The Reluctant Writer: Something Else to do When I Should Be Writing

May 2, 2009

Anne Boudreau and 701 Whaley Street

Visiting an artist in residence at 701 Center for Contemporary Art on Whaley Street in Columbia is the equivalent of being allowed into the inner sancta of the heart and soul of art and creativity.  A bold statement, to be sure, but when we consider the history of the facility itself, which is all about creative productivity, and combine it with the purpose of the facility now, again all about the potential for artistic creativity — I don’t believe the fact overstated.

I’ve had the opportunity to visit 701 many times within the past few months.  In addition to enjoying a massive Valentine’s Day party and the Runaway Runway show downstairs, I also took in some of the Indie Grits presentations upstairs in the more intimate but still size-able rooms above.  I saw Miriam Barbosa dance beautifully there around Beth Melton’s huge textile installation, then I saw Martha Brim dance around Ellen Kochansky’s installation in the same space.  Finally, last week, at the preview of Anne Boudreau’s installation, which depicted just a few pieces of her works in progress for her May 7th opening, I was one of a too small number who got to see Thaddeus Davis and Tonya Wildeman-Davis dance with and around some of the larger of Anne’s pieces.  So, at this point, I’m starting to feel pretty comfortable in the facility.

And I can’t say enough good things about it. When I enter the doors and walk down the long halls, my eyes wander to the traces of paint and days and lives gone by that still cling to the walls and ceilings, and my mind wonders at the history still clinging there, as well.  As the grandchild of a mill family, married to the grandchild of a mill family, and a student of southern culture, I often feel a bit of a knot in my throat and a mist in my eye when I contemplate the massive and quite grey contribution that the textile industry has made in the lives of people around whom my life has been built.  Bittersweet.  People who were thankful for difficult and dangerous jobs.  In so many cases, the complete and irrefutable absence of choice.  Making do.  Getting by.  Cradle to grave.

And I can see all that there on the walls of 701 Whaley, scrubbed clean but still reeking of the past, the memories trapped between the layers of paint left for the rest of us to witness.  And without fail, there is one word that comes to my mind every time I enter the building:  integrity.  Here’s hoping the facility continues to live up to that regard.

To read my article on Anne Boudreau, this season’s artist in residence, please click on http://www.thestate.com/static/images/magazines/LakeMurrayColumbia0509/ and flip to pages 22 – 23.

April 23, 2009

From Indie Grits to River Run

Filed under: Columbia,films,Indie Grits — cynthiaboiter @ 15:06

I wish I could blame the fact that I’m not writing this afternoon on the weather — it is so beautiful outside, and the clematis are blooming so big and blue and purple.  The cats are all out on the screened porch watching a blue bird couple build their next — and I think they look so cute, while in fact I know that each little monster is plotting exactly how she or he would eviscerate the birds and their babies if they could be gotten hold of.  Zora, I’m sure, (namesake = Zora Neal Hurston), would Hannibalize them slowly, Jonathan Demme-style, while Alice, (namesake = Alice Walker) who is more of a John Candy — may he rest in peace — would feast on them all in one setting a la’ Mr. Creosote.  Eating for Alice IS the meaning of life, after all.  The babies, Joe (named after our recently deceased uncle who was an expert on Faulkner and whiskey) and Jimmy (pronounced Yimmy, according to Bob, whose namesake is the still alive and kicking James Earl Carter), would likely act brave at first and then hide under the Larken desk at the first flutter.  Wimps.

But the reason I’m not writing has more to do with my own thoughts fluttering around an email I got this morning which went in to great detail about an activity I used to enjoy slightly north of us.  

Now, I know this is late notice, and as a humble patron I’m certainly not the go-to person for what’s happening in the arts in the Carolinas, but I do want to share one bit of info with those of you who are film freaks like me, or who were recently turned on to indie cinema via Indie Grits.  (For local info please see the final word on arts in Columbia at http://carolinaculturebyjeffreyday.blogspot.com/)

The Film School at the North Carolina School of the Arts in Winston-Salem, NC puts on a truly amazing International Film Festival each year called the River Run International Film Festival, and today is the second day of this year’s fest.  The films show April 22 – 29th and tickets can be purchased at www.riverrun.com, the same place where you can also preview films and check out the schedule.

