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Unmasked

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I could have written about Orange Man: how his campaign admits that he is “playing a part” and can easily change roles, how scary it is that millions will undoubtedly fall for whatever persona his bloated but insatiable ego adopts next, how dangerous his particular mental illness is — Narcissism, Borderline Personality Disorder, Sociopathy, Megalomania, whatever. How easily ungrounded people are  manipulated!

But no. Instead I decided to write a Blackjack poem (7 syllables, 3 lines = 21) in response to today’s word prompt: mask.

See? I’m not obsessing about Orange Man at all anymore. Really. Honest.

♥♥♥

Unmasked

Disguise, deceit, masquerade.

Exhausting! I gave it up.

Ask Love who you are; then be.

♥♥♥

When in doubt about how to be who you are, ask a tree

When in doubt about how to be your true self, ask an old tree

 Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2016/04/19/are-you-faking-it/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2016/04/04/trump-psychopath-or-sociopath/

Election Eve Musings

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ELECTION EVE MUSINGS

I’m voting for Bernie in the Maryland primary tomorrow, and I’m excited about it. Lord knows it’s rare for me to be enthused about a candidate. I doubt I’ll be as enthusiastic come November, but voting for a woman will be huge, even if I’d prefer a more progressive woman — say Elizabeth Warren. Who knows? Maybe Clinton will tap Warren for V.P. It would be a sure way to engage Bernie fans like myself, but I doubt it will happen.

I know my support for Bernie has some of my more “pragmatic” friends bent out of shape. And I found this on my car windshield the other day:

13010825_10208832633163798_5326394519366298502_n

Whatever — I’m just done with business-as-usual.

I’m sure this post will annoy some Bernie supporters, too. I’m sorry, but the math just doesn’t look good for our guy.

I’ve become somewhat of a cynic in recent decades. I am not hopeful when it comes to the future of the American political system. Too much corporate money in both parties, and it seems elections can’t be won without it.

Still, on a sunny day when the birds are singing and perhaps I’ve had a glass of champagne, I can imagine a day when the right leaders will rise up and organize regular people to overturn this dysfunctional system.

Bernie has started the conversation. He’s definitely pulled Hillary to the left, and some go so far as to say he has “made the Democratic party safe for liberals again.” Maybe. It is great that Hillary mentions climate change and campaign finance reform and even Citizens United, but they aren’t her top priorities and she will swing back to center during the general election. That’s just reality.

Why Not?

On the hopeful side, there are now millions of new voters — including many young people just forming their political consciousness — who have embraced Bernie’s boldness and ask, “Why not?” In Bernie’s stump speeches, I hear an echo of the words of Robert F. Kennedy that formed my own adolescent political consciousness in 1968, “Some men see things as they are and say, why; I dream things that never were and say, why not.”

So I’ll savor the moment tomorrow when I step into the voting booth, punch the Bernie button and think, “Hell yes — THIS!”

Bobby Kennedy, 1963

Bobby Kennedy, 1963

— Kennedy photo from public domain, courtesy Wikimedia

Are You Faking It?

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Everyone knows that everyone else feels like a fake, right? The term Impostor Syndrome has been around almost forty years, and media outlets regularly do stories on it as if it’s just been discovered.

You would think that knowing we’re not alone would help. Yet somehow, having company doesn’t make us feel any less like a fraud. It’s as if we think we are the only genuine fake because we are comparing our insides to everyone else’s outside persona.

 When clinical psychologists described the syndrome in 1978, they thought it was unique to women. My guess is that women were just more willing to talk about it. Now researchers say that all types of people experience this phenomenon, especially if they feel different from others because of race, gender, sexual orientation, or other reasons.

I first became aware of it when a good-looking, successful, middle-aged male told me tearfully that “if people really knew me, they’d know I’m a fake. They wouldn’t like me.” I was stunned and deeply saddened that someone could feel that way.

At age eighteen, I was so out of touch with my own emotions that I didn’t know I felt the same way about myself!

Whatever you do, don't take off your mask!

Whatever you do, don’t take off your mask!

