A Very Merry Christmas: a Christmas short story of the Carlson family

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This was repeated three days later to an audience of 'working people', and was a great success by his own account and that of newspapers of the time. Excerpts from A Christmas Carol remained part of Dickens' public readings until his death. None of the later versions were done live, but were either shot on videotape or filmed. They include:. The basic plot of A Christmas Carol has been put to a variety of different literary and dramatic uses since Dickens' death, alongside sequels, prequels, and stories focusing on minor characters.

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Where appropriate, incorporate items into the main body of the article. February Charles Dickens. Archived from the original on 6 October Retrieved 30 September The British Theatre Guide. Because my family lived in college housing near the college dorms, it wasn't long before we became friends with these students, most of them Muslim.

As we became friends, I slowly became aware that the students from Africa and Bangladesh experienced occasional racial and religious intolerance in the community. I say "slowly" because I didn't learn about this treatment initially from these students, but from officials at the college. That was a red flag particularly for me as the college chaplain, for I considered all students of the college to be in my "parish.

While that was a discouraging realization, in the process I learned something from the students from Bangladesh that has stayed with me. What they wanted from me was not some magical power to transform the local community. Rather, what they needed was my family's continued friendship. Nearly 35 years later, this insight would blossom in what became the "spiritual friendship movement," which I'll describe in a later blog. In that new role, one of the first challenges I faced was a course entitled Living Religions West, a survey of the history and beliefs of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

My academic focus being Biblical studies, I knew this course would stretch me. Yet, I wasn't prepared for how much the course would change me. As I began to plan the course, what I was certain of was what I wouldn't do-I wouldn't teach about Judaism and Islam from a Christian perspective. That is, I wouldn't focus on how Jewish and Muslim beliefs and practices were different from Christian beliefs and practices, and I certainly wouldn't present Judaism and Islam as somehow flawed compared to Christianity.

Instead, I would try to teach each religion "from inside," encouraging students to understand how Jewish and Muslim beliefs and practices offer lives of meaning for followers even as Christian beliefs and practices offer the same to its followers. That commitment meant that we as a class would have to do more than read chapters in textbooks.

We would have to leave the safety of the classroom and meet Jews and Muslims on their turf and on their own terms. We would need to listen attentively to the stories of others, not to critique the stories, but to enter into them. That led to a field trip that has shaped my life from that day to the present. While the tour of the facilities and the mosque was enlightening, the highlight of the visit was a question-and-answer session with an American convert to Islam. In the encounter, we were in the presence of an "evangelical Muslim," someone with the same zeal as a Christian evangelist.

Speaking passionately and candidly, he gave his "testimony," the story of his journey from a Christian upbringing to his conversion to Islam. My students, all Christians, sat in stunned silence. That silence ended when we were returning to the College. I was driving the van, and students in the back were firing questions at me, wanting me to counter everything the convert said. Surfacing in my students' comments was the belief that if Christianity is the "right" religion, then all others must be "wrong.

That didn't seem to satisfy my students, and it took some effort to redirect the conversation to the issue of meaning. What meaning had this ex-Christian found in Islam that so changed his life? What I didn't tell my students was that the encounter at the Islamic Center affected me. I was brought back to my friendships with the Muslim students from Bangladesh, and I realized that what I needed more than reading about other religions was meeting followers of these other religions and listening empathetically to how their faith experiences led them to lives of meaning.

Like all life journeys, my journey hasn't been an easy one, and it is a journey that has taken place in stages. My journey, however, is one that I am convinced has been God's will for my life. In the conservative Christian home I was raised in, I was taught that no other religion besides Christianity was valid. I was also taught that, over the centuries, most Christian denominations strayed from the truth. As evangelists who came to my church every year would put it, most people who called themselves Christians needed to experience "revival.

I remember only two Jewish students in my graduating class, but I will always remember Stephen's attitude about being Jewish. I choose to be proud. By attending Wheaton College, perhaps the foremost evangelical college in the U. What I knew about Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism came solely from history or geography classes. Consequently, the bubble I lived within stayed intact until two figures began to be prominent in the news. One was Malcolm X, whose fiery message both frightened and impressed me. The other figure who burst my bubble was Muhammad Ali.

