Word of the Day Reflections and Rants: Intellect and Failure

I’m having my students freewrite on topics we are discussing in class to prepare them for writing their personal statements for college applications. This week we’ve written and discussed hidden intellectualism and response to failure. I like to write with them. It helps us all get to know each other as we start our class discussions. Here are mine on the two.

Intellect— The other day, we were at  a new friends house and the wife asked me what my husband and I liked to do when we were not working or running around with our kids. I thought about it…..when it came down to it, we liked to walk around places, sipping coffee or tea, and talking about “intellectual” things like philosophy or politics or cultural issues in our society. We are not sports people. We do like to travel but haven’t had time to since we’ve been popping out babies every other year the entire time and trying to grow a business. And in between changing diapers, driving kids from school to soccer practice to karate practice, showers and bedtime songs and prayers, we have time to sip on some coffee or tea and talk about why society is crashing or why Trump is the lesser evil than Hillary. We just got bikes so we can do that together, but haven’t actually started. I felt so boring. What do I like to do? I think I have become so habitual in my life due the circumstances of being a working parent that I almost forgot what I like to do. There was a time in my life where I snow boarded on weekends, camped during spring and summer breaks, laid out on beaches, flew to foreign places and swung from tree roots into warm waters. There was a time in my life where I laughed and told jokes over cold beer and chips and salsa or cried over poetry I wrote while Dave Matthew’s bellowed his blues through stereo speakers. Am I still that person? I think I am. I just don’t have time for her right now. Still, Owen and I have made some quarter goals this year: a weekend getaway once a quarter to a place we’ve never been, a date night once a month, and date-night with each of our kids individually each quarter. So I suppose with that, there will be more hobbie-like activities in our future outside of our usual family fun. Why didn’t I remember that when our friend asked me that question?

Failure–I hate failing. I let it really affect my self-perception and esteem. If I fail, I criticize my self-worth even at times. But those are for things I find important. If I don’t care about the activity or issue and I fail, I see it as a mistake and want others to brush it off or forgive me quickly. But I suppose I feel the same way when I do find the issue to be important. I may hate myself for it. But I sure hope others don’t. And I gladly and appreciatively accept forgiveness and encouragement. I need it. If I don’t get that, I will wallow in my own self-hating despair. I admire my husband. He sees failure as learning opportunities. If he fails at something, he highlights the positive in that he now learned a lesson and will use that for his own growth. I’m cautious. I prefer to take safer routes. I’m a teacher because I knew there was a salary and a pension and a pre-planned set of dates that I get off. No guessing. Less risk of failing and yet still a subject I love–English. Owen loves English too. But he is not afraid to take risks and for that reason he’s the perfect entrepreneur–a consultant on video marketing. He uses language to teach others how to make money through video and uses language to get viewers interested in products and services.  I love that about him. We both love language. But because of how we react to failure,  our careers are established. Thankfully, I’m decent enough at teaching, I haven’t had too much failure to wallow about in my career.

 

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Why I recommend Journal Writing

Here is my 5 minute journal

My journal takes 5 minutes!

My husband has been on this kick lately with doing things that successful people do. He’s done a lot of research on habits of successful people and it has been amazing watching him grow as he’s taken on some of these habits. A lot of them he recommends for me to do as well and I must say, I would not be half the woman I am today, if I didn’t have my husband pushing me. I thought I had drive. But with my husband, I have WAY more drive. He’s that second engine that keeps me going when I want to give up.

One of the things he has pushed me to do is journal write. I used think blogging was enough, but I just don’t blog daily, so in reality it isn’t.

He bought me a journal for Christmas and asked that we journal in the morning together and in the evening. It is not a blank journal. It is specifically structured to inspire, help me goal set, help me to be joyful and thankful, and to affirm that which God has promised and given me. I absolutely LOVE it!

