Friday, September 29, 2006

On and Off the Freeway

So what's getting its way when Love doesn't have it?

I'm thinking of "Had," a poem I wrote four or five years ago. It's neither my favorite nor my best--I'm not even sure it's finished!--but it stands out to me for how it captured an experience devoid of love, a series of moments when, though I wouldn't have used these words at the time, Love was not having its way with me.

HAD
after Cunningham's The Hours

By intuition it lands
green pepper bargain
in my shopping basket—why?
I don’t cook, don’t buy
ingredients anymore. The house,
the pans, the hands tolerate
just quick things
close to finished from the start. Yet
the bell pepper combines
conspires with gifted oregano, basil,
the last garlic clove
and my father’s tomato purée—
a summer's abiding ludicrous abundance—
open days now, it will spoil:
I owe it use. And besides
it is miraculous: last year’s crop
still fresh in a jar, preserved—
delicious, if given the chance.
Oh, and mushrooms just about to go:
I know what this means.
Turn a blind eye or give
my hands to them, a bit of time,
of salt, oregano, basil, thyme. It begins
by pulling them
into one place on the counter at noon.
They warm, wait. I
pass and pass again,
all afternoon, their invitation
(no, plea: use me).

I have everything.
The scallions nobly
stand in for onion—
it’s going to happen
this time. The insult of
ingredients mocking
the sorry state of my days
shall be sauce in an hour
and superb no less.
It can happen, I see now,
even without love.

When the counter is clean
when I’ve enjoyed
two helpings I’ll see
I am a traitor
not at all triumphant
not cook again at last but pawn
seduced by the accidental
the circumstantial
set in motion
by obligation.
At what cost to devotion,
my true love?

~Kathryn Deputat


I knew that making the sauce was not an act of love. I bitterly resented the assembly of ingredients that - yes, so it seemed - conspired to have it happen. It was as if they knew that I couldn't tolerate their going to waste. I utterly forced myself to cook that day; I did not enjoy it. Yes, the sauce was tasty in the end, and I wasn't unhappy to eat a tasty sauce made with such choice ingredients. But I took no joy in the process.

I remember sometime later my poet-friend Jennifer taking issue with this. We had been exchanging feedback on each other's poems.

"How can it be anything but love?" she protested gently but insistently, to the point of tears.

It pained her to think otherwise, or to think that I did at least. I didn't think otherwise; I knew otherwise: I knew I'd been had. Had by my own frugality. Had by the "insult of ingredients." Had by the harmony, the chemistry that made them all turn out: in my hands that day, it should have been a terrible sauce, really, but it was delicious. And I knew this poem needed a lot of work, but one thing I was confident about was its raison d’être which is clearest, I think, in its final lines:

set in motion
by obligation.
At what cost to devotion,
my true love?

At the time, I craved to know and to live the devotion I was writing about. I was desperate for Love to have its way with me--the way it did tonight.

Hunger struck an hour ago. I had foregone lunch, swept up as I was in the passion of the work of this day. So lunch and dinner became one: the centerpiece meal of the day, at 6 p.m.

There was fresh cod--that part was planned. The rest was a matter, as with the sauce, of seeing what I happened to find in the cupboards, in the fridge. The organic leek from the CSA order, the cherry tomatoes and fresh parsley from the Farmer's Market, the last of the brown basmati rice, the dried basil, the garlic oil, the lemon, the butter. In 30 or 40 minutes' time, I was sitting down to a gorgeous and delectable meal. Invented. No recipe involved. And prepared with Love. That is to say, in the company of Love. I delighted in the curling of the leek as I scored then washed it. I chopped, then gently sauteed it with the diced tomatoes, taking care not to under- or overcook them. I broiled the cod, because it brings out the best in this fish. The basil made its way into the simmering rice (an old favorite), which I topped with chopped parsley at the finish.

I do not dispute that such a Love as I just allowed to be, unobstructed, was available to me when I made that spaghetti sauce four or so years ago. I do not dispute that Love was present on that counter, that Love was all the while even coursing through me. It's just that I was totally blind to it, blinded by my bitterness which assured I would not be touched by it. My focus was fixed on what was absent in my life, not on the good that was present: the bounty arrayed on my counter, my steady breath, the faithful beating of my heart, the afternoon's golden light. I was miserable, and I was committed, it would seem, to staying that way.

