On Motivation: How To Get Yourself To Do Things

Hello, hello, hello! I skipped a week, but fear not, it was for a good cause! It is half term, after all, and after having written here and here about how I struggle to rest, I actually… you know… rested.

Not that the week has been work- and stress-free. But I managed to go out dancing, hang out with friends and watch some stuff, as well as catching up on tasks. So, aside from my suddenly developed habit of going to sleep at 2 am, I would cautiously call this week a win.

One thing that I have achieved that has been brewing for a while is the beautiful token board that you’ll have seen featured in this post. “What is a token board, Rita”, you will ask, “and why are you arts and crafts skills so awesome?”. As for second, natural talent. But about the first.

As some of you know, I work with autistic children. It’s been about a year since I started in this line of work, and challenging though it may be, I also love it. I’ve been learning a lot about attention and motivation, because, quite frankly, to help my students I often have to strive to be the most interesting person around! I have to be fun to hang out with, as well as implement correct methodology while motivating my primary-school-age students to focus and do small bits of work. So it got me to think about the nature of motivation quite a bit.

When I’m motivating a student to do work, I will frequently use tokens – such as stickers, lines on the paper, stars, what-have-you. Anything will do, as long as the pupil and I share an understanding that after a finite amount of tokens – say, five – we can go Do Something Else That Is Not Work. Pupils will complete their work and then choose their own reward, whether it’s playground time, spending time with their favourite toys or playing a computer game. Getting tokens means practicing patience; it helps associate the feeling of achievement and reward with doing work-related things; it allows to track how much work we have done. In fact, when I was in training on the topic, one of the token systems we frequently mentioned was money: a thing that we perform a lot of work for, a reward that most of us are chasing to exchange it for other things. And even though we want the things that money can buy, money itself generates a satisfied feeling… because at some point the token gives you the same feeling as the real thing that it stands for. I digress.

As part of my homework I had to write down an idea of my own token board. Nobody asked me to actually implement it: the goal was to understand the things I was asking my students to do, to engender empathy. But I was intrigued: collecting points and measuring achievements is such a human thing to do – could I leverage this to do tasks that I struggle with? As I have recently done a test that was meant to measure how I form habits, based on my personality type, I knew I was what they call an Obliger: a person mostly reinforced by other people’s company. I tend to do well with outside-the-house employment, accountability, things like that: if I want to exercise, I will sign up to a class rather than try to do it on my own. Every time I try doing things when alone, it takes much more psychic energy and I fail much quicker.

Long story short: I combined the idea of reinforcing good habits, the token board and a bit of pomodorro technique/Unf*ck Your Habitat time management. I perform difficult tasks (often the lonely kind, of “this is so boring, but future Rita will thank me” kind) in chunks of twenty minutes, with roughly ten minute breaks. I reward each twenty minute chunk with a token (or more, if it’s particularly difficult) and every token is worth £1. I am rewarding myself with buying things that I really want to buy – the kind of shopping that I can’t really justify on a budget. I literally earn my own money back from myself at well under a minimum wage and you know what, you can laugh if you like. I don’t care.

It works.

I’ve been trialling this system for a while, but this week I actually created the board and started tracking what I do. I am well over twenty tokens at present. I have done writing (a solitary activity that I love, but struggle to get going), cleaning (something I struggle with, but also a thing that helps my mental health a lot), meditation, exercise (yes, there was a solo trip to the swimming pool for good forty five minutes!). I am trying to be cautious and not do everything at once, but I also can’t deny it. I. AM. SO. EXCITED!!!

This might not always work. I am relatively well, psychologically, and I need to be pretty organised to keep this going. But quite frankly, I’m a bit relieved. I have spent literal years conversing with my brain – trying to convince it to Do Things and being met with a blanket “I DON’T WANNA”. Add to it that often the things you most want to do are the things that terrify and paralyse you the most – also known as the concept of resistance (hugely recommend “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield on the topic) and you have one confused Rita, who really wants to Make Things, but is wondering why she can’t get anything going. Apparently the answers are either “call a friend (and set up some accountability)” or “hack your brain (and set up some sweet, sweet rewards)”. Anyway, I dearly hope this will continue to help me out in keeping my Creative Cave clean and my Creative Brain well exercised.

