Walking with the moon

A creative living in the real world…

These things I love – My Messy Beautiful April 14, 2014

Filed under: Adventures,Creativity,Family,Parenting,Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 1:50 pm

Some people apologise for everything. I’m one of them.

I’ll apologise if the weather’s bad, or if the council raise your taxes. Or if your trip to the forest gets delayed by the fact that finally, just as we’ve got everyone in the car and locked the house, Elvie announces that she’s had ‘a little accident’ and needs an entire change of clothes. For instance.

It’s not that I’m a deeply apologetic person. It’s just that I want to be absolutely sure that everyone approves of everything I do. All the time. It’s almost impossible for me to trust my own judgement. Or even to know what I actually want, without a glowing response or a nod of approval from someone else.

I believe the official term is ‘people pleaser.’ It says a lot about me that I breathed a sigh of relief the first time I heard that. Because, however annoying it is, at least it’s an acknowledged condition so nobody will think I’m too weird.

I know. I’m in real trouble.

Thing is, there have always been plenty of people to please. Teachers. Parents. Lecturers. Colleagues. Bosses. The list is endless. Always someone to give me a good report. All told, I’ve done pretty well.

My problem is that, for nearly four years, I’ve been a stay at home mum. I’ve dabbled in teaching weekend theatre classes or selling cut-price cosmetics, but the majority of the time I’ve been at home. With my children. No boss. No work-based identity. And, more often than not, a glazed over look of instant dismissal when I answer that awful, innocent, loaded question: “so, what do you do?”

I’ve struggled. No appraisals. No report cards. And, as a result, the slow creeping feeling that I’m letting people down. Not fulfilling my potential.

For the first time in my life, I don’t have an authority figure to answer to. I’m only answerable to my husband, my children and myself. Wes, who doesn’t mind what I do as long as there’s no structural damage to the house. Elvie and Joel, who if this last week is anything to go by, will never be satisfied with anything. And me.

Answerable to myself. Having to stop and think about what I want. What I actually want. For myself and my family. When nobody else’s agenda comes into it.

This is new ground. It’s awkward and emotional, and most of the time I feel like I’m stumbling around in the dark. Tripping over roots that have been buried for a long, long time.

It’s been hard to find my place. Just ask my doctor. The tablets, the therapy. All of that. Proof of the struggle on a little green prescription slip.

Finding yourself isn’t as easy as it seems. It takes more than a backpack and a plane ticket and a disinclination for showers.

The irony is, that being a stay-at-home-mum was a very conscious decision. It’s what both Wes and I grew up with. Something that we really value. The constancy. The being around. The emotional stability. (Perhaps that will come later.)

Still, despite the decision, the guilt. The crushing weight of the disappointment that someone, somewhere, must surely feel. I worry about what people will think. About being by far the greatest underachiever from my class at Central. For wasting my tuition fees. And everybody’s time.

I worry that I’m dull. Boring. That I won’t have anything to say to my old friends. Now that I’m knee deep in nappies and nursery runs. I’m crippled by the fear that I’m showing Elvie that a woman’s place is only in the home.

I drive myself nuts considering the possibility that, in a few years time, I’ll feel completely different. That I’ll realise I’ve made a mistake. That I should have been out there, leaning in, achieving great things, blazing my feminist path.

I wonder if I should have a career. If I should be making great steps forward for womankind. I’m sure I should be exceptional. At something.

And then, the lovely Shauna Niequist posts on her blog. A post that holds these words:

Pay attention to what you love, not to what you should love.

For me at least, that sounds like a plan.

I’ve spent any spare time I’ve had recently trying to consider what it is that I really, actually want. (After I’d considered the legal implications of putting my children on Freecycle. Seriously, this weekend has been horrendous.)

It’s been fun. If a little strange. Looking inside myself. Trying to figure out what makes me happy. On reflection, it probably shouldn’t be this hard.

I have, however, come up with a list. A list of the things I love.

