Me Too

Never before have I seen two simple words have such an impact on so many people. The first friend I saw the ‘me too’ from had told me about some of her experiences with sexual harassment and assault so I already knew she’d been a victim of it.  But her post was followed by  ‘me too”s from friends of mine who had never told me about being victims of sexual assault/harassment before so it was news to me. And it wasn’t just two or three or four or five of my friends who posted “me too’.  Dozens of them did.

On an abstract level I knew how common sexual assault and harassment were. On an abstract level I felt sad for all the victims of it that were nameless and faceless to me. This Facebook campaign took the issue of sexual assault/harassment out of the realm of the abstract and in to the realm of real life for me. All those victims of it were not just numbers without a name or a face but people I knew and cared about. Their experiences were not statistics, they were tragedies.

After I’d been seeing ‘me too’ statuses for about 24 hours I wrote a status that said  “All the ‘me toos’ I’m seeing are heartbreaking. I’m lucky to not be able to say ‘me too’.”

That status wasn’t entirely truthful though. Years ago I’d had a scary experience with sexual harassment that left me feeling quite shaken. However since I hadn’t been raped or even touched I wasn’t sure if my experience counted.

The next day I decided that my experience did count. I know feeling like their experience ‘doesn’t count’ is one of the reasons women stay silent about being sexually harassed or assaulted.  Even though the campaign only called for women to say ‘me too’ and not to share their stories, I decided I wanted to share mine. I wrote:

“I said I couldn’t say ‘me too’ yesterday but there was that time a strange guy banged on my windows at night, saying “Hey baby, my name is Mike, I’m going to stick it in you.” I called the police. They asked if I was drunk and then they suggested it was an April Fools joke. The police came over and when they left the guy started harassing me again. I called the police again but they didn’t come back again. They told me to go to sleep but sleep didn’t come easy that night. Being threatened with sexual assault was terrifying for me so I can only imagine what people who actually have been sexually assaulted go through. Shame on all the “Mikes “out there and shame on all the gaslighting, victim blaming, minimizing law enforcement officials and members of society. My heart goes out to everyone who’s been a victim of sexual assault or harassment. Me too.”

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When Online is out of line: Girl needs to get a life. Hell, a job

Why did I stay for so long on an internet forum that treated me so badly? It came down to attachment, addiction, stubbornness and fear. Over the years I’d gotten attached to the board and to the people on it, even to the people I didn’t like.  There were probably other places on the internet and places in real life that would have been a better fit for me but I’d grown to know and love this forum.  I’ve never done well with change or goodbyes and I’ve always been slow to warm up to new places and new people.

In my previous blog post about this I explained my philosophy behind the actions I took on that board but when I was in the moment, I was acting not so much on reason but out of compulsion and force of habit. I felt compelled to look for names and news stories to post on that board. When I had a question or wanted advice I felt compelled to ask the board about it.  I felt compelled to share my experiences with the board, to participate in almost all of the conversations that went on there and to read almost everything that was posted there, even if I wasn’t particularly interested in it.

There’s something addictive about that forum, about internet forums in general and about the internet in general. The concept of internet addiction is controversial. It’s not in the DSM and it was first introduced as a joke but these days many people take it seriously.

Addiction is usually thought of in terms of chemical dependence on drugs or alcohol. Addiction to the internet is both similar to and different from addiction to drugs. While there’s no chemical dependency on the internet and you’re not going to die of an internet overdose, being on the internet can activate reward centers in your brain like drugs do and internet addiction has negative effects on your health and your life like drug addiction does.

People with mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety are more prone to internet addiction. I have both depression and anxiety and I’m particularly affected by social anxiety. When interacting with people in real life seems scary and overwhelming, it can be tempting to try to fulfill your social needs by interacting with people online instead. I turned to that forum for socialization and friendship. The problem was that only a handful of the people on that forum were actually my friends and many of them were my enemies. When real life is hard and miserable, the internet can become a form of escapism.  You’ll know from my previous blogs that I went through some really hard times in my life over the past decade.

Some professionals object to characterizing internet addiction as its own disorder because they think its better classified as a symptom of other disorders. I’m reminded of the old “Which came first-the chicken or the egg?” debate.  Does internet addiction cause depression, anxiety and social isolation or is it caused by depression, anxiety and social isolation? I’d say both are true and that it becomes a vicious circle. The internet is a double edged sword and that forum was a double edged sword for me. It both helped me and harmed me.

There are some internet addiction tests available online. Some of the questions ask whether your internet use is interfering with your love life, your social life and your career. In my case there was no love life, social life or career to interfere with.  I had a huge hole in my life and I turned to that forum to fill it. The need to fill some kind of hole in one’s life is often what’s at the heart of any kind of addiction.

Many people on that forum felt that my use of it was problematic and pointed that out but most of them did not do it in a kind or compassionate way. They did it in a cruel and humiliating way.  Their intent was not to help me but to shame me.  Some people do subscribe to the misguided notion that by shaming someone for their problem you will motivate them to make positive changes in their life but that’s not how shame works.  Shame destroys the mechanism in a person that makes them capable of change. It makes you feel hopeless, helpless and worthless. I had plenty of shame in my offline life and combined with the shame I was subjected to online I felt as though I was trapped under a shame avalanche.

One time a woman who went by the screen name of Rudey Bozo (names and screen names in this blog series have been altered to protect the innocent and make fun of the guilty) went on a vicious profanity laden, typo filled rant against me that she ended with “Girl needs to get a life. Hell, a job.” In one of my favorite internet comebacks of all time, a fellow board member, Bernadette, replied “How nice of you to share those opinions. In my opinion you need to get some empathy, manners and a spellchecker.” It was at that moment that my friendship with Bernie really took off.

I had tried to get a job but I had been unable to find one and that left me feeling like a worthless failure so Rudey’s comment was especially hurtful. While Bernie and a few other members said that was a really shitty thing to say, there were also members who said it wasn’t that bad and didn’t qualify as a personal attack because she hadn’t called me a bitch.

