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The story I’m supposed to tell

It’s not me wanting to run away; I have nothing from which to run.

It’s not me escaping to another future.

It’s not even me being pushed away; it feels, instead, like I’m being pulled.

A few months ago - on my best friend’s birthday - I announced that I was moving some 1,000 miles away to Nashville. It was not my finest moment.

Why I’d chosen my friend’s birthday to tell people is still something I try to explain away but it won’t work. Why I’d chosen 1,000 miles is easier to explain.

Right now I live in upstate New York. It’s lovely - really. There are mountains to climb, major cities - and even another country - within a few hours, people I care about, some great - and some not so great - food. Here, home, feels stagnant though. As if I’ve done everything that there is to do here already, even though logically I realize that can’t possibly be the case.

There, on the other hand, is new. I haven’t done anything there; well, almost anything. How much can you really do in a barely 48 hour visit?

The choice of city was less about the city itself and more about the instrumental role on inhabitant plays in my life: Friend. You see, every so often I do get the feeling like I’d like to, for lack of better terminology, run away; just not to a place where I don’t know anyone.

I want to try something new. I’m in a place to do it now - I’m not married, I don’t have kids, I don’t need to be responsible for anyone but myself. The writer in me wants to go. The deeply-buried (almost to a point of suffocatingly strong) adventurist in me wants to go.

But I am forever stuck in my emotional, logical ways and the emotional, logical part of me is forever taking a self-inflicted beating for even considering the move.

Long before the birthday announcement, I told my mother. She handled the news well, more concerned about semantics than anything else. Later I found out that she cried. My mother and I have always been close, but I can’t remember a time when we’ve been closer.

My friends who found out during the b-day dinner had different reactions. One was - I think - furious and sad. The other just didn’t think I’d ever go, so it wasn’t something about which he needed to worry.

On top of my own, these are the three voices I have in my head, swirling around in the mess of paralyzed abyss that I can’t seem to make heads or tails of.

The writer and adventurer in me steps in, feebly attempting to trample the abyss without realize the quicksand into which its stepped so feverishly. 

This is your life.

The ultimate problem I have is I’m not good at being selfish - at least not on a large scale. I don’t think they’d ask me to stay, if they knew I had to go. But I don’t. I don’t have to go. I want to, and I don’t know if want has ever been enough.

The pulling I feel is a strong one though. Fighting it is like fighting the ocean when you’re being pulled out by the current. I need help on this one. I need someone to help pull me to a shore - whatever shore it might be.

So I don’t know what to do. I’d be heartbroken if my mom or my best friends in the world told me they were moving away. I like to think I’d understand if they felt like they had to go… Had to try it out, just to say they had. But I know I’d be a mess. I’d wonder everyday if we were somehow growing apart; if today would be the day they’d come back… Or maybe tomorrow.

But I can’t help but think that the story I’m supposed to tell is out there somewhere. Somehow, someway, I need to decide if it’s the story I’m supposed to tell or if it’s just the story I want to tell.

Maybe you’re someone who believes your life is based on a book that’s already written; maybe you believe your book is based on a life you have yet to live.

I just don’t know what I believe.

Dinner conversation at its finest

I don’t know how we manage to do it, but in the few times a good friend and I have gone out to eat dinner, the conversations that surround us make me almost certain that Howie Mandel is going to pop out of a side room and tell us we’ve been Punk’d.

[Yes, I realize those are two different shows]

Exhibit A.
A little over a week ago, we stopped at a chain restaurant and two tables away from us, a group of four seemingly innocuous people sat, enjoying whatever overly-caloric, diabetes-inducing meals they’d chosen. Shortly after they sat, a word that is almost never uttered outside of the most awkward of ballet classes slipped out: Prance.

To paraphrase, a woman noted that her - if I remember correctly - grandson was seen prancing across a basketball court during one of his recent games and a basketball court is NO PLACE FOR PRANCING. Well obviously it’s no place for prancing. However, for her it wasn’t a comment left at one sentence. There was a diatribe about prancing - and how it is clearly meant for anywhere but a sports team. Unless that sport happens to be gymnastics. Again, obviously.

