Sex, Lawns and Body Image.

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By Julia Gumm

Coming to terms with human nature in the 21st century is no straightforward task. We are equipped with the most primitive of biologies, a physiology that compels us to do two things: Survive and spread our genes. But teetering o’er top that eatin’, sleepin’ and er, copulatin’ machine, there balances an extremely sophisticated control center. It’s complex enough to get us interested in things like algebra and ethics, and when surveying the two dimensional desires of the hulking load of anatomy it hauls around, is led to beg the question “Is this really all there is?” Consideration of the answer to that query can lead to attempts to complicate what otherwise appears to be far too mundane of a purpose for superior beings such as ourselves.

When comparing yourself to say, a squirrel, there are similarities and there are differences. The wiley way that little rodent runs around gathering nuts in the fall bears a striking resemblance to how you behave at half off fajita night. Hey, food is plenty and it’s cheap, better stock up now while the getting’s good. That’s just Survival 101. Here’s the difference. If the squirrel eats one too many nuts, he doesn’t berate himself for it, and then find comfort in an extra grueling mile or two on the treadmill the following day. See, the squirrel, moron that he is, hasn’t the brain power to worry about things like maintaining a lean physique. The squirrel hasn’t decided that he won’t be happy until he reaches his goal of bulging biceps and a narrow waist. The squirrel is just eating what’s around and trusting his body to make the necessary adjustments, which he will be alerted to through signals like hunger or increased energy. He will follow these signals and allow nature to take its course. And I ask you, I beg you. Show me an obese squirrel.

We do, of course, live in a different landscape than the squirrel. Nuts aren’t only plentiful in the fall for us humans, they’re plentiful all the good year through, along with the Dollar Menu, Dairy Queen and Dippin’ Dots (yes the disgusting ‘Ice Cream Of The Future’, I was looking for a “D,” sue me).

And the same brand of human genius that brought you food on demand has also introduced a corresponding neurosis about these readily available delights and their perceived consequences.  And it ain’t just food. Since we’ve become conscious enough to observe ourselves running around like animals in search of sustenance and sex, we’ve made every effort to lasso these drives into something more presentable we can take home to mom and dad.

In just about every religion, the holy men and women regularly abstain from food in ritual purification fasts, and often relinquish their sexual selves entirely, as a means of trading out their animal passions for connection with something “higher.” Even for mere lay people following a faith, there are still regular restrictions on the carnal desires. For example, Catholics can have no sex outside of marriage and no meat on Fridays during Lent. And although masturbation has recently been recognized by the Catholic church as a natural part of the development of human sexuality, it is nonetheless viewed as an “intrinsically and seriously disordered act.”

St. Catherine of Siena, one of two patron saints of Italy, died at the age of 33 from stroke, following many years of anorexia. Catherine swore herself to celibacy as a youth and decided she needn’t eat her family’s food as her table was “set for her in heaven.”  Though urged by clergy around her to eat properly, Catherine refused, subsisting on the Holy Spirit, or perhaps, catecholamines, until her early death.

But let’s not just pick on Catholics. Frankly, I love the Catholics. Buddhism seeks to free the follower from attachments- the inevitable rises and falls of seeking and satiation are a fruitless act, to the Buddhist. The goal is “nirvana,” the elimination of wants (and incidentally, the greatest band of all time). So that means that the next time you cruise past a Krispy Kreme and behold the ethereally luminescent “Hot Now” sign, your pulse won’t quicken, your mouth won’t water and your arms won’t suddenly jerk the steering wheel into the parking lot anymore. You could take it or leave it. You have no earthly wants, thank heavens. You’re off of that karmic wheel of pain! Yep, go you. No more Krispy Kreme’s. You’re beyond all that…hoo-ray.

Now that I’ve offended the faithful, let me just say that I’m not getting down on religion. Rather, I bring it up as an example of how humans have been doggedly doing the work of modifying nature- outside themselves and within- for eons now. Architecture, cinched waists, bound feet, landscaping and my personal favorite, bikini waxes, are all examples of how we’ve sought to tame the chaos into something more “ideal.”

What’s considered ideal varies depending on where you find yourself on the globe, and when. The practices associated with achieving these ends are subject to change as well, as much a part of the fashion as the vain goals they’re geared to achieve. Perhaps you’re seeking not to live on bread alone, and you will tame your waist and your spirit through fasting. Or maybe you “eat clean” and absolve any carefully controlled indulgence into the dirty with penance at the gym and various “purification” tonics. And perhaps you’re happy doing that. No judgements here.