Then there were members who acted as though they were concerned about me but I sensed that their supposed concern for me was not genuine. In the same thread in which I was attacked by Rudey Bozo, a member called Maleficent said that she’d been tracking my time online on the board for two days the previous week ( that board had a “Who’s Online?” feature). She’d noticed that I’d been online all day for both days and so much time online was not good for my mental health.  Since Maleficent had a habit of attacking me (and others on the board) with cruel insults that certainly were not good for my mental health, I did not believe she really cared about my mental health. She was just trying to embarrass me. Of course in order to have noticed that I was online all that time she would have had to have spent as much time online as I did but she excused it by saying those were two days when she’d been too sick to get out of bed and she certainly didn’t spend that much time online on a regular basis since she had a job.

I knew that the people who were were being jerks to me wanted me to leave the board. Since they were jerks to me I disliked them and since I disliked them I didn’t want to give them what they wanted. I once told a friend on the board that any reasonable person in my shoes would have left the board a long time ago. Yet I stubbornly refused to leave. If I left that would mean the jerks had won and I couldn’t let them win.

There were a few people who seemed genuinely concerned for me and expressed their concern for me in a kind, compassionate manner. Some even offered suggestions for improving my life such as volunteering to tutor English and offered me helpful links. I appreciated the suggestions and I recognized the wisdom in what they were saying but while kind, supportive friends can propel a person towards positive change, they alone cannot make the person change. Change has to come from within the person themselves and at that point I was too scared and too lacking in confidence.

I’ve never been a very confident person but after the mental breakdown I’ve chronicled in other blog posts, my confidence took a major nosedive. My confidence was lowered even furthered by the  barrage of cruel, insulting comments I was constantly subjected to from my stepfather and from that forum. I would complain on that forum about the way my stepfather treated me and would be told that he was a real asshole. The irony is that the comments he would make to me were similar to the kind of comments that were made to me on that forum and had the same kind of effect on me.

My stepfather also subscribed to the misguided notion that by shaming me for my problems he would motivate me to fix them (I may be giving some of these people too much of a benefit of the doubt. They may have never had any intention of helping me. They may have just been trying to hurt me.)  He would tell me that I was a lazy parasite who contributed nothing to the world and therefore I did not deserve to be treated nicely or to have a say in my life. He would constantly tell me how I was annoying I was.  Annoying was also an adjective often ascribed to me on that forum but my stepfather considered me to be annoying for different reasons than the people on that board did.

As most of you reading this blog know by now, I’m on the autism spectrum and have tics/sterotyped movements. My stepfather was always bothered by this and always got angry when he saw me engaging in them. He told me that it was annoying and unnerving to watch, that it was not normal. If I had to do it, I was only allowed to do it in my room where he didn’t have to see it. He’s not the only person who”s been bothered by my tics/stereotyped movements and he’s not the only one who’s made nasty or awkward comments about it. It’s made me self conscious. As annoyed as people got by me online and as many nasty comments as they made about me, at least online they could not see my tics and thus they could not be annoyed by or make nasty comments about them.

In real life I’ve never been popular socially. There have always been a few people in real life who disliked and said mean things to or about me. However, in real life, I did get the impression that once people got to know me, I was generally well liked. Before my involvement on that forum I had never been targeted or ostracized by such a large group of people. Before it had seemed that liking me and thinking highly of me or at least being neutral towards me were the norm. Disliking me or thinking poorly of me were the exception. After I was targeted on that board, it seemed that disliking me and thinking poorly of me was the norm, liking me and thinking highly of me the exception.

Outwardly I always defended myself against the people who attacked me because I felt they were being unfair and that they had some serious problems themselves but inwardly I suspected they were right about me. While I shared many details of my life on that board, I did not share every detail. Most of the details of my mental illness that I’ve shared on this blog, I did not share on that forum. The things I said and did when I was in the worst throes of my mental illness filled me with intense shame. I’d think to myself “If these people think this poorly of me based on what they know about me, imagine what they’d think if they found out the things they don’t know.”

My friends on that board would validate me and tell me that the people who targeted me were full of shit but remember that my best friend on that forum, Bernadette, was someone who was also targeted and ostracized so I figured that perhaps all those people were right about both of us.

In the end, it was my friends on that forum that made all the abuse I was subjected to on that forum seem worth it. They were the only friends I had. If I left the forum I was afraid I would lose them. The forum was where we had met and where we interacted with each other. It was our common bond and the center point of most of our private conversations. I did not know these people in real life and at the time I was not active on Facebook because I was too ashamed to show my face to the world.

The prospect of trying to branch out and make new friends or rekindle old friendships was too scary and intimidating. If the general forum opinion of me was correct, if I had become annoying and unlikable, than attempts to reach out would likely result in further rejection,humiliation and emotional pain. It wold be even worse than what I experienced on that board, especially if it happened in real life. As horrible as what I was enduring on that board was,  having no friends and no socialization seemed even more horrible.

A few month ago as I sat in Kate’s office with tears filling my eyes,  I said “Those people on that forum were so mean to me and they made me feel so awful. I could have left at any time but I didn’t because even though I had a lot of enemies there, it was also the only place where I had friends.”

Top ten things I do not want to hear right now

1. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people – No, people with guns kill people. It’s not like guns are only dangerous in the hands of evil people who want to cause harm either.  Just look at all the kids that are accidentally killed by guns that have not been properly secured.

2. Gun control violates the second amendment-  No, actually it doesn’t. The second amendment gives us the right to bear arms. It does not give every single person an inalienable right to high power assault rifles. Most freedoms in this country are not absolute. The first amendment says we have the right to free speech. However, we do not have the right to shout “Fire!” in a crowded theater or publish lies about our neighbors in the newspaper. Why? Because those actions harm people. Unrestricted access to guns harms people. If only those people who are so hung up on honoring their interpretation of the second amendment were as concerned about honoring those other amendments or the spirit in which the constitution was written.

3. If guns are restricted people who want to commit murder will find another weapon to use- If they’re really determined to kill they might find another weapon but it’s highly unlikely that they will find another weapon that will allow them to pull off killing such a large amount of people in such a short amount of time. When was the last time you heard about a knife attack that killed 60 and injured 500 within 15 minutes? It’s nice that these anti gun control people have such faith in the inherent human determination to murder but I have faith in man’s inherent laziness, stupidity and impulsivity. I would bet that being deprived of a gun many of these would be murderers would abstain from murder (and suicide) altogether.

