Celebrating the Halfway Point, but then…

The beginning of summer makes me nostalgic and reflective. Maybe it’s because my birthday falls near the beginning of the season, or maybe it’s because I am a teacher, meaning I’ve always–aside from a few quick years spent in the real world while I finished graduate school–associated summer with endings. The end of the school year meant long days spent reading or swimming, then years later working and driving around with friends looking for something, anything, to stave off the boredom of being a frustratingly wholesome teenager, a designation achieved not by choice but by design, the result of a loving family, good schools in the suburbs, well-rounded friends, and my own deferential disposition.

Now summers mostly mean writing. With most of my daytime hours free, I can produce upwards of 1,000 words a day if I’m really feelin’ it. At the very least I can produce 300, an amount that would lead to a novel by the end of the year if a novel was my aim. Which it is. And while this might sound idyllic, it can be amazingly frustrating, especially when time sucks the daring and the imagination right out of you, making you wonder if what you’re undertaking is really worthwhile because this process, this putting down of word after word, leads to new thoughts–“Writing is generative,” I say to my students–and before you know it, you want to include every passing idea into a piece that now resembles a quilt stitched together by Benjy Compson, or maybe a drunk Macbeth, whose sewing prowess was noted but never much appreciated. (Shakespeare, unforgivably, left out two kilt-stitching scenes, masterpieces of comic poesy, that, quite crucially, indicated that the murder of the king and everything that followed was actually a farcical play within a play put on by Merry McBeth and the Queen’s Women. The loss of this portion of the play is, suffice to say, a tragedy.).

The point is this: I sat down to write a Halfway-Through the Year-End list, remembering how much fun it was to write the 2014 Year-End list, but somewhere after the lead I stumbled off the path. I carried the weight of revision and summertime nostalgia on my back, but I finally made it. The list, however, did not. I expect it will arrive by post sometime later this week, which means you can expect to read it here soon thereafter.



Processed Product has taken an unintentional hiatus as I’ve been working on a final revision of what was posted on here as Rick and dove right back in on revising A Phenomenal Nothing, the novel I’ve been working on. Here’s a sample below of how things are changing and developing for the better. In the back of my mind during the entire time I write, I am now thinking about character and story. How can I accumulate as much detail about personality and situation as possible, as quickly as possible, so that the story can move into even more nuanced and compelling territory?

Revision 3

China hurried through the lobby, late again. Her two-inch heels clicked against the tiled floor, and she dashed down the hall, glancing at her phone as if knowing the time would make any difference: 9:34. She slid it back into the side pocket of her purse and rounded the corner near her office, almost running. Nobody would scold her for being late, but she still felt like people kept track, especially her staff. Rex and Trish needed constant managing, and while she fumbled for her keys she felt the two of them creeping up behind her.

Revision 4

China Bexlan hurried through the lobby, late again. Her two-inch heels clacked on the marble tiles as she raced past the reception desk and sprang over the hallway threshold to silence the ad that played in her earpiece, the woman’s smoky voice cut short, her own thoughts rushing in: the catalog, the Eight, and a nagging disquiet she credited to a bad night’s sleep. Her pace slowed even as she glanced at her watch and double-checked the time on her phone, the seconds ticking by with every other step. Breathe, she thought. Taking a few seconds to relax was perfectly acceptable. The Eight, in fact, recommended it.

Rick: A Postmortem

My last post was the finale of “Rick,” my latest short story attempt. Having not written a story since “Peel Away,” the new character surprised me in a number of ways. I empathized with him, I learned a lot about trucking, and the moments when he came across as unsavory were some of my favorites, as were the few moments where he appreciated beauty. Having it read and rereading it for myself helped to highlight, as always, the flaws of any first draft. While I appreciated Rick and delighted in some of the sentences I wrote (they’re longer and looser than what I ordinarily write, e.g. the one copied at the very bottom of this post), the story falls flat once he arrives at the golf course. There is less insight into his character after several intimate moments with him in the first half, yet the other characters don’t develop enough to balance this lack.

I admit that my original intention was to make a comic piece, a slapstick caricature. The main reason I began the story was to capture the personality of someone I met just briefly, but the process of imagining him made a simple caricature feel much too reductive. Like so many instances when I meet someone or overhear a snippet of conversation, I found myself wondering what it was that Rick thought. What was his life like to bring him to the moment in which we meet him and what, more importantly, will he do when he encounters challenges? Thinking in terms of challenges to my characters has become my focus in all creative writing I’m doing these days, which is what most people will tell you is the essence of story anyway.

