Some of my poetry attempts, published in OHForgery


Open Heart Forgery is a lovely free journal that “aims to energize Halifax writers from the grass roots up.” It does exactly that, giving poets a chance to see their words in print. I miss it greatly now that I’ve decamped to Ontario.

Before I left, they graciously accepted some of my doggerel. I’ve attached them below. Enjoy…

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Gloomily Ruminating On the Day Ahead, or
waking to an email saying I have been rejected
by Dorothyanne Brown June 2014

Sleep tastes like cat hair in my mouth
I peer at my iPad, one eye,
The good one for reading,
Barely open, the other shut
So as not to confuse
“Thank you, but no,” the message says
Confirming again
My utter failure as a writer
My uselessness as a conveyor of emotion
My uncounted wasted hours
Cheer up, my friend says
You’ll do better, later
Think of Stephen King!
(He does not write, my friend)
I pull in my eviscerated organs
Grimace-grin
And plod on, blinking.

On receiving an unwelcome package in the mail
Dorothyanne Brown February 2015

Oh frabjous day, callooh callay
Said Carroll long ago
I rather imagine his joyous day
Was not like mine, oh no.

For on this day I smiled wide
To see a letter lie so
Against my lonely mailbox side
Where only bills seem to go

I clasped it in my sweaty hands
Excited as a child
Only to read on the return address
That it was THAT test inside

A fingertip of Death’s cool hand
Poked in my quivering belly
“It’s time to screen your poo,” he said
“A task most awfully smelly.”

It is a shabby life I lead
When the post is so unexciting
That even a test you smear and return
Seems ALMOST quite inviting.

Learning again
Sonnet by Dorothyanne Brown April 2013

When I was just a tiny girl
I used to want to find my boy
But now that my whole life’s awhirl
I find that men, they do annoy.

They want a gal to fill their tum
And keep them warm and often touched
Unless I cheer them, they are glum
And lay about and scratch and such.

But as I age I feel the ache
Of living lone and sans a mate
It seems I must a big step take
And find a chum before too late

To learn to care again is tough
I only hope to love enough.

Learning Editing


I’ve recently decided to use my writing and editing experience and years and years of writing classes and conferences to start a side hustle of editing. Well, it’s not really a side hustle. Since I’ve been sidelined by MS, my regular hustles have faded into the mists of time, and while I’m just finishing up my second novel, that doesn’t bring in the millions I’d envisioned as a writer in grade 4. Royalties are somewhat less…

Photo by Skitterphoto on Pexels.com

So editing will have to be a main hustle.

I’m the sort who wants to ensure I have the right qualifications to do a job, so I’ve been taking classes from the Editorial Freelancers Association, and I’d like to highly recommend them. They make my brain kick over and that’s a good thing.

Those of you who do editing know how lovely it can be to edit someone’s writing who writes well. Just a couple of nudges here and there, mainly facilitated by the fresh set of eyes, and it’s all happiness and light. I love that.

But editing the bad writer – well, I’ve had experience with that, too, and it isn’t as happy as the above. It’s so hard to apply correction without sounding like that Grade 8 teacher who demanded you copy their discussion exactly. It’s also hard not to take over sometimes, try to fix things, especially when the writer you are working with is begging you to do so.

Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva on Pexels.com

I edited a friend’s book recently and inserted in the document this comment, “Consider adding more to this activity to raise the tension”, only to get the revised document back with my exact words typed into that space. Sigh.

Of course this is an easy way to see whether the author you are working with actually is reading your comments, I suppose. And there is the joy of taking a manuscript forward to make it better, especially when the writer sees it themselves and charges forward on their own. I love that, too.

In any case, this course I’m taking on Developmental Editing has given me all sorts of tips about how to tackle stories good and bad. It’s changing my own novel, too, as I apply the techniques to it. I’m adding the things I’m learning to those I’ve gathered from my existing experience writing several published articles and stories, editing several novels, and judging contests for Bony Blithe, the 3day Novella, Atlantic Writing Competition, and more. Outside of my fiction work, I’ve written and edited non-fiction, research reports, press releases and media campaigns. I’m also a retired nurse and epidemiologist.

Need some writing edited? I’d love to help you out! Contact me at dorothyanneb at gmail.com or through Somewhat Grumpy Press.

