Thursday, December 31, 2009

How many credits is your program?

After reading your posts wrapping up the first semester (YAY!), I realized that some of you don't seem to have the same course load as me! I thought that most MFA students would be required to take between 12-18 credits a semester. In any case, my first semester, I was required to take 18 credits. GTAs in other departments are required to take 12. But first-semester English GTAs are required to take 18 in order to teach second semester.

In any case, my program is 48 credits and 3 years long. How many credits is your program? How long is your program? How many credits do you take a semester? Or see yourself taking a semester? Do you feel the course load is too heavy? Too light? Or in the words of Goldilocks, "just right?"

I know it may be a little early to tell, but I'm interested in your first impressions. :)

Ciao! And Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Google wave workshop

People seem interested, so I'm going to try to start up the Google Wave workshop--looks like it will be pretty laid back and across all genres...

If you're interested, just send me your e-mail address at jsgottliebmiller at gmail dot com. Looking forward to reading everybody's new work...

Any exciting winter plans?

Looking forward to reading more semester wrap-ups, as well...

UPDATE! The GoogleWave workshop has started (I think). So, if you asked to be included and have either sent me your e-mail or have your e-mail on your profile, you should have received a Wave (or an invitation to use GoogleWave--after you sign up we can add you to the Wave). Let me know if you didn't get anything even though I would have tried to tag you.

If you haven't sent me your e-mail and you want to be included, please do send your e-mail...

Monday, December 28, 2009

Wrapping Up My First Quarter at OSU

I meant to write this ages ago, but since it is still a little more than a week before the next quarter, I don't feel like a complete lame-o writing my wrap up now. So let's see, where to start, where to start...

I enjoyed workshop for the most part...We had a class of thirteen, including one fiction writer moonlighting as a poet, and it was for the most part very free form: no assignments, no mandated types of poems, etc. Basically we were told write what we wanted to write. Kathy Fagan, who ran the workshop in the fall, was very accommodating and friendly, and always let me come to her office to freak out, complain, or just palpitate wildly, which I was glad for. The workshop was actually a little more genial than I'm used to, and there were times where I was people bared their teeth a little more, but I did find the support encouraging just as I found several good, productive readers of my work who were unafraid or unwilling to tell me where I needed improvement. Next quarter will be different, I'm certain, but fall was nice and the workshop was a good place for adjustment. I wrote maybe three poems I still currently like, so that's something. We'll see how it goes from here.

The reading series we have at OSU is pretty awesome. We have three really, a visiting writer series, a student-faculty reading series, featuring second years reading with the faculty, and Mother Tongue, a much less formal student-run reading series held at the bottom of a rather overpriced bar. We had Linda Bierds come and dazzle us with her work (we read her Selected Poems in workshop) as well as a host of others including Amit Majmudar and Dan Anderson. The student-faculty readings were great because I was introduced to Andrew Hudgins' work (I hadn't really read him before) and got to here the second year's work which, in the case of the prose writers, I wouldn't have heard much of otherwise. Mother Tongue was always a blast because of the hilarious introductions and light atmosphere that characterize the events.

Additionally we held Writer's Harvest where we beat out the MA's and PhD's in a canned food drive for the Mid-Ohio Food Bank. At the event some fellow writers performed stand-up, sang music in tandem with faculty, raffled off dinners to be made by fellow MFA'ers and all kinds of other fun stuff. It was a gala event in my estimation.

I also read slush for The Journal and for the OSU Wheeler Poetry Prize, which publishes the winning manuscript. It was an eye-opening experience and an unplanned confidence booster considering how much bad poetry came through my desk while I was deciding what to send forward to Andrew (who was the judge this year). I read 50 manuscripts with a partner, and we had a few standouts, but most of them were varying degrees of awful. Yes it's all subjective, but if you have your physician writing the forward to your book of poetry, and he ends the two page preface by saying "hello," you probably need to reevaluate things a bit. Slush reading was much the same, some good stuff, a lot of bad stuff. I tend to think I have a broad range in my tastes, but I surprised myself with how much I was left wanting more from the stuff I read.