My circumstances are not substantially different today than they were then. Inwardly, however, then and now are worlds apart. Then, I was resisting my circumstances. Now, I embrace them. I was single then, for example, and I'm single now--though I'd rather not be. Yet contentment has taken up the place where resentment used to reside.

Contentment, resistance, Love, love: these are either just words, or anything but words.

Love: That which, when left to its own devices, perfectly expresses in and as the Natural World.

Does it help if I state that?

Forget my words, all of them. For all I know you'll hear something in them that I'm not even saying. It happens all the time, no? So forget them. The earth speaks so much better than I. Always, the earth is speaking. Not in words, though sometimes it can be heard that way. Blossoms, trees, clouds, falls, wind. Stones, sands, rivers, herons, fins. Just look. At every turn, there's a reminder of what life looks like free of resistance, bitterness, jealousy, greed, rage, envy, cruelty, righteousness, arrogance, hatred, fear and the like.

I wonder what we all would look like free of these?

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Warning: Detour Ahead

Well, tomorrow is the primaries, and at this point I can't wait till it's over. By last week's end, I'd already had it up to here with the leafleting and the computerized phone calling urging me to vote for this or that candidate. On one hand, I appreciate the efforts and the passion of the parties involved. But informing the public is one thing; inundating them to the point of nuisance is another. By "them," I suppose I mean me: I'll speak for myself.

I got irritated. My irritation gained force by way of a challenging, difficult encounter with a friend in crisis. She is asking the question "Why?" as in "Why bother? Why be here? Why live?"--this brought on by the death of a loved one-- and her questioning, her pain and sorrow before I knew it had resurrected some of my own. Before I knew it, I had taken a turn off Love's Freeway, and was on some bumpy side road with NO, I mean N. O. signage, and nothing all too pleasant in the way of scenery either, I might add.

Tonight, I'm back on the Freeway - ahhhhhhhhhh. Much better. But that means very little without my sharing the detour.

When I returned from my friend's house, I realized I was about to miss the weekly Farmer's Market I had planned for days to shop. There was basil to buy--the last of the season. Pesto to make. I'd bought way too many pine nuts for the last batch, and I wanted to put them to good use. I barreled on down to the Market, intent on my mission, only to find Peter J. Walsh halfway between me and my basil. Well, I didn't know at that point it was Peter J. Walsh; all I knew was there was this man in a suit and tie with leaflets in his hand and a big round campaign button on his lapel ("ohmigod, not another one...") readying to greet me.

"Hi, how are you?" he opened.

"Fine, thank you." I closed, continuing to walk toward the stall. I think I smiled a bit--the sort of smile, coupled with the sort of tone of voice, that I was sure would more than discourage any further engagement. Wrong. He peeled off a leaflet for me, preparing to introduce himself.

"No, thank you." I ditched the smile, and sharpened the edge on the tone of voice. I was still in motion, and by this time, he and his big button and leaflets were behind me, all silent as stone.

My self satisfaction at "winning" this faceoff, at avoiding an inconvenient, unsolicited solicitation, was short lived. As I sorted through the basil and made up my bunch, I saw in my mind's eye, vaguely, through my bitter fog, the "WALSH" of his button. "Damn, I think I'm even voting for him," I thought. And sure enough, post-pesto, when I sat down and checked the notes I'd made for the polls, I realized I was indeed voting for him.

A wave of remorse overtook me. No, not remorse, actually. When I relived that moment in the parking lot by the Farmer's Market on a sunny September Saturday in downtown Jamaica Plain, I was horrified. You're committed to Love's way, yet you can treat a man like that? How could you??

I knew I had to call him.

In short order--thank you Google--I located his home address. On-line 411 gave me his home phone. His wife (I presume) offered me his cell number. I took it. And I called. And he answered.

"I was extremely rude to you today..." I started. Then launched into my apology.

"Well!"

He was smiling, I could hear it.

"You've gone above and beyond the call of duty!"

He appreciated the call, the apology, but certainly hadn't expected it.

"It's okay. I figure when people act that way it's because they have a terrible life."

I felt ashamed. My inexcusable behavior suddently became even less excusable.

