Joan Didion: Life Changes in the Instant

Joan Didion: Photography by Annie Leibovitz

Joan Didion Receiving the 2007 National Book Foundation Award

The National Book Foundation commemorated the literary achievements of Joan Didion at its 2007 awards ceremony in New York City. Didion received the 2007 Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for her “Outstanding achievements as a novelist and essayist.” Didion won the National Book Award in 2005 for her last book, The Year of Magical Thinking.

Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Michael Cunningham presented the medal at the 58th National Book Award ceremony and dinner. Harold Augenbraum, Executive Director of the Foundation, said, ” Joan Didion is one of the keenest observers and finest prose stylists of our time.”

Joan Didion Speaks: The National Book Foundation Ceremony

Biographic Notes

Joan Didion was born in Sacramento, California. She spent most of her childhood there, except for several years during World War II, when she traveled across the county with her mother and brother to be near her father. Her family had deep roots in the West; family tales of pioneer days informed her first novel, as well as her later memoir, Where I Was From.

Didion was a shy, bookish child, although she pushed herself to overcome her shyness through acting and public speaking. In her final year at The University of California, Berkeley, she won an essay contest sponsored by Vogue Magazine. The first prize was a job in the magazine’s New York office. Didion remained at Vogue for two years, progressing from research assistant to contributing writer. At the same time, she published articles in other magazines and wrote her first novel, Run River (1963).

In 1964, Didion married John Gregory Dunne, an aspiring novelist who was writing for Time Magazine. The couple moved to Los Angeles with the intention of staying for six months and ended up making their home there for the next 20 years. The pair adopted a baby girl who they named Quintana Roo, after the state on the eastern coast of Mexico.

The atmosphere of California in the 1960s provided Didion and Dunne with plentiful opportunities for writing in the personal style, becoming known as the New Journalism. The personal mode of writing was also associated with the writers Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, Hunter Thompson and Gay Talese. Didion’s essays on the 1960s counterculture were collected in her book Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968). It was published to critical acclaim and is considered to be one of the signature works of that decade. Didion’s second novel, Play It As it Lays (1970), which was set among the aimless souls adrift at the edges of the film industry, captured a mood of alienation that had crept over the film colony by the time of the decade’s ending.

Working together for the first time, Didion and Dunne wrote the screenplay for the motion picture, Panic in Needle Park (1971). Set among homeless drug addicts in New York City, the film introduced film audiences to the actor Al Pacino. Their work on the film was much admired and they became one of Hollywood’s most sought-after screenwriting teams. Together, they wrote screenplays for the film adaptation of Play It As it Lays (1972); a remake of A Star is Born (1976), starring Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson; the film version of her husband’s novel True Confessions (1981); and Up Close and Personal (1996) with Robert Redford.

In late 2003, Didion’s daughter, Quintana, fell gravely ill. Soon after returning from a visit to their comatose child in the hospital, her husband, John Gregory Dunne, suffered a fatal heart attack. Joan Didion wrote a searing account of her journey through grief in her novel The Year of Magical Thinking. At the time she finished the book, her daughter appeared to be recovering from her illness, but by the time the book was published, Quintana had died.

Joan Didion with her Husband, John Gregory Dunne

The National Book Award in 2005

The Year of Magical Thinking was published to widespread acclaim and received the National Book Award for Nonfiction in 2005. “There’s hardly anything I can say about this except thank you,” said Didion, praising her publisher for supporting her while she wrote her acclaimed best seller. The 70-year-old Didion, who had never won the National Book Award, had long been admired by many distinguished authors for her precise, incisive fiction and literary journalism. However, The Year of Magical Thinking brought her a substantially larger readership, with booksellers saying that her book was especially in demand from others who have lost a loved one or knew someone who had.

Joan Didion pressed on through her sorrow. She wrote a stage adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking, which appeared on Broadway this year, directed by David Hare and starring Vanessa Redgrave. Her first seven books of nonfiction have been collected in a single volume, We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live.

