I’m Baaaaack!

Darlings!

It’s been thirty long days without you, but I return a successful man.  I completed my Nanowrimo task, and now have a 45,000 word first draft.

First draft of what, you ask?

A graphic novel memoir, title to be revealed at a later date.

I’m spending these next 2 months reading some supplemental texts, and on my weekends reviewing my draft and planning rewrites to dive into my revision process in February.

For appetite whetting purposes, this memoir is about my family, our multi-generational addictions and habits, war and fishing, Stevie Nicks and french orphans.  More details to come–

I am back to my weekly blogs starting this week, and November was a huge success in that I have a very solid writing practice down, clocking in at two hours each morning before work.  This last month has been enriching and full of surprises.  I worked hard, and lo and behold, it paid off.

I’m glad to be back to the ol’ blog!

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Stand and Deliver

I’ve been using the men’s room now for, oh, almost a year.  It still feels a little strange; that is, I still feel like a foreigner…sometimes.  It’s not like one day you feel up to using the men’s room, and go in, and are forever changed and just own the place.  In some situations I still prefer a unisex stall: it’s about comfort and safety. All men’s room are different: some are obviously cleaner than others, some have different, um, let’s call it energy.  The men’s room at the Metro has a different energy than the one at Lincoln Hall.  Those of you that live in Chicago will inherently know what I mean.

I guess it’s more about the anxiety in my head that makes them different: I am worried I will be found out.  You don’t worry about that?  Don’t get nervous?  That’s call cis-privilege.  Enjoy it.  I don’t worry about it *too much* because I have the benefit of living in a major city with a strong queer presence.  So of course I don’t think, realistically that I will be discovered and thrown out or shamed or worse.  No, but I think that concern must float around in every trans person’s head, to some degree, when they are using a public restroom.

Last week when searching for a bathroom in a public place, I came across a unisex stall, and for the first time checked to make sure there wasn’t also a men’s room, because I would have rather used that.  I found that impulse interesting, and as I was washing my hands I wondered why I did that.  Sure, I was becoming more comfortable with using the men’s room, but when I thought about it, the impulse to use the men’s room over a unisex stall was because I didn’t want to take up space that I didn’t need.  I wanted someone who preferred the unisex stall to have that option.  It’s nothing profound, but it does illustrate the degree to which I am settling into my male identity.  8 months ago I would have been elated to find a unisex stall and not searched for the men’s room.

The thing that causes me most anxiety while using the men’s room is specifically the stall issue.  I used to make a big production out of blowing my nose to add a little more male noise in the stall once I was in a peeing position.  My feet are facing the wrong way, you see, and what kind of guy sits down to pee?  Actually, I have heard lots of guys sit to pee, and some of my male friends have told me they prefer the stall to a urinal.  But nonetheless, I’m the one waltzing in there without the usual equipment.  I’m not bothered by this too much, but bothered enough to start investigating STP devices.

What’s an STP device, you say?  Stand-to-pee devices range in price and complexity, and allow people with vaginas the ability to, you guessed it, pee while standing and not get urine all over themselves.  Hudson’s Guide has a full page on STPs here, and FtM Essentials has some nice models here.  For me, I just want something that will allow me to stand in a stall and pee.  I don’t want something I have to pack all day, nor do I want something with lots of parts to keep clean.  I just want something that lets me pee standing up that I can wipe down/rinse off and put back in my pocket.

To that end, initially I was torn between the Pstyle or ridiculously named Go-Girl.  Ultimately I went with the Pstyle, as I read uniformly positive reviews of it on multiple sites.  The unfortunate part of using STPs is that you don’t know which one is right for your body until you try it, and of course all sales are final, so there’s a costly trial-and-error period to start.   But being able to stand to pee in public would be really convenient and psychologically satisfying.  The Pstyle starts at $12.00, so it’s a financially low-risk place to start as well.

Oh, and I’m still off sugar!

