I am at the part of (re-)writing this screenplay where I am close to being done enough that I will soon send it to the producers, which is also the part where I now wonder if maybe this is the worst thing ever written and when they read it they will block my emails FOREVER and start a blog about how terrible I am. And I just can’t tell if this is paranoia or an accurate assessment. This happens to me every project cycle (I think it happens to almost everyone.)

However, what’s new is that I’m not really that upset about the idea that maybe it’s the worst ever. I’m just kind of like “Huh. Well…. I dunno, might be awful… I guess they’ll let me know.”

APATHY: EMBRACE IT.

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Misunderstanding Grover Norquist

Boy, I am so ignorant. Do you ever get that feeling? I was listening to THIS AMERICAN LIFE earlier, and Ira spent some time talking to

Grover Norquist.

I had heard of Grover Norquist. I had somehow built a structure of GROVER NORQUIST FACTS in my head that went something like:

*Grover Norquist was born in 1898 to Swedish immigrant parents who farmed a cranberry bog in Maine.
*Grover showed early promise as a tobogganist, even winning his county’s LYLE MACMOOF MEMORIAL TROPHY for his record-breaking peak-to-bog run in 1911.
*As a young man, Grover studied the harp.
*Grover served as a missionary for his Lutheran congregation, but basically only went to Canada and then came back, complaining of dyspeptic attacks due to poor food quality.
*Grover had something to do taxes and small government and was involved in politics in the 1920s and 1930s, but vanished from view during WWII, when he focused his energies on growing cranberries for the merchant marine.

All totally wrong. I am am pretty disappointed by the reality of the matter. I feel like his name really misleads you into thinking that he’s going to be awesome and bizarre in a 19th century way. Boo.

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Why I am a terrible blogger

You have probably noticed that I am a terrible blogger, infrequent, all over the place, no pictures. The no pictures is just because I’m lazy, but the infrequent is because I’m lazy AND because I’m easily daunted by the following:

“Oh man, I should totally blog about that dumb thing I just thought… hilarious. Surely the internet needs to know about the vanity plate I just saw that read GAS PAINS.”

(A few seconds pass.)

“But that’s only like a paragraph. You can’t have a blog post that’s just a paragraph!* Darn. Can I pad that with anything?”

(A few more seconds pass.)

“No.”

(Silent despair.)

“Ugh. I am so bad at blogging. It’s embarrassing! This is just another way for me to feel inadequate about myself as a writer! Writers don’t need any help with that! Pffffft. I’m going to read this article on Salon instead.”

This happens to me so frequently, you guys! Just today I was making myself laugh by thinking up a somewhat elaborate joke I would make to this producer about this project, except of course I can’t actually, because I don’t want people to know how ridiculous I am and instead I want to fool them into thinking that I am a competent professional. But anyway, after I thought about that joke and workshopped it in my brain until it was what I felt to be pretty good, and then after I got mildly “…” that it would just die aborning, I thought: “Hey! I should totally blog about that joke so it won’t go to waste! Oh… wait. That’s like a paragraph. YOU CAN’T POST TO YOUR BLOG WITH JUST ONE PARAGRAPH.”

And that’s when I had The Thought. What I clearly should do is start a Tumblr called something like JOKES I REFRAINED FROM MAKING IN PROFESSIONAL CONTEXTS BUT SPENT A LOT OF TIME WORKING ON ANYWAY. My first post will be something like “See, this movie is actually MOBY DICK. It’s about revenge. Also I’m going to break up the action with 10-minute blocks of people ruminating about whale penises.”

Except I would never do this, because I’m so lazy, and I don’t really know how to use Tumblr, I find it intimidating in its minimalism, and I’m sure that if I had a Tumblr then suddenly I would be like “Oh man, I should post about this joke I wanted to make but didn’t! Wait. I need to set that up. That’s going to take pages. NOBODY POSTS PAGES OF TEXT ON TUMBLR.”

Ad infinitum. I am so predictable.

(What if I have a Tumblr that’s just predictions of ridiculous things I will do in the next five minutes? WHAT ABOUT THAT, UNIVERSE?)

*I am, on the other hand, too verbose for Twitter. Who has time to be that succinct, man?!?