Just Say No to Condemnation

As a church leader, I hear the sentiment expressed over and over, in different words: “I am not good enough.” Always in a confessional or shame-filled tone.

Well, hell, of course you’re not good enough to please the scolding, shaming parental voice in your head! You are a human being, flawed and vulnerable and doing your best to muddle through life.

It’s a horror and a crime that many so-called Christian communities enthusiastically add to the judgmental, condemning voices in our heads. Shame! Sin! You’re going to burn in eternity!

Well, thank you.That was super helpful.

Those condemners are nothing like the God they claim to represent. I can’t know God fully, and neither can they. But I do know that if a voice in your head or a belief about yourself is not loving, it does not come from God, because God is love.

“As Yourself”

When Jesus was asked what the most important commandment was, he said to love God with everything you’ve got. And then he said to love your neighbor as yourself. (Luke 10:27). We are meant to be overflowing with love and compassion and grace towards ourselves.

We must first learn to love ourselves before we can properly love others from a place of healthy humility and self-acceptance. When we accept how beloved we are, just as we are, we won’t need to achieve or perform or prove ourselves. We won’t need to compete or manipulate. We can just be real. Now that’s freedom!

Thanks for the daily prompt of “fake,” WordPress.

The Poem in the Closet

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I’m trying to be grown-up writer. I wrote a poem today in response to a prompt: closet. It’s a good poem, with potential. I want to post it here, right now. But I learned this weekend at the Festival of Faith and Writing that our brains dose us with dopamine when we get views and comments on our blogs. I didn’t know I was getting a chemical rush every time I posted, I just knew I liked watching my stats go up when I pressed “publish.”

If there’s an addictive aspect to something, I will find it!

So – I have decided there will be no immediate gratification for me today. I will not share my new poem with you. I will read it at a local poetry reading tomorrow night, after which I will put it in the closet for a time.

In a few days or a few weeks, I will bring the poem back into the light and polish it until it shines. I will read it out loud and ask it questions; I will caress it and cuddle it and play with it. The crease between my eyebrows will grow deeper as it does when I concentrate, but I will also laugh when the the Divine Poet presents me with a precisely perfect word. I will rearrange and reinvent my poem until at last the sublime syntax rewards me with a waterfall of joy that washes away any wish for a simple dopamine high.

And then I will submit my poem for publication. Because I am a grown-up writer.

Thanks for the closet word prompt, WordPress!

047

Festival of Faith & Writing: Day Three (kind of)

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I tell myself that losing my wallet on a Christian college campus is less problematic than doing so in Costa Rica, which is where I was the last time I became separated from my wallet. At least I speak the language. Nevertheless, I spend the morning in a mild state of panic with attendant upset stomach until a friend texts at 10:30 to say that my wayward belongings have been found in the back seat of his car. Thank God. I’m not sure what happens if you try to board a plane without a driver’s license these days, but I’m thinking Guantanamo.

At any rate, day three of the Festival of Faith and Writing at Calvin College was just as full and fascinating as were the first two days, but today I also wandered in a cloud of grateful bliss after I was reunited with my identity and my cash and credit cards.

I want to do the sessions and the speakers justice and fear that I won’t be able to, given that it’s almost midnight, I’ve been up since 7, and I’ve just had a couple of glasses of wine with some new friends. It’s about time to curl up in bed with one of my new books.

So tonight I’ll just share a favorite quote from the day. That’s about all the bandwidth I’ve got. I promise to do a proper part III soon, but probably not tomorrow because that’ll be my birthday and I’m going to celebrate at Meijer Sculpture Gardens in downtown Grand Rapids, and then I’ll be flying home (now that I have dodged Guantanamo).

The gardens will be glorious — this trip has gifted me with a second spring this year: hyacinth, daffodils, and tulips all over again.

Birthday Blessings

Birthday Blessings

Anyway, without further ado, here is my favorite quote of the day. It came during a session on being a good “literary citizen,” which means participating in literary communities, going to public readings, supporting your libraries, promoting other’s work, etc.

