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Ennui - or is it spleen?

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Kirsten Bishop
Posted on Tuesday, April 26, 2005 - 11:03 pm:   

Ach. @#$%*. Well, I am sitting, figuratively speaking, amongst the progressively widening debris of Book #2; I feel like some 18th century loony who decided to build the world's largest ersatz Greek ruin, a superfolly; except that there's been no conscious effort on my part, only earnest incompetence, which is still getting the job of ruin-making done nicely. In desperation, I hauled out the Tarot cards. Amongst other questions, 'What should I do?' I asked the august slips of cardboard.
The card?
Death!
Hmm. Tie barbell weights to my legs and jump into the Yarra?
Nah.
Erase the couple of hundred thousand words of notes, false starts, false middles, and all the rest?
No, Your Honour, anything but that!
The only other interpretation I can think of is that I should let the field lie fallow for a while, as my friend Jonathan suggested I should do a while back. This could be hard, as I feel guilty when I don't spend the better part of each day writing, unless I'm actually on holiday. But my forehead is starting to get sore from my beating it against this book. And for the next couple of weeks I've got some paying work to do, so it's an ideal time to step off the merry-go-round.
I have four books that I want to read, and have started, only to put them down as I compulsively reach for the computer again: Mrs Dalloway, Mother London, The Little Girls, and The Blue Nile. I also have a couple of manuscripts to read. So I'm going to see if I can stop picking at the scabs of my book till I've read these.
I'm beginning this thread to record the progress of my inactivity. Today can be day #1, I've decided, as I've written bugger all.

On to The Little Girls, by Elizabeth Bowen, of which the first line is 'A man came down the steps cut in the rock.' I love it when a book starts with an iambic pentameter.
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ben peek
Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2005 - 05:31 am:   

you know the saying: sometimes you got to kill the one you can't do without.

still, reading is cool. i wish i wasn't reading thesis like stuff.
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John Klima
Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2005 - 06:06 am:   

Well, I won't gloat, but as my semester is winding down, I'm finding a lot of time for reading for pleasure. Although there is this Electric Velocipede thing that needs to have a 9th issue finalized....

JK
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Minz
Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2005 - 07:04 am:   

You can still write, just get away from your novel. Write some short fiction. Maybe a story about a writer who dies the Death of a Thousand Papercuts.

Maybe send it to EV...
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scott westerfeld
Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2005 - 08:08 am:   

I envy your debris. It's much better than my honking great blank page of blankness. (Well, okay, I've 200 words to stare at since last Tuesday.) As the bard said: "You can edit shit, but you can't edit jack shit." And the latter is what I have.

So leave it be with peace of mind. If you've got 200,000 words, then you not only need a break, you deserve one.
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Kirsten Bishop
Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2005 - 04:50 pm:   

Ben, John, Minz, Scott - thanks for the support!

Scott - my 200,000 words are all over the place in little incoherent bits (image: a lake of old chunder), if it makes you feel better. You'll blacken that page just like ol' Casanova, I know you will.

Minz - I've got some little bits of writing-for-hire to do, so that'll keep me occupied - not to mention fed and clothed.

Yesterday's idleness, a report:
Went to the supermarket and bought cat food. Ominously, Stimpy has started turning his nose up at his former favourite, Dine tuna flakes with red snapper. Stimpy, a ten-year-old ginger tom, is not our cat as such; his official residence is in the flat downstairs. But he spends more time with us, being that we have carpet and soft, fat chairs, whereas they have trendy wooden floorboards and handsome but hard leather furniture.
Stimpy dislikes all cheap cat food and most from the gourmet section. What he really likes is a bit of grilled flake (shark) or blue grenadier from the fish and chip shop. I tried buying some new things - liver and bacon, chicken and tuna pate, and, for $1.36, a Snappy Tom 'Ultimates' tin of pilchard fillets with barramundi and crab, figuring that if he doesn't eat that one, I can.

