It Has To Go Around, First

Kage Baker held, as one of her core philosophies, the venerable axiom: What goes around, comes around.

She felt it covered all the moral contingencies of behaviour: obligation, reward, the powers of good and evil. Not to mention the stern, strict judgement of the Universe, which hangs on a balance of spider’s silk above all our heads. In Kage’s world view, there were very few accidents. If you screwed someone over, you yourself would be eventually screwed as well. And if you did good, good would come to you.

As a corollary, she felt that it was therefore one’s duty to do as little evil and as much good as you could. It wasn’t to build up brownie points or avert the wrath of an impersonal Universe (Kage did not believe the Universe was impersonal): it was because you might be an agent of Justice for someone else. So you had to behave in such a manner as to be useful.

She wasn’t, ever, anything close to rich. But she did what she could. On Federal tax forms, when they ask you if you want to donate to causes, Kage chose things like education, national parks, endangered animals, veteran’s care. And she never, ever contributed anything to the government’s Presidential campaign slush funds – she said she wasn’t going to encourage politicians by letting them think their power grabs were a legitimate public charity.

Whenever Kage got an advance or a royalty, we went shopping for the local Food Bank. Big checks meant cases of canned tuna and chicken – protein’s hard to come by at Food Banks. Smaller checks went to peanut butter, pasta, rice, beans and other sturdy carbs. The guys at the warehouse got to know us by sight. That made Kage proud.

Since I’ve moved down to LA, it’s been a little harder to focus on accessible charities. There are so many! All of them would be happy for my help, but most of them want actual money; of which I don’t have much either.  But I still do what I can. The AIDS Project is stationed outside my local grocery store two weekends a month; I always check to see what they need most (Coffee? Shampoo? Breakfast cereal?) and add it to my own shopping for them. I donate to local food banks when a check comes in. I buy my books via Amazon Smile,  and every book I buy contributes to a charity. I answer the calls of neighborhood food drives; if my postal lady can figure out how to get all those cans of soup and vegetables into her funky little go-cart, I can sure provide some of them.

Today, I got a call from Jacob Weisman, the splendid head of Tachyon Publications. Jacob was good for Kage, and he’s been good for me, too. He’s a joy to work with; he and all his fine folks at Tachyon.

Jacob had been contacted by a non-profit charity called Worldreader, which can be found, Dear Readers, at (http://www.worldreader.org/).   These good people supply ebooks to developing countries, to phones and tablets and Kindles. Most of them are in the keeping of schools and teachers, and the books are supplied to them for the use of their students. Especially little girls … So when Jacob asked me how I felt about donating The Hotel Under the Sand (published by him) to this project – I said YES!

Yes, yes, and yes again. This is the sort of thing Kage wrote the book  for: our niece Emma, a little girl in a bad spot, who needed to know the world could be better if she was strong and brave and true.  The Emma for whom she wrote it is a young woman now – in Annapolis, studying to be (surprise!) a naval officer. Blue water and gold braid run deep in our family …

What goes around, comes around. Kage believed in that circle, and that what went around would come back sooner if you gave it a good push to start. She launched this book herself, as an act of love – now it comes back.

And I stand ready to push it on its way again.

 

 

 

 

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How To Write. Or Not.

Kage Baker was a dynamo.

At least, where writing was concerned. She wrote nearly every day; she wrote 8 hours and more every day she wrote. When she wasn’t writing, she did research, worked on notes and outlines, edited her manuscripts and galleys. Her discipline and focus were inhuman, particularly as they were consistent day after week after month after year …

That’s unusual. Most writers will confess they want to do that; they aspire to it, and will share all their tricks to try to accomplish it, along with the myriad road blocks that prevent it. Some writers say they write everything on the verge of writer’s block, grasping desperately for a decent day’s output every damned day. Not Kage.

She wrote like a river springing from the edge of a melting glacier. She wrote like a flow of lava down a canyon in the dark, rushing to meet the sea in a climax of steam and rainbows.  She wrote in an endless and irresistible flood, from the time she learned to write at age 8 to the day she died a mere 50 years later. She wrote in notebooks, on legal pads, on candy wrappers turned inside out, in margins, on endpapers, on all 4 of our hands.

