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Even in a little thing

29th September, 2016. 6:35 pm. Me, my chocolates and Conflux - where to find us

I'm hoping my new approach to the programme will help LJ accept that it's not to delete it. I have chocolates for Friday and very special chocolates for Sunday and something odd for Saturday (and maybe chocolates) and honeycake for Sunday. People don't have to know me to ask for food!

On Friday I'm on four panels.

10am We're not in Canberra anymore, Toto - politics in spec fic
I fear snark. Much snark. This is Canberra and I've read Heinlein. Rik Lagarto is moderating and he doe snark better than me, so this panel will be enlightening and it will be fun.

12pm: How realistic do you like your fantasy?

We have Dr Nicholls moderating this panel, so it could get noisy. And daft. And unpredictable.

3pm: DIY Genre
I'm interested to see how this panel pans out, for I both study genre and challenge it. My latest novel has been called 'urban fantasy' twice now, so The Wizardry of Jewish Women is my first with a clear genre label. I fear I shall annoy people. I'll try to annoy people wittily.

4pm: Rhythm and form in fairytales
I used to study this stuff. That's why I used it the way I did in The Time of the Ghosts. However, it's my fourth panel of the day and I am prone to bad jokes (more prone than usual?) when panels in one day reach this number.


12-1 pm.
What I like to think as "the Satalyte hour". It's divided into three sections. Two books will be launched and two other Satalyte writers will chat with each other about their work. I'm one of the two other writers, along with Phill Berrie. This is when you can ask me about Wizardry! (Actually, you can ask me about WIzardry any time, but this is the time allocated on the programme).

1.30pm: Cyborgs, brain ships and one-legged dragon riders
This is a serious panel, about disabilities. It's got some great people (Craig Cormick, KJ Taylor). And it has me...

3.30pm: The physical cost of writing
Sean Williams has to suffer the same panel as me. What's worse, I've threatened to teach him the exercises I use to keep RSI at bay.


11am-12.30: Workshop
Writing about cultures other than your own.
This is not the usual course on this subject. It's skills-based as well as knowledge-based, for one thing, for knowledge alone is hard for writers to create from. I keep telling people I'm a cultural historian and this is where my background becomes very useful to other writers. While I'll talk about terms such as appropriation and about ethics, there will also be cultural awareness and cultural mapping. It is entirely possible that I'll do my infamous minuet exercise, if I find suitable victims participants.

I leave for my seasonal festivities around 4 pm and will be at Floriade enjoying the New Year on Monday, so that's it from me for Conflux, folks. Except that copies of my new novel WILL BE AVAILABLE. Also copies of other things. buy my books on Monday and it will be as if I'm whispering in your ear and you can say "Go away, Gillian, I'm busy" as if I were there.

Make Notes

28th September, 2016. 8:50 am. Some difficulties are more problematic than others

This week isn't that easy. It was never going to be, to be honest. Being public on Jewish New Year in this Year of Bigotry requires a certain courage. And my Jewish feminist Australian fantasy novel is out, which adds a certain twist. It's my second week of fulltime work . Fulltime for me means about 60 hours a week, and it takes some getting used to, especially when there's medical stuff still to weave into the pattern (2-3 hours a day) and there's Conflux and there's Canberra.

Some of it could have been difficult. Friends have made those bits wonderfully straightforward. Most of my extended Canberra family is making my new year happen for me on Friday week, so even if Sunday is less than it should be (thinking of my birthday at Conflux here, which was one of the two worst birthdays ever) my new year is going to be lovely. And Elizabeth is coming this Sunday, for she's also caught up in Conflux. Two friends are definitely coming on Sunday, in fact, so I won't be alone on Erev Rosh Hashanah.

Why do I approach the actual subject of this post in such a roundabout way? I'll get to that in a minute. First, let me focus on the excellent - Conflux is going to be possible because my health is improving and because a friend is giving me transport for Saturday and Sunday. I don't have to catch non-existent buses on the long weekend and I only have to carry heavy things in by bus on Friday. This is important, for my Conflux program is quite heavy. Between six and eight panels (and I'll try to post my schedule again later), the Conflux release of my novel, my stint at community stuff (GUFF, Worldcon, CSFG) and a workshop. All this between 10 am Friday and 4 pm Sunday.

