A safe place

Dear Artist, Yesterday I was reading Solemate by Lauren Mackler. It’s about being alone and what to do about it. In the U.S. there are currently 95.7 million singles, some by choice, others by default. The main reason is a missing husband.

Carl R. Rogers
psychologist and author

Lauren’s book offers some of the standard ideas for happy singleness: Embracing your aloneness, managing fear, living deliberately, reclaiming your innate wholeness, etc. What caught my eye was her mention of the work of Carl Rogers. “Humanistic Psychotherapy,” Lauren writes, “focuses on supporting the client’s inherent capacity for growth, rather than dwelling on past events or on the therapist’s ideas of how the client should change. It’s based on the premise that people have within themselves the resources and capacity for self-awareness and development. The goal of this therapy is to create a safe place for that self-discovery and growth to take place.” A safe place. Of course you know I’m going to tell you that the safest place of all is an artist’s studio. I’ve often looked around mine and said, “This place is my psychotherapist.” The “studio” need not be anything special. For some it can be just a lounger and box of colour at the bottom of a garden. It always surprises me how seldom apartment dwellers ask their friends with gardens if they can just come down and be there. When I was in my twenties trying to figure things out, I found a light-speckled, overgrown bower with a tired old gazebo owned by a widow by the name of Ethel Giraud. I told Ethel we didn’t need to talk to each other — I would just be quiet and be there. She was grateful for the garden presence, and let it leak out around the neighborhood that she had an actual artist on the premises. I painted for endless summertime days and processed my thinking on yellow pads. Carl Rogers (1901-1987) was one of the most influential psychologists of all time. In one of his 14 books, Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications, and Theory (1951) he wrote, “The (human) organism has one basic tendency and striving — to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism.” Actualizing is the basic building block of creativity, whether it’s building a painting or building a company. To be whole, we need to see things develop in front of us. Digging around in the mind is often informative, but digging right into somewhat joyful work is better. Best regards, Robert PS: “The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination.” (Carl Rogers) Esoterica: An ever-growing number of people living alone find sustenance in creativity. As they age, former cyclists find time for watercolour, former captains of industry tackle the vagaries of acrylic. This focus, though often daunting and even defeating, provides the actualization that embraces and relieves our aloneness. As Lauren Mackler points out, there is no longer a stigma to being on our own. It may even be party to the highest levels of self-realization. All we really need is a safe place to get away with it.   Growth of oneself by Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley, CA, USA  

“Sonoma Hills”
oil painting
by Marvin Humphrey

Building or creating anything reinforces self-realization. Rogers’ idea of growth (building on oneself) is much more positive than trying to “change” oneself, or to dig around in old wounds. As Gandhi said, “In creating, Man creates himself.”     Healthy independence by Jackie Knott, Fischer, TX, USA  

“The Cliffs of Moher”
oil painting
by Jackie Knott

“Alone” isn’t a dreaded disease one must be cured of or die. Neither men nor women are half people searching the earth like anxious Headless Horsemen, desperate to be whole. We are complete beings with unique attributes. You were given your life calling — it was not meant to be paired. I’m blessed to live with the love of my life and have worked for, beside, and independently of him. None of those circumstances affected my overall work. I was engaged professionally, socially, and steeped in family, mine and his. I still painted. I still wrote. Those who flounder so horribly after the loss of a loved one are often detached partners lacking a sense of self. A measure of independence is healthy. A safe place isn’t necessarily a garden gazebo or studio but rather our comfort level in being alone, wherever that is. We are social creatures that deeply need human interaction. It is up to us to make that happen, even though some need more or less of it. There is great satisfaction in creating. But feeling lost and alone is partially not having the conviction of worth; we want to be valuable to someone. That may translate in serving others or giving of ourselves in a creative work. There are 3 comments for Healthy independence by Jackie Knott
From: valerie norberry vanorden — Sep 23, 2013


From: Jackie Knott — Sep 24, 2013

Thank you. What is so fascinating about the Cliffs of Moher is the extremes of light. Depending on the season, the weather, and the time of day the Cliffs and shoreline can sometimes appear pure orange. Or, heavy shadows in bright sunshine, even a somber gray black on a stormy day. One scene – endless variety.

