The How I Met Your Mother Finale

Massive Spoilers Ahead.

So I’ve taken some time to digest the series finale to How I Met Your Mother. I’ve read what other people have to say about it, I’ve read people defending the ending, I’ve read people who lambast the ending. I would like to offer a short summation of why I think people were so mad about it. People cited lots of reasons: it felt rushed, it was poorly scripted, they covered 16 years in eight minutes, there wasn’t enough time focusing on Tracy’s death, etc, but I think citing “execution,” is a little off the mark. No doubt those are valid arguments, but I don’t think that’s it. Rather, I think what most people are unhappy about is that it undermines the fundamental message of the series.

There are lots of messages in HIMYM. There are lessons to be found in lives of all the main characters and even many of the secondary characters. However, where Ted Moseby is concerned–where the premise and the title of the show is concerned–the fundamental message/tagline is this:

Sometimes in life, you will fall in love with someone and find out that love isn’t enough. But even though things didn’t work out between the two of you, and even though it will feel like you have failed at the one thing in life worth succeeding in, and even though it feels like there’s no way letting that person go could ever feel like the best thing that ever happened to you, don’t give up on love. Because as hard as it may be to believe, in that moment, if it hadn’t been for that experience, I never would have met your mother, who has made me happier than I ever thought possible.

That is the foundation the show was built upon. That is what we needed to see in the finale. It’s not about whether it was the “best possible outcome,” it wasn’t about finding a way to have Ted end up with both girls (which is essentially what happened), it wasn’t about how much screen time the mother ended up getting, it was about that message, and promising the audience it was one we could believe in.

Anything–anything–that undermined that message essentially undermined why so many people got so attached to the show in the first place. Sure there’s a lesson you can take away about moving on after someone you love dies, but (a) that shouldn’t be the “final” takeaway from the show, and (b) that’s basically Tracy’s story; why tell it twice?


Today’s Morbid Thought

We can all agree that Cory Monteith’s death was a tragedy. He was known almost exclusively as Finn Hudson in Glee. True, he’s been in other things (according to his wikipedia page), but I don’t think it’s too far off the mark to suggest that the majority of us see him as one of the major characters in Glee.

In a true testament to how fiction plays a role in our perception of celebrities, I have, on more than one occasion, considered how “fortunate” it is that his character was universally (or mostly) loved on Glee as well. When they did that big tribute episode for him, it was emotional and heartfelt, and many Glee fans were genuinely sad that he had passed away.

So, onto the morbid thought. What if someone like Tina Cohen-Chang had died (in real life)? Glee is pretty soap-opery in the sense that most of their characters have extreme traits in one direction or another. Tina Cohen-Chang’s character happens to be an insufferable, self-centered drama-queen who has practically no redeeming qualities at this point in the show (don’t even get me started on how I’m pretty sure she single-handedly ensured the death of the Glee club because she was given the lead at Nationals despite being like the 7th best singer).

What would the reaction have been? Of course, it’s still a tragedy because IN REAL LIFE, she’s probably a perfectly nice person. But man, how would they have handled that? How would fans have reacted to that? I feel like the YouTube comments would have been a minefield. The death of… Jenna Ushkowitz (had to look that up) would be different, I think, from the death of Tina Cohen-Chang. And it’s not like she’s had other roles to temper our image of her.

So that’s my morbid thought for the day.

The Question of Diversity

This feels like a very recent concern, though of course, it’d probably be more accurate to say that it’s been a concern for a very long time, but we’ve recently become more aware that it exists.  To wit, people have acknowledged that we don’t have enough diversity in books.  We don’t have enough racial diversity, we don’t have enough sexual diversity, and we don’t have enough class diversity.

Now, for the purpose of this post, let’s assume that all that is true.  There’s a whole discussion to be had about what we mean when we say we “need” more diversity, but that’s a separate topic for another post.  Assuming that yes, we need more diversity in books, the question I find that I am asking myself is this: If there is a need for more diversity in books, does the solution to that problem lie in encouraging writers to write more diverse characters?  Or does it lie in encouraging diversity among writers?

