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who’s got your back?

June 7, 2016

TW: rape, assault

31 years ago yesterday, I was raped for the first time. I was living with my aunt and uncle; their son, my cousin, raped me. He had already molested me repeatedly, held his hunting knife against my neck, told me his fantasies about killing me — both in the present, and in a distant future.

He had told me he was mistreating me to the severe degree he was because he thought it would be fun to see if he could push me into going crazy.

Two days after being raped, I returned to my parents’ house in Illinois to live. I was a broken shell of the person who had left their house five months before. As far as I could tell, my parents did not notice any change in me.

I had PTSD for a while, but throwing myself into a new life of a job out in the world, and new friends, as well as liberally using sleeping pills (to circumvent my nightmares), began my healing process.

= = =

Brock Turner’s rape of that girl, and her letter to the court, have been all over my Twitter feed for days. It was really really hard yesterday.

I hadn’t been unconscious when I was raped, but I did dissociate, so — mercifully — I have no conscious recollection of anything he said. Or if I said anything.

My body remembers.

= = =

I became a writer as a child because my family would not listen to me when I talked, but sometimes they would listen when I wrote.

Generally they wouldn’t reply, though. We would not… discuss… what I said. But they might behave towards me differently, and I would have to feel that was enough, because that’s all there was.

= = =

Five years after I was raped, things with my parents were getting really bad again. My counselor at the time thought if I told them I’d been raped they might behave better.

For five years I’d had nightmares about telling them.

But he was a counselor, surely he knew something I didn’t know. And I was desperate.

So I told them.

= = =

It was hard to get myself into the right frame of mind: emotionally vulnerable enough to be… distraught enough to be convincing… but also mentally armored for when someone would say something terrible.

Unusually, my father said the first terrible thing — he said he would go to Albuquerque and kill my cousin.

I didn’t want that. I wanted my cousin to get help.

It didn’t matter what I wanted.

Then my mother started talking.

= = =

There is no friend Brock Turner has that has been more eloquent about rape culture than my mother that day in 1990.

She called me a liar and a slut. She said, if it had happened, I must have brought it on myself.

My mother said I deserved whatever might have happened.

My mother said if I forced her to choose between me — her eldest child — and my cousin the rapist, she would choose my cousin. My mother told me she loved my cousin more than me. She said my cousin was a Good Person, and would never do such a thing; my mother said I was a Bad Person.

My mother said that I had probably decided to seduce my 14-year-old cousin, for lulz, and when he — naturally — refused me, I must’ve decided to tell people this cockamamie story for revenge. To ruin his life. Well, my mother wasn’t going to fall for my tricks!

= = =

My father said nothing.

= = =

In 1990, I’d never heard of rape culture.

I had no idea where my mother had gotten such bizarre ideas about my character. I thought she was telling me what she’d always felt about me.

This exchange with my parents was 100x more traumatizing than being raped and threatened with a deadly weapon.



Within a year, I’d bought a new car in cash, and moved into my own apartment.

By the summer of 1993, I was married to someone I’d met only a few months before, and we were living in our second state together (IN, after some weeks in NY).

= = =

Because my parents’ behaviors (as my primary caregivers) were so damaging, it took 20 years of hard work for me to finish healing from my trauma-onset PTSD.

In 2005, I cut off ties with my parents.

= = =

My mother ignored that. For the first 5–7 years, she wrote to me. Sometimes she sent ‘gifts’. Occasionally I heard from family members would never normally contact me, only to find out they were passing along a message from her, or a physical object.

One of my brothers told me he only stayed in nominal contact with me “as a favor to our parents”.

Everyone in my family of origin sees me as the problem. If only I wasn’t so ornery, so unforgiving!

Whatever happened all those years ago (if anything Really Happened at all), it couldn’t have been as bad as all that! You should be over it by now! Why are you such a baby?!?

= = =

I don’t ever ever ever want to talk to the person who calls herself my mother again. Not ever.



My cousin the rapist, like rapists everywhere, of course denies everything.

= = =

Some years later, my only sister (who had actually been a sometime ally), apparently decided I had had more than enough time to ‘get over it’; without talking to me first, she gave my cousin the rapist my contact information, and encouraged him to contact me. She told him I was more than ready to be friends again!

