In this episode, I chat with Diana Raab, MFA, PhD, about writing, intergenerational trauma, the art of writing memoir, and her new book, Hummingbird: Messages from My Ancestors, A memoir with reflection and writing prompts .
Diana is a memoirist, poet, workshop leader, thought-leader and award-winning author of fourteen books. Her work has been widely published and anthologized. She frequently speaks and writes on writing for healing and transformation.
Raab blogs for Psychology Today, The Wisdom Daily, The Good Men Project, Thrive Global, and is a guest blogger for many others. Visit her at: https:/www.dianaraab.com.
Raab lives in Southern California.
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Speaker 1: Hi, my name is Mandy Jackson-Bevillie. Welcome to the
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wherever you listen to this podcast. You're listening to
Episode 235. Before I begin this week's interview, I'd like to
give a shout out to Foster Haney at Century Coffee in Ventura,
california. Foster, thank you so much for the delicious bag of
decaf. I appreciate it. Diana Rab is a memoirist, poet,
essayist, thought leader and speaker. She presents workshops
in writing for healing and transformation. She has a PhD in
psychology with a concentration in transpersonal psychology,
with a research focus on the healing and transformative
powers of memoir writing. Her educational background also
includes health administration, nursing and creative writing.
Diana has been writing since an early age. As an early child of
two immigrant parents, she spent a lot of time crafting letters
and chronicling her life in a journal. As an advocate of
personal writing, diana facilitates workshops in writing
for transformation and empowerment, focusing on
journaling, poetry and memoir writing. She believes in the
importance of writing to achieve wholeness and
interconnectedness, while encouraging the ability to
unleash the true voice of the inner self. Hi, diana, and
welcome to the show. It's great to have you here.
Speaker 2: Oh, I'm so thrilled to be here. Thank you for having
Speaker 1: It's my pleasure. Let's begin with learning about
you, your early childhood writing and what led you from
nursing to a career in writing.
Speaker 2: Ah, thank you for asking. Well, my writing career
began really at an early age. I think I was seven when my
parents sent me to sleep away camp and gave me a big box of
stationery instead of right home every day. My parents were
immigrants to Mira and my grandmother was my caretaker
when I was 10 years old. She had taken her life and my childhood
home. It wasn't dramatic, it was an overdose of sleeping
pills, but I'm the one who found her. My mother really it was
60s had no idea what to do, but she did wisely. Little did she
know it would be the big board of my writing life, but she went
out and bought me a Cahill Gibran journal. She told me to
write down my feelings, write letters to my grandma, because
we were so close, grandma and I did, and I realized at a very
early age that writing healed. In fact, I would love writing so
much that I gathered the neighborhood children. I don't
think I mentioned this in the book, I can't recall, but I
gathered the neighborhood children in the yard to teach
them how to journal because I wanted to share the joy. And I'm
still doing that. You know, I do believe that your passions
begin in childhood.
Speaker 1: Yeah, that little seed starts to grow at an early
age. And when did nursing come into your life?
Speaker 2: Well, I've always kind of. I guess I came from my
I don't want to call you know, they use these fancy words of
you know the troubled homes. And I didn't really have a troubled
home, it's just there was a lot of chaos of the parents working
and the challenges of being immigrants back then, and so I
found my. I ended up being kind of like a family healer. I would
say I would kind of. My parents were fighting, I was the one
that came between and I was a mediator. My grandparents were
fighting. So I think from an early age I was a healer and
from an early age of writer as well. And so the writing. I
became editor of the high school newspaper. I have difficult
pregnancies. I wrote difficult pregnancy books. And when did I
decide to go to nursing? I think I was doing my undergraduate
work and I was sitting strangely how things happen in life. I
was sitting outside the library and I had an undecided major and
this girl came up to me and she said you know, I'm in the
healthcare program and it was so great. I'm like, okay, I'll try
that. I tried it and I loved learning about the body and then
, as time went on, I realized I loved it so much. When I go to
nursing school, my path has always been kind of going with a
flow of what feels right and it kind of fed into my healing, my
need for healing others In listening to you speak.
Speaker 1: I have another question when did your parents
Speaker 2: My mother was from Austria, my father was from
Germany, and it was in 1939. And so they came to New York, and
you know, I heard Germans spoken in the home all the time and it
was challenging times for them.
