Today I feel.

If there’s one thing everyone knows, everyone understands, it’s that emotions are both powerful and changeable. In these months of mental and physical isolation, of fear and fear-mongering, and of facing a future that seems more opaque than ever before, emotion can be a crutch or an avenue of healing. We are each trying to process our emotional state on a daily basis.

I’ve found that some days I am driven by anger, others by sadness, and more and more I just feel exhausted. But on rare days when a gentle breeze pulls me into the present or a wave of clarity washes through my brain, I feel fortified and ready again to be an active agent in my own story. I won’t lie and say I feel hope, or that I even believe hope is a very useful feeling (to me, hope is more about passive wishing, while having faith – in the world, in oneself, in a higher power, whatever it is – pushes me to purpose). But I do circle back to feeling inspired or in awe every now and then, and it is those moments I try to string together into a reality driven by compassion instead of more basal emotions.

I wish I had the capacity to express my current state of mind as beautifully as writers like Sarah Orah Marks in this piece for the Paris Review.

‘I consider how much we depend on useless, arbitrary tasks to prove ourselves,” she writes. “I consider how much we depend on these tasks so we can say, at the very end, we succeeded…In fairy tales, the king is the king. If he dethrones, his bones clatter into a heap and vanish. Loosen the seams of the stepmother, and reach in. Nothing but stepmother inside. Even when the princess is cinders and ash, she is still entirely princess. If I had a machete I would use it to cut the mice, and the princess, and the king, and the stepmother, and the castle, and the wolf, and the mother, and the sons, free from their function so they could disappear into their own form.”

She so aptly captures the anxiety of working for an external goal for so long that you don’t even remember why you wanted it in the first place, and of the relief from letting that goal go so you can fall into your true self. As I continue on that journey for myself, of recognizing my own hands and learning what they really want to do, all I can offer is a stream of consciousness that logs my daily emotional journey.

Maybe you’ll relate, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll nod your head in agreement, or shake your head in horror at my internal monologue. If this is useful for you, great, and if not, may you find your own path through emotional growth. For what it’s worth, I’ve documented my emotional state over the course of several days, each day dominated either by anger, sadness, exhaustion, or resolve, as a reminder that emotions are capricious and beneath their tumultuous surface we will always have to deal with our true selves lying in the deep, still waters beneath.

Anger

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Today I am angry. I am angry at a world full of meaningless noise that clogs my ears and my mind and threatens to drive me crazy. I’m angry at the leaf blowers outside my home three times a week, and the weed whackers, water pressure hoses, and lawn mowers. I’m mad at the companies that hire the people to use these loud pieces of equipment to blow things around and chop things up ceaselessly so that there is never a moment of quiet peace. I’m angry that we care so much about cleaning streets and sidewalks and using leftover crude oil to pour them into existence over once beautiful natural land. I’m angry that trash collection begins at 6am, and that we even need trash collection at all. I’m angry at myself for producing trash, for giving into a society that normalizes the use of plastic-wrapped everything, convenience everything, mass produced everything, injecting us with the desire and need for variety and flavor and exoticness and excess and ultimately waste. I’m angry that a pandemic has made us even bigger plastic polluters. I’m angry that the only ones to ever benefit from a disaster are the rich and power hungry, and that everyone knows it but no one dares to try and change it. I’m angry that people aren’t taking to the streets every day to demand our leadership and our entire governance structure be dismantled. I’m mad at myself that I am not in the streets, that I don’t know how to be a charismatic leader for change. I’m angry that I don’t know WHAT we should be doing – should we be protesting in the streets, striking big businesses, demanding change by removing ourselves from the system? I’m angry that I still spend much of my day sitting in front of a screen typing meaningless words about topics that don’t matter if people want to be stupid and ignorant and greedy. I’m angry that so many people can so readily take advantage of their fellow humans because they know they are desperate, ill-educated, and want to believe in miracles and conspiracies because it’s so much easier to see in black in white instead of grey. I’m angry at the people who are smart but choose not to use their critical thinking because they are angry too, and their urge to proselytize overtakes their ability of self-enquiry. I’m angry at myself for taking so long to figure out what I should be doing in this life to be a positive force, not just a resource drag. I’m angry that I was born into a world overflowing with consumerism, with companies telling us we have to buy things to define ourselves, and for believing that for so long. I’m angry that corporations like plastic industries, cruise lines, airlines, and big oil get bailouts and subsidies while sustainable farming, healthcare, and education don’t. I’m angry that our world is so clearly a dystopia but few people seem to feel the need to break out of the mold or demand better. I’m angry at all of the disgusting, mindless television, the exploitation of people for entertainment, the sensationalized news media on all sides and the people whose brains get molded by them, and how stupid it makes people. I’m angry that so many people perpetuate violence and completely ignore it, based on the hundreds of choices they make each year about what to eat and what to buy. I’m angry that I don’t have more of a platform to invoke change, to help people, to push out injustice, to spread compassion, to contribute positive things to the world. I’m angry at so many people, and human systems, and the messes we’ve created, that sometimes I don’t feel it’s even worth it to want to help. Today I’m angry at the world, and I’m angry at myself for being so angry.

