Barbidoesmiami

How to Stay Sane in the City of No Shame


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I Don’t Want To Go Outside

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I don’t want to go outside. It’s too hot, ten minutes is the max before sweat starts pouring down my back and I feel faint. But it’s not that, the heat is superficial compared to the chaos around me. Our small suburban neighborhood, one of the few left on the beach that is still of mid-century proportions – small lots, small houses, parents pushing baby prams, pulling dogs, unsupervised toddlers riding bikes down the middle of the street, self-appointed seniors in safety vests waving at cars on short-cuts to slow down.

But they are all inside too. Post Irma. Post evacuation.

The only ones out are the county cleanup crews and Jewish families on their way to temple, walking to the other side of Surfside, across from Saks at Bal Harbour Shops. It’s New Year, Rosh Hashanah. They’re all dressed up in their best togs and move with determination, as if nothing can stop them. Nothing has changed. As if they are not picking a path through brown mounds of devastated nature that have been dragged out of each and every yard, into the street to be collected by whom? To be taken where? Is there enough to make us a new planet? I wonder. I fantasize.

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Inside, at my computer, I wage war with my landlord and his Baby Huey property manager. They say that disasters bring out the best in people, adversity brings them together. Not so with our landlord, all the way in Hawaii, acting like we’re annoying guests who overstayed their welcome and now have the audacity to ask for things like boarding up the house — why should he protect our possessions? How about trying to protect your 2.5 million property? I ask, but since the house did not blow away, this seems like a rhetorical question to him. Hindsight, as always, being the argument of the obtuse.

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I drained the pool. I sucked the hose like I was stealing gasoline, and funneled the green, slimy water into the lake behind the house. This worked until the level of the pool was lower than that of the high-tide bay. Science I thought, wishing it were a scam and I could blame the Chinese. The remaining water sits about a foot deep, a putrid breeding ground for mosquitos. When I ask what the owner wants to do about this and the 60ft tall palm tree that is top heavy with coconuts and leaning dangerously over the fence, Baby Huey writes me e-mails the likes of Trump Tweets:

“… don’t create extra work and problems [for us].”

 Seriously?!

The girls, back at school, after the Irma-Cat5-coming-right-at-you and YOU WILL DIE news flashes, the closures, evacuations, cancelled flights, power outages, are asked by their teachers “did you have a nice vacation?” I guess some of them follow their students on social media and our escape to Milford looked too idyllic by the Miami-Dade criteria of hurricane evacuation anguish.

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Oh Miami. It’s not even October and you’ve already worn me out. I count the days to June, when I can leave and not come back. Never live through another hurricane. Never again be told that I’m a bummer when I bring up climate change during a dinner party while water floods the streets below us.

Never again feel like a stranger, a misfit in a place that is alien to me in its upside-down culture of Whatever. Where gravitas and context and consequence are the lexicon of Debbie Downer and her tribe of party poopers. Where everything I try to do feels like grasping at a hologram as people shake their heads and say: “What did you expect? This is Miami! Why don’t you just let it go. Life’s a beach, just have fun.”

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But the sand on the beach burns the soles of my feet. The ocean water is strangely warm and filled with hurricane debris and plastic – bags, cups, straws, lighters, bottles – and surfers are coming down with nasty infections. Two more hurricanes passed by Miami Beach, a few hundred miles out in the Atlantic. Barbuda, Dominica, St.Maarten/Martin, Tortola, St.John, Vieques, Puerto Rica, Cuba, the Keys and Houston lie destroyed. People are homeless. Cultures gone…

I don’t want to go outside.

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Beyond Miami Beach…

As Advised by Great White Dog

I find myself annoyed. Am I annoyed with Miami? After eight years of living here?

