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I stupidly didn’t realize that weight issues are probably right up there with politics and religion when it comes to sensitivity, feather-rustling and strong opinions. (This is probably not the time to mention how much I hate musicals. Yes, I even hate Rent. Yeah, I know. Is anyone still reading?) And while I think it’s okay to talk about these hot-button issues (probably even vital to communicate these issues to one another) a blog probably isn’t the best place to do so – certainly no where near as good as talking to people face to face.

And doing just that this morning with my cube-mate Liz, we had a pretty great conversation about how the best way to express your opinions on touchy subjects is to talk from your own experience (and also about how depressing basement gyms can be).

So – I’m going to drop the weight part of the issue and talk a little about something that I feel strongly about that I don’t think I expressed well yesterday, this time talking a bit more about myself.

I’m very wary of self-love and confidence and acceptance. I know that sounds weird. Nannying over the last eight years or so, I’ve seen a trend of telling kids, especially girls, to love themselves no matter what, to be confident, to trust your feelings. To laugh at all of their jokes, to praise and support everything they do. I’ve also read it on a lot of magazine racks – be yourself! Love yourself!

And, to a point, this is great. So often, our culture tells us that we aren’t perfect and not good enough and women are being asked more and more to be everything – have children, have a career, still look perfect, etc. It’s a lot of pressure and, besides that, it’s just plain impossible to be everything to everyone.

But has the pendulum swung too far? Sometimes I think so – that the line between loving and valuing who we are (and we should all, down to the very last one of us, be loved and valued) and knowing when there are parts of you that you don’t love and that you can change.

As corny as it sounds, I think this goes back to the framed needlework art that probably hangs in one of your aunt’s bathrooms: God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

My own struggle has been with shyness and social anxiety. It’s in my genes, it’s something wrong with my brain, it probably had a bit to do with my environment growing up, and it’s part of my personality. Now, while I can’t change the way my brain works, for whatever varied reasons it works that way, I can change the way I think about it and the way I act. Just like any other struggle, it never ends or gets easier – I can only understand it better and work with it.

My mom helped me with this a lot growing up (when I was younger I couldn’t even make phone calls) and as I’ve gotten older I’ve read a lot about it and gotten some help. I still have to force myself to do things (call people, attend parties, act normal in meetings, meet the parents) but the experiences and relationships I get from pushing myself and deciding to simply be uncomfortable have been more than worth it.

So is my social anxiety something I can’t change and should accept, or is it something I can work on? I say, even if I’ll never be “normal,” even if it means I might cry a little before I can ask someone to the movies, I’d rather end up in the movies with a new friend than alone in my house, not crying, having “accepted myself.” Just because shyness is an innate part of me doesn’t mean I have to like it. If anything I hope it’s made me more outspoken than someone who doesn’t worry constantly about social situations.

On the other hand, there are things I can’t change, like my diminutive height or laughable breast size. In these cases, I have to put away any dreams I had of being a basketball center or a successful stripper and come to terms with it. I mean, at least I can jog without a sports bra.  

But going back to the original argument, I wonder what would have happened if, while I was growing up, my mom (who also struggles with shyness, although you’d never be able to tell) taught me to love myself exactly as I was. Would I still have forced myself to join the improv troupe in college or try out for a spot in the opinion section of the newspaper – two things that I truly valued and enjoyed? Would I even have been able to follow my dream of becoming a writer?

And I think this links back to self-criticism and self-doubt. I think they are integral in being open-minded and improving yourself. It was hard reading some of the responses I got yesterday, but a lot of them had good points in them. Yes, it wasn’t any fun to beat myself up about what I had written or to admit to myself that I had not considered certain aspects of my argument, but it’s a lot better than blocking out the criticism and saying “I believe what I believe and I love myself.”

Perhaps it’s just as important to teach our daughters to listen to others as well as listening to their own hearts and to teach them that it’s just as important to accept the constants in life as it is to fight for anything they wish if they have any kind of a fighting chance.

Ben and I often talk about how it will be important in our futures to always be a little uncomfortable. To keep pushing ourselves and to question everything.

Settling with every aspect of who you are today is a very comforting thing to do. And here I am filled with a lot of self-doubt and even more self-criticism. But it’s these doubts and criticisms that will, hopefully, keep me thinking, keep me refining the way I see the world, and keep me moving forward.

