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(Personal) Seeing the Future

Myth 150The last time I went to an optometrist was about four years ago. When they checked my eyes, the doctor said she saw something that she would want to keep an eye on; she also wanted to know if I had any family history of certain diseases. That was the first time I heard about glaucoma.

On Monday I talked a little bit about what’s been going on with me these past two weeks and how the stress has been a bit more difficult to manage because of certain things. I thought I would take off last Friday while Ryan was gone to give myself a three-day weekend that could be used to catch up on various projects and generally get in some extra rest and recuperation. Instead, I spent most of it with various doctors: first my therapist, then my optometrist, and finally a three-hour marathon with an allergenist where I learned more than I ever wanted to know about dust mites.

The optometrist visit is the one that’s sticking with me, though. He was really helpful and knowledgeable, and taught me a lot about my eyes. Like the fact that my amblyopia (lazy eye!) makes it harder for me to perceive depth accurately, and that I can actually corral them with prisms in my eyeglasses. And that because I’ve been dealing with it for so long, actually having both eyes focusing on the same thing is something that might freak out my brain — which is pretty interesting. But he also told me a lot more about glaucoma, and recommended that I start talking about tests and treatment with my doctor.

So, time for the definition: glaucoma is the name given to a group of diseases that damage the optic nerve, which takes the information from your eye to the brain for processing. It’s a degenerative issue, so over time you lose your vision and in some cases go blind. It’s also one of those things that just happen, so there’s really no rhyme or reason for it. Certain people, like African-Americans (check) and those with a family history (also check) are at higher risk. It’s too early to say that I definitely have it, but I’m at the age where it becomes noticeable and concerning.

I haven’t noticed any vision loss outside of the ordinary; my glasses work a little less well than they did four years ago, but that’s just how it goes. I know I have poor depth perception and favor one eye or the other when I need to focus, and when I’m drunk or tired one of them goes right into one corner of the socket and sleeps there. But these things always felt like manageable symptoms of getting older; your mind gets sharper, smarter, better, but your body doesn’t work as well as it used to.

And that’s something that I’ve never minded. I’ve often joked about being an old man, shuffling around and eating applesauce, bitching about the way things used to be. I love the comfortable self-possession of older people; they know who they are and what they want, and they have a much stronger idea about what’s important to them. They’ve lived through so much that they know what’s worth paying attention to and what can be safely dismissed. Well…the best ones anyway. I won’t deny it was a bit of a fantasy to me, being confident about what I knew, what was worth knowing and what I could simply leave as matters for other people.

This, though…this rattles me. I think this is the first time I imagined getting older and being frightened by what I saw. My vision is so important to me. I read all the time. I love watching the subtle changes in facial expressions and body language within people. I love shades of color, and the way the green on the leaves changes when clouds pass in front of the sun. A future where I can’t actually enjoy any of that is not one that I had anticipated.

I know it’s early yet; I haven’t made the appointment with my doctor. I haven’t been diagnosed with anything. But I’ve seen the pictures of my optic nerve and I’ve gone over what they mean with my optometrist. I know that glaucoma happens earlier and more aggressively in people like me. I know that it may be likely I will have to shift my thinking away from “not losing my eyesight” to “losing it as slowly as possible”.

That’s a difficult adjustment to make. It presents a challenge to my embrace of the Four Noble Truths, the ideas of attachment to the impermanent leading to suffering. It’s one thing to recognize a truth on an intellectual or theoretical level, to understand that one day your body will cease breathing and you won’t see anything any more, and to suddenly realize that truth on an emotional, personal, instinctive level. One day, I will die. Oh my God, holy shit…one day, I will die.

The failure of my body has long been an intellectual and theoretical truth for me, and it’s only been recently that it’s become a personal and instinctive one. On one hand, I can be grateful that I have lived in instinctive ignorance for 35 years now; so many other people are forced to confront this much, much earlier and with far less capability to absorb this truth. On the other, it feels like I’ve been given a bum hand. Navigating my mental and psychological issues, and the terrible habits developed by my social and economic background, and learning more about the things I’ve struggled with for so long has been enriching and rewarding and exhausting. This last thing, this new wrinkle, feels like it’s taking me close to the edge of what I should be expected to bear.