I love having people in my house. Feeding them. Making them happy. I love the idea of creating a ‘home’ – for our children and our friends. Making things beautiful. Of building memories together. And recording them. I love writing. And blogging. Building up a little community of people who understand. I’m desperate for the chance to let my creativity out in new ways. I want to learn to sew. To have a garden that grows flowers, and vegetables, and chickens.

I love the idea that my kids will grow up knowing where things come from. How to make bread and what a potato looks like. How to alter clothes so that they fit. Perhaps I’m old school. Perhaps I’m deluded. Perhaps I’ve been brainwashed by the controller of BBC2.

All I know is that just the thought of it makes me happy. In my soul. It also makes me embarrassed, and instantly apologetic. Because what kind of modern woman has those dreams? Aren’t I supposed to achieve something? Something more than living like a reject from a 1960′s commune.

And yet. Really. What more could I achieve? Than being happy. Being fulfilled. Expressing my creativity. Letting my children see that there is an alternative to the rat race. Showing them what it looks like to live when your soul is alive. When there’s nothing to apologise for.

It is, admittedly, something of a pipe dream at the moment. I can’t run away and join a commune. We don’t have the space for a goat, the time for chickens or the money to buy dressmaking patterns. Slowly, slowly. That’s another thing I need to learn.

I’m doing my best to take it slowly. Collecting fabric from friends. Free patterns from Pinterest. Finishing Elvie’s curtains. Buying bulbs for the front garden and fruit bushes for the back. Putting myself on the waiting list for an allotment. Decorating tables. Having friends over for meals. Hunting for easter eggs in the sunshine.

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Baking.

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Painting.

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Taking my time.

Testing the waters. Building my confidence. And, above all, trying not to apologise for any of it.

It seems like the right time for it. It’s spring. It’s Easter. Time for a new beginning. A life where I can follow the simple, unimpressive dreams of my heart.

In the meantime I’m setting the series link for BBC2′s new allotment programme. And no, I’m not sorry. Not even a little bit.

 

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This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about the New York Times Bestselling Memoir Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

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Impossible is everything. April 8, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — hannahoakland @ 1:40 pm

Apparently the word impossible should no longer be in our vocabularies. Everyone, from sportswear manufacturers to credit card companies would have us believe that ‘impossible is nothing.’ That it’s two letters too long.

I’m sure they have some kind of point. I’m sure it boosts their sales. But I don’t believe it’s true.

Some things are impossible. Fact.

Not in a pre-schooler, “I can’t do it, its impossible, muuuuuuuuum” kind of way. Actually, physically impossible.

It would be impossible for me to be Queen of England. Not that I mind.

It was impossible to cure the cancer that stole my uncle last year. It’s impossible to bring him back. That, I do mind.

Like most of my generation, I was brought up to believe that anything is possible. That we can be whoever we want. Do whatever we want. Achieve whatever we want. So long as we have a great plan and put in enough effort, the world is our oyster.

I’m sure that the teachers, and parents, and Sunday School leaders who taught us felt that they were doing the right thing. Encouraging us to fulfil our potential. Letting us shoot for the stars. There’s no such word as can’t.

Nonsense.

If everything is possible, how do you even begin to narrow down your options? How do you avoid that sinking feeling of failure when you’ve only achieved twelve remarkable things in one day?

What’s to stop you doing everything by yourself? What’s the point of community? What’s the point of God?

If all it took was a well-thought-out plan and a lot of self-discipline, we’d work our own miracles every day. We’d heal ourselves. We’d save ourselves. Easter would be utterly pointless.

Lent seems like a good time to face the facts. That actually, as human beings, we have limits. Some things are impossible.

For me, at least.

It is impossible to be entirely perfect. It is impossible to forgive every single mistake of every single person on the earth through one single act. It is impossible to die a horrific, gruesome death, be stone-cold dead for three days, and rise again on Sunday morning.

At Easter, impossible is everything.

Photo Credit: GaborfromHungary

Photo Credit: GaborfromHungary

Otherwise Jesus was just another guy with a really great plan.

 

Life. And other amazing things. March 31, 2014

Filed under: Community,Depression — hannahoakland @ 1:53 pm

Hectic. That just about sums up my life, and the state of my brain over the last ten days.

