Tag Archives: writing

An interdimensional mother-son story


Juniper’s Big Adventure

By Declan and his mom

Declan and I wrote this together by hand, passing the notebook back and forth, each taking a turn at contributing a line or two. He’s excited to share it. We hope you like it. 

Once upon a time, there was a jackal named Juniper, and he loved to bark at birds.

One day a toucan named Alfonso Frederico la Vesta visited him, carrying a mysterious briefcase.

Juniper attacked, as usual.

Alfonso Frederico la Vesta bopped Juniper on the head with his briefcase, which exploded into 100,000 pieces of glitter and 600 silver balloons.

Juniper hadn’t a ghost of an idea what was happening. He ran away.

The balloons followed him. The glitter swirled into a massive shiny funnel cloud.

After a while, the funnel cloud reached and picked up the jackal. He flew up into the sky and bounced on top of the funnel cloud like Super Mario™ for 317 miles. Then the funnel cloud flattened and lowered down to the ground.

Juniper landed in a strange place that had a chocolate marsh and trees that were made of staple guns and jigsaws.  They started to grow rapidly as the jackal came down.

Out of nowhere, a glowy castle emerged from the chocolate marsh. It had a moat that was made of liquid rainbow Skittles™. If you tried to swim across, the castle would catapult TNT jawbreakers, which exploded in a hot gooey mess. The castle seemed to enjoy targeting a particularly cranky bunny rabbit that was practicing ballet on the other side of the moat.

Juniper fell onto his bottom in awe, his tongue hanging out the side of his mouth. His eyes rolled back into his head for a moment.

A drawbridge made of Jolly Rancher™ candy dropped in front of Juniper that seemed to be just for him. As he walked into the castle, a giant Burple* monster with polka dots — which actually turned out to be UFO warp engines that were friendly — appeared.

One of the UFOs approached Juniper. The warp engine smiled at him, stuck out its tongue and licked the jackal on the nose, giving him the ability to make the moment become marshmallows. These marshmallows had tritanium in them, which made you fit and healthy.

“Wow, the present moment sure is sticky,” said Juniper. “But I feel like a million pronghorn bucks that have eaten unicorn milk that was impregnated by an interdimensional creature.**  Thanks!!!”

And so he went into the 2, 248th dimension, where everything flew by pooping rainbows from dimension zero.

“I feel kind of hungry for a pork chop,” thought Juniper.

Just at that moment, a cardboard foot flew into his mouth, but it tasted like lemonade.

“Delicious!” he thought.

Then Willy Wonka™ appeared and handed Juniper an infinite, updated version of his meal gum. He chomped it in his jaws and tasted the most delicious pork chop with applesauce that he had ever tasted. There was also steamed broccoli, a glass of high-pulp, fresh squeezed, not-from-concentrate orange juice and rhubarb pie with vanilla ice cream.  He turned the shape of each food, but quickly sprang back into jackal form.

He decided to make a video/life portal to the Cookieverse™. He was so full of rhubarb pie, having just been rhubarb pie, that he simply gazed at the cookies lovingly.

Reluctantly (although he knew he could come back), he went out of there and onto television.

Whoosh! Juniper felt his body flicker. Suddenly he was transported onto the bridge of the USS Enterprise-E, next to Lieutenant Commander Data. He blinked and looked down and saw that he was wearing a red Starfleet shirt from the original series.  They were searching for the Borg.

“I wonder if this means I am nothing more than an incidental character – an infinitesimal membrane – in the universe…?” thought Juniper.


* A color that only exists in alternate dimensions.

** The unicorn milk is what was impregnated here, not the unicorn.

The collage/illustration is also a TZT & Declan collaboration.

P.S. Declan was very enthusiastic about writing this story, so please feel free to share it or leave him a comment if you are at all inclined.

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Declan is upstairs, singing along to an extended disco remix of Donna Summer’s “I Will Live for Love” that someone has set to a video parade of stellar objects on YouTube. It’s the sweetest thing, hearing him croon those words in his creaky little falsetto, declaring his affection for love, especially the love of pulsars and nebulas and globular clusters.