Writer and editor Laura Turner said that for her, “being a literary citizen is about becoming a better person — becoming more Christlike if you’re a Christian.” The she paused thoughtfully and added, “It’s hard to be an asshole and still be a good literary citizen.”

On that note, good night, dear readers.

Related posts:

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2016/04/14/festival-of-faith-writing-day-one/

https://melanielynngriffin.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/festival-of-faith-writing-day-two/

Festival of Faith & Writing: Day Two

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Would anyone miss my blogging if I went to bed instead? I learned today that there are about two million blog posts issued every day. But I promised myself I would do a daily blog from the Festival of Faith & Writing: so be it.

Blogging or Blathering?

I learned the above factoid at a panel discussion entitled Blogging or Blathering: The Current State of Personal Online Writing where participants addressed the question, “Is there still a legitimate place or need for blogging in a writers’s life?” A magazine editor, a publisher, and a former and current blogger spent an hour disagreeing with each other and sometimes with themselves, saying first one thing and then another. The answer seems to be maybe, sometimes, for some people, yes and no.

I may share more about this workshop when my brain re-engages on some far distant day, but for now I’ll just share the one aspect that became clear: if you are trying to build your writing “platform” through following, commenting, and a ubiquitous online presence, don’t waste your time. No editors or publishers read comments anymore and many have shut them down completely. People are too mean and nasty, they say. Sigh.

I also learned that a nice blog length is 500 words — about half of what mine often are. So for the sake of brevity and a good night’s sleep, I’m just going to pick something that struck me from each session I attended today and expand on my experiences later (maybe).

I also learned that blogs must have pictures. So here are some pictures of life on the campus of Calvin College in Grand Rapids:

under tree

 

 lawn2Angling for a Book Deal

Stephanie Smith, an acquisitions editor at Zondervan Publishing talked about developing an angle for your book that will appeal to editors. While “there is nothing new under the sun,” according to the Bible (I think “my book” has already been written by 1,000 people), Stephanie says that all truths are like diamonds — if you look at them from a different angle the light will strike them differently and they will be beautiful every time.

Writing as Caring

Author David Dark is . . . well, I think his brain is differently ordered than the norm. But what a fascinating ride! We bounced from his grandmother to Godzilla to Star Wars to zombies to Mr. Rogers. This guy is scary-bright, so it’s not easy to keep up with him, much less find one nugget to share. How about this: “Writing is an expression of self-care and an expression of communal care. Ask yourself, ‘what do I have in me right now that might be of help to someone?’” He’s just written a book called, “Life’s Too Short to Pretend You’re Not Religious.” Great title! Sadly (for me, not David), it was sold out just hours after his talk, so I will reserve a space on my shelf for it. 

David Dark

David Dark

Poet and teacher Marilyn Chandler McEntyre bemoaned how hard it is to maintain civil discourse in a political climate where stakes are high and well-funded spin campaigns rule the airwaves. “Where half-truths are common currency and discourse is dumbed down, speaking life-giving words can be particularly challenging.” Amen to that! She offered examples of authors who do this well, including Wendell Berry, Naomi Wolf, Naomi Klein, and Chris Hedges. I love Berry, but I need to check out the other three. Two nuggets: “Neutrality is complicity,” and “Laugh when you can.”

Author Shauna Niequist was very generous with her tips and insights into the memoir process. I’ve got pages of notes to digest from her talk. When asked about vulnerability and where she draws the line on what is “safe” or “appropriate” to share, she answered, “I will always throw myself under the bus if it helps you {the reader} know that you are not alone and you are not crazy.”

Last Words

After eleven hours of words and more words, it’s amazing that I could retain anything from the last session, which was a talk about fiction by George Saunders and Tobias Wolff. Two nuggets, both from Wolff:

“Most of us walk around in an unintentional cloud of self-absorption. Literature is the thing that woke me up to the absolute. adamant reality of other human beings.”

And: “Death is in front of all of us. It should tell us something about how we spend our time.”