If you need me, I’ll just be here, associating putting a pin in a cork board with feeling of satisfaction and a fresh Amazon purchase….

Coping Mechanisms And How To Change Them

Hi everyone. Here is me, writing this blogpost while a voice in my head keeps insisting that it makes no sense to do that and it isn’t worth it.

Charming, huh.

I attended a workshop recently and the facilitator said something very interesting. She said “I really respect people, who have addictions and vices, like alcoholics. These things are coping mechanisms. And if you want to take them away, you need to put something in their place”. It stuck with me. I, too, have coping mechanisms – behaviours that get activated when I’m not well. I’m very aware that they are not helpful… and I’m not sure what to put in their place.

My coping mechanisms would be broadly classified as Media Intake.I binge-watch youtube (rarely films, it feels like too much of a commitment). I read fanfiction and random articles on politics, social justice, literary things. Advice blogs. Friends’ blogs. Whatever happens to interest me that day. I almost always have 50 windows open in my phone browser.

then

It started as reading, when I was a kid – I literally never put a book down. I was a weekly visitor to the library and got an adult library card as a teen. The librarians knew me, and they’d realised that I ran out of things to read. I would bring stacks of books home and attack them with relish. My brother complained (we shared a room) that I would wake him up on Saturday morning with rustling of the pages.

It’s hard to say at which point “I love reading” became “I read to not deal with life”. My dad certainly noticed it and tried to read what I read, just to monitor the content a little. I was bullied at school and had little in a way of social life, and music school that I attended had a pretty busy schedule. So instead of sneaking around with friends, I would put a book on the piano and try to read and play at the same time, so that my parents would hear me practice. I’d shove a book under the piano when checked on. At that point it was maybe a compulsive behaviour. But even so, to a certain point I did pretty well in school – my reading habit helped with general literacy and understanding and gave me lots of extra information, so it wasn’t all bad.

A lot of the time I read things that would have been broadly classified as “trash”. Okay, that’s snobbish. I am a Lit graduate, after all, but things that I read As Coping Mechanisms were fantasy, sci-fi (anyone read Star Wars before watching it, or just me? and all the published fanfiction?), romance and mystery books. Oh, and adventure books – travel, cowboy-and-noble-Native-Americans genre, three musketeers and anything else that Dumas ever wrote. Books “for girls” and books “for boys”, if it had a plot, I was on it.

Then Internet happened.

Around my A-levels and in the beginning of university I was having a bad time. It was then that my fanfiction addiction has truly blossomed. I discovered fanfic in middle school, age 14, but it was in high school that I switched to reading it in English. As a result, I graduated from the limited puddle of Polish-language Harry Potter fanfic to the limitless ocean of English-language, any-fandom-you-want fanfic that the Internet offered. I was able to mainline fanfic for sixteen hours a day if there was nothing else to do. My family were worried, but there was little they could do at the time. I still went to school, but I spent every other minute inside the computer screen. In the end,  I managed to graduate high school and pass A-levels despite not having studied; to no one’s surprise my highest scores were languages and writing, Polish and English. (I actually scored higher in English than in Polish, although that’s a different story altogether).

My parents finally divorced when I was 20 and at university (and if you think this is a non-sequitur, let’s just say that there were Reasons why I’d not been able to deal with life well), and I went and got myself 3 years of therapy, so I managed to graduate my MA levels and get back to halfway functional. But my media intake coping mechanism remained.

now

Fast forward to today. This weekend. I recently attended a workshop that gave me a lot of Feelings. I have work tonight and tomorrow and a lot of things to do and to plan. And I haven’t been able to do a goddamn thing – not clean my room, or the kitchen (my turn); not cook the week’s lunches, not take my vitamins, go to the swimming pool, do a bit of yoga. Not learn the quiz, which I will lead in 5 hours time. No nothing. I’ve eaten random foods and watched everything by Try Guys, and read a bunch of fanfic.

I realise that there are things that would help me right now. Meditation would help. So would exercise. Even cleaning would give me back a feeling of control and impact over my life. But frankly, I keep having a feeling of despair instead, of failure. I failed. I didn’t do All The Things that need to be done. I have a deadline (a.k.a. quiz and work tomorrow), so however imperfectly, I will be forced to deal with stuff. In general, deadlines help. Social commitments help, unless I am deep enough in the funk that I start avoiding people, which can also be part of the pattern. I don’t want to deal with life, so doing things that I “should” do is a no-go, but doing anything else is also a no-go, because I “should” be doing The Things That I Need To Do.

