“Becoming Sustainable” debuts in online film festival Culture Unplugged June 16!

Update: “Becoming Sustainable” is now live in the Green Unplugged online film festival!  Click here to be taken directly to the film.
Click here to explore other films in the film festival.

Heads up, Sust Enable fans!

The short film, “Becoming Sustainable,” based on The Sust Enable Project, will be available to screen online in Culture Unplugged, a global eco-consciousness film festival beginning June 16, 2015 and extending for six months.

Culture Unplugged is a global film festival that aspires to share “conscious films that may awaken us to our holistic future—integral individuals and human communities thriving in coexistence with nature.”  Since 2008, Culture Unplugged has been visited by 64 million viewers from 231 countries.

“Becoming Sustainable,” delves into an evolving journey of “what it means to live sustainably,” told through the eyes of one young filmmaker-activist’s efforts to live a lifestyle “as sustainable as possible” in the modern United States.  Its innovative recursive narrative and aesthetic styles establish it as the first “meta-mentary.”

“The best way to view the metamentary is to imagine that the film itself is sentient,” says director Caroline Savery.  “That as you are watching it, the film is watching itself, and modifying its behavior based on what it learns.”

Please make sure to watch “Becoming Sustainable” on Culture Unplugged and share it with friends and families!  Details and a direct link coming soon.  For questions, email sust.enable@gmail.com.


Update on release of Becoming Sustainable

Dear fans and followers of The Sust Enable Project,

I regret to report that Becoming Sustainable: a metamentary has not been accepted into 11 of the 12 film festivals I submitted to.  Becoming Sustainable is the 25-minute short version of the intended feature length film about The Sust Enable Project (for more information on Becoming Sustainable, check out this blog post).  This has been disappointing, of course.  However, there are some bits of positive news to share, too.

Becoming Sustainable has been submitted to the HotDocs DocShop, an online shop where “registered professionals such as buyers, commissioning editors, acquisition executives, distributors, sales agents and festival programmers” can view and purchase rights for films.  Any film submitted to HotDocs, whether or not it is accepted into the festival, is eligible to participate.  It’s possible I will get some very influential eyes on the film that way.

Additionally, I have been personally invited to submit to an innovative online film festival with a unique approach to celebrating and sharing consciousness-shifting independent media.  This unique network/organization, with sustainability-consciousness at its core, is called Culture Unplugged. I have a strong feeling that Becoming Sustainable, for its reflexive, autoethnographic storytelling about the fruition of sustainability consciousness, will fit in perfectly with this organization and its festival!  Furthermore, I am also stoked that the film will be viewable online for six months during the online festival–free for any to watch. Please check out Culture Unplugged’s website and show your support.

There’s also one more film festival pending: the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival.  The Sust Enable Project was entirely shot and independently in Pittsburgh, PA, and its significant community activities, such as the Community Feedback Sessions and the Sustainability Jams, touched many lives in Pittsburgh.  I am hoping to at least have the opportunity for my festival premiere at this festival.  I will find out in early May.  For those based in Pittsburgh who would be keen to watch the film at the festival, those festival dates are June 26-28.

Lastly, this experience has shown me the importance of targeting the right audience for this work.  I always felt that I wanted people to be “taken on a journey” through watching The Sust Enable film… that they would start out with a certain conventional concepts of “sustainability” at the start of the film, and end up down the rabbit hole of deep meanings!  However, I have discovered that many people (like me, in 2008!) don’t realize that their ideas about sustainability need any examination.  So perhaps a direct approach will not work.

On the other hand, I think the people who would absolutely “get” what TSEP is all about are 1) people who already grapple with sustainability on a daily basis, and who are humbled enough to know there isn’t one right answer to the meaning of sustainability (and that their own ideas are constantly subject to change!) and 2) people who are interested in human consciousness.  It may sound odd, but I am considering implementing a personal, targeted campaign to the latter group, represented by organizations such as IONS (Institute of Noetic Sciences) and Evolver.  Why?  Because I realized one of the best and simplest ways to explain the motivation behind the experimental styles in Becoming Sustainable is to say: “Imagine that this film you’re about to watch is sentient.”

