My race report for Ragnar Napa Valley (2018)

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
It's been two years since I last ran a relay race, but I ran Ragnar Napa Valley for the first time this year and really enjoyed myself.

My relay team consisted of Michael Nuttall, John Donley, Chris Goddard, Dave Mickle, and Todd Miller. With the exception of Dave, the entire team had been running Ragnar together for the past four years and their experience with the logistics of the relay really showed.

I was the ninth runner in our twelve person team and ran for a total of 15.46 miles with an average pace of 6:53 per mile over a total gain of 388ft.
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Dave, Todd, myself, Chris, John, and Mike waiting at Exchange 6.
I started my first leg around 1:00 PM in the afternoon on Friday with a temperature of around 82 degrees. This leg of the relay snaked through some residential neighborhoods before heading out to some more rural farmland. I mostly ran on sidewalks and the road shoulder.

My mile splits were: 6:30, 6:27, 6:37, 7:04, 7:21, and 7:30 across a total distance of 6.01 miles. The heat in conjunction with the gain in elevation slowed me down more than I would have liked but overall I felt good about finishing with an average pace of 6:55 for this leg.
Ragnar Leg 9 - 6.01 miles through Novato, CA.
I started off on my second leg just before 2:00 AM on Saturday. The temperature fortunately was hovering just around 50 degrees which made the leg much more comfortable to run. The leg itself took the shape of rough a right angle and was fairly flat and straight almost entirely on the shoulders of rural roads outside of Fulton, CA.

My mile splits were: 6:52, 7:08, 7:04, 7:05, 6:54, and 6:46 across a total distance of 5.33 miles. I was happy with how consistently I kept my splits and ran slower because of the uneven terrain and the low visibility my headlamp provided. Going into the run I had slept very little and had consumed a double burger, french fries, and two large cokes earlier in the evening.

Overall I was really happy with the result given the conditions and finished with an average page of 7:00.
Ragnar Leg 22 - 5.33 miles through Fulton, CA.
I began my final leg of the relay just before noon on Saturday. The temperature was back up to 80 degrees but because this leg was short I was able to push myself. The leg cut directly through downtown Sonoma and largely consisted of sidewalks and a bicycle path that snaked through a public park.

My mile splits were 6:30, 6:50, 6:53, and 6:51 across a total distance of 4.12 miles. I was happy with this finish and with how I performed despite the heat. I finished this leg with an average pace of 6:46.
Ragnar Leg 33 - 4.12 miles through Sonoma, CA.
I couldn't have asked for a better group to have run the race with and walked away from the weekend feeling great. I'm looking forward to doing more of these soon.
A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

On a misleading article about the Marine Corps in the New York Times Magazine

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
In a recent piece for the New York Times Magazine, journalist Janet Reitman laid out a case for why she believed the United States Marine Corps as an institution did not go far enough in protecting its recruits from incidents of hazing or brutality during recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot, Parris Island.

To be clear, the Marine Corps has a long history of failing to protect the recruits they are tasked with turning into Marines. This is especially true at Parris Island. There are numerous examples both recent and historic of Drill Instructors in various states of sobriety debasing both themselves and the Corps. That these instructors would place recruits into situations where their lives would be in danger is inexcusable. It is for that reason that I believe articles like this one are important both in the light they shine on this issue and for the accountability they push upon Marine leadership.

Having said that, this article was poorly written. It was additionally filled with misleading statements that lacked context and pushed a false narrative.

In one example of this, Reitman writes:

“The bedrock of Marine tradition is a long-ago era when buff, male and mostly white combat Marines launched amphibious early-morning assaults on enemy beaches armed with M1 rifles and Ka-Bar knives. Today’s far less homogeneous troops roll into battle in armored Humvees or tanks, with sophisticated high-powered weaponry and thermal-imaging goggles. Many never leave their base at all, waging war remotely while operating a joystick or writing code.”


There are several things that are wrong with this passage.

First, to describe the average Marine during WWII as “buff” is a complete fallacy. Sure if you were to look at Marine recruiting posters during that time period, you’ll see exactly what is described above. In reality however, the average enlisted male fighting in the American armed forces during WWII was 5'7" and 140lbs.

