#WhyIWrite

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Today, October 20, is the National Day on Writing. And thousands of people are sharing the reasons they write with the hashtag #WhyIWrite. I’m not sure why I’ve never heard of this day before, but I thought I should be a part of it now that I know it exists.

In reflecting on #WhyIWrite, I visited my first Midlife Moments Blog. I wrote down my vision for this blog from the beginning, and in reading it today, I don’t think I’ve strayed from that mission. I wanted to create something different for my life, stand in my power and help others create something different if they desired it.

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This picture is featured in that first blog in August 2012. That trip was sort of a lifting off point for me. It was the period at the end of my youth and the space preceding the next paragraph of my life. One afternoon we took off on a boat and dove into the Pacific Ocean to watch the Manta Rays dance after nightfall. In the middle of this surreal underwater dance, I realized that magic doesn’t happen to us. Magic creates itself WITH us. We are a part of …. not a witness to, this planet’s mysterious beauty.  Swimming back to the boat a lone shark swam silently about 10 feet under us. My heart skipped a beat. It never wavered from its path. I will never forget the magnificence of that solitary animal, and I vowed I would cease to be afraid of adventure.

Why do I write? I write because writing makes my life meaningful. It forces me to talk to strangers. It makes me look beyond the obvious and make connections. A walk among the trees becomes a spiritual journey in prose. The chance meeting of a stranger fills in a missing chapter. An ending births the hope of a better tomorrow. And a story lifts the heart out of its burdens. Writing makes me less afraid of adventure. It provides purpose and meaning and soul to my day-to-day existence. Why wouldn’t I write?

 Why don’t you write? What would you write about if you dared?

My First Midlife Moments Blog

 

 

Subtle Shifts Matter

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I learned to motivate myself by being hard on myself. You are a loser, so you’d better shape up. You’re fat… better exercise and eat right. Nobody likes you, you’d better learn to be nice. Being mean to myself doesn’t motivate me. Yes, it might cause me to get started with some action, but the shame and regret that is produced by the constant criticism eventually sends me right back to depression, compulsive behavior or addiction. None of these conditions provide the foundation for success.

My morning meditation teacher encouraged me to focus on one positive thing about myself. I focused on my ability to be flexible and to adapt to my ever-changing external environment. It is a trait that I developed as a child, and I’m quite good at it.

My approach has changed over the years. As a youngster and a young adult, I was a chameleon and changed to fit the circumstance. That tended to cause me a lot of anxiety even though it was great for survival. But I lost myself. As I’ve gotten healthier, I’ve learned that a chameleon doesn’t change its insides. It only changes its spots. I can stay solid in my own being and be true to myself but change my response to external stimuli.

Small changes in perspective create the biggest change for me. Perhaps it’s just focusing on one thing that is positive to lift my mood. Or maybe I change the one thing I have control over. Sometimes I shift my focus from what is happening and its painful consequences to the learning I’m gaining from the event. When I’m tired and exhausted and anxious, I can’t make big changes. Those things happen when I’m in a place of strength. Getting to that sweet spot is often a process.

Have a great weekend, y’all!

What is one positive thing about yourself – or your world or your work – that you can focus on today? How do you shift your perspective so change is more manageable?

Running Through the Stars

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For some reason, the city of St. Joseph isn’t turning on the street lights about half the time in my neighborhood. It’s a little irritating when I have to run early because it’s really dark out. But I’m loving running amid the nighttime sky. The stars are amazing here in rural Michigan, and without the lights of our little city drowning them out, I get to enjoy the gentle light of the Milky Way. This morning lighthouse was particularly lovely against the night sky. Too dark for pictures. You’ll just have to come visit.

The best starry sky I ever saw was at Devil’s Den State Park in Arkansas. The campground was empty except for me, and I got up in the middle of the night to go to the restroom. I had to walk across a field of empty campsites, and the opening in the trees was like a portal to the universe. The expansiveness of the field of stars disoriented me. I was lost in an infinite world of light.

There are places in Michigan where you can see the Aurora Borealis. We even have a dark sky park in the upper lower peninsula. You can’t camp there because they try to keep light pollution to a minimum, but you can bring sleeping bags and hang out to view the stars and the northern lights. I can’t imagine how gorgeous it would be to see that magnificent natural phenomenon from the cliffs of Pictured Rocks. As with everything natural, you can’t plan it. You just have to be lucky enough to catch it. May I someday be that lucky. Meanwhile I’ll enjoy the glimpses I have right here at home.

Do you enjoy stargazing? How long has it been since you’ve done it?

