online: 19 december 2002
modified: 8,12,21 january, 12, 25 february, 1,4,12,19 may, 2, 10, 11 june 2003

begun 19 december 2002... completed june 2003

the symposium of Utopia: the post-industrial breakfast

with thanks and apologies to Plato, and to Percy Bysshe Shelley:

Agathon declares that

...Love divests us of all alienation from each other, and fills our vacant hearts with over-flowing sympathy; he gathers us together in such social meetings as we now delight to celebrate, our guardian and our guide in dances, and sacrifices, and feasts... *
Diotima explains that Love is
...a great Daemon, Socrates; and every thing daemoniacal holds an intermediate place between what is divine and what is mortal...**

*Randomly selected quotation, Stephanus page number 197, section d, from The Symposium of Plato, The Shelley Translation, translated by Percy Bysshe Shelley, edited and introduced by David K O'Connor, St Augustine's Press, South Bend, Indiana 2002 page 38.

**Consciously chosen quotation, Stephanus page 202, section e, page 45 in the above edition.

c o n t e n t s


Scene 1: out of doors

Scene 2: beyond the mechanical

Scene 3: is the dream becoming real?

Scene 4: waking up

Scene 5: complexity beyond telling

Scene 6: theory in practice

Scene 7: interactions

Scene 8: the real world without limits



Utopia has invited Numeroso and Unesco to a symposium on the future of industrial living and they are already seated at her table.

There are birds and insects and plants within hearing distance but they do not know human language or the fate of those who can speak nothing else. Hence the symposium - for no one knows what to do next. If this paragraph surprises you remember that it surprises me also, types the writer. This is not a fixed programme - it's a story of daily life in the context of imagination.

Utopia (who is the voice of perfection) is doing what she can to prepare everyone for what might follow the industrial era but all she can do is to invite discussion between the three of them. In the 1980s they tried, at Unesco's behest, to explore the future as it then seemed possible and they hit on the idea of the experimental city - but it appealed only to social inventors. It did not become the public fiction that they intended - a world-wide tv spectacle of experimental living.

So now, in the new world of softecnica, these three voices (plus the writer and the reader of course) are engaged in this post-industrial breakfast in which they are to discuss, and even to try out, what is to be done in the future - now that all things mechanical are being replaced by things softer and more connective and integrated and enlivening, or even threatening (for instance the mobile phone and the internet). The new question is how to rise to this occasion and to let go of our mechanical inheritance?

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Scene 1: out of doors

I am glad you were able to come says Utopia, looking first at Numeroso and then at Unesco. I see that neither of you have aged since we met in 1981 but I hope that you have arrived with new ideas.

Well, I haven't, says Numeroso, I came here as the voice of everyone - ideas are your responsibility, Utopia... And I came to enjoy your presence.

Utopia blushes.

Unesco says that he too has come without ideas, apart from the hope that the experimental city is not dead - perhaps we can revive it in the context of computernet. And he too is glad to be here. But, as before, he has all of science, education and culture to attend to so he cannot be here full time.

Those are just the things we are here to talk about, says Utopia.

Numeroso dislikes those abstract names and he is doubtful of the activities they refer to. Education, science and culture are surely going to change. It's up to us to rethink them, and perhaps to rename them as well. In times of uncertainty rectify the names... that's what Confucius is supposed to have said.

A talkative crow who squawks continuously perches nearby. He or she or it turns to look at a robin. Numeroso's breath is visible in the cold air and he is beginning to feel that this is a good moment. He sips his coffee and finds that it's gone cold. A blue tit is eating butter out of a plastic container that it has carried to a nearby bush. Another blackbird stands on a nearby table. Utopia's hands are getting cold and she decides to move indoors and Unesco follows her. A robin hops beneath Numeroso's's inclined foot to pick up a tiny piece of food. When it's gone he gets up also.

This is the story of our lives, types the writer, more for the rhythm than necessity. The coldness has nothing to do with the plot for there isn't one, he adds. It's part of the totality.

That was Scene 1. The writer does not know what will happen next - some of it is to be decided by chance process and the rest by intuition. Numeroso thinks they need something more definite* to talk about. And more inspiring says Utopia as she thinks of the perfection of nature. It is visible to everyone.

