Posts Tagged ‘Psyche’

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

January 1, 2013

Being Resolute

After a break of many months, I’ve decided to return to this blog. This isn’t a New Year’s resolution, exactly, but it something I’ve been holding in my mind for some time now, waiting for when it seemed right to start again. Now, with the New Year and with a bit more than a week of Winter Break behind me and a week more to go, it seems like a good time.

My goal is to shift the direction of the blog a bit. Over the last few years, I found myself writing too much about friends who had died, and part of my silence here has been to take a break from that element of the blog. More than that, I am at a point when I’m looking at a major change of life—still a couple of years out, but closing fast—and I needed some time to feel right about writing about that change—retirement from my long years of teaching developmental writing and beginning a new venture, which I hope includes all the elements of this blog: horses, gardens, dance, poetry, the psyche. To write about this, I need to be more willing than in the past to admit to a few facts about myself, including how I feel about reaching a “certain age.”

So, in this time of resolutions, here’s a new start for Mattie’s Pillow: an exploration of how to change one particular life (dragging a few others along in the process) in a way that what lies ahead draws on all the things I love to do and do well. This may include the purchase of land for enterprises involving horses and gardens; it may involve some retooling and reorienting towards a new profession; and it will definitely include musings on simplification of this complicated busy life into a more sustainable one. I look forward to hearing from those of you who read this blog about how you have approached the process of life changes at any age and about helpful hints along the way.

In the meantime, things putter along here at Mattie’s Pillow. Mattie and Sam and I came through the summer happy with weekly lessons with Colleen in her new facility, Drouin Springs. In spite of his trickster nature, I was able to get a full summer’s worth of riding on Sam, no lameness, and he never managed to buck me off—not for want of trying. Mattie has developed more looseness in her stifle joint—the equivalent of our knee joint in her hind leg—which means that her left hind leg twists as she walks. In June, Tom put shoes on her hind feet that extended out from the hoof on the outside to make her balance her stance better and had a jar caulk on the inside—a weapon of a bar welded to the bottom of the shoe to dig into the ground and keep her from sliding her hoof or twisting it on the ground. She seems more stable with the shoes, though she’s always been a barefoot girl and hates the process of nailing them on. By the end of summer, she seemed stronger than ever and far more stable in her gaits.

Now, they’re on break and shaggy and bored. The last few days, the temperatures have risen to near freezing, and I’ve been able to spend time with them, longeing and grooming, and having their feet trimmed. As spring comes and the light returns, I’ll be getting them ready for another summer. Can’t wait!

The days are short now. We have several hours of lingering sunrise and sunset with three hours of sun above the horizon. It sounds so dreary to write this, but it’s actually lovely—the light on the snow reflects in shades of blue. The sky is streaked with orange and purple morning and night. The snow sits in puffs along the branches of the spruce and birch and willows, and redpolls and chickadees flit here and there. A deep peace settles in the woods here on the ridge, and I wouldn’t trade it for a night in Times Square, New Year’s or no.

To all of you who read this, may you go forward into the new year with confidence and hope of joy. We’ve survived an election, some storms, an apocalypse, and that cliff thing. Some sorrow, some joy. We continue on.

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The View from Mattie’s Pillow

February 15, 2012

The Ides of February

Just past Valentine’s Day, and we’re still relishing mild temperatures, sometimes in the thirties. We now have eight hours and some odd minutes of daylight and it’s beginning to feel like spring; n fact, we were warmer than Orlando over the weekend. After the long weeks of below twenty below weather—with a string of days where it hit fifty below in the lower spots in the Interior—we’re all a bit giddy and, groundhog of not, ready for spring.

I just read an entry I wrote last year at this time, though, and the temperatures had dipped to thirty below again. I am forewarned.

It’s a time of year when we are all a bit groundhoggish, sticking our figurative noses up out of our hibernation of spirit to test the air and see if we can really hope for warmer days—even summer—ahead. Last weekend a group of us came out of hibernation to gather at a the Four Winds Foundation for a day of writing and sharing, guided by poet, and my long-time mentor, John Morgan. I don’t usually go to these retreats, but I went because John and my friend Jean Anderson, who writes marvelous stories of the inner life, were going to be there. It was delightful and comforting to be in their presence, to be writing after this season of not much writing, and to be hearing the work of other writers, some of whom I didn’t know. At the first prompt, I wrote three drafts of poems, then continued to write several more, some of which I’ll keep. It was a good start to the weekend which ended with an afternoon of intense corral cleaning, making up for weeks of neglect when it was just too cold at thirty below to grip a rake and shovel.

