Romance in Politics, and Vice Versa

Over here in the US of Holy Shit, we have a few problems. A few, big, huge giant, honking seven hundred billion dollar problems. Add to that a light-your-pants-on-fire contested presidential race (aren’t you glad I write a romance blog and not political punditry? I know I am) and you have one very exhausted Sarah who is more than ever grateful for every opportunity to take refuge in the “yes, it will end happily” world of the romance novel. The billionaires, they don’t lose their shirts or invest in sub prime mortgages in Harlequin Presents’ world. They don’t need no stinkin’ Dow. Their money is inherited and, since they’re worldy wise and brilliant, probably collecting more interest sitting in shoeboxes under the bed.

Anyway, over here, it’s crazy pants time. The election is a little over a month away, there’s debates on television (note: I think any candidate who does not answer the damn question asked of them should lose time to talk. There should be a moderator with time docking power, is all I’m sayin) and signs and ads everywhere, and the tension is only going to increase. Which leads me to my next question:

How do you feel about authors discussing politics? A few authors have emailed me privately with videos and links, and I’ve discussed the current presidential race over email with heaps of people, but more than once, I’ve had someone remark that they feel awkward saying anything on their blogs about the political situation. One author said she didn’t feel like she was in a position to get political: whereas it’s ok for actors to embrace activism, for authors of commercial fiction, it’s not ok at all.

My general reaction is, “Why not? Go for it. If you have something to say, say it.” Yes, it may alienate some readers. Yes, it may mean that people who don’t politically agree with you vow never to buy your books again! (Yeah, says I. Riiiight. I’ll believe it when I have access to their bookstore buying history.) Yes, it might raise a particular kerfuffle, but in the long run, these folks live in the same world I do and I am very curious as to what they think. But I mentally keep it separate from their work. They as people do a lot more in a day than merely writing the books I read. So of course they have things to say about taxes and war and expenditure and governmental oversight, etc.

But yet there’s that reticence. And I get it – I totally get it. But I am never comfortable keeping my own mouth shut because it might be better for someone else. John Scalzi agrees. When asked if fiction writers should write about politics, he replied:

The reader who believes a fiction author should keep his or her opinions to themselves is effectively (if generally unintentionally) saying “You exist only to amuse me. You are not allowed to do anything else.” To which the only rational response is: blow me.

I’m not going to hesitate to add my voice to the national dialogue on any subject just because someone somewhere might not be happy with what I have to say. And more to the point, I think it is bad and dangerous thinking for people to suggest that fiction writers should have to live in a black box of opinion.

[My apologies for not being able to remember who sent me that link. But you’re awesome!]

I concur heartily, and do want to hear what people think, or, at least, read about it. I think it’s a cousin to the Romancelandia culture of Be Nice Or Else that silences romance authors on the subject of politics when authors wish to discuss it – though obviously if you’d like to not talk about it, that’s totally understandable.

I’m always dumbstruck, though, by the idea that someone who sends me a video or web page that has to do with their political opinion often includes a “if you don’t support this person, I hope I didn’t offend you.” I am rarely offended if you disagree with me. Telling me I’m a horrible person with no moral compass because I disagree with you, well, that’s obnoxious to be sure. But disagreement itself isn’t offensive – just like offending someone isn’t the same as assaulting them (TM Robin). I hate that two people with different political viewpoints keep quiet when around one another because they might…disagree. Argue. Debate. Oh, shit, dialogue. That’s just terrible. Can’t have that. Holy crap.

So if you’re an author who is very politically exercised right now, do you keep silent on the subject? Do you keep your political commentary in a specific environment, such as your personal non-author-related blog? Does your political activism on your author blog extend to encouraging voting and political involvement but not discussions of a particular candidate? Does the relative prominence of your name as an author mean you’re less likely to be outspoken about your personal feelings about the current campaigns? Or do you prefer that romance be a politics-free zone, from the authors to their blogs?

What’s the fallout if an author you like takes a political stand that you don’t like, and really, does it matter? Is an absence of politics the only way to go when you’re trying to sell something, because we’re so polarized that alienating the sales base is bad idea jeans? What’s your take?



Random Musings

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  1. 1

    In my opinion, it is all right if an author is interested in politics (and expresses her or his opinion in their works). Most authors are interested in politics indeed, and I am not an exception.

