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July 17, 2012

The Curious Case of Katherine Noether

Sometimes it’s hard being a man.  Not because you’re the one people count on to kill spiders, or dislodge a basketball when it gets stuck between the hoop and the backboard (a shockingly frequent event, apparently), or because you’re supposed to be strong enough to open the pickle jar.  

"It's tough to be a maaaaaaaaan...I want to cryyyyyyyyy..."

No, it’s hard being a man because you’re more accountable for your words and actions than anyone else.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a sweeping generalization, but I think there’s more than a kernel of truth -- including and especially when those words and actions relate to talk about women.  Fortunately, if you’ve any more foresight than I do, you won’t make a faux pas while in the presence of a class that is 95% female.

Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration -- not the 95% thing, but the assumption that every member of the class paid attention to what I’d “said”.  And in my defense, I’d made my “statement” through the course-required posting on LiveJournal, and by way of a short section from a creative writing assignment.  But in the worst-case scenario, enough people saw my post to make an issue with what I believed.
The post in question?  A piece of a very rough, far-from-completion story…one that put a very “well-equipped” young lady in the spotlight.

A pun that endures the test of time.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, and the scene in question isn’t particularly offensive (from a male perspective, at least…for obvious reasons).  The setup: the story’s freshman co-star, Katie, has just gotten off the phone with her boyfriend, taking some time to contemplate their relationship as well as her own personal issues.  Simple enough -- by the teacher’s recommendation, Katie needed a scene for her own to help develop her character, and this was just the first step in making that possible.

And then “Kerry” shows up.
At nineteen, she’s leagues apart from Katie.  Curiously tall to Katie’s curiously short; shoulder-length auburn hair to Katie’s long strawberry blonde; undeniably busty to Katie’s…well, we’ll call her petite and leave it at that.  But Kerry’s also very, very prideful in her body, and uses it to tease -- and potentially suffocate -- her sister on a regular basis.  But even so, she had her depths, and she spends the rest of the scene calling out Katie for being a selfish, high-maintenance princess.  (To paraphrase, at least; that scene’s been heavily edited in the years since.)

Hmmm, this is a good start, I thought to myself when I added the post.  Still rough around the edges, sure, but I can build my way up from here.  Besides, a lot of people seem to like my story so far; that would mean I could get a lot of feedback, and make it even better. 
Nothing could possibly go wrong.   Right?
If I may channel the spirit of Lex Luthor…

Wrong, indeed.   To be fair, only one person commented on my post that week, but that one post was all I needed to question my writi- no, my entire thought process.  I still remember that scathing comment:
“Personally, I don’t really like Kerry.  She doesn’t really feel like a full character.”
Well, shit.  Now I’m in a jam; if I assume that one comment means others felt the same way -- or would feel the same way if they read the post - then it means that the collective opinion on said character would be mostly negative.  And one negative character lowers the net worth of the whole.  In no time at all, I realized the horrifying mistake I’d made.  I’d torn a hole in the fabric of my story’s space-time continuum, a black hole of breasts that crunched everything into subatomic dust.
It scared the pants off me, and made them hitch a ride to Fargo, North Dakota by way of multiple bus transfers.  I’d created a bad character?  I, who took pride in making likeable, hot-blooded, high-flying heroes?  Inconceivable!  I worked to remedy the situation almost immediately, transforming this supposedly flat character (derp) into someone as dynamic as her lady parts.  To that end, “Kerry” eventually transformed into “Katherine” -- better known as “Kath” -- and something much, much closer to the idea I had in the first place.  Well-endowed, sure, but more fiery than before; physically more impressive, thanks to both rigorous exercise and a past life as the amateur wrestling phenom, the “Red Cyclone”; using both feminine wiles and ruthless cunning to outwit even the rapier-sharp main character. 

Pictured: the main character.

