BEING ORGANIZED

No, I’m not one of those super-organized people, never have been. My parents were well organized. There was my father, the disciplined, German-American chemical engineer with a steel-trap mind, and my mother, who put balanced meals on the table promptly at 6, made sure all three kids were properly cared for, and still had time to run the Parent-Teacher Association. Her advice was that I should try to form “good habits.” I thought to myself (but didn’t dare say) “What’s good about a habit?” Spontaneity has always been more my style.

That being said, there is something comforting about organization, isn’t there? If you know where things are and when things are supposed to happen, you feel more secure and you can get more done. Even observing examples of organization around us can be comforting: neatly laid-out buildings set on grids of streets, symmetrical patterns, charts. They resonate with something deep inside our brains – even mine. Perhaps in these days of pandemics, climate change fears, and political uncertainty, the predictability of order in the environment is especially valuable.

1. Around 1992 I began a two-year Botanical Illustration course at the New York Botanical Garden. My home life was difficult, even chaotic. The quiet, intensely focused practice of drawing subjects like this pine cone from life was deeply satisfying. What may at first appear to be a ball of random little shapes isn’t that at all – the pine cone has a spiral growth habit. Finding the spirals helped me keep track of which little seed scale I was working on as I carefully shaded my drawing with dots of ink. There’s a reassuring order in there.
2. Organization times two: limpets and sand dollars are organized in pleasing, radially symmetric patterns. Centering one on top of the other creates a bulls-eye that centers my brain, if only for a few seconds.
3. Someone neatly stacked these roof tiles next to a building in Leiden, Netherlands. The old bricks in the street and walls might not be perfectly straight anymore but a sense of order still prevails. Leiden and other northern European cities I’ve visited seem to exude a calm orderliness that felt good to be around.

As a hypersensitive person whose sense organs never seem to dial back a notch, I get overwhelmed when there’s too much input. Don’t seat me at the restaurant table that’s halfway between two sound systems playing different tracks: I won’t be able to eat. And how did I ever get through that summer job at a noisy factory where Hai Karate aftershave and other strongly scented products were packaged? Ugh!

Sensory overload is inevitable in this world but introducing a little organization into the environment can lessen the sting. A rhythmic body movement like foot tapping, stacking loose papers so they line up neatly, arranging clothes according to color, making lists – I’ve used those and more tricks to corral an overwhelmed nervous system. No wonder I respond so strongly to patterns in nature. And architecture, a natural vehicle for introducing organization into the surroundings, can quiet frazzled nerves with its square angles, gentle arcs, and repeating patterns.

4. Repeating patterns in the windows of three buildings in lower Manhattan.
5. Electric wires, architecture, and a street corner line up as if they were engineered from just this spot, looking out the window of a Las Vegas hotel.
6. I can’t help thinking that whoever painted this door in Ferndale, California, must have appreciated symmetry and organization.
7. Antwerpen-Centraal, the beloved temple of European railway architecture. A photo can’t begin to relay the experience of getting off a train there and walking through the soaring, graceful spaces. I was too overwhelmed to position myself right in the middle of the steps, but I think you’ll get the idea.
8. Speaking of well-organized systems, this woman in the Cologne (Koln) train station was tremendously helpful, booking last-minute tickets during a busy holiday rush with a focused, calm demeanor. The bracelet of skulls and the 18 rings were no impediment to her organized functioning. Check out that mug on her left – brass knuckles?!

A keen appreciation for the visceral pleasure of buildings’ square-framed spaces may have begun when I was around 9 years old. A small development of new homes was going up near our house. On weekends I could wander through the just-framed structures by myself, soaking in the neat order of repeating right angles, inhaling the fragrance of freshly-sawn wood, and imagining how the finished rooms might look. Later I took great pleasure in the grid of streets that makes Manhattan so easy to navigate: north is uptown, south is downtown, east side, west side – it all makes sense. That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate breaks in the grid, I did (and do!). But I relied on that grid when I lived in the city to help me organize my life.

