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National Poetry Month Wrap: why poetry matters

This month I asked our poet guests to share why poetry matters. Before we send Poetry Month 2017 into history, I want to share my own thoughts with you.

Facebook does this sometimes wonderful and sometimes terrible thing where it will show you what was happening in your life on this date in history. Throughout April, in and amongst the talk of baseball and reminders of the toddler when he was a baby, Facebook has been reminding me of past Poetry Month highlights. The 7th grader who wrote an acrostic about a murder investigation spelling out “Who Was It?” The 2nd grader who wrote the 2-line poem called “Failure to Write a Poem.” The kid who wrote hers in yogurt on the playground (she was supposed to be in trouble for leaving trash on the playground and attracting critters. I snapped a picture.)

I have always been an evangelist of poetry, maybe because I don’t trust my own skills at writing it. As a young librarian I would bring poetry into April storytimes, wrapped poetry books up like gifts to make people curious enough to check them out and once bought a bunch of bulk coffee candy and attached it to 3×5 cards with words like “Wonder” “Rage” “Curiosity” and “Bravery” written on them to get people to attend a poetry coffeehouse. (Thirteen people showed up and read some pretty good poems.)

When I became a school librarian, poetry became part of my mission. Every April I would hijack the library curriculum and do poetry with a bunch of K-8 students. We wrote concrete poems. We wrote poems using Google, a Kris invention that I swear I’m going to make a book out of someday. I read the poetry of Gertrude Stein to third graders and discussed Pablo Neruda’s book of questions with fifth graders. I stapled poems all over school and gave awards to students who arrived with poems for Poem in Your Pocket Day. We explored the found poetry of Phil Rizzuto and Donald Rumsfeld.

What I wanted the kids to know is that poetry is alive. It isn’t always funny (our instinct is to share funny kids’ poems with kids, and while the work of Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky is great it subtly tells kids that all poetry rhymes and is funny.) It doesn’t even have to make sense, but what it asks you to do is to feel something, to think about something. When a third grader tells me that after awhile he stops being mad that Gertrude Stein’s poems don’t make sense and just listens to how the words sound, he gets it. What he is learning is that words matter, that words can be something, that they have power.

Both of our poets on the show this month have had a message for us: now is the time. If there was ever a time to speak, now is it. If there was ever a time for art, now is the moment. As a teacher I know that you have to convey information in different ways because not everyone will see or understand it in the same form. That isn’t just true in the classroom. Poetry asks us to take things in in a different way, attacks our senses in a different way. Poetry is worth advocating in a world where, in the words of George Carline, “More people write it than read it.” We could all afford to read a little more of it.

So I’m saying goodbye to Poetry Month 2017, but I’m not done pushing for people to write and read and think just a little more. That fight has only just begun.

May a poem impact you today,

Kris

Speaking Without Being Spoken To: women’s voices matter

A morning newscast last week talked about how female Supreme Court justices are being increasingly interrupted and talked over by attorneys in violation of court rules. I tuned in at the end, so I didn’t hear the whole conversation, but I did hear the listener feedback. Apparently, in the 21st century, even the morning news collects listener texts which are read aloud by the newscasters, breaking what I think should be rule number one of all media: don’t read the comments.

The female newscaster, while pointing out that she doesn’t think it’s necessary to give airtime to misogyny, read a couple of comments about how of course women need to be interrupted because they talk so much and have a tendency to ramble. One comment explicitly stated that women needed to be “taught when to talk.” The newscaster ended her segment by saying that in 2017 it is disconcerting that someone out there thinks that women need to be told when they can speak. She also told the commenter, well, I have a microphone and you don’t, so take from that what you will. As I also have a microphone, I was cheering when I heard that. And then I headed off to podcast editing.

I’ve been podcasting for almost two years, and I still spend a lot of time cringing when I hear myself talk. I was editing a conversation I had with my co-host for my other podcast, and I wanted to crawl under the desk. Every time I spoke too quickly, or said um, or interrupted because I had an idea come to me, I wanted to dive into the computer and lecture myself about good manners or speaking when spoken to or some other thing like that. And then I thought…but I have a microphone.