*For instance the discussions of
long distance bus travel, and local, in the digital diary, writes Numeroso.

In the first of these discussions the symposium was renamed the symposium of Utopia. The topic there proposed for it is

the future of industrial living -
the love of each of us for all
and of all of us for each.
That could be the new reality!

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Scene 2: beyond the mechanical

Utopia, Numeroso and Unesco (accompanied by the invisible presence of the writer and the reader) are waiting quietly for something to happen...

21 january 2003
Numeroso begins by asking the others to click the above links re long distance and local bus travel - let's take them as the basis of our discussion today, he says.

(...pause while they read these texts - and while the writer and the reader do so also...)

The writer, who (with Erwin van Handenhoven) is currently planning a short course (at a college in Antwerp) in the design of 'mobility and safety in the city', decides to link this symposium, and the texts re bus travel, to the course data - and to open the symposium to the 22 people who are to attend the course. Later he will make a link from this symposium to the website at which their designs will appear.

Unesco likes this idea and says that he will seek ways to link the discussion to the official UNESCO website...

Utopia suggests that we focus our discussion today on the phrase

beyond the mechanical
and ask ourselves what aspects of mechanised mobility are too stiff and 'inhuman' and what aspects go beyond the mechanical and give scope for human adaptability and joy. She is hoping that we (and perhaps the students at Antwerp?) will be able to envisage and design means of moving in cities and outside them in ways that are free as walking while increasing the distance that we can move in a day or an hour or a few minutes. And without 'destroying the earth'.

'Is it a magic carpet that you want' asks a voice from Arabia...

As Utopia speaks these fine wishes the others are immediately imagining the conflicts and difficulties of doing anything so impossible...!

I can see what you are thinking, she says - that my proposal is not feasible, that machines are forever rigid and inflexible while the human body is nearly infinitely adaptable - and you are assuming that this is a 'fact of nature'...

...Yes of course cars and buses and trains and taxis and motorbikes and pedal cycles are mechanical things - but they were conceived and made by humans - who are themselves parts of nature (as we call it, as if it were not ourselves)... I do not see why, as human animals, we cannot design modes of transportation that are as adaptable as we are... and especially now that we have computers...


Awaiting the attempts of design students in Antwerp at doing something on these lines, on these lines ... lines, no no ... perhaps it's lines that are the problem - lines and wheels and all manner of pre-arranged regularity? ...

...are we beginning to rectify the names, Confucius?

Confucius does not reply but after two or three thousand years of silence he begins to smile at the other world beyond China and to wonder if at last the people there,

(...who have wrecked so much of life - by attempting to make it faster and cheaper and more numerous)

...if at last these westerners are learning wisdom such as he knew it, and as did Lao Tsu and Chuang Tsu and many others, though in very different circumstances...

He waits, we wait (say the writer and the reader) while Utopia and Numeroso and Unesco sit in conscious silence, keeping the centre empty, and letting go of their likes and dislikes and their assumptions ... insofar as they are able...

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Scene 3: is the dream becoming real?

The first to speak is Utopia. She reminds us that on the long-distance bus trip the writer realised, that the well-intentioned widenings of industrial methods during the second half of the twentieth century did not have the intended effect of humanising industrial life.

The reason he gives us for this is that the people, like him, who began to use and to advocate wider methods (under such names as industrial design, ergonomics, operational research, design methods and the like) remained themselves in such specialist roles as designer, researcher, teacher - tied economically to the industrial system as it was and still is. With a few exceptions (e.g. Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, Ralph Nader), they did not cease to work for the producers of industrial wealth or take the economic risk of working directly for all of us as users and as citizens...

More silence. Some embarrassment. The writer begins to cry. The reader laughs nervously. But Raymond Loewy* (who has been listening to all this from the afterlife) suggests that nothing is lost - no one need apologise for trying to improve life within the system, it's the only way to be real... those few who step outside it gain no support except from those at the edges of the system who wish to discuss improvements but cannot implement them...

...The right way, says Raymond as he puffs his cigar, is to make industrial products more desirable, more glamourous, and thus give people the motive to buy something they like that also has some social advantages that they may or may not notice. The only way to do good is by economic subterfuge. There's no profit in it otherwise...