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General Meetings I

(I had a meeting recently that was so hilarious I wanted to blog about it, but then I realized that maybe screenwriter-type meetings are mysterious (in a boring way) and I should explain them first. So…)

As a screenwriter, a lot of what you do is go on meetings. This is also true for executives at production companies and studios: I guess it’s kind of like an endless round of Business Speed Dating, and everyone is constantly hoping that something will happen with their 11 o’clock.

There are basically two kinds of meetings: meetings where you’re talking about a specific project with someone (5% of your meetings) and “general meetings” (everything else.)

General meetings are always exactly the same. I have had lots and lots of meetings, and only a handful of them have varied from this basic template:

*You drive to wherever the meeting is. Meetings on studio lots are nice because they usually have pretty good parking situations. (Except for when you have to park in the parking garage at Universal, which is an Orwellian nightmare from which there is no escape. I had a meeting there once and I was ON THE LOT with ample time to spare and I was still HALF AN HOUR LATE and I kept calling the office and almost crying. “CAN YOU STAND OUTSIDE AND WAVE?!? I DON’T KNOW WHERE I AM.”) Meetings at companies that aren’t on a lot often have confusing parking instructions like “Park in the alley behind the dumpster, but NOT behind the cream Escalade”.

*You go inside and a tell a receptionist that you’re so-and-so, there to meet so-and-so, and they tell that person’s office. And you…

*Sit down and wait. You always wait for fifteen minutes, even if you get there exactly on time.

*The executive (or sometimes their assistant) will come get you. You go into their office. If you weren’t already offered a beverage, you’ll be offered one now. You can have anything you want as long as it’s water or a Diet Coke.

*You look around their office and try to figure out where to sit. Pro-tip: you are almost always supposed to sit on the couch. Sometimes people will tell you that you should just ask, but I have found this to be weird and awkward. Like you will say “Where should I sit?” and the executive will say “Anywhere you like!” but you can tell that that’s not really true, and now you’re back to guessing and everyone is experiencing mild social anxiety. So just sit on the couch. The couches are always super weird and uncomfortable. They’re usually too low and wide or something, so you have to have your meeting and dazzle them with your wit while reclining like a Roman. I’m never sure if this is totally accidental or some kind of Jack Donaghy BUSINESS DOMINANCE power play.

*You make brief small talk about whatever, and then the meeting starts. The order of the talking points varies a little bit, but is often something like this:

*The executive says something like “So where are you from?” or lobs you a similar softball – this is just your opening to rattle off your snappy bio. Here I should note that executives think that writers with certain backgrounds are going to be more able to write certain stories. So if you know that this company is sitting on a graphic novel about EXTREME TOBBOGANING, and you’re from Vermont and you run a Tumblr called SLEDZ, this is where you want to mention it. Otherwise you probably just want to have a brief thumbnail sketch of who you are with one or two mildly interesting details the executive can remember you by. (Executives have like 700 of these meetings a week.)

*After your part, the person will usually say “Let me tell you a little bit about our company: we’re funded by a group of chimpanzees who made a ton of money on Google’s IPO” or whatever and then tell you about movies they’ve made. You want to look up the company in advance so you can be sure not to do something like go “Oh man, that movie was TERRIBLE!”

*Then the person will usually say something like “So I really liked your sample!” and you will say “Thank you, I enjoyed writing it”, something like that. (Your agent or manager, when they book you the meeting, send the person one of your scripts to check out so they can see you’re not a buffoon.) And sometimes you may talk about the script a little bit. They often want to know why you decided to write it. Just make up something snappy here. Don’t answer “I don’t know, I just did”, this will confuse and trouble them. You want something like “As a kid, I was a competitive bass fisherman. I still really love the world and wanted to tell its stories with humanity and gravitas.” and they will nod and be pleased: executives love passion. It’s their favorite thing, right after you being a person with personal experience with the thing you’re writing about.

*Then the person will talk about projects they would like to be involved with. There are two kinds of things executives say here: specific and non-specific. In the first category, they may say something like “I’m really looking for a hockey movie”, or they will tell you about an idea they have, or about a book or remake their company is interested in. In the second category, they will say things like “If you find any amazing graphic novels nobody knows about, you should call me.”

