Thursday, January 7, 2016

Welcome To 2016 Or Whatever


Being Black and Wonderful in Chicago with Luvvie Ajayi and Samantha Irby.

Hello there. Despite the lack of posts here; despite the sweet, well intended, chastising, are-you-alive-because-you-haven’t-been-blogging-and-that’s-not-cool moment that slid into my inbox over the weekend, I'm is, in fact, as alive as melanin envy-fueled racism here at the start of the 2000 and the 16. Life and award-winning procrastination happened. But yes, I'm well. Thank you for asking.

Since arriving this summer, life in New York has been, well, a motherfucker. A whirlwind. It's a terrifying place to be when your self-care is lacking and your pride is blinding and your anxiety is immobilizing and you have fifty million ideas and zero concentration. (Oh, that blinding, progress-blocking pride.) When I leapt here back in late July, fueled by an empowering mix of romance and desperation, I knew the transition would be rough, especially as summertime freedom became wintry terror. I signed up for the requisite trials and tribulations that greet so many who choose to make this occasionally wretched city home. My moves to New York in 2006, to Los Angeles in 2009, and to Panama in 2011 all came after several months of planning. I’d pick a date and begin plotting, saving and making connections and working my magic so that my landing isn’t jarring, harrowing, and pain-filled.

This time, feeling empty, creatively dry and uninspired in Virginia, newly re-energized after 10 months of weekly therapy and a vigorous self-love campaign, I picked a date two weeks out, and boarded the magic Megabus to freedom. No planning. Just desperation and frustration.

The path to peace and prosperity has been treacherous, trying and emotionally draining — a tutorial for therapy-needing mofos everywhere who insist on powering through the strife and joylessness like Rachel “The Racial Stowaway” Dolezal through the barriers of logic as she overlooked the facts of unimpressive Caucasian life on her quest for Ultra Fucking Obnoxious Faux-Niggerhood. Progress at the expensive of self-care is far too costly and rarely worth the mental and physical tolls.

I have earned all my couchsurfer badges and Broke Artsy Motherfucker belts and have been mollywhopped by my anxiety at every turn. Freelancing and check-awaiting and working overtime to not appear as disastrous on the outside as I occasionally feel on the inside and fighting to keep it together long enough to transcend a life of chasing the dream while shrinking myself in my homies’ spaces and on their couches wrecked my peace of mind, like Kevin Federline to a pop star’s career. Sometimes, life is a gritty Sundance Film Festival entry with a heart-gripping montage depicting how, while fighting the good fight and mingling and working and making Mom, Dad, and Grandma proud, the protagonist quickly grows adept at using laughter to fortify the dam that holds back tears and is pushing forward and making writerly progress and, you know, trying really hard but is still not too emotionally fancy to sob uncontrollably on the corner of 125th and Adam Clayton Powell Blvd in the middle of the afternoon, right after school has let out and right before a friend turns the corner to greet him. (It would win awards and stuff.) I tell myself from time to time:

Okay. This fucking sucks but it's gonna be great in the memoir.

And I ask myself:

Okay, so you freelance and you freelance and you freelance and you get all these bylines and no benefits and occasionally wack rates but you're writing for "cool publications," and then what?

But that's another conversation altogether.

Yes, being a residence hopper during a transitional period can be a means to an end. I knew this funky part would be temporary. I also knew that getting here would save me from boredom, regression, and uncontrollable weight gain in 1998, Virginia. This is the part the Instagram models and butt-nekkid brow furrowers on Tumblr and the Travelpreneurs and such don't brag about to their followers. It's not fun, but it's hard out here for a dream-chasing, freelancing pimp. Thankfully, after a series of suuuuuuuper horrific setbacks, expensive lessons and a mentally debilitating season of emotional and financial limbo, we haz a residence.

Rejoice, ho.