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

I’m Taking Europe With Me

We all share this: an adolescence, music, an aching heart.  And it all gets tangled together, the memories, the feelings, the textures and desires.  You’re listening to an album in your bedroom, or watching a concert from the back of the hall and you want it to last forever.  And it does: you make a song of your own, or a poem, or a baby.  Something has its genesis out of the love you feel in those moments.  You can’t un-hear that, can’t un-feel it and so it gets mutated over time, a song is associated with a lover’s rejection, or the feel of their hand in yours.  You in a group of your friends in the dark and under the lights and the opening riff is plucked slowly, teasingly, ripples of recognition turn into applause, turn into whistles and cheering–we all know this one.

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Who was your favorite band when you were 18?  How did you come across that first song?  See them live?  Stand in line for a ticket?  Cut school the day the new record came out?  Turn the lights out and listen to the old stuff on headphones in your bedroom and notice new things in the background?  Have a crush on the singer?   The drummer?  Wait in the cold for hours just to watch them walk to the bus after a sold out show?  Made mix tapes of their b-sides, learned to play acoustic versions of the singles?  Imagine what you would say if they noticed you, said hello?

For me it was Veruca Salt.  I was just out of high school. They broke my heart when, at the height of their popularity, they disbanded.  Rumor had it, some dude, not even musical differences.  I wanted them to be better than that.  I held music on a pedestal and somehow thought it was unrelated to love.  How innocent.  But against all odds, we got a do-over.

20 years after the release of their first album in 1994, they got back together, said their sorrys (their emergence was announced with the line, “hatches buried, axes exhumed”), and the new singles sound like the old singles: sweet, pleading harmonies over heavy guitars.  Their songs, not so much the radio friendly singles, but surely the bulk of their music, build like an orgasm: you don’t know how good it is until it’s over, then you just want it again and again.

It gave me a strange giddiness to listen to the old stuff: to put on my headphones and hear Twinstar for the first time in a long time, and the afternoon before seeing them live for the first time in 15 years, I wanted to cheer and cry and could barely contain myself on the train.  I looked out the window as Nina and Louise harmonized the I’m stuck in my ways bit and thanked God for the Chicago River.

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That night, My friends and I waited out back by the bus for a few hours and eventually, one by one, Jim and Steve, then Nina and finally Louise came out.  I didn’t know what to say.  Or rather, what I wanted to say I didn’t want to say in the praise chorus of fans echoing in the parking lot.  So I waited a little more and did what I’m best at–I wrote them a letter to be delivered at the Chicago show:

Dear Veruca Salt,

I was late to the party with you guys.

In 1994 I was listening to Ice Cube and Cypress Hill and other mainstream, foul-mouthed rappers. It wasn’t until my buddy Reuben (with whom I was at your show tonight, and your Milwaukee show on Thursday) made me a mix tape with Sonic Youth and Pearl Jam, The Breeders, and yes, Seether. Who the fuck is this? I remember thinking right after the opening Ow! and a split second later, by the time the drums kicked in, I was hooked.

I’ve since lost that tape, but my friendship with Reuben and my twenties were both branded by pop-rock music: I grew out of the angry rap I listened to for most of my childhood and it was during this late introduction to 90’s alt rock that I got my first girlfriend, got my heart broken, bought a guitar, wrote some shitty songs, and worked in a record store. Reuben and I worked the same gig at different shops, we spent our early twenties bonding by getting high and going to free shows thanks to the comp tickets from the record labels. We were going to two or three shows a week, anything we could get our hands on tickets for, and I thank God I had that growing-up experience. We just wanted to hear music and talk about music and play music. I know you know that feeling.

We saw Stone Temple Pilots at Rosemont Horizon, We saw Korn at the Aragon—weeks later we saw Ani there too. We saw you guys at the Riv’ in ’97 and four days later Green Day at the same venue. Tori at Arie Crown and every winter it was time for Twisted Christmas at Rosemont and every summer Jamboree at World Music Theater. We saw Foo Fighters at the Riv’ one year on the fourth of July and I will never forget standing on the Red Line platform at Lawrence and watching the fireworks. That display was an explosive, sky-wide embodiment of my youth. I know you know that feeling.

