Pocket Full of Words: Holly Lisle’s Blog


Between tongue surgery, site rebuilding, and bringing back How to Think Sideways…

I’ve been swamped. Recovering from the last tongue surgery has so far taken a month and a half, and I’m not fully back yet. I can speak, but still have some problems. I still have some pain. I thought I was doing great that first week. And then I tried to move off of liquids and discovered that eating and swallowing were much more difficult than I’d remembered.

My NEXT tongue surgery is July 26th.

In between now and then, I’m working crazy hours to make sure the OTHER site is running smoothly, because I discovered with the last surgery that I don’t bounce back quite as quickly as I imagined I would.

How To Think SidewaysMonths late, Dan and I got the software on the other site stable enough for me to bring back How To Think Sideways. It’s launching now, and everything is WORKING correctly now, so I can finally announce it over here.

Here’s how much time is left on that:

And once that’s done, Dan is going to move the front end of the site out of beta, and I’m going to get to work on bringing back How to Write a Series.


Once HTWAS is back, I’m going back to writing fiction full-time. I’ll be spending time every day in the classroom, I’ll update my classes and offer live-online workshops, and I’ll keep both the big and little classes available.

But I have books and stories that have been waiting long enough. And while the site rebuild that I imagined would take six months is now in its second year, the rebuild has been worth it. Things work, and work well. They’ll keep working better. And I am gradually getting time back from this work that, once the classes are fixed, I can put into my own writing again.

I’m excited. My plan is:
Finish Longview.
Write Emerald Sun.
Write Cady stuff.

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Done with the last tongue surgery…plus, the contrary child and the sideways-thinking washcloths

Friday I was first in line in the outpatient OR. The folks were good, the surgery was brief (for me—I slept through the whole thing), and I came out with the bottom half of my face swollen to twice its normal and my tongue looking like it lost a fight with a tiger.

It’s Monday, and I’m creeping toward feeling human again. This surgery didn’t hurt anywhere near as much as the first three, but it was and is still not picnic.

I spent my awake time knitting myself some washcloths.

Sideways-Thinking Washcloths

Sideways-Thinking Washcloths

They don’t look like normal washcloths to you? They’re not.

They are washcloths evolved from a lifetime of thinking sideways.

When I was fifteen, I read an article in one of my mother’s women’s magazines (probably Redbook—that’s the only one for which I remember the title) that declared that women should never smile too broadly, or let their eyes crinkle when they smiled, or in any way stretch their faces, because this would cause wrinkles.

I remember looking at my mother, and then at my father, and thinking that my father looked younger than my mother, even though he wasn’t.

And I thought, “What does he do that she doesn’t?”

And I thought, “He shaves.”

I’d watched him shave. Watched him stretch and contort his face into weird expressions while trying to get the elusive hairs beneath the blade of the razor. And I thought, “Every time he does that, he’s exercising the muscles of his face. THAT’s why he looks younger.”

So I decided that I would do that. Oh, not shave. But exercise my face muscles. Every time I took a shower from then on, I made sure my face fought the washcloth. I scrubbed my skin with as much muscle behind it as I could bring to bear, and tightened each muscle in my face to keep it from moving when the washcloth attacked.

Forty years later, I still do this. I have some laugh lines, but the muscles of my face are still in good shape, and I think for fifty-five, I’ve held up all right.

But regular washcloths are too soft and timid. I wanted something with some bite to it. A few years ago, I discovered cones of dishcloth cotton, and started making myself washcloths out of those.

And one day, I bumped the loofah-on-a-stick of the edge of the tub one time too many, and said the hell with this, and decided I was going to make my washcloths twice as long, so I could use them as back scrubbers as well as face scrubbers.

Now I can scrub my back by holding the ends of my washcloth. My shoulders get nice range of motion exercises. My face still fights the washcloth. And I don’t have any annoying junk in my shower to trip over, knock off, or otherwise annoy myself with.

So this is weird, right? But human beings are tool-makers, and learning to think sideways is the process of learning to imagine and create your own tools, and your own improved reality.

With that said, then, I’m starting the rebuild of the How To Think Sideways: Career Survival School for Writers class today.