I’ve just finished a proposal for a copywriting gig because it’s really about time for me to do more copywriting gigs. A few people have written me some truly lovely recommendations on LinkedIn which has forced a little perspective for me about what I know how to do versus what I actually do. Times are weird, but I’ve had some interest in my work that’s surprised me, so I’m keeping my fingers crossed that at least some of it pans out. I also need to return some favors.

And I’m still recovering from a weekend trip up to my brother’s farm. It was overwhelmingly lovely, especially watching Dec connect with his cousins so deeply, spending so much time with them unsupervised. All three of his cousins seemed happy to turn their family room into every planet in the solar system to help propel him into hours and hours of play. Legos became the international space station, the television stayed tuned to the NASA channel and everyone was sucked into a black hole. They put a chair in front of the door and told the adults to keep out, so we did.

I’m thinking about this blog, about treating my professional web site more like a blog because as I unearth family photos at my mother’s house, I’ve also unearthed several printed pieces of mine that she and my grandparents clipped from newspapers and magazines and tucked into folders for posterity. I’m reminded of the kinds of stories I’ve done, some adventures I’ve had and the context of the media industry at that time. Here I mostly write about motherhood with dashes of sprituality and politics and self-help, but I’m dealing with some issues that I feel too vulnerable to process in this space, so I’m working on essays instead.

I’m mad at the “Blue Dogs” about health care reform.

Every week, I find that I enjoy running a little more.

I’m resentful of marketing-driven editorial policies to the degree that writing straight-up marketing materials is beginning to feel more honest.

I feel invisible on the Internet lately, maybe just in the wake of BlogHer, where so many people clearly make their connections real. I’m feeling left out because I didn’t get to go, but kind of annoyed by the lack of gravity in the subsequent discussions about swag and stuff. Everyone is so quiet and lurky, although my friend Linda very kindly recommended this blog last week. (She writes about the ins and outs of and rhymes and reasons for publishing a children’s book at her blog, so check it out.)

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Aspiration: Read more, read well

I produce and ingest hearty portions of all of the major Internet food groups daily: tweets, shared items and updates on Facebook, a wide variety of blogs and news aggregators. From any of those starting points, the web can go on and on and on. Sometimes that leads to the sublime or the merely entertaining, but sometimes it gives me the same feeling I invariably get if I dare to visit the snack counter at the movie theater. When there’s too much junk in what I read, I see it in what I write, and how I feel – sort of intellectually bloated and greasy, with way more butter than I was expecting.

One of the easiest tasks I’ve assigned myself on the quest for imperfection in 2009 is to walk away from the chutes and ladders of the web and over to a chair and ottoman that I’ve cleared off for myself, where I can read actual books with pages and ink beneath the glow of a warmly shaded lamp. And especially books that aren’t carved into multiple essays, which have been the ones I’ve had the most hope of finishing in the last year or two. I can be enormously popular in my house, thereby often unable to complete my own sentences, let alone read anyone else’s.

So I’m trying to find things that are nourishing – not necessarily new or topical or even about things that I’m interested in. What I want to read is good writing that glides and bounces and pivots and moves. If the most lyrical book that I can find is about slime mold, then I will read about slime mold.

I’ve started with Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love, which is open and friendly and airy, and has been a nice transition from erratic essay reading, since she’s written it as though it was a string of prayer beads from a Meditation Mala. And it’s about a woman in her 30s on a quest for self-discovery, therefore not really remote to me (like slime mold) at all.

But I have a stack of three books that have been nagging me to read them for years – books that I couldn’t bring myself to look at as a pregnant woman or a new mom. I already felt vulnerable in a way that made me cry at insurance commercials and unable to read too far beyond headlines for a long time after the 2004 election. I didn’t want cynicism or anger or fear in the placenta or the breast milk, so I went cold turkey on my news junkie ways. I turned away from violent movies and shows and stories. Sad ones too.

Besides, I worked as an observer in a couple of the district’s poorest urban high schools during these years. My child was nearly lead poisoned. My very kind and loving dog went through miserable pain with bone cancer before we had to make the awful decision to let him go. My husband lost his business of 20 years to little more than greed. There has been plenty of death and illness in our family, and a few deaths among friends, particularly those who couldn’t beat the demons of substance abuse. So… reading tales of loss and tragedy hasn’t seemed like it would be particularly appealing or cathartic or helpful, no matter how compelling the narrative.