And, I swear to God, my next post will be a light-hearted collection of humorous observations about life.

Although Ben usually writes about mixed martial arts on his blog, yesterday he wrote about a summer we spent playing wiffleball and riding bikes together (no, we were not ten). Here’s to more days like those.

People who read my blog but don’t know us often ask me about Ben and I think he remains a bit mysterious since you only learn about him from my prospective, through my eyes, on my blog. So this is your chance to hear his voice.  

You can read it here.

While surfing around WordPress, I came across this post, “The Fantasy of Being Thin,” which was getting a lot of attention. In it, the author Kate Harding makes some very valid points about body acceptance, self-esteem, and how many women wrongly believe other problems in their life (relationship issues, career issues, depression, confidence issues) would disappear if they where thin.

However, she goes a step further and encourages women to accept that they are fat and also accept their personality (if you wish you were adventurous but are not, for example, you should accept who you are). This acceptance, she says, will be freeing and help you find what you really want in life.

That’s were I get off the wagon. Call me stubborn, but I don’t much like accepting things that I don’t like about myself. If I want to be healthier or more adventurous, those are things that I can actively work on and improve, every single day. Sure, if I’m trying to get thin to impress others or because I think it will get me promoted at work, that’s probably not going to go so well. But if it’s something I want – hell, why would accept anything else?

It’s funny I read this article today because yesterday (after going to the gym and while eating a delicious salad for dinner) I watched Oprah, which was about 21 people who had successfully turned around their lives and lost weight (from a few pounds to hundreds of pounds). There are lots of shows like this, I know, but this one was more affecting, I think, because everyone used natural means of weight loss and talked very honestly about their struggles with weight and body image.

More than one person admitted outright that they were overeating – big portion sizes, processed foods, binging late at night. All of them admitted to not exercising.  If any of them had said that they were happy with their unhealthy weight, that they embraced it, they would have been lying to themselves. If any of these people had accepted their weight, I’m sure a couple of them would be dead by now.

Many of the people they interviewed had been utterly energized by their lifestyle changes – and yes, many things in their lives changed. It’s biology: if you’re healthy, you are going to be more confident, more active, and – they’ve done studies — more likely to get a promotion at work. Your libido goes up, your lifespan increases significantly. That all sounds worth it to me. More than that, these facts prove that being a healthy weight is important – not just a cultural thing we do because of advertising and the media.

The issues might be why and how a person loses weight. I saw a different Oprah (I know, I know) where women who lost weight through stomach operations were immediately finding new additions other than food (alcoholism, drug addiction, promiscuity) because they had yet to solve the problems in their lives which caused their overeating. Perhaps the women who feel the constant need to be thin need to work other parts of their lives while also striving to live healthily – it makes sense that an unhealthy lifestyle and other problems go hand in hand and affect each other.

And health is the bottom line, I think. If you are exercising regularly and eating right everyday and if you don’t have any thyroid issues, you will not be overweight. Sure, it might be harder for some people and easier for others, but that’s it: calories in and calories out. Unprocessed foods, small portions, cardio, weight training. If you tell me that you’ve tried eating right and exercising regularly and it didn’t work, you’re either lying to yourself or you were doing something wrong and should contact a nutritionist and a trainer.

If you don’t want to do those two things, for whatever reasons, I suppose you should accept your body. But don’t say that eating right and exercising don’t work. This isn’t about hating or discriminating against overweight people, but it is about being truthful to ourselves and why we are the way we are.

The most dangerous thing I can think of, perhaps, is the acceptance of aspects of our lives that we’d like to change. Not much has ever gotten done by women throughout history by passive acceptance. Don’t give up just because giving up is easy. Go out and try to be the person you want to be.

Read The Fantasy of Being Thin.

m&m guysOn the subway platform tonight I saw a woman with a bright, conspicuous, intricate tattoo that wrapped around her foot and leg all the up to her knee. It was of the M&M characters – the ones in the white gloves – huge, of all colors, holding hands and dancing.