Even humble buildings can have an attractive aura of balance and symmetry – architectural aesthetics don’t reside only in classic Greek temples or modern masterpieces. I saw this building on a country road in southeastern Georgia and photographed it head-on to emphasize the symmetry. It must be long gone now because that was around 1967.

9.
10. Another humble building that helps to organize the environment is this little bus shelter on a country road in Washington.

Have you ever noticed how shadows can organize a space?

11. I made this photo while in the midst of a crisis; my partner was ten floors up in the neurointensive care unit, recovering from a stroke. The future was uncertain. A row of sunny windows with potted plants marching down the hallway was a reassuring picture of order and normalcy in an unstable world.
12. Striped shadows in bright California light cut the space into unexpected shapes and accentuate its form.
13. A simply constructed wooden side chair I found at an estate sale presents a satisfying tableau when the light frames its shadow, doubling the pleasure of the design.
14. Sidewalk engineering and a shadow that mimics the patterns.
15. A Donald Judd sculpture benefits from carefully considered museum lighting.

The Judd sculpture is arranged in a mathematical sequence, an imposition of order on the materials. I’ve played with positioning various grids in front of the camera lens as a way to illustrate the push-pull that I experience between ordered space and disorganized space, for example, in a flower garden:

16.
17. Looking through the rectangles of a conservatory window superimposes a certain order on the beautiful chaos of the plants inside.
18. In this case, I looked through a tangle of branches at a building with a broken bulls-eye of arcs superimposed on angled grids. The complex array of lines and shapes benefited from monochromatic processing. This was in Ghent, Belgium.

Symmetry, order, and repeating patterns can be found everywhere, perhaps more obviously in human-made things but also in nature. The design below borrows from nature.

19. Symmetry in a stone mosaic medallion enhances the Italian pavilion at the Staten Island Botanical Garden in New York.

20. Alternating leaves, parallel veins – these examples of order in the plant world were adopted by people as field marks for identification, which is another way of organizing the flow of sensory input around us.
21. Classic floral symmetry: a Trillium has three leaves (which are actually bracts), three sepals, three petals, six stamens, and three stigmas. The Trillium’s simple design one of the most striking ones in the botanical world.

*

I’ve been extolling the virtues of observing order in our surroundings but don’t expect me to give advice about being organized – that’s not what I’m here for. I’m here to set before you a visual buffet that illustrates one person’s notion of observed order. If this sparks a new thought, creates an island of pleasure in your life, or even a modicum of inspiration, I’m happy.

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65 comments

  1. As a current student of botanical illustration, I’m curious if you still draw and paint and if so, is it in the botanical illustration style or looser? I’m finding it difficult to do as much photography while studying BI.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Lynn, I’m sorry to say that I rarely draw or paint. If I did get back into that consistently, I would probably lean toward something a little looser. I admire botanical illustrators who can inject life into their work, capturing the spirit of the plant, not just making an accurate rendition. I have a feeling that it tends to be either/or when it comes to drawing/painting and photography, unfortunately. When I was drawing a lot I used the camera to document family and other things. Gradually I transferred (or have tried to) my art practice to photography. Though I rarely draw, I enjoy it when I do – there’s nothing like intimate, physical contact with pencil and paper, or brush and paint. I really value the time I spent drawing. It informs everything else. As you know, it teaches you how to really look.