But now my boy is a preschooler and we know how much of nothing and everything that we are in the face of the universe. And we have a new president coming in who wants to steer us away from oblivion instead of into it headlong. And so I can be brave again in the face of literature, particularly the non-fiction variety that I tend to prefer.

I can read By Her Own Hand by Signe Hammer – the memoir of a woman whose mother inexplicably killed herself. I read an excerpt of the book a few years back and the imagery and rhythm of the prose startled me – not in its pain, but its buoyant childhood images. And I can read Newjack by Ted Conover, who worked undercover as a prison guard at Sing Sing for a year, and whose New Yorker essay “Trucking through the AIDS belt” has been haunting me for years, because of one person he drew vividly in that story, and the choppy rhythm of those African roads.

And then, most frighteningly, I may read The Disappearance: A Primer of Loss, by Genevieve Jurgensen, who had two daughters that were killed instantly in a car accident in 1980. I heard her read an excerpt from the book on public radio (maybe on This American Life?) soon after becoming a mother myself and I nearly threw up, so I think I need to read it.

I’m also piecing through Mark Bittman’s Food Matters because I read that it was the most practical book about environmentally conscious food buying and preparation out there. And I plan to read a few of the stories in the traditional Blue Fairy Book to remind myself what fairy tales were to me as a girl, because they didn’t always have happy endings or clear-cut heroes and villains. I may reread A Wrinkle in Time because it’s been 25-30 years since the last time and I don’t remember it so well. And chances are good that I’ll use one of my next coupons on one of James Morrow’s book, because I love me some complicated religious science fiction/humor.

And so, if, by any chance, you’ve made it all the way through this long-winded post, tell me: What book(s) have you read, whether it was last week or twenty years ago, that had a profound influence on your sense of language? If you had to pick a couple of the books that most made you want to write (or to read more), what would they be? Have you ever met a book with a subject that you thought would bore you, but instead, it ended up making you turn off your phone so that you could read it in peace?

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As I was cleaning on New Year’s Day, an old cookie fortune flittered out of a pile of papers onto the floor. “You’re a perfectionist,” it said, in deceptively friendly typeface. “Don’t spoil it.” I think I saved it because it is obviously the most annoying fortune ever.

If you looked at my house, my car, my fingernails, my life – “perfectionist” is probably one of the last things that would come to mind. Unless, maybe, you know something about perfectionism.

In action, perfectionism doesn’t really look like “a place for everything and everything in its place,” although I suppose that it might for some people. It has more to do with deluding yourself that it’s possible for everything in life to be perfect — you, your environment, your career, your relationships — and punishing yourself or paralyzing yourself when it isn’t.

In my life, this has manifested in simple ways, like letting my desk or the kitchen sink or a room go to mayhem before I put them back in order, because I won’t do anything until I think I have set aside enough time to do everything. (Thich Nhat Hanh’s Miracle of Mindfulness, motherhood and the Flylady* have helped bring me miles past where I used to be on this.) Or sadder ways – I don’t want to go out as often, because I’m not the skinny minnie I once was or because I think people won’t accept me because I talk and think too much about being a mommy. Or I don’t invite people over unless I know their perception of “disaster area” is similar to my own. Or worse.

Writing has always been a space where I’ve felt willing and able to do battle with perfectionism. And I think that it is one place where I’ve managed to whip it more often than it’s whipped me. About a year ago, a friend joked and called me “the great, glorious she-hack” while we were talking, then immediately worried that he might have offended me. Maybe it was because we were in the basement of a Buddhist temple at the time (where ego is often more in check), but I felt, and assured him, that I wasn’t. “I think I might put that on my business card,” I joked.

I think I’ve learned to rein it into something useful in writing and research – a sort of meticulousness or attention to detail that I usually give to the story first and the writing second. Mistakes happen, you cop to them and you write again. But that has been a long, weird and sometimes painful process. I’ve had editors change things for seemingly no other reason than to have done something. I’ve had copy editors edit mistakes into my work and survived the embarrassment.** And I’ve lived with the demands of writing for the space allotted, not necessarily to the story, for much of my career.

