On… a Christmas wish list

Well gang, you don’t need little old moi to tell you brilliant things to buy for the people you love. (Go here or here for that.) Instead, I’ll tell you what’s on my own wish list, because I am totes self-involved like that, and because you can forward it straight to your loved ones and say ‘THIS’ (or you can forward it straight to your best friend and say ‘dear God, she must be smoking meth’).

Now, two warnings: 1. I am kind of into looking like Albert’s mother in Bye Bye Birdie lately, my meth habit has nothing to do with it and 2. this is a wish list, so it veers on the expensive side, though IRL I am uncommonly devoted to TopShop and secondhand things from Etsy and this place.

Let’s dive in with:

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A fake fur coat. Importantly, this one is not TOO leopardy. Leopard is hard to wear as a blonde. It quickly veers into hookerishness.

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A pair of burgundy men’s shoes for looking smart with my new smart fake fur coat.

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A candle that smells like a fireplace because I don’t have a fireplace and probably never will.

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A brown suede bag that I can kick around because I’m a grubby little thing like that.

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A pair of seriously battered boots with which to kick the above bag around. When I was 14, on vacation in the middle of nowhere in Western Australia, I bought a pair of steel-capped men’s tan suede workbooks, two sizes too big, from a thrift shop. I wore them until I was 21. I never did up the laces. When I remind my mother about them she says ‘oh God darling, I wanted to burn them so much’. I’m actually surprised that she didn’t. This is the woman who, one day, when I was about 17 and studying, wearing my favorite hole-y grey t-shirt, came up behind me with A PAIR OF SCISSORS and CUT THE TSHIRT IN HALF RIGHT OFF MY BACK so I had to throw it out. (Yeah, my mother is pretty awesome.)

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The nicest shampoo ever. I actually already have this, but I have nearly run out. It is REVOLUTIONARY. I swear. Why would I lie to you? Yes, it’s insanely expensive but you only need to use a teaspoon a week so, you know, that works out (she says with a vague wave of her hand). I used to use it with that WEN conditioner until I read something about it making women go bald and I switched to this faster than you can say ‘mostly because I like the bottle’.

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A soft plummy red-brown lipstick. Not matte. But not sticky gloss either. Somewhere in between. And while we’re on the subject: make up companies, please stop with those matte liquid creams. They are the worst.

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A lovely strawberry red blush so the aforementioned plummy brown lipstick doesn’t make you look like you just got transported back in time to 1996. (Although I wish I could be, just for a night. In fact, I wrote a movie about that very premise, and sold it to New Regency, but that’s a different story altogether.)

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Miss Dior Originale perfume, because my Dad gave it to me when I was 12, and sometimes it’s just exactly what I want to smell like. I just ran out, and every morning I think ‘oh I want to smell like Miss Dior Originale today and I can’t why is my life so hard woe is me’. NB: Don’t forget the ‘Originale’ on the end of the name. This isn’t the Miss Dior that they sell in Sephora and whatnot, even though it looks almost exactly like it. It’s harder to track down. But soooo worth it.

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A moisturizer with lactic acid. Yes, it feels like tiny bees stinging you for a minute or two. But it also makes your skin look like a Vermeer painting the next day. I used to use Noreva Alphacid KM, which is an AMAZING lactic acid moisturizer that costs like nine Euros in France, but it’s impossible to get in the USA (I almost bought it on eBay via Bulgaria a few weeks ago, then sense intervened). If Santa doesn’t provide, I may just bite this bullet on this one myself, as I’ve been using samples and OH it is good… although it’s so insanely overpriced I will give it the evil eye for a few more months first. Skin care is so expensive these days that I walk around Sephora shouting YOU’RE NOT MADE OF FUCKING UNICORN HORNS YOU KNOW and then they ask me to leave. (Okay, that is a lie, but it could be true.)

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A green hat. I like green.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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On… music

How about some comfort music? Listen to these in order:

Turin Brakes – Save Me

Mazzy Star – Fade Into You.