*Somewhere in here, they will also ask you what else you’re working on. You can test out ideas here if you want, and get a little practice not being horribly awkward when you are forced to talk about your stories. (I used to be horribly awkward – now I am only somewhat awkward.) DON’T say “I don’t know yet.” even if that’s true. If you really don’t know, be vague and like “My agent and I are still discussing ideas, but I’m really interested in doing a historical drama”. Otherwise you can just whip out a one-liner, like: “I’m writing a dramady about a guy who quits a lucrative law practice to go run the Iditarod and find himself.” Sometimes they will like it and ask for more info and a lot of times they’ll just go “Great, sounds great.”

*Then the meeting wraps up, you exchange cards, and you go home.

In the next post I will discuss fascinating things like:

*What to wear to your meeting!
*What to do after your meeting!
*Why you shouldn’t be too excited about meetings!
*Things that can go wrong! ETC ETC ETC.

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Soul.

I usually listen to music while I write. Sometimes I build playlists in Spotify (this is good for procrastinating), sometimes I just tell Pandora to play me music from the appropriate kind of soundtrack. Because I am usually trying to write something that’s kind of EPIC AND/OR GRIM, I end up listening to things like the Inception soundtrack a lot. And it just becomes kind of tonally appropriate background noise, usually. But I do find it helpful, when I’m writing things like EXCITING CHASE SEQUENCES, to listen to music that sounds like that kind of scene.

Right now I am trying to outline a pitch for this anime-adaptation project thingy. And I didn’t really know what to listen to. So I started listening to Mayer Hawthorne‘s new album on Spotify. A huge, huge mistake. Because now, as I try to break story that’s cool and icy and Japanese, ALL I CAN THINK OF IS THIS:

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There can be only one!

Watching: HIGHLANDER. The opening “what’s up with these immortals” bit is narrated by Sean Connery, who sounds like he’s recording in a bathroom. Then it cuts to Christopher Lambert watching pro wrestling. Then he flashes back to a battle in Ye Olde Scotland. Then he meets some other dude in a parking garage and they casually whip out some swords and do battle. THAT IS THE FIRST FIVE MINUTES YOU GUYS.

THEN he decapitates the other guy and all the cars in the garage start freaking out and leaking various liquids.

PEOPLE DO NOT MAKE MOVIES LIKE THIS ANYMORE. At least not with this many unnecessary backflips.

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one grump and a yay

I have so many things to blog about for my literally tens of readers (hi, mom!) and I know you’re on tenterhooks, but my summer has turned into a madhouse of finishing my staff job, moving across town, my husband starting law school*, and me needing to work on a bunch of writing projects at once, something it turns out that I’m not actually that great at.

However! This is a very short post about one thing that made me cranky and one thing that made me go yay!:

Grump: I SHAKE MY FIST AT YOU, TIME-WARNER!
Time-Warner Cable provides the internet service to our apartment. We’ve lived here two-and-a-half months now. We’ve had to swap cable modems because the first one they gave us was broken and since then there have been three full-scale area outages (one took place this morning) and at least a dozen temporary or intermittent outages.

In what other industry would this be considered acceptable? Like if your water didn’t work at least once a week for a few hours? I am totally serious when I say that this is a ridiculous problem and if America can’t get it together with respect to its terrible broadband internet situation we are going to get left in the dust by Korea.

See also: our dumb cellular networks.

Yay: John August, Professional Explainer
I am a new WGA member this year, and this is also the year of electing a new President and part of the board. I am a person who generally likes to vote, but I have found the election process completely befuddling, even worse than when you need to vote in your local California election and the ballot is like “NOW VOTE FOR THE COMMISSIONER OF FERRETS”.

The WGA constantly sends you these emails from people who are running, or from supporters of people who are running, or from people who have clearly had some kind of off-screen fight with someone who’s running. And you just generally get the sense that there are all these tensions running through the whole thing that you are not aware of, on account of how you’re a n00b.

