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Posts published by “Mary Crescenzo”

Mary Crescenzo is an award-winning writer and playwright, blogger and poet. Her credits include The New York Times; Cosmopolitan; Playboy; The Huffington Post; Santa Fe Reporter; The New Mexican; and High Performance among numerous commercial and literary publications around the world. Mary has interviewed iconic musicians as well as others in the arts for print, and as broadcaster for WPLJ (ABC-FM, NY), Clear Channel Communications, and as producer of “Poets of Rock” for KMOD.

Michelle D’Arbanville: Topanga As Mentor

Special To Topanga Journal

Michelle D’Arbanville has had many mentors in her life. The community of Topanga has been one of them. Originally from Orange County, her world was one of privilege but also prejudice. From an early age, Saddleback Mountain was her backyard where she became acutely aware of the “protective, sacred sense of nature.” Each morning, when she arrived at middle school, it was the nature of prejudice and intolerance that she was forced to face. 

Mary Crescenzo

By Mary Crescenzo

She was a minority, albeit a white girl, from a well-to-do home. She was involved in theatre and “Indian” ceremonial dance as an elementary school student, a Jew in a place where her religion was not the majority and a female at a time when a prescribed life for young women was the norm. Anything outside of that narrow realm meant consequences. Subsequently, She bonded with other girls who didn’t fit the mold. She and her friend Karen, who was Japanese-American, were “teased and ridiculed by other students.” When D’Arbanville saw others being disrespected and violated, she stood up and said, “No! I do not accept this!” The consequences for having a strong thought and expressing it were many. Within her group of friends that also included others of white privilege, there grew a common commitment to embrace and embody inclusion for all. D’Arbanville still remains friends with many of those women and men. “These close friends helped make me who I am. I look back and see how I connected with them and Mother Earth, and how it all began my deep, personal interdependent relationship with nature and humanity.” 

“These close friends helped make me who I am. I look back and see how I connected with them and Mother Earth, and how it all began my deep, personal interdependent relationship with nature and humanity.” Michelle D’Arbanville

The healing aspects of nature brought D’Arbanville to Topanga more than once before she settled here. Just out of high school, she, Michelle Waxman, at the time, hitchhiked from Malibu to Canada at age seventeen. On her travels back, she found her way to Humboldt State College where she took courses but was urged by a dear friend there to seek out the Dell’Arte School of Mime and Comedy which was just opening in Humboldt. She took her friend’s advice and fell in love with the physical theater work that is Commedia Dell’Arte. It was there D’Arbanville met one of her mentors, a well know mime master named Carlo Mazzone-Clementi from Padua, Italy. He inspired her “to learn how to take the fall” physically and figuratively, in her life. She fondly recalls a quote from Carlo, “The ground is your friend.” After six years of study, she travelled to LA to pursue acting, writing, directing, teaching and the facilitating of community programs. She later left for New York to continue her theatre work. She was also inspired by the book, Improvisation for the Theatre, by Viola Spolin.   

“When I moved to Topanga in my mid-thirties, I had a summer opportunity to bring and facilitate, for the first time at the Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum theater, the work of Commedia Dell’Arte, the sixteenth century form of Italian improvisational theatre that celebrates, through the storytelling of the archetypical life of migrants, the comedy and tragedies of their lives, of all of our lives.” At that time, she was also a facilitator of “The Council Project” through the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) at Palms Middle School, a program that was steeped in First Nations traditions, formerly called Native American traditions, empowering others through dialogue. D’Arbanville also taught the Dell’Arte techniques at various LAUSD schools through the STAR program, a United States government education initiative. At Crossroads School in Santa Monica, she facilitated a life-skills program developed by the school called, “The Mysteries Program,” which focused on the empowerment of children through dialogue. In Topanga, D’Arbanville has also taught performance at Corazon and staged her work, “A Howling Necessity, Cry Out Your Weakness” at the Topanga County Library. 

D’Arbanville attended local and regional women’s groups that encouraged the creation of her own performance pieces and found participating in these groups to be a rite of passage. “We are always in a creative matrix, always in comedy and tragedy, in the pain and joy of life.

