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Meet the Artivist

This weekend, I had the opportunity to speak with an artivist. He was captivating, passionate, knowledgeable, helpful and dedicated. During our 40 minute conversation he dropped so much knowledge on me, I felt I had taken a crash course on the modern civil rights movement that included historical and political facts sprinkled in for fun. He proudly announced that his home town of Paterson, NJ was a stop in the Underground Railroad and that it was the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution, and that is just the tip of the iceberg.

Not only was I thankful to have learned from him, but I was motivated and inspired by the energy and dedication Jaquair Gillette puts into his words when discussing causes that mean the most to him. He has a way of communicating the heart of issues he is focused on that makes you understand their urgency and want to help.

The Issues that Matter to Jaquair Gillette

Where can I begin?  It is hard to narrow it down because Gillette is well versed in almost every social ill that is occurring in our modern society. From Walmart’s methods of double dipping from the government purse, to the gentrification of New Jersey, socialism for the rich, individualism for the non-rich, equal justice, economic inclusion and assassination politics, he is basically a walking encyclopedia of social justice knowledge.

Not only is he aware of the issues, but he can point you in the direction of an organization that works to fix the issues he is concerned about. He doesn’t just talk. In the past he has been involved in petitioning for various causes, donating to causes and participating in the marches and rallies from New York to, Washington D.C and Los Angeles. He stays involved in the issues through both his art and the work he does his community. 

Through our conversation, Gillette discussed organizations that are involved with equal justice and economic inclusion.

Equal Justice organizations:

Economic Inclusion organizations/activities:

One of the ways that Gillette advocate for these causes is through an organization he founded with two friends called, “The R.E.B.E.L. Experience.”

What is The R.E.B.E.L. Experience?

As described on their Facebook page,”The R.E.B.E.L. Experience as being created to produce creative content that not only entertains, but inspires, culturally and morally educates, and elevates the beauty and truth of the human experience and its possibilities through film, television, theatre, new media, art and music.”  R.E.B.E.L. is an acronym for Reach Everyone by Expressing Life. And they live up to their name.

One look through their Facebook profile and YouTube page, it is clear they like to keep their finger on the pulse of conscious art of the local, grassroots variety. They advocate for the arts, perform at venues in the city and in New Jersey, showcase different types of art such as graffiti and the spoken word and so much more.

The organization was founded in 2012 with three founders Jaquair Gillette,  Akiba Rhodes and Sean English. The three founders are surrounded by a family of individuals who make up the crew – operating the cameras, sound and lighting equipment. Since its foundation they have worked to produce enlightening content that uplifts local individuals and projects a message of hope and guidance for those wishing to get involved in the various causes that are showcased in R.E.B.E.L.’s films.

They have a talk series called “The Soapbox” that delves into social issues and concepts that relate to artists defining who they are and the importance of their craft, individual spoken word pieces advocating positive life choices, local art shows and activities of local artists. In many ways the organization’s YouTube page is like looking through a window into the world of elevated, conscious, uplifting artistry.

“3rd & 4th Chapters”

R.E.B.E.L.’s  latest work “3rd & 4th Chapters”  was inspired by the plan to obtain civil rights and full immersion into American society for black Americans as outlined by the late Corretta Scott King. Chapters 1 and 2 of the plan have already been accomplished. Chapter 1 is ending slavery and Chapter 2 is ending the Jim Crow laws of the South. Chapter 3 – Equal Justice and Chapter 4 – Economic Inclusion are still outstanding.

The short film follows a character who grew up in a rough area, but was able to achieve success. He works hard to bring positive change to his old neighborhood, yet faces unforeseen obstacles from unlikely places. Ultimately, life changing choices must be made by unsuspecting people that will either help or hinder the cause. The film will have you guessing until the end what will happen.

“3rd and 4th Chapters” is a powerful reminder that even though so much time has passed since Chapter 3 and Chapter 4 were outlined by Mrs. King, fulfilling those chapters have not and will not be a straight line from point A to point B.  There will be obstacles, some from outside a community and some inside the community. However, change is inevitable as long as people stay dedicated to the cause.