I’m going to use LGBT characters as an example because I can speak from personal experience, but you can replace LGBT (or even the BT in this case) with race, class, or what have you.  So I decided to write a story with a gay protagonist because I have a few very close gay/lesbian friends who talk about their experiences (and by experiences I mean what it was like to grow up identifying as gay/lesbian) and I thought it held the potential for a good novel.  Ok, so far so good.  I told them about it and they loved the idea.  Again, so far so good.

But then came the stumbling block.  I have no idea what it’s like to be gay.  I mean, I know the stories I’ve been told, and I can imagine what some aspects of being gay are like because of the things my friends have told me.  But I don’t really know what it’s like to live my life as a gay person.  There are nuances to daily life that I’ve probably missed entirely.  Moreover, the story isn’t about “being gay” anymore than any other novel is about “being straight” or “being white” or what have you.  I think we need to be very very aware of this or else we risk tokenism.  And on more than one occasion, I find myself asking my friends, “Why aren’t you the ones writing this book?” Because I’m only imagining what it’s like to have to grow up as an LGBT character in a hetero-normative society.  They’re the ones who have actually done it.

So the idea of tokenism is its own issue.  Do we actually want non-LGBT authors writing about LGBT experiences?  Do we want white authors writing about “people of color” (this is an industry term… I think)?  Do we want upper-middle class authors writing about lower-middle class lives?  Over and over again, I ask myself that question: does diversity mean diversity in books or diversity in authors (assuming, for a minute, that diversity in authors would lead to a more genuine form of diversity in books).

I am inclined to say that overall, we should be encouraging diversity in writers.  But what if, as it so happens with my situation, my LGBT friends say they don’t have it in them to write a novel.  They are not writers (their words, not mine).  But I am (or at least, I write, and the task of writing a novel is considerably less daunting).  Is it my responsibility, as a heterosexual person, to write LGBT characters?  Or is that disingenuous?

This is a question I think we need to answer because it does very little good to raise awareness about an issue if we’re unclear as to what should be done about it.  And on top of all this, I’m not even sure if the real problem lies in there not being enough diversity in books or if it’s a matter of people not reading the books we already have that feature diversity in any of its forms.  Is the real problem publicity?  Because reception is something we have a very hard time controlling.  There are likely lots of great books out there that have LGBT characters, POC, and low-income families.  So maybe it’s a question of encouraging and exposing people to more of those books.  But if that’s the case, is it really a “writer’s” issue?  Thousands of books are published each year (excluding the self-publishing market, which would probably bring that number up to the millions).  Only a few of them become bestsellers.  So are we judging the lack of diversity in books by the lack of diversity among bestsellers?  Because if that’s true, we can write about diversity all we want – it won’t change the perception that there’s a lack of diversity if none of those books become famous.

“Why is book A so popular when book B is so much better?”

Possible reasons:

1) Because book A did it first.  This is something that gets lost on people with time.  The first light bulb was probably (in fact, most certainly), a shit light bulb compared to today’s standards.  That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be in a museum.

2) Because book A made an impact on the attitudes we held towards certain ideas or social norms.  Related to reason #1, but not strictly the same, since you don’t have to be the first one to do something in order to be the first one to do that thing in a way that makes everyone sit up and notice.  Point remains, it doesn’t matter of book B tackled the same issues as book A and did it better.  If book A is the one that everyone read and the one that made people re-think their ideas on xyz issue to the extent of effecting change, then book A deserves its fame.  Sometimes, luck plays a role in this, but I disagree with the notion that book B deserves to be “just as famous” as book A because it’s better (assuming it really is better, which is subjective anyway).

Writing From Life = Gossip Mongerer?

I’ve come to realize that researching first-hand material sounds a lot like gossip mongering.  This is especially true considering how I write almost exclusively contemporary material.  Every story someone tells me gets filed and docketed away in the ether of my memory, and occasionally, I’m writing something and I think, “Hey, this is sort of like that [x] situation that happened to friend [y].”  Then comes the part where I get in contact with said friend and say something like, “So, remember that time you sublet your room to so and so and returned in September to find it covered in used condoms and dental dams?  Could you run that story by me again in exact and excruciating detail?”

On other occasions, I might say, “Hey, you told me you have that friend who grew up with divorced parents and he told you about how having to move from home to home on a weekly basis put a strain on his ability to to do well in school, right?  I was wondering if you could ask him for more details on what that was like.”