Sadness

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Today I am sad. Sad for the millions of animals crammed together in dirty pens that never had a chance. They didn’t have a chance at life before the pandemic because they were in line to be murdered for steaks, wings, and bacon. No chance at life now because with supply chains broken, businesses are murdering them immediately just so they won’t have to spend money feeding them until supply chains are mended. I’m sad for all the people that never had a chance. The generations of abused and victimized that may have very well changed the world for the better and helped us evolve past our current brutality, if they had ever been given on small leg up and out of oppression. I’m sad for all the people that are so desperate for someone or something tangible to blame external to themselves that they will swallow the most outlandish lies that will only be a slow poison that leads to pain and death. Death of bodies, death of minds, death of potential. I’m sad that even in the midst of a global pause of the biggest machine on our planet – the economy – we can’t conceive of more creative and compassionate futures instead of just ‘getting back to business as usual’. I’m sad that we’ve failed ourselves. That we let our creativity and potential ooze out of us like sweat as we lounge on our couches watching celebrities watch TV. I’m sad that I don’t want children because I don’t want them to grow up feeling guilt, anger, loss, and suffering that, while it has existed through all time, is particularly gut-wrenching in this era. I’m sad that people still believe in ‘progress’ like it is a ladder to material heaven, where you can buy anything you want and everything grows bigger and bigger forever and you stretch so wide you don’t know where your mind ends and the lavish clothes and jewelry and cars and yard décor begins. I’m sad because all I want is to live in a tiny cabin on a few acres of land with woods and water, but this too is materialistic. I’m sad because it takes so much money to live so simply if you want to do it away from other people and noise and business. I’m sad because someone sprayed pesticides outside my apartment and now there are dozens of bees dead or dying on the sidewalk, writhing in confusion as their tongues splay out and they crawl in circles until they lose all hope and energy and give up. I’m sad because I feel isolated from everyone; I don’t want to watch TV, I don’t want to buy things, I don’t want to be happy and optimistic, and I don’t want to go back to normal. I’m sad that I can never choose a side, because I see all the grey and nuance in every situation and therefore ostracize myself from all factions. I’m sad because all of the best things about life – the magic of nature, the spiritual essence of ourselves, the beauty of our universe – is all trivialized by the pettiness of the small amount of our brains that we actually cultivate. I’m sad because I may never know the full capability of my brain. I may never discover whether I have a soul and how to free myself from bodily form. I’m sad that suffering is inevitable. I’m sad that the few in power can harm so many not in power, and that if we could all just band together we could create revolution, but people don’t tend to want revolution. They want to go back to normal. To go back. To revert. To recede. To hide in shells and hope that the waves of war, or disease, or disaster will wash over them and move on so that they can meekly pull their heads out again and continue crawling in circles in the sand. Today, I am filled with sadness.