The Doves – There Goes The Fear

White Town – Your Woman

The Breeders – Cannonball

Liam Lynch – United States of Whatever

East 17 – Deep (NO JUST GO WITH IT TRUST ME)

Gorillaz – Dare

Simian – La Breeze

Paolo Nutini – New Shoes

Lonely Island – Jizz In My Pants

Feeling better?

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On… hanging in there

Okay, gang. The psychological pain is bad. I know. You’re probably not sleeping. You might have chest palpitations, like, a lot. For anyone with a brain, a sense of moral decency, and a conscience, it’s genuinely painful to imagine that this lovely country is now led by all the very very worst values. It’s shameful.

I actually wrote a whole other blog post about my horror about the election, and how the results simply don’t reflect the thoughtful, open-minded, open-hearted, empathetic, brilliant, highly moral and exceptionally kind Americans that we’ve met in the past four years. But then I deleted it because, you know, I was pretty pissed off, and that’s not always a good time to write. Then I didn’t know if it was wiser to shut up, or braver to speak up… But every time that I’ve read something about refusing to normalize this rhetoric, about standing together, I felt a thrill of powerful optimism run through me. And I figured the least I can do is offer you guys something powerfully optimistic, too.

Honestly, I’m trying to figure out how to survive right now, just like everyone else is, without going absolutely crazy with worry and rage. My brain is on an exhausting what can I DO what can I DO what can I DO loop, and then every now and again something deep inside says dude, you can’t be this anxious all the time or you’ll have a fucking heart attack. I’m profoundly glad that my kids are too young to understand the election.

So here’s what I’m trying to do: first, act, then, relax, then persevere.

My lovely friend Joanna has a blog that had a great post on what to do now (her blog is generally a very calming, kind thoughtful place to hang out). There are also great suggestions here. And here. And here. And here. We give money to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the Southern Poverty Law Center, Emily’s List and Fund Texas Choice. Volunteering is another great way to help some of the people who will be the most in danger of persecution by the new administration. Bonus: giving your time and energy to someone else, without expectation of anything back, really calms your brain down. I don’t know why it works that way, but it just does. I joined New York Cares, a New York City volunteer group that’s sort of an umbrella for dozens of charities, about three years ago. Volunteering is not entirely altruistic – to misquote Friends, there is no such thing as altruism because helping other people makes you feel good. Volunteering helped me with grief; gave me an escape from the intense writing/baby cycle that has been my life for the past five years, and was emotionally rewarding and satisfying in ways I never expected.

The barriers to volunteering are, I think, mostly mental: you don’t know what it’ll be like. What if the people are mean? What if it’s depressing? What if it’s stressful? What if I’m no good at it? What if I don’t have time and have to let them down? Can’t I just give money? And all I can say is – it is lovely. People are warm and funny, sometimes a little weird, but fuck it, I’m probably kind of weird, too, and so are you. It’s not depressing, if anything, it affirms my belief (so battered by the election results) that people are essentially good and kind. I mostly volunteer with underprivileged children and Arab-American immigrants; my husband volunteers with a charity for the homeless – he drives a van around NYC every Wednesday night, handing out food to the homeless. In the last week I’ve also signed up here, to be a child advocate to unaccompanied immigrant children who have to navigate the US court system alone. (Seriously, that’s how it works here. WTF.)

Now, give your poor psyche a break.

Stop reading everything. No, really, I mean it. Don’t get me wrong – I am not going to put my head in the sand – I want to be informed, I want to read the news, and I will read analysis by smart, measured, thoughtful people… but so many ‘news’ sites are opinion sites angling for clickbait. Those articles are designed to elicit a reaction (panic, fear, rage) so you email them to your friends and they get more clicks. That’s how they make money. They are emotional self-harm: reading them is the equivalent of taking a pen knife to your arms. No one knows what’s going to happen. That is scary, but it is also reassuring.