    This presidential election will be interesting, I do believe.

  2. 2
    Ruth says:

    I’m ok with anyone in the public eye when it stays “this is what I believe.” When it crosses the line into “this is what I believe AND anyone that disagrees with me is uneducated and ignorant” then I hit the mute button.

    I am also one of those people that stops financially supporting people when I think they are asshats. It’s happened with something I read here on this very blog. Haven’t bought another one of said author’s works since.

  3. 3

    Wow, suddenly everyone’s talking about that Scalzi article. I blogged about it here, and Jordan Summers did here.

    I am also one of those people that stops financially supporting people when I think they are asshats.

    And therein lies the problem for writers, especially women. Say what you like, but if we don’t like how you say it, then we’ll punish you for it. Funny how no one ever grandly tells John Scalzi they won’t ever read his books again because of his opinions.

    Personally, I’ve decided I agree with Scalzi, I don’t give a monkey’s left testicle if people dislike my method of expression or the subject of my expression, and expecting authors to churn out stories and sit in a corner wearing a painted on grin and a gag the rest of the time, is an insult. Politics and opinions go with brains and talent and creativity. Deal with it.

    And deal with the fact that what you think is the correct mode of behaviour in any given situation, is only applicable to you and possibly your offspring. Unless you’re my mother, don’t tell me how to talk and what about. ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone was nice’ works in a Disney movie. It’s not the law of the land.

    Now cue a whole bunch of people lining up to say, “oh, we believe authors should be able to say what they want, but we want them to be polite about it.” I’ve spent most of the day reading variations on that theme.

  4. 4
    Yova says:

    Politics in romance novels ahs worked for me sometimes – like Karyn Langhorne’s Unfinished Business or Jennifer Crusie’s Strange Bedpersons. I think it was because those were both evenhanded: it wasn’t the author on a soapbox, it was two real characters with two really different opinions and netiher one was presented as being a terrible, evil person for believing that way.

    But both of these books were explicitly about people who were exact opposites, including politics – and it even says that on the back cover blurb. In other situations, especially ones were a person’s politics are supposed to serve as shorthand for whether or not they’re a good person, it’s gratuitous and anoying. You know – “Jenny disliked him on sight – an oily, smarmy, slicked-back businessman who probably voted Republican and evicted babies in his free time.” Or the ones where the discussion has no connection to the plot and exists entirely for the author to stick their personal cause in your face. (“The jewel thief sighed as she pocketed the bracelet, and wished that more people would buy fuel-efficient vehicles.”)

  5. 5
    elianara says:

    Romance novels often deals with difficult subjects like depressions, rape, childlessness and death. These are sensitive subjects, and if you are able to handle them, then why shy away from politics.

    I as a reader don’t care if a favorite author thinks differently than me on certain matters, if I enjoy the books, I’ll still read them. And I might enjoy the debate.

    Why shouldn’t authors be able to make their voices heard, when actors and other celebrities can? I would say, bring it on, express your opinion.

  6. 6
    snarkhunter says:

    I am not an author. But this is an issue I’m struggling with in my own life as an academic.

    I live in a key swing state (PA), and would love to volunteer for the Obama campaign. There are two problems with this. First, I’m OMGHOLYSHIT drowning in work. That’s the main problem. Second, I’m afraid my political activities, if discovered by students, could be used as an argument against me, should they decide to challenge their grades.

    In the classroom, I do my very best not to show my strong preference for one candidate or political party over the other, to the extent that I think I sometimes overcompensate in trying to be nice about McCain. I’ve slipped up from time to time, like when one of my students said something about Hillary fans going for Sarah Palin, and I replied, automatically, “God, I hope not.” And then I apologized.

    There’s still a lot of controversy over the supposed liberal bias in academia, and someone like me, just at the start of her career, has to be very careful about not coming off as attempting to “indoctrinate” her students. And because the university I’m at has faced a lot of scrutiny from David Horowitz’s academic “freedom” group, I feel like Big Brother is looking over my shoulder all the time.

    (Heh. Not signed in, and my captcha? free31. Appropriate as always)

  7. 7

    I think authors are as entitled to take public political stands as anyone else.
    In fact, many of my books end up political, even when they don’t mean to, simply because the characters are gay.