The constraints of the short story also affected the first draft, and this is where I will need to concentrate most as I revise the piece. I thought I could hold onto Rick as I presented the other characters, but it clearly wanted to shift into Bill’s point of view and I think this would better serve the story: to see Rick in action, from the perspective of a person who dislikes him from the outset. First, I like the balance of a separate point of view, and second it gives me a better title: One Under, One Over.

As always, I appreciate you reading.

Over and out.


A favorite sentence from the revised copy:

Rick knew the score. That gooey little bastard probably trotted out an immaculate set of clubs once a month and reveled in the sporting chance of the handicap, getting by on luck like any other hobbyist whose commitment to the pastime outweighed his devotion to the spirit of the game, the purity and ferocity of a miserable week–a miserable life–righted by one good shot.

Rick Part 10

The finale. Enjoy!

Rick: Part 10

Few words were spoken until the seventeenth hole. The men played in near-silence, a tacit agreement to get through the rest of the round without any more friction.

But Rick parred holes twelve through sixteen, and a tiny urge to assert his clout ballooned in his heart. “I have one last story for you fellas, seeing as you’re all betting men.” He waited to go on until he had their attention.

“This was a few years ago on the PGA tour. Mickelson and some no-name were neck and neck, and on Saturday night, after a grueling third round where Mickelson was up by two strokes, they made a bet over some beers. You guys remember watching that?”

“No,” Russ muttered. The four men stood in the tee box, waiting once again for the group ahead of them.

“The no-name had had a few, and Mick was getting ready to leave, but no-name started bullshitting about how he was going to win the final round. He bet that he would come in three under and that Mick would drop down at least to the fifth spot. He was really feeling his oats, and Mick had been in a slump, so it wasn’t farfetched. So here were the terms: If no-name won, Phil had to give up his clubs.”

Rick looked at the distant pin and the strip of water off to the left. A team of ducks splashed on the surface.

“And if he lost?” Bill asked.

“That was the funny part. Phil agreed but only if he could wait to decide on an appropriate punishment.”

“Bullshit,” Bill said.

“Maybe, but guess who won?”

The men waited.

“Mickelson and no-name were paired up for the final round, and Mick must have gotten into no-name’s head because no-name played a terrible game. He fell behind to the five spot and by the day’s end he was down to the twelve spot. On the seventeenth hole, Mickelson came up with his driver in hand, a Big Bertha. He had just been sponsored by Callaway the year before. He handed it to no-name, and whispered something in his ear.” Rick cleared his throat and spat on the grass.

“I have a special place in mind for this, he said. Either you drop your trousers on the eighteenth green or you never play a tour game again.” Rick lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. “So I guess my question is, any of you want to make one last bet?”

The guys laughed, but Rick was serious.

“For your clubs,” Rick said.

“And the punishment?”

“Let’s play by Mick’s rules. Winner decides afterward.”

Bill thought about it. A win would provide a good story he could tell for the rest of his life. And he had two reliable witnesses.

“Alright. Fewest strokes on this hole.”


The mallard spent the morning paddling on the surface of the water, looking for bugs and edible weeds. It dove, the curvature of its retina allowing for greater refraction in the murky hazard. It saw the deep green of the algae-covered rocks and the artificial white plastic of the orbs that regularly dropped with a splash. Ultraviolet light reflected by the wings of a struggling damselfly made for an easy target, and the duck swallowed it quickly before rising to the surface. It preened and shook and paddled to the shore, where it shook again and waddled, quacking, and hunkered down, and finally took flight.

It must have been distracted by the man’s shiny shirt and the motion of his arms. The shirt radiated like a neon sign, and the orb hurtled through the air, unseen, until it hit the mallard’s head, and both ball and duck fell from the sky.

Rick Part 9

It’s winding up for the finale. Expect Part 10 soon.

Rick: Part 9

“What are the stakes?” Rick lost the first serious bet he had ever made. Until he was fifteen, most bets were simply extended dares. When he and his friends were too scared to jump off of a bridge into the pool of water below or to ride their bikes down a steep dirt hill, it became a bet. They wagered the only currency they had: candy, comics, and, once, a Beatles record. Rick won often, and he shamed the kid who didn’t, Charlie Bexlan.

