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Posts Tagged ‘fountain pen’

Writers are notoriously difficult to domesticate. Solitary, aloof, shy, they startle easily and are overwhelmed by everyday things most of society takes for granted.

Like, say, society…

They are able to live for untold weeks on caffeine and chocolate and artificial light while creating worlds the depths of which would astonish the gods themselves. Contradictory creatures as well, they are often the agents of change while vehemently resisting it. They’re picky about their tools, writing ONLY with a #2/HB pencil (Roald Dahl), or a fountain pen (Neil Gaiman), or a manual typewriter (Danielle Steel), while not giving a whit about fashion, food, or fraternization. Elusive, reclusive, depressive, angst-ridden – all are common descriptors of writers. And yet everybody seems to want to be one.

As a writer myself, I can attest to the traits mentioned above. I see them in my own actions, my own avoidance of all things “out there.” Such as, out there, outside, you know, where all those damn people are. I’m like a cat in the window watching birds. I’ll bask in the sun and chatter about how I want to go out there and pretend to be frustrated that I can’t, and then walk away with my nose in the air when the door is opened. Brave in talk, fearful in action.

I’ve always been separate from everyone else. Some people use the term lone wolf, but I’m more cat-like in my demeanor, so I’m going with Siberian Snow Tiger. My husband, also a loner, is somewhat like a polar bear – enjoys the cold temperatures and eats whatever he wants. The two of us work very well together. We’re so good together, in fact, we have a bad tendency to keep to ourselves far more than is healthy for the average human. That’s been especially evident these last few years, as medical and financial issues keep plaguing us. We don’t want our friends to see us “like this,” so we cocoon ourselves in our little suburban cave. The irony is, we’d be the first ones out the door if one of them called us for help, but gods forbid we return the trust.

But we’re not getting any younger. We have no children and several of our best friends have already made their escape to better lands. I began seeing us in our dotage, that crazy old couple that doesn’t talk to anyone and nobody notices is missing until their bodies are found three years after death. I didn’t want to end up like that.

So we’ve been making small efforts to get over our self-imposed isolation. We’ve had friends over two weekends in a row now. It forced us to tidy up the house (it’s hardly clean, but, hey, gotta start somewhere), and to take showers and wear something besides pajamas. We had great conversations and good food and a few laughs. We are lucky to have some really cool people in our lives and it takes these sorts of things to remind us of that.

And it’s also fucking exhausting.

Some people thrive off being around other people. They can take that energy and recycle it through themselves and distribute it to those around them and come out stronger for it. Writers aren’t generally on that side of the curve. For me, being around people is like being bombarded by an unending rain of puff balls (the colorful decoration variety, not the not-so-colorful fungi variety) – at first it’s kind of fun and a little silly, and then it gradually slides down the scale into unbearable madness.

It’s a sensory overload situation. In the days when I still went to school or work, I would come home simply exhausted. Not because classes or jobs were that difficult, but because I just couldn’t process all the information coming into me from those around me. Voices, smells, textures, emotions, tastes, colors – details that go beyond what most can fathom. The average person seems to be able to tune most of it out, but I don’t have that feature. I register everything. Not all of it consciously, but it all hits my sensors at some level or another and I just simply can’t handle it all. I’m great at observing, lousy at participating.

That’s why most writers don’t participate that much. They hide out in their version of a home office and watch the world from a distance, penning their observations in prose or verse and not realizing they’ve worn the same sweat pants for three weeks straight. All those people who think they want to be writers don’t really understand what it entails. It starts with being okay with being alone. You have to enjoy your own company. Then you have to understand that you’re not really alone, because you have all these people in your head demanding attention. All that information your sensors took in from being out with real people now spills out onto the page. Sometimes in quick bursts or subtle reveals, or tortuous hours searching for just the right word, but it gets out eventually.

And so will I. Get out eventually, that is. While I enjoy the company of my friends – and will continue to make myself less isolated- I’m not a social person. No more than I’m a day person. I’ve come to realize and embrace both these facts, and will continue to resist the demands of a world that thinks something is wrong with me because of these traits. I will go after that bird when I want to, not just because you opened the door.

