Archive for the ‘Identity and Discovery’ Category

This Post Instead

I have, completely unintentionally, been ‘teasing’ a gender identity-based post for a couple of weeks. Starting with some righteous (maybe self-righteous, I don’t know) indignation over some comments in a friend’s blog, I’ve been thinking about identity a lot lately. There’s a lot of emotion and complication wrapped up in that concept. Gender, in particular, is fraught for me because I’ve been outside the accepted framework of what gender is for all of my life. But as I’ve spent time inside my head stirring the concepts and thoughts around and around, something occurred to me: I am more than the individual parts of my identity and it does everyone a disservice by focusing on one aspect to the exclusion of the others.

Now, don’t misunderstand: looking closely at one topic is an important investigative technique and allows a writer to explore detail that would otherwise get lost when examined among other topics of equal weight. And I do intend to write that other piece. But this is the one that’s fighting to get out of my head, so I’m writing this post instead.

What is it? What am I writing about if not a piece focused on gender? I’m having a hard time articulating that. As I said, gender is but one of many facets that comprise the whole of a person’s identity. But “who am I” is an existential conundrum that can’t be captured in a blog post. And it doesn’t lend itself to a tidy, memorable essay subject line.

I think that what I want to convey is really a simple, timeless concept that every person has to come to terms with in their lifetime: we each define ourselves.

The cacophony of “it’s not a choice!” being screamed at me through the internet is deafening. Hold on. That’s not what I said and that’s not my message.

I am fully aware that certain aspects of our identities are innate and not the subject of personal choice. There are some things that are in-born. Sometimes those innate characteristics have to be discovered, much as a sculpture within the marble needs to be discovered by the artist. Socialization is a powerful tool to enforce specific mores and values, some of which are at odds with certain specific identity characteristics. So, those of us born with those characteristics that are targeted by those mores often have a hard time discovering our full or true identities, When we do discover them, living them is no more ‘choosing’ an identity than being born is a choice to exist.

However, the ultimate identity comprised of those various individual characteristics (whether they are innate, or the product of life experience or direct choice), is our own definition. We get to define ourselves. Those pieces of who we are that we’re born with are the baseline. They don’t have to define who we become. Just because there are innate factors that were chosen for us by nature or genetics or environment does not mean that that’s all we are, or that we can’t rise above or add to them to become who we wish to be.

That’s a long way around to say that we can choose the best version of ourselves.

I touched on that thought or one near it in a prior post about some things I’d newly learned or learned in a new way. Essentially, I said we have agency to choose how we react, whether to momentary stimuli or to ingrained socialization. Guess I’m reminding myself of that lesson.

Although there are a number of ways I describe myself to others, even to myself, those shorthand labels don’t define me. I’m more than a list of characteristics. I’m more than the labels that I wear. That’s obvious. But the fact remains that labels and descriptions are useful tools to identify ourselves, to guide personal development and enhance discourse. It’s helpful to know that a person identifies in a certain way. It makes conversation easier, makes interacting with others easier, makes it easier to be respectful and makes it easier to avoid offending and being offended.

Bottom line, I guess, is that the parts are not the whole, but knowing what the pieces are helps you to know when the puzzle is finally together.

For now, I think it’s enough for me to know that all of the pieces of me that I know and recognize today, all the pieces I’ve discovered, those I always knew, and those I’m still working on, are a present and valid picture of me. They are as much “me” as the me I’ll be when I’ve added new pieces, whether through intentional work or life experience. And, that I can contemplate the possibility of a “me” different from the one I know today is win enough for now.

Thar’s a lot of philosophy and introspection for a Sunday evening. Thanks for bearing with me. I hope you have a great week, full of certainty and free from existential uncertainty. Be well, my friends.

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Thinking…

So the stars didn’t align and that blog collaboration I’d hoped for won’t happen. But I’m still working on the more substantive post. It’s just going to take a bit longer. 