I read quite a bit of The Little Girls. I love Bowen's turns of phrase, and the way she can describe ordinary things, like a clock on a wall:
'There was a garlanded wallpaper, called to order by having on it a bald, pontifical clock...'

I went to Tai Chi, which I'm enjoying very much and finding beneficial. It's harder work than it looks.

Wrote to the foreign minister expressing my concern that the government is not doing enough re the Schapelle Corby case, and my hope that more is being done behind the scenes than is apparent on the surface. For non-Australians (I don't know how much coverage this case has had outside Australia), Schapelle Corby, a young woman from the Gold Coast, was caught with 4.1 kg of pot in her boogie board bag coming in to Bali airport. There are reasons to believe the marijuana wasn't hers, and that it was planted instead by drug traffickers who missed the pickup at Brisbane, so that the bag went on to Denpasar. But whether that's true or not, the main point is, because Indonesian customs officials and police handled the bag with their bare hands, it's no good for fingerprinting; therefore, it isn't clear whether Ms Corby is innocent or guilty. In Indonesia, the burden is on the defendant to produce proof of innocence. The prosecutors have asked for life imprisonment,and the verdict will be handed down in May.

Why are Indonesian prosecutors calling the mere presence of the drugs in her bag proof of guilt, when, without fingerprints, it plainly isn't proof? One is tempted to answer that the Indonesians love making drug busts, at least at a low level; it makes them look good, moral, modern, efficient; what they don't seem to see is that their police procedures and the way they conduct trials make them look like dodgy, draconian, third world arseholes.

Speaking of dodgy, our own federal police have been far from helpful. The AFP are pretty chummy with their Indonesian counterparts, which may be part of the reason. But one also can't help wondering if they're covering something up. Or they may be under orders not to cause a loss of face for Indonesia. At present, Australia's relations with Indonesia are better perhaps than they ever have been, since we gave them a billion dollars in relief aid after the tsunami. Well, that was easy; all this time we've been wondering how to get on their good side, and all we had to do was pay what amounted to a whopping bribe.

What can Indonesia do for us? A fair bit, perhaps. An ally in South East Asia could help to make us less of an outsider in the region, where we are seen as something of a lackey of the US, and, dare I say, a bunch of godawful farangs who just don't fit in. But I think we have to ask ourselves about the cost of buying a better standing in the region. A billion dollars is one thing; kowtowing to Indonesian ideas of justice is another.

I also can't help thinking about our own sins here. We keep asylum seekers locked up in what amount to prison camps, the reason given being that we don't know if they're terrorists or not, and better safe than sorry. In other words, 'guilty until proven innocent'. What was that I called the Indonesians? Dodgy, draconian, third world arseholes? Maybe the pot (no pun intended) is calling the kettle black.

Wow. What a rant.

I also wrote a letter to the health minister, Mr Abbott, though am undecided as to whether I should actually send it. It's a letter of approval, you see. The government has indicated that it will cut some of the funding it gives to IVF, particularly to women in their forties, who have little chance of conceiving. And, well, I think they're right to. But in general I disapprove of Mr Abott, particularly for his conservative, religiously-inflected stance on abortion, so I don't know whether I want to give him any pats on the back.

This morning, Stimpy disdained the liver and bacon and the chicken and tuna pate. He appeared to give grudging approval to the pilchards with barramundi and crab before abandoning that, too. I've worked out that it would be far cheaper, pound for pound, to buy his little orange majesty's meals from the fish and chip shop, and that is what I shall do tonight.