Much has happened in that time. We lived here during Obama’s his entire presidency. When we arrived there were many unspoken agreements that had shaped the local culture over the twenty preceding years, from the wild-west eighties until the crash of 2009. “As long as we are having fun” was one of them. Being serious was boring. I was called a Debbie Downer at a dinner party, when I talked about water in the streets as a result of climate change (that BTW, had made every guest late for the party). Don’t get me wrong, I like having fun, but my idea of fun is  different from dressing in skimpy but expensive designer clothes, drinking outrageous cocktails, clamoring around celebs and music so intense that the only possible interaction is taking selfies with your “friends” (while hoping for one with that star).

Yes guilty, my initial blogs were all about those parties. As an outlet for my culture shock. And, after years of working in NYC and living in Milford, PA with small children, these parties were so alien, so different and took me so far outside myself, that it felt like something I needed, in the way that getting really drunk sometimes feels like a healthy dose of vitamin C. It wore off fast, the so-called glamorous lifestyle, one that I had always walked away from, in Amsterdam, Paris, London and New York. It just isn’t me. I like to drive myself hard and if I don’t accomplish stuff I set out to do, I get depressed. I do not dream of retiring, shopping and sitting by the pool for the rest of my life. I need to be heard and seen and not for gossip and what I wear. So when the party dust settled I got to work on being relevant in Miami, no matter what it took.

It took a lot… I gave it my best… I feel depleted… I can’t say I conquered and I’m kind of over trying (… plus I’m getting shit done in other parts of the world).

And yes, I realize it’s not all about me and I’m not alone. Three months into 2017 and this worn-out feeling is a national depression. Up and down the East and West Coast we aspired to be part of a wave of hope that Obama brought with him. One that I saw as a way to change and save Miami, with talks of rising sea-levels, an ocean full of plastic, recycling and up-cycling, the right for all kids to an inspired public education such as DASH, affordable housing instead of 20% occupancy in condos and private homes worth billions on Miami Beach, air-conditioned year-around.

But if it felt like I was swimming against the stream over the past eight years,  I am now swimming into a Tsunami. Will the already lavish parties get even bigger and crazier as the 1% feels empowered, emboldened in their greed and need to flaunt it, with Miami Beach as the perfect stage for competitive one-percenting? Living less than a mile from Sunny Isles, with its six Trump Towers, and the highest concentration of Russian investments in recent years, Russia’s unabashed imperialism is palpable. And after the cuts to environmental protection, the NEA, healthcare, public transportation, education, housing and human and women’s rights, what will happen to the other group, the full-time residents and working class whose statistics show that Miami’s income disparity is one of the largest in the country?

Yet it is all about me. Also. About what I can give and do and how I will spend the next twenty years of my life optimizing who I am, what I have learned and how I can reflect this back on generations to come. In another year the twins will leave for college. I will be free from the school calendar, driving and feeding and other hands-on mothering. I look at them, and how they act and feel, and I remember being seventeen and practically jumping out of my own skin with impatience, anger even at being told what to do by teachers, parents, the system. The nervous restlessness that I now recognize for what it is in my girls – their booster engines filled with ambition for their future and need for autonomy, propelling them forward. As I see this in my daughters I recognize it in myself, four decades older than they are, but the impulse is the same, I am getting ready for another shift.

So I am annoyed at Miami. Or I am just annoyed. I am practically jumping out of my skin with irritation at the status quo, and like a very old teenager I’m going to use this urge to amp it up some and get more shit done…

(But maybe not in Miami).

 

Links to projects elsewhere:

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WOMAN – OCTOBER – 2016

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I am different this month. And if I am different then millions of women are different this month. I am one of many and I am never alone. I am woman and I am different this month.

I am different because two weeks ago the Milford Readers and Writers festival happened. It happened in the town I love and I was one of the organizers. I am different because I listened to Gloria Steinem, up on the stage and in front of the logo I had designed. I am different because my long-in-the-works book, Stupid Model, was published and I sold fifty copies over three days. I am different because I was doing it with all with my friends. I am different because for those few days I felt centered and within myself.

I read a passage from my book to a room full of women and they laughed and applauded. They heard me and we connected. This changed me. Then it was over, my old and new friends went home, I tidied up the house and I too went home, leaving my home behind.