Once I get it done, I’m going to do an early, very limited de-bug release at the old price. If you want to get in on that, make sure you’re on the early-bird announcement list.

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The writing shop on HollysWritingClasses.com is now live

Even though my new Holly’s Writing Classes site is still in high beta, I’m delighted to finally have the writing shop open.

Holly's Writing Classes

Holly’s Writing Classes
Write Your Own Sky

We haven’t made the site pretty yet, and for the moment the shop is very plain and simple (no frills), but things work now.

So I’ve brought back many of my previous classes, and am still working on getting the rest of them live.

I’m also building new workshops and classes.

The one I’m working on currently is Title. Cover. Copy. Book Marketing for Fiction Writers.

That’s going to go live in the next couple of weeks. Following that will be a workshop on developing your writing voice.

I’m excited. It’s taken a long time to get to this point, but I’m glad to finally be here.

And a quick note. Both How To Think Sideways and How to Write A Series are coming back, but are not back yet. Both classes are so big that we’re having to develop better ways for students to navigate through them easily.

Just getting from page to page was a problem in previous versions. That will not be a problem when they go live on this site.




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Waking up like a kid: parathyroidectomy for the win

Last night I put my head on my pillow, closed my eyes, and fell asleep.

When I opened them again, it was morning.

The day is mine, and the whole world in it.

The day is mine, and the whole world in it.

That may not sound like much. So let me put it in context for you.

I remember waking up one perfect summer morning in 1966 in the tiny Ohio village where I lived. I was five.

I remember the movement of the white curtain blowing, the smell of the air—which was green and sweet, with just a touch of bleach—the sun cutting windowpane squares on the blanket and my skinny legs. I remember the sound outside my bedroom window, which was the sound of sheets and laundry flapping on the line.

I remember bouncing out of bed, full of energy, ready for life. My thoughts, whatever they were, are lost to me now, but what I felt, summed up from the fifty years I’ve lived since, was this: The day is mine, and the whole world in it.

Time lets you work for and earn things that pay you, and if you work hard and with a plan, it pays you way out of proportion to what you give up in the innocent exuberance of being a kid: life and time have brought me a terrific husband who is my best friend, three excellent kids, writing skills, a ton of books with more still to come, and the mission and joy of teaching the writers willing to work for it how to do what I’ve learned to do and love so much.

But I thought that the days of waking up like a kid were behind me. I thought the sheer raw delight of opening my eyes on a new morning seeming instants after closing my eyes and falling asleep the night before were gone forever.

I assumed that the price I paid for the joy I take from every day and every minute I get to live, to love who I love and to do what I fought so hard to get to do, would be paid for by falling asleep in painful inches, waking up multiple times each night, twisting and turning to find a comfortable position, trying tricks to quiet my racing mind.

I assumed that life would be ever-expanding pain consuming me in creeping increments, and I accepted that as part of the price I had to pay for the privilege and wonder of getting to be alive.

I’d forgotten what it felt like to feel good—feeling bad had become my new good.

Turns out I was wrong.

It’s now been nine days, plus a few hours as I write this, since I had that parathyroid tumor removed.

Pain free, with my mind calm, my thoughts clear and focused, last night I climbed into bed, counted my breaths as I always do, and fell asleep so quickly I don’t even remember counting.

And I slept like a kid. After what felt like minutes later, I opened them. Sunlight outlined the verticals that cover the window.

I sat up and grinned, full of energy, full of life. No pain. No clouds. And this time, I can tell you exactly what I was thinking.

The day is mine, and the whole world in it!

Fifteen minutes changed my life. Fifteen minutes was the time it took my surgical team to make the 1.5-inch incision, remove the parathyroid tumor and check the other three glands for function, and close the incision.

