me, meditation is just sitting on the floor with my eyes closed and counting “One” on each inhale, and “Two” on each exhale, and dismissing thoughts as they bubble up with a firm “later”. There’s no mysticism to it—there’s just breathing, and focusing on my breath. So now I’m picking the habit back up, starting with ten minutes a day.
  • I was already eating Paleo, but I’ve decreased my meat intake and increased my fruit intake a bit, and am looking for free-range meat rather than conventional meat.
  • I found the way to release anger I’ve held toward two men who worked pretty hard to destroy my life, and who for a while looked like they might succeed. To set myself free, I let myself see them not as the men they were when they hurt me and my kids, but as they were as children. Both of them were horribly mistreated as kids, and neither of them was able to overcome the mistreatment; instead, they broke inside. From that perspective, I was able to let go of my anger toward them, and to find pity for them in realizing everything they lost.

Shortcutting the research

When I set out to research my situation, I already had the right assumptions, philosophies, and attitudes in place to make my research easier (listed at the top of this post).

I also asked the right question: What can I do to give myself the healthiest cells possible?

I had already decided that I would hang on to conventional medical treatment, but that I wanted to find things I could do on my own to improve on that treatment.

With those parameters set, I very quickly found a shortcut to the hard research I’d anticipated, because I was not, in fact, the first person to ask this question.

Having found the shortcut incredibly useful, I’m going to recommend it here to the following folks:

  • If you already have cancer—you’re not alone, you’re not helpless, and there are a lot of things you can do, no matter what stage your cancer is in, to improve and possibly extend your life
  • If you have faced or are facing a pre-cancerous condition
  • If you are a diabetic: Diabetes sets up conditions in the body that can encourage the growth of cancer
  • If you are overweight or obese: Fatty tissues provide available fuel and easy growth spaces for tumors, frequently in tandem with the high blood sugar tumors love
  • If you are or have been a smoker
  • If you are or have been a drinker of alcohol
  • If you routinely eat foods that contain pesticides, growth hormones, or chemical preservatives (anything that isn’t grown organically or free-range), wear perfumes, use aluminum-based anti-perspirants, or have other high-risk elements in your life

You can make a surprisingly big impact on cancer-proofing your life and yourself with small, doable steps.

Green tea is an excellent place to start.

From there, you can choose to make additional small or large modifications, depending on how YOU want to live your life.

So what was my shortcut?

It’s a book by David Servan-Schrieber, MD, PhD, titled Anticancer: A New Way of Life The link goes to the author’s website. I picked up my copy of the book for the Kindle on Amazon, but am offering the website link rather than book links because A) the author’s website has some fantastic information on it, and B) a Google search will hook you up with the actual purchasable book in about ten seconds.

The author beat brain cancer for twenty years by following his own research and recommendations, and though he died in 2011, he gave himself probably nineteen extra years of life by doing so.

While I’ll keep digging and hacking on anti-cancer, the book offers an excellent starting point with lists, diagrams, and steps you can start taking immediately to hack your own anti-cancer life.


You matter. And if you’re dealing with any of this, you can post here any time. Describe what you’re doing to hack anti-cancer. How you’re taking control. What you’re afraid of and how you’re handling that. What you life means.

I’ll cheer you on, you can cheer me and the rest of the folks on. None of us gets out of this alive—but while we’re alive, hacking joy lets us make each breath count. And we can each live so that we die with no regrets.

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I’m back, I’m well, and I’m catching up. Tomorrow…research results.

This morning's mail

This morning’s mail

The image in this post is a tiny slice of my taskbar, with my mail count in bright red on my mail app.

Lotta mail. I am dedicating today to catching up—doing the help desk stuff Dan couldn’t (because receipts come directly to me), finding the critical emails in my mailbox and deleting everything that can be deleted, and doing a couple of tasks to test this build of my new classroom software.

Tomorrow I’ll post my research, and let you know some cool, surprising things that happened while I was away.

I’m glad to be back. I’ve missed being here.

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I’m okay. Now to stay that way.

I'm okay

I’m okay

Still dealing with significant pain, much increased after my exam yesterday.

My doc had to grasp and pull my tongue far forward in order to get a good look at the back portion of the healing area. He was as careful as he could be, but stretching and moving tissue I had been carefully NOT moving for the previous seven days dropped me back to about day three post-op on the “Holy crap, that hurts” scale.

I like my doc, by the way. He is determinedly and ferociously competent, which is the absolute best quality to have in a surgeon. He’s also a nice guy, and I appreciate that too. A lot.

But when your life is at stake, competent beats the shit out of nice.

Anyway, the results for the remaining tissue in the lesion came back with the result of “mild dysplasia.”

Dysplasia is not cancer. Dysplasia is cells that are changing in a way that can become cancer.

Mild dysplasia is better than cancer in the same way that a little poison in your system is better than drinking down a whole bottle. So this is not fixed, done, gone.

