Validations from Lin-Manuel Miranda

3 Dec


The other night a friend and I were texting long after we both should have been asleep. This is not a sign of good things. This is a sign of unhappiness, shared unhappiness even if the unhappiness has nothing to do with the other person.

As we ended our conversation and she said she should get some sleep, I wanted to sign off with something supportive. Something profound. An “I love you, you’re doing great,” but better, you know?

I realized I wanted to sign off like Lin-Manuel.

Lin-Manuel Miranda sends out morning and evening validations on his Twitter. If he weren’t who he was, our Shakespeare, a man who reads a sonnet at the Tonys, then we would roll our eyes. But he is who he is. He is powerful with his words and his words have power.

Today I’d like to share some of that power with you.

I’d also like to pass on the little I know, which goes something like this: More grace, for yourself and for others. Less Twitter. If things are falling apart after midnight, go to bed.

And now for Lin-Manuel.

For the morning:

Good morning. Your body sets your internal temperature. See if you can set your internal temperment, even if it’s cold out.

Good morning, you magnificent thing, you. Give Monday a good kick in the pants.

Good morning! Recess today. Chase your happy.

Good morning. I’m tired. You tired? At your own pace, vamos.

Good morning. Take a breath. Then another. Repeat. Move at your pace. You got this.

Good morning. Yes, this blanket is warm and this bed is comfy. It’ll be waiting for you. Let’s go!


For the evening:

Good night. One step at a time. Your pace. Your unforgettable stride.

Good night, you. Make new mistakes. Dream new things, repeat!

Good evening. Your body sets your internal temperature. Now check the thermostat on your internal temperature. Have a great night.

Good night. There’s your blanket fort, waiting as ever. Sweet dreams!

Good night, stunner. You’re just getting started. Your age doesn’t matter. The stars are out, the night warm, You’re just getting started.

Good night. Take a breath. Then another. Repeat. Shake off the day. Sweet dreams.

Good night, you magnificent thing, you. Monday is thoroughly impressed with you: ya came out swinging. Rest up for Tuesday.

Good night. I’m tired! You tired! A dormer, vamos.

Gnight! Stretch!

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A State of the Sickness

30 Nov


For three days it was my mom, my sister and me, on the couches in the living room talking about personal things a little too personally.

Let’s have a state of the sickness, my mother would say and we would go around sharing our latest symptoms and what the internet had told us. You see, we had independently researched our illness online and come up with independent conclusions. None of them matched.

It was a strange bonding experience. My mom realized she loves Hallmark Christmas movies which is weird that it took this long because in the words of Rob, she is a Hallmark Christmas movie.

Jessica tried KUTWK for the first time.

I got emotional when Sabrina the Teenage Witch delivered one of those great nuggets of wisdom as Sabrina was forced to fight to prove her love for Harvey or risk life as a frog. When asked why Zelda would allow Sabrina to risk her future for this task Zelda said, “It was never a risk. It’s always true love at 16.

It’s always true love at 16.

This blog is one of my proudest accomplishments in the past few years, probably of this past life as Jillian Lorraine Denning. I’m proud I’ve kept it up. I’m proud of things I’ve written. I’m proud of my growth.

I have the nicest, most supportive blog readers. A friend of mine commented on that. She said, “Do you know this person?” about some comment or another. “No,” I said. “She’s great though, isn’t she?”

I love whenever I get a thoughtful comment. Like this one. It made me laugh because it’s so accurate.

I love whenever I get an email from someone and my words meant something to them. I’ve had people reach out when I don’t write in a while making sure I’m OK. I’ve been invited to coffee dates in various cities around the country. Real people who appreciate my words and I appreciate their words, and somehow, some way, we are helping each other through life a bit. That’s the dream.

I remind myself. I am living the dream!

Would I want that other dream? The one where mean people on the internet dissect everything I wear and say and do? Where I force sponsored items into half-hearted posts so mean people on the internet could dissect everything I wear and say and do?

I grind my teeth, remember?

I know my limits.

I’m living the dream.

