Searchlights & Signal Flares


Tiny Lights' On-line Writer's Exchange

Plan the funeral of your inner critic. (03/15/07)



Featured writer: Carol Brodtrick



Contributors this month:
Anne Silber
Arlene L. Mandell
Carol Brodtrick
Christine Falcone
Claudia Larson
Connie Mygatt
David S. Johnson
Elizabeth Kern
Jordan E. Rosenfeld
Ken Rodgers
Marion Agnew
Mary June Brown
Marylu Downing
Susan Bono


PLAN THE FUNERAL OF YOUR INNER CRITIC

by Carol Brodtrick

So . . . listen up. You've been with me how long? Don't bother figuring. I'll tell you. Too long. No matter how I talk to you, plead with you, plug my ears and ignore you, you're still grinding away in there. Not one good thing comes out of your insidious little phrases. So here's what we're gonna do. You listening?

We . . . you and me . . . stop right there. I hear the mutter. "It's you and I, you and I," and I choose to ignore your grating mutter. Should have ignored you years ago. See this velvet-lined, intricately carved locket? Remember the story about this locket? About the young girl who found it and looked for its owner? I never finished that story because you . . . YOU . . . picked it to death. It might have been a good story. Might even have been published, but I listened to you. And remember the little mystery I never finished because you kept harping about the premise, saying it wouldn't work, the plot was too weak? Okay, you might have been right about that one. Still, I'm tired of you sitting on my shoulder, yapping even before I put words together. Always telling me my ideas are old, no good, telling me my work is PITIFUL, won't sell, no good sending it out because nobody will read it anyway. It's time to send you to your everlasting home, wherever that is. Outer space might be good. I'll give you a great send-off.

No. I don't want you around. You've earned your rest. I already talked with Mr. OOK at the library. He gave me a book with awesome words in it—bit of magic, too. All I have to do is draw this circle around you and pull it up; close you in, just like a cage. Neat.

What? Can't hear you.

Now I say a few words . . . "Piddlety, poddlety poo, I send my critic to the big wahoo." No crying. No flowers. No sentimental nonsense. Just relief. Oops. Guess I lied when I said it would be a great send-off.

I dust my shoulders, lift my head, and search the files. The story about "The Ivory Locket" must be here somewhere.

Carol Brodtrick, Huntington, WVA, has been fighting with her inner critic for a long time now and it’s so peaceful without it. (Something tells her the daughter of said critic is lurking, though.)



Inner Critic: Gone, and good riddance.

  by Anne Silber

Oh, such fun! My world will be a better place without I. Critic, that insufferable, constant nag. There will be no mourners, just my inner laugh of delight that I don't have to listen to that awful voice telling me that I can do better than that, be better than that, if only I stop telling myself that I can't. I.C., as I call him, has always had the cheek to tell me when I'm being stupid, lazy, or writing garbage. Now, I can be stupid, lazy, and write garbage to my heart's content!

Ohmigosh, who will remind me to take a hard look at myself from now on? Who but I.C. has made me progress in spite of myself? Who else cares?

Sorry, the funeral has been cancelled. Instead, I'm throwing a party for I.C., in gratitude for all the times he has saved me from myself.

You're all invited.



Anne Silber lives with I.C., and an arrogant cat, teaches K-5th grades, and writes a bit of everything. Visit her at Anne Silber's Website


Celebrating Zenobia

  by Arlene L. Mandell

Zenobia, my inner critic, will never die, no matter how I treat her. She's a hard-headed realist with a thousand lives, one for each draft I write. She pops up from the dog's basket or the tissue box to ask in a shrill Brooklyn accent "So what?" or sometimes "Who cares?"

Once in a while (O.K., often) Zenobia's right, when the piece is whiny, derivative, or simply blah. So it put it aside for a week or five years. When I pick it up again, I may lop off the first paragraph, find a clever twist for the ending, or press the DELETE key. Zenobia loves the DELETE key best of all.

She skips across my desk shouting "Told ya!" Right now Zenobia's saying, "Is that the best you can do?" I just stuffed her into the tissue box. She's screeching, but will fall asleep eventually.

I don't know. Is it ever the best I can do?

Arlene L. Mandell avoids the appearance of insanity by pretending to converse with her dog when debating with Zenobia.