I’m feeling my energy returning, but it will take a while—sticking with my dance schedule and starting riding lessons again—for my sluggish body to shed the deep lethargy it’s sunk into this winter. As I talk to people around campus, I hear the same story—a sleepy inertia bordering, for some, on depression, set in during the time between Thanksgiving when we had the first bout of deep cold, and, well about a week ago when the cold broke. This may have something to do with the lack of entries here, come to think about it.

Mattie and Sam made it through the cold well, with their thick coats and the warm quilted blankets I’ve collected for them over the years. We went through a bit of hay, but mostly I supplemented their night feeding with brome pellets soaked in warm water to add to their hay intake. They are still on a bit of lay off till my schedule settles down and the light lingers a bit longer in the evening. By next week I should be able to get home and still have enough light to groom and longe them in the afternoon.

Today, as I pulled into the driveway, I heard what sounded like gunshots, but was really someone shooting off rocket fireworks nearby. Sam and Mattie began trotting around their sides of the corral; I could see the colored sparks rise and fall in the air above the corral. Even after the noise stopped, the horses kept trotting, cantering, generally larking around as if the noise were merely a convenient excuse for a bit of play.

We’re all ready for the spark of an excuse; spring is somewhere at the end of another month or two (or three) of winter, but we can feel the first nudgings of it now.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

January 6, 2012

The New Year

I had great plans for the winter break.

After the mad scramble to pull Christmas together—cutting the spruce tree from beside the horse trailer, baking three types of pie and marinating and roasting a fresh ham, decorating the tree, and wrapping then opening presents—we had a delightful dinner and sat around playing Apples to Apples till midnight Christmas night.

My plan was to spend the daylight part of each day, between 11:30 and 3, working with the horses, a reminder to them and to me that we had a partnership, that they weren’t just going feral for the rest of the winter.  But, instead, a mass of cold air descended on the Interior and we hunkered down under 30 to 40 below temperatures, stoking the woodstove, eating leftover pie, watching movies, and sleeping a lot.  Out in the corral, Mattie and Sam hung out in their run-in shed, snug in their heavyweight blankets and fresh shavings.  We brought them extra hay during the day, and I added brome pellets soaked in warm water to their usual dinner of soaked beet pellets and supplements.

My great plans melted into a dozy, slow time, interrupted by visits with friends and the occasional fiddling with cars to be sure they kept running.  When we ventured to town, everything seemed quiet except the coffee shop, filled with the people who hadn’t left town for the holidays, all a bit overheated from their layers of clothes, and talking rapidly from the caffeine.   Saturday night, New Year’s Eve, we went to the University fireworks display and stood in the 35 below air, watching the sparks boom and spray above our heads.  In the deep cold, the sound is magnified by the density of the air and the loud rocket bursts tingled our cheeks—all that was exposed—and vibrated the snow beneath us.  We stood, but some well-bundled folks lay back against a snow berm and watched the fireworks blossom in the dark sky above them.  Later, standing around a bonfire, we set off fire balloons or fire lanterns, and I thought of Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, “The Armadillo,” which has the lines:

This is the time of year
when almost every night
the frail, illegal fire balloons appear.
Climbing the mountain height,

rising toward a saint
still honored in these parts,
the paper chambers flush and fill with light
that comes and goes, like hearts.

Once up against the sky it’s hard
to tell them from the stars —
planets, that is — the tinted ones:
Venus going down, or Mars…

Something in this dark, cold time keeps turning my mind back to old familiar poems.  Later, when a fine light snow fell through the cold, drifting onto the horses’ blankets, and catching the porch light, speckling the night, I thought of Frost’s “Desert Places,” which starts with the lines “Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast, ” and ends with

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces

Between stars–on stars where no human race is.

I have it in me so much nearer home

To scare myself with my own desert places.