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The week started out a little rough here in SoCal. No, there were no major earthquakes. Though there is some tectonic movement almost daily here, I just don’t bother to notice if it’s anything less than a 4.0. Yes, I’ve lived here that long. Anyway, our exciting Monday consisted of losing power in our neighborhood. I know that probably rates as a First World Problem for most people outside the USA, but you’d have thought the world was ending by the behavior of some of our neighbors.

And while very short term outages and brown outs are reasonably uncommon, even at the height of summer when everybody is cranking their ACs, we do have them. So I didn’t think too much of it when the grid went down at about twenty ‘till 5:00 Monday evening. Minorly annoyed because I was in the middle of watching a video on my computer, but not really concerned. It flickered on and off a couple times, then was back on solidly after about five minutes. La Di Da. Went back to my video. Had just finished it when hubby called to say he was on his way home from work. That’s my cue to start dinner.

The chicken was in the oven broiler and the potatoes were in the microwave when the power went out again at 5:54pm. Even though we have a gas stove, the oven is controlled by the electronics as far as temperature and time, so down it went. No microwave, no lights, no working fridge either. No big deal. The electricity’s not usually off that long. I activated the flashlight app on my iPhone so I could find the regular flashlight.

My husband had just pulled up in front of the house when the whole neighborhood went dark. He has an LED mini-light on his key chain and made his way to the front door with that. One thing people don’t seem to really comprehend about Southern California is that, no matter what time of night, it’s lit up like a Christmas tree decorating contest ALL THE TIME. There’s a street light just in front of our house, plus we have a porch light and a bright security light over the garage/driveway. There’s freakin’ light everywhere. And you really notice when it’s gone.

We puttered around awhile waiting for the electricity to come back on and listened to our neighbors on their patios calling all their friends to let them know about this latest bit of earth-shattering news. Being the middle of dinnertime on a weeknight did make it somewhat more annoying than usual, but the voices ranged from nonchalant laughing to paranoid panic so I found it an amusing bit of anthropological study. After about a half hour I pulled up the power company’s website on my phone to check the status. They estimated it would be 9:00pm before power could be restored. Hubby and I debated cooking the entirety of dinner on the stove top, since we could light the burners with matches, but decided it was getting too late even for that. The partially cooked food went into the fridge (now just an ice box) and we went to the local burger joint.

Now, being medieval recreationists, we tend to have candles and lanterns all over the place. When we returned with the food, I retrieved one of the hurricane lamps from the fireplace mantel and set it on the kitchen table.

One of our (very dusty) hurricane lamps in service.

One of our (very dusty) hurricane lamps in service.

My husband and I ate and chatted by lamplight and didn’t really think much about the power being out. Temperatures were mild so we weren’t worried about the food in the fridge or sleeping without a heater. We’ve certainly camped in much less hospitable situations. About 9:00pm I checked the power company’s website again and the repair estimate had been revised to midnight. Shrug. Hubby set his cell phone’s alarm and we went to bed.

Normally I don’t go to bed that early in the evening, but 1) I’d been having a bad couple of days because of body aches and a touch of insomnia and needed to lay down anyway, and 2) what the hell else was there to do? When I woke up a few hours later and couldn’t get back to sleep, I trundled back down stairs and lit up the hurricane lamp again. The new estimate on the power company’s website was 6:00am. Wow. The longest outage prior that I could remember was about seven hours. Of course, at the height of a summer heat wave, which made it even more memorable. Thank the gods for whoever invented battery-operated fans.

So here I am, in the middle of the night, no lights, no TV, no computer, the phone running low on power – what’s a girl to do? Well, this one pulled out her favorite paper and her favorite fountain pen and let the imagination go. I sat there noodling on a couple of short stories as I listened to the sounds outside – nearly constant sirens, dogs barking, the couple down the street having their weekly argument, the boom box car that so loves to cruise through our residential neighborhood at 3:00 in the morning rattling our windows – and really enjoying the experience. There’s something about putting actual pen to actual paper that just can’t be duplicated with electronics. The paper’s texture, the smell of the ink, the scratch-scritch of the nib as the words tumble out under the golden flicker of firelight. It sent me back to the early days of my writing – #2 pencil on notebook paper – when the process seemed so much more visceral and organic.