Moment to moment, we are in change.” Through many sweat lodge ceremonies, guided by her teacher, Wallace Black Elk, she’s gained a deep understanding for compassion and wholeness for humanity. Topanga’s circle of community and its reverence for the land of the Chumash and Tongva-Gabrielino tribes has made a true impact on her life’s vision and work.

“Topanga has given me a subtle awareness of this, and the knowledge to risk, to trust. It comes back to the somatic awareness – how we deal with the body. We are walking with a lot of fear and trauma in our bodies and somatic work releases the fears and trauma. When it comes to culture, a multicultural community makes us powerful. I’ve gotten my strength from Topanga to continue my work of education through tolerance.” She and her husband, Philip D’Arbanville, established, “Living Wellness: A Global Action Network for Change” that has established numerous programs including, Walk Across the World, Global Steps for Unity and Harmony, Sounds of the Sacred, Songs of the Earth, Film & Theatre for the Soul, and Care for the Caregiver. Her passion is for “empowering the community through its gentle release of tension and celebration. By taking action individually and collectively for universal and social responsibility, together we can inspire changes that help elevate humanity.” 

When asked how she responds to the chaos that seems to be engulfing our country and world at this point in time, she quotes the poet, Rumi, ‘There is a community of the spirit. Join it, and feel the delight of walking in the noisy street, and being the noise’. D’Arbanville believes that this is the time to come together and transcend the boundaries of hatred, prejudice and fear. “My childhood propelled me into the work I have done and continue to do. Humanity inspires me. Protestors are my favorite people right now. I am excited by the noise, we need to change.”

Living Wellness will present its 12th annual celebration of “Walk Across the World, Global Steps for Unity & Harmony” at the Topanga County Library on Saturday, October 6, at 2 p.m..


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Artist Toby Salkin: “The Women’s Movement Wanted Us To Be Free”

Special To Topanga Journal

A member of Women Painters West and the Topanga Canyon Gallery (TGC), Toby Salkin has her heart in Topanga Canyon and the San Fernando Valley, and it shows in her paintings and collages that light up the room with colors reminiscent of this region. Salkin is a committed member of TCG’s collaborative space in the center of Topanga, Her story of commitment to art, the women’s movement, family, and the gallery is evident in her enthusiasm for life and the creative process. 

Mary Crescenzo

By Mary Crescenzo


TJ: What brought you to California from the East Coast in the mid-70s?  

SALKIN: My first husband, Jay, was a sales manager in the toy business. He had come out to California from New York on business, loved it and wanted us to live here. I thought it was a great idea, so we moved.  

TJ: What did you want to be when you grew up? 

SALKIN: An artist. I was always drawing as a child. I remember painting my first oil painting in probably first or second grade.  

TJ: Were your parents supportive of your ambition?  

SALKIN: Always. My aunt was an artist, my mother’s sister. Art was a very important part of my life growing up.   

“Two things I most like to use, even in my collages, are red, and leafing in gold, silver and copper.” Toby Salkin

TJ: You said you lived in New York. Did you study art there?

SALKIN: I took high school art classes. I thought I wanted to be a decorator, so I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. I was married at twenty-two and had two children soon after, so we moved from New York and bought a house in a new development in Pine Brook, New Jersey. On warm nights, after the kids were bathed, I’d sit on my front stoop wearing bell bottoms with my long hair parted in the middle enjoying coffee or a glass a wine. I found out later from a neighbor who eventually became my friend, that she cried to her attorney husband that when she saw me that there were hippies in the neighborhood! I decided I needed to go to my local YMCA and take art classes. I had a fabulous teacher, a woman who encouraged me. One day she called me out of class and asked if I wanted to join a group of women painters who met at her studio to work. I was elated. At the time, I was doing cubist work in muted colors. When we moved to Westlake Village, California, it was the saddest thing to leave that class, because I loved it so much. I was so overwhelmed my last day at the Y, I accidentally walked out of an emergency exit door and sounded the alarm!  

TJ: Did you continue your art studies in California? 

SALKIN: One of the friends I made at Westlake Village was also an artist who told me about Everywoman’s Village in Van Nuys. This organization had opened at the time of the original women’s movement. It was a great space for women to paint, but, unfortunately, it’s now closed. I studied painting in Los Angeles with Alex Vilumson, a Russian artist who I would say brought me into the light. He had me using bright colors which I still use today. Most of my paintings start with red. I just love the bright intensity of it. Two things I most like to use, even in my collages, are red, and leafing in gold, silver and copper. I’m drawn to this. It just makes me happy.  