Of course, that was just the start of her newfound persona -- underneath her extreme hubris lies a person with various issues.   A deep rivalry with a sister that literally comes to super-powered blows.  A partnership with one of the story’s villains that borders on codependency -- or, depending on one’s interpretation, love.  A will to go farther than any other character is willing to go for power…a desire that she ultimately fulfills.  In other words, she’s the most dangerous character in the story, one with the skills to hide behind a smiling face and goofy personality.
All right, I thought to myself one November.  All done.  Now it’s time to test the waters.  See what people think.  I know it’s still pretty rough around the edges, but that’s what editing is for.  Let’s see where I stand with the reader’s opinion.
Everything seemed to fall into place.  A story largely finished.  Characters, fully-defined in the story’s context.  Copies armed and ready for deployment.  Now all I needed was some much-adored user input.  And lo and behold, I got my input a mere twelve hours before the start of the spring semester.
It was an overwhelmingly positive review.  Lots of enjoyment, and shock at the surprise twist at the end.  And the characters, the most important aspect of the story, the major draw.  In fact, forming the bulk of the review.  A dark yet satisfying main character, interesting cast members in general, and to my complete surprise, Katie was my patron’s favorite character -- remarkable, because I’d also given her persona a dramatic repurposing, as well as the fact that my patron was female.  And then I got to said patron’s thoughts on Kath, along with the main character’s brother Seth.  A direct quote:
“Seth and Kath -- they kind of didn’t serve a purpose except to provide a contrast to their younger siblings. Will their characters be further developed in a sequence?”
If I may summon the soul of Darth Vader…         

What the hell?  What was I doing wrong?  How could one character -- one female character -- be my patron’s favorite, but another be so unclear?  So useless? 
I have two theories.  One, my more rational theory, is that I’m not doing anything wrong.  The copy that my patron read was just part one of seven (or at that time, six) -- long before Kath’s major developments take place.  To say nothing of the rather limited amount of screen time she gets in comparison to our heroes, Katie included.  Looking back, the majority of Kath’s issues were only hinted at in the first installment -- threads like fishing line that set the stage for greater moments -- in line with the story’s general theme of overcoming falsehood.  Breaking the mask, as it were.  Not to mention that, since then, Kath’s gotten multiple short-yet-sweet scenes to add a bit more to her position as “the most dangerous babe.”  So maybe, like countless other things in life, I’m over-thinking things. 
The other theory?    The breasts.  It has to be the breasts.

Should have just made her a fish...

Which brings me back to the origin of my problem: I’m a man.  I’m a man who ticks away daily at his soul-powered typewriter day after day in his dark keep, unaware of the intricacies of the female mind and preferences.  No, it’s even worse than that; I suspect that I know less about the subject than a twelve-year-old boy.  If asked to picture certain body parts, then inevitably I’d imagine some unholy cross between a horse, a bowl of spaghetti, and a Tesla coil.
And the subject in question?  It’s not just a matter of bust.  Kath set a precedent of thought, one that I’ll have to address as a writer if I’m to create my beloved hot-blooded heroes.
What is beauty?

One of the story’s motifs revolves around each character having a unique body part -- eyes, nose, chin, hands, and the like.  Logically -- and to avoid grossing out readers -- I had to make a chesty female to keep the trend going.  It was a move I’d made out of necessity, but I hadn’t thought about the consequences of my character design.  The knee-jerk reaction to Kath’s form; the stigma that comes from her looks, as well as the looks of any other character, male or female; the assumptions and expectations that comes along with each trait.  “Beauty is only skin deep” and “It’s what’s on the inside that counts” are phrases that hold well, but they don’t explain away one’s appearance.
Let’s think of it this way.  Shaquille O’ Neal is huge -- seven foot three, if I remember correctly.  He’s been called a beast, and his sheer size and power on the court excuse his complete inability to make a jump shot (a pain I know all too well, Shaq).  Now let’s assume that Mr. O’ Neal wasn’t a basketball player; that he’s just a regular guy, doing regular things like picking up his dry cleaning or eating some cereal.  But if you were to see him on the street, what would your first reaction be?  “Jesus, that guy’s huge!”  Or maybe, “Oh man, that guy looks tough.  Better not pick a fight with him.”  Or perhaps “Man, I bet that guy would be perfect for basketball.”
And you’d be right in making those assumptions.  If not because he’s huge as all get out, then because others think the same thing about his size.  He’s been cast as an armored superhero in Steel, a super-powered slam-dunking genie in Kazaam, and even starred in his own (terrible) fighting game for the Sega Genesis, Shaq Fu.  All he could do in that game was kick, but that was all he needed.  The developers, perhaps accurately, assumed that a punch from Shaq would crash the game, break the TV, and punch the player in the face at the same time.

