Finding My Voice

Haven Winter Blog Series 2017 http://blog.lauramunson.com/2017/02/22/haven-winter-2017-blog-series-8-finding-your-voice/#respond

With great joy I am posting the piece that was selected for this years Haven Winter Blog Series. This is the fourth year in a row one of my pieces found its way to Laura Munson, along with a talented group of writers, appeared on her blog page. You can explore for yourself and enjoy all the Haven alumni on the link above. This year we were asked when we found our voice. Little did I know how much my life would change after meeting Laura and the Haven she has created in Montana. I sincerely hope you can experience it for yourself – tell Laura I pointed the way. Remember, you do not have to be a writer, only a seeker. What you find, well that’s up to you ❤

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In all honesty, I never lost my voice, how could I? I’m half Italian! To vocalize and express ourselves is one of the things we as a culture do best. That being said, in 2014 over time and under the pressures presented, I dropped to my knees, my voice hardly a whisper.

I found myself echoing other voices, but not conveying any personal impressions. My own sound and pitch became monotone. Life had thrown too many challenges at me so fast and furious that I did not even bother to get out of the way. Leaning on defeat was easier, I accepted failure, wrapping myself in pity and sadness was frightenly comfortable.

Laura Munson made it possible, in a ridiculously short amount of time, to empower my voice and turn up the volume of life. Haven is an abridged version of a writing-retreat-self-discovery-get away-reflection-sanctuary. I hardly have time to unpack and settle in before it began.

I can only share my own experience, for me it started with an unexpected emotional deluge of tears. Once the storm passed, my words revealed so much more than I anticipated. It was a cleansing of sorts, when I look back at my notes, my needs and desires were clearly articulated. Communication with myself spoke and guided me to believe I can do this – I can write and make myself heard. I can write and people enjoy reading what I’ve enjoyed creating. I can write just for myself and value what is written. My voice opened the doors into publication only a handful a weeks after I returned home from Montana. My voice was so much more than I ever thought it could be, it was the beginning of self-worth – I am worthy, I am enough. I am a writer.

Rediscovering my voice was what I needed to do, but it unexpectedly allowed me to find other voices. Once the confidence grew, I found many writers that were just as passionate, responsive and excited about their voices. We harmonized well, supported and nourished one another. It made me think of a soloist who sings beautifully. However, when you put a choir together, the richness of tone is fuller and the sound of many voices singing in unison is amazing and powerful. Thus writing took on many connotations – there is always something to learn on your own. There is always a group you can sing with and enjoy, and if you do not enjoy them – move on. Take your voice and share it until you find the right melody.

Writing is also a solitary art I love, when my muse whispers to me and the words flow.

Currently, I am a handful of pages away from the final rewrite of my first novel. My editor – author Susan Strecker has shared her voice with me, challenged me, pointed me in new directions and given me a deeper understanding of this journey. With a little luck, query letters will be sent and I will wait to hear from the powers that be at the publishing houses. Good or bad, it’s all part of the process. Yet now, after writing and rewriting, and many months of reflection, if the publishers pass me by – so be it. It will not silence me. I will self-publish this novel, and proudly place it on a shelf in my home. It is after all, written in my voice.

Breathe Deep, Think Peace

Patty

 

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The Gift of Critique

This has been a whirl wind month hasn’t it? Through all of the turmoil, I am extremely grateful to be able to sit still and write. An invaluable way for me to express myself yes, but to calm and focus from the events at hand is even more important. I am deeply saddened and upset by much of what is taking place.

The unrest in the world around me has clearly defined a path to the sanctuary of my writing space and the solitude of my own thoughts. I do not owe anyone an explanation or reason I choose to write like this or that. I do not have to apologize when I write a vulgar poem or shift gears and create a child’s lullaby. In the writers’ life, you are completely free to write whatever you wish without justification. You have the freedom to choose.

So instead of filling this page with my views, positive or negative on the climate in this country. I choose to share something I came across that I found helpful, perhaps you will find it of value too. The purpose was to ground myself. Use my solitude and delve a little deeper into the art of writing.