Wallowing in research, or when did that happen, exactly?


I’m in the depths of finishing up my book about a nursing student in Kingston, ON, back at the end of WW2. I’ve got the plot mostly finished, I know where it’s going, I have my characters in place and they are mostly defined, though I’m working on deepening their portrayal.

But I keep getting distracted.

The other day I was writing about charting, as in recording medical records. It’s unlikely they’d be done in pencil, since they could be too easily changed that way. Did they have ball point pens at the time?

1950’s pen ad

It turns out, no they didn’t. The excellent Wikipedia (please donate) brought me to links about the Hungarian inventor, László Bíró, who noticed that newspaper inks dried faster and didn’t smear as much as regular ink, and created the first Biro. There was a previous design but it wasn’t fluid enough to use for writing on paper and so languished.

This was in 1931. The war intervened and Biro fled to Argentina, and subsequent development was vastly slowed. In 1945, Marcel Bich bought the patent and started with his Bic pens. He started manufacturing the steel balls for the pen tips, and apparently they are essentially the same construction now.

Back at the start, the pens were used for airmen, who found fountain pens leaked at altitude. They were seriously expensive, the first models at around $1000 our money, later ones still selling for $188. It wasn’t until 1954, when Parker got into the business, and competition lowered the price, that they started being ubiquitous.

So then I had to wonder about what sort of pens might have been used in hospitals at the time. Would they be pen and ink? Or fountain pens? Could the hospitals at the time afford fountain pens? Or would they just provide inkwells and cheap nibs everywhere?

And how did nursing students keep their aprons pristine while dealing with blotchy pens?

That led to another research hunt. Nursing students at the time sent their uniforms, aprons, bibs, cuffs, and caps to a local laundry. But my character gets bounced out of nursing school to work as a nurses’ aide. Where does she get her uniforms cleaned?

It’s like a link of puzzles, and at some point I am going to have to decide that’s enough, you don’t need that detail…

But it’s all so fascinating. I suspect by the end of writing this book I’ll have enough information for another. And that’s a good thing…I think!

It’s all about the ^$&#*%^% attitude…


Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

One of the most annoying things about having a chronic disease (I have a few) is that people JUST WILL KEEP TELLING you it is all about having a “good attitude”. “Think positive,” they chirp at you, as they take off for exotic travel or even a job that you can no longer manage to do. Or toddle off for a day wandering through the shops, also impossible.

It’s seriously annoying and the official support people are bad about it too. I’m coming up to my 14th year officially with Multiple Sclerosis and what do I get in my email box from the MS Society but yet another perky article about someone who is ‘living well’ with MS.

Well, good for him.

I think in general I have a good attitude about the disease that is eating my brain. I work out, I take steps to maintain my abilities, I push myself to remain involved despite the horrendous fatigue and pain blah blah blah I deal with every day. I try not to complain. Because of this, people think I’m more able than I am, and when I bow out of things, they look askance at me, not knowing how much of my life I spend recovering (or rather, not recovering), lying on my couch like a beached carp. It’s not always fun.

And then they offer the helpful advice – which gets offered in piles despite my increasingly tired expression. “You should eat this/seek counselling for your inner trauma/exercise more/learn a language/try dancing/singing/avoid sugar/do pot/take supplements/meditate.”

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko on Pexels.com

As anyone who knows anyone with MS should know (and there are a lot of you out there!) the disease is unpredictable, even by the experts. They still don’t know a cause (except maybe Epstein-Barr virus) and there is no cure. Treatments may or may not have a positive effect. Trust us, we’ve tried them. All of us with it try our best to live our lives within the parameters we’ve been given, and the people I know with MS have a sense of humour about it overall – we laugh with each other and find positives even without the help of our well friends.

But when the blues hit, and they do, both from the actual brain damage caused by the disease, and the heartlessness of its incurable, progressive nature, being told we need to change our attitude is completely enraging.

This is true for all sorts of chronic diseases – arthritis, diabetes, cancer. It’s as if the thought of having to see people actually inhabit their disease (which one must do to deal with it effectively) is impossible for people to stand. We suffer. It’s the reality. Pretending we don’t is like telling a suicidal person they should just get over it.