I’ve had a weird week. It was quiet at work, with sporadic bursts of crisis and tension. And on a personal level, I’ve been in a strange, contemplative space. I’ve been thinking…

Thinking about gender. Thinking about what “living life” really means. Thinking about past hurts and past joys. Thinking about how adults make friends and how loneliness takes hold unexpectedly. Thinking about how being happy is sometimes hard work. Thinking about how inner voices can be both builders and destroyers. Thinking about how ambush emotions suck hugely. Thinking about visibility and representation in media can mean so much and yet disappoint so much when it’s done poorly. Thinking how hard it is to be positive some days. 
Thinking about so many things can be heavy work. 
And if I’ve decided anything about anything I’ve been thinking, it’s that I made the right choice to stay off of social media. I did a little lurking in my FB and Twitter accounts and am sick at how awful it was. The tiny pinpricks of light that a few friends’ posts bring to my feed are not able to bleach the dark stains of hate and anger and awfulness that otherwise flood the feeds. And I believe that negativity is a huge contributor to the flat, inky, downer thoughts I’ve been stuck in for the last few days. 

So, to get back on the positivity path and be the happy, positive, hopeful person I have been forging myself into these last few years, I am reimplementing the social media moratorium. And for good measure, I’ll skip the regular media as much as possible, too. 

Until I’m back to my old self, I’ll hang my hat on these few rays of positivity and hopefulness:

  1. My boss gave me a great compliment on Friday in the midst of delegating authority to me for the week he’ll be out of the office. He has confidence in my skill, intelligence and integrity. That means a lot to me. 
  2. I got a new game for my Switch, Kirby Star Allies, and spent a couple hours today in total escapism. 
  3. I’ve developed a liking for Mediterranean food and have found a couple great places in my town that serve it. Bonus: the place with the best falafel also has a really nice wait staff that I enjoy speaking with when I’m there. 

Have a great week, my friends. I hope there are bright sparks of joy in your lives that make staying positive less a chore and more a relief. 

First Quarter Check-Up

At the end of last year, I set a goal to post something to this blog at least once a week. At the same time, I’ve been working on a couple other personal goals that I haven’t published yet. Working on myself is something that doesn’t come naturally and I sometimes need to set milestones to keep up the motivation. So I’m borrowing a device I’ve seen it n a couple of other blogs: a self report card. 

Since I set these goals for myself, and the self-improvement I hope to achieve is for myself, I intend to rate myself fairly, but allow myself leeway or the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the close calls. You see, publishing a report card and posting about my human failings is all a means to an end: spurring myself to be a better version of myself each day. And the way I figure it, if the world witnesses my less than optimal performance as a person, I should at least get the benefit of the world as witness to my improvement. Of course, the risk is that they’ll, instead, see me fail at improving. In any event, the value is in the attempt. 
For this report card I’m rating achievement against three goals:

  1. Post something at least once a week 
  2. Do something creative, or at least something that nurtures my spirit 
  3. Strike a better balance between work and my private life 

Although I actually started working on all these things last year, I’m only rating myself from the beginning of the year. Conventional wisdom has it that the most effective goals are bound in time and objectively measurable. By measuring from the beginning of the year, I stop myself from dwelling on things too far in the past, essentially starting from a clean slate. And by focusing on specific actions (even if there isn’t an obvious numeric dimension to be counted), I give myself the best chance of making incremental progress. That should help keep me motivated. 

So here’s my report card for the first quarter of 2018:

Weekly Posting: A

There are one or two close calls, but I’ve essentially posted at least one article a week since the beginning of the year. While there is at least one that’s little more than a place holder to avoid a miss, I’ve been intentional and thoughtful about writing, which are habits I really want to cultivate in myself. This is a win. 

Being Creative/Nurturing the Spirit: A

This one is a double win. I’ve been looking up at the sky and intentionally taking advantage of any sunshine that happens in my vicinity. For example, when I was in San Diego in January, I took at least 10 minutes to sit in the sun every day. It was heaven. And every day that the sky is clear, wherever I am, spending a few minutes to watch the sky, whether to see birds soaring or contemplate interesting cloud formations, I physically feel my spirit lift. 

On top of that, I have completed a short, three-week course in silver sand casting through the local community college. My sister-in-law and I took it together. We had a good time doing something fun together. And we’ve learned the basic techniques that we can use to try it at home. But, honestly, the class wasn’t very successful. The instructor was unprepared and disorganized and there were way too many people in the class. But I did it and have a determination to practice it until I get at least one successful casting. This sparks my creativity and I’m excited to feel that again. 

