Posts Tagged ‘modeling’

I Know What I Like

February 19, 2017

I sent an email to my (very understanding) supervisor recently, expressing my deep reservations about a proposed move to video visits being pushed by upper management. Not that I don’t know how to adapt my interviews to a video format, but I live in a region of limited Internet connectivity and the people with whom I am expected to conduct these visits have neither the technology nor the money to acquire the technology to participate. Most run out of minutes on flip phones before the end of each month.

More importantly, to my mind, is a concern for the disappearance of meaningful interpersonal connections. Too many of us now live in isolated bubbles, glued to smart phones and tablets, Googling for answers to test questions instead of reading and learning and thinking things through for ourselves. Too many of us can be seen sitting with others, everyone with his or her head down staring at a screen. Too many of us spend too much time “connected” only with those who visit the same websites, think the same thoughts, agree with whatever we say, and take righteous offense if anyone contradicts the group’s predetermined set of beliefs.

I’m not originating these thoughts – some of them I read in an analysis by Eric Francis, astrologer and writer and producer of PlanetWaves. Some I heard during an interview with a journalist scorned by his liberal peers for writing a biographical piece on Milo Yiannopoulos. The journalist’s original position was a sort of “know thine enemy” belief that one cannot effectively implement programs or persuade others who hold different views, if one hasn’t heard enough of those views to discover where there may be common ground upon which to build a successful compromise, or a persuasive argument for a different outcome.

I’m reminded of a speaker brought to my college campus in the early 1960s. Once a week the entire campus was gathered for Collection, to hear a presentation meant to give us food for reflection. Attendance was mandatory. One spring morning, the speaker was a South African government official who presented a defense of apartheid to an audience almost entirely composed of supporters of the civil rights movement then actively unfolding in the United States. Some students made an initial effort to block the speech, primarily because of the mandated attendance. The school administrators insisted that we hear the official’s viewpoint “in order to understand how best to argue against and counter it.” The speaker presented a closely reasoned and very persuasive argument in support of separation of races that could only be countered, I realized, by catching – and taking apart – his implicit assumption that people are more comfortable “with their own kind” and that race is a necessary and sufficient condition for dividing kinds of people. He only verbalized the comfortable with one’s own part of the premise; the racial implications corollary was never stated. In case you didn’t take logic in school, the speaker implied but never stated that in and of itself skin color creates an unbridgeable gap between people such that I as a Caucasian can never be the same kind of person as anyone with a Negroid complexion.

Had I not heard the South African speaker, I might never have been able to pinpoint the unstated assumptions on which so many people base their objections to the sort of social integration that has been experienced in the past 40 years in the US. And had I not heard that speaker, I probably would not have grown in my own ability to reach across very real differences, to find common ground with people whose views are significantly different from my own. I have friends, good and caring people, who support the newly elected Congress and President. I don’t agree with their political views, but I also cannot fault their day to day treatment of neighbors, nor their commitment to good education, appropriate care for the needy, and fair treatment for all.

The devil is in the details, as they say, and one of the details seems to be that we as a nation have lost the capacity to relate to anyone different from ourselves. How many people, now, would object to the statement that “people are more comfortable surrounded by those like themselves”? How many of us choose to go outside our “comfort zones” or our technologically reinforced personal bubbles to listen to, interact with, care about those whom we perceive as different from ourselves?

The journalist who was scorned for writing about Yiannopoulos had called himself a liberal, but reacted to their scorn by redefining himself as a “new conservative.” Not that he changed his own values, but that he perceives today’s “strident” liberals as unable to listen, unable to discuss, unable to tolerate different viewpoints from their own. They have become, he claims, just like the alt-right in that both sides are equally intolerant.

A Quaker friend (a Friend friend) of mine recently raised the question of how to reach out to those whose views differ from our own, in order to better understand steps to take to heal the growing divide which he sees as threatening to tear our democracy apart. I found myself wanting to answer “shut down the social media sites, turn off the Net, create an environment, at least for a week, that will force people to actually see and talk to and listen to one another. Don’t replace in person visits with video visits, don’t require doctors to focus on data entry into a computer when they should be listening to their patients. Don’t allow objectors to prevent a speech, however unpleasant the views of the speaker. And don’t let implicit assumptions about similarity and difference slip by unquestioned.