If I may draw upon my knowledge of gaming culture, then looks are just as critical there as anywhere else.  Not too long ago, as a part of the the Tokyo Game Show, a new installment in the Devil May Cry franchise was announced.  The games are famous for their self-proclaimed “stylish crazy action”, over-the-top theatrics, and of course the main character, Dante.  A red-cloaked, white-haired, half-demon hybrid, he takes down creatures with extreme speed and power -- not to mention enough wisecracks to make even Spider-Man jealous.  Indeed, he’s become an icon for the genre, and a fan favorite among the community…but this time, something’s different.

The reins have been passed from internal development in Japan to a western developer, Ninja Theory.  Their first act?  Transform Dante into a roughed-up, black-haired teenager with a not-so-red jacket (“Homeless Dante”, as my brother calls him) who spends most of the trailer looking angst-y and not being a smartass.  Fan reaction has been…venomous.  After one three-minute trailer, longtime fans have expressed their outrage, called this new Dante an “Edward Cullen knockoff” and “a lesbian”, and sworn off the series forever.  To sum it up: RUINED FOREVER.  Just a routine Thursday on the internet.

Though in this case, there's more than a little justified rage.

Appearances are important -- even a wide-eyed idealist like me recognizes that fact.  That said, I need to be mindful of what people think of as beautiful, and what they think of as just plain annoying (which may or may not be Kath’s breasts).  Recent…well, formerly-recent edits in my work already seem to take this idea to heart.  To wit:
“He’d taken a small step in appreciating Kath, the woman who put so much emphasis on her body, by giving in to her terms.  She always wanted people to look at her and recognize her, but now he understood her motives a bit more: not necessarily to be seen as an erotic figure, but to show her strength with pride.  To stand tall as a warrior woman, but exude the warmth of a mother, and the emotive power of a child, in one single stroke.”

That’s just a piece of it -- the scene, their interaction, and Kath as a whole -- but it helps to say more than just “LOL LOOKIE HERE SHE GOT BIG BOOBS”.  Well, from my standpoint, at least.  There’s no telling how the average Joe will react to her.  Maybe they’ll like her, but for the wrong reasons.  Likewise, there’s no way I can predict what female readers will make of her.  It’s possible that (again) I’m overthinking things; maybe the fact that I’m so worried about trying to appeal to readers and tip-toeing around certain subjects means that my way of thinking is wrong.  Maybe by stressing out about looks, I’m just as bad as those worthy of detraction; I should just do what I think is right (within reason); “Haters gonna hate, and creators gonna create.”   Even with that said, it’s possible that readers -- male or female -- will misread or judge from the get-go and heap their hatred on me for “degrading women” or something like that.  I hope it doesn’t come to that, and I’ve taken safeguards against both those interpretations, but fan opinion is a vicious hydra.  Once it gets started, it changes the piece as a whole -- and for every head you cut off, two more sprout in their place.  To take a page from Phil's book...

All I can do is offer my own idea on what beauty is, and support it the best I can.  To my credit (i.e. to cover my ass), there are other females of varying body types -- the petite Katie, who’s often compared to a fairy or a sylph; the incredibly tall Maddy, repeatedly called intelligent and kind, and the most ladylike of the three female leads (awkwardness aside); the blonde and classy Desiree, whose beauty comes from her regal air and powerful presence.  One could argue that I’ve got my bases covered, and not just relying on one character to push an idea on the audience.  Or, alternatively, one could argue that all four of these females cater to different fetishes.  There IS a little thing called Rule 34, after all: “If it exists, there is porn of it on the internet.  No exceptions.”
Twisted as it may seem, the idea of Rule 34 brings up a good point.  Does that mean that beauty is subjective instead of objective?  That it’s all based on preferences, instead of some clear-cut rules?  Opinions seem to differ.  On one level, I’ve heard of things called the “golden ratio”, a sort of triangular set of points that fits perfectly in a number of situations.  Among them, the points between one’s lips and nose; those whose facial features are closer to that ratio are generally considered more attractive than those who aren’t.  Likewise, tests and studies have been performed that put two faces together side-by-side -- one of which is altered to increase symmetry between the points on one’s face, and the other altered to have them skewed slightly.  Naturally, the more symmetrical face won by a wide margin.  Even before the advent of computers, the scientific method, and Photoshop, cultures attributed women with larger chests and wider hips to fertility -- a trend that carried over to the sometimes comically-proportioned “mother goddess” figurines they crafted.