Of course, the act becomes even more awkward when you consider the following definitions of prancing via Urban Dictionary:

1. A combination of skipping and wavy arm movements above the head. Usually looks very fluid and extremely questionable.
[Clearly this is unacceptable on a basketball court]

2. What all good poofters do as they march in Poofters on Parade. [And, in case you’re wondering what Poofter means, wonder no more]
[We do not parade, as we do not prance, around a basketball court!]

I couldn’t stop laughing, which was made even more difficult because I was facing the conversation so every time the word prancing danced its way questionably into my ears, my face turned beat red and I had to laugh into my purse, which didn’t find the conversation funny at all.

Exhibit B.
Then, last weekend, said friend and I went to a local Chinese restaurant where the sound of a smoker’s laugh invaded our personal space. In a booth behind friend, two women sat regaling each other with tales of the various other women (and maybe men) in their lives.

Woman A seemed like she was just along for the ride while Woman B was spewing hatred out like puke out of a bulimic. I’m pretty sure at some point there was talk of physical violence toward some woman who “best not show up around me” (I’m paraphrasing, of course). Then she (Woman B) would laugh her smoker’s laugh, take a bite of her food, and go back to hating on women.

You know how awful conversation can actually make your food taste bitter? Right.

The saving grace of this incident is that there was a partition separating me from said conversation, so I could at least look like I was holding in my laughter and just had to worry about the sounds.

Exhibit C.
By my count, the best of the awkward overheard dinner conversations. Friend and I went to an Italian restaurant - the name of which will be omitted here, but I will say has a name that’s not in the least bit Italian.

Including us, there were four patrons in the sitting area (a marked improvement over friend’s last visit - or so I’m told), our waiter/host, a bartender and a man sitting at the bar.

So, friend and I are seated at a table behind which is a curtain that separates the dining area from the bar. I should mention here the curtain was gold and looked like it was made out of some sort of velvet/velour hybrid fabric, so you can imagine the kind of high class establishment I’m talking about.

At first, the most interesting conversation going on is between the other customers - two women who are trying to decide if they should have dessert, share one, or skip it. This is, to say, it was not an interesting conversation at all.

Then, the bartender - who I can only describe by voice and laugh as she and the customer were behind said curtain, was, I’d say mid-50s, hair that is just now recovering from having been in a beehive decades ago, and at best pear shaped (which is an assumption based less on her voice and more on her sole customer who assumed out loud that she had kids - she assured him that he was incorrect) - started “hard core macking" (my friend actually said that) on said customer. 

Since friend and I had to order food, I missed the beginning of this conversation, but somehow cocaine came up between the bartender and customer. The back and forth stopped just short of inspiring a “Just Say No” ad, but clearly crossed the line into “If You See Something, Say Something” territory.

To paraphrase: The customer and the bartender commiserated about their use of cocaine “back in the day” and how they finally had to cut it out and then the customer, in a total Buzz Killington moment said “(some girl whose name I forget) died from doing coke too much.”

The bartender, clearly sensing a need to move the conversation from drugs to death, then began to tell the story of a local guy who either worked at or owned a restaurant. When he died - apparently not from a drug overdose - he was cremated and some people decided that his ashes should be put in the pepper shakers at the restaurant to pay homage to him.

Full disclosure - I’m not entirely sure if they intended to put the “pepper” out on the tables, or if they just decided that anyone who’s been involved in the restaurant business would clearly want to be memorialized in some sort of condiment packaging; I’m also not entirely sure if this took place at the restaurant we’d chosen for the evening or somewhere else… or if maybe her coke days led her to believe this was true while it was, in fact, not.

Whatever the case was, from then on I had to hold back both laughter and my gag reflex anytime our waiter offered pepper to us for our meals.

Evidently this, too, was not the most uplifting conversation for either the (apparently) Rubenesque bartender or the customer, so they moved on to jokes.

They started innocently enough… “Why did Tigger stick his head in the toilet?” “He was looking for Pooh.”

Then, the last thing I heard before my friend started talking to me was “How do you make a dead baby float?”

I didn’t hear the punch line - but I can only hope it has something to do with cocaine or a dead person’s ashes in a pepper shaker. I refuse to look up the answer because if for any reason I get arrested and someone is looking at my Google search history, I’d prefer “how to make a dead baby float” not come up.

It doesn’t look good.

