Living with Anxiety

Alright folks, grab some popcorn. It’s about to get real up in hizzere.

This is my coming out of the closet post.

“Mom, Dad, I have Anxiety”

“Well have you tried choosing not to have anxiety?”

I’ve been hesitant to write this post for some time. Even though it’s been in the works, stewing inside my weird brain for some time.

It will be difficult for me to articulate just how such damaged emotions affect my life. (The main reason I used the awesome powers of photography to convey them instead). I mean, I am a good writer, but how to go about putting Anxiety into words is beyond me.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Once upon a time a happy young mother was talking to her brother on the phone.

Brother- “Why are you breathing so weird?”

Happy young mother- “What are you talking about?”

And that’s how it all started. Seems stupid right? It felt stupid. I went to the doctor anyhow, explaining that I just couldn’t take a deep breath (although I kept trying, which is why I kept assaulting my brother’s ear with my creepy, heavy breathing).

I couldn’t make the air hit the bottom of my lungs. It was like taking half breaths all the time. I’d try, over and over, to make to air fill my lungs but it just wouldn’t. Very frustrating.

So doctor said. “Oh you have Anxiety. Here are some pills”

A doctor’s answer for everything. Fast forward a few months filled with lorazepam and late nights, and I found myself back at the doctor with bags under my eyes.

Doctor- “Have you been crying a lot lately?”

Why yes, yes I had.

“You have depression”

Those words floored me. Why would I have depression? What on earth did I have to be depressed about? I was a new mom, married to my high school sweetheart. I was surrounded by family and friends who adored my little family.

I didn’t know at the time that those little facts meant nothing to the Beast (you like my loving endearment for Anxiety? Good, me too).

For fear of boring you, let’s go ahead and get onto the pictures.

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“The Harvey Dent effect” was created to show that there are two sides to me, always. Since that phone call with my Brother, I was no longer just me. I was split into two people in that moment. The Beast is this skulking, androgynous creature. Always there. Always a part of me. I can pretend it isn’t there sometimes, and I can fight it sometimes too. But like that drunken hook up that you regret, it’s always lurking in the mind.

I didn’t tell anybody about my diagnosis for so many long years. I didn’t want people to look at me differently. To see me as weak. If they knew my childhood, they’d know just how strong I have been. And I didn’t want attention for it. I see all too often how people use the facade of Anxiety to gain sympathy from people.

I was embarrassed. I felt weak and stupid. I was me, but I also wasn’t. (See what I mean about it being hard to explain)

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“Insomnia” One of the side effects that bothers me the least, honestly. But probably the one that made things worse for me. 

The quiet moments of the night seemed to gnaw at my bones. The still air whispered insults into my ear. The Beast was there with me every night; reiterating over and over all of my regrets, insecurities and worst fears. It conjured up my worst nightmares and set them on display before me. Those nights were the worst.

The Beast forced me to get out of bed, over and over, to check on my children. To watch them breathing, sure they would just die in the night. The Beast made me smell smoke in the house, running around in the darkness like a hound dog trying to identify the source. Of course there never was any fire, just the fear of one. The Beast fed on my fear. I never slept well with The Beast sleeping next to me.

“Panic attacks”

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Panic attacks are my worst nightmare.

It starts with a gnawing worry. Like I’d left the stove on and gone grocery shopping. Or I’d lost twenty bucks in the parking lot. But there is never any reason to feel that way. It’s that feeling of stepping off of curb that you didn’t know was there; that jolt that starts your heart, but it’s there all the time.

For me, the sweating is next. Uncontrollable, salty sweat pours down my sides. Sometimes the fear of having a panic attack is overwhelming. You just want to cry “Not now! Please not now!”

My hands and feet go numb next and I have trouble using my fingers. Then my heart rate skyrockets. This is the time I call my husband, Brett. He is my rock, and his voice soothes my heart. The Beast doesn’t like Brett. It cowers away from him. Brett knows all the phrases that calm me, the words that still my mind. I have trouble forming coherent thoughts when I’m panicking. My mind races. Sometimes I call Brett in time to quell the attack. Sometimes I am too late.

At this point every bad thing that has ever happened to me comes flooding through my mind and I cry. I cry hard. And then I hyperventilate. Brett will scream at me to “Breathe! Breathe!” but The Beast sits on my chest and forces horrible images into my head. I can’t breathe with it sitting on me.

My stomach starts to ache with a horrible mixture of dread and the runs. Sometimes I need to vomit.

By the end of a panic attack my blood sugar is dangerously low. I usually crawl to the kitchen to stuff some juice or almonds down my dry throat.