Now, I rarely (pretty much never) use those exact stories in my actual writing.  Real life stories tend not to be neat nor tidy enough to be used in writing.  I just want to get the essence of the experience so I can recreate it properly in the context in my story. By now, most of my friends understand that when I ask about their experiences, it’s not born out of idle curiosity.  The awkwardness usually arises when they tell me about something that happened to a third party that I want to source at some point in the future.

The spin I put on this story when I tell it is that I’m trying to be aware that the human experience is vast and varied, and if I haven’t experienced something personally, I think it’s disingenuous to simply write about how I imagine it would be like.  And if I avoided writing about things I didn’t have personal experience in, then I’d really just be writing an autobiography, and who in the hell would want to read that?

A little part of me always ends up in anything I write.  To me, it’s a necessary part of being an honest writer.  John Green would disagree with me on that (and really, what do I know?), but I don’t write for writing’s sake–I write to exorcise ghosts.  So I’m never really fully detached from my writing (which is not the same thing is being detached from your main character), but even then, my experiences have been shaped by the people around me.  And their experiences matter too, and until I understand their experiences, I can’t fully understand why they had such a profound effect on the things I’ve gone through.  Writing is kind of a lot of work that way.

What About Beauty?

There has always felt like a bit of a disjoint between the way I see beauty and the way I feel like I ought to see beauty.  Granted, I spend a lot of time among relativists and people who lean towards the left of the civil rights spectrum, so perhaps that has something to do with it.  I have always been told, for example, that beauty doesn’t matter (especially when it comes to people).  I’ve grown up being told that judging people by their looks is shallow, and that while it is ok to feel attracted to beautiful people (since it’s biological), I should actively work against the idea that someone’s company is more desirable just because they happen to be hot.

That has always sense to me, but it has also always been something I feel like I have to tip-toe around because I also believe that beauty should be appreciated.  That’s kind of the whole reason why we have art, isn’t it?  We have paintings and music and sunsets and flowers and photography because there’s value in beauty–it’s capable of moving us in ways that make us glad to be alive just so we can experience it.

It would seem that beauty itself is not an inherently bad thing.  So what we’re left with is the idea that beauty may be good, but in the case of people, we should not let beauty define our perception of that individual since there’s far more to them than how they look.  And that’s fair, I think.  On the other hand, do we go so far as to discount beauty when when forming our perceptions of people?  It may not be the only thing, but it is a thing, right?

At the end of the day, what I really want to know is, what should my attitude on beauty be?  The only things that seem to be accepted are:

  1. Beauty in itself is not a bad thing.
  2. Beauty in a person is not an indicator of anything except that that person is beautiful.

The question of whether it is acceptable for beauty to be important to our evaluation of people seems to be up in the air.  We place emphases on lots of other things that aren’t necessarily more within our control – I.Q., sense of humour, special talents such as music, art, sports, etc… Sure, we can develop all these other factors to a certain extent, but you could say the same about beauty (health, exercise, hygiene, grooming, clothes, makeup, etc). We have lots of smart assholes, funny assholes, musical assholes (Chris Brown), artistic assholes (Woody Allen), athletic assholes (Tiger Woods, A-Rod, too many to name).

The way I picture it is this.  If I were telling someone about my girlfriend, and he/she didn’t know anything about her, picture me saying these things:

  1. She’s a great girl… you should hear her sing; she’s got an amazing voice.
  2. She’s a great girl… and she’s the smartest girl I’ve ever met.
  3. She’s a great girl… and she’s really beautiful.

I don’t know… somehow, I feel like that third statement comes off differently.  And I know a lot of it comes from the culture we live in, but the question of beauty comes up every time I see a friend of mine in pictures.  She’s a model and absolutely gorgeous, and I know her life has been shaped by the way she looks, but every time I see her I just… a little part of me is glad to be alive and I wonder if I should feel guilty for feeling that way.

A Story About A Girl

This is a story I don’t get to tell very often because I’ve never had a reason to tell it.  I guess if anyone ever proposed that we all go around sharing stories of how we shared a moment of sympathy with a psuedo-stranger, this would be perfect, but since that hasn’t yet happened in six years, I think it’s safe to say it isn’t likely to come up of its own accord.