Gillette’s hope when making this film is to bring awareness to the challenges that face people who have the desire to bring positive change to under-served communities; the goal is also to motivate people to get involved with helping to fulfill the remaining chapters as outlined by Mrs. King. There is so much work to be done and every little bit helps.

What is next for The R.E.B.E.L. Experience?

With their latest project only having dropped less than two weeks ago, the group has several projects already in the works.

Several projects are in the works. One, a short film entitled 21 Eagles, which is a piece that coincides as one of several prequel pieces to a later feature heist film entitled Jersey Auto. The feature will film showcase the cultural institutions and characteristics that make the state unique while addressing and economic issue that effects small businesses and consumers alike. 21 Eagles is inspired by true events and the effects of gentrification of the state. The film will touch upon the “Home Rule” in New Jersey that has allowed for the creation of a staggering number of municipalities that all require state resources to keep afloat.

What is Jaquair Gillette up to Next?

Jaquair will continuously be working to create and connect with people who create things that matter. He has a spoken word performance coming up at the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe on April 18, 2020. He also will be acting in a short 5 episode web series titled, “The American Jungle.” A great way to keep up with him is to follow his Facebook page.

And last but not least, he would like to give a shout out to the Sophisticated Sisters of Omega Phi Chi!

Thank you, Ja. We appreciate it. 😉

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Meet the Holistic Health and Life Coach

This week, I had the opportunity to talk to Alexandra Marrero, Holistic Health and Life Coach. Alexandra has spent the last several years on a journey to understanding the mind, body, soul connection and sharing what she has learned with the clients of her wellness business Restorative Health and Wellness.

Her journey started with physical fitness. Working to make herself feel better after the weight gain that customarily comes after pregnancy and childbirth. During the process of reaching her physical goals, she realized there was much more to learn with regard to feeling the best one possibly can. Physical fitness is only one piece of the puzzle. Caring for your mind and soul is also important to feeling great and achieving optimal performance in anything you do. Below, Alexandra explains ways to work towards achieving a mind, body, soul connection.

How do you define “holistic health and life coach? A holistic health and life coach is someone who focuses on all aspects of the body and the mind instead of just focusing on the symptoms that the client is experiencing.

Do you find that people have a misconception about what you do and if so, what is that? Set the record straight!
The biggest misconception people have is equating “holistic” to “new age.” It’s not new. Holistic and alternative care has been performed for hundreds even thousands of years. People also think that because I don’t use toxic or synthetic medicine, that what I do doesn’t work or isn’t real. My goal with my clients is always to add what is missing from their life. If something is wrong, it means the body isn’t balanced. I always ask, “what form of nourishment is missing, how can we create balance?”

How did you first learn about this field? What motivated you to engage in this type of work? Learning about this field, and getting to the point that I am now, was a nine year journey and counting. It started shortly after the birth of my second son. I was depressed, overweight and in a bad place. I knew I needed to make a change. I simply could not continue living life the way I did. I hated myself for my faults. I had underlying issues stemming from watching my father not take care of himself; and ingest medicines that never fully made him better. I understood when I became older that I didn’t want to live life this way. I wasn’t sure how to escape my depression and bad feelings. I started focusing on myself physically. I went to the gym and began losing weight and weightlifting. I began to feel GREAT! I replaced my old bad habits with my new hobby – working out. Eventually I progressed to understand and apply proper holistic, nutrition and lifestyle changes to my life. Feeling better lead me to understanding my mind better. I started to know myself more and what I needed to feel balanced, Finally, I worked my way into energy work, working on my soul and total balance and alignment. It became a lifestyle for me; and I love to share it with people. 

Generally speaking, when dealing with new clients, where do you find the most deficiencies with regard to their holistic self care?
Generally speaking, most people that I come across have mind/body connection deficiencies. Even though in this day and age more people are the most conscience about mindfulness than in the past, there is still the biggest deficiency between mind/body connection. Examples of this include running oneself ragged; allowing the mind to run on overdrive leaving the body feeling exhausted and helpless and not understanding why they feel  the way they do. It is important for people to stop and listen to their mental and physical cues and respond accordingly.