Wow, I wonder how many six packs and crack vials went into that choice
,  I thought. Maybe some combination of an unfortunate life phase and a lost bet? Whatever mix of bad judgments and stupid ideas that created this perfect storm of permanent body modification, I’m sure she wakes every morning filled with remorse, the M&M men who once looked joyful now seeming to laugh mockingly in her face.

But then my eyes rose up from her tattooed leg and up to her face. There she was, eating an enormous bag of M&Ms as if they were the best and only true sustenance on earth. Each time she popped some in her mouth, her eyes would close – like seeing and  tasting the delicious flavor explosions of the M&Ms at the same time was sensory overload. It was wonderful to watch: someone who really knew what they loved.

Life lesson: something about not judging people or assuming things. Or possibly something about eating more M&Ms.

My dear cyberfiend Beth From Avenue Z has tagged me for a meme. After looking up meme in Wikipedia and then wondering what else I don’t know about modern culture and how soon teenagers will be rolling their eyes at every old-timey word I speak, I decided to go ahead with it. I don’t want to make it a habit or anything, since it seems kind of forward-y (do email forwards still exist, or is that so five years ago? Now I’m doubting my every move and word.) but I also don’t have anything pertinent to write about today. Just like so many things in life, sometimes I need a little jumpstart.

So – the deal is that I write seven facts about myself and then tag seven people down below and they write seven things about themselves. Because obviously we don’t talk enough about ourselves on our blogs.

  1. I had an intricate daydream this morning during work that my cube mate (the one that would be an affable, normal person except for the fact that she sits next to me all day and is therefore annoying) accidentally got pregnant and had to start working from home due to some complications that required bed rest. Everyone was so happy – she’s engaged, so it’s not a terrible kind of unplanned pregnancy, and I’d be without a noisy neighbor who pronounces things weird for nine months, not including her maternity leave after the baby was born. And maybe by that time she’d decide to become a stay at home mom!
  2. Not to mention that I would be comforted by the fact that it wasn’t me who got accidentally pregnant – you know, that great dodged-a-bullet feeling? Except that in this case the bullet is a baby?
  3. I never have intricate daydreams about having children myself. It’s not that I don’t eventually want to have them, it’s just that I spent many years as a nanny and have a pretty realistic view of the vast rainbow of bodily fluids that babies and toddlers produce. While other women my age only see pictures of friends’ babies dressed up like Tigger or sleeping soundly or doing something adorable with a spoon, I saw the things that you don’t take pictures of, like tantrums and oh god it’s been two hours and the tantrum is still going on.
  4. One of the other things I like to do during the boring time at work other than daydreaming  is look at what kinds of houses I could buy in different parts of the country for the amount that Ben and I spend renting our “cozy” railroad apartment in Queens. It makes me feel that weird happy-and-sad-at-the-same-time feeling.
  5. And I secretly kind of like feeling sad. So the happy-and-sad-at-the-same-time feeling is actually like feeling double-happy.
  6. If you’re struggling to understand what it means to feel happy and sad at the same time, I urge you to think back to the ending of Charlottes Web.
  7. The book, not the movie.

I realize I probably didn’t do that right. Okay, now it’s time to pick some victims (and no, I won’t get offended or sad or even happy-sad if you don’t do it): Molly, Hilary, Amanda, Nora Rocket, my new evil twin Slurredpress, Dan will probably not do this, and neither will Brian. Wow, that was surprisingly painful.

lifetime logoFor regular readers of my Lifetime Movie installments, I’d like to unveil my new Lifetime Movie tab, located at the top of my blog. Clicking on it will get you a neat, alphabetical list of the movies I’ve reviewed so far as well as other related Lifetime Movie posts. It’s crude right now, but it should start looking more filled out in the next couple of days.
There’s also a comments section at the bottom, if you’d like to contribute your own deep Lifetime movie reactions, share your own story of the time your identity was stolen by your brother’s bulimic killer, or alert me when an especially good (or bad) movie is scheduled to come on either the Lifetime channel or on the Lifetime Movie Network.

Moving on:

The day after Thanksgiving I watched more Lifetime movies than any one person should. In between eating plates of leftovers, popping Extra Strength Tylenol, and assuming the gym would be closed without actually checking, I watched and watched. I covered all of the major Lifetime themes: the accidental killing of a family member, the on purpose killing of an abusive family member, the shoplifting addiction, the teen pregnancy, the eating disorder, the schizophrenic, and the murder mystery that seems to be a mystery to not only the actors, but also the writer, and the director.