So in the summer of 2008, I spent my summer working at an overnight camp in Monticello New York.  Naturally, being an overnight camp, all the boy cabins had male counselors and all the girl cabins had girl counselors.  As such, we didn’t really get to interact with the girls throughout the course of our jobs, which wasn’t an issue for most counselors because when the kids went to bed every night (at around 9 or 9:30–I can’t remember), you basically got to congregate down by the lake where the main hall was and hang out with all your fellow counselors (except for twice a week when you were on night duty).

Now here’s the thing.  I had a fairly important wedding to attend in late June that year, and while that didn’t prevent me from getting to the camp grounds in time for the first day, it did prevent me from being around for pretty much all of orientation.  This not only meant that I had to learn the rules and routines of the camp in the two days before the kids showed up (which wasn’t too terrible), I also missed ALL of the “counselor-bonding” activities they did, which was designed to help you get to know your fellow workers for the summer (this was quite terrible).  So as a result, aside from my two co-counselors and a few counselors from the adjacent bunks, I didn’t get to know anyone else, AND I WAS STUCK THERE FOR EIGHT WEEKS.

The silver lining in all this was that my co-counselors were really cool people and tried to include me in things they did, but I was absolute shite at meeting anyone else.  I don’t know, I have social issues (and I don’t know why I thought that (a) working at an overnight camp for eight weeks was a good idea, and (b) missing orientation was an acceptable thing to do given my issues with… people).  At any rate, the bottom line was, I did not get to know or meet very many of my fellow workers at camp that summer.

The other silver lining in all this was that I had a friend who was staying in Washington DC at the time, and she was nice enough to write me letters all summer and send me mix CDs.  So that was nice (we didn’t have internet at the camp).

During the last week of camp, the entire camp was divided into two for this big color war thing.  Gold vs. Blue.  We had these “color war captains,” who were basically the counselors who the higher ups thought were worthy of leading their teams.  I was not one of them (though I did win the counselor of the week award once).

So for the entire week, rather than gathering in rows according to your bunk at the beginning of the day, we would just chaotically separate into two giant blobs of blue and gold, each on one side of the flagpole down by the lake.  I was on the Gold team so every morning for that last week, I stood in the general area of gold-team campers.  It was a nice break from the seven weeks I had spent monitoring my bunk.

Then came this ONE DAY, where for some reason, the camp decided to switch the color captains.  I have no idea why they did this (for the lols, I assume), but suddenly, the 5 (I think it was 5) Blue captains showed up at the morning assembly wearing gold (and vice versa), and they had prepared the appropriate speeches and cheers for their temporary new colors of allegiance.

So on that one morning, I was standing among the sea of gold campers with our temporarily new color war captains when the camp director made his morning announcements.  Among them, he was talking about how the night supervision schedule would go for the last few days (it was getting moved around a bit because of the color wars and the fact that on the last night, we were all on night duty).  What it basically boiled down to was that there was going to be one extra shift in the rotation and it was too bad for the one group who had to do the extra shift, but that couldn’t be helped.

We all waited with baited breaths, and when he finally announced that it was going to be my group, I let out a prolonged and audible sigh.  I don’t know why I did that–it’s not as if I did anything with my nights off considering my dearth of friends–but the point is, I did.  And I know it must have been a prolonged and audible sigh because the girl standing next to me–to one who normally would have been standing with the blue team, and was only standing next to me on that particular morning because it was color war captain switch day–laughed sympathetically and patted me on the shoulder.

So that’s the story.  I’m not sure why it’s stayed with me for so long.  Maybe it’s because this was a girl I had never spoken to the entire summer (though I suppose we both knew who the other one was because we both performed in the staff talent show) who on any other day that summer, would not have been standing next to me.  And on the one occasion our paths crossed, however briefly, she chose to show a little sympathy when the opportunity presented itself.  That, I think, makes it a story worth telling.

Too bad it’s been applicable in zero conversations I’ve had so far since it happened.

Thoughts on New Adult as a Genre

I’ve been absent from this blog for far too long.  Kind of irresponsible of me.  But at any rate, I wrote some stuff about the New Adult genre for the benefit of some creative writing peers so I thought I’d also post them here.

Thought 1: It seems like everyone’s still trying to decide whether sex is going to be something we should expect when reading NA. The sense that I am getting right now is that NA exists primarily because sex is so off limits in YA. By off-limits, I don’t mean to say that you can’t have sex in YA, just that it is almost always implied or toned down. So if New Adult exists because sex is off limits to YA, then it seems to imply that you only write New Adult because you want to have sexy bits in it.