When he did contact me some months later, I had the mother of all meltdowns.

Spouse had to call my sister to demand an apology — I was hysterical.

My sister insisted that I had authorized this. She did not apologize.

I stopped speaking to my sister.



I read that girl’s letter. How terrible it was for her parents to read about what happened to her in the newspaper. How her sister kept apologizing for not coming to find her.

That girl was believed.

That girl has a family who loves her. Values her.

= = =

To me, family is just a word.

I don’t have a “family of choice”, and not just because I have few friends. The whole concept of ‘family’ is… kind of gross for me.

= = =

It’s nice that other people can have families. It seems like it would be a cool thing to have. Like a pet griffin. Like living in a kingdom under the sea.

But I can’t even imagine a version of my life where I have a family. Because I never have.

Reading List 6 of 2016

June 4, 2016

Covers the period from 5.3.2016 through 6.4.16

I own 2 of these items. Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 23 of the books and movies; libraries in other parts of Maryland, via Inter-Library Loan, supplied the other 13.


Research ~ Terroir:

  1. The Apple Lover’s Cookbook by Amy Traverso
  2. Arab/American: Landscape, Culture, and Cuisine in Two Great Deserts by Gary Paul Nabhan
  3. Champagne Baby: How One Parisian Learned to Love Wine — and Life — the American Way by Laure Dugas
  4. Darjeeling: The Colorful History and Precarious Fate of the World’s Greatest Tea by Jeff Koehler
  5. The Road to Burgundy: The Unlikely Story of an American Making Wine and a New Life in France by Ray Walker



  1. Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems by Mark Jarman
  2. Crazing by Ruth Thompson
  3. Mad Honey Symposium by Sally Wen Mao
  4. The Modern Element: Essays on Contemporary Poetry by Adam Kirsch
  5. Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish, and Hebrew Poems, translated & introduced by Bernard Lewis
  6. My America: A Poetry Atlas of the United States, edited by Lee Bennett Hopkins
  7. Olio by Tyehimba Jess
  8. Swoop by Hailey Leithauser


Memoir & Biography:

  1. A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st century by Jerome Charyn
  2. Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel
  3. The Blue Touch Paper: A Memoir by David Hare
  4. Cross-Pollinations: The Marriage of Science and Poetry by Gary Paul Nabhan
  5. Gary Snyder and the Pacific Rim: Creating Countercultural Community by Timothy Gray
  6. The Japan and India Journals, 1960–1964 by Joanne Kyger
  7. The Whole Harmonium: The Life of Wallace Stevens by Paul Mariani




  1. How Music Works by David Byrne
  2. Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology, ed. by Philip Brett, et al.



  1. Air Guitar: Essays on Art & Democracy by Dave Hickey
  2. Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living by Krista Tippett
  3. The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters by Sherri Wood
  4. The Power Paradox: How We Gain and Lose Influence by Dacher Keltner
  5. Proxies: Essays Near Knowing by Brian Blanchfield
  6. Vogue 100: A Century of Style by Robin Muir
  7. [Fiction] Angels Burning by Tawni O’Dell
  8. [Fiction] The Other Daughter by Lauren Willig


Visual Media:

  1. [Film] In the Mood for Love
  2. [Film] Mary Poppins ~~~ Spouse had never seen it!
  3. [Film] Pride and Prejudice
  4. [Film] Salmon Fishing in the Yemen
  5. [Film] Saving Mr. Banks
  6. [Film] Selma
  7. [Film] Spotlight
  8. [TV] Veep, Seasons 1 & 2


focus: looking forward

May 24, 2016


Dating back to when I was on Flickr (beginning in 2009), I’ve done a great many photographic portraits, usually of nonhumans. Some of Spouse, though, and some self-portraits.

I’d like to do word portraits, but I don’t even know what that means, never mind how to go about it.

(Although at least one of my poems is a word portrait of me. And one cento is, arguably, a word-portrait of FJG.)

= = =


Seems to be an intrinsic quality of my character. One that is, unfortunately, often off-putting to others.

Can I find ways to put it to good use: Effectively? Appropriately? Surprisingly?