PLAN THE FUNERAL OF YOUR INNER CRITIC

  by Carol Brodtrick

So . . . listen up. You've been with me how long? Don't bother figuring. I'll tell you. Too long. No matter how I talk to you, plead with you, plug my ears and ignore you, you're still grinding away in there. Not one good thing comes out of your insidious little phrases. So here's what we're gonna do. You listening?

We . . . you and me . . . stop right there. I hear the mutter. "It's you and I, you and I," and I choose to ignore your grating mutter. Should have ignored you years ago. See this velvet-lined, intricately carved locket? Remember the story about this locket? About the young girl who found it and looked for its owner? I never finished that story because you . . . YOU . . . picked it to death. It might have been a good story. Might even have been published, but I listened to you. And remember the little mystery I never finished because you kept harping about the premise, saying it wouldn't work, the plot was too weak? Okay, you might have been right about that one. Still, I'm tired of you sitting on my shoulder, yapping even before I put words together. Always telling me my ideas are old, no good, telling me my work is PITIFUL, won't sell, no good sending it out because nobody will read it anyway. It's time to send you to your everlasting home, wherever that is. Outer space might be good. I'll give you a great send-off.

No. I don't want you around. You've earned your rest. I already talked with Mr. OOK at the library. He gave me a book with awesome words in it—bit of magic, too. All I have to do is draw this circle around you and pull it up; close you in, just like a cage. Neat.

What? Can't hear you.

Now I say a few words . . . "Piddlety, poddlety poo, I send my critic to the big wahoo." No crying. No flowers. No sentimental nonsense. Just relief. Oops. Guess I lied when I said it would be a great send-off.

I dust my shoulders, lift my head, and search the files. The story about "The Ivory Locket" must be here somewhere.

Carol Brodtrick, Huntington, WVA, has been fighting with her inner critic for a long time now and it’s so peaceful without it. (Something tells her the daughter of said critic is lurking, though.)



Plan The Funeral of Your Inner Critic

  by Christine Falcone

I'm picturing a funeral procession like the kind they have in New Orleans where everyone marches alongside and behind the carriage which carries the casket of the departed. There are horses in feathered headdresses, a marching band playing an old blues standard, people -- mostly my supporters and fellow writers -- dressed in black lace and starchy white collars. Or maybe it would be more of a celebration. A Cirque du Soliel sort of event: ribbons unfurling, confetti, trapeze artists and gymnasts dancing around the white casket, bejeweled with precious stones and sequence. It would be like the DIng Dong the WIcked With Is Dead number in the WIzard of Oz, hordes of Munchkins singing and jumping around exuberantly. I think I like the idea of a celebration better than a traditional mournful affair. I like the thought of champagne freely flowing, bouquets of flowers and balloons, maybe even fireworks or a 21-gun salute. After all, my inner critic DID do an astounding job of criticizing, belittling and berating me and my work. She earned her keep; she worked her ass off. So I should send her off like the Scandinavians and the Celts did -- on a floating bower; just push her away from the shore and when she's far enough out, aim a flaming arrow at her barge, pull back and let fly.


Christine Falcone is a writer and mother living in Novato, California, where writing and motherhood teach her more about life than anything else. Her recently completed novel, "This Is What I Know," is in the hands of several literary agents while she sits by the phone, chewing her fingernails.

Claudia Larson



Oh, inner critic, your water slide to Hades will be quick, painless. Yes, yes, the water will turn to steam, hissing all the hate out of you, whooshing all the windbags out of your sails. I shall salute you, dented trumpets sounding the call, celebrating creative orphan-hood. Twenty one paint ball guns will create a bright daisy design on the wall above my bed, a whisper to my dreams that it's okay to come out again.

Your body will be wrapped in rosemary, for remembrance of lessons you taught me, lessons like gentleness. Every single time I was gentle with myself you relaxed. Could it be that you only wanted the best for me?
Were you emotionally stunted, limiting your capacity to be a loving, compassionate companion? Did you see a promise in me, reminding you of what had been buried, obliterated in you?

Once wrapped, you'll be airlifted by one of those super-helicopters.
You've gained weight over the years and it's not a matter of simply tossing you over my shoulder. At the top, fire crackers will be attached to you, long fuses set to shout your descent. You' ll not be harmed in this process. After all, we've been together a long, long time. A long time.