Don’t get me wrong – I love my iMac with its Scrivener software and its instant research (read: Internet) access – but spending a few hours with pen and paper again really reminded me of why I started writing in the first place. It gives me a connection to the process I just can’t get any other way, and I realized how much I missed it.

The power was out for a total of eighteen hours. One of the longest I’ve ever experienced. And while a number of my neighbors seemed to have had serious issues (judging by the sirens), it wasn’t really a problem for me. My husband recently asked me if I would mind living in a mobile home if it meant we could get out of California. I told him I’d happily live in our tent for that reward (it’s not like it would be really roughing it – see “Playing Dress Up” for an explanation). It would mean less computer and TV and energy saving light bulbs, and more pen and paper and hurricane lamps. But I think I could live with that.

 

© 2015   Cheri K. Endsley   All Rights Reserved.

 

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I was one of those weird kids, as you’ve probably already figured out. That quiet one in the corner who likes to read, will actually eat her vegetables willingly (except squash – not even on a dare!), and asks questions that make teachers stutter. While the rest of my peers were either 1) teasing me, or 2) ignoring me, I was plotting the overthrow of the universe, one backwater planet at a time. Starting with this one, of course. You’ll get your orders soon.

Anyway, one of the other indicators of my weirdness is that I actually like to write by hand. I was taught cursive in school, probably part of the last generation to have that skill. Which is kind of scary to me, given that our founding documents and many other Very Important Papers were all done in cursive, and if we don’t teach it anymore, how are we going to read it? Those documents will become the domain of an elite who will tell us what they say and, like the Dark Ages when the clergy told the masses what was in the Bible, we’ll end up with some twisted, garbled version like out of a Star Trek episode. (E plebnista, anyone?)

I had to learn to write by hand because “keyboarding” didn’t exist (yeah, I’m that old), unless you meant taking a typing class, which I took under duress (then, but am thankful for it now) to waste time before I could take Driver’s Ed. That one’s not offered in schools anymore either, sadly, and we’ve been seeing the results of that on the roads a lot lately. But I digress.

I thought cursive was cool. I even dove into calligraphy for a while. It fascinated me that something so simple as handwriting could be so beautiful. As a kid, I was really into the Gothic styles, but I’ve mellowed with age and now prefer the more elegant and simpler styles of penmanship. Handwriting allows a connection to the mind that typing directly into a computer just doesn’t quite match. I love the scratch of a fountain pen nib across the face of some really nice cotton bond paper. It makes me feel like I’m really accomplishing something. But I’ve already blathered a bit about that aspect of manual writing before (check out my previous rants “Recycling” and “Keyboards and Pencils and Pens, Oh My!” for further details), and this entry isn’t really about that, anyway.

No, today I’d like to tell you about how I realized handwriting my latest novel wasn’t going to be the best course of action. Not if I actually wanted it finished this century. Let alone this decade. I started it with my favorite fountain pen (fine point, green ink) and this lovely paper I get from Levenger (a business that caters to the discriminating writer and reader in all of us). Yes, it’s pricey, but the stuff is a dream to write on and I can use both sides of the page without experiencing bleed-through. Plus the format works well for keeping track of project info and scribbling in notes. Regular notebook paper you get from the local big box store can barely handle pencil. Once I found this combo, it was really hard for me to write any other way.

So off I go, scribbling away on the new novel. I very quickly have lots of paper floating around, with scenes from all over what is becoming a massive project. No, I often don’t write the first draft in linear form – it comes to me how it comes to me, and then I have to put the puzzle pieces together in some sort of order later. Plus there’s the research for the various science, historical and cultural aspects, sticky notes tacked all over with links to websites, books and articles. Add to this, there are the character notes, glossary of terms and names and places for me to keep straight; pictures for inspiration, and all the other little bits and pieces that one must keep track of when jotting down what is looking like a serious trilogy. After a few months and about 20,000 words, I tried to organize it into a binder. It was 3” thick.

I struggled with that for a few weeks, but it got really frustrating flipping pages back and forth to try and find that one bizarre reference in one character’s history I didn’t think would be important enough to note, and now finding out that it was a major deal. I was losing a lot of time looking for stuff instead of writing, and I had barely begun the project! It was time to join the computer age.