I have a very special place in my heart for Winston-Salem and the North Carolina School of the Arts, given that both Annie and Bonnie graduated from high school there in ’05 and ’06 (both as high school student body presidents, by the way — sorry Girls, couldn’t help myself).  I miss the school and the film festival, the galleries and all the wonderful little places to eat and drink downtown.  So, if you make it up to River Run, please be sure to go by Mary’s Of Course for breakfast and have a bite of salmon at The Filling Station, too.  And please be sure to let me know you’ve been so I can grill you with questions about how things are holding up up there.

Now this is an older, larger, better financed festival than the Grits festival and, most importantly, Grits has a different mission: ” To break down any walls that may intimidate first time media makers by creating exhibition opportunities for work that might not make it into other festivals,” and to “present a fun, exciting and enlightening opportunity for experienced and first-time media makers to come together and share their interest in independent media production.”  So check your expectations at the door whenever you visit either of these events. 

But please do visit.

April 19, 2009

Lost news? Try a cyber-cure.

Feeling a little brain dull lately? 

Missing your daily dose of acumen, humor and critical appraisal?  Like you know something must be stimulating or waggish or stupid, but you just can’t seem to put your thoughts into words or pictures? 

You may be suffering from State-Poor Blood. 

But don’t worry — you’re not alone. Since the recent axe-waving at The State s’News, a veritable epidemic of lackadaisy has spread across our fine state with the virulence of a pox and the veracity of a Pickens County STD.

But all is not lost.

Through the miracle of modern technology you can regain the crisp edge to your thoughts that can only be cultivated by an erudite commentary, a clever caricature or an artistic assessment that basically just pisses you off.  Why suffer smudged fingers when, with the click of a button, you can avail yourself of all the news that is fit to be blogged.  Brad Warthen, Robert Airial and Jeffery Day are the antidotes to local intellectual dotage, and they are conveniently available in child-proof packages located at http://bradwarthen.com/, http://robertariail.com/ and http://carolinaculturebyjeffreyday.blogspot.com/

 

(Check with your doctor before beginning this program.  Side effects may include enlightenment, informed decisions, chuckling, a smart-ass grin and the ability to speak intelligently on a variety of subjects including, but not limited to, sports.  If you have an erection that lasts longer than three hours, you may have clicked on the wrong blog.)

Indier and grittier

Filed under: Columbia,films,not writing,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 18:27
Tags: , , ,

Starting in the summer of 2002 and continuing for the next four summers, our family took an apartment in Greenwich Village — once in the West Village near the meat packing district, but for the most part we were right on 5th Avenue, within a block of Washington Park.  (One year we sublet a townhouse on the historic Washington Mews while the owners spent their summer at their Tuscan villa.  Seriously — their Tuscan villa.)  

There’s something about living in New York that is so different from visiting it.  When we visit we hurry to get to our favorite bars and restaurants, see the shows and the galleries — suck in a huge hit of the city as fast and as furiously as possible.  But when you’re there for a while you can just sort of coast on the vibe and slowly soak it in.  Pretend you’re a New Yorker.  I loved pretending. 

One of my favorites of the penchants I adopted during my summers in NYC is a love for art house films.  Sweaty afternoons in the city would often find me chilling in the Angelica or huddled in a dark theatre on 12th Street munching on candy I’d smuggled in from the Chinese grocery. I was able to sustain my addiction to indie flicks during the three school years we spent in Winston-Salem, (the kids were attending NCSA and I taught Sociology and Women’s Studies at Salem College), by frequenting Fourth Street Films and the River Run film festival sponsored by the school of the arts.  Then, by the time we came back to SC full time, Larry Hembree had taken over at the Nick and I was thrilled to learn that I would never have to jones for any cinema of transgression again.  Life is good.

And then there is Indie Grits. 

Instead of writing over the past four days, I’ve spent as much time as my butt could take sitting in a dark theatre with a bunch of other local film junkies and dealers.  It’s been heaven.

There are a lot of things that we do stupidly in Columbia, SC — governors, quarterbacks, full parking lots at fast food chains, to name a few.  But the fact that Columbia is the home of the Indie Grits Film Festival is one of the things that we do so right, it almost makes up for the things that we do so dumb.