Places to see the Aurora Borealis in Michigan

 

Taking the Path of More Resistance

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I mapped out my 11-miler for Sunday morning. I just could NOT do another circular run around my house. During the week I have to stay close to save time, but why on earth would I trace the same steps again when I have the freedom to roam?

I traced a beautiful route online through the dunes and marsh in Saugatuck. It’ll be great, I thought. I can run, change clothes and grab some quinoa porridge at one of my favorite resting spots. I was so looking forward to the adventure. The only downside was the rain in the forecast. It wouldn’t be the first time I got drenched on a run, though, and almost always it turns out to be fun.

The run started on a bicycle path, and I found myself enjoying the straight line. The roadside scenery wasn’t as interesting as I imagined on my adventure, but I was drawn to the simplicity of it. I missed my turn and rambled forward.

I’ve always longed for a straight path to take me where I’m going. If I’m going to quit sugar, I want to quit and be done with it. Getting sober would be so much easier if it was a straight path to success and normalcy. Building a relationship should resemble the one and half hour path of a romantic comedy. We meet, act silly, fall in love, have a problem and are cemented together in love until the end of time.

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Nothing ever happens that way in real life. Choices are difficult, and I almost always have to compromise. My journey with sugar has been years long even though it really does a number on my body and probably my health. But as I look back over time, I’ve been consistently declining my consumption. And every time I got off the path, I felt so bad that my resolve to quit strengthened. Losing the path is part of the journey.

This week I was in a lot of anxiety. When I have night after night of insomnia, my body craves sugar. Thursday night, it was chilly out, and I was craving warmth and comfort. A tsunami of sadness washed over me, and I had a good cry. I wanted Mujadara from my local Mediterranean restaurant. I didn’t want Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Chocolate wasn’t dancing in my head. I wanted a healthy lentil and wheat dish with creamy homemade yogurt. And to my pleasant surprise it came with some lentil soup that was flavored with cinnamon and spice. My meal was warming, comforting and healthy. And I CRAVED it.

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I got bored about 2/3 of the way into my run. The straight line led me to some beautiful places, but I had to turn around and run the same way back. It was efficient and simple, but I had to listen to music and podcasts in order to distract myself. I needed that yesterday, and I got a lot of thinking done, but my preference is to go the path of more resistance. The twists and turns often bring something new and unexpected, and it’s just so much more interesting.

What change are you trying to make? Do you need to quit beating yourself up because it’s not taking you in a straight line to victory?

Embracing the Ending

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Endings….

I used to hate them. My octopus arms suctioned around the leaving object and fought for dear life. Bloodied and exhausted, I found the letting go a torturous bloodletting.

Life is full of losses. 

  • Friendships
  • True love
  • Worn-out barbie dolls
  • Beloved pets
  • Mentors and sages
  • Favorite earrings
  • A perfect job
  • Youth
  • Innocence
  • Coffee mugs reminding me of special memories
  • Trust in authority figures
  • Compulsions, addictions and other comforts that stop working
  • Financial security

Today, I see endings as an open door. I feared job loss my entire life. I believed that financial security would save me from utter despair. As a young woman I became whoever and whatever my company wanted me to be. It didn’t matter if I wanted the role or if I had a totally different vision of what it should be. I threw myself into  following someone else’s expectations. I was a blank slate upon which you could create. No wonder I hated losing something. It was my identity. You were my identity. What was I to do next?

I lost a job last year. I walked into the room with my current boss and an HR representative, and I found myself unafraid. The job didn’t work for me. I had brought myself to this one. I had my own vision. I knew what I wanted, and this wasn’t it. I told her it was a good decision, and I was happy for the opportunity to move on. I knew it had nothing to do with me. After gathering my belongings, I walked out the front door. I was shocked to feel nothing but relief. I didn’t know what would happen, but I knew I would be okay.

Life teaches us to let go. We let go of people, dreams, our youth and finally even our life. Even death is not an ending. It’s merely a transition.

 

Building The Integrity Muscle

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The #metoo movement is long overdue in my opinion, but there are times when I’m not quite sure how to feel. Everyone deserves to tell their side of the story. I groaned when I heard there was a drunken high school accusation being lodged against Brett Kavanaugh. High school? Really? I thought of my high school alcoholic behavior and cringed.

Sexual assault is traumatic for the victim. Those incidents are seared into your memory, and they don’t ever go away. If the attacker seems to go on and live a marvelous life with seemingly no consequences it has to eat away at you. I also know about blackout drinking. There are things you really don’t remember at all if that’s in your history. The whole story is beyond sad. Unfortunately, it’s also very common. The only difference here is that the man involved is being nominated to the highest court in the land to make decisions for the rest of us.