My sincerest thanks to Dr. Norman, Dr. Boone, and Dr. Parrack. And my thanks, too, to the amazing staff of the Norman Parathyroid Center:

  • Jayme, who helped me get set up to have the operation,
  • the security guard who wished me good luck and pointed my guys and me in the right direction as I walked in to have my surgery,
  • the receptionist who was so brightly cheerful at not-quite-five AM,
  • woman who set up my medical records and told me how much she enjoyed working where she does (you know how rare it is to hear people say that?)
  • the warm, friendly, wonderfully competent nurses who talked me clearly and concisely through what would happen,
  • the young woman who wheeled me down to have a scan and with whom I laughed about the shocking cold of the morning
  • the guy who did my sestamibi scan and with whom I had a fun chat about video gaming and the superiority of the XBox One controller but the better games and selection available for Playstation 4 (including the upcoming No Man’s Sky, though I couldn’t quite sell him on that)
  • and the anesthesiologist who took the time to reassure me about the anesthesia, and who’s voice was the last one I heard before I woke up to a future I could not yet imagine.

I was an RN for ten years before I got the three-book deal that let me quit to write full time. I worked in a number of hospitals, knew all kinds of doctors, saw all kinds of medical care. I’ve experienced medical services from the other end too, as a patient and as the family member of people I love.

I never experienced — or even imagined possible — the uniformly spectacular care and professionalism of Every. Single. Person. I dealt with from the instant I contacted the clinic until the day two weeks after my surgery when I received a copy of the letter Jim Norman sent to each of my doctors, explaining what he’d done and its ramifications on my health in the future.

Dr. Norman told me, “This surgery will change your life.” When he said it, I didn’t even realize how much my life needed to be changed. I’m just now starting to figure that out.

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A Sky Full of Stars: Hyperparathyroidism versus the Writer

On Saturday, something happened as a result of the parathyroidectomy that was totally unexpected.

My spontaneous story ideas came back.Sky full of stars

I hadn’t even noticed they were gone.

I’ve been working hard for the past couple of years trying to get the site fixed, I’ve been under a lot of strain both physically and financially, and my processes for creating fiction without having an idea in mind actually work, and I really do use them, so I was still creating (the Longview stories were all written from those techniques).

I didn’t think about the fact that I didn’t have spontaneous story ideas anymore. Unlike most fiction writers, I’m not dependent upon random ideas for my work.

So I didn’t notice when they disappeared.

But Saturday the mental clouds rolled away and suddenly things that I saw and heard and experienced began sending little pings to my right brain again, and my right brain began building them into little spontaneous stories and sending them across the corpus callosum to the left brain again.

And because it had been a long time since this had happened, it felt like suddenly seeing a sky full of stars.

So add as a symptom of hyperparathyroidism: Spontaneous story ideas disappear.

If you’re a writer and your ideas have disappeared, consider getting your calcium and PTH levels checked. You might be able to get them back.

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The Teenage Tumor and Me: My Mini-Parathyroid Surgery and the Norman Parathyroid Center

Parathyroid Tumor

Parathyroid Tumor

I’m back following a parathyroidectomy and a couple days recovery.

I’m tired, my neck is a bit swollen still and kind of sore, I’m bruised (I’m an easy bruiser, though).

And I am happily rid of one thumb-above-the-distal-joint-sized parathyroid tumor that was between twelve and fifteen years old when Drs. Norman, Boone, and Parrack removed it in a fifteen-ish minute outpatient operation that stopped it from sucking the life out of me. The picture above is clickable if you want to see the thing as close to life-sized as I could make it.

I’m still recovering, and still tired (that thing had been growing for a long time), but I’m putting this up now because this is a big damn deal.

I developed the tumor when I was in my early forties. They happen in people a lot younger. They’re more common in people my age and twice as common in women.

  • The fact that the one above was messing with me for perhaps fifteen years is probably part of why I have tongue dysplasia.
  • Why I had bone pain in shoulders, elbows, spine, knees, and right heel.
  • Why I had gastric reflux.
  • Why I felt tired all the time.
  • Why I couldn’t sleep at night.
  • Why my heart would often start racing for no apparent reason.
  • Why my hair was thinning in the front.
  • Why my blood calcium was sky high and my vitamin D was the lowest the OB/GYN who saw me had “ever seen in a live human being” — it was 4.
  • It’s almost certainly the cause of all the damn headaches, including the icepick migraines.
  • It could have been the cause of both miscarriages.
  • And maybe some other things.

I’ll have to have my bone density tested in a couple weeks, but considering the screaming amount of calcium that tumor was pulling out of my bones, I’m not betting they’re in great shape right now.