But the truth is this: the Universe doesn’t owe me anything. Nothing lasts forever. My eyesight will diminish — it may happen slowly, or more rapidly than I’m prepared for, but it will happen. In some ways, being aware of the clock winding down is a gift; it makes me appreciate what I have that much more.

I love the visual world. And this is a reminder to really engage with that love, to cherish what I see, and to have compassion for those who cannot. I will adjust, of course. I will learn to let go of the things that I hold too tightly to properly appreciate. For now, though, I just want to see everything I can and mourn that day in the future where I’ve witnessed the last thing I ever will.

 
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Posted by on April 13, 2016 in Self-Reflection

 

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The State of the Rabbit – April 2013

I’m not very good at those April Fools’ Day pranks that tend to make the rounds on the blogosphere today, so I encourage you to imagine that I did something appropriately awesome and/or crazy and you’re amused or annoyed by it. I’m sure that whatever you could come up with would be better than what I would actually do, so that way everyone wins and I can move on to my more earnest topics!

March was an interesting and harried month for me. I remember working hard a lot for the last four weeks, but I’m not entirely sure I have a lot to show for it. Most of my attention was focused on the Pathfinder game I run around twice a month (more on that later this week), and I think the work was worth it. I’ve hit upon a few veins of story that I’m really excited about, and I get to open up the world in ways I think my players will appreciate. The problem is that while your audience definitely appreciates the work you’re putting in, by nature it’s going to be very small. The adventures of your group of friends tends not to translate too well when you’re telling it to people who aren’t invested.

Maybe that would be a good challenge for myself as a storyteller, talking about my game in a way that hooks people, but that will need to be set aside for another day.

I’ve made progress on writing short stories, though not nearly as much as I’d like. I’m nearly done with “Tight Fit” for Rask, and after that I’d like to jump right in to the next ‘commission-style’ short story for another friend, Elrabin. I think I’d rather take a week or two to edit/rewrite ‘chapter two’ of the fluff story that I was supposed to burst right out of the gate with, just to have that done.

I would make excuses for not reaching my goals (again) last month, but to be honest there simply aren’t any. I didn’t prioritize writing in the way that I should have in order to get myself where I wanted to be and while there are a number of reasons for that it’s still the way it is. Even though things were a little crazy last month, there were still a number of times where I could have been writing and chose to do something else instead; I’m going to have to take a long, hard look in the mirror to determine why that is.

While I’m doing that, though, I’ll keep trying to push on — though with a little less ambition than before. I know what I want to do, and I’ll focus on doing it as quickly and well as I can. We’ll see where I am at the end of April, how many times I’ll decide not to write when I really was able to, and then we’ll go from there.

One of the reasons my mind has been taken away from writing is lingering health issues that are just wearing me out. There’s something wrong with my digestive tract — I’m not eliminating the way I should be, and that’s causing a complication or two that’s painful and awkward to deal with. I’ve been trying to self-manage for most of the month but I’ve finally thrown in the towel on that. I’ll be seeing a doctor today, a few weeks later than I should be, to see what’s wrong and what can be done about it. In addition to that I’ll take a couple of tests to see whether or not I have a gluten sensitivity and once that’s out of the way I’ll be moving my diet a little closer to the Whole 30 model I learned in February. A lot less grains for breakfast, more fresh produce for lunch, that sort of thing. I’m really hoping that the doctor’s visit and the dietary change will yield big improvements, because to be honest I’m ready to not be dealing with constant discomfort at this point.

The health issues have degraded my ability to cope with just about everything; I’m not quite as quick as I could be with work, and that’s a big deal because this would be a great opportunity for me to step up and rock the house right when my department needed me. We’re staring down the barrel of a fairly busy spring with not quite enough resources to manage things — that’s a pretty common problem in corporate America, I’m sure, but it’s my first time dealing with issues of quite this magnitude. I’m ready to step up. I WANT to step up. But my body is making it hard to do so.

To be honest, I’m not sure what this month is going to be like. A lot of that depends on what the doctor has to say and how quickly my digestive issues diminish. Optimistically, I’d like it to be the month where I finally kick it into gear, take strides to write regularly and get back on track in the office. But I know that may not be likely. Fortunately, this rabbit knows that slow and steady wins the race, and I’ll just have to take it that way until I’m ready to move a little faster.