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Yesterday, the New York Times Daily interviewed a woman who was assaulted in high school. Drinking was not involved in this incident. She was not raped. But it basically ruined several years of her life. She blamed herself. How could she put herself in that situation? Was being pretty part of the problem? She cut her hair and started wearing turtlenecks. She shrunk from her social life. Meanwhile, he got a scholarship and went on to college.

In this case, her attacker returned, and with tears in his eyes, apologized. He understood the harm he had done, and he owned it. She was able to tell him she forgave him. She says that the event lost its hold on her. And she went to great lengths to keep his identity hidden. She wanted no harm to come to him either.

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The word integrity popped into my mind. Integrity is one of those character traits that is developed through repetition. It’s not easy to walk in integrity. When you have to make amends to someone you’ve harmed or to do something against your own interest, every cell in your body groans. But, if you’ve had a taste of being in integrity with your own values, you know how you feel afterward. The feeling of being in integrity is so much better than the knot of shame in your stomach when you don’t act. It’s a muscle that you develop, and if you don’t use it for small things, you’ll never be able to do it for big things.

Integrity doesn’t mean being perfect. In fact, being imperfect gives you plenty of practice in being in integrity. Integrity means owning up to your shortcomings. It means swallowing your pride because you know that the right thing to do is to come clean. It means looking at a situation and understanding that there is something more important than the event. It means examining your values and acting in accordance with them, regardless of the impact on you.

Integrity, above all, is a decision-making tool. My biggest concern about the powerful men that are being impacted by the #metoo movement is not that the events happened at all. Don’t get me wrong. It shouldn’t EVER happen. And we are thankfully changing our standards as a culture. My biggest disappointment is that our leaders don’t seem to have the integrity to own their past. Their integrity muscle is so weak that I wonder about their decision-making process. For if you can’t override your own best interests when you harm another person deeply, how can you lead at all? To what hell are they leading us? And, if you can’t walk in integrity in your personal life, can you really have integrity on the Supreme Court? As the President? As a minister? As a parent? As a boss?

Here’s a link to that podcast. It’s truly worth a listen.

 

The Dance of Creativity and Fear

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I’m a bit anxious this morning. I’m not sure why. I’ve been eating well. I’ve been exercising. I’ll just chalk it up to free-floating anxiety and dance right through it. The unrelenting voice of my inner critic reminds me of the failures of my life and the desperate outlook for my future. I have long stretches of time without anxiety, and I now realize that my inner critic is a lying bully. While there may be some truth to his words, there are lots of positives behind me and before me as well. This critic is a manifestation of anxiety.

I never knew I suffered from anxiety. I knew I suffered from depression. It was not until a counselor sent me home with a book that outlined conditions that can erode the joy in our lives. When I read the section on anxiety, light bulbs starting going off. My fear of not being good enough and my inability to fall in line with the expectations of other people was not indicative that I was permanently flawed. It was a manifestation of anxiety, a disorder of the brain. The noose loosened.

I’m still a work in progress with my anxiety. I would like to say it’s cured, but I believe I’m just wired with an anxious mind. Anxiety is the root of many addictions and compulsive behaviors. We need to soothe or numb out. It’s the only way to escape the relentlessness of our inner thoughts. It can also drive us to be high performers, so it’s not all bad. But when there is no joy in the performance, it is of little relief. I always need to perform better, look better, be different, shut up, speak up for myself, follow the damn rules and on ….. and on …. and on. The noose tightens.

In anxiety’s rulebook, I am never enough. I am always the biggest loser. But I’ve learned in God’s heart, I am enough. In fact, I am perfectly made for my purpose in life. I don’t have to strive endlessly. I don’t have to BE anything other than me. When I began to treat my anxiety by eating better, meditating and exercising regularly, I really felt the noose loosen. My spiritual practice taught me new and more loving ways of thinking and being. I learned to be more compassionate to myself and others. The voice of the inner critic faded and even disappeared at times. The noose really loosened.

The desire to create bubbled up. I never thought I was creative. I was just endlessly trying to follow the rules and standards set up before me. It was exhausting. But when I let go of that and began to heal myself, I wanted to write. I wanted to decorate my home with what I liked. I wanted to create the kind of life I wanted which was very different than the one prescribed for me. I yearned to know me better and explore what might make me happy.

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I’m in a dance with anxiety and creativity.  They are somewhat exclusive of each other but at the same time symbiotic. When I’m anxious, I can’t write. I can’t create. I’m too afraid that I will offend somebody or embarrass myself or not be good enough. But when I’m not tied up in anxiety, I can dream. My life feels expansive instead of small. I am free instead of leashed. I am grateful rather than afraid. I don’t ever want to go back to a life in the clutches of anxiety. I know the noose is around my neck ready to tighten. The fear of it keeps me practicing self-care. But I’ve learned to dance with it. And dancing is kind of creative, isn’t it?