Having a place to have my books and be able to stretch out, walk around naked, masturbate on my own terms and be a shitty mess in private has done wonders for my anxiety. Having the energy, motivation, means, and mental capacity to begin rebuilding and feeling like the kingly motherfucker I was raised to be? Muy empowering. Though my homies have been life-saving angels whose love and generosity and painful honesty and extra food and hugs and laughter have kept me afloat and from a tres destitute life of slobbing knobs in the moonlight down in Washington Square Park for chicken money, it feels stupendous to no longer live a life of inconveniencing my friends daily (though they "don't mind"). It feel stupendous to have control over my morning routine, to be able to dilly-dally and procrastinate in my own space, and not live in fear of imposing. It feels stupendous to have all of my shit in one place, rather than in a suitcase at an angel's spot in the Bronx (which I haven't seen since July), in a suitcase and duffle at an angel's home in Brooklyn, and in Harlem: in a group of totes at the back of one angel's closet and tucked in a corner in another angel's living room, all reflections of the nomadic nonsense and life-saving generosity and adventure that made this journey both possible and harrowing.

BUT.

Life hasn't been all tragedy, sugar grits, and compassionless and unsanitized roadside spinal taps. I have to be reminded of the good stiff sometimes.

Professionally, shit has been pretty spiffy. Though I haven't updated this space as frequently since moving to Nueva York, dammit, I have been able to maintain a pretty passable mix of spiraling and making progress towards the Promiseland, where checks are predictable and the insurance is sweet. Where the socks ain't got no holes and ain't no shortages of well seasoned meat. Where the bills is paid, with nary a blink of the eye. And when loved ones and parentals ask how things is going, you ain't gotsta lie. And so on.

Baby steps.

During my time here, I’ve done many of the things I daydreamed about while living in Virginia and Panama: teaching writing workshops, writing like hell, hosting nerdy and cultural events, mental health advocacy, and eating gloriously. Thankfully, Doing is much easier now.

In October, I curated and hosted a storytelling event at the Schomburg Center For Research in Black Culture to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, Resisting Limitations: AfroLatin@s and Radical Identities. Can’t wait to do more of this.

I also went to Memphis, Tennessee for the first time, and ate one of the most delightful dishes I've ever had the pleasure of devouring:

GUMBO. CHEESE. FRIES.
(My loins shall forever stir when I see those three words together.)

Yes, it was as nut-bustingly scrumptious as it looks. 

I was born again after my painfully brief encounter with this magic. Today's Alex has seen things that pre-Gumbo Cheese Fries Alex could only dream of. Oh, how I long for the day we meet again. I wrote about these fries and all the other splendid shit I ate down there: "I Went To Memphis For A Screening of Underground and Here Is What I Ate." I am required, on a philosophical level, to return to Memphis and eat all of that wonderful stuff again, and then some, before I leave this life and head to that big, glorious Well Seasoned Cheese Grits Eatathon in the sky.

In November, I went to Chicago for the first time to lead my workshop, "Literary Therapy: Writing (For) Your Life" for students and administrators in Adler University's clinical mental health program. I know I've done a good job of connecting with workshop attendees as a facilitator when I get folks to cry because of the writing they've produced during their time with me. BOOM. I also led a creative writing workshop for a group of wonderful young ladies, as part of Polished Pebbles' after school program at South Shore High School. This group was so awesome. We discussed the power of creative writing and, among other things, its usefulness for emotional release and professional development. We worked on a handful of writing exercises, and I encouraged everyone present to share at least once.

Me with about half of the writerly squad from my workshop at South Shore High School and Kelly Fair

I had them do some freewriting, envisioning their life 10 years from now as vividly as possible. They saw the fancy houses with, specifically, “a two-car garage with room so my kids can play inside where it is safe,” and the “rich husband that plays for a good NFL team” and “enough money to pay my mama’s mortgage and not have student loans like my sister and still get my hair and nails done every week,” and “a good income as an engineer and business owner” and “a happy family with a house full of cute kids” a bunch of other beautiful stuff. I had them write blogs about an important First (first kiss, first job, first fight, first boyfriend, etc.), and their responses blew my mind. Another prompt prompt asked, “What are you great at?” And I had to keep my inner thug in check when these babies got to writing about how they were great listeners, great friends, great at helping their families, great at making people happy amidst tragedy and despair, and so on. Everyone wrote bravely and shared openly, but one young star, already writing powerfully and brilliantly, dropkicked me in the Feels with her words in one activity about how much she loved and celebrated her skin, curly hair and lisp. Each response she shared during the afternoon showed maturity and burgeoning literary greatness and I hope she’s as in love with her writing as I am. It warmed my heart to spot a young, chocolatey wordsmith so wise beyond her years, boundlessly confident, and creatively bold at 17. I will do whatever I can to ensure she (and any writerly mofo con pasión y talento) succeeds. (And here is a page about my workshops.)