Last weekend, I heard Ira Glass, one of the most famous radio people in the country, say um, repeat himself, and end with ya know, all in the same ten seconds. He didn’t cut it out. I don’t know if it occurs to men that they shouldn’t interrupt or should be careful about rambling or need to sound like an authority and not like they are wavering, but I hear that all the time from female podcasters.

A couple of weeks ago I was a guest on the New Parent Podcast. And it’s been hard for me to share it, to be honest. Not because it’s personal. I mean, it is personal, but I’m a pretty open person and that didn’t bug me so much. What bugged me is how I sounded. I felt like I talked too much, I felt like I talked over the host, I felt like I wasn’t clear…I was just second-guessing myself all over the place. On a topic that, frankly, I have some expertise on, namely my own life and story.

Why do we do that? Why do we think we don’t have something to say? I’ve done this in the past when I’ve been a guest on other people’s shows and I still don’t understand why, but when people comment on news stories by saying that women need to be taught when and when not to speak I have to wonder if there are cultural forces involved.

I was recently invited to become part of a podcasting advocacy group wherein a group of podcasters work together on improving their shows while at the same time supporting each other and advocating for each other’s shows and audiences. While I’m not sure exactly where this is going to take me yet, I can tell you I am very exited about the possibilities. The power of voice…I don’t think I really understood it until I became a podcaster. And it still scares me just a little bit. But I have a microphone and I am ready to speak up.

May your words carry you far today,

Kris

Need inspiration to get your voice out there? The Austin Film Festival is looking for people with great ideas for fiction podcasts. Enter and share yours!

March is #trypod Month!

Followers of this website know that I like throwing the occasional blog post into the podcast mix and it’s been a long time since I’ve done that. I also have some topics in mind that I want to talk about, but today is not that day. Today is a toddler yelling in the background a pile of audio to edit kind of a day. I am so excited about all the stuff coming up on the show…great contributors, awesome segments, and some cool new stuff. But it doesn’t lend itself to a lot of blogging time.

Instead, I’m here to talk #trypod month. This is an initiative put together by a bunch of the big podcast hosts to reach the 80%. As in the 80% of people who don’t listen to podcasts. The best way to reach them is through the 20%, that is you out there who do listen to podcasts. You are the best ambassadors to tell your friends and your community why they should listen and show them how to do it. You know it’s free an easy…they don’t.

To inspire you, I’m doing my roundup of the 5 podcasts I’m talking about this month. These are the ones I’ll be sharing with my peeps, and in the interest of staying away from self-promotion, they are not my shows. (Although, of course, you’re welcome to share those, too.)

The History Chicks. Days when these ladies release a new episode are my favorite days. The History Chicks is historical girl talk. Every episode they pick a woman in history, everyone from Queen Nzinga to Marie Antoinette to Hattie McDaniel (first African-American to win an Oscar.) The two hosts research the women separately (their research is excellent,) and then come together to tell the story. They’ve been doing it for years and their back catalog is phenomenal.

How to Be a Girl. This is one of my favorite parenting podcasts. It’s on break right now so it’s a great time to get caught up. Independent producer Marlo Mack tells you what it’s like to single parent her transgender daughter. What I love about this is that she’s not perfect, she’s a mom like any of us just trying to figure out how in the world to navigate this. She is on a journey and you get to go with her and you’ll be surprised how ordinary her parenting journey is. How to Be a Girl is part of a podcast collective called The Heard, be sure to also check out First Day Back.

XX Will Travel. In my 20s, I was a traveler. I worked in summer camps across the U.S., spent six months in New Zealand, and spent most of those years having a quasi-nomadic existence where I would work like a grown-up for awhile and take off. When I discovered this show I thought it would be more nostalgia for me than anything else…obviously life is much different now…but these ladies do an awesome job of speaking to a traveler wherever you are on the journey. Whether you are about to take that big round-the-word trip or you just need to plan your next girls’ weekend or road trip, these ladies will help you get there, and I love the women solo traveler angle they bring to it.

Art Curious. I slept through art history in college (the room was warm,) but I do love good storytelling and that’s what Art Curious is. The host tells the stories behind great artists and works of art, and like all good storytelling it’s a little history, a little mystery, and a little ridiculous. You don’t have to be someone who spends every weekend in a museum to appreciate this show.