I fear panic attacks like nothing else. They are quite possible the most annoying, most inconvenient thing I have ever experienced, to put it lightly. There is only one thing I fear more…..

“Depression”

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I didn’t know what was happening to me. I would wake from fugue states to find myself crying. Like a zombie, I would complete my daily tasks, with no memory of doing them. Surely I fed my child, but I just didn’t remember it. There are gaps in my memory that scare the crap out of me. My best friend told me some of the things I did in those times and I wanted to curl up and die when she told me.

I had no desire to shower, or eat, or clean. I remember thinking how much better off my family would be without me. I didn’t deserve them. I was so much wasted flesh, burning through air that was better spent on my child.

Those were hard times. And climbing out of that hole was the hardest thing I ever did. And the reason I fight so damn hard every day. I wont ever go back.

“Obsessive compulsive disorder”

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This is embarrassing to talk about. And one of the reasons I stayed hidden for so long. How do you explain to people how irrational your brain is?

I’d like to get out in the open how stupid people sound when they say “I just organized my kitchen OMG I’m like so OCD” or “I went all OCD on my nail polishes. #ocdorganized”

I seriously want to punch your vagina when you say things like that. And I know I shouldn’t get all weird and offended by it. But truthfully, it’s insulting to me and to people who suffer from this disorder. (I say suffer because it is truly what we do).

You can’t understand the complexities of this disorder unless you suffer from it.

The best way I can describe it is the deepest, most powerful urge to perform tiny rituals. If these rituals are not done there is a burning, tingling and anxious feeling that overwhelms me.

I have a list of two pages, front and back, of rituals that I do daily. My weird brain tells me that if I don’t do them, I will suffer consequences. I believe The Beast when it whispers these things. I know its irrational, and yet I still believe it. To my very core.

For example if I set down a paperclip, it MUST point south-east. Because if it is pointed in the direction of where a loved one lives then they will die. I know it’s stupid and yet I believe it. 

Another ritual is touching things with the second knuckle on the back of my hand. If I don’t touch things five times with that part of my finger it will literally burn until I do it.

I live every day doing these tiny rituals, dozens of them, to keep my family safe. To stop terrorist attacks. To keep volcanoes from erupting and the tectonic plates from shifting. I am responsible for keeping everyone safe and alive. It’s a lot of pressure.

On a side note, I plucked out my eyelashes for five years! I had no eyelashes. For five years. Think about that next time you want to make fun of somebody with Obsessive compulsive disorder.

Why anybody would want to pretend they have anxiety is beyond me. If I could rid myself of The Beast I would trade my left tit! In a heartbeat. Take my tit! Take The Beast!

I made these pictures to heal and to cope. To learn that I am still me, and I am still beautiful. I am damaged, yes, but even an apple with bruises is still sweet.

A lot of people ask what it’s like for me, inside my damaged brain. There is so much that I cannot, or will not, say. But if you’re reading this then you have a tiny glimpse at what it’s like for me. And you can understand why, now, I choose to laugh, instead of cry. Why I fight so hard instead of giving in.

If you too are fighting and need somebody to talk to, drop me a line. We can talk about The Beast and maybe I can keep you from plucking out your eyelashes.

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Little Princesses. Bringing Disney into my home.

A few years ago I used my awesome editing skills to transform my daughters into Disney Princesses. I have three little girls ten years and younger whose eyes light up, just like mine did, when they see the Disney Princesses on the screen.

It was about four years ago when I began the Little Princesses series and since then my editing has improved dramatically. So I wont show you the early (and horrid) version I did of Ariel, Aurora, Alice, Tiana, Mulan, Belle and Rapunzel. Instead I will be redoing them in better quality.

Before the days when I set up photo shoots with outfits, proper lighting and good old fashioned direction, I basically threw a hat on my oldest daughter, Rowe, and told her to pretend she had a toothpick sword in her hand. (Bless her for not caring about clothes at the time)

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Isn’t she sweet? (Don’t let her fool you, she is actually an evil genius).

So taking that shot, which is not even in proper focus, I was able to make this:

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Little Thumbelina. I have won a few awards for this shot and to this day is stands as one of my favorites.

Using my daughter Benji I was able to pull off a pretty impressive Merida. Benji is a blonde with intense grey eyes. She is silly ALL OF THE TIME, and when she smiles it takes up half her face. Benji never sits still. Benji likes to talk about farts and rub dirt in her hair.  Benji doesn’t do quiet. 

I spent hours and hours curling her hair and picking out the perfect outfit just for her to give me these shots:

 

Bless her precious little dirty face.