TJ: What is your approach to color? 

SALKIN: When I put my bright colors out on my palette, I don’t have anything definite going on. I just start on an idea. I use a lot more colors than most artist do. I also use black. 

TJ: What is the biggest challenge when starting a painting?

SALKIN: I think it’s usually around the idea of wanting to paint the next day but not yet knowing what to paint. Then I wake up around 3 o’clock in the morning with an idea, I think about it, and the next day I start by drawing on canvas. I very rarely start with a piece of paper. I often use photographic images that inspire me. I just finished a series of portraits of famous artists, including Picasso. One of my recent collages depicting war is called, “Make Love Not War,” that old slogan from my activist days in the Sixties when I was a hippie, even though I was married.

TJ: What part of the painting process is most challenging when painting? 

SALKIN: I start the painting, and I’m very excited. Then, after a three or four hours, which is the maximum I paint at one sitting, I look at it. At first I love it, then I hate it. That part is the most frustrating. I walk away from it but force myself to go back in a day or two. By the time I’m done I usually love it. 

TJ: Do you recall as a young female artist any struggles you faced amongst your male counter parts? 

SALKIN: The women’s movement always wanted us to be free. I always was. I was a woman who did what I wanted to do. I was able to be a stay-at-home mom, and I painted as well. Lately I’ve been thinking about the 60’s, and there’s no doubt about it, men were in control. I was very aware of this. I supported the movement and worked for the Democratic Party. One day, when I rang a doorbell while canvassing for the party, a woman opened the door and said, ‘Shouldn’t you be home with your children?’ ” 

TJ: Before you began painting in Los Angeles full time, what other passions did you possess? 

SALKIN: I sold real estate for thirty years, was a real estate office manager, and trained other agents. I loved it. 

TJ: When you’re not painting a specific subject matter, how do you approach the concept of abstract art?  

SALKIN: Abstraction is more difficult. I starting thinking it’s going to be one thing, but it becomes something else.   

TJ: Tell me about your love of painting old and antique cars? 

SALKIN: On a rainy summer’s day, I was waiting for my son in a house he had rented in East Hampton, Long Island. The home, belonging to a New Yorker cartoonist and writer, was filled with a variety of art books I had never seen. As I was enjoying going through the books, I looked up and saw an old Chevy parked in a covered area. I took a photo of it and later went home and painted it. I started looking at other cars, and soon old cars became a subject matter of mine. 

TJ: Do you work in any other art medium besides oil painting and contemporary collage? 

SALKIN: I’ve done stone carving and assemblage works with manikins. I love collage. Collage  artists are the ones who always have their heads down, picking up stuff from the street. I have a huge collection of papers, newspapers, old books etc. that I use as materials for inspiration. 

TJ: According to The Topanga Canyon Gallery website,

a group of artists got together in the spirit of the first Topanga Artists’ Guild in the 1950’s, and formed a collaborative space showing works of members that include, to this day, well-known as well as emerging artists from the greater Los Angeles area. Its mission is committed to “keeping art in the canyon alive.” What is one of your earliest memories as a gallery member, and how does the gallery work?   

SALKIN: I’ve been a member for about six years at its present location at Pine Tree Circle.  When I first joined, there was a wall dividing the space in half, front and back. Some of the artists came up with the idea of creating one big room. Instead of having work by artist members featured every month in the front, we now fill the space with four featured artists every other month, and a group member show on alternative months. Each member sits the gallery for a total of eight hours per month. You must be juried in to become a member and each artist pays a yearly membership fee. We also rent the gallery one month out of the year to an art organization for display of their work, and we conduct an annual tour of our artists’ home studios. 

TJ: Describe your art in one word.

SALKIN: Playful

TJ: Describe yourself in one word. 

SALKIN: Confused. No, eclectic!