Speaker 1: And did they know each other prior to arriving in
Speaker 2: Actually no, they met in New York at a dance hall.
Speaker 1: Oh, I love that story . That's wonderful. Let's talk
about your new book Coming Bird a Memoir Messages for my
Ancestors. In it you write about inherited suffering In one of
your grandmother's journal entries on page 72, she writes
about her mother's death and being at the mortuary wondering
if her mother is there. So we have her looking for her dead
mother and later you, as a child , finding your grandmother dead.
Can you expand on this concept of inherited suffering and its
twin, ancestral or intergenerational healing?
Speaker 2: Sure. Well, you know, everything starts when we're
born. Actually, everything starts before we're born, and so
how our grandparents and our parents dealt with life really
has an impact on us. Intergenerational trauma often
happens when someone in the family is traumatized and I
think the body remembers, the DNA remembers. It's not so much
that the DNA gets altered, but it guides how the genes become
activated. I always say, especially when I'm teaching my
memoir students to write their books, I always say it's not so
much what happened to you, but it's how you reacted to it. You
know, you could have the same experience as a sibling and both
of you would react totally different. One way to heal into
generational trauma really is to connect with your ancestors.
And, by the way, when I talk about ancestors in my book, it's
not just family. It could be mentors, it could be loved ones,
it could be friends, it could be places you know that have
inspired you, and so it's all about connecting with those
ancestors to look for the answers that would help you heal
and finding support during that process.
Speaker 1: And I'd like to add something, and that is when we
discover issues or circumstances in our mothers or fathers'
lives that they have inherited, we then have the ability to
figure out where that suffering has come from and actually kind
of nip it in the bud so that it doesn't affect the next
generation. But it does take a lot of courage to do this, would
Speaker 2: It takes a lot of courage, it takes a lot of
self-awareness, I think you know . It takes a lot of resilience
and it also takes keeping the communication channels open. You
know, whether it's talking with family members, talking with a
therapist, talking with friends. I think when we keep it bottled
up inside, it gets worse. And pattern breaking sorry is really
important. You know, as soon as you're self-aware of a pattern
like have a friend who's father used to yell a lot and she, you
know, sometimes would find herself starting to yell and
she'd stop herself. Oh gosh, I don't want to be like him the
self awareness is really important.
Speaker 1: And language too. I don't know about you, but I have
found myself going to say something and thinking oh my
gosh, that's my mother speaking, not me, and I have to zip it
right away. I like to say words matter, yeah. On page 59 you
write quote. When I sit down to write, higher creative forces
speak to me and sometimes, while writing, I enter a trance-like
state. I transcend universes where the deepest of creative
forces are at play. You continue . Sometimes the muse is a real
person and at other times it's an imaginary spirit. End quote.
The writers and other creators I've interviewed speak of
similar experiences. Some work to enter this state, others say
they get the calling, have to drop whatever they're doing and
race to find pen and paper, while others can call on their
muse or muses as required. What is your experience, or is it a
little bit of everything?
Speaker 2: I've had all. I've had both those experiences,
which is why I always carry writing material with me,
whether it's a small journal or just some pieces of index cards,
in my purse for five and evening purse, because I have
learned over the years to expect the unexpected, which means
that I will have a thought at the most unusual time, usually
when I'm driving to LA, because I live just north of Los Angeles
and I'll you know I'm the one that's pulled her over on the
side of the road journaling because a thought comes to me
and I'm not very good at dictating, so I don't do what
some people are lucky enough to be able to do into their phones.
When I'm feeling in a bit of a creative slump and that happens,
of course the muse doesn't arrive. I try all kinds of
things. I usually just take a break from writing and go into
nature or I would read other writers that inspire me, usually
poets, and that just kind of helps me become inspired with my
own work. But when I'm doing, when I'm working on my own books
, I really don't read anyone else's books. I don't know why.
It's just kind of been my pattern. Don't want to get
influenced in any way. I can't call on the muse.
Speaker 1: Like some writers, I'm not unable to do that, it
just I just have to be present and be aware when they, when
they arrive and there are plenty of writers that swear by the
fact that you absolutely have to be at that desk, but in chair
the same time every day, so that your muse knows when to show up
. What are your thoughts on that ?