Work/Life Balance: A

I work hard. My job is often challenging and sometimes requires long hours. And, truth be told, I enjoy the challenge and the recognition when I succeed. But I also know that my job isn’t everything. I’ve felt rather isolated for quite a while, because most of my non-work interactions have been remote, through social media and texts. But I’m working on it. 
Since January I’ve had more in-person social interactions than nearly all of last year. Between separate visits with three friends I first met online, monthly supper club dinners with some art friends, and a few game nights with a couple of friends I met through a continuing legal education seminar a couple years ago, I feel I’ve done pretty well with in-person socializing. And I’ve even had some really pleasant conversations with some new acquaintances entirely unrelated to any of my other social circles. All without puking or becoming completely withdrawn for days on end. I count this as a big success. 

So I’ve got straight A’s for the first quarter. Look at me, hitting the honor roll 30+ years after graduating from high school. That’s awesome.  

I can do better. Actually going out with someone for a purely social occasion, for instance. I can also try to deepen the substance and thoughtfulness of my blog posts. And following up with practice on the silver casting class is a must. We’ll see how I do next quarter. 

I hope you all are finding satisfaction in your own personal growth. Keep at it, my friends. 

It’s All Good 

This weekly posting goal is more of a challenge than it really should be, some days. I get so caught up in the bustle of every day life that writing about it doesn’t seem to even make the to-do list. Crazy how fast life seems to move. One day you’re busting your hump to get to vacation and before you know it, vacation is over and you’re back to the grind. Days slip by so fast when you have your head down jobbin’.  Almost so fast that you don’t realize how much energy you’re spending on the parts of your life that shouldn’t matter that much and how little time you’re spending actually living. 

But, it’s all good. It’s all about personal growth and moving forward. I’m still working on it, especially that posting goal. So, to that end, here’s a list of a few good, even great, things in my life lately. 

  1. I had an epically awesome time with a good friend last week. Getting away is always a refresher, but getting away to do nothing but enjoy the company of friends, relax and breathe is the best thing ever. Bookstores and libraries and board games and amazing meals and great company – what better way to spend theee days off?
  2. While I was visiting my friend, I was blessed to experience a community where Butch visibility was everywhere and welcomed. That is extremely rare in my life. You don’t know how much impact visibility has until you realize how absent it is in your daily life. Said another way, it is astounding how meaningful it can be to have your identity and presentation validated by seeing yourself represented in the every day public. Walking down the street or into a public space and seeing yourself in others, not compromised or edited, but exactly as you are on the faces and in the forms/bodies of total strangers, is profoundly moving. 
  3. Prosciutto mozzarella pesto sandwiches are my new obsession. They are proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy. 😉
  4. I got my performance evaluation today and my boss rated me higher than I rated myself overall and in 4 out of 5 core competencies. He said I set the standard for my role and for a senior leader for our company. He said my leadership has a material impact on my company’s success. So, basically… I’m AWESOME! 
  5. It’s almost Spring and there has been sunshine for at least part of every day this week. Sunshine lifts my spirits and turns my eyes to the sky to appreciate the heavens. This was the sunrise this morning as I arrived at my office:

I hope you are having a great week and take a moment to appreciate the number of great and good things in your life. Keep smiling, my friends!

Me, in 3 socks

I love socks. The wilder the better. Bonus if they clash with my outfit. It’s my tiny rebellion against all the rules I live within.  A couple years ago, I stumbled on ‘statement socks’ and my fashion life was changed forever. 

Although I don’t believe a person can be 100% encapsulated by a few glib words, whether or not they’re written on socks, I think these three do a pretty good job of describing me in three quick words:


Ok, so “Jedi” is more aspirational at this point than I like to admit, but still a part of me. “Geek Butch” is my band name and spirit animal all in one. 

The fun thing about these socks is that I’m the only one who knows when I’m wearing them and they give me this secret boost, like a super power. Underneath my sharply creased jeans or chinos and button-down shirt with bow tie, there’s this secret message, like an altar ego, like Clark Kent’s “S” on his chest. And, at the end of the day when I pull them off my feet, there’s a faint outline of the word pressed into my skin from the different weave where the letters are. For a fleeting few minutes, I not only am feeling fine in my own skin, but my own skin names me perfectly. 

So…yay for goofy socks and finding philosophical meaning in textiles no one but me gets to see. 