From: anon — Sep 25, 2013

Ah yes, being alone. I have always been alone but the noise of life has never allowed me to enjoy it. I now live in the country, retired with my beloved pooch,and enjoying the flood of creativity. People, friends and family, think me odd for living alone and are always trying to find a friend for me. Being alone does not mean I am unhappy. Au contraire.What a joy to live alone.

  Together bound with hope by Robert Sesco, Charlottesville, VA, USA  

“Dune with a view”
oil painting
by Robert Sesco

Our art appears to bind us to one another. I think it gives hope to those who fear singing and being off-key, those who fear painting and creating something childish instead of a work of art, those who lack the courage to engage in their own therapy. Our culture certainly does not encourage such things, which promotes working your ass off with all of your Life Minutes for the purpose of counting your money as a score at any point during the process. The Bottom Line is a mean therapist. I think our souls seek beauty to create and to experience, but we sometimes find ourselves standing in the quicksand of an adverse culture. We try to fit in, and we do well at that until 2/3 of our lives are over and we realize that we have paid a great sum for the purpose of fitting in. Therapy is wherever you can find it, and I feel blessed to be part of a long tradition of therapy patients, like a long line of paint-splattered warriors, receding over the horizon, leaving their marks as they go, on an infinite roll of canvas spread out across their easels, that ends in white on our own easels. There is 1 comment for Together bound with hope by Robert Sesco
From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Sep 24, 2013

I agree with you about the benefits of therapy. Neurotic pride prevents a lot of people from ever going into therapy. If only they understood the benefits of throwing off the distortions of “fitting in” (with family or society) and becoming their true selves. Plus they get more and better use of their innate intelligence. The unexamined life is like ivy growing around a twisted tree.

  Not a void, but a key by Nancy Schempp, Bristol, RI, USA   In my religion we learn that we are alone with our own being and with the reality of things. I think this is so important to recognize and to see that “the reality of things” is the key to being able to be alone. When you talk about going into your “studio” — to me this is where we can close out all that is around us and feel the peace of being alone with God. Of course we then need to have times to share what we are and to enjoy the substance of others, but this aloneness is the food for our soul. Many people today seem to be afraid to be alone. Even if they have a mate, any time alone becomes threatening to them, particularly with the younger generation. All of the gadgets, the phones, television, computers, all of it has its place, but today is too often used as distractions from simply being alone. To me this is very sad as this being alone with “the reality of things” is the key to our progress, our stability, poise, and is the rudder for our sanity and happiness. How good it is when we learn there is no void — we are never in a void but rather in the glorious reality of God’s, Love’s, ever presence, and as we listen in the silence we hear the most amazing and comforting revelations — truly worth every moment we can spend in this way. There are 2 comments for Not a void, but a key by Nancy Schempp
From: Maggie Helck Brigham — Sep 24, 2013

Thank you, Nancy, for expressing this concept so eloquently.

From: Cheryl — Sep 26, 2013

Beautifully said Nancy and I agree whole heartedly. I hope you don’t mind, but I’d like to share this with someone…I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  Studio becomes safe over time by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA  

oil painting
by Rick Rotante

My studio wasn’t always my sanctuary. There was a time when it was hell to go into, knowing what was facing me in there. Plus, I had so many unsold works I didn’t relish going in there. But, with time and experience… and sales, it did eventually become my Lieu de solitude. I can now go there to read, listen to music or just sit and look at what I’ve done lately. I didn’t make a “show place” — I wanted to keep it a working studio. It is clean but not too clean. Things, tools, supplies are out and around so, if the mood strikes, I just have to reach for a stick of charcoal or squeeze out some paint and work.   The Hero within by Sandra Bos, Cookeville, TN, USA  

“Sweet Sally”
original painting
by Sandra Bos

Some place along the way, I found a safe place, and it came from a song years ago about finding the Hero to save us, and lo and behold it was within ourselves! Life can be very threatening and scary, but when the chips are down, I know I need to go within and find that Hero, and she is stronger than I thought. Thank goodness there have been books from great folks that inspire us. One of those guys is Robert Henri in the book The Art Spirit. He was a great Artist and understood those fears and doubts that a painter experiences. Maybe the only place that is safe in this world is within oneself. There are 4 comments for The Hero within by Sandra Bos
From: Marilyn — Sep 23, 2013

This painting moves me. Beautiful. Thank you for creating it.