Read this article for Symptoms and Care for Anxiety

10 Fears Holding You BAck from Creativity and How to Beat Them

 

 

The Great “I Am”

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I still struggle calling myself a runner. I use the walk/run method, and there is a strong inclination of serious runners to turn up their noses at walk breaks. Never mind the fact that they might walk at points when they are running long distances. I run in intervals throughout my race, so for some purists, I’m not technically a “runner” yet.

I also don’t have a runner’s body. I see all of these lithe, thin runners at the start line, and I dream of having that body so I can fly through the air instead of plodding along pounding the pavement. “If you were really a runner,” my inner critic says, “you’d look like that.” Yet most of the runners that line up at a race looking nothing like that. They look more like me.

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It’s so much easier to compartmentalize people than to understand that we are all complex and multi-faceted beings. I came out as a liberal one day when a friend was going off on a rant about them. “You don’t seem like one of those,” she spit out. I told her we are people. We are not the fixed image that is promulgated by Fox news. Some are extreme. Some are mildly committed. Some take “walk/breaks” and have a mix of views and beliefs both liberal and conservative. But I identify mostly with a liberal idealogy, so I can easily say I’m a liberal.

I am often mistaken for a vegetarian. No matter that I scarfed a chili-cheese dog at work the other day. When they are ordering for meetings, I almost always get an email that asks if I want a vegetarian meal. “You’re a vegan, right?”  My neighbor told me they’d love to have me over for one of their grill outs, “but you’re a vegetarian,” she said. “No, I’m not,” I said with a laugh. She was dumbfounded. No matter that she never saw me eat in my life nor have I talked with her about food. There is something about me that screams vegetarian or vegan. Unfortunately my diet – and I – don’t identify with the label.

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There is something transforming that happens when I proclaim “I am”. Maybe it’s the same powerful compulsion that drives us to label others. If I believe I’m thin rather than trying to be thin, I might eat better. If I believe I’m a writer, it might encourage me to schedule time daily to write. I know that the days I claim fully the label “runner”, I have happier, easier runs. Those words “I am” can be powerful and affirming even if we think they don’t apply yet.

What are the labels you ascribe to yourself? Are they driving you in positive or negative directions? How powerful are those labels in defining your daily habits?

 

The Challenge Revisited

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“I could never do that,” non-running friends say when I tell them I’m running an endurance race. “Well, of course not,” I tell them. “I couldn’t do it either if I hadn’t trained all summer. That’s the magic of long distance running. If you just keep increasing gradually, taking one step at a time, your body will adapt. After all, I ran my first marathon at 48.

I doubted my wisdom this year. I suffered in most of my long runs. Am I getting too old for this? Maybe I’m just not interested in this anymore. Why is this not starting to feel better? I asked all of these questions as my knees, ankles, and calves chastised me. I wanted to throw in the towel weekly after those long, sweat-soaked slogs through mile after mile after mile. And I had so looked forward to this Mount Baldhead Challenge – my favorite race course of all time.

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This was my 5th time running the full challenge. It was always a 15K. This year, the revised course is over 12 miles. I first ran this race in 2000 when I was just getting back into running shape after about 20 years. I placed dead last. The police car with flashing lights followed me picking up cones. I drove up from Memphis in 2010 to run this race, and I ran it in the pouring down rain. My last long distance run was in an Austin half marathon in 2014. Getting back in the saddle was goal enough. But man did it hurt.

There was grass…..

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I went to bed Friday night dreading the slog. Luckily, the temps would be in the 50s at the start of the race, so I hoped the cooler weather would at least help my mood. And one of my best buds, Alayne, had come in from Texas and was running the 6-miler. At least I had a partner in crime and someone to celebrate with afterwards. IF…. I wasn’t dying. I had rehearsed what I thought was the course a few weeks ago, and I didn’t enjoy it.

And trails…..

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Thankfully, Saturday morning I woke up with some excitement. The chill in the air felt good, and I felt rested. My spirits were high. We arrived in Saugatuck about an hour before race start, and Alayne had to take the school bus across the river to the 6-mile start. I walked around, took advantage of the restroom, snapped some pics and talked to a few other participants. There were about 400 of us signed up between both races, so it was a small field. The shirts were really soft and cute, I was feeling excited about running the multi-terrain course.

And sand ….