    I post a lot about politics from the PoV of a queer, blue-collar pagan women. Because politics directly affect me, directly affect my kids (queer=/=not married) and directly affect my job.

    I try to stay calm and level-headed because ranting and raving accomplishes nothing.  I’d much rather read a well-thought-out piece that is totally wrong-headed than a piece I agree with that froths at the mouth and chews the walls.

    And, of course, I reserve the right not to financially support authors whop are trying bring about my destruction. (Orson Scott Card, I’m looking at YOU!)

    out38… yep. The bot nails it again.

  8. 8

    my .02…

    My LiveJournal is titled “where personal and professional life collide” for a reason—we cover a wide spectrum of topics, including food, politics, religion and yes, writing, mainly because those are all things I’m interested in.

    My feeling is that I’m here to learn as well a pontificate, so I ask people to bring their best game to the discussion.  The rules are simple: play nice, respect the other person’s idiotic opinion, and don’t be a schmuck.  So far, it’s been working….

    If a reader can’t differentiate the-person from the-books, then they probably should stay away from blog in the first place!  There are a number of writers whose personal beliefs are so counter to mine as to be alien. They’re still fabulous writers and most of the time I can tune out what they’re saying and just read the damn book.

  9. 9
    Keri Ford says:

    I keep my political thoughts AWAY from the computer because it is essentially my workplace. I think there’s time and place for everything, and voicing my political opinion doesn’t belong in my workspace. FOR ME. Not in the normal discussion that politics typical occur (which is usually off some tangent that didn’t have any point to the main blog thread). If I was to come across a political blog, then I’d be more likely to comment.

    I also have the mindset that I don’t want to give readers a reason NOT to buy me when I do sell. It sounds farfetched, but it’s not. It’s happened with me with an author. There’s an agent I was liking. Until she started showing her political colors. In both cases it wasn’t WHAT they were expressing but how (as mentioned above) they did it that rubbed me wrong. I don’t want that rubbing against the grain happening with someone else because of me.

    If I was established, I might have a different mindset.

    right58. Hm. It’s my right to voice my opinion 58 times, or not if I don’t want to.

  10. 10
    Shae says:

    The billionaires, they don’t lose their shirts or invest in sub prime mortgages in Harlequin Presents’ world.

    Gotta love boredom at work –

  11. 11
    Rinda says:

    I’ve been struggling with this, discussing it with other writer friends who blog.  We all go back and forth about the worry over alienating readers.  I have very strong feelings about this election, but I’ve done little more than put up an Obama icon and twitter a bit during debates. 

    There are days I want to do a lot more, but my agent is currently marketing my first book and the possibility of alienating an editor is making me hesitate.  I’ve worked too hard to blow it over my urge to run my mouth. ;)  And right now, that can be so, so difficult.  Especially when my children tell me the horrifying things kids are saying at school.

  12. 12

    I blogged a little bit on my recent political awakening after I was lectured in my own basement by the furnace repairman. This is an extraordinary political year with a sharply divided nation. I’m pretty strong (if quiet) with my convictions, and I remember my parents telling me to NEVER discuss politics and religion. I haven’t always paid attention, but in this case, I think they’re right. There is little I can do to persuade someone whose mind is made up. There is another infamous pig saying—-never wrestle in the mud with a pig; you’ll both get dirty and the pig will enjoy it. I think it’s best to keep one’s politics to oneself in Romancelandia, particularly if you are published and don’t want to alienate readers/buyers. Maybe that makes me a chicken—-or a pig. But I’m doing a voter registration drive in the high school I work in.

  13. 13

    I’m going to look at this from a different angle. YES we all have the right to our own opinions and can blog about it all we want.

    BUT I think we’re in the world of romance where readers want an escape from hearing about politics and even arguing about them. What are romance books? An escape. A chance to read something that will whisk us away from this world to another and has a HEA that makes us feel good. Then it’s time to go back to the real world and deal with real world problems.

    Our job as romance writers is not to preach, but to give our readers something that makes them feel good.

    Another thing is that all of these topics are being talked to friggin’ death on every TV channel, every radio station, every newspaper you read. God, can’t we have a friggin’ break?

    IMO that’s what we provide. A break. For those who want to blog about it, go for it. But I think we’re doing a disservice to our readers who’ve had enough of all the $%&# going on right now that they need their “Calgon take me away” moments. I sure don’t want to hear about it everywhere, including romance blogs.