Benji is the boy I prayed for but never got. So imagine my surprise when I asked her to be serene (for just one freaking second) and she gave me this face:

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The clouds opened up. The stars aligned. For one precious second my tomboy middle child stopped vibrating with excitement, looked into my lens and spoke with her eyes.

I stared at this photo in disbelief for a full ten seconds, in shock and awe at how PERFECT it was………and then I saw the Hello Kitty tattoo on her neck. DAMMIT!!!! 

It’s ok, it’s fine, it’s workable. I could edit it out. And boy did I spend a butt load of time on this pictures. I labored over the editing process. I’d never turned a blonde haired, grey eyed child into a ginger before. But the results? Breathtaking.

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For me, this old photo, as full of mistakes as it is, is still my pride and joy. From the emerald eyes to the freckles dotting her nose. This is Little Merida.

Want to see Little Pocahontas?

Pocahontas is my favorite Disney princess, so this picture had to be epic. I told Rowe to speak to the tree. She understood. She get’s me. She gets trees too apparently.

Can you just picture Little Pocahontas running through the woods? Me too.

Well that’s all for now folks!

Thank you for taking the time to view a few of my Little Princesses series. There will be more as time allows. Follow my blog if you would like to see more.

Happy editing!!

 

 

 

 

 

How to change eye color in GIMP 2

Changing eye color is one of my favorite things to do when I edit pictures. The eyes are the first thing people look at when they meet you. Eyes draw you in, express emotion, and tell secrets (even if we don’t want them to).

A little tweaking to the eyes in an editing program can dramatically change the feel of it. And with a little work you can make that happen!

 I get asked often how I accomplish such a magical feat. Well fear not! I am here to tell you that you too can create magic. There are several methods, but this one is by far the easiest and the one I use most often. If you follow these instructions you will see how easy is can be.

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STEP 1: (I’m assuming you’ve already found an unknowing eye model and molested their face with your lens) The first thing you’ll need to do it add a new layer. The Layer button is located on the top menu bar between IMAGE and COLOR. Did you find it? Great! You’re a regular Sherlock Holmes.

When you click the layer tab a drop-down menu will appear with several options. Click the first that reads NEW LAYER. An annoying pop-up will magically appear on your screen. It’s not a demon. Just make sure the TRANSPARENCY bobble is pushed and click OK.

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Still with me? Good!

STEP 2:  This step is so fun it makes me pee a little. Time to pick a color! I chose purple (Blame is on a lifelong obsession with Barney the Dinosaur).

Next you’re gonna find the little paintbrush icon that looks like this:

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And you’re gonna go ahead and Bob Ross that son of a bitch. (“Let’s go ahead and add a happy little tree”) Ok Mr. Ross, let’s calm down now. We’re just painting a circular glob today.

Like so:

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Not so pretty right? Well don’t give up on your painting career just yet. It’s supposed to look like shit right now. Trust the professional ne?

STEP 3: Drag your mouse over to the right where you are gonna click on that little arrow next to MODE. This will open yet another drop-down menu of fun options for your little painting.

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Grab a twinkie and play around with these options for a bit. Each mode changes the color blob you lovingly drew. OVERLAY is a favorite of mine for eyes if I want a natural look. GRAIN MERGE I use for portraits. And MULTIPLY is good for a funky, not-so-real, effect.

When you have settled on one, head on over to step 4.

STEP 4: (Hi, nice to see you again) This is optional, but if you feel like the look is maybe too much, head on back over to that MODE button and play around with the OPACITY  (Which is right above it). You can lower the percentage, or leave it if you swing that way, and it will lower the effect of your beautiful paint glob.

STEP 5: Once you are happy with your eyeball (Maybe ready to settle down, start a family, get a dog), you’re gonna have to seal the deal. As in, merge that bitch down! Right click on the layer and yet another drop down menu will appear.

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Click on MERGE DOWN. You may now kiss the bride.

Here is what mine looks like, all said and done:

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Here is a list for those of you with the memory span of a goldfish with ADD.

  • New layer
  • Pick a color and paint the eye
  • Choose a mode
  • Play with opacity
  • Merge down aka seal the deal aka marry that bitch! (Be smart, choose a dog over a cat)

So how did your eye turn out? Feel free to ask any questions, and please send me your finished product! Happy Editing!

 

Finding Photography Inspiration. And Sarah Mclachlan.

You know those little strings connected to your heart? Not veins. Not capillaries either. More like shoelaces. Shoelaces are thick, strong and can be tied and untied several times. They can be stained and frayed at the edges, and yet, you will still try to shove them through the hole every time.