AND, after stalking and coexisting with them digitally for aaaages, I finally got to sit and eat delicious breakfast and be loud and Black and phenomenal with Luvvie Ajayi and my writerly wife, motherfucking Samantha Irby. They're old homies, but my lucky ass got a two-for one Dope Black GIrl special. Twas a very loud, cackle-filled, beautiful day.

Aaaaand while in Chicago, I got to sit in the front row to see Janet's Unbreakable Tour. Minutes after I wiped the chicken grease from a box of Harold’s Chicken from my mouth there in the break room at a friend’s freelance situation, my phone rang. Inez and Marcus, who had traveled from New York to see the tour, were frantic on the other end:

They were like, “BITCH! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GET HERE RIGHT NOW! WE HAVE A FRONT ROW TICKET FOR YOU! BITCH WHY AREN’T YOU HERE YET? HURRY THE FUCK UUUUP.”

I hadn’t planned to see the show while in town since I had flow to Vancouver in August to see Her for opening night, but I don’t believe in blocking blessings, so I power-walked over to the Chicago Theater to met up with my homies, got liquored up, and proceeded to act a complete screaming, sweaty, indubitably homosexual bopping and performing Black mess, naturally, since I was finally close enough to count Janet’s eyelashes. I saw the All For You Tour once, the Rock Witchu Tour three times, and the Number Ones: Up Close and Personal Tour three times, and the opening night of this tour, but I had never been so close to Her. She was tinier and much fucking prettier than I had envisioned. To say that I danced from beginning to end wouldn't fully demonstrate my level of madness there, one impassioned leap away from Saint Damita Jo as she made that cozy theater feel like a stadium.

The crowd was lively, but my friends and I were on 45 thousand dozen million, because: 1) liquor and 2) as many times as we’ve seen Janet, we’ve never been able to sit in the front row together and were perhaps extra boisterous from all the liquor-fueled nostalgia. For the en.ti.re show, my friends and I danced with and gave love (and encouragement: “YOU BETTER FUCK THAT SHIT UP, BIANCA!” and “EAT THAT SHIT, KENDALL!”) to Janet and the dancers. We were the fans that are hoarse four songs in from screaming along and spiritually zapped awterwards from matching the energy of each person on stage for two hours. Shit, that's who I would want in the front damn row at my dancestravagnza.

I was close enough to know that Janet smelled like roses, sunshine, and sweet freedom.
 Well, I can die chicken-satiated and happy knowing that I was able to please Saint Damita Jo Jackson: Janet and I shared a moment during “No Sleeep” (we locked eyes and grooved together for 2.5 seconds as she smiled that smile at me) and I was able to induce joy in The Wide-Legged Pants Don Diva Empress Czar: when she came front and center to sit on a stool for a medley of slow songs and took a moment to wipe away the sweat, I shouted “YOU’RE FUCKING PRETTIER THAN EVERYONE!” and she giggled as she looked my way. We go together now. My friends and I were so wild that one of the dancers, Allison, emerged from the theater with the rest of the squad after the show and told us as I caught up with two dancers that I knew, “Y’all was going off in the front.” Me: “Oh. Sorry if the screaming distracted you.” Her: “Not at all! We need that energy. It hypes us up!” Me: *beams though physically exhausted*

[12-second pause for applause]

In short: I win this lifetime. Go home and try again next lifetime. Shoutout to the wonderful Gil Duldulao, Janet’s boundlessly talented creative director, for the continued awesomeness and for being and making this Top 10 Life moment possible.

I've been wanting to get published in a magazine for years, but never felt quite ready to make the leap from digitally based work. This fall, I participated in the compiling of 100 profiles for Ebony's 2015 Power 100 coverage. I wrote 40 of the 100 blurbs, which was heavy lifting for me. I got to write about splendid blackety Black folks like Kiese Laymon, Jidenna, Darnell Moore, Viola Davis, black-ish creator Kenya Barris, Wendy Williams, Regina King, Janet Motherfucking Jackson, and a bunch of other dope folks. Writing about Janet also meant crossing “Get The Phrase Saint Damita Jo Published In Print” from my writerly bucket list.