German Genealogy Girl. I wasn’t going to recommend any brand-new shows…I’ve been burned by that before and she’s literally one episode in. But I am also one-quarter German, love genealogy, and have struggled with the research on this part of my family so I’m super excited that this exists and want to give her a boost.

Five shows that are subscribed to in my phone. And all hosted by women, who get neither the press nor the respect in this space. What are you listening to? What are you sharing? Tell us, and use the hashtag #trypod in social media all month long.

Happy sharing!

Kris

My DIY Nanowrimo

I’m a huge fan of National Novel Writing Month. The origin story of this podcast starts with Nanowrimo, and if I haven’t yet shared that story on this blog I will sometime soon. I’ve participated at least four times and won at least twice, it’s hard to keep track. And I knew I just wasn’t going to be able to this year.

It’s become harder to do the intense writing and long hours Nanowrimo requires since I became a mom. The first time I attempted it post-baby, in 2014, my then 6 month old went on a major sleep regression and basically didn’t sleep the rest of the month. Any time he slept, I slept, period, and my novel, such as it was, fell completely apart.

It’s also hard to do when you have other obligations, like, I don’t know, running a podcast. Add to that the fact that I start a new part-time job in November AND will spend almost a week out of town, and I knew this wasn’t going to be the year for me. That made sense. But it didn’t mean it didn’t suck to think about not participating.

I like the camaraderie of Nanowrimo. I like popping into the forums now and then to see what everyone else is up to and what the chatter is about. I like seeing people’s word counts come up on Facebook and Twitter. I like going to the occasional write-in or virtual write-in. And while I don’t participate every year (after the 2014 fiasco, I didn’t even ATTEMPT it last November,) I was kind of looking forward to it. But it wasn’t meant to be.

And then, on October 5th, I got blindsided by an idea.

This isn’t entirely true. The seed of this idea has been with me for awhile. I had some idea of this character and the story I wanted to build. But on October 5th, from of all things a facebook post, I got the inspiration that tied the whole thing together and I knew the story I had to tell.

So I did something very uncharacteristic of me: I just started writing.

I’m an outliner. In the world of Nanowrimo, this makes me a Plotter (as opposed to a Pantster, as in fly by the seat of your.) The reason for this is simple: without outlines I don’t make it to the end. Believe me. I cleaned my office today. Where half-finished manuscripts go to die. Found four or five more of them. But this time…I don’t know…I just sat down and started writing. No outline, no notes, I just picked up a pencil (yeah, I know, old school) and wrote down some words.

In the ten days since then, I’ve been writing like a maniac. Scared of losing this idea, I just kept going. I couldn’t sleep one morning so was up at 5 a.m. writing. My house is a mess, I write. The toddler sleeps for half an hour, I write. I even turned off the baseball playoffs. It’s inspiring. It’s manic. It’s…Nanowrimoish.

So, apparently this year October is my National Novel Writing Month. I’ll still miss the camaraderie. I won’t be in the forums or at the write-ins and this won’t count for a win or anything. But I just might end October with the draft of a novel. Or something. At ten days, I’m 11,000 words in, so it won’t be nothing. And I’m happy. Because it may not be November, but the spirit of Nanowrimo stays with me and I’m very grateful to them for all the inspiration. I hope if you’ve never sat down to frantically pound out the draft of a novel, you’ll give it a try. Maybe this November. It’s an exhilaration that can’t be explained.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got some writing to do.

Happy writing,

Kris

Inspiration and Timing: My International Podcast Day Story

September 30 is International Podcast Day. It’s been fun to watch this day unfold as one of the Pod People, reading the tweets and seeing how different ‘casters are choosing to commemorate the day. All day I’ve been thinking that I should write my own blog post on International Podcast Day, as it’s been a very long time since I did a podcast round-up and sang the praises of some of my favorite shows. Podcaster I may be, but I was a podcast listener first.

But today just wasn’t that day for me.

Today was one of those glorious days that fall sends, with the crisp leaves and sunshine with that little chill in the air. It was a day for yummy smells in the kitchen to make you feel warm when the heat kicks on for the first time in months. So I celebrated my International Podcast Day with some of my favorite shows running in the background while I made apple/pear sauce. It’s delicious. Freezer be damned, I’m totally gonna eat that whole pot.