But I’d like to point something out. Though we’ve put our stamp all over the world and modified it to our liking, that doesn’t mean that the world has lost it’s ability to healthfully maintain itself. If you were to leave your lawn alone for twenty years, your idea of order would be destroyed, that is true. But a new order would spring up in it’s place, right? There is an ecosystem of weeds and trees aching to spring forth all over your evenly trimmed carpet of Kentucky Bluegrass. But every few days, you’re out there on your mower, repressing the natural, voluptuous sprawl of flowers and foliage. Fine. So you like a manicured lawn. You think it’s presentable and acceptable and provides a nice place for you and the family to have presentable and acceptable barbecues, nevermind the fine your municipality may see fit to levy on Grass Gone Wild. But if you did decide to let it go, after you got over the shock of watching the chaos absorb your artificial prairie, you would see a new, wild beauty arise from the ashes of the death of control.

I own an old field that once upon a time grew crops. Long after it was used to produce buckwheat, it’d still get mowed down to fend off the encroachment of bordering woodland. Maybe out of habit. Since I’ve owned this field, I haven’t mowed it once. And what has come up? A smattering of flowering Dogwood trees, a thorny patch of huge, juicy blackberries and in late summer, fragrant Bergamot blooms.

Similarly, beneath the obsessions and efforts to control our figures, there lies an intrinsic intelligence that is not in fact, trying to make you obese and sick. If you were to let yourself go and follow your desires as they bubble up, you may be surprisingly pleased to find that you won’t instantly turn into a hideous ogre. You might not be 2013 picture perfect (whatever the hell that is) but you would be thoroughly you. Half the time, people get themselves into trouble with their weight through metabolic damage incurred during prior attempts to cut their flowering, fruiting field into a fashionable lawn- only to find that they can’t enjoy a single day off the mower without their nature reclaiming control, and with a vengeance.

Now of course, life in the 21st century isn’t always so simple. In relation to sex, desires acted out untamed can result in unwanted pregnancies and transmission of disease, things that might be easier to deal with if we were as pea brained as squirrels. But we’re not.

In terms of appetites for food, hidden ingredients like MSG and oxidized seed oils should cause you to think twice about some of the treats your instincts are urging you to shove down your gullet. Reasonable care and concern for oneself is not the problem. But perhaps obsessiveness and total distrust of one’s own nature is. We humans could take a day off from trying to control the forces of the universe every once in awhile, you know. Life was moving along just fine before we decided we had to micromanage every little thing, right? So you might not end up as thin as your “thinspiration” or excuse me, “fitspiration.” So what? With all the energy and brain power we’d save by not dumping it into excessive workout routines and the production and consumption of any magazine article with the word “cellulite” in it, I think we could solve some big problems, make incredible discoveries and dream some really beautiful dreams.

Why not forget the hard slog of attaining an image of perfection and see what springs up in its stead. Juicy berries, anyone?

49 Comments

  1. First again. Ha!

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  2. Love this, thx Julia!

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  3. SO well said! Thank you. xx Julie

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  4. I think I love you! xxxx

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  5. I loved this article. But I have seen an obese squirrel. My sister laid out a gallon jar of sunflower seeds and one squirrel ate himself to oblivion. He literally had love handles and a mushroom top when he sat on his hind legs.

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    • That squirrel only got fat bc of all the linoleic acid in the sunflower seeds lol.

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    • Ha ha, Karen, I’m learning that fat squirrels do in fact abound! Ok, what about chipmunks. Any fat chipmunks around? Squirrels do have a penchant for gorging on human eats, don’t they?

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    • I saw an obese squirrel too. My freshman year of college. Thing hung out by the snack bar and ate french fries all day long, viciously attacking any other squirrels that approached the outdoor tables.

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      • I once saw a squirrel so fat i had to sneak up behind and poke it. Still ran pretty fast for a Michelin squirrel :) Good times.

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      • When I was in new york last year, an obese squirrel stole our chocolate and ate not only that, but its packaging.

        Chipmunks are definitely a better example. They’re little ninjas!