Even writing this blog is difficult, because I promised myself that I would blog weekly, so this is a “should” activity. But writing this down helps a little. So here is the thing: I am locked up in a room inside of my head, and the way it works is that being stuck seems to be the best option (don’t want to do a “should” activity! should not do a “not-should” activity! best stay and watch another video!). I know about things that help – literally anything that breaks the stalemate in my brain – a conversation, a shower sometimes (other times I’ll go straight back to watching after the shower).

I haven’t had an episode this bad in a while.

The kicker is, this, right here, is the reason why I can’t be a freelancer. This is why I’m not a full-time actor or writer. Because my brain gets me stuck in places. Much as I don’t always like having a Muggle day-job, if things get really bad, it gets me unstuck and also pays regular money.

The thing is that reading and watching videos are things I do to chill. To rest and enjoy myself. So it’s hard to distinguish between having a bit of a rest and sinking into a funk. Not until I’m already deep under. And there is no resolution to this blogpost. I hope that I can run a semi-decent quiz tonight. I hope that I don’t hate myself for wasting all this time. I hope I can clean the kitchen at some point.

I hope I can break free. But that’s a tall order right now. Maybe I could start with a shower.

 

Why Do I Write

The question arises in me. I’ve written since I knew how to write. The hunger was always there. To put the world into words, to lock it in, to understand. To create. To capture rhythms and beat, the steady steps of an absent-minded wanderer, the erratic fly, everything in between that resists definition. I want to create my own kind of beauty – and truth. I want to confront. I want to explain. I want to share.

There was a moment when I did less writing. There was a moment when I had no time. I felt the need burning in me. Still do. Some kinds of writing are more demanding than others. I tend to not begin what I cannot give my focus. The full sacrifice. Somehow I’m always biting down a scream.

Why do I write. Why do I not write. Why do I love it, why does it make me bleed. Sometimes I want to bleed words onto pages, if only it were real. Something real. I got to this point. When life I’m building is beginning to be alive, but it isn’t at all how I imagined, isn’t what was promised. I can’t achieve my goals, half the time I don’t know or understand them. The world is burning but slowly, the embers blink, I don’t know if hope is folly or the only thing that can be. I don’t know at all. I know the words, and before I fall, I’ll throw my breathlessness onto a page. Alongside laughter, desperation, rage. Rhyme, always – rhythm. Arrythmia of feels.

If I still prayed, I’d want something real.

Midnight Rant On Internet Habits

It’s quarter to midnight as I write this. I already wrote a nice, quick, inoffensive blogpost, a literary landscape with cake – a throwaway moment in time that helped me deal with my huge appetite for today, in context of my tiredness and need for rest. I keep thinking though. That’s the thing with me; I can’t stop thinking.

Today wouldn’t quite have gone the way it did if I had no Internet. That’s just a fact. Yes, I was overwhelmed because I wanted to do a lot of things, but I would have likely done more of them if distraction wasn’t so readily available. We often talk about access, accessibility – and Internet breaks a lot of barriers for everybody. We no longer have to contend with gatekeepers of knowledge, a lot of it is free for the taking. That IS wonderful, but we have new problems now. The overabundance of information – truthful and false – is one of them. But what really concerns me is the ready availability of online content that is emotive and stirring. When I read articles that activate both thought and emotion, when I read Facebook updates, I feel connected to… something, shaken, moved sometimes. But I have very little control over what I’m going to encounter and weirdly, it’s the easiest thing to access of all the available Things.

I’m not explaining this right. I am a fan of Internet, if one can say such a thing; I certainly don’t expect to stop using it permanently, we’re on my blog over here. But often I have to get offline to realise that I’m relatively isolated; that I haven’t reached out to friends; that I have too many encounters of the purely online kind. Add to this the fact that easily digestible emotional experiences are a click away, and I begin to feel like a rat in an experiment cage, pressing the button for cocaine. Sure, we don’t stop living – we cook and clean and go to work and perform all the productive functions – but I feel that my quality of life suffers without disconnecting from it at least a little bit.