There are a lot of decent software programs out there, for a variety of things. And I know plenty of writers who use just plain word processing programs quite successfully. But this was going to be beyond just word processing, and I hate Microsoft Word even on a good day (the original WordPerfect was a superior product, IMHO), so it wasn’t even in the picture. No, this was going to take something a little more than straight typing from page to page. I have Final Draft for my screenwriting, and while it’s fabulous for how I work in that medium, it wasn’t quite what I wanted for the novel.

After stumbling around the Internet for a while, I came across Scrivener. It took me going back to the site several times while looking at other programs in between before I finally bit the bullet and bought it. As most programs go, it’s damn cheap. Especially once you find out just what it can do for you. And it was also one of the (VERY) few that ran on a Mac (it was actually specifically built for Mac first). I can organize on the computer now like I was doing with pen and ink. I can write the individual scenes and move them around on a virtual corkboard into whatever order I want, as many times as I want, with just a simple drag and drop. I can link to my research, add all sorts of media, jot notes, keep track of the different drafts, compile and export into various formats, and all sorts of other things I haven’t even begun to investigate. Yes, there’s a bit of a learning curve, but the onboard tutorials and help sections are stellar.  If you’re like me, and write by the seat of your pants as the voices in your head blurt their life stories at you, Scrivener is an organizational lifesaver.

Yes, I miss my fountain pen. Handwriting is just such a luxurious creative connection. But I think in the long term, my conversion will work out for the best. Now I don’t have to hand write everything first, trying to keep track of all those pieces of paper over the months and years, and THEN type it all into the computer so it can be edited and submitted somewhere. And with various electronic backups, I don’t run the risk of losing everything in a house fire or having Chapter 3 eaten by the dog. My novels have joined the computer age.

The short stories, however, are still fountain pen fodder. Just where did I put my ink…

P.S. Just to be clear, I wasn’t asked to do any reviews of the above-mentioned products, nor have I received any compensation in any form from any of those businesses. I just wanted to share what I found to be helpful for me, and hope it helps some of you.

© 2013   Cheri K. Endsley   All rights Reserved.

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It’s officially been three years.  Since what, you ask.  Since last I darkened the door of an office environment to work for someone else.  I was an office manager for a nice law firm, and then I wasn’t.  It came at a time in my life when I was really questioning what the hell I was doing and why, and was the answer I needed, if not the answer the checkbook wanted.

If you’ve read any of my past ramblings, you know I have spent the last three years trying to get another office job, while bitching about not wanting to at the same time.  I sent out hundreds of applications, only rarely landing an interview, and gradually lowering my standards until I ended up testing for a county job I had already done back in the ‘90’s.  I was really depressed about that for a long time.  Leaving 15 years of job experience and certifications and education on the shelf just to get something, anything for the paycheck.  Of course, I landed in the top tier of candidates on that test.  It took a couple of months, and then the calls started coming in for interviews.  Apparently the county budget had opened up and they were filling positions again.  In the span of five weeks I had four interviews with three different county departments.  One of those departments was the exact same one I had already worked five years for, in the exact same job, in the ‘90’s.  I figured I was a shoe in.  Within a couple days I had scheduled three more interviews for three other departments.  Then, one after another, the notification deadlines went by and I had no job offers.  None.  Zero.  Zip.  Zilch.  For a job I had already done, to excellent reviews, for FIVE YEARS.  The exact same classification, the exact same county, the exact same department.  NADA.

That’s when I decided I was really and truly done.  Done with working for someone else, done with looking for a job I’d probably just hate anyway, done with subjecting myself to the standards of those life forms lower than me.  Done, done, done.

So I had a serious sit-down with the hubby.  We talked pros and cons, we looked at the bills, we hacked things off the list like machete-wielding banditos in the jungle.  And we decided it was possible.  It wouldn’t be easy.  It meant we’d be tap-dancing penny to penny for an unknown length of time.  It meant deciding that things we’d always said we couldn’t live without, we would now live without.

Most importantly, it meant my husband had faith in me.  And with that kind of backing, anything is possible.

So I am now strictly an independent contractor.  For a few hours in the afternoon, I’m a housewife, taking care of chores, errands, dinner while my husband spends the day schlepping things at work.  In the evenings, I work on projects for our hobby-turned-side-business while watching TV.  We’re not making a lot of money off that business, but it’s been enough to pay for our hobbies and give us a little extra for the occasional household expense.  It helps keep us sane.