What are your go-to techniques to assist your clients with rectifying these deficiencies?
The basic techniques that I regularly suggest first to reestablish the mind body connection are to meditate and journal. Just like we wash the body on a regular basis we need to wash the mind. Journaling is also a great way to obtain mental clarity. The key to journaling is to be honest with yourself. Ask yourself straight forward questions and allow yourself honest answers. Journal long enough to get your ego to step aside and allow yourself to express vulnerable feelings. Getting your troubles written on paper allows you to do it in a safe way so you don’t feel like you are spreading negativity if you were sharing your troubles with a friend. 

How can people better understand the mind, body and soul intersection?
Everything is connected. For example, if we’re not honoring our true self, or our soul, and our needs it will lower our vibration. This will affect the mind causing us to make poor decisions, and therefore the body will feel drained and can experience physical symptoms. It is a cycle.
If someone wanted to learn, on a basic level, how these three intersect, I would suggest reviewing Paul Chek’s work. He explains this concept in layman’s terms so that someone new to this doesn’t feel overwhelmed or like they have traversed into “new age” territory.

From your perspective, what are the biggest issues individuals have with mind health?  (Is this different from the term, “mental health?”)
People may prefer the term “mind health” because they don’t want to confront the stigma associated with the term “mental health,” but ultimately the biggest issues people have, that I have come across is anxiety and depression.

When it comes to caring for one’s mind, what are the top activities to maintain its wellness? 
1. Focused Breathing 2. High Vibration Food 3. Meditation and 4. CBD.

What issues will people suffer from when soul health is neglected?
Someone who neglects to take care of their soul health will suffer a domino effect of symptoms. They will vary individual to individual. They can have physical, mental and emotional symptoms. 

What wellness techniques can one implement to improve soul health?
People can meditate, set boundaries, understand their limits and honor them. Honor their wants and needs.

In what way do people neglect to take care of their soul? Out of the three areas you focus on, body is the one in which, I believe, most people think they know how to take care of. What do you find is the biggest misconception most people have about taking care of their body? “I can eat whatever I want as long as I work out.” If you put trash in your body, you will still suffer negative effects – even if you workout. You can’t out work a bad diet. 

What is your approach to finding out a new client’s actual needs vs. what they think they need?
Asking a series of questions that focus on mind, body and soul. Tap into their energy and perform energy work.

Which service of yours is most popular among your clients? Card Readings and energy work.

Is there any message you would like to give readers that the above questions don’t address? Self care is not selfish – this especially goes out to the moms and parents out there. Self care is one of the highest forms of self love. When we practice self care it allows us to be a better version of ourselves that we share with everyone! 

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Meet the Author/Motivational Speaker

Some links below may be affiliate links which means that if you buy an item through a link you click on this page, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

This week, I had the pleasure and privilege to speak with self-published author, motivational speaker and philanthropist Edison Jaquez via email.   We discussed his upcoming book, Turning a Mess into a Message (release date: July 15, 2018), what motivates him to give back and in what direction will he take his next steps.

Leigh: So, this is your second book, how does this second accomplishment make you feel?

Edison: First of all I want to say thank you for interviewing me and for all the great work you’re doing. It still hasn’t hit me like I know it will but I feel blessed and like I’m living in my purpose with this second book.

Leigh: You are very welcome! Thank you! What would you say was your motivation to write the book?

Edison: The motivation behind writing this book came from the love I have for helping others find their purpose in life and teaching them to never give up on their dreams no matter what obstacles life throws at you.

Leigh: So would you say your purpose is helping others find their purpose, especially through adversity?

Edison: Yes, I believe I was allowed to face different challenges in life so that I would be able to identify with others and encourage them along their journey.

Leigh: Who do you hope this book reaches?

Edison: I hope it reaches everyone from all different races, gender, backgrounds etc.

Leigh: I think it has the potential to; it seems the purpose is to motivate anyone, whether one with serious legal problems, or one who simply needs help getting back up after rejection to not give up. Great topic! In what way do you hope to inspire your readers?

Edison: By sharing my struggles and success in this book, I hope it inspires people to go after their dreams and never give up!  I hope to be the motivation my readers need to take their life to the next level.

Leigh: The book’s title is “Turning a Mess into a Message,” what would you say is the main difference between the Edison then, that was a “mess,” and the Edison now that brings a positive Message to people?