Yep.  That sure is a figurine there.

But wait, there’s more!  Obviously, women with a certain build were valued in the past, but those good times had to come to an end eventually.  Social revolutions and class differences mixed up ideas and opinions.  In the past, men and women alike with some level of girth weren’t just attractive, they were wealthy -- and they wanted to show it.  Compare that idea to the recent present, where there’s an overwhelming desire to be thin (both perceived and real).  In a sweep of Wikipedia on “military chic” clothing one day in my quest for designing a new character, I found out that there were other chic types.  In particular, “heroin chic”: a sickly thin appearance that accentuates visible bones and joints.  Now, I’ve never been a close follower of the fashion industry, and generally think that the whole operation is -- to borrow from the British -- a load of bollocks, so I won’t pretend like I understand what goes on in the mind of a fashionista.  But hearing about something like actively trying to look like a drug addict takes the idea into a realm I never thought possible.  Super bollocks.
Even so, I’m inclined to believe in the fashion and entertainment industry at least a little bit; after all, they ARE the experts.  For better or worse, of course; if we take their words to heart, then our opinions are their opinions.  If one of the higher-ups says “thin is in”, then you’d better believe thin is in.  Of course, I still have my reservations on the matter (a quick Google search suggests that it’s cool to dress like a marching band trumpeter and wear what looks like a crow on your head).  If everyone had my mindset, we’d be all set -- not to mention the wonders we’d do for the video game industry -- but I need to take into account one’s preferences, be they learned or natural.
Even so, the fashion and modeling world’s opinions are a little…pushy.  While skimming a comedy site I frequent, I came across a brief article about Mad Men’s red-headed actress Christina Hendricks -- who, naturally, has become fairly popular thanks to her unique armaments.  A bit of digging on my part suggests that Mrs. Hendricks is more than just the stuff of fantasies for men with internet access; she’s also been on the covers of a few magazines, which in turn suggests she’s seen a massive rise in popularity.  A look at one of these covers, however, comes with a confusing blurb -- something along the lines of Mrs. Hendricks bringing about “the revival of the full figure”, or the “rebirth of voluptuousness”.  Maybe I’m missing something here, but in what universe did everyone forget that a lot of men like big breasts?  And by extension, when did we accept that generous figures, or any shape out of the ordinary, are repulsive?  And by extension to that, who's to decide which figures are ordinary and which aren't?  As long as they have the requisite body parts, do dimensions really play that much of a part?

What do you say to those her, society?

The more I try to understand, the more I end up dazed and confused.  Apparently, there have been instances where models of a certain shape and size have been shafted because they weren’t within the accepted bounds.  A “plus-sized” woman (and I use that term very lightly, because the measures for that vary) that wasn’t allowed to be a regular model; a busty, would-be model who found it hard to get a job; the list goes on and on.  There are sites celebrating women of all shapes and sizes, sites with dieting tips (and at least a dozen different Yahoo Answers posts on how to get a model figure), and more.  Apparently, the acting industry holds many of the same ideas -- any larger-busted woman will be cast as eye candy and/or considered to be fat.  Assuming, of course, they’re cast at all.
So, quick recap: one’s ideas on what’s attractive and what’s not are subjective.  HOWEVER, those ideas no doubt have some influence from certain industries, whose use of rigid standards suggests to others “Well, if she’s on TV or in this magazine, then she must be pretty!”  In other words, beauty is both subjective and objective at the same time.  Not much of an answer, I know, but it’ll have to do until we get some sort of resurrected Plato to teach us (i.e. me) otherwise.  I would also accept a zombie Plato if I had a hazard suit on hand.
Whatever the case, people react unpredictably to a character’s looks.  As a gamer, I’ve seen it happen more times than I can count, with both males and females.  On the male end, there are countless groan-inducing stereotypes, from the shaven, stubble-bearing space marine (or any male lead with short hair and stubble -- it’s that interchangeable) to the outrageously muscular, gun-toting tough guy who will A) never smile, B) speak solely in swears and bad one liners, and C) have a jaw the size of a lunchbox.  Not surprisingly, these stereotypical appearances are American made, and undoubtedly influenced by the appearances of action heroes and other movie tough guys.  Yet, on the opposite end of the spectrum, there are the highly-effeminate male leads from Japan-born games.  The most painful example would have to be Vaan from Final Fantasy XII -- official art has this seventeen-year-old sitting in the same pose as a supermodel on the hood of a Corvette, his feathered blonde hair tossed slightly askew and his chest on full display thanks to the tiny vest he’s wearing slipping down his shoulder.  In Japan, something like this might work thanks to the idea that “there’s masculinity in femininity”; in America, however, you’d better be ready for some serious flak if you bring that noise over here.