No Doubt at the Metro. Fuck, we saw everyone at the Metro: Mr. Bungle and Soul Asylum, G Love and Special Sauce. I saw the Smashing Pumpkins’ original line-up (minus D’arcy; Auf Der Maur played in her stead) do their last show at the Metro and when Billy plucked the first notes of Mayonnaise my eyes began to well up. But I wasn’t emotional because something was over; but rather because I was teetering on that high wire between euphoria and nostalgia and it brought me to tears. I was missing that moment, in that moment. I know you know that feeling.

The ticket stubs from those shows are light sensitive, of course, because Ticketmaster didn’t want us xeroxing them and getting our buddies in for free. And so years later, even as they sit quietly preserved in a closed photo album, they are fading away. When I open that album now and again, it feels like that first break-up, the sting of watching something you love leave without any power to stop it.

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In my mid-twenties, I quit the retail business and went to college: I wanted to be a writer. My first year at college I was so broke I had to sell most of my cds to pay rent. But I read Jack Kerouac and Sylvia Plath and Harper Lee and was nourished in a different way from what food could give. And my life was changed again.  I couldn’t hold onto the 500+ cd collection that I had built up, but I had been changed by that music, by that time in my life, and I am so thankful I can access those emotions just by thinking about my finger on a wet car windowsill on the way home from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young—the first concert I ever went to with my dad.

When people attack my profession, and ask me, what good is writing for? What good is a liberal arts education? What a waste of money, all those cds…I tell them: math might make a mathematician, but the arts make citizens. I am a thinking human with feelings because of all those cds, all those concerts. And because of that education I can take those emotions and make something out of them: I can make art. And that’s what changes the world–not calculations, and not bombs.

My first year of grad school my guitar was pawned for the electric bill. Seven years earlier I had named that Washburn acoustic Nina. Six years ago I bought another one, and I can still play Karma Police with my eyes closed. It’s rusty, but it’s there for the prying open. The new guitar, a sweet acoustic Art & Louthrie, is named Louise. Things sometimes change, some stay the same.

This is a rambling kind of love letter, one in which I wanted to tell you a little about the life of one of your fans, I wanted to give you a chance to see me in the crowd. I wanted to tell you how much your music means to me without listing out all the songs I love and dissecting them, scrutinizing the lyrics and twisting the albums to fit my life, my agenda. The lasting lesson I got from grad school is this: art should be respected, and allowed to live its own life. And so I love your music, and respect it, and it was part of the genesis I went through in my twenties, and here I am a 36 year old man, and I am a better person for having had Veruca Salt in my life.

To be specific, for just a moment, I will say this:
When you played that Tower Record show in ’97, right before the release of Eight Arms, I stood in line for hours in the cold, with hundreds of your other fans. I was infatuated with Nina, her sickly sweet voice, and that extended “me-ee” at the end of “Leave me” in the last line of Volcano Girls has left an indelible print on my heart. I got to the front of the line that day, stood before you guys and told Nina, “There are certain pieces of heaven on this Earth and you are one of them.” I was just sick with fear, what would she think? What would she say? Would I get thrown out or laughed at? I don’t know that you even heard me and oh God, a corny and rehearsed line for sure, but at the time I thought it was what I felt. What was that good for? It was the first time I looked a woman in the eye and told her what she meant to me. I was changed. I was made a braver person for it. I was emboldened by that act, and I remember it fondly.  Nina, you helped make a man of me. And Veruca Salt’s music has continued to help turn the cogs of my heart.

Tell me, how do we go about our lives while there are old ladies looking at paintings and dogs hanging their heads out car windows, songs being written by Veruca Salt and not just drop to our knees under the weight of the beauty of it all?

Surely because beauty is weightless.

Warmly,
Your Pal Eli

I hear most nights on this tour, Veruca Salt close the show with 25, the same track they closed shows with so many years ago.  Jim gets up and leaves his drums, then Steve puts his bass down and walks off as well.  Nina and Louise are left with themselves and their Gibson SGs and continue playing.  Nina talks about this ritual here,

“It’s pretty intense playing the song ’25,’ which is the last song on ‘American Thighs’…Back then, the song was about what happened when I was 25 — I was 26 when I wrote it. Now, it’s taken on this incredible meaning for me. When I was 25, all of this was happening: It was about what happened when I formed a band. I always got emotional singing that song, and now I really do. It’s nostalgic and bittersweet. This whole thing is fascinating from a personal standpoint. So many lessons have been learned, with time healing all wounds, the feeling of life being very long, so things you thought could never happen can happen.”