One of movies that I watched from start to finish, though, was Too Young To Be A Dad, a fun twist on the teen pregnancy genre of LMN flicks. Instead of following the girl’s story as she made hard life decisions, the movie focuses on ninth grader Matt Freeman (played by Paul Dano, who has since gone on to bigger things like Little Miss Sunshine).

It’s not a bad idea – I didn’t feel like anyone had explored what teenaged boys go through when they get a girl pregnant. Did they ever want to keep the baby? Did they ever go to alternative high schools? Was it possible for males to have feeling for babies, too?

The main problem with the movie, aside from the conspicuously missing 15-year-olds-doing-it-on-camera sex scene, was that the girl Matt gets pregnant is portrayed as a heartless whore – not because that would be an interesting story, but because it makes you, the person watching the movie, have an easier time caring about the teen dad and ignoring the teen mom.

She heavily pressures Matt to have sex with her, even after Matt voices his reservations (Matt is established as Purely Good within the first minutes of the movie, where he is seen doing well in math class and thanking his mother for making him snacks after school). The teen whore reassures Matt that she does it just to do it all the time, you know, since she’s a whore without feelings.

After he gives in (and gets her pregnant on the first try), she basically disappears from the movie. Her father keeps them from talking, she doesn’t want to see Matt after the baby is born, and she doesn’t make a fuss when Matt tries to adopt the baby himself. This is because whores hate babies and see them merely as the unpleasant side effects of having loveless unprotected sex with multiple partners.

It felt a lot like the pregnant girl was playing the part of the stereotypical Lifetime Dude Who Accidentally Gets a Teen Girl Pregnant And Runs. Much like her male counterparts, who usually don leather jackets and devil-may-care attitudes, she’s a flat character who the screenwriter didn’t want to complicate things more than he had to. I mean, there’s already a baby to deal with. Why add the problem of a relationship?

But the most enjoyable part of the movie for me what the subplot played out between Matt’s mother and Matt’s older sister. Matt’s sister, a rare unpregnant teenage rebel, wants to continue to work at McDonalds when she graduates from high school. Matt’s mother would like her to get a college education and follow any sort of dream other than one involving fast food.

Through Matt’s baby daddy issues, however, the mother comes to the conclusion that her children’s dreams should be her dreams, even if those dreams involve flipping burgers or producing infants. The same day that the family decides to keep Matt’s baby for good, Matt’s sister is promoted to manage the flipping of burgers. Family hug!

We live in dark times. And nothing makes me more convinced of this than the escalating use and growing acceptance of smiley faces in correspondence.

My new boss, who I’ve decided to dislike even though I’ve never met or spoken to her, and who is probably a really nice person who I will never give a chance, can’t seem to send an email without several emoticons beaming out from between her sentences and gluttonous number of exclamation points. U R 2 NICE!!! 🙂 she wrote in her first email to me, making me wonder how I could “B 2 NICE” when I was in fact 2 shocked 4 words.

Sure, I will pardon the stray or well-used emoticon. I will pardon emoticons that are produced by the very young or very old. I will even pardon emoticons in forum responses and short virtual notes. But emoticons are a slippery slope of weird facial expressions, and, like most indulgences in life, they should be used sparingly and thoughtfully.

One day you might find yourself adding a single smiley face to the end of an email in order to cement your tone. But the next day you might, like my new boss, be wholly unable to go three lines in an email without breaking out the super smiley or the winky-smiley, all garnished with splashes of exclamation points and ellipses. It will be mere days before you find yourself replacing words with numbers – like some1 and 2day – and mere days after that before you are a homeless heroin fiend, the kind of person who coughs without covering their mouth or doesn’t put the cap back on the toothpaste.

Is it really that hard to express yourself clearly with actual words? Must we rely on weird yellow hieroglyphs, which are totally so 5,000 years ago? There are lots of words in this language and — surprised emoticon! — many of them express emotion. In fact, words can even be strung together in certain sequences that imply very specific tones and shades of meaning. For example, do I need to put a 😡 here for your to understand how I feel on the subject? Or do you get it?  