Finally, back to 'The Little Girls': one of the many things I like about this book is the specificity of the descriptions. A rose isn't just a rose, it's a Lady Charlotte rose; and a bowl is of famille rose ware. Well, not knowing what famille rose was, I googled it, and found this rather good site with a glossary of terms for antique Chinese porcelain:
http://www.gotheborg.com/glossary/glossaryindex.htm
As well as the meaning of 'famille rose', one can find, amongst other things, the hundred pleasures decoration, the five poisonous creatures, Governor Duff and his wife, and gongbi zhongcai - ' "Elaborate execution and rich coloring". Chinese art style where sharply contrasting colors are used to blend subjective perception of the motif with the percepted reality to create a forceful effect of the "feeling" or "atmosphere". Found mostly in the portraying of "blue water and green mountains". Likened with the effect of "a Chinese orchestra composed of gongs, drums and clappers that contrast sharply yet produce a melodious grandeur together." ' - Zhang Anzhi, Beijing, 1992.
You can find here, also, that an ornamental band of lobes that are convex or alternating convex and concave, is called a gadroon, and that while all festoons are swags, not all swags are festoons.
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ben peek
Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2005 - 06:03 pm:   

i think it's best to avoid giving any support to tony abbott. sure, he might do something right, but if people support him, he'll start thinking he's in the right about things like abortion and he needs to feel as if he is a chased, hated minority on that.

maybe you should write the positive letter from the point of view of a deranged lunatic? then, of course, you've written to support, but it's obviously from someone making ink from their own blood that abbott will think, 'my god, these epople like me? i need to change my ways.'
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John Klima
Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2005 - 07:02 pm:   

Wow. At least there aren't crazy zine editors sending you story titles every other day to interupt you, or anything. :-)

JK
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Thursday, April 28, 2005 - 08:49 pm:   

You know, the whole deal with cat food is amazing -- most of our cats hate catfood (we often feed them people-tuna), and I don't think it's because they are all that finicky, but because that stuff is foul.

I know that here in the US they put in horrid additives, including "ground remains" of cats and dogs. No wonder the poor things don't want to eat it.

And on the subject of Tai Chi, I am with you -- I started it in February, going once a week, and it is much harder than it looks, all those slow movements and forms. I am learning the 48-form version of Tai Chi.
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Kirsten Bishop
Posted on Friday, April 29, 2005 - 02:01 pm:   

Ben - that's a cunning plan! Yes, you're right, we mustn't encourage Mr Abbott to think of himself as anything other than a fourth-rate mind, occasional flashes of competence to be dismissed as glitches in the general program of ineptitude.

John - crazy zine editors? Where? God, I remember 'em in India. Drove the women mad. Lived on gin. Had to shoot 'em. The women? Oh, no, the editors. Didn't have to shoot the women. Could if you wanted to, though.

Vera - that's a bit ghastly, re the 'ground remains'. I'm fairly sure that isn't allowed here in Australia, though there's likely to be horse, roo, and probably possum in it. Of course, wild cats eat possum. Still, Stimpy is really a piscivore. I've heard that ginger toms were often the choice for ships' cats, and I wonder if he has some maritime heritage in his blood. (When he dreams, is it of Bombay harbour, the wharves of Venice, Southampton dock?) He happily chowed down on his grilled flake. I'll take your tip about people-tuna. Home brand tuna really isn't much dearer than fancy cat food.
I find the hardest thing about tai chi so far is the standing-still forms - do you do those? I keep hoping there'll be a 'sitting in an armchair with your feet up' form.
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Geoffrey Maloney
Posted on Friday, April 29, 2005 - 06:53 pm:   

Kirsten

I think Abbott's wrong on the IVF issue as well. The money saved from the cuts adds up to very little in absolute terms and is nothing in relative terms, say to our spending in Iraq. Most of the money for anybody who goes onto IVF comes out of their own pockets. Abbot's doing it for moral and religious reasons, because IVF is not natural god-ordained conception. Sure he's not cutting funding for the whole program, but it's the thin edge of the wedge. At the same time this government has promoted the economic policies which have led to many 40 year old woman not thinking about having children until it's almost too late. A double income is essential to support a family in Australia today, but as soon as a woman steps out of the workforce to have children the double income's gone. So a lot of people keep putting off having children until they feel they have enough money behind then to be able to afford it, not realising how quickly age takes a toll on fertility -- for both women and men.