It may be true that we are generally most comfortable with those like ourselves. What matters is how we define the phrase, like ourselves. I remember that I used to say the only thing about which I am intolerant is intolerance. I suspect that is still true. Intolerance, to me, means lack of respect for the humanity of another. I need to ask myself whether I can respect the humanity of a bigot. Can I find that of God in a hater? I found it in killers who were my students when I taught in the NM Penitentiary. I have certainly found it in those friends referred to earlier, whose political views are so different from my own. If I can do so, it does NOT mean I accept anyone’s right to act on bigotry and hatred. But if I can do so, I think I’ll have a better chance of diverting the haters from implementing their bigoted agenda.

 

Returning to Reading

November 15, 2015

I’ve started reading again.
Or, more accurately, I’ve resumed reading for pleasure at what used to be my normal rate of 2-3 books a week. For most of the past two years, until a couple weeks ago, I haven’t achieved more than two books a month. Knowing the why of the drop off did not make the dearth of reading any more acceptable to my impatient mind. It’s certainly mind that is now celebrating evenings spent on the couch with a book as a return to “normal”.

Mind had best not get too comfortable with this normal, as it’s a new one, with frequent interruptions to discuss medical terminology questions with my husband and sister-in-law as they work on their respective anatomy and pharmacology studies. I had better not get too comfortable with this new normal either, since it derives primarily from a lessening of my work caseload, and I don’t trust that this easing will endure. It should – my client list is now, after two years of numbers circling ninety, reduced to where it is “supposed” to be, around sixty-five. That’s a full third reduction, bringing my work week down from 60 hours to 45 and freeing time to read for relaxation.

In this past week I’ve been with Rei Shimura back to Japan, and accompanying an itinerant weaver to solve a string of murders in a Shaker community. It’s pleasant to go traveling again, without the stress of packing, driving (I do so much of that for my daily work) and sleeping away from loved ones, in seldom fully comfortable and always unfamiliar beds.

Being markedly less engaged with books these past eighteen months has made me noticeably more sensitive to them now that I’ve returned my attention to reading. In particular, I’m aware of the too frequent typos, words missed out of sentences and similar flaws of production which seem to be a different type of new normal for print publications. Or is this perhaps the new normal for the comparatively inexpensive, remaindered reprints available from discount supply houses, where I frequently shop?

I wish I could afford the $25-30 per book of a bookstore hard cover, but I can’t. I feed my … I started to say addiction to reading, but maybe it’s no longer an addiction?… pleasant habit of reading with acquisitions from second hand stores, and from remaindered and discount house catalogs. Books from these catalogs, in particular, seem to contain frequent composition errors. Sloppy workmanship? Or the results of computer-based typesetting that doesn’t recognize when a word is missing, or a cognate replaces the word that should be in the sentence.

I don’t read e-books. I spend too much time already in front of a computer screen. So I don’t know if e-books are similarly flawed in composition and construction. And I’m not sure whether to hope they are, or that they are not. If they are, then an entire profession that once prided itself on accuracy has fallen into slackness and error. If e-books are error free, then it would seem that a serious disregard for paper books is being made manifest by compositors who used to be in competition for the most perfect, flawless output.

Is my cranky complainer side showing? Am I sounding like a stereotypical older person ranting that standards are falling and are so far from what they were in my younger days? That complaint has been with us at least as long as the works of Homer and Cicero, and probably longer. I choose not to generalize, merely to observe that in my resumption of reading I am encountering more proof-reader errors than I have noticed before.

I will try not to make my own such errors. Now that reading for pleasure is once again part of my days, perhaps writing posts will also pick up a former pace? Please do call my attention to any proof-reading errors you find. I want to keep my own standards high.

As Above

July 6, 2014

I took a short vacation last week, only three days. Enough to slow down, relax in a comfortable motel, watch World Cup matches and go for walks. Not enough to get the rest I need, but at least a taste of what it will be like soon, when the greatest press of work eases and I can once again have weekends.

It’s almost harder to resume intense work now than it would have been to just keep going. My body is telling me it likes being lazy but physically active. My mind informs me there are other things it wants to consider than the myriad aspects of my demanding job. My spirit…? It seeks constantly for the Source, drawing energy to support what my other components find it necessary to do.