At night, well… at night is when I’m a writer.

That was the decision.  A full and complete acceptance of the one fact I’ve been avoiding for most of my adult life.  Mind you, I wasn’t avoiding it out of fear.  Okay, maybe it was fear, but it’s the fear associated with not paying the bills, not having the things everybody expects you to have, not living the life we’ve been told we should all be living.  I’ve been different my whole life, picked on mercilessly in school – you’d think I’d be used to it by now.  But there’s a part in each of us that desperately, feverishly wants to fit in, to be part of the club.  I finally managed to shut that bitch up.

I am who I am.  My creative nature has been with me since the day of my birth.  Music came first, then writing, then needlework and weaving and all the other things I’ve dabbled in over the years of my life.  But writing has always been the one outlet I’ve needed the most.  It is always with me.  Even when I’m not actually writing, I’m writing.  Things are always going on in my head – characters showing up out of the blue, scenes playing on some internal Caille-o-scope, plot-lines, worlds, gadgets, etc…

Now it is all free to romp without fetters.

My first novel is complete and I’m querying agents, using sources like Preditors & Editors, Writer Beware and Chuck Sambuchino’s Guide to Literary Agents to wind my way through the craggy mine fields of the publishing industry.

I’m on the first draft of a new novel, as well.  Something that came to me out of a fan-fic writing exercise and then turned into something entirely its own.  Handwriting it on 60lb bond paper with a fountain pen.  Nothing like it.

A completed short story is being fished around for a home, another one has been entered into a contest and a couple more are languishing on my desk as I fumble through this monster I’m creating in green ink.

I’m trying to blog more.  (See?? Here I am!)

I do the occasional edit/polish/or-flat-out-typing job for a couple business clients.

I also have subscriptions to e-letters from FundsforWriters and the Creative Competitor, which list contests, grants, workshops and job opportunities from all over.

And I even applied for a grant from the Speculative Literature Foundation.  Can you believe they have one specifically for older writers who are just getting their pro game on?  How cool is that!?!

I’ve also joined FanStory, an on-line writers community where you can get your work critiqued by other writers, enter contests, or just read lots of stuff written by all levels of writers from all over the world.

And there’s so much more out there.  The Internet has made it so much easier to be an entrepreneur in these modern times, just as it has made it so much harder to filter all the information into our tiny little brains.  Modern technology is allowing me to work from home and not spend months and months waiting for something in the mail.  I can do research, video chat with an agent, and play my favorite tunes all without leaving my desk.  For someone who doesn’t get enough exercise to start with, it might not be the best thing for my physical health.

But finally doing what I really want, what I have ALWAYS wanted, full time, damn the bank account, screw the nay-sayers – that has given me a boost in my mental health the world’s best pharmaceuticals couldn’t manage.

So here I am, world.  Casting about in the sea of uncertainty, hoping something bites on one of my hooks while baiting the next one.  Man, I love the air out here.

 

© 2012  Cheri K. Endsley.  All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

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I’ve made a significant break through in my writing.  It’s something I’ve been struggling with for my entire life.  Something most writers don’t talk about because it’s such a personal thing on the one hand, yet so very important to a successful process.  I’m talking about, of course, what do you write with?

When I first started writing, back in the Dark Ages of Junior High School, the immediate tools at hand were a #2 pencil, an eraser and loose-leaf notebook paper.  These faithful servants have been with me ever since.  Even once I learned to type in high school, my pencil pack never left my side.  Then there were the earliest of computers in college, but a well-sharpened Ticonderoga and college-ruled spiral notebooks were still with me.  The creative process would be slogged through with lead and wood pulp, sometimes the paper erased so many times that you could almost read through it, my hands becoming covered with pencil residue and the words smearing nearly into oblivion.

As I left the sheltered environment of school and entered the “real” world of the adult work force, I still held on to my pencil and paper for any creative tasks.   Gradually, as I became a better typist and as computers became more prevalent in the work place, I was able to do short work-related tasks on the keyboard: simple letters, memos, reports.  But still nothing that I deemed truly “creative,” that being my fiction writing.