Australia's also got an ageing population like many other countries and the birthrate, apart from the occasional blip, is in steady deline. The government as a whole actually wants families to have more children. So this whole thing about IVF is in contrast to their broader population policy. The only explanation for it is that it's driven by Abbott's moral agenda and they've let him have this one to keep him happy. Next he'll be raising abortion again and he'll at least be able to argue his stance on that is consistent with the government's population policy.

In terms of writing, I think the biggest problem for an experienced writer is turning the internal editor off. The little voice inside your head that keeps telling you what you are writing isn't any good and even if it is any good than it's not as good as X book or Y story that I wrote before or X book or Y story that so and so wrote. Personally I find that my own internal editor is in full swing during the middle of the day say from 10.00 am to about 9.00 pm, but it often stops annoying me late at night, if I still have the energy to write at that time.

I've found that getting rid of the computer and resorting to pen and paper also seems to help- for some reason the subconscious seems to do more of the writing and starts to make sense of a lot of things the conscious part of the brain was finding too difficult.
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Kirsten Bishop
Posted on Friday, April 29, 2005 - 09:41 pm:   

Geoff,

I take your point about Abbott's 'moral' agenda, and also the point that the gov't wastes far more on things like Iraq. Still, even considering that, something in me jacks up at the idea of my taxes contributing to IVF programs for women who are too old for it to have more than a tiny chance of success. I'd wholeheartedly support the things we really need, re the baby situation, like paid maternity leave and free childcare.
Having all the maternal instincts of a house brick (Vanda Ivanovic's phrase, I think), I guess I'm hardhearted about IVF. I'm also skeptical about the not having kids until you can afford them story. Is it that people really, literally can't afford them, or that couples don't want to sacrifice the luxuries and freedoms of a childless life? If the latter, there should be no shame attached to saying so; but I think there is shame attached, plenty of shame.
Actually, to be really honest, I have a negative reaction to the idea of women desperately wanting children; there you go. It seems like a triumph of biology. So it's irrational distaste on my part that makes me content for IVF funding to be cut. I have this crazy idea that if women refused point blank to have babies, if we declared our wombs no longer open for business, we'd have to be bribed with a motherhood salary - and that, really, is what I think we should get. (There should be a fatherhood salary too, but I think women should get more - danger money, if nothing else, and I say that without being facetious, and compensation for the damage that childbirth does to the body.)

It isn't precisely that the internal editor tells me the work's no good; it's more that I dither about things like the starting point (so far I've tried 1915, 1938, 1949, 1966 and 1975, with '49 being the current favourite), POV character, and general style. I used to be able to write late at night, but don't seem able to anymore. I really have to be on a roll to do it, feeling wild horses of obsession dragging me along.

I do know what you mean about pen and paper. It's very curious how that works.
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Kirsten Bishop
Posted on Saturday, April 30, 2005 - 12:54 am:   

Vera, thank you! Having found that, in fact, even name brand fish in springwater is actually cheaper than fancy cat food, I've bought Stimpy some Weight Watchers tuna (he's a bit portly) which he is gobbling with gusto. I've also bought some home brand tuna and salmon to try.

Came home this evening to find Stimpy's erstwhile friend and present-day nemesis Java, the young Siamese from next door, watching pigeons avidly over the top of a low brick fence with the air of an exceedingly domesticated cat in whom ancient instincts are stirring, who doesn't quite believe that the law of the jungle permits him to hunt even here in trendy inner suburbia. (Java is a curious-looking beast, having an elongated, noble and cruel profile, yet a lemur-like, saucer-eyed, gormless appearance when he faces you front on; whereas Stimpy is an archetypal ginger tom, dependable from all angles, pleasing in the round, a touch of the lion in his profile and more than a touch of the pear in his silhouette.)
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Geoffrey Maloney
Posted on Sunday, May 01, 2005 - 12:50 am:   