Look at almost any photo of Marines during the war, and what will stand out to you is how young they are. Many were teenagers who joined before their eighteenth birthdays.

It also struck me as odd to specifically call out how Marine’s during WWII were predominantly white. While this is true, the vast majority of individuals who filled infantry roles in the United States Armed Forces during WWII were in fact white. There are also specific examples that can be looked upon of minority Marines like Pappy Boyington who performed heroically during the war. Examples which I was taught while attending Marine Corps Officer Candidate School. Today 34% of the Marine Corps is composed of individuals who do not identify as white.

Furthermore, to say that Marine’s today lack a resemblance of Marines of the past because they “roll into battle in armored Humvees or tanks, with sophisticated high-powered weaponry” is again, false.

Marines throughout Operation Iraqi Freedom and today in Afghanistan, fight battles in a very traditional sense. In the Second Battle of Fallujah, Marine’s quite literally fought door to door, house to house, in close quarters with rifles and, yes, knives. While it is certainly true that Marine’s no longer fight primarily on or close to beaches, to insinuate that technology has somehow dramatically altered the way they fight all of their battles is simply wrong.

If anything, recent history has shown us that an over-reliance on technology in war can lead to disaster. America’s invasion of Iraq was largely predicated on the notion that advances in technology could replace large numbers of traditional troops on the ground. We’re all aware of how well that experiment turned out.

In another example of a misleading statement that lacks context, Reitman quotes an active duty Lance Corporal who states,

"I feel like they’re [Drill Instructors] really good at lying," says the lance corporal, who was sold on the corps by recruiting videos that presented the Marines as "badasses" on humanitarian missions to save refugees or deliver food and water.


Reitman also goes on to specifically call out misleading statements recruiters made to Raheel Siddiqui during his enlistment process.

The fact of the matter is, military recruiters lie. They give misleading statements to entice impressionable kids to join, and it’s a problem that’s systemic across not just the Marine Corps, but the entire American armed forces. Recruiters are under immense pressure to meet quotas, which itself can lead to a host of problems, and we should address this at a level that reaches beyond just the Marine Corps.

Raheel Siddiqui, as described in this article, struck me as an individual determined to join the Marines no matter what. I’m not sure how much influence a recruiter could have actually had on him given his previously expressed enthusiasm, and the inclusion of the “lying recruiter” narrative in this article made little sense.

Reitman also includes a quote in her article from a Marine recruit in which he says,

“He [the Drill Instructor] lost his temper like crazy. Some days he’d be super motivating toward us," he says, "and then an hour later we’d be almost done for the day, and he’d walk in the squad bay and just flip out."


The inclusion of this statement seems to imply that Drill Instructors who exhibit signs of PTSD are unfit to train recruits. Reitman includes this quote however having written several paragraphs earlier,

“Some Marines I spoke with described boot camp as a performance: The lead actors are the D.I.s, men and women who for the first time in their professional lives are embodying the macho warrior archetype they were taught to venerate as recruits.”


The definition of acting is, “the art or profession of performing the role of a character.” To call Drill Instructors actors, which they are, and then to insinuate that their ability to quickly insert themselves into a character role somehow is indicative of an instability in their personality is misleading.

Later in her article, Reitman writes:

Raheel’s platoon mate didn’t understand why Raheel had joined the Marines. Orders seemed to confound him. Rather than simply following them, he thought about what he was asked. "Like a normal person," the platoon mate says. "It’s not necessarily wrong, but it’s not how they wanted it. It’s wasn’t the Marine way of doing things." This earned Raheel, who always "looked like a scared animal," as his platoon mate says, undue attention from the D.I.s.


The fact of the matter is, the purpose of Marine recruit training is not to create critical thinkers. The purpose is rather to create individuals who are loyal to the institution which they have joined and who will adhere to the orders that are given to them by their superiors.

The Marine Corps is an organization that, while being equipped to accomplish many things, fundamentally exists to kill enemies of the United States. In a time of war, officers expect the individuals to which they are providing orders to execute those orders without question. If a Marine were to think critically about an order which has been given to them which would place them in harm’s way, any rational person would elect to take whatever action would remove them from harm. War however is not a rational thing.