I used to live in a house that had no WiFi – I had no data on my old school phone at the time – and remember experiencing it as a welcome relief. Like, I had to go to a cafe or library to go online, and that would switch me in the work mode. I remember being so relaxed. And sure, when I go vaguely offline nowadays, I let myself look things up – my offline discipline does NOT extend to recipes – but at least I’m grounded in the present, making stuff with my hands. Don’t get me wrong: I love being connected to the web, finding friends and common interests, but I also feel… dried out and stretched and imbalanced when I’m in there for a long time. Perhaps that is why I consciously sought out employment that doesn’t require a lot of online activity?

I don’t know. What I do know is that I experience a pull to use my online experience more consciously. That’s how this blog started: as a private call to action, to create a writing habit and put my words into the world, instead of steadily inhaling someone else’s. Perhaps using Internet sparingly is the answer here, the answer in which I will fail a hundred times, because a month’s long experiment is like a diet, and what I’m after is a lifestyle change: a permanent solution, not a yo-yo effect. And for this, a cutesy cake post, much as it is relatable and descriptive, doesn’t quite cut it. I’m asking myself this: why do you write? Who do you write for? I’ve yet to find the answers.

 

Tired Friday With Cake Potential

It’s Friday….! Which means that I made muffins for breakfast (black banana from the fridge finally utilised), had a coffee (I ration the stuff) and got through my swimming class (instructor was very concerned because I was tired – kept asking what was going on. Aside from a busy week at work, and aren’t they all, the answer is simply PMS; should have said so).

Swimming and blogging are the weekly staples of my Friday diet, but I always try to do something more. In fact, I had so many ideas today, that I wound up on Facebook, because it all sounded like so much work! Sample idea:

  • making a cake! lemon loaf again? or that difficult apple pie that I fancied?
  • finish my registration for European elections – that one’s in the calendar!
  • watch RuPaul’s Drag Race – but not before other work!
  • do two-three loads of laundry (okay, one of those even happened)
  • footbath and scrub! ooh, and a facemask (I never do any of these)
  • look up the next slow cooker sensation and plan shopping, so that lunches for next week are done (steady on, got a couple of days yet…!)
  • ….more…

The problem is that Friday is duvet day for me. As in, the one and only rest day I allow myself in the week. I always make plans for Saturday, I work Sunday nights as well as Monday-Thursday – there is literally no part of the week when I’m not DOING SOMETHING. So maybe – just maybe – making a cake that I fancy eating and watching Drag Race is not the end of the world. I mean. Maybe. I can’t quite make myself believe it.

In fact, the one thing that is steadily suffering in my new world order is socialisation. Oh no, make that two things: socialisation and gigs. I all but stopped doing comedy, and while I get lots of human contact from my dayjob (yay kids!) and evening job (yay quizzers!), seeing my friends seems impossible. I did do pilates, yoga AND swimming this week, so maybe I can give myself a break…?

In any case, by writing this down I want to give myself permission to both Want All The Things and Not Achieve All The Things. I’m tired. I’m sitting on the sofa. I really fancy making a cake. Maybe there is nothing wrong with that.

How The Light Got In

1. Crack of Dawn

For the last week or so, I found it so easy to be joyful and productive. I’ve been waking up at 6.30 am and doing my physio exercises – the kind of behaviour I always WANTED, but never managed to do. If you’d asked me, I’d have told you that I like winter and don’t suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, but it’s hard to explain the recent lift in my mood. The early mornings are my favourite time of the day right now, I’ve been packing my lunches immediately and with no complaining, I’m just beautifully organised. Since the last blogpost, when my mood was conversely shitty, I’ve been able to clean up my room (with the support of Manbear) and more importantly keep it clean and that is probably the only other reason of this inset of blessed joy. I do not seek to question it, really – except in hopes of understanding how to keep it, and/or bring it about again….

2. Cracking On

This week I met up with a friend to do something we talked about for LITERAL YEARS: a twoprov.

What is a twoprov, might you ask? It is meeting of two minds on improv stage. My friend and I have a very particular chemistry and I’ve been wanting to explore it. We set a rehearsal for every second Wednesday and just had our first one this week and I am so very excited.

3. The Story of the Cracked Mug.

Once upon a time, I bought a mug.