 I’m not usually one who makes a list of New Year resolutions.  As usual, I’ll make an effort to get back to my dance classes and winter indoor riding—what passes for an exercise routine—to work off the after effects of two weeks of pie eating.  And, in the weeks to come, as the afternoon lengthens and we have the promise of above zero temperatures, I’ll make the usual plans to get Mattie and Sam fit for summer riding.  The first day of class for the semester is still two weeks away, but I’ve taken on a new responsibility in my department—my resolution there is not to let it overpower the things I love about my life—and to do what I can to solve problems along the way.  And, for the most part, to keep that part of my life out of these posts—which are, after all, about the things that sustain me—horses, poetry, dance, gardening, and the things of the psyche.

Today it warmed up a bit.  It was only 10 below when I fed the horses tonight and we all—me, the horses, the poodle—felt a bit lighter-spirited because of it.  The forecast is for 40 below by the weekend, so I’m keeping the horses’ blankets on for now, keeping the fire going in the stove, getting a little more hunkering down done.   We’ve turned the year.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

November 12, 2011

On Not Writing

Sitting at the kitchen counter, listening to Wha’dya Know on a lazy Saturday morning.  A month has gone by quickly since my last post here, and I’ve been contemplating what has stopped me from writing recently.  I know other writers who participate in National Novel Writing Month—NaNoWriMo—every November, but, for me, November is the month when I finally accept that summer is over and our briefly glorious fall has passed.  A slump month, though this one has been eventful, so far.

Today the sky is flat gray with clouds that stretch down to the Alaska Range, a pale outline, a faintly jagged edge above a slatey line of foothills.  There are chores to do—raking manure, grooming and longing horses, but I’m here with the laptop, drinking coffee, writing at last.

Two Sundays ago, I was washing dishes when a glass, which probably had a hairline fracture that I didn’t notice, broke out a semicircle at the rim, and, when I reached into the dishwater to pick up the glass beside it, sliced open the back of my thumb.  I’ve learned about the emergency services in town, some advances in skin care (such as the pork rind-type substance that sealed the wound and started the healing process), and the power of luck.

Last Saturday, for my birthday, we went to Mark Taylor’s house where he gave us a house concert on his new baby grand.  We sat in his cabin in a room filled with music as the light faded through the birches behind him.  He stopped from time to time to explain what he was playing or to start over, and he talked to us about why he had stopped playing in public and how playing for a small audience (there were four of us) suited the purpose the music was written for.  He dedicated one piece to our friend Joe Enzweiler.

After Joe’s memorial, a strangely cheery event in which friends from all phases of his life in Fairbanks recounted stories, read poems, and played music, I haven’t felt like writing.  Perhaps it’s been that I’ve been busy.  Every weekend has had some Saturday event and, when I can, I’ve been riding at Colleen’s indoor arena on Sundays—at least as long as it’s above 10 below.  But not writing goes beyond grief or busy-ness.  I’ve always had long periods of not writing, sometimes lasting up to a year, when the part of my brain that writes goes fallow.  I have to admit that the world around me seems flatter then; I can look at the sky or the flutter of birds or Mattie trotting in the corral and these things are just what they are, not alive with words.  I love to see these things, but something is different during these times.

This wordless time leads me to contemplate what prompts me to write in the first place.  I think writers write for a variety of reasons: to explain ideas, to gain recognition, to record the life they know—but, for some, there is another reason, a compulsion, a need to frame experience in words, just as a painter frames experience in color and line or a musician in sound and tempo.  In part, I’m reflecting on Joe’s life and poems, which I’ve been reading for over thirty years, and thinking of what drove him to write—the pressure of imagination in his life.  For Joe’s poems always had a moment in them that took my breath away, lines like “the frozen blue you never lost, your halted clock tower eyes.”  When I first met Joe in a writer’s workshop—we were both in our twenties—I would wonder where such turns of phrase came from, as if there were a thesaurus or a trick of mind that could lead me to such phrases of my own.  I came to learn, as our writing friendship grew over the years, that Joe lived his life in multiple tracks—the concrete real world of cutting wood and carpentry and physics, and the invented world of possibilities that ran alongside it.  The invented world, the imaginative transformation of the real world, compelled him, always.