I can’t write like that. I will, of course, keep trying – I’ve done lots of things I thought impossible in the last 4 1/2 years – but I haven’t gotten the trick of it.  Yet. These last several days I have been stuck in writer’s block of the most pernicious type. I know what comes next in the scene I need to write, but the actual words – won’t – come.  When that happens, I start to grieve for Kage all over again, which is agonizing. But eventually, the pain breaks something down in me and the words start to flow again. They don’t flow the way they did for Kage, but they do come. So I’ll be patient.

What I’ve done instead is work at getting a couple of stories actually ready for submission, to real live frightening editors. One, to whom I sent my  published CV  (1 novel, 1 short story, both from Kage’s notes) has already responded: and if the story I want to submit is by Kage Baker, they’d be ever so happy to see it!

But it’s not. It’s by me, from some of her notes. So now I am come to the crux of this whole writing matter: can I sell a story to a stranger, someone who didn’t know Kage or me from The Time Before? Someone who will trust my ability to tell a tale that may have no more of Kage’s mind in it than what she could fit on the inside of a Junior Mint box?

Oh, this is a scary place to be. And I miss her so much, it feels like broken glass in my chest. I never argued with her about it, but now I finally really know – and understand! – why she made me read the answers from editors …

Well, screw it. Screw it to the sticking point, I hope. Time to be strong, time to be determined and resourceful.

Time to bleed words.

 

 

 

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The Silly Season. Again, and Early

Kage Baker, as my Dear Readers may recall, was a big fan of what old newspaper people call “the Silly Season.”

She met the idea in an old Clifford Simak novel, from which I insisted on reading amusing passages aloud one summer. My habit of doing that frequently drove Kage mad; but she couldn’t help but save any interesting bits in her enormous memory – just in case they turned out to be useful. It is doubtless all that saved me from instant immolation by optic death-ray  (which anyone who knew Kage will testify she possessed), especially in our teen years.

Anyway, she came to like Mr. Simak’s wonderfully American voice, Yankee humour, and the clear newspaper style that permeated his writing. More than that, she loved the idea of the Silly Season. And so she watched for it, and mined it gleefully, all her life.

I’ve talked about this before, of course: how, usually late in the summer, news becomes dominated by reportage of weird, unlikely, frankly goofy stories: Man Bites Dog is the classic example.UFO sightings peak, and so do the stories in the press about them. Bigfoot and Elvis are seen everywhere. It was Simak’s conviction, enthusiastically upheld by Kage, that it was the perfect time of year for aliens, ghosts, fairies and general weird people to cut loose – because odds were, it would get chalked up to harmless seasonal silliness.

Mind you, Kage thought such things happened pretty frequently anyway – and the Internet made them a lot easier to find. But the best ones did tend to come in the summer. This year, they are showing up a little early – as most symptoms of summer seem to lately; it may mean California will drown in rain come September, or it may just mean people’s brains have already fried. I’m already collecting for this year. For instance …

The last few days, a massive and unexpected school of anchovies has been swimming up from La Jolla. They are so numerous it looks like an oil slick. No one’s seen anything like it in a couple of generations. Is something chasing them? Are they fleeing the damned monsoons? Are they headed for Monterey, to make rude gestures at the canneries that closed when they fled those waters? Maybe John Steinbeck knows, but no one else has a guess.

They’ll hit some trouble on the way. Great White sharks spawn off the coast of California, and they are all over this year; from San Diego to Morro Bay and beyond. A gentleman at Huntington Beach got bitten a couple of days ago by a juvenile shark – luckily, not fatally. Manta rays are also swarming up the coast; and of course, the doughty Humboldt squid continues to move its territory North, and will happily eat anchovies between leaping out at fishermen. We even have unusual amounts of dolphins and whales out here this year, including the blue whale that absent-mindedly capsized a fishing boat last week …

In the meantime, God has appeared in an egg-plant to a line cook in Louisiana. His Name was spelled out in seeds, thusly:

eggplant_godMake of it what you will, Dear Readers. I got nothing.