I am different now from who I was then. And I am different from who I was in September.

Together with millions of others I am restless. I am anxious. I am provoked. I am angry and I want the world to be different.

Is it true that change brings up everything unlike itself?

Together with an entire generation (or two) of women I have been forced to remember things that I had forgotten. Or had marginalized. Things that became threads woven into the fabric that made me into who I am today. Those small things that grab us and make us a little less proud. A little less confident. A little less…

I always fought when they happened. After being a scared, weepy child I stood up for myself when I walked away from my youth at age seventeen. To Paris where I fought the men who groped me on the Metro, followed me in the street clucking and whistling, took me to dinner stroking my thigh under the table while talking business with colleagues above the white linen, silver, china and crystal. I fought the photographers who demeaned me over and over and, on my last day, I physically attacked the ultimate misogynist, a famous couturier who had me thrown out of Paris.

Illustration from Stupid Model in Paris and Down Under

from Stupid Model in Paris and Down Under

Perhaps I fought because my mother fought. Fought her own demons. From the German soldiers who had controlled her town and her family when she was a teenager, the ghost of my father who drove his car into a tree and left her alone with me, a two-year-old babe, to my stepfather who was controlling and abusive and after fifteen years absconded with one of her younger friends.

I fought because those were the days that we “fought back”. A clinched fist was our symbol. Don’t fuck with us. But who were we kidding? When you could not be anywhere alone without at least one man grabbing you wherever he liked, metaphorically and physically.

I fought my way to success. I was ambitious they said, like a dirty word, dirtier than pussy and grab. Subconsciously, I learned to use sexism in a game of exchange that couldn’t be won. Like fake promises it never delivered that moment of pure achievement, because in the shadows there was always a baritone boasting – you’d be nothing if it wasn’t for me, and I can undo you.

October 2016. Women. What the fuck?

Did we really think it would come easy?

Just as it seems within reach we have to conquer our past and slay our ultimate dragon and not just metaphorically. He’s real and he looms, lies, interrupts, gropes, intimidates, demeans and threatens. Bitch is only one letter away from Witch, the she-devil, burn her at the stake, whipped into a frenzy the fearful-of-change masses promise to end her, cheering…

Change brings up everything unlike itself.

(I wonder if my daughters look at my rage the same way I look at my husband when he loses his shit in the car at the guy who just cut him off.)

It may not seem like it to the next generation, and it may not feel like it to us right now, but we have come a long way. And when Hillary is president our daughters will soon take it for granted and move on. That’s what change does: it sets the stage for more change, and they have plenty to do.

And we will have some laurels to rest on. Hopefully we can finally forget what we are feeling now, in October 2016, the fear that he can undo us. But remembering and standing together and visualizing holding hands with all women everywhere, yes, also the ones who wear T-shirts that say He Can Grab This >, we will undo him and finally allow ourselves to feel that sense of pure achievement.

LINK to STUPID MODEL:

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Waiting for Obama

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EARTH DAY IN THE EVERGLADES

“The miracle of light pours over the green and brown expanse of saw grass and of water, shining and slowly moving, the grass and water that is the meaning and the central fact of the Everglades. It is a river of grass.” – Marjorie Stoneman Douglas

President Obama spent Earth Day in the Florida Everglades, flying in the face of global warming denier Governor Rick Scott (R) and his mandate that bans the word “climate change” from the Tallahassee government dictionary.

After two hours of waiting in the heat, humidity, bugged by flies and the stench of porta-potties, the program announcer must’ve been as dopey as I was and his nonchalant introduction came after Obama had already stepped onto the freshly-cut grass. Mentally unprepared for the skinny man who casually crossed the lawn as if he was on his way to a neighbor’s picnic, I was almost disappointed, but as soon as he got behind the Presidential insignia Obama appeared to expand into his presidential stature and gave a strong speech that was full of sound bytes designed to create ripples (but not storms) in tea party cups. When the president said: “climate change can no longer be denied. It can’t be edited out. It can’t be omitted from the conversation,” it was clear who he was targeting, and he continued to speak specifically to Florida: “because in places like this, folks don’t have time, we don’t have time — you do not have time to deny the effects of climate change. Folks are already busy dealing with it. And nowhere is it going to have a bigger impact than here in south Florida. No place else.”