Exercise. I go to ToneHouse, and I love it, even though it is getting harder and harder (no SERIOUSLY it is getting so fucking hard). Meditate if you can, I can’t, but my mother and sister love it. Do yoga. Again, not my bag, I know it should be, particularly since my mother is a teacher, but it’s just not my wheelhouse.

Listen to Hamilton very loudly. Fox and I were unbelieeeeeevably lucky to see Hamilton back in May. It’s really as exceptional, as touching and funny and brilliant, as everyone says. And it reminds me, every time, about the democratic optimism that this country was founded on. Also, I feel fucking cool, in the lamest way, when I realize I know all the words to the songs.

After you’ve finished Hamilton, then watch the following shows, because a) they’re brilliant and b) there’s no rape (we have a rape-free viewing policy in this apartment. Here’s my reasoning: rape is never entertainment. End of reasoning). Many of these I’ve ranted joyfully about before, but they’re worth recommending again:

Younger

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Timeless (seriously, this show is popcorn fun and has at least three genuinely funny lines in each episode)

Brothers & Sisters (strangely hasn’t aged)

The West Wing (also strangely hasn’t aged)

Grace & Frankie

Divorce

Bad Behavior (it’s a little darker than my average bear, but it’s also rape-free!)

Catastrophe (we’ve covered this in previous sessions)

Fleabag (sigh of envy: SUCH a perfect show)

UnReal (both the female leads are psychotic in the best and most relatable way, and I don’t know how the creators didn’t get the ‘more likeable!’ note that I always get for my female leads, even though every leading man on television is an total fucking sociopath, whoops sorry wrong soapbox)

Difficult People (season two is better than season one)

Outlander (hummina hummina)

You’re The Worst

VEEP

Divorce

Silicon Valley (although I have a whole speech about how Silicon Valley, Ballers and Vice-Principals are all essentially the same fucking show about man-boys competing with each other, and meanwhile, will HBO make three shows at a time about women, will it, fuck, and no, Divorce came out after VEEP ended, whoops sorry, wrong soapbox again)

And most of all, watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. My sister and I watched it last night and it truly, truly made us laugh.

This is what I keep telling myself at 2am: Don’t despair. Most people are good. The vast majority of Americans voted for her, or didn’t vote at all, and frankly, the way he snaked through the electoral college is so fucking sketchy that I hope some Jason Bourne/Woodward and Bernstein type-person is currently tracing a giant hacking scandal straight to Russia. Next time, or sooner if possible, the lovely people who make up the majority of this country will get a president who deserves them.

And I also keep telling myself: Don’t shrug. Don’t accept it. Don’t normalize it and rationalize it and say ‘hey, I guess all those people who voted for him can’t be bad, I mean, they must have had their reasons’. No. We are human, we want everything to be okay… but it is not okay. So never accept that voting for a failed businessman who sexually attacks people and calls them rapists and wants to deport or incarcerate people on the basis of their religion and ridicules handicapped people and lies about everything – everything! – is okay. It is an outrage. But you can’t think about it all the time, either. Because you’ll be miserable.

I also, somehow, think about the people who emerged as the heroes, all around the world, during WW2, McCarthyism, the civil rights movement, the suffragette movement, during abolition… People who spoke up for everyone, who were patient and strong and wise and vigilant. They protected the people who needed protecting, they fought the bullies who needed fighting. Now it’s our turn.

Lastly, a quote from a Bill Murray interview. “You have to hope that (good things) happen to you. That’s Pandora’s box, right? She opens up the box, and all the nightmares fly out. And slams the lid shut, like, “Oops,” and opens it one more time, and hope pops out of the box. That’s the only thing we really, surely have, is hope. You hope that you can be alive, that things will happen to you that you’ll actually witness, that you’ll participate in. Rather than life just rolling over you, and you wake up and it’s Thursday, and what happened to Monday? Whatever the best part of my life has been, has been as a result of that remembering. Who hasn’t woken up thinking, “God, nothing good has come to me in a while,” right? When I feel like I’m stuck, I do something — not like I’m Mother Teresa or anything, but there’s someone that’s forgotten about in your life, all the time. Someone that could use an “Attaboy” or a “How you doin’ out there.” It’s that sort of scene, that remembering that we die alone. We’re born alone. We do need each other. It’s lonely to really effectively live your life, and anyone you can get help from or give help to, that’s part of your obligation.”