Some poor gent on a train in Essex tried to enter the loo as the train was slowing at the station, and 6 young women in mini-skirts rushed out of the loo and attacked him. One of them kicked him off the train and (luckily) on to the platform, where (unluckily) yet another woman decided he was trying to steal her purse and punched his lights out. Why were the 6 young ladies all in the loo? (Not to mention how?) Who was the lady on the platform? No one knows, and all the police have is a guy with 2 black eyes and a broken nose. This could be a time slip, a dimensional portal incident, or a complicated sexual fantasy gone very, very wrong …

The Higgs Boson, tentatively identified by the CERN Particle Accelerator a couple of years ago, is apparently not behaving as expected. The results so far are: 1) a call for a yet-bigger particle accelerator; and 2) a theory that since the Higgs doesn’t do what we thought it did, none of us actually exist. Seems like a self-defeating statement to release to the news, but I guess someone was bound to notice eventually.

In Oklahoma, the loser in a political race is demanding a recount on the grounds that his opponent (the winner) is a robot.

In Uganda, a policeman shot and killed a tortoise that broke into his house and threatened him. It was evidently belligerent and put him in fear for his life. Presumed possessed, the dead tortoise was then burnt “to ashes” by a local Christian group.

The national astronomers group of Ukraine has named a star “Putin is a dickhead.” Academia is a ruthless place.

And we’re barely into July! This stuff usually gets screwier as the summer goes on.  What wonders await us in the dog days of August?

Kage would love this.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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This Same Progeny of Evils Comes/ From Our Debate

Kage Baker, were she observing the weather this year, would be prophesying gloomily. “Summer’s all off schedule,” she would say. As was her habit, she’d look to Shakespeare for the right words:  ” The Nine Men’s Morris is all filled up with mud, man,”* she’d say. And she’d shake her head.

She’d be right. The heat is here early; the thunderstorms and lightning are early. California usually doesn’t get even the hint of storms until the Autumn; but right now, we’re fighting “monsoonal moisture” as remnants of equatorial storm gyres float up the coast of Mexico to menace us. There’s probably an El Nino lurking out there in the Pacific, and it’s gearing up to drown us this winter – in the meantime, wet air creeps further up the western edge of the continent than it usually does, and the humidity imitates the Midwest here in the land of yucca and Santa Ana winds.

Though it could be worse. In Arizona, they are having simooms. Or maybe it’s haboobs. It’s great whacking dust storms, is what it is, that come looming over the desert lands like a scene from The Mummy (the 1999 one) to convert Phoenix from the sweatiest city in America to a dessicated phantom. Fires are already burning; Utah, New Mexico, Colorado are all beating California to the punch for conflagrations. We may yet burn here, but it looks like we’ll be small potatoes compared to the neighbors.

And worser yet, even. The Midwest, after surviving a veritable Fimbulwinter, is now dealing with record-breaking tornadoes and floods. Tornadoes are springing up far out of their usual range, eying little towns and trailer parks in the South now. Hurricanes are threatening the entire Eastern seaboard – not just Florida and Louisiana, where they’re kind of expected. At least out here on the Western Edge, our monsoons are still theoretical: they haven’t come ashore in San Diego or Huntington Beach yet. Though I suppose it’s only a matter of time.

I’ve been aware of climate change for years, of course. (She said smugly.) The things Kage and I read, the fields we followed, we had notice of this 20-odd years ago when only scientists and civilians like SF writers were beginning to take it seriously. Also, I have a personal interest in extinction events (Don’t judge, Dear Readers; some people collect shoelaces or sex toys.) and any study of the Permian Extinction  paints a very clear and scary picture of what happens when abnormally fast atmospheric heating happens.

Kage even spent a lot of time calculating just how far up the street the local Pacific was likely to rise, in Pismo Beach – she figured we might end up nearly beach-side if we lived into our 80′s. Of course, by that time we might have had to move into the hills, but she quite liked the idea of being ocean-front property.