"It was a bad moment... Actually I have a beautiful life. And thank you for all you're doing to keep it that way."

My appreciation was heartfelt, genuine. I wished him luck on Tuesday, let him know of my intention to vote for him, and we signed off.

He was clearly uplifted by the call. For a moment, I felt virtuous. Like I'd done a good thing. I had done a good thing. But first I had done a bad thing. A very bad thing, in my estimation.

You might think it extreme that my hands actually trembled as the horror of my behavior first took hold. You might think it extreme that I shook and wept--and not before the apology, but after it. I was forgiven, redeemed, right?

What saddened me the most was his surprise and delight at the call. What saddened me was that he was so impressed. I had not gone above and beyond the call of duty. I had done the only thing there was to do, if Love was to have its way in this situation: I reached the man, and showed him the honor and respect he deserved. I delivered the apology he had due to him. Didn't he know--he must have known--that he had an apology due him? There was no excuse for my...cruelty, really. Yet he had excused me, without so much as a pause.

That I am capable--was, at least--of treating someone like that, that he would take it and immediately excuse it was in sum appalling to me.

Howso?

I need to say more. Because this incident did not begin with Election Week. Neither are its parameters limited to the run-in with Peter J. Walsh at the Farmer's Market.

This weekend, I happened upon "Turtles Can Fly," a Bahman Ghobadi film, in Arabic, which is set in Iraq in the three weeks before the U.S. sent our first troops there.

"I anticipate a powerful (true) story that will move and change me," I wrote to a friend just before seeing it. Yes: I anticipated an emotionally powerful film, but I did not expect poetry. The film simply is a work of art. It portrays and penetrates humanity and transcends it. No matter the intensity of the content--and there was a goodly portion of that--grace uplifts it at every turn. The likes of the thoughtlessness, the carelessness demonstrated by me in that parking lot encounter is nowhere to be found.

"A beautiful film... A peacemaker. A Way for Love in the world.." I wrote to my friend the next day.

Howso?

Because today, as a consequence of viewing the film, the "otherness" of the land and culture and people of Iraq is no more. The film bridged that divide. Or rather, the film awakened me--reawakened me--to the illusion of division, separation, distance--"us" and "them."

As regards Iraq, this in truth began a few years back. March 20 of 2003, to be exact. Another friend, who worked in TV news at the time, called to let me know the war was on. I took to my notebook that evening:

"Our government has just sent National Guardsmen to Iraq in numbers not matched since WWII."

Then followed somewhat of a tangent on love and fear, before I returned to the matter of the unfolding war.

"I am Saddam," I said to myself as I left the Stop and Shop today. I can't even bear to remember the headline I glimpsed at the checkout. "GET SADDAM," or somesuch blared above the living color front-page photograph of an exploding bomb or bombs: Baghdad, I suppose, up in smoke. "I am Saddam": I thought of showing up on Bush's doorstep, or some equivalent doorstep, and saying that. "Kill me."

"The point being that you are, President Bush, killing me and you and the rest of us with this campaign of yours. I hear them talk of Shiites on the news as though they're "other." Not us. Not the white-hats, but other: the bad guys, the enemy. And it's beyond me how grown, educated, thinking people in this day and age can even consider creating such a thing as an enemy, never mind bombing it.

"We are throwing bombs at our tiny planet. Just next door--do you feel it? The rumble, the ripple...do you?

"Which would you choose to bomb, your right leg or your left? Maybe your arm--would you? Would you bomb your arm or leg? Would anyone choose to bomb his arm or leg?

"We have just bombed our collective leg.

"We are one organism, obviously forgetting this. We are throwing bombs at ourselves. We are hating some part of our self and trying to destroy it. If our President recognized Saddam Hussein as his brother, his cousin, as himself, ultimately, would he seek to annihilate him? Send out his (his??) troops? It is your brothers, sisters, children you are shipping out to go kill, dear Soldiers. I ask you: why? Why would you choose that? And wound and poison precious Babylon. Tilt this planet that much further off balance--tell me: why? Come tell me. You will find me in a stone cottage in Boston under a light drizzle, in bed, ready for sleep. Find me where the snowdrops outside presage spring, as if--almost as if--nothing's happening, as if there isn't anything terribly wrong."