4. If you’re going to ban guns you should ban knives, cars, planes and pillows too because they also kill people- Maybe the people who use this argument could use a little help from Big Bird. One of these things is not like the others, one of these things just doesn’t belong.  Can you guess which one of these things is not like the others before I finish my song? Well, if you guessed the gun was not like the others, you are absolutely- right! The gun is the only item on that list designed for the express purpose of killing. The other items on that list are mostly used for things like eating, sleeping and transportation.

5. Now is not the time to discuss gun control- Someone says this after every mass shooting and it’s such bullshit. On the contrary, the aftermath of a mass shooting is the perfect time to discuss gun control. When someone dies in a senseless tragedy, it usually comforts their loved ones to know that they did not die in vain, that something positive came out of something overwhelmingly negative, that their death might prevent others from suffering the same fate in the future. Right after a shooting is when people will be most emotionally impacted by pleas for gun control and most likely to take action. However, I will confess that when 20 first graders being shot and killed at Sandy Hook failed to bring about gun control changes, I began to suspect that nothing would. (And I do realize that when GOP leaders say now is not the time to discuss gun control, it’s not out of respect for the victims or an attempt to maintain decorum. They just don’t want to acknowledge the tragic results of their opposition to gun control. )

6. Just because people are getting shot doesn’t mean I should have to give up my gun shooting hobby- No one is asking you to give up your hobby. I’m sure you can shoot targets or animals without the kind of high powered assault rifle capable of killing dozens of human beings within a matter of minutes. If you’re a responsible gun owner with no criminal history, in the end you should have nothing to worry about. If you’re whining about the fact that increased gun control might subject you to stricter background checks or it might make it take longer for you to purchase your guns, then I’m sorry but the violin I’m about to play for you is so small, I’m having trouble locating it right now. It’s kind of selfish to say your right to practice your hobby is more important than the rights of other people to remain alive and safe. You should probably reconsider your priorities.

7. This shooting was a government conspiracy to deprive citizens of their guns- I guess your head is shoved so far up your ass you’re unable to loosen your tinfoil hat.

8. There was this horrible mass shooting in Las Vegas, which reminds me of this horrible person named Kira who said mean things to me online a few months ago- That’s a very bizarre, disgusting and creepy false equivalency (I wish I was kidding with this one.)

9. America is the best country evah!!!1! Just be grateful that you live here rather than protesting against any of its injustices- This notion that America is better than any other country is very outdated and inaccurate. There are many countries that are better places to be than America in many respects. One of the ways in which countries such as Australia and The United Kingdom are better than the U.S. is that they enforce gun control and thus have little gun violence, whereas we do not enforce gun control and thus have a lot of gun violence. Yes, there are also things to be grateful for in America but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t protest the things that are wrong with America. Protesting injustices that go against the ideals our country was founded on and is supposed to represent is not disrespectful. Au contraire.

10. Give blood to help the victims of the Las Vegas shooting- Unlike the rest of the shit on this list, this is a message I wholeheartedly support. Personally I’m just not in the mood to hear it right now because I’m feeling frustrated by a failed attempt of mine to give blood yesterday.  I filled out a long survey about my sex life and drug use, answered another series of questions confirming that I had not had sex or done drugs since I filled out the survey 20 minutes ago, endured two painful needle pricks to test my iron levels, followed by 15 minutes of the nurses poking and prodding at my veins while complaining about how difficult they were, only to ultimately be told that I could not give blood. When I got to the car I started crying. However, the grief and frustration I felt over not being able to give blood are nothing compared to the grief and frustration I feel, that many of us feel, over all the senseless gun deaths and our country’s failure to do anything about it.

 

He’s at it again

That psycho I call Dick who’s been trolling my blog just won’t leave me alone. Now he’s written a blog about me in which he directs other people to my blog. He accuses me of killing my pets through my negligence, claims he’s filed a police report against me and that the police have informed him of my new address. I know he’s full of shit but I’m still feeling rather creeped out by his behavior. I need to figure out how to block him on WordPress but since he’s so determined to stalk me, I imagine he’ll find a way around the block. Ah, the joys of being targeted by crazy people on the internet.

Quick Question

If I told you I get so annoyed by blog posts that humble brag about getting X number of followers that sometimes I unfollow the blog to bring the follower total down, would you tell me I was evil?

Dr. Zeus

I’ve wanted a cat for a long time. My longing intensified when my soon to be former stepfather got half custody of my dog Lily  (I’m not sure why he has a claim to a dog that he did not adopt just because she was adopted by my mom while she was married to him and yet my mom has no claim to a house he bought while he was married to her but that’s another issue.)

I found Lily and the dog I had before her on Petfinder so I decided to look for a cat on Petfinder. I was especially interested in black cats because I find them beautiful and they’re harder to adopt out due to superstitions surrounding them.  I saw a picture of a beautiful and cute black cat named Dr. Zeus.  His adoption profile read:

Dr Zeus is a sweet 1-2 year old neutered male. He is very loving and always has to be by your side, even when it’s bed time and he tries to take up the whole bed! Dr Zeus is great with other cats and dogs once he gets to know them. He gives love bites but does not break the skin. He loves to play with toys and his favorite is the laser pointer. He came to us with a bite wound on his head and chin but we got him cleaned up and fully vetted. Now Dr Zeus is ready to find his furever family!

I was charmed by the description of his personality. He seemed like quite a character and like Lily in feline form. We filled out an application for him and the rescue group really liked us. Last Friday Dr. Zeus became ours.

True to his description, he is very affectionate.  He loves to cuddle with me, nuzzle up against me and hog my bed. He’s a very vocal kitty. Although his meows sound rather mournful, I think he’s just being dramatic. His purring is one of my favorite sounds in the world.

He’s also very curious, adventurous and playful. He leaves no corner unexplored and jumps or considers jumping on every surface he can find. He’s jumped on the counters, the dressers, the washing machine, the refrigerator, the tables, the desks, the sink, the bath tub, the toilet and the towel rack. He’s crawled in to closets, pantries, drawers, cabinets, boxes and sheets.

He loves to play with his laser pointer, his feather toy, his catnip toy and balls. He gets bursts of energy in which he dashes up and down the hallway like a black streak of lightning.  He’s a very slick, sly cat with an amazing ability to appear and disappear without you noticing.

When he first met  Lily he was hissing and swatting at her but  now that he’s gotten used to her he’s good with her. They’ll now lay in bed together and last night they even started playing together.