The Five Minute Journal: A Happier You in 5 Minutes a Day

Every morning, I read an inspiring quote and then write down 3 things that I am thankful for. Then I write three things I would like to have happen today that would be amazing. After that, I write an affirmation. Now as  a Christian, I’m a little leary of affirmations. I sort of seeing it as praying to myself….. or trying to gain strength from within myself, when the bible teaches me that I gain my strength through Christ. So I sort of modify my affirmation. I took some time to think about where I wanted to grow. And I looked at God’s word and what he asks of me and what he promises to me through his spirit. I then created a Christ centered affirmation that reminds me who I am in Christ. And this person is who I want to be. The thing is, I have a busy life. And I am easily overwhelmed. And when I am overwhelmed, I’m negative, I’m anxious, and I just am not loving. I become super selfish and become wrapped up in just getting what I need done without any joy and without concern for the joy of others around me. Its awful. I don’t like that side of me. But I have a busy life. So I need to change.

Journal Writing is for Successful People

Journal Writing is a key to success!

Here’s my affirmation:

I am loving, patient, and joyous in all circumstances without fear or anxiety because Christ lives in me!

Then at the end of the day before bed, I reflect on my day. I write down three awesome things that happen (some of them connect to what I hoped for that morning, and some are just pleasant surprises). And then I write three things I wish I had done differently. Not to wallow in despair. But to help me to reflect on my need to grow, so I can do better the next time.

One of the things I think is great about journal writing as well, is going back and seeing answers to prayer, as well as seeing growth. If you don’t journal, I highly recommend it! If you do journal, what are your journaling techniques? What do you recommend to journal for success? Please share in my comments.

My Fears about Raising a Daughter in the World Today

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labeled for non-commercial reuse on Flickr.

When Owen and I had the talk about pregnancy after our 3rd was born and walking, we decided to be content that we did not have a daughter. We wanted one for sure. Each baby after my first, I hoped was a girl because I wanted both and I had already had a son. But when we found out we were having boys, we were still incredibly joyful and maybe even somehow deep down, relieved…because despite the fact that we would greatly miss the tutus and tights on chubby legs, we both were not looking forward to the teenage years.

Is it just me, or does it seem that teenage girls have a lot more trials and antagonists out there in the world than boys?

But the Lord gave us our wish, anyway…5-6 months after  a vasectomy (which we chose because c-sections become increasingly dangerous as they increase in number), I missed my period and took the pregnancy test, to find out, we were pregnant. And at 17 weeks, we learned we were having a girl.

Let me be clear.

I am so excited.

I cannot wait for tutus and tights on chubby legs. For big bows and dolls and kitchen sets. I cannot wait for calm….the child who will more likely (yes, there are always be exceptions to the rule) be less crazy and running around and aggressive as my three boys. I cannot wait for smelling lotions and bonding over a chick flick and talking girl talk. I’m looking forward to see how this delicate creature softens my husband’s heart as well.  I truly believe every man needs a daughter. I think it is good for them. Makes them stronger and yet more compassionate.

But I am not looking forward to the teenage years.

I know it is not always bad.

There are a few families that I know who have beautiful, well-balanced daughters who seem to be doing just fine.

I also teach high school and see a few of them as well. Of course, as a teacher, I don’t know all the secrets. I don’t know all the unseen turmoil. I know very well, they could be giving me a false impression than what they show to their friends after school and on the weekends. But I can also certainly see in my classroom the ones who are clearly struggling with the pressures of this society. But regardless, with all of them—I know the pressures they face.

I see the fashion that they are being exposed to and expected to wear by their peers if they want to be fashionable.

I hear the music that plays on the radio and the pictures of musicians they have plastered to their binders. Women who claim independence and “girl power” but who are enslaved to a world of drugs and sex and image image image. The men who talk about them in their music like they are something to be had and thrown away.

I see the movies they watch where kissing and premarital sex and provocative clothing is the common, light-hearted, lifestyle of the female protagonist.

I hear the way boys talk about them in the halls when they are listening or not listening.

I hear the way their friends talk about boys to each other.

I hear the stories of what their friends are going through….the anorexia, the cutting, the depression, the abortions or secret pregnancies, the baggage…

I don’t want that for my daughter. I don’t want it anywhere near.

Who does?

And what parent goes into their role as a mother or father of a daughter with the expectation that their daughter will go through these? Not much. I know most parents go in with the goal to prevent these things from happening (although some are more okay with the sexuality aspect…no one is okay with the consequences that often comes from it).