I know I know: March 20, 2003 wasn't the originating incident either. I will not take on the cataclysm of 9/11 just now. Except to say that the events of that day thrust me into a spiritual crisis (me and how many?). My first inroads at making any "sense" of them came when I looked to my own life and asked: where am I at war? I knew that anything short of peace in my home and in my one little life was more than simply a microcosm of this act of "terrorism." I knew--know--that there is a direct trajectory from one to the other.

I say I do not condone war. I say I am for Love's way. And I am still, apparently, susceptible to the unconscious, spontaneous detour off the Freeway.

It was a nasty ride; I'm glad to be back.


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Sunday, September 10, 2006

Love's Way: Which Way is THAT?

Love. What is it? Do you know? I've used the word; you've used the word. You can't sing to the radio without using the word many many times. We say we love the ocean or the mountains. We say we love sushi. We say we love our pets, our parents, our children, our friends. But what does that mean?

There's that "love" that strikes like lightning in the early weeks and perhaps months of getting to know someone who arouses, attracts, captivates. There's that "love" that ceases, disappears when the object of your ardor stops meeting your "needs" or gains weight or starts smoking or falls for someone else. It's in the name of love yes? when the estranged spouses stay together for the children.

Are these love?

"Would you still love her if she were a leper, disfigured and crippled, whom you had to carry around all day in a basket on your head?" Years ago, Dr. K, my then-therapist, asked me this about a relationship that I was struggling with at the time. She had related a story of a woman in India whose love for her husband took this very form.

Who would do this?

Who would do this is a woman who loves her husband, not with a fleeting, flimsy, conditional love, but with a love that...I want to say enters, but I don't think it enters. So let me try again. Who would do this is a woman who loves her husband with a love that prevails. A love recognized versus grown or received or given. Who would do this is a woman who will be penetrated by such a force, a woman who has once at least but probably more than once transcended the mundane even as she lives in and among it. Who would do--be--this is a woman who recognizes her husband (whom, yes, she loves) as a "piece of God to cherish." Dr. K. used that phrase, too. It stuck, has stayed with me, and has turned out to be one of the keys that unlocks the passageway to the transcendence that I know this Indian wife knew.

Love as word, as concept, is dangerous. Perhaps more than most other words, it practically begs for (mis?)interpretation, adulteration, connotation, denotation--everything, it would seem, but the "thing" itself, that "thing" that the word, as I intend it here, is to represent.

"Only when you are lost can love find itself in you without losing its way."

I have long adored this line of Helene Cixous from her essay "Coming to Writing." Yes, her topic was writing. But she is speaking about being taken over, traversed, of a realm that reaches of course well beyond the world of writing.

"And so when you have lost everything, no more roads, no direction, no fixed signs, no ground, no thoughts able to resist other thoughts, when you are lost, beside yourself, and you continue getting lost, when you become the panicky movement of getting lost, then, that's when, where you are unwoven weft, flesh that lets strangeness come through, defenseless being without resistance...

"And this tissue...this body without any borders...--you didn't know that they were the gardens of love. Not demand. You are not jealousy, not calculation and envy, because you are lost... You lack nothing. You are beyond lack... And if Love comes along, it can find in you the unlimited space...that is necessary and favorable to it. Only when you are lost can love find itself in you without losing its way."

"Beside yourself." To put oneself aside gives Love its way. I am not speaking of martyrdom, deferential self sacrifice, subservience. I am speaking of allowing something bigger than the daily self with all its matters, muddles, demands, ideas, designs to traverse us. I am speaking of being a vessel of sorts--or better, perhaps: a channel, through which something infinitely more vast, infinitely more substantial, infinitely more abiding, infinitely more satisfying may flow. I am speaking, as is Cixous, of being a channel for Infinity Itself, of being available to Love.

So thanks to you as a function of you? In the presence of you? I 'stand' aside myself, beside myself, and I find myself traversed by Love. I find myself traversed by Love by way of you. We are lovers, and I am pleased with that. It fits: as Love traverses me by way of you, it arouses, naturally, this force, this passion, this expression in me. Months pass and you come to me to say, "No. I don't want to be lovers. I think that we are...something else. Friends: maybe friends." Weeks pass, and you come to me. You say there is someone else with whom you envision a wonderful, long future. You say you have fallen head over heels for each other.