Every Marine officer is taught that their primary focuses are mission accomplishment and the welfare of their Marines, in that order. This is because in some cases, in order to accomplish a mission, Marines must die. To label Raheel as normal in this instance, while implying that the other Marine’s around him are not normal is misleading.

Having read the article, I looked on Twitter to find what others were saying. In doing this, I came across the following tweet by Janet Reitman.


In announcing this article to her followers, I found Janet’s sentiment odd. She did not take this opportunity to discuss how this article was an important step in holding the Marine Corps accountable. She did not mention at all Raheel Siddiqui, or the pain that had been inflicted upon him or his family. Rather, her tweet was simply about herself. It was about how this was her first piece in the New York Times Magazine, and how it was on the cover, and how it was good for her.

While the issues Reitman discusses are important and need to be remedied, the misleading statements throughout this article undermine the author’s credibility and detract from the issue at hand.

While undergoing training at Parris Island, recruits are only allowed to refer to themselves in the third person. The lesson this drives home is that no Marine is more important than the institution which they are seeking to serve, nor are they more important than the individuals around them. Perhaps Janet Reitman could learn something by reflecting upon that sentiment.
A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

Verifying the Alt-Right

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
Designers, both while creating new features and while updating existing ones, often seek to define what those features should mean to users. In the context of social systems however, user understanding of a product’s features can easily become disjointed from a designer’s original intentions. The consequences when a designer or product team elects to ignore those divergent expectations either willfully or through ignorance can be quite serious.

In November of this year, Twitter made headlines when they suspended a number of accounts associated with the leadership of the alt-right movement and its sympathetic media outlets. Among the accounts suspended were those of white nationalist Richard Spencer as well as his think-tank, the National Policy Institute, and his publishing company, Washington Summit Publishers.

Asked for comment on the account removals, Twitter pointed to its rules, which “prohibit violent threats, harassment, hateful conduct, and multiple account abuse, and [assert that Twitter] will take action on accounts violating those policies.” Twitter’s co-founder and CEO Jack Dorsey was additionally quoted as saying that abuse “has no place on Twitter” and that he intends to stamp it out.

“Abuse is not part of civil discourse. It shuts down conversation and prevents us from understanding each other. Freedom of expression means little if we allow voices to be silenced because of fear of harassment if they speak up.”


While some, such as Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center, applauded the move, others said the bans accomplished nothing and members of the alt-right movement went as far as to describe the suspensions as corporate Stalinism. Regardless of whether not the suspensions were warranted — and I believe that they were — media outlets reacted with confusion when not even a month later, a group of alt-right influencers had their accounts not only reinstated, but reinstated with verified status.

Verified status, as defined in Twitter’s help center, means that Twitter has certified an account’s authenticity. It also adorns a user’s profile with a blue checkmark badge, the purposes of which is to:

“…let people know that an account of public interest is authentic. An account may be verified if it is determined to be an account of public interest. Typically this includes accounts maintained by users in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, and other key interest areas.”

The badge itself, which for years was difficult to obtain, was more widely made available in July of this year when Twitter opened up and streamlined the process for applying for verified status. As is often the case when attempting to define policy on a social platform, the language Twitter chose to describe the verification application process and the significance of the badge itself is vague and confusing. In August, Twitter user and Medium engineer Kelly Ellis wrote,


Even now months after these policy changes were implemented, confusion about the verification process remains rife to the point where it was called out explicitly in Anil Dash’s recent blog post, A billion dollar gift for Twitter.

There are two lenses through which one can examine the importance of Twitter verifying the account of an individual or organization that disseminates racist, homophobic, or otherwise inflammatory views.

First, from a technical perspective, Twitter algorithmically favors content from verified users. This means that content which originates from verified accounts is pushed on users at the exclusion of non-verified content. In the most extreme product manifestation of this policy, Twitter’s Engage app is literally built around a feed of engagement between yourself and verified users.
The Twitter Engage app.
The Twitter Engage app.
When you prioritize content from an elect group while at the same time making it harder for a diverse array of individuals to become part of that group, you create a serious problem. For Twitter, who has described their mission as being to, “give everyone the power to create and share ideas and information instantly without barriers,” this problem stands in contradiction to the very principles which Twitter has identified themselves as representing.