A million thanks to the lovely Tomika Anderson for thinking of me. The EBONY Power 100 coverage begins on page 116 of the December 2015/January 2016 issue, and can be previewed online here.


I also went to Portland, Oregon for the first time and yes it was as white as I had imagined. The occasion: I was in town to cover the 100th episode extravaganza for NBC's Grimm. I had never been on a TV set before. The press group, in which I was the onliest negro, got to watch a scene being filmed on the soundstage and interview members of the cast. I got an express tour of Portland and a trip to Voodoo Doughnut thanks to Sir Scott Hanselman, who knows everything about everything. Great times.

And this month, I hosted a film screening at the Brooklyn Heights Library as part of the Human Rights Film Festival and led my workshop, Literary Therapy, Writing (For) Your Life, in Hyattsville, Maryland in conjunction with Us Helping Us People Into Living (UHUPIL), Developing & Empowering New Images of Men (DENIM), and the Total Linkage Center, which was just as wonderful as I had imagined.

Being Black and Wonderful with First Lady of New York City, Chirlane McCray, at a mental health roundtable. Chirlane is pretty awesome.
Also, a few days after I wrote an update on my dance with depression, Chirlane McCray, beautiful soul, mental health advocate and wife of New York City mayor Bill de Blasio, invited me to Gracie Manson, their residence, for a roundtable with other bloggers, writers, and mental health professionals on using social media and the Internet to erode the stigmas around mental illness that keep so many of us from pursuing care and asking for help. I'm a big fan of the work she's doing. The city’s new mental health initiative, ThriveNYC, is pretty damn impressive and I hope to continue working with the administration to help my folk get the joy, access, and treatment they need and deserve. A few days later, I joined Culture Fix for a Twitter chat about depression, suicide, and using art for healing. You can read the recap here on Storify. Next year, I plan to do much more in the mental health arena. (I’ve written about my mental health journey a few other times: “On Depression: To anyone else living in a fog” and “Hey, Therapy.”)

And, I’ve been writing! I’m making a book of essays happen, and have been publishing fairly regularly over at Very Smart Brothas. Ze latest:

Keep Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint Soap Away From Your Fuckparts (Just Trust Me)

14 Thoughts on The Wiz Live After Taking A Week To Fully Process Its Blackassness

The 5 Stages of MacBook Charger Death

What A Difference A Year Makes: On Battling and Beating Depression

I Went To A Screening of ‘Underground’ in Memphis And Here Is What I Ate

The Importance of Self Preservation Amidst Casual Savagery

Visions of Pappyhood

And I’ve got a column over at Saint Heron, a celebration of Black Excellence past and present called “Black in the Day:”

Black In The Day: Always Extra, Always On Point

Black In The Day: Black Excellence Express

And I wrote a trio of pieces for Courvoisier.com, the third of which is still floating around in editorial purgatory:

Cognac 101: Your Guide To Optimum Enjoyment

7 Moments You Deserve to Unplug

If you're curious what else I've been up to, my writing portfolio can be found right hurr, yo.

We meet again, old friend.

After months of getting ready to do so, I finally got a gym membership and will be making my debut there as soon as I publish this. And I am FINALLY back in ballet classes, and, well, everything hurts real good. Time to pull it back together. And in case The One happens to be reading this, I happen to be way single and am always down to be wowed. Shoot your shot, plair.

OH. An upside of living in New York: there is so much soul-caressing food to eat. I've been grubbing like crazy since arriving. It's probably not the best place to live when you've been "getting ready to go to the gym" for 11 months and you're prone to eating your feelings (on top of an already superhuman appetite), but the blessing in all of that is the magnificent food I've been able to smash, like this STELLAR "jumbo" shrimp and cheese grits situation (with bacon, optional) from Boulevard Bistro in Harlem. I'm a registered grits advocate. I'm serious about food in general, but I ADORE grits, especially creamy, well seasoned love-filled grits just like the wonderfulness they served in that bowl. I didn't have to add nary a piece of salt or pepper; I slaughtered it on sight. You would have been proud.