Here’s a cheerier thought to end on, because I’m told you should never leave your readers hanging on the edge of an abyss:

photo (68)

Carrying love through the shadows

Festival of Faith & Writing: Day One

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Here I am in Michigan at the biennial Festival of Faith & Writing, living the life of a real writer. I had intended to craft a catchy but insightful blog post every day of the festival – you know, “reporting live, here with honest-to-God authors and editors and publishers; here I am, a literary citizen of the world sharing my exciting life with you, etc. etc.”

Except that after one day of wandering the campus of Calvin College from keynotes to panels to workshops to lecture halls, my head is about to explode, and that’s a hindrance to writing. I took copious notes for you, but it turns out that most of them are illegible or half-sentences. So I’m going to give you just a taste.

photo (63)

Tobias Wolff, who wrote This Boy’s Life — a book that helped me realize what an art-form memoir can be — started off the day by warning against being too certain of ourselves as writers of faith. “You cannot write without faith,” he said. “It’s too hard. But doubt is also with us when we write, and we try to leave doubt out of the room for that little time to get our writing done.” Toby left us with a question that I think might confound many of today’s Christian writers: “Is it possible to live a life of authentic faith without the arrogant certainty that can come with it?”

Next up, Dani Shapiro, another author I’ve only recently discovered. I thought she was going to be my new hero, until I heard Zadie Smith talk this evening.

But I must digress for a moment to explain that my long-time literary hero Annie Lamott has lately fallen from grace because she can’t seem to rave about Hillary Clinton without trashing Bernie supporters, which I think is unwise because I imagine that many of her fans are Bernie people like myself. Anyway, I’m mad at her and I’ve told her so on Twitter. So there.

Back to Dani Shapiro. Like Wolff, she praised uncertainty. “When I begin writing, it is an act of faith. The only thing I’m certain of is my profound uncertainty,” she said. “I never know what I know until I’ve spent a lot of time with the page.” She writes to find the answer to her questions, and sometimes simply to clarify the questions through “inner investigative journalism.” Much of her fiction and memoir writing has the goal, she says, of “insisting that sorrow not be meaningless,” of finding patterns and connecting with others who have suffered. I get that.

Dani Shapi

Dani Shapiro

In the afternoon I attended a panel which was interesting mostly in that it was offered at all. You wouldn’t find a panel at most writing conferences entitled, “Surrendering our Need for Status.” This was a group of young women bloggers and authors who talked about their needs “to be special” or “to be admired” or to be “the most clever or the most spiritual,” and then suggested spiritual practices that had helped them battle their pride and envy. I appreciated their honesty, although I did feel I was more clever and more spiritual than they were.

One final panel at 4:30 was probably fine, but my brain had shut down. I ate dark chocolate, that’s about all I can offer — except for one wise quote from a woman author: “To learn to write a book, you have to write a book.” Sad, but true.

The final keynote was from Zadie Smith, whose name I’ve heard forever but whom I have never read. I am going to go home and get all her books. I am going to tape her picture to the wall over my computer. I might have to start stalking her. She is brilliant. Absolutely. I tried to take notes, but her discourse on creativity and the writer’s evolving role in society was so bursting with brilliance that I had to stop.

When it was over, I felt stunned. I turned to the woman next to me and said, “My God, she’s brilliant. That was awesome.”

The woman replied, and I’m not kidding: “Well, yeah, if you could remove all those big words.”

Oh. My. God.

Day one.

Zadie Smith

Zadie Smith – Blurred Brilliance

The Safe Time

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My Dad would sit in the kitchen chair, the one with the ripped blue plastic seat cover, and read the newspaper to my Mom while she made dinner: meat loaf or tuna casserole or fish sticks and some kind of frozen veggie — if they were lima beans, they would be burned. He’d turn one page with his good arm and shake it out straight, while holding the other page stationary on the table with his crippled arm.

“Oh for Pete’s sake,” he would mumble, and my mother would say, “What?” Pause. “Frederick, what?” He would finish the story, grunting, and then summarize the latest outrage for her, reading the choice bits out loud. Usually something to do with Democrats.

“Oh for God’s sake,” she would agree, the fresh indignity fueling energetic attacks with the carrot peeler. “I don’t know what this country’s coming to.” (She really did say that, and not infrequently.)