Instead, I wish people would be understanding, just be there, without the need to comment or judge or make a big deal of it. I realize this is a difficult request.

In the spring, I went to visit my son and his partner, and we went for a hike along a snowy ridge. By the time we were done, I couldn’t lift my legs adequately to take off the gripper things I’d attached to my boots. My son looked at me and without a word, bent to help me take them off. I felt like Vera Stanhope, when her Sergeant bends to put on her booties at a crime scene. No comment, no judgement, just there.

It was the perfect intervention. Not done with pity, not offered when not needed, not pushy or demanding of thanks. Perhaps those lucky enough not to have a chronic disease (YET) could take this example forward.

I know having this catastrophe happen to me has taught me a lot about how to approach the inevitable need to proffer advice. I’m still learning, have a long way to go. I was a nurse before my forced retirement and nurses offer help, even if it isn’t asked for…

But improving my attitude isn’t going to make one whit of difference to anything. So stop %$*^%#% telling me it is.

Writing clothes, or what to wear when you really don’t want to be distracted


Photo by Ivan Samkov on Pexels.com

I am ashamed and a bit embarrassed to state I don’t have any sweatpants at the moment. I certainly don’t have a set that matches my surroundings and computer, allowing me to lounge in peaceful positions. To be fair, my surroundings when I write are anything but peaceful, scattered with pens, notebooks, reference texts, a cup of something, and the occasional chocolate item (for strengthening).

Yes, despite being a writer with my head in the clouds and definitely not in sartorial splendour, I lack this essential garment. I’m wondering if I need to invest, just to speed my writing along.

Part of why I don’t have sweats has to do with hemming – every pair of pants I own has required hemming and even with the elastic bottoms of the average sweatpants leg, the ballooning of extra material over my too short legs is distracting and potentially a tripping hazard. We won’t get into how things tangle up in my under the desk bike I use to fool myself into thinking writing is an aerobic activity. (Undoing tangles seems to be, though. That bike is heavy.)

Plus, they are expensive these days, sweatpants. And unless this book actually gives me more royalties than my first one, (Recycled Virgin, coming in at roughly $20 so far this year) (please buy a copy as winter is coming), I may have to do without. Even used ones at thrift shops are more than that and, ummm, used sweatpants conjure up images of underwear not worn…

I do have writing clothes, though. I just read this article by an author, Heidi Soyinka, who bought clothing like her characters would wear, to put her into the mood. She bought vintage clothing of all sorts as she tried to get into her characters’ heads.

It made me think about what I wear to thrash through my novel. I suppose, for me to be in the mood, I should put on a nursing uniform, one of the old ones from the Kingston General Hospital School of Nursing, the ones with the aprons and starched cuffs and collar.

I rather suspect the excellent Museum of Health Care might have something to say about me filching same from them.

And, unfortunately, I gave away my old nursing student uniforms. Maybe I could get away with my kitchen apron, just pretend the food stains weren’t on it, tie it up tight so I had the necessary chest constriction…this would help keep the chocolate stains to a minimum, I suppose…

Fortunately for my writing, I remember my nursing school uniform days, the nylon stockings that always grabbed, the uncomfortable shoes that were the cheapest available, and which squeaked unattractively and ruined my arches. My student uniform was pink and white striped, with a white bib and cuffs and it was unspeakably horrid, fitted tightly over my already too round figure. I was furious that the one male student in my year didn’t have to wear pink stripes, and got to wear a much more practical scrub suit, with no nylons to be seen.

So no, don’t want to repeat this.

I suppose I could try coughing excessively, as I am writing about Tuberculosis and a hacking cough and sore throat would bring me into the scene – but in these COVID times I feel my neighbours would report me to the health police as a vector of infection.

I could open the windows wide, as they did in the sanatoriums of the time, bringing in bracing and clear air, but it does get chilly sitting and writing, and besides, my companion birds would object. They dislike chills. Even in the slightest cross breeze they puff up and glare at me with their beady eyes. It’s disconcerting.

So I’m left with my usual not-so-glorious clothing for writing. These involve some jeans-type things (inexpertly hemmed) with elastic waists so they don’t compress, and some sort of overly loose top. These are things that I never wear out of doors as they are too disreputable for polite company – after Covid lockdowns I’ve worn the seams off some of them, and they look chewed. Could be I’ve chewed them in agony over some unexpected plot twist (characters WILL misbehave)–I can’t remember.