I've been planning carefully and making sure that as much is done beforehand as I can. That adds to the fulltime work, but will mean I get through my festival and through Conflux without major problems. Also, it reminds me that I'm capable of complex planning again as well as of 10 hour work days.

Last night, however, I had a bit of a Moment. And again this morning. This was nothing to do with my fiction: all my editing is done and with the editor. Two novels for next year and they're ready for his tender administration ahead of schedule. I've drafted my History Girls post and it will go in the queue today for release at Conflux. I will make all my other deadlines, although I had to move my research to next week, since the articles it's for aren't due until the week after next.

All this, when I write it down, is rather wonderful. Me, back to doing things. So why do I have Moments?

It's echoes of that birthday at Conflux combined with a deal of frustration combined with something that I need to say aloud. It's socially undesirable to say this thing aloud, and not tactful at all and... I will probably regret this. If I'm going to spend an hour on the phone explaining to a pollie's offsider (as I did yesterday) what it means to be a political ally of minorities, I need to be clear on what it means to be a social ally and a friend.

The echoes of my birthday come from the people who say "Yes, I'm interested in coming to you for your NY dinner, but I can't tell you yet, so I'll get back to you." Three weeks ago, this was fine. We all do it. This week, it reminded me of the friends who said "We'll collect you after the dinnertime panel you're giving on your birthday and we'll have birthday drinks and a bite to eat." They forgot. I was stranded, foodless and drinkless and had missed lunch due to the timing of my workshop and spent the afternoon in hospital due to my idiot eye.

I tried to avoid another experience like this: Conflux on Jewish New Year could easily cause such things again and I wanted to make things easier for everyone, including me.

This time, I said clearly "It's dinner at my place. It's timed so that you can come after main programming is finished, or you can get the programming and have a later dinner and not miss anything. It's my New Year, which is equivalent in style and magnitude to your Christmas." Eight people have put off replying. At this stage, I must assume they're not coming but must cater for them anyway. Eight people is a lot of cooking... and there are other friends I would've liked to invite and planned on inviting just as soon as I had space to seat them. If you're a friend who would've liked to have come and didn't get invited, ask me, for I'll lay odds that none of the eight turn up and there's no reason why you should miss out.

One of the things I promised myself this year, when things started to get difficult for members of various minorities, was that I *would* start judging people by their willingness to come halfway to meet me. Not answering my invitation is one of those cases, I'm afraid. It's my equivalent of Christmas, after all.

If any of you are pondering on what makes an ally to invisible minorities, this is one of the things. Not making their lives more difficult or treating their important occasions lightly.

The current racism means I'm taking time out to talk to those who need to understand. We're in election mode again, so that means I get regular conversations on the issue. (My past isn't entirely past.) I have to put myself on the line, in public. We all do. This is not a year for sitting back and hoping life will improve. Given this, it would've been nice to have had a Rosh Hashanah without issues.

I used to think that it was minor that most friends in fandom were hopelessly vague about my important days. And one or two people not replying to an invitation is not an issue, since it's pretty standard for Canberra. But eight? That's part of a wider issue.

"I am not a bigot," people say. They probably aren't, but they reinforce bigotry if they make minority lives uncomfortable. If we're made to feel as if we don't belong or that our important things are really pretty trivial. Right now, all of us need to reach out and demonstrate to others that we value them. We don't have to agree with them. Showing them that they're important to us is enough. I had assumed that the lack of responses was because I was a boring sod who couldn't cook and didn't deserve any support, you see. That was my Moment.

It's hard to make a commitment for something that's just a bit foreign. It's hard to tell a friend "I can't make it." It's easier to put the decision on hold. How many people will be in the bar on Sunday and remember "I should've replied to Gillian." It doesn't feel too bad when it's a passing thought one has over drinks. One person forgetting an invitation is nothing.

It wouldn't be nothing to them if they had to have their Christmas dinner in the middle of an SF convention. We're not talking about religion here (for my dinner won't even be properly kosher! and there are precisely 3 minutes of anything ceremonial) we're talking about the time of the year when people come together and make others feel wanted and listen to stories and make resolutions and start things afresh when they're going the wrong way.