As above, so below is a phrase used by my spiritual teacher, to help us channel our attention in the most beneficial direction. With the proper attitude, and the correct placement of attention, we are able to let Divine energy flow in, showing us our undue attachments and the ways that we divert and misuse that energy.

Attachments are essentially misplaced attention. Have you noticed that when you dislike something, it seems to keep popping up before you until you let go of the dislike, becoming neutral on the subject? Only then, with attention directed somewhere else, can the object/experience/attitude fade from prominence in your life.

On the flip side, I can say that I am now enjoying in my daily outer life a delightful reflection of the companionship, caring, fun, accomplishment, ease and peace that twenty years of patient spiritual pursuit has achieved for me with my Inner Beloved. Not looking for anything more than the gifts already given, I am astounded to find my mundane world such a perfect reflection of the promises of my spiritual one. Not that there aren’t challenges, large and small. How could there not be, since I am far from a perfected spiritual being.

What I understand, though, is that when issues do arise I need give these outer manifestations only passing analysis. The majority of my attention needs to go within, to determine what subtle (sometimes not so subtle) concern or attachment I have neglected to clear from my being.

Today, my reliable, hardworking, much appreciated and well-traveled (220,000 miles) VW gave out as I was driving into town. Rolling along just fine, then a popping sort of bang, a huge puff of smoke, and clearly something was very wrong. Coasting to a stop, calling AAA for a tow, figuring out where to have the car taken so a mechanic can assess the problem – these steps followed in a fairly routine way. I called a friend to take me home, where I collected my second car to return to town and continue with the day’s projects.

Now I am considering what I will do if the repair bill approaches the down payment for a new vehicle. And I’m asking myself what inner, reliable and established habit is also due for a revamp or upgrade? Am I due for a change in my attitude toward spending and debt? Have I been taking the presence of some skill or energy too much for granted? Or is my reliance on the care and attention of my Divine Teacher being put to the test?

My Internet service also failed today – with a 24-48 hour restoration time frame the best that can be promised me by the repair people. And just now, our electric power went off. So three basics of outer daily function have all quit on me at once. For sure, I will be looking to see what I’ve been taking for granted on the inner, and attending to repairs and maintenance of any areas where I find my attentiveness has been lacking!

Thank Thee, Beloved, for serving me up this fine example of “as above so below” – or perhaps I should say “as within, so without”. I deeply appreciate that the lesson is being offered on a weekend day, when nothing is so pressing as to prevent me from taking this matter into contemplation.

Baraka Bashad. May these Blessings Be.

Eyes on the Sparrow

Eyes on the Sparrow

Postscript
The car blew out at 10:00 AM. The Internet quit by 1:30 PM, the electricity died at 3:00 PM.
As of 8:00 PM both electricity and Internet have resumed function.
I await the morning, to see what happens with the car.

Driving into Awareness

April 6, 2014

I am teaching someone to drive – again – no, I am again teaching someone to drive. There, that’s better, more accurate.

The same process of correction, of attention to exact explanation is required of me as the driving teacher (not driving the student hard, but teaching the student the art of driving). And it is as much art as science. Getting the feel of the vehicle, of the wheel, of how the car wants to straighten itself out from a turn so that trying to do the straightening produces an over-correction. Learning to position oneself in the lane, noticing important warnings of the intentions of other drivers, processing what one sees and hears without needing the time to consciously think it all through. Driving, especially in traffic, requires quicker responses than conscious thought permits.

I am, again, teaching someone to drive, and valuing this opportunity to become conscious of what I do instinctively. Valuing, also, this occasion to notice not just what I do right, but what I’ve gotten a bit sloppy about, and don’t want to continue to do, now that I need to be a role model of safe, defensive driving.

My daily spiritual practice is essentially an exercise in shutting down thought, in order to become aware of the subtler levels of my being. Very close to what I must do to teach someone a skill at which I am so practiced that I conduct the activity beneath the level of awareness and thought. When I come out of my daily contemplation, I often bring a new insight with me, into consciousness, then do my best to put into words and actions what I’ve been gifted to perceive. Very much like the way in which I am opening to the subtle habits ingrained by so many years of driving, and attempting to give voice to them in order to instruct my student.