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      • Yes, I think observational skills certainly help both. Photography has been my main interest for many decades, but I’m enjoying the slow art aspects of illustration more these days. Someday I would like to get my photo mojo back again.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. The wires in #5 look like those bread slicers I’ve seen in bakeries, ready to slice that bland office building into neat slices of wonderbread blandness. Whereas it’s really not an exaggeration to use the term “temple” in #7, wow, lovely, a place for people who appreciate beautiful public spaces, tradition and a civilized, ordered life. And then the efficient, well turned-out assistant in #8, maintaining perfect professionalism while clearly signaling a liking for goth-punk anarchism, what a neat, organized contradiction. Buildings, city plans, architecture all clearly influence our thinking and our non-rational impulses, too, your essay has made me think (Hey! Whadda think your doin’! Cut that out!) that growing up in an old creaky house, which possessed very few right angles, level floors or completely vertical walls, and even the views of the outside world distorted by the rippled old glass windows, in a busy and sometimes very very disorganized household, is what instilled in me a desire for orderliness in some things, and a tolerance for impulsiveness, or even a hankering for chaos some days. So I think #17, extremely likeable, while not the most striking of this album, reminds me of the photos you displayed when I first discovered your posts, and got immediately hooked, this unusual person taking pictures of conservatories from the outside! And as you say, the panes and muntins imposing some sort of order on the nice chaos of the plants. Gosh #18 is just a very cool building, isn’t it, kind of like a Fresnel lens. And finally, #21 makes me miss the Finger Lakes a bit, sometimes seeing trillium on a warm balmy day, and other times walking through snow flurries to see them. Well, you’ve definitely succeeded with your plot to spark some new ideas, cheers!

    Liked by 2 people

    • A bit of poetic license prompted the use of the word temple. It’s a highly regarded building and sure feels like a religious experience. 😉
      Exactly, it was that wonderful contradiction that amused us when we were lucky enough to be helped by the woman in Cologne.
      (Am I sorry I made you think? Never!!)
      What you said about the influences of your upbringing is really interesting. I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of thinking about the ways people are different and how they get that way, it’s just one of the best things about life.
      You remember those conservatory photos, thank you! I’d still be making them if I had a conservatory in striking distance. I’m sorry I didn’t take a phone photo of the address of that building in Ghent so I could find out about it. Anyway, I like your association on the lighthouse lens – nice.
      The Finger Lakes, a great place for Trilliums. They don’t like it here on Fidalgo Island – too dry – but they can be found east of here. You may remember that I grew up largely in Syracuse, on the edge of the city. There were woods behind the house and I found Trilliums there. It was memorable! And your description of seeing them in such wildly different weather, well that’s upstate NY, right?
      Good to hear from you, Robert…I have at least one post of yours that I need to check out, hopefully soon. Cheers back!

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  3. What an interesting blog and post from a very personal perspective. Thank you for sharing your images and thoughts. Lots of interesting ideas about the presence of order, the environment, natural and man made and how it can affect us all. Not to mention some wonderful photographs! And yes, once again your musings and images spark all sorts of ideas and inspiration.
    I do a bit of drawing but not botanical illustration. Your pine cone is nicely observed and I like the style in which you’ve chosen to draw it. I love all the photographs. I often say I have a graphic mind and I think that is often reflected in my photography. Perhaps I enjoy the order of graphic images? Plenty for me to think about…
    Best wishes and keep safe
    🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • What a treat to read your comment, Mr. C. What more could I ask for than words like yours? Maybe I’ll post more drawings – I did it this time so I can figure out a way to incorporate them again. I’d like to see your drawings! A graphic mind makes sense and I think you’re right, it shows in your photography. Graphics are all about clarity, aren’t they? Maybe that’s where the sense of order is, in the clarity of the message. Or something like that. 😉

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    • Really? The series is nicely organized? Well, I tried! It can be a challenge. I wish I had taken more photos of your beautiful rail station. It is extraordinary. But I hope to get back to Belgium someday, I think it’s a really interesting place, so maybe I’ll get another chance. Thanks!

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  4. Such a thoughtful and reflective piece, Lynn. Thank you for sharing your views on order and patterns. All splendid images. And, by the way, I do like that little bus shelter!