Heartstrings are similar in hardiness to shoelaces. They too can be tied in knots sometimes. They too can become frayed on the edges. My point is that we all have them. Those frayed little bastards that give a little tug on our hearts whenever we see Grandma coughing a little too hard. Or a dead cat on the side of the road . Or those damn Sarah Mclachlan neglected animal commercials. (In the aaaarms of the angellllls………God Damnit NO!!) 

But did you know that you can use heartstrings to pull you in the right direction? Iv’e used this method several times to lead me to uncomfortable places in my weird brain. When that little string gives a tug, I follow it.  And I have been led to some wonderful inspiration for photos.

I believe that beauty can be found in unlikely places, like gutters, death and awkward moments. My heartstrings have led me there. (I can often be found on the side of the road photographing road kill. WHY, you say? Because the animal is as beautiful in death as it was in life. And splattered guts are part of the circle of life! *Holds Simba*)

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I think it’s safe to say that most human’s concept of beauty is universal; a Beach at sunset, a forest covered in dew, a busty blonde woman (Though don’t ask me why, I find brunettes to be much prettier). But what can be said of the things that are not beautiful, yet tug at the very thing that moves us?

So yes, A beach at sunset is pleasing to look at. But so is a homeless man’s unkempt toenails. Why? Because one of these pleases our eyes, while the other rocks our core. The other moves you to a place that you need to be. Inspired.

For what is photography without inspiration? (cough cough *Instagram* cough.) I kid I kid!

I find inspiration hard to come by these days. We as photographers are having a harder time then ever being moved by art and in turn moving others with ours. The world is flooded with Iphone Bob and his black and white filter, and Selfie Sarah who has more followers than she knows what to do with. How about Cleavage Carol and her whole album of “Beach at sunset” Photos (taken at an angle to better show off her massive tatas)

I have my places I go often to find inspiration. Those few songs that still lead me to deep places, and music videos that draw out the part of me left unscathed by society. But it’s my heart shoelaces that lead me to be most inspired. Even when I’m uncomfortable going to those places.

I lived in secret with Anxiety for years before my heart shoelaces tugged at me. They encouraged me to embrace the ugly, hated part of myself, and to photograph it. It was embarrassing and uncomfortable.

But I followed the tugs, handcuffed myself to a fan and created the creature of my nightmares. My damaged brain incarnate. It was not easy for me but the outcome was more beautiful than I could have imagined.

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I make a decent amount of money photographing beautiful things. But finding beauty in the ugly is where my happiness lies.  My work is often kicked off of websites, misunderstood and left with nasty comments from followers. But that’s ok. Those are merely the people who ignore their heartstrings, turn away at the sight of a homeless man’s unkempt toenails and don’t spay or neuter their pets.

Step into my weird brain for a minute (Try not to trip on my insecurities) and let’s imagine a world where everyone can tap into their heart and find beauty in the ugly, the unusual. I bet it would be a lot more interesting in that world.

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Try it sometime. Don’t turn away at the uncomfortable, whether it be inside you or in front of you, and follow the tugs from your own frayed heart shoelaces. Dare to be inspired by something different! And by all means please send it to me so I can clap you on the back and say “Welcome to a more interesting world, my friend. Let’s go photograph some road kill”

The Four Elements. And seeing my vision.

I went through a dry spell a few weeks back. I woke every morning uninspired, went about my day void of any creative thoughts, and slept without dreaming. It seemed the daily grind got the better of me.

Then one magical day, on my way to work, a song inspired me (as good Music is usually wont to do) and an idea sparked in my weird brain!

I like to create sets or series’s of photos. It’s more fun and challenges the old noggin. And Lordy did I need a challenge!

The four elements seemed challenging enough. Earth, Fire, Air and Water. My idea was not to photograph these elements but to personify them. To give them a face, a personality, and bring to life the four things we are constantly surrounded by, yet take for granted.

I called one of my go-to models, Patty. She is always up for a fun photo shoot and, as a seamstress, has loads of props and outfits. Sure as shit, she showed up at my door thirty minutes later with various plant life and a box of make up. Love her.

There are few people in my life who can understand my vision. Few people who can see passed the uncut, raw, unedited photo and trust at what it will become when I am done.

Can you be naked from the waist up? Great! Now stand on one leg. Awesome! Hold this beach ball, it represents a ball of energy. Perfect! Now hold still. Make angry eyes. Angry eyes! Angrier!”

I can imagine how difficult I must be to work with. But if you trust in my vision the outcome will be worth it.

On the day that I was inspired I asked Patty to hold a handful of soil and pretend that she was magically growing a flower with her awesome earth powers.