(I think, having done some digging, that this is probably correct, and the main tension you’re seeing is between The Verrone People, who think there should be a hard stance toward The Man and more organizing of reality TV writers, and The Keyser People, who are more like “Settle down, Norma Rae.” and want to enforce the contract that already exists instead of trying to organize more and more. But I am totally willing to be corrected – this is just what I’ve pieced together from the many WGA emails.)

So this podcast from John August and Craig Mazin, which in part discusses the elections and how the WGA leadership actually works, is super-useful and illuminating. And you can read John August’s endorsements, as well. (You can also go to events to meet and talk to the candidates, but just the idea fills me with socially awkward dread, to be honest. So I am glad that there are people writing primers on the internet.)

As an aside, I went to see Craig Mazin speak at the WGA a month or two ago. He talked about how to cope with development, and I found it SO USEFUL that I apparently totally overquoted it at work, and came in to find this in my office one morning:

Sweet.

*Oh man, this suits his personality PERFECTLY!!!! A couple of other new law students and their significant others got together recently, and pretty quickly all of the law students huddled up and started gleefully arguing about EVERYTHING. CLIMATE CHANGE! GAY MARRIAGE! POODLES! SOMEONE WOULD TAKE YOU ON.

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Socialism vs. the Marine Corps

I have been meaning to write a post about being a screenwriter and dealing with your money, but it languishes in draft stage*. In the meantime I will just say that when I got my current job (I am a staff writer at a studio), I started to make what my manager and agent call “Real Money” – not buy-an-island or even buy-a-house money… or, um, somewhat sadly, even buy-a-car money, but certainly more money than I’d ever made before. Downside of making Real Money is that the tax situation is pretty legit as well. You pay out a bunch of your pre-tax money to your agent/manager/lawyer but then you still have to pay taxes on the gross. Some of that** comes back to you when you file taxes, but… you see where I’m going with this.

I pay a lot of money in taxes. Like, a number I feel to be startlingly high.

Sometimes I think that that’s fine, that’s how a society should work, from each according to their ability. Other times, I get kind of tetchy about how I am paying an awful lot of money in taxes for the privilege of living in a country with FUCKED UP VALUES about social safety nets and in a city with terrible roads, the sidewalks in my neighborhood are LITERALLY COVERED WITH ROCKFALL THAT NEVER GETS REMOVED AHEM GREENBERGING

Anyway, you get what I’m saying. I’m sure my ambivalence is common for bleeding-heart commies who suddenly start to make more than 12 dollars an hour.

So here’s the point of this post. Recently we were out running errands, and I pulled up next to this massive truck. The truck’s rear window had two bumperstickers on it. The top bumpersticker read:

MARINES

The bumpersticker less than half an inch below that one read:

SOCIALISM: A GREAT IDEA UNTIL YOU RUN OUT OF OTHER PEOPLES’ MONEY!

I have never come so close to forcing someone off the road so I could lecture him. I wanted to find a pay stub in my email and wave it at him.

“Do you see these numbers? WHO DO YOU THINK PAYS FOR THE MARINE CORPS? IT’S NOT A PRIVATE COMPANY, MAN! I’LL TELL YOU WHERE THE MONEY COMES FROM: MY TAXES. MINE! MIIIIIIIIIIIIINE!!!!!!”

Honestly. I felt an upwelling of rage so intense that I think I totally freaked out my husband, who is usually the person working on fits of political rage in our apartment. I am usually more like “Haha, check out this picture of a goat standing on a cow… hilarious.”

Anyway. It’s always kind of bizarre to me when someone who’s in the military or who is former military is all “Socialism? Fuck that noise!” because of how military bases are essentially cradle-to-grave socialist dystopias, worse than France.

*Executive summary: DON’T SPEND THE MONEY. You are not rich. The numbers people will quote you when you get a job have so little relation to the number that actually shows up in your bank account that you should just ignore them and continue to live as a tenuously middle-class wage slave. (SERIOUSLY. YOU ARE NOT RICH.)

**You know how people are always blithely saying things like “You can write it off! IT’S A WRITE OFF! SPEND THE MONEY!!!!”? Listen to this shit, you guys! Turns out that for every three dollars you spend and write off as a business expense, you will probably get one back. Um… thanks? As my friend’s friend says whenever he gets a check for an awkwardly small amount: WE’RE GOIN’ TO SIZZLER!