Perhaps because fighting was discouraged in my family, I was attracted to boxing as something taboo. I loved to watch Ali, as I'd never seen such a graceful style in the ring. But what most impressed me about Ali was his habit of praying before his fights. The crowds would be screaming, yet Ali would stand in perfect stillness in the corner of the ring to raise his arms in prayer.

That was when something clicked for me. Prayer was an important part of my family's spirituality, and prayer was obviously an important part of Ali's life. The bubble that I'd lived within during my growing-up years burst, and what replaced it was the beginning of a bridge. In a way I couldn't explain at the time and knew better than to try to explain to those in my church, Muhammad Ali and I were linked, and what linked us was prayer.

It is not always big events that change the direction of our lives. Seeing Ali pray in the corner of the ring was a small moment in my life, and at the time, it changed little of how I saw the world. In looking back, however, I recognize that small moments such as these-hearing the power in Malcolm's voice and seeing Ali pray in the corner of the ring-changed the direction of my life by just a few degrees.

In fact, at the time, I noticed no change in my life at all. But when the direction of a person's journey changes by even the slightest degree, that person's life will end up at a new destination. That is what happened to me. Ali was just the beginning. A common misperception is that fiction is based on the author's imagination while non-fiction is based on the author's research. The truth is that imagination and research are involved in both fiction and non-fiction.

Even with frequent visits, during the writing of the novel I had to consult maps and books that revealed the unique history and geology of this city of islands. More than once, my research led me to change details of the mystery for the sake of accuracy. If research is important for fiction, imagination is just as vital to non-fiction. For example, what should be presented first, second, third, etc. Or, because more research will be conducted than will end up in the book, a writer has to decide what to leave out and what to retain.

Research may be the building blocks of non-fiction, but imagination is needed to decide what blocks to use and how those building blocks will be placed to produce a captivating read. My first non-fiction work, Peace Be with You: Monastic Wisdom for a Terror-Filled World , is an interview-based book, sharing conversations I had with over forty monks, nuns, and retreat leaders across the country.

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Very early in the process, I asked a monastery abbot whom I'd interviewed if the book should contain only the interviews or include how the interviews were changing me. He suggested the latter, which led me to rethink the structure of the project. Instead, I presented the interviews as lessons I learned from wise teachers on my journey as a spiritual pilgrim. Presenting the material in that way was an act of imagination. There are numerous other ways that imagination contributes to a successful non-fiction book. The same moment of decision occurs in non-fiction that is based on research, not interviews.

That decision will be based as much on imagination as on what is uncovered. Fiction and Non-Fiction. How different are they? Both novels and non-fiction have to capture the interest of readers immediately, sustain that interest over the entire project, and then bring the work to a satisfying conclusion. Novels are based on research as much as imagination. Similarly, non-fiction might be based on research, but imagination makes that research come alive.

Just as it can be fun and even exciting to read a work of fiction that offers a surprising shift in the plot, it is fun and exciting to be the writer who creates that moment. Can non-fiction offer the same rewards? The answer is yes, as long as you are writing about something that offers a sense of discovery for both the writer and the reader. In this blog, let's unpack what is meant by "a sense of discovery. Even when someone is writing a memoir, the writer will want to consult diaries and perhaps have conversations with close friends and associates.

Research becomes even more essential if one chooses to write about a contemporary or past event or issue. That raises the second requirement for writing non-fiction. The topic must pique the interest of readers. Unless readers are avid fans of baseball history or descendants of McInnes, their interest isn't likely to be piqued. This doesn't mean that only an exciting event or person is worth writing about. Readers are also interested when a book addresses a question that they're curious about. The next day, my agent called back and told me that she'd asked her grown son, who is more religious than she, and his comment was "that's a book I'd like to read.

The book earned a starred review from both Publishers Weekly and Library Journal and was selected by Library Journal as one of the top ten books of in the category of Spiritual Living. That book continues to be my top seller. The reactions of my literary agent and her son were both correct. Not everyone was interested in knowing how monks and nuns responded to religious terrorism, but many people were. If the question, however, was of interest only to me, the book wouldn't have found a publisher. One way to determine if a topic you're interested in will be of interest to others is to run the idea by friends who will give you a candid answer.