There are no longer any traces of the bite wounds he had on his head and chin but a small part of his ear is missing from a fight he got in with another cat. I think it’s the cutest injury ever.

A not so charming aspect of his personality that was not mentioned in his adoption profile is his tendency to scratch furniture. He wouldn’t touch his scratching posts and he was undeterred by the cat repellant we sprayed on the furniture. Luckily we seem to have found the solution with SoftPaws, caps that were put on his nails by a groomer at PetSmart.  They have to be replaced every month or so but they’re worth it (declawing is considered inhumane and we signed an agreement not to do it.) Next month we plan on getting him orange claw caps for Halloween.

The other day a message popped up on my computer screen that said “Stop! This is a browser feature intended for developers. If someone told you to copy-paste something here to enable a Facebook a feature or hack someone’s account, it is a scam and will give them access to your account.” They neglected to consider the possibility that a cat had walked across my keyboard.

Although Dr. Zeus looks very handsome in a collar, he refuses to wear one. Oh well, you can’t win them all.

When I told people his name was Dr. Zeus, they asked me what we were going to call him- Zeus? Doc? Z? No, we call him Dr. Zeus. I think it’s a cute, clever name that suits him well.

Black cats are considered to be unlucky but I consider myself lucky to have Dr. Zeus.

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Hurricanes

Although I live in New Jersey, I have ties to Texas and Florida so Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma affected me on a personal level.  I’ve never been to Texas myself but my brother lives in Houston.  He lived there for a few years for his medical research job before returning to New Jersey for medical school. Then he took a year off from medical school to do more research in Houston.  When he finished medical school he found Houston calling him for a third time. He was assigned a medical residency at Baylor University Hospital.

When Hurricane Harvey hit my family and I were naturally concerned for my brother. When we called or texted him to make sure he was okay he brushed aside our concerns and assured us everything was fine where he was.  He was off of work for the week because of the hurricane and the hospital he worked at was being evacuated the next day but where he was it was just drizzling and the streets weren’t flooded at all.  To prove his point he texted me a picture of his non-flooded street. Then he told me he was bored so he was going for a jog.

The picture my brother was painting of Houston was in stark contrast to the picture the media was painting of it.  CNN was giving accounts and showing images of neighborhoods underwater, people and animals who had been displaced, devastated or were dead as a result of Harvey. There were people who had been trapped by the storm and were desperately awaiting rescue. If they were lucky rescue came-usually in the form of rescue professionals or good samaritans  who were using boats to navigate routes that a few days earlier had been navigated by cars. While these people were grateful to have been rescued, many of them had lost everything.  Their homes had been destroyed and so had their lives as they knew them. Words like ‘catastrophic’, “unprecedented and ‘apocalyptic’ were used to describe the situation.

The fact that the situation was so dire in some areas of Houston but things were perfectly fine where my brother was impressed on me just how big a city Houston is. My brother told us not to listen to CNN because they sensationalized and were overly dramatic about everything. So he was basically calling Hurricane Harvey fake news, which is consistent with his affinity for a certain president who (dis) graced Houston with his presence in the aftermath of Harvey. I’ve noticed a change in my brother’s political and world views since he started living in Texas. Let’s just say I don’t consider it to be a change for the better.

Since he was off of work due to the flood he had time to engage in an hour long text message political debate with me.  It left me feeling rather exasperated. When he was working as a researcher in Houston he would attend Joel Osteen’s church. I brought up the issue of Osteen refusing to open his church as a shelter for flood victims. He said people were getting outraged over something that wasn’t a big deal. He’s become quite the contrarian. He’ll even argue with you about the weather.

We’d barely had time to process Hurricane Harvey before Hurricane Irma came along. I have stronger ties to Florida than I do Texas. I basically consider Florida to be my second home. I resided there for school for about three years, my parents have a vacation house there that I’ve visited several times, I’ve been on several expeditions to Disney World as well as expeditions to various other areas of Florida such as Key West and Miami.

Getting away from my stepfather was a very positive move for both my mother and me but the one downside was that it meant losing the house in Florida to him. It was truly not just a house but a home. It was a beautiful paradise where we relaxed and had fun. It was a place full of charm, character and spirit.  We even called it by an elegant name (the street it was on.)

That house was in one of the areas of Florida that was supposed to be hit the hardest. On the one hand we were attached to the house and didn’t want to see it destroyed. On the other hand it was unlikely that we would ever see the house again so if it was destroyed maybe we wouldn’t feel so sad about not having it anymore. Also the house now belonged exclusively to my stepfather who had released a destructive metaphorical hurricane on our lives that lasted for years so if his house was now destroyed…well….schadenfruede.

The house ended up sustaining only minimal damage but for a while there we were worried. We were only ambivalently worried about my stepfather’s house but we were truly worried for our friend Lucy’s house and for our friend George’s life. George had decided to remain in the area despite the evacuation order. Maybe he needed a more blunt evacuation order like the one issued for an area of Texas during Harvey that asked those who were not evacuating to write their social security numbers on their arm so their bodies could be identified.

George managed to survive the hurricane in one piece but he was so emotionally traumatized by it that now he’s considering leaving Florida for good. To me there’s something ironic about leaving Florida for good because of the trauma you experienced as a result of your refusal to leave it for a few days. Lucy’s house emerged from the hurricane relatively unscathed but her pool cage was damaged. When Lucy asked George if he knew how she could get her damaged pool cage repaired he told her that was an insensitive thing to say when there were people who were really suffering as a result of Irma.

As long as we’re talking about being insensitive, my guilty secret that’s not really a secret is that while I understand that natural disasters are a tragedy and I feel for the people who experience loss as a result of them, when I know I’m safe from them I also find them exciting and fascinating. I was glued to the TV during the hurricanes, enjoying my voyeuristic view in to the disasters that were unfolding.

Of course safety is ultimately more important than thrills or adventure. I was glad to learn that not only was George safe but so was everyone else I know in Florida. That “mark your safe’ feature on Facebook is a wonderful thing. I even found out that the animals I was concerned for were safe. The chickens of Key West had been evacuated with their wings wrapped in newspaper and the six toed cats of the Hemingway house had weathered the storm with the volunteers who had stayed behind. I am sorry for all the people and animals I don’t know personally who did not survive the hurricanes.

