Greg Correll

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Greg Correll

Greg Correll
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New Paltz, New York, US
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September 21
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Founder, Chief of Deselopy (small packages); Editor (doesthismakesense.com)
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small packages, inc.
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I write.

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MARCH 8, 2010 6:56PM

just smoke in the sky

Rate: 31 Flag
200px-Kinadshburn

The first library was created by Ashurbanipal in Assyria. 2,700 years ago.

Bless the day, bless that lonely prince.

His father the King could not read, distrusted all, so he decreed his son the prince should be taught the scribal arts.

Cuneiform, the first written language, was already ancient, a thousand years old, and scribes had to learn the dead tongues of Sumerian and Akkadian to read their oldest clay tablets.

So what?

 

Anger simply is.

When I deny it, or push it away? it grows fangs, sinks into me, shakes me hard.

I have learned to observe it. Admit it. Refrain from feeding it.

Some anger is justified. Against great wrongs, against injustice.

To clarify the lines of decency and safety for children.

So what?

Reading and writing made it possible for me to see when it is real and when it is not, when anger has a social purpose -- end child labor! civil rights! -- and when it is fuel for fools.

My anger is usually fool fuel.

It is a moebius path of fear on which I run and sweat before I even choose motion.

I know my anger. My self-righteous anger is my undoing. Bad for me, bad for the ones I love.

He didn't just learn to read spy reports and troubling portents.

He tried his hand at poetry :

"Often I go up to the roof in order to plunge down, but my life is too precious, it turns me back.

I would hearten myself, but what heart do I have to give?

I would make up my mind, but what mind do i have to make up?"

Do I have to spell it out?

Yes.

Words are necessary. If not for libraries I would be dead. Me, or someone else.

Seen from afar we are odd apes, draped in colors and patterns that disguise our silly putty limbs. Sped up, our communal lives are a blur of tangling arms then bent study; we grope around, embracing, slashing -- then prolonged stillness. Squinting at squiggles and jots, at flat rectangles of jabbering frenzy, to gliding and punctuated sound. What for?

We want to know. We read for signs, to find a voice over us, to understand our own story.

Does this sound familiar? A king who wants to die, but cannot.

He amassed records, centralized them and said: this has Value. Words. The daily activities, the banal trade and exchanges, the gods' signs and people's pleas, the epics.

Gilgamesh, the first epic, was already ancient when he made sure versions were collected and scratched in clay.

So what, Gilgamesh?

4,700 years ago; so what?

We write to say how, to name the sorrow, to identify the cost, to defuse the bombs. To signify our brief tumult before we are smithereened, like all before us.

And it is all crap if our anger consumes us. Me, you, them, the other ones; all of the lucky enough who follow later, lucky to be the eyes of existence, peering at itself.

So what?

Even justified anger destroys. What hope do we have?

Imagine the Nazis had prudently flanked Russia, abandoned Barbarossa for the epic vanity it was, headed for the oil fields and thus sustained their efforts fruitfully. Eventually they would have encountered Ghandi. See him, in his loin cloth, with his walking stick, his followers amassed behind him.

The SS officer leaves the armored half-track and strides forward, amused. He stops, listens, nods.

Then he pulls his luger and pop! between the eyes.

See?

"You are young, Gilgamesh, borne along by emotion, all that you talk of you don't understand."

Gilgamesh wants to rape; Enkidu the wild man stops him. He fights Enkidu to a draw. They become friends.

He must defeat the ogre Humbaba, the monster in the cedar forests of Lebanon, far to the northwest of civilized Sumer.

He and Enkidu must dig for water
at every stop.

He finds Humbaba
and destroys him.

We are dreadful, terrible, no?

Will we ever rise up?

We feed our anger, one by bloody one, day by lost day. We feel each slight, we amass the wrongs against us into pyramids of cracked glass marbles; gathered in, and always collapsing, spilling, rolling out of reach.

A danger to all who would walk upright in our midst.

These necessary piles, these justified collections.

But if we learn to pacify, to calm, what defense do we have against the unscrupulous, the greedy, the ogre in the woods?