 
 

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30 Days of Plants and Animals

Self Improvement 150Today is the last day of my Whole 30 culinary “reset,” and it’s hard to argue with the results. In the past month I’ve lost nearly 15 pounds, my stomach no longer resembles a beach-ball, and — I can’t lie about this — I feel better overall than I’ve felt in a little while. My energy levels are a bit lower, but they’re more consistent, and I wake up feeling more rested in the morning.

But it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. Cooking, while fun, is a fairly large time sink even after I’ve gotten my act together in the kitchen. There are a lot of foods that I’ve missed — even beyond the “This awful, bad-for-you food tastes too good to give up” stuff. Rice, beans, a slice of buttered toast, red wine…these are all things that I’ve been wishing I could have consistently through the month. Going on the Whole30 ‘reset’ can be a bit of an isolating experience, as well — I’ve had to put up with a bit of derision from folks about it, even though I haven’t really bought into the principles behind it. It can be frustrating to make a decision to eat better (especially on a drastic program like this) and have people second-guessing you every time it’s brought up. It’s hard enough to deal with your own brain screaming at you to break the diet, and peer pressure certainly doesn’t help.

Most of my friends have been pretty cool about it, though, and by two weeks in I had my “elevator pitch” for it down pat. The Whole30 operates on a simple — but demanding — principle; food should provoke healthy psychological and physiological responses, support a healthy gut, and prevent inflaming your digestive tract or suppressing your immune system. That’s it. If it only does three of those things, you can’t have it. And according to their research, that leaves you with meat, eggs, nuts, fruits, vegetables and a few oils. Dairy, grains, legumes, anything with processed or added sugar and alcohol does not pass this test. So it has to go, for at least thirty days.

It’s been a bit of a roller coaster. The first week or two was the most difficult; your body has to adjust to a radically different diet, and then the rest of you has to catch up to the ramifications of your lifestyle choices. Eating out is suddenly far more hassle than simply staying home and cooking for yourself, and that’s notably more involved than just popping something into the microwave and letting it go. It’s very much a trial by fire — at least it was for me. And now that it’s over I have a new set of tools that I can sharpen moving forward.

I think the best way to tackle this look back would be to look at the positives, negatives, lessons learned and what I’ll walk away with. This might be a bit of a long entry, folks.

THE POSITIVES

While you’re on the Whole30, they strongly recommend that you don’t look at the scale at all. You’re supposed to focus on other things, like how you feel and how differently your clothes are fitting, or how your skin is clearing up. In theory, I agree with this — learning to pay attention to your body is a vital thing if you want to have a good relationship with it. If something you’re doing isn’t making your body happy, you should learn to recognize the signs and pay attention. I think Whole30 aims to teach people to do this by positive reinforcement. See how much more energy you have? See how much better you’re sleeping? Notice how your skin looks better? So forth and so on.

And I have to admit, by that measure this reset was a success. I can’t boast more energy, but my energy levels are more consistent. I’m sleeping better in general, and when I wake up it requires far less time to get me up and running. A lot of the oily skin that I had on my forehead and nose has diminished, and my digestive tract has gotten a lot calmer. Before the Whole30, my stomach was bloated, I had pretty strong irritation in my bowels, I was constipated. For the most part, that’s cleared up.

It’s also worth noting that I lost 15 pounds in one month. That kind of weight loss is insane (and probably not healthy, but that’s another story). I’ve spent the past few years with my weight creeping ever-upward, trying to get back to 170 – 175. I’ve counted calories, I’ve tried weight training and cardio, and nothing’s worked. The Whole30 produced really surprising results that I can’t deny. It’s amazing to me that this one thing worked when nothing else did.

Beyond the physical, Whole30 forces you into a lifestyle change that I think is very beneficial. The program encourages you to know exactly what you’re eating, and really pushes you to ask questions you wouldn’t even think about otherwise. Since meat is such a vital part of the Whole30 diet, a lot of effort goes towards training you to make sure it’s quality. Ideally, you should be eating meat from locally-sourced, humanely-raised animals. Antibiotics and additives are discouraged, and just trying to cut out those two things takes so much of what’s on store shelves off the table. By hunting for the best meat you can find, you start to develop an eye for what’s acceptable and what’s not. It teaches you a totally different way to shop for food, and ties neatly into becoming a “locavore”.