In 2005, Didion appeared at the Chicago Humanities Festival and provided reflections about The Year of Magical Thinking, as well as some about some of the feelings that were evoked by the events described in her book. She described the almost immediate dramatic, life-altering effect that she experienced: “The notion that I could control things died hard…I do not believe in an afterlife; I wish I did.” In her account, Didion contemplated how the rituals of daily life were fundamentally altered when her life’s companion was taken from her.

Her initial struggle to begin writing about the thoughts and feelings of grief, sorrow and utter isolation aroused by this tragic experience began with four magnificantly dignified short lines:

Life changes fast.

Life changes in the instant.

You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

The question of self-pity.”

Joan Didion: Life Changes in the Instant

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My Article for Friday, September 14, 2007

“New York’s East Village Fighting to Keep Artistic Heritage Alive.” Wealthy development moguls, corrupt City Hall politicians and gentrification threaten to destroy fifty years of artistic traditions in New York’s East Village. Article includes stunning, beautiful high-resolution photographs, photo-gallery and a video.

[tags: blogs]

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The East Village: Fighting to Keep Artistic Memories Alive

For many years the East Village was an urban frontier. The upper half of the Lower East Side, stretching from Houston Street north to 14th Street, and from Third Avenue and the Bowery to the East River, it was a toehold in America for generations of new immigrants (Irish, German, Jewish, Ukrainian, Puerto Rican and other families) and later it became a magnet for artists, musicians, bohemians, radicals and reformers. It has often been ravaged by grueling poverty and neglect. But it has also been an area of intense cultural activity that changed the world.

Until the 1960s, the eastern side of Manhattan between 14th and Houston streets was simply the northern part of the Lower East Side, and shared much of its immigrant, working class characteristics with the area below Houston Street. A shift began in the 1950s with the migration of members of the BEAT generation into the neighborhood, and then hippies, musicians, artists and social activists in the 1960s. The area became known as the “East Village”, to dissociate it from the image of the area known as (West) Greenwich Village, which had been popular with artists, but had become more affluent by then.

Over the last 100 years, the East Village/Lower East Side neighborhood has served as the first home of cultural icons such as financial barons, political leaders and national celebrities in the performing arts. Andy Warhol and his “Superstars,” important folk, punk, rock, anti-folk and hip-hop music emerged from this area, as well as advanced education, organized activism, experimental theater and the Beat Generation. Club 57, on St. Mark’s Place, was an important incubator for performance and visual art in the late 1970s and early 1980s, followed shortly by 8BC as the East Village art gallery scene helped to galvanize modern art in America, with such artists as Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Jeff Koons exhibiting. The East Village is also the setting for Jonathan Larson’s musical Rent, which is set in the early 1990s and follows a group of friends as they spend a year struggling against AIDS, poverty, and drug abuse.

Beginning in the 1980s and quickly accelerating in the 2000s, new waves of affluent “immigrants” came to tame the frontier. Condominium towers have reared up from blocks of old tenements. Many tenements themselves were renovated, with expensive rents and lofts worth more than a million dollars. Artists’ studios and corner bodegas gave way to chic shops and trendy bistros. The East Village has been dragged up-market, but but community actiivists seem doomed in their struggles with wealthy developers and City Hall politicians.

FIGHTING TO KEEP THE MEMORIES ALIVE

A PHOTO-GALLERY: EAST VILLAGE IMAGES

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Passionate Reflections in Photography: An Exhibition of Visual Ritual and Spontaneity

 

Audio: Philip Glass/The Photographer

Susan Sontag: Photography by Annie Leibovitz

Susan Sontag: On Photography

“Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still reveling, its age-old habit, in mere images of the truth. But being educated by photographs is not like being educated by older, more artisanal images. For one thing, there are a great many more images around, claiming our attention. The inventory started in 1839 and since then just about everything has been photographed, or so it seems. This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in the cave, our world. In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at and what we have a right to observe. They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing. Finally, the most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the whole world in our heads — as an anthology of images.