I’ve taken workshops, gone to seminars, immersed myself in the technical courses of writing and explored the nature of poetry. It was a gift to find an editor who pushed me to experiment with ideas and pulled me along into understanding the formatting of a good story -how to make it work and work well. How to take my ideas to the next level. So now, my hope is that when I write something, it is richer, fuller, crafted tighter. Learning how others have approached this craft is of great interest to me. So when I heard author Veronica Roth speak about her journey writing and how she came to embrace being critiqued, I took noticed and listened carefully.

I found her interview extremely insightful. It was not the discussion of the success of her books which have topped 35 million in sales. The first being Divergent, followed by Insurgent and then Allegent, all which have been made into movies. She spoke about taking one creative writing class in college. There she learned how to accept critiques.  Notice I did not say criticism, and if you are in a writing circle that criticizes your work – get out, that’s just toxic. But if you are in a writing group that critiques – listen and really hear what is being said about your work.

She said at first it was truly an overwhelming experience. You are to sit in silence while everyone in the room takes turns critiquing (defined as: analysis, evaluation, assess, appraise, appreciate/or not, review, study, comment) your work. Anyone who has gone through this knows how difficult it is and our first reaction is to explain why we did this, or said that. But that’s missing the point. She said she learned how important is was to sit silently and listen to how your work was read. Not explain. Simply understand if they don’t get it, you didn’t say it right. The solution is within you – but the critique is imperative to accept and use for help.

So if you are able to receive the gift of critique – take it seriously and with grace. Listen, hear and take notes.

Lastly, I also admired her honesty when she spoke about the publishing world. When asked what she thought the reason her book was selected, without hesitation she said, “Timing and luck.” For some reason, this helped me relax as I begin the next part of my journey. Learning to write a query letter, and not taking rejection to heart. I can’t find an agent if I do not put myself out there – putting myself out there is a little scary, but, with a little luck that is exactly what I will do. I can only hope the timing is write.

Breathe Deep, Think Peace

Patty

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A Push

Today and tomorrow is all that is left of 2016 and I, like many, will be glad to see it go. Yet I walk hesitantly forward, more of a combination of a little excitement and a lot of caution into 2017.

My goal right now is to learn to write a query letter, find an agent and ultimately a publisher and get my book out there in the traditional way. My dream would be that after it is published perhaps Hollywood would take a peek and an interest in the story – that would be very nice. Nice meaning amazingly incredibly wonderful. The script would pretty much writes itself with what I’ve packed into the pages, oh I know, I will still need help, perseverance and a hell of a lot of luck – but it’s a good story, and now the other stories that are welling up inside me, are pushing me to get this book done so they can be born. I see much more pushing in my future.

But I remember just as I tried to push my daughter out into the world she had other plans and took a different direction, ultimately requiring a cesarean. Literally from under my navel she immerged breathtaking with a round head and piercing eyes. I was truly blessed, both my daughters were born beautiful and perfect. How did I do that? How did my husband and I do that? But do that we did. Now as I think of writing a story, as many do, as giving birth that requires a lot of pushing – I can see that the story can take a different direction than originally planned.

My friend Estha, an accomplished poet, author and college professor said the first time we met in my dining room, with two other women whose writings we were being critiqued and the craft of writing studied together – that I must know that what I had written may change completely. I did not want to hear that! I felt terrible even to consider such a thing. Why didn’t she understand? It is my baby and therefore perfect!

As I think back on that time two years ago now – I must laugh. Estha had read my first draft and was actually being kind. It wasn’t at all ready to be read. I can see that very clearly now. Oh I had a very rough sketch of the bones, but the story the muscles and tendons were not there, nor were the nerves and most importantly a pulse – that came much later. When I think I’ve worked on this novel a little less than three years, I can see the growth and development of the story. It wasn’t something that was born perfect – like my children – with fingers ten toes – but it was a project built upon an idea – a flimsy wisp of a story with needs and desires and a will of its own. It nurtured me as much as I needed to nurture it – oh, but one more thing, unlike my daughters this story was born with a full set of teeth, and it bit. A lot!