Today marks the closing day of the 2009 Indie Grits Film Festival.  This was the third, and by far the best year of the festival and, based on its upward arc in terms of film quality and diversity, attendance, variation in venue and events, I’m already psyched for next year.  This year, festival director Andy Smith took us to four different venues and, in addition to live music, amazing food (including Mac’s peach cobbler), a guerilla filmmaking workshop and pretty decent party booze, he gave us a good three dozen films that proved to be either provocative/heartbreaking/gripping/depressing/weird/farcical/beautiful/creepy or fill-in-the-blank-with-what-you-look-for-in-a-film. 

All this, and Bubba Cromer, too. (I’ll be blogging about Bubba soon.)

There were films I hated and films I loved, but there were no truly bad films — basically, a working example of a successful film festival.

So, congratulations to Andy Smith and Tori Katherman, Larry Hembree, and all the participants and prize winners at the 2009 Indie Grits Film Festival.  And congrats to Columbia — Indie Grits is something to be proud of.

Check out the Indie Grits website at http://www.indiegrits.com/ and winners of this year’s festival at http://www.indiegrits.com/blog/

To visit the sites of two my three favorite films this year go to www.msqueenmovie.com

www.thehillshavethighs.com

To give Andy Smith the pat on the back that he deserves, write to him at andy@indiegrits.com.

April 15, 2009

Stir’s new column — Brett Flashnick and some Grey Egg, too

Despite an economic environment that all but crucifies the arts as trivial and unnecessary, there are at least a few good publishers and editors who are willing to put it on the line and keep discourse on the arts and arts related activities aloft.  Mark Pointer, of Stir, is one of them.

Check out the new issue of Stir online at http://issuu.com/stirmagazine/docs/stirvol5web?mode=embed&documentId=090414211529-95e5a254ad28451699c5f002c1971174&layout=grey

And please be sure to turn to page 14 to check out my new Art Scene column — this month entitled, Owning Our Own.  To those of you who have read my previous posts on the Hootie ballet & earlier on the arts community as a family, you’ll recognize a common thread here.  And those of you who have suffered my ranting on how every single freak and curmudgeon (and freaks and curmudgeons, you all know who you are) has a place in our community, then (sigh) here we go again — but this time I’m talking about a new guy.

Actually, Brett Flashnick isn’t new.  He’s always been a part of Columbia even though his work is more likely to be seen on the pages of the New York Times or the Washington Post.  Brett is a freelance photojournalist who is in the process of recognizing the artist in his soul — and is doing so via a solo exhibition as part of the Edge of the Vista event, sponsored by the Columbia Music Festival Association during Artista Vista next week.   You can also check out Brett’s work at his website http://www.brettflashnick.com/

I’d also like to direct your attention to another piece in the new Stir that I wrote about one of the oddest and most talented musical groups I’ve seen — and I got to see them in Columbia at the Hunter Gatherer.  Grey Egg is a funky and cerebral troupe of musicians who both confuse and mesmerize their listeners. Read my article about them on page 12 in Stir

And please give our Stir advertisers a bit of your appreciation for their sponsorship of such an art-forward publication.  Everyone has a part to play in keeping the arts, and consequently our culture, alive and well in difficult times.  Visit a gallery or shop whose owners are willing to put it on the line for the arts, too.  Then we’ll all be doing our parts.

April 7, 2009

Hootie patootie?

Well, if nothing else the Columbia City Ballet’s presentation of the Hootie Ballet has gotten people talking.  Interestingly enough though, many of the people talking don’t know what they are talking about.  And I don’t mean that in a snide way — I mean it literally.  So many of the people with opinions on the subject either did not attend the ballet or never had any intention of attending it.  Which raises the question — how did they arrive at such incredibly authoritative positions on an arts adventure that they had absolutely no authoritative information about?  Fascinating.

I mean, I’ll be the first person to admit that if one really doesn’t care for the repertoire or the style of a musical group then ones chances of enjoying seeing them perform drop dramatically.   The thoughts of seeing someone dance out an interpretive piece on the work of Toby Keith or Kenny Chesney, for example, makes me a little nauseous.   So in other words, if you don’t like Hootie, then you don’t like Hootie and you’re dismissed from the discussion.  You didn’t do anything wrong — you’re dismissed because you don’t have an open mind about Hootie, having already arrived at a stance on the music, very much the way that my closed mind would disqualify me from the discussion if we were talking about a Toby Keith hoe down.  And again, let me just say ugh.