A brief aside — being a locavore is something I highly encourage. It’s something that you don’t have to be a big hipster about, and you can do it in stages on your own pace. Find out about your local meat and dairy sources. Go to a farmer’s market to see what’s in season, what you can buy fresh from a farm. By choosing foods that are cultivated nearby, you’re cutting down on a lot of the problems with an extensive, far-reaching supply chain. It also really gives you a sense of place; you become knowledgeable about what does well here, what’s in season when, ties you to the cycle of the seasons and the personality of the land around you. Something as basic as food can be this gateway for connection to the world you live in, which is a really awesome thing.

Generally, you’re going to be forced to buy your meat, fruit and vegetables with as little processing as possible. You end up going to a very specific zone of your store, and you quickly learn that most of it is useless for your purposes. At our neighborhood supermarket, we ended up spending all of our time in produce and the deli. Then we brought it home to cook, because trying to throw together a dish with a little bit of taste is way better than eating ingredients.

And that brings me to the next perk of Whole30: learning to make peace with your kitchen. Ryan and I tend to live more like bachelors than a truly domesticated couple. The kitchen holds the appliances that we use to make quick meals: the microwave, the toaster, the coffee pot. Prepackaged food that requires the use of our oven or stove was pretty much our idea of cooking in. Anything that took much more effort than that was hopelessly complicated. I exaggerate — or do I? — slightly. We weren’t big cookers, and a month later, I have to say we still aren’t. But we’re a bit more savvy than we were before Whole30.

What’s more, I discovered that I liked to cook. I like to follow recipes, that magic ritual where you put a bunch of things together in the right amount, at the right time, to create something wonderful. When you pull off something relatively complicated or involved, or when you do something that you haven’t been able to manage yet for the first time (like, for example, cooking a perfect over-easy egg in an iron skillet), it makes you feel a bit like a wizard. Cooking is the closest I’m going to come to spellcasting, and as whimsical as that sounds the effect and reward is immediate and tangible. You create something delicious that you (or better yet, others) can appreciate.

The whole experience — from sourcing my ingredients to cooking it to eating it — was vastly different from the way I normally eat. I never really thought much about my food. It just comes from “somewhere”, and ends up on my plate to scratch a particular itch. Now that I’ve spent a month really studying it, looking at where my food comes from and thinking about how my body reacts to it, I’m glad to feel more connected and invested in the things I eat. I still love food, and all kinds of food — I’m never going to give up fried chicken, or waffles, or cheeseburgers — but that love feels more mature, more well-rounded, more complex because of the knowledge I’ve gained. And that means a lot to me.

THE NEGATIVES

The reason I think we, as a society, have the diet we do is because it’s cheap and fast. I forget who came up with this model, or where I heard it from first, but almost any commodity you can buy will have three costs: a material one (cheap vs. expensive), a temporal one (fast vs. slow) and a qualitative one (healthy vs. unhealthy). Obviously, what’s best is something that’s cheap, fast and healthy — it’s reasonably nutritious, doesn’t take a lot of time to prepare or consume, and doesn’t cost a lot. So much of our diet industry is based around chasing that holy grail. It’s why we have Power Bars and protein supplements, Slim-Fast and pre-packaged salads. We want to eat food that has it all. But something cheap, fast and healthy probably isn’t going to taste very good. But we don’t have time or money to spare, so we sacrifice quality to eat food we like. At least it’s cheap and fast!

In order to make food that tastes good, you’re going to have to pony up for it somehow. It’s either going to be expensive (think of the pre-packaged stuff you get at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods), take a lot of time to make (think of cooking your own healthy version of, well, anything) or it’s not going to be good for you (think of any fast-food restaurant). Sometimes you’ll have to pay in time AND money, and that’s basically what Whole30 forces you to do.