As I just turned 31 and I know this metabolism won't last forever, and because I plan to continue eating for sport, these ballet classes and this gym situation are so very necessary. While you browse my original Instagram account, @coloredboy, mosey on over to my new joint, @alexgottaeat, which is devoted to the love of my life: food.

Aaaaand lastly, I have some hoodies, coffee mugs, tank tops, t-shirts, and buttons and such over at Ye Haus of Goodness. Be a pal and have a gander.

I'm cooking up some cool stuff for Black Folks' Month, also known as February. Stay tuned for ze details, my dude/dudette. I shall try to tend to this space more regularly or whatever.

With love and a hookup on baby Jordans,

alex.

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Monday, November 23, 2015

[Workshop] Literary Therapy: Writing (For) Your Life with Alexander Hardy, in Hyattsville, MD

SO. I've been doing some traveling and teaching lately. I'm coming back to the DeeCee area in a few weeks for an intimate writerly situation and you should be there. Snacks are involved. Here's the rundown:

Busting your emotions open upon a blank page often works wonders for the soul. Writing through the rough patches and rolling in the deep, on paper, can be both therapeutic and revelatory. It’s an undertaking sure to bring clarity (and closure?) on life’s problems, patterns and sharp turns.

During Literary Therapy: Writing (For) Your Life, we’ll relax (with snacks) in a secluded, intimate setting as we open those closets and mine our lives for rich, relevant writing material. In a safe, calming and encouraging environment, we will write about our mental health journeys, self-care, self-love, self-hate, and all that wonderful jazz. You will flex your creative muscle while writing your way through the inspiring, the life-changing and the tragic alongside a dynamic group of similarly openminded, clarity-seeking folks.

We will read published excellence by wonderful people like Roxane Gay and Kiese Laymon and Dave Eggers and discuss what it takes to craft powerful, engaging and relatable written work. Using a (masterfully seasoned) gumbo of writing exercises, group discussions, peer review and instructor feedback, you will produce a collection of raw and revelatory new material while experiencing the cathartic and healing power of writing firsthand. With some good parenting and a heap of perseverance, one of those powerful personal sagas may even grow up to become a book, a blog, or an Ava Duvernay-directed biopic starring David Oyelowo or Viola Davis.

This workshop is intended for beginning and seasoned writers alike who want to strengthen their creative voice and answer difficult personal questions through introspective writing. This workshop is also suitable for mental health professionals, scholars, and administrators seeking new methods of clarifying and exploring personal narratives with clients, patients or students. For example, I recently lead this workshop at Adler University in Chicago for students and administrators in the clinical mental health graduate program.


This workshop has been made possible by Us Helping Us, People Into Living, Inc, Developing & Empowering New Images of Men (DENIM), and Total Linkage Center.

My essays on mental health:

  • “What A Difference A Year Makes: On Battling and Beating Depression” [Very Smart Brothas]
  • "Hey, Therapy” [Abernathy]
  • “On Depression: to anyone else living in a fog” [Gawker]
View my writing portfolio and my LinkedIn.

Let's keep the party going: The Colored Boy Store | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Goodreads

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

What A Difference A Year Makes: On Battling and Beating Depression


Hi there. I wrote about the last year of my life over at Very Smart Brothas. Have a gander:

.............

If I had moved to New York last fall as intended, you would be surely be referring to me in the past tense today.

I wasn’t ready, mentally, financially or emotionally to give up my chill yet scatterbrained and spiraling life in Panama to write and power–walk for a living in the City That Never Covers Its Mouth When It Sneezes. But that didn’t stop me from telling myself, my family, and the world that they should deck the halls and bring forth their finest celebratory hams and splurge on the jackiest of pepper jacks for thy macaroni and cheeses and prepare to chicken like they’ve never chickened before when I touched down later that year, which was the best possible move to make and was certainly for sure going to happen. Absolutely. Of course.

Nonstop mental shitshow be damned.