To collect photographs is to collect the world. Movies and television programs light up walls, flicker, and go out; but with still photographs the image is also an object, lightweight, cheap to produce, easy to carry about, accumulate, store. In Godard’s Les Carabiniers (1963), two sluggish lumpen-peasants are lured into joining the King’s Army by the promise that they will be able to loot, rape, kill, or do whatever else they please to the enemy, and get rich. But the suitcase of booty that Michel-Ange and Ulysse triumphantly bring home, years later, to their wives turns out to contain only picture postcards, hundreds of them, of Monuments, Department Stores, Mammals, Wonders of Nature, Methods of Transport, Works of Art, and other classified treasures from around the globe. Godard’s gag vividly parodies the equivocal magic of the photographic image., Photographs are perhaps the most mysterious of all the objects that make up, and thicken, the environment we recognize as modern. Photographs really are experience captured, and the camera is the ideal arm of consciousness in its acquisitive mood.

To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge — and, therefore, like power. A now notorious first fall into alienation, habituating people to abstract the world into printed words, is supposed to have engendered that surplus of Faustian energy and psychic damage needed to build modern, inorganic societies. But print seems a less treacherous form of leaching out the world, of turning it into a mental object, than photographic images, which now provide most of the knowledge people have about the look of the past and the reach of the present. What is written about a person or an event is frankly an interpretation, as are handmade visual statements, like paintings and drawings. Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire.

Photographs, which fiddle with the scale of the world, themselves get reduced, blown up, cropped, retouched, doctored, tricked out. They age, plagued by the usual ills of paper objects; they disappear; they become valuable, and get bought and sold; they are reproduced. Photographs, which package the world, seem to invite packaging. They are stuck in albums, framed and set on tables, tacked on walls, projected as slides. Newspapers and magazines feature them; cops alphabetize them; museums exhibit them; publishers compile them.

For many decades the book has been the most influential way of arranging (and usually miniaturizing) photographs, thereby guaranteeing them longevity, if not immortality — photographs are fragile objects, easily torn or mislaid — and a wider public. The photograph in a book is, obviously, the image of an image. But since it is, to begin with, a printed, smooth object, a photograph loses much less of its essential quality when reproduced in a book than a painting does. Still, the book is not a wholly satisfactory scheme for putting groups of photographs into general circulation. The sequence in which the photographs are to be looked at is proposed by the order of pages, but nothing holds readers to the recommended order or indicates the amount of time to be spent on each photograph. Chris Marker’s film, Si j’avais quatre dromadaires (1966), a brilliantly orchestrated meditation on photographs of all sorts and themes, suggests a subtler and more rigorous way of packaging (and enlarging) still photographs. Both the order and the exact time for looking at each photograph are imposed; and there is a gain in visual legibility and emotional impact. But photographs transcribed in a film cease to be collectable objects, as they still are when served up in books.

Photographs furnish evidence. Something we hear about, but doubt, seems proven when we’re shown a photograph of it. In one version of its utility, the camera record incriminates. Starting with their use by the Paris police in the murderous roundup of Communards in June 1871, photographs became a useful tool of modern states in the surveillance and control of their increasingly mobile populations. In another version of its utility, the camera record justifies. A photograph passes for incontrovertible proof that a given thing happened. The picture may distort; but there is always a presumption that something exists, or did exist, which is like what’s in the picture. Whatever the limitations (through amateurism) or pretensions (through artistry) of the individual photographer, a photograph — any photograph — seems to have a more innocent, and therefore more accurate, relation to visible reality than do other mimetic objects. Virtuosi of the noble image like Alfred Stieglitz and Paul Strand, composing mighty, unforgettable photographs decade after decade, still want, first of all, to show something “out there,” just like the Polaroid owner for whom photographs are a handy, fast form of note-taking, or the shutterbug with a Brownie who takes snapshots as souvenirs of daily life.