I hope you have a great week ahead and find a little whimsy to spice up your imagination. 

Thanks to the lady in pink…

Quick bonus post today, because it’s both ridiculous and a tiny bit sad, but also a positive…for me, at least. Here goes…

To the lady in the salmon-pink tee shirt ahead of me in the TSA security line, thank you. I watched from four places back as some rather disengaged TSA employees talked to you tersely and subjected you to repeated pat-downs and questions. I watched as you patiently turned first this way, then that way, then lifted each knee and extended each arm, never once complaining. I watched as you obeyed every curt direction and endured each small indignity. 

I want to thank you for all that you endured, not only because you did it with such aplomb and patience, but because your ordeal saved me from enduring an equally or more egregious indignity. Because their robotic, tone-deaf, leaden-footed examination of you caused such a back-up in the line, TSA took several of us through the standard metal detector instead of the body scan, which allowed me to avoid the automatic extra pat-down and search that happens for me every time I fly. 

I feel a bit conflicted that I benefited from your discomfort and inconvenience. I don’t like to think that a total stranger suffered in my place. (Something a bit biblical in that sentiment that I’ll have to examine later.) At the same time, however, I’m exceptionally grateful not to have had to stand even longer, permitting strangers to touch me under the scrutiny of a crowd of onlookers who I imagine are critical and casting silent aspersions my way for the delay caused by this process. 

You see, my size and gender expression hit two of the top three leading indicators for the profiling of passengers that goes on, unacknowledged and even denied, in American airports. On top of that, the additional friction in the system arising from the general lethargy and disengagement of security workers (in my experience, at least) make my flying experience almost always dismally bad. 

But because you endured that in my place, my flight tonight, after a very tiring and mentally taxing two days of business meetings, has been a much better experience (so far) than I’ve had in a long time. 

So, thanks to the lady in pink, from a grateful Big Butch. 

Quick Hits

The last couple of days I’ve been in offsite meetings for my company’s customer experience steering committee. We’re planning action plans for this year. One of the buzzwords/phrases bandied about the most is “quick hit”. It’s not a new or unusual phrase; we’ve been hearing it for years. But it has stood out this week because of its association with agility and measuring success. There’s an underlying assumption that if we have rapid task completion, we show we’re winning against the goal.

I think there’s plenty of room to debate the truth or value of that approach. For example, does this prioritize optics over outcome? Speed over quality? Will the ultimate objective of improving customer experience be achieved in such shallow scoops? But wherever you land on those judgments, it’s hard to argue that the fact that there is a ‘win’ against a part of the challenge in a short sprint is a powerful motivator.

So, in that spirit, here’s a list of quick positivity hits from my life that I wanted to share with you. I think the win in this is two-fold: I post something to keep my streak alive, and by focusing on positive things, we all get a morale boost. So here’s 5 good things for which I’m grateful:

1. I’m over the plague and feel so much better! Freedom of breathing is nothing to take for granted.

2. Friends and colleagues who show you in tangible ways that they care about you are such a spirit-lifter. Over the past month, I’ve been blessed to have these spontaneous reminders of support in some really delightful ways. Simple things like a catch-up lunch with a friend, a text to just say hi or express thanks for some small kindness, an email from a colleague to check on you when you’re absent, a smile and a pat on the back to acknowledge your effort. These gestures are so easy and usually costless, but have such a big impact on the recipient. I’ve had all of these lately and am so grateful and humbled by the care expressed.

3. Sunshine is also powerful medicine for the soul. I got a welcome few minutes of bright sun, blue skies and a tasty meal yesterday at lunch. Having left 3+ inches of snow and single-digit temps at home, the 70 degree lunch on a patio by the bay was a real treat.

4. A kind compliment on my style (bow tie and button-up with jeans and boots) from three separate random strangers in the space of a week has me feeling really confident and good in my gender presentation. That’s a novel experience for me, one I’m grateful for.

5. I’m looking forward to a visit with a good friend in a couple weeks. A few days of just hanging with a pal is a rare treat. Can’t wait!

I hope you are having a great week and finding comfort and inspiration in the positive little things in your life.