    I sure hope SmartBitches doesn’t start providing info or debate on politics. I think this blog is just right the way it is. It’s fun, informative, and very rarely is there ever any kind of debate. Please, no more debates!

    My word is wrong52, meaning mixing politics with romance readers is the wrong thing to do!

  14. 14
    Faellie says:

    I think there is also a difference between “politics”, which is everything to do with how people and groups relate to each other and how the society and the economy in which we live works (and so natural territory for any writer of fiction), and “party politics” which is about factionalism and which individuals are up and down in a particular political party. 

    I suspect that too often people who say they are bored or alienated by politics, or who have the reaction “this person speaks/votes this way so I hate them” are thinking only in terms of “party politics”, not of politics in the wider individuals/society/government sense.  And I can see that a “commercial” author might be worried that they could lose readers from these groups if they become known for political opinions.  But it’s a shame.

    And then of course there’s the whole “can’t tell the difference between real life and the actions/statements of fictional characters” issue.

  15. 15
    SB Sarah says:

    I am also one of those people that stops financially supporting people when I think they are asshats. It’s happened with something I read here on this very blog. Haven’t bought another one of said author’s works since.

    Hi Ruth! I meant specifically that consumers would stop buying an author who held different political viewpoints – and expressed them. I am well aware of the asshat/consumer line. Trust me.

  16. 16

    And I love how Scalzi concludes with a “blow me”. Ha!

    Unless I’m tiptoeing around a friend’s feelings, I’ll say what’s on my mind. If it’s not acceptable to someone else, that’s all right. I’ll live. I also believe there’s a difference between sharing an unpopular opinion online and going totally crazy online. Still, I think both have the right to be immortalized on the internet, even if being linked to one is much preferable than being linked to the other.

  17. 17
    Jane says:

    Angelia, I was just thinking about Orson Scott Card!  There was a big fuss earlier this year in the American Library Association when he won an award for lifetime contribution to young adult literature.  Librarians are a pretty liberal bunch, and there were a lot of people who felt that someone with his opinions didn’t deserve any kind of award, whether or not his opinions were apparent in his work.
    I haven’t actually read any of his books (*blush*), although my husband loves Ender’s Game, so I don’t feel qualified to speak to whether his opinions show in his work or not.  But it is an interesting case.

  18. 18
    Carrie Lofty says:

    I hate that two people with different political viewpoints keep quiet when around one another because they might…disagree.

    Except when visiting my folks, when this is essential. Craziness.

    I start my shift volunteering in Obamaland today. Will I blog about it…? Maybe. I think my blog readers know where I stand, mostly coz of choice Daily Show clips I’ve featured, but I don’t make a huge deal out of it in public. Do I obsessively check wonkette and the numberstuds at Yes, but that’s my own problem. Anyway, I’m not going to convince anyone via my blog. It’s antagonistic to those who’ve already decided, and my little fangirl squees when Obama takes his coat off (7:30 in on this clip) aren’t going to sway anyone who’s undecided at this point.

    Joe getting choked up last night. *sniff*

  19. 19

    And, of course, I reserve the right not to financially support authors whop are trying bring about my destruction. (Orson Scott Card, I’m looking at YOU!)

    Yeah, I’m looking at him, too.

    Scalzi, he rocks. Been reading that dude’s blog for over a year and I still rub my hands with glee every time there’s a new entry on Whatever. He says what he wants to say without ever sounding like a frustrated fathead (unless he means to sound like a frustrated fathead).

  20. 20
    Kathsan says:

    I think I agree with Scalzi’s article.  I just draw the line when a story stops being a story and starts being a political endorsement.  If authors have something to say, I think they should say it—isn’t that why they’re writing?  But I can’t stand it when it turns from “this is what I believe” into “vote for [insert candidate] if you want to live.”

    What I love is when authors use two or more characters to debate different views.  When you can see both arguments and be informed about both arguments and then chose which side you’re on, that’s just cool.

  21. 21
    Amie Stuart says:

    whereas it’s ok for actors to embrace activism, for authors of commercial fiction, it’s not ok at all.

    Except, or because maybe…by and far politically active actors make a lot more money than the average writer.