The decision to pursue a topic is still yours to make, but if no one expresses interest in your idea, take that feedback seriously. If you are still committed to the issue, you might ask your friends, "what would make you interested in this topic? Perhaps, in time, you will think of a new angle on the topic, or maybe events will change, and the topic will become suddenly important.

I recommend not throwing away any writing idea. You never know. The good news is that there are some basic tips to creating intriguing and believable characters. Respect the Guardrail on the Left! Let's compare a work of fiction to driving on a curvy mountainous road. You want the journey for readers to be exhilarating while at the same time not sending them over the cliff on either side.

The "cliff" here is anything that leads readers to give up on the story and quit reading. The writer's goal is for readers, at the end of the short story, novel, or series, to think, "Now that was an enjoyable ride. The first guardrail -let's think of it as the guardrail on the left of the road-is to give your characters permission to change. If characters are static, never changing, always acting the same way or saying the same things, readers will likely find such characters boring because they are so predictable.

A familiar way of describing such characters is that they are "wooden. Instead of being wooden, effective and engaging characters are vibrant. Respect the Guardrail on the Right! Writers must be aware of the opposite danger in character development, that being when a character acts too much "out of character.

The key phrase here is "wildly different. Following the acts and antics of wildly changing characters is just too exhausting for most readers. Achieving Balance Isn't Rocket Science! It may seem that our curvy road has become a narrow tightrope. If too little change in characters and too much change in characters can both lead to disaster, how do we find the right balance? One way to think about character development is to remember what we like and do not like in our friendships. Friendships falter and might end if a friend says or does the same things over and over again.

The clue here is what goes through our mind when we're getting ready to spend time with that friend. If we predict how our time and our conversation with this friend will go, and we're right in that prediction, that's a good sign our friend is stuck. Friendships can also falter or end if a friend is "all over the place. If, when we are getting ready to be with this friend, the only thing we can predict is that the experience will be chaotic, we're likely to find the friendship exhausting or maybe even frightening.

What we want in our characters is what most of us want in our friends. In being with our friends, we want to feel that they are growing, able to change, yet we also want to feel that we're with persons we've gotten to know before. In a writing seminar I participated in many years ago, the instructor offered the following advice: if a fiction writer wants to "hook" the interest of readers, the writer must give her characters major problems and present those problems early in the novel or short story. If I had reflected on novels, short stories, and films that had "hooked" me, I wouldn't have been so surprised by the writing instructor's statement.

My preferred reading material-mysteries-usually provides a corpse or at least a puzzling crime right out of the gate. Although I am not partial to romances, I suspect that they too begin with a character or two having relationship problems of one sort or another. I think the reason I, and probably many other beginning writers, missed the need to give our characters problems early in our stories is that having problems is not what any of us wants in our own lives. When problems come into my life, I rarely welcome them. Rather, I believe I'm typical in describing a "good day" as one when I'm not faced with a major problem.

But oddly, for fiction to be engaging, the story must begin with something we don't wish for in our own lives: a major problem or two. Why a major problem?

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Consider which of the following scenarios presented on page one of a novel is more likely to hook your interest: In entering a courtroom for trial, a lawyer has to stop to retie a shoelace. In entering a courtroom for trial, a lawyer discovers that key documents for a murder case in her briefcase are missing. The first scenario isn't an effective opening for a novel because a shoelace that comes untied is hardly a crisis.

It's "small potatoes," a problem easily remedied. Losing key documents for a murder trial-now that grabs our attention and will likely set off an "oh-oh, that's not good" in our minds as readers. But few readers will find their hearts racing to read that the lawyer has to stop to tie his shoelace. However, if, when bending down to tie the shoelace, the lawyer hears a gunshot and sees a bullet ricochet a few inches away from her, well, now our hearts are racing.

There is a second reason why the problem presented early in a novel should be a major one. Not only does the problem engage the emotions of readers immediately who of us hasn't misplaced or lost something important in our lives? For a murder mystery, a corpse presented at the beginning of the novel promises that by the end the murder, the murderer's method, and the murderer's motive, will be revealed.

