Friday, October 31, 2014

Wanted: Extended Life, with a Side of Laughter

I started my blog in 2008 with great trepidation.  Doing research on the pit falls of writing online, I came across a very funny essay entitled “How to Dissuade Yourself from Writing a Blog”.  It pretty much assured you that what you would write would be utter drek that no one would ever read.  Or, if through some miracle they actually found your blog, they would laugh themselves sick at your ineptitude.  Naturally, I believed I would be an exception to these rules.  So I took the plunge.

At first I was focused on losing weight for my son’s upcoming wedding.  So I wrote about swimming at the local health club and what I ate for breakfast.  Riveting stuff, right?  The words were stilted and formal, dull as dishwater.  Painful to read now, especially since because of immobility and medications I have gained about another zillion pounds.  Then I fell and broke my shoulder.  It was the kind of injury that simply consumes you.  So that is what I started writing about.  The craziness of the fall, the insanity of trying to obtain the care I needed, it all just poured out.  And it poured out in my own way, almost a sort of stream of consciousness.  My readership jumped by over 100.  A friend once gave me the most incredible, touching compliment.  We hadn’t seen each other in ages.  After chatting for the first time in over a year, as we said goodbye I said to her “It has been so good to hear your voice!”  She replied “I hear yours every time I read your blog.”   I could not have asked for higher praise and affirmation.

I began to think in Blogese.  Everything was potential fodder for my posts.   I was lucky enough to be able to attend two separate blogging conferences, great opportunities to network and keep up enthusiasm.  Always on the lookout for potential content, I composed posts in my head all the time.   My motto was one that I had seen on a novelty t-shirt:  “I am SO bogging this!”  Although it was never, ever my intention to exact revenge on people who had treated me poorly.  Well, except perhaps when I was laid off by those incompetent nitwits (long story, read about it here ).   Writing about negative experiences in my own life could possibly be perceived as resentful and/or vengeful, but, again, it was not my plan to deliberately hurt anyone.  The stories of our lives reflect ups but also downs.  Unfortunately, writing about painful incidences can have the appearance of good guy (me) vs. bad guy (them).  I have tried very hard to take ownership for my actions and life choices, to acknowledge when I have been an ass or totally wrong.  I have also tried to be fair to those who have hurt me, working very hard to present a balanced picture, as no one is purely good or bad.  And I have worked hard at understanding and presenting what I have perceived as their motivation. However, for the most part I tried to put a lighthearted spin on my incredibly eventful life, as there are few things I enjoy more than making people laugh.   And while I love to laugh, I didn’t realize quite the impact I had made in that department.

My darling friend Christine recently hosted a small, informal get together to honor my 60th birthday.  She put a journal on the table and asked people to write comments in it, either a note on how we had met or a fond memory.  As I read through this treasure afterwards, one thing jumped out at me.  Nearly every single person stated one thing they loved about me was how I made them laugh.   I was amazed and touched.   And saddened.  Because I simply don’t feel very funny anymore. Having been virtually housebound and isolated for the past two years, I find it harder and harder to hold a lucid conversation, never mind be funny.  It was hard to laugh at MS.  It is even harder to laugh at metastatic cancer.   Being aware that MS had the very real potential of significantly shortening my life was painful enough.  But having cancer that cannot be cured is devastating. 

I was stunned to note I have written fewer than ten posts this year, opposed to an average of over 50 a year in the past.   But writing is what I am meant to do, a need rather than a want.  Despite some recent criticism by people I love, I have to keep on writing.  Not only is it good for me as an expression of what I am, I get feedback from people, publicly and privately, who tell me how much my words mean to them.  I have to believe that is one of the reasons I am here, one of the ways I can make a difference.   

I am trying hard to live my remaining life to the fullest.  I pray constantly for dignity, courage and, if possible, duration.  I pray for discernment of what meaning my life was intended to take.  I have finally obtained my new power wheelchair.  Now I have to figure out how to get out more.  I want to volunteer where I can.  I want to create a charitable foundation to provide opportunities for people who have encountered crises, to help them over humps the way so many have helped me.   I want to give back, to have a positive impact on this world.  And I want, no, I need, laughter to be part of my life again.