Getting locally-sourced, humanely-raised meat takes time; you have to research what sort of conditions are important to you (Is it important for the animal to be free-range? What about no antibiotics? What about vegetarian-fed?), then you have to find sources that match those criteria, then you have to find out where the product is being sold. When you do find it, it’s probably going to cost a lot. Our food production system is geared towards using factory farming methods, and anyone stepping out of that system will need to pay money to do it. In the end, you have to put your money where your mouth is and pay for your beliefs.

I don’t think this is necessarily a negative. But it is something that impacted my life over the last 30 days, quite a bit. Ryan and I, as I said before, aren’t big cookers — we both have fairly busy lives and we sacrificed healthy eating for what was cheap, fast and available up until now. Whole30 puts quality above everything else, so it’s difficult to do if you’re not willing to put in the time and/or pay up the money for it.

My grocery bill shot up in February QUITE a bit, and most of my evenings were spent preparing food — either for dinner that night or for breakfast and lunch the next day. As much as I appreciate discovering a love of cooking, other priorities were shoved aside to make room for this. While I’m glad I had the experience of living with an uncompromising set of ideals for thirty days, I miss having the time to focus on writing.

Whole30 itself is also ridiculously prohibitive, and while their philosophy is sound regarding why they demand those restrictions, it’s actually really freaking difficult to live that philosophy out ‘in the wild’ without becoming kind of a fanatic about it. Going out to eat is a bit of a nightmare; even if you have a dish that looks ‘safe’, you have to ask what the chicken or steak is cooked in, whether that has any added sugar or butter, or ask for croutons or cheese to be taken out of your salad. If you don’t have friends who are doing it with you, it can be kind of isolating. Nobody wants to be the guy with the ridiculously specific order at the table, but you have to in order to live up to Whole30’s uncompromising philosophy.

Even with the drastic increase in money and time spent making sure our diet complied with the Whole30, we tended to rely on a few simple staples for breakfast and lunch. As a result, I’m burned out on turkey patties and canned tuna. It’ll take me at least a year to get my enjoyment back for either of those! We didn’t manage to get to specialty stores for ghee or clarified butter (two of the only oils/fats approved for cooking), so we went through a ton of olive oil.

The bottom line: the Whole30 is a fairly advanced-level diet, which makes it almost impossible to follow for someone who doesn’t really know their way around a kitchen. A couple of friends who were doing it with us fared far better, but they like to cook and have quite a few years of experience on me. In fact, all of the best Whole30 meals I had during the month were cooked by other people; without them, it would have been a much blander experience.

So, despite the massive (for me) time and financial commitments to Whole30, it still didn’t feel like enough to really fall into this alternate lifestyle. That was frustrating, but changes like that don’t happen overnight. I can’t imagine someone even busier than I am (or in a place that isn’t quite as good with fresh produce and alternatively-sourced meats) could manage it. You can’t do the Whole30 well if you’re picky about your food, don’t have a lot of time to devote to it, or financially strapped. And these are people who most often sacrifice healthy eating for cheap, fast food.

SO WHAT NOW?

Now that this whole experiment is over, I have to admit I’m looking forward to going back to ‘normal’ life. I’m not planning to fall directly back into my bad eating habits, but I now know that there’s a place for carbs and starches on my plate. It’s not nearly as large a place as it once was, but I’m glad to give it a little room.

Despite all of my griping about how time-consuming cooking was, I’m glad that I developed a habit of making meals in the kitchen and that’s something I really want to do. With time and practice, I’ll become more efficient with it so that there’s room to cook healthy, fast meals and still have time to do other things. The next month or so will be finding that balance between cheap, fast and healthy — I know that there’s no magic bullet that will offer all three options, but surely I can come up with a “payment system” that I’m happy with.

From now on, I’ll probably be cutting down on my carb and dairy intake. I’m lactose-intolerant, so I shouldn’t be having nearly as much dairy as I do, and I have to admit I’m a bit of a believer in a lower-carb diet at this point. I mean, the results speak for themselves. What I do have will be of better quality and more nutritionally sound than before; if I’m going through the trouble to have cheese or rice, it had better do more than just taste good.