“Imagine that it’s just like you, in the theater, watching itself.  It starts out with a certain ideas about sustainability, and as it goes along and learns more, it begins to adapt its way of thinking and reflects on its own behaviors.  (Hence the term, meta-mentary!)”  In certain audiences, comprised of people who think a certain way about consciousness, I believe this framing plus the work itself will strike a strong chord.  And perhaps the support of these such audiences can be leveraged to reach a broader audience.

Regardless of the details of how it manifests, I look forward to being able to share Becoming Sustainable with you all.  You have been a part of this journey.  Thank you!




Update on status of Sust Enable: The Metamentary

Update 12-3-14: Check out our latest newsletter to TSEP Supporters here.

Dear Sust Enable fans & followers,

Where to begin?  It has been a strange time these past couple years, and I have not been as good about keeping y’all updated as I would have liked.  I had big things in mind for Sust Enable: The Metamentary (SE:MM) as you know, and big things are still ahead–although they are not the same “big things” I originally dreamed of.

Back in February – July of 2013, my cinematographer and main creative collaborator Jon Skocik and I convened to begin editing a short “proof of concept” teaser film.  This proof-of-concept would combine footage from the original Sust Enable webisode series in 2008 and footage shot with an all-volunteer crew in 2011, and would exhibit some of the story elements and recursive stylistic designs intended for the feature length documentary, SE:MM.  We began this venture feeling that we had done all we could do to “tell” people about the holistically-sustainable vision for the SE:MM film, and now to move this film forward we had to “show” in film form what it is we were trying to accomplish.  This tool would then be used to seek substantial funding.  By this time, it had been over three years since I had begun trying to make a feature-length documentary that would explore the meaning of sustainability on all levels of the film’s creation (story, styles and real-world production).

From August – November 2013, I moved into my parents house and worked full time on seeking organizational partnerships and grant fundraising for SE:MM.  Nearly every conversation I had with a potential creative partner or production house was positive–now we just needed the financing.  I submitted three full-scale grant applications for thousands of dollars.  For every one, I was declined.

This was the final lesson in a long trail of failed grant applications, teaching me: grant fundraising was not a viable option for SE:MM.  The same pattern of high-stakes, energy-intensive, and ultimately declined grant applications was true for every time in the project’s three year history that we had sought significant financing to support the next phase of SE:MM development.  With grant fundraising proving a constant dead-end, we had iteratively boot-strapped our production phases with countless hours of volunteer labor, modest cash donations from individuals, and lots of support and cooperation from in-kind partners.  But that was the last straw.  I had given so much of my life over to the Sust Enable project.  I couldn’t afford to give any more and have nothing to show for it.  I decided that I would be done with SE:MM if my full-time outreach & fundraising efforts did not produce workable results by November.

On November 21, 2013, I moved to Denver, CO and began a new life.  That was it.  I was done with SE:MM.

But, as many folks reminded me, there was no sense in declaring I was “done” with SE:MM entirely.  It would be closing off a door to what is and was a huge part of my life.  At first I avoided any thought of Sust Enable for a few months, nursing my bitter wounds.  Gradually, though, I began to consider Sust Enable with fresh eyes.

The Sust Enable Project has important messages in it that I want to share with the world.  What if I changed my assumptions about how I could share it?  What would it mean to me to truly “release” SE:MM for me: not in the sense of releasing a film, but as though releasing a bird from closed hands?  I want to share it, I want people to share in it.  But it had become clear that the form I had dreamed it in–the feature-length experimental documentary–was not to come into manifestation.  Did that require me to let go of all the work and effort entirely?  With the resources and vision I had, how could I release the project in a way that would allow me to feel “done” in a fulfilled way?

While at first that short film was intended as a proof-of-concept exhibitng some styles, themes and scenes for the purpose of a feature “teaser” and fundraising tool–slowly, creepingly, over time, the film morphed into a standalone short film.  Eventually, this became the goal of the project.  Once I had finally let go of my fixation over how I wanted this project to be created and received, I was able to see how it would be possible for me to actually release it.

Today.  A day I never knew would come.  Today I am proud to announce:

Becoming Sustainable: a metamentary is a 25 minute, 10 second short film that has been submitted to a dozen film festivals throughout the United States and Canada.  If it is selected, it will screen, and then a possible distribution deal will emerge from that.  While, believe me, dear followers, I would love to share the full film freely with you all right away, I feel it’s better to allow the anticipation and buzz to build up a bit.  I believe it’s worth it.