So it's farewell, dear friend and foe. It was quite a deal to get two
relationships in one. I'll miss you, especially when I need someone to
blame for how things turn out. But it's time to move on, using my own
navigation system, cooking my own stew, making my own biscuits. I'll send you a postcard.

Claudia Larson gives her inner critic a cookie every day in hopes it will leave her alone for a few moments while she lives in Sonoma County, CA.

Plan the Funeral of Your Inner Critic

  by Connie Mygatt

The Inner Critic is dead. There are no tears smarting my cheeks. The Critic simply choked on demeaning adjectives. In the distance between one thought and another there is a penetrating pause. Perhaps I could have saved him. What would life be like without the Inner Critic? Without contemplating an answer I quickly begin to wrap my inner critic in a shroud of rejection slips and place the heavy body on a bed of purifying sage leaves.

Rolling up pieces of paper from a pile of discarded drafts, I create a raft.
I carefully place the raft, holding the shrouded critic and sage leaves, on a body of dark blue water. I light a match and touch it to the paper raft. The sound of a weary accordion player playing the funeral march catches my ear. Flames engulf the raft. A gentle drum roll joins the weary accordion player as the raft slowly burns and drifts to deeper waters.

I stand on the bank, watching the air catch pieces of burnt paper until there is nothing left. but a trail of fading smoke.
I hope that in his next life, his purified essence returns as an angel of praise and encouragement.

Connie Mygatt is a writer and seeker who has recently moved to Petaluma, CA.

David S. Johnson



First, the murder. The night will be dark. The night will be stormy. An unsuspecting and naïve Inner-Critic will slowly open the closet door as lightning flashes and thunder cracks. I will spring forth with my ax and each time I strike his body with it, he will say ‘Hack, hack,' which is his clever way of criticizing me with onomatopoeia.

It will rain during his funeral and only I and two withered, unshaven men leaning on shovels will be there. I will write his eulogy on the back of a rejection slip. Passive voice will be used. I will write an entire paragraph in with alternating runon sentences fragmented sentences will be there. I will floridly use indelicately placed abhorrently despicable adverbs throughout the text. I will be as cliché as the day is long.

After the funeral of Inner-Critic, Ego will take over. I will write manuscript upon manuscript for scores of weeks. And not one will ever be accepted. Ego will say that no one deserves me as I'm too avant-garde and intelligent for the likes of such simple plebian editors. No internal mechanism will tell me that my stories aren't complete. Or that they're not appropriate for the magazines they've been submitted to. Or that my story about a dog and cat falling in love and adopting a three-headed goat isn't going to work the way I've written it. Eventually, after tiring of Ego's arrogance, I will ponder whether or not disposing of Inner-Critic was prudent. But sadly, the person I should have asked was the one that I buried.

David S. Johnson lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he and his Inner-Critic are still trying to figure out if this is good enough to send out. Sometimes Deadline trumps Inner-Critic.


Burying Your Inner Critic

  by Elizabeth Kern

Ah, this should be easy for an undertaker's daughter. I shall undertake this fine task—not with the usual somber demeanor of a mortician— but with zest.

Step One: Embalming. No need to be careful here because preservation of the corpse is not what we're after. Laying the vex some crone in a plastic chaise lounge in the backyard to dry out in the hellish August sun should be enough.

Step Two: Viewing. None required. Absolutely closed casket, bolted with iron nails is what we're after because the remains—what a fittingly gruesome word—are not pretty.

Step Three: Burial. Six feet deep is good, but twelve feet is better. Dig, dig and keep digging. Then, with every muscle within you, push the damn coffin in. For superb results, toss in the drafts of all the manuscripts Ms. Inner Critic has rejected, and top with a liberal coating of erasure shavings.

Step Four: Pray for no Resurrection. If three days and nights pass, you're safe. No one, not even the most virulent Inner Critic, can best Jesus Christ.

Elizabeth Kern is a Sonoma County writer whose childhood spent in an apartment over a Chicago mortuary serves the characters of her novel-in-progress very well.