...He pats the writer on his back and offers to slip a socially responsible idea into the design of the next automobile he is preparing for the god of speed and luxury. And the writer begins to laugh at this phraseology - despite his disillusionment.

While Raymond speaks Numeroso is shaking his head and making notes. Unesco, however, is looking quite pleased. He says that agrees with both Utopia and Mr Loewy and suggests that what each says can be combined if both insiders and outsiders are employed by a communications company to make movies and tv-spectacles that incorporate the humane wishes of the idealists as well as the more brutal economic criteria of the realists. That's what the experimental city was all about, he says rather sadly, why didn't we do it in 1980? That is the nature of life.

At this Numeroso looks up from his notes and begins to talk about meta-roles and the possibilities of re-employing everyone, users and audiences as well as designers (and other specialists in de-specialising) in public works and experiments in the improvement of industrial living, world-wide 'as a replacement of work' he declares with a smile such as only a huge man like him can encompass.

Looking serious again he points out that unless we find some way of combining the ideal and the real economically they will continue to remain separated - and this historic moment may be lost.

Utopia is looking interested again. Is the dream becoming real - and is it becoming compromised in the process?

*Raymond Loewy (1893 to 1986) an initiator of commercially successful industrial design. His working principle was 'MAYA - most advanced yet acceptable'.

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Scene 4: waking up

Utopia thinks it is time to lift this symposium out of conformity to, or rebellion against, the mechanical culture and to begin composing and living the new culture for itself - and she wonders how to do it?

Numeroso reads her thoughts and asks what kind of action she has in mind.

Utopia looks at him calmly but says nothing. Unesco watches in silence. The writer has no idea what is coming next but he decides to stay at the keyboard until Utopia's question is answered.

They continue to sit in silence while the rest of reality, such as it is, remains outside the discussion.

That's what's wrong, says Numeroso, we are condemning and ignoring the world as it is - the only thing from which the new can develop! May I suggest we go for a walk.

Slowly Utopia gets up and walks outside. Numeroso follows but Unesco stays behind to write notes.

Utopia and Numeroso walk in silence, each looking about - as if the other wasn't there.

Then simultaneously they each think the same thoughts*:

awakening from industrial living as frozen dreaming
awakening to a new vision of time

Is this the answer, asks Numeroso... as Utopia begins to smile and as the two of them begin walking in step, not caring any more about the culture as it was until this moment!

But Numeroso stops in astonishment: a pigeon, perched on a nearby branch, looks at him strangely, as if about to speak, while the tree, and the bridge they are traversing, and other trees, and the sky, even the aeroplanes that are constantly flying over, all these appear to him as a single piece of sculpture... which includes even Utopia, even himself... he begins to walk unsteadily, he feels that he is going to faint.

Come and sit here says Utopia, reading his thoughts and taking his arm. She leads him across the bridge to a nearby seat that is dedicated to Bill and May (who are they?). Even the seat seems to him artificial, which of course it is, but so do the trees, so do his thoughts, and so do these woords... I mean words type the finfgers... I mean fingers (who is I?)... the imposed order is almost lost - what is happening? what is happening cry the others (what others?)... and where is the storyline? The pigeon does not say anything. Nor does the sky.

This is not nonsense says Utopia, this is the beginning of something new. We must stay here until we get used to it, this could be the new world we've been seeking and the end of all we regret. Let us stay the night. I think we have left the mechanical world - I wonder if we are going to live forever?

Numeroso hasn't heard what Utopia said but the readers read it, the writer also, and each ponders what to make of it, this sudden change of circumstance.

We're staying the night here in the woods with the pigeon says Utopia to anyone who can read. Numeroso puts on his glasses but everything still seems like a single piece of sculpture. He decides to stay with Utopia on the bench and he wonders what the night will bring and what kind of breakfast they can expect in the morning. Post-industrial, no doubt, type the fingers - but no one laughs. This is terribly serious types the god of fear, the only one left from the ancient pantheon. Even the devil is losing credibility. God also. Every word is miraculous, and poetic.

We are on our own now, think the people. Thank goodness.

