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There are so many gems in this interview, but I feel like we need a whole other convo on this gem: "women aren’t really allowed to be good at things, so all of the skill has to be elided, and other parts of the story inflated." YESSSSSSSSSSSS

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Yes that was so good. It’s hinted at by Meg, but there is also so much to be said about this:

They buy land from real ag producers who cannot hold on any longer. But that sort of purchase — along with their lack of a need for the land to actually make their living — inflates the price of land all around them. So more producers sell, but at the same time, fewer producers who actually live off the land can buy or rent it for things like grazing, because the cost of land keeps going up.

And what do these people who buy the land end up doing? Renting it out to corporate farmers which creates a whole lot of mess for the environment, the cost of food, the price of labor, etc.

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Renting it out to corporate farmers is not the whole story. participating in government Conservation programs, is common. welfare based on land ownership.

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True.

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Feb 10, 2022·edited Feb 10, 2022

This has me thinking about something I see a lot that is related, that I like to call "blue collar tourism". I see it a lot where I live, the generic suburbs of the rust belt. I've been guilty of it myself. A lot of people who work white collar desk jobs desperate to express themselves as salt of the earth, self-made, gritty, and tough. They drive big trucks and wear Carhartts, but they've never shoveled shit or driven a tractor or else they'd know those boots aren't any good for it. People with plenty of money trying to pretend they don't have it, often as a way of signaling some subtler white supremacist inclinations. Wealthy suburban "rednecks"... Yupnecks, maybe. I don't know, this thought is half-baked...

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Yasmin Nair likes to call this “class cosplay” and it’s one of my favorite phrases.

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wow - thank you for this Sollemnia.

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Pretty sure Dodge Ram, Chevy Silverado and the Ford F-series have spent billions collectively reinforcing this “down-home” cultural fallacy.

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Absolutely. So many trucks are basically just for cosplay. It's fine if you *know* you're wearing a costume, playing a role, but how many truck owners would care to admit that?

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Feb 10, 2022·edited Feb 10, 2022

My favorite is the newly arriving, "compact" $20k Ford truck that "the majority needs". I understand some people NEED a truck for their livelihood, I'm just poking a little fun at the overall car-heavy culture of America (and the more mindful car approach of folks like Youtuber "Not Just Bikes"). One of my favorite comments I read was someone saying, "Yeah, you need that truck for the newly arrived speedbumps at Panera Bread." (Also not hating on Panera). Link here for the truck: https://www.ford.com/trucks/maverick/

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Leave Panera out of this! 😂

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First off, I LOVE Not Just Bikes. Secondly, a lot of folks who do blue collar jobs don't actually use trucks because they are impractical for the purpose! They use vans instead because the equipment is covered and it's easier to keep things organized. Signed, a plumber's daughter.

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“When Ballerina Farm pretends their reality *is* reality, those people are erased. This critique applies to lots of white people buying homes: just be honest. Stop erasing all the people who do everything they can and still can’t buy a home.”

This part of the piece REALLY moved me, and it reminded me that I always wonder if they have any outside help with their kids. Is the work of a nanny or a babysitter also being erased as well? Are the kids homeschooled or do they rely on the work of teachers to raise their family? Do they have help from their nearby family? Do they ever talk about any of this? I’m curious because sometimes influencers in similar positions do have help from paid care workers who largely get left out of the “raising the family” narrative. As an extremely casual Amber Fillerup fan, I remember moments where she’s “revealed” that she has nannies, and the drama that’s ensued. With Amber, despite her good faith efforts as transparency, you really wouldn’t know that she has help with her kids if you’re just seeing her pop up on social media and you haven’t been reading her writing all along as well.

To be clear, I’m all in favor of having help to raise your kids (personally I don’t have any because I’m not up to the task) and whether it’s paid or familial, I truly believe it takes a village. Even as a single, childless person, I look at their life on Ballerina Farm and can’t help but feel deeply inadequate, so I can’t even imagine how some parents who consume their content must feel. I understand the argument that it isn’t that serious, that it’s meant to be fun and aspirational, but really, these feelings of inadequacy are inherent and essential to the experience of IG and the industry of influencing and deserve to be examined. I wonder what else is being obscured, in addition to the wealth piece that Meg examines so wonderfully here.

I also think that rugged individualism is a core part of the Ballerina Farm narrative, and the idea that they completely erase the community and context they exist in outside of their nuclear family (hello 15 minutes outside Park City) feels very purposeful and also deeply unsurprising, considering that the Mormon church/modern day conservatism values that core nuclear family above all else.

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Yes - the intentional hiding of care work is a signal to me (when deciding whether to follow someone's work...or not) - the illusions of success as an individual, versus true integrity with honoring the interdependent web that allows you to be / thrive. I notice (and this may very well just be a judgment) that folks who hide these kinds of realities are less likely / willing to discuss how they *apply* their ethics into their actions of daily life. For example, one of our friends makes big tech money in Silicon Valley. And, she pays tech salaries to her care team (babysitter, chef, cleaner, and home care worker) that cares for her home, children and parents (because she has to work wild hours). I find her refreshing in her direct connection of financial equity to her values, and how humble she is about trying to help out to the point where her care team is like, "WE GOT IT, WE GOT YOU."

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Feb 11, 2022·edited Feb 11, 2022

Just a geeky “oooh oooh teacher I have a story to share” moment: the brilliant Laurel Thatcher Ulrich was my next door neighbor in small-town New Hampshire, growing up! I hung out with her daughter! She was working on “that book” for seemingly ages (it had been our entire LIVES, all TEN YEARS of them) before it won a Pulitzer! I love that Meg contextualizes that quotation, which is usually not attributed and inevitably taken out of context. It drives me bonkers and makes me want to become THAT lady who taps a total stranger on the shoulder and says “ACKshually …” (But I promise, I don’t.) Really loved this thoughtful conversation with Meg.