In high school, however, he was taught how risk made men. The competition was a simple race around the track, four hundred yards, after a brazen remark in class about how fast he was. He wanted to impress a girl, and he was so close. The dread that filled his chest at the finish line was like the forest ground after a fire, blackened and desperately bearing traces of the heat that had ravished it.  It was just a guitar, he told himself. Victor came by to pick it up later that afternoon, and Rick never played again.

“Twenty dollars,” Russ said.

“How about a hundred?” Bill, facing the others, his driver like a gentleman’s cane delicately propping him up, grinned. “I’ll even shoot first while you decide.” He turned and hovered over his ball. “You alright with that, Rick?”

“Which part?”

The sound of the clubface striking the ball carried up the gulley and kept going well past where the ball landed in the middle of the fairway. Bill quietly, smugly, slid his driver into his bag and replaced the head cover.

Russ’s tee shot fell far short of Bill’s, and Hal sliced it into the water, prompting him to pull out his wallet.

Rick squared up to the ball and tried to concentrate. Hal and Russ whispered on the bench. A flock of birds squawked overhead. The wind blew softly and sunshine fell all around, casting a small shadow in front of him. He pulled back and swung, knowing as soon as he came down that he had topped the ball. It went about fifty feet, just past the ladies’ tee but still moving, and they all watched as it rolled through the rough and got lost in the rocks of the gully.

Bill threw back his head and laughed. “Oh man,” he cackled. “Whew.”

Russ joined in too, and Hal chuckled until he saw Rick’s expression.

“Sorry,” Bill said when his laughter flagged. “I know how that feels. Really I do. Still, play it as it lies, right?”

“I’ll take a drop.”

Rick got under his next shot, so it went high, landing thirty yards from where the first ball had rolled away. “Just can’t find my groove,” he said. “Story of my life.”

“You don’t have to pay me, you know,” Bill said when they were all on the green. “Buy me a beer at the clubhouse and we’ll call it even.”

Rick counted sixty-three dollars in his wallet. “I don’t make bets I can’t pay,” he said. “I’ll stop by my truck when we’re done..”

“Really, don’t worry about it. Buy me a beer.” Bill sank a fourteen-foot putt. He looked up at Rick with a sly glint in his eye. “Storm’s coming in tomorrow otherwise I’d ask you to wash my car.” He turned to Hal. “Remember when I won that bet, Hal?”

“Yeah. You won’t let me forget it.”

“He took it down to the Shine and Detail for me. I felt like a king for an entire week driving that shiny car around.”

“That’s not me,” Rick said.


“Like I said, I’ll get you your money.” Rick did not like the look of the fourth hole, a par three over the gully with bunkers on each side of the green, and he wanted a quiet minute of redemption before taking another shot. “Not going to buy you a beer though.”

“Listen, I’m offering you an out,” Bill said. “I don’t need the money.”

“But he does need a beer,” Russ said, pulling out three reserve beers from the depths of his bag. “Here,” he offered Bill, “still cold.”

“Terms are terms,” Rick said. “Unless you’re hoping me buying you a beer will turn into something more.”

Bill grunted.

“Is that where this is going, fellas?”

“What are you talking about?”

He wanted to hurt them all, even quiet, sweet Hal. “I’m rough and tumble,” he said. “I’ll drink you under the table and walk out of here tomorrow morning with a necklace of ears and your skin as a shirt.” He pointed at Bill. “Yours.”

Bill straightened up. “I’d like to see you try,” and he stared at Rick, his brows narrowed and his mouth taut. He did this for several long seconds as if waiting for Rick to act, and when he finally spoke again anger shook his voice even as he adopted the official tone of a man sheltered by two witnesses: “Go ahead and try something. Try it. Because if you lay a finger on me you’d be in court so fast your head would spin. I’ve done it before and I won. I always win.”

No more bets were made until the seventeenth hole.

Rick Part 8

After a proposal…

Rick: Part 8

“How do you boys feel about a friendly bet?” Rick asked. “Best shot, closest, most difficult–that kind of thing?” The group ahead of them wandered towards the green.

“I’m not much of a betting man,” Bill said.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Russ snapped. “He’s always making bets.”