The other class I took (GTA's only need to take 9 credit hours and most grad lit/workshop classes are 5 each) was a graduate level intro to film theory and film criticism. I just loved this class. I felt prepared since the required critical theory class I took at UCLA for my major was a special topics class taught by the dean of the film school, maddeningly subtitled The Regime of the Visual and the Hermeneutics of Suspicion. Many of the texts I read for that class (Eisenstein, Saussure, Mulvey) reappeared in my film class, and many of the films we analyzed were ones I hadn't really seen before. It was a lot of work (two short papers, one 15 page final paper) but I found it more enjoyable than vexing. In a way, it confirmed the suspicion I've had that a critical path of study could work me too if I go down that road at some later date. Now I am happy just being an erstwhile MFA taking glee in the fact that he wrote his final film paper on WALL-E.

Teaching was by far the most exhausting and difficult part of my adjustment, but now I feel more than prepared to tackle it next quarter. I've gone through the curriculum now and have a stronger handle on it, and I know some of my weaknesses as a teacher and feel I can account for them. Aside from one minor kerfuffle with a student, last quarter I had a wonderful, patient, and understanding group of students, and I do think they learned from me. However I think I may have been to colloquial with them from the outset, and not as much of a taskmaster and school marm as I should have been. I had a good relationship with a number of my students but I am not sure I had as much respect as I would have liked. My theme next quarter will be more conducive to handling things a little more professionally, but at the same time, part of my persona is being relaxed and somewhat casual. It's a balancing act. Hopefully I can keep on the wire the entire next quarter and not err to far on one side or the other.

Well there you have it. My life as an MFA'er this past fall. Stay tuned for more details!

Obligatory Winter Break/Semester Wrap-Up Post

I'm all Hokie'd out!

Hi Dudes and Dudettes,

Well I must admit it's been quite a while since I last updated, but I'd like to let you all know how things are going at Virginia Tech.

First, I must say this was a hard semester. I didn't think that an MFA program or grad school, in general, would be a breeze, but it was tougher than I expected. I think the hardest thing was the ever-present time management skills...or rather, lack of. Trying to balance social life with school and other commitments was rough. I didn't want to be viewed as anti-social, nor did I want people to stop extending their warm invitations to hang out, so I did sometimes neglect my work.

In addition, I forgot what it was like to just...write! I know it sounds a little silly, but I wasn't writing or concentrating on the things I wanted to do with my writing this semester. My two poetry classes - one a workshop and the other a form class, both focused on forms. I don't really get down with forms, but working with them this semester has been helpful. I just wish I was able to workshop what I wanted to, instead of focusing on villanelles and ghazals that are god-awful and will never see the light of day.

I ended up getting a 20-page teaching portfolio out of my "how to teach composition" course. Wrote a syllabus, three major assignments, as well as other classroom documents for my class that I'll be teaching in the Spring. In addition, I spent half of the semester, observing a PhD student teach the class I'll be teaching next Fall. Also, wrapped up a semester working at the Writing Center. Surprisingly, I felt that throughout the semester, I had an equal number of undergraduate and graduate students. I'm still playing with the idea of returning as a consultant next semester, even though it's not required.

My other classes went okay this semester. There were a few research classes and a New Media creative writing course where strangely, the work I was doing was prose. Ugh. <- Not to all you prose people out there, but why can't I do what I need to be doing!?! lol

In addition to all the classes and social stuff, I survived another few months of the dreaded long distance relationship with my boyfriend. He sent his MFA applications in [again :(] a little over a month ago. He's applying to schools near me, including WVU and UNC, so we'll see how it goes. I'm keeping my fingers, toes, hell, even my eyebrows crossed for him. He's an excellent poet and deserves some good news about school!

I am most excited about the classes I'm taking next semester:

Black American Literature
Editing a Literary Journal [VT has recently acquired the Minnesota Review and the students will oversee the submissions].
Fiction Workshop
Poetry Workshop

I am also toying with the idea of adding another course. Possibly in another department. I am seriously considering working towards a certification in Nonprofit and Nongovernmental Management, as I see it as another option when I finish the MFA. I have a background in nonprofit management, working for several arts organizations and I can see myself returning if the teaching thang doesn't take off right away. The only disappointment in this certification is that it seems Virginia Tech has dissolved their Arts Management program, which upon many searches was active until a few years ago. Yet depending on who I contact, no one has information about it. This is what I was really interested in as a secondary study. And right now, there's only one course being offered in arts and cultural/nonprofit/policy studies. Maybe I'll create my own courses and do independent studies.