What happens to the river of Love through me: does it fade? Does it disappear? Does it sour, turn to anger? Does it seek revenge? Does it hate the new love in your life? Does it shine a spotlight on all the reasons I should eradicate you from my days?

No. Fives times, no. Of course not. Why? Because it is not me. It is Love through me. The I, the daily I that stepped aside for this traversing to occur in the first place: IT you bet! might employ or indulge in any or a number of these responses. Its world is the world of retort, of retaliation. Its world is human, 'normal' --entitled, even, to retort, to retaliation. And should the daily I retaliate, should it eradicate the loved one from its days, should it succeed in obliterating all signs of the Love, the Love itself would neither be stained nor diminished.

To be "in Love" then is to be inhabited by Love. It is a grace I allow myself. It is a bounty I open to, open for. It is not you that opens me. You are not the source, not even the object of my love; you are my inspiration to open. And once open, and lost, I am traversed: Love has had its way with me.

It’s been three-plus decades of no contact with Donna Malgeri. No word by phone or note over the time of our one marriage, one divorce apiece, and countless changes which I hear about, her mother to mine. They were best friends too, who’ve kept in touch. So when asked in a recent writing session to recall a person, it surprised me to find Donna right there beside me like an old dog which I’d been neglecting to pay any mind.

We were inseparable over the critical grade school years. At Junior High, we chose our respective cliques. It was the thing to do: spread out, abandon those blood-sister, cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die promises and loyalties. Abandon those overnights roughing it in her brother Vinnie’s canvas tent, running into their house to pee in the night. Or holding it, over facing whatever night creatures lurked in the tall, ominous whooshing pines of the Malgeris’ back quarter.

It was clearest we were best friends by the way we could fight. I think now of one that happened down at Frog Pond, an off-limits, fetid, swampy, velvety backwater of the Saugus River. The odor there was fertile, distinct, sensual, and it permeated the way sex fills a room with its weighty, sweet and sour scent. Muck and moss and rotting things combined with the lilies, tadpoles and fish who thrived there.

We ran home from that pond to cry and plead to our mothers for justice. We found them lounging side by side on webbed chaises chatting over their iced Lipton tea and lemon, dangling sandals off their toes in the summer’s pressing heat. They found our squabbles cute. Bickering girls. I’d proudly, angrily--huffing, voice quavering--show my red ribbons of scratches where the skin under Donna’s fingernails used to be. She’d push, urgent to show her wounds, proving, insisting that I had started it and that she had suffered far worse than I in her defense.

I know now, as reflected in that passion, that Donna was one of the only real loves of my childhood. I could say Donna was my first lover, by all but the most standard of definitions. Surely that’s why my little round-faced, crop-haired, Italian neighbor-friend came so readily to mind at the slightest prompt to return, recall.


By way of Donna, by way of sunsets and motmots, of snowscapes and moonscapes--the myriad languages and dialects of Majesty--of death, birth, devastation and mirth have I been opened to Love.

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Saturday, September 02, 2006