Rick teed his ball.

“I mean I don’t usually wager money.”

“That’s a lie, but alright.”

Rick swung and hit the ball high and to the left, but it faded right and hit the fairway before landing in a bunker.

“Nice one,” Russ said. He teed up. “Short answer is yes, I’m up for making things a little more interesting.”

“Hal? Bill? Are we all in?” Rick asked.

“Sure,” Hal said.

“Alright.” Bill’s expression soured.  “What do you want to wager?”

“Let’s start small. First just a friendly bet. First on?”

They agreed and Hal won after his ball dropped right next to the pin in three. Rick spent two shots in the bunker, but he still made par after a well-placed pitch. He pocketed his ball and stood next to Hal as the other two made their final putts.  If he had only seen the Donner party from afar, he would have supposed they were all pricks. Their moisture-wicking polo shirts immediately raised his hackles, seeming as overblown and needlessly expensive as a set of breast enhancements. Useful, perhaps, given the right environment but usually unnecessary and vividly distracting. The shirts reflected light in an unnatural way, shiny emblems of the kind of man who picked up the game for reasons of wealth and a social calendar that needed filling, paid lessons to learn proficiency and keep up appearances, the leisure class, its aspirants, endless time and carefree money.

“You know,” Rick said, “I was just thinking of the guy who bet his car that he could hit a ball farther than this other fella. It was up in Canada and all of of the water on the course was frozen. You heard that one?”

Russ replaced the pin and waved on the next group.

“First guy hits the ball–really whacks it–and it flies three hundred yards, no kidding.”

They made their way across the cart path and up a small hill to the third tee.

“The guy who made the bet is sweating like a whore in church, really anxious because his car is his most valuable possession even though it’s a complete hunk of garbage, but he stands there in the tee box and hopes with all of his might that somehow, by some miracle, he’ll make it. He pulls back as far as he can, exaggerating his back swing until he almost falls over, and then he smacks the shit out of the ball. He hears the club make contact and sees the ball rise, but then he loses sight of it completely. So there he is–his buddy right next to him–and they’re looking out and can’t see a thing.” Rick set down his golf bag and lit a cigarette. “Then all of a sudden they hear this bouncing sound. The hole was like this one, a long thin fairway with a gully on one side and water on the other, and the ball is just bouncing along the ice. One fifty, two hundred, two fifty–and the other guy is shitting himself because he drives a Mercedes–and the ball passes his, bounces out, and lands on the fringe of the green.”

“Bullshit,” Hal said.

“Did the guy give up the car?”

“He had to,” Rick said. “At least the guy drove home with it. Don’t know what happened after that.”

“No one’s betting any cars,” Bill said. He jostled into the tee box, tired of the pointless story. There was absolutely no truth to it, a complete waste of time.

“Fellas want to make a distance wager on this one?” Russ asked.

Rick Part 7

Rick: Part 7

The yardage sign showed a 324 yard par 4 with a gentle dogleg. Rick teed his ball and took a whack that sent it far up the fairway where it dropped and rolled for several yards, a thin jet of water tailing behind the ball until it slowed and stopped.

“Nice shot,” Russ said. He took Rick’s place and practiced his swing. “A little breeze from the west. That and the dew. On in two for me.”

“You’ll come to find that we’re all a little full of shit,” Hal said.

“He’s got it coming out of his ears,” Bill laughed. Russ sliced his first shot and wound up just off the fairway in the rough, and Hal followed him, landing thirty-odd yards behind Rick. Bill stood in the tee box and knocked his club gently against his cleats. “What do you normally shoot, Rick?”

“About twelve over on a bad day.” He sat on the bench and looked out at the fairway where his ball was still well ahead of Russ’s and Hal’s. “You?”

“I’m down to around eight.”

“To be honest with you, I stopped keeping score. I’m happy when I par a few and get a birdie or two. You fellas look like you play serious though. Tournaments?”

“I’ve done a couple,” Hal said.

“Me too,” Russ said. “And then there’s Bill.”

But Bill’s attention was on the ground in front of his ball, which he watched with determined concentration. First shot, good shot meant a strong round. First shot, bad shot meant struggling to recover all morning. He swung and whiffed the ball.

“Practice shot,” Hal said.