Thought 2: Thought 1 is problematic because that would mean that if I simply wrote a coming-of-age book about kids in their early 20s, it doesn’t qualify as NA unless I write about throbbing cocks and quivering vaginas (or what have you). This seems kind of silly to me, but it seems to be a legitimate concern. If I wrote a book with college-aged protagonists and had NO sex, would the majority of people read it and go, “Wait, where’s the sex?” Because if so, that would seem to suggest that sex is expected in NA, no matter what it’s about.

Thought 3: If sex is not a prerequisite, the question remains, is there a large enough market of people who want to read about college-aged protagonists? Judging by the relative dearth of coming-of-age novels about college-aged kids, it would seem like the answer to this question is “no,” though it may also be one of those chicken-or-egg questions where we don’t have a lot of people writing books with college-aged protagonists because there’s a perception that no one wants to read them.

Thought 4: The weirdest thing to me about our literary resistance to writing/reading coming-of-age books about college-aged protagonists is that there are lots of movies and television shows about it.

Thought 5: What is unique to the genre that differentiates it from Romance or Literary Fiction? Is there something unique to being a new adult that we feel like it should be made distinct from either of those two genres. Are we simply afraid of categorizing our works as “Literary Fiction” because we feel like that label is too generalized?

Thought 6: Audience is everything. Genres exist for the benefit of the reader. We have Mystery because readers read Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie and say “We want to read more stuff like this.” Until we can identify who the audience for NA is, it won’t matter what we call the book we write. So maybe we need to ask ourselves who we’re writing these books for? What exactly is a new adult and why do they need a voice? Are there enough of them to form a collective audience?

So those are my thoughts. I make no claim to be right about any of them.

Teaching a Condensed Course (and Updates)

I’ve been commissioned to teach the entirety of twelfth grade english to a student in the time span of three weeks.  As part of his unique education plan, this student only studies one subject at a time, but goes at it from 9-2, Mon-Fri.  I did the math and for the most part, he’s doing approximately the same number of hours as he would if he were in public school (1 day = roughly 1 week), but holy toledo, teaching one subject to one student for five hours a day hurts the brain.  I’ve been at it for a week now.  Next week, The Great Gatsby.

Speaking of Gatsby though, I did see the Baz Luhrmann rendition of it last week and I thought it was great.  I heard some rumblings about it not being particularly well received because it “missed the mark” on what the novel was supposed to be about, but I’m not so sure that’s a fair criticism.  Yes, it’s true that the film wasn’t explicit about its criticism of the American Dream, but then again, I’m not sure the book really was either unless you took the time to read between the lines.

I think it speaks a little to the nature of watching films and how they differ from how we experience books.  Contrary to (popular?  Logical?) belief, we don’t simply read text left-right, up-down.  Turns out we read all over the place.  We constantly re-read words and lines, even as we move forward in the text–it’s our brain’s way of making connections.  You can try this yourself if you want proof: pick up a book and focus on reading each word once and only once.  Don’t let your eyes wander, don’t look back, just one word after the other, left-right, line by line.  It’s weird, right?

That’s how you experience films: one image after another.  Nothing is repeated (unless you do it manually).  You see everything once and only once.  Moreover, we read books at varying speeds.  When we come to a particularly poignant line, we stop, maybe read it twice, allow our mind to fully grasp the significance of what we’ve read, etc., whereas in a movie, we don’t get the privilege of dwelling on certain lines or scenes unless we hit pause (and if you saw Gatsby in the theater, you wouldn’t have been able to do this either).

In order to compare a film like Gatsby to the messages and depth we experienced when reading the original book, we’d have to allow ourselves to rewind certain scenes, hit pause and take time to ponder certain lines as we hear them, and actually try to see beyond the obvious.  In short, we’d have to analyze the film, and if we took the time to do that (as I did, since I’m using it to teach a student with dyslexia who isn’t going to read the book) I think we’d find that a lot of the themes, issues, and questions raised in the book are actually present in the film.  I love The Great Gatsby as a book and I feel pretty confident I can teach most of what I want to teach to this student without having to be like, “Well, if you read the book, you’d see that…”

So yeah, that’s my rant on film adaptations and The Great Gatsby.