Don’t we know it.

On the blogs and message boards and FB fan pages some version of this image keeps popping up:

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This pic I took at the Milwaukee show.  Just Nina and Louise, two girls who started a band.  I’m reminded of the line at the end of Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, the bit about how we all die, but in the middle of so much misery and sadness we find, “an hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations, to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined.”  Veruca Salt’s music gives me those hours.  But so does poetry, and the Lake, and my wife.  I want this joy to last forever.  Most people would say impossible.  Nothing last forever.  I would say bullshit.  When they played I’m Taking Europe with Me in Milwaukee I thought of Susan Howe‘s The Europe of Trusts.  And so I have this new memory now, of being at a Veruca Salt concert and thinking about Susan Howe.  The life of art, of joy, of happiness, is defined by its ability to connect to other pieces of art, of joy, of happiness.  And it is through those connections that we make meaning out of our own lives, ya know?

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

Remembrance: Matt Kailey

I first came across Matt Kailey‘s Tranifesto two years ago when I started this blog.  At the time I was certain about top surgery, and actively trying to talk myself out of testosterone.  But that argument felt a lot like the one I had with myself before I decided on surgery: I was going through the motions of a half-hearted, losing fight.  So I wanted to start looking for examples of dudes my age on testosterone: I wanted to see how it would look for a female body in its thirties to take testosterone, as I knew all the examples of kids in their 20s, with their high metabolisms and evolving bodies, would not be reflective of my transition.

Tranifesto was a revelation: TRANIFESTO in bold block lettering atop a brick wall, Matt standing confidently in front of it, eyes looking into the camera, looking at me.  Tranifesto a blog not just with his personal story, but also one with tabs for resources and links and trans FAQs.  He has a section for his bio and the bio of Tranifesto, he has a section for his public speaking and his books.  I spent a long time poking around, looking up his posts with testosterone tags, and his voice was reassuring.  Here was a guy who was a little older than me, had been on T for a while, and he was healthy.  Hell, he was thriving.  Matt’s life assuaged my fear of dying young from testosterone’s complications.

As I moved further along into my own journey I spent less and less time on Matt’s blog; what started as a weekly occurrence (I would read his Ask Matt posts religiously every Thursday) dwindled down to checking in sometimes as his new posts would pop up in my feed, and as my time allowed and interest was piqued.  I was becoming my own trans man, writing my own posts on T shots and answering questions from readers of my blog.  As my voice was taking shape, Matt’s was moving into the background.  But it was still always there, reassuring me.  One particular post of his deals directly with the fear of taking testosterone injections without any long-term studies to bolster the patient against the fear of fatal side effects.  In that post he writes,

“The one thing I do know is that you will never get out of this life alive…You will die of something, and my philosophy has always been that I would rather die after having lived a full and authentic life than after having lived as someone I am not.”

And that line, “you will never get out of this life alive,” has been a huge comfort to me. I wrote about this post of his previously here.  We all die of something, and even if testosterone is the indirect cause of it for me, at least I got to hear my real voice, look at and touch and have touched a chest that I am proud of.  I have been addressed as sir and moving in the world and being recognized by the world as a man have been perhaps the greatest joys of my life.  Clearly Matt has been a huge help in my personal transition, a soothing voice, a self-assured internet buddy, and I might not be the man I am (or might not have gotten to be him this soon) without Matt Kailey and Tranifesto.

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Matt Kailey (Image courtesy of Tranifesto)

As I was preparing my wedding and honeymoon, I’ve spent little time on WordPress recently, and so I missed that Matt died of heart failure in May.  I’m sad and his passing is a huge loss for our community.  His death, at 58, also stokes the embers of that old fear, the one of dying early.  So I let that fear sit with me for a half day, then I let it go.  In that same blog post Matt goes on to write,

“There are honestly a ton of trans guys over 50 out there. Some of us might not be as visible because we have assimilated into the mainstream and are not visible as trans men, or because we are not as Internet savvy (or as interested) as the younger guys who grew up with technology.