So teaching someone to drive is a spiritual exercise! Or at least it can be, if one chooses to make use of the experience for one’s own growth in understanding. And in patience. And in trust.

The vehicle being used is my ‘second’ car – the back-up GMC that serves as my guarantee of transport should my trusty and trusted and much loved VW Rabbit ever fail me. (It has not done so, as yet, in ten years and nearly 220,000 miles of mostly solitary driving). I’ve realized already that I would be far more tested were I to be giving the lessons in the Rabbit. Not just because it’s a stick shift whereas the GMC is automatic. I have virtually lived in the VW; it’s packed with all that’s necessary for me to survive through a snow storm, hunker down to wait out a dust storm, take advantage of an unexpected opportunity to camp out overnight, be appropriately dressed for sudden changes in weather, provide roadside first aid in case I come across an accident… you get the idea.

Resting at Home

Resting at Home

My Rabbit has become far more than reliable, reasonably inexpensive transportation. It’s home away from home, an important means of connecting me to the world, a key element of my ability to earn my living and, because Rabbits remain relatively uncommon on our roads, a distinguishing mark of my presence. Not so long ago, I needed to let a mechanic drive the Rabbit so he could feel in the steering what I sensed was a developing problem. Sitting in the passenger seat as we went around the block was one of the harder things I’ve done recently.

Sitting in the passenger seat of the GMC has not been difficult. I don’t have much history with the Envoy, and my student is both a quick learner and a careful driver. The challenge for both of us is that he grew up using public transportation, not riding in cars, so he still has to acquire the non-verbal, body sense of what driving a car is all about. It’s not at all the same as riding a motor cycle, which he has done.

I’m also familiar with riding cycles – not driving them, but happily sitting on the back, free to enjoy the wind in my hair and the scenery flashing past with an immediacy totally lacking when one is shut inside a car or truck. I used to get the same sense of connection with my surroundings when I rode my horse out through the gate of my property and into the extensive acres of my neighbor’s ranch. A brisk canter to the far fence shut down thought and opened up my inner world. Yet another form of spiritual exercise.

Perhaps I should suggest to my student that he do a short contemplation before his next turn behind the wheel? Most physical skills come more easily when one relaxes into them (think of learning to float in order to swim). Those same skills suffer when one over thinks them (tensing up in the water, and sinking). Riding behind on a motorcycle, one has to relax and let one’s body bend with the curves in concert with the driver. Up on a horse, one must become one with the rhythm of the horse’s gait. Behind the wheel of my Rabbit, I feel in tune with every nuance of the vehicle, I know that car as if it were alive.

How does one teach that sort of awareness?

Hearing one’s True Voice in contemplation and then living from one’s Divine Self are, like driving a car well, skills which cannot be mediated through the mind. These skills cannot, therefore, be taught. They must instead be caught by the student, who first observes them being modeled by a teacher and who then, by trial and error experience, learns to shut down the mind and respond from a wise and capable Soul.

Inner commune, connection, inspiration, followed by action – the sequence of a spiritual exercise – is also the sequence many artists describe as their process of creation. Learning dance choreography many years ago, I was told by Miss Widener to stop thinking about my composition and instead to just feel my way through it. Yesterday I asked my student if he could feel how to respond to the impact of wind on the Envoy’s steering. Today I am challenged to create, with words, a feeling of intuitive understanding in my readers.

Do I evoke an “aha, yes, I am aware of that part of me?”
Do you go there, learn, trust, respond, live from that core? Yes? Then I’m happy for you.

If not, or not yet, teach someone to drive – or ride a bicycle, redecorate a room, weave a rug, or work with wood. As your student learns a new skill, you’ll gain a new level of awareness, and enjoy a new way of Being.

When It’s Time

December 8, 2013
I Dare You...

I Dare You…

This isn’t the topic I expected to post this weekend. Not because of the passing of Nelson Mandela, but for an even more personal passing that raises almost identical emotions.

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I demonstrated to push my college to rid itself of all investments that supported the South African government during apartheid. I’m proud to say Swarthmore College was one of the early institutions to manifest its (Quaker) values by participating in the economic boycott which the pundits are crediting with bringing an end to the apartheid system.