Needless to say, I can’t wait for my next meal out…

Dear grandma…

Some of the earliest memories I have are at my maternal grandparents’ house. My mom and I moved around a bit during my formative years, but their house remained; much like its residents, the home was a stalwart of my childhood.

I learned to walk at their house - a story I’ve heard so many times it almost seems like it’s my own memory; some of the most fun I had when I was little was in front of a dishpan playing with soap and water - inside on cold days and outside on hot ones; I remember serving my grandfather dinner on a tray while he watched whatever sport being broadcast (whenever you asked him who he was rooting for his response was “I’ll tell you after the game”). And, as an only child I got some quality insight into siblinghood when I spent time with my cousins - those who became my closest family members, a bond still shared.

Memories from their house could fill a book, and not just ones from growing up. One of about 50 grand kids, as an adult it was nice to steal some alone time with my grandmother to catch up or play cards. Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away too long ago to see the person I’d become - from the little girl he took to the track to the adult I am today.

My grandmother, though, at 93 is still a huge role model in my life. I love playing cards with her and listening to her talk about how her and my grandfather met; how - in the story she tells - he knew from the moment he saw her that they would be married and tales of my aunts, uncles and mother (all 10 of them) and their various insane plots.

Aside from raising 10 kids - who, by the way, all grew up to be wonderful people - there have been other things to test her strength. Cancer, death, some grand kids who I’m sure have tested her patience (never me though, I was always perfect… around her).

There’s something calming about speaking with someone who’s been there. Times change - drastically - but what we garner from our own experiences is still something that can be shared over various generations.

Last weekend my grandmother went into the hospital. I spent some time with her Saturday night, along with other family members, and it was as if she were just there for some tests. Maybe, just maybe, she was putting on a strong facade for me - but if it was an act, it worked. She was asking me about my life - generally concerned that work was going OK. I left feeling like the reason she’d been brought there was under control and that she’d be kept overnight and sent home Sunday.

Then, Sunday morning I got a call from my mother that the doctor said we should get family down to the hospital.

For the second time in my life, I immediately broke down into tears. In my adult life, I’ve only had one person die who I was close to; I’m still trying to find my sea legs when it comes to coping with things like this - not that I think people are ever fully capable of it.

I’m not sure what the exact definition of crying hysterically is, but I’m sure I was doing it. How can someone who has been such an important part of my entire life be dying? She can’t be - she just can’t be.

At 93, my grandmother has seen a LOT. A few years ago, over a game of cards, she nonchalantly indicated to me that she felt she’d lived her life. At the time - and even today when I think about it - I felt like a brick had been dropped in my stomach. I thought, How can anyone be done with life? I just don’t understand. There’s so much of it to live. 

Maybe at 28, I’m not supposed to understand it.

My grandmother is still at the hospital, surrounded by medical staff and her loving family and I can’t help but think about how much of my life has depended on this woman - a source of so much of my strength - who is nothing short of amazing.

I can only hope now that we can be a source of strength for her.

Love you gram.

Polite

I wonder sometimes why it is we’re expected to be polite all the time. Or is it not that we’re expected by others to be, but that it’s so ingrained we expect it of ourselves?

When we’re little (or as the parents) “it’s not polite” becomes a catchall in the same way “because I said so” does. It makes sense. How can you possibly explain to a two year old that rubbing their boogers on someone else’s clothing is bad?

But as adults, in regard to other adults, why does politeness take a higher standing than honesty? Maybe, just maybe, it shouldn’t.

I’ll own that I’m insanely sensitive, that I can misconstrue words like it’s my job. I’ll also own that I walk on eggshells around people even when broaching the least sensitive of topics. As such, I’ve almost become a master at backtracking; it’s an art.

But there are times that all I want to do is scream at someone but am not quite capable. Instead - like most people, I believe - I scream about that person to someone else. True, it doesn’t entirely make me feel better, but in the end I haven’t really hurt the feelings of anyone and that’s better than me losing a little sleep, right?

Probably not.

I envy people who will just tell you what they think. Unless their thoughts are directed at me, then I just get a headache in my stomach (as my young cousin would say).

The problem with couches…

Is ultimately that they are so damn comfortable. Even if you don’t looooove your couch, chances are it’s still tolerable enough to comfort you after the most gruelling day.

I like mine for a few reasons. One, it was free. Two, we have a mutual understanding that I can roll around on it, trying to get comfortable, and it will just take it. Really, it’s the most perfect relationship. But recently, I’ve been cheating on it.