The next step for me is to email all the donors of the film.  If you had donated to Sust Enable, via our crowdfunding campaign or another form, and had been promised a DVD of the film in return for your donation, I will honor those requests and send you a DVD of the short as soon as I am able.

Next, I plan to release a majority of the film’s interview content under a Creative Commons License (to the extent I am permitted to do so by the participants’ release forms).  That means interview content from Sust Enable: The Metamentary will be freely available to use, recut and remix.  So all the good moments and nuggets of insight won’t be lost, but will instead be liberated for people to interface with the media as they see fit.

Lastly, I plan to release a short book, with the working title, “The Metamentary Manifesto.”  The Manifesto will be a passionate call-to-action of the need to commit and challenge ourselves to holistic ecological thinking in our filmmaking undertakings.  The Manifesto will also provide an in-depth mapping of how the proposed and planned Sust Enable: The Metamentary film would have embodied the utmost in recursive, adaptive and ecological practices in filmmaking.   I aim to time the release of this book at or shortly after the debut screenings of the film in film festivals (hopefully) across the U.S.

With this three-part release strategy–short film, raw footage, manifesto–I will feel that all the content of the Sust Enable project that I hope will better the world, awaken people’s ecological awareness, and broaden their “sustainability literacy”–will be done.  Truly done.  Free, released, and complete.

So then, maybe then… I can move onto other things.



Bob Doppelt “From Me to We” podcast


We expand our choices by altering our interpretation of the world…

Climate change and growing economic inequities and other problems we’re facing today are really not technical problems [nor policy, energy, or fossil fuel problems], it’s a crisis of human thought and imagination.

Highly recommended talk from Bob Doppelt about how to align one’s understanding and behavior with ancient spiritual precepts… which happen to also be “how to live sustainably.”  (This is a great example of the kind of content we’ll have in the Sust Enable film through asking questions like “what does sustainability mean?”)


A Word on Sussing Out “Sustainability”

“Sustainability.” How many times have you already heard this word today?

It’s the kind of word you either love or loathe. Either “sustainability” is something you strongly resonate with, or the overuse of this word irks the piss out of you. When the word came into my consciousness several years ago, it was still a fairly fringe concept. Now, claims of “sustainability” are ubiquitous in our culture. Many people are annoyed with it. The main complaint I hear from fellow sustainability activists these days is “it’s not about sustaining something, it’s about thriving.” Word!

Indeed, the attractive power of a word. A word tries to capture something and transmit it; a word gets at a common experience. The word “sustainability” has an interesting history. Its modern application in connection with economic policy first occurred in 1967 at latest. According to Wikipedia, “The first use of the term “sustainable” in the modern sense was by the Club of Rome in March 1972 in its epoch-making report on the ‘Limits to Growth.”  “Sustainability” continued to be applied to theories of economics and development, being propelled into the mainstream lexicon by the famous 1987 Bruntlandt Report, whose definition of sustainability as “meet[ing] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs,” is still the most popularly cited one today. Throughout the last two decades, “sustainability” has spiked dramatically in common use. The word today is hyper-proliferating to the point of near meaninglessness, as is illustrated by this comic. 

Sustainability is an emergent concept in our modern times. One would surmise that the increasing popularity of this word corresponds to our expanding understanding of how human actions can substantially impact our environments. Whether or not you grok mega and meta issues like global warming and pollution, the effects of pesticides on pollinators and the impact of our oil spills on ecosystems, to cite just a couple examples, are undeniably linked to human industrial activities and have immediate unpleasant effects. The frenzied rate at which use of “sustainability” proliferates suggests our panicked urge to react to this devastating news. Sustainability is, perhaps, a trigger word, indicating a collapsing belief system and a desperate search for solutions to the apparent “unsustainability” of our economic and cultural systems.

Yet, intriguingly, such an abundant word doesn’t have a clear definition. Despite its Latin roots, Emrgnc has identified over 100 different definitions of sustainability. Given the high stakes and enormous tensions we’re enduring as we debate about how best to achieve sustainability, it’s little wonder we cannot even agree on terms. So what does sustainability really mean?