The embodiment of beauAHAHAHAHAHA!  Just kidding.  It's not Vaan.  It's never Vaan.
And the women?  Oh boy.  Tall, short, young, old, a few years older, curvy, flat, demure, slutty, sporty, waifish, adjective, you name it, you’ve got it.  And not one of them can be agreed upon as beautiful.  Make them full-figured, and -- thanks to a rich and storied history of being exploited for titillation -- suddenly, they’re the token “fanservice” girl.  Make them more petite, and -- thanks to an equally rich and storied history of being exploited for titillation -- suddenly, they’re the token “loli”.  If it was just the preference or opinion, I could deal with it; what makes me worry about my own work is the slamming that comes from even the slightest misstep in character design.  Or, you know, any step.
Viewed objectively, Kath may or may not meet the standards of beauty; if she does, then one would think that there’s some hope for her -- that her looks won’t immediately brand her with some scarlet letter.  If not, then the subjective preference may save her.  And of course, there’s always the chance that her personality and character development will save her where her controversial looks have failed.  But since I’ve geared this entire piece towards the worst-case scenario that “boobs = this keriktur sux”, let’s see where we stand on the standard of beauty.

This should be interesting.

-- Height: five nine.  Supposedly, the height of the average female is five foot five, so she’s a fair bit above that.  Interestingly, it’s been considered desirable for ladies to be tall, ergo the use of high heels.  (Doubly so when, as noted elsewhere, you have female leads in games standing at a minimum of eight heads tall.)  So in that regard, I might be doing something right.  According to the British Association of Model Agents, an aspiring model -- and therefore, a bastion of beauty -- should be between five eight and six one.  Score!

--Waist-to-hip ratio: I’ve never gone out of my way to render and measure a fictional character, but suffice to say she’s got hips; in other words, she’s not just a pencil with two grapes smashed through it.  Again, according to the AMA, the ideal measurements are 34-24-34, and a size 00 is a definite bonus.  Since I’m under the impression that size 00 means you don’t exist, then that counts as a win in my book.  But regarding those pesky measurements, we may have a problem…

-- Build: Sure, she’s got curves, but as previously mentioned she’s also a bit on the beefy side (enough to be called a “meaty maiden” from time to time).  Fitting, considering her former line of work, not to mention adding a bit to her character.  Ideally, fitness is a key part of any person’s level of attractiveness, but Kath may be taking it a step too far -- not to the point of absurdity, mind, but enough to make readers a bit wary of her.  Although, some people may like her even more as a result.  Time will tell…

-- Erotic Capital: Wikipedia, where do you learn these things?  Well, anyway, this aspect takes into account physical and mental attractiveness -- criteria like social attractiveness, vivaciousness, and presentation (and fertility, but…come on, dude).  In that regard, that may be the area that makes or breaks Kath, at least based on first impressions.  Yes, she’s very flirty and spirited; yes, she’s proud, and not opposed to showing off -- though I hasten to add she always dresses practically.  She’s sultry, but she’s also one of the story’s goofier characters, contributing her fair share of humor.  To say nothing of her slowly-revealed insecurities and trials she’s forced to face -- indeed, there’s plenty of potential to be had, but plenty of misinterpretation waiting in the wings.

Bet you weren't expecting this pun, huh?

So is she beautiful?  Well, I’ll be honest: if I were to meet her in real life, I’d probably think she was (and after a brief glance, turn my head in shame).  And why wouldn’t I?  She has looks and charisma, a solid personality and hidden depths, and she’s an all-around cool character.  Granted, I probably wouldn’t want to cross her in later chapters or severely tick her off, but I’m more than willing to give Kath the green light.