Lena Dunham wrote this piece about Lil Miquela and I read it on Tuesday morning and really wanted to speak to someone about it. I had so many thoughts–they ventured into Kanye and the blurring of social media and life and What Is Art Now Anyway.

My go-to texters were MIA so I mentioned it on Instagram.

Very quickly thereafter Lil Miquela liked the post!

And then I got some random people commenting asking me how I’m related to Lena and Lil Miquela!

And then I shut the whole thing down!

It was so stressful, my one second of non-internet fame.

I’ve removed the Twitter app from my phone again, by the way.

It’s too overwhelming. I need to find that balance, that once a day news sweep/action balance. I worry so much for this country, this world.


Also Lil Miquela. My guess is she’s this woman’s SIM/Avatar/graphic design/social experiment type thing and honestly the more I look at her the more I’m a bit scared.

I think that was sort of the point.

If there is a point to art, anyway

What Is Art Anyway?

I promised myself I would blog three times this week. Three whole whopping times like a Whopper Jr. with three sides of CrissCut fries and a Coke.

Does this one count?

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Do People Bond Over That?

29 Nov


I got in Friday afternoon around 4:30. Cait was dancing in the doorway waiting for me with a compression hug. “I’m going to pee my pants,” I said.

“Don’t pee your pants!” she said.

We settled onto her couches with cozy blankets. “Rob bought me a mermaid tail blanket for my birthday,” I said. “How is Rob?” she said.

We gabbed and gabbed barely coming up for air. Occasionally one of us got up for another Diet Coke or to go to the bathroom. I changed into pajamas very early.

A couple hours in we moved to the kitchen table with a pile of enchiladas and sour cream, and then it was back to the couches, like a terrible montage showing the passage of time.

We moved to the floor to eat a pizzookie with caramel ice cream. We made a Target run for velvet flare leggings. Finally it was back on the couches and the blankets, TV in the background that we ignored.

After a while our words were slurred and spotty. We were tired and our throats were scratchy.

We should go to bed, we said, over and over.

Eight hours into the conversation we finally did.

It was a testament to friendship and face-to-face interaction. Cait and I have talked since we last saw each other, of course. We’ve shared tough things and real things and trivial things. We know the basics of what’s going on. But nothing can replace in person. Nothing can replace the leaps that happen when you walk through a Target aisle and talk about your evolving style in relation to your evolving personality.

We’re different now.

When we met we bonded over shared sadness and our inability to seem to move on from horrible relationships. We got each other and got that thing, that hopelessness and messed up thing in each other.

Today, if we met, I don’t know that it would even come up. I don’t know that the people and events and things that were Our Whole Lives Our Whole Identities Our Whole Whole when we met even be on the discussion board.

We are healthy now, or healthier, at the very least.

Do people bond over that?

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Here We Go

23 Nov


There was a brief time in London where I thought I was losing my hearing.

I took a day off work to see the doctor, which led me to the dentist, which led me to the thing I already knew–I grind my teeth. The thing I didn’t know was that in particularly stressful situations my teeth grinding could lead to an inflamed jaw, so inflamed it affected my hearing.

I doubled down on my mouth guard. I made some life changes.

My front tooth is fake, did you know that?

I’m sure you didn’t.

My front tooth is fake because I have ground it off in the night, time and time again.

This week, my jaw is so swollen you can hear it crack across a room.

My therapist tells me a lot of people are having physical reactions to this frightening post-election time. Not just emotional reactions or grief reactions, but actual trauma.

I am so lucky. So privileged.

So very fortunate.

I’ve been thinking about mothers lately.

Rob’s mother showed him, not just through words, but actions, exactly how capable women are. He was raised to believe women are inherently equal, that household tasks have no gender, that my dreams–across all areas of life–are the same as his. This has made him the very best boyfriend I can imagine. I am 100% satisfied with gender roles in our relationship, and I am not a person 100% satisfied with almost anything.

Then there’s my mother.

My mother raised me a feminist. I never doubted how smart I was, or what I could do with my talents. She showed me how to critically think, how to keep an open mind, how to live in a world that still does not value women as much as it values men.

Today she is getting her graduate degree in English with an emphasis in 18th Century Feminism. She brings homemade cookies to the college students she teaches.