I finally came to realize that my impulse to write was not exactly like Joe’s, that there is no template for writing, but that the desire to channel experience through words is something writers have in common.  When I was a teenager, I believed that if I searched the language, I could find the exact words to translate any experience to the page.  I remember watching a sunset, entranced by the red and orange and the deepening of dusk light, trying out words that could capture the moment in their sound and shape and order.  Much later, I came to accept that words only suggest experience; they are charged with association, but can’t recreate the thing itself.  But they open the writer and reader to the possibility of shared evocative experience.

So, not writing may be, in part, experience exhaustion—in part because the activity of real life uses up some of the energy that words take on in times of contemplation.  Or it may be a gathering up of images for a time when they break loose on the page again.  In any case, now there are words on this blog.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

May 25, 2011

We’re into full green-up now.  Just a week and a half ago, everything was still so brown that we all fell into a funk.  The land was stripped of snow and no green leaves or grass or flowers had yet dared to grow toward the sun.  But not now.  The last few days have been in the seventies and, being Alaskans and tough enough to walk out in forty below, we griped about the heat.  But not for long.  The lingering dusk/dawn, and the brilliant daylight have increased our energy and our vitamin D levels to an effervescence.

Still, spring has its perils.  Though grass in my lawn is growing inches a day, by last Friday there was plenty of last year’s dead grass and brush on the ground in the woods in the surrounding hills.  On one hill, Murphy Dome, a fire flared up and filled the sky with smoke.  From Ballaine Road, I could see the smoke roll up into the sky and see the darker smoke where a tree went up or where fire retardant was dropped.   I know lots of people who live in that area—in fact, I had trailered Mattie and Sam over to Colleen’s new riding arena on Murphy Dome Road the day before, and, until I realized that the fire was not near her place, felt a chill of fear for her and her horses.  As it turned out, no homes were lost, though several friends had some worrisome moments watching the water dump planes fly overhead.  Our firefighters were right on the spot and even managed to put out a fire on the other side of town at the same time.  But the heat and the long dry spell we’re in have us worried and nervous for the fire season to come.

We go on.  The light lulls us. It’s hard to be too blue in this weather—at least that’s how it feels to me.  Tonight, as I write this, I’m also thinking of a former student, Matt or Soup, who decided that he’d had enough on Sunday night and left the planet.  Perhaps he experienced his own personal apocalypse; it’s hard to tell.  It’s another in the long line of sorrows that have formed an undercurrent to the spring.  It’s an inexplicable thing, but depression has its own logic.  I wish everyone could love plants or horses as I do and be healed by them.  I wish that the sense I have in this season of the energy of growing things pulsing along could buoy up everyone I care about.

Perhaps the allure of owning animals and growing plants it that it gives us the opportunity to create a micro-universe where our best intentions can have some good effect.  Sam, I tell people, would have a much worse life if I weren’t taking care of him—he’s not lame anymore and he’s trusting me more than ever.  Mattie, too, with her sense of her own bigness and her fear of pain, would not fare well with someone else, perhaps.  They’re better off in my corral, I tell myself.

But what of the humans we care about?  Could anyone’s best intentions have saved Joe’s magnificent brain from cancer?  Could anyone have stopped Frank from shoveling snow?  And Soup—could anyone have read behind his smile, his goofy kindness to see how hurt he was and where it was driving him?

I’ll keep planting cabbages, squash, carrots, kale, peas, beans, and all those pansies I bought at the greenhouse the other day.  I’ll keep transplanting tomatoes till all my little plants are in their big square buckets where they’ll stay all summer.  I’ll keep hoping for the best.

Poetry Challenge 68

May 10, 2011

Pasque flowers

We’re still in a holding pattern for spring.  Every day, the sun heats the air enough that we can go out and about without our jackets, but in the shadows, a chill still radiates from the frozen ground.  Gardeners are restless.  A friend described his impatience to get on with the matters of summer by digging a fence post hole, and found that he could only dig a few inches down before hitting frozen dirt.  The garden looks bedraggled in its fall mulch or the bleached stalks of the last broccoli I couldn’t bear to cut down before last fall’s snows.

In the midst of all this brown and our impatience with it, I looked up on the steep bank above my house and saw that my pasque flowers were blooming, always the first sign that spring will come.   They are a perennial, shaped a bit like a fuzzy crocus, purple with yellow centers, there against the brown dirt of the cutbank.  They will last a week or so, then the rest of the greening up will start in earnest.