It gnawed its way through conception, it chewed up ideas and spit them out, it killed my darlings, it grinned at paradigms I didn’t know were there. It coaxed and made me work, really work and think and think some more – then tear up and start again. THAT is when I knew I was making real progress. Working with Susan, my editor who instructed, cajoled and forced me to see the errors as well as where the charms were hidden in the shadows. How to find the voices of my characters and construct a believable world for them to live in. I practiced and still practice – taking her teachings so that I could begin to learn to self-edit. I was given tools to use, shown tracks in the snow that quickly melted that led me off a cliff. You have to choose – fly, glide, hover dreamlike above the clouds, or plunge fiercely to the sharp and jagged floor of the ravine. The decisions are ultimately yours – but the story is not. It breaths and runs and takes paths less traveled and makes you follow as much as lead. If it is a good, well written story, it will allow your readers to come along and trust you as a writer.

It is being touched by words…it is what writing is all about for me.

To those of you who are following me on my journey as a writer. I thank you. Writing is a solitary process, but it is formed with many other voices, those who encourage, challenge, mock, support and enlighten in ways I could have never thought possible.

This entire journey may not end the way I hoped. The profession itself holds no guarantees or promises. Yet I am drawn to it, and no matter what happens, I know I have done everything in my power to write this novel to the best of my ability. From taking classes, workshops, gone to writing retreats, surrounded myself with other writers, authors, positive people, read, re-read, write every day – even when I don’t want to, do whatever it takes to yes learn the craft – but do it because I want to and love to.  I wish 2017 brings your goals to fruition. For good health, finding the joy in small things as richly and fulfilling as the large things. Dare I pray for peace, understanding and acceptance for every one of every shade of skin, religious practice or not, way of life, political choice or possibilities. May we all be safe, be mindful and be aware.

I Thank YOU the reader, for without you the writer would have no voice at all!

Happy New Year!

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And I Am Thankful

My belly is full. Breakfast was free – and I am thankful.  I followed the directions and used a cast iron waffle maker – it took two minutes, quick, easy and delicious. A choice of hot coffee, brewed tea and chilled orange juice was offered. Cubes of honeydew and cantaloupe chilled beside a glistening mountain of sliced strawberries and grapes in a stainless steel bowl. Next a choice of breads, rolls and bagels piled near a toaster, a bin filled with butter, cheeses, honey and hazelnut spread was beautifully displayed on white doilies. Golden scrambled eggs, lines of crisp bacon, or round sausage patties under a warming dome quickly disappeared and were just as quickly refilled. Oatmeal bubbled in a large pot, smaller containers offered walnuts, chocolate chips, flaked coconut, raisins and brown sugar to stir into or sprinkle on top. It was a bountiful feast, or at least that is the perception I chose. Others would see a complimentary breakfast with each night booked at this hotel.

I watched the other guests meander around, took a plate and looked for a quiet spot to sit, some alone, others in groups. A brief case or iPad was clutched in their hands. Still others did not see the wealth right in front of them. They looked tired, angry, fed up, perhaps longing for home or disappointed because that is where they were heading next. Sad. To be thankful for your situation, your job, your home, your car, your life – is unsatisfying when taken in one large bite. You can’t taste it if you choke it down. But if sipped, savored, and tasted, you may be very pleasantly surprised at how rich your life truly is.

As I sip my coffee and people watch.  How many would trade places with me? How many would give anything for a fresh piece of fruit, instead of a half-eaten core from a garbage can? What would someone give for a few minutes alone in a clean bathroom, with fresh towels, toothpaste and a warm shower – dare I include clean clothes to wear? Basic things we take for granted every day. In this country, the greatest country in the world, that has so very much, right in front of us. So much we sometimes do not even see it. We forget to be thankful.

Sometimes having a shift in our life can be a very positive thing. A handful of years ago I choose to be miserable, in my situation, my job, my life. It wasn’t what I wanted or hoped for, it didn’t make me happy. I found myself praying out loud to please, please provide a map – I’m not afraid to do the work, to get lost, to try and fail – but I need a direction and if it is not too much trouble – I want to be happy and I want life to be better than I could ever imagine. Now don’t get me wrong – I can imagine a lot and no I’m not living on easy street in a mega mansion, yet my perceptions have changed. I was in a position that I was made to feel inferior and I allowed it to happen. It was if I was less than a person, looked down upon, but had to continue to ‘serve’ with a smile. It was a harsh lesson in humility. But it also gave me a very real look into what many have endured for years without seeing any light, not to mention there simply was no tunnel. How could they be thankful?