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  6. I understand the context in which this is written. However, let us point out the weakness of this argument. Do you really want to live in a Slacker world? I see a lot of it in this country. People who don’t know how to do SHIT. They don’t speak any foreign languages. The can’t do math. They can’t change a car tire. They can’t drive a nail. They can’t cook a souffle’. This is particularly true in suburban areas. Less so, in rural areas where people have to be a little more self-reliant. Many suburbanites know how to run a conspiracy theory and text. That’s about it. A whole lot of people like that in the U.S.

    I realize that there are a lot of people who have socio-economic limitations, but I am talking about people who have some means-however modest-to develop some talent.

    I’m afraid that all of the man-made beauty in the world is created by people who make sacrifices, big ones. Instead of hanging out with their friends at the Mall, they decided to practice, study, or experiment. Sure, Kurt Cobain probably had a lot of natural talent, but he didn’t get that good by sitting on his ass on the couch watching Double Jeopardy. The best is to develop the talent in the context of following a dream, but even that requires blood, sweat and tears.

    I know a lot of people here need to “chill out” and are out of sorts from a meaningless, stressful job or the fucked-up dynamics of monogamy. I understand the thrust of the argument about Civilization and its Malaise. However, there are two sides to the coin, and it’s best to bear both sides of the matter in mind.

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    • Actually, my suggestion is that people use their big old brains to do great things, solve big problems and dream big dreams rather than waste it all on the neurosis of trying to control their natural appetites. We have a great capacity to think and learn and discover, it is no doubt in our nature and we’re growing into it. I think the obsessions we have with appearance and the like are a facet of our adolescence on an evolutionary scale. I’m suggesting we move on. Let nature do what nature is good at, and learn how to at least play like, three chords on the guitar like Kurt Cobain did.:)

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      • “rather than waste it all on the neurosis of trying to control their natural appetites”

        I am so glad you have confirmed what I have always thought. Now, if I am walking through town and I see a beautiful lady and my loins begin to heat up…I should just approach her and ask if she wants to engage in coitus with me even though I am married. I can mate with whoever I want – whenever I want. I never liked “trying to control (my) natural appetites”. If someone upsets me I can tear them to pieces like animals do when they fight. There are so many avenues of opportunity open to me that have been closed off by our repressive society.

        Bullocks.

        Poppycock.

        If you are working off of that evolutionary construct then we are just animals and we can Flash Mob and engage in orgies along with so many other things.

        Moral laws exist for a reason – to call it a neurosis is sheer and utter nonsense.

        Say goodbye to civilization and order….and beauty…and peace…and on and on and on….

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        • Now see, what you’re describing is a reasonable constraint on natural appetites- not neurosis. Neurosis is eating disorders and body dysmorphia and guilt over possessing a sex drive. Stuff like that.

          Moral laws exist to tame our animal nature because we are like house cats. We are comfortably fed which makes us unbelievably dangerous, able to exercise our natural impulses without any concern for conservation of resources. My suggestion is to get a little more wild. The natural order isn’t teeming with flash mobs and continuous orgies and senseless destruction. That stuff just happens with us. There’s not enough energy to waste on useless endeavors like that elsewhere on earth. Ecology is it’s own morality. We’ve stepped out of ecology and thusly had to invent our own morality, which makes some people crazy. And what is moral changes with times and locale. I suggest stepping back into the ecology, or at least considering why it is we are the way we are in the first place.

          But if you don’t want to do that, that’s fine. I know I’m kinda out in left field. Just consider that beauty and a relative peace were everywhere until we started in on civilizing ourselves and becoming so moral. My favorite parts of our peaceful, beautiful, moral civilization are (in no specific order) The Great Pacific Garbage Patch, slavery, Adolph Hitler, bulimia, the Crusades, Exxon-Valdez, corporate lawyers, the “fracking” industry, neat and orderly agricultural practices that led to things like the Dust Bowl, anyone who uses the word “swag”…I could go on. I don’t believe that morality is at fault for these things per se, but that believing civilization is the only thing that stands between us and unfathomable gruesome destruction and ugliness is an extremely narrow idea.

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    • But you know, to keep up with the Kurt Cobain thing, he was a seriously lazy person. The guy didn’t do shit besides screw around on the guitar. I personally am not a fan of blood, sweat and tears. I like ease, I like to go with the flow. I’m impressed by huge buildings and long tomes and Mount Rushmore and all that. But I’m more impressed by a river cutting through rock and how I didn’t have to do one gosh danged thing to make it happen. Alls I gotta do is love it.