 So of course, I go in saying “not my daughter.” Of course I go in saying, “We are going to raise her differently.”

But I also know parents who said the same thing and yet their daughters are still struggling.

We can do our best. But the rest is up to them. Up to God. Up to their circumstances and all the combinations in between.

I grew up in a home with parents who feared these things too. And in their attempt to protect me from them, I felt they went too far in some ways…over protecting me to some degree and over-punishing me when I messed up so there was no room or opportunity to try again or grow from my mistakes. And despite their best intentions to protect me, they did not give me the solid Christian foundation to help me build my identity so that I wouldn’t be wooed so much by the world out there that seduced me. I didn’t even read one book from the bible until my late 20’s. And so what did I do? I rebelled. And then when my mom and step dad separated, my mother went the other extreme. She let me do whatever I wanted. And I went out there with no strong sense of self, no confidence in my identity or my dreams, no value for who I was…and I threw everything good and pure and valuable about myself away—washed myself away with alcohol and drugs and premarital sex and all the emotional baggage that  came as a consequence of those choices.

Is it my parents fault? Partially. But I also chose to rebel. I also knew right from wrong and chose wrong. But I also did not have that strong identity in myself as a child of God to be able to see why I should chose right.

So Owen and I plan on all sorts of ways we plan to raise our daughter differently. We definitely plan on rules and guidelines. We definitely plan on raising her to have a personal relationship with Jesus and to be confident in who she is. We will have limitations on what kinds of music she should be listening to and movies she can watch (but not super strict and sheltered where she can’t even understand the world and what they are going through).

We plan on all of this.

And the rest we leave to prayer.

But I can be honest when I say, I don’t have some strong peace that everything is going to be great. I don’t automatically assume disaster. But I am realistic in knowing that we can do everything within our power and it still not go as planned.

To the parents out there who raised daughters and had them survive their teens without eating disorders, hyper-rebellion, cutting and suicide attempts, promiscuity, and the like…what are your tips? What insight can you bring to the moms of young baby girls? To give yourself the entire credit? Who else and what else can help?

 

Reach–at times it feels like grasping for the wind

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openclipart.com

Reach

We reach for what we want…sometimes to find success. And other times only to be disappointed.

I watch my toddlers stand on tippy toes, trying to reach the off limits objects of their desires on counter tops and shelves— scissors, candy, their brother’s Legos, or that glass of milk.

In life…we reach for dreams. We reach for goals. We reach for our desires. Some—to enjoy and hold. Other’s—like grasping for the wind.

My stepmother did not reach my father in time in the warm waters of Maui while they were snorkeliFive-Minute-Friday-4ng. She reached down into the deep waters to drag him out and perform mouth to mouth on the shore. But that night after finally falling asleep, she woke up half conscious to reach for his warm body next to her, only to find a cold pillow.

I reach for that day when I can come home to be with my kids and spend time with them. Right now I feel so disconnected from them since I’ve gone back to teaching. I cry for this dream.

All three of my babies, I have had to have by C-section. All three I wanted to reach out to after they came out, only to have doctors take them away. Two to the NICU. One for an extra hour due to “low blood sugar.” This last baby–my little girl, I pray I can have right away.

In worship, I reach up toward the sky in my feeble attempt to touch my God, looking forward to the day when I no longer have to reach, but will already be in his arms, saved from the challenges of this life, and tears wiped from the pain. When that day comes, nothing else that I have reached for and had or did not have–none of that will matter anymore.

Change

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Change is something we cannot escape. It is something many of us love and thrive on, and something many of us hate, and resist, kicking and screaming. Even if we need it, we often still resist.

Change is often good. But not always.

Regardless, it is a part of life.

I have a love/hate relationship with change. If life continues on and on without any change, I look forward to it. But only if it is not uncomfortable. I like comfort. I don’t like painful change. I like invigorating change.

When I changed my belief system  7 years ago and accepted Christ as my savior and Lord,  I loved so much of the change I felt inside and how I viewed the world. But I hated the consequences of that change. The boyfriend of 6 years who refused to marry me because I had changed. The decision to leave and start a new life with my 1 year old son, alone….but with God.