Family birthdays, friends-who-might-as-well-be-family birthdays, a christening, a Mother’s day and one ridiculous Friday where I would have had to take a selfie whilst running a three-legged race in crazy socks and no make-up to fulfil all my charity obligations in one hit.

My head has a nasty tendency to take all these things too seriously. To the point where actually, I just end up blocking them out.

Yes, I donated to Sport Relief after watching Davina put the rest of us to shame. Yes, I managed to make birthday dinner and a crumble despite being interrupted no less than four times for toilet related incidents. Yes, I found a Mother’s Day present for my mum.

But I’ve spent most of the week with a fuzzy head. Going over and around all the birthdays I’ve completely forgotten to acknowledge, the lovely messages I’ve not replied to and all the charities I’ve entirely ignored. Whilst being eternally grateful that all Wes wanted for his birthday was money. Hooray for husbands who need nail guns.

I get myself into a right old state. Life is hard. I know.

On Thursday we headed to the Children’s Centre for some space. Where the little ones could play in ball pools and dolls houses, and builders trays filled with ice, water and zoo animals. And I could step back, watch them and breathe.

Eventually we ended up in the garden. As always.

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Digging in the mud. Barefoot and filthy and eating mud. (The children, at least.)

It was quiet out there. Too cold and miserable for the sensible parents. We had it to ourselves for a while. Until we were joined by another lady and her two year old girl.

She’s shy, this lady. I couldn’t even tell you her name. But she smiles. A lot. Sometimes we talk. Usually about how beautiful her daughter is, or how much Joel has grown.

Originally, she’s from Afghanistan. She wears a burka over her clothes, no matter how hot it gets. Until Thursday that was all I knew about her. Not any more.

The conversation started the same way they always do. We’ve not seen each other for a few months, so she was stunned by Joel’s running about, and I was smitten all over again with her delicious little girl.

We talked about how tall the children were getting, and she joked that her nephews always ask her why she’s shrinking. Apparently she has 16 nephews, and 6 nieces.

My surprise must have shown on my face because she laughed as she told me that back home, they always have big families. Just in case. Because nobody ever feels safe.

After that, it was as if a switch had been flipped. She talked. And talked. Non-stop for at least ten minutes. Here is what I know now.

Afghanistan is hell. Her sister lost four of her children in a day because of the war. She herself suffered numerous miscarriages and stillbirths due to the stress and this little girl, born in the safety of England, is the only child that survived.

One morning she poured herself a cup of tea, and never got to drink it. Because she was running for her life. To Pakistan. With absolutely nothing. Starting over, eventually getting back to Afghanistan and having to do exactly the same thing all over again a few years later.

She can’t stand sirens, even 6 years after leaving the warzone. Her husband has to touch her shoulder every time she hears one, and remind her that they’re safe now. She’s constantly amazed at how quiet our skies are. No bombs. No missiles. No ominous planes.

Her parents and brothers are still out there. She calls them every day. And she’s scared. Scared of what might happen to them while she’s so far away. Scared of not being able to do anything. Guilty for being safe.

I just stood, listening. Stunned. As this all came out, so matter-of-fact. Not asking for sympathy. Not looking for help. Just telling her story. And what a story it is.

It felt so incongruous. All these terrible stories, spilling out into the garden while Elvie made mud pies. Whilst this beautiful little girl ran around, shouting to Joel, “come baby, come on baby.” Listening to the squeals of delight as they chased each other down the slide. Not a care in the world. Not a plane in the sky.

How do you respond to that? In the end, all I could do was tell her that she’s amazing. She smiled, and shook her head.

“No,” she said. “Life is amazing.”

Seriously. There are no words.

She’s right. Of course. The quiet ones usually are.

There will always be sirens. There will always be planes. But from now on, whenever I hear one, I’ll think of her and remember that I am incredibly blessed.

Yes, I’m disorganised. Yes, I’ve forgotten more birthdays this month that I can count. Yes, I’ve buried my head in the sand. But what a ridiculous privilege, to be kept awake at night by missed postal deadlines and insufficient wrapping paper. Rather than fear, loss and bombing raids.