Read the rest over at Very Smart Brothas

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Freelancery: "I Went To A Screening of 'Underground' In Memphis and Here Is What I Ate" (for Very Smart Brothas)



YO.

A few weeks back, my awesome brohams from Very Smart Brothas (Damon y Panama) slid me an invitation to a screening of WGN's new series, Underground, at The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee. Sure, the screening and the museum and the interviews with the cast were fantastic, but of course the food is what resonated with me the most:
The next afternoon, the writerly squad arrived to Blues City Café down on Beale Street in search of BBQ and elation. While seated in that booth sipping that sweet tea, my life changed. How, you ask, jealously? Through the gospel of gumbo cheese fries, which skeeted all over my soul in the most wonderful way. 
Now, I adore fries. Curly fries. Sweet potato fries. Shoutout to the kimchi fries at Korilla BBQ in Manhattan and the buffalo chicken blue cheese waffle fry situation at The Waffle in Los Angeles. But gumbo cheese fries is a whole different level of splendor. Because skrimps. 
It was everything I needed in life at that moment. My only regret is that I had to share them with six hungry folks. And because I was just meeting all of these folks for the first time on this business lunch of sorts, I curtailed my eagerness and ate like a nice, ungluttonous person. I refrained from shoveling fries into my mouth. I had to pace myself. I didn’t lick the plate this time. It was torture. I don’t want to get myself worked up and aroused thinking too hard about smashing that plate by myself. Surely, that plate would have returned to the kitchen spotless. 
When it came time to order our main dishes, someone at the table asked, “Are there any vegetables here?” 
Waiter: “No. Well, salad, fries and new potatoes.” 
Us: “What the hell is a new potato?” 
Waiter: “It’s just a regular little boiled potato.” 
We sucked our teeth collectively. 
Me, internally: “No gravy? No bacon? No magic? What kind of joyless dungeon are we in?” 
I ordered the ribs and catfish platter with fries, assuming that that kitchen full of big Black dudes couldn’t possibly let me down. The ribs? Muy succulent. Not enough sauce, but that was fixable. That catfish though? Gentrified and woefully under-seasoned.
The horror.
Read the rest over at Very Smart Brothas.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Freelancery: My latest for Very Smart Brothas


Howdy.

So, I'm writing for Very Smart Brothas again.

Last week, I wrote about this increasing excitement for fatherhood that renders me unable to walk past a Black baby without melting:
Since spending five months in New Orleans eating and playing Uncle Alex to the most precious lima bean in the world, my love of little Black humans runneth over. I met Fat Mama about thirty minutes after she entered this world and got to watch her grow from a hella yella poop machine to an emoting, scooting señorita who happily received the gospel of Yo Gabba Gabba. Once I mastered cradling her in my arms and dancing her unruly ass to sleep, which happened right before she began to recognize and smile at me, I was sold and once again open to the idea of going half on a singing group with someone.

Fat Mama allowed me to relive my fascination with watching little lima beans become whole damn people, which I first discovered while watching my nieces grow from poop-launchers to job-having women. (They turned 17 and 18 last week and I felt at once ancient, protective and elated.) I got to enjoy the beautiful part, before she goes out into the world to interact with defenseless mongrels whose parents enjoy Eminem, green bean casserole and incest. If only this sweet spot could last forever.
 Read the rest: "Visions of Pappyhood"

And this week, I wrote about the importance of self care while fighting for social justice and contending with casually shared images of death, destruction and despair across social media:
I appreciate and love that folks anticipate and respect my opinion, but sometimes, I just can’t deal and it’s too mentally taxing to be Mr. Outrage or Mr. Help Steer Whitefolk Away From The Darkside Somehow Someway Although That Terribleness Is Persistent As Fuck And Has Been Since The Beginning Of America here to make sense of their senseless fuckshit. For me, self-care amid such casual savagery means disconnecting every now and then, focusing on Life and devoting my energy, attention and love to those who love and look out for me.

I highly recommend you do the same. Sure, your voice matters. But so does your mind. Clock out from the circus when necessary.
Read the rest: "The Importance of Self Preservation Amidst Casual Savagery"

Check out the rest of my work for VSB here.


Follow me on Twitter: @chrisalexander_
LIKE me on Facebook: Colored Boy

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