From: Ann — Sep 23, 2013

Thank you for sharing this soul filled painting, Sandra. Sally’s eyes are the most beautiful I’ve seen. Her expression in the small format touched my heart even before I opened the larger image. Elegant, sweet life.

From: Anonymous — Sep 24, 2013

Excellent statement. My sentiment as well. Also lovely painting.

From: Alan Cayton — Sep 24, 2013

Your comment goes straight to the point and your painting is wonderful.

  Safety painting en plein air by Shari Jones  

“54 Chevy”
oil painting, 16 x 20 inches
by Shari Jones

You speak of being psychologically safe. What about being physically safe? I often paint plein air, sometimes alone, sometimes with a painting buddy. I/we are often in remote areas of the mountains or desert. There have been a couple of time I have felt uneasy with a stranger’s presence. I also know of an artist that was robbed when he was out painting. Do you ever worry about this and am I a bit naive by not considering this issue? (RG note) Thanks, Shari. I appreciate the dangers of working alone outdoors, particularly for women. My advice for women is to paint with a friend—another woman is fine. From all reports, when one painter is lost in creation, the other painter is paying attention. Painting close to a vehicle is also useful. I’ve noticed that people give you a wider birth when you are next to a car, truck or motor home. Another tip: Don’t line up your work around you as you paint. This makes people think you are having a sale and all kinds of folks come over. Further, without being paranoid, keep your cellphone close at hand. There is 1 comment for Safety painting en plein air by Shari Jones
From: andre satie — Sep 24, 2013

Many years ago, this was my challenge. I actually called the county Sheriff’s office to ask for ideas, not being interested in trying to train my sweet dog to be a scary guard dag, and not seeing myself in judo classes either. I took a weekend class in the use of tear gas for the general public. Even if you haven’t time to “aim” at the bad guy, if you can discharge your canister into your pocket or into the air, and the both of you will be overcome …. and … because you’re prepared for it, you can crawl away while the perp is rolling on the ground. Sounds extreme. But, I’ve been comfortable on lonely country roads ever since.

  Kind of sacred booth by Valerie Vanorden, Kalamazoo, MI, USA  

“Mom’s house”
pastel painting
by Valerie Vanorden

I rented a booth at the Flea Market and that is kind of a sacred space dedicated to my art. I play a video or two each day that encourages me to pursue my present dream of being an excellent penman. In these pursuits, my husband has learned to not “bother” me while I am “working.” Sometimes he brings me the mail whilst I am penning, and tells me certain comments while I am viewing my video for the 212th time (guessing at numbers, been viewing every day for 2-1/2 years now). But for the most part, he has learned to make himself happy and busy while I am doing pen-work or reading or praying. My dogs have learned, as well, to sleep while I work. There are 2 comments for Kind of sacred booth by Valerie Vanorden
From: Nancy — Sep 26, 2013

Why the quotes around “Working?” Isn’t that what you are doing?

From: Valerie Norberry VanOrden — Feb 13, 2014

In regards to why I put quotes around “working”, it is because it is alot like playing. My Amish friends call it playing, and maybe that is what it is. But the practice sessions do call for exercises that are a bit like work, in that they are tedious, repetitive, and even boring. The fun part comes when I can share my work.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for A safe place

From: Penny Otwell — Sep 19, 2013

I love and need quiet creative making time. Especially if it is outdoors, but even alone in the studio I find a peaceful process of making paintings one step after the other. When I’m not painting, and alone, I read and look at art. I love being social, too, but I cannot survive without time for myself. I’m fortunate to have it!

From: Jean Burman — Sep 20, 2013

“In the US there are 95.7 million singles, some by choice others by default. The main reason is a mission husband” Are we to deduce then… that all single people are women? I think not! Statistically over half this number must surely be MEN… but that’s beside the point. When push comes to shove no amount of creativity can replace love lost for whatever reason… but aloneness does have benefits for our creative self. Aloneness allows us to get on with our heart’s work. It doesn’t replace a soulmate. It can’t. Because one requires us to love another. And the other requires us to love our selves.