Exhaustion

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Today I am exhausted. Everything in the world makes me tired. My brain hurts from the millions of repeated messages and useless soundbites perpetuated across every media platform. I’m exhausted by people who’ve lost all sense of empathy for their fellow humans – or anyone else for that matter – and who for some reason want to slave away for an inanimate ‘economy’ instead of figuring out what a system would like that could support peoples’ livelihoods AND their wellbeing. I’m so tired. Tired of seeing the same tone-deaf stories over and over that never broach the root causes of all our problems. I’m tired of fighting for the narratives that have been buried, I’m tired of being angry about all the misrepresentation, misleading, misquoting, misogynism. I’m tired of people. I’m tired of everyone complaining about not being able to go to concerts or Disneyland. I’m tired of people in power telling us that workers want to go back to work and we should let them – they don’t WANT to go back to work, they just need to be able to survive. I’m tired of a lying government, and of an entire country and world that for some reason is afraid to hold that government accountable, so afraid of one insane man that they let him destroy people’s lives, destroy the environment, lie to the public, and get away with anything. It’s absolutely exhausting. I’m tired from trying to stick by my ideals while I watch the majority of people revert to tribalism, violence, prejudice, laziness. I’m tired of the memes, of the ‘let’s use this pause to expand our consciousness’ tropes, of the people who say they appreciate this pause but aren’t planning to do anything different when life starts speeding up again. I’m tired of living in my brain that won’t stop churning with anger, sadness, and disappointment. I’m tired from reading about all the productive things everyone else is doing while I lay in bed wrestling with mental darkness. I’m tired of people wanting a cure but not once thinking about how they could have helped prevent a pandemic in the first place by choosing to support fair, compassionate, sustainable entities that don’t destroy or exploit animals, wildlife or the environment; but instead they buy everything on Amazon, from China, on sale, in bulk, never considering that the better the deal, the greater the behind-the-scenes suffering may be. I’m tired of trying to explain that disease is not something that just appears, it’s a direct result of our interactions with the world and our choices. No one wants to listen, so why put the energy into it? I’m exhausted from spending the better part of my life fighting to get people to care about how they treat our world, only to see that world continue to disintegrate under the weight of willful ignorance. I’m exhausted from trying to avoid all the news that’s pure vitriol, all the entertainment that’s nauseous distraction, and all the opinions that want to be heard regardless of whether they need to be. I want to be far, far away from it all, alone, in solitude, where I can rest, where my body can rest, where I can learn to move with the currents and cycles that we evolved with, not the ones forced upon us by corporations. Today I’m completely exhausted.

Resolve

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Today I am resolved. I’m resolved to feel the emotions that rise and fall within me and acknowledge from whence they came, and resolved to let them subside so that I can begin to learn what equanimity is, what a baseline of peace is, what it means to not be ruled by emotion but by one’s inner voice, one’s intuition. I am resolved to find little (and maybe big) ways to feel like I am contributing something of value to the world around me, whether it’s through an attitude, a behavior, a creation, or a conversation. I resolve to not berate myself too much on those days where I lay in bed for hours bemoaning existence and suffering, and resolve to have days where I do get out of bed and practice gratitude for the ability to recognize beauty and compassion. I am resolved to not let the narrow-mindedness, prejudice, fear, or anger of others be my own downfall. I’m resolved to learn how to not rely on my outward mask (not my physical mask of course, but the mask that holds in my true self) for protection, and to instead worry less about how people perceive me and focus more on how to be true and strong. I’m resolved to live by my own ideals even if the ideals of those around me continue to deteriorate. I’m resolved to search for the essence of my creativity so that I never succumb to the greed or anger that so many others are buried in right now, that is so easy to sink into. I am resolved to give myself time and space to breathe, to look inwards, and to practice letting my intuition guide me. I’m resolved to express gratitude to those who help me thrive, or help me see beauty, or love. But I am also resolved to not be lulled into false contentment by an overflowing stack of gratitude journals, 30-day yoga challenges, and mindfulness podcasts that end up as temporary distractions. I am resolved to find the real source of equanimity and peace, which is found by nothing else other than looking within, without distraction, without external noise, without checklists or stickers or material rewards. I am resolved – no matter what emotions may well up within me – to always enjoy the wonder of a blooming flower, the bright whiteness of floating clouds against a blue sky, the flutter of a surprise butterfly, the superb jaggedness of mountain peaks, or the reflected light of sunset on the ocean water as it creeps up the beach. I am resolved to nurture compassion and positivity in my interactions with others, even when I am internally outraged or saddened. I am resolved to continue advocating that animals deserve their lives, that the planet deserves our respect, and that our actions always affect those around us, even when I temporarily feel that advocacy is futile. I’m resolved to confront my ego on a regular basis and adopt a lifelong practice of recognizing its limitations and never considering myself better than anyone else. I am resolved to go on, even when I may not want to, and to speak my mind when I need to. I am resolved to listen to my heart, to be kind to myself, and to do the best I can to live a life that is light, that transmits beauty and love, and that transcends the pitfalls of egotistical drives. I am resolved to be who I need to be in this world.