For a romance, a character frustrated in love in the first pages promises, despite ups and downs along the way, that love will likely be found by the novel's end. Thinking deeper about why our characters need problems: Unless we are talking about a personal diary, the goal of writing is to "hook" readers, not solely please ourselves.

Think about it this way: as writers, we often love our characters. After all, we've spent weeks, months, or maybe even years with them. But readers are meeting our beloved characters for the first time on page one. We have to give our readers a reason to care about the characters immediately. As writers, we can't think that if readers will just be patient they will, by page fifty or seventy-five, love our characters as much as we do.

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As we mentioned in an earlier blog, don't give your readers a reason to put down your book, because they might never pick it up again! In other words, writers have to give readers on page one a reason to read pages two until the end. When we give our characters a major problem or two early, readers are more likely to ask "I wonder how this is going to work out. The reason for this is simple. As human beings, we are "problem-solving animals. If I shared a problem with students along with the right answer to the problem, they would at best write the answer down in their notes. But that wasn't a particularly high-energy moment in the class.

But if I gave students the problem itself and asked them to propose a solution, they were more energized and engaged. And that's true for all of us. For some, a crossword puzzle presents a problem that provides hours of enjoyment. For others, a jigsaw puzzle does the same. And for others, a TV mystery, whether that's presented in a Law and Order episode or a Dateline program, hooks them immediately. So, there's a bit of irony here. I may wish this day or this week would be problem-free for me, but for entertainment, I want to problem-solve-as long as it's someone else's problem.

Suggested Activity: If you have started a novel or short story, evaluate page one of your story. If you didn't present a problem, rewrite the page in light of what your story is about. If you haven't started a novel or short story but want to try, write down the following about a character you are creating: Name, physical and emotional description, and a major problem your character is facing. Next Blog: For our next blog on fiction later ones will focus on non-fiction writing , we will think about character development in a different way.

Titled, "Letting Our Characters Develop Without Breaking through the Guardrails," the next blog will provide guidelines that help us make our characters three-dimensional. Are they comedy, romance, thrillers, or suspense? Over the span of human history, I wager that the stories humans have most enjoyed are stories of redemption.

The word redemption itself is an ancient one. Originally, redemption meant the freeing of a slave. In our day, with that form of slavery thankfully no longer existing, we use the term redemption to describe the rescuing of someone from a misdirected life. We love stories where people are offered a chance and take that opportunity to radically change the path they're on.

But telling a good redemption story is tricky. Redemption stories run the risk of falling into sentimentality. When a redemption story is too sentimental, many readers and movie goers turn away, feeling manipulated. Life isn't a Hallmark movie, after all. But when redemption is portrayed with sensitivity instead of sentimentality, we readers and movie goers can be genuinely moved. For me, the best redemption stories are those based on fact, not fiction.

And one of the best redemption stories I know began not too far from here in Indiana. Ryan White's story is one of bravery and forgiveness. Out of fear of the new epidemic of AIDS, other parents of children in Ryan's school and even people in the White family's church shunned Ryan. Tires of the family car were slashed; a bullet was shot through their home window.

The White family responded with kindness and compassion, Ryan famously saying that people should be forgiven for their ignorance about AIDS. Ryan White's story is both heartwarming and tragic, but the redemption part didn't come into play until Elton John became aware of Ryan White's case. Elton and Ryan became close friends, with Elton being at Ryan's bedside as he was dying. What Elton John revealed later was that he was heavily into drugs and alcohol at the time.

He credits the bravery and the faith of Ryan White and his family with changing his life and saving him from being destroyed by addiction. That's a powerful story of redemption, but the story doesn't end there. Fast forward nearly twenty-five years, and Elton John, in a reflective mood, remembered the rocker from the seventies and eighties, Leon Russell, who had been so kind and supportive when he was just starting.

Recalling his great debt to the singer-songwriter, Elton John wondered if Leon Russell was still alive. Not only did Elton John find Leon Russell, but the two began to collaborate, a partnership that produced a terrific album and even some tour dates together. Where's the redemption part in this story?