Why do I think this?

These are all things parathyroid tumors can do. And I already have early evidence that, with that damn thing removed, I’m recovering.

The bone pain went away within a couple hours of the surgery and hasn’t been back, and the headaches went away after the last effects of the anesthesia wore off.

So I’m going to send you to the website that I found, which is where I also went to have the surgery done.


Go to the front page, watch the video, and even if nothing on the page applies to you now, remember the symptoms. This is something a BUNCH of doctors didn’t catch, and it could have killed me.

Considering the dysplasia, I’m not out of the woods yet, but I intend to get there.

But you… make sure that you’re the person who knows what to look for so you can help yourself, or someone you love. ‘Cause…

Tiny, simple, FAST surgery.


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Surgery postponed for second surgery that takes priority

caduceus125I’m not having surgery on my tongue tomorrow.

I’ve now heard from my primary physician that pre-op labs and follow-ups revealed that I have primary hyperparathyroidism, which is usually caused by benign tumors on one or more of the four parathyroid glands. It’s fairly common in men and women in their fifties.

Information on hyperparathyroidism and a very good video are here.

A 15-minute video of the COMPLETE, no-editing 4-Gland Minimally Invasive Parathyroid Removal surgery. (Completely bloodless, really cool.)

The elevation in calcium that parathyroid tumors cause creates a surgical risk—so I cannot have the partial glossectomy (tongue tissue removal) until I get this done.

I am doing my best to take the delays in stride, to remain calm, and to just get through this.

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UPCOMING deletion of 16,000+ writers accounts from my new site

Read instructions below,
then begin rescuing your account HERE

 DEADLINE March 1, 2016, 11:59 PM ET


This is a long post. I apologize.

But I’m looking at the reality of having to delete more than 16,000 writers’ accounts containing more than 100,000 individual writing courses—and I want to give the folks who bought these courses the best chance possible to rescue what they bought.

IMPORTANT: I will not be checking or answering email on this, because there is absolutely nothing I can do via email to help you fix your account.

This policy change will affect the following folks:

Any site member of HTTS / Holly’s Writing Classes who has not logged into his or her account in more than one year (LOCKOUT) or two years (DELETION)

Account Deletion DOES NOT APPLY to anyone already using the new Holly’s Writing Classes site.

If you are never going to want to use the classes you purchased again, you don’t have to do anything.

If you have never purchased anything, you don’t have to do anything.

If you are affected by this and you want to keep your classes, please follow the STEP-BY-STEP instructions toward the bottom, and if you need to, create a HELP DESK ticket.



Policy change: To keep account active and maintain permanent access to purchases and other products, student must log into the classroom once a year.

During that login, student needs to update any out-of-date information.


ACCOUNT LOCKDOWN: All writer accounts not updated since March 1st, 2015

(Email address on account will be deleted. Starting March 2nd, 2016, student will have to provide Full Name as on account plus receipt for each class to get account reinstated.)

ACCOUNT DELETION: All writer accounts not updated since March 1st, 2014

(On March 2nd, 2016, complete account including all products deleted. No reinstatement possible.)

SITES FROM WHICH PURCHASES WERE MADE and purchases that will be affected:

  • All of MY products from the old HollyShop at shop.hollylisle.com
  • The HTTS CLASS from the 2008 and up How To Think Sideways single-class site
  • THE HTRYN CLASS from the 2009 and up How To Revise Your Novel single-class site
  • ALL ebooks, workshops, and classes from the recently closed HowToThinkSideways.com site


Here’s WHY this is happening

Last November, I discovered I had a database problem when I sent out login information to people who had purchased writing ebooks, fiction ebooks, or writing classes from me over the years.

When I did this, I got hit with a whole lot of angry people calling me a spammer.

That caused me some problems I’m still dealing with today, and I’m going to make sure it CANNOT happen again.

My policy since I first put my classes on the internet has been to give the folks who bought my work unlimited access to what they purchased, as well as the in-version UPGRADES to what they purchased.


And I’m still going to do that. Furthermore, EVERYONE gets a grace period to fix your account.