    ✨🙏🕉🌱🌿🌳🌻💚🕊☯🐉✨

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a post as much as this one – I tend towards the middle of organization, feeling mad in utter chaos or sterile in highly organized environs. That said, seeking the symmetry in building is one of my favourite photo themes and I especially liked #5 (and #10 too with its utter charm). Most impressive was the grid in front of flowers – a great tip as the mass is hard to capture without it looking haywire! Must use it more on my camera screen – thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many thanks, Laura, this means a lot. Your description of where the balance is for you is spot on. It’s nice to see a vote for #5, which was in some ways a very pedestrian view but then, everything lined up so nicely. I had to photograph it. And it was a sharp contrast to the utter mayhem only blocks away after sundown, given that it was Vegas. I hope you find looking at garden scenes through grids an interesting pastime. 🙂 Thanks again!

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  6. Gostei imenso dos diferentes modos de organização/simetria do olhar e da forma como as exemplifica com imagens. E gostei de ver revelado mais um pouco do seu mundo e dessa antiga faceta do desenho científico, através dessa detalhada pinha. Obrigada pela partilha e desejo um bom fim-de-semana!

    Sometimes I think that the look of people with more sensitivity is very “demanding”, because it doesn’t simply pass over the world, but it always finds something, be it beauty, movement, balances, imbalances, aggressions, or even this need to organize spaces/ understand voids, etc.
    In this dynamic, on the one hand it creates stability because it “feeds” our sensitivity…but on the other hand it creates instability and such “pain” that you also refers to…because it is often a source of aggression. Sometimes the look “gets tired”!

    Lynn’s post today revived a little that feeling and also that ephemeral thought I have from time to time and that tells me “Why I’m not like most people who, in general, pass by and see nothing. It doesn’t matter to them!”
    But this is really an ephemeral thought… because soon the following appears that says to me “But they notice and like other things that you don’t care about at all!”

    I really liked the different ways of organization/symmetry of the look and the way you exemplifies them with images. And I liked to see revealed a little more of your world and this ancient facet of scientific design, through this detailed pine.
    Thank you for sharing and I wish you a good weekend!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yes, all the sensory impressions have an effect and it can be tiring. Extra sensitivity brings so many beautiful moments though, that I would not want to be less sensitive. We just have to learn how to rest!
      Of course, you’re right about everyone noticing different things – that makes life interesting, doesn’t it? Like getting to know each other through our blogs, which is another way to expose ourselves to different ways of seeing. I appreciate your presence here, Dulce, and I’m glad you enjoyed this. You have a wonderful weekend, too!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Speaking of our extraordinary brains, the workmanship that went into the mosaic is marvelous – so many small stones set into precise squares and patterns. It’s good to be around things like that. And the planters were a very ordinary thing but that sunlight and the shadows made them come alive. Thanks for your thoughts, Jo!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I see many inspiring moments and pictures here again! And a very interesting thought of you about the order of things (I hope I write it right 😉 Especially the grid in front of the Allium makes me think. For today I am too tired, but I will come again. #14 looks like modern art, great! Toni and I love the bus shelter – we could need it here 🙂 Have a good day and a nice sunday! PS the cone is amazing – you must have had a lot of patience then! I know today you would do it differently, but it is nevertheless a fantastic work.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The order of things, yes. That little bus shelter is amazing, isn’t it? That was near where I used to live before we moved up here. You’re right about patience being something I had more of – at least for things like that, maybe for everything – years ago. It does feel good to get lost in doing that kind of work. Remember the Coprinus mushrooms we had that were smashed by the guy mowing the lawn? Well, lots more came up and they’re doing beautifully right now. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • These are good news about the mushrooms. I thought that they may come back, but so fast? Great! – I agree, getting lost in something is a good thing, especially in these times (and in something like drawing).