So don’t freak out about dying young. I can’t guarantee that you won’t, but I can guarantee that you will hear more about people who die than you will about people who are living, because death is almost always a shock, and when someone dies, people will talk about it.”

And here I am talking about it.  And even in death Matt manages to act as confidant and teacher; it is his early death that forces me to look at my own life and determine its length is in my hands.

Matt’s blog is still up and available, in fact his most recent post is about Tranifesto turning 5.  I suggest you go check it out if you’re not familiar, and if you are, take a moment there to say your goodbye.  I did, and it felt right and good.

Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

The Advocate has a lovely Op-ed on Matt here.

And fellow blogger American Trans Man has a short goodbye here, with links to Matt’s blog and books.

 

 

 

Welcome to the New My Life Without Tits!

Friends, Interweb Travellers, Gawkers, and the Gender-Curious,

It's pronounced E-Lie

It’s alive!

Let me reintroduce you to the blog My Life Without Tits.

Ta-dah!

Now let’s take this rig for a spin.  Please watch your step as you board the blogcraft.

-Just north of this post in the address bar you will notice a new url: mylifewithouttits.com.  Yes,  I have purchased my domain name and own rights to everything within it (unless otherwise noted).  So all those top surgery pics are mine, all mine!  And remember to update your bookmark!

-No doubt you notice a new theme: I wanted one in which I could customize the sidebar and widgets, and the old one just wouldn’t do.  But it did serve me well, and I thank the WordPress overlords for use of it.  With this new theme you get:

-An updated About Eli & About His Blog tab

-Updated Blogroll and Related Sites tab with some of the old and trusted blogs (Shout out to Transman, Karen,  Maddox, and friends) alongside some new blogs of interest and sites with trans resources.  Go and get to clickin’!

-The new Education/Public Speaking tab for employers, community organizations, and educators who would like to work with me in a professional capacity.

-I cleaned up all the old/broken links and messy tags and categories.  Looking for top surgery info?  Just type “top surgery” in the search box and all those posts have been properly tagged.  Want more information on my experience with testosterone, click on the Testosterone category in the side bar and there you’ll have all my bitching, right before your eyes!

This has been a labor of love, and I’m pleased with how all the changes have manifested themselves.  But of course this blog updating activity is always a process, so if you find a link that doesn’t work, or a tag missing, let me know.

I hope you enjoy your time here on MLWT.  If you’re new here, welcome.  If this is old hat to you, welcome back.  For the foreseeable future, please expect a new post weekly, likely on Fridays.

Thanks for dropping by, and be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

 

You Can’t Go Wrong With Skulls

Yesterday I stopped by Revolution Tattoo in Bucktown for an appointment with Omar, the owner.  The shop is on Western Avenue in Chicago.  I did a lot of research on shops in the city, googling artists and studios, asking friends for suggestions, and contacting the shops for consultations.  Revolution was my pic for many reasons: the traditional tattoo designs on the leggy walls, the antler collection above the doorway, the large bat hanging from the ceiling.  When I arrived Omar was just putting the finishing touches on a design he and I talked about two weeks prior, so yesterday was the day I got the outline for my chest piece.

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2222 N Western Avenue

The design has quite a lot of detail, so we did the outline in one day, and are doing the shading in a month, after Omar returns from two weeks in Europe, and I’ve forgotten how painful chest tattoos can be.  While sitting in the chair yesterday I got to know Omar, listened to some stories about his shop and the time and effort it took him and his wife to build it.  K came with me for support* and was great about helping the conversations along.  She asked Omar about his wife’s role in Revolution’s genesis and he told us about her curatorial interests and the art space they have next door.  She was responsible, largely, for the decor of the studio, which made sense to me.  Another part of the reason I chose Revolution for my tattoo wasn’t just because of the impressive bone collection or because Omar is talented, seasoned, and trustworthy, but also because the shop feels homey.  It has, as Omar said, “a woman’s touch.”  Each artist has his own station, and I’m sure they’re filled with objects specific to that person.  But there is a cohesive warmth to the space as a whole, the details make it not only comfortable and evocative, but authentic.  Revolution is a classic tattoo shop, it feels small and broken-in and interesting.  That’s the kind of local business I want to support, and it’s the kind of place I want my tattoo experience to find its home in.