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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Now We Are…Sixty?!?

Gosh.  How on earth did that happen?!?!

At any rate, Happy Happy Birthday to me and to Bruce (Springsteen, of course) whose b-day precedes mine by a few years but follows mine by a few days.  How is that for a riddle?  Extremely lame?  Yes, I agree, but what can I tell you, I AM lame.  ha ha ha ha   I know, I know I am hopelessly corny.  Happy birthday Bruce and thanks for being a remarkable entertainer and human being.  I know some people consider him controversial, but there cannot be any argument about the abundant good works he does, many of which go unknown.

A retrospective on The Boss:

As for me, it has been quite a sextet of decades, that is for sure.    I have had amazing experiences, 
ups and downs.  While the hard stuff has been extraordinarily challenging, the good has been so spectacular that it far outweighs the bad. Most of the good has revolved around my children.  I was blessed to be mother to four cherished human beings.  In ways they will never know, they have provided me with moments of such pure, sparkling joy that I am literally left without words.  Those times, some simply seconds of an exquisite baby smile or a spontaneous, merry hug, shine up through the years.  I hug these memories to myself. They are my treasure.

Even though every day brings struggles, I have so much to be grateful for.  It is hard, especially when I’m dealing with a lot of pain.  But during the hard times, I pray and then I list for myself the things I am so lucky to have.  My darling grandchildren and my wonderful, generous friends.  I still have a roof over my head, although I am not sure for how much longer.  Then there are the little things.  A perfect cup of tea.  A good book.  The tactile satisfaction of embroidery, like painting with thread.  The soft murmur of rain.  My little dog who wants nothing more than to be adored and my even littler cat who is a constant source of irritation but she is unfailingly attentive and as a result it is hard to dislike her.

I miss my mother particularly on my birthday.   We had a fractious relationship for much of my life, but we were so different we were bound to clash.  I was not what my mom had wanted or expected in a daughter, I had wildly divergent values and goals from hers.  I simply bewildered her at times.  As I got much older I made an effort to understand her and not deliberately provoke her by challenging her ideals and taste, as I had for such a long time.  My sister and I had many a good cackle in private, but I was truly sorry I had disappointed her and then rubbed her nose in it.  I talk to her all the time now, telling her how much I regret our lost time.  I believe she is watching over us from her place in Heaven, where she is healed and happy.  Believing she is happy and at peace at last gives me great satisfaction.  But more than anything I wish she was still here. 

One thing I have been especially grateful for has been the opportunity to express myself through this blog.  Writing has been one of the most rewarding things in my life.  The sheer pleasure of stringing words together in a way that appeals to people has been a delight.  Sadly, someone I love deeply and whose opinion matters to me, recently told me that they considered my blog something hateful and destructive to our family. I have never deliberately done anything to offend anyone I love, so I was stunned to hear this.  The idea that something I was having such fun with unknowingly caused hard feelings just sucked the spirit right out of me  The accusation has tainted what had previously been such source of pleasure and I have had a hard time finding my way back to writing.  But I am trying and also trying to be attentive to anything someone might find objectionable.

Moving on….

What could be nicer than a window seat and a book on a rainy day?   
I have amended A. A. Milne’s sweet poem.  My bit, with abject apologies to Mr. Milne, is added in bold.

Now We Are Six 
When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five,
I was just alive.
But now I am Six,
I'm as clever as clever,
So I think I'll be six now for ever and ever.
Then came some more
Although never a bore.
Decades happily full
Eventful, without any lull.
Ten then twenty then thirty
School, wed, babies, much glee.
Forty cheerfully came
With much of the same.
Fifty arrived with unwelcome news
An illness, alas, would give me the blues.
Now we are sixty, struggling and stressing.
But the Lord, dear friends and loved ones surround me with blessing.    

I am so happy to be here still.  Happy Birthday, me!


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Monday, July 21, 2014

I'm Just Peachy, Thank You

I have been inundated with telemarketing calls lately.  So when I saw the 877 number come up on the caller ID a few minutes ago, I ignored it.  I didn't feel like coping with yet another individual from a third world country trying to persuade me, in broken English, to change electricity providers.