On the political front I still think the best answer is to not give Abbott any support in any way. Howard has just this morning placed Costello in a difficult position by saying he will remain Prime Minister until the next election. Howard knows that Costello doesn't share his same moral agenda and is hoping that he gets jack of it and leaves politics, which will make way for the annointed one, Tony Abbott to step up to rule the country. Heaven help us then. It'll be Western Australian Reconstruction Camps for young women who have the maternal instincts of house bricks. He is a very scary person. The Financial review a couple of months back reported on "family" meetings that Howard and Abbott have been having. For the non-Australians reading this -- don't you think it's cute that we have our own Abbott and Costello Show down under?

In regards to the writing, maybe it doesn't really matter where you start. I've written lots of stories when I've been on that roll and even completed a couple of novel drafts feeling the same way. I have written other stories which have been painstaking to write, with no sense of the obssesive muse in sight, just plain hard slow work. Someone else said this recently -- I forget who -- but readers can't tell the difference. If all else fails, get out the whip, lash yourself to the desk (figuratively speaking) and suffer for your art. Your readers will thank you for it, even though you're feeling bloody awful.

On another note what is it with writers and cats? We've got three of the beasts and used to have a blue point siamese (with one eye -- a genetic defect from too much inbreeding) until she ran away because she got sick of the kids pulling her tail. Now we have moggies who are quite happy to have their tails pulled; I guess that might be an example of evolution in action. Polly Pocket who is part ragdoll has it all figured out. The kids pick her up and she just goes limp -- all the muscles in her body just relax and like a drunk falling down the stairs she never seems to get hurt. Which is a characteristic of ragdoll cats apparently. At the same time she's got all the guts and instinct of the average Australian moggie. A great combination for a family cat.

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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Sunday, May 01, 2005 - 07:37 am:   

Kirsten,

Glad that tuna worked out! We've been through so many types of petfood brands around here and yet it's the ordinary human-grade stuff that seems to work best.

I know how they always say that you are supposed to feed cats only proper catfood (for the complete vitamins and balanced nutrition), but heck, since when has complete nutrition included mysterious junk (and remains of own species) mixed in?

Besides, there is always the dry food to keep them rounded out in nutritional aspects. Not sure what brands you guys have over there, but here the cats' favorite is Chef's Blend (dry) and tey also like the Science Diet Regular (dry).

And all the most expensive cat foods -- such as Fancy Feast -- are intensely disliked by my cats. If anything, they would eat the cheaper store brand kind better. Maybe it is fresher (being cheap, so people buy it, while the other stuff sits around on shelves longer)?
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Vera Nazarian
Posted on Sunday, May 01, 2005 - 07:41 am:   

Forgot to mention, it seems to me over the years of observing their preferences, that cats like the "ground" type of catfood better than the "cuts" or "flaked" or "in sauce" kind.

You give them ground and they tend to eat all of it. You give them the other, and they lick off the juice (or gravy) and don't chew the chunks (flakes or cuts) and just leave it on the plate.
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Kirsten
Posted on Sunday, May 01, 2005 - 01:14 pm:   

Actually, Stimpy isn't keen on the ground kind! As far as cat food goes, he's happiest with flaked fish in aspic. However, he doesn't like the 'big lumps in aspic' kind - not that you can blame him. But he's loving the Weight Watchers tuna, which is just plain old meat. He loves his dry food too, which is good, since it has all those vitamins.
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MTC
Posted on Sunday, May 01, 2005 - 04:22 pm:   

Ever try Brian Eno's "oblique strategies"? This was a series of prompts printed on a deck of cards, to be used at random when composing. There's a flash version here:

http://www.okazo.com/personal/obliquestrategies.htm

Innaresting pastime, anyway.
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Kirsten
Posted on Sunday, May 01, 2005 - 05:08 pm:   

Michael - thanks!! The card I got said 'Move towards the unimportant,' which is exactly what I'm trying to do with the writing. I know: do or do not, there is no try.