Second, and more importantly, regardless of how Twitter describes the meaning of a verified badge in their help-center, the reality of the badge is that is bestows legitimacy and prestige upon any account which it adorns. Following the reinstatement of Richard Spencer’s account, a number of users both supportive of and in opposition of his reinstatement took to Twitter to voice express their frustration or excitement at the move.

What is important to note here however is that, despite Twitter’s claim that a verified badge doesn’t represent an endorsement from Twitter itself, Twitter’s users do in fact treat the badge as an official endorsement of an individual or organization by Twitter. This is because Twitter established over a period of years the exclusiveness of being verified on their platform and because they have made specific changes to their products over time to favor verified content. In the minds of users, the badge represents legitimacy, importance, and prestige. Changing a few sentences in a help center article is not enough to change user perceptions and Twitter knows this.

Because these divergent views between Twitter and their users have been ignored for so long, there is no easy path forward that allows Twitter to modify or influence a user’s understanding with relation to verification that does not also create turbulence. While Twitter users will continue to associate verified users with legitimacy and importance (which itself is not a bad thing), individuals who hold racist and bigoted views will also continue to be verified. Thusly, without some realignment of expectations, Twitter could remain a platform where hate speech continues to be associated with an air of authority by some portion of its users.

At Quora, our design team has at times similarly struggled to interpret the ways our users think about our product and to understand how new features we ship are used. One of the primary ways through which we seek to clarify our understanding is by actually talking with our users on a consistent and ongoing basis. While those discussions can take the shape of something as formal as on-site user research, they can also range to something as informal as reaching out directly to a confused user and asking them to explain what might have led them to reach a certain belief or conclusion.

As designers, we must be acutely aware of the how the products we design are actually being used and understood by users, regardless of our original intentions. To ignore the realities of the product decisions we make is at best disingenuous, and at worst dangerous.
A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

How I am feeling

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
The outcome of this presidential election has left me feeling absolutely heartbroken. Those of you to which I am close will know that I have always fiercely supported this country and the values upon which it was founded.

I was raised in a conservative part of the United States, and I credit both of my parents for instilling in my brother and I nothing but the deepest respect for those of different races, religions, and viewpoints. It is something that I have never thanked either one of them enough for.

The arc of my own journey as a member of the electorate of this country has also previously been marked with both joy and with sadness. I watched with despair when we elected George W. Bush to a second term in office and with elation as we came together to elect Barack Obama and Joe Biden not once but twice.

It was with feelings of horror, confusion, and heartache that I watched our nation choose the path it did earlier this week. A path marked with bigotry, hatred, ignorance, deceit, and selfishness. A path that spurned a woman who I held nothing but the deepest respect and admiration for as my former state senator and who I so desperately hoped I would also be able call my president.

To have witnessed the United States progress so far forward even in my own lifetime only to watch half our country willfully and gladly vote to take such gut wrenching steps backwards was something I did not expect and could not have prepared for. I stepped off a flight back to San Francisco yesterday evening and when I saw that Hillary’s path to the presidency was slipping away, I sat down in the airport and called my Mom and cried. I cried in part because I was scared, but also because for the first time in my life I was forced to confront the fact that our country might not represent the value system and morality I took for granted that it always would.

Whenever I visit our nation’s capital, I make a point of stopping at the Jefferson Memorial because inscribed on one of the panels of that monument is the following quote,

"I am not an advocate for frequent changes in laws and constitutions, but laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths discovered and manners and opinions change, with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also to keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors."


Our country was built upon and our constitution drafted around the principle that as humanity progressed forward together, that our laws and institutions should progress forward as well.

Individuals of the same sex deserve the right to marry a loved one. Women deserve the right to control their own bodies and seek an abortion. Families who have spent years here working hard to provide for those that they care about do not deserve to be ripped apart. Our planet and environment desperately need the protections that we have placed upon them.