But something about putting them on does set me up for writing. It says, to myself and anyone who happens to come to the door, that I am not going out anywhere, that my focus is internal that day, that I don’t want to be disturbed. Add unwashed hair and anyone who doubts I am really busy would quickly grasp I didn’t want to be seen. I have frightened Amazon delivery persons on a writing day, and they are tough.

And in them, I’m comfortable enough to sink into my story, let my brain go play. That’s more difficult with fancy clothes. They distract, as I tug and rearrange them. But perhaps that’s only because I’m trying to cycle as I write?

I think, instead, I’ll turn on some music from the 1940’s to generate atmosphere – that’s easier than having to change, and the birdies even like it.

Keep an eye out for my upcoming book, Spit and Polish, expected Spring 2023.

Oh Captain, my captain!


https://abcnews.go.com/GMA/News/queen-elizabeth-ii-dies-funeral-coronation/story?id=88971819

How does one grieve the loss of such a head of state?

I’ve only ever known about the Queen–too young to appreciate anyone before her, uncertain of the following act. I feel at sea without her.

My parents took me to grow up in the USA and, though I remained a Canadian patriot and fled north as soon as I could, it took me a while to understand the government of my birth country. Who were these lieutenants and governors general? What possible point did they have?

I have to admit to remaining puzzled about this, especially after a certain proroguing parliament exercise, but I’ve never doubted the Queen. She was always there. Always doing things in the proper way, always a constant in the wildly changing world I’ve grown up in. I had the feeling she was the stopgap before madness took the world over, the sober second thought our Senate is supposed to be.

I know, I know, she was to be apolitical–and I’m sure she played her role well–but simply her length of service made her a vital resource to world leaders. And yes, I know the Commonwealth was really anything but that–much of it remains poor, actually, and prejudice and bad treatment abounded.

But I never got the feeling she was encouraging the racist agenda. She seemed to float above it, like the goal we should all work towards. The person who put duty and country above all, who showed up for work almost every day of her life, who put up with all the noise and fuss and nasty remarks and just wore it all with a beatific smile.

It was left to her governments to wield the axe. And of course, I am not at the receiving end of some of the more disadvantageous policies of them, so I can say little.

But be that as it may, like so many people today, I feel I am mourning my grandmother. My own grandmother had that queen’s smile. A gentle nature, incredible patience with her demanding husband and a houseful of pranksters, I never heard her raise her voice or say anything negative about anyone. She was from England, too. I yearn for her level of grace. (I doubt I will ever attain it, though). I think of her when I think of the Queen. Cut from tough and beautiful cloth, enduring, like a well woven tapestry.

I know it’s got to be King Charles now, and I wish him well, I suppose, but he simply doesn’t have that way about him. Maybe the crown will give him dignity. He’s not going to be able to come close to filling the gap left by that astonishing sovereign his mother, though.

So I’m feeling deeply sad. I’m grieving the loss of a woman so far away from me in so many ways it’s astonishing that I feel such a strong connection. Godspeed, your Highness. If there’s a heaven, I hope they’ve arranged a lovely garden party for you, and a welcome rest. Knowing you, though, I’ll bet you’ll be at work right away.

“Oh Captain, my Captain! Our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart!

O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.”

Walt Whitman

Are you hopeful?


Photo by Torsten Dettlaff on Pexels.com

My doctor asked me this just a moment ago. “Are you hopeful about life?”

I had to pause before I replied. Hopeful? Not really. I mean, who could be, with half of Pakistan flooded, other countries suffering under water and fire and drought and general environmental destruction? Others under war or the threat of same, famine, disease? People wielding guns everywhere as if that was a normal way to behave? Men being absolutely intolerable to women? (I know, not ALL men)(not all people or countries, either, but you take my point, and I could argue that every country is suffering from environmental damage…)

And don’t get me started on the downfall of the United States, a once remarkable country, slipping into hatred, violence and fascism with barely a care as long as the stock market is strong…

It’s hard to think hopeful thoughts at times like these, even as Covid is stepping back into the forefront, polio is giggling in the wings, and we are all bracing for the next unfamiliar virus caused by living too close to too many diseased animals.