Buddha realized the third way. Pol Pot would have tortured him to death.

He defeated the Bull of Heaven, the one who ravaged the land and destroyed hope; he "smote its skull with his axe weighing seven talents. The Bull reared up so high, so high that it overbalanced. It spattered like rain, it spread itself out like the harvested crop".

The Bull of Heaven.

He defeated Aga, his king and benefactor, in order to set himself above all others, to conquer; he "cast down multitudes, he raised up multitudes, multitudes were smeared with dust, all the nations were overwhelmed, the land's canal-mouths were filled with silt, the barges' prows were broken, and he took Aga, the king of Kic, captive in the midst of his army."

But because of the great pity and understanding Gilgamesh had acquired in his battles against the wild man, the ogre, the bull, against all the raging powers of disorder and chaos and rage, he was able to say this to Aga: "Aga gave me breath, Aga gave me life: Aga took a fugitive into his embrace, Aga provided the fleeing bird with grain."

And he set Aga free.

Jesus said turn the other cheek. And he turned his eye from slavery, was mum about the hopeless injustice of that natural disorder of inhumanity, the owned and owners.

Shakers devised remarkable sustainable production methods, re-routing streams under intimate factories, where water-powered lathes ran on belts that emerged from floors 30 feet above the flow. In quiet rooms they shaped elegant spindles.

They castrated themselves and have no inheritors.

What is wrong with us?

Why is gentle strength beyond our reach?

I say: it is not. Because of these, these words, strung like beads on holy lines, piled and sorted in libraries, cared for.

Because of libraries we have examples. We can lower our furious arms, ponder on meaning, because of words.

Perhaps we must each wrestle our wild Enkidus until we exhaust ourselves and become as one. Perhaps evil Humbabas have to die. Perhaps the Bull of Heaven destroys us if we do not destroy him first, subdue him, consume him, feed the poor with his sweat and meat, again and again.

Perhaps.

Gilgamesh at last loses Enkidu, because his beloved friend "hit his son when he was annoyed with him. He aroused an outcry and was detained in the nether world."

He opens a hole and has Enkidu returned to him from the darkness below, and asks him the fate of all who passed before. The list is long and the fates are strange; some just, some unjust, others merely, eternally sustained.

He asks:

"Did you see my little stillborn children who never knew existence?"

"I saw them."

"How do they fare?"

"They play at a table of gold and silver, laden with honey and ghee."

It ends like this:

"Did you see him who was set on fire?"

"I did not see him. His spirit is not about. His smoke went up to the sky."

Perhaps we are always doomed, and kings will always conquer kings.

But maybe, if we love justice, if we learn to read? if we recognize how those before us sometimes managed to provide the fleeing bird with grain, to struggle to do right, we will battle with words and heal the world.

Here. Now. Together.

We are all on epic journeys. We must dig wells before we rest, for ourselves and all who come after us.

We must write and read, and save the stories, all of them: the ugliness in us, the fables about birds and grain, the hills we scramble down, the boys we save, the girls we raise up, the love we have for those who light our way. We must observe our anger, turn it to justice, and always release our enemies, free the good king, even in our triumph.

We must bear witness: we are fierce, yes, we are, we are fierce.

But we must quench our terrible fire,
or else be smoke in the sky.

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Why does this bring tears to my eyes? Is it because it resonates with my hope and my desire? Is it because I recognize the plea within it, or is the plea mine, as I read? If nothing else, my response to this tells me that you are onto something very powerful, Greg. Let us pray that the next revolution/iteration of humanity heeds this . . .
Yes. Yours is epic view, Greg. The first of you writings I came across here were so ruthlessly introspective and honest that I was almost afraid to read them. They made me gasp and cry. You seemed to be tearing yourself apart. But I've seen you progress along a healing path, and now you're taking the insights you've gained from studying your own soul and reflecting outward, enabling us to see ourselves more clearly because of what you've shown us of yourself. I cried for you, and now I cry for me.

This is progress. One variation of the essential idea you've elaborated here struck me as so wise that I highlighted it and clicked "copy," expecting to paste it here at some point. I don't remember what it is, but here it is:

Why is gentle strength beyond our reach?