 

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On… hope

From Heather Havilresky. 

“One of the things that fucking sucks about being someone who writes about optimism and hope and owning who you are, unapologetically, is that you’re asked to bring your optimism and hope to one of the least optimistic and hopeful moments in the last four decades of human history.

And I don’t fucking know how to do that. In fact, at moments like this, I look at all of my Pollyanna-esque BELIEVE IN YOUR OWN CRAZY THING rantings and I honestly just feel sick. Right now it feels like optimism is just bullshit, a pretty thing to hang on your privileged wall in a frame, no better than some nice expensive tea and some cashmere socks. I don’t want to knit you a cozy, comforting sweater while the world burns.

I don’t want a lot of things. I don’t want to know people who don’t read the fucking newspaper every now and then, and (as a result) don’t understand the difference between a moderate, responsible politician and a racist lunatic, people who have the ignorance and audacity to treat the two as if they’re cut from the same cloth. I don’t want to see movies about white men who channel their narcissism into “saving the world” — boom pow! I don’t want to watch white men analyzing the “brilliant marketing strategy” employed by the scary human who’s about to take power, as if the whole world was just one big sports spectacle and, oops, looks like some people out there didn’t know the difference between televised entertainments and reality. (Gee, I wonder how that happened, guys?)

And also, my kids are crying downstairs with their dad. I don’t know if I can give my energy to anyone else. I am in a fucking cave.

All I can say to you is that I know you’re in the cave, too. I know you’re with me. I can only tell you that we can be here for a little while, feeling terrible together. I really don’t know shit, but I do know that this is important. Skipping straight to hope is not going to cut it today. Because hope is a privilege we don’t get today. We don’t get the pretty words in italics sewn onto a throw pillow. If we retreat to that shit, nothing will change. That’s not where we are.

Understanding this darkness, letting it chill us to the bone: That’s where we are. I’m not saying we should all stay on Twitter and read all of the crap online and post to Facebook and all of that. I know that I’m going to step way the fuck back for a while on that front. I know that I can’t see the orange sex pest (thanks for that one, Flo Rida) or hear his fucking voice, maybe ever. I know that I need to read an old book, the older the better, and I need to plant something somewhere, and empty my mind and breathe in the air. I will listen to Chance the Rapper today. I will make a fucking list of ways I might help protect some of the vulnerable people who are in the path of this fascist bulldozer. I know I need to reshuffle some big life priorities today, even though I’m fucking paralyzed with fear and sadness.

I know that I have to walk a line between taking care of myself and dealing with this crisis and using it to reaffirm my values as a human being.

So that’s pretty much it. I have to use this moment of clear sight. So do you.

Because I want to live in a world that belongs to all of us. I want to be able to say to my girls: This world is yours. Don’t believe their lies about what you do and don’t own, and what you can and cannot expect. Don’t be resigned to whatever those in power will deign to give you. Stand up for yourself. Make some space for yourself. Bring your rage and your ugly and your love and your giant heart to everything you do. Demand some fucking space, and make that space beautiful.

The other day, I read an article in the New York Times about a guy named Adolfo Kaminsky. He forged papers to keep Jewish children alive and safe during World War II. He could’ve stopped when the war ended, but instead, he kept forging papers for political refugees for 30 more years. He did tedious work for no recognition and he barely made enough money to survive, all because he didn’t want strangers to get killed.

We have to turn our backs on this corrupt fucking world that plies us with luxuries and dipshitty, trivial stories about the shade some star threw at another star at some luxury fucking gala for stars. We can’t distract ourselves from the ugliness that lurks just beneath that shiny bullshit. We can’t retreat into our own fucking narcissistic delusions and high-capitalist wet dreams. We have to feel this sadness and fear fully. We have to remember what is important.”