In addition to that, I am trying to figure out what I'm doing for the summer and am currently looking at various job opportunities. I am also thinking about what I was my commitments to be for the following semesters. I NEED TO FOCUS MORE ON WRITING. Obviously, that's what I'm in the program for. I just find it hard to focus when I have so many other interests and aspirations. I can't knock those important things out of my head, but I am seeing that it's all about balance.

Well, 2010 will bring a lot of exciting opportunities. I'm going to London and Paris [my first abroad trip] for Spring Break with the BF. I'm presenting at AWP in Denver. And I'm praying for great poetry and many acceptances to lit mags. I'll also be hoping the same for you! We gotta hang in there!

Thanks for reading. I hope you all had a wonderful semester. I'll try checking in a little more often next time!


Monday, December 21, 2009

Is that Google Wave thing happening?

Did I miss the boat? If we haven't decided yet on any google-wave workshopping (or perhaps collaborating?) over the course of the winter break, I'd suggest we get a move-on...

So, are people still interested?

Friday, December 18, 2009

One Semester Down, Five to Go!

By Jennifer Brown

One semester down, 5 more to go!  I hope I keep learning as much as I did this semester.  Over the past four months my writing improved even more than I thought it would over the course of my entire program.  Most of this is thanks to a professor who got on me about my verbs in our first assignment:  I had used the passive voice in just about every other sentence without even thinking about it.  Now, whenever I’m working on something not only do I go back over the piece and re-write every sentence with a “to be” verb, I go back over most of the verbs and make sure that they are the strongest and most precise available.   Strong verbs, strong verbs, strong verbs!  Strong nouns are important too, but I come by those a little more naturally (in other words without the constant help of the thesaurus).

There are many interesting classes to take at George Mason—the list of available classes for each semester always makes me feel like I’ve picked the right place do my MFA.  This past semester I took a required Forms of Fiction class, where we read and wrote each week; a Setting class, where we read and wrote each week; and a literature class.  I am really tied to place in my work, so the Setting class was perfect for me.  And speaking of perfect—I couldn’t believe it when I saw the list of classes for next semester.  There is a “War Writing” class offered—and I’m thinking of doing a war novel for my thesis!  I take that as a sign from the gods that I’m on the right track with my thoughts about my thesis.   In addition to War Writing, I have Fiction Workshop and Forms of Nonfiction next semester.  I’m taking Forms of Nonfiction because at GMU we must take a cross-genre class (which is something I really like about the program). 

I also became involved with our program’s lit mag: Phoebe.  We are required to do an MFA project before graduation and I intend for this to be it.   I am a reader for the journal and I’ve done some admin work as well.  I enjoy reading the submissions—the bad ones make me feel so much better about my own writing, and the good ones are such a joy to read.  It’s like panning for gold—every once in a while you find a nice nugget.  Also this kind of thing is right up my alley having been a magazine editor in my most recent pre-MFA life.  

Finally, I’ve done something I couldn’t manage to do while I was practicing law or while I was running a national magazine—I’ve taken advantage of the fitness facilities on campus (mainly the pool) and lost about 20 lbs.  The moral of that story is: try to take advantage of all of the free resources available to you on campus.  At GMU there are so many; for example we have a performing arts center that brings in everything from opera to the circus and we get free tickets.   

So to my fellow MFAers, congrats on finishing your first semester, and to all of you out there who are applying right now—going to George Mason to study creative writing is one of the smartest things I’ve ever done.  Can you become a great writer outside of an MFA program?  Yes, of course.  But probably not anywhere near as fast as you can inside of a program. 

Happy Holidays!


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

End of semester/New Year's resolutions

I've been intrigued by a few of the recent semester recaps (and look forward to more of them!), but on subjects like these (personal, even brief autobiographical narratives) I unfortunately get a bit long-winded. Especially in prose. So instead, I'm going to make a resolution, based on what I've learned this first semester. (And probably still be too long-winded...)

People often say the best thing about the MFA is having time to write. I'd like to kind of tweak that: the best thing about the MFA is having time to spend with your writing. What started for me as simple productivity has lately morphed from "what subjects do I want to pursue" to "how do I want to pursue them?" Trying to get at some of my underlying patterns and intentions, in ways that I haven't before (while working and at colonies, even in college, times when I've been writing more piece-meal) has been a real boon.