Faith Vindicated 

I started writing a post this morning after reading a particularly troubling exchange on a chat group I’m a part of. I was heavy-hearted and disappointed, believing I was going to have to quit the group. I titled it “Naivity Disappointed”. My premise focused on what I called my naive optimism and how it had been proven false by the misbehavior of a few members, and the indifference of the moderators. I covered how I had let myself believe that the warm welcome and support I initially experienced when joining this group was universal among its members and would be lasting. Then I described how that naive belief was disappointed in the space of a few insensitive member posts and a single, crushingly dismissive response by the moderator. 

That draft post was a lament, a cry to the universe at the injustice I felt I was suffering. I wanted to express how painful it is to realize that all the hard work I’ve done to maintain a soft heart and a true faith in the basic goodness of my fellow humans through a lifetime of difficult experiences is worthless. 

Then I went to work and spent the day focusing on doing hard, important, substantive work. It felt good, especially because I’ve been down with the plague (bad cold), and took my mind off the bitter disappointment. So I didn’t see the follow-up exchange that happened in the chat group this afternoon until I got home. 

I try always to acknowledge when I’ve made a mistake, so that’s what I’m doing. I was mistaken about the moderator’s motives and indifference. I misjudged him and have personally apologized to him for it, even though he had no way of knowing what was still only in my head. 

Here’s what happened: 

A few days ago, a member of the chat group used “gay” as a slur in a group chat. It was more than the run of the mill, yet still wrong, use of the term as a substitute for stupid or less-than. It was an epithet, a weaponized, white-hot, buzz word flung with malice and intent to wound. I called foul by very politely and professionally asking the person to stop using that word to erase and invalidate the identity of an entire population of people for the sake of a weak punchline. I also suggested that a thesaurus might come in handy, if they couldn’t think of another way to express disfavor. The person flaired up defensively, justifying his remarks as joking sarcasm that should be transparent to everyone in the group. The mod then made some comments that seemed, at first, to support my request, but ended in an apathetic shrug of a comment that included the phrase “if you don’t like it, leave”. I misinterpreted that last bit as directed at both me and the other poster. 

I have been stewing a little over that comment ever since. This group is otherwise pretty neat. It’s a chat group focused on a new hobby I wrote about last year: begleri. (It’s a skill toy, two beads and a string, used to keep the hands busy.) Because this is still a relatively unknown skill toy, the community of “slingers” is pretty sparse. When I stumbled on this group, I was ecstatic that there were so many involved. Most of the discussion has been extremely interesting and helpful for those with lesser experience, like me. There are a lot of really talented players and they’ve all been really free with their tips and tricks. So, when I felt that the moderator was dismissive of a serious display of bigotry and insensitivity, I thought I’d have to give up the group. That made me both angry and sad. 

Then this morning’s exchange among a few of the members rehashed the earlier discussion and made some very unkind, derogatory comments about me and trashed the whole subject as some kind of “liberal bulls***”, suggesting that anyone offended by the gay slur should f-off and…you get the gist. I’ll admit to being hurt by it all, not least because not a single moderator jumped in to attempt any kind of discipline. 

So I started my draft post and then went to work. But when I got home, intending to finish my rant and then post it in anger, I decided to check back on the conversation. 

I’m so glad I did. My faith in the basic decency of people has been vindicated. I shouldn’t have given in to despair. 

The very moderator whom I had judged dismissive had walked into the conversation during the day. He started with a mild reminder of the community rules and a request to stop the abusive language. When that was ignored, he blazed! Jumped in with both feet and delivered a civics lesson in text form that my Sociology professor would have been proud of. Ending with a commitment to ban anyone who continued to use abusive slurs, he reminded everyone that the gay and trans members of the chat community have as much right to participate (without fear of abuse) as any others. I was never so happy to be wrong about someone as I was today. 

Mr. Moderator, as I’ve told you separately, I was wrong and I misjudged you. Thank you for supporting true inclusion and restoring my faith in humanity, even those who are just online strangers. 

Lightbulb Moments

 Today’s list-y post (because I’m slammed at work but determined to post something to my neglected blog before this year ends) is slightly different. Instead of a few quick things I want you to know, I’m sharing a few things that I guess I’ve just fully realized. They’re things I think I’ve known or have taken for granted, but am now conscious of and actively trying to assimilate into my waking experience. You could say the lightbulb has finally lit in my brain on a couple things. 
1. Life’s not fair. So, so obvious. Yet my fairness bone, that deeply ingrained impulse to equity and fair play, still screams at me and ignites a flame of indignation in my chest when unfair, unjust things happen. Fairness is very real in my mind and soul. So the lightbulb moment here is not that life’s not fair, but that fairness isn’t a requirement for life to go on. I’m working on finding ways to stay true to the belief that fair, just, and equitable treatment is possible and something to strive for, while accepting that injustice and just plain crappy things happen and we have to do what we can to cope with that reality. 