  22. 22
    Lori says:

    Out of curiosity then: if a writer you really loved and bought the moment the books were released blogged that she always gave 15% of all monies she earned to political movements againstabortion/anti gay marriage/fill in your own hot button issue are you still going to buy her books?

  23. 23
    Lori Borrill says:

    note: I think any candidate who does not answer the damn question asked of them should lose time to talk. There should be a moderator with time docking power, is all I’m sayin

    Aww, but din’cha hear?  That’s what whose there mavericks do when a question gets a little un-comfy.  They’s make up their own rules—and are darned proud of it, I’ll tell ya.  Smile big and wink!

  24. 24

    I’m going to have to go with Cheyenne here. I never blog about politics; I don’t even like to talk about politics (although I do have very strong opinions and love watching debates/news commentators/whatever), and I dislike having someone else’s political opinions shoved down my throat. I think it’s rude. Didn’t our mothers teach us not to discuss politics or religion in mixed company?

    When I go to an author’s blog I’m looking for stuff about their lives and their books. I want to get to know them better, I hope to have a little fun. I don’t want to be greeted by paragraph after paragraph of “That other party is a bunch of morons, and I can’t believe how much they lie, and they’re all wrong wrong wrong.” It turns me off. Even if I agree with their opinions it turns me off. And I very often won’t buy their books if they say something that really offends me.

    I have a hard time believing that someone who can only see those who disagree with them as evil lying blackguards without brains will have the ability to create full, interesting characters in their work. It just strikes me as unimaginative, and why would I spend my money on that?

    It’s not that I don’t think they have a right to discuss politics on their blogs. Of course they do, it’s their blog. They have the right to discuss purple-headed sheepcows on their blogs if they want. But I have a right to dislike it, and to stop reading their blogs and their books.

    Frankly, I feel the same way about actors being activists. Shut up, I don’t care what you think. When I want to know who you think I should vote for, I’ll call you up and ask. Until then, talk about the movie, talk about your wonderful new marriage or tv show or dogs, and keep your opinions about who should be president to yourself. I’m perfectly capable of making my own decisions without consulting Matt Damon or Bruce Willis.

    (Oh, and again as Chey said, I hope SB doesn’t go political. I love being able to hang out in non-political places when elections loom.)

  25. 25

    I think we’re in the world of romance where readers want an escape from hearing about politics and even arguing about them. What are romance books? An escape. A chance to read something that will whisk us away from this world to another and has a HEA that makes us feel good.

    Romances don’t generally have much about party politics, but they do have a lot in them which is political. Tycoons, billionaires etc don’t just appear out of nowhere: they’re part of the capitalist system. Dukes etc in historicals would have an automatic right to vote in the House of Lords and lots of inherited wealth and privilege. A heroine who has to acquiesce to the hero’s demands because she can’t afford to pay for the urgent operation her child needs to survive make me think about health care provision in whichever country the novel is set in. I recently read a novel in which walking, rather than taking the car, into the centre of a small town in the US was presented as an innovation. That made me think about dependency on petrol and what effect this has on climate change. There’s the almost complete lack of heroines who’ve had abortions but lots of heroines who accidentally get pregnant and then either have secret babies or marry for “convenience.” And then there are the many, many SEALS and other military romances. What do they have to say about the way the US sees itself in the world? Even what the characters eat can be revealing. How many vegetarians do you find in romance, for example?

  26. 26
    Ziggy says:

    Lori said:

    Out of curiosity then: if a writer you really loved and bought the moment the books were released blogged that she always gave 15% of all monies she earned to political movements againstabortion/anti gay marriage/fill in your own hot button issue are you still going to buy her books?

    YES. I always fear this or something like it when I find a new writer that I really love. Could I love the work of someone who supported X party, or political way of thinking, when I am a fervent supporter of Y?

    So far it hasn’t happened yet. The writers I really love seem to either keep their political thoughts private (like Neil Gaiman, correct me if I’m wrong) or write books which would seem to indicate that they think the same way as me (Terry Pratchett’s Jingo is a good example – but I don’t know, or really want to know, anything about his personal politics).

    I would not buy books by someone who donated all monies to a cause which I disagreed with, but I would want and expect them to publicise that intention. I would wholly support their right to support that cause… just not with my money. In such a situation, I’d just buy their books second-hand, or borrow them.