Since before the MFA I've been (and continue to be) a pretty firm believer in our work being shaped by the motivating identities of our ideas. I don't just mean identity politics in terms of religion, ethnicity or gender (although I think that our backgrounds can be wellsprings of information and context), I mean identity politics as in philosophy, the physical sciences, history, linguistics, music, painting, etc. I think these perspectives can inform poems consciously and unconsciously. For my part, I sometimes come from a philosophical background in my poems, in ways that I can not predict until reading the poems much later.

I know I will never be able to learn all of the secrets of rhythm and language, syntax and diction, music and blank page, and those are aspects of poetry which I think we must all constantly learn and re-learn. But I think I can more easily try on some simpler hats: Can I write like a biologist? A chemist? A historian? A playwright? A sculptor? What does it mean to take on that discipline? (A rhetorician? A geologist? A rabbi? The list goes on...)

So I'm thankful for the space to recognize some of my more cumbersome philosophy-writing habits (they're already a little too internalized, not that I don't like them), and I look forward to the time and space to experiment with science-poetry, history-poetry, mathematics-poetry. Who knows how successful this will be? (Probably more successful than my plan to write the great superheroes meeting philosophers long poem...)

So now my question to you: What's one thing you are thankful for from your first semester (Or the last year, if you're not currently in an MFA program)? (Or what's more than one thing...)

What's one place you want to take your work? (Or again, more than one place...)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

First Semester Wrap-Up

by Emily May Anderson

While I still have 24 freshman research papers to read and final grades to calculate, my first semester as an MFA student is pretty much over. I’ve been pretty absent from this blog recently, but let me try to recap the semester.

Since I’ve already mentioned teaching, I’ll start there. I taught one section of freshman composition, and I loved it. I enjoyed teaching, I felt like I was able to present the material in ways that made sense to them, and their writing did, in most cases, improve throughout the semester. I also really liked my group of students. I taught at 4:40-5:30pm MWF this semester; I thought I would hate the time slot, but I got used to it and really didn’t mind the lateness at all. My students were very active and energetic and talkative and informal – in both constructive and distracted ways – so I had to try to harness and direct their energy by being equally energetic and sometimes irreverent. It’s not at all how I planned or expected to approach the classroom; I thought I would be much more formal, but I realized very quickly that if I wanted to connect with this group, I’d have to sort of meet them where they were. There were a few days where I felt like I had very little control over them, but in general, they were good and they were invested in the class; they came to office hours, they submitted rough drafts early, they even brought me apples on the day my teaching mentor came to observe the class! She (my mentor) commented to me after class that I’ll probably never have another group of students this active, which is okay with me – they were exhausting sometimes – but they were really fun, and I’m really happy with my first teaching experience. I want to tweak the departmentally-provided syllabus a little bit before next semester, but overall, teaching was a success.

In addition to teaching, I also took three grad classes. The first was the infamous English 501: Intro to Graduate Study. It was, if nothing else, a bonding experience for all the first year students, MFAs and MAs together. We read a lot of critical theory and a lot of articles about the professions of both writing and academia. We also did a wide range of assignments, from textual analysis to writing abstracts for papers to researching potential publication venues (the most useful assignment by far!)

I also took The Writer in the Community, a hands-on “service learning” type of course. In addition to weekly class meetings with reading assignments, presentations, journals, etc, I also with two of my classmates started a creative writing group for international women in the community. Other groups of students in the class worked with middle school students in an afterschool program at a local youth center and with high school aged students at a youth shelter in town. This was a really great experience, and I learned a lot about teaching, writing, communication, and what it means to build community in a classroom-like setting. I wrote my term paper on the role of personal narrative writing, in terms of identity formation, building community, and literacy development. Even writing the 15 page paper was a really good experience. We (my two classmates and I) opted to continue running the group next semester, even though we won’t be getting course credit for it, but we’ve really grown to enjoy the company of the women who attend the group, and we see a very real benefit to what we’re doing.