Instead I heard a pre-recorded message from Wegman's Supermarket.  They were advising me that several varieties of fruit, including peaches, were being recalled due to a possible listeria bacterial contamination.  What was I doing as I listened to that message?  I was in the middle of eating a peach that had been purchased at Wegman's.

I finished it anyway.  I figured, in for a penny, in for pound.  I have already had about a dozen peaches in the past 2 weeks, so the damage was already done.

With incredible generosity, Wegman's  has advised us to "visit the service desk at one of its stores for a full refund which will be determined by the customer's estimated count of product discarded."  I guess we're just SOL if we've already been poisoned by the product that was previously consumed.

It is pretty bad that I may have fed the recalled fruit to my precious three year old granddaughter.  And I am immuno-compromised.  It could be catastrophic for either of us to develop this brutal bacterial infection. While I suppose it is a good thing to be advised of the recall, it really freaks me out that Wegman's knows that I bought their peaches.  It is truly creepy that I can be traced by the groceries I buy.

 Now, is it my imagination, or am I feeling queasy...


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Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Tanning Retrospective

Not to be lazy or anything...ok, well maybe I am a tad bit lazy, but I am digging up some of my older posts, especially ones that received a few laughs in the past.  Posts I intended to be funny, I might add.

Someone was recently admiring a picture of our family at my son's wedding and they complimented my dress.  I tried to respond politely, but I was not overly fond of that dress.  For one thing, I had not lost the weight I wanted and was no comparison to the mother of the bride, who was not only a lovely person but was thin and drop dead gorgeous.  Her dress was stunning.  Mine was too, but for different reasons.  None positive.

I have super white skin and the beige of the dress gave me the pallor of a wasting disease without any actual wasting.  So I got the brilliant idea of going to a tanning salon.  The ensuing is a description of my first visit, which I originally posted in 2008:

I cannot believe that I now have any experience with this subject, which in the past I have expressed nothing but disdain for.

Disdain, that is, until I tried on a dress that made me appear to be an illustration from “Ghosts of America”. My skin looked like the white underbelly of a fish, blending with the beige of the dress to create the understated yet hideous fashion statement of having a wasting disease.

My daughters go to the tanning salon on a regular basis. “Isn’t it relaxing?” asked Mary Kate.



Why sure.

Here are some of my relaxing thoughts:

Gosh this is loud.

This is really scary.

Is it supposed to be this loud?

Maybe the bed is broken.

I wonder if the girl remembered to set the timer.

Maybe the timer is broken.

Do I have enough bronzer on? I think I don’t have enough bronzer on.

Maybe I have too much bronzer on.

Maybe I will turn orange.

I think she forgot to set the timer.

Gosh it’s getting hot.

Is hair flammable?

I am positive she forgot to set the timer.

Could this bed be defective?

Maybe it’s defective and has freakishly strong UV rays.

Maybe I am going to burst into flames any minute. Starting with my hair.

Agh!! Agh!!! I am going to end up in the burn center swathed in bandages and loaded with IV pain killers.

Actually, now that I mention it, that last part doesn’t sound too bad.

She forgot to set the timer!! I know it, I know it!!! I am going to be immolated, I know it!!! My children will gaze sadly at my charred remains, hold each other and say “I hope she left some money.”

The whole store will burn down and it will be all my fault. It will be known as the “The Great Tanning Disaster of 2008” and will have my name inexorably linked to it because it will turn out I had some weird genetic predisposition to spontaneous combustion when exposed to a tanning bed.

I will not only die a horrible death, but an embarrassing one too.

CLICK!!!!!!! The machine snaps off. Phew!!! I am alive, unscathed and, um… pink.

Alrighty then!   All set for my next fry, errrr, rather, relaxing, session tomorrow.   Can’t wait.  :(


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Sunday, June 15, 2014

Do It!

I am such a passionate Anglophile that sometimes it actually makes me seriously wonder about the possibility of past lives.