I bought it from my then-workplace, Pylones – a quirky French brand of colourful everyday items. It was yellow, in a pattern we called Dahlia and I really liked it. And then I broke it.

That would have been in 2016 the latest, maybe earlier.

I still have that mug. It broke in such a way that when I looked at it, I thought immediately that it would make a great candle holder. I figured I’d Superglue the two separate parts together, and the tiny hole where some smaller bits of ceramic fell off will be fantastic for creating light.

I held onto it for at least three years.

When I first came up with this blogpost, I figured that I would either write about completing this long-awaited project (and that would be powerful) or letting go of this long-held-onto project (and that would be powerful). But I didn’t account for creative process. Yesterday, when I pulled out my precious ceramic friend and a small tube of Superglue, I had a sudden thought: is Superglue flammable? Is it heatproof? The corresponding answers turned out to be yes and no. It’s hard for me to evaluate the precise risk, but I decided using this particular glue would not be the safest option in my room full of wooden furniture, books and papers.

Stumped, I called in reinforcements (a.k.a. my flatmate) and asked them about different kinds of glue. We stared at the mug for a bit and had a conversation about making it a vase (I vetoed it – I wanted a tealight holder!) or piecing it together with various means. And then the realisation came: the mug was already a functional candle holder. It just needed a base, so that one part could be stuck to it and another secured in such a way so that it wouldn’t easily fall apart! So the mission parameters changed: I am now hunting for a base. But my mug is already functioning as a candle holder and it’s BEAUTIFUL.

IMG_20190426_004957

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Amongst my struggles with “I Own Too Much Stuff” and “I Do Too Many Things”, there are moments like this: when I dared to ask for help and got some, and suddenly life gets a little bit easier. I can’t say how blissful that feels – like a heavy weight, lifted. In wading through my general problems with executive function, I want to take this time to be happy because This Week Things Worked. The work is slow, but I am reshaping my relationship to my body (physio! pilates! swimming!), my space (declutter! cleaning!), my creativity (play! blog! comedy! improv!), and it’s all beginning to show results. I will write my play this year. I will start a Polish-language blog this year. I might yet publish some essays, this year. I broke some things apart, this year, to put them back together. Slowly, slowly, slowly, things are becoming possible.

“There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”

 

The Ministry Of Unfinished Tasks

I’ve been sitting in my room for the last three days, trying to get stuff done. It’s been a bit unsuccessful.

I inadvertently skipped blogging last week. It wasn’t by design – rather, because I was travelling through Poland, I lost the sense of time and routine and simply forgot about days of the week. It probably didn’t help that I drafted a giant essay about online activity (called “Live from my browser”, I’ll post it at some point): I did that on the plane to Poland, and it probably contributed to me feeling like I’ve already done my writing for the week.

Another half-term, another blogpost about how I can’t get sh*t done. There is a pattern here: it seems that when faced with large amounts of unstructured time, I simply panic and dive into the nearest screen face-first. It also doesn’t help that I spent one week visiting family (which, while pleasant wasn’t always necessarily restful) and after I got off the plane, I pretty much had to start packing for what turned out to be quite an emotionally taxing rehearsal. Even though I optimistically planned to do a bunch of stuff during the Easter week, it turned out that… umm… I couldn’t do a goddamn thing.

This is a thing I struggle with: prioritising large tasks and making them into smaller tasks; remembering to do things when I’m outside my usual routine; getting started on large overwhelming things when I’m on my own; finishing multi-stage tasks (i.e. I’ll do and hang laundry, but then won’t fold it for weeks); ASKING FOR HELP, because all of it has a hefty dollop of shame, of the “you SHOULD be able to HANDLE YOUR OWN STUFF” variety.

And then there is the fact that outside of one million things I need to get done (re-organise my room! throw things out! cook ahead! laundry! writing! tidy documents!), I also needed the rest. And those two pressures – for discipline and for unstructured time – simply cancelled each other out for the last, oh, four days.

In the end, I did ask for help. And I am lucky: when I was younger, these feelings of not-good-enough-ness could last for weeks or months. I remember having these struggles much more frequently – it was a rule, not an exception – and in fact it’s been a while since my inner dialogue descended in such an unpleasant direction. I do have a lot of shame to do with how I manage my household (cleaning, laundry and the like), but I managed to overcome. Even if it meant asking my flatmate to hang out in the kitchen while I washed the dishes – and later, ringing my boyfriend (a.k.a. Manbear) to process some of the asking-for-help shame.