While a painting or a prose description can never be other than a narrowly selective interpretation, a photograph can be treated as a narrowly selective transparency. But despite the presumption of veracity that gives all photographs authority, interest, seductiveness, the work that photographers do is no generic exception to the usually shady commerce between art and truth. Even when photographers are most concerned with mirroring reality, they are still haunted by tacit imperatives of taste and conscience. The immensely gifted members of the Farm Security Administration photographic project of the late 1930s (among them Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Ben Shahn, Russell Lee) would take dozens of frontal pictures of one of their sharecropper subjects until satisfied that they had gotten just the right look on film — the precise expression on the subject’s face that supported their own notions about poverty, light, dignity, texture, exploitation, and geometry. In deciding how a picture should look, in preferring one exposure to another, photographers are always imposing standards on their subjects. Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are. Those occasions when the taking of photographs is relatively undiscriminating, promiscuous, or self-effacing do not lessen the didacticism of the whole enterprise. This very passivity — and ubiquity — of the photographic record is photography’s “message,” its aggression.

Images which idealize (like most fashion and animal photography) are no less aggressive than work which makes a virtue of plainness (like class pictures, still lifes of the bleaker sort, and mug shots). There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera. This is as evident in the 1840s and 1850s, photography’s glorious first two decades, as in all the succeeding decades, during which technology made possible an ever increasing spread of that mentality which looks at the world as a set of potential photographs. Even for such early masters as David Octavius Hill and Julia Margaret Cameron who used the camera as a means of getting painterly images, the point of taking photographs was a vast departure from the aims of painters. From its start, photography implied the capture of the largest possible number of subjects. Painting never had so imperial a scope. The subsequent industrialization of camera technology only carried out a promise inherent in photography from its very beginning: to democratize all experiences by translating them into images.

That age when taking photographs required a cumbersome and expensive contraption — the toy of the clever, the wealthy, and the obsessed — seems remote indeed from the era of sleek pocket cameras that invite anyone to take pictures. The first cameras, made in France and England in the early 1840s, had only inventors and buffs to operate them. Since there were then no professional photographers, there could not be amateurs either, and taking photographs had no clear social use; it was a gratuitous, that is, an artistic activity, though with few pretensions to being an art. It was only with its industrialization that photography came into its own as art. As industrialization provided social uses for the operations of the photographer, so the reaction against these uses reinforced the self-consciousness of photography-as-art.”

Susan Sontag

On Photography, 1977

Art is not separate from the world. The artist must serve two masters: The artist is responsible to and responsible for the integrity of his art as art, as a creative event in its own right; at the same time, he is responsible for himself and for his art as parts of the moment in the history of mankind in which he lives and in which he is attempting to become more fully alive, more fully human. The poet Robert Pinsky, in speaking of the responsibilities of the poet, and by implication the responsibilities of all artists, wrote that the poet needs not so much an audience, as to feel a need to answer, a promise to respond. The promise may be a contradiction, it may be unwanted, it may go unheeded … but it is owed, and the sense that it is owed is a basic requirement for the poet’s good feeling about the art. This need to answer, as firm as a borrowed object or a cash debt is the ground where the centaur walks.

The centaur, the artistic imagination, is not compromised by its responsibility to respond—it is safeguarded by it. Our imaginative conversation with that art safeguards us all.

Photography by Richard Avedon: ’60s Pop Stars to Modern Fashion Icons

PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICHARD AVEDON

 

Photography by Annie Leibovitz: Celebrity Photographer

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANNIE LEIBOVITZ

 

Street Photographer Lee Balterman: Chicago in the 1940’s

PHOTOGRAPHY BY LEE BALTERMAN

 

Photography by Henri Cartier-Masson: French Master of “Images on the Run”

“To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It’s a way of life.”

PHOTOGRAPHY BY HENRI CARTIER-BRESSON

 

Photography by Harry Callahan: Minimalist Street Photography

PHOTOGRAPHY BY HARRY CALLAHAN

 

Photography by Robert Mapplethorpe: Searching for the Perfect Moment

PHOTOGRAPHY BY ROBERT MAPPLETHORPE

 

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Miles Levin Chronicles His Journey Toward Death On An Online Blog

Miles Levin Chronicles His Journey Toward Death On An Online Blog

Courageous Cancer Blogger Miles Levin Dies at 18

Miles Levin was determined to have his say in life, even with cancer ravaging his young body. When he died on Sunday, six days before his 19th birthday, he had blogged a lifetime of thoughts and dreams, words that somehow pierced through cyberspace and moved tens of thousands of readers to respond. Miles blogged on the Web site of Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan.