“Sussing out,” which is English slang, means “to infer or discover; to figure out” or “to size up; study,” according to The Free Dictionary. I like this term because it suggests “sniffing out” to me, like a dog curiously investigating a new encounter. We rightfully ought to be skeptical when examining claims of sustainability. Because of its amorphousness, anyone can use “sustainability” to justify any kind of action–including blanketing what they were already doing to look more “green.” In our modern world where billions of corporate dollars are spent on massaging your perceptions through advertising media, it’s a piece of cake to claim sustainability—but it’s much harder to do sustainability, since the latter involves overhauling entrenched systems. If the corporate chanting of “green” doesn’t invoke widespread sustainability, one must ask: who is qualified to define sustainability? Will it ever be effectively defined? The process of beginning to claim ownership over defining sustainability starts with the act of doubting: doubting that mega-corporations like WalMart and Monsanto could have sustainability figured out already, or that any major institution, for that matter, could have a grasp on such a complex issues as those illustrated by impending threats of systemic ecological collapse. Doubting the authority of others to define sustainability for us invites us to look to our own experiences for insight.

In addition to cultivating skepticism when “sussing out sustainability,” we should begin to claim ownership, ourselves, over this word. Not as a society (for no culture may claim an authoritative answer to sustainability), but as individuals, as family members and neighbors. In our messy, imperfect local efforts to enact sustainability, our dialogs and debates about it, our spiritual and philosophical grappling with it, through all of this, the deep meaningfulness lying dormant beneath the surface of this odd word gradually reveals itself to the collective unconscious. Each time we frame a behavior as being “sustainable” or “unsustainable,” we are altering the landscape of possible interpretations of our world–of consciousness itself. I have interviewed many folks about how they define sustainability, and almost always, the conversation ends up focusing on questions of “how do we want to live on Earth?” or “what do we want to sustain?” There is little doubt that the effects of unlocking such psychic territory will be transformational across the board–but especially to Western societies in particular.

Stresses provoke adaptation. In this sense, our dawning realization of globalized interlocking ecological crises is a natural process (if of unusual scale), where we see the danger facing us and are prompted to make urgent decisions about our survival. Whether we can use the word “sustainability” as a bridge between wiser worlds, behaviors, and belief systems remains to be seen. For now, this word and its slippery substance continue to be my preferred tool for hacking away my own “unfit” assumptions: beliefs and attitudes I carry with me that aren’t useful to me but are merely clinging, like molting old skins. Through considering sustainability, I uncover beliefs and behaviors that do not suit how I want to live, that are able to be dropped in my hastening pace toward a more well-rounded and more peaceful sense of myself and my world. In other words, a better-adapted way of living. Thus can “sustainability” poke at our weak spots. How well adapted are we? How equipped are we in a situation where we must effectively react to a crisis of our actual, biological survival?

Is American culture sustainable? Perhaps not in its entirety–so what beliefs are indeed durable, lasting throughout many generations? What behaviors improve survival chances? What ideas contribute to enduring success, of a species, person, society? What sustains us?  This is just scratching the surface of identifying what sustainability might mean.

I hope that you would be willing to relax any attitudes you hold–positive or negative–about this word, as you journey with me, through the rich perspectives of some of the edgiest, sharpest, and most sincere minds of our time. This is not exactly about making arguments about sustainability–there is no need to elaborately justify what we feel. Instead, as organisms and humans, we desperately need to relate. This is about relating experiences of sustainability, sharing freely in an inclusive, respectful manner, to see if there may be some common shape to our emerging insights. May these conversations illustrate a pathway, a sketch, a basic outline of what a future sustainable human society looks like, that, through our frightening errors, we seem to be bumping up against in our fumbling attempts at globalization?

Maybe–or maybe the process of conversing, relating, critically thinking, and trusting our bodies more–is more important than uncovering a concrete definition or set of solutions. One of the most prominent qualities in a surviving, thriving, sustainable system is the presence of diversity–for reasons I will explore in depth later. I have come to suspect that sharing in a diverse, inclusive ocean of ideas, organized under a sexy and shape-shifting word like “sustainability,” can be profoundly enlightening, and probably more productive, than trying to make concrete what is not suited for solidity. Let us revel in the multiplicity of definitions of sustainability, and view the diversity of them as a source of inspiration, not a threat to collective organization.