No, not with another couch - with running shoes.

Let me first say I hated running; nor did I understand it or those who did it. Honestly, I thought, what could you possibly be running FROM? Friend after friend laced up and hit the streets, track or treadmill and were putting some serious miles on their feet. My feet, meanwhile, were reserved for high heels. I was running from nothing.

Some ran to lose weight, some ran to keep weight off, some ran for some “me” time. Ironically none were running from anything.

Then, a few friends started the Couch to 5K program. For the longest time I was convinced the only 5K that would be in my life would be the insanely large diamond I’d get when, as a 20-something, I married an 80-something. (What? Like you don’t bling-inspired goals?)

But both friends swore by it. And then I met a boy who runs. And suddenly running seemed like a really good idea.

And so, on July 16 I started the Couch to 5K program. On September 26 I’ll do my first 5K - The Crossings 5K Challenge. Emphasis on the word challenge. As it turns out, the boy and I had enough to talk about without my feet hitting the pavement, but I’m sticking to it. Even in 90+ degree temperature. Even when my couch, which is apparently anthropomorphizing itself, is beckoning for me to come home, cuddle up, put a bad movie on and settle in for the night.

I’m thinking maybe after five or so years I’ll begin to understand why people like this so much. Let the countdown begin…

The tale of two Jims

Or… how to put your foot in your mouth

If you’ve ever worked with, lived with, or had more than a passing conversation with me it’s likely the following story will not surprise you. It may make you laugh, it may make you squirm, but I can almost guarantee you it won’t shock you in the least.

Tonight I had to go into work to make up a few hours. I got there, having returned just about an hour before from a few days at the Cape, and spent some time talking to my co-workers. Normally on a Saturday, there are two copy editors and a reporter in news department. Tonight, because of a fun new project that came from the way-higher-ups, some of the somewhat-higher-ups (those directly above me anyway) were working as well.

Two of those somewhat-higher-ups were the city editor of the newspaper for which I work, Jim #1. and the editor, Lisa.

A while after I arrived, Jim #1 left and Lisa worked from his desk because her computer wasn’t doing what it’s supposed to.

Jim #1’s desk faces a partition wall that’s about fourish feet tall. Normally when I’m talking to Jim #1 I’m looking over this wall, down at his desk.

Tonight, I was doing the same thing but looking down at Lisa when I noticed a piece of chewed gum on the desk. Immediately I went into my less-funny-than-Seinfeld diatribe and righteous indignation ensued, apparently on behalf of the desk.

“Is that CHEWED GUM?” I said, none too quietly. “That’s disgusting! Who does that?!”

After what probably felt like 20 minutes to those actually trying to get work done, I finally stopped and went back into my office.

For about five minutes.

Then I came back out to ask Lisa a legitimate work question when her phone rang. I couldn’t hear what was being said by the other person, but Lisa said something to the effect of “you just left here a little while ago” and I guessed she was talking to Jim #1 since he was the only person who’d left recently.

Never missing an opportunity, I said “Oh, ask him about the gum!” and Lisa told Jim #1 that I wanted to talk to him and handed the phone to me. The following is the paraphrased conversation:

Me: Did you leave chewed gum on your desk?

Jim #1: What? There’s gum on my desk?

Me: Yes, chewed gum. Did you leave chewed gum on your desk? There’s chewed gum on your desk and honestly, who does that?

Jim #1: I have no recollection of doing that.

Me: Well that seems like kind of a typical response, doesn’t it?

Jim #1: Well, maybe it would have tasted just as good on Tuesday.

Me: OK. The next time I see gum on your desk I’m going to stand there and wait for you to put it back in your mouth.

Jim #1: OK.

Then I gave the phone back to Lisa and again went into my office.

A few minutes later, another co-worker came into my office to inform me that I had not, in fact, been talking to Jim #1. I had been talking to Jim #2, who’s the publisher of the paper.

He called to check in to see how the from-the-way-higher-ups project was going, and Lisa and I both made the assumption that it was Jim #1 calling – and were both wrong.

When I was told that it was the publisher I’d been talking to, my reaction should have been absolute horror but instead was something like “I should be ashamed right now, but I’m not.”