Speaker 2: I think that's great for some people. I think we're
all different. You know, I think I used to. I think new write
for new writers, discipline is very important. I used to do
that a lot in my earlier years. But I think as you come on, as
you go on in years, you find your own pattern. We're all
Speaker 1: There's no rule oh, diana, it is so nice to hear you
say that. I truly agree. I believe that it is a personal
endeavor. When you sit down to write or you're standing and
writing, whatever you're doing, you can't judge yourself by what
works for someone else. I just thought of something else I
wanted to talk about with you too. Years ago, I was a costume
designer, stylist in the film industry, and what that meant
was I really had to hone my observation skills, because you
can't have a script editor saying, hey, you know what,
think about continuity. You have to be on top of continuity for
every shot regarding an actor's wardrobe continually, otherwise
you will never work again. Um, but the other thing is you are a
nurse and that is something that requires observational
skills. It is a skill set that you've learned.
Speaker 2: I would like to hear your thoughts on observational
skills, because I think they're critical for writing, actually
for any creative endeavor that's really great, um, that you're
mentioning that, because observation skills I think poets
of all writers have the best observational skills because we
have to really pay attention to details and we have to slow down
time almost to write. It's just about like I'm staring at my
window and I'm blessed to see the mountains in the ocean and
if I focus in like a camera, if I focus in on a you know orange
flower out there and I then I'm, you know, suddenly seeing
hummingbirds, and so I think it's really about being mindful,
focusing and just slowing down time. I think observation skills
is really, uh, it's really all about that. Uh, paying attention
. I'm reading a lot because I find I'm having a lot of memory
loss. I'm reading a lot about memory loss and what they're
saying really is, I mean, a lot of it comes with age, but what
they're saying is just that you stop focusing at a certain point
and when you don't focus, you can't remember. So I think
focusing at sometimes I think as we get older it's harder
Because we really got so much in our head and so many
distractions and we always have distractions, but it just feels
multi-cassing gets harder as you get older.
Speaker 1: Oh, my goodness, it's so good to hear you say that. I
mean, it's the truth. It really gets more difficult as we age.
Yeah, while we're talking about observation skills, there's
something I do in one of my classes with students, and I
learned this from my mother-in-law I think we're a
Trader Joe's and I went to pick up some flash. She said well,
let's smell the carnations, see if they're good ones. And she
smelled them and she said, no, this one isn't good. But then
she picked up another bunch. She said now, this is good. And I
said really, carnations have a scent. I've never noticed. And
she said that's because most of them don't. But here's, smell
this. And I did, and it was like cinnamon, it was so beautiful.
And ever since then I've used this experience in teaching
observation skills, because it shows us that sometimes things
aren't always as they seem, and to get closer and closer until
maybe you start to recognize other senses, picking up on
whatever it is that you're looking at. In my case it was
the beautiful scent from the carnations, and so it's taught
me that not to be so quick to disregard something.
Speaker 2: I love that. I love that. Yes, she's changing your
mind. Oh, she changed your mindset, didn't she?
Speaker 1: Yes, she did that little rascal, and I wish I
could have changed her mindset sometimes too.
Speaker 2: Oh right, Exactly. Oh yes, Sounds like you have some
mother-in-law stories to tell.
Speaker 1: Oh, don't get me started, Diana. Ok, moving
forward, talking about grandmothers and mother-in-laws,
I found it interesting that your grandmother typed her
journal. In a way it felt like she wanted to disconnect herself
from her story.
Speaker 2: Any thoughts on this. First, let me start out by
saying that the journal was typed retroactively. She typed
that after she came to the United States because she had
more time and I think also because it was her way of
healing. She learned English in Vienna because she was. She
actually started med school in Vienna, but she because she was
orphaned at the age of 11, she didn't have any money to go
through med school, so that was her big frustration in life. So
she learned English very early on. So when she came to the
States she wrote this journal. She was, she was in an abusive
marriage, she was very lonely in a new country with a
nine-year-old daughter my mother and so I think the journal
became her best friend and her confidant. So it was typed, and
it's typed single-faced, with a lot of strikeovers and when she
died well, when I was writing my first memoir, regina's Closet,
I said I'm writing a book about my grandmother. I don't know why
she took her life. I don't know anything really much about her,
except that she loved me very much and that she got me had a
type and that she inspired my writing and my reading. But I
need to know, like, what happened with her. So I went to
a psychic and the psychic told me just I want you to sit down
one day and Call her in. Just sit in the chair and have her
face. You call her in and I called her in and she actually
told me go to my closet, there's something for you there.