I’ve been thinking about mothers a lot this week.

It’s true, the Dave Chapelle skit on SNL. I am the privileged white person over here in shock with what just happened. I cannot believe it. I am mourning, grieving, cracking my jaw.

My minority friends and colleagues, people specifically targeted by our President Elect, are all much less shocked than I am. “I always knew how America felt about me,” one of them told me.

My therapist, a minority woman, looked at me and said, “When you’re told a story your whole life it becomes fact, and you can’t argue with someone about their facts.” She is so much calmer than I am.

What can we do then?

What can we do?

I’m not ready to make nice. That’s how my therapist described me.

I’m in the stages of grief, but I keep cycling back to anger. I don’t want to apologize for my anger. Hillary Clinton apologized for not winning the election, another blow to women everywhere. We do not need to apologize.

We do not need to apologize.

Here are some things I’ve done to help me feel better:

- Called my representatives (Here’s where you can find your Senators and Representatives. My favorite comic made some handy calling cards.)

- Bought a subscription to the New York Times

- Given a church lesson on peace

- Written letters to women I love

- Donated blood

- Signed up to volunteer more

- Met with my local political group to discuss the way forward

- Worked on a library display promoting diversity

- Set up monthly deposits to causes I believe in

- Interviewed at a charity I believe in wholeheartedly

- Read books about people with experiences different than mine

- Checked in on friends who are far more vulnerable than I am

- Clung to kindness wherever I’ve found it

- Taken a break from social media (Not long enough)

- Shared my ugliest thoughts and fears, not online, but with a safe group of people

- Written out some of the poison I feel

- Seen my therapist

- Bought a new teapot

- Spent more time with Rob

- Clung to a truth that makes me feel better: Hillary Clinton won more votes this election than any man not named Obama ever has. Including our President Elect.


I’m sharing these not because they are the only things to do, or even the right things to do, but because they’ve helped me a bit. Somewhat. And maybe in sharing it can help you? Maybe you can share what you’re doing and we can help each other?

Someone I know suggested every day you do two things: 1) Sweep the news. (Take deep breaths and brace yourself) 2. Do one action item. Call a representative. Donate to a cause.


Yesterday I was sitting at a red light next to a homeless man. I looked down at my uneaten breakfast of apple sauce in a plastic cup. I rolled down my window. “Excuse me, sir. Would you like some apple sauce?” “Yes, thank you,” he said. We made eye contact. We smiled at each other.

It cost me nothing–literally. That apple sauce was taken from my parents’ pantry. It didn’t even cost me time–I was sitting at a red light. But I felt better all day. It helped me and my mood surely more than the 100 calories helped him.

It was a good reminder that yes, I need to take political action. We all must put pressure on our representatives and we must stand up for what we know is right. But we also need to take small action in our lives. That is where sanity and peace and hope lies.

In apple sauce cups.


It’s going to take a long time to heal from this. Far, far more than four years.

Here we go.

Jaws a’cracking, here we go.

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31 Oct


Rob’s mom sends me a very thoughtful birthday package every year. I consider it one of the great advantages to dating an only child, specifically an only child named Rob. I get a lot of attention.

The package is always themed and wrapped perfectly. Each gift has a purpose and a meaning to it. This year everything was wrapped in a beautiful, pale pink pattern  with flowers and fruit—a masterpiece that I wish was wallpaper in every room of my home.

I immediately set about to take a picture of it, this wrapping paper, and when I was satisfied with my editing job, I posted it online.

My final picture looks only vaguely related to the real thing. Maybe a cousin, where you squint and say, “Oh yeah I can see the resemblance, I guess.”

It’s pretty though, and it goes with my color theme on Instagram.


I’ve been thinking a lot about what we post online and reality. It’s nothing new, I don’t have some groundbreaking information that will change your world or make this blog go viral. But I’ve been thinking about my own life and what’s out there, probably because lately I’ve been sad.

I almost said “sort of sad,” or feeling a “little low.” There are all sorts of euphemisms we say to others, and we say online. Because this blog is public and employers can read it and future employers can read it and you can read it.