“It’s the communists,” Daddy would say, unless he had finished a glass or two of sherry in which case he would say, “It’s those damn communists,” and mother would say, “Frederick!”

He would lick the thumb of his good hand to get it sticky, turn the next page, shake it smooth, and begin to read the latest from the Sports page.

“Mmmm,” Mom would say, and “Oh my.” But she would be humming and not really listening anymore.

When he got to the comics, he would laugh till he wheezed.

I loved the rustle of the newspaper, the predictable banter, that safe time each evening before the sherry kicked in and “the unpleasantness” started.

I loved to hear my Dad read

I loved to hear my Dad read

Thanks to WordPress for the word prompt: Newspaper

Green

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Green.

Green, as in trees.

Green, as in the money that timber companies make when they cut down trees for paper mills.

Green, as in a putting green where timber company CEOs play golf with Walmart executives and agree to sell their paper cheap.

Green, as in environmentalists who want the planet to support life, and so use 100% recycled paper even though it costs more than cheap Walmart paper.

Green, as in a political party that splits Democratic voters, sometimes causing anti-environmental Republicans of the rightwing nut-ball variety to be elected.

Green, the color you turn when you’re nauseated, for instance when rightwing nut-balls get elected.

Green, as in little green men you might see if you drown your electoral sorrows in beer. Especially prevalent around Saint Patty’s Day.

Green, as in a leaf of lettuce or kale. What you eat when you attempt a more healthy lifestyle after being too much in the company of little green men (or pink elephants).

Green, as in a person with little experience, such as a newbie writer who left a stressful environmental career to become a famous author.

Green, as in the color of envy: when other writers are published and the newbie so fears rejection that she rarely finds the courage to submit her writing.

Green, as in the crayons you use when you decide to color as therapy.

Green, as in this lovely frog that I’ve been coloring instead of submitting my writing or doing my taxes.

photo (60)

Green, as in today’s writing prompt word. Thanks, WordPress.

Trump: Psychopath or Sociopath?

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Today I’m pondering contrasts. One in particular is on my mind: What’s the difference between a psychopath and a sociopath? This isn’t normally a question one must address when judging presidential candidates, but — well, it’s 2016.

As you may know, I have been fixated on Orange Man for months. I stay up late into the night, watching YouTube videos of him inciting violence, reading expert analyses about why in God’s name anyone would support him, and watching endless debates and pundits.

By the way, people, speaking of contrasts: They are pundits, not pundints, OK? Even pundits sometimes toss an N into the word and call themselves pundints. It’s like “nuclear.” There’s no U. It’s not nuculure. (I’m looking at you, George Bush.)

But I digress – pronunciation is a less interesting obsession than the mental health of orange people.

My Sleaze Addiction

At any rate, I find myself researching the difference between dangerous personality disorders — in contrast to what I should be doing, which is getting ready for a call with a financial planner and preparing for a congregational care meeting tonight. Or going out for a walk to celebrate the contrast between winter and spring. Birdsong! Azaleas! Warm breezes! No, I’m sitting on my couch, wandering among psychology websites. 

So that my time isn’t completely misspent, I thought I would share some findings with you, in case you are also following the adventures of Orange Man.

(Happily, after his rant about penis size and his tweets comparing his sexy-model-wife with Ted Cruz’s regular-person-wife, I am less fixated on the guy. Too much sleaze. Instead I’ve become fascinated with online trash-talking Democrats, Hillary and Bernie supporters abusing one other with juvenile taunts and accusations. But that’s another post.)

Hot-Headed or Cold-Hearted?

It’s not clearcut, but my hunch is that Orange Man is a sociopath. The two disorders have a lot in common, and diagnosticians lump them together as “antisocial personality disorders.” But WebMD (the website my apparently twenty-year-old doctor pulls up whenever I ask her a question) says the following:

People with both disorders “have a poor inner sense of right and wrong. They also can’t seem to understand or share another person’s feelings.” But here’s a difference: “A psychopath doesn’t have a conscience. If he lies to you so he can steal your money, he won’t feel any moral qualms, though he may pretend to . . . A sociopath typically has a conscience, but it’s weak. He may know that taking your money is wrong, and he might feel some guilt or remorse, but that won’t stop his behavior . . . a psychopath has less regard for others . . . he sees others as objects he can use for his own benefit.”