Diversity is a facet of democracy, ecosystems, and decentralization (localization). Just as in our current social and economic movements, so with sustainability: it is time to democratize this wor(l)d. Defining “sustainability” is not the exclusive domain of corporate think tanks, ad agencies, or policymakers. Let’s us try it out–let’s us try to live it, and through our direct experiences, explore what resonates with our souls, and share it with others! Ask yourself–how do I define living sustainably? When do I feel “sustainable”? Then ask others around you, especially loved ones. You may be deeply impressed by their answers, as I have been.

It is now my life’s work to provide an inclusive, dialogic framework for authentically workshopping and engaging with the emerging meanings of “sustainability.” This is achieved principally through The Sust Enable Project, which aims to be a vehicle for sustainability literacy through innovative multimedia. TSEP’s main project is a feature-length documentary which itself would embody sustainability. Beyond the film, I will be producing short videos, podcasts and blogs in which I would share interviews–or, more accurately, conversations–about the meaning of sustainability from a cornucopia of fascinating people. You may be aggravated, surprised, or delighted by the unique and colorful definitions you’ll find within. My purpose through all of this is linked to my belief that the more people are actively engaging with issues of sustainability in their daily lives, the more viable a sustainable world actually becomes.

This is our opportunity to redefine our goals and values. This is our world and our word. Join me in sussing out sustainability.


Across Distances, Common Threads: The Catalyzing Moment When I Knew I Must Make “Sust Enable: The Metamentary”

I sat in my quiet, still, squatted bedroom one morning in April 2010.  It was a clear, sunny, and sweetly cool day–the open window welcomed a fresh breeze.  Finally feeling a little bit safe after months of reflection and writing, still raw from the psychic turbulence of having many of my assumptions about sustainability confronted, I picked up a printout of the very first article I had found using a Google Scholar search on the term “sustainability,” with the gentle notion that I was finally ready to start my research into what other people working on “sustainability” issues had to say about it.  This article was the top-listed one from the search I had conducted a day prior.  The article was “A Complexity Approach to Sustainability,” by A. Espinosa, R. Harnden, and J. Walker, published in the European Journal of Operational Research in 2008.  To know what others were writing and thinking about sustainability would help me develop my feature documentary film idea, I thought.  What happened next was a great shock.

It seemed that every academic argument made in this article aligned perfectly with the substantial revelations I made since the Sust Enable episode series went awry in 2008.  My most significant felt lessons from the collapsed Sust Enable project were being reinforced and affirmed on the level of this random, popular peer-reviewed publication about cybernetics.

At the line “this paper argues the need to wield analytical tools that themselves embody the principles of systemic, ecological thinking,” I gasped and uttered “oh my god!” to myself under my breath, as I remembered how the 2008 Sust Enable series failed to effectively achieve “100% sustainability” in part because the negative, critical, stressful production environment produced low-quality footage and an incomplete story.  I recalled my resulting commitment to produce a systemically-sustainable film the next time around.

At the article’s explanation about how organisms are “braided” or “coupled” to their particular environment, and that, given this, no objectivity is possible, but the most accurate judgments would be derived from considering the organism within the context of its environment, I couldn’t help but see the connection to my vision–that the new film incorporate ongoing critiques of the film’s own processes into the construction of the film’s story–as being the same core idea as braiding.  My breathing had unconsciously sped up; I stood up and began pacing around the room.  The authors were so far from me in their orientation, education, and research methods, yet their words struck so close to my experiences… how was this possible?

By the end of the article, with its comments on “wide and democratic participation,” “stakeholder involvement,” “complexity management” and “breakthrough process,” my tears were flowing.  I saw how my experiences since Sust Enable 2008, and my ideas for a film inspired from the flaws of my first attempt, might indeed be a very important story to tell.  Other people in very different fields and using different methods are discovering the same things I am about the meaning of sustainability… but I might be uniquely positioned to turn these lessons into a creative documentary film.  Reading through the Espinosa article again now, I still get chills.  It’s hard to express how substantial that day was for me in setting me on the journey toward Sust Enable: The Metamentary.

Ever since, I cannot shake the feeling that there may be some kind of universal nature of sustainability, as natural as the existence of water or of life.  Our current social agitation around issues of sustainability may be indicative that we are on the verge of (re)discovering a kind of “natural law”, which could guide us about how we are to live, and live well, as inhabitants of Earth.