That was revealed in Leon Russell's acceptance speech at the ceremony, when he credits Elton John with finding him in the ditch of life and pulling him out. That's the great power of redemption stories. Yes, such stories move us, but they also plant the seeds of redemption and change in others who hear about them. I doubt that Ryan White and his family ever heard of Leon Russell, yet Leon Russell's redemption would likely not have happened without them.

And who knows? The story might not be over. Think of all those who have read about Elton John and Ryan White's friendship as related in Elton John's autobiography. Think of all those who heard Leon Russell's acceptance speech at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when he described the ditch he'd been rescued from. And think of those who are reading this article. Redemption is like a wonderful virus that spreads from one person to another. May we all catch that virus. One, modern readers are looking for any excuse to put their books down and turn on the TV or open the Internet.

Don't let the momentum of your story flag. And two, to create characters even villains who keep readers' attention, take your character to dinner. Let's start with the first of the two guidelines. Yes, unfortunately it is true that the patience of modern readers is less than in the past. In the 18th, 19th, and much of the 20th century until the radio was invented , there were few alternatives on a long winter's night to reading, and novels were the most entertaining option.

But today, with smartphones seemingly attached to our bodies, we can't assume that those capable of reading will spend much time doing so. A boring paragraph might be enough for modern readers to close the book and turn to one of their devices. And once that book is put down, it may never be picked up again. My workshop instructor invited us to analyze page one of our stories. She pointed out that If we don't capture the attention of our readers on page one, many won't bother to read on to page two. She then suggested turning to pages 10, 25, 50, , etc.

Put another way, while setting the scene and describing the traits of characters in a modern novel are still essential tasks for the writer, the key is to write "crisply. Try these exercises that are designed to stretch your imagination. One, think of a friend or two whom you enjoy being with but who also surprises you with what they say or do. These surprises don't have to be outrageous or overly frequent but just enough to keep your attention.

Make a list of adjectives that describe such a person or describe how you feel in her presence e. Two, think of friends or acquaintances who seem to change little over time, those who can bring on a yawn when you're with them. Perhaps your attention wanders because these people tend to talk about the same things over and over again. Make another list of adjectives that describes the way these people make you feel and how they manage to trap people into listening to them.

Three, think of friends whom you've known for a while and have slowly grown over time. Perhaps they became better listeners or became more confident. Write descriptors of these people in the various stages of their development. For example, a person might begin as "timid" and then move onto "frustrated," "willing to take risks," and finally to "confrontational. What mannerisms volume of speech, eye contact, body language would reveal these changes? This is the "show, don't tell" advice often given to writers. Four, think of friends or acquaintances who have met with tragedies or setbacks in their lives.

How did they look, how did they talk, and how did they first respond to the crisis? How did they look talk, and respond the day after the tragedy, the week after, the month after, the year after? How did the crisis change them, if it did? Now try this challenge. Instead of saying, "the person was tearful," write a description of a person in tears think gestures and mannerisms such as eye contact, tone of voice, evidence of withdrawal. Again, this is showing rather than telling. These short exercises all make a common point: creating believable and engaging characters is based on observing people in our own lives.

We are surrounded by the models for the characters we'll create. That will only make your friends and acquaintances angry. Ironically, creating a character who is a dead ringer for someone we know tends not to be as "real" as a character who is also based on your imagination.

The believable characters we create will be a composite of one person's trait, traits we observed in others, and our imaginative development of those traits. Two, a novel in which the characters are all of one type won't be believable or readable. Imagine all the characters of a story being quirky or funny. That would make the dialogue unrealistic. How many times have you read a novel in which you thought, "People don't talk this way.

Even the boring and staid character who doesn't seem to change can appear in our stories, if for no other reason than to serve as a comparison to other characters. But a story in which all the characters are boring and staid would be, well, boring. Three, one way to have a better sense of your characters is to follow the advice of another writing instructor I studied with who suggested "taking your characters to dinner.

She described going to a restaurant alone, with only paper and pen. She advised imagining one of your characters sitting across from you at the table. What would the character be wearing? What is his hair style? Does she wear make-up and, if so, what is the most notable evidence of this? What would he order off the menu-a steak or something vegetarian?

What would she talk about?