He swung again—contact—and the ball soared through the air, dropping just beyond Rick’s. “I’ll take it,” he said. “Although I think I’ll need to loosen up before the next shot.”

Russ opened three beers and handed them around. “Rick?”

“Nah. Got to drive later.”

“We’ll be here a while. We have plenty.”

“If it wasn’t how I earned my living, I might,” Rick said. Each can’s pop-top had sounded like deliverance. “I drive a truck.”

“Oh,” Russ said. “Well that makes sense.”

Rick let the words hang while he chewed on interpretations and assumptions. Bill had started walking. “Wish I could of course,” he finally replied.

The first hole ended with a par from Bill and Rick, and a bogey for Russ and Hal. Russ scowled, making a show of his frustration, but Hal appeared genuinely sanguine. He slipped his putter into his bag and stuffed his windbreaker into one of the pockets while the rest of the guys started towards the second hole.

“The waiting game,” Bill said. The group ahead was on their second shot.

Rick propped his bag by the tee box and noted the yardage, 501, a fair distance to find a groove, and more than enough time to take full stock of his fellows. “Heard the Oyster Open was held out at Heatherglen a while back. You boys play in that one?”

“I did.” Bill sat on the bench and fumbled with his sunglasses case. He put them on. “I made the top twelve if you can believe it.”


“Still nothing compared to the pros, but I got a compliment from Brad Faxon. He said my putt was on fire.”

Rick snickered. “Sounds to me like a potential hazard.”

Bill went on: “It was true. I sank almost every putt that day. Miracle shots. It really was a pivotal moment in my development as a golfer. I doubt you’ve been around many pros, but they can just see the game in every stroke, every lie. They know. Anyway, he was there and so was Billy Andrade. Neither of them played.”

“Did Billy offer any tidbits of advice for you?”

“Nothing to speak of,” he said, dismissive and rarified. “He seemed a little snooty in my opinion.”

Hal interrupted. “So you drive a rig, huh?”

“Yep.” Rick clicked his tongue, visions of needling Bill until he broke. “Been at it for well over ten years now.”

Russ opened a beer, and Bill perked up. “Pass me one, will you?”

“How do you boys feel about a friendly bet?” Rick asked.

Rick Part 6

Rick: Part 6

Bill Donner golfed three times a week without fail. He and his wife Tracy wintered on the Gulf Coast, but April through October found him ranging up and down the Pacific Northwest to play every decently maintained course on the map with the two men who had become his best friends, Russ, another partner at WGTN whom Bill had known since their college days back East, and Hal, a dentist who was married to Tracy’s best friend, Wendy. Bill trusted the guys with his life, true friends with nothing but respect for each other and an absolute love of the game. Was there anything better than golfing with friends? Certainly not in Bill’s eyes.

He folded an extra scorecard into his back pocket after paying for the round. He liked to document his favorite courses in a journal, which he recognized as silly, not eccentric, because, as Tracy would say, writing was just something he liked to do. Journals did not make him effeminate.

Hal waited outside with the golf bags while Russ and Bill were inside, and Rick sat on the steps nearby, his elbows propped up on the third stair and his legs stretched as far as they could reach. His posture exposed a portion of his belly, which felt nice in the mild sunshine, and he made a lazy salute Hal’s way. “Ready to get out there?”

“Always ready,” Hal said. “You?”

“Every round’s a new chance,” he said. “A whole eighteen of them. The scots put a rule down about wiping the slate clean after every game.”


“It was after a particularly bad round, right after they came up with the mulligan.”

This got a smile from Hal.

“When are you up?”

“In a few minutes.”

“Good luck out there.”

Bill came out, followed by Russ, who carried a six pack. “We have a fourth, fellas. A gentleman named Rick.”

“Right here,” Rick said. He stood up and introduced himself, shaking each of their hands in turn. “Pleased to meet you all. Are you boys ready to have the best game of your lives?”

Bill chuckled. He believed in respect for the game and he believed in dress codes. He believed in a respectful quiet before getting off the first shot. He believed he did not like Rick from the start. “Shall we?” He slung his bag over his left shoulder and led the group to the first hole.

Rick Part 5

A shorter post that transitions us from the lot to the golf course. (Transitions, I have found, are always the most difficult part of any story. Moving a character from one scene to the next with narration and action that at once keeps the story interesting and keeps it moving? A tall order on the scale of driving a big rig 600 miles in a single day.)