There's a surprise. And it was the journal. So the journal was
there. It was 50 pages, single space on yellowing paper in a
plastic sheet, and I transcribed it all beautiful English, I
mean, you know a lot, a little bit, but enough for me to read
which she talked about being orphan, losing her mother,
having to identify her mother in the color epidemic in Europe,
and that was another power of our lives, because I wrote this
book during our pandemic over 19 . So, yeah, so it was a
retrospective. Just a long answer to your question, sorry,
Speaker 1: Oh, please don't apologize. Everything you said
was relative and important, and that's the book. I haven't read
Regina's closet. I need to read it. Let's talk about your
writing process. When you come up with an idea, do you
immediately know whether it's going to be a poem, a chapbook
of poetry or a memoir or something else?
Speaker 2: Well, this tricky one , because this is my 14th book
and so I kind of it kind of comes to me. I actually thought
this book was just going to be an essay, so I wrote it as an
essay. It had essays published of excerpts of this book before
I even wrote the book, and then I decided to expand on each
chapter or each section of the essay and it became a book. I
kind of go with the flow of things, I suppose. Yeah, it's
just really hard to identify that sometimes I'm really in a
poetry zone, because I'm a poet and a memoirist and I'm like I'm
definitely doing the next book poetry, and other times I'll
have an epiphany or a transcendental moment and I'll
decide to do a memoir, which is what happened here.
Speaker 1: And I've had some authors say to me I started out
writing a poem, which I don't normally write, but the poem
ended up being in the book, or the poem grew into a book.
Speaker 2: Yeah, it's true, that's definitely what happens.
I think people ask me why do you write? I said I have no choice,
I have to write. You know people say why did you choose to
write that story? Well, I had to. When I teach my memoir
classes and I do a lot of those people say you know, I'm in my
70s, I have so many stories I don't know which one to tell.
And so what I tell them is just make a list of all of those
important events in your life and circle, the one that just is
pulling on your heartstrings and that's the one you write,
and that's usually the one that will have the most energy. So I
think you know, we just we write because it's something we like
had to write it, you just had to do it?
Speaker 1: And what is your advice or your thoughts for
anyone who wants to write a memoir but they don't feel
comfortable writing it in first person, but they feel safer
writing that story as a fictional piece, either in first
or third person?
Speaker 2: I think it's great. I just, I just say, just write.
You know, whatever form is good for you. I've tried writing in
third person. I can't do it. I just I do have a couple of
novels in me, but I just they would be first person novels. I
think it's a real art to be able to write in third person and
people that write in third person think it's an art to
write in first person. So I think there's definitely a
calling that we each have. You know, I had a friend that had a
very traumatic childhood and she's a pretty well-known writer
and she decides to write a novel of her book because her
parents were still alive and even though people will know
that it really happened, if she just felt safer in the universe,
just not using her name on the book and using third person. So
it's whatever works for you.
Speaker 1: Yeah, it's that story absolutely needing to come out
and there's no way you can stop it. Exactly when have you found
writing difficult and how have you worked through this time?
Speaker 2: to return to the page For me, writing time is
difficult when I'm going through personal challenging times
where my family is like my husband got very sick during
COVID, I couldn't write at all. When I was challenged with two
cancer diagnoses and depression, I couldn't write at all. I
think those times are the times when I pull out the journal and
put jottings down and those jottings very often turn into
articles or poems or books. But I think when we're really
struggling it's really hard to write. Personally, I think all
writers have to be a little bit melancholy to write well. I
think it serves our creativity well. But I think when times are
really tough it's not even about having time to write. When
times are challenging, it's just the energy, the writing,
creative energy is just not there for me. I do something
Speaker 1: I agree, and I've spoken with probably a couple of
hundred authors over the last three years this is the fourth
year going into the podcast and during that first part of the
pandemic, some of them said, oh my gosh, I couldn't write, I
couldn't do anything, I just closed down. I could barely read
a book. Others said, oh, it was the most writing I have ever
done, ever. I just couldn't stop . So it's what works for you.