I have a fondness for purple flowers–the pasque flower, the irises that will follow–and I’m a sucker for purple garden vegetables: purple broccoli, cauliflower, string beans, carrots.   Write a poem about a color that has meaning for you–that repeats itself in your life or in your dreams.

Post it in comments and I’ll post it here.  And maybe,  now that finals are coming to an end, I’ll post one, too.

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

April 17, 2011

The Cruelest Month

The days are warmer now—in the 40s (Fahrenheit) but in the teens at night.  In the corral, the snow is melting and compacting to hardpack ice, and gradually all the manure we didn’t manage to collect throughout the winter—first the ice storm, a series of deep snowstorms, several flus, and other distractions—is emerging in ragged brown mounds through the ice.  Sam looks pretty ragged, too.  His gloriously long teddy bear coat is coming out in clumps and hangs from his belly in a ratty profile.  I was afraid that there was no horse beneath all that hair, but after much work with the shedding blade, his fine short summer coat is emerging and with it his aging athlete’s muscle definition.

As Eliot says, “April is the cruelest month”—for there have been a string of deaths that have emptied out my reserve of grief.  The most recent, yesterday, was my long-time poet friend, Joe Enzweiler.  Joe has been struggling with brain cancer for the past two years—who knows how long the tumors had actually been there, but by the time they were diagnosed, he was on a slow slide off the slippery slope of the planet.

Joe trained as a physicist, but always wrote poetry and, when I met him, he was one of the brilliant young men in a writers’ workshop that also included Dan O’Neill, Linda Schandelmeier, Jean Anderson, Patricia Monaghan, Gerald Cable, Elyse Guttenberg, and me.  Joe was the one whose poems always seemed to contain a vocabulary that flew off the page to somewhere unexpected.   He was tall and wiry with an unruly tangle of blonde hair and an elusive quality—he would leave town for his brother’s farm in Kentucky nearly every year, so that he seemed to have the Cheshire quality of appearing and disappearing.

He managed to make a life for himself in a cabin he built among birch trees on Old Cat Trail.  He had electricity, but no running water, and he heated with wood.  One of the ways he meditated on the nature of this world and generated poems was to head out to his woods with a Swede saw and cut small trees—thinning out his patch of forest—which he stacked in a mosaic pattern under his porch.  He also stacked rocks, and had a years’-long project building a fieldstone wall through his brother’s Kentucky property.

Joe believed writers should write, no more, no less.  Because he had his land and could do carpentry work in the summer, most of his time was spent just writing—or running, or reading, or cutting wood, or engaging us in long conversations that drifted along as if there were no other demands on either person’s life.  Talking to Joe could make you feel that work was an indulgence, a distraction.  The true work was the written word.

Joe and I had a years’-long habit of getting together for Poetry Thursdays.  It started when he needed help navigating a computer version of one of his books—what to do about margins, fonts, etc.  It evolved into sometimes his reading aloud new drafts of his developing memoir, or my reading him new poems or horse essays.  He took the manuscript of my book and chapbook and gave me useful suggestions on poem order, sections, and the paring away of words.

Every Christmas, we would go to Joe’s place to thin out a spruce from “Joe’s Tree Farm.”  We would stop for tea first, then head out in a rush to find a tree before the waning light left us.

Now, he has left us.  “So many,” Eliot says, “I had not known death had undone so many.”  But Eliot’s words still live—and so will Joe’s.  And he was right: writing (or art or whatever we can create out of our own uniqueness) is the true work.  The rest is distraction.

Poetry Challenge 66

April 8, 2011

On Friendship and Transience

The days are warmer now–in the 40s (Fahrenheit), and a fresh snow has fallen on the melting snow, covering all the emerging dirt, spruce needles, scraps of paper.   I am glad of this warmth, even though it’s relative.  And I’m thinking of transitions.

I learned yesterday that my friend Kim had given up the struggle of her last days and slipped off into the vast ocean of consciousness–an image I once heard from a Buddhist monk.  I have been grieving her going for over a week now, and to learn that she had finally let go was a relief–followed by these warm bright days.