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      • Screwing aroung on the guitar is ok, if that is all you want to do. There are some people who cannot do that for long without wanting to explore music further. Exploring any topic, not just music in depth is where real effort and passion is required and it is so worth it just to stick it out when it may seem you cannot go any further. Such a person will usually find out that they cannot do that and simultaneously support energy sinkholes such as body obsessions and drug problems.

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    • Having been taught by religious all my life, I have to say there’s too many healthy, happy monks and nuns who live to hundred looking fit as a fiddle to say that abstinence is suppressing. Just a personal observation.

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      • Most religious people live longer and happier lives than the non religious.

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        • Some religious people are the most miserable, mean, nasty, screwed up people imaginable because it is all about them and whatever they do however good it may look is really about themself. Others truly have peace and joy and love others and are kind and humble. My experience is mostly with people who identify as Christians. I have known some that were like what is said of Jesus, that he went about doing good and healing and helping people, and others Ive known seemed bent on doing just the opposite.

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          • Amen Sister!

            Down with hypocritical Christians who seem to know nothing of the man they purport to “worship”!

            What was that talk about the rich getting to heaven and a camel passing through the eye of a needle???

      • Well, it is suppressing. But whatever they’re suppressing it with could be some good good stuff, like transcendence and the almighty.

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        • like

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    • I dunno, man; I wouldn’t be so quick to knock the “flow”. A good portion of my slacker time goes to reading and learning languages and trying to get better at art and design–which I’m making a career out of. I like TV sometimes, but I honestly can only handle it for so long until I get antsy and have to do something less passive. It’s all fun for me, really. I have to choose my priorities sometimes, but for any of the aforementioned, I wouldn’t call practicing them a sacrifice per se. I’m excited to do those things anyway! Personally, I think there’s something to be said for doing what you feel like and not forcing anything you don’t really want– most people do better work when intrinsically motivated, anyhow.

      And after all, people in the USA are taught that anything worth doing is Hard Work, No Fun. Stuff best left to school, to be tossed aside when you get out. TV is fun, video games are fun. Creative stuff is out of reach due to an assumption that you NEED some sort of inborn “talent”, which I’m dubious even really exists. With that attitude, who WOULD study science or math or languages or music? Certainly not everybody, at least. Waste of valuable free time.

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  7. Hate to be a Buddhist nerd (actually no, I love it), but the “goal,” if there is one, is not to eliminate wants or desires, but to not cling to desires.

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    • Yeah. Just let ‘em flow through you. A state of detachment. To not find your happiness in them, as those kinds of happiness are just transient and will be followed by falls. I get it and I like it. Always liked the Buddhists, maybe even more than the Catholics! So if I’m detached from my thing for doughnuts, I won’t be so compelled to indulge. That’s good advice maybe, and somewhat freeing in a world full of things to indulge in. But I prefer to keep my attachments and enjoy the rises and falls of ‘em. What the hell, I’m gonna die anyway, right? I’m not really all that interested in ending my cycle of pain, it’s just life. And knowing that helps keep a certain background peace. Sorry, I’m basically telling you what I wanted to say to a Buddhist nun at a meditation class but was too shy to.

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      • “But I prefer to keep my attachments and enjoy the rises and falls of ‘em. What the hell, I’m gonna die anyway, right? I’m not really all that interested in ending my cycle of pain, it’s just life.”

        I agree Julia.
        If desires and attachments were not perfectly natural, then we would not have to try so hard to not have them. It’s similar to people trying to deny themselves sweet and starchy foods in favor of green smoothies and raw salads.

        We are here for only a short time. Why is learning a foreign language a better use of a person’s time than watching television, if the person truly enjoys watching television? I learned two foreign languages in grade school and college and they did nothing to improve my life or bring me happiness.

        And Kurt Cobain committed suicide, leaving behind a young child. Better to go to work and come home to Double Jeopardy and the people who love you.

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        • Thumbs up.

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        • Yeah. The only foreign language I ever learned was Pig Latin. And I spent plenty of time hangin’ around the mall and watching the tube. Incidentally, I’m a champ at Jeopardy…

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        • Thumbs up! I’ve never understood this movement against TV either. Sure if it stops you going out and doing things, but I don’t know many people would would turn down a great meal with friends for a night in with the box.