I am safe. I am loved. I am free.

Life is amazing. And we are very lucky indeed.

 

A life more ordinary. March 18, 2014

Filed under: Depression,Family,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 3:09 pm

I have a confession to make. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been almost myself again.

I’ve laughed. I’ve made jokes. I’ve bounced on the trampoline. I’ve said yes when Elvie begs me to get the “arty crafty box” out. I’ve survived Wes’ constantly changing, completely antisocial work schedule. And the extra solo parenting that goes along with it.

Truth is, I’ve been happy.

For the first time in far, far too long.

Perhaps it’s the medication. My shiny little capsules of hope. Finally starting to balance out the recesses of my brain as we pass that magical six month mark.

Perhaps it’s the weather. The sunshine. The earlier sunrises. Making me feel a little less alone when both children decide to wake up at 6:20am;  still tired, grumpy and with amazingly little bowel control.

Perhaps it’s the sleep. Finally, after giving in to the classic ‘star chart’ approach, Elvie is sleeping through at least 50% of the time. Saving me from 2 or 3 bloodcurdlingly urgent middle-of-the-night dashes to her room. Every. Single. Night. Only to be confronted with a misplaced teddy bear or a slightly-out-of-position duvet.

In reality, it’s a combination of all those things. And the realisation that I’ve set my creativity and my brain to work on an amazingly successful campaign of self-sabotage. For most of my adult life. And I’ve only just noticed.

The problem is this. Somewhere deep inside, I’ve always believed that I was extraordinary. Unique. Special.

There’s something in the very core of my being that has always believed I was made for something more. That nobody ever really understood me. That I was destined to do something incredible. That frankly, ordinary life just wouldn’t cut it. That whatever I did, my talents were being wasted.

Whatever it was, this ‘something incredible’, it was always just around the corner. Tantalisingly close, but completely unobtainable. I don’t even know what it would look like. A bestselling book, or a record Oscar haul, or a Nobel prize. Or all three.

I know. It sounds ridiculous. In my defence, google the Enneagram. I did it the other day, for a laugh. After reading about it on several blogs and facebook pages.

Turns out I’m a type 4. Down to a tee. (It didn’t say, but I’m pretty sure there can’t be that many of us…we’re a fairly elite bunch. Probably the rarest of them all. Right?)

According to the description, most Type 4′s identify themselves not by what they have, or who they are, but by what they’re missing.

Which is interesting. And, in my case, at least, absolutely true.

I could never fully enjoy my teenage years because I was desperate for the respect and responsibility of adulthood. In my early twenties, my freedom and opportunity was tainted by the fact that I wasn’t in a relationship. And then my relationship was very nearly destroyed over the fact that we weren’t married. Then we were married, and I desperately wanted a baby. Now we have children, and I’ve been in the depths of depression, feeling as though this stay-at-home-mum business is holding up my real life.

Not that I could describe what my ‘real life’ would look like. It’s just a vague sense of dissatisfaction, of restlessness, of missing out on something undefined and impossible to grab onto.

It’s taken me 31 years to realise that actually, I’ve never really been present. To my friends, to my family, to my husband, to myself.

I’ve always been dreaming of the ‘what if’s’. Of the far away nonspecific greatness that I’m destined for. Desperately wanting to be a great wife and stay at home mum. Whilst also wanting to be a wild, undeniable success. At something. Or everything. Who knows.

There’s a Russian proverb that says ‘if you chase two rabbits, you won’t catch either.’

They know their stuff, those Russians.

I’ve spent my life chasing two rabbits. Sometimes more. I’ve even caught some of them. But they’ve never made me happy. Not for long. Because I’ve always had my eye on the ones that got away.

 

When I left London, a friend took me to one side and made me promise not to end up as a “boring little housewife.”

I laughed. As if. I had bigger fish to fry. Lives to change, plans to make. A whole world to win over. Hoping that maybe, one day, I’d reach a place where I was satisfied. Where I had done enough.