I rejoiced when it became clear that Nelson Mandela’s emphasis on equality and democracy, and commitment to reconciliation as the path forward, would be carried out with a simultaneous delight in the small pleasures of life. I’ve followed Mandela as I have the Dalai Lama, listening (by reading) to their speeches and appreciating how well they each translate values into action in ways I try to embody in my own life. My venue, as my status, is so much less than that of these two men I admire. Only others can assess to what extent I manifest any similar virtues.

I do attest that my Shih Tzu, named Shian Shung in respect of his status as a Master and Teacher, has shown the Mandela and Dalai Lama traits of persistence, consistency, dedication, joy in living, playfulness, affection, tolerance and respect for the equality of all. I could not know, when I cuddled him for a bit of extra “affection time” this past Monday, that I would never again do so. I cleaned and treated his eye, hugged him, received several doggy kisses in return, and watched him run out to catch up with his mates, chasing a rabbit into the pasture.

Blowing Kisses

Blowing Kisses

I loaded the car for my week of job training away from home and, as I headed down the drive, looked back to see my four dogs sitting on the deck, watching me go. That is my final image of Shian Shung – a furry white bundle of loving energy standing out against the blackness of the other dogs.

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Today everything outside the windows is white. It snowed while I was away, and is snowing again now. Somewhere hidden within the cold wet white, is the body of what was a vibrant, lively personality cloaked in the white fur of a Shih Tzu. Apparently he was hit by a car mid-week. A visitor reports noticing a white dog lying beside the road Wednesday night. Shian Shung has not been seen since Wednesday morning; no body was found near the highway on Thursday. Most likely it was moved, or covered over, by snow plows clearing the road from the storm that day.

In his three short years, Shian Shung endured two traumatic health challenges and lived with a persistent eye irritation that required daily treatment. He was little more than a year old when he ingested meat some neighbor had set out, filled with rat poison. His gums were almost colorless when I got him to the vet. Daily injections with Vitamin K saved his life. He bounced back. He had one surgery to his right eyelid, intended to eliminate irritation to the cornea. It was only partially successful – I still had to clean and treat the eye daily. A follow-up surgery ended abruptly when Shian Shung flat-lined on the operating table. The vet and his assistant performed CPR, intubated him, worked on him for more than half an hour. He survived – again.

Within a week he was running and playing and teasing his pals, warning me of intruders with his assertive bark, tolerating steroid shots to reduce the inflammation to his eye, and lavishing me with his affection and abundant joie de vivre.

Over the 40 years I’ve lived in rural New Mexico, I’ve shared my home with a very large number of dogs and cats. Inevitably, a few stand out… Natasha, Driftwood, Daisy, Haiku, Rowena, Mei Ling and now Shian Shung. Daisy (a beagle/basset cross) extended her life after a serious illness, for just long enough to see me through the loss of my father, before she moved on to join him.

Handsome Haiku

Handsome Haiku

Haiku and Natasha (tiger-striped cats, one ginger the other grey) each taught me how to recognize the difference between choosing to live with sickness and being ready to depart. Rowena (a Scottie) and Mei Ling (another Shih Tzu) offered generous  love while also requiring respect for their independence. Each chose her moment of passing, in ways I could not avoid recognizing and respecting.

Miss Independence x 2

Miss Independence x 2

Various cultures articulate a tradition of animal guides and companions for the spirit world; I’m certain they “have it right”. A cat (my totem) will undoubtedly inform me, and accompany me, when it is my time. For now, I accustom myself to life here without the active presence of Shian Shung, as I adjust to a world now lacking the physical presence of Nelson Mandela.

+++++

We are most fortunate when we find good role models or wise teachers, to help us on our paths through life. I’m blessed to have my spiritual teacher, on MasterPath, still present in the physical, as is the Dalai Lama. Two other role models, one proximate (Shian Shung) and one more distant (Mandela), have shown me how to live fully and well despite imprisonment and life threatening trauma. Both will continue to function as guides, now in my memory.

I wonder – is Shian Shung frolicking at Mandela’s feet as they move to their next stage of being?

What Do I Know?