*see page 478 and pages 331 to 335 of jcj's book the internet and everyone published by Ellipsis London in 2000 and reissued by Batsford Books, London and distributed in the USA by W W Norton & Co Inc, New York. ISBN 1-899858-20-2... The
online version includes the spine of the text: 25 email letters (including page 478 - as letter 25). The printed version includes extensive attachments (including pages 331 to 335).

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1 may 2003
Scene 5: complexity beyond telling

Having stayed the night on the bench in the woods Utopia and Numeroso are feeling cold and uninspired and are not saying anything. Utopia is thinking about the nature of afternature and Numeroso is preparing their post-industrial breakfast.

Afternature is your responsibility says the writer (pretending to be almighty)... but if you don't know what it is I will tell you. Afternature is your human presence which releases life from determinism - that is your purpose, to realise freedom and to live without certainty. This symposium, and the rest of softopia, are your opportunity to explore life beyond the mechanical and to create a flexible culture in which people can be people not prisoners of mechanical processes or of inflexible organisations...

Utopia resents this appropriation of her idea and stops listening. She rolls a cigarette.

Does that mean that we are the prisoners of your thoughts asks Numeroso?

No, not prisoners, types the almighty, but explorers and makers of life as you live it. This opportunity has not occurred before in human evolution and I am asking you to jump from the rigid mechanical culture that you inherit to the flexible culture that you are free to invent. The door to the prison is open and I'm asking you to walk through it - or at least to write stories of doing so.

This is what we are doing, says Utopia, but with a difference, and we are pleased to accept the challenge. But I can see difficulties ahead if we try to impose a new culture from above. We are here on this page and in the city forest - not above the trees and the skyscrapers. Your theoretical view is not effective on the ground and as yet we don't know how to continue...

At this the almighty writer stops for he too does not know how to continue beyond this sentence - he's relying on U and N to jump beyond the horizon of his thoughts. But he realises that they do not share his history or his perceptions of how things could be otherwise if social organisations were not so rigid... and he knows not how to go on.

A woman goes by on horseback but none of them notice. This piece of literature seems to have lost its direction she says to the horse as she and it proceed into the imaginary distance to the imagined sounds of fox hunting.

...I think it's time we took over, types Numeroso, handing Utopia some coffee. We are not here to please the gods or the adults or even the readers - the purpose of life is unknown. We must accept that future culture is not pre-existent - it is up to each of us to give it form by doing what we do in ways we think are right!

At this he eats some egg and bacon.

And then, as they continue to eat breakfast, Numeroso wonders why they are not putting the experimental city into practice - what is stopping us he asks?

Utopia suggests that describing theory and practice as separate things may be what is stopping them...?

Then let's unify them says Numeroso, though he does not know how to do that either. Neither does Utopia.

A long silence ensues while the life of nature and the city continue and the two pioneers of integration realise that they cannot do it... in tears and in silence they pack up and return to the city as it is, in its diversity and incoherence, beyond planning, beyond law, beyond anybody's imagination or effective control... for that is it's appeal - the appeal of complexity beyond telling and of freedom in the raw, types the writer, back now at the keyboard in sadness.

What is happening to this symposium, he writes, it seems to be leading nowhere and even the almighty is losing his confidence! What's happened to the woman on horseback - she was never invited and now she and the horse have gone away without explanation. This is too much like real life.

But then as U and N walk slowly through the city their demeanour changes. Each person they meet seems suddenly alive and adapted to a context so complex, so indescribable, and so lively, in its way, that all theories are defeated, all practice is confounded, unless they combine and conform to what exists.

Yes the people here are the answer, says Numeroso, looking happier and exchanging glances with a weary looking man with a briefcase - and as a long white stretched limousine moves past him at walking pace... Perhaps the city is alright as it is! Yes it is... yes it is... and this may be our moment of insight... He laughs and he laughs.

What's come over you, asks Utopia, what's happened to your sense of realism?

This is reality, he says, this is it, we are free already but we do not know it!

Feeling totally redundant the writer sees that Utopia and her symposium are disappearing as this unexpected madness of Numeroso undermines the writer's intentions and his lifelong hopes.