Edison: This is a great question! I would say the Edison then would always try to please everyone and didn’t fully believe in himself. Pride often got the best of me until I learned to humble myself. The Edison now puts God first, continues to build self confidence and understands nothing happens overnight.

Leigh: So you have gained the confidence to keep going no matter what and trust your decisions? That is pretty powerful! Congrats! Who would you say helped you the most with your transformation to an inspirational figure?

Edison: Of course God 1st, second my family- my wife Jennifer, my kids Armani and Jacob, my mentors and friends.

Leigh: That’s great! It reminds me of the phrase, “It takes a village….”  While reflecting on your past to write this book, were there any lessons learned that perhaps escaped you while you were living through the situations discussed in the book?

Edison: Yes, there were many lessons. I wish I took the advice of those who saw the best in me and made better choices.

Leigh: Did you ever imagine when you were younger that you would be the author of two books? How do these accomplishments make you feel, looking back?

Edison: I never imagined being the influential person I am now. If you would have asked me back in the day I would have said, “No, not me”. These accomplishments make me feel like I’m doing the right thing for the younger generation to follow, especially my kids. It also makes me feel good that I can be an inspiration to the older generation.

Leigh: Did you find the writing process to be cathartic? Would you recommend writing to anyone going through a tough time?

Edison: Yes, I actually did. What I would say to anyone who desires to write a book is that it’s important to be honest with themselves before they decide to share their story with the world.
Leigh: Sometimes being honest with yourself can be the hardest. If you had the power to change your past, is there anything that you would change? Why or why not?

Edison: Honestly, I wouldn’t be the man I am today had it not been for my past but if I could change one thing I would say the pain and heartache I caused on my family.  

Leigh: Great answer! Sometimes adversity can be a good thing, in hindsight, of course. Now that the book is complete, what are your final thoughts?

Edison: I’m truly blessed and humbled by the outcome of this project. I truly feel this is by far my best work.

Leigh: That is great! And to think there is so much more to come. Speaking of which, what are your next steps as an author and motivational speaker/inspiration?

Edison: I’m working on my 3rd book which will be a children’s book that I’m very excited about.

Leigh: That is great news! You are turning into a serial author! You certainly don’t waste time!  Do you have any final thoughts you want to share?

Edison: I would say to everyone reading this interview to always believe in yourself and never never give up on your dreams!! Thank you.

Leigh: Thank you for spreading positivity  and thank you for your time today.
Clearly the goal of the book, and Edison’s work, is to motivate people to live their best self and to not give up on their dreams. He truly wants his readers and followers to learn life lessons from the mistakes that he made to save those people from the heartache. I hope this book reaches whomever needs it.

If you need a pick-me-up, or would like to learn how someone turned their life around from unthinkable circumstances to sky-high success, pickup Turn a Mess into a Message by Edison Jaquez. Continue reading

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Meet The College Professor/ Poet/ Youth Motivator Dr. Daniel Jean