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Kirsten
Posted on Thursday, May 05, 2005 - 11:15 pm:   

As I attempt to work whilst serenaded by the bloke across the road tuning his car engine, my thoughts naturally turn towards that nemesis of the Bloke: the Metrosexual. Here, then, is the Metrosexual Tarot, with suits of clubs, forks, potions and shoes. (But really, shouldn't there be a suit of suits?)
http://www.thomasscoville.com/metrosexual/
Take me away, King of Shoes.

Well, I do seem to have moved towards the unimportant.
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MTC
Posted on Thursday, May 05, 2005 - 11:16 pm:   

I honor your lessons in Chinese porcelain with a bit of my own peculiar preoccupation ...

http://www.jozan.net/Gallery/gallery.asp?gallery=Isfahan
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Kirsten
Posted on Friday, May 06, 2005 - 02:04 am:   

Ah, well they go together, don't they?
I like this one:
http://www.jozan.net/Gallery/gallery.asp?gallery=Isfahan&Item=1369
Even though it's old and worn, the pattern looks rather magical.
The Tree of Life carpet on this page also seduces:
http://www.oldcarpet.com/kerman.htm
Also this Moroccan carpet - what would you call it, posh tribal?
http://www.mincom.gov.ma/english/gallery/carpets/carpet7.html
I think you ought to go over to an Oriental bazaar and buy a carpet or two, Michael.
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MTC
Posted on Friday, May 06, 2005 - 11:32 am:   

"Allah gives dried beans to eat to him who has no teeth left."
And Allah gives rug yen to him who has no $$$$!

Here's a murkily photographed but very nice tree of life:
http://www.kermanmiras.org/HonarSonnati/qalibafi_page.htm

And check this one for stained-glass luminosity -
http://www.jozan.net/Gallery/gallery.asp?gallery=Meshed
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Kirsten
Posted on Friday, May 06, 2005 - 01:22 pm:   

You've got to haggle. You just need to borrow the airfare. Then you buy rugs cheap, sell them when you get back, and finance your holiday that way.
--'The Profit', Kellogg Allbran

The pattern on the Meshed is a little too dense and unvarying for my taste - I like this one more:
http://www.jozan.net/Gallery/gallery.asp?gallery=Meshed&Item=556

The Tree of Life on the Qali Bafi page is very covetable - I like the rug in the middle at the bottom, too.

I went googling for Persian rug needlepoint kits as a solution to your ruglessness, but even very small ones are so expensive ($185 for a 14 x 14 in canvas and yarn) that it doesn't really look worthwhile.
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MTC
Posted on Friday, May 06, 2005 - 10:03 pm:   

"Kellogg Allbran sat down
with Khalil Ghibran
at an intimate tea shop in Wales.
They gazed fondly at each other,
drew pictures of their mothers,
shared a horror of udders
and found they were their drothers
between quince pies and strawberry ales.
But then when the ominous reckoning came,
boots discerned that only one man remained
... holding his own hand."
- Caligo Brown, 'Eirin go'Braugh'
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Geoffrey Maloney
Posted on Wednesday, June 08, 2005 - 10:06 pm:   

Well, Kirsten, recent research on my part has revealed that there are a considerable number of us southern hemisphere writers suffering a dose of spleen/ennui at the moment. Everyone appears to be complaining of slow going with their writing, and of course there are all sorts of important reasons as to why this is the case, like real life intervening. However, being the poetic souled sensitive lot we are, I blame it on the weather -- precisely the shortness of the days, which places the muse into hibernation. But hark and rejoice for the winter solstice is almost upon us, and as the days once again begin to lengthen, the muse shall arise from her slumbers, abrim with energy to recommence her work.

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