Music having been dealt with, then let’s move on to dance.

It is quite fashionable to criticize one ballet company or another in this city, dependent primarily upon who you know who dances or what you’ve heard about the artistic director.  There are really only a handful of folks who regularly attend the majority of dance events in our city.  I know this because I am one of them and I see who else is there.  Given this rather unscientific conclusion that I have made, I posit the obvious — that having seen only one or two performances by only one or two companies does not make one an expert on Columbia ballet, and certainly does not make one capable of predicting the quality of dance that will be showcased on any given night. 

In other words, for every principal dancer in a company, there is the dancer who just barely made the cut – hence there is a wide variety of talent on display no matter what company you’re talking about.  Factor in the good nights and bad nights that every dancer experiences with the dancers who may be dancing corps roles now but are on the cusp of breaking through to soloist positions (and these really always are the ones to watch — the ones who are still fighting their way up), and all predictions are off. 

Therefore, if you are a person who, a priori, arrived at the position that the Hootie ballet arts adventure was going to be sub-par based on the assumption that the dancing and or choreography was going to be poor, then you have shot yourself in the foot and therefore don’t have a leg to dance on.  Not because Columbia City Ballet is always good, but because Columbia City Ballet, like almost all arts organizations, is sometimes good.  It is absolutely illogical to summarily dismiss an arts event because you think you are certain an event is going to suck. 

Now, I’m not talking chances here as that would require mathematical abilities I do not care to engage.  What were the chances the show would be good or the chances it would be bad — yeah, I’m not going there.  It should also be said that if you have seen a specific artist or arts organization many, many times, as have some of our local ballet aficionados and, through your exposure, you have learned that you do not care for the particular dance or choreography coming out of a specific camp, then I am not talking to you.  You have made an informed decision, rather than floating along on the breeze that is popular discourse.  That is the prerogative of someone who really follows the arts.

I bring the whole argument up primarily in response to comments made on the Free Times blog about the Hootie ballet, prior to the ballet event.  Most people who commented were either definitively certain the performance would suck or definitively certain the performance would be stellar.  Neither stance made much sense prior to the show.

But what I’m really talking about here is not logic or premature and ill-informed judgement.  What I’m really talking about is the vast number of luke warm arts patrons out there who, let’s face it, want to look cool.  And that, my friends, is just sad.  With barely enough artistic energy to combat the nay-sayers who argue that there is little to no room for the arts in our economically threatened environment at all, how silly is it for patrons and artists themselves to expend an ounce of that valuable resource on becoming nay-sayers as well?

When it was all said and done, the show wasn’t bad; it wasn’t bad at all. 

But interestingly, having seen the show both Friday and Saturday nights due to ticket issues, the Friday night show was quite different from the show on Saturday night, which I preferred by far.  And this proves my point again.

I’m not an expert on ballet, but I am quite good at being a ballet patron, having seen upwards of a hundred performances by companies like the New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, the Paris Opera Ballet, the Royal Ballet, Miami City Ballet, the Cullberg Ballet, the Kirov, the Bolshoi and more, not to mention quite a few by the student company at the NC School of the Arts and almost everything any of our local companies have done for the past twenty years.  That said, there were some fine moments in the Hootie Ballet.  Regina Willoughby and Maurice Johnson are beautiful dancers even when they are just taking class, and Katie Smoak and Jose Serano have enough energy and stage presence for the entire company.  Of course, as an armchair artistic director there were certainly things I would have done differently, (most notably doing away with the finger spin at the temple crazy mime in I Only Want to Be With You), but who knows how it wouldhave turned out.

But one thing I can safely say is that the crowds for the most part were happy.  And if just a few of those first-time ballet go-ers come back to see this company or another company dance — or if they learn that the arts aren’t quite so stuffy as they thought and they come out for Artista Vista, or to see a play at Trustus, or they hit a gallery opening and check out some visuals and munch on some free nuts — then good.  Good for William Starret, good for all of Columbia ballet, good for Hootie, and good for Columbia.

Good for the world of art.  Good for the world.

(Disclaimer — I am a Hootie junkie.)