From: Phyllis Bleau — Sep 20, 2013

I couldn’t agree more that the human organism needs to be involved in productive, creative work to be healthy. As a world society we are gravitating toward more and more spectatorism and less actually doing, much to our detriment, I believe. Why watch what others are doing via the smartphone screen or television or computer screen? We can be out there doing something ourselves! This is especially true when it comes to creating art. It can be a trap to always be looking over another artist’s shoulder, watching how they create, rather than taking the risk of sitting down in front of our own easel and putting a brush to paper. I usually find when I take the risk to create, something good comes of it, even if it is just a lesson to me about how to paint or not paint the next picture. Either way I feel better having made the effort.

From: Damar Minyak — Sep 20, 2013

Apparently, many many people are now “escaping” into a variety of fantasy worlds and situations via the internet, “fantasy sports”, electronic games and societies, and building alternative personas and possibilities for themselves and each other. Too soon to decide whether this is a productive or potentially damaging new method of “socialization”. But, it occurs to me — We need the sensations and the realities of “touch”, from time to time. Without that form of immediacy, we become something less than our potential seems to promise, and to expect of us.

From: Shirley Blain — Sep 20, 2013

How true! The letter about “being alone” touched my own heart. After 52 wonderful years of marriage,with my soul mate, I found solice in my watercolours, taking my little palette to my husband’s bedside while he slept. I celebrated our life by travelling with an art group to Italy, instead of sitting at home, lamenting his passing. Whenever I feel life “closing in” negatively, I play beautiful music and divert my mind to my canvas or paper. I know, that is what he would want. Thank you for reminding me. Shirley

From: Robert Sesco — Sep 20, 2013

I am an artist, a painter at present. I am an artist all my life, and I know this because even though my present artistic outlet is oil painting, the creative impulse and motor skills to execute a creative vision have manifested through several other outlets as I have lived my life. I think about what painting is, and my answer is that it is creating in two dimensions, from what I view or imagine, in three. One would almost have to admit to a digression here, or an overwhelming urge to put our life experiences and creative impulses in a form which allows us to SHARE with others. Otherwise, we could simply experience, and that would be enough. Think about the Buddhist sand mandalas, how beautiful, colorful, and intricate, and temporary. Think about the game of Chess and the intricate nuances of an extended game. Think about the popularity of hitting a small lime-sized ceramic-coated ball with a metal spoon on a stick for the purpose of dropping it into eighteen different holes over the expanse of many manicured acres. OF COURSE we love therapy! OF COURSE we are social animals!

From: anon — Sep 20, 2013

95.7 million “singles”. What about those people in “relationships” who might as well be (or might be better off being) single? Every day, i am grateful for my art – it sustains me, gives me purpose, reinforces, when I do it well, my purpose in life. After 30 years of “marriage”, my spouse and I have little left in common. We have each grown, but not necessarily in the same direction. Do I feel “alone”? No – not at all. Every day, I go to my studio – my safe place – and I work hard to communicate, to challenge myself, to find new things to say and new ways to say them. Am I happy? No more, or no less, than other couples I know. Am I fulfilled? Yes! I have been blessed with tools and skills and insight and fortitude to sustain myself and share insights and meaning with others. Do I have regrets about my relationship? About realizing that, at this point in time., I am as alone as any single person i know? I don’t think so. As with other aspects of my life, I did the best I could, but I am not perfect. Neither as a spouse, parent – or artist. I just feel fortunate that, as one aspect of my life has gaps, those are filled with other gifts.

From: ReneW — Sep 21, 2013
From: Joan Gemmill — Sep 21, 2013

I have a friend who was suddenly a widow. She is an artist and gardener as I am. A garden and a studio are such great places to think and literally lose ones lost other life. You will come out of that place stronger to face life’s stresses.

From: Irene Sardanis — Sep 21, 2013

We all need a safe place we can go to and just be and create.

From: Joelle James — Sep 21, 2013

I do not live alone but my husband is blind. Some days my journey to explore making my own art – drawing or watercolor or fabric art – feels like being alone because I cannot share it with him. I have to make a safe place for myself and not feel guilty that I’m doing something he cannot see as I develop my skills. It is a different kind of loneliness.