Day flight on Air Force One tomorrow with the President. We’re going to # ActOnClimate.” He was instantly torn apart by retweets that called his plans “more like a way to pollute in style.” But what could he do? Nye was Obama’s personal scientist and warm-up act, providing that selfie-with-star moment for the hardworking officials, to which Nye submitted himself with all the blasé enthusiasm of a modern-day celebrity.  read the rest of the article here

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Biebered

Everything happens in Miami. Just as I’m not looking. Like last night Justin Bieber drag raced below my bedroom window (relatively speaking on the scale and probability of the entire universe, so don’t start outing me with comments that it was several blocks south).

He was nabbed by the Miami Beach police and resisted arrest. They say. But thats what they always say. If you’re not falling into their arms yodeling that you’re sorry, they write on your arrest form that you “resisted arrest.” Hey Bieber was lucky that they didn’t tase him with their favorite gotcha toy ( used on young males of any color, tourists included).

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This happened at 4.13 am (note the 13 and not 10 or 15, that’s one sober cop) and by the time America brushed its teeth and poured its milk into its cereal a mega media story had been launched.

Baby Bieber’s mugshot was on every TV channel, every tweet, FB post looking like someone had told him it was a shoot for Teen.com, or better still a casting call for a cute new lesbian on Orange is the New Black. Smile! And hysterical news casters (inc. the likes of Anderson Cooper) came in their panties analyzing what could possibly have led to the downfall of the young role model to millions. Psychiatrists, lawyers, political analysts and weeping fans were interviewed and their conclusion was, with much head shaking: Bieber suffered from “Impostor Syndrome” and it was merely a cry for help! And where were the Bieber parents? Really, and how could they let this happen?

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Meanwhile Bieber sat in his cell (surrounded by Miami clubbers arrested at LIV for trying to enter the VIP zone) and wondered where his friend God was. After all the credit he’d given to God for his success, tagging him in every tweet, had God really forsaken him in his hour of need? His much needed need to act his age and gender and be invisible while racing a rented Lamborghini on Miami Beach, while just a tiny teensy bit intoxicated?

God? God!

I bet God didn’t even notice. I mean as soon as God focusses his attention on Miami Beach, like sits on a cloud somewhere over South Florida, he sees nothing but yellow (or red) Lamborghinis driving @ 60mph. And when he bothers to zoom in (think Google Earth or Godle Earth),  he sees young testosterone pumped up with performance enhancers like alcohol, codeine and pot (he calls it marijuana, and planted it as an afterthought late on day six, and only for medicinal value) and too much time and money, everywhere.  Like Everywhere. Especially at 4.13 am.

So I imagine God shrugged, made a mental note to send the Devil a text later, asking him to go easy on the young Bieb, and turned his attention back to Chris Christie.

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Meanwhile, we, those who live in Miami Beach, smile and shrug the shrug of knowledge. Like man eats man’s face off? Like tasing a teen artist to death for tagging graffiti? Like a celebrity arrested for acting out? Of course! What do you expect? This is Miami!

And when I drove home last night, yes along Pinetree Drive enjoying its 15 minutes of fame (paparazzi are still hanging out – you know, for when time goes backwards and they’re the first on the scene), I looked over at the trophy wife in a black SUV right next on me. As per habit we stepped on it, raced for the orange light at 41st Street, speedometers hitting the 56mph mark, and made it, perfectly timed, just through red.

What?

What do you expect? This is Miami!