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Would he focus on you or does he look around at other patrons? Does she fidget with her hands or her glass of water? What would he gossip about? How would he behave during silences? Would she prefer to split the bill, offer to pay for both meals, or wait for you to pay? Obviously, there is no end to this exercise. I would sometimes play a similar game during faculty meetings at the college where I taught. As the meeting progressed, I'd pay attention to my colleagues: their mannerisms, wardrobe choices, how they handled disagreements, if they were comfortable with conflict, and if, in tense moments or debate, they used humor.

The main point of this section on creating characters is simple: the more observant we are of people around us, the more traits and descriptions we can draw upon when we create our characters.

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It is only when we "know" our characters as we know our friends that we can make them believable to readers. Since I was a boy, entering a library has given me a different feeling-excitement. Perhaps if I'd thought more about it, I would have felt intimidated by all the knowledge stored on the shelves. But as a boy, I felt a sense of adventure whenever I visited our town's Carnegie Library.

It didn't matter to me if the adventure was fictional or factual in the books I read. In grade school, I remember being particularly attracted to a series of biographies for young readers. The covers were all a light orange, and the illustrations were all black silhouettes. I think I read the entire series. But whether that is true or not, the most important lesson I learned from the series is that a person will likely have to struggle to attain a meaningful life.

But such a life is the only one worth pursuing. In middle school and high school, I dove into historical fiction. Two books that I remember fondly are Thomas B. The first is set in the 1st century of the Christian era, the second in early 19th century France. Both books were thick and weighty. But that didn't bother me. When I opened those pages, I was transported from my northern Illinois hometown, where life seemed so predictable, to the Roman Empire or a dungeon on a Mediterranean island.

Now that was exciting. In my youth, the economic realities of my family meant that traveling overseas wasn't a possibility. But that little tan library card in my wallet made it possible for me, using my imagination, to travel all over the world and jump back and forth in time. Later, in my adult life, when travel became a possibility, I had no difficulty deciding where I wanted to visit. I traveled to see some of the places I'd read about, and when I did, I felt that I wasn't seeing those places for the first time but rather revisiting them.

When I look in my wallet, I know that I can get by without much that I store there. Money and credit cards are important, but I have lived happily with little money and without a credit card. But my library card? No, I can't live happily without that. I feel a chill when I think how under different circumstances I might have grown up unable to read or be far from a library. That would have been a life with little wonder and adventure, a life confined to just the present moment in which I was living.

I have no doubt that my love affair with books and libraries led me to become a writer. Given that books were a kind of passport inviting me to travel and encounter new people and cultures from far and near, I began to wonder if I might be able to offer that same experience for others.

When I started to write, I was surprised that I wasn't intimidated by the prospect. The blank page didn't frighten me or frustrate me; instead, I remembered that every book I'd ever read began with a blank page. Were my first attempts at writing worth much? No, but I felt a thrill just to be trying. And the more I wrote, the more words and phrases seemed to magically come to mind.

What was the source of that magic? I'm sure it was all the books I'd read from kindergarten onward. It was like every word I'd ever read had been deposited in some language bank account, and when I began writing my own books, I could withdraw from that account. Nothing pleased me more than knowing that, because of this endorsement, my first book would be in libraries across the country. Now, as I continue to write both fiction and non-fiction, I feel I am giving back to libraries a small portion of what they have given me over a lifetime. Are You A Writing Athlete?

I am amazed at the large number of hands that go up. One of my hopes in sharing my story of writing-failing to get published, writing some more, failing again to get published, continuing to write, and then being published-is to encourage writers in the audience to persevere. An obstacle that writers frequently encounter and that often lead them to give up on their writing projects is dealing with a "muddled middle. I've heard many writers confess that they have a great beginning and great ending in mind for a story or novel but struggle with the middle.

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In writing seminars that I have participated in I encourage those interested in writing to take full advantage of these seminars , the problem of the "muddled middle" seems to always arise. Picture a hike in the mountains, a hike that starts on one peak and ends on another. In the middle is not another peak but a valley. That is, hikers must go down into the valley before they can rise to the next summit. New Times San Luis Obispo. Pin It. Favorite Saving…. On Dec. Visit fox.

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