From: Ellie Siskind — Sep 21, 2013

This morning I received your letter on aloneness and the haven of painter’s studio. It seemed amazing that you were directly addressing my problem at this time – being alone and in the studio as a safe haven. I couldn’t believe how apropos this recommendation and your words were, as though you were addressing me personally! Are there that many of us lonely artists out there? I have ordered the book you recommended.

From: John “Lodro” Wallner — Sep 21, 2013

Thank you for all your time and consideration you put into this site. I found it by some mysterious accident and am so grateful. I read your letters in the morning at breakfast and then go to my studio. You supply a “connection” for me to other artist and feelings that feeds my day.

From: Fay Bohlayer — Sep 21, 2013

As I understand it, the first thing we learn about God is that He is The Creator [“in the beginning God created…”] . Then, in verse 26 of Genisis 1, He says” let us create Man in our image”….so we were made to create! “Doin’ what come naturally” makes us happy and fulfilled, no matter how well [according to other mortals]we do it. Just playing around with gorgeous colors, especially in those buttery oils, is too delicious. And when you look around outside and try to reproduce the wonders you see with that glorious goo on little flat boards, you are really living…even if you copy God badly. Have at it!

From: Barbara MacInnes — Sep 21, 2013
From: Angela Sheard — Sep 21, 2013

Thank you for this one. Absolutely speaking to me. And not just about art. Your words are relevant most times to all kinds of life experience. I recommended you to a French woman painter who took English lessons from me. It took her a while to sign up but once she did, she was delighted and now your words are helping her maintain her English skills while working on her art and just enjoying your insight as a warm, sensitive human being we both relate to.

From: Kathryn Heflin — Sep 21, 2013

Your insights, references and artistry in delivering your message is one of the highlights of this hermetic artist ‘s life. I thrive within the narrowing perimeters of both my outer and inner life. And, with my partner of 23 years I likely could outlive, today’s writing brought trust and comfort in what lies ahead. God bless, I’ve been nourished for year.

From: Doris Nickerson — Sep 21, 2013
From: BlanchPaulin — Sep 23, 2013

Interesting read, as usual. I found the seemingly shocking response from Jean regarding the “missing husbands” quotient rather humorous. Of course, it isn’t half and half – men/women. As there are generally more female than male humans on the planet. The “missing husband” has already found himself “another mate”, thereby leaving an “odd out” female. Regarding the “loneliness” of “exceptional people”, I think it is already accepted that this is indeed a fact. The extraordinary thinkers and doers are generally thought to be rather odd by those thought to be ordinary or “normal”, therefore the normal do not know how to associate with the odd. My greatest mistake in life was in attempting to have an normal life, normal husband, normal house, normal children. Because I didn’t think or do as others, I never seem to fit. I could think and do without guides, instruction material or plans prepared by others, etc. I learned by listening, watching, reading, and simply doing, which meant I figured things out as I went along. I could design my own patterns, plans. My mind soaked up information like the proverbial sponge. I grew up in a strong work ethic hillbilly, migrant field worker family. Work was the only thing valued. However, the ability to innovate and create new things from old things was inherent, so to be able to make “useful” things by one’s own hands was considered valuable, such as making quilts, mattresses, soaps, growing and harvesting food, cooking, canning etc. Drawing was considered play, and there was little time for play. As the youngest of seven, any verbal contributions of mine were considered unimportant, therefore I was silent unless spoken to. So, I grew up lonely and not very sociable. But I cornered myself away from others in whatever space I could find and drew pictures with tablet and pencil. I didn’t have paints until I was grown and married. After three “emotionally absent” husbands and two sons, one of whom is physically and mentally developmentally disabled and still living with me, I have read the research on how family origins dictate how we relate in adult life. It seems people marry into what they recognize as normal. Hence, if family of orgin was emotionally absent, and that is all one knows about love, then that is what one chooses, unless one has somehow learned different. I learned the hard way. But the Creator gave me an out by making me artistic. Whenever I could squeeze some private time, I would find a place, a locked room if necessary, and develop something to create – drawing, painting, sewing, decorating, writing. And it was a wonderful release and wonderfully mine, whether anyone other than myself and God appreciated it. However, people mostly admired my handiwork and stated “she is very clever with her hands” and wanted what I produced. Yet, how ignorant that they didn’t understant that the clever hands are activated by a clever mind. Before the hands can produce, the mind has to picture it and plan it and develop it. Many times I have been asked “how did you do that” or “how do you know that is the truth”? I read, watch, listen, learn. I never get tired of learning. Learning is exciting. Learning is fun. Loneliness can be wonderful, because it allows one to be onself without interruption and questioning. When people ask “how did you do that? and how do you know that”? They don’t really want you to tell them “how”, because they don’t understand when you try to tell them, because their brain doesn’t work the same way as yours and can’t assimilate information the same as yours, can’t put forth same as yours. For many years I wanted someone to “understand” me, so I wouldn’t feel so alone. Finally, after many conversations with God, he taught me to receive my loneliness as a gift. Without that gift I wouldn’t have been able to carry on or accomplish what was needed. When I am alone, I can pray my best, think my best, do my best, feel my best. I am thankful for my eyes and ears and functioning brain that allow me to see the beauty of God’s creation, that others seem to not appreciate, to hear what is going on around me, to process information and make it come out of me in a productive and pleasing way. Alone with God who made us and understands us is better than being in a crowd who does not understand nor appreciate us. My work can be viewed at Fine Art America. I have self-published a 300 page inspirational book of poems and essays. I have a few original copies left. Contact: blanchpaulin@verizon.net