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The first 6-miles was on pavement. We ran through neighborhoods until we reached the Douglas beachfront area populated with bed and breakfasts and quaint little inns. Spectators were sparse, but it was so beautiful it didn’t matter. And the people cheering us on were really encouraging. I made it a point to thank all of the volunteers for their time, and I enjoyed seeing them smile. “Am I in the lead?” I’d ask. They all lied and said yes.

And, of course, stairs….

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We got to the trails at about the 6-mile mark. The trails wound up, down and around the dunes. The hills were quite steep and I thought about Texas flatlander Alayne and wondered how she did with these. I thanked myself for practicing on the dunes the last few months. By the time I got out of the trail section, my legs were shot. I was 8.17 miles into this race when I stood at the foot of the massive staircase heading up Mount Baldhead. I texted Jessica the pic. “You are ready for this!” she replied.

And beautiful views….

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I took a few flights at a time, stopped to rest often and ask myself what the hell did I think I was doing. “Whose idea was this anyway?” I asked one of my fellow runners. I thought of the 9-month pregnant woman I saw running up the stairs with a couple of friends at my race rehearsal. I thought of the 5 other times I’d climbed these babies – one of them in the pouring down rain. One step at a time, honey. You trained for this.

I finally got up to the top, and I was surprised at how good I felt. This was the mountain. It was all downhill from here in effort. I still had to run through the sand to the bottom of the dune and through a few more trails, but the views were magnificent from the top of the dunes. It took my breath away. I felt strong and happy and capable of conquering the world. THIS is why I run. For whatever reason, the runner girl was back, and I was happy to see her.

And more beautiful views….

 

The last two miles on pavement featured lovely views of the river, a few friendly spectators and the beautiful little town of Saugatuck. Alayne ran out to hug me when I finished, and we found a place to change so we could grab some breakfast. They had misplaced a box of finisher’s medals, so I gave my name to a volunteer after the race. She called me and brought the medal to me at the restroom. I couldn’t believe how nice everyone was at this race. It was a pleasant day all around.f

Alayne and I had Walleye at The Butler for lunch, and then we shopped around a bit. I was surprised at how good I felt. At 4:15 I looked at my phone, and I was stunned that I had walked around that long and was still going strong. My training worked. I was ready. I definitely think the cooler weather was a factor in my feeling so good, and I’ve made a mental note to schedule races in the cooler season. But the fact remains that my favorite race – the Mount Baldhead Challenge – is in September. It’s now a 12-plus miler that requires pavement pounding in the summer. I guess I need to follow my own wisdom. I can do this if I train for it. 

Won’t you join me next year? You have all year to train!

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The Shift of Light

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I woke up about 5. I was rested because I had read and gone to bed early. Ashok  snoozed quietly, and the light of the moon illumiated the meadow. The stars twinkled softly in the dark sky. Wow. I am most certainly in heaven. I started to roll over, but had a fleeting fear course through me. “What would I do if I knew I would never be here again,” I asked myself.

I dressed in the darkness, leashed my dog and made my way to the car. With no lights and no cars this early, the roads were pitch black and quiet. It would have been eery if the moon and the lights twinkling in the valley below didn’t provide an anchor of normalcy.  The road wound over and through. A deer looked up from its nibbling. It started, but then stayed put. This is my home. You are just passing through. Don’t bother me.

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I busied myself making coffee and a yogurt and grape nuts breakfast with a juicy South Carolina peach. The headlamp was too bright but necessary for the task at hand. I imagine Ashok on her blanket was wondering what the hell we were doing sitting in the darkness but patiently trusted my plan. We were camping after all. All the rules go out the window when you take each step as you encounter it. Routine is for home.

The coffee warmed me. An owl called across the mountain. A lone car whizzed past. Darkness enveloped us but for the light of the moon, ebbing and flowing as clouds floated by. The stridulation of crickets was deafening. A barred owl called. My dog relaxed. I was still.

The twinkling lights in the valley promised life. A young woman awakes with her baby’s cry. A dog barks to be let out. A man, once again, wakes up with a pounding hangover. I have to stop this, he thinks. Shame washes over and begs for more. Lovers giggle after a long night together. They gaze out the window at the moon and long for it to linger. An old woman reads her Bible and prays.

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A hint of light to the east silhouettes the trees on the hillside. The stars begin to subside. A songbird chirps. Then another. The owl goes silent. The evergrowing light shifts the landscape. What was dark is now light. What was light disappears. A soft azure and orange sky grows in intensity and then fades into blue. Mountains, moated with haze, come into focus. The world, seeming small an hour ago, boasts of infinity. Songbirds explode into song as the new day dawns.

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