God blessed that change. Within a couple of years I was newly married to a God-loving man, and within the last 5 years I’ve been blessed with 2 other children and now pregnant with another one.

Last year, my husband and I were talking about our desire for change—for me to be able to come home and raise our kids while he ran his new business. But it didn’t seem enough to just continue as we were going. Owen said its like a dog who is sitting on a nail. It hurt, but not enough to just get up and move away. But enough to whine and wimper about it all day. I was tired of wimpering and whining. Stuck with an income so tight that a dent in a fender would put us in debt, was not life for us, let alone have the luxury of me coming home.  If we wanted that change, I’d havFive-Minute-Friday-4-300x300e to start other ventures that could supplement the income enough so that I could eventually leave teaching while he worked harder on growing his business as well. Doing nothing would change nothing.

Teaching by day, raising kids by afternoon and weekend, and writing resumes and memoirs and children’s books by night is not easy. It is uncomfortable a times. At other times, it is invigorating. Exciting. I am being pushed to go beyond myself and even at times, enjoy the challenge and seeing its fruits–the books I’ve always wanted to write but never had the time.

This change is necessary. And in the end, I know it will pay off.

To a better future. Because without change, it just can’t happen.

Wisdom from Grandma on Life

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My Grandma Barbara and Grandpa Lowell

My Grandma’s birthday was this Thursday. I wasn’t able to visit her for the day, but wanted to call her to wish her a Happy Birthday and catch up. She lives in a nursing home with my Grandpa, who needs a lot of help due to his health issues. Grandma on the other hand is there simply because she is his wife and she goes where he goes. She is still healthy as ever, vibrant, and joyous. I admire her so much and her steadfast love she has for my Grandfather. So I asked her the question I have asked myself lately and others when we talk about age: how old do you feel? I find the question interesting because I know my answer and I love hearing the answer of others. I find that each one of us emotionally feels younger, typically finding ourselves surprised when looking in the mirror and seeing this person with more wrinkles and less hair than the one we feel. The body ages much faster than the spirit I think. I myself feel 25 when I am actually 34. When I talk to my other family or friends who are older than me, I hear answers that are often 10 to 20 years younger than where they really are. So I don’t always expect to feel 25. At some point, my spirit will age and I’ll be 50 saying that I feel 35. I like this. I find it beautiful and fascinating. My grandma’s answer caught me by surprise. But it blessed me more than anything else I expected her to say.  In her thick, Colombian accent she said to me these words:

“I don’t feel like an age anymore. I feel more like a place.  I’m at the top of a mountain looking at my life and my family’s life as they really are, no longer the way I used to. Up here, it is clear. There is no more stress or bitterness or worry. It is like I can see for the first time. I look down and see my whole life and yours and our family’s. And what I see is how blessed I am and how blessed you are. It is a very free feeling, darling. I tell you, my biggest regret is rushing through life so much and not stopping to enjoy each moment.  I know this time in your life is very busy with work and all the kids. But experience it. Be there in the moment. There will be a time in the future where you remember this busy time and miss it. And you can believe me because my blinders have been taken off. I know. I can see at the top of the mountain what you may not see. You are very blessed. I am very blessed. I am happy to be 75. It is easy to see everything here.”

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The Hills with their some of their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her words. I felt it was true wisdom. I came home and told Owen what she told me. He told me I should blog about it and I agreed. I don’t want to forget her words and I believe others should hear it too. Today, in the midst of the sick, crying baby and the 2-year-old who dumped the fish food all over the carpet, and the 6-year-old running around like a crazy man around the house with the neighbor kid, Owen and I walked up to each other in the kitchen, gave each other that knowing smile that  said, without words—oh look at us and our crazy little life right now, and we hugged a long time, and kissed each other. It is a beautiful Christmas season, this year. And while I look forward to 2014 and all that God will bring, I will enjoy each day of this December. And I pray you do as well.

The Life and Accomplishments of Poet, Sherman Alexie; a brutally honesty, funny, and poignant writer


I first got introduced to Sherman Alexie in a Literature Arts and Discourse class at California State University, San Marcos by an eccentric and passionate professor, Brandon Cesmat. He wanted us to read the novel Reservation Blues because of the writer’s unique ability to blend music, pop culture, and fiction into one. I read the book and was instantly hooked. I went on to read everything else the author ever wrote and researched his life. I had to know how it all began.