Even if you haven’t logged into your account since 2007, until March 1st, 2016, if you have EVER purchased anything from me from the following locations, I am saving your account:

  • The HollyShop (shop.hollylisle.com)
  • How To Think Sideways Version 1 through current
  • How to Revise Your Novel Version 1 through current
  • All the plot clinics and short classes
  • All the workshops
  • All the Big Classes
  • All the challenges

However, it turns out that about 14,000 of my member accounts have not been used by their owners in more than two years, and another 2000+ have not been used in the last year.

Some of these accounts have not been used since folks purchased How To Think Sideways back in 2008, or Character Clinic back in 2007.

Which means email addresses are out of date, and I am sitting on a database full of junk that I cannot safely send something as simple as a lesson reminder to my active students.

My first priority is to make sure my active students can participate in the classes. I need to be able to let them have working class reminders and account notices.


So here is my solution.

Once the grace period has passed, I am going to delete all accounts that have not been used in more than two years, and lock all accounts that have not been used in more than one year.



If you’ve purchased a bunch of courses and keep telling yourself, I really need to start using those—but you haven’t logged into the old site in more than a year and you have not yet logged into the new site, you need to act NOW.

You have until the 1st of MARCH to find your account on the new site, log in, and update your address and correct your full name.

If you need to update your account to keep from losing it, here are your steps:

STEP ONE: Go to the Holly’s Writing Classes login page:


STEP TWO: Use the “ForgottenYour Password?” link right below the login boxes to check each email address you have ever used for one of my sites, including PayPal email addresses.

List any other email addresses that belong to you that are attached to accounts.


WHY? Because I will only check the accounts you find, and I will only credit you with the classes I find in the accounts YOU find.

I anticipate at least a couple hundred people will want to save their classes.

I’m the only one who will be fixing these outdated accounts, and I’ll be doing it while I’m in a lot of pain following surgery. THEREFORE, YOU have to do the heavy lifting of identifying and gathering up your own accounts.


STEP THREE: Once you have found all your accounts, whitelist the email holly AT hollyswritingclasses DOT com


WHY? Because those spam complaints have decreased the likelihood of you receiving your account access email. If you want to retain access to your classes, you need to make SURE you will get the annual reminder to log into your account.


STEP FOUR: Use the Forgotten Your Password link to send your login information to yourself, and into the one you want to use, and update the email address on it.

If your name is currently entered as just two letters, or a letter and a blank, or numbers, or gibberish, you must correct this, too.


WHY? If somewhere down the line I cannot match the name on your receipt to the name on your account, I will not be able to verify that you are the owner of the classes, and I will delete the account.


If you plan to purchase using PayPal EVER, use your PayPal email address as your login address,


add the email address you want to use to your PayPal account as a PayPal alias, and use that address when purchasing other classes.


WHY? Because using your PayPal email to purchase a class if you are using a different email address for your account will create a new membership.

Fixing this will break your subscription, or will break your existing account, or both.

Fixing the subscription will required re-doing your account and setting you up with new payments.

And solving this avoidable problem will take a couple hours of my time over a period of several days.

I’m going to start charging a fee if I have to correct this

avoidable problem.


STEP FIVE: Set your password to something you’ll remember. Do NOT use an asterisk (*) in your password. It screws up your password and will lock you out of parts of the site.



If you have more than one account, create a support ticket here:


  • Use the RESCUE MY ACCOUNT header at the top of the list.
  • Create the ticket using the email you’ve used for your account.
  • List each OTHER email address connected to an account that  belongs to you, and I will locate your accounts, and move the classes in them to the account you designate as the one you want to keep.


Finally, to prevent dead accounts and dead emails from becoming a problem again in the future, I have changed the member terms of use.

The new clause is below, and on the page linked below that.

I have thought long and hard about how to fix the site so that active members would not have their use of the site hindered by those no longer interested in using their classes.

This was the best solution I could come up with.

It does not cost interested, active members any money, and

It does not cost previous members who no longer wish to use the site any time.


Holly Lisle


Most classes are not available on the new site yet. We’ve started to add them, but each class requires hand-rebuilding, so they are going to be going in very slowly until we get a system going.

ONCE YOU CORRECT YOUR ACCOUNT, your classes will be added as Dan and I complete their setup.