Thoughts in the Wind

A fierce wind rattles the window, forcing itself through invisible gaps into the room where I lay. I pull a blanket up further over my chest and listen to the gusts howl, and feel the errant drafts cross my cheek. Wind carries life and death with it, and life waiting to live. Minuscule seeds; insects; bacteria; viruses; all held aloft for miles and miles on their airborne journey in hopes of fertile ground.

I, on the other hand, am water. My veins transport fluids that also harbor life and death; life giving nutrients, dead cells to be disposed of. I feel heavy and uncoordinated. I yearn to flow and ooze into a mold that will unburden me, that will give me a shape so I can stop wondering what it is I am. But the liquid also cools my mind, and though my vision through it is hazy, it magnifies certain images so that I may examine them in all of their horrifying beautiful detail.

When the sun burns with its fire of life, its heat courses through my watery veins and reminds me that liquid has no shape; it is a shape-shifter. We have the magic to define who and what we want to be – if we can see beyond the illusory bounds that try to contain us. We are water people reliant on air, and fire, and earth too. Through our breath we bring in the knowledge of the universe, and through our feet we touch the wisdom of our own soul.

Fear is always easiest. It lives and breeds like damp moss on the underside of anger’s sharp rock. But a river flows freely across boulders and down deep ravines toward the sea without fear or anger. It flows with courage of self-knowledge. When it is no longer a river its energy still spreads and carries life and death, just as does the wind, and the soil.

It’s time to burn the lifeless shells within which we’ve hidden for lifetimes. The heat of creation is waiting for us to forge ourselves into vessels of peace and actualization. Will I let my ego evaporate with the beads of sweat on my brow? The fire may burn and scar, but we will be lighter for it, ready to scatter new seeds across the plains that will nourish those who come after us, if we are willing to tend to them. What will sprout from those seeds of intention?

Why is Dead Animal the Default?

Have you ever stopped to consider why dead or abused animal by-products (aka meat, milk, and eggs) are the default ingredients in nearly every catered event, restaurant, bakery, café, food stand, or airplane meal?

Even if you are a meat and/or dairy consumer, you have to wonder why animal products are so ubiquitous in our food products, even those that in no way require them (e.g., baked goods and desserts) and when we know that an over-consumption – or really any consumption – of animal products is more deleterious to our health than plant-based options?

Not to be rude, but…

I am not a confrontational person, and I hate making a fuss even if I get served the wrong dish in a restaurant or have a bad customer service experience. But I have to admit I’m getting to the end of my rope with the lack of awareness about the impact we have on our planet (and animal suffering) by assuming dairy, egg, and meat filled foods are ‘normal’ and ‘expected’ and that plant-based options are a mere after-thought. Nearly every coffee shop in Santa Barbara, where I live, offers one vegan pastry item. By why only one? Why should the twenty other items be filled with pig, chicken, and cow tissues or secretions when it is just as easy to make wonderful vegan croissants, Danishes, donuts, and breads (check these out if you don’t believe me). Why shouldn’t animal-based items be the token extra option instead? There’s plenty of people who are sensitive or allergic to animal products that would be grateful as well.

With amazing plant-based options like these (vegan sushi and vegan s’mores dessert), ditching meat and dairy is easier – and tastier – than ever.

Until very recently, I was one of those vegans that just felt grateful when there were non-dairy milk options at cafes (regardless of how ridiculous the up-charge was) or vegan-friendly options at meat-heavy restaurants. But perhaps thanks to getting older, plus recently joining a community group composed of strong, inspiring women, I am starting to appreciate the need to take bolder steps to push the boundaries of what people accept as ‘normal’ and force us all to question our assumptions about how we treat animals, our planet, and each other.