We have to tell the people who just learned that most of the country doesn’t give a flying fuck about them that we do give a fuck.

We have to build a new world. We have to believe. We have to do so many fucking things. We have to create things that are bold and gorgeous and hideous and we have to use what we have and do what we can. All of us.

And we have to do it all in a void of hope and optimism. We have to do it all in the dark. We have to do it all without clichéd phrases and throw pillows and cheap sentiments and pretty words that add up to nothing. We have to do it all in this fucking cave, while fearing for our fucking lives and the lives of those we love. Some of us have to do it alone, in the dark, in the silence.

Listen to the silence and know this: You are not alone. We are in this darkness together. Don’t use that knowledge to stay hidden or to retreat into empty “hope.” Don’t use it to make yourself feel okay enough that you can go on being distracted by empty bullshit on your phone for the next decade. Use it to stand up against what this world is becoming, before our eyes. Use it to protect the weak. Use it to fight a very long battle against ignorance.

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On… Judith Krantz

I’ve been working hard, my friends. Writing and scheming and writing and plotting and writing and then writing some more. I can’t tell you details yet (as soon as I can… I shall), so instead, I shall tell you what else I’ve been doing: reading a good old-fashioned 1980s bonkbuster. Judith Krantz’s ‘I’ll Take Manhattan’.

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What can I say. It helps switch my brain off.

When I’m writing something, I find it hard to read or watch something with a really intricate and surprising plot. I’m always thinking three moves ahead, rolling my eyes at the shitty characters or shitty dialogue. I imagine it must be like a chef trying out a new restaurant: I bet they spend entire meals assessing what this other chef is doing, what’s working, what’s not and why, and anticipating each subsequent course. It’s hard to just eat.

But Judith Krantz books have no big surprises. Nothing mind-blowing, no twists, no turns. They’re always happy and feminist in a good late-70s, early-80s way. And plot-wise, they’re delicious. Like a big glass of wine and a hunk of cheese. You can’t argue with wine and cheese sometimes. All you can do is enjoy it.

I wanted to share with you my favorite passage from ‘I’ll Take Manhattan’:

“Curbing her quick New Yorker’s pace, Maxi moved into the Casino with felicitous poise, with the self-assurance that can never be feigned, of a beautiful woman who is perfectly at ease without an escort. She wore a long, strapless, chiffon dress that was one shade lighter than the green of her eyes, and diaphanous to the point of cruelty.”

For real. How can you not love this book?

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On… Eh-440

I’m sorry for my silence, gang. I’ve been a busy little cougar the last month. Work trips to LA, constant writing (and rewriting), my lovely friend Caroline got married in London (and I did a reading and didn’t mess it up! yay me), we moved apartments in NYC, and hmm nope, that’s it.

ANYWAY. Last night Fox and I had dinner with lovely friends Joanna and Alex. We ate at RedCat, which we’ve eaten at before, but it’s worth mentioning because every single thing we ate was just perfect, especially the steak tartare which is the best I’ve ever had, anywhere, evah.

Before dinner, we went to Assscat 3000 at UCB, which is a famous improv night started by Amy Poehler and her UCB gang, and they get a lot of audience involvement. They called on someone in the audience who turned out to be the lead singer from a Canadian band commencing their US tour, and THEN they played their music, and they fucking rock. An acapella group, but like, hardcore acapella – some original stuff and some covers. They’re called Eh-440 and if you get the chance to go see them live, do it.

PS Back to LA next week, again. A big week. Network pitches. Wish me luck.

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On… pitching

So, I went out to LA to pitch two tv shows to producers a couple of weeks ago, and I’m heading back next week to pitch them again, this time with the producers, to studios and networks.

I’m excited.

I love these two shows. And I love pitching. I really do. It’s odd, because in most ways I am a total writery writer: I recharge when I’m alone. I think about things way too much. I have a rich inner life (in other words: I play a lot of make-believe in my head. Like a LOT. When I’m walking on the street alone you will catch me muttering to myself and doing pretend reactions… oh yah it’s seriously lame).