March 29, 2009

Home improvements

Filed under: Columbia,feminism,writer's life,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 14:49
Tags: , ,

We’re in the process of having our house, a Queen Anne Victorian that looks more like it is 116 years old than the only 16 that it is, repaired and re-painted. Some of the wood has rotted and the once bold green and white paint has faded to dull and slightly yellowish.  Doing these home improvements brings to mind those times, almost 17 years ago, when we were building our dream home and our two little girls were playing in the sand along the foundation and standing in invisible rooms claiming the spaces that would one day be their own.  Too many cliches about the passage of time come to mind, but I find myself happily here and now witnessing the evidence of its passage when I look at my house, and my children.

Not for the first time, one of my kids has taken a hit or two because she has chosen to stay in South Caroline rather than venture into the big wide world to put down her roots.  (Which makes me question — from where did she recieve her nurtrients thus far, if not her roots?)  Both of mine & Bob’s kids, no credit to us, are bright and talented young women — they aren’t phenoms or Doogie Howsers or anything — but anyone who knows our daughters also knows that they are two of the world’s many, many young people who have something specific to offer and will likely leave the spaces that they occupy better than they found them.  Like we’re all supposed to do.

This specific woman-child has always been an idealist — always had a passion to change the world for the better. On the cusp of adulthood now, she, like her sister, has made choices that have pleased and surprised us along the way: coming back to undergraduate school in South Carolina after attending an amazing arts high school out of state was only one such decision that both of the girls made.  Their options were as wide then as Annie’s are now at the end of her successful undergraduate career.  (Bonnie has another year to go.) But again, Annie has decided to stay in South Carolina, this time to pursue a PhD from her home university — and to fulfill a commitment she made to her home, the state, a long time ago.  Rather than take her talents to another person’s home, she wants to practice them here; to make this world, the one she works and plays in on a daily basis, a better place to be.  Public service has always been a distinct possibility and dream for her and, though young, she is wise enough to know that South Carolina likes leaders who stay true to their school, as it were.

There have been nay-sayers.  She has been encouraged by many advisors to get out of Dodge while she can.  See the world.  Cut the apron strings.  Leave. 

The funny thing is that no one who really knows Annie has suggested this.  Because if you know Annie you know a few other things as well. 

First, seeing the world has been a part of her life since she was in the second grade and sat on her first windowsill in Paris observing students of the Sorbonne.  At 21, she has traveled to more than a dozen countries on many more than a dozen expeditions, both with her parents and without.  She embraced the lesson that travel is a sacred part of living life when she was a child.  She also embraced the idea that part of the joy of travel is the joy of coming home.  Home is a huge part of who Annie is.  It’s a concept to which she is stubbornly devoted.  Secondly, the child could be absolutely mummified in swaths of apron strings and neither her dad nor I could ever presume to tell her what to do.  She has always thought for herself and we learned a long time ago that the one sure way of getting her to dismiss our advice was to try to get it into her head. 

So here we all are, 16 years since we moved our young feminist daughters into their pretty pink rooms, assessing and re-assessing our homes.  It takes a lot of energy to truly live somewhere — as can be seen by both the work we’ve done and the work we need to do around our home.  Dedication, realism, sacrifice, joy. 

I don’t doubt Annie’s decision for a minute.  And it wouldn’t matter if I did.

March 26, 2009

On not leaving

Filed under: Columbia,poetry,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 04:24
Tags: ,

As it turns out, the Earth did not open up and swallow me when I posted a copy of one of my poems a few days ago.  So here I am, tempting fate once again, by posting another little concoction of mine, my heart thumping loudly at the very thought.

This piece deals with what has become a great mystery to me — the attempted migration of South Carolinians to the outer reaches of the world, only to find themselves (ourselves) drawn back to the Carolina shores like parturient loggerhead turtles.  So many of we native Sandlappers try to leave; fully intend to leave; leave and never, ever come back — only to find ourselves, back in that moving van, crossing into the land of sweet tea and frustration once again. 

I remember driving down Harden Street in 1982, all of my wordly possessions recently loaded from our apartment on Blossom Street into the back of a rented truck.  I looked around at the city I was leaving with relief. 

It took only three years and one master’s degree before I found myself crossing that state line once again, coming home, literally, to roost.  Two years plus two baby girls later, I never considered leaving again.