It also turns out that the big online-publishing platform I was supposed to take part in has had its launch date pushed back, which… is not entirely surprising.  The end of February is the new date being bandied about so I guess we’ll see how that goes.

Musings on Young Adult, part 3 (the Idea of Permanence).

This weekend, I am heading up north for a mini-vacation (first one I’ve had since June 2012).  While it’s technically a vacation (away from work, life, etc), it’s also a “writer’s retreat” of sorts, so it’s not like I’ll just be sitting around actually relaxing.  7 coffee-fueled days in the frozen, internet-less north… eh, we’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, point is, the part that immediately concerns this blog is the internet-less-ness, so I figured I should wrap up some of the ideas I started to cover in my previous post on young adult literature and the idea of YA as a genre.

I left off with the assertion that the coming-of-age story arc tends not to work very well when applied to adults, which therefore makes YA unique, which in turn, justifies its label as a “genre.”  I’ve been giving it some thought, and I think it boils down to the idea of permanence (or lack thereof).

In the adult world, decisions we make have the ability to change our lives in very permanent ways.  For example, if a character in a book decides, in the end, to move to a different city, we are meant to understand that when the book ends, his life “goes on.”  It’s the more realistic version of “they lived happily ever after.”  So maybe sort of a “they lived in relative stability for the foreseeable future” (wow, that’s… bleak).  Or maybe there’s a marriage or something in the end and you really can say “they lived happily ever after.”  Whatever.  Point is, at the end of an “adult” novel, it’s common to find that a character has arrived at the end of his journey (physical or metaphorical) and life is now, if not better, than at least more meaningful than before.

Young adult novels, on the other hand, operate differently.  There is, I think, an implicit understanding that no matter where we end up at the end of the book, this isn’t it.  For example, any YA novel that takes place in high school operates under the implicit understanding that the main characters still have big changes in their future: going off to college, entering the workforce, etc.  Even if two characters who love each other end up together at the end of a young adult novel, you know that it’s not a simple matter of “living happily ever after.”  What will happen when they go off to college?  What happens if they got jobs in two different cities?  You may not consciously ask these questions, of course, but I think it’s part of the implied framework under which most young adult novels operate.

Take a book like 13 Reasons Why, for example (no spoilers ahead).  The premise of the book is that a girl–Hannah Baker–has committed suicide and has left behind a set of tapes explaining the steps that led to her decision.  It’s a tragic story (obviously), but why is it tragic?  You could say, well, she killed herself–obviously it’s tragic.  Fair point.  But the driving force behind the tragedy is more than that.  What truly tugs at your heartstrings (or tugged at mine, at any rate), is just how… unnecessary it is.  She’s in high school.  And no matter what happens in the story, you just can’t shake the feeling that after high school, things could have been different simply because she’d no longer be in high school.

You see what I mean?  There’s almost a “guarantee” in young adult books that there is another stage in life the characters have yet to reach.  There is always something to look forward to (whether it’s good or bad), and, of course, that’s not to say that there can’t be drastic changes in adult lives, but it’s not an implied part of the adult narrative.  When you reach the end of a book about an adult, you can’t simply assume that the future will be any different than where the author chose to leave you.  But with YA novels, you absolutely can (and should!).

What does this all mean, though?  How does it affect our reading of young adult books?  What it does is it heightens the… immediacy of all the characters’ decisions.  It means that Hannah Baker chose to take her own life, even though she must have known that it won’t last forever.  It means that she was suffering so much that she traded the guarantee of a different future life for the suffering to stop now.  On the flip side, it means that when Charlie fights for love in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, he’s fighting for something that he knows he might not have in the future, but is still worth fighting for all the same.  Whatever happiness he finds may not last the rest of his life, but if he can have it, just for a little while, then as he says, “in this moment, we are infinite.”

I have a very strong suspicion that it is exactly this lack of permanence that makes young adult books so popular with adult readers.  I think that as we grow up, we think about the future a lot more, and we make a lot of our decisions based on making sure that our future selves are secure and comfortable.  I think adults like to read about characters who make decisions based on what they want in the moment, even though they know those moments can’t last forever.  And I think that’s the defining trait of young adult books and why it’s its own genre.

It is always now.

That’s what young adult novels are about.