And I believe that each and every human can know what sustainability means, and looks like, and feels like.  In fact, staking an independent claim to this word, and trusting only your own experiences and body to guide you, is key to developing a unique, individual sensitization to sustainability issues that will only further enrich our dialogs.

Some of us have more opportunities to explore sustainability–like people of native cultures, who are much more concerned with their lifestyle’s local and direct “sustainability” (the braiding of lifestyle to environment) than a civilized person whose Western-derived mega-culture relies on technology that commodifies everything, divorces goods from sources, attacks us with messages constantly reinforcing our inadequacy, frustrates meaningful community, and externalizes industrial costs across the planet.  Yet if scientists in an academic critical context could discover the same themes of sustainability that I too had identified through certain dramatic personal experiences during Sust Enable 2008 (and beyond), what does this say about the significance of sharing our experiences and visions for sustainability with one another?  What does this say about our interconnectedness, our collective consciousness?  What does this say about our gift for insight, and our subsequent obligation to act wisely?  What does this say of the potential for us to join forces to solve complex, interrelated problems?

One of the premises of the current, updated Sust Enable project is self-determination and reflexivity: we don’t have to rely on economic or governmental authorities to figure out what sustainability means on our behalf–we can uncover important insight into sustainable living just by tapping into our own unique and diverse realities.  Sust Enable: The Metamentary compares diverse interviewee commentary about the meaning of sustainability with footage of a simple life transforming over time, in an attempt to find supporting evidence for common sustainability principles everywhere–even in mundane human experiences.  To prove that this insight is ours to take–that we will be the generation to define sustainability, and that we will, in all our wisdom and freedom, get to clarify and renew humanity’s most sacred and most fulfilling work on this planet.

Do you think sustainability probably has an intrinsic nature, universal to all living things?  Why or why not?  If so, do you think we could ever articulate a universally applicable definition of sustainability?


Sustainability is mainly a spiritual crisis, not a material one

The more godlike he becomes, the less godly Homo economicus behaves.” – Andrew Nikiforuk

When I started out as a sustainability activist, I firmly believed that “sustainability” meant finding better, more efficient ways for humans to live within the means of our resources.  I considered the problem of sustainability as a problem of materials and design: too many humans, not enough global resources to fulfill our aspirations.  So, to fix this problem, we must design more efficient ways of fitting on the planet (a la Buckminster Fuller, of whose life work I was a faithful follower at the time.)

Over the course of four years, my definition of sustainability and subsequently, my life’s course, have been revolutionized many times.  I continue to actively integrate many diverse perspectives on sustainability into my life.  But perhaps the most significant thing I learned from my journey thus far is that our serious lack of sustainability is not strictly a materials problem.  It is mainly a problem of how we interpret the world in which we live.  Today we have very real material problems, such as ocean acidification and global warming, but these material manifestations are an effect of what is, at root, a spiritual crisis.  A spiritual crisis exemplified by the persistent assumption that the nature of reality is fundamentally objective and material.

Many people still harbor the belief that human beings are not, at our most basic level, living beings–that we are more accurately defined by our intellectual, artistic and technological pursuits, and that one day we will transcend our earthly limitations and jet off throughout space as sheer consciousness, utterly free.  Four years ago, I too believed that humans are vastly and uniquely more accomplished and intelligent than the rest of life–that we were “special,” and thus could play by our own rules.  I believed that with the same gumption and elbow grease we used to build our modern society, we will easily overcome the environmental management problems facing us.  In other words, I believed firmly in the supremacy of humankind.

Possibly the only reason I am not an evangelical “transhumanist” today is that I ended up putting my supremacist philosophies to the test, through embarking on an ambitious project to devise and then embody a universal formula (like a Theory of Everything) for 100% sustainable living, perfectly balancing the equation between Earth materials and human lives.  The formula would be so perfect that if every human reorganized their customs and applied this formula to their lives, everywhere on Earth, we would achieve total global perpetual sustainability–i.e., a sustainability utopia.

Of course, my initiative fantastically failed.

But I didn’t.  My consciousness (itself never short on gumption) rose from the ashes attempting to make sense of what all had happened to my grandiose project.  Which proved–if nothing else–that I am not my aspirations.  I am a living body who can survive–and indeed thrive–after the successes or failures of any of my projects.
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