Shortly after Irma hit, there was a third powerful storm, Maria. I don’t have any significant ties to Puerto Rico but I did vacation there once as a teenager. It’s a beautiful country that has truly been devastated by Maria. My heart goes out to all its residents.

These natural disasters bring out the best and worst of human nature. There are people who go out of their way to help those who have been impacted by the hurricanes, who open up their hearts, homes and wallets. Then there are jackasses who would rather use tragedy as an opportunity to brag about crowd sizes and insult a society’s infrastructure, who would rather focus on arguing over the national anthem at football games than helping those in need.

All of this while denying that the likely cause of all these hurricanes-global warming- actually exists.  Pretty soon there won’t be enough letters in the alphabet to contain all the hurricanes that occur in a year, to say nothing of all the metaphorical man made hurricanes.

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When online is out of line: The Elephant in the Drawing Room

There’s been something I’ve been wanting to write about on this blog for a long time but I kept putting it off because at the same time I don’t want to write about it. I’m afraid to write about it.  I’m afraid that writing about it will cause me to lose friends and gain enemies. I’m afraid it will cause me to be judged, criticized and targeted in a cruel manner.  I’m afraid it will hurt me and hurt others.

I’ve talked to friends about wanting to write about it on my blog. Some think it’s a good idea, some think it’s a bad idea, some aren’t so sure. I was unsure about it myself so I decided to focus on other topics, all the while having it in my mind that I would write about the topic I was afraid to write about ‘eventually’. The other day on Instagram I saw a post that said Writing Prompt of the Week: Write about the thing you’re most scared to write about. Underneath it said “Facing our fear brings out visceral energy. The work that scares us is often the most powerful, with important things to say. ” It was then that I decided that it was time to write about this topic I was afraid to write about, time to address the elephant in the room.

The situation is an elephant in the room because it has caused me a lot of distress and many people who read my blog are aware of it.  It was the catalyst for me starting this blog and I’ve made many vague references to it on here but I’ve never spoken about it directly or told the full story of what happened. People often tell me I’m brave for sharing my story on my blog. No story I’ve told on my blog has required more bravery on my part than the one I’m about to tell now.

A little over a year ago I was banned from an internet forum that I had been a member of for twelve years. The first thing people want to know is why I was banned. You’d think the answer to that question would be simple but I actually have a hard time explaining it. I have a hard time explaining everything that went on at that forum, especially to people who aren’t familiar with internet forums.

For years I never felt the need to explain that forum to anyone because I kept it a secret from everyone in my real life. It was my own secret world, a world of drama that I was intensely wrapped up in. If you’ve read my previous blogs you’ll know that for years I was very socially isolated and depressed. That forum became my main social outlet and it was pretty much my only source of socialization with people who weren’t related to me or paid to talk to me.

People often come together and socialize as a result of shared interests.  Some people are interested in sports, some are interested in art and some are interested in stamp collecting. Then there are those who have more unusual interests, such as baby names. Yes, baby names are a great interest of mine and no, I don’t plan on ever having a baby.  One might think that being interested in baby names when you’re not having a baby is so bizarre that it would be impossible to find a group based on such an interest so imagine my delight when I found an internet forum devoted to just that. Furthermore that forum had a special focus on snarking on bad baby names such as Apple, Sir and Nevaeh, which is the special focus of my own interest in baby names. Many other topics besides baby names were discussed at this forum though. These topics included politics, news stories, entertainment, food, parenting and personal issues.

For the first few years that I was a member of that board I didn’t have much of a presence there. I didn’t have any friends there and I didn’t have any enemies either.  The last few years I was there I had a huge presence.  I made a few friends and many enemies.

I didn’t post much for the first few years I was there because I was engaged in real world activities such as school, volunteering and hanging out with friends. With the onset of mental breakdowns followed by intense depression, anxiety and shame, those real world activities decreased and my posting on the board increased. Then I was noticed and targeted.

The main complaints about me were that I posted too much and that I posted the wrong things in the wrong way. When, a few months after I was banned, I finally started talking to my therapist, Kate, about what I went through on that board she asked me why I didn’t just post less and avoid posting things I knew would be controversial.

The truth was I often wasn’t sure what was going to be controversial and things I never would have thought would be controversial ended up causing a shit storm of epic proportions. Despite what some members of the board suggested, I don’t think this was because I was socially inept, stupid or playing dumb. The truth is that while there are certain topics that will inevitably result in flame wars (abortion and circumcision for example) sometimes you will be blindsided by the seemingly innocuous topics or statements that rile people up on the internet. One of the most heated arguments I ever saw on that board occurred in a thread about napkins.

I wasn’t personally involved in that napkin feud but I unwittingly caused many other feuds. Once someone posted a fact that appeared to be incorrect and I said “What’s your source for that?” without thinking twice about it. I was told that my question was shockingly rude and snarky.  I replied that it wasn’t meant to be snarky, it was just meant to be a direct question. A woman named Marcia (pay attention to Marcia because she’ll play an important role in this story later) said that she didn’t believe it was an innocent question, she knew I was deliberately being rude. She wouldn’t tolerate such behavior from a 10-year-old child and there was no reason anyone should tolerate such behavior from me.

When people would complain about aspects of my posting style, I would do my best to alter my posting and fix the things that were bothering them but then they’d just find something new to complain about.  Often they’d complain about me doing the very thing I’d been told to do.

When I posted about news stories people would complain that I was just summarizing the news story and not opening a discussion about it. I was told to offer talking points for the issues I presented.  When I opened the topics with discussion questions people complained that the questions were too formulaic and made them feel like they were answering essay questions for English class. People would complain that I posted about things in threads that weren’t closely related enough to the original topic of the thread or that I posted after too long a time had passed since the last post in the thread. They told me to post separate threads instead. When I did that they complained that I was posting too many threads. When I would post about light, silly topics people would complain that the topics weren’t important enough to discuss. When I would post about serious topics people would complain that they were too upsetting, disturbing or controversial  to discuss.

When I posted about a certain issue regarding a former U.S. president without giving my opinion on the matter, I was accused of depending on the board to form my opinions for me. The disagreement that ensued resulted in me being suspended from the board. When I expressed an opinion regarding another former president that went against the majority opinion of the board I was accused of holding a contrary opinion just for the sake of arguing. The disagreement that ensued resulted in me being banned from the board.