If I let perfectionism control my writing, I would never have been able to make a dime doing it without tearing all of my hair out. I would have had to go into academic writing, where there is more editorial control, or become a weekend novelist who made her money in landscaping or as a circus clown. Instead, I have become the “great glorious she-hack.” It’s not on my business card, but it is one of the titles I give myself on my rotating email signatures. If I could make my expectations of life more like my expectations of writing, I think I’d be a healthier person.

My spider senses are up about this because I’m beginning to see signs of perfectionism in my son. Many skills come to him easily, and some of the ones that don’t can give him emotional vertigo. Before the holiday, one of his teachers told me that perfectionism is common in oldest (check!) or only children, who often compare themselves more to adults than to other children. And the two things she told me I could do to help him were to praise the process when he worked hard on learning something and to model failure for him.

As grating as that cookie fortune was, it was fortuitous that it fell down n front of me on the one day when I’m usually consumed by contemplating resolutions and consuming good luck food. And this year, I was feeling like a failure because I was in a terrible, fatigued mental space that did not lend itself well to reflection.

It helped me resolve to not have resolutions this year, because the very nature of resolutions predisposes me to failing – or not accomplishing as much as I would like to – in an ungraceful or unforgiving way. Aspirations, on the other hand, are less quantifiable and forgiving. I can advance a psychic millimeter or a light year – all that matters is that I advance. Or move on if I do not or cannot, because that would be an advancement too.

And so I am figuring out a few aspirations for myself, some of which I will share here in the next few days, or weeks, or seasons. Feel free to join me if you’re so inclined. I’d love for us to help each other to not be so hard on ourselves.

* The Flylady’s prose is a more than a touch precious, but her ideas about managing domestic life in the face of perfectionism are sound. My Christmas tree hasn’t come down yet, but my sink is very shiny. I currently like being in 75 percent of my house, and that’s not so bad.

** Note to editors I work with who read this blog: These things have not happened with anyone I’m currently writing for. Seriously.

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Give me light

I had the remarkable opportunity to interview artist James Turrell a couple of weeks ago and preview his light installation at Franklin Park Conservatory.

I hope that the story I wrote gives local people a broader understanding of his work, and a sense of what makes this such a special addition to our local landscape.

The official illumination of the piece is tonight.

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Great Google-y moogly: An alternative “about me”

So, she recommended that whether we’re headed for BlogHer or not, women bloggers consider introducing themselves to the wider community by posting about the perverse-sounding act of Googling ourselves.

This isn’t, by any means, my first time at this. As a freelance writer, it’s something you do semi-regularly to find out who might be republishing your work without permission. The biggest offenders are music fan sites, and sometimes the musician’s site itself, although it’s hard to be offended when someone has taken the trouble to translate your review of Cher’s farewell tour into Spanish. And it’s a little confusing when Josh Groban fans reproduce your concert review and flank it with little flashing tulips, in spite of the fact that you refer to their vanilla heartthrob as “Donny Osmond Giovanni.” But this is the kind of stuff that happens.

Nowadays, the first thing that appears (beyond the links to that you can already find in the margins of this page) is a piece of my past persona as an alternative weekly staff writer, including the listing of an award I won with my colleagues for best local political story many years ago. We addressed the rise of hate groups in Ohio. My piece was an interview with Floyd Cochran, an ex-Aryan Nations recruiter who turned his life around to become a vocal advocate of social justice. This was a shining moment in my 20s, as the story was reprinted in alternative weeklies in Detroit, Los Angeles and many smaller cities in between. It was also picked up by PBS’s Not in Our Town campaign against American hate crimes and included in their education materials for years.

I wasn’t a journalism major in college. In fact, I went to a college that had “concentrations,” not majors, and mine was an amalgam of American history, American literature and creative writing. My work study job was student activist. I fell into journalism because I always knew that first and foremost, I wanted to write, and the close second was that I wanted to make a difference. So these pages of links, this life happened (at least a little) by accident.