Next up: Rick meets the Donner party, a trio of  very serious golfers.

Rick Part 5

At dawn Rick stepped out of his cab with a shaving kit and a towel. He shuffled across the parking lot and through the driver’s lounge where the line-up for coffee was already feverish. He glanced at the decrepit bunkrooms on his way to the showers, and he got back to his truck ten minutes later with a cup of coffee and still-wet hair. He wrapped his moppy ponytail with his towel and wrung it out as best he could before turning on the engine and plugging in a blowdryer. The summer sun showed promise, but the day was still thirty degrees away from warm.

Finding the course took some directional know-how, but Rick could feel his way to most places if he’d been through town once before and knew at least a couple of street names. He parked on the corner near the farthest lot and shouldered his golf bag for the trek to the clubhouse. A new course held promise. The gentle slopes and the smell of the air outdoors, the sound of birds and golf carts and the quiet seconds of nothing while Rick addressed a ball, when his whole attention became round and brilliant white, and the ping of a driver cut through the air with its fading record of impact. Rick watched imagined balls arc and fall on the distant holes he passed, woolgathering up the clubhouse steps and paying for eighteen holes, and hearing a tee time of twenty-eight minutes from that very moment with Donner, party of three.

Rick: Part 4

Rick: Part 4

Rick was still well within his fourteen hour driving window by the time he swung into the terminal. He backed carefully into the loading dock and turned off the engine. Another day done. He opened the door and hopped out.

“Ahead of schedule,” the warehouse manager said. “Got somewhere special to be?”

Rick lit a cigarette and took a long drag. “The cozy confines of my sleeper.”

The warehouse manager chuckled, and his smile brought to mind a dumpy rat. He stood almost a head below Rick and his solid paunch tested the cotton fibers of the red polo shirt he had tucked into his Carhartts. “Cozy being the operative word, am I right? From the outside it looks like you’d have to push the seats all the way up just to actually lay down.”

“You’d be surprised.”

“I’m sure I would. It amazes me what people build nowadays. Fella came in the other day with a custom job that looked better than my buddy’s RV. Full kitchen, shower—even fit his bike in there.” He hoped for a reaction more expressive than a nod, but he took what Rick offered and glanced down at his clipboard. “Let’s just see what we have here, shall we?”

Rick opened the trailer doors and watched the lumpers get to work. Before he really knew what he was doing, he operated for a touch-freight outfit and got back there with a pallet jack and a supportive back belt. As soon as he gained seniority he only bothered with driving and paperwork. He was too old and too smart to throw cargo at the end of the day.

“You’ll be back tomorrow for a load down to Portland?” The manager’s tone suggested he was still eager for banter.

“Afternoon,” Rick said. “I’m hoping for a ten a.m. tee time.”

“Oh yeah? Whereabouts?” All he needed was an in, a conversational entry point so he could eagerly dig into a topic for a few minutes. “I’ll tell you what,” his voice low, “you need to go to Sapling Park. Out off the beaten path a ways down off of Bridgeport, but worth a cab ride or the walk in if you decide to drive your rig. It has one of my favorite par fives, a nice dogleg with water on both sides. A couple of nice par fours too.” He ran his tongue underneath his top lip so it protruded, a moment of careful thought. “Then there’s Heatherglen if you have time to get out there. It was a PGA course for the…the name escapes me, but it will come back—the something Open. Oyster? I think it was the Oyster Open. Anyway, there are some challenging holes there too from what I’ve heard.”

“So you play?”

“Here and there,” he curled a thumb through his front belt loop. “What about you?”

“Whenever I’m not driving or sleeping.” Rick signed the forms and shook the manager’s hand before closing the trailer doors. He negotiated the loading dock, inching his way down, unhooked his cab for the night, and found an empty parking spot near the front of the terminal. The pendulum swing that balanced driving a truck was driving a ball two hundred and fifty yards clear down the fairway. Every average golfer he’d ever met assumed they were better than everyone else, even if they only played ‘here and there.’ Rick knew the score. That gooey little bastard probably trotted out an immaculate set of clubs twice a year and believed he had preternatural abilities on the links that would blunt with regular practice. Hobbyists got by on luck. Play often enough and you understand the frightening truth: devotion is the only path to skill.