These are just some of the things that are under threat from a Trump presidency, and that horrifies me.

I still firmly believe in the goodness of the United States and the people of which it is made up. Yesterday evening taught me that it is one thing to profess a love for something you hold dear, but it is another thing altogether to fight for your beliefs. When I think about whether or not I devoted enough of my own time, energy, and resources to Hillary Clinton and her campaign, the answer will always be no. I did what I considered to be the bare minimum in order to assuage my conscious, and that was not nor should it have ever been enough. The feeling of failing my candidate and my country is something that I will carry with me as long as Donald Trump remains in office, and likely for a long time after.

Donald Trump does not and will never stand for what has made this country great. His election to the office of presidency is an insult to the generations that came before us, and I will do everything in my power in the coming years to continue moving our country forward. I refuse to sink to his level and I refuse to let the path upon which he seeks to set us erode my own morality or beliefs.

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A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

Turning the page

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
Earlier this month I made the hard decision to leave Nextdoor after an amazing year and a half as a member of the design team there.

I joined Nextdoor in 2014 as a part of the Designer Fund Bridge program and can honestly say it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The responsibility I was handed on the projects I was a part of was significant, and the individuals I worked with to build out new features and product improvements were not only incredibly talented, but also some of the nicest people I could ever hope to work with. I consider myself quite lucky that I am able to call a lot of the people I got to know in my time at Nextdoor good friends.

Beginning later this past summer, I began feeling that it was probably time for me to consider moving on. The design team at Nextdoor today is very different from the one I joined a year and a half ago. Not only are the faces that make up the team different, but the type of work they are taking on has changed a great deal as well.

I’ve always enjoyed blurring the lines between design and development in the roles that I take on. As much as I enjoy designing digital products, I equally enjoy building those things which I help design. I don’t think every designer should code, but for me personally, taking ownership of the work you are shipping both from visual and architectural perspectives is something I have always greatly valued.

For the vast majority of my time at Nextdoor, I was able to do just that in both designing and building new features and product improvements. I absolutely loved this and I learned so much in the process. For this I am incredibly grateful.

For a number of reasons however, as Nextdoor grows and matures as both a product and a company, the design team there will be increasingly moving away from that model and will instead begin to narrow the focus of individual designers on specific areas of expertise. I understand completely why the team is moving in that direction and I also fully support that move, but as I compared that new direction against my own professional goals, I realized that continuing at Nextdoor would ultimately prevent me from doing the type of work that I love the most.

That in mind, I began a very limited job search. I quickly realized that of the companies I spoke with, there was really only one that completely aligned with both my own thoughts on the type of work a product designer should take on in addition to the organizational culture in which that type of designer could be successful.

That company is Quora, and I am extremely excited to announce that I have joined their design team.

I am excited about what that means and I am excited to help build a product that I have used and loved for a number of years. I plan on writing more once I begin to settle into my role there, but for the time being I am focused on hitting the ground running while also continuing to learn as much as I can. Saying goodbye to the comfortable and the familiar is never easy, but turning the page on a new chapter is an exhilarating experience in and of itself.

Here’s to what’s next.

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A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

I lost a great friend

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
Yesterday my friend Tim Campbell passed away. Tim was one of the first friends I made when I moved to Seattle and he was one of the smartest, nicest, and most genuinely sincere people I have been privileged enough to call a friend.

When I first heard of his passing, I sat down where I was and cried. I'm crying again as I write this. I haven't cried in years, and when I do it's not something I share.

Even though we met in Seattle, Tim moved to the Berkeley in 2013 with his wife Katie to pursue a PhD at Cal and I was so glad when he did. I love the friends I have made in California, but the friends I made at UW, Tim included, I count among the best I will ever have.

I made cookies for Tim and Katie last week and stopped by his house in Berkeley to drop them off. In true Tim fashion, he immediately offered to make me dinner. When I declined he literally gave me a portion of the meal he had just made for himself. That's the sort of person he was. I don't think he ever once in his life put his own needs before those of his family and friends.

Tim was the sort of person who others always wanted to be around because his love of life and fascination with the world around him were contagious.