2. No one likes a whiner. Yet everyone expects you to listen to their whining. It’s a corollary to #1 above. (So much in life comes back to that lesson, I’m discovering.) But the secret is that you get to choose whether to let them make their problem your problem. Will you be a sounding board and sympathetic ear, smile (if appropriate) and just let them vent before sending them on their way? Or will you be a “sin-eater”, the sacrificial soul who takes on the burden of the confessor and strives to solve the difficulties of those who complain? Lightbulb: you have the agency to choose either role at any time. 

3. Guilt is a very poor guidance counselor. Many cultures have what I think of as a guilt ethic, an emotional engine that drives progress or obedience or any number of aspirational outcomes through inculcated guilt disassociated with wrongdoing. Indeed, the key to this ‘tool’ is evoking a sense of guilt about thoughts, actions, decisions that are good or right or appropriate for the do-er, but viewed as either selfish or harsh or less-than-optimally compassionate. The idea being that doing the “right” thing never has negative consequences for anyone outside of yourself. In this context, guilt is a lie. My lightbulb moment in this arena is this: negative reinforcement, tough-love, proportionate consequences, and hard-knock lessons are real and have a place in life, and this reality is not inconsistent with, nor mutually exclusive to, altruism, selflessness, or virtue. Neither is self-care a sin for which guilt is appropriate. You can be both helpful and say no. You can choose to to let the consequences of others’ poor choices, the sting of the small failure, happen so that the big, crushing failure won’t happen later on. None of that makes you a monster. 

Best wishes for the end of this hard year and sincere hopes that the new year brings all good things to you and yours. Thanks for reading. 

The Tally

Sometimes I can’t talk about what’s hurting me, but I can write. 

—–

For two days I’ve been battling to control my emotions. Tears come without warning at the slightest provocation. And a heavy, burning, acrid lump of shame and fear is stuck in my throat preventing me from gaining any calm or comfort by talking through the awfulness. 

Ambush emotions suck. Hard. And the shame and stress of having them come while I’m at work is doubly awful. Being busy will stem the flow for a time. But focusing on work or on anything outside of my head is a daunting task. I’ve been trying, but I’m failing more than succeeding. 

One of the emotionally fraught conversations I had with coworkers today (in which I was mostly silent and tearful) centered on the breathtaking variety of people who will be negatively affected by this new regime. We decided that really only one demographic isn’t immediately and directly harmed by it: straight, white, male, Christians. All others are less than, second-class, and targets for every kind of discrimination and hate. People of color, people of size, people who are LGBTQI, people with physical or mental or emotional challenges, people of any faith other than Christian and people of no faith, and all women are less safe today than we were on Tuesday (to the extent some of these groups were safe at all).

That led to us discussing in how many dimensions each of us is viewed as less than, as undesirable, as unworthy and unwanted. It was a grim discussion and it was repeated with a different set of people later, spontaneously. Because everyone is conscious of the danger that this ungoverned hate represents. And because talking seems to be the only way some have to cope…or not cope but try to commiserate. 

I know its not healthy or helpful to pursue these dark thoughts. But it’s difficult to avoid them when it’s still so raw. It’s akin to the obsessive prodding of a sore tooth, or the scratching of a scab: it hurts and is not productive, but it keeps you conscious of the injury and is, in a way, comforting to feel something even if it’s pain. 

So here’s my tally of factors of un-safety: 8.  I’m a fat, Hispanic, gay, gender non-conforming, woman with mobility issues and unpopular opinions, who holds a position of corporate power over men. 

These are among the most prominent defining characteristics of who I am. They are important to me. And, under this administration of horrors, they number the ways in which I am wrong, misfit, rejected, and reviled. 

I’m sure that tally will increase over the course of the next four years. Because there’s no chance that any of these factors will diminish, but every chance that these hate mongers will find new reasons to hate the hated even more. 

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