I say: it is not. Because of these, these words, strung like beads on holy lines, piled and sorted in libraries, cared for.


As one of my childhood comic book superheroes would say at times of great melodramatic significance - I don't remember which hero - holy moly.

You are the truly the Gandhi of OS. Bless you, brother! (r)
Please pardon the typos. I need better glasses, or something.
Owl: it is a great and terrible truth that Gilgamesh ends with the flood of the world, the original flood narrative lifted by the Bible writers almost whole cloth. That the end of us is no lessons learned, a mindless deluge, and then we start agin, forever doomed to repeat.

I don't believe this. I believe literacy, writing, is our personal -- and civilization's -- hope and salvation. If we are fearless about our ogres, and merciful, and meet injustice with ferocity. These squiggles and jots will bring us to to heaven, if we do the work they proscribe.

Proscribe. Just the word for it.

thank you.
ClarkK: you give me too much honor and credit, dear friend. I have made nothing like the sacrifices and risks he took, nor do I have his resolute spirit, yet. And he was shrewder than me. Plus he was a lawyer!

But I like to think he would support my hope here.

We need a 3.5 way. Buddha was right, but to follow him absolutely is to be defenseless. I don't know what it is, or how to improve on the best of what I have found. I combine and synthesize the products of better minds, and testify to the powerful good compassion has wrought in me.

thank you
This theme is treated brilliantly in Walter Miller's modern classic A Canticle for Leibowitz

From a review on the blog Keeping the Door: A Canticle for Leibowitz is a disturbing and hilariously satirical warning that humanity is doomed to constantly repeat its own mistakes — even if those mistakes are the sort that lead to nuclear holocausts and legions of torch-bearing fanatics determined to burn every book in sight.
Anger is the least useful and most superficial emotion. It strikes me that there is usually something deeper and more useful that fuels anger, and getting at that can be much more useful.

Even regarding injustice, getting pissed off doesn't do much. It could be a start, but is all to often an end.
Eloquent passion here and fervent, rather than forlorn, hope. I think that if enough people just quietly do the right thing, the world will improve. It's a start.

But I personally think it has to be that way. In harmony with the Dao, not as a revolution.
this is the 8th time i've been back today to read this. i haven't even tried to comment before. i have been taking it in, bit by bit, a little more with each reading.

i've also read and reread your comment on my anger post. my anger at death, life, doctors, leukemia...it has become an entity unto itself. one i hadn't even realized had grown as large and fearsome as it had until i began writing on OS. then you write 'anger simply is'. i start seeing it in a different light, from a different angle.

i don't know if i can ever become as good a person as you. i may be too damaged. but i cannot judge much tonight because my head feels as if it is going to explode.

but thank you for the different light and the different angle. wonderously written.
I try to manage my anger, because if I don't, my anger will manage me.

RATED
I believe in the power of words through literature to affect changes in individuals and the world.You make a great case for it on two distinct levels, with the mythic and the almost purely emotive. Well done.

BTW, I have a story that is still floating by a certain river.......

Best wishes, and I hope you are feeling much better! G
Going back to read again!
I'm also returning to this. I love the form, as always - LOVE it (like two for the price of one!). And I fear my own anger, which can be so sudden and irrational. I keep divining new and deeper meanings here. thanks.
Speaking of Buddhism, followed absolutely, leaving one defenseless reminds me of a robbery/murder of B. monks in (I think) Arizona some years ago - they just sat passively and let themselves be executed.

Anyway, I am on the run and will have to return to more fully take in your post. In the meantime, and totally off to the side - how, oh how, did you do this formatting? Inquiring minds are frantic to know... I have an unborn post that requires some side-by-side, and I can't figure out how to do it... Cut and paste from a word document didn't hold the format...
Oh I do see. Anger is an emotion like any other, but most of us haven't been trained to even acknowledge it. As a young girl, I would be spanked and sent to my room if I expressed any kind of anger, righteous or not. And I would say that now, my anger can build up and be expressed in ways that make me wince and lose my voice. It is one of my biggest challenges. Like you, my anger is fool fuel and a constant practice to restrain. For me, the solution is the notion that there is strength in softness but I am nowhere near perfecting it. Great piece Greg.
Epic, absolutely. I may be sheltered but I've never before seen this presentation of prose. And I adore it; I find it brilliant.