        Liked by 1 person

    • As a cardiologist, I really hope you’re organized. 😉 But I can understand the concept of avoiding a task by doing some nice, orderly organzing. I guess for me, any organizing is helpful though. 😉

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  8. When I saw that piled up roof tiles come scrolling in, the first thing I thought was: Leiden!.. 😀 Thanks for your personal thoughts on order-disorder; habits-spontaneity. I can easily live in a total chaos as long as I know where I put the things of my life… 🙂 When I was still working in the architect bureau and came back from a holiday, they had ‘cleaned up’.. my desk and drawing-table.. a horror it was.. Maybe as a harbinger of my architectural designer job, I had found a Rotring pen on some pavement, when I was still a teenager. It made me start drawing very detailed drawings with the same dots as in your nr1 botanical illustration image.. Maybe those dots hooked our attention on the details of this world.. 😀 In my architectural designs I have always tried to play with elements within a strict, clear structure. The playing should cheer up the order because nobody gets better from monotony. That’s why I love the stuff you show in nr2. Snail houses are also great. Not to mention the skeletons of creatures that live in deep water because they have to be able to carry the weight of an whole ocean upon them. The fascination for me is that natural shapes like this have a mathematical, geometrical, numeric ‘law’ within them; but on the outside nothing is truly repetitive. I hate fractals because they are dead.. Best thing I’ve ever designed is a stairway (first 2 shots in the link). There is a numeric sequence ‘in’ it, as it spirals its way up. The boss’s wife veil-painted the rainbow colors on it. https://harrienijland.wordpress.com/architecture/ A photo of it is on the cover of a book about Organic Architecture. But!… nothing beats Nature! Have a nice Sunday; greeting to Joe as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wow, thanks so much for that link. I’ll share it with Joe when he returns from running (isn’t he good?). The stairway you designed is beautiful, and seeing it helps me remember that you used to do that kind of work. I love your idea that playing should cheer up the order. That strikes me as a Dutch idea because in my experience, the Dutch can be quite orderly but are also very playful. It’s a great combination. I can see how that relates to #2 here.
      But it’s funny that your desk was a mess. 😉 I don’t know the Rotring pens – I looked them up. I have used a different brand, same idea. They are wonderful to work with – it’s a certain feeling that steers you to draw in a more precise way. Pencils also have a wonderful feeling in the hand and they also make you draw a certain way, don’t you think? When I’m writing notes to myself I prefer the pencil – it’s something about the softness that is more expressive, I guess. But I want it to be sharp. 😉
      I never thought about underwater creatures’ skeletons that way – good point! I get what you’re saying about fractals, we need all the imperfections that say “life.” Nothing beats nature but you were in synch with nature, totally, when you designed that stairway. 🙂 Enjoy the rest of your evening!

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  9. What an excellent post once again! Words and photos alike! Thanks!
    Chaos and order, an everyday problem, alone and in partnerships and groups living together because all of us have different attitudes and habits. I understend yours very well, because it isn’t far away from mine. Nature shows both, chaos and order. Both are important for me, too. When young, chaos was more important and present all around me. Now I need order more to find things better and to feel comfortable, clearer and calmer myself .There are even days when I need and enjoy rearranging. Just like now. Have a good week! Love, Petra

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Petra, I must admit that I have too many piles of things here that need to be organized. I guess I organize just enough to keep from having a disaster. 😉 But rearranging things can be such a pleasant thing to do. I just need to stop putting it off until another day. Have a great week!

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  10. Your posts always seem well organized to me, Lynn. There seems to be a fow even among the random walk series of what you find as you go. If I try to post more than two or three images everything seems helter skelter. You should see my workroom in the warehouse. Total chaos. 🙂

    The lower Manhattan buildings and shadow images are my faves here.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s good to hear that the posts seem to be well-organized – I do work at it. 😉 It’s a struggle, as is keeping the chaos of the inbox and piles of papers under control. Not to mention keeping up with blogs, which I’m also struggling with, but you’ve heard that before. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  11. 1- you had me at the sketch of the pine cone! What a marvelous, intimate rendering of that cone. I could almost reach in and pick it up.
    21- And then to cap it with such a beautiful portrait of the Trillium. You said: “The Trillium’s simple design one of the most striking ones in the botanical world”
    which finally explained my love and fascination of this elegant wonder of the natural world.Thanks so much for all the visuals. Whether you realize it or not, you are an inspiration in many ways!