June 22, 2013

Many, many years ago when I was young and adventurous and poor, I earned money for my own art classes by modeling for a sculpture class. I took the same pose (stretched out on a sofa, my lower half prone but twisted at the waist so that my upper half was facing sideways, an arm bent to prop my head on my hand) for 90 minutes each week, over a six week period. During breaks (I wasn’t, mercifully, expected to hold the pose for more than 15 minutes at a time) I walked around the class, looking at the students’ interpretations of me. Quite apart from differences in their skill levels as sculptors, I quickly learned that how they saw me was directly influenced by their relationships to their own bodies. Heftier sculptors tended to perceive my body as longer and leaner than I knew it to be. One very slim woman with a boyish figure exaggerated my curves into a Rubens-like voluptuousness. And the male students revealed the areas of the female form most of interest (sexual attraction?) to them – breasts, thighs, buttocks – in the way they emphasized these aspects of their work.

The lesson – that who we are influences what we see – has stayed with me, and been reinforced in a variety of ways since those early days. It has become salient again recently, in the form of critiques I’ve received of my novel, Like Dust Devils Through a Card House. In particular, readers respond to my character Sylvie in ways clearly dictated by their own life experiences. One who has had a hard time overcoming anger was particularly disturbed by the way Sylvie clings to anger as a motivator. Another asked the reasonable – to her – question why Sylvie would seek out sex when she’s in pain or when feeling weak. I myself, writing the first draft, was somewhat dismayed to discover that of the three women in the story, the point of view and main character had to be Sylvie, the one I personally like the least. But I know her, I know too many people like her to not recognize her as a neighbor, a co-worker, a very real example of a set of choices about how to negotiate a life.

I appreciate the thoughtful critiques which question what I’ve created, because they push me to clarify, refine, or broaden my explication of Sylvie’s character. Adding detail that will reveal her motivations and enable these readers to understand (if not agree with or like) Sylvie, strengthens my story. This rewrite also requires that I get ever ‘more real’ with myself about the experiences and observations on which I draw to create character.

“That’s what actors do as well,” stated one of the reviewers whose comments were most helpful between drafts two and three. “We have to put what we know of ourselves into a role, to understand the characters we’re playing and bring them alive.”

Meanwhile, I continue to be amazed, sometimes dismayed, by the characters that appear in my stories. “Where on earth did she come from?” was my question about the lead in my most recent short story. I began with an idea about links in a chain mirroring the phases of a life and ended up with a young woman who experienced ostracism growing up, was orphaned young, now lives alone on a boat and experiences being assaulted. She is no one I’ve ever known, yet in the piling of cause upon effect upon new cause, she is every one of us. What I don’t know is why such challenged, tortured or difficult characters so often ‘take over’ my stories and demand to be heard!

If I reason from my premise above, I am presumably revealing aspects of my own view of the world. But I don’t see myself as having experienced such a painful, twisted life. Yes, there were difficulties, yes my mother had severe emotional problems that made for a dysfunctional childhood, yes I was uprooted and relocated repeatedly until I was in my late twenties – and yes I have read about many types of personality and culture, have studied psychology, worked in prisons, met a great variety of people in quite a wide variety of places. But I don’t see the world as hurtful, something to be afraid of or to fight against, nor as a place that creates and targets victims. So why do these types of characters appear so often in my stories?

I don’t know.

I do know the truth of “what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.” Especially when that first practice of deception is of ourselves. Unexamined motives, ill-considered actions, un-reviewed decisions, unrepented errors pile upon one another into tangled webs not just of deceit but also of pain and loss. Observing life around me, I have learned that much of this tangle exists just below the surface, and that my choice to look for the good in others, to “seek that of God in every one” as the Quakers phrase it, does not prevent me from seeing the coils of deceit and misrepresentation into which too many people snarl their lives.

How I wish it were not so!

I would far rather live in a world of people who are aware of themselves and their needs, and who feel secure enough to express those needs and seek openly for their fulfillment. I am coming to realize that my choice of mysteries for light, escapist reading is largely the result of my wish for life in a simpler, more straightforward ethical world. And I also realize that my inability, at least up to this point, to write such a mystery is the result of my recognition that the world I live in, the world I know, is neither simple nor straightforward.

When complex, angry, or tangled characters emerge in my writing, I am in fact following the dictate to “write what you know.” Hmmm. Let me contemplate that fact. Because I also know loving and tenderness, and caring people who devote themselves to improving circumstances for others. So I should know, as well, how to write engaging, positive, “good” characters. I do hope one will spring forth the next time I start a story!


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