As to the subject at hand: I was reading about the continuing troubles in Nigeria, about the slaughter of an entire Muslim village in January that was followed yesterday by the slaughter of an entire Christian village "in retaliation" -- a series of events perfectly captured by your words:

"We feed our anger, one by one, day by day, we feel each slight, we amass the wrongs against us like pyramids of cracked glass marbles, gathered in, and always collapsing, spilling, rolling out of reach. A danger to all who would walk upright in our midst."
Your perspective, perceptions, understanding and ability to convey the human condition all in mellifluously strung words has got to be both a gift and a curse. You see, feel and write it all so clearly. My fingers tingle in response. One word comes to mind, Greg: Genius. Pure fucking genius.
We will make these great strides when we learn to put love before all else. I don't necessarily agree with total pacifism, because I believe that sometimes love must be defended at all costs in order to defeat hate. But the difference between us and our simian relatives is that we can reason and we can choose to overcome our baser instincts.

I left this parable in a comment to someone else, but I think it dovetails nicely with your incredible post, Greg. So I pass it on to you as well, even though the author is unknown.

"One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson about a 'battle' that goes on inside people. He said, "My son, the battle is between 2 "wolves" inside us all.
One is Evil. It is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith."
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather:
"Which wolf wins?" The old Cherokee simply replied, "The one you feed."


Highly rated.
Cartouche!! ha! more like ba-jeenius, if that.
My daughters have learned to quickly insert: "the short version, dad"

I can't play trivial Pursuit because wonder and admiration turns to ugly resentment: "how do you KNOW that?" Over what? a porous mind that weakens every years, crammed with crap.

Susna Wise Bauer. I am a broken record on her, but her books have given me permission to calm down about being an auto-didact, love learning. And btw, she was seed for this side by side layout, in her exquisite and droll "The History of the Ancient World", the single most learned and entertaining history ever written.

thank you
Bill S: Right: It is an allowance for our violence and anger that must be made before we can really change, and we must preserve a certain warrior spirit to fight injustice.

I know and greatly admire this parable. It is an essential part of my whole piece.

I am not a fan on the whole of the dewy eyed romanticising of indigenous cultures by pampered middle-class Americans. Native American tribes were often cruel and savage and brutal cultures. Their "skull wars" battle against archaeologists today is a triumph of superstition over science. But credit is due wherever wisdom surfaces. I still think "Black Elk Speaks" is remarkable as history, as character study of a decent human being, and fine writing.

And this parable is one of the best, Bill. Thank you.
ClarkK: I know that book, read it in the 7th grade, haven't thot of it in years

Nick: It's how we direct the anger that changes the injustice. And like in everyday life, it is how we conduct ourselves while we do battle, every day. Thank you

AtHome: I agree it is individual. But the American experiment has proved that comfort and freedom also breeds complacency, indifference. It is easy to perfect The Way in the comfort of the West (or in a monk's palace). It is hard to change direction, renounce hate, in poor Earth and bad circumstances. We need Dao, but we need Selma and Boycott South Africa too,

MissngK8: It was your post, the standup, tremulous strength of it (and fine prose) that started this piece for me. You honor me with this comment.

We are damaged. We have both written of it. But we stand up. You have, in writing here, and it works. If anger simply is, then damage simply is. We take new breaths, do the dishes, and forgive what we can, fix things, find laughs again. What's the alternative?

hugs and thanks to you.

littlewillie: someone always comes along and says it more concisely. well-done. thank you.

Gary: I AM recovered, and a bad friend! I just read your transporting Kansas piece and commented (http://open.salon.com/blog/gary_justis/2010/02/22/floating_at_the_rivers_edge). You and me, Gary, Kansas boys. I was right out there with you.

My mother in law used to skeptical that reading helps anyone. She was hidden during the war and her whole family wiped out. Now she gets a new book from the library every month. And good stuff, too, the Kite Runner, for example.