As for why I didn’t just post less when people complained that I was posting too much, I told Kate that it was because I enjoyed posting and discussing the things I did on that board and other people enjoyed it too.

“Were there people who responded positively to your posting?” Kate asked.  Yes, a lot of people responded positively to it.  There were people who told me they really appreciated all the interesting conversations I started and the perspectives I gave. For years that forum had been experiencing  a decline in membership, activity and participation, as have internet forums in general ( I imagine that the popularity of social  media has something to do with it.)  People would say that I contributed greatly to the board, that I kept it going, that I brought life to it, that it would be dead without me. There were also people who complained that I was destroying the board, that I was responsible for the decline in activity and membership, that the board would be a better place without me.

When debating whether or not to post certain things on this blog I tend to give higher priority to the people who will appreciate it vs. the people who will not appreciate it and greater consideration to the ways in which it will help me vs. the way in which it will harm me. After all, the people who don’t like what I write don’t have to read it.

I had a similar philosophy regarding that forum.  It had an ignore button that you could use to prevent yourself from seeing the posts of certain members. Unlike on Facebook, the block feature did not work both ways and you could unblock specific posts in order to read them at any time. The complainers claimed that they couldn’t put me on ignore because I posted so much that putting me on ignore would make the entire board disappear and the conversation wouldn’t flow properly.  Plus they’d still have to suffer the trauma of reading what I wrote in quotes from other people and unblocking my posts to read them would defeat the point of ignoring me. They also complained that I was “monopolizing”the board which didn’t make much sense to me since it wasn’t like there was a limit to the total number of posts that could be made on that board and the more posts I made, the less posts others were able to make.

As I said before, at the time I was leading a very lonely and isolated life.  I was also leading a life that lacked purpose and direction.  In real life I I was often shamed for doing nothing with my life, for accomplishing nothing, for contributing nothing to the world. When I would post on that board and people would respond positively to what I posted, when I’d get a long, interesting conversation going, not only was that my way of socializing but it felt like a way of accomplishing something and making a small contribution to the world.

When people responded negatively to what I posted and attacked me for it, that was always very hurtful to me but in a way it also helped me because whenever a bunch of people attacked me, a bunch of people also defended me and reached out to me privately.  They would tell me they were sorry I was being treated so badly, they would type words of support and encouragement. Sometimes from there conversations and relationships would develop. It was through making enemies on that board that I made friends on that board.

One of the people who reached out to me was a young woman named Bernadette. She empathized with me because she was also a board target who was often attacked by other members. For a while I believed the nasty things other members said about her and sometimes I even participated in attacks on her. Yet once I started talking to her I realized that the other board members were wrong about her and that I had unfairly allowed their opinion of her to influence my own opinion of her. I realized that she’s actually a really nice, smart, honest, funny person. Although I’ve never met her in real life, today I consider her to be one of my best friends.

I probably would have been more open to changing the way I posted if people had addressed their issues with me privately and in a civil manner but they chose to publicly humiliate me in a cruel and nasty way. That did not make me want to change in order to please those people, especially once I got the impression that no matter what I did, there was no pleasing them. I wasn’t too inclined to be considerate of the feelings of people who had no respect for my feelings.  I just felt angry at those people. I suppose those people were angry at me too but I don’t feel all that bad about the distress I caused them by posting more than they wanted me to and in the incorrect format. Somehow I don’t think my posting frequency or style was anywhere near as emotionally distressing or hurtful to them as the things they said to and about me were to me.

Over the years I was told that I was annoying, irritating, rude, obnoxious, immature, childish, selfish, bitchy, creepy, inconsiderate, discourteous, arrogant, condescending, divisive, provocative, deliberately obtuse, off putting, hostile, weird, abnormal, unhealthy, obsessive, attention seeking, etc, etc, I was called a troll, an imbecile, a pedophile, an unrepentant antagonist, a sad sack and a spoiled, ungrateful brat. I was referred to as “Miss I have autism” “A danger to the community” and “Just bird noises in the bathroom.” I was told to get a life and a job and that I needed serious help at best. It was suggested that I had experienced a major decline in my mental abilities, that I had plagiarized the things I posted on the board and that I should blow my brains out. I was accused of using autism and depression as excuses for bad behavior. I was accused of lying about various things such as my identity, my sex, my life experiences, my family relationships and my dog’s death. All of that took a major toll on my self esteem and my self esteem was crap to begin with.

When I or anyone else complained about the way I was treated we were told I deserved to be treated that way because I was so annoying. I won’t claim that I was never annoying on that board because sometimes I was and I won’t claim that I never behaved badly on that board because sometimes I did. However, I will say that I did not deserve to be treated in the manner that I was. I also know that I was not targeted just because I was annoying. There are a lot of annoying people on that board who are not targeted. I became an easy target because I was so vulnerable.

Even though I don’t think I deserved to be treated in the manner that I was I blame myself for it. I had the power to walk away from that board at any time and yet I chose to remain there for years until I was forced out.

To be continued….

 

From 9/11 to 11/9

Monday was the sixteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11th, 2001. I was sixteen years old at the time.  I was sitting in 11th grade English class when I first heard about the attacks. The school had sent out a memo about it that was laying in front of my teacher, Ms. Madigan, on the table where we were gathered for our English lesson. There would be no English lesson that morning though.

I glanced over at the memo and saw something about a plane crash around the World Trade Center. “A plane crashed into the World Trade Center? ” I asked Ms. Madigan. She hesitated for a moment, took a deep breath and said “Yes, two planes have crashed in to the World Trade Center and another has crashed in to the Pentagon.”

“How did they manage to do that?” I replied, thinking it had been an accident. It took me a minute to realize that this was no accident. This was a deliberate terrorist attack.

I was grateful that my mother no longer worked in New York City, as she had for several years, so I did not have to fear for her safety. But of course the attacks left me feeling shaken and fearful, as they did everyone in America.

Towards the end of the school day I sat surrounded by my peers in a therapy group led by  Delilah, a school social worker. “Is this attack a big deal?” a boy named Evan asked.  “Of course it’s a big deal!” Jacob snapped. “I wasn’t asking you, jackass!” Evan snapped back.

“They’re making a big deal about this because white people were killed by Arabic people but no one makes a big deal when Arabic people are killed by white people”, Layla, an Arabic girl pointed out.