I am always a couple shades further from exactly how I feel on this blog. I’m always a bit brightened, the contrast higher, the saturation up. It looks right for my feed, the online version of myself I’ve curated.

The real-life version isn’t quite the same. My real life is the vaguely related cousin.

I haven’t been sad for any particular reason. I don’t want to alarm you. Things aren’t terrible or awful right now. I’ve been a bit lonely, I think. Overwhelmed with the amount I have to get done. Feeling like a failure in the things I want to succeed at most.

Normal life sadness without really a particular point I can put it all on to make it seem better.

See, this tragedy occurred that’s why I’m not so happy.

See, I’m normal.

I am sad and that’s the reality.

I know what to do from here, I’ve been here before.

But I’m sad.

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Graphic Novels You Oughta Know

24 Oct


In this, the Year of our Lord 2016, I, Jillian Denning, got into graphic novels.

We never thought this day would come. We, the collective we, the people who care so deeply about my reading habits. (Me.)

I don’t know why I hadn’t read a graphic novel before this year. I had just kind of dismissed the genre as superhero comics I didn’t care much about and sexual manga storylines I really didn’t care much about.

And guess what? I read some superhero comics and didn’t care for them after all, just as I suspected!

This was, after all, the year of the graphic novel.

I tried every genre.

I read the classics. Sandman. Watchmen. I tried popular ones and standalone novels and series and super heroines and and and.

And I’m here to tell you that I really love graphic novels.

And I think you will too.

And, and, and.

Here’s where you should start. If you have taste like me.

(Which I assume you do, or that you’re related to me if you read this blog.) (Hi mom!)

1. El Deafo by Cece Bell


The first graphic novel I read, recommended by the lovely Bailey. It’s a graphic novel memoir, which turns out is my peanut butter and jelly. Based on her childhood, Cece Bell talks about growing up hearing impaired and what it was like having a phonic ear. Something about graphic novel memoirs really hits home. Being able to draw your feelings adds a level that I really, really like.

2. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast


The ultimate in the graphic novel memoir. Roz Chast draws for the New Yorker and this book was nominated for the National Book Award. I LOVED it and I have so little in common with Roz, who is caring for her aging parents. I am not a middle-aged cartoonist and my parents aren’t hoarders and yet I was HERE. You will be too.

3. Maus by Art Spiegelman


A classic in the graphic novel genre, it tells the story of Art Spiegleman’s father’s experience during the Holocaust. Maybe you read it in school? I hear people read it in school.

4. Here by Richard McGuire


An interesting one because there are practically no words, just pictures of this one room in this one house throughout time. It jumps to the past, future and present and explores how humans remain constant. How we lose things and gain things, fall in love and have our hearts broken and we are all the same, at the end. We are all human.

5. Smile (and Sisters) by Raina Telgemeier


Raina is a complete master of graphic novels and everything I’ve read of hers is flawless. Read Smile, you, you, anyone of all ages. Yes you. It’s the story of her dental work in middle school and you will relate and yes, it’s another graphic novel memoir.

6. Anything by Lucy Knisley

Someone called Lucy the Lena Dunham of comics. Is that because they are similar ages and write about themselves? Probably. I didn’t particularly find their humor or selves all that similar, but I did and do love Lucy.


She writes little travelogues and bits about her life. She loves Harry Potter (and made this incredible graphic SumHarry which I’m getting printed for my wall.) I also have a crush on her husband and their relationship. I liked her Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride best, I think. I just like her, really.

7. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson


A sweet Newbery Honor book (see, graphic novels are all the buzz) about a girl who takes up Roller Derby right when she’s losing her best friend. I hope it’s a series. I hope it’s a movie. I hope you hope this too.

8. Fun Home by Alison Bechel


From the creator of the Bechdel test herself! Now a Tony-nominated Broadway musical! But really, Fun Home is kind of THE book in the graphic novel memoir genre. She’s cited by my dear Lucy Knisley many times. It wasn’t my favorite I read, but it deserves a place here, because what if it’s your favorite and I deprived you of that?

9. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang


A National Book Award finalist and favorite on YA lists, American Born Chinese tells three interlacing stories about what it’s like to be a Chinese American. There’s this twist that made me go whoa and probably will make you go whoa whoa too.


Also comics!

Let’s talk about comics. No exclamation.

The difference between graphic novels and comics is that comics are serialized and come out regularly. Sometimes they are then combined into graphic novels you can pick up. But Superman? That’s a comic. A graphic novel memoir? That’s a…graphic novel.

Anyway. I am a person now who follows two comics. I read the editions and wonder what will happen and when I can get the next one. I am invested in characters and plotlines and part of me worries. Like what if this goes on forever? How long can I follow? Is this a til-death-do-us-part thing?

The musings of anxious comic reader.

1. Saga by Brian Vaughan


Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet. A sweeping love story against the backdrop of an intergalactic war with so many twists sometimes I wonder what the brain (Brian Vaughaun) behind this all is like. It’s also one of those banned books that we celebrated a few weeks ago, so get on that.

2. Giant Days by John Allison


The story of three best friends in their first year college in the UK. I’m a sucker for female friendship stories and England so this was bound to get me excited, but it’s also witty and charming and fun. Let us not underestimate fun.

And now, I’ll leave you with a picture from Lucy Knisley’s Relish and the hope that you’ll join me on this graphic novel journey of mine.




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Do Unto Yourself

23 Oct


Anne Lamott, in her yearly essay urging us all to stop dieting, says something I think about often.

One of the ways she talks about food is to encourage people to prepare every meal like their pastor is coming to dinner.

You wouldn’t say, “Here Pastor–let’s eat standing up in the kitchen. This tube of Pringles is ALL for you.” And then stand there gobbling from your own tubular container.

No, you’d get out pretty dishes, and arrange wonderful foods on the plates, and set one plate before your pastor at the table, filled with happiness, love, pride and connection. That’s what we have longed for, our whole lives, and get to create, now. Wow!

Prepare every meal like it’s for someone you love and admire.

The phrase do unto others as you would have done to you is a good one, especially if you’re an out-of-control narcissit who needs help treating others like human beings.  But I think the reverse is equally powerful.

Do unto yourself as you would have others do to you

Or even

Do unto yourself as you would have done unto others

Hilary came to stay last week. It was a week full of chili cheese fries and laughter, nostalgia and moving forward. It was a good week.

Before she came, I cleaned my apartment top to bottom. I organized my pantry. I swept and mopped the floors. I washed every single item that could possibly need to be washed. I filled my life with fresh flowers and fresh cookies.

The night she arrived I made big bowls of steaming pasta topped with arugula. We sat on my barstools and ate on y placemats.

Two days after she left I ate expired mac and cheese and a box of Fruit by the Foot on my bed.

Do unto yourself as you would have done unto others.

Maybe that’s what it’s all about.

Maybe when a friend shows up at my house and does my dishes and feeds my plant and generally looks after my well-being she is doing to me what she would like done to her and I am doing to Hilary what I would like done to me and we teach other. Through our actions and examples we show each other how we should treat ourselves.

Do unto yourself as you would have done unto others

That’s what we’ve longed for our whole lives, and get to create now.



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107 Roommates You’ll Have in Your Twenties–Part 3

30 Sep


I know what you’re thinking–will this list ever end?

My answer is, not if I have anything to do with it.


PARTS 1 and 2, again created with the marvelous Hilary, who unfortunately was never my roommate, but maybe fortunately, actually considering what this list is?


51. The heavily into online dating roommate

52. The always has fried chicken in the fridge roommate

53. The never throw anything out of the fridge roommate

54. The takes up the whole fridge roommate

55. The roommate laughing at YouTube videos at 7:00AM in the morning

56. The PS I just got a pet roommate

57. The PS I smoke weed but will never confirm this to you roommate

57b. The roommate who continually listens to “Wild and Free”