Who would have thought that a poor American Indian from a small reservation in Washington, born with water on the brain, and suffering multiple childhood seizures, would grow up to become one of the most inspiring and influential voices in American literature? When it comes to his own place as a Native American writer, he says, “Sixty percent of all Indians live in urban areas, but nobody’s writing about them. They’re really an underrepresented population, and the ironic thing is very, very few of those we call Native American writers actually grew up on reservations, and yet most of their work is about reservations” (qtd in “Sherman Alexie Quotes,”). Indeed, poet and fiction author, Sherman Alexie has transcended the obstacles of his early-life circumstances, to write many award winning pieces of literature that inspire the multicultural generation today with an authentic, poignant and brutally honest voice of a modern American Indian living in two worlds.

Life

On October 7th, 1966 Sherman Alexie was born to his Coeur d’alene Indian father, Sherman Joseph Alexie  and his half white, half Spokane Indian mother, Lillian Agnes Cox with hydrocephalus—water on the brain. Told he would become mentally retarded if even survived the necessary surgery on his brain at 6 months of age, his parents took the chance. While Alexie did suffer multiple seizures in his youth due to his condition, he shocked his doctors and parents by not only not exhibiting signs of brain damage post operation, but instead, phenomenal intelligence. Sherman Alexie speaks of his seizures in his early years, “The lights would pop, then I’d rise out of my body and be able to fly off anywhere I wanted,” he recalls. “There’s a surreal euphoria; the synapses are misfiring, so the memory banks are flooding your head. I’d get to feel like a superhero for a couple of minutes” (qtd in Maya Jaggi). He became an avid reader, even reportedly reading books like Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck at the age of 5 (Donovan and Lewis 21).

Living on a reservation in Wellpenit, Washington, he got to see the beauty and spirituality in Native American culture as well as the pain and the suffering. His father was an alcoholic and even his older sister and her husband died in a house fire due to drunkenness. To add to the suffering, the school system on the reservation was terrible. And his Indian peers seemed to find a desire to learn and succeed in the outside world as a sign of dismissing his heritage, of being a sell-out. Yet, because of his intelligence and love of reading, he was not satisfied with the education on the reservation and did not become influenced by his Indian peers. In 7th grade he opened up his textbook in school to find his mother’s name written in it. No new textbooks in how many years? At that moment he knew he needed something more. He needed to leave the reservation if he wanted to succeed in his life. He talked his parents into allowing him to go to school off the “rez” and in 8th grade, began attending an all white school on the outskirts of his reservation. He was the only Native American child there (Donovan and Lewis 20-27). But he learned and eventually he began going to college. This is where he would discover his love for writing, and find his place in the world. When talking about his leaving the reservation for education in the white world, he says, “”Plenty of people saw my leaving as a betrayal,” he says.”I felt guilty, but I’ve forgiven myself, and most of my reservation has” (qtd in Jaggi).

It was at Washington State University where Sherman Alexie initially pursued a degree in Medicine, but due to his inability to emotionally handle the gore of anatomy, began to pursue his writing. He ended up getting a degree in American Studies while at the university. His love of writing really started when one of his professors gave him an anthology of creative writing by Native Americans. This inspired his own writing. And before he even graduated college with his BA, he had already published a score of poems in a couple of journals. Then after winning a 5,000 dollar grant to pursue his writing more, he realized he was going to be successful and decided to stop his alcohol abuse (Donovan and Lewis 25). He has been sober since, claiming that he didn’t want to become another “disappointing Indian” (qtd in “Sherman Alexie Quotes.”) And so his career began—people paying him to write and his writing winning hearts and inspiring readers. What made his writing so captivating? He says. “I was always the depressed guy in the basement. But I’ve borrowed their sense of humor and made it darker and more deadly – a weapon of self-defense. Being funny you win hearts quicker; people laughing are more apt to listen” (qtd in Jaggi). His writing deals with the pains and pleasures of the Native American experience. He often draws from personal experiences but adds fiction to create dynamically alive complex speakers in his poetry. This is something he loves and does not consider work. His fiction both in short stories and in novels came later to make money. Something he considers work, but is still filled with the poignant poetry that started his career. He has been successfully writing since and continues now in his 40’s. Sherman Alexie resides today in Seattle Washington, with his wife Dianne and his two sons, Joseph and David. He continues to write and has even begun to do comedy in the form of standup. He would like to pursue film some more as well (“Chronology”2).  