Jordan E. Rosenfeld



I've never been any good at funerals—possibly because I haven't been to very many. Planning the death of my inner critic feels a little bit like overdue closet cleaning. When I think about all the hoarded contents gathering dust and losing specificity in my memory, I feel burdened by the mere thought of the work that my own nostalgia and laziness have created. I'm similarly disposed to the critical voice that insults and belittles me when the writing just won't work. I know I should kick him out on his mendacious and petty little ass. I should become some street-urchin David who finally slings the rock at Big Meanie Goliath. In fact, the truth is, my critic doesn't deserve a funeral. He deserves an impersonal stoning; to be drowned in a sack; to be run over by a very large truck, cracking each of his bones to pulp. And yet…he's my creation too. My shadow self, my animus, slipping through the membranes of my courage and confidence. My very own trickster trying to trip me up and stop my inspiration.

He wouldn't want a funeral anyway—too gauche for him. The best I can do is run him out of the town of my soul brandishing a flaming torch, armed with a few villagers bearing pitchforks. I can't kill him, because being critical is just his nature…and in his absence, with my luck, my muse would take over his job instead.

I think we need our critics—if only for the pleasure of shoving a dirty rag in their mouths or holding their heads under water a moment too long.


Jordan E. Rosenfeld, a writer somewhere south of San Francisco, does not have homicidal impulses for anything other than her critic; the occasional fictional character; and spiders.

Ken Rodgers



I reckon I savor my inner critic as the image of a long, fat wiener stuffed full of guts from black and white Poland Chinas, lips from black and white Berkshires, eyeballs from red and white Herefords.

I simmer the notion of that long, fat wiener impaled on the sharpened end of a dead mesquite limb, then jammed down into the flames of a roaring mesquite fire. I sniff the scent of the wiener burnt, flames still fluttering on its crimped ends—a wiener not just roasted, but with blistered flesh and black greasy eruptions that eventually split its casing.

Then I imagine the bouquet of wiener yanked off mesquite limb and dropped into a fire pit whose thick ash accumulated over the years, along with burnt cellophane wrappers, Lucky Strike butts, Styrofoam coffee cups, half-melted balls of aluminum foil and sizzled plastic forks. A wiener stomped on and ground into that dirty gray ash, picked up and impaled with a rusty nail. Then chewed up and finally, with great relish, swallowed.

Add to that the notion of what I recall as tales about Native American tribes, (tall tales, I would add) Coyotero Apaches and Crow, whose warriors believed that if they gobbled the throbbing hearts, the still-fresh liver of their killed-while-counting-coup enemies the entire larder of those adversaries' powers accrued to the organ gourmand.

That's what I want, to savor that sorely mistreated wiener and then swell up, a pen wielding warrior, with ten thousand years' worth of useless literary knowledge about where a comma goes or doesn't, arrogance about why a gerund's use is inferior, and spiteful who-the hell-do-I- think-I-am because I can't write, stuffed with an insatiable inability to keep my figurative, or literal, mouth shut.

I reckon you will not RIP, proverbial blow hard hot dog.

Ken Rodgers has taken to dining on tofu hot dogs while he writes and teaches in beautiful red state Idaho where the hogs and cattle always die happy. He also uses gerunds. Visit him at Ken Rodgers' website


Plan the funeral of your inner critic

  by Marion Agnew

I will fatten a calf—she is no vegetarian. She needs no plate, no fork, no knives other than her own canines. I will kill the calf and cook the choicest parts for her. She will drink wine, if she wants it. And then I will bring her strips of dark chocolate, bark from the bittersweet tree.

After the meal, I will fill a basin with warm lemon water and bring a soft steaming towel for her fingers and her face.

She will sit back on the thick cushions. Her feet will be cradled by rich weavings. I will draw satin around her shoulders and cover her hair with silk.

And then I will speak. I will thank her for the times she has kept me safe. For the times I would have tried and failed if not for her sharp warnings, her caution. I will thank her for her care and concern for my welfare. And all the while I will summon my courage, let it rise like water in a flood year. I will need my courage for what I must do next.

Then, I welcome her into my home, her home. I promise to listen when she speaks, even if I choose not to follow her counsel. I promise to risk only when it matters, through intention, not inattention. I promise to honor her wisdom.

For if she dies, she lives on in all her acerbic glory. If she lives, and if I listen, she begins to trust me. She becomes my mentor, my advisor. So I will not plan her funeral. Instead, I plan her homecoming.

Marion Agnew lives and writes in Thunder Bay, Ontario.