I have felt the pull of England ever since I can remember.  Childhood reading always leaned to plots that took place in the UK.  The same with any kind of movie or television show.  However, if I really analyzed the attraction, it would be simple and straightforward, nothing to do with mysticism or reincarnation.  For one thing, many of the people I grew up around, neighbors, family and family friends, were from the British Isles.  My father worked for what was then B.O.A.C. , now British Airways, and many of his colleagues were transplants.  Three of my childhood best friends were from England and Scotland.  I was surrounded by ex-pats and, for the most part, these were very, very nice people.  So in my little head being British was synonymous with being kind, interesting and funny.
Additionally, there is the whole history thing.  I am captivated by the idea of connections to the past.  There are still huge chunks of Roman walls dotting London!  The antiquity is hugely romantic and attractive to me.   I also love churches.  All of them, little country stone ones and soaring, self-conscious cathedrals.  England has so many marvelous specimens.   All these factors add up to an irresistible allure. 

As a freshman in high school, we were assigned to write our autobiography, along with what we wanted to do in the future.  Naturally, I wrote I wanted to move to and work in England.  My father made me change it because he said it sounded pretentious.  Only in my family would you be made to change your own life story.   Sigh. 

To be fair, many people are raised to be wary and restrained.  But the not-so-subtle message I received was don’t follow your dreams, hold onto doubt, don’t be good to yourself, be cautious, be fearful.

At any rate, there was an article in the New York Times this week, by the writer Jane Smiley.   She had recently been traveling in the Northeast section of England, an area of wild and occasionally bleak landscape, overflowing with historic, literary and religious connections.  All right up my alley.  She is a wonderful writer and her description of the area was so evocative you literally could feel as though you were there.  But I wasn’t there, no matter how badly I wanted to be, and I never would be there.  I was sobbing by the second sentence.

Most days I can hang in there and just deal.  But sometimes I am simply overwhelmed by the losses I have experienced.  Reading this blissful description of a bucolic trip that would be a dream come true for me, but one I can never again take, pushed me over the edge.

Never one to mince words, I jumped onto the comment column.  Most of the commenters were leaving notes of fond memories of either similar trips or nostalgia from growing up there.  My comment was this: GO!  DO IT!!  Don’t wait for a perfect time or a perfect anything.  If these illnesses have taught me anything it is that clichés are true.  You can’t take it with you.  Life is too short.  You do only live once.

I had four kids to raise and I do not regret any sacrifice I had to make for them, although nothing ever seemed like a sacrifice.  I would have done anything for them.  A few years ago I had briefly considered taking a short trip to London by myself, but ultimately realized that being there with them is what would be a truly wonderful experience.  And it was.  I treasure those memories.  But I wish I had been more organized in planning my dreams.  I wish I had gone again and again, no matter what I had to give up to get there.  I thought I had all the time in the world.  And I was so wrong.

My mantra to my children has always been “Reach for the moon”.  But I am extending it and amending it.  If I can impart any advice it would be this:  Reach for the moon, and do it now.  Don’t wait.  Follow your passion.  Do what you love.  Do it, just do it.

I must have struck a chord, because my comment is the number one recommended remark following the article, endorsed by 88 people as of today.   I hope those 88 have a blast pursuing what they love.  Just as I hope that for all of you as well.

The Cooper children outside the Salieri Restaurant, The Strand, London  May, 1999


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Friday, May 16, 2014

One Smart Cookie

My daughter, her little girls and I got together on Monday for Mother’s Day.  It was one day late, but as I have been under the weather, and her husband was working late, it worked out fine.  She is so easy going, her company is just a pleasure.

The only thing is, she wanted Chinese food for dinner and I am simply not a fan.  I used to be, but I worked in a Chinese restaurant when I was in high school and I just developed Chinese Food Overload. To dispel any horrible misconceptions or fallacies, I will tell you from the get-go, the restaurant, family-run and based in a store front, was immaculate.  The food was what it said it was and the owners were kind, modest, extraordinarily hard working people.  Although the Grandma viewed me with perpetual suspicion.  Always peering at me out of the corner of her eye, she apparently never quite believed I was not going to sabotage their good name in some careless, disrespectful, American teenage way.  Remember, also, this was the early 1970’s.  Despite being a clueless, harmless dork, I was viewed as a treacherous hippie by some of the more conservative older generation. 