The group I joined is called Vegan Lady Bosses (VLB), a community of women who seek to lift each other up, support each other in professional and personal endeavors, and together build awareness and appreciation for a plant-based, sustainable, cruelty-free lifestyle. These women mean business, and they don’t politely accept that they should pay up to a dollar more for their latte because they choose the cruelty-free option. The VLBs don’t blindly accept that ‘vegan’ means outlier; they intend to make plant-based the mainstream, and empower people in their choices and activism. For a quiet, non boat-rocking introvert such as myself, this newfound power is both a bit frightening and incredibly enlightening.

My local VLB group has been successful in pressuring local cafes to remove the up-charge for cruelty free milk, and to add more vegan options to their menus. They also rally behind businesses that make positive changes toward plant-based options, supporting them in person as well as on Yelp and social media. The VLBs show on a local scale the power of combining forces behind a cause, and the power we all have as concerned consumers and citizens.

I don’t expect everyone in the world to immediately go vegan. It’s not always practical, or available, depending on where you live or who you live with. But it is certainly time for mainstream discussions centered on why we are so complacent about the lack of concern for our unsustainable, unhealthy food system. Even if you don’t eat meat but consume dairy and eggs, or buy leather or wool products, you are (perhaps unwittingly) supporting very large, very cruel – to animals and humans – and very dirty industries that treat living beings like cheap objects. You shouldn’t have to feel like NOT supporting these industries is too difficult or radical.

Time to Rock the Boat

Just this week, the organization I work for sent around an email announcing that our Christmas party would be catered this year, and we have the option of three types of tamales – all of them meat or cheese based. This organization’s main mission is to focus on solving environmental issues for the benefit of people and the planet. Yet most times when we cater an event (such as the dozens of working groups and workshops and parties per year) at our office, the main dishes are centered on meat and dairy with plant-based options as the exception. Only one other person in my organization that I know of, out of nearly 100 people, is vegan. A handful are vegetarian. I am slowly losing my patience for a whole field of experts on environmental and climate issues who can’t seem to change their lifestyles in the way they keep arguing we all must do in order to ‘save’ ourselves from the worst impacts of climate change and pollution.

I probably wouldn’t have done this in the past, but with my newfound confidence and feeling of community support, I responded to my organization’s email, very politely asking if there would be a vegan option available. I also volunteered to lead a sustainability task force to look into making sustainable choices for our organization as a whole, including how we source food, office supplies, and how we run activities. I look forward to seeing whether my colleagues are receptive to such changes.

I understand that I do not make perfect choices. For example, I want to reduce how much plastic I buy, and how much plane travel I participate in. But choosing a plant-based diet seems like such no-brainer, particularly in California, where it is nearly effortless to do so and in fact you can find some of the most incredible vegan food and restaurants in the world. Eating plant-based has a huge positive impact on fossil fuel emissions, but also makes a statement that you refuse to accept that we must abuse and torture animals to sustain ourselves. Like it or not, think about it or not, that is what is happening to nearly every animal whose meat or milk or eggs you end up consuming, unless you or your benevolent neighbor raised them yourselves (even then, you assume that killing an animal before their natural time is humane).

I am even more dismayed that the very people at the forefront of climate change and sustainability research by and large consume meat (including fish, shrimp, and other unsustainable fisheries products) and dairy regularly, drive everywhere, and fly to multiple scientific conferences per year. If they didn’t change their transportation but changed their diet, that alone would be huge. If conferences provided better support for remote participation and focused on making their events zero waste, that would be even more significant. When the very people and institutions studying climate change can’t lead by example, how are we to expect the rest of the world to change their ways? What is it about human nature, our tendency toward cognitive dissonance, that prevents us from changing our behaviors even when we know our current behavior is detrimental to ourselves?

This is a topic I am beginning to explore in depth. We all have mental, socio-economic, or cultural barriers to change – the question is how can we learn to overcome these when we know that such change is beneficial? Based on some initial conversations I’ve had with colleagues, it appears that feeling supported (or pressured!) by peers is one important factor in whether someone chooses to change their diet. If a person is surrounded by others who eat vegan, and who enjoy cooking plant-based foods, they are more likely to adopt this lifestyle change. Many people, even those working in climate science, feel overwhelmed or intimidated by a plant-based diet because they don’t know where to start – what products to buy, what recipes to use, what restaurants they can go to, etc. Having trusted friends and family members that can guide them through this process lowers the barrier to entry in making this change.