Dr. Daniel Jean

When I first asked Dr. Jean if I can interview him for my blog, I asked because, after reading the timely lyrics he posts to his Facebook page, I thought someone who uses words so powerfully and beautifully should be featured on a literacy blog.  While I wanted to highlight Dr. Jean’s literacy genesis, his talents as a poet, and as someone who promotes literacy, I discovered someone with a much more powerful message than simply, “read 20 minutes a day.”
Dr. Jean not only promotes the belief that words travel, as evidenced by the organization he founded Wordstravel, but he has experienced this belief as he has traveled around the country performing his poetry.  Most interestingly, his words have traveled all the way to Ghana, where the Ghana Knowledge Tree Leadership Academy is building a library and naming it “The Wordstravel Library” after Dr. Jean’s movement.  Finally, through Dr. Jean, I am not only providing you a profile of a successful literary professional to look up to, but also a resource.  See his response when I asked him what advice he has for struggling readers.
Please take the time to read how Dr. Daniel Jean got his literacy start and what steps you can take to become an engaged reader and writer who positively impacts the world around you:
LWL: Who introduced you to reading?
DJ: I was introduced to reading by my older siblings who would read everything from books to cereal box labels. While I didn’t read with them, I saw them reading and perceived the value.
LWL: When did you start to like to read independently?
DJ: I struggled with reading comprehension until my eighth grade teacher Mrs. Richardson worked with me to focus better, underline key concepts and learn how to make the words come to life!
LWL: Did you prefer fiction or non fiction?
DJ: I prefer to read non fiction.
LWL: What were your favorite stories?
DJ: My favorite stories are true stories of individuals overcoming adversity. Soul on Ice and the autobiography of Malcolm X. Both stories highlighted how injustices and hatred can be overcome.
LWL: Who were your favorite authors?
DJ: I have so many. Edwidge Danticat is on of my favs and many of her stories are about my Haiti, my birthplace.
LWL: Where would you go to read?
DJ: I need to read in a quiet space.
LWL: Did you go to the library a lot?
DJ: They had a mobile library called the “Book Mobile” that would share books. I also frequent the library.
LWL: Did you have a lot of friends that you liked to read with?
DJ: I’ve never read with others.
LWL: Was reading something that was promoted in your community?
DJ: Reading was promoted by my community [which I define as my siblings and a few key teachers] but I met teachers who emphasized the importance of reading.
LWL: What motivated you to continue to read on your own, outside of school assignments?
DJ: I enjoyed reading and began writing poetry at a very early age. I have authored  a play entitled “Til Death Do Us Part?” and an anthology titled, “Wordstravel”.
LWL: Who introduced you to writing?
DJ: My Siblings.
LWL:  When did you start writing?
DJ: I have written poetry since my pre-teen years. My entire movement is based on the power of the word.
LWL: How did you use writing as a tool? (Diary, write stories, etc.)
DJ: I wrote poems for all occasions, parties, female friends, to address an injustice. I live by Ephesians 4:29 [ Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.]
LWL: Where did you used to go to write when you were a kid?
DJ: I would write anywhere and on anything.
LWL: What motivated you to continue to write on your own, outside of school assignments? Where do you go to write now?
DJ: I write to empower and express myself. I like to write on my apple products now (laughs)
LWL: What other ways do you express yourself artistically?
DJ: I make music, perform poetry, and utilize it all during my interactive empowerment. Swagger Seminars.
LWL: How, do you think, your passion for reading and writing impacted where you are today?
DJ: Effective communication is the key to personal and professional success. Reading and writing are essential to communication.
LWL: What advice would you have for a reluctant reader?
DJ: I would encourage them to read things they enjoy….also if they struggle with reading comprehension to contact me at for assistance and encouragement.
LWL: What advice do you have for a struggling writer?
DJ: Wordstravel…..
LWL: How would you respond to the statement: “Books are a stupid waste of time, and so is writing about what you read in books.”
 DJ: I would love to meet the person who said that to help them fall in love with reading/writing like I have!
As you can see, Dr. Jean isn’t your ordinary literacy advocate.  He has given us his literary story, offered help for those who need it, recommended a Haitian author to look into, made a clear correlation as to why reading and writing is important and, in not so many words, showed that reading about over-coming injustice and hatred is the first step to over-coming injustice and hatred.  If you want to learn more about Dr. Jean, please visit his website

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Meet the Author: Novelist Armani Williams