Then I immediately sent an email to the publisher saying:

Subject: So, funny story…

Apparently I should take note that there are, in fact, two Jims in our office.

It wasn’t – after all – you who had chewed gum on their desk, but the other Jim. So, having faithfully inserted my foot into my mouth, I’ll now just keep it there for a while.

Hope you’re having a great time at the concert – and just know that those in the newsroom just had a great laugh over my mistake (and I’ve learned I have little shame).

R.

And, almost immediately I got the following response:

Re: So, funny story…

Enjoy the foot - next round of gum is on me. Cheers and happy. 4th!

- Jim 

Seriously, thank God for bosses who have a sense of humor. Fortunately - or unfortunately - my family operates under the full disclosure modus operandi so immediately I started telling people - those I work with, friends and family. It’s hard to be embarrassed by something if you’re the person who gets to tell the story; let someone else tell it when you’re not around and you have no control over how the story is told. 

For the record, I’ve learned from this that I just need to keep my mouth shut and work. And so, for now I’m going to bite my tongue at work because, after all, tongue tastes a hell of a lot better than foot.

We’ll see how long that lasts…

Victims. Or, are they?

I’ve started to have a problem with the word “victim.”

Earlier this week, a fatal accident in Schaghticoke took the lives of two people not even old enough to drink. I realize this is an incredibly fresh wound (so to speak), but the evidence at hand suggests that the driver of their car was at fault for the incident which took both his life and the life of his passenger. If this is the case – and the investigation is ongoing, so something may change – can we really call them victims?

Apparently, on a technicality, yes. According to Merriam Webster, a victim can be defined as “one that is injured, destroyed, or sacrificed under any of various conditions.” The dictionary goes on to cite cancer, murder and auto crashes as examples.

But I’m still not convinced. You know a victim when you see or hear it. Those killed on September 11th were victims; when a suicide bomber detonates explosives in a crowded marketplace, those killed or injured are victims.

If you’re driving erratically on a two lane road, trying to pass someone in a no passing zone, and therefore cause an accident – I’m just not convinced that you’re a victim. You are the perpetrator.

I’m not trying to downplay the loss the community has suffered, and I can’t really say for sure what I’d think were one or both of these people my friends; however the fact remains that if it is true that the driver, a 20-year-old male, was driving unpredictably…

And that’s what witnesses are claiming. In an article printed Friday in The Record, State Police say that the witnesses saw the driver passing other vehicles at least twice in a no-pass zone.

The fatality occurred when he attempted to pass a motorcycle, only to end up in the path of a tractor trailer traveling in the opposite direction on the two lane road. The tractor trailer was forced onto the shoulder of the road and when the driver of the car tried to get back in his lane, he overcorrected, lost control and ended up back in the northbound lane – in the path of a pickup truck, with which the car collided. 

Unless some very strange turn of event happens – to the tune of every witness lying – I can’t call the driver of the car a victim. The passenger? Sure, she wasn’t making the driving decisions and even if she was egging the driver on to drive that way, he was ultimately the one who made the decision.

Obviously there’s a lesson to be learned here: don’t drive like an a-hole. No matter how much of a rush you’re in, it’s never important enough to put your life – or the lives of your passengers – in danger. Ever. And if you do, you’re not a victim.

inspired writing

I used to love to write. Now I love to edit. But occasionally, I read something that inspires me to write. I think this happens for anyone who has a passion. If you love to write - reading something that was written really well, it makes you want to write; if you’re a photographer, seeing a photo that is amazing, you suddenly want to be behind the lens.

It happened to me today, really unexpectedly.

I have a good friend who writes music reviews for my paper. He has amazing instinct and - although he hasn’t really had the opportunity to do so before - he’s also a great writer.

Knowing him as well as I do, there’s this sort of weird feeling I have that I can see him writing. I honestly have no idea how to explain this without making it seem like I’m on all sorts of drugs, but I’ll try.

It probably boils down to passion. He’s passionate about music. He knows it, while he may be able to listen passively to music, I have to think it’s hard for him. He feels it - the way you always hear great jazz musicians talk about being able to feel the music throughout their bodies.

And this feeling comes out in his writing. This week he wrote his first five star review for an album (the information for which I can’t give out yet since it hasn’t been published), and even without hearing a single sound from it, I knew what it would be like to listen to it with his ears.