= = =


Even more than anxiety, I think the emotional state I’m most often in is discomfort. Given that it’s the most familiar, there must be ways of better utilizing it. Experiments!


I often write letters from a place of discomfort. Additionally I struggle with how much data is too much data, given that (1) other people don’t seem to use data in their everyday lives the way I do, and (2) sharing data is, for me, an intimacy marker. Yet I’m often not sure how much intimacy I actually have (or can assume I have) with the person I’m writing to. In revisions, I tend to delete 80% or more of the data I had inserted with such hopefulness.

I’m working on a letter right now where the idea to write it came from a dream. I’ve written to this person twice before, but years apart. I don’t recall them responding either time. I was voluble in my first letter, thinking we might become friends; my second letter was brief.

If I only wrote to people I was sure were interested in me, I would almost never write letters.

For the first time, yesterday I wondered if… the discomfort at not knowing if the person is interested in me, is part of why I want to write to them.

Do I believe a letter can kindle interest? Seems unlikely.

Although… if the recipient of such a letter scored high in Openness to experience [part of psychology’s Big Five], their curiosity could be piqued. In theory.

Just last night I finished reading a 345-page memoir of a British playwright I’d never heard of [David Hare]. Luckily I’m familiar with a lot of British slang; less luckily, I understood almost none of his cultural and historical references. But I read the whole thing. And I enjoyed it.

Would I want to talk to him in person? Hard to say.

However, that reminds me… David Hare, like Alison Bechdel, wrote about his past actions towards other people in a way I found disconcerting. I sat down and puzzled through why, now that it appears to be a pattern.

Highly connected people, or perhaps people enmeshed in webs of relationships — I’m not sure how to characterize these people’s social situations, except to be clear that I’m not in similar ones — often write about their actions that affected other people as if the other people themselves were writing about it, and passing judgment on the first person. That is, these accounts read as if, for instance, I was telling my reader what the real Mrs. Nocerino would have said about my actions, but I was saying it as if Mrs. Nocerino’s opinions of me were my own opinions of me.

I think that was clear as mud.

Plenty of people, well writer people anyway, are self-aware enough to write about their past actions and be critical of what they did. Even when they explain their justifications at the time, they still realize they did things they aren’t proud of; that are hard to make sense of in the present, given the kind of person they want to be.

That’s not what I’m talking about here.

I reported her description to the referee one day, who looked back at me as if he had heard it all before. This contempt provided me with convenient cover for my own uselessness. (The Blue Touch Paper, p. 39)

Why contempt? Why uselessness? Why not disinterest (or boredom), and awkwardness?

What I’m trying to think through is these cases where people have seemingly internalized negative judgments from third parties, to the extent that they write about them as if they were their own beliefs. Yet the person writing doesn’t seem to realize the disconnect.

If you’re highly enmeshed, maybe it’s not relevant. Maybe you never have the perspective of looking at your situation from outside the web.

Even when I was enmeshed in a web of relationships, though, and even when I was still self-hating, I don’t think I would have written about my own actions in this manner. Because this manner requires that you know what specific judgment other people are passing on your actions.

When I was enmeshed (and self-hating), what I knew was… everything I do is Wrong. It doesn’t matter what it is; it doesn’t matter why I did it —it’s Wrong. I’m Wrong. Obviously.

= = =

Maybe if you’re enmeshed, the number of the other voices (if not their volume) drowns out your own ideas about what matters and why.

But I can’t help wondering if maybe people who are enmeshed… don’t bother to have their own ideas about their behavior towards others? They wait to be judged? And perhaps if some actions are overlooked by the community, they don’t bother to assess whether they should’ve done them or not? They just assume they’re free and clear?

I’ve been watching movies about whistleblowers [Selma, Spotlight].

Martin Luther King, Jr., as portrayed in the movie, looks to his close advisors for encouragement and affirmation that he’s doing the right things for the right reasons. Receiving that encouragement and affirmation helps keep him steady on the (dangerous and emotionally-fraught) path he’s on.

The Spotlight team are pretty sure they are doing the right things for the right reasons, but plenty of people they talk to disagree. Want them to stop digging, and definitely not to write about what they’re finding. But the four of them agree, and their two bosses agree.