I’m still planning to indulge in things that are bad for me — I love food far too much not to. But the difference here is that I’m choosing it for the sheer pleasure, not feeding a dependency on sugar or caffeine. For now, I can eat a cookie or have a cup of coffee and then…not have one for a while, and be fine. I don’t want to give that up. When I do indulge, it won’t be for crap. I don’t have time or health to waste on unhealthy food that’s also disappointing. The cheesecakes will be fine, and lo, the caramel shall be like spun gold.

All in all, it’s difficult to call the Whole30 ‘cleanse’ anything but a success right now. I lost weight, I feel better, reconnected with my food in a really awesome way and took baby steps towards having a small amount of culinary skill. Time will tell if I’ll keep the progress I’ve made, but for now I feel pretty good about what I’ve done, and what I CAN do.

Now excuse me while I tear open this box of cookies.

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2013 in Diet and Exercise, Self-Reflection

 

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The Joys of Getting Older

I meant to have another bit of flash fiction up today, but my body hasn’t been cooperating the way I’d like. So instead I’m in the cafe of the local medical megaplex, awaiting my early-morning doctor’s appointment so we can figure out what’s going on and (hopefully) fix things rather quickly.

The details are a little too gross to mention here — I’ll just mention “persistent gastro-intestinal distress” for posterity and leave it at that. It’s been going on for a few weeks now, getting worse a little bit at a time, and when I finally mentioned it to my husband he strongly recommended I talk to my doctor about it. So I did, and here I am.

There are an increasing number of instances where my previous health plan — ignore something until it goes away — doesn’t work any more. Before I could simply stop doing what caused something in my body to go wrong and in a couple of weeks it would stop complaining and I could start doing it again. This worked for injuries sustained while running, drinking, eating seafood and a number of other mild ailments. After a while, you train yourself to think that your body is tremendously resilient, and will generally bounce back from almost anything you do to it.

Now, the ailments are either too obscure to figure out what I did to cause them or too persistent and fundamental to ignore until the ship rights itself. I find myself going to the doctor more and more often, and the number of pills and inhalers I take on a daily basis have edged up over the years. In the past five years I’ve been diagnosed with chronic depression, asthma, G6PD deficiency, diastasis recti and lactose intolerance. A lot of this stuff I’ve had with me for years, but my coping mechanisms for them have failed and I’ve needed a little extra help managing them.

My view of my own body is shifting as a result. The stories I tell myself about the way I work have been forced to make room for my own fallibility. I never particularly thought I was invincible, but I’ll have to admit that I thought I was a lot stronger than I am. And I don’t mean that in a tragic, self-pitying way. The title of the post isn’t sarcastic or ironic. It’s fascinating to watch the habits of my past catching up with me, forcing me to deal with their consequences bit by bit. I suspect by the time I’m 40, I’ll have completed my transition from teenager and young adult into…something else. It’s interesting to speculate what an “adult” me will look and feel like, what he’ll do, and how he deals with his limitations.

I’m not that old. I’m only 32 years of age, and already I’m getting to the point where my body is saying “No more, you can’t keep doing the shit you’re used to doing.” Its message is clear: adopt a different way of doing things, or things will go badly for you. I’m doing my best to heed the call, but it’s difficult to change the path I’ve walked for half of my life.

This story is writ large in our relationship with the planet. Good old mother Earth isn’t a spring chicken any more, and even though she’s not ancient she’s getting to the point where we can’t keep doing the stuff we’re used to doing. A lot of us know this, but it’s so difficult for us to change. If it’s a challenge for me to eat more fiber and leafy greens, to eat less candy, how much more difficult is it for us to use less energy, to switch from finite, dirty fossil fuels into experimental cleaner energies that haven’t been proven yet? How much harder is it for us to make systemic changes to the way we live?

Yet, we must or things will go very badly for us. Looking at the planet’s future in twenty years is a lot like looking at my own. We either learn to accept our limitations and work with them, or we continue to ignore the warning signs, the complaints, until the system fails and we can no longer ignore the consequences. We either change and become more sensitive to our needs, or we have change thrust upon us, violently and abruptly.

I have no idea what the doctor is going to tell me when I meet with him later today. We have no idea how climate change, the oil peak and a burgeoning population will affect our planet. But I am to make sure that the changes I need will be under my control as much as possible. We need to make the same commitment as a society.

 

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