It wasn’t until I got home and turned on the television that I comprehended the true horror of the situation. It was then that I saw visual representations of the destruction, the violence and the carnage that had occurred.  I saw the planes crashing in to the towers, the towers toppling over, the flames, the smoke, the terrified onlookers and survivors, the indistinct forms of those who had not survived, who had chosen death by jumping over death by fire. While most of the images that remain in my memory of September 11th are disturbing images that horrify me, there is one image I find quite poignant. It shows a group of firefighters holding up an American flag amidst the rubble of the World Trade Center.

I knew from history books that the Pearl Harbor attacks made December 7th a day that would live in infamy. Now I knew from my own first hand experience that September 11th would be a day that lived in infamy.

Things would never be quite the same after September 11th, 2001.  We were all forced to adjust to a new normal. Air travel became much more complicated and fraught with worries. Last year I had to fly on September 11th and it made me nervous even though I don’t really believe in superstitions and I knew that ever since September 11th, 2001 I’d probably been safer on flights due to increased security protocol.  I have been subject to multiple post 9/11 airport pat downs (and I’m a white woman with a baby face.)

Thousands of people lost their lives on 9/11 but I know they’re not the only ones who died as a result of that fateful day and I know that the people who lost their lives as a result of it are not the only victims.  A few weeks after the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush announced the beginning of the war in Afghanistan, a war that continues to this day. Countless people have lost their lives as a result of that war. I cannot pretend that they all deserved to die or that they were all guilty by association.  Although I’ll never hear about those people on the news or read their names on memorial plaques, I cannot pretend that their deaths are any less of a tragedy than the ones that occurred on 9/11.

I also cannot pretend that I’ve never had prejudiced feelings towards Muslims or felt uncomfortable around them in the post 9/11 world. But then I remind myself that they don’t have to apologize for the atrocities that were committed in the name of radical Islam any more than I have to apologize for all the atrocities that have been committed in the name of Christianity. I remind myself that with all the prejudice and discrimination they’ve faced after 9/11, they’ve suffered as a result of it far more than I have.

In May 2011, Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind behind 9/11, was killed. I try not to rejoice in anyone’s death but I wasn’t sad to see him go. On September 11, 2011 the 9/11 memorial museum opened in New York City. In December of that year I saw the movie Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which was based on a novel about a boy whose father died in the 9/11 attacks.  It was the second movie I’d seen about 9/11.  I’d chosen not to watch the movies about 9/11 conspiracy theories but In 2006 I saw the movie United 93 about the plane that crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania on 9/11 after the passengers overpowered the terrorist hijackers. I cried, as did the people sitting next to me in the theater. The tears flowed again in 2016 when Bretagne, the last surviving 9/11 search and rescue dog was given a hero’s salute by a group of firefighters as she was walked in to the veterinarian’s office to be euthanized and when her body departed the animal hospital draped in an American flag.

‘Never forget’ is a slogan often associated with 9/11.  On September 11th, 2001  Facebook did not exist but now that it does, on every 9/11 anniversary, it’s filled with tributes to and remembrances of the day. This year was no exception. Some of the tributes were quite poignant and touching, others were frankly quite tacky and tasteless. Tributes or not, I’ll never forget 9/11 and I doubt anyone else will either.

In November 2016 I sat in a booth at a pancake house across from my friend Vanessa from high school.  She had been in English class with me on 9/11/01.  Sitting beside me were Ms. Madigan and Delilah. Vanessa told us how disgusted she was by the results of the recent election, a sentiment we all shared.  The conversation then turned to our classmate, Layla. In the wake of the election Layla had had to change her name on Facebook because she was being threatened and harassed due to her Arabic name.

The election of a president whose campaign was based on hateful rhetoric towards Muslims ( and various other minority groups) had emboldened racists and xenophobes to act out, to turn their hateful thoughts in to hateful actions. Trump often used references and allusions to 9/11 to argue that Muslims were a danger to our country and that they needed to be done away with. He also told a lot of lies and made a lot of tasteless comments about the tragedy because that’s just the kind of person he is.

Tragedies like 9/11 are by their very nature devastating events that cause tremendous suffering. Yet there is always potential for some good to come out of tragedy. It can inspire unity, compassion, awareness, activism, strength, determination, a desire to help others. We certainly saw some of that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and we certainly continue to see some of that today as a direct or indirect effect of the attacks that occurred on that fateful day.

Yet I fear that these days we are moving further towards being poisoned by the kind of hatred and disregard for human life that was in the hearts and minds of those terrorists that attacked us on 9/11/2001, that we are emulating it rather than opposing it.  It’s in the call for a travel ban on Muslim countries, a Muslim registry, a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.  It’s in the decision to uproot the children of immigrants from the only home they’ve ever known, to ban transgender people from serving in the military, to cut healthcare and education funding from the poor, the sick and the vulnerable. It’s in the countless shootings and beatings that have occurred, the countless people who have been discriminated against, attacked or murdered for their religion, their sexuality or the color of their skin.

It’s in the horrific demonstration that occurred in Charlottsville last month in which white supremacists marched through the streets exposing their faces to the world, carrying guns, torches and Nazi flags, spewing insults and threats at minority groups, committing violence in the name of racism and antisemitism until one of those protesters plowed his car through a crowd of counter protesters, injuring 19 and killing 1.  All of this was followed by a president who for days refused to denounce the white supremacists and who never labeled them as the terrorists that they are.

I saw a tweet that read “The 9/11 attacks were a horrific event in US history, but the election of Donald Trump will be seen as equally disastrous, if not more so.”  Some people were offended by that tweet, claiming it made an insensitive and inaccurate comparison.

To those people I say, tragedies that occur on one specific day and result in the immediate physical death of thousands of people are not the only kind of tragedy.  Terrorist attacks that involve deliberately crashing airplanes into office buildings are not the only kind of terrorist attacks. Terrorists who have brown skin and are from middle eastern countries are not the only kind of terrorists.

America faces threats not just from other countries but from within itself, from those U.S. citizens who feel they have license to terrorize their fellow Americans for not being white, for not being Christian, for not being heterosexual, for not being gender conforming, for not having a penis, for not being healthy, for not having been born into privilege.