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Stupid Model in Paris is now available on Amazon :

http://www.amazon.com/STUPID-MODEL-Paris-Barbara-Vries-ebook/dp/B00HZ1GH8Q/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1390686886&sr=1-1&keywords=stupid+model+in+paris

 


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Miami Beach Stands its Ground

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This week Florida is the new Texas. The state Americans love to hate. But what does that make Miami?

Two pieces of Miami Beach news came across my ticker this morning. First the announcement that architect Rem Koolhaas has won the competition for the redesign of the Miami Beach convention center and the other from the City Commissioner, apologizing for the fact that Miami is indeed becoming part of the Atlantic Ocean.

This from the mayor’s office:

I want to let you know that I am working side by side with City Departments to resolve the serious flooding issues that Miami Beach is experiencing … flooded areas, stalled vehicles, flooding at private residences, flooding in construction areas…  the Public Works Department has been troubleshooting pump station operations, clearing of inlets and outfalls, efficient operation of the stormwater systems including  two vacuum trucks working to address stormwater and sewer backups… a Taskforce will see how we can respond better to these flooding situations. ..Do we need more vacuum trucks? This is the type of question that we need to examine… I believe that working together as a community and a collaborative effort we can be better prepared.  

How heartening that the City pledges to Stand its Ground with a neighborhood-watch task force against rising water levels.

“Get out of our hood or I’ll suck and shoot you right back to where yo came from with the super spout of my shiny big vacuum truck.”

COOL!

Bring it on!

And bring on the new 600 million convention center a mere two blocks from the big blue intruder.

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Did they pick Rem Koolhaas because he’s Dutch? After all the  Dutch have been defying water for centuries, building above ground cities below sea level on 30% of their country. Or did they pick him for his celebrity status, this starchitect of all architects?

It was Miami Beach developer Robert Wennett who introduced  OMA (The name of Koolhaas’ firm) to the Beach Convention Center project.

Wennet, a Miami native, is no stranger to complete make-overs. Local lore has it that he, pudgy and ordinary looking, disappeared from the Miami scene for “several years” only to reappear one Halloween night in the guise of an impeccable Marilyn Monroe and anonymously claimed the first prize at Tui Prakech’s famous bi-annual Halloween party.

Next he gave Lincoln Road a make-over by hiring architects Herzog deMeuron to create the 1111 plaza, stores and parking garage that give Lincoln Road renewed urban gravitas. Wennet himself perches in his uber nest atop the garage and swoops down into the plaza with all the flamboyant superiority of a Batman nemesis.

While Wennet may be in it for the prize, Koolhaas is never accused of anything other than pragmatic idealism. During a recent presentation at the Colony Theater he left his Miami audience wondering if he even wanted the job. He did not pitch, he did not try to endear himself, he did not flatter, he simply stated the fact that Miami Beach is an “interesting hybrid” as a beach resort and real city. When questioned he was critical of American culture, and showed little faith whether the IQ of the local population could match his proposed plan.

However…

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“Miami, as we know it today, is doomed,” says Harold Wanless, the chairman of the department of geological sciences at the University of Miami. “It’s not a question of if. It’s a question of when.”

Miami’s bid to separate itself from mother state Florida’s identity as the bigot, racist, dumb motherfucker state, boycotted by Stevie Wonder and liberal tourists, and reinvent itself as the cutting edge, Euro-style metropolis of art and design while slowly disappearing into the Atlantic Ocean certainly makes an “interesting hybrid.”

The best piece of advice for the identity challenged city of Miami and the much maligned state of Florida, where thinking (if at all) evolves from the gift of hindsight, is found in OMA’s mandate itself:

“We think before we do…”

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Steve Jobs, TED and thinking different…

Beach plastic necklace. Crosses made from crate embellished with seed pearls

Today the ether is atwitter with quotes from Steve Jobs to “think different”.

Everyone is encouraging everyone to think different.

(A paradox I think)

The TED movement is based on this Steve concept, in fact TED has branded thinking different with “Ideas Worth Sharing” and encourages people from all over to share their ideas, their ways of different thinking, around the globe.