I know now that in reality, that time will never come. There will always be someone more successful than me. There will always be someone who has achieved more, or done it with less effort, or in a better outfit. I will never reach what I’m missing. I don’t even know what it is.

But I know what I have. Here. Now. Right in front of me.

An incredible husband. A little house of our own. These two.

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I know that, for now, I have the chance to love my family. To raise these little ones. To play with them. To read to them and make them laugh. To make our home beautiful. To shop as cunningly as possible so that we can afford the occasional treat. To smile. To be a good friend to the incredible people I have around me. To live the life that I find myself in. Right here, right now.

In a few years time, they will both be at school. All day. Maybe then, I can think about careers. About aiming for greatness and not letting it consume me. Maybe. If I’m ready.

For now, I’m making a conscious decision. Every day. To embrace my role as the ‘boring little housewife.’

It may well be boring. From the outside, at least. I won’t make the news. I won’t win any prizes. I won’t even make any money.

It’s a life more ordinary.

But it’s my life. And I like it.

At last.

 

Give it up. March 11, 2014

Filed under: Community,Faith — hannahoakland @ 2:01 pm

I’ve never been a huge fan of Lent.

Maybe because I’m a creative. I love beautiful things. Magic. Excitement. A little bit of sparkle.

40 days of quiet, dark reflection just seems a bit much. Especially at this time of year, when the sun has barely raised its head and we could all do with some fun.

Easter is different.

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I love Easter. That’s some serious sparkle, right there. A resurrection, angels in the garden and, at our church at least, the chance to build Jerusalem out of cardboard boxes, branches and paint every year on Good Friday.

I just don’t get on with Lent. I’ve never felt the need for a season of focusing on sadness and pain and being betrayed. Alongside a bunch of friends who are crankier than usual because they’ve given up coffee. All of them. At the same time. Whose bright idea was that?

The truth is that most of us understand sadness, pain and betrayal much better than we’d like. We live with illness and worries and disappointment every day. No matter how hard we pretend that we’re fine.

This year it struck me. Perhaps that’s the point. Not the giving up coffee or chocolate or social media, or whatever the trend may be.

Perhaps the point is that we have a solid 40 days to focus on the dark areas of our lives. The sadness. The worry. The family member who is drifting away. The career that hasn’t delivered as we expected. The health worries that we can’t ignore any longer. The confusion. The anger. The pain.

A solid 40 days to admit that actually, shit happens. To every single one of us. And that’s ok. It’s normal. And sometimes we need to embrace it, sit with it, feel it in all it’s gut-wrenching torturous misery before we can come out the other side.

Jesus wasn’t fine all the time. In the garden, he cried so hard that he sweated blood. His closest friends betrayed him. Publicly. He was, at the very last hour, utterly forsaken by everyone. Alone. Tortured. Dead.

He gets it.

40 days to wallow in misery is not my cup of tea. 40 days to sit, embracing my reality in all its messiness, with someone who completely understands, might just change my life.

 

10 reasons why parenting is *exactly* like being a student. March 4, 2014

Filed under: Family,Parenting — hannahoakland @ 3:16 pm

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Sewing machines, fairies and crumble. February 24, 2014

Filed under: Depression,Survival Guide — hannahoakland @ 9:06 pm

I got the sewing machine out today. The one my mum loaned me. The one that she bought when I was five years old and which is now, worryingly, officially classed as vintage. Turns out I’m not as young as I feel, after all.

I’m determined to finish Elvie’s curtain. So that finally, 14 months after moving in, she’ll have a pair of curtains that actually fit her window.

I’ve altered one already. It’s hanging there smartly. Almost straight. Next to a bit of fabric, draped over the curtain pole. Holding space for the other half of the set.

It’s 8 months since I altered the first curtain. Yes, we’ve been busy. Yes, I’ve been depressed. We’ve been ill and away and all sorts. More excuses than I can count. All of them valid.

It was only this afternoon, with a mouthful of pins and a tape measure round my neck (looking the part is at least 80% of the battle, right?) that I faced the real reason for the slightly ridiculous delay.

I’m scared.