This is ongoing, and I’ll be going back to see him every four months.

In the meantime, I’m not going to hope everything will be okay.

I’m doing research into what I can do to prevent cancer. Because I don’t have it, I don’t want it, and I have had a warning shot across the bow from just about the scariest gunship out there.

I will follow conventional treatment. At the same time, however, I’ll look for ways to strengthen my immune system and decrease my intake of problem substances (transfats are evidently more of a problem than I’d though, for example).

And when I know how I’m going to handle this, I’ll pass it on here, in case you might find something of use in what I find out.

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Life, Pain, Fear, and the Whole Wide World: Breathe In, Breathe Out

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

A close friend of mine observed recently that he felt guilty about bringing kids into this world—this world being full of nightmares, and pain, and threats, and disasters.

I told him the gift he gave them was the choice to be who they wanted to be, and to make the time they had matter to themselves. I told him that was a precious thing.

But I kept thinking about the basic premise of his worry—that the world is a terrible place, and that bringing new life into it is cruel, or bad, or terrible.

And I came to a life-changing realization.

Where any individual is concerned, there is no world.

(I acknowledge that from someone who writes science fiction, this is not a reassuring statement, but please bear with me.)

Pain is real—and I have experienced all kinds. Long-term, constant pain from scoliosis undiagnosed until I was 53, fixed by a half-inch lift in my left shoe last year.

Recurring short-term pain, from icepick migraines and regular migraines.

Childbirth three times, and the last time without so much as a Tylenol to take the edge off. That was my go-to example of BIG pain until the several days following surgery on my tongue last month.

New winner: Tongue surgery. Worst pain I’ve ever experienced.

Gonna do it again next Monday. Yippee.

So, okay. Pain is real.

Tragedy is real—I’ve lost people I’ve loved, and I know I’ll lose more. No one gets out of this alive (yet), and the anguish of thinking I’ll just call… followed by the shock of No. I won’t ever heard that voice again, is terrible.

And fear is real. The whole wide world is a scary place, full of earthquakes, wars, riots, madness, anger, hate, destruction, and death.

But stop.

You don’t live in the whole wide world, and neither do I.

Each adult human being takes up an area of somewhere between 1.5 and 5 cubic feet. If we hold our arms out, we can span an average five-ish to seven-ish feet from side to side.

Our bare feet on the floor or the grass or the rocky surface beneath us touch—on average—less than one square foot of surface at any time.

Our fingers touch and sense areas measured in millimeters.

Our eyes can see maybe a couple of miles in any direction outdoors from a good vantage point on a clear day. Usually, we see only the few feet around us enclosed by walls, or the slightly larger area blocked by buildings, streets, hills, forests—whatever your view is when you’re outdoors.

We are small. We have fairly limited senses. And most of us live in small areas and range only short distances from our home base most of the time.

Your world is the space you fill and the area you move through. That’s it.

Which is not to say the world inhabited by any one individual is pure sunshine and roses.

I have been through moments of sheer horror.

The big Guatemala earthquake when I was fifteen.

One moment on a road between Fayetteville and Laurinburg where, for just an instant, I gave the wrong answer to Hamlet’s soliloquy, and chose “not to be.”

Discovering what my first ex had been doing to our children.

All added together, those moments when my mind damn near shut down and I couldn’t breathe comprised maybe sixty to eighty seconds total in my life—now standing at 54 years.

Because after the brief disorientation when I woke up, heard the screaming of every human being and every animal in the area around me, and tried to comprehend the sound of a train rushing down on me, and realized that my bed was sliding from one side of the room to the other, slamming first into a wall, then into my sister’s bed, then into the wall again, I started thinking.

I managed to get to my sister’s bed across the bucking, rippling floor, wake her up, drag her to the screen door that the earthquake locked—external spin-the-block windlocks in a breezeway turn out do be a dangerous thing—and I screamed to my parents for help. My mother unlocked the door and Julie and I got out, and ran from beneath the heavy hand-made tiles that roofed our quarters in the mission to the slightly safer walled courtyard beneath an open sky. (Tall walls, adobe construction—not safe, but safer than those huge, deadly tiles.)

Because in the instant after I decided that the only way I could solve the long misery of my first marriage without shaming my parents with a divorce was to end myself, a little voice in the back of my mind whispered, “Maybe divorce wouldn’t be so bad,” and I swerved and avoided the tree I’d been aiming at.

Because after the minute in which I understood what my son was telling me about what his father had been doing to him and his sister, and in the instants after I choked back my gag reflex and my urge to go kill the bastard right that minute, my brain kicked in, and I was able to think about how I could fix what had happened. Call a lawyer. Call my friend in Social Services. Call the police. Keep the kids away from the monster.

The worst horrors we imagine sometimes come true, but in the scale of a lifetime, they end quickly.