A few years ago my family and I bonded completely on the Despair.com images – the combination of beautiful photography (as one could see on motivational posters everywhere) and a snarky message was irresistible. But then they seemed too close to truth, too true to be a joke. I recently returned to the site and found myself laughing again, but then I don’t want to think that way.

https://despair.com/collections/demotivators

It’s just too easy to be sarcastic, angry, depressed. Everyone seems to be doing it these days, too, road raging over nothing, yelling at politicians, throwing hate on anyone that seems to have created a bit of shadow on one’s day. I suspect the pandemic did two things that we will have to recover from: first, we got stressed to the maximum, with no way to work it off, and second, we were left to our own devices too long and have forgotten how to be human. A good human, I mean. The human showing our good sides, the kind side, the side that wants to get along with and help others and our planet. Not the human showing our bad sides, our aggressive natures, our general willingness to believe ridiculous things, our lack of intelligence.

So how to force enough hope to make it worthwhile to get up and face the day? It isn’t easy – especially for we aging sorts who see our abilities shrink with each passing week.

But then, we tap in. We volunteer to help someone, or learn something new and exciting, or catch the view of the clouds massing on an end-of-summer day. And suddenly, from some dark corner, a little cricket song of joy seeps out. It is sustaining.

From “The Cricket in Times Square”, illustration by Garth Williams https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cricket_in_Times_Square

And then of course the best things happen, like the DOJ gets more stuff on the former president that makes it sound like he might just be sent to jail, or some action by civilized people results in more provisions for the poorest among us or a restoration of faith in democracy, and the song gets stronger.

Maybe can turn this sinking ship around, get it to safe harbour before iceberg season. We only have ourselves to blame for the situation we’re in; we know we have the ability to fix it.

Yes, I have hope. I can hear myself arguing that I’m deluded, but I’m still clinging to the lifeboat.

Feeling the morbs


This wonderful word was used in Victorian times to describe feeling downhearted. I’m all over the morbs today.

I find it hard to believe the bombing in Ukraine is actually happening. How is it we haven’t evolved past the need to pound innocents with weaponry? It is obscene.

I can’t help but visualize the poor mums and babes in the maternity hospital, being forced to shelter in the basement, the patients of all ages in the hospitals with nowhere to hide, no supplies, no oxygen.

It is astonishingly evil, this attack on Ukraine and like so much astonishing evil these days, we seem helpless to stop it. I had thought we had safeguards built into our governments, our processes, but no. It seems that in the face of malevolence, we are stunned, stuck in space.

I am frustrated by my inability to be much help. I refuse to enter into the social media humble-bragging about how “the news is depressing so I have to remind myself that I live in safety and have nice things” miasma, though. It seems smug at the least and quite inexcusably tone-deaf to tell people how happy and warm you are while people are being exploded into smithereens by war-crime quality bombing.

We privileged folks have always done this, while people in other parts of the world survive hell (or don’t). It needs to stop. We live a life of good things on the backs of those who provide it, often at their cost. I am typing this on an Apple phone, something for which I feel guilty though it’s an old version and I can alleviate some anxiety by remembering that.

I have a lucky life. I know this. It was a result of the land of my birth. If I’d been born in Ukraine, or the Sudan, life would not be as lucky. So let’s stop being smug about our accidental location, and do what we can to help those elsewhere. Please? We need some humanity, not aversion of heads.

UNITED WE STAND
FOR
UKRAINE

Pysanky


Back when I was young and foolish and had no idea of cultural appropriation or even much knowledge at all about Ukraine, I briefly became a member of the Queen’s University Ukrainian Club.

I joined because I had three lovely Ukrainian friends- a boyfriend, a future boyfriend, a gal pal. I joined for the parties, the vodka, the perogies. It was all tasty and fun and everyone seemed full of the cheery cultural spirit I lacked in my own pale upbringing.

I lacked understanding of the challenges behind this background but I was quite willing to drape myself over it, learning how to make Ukrainian goodies, dancing to the music.

I tried my hand at making pysanky, thanks to some excellent kistkas constructed by my friend and his apt tutelage. I remember the weight of the raw egg on my hand as we drew patterns on it the eggs in wax, dipped them in dye, drew again.