To prove my point further, let’s take a look at how a classic author has survived without using emoticons. Would timeless words from the past be even more powerful and moving with emoticons?

Let’s try the opening of A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times 😀 it was the worst of times 😦 it was the age of wisdom 💡 it was the age of foolishness 😛 it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity 😕 it was the season of Light 😎 it was the season of Darkness 😥 it was the spring of hope 😆 it was the winter of despair 😦 we had everything before us 😀 we had nothing before us  we were all going direct to Heaven 😮 we were all going direct the other way 👿 “

(Hm. I have to admit even I’m a little surprised that there’s an emoticon for “incredulous.”)

 Yes, you could argue that emoticons clarify tone, which is sometimes hard to convey over short business emails. But I still think that the vast majority of the time it’s a crutch that is for the most part repetitive. More than that, though, I think that they are often not used sincerely. Who knows, though, maybe my defense against my new boss should be to honestly use emoticons in my emails. They would look something like this:

 Attached is the spreadsheet you requested. 😐

 Or:

No, U R 2 NICE!!! 🙄

There’s something deeply heartbreaking about returning to work on the Monday after a vacation. It’s a lot like the Monday before you went on vacation, except that there’s no longer anything to look forward to. Even Christmas, which is only a month away, is ruined by the fact that my new workplace duties and responsibilities (paired with my current paycheck and title) start on the first of January.

I’m going to guess that the feeling – the Monday-after feeling – is created because during our string of days away from work, we forget the crappy things that we’ve gotten used to – our familiar daily routine. Perhaps before Thanksgiving I had almost unknowingly resigned myself to a life of spreadsheets and faking smiles but now, after five days of gravy-filled freedom, spreadsheets seem impossible to return to. You know, I feel like an abused kid who isn’t that upset about his childhood until the moment he discovers what he’s been missing out on: candy, go-carts, love.

Today made me wonder: is work usually this bad, or does it seem worse because yesterday I watched five hours of football and ate four different kinds of meat? I’m not sure. As I read an email from my boss informing me that my new second boss, whose wanton use of emoticons I find unsettling, would be calling me to teach me how to “do totals in Excel,” I wasn’t quite so sure. Perhaps today was a perfect storm of things I hate. Perhaps I hate way, way too many things. Perhaps, in exchange for learning something I already know – namely, how to “do totals in Excel,” I could teach my new boss the word “sum.”

On the other hand, my job paid for that Thanksgiving gravy, and for the apartment that sheltered me, and for the cable that allowed me to watch a Lifetime Movie Network marathon that included Too Young to be a Dad and The Truth About Jane. These facts lead me to believe that my job is a necessary evil in my life and, therefore, something that should be ignored to the very best of my ability.

I think I’ve taken some important steps toward this goal of apathy and sliding by in my passionless job, but I’d like to cover more and more ground in the weeks and months to come – it’s actually surprisingly hard to let go of competitiveness and perfectionism and drive. And I’d of course be thrilled if you’d like to join me as long as you have a job where you are treated kind of like a really high-end photocopying machine.

My first step is to stop checking my work email from home under any circumstances. I’ve just trashed the link to the Outlook site on my home computer. I won’t give any more time to work beyond the hours that I am paid for – no extra time at work and no extra time thinking or reading about work. And if you’re thinking that you’d get fired if you stopped staying late or if you didn’t check your messages at night, I think you better start looking for a different crappy job from the one you’ve got.

In summation, tomorrow’s Tuesday – the day that’s exactly like Monday except for the fact that you’re less rested and that you don’t have to give a one-sentence summary of your weekend to everyone who politely asks so that they can then talk about theirs. I’m going to try to go in to work an embrace my totally mediocre and apathetic attitude. And I’m really, really excited about doing an outstanding job at it.

The days after Thanksgiving are never quite as fun as Thanksgiving. After eating stuffing for the fourth day in a row — so much stuffing that the word stuffing now sounds onomatopoeic when you say it – you start to question how great feasts really are. And after washing every dish that you own in the wake of the celebration, the urge to order take out maybe for the rest of your life is almost overwhelming.

What I needed for Sunday dinner was something fast, something low maintenance, and something at the other end of the spectrum from gravy.