After all, we grew up in a vast seaside city. On returning to Los Angeles, I found myself once more living where sea-mist came flooding up as far as the L.A. River; where the Pacific and the Channel Islands can be seen from the Hollywood Hills. Various extrapolations expect that in the next 20 years, L.A. could find itself covered in seawater for as little as 4 miles, and as much as 15 – no matter how it goes, my household will be closer to the beach, but not inundated. So, even here in the Basin, I’ll manage. The towers of Century City may be rising from a new lagoon, but I’ll be enjoying a sea breeze while I watch the tidal bore on the L.A. River …

One should always cling to as much silver lining as one can, Dear Readers. And break out the swizzle sticks and paper umbrellas.

 

 

* This is the passage Kage always quoted, regarding climate change. It’s Titania’s saddest speech, I think, from Midsummer Night’s Dream.

And never, since the middle summer’s spring,
Met we on hill, in dale, forest, or mead,
By pavèd fountain, or by rushy brook,
Or in the beachèd margent of the sea,
To dance our ringlets to the whistling wind,
But with thy brawls thou hast disturbed our sport.
Therefore the winds, piping to us in vain,
As in revenge, have sucked up from the sea
Contagious fogs, which falling in the land
Have every pelting river made so proud
That they have overborne their continents.
The ox hath therefore stretched his yoke in vain,
The ploughman lost his sweat, and the green corn
Hath rotted ere his youth attained a beard.
The fold stands empty in the drownèd field,
And crows are fatted with the murrain flock.
The nine-men’s-morris is filled up with mud,
And the quaint mazes in the wanton green
For lack of tread are undistinguishable.
The human mortals want their winter here.
No night is now with hymn or carol blessed.
Therefore the moon, the governess of floods,
Pale in her anger, washes all the air,
That rheumatic diseases do abound.
And thorough this distemperature we see
The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set. The spring, the summer,
The childing autumn, angry winter change
Their wonted liveries, and the mazèd world,
By their increase, now knows not which is which.
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Send The Monsoon Back to Pago Pago!

Kage Baker liked heat. Even when the weather got too hot, she liked it. She just made adjustments – changed to cotton and silk, turned on the fan, drank cold Coke for breakfast instead of coffee, pinned her yards of hair up – and soldiered on.

Anything below 50 degrees was sweater weather for her. Anything between 75 and 90 was shirtsleeve. She didn’t set about seeking coolth until I had usually melted into a whining puddle on the floor. Because after about 80 degrees, my system blows its zap and I start malfunctioning; sparks come out of my ears and I make scary grinding noises.

In our youth, these conditions applied anywhere but a Renaissance Faire. There, we could both run around like gazelles in triple-digit heat and 3 layers of wool and linen. We were sustained by iced chai and cold beer, and probably some weird thermal effect of industrial-strength sunscreen. Personally, I always felt I radiated a lot more heat from my bosom than my head – and my corset was designed to give me a broad expanse of radiator … it’s amazing what you can survive in comfort when you are young.

Of course, we were helped by the climate of California. Whether we lived in Los Angeles, Pismo Beach or the Bay Area, California tended toward the famous “dry heat”.  Pismo exists in a near-constant Pacific wind, that makes even hot air feel like satin. I had no idea what a difference that made until we visited Texas, and Louisiana, and Missouri. I discovered then that I had NO conception of what humidity really was, nor how debilitating a damp atmosphere could be to those unaccustomed to the amphibious lifestyle.

Life may have started in what Darwin fondly imagined as “a warm little pool” – but it’s been a long, long time since that happened. My gill slits long ago converted into ear bones and jaws. All that happens now when the humidity rises is that I drown, slowly.

This is one of the gifts of climate change to California – increased atmospheric moisture. The weather people poetically call it “monsoonal”, which sounds romantic but actually means the air is like wet cling wrap. Dorothy Lamour and Sadie Thompson aren’t in it; no saris, no darling 1920′s hats, no singing choruses of wet Marines. It doesn’t cool anything down. It doesn’t have the decency to rain. In fact, it’s accompanied by thunderstorms – ordinarily rare here, but now a yearly phenomenon – that produce only a few hot fat drops of rain and tons of lightning strikes to start fires.