One of the reasons we must never forget our painful past is so that we don’t repeat its mistakes. Our painful past didn’t start or end with 9/11 and while the attacks can hardly be considered a mistake on our part, some of our responses to it have been. While humans as a species are characterized by their ability to learn from the past, they are also unfortunately characterized by their refusal to do so.

I felt a certain kind of  shock and terror on 9/11/01 and I also felt a certain kind of shock and terror on 11/9/16. While no airplanes had been hijacked by terrorists on 11/9/16, it felt as though our country had been hijacked by a monster who would institute a reign of terror. While on 11/9/16 I would not watch buildings fall or go up in flames over the course of an hour as a result of severe structural damage sustained from terrorist attacks, I could envision a future in which over the course of four years I would watch the pillars of American society crumble and fall as a result of severe damage sustained to the foundations our democracy was built on by repeated attacks from within. I could envision a future in which I  would watch all the progress and advancements that had been achieved within the last forty years in terms of civil rights and equality go up in flames within four years.

On 11/9/16 I did not see people choose to jump out of a burning building rather than remain inside but I heard the voices of people who were considering moving out of this country rather than remaining here. On 11/9/16 thousands of Americans did not die as a result of a terrorist attack nor were they grievously physically injured but millions were grievously injured spiritually and emotionally.  They saw the deaths of their hopes, their, dreams, their sense of safety and security, of their trust, faith and belief in the American people and the American system.

The 9/11 attacks were perpetrated by outsiders that made it clear that they were our enemies, that they wanted to harm us, that they hated everything we stood for.  This prolonged attack on our nation, the reality of which began to set in on 11/9/16, is being carried out by a man from within our country who claims to be our friend and ally, who claims that he will help us, that he has our best interests at heart, that he represents our values, a man who we have elected as our leader. The incidents that occurred on 9/11 were surprise attacks that none of us anticipated and none of us consented to.  Millions of our own citizens consented to and brought about the 11/9 attack that is still currently being waged on our country and will continue to be waged on our country for years to come.

Along with ‘never forget’, there are two other ‘never’ slogans that come to mind-‘never give up’ and ‘never give in’.  They apply to the attitude we must take towards the Trump administration, as does a certain one word slogan- ‘Resist’. Resist the Trump administration just like those passengers on the United 93 flight who managed to divert the plane from its intended target resisted the terrorist hijackers.  Resist,resist, resist. Never forget 9/11 and never forget 11/9.  Never give in to the kind of hatred and evil that brought about the events that occurred on those dates and never give up on fighting for what’s right in the face of the hardships 9/11 and 11/9 have brought to us all.

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Top ten things that are pissing me off right now

1. Sexist men telling me to smile-I posted this friendship anniversary thing on Facebook that showed the profile pictures of me and my girl friend.  This guy comes along and says “You both need to learn to smile, it goes a long way”.  I told him he needed to learn not to make inappropriate comments on womens’ social media pictures, it goes a long way.”  He wasn’t smiling in his profile picture either but of course it’s only women who need to smile to please men. This guy said he didn’t understand why I was so angry over such a simple thing when he was just pointing out that smiling would make us look better and if I had a problem with him I should unfriend him.  I took that last suggestion of his. Bye Felicia.

2. People who are judgmental of suicide victims on National Suicide Prevention Day- I saw all these nice, thoughtful, supportive blogs on suicide, which I appreciated but then I come across this blog where someone says they consider many people who commit suicide to be cowards. Their rationale was that people who commit suicide have low self confidence and self worth and people who have low self confidence and self worth are cowards. They used to believe all people who committed suicide were cowards but then they had a gracious change of heart and decided it’s only the suicide victims who didn’t just reach out for help that are cowards. If they did reach out for help, their loved ones are to blame for their death.  This blogger then assured people contemplating suicide that things would get better and offered a listening ear to those who are struggling. I guess the fact that judgmental attitudes like theirs are what prevent depressed people from ‘just reaching out’ is lost on this blogger. But hey, what do I know, I have low self confidence and self worth, so therefore I’m a coward.

3. Evil stepfathers who steal my dog from me- Lily is gone for the next few days and I miss her. The bastard doesn’t deserve half custody of her and sharing custody of a dog is stupid anyway

4. People who just don’t give a fuck about spelling or grammar- If you’re going to insult me you can at least use proper spelling and grammar when you do it so you don’t look like even more of an idiot than you already do. I know there are people who think spelling and grammar don’t matter on Facebook but I don’t understand how people can have the same attitude about WordPress. How am I supposed to take what you’ve written on your blog seriously when it’s making my eyes bleed?

5. People who deflect from the issue at hand by attacking me with irrelevant bullshit- I’m trying to explain to this guy on Facebook that there are sound ecological reasons for not allowing dogs in certain nature parks and the rules aren’t just in place to ruin his fun when he decides to bring up a completely unrelated  traumatic incident that happened between me and him more than 10 years ago. He claims that I was the one in the wrong then when he was actually the one in the wrong but that incident had nothing to do with anything anyway. Grumpy grudge holding guy got unfriended just like sexist smiley guy did and his grammar was just as bad.

6. Hypocritical Nazi apologists who tone police me-This is  an example of someone unfriending me rather than the other way around but she acted as though I was the one who unfriended her, telling me that I should realize that politics doesn’t define a person, that you can still be friends with someone when you disagree with them politically and condemning someone else for unfriending her over her political views.  She then blocked me because I was “unnecessarily angry and hateful” towards people I disagreed with. Excuse me for getting angry over gross violations of human rights and for not playing nice with racists, homophobes and Nazi apologists. It’s cool to be sympathetic towards grammar Nazis. It’s not cool to be sympathetic towards actual Nazis.

7. The word ‘unnecessarily’- It’s a good word but it’s a bitch to spell and after complaining about people with poor spelling and hypocrites, the pressure was on me to spell it correctly in this blog post.

8. The way everything on the internet is a fucking slideshow these days-Ain’t no one got time for that.

9. People who say to people who are unable to work due to illness or disability “It must be nice to not have to work”-  To these people I say “It must be nice to not be ill or disabled.”

10.Donald Trump-Just fucking everything about him. He’s a disgrace to this nation. In fact, he and the kind of mindset he and his followers exemplify are also responsible for many of the other items on this list.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this unnecessarily angry list of mine and that you also enjoy this picture of me not smiling.

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