But back to the restaurant.   Dealing with all the food just got to be too much.  Each shift the work was relentless.   I rolled wontons, made mustard from mustard powder, prepared rice and fried shrimp toast.  It was always broiling hot, with dozens of pots and pans continuously spewing grease and steam.  Sometimes I was the only one working who spoke English.  I answered the non-stop phone and took non-stop orders.  I got yelled at constantly by Grandma, who would never accept a Westerner could prepare the food as well as someone who was Chinese (she probably was right).   I answered zillions of questions from the customers.  What’s in this, what’s in that, what does this taste like?  As if I could explain to someone what something tasted like.  I was such a brat I used to say “It tastes like chicken” and then would try not to laugh.  My Number One personal favorite question, however, was when customers, apparently surprised to find an American kid working there, would ask me if I was Chinese.

Now I would be honored to be Chinese.  We are talking about an incredible culture of art, music, literature and philosophy.  Who would not be proud to be of Chinese descent?  However, I look about as Irish as you can get.  I look as though I just emerged from the valleys of western Ireland, which is exactly where my ancestors did immigrate from.   So, again, being a clown/brat (take your choice), I started replying “Yes.  Yes, I am indeed Chinese.”  I always wanted to add “…you knucklehead.” Because I figured anyone dumb enough to ask that question deserved a snarky answer.  Although I realize now the chances of them getting the joke was pretty much nil.   So I just got my own private little giggle.  Add all these things together, plus an unfortunate return on an investment of too much Egg Foo Young one night, along the way I just lost my taste for Chinese food.  But Mary Kate loves it and she is so good to me, I couldn’t give her a hard time.  So Chinese food for Mother’s Day it was.

After she and the girls left, I saw the ubiquitous fortune cookies had been left behind on the kitchen counter.  So I made a cup of tea and opened the first one, expecting to have a good laugh at the preposterous syntax and ‘message’ I was about to be presented with.

I know they are random.  I know they have no base in reality what so ever and are spit out by a machine in a factory somewhere in Queens.  But here is what I read:

                          “Life is too short to waste time hating anyone.”

Anyone who has been reading this blog knows I am dealing with a very poor cancer prognosis.  But even worse, I have faced some devastating issues involving family members I love deeply.  These concerns, these losses, are on my mind almost constantly.  Life is too short.  And hating is a total waste of time and energy, even if you are not sick.  
At a time when there is so much rancor in my family, I just pray that this otherwise worthless piece of paper might suggest a message of peace and forgiveness.  I wish more than anything that people I love can find compassion and tolerance in their hearts.  Nothing on the face the earth could feel better.  

Of course, because the universe loves a good giggle, the next fortune cookie read:

             “Statistics are no substitute for judgment.”


I’ll stick with the message I actually understand, thank you very much.          


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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Promises, Promises

Wow, I have never gone so long without writing a blog post.  Over two months!
Writing this blog is probably one of the most rewarding, gratifying, fun things I have ever experienced.  It has given me a chance to do the things I love the most: write, make people laugh, reflect on subjects that seem interesting or current, brag about my adored children and grandchildren.   I have received feedback, not just in comments, but in e-mails, from strangers telling me how much something I have written has touched them, encouraged them and/or inspired them.  Unfortunately, I feel I have been letting myself down in not keeping the blog current. I suppose part of that lapse is because things have changed so drastically since I started writing it.  Although it also could be because I have been so sick.  But surely I should be capable of at least a few words?  I am really disappointed in myself.

I had promised myself I would write certain number of posts per week, or even as few as one per month.  I’ve tried giving blog posts catchy titles, to remind me to keep on schedule, like Photo Friday.  This one would be a no brainer, I thought.  I have a zillion snaps I can tell stories about.  And it had a built in reminder.  Who could forget it was Friday?  Well, me for starters.  “No brainer” seemed to be the operative phrase here.

Then I had the brilliant idea of combining a prayer with a clip of something funny.  See afore mentioned no brain.  Anyone else would have realized, practically immediately, there just aren’t that many amusing prayer subjects out there.  At least not ones that would lend themselves to a laugh-out-loud video clip.