And finally, my poetry workshop! Robin Becker conducted this fall’s workshop with a chapbook focus. I read, over the course of the semester, twenty-five chapbooks. Some I loved (Charles Wright’s The Wrong End of the Rainbow and Richard McCann’s Nights of 1990, though very different, both completely rocked my world and had me in tears), some I didn’t; but it was interesting to see the different ways people approached the short chapbook form. In addition to reading and commenting on chapbooks, I also wrote a poem a week for workshop, commented on my peer’s poems, drafted and revised a proposal for my own chapbook, researched and presented on a chapbook contest, and at the end of the semester submitted to Robin a preliminary sequence of fifteen revised poems that could potentially comprise a chapbook. Ten of the poems were from this semester; the other five predated grad school but fit the theme and arc of my collection. Visiting poets who read this semester were Elizabeth Alexander, Dawn Lundy Martin, and Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno. The first two I only met after their readings, but Bonanno sat in on our class and we had lunch with her the next day. We also had three newer poets who’ve recently published chapbooks visit our class: Rebecca Foust and Penn State MFA alums Shanna Powlus Wheeler and Katherine Bode-Lang. Katherine, in particular, is really amazing!

I also attended events with fiction writer Rick Bass (who has a very dry sense of humor), nonfiction writer David Quammen (a very smart, very nice guy) – other fiction and NF writers were on campus, but I skipped some of those events. George Saunders is our Writer in Residence in the spring.

So, what else? I wrote a lot, I made friends, I fell in love (much to my surprise), and I know with every ounce of certainty that coming here was the right decision and that I want to write and teach for the rest of my life! (Sappy? Perhaps, but that’s me.) Oh, and this past Friday was the traditional end of semester MFA Variety Show – a very casual, humorous “reading” at which a group of us first-years performed a skit about writing an MFA Manifesto. Other people read found poems composed entirely of English department member’s facebook status updates, fake letters requesting advice, bitter MFA bumper sticker slogans, one-man plays, and much other craziness. 

Saturday, December 12, 2009

End of the Semester

By Casey Tolfree

I've been thinking about what to say for a few days. I had a lot of adjustments to make this semester, a lot to get used to, a lot to take it. It wasn't easy and it was often frustrating but as the semester draws to a close, all I can think is I loved it. Issues with genre and teacher aside; I loved this semester. I made friends, I wrote a lot, I improved my writing a lot. I am sad that I have to wait another month for next semester. I miss my classmates already.

I don't have a lot to say except that. I just loved it. There is a great group of people at Adelphi, all very different and it is an experience I wouldn't trade for anything else.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Wayward Child: End of Semester Recap

Hey guys! First, sorry it's been eight years since I've posted. I apologize for not keeping posted all through the semester. I'm not sure I've written a blog post in the last year where I haven't apologized for my absence at the beginning, so this is kind of par for the course from me.

To recap: Hi, I'm Katie. I'm a fiction writer at Southern Illinois in Carbondale. And an hour from now, I'm going to walk into my afternoon class and finish teaching my first semester of grad school. It's insane. While I was congratulating and praising my first class for their awesomeness this morning, I kind of unexpectedly choked up a little, and got the slow-clap thing from them-- it was nice. I've really enjoyed teaching. This semester, I taught composition, which presented a lot of challenges; however, it was on a department wide syllabus, which is a wonderful thing SIU does that helps.

But I got my teaching assignment yesterday: I'm moving up to 102, which is still Composition, but I'll be writing my own syllabus and making my own assignments. I'm excited, I'm scared, but more than anything, after this semester, I'm ready.

My workshop-- my first fiction workshop of all time-- wrapped on Monday, and was great. I'd say all three of the stories I turned in had major failings in them, but I can see each time some improvement. I'm starting to publish-- poetry at a journal called "Big Lucks" and fiction at a journal called "The Meadowland Review"-- and next semester, because I'm a glutton for punishment, I'm signing up for a poetry workshop and a fiction workshop. Yikes! So again: I'm excited, I'm scared, I'm ready.

This semester has been exciting in other ways, too, though: I've continued writing for the Evansville Courier and Press, even though I moved away, and that granted me the ability to do some really cool music interviews. This semester, I interviewed everyone from Uncle Kracker to Loretta Lynn-- in fact, a few minutes ago, I got off the phone with the singer from the Oak Ridge Boys (they sing "Elvira"). Just a huge, huge semester for me.