That is good writing. No, it’s amazing writing. It’s amazing because you feel like you are that person, like their fingers - or even their brain - can’t get the words out fast enough because they are just pouring out of them like - music pours out of speakers.

And so, this is my response to his writing. I had to get something out - I was inspired for the first time in a long time - so to him, I say thank you. And keep up the great work!

You just never know…

I had a half joking conversation with someone the other day at work. I don’t remember how it came up, but I told her that if the world was actually going to end, I’d want to know when.

I guess my logic was that if there were x number of days left in my life, I’d want to know so I wouldn’t waste the time I had left. This doesn’t mean I want to know when I’m going to die, though; nor does it mean I think about it often.

Tonight though, I went to a wake for someone I barely knew and that sparked something. One of my uncle’s (who’s in his early 40s) best friends died earlier this week in a motorcycle accident. I’d met this friend a few times - mostly at parties my uncle threw at his house, and in all honesty had probably not spoken more than 100 words to this man in the handful of times I’d seen him.

But, to support my uncle, I went to his wake. I honestly didn’t expect to have much of a reaction - after all, I didn’t have a particular emotional attachment to this person.

I was wrong.

My mother went with me, and when we arrived I saw my aunt and uncle and - of course - hugged them and said I was sorry for their loss. Then I got in line to pay my respects…and I cried.

Looking at the pictures of my uncle’s friend - smiling and happy and (I realize this is a completely inappropriate turn of phrase, but…) full of life. You could probably correctly guess that part of the reason that I cried was because it was a wake - and really no matter how close you are to a person, death is a sad thing.

But there’s another reason. It’s because you just never know how many days you have left. How many smiles, how many laughs, how many - anything. It sounds like a depressing thought, but in my mind it’s not; it’s a redeeming one. If you don’t know what’s coming tomorrow - or in 10 minutes - why spend any time doing something you don’t want to - especially if you don’t have to?

My uncle said that his friend taught him a lot - that he lived for every day - and I’ve decided to heed that advice. And I’m going to suggest you do the same thing.

First comes love…

I’m 27, and at this point in my life I feel like I at this point in my life some decisions should have been made already.

What do I want to do?
Where do I want to live?
Do I want kids? 
What do I want for dinner?

But maybe what I should be asking myself is - do I really want to get married? Of course we all know the ‘fun’ little poem from when we’re little. First comes love, then comes marriage then comes the baby in the - birthing canal.

Ok, not quite, but you get the point.

I have multiple friends, and even more co-workers, who are married. Great for them, somewhat of a sociological experiment for me.

At some point in my life I became the confidant among peers. Part of me wants to embrace this, some of me wants to breakdown when I think about it. Before I go on though, let me just say that I do have a few friends in whom I can confide - so if I make it seem like these people are all take, take, take and no give, that’s not my intention at all.

I digress…

You’ll be hard pressed to find someone who only wants to talk about how great their marriage is. If you do know that person, chances are you think they’re lying or you’re just plain sick of listening to how everything is sunshine and unicorns.

Recently though, I’ve been trying to heed the advice that I’ve inadvertently been handed. When my male friends vent to me, I don’t just listen to what they’re saying and respond - I try to hear what their actual complaints are. When my female friends vent to me about their husbands - the same goes, but I also have started sifting out warning signs.

By listening to - and simply being around - my betrothed friends, I’m learning about myself.

The obvious advice I’m gleaned is:

Listen
Really listen, even when you’re mad
Don’t go to bed mad
Have sex - if you’re not having sex with them, someone else will be
Share things, but have separate hobbies. Spending time together is good, but spending time apart is not always a bad thing

What I haven’t yet taken from this is:

Do I want to get married?

Maybe this isn’t a question I need to be asking myself - or maybe it’s not even one I should be asking, but I’d feel awkward if I wasn’t.

I’m not a commitment kind of person. The longest relationship I’ve had is with my - um - car. Or maybe my fish, they’ve made it a few years. In any event, my longest relationship with people is by far my friends. Relationships - eh, they wax and wane. I just can’t imagine spending the rest of my life with one person. I’m starting to wonder if that makes me a bad person, or if it makes me - I don’t really know what.

Maybe a year from now I’ll understand myself more, or 10 years, or 20. For now, I’m just trying not to think about it.

Obviously.

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