Another key element is being exposed to pleasant plant-based meals. This is again where friends and colleagues can make a big difference, but also where organizations, companies, and restaurants can play an important role. If plant-based foods become the default option, and they taste great, people will either not notice that meat and dairy are ‘missing’ or better yet feel more inclined to choose plant-based options in the future. At scientific conferences where they have experimented with this, they’ve found that there were no riots or complaints when plant-based options were front and center; on the contrary, many people appreciated the switch or didn’t even notice. A lot of times, we make things harder for ourselves than they need to be, or assume an easy fix will be more controversial than it ends up being.

Some people are even convinced to go vegan based on watching powerful documentaries (e.g., Cowspiracy, Game Changers) or books about this topic. I went vegetarian, and later vegan, at the age of thirteen, after reading a book called ‘A Teen’s Guide to Going Vegetarian’ that opened my eyes to the horrors of factory farming and environmental and health benefits of eating plants. But for most of us, it’s ourpersonal connections that have the largest impact on our lifestyle choices, no matter how much knowledge we have about a subject via books and research papers. Community support is important for many things, and shifting behavior change is one of them – if the community is conducive to change.

I realize that terms like ‘animal cruelty’, ‘animal abuse’, ‘violence’, and ‘needless death’ make animal consumers uncomfortable. But instead of directing anger at the messengers, perhaps we need to more deeply explore why we find it hard to hear these words spoken about actions we choose to directly or indirectly support through our lifestyle choices. Did you choose to kick that injured baby cow or slice the beak off that turkey? No, of course not. But by drinking your nonfat latte (even if its organic) or eating your Thanksgiving meal, you implicitly gave permission for those actions to occur. Did you pour thousands of gallons of pig waste into river ways, or inject millions of cows with antibiotics that are creating super bugs? Again, no; but your purchases directly support industries that are doing these things. If you don’t feel good about that, you are a prime candidate for considering a plant-based lifestyle.

Not all plant agriculture is benign, of course. Choosing crops that are locally grown, organically produced, and produced by farms that pay living wages to their workers are all important things to consider no matter what you eat. Every type of food we eat has some sort of environmental consequence – but the evidence is unequivocal that raising livestock is much more intensive than growing most crops. For those people who are concerned that they aren’t able to maintain their health, or strength, or certain vitamin levels on a plant-based diet, I’ve found that often they simply haven’t received sufficient information and guidance about how to do so – or have received some of the abundant misinformation that’s out there. I’ve been vegan for over a decade and have never had abnormally low levels of B12, vitamin D, protein, or other essential nutrients or minerals.

Eating plants instead of factory-farmed animals is a no-brainer for most of us. It’s better for your health, your peace of mind, animals, and the planet as a whole. But I get that we can’t always make such a big shift on our own. I encourage you to reach out to community groups in your area to find the support and comradery to help make your transition to plant-based eating successful and enjoyable. Besides the VLB group I found (there are many VLB chapters throughout the country), I’ve found a sense of community by joining vegan potluck Meetups, animal welfare and environmental sustainability groups, and visiting local farm animal rescue centers.

If you ever have questions or want to discuss topics about plant-based eating and sustainable agriculture, I am always open to conversations. I don’t feel that forcing anyone to choose a specific diet (or worldview) is conducive to positive change, and I like to consider different perspectives and approaches. So please feel free to reach out! What challenges or barriers do you face in changing your diet or lifestyle? There is so much more I could go into about this topic, but I will save that for future posts.

In the meantime, here are just a few sources of inspiration for the vegan-curious out there. Stay tuned for more exploration in the near future.

Happy Cow website and app – helps you find vegan and vegetarian restaurants in cities around the world!

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine

Information about a plant-based diet for children 

Awesome, easy vegan recipes

Powerful vegan activism

Environmental impact of meat/dairy production

Inspiring new Netflix movie, The Game Changers, about top athletes who’ve gone vegan (and here’s their resources page)

The Vegan Society – Why go vegan

ASPCA facts about animals on factory farms

Negative effects of meat/dairy on human health

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