Something that I didn’t expect is that Omar reminded me of my uncle Tony quite a lot.

It happened like this: I’m reclined in the black tattoo chair, Omar’s telling me a story about his beloved green 1971 Chevy truck** and out of the corner of my eye I catch this little smirk rustle his cheek, the twitch and shift of his full beard gives it away and that movement on that cheek reminds me of Tony.  Until that moment I hadn’t noticed how Omar’s beard and hair are the same color as Tony’s before he went grey.  Omar’s nose comes to the same rounded point as Tony’s but the similarity is most surprising in the eyes.  They both have playful, sharp brown eyes.  At first, I found myself avoiding his gaze at times because it felt like Tony was looking at me and that stirred up all kinds of ugly feelings.  But as I laid there, because it wasn’t Tony leaning over me, something turned over in my gut.  Sometimes clenching my fists in my pockets as Omar worked the gun’s way over my sternum, sometimes leaning into the many needle points because that felt better than to feel the ticklish vibration in my ribs, I thought about Tony and it was actually quite nice, thinking about Tony as a younger person, someone not related to me and without all that ugly baggage and I felt like maybe I was capable of healing Tony’s legacy by forgiving him in those little moments.

So I thought about healing for a little bit, how it can be healing in that moment to let Tony be free of his pain, and so then I could be free of the pain he caused me.  I could just listen to Omar’s stories, and let Tony step in and out of that room, and I concentrated on the little belly breaths I took to keep the canvas still and felt calm and pleased and at peace about my relationship with Tony.  And when Tony would lean back and out again, I thought about how my chest was healed after surgery, how my body was healed with my soul, how healing it can be to cut out things that don’t fit and aren’t representative of you.  I wish Tony would have cut out alcohol, but he couldn’t.  It was nice to imagine getting a tattoo from my cool uncle Tony.  Maybe we were in his shop, or in his garage, and maybe we were talking about girls.  Maybe we were talking about Led Zepplin.  As the gun made the arch of a wing on my chest I knew what it was like to have that guy in my life.  It was only for a few seconds here and there, and it was after he died, but Tony and I found our way to each other.  Wings are funny that way, when you don’t know how to use them they take you to mysterious places you have never been.

I looked down and saw another little feather appear.  I thought about wings and flight and how I cut out my breasts and how the scars helped me to get above myself.  I thought about how those scars arch like wings.  And I thought about that Leonard Cohen line in Anthem, “There is a crack in everything.  That’s how the light gets in.”  I thought about how much light those scars have let in.  And sometimes when I would look down while the gun was being dipped in ink I would see this black image drawing my eye away from my scars.  Which is part of the point, but also I looked at my scars and thought about how this was their first time being really looked at in public, and by someone who wasn’t K or my doctor.  I thought about how those scars lift me.  So soon I found myself smiling easily in that chair, K sitting a few feet away and chatting with Chito, another artists in the shop.

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Chito and I discovered we’re from the same home town and so for a while we talked about how the town has changed, talked about the roads that used to dead end and now they go over a new bridge and all the way out of town.  There’s a pause in the chatter and he seems far away, but then he steps closer to me, away from his table and he squints at the design emerging on my chest.  Almost inaudible over The Sword’s Barael’s Blade, Chito says something.

“Skulls,” he breaths wistfully, “You can’t go wrong with Skulls.”

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Be nice to yourselves,
Your Pal Eli

*I have many tattoos, so I didn’t need anyone to hold my hand for that.  But it was my first time being shirtless in public, essentially, so it was more of a “stick around until I can gauge whether this feels like a safe space for me.”  I got a good feeling there right off the bat, but then she stuck around for the conversation and fun and ended up staying all 4 hours.  What a champ is she!
**For many years when I was a kid, Tony parked that same model in our driveway in powder blue.