I have sadly neglected my other two blogs as well.  The one about books should be the easiest thing in the world to write, as it is a subject I can go on about for hours.  My MS Renegade blog has also been left flapping in the breeze.  There is so much to say about living with MS, so much I could share with others that might help even a little, but I keep breaking my promises.

However, as we all know, promises break all the time, don’t they?

Sunday, April 17, 1977, I became a mother for the first time.  I promised myself I would be the best mother ever.  I read every book I could get my hands on.  I embraced new age theory, breastfeeding, the family bed, marsupial mothering.  The counter-promise was apparently an emotionally fulfilled child, the most important thing, of course.  But for me, of a peer group that was fraught with challenges between the generations, the other exciting assurance was true and deep friendship with my children as they grew.

My darling children, circa 1990
Best intentions notwithstanding, being human, I have not been a perfect parent.  I did not come close to the lofty goals I set for myself, although I do not believe I was all that bad.  I had enormous fun with my children, was graced with tremendous joy in watching them grow as people and mature into adults that I was so proud of, people I was so happy to spend time with.  We had fun together.  We traveled together, got together and played board games, made each other laugh.  And despite my failings, I thought we were still friends.

But those promises have shattered as well, with agonizing estrangement from two of my beloved children. 

As I have written before, the year I turned fifty my children and my sister threw me a spectacularly affectionate and loving birthday party.  It was a blast.  They planned it as a surprise and later told hilarious stories of how much fun they had organizing it.  I was thrilled and grateful that they had taken so much trouble to make me happy.  But, taking things completely for granted, I had stupidly assumed these relationships would simply continue to flourish and thrive.  These were literally my best friends.  They publicly announced their love and admiration for me at the party.  But what changed?   Were they making it up?  Had they always despised me but just kept it to themselves?  The promise of loving each other forever seemed to be there that wonderful day, but appears to have evaporated into thin air.  The void this has left is unspeakably painful and literally causes me to howl with grief at times.   I have lost so much already, to lose them on top of everything is unbearable. 

Thirty seven years of memories as a mother flash through my brain, all organized around my overpowering love for my children.  And underneath all I can see are all the things I have done wrong, despite my best intentions, despite my promises.

I will continue to try to write my blog despite being broken hearted and miserably sick.  While I was given a blissful reprieve by the steroids, as I predicted, my symptoms have returned with a vengeance. The cancer has spread yet again and a trial of chemo started 10 days ago had to be stopped when the side effects, particularly shortness of breath, became untenable. Without chemo, I do not have a great deal of time left.  My doctor ordered a hospice evaluation this week.  By continuing to write, I want to share successes and achievements.  I want to laugh.  I want to write commentary on issues that matter to me.  I want to live until the end.

I am surrounded by loving, fun, supportive friends who cheer me on and celebrate my writing.  I cling to the premise that there must be a reason for this cordon of support, this core of loyalty and affection.   But this is not easy.  The individuals who are so bitterly angry with me, family members that I loved and trusted, assure me that my wonderful friends are kind to me only because they don’t know what I truly am: an evil, selfish, manipulative liar.  

For someone like me, with inherent Low Self Esteem, it can be easy to buy into such a pronouncement.  After all, it comes from people who have known me their entire lives, people who profess to know me better than anyone on the planet.  So they can make such a proclamation, right?

But here’s the thing…I cannot accept that.  While my heart is utterly shattered by the estrangement from my children, I have to believe that God surrounded me with the love of my friends, my remaining children and my grandchildren, as a comfort and a gift.  His love is a promise I have to believe in.  It is the only thing that can keep me going.  I will pray for the few who harbor such animosity towards me, that they might find peace and tolerance and maybe even reconciliation.  But I will rejoice in those hundreds who celebrate me and who share joy and generosity of spirit. 
I will be honest.  It is devastating having cancer, MS and very few treatment options.  But missing my children is worse than all those disasters put together and has rendered me a sniveling, weeping, sloppy mess. As part of an effort to stay calm and strong, I am trying to meditate and pray.  According to the medieval mystic Julian of Norwich, this assurance, this promise, comes directly from God’s mouth:

"All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well."

He promises!  And when my knees are buckling with grief and fear, that promise is holding me up.  Thank you, Lord. 



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