Making applesauce is one of those tasks that is tailor-made for authors, because it forces your brain into kind of a zen mode. Coring and cutting 15 lb. of apples into cubes is work that gives your brain space for other things, and mine started mulling over this book I’ve been wanting to write but am not sure the world has a slot for.

I got burned again by some Christian fiction this summer. As a genre, this one just perplexes me. It seems to require the breaking of the rules of good writing.

Let me explain. I picked a book out of a Little Free Library this summer while on vacation. It looked like fun, kind of light chick lit, the kind of book you would take to the beach. Summer romance stuff, nothing overly heavy or steamy.

I started reading it and the first chapter was fun. Likeable character, good voice. Then I got to the second chapter and I found myself flipping to the back of the title page to see the publisher. Christian fiction.

I don’t go into a lot of personal stuff on this blog generally, but I’m okay saying I’m a Christian. I’m a member of a Lutheran church and I’m not ashamed of my faith. I don’t require others in my life to share that faith, but it is important to me. I don’t have a problem with a story being Christian in nature. This doesn’t offend me or make me want to put a book down. But I don’t read Christian fiction and I took the book back. Why? Because it was annoying!

I feel like contemporary Christian fiction tells a story and then has these “now is the part where we talk about God” interludes. Suddenly the rules of writing, like show don’t tell, don’t apply. Suddenly I get the annoying diversion of a detailed description of this character’s inner monologue dumped into the middle of the story. This has happened to me so much that I don’t read contemporary Christian fiction anymore.

Not all faith-based literature has to be this way. Anne of Green Gables, one of my favorite books of all time, was written as a serial in a Sunday school paper. It’s not uncommon for classic literature to feature characters who lean on their faith, prayer, and the Bible in times of crisis. The difference is that the storytelling stays intact.

This brings me to the book I’ve been wanting to write. I’ve had this story kicking around in my head lately that is GLTBQ Christian fiction for teens. This may seem like an oxymoron, but I see it as an untapped market. “Christian” and “gay” are not mutually exclusive terms and as more and more Protestant denominations are openly embracing GLTBQ members and clergy I think there are more and more GLTBQ Christians who aren’t seeing themselves represented in fiction.

So this is the book I want to write, and I have the story in my head and have worked on some outlines and character sketches and even a preliminary draft of a few chapters. But it is a struggle because I’m just not sure where it would fit. I doubt most Christian publishers would touch it because it clearly doesn’t fit what seems to be their formula, as outlined above, and I just don’t know if mainstream publishers would touch something so faith based.

So back to International Podcast Day. As I’m working on my applesauce and mulling this over, I’m listening to one of my current favorite podcasts, Write Your Own Story with Autumn Beam, and she is interviewing a Christian romance writer who is talking about this same thing. All the problems with contemporary Christian fiction. How hard it is to fit within the typical framework. Christian fiction is boxed in, she says. There are too many boundaries and rules about how these stories are structured. Characters interact with their faith, rather than with God. I stopped chopping apples and started talking to her. Yes! Someone else gets this problem!

That’s the power of podcasting. The conversation. The conversation that host was having with her guest and the conversation I was having with them as that audio was playing for me. Blogs are awesome, message boards have a purpose, but no other medium does it in quite that way. And that was my International Podcast Day.

I’m still not sure how to answer that question about the book that wants to be written. But for today, I’m okay just not being alone, with knowing someone else sees what I see. What to do next will be tomorrow’s problem, so I hope you’ll stay tuned.

For today, give a new podcast or two a try. I think you’ll like the conversation.

Happy listening,

Kris

That Particular Sort of Conceit

What is it about us as writers that makes us not only want to record our stories, but want people to read them, share them, and tell us how much they loved them?

It’s a kind of conceit, when you think about it. What is it about my writing that makes me feel it is worth another’s time to read?

I don’t think everyone has this. I know lots of people who keep diaries they never share or fill sketchbooks not even their spouses get to look at. What is it that separates them from those of us who strive for publication, readership, and following?

It takes a certain amount of stubbornness. You have to believe that your story is deserving of someone else’s attention, is somehow better than average. You have to have confidence in your ability. And a thick skin.

I got some criticism of my work this week. No big deal, it happens, and as criticism goes it was so mild it isn’t even worth my time and energy. It wasn’t mean, and it really doesn’t matter. It comes with putting yourself out there, and one of the big reasons I launched No Extra Words in the first place is because it forced me to be out there, forced me to put my work into the world and not hide my light, so to speak.