What about when no one around you agrees with you? With your principled stands?

This is the zone of discomfort I live in every day. Have always lived in.

an unsent letter

May 21, 2016

Dear X,

Apparently there’s a condominium’s-worth of starlings raising their families in the eaves above our third floor apartment. Starlings are highly social birds: they squawk day and night, in their harsh, buzzing voices.

I wrote them into a poem, and now I mind them… less… than before, but Spouse can’t come to terms, and grouses.

(We’ve had noise issues with birds raising families overhead many times during our marriage. Usually songbirds, though, so their voices were at least pleasant. And they didn’t talk constantly: Only when they had something important to say.)

= = =

Apparently my brother-in-law is getting divorced. He helped break up his wife’s first marriage, but I guess her second marriage (to him) was a happy ending of sorts, which is perhaps why we were eventually told some of the messier details. I don’t understand any of my in-laws, and neither Spouse nor I are close to them, so I mourn that I’ll never know the real story. Stories are interesting; people’s everyday lives, or at least the ways they talk about them, generally are boring.

{Maybe that’s why I have trouble keeping friends?! I want stories and intense, nuanced emotions and Something Interesting Unfolding, but everyone else settles for ordinary and the Big 3 feelings and unmemorable? Food for thought.}

= = =

Last month, after puzzling intermittent pains in his joints, Spouse went to the doctor, who thought he might’ve contracted Lyme disease (for the 3rd time in 8 years). Spouse went through a course of antibiotics, but blood tests eventually showed he hadn’t had it, nor rheumatoid arthritis. (I’ve been wondering if Spouse is developing repetitive stress issues; I’ve had them since circa 2011.)

A week after all that, he developed bronchitis, and he’s been coughing and sniffling and sneezing ever since. He’s also worked from home a lot.

Between him and the birds, I am sorely missing my more-usual solitude and quiet.

= = =

I woke up with a migraine today. Usually, this time of year, it would be from the intense sunlight, but we’ve had a very wet May so far, so it’s actually from the barometric pressure related to the rain.

= = =

I assume your housing situation hasn’t resolved, or else surely I’d have heard from you, if only with your new address.

= = =

I’ve read 130 books this year.

= = =

I’m in an awkward spot with Thing: I greatly appreciate you facilitating it, as I couldn’t come up with any solutions on my own that I felt good about.

But if I ask you how it went, what Pandora’s Box will that be?

It’s not so much that “no news is good news”, since I rarely hear from you about anything. It’s more, I guess, that with family, for me, Good News… isn’t an available option.

Still, I’m so curious, you know?

= = =

See, this is why I don’t write more often.

Our worldviews rarely overlap. I definitely cannot assume that, if sides need to be taken, you’ll be on mine. Which makes asking you questions, about any other person(s), fraught with danger.

If only I could trust that a family member wouldn’t attack me (usually verbally) over a disagreement of opinion…

Even in self-defense, I will rarely attack someone.

Through therapy and reading books and a lot of hard work, I’ve learned how to handle interpersonal issues differently than I learned growing up. I see this growth as a strength, but in my branch of the family, it’s seen as weakness. I’m treated with contempt.

No one wants to claim affinity with me, but occasionally they seem to see affinities I supposedly share with third parties. Perhaps they intend something benign with this behavior, but to me, it feels like just another way to act as though I’m radioactive. Or an infectious disease.

= = =

I don’t know what’s going on in your life, so I can’t ask you about any of it.

= = =

Writing to your husband separately, to encourage him, and offer to talk about Thing We Share, was a bid to develop a separate relationship with him. To hear from you that “he appreciated it”, but not hear anything from him directly, tells me… nothing that I sought.

I should’ve learned by now that there are gatekeepers everywhere.

= = =

I became a writer by writing letters, to people who ignored me.

There must be better ways to connect to people who actually like me. I wonder what they are.

process: Stokes flow, poetry

May 21, 2016

Yesterday morning I woke up with the first line of a new poem in my head. I spent all day working on it. What I thought would be the title turned out to be an italicized line, setting the stage. I found I had a lot to say on the precipitating event. And some of my lines initially sang.