Sometimes a Computer is a Coffin

  by Mary June Brown

Ms. Brown's personal critic has gone the way of the 58,000 words.

That's right. Fifty-eight thousand words she's dumped into the recycle bin due to the critic's unrelenting voice: Nope, not good enough and Do you really think anybody would ever want to read this?

But Ms. Brown turned on the critic—the way you see prisoners do in short psychology films about the pressures of prison. She kicked his face in. Hard. It happened on just a regular day: her, sitting at the computer, typing away, and then the sound started up, you call that writing? It's so uninspired!

Bam! A sharp stiletto to the nose, and now there's a funeral to plan.

So, the critic gets a personal file in the recycle bin. She'll name it "Opinions—Just That."

The critic will rot in that file, without air and without anything added to the grave. In a year, Ms. Brown will buy herself a new computer, a celebration of sorts for having been accepted into that great publication in the City, the one where you get all kinds of exposure. She'll delete all the old files, not pausing for a moment when she gets the message, "Are you sure you want to permanently delete all the documents in the file OPINIONS?" Yes.

The critic is survived by no one. No flowers necessary for they are so, oh what was that word the critic liked to use? Oh yes! Uninspired.

Ms. Brown ecologically disposes of the outdated computer, and well, that is that.

Mary June Brown lives and writes in Novato, California, where she and her husband are busy raising two incredibly energetic boys. She is a member of ‘B’ Street Writers in Marin County and her most recent work is published or is forthcoming in Static Movement, Wheelhouse Magazine, and Boston Literary Magazine. Mary June's blog

She's Gone!

  by Marylu Downing

I'd like it dark, and I've been told I'm in charge. Burgundy roses, a cross between regal and Adamms Family--fill the vases on the table, and there's a big thorny bouquet at the front where we're going to remember her. We'll be polite, of course, with only a few false praises, because we're having a hard time letting go. Her absence feels like the place where a tooth fell out that your tongue wants to trace over and over again.

The music is somber and strident; something brooding with a strong string section. A step beyond a dirge. I heard her death was messy. And there's no denying that she was a real pain in the ass. Maybe a little Stravinsky would work. We'll hire someone to weep for her, someone Italian who knows how to do it right.

I'm the one standing out like a star-shaped lily in a field of blue irises, wearing a white dress with a white veil, very bride-like. After all, this funeral marks the beginning of saying I do, I will and I love you. It's the end of the Editorial We.

In the front pew where I sit with white netting covering my face, not even the preacher can see the shine in my eyes and the big fat smile on my pink lips.

"She's really gone, " I'll say quietly. And it will sound like the first bird you've ever heard in your life, the first whisper of the wind in the trees, the first words you were able to say, something like "cat" or "hot" or "you are forgiven".

Marylu Downing is a Sebastopol writer and artist. See her work at www.studioml.com

The Witch is Dead

  by Susan Bono

It's so easy to forget what she was like in her prime, how she always knew exactly what she wanted. She understood her power to intimidate was part of what made her so attractive. She had a heart and spine of steel. I was a little jealous of her sometimes.

Even then, people thought she was older, although truth be told, I was her senior by a couple of years. But she played the role of guard dog so well, I never had to develop hard edges. We were one of those Good Cop/Bad Cop duos, I, the eternal ingénue, she forever the bad ass. It showed on our faces after a while—she did enough frowning and glaring for both of us.

Who's to say when it all started to go sour, but over the years, her urge to control exacerbated my growing unwillingness to be dominated. Our values were turning out to be so different.

"You've got to be kidding!" she'd sneer when I suggested skipping a few cocktail parties and art openings in favor of reading next to the fire or trips to the beach. "The next thing I know you'll be wanting a kid or something!"

I shuddered at how well she knew me.

But just as life with her became intolerable, the very day I was planning to pack a bag and walk, the doctor's report came back. She didn't have long before the pain would render her helpless. I couldn't leave her, then.

And so we remained together until her death. It was a long, hard time for both of us, and in the process, we had to switch roles. It was especially difficult for her, and she became more brittle and impossible to please as her powers waned.

For the longest time, I wore myself out fluffing pillows and cooking foods recommended for queasy stomachs. She refused to be comforted; she never thanked me. I despaired, until I stopped taking her attacks personally. I heard her criticisms for what they really were—cries of terror at her loss of control. I realized then I could be brave.