I suspect that there is a hidden human operator behind all this types the writer, and that he or she has a hidden plan - but what it is is beyond me...

He pauses to think.

...or can it be that this story is evolving without idea, without any expectation of a conflict or a resolution, without an ending, happy or unhappy, without anything to be revealed, bit by bit? Is it possible that it is a real search, a real journey into unexpected thoughts, a writing strange indeed?

At which the words rejoice rejoi rejo rejay re re re re... let us reify the totality of everything adds the writer, catching on to what is happening.


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4 may 2003
Scene 6: theory in practice

Utopia and Numeroso are getting married!

This is the union of perfection and everyone, they think, as they lie in the enormous bed of the world which is already creaking as the writer and the reader smile at each other in literary interaction as they imitate the practical marriage of these theoretical beings. This is the rebirth of everything!

That was the introduction, type the fingers, quite pleased with themselves but knowing nothing...

Our intercourse is the reverse of the sexual, types Utopia, for I get inside him and he gives birth to something new and extensive in everyone - but it's equally enjoyable (at first) and traumatic (later). J W von Goethe nearly did it single handed but in the end he had to give everything to Faustus and Mephistopheles and Helena and The Mothers as the salvation of evil and artifice and the unachievable end of divisiveness.

Yes it's the Faustian man, woman and automaton who are going to put these theories into and to (Pr)oust the ogre from progress... prss... prss... prss... and where is the adaptable pussycat?

The words are ready for any kind of nonsense but what of the people?

At this the sky suddenly grows cloudy and the mood becomes sober. The writer, or is it winter, is preparing us for bad news. Reason predominates and imagination departs.

Re-enter Unesco accompanied by Dr Iorwerth Bellamy and i2 (the experimental version of the internet) and Mavis, the robot that has replaced the educational system and disconnected it from governmental control... The academics and the humanists flinch at the the idea of automatic control and some depart screaming, while the school teachers are shocked into simultaneous retirement and the children and everyone who is supposed to be uneducated suddenly become serious contenders to take over the education of everyone, themselves included, without books, without teachers and without compulsion but with new software and the new ethic of inclusive morality... (Is this a threat or a promise?)

This is the starting point says Unesco, this is what I've been working out in my notes since you left me in scene 4 for your night in the woods and your revelatory return to the urban complexity. Welcome to New London, the metacity of evolutionary experiment - which we have overlaid on the existing one. Dr Bellamy will remind you of its principles and Mavis, its first animation, will invite you to become the first urbanauts. The first experiment begins in scene 7...

...that's all I know at the moment, types the writer, these new characters have the answer, if there is one, or else it's the end of the world and of our species, both are in doubt in the light/darkness of unification and neotopia.

This jargon will finish him, us and the whole thing thinks Numeroso but for once he does not speak his mind... though the fingers are typing his thoughts. The poetic complexity of all this appeals to him and Utopia who are still in the ecstacy of conjugal perfection and numerousness, the jargon having entered even their state and their intercourse, soon to infect the whole population whether they like it or not, for likes and dislikes are no longer the criteria. Only respect for each self by all others including one's own...

Unesco forgives everyone their doubts and asks Dr Bellamy and Mavis to begin the first experiment...

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12 may 2003
Scene 7: interactions

11:08: 14 may 2003

a supernatural imperative

Utopia is not encouraged by Unesco's proposals. She does not want to become an obedient explorer of the experimental city if it is part of any plan, or pre-existing purpose - she prefers to combine the aim with the doing, to trust life itself to show the way...

Unesco, reading her thoughts, loses his enthusiasm while Dr Bellamy sits down and puts Mavis and i2 into sleep mode. What is Numeroso thinking?

He takes off his reading glasses, switches off his mobile phone, and stands up. I'm not thinking, he says, I'm waiting for a sign, a sign that we intend to use these new technologies in ways that combine the rationality of nature with the imagination of our human mind*. How do we do it?

He looks at each of the others, and the literary context which they manifest, before taking off his coat and beginning to dance, as only a very large person can... surprisingly lightly yet with the seriousness of an elephant.