Author Mr. Armani Williams

Recently, I was able to speak to the successful, self-published author Mr. Armani Williams, via telephone, about all things literacy.  This young, black, up-and-coming artist, who hails from East Orange, NJ, expounded on the genesis of his literacy, what books he enjoyed through his life and gave me, as only someone who loves to read can do, spontaneous text-to-self connections!  Most importantly, he explains how his love of literacy took him to where he is today and gives advice to children who may be struggling with reading and writing.
LWL: Who introduced you to reading?
AW: My mother! She was very adamant about my sister and I learning to read.  Besides being read to by my mother and, sometimes sister, frequently, books were just always a fixture in our home.  My older sister, who is six years older, had a lot of books that were eventually handed down to me. Books were always in the house and a part of my life.
LWL: Where did you go to read?
AW: My mom took us to the library every two weeks- no questions asked. She made sure we read all the books before we had to return them. I actually have a funny story about that.  There was this one book from the library that I eventually turned in -although past the due date.  I absolutely loved Sesame Street as a child and there was this story called Follow That Bird.  It was a movie and a book. It was a story about Big Bird having to leave Sesame Street to live with other birds. Well one day I took the book home and I loved it so much, that I didn’t return the book until SEVEN years later.  I dropped the book in the drop box to have some level of anonymity.
LWL: Wow.  You seem to have really connected with the story.  Maybe you were looking for other birds like yourself at that age? Did you have any other favorite stories?
AW: Yes.  I was happy to find books and read stories that had little black kids in it.  There is one story, One Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats.  My mom liked reading it to me and I liked reading it too.  Sometimes I think I may have related to the book because there is a little black boy in the story with a red snow suit on and, at the time, I had a red snow suit so sometimes I think I saw myself in the book.  I think my mom made that connection too.  I also discovered, Ms. Nelson is Missing by Harry Alard in the first grade.  I enjoyed the story of the book, but I also lived through that scenario in third grade.
In third grade I had a teacher named Ms. Scott.  She was a very nice woman and no one in my class was mean to her.  It was just that as a young gifted-and-talented group, we would talk a lot.  Usually about our work, but we couldn’t control our talking.  It turned out that Ms. Scott had gotten sick.  At first it started off with her taking a few days off, but by March Ms. Scott was on temporary leave and I got a new teacher.  My own personal Ms. Viola Swamp, except her name was Ms. Raikes.  Ms. Raikes was a very mean sub.  She would yell sometimes.  But as an older black lady, she just had a way of shutting down class conversations with the snap of a finger.  It wasn’t just that she was strict, she was old and crotchety too.  She gave a lot of homework and classwork to ensure there was no time for joking, laughing or talking.  There was no bonding with Ms. Swamp, I am sorry, I mean Ms. Raikes.  She was just mean as hell the whole time and I can not recall one positive memory with her in the four months she was my teacher.  In fact, Ms. Raikes’ name came up in a Facebook chat recently with friends and even though it is years later, I mean these people are already graduated from college, my friends still got the chills at the sound of her name.
LWL: Did you have friends you would read with?
AW: Not really. Boys were more playing Mortal Combat or X-Men than reading.  I remember one time, my Dad bought me a guidebook for Sega Genesis that had all the cheat codes in it.  That day I was surrounded by the boys all stretching their necks to see the cheat codes.  I felt really popular that day!
LWL: Who introduced you to writing?
AW: At 10 years old I took a class at the Newark Community School of the Arts. The man teaching the class was a college professor. He announced that we weren’t going to act, but write plays.  My initial thought was I didn’t know how to write never mind  how to write a whole play. The idea was so far fetched for me at the time. That night I went home and thought of a concept of a woman who was married and pregnant with a drug problem and wanted to get off drugs to be a good mom.  I have no idea where I got this idea, or why at 10 years old I was thinking about these things, but that night I wrote my first play.  It was then that I realized I was a writer.  From that point I just wrote more pieces. My professor’s name was Professor Stuart, but I haven’t seen him since 1995, when I took the class.  He doesn’t know it, but I dedicated my first book to him.
LWL: What motivated you to continue to read on your own, outside of school assignments?
AW: I just enjoyed it. I liked reading about complexities of life. I came from a household of celebrating being black. We read about up-slinging African-American people, college educated people with careers.
LWL: How did you use writing as a tool? (Diary, write stories, etc.)
AW: I enjoyed the art of story telling. I wrote poems that told stories that expressed feelings. I liked to tell stories of the human condition and about  people dealing with life as it happens to us all.
LWL: How, do you think, your passion for reading and writing impacted where you are today?
AW: Discovering reading and writing made me realize I was put on this earth to be a writer!
LWL: What advice would you have for a reluctant reader?
AW: Just try it and find something you enjoy. If you don’t know what to read, ask somebody; specifically your school or town librarian, they seem to know everything.
LWL: What advice do you have for a struggling writer?
AW: Never rush the creative process, it will come when it comes.  Read other things in the mean time!! When I sat down to write a book, I wrote it better because I read something else prior to writing. Not that I stole ideas, it just inspires you to create.  People write from their experience, including what they read.  By exposing yourself to more written work, you are giving yourself more experiences to think about before writing.
LWL: How would you respond to the statement: “Books are a stupid waste of time, and so is writing about what you read in books.”
AW: Everyone’s got opinions. I would never tell someone they were wrong, I just hope that they would change their mind.

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