    Liked by 1 person

    • What a nice compliment about the drawing, thank you. I do think Trilliums have a symmetrical simplicity that is really appealing. I guess it doesn’t hurt that white Trilliums are often growing in relatively dim places, which makes them more striking. Ahh, spring, will it come? Not for a while. In the meantime, we can be inspired by one another’s posts. 🙂 Thanks Gunta!

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      • Spring is so delightful with so many things perking up, but to me it forbodes summer… which I don’t like so much. 😏 (You’d never guess!?) Right?
        Today was the 1st day back to a walk on the beach w/out Sissy. A bit bittersweet… but I’m hoping the sunset was a gift I needed??? (Haven’t looked yet.)

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  12. Great post coming from a self-confessed ‘organized’ person! People are always telling me, ‘you are so organized’! I say, ‘I know but I’d rather be rich or beautiful’, but I got organized’! So I think I am well-equipped to let you know you have done a wonderful job with all your examples of organization and order!

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  13. “A visual buffet” – how true!
    I chuckled as I read, “As a hypersensitive person whose sense organs never seem to dial back a notch, I get overwhelmed when there’s too much input. Don’t seat me at the restaurant table that’s halfway between two sound systems playing different tracks: I won’t be able to eat. And how did I ever get through that summer job at a noisy factory where Hai Karate aftershave and other strongly scented products were packaged? Ugh! ”

    Just a few hours ago I told an Ecuadorian friend, “once there were three people speaking three different conversations at once, and even if they had been speaking in English, I would have still felt overwhelmed. I was physically dizzy and disoriented. Too much input…”

    That’s when I get, what another friend described in me, ‘the deer in the headlights’ look!
    Thankfully we can ground with nature – or in finding calming patterns – or deciphering a complex pattern in what appears to be a simple pine cone.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Lisa, it’s so nice to read your comments. I have no doubt that those bits about a hypersensitive nervous system apply to you – no wonder you hide away and work at night. ‘-) And yet, you love people, which is good. The deer in the headlights look is exactly the feeling when there’s too much input. But we know what to do, as you said. Thank you again for your comments – I hope to reciprocate soon. Meanwhile, I hope you have time to get outside and inhale the beauty! 🙂

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  14. Your cone illustration is elegant, and I too enjoy the pattern and precision. I hadn’t thought about how patterns calm my nerves. I too get overstimulated and have always been drawn to repetition of forms and movements, especially lines. Thanks for providing a new perspective to consider on this.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Maybe repeating patterns work visually somewhat the way knitting works physically. I’m sure we could think of lots of other examples.
      Today maybe rain isn’t a good example of a soothing, repetitive phenomenon, especially for people like yourself who are very close to rivers….

      Liked by 1 person

      • I am finding the rain soothing since I’ve come to know and trust the water levels by home, even when they get pretty high. They’re within ‘normal’ high levels, so not alarming to us. Thanks for being concerned! 🙂 Yes knitting, crocheting, doodling, I enjoy all of those repetitive pattern tasks too. I used to enjoy doing long division and still like sudoku or other puzzles to soothe my nerves. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy editing and formatting books. That’s essentially story problem-solving and putting things in proper order.

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  15. You are extremely good at structuring sensory overload, dear Lynn.  You put grids on top and frames around it, you cut off what distracts, or you let shadows or blurring fade out, which could be too much.  This is probably what defines your photographic signature, it is also relaxing for viewers who – like you – are overwhelmed by impressions that are too detailed.  You never flood, you delight
    In this contribution, I am especially delighted with your architectural photos, which are so varied in style and subject, so thoughtful and smart with structures over structures.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very interesting observations, Ule, thank you. I never thought about my aesthetic in quite those terms but it really makes sense. The world does offer a lot of stimulation and applying some limiting factors helps keep things “organized.” 😉 I’m glad you like the architectural images – I love downtown NYC for that. Around here I haven’t been able to find much inspiration in architecture but I suppose if I thought about it enough, and worked at it, I could. Thank you!

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