And most of the worst horrors we imagine come not from what we experience, but from what others want us to experience, and will never touch us or those we love or any part of our existence.

Most horror is borrowed, experienced third hand, and can be put down as quickly as it was picked up.

Meanwhile, joy is real, too.

Your life is tiny, and within the scope of the space and time you inhabit, it is livable and can be meaningful, and wonderful, and joyful. No matter who you are, no matter where you are, no matter what your life was like yesterday or what it will be like tomorrow.

Horrible things happen all around the world every minute. They always have. They always will.

But your life is not bound to all the horrors in the whole wide world.

Your world is not bound to the strife and conflict thrown at you by the guilt-mongers who want you to feel shame for not being in the middle of a war, not being starving, not being some other race or some other nationality or some other thing that someone else thinks you should be, or wishes you were.

You are not living in yesterday. You are not living in tomorrow.

Your life will have its share of pain, of grief, of fear, of loss, and someday it will end.

But you are here now.

You are in your tiny body, in your tiny space, where you can see what is real in this moment. Where you can hear and taste and touch the things that actually affect you. Where you can do what matters to you, and where you can choose to make the space that is your world better.

You are, right this instant, where you can bring goodness and joy into the places you can touch.

Or where you can choose to adopt the guilt and weight of the whole wide world until your time runs out, leaving nothing of you that matters behind.

Tomorrow or the next day, you may face terrible pain. I know I will on Monday. This is my reality, and with it comes the reality that this pain will last for days, and will be at times almost unbearable.

But I bore it once. I will bear it again. And it will pass.

I know that in a week, I may not get the news I want regarding the lesion that will be removed. If that happens, I will experience a sense of grief and loss. I will go through another kind of pain.

But I faced up to that pain while waiting for my last results, and managed to let go of the fear. To find joy in those moments I had while waiting.

If I don’t get good news, though, I will breathe in. Breathe out. Everyone gets one last good moment. If I can, I want my last good moment to be my last moment.

I have the same instant you have. The same single inhalation, the same single exhalation. The same microscopic now.

And from where I am standing right now, I can honestly say this—joy can grow in the strangest of situations, in the thinnest of soil, simply because you choose to plant the seed. Joy is a tough, beautiful thing.

And it grows in the space of a breath.

It grows when you realize that your life matters, and if right in this instant your life only matters to you, that’s okay. You get to find joy in that—that you care about yourself, that you love the way it feels to inhale. To exhale.

That being able to touch a keyboard or a flower or a friend’s hand is wonderful.

That smiling at a stranger, and having that stranger smile back makes you happy.

That standing in the hot sun feels good against your skin, and drinking a glass of cold water feels good, too.

That thinking your thoughts—knowing no one else can touch them or take them—is perfect freedom, no matter your circumstances.

That this instant, however imperfect, is yours for this breath, and it will be what you choose to make of it in this breath.

You are not the whole world, and you do not carry the guilt for the whole world, or even a tiny subset of it.

You are small. Light. You have ideas that are beautiful. Your thoughts are unchained, no matter where you are.

All you have to do is figure out how to make your life and the tiny portion of the world that you touch better for you and whoever matters to you, in just this moment.

To be joyful, you only have to create the life you love.

And you only have to do it one breath at a time.

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One cheer for equal rights to marry

The right to be together legally

The right to be together legally

I have long been a proponent for the rights of any consenting adults to marry any other consenting adults.

I think my uncle would have lived longer had he been born in an era where being gay was not a crime. I think my aunt would have been happier had she and the woman she loved been able to be together as an acknowledged, legally accepted married couple.

And bluntly, I think that for any two people who make a lifetime commitment to each other, their rights to share benefits of Social Security*, Medicare/Medicaid*, inheritance, and to make end-of-life decisions to each other should never have been questioned.


I think government involvement in ‘legitimizing’ marriage at any level of government is bullshit. I think the right of any consenting adult to marry any other consenting adult (or any consenting adults to marry any other consenting adults) is and should be a matter of personal contract. And I think that neither local, nor state, nor national governments should have a say in it.

Marriage is a contract. State governments define who is a legal adult capable of entering into a contract. Once they have set that limit, their job (other than enforcing the terms of the contract in the case of disputes) should be done.

Legal adults of any sexual orientation should then be able to make their contracts with each other and live lives protected by the laws of their state.

We needed to get there, and we should have been there from the very beginning.

But having the Supreme Court do a legislative fandango with the Constitution to make this happen was not the right way to get there, and because of the squishiness of the decision, a lot of bad shit is likely to be the fallout of this one good thing.

* I think government entitlement programs are corrupt, and I think they should be eliminated—but while everyone who works is being taxed for them, everyone who receives them should be treated identically—and if there are specific benefits that are tied being married in the eyes of the government, those benefits should be available to all committed couples.

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