But what blows my mind is that it's almost over. Sure, I've got some grading to do, but not much else. So my question to you guys is this: Now that it's winding down, what are you doing over break to prepare? I'm going to try and get a working syllabus for 102, write a few stories for workshop in the fall (Pinckney Benedict!) and some poems ready for my poetry workshop (ALLISON JOSEPH). Also, I'm having my family up from Texas to celebrate Christmas in Illinois and Indiana with my boyfriend and me this year-- so I've got to go Christmas shopping on a grad student salary! Double yikes. (Suggestions for gifting are also welcome. :) )

I basically just wanted to check in, promise I'll do better at updating next semester, and say that I've genuinely enjoyed reading everyone's updates and getting to know them this year. You guys have really helped me feel like I've got a community. Thanks to Jonterri for setting this up and letting me participate.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Visiting Writer Thing

by Jonterri Gadson

My visiting writer experience started off when I met with Tony Hoagland, 2 of my classmates, and Greg Orr for lunch yesterday. Hoagland started off his day by having conferences with each of the other two students and then my conference was scheduled for after lunch. The best part about lunch was hearing them both talk about when they were interviewing and getting hired for teaching positions. Funny story:

Hoagland: I fell flat on my face in that interview.
Me: Literally?
Everyone else: No. (laughing)
Greg: Metaphors, Jonterri.
Me: Oh! (laughing)
Greg: Geez, you narrative poets... (shakes his head)


So my conference with Hoagland was great. It was 50 minutes of him talking about the packet of poems I submitted to him about a month ago. I think the best thing about having these new eyes on my work is that he was able to see where my poetry was going or at least the direction I was trying to take it. That was nice. I think when people are presented with one poem at a time like in workshop, they can only focus on where your poetry is right now. Which is totally fine and as it should be, it's just nice to also have that other perspective. He gave me plenty of people whose work represents the unchartered (by me) territory I'm headed in. I'm very excited about moving forward with my writing and reading. If I can get that feeling from an interaction, then it's a success.

Last night he gave a craft talk which was really informative and engaging. It was about the spectrum from associative to disassociative poetry. Very enlightening.

Tonight he'll give a reading then finish off the rest of the week with conferences and lunches with students every day.

I hope everyone's semesters are winding down nicely. Next week is my last week of classes until like January 20!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

What counts as a new poem?

After reading the comments on Monica's excellent post, I wanted to chime in with my own number of new poems. The problem is, I'm not sure what counts. (That and it sounds like sharing with a date how many people you've slept with--too few and you come off as a prude, too many and perhaps a bit diseased...)

Don't get me wrong, I'm a very productive person (sometimes too productive, I hear you, Tory, when you comment that revision is a tricky bastard). And I think its awesome that Monica has 17 and Tory 30 and JayTee 11. Each of those numbers of new poems is excellent. (I'm leaving my own disgusting, unsatisfying number of new poems in the comments section...)

I guess beyond the problem of "is this (new) poem good enough," I really want to ask, is it even a new poem? For me there are the new poems I like and want to keep. New poems that have received multiple drafts (multiple drafts that are, sometimes, their own poems). New poems that have received multiple drafts and show promise but still kind of suck. Poems I like but that I don't think count as successful poems (and in that case I'm not sure I want to count them as poems at all, though surely by most metrics they are).

As someone who keeps a ton of notes and is constantly revising old work (or mashing old work together in the interests of generation), I also am unsure which of my old work turned new counts as new poems. Is it the number of lines that change, the words, the addition of a focus or a metaphor? A new last line? Or title? (Heck, what about poems you find discarded that it turns out were good all along?)

I was at VSC when Eric Pankey was a guest poet there (very good poet and very good reader of poems, by the way) and he told a story about how Donald Justice used to have fun little competitions between students at ruin great poems. The point was to ruin the great poem with the fewest moves possible. For instance, the insertion of a comma, or the change of a period to a --. Of course, someone else could ruin the poem better, so merely changing one semi-colon into a colon wasn't all it took. You had to be select in your ruinings.

I'm not sure why I add that, except that I find it to be a fascinating exercise, and I think it sheds a little light on all of our poems as evolving artifacts.

But that doesn't mean we can't try to answer the question (or don't already have an answer for it): what counts as a new poem?
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