56. The odd noises coming from the room roommate

57. The too healthy roommate

58. The always making baked goods roommate

59. The always making beans roommate

60. The unemployed roommate

61. The roommate that loses her keys while picking sage on the mountain

62. The roommate that will tell you too much about her tampon habits

63. The “you were best friends before you moved in together and now everything will be shattered for life” roommate

64. The roommate/landlord living out of the garage

65. The always watching TV roommate

66. The” told someone where we live and now you have to deal with a drunk person and the cops” roommate

67. The out of town roommate who travels every weekend

68. The roommate always inviting you to her Native American church

69. The roommate who is going through a life revolution (CrossFit) and wants to take you with her (CrossFit)

70. The roommates who become best friends and you’re definitely never going to be that close

71. The roommate always leaving, erm, *hair* in the tub

72. The video game roommate who has to be home at a certain time for her guild

73. The roommate who is bad mouthing you to other roommates

74. The social media roommate who posts things of you without permission

75. The social media roommate who lies to you but then posts things while out when you weren’t invited

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Living Alone

29 Sep


I cooked dinner tonight on a plug-in stovetop.

Cous cous with spinach and tomatoes, grilled zucchini and toasted pine nuts. The type of meal the recipe called “simple” but I had to buy every product for.

I listened to Joni Mitchell Blue while I prepared, my internet and phone service not working. I had spicy cheese and crackers for dessert. Cinnamon tea bfore bed.

I live alone now.

In a glorious, glorious twist of fate I am finally in my own space.

I had a bit of glee today remembering my college days and how I lived in a place where the landlords would regularly inspect the state of our apartment. “Cleaning checks” they were called.

I’ve since learned this was unique to my school.

I always barely passed cleaning checks, usually with a character reference from a housemate. “Her room is usually much worse,” they said, about my tiny box shared with another person.

How I had a life in there I do not know. How two people had lives in there I certainly do not know.

In many ways I think this blog is the story of my growing up. I started it at 25, the year my pre frontal cortex fully developed. I was very sad. I was starting on career number two. I was spending most of my energy on a boy who gave me half-hearted nothing attempts at anything.

Rob was my friend, always listening to me and helping me set up tables from Ikea. It would take me two years for him to work up the courage to ask me out and two years for me to work up the sense to say yes.

In other ways I think this blog is a love story to Rob. It is the story of us, he’s there through the words. Always in the background. Friend. Secret Boyfriend. Open Boyfriend. Year four on the Cape.

It’s a chronicle of our love story, one that is currently evolving and growing and changing and settling into something really nice. I don’t write about it as much, but it’s settling into something nice and comfortable.

I ate my couscous salad with homemade dressing and did my dishes, placing the wet bowls in a tray beneath my Princess Diana portrait.

I crawled into my bed, my mountain of pillows with a mountain of books.

I drank a big glass of water.



I’m settling into something nice and comfortable.

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A Tour Of My New Apartment

28 Sep


I walk into my apartment and am greeted by Princess Diana herself. She sits behind my sink, smiling demurely beneath heavy lashes.

Hello Di, I say.

(Not really.)

There are flowers on my windowsill, a little ledge just big enough for vases. I‘ve filled them with daises and sunflowers and the $4 purple things from the farmers market.

My bedroom boasts a multicolored rug from the Wellfleet flea market. There’s my girly bed I never want to give up, and the tapestry from Santa Barbara I bought with Rob the other day. It hangs behind my headboard and floats with the fan waves, knocking into plastic flower lights.

I use 11 separate pillows and I use them well.

Enid is next to my bed, a saucy little thing who likes to touch you without warning and whom I’ve already forgotten to feed twice.

I’ve had her for two weeks.

Sorry Enid, I say.

(Yes, really.)

I have two gold bookshelves, once the bane of my existence, now my proudest accomplishments. I turned them from boring Ikea bookshelves into sparkly Jillian bookshelves and filled them with Joni Mitchell and Nick Hornby, a rainbow of books and artists I love.

My great grandpa has a place on my wall.

My Sylvia Plath has a place above my sink.

It’s all so me. Everything about it is carefully curated and hung. I drew pictures and made plans and wanted to create something that was out of a whimsical magazine.

Something flawless and minimal, joyful and colorful. Cluttered and white and every contradiction.

I ended up creating something messy and imperfect out of messy, imperfect, contradictory me.



I love it.

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