I look back at that life and see where I am now – in this moment. I am so very, very thankful to find  the tunnel, to see the light, and to look for the next tunnel. You can change your circumstance, not by waiting for someone to come along and do it for you.  You must do it for yourself.  Everyone has the same number of hours in a day, but it is what you decide to do with that time, that can and will make a difference. Don’t cast blame, be the difference, be aware, be the light for someone else. You might be surprised just how much light is reflected back on your shoulders.

As I left the dining area, and took the elevator back to my room, where I have been given a great gift of time to work on my book. The view from my window was different. It may not be a great view, but if I broaden my mind – those puddles on the rooftop of the building across the street, suddenly reflected the colors of pink and blue in the sky after the rain. Those trees in the distance, brushed in soft grey and pale lavender are beautiful – ready for winter. I can hear laughter from men in the parking lot, getting ready for a long day of driving tractor trailers, wishing each other a safe ride. There is a hot cup of tea in white Oneida waiting for me, and I began to write. Whatever may or may not come from that, has already made me happy, I acknowledge it, accept it, and I am thankful.

What are you truly thankful for in your life, right now, in this moment?

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Write. Relax. Walk Away. Respond. Rewrite. Rejoice.

I realize this is not a proper sentence, nor a set of directions just anyone would fully grasp the deeper meaning of. Yet I do believe a writer – beginner or experienced will completely understand what I’m trying to say.

Now I am not in any way going to pretend I know enough to teach or guide or even imply I can help you write. But I can share what I’ve experienced and if it can help you on your journey to become a better writer, well then I am glad.

These past two months have been full of emotion. Changing editors was nerve racking. Am I doing the right thing? Dare I jump off the cliff alone? How much money do I invest in myself? Doubt. Doubt. Jump. Joy! Yes, joy, acknowledging the feeling that I must do something, but what is the right thing to do? Once you make the decision and you do jump, or just take one step – you are moving forward and I think that is very important in the writing process. Keep moving even if your moving away from what you’ve just written.

Wait, what did she say?  Yes. Step away from the page – the screen – the pen – the whatever you use to put thoughts down upon.

Okay, allow me to take a step backwards for a minute. I have learned SO much from having an editor who makes me dive into myself – she questions, challenges, points out, highlights, and pulls from me better stuff than I gave myself credit for being able to write.  She also will be the first to say, no, wait, what? Did you mean to say this? Cause it comes across as that.  She’s not just smart and knows the craft – but she’s honest with me.  She tells me when it isn’t right and gives me tools so I can then see for myself what I need to work on.

She held my hand for the first thirty pages of critiques – now she insists I work and cultivate and really see what it is I’m writing.  To do that meant, for me, I had to walk away.

For example. I reworked a chapter – took all her notes into consideration and trusted her.  The chapter became ten times better. It flowed, it caught me, it made sense, it became something more than what it was.  Now I will rewrite three, four, five chapters at a time, and again, walk away.  I’ll do something else I enjoy, which may be a walk, watching a movie under my dogs (I have dogs who do not know, they are not lap dogs and I do not have the heart to tell them, so when I sit down to select a program, they assume I need them snuggle with . And I do.) Or recently, I’ve taken out my paints and canvas and dove into the colors, the shapes and patterns of an art I did not nurture or give time to in my life – which I regret, but you know what, I may not have even picked up the brush if I had not walked away from the key board – and that would have been an even bigger regret.

After a week or two I returned to the words, the chapters, the story and reread what I wrote. It was amazing, I could see what she had spoken about. I could feel the current and see where I needed to place rocks to change the direction of the stream or speed up the action, or add narrative instead of describe for the reader what I wanted them to see. It was a reframing to the picture I am painting in my novel – and it was better, richer and much more opulent than my first or second draft. It had matured, grown and evolved into what I know the work can be.