From: Jim Nesbitt — Sep 23, 2013

Husbands die sooner than wives statistically because they are more fragile these days. This wasn’t always the case when childbirth was more dicey. Fact is, these days, female artists (many of them alone) outnumber male artists five to one.

From: Ross Higgins — Sep 23, 2013

This is so useful. Yes, we all need just a place to work away from the traffic, the hustle and the advertising of poor values. Would that all of us in this tortured world could have a safe, private space.

From: Stephanie Whaite — Sep 23, 2013

Why do we have to go there? It’s bad enough when your single. You don’t want to have to be reminded of it all the time.

From: Jocelyn Paine — Sep 23, 2013

About thirty-five years ago I wrote a couple of articles for the front page of the Lifestyle section of the Los Angeles “Times.” One was about five men living alone and the other about five women. In interviews with my subjects I discovered that, on the whole, the women did much better in coping with and being happy with their solo state; the men talked about feeling lonely and having trouble filling their time. Those articles generated more mail than any others that whole year! There were even solicitations for introductions (which we simply passed on to the parties involved). I have seldom lived alone for long periods, but I know the likelihood is that my husband will predecease me, and I will have to adjust to solitude in my final years. I am looking forward to the recourse of my art! Anchorage, AK

From: Andrea Tiffany — Sep 23, 2013

Geez Robert, here I am, thinking I’m in the beginning of a relationship, turning all ‘high school’ about it- (no growth there!!) and coming to the conclusion that I am more into it than he is, and this article appears from you. I have everything in place to paint anything anytime I want and I mentally throw it all away with a little (lot) of attention from a man. Personal growth–I THINK NOT! Not that I’m in any way blaming you, you are merely my universes’ instrument of education. Did you know you’d be someones “Agony Aunt” with this column?

From: Van Upboy — Sep 23, 2013

Just writing to let you know that I appreciate your letters. I read them with interest and get inspiration out of them. Thank you for taking the time to create and write them.

From: Steve Svedrup — Sep 23, 2013

Few great things were ever accomplished by a committee. Most great stuff is created by loners.

From: Nancy Griffiths — Sep 23, 2013
From: Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki — Sep 24, 2013

I always think of you as one of the least alone people I know. You are connected to thousands of people at least two times per week. Can you even imagine a situation of all those connections not existing? I have the alone self and social self – the first one feeling much more natural in my case. But given a horrible choice to never meet another human being ever again or to never be alone ever again, I would choose the later. In childhood I was happy to be completely alone. As I got older I started feeling more pleasure in creating things in connection with others. Creative process is good to save one from aloneness, but aloneness isn’t necessary for the creative process. The safe place is a state of mind – alone or not.

From: Kadira Jennings — Sep 24, 2013

Hi Genn, I thought you might like to know that none of your painting images are showing up on my cptr when I read yr blog – great read btw.

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Island Ledge Colony

watercolour painting, 4 x 6 inches Nancy Davis Johnson, Portsmouth, NH, USA

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