Scared that my high school textiles teacher was right to call me a ‘plonker’. Scared that my measuring skills really are that bad, and the curtains will end up completely different lengths. Scared that actually, getting the first one right was a fluke. That I’ll get discovered. Exposed as the fraud that I almost certainly am.

It’s not the first time I’ve faced this problem. While we were dating, I made Wes an apple crumble. It was so good that he almost proposed on the spot. It was years before I made him another one. Not because of a world apple-shortage. Or a fear of marriage. Just because I was scared that this time, it would go wrong. That he’d be disappointed. That he’d find me out.

I do this all the time.

Last year, we decorated Joel’s room. I painted a mural. Pirates, naturally. It’s something of a family theme.

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I love it. I’m incredibly proud of it. It makes me smile every time I set foot in his room. Unless it’s before 7am. Obviously.

At the moment we’re mid-way through decorating Elvie’s room. She wanted a mural too. A fairy forest and princesses and a castle.

I love painting. Creating. Art of absolutely any kind. But the thought of another mural terrified me. Because surely now I’d be found out. Everyone would realise that I couldn’t really draw. That I wasn’t as creative as they thought. As creative as I hoped.

Every time I worked on it, I took at least twenty minutes to get anything on the wall. Twenty minutes of agonising and fretting and worst-case-scenarioing. Staring at the paints. Checking Twitter. Convinced that this would be the time I messed it up. The time I blew my cover.

Now, it’s almost done. All except one fairy, a princess and a bit of grass. And some glitter. I’ve been putting those final touches off for days. Despite Elvie’s constant reminders that it’s not finished yet.

Because somewhere, deep down inside, I still feel like a fraud. People compliment my work-in-progress and I can’t quite accept it. Because I know that actually, they’re wrong. They haven’t realised I’m just blagging this whole thing. That it’s all done on a wing and a prayer and a hope-that-nobody-notices.

As for Elvie? She loves it. Even though it’s not quite complete.

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(I know. Fake grass. It was Wes’ idea. And it’s brilliant.)

I’ve spent a large chunk of my life being scared of failing. Terrified of being seen. Really, truly seen for who I really, truly am. Scared that any successes I might have are accidental. That actually, underneath it all, I’m not smart/talented/fun/nice/thin/exciting enough. (The list goes on.)

I know it holds me back. It stops me trying new things. It means Wes doesn’t get as many desserts as he’d like. It means that often, I feign disinterest to cover up the fact that I desperately want to do something and am utterly convinced that I’ll fail.

Slowly, slowly, ever so slowly, I’m coming round to the idea that actually, failing is not the end of the world. That trying, being real and vulnerable and taking risks has to be the better option. Better. Not safer. Or easier. Or less likely to keep you awake all night worrying. Sorry.

I always had an idea of the sort of parent I would be. It didn’t involve therapy, or medication, or computerised support sessions. If we’re measuring up against expectations, I’ve failed spectacularly. With both children.

I’m starting again. Again. This time round, I’m doing it in the open. Being truthful. Being seen. Something of a public failure.

And honestly, I’ve never had better friends. Never felt more accepted. More seen for who I really am. Less judged. More loved.

I painted a fairy onto the mural last week. I got impatient, didn’t wait for the layers to dry and her whole face ended up a smudgy, streaky mess. More zombie-movie-extra than small-girls-bedroom. I failed. And I wiped the face off. And only swore a little bit. And started again.

Last time I made a crumble, there was something wrong with the butter. Or the flour. Or the sugar. Either way, it was definitely not crumbly. I failed. And I put it in the oven anyway. And it came out fine. Cakey, but delicious. I’m 90% sure that the children’s vomiting that night was unrelated.

This afternoon my slapdash approach to measurement meant that one corner of the curtain was way off. Seriously wonky. I failed. And I sat in the kitchen, next to my vintage sewing machine, and unpicked the stitches. And started again.

I fail. A lot. Every day. Sometimes forty times a day. Before 9am.

Perhaps it’s time I stopped trying so hard to avoid it.

There are worse things in life than wonky curtains. Apparently.

 

 
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