I searched through my repertoire and found this photo of a flower I took years ago:

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And I shopped it onto the soil in her magical hands. It came out like this:

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We often use my closet doors to pose in front of because: 1) They are white. So adding a background is a lot easier. 2) My bedroom has Bomb.com natural lighting (If you don’t know about my hatred of fake lighting please read my post titled “What I’m rockin’. A Photographer’s toolbox”) 3) Because I am a cheap ass and I don’t want to pay for a seamless.

Next I added several texture layers (like almost 20) of plant life, leaves, green, sparkles, blah blah blah, technical jargon, blah blah etc etc. Blah.

The end result left me astounded. I usually have that moment, when all is said and done, when I sit back and think “Wow. I made that. Me! I am awesome!” FISTPUMP!! 

I effectively personified the Element EARTH:

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Beautiful isn’t she? I amuse myself with thoughts of her frolicking around in a barren field, growing brightly colored flowers and singing songs that sound like the rustling of leaves. But I digress.

I used myself for Fire. I am very familiar with editing my own face and at the moment I sport a red mohawk. It just made sense.

I started with this gem (In front of my closet. Shocking I know):

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I used one of my umbrella lights for this shot to bring some light to my face because obviously there is a flame in my palm. DER! (p.s. I have huge eyeballs. That is all)

I used GIMP to remove the myriad of scars on my face (No Fire Goddess is walking around sporting stitch scars from a car accident from when she was four years old. Just sayin’). The piercing holes and tattoos were the next to go, and they were a doozy! I still have trouble effectively removing tattoos. You’ll notice the faint remnants of my head tattoo in the finished product. But I’m ok with that. Who’s to say that this sexy Fire Goddess isn’t a Michael Jackson fan. You don’t know her life!

I spent a huge portion of the day creating my own layers, which included blowing cigarette smoke (don’t judge me!) in front of a black background, and starting a small fire in the fireplace (Wouldn’t you know it was 100 plus degrees that day. What I do for Art!).

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I used some free fire layers that I pulled offline and for the background used pictures of stormy clouds I had taken years ago. They looked like smoke to me so….

After several hours, and a few smoke breaks (You judging again?) I sat back and had my moment. “Me. Awesome”  Fistpump. You get the point.

Fire:

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Fire and Earth totally hang out. They have drinks and gossip about Air and Water.

Speaking of the missing two elements…guess what? They aren’t done yet! They haven’t even been photographed. Water and Air are happily living in my weird brain, growing, shaping and evolving. They are still in the early stages of life. Namely planning, planning and more planning. But fear not! They will have their very own blog post when I am done with them. Until then you can enjoy these two sexy Elements while I go have a smoke. I AM the Fire Goddess after all. (How’s that judging going?)

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry in non-motion. Photography and emotions. 

A long time ago, way back when I was loaded down with pimples and insecurities, I considered myself a poet. I wrote some words with feeling and others that made little to no sense at all.

Time and my weird brain have kept me from writing down my feelings. It seemed I just couldn’t put into words the way my emotions sprouted legs, jumped around and dug deep wells of sadness in my life.

With the loss of expression through writing I experienced also the loss of a tiny part of myself. The part that needs to Stretch. What can I say? I have an artist’s heart.

When I first began to edit pictures I started with what my abilities were capable of. I turned my face into a tiger. Why? Because it was easy and I didn’t know how to do anything else. But what did it mean?! Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It was void of all creativity and emotion. It was my face turned into a tiger…my face….tiger. Lame.

But with the growth of knowledge in photo editing I began to see a new outlet for creativity and expression. I asked myself if it was possible for me to evoke emotion, to awaken a feeling when there was only one sense to experience it. No music to hear it, no smell to enhance it, no possible way to reach out and touch it. Only eyes to see it (with all its mistakes and imperfections) Was it possible? Once I was able to grasp the ability, yes, it was possible. My mind went wild with the possibilities.

I began to look at emotion in a new way. If feelings were a tangible thing, what would they look like? My editing took a new turn in that moment. And my pictures started to look a little like this:

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Title: “But he loves me”

I made this to bring to light the horrible truth about domestic violence.
And this:

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Title- “Vanity”

I made this because I have three daughters. And I know first hand how the media makes women feel like they aren’t good enough. Pretty enough. Skinny enough. I want more than that for my girls.

I had a new goal. To inspire with my work. To make one think deeper. To force feelings to bubble to the surface, whether they be love, anger or inspiration.

I challenge all to take a deeper look into your own weird brain and see what is in there. Poke around for a bit. You might find something hidden in there. Something amazing!