So, here’s to South Carolina — and to the dizzily befuddled people who for some mysterious reason continue to call her home.

~~~~~

On not leaving Carolina

By Cynthia Boiter

 

We try to leave Her

But she doesn’t let us go

 

Her soft moist mocha skin

from which we grew

like honeysuckle

like kudzu

           our roots stretching for miles and decades

           for generations

 

Our arms

reaching toward the mountains

           toward the clouds

           the moon

 

We set out

           arrogant

           on our journey

                       

To see

what lay out there

           beyond the blue smoke

           across the green sea

 

           our backpacks full of

           peach fuzz and watermelon seeds

           invisible maps of pockmarked country roads that

                        lead nowhere

                        and everywhere we ever wanted to go

 

 

We gird ourselves

against harsh winters

            wrapping our shoulders in memories

            of sun soaked Januaries

            and summer mornings so hot

            they curl us into cocoons

            paralysis       

 

            It is the humidity.

 

  

 

We sleep

beneath

stars pointing South

remembering the waltzing bob of the loblolly bough

 

Our bodies

             prickly and spiny

   like okra

             cozily mucilaginous inside

 

We wake

hungry for warm smells

            baking powder, flour, chicory

            grease that pops and hangs

 

Our ankles

            itch for dew

 

We crawl

            back

            into our mother’s arms

                        weary

                        wiser

                        home

 

with gifts from our travels abroad

           

 

 

 

February 4, 2009

writing for a prejudiced audience

Filed under: Columbia,SC Arts,Uncategorized,writing — cynthiaboiter @ 01:17

I had the opportunity recently to write an article for one of The State Newspaper’s magazines on local arts couples and  how they balance their relationships with the demands of their arts.  (You can find the story at http://www.thestate.com/static/images/magazines/LakeMurrayColumbia0209/ or by clicking Zen and the Art of Relationship Management at right.)

The piece was a joy to write.  Some of the folks featured were already friends; others I knew of, but got to know better; and others I now feel will be friends for life.  Given how poorly local freelance pays, a writer can’t ask for more than that — friends.   I was  proud to highlight my friend Simone Cuttino, for example, and how she balances her demanding life as a ballet mistress and teacher with the responsibilities of parenting 4 children — including a pair of infant twins.  She and Walter are doing an exceptional job — especially given the contributions they both make to the local Columbia arts scenes. 

 I was also pleased to get to know Mana and Steve Hewitt better.  Mana and Steve are both visual artists and  fixtures in the arts community.  We actually went to college at USC together, but didn’t know one another then.  Mana does amazing copper creations and paintings of tattoos, and so much more.  Her piece on the silenced majority stays in your head for days.

But probably the most exciting and satisfying section for me to write was the one about Christian Thee and Bruce Bahr.  Christian and Bruce are a beautiful gay couple who have been together longer than most of the hetero couples I know.  Christian is famous for his murals and tromp l’oeile paintings and Bruce, ever the backer of his beloved, is a former costume designer who is currently heading up the capital campaign to move Columbia’s only indie film theatre to a new and expanded home on Main Street.  While anyone would find them fascinating, I readily admit to realizing a distinct pleasure in the small part I was taking to highlight the two men as an admirably successful non-heteronormative couple. 

Unfortunately, not all my readers agreed with me.  I hear through the grapevine that there were complaints from disgruntled readers who argued that The State and its publications are “family” reading.  Really?  How many murders, rapes and assaults do we read about on a daily basis in our local newspaper, and besides that, haven’t Mr. Thee and Mr. Bahr been a family for almost three decades now?  There were other complaints — seven of them, to date — but I won’t do them the service of repeating them here.

I know I shouldn’t be surprised.  We need look no further than the lack of diversity in our state government to see the pitifully short social distance we have progressed in our state.  No women, few blacks, and certainly no gays (at least not “out” gays and you all know who I’m looking at.)  But it’s sad all the same. 

The flip side however is the way my editor, Kristine Hartvigsen, responded.  She answered all the complaints personally and professionally, when she could have thrown me to the wolves.  This reminds me that while there were seven complaints — there were ONLY seven complaints.  There could have been many more.   So while there may be a prejudicial element to any audience, it’s important to remember that when we write for them we are acknowledging they are there.  Better to ignore them –and maybe they’ll eventually disappear.

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