He isn’t the only person to have written about a dying man’s journey, but his wit and wisdom and choice of words, captured the imagination of his readers. His story was circulated well beyond the world of cancer patients and was told by mass media including the Detroit News and CNN. His wisdom was sought by parents of dying children, those recovering from the brink of death, even ordinary people captivated by his enjoyment of life in the face of death.

In announcing his death Sunday afternoon, his family wrote: “Miles went from a boy-man to a man-boy. At a cost that would knock your socks off, Miles still managed to pack a wallop. He could not and would not be held back … from living life to the fullest.”

He launched his blog in 2005 simply welcoming new readers and telling them he’d been stricken by a pediatric cancer called alveolar rhabdomyosarcoma, a cancer that strangles the muscle tissues.

He declared that his motto would be simply: “It’s always something.” And it was. He got sick and then better and then sick again and still managed to navigate the milestones of adolescence: keeping up in school, a first serious girlfriend, college applications, prom.

He became a little famous and laughed at himself. He wrote about the value of life and somehow acquired an almost supernatural ability to appreciate small pleasures such as a sunny day and the presence of a loving family. This notion that cancer and the fear of death could expand your heart and mind was adopted by readers as far away as Asia and South America. He declared that perhaps he’d been put on Earth to show people how to die of rhabdomyosarcoma with grace.

As his illness worsened, Mr. Levin’s blog became a reason for him to live, and the readership on its Beaumont-affiliated Web site carepages.com continued to grow. It captured national attention when he appeared on Anderson Cooper’s CNN Newsmagazine 360 twice in June.

Cancer patients and survivors continued to flock to Mr. Levin’s blog following his commencement speech at Cranbrook Kingswood Upper School that month. He appeared alongside one of the school’s best-known graduates, ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff. He and Woodruff had become friends several months before. Over the last school year, Mr. Levin’s classmates often wore T-shirts emblazoned with his upbeat mottos. Charlie Shaw, head of Cranbrook’s high school, remembers one well: “Keep fighting, stop struggling.”

Miles’ central message was teaching kids how to fight,” said Shaw.

By Sunday evening, hundreds of condolences already had been posted to Mr. Levin’s blog, which his mother has been keeping up in the past couple of weeks after he grew too sick.

When he was too sick to write, his mother, Nancy, chimed in: “The boy Miles was in June of ’05 was sweet, innocent, disorganized and ungrounded (“earth to Miles”). The man that Miles is today is clear, focused, heart centered, and purposeful. “It was cancer that intervened. That deadly disease carried the power of transmutation, and Miles accepted the offer.” She quit her full-time job as a psychotherapist to tend to him.

The Sarcoma Foundation, which advocates for better treatment of soft-tissue cancers such as his, awarded him its 2008 Leadership in Courage Award a year early. Predicting he wouldn’t be around to receive it, they taped his acceptance speech.

A few months ago, knowing that his high school graduation was probably his last milestone, he wrote: “I can rest assured that even if I succumb to the rogue cells, I will leave behind a legacy of victory. “Dying is not what scares me; it’s dying having had no impact. I know a lot of eyes are watching me suffer; and — win or lose — this is my time for impact.”

He did have an impact. Fifteen-thousand bloggers were responding monthly this summer. In the end, they mostly sent him God’s blessing. And they spoke of positive things like seeing the brightly shining stars on summer nights, the beauty of the will to survive, simple things that make you laugh, and the need to use words to soften the hardest of times.

The funeral will be private. A public memorial service at Miles’ high school, the Cranbrook School in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, is planned for November.