When I tried to refine my emotions, though, the music of the lines disappeared.  The whole thing turned to mush.


Certain other poems, generally long ones (like this one), seem to need to be written — or at least grappled with — to alert me of issue(s) in my life that need to be dealt with differently. Things I need to rethink and reconfigure.

The last 1/8 of “Embraceable You” in 2011. The muddy beginning and ending of “Guest of Honor” in 2014. Any of my surreal poems about gender and identity.

Maybe this is one such.


What can possibly be so compelling about a weekend — admittedly, a traumatic one — that occurred almost 30 years ago? And why did it suddenly seem salient yesterday morning?

Well, I had just finished reading Alison Bechdel’s memoir, “Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama”, in which she seems to have made considerably less progress than I in separating from her narcissistic mother. (On the other hand, she seems to value being at least somewhat enmeshed with her mother.)

= = =

A week ago today, I got a text message from the post office where we have a box, saying that something was waiting for us. I had an idea what that something might be. I ran through several scenarios in my mind, and made tentative plans for any of them. I felt I was as ready as you ever are for communications from people you’re not sure you want in your life.

I was having a really good day Thursday {Name Day!}, so I stopped by the post office and checked our box. There was a paper notice that the item was too bulky to fit.

I had a flash of nerves: some kind of package was a worrying development. I was suddenly not sure I was ready.

But I went to the counter and handed it in.

And received… a local phone book.

= = =

I’ll be turning 50 in a few months. This whole year since I turned 49 has kind of been about preparing to turn 50. Sweeping away old detritus, making way for new growth.

When I was in my early 20s, my mother turned 50. It was her first milestone birthday where I was working, so I could afford to buy her a really spectacular gift. I saved up for months. I bought an artisan made multi-part necklace from a local art gallery store. Somehow, visually and tactilely, it summed up something essential I felt about my mother.

I couldn’t wait to present it to her. I wrapped it up extra special. I was almost too verklempt to talk, as I handed it to her: finally she would understand everything I loved about her!

She didn’t really like it.

She almost never wore it.

Sometimes, when she was out of the house, I would go into her closet to look at it in her jewelry box.

I would wonder what part I did wrong: imagining her as something she didn’t see herself as? Thinking the way a child (albeit an adult child) would celebrate a parent’s birthday would be welcomed by that parent? Maybe I just misunderstood her aesthetic?

= = =

11 years later, I bought an older female cousin turning 40 a showy piece of jewelry. She did seem to like it, but she immediately put it on, even though it clashed horribly with what she was wearing. (It hurt my eyes to look at her in it, in fact.)

When I turned 40, no one in my family of origin acknowledged it in any way.

I’m sure they won’t note me turning 50 either.

= = =

Showy jewelry is meant to be “shown off”; it’s inherently social.

I have a few pieces of gemstone jewelry that I have historically worn for special (social) occasions. When my family of origin was there, however, if they showed any interest in my jewelry, it wasn’t out of aesthetic appreciation, but jealousy. So I stopped wearing the jewelry.

Sometimes I wear them around the house, when I’m alone. Someone loved me enough to buy me beautiful things I’ve always loved — why shouldn’t I wear them?

= = =

Buying myself a showy piece of jewelry to commemorate my 50th is something I could afford. I’ve seriously considered it. But it doesn’t feel right.


In the poem from yesterday, there was a line:

Someone, anyone, will see me.

No one did, that horrible weekend in 1986. Arguably, no one in my family of origin except my mother’s parents (long dead), ever has seen me.

I don’t know if they can, but they turn away in disgust. Or if they can’t.

Does it matter?


I’m an extrovert living an introvert’s life. Except on Twitter, although all the typing and scrolling on my phone exacerbates my carpal tunnel.

And even on Twitter, I’m an extrovert that no one pays much attention to. I only really seem to exist when I’m boosting the work of others, or encouraging them to keep going.

When I speak of my own life and struggles, no one cares. When I’m happy and excited about something, no one cares.


I’ve been researching terroir because it’s important for things I want to write about. But now I think maybe I have missed why it’s relevant to me — organisms fit their environment. They reflect their habitat; they couldn’t thrive somewhere else.