To be honest, I get my new year whether friends support me or not. I don't dump friends because of issues like this. But I do notice. And it makes me rethink what being an ally means and what we need in this current society of ours.

My resolution to myself for this new year is to learn more about how other people see their needs when they're victims of prejudice or in a minority. How I see them is an outsider's view. It's asserting my privilege over them. It's telling them that I'll be there if I feel like it, not if they need it.

Just as well I'm teaching the workshop on Sunday. It covers these issues. Just as well I ranted here, for the workshop isn't about me. And now I go to make my great-grandmothers' nahit recipe, for cooking grounds me. Besides, it's yummy.

PS The nahit is almost done and I've edited (very slightly) for clarity and typos.

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26th September, 2016. 8:35 pm. How To Avoid Me at Conflux This Year - A Guide to Perplex

I have very, very bad news. LJ lost my post when I was doing my final additions. Someone emailed about something urgent and LJ hated me for it. It said it had done a backup, but had only saved the title. I haven't time to do it again. I have deadlines coming out of places I didn't know deadlines could hide. So here's the short version.

Lots of amazing panels. Chocolate. Bad jokes.

Only a couple of panels, but a bookchat about my new novel and his new work with Phill Berrie. Chocolate. Bad jokes.

Possibly a panel. My awesome workshop (from my previous myself who used to teach these things for vast sums of money to People of Moderate Importance). Honey cake. Fan fund auction (ask about going to Helsinki!!). Chocolate. I leave early because I need to New Year.

No Conflux for me, but I'll be at Floriade at some stage, celebrating the new year.

You mostly missed me being rude about Heinlein, Stith-Thomson, baby-sitting, and pushing the work of Hayden White.

PS I forgot the books bit. My new, new novel will be available. You can read The Wizardry of Jewish Women while eating my very own honey cake! (the recipe for which is not in the novel - wrong culinary tradition.) There will also be a single sole copy of my academic tome, at the CSFG table (by request - if someone else requests it, there will be two... but they're not cheap).

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23rd September, 2016. 11:07 am.

I said to someone yesterday that I'd like to work in a small town. The person I was chatting with was also Jewish. This is important. His thoughts on me moving somewhere smaller "I know people who live in small towns and no-one even has to know they're Jewish." More and more people are considering hiding their identities as a possible way of achieving everyday safety. I find this terribly depressing.

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22nd September, 2016. 2:29 pm.

I gave a lunchtime talk for the Jewish community just now. It was lovely. I lost my notes and tangled my books and cited Maimonides far too often, but people asked a zillion questions and we had a really interesting discussion about what Jewish magic is and how it works in my fiction and how this relates to rabbinical views of magic.

My favourite bit, though, was when someone I knew came up and said "Do you know whose children they were?" (for there were 2 primary school kids in the audience) They were the offspring of someone I had known (and apparently taught origami to!) when I was their age. And they understood everything and told their grandmother the stories they were going to write from the ideas they had because of my talk. I prepared the wrong reading for an audience with children, so I read only a very short bit, but otherwise ... lovely group and it's particularly cool when children keep up with a talk for intelligent adults and take away a bunch of useful ideas and are inspired to write. The other thing is that one of the very bright sparks I taught earlier in the year turned out to be the granddaughter of someone else in the audience. Being able to tell someone's grandmother with total truth how amazing their granddaughter is will never, ever get old. The other, other thing is that it's possible that someone else's ancestor was the rabbi to several of my ancestors a long time ago.

All this is an unexpected good side effect of writing a novel (or two) about people like me (ie Jewish Australians). It's an odd but wonderful argument for diversity in fiction. Everyone should have one perfect and happy audience every now and again. If I'd not written my Jewish novel, I'd not have given this talk and look at what I would have missed out on!

Make Notes

21st September, 2016. 2:34 pm. Wednesday morning (and bits of other days)

My end of term excursion has happened.

My students and I went to a small Doctor Who exhibition. Most of them are not SFF fans, so it was new. Lots of "Who did you say this person was?" Between us, we worked out the Doctors and etc, and they took notes and asked more questions over coffee/lunch and are working on fanfiction. During their holidays. On top of the worldbuilding exercise that will help them with story structure, because they wanted chat more than writing today. The fanfiction was the whole purpose of this excursion.