Once upon a time, I went to a mall and asked a bunch of teenage girls what they thought feminism was. (I miss doing stories like this.) The article I wrote, “Feminism by Osmosis,” has been used in custom published women’s studies courses for several years since. No matter how much I have written in between, this is one of those pieces that keeps coming back high up in my Google image.

Another bit of feminist history that has followed me online (I think because I reprinted one on my first web site back in 1997) were two stories I wrote about the first woman to run for president, Victoria Woodhull – who was all the rage in historical non-fiction a few years ago.

I know more about Columbus, Ohio than you do. I spent two years as the senior editor of columbus.citysearch.com, therefore I wrote or edited a kabillion restaurant, hotel, attraction, bar, club, retail store, gallery, coffee shop, movie theater, park, weekend destination and other miscellaneous screen-length profiles that still live online.

Strangely, the work I’ve been doing as a Storyteller for the KnowledgeWorks Foundation for the past four years doesn’t appear until the bottom of the third page of my Google results.

There are also an endless number of artists’ web sites that list my stories about them on their resumés. You might already know who some of them are.

I am linked to a piece of my husband’s ignominious past by some obsessive Judge Judy fan site that tracked down a bunch of info about him after his appearance on that completely absurd show. (I didn’t go on the set with him. I knew he was going to lose. Declan — who wasn’t yet six months old — and I spent the day wandering around Hollywood instead. )

Without the Zollinger, my name is pretty common. Common enough that I was once in a video store and someone yelled for me from the front desk saying I had a phone call, and when I answered, the woman on the other line said “you’re not my sister-in-law.” I handed the phone back to the clerk, who then yelled: “Is there another Tracy Turner here?”

It’s almost enough to make me want to change my name to my husband’s.

I am routinely asked about business stories I have not written for the Columbus Dispatch, because another Tracy Turner wrote them.

Googling my shorthand name reveals that I also share it with an established artist, a BMW salesperson, a Texan OB/GYN, someone who takes still photos on horror movie sets and a guy from Kentucky who wrote a book of railroad tales and a biography of his brother, who died in a tragic car crash.

What happens when you Google you?

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Pen power

I spent a good part of yesterday as a judge for Power of the Pen, a scholastic writing competition for middle school kids, which was an honor and an absolute blast. (The blizzard threw off the originally scheduled judges, so Dawn, who has been a judge before, helped put out a clarion call to other writers and I jumped.)

I’m so glad I got to do it. These kids are on creative writing teams, replete with t-shirts that they festoon with their own slogans. They screamed and stomped their feet with every award (there were a bunch of others that we weren’t a part of).

Along with another local writer, I read about 70 stories by eighth graders that had all been written that morning in short sessions, many of which explored difficult subjects in astonishingly well-drawn, clever and lovely ways. We picked three winners and three honorable mentions. What an honor to get an afternoon’s gate pass into the thoughts of such young, brave and eloquent people.

One of the pieces that we awarded actually made me cry. It made me remember the special tenderness of a ‘tween girl’s heart.

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We look good in silver

I just received a happy piece of news in my email. For the second year running, KnowledgeWorks Foundation’s annual publications about urban high school reform have won silver Wilmer Shields Rich awards from the Council on Foundations (the awards aren’t listed on their site yet, but we received word from our editor).

As one of the foundation’s “storytellers,” I wrote pieces for both the small school and early college books last year.

The foundation’s “Think Tank” publication, Primer, also won a silver award. I wrote about my experience in the storytelling project for one of its issues last fall.

I began this work the same week that I lost the last of my grandparents, and a few short months before I got pregnant with Declan. For as long as I have been a mommy, I’ve also been a regular visitor at schools where the majority of the student body qualifies for free or assisted lunch. I have learned a lot (the Primer article I linked to above says much more about that than I can muster in a post).

And at the same time that any preconceived notions I had about the term “economically disadvantaged” have peeled off like onion skin, I’ve ironically had one of the biggest privileges of my freelance career — a regular working relationship with writing and editing peers from around the state. In a line of work that tends to be isolating, I can’t tell you how rare and wonderful that is, especially because they are some darn bright, talented, fun and passionate people.