  27. 27
    Trix says:

    I’m not sure why people here are off on a tangent about authors discussing their politics in a novel: I think the point of the discussion is about authors expressing their views in other media, such as blogs, interviews and the like.

    Although, even in novels, you can certainly get a flavour of someone’s political leanings – gays/blacks/whathaveyous are mentioned positively, women aren’t doormats, men aren’t all Alpha Fuckwits and so on. But I agree that a novel isn’t exactly the place for overt politics, unless it’s a satire or roman a clef – the author is creating a world that we should be entering into. Alluding to current events drops that illusion and really quickly dates the book.

    Onto the actual topic. I’m happy if authors talk about their politics. They’re humans, citizens, who presumably have the right to vote (except in some states in the US if you’ve had a conviction 500 years before, apparently) – they also have a right to express their views. I tend to pay attention to how their views are expressed as well as the content. Someone can be a conservative Christian who yet has the proper charity for others and expresses that; yer Falwells et al can burn in the fiery pit they’re so quick to consign others to.

    I won’t buy Orson Scott Card either, due to his stated views. But since I don’t like his writing – yes, his religious views seep through his fiction in the way I mentioned earlier (learning about his religious and political background was a big AHA! moment for me) – it’s no loss. I love Laurie R. King (in a pure-yet-authoriarily-devoted-way, and I am nodding along assiduously to her blog posts on various things, including her political views. Although her views are similar to my own, I also appreciate the fact that she doesn’t put others down. Expresses anger at the effects certain views have, yes, but doesn’t descend to their level.

    Knowing someone has similar views to my own is just icing on the cake. I only stop reading if someone wants to deny me my civil rights or expresses those few views I can’t compromise with in any way, or is irredeemably sexist/racist/homophobic… and those things seem to show up in their fiction in any case, and renders it unpalatable enough without knowing the specifics.

  28. 28

    December, if authors can’t talk about politics, and actors can’t, then who can? Do you really want to leave politics to the politicians?

    Political matters affect everyone, in every country. We non-Americans are passionately obssessed with the elections in the USA because it directly affects our future. Frankly, it’s insulting to tell anyone not to talk about something so important. Authors are some of the best educated, thoughtful and open-minded people in a society. Why would you not want them to have views and share them?

    My politics, my views are core to who I am and what I write. If someone only wants to talk the bits of me that appeal to them as entertainment, and lock the rest away, then that diminishes my value to society to approximately that of an hour of the Simpsons. Bugger that for a lark.

  29. 29
    Cat Marsters says:

    I don’t really talk about politics, in public or private, but that’s because my strongest opinion on the subject is that they’re all a bunch of asshats.  At least in the US of Holy Shit you have an exciting election race: over here it’s all I can do to stay awake.

    Issues are different to me than politics.  I don’t really care which party you vote for, or if you vote at all, but if you tell me gay people should be shot and that you go out of your way to run over cats, I’m afraid I will have to eviscerate you in fiction.  I’d eviscerate you in real life, but, you know, it’s really messy, and I have deadlines.

    Nonetheless, I have learned that authors who express strong opinions often discover a pressing need to return to the day job.  Disagree with a reader and they’ll swear to devote the rest of their life to making sure no one evah, evah buys your books again.  Since I don’t write books aimed at petty children, I’m not terribly worried I’ll lose any devout fans, but I figure in general the reason authors keep quiet is that they have bills to pay.

    spamfilter: brown57.  How did it know Gordon Brown is the person I was thinking of specifically when I said politics made me sleepy?

  30. 30

    I’m in the UK, so at least I get the option of other programs. We are watching open-mouthed, as the USA passes Socialist measures and moves further left, while China and Russia are moving to the right and becoming more capitalist than any other nation.
    Weird times, folks.
    And the US election seems to be going on forever. In the UK, when a General Election is called, the parties get three weeks (yes you read right, three weeks) to campaign and there’s a cap on their spending. Even that is a bit much sometimes, and you find yourself longing for them to just shut up and get on with it. The interminable year-long campaign with humungous amounts spent on balloons and such.
    What I found the worst was the way they can phone you up in your own home and nag you for your vote. That was tried earlier this year by a political party, and the outcry was so bad nobody will try it again in a hurry. Bad enough to get junk mail, people at the door, TV, radio and such, but to call you on the phone?

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