Miles Levin Accepts the Sarcoma Foundation Leadership in Courage Award

Miles’ bloggings were posted on his hospital Web site at http://www.carepages.com/ (register, then type LevinStory). Here’s one of his postings, dated June 2, 2007:

“I’d like to share with you a life discovery I’ve had. I’ve always wondered to what extent attitude can be chosen, or how much of it is beyond conscious control, making it more a function of neurotransmitters, genetic predispositions, and the quality of our surrounding circumstances. It’s really a question of nature versus nurture. To those who say we are the captains of our mentality, I say look at people who are depressed. Do you think they choose to be depressed? Depression sucks. They would do a lot not be depressed; almost certainly more than the people who claim that attitude can be self-determined are actively doing to be happy. Most happy people, as far as I can tell, don’t work very hard at being happy. It just sort of works out that way by virtue of their constitution. For the most part, I include myself in that category.

Anyway, there was a recent period a couple weeks ago where I was really struggling with the fact that all my friends and my girlfriend get to go off to college in the fall with the future in their laps while I get left behind to stay at home doing chemotherapy treatment, if I’m even alive to do that. All those friends who were once my community, who kept me plugged into some sort of normal life, will be far away and very busy. I will fade and I will be bored. That was and still is hard. I know I should feel grateful just to still be alive in the fall, but somehow that didn’t help. Is it so much to ask that I too could have college to look forward to instead of either more treatment or death?

This got to me in a way that many things in me life should probably be getting to me but I’ve refused let them, and that’s been the magic of this story. I don’t think I did very many updates during this time because I didn’t feel I had anything to write that was worthy to read anymore, or of 12,000 people’s time. Whatever I had—wisdom or poise or centeredness or whatever–I felt I’d lost. Whereas previously, Miles had been on top of his cancer, now my cancer was on top of me.

This went on for about two weeks before one day I finally decided that it was enough; I needed some time to deal with that disappointment, but it’s enough now and further moping would be a waste of very precious time. I decided that today was the beginning of a change in my attitude, a change in me. I said it aloud. And what I want to tell you in this update is that it worked. I’m back, I suppose. I’m feel back on top of the cancer, and will be to the end. I’ve reverted in many ways to what I used to be—the accepting optimist–but incorporated into that is something new. Precisely what is new has not entirely crystallized yet, but I think the change can be likened to that of someone who has survived a year with one of those abhorrently difficult and unforgiving math teachers. It teaches you to suck it up and get the job done, even in the face of incredible injustice.

I conclude from this successful transformation in outlook that, to a large extent, a person can make the conscious decision to change their attitude–much more so than I previously thought. It’s not effortless; it definitely takes a certain enduring conviction. And in all fairness, by genetic predisposition, some will find simply deciding to be happy easier and some will find it harder, depending on their neurochemical makeup.

But I want to tell you that it’s possible.”

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My Articles for Thursday, July 12, 2007

WordPress Avatar Powered Recent Comments: Make a community, join our communinity, where’s the community, community, alter-ego, schizoid, Asperger’s, or cybercultural multiple personality disorder? Take a look, and your tell me!! A revealing photograph and a slideshow are presented.

[tags: blogging, blogger, WordPress, avatars, internet, technology, photograph, gallery]

This posting contains the video of Baryshnikov’s “Le Jeune Homme et la Mort” from White Nights, as well as the video of the Kennedy Center Honors Tribute to Mikhail Baryshnikov (narrated by Gregory Hines). Photographs by Annie Leibovitz are included.

[tags: Baryshnikov, Le Jeune Homme et la Mort, Kennedy Center Honors, Gregory Hines, photograph, Annie Leibovitz, YouTube]

The Iraqi government has not yet fully met any of 18 goals for political, military and economic reform, the Bush administration said Thursday in a report certain to inflame debate in Congress over calls for a U.S. troop withdrawal. Despite those findings, President Bush stubbornly insisted, “I believe we should succeed in Iraq and I know we must.”

[tags: blogs, President Bush, Iraq, Iraq war, Iraq war report, photograph, politics]

See the Rest of My Articles at Blue Dot

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