I have lived in a great many environments, but I haven’t thrived in any of them. Yet.

Maryland suits me much better than Illinois, New York, and certainly better than Indiana and Oklahoma. But to the extent that I fit in here, I fit in with the topography, the ecology, the water bodies. I’ve quite struggled with the subtropical climate. And I don’t understand the human beings at all.

Arguably, of course, I don’t understand human beings anywhere.

Reading List 5 of 2016

May 1, 2016

Covers the period from 4.10.2016 through 4.28.16

I own 4 of these items. I read 1 book on vacation. Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 7 of the books and movies.



  1. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie {re-read}
  2. Ancillary Sword by Ann Leckie {re-read}
  3. Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie {re-read}
  4. Court of Fives by Kate Elliott
  5. Jeweled Fire by Sharon Shinn



  1. First Impressions: A Novel by Jude Deveraux
  2. Speak Its Name by Kathleen Jowitt



  1. Felicity: Poems by Mary Oliver
  2. The Poet, the Lion, Talking Pictures, El Farolito, … by C. D. Wright


Women Writers on Craft:

  1. 16 Writers on the Decision to Not Have Kids, edited by Meghan Daum
  2. An Absorbing Errand: How Artists and Craftsmen Make their Way to Mastery by Janna Malamud Smith
  3. Daybook: The Journal of an Artist by Anne Truitt



Reading List 4 of 2016

April 8, 2016

Covers the period from 3.15.2016 through 4.8.16

Baltimore County Public Library system supplied 17 of the books and movies; libraries in other parts of Maryland, via Inter-Library Loan, supplied the other 19.


Women’s Poetics:

  1. The Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity by Louise DeSalvo
  2. The Art of Writing Great Lyrics by Pamela Phillips Oland
  3. Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability, edited by Sheila Black, et al.
  4. The Dawning Moon of the Mind: Unlocking the Pyramid Texts by Susan Brind Morrow
  5. Emily Dickinson by Bonita Thayer
  6. Headstrong — 52 Women Who Changed Science — and the World by Rachel Swaby
  7. How to Live / What to Do: H.D.’s Cultural Poetics by Adalaine Morris
  8. Innovative Women Poets: An Anthology of Contemporary Poetry and Interviews, edited by Elisabeth A. Frost and Cynthia Hogue
  9. Poetics in the Poem: Critical Essays on American Self-Reflexive Poetry, edited by Dorothy Z. Baker
  10. Unauthorized Voices: Essays on Poets and Poetry, 1987–2009, by Marilyn Hacker
  11. Unpacking My Library: Writers and Their Books, edited by Leah Price
  12. Women Artists in the 20th and 21st Centuries, edited by Uta Grosenick



  1. A Potentially Quite Remarkable Thursday by Jeff Coomer
  2. A Woman of Property by Robyn Schiff
  3. Blood Work by Matthew Siegel
  4. Flamingo Watching by Kay Ryan
  5. Passing Through by Stanley Kunitz
  6. Say Uncle by Kay Ryan
  7. Selected Poems by Zbigniew Herbert, tr. by Peter Dale Scott & Czeslaw Milosz
  8. Shock By Shock by Dean Young
  9. Trinity by Susan Ludvigson



  1. Fooling with Words: A Celebration of Poets and Their Craft by Bill Moyers
  2. Painted Pages: Fueling Creativity with Sketchbooks & Mixed Media by Sarah Ahearn Bellemare
  3. Spark: How Creativity Works by Julie Burstein
  4. Wired to Create by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire



  1. The Art of Risk by Kayt Sukel
  2. The Brothers Vonnegut: Science and Fiction in the House of Magic by Inger Strand
  3. The Green Road: A Novel by Anne Enright
  4. Hebrides by Peter May, photographs by David Wilson
  5. Lady Bird and Lyndon: The Hidden Story of a Marriage that Made a President by Betty Boyd Caroli
  6. This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
  7. [SFF] Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis
  8. [Film] Enchanted
  9. [Film] The Hundred-Foot Journey
  10. [Film] Mamma Mia!
  11. [Film] This is Where I Leave You




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