Hmmm. Orange Man doesn’t seem to have a conscience, but his mind is such a mysterious muddle to me, I’m not sure.

Muddled synapses in the Orange Brain

Muddled synapses in the Orange Brain

Did he feel bad when he backtracked from his wish to  “punish” troubled pregnant women? Or just make a political calculation?

I think this next excerpt is more telling, also from WebMD:

“It’s not easy to spot a psychopath. They can be intelligent, charming, and good at mimicking emotions. They may pretend to be interested in you, but in reality, they probably don’t care. Sociopaths are less able to play along. They make it plain that they’re not interested in anyone but themselves. They often blame others and have excuses for their behavior.

Some experts see sociopaths as ‘hot-headed.’ They act without thinking how others will be affected. Psychopaths are more ‘cold-hearted’ and calculating. They carefully plot their moves, and use aggression in a planned-out way to get what they want. If they’re after more money or status in the office, for example, they’ll make a plan to take out any barriers that stand in the way, even if it’s another person’s job or reputation.”

Alligator? Crocodile? Either way, you had better be careful!

Alligator? Crocodile? Either way, you had better be careful!

A Chilling Reality

An orange sociopath with traces of psychopath, maybe? He’s surely hot-headed and blames others for his behavior. (He actually said of Ted Cruz on national TV, “He started it!”) But — what if his hot-headed, reckless behavior is all a cold-hearted plan calculated to appeal to hot-headed and reckless voters? Or maybe he’s just a megalomaniac, which the dictionary defines as a “pathological egotist, someone with a psychological disorder with symptoms like delusions of grandeur and an obsession with power.”

You can decide for yourself. I am not being snarky here. It is clear that Donald J. Trump is not a well man. It’s chilling, once you look into it. Here are some characteristics of sociopaths, selected from R. Preston McAfee’s website:

  • Glibness and Superficial Charm
  • Manipulative and Conning — They never recognize the rights of others and see their self-serving behaviors as permissible. They appear to be charming, yet are covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their victim as merely an instrument to be used. They may dominate and humiliate their victims.
  • Grandiose Sense of Self — Feels entitled to certain things as “their right.”
  • Pathological Lying — Has no problem lying coolly and easily and it is almost impossible for them to be truthful on a consistent basis. Can create, and get caught up in, a complex belief about their own powers and abilities. Extremely convincing and even able to pass lie detector tests.
  • Lack of Remorse, Shame or Guilt — A deep seated rage, which is split off and repressed, is at their core. Does not see others around them as people, but only as targets and opportunities. Instead of friends, they have victims and accomplices who end up as victims. The end always justifies the means and they let nothing stand in their way.
  • Shallow Emotions — When they show what seems to be warmth, joy, love and compassion it is more feigned than experienced and serves an ulterior motive. Outraged by insignificant matters, yet remaining unmoved and cold by what would upset a normal person. Since they are not genuine, neither are their promises.
  • Need for Stimulation  — Living on the edge. Verbal outbursts and physical punishments are normal. Promiscuity and gambling are common.
  • Callousness/Lack of Empathy — Unable to empathize with the pain of their victims, having only contempt for others’ feelings of distress and readily taking advantage of them.
  • Poor Behavioral Controls/Impulsive Nature — Rage and abuse, alternating with small expressions of love and approval produce an addictive cycle for abuser and abused, as well as creating hopelessness in the victim. Believe they are all-powerful, all-knowing, entitled to every wish, no sense of personal boundaries, no concern for their impact on others.
  • Irresponsibility/Unreliability — Not concerned about wrecking others’ lives and dreams. Oblivious or indifferent to the devastation they cause. Does not accept blame themselves, but blames others, even for acts they obviously committed.
  • Criminal or Entrepreneurial Versatility — Changes their image as needed to avoid prosecution. Changes life story readily.

Thanks to WordPress for today’s writing prompt, contrast.

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