I had to teach them what fanfiction was, first, which was an experience. Eventually, we got to the bit where I showed them the license statement on my best sonic screwdriver. This led us from plastic models to writers' reality. It's all about copyright.

I didn't give them a great deal today, just the basics of what one can and can't do with the world and characters of another writer. Not historical writers, contemporary ones.

This is where teaching my Wednesday class differs significantly in method from teaching a standard undergrad class. These students can deal with the same level of concepts, but need a bit more time for most subjects. This means that they're writing their fanfiction during the holidays and when we return they'll get a revision of what they learned today, plus a bit more Doctor Who (purely because the good Doctor is the fandom I chose to use as my model, because the exhibition was happening, and it is entirely non-related that at least two of my students are now actively seeking TARDIS backpacks). Next term we'll take issues of copyright one step at a time, starting with the work they will have done during the holidays. That, and more skills for short story writing, will be the main content of the term.

And now my task is to choose between a short rest and preparing tomorrow's talk.

I shall not choose. I will do both, sequentially.

My meeting tonight isn't til 7ish and I finished my big edit last night. I've only got an hour's editing to do today, therefore. Everything will fit, just as long as I don't try reading all the books I just borrowed from the library.

This is what I did yesterday. I finished my structural edit and started writing the extraneous matter (this is a good time, I find, to take notes that will make the cover blurb and other PR stuff easier for me and my editor, because I can see the novel most clearly at this point) and read two and a half of the novels I'd borrowed the day before. I returned them today and purely by chance, borrowed another three. I now don't have to go to the library again til Friday, which is good, for there is no time until then. And on Friday I have to collect a parcel of books from the post office. I get to jaunt! Only a short jaunt, alas, for on Friday I'm serious, serious editing mode again, and besides, I'm expecting at least one visitor.

I need to finish this next bout of editing by Tuesday, for I have to spend a full day at the National Library doing researchy stuff and write it into articles before Rosh Hashanah, and that festival is looming.

Doing only 1/4 of this last year made me tired. This year I still need an afternoon rest, but I'm getting my old work patterns back. It's so nice to be able to finish things in reasonable time!

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19th September, 2016. 11:51 pm.

No booklaunch for me. Instead, I was unwell. I am much less unwell now. So much less unwell I am that I'm editing and cooking and catching up on various paperwork. Not quite all at once, but close. I want to get my last structural check for this novel done tomorrow night at the latest, so that I can proceed to the slow edit and get it off my plate before Conflux. The first novel is already ready for the publisher - this is the second. I need writing time and getting big stuff done is the best way to clear space.

What I cooked is a Jewish New Year present for myself. It worked so very wonderfully that I doubt I'll have the courage to make it again. This is the problem with inventing recipes and not measuring or timing things. I'll write what I've done here and maybe it will inspire someone to make it. It's the most amazing thing. It looks like rich black soil and tastes... like nothing I've ever had.

First, I took the pith of my citrus peel (I used kom fruit or sumo fruit, but any orange-y citrus that's sweet and very aromatic would do, I think) and pared it until the inside was clear of any white. Then I diced it as fine as fine can be. I cooked it over a very low heat with honey (a nice dollop), cardamom essence (possibly a half teaspoon, maybe a bit more) and lots of sugar. When it was bubbling at the right rate (ie it had no water left), I tested it and it was just short of hard. I took the mixture off the heat and stirred it into about a bar and a half of very fine chocolate (dark) melted. This mixing was the hardest task. I used a mixture of 50% and 82% chocolate, for that is what I had to hand. I then spread the mixture as thinly as I could on greaseproof paper and put more paper over the top of it and rolled the rolling pin over it then hit it many times with said rolling pin. And that's it.

If anyone wants to create an edible garden over the next 2-3 days, I have the perfect soil. I do not know how long it will last. I won't eat it instantly, for it's very rich and the flavour fills my mouth. But I will eat it. I'm happy to feed it to friends who drop in (except I'm almost out of normal coffee, so coffee drinkers would have to drink it with Turkish or Greek coffee, which is, I know, a great strain).