There was something about being able to sit just about anywhere, anytime, with your tools and your imagination and bring a world to life at your fingertips.  The feel of the wood in your hand, the sound the pencil lead made as it stroked across the paper, the ability to rid your mistakes or changes with a simple swipe of rubber.  No fancy machinery that comes with a manual as big as any book you might read.  No complicated software programs that take a week at a seminar to learn to the point of usefulness (remember the world before WYSIWYG?  Or drop down menus?  Or point and click?).  No ever-changing storage systems (5.25” floppy, anyone?)  Just you and your words.

The problem with hand-writing your creations, especially as you get into longer formats such as novels, is that eventually they have to end up in the typewritten form.  Agents, publishers, editors don’t want handwritten manuscripts, no matter how nice or clear your calligraphy may be.  So that means you have to now type what you have painstakingly crafted over the days, weeks, or even months before you can hand it off to anyone.  On the one hand, this gives you the opportunity to edit your creation.  On the other, it’s a tortuous, time-consuming process that leaves you dreading ever setting eyes on the thing again.  The latter would be me.

When I was given this latest opportunity to return to my creative roots, I spent some time trying to decide what tools would work best for me.  I struggled with the need to have my novel end up in my laptop, and the instinctive need to write the way I’ve always written.  The art of hand writing is a dying one because of the computer age, and I’m probably a member of the last generation to cling to that ancient communications form heading for extinction.  The urge to hang on to my tried-and-true love, the time-tested #2 pencil, was almost overwhelming.  I toyed with the idea of a mechanical pencil (there are some very nice ones I use for other tasks – the point is always sharp!), and even the lovely fountain pen (get a good one and you’ll never go back to a regular pen again) but that familiar Ole’ Yeller was still top of the list.  Though, recently, they came out with the Tri-conderoga, a triangular barrel with a rubberized surface which makes writing with it a nice experience.  But still the same company, so it counts as far as I’m concerned.

Anyway, there was still the problem of getting the hand-writing into the computer.  But we are now in an advanced technological age, so perhaps there was a way to do it.  After some research, I discovered my lovely little laptop, which I’ve owned for over five years now, has a software feature that will allow me to translate the hand-written word into the type-written word.  All I needed to do was get a graphics tablet and off I could go.  So off I went.

I’m a serious gadget geek, so a new toy really made my day.  I could sit with my laptop, write my novel, and watch the words appear in my word processing document.  My cat loved it, too, because now he could sit in my lap while I worked since my keyboard didn’t have to be there.  If the cat’s happy, he’s quiet, and so is everyone else in the house.  Otherwise, he proves his Siamese heritage repeatedly at the top of his voice.

So there I was hand-writing my novel into my computer.  About the same time I started that, I decided to start this blog.  The weird thing about the blog is, I could just type it directly into the computer.  It wasn’t really fiction, more stream-of-consciousness, so I just did it without thinking about it.  Being that I’ve made my living for over 25 years in the administrative field, I can attest that typing is a much faster entry form than writing.  I can do a blog entry in about 90 minutes, including those long pauses when you’re just staring at the screen.  The same amount of words in hand-writing would take me nearly twice that.  The more blogs I did, the more I wrote on my novel, the more I noticed the difference.

Then that fateful night came.  I’d been working on some household records, leaning forward over my keyboard, and my cat had tucked himself into that tiny space between my lower back and my chair back, purring furiously and being very warm on a sore spot I hadn’t realized I had.  Not wanting to be the cause of another Siamese eruption, especially since my husband was in bed, I pulled out my notes and began to work on my novel from the keyboard.  Typing fiction directly into the computer.  Not even thinking about it.  And I got twice as much done as previous nights.

And that is my revelation.  Thanks to this blog and a whiney old cat, I have joined the 21st century and am now typing my fictional creations directly into my computer.  I will always have a soft spot for the hand-written word, but the practical needs of the modern era have given me the opportunity to change.  Change is the only constant in the universe, and the thing that makes humans so versatile is our ability to change in response to whatever is thrown at us.

So just because you’re an old dog, doesn’t mean you can’t learn new tricks.

© 2010  Cheri K. Endsley.  All Rights Reserved.

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