Many people are asking about my TED talk, “How did you get in? How did you do it?”

To be honest it had not occurred to me until I was invited by TED to share my recent work at their next event in Miami.

The evolution of my relationship to what I find on the beach and what I do with it has been organic and compared to the speed of my previous life on 7th Avenue where a new collection was due every six weeks, it was slow.

Very slow.

Slow is good. Slow gave me more time to think . But, because the thoughts happened over an extended period of time, they no longer feel different. They have become part of who I am.

So when I talk about my passion for beach plastic it does not feel like I think different.

Different may well be in the eye of the beholder and it’s in constant flux.

For instance.

Sixty years ago plastic was a “different” material. It was introduced as the material that would give nature a break because we were depleting wood, bone, ivory etc. Now there is not a moment in our life when we do not interact with it. The entire planet is awash with plastic. Oceans carry plastic particles around like cells in a bloodstream. Plastic has been found in tens of thousands of living species, including us. Single use plastic is no longer giving nature a break, it is suffocating life.

In the past I put my creative work out there, but not the thought behind it. I have always been more interested in the outcome rather than the explanation of the creative process and believe that authenticity resonates on its rightful frequency.  But because my work now has an element of activism I succumbed.

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I’d hate to preach. I am not here to make any individual feel guilty. I can inspire but I cannot tell you what to do.

(Corporations, hell yes, I’ll make them  guilty all day long, as well as government and policy makers).

But as individuals we have free will. We are in charge of our own destiny. We can inform ourselves and choose to act. We can decide to  bring our own bags to the supermarket instead of using 20 plastic bags instead. We  can recycle, reuse, repurpose and refuse. We have the choice to take responsibility.

in between the lines

My personal transformation started  in Eleuthera 8 years ago.

On my first beach walk  I noticed,  in between the lines in the sand,  bright flecks of color. My initial thought was how pretty but then I realized these specks of plastic were  not supposed to be there.

By the end of that first walk I had encountered everything that mankind had ever made in plastic.

Crates, chairs, brushes, lids, containers, barrettes, flip flops and sneaker and endless lengths of nylon rope.

Even on this remote “pristine” beach I realized that we live in a man made world.

Being a designer I look at almost everything as shape, color, texture and inspiration and what I saw that day I’d never seen before.

The beach plastic had been tumbled in sand, salt and coral. and was bleached by the sun. It had been in nature for so long that it had taken on a natural patina. Some pieces looked like stone, like little colored gems.

I started picking them up.

My love hate relationship with plastic started in that moment .

Back  home I tried to find out more.

I learned that we each consume roughly 300 pounds of plastic a year of which a mere 7% is recycled and 8 million pieces of plastic find their way into the ocean every day.

What could I do?

I had an ever increasing “collection” of beach plastic in my studio and I started making earrings.

Eventually I had an awakening to the possibilities of this material that was never really owned but had been thrown to the mythical place called away.

To make jewelry was a transformation, not just for me, but also for the material.

Think of a water-bottle top. Does anyone ever feel that they own a plastic bottle top? It just keeps the liquid inside the bottle, right? Which you don’t feel you own either. Does the manufacturer of your water feel he owns that bottle?

Nobody owns single-use plastic.

I like finding weathered bottle tops. They make great earrings, and I love selling single use plastic, beach plastic, into ownership.

If plastic is made to last forever then maybe, like diamonds, it can be loved forever.

I got this comment yesterday:

“Keep cleaning up the beaches lady.. but what are you gonna do with all those balloons with the plastic string ties and can you make something with all the garbage those people in Miami leave on the beaches while you’re at it???”

He does NOT think different!

I am not cleaning up the beaches for him or anyone. I do it for me. Creating beauty with beach plastic makes me happy and by getting your attention I implicate you in the tragedy of our single-use throw-away culture.

I hope I make you think.

Not just different.

Different is fleeting.

But think.

All the time

About everything.

website:

http://www.plasticisforever.net/