And that’s exacerbating the other local result of climate change: drought. We’re up to our ears in monsoonal moisture, but we have no rain. So the air is wet and the hills are dry, and fires spring up everywhere, every day. (I get emails from the Fire Department, advising me of 3 or 4 fires a day, in parks and empty lots.) Then the smoke mixes with the damp air and we get something like wet soot …

It makes me – surprise, Dear Readers! – cranky. It’s 88 degrees here right now, with 47% humidity – we’ve had rain storms with humidity that high! Honestly, that can happen in California; at least, it used to happen. Now, I’m expecting catfish to start fleeing the L.A. river. And it won’t surprise me if they’re already fried.

So, yeah, I don’t care for this new weather pattern. I could stand it a lot more easily if the damned monsoons would either go away, or decide to actually rain. I could deal with that.

Anyway, the last few days have left me a damp, sticky, testy mess. Hopefully, the weather will relent a little soon and I can successfully make my summer weather adjustment. Heat, I can manage. Rain, I can manage. Just please let the choking humidity blow out to sea and play monsoons with someone who knows how to deal with it!

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July 4th

Kage Baker loved the 4th of July.

She was patriotic. She paid her taxes, answered jury summons, obeyed most laws, flew the flag. She thought the United States, for all its flaws, was the best country in the world in which to live.

However, highest on her reasons for that may well have been fireworks. Kage adored fireworks. She worshipped fireworks. When she still lived at home, she would go up to the roof every 4th of July – you could see fireworks displays from all over Burbank and the San Fernando Valley from up there; she’d be dancing around on the battlements (the roof was flat and had faux battlements here and there) in glee and delight.

The years we lived in Pismo were the very best. We never lived more than a couple of blocks from the beach, and we’d go down every 4th and set up a redoubt. Pismo Beach puts on an especially fine display every year, and we’d sit there while Kage succumbed to complete sensory overload.

It’s illegal to set off private fireworks in Pismo. However, they are sold in every town that surrounds it. People buy tons of them, bring them to the beach in Pismo, and for the couple of hours before (and after) the legal show, the beach is packed full of private displays. Smart and responsible folks dig  pits for them; insane and careless folks set ‘em off right on the sand. Amazingly, no one ever gets immolated.

Children run around with sparklers and snakes; teenagers run around with Roman candles. Moon Flowers are thrown into the breakers, where the resulting glow and bubbles looks like R’lyeh rising from the depths. Everyone is wearing glow-stick necklaces.  Piccolo Petes shrill everywhere, constantly. The beach develops a fog bank of black powder smoke, that swirls around everyone’s knees for hours; the air smells of burnt paper and hot forges.

It’s all totally against the law – but with literally thousands of happy maniacs all over the beach, the cops content themselves with stopping actual fires and dangers. You’ll get arrested if you set someone or thing on fire – you’ll get ticketed if you try launching fireworks from your butt crack or something equally stupid. Someone in the dunes nearby always has a mortar – as long as they don’t land a shot in among the audience, the cops leave ‘em alone.

By the time the Municipal show started, Kage was in an ecstasy. We’d stagger home afterwards, along with whatever family and friends had come up to join us that year, and sit on the porch for the next two hours watching everything. It took two hours for the traffic to clear – the town holds 8,000 regular people, but on the 4th … up to 50,000 people are there. Which is why we always walked. And the amateur fireworks went on until well after midnight.

Those are my favourite memories of the 4th of July.

Los Angeles discourages private fireworks, and has for over half a century. We used to shoot some off in the backyard when I was very small, but it became far too dangerous – Los Angeles is a tinder pile waiting to burn, after all. Not that the laws stop everyone: the LAPD and the Fire Department are going to have a perfectly horrible night tonight, trying to prevent an urban firestorm.  Every neighborhood has at least one idiot who somehow thinks they are immune to fire and the law.

We’ll call the cops if it’s a neighbor too close to us; everyone does, and the cops make it out to maybe 1 in 100 calls to stop them. Mostly they drive around and hope the sight of a black and white police car will discourage the worst excesses. We’ll also feed tranquilizers to the Corgi, and keep him and the cats inside starting – oh, right about now. We tried a Thunder Coat for the dog this year, but it turns out they don’t come in a size and shape suitable for a Corgi – Corgis, like true dwarves, are barrel-chested and low to the ground. It’s like Gimli in a mail shirt made for Legolas …

Here and now, we’ve watched 1776. Later on, we’ll watch Yankee Doodle Dandy or Field of Dreams or Independence Day. Good stuff. Stuff to make one recall why one is glad to be an American. Even if they are fantasies; where are dreams born from, if not from fantasies?