The last bit of creating the pysanky involved heating the egg gently, wiping away the melted wax, revealing the colourful designs underneath. The egg was always at the point of breakage, safe only when held gently yet firmly, an interesting tension to create.

Much later, I tried again, only to realize that the numb hands I have now meant the egg was endangered- I broke many.

The feeling of that warmed egg in my careful hand is in my thoughts today as I read the news about Ukraine. I dread the heavy handed people invading, risking crushing the beauty that resides in the country. As I listen to the news, my hands curl, as if to cup Ukraine in safety, even as the heat of the candle approaches.

We all seem to be in an angry mood these days, using eggs as weapons rather than art objects. I wish that all would take the time to hold an egg in their cupped hand, sense its strength and its fragility, and send wishes for courage to our world leaders to demonstrate both.

Thinking of the people of Ukraine, and in fact, of all peoples enwrapped in war and threat.

And once more into the fray, my friends


Tubercle bacillus

It only seems right to write about infectious diseases in this endless time of plague. As a retired nurse with an epidemiology degree, I’ve always been fascinated by infectious thingies, and particularly by the above, tuberculosis, the gift that keeps on giving.

We keep thinking it isn’t much of a problem. After all we have drugs, right? Well, we did, until the recent AIDS epidemic caused a huge TB upsurge and the boosting of medication resistant bacilli. It’s lurking, people, it’s lurking, and until we do something about poverty and housing overcrowding and all those upstream causes of illness, it’s going to lurk on.

And sooner or later it’s going to come back, in a more generally aggressive format. Because infectious things have to live, man, much as we wish they wouldn’t.

So, having recently moved to Kingston, ON, where my father spent some time in the TB Sanitarium after WW2, what could be more natural than to want to research and write about that time in history?

As I research, it was the TB treatments that lured me in – hellishly invasive, involving total body casting for months, cutting away ribs, deflating lungs, and so many painful procedures – and yet the death rate remained high despite this and months of enforced bedrest. It wasn’t a good diagnosis. I remember my dad’s brief reference to getting his news: “All of the nurses were crying…”

He was quite a charmer, my gentleman dad, so I believe the scene. He survived only to have it come back when he was being treated for cancer. Because it’s one of those diseases that lingers, hiding in the back alleyways of your body, waiting to be reenergized. Scary stuff, no?

But as I looked into that time period, more fascinating details opened before me. The end of the war was a tumultuous time here in wee Kingston – yes, the war ended, and the fallout from that, but also the changing face of medicine with better antibiotics, the movements around the many nursing schools here – at KGH, at the Dieu, at Queen’s, at the mental hospital, even at the San. The movement of women from industry back to the home as the war ended. The development of a professional nursing organization. The growth of industry, the arrival of the common car, so many many changes.

And still the nurses graduated with bouquets of roses and the nurses’ cap, earning their literal stripes as they progressed through the years. Nursing work hours started as inhumane, shifted to merely gruelling. Training was always about deportment as well as technical skills; as nurses were expected to be the embodiment of virtue as well as technically proficient, filled with common sense but still feminine enough to charm. Endless jokes about getting a Mrs. degree or being on the “fishing fleet” to capture a man from RMC floated about even in my day. A few nurses carried a banner to establish nursing as a lifelong career, instead of a stopgap until marriage. Many of them gained traction during these years.

It was a difficult role, and in my time in the late 1970’s at Queen’s as a nursing student, I was called onto the red carpet many a time for failing in one way or another. And at the end of the four years, our caps didn’t even have one stripe – we were to be distinguished from our non-university peers by the lack of a stripe, which of course made us look like their probationary nurses. Which seemed appropriate when I graduated – I felt as if I still had so much to learn! As I did. SO thankful for my mentors along the way.

I’m combining my experience as a student here in Kingston with my research and writing a story about a nursing student at KGH in the last of the war years of WW2 (I find it infinitely sad I have to specify the war). She’s plucky, but a bit of a failure as she starts, only knows that she wants to get away from her claustrophobic home and preacher father. Will her time at the Kingston Sanitarium working with the TB patients help her develop her confidence? Or will she find the man of her dreams and escape that way?

Time will tell.