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EMM: EMMpowering Women While Building a Music EMMpire

Special To Topanga Journal

EMM. She’s an accomplished classically-trained musician, R&B and pop music singer-songwriter and producer, social media and blog whiz, as well as a philosopher, self-help guru and self-proclaimed feminist. The question had to be asked of this eclectic, prolific young woman:  

Mary Crescenzo

By Mary Crescenzo

TJ: How did you become so wise?

EMM:  I’ve always been kind of weird. From the time I was little I was a deep thinker. My parents taught me to ask questions, question everything. Their advice has helped me to think things through as I go through life, not just react and listen to other’s reactions.


TJ:  Your parents are professional musicians who teach at Interlochen. Do you recall your first experiences singing around the house?

EMM: I started piano lessons at age five or six. The first thing I did at the piano was make a melody.  Since then, I’ve always made melodies to sing along with. If I wrote or sang anything I kind of felt judged, but that just made me want to do better. Encouragement was a constant in my house, and it really helped me creatively. 

“I started piano lessons at age five or six. The first thing I did at the piano was make a melody.  Since then, I’ve always made melodies to sing along with.” EMM

TJ:  What was it like growing up in Traverse City, Michigan?  

EMM:  It’s a stunning little artist community on Lake Michigan but as far as socially, it was hard. I never really fit in. I listened to music that most people my age weren’t listening to – classical music, Aretha, Prince and Tina Turner. My experiences there were mixed compared to my friends’ experiences, but it made me who I am.  


TJ:  Tell me about the evolution of your name, from your birth name, to EMM, the EMMpire and your EMMpowerment group.  

EMM: Originally I used “M” as my name. My management at the time persuaded me to change it to Emm, and it stuck. They told me that no one will ever find me with a one letter name on the Internet.  When I was young, everyone called me Emm or Emmie, so it felt natural. EMMpire was created by a fan who sent the word to me and created a fan page with it, so we decided to run with it. As for the EMMpowerment group, one of my best friends texted the word to me, and we chose it as a brand to speak to women.


TJ:  You went to New York to pursue your musical career, and you were mugged in Harlem. How did that event effect your songwriting?

EMM:  I was seventeen when it happened. It was 2 a.m., and I was coming home from the studio a block away from my apartment. It was a bad neighborhood. My laptop was stolen with all my music on it. It taught me that there are bad people in the world. My hometown was a small peaceful place, a religious community, and nothing like that had ever happened there. With music, it helped me understand that not everyone has good intentions, not everyone has your best interests in mind. I can empathize and have totally forgiven the person who mugged me. I’m not sure what he was going through at the time. I had to let it go, but it opened my eyes to be aware that people will take advantage of you. 


TJ:  After New York, you moved to Los Angeles to continue your career goals. How is navigating the music scene different in Los Angeles as compared to New York?

EMM:  In New York I was so young, so I couldn’t get into clubs, couldn’t get into real networking experiences. My mom came with me the first couple of times. The musicians in New York are absolutely incredible. I worked with powerful management in New York and learned how they worked in the studio. In LA, the musicians are more laid back in general. It’s been much more fruitful in LA since I can get into the rooms I need to perform. I’ve learned a lot here.


TJ:  You performed the Star Spangled Banner in Dodger Stadium and sang at LA’s Staples Center. How does singing in a huge venue compare to performing in an intimate club?

EMM:  It’s funny, but I get more nervous in a club than in an arena. I feel really calm in a big space.  There is so much energy there, and I feel fully grounded.  In a club, I see all the faces and that can be overwhelming. Singing in an arena is the best feeling in the world.


TJ: Your writings include many thoughtful and empowering statements. One is, “Another woman’s beauty is not the absence of your own.” How did you come to this belief? 

EMM:  Every girl goes through this, so I’d like to be open about it and make it clear:  We don’t exist for the attention of men. I think a lot of girls feel this too, but there’s this unspoken feeling that we are in a competition for men. It’s not healthy, but we see it in our culture. Girls can be catty towards each other, rather than supporting each other as sisters and friends. 


TJ:  Another quote:  “Don’t be afraid to lose people. Be afraid of losing yourself by trying to please everyone around you.” What led you to this conviction?