When I became an RA at UW, I inherited Tim's room and floor from him in Haggett Hall. The staff that had worked with him the year previous had so many wonderful things to say about him, and I wondered often if I was doing as good a job as he would have supporting my residents. I don't think I was ever close to being as good an RA as Tim, but that's OK because he was the sort of person you aspired to be more like. Even though you could never be as good as him, you knew you were ultimately a better person for him having shown you what was even possible to begin with.

I always found it amazing that Tim, despite his diagnosis with cancer, remained one of the most positive people in my life. I think back on times we biked around Berkeley or went to see the Alabama Shakes at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, and when I picture him in those moments I picture that wide smile that so rarely left his face.

A lot of people over the years have called me 'positive pat' because I generally try to look for the good in things. I wrote a blog post last month about something to that effect. Tim however was positive despite the fact he knew he was sick. He bore that weight himself and still projected warmth and generosity in ways I will never be able to.

I'm going to miss Tim a lot, and I can't even imagine what Katie must be going through right now. The world was a better place with him in it.

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A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.

Looking back, moving forward

A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.
I've been back in the bay for over a year now. Almost a year and a half if you're rounding up. When I think back to where I was a few summers ago it seems like a damn different lifetime.

Since moving back to California last year I've been working as a designer for Nextdoor. Having only really worked for bigger companies as a part of very large teams, it was exciting to join a company of only about a hundred people. My co-workers at Nextdoor are as talented as they are passionate and I've learned an incredible amount working with the design team there. Nextdoor's mission is something I can line up behind and is something that I know that people I work with value as much as I do.

When I first left Alden, NY to attend the University of Washington in Seattle as an undergraduate, I didn't have a fucking clue what I was getting myself into. I graduated from high school with a class of around 100 students and grew up in a town with a residency of around 10,000. UW on it's own has an undergraduate population of almost 45,000. In the snap of a damn finger I moved across the country without knowing a single person to attend a school I knew very little about that had more than four times the number of students than my hometown had residents.

Looking back, I still think that was the single best decision I have ever made. I absolutely loved UW, and I still do. I loved the things that I learned, the people I met, and the person I grew into. One of the main reasons I became an RA at UW was because I wanted to do as much as I could to ensure other students had as great of an experience as I did when I first started there. I loved UW enough that I returned years later to pursue a master's degree.

I met the greatest friends that I will ever know for the rest of my life there. Friends who I could call on today and who would do whatever I asked of them if they knew I really needed help. Friends who I would bend the fuck over backwards for if they ever needed me.

I feel incredibly lucky to be where I am right now. My job is great and I learn something new there every day. My parents have always been and will always be my wisest counsel and greatest champions. The man my little brother has grown into and the mark he is leaving on the world as a teacher fills me with the greatest fucking pride.

My co-workers are passionate and smart and talented and I feel privileged to not only work alongside them but to also call them my friends. Oakland, the place I've called home for the past year, has also been a great surprise. I never imagined when I was cheering for the Oakland Raiders as a kid with my Dad that this might be a city where I would someday live. My very first and best dog was a black lab, Raider, who was named after the football team. Maybe that was a sign (if you believe in that sort of shit) that this was always meant to be a place where I ended up for a while.

The past year has had a lot of ups, but it's also had its downs. My grandfather passed away in July after living all the way to 100. He lived through two world wars and the great depression and god damn if that doesn't put things into perspective. He also raised 8 children, the youngest of which is my father. I miss him and my Grandpa DelVecchio a lot, but I never for a second take for granted the things that they taught me or the time I was able to spend with them both.

I don't know what the next year will bring, fucking nobody does. I do know however that despite the choices I've made and all the fuck ups I've caused, that in the end shit always turns out OK. Sometimes it's hard to find the good that's buried in the bad, but even if you can't always see it in the moment it's still there somewhere waiting for you to discover it. I always try hard to send the good out. Even though it doesn't always get sent back, it still feels good at the end of the day knowing that I fucking tried. In the end, the love you take is equal to the fucking love you make.

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A photo of my Harley and I taken by my friend Katie.