It did give me pause, though. It did make me stop and think,  why me? Why do I think I have the talent to put work into the world? Why not leave content creation to others, those who are better at it than me, those with more experience, better production abilities, stronger plot lines, and so on?

The answer is because I must. Because the particular conceit of the writer forces me to keep banging my head against the wall, keep trying. Bruised ego? Sure, but it can’t stop me. Because somehow there is something in me that tells me the world needs my voice in it.

Where will that stubbornness take you today?

Happy writing,

Kris

A Bouquet of Freshly Sharpened Pencils

“[Fall] makes me wanna buy school supplies. I would send you a bouquet of freshly sharpened pencils if I knew your name and address.” –Tom Hanks in You’ve Got Mail

One of the great things about not working in schools anymore is that I get to reclaim my excitement about this time of year. Not that teachers don’t get excited about fall…they do. But there’s something about getting to run through falling leaves and enjoying sweaters and boots and leggings and scarves and making chili and cornbread without it meaning that I have to decorate bulletin boards.

Of course, the weatherman here in Seattle is predicting a hot September, so I shouldn’t get too excited yet.

We’ve had a lovely summer here at No Extra Words. We began June by releasing our 50th episode and then spent the summer on a reduced production schedule, but I am still proud of the awesome episodes we put out. I upped the amount of writing I did on this blog, including doing a summer series of Mini-Blogs to answer the questions I get most. I got to vacation with my family, do some writing, and take some writing risks, as well as spend some time planning for the future. I feel like I am starting September refreshed and ready to take this podcast project in new directions. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you what is ahead for No Extra Words.

  • Beginning September 6, we are back to a weekly production schedule, with new episodes arriving every Tuesday. We have a full production calendar through the end of October but are still reading submissions for end of the year slots in November and December.
  • We are currently looking for podcasters to participate in a special storytelling episode of No Extra Words due to be released in November, so keep your eyes open for that.
  • A Christmas Serial is coming back to No Extra Words this holiday season alongside some brand-new content.
  • We are looking to repeat Contributor Appreciation Month and our celebration of National Poetry Month and also hope to present to you a Young Author’s Month in 2017.

Exciting stuff! I also have some personal projects underway and they are keeping me plenty busy. I am wrapping up the first draft of my work in progress hopefully this weekend, so after a small hiatus from that, I will be in full-on editing mode. I am also preparing to launch a third podcast this holiday season, something totally different from either of my existing shows and I hope to be able to share that with all of you.

Whew! Busy times here. Downtime is overrated, no? Hang on to your hats, folks, and I hope you’ll keep following along with everything going on around these parts. In the meantime, the school supply sales are calling!

Happy project season,

Kris

Storytelling

Early literacy information was a big part of my librarian training. Story times for the under-6 set are central to the outreach part of the job, and those are about a whole lot more than entertaining children. They are building crucial pre-reading skills, and I am so grateful for the training and for all I know about early literacy, especially now that I am a mom. But everyone gets things wrong now and then.

She was very highly trained in her field, and I’m sure my library system was paying this woman a lot of money to be our guest trainer. She was speaking about print motivation, which is a fancy way of saying that one of the crucial building blocks of lifelong learning is getting kids excited about books. That’s a good thing! I’m all for it! But then she said this:

“We have to teach children that stories come from books.”

Stories come from WHERE? That was a spit-take moment for me. Teaching children that stories come from books is like teaching them that Grandma’s chicken soup comes from the pot in the corner cabinet. It misses the entire point.

Stories are everywhere. Stories crackle around us like electricity. Stories are happening right now. Stories are alive. We are in the capturing stories business, us writers. Yes, I’m talking to you nonfiction folks, too. You’re just writing stories that really happened rather than ones you made up. Both are stories.

It’s an easy thing to forget, the story. Seriously. I mean, the outline of what happens, we get pretty good at remember that as writers. I know what my main character wants. I know where this is going. But that’s plot. Story is the part that is alive. Story is the part that makes my readers care.