Utopia begins to move her shoulders and hips in the same rhythm, and to sing meaningless sounds... Unesco and Dr Bellamy don't move but they both begin to smile and to accept what is happening - though they are flabbergasted.

I don't think I've ever written that word before, writes the writer, while the fingers continue to inscribe these words on the handheld until he pauses to think of what's going to happen next...

This is a new version shamanism, he thinks, as he listens to the rhythm of the words more than to their meaning. He takefs ofs his gcmsses too - an coptinues wrlting blifdly...

Put your glafses back on, says Dr Bellamy, or we'll all vanish into illegibility. The writer obeys, refreshed by that brief dedarture from custom and comprehensibility. I think we are now ready for the experiment - knowing that it does not have to make sense, he writes... then he goes to the lavatory. He shits, washes his hands, and returns conscious of his animal nature and of the supernatural nature of thought...

I guess there's too much guesswork here says Dr Bellamy with a smile...

...yes he's smiling now thinks Utopia and she goes to sit next to him.

He stiffens a little until she touches his shoulder and says Iorwerth, you don't mind if I call you that... Iorwerth, tell us how we can proceed with more certainty...

Dr Bellamy stops to think and then he advises them to begin not with thought but with experiment, by getting their hands wet, or dirty, to make some improvised attempts at post-industrial living, at doing things in non-mechanical ways, by any means to hand...

...That will change your minds, he says, it will re-educate your intuitions out of the divided ways you have inherited and into the very different ways you wish to discover. It's a process of education, he says, but without teachers and with the help of the world itself, and the mind, undivided...

As Iorwerth speaks they realise that what he says is the new truth - and one that was present in their first discussions in the early 80s - but they never did it, only spoke. Now's the time for doing before thinking - or rather, to mix the two up from the start...

The others become silent, reading his thougths as they appear on the screen. They realise that this is the moment of change - from the supremacy of thought over action to the integration of the two in the manner of a conversation - or of any kind of interaction between equals... as in love, as in fighting and as in dancing of course!...

Utopia and Numeroso continue their shamanic dance until the even Unesco takes part... Dr Bellamy straightens his tie... and then they all begin laughing.

We don't care about the future, says Mavis (who has voice but no arms or legs), now we've begun to live in the present. This is education in deed! That's quite a good joke for a computer types Bellamy - and Mavis blushes... (and I didn't know you could blush, he adds in loco parentis as well as in parenthesis)

Tut, tut, types the reader.

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19 may 2003
Scene 8: the real world without limits

The symposium continues!

Feeling somehow different after these unexpected scenes Utopia, Numeroso and the others gather again at the table and continue eating and drinking. For the moment they seem to have lost the wish to speak... But then Numeroso puts down his glass rather heavily and tries to focus his thoughts. He has been reading about design methods and he asks the others to join him, when they have eaten, in the collective process of redesigning industrial life, nothing less, using whatever methods come to hand.

No one says no, but no one says yes.

They continue eating and drinking as the music of Morton Feldman's piano quartet begins. This lasts over an hour says Utopia - that's why I chose it - that and its almost imperceptible movement. I am hoping that in an hour or so, while listening to these sounds and while digesting this banquet, we will realise that we're capable of anything.

Everyone breathes and breathes and says nothing - except Unesco. He feels that at last they are approaching the real world as he calls it and he suggests that they indeed begin redesigning the global organisations and the culture - starting with the universities and the schools, and following the method of broadcasting the proceedings on television and inviting viewers to provide the ideas and to volunteer to try them out before the global audience. Reality tv but with a serious purpose, he says, as he eats a banana. All we need do is ask the questions, he says, and issue the invitations. This is going to be the re-education of everyone, ourselves included! Yes, Unesco is actually smiling.

Utopia looks pleased but says nothing.

Numeroso goes to sleep. He is dreaming of a world in which everyone has political and economic power and in which each person is a public presence.

This could be the story of our lives says Dr Bellamy but I think we need a change of context...

...he speaks too late. All the others are in bed.

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The symposium is over - it ends in physical enjoyment and in contented silence.

Utopia, Numeroso, Unesco and all the others sleep until they wake up on the second earth j-921...

The writer and the reader remain lonely and hungry and thirsty and curious. And in love.

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