The new clause in the Terms of Use (TOU)


Students retain permanent access to their purchases in the version purchased or with in-version upgrades so long as these courses remain available, with the following single requirement. A minimum of one time per year, students who wish to maintain access to their purchases must log into the site to prove the account is active, and must, if their account information has become outdated, correct that information.

Students will receive a reminder notice before their accounts expire (if they have site emails on). Students who fail to keep their account current will have their email-address/login deleted from the account and will lose login access one month after their accounts expire.

To get an account reinstated after it has been locked, the student must create a ticket at the HELP DESK and in that ticket provide a working email address which will serve as the student’s login name, plus the full name used with the account to validate ownership of the account, and at least one receipt for a class purchased containing both the account name and the account email, proving that the account belongs to the student.

Any account which has not been accessed by the account owner for a period of more that two years, and for which the owner has not responded to the reminder notice will be designated a Dead Account. Each such account will be deleted entirely, and after deletion, all classes purchased through that account will be unrestorable.



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I’ve put the HollysWritingClasses.com T-Shirts back on sale

I’m doing my best to stay calm, and I’m putting together a workshop on developing your writing voice that I hope to be able to offer before I have surgery. Because we’re still doing major site development integrating the forums, classrooms, and account, though, there’s no guarantee that this workshop will be available by then.

However, a lot of people couldn’t buy the T-shirts while I had them up, and requested a way to purchase them—and all of those sales will go directly to covering my insurance deductible. I have “catastrophic only” insurance, and the deductible is LARGE.

The link to the different shirt styles is here:

HollysWritingClasses.com T-Shirts and Sweatshirts

Look at the pictures on that page and click the image of the style you like. It will take you to that item on the Teespring site. Some styles come in multiple colors.

If you want to get a shirt or sweatshirt, this time the sale will close in 21 days (the max offered by Teespring), to give folks enough time to purchase.

Thank you for requesting that I reopen the sale. I’m very grateful for your support.

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MEDICAL: Worse than I’d hoped, not as bad as it could be

I went from clear margins to dysplasia coming back in four months. The doc also found a white spot under my tongue that he says usually turns into an invasive form of cancer.

I was expecting the first news—I can feel this stuff on the inside, which most people can’t. Pain in this instance was a gift for me—had I not had persistent pain, I would not have bothered to follow-up when my GP told me he couldn’t see anything and he wasn’t worried.

The second news was an unhappy shock.

Because treatment for this is 1) keep it from going to cancer, and 2) remove to clear margins, and clear margins didn’t work out too well for me, he’s recommended me to a guy he considers the go-to guy for the tough cases.

Didn’t want to be a tough case, but here I am.

My dark side on this is:

  1. It has to be laser surgery, which I have been told (and have researched) is hellish painful anywhere, and apparently just LOTS of fun on sensitive areas like the tongue.
  2. In order to get to clear margins and then burn enough healthy tissue to prevent anything from ever growing there again, I could lose a lot of my tongue.
  3. The surgery could affect my ability to speak clearly, or to speak at all.
  4. There’s no guarantee it won’t come back, and this stuff does not respond well to chemo or radiation.

Dark side in pretty dark.

Bright side isn’t.

I’m a writer. Live chats and webinars and podcasts and videos and the other stuff I’ve created over the years is cool, and I’ve loved doing it. But, bluntly, I don’t have to be able to speak to work.

When I switched to Dvorak typing years ago, I eliminated my wrist pain. So for now, my hands and wrists are still good, and I can type easily.

I hold being alive as significantly more important that being alive, or being attractive. My objective is still to live long enough to beat my great-grandmother’s record. She lived to be 103, and I want to give her a run for her money. And I want to write fiction (and do some course creating) for the rest of my life.

The surgery gives me the opportunity to extend my life and keep the quality of it high.

So. I have an appointment to meet the new guy in a couple of weeks. He’ll probably have to do his own biopsy. (Lots of pain, some downtime)

Then we’ll schedule the surgery. (Hella pain, one month or more of downtime.)

The brightest spot for me, though, is that folks who have laser surgery for this issue have a high rate of no recurrence. That’s the chance I’m shooting for.

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