Of our combined work, one of the judges said: “Loved the idea of storytelling to address impact – anecdotal evidence speaks to emotional core as does education… could serve as a model for others.”

While most of the more routine things I write for publication have to land within 50 words of a given marker, I’ve had the chance to write expansively during this project. And while my writing has often been carved down in order to see print, I’ve learned that I probably should be rolling in research and interviewing more people who don’t ordinarily get much ink (or pixels) and ultimately writing books. My peers in this project have really helped me to see, and become more optimistic about that possibility.

Having put in our four years, we’re getting ready to graduate from the project this summer, so, the award is a little bittersweet. Congrats, colleagues!

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Child helps journalist

Here is a story that I wrote for Columbus Alive this week.

Declan helped.

Not because he is a particularly good editor or writer at two and a half, but because he makes me think about the nature of the universe as well as its incomprehensible size — things that can come in handy when you’re writing about art. In this case, keeping up with his interest in spatial dimensions and string theory directly applied to the wonderful work and artist that I wrote about.

I consider some of the abstract concepts in galleries, community centers and museums on a fairly regular basis. In print, I try to make them less intimidating to people, to help them see the joy, intrigue and adventure inherent in considering the questions that art can raise. I don’t always succeed, but I try.

Growing up, I always considered science, especially physics, to be too large and logical for the likes of someone like me. But Declan has helped me see the joy, intrigue and adventure inherent in considering the questions that astrophysics can raise and how, much in the way that you don’t have to be a critic to appreciate art, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to appreciate the cosmos.

Life soundtrack: The Posies, “I Am the Cosmos”: Launch

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Who are you and what are we doing here together?

Writing a blog is a funny exercise.

When I write for publication, media kits and writer’s guidelines give me some sense of who the audience is, or, more precisely, who the publisher would like it to be.

But when I write here, there is no Power Point-wielding man in a suit trying to tell me that my core audience is 30-something Volkswagen drivers who go out to dinner twice a week and own at least one iPod. No one is trying to push me to write in a way that they think will attract more 23-year-olds because the ad team wants to sell more space to movie theaters and stores that sell sports equipment.

Ultimately, this space is here for me to write things that I will want to re-read ten years from now, not things designed to make more steak house patrons bookmark me. But because I have chosen not to shield myself with anonymity, it’s also tricky, and a bit scarier to dig into the real nitty gritty of motherhood. Overthinking this has has given me a little writer’s block this week that I hope to subvert by delving into NaBloPoMo next week.

Until recently, I hadn’t engaged much with the larger world of blogging. I’d done some of the standard mom blog reading, like dooce, Suburban Turmoil and Breed ’em and Weep. But I’d missed blogs like Twas Brillig, Attack of the Redneck Mommy, Running in Wellies and Not that I don’t love my kids…. Then, a couple of weeks back, I joined Cre8buzz.com, a social network which seems to have drawn an unusually high number of woman/mom bloggers by wisely promoting the fact that unlike MySpace or Facebook, the owners would not deem pictures of women breastfeeding obscene and delete them.

While the aforementioned blogs are among its top stars, there are hundreds more in its ranks, accompanied by a frenzy of women trying to get to know each other, make connections, get their blogs noticed, find respite from domestic isolation, or impart the secrets that make their homes happy. It becomes addictive very quickly – cruising through pages and pages of household scenes, images and mini-essays laced with powerful thoughts about personal identity, marriage, body image, child-rearing, sisterhood, bathroom habits, illness, death, meal planning and accidental comedy. This stuff is authentically funnier and more moving than anything Lifetime could come up with, produced by people with imperfect bodies and faces.

But beyond being a diversion, I realized that the reading I’ve been doing recently has reaffirmed the way I want to look at the world. As a writer, I’ve felt strongly for a long time that everyone has a story worth telling, and those of non-famous people are usually far more interesting than the ones behind the overexposed faces on newscasts and newsstands. The happiest work I have done has generally involved giving rock star attention to un-famous individuals.

For the last week, I’ve noticed faces in the grocery stores that I might have glanced past before and wondered more actively about what kind of extraordinary experiences they might be willing to share, what secrets they possess and if they might be one of the remarkable women I may one day happen upon on the Internet.

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