EMM:  I saw this on Instagram. I identified with it, because when you’re an artist, especially before you’re established, there are a million people telling you what to do: Wear this, dress like this, sound like this, especially when you talk to producers. A lot of girls take orders, and I’m not like that. Men in this business don’t know what to do with a woman who knows what she wants. This business is especially sexist. It’s run by men and only five percent of producers are women. I’ve had moments where I’ve stood up for myself and said, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’ And, I’ve lost people because of that. But that’s not a loss, because at the end of the day, if you are being who you are supposed to be, and people’s egos are offended by you knowing what you want, then they are not your people.  


TJ:  Tell me about your writing team, ZOË  and Taylor?       

EMM: I met ZOË , who’s from my hometown, Traverse City. She was a student in a singer-songwriter program my dad started at Interlochen. We started writing together about a year ago. I always knew she was a great writer. I think our solid friendship gave us a solid sound. ZOË  knows my heart well enough that she can articulate my thoughts and feelings in a way a stranger can’t. I met Taylor through a mutual friend. In a few sessions, I knew he was the person I was waiting for to write with. We have the same ear, and he’s into classical and metal music, so he has an understanding of my musical background that others don’t.


TJ:  You mention in your blogs that there is a strong presence of God in your life. How did you come to that awareness, and what does that mean to you?

EMM:  I grew up in church, but I had a lot of negative experiences there because I asked questions.  Is this loving? If God is love, does this make sense? Do I want to believe in a God that approves of things that are not loving or kind? Over the last six years, I’ve been on this journey asking questions with an open heart and mind. What does love look like? I do believe God is love, so I’m in a thriving, vulnerable and personal relationship with this. My roots are in Christianity because that’s how I grew up, but I don’t identify with a lot of Christian tenets. I try not to put God into too many confines. I’m still trying to figure it out.  


TJ:  Your videos on Facebook and Instagram, your blogs, etc. are all direct, honest and positive.  Have you always been that way?

EMM:  Nope. When I’m talking on Facebook or Instagram to a large group of possibly young women, I step into their shoes and try to be inspirational and kind and courageous. I’d like to be like a big sister because that’s what I needed when I was a kid. So, if I seem really great and positive, that’s me trying to be great and positive for them.


TJ:  Your latest song is entitled, “No Gods,” is a powerful song that seems to address the society we live in today. Can you explain the title, “No Gods” and the song’s meaning?

EMM:  The title refers to the first line: “Got no Gods in the Wild, Wild West.”  “Got no Gods…” relates to the fact that the United States is referred to as a Christian country, but so many people are doing evil things. You can go on social media and post political comments, and you get the meanest, nastiest things said back to you because there’s a screen between each person. No one would ever say these things in person to you. Both sides are shouting to each other, “You can’t make me be like you.”  We can’t even hear each other over the noise. There’s no empathy, no compassion for the other side. We talk about this all the time in the studio. It’s depressing, but I’m not giving up hope. We want to point out in this song how this talk is not leading to solutions. We’re just hurting each other. We’re trying to say, “Guys, this is not working.” That’s the first place to start.


TJ:  I read your blog, “15 Reasons I’m a Feminist.” Your position is so clear and straight-forward.  How did you come to be a feminist and publish your list?

EMM:  I wrote this blog right after the Women’s March. Everyone was posting from my hometown about how feminism is a joke, and how it’s not needed or necessary. In my own life, I have so many examples of being wounded because of bigger issues that I didn’t understand at the time, like going to school and not being able to focus on my work because of people commenting on my body. With this blog post I wanted to tell my own story. It’s not that dramatic, but I’ve been deeply affected with the lack of feminism I experienced growing up. I just wanted to say that this is why I think feminism is necessary.  It’s much harder for people to judge feminism when they hear your personal experience. Any girl can relate to that.


TJ:  The Me Too movement seems to be saying:  No longer will women be afraid to speak out about the inappropriate actions of men; it is the men who are to be afraid of perpetrating acts of sexual harassment, assault and rape against women and men, because women and men will speak out. How is this movement being reflected in the music business?

EMM:  I think a wave is about to hit the music industry as it has in the film business. There’s never been a movement like this since I’ve been alive. 


TJ:  Is touring and new music coming soon? 

EMM:  We’re in rehearsal but my events will be posted on the website, .We’ll be releasing music for the rest of the year, so lots of new music is coming.