And now I have just a half hour more editing before bed.

I may still be less than myself, and I certainly have bad days, but... I'm definitely getting there. The garden soil and editing proves it.

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16th September, 2016. 10:30 pm.

I've been quiet again because I've been coping. Some kind friends gave me the current virus, probably at the party I went to when I came back from Melbourne. It's a particularly nasty one (the virus - the party was totally wonderful) and I was surprised to discover that I didn't get the illness as badly as they did. I know I'm almost over it, but I wasn't sure that I had it until tonight. It could have been something more serious (either my breathing or my heart) and I and the after hours doctor were really relieved that it wasn't. I said to her that I was a bit obsessed with the heart and health right now and apologised for calling her in and she said "You are, but that's OK" and checked my scars and reminded me that I had a major operation and that I should do the same whenever I wasn't sure.

This is actually a big moment even though it's about something quite small. So many people have had pneumonia from this virus and if my heart hadn't been healing properly I would've had all sorts of problems from it. It's a really, really nasty virus. I got it (for there are post-viral symptoms) and I'm almost over it and it has affected neither my heart nor my breathing, except for me being tired and a bit puffy. I still have all the aches, but I can do work through them.

Why is this so big? The Evil Virus of the Winter... and I'm through it. And I had it. And I had it much less than the poor people who gave it to me. I'm miserable and sore and haven't done all my work today, but compare that with young and healthy people who couldn't get out of their beds for 2-3 days and had to take antibiotics. My prescription is panadol, hot tea and things to soothe the throat.

This doesn't mean I'll never get sick again, of course, but it means I can mix with normal people doing normal activities and not have to worry about abnormal responses. This gives me such an extraordinary feeling.

And now I must go back to editing. I am editing my own novels this time, for there will be two more out next year (the last of the sequence with Satalyte) and my editor and I have agreed to get them done early so that I have more writing time. I also have two NF articles to write for next year. I want to do all four things before Rosh Hashanah. If I can, I won't have lost any time through illness this year, and that would be amazing. Also, I'm capable of it, physically, since this is a low teaching period (not due to illness, due to changes in systems). The big reason, of course, is so that my desk is free should other work come up.

If I can edit to p. 250 tonight, I get to go to a book launch tomorrow.

The novel I'm editing is post-colonialist, using history to underpin world building (I tested stuff using it), magic as science and science as magic, and a whole bunch of other things. It's also set on another planet. Satalyte are interested in a sequel and I've said "If it sells." I've got the sequel 80% planned, because it was the other novel I did research for when I went to France to investigate things for Langue[dot]doc 1305. Most of the issues are in the novel ie not explained. They're part of it. The big thing for me is that I did cultural development to make this society Western but with some critical differences. My chief protagonist is female, middle-aged, non-White and has held positions of power. She's got the knowledge and experience to save her part of the world... but will anyone let her?

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13th September, 2016. 2:40 pm. The Wizardry of Jewish Women

My book is out and to celebrate, I blogged a recipe from it on my author's blog. I'm copying it here, for I suspect a few of you might be interested.

A group of enthusiastic cooks and lovely people are making recipes mentioned in my new novel, The Wizardry of Jewish Women. I almost always have recipes lurking beneath my fiction. Even my next novel (which I’m editing this week) contains food which I can cook, and it takes place off-planet! My new novel is set in Australia and I’ve borrowed and adapted over a hundred of my family’s recipes for it. When more recipes are out, I’ll put up a post with links. In the meantime, this is the culinary background to the box of forgotten recipes that appears in the novel. When you’ve read this blog entry you will know more about them than my characters do!

I was lucky with this novel. Very lucky. I’d been researching the difference between Anglo-Australian Jewish and Continental Jewish food because someone asked me to, way back. My family had found me many, many recipes to help with my research and I had the full oral history for them from two aunts and from a cousin. There were no missing years: both aunts had cooked the cuisine (and I’d eaten it at their houses) and my cousin is just enough older than me to know the bits they wouldn’t tell. When my aunt and my mother found recipes notes and even a handwritten cookbook, I had the stories to understand them and to interpret them. My food historian side, in fact, enabled me to work out exactly which bits came into the family and when. Stuffed Monkeys was a favourite dish of my father’s for instance, and they came into the family from the nineteenth century London Jewish community. You can find its history here. If enough people ask, I’ll make the recipe and give a documented version to you, just the way I’m about to do with Cornish meat rolls.