Works and Accomplishments

Aside from being published in multiple respected journals like the New Yorker, Sherman Alexie has published multiple collections of poetry like The Business of Fancy Dancing and First Indian on the Moon as well as Summer of Black Widows, short fiction like The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven and The Toughest Indian in the World, and novels like Reservation Blues and Indian Killer and has won many respectable awards. Some of his works, he even adapted into indie screenplays—such as Smoke Signals which was a huge success and The Business of Fancy Dancing, which did not succeed due most likely to its dealing with homosexuality (“Chronology” 2). In “A New York Times Book Review essay on Native American literature […] Alexie [is called] ‘one of the major lyric voices of our time”’ (“Chronology” 2). He also won the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award, was interviewed by Oprah herself on the Oprah Winfrey Show, has won the World Heavyweight Poetry Championship, has been labeled The New Yorker’s “Future of American Fiction “and most recently has won Circle of the Americas 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award for his most recent 2011 short fiction piece—War Dances,(“Chronology” 2).

Impact

In an interview with Identity Theory’s Rob Capriccioso, Sherman Alexie writes about his impact more so on the college-educated white women and the gay community than any else. He claims to be too white for Indians and too Indian for most whites. But it is the educated white women and the educated gay community who understand him more. And he doesn’t seem to have any qualms about that. He writes what he wants, only adding margin to his own writing when he began to pursue young adult fiction, even having his work appear in high school textbooks, which also drew him much success and certainly opened young readers up to the world of reading, but he has found more freedom and less writer’s block in his latter years of writing now that he has ventured back into the adult genres (Capriccioso). Perhaps it is the poignant emotion he so honestly expresses that captures the hearts of his female, gay, or teen readers—as the pangs of life are so often celebrated and explored in these areas more so than any other. Perhaps it is his honest analysis of prejudice in his life–a topic often discussed in depth in these communities, especially in education. Regardless of who loves him, he has a huge heart to help Native American youth rise above their circumstances and so speaks often in high schools, as well as being a founding board member of a program to help Native American youths develop film writing and filming skills, called Longhouse Media (“About Us”). No doubt he wants to show them that to be educated and creative does not mean they have to lose their heritage. Media could certainly help the youth of today find a way to express themselves–and shed the old skin and the filth from their lives. Becoming someone better inspite of it all.

Sherman Alexie says, “If I couldn’t write poetry, I would have to wash my hands all the time” (qtd in” Sherman Alexie Quotes”). Yes, his poetry does appearing purging in its honest confession of the conflicts in this life. But his honesty is refreshing, his figurative language is breathtaking, and his idealism is truly inspiring .If you have not had a chance to read some of the funny, sad, and beautiful literature of Sherman Alexie, you must. Alexie’s creative blending of poetry, fiction, and memoir truly exemplifies the complexities of being human in a postmodern multicultural generation, with all its good and bad—something this generation has desperately needed.

Some of My Favorite Works by Sherman Alexie

What I Can’t Wait to Read Next

Works Cited

“About Us.” Longhouse Media. Web. 19 March 2013.

Capriccioso, Rob. “Sherman Alexie.” Identity Theory. 23 March 2003. Web. 18 March 2013.

“Chronology of Sherman Alexie’s Life.” Critical Insights: Sherman Alexie (2011): 407-409. Literary Reference Center. Web. 19 March. 2013.

Donovan, Georgie L. and Leon Lewis. “Biography of Sherman Alexie.” Critical Insights: Sherman Alexie (2011): 20-29. Literary Reference Center. Web. 19 March 2013.

Jaggi, Maya. “All Rage and Heart.” The Guardian. 2013. Web. 18 March 2013.

“Sherman Alexie Quotes.” Brainyquotes. Book Rags Media. 2001-2013. Web. 18 March 2013.