Beginning(s): The Story

There is so much to say, I don't know where to begin. I sit here frozen at the keyboard with beginning after beginning flashing to mind. I want to tell the story, that's it. I want to say how I came to be here, on this page, on the second of September, after having launched this blog on September first. I want to tell of my excitement of beginning. And I want to tell how this is hardly a beginning at all. How I've been riding this Freeway for years now, but have pretty much kept that fact to myself.
Well, I'm coming out!
I could say what landed me here was the purchase/gift of a digital camera last November. Playing with that camera evolved a passion. Not for taking pictures, per se, and certainly not posed pictures. Anyone who has ever been near me and a camera at the same time knows I hate posed pictures, strongly favoring candids. But I don't suppose many know why. I haven't said, really. Until now. And that's all part of the coming out.
I met a channel (a woman who channels information from 'the beyond') last year whose spontaneous (channeled) message to me at the time opened the ground up a little for me. Her words scratched the hard earth of me such that something buried there could sprout, and sprout it has. Its first little worm-of-a shoot appeared. Cotyledons gave way to first leaves. First leaves parted for the second and third leaves. The seedling has reached adolescence, which you are now regarding by way of this blog. Full-flower adulthood is yet to come, but coming.
What am I talking about?
Giving voice to the earth's heart, being its mouthpiece: that's one way to say it. That's how the channel put it. And since that day with her sitting by Jamaica Pond now two summers ago, I have turned an ear toward that...charge? Invitation? Call? All feel true. In retrospect, I see my intimate relationship with the earth and its various bounties is a long-standing one. It is only in this past year and some that I've begun to understand the extent of that relationship. The camera clinched it. On the macro setting, and playing around with aperture and such, I've seen: morning glory, creeping phlox, bearded iris, poppies, cosmos--flowers I've looked at year after year--as if for the first time. No, not as if, for the first time. There are worlds in there. Tiny little worlds I had no idea about. I would load the card into the computer, and gasp. Each time, each photo session, I would find something all new, something I didn't even know I'd shot. A surprise. A miracle.
There's looking and there's seeing, after all. John Berger has written beautifully about this in Ways of Seeing--and maybe in About Looking too, for all I know; I haven't read it. And I could go on and on about this, but I won't. And I could share images, which I shall--here's one: nasturtium or crucible? And you will look or see--hopefully, see. But in the meantime, there is the that. The 'what I saw,' see. And there is the impulse to share it. No, not share it, BLARE it. Rave on and on about the perfection, the order, the PLENTY, the humor, the lightness, the insignificance. About the stories, the lessons, the complete, unselfconscious flagrance. Just the color alone! To view one then the next then the next of the array of flowers--wild, cultivated; annual, perennial--that I have captured on "film" is to be bathed in wash after wash of rich color, from the subtle of the pastel to the vibrant intensity of the jewel tones. But never mind all that magnificence. Get this: life just DOES this. With or without our attention, our notice, our care, our neglect. Life just does this, and needs nothing for it--no praise, no encouragement, no nothing.

To be like the flowers - do you see where I'm going with this?

Have you fretted today? Stressed about something? What have you resisted today? For me, it's this that I have been resisting, saying all this. And all along the way, as I type, I feel the interference threatening to stop me. "Who cares? You're too scattered! Where is this going to get you?" These and more want me to give up. But I won't give up. I concede that I will be clunky with this at first - so what? I am new to this, speaking for the earth, expressing its very heart. It's no small job, and feels to me to be an important one. Part of me wants to say "You picked the wrong gal. Find someone who's more structured, less poetically inclined: she'll get the job done!" But truth be told, I do want this job. I've already accepted it, in fact. And I know how to succeed with it: just give Love its way with me.
JUST!
I'm learning. It's a process. Late last summer, I spent a couple of days in a powerful place, by a river at the foot of the White Mountains in New Hampshire. What makes this place powerful for me is that it is so c l e a r. Think no static interference; just the program itself, and nothing between you and it. Anyway, long story short, I "channeled" a poem there--while swimming, no less. It may sound weird to say, but I'll say it anyway: it was as if the earth was speaking to me. As if? As if I were taking dictation, listening and picking up the words. But they did not come independent of the environment. Damselflies, joe pye weed, sapling birches and pines, fallen trees, the kingfisher: all these spoke to/through me. And I put it all down as best I could once I was finally back with pen and notebook after returning from the pond. Ask me about "Wakefield," if you're curious about the poem. Or maybe I'll post it later. But in any event, the point is this: I listen, and respond. Like the flowers, you might say. At my 'best,' that is. It's no longer second nature (interesting term!) anymore, if it ever was, for us to BE so purely, so unselfconsciously, the way a loon will simply "loon," or a tree will simply "tree"-- not trying to be good or better or successful or something it's not.
Life is always speaking to us. We listen, or we don't, and in either case it speaks on. I say that listening and following is the only way to go. From where I sit, it even looks like the only real chance we've got: to each be the particularly shaped, twisted, colored, textured thread we're intended to be such that this weave of humanity has integrity--no rents, no slubs--and just plain works! This is my vision, my ultimate passion for the Freeway. And all of what you'll find here from this day forward will be in service to that.
Welcome to Love's Freeway.
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Friday, September 01, 2006

So...


So, today the blog is born. Love's Freeway careens into cyberspace. Ready? Here we go!
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