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Alix Lambert: Prison Soul and The Edge Of Daybreak

The work of multidisciplinary artist Alix Lambert often shines a light on the dark sides of life.  As a documentary filmmaker, visual artist, TV and film writer-producer, photographer, musician, animator and author, her focus spotlights loss, transformation of identity, the forgotten, social injustice, violence, death and societal perspectives in a world where tweets aim for shock value rather than shock at the world we live in. Enter Lambert, a prolific observer and storyteller who, in addressing crime, injustice and the dark side, also uncovers how we survive and flourish in the face of adversity and the unexpected.  

Her latest project, “The Edge of Daybreak,” a 2018 short film, tells an extraordinary yet obscure story of a prison soul band by the same name. We learn how their album, “Eyes of Love,” recorded on September 14, 1979 in the confines of the Powhatan Correction Center, rose from the band’s love of music, determination and creativity beyond prison walls. 

Lambert heard about this prison band while preparing a podcast episode she was producing about music in prison. The story didn’t end up in the podcast, but Lambert was still interested in developing it into a film. Without much B-Roll, or supplemental footage, to work with she was able to capture the flavor of the times, not only with the music itself but with archival stills, footage and graphics.

Lambert interviews James Carrington, the keyboardist and leader of the band, as he tells of the unlikely journey of the band members meeting at Powhatan, writing songs, finding a local producer and recording seven songs in a restricted, five hour time limit in the visiting room of the facility with guards standing stoic behind each of them. In only one take, the members of The Edge of Daybreak created a flawless recording of original songs the band wrote and sang together.  

This documentary takes twists and turns that shed light on Bohannon’s, a local record store that sent mail order records to prisoners, how Carrington’s work release program led to the renaming of that store to “Carrington’s” and the results of an encounter by Carrington in Virginia with a New York transplant, North Carolina native Jon Kirby, eventually resulted in the re-issuing of this classic record.

After being released from incarceration, Carrington returned to his community and roots in gospel music and is now a well-known, successful local entrepreneur. The other members, who have since been released, still live in the area and enjoy playing and singing on their own. “The Edge of Daybreak” recently premiered in Richmond, Virginia where the story, and its four main musicians are based, so that band members, Carrington, Cornelius “Neal” Cade, guitarist, Jamal Nubi, drummer, and Harry “Cupcake” Coleman, percussionist, could attend along with some of their family members and the local community.  

When asked what was the most surprising thing Lambert learned about the band members and the album while working on this film, she said, “Rather than surprised, I was amazed that the album was so extraordinary and beautiful, especially under the conditions in which it was made. I’m a big fan of the band.” She has plans to expand this story further.

Lambert grew up in Washington, D.C. and studied art at a high school magnet program where she recognized the power of making art. She left for New York City at age seventeen where she attended the School of Visual Arts and Parsons School of Design. Her studies and art have taken her to many parts of the world. She has also lectured at numerous universities and has given a “TEDx Talk” on reaction to her film, “Mentor.”  

Lambert’s full-length feature documentaries include, “The Mark of Cain” (2000) about the language of tattoos in Russian Prisons; “Goodbye Fat Larry” about the murder of filmmaker Jon Pownall; and “Bayou Blue” (2011) about a serial killer in southwest Louisiana and “Mentor” (2014), her award-winning film about bullying and teenage suicide. Lambert has made a number of shorts, “Martha,” “Tiffany” and “Rabbits Among Them.”  She made her first film in 1997, a mockumentary about a female band in the vein of “Spinal Tap.” Her writing and directing credits include work for HBO, PBS and “This American Life She is also the author of a number of books. 

In the introduction of her book, “Crime,” Lambert addresses two traumatic events that crossed her own path early in life. When asked how these experiences influenced her direction depicting dark and difficult topics, and in what way have these traumatic incidents drawn her to the losses and injustices placed upon others and depicted in many of her works, Lambert responded, “To the extent that at an early age I was aware of paying attention in regard to people I loved, there is certainly an indirect relationship to the topics I choose.” 

The road taken by Lambert as a multidisciplinary artist is a rich and diverse one filled with its own unexpected twists and turns. Unlike those who approach with sensationalism the subject matter Lambert tackles, this artist remains fearless and determined to make us think beyond the shadows that are cast within the stories she tells. 

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