I am proud to be an American – proud and glad and grateful, too. For all that my country is exhibiting appalling signs of madness lately, I think it will survive. I intend to stick it out and do what I can to help. We were founded by loonies with a dream. We’re still the best place for loonies with dreams to live and thrive.

We make our own fireworks, in our heads and in our hearts.

 

 

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Monday

Kage Baker always thought of Mondays as a day of rest. At least, as much rest as could be managed, while going to work or school, to recover from the previous weekend. Her weekends were always intense – Kage threw herself into the thorough enjoyment of days off from routine.

Summers, as a kid and a teenager, she roamed the ridges and valleys of the Hollywood Hills, picking the dusty little bush sunflowers we called “Judy Collins daisies” – because they’re all over the cover of her album Wildflowers.  They’re the native California variant of the sunflower, which endeared them to Kage; she was into native and heritage plants long before they became chic. Those little sunflowers can be carried all day in a backpack or tucked into your hair, and still spring up happily when put in a glass of water later. And they smell like strawberry incense.

Kage brought them home from her rambles, along with white and smokey quartz from semi-secret outcroppings on Mt. Hollywood; shards of a distinctively chocolate-brown flint that can be found in the hills above Cahuenga Boulevard; bits of coloured tiles and glass from empty, ruined houses in the hills.

I have boxes full of this sparkly hoard, in storage. She kept as much as she could, and there are bits of fired tile from buildings that are dust under a Hollywood Bowl parking lot in there … all I did was pack them up, when I closed up the house. Someday, when the radiation of the past will not sear me to the bone, I’ll go through those boxes. There were some interesting things in them.

Later in life, for more than 30 years, Mondays were the day we recuperated from a weekend of Faire. Even though we went to work, we were slowed down like fresh-risen zombies. We had the reaction time of a spavined tortoise. Working vocabularies reduced to a couple of dozen phrases from the Employees’ Manual.  We were glassy-eyed and all but pointless with exhaustion, heat, travel, hangovers – I have memories that now make me shudder, of Mondays after Faire where I didn’t sober up enough to even be hungover until mid-afternoon. But when you’re young, you can get through a day’s work like that.

By Tuesdays, we were bright-eyed and ready for another adventure. Otherwise, we’d never have survived doing the deadly laundry you accumulate after a weekend at a Renaissance Faire …

But Mondays were for resting. And this Monday, I’m resting up, having somewhere in the past week crossed some new, critical line in stamina. Though I was a good girl and wrote through my whole house-sitting idyll, I then went bounding off to Santa Rosa; stayed up until midnight chatting with my dear friend Neassa, and was off at 8 AM the next morning  on the Long Bye-Bye back to Los Angeles. With the aid of iced coffee and Mentos,  I made it home in a fine mood and good time.

Then I collapsed. I guess I can no longer spend a couple of days running around like a brain-damaged gazelle, bounding hither and yon. I have to actually stop and sleep, eat something sensible – or, indeed, at all; food was often optional on really interesting weekends. Can’t do that no more. You’d think I had figured that out, but no: the urge to spend days on end awake and dancing; to personally witness 2 or 3 dawns and sunsets in a row; to drive for 7 hours fueled on caffeine and sugar, singing at the top of my lungs, was irresistible.

I consider the experience educational. I’ve learned I can’t do that anymore. I can do parts of it, though. I can spread it over many days, rather than cram an entire alternate universe into one 48-hour span as Kage and I used to do.  Best of all, I can write about it afterwards – because if I’m sensible and remember to eat and sleep a bit, I will have the chance to see so many interesting things!

Kage was always more sensible than I was. She knew you had to pace yourself, take some time to rehydrate and rest and find your underwear. Adventures are more fun when you can remember them.

On the other hand … the bed is never so soft as when you fall into it from a great height of speed and glory. Gotta remember that, too.

 

Tomorrow: the new fiscal year begins, hospitals change all their staff assignments, and your semi-faithful correspondent, Dear Readers, turns 61.

 

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