But I must have a latent showoff inside of me somewhere, because I love pitches. It’s probably the same showoff who liked to act in high school, until she discovered directing at college and the utter joy of being in charge of everything, and then in her 20s realized that writing was like breathing: easy, invigorating, and essential to life. (Though I often wonder what would have happened if I had actually pursued directing instead of assuming it was a club I would never be invited to join, and what would happen if I pursued it now… Never mind, that’s a thought for another post, or another year.)

Where was I? Oh right. Pitching.

Pitching is just so much damn fun. It’s a cross between a job interview and a date. I used to LOVE job interviews (a chance to talk about me? come on!) and I LOVED dating (a chance to talk about me, to guys who hadn’t heard all my adorable anecdotes? Again, come on!). I also really, really like meeting new people and talking to them about their lives and finding out what they think is interesting. I like telling people about the aforementioned make-believe stories that I made up in my head. Most of all, I like it when other people get as excited about the story as I am. That’s all that pitching is: connecting with the person, and telling them a story.

If they’re not excited about the pitch, then it’s probably because I lost focus and just plain told it badly. Or my accent got too distracting (I have a weird Hong Kong accent, somewhere between London and Australia but people think I’m Irish or South African or anything – but it’s a legit Hong Kong accent. My sister has the same accent, other expat brats have the same accent. If I hear someone in a bar with my accent I accost them like, ‘YOU MUST BE FROM HONG KONG or Singapore or maybe Dubai’, and I am always, always right. Okay sorry, back to the point). It might also be that they’ve heard something like it this season and thought it was stupid so my idea is tarnished by association, or pitched something like it a few years ago and failed badly, or bought a similar idea from someone else last week and can’t buy it again.

There is always, of course, the chance that the reason they’re not excited is that the idea is shitty, but I try hard not to not think that. I have a healthy amount of self-doubt and self-loathing, but by the time I’m in the room, I force myself to believe that the reason I flew all the way to goddamn LA and sat in traffic in a stupid Lyft and woke up at 3am with jet lag and adrenaline and got lost on the Warner Bros lot AGAIN and asked the security guys to give me a ride in the golf cart (side note: the moment I started hitchhiking around lots on golf carts, pitch life became a lot more fun and I got many less blisters, plus they get really excited that I’m there to pitch which means I get a LOT of high-fives) was worth it. Anyway, I’ve told (and sold) enough damn stories by now that I know that when an idea makes me tingle, it should make other people tingle, too. If the idea doesn’t land, it’s not the idea’s fault, it’s mine.

Another reason that a pitch doesn’t land is the simplest: they weren’t listening. Seriously: listening to a pitch is way harder than actually pitching it. It is very hard – practically fucking impossible – to listen to a WALL of words. And characters descriptions and background stories and plots and themes. I can’t imagine having meeting after meeting where you have to listen to some nervous writer stutter his or her way through a pitch and then assimilate every piece of it and rebuild it in your imagination, and then analyze it and really think about what it will look like, who will watch it, and what the advertisers will think. It must be beyond exhausting. You can tell when people stop listening – it’s like a little light in their eyes goes off. They nod a lot, but they’re clearly thinking about lunch, or needing to pee, or their boyfriend, or wife, or that new Winona Ryder show, or how amazing Leslie Jones is at tweeting the Olympics.

I can’t blame them. If you came into my office right now and told me about your eight best friends and how you know them and why you love them all, I would remember, at best, two or three of those friends. Wouldn’t you? But you can tell when someone is really listening: they go into a sort of trance. They write things down. They stare at you, barely reacting, but totally involved and engaged. They laugh at the right parts, and most of all they ask ‘so what happens next?’

That’s when you know it went okay. But you don’t always know. You can’t. You just smile, walk out, and hope for the best.

So if you need me over the next few weeks, that’s what I’ll be doing… walking out of pitches, and hoping for the best.

 

 

 

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