The thing about this cuisine is that it’s missing a lot of ‘standard’ Jewish dishes. Even those parts of the culture that came from Eastern Europe had been transformed, through London and then through Australia. It doesn’t come from Eastern Europe, in fact (though dishes poke their heads through from time to time and say “But I do!”): it is partly a southern English variant of Sephardi cuisine. It has lost many of its most Spanish elements, but maintained a lot of recipes that are easier to make with London and Australian ingredients. In their place one finds very familiar British dishes (like the Cornish Meat Rolls), some local oddities (like Stuffed Monkeys) and a few dishes that look very unJewish. They’re a part of the cuisine. Some of the older English Jewish food is kosher, and some enjoys its bacon. My grandmother knew how to cook all these dishes and according to some relatives she cooked them and according to others she didn’t. What I know for certain is that after my father married, she didn’t cook them for him, for he married into a very kosher-keeping family. This means that, from 1956, one whole strand of recipes was lost, just as, from the moment the family came to Australia (just under a century earlier) the more Sephardi dishes would have been lost.

If you want to know more about how I identified the London Sephardi origins (check my research, argue with it, etc) just ask for a copy of my paper.

I chose the Cornish Meat Rolls because I wanted to see if the family’s pastry can be made with olive oil (since I knew what it was like made with other fats). An olive oil pastry would be very good for my heart, I thought. The pastry was good with olive oil (rather good, in fact) but not perfect. It was too crumbly for my taste, but I’d still do it again, for it had a lovely aroma and if I can solve the crumbliness I have a pareve heart-healthy pastry that takes next to no time to make. I adapted the filling a bit and have put my replacements in brackets. This is because I’ve had this food in my childhood and have made it with dripping at my aunt’s. I wanted to adapt it into a modern Australian version.

The filling took me back to my childhood. The moment I tasted it I knew where it came from. It was tasty and stodgy both at once. Perfect for a Melbourne winter. Also, very easy to make. very hard to turn into something elegant. This is easy food for a big family, basically.

I took a picture, but seem to have lost it. You’re not missing anything. Think of big sausage rolls. Golden and clunky and full of filling. In fact, the filling spills out whenever it’s not properly sealed. The pastry is short and crumbly. I took one look at it and wanted to add tomato sauce and demolish it. I couldn’t get through it all (though I tried for three meals) and gave a slab to a hungry friend. Depending on how hungry the diners are, therefore, this will fill 3 to 6 people. Add chips and salad and it’s terrifyingly Australian.

And now for the recipe:

Cornish Meat Rolls:

¾ topside steak (I used low fat mincemeat)
1 onion
1 large potato
1 tomato
2 cups SR flour (or 2 cups plain plus raising agent)
pinch salt
¾ cup dripping (I used olive oil)
½ cup cold water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
salt and pepper.

Remove fat from steak. Peel potato, tomato and onion, and put through mincer with meat or chop each very finely and mix together. Season with salt and pepper. That’s the original instructions. Me, I boiled my potato and peeled it and cut it finely. I added it to the mincemeat. I then chopped my onion and tomato coarsely and put them through the blender. Then I seasoned the mix. I mixed it until it held together very nicely.

Sift flour, salt and baking powder (or just the flour and salt if you sue SR flour!). Rub in dripping ( or olive oil – oil doesn’t rub in properly, so you need to watch the texture) and add water and lemon juice and mix to a stiff paste. Roll on floured board to oblong shape, about ¼ inch thick. Spread with mixture, and fold into a neat roll.

Bake in a moderate oven 40 to 50 minutes.

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1st September, 2016. 9:22 am.

My next business is getting the new novel out into the world. I'll be off my blog for a few days, because I'm determined not to overdo things this time. I'll also be off social media mostly, for that means I don't have to race from thither to yon and check in with everything and everyone. I'll report on the far side!!

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