As part of this whole thing, I wound up going back to online bingeing, something that I’d successfully reduced with my previous “almost offline” project. Who knows, perhaps I’ll have to do such projects periodically, just to remind myself to be more mindful about engaging with internet world. Frustrating. But also the only way, aside from going fully offline – something I’ve contemplated before, but can’t yet bring myself to do. So this is an in-progress blogpost. I’ve done things this half-term that can’t be measured – I met with some family members I see very rarely and I actually met two young cousins for the first time – but I haven’t done a spring clean. And I’m still a worthy, good-enough human being. And I’m writing that down, because I definitely need the reminder.

 

 

Taking Yourself Seriously: A Lesson In Progress

This weekend there was a meeting of Rita The Company.

Friends smile when I mention that. They ask me “are you paying yourself dividends” or “was in one of those useless meetings”. But. They don’t get it. I am a self-employed artist. It’s my job to create my work, present and produce my work, offer my work for hire. Invoice for my work. Pay taxes on the money I got paid for my work. And in order to do all these things effectively, I have to take myself seriously.

Hence Rita Suszek, the company – one person, one business, one CEO, admin, employee. All of the things are my things. I own all aspects of myself, and pay special attention to documents and finances. I now have an in-tray – a little gift bag where I put random papers that show up in my life during the week, so that I can sort them out later; I have an app to mark out my expenses; I am creating processes and workflow that a regular company already has in place. I am becoming a businessperson, because I. Have. A Business.

Gone are the days when I thought I was too artistic to understand money. Gone the moments when I chose to float around claiming that “all that” was “beyond me”. I can read the writing on the wall. My artistic practice may not fit a conventional earning model, but it does bring money, the amounts rising steadily through the years. As Rikki Beadle-Blair remarked in a workshop I took once, success looks like more work. So laugh all you want: if I can implement good habits when I have twenty or forty invoices, things will be easier when I have two hundred of them. By the time it happens, I will have files. My files will have dividers. My dividers will be laminated. And I’ll be over here, ironing whatever passes for a business suit within my artistic practice.

Is it perfect? God, no. Did I fulfill all items in my business agenda? Forget it. Did I sit down for four hours and name the date for the next business meeting? You bet. Increments are important. I am moving, will continue moving.

There is a book titled “Why Are Artists Poor”. I’m afraid to read it. I’m more afraid to be in it. Rita The Company – taking myself seriously – fighting for my life.

My Favourite Failures (Pithy Post On Perfectionism)

Aside from Brexit failing to materialise last Friday, I have had some failures this past week. I failed to post a blog on either Friday or Saturday (my usual schedule), I failed to achieve creative goals I set for the weekend… and yet, those failures contributed to a pretty good result.

About the goal: I’ve been banging on about Brexit (in blogposts, poems, comedy, podcasts…) for almost three years. And I decided to release all the backlogged content I have about it during the Brexit weekend! On brand, on time, everything done! Go me! I was excited: the idea was pleasing to my perfectionist brain. It had a feeling of achievement paired with the idea of a clean slate: it’s practically perfectionist catnip.

Spoiler alert: I failed. But what does failure mean? It means: I published an episode of Jobstealers podcast that has been languishing on my hard disk for years – an interview of another European human right after Brexit, when we were both despairing and hopeful, unlike the beat-up tiredness of the present. I also figured out how to do audio editing on my shitty cheap laptop (the answer is paid online software, but hey, it worked!), figured out YouTube’s editing software, rewatched my solo show on Brexit (“F*cking European”) and edited my YouTube channel. How is that for “failure”, considering that a lot of these things needed to get done for a while?

I have a tendency to take on too much, but this weekend it has served me. Sure, I fell short of my goal. But I am still working on publishing my videos, the podcast has premiered, another podcast is on the way and I am re-energised in my creative practice, even if a lot of this is essentially admin, and admin long overdue at that.

I’m cosying up to failure. I’m learning to reframe. Frankly, perfection only exists in not-doing (as I keep learning again and again); “perfect is the enemy of the good”. Perfect, pfft! Ain’t nobody got time for that!

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