I learned the difference between what she wanted and what she needed. In spite of her initial protests, I made a bed for her on the deck so she could watch a humming bird come and go from its nest. This seemed to calm her. While she slept, I tended the garden and learned the art of making soup. She wanted very few visitors, but I made sure people came by to chat so I could get out of the house. I had plenty of time to make plans.

Some were shocked to learn she refused to talk about what would happen after, but funerals are for the living, after all. When it was over, I contacted the remaining few who had known us at our best. I reserved a private room in her favorite restaurant. We met at the cocktail hour.

"Drinks are on us!" I said, my gesture including the bronze urn beside me at the table.

"Finally," someone murmured. We all laughed, and the party began.

It was a lot like old times, really. We did our best to be snarky and clever, and in honor of her former power to destroy us, we made sure none of the jokes were at her expense. I heard sarcasm creep into my voice from time to time, as if I still needed her shield to hide behind. Then I'd remember the ticket for my trip around the world. Her idea of travel would have never included a stop at the oracle at Delphi or a visit to an orphanage in Thailand. But I knew she'd appreciate being scattered at Loch Ness.


Susan Bono is learning to write on her own in Petaluma, CA.

Searchlights Editor:

Susan Bono

Columnists:

Christine Falcone, David Samuel Johnson, Betty Rodgers

Susan Bono is a writing coach, editor and freelance writer whose work appears in newspapers, anthologies and the Internet. She has published Tiny Lights, a journal of personal essay, since 1995, along with its online counterpart here at tiny-lights.com. From 2000—2005 she helped coordinate the Writer's Sampler series for the Sebastopol Center for the Arts. Her short essays and columns have appeared in various anthologies, magazines, newspapers and on the radio. Her most recent credits include Passager Magazine, Red Hills Review, the St. Petersburg Times, the Petaluma Argus Courier, the Anderson Valley Advertiser and KRCB radio's Word by Word.

Christine Falcone has been writing most of her life. Her work has appeared in print and online, and it has aired on public television and public radio. One of her writing goals for 2008 is to find an agent for her recently completed first novel, "This Is What I Know," which was named as a finalist in the William Faulkner Wisdom Creative Writing Competition out of New Orleans. She is currently in a new writing space, painted purple for inspiration, busily at work on another novel -- this one having to do with the nature of violence.

David Samuel Johnson was reared on a mountain in Arkansas. He lived the bohemian lifestyle in the Ozarks as a hillbilly vagabond, traversing the mountainside shirtless and most of the time shoeless, exploring the sensuality of the aromatic, organic-rich soil of the forest floor or the harsh poetry of greenbriers twined around a devil’s-walking-stick. As a kid he wanted to be a writer and own a snake farm when he grew up. His Mama knew she couldn't dissuade him from either goal. When he brought a poisonous copperhead snake home in his pocket, she bought him a book about snakes so he’d know which ones he could bring home and which ones to leave behind. When he wrote his first poem to a girl in kindergarten, she showed him how to use a dictionary so he could spell the word "beautiful." David's goal of a snake farm and the love of his mountain have manifested into a PhD in ecology. David’s dream of writing has evolved from his first poem in kindergarten to essays in newspapers to interview articles in magazines and columns in this journal. He is living a beautiful dream, some of which you can glimpse below.

David the Writer

David the Scientist

Betty Rodgers and her husband, Ken, live and watch birds in Boise, Idaho. A transplant among transplants, she has chosen to learn the local landscape through the lens of her Pentax K10D. Her writing career began at an early age when she wrote plays and coerced her boy cousins to perform them. She has enjoyed a life-long affair with journalism, writing for the Sacramento Bee, the Cloudcroft Mountain Monthly, the Sebastopol Times and News, and the Boise Weekly. Born in Steinbeck Country, she has also lived in Maine and New Mexico. Betty publishes a bi-monthly online newsletter for Idaho writers, a labor of love inspired by Terry Ehret. In 2006, she published A Mano, a book of poetry by the late Vince Pedroia.

Thanks to all who participated this month. It's good to know you're out there! We're looking forward to hearing from you and those you inspired sometime soon! Check this column each month to see what's new. Return to Searchlights & Signal Flares menu for future topics and guidelines.

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