And getting back to what you said about the timing, you can't
force it. I don't think Some people think you can. I don't
think you can, and you cannot judge yourself by what works for
someone else. That's just awful .
Speaker 2: Yeah, absolutely. We are all different and just have
to listen to your inner voice and you have to be self aware of
what brings you joy, where your creativity lies, et cetera.
Speaker 1: For anyone listening who has not read your latest
memoir Hummingbird, could you tell us a little about the name
of the book?
Speaker 2: Oh sure, yeah, I'm glad you asked that question. So
it's Hummingbird messages from my ancestor. It's a memoir with
reflection and writing prompts, and the reason I called it
Hummingbird is because during the pandemic I was stuck in my
home office a lot and I had a little bush outside with red
flowers and every day Hummingbird came to visit me and
after a while I kind of started talk about being self aware. I
thought there's a message in it. There's this Hummingbird trying
to tell me something. What is the message? Ever since I wrote
Regina's Clause in the early 2000s, I've had a picture of my
grandmother on my desk and I would look at my picture of my
grandmother and then I'd look at the Hummingbird. I'm like this
seems to be some kind of connection here. And then I
started reading about Hummingbirds and it's been said,
especially by the Native Americans, that the Hummingbirds
are messages from heaven and I thought, okay, this is grandma
giving me a message. And, as she was, I kept asking the
hummingbird questions. It would flutter a little bit, stay with
me, sometimes longer than others , and the answers came. The
answers came, and so that's why I called it hummingbird, because
I realized that there were questions that are being
answered by the hummingbird and there was a reason that it was
coming every day for visit me.
Speaker 1: And isn't it great that you used your observation
skills, ha ha ha, that's right, it's true.
Speaker 2: If I hadn't looked out the window I wouldn't have
seen it. It's so true, it's very true. So I mean I could have
just said, oh, how cute isn't he . And he flies away and not paid
attention. But of course I was so bored so often I did. I think
I paid a lot more attention during this pandemic.
Speaker 1: There's a lesson in there somewhere, Diana. Okay,
what are you currently reading?
Speaker 2: Oh, I love that question. Actually I don't like
that question. Ha ha, ha ha. But I will answer it because, like
my mother, I read a few books at a time. Always on my bedside
table there's usually a book by Tick Naut Han, because I love
him. There's usually a book of poetry and then there's usually
a memoir that I'm reading. So right now Tick Naut Han book
that on my bedside is called Tears Become Rain. It's a
collection of essays of people who have been inspired by Tick
Naut Han. And then I have a book called Secrets of Healing by my
. He's actually an acupuncturist down in Santa Monica that I go
to every week and it's a very thick book and I just read
snippets of it every morning. And then I just ordered a book
that looks really fascinating to me called One Long River Notes
on Wonder by Brian Doyle, and I'm excited to read that he had
a brain tumor. But coincidentally enough, after I
ordered it I started reading it on Kindle. On, the first chapter
talks about hummingbirds. I'm like whoa this book was meant
for me. I don't know why.
Speaker 1: I definitely wouldn't question that.
Speaker 2: It was just in a workshop I was taking, just
mentioned it to all of us. I'm like, okay, I need to read this
book. I like reading inspiring memoirs because I like inspiring
others. So I don't like reading memoirs that bring you down,
because I think we all need inspiration. We all need hope. I
think hope is the thing a lot of us are missing these days.
Speaker 1: Yeah, we sure need it this year, absolutely. Before
you go, could you tell us a little about the Diana and Simon
Rabb writer in residence series at UCSB?
Speaker 2: Well, I've done that, but right now what I do is I
sponsor the Rabb Fellows in the writing program. It's basically
between 15 and 25 students that get a private mentor each
semester and they study various aspects of whether it's
sociological or scientific and they do research projects on
them and then they make a presentation at the end of the
year. So it's a really great program. It's called the Rabb
Fellow Program and I go to the. They have a showcase at the end
of the year, which I love. These students are so smart I mean I
was not that smart when I was 20 and researching cultural issues
, political issues, gender issues, ai issues I mean so many
. The diversity, because they're students of all different
majors coming together in this writing class, and so it's
wonderful. I did do the writer in residence, but I think with
COVID we stopped doing it because people weren't coming
out to events anymore.