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Greenberging

A phrase that’s been taking my household by storm: “Greenberging”.

Have you seen Greenberg? It’s this movie about a 40ish dude who was poised to be a slightly successful rocker, but then he threw it all away in a fit of being a dick. And now he’s a carpenter with some mental issues. And he’s a total narcissist. Just… a douche, incapable of really comprehending that there are OTHER PEOPLE in the world, who have FEELINGS. And he comes to LA to stay in his brother’s house, and he gets involved with the nanny/assistant.

I am not making this movie sound very good. But it’s really great, really it is. I don’t think that everyone will love this movie, because it’s kind of slow and weird and doesn’t really have a heroic main character. But without exception, when I’ve had a conversation about this movie with someone, everyone has said “And I really liked it!” in a kind of surprised way. So I don’t know – if you like semi-indie movies about adults, I think this is worth a shot. There’s my pitch. GREENBERG: SEE IT.

ANYWAY. One of the things about Greenberg is that he writes these terrible complaint letters to companies for reasons that are semi-legitimate, but are also just STUPID. Like reasons that aren’t really worth your time to stay angry about long enough to find a pen and paper. And ever since seeing this, whenever I’m all “I can’t believe how horrible the service in this restaurant is!” I pause and wonder if I’m Greenberging. And I usually am. So I just shut up. Out of embarrassment.

It’s a useful technique if you’re trying to complain less. (But probably only works if you’ve seen the movie.)

Also, totally unrelated, watch this excellent video:

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Kids=lucrative (for other people)

As you may know, I have a kid. He’s a toddler now, and he’s pretty cool. His hobbies include bringing you books he’d like to read, trying to kill himself by climbing the curtains behind the couch, and using sign language to point out that awesome dog you may not have spotted. This is a pretty good phase, as a parent. Mostly you spend a lot of time going “Man, that kid is pretty awesome. HEY. HEY. PUT THAT KNIFE DOWN RIGHT NOW.”

I feel like I mostly have a handle on this kind of parenting.

The kind of parenting I am NOT as prepared for is the kind that involves navigating complex systems of social and economic snobbery, glue, waitlists, and tens of thousands of dollars. That is, I am starting to figure out how the hell preschools in Los Angeles work.

Husband Guy and I and our kid actually went over to my friend Jen’s house recently to pick her brain on this topic. “Jen will know,” I told Husband Guy. “She is VERY ORGANIZED about her research projects.”

And sure enough, even though Jen’s kid is only like two minutes old, she has already taken seminars and read several books. She has a large binder. SHE HAS A SPREADSHEET (which we stole.)

THE UPSHOT: it turns out that preschools in Los Angeles are this cruel joke designed to take all your money and make you freak out and feel guilty and inadequate. Among other crazy aspects, the waitlists are outlandishly long. Our kid is ONE, and kids don’t go to preschool until they’re about three, and we’re ALREADY KIND OF LATE.

(Seriously. HA HA HA. I know.)

(Also, if you have Netflix, you should check out the documentary Nursery University on streaming. It’s in New York, but really gives a taste of the insanity. There are all these families who’ve had their three-year-old in Krav Maga and kinetic sculpture since birth and who are panicking about getting into the ELITE PRESCHOOL, the FEEDER SCHOOL to the ELITE KINDERGARTEN. And then there’s the befuddled couple who are like “Oh shit! Really? I didn’t know this was a thing, man… shit. Um…”)

(They are my P.O.V. couple.)

Anyway! We’d been pretty successful at not giving in to this panic, but after getting the scoop from Jen and her spreadsheet, we realized that preschools in LA are just totally nutso, horrible, the kind of thing that suddenly makes you understand why people homeschool or have nervous breakdowns.

Here are some reasons they are terrible:

*Preschools are basically private outfits. I guess some of them are non-profits, but I don’t think all of them are. So some of these places are simply private businesses that want to turn a profit. I am a capitalist like everyone else, but this starts to get into some weird areas.