Books let us enter each other's world.

thank you.

trilogy: thank you!

aim: i learn to snarl to myself if I must, but: observe, breathe, let it go, and JUST NOT FEED IT. and when I must say something -- be polite to your mother! -- I say it and then stop. STOP.

thank you.

Myriad: and thus you get to my point here: there is something a little different than just the third way. 3.5? (feh, sounds like software). Certainly not Ouspensky's 4th. (mind-numbing dribble). Not wholly unrelated to Beethoven's 5th (ok greg stop!)

Christian generosity (in SPITE of his final sword), Judaic law, Buddhist compassion and calm -- but then who dethrones the tyrants, wins the right to vote?

(do view Source to steal this code or let me know and I will PM to you)

maryt! a wonderful, personal, compact response to the Personal Struggle at the heart of this. For me the great breakthru, after years of pretending, trying, practicing, small but improved restraints, was Compassion for universal suffering, for a man who made a terrible attack on me. Something unsnapped, unbroke, in me.

Proved it DOES pay to feel along, do it in every incremental way. It builds, we turn our hearts with trim tabs not the full rudder.

thank you, friend

Nikki: I started trying this out a dozen posts ago, out of desperation, and find it the only way to do certain things.

And you underscore my thoughts with your heartbreaking and utterly typical example: serenity is easy when you can go tot the Stop n Shop and people leave you alone. When your kids have their choice of schools. OK, it ISN'T easy, it never is, but a whole lot easier, than when the scrabble for resources and honor is embedded in poverty and machetes are near at hand.

But where we are? the better place? we must perfect it and spread it. Starting here on OS. Choose your injustice, flash your fierce, then retreat gracefully. Immediately look for, offer, a way for all to have dignity and elevate. usually, it doesn't work. So what? Rage is a funeral pyre (cough, BBE, cough)
Don't you go filling my canal-mouth with silt, buster!

I try to keep my cool on-line, but that's based on my counting up of wasted time in my early blogging days.

r
I read this last night, and needed to think on it, and read it again. Anger is foreign to me, so I never trust it when it comes. But I feel sometimes I'm missing out on a dimension of feeling -- by not honoring the anger of others and my own. Is it any better to deny anger or refuse to recognize it (silence it) than it is to give it food and water? Your vision is hopeful, and gives me hope. :)
"rage is a funeral pyre" - brilliant and borrowed.
"the smoke went up to the sky." Indeed. Beautiful, Greg.
"the smoke went up to the sky." Indeed. Beautiful, Greg.
"Reading and writing made it possible for me to see when it is real and when it is not"

wow, do I understand that line especially. amazing stuff.
"But we must quench our terrible fire,
or else be smoke in the sky."

Yes, we must. We must. I love the parallel structure and your skill at presentation as well. ~R~
Con: Little known fact: Onan silted his own canal.

And same here. I used to be an angry online asshole,; now, not so much. Wasted time. Yep.


Bellweather: foreign?

I am all for hope. Thank you.

Nikki: I rather liked that too. Thanks

voicegal: there is eternal and familiar humanity in ancient writing. Thank you

Y heron: without development our mind spins and feeds on itself. Thank you.