I still have not written the longer piece I want to write about her, but, for now, am thinking about transition–winter to spring, seed to plant, wood to fire, being to non-being, or as Faulkner put it “Was. Not was.”  Write about something in transition–the moment before the bird alights, the pause before sunup, the day before the river breaks up.   Write about things that are so transient they are lost before we have time to realize they have been present.

Post a poem in the comments and I’ll add it to this post.

—————————————————————-

Here’s one from an old friend, Larry Laraby;

Recipe for the perfect ‘Life.’

Indifference
Apathy
Fear
Pain

Strip
Salt and pepper
Sift
Simmer
Bake

Kill the beast of indifference,
Strip the beast of its apathy.
Cut the pain of sorrow from
The flesh of oppression.

Salt and pepper to taste

Sift the fear from the first blush
Of innocence. Combine equal parts
Of love and forgetting
And stir in a generous helping of hope.

Bake at the speed of light,
Sprinkle with grace
Let cool until Autumn colors the days with memories.

Larry Laraby (1-21-2010)

 

The View from Mattie’s Pillow

March 31, 2011

My grandmother has been in my dreams lately.  She was a woman who painted, gardened, swam daily, and taught me to eat with the right fork.  I’ve been puzzling over her sudden return to my sleeping life.  Then, this week, I learned that a dear friend I met in my twenties, a painter, calligrapher, gardener, who also knew about the right fork and who spent her entire life living her own way, is in hospice care with terminal cancer.  Now, it seems clear that, in the way of dreams, she and my grandmother have conflated and that she, Kim, was tugging at the fabric of the collective unconscious to let me know that she was in this transitional time.

I will write more about Kim later.  Some of you reading this blog know her, by coincidence.  She would be abashed to know that I am writing about her.  For now, I’ll post this recent poem about my grandmother and, I see now, about Kim McDodge.

——————————-

I Dream of My Grandmother in a Frank Lloyd Wright House

 

The roof pebbled flat,

the rectangular windows,

white stucco walls.

 

Inside, the light, underwater green,

filtered through curtains.

 

I find she

isn’t  home.  She has gone

somewhere interesting

in a big car.

 

On the table:

her bracelets, a necklace,

a few crushed tissues,

a filmy scarf,

dull gold.  And pens

and magazines, detritus

of a life–

 

she can’t wait any

longer for me.  I stand

with my intentions

smelling the stale air

in the house—or

is it the exhale

of her impatience

as she gathered up her keys?

 

In any case, she is off,

driving away

her own self, now,

headed to a gathering

of clear minds

 

 

Poetry Challenge 65

March 22, 2011

We are well into the season of light here in the Interior.   Everywhere, the sun intensifies the whiteness of snow, or gleams off the slick patches of ice still on the road since November’s ice storm.  The air is warm during the day–or warm for us, in the 40s.   On the south-facing sides of snowbanks, the light is carving away the packed snow into the shape of a wave, arching and crashing slowly, in one-frame-at-a-time stop animation, into summer still months away.

Today I heard MFA student Eddie Kim present his poetry thesis and thought about how his poems both invited the reader, like the March sun does, and kept the reader at a distance, like the ice patches, or the below zero nights.   A poem lures us in then pushes us back, surprises us, or challenges us.  Do we make the meaning for the reader?  Is the meaning only in what the reader brings to the poem?  Or like  sun on snow, do we carve a new shape, a new vision for the reader so imperceptibly that he or she is moved without even knowing why or how?

Write about something that moves you and something that pushes you back.  Write about something beautiful in something unlovely.  Write about the profound in the ordinary.

Post it as a comment and I’ll add it to this post.

——————————

Here’s a poem from Greg at 21st Romantic:

Makeup

She paints herself
in long lines
and short punctuations of color, swings
open drawers, blasts

the hairdryer through her
thick black hair, hair as heavy
as night, not like
the light fluff

of shadows. Her lancing–so
purposeful, so
crafted, as if
appearance could be everything

in Art–pricks a
question: how much
does appearance matter
to an Artist? Is she

like a cook
protecting a secret ingredient?
The same ingredient mothers
stir in potatoes? And so what

more could he offer her, then? As he
drapes his arms over her
shoulders like two long, white locks
of hair, curling; both faces

reflect in her vanity
mirror, smiling. What was the man guarding
when he instructed her, “look at the us that we
will never be”?


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