And what would others think?  Beauty may be subjective, sure (or maybe objective -- jury's still out on that one), but one would be hard-pressed to call a flower ugly and a pile of tar irresistible.  To that end, I think I’ve put in enough evidence to sway reader opinion -- at least a little bit.  At the very least, they won’t come chasing after me with torches and pitchforks for my creation of yet another piece of eye candy.  Who knows?

Funny, how something I’d hardly considered while making my characters has transformed into a new idea to keep in mind.  Shallow as it may seem, I’ll be sure to keep an eye on how my characters look, and consider the consequences of each new design.  And who knows?  Maybe one day I’ll be able to exploit the system, rather than quake in fear.

So, bottom line.  Where do I stand?

As I’ve said multiple times -- here, elsewhere online, and every eighth day in my life -- maybe I’m over-thinking things.  Is anything I’ve said here right?  There’s no way to be 100% sure, and it’s very likely that my opinions and motions are wrong.  But then again, is that such a bad thing?  If I really am in the wrong for one reason or another, then that has one positive benefit: if I am irrevocably in the wrong, and nothing I do will take me out of the wrong, then I am now fully and unquestionably free.  The problem is that I have expectations that need to be met and fulfilled -- but if those expectations are so low that no one expects anything of me, then the criticism may be softened a bit.  Or as an alternative: in the same sense that we (men and women alike) care about beauty and appearances, the moment I free myself from obsessing over expectations, I can focus more on what really matters.  The writing.

And on that note, I think I actually have an advantage.  My style is decidedly visual, to the point where I’m unsatisfied if I’m not putting some serious work into setting up a character, scene, or action.  Inevitably, there will be times when I have to put busty characters on display.  But because I’m a writer, the focus isn’t 100% on looks.  It’s my words that create the visuals, but it’s also my words that shape expectations, predictions, opinions, and even reactions.  I’m not just in this to get the reader’s rocks off; I’m here to tell a story.  I’m here to make fighters that transform teardrops into triumph.  I may be a man, but I’m out to be a writing hero.  I’ll let my writing speak louder than I ever can -- and I’ll move the hearts of others with the stories I weave.  I may not be the greatest, but I’ll do my best until the very end.

And that’s about all I can do, really.  I’ll just keep writing.  I’ll keep others in mind, but I won’t sacrifice my creative vision for anyone’s sake.  And with that said, I hope someday I can form a common ground between myself and readers all around.

Although I still think the fashion industry is stupid.  Or, if I may call upon the dark powers of Shredder from 1991’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze

Because as we all know, Shredder’s an authority on the subject.


  1. Wow!
    Where to start on this?
    First thing, its good to take feedback and revise after that, but no character can be perfect. And there isn't anything wrong with a busty lady, except that the normal assumption would be that she is unlikable- maybe.
    Also, do you seriously type on a typewriter? Haha that's why cool, but seems difficult.

  2. I think beauty is always subjective. The majority of opinions just give us the illusion of some objectivity. Most say this or that is beautiful so we tend to agree, but you'll always find those describing something perceived by most as ugly as an object of beauty.
    I don't believe you are over-thinking things because this analysis is how you learn. I do, however think you are giving too much important to certain opinions. You have to choose if you want to express your own view on things or if you want to write about how others view things. The first one allows you to be more yourself while the second allows you to attract a bigger audience. Both have pros and cons, but even if you chose the latter there will always be some who will not like it,no matter how perfectly its been written.
    I'm not a writer so this is the opinion of a reader. Be honest, passionate, and hard on yourself before writing, but after writing it down, have allow yourself the confidence to ignore some comments and stick to your guts on what you think is good. Your own vision is what makes you unique.

  3. An illusion of objectivity...well, I suppose there IS more than a kernel of truth to that. But I still wonder if there's a sort of blurring point where those opinions genuinely become the truth. Though of course, there are always people who, with their own opinions, will reject certain qualities...but on the other hand...

    This is giving me a headache, so I'm going to talk about something else now.

    That aside, I want to thank you for the kind words (and visiting my blog as well). I suppose I won't make it very far in terms of becoming a writing hero if I compromise my vision for the sake of others. It's not my intention to be pandering, and certainly not offensive, but...well, opinions and all that. So I guess all I can do is put myself out there and pray -- and pray A LOT -- for the best.

    I needed a new perspective, and now I've got one. Thanks for the input.