Breathe Deep, Think Peace

Patty

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Writing Out of My Comfort Zone – With a Harley Davidson

The summer of 2016 has been one hell of a season for me.  I’ve had many different experiences, none of which had anything to do with summertime.  No vacations, camping trips or amusement parks – no my experiences have presented themselves as challenges, decision making, choices and risks.  All revolved around writing.

An opportunity appeared, not with bright lights and publishing contracts, but with workshops, new faces, new ideas and old standbys.  Culminating in knowing yes, I’m still on the right road, but need to get off at the next exit and have a look around.  Take time to see and enjoy the area, and that’s just what I did.

Since then the most amazing things have happened.  I’ve had more chances to write, explore the craft, take it apart and understand how it works.  Oh I am by no means saying I am now any kind of expert – but I feel so much stronger and better about what I’m doing and how to do it.

Taking a chance – maybe with a job, a move, a decision that is out of your comfort zone is important.  Yes it is a risk, but no matter what – you will learn and if you are open minded – you will grow from it.

The most recent risk for me was saying yes to writing an article for a magazine about an event.  Not a wedding, or park opening, not a dedication or local government ribbon cutting. No this event came up unexpectedly and allowed me to surround myself with machines and the people who ride these machines.  What machines?  Harley Davidson motorcycles.

Yeah I know!  Crazy right?  I’m writing a blog about a writers journey, I’m in the beginning of  the rewrite for my first novel, yet here I am surrounded by some of the most incredibly engineered motorcycles in the world, and I’ve been asked to write about them at the 2017 Launch Party in New York to introduce the new models.

So what’s my point?  Take writing risks!  As much as the thought intimidated me, I stepped out of my comfort zone way of writing, and said yes, and then I figured out how to do it – then I did it.  YOU are the first to read my article below.  YOU are also the only one who can decide what you are and are not comfortable writing – but – keep your eyes open.  You might be surprised by what you can write, or are willing to try writing and just how fulfilling that can be.  I’d love to hear about the risk you took and how successfully you handled the curves, that this life seems to enjoy putting in front of us.

Breathe Deep, Think Peace

Patty

Hudson Valley Harley Davidson 33 Route 304  Nanuet, NY 10954

2017 Launch Party!

The unveiling of the new 2017 Harley Davidson motorcycles did not roll into Hudson Valley Harley Davidson – they roared.  As smooth as Cool Hand Luke.  (For those of you who may not be familiar with Luke, in a nutshell, he refused to submit to the system.) In Harley Davidson’s case – they are not only creating, they are constantly perfecting and advancing the technology of their systems.

There has never been a failure in communication between Harley Davidson and its customers.  The 2017’s are the perfect example of listening and hearing what riders have asked for– you can ride hot but your engine will run noticeably cooler.  I invite you to check out www.hdhudsonvalley.com for yourself and explore the new models like The Ultra Limited Low, “Settle into the low seat for high miles” Or the very popular Iron 883. “A great leap forward in the dark arts.”

Yet the HVHD Launch was not just about the bikes, it was about the people.  The party began in the parking lot.  Beautiful bikes stood on either side of the entrance to the new sleek industrial design in the Hudson Valley location.  An arch of colorful balloons, music and laughter filled the inside of this huge space. Only a handful of miles from the new bling of Westchester’s much anticipated Tappan Zee Bridge.  HVHD stretches across the Hudson Valley as a dealership who has had the bar set higher than ape hangers.  With not just a fully stocked New and Preowned motorcycle selection, but with exemplary Customer Service. As I watched the final preparations being made, it was obvious, everyone on the HVHD team was excited.

I spoke with several guests who sipped cool drinks as they waited to view the next years sizzling new bikes. What surprised me was the praise of the type of dealership Hudson Valley Harley Davidson is, and the reputation they are creating after just three months since the grand opening.  Two words – No Pressure.  The goal is not just to sell you a bike, but to sell you a bike that is the best fit for YOU.  It has nothing to do with the most expensive one, or the one with the most bells and whistles, it comes by way of simply having a conversation.

What kind of riding do you do?  Long rides?  Short rides? How tall are you?  What feels right when you sit down, sit low, sit back?  How much experience do you have? They want you to be comfortable and able to do what you want to do with what you choose to ride, safely.  It’s not about the deal – it is about the rider.