The answer was taco soup, a recipe I got from my Aunt Jan about a year ago. It’s a great one-pot dinner that involves very little prep work and clean up. It’s also totally delicious. I have yet to meet someone who has eaten it and been less than very pleased.

It also makes a pretty large volume of food, which makes it a good choice for football parties (if you’re tired of chili) or if you want to freeze half.

1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef (I use ground turkey)
1 onion, chopped
2 (10 oz) cans diced tomatoes with green chili peppers
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained
1 (15 oz) can corn, drained
1 (1.25 oz) pkg taco seasoning mix
1 (1 ounce) pkg ranch dressing mix
1/4 Cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 Cup sour cream
1 1/2 cups water
Cilantro for garnish

In a Dutch oven, brown ground beef with chopped onion, stirring frequently. Once beef is browned drain grease from pan.

Add canned tomatoes, beans, corn, taco seasoning and ranch salad dressing mix. Mix well and let simmer over low heat for 2 hours. Add 1 to 2 cans of water to make soup the desired consistency. You can also use one can of beef broth and then add some water

Ladle into soup bowls and garnish with shredded cheese, sour cream and cilantro.

Read last week’s Sunday Dinner. 

geoff dyer ongoing momentAfter seeing the Scott McFarland exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art a few weeks ago, I decided to learn more about the history of photography. Luckily for me, Geoff Dyer’s latest book, The Ongoing Moment, recently came out in paperback and is about just that.

The book looks at the entire history of photography, focusing mostly on pictures taken in the United States by Americans. Of course, since it’s a book by Geoff Dyer, it isn’t your normal dry study of the art – its fluid chapters focus on reoccurring images (hats, hands, signs, benches, backs, stairs, etc.) that tie noted photographers together (Alfred Stieglitz, Paul Strand, Walker Evans, Edward Weston, Dorothea Lange, Diane Arbus). The result is a somewhat successful look at how photographers have “conversed” not only through actual, physical meetings and relationships, but also through emulation and homage, whether conscious or unconscious.

The book is a great introductory for someone like me, who could only named one or two famous photographers and even then couldn’t tell you much about them ( like, “Ansel Adams likes mountains”). Dyer, who is isn’t so much an expert in photography as someone with a deep interest, doesn’t assume you know anything, and doesn’t try to teach you everything so much as to conduct closer studies about certain pictures or sets of pictures while quoting from various art critics and theorists.

Although I appreciated the book and learned a lot, though, it’s certainly not Dyer’s best work. Unlike Out of Sheer Rage and But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz, this effort is a bit drier and a bit less creative. Dyer mentions in his acknowledgments that his wife through this book didn’t have enough of him in it, and I agree – what has made his books unique (and so loved by me) is the integration of his journey researching the book with the final product – his discovery of the information and his own interest in the people behind the art he discusses makes him a truly different and innovative writer. The Ongoing Moment, though, is a more traditional approach, and, therefore, a bit harder to wade though.

There are moments when Dyer slips into his natural style – the chapters about Stieglitz, his wife Georgia O’Keefe, his protégé Strand, and Strand’s his wife Rebecca (who looked eerily like O’Keefe) are the best in the book. Through various nudes that the two photographers took of each other’s wives, Dyer illustrates the somewhat weird, somewhat touching love-square that the four shared (which finally ended with the two women abandoning their husbands for each other). It’s Dyer doing what he is best at – tying art to the personal lives of artists just as he ties may of his own books’ subjects to himself, the author. Especially after reading these chapters, the rest of the book left me wanting as much heart as I found with these four.

Still, it was a great way to learn some of the basics of American photography and some of the ideas and philosophies that surround and inspire it. It might also be an interesting read for someone who does know a lot about photography but is interested in the connections and conflicts between some of the better-known photographers over the last hundred or so years.

In the book, Dyer writes about how some photographs are more about  the subjects while others are more by  the photographer (is this photography more of  Queen Elizabeth or by  Cecil Beaton?). In The Ongoing Moment, I’ll say that it is more about photography than by Geoff Dyer. Personally, I’d rather read a book that is more by Geoff Dyer – Such as Out of Sheer Rage or his essays, Yoga for People who Can’t be Bothered to do it. Although I doubt I’d be more interested in a book about photography written by anyone else.

Read my review of Geoff Dyer’s But Beautiful