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  8. Yeah I’m on a college campus with lots of chunky squirrels…those little fatty-fats will take food out of my hand and eat it! But they do have preferences…he didn’t like my pastrami.

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  9. All of the subtle innuendos in this article have left me thinking not about food, but about “mowing the lawn” if you know what I mean…

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    • As you should, Cameron darling!

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  10. I am new to the 180D lifestyle. For the past 4 weeks I haven’t been cacluating my calories, fat or carbs in my head. Just eating good food free of preservatives and full of saturated fat and carbs. Totally opposite of my entire life! It has been freeing to not overthink what I am eating although difficult. We are so overprogramed to overthink what we eat and overanalyze everything we put in our mouths. It is a strange world we live in, in that regard. Thank you for concisely putting it all in one article.

    I also have one question: at first I felt really good eating all this good food but lately I have been feeling low and having low energy and night waking. Could it be my adrenals have been running on overdrive because of the damage of my diet and now they are coming down? I am hoping they will normalize.

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    • They will eventually. For a very long time I was always tired but slowly started to boost up, especially if I get a good 8-9 hours of sleep.

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    • It could be from eating too much late. It works great in the beginning, but then there is the tendency to sort of become “overloaded” for lack of a better word. That could have something to do with it. It might not.

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      • Matt How late is late? I’m very under weight and have 3 large meals per day. I would prefer to not eat after 6pm but I don’t get home until later and cannot stop thinking about food. I increased my portions recently but can’t manage to eat everything earlier in the day.

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        • I stop eating at 6pm and if I’m still hungry after 6pm, I drink something sweet.

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          • “…if I’m still hungry after 6pm, I drink something sweet.”

            Why don’t you eat something if you are hungry? The whole eating at night thing is bunk. Even thinking in terms of “I can’t eat past 6pm” misses the point.

          • Hi John! Thanks for asking. For me, it’s just that I (at the moment) feel uncomfortable to the point of nausea when I go to bed, if I had a meal after 6pm. It wasn’t like that before, and it probably will go away in the future. I can very well eat past 6 pm, but I don’t want to. What do you mean with eating at night is bunk? And what point am I missing? :) I’m more often wrong that right so I thank you for your insights.

  11. Thank you for this article, I really enjoy your writing.

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  12. Yes! This! I like this: “there lies an intrinsic intelligence that is not in fact, trying to make you obese and sick. If you were to let yourself go and follow your desires as they bubble up, you may be surprisingly pleased to find that you won’t instantly turn into a hideous ogre. ” Thank you for this Julia. After nearly 2 years of hearing this kind of thing from Matty — I’m actually starting to embody it! Such a relief.

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  13. Wonderful article, Julia. So many important points!

    Animals in the wild, from what we’ve been able to ascertain, don’t have that “self-reflective consciousness” which makes us humans judge ourselves. Advertisement, and the old brain conspire together to make us want to be accepted in a group, or part of the “birds of a feather, that flock together”. And for many, that means trying to change our bodies to the fashion of the time. And yes, that’s exactly where we start down that slippery slope to dieting, plasticsurgery, tatoos, fashion, driving the right car, and a myriad of other “fads”.
    I think the cure for it all, is in looking inward, and becoming acquainted with our life’s purpose; to see our contribution is not in what we look like, or can purchase, but what came inside us when we were born. We must learn to love who we are; and to nurture ourselves by eating what we need and enjoy- and listening to our intelligent body that tells us when we’ve had enough.

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  14. “Pour some sugar on me”, today I did just that. Sugar helps healing, it drains fluid from wounds, and is also anti-bacterial. I poured sugar on a cut on my skin and it seems to work really well. Sugar is actually used in hospitals at burn units and also with post-op wounds that don’t heal well. It speeds up healing. There are many interesting anecdotes on this use of sugar http://www.peoplespharmacy.com/2007/09/17/sugar-speeds-wo/

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  15. Julia,
    This is brilliant and heart-centered, not to mention so much appreciated. Thank you!!

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  16. Hey Matt, this is off-topic.

    I recently read a comment you wrote, in a two year old post. (lol) I read that you had hiked for 44 days in the Wilderness, with inadequate supplies. Have you publicly written about this experience before? If not, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts about that trip. I can umderstand if this topic is not something you want to cover.

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  17. Way, way, way beyond wonderful.

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