It’s not a party without food right?  Hot fresh Free pizza and beverages were available,which allowed groups of visitors to sit, eat and talk without feeling rushed or compelled to make a purchase.  It was to enjoy the event and the day with each other.  Which was evident since people stayed all day and some well past closing!

HVHD wants to develop relationships, not one night stands.  It has a friendly, warm atmosphere with a knowledgeable staff, an impressive selection, fab clothes, parts and accessories in a great location.

You might have heard the saying, “Home is where your story begins.” But it is on a motorcycle, on the road, where you fill-in the chapters and continue writing. So, Happy New Year – a little early.  Where will your ride take you?

 

 

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Changes in Direction

As many of you know, his blog was created, because author Laura Munson said it would help build my platform.  It was a major step for me in this journey as a writer.  The idea of beginning a blog, much less having the commitment to maintaining something I hoped people would enjoy reading each month, seemed mind-boggling.  But, I trusted Laura and Googled ‘How to start a Blog’ I found WordPress.

You read; you chat, you sign up, take their free courses, look at other blogs, talk with other writers, photographers, dreamers and slowly but surely you carve a niche for yourself.

Has it been easy?  Nope.  Have I goofed?  Oh yeah – I’ve goofed a lot, learned, kept going, then turned around tripped and goofed again.  I knew if I really wanted to walk this path, I had to keep going in this direction, no matter how many goofs.

Once you have your blog up and running – now what?  You give yourself a schedule of some sort, and post, for who?  Yourself?  Your family, friends, co-workers?  Well yeah.  So when you goof, you are forgiven.  That’s where you can share your thoughts and whatever else you wish, that become the mortar to your platform.  All the little things you post/publish, while you’re working on your novel, your memoir, your dream.  Believe me, I’m grateful to everyone, who started me on this path, reads about my goofs as well as celebrates my successes.

But recently, my journey brought me to a cliff.  I had to make a major decision and have faith in myself that it was the right one.  That last part was the hardest.  It required I change directions, but I couldn’t see past the cliff, it was dark, and change is scary.

Here’s what happened…

Last month I shared with you, that I attended a workshop called “You Wrote a Book, Now What?”  Hosted by Unicorn For Writers, and if you haven’t heard about them, go check out their website, created by Jan L Kardys who is brilliant and delightful.  You will find answers to your questions, and then you will find more questions.  Yes, more questions – because you will walk into a world of writing and you will see there is much more to learn than you thought.  But, know this, they are going to be honest with you.  They will point you in directions you may not feel comfortable traveling alone, but its part of the process.  They will offer affordable professional guidance, more than affordable workshops and a once a year a writers conference at Manhattanville College in New York that rivals all others.  Don’t take my word for it, go explore for yourself.  I share this with you, because I saw the cliff when I went to the workshop.  I went to the workshop, because I was beginning to lose myself, writing wasn’t fun, I began to doubt because I let the words of another affect me.  I don’t have to tell you, that if you stop working on your passion, – because of the criticism of others – walk away.  Walk towards the critiques.

After the seminar I had the chance to work with Bob Zaslow (if you go to unicornforwriters.com you’ll meet him.).  At a writing circle, he had a page of comments about part of my novel, but he was not smiling or reassuring.  He avoided eye contact, he told me that people can get upset with his comments, sometimes even angry. I smiled at him and asked a question, “Are you going to criticize me or critique me?  I know this isn’t personal, this is business.”  Bob’s eyes twinkled, he laughed, and we got right to work.  It was great, he helped make my writing better.  I felt rejuvenated working with someone who was as excited about writing as much I am.

One decision became clear.  I’ve been working with the same editor for quite a while now, but my heart told me I needed to move on.  It was taking a chance, but I had stay true to myself first so, no matter how scary, I jumped off the cliff.

I’m excited about my novel again.  I felt like I was lost in the woods, now I have a new editor who I am thrilled to say is also my mentor.  A talented, vibrant author who told me after 63 query letter rejections, her 64th made her dream come true and her first novel published.  She’s now working on her fifth.  Talk about perseverance, having a goal and following your passion.  Her critique makes me work hard, but it also guides me, indeed she lights the way.  Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”  I can’t wait to see where else this journey leads me.

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