Speaker 1: Yeah, I think it's gradually changing, but it's
definitely slowed. I was thinking about what you said
about how smart these kids are at university right now,
especially the students who are curious, who want to go beyond
what the textbook offers. As a student, and in my 20s, 30s, 40s
and 50s, I was kind of a little radical. I would march for
issues that I either believed in or felt strongly against, and
maybe that curiosity is inherited because my mother
fought for women's rights and equal pay in nursing in
Australia and my sons are also curious. You know they have a
lot of questions. A couple of months ago I moderated a panel
about Gen Z in Santa Barbara at El Encanto in Santa Barbara, and
oh my goodness, it was fascinating. The two young
adults that we have were so smart, so caring, so devoted to
issues. They made me and my youth look like a pussycat and I
thought I was quite the rebel. I hear a lot of people complain
about Gen Zs, but I guess, like any generation, there are just
some that are incredible, and there are a lot of Gen Zs doing
some fabulous work and they make me curious.
Speaker 2: Yeah, I don't know. I've been studying that also.
I'm trying to understand. I think I felt personally, because
a lot of my friends were drafted during the Vietnam War,
so I was also marching on the streets, but I think I was doing
things to make the world better . I was actually getting
petition signed. I was, I don't know. I felt more involved. I
feel like a lot of them and I don't want to generalize or
doing a lot of complaining, but I don't know how active they are
in changing the universe. I'm not really sure. I don't know
enough about it. I'd be curious if you did or if anyone can
offer some ideas on that.
Speaker 1: I'll put some links in the show notes to different
Gen Z organizations and a little bit of research that I've been
looking into for anyone who is interested who can take a look.
What encouraged me at this Gen Z symposium was the age
difference in the audience. There were young kids in their
senior year in high school, there were college kids from
UCSB adults, and the senior citizens said in the Q&A we are
so grateful that you had this symposium because we have
learned so much. We didn't think anybody cared about us anymore,
but the panel that is here tonight has proved us wrong. So
there you go, a little bit of education. And we can't always
listen to what we are here on the news or read in the news.
It's important we get out there and talk to people.
Speaker 2: That's so beautiful. I'm so encouraged to hear that.
Really, that's fantastic. Yeah, and to change old minds is quite
Speaker 1: Absolutely. That's a feat in itself. Diana, how is
Speaker 2: Well, kind of healthy , but yeah, a lot of it's
genetics, but yeah. I'm still battling cancer and I'm doing
the best I can.
Speaker 1: Well, from where I'm sitting, you look radiant,
healthy and beautiful.
Speaker 2: Thank you for saying that, though Mandy appreciate
Speaker 1: You have a calmness about you, something we could
all do with more of.
Speaker 2: Yeah, I just wrote an article for Psychology Today on
that. I think I've been meditating. I've been doing
transcendental meditation for about four or five decades, so I
think it's had a good effect on me. Yeah, I think meditating is
Speaker 1: Yeah, I agree, and what a different world we would
be if everyone meditated For just a little while every day. I
do love the artwork on the cover of Hummingbird. It's
beautiful. Who is the artist?
Speaker 2: Kat Lynch, who did my writing for Bliss. Yeah, she's
great, thank you.
Speaker 1: Diana, thank you so much for being a guest on the
show. It's been a great conversation and I wish you all
the best with your new book, hummingbird, a Memoir Messages
from my Ancestors.
Speaker 2: Thank you, Mandy, Wonderful talking with you.
You're so seasoned. Obviously I really appreciate being on your
Speaker 1: You've been listening to my conversation with Diana
Rabbe about her new book Hummingbird, a memoir Messages
from my Ancestors. To find out more about the Bookshop podcast,
go to thebookshoppodcastcom and make sure to subscribe and
leave a review wherever you listen to the show. You can also
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Facebook and on YouTube at the Bookshop podcast. If you have a
favorite indie bookshop that you'd like to suggest we have on
the podcast, I'd love to hear from you via the contact form at
thebookshoppodcastcom. The Bookshop podcast is written and
produced by me, mandy Jackson Beverly, theme music provided by
Brian Beverly, executive assistant to Mandy, adrienne
Otterhan and graphic design by Frances Barala. Thanks for
listening and I'll see you next time. '.