Podcasters tell stories, too. In fact, telling stories orally is a tradition that goes much further back than writing them down. We are all storytellers. Around the dinner table, at the BBQ (really anywhere there is food,) we spin our stories. The writers among us are the ones who try to elevate the art to new heights.

What makes a story great? That it is real. No, not like that. Real doesn’t mean “it happened.” Real means “I believe it.” Think Velveteen Rabbit real.

One of my favorite podcasts is a podcast about podcasting for women podcasters. Pretty meta, no? Sounds dry and boring? Well, if it were, I would have stopped listening long ago. What keeps me coming back? The ladies who host it. They are real. They are vulnerable. They let us in. I know about the daughter of one of them, fighting bipolar disorder and heroin addiction and headed for a new rehab facility.

Stories require us to be brave. Real doesn’t come unless you take the walls down.

I’m writing this late at night. I should be in bed. But I just had a productive evening of recording, and I took one of my walls down. I sat down at the mic and told a story I was afraid to tell even myself. And now I send it into the world. And let me tell you…it feels awesome. Terrifying. But awesome.

The No Extra Words Podcast is really proud to be hosting a virtual podcast storytelling festival this fall. If you are a podcaster head over here to find out how you can be part of it. And if you are ready to listen…well, stay tuned because the walls are coming down.

Happy telling,

Kris

The Writing Gig I Almost Had (and why you should say yes to things)

Last month I was invited to write about podcasts. For a website that you’ve heard of. I won’t say who because it didn’t work out. No hard feelings, these things happen. But the important part of this story is I was offered the chance to do this. And it was a paying gig. The emerging writer’s unicorn.

Like a lot of opportunities, it came along disguised as a coincidence (my mom didn’t believe in coincidences, so every single time one comes along I think of her.) I happened to meet this person through some online networking, she happened to mention that the company she worked for was looking for a writer. By coincidence.

She was looking for a writer to write about podcasts. Awesome. She wanted someone who could create regular content and regularly listen to podcasts. No problem. Sounds just like me. They were focusing on podcasts for millennial women entrepreneurs. Um. Wait. What?

I’m not really a millennial. Depending on which demographics you read, millennials were born somewhere around 1980 to 2000. The years vary slightly, so sometimes I get included but at the age of…let’s just say I’m closer to 40 than 30…I’m not really who people who use the word “millennial” are talking about. I am also not an entrepreneur, although as you’re going to see I learned a few things about myself in this process. Long story short: I was so not the target audience for this. And while I knew I could get the podcasting part right, I was not at all sure about the millennial women entrepreneurs part. My instinct was to say no.

But they were offering me money to write! A paying gig with a website you and people I know have heard of! It was not in my writer DNA to turn it down. So I faked it. I said, well, I’m not a millennial but this sounds like a fascinating project and agreed to write a couple of sample pieces. I downloaded a bunch of podcasts aimed at millennial women entrepreneurs and pretended I knew what I was doing.

And you know what? It was awesome. The shows were fun. One of the first episodes I listened to was about becoming a freelance writer. Cue ta-da! noise here. Of course writing is a business, although we creative types don’t usually think that way. I found a couple of podcasts I plan on listening to again and a couple that I will definitely recommend to others. A few weren’t my thing. It happens. I was able to tie it all together and create some work I was proud of.

I made a conscious decision to sound like myself. I had been told I was chosen to try this out because they liked my writing as seen on this blog, and my writing as seen on this blog is not formal. I got the sense from them that they didn’t know exactly what they wanted, so I decided to make it personal because I felt that connection with readers is what they were looking for. I may have been wrong. I have no way of knowing. I was told I was a very talented writer and they had decided to go a different way.

Any regrets? Not a one! I am so glad I didn’t say no right way when I found out the topic. I learned about new things, practiced new writing skills, and emerged with different experiences. Is my ego bruised they didn’t want me in the end? Maybe a little but it won’t crush me. If getting rejected by one publication was enough to crush me, I am in the wrong business. Their rejection was very kind. I try not to read too much into it. I’m reading through a pile of submissions tonight and I’ll be sending some rejections myself. Probably to some talented writers when I decide to go a different way. I write that letter all the time. (No, I don’t. I have a template.)

Where does my fledgling career a a freelance writer go from here? I’m not sure, to be honest. But I know I will have my eye out for coincidences.

Happy writing,

Kris

 

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