FusunA: Yes we must. thank you.
Greg. I'm smiling. Yes, foreign. I've had every advantage in life -- through complete accident. I was adopted and could have ended up anywhere. I could have been anyone. But I was deeply loved. Not perfectly loved, but deeply. At every point in my life when I could have landed hard, I landed soft. I have had countless mentors, mothers, sisters, friends who have stretched themselves to warm me when I was merely chilly. Anger isn't something I know, or feel like I'm entitled to know. I am not allowed to complain (which makes anger -- for me -- more complicated than love). Then there is "good girl" and "Southern girl" and any other type of "girl" where the expecation is that we are pliant, sweet, open-hearted and friendly, and anger becomes revolution (and still petty, in my case because I have nothing to complain about). So, your anger, to me, is brave and sincerely justified, oddly beautiful and poetic, even if you are moving toward the next phase of wisdom and peace where you let it go. I'm stuck at a place where I hope to define anger -- at our world, our politics, our history -- in a way that will encompass me and my experiences. I've got a ways to go....
Bell: your comment why I write here, to learn original lives with the intimacy of well-expressed and compact, honest responses. It's hard to find surprise here. Affection, encouragement, a kind of love. Respect.
But you are alien to me as I am to you; we find each other in unlikely Assyrian section. How unlikely that ANY one read this.
And get to marvel at a life, described with admirable insight and sensitivity, that thrived without beltings, slaps, cruelty, overdose, death.
The beatings I took damaged me. The workovers will never be fixed, I have no nobility from snot and blood and midnight tears. The rage and slap-back I have resisted, overcome is never far from my armsy neck my teeth; I feel almost wrong even 33 years after avoiding such wrong w wife and three daughters.
You are real me, you palpate because the integrity of your Voice, the care you take to say your truth without affect. But you might as well be some extraordinary coral fisn, abird of paradise, in the life you shape to me. I cannot I'magine having lived as you have. I am fascinated
we stand here in ancient Mesopotamia, and consider each other, and somehow both know: anger is potent trouble. But from lives where one was free, the other whipped. I love os. I love finally getting connection in literary terms between your sustained and my bloody sinews. Thank you dear bellweather, you probably can't see what this means to me. Battered and icomplete but triumphant, I see you as an emmissary from life as it might have been, for me, and I earn this because of a lifetime of books and do- right. I want know how it feels to be you.
Thank you, dear bellweather
"We are all on epic journeys. We must dig wells before we rest, for ourselves and all who come after us."

and amen to all of that.
brilliantly written.
Greg, I think that's why I admire you so -- you've passed all of it (the state of grace I find myself in so accidentally) to your children. You might not even recognize how you've done it, but I'm positve you have, and they face the same dilemma I now face -- a writer without essential complaint.
You connect yourself to all that's ever been--that which has been written about, anyway--and turn your fury into the digging of wells for the nourishment of those to follow, telling them that Ghandi, Buddha and Jesus were wrong, that there is a righteousness to anger, that we can't tell the story if we're dead and that the most effective weapons are words carrying knowledge of what's been tried and what worked and what didn't.

A mezmerizing, challenging post, which does honor to the fury that went into its creation.
Greg,
You don't need my words of wisdom but I'll just say anger serves a valuable purpose, just don't hold onto it too long. There is saying ( Buddhist )... I may not have quoted directly but it goes something like this ...

"Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned."

all the best,
Scarlett
lorianne: thank you. I like that line too. It wrote itself, sort of.

Bell: (((hug)))

jimmy! you get a Big Picture here and how: "we can't tell the story if we're dead". Beautiful, man. A quibble: not exactly saying they are wrong -- or am I? -- but more like it's not quite enough.

digging those wells. thanks

Scarlett: good, the hot coal. Some of us build a callous, don't feel our own heat anymore. dead hands. Thank you.
I am days late finding this, finding your work. You may not see this but I am touched in so many ways by this piece. Born into the anger of others, I learned quickly to pacify, to calm. I chose that path then and I choose it now. Most of the time it suits me and calls my name.

I also learned to silence my own anger because I had no right to it. I have learned to allow it, but I don't like it. I wonder if the approach of an anxiety attack is a warning about anger I don't recognize. Not sure why I am thinking of that just now. I have learned that they are, for me, warnings that I need to let go of something, that there is too much of something all at once. I am not good with anger. My tendency is to walk away from it if I can not calm it or resolve it. All of a sudden I see a pattern I have known firsthand. If anger is aimed at me because I am there but, in fact, is anger roused by someone or something having nothing to do with me, then it is transferential and I may be able to help you as a therapist, but not as a daughter not as a wife.

Words. Writing. To know ourselves and our stories. Yes.

I think that gentle strength is not beyond our reach. I think it sometimes is right here. In your words and your truth.
anna: you honor me with this close read and fine comment. Our anger is common, but we each have different anger histories, i guess. I recognize myself in what you say, nonetheless. The balance is tricky. Fierce with ideas, not with each other, methinks. Thank you