*Many preschools have only a thin veneer of OFFICIALNESS. A lot of them are basically run by some chick out of her garage. They just dress it up with words like “Montessori” and “Gnomes!!!” or “Child-centered!” – but basically, a lady and a building, that’s all you need to get started.

*I think there may be some kind of system for helping low-income parents pay for preschool. And there are Head Start preschools, which I think are maybe federally funded (?). But most preschools are private. And figuring out where they are and who they are and HOW MUCH THEY COST (a lot) is super complicated, for several reasons:

*Many preschools don’t have websites. So it’s unclear to me how you’re supposed to find them. By driving by? HOW CAN I FIND THINGS THAT AREN’T ON THE INTERNET???

*Preschools that do have websites usually have aggressively terrible ones. Like they will frequently hide pretty crucial pieces of information like “In which state is this school located” several layers in.

*Many preschools seem to cater to families with one child and zero working parents. The school’s hours are often something hilarious like 10:57AM-12:12:PM. As a PROFESSIONAL SCREENWRITER, I only sort of have a job, and even I would have a hard time with this schedule. I assume this kind of preschool is oriented toward women who have magically traveled through time from 1951 to get their hair done while their child is in school – everyone else can suck it.

*Many preschools are expensive. Like, college-tuition expensive. Mystifyingly expensive. If you’re a low- (or even moderate-) income family, how are you supposed to afford spending around $14,000 to send your child to “school” – especially when that “school” only lasts for a few hours and you still have to arrange and pay for care for the rest of your working day? It’s bizarre to notice how early the system starts separating the haves from the have-nots. It makes me cranky.

*A lot of these preschools prey on the insecurities of middle-class parents desperate to achieve a competitive advantage for their child. (In my opinion. Maybe this is harsh.) They have waitlists, but I also think… they kind of play up their waitlists. “We have a WAITLIST. OUR SCHOOL IS SCARCE! YOU SHOULD STOCKPILE OUR SCHOOL! VEBLEIN GOOD SOMETHING SOMETHING.”

*You pay a fee for simply applying to the school. (I also find this kind of funny. I have to apply to your school? Okay, fine. Here is my kid’s personal statement. It’s a piece of banana he’s been carrying around on the seat of his pants for several hours.) These fees range from around 50 bucks to 100 bucks. As my buddy Jen pointed out, if you do some math, you start to figure out that some of the schools with long waitlists and high application fees are basically raking it in from parents of students they will never even consider admitting.

*Another thing I find funny is that a lot of preschools are really into pretending that the “academics” your child is exposed to when they’re three is going to be the difference between them becoming a CEO/philanthropist, and a nine-fingered hobo. (??? Academics? THEY GLUE STUFF TO OTHER STUFF AND FIGHT OVER WHO GETS TO PLAY WITH THAT DUMPTRUCK.)

Anyway. Preschools! Crazy.

A few weeks ago, I emailed a preschool person to find out about when her school – which looked okay and is in our neighborhood – had a tour scheduled, so I could go see if they beat the kids with bamboo rods or anything. And she finally emailed back.

They didn’t have any tours scheduled for right now, but she strongly suggested that I go ahead and fill out an application “to at least get on file”.

Of course, there’s an application fee. (Which I guess I am supposed to fork over without ever having seen the school…?)

So for a while my theory was that this was an elaborate con! This school doesn’t really exist, it’s just a website run by Nigerian scammers, to rake in 50-dollar “application fees” from nervous middle-class parents in the fiercely competitive LA preschool market.

I kind of admired my imaginary Nigerian scammers, and thought they were onto something. If I were to do this, I would do up a lovely snooty website, claim to follow the precepts of an obscure Austrian pedagog, and say things like “Each year, interest in KINDERWALD HOUSE far outstrips the slots available. To secure your child’s place on our waitlist, enclose three letters of recommendation from rich people, one of them at least moderately famous, and a money order for three hundred dollars.”

(Eventually this place turned out to be real and scheduled a tour. So Husband Guy and our kid and I went over and hung out while the people talked about diversity and diversity and how interested they are in diversity, as I looked around in amazement, wondering if literally no one else noticed that every single parent there was a white person with funky glasses, a bunch of tattoos, and a job as a writer/graphic designer/editor.)

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