I respectfully disagree with the commenter below who suggests that we are “overthinking” Hannah’s carefully curated feed. She stages and selects and edits and captions these images in hopes of influencing, in both the social media and the LDS senses of that word. If we *don’t* think about what we are being sold, and what is being obfuscated, when we are thereby “influenced,” we are just social media zombies, mindless consumption machines gobbling up whatever images come across our feeds without regard for what they value and devalue. Any media worth consuming is worth critical thought and engagement. In my opinion.

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As someone who lives in Utah, and covers business as editor-in-chief for Utah Business, I think this article is overthinking Hannah’s life a bit.

I understand, I had a similar reaction when I first moved to Utah and found people giving up their dreams to pursue a simple life in Utah. Like Adam Dietlein who was starring in roles on Broadway, but moved back to Utah because he got married and wanted to start a family. I wrote an article about it at the time and I was incredulous. Why would anyone do that?: https://www.utahbusiness.com/there-are-theater-jobs-in-utah/

Hannah did the same. Starting her ranch was not about trading pageants and ballet slippers to make money as a farmer, it was about the fact that they had kids, and in the Mormon Church raising kids is the most important thing parents can do. And they wanted their kids to live a beautiful life.

And it’s not just her. Just about everyone who lives in Kamas (and Heber and Midway too) are wealthy, Mormon, and semi-retired, farming and raising animals for the fun of it, and raising their kids in a pastoral setting in the mountains. Our state’s most prolific angel investor does the same. Scott Paul farms goats, not for money, but as a fun family activity. He, his wife, or any of his kids could just as easily devote an Instagram account to it if they wanted to.

I think it helps to understand Utah’s tech scene. Imagine Silicon Valley but where all the tech founders are Mormon, so they leave work at four or five to spend time with their families. The value here is family over work. In fact, it’s a bad look to be caught at the office at 7pm if you have kids. For this reason, having kids and moving to the mountains to spend more time with them is the equivalent of the Bay Area’s having kids, moving to Sonoma, working until 8pm, then spending two hours in the car to see the kids before they fall asleep. The value there is work over family. In fact, it’s a bad look to be caught leaving the office before the traffic starts. Why don’t we call that weird?

And the idyllic crafts in the mountains are a thing. Crafting in general is all the rage in Utah. As it turns out, not drinking alcohol manifests in the Mormons as eating sugar and doing crafts. That’s their hobby. It’s why Cricut is headquartered here. It’s why we have more cookie shops and soda shops than anywhere else. It’s an activity to do with family and that’s what they value.

And yes, most Mormons leave BYU off their internet personas because it comes with a stigma they don’t want to have. The Bucket List family learned that early on and a lot of influencers have followed suit. And if I were Hannah I’d shout it from the roof tops that I went to Juilliard too!

It’s true that Mormon women can’t hold positions of leadership, and that does manifest in oppressive ways (it’s why our state also has the highest rates of depression, suicide, breast implants, etc.). But I also think that women like Hannah are kind of sticking it to that regime by creating value and leadership for themselves online. It’s a sort of resistance. It’s “I may not be able to be the CEO of a company but watch me be successful without that title.” Solopreneurship here is a form of feminine power and definitely shouldn’t be discounted!

I think it’s easy to look at Hannah’s story and assume that she gave up a career as a ballerina or a beauty queen because of that oppression, but the even easier truth is that, for a lot of these women what they value even more than having a career is having a family. And honestly, that’s true for a lot of the Dad’s here too.

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Thanks for sharing your take on this, Elle. It's more complicated (to me) because family is a core and intimate part of Ballerina Farm's work, at least on her IG. And then some of the pieces shared publicly don't seem to add up on the work or family side. (eg, their ranch not being a profitable business, how does their household actually run because how do you do all of the those things with six little kids without help).

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Well the ranch doesn't need to be a profitable business if they have other income, which appears like it might be the case. And as to how people do all the things they do with six kids, I will never know. Though it does seem like grandparents and siblings play a very big role here!

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My partner (who is in tech), who is from Utah (we're now in a HCOL), felt SO seen, heard, witnessed when I read this outloud to them - we laughed, nodded, and it brought us some stories of "oopsies" moments lost-in-translation of cultural nuances their HCOL teammates don't understand. I really did not understand "Utah culture" nuances until reading this (besides the tidbits from my partner). Thank you for taking the time to write and share this Elle.

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Ahhhh yes, fellow Utahns understand!!!!!! 🥰

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Are you a moderator?

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As a person of color in America, when I'm around some white people (especially liberal, self-identified environmentalist activists), when I share with them that I grew up on farms (outside of America), they have a very different idea in their mind than reality. I know this, because the comments range from, "Can I visit? It must be so idyllic," to "Everyone should have that as an upbringing."

Yes, it is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity, quieter and slower. Yes, there is a direct connection to nature inside and outside.

And, it requires financial backing of some kind (in our case, through generational wealth passing down via my great-great-great grandparents to the current generation), and even then - everyone in my family still had to have a primary job / career to financially sustain the tiny farming one can do on the side. So commutes are long, sometimes family members are separated for months at a time while someone works in the next town over and visits on long weekends. Our farm town didn't have internet until a couple years ago, and in 2022, its very strained and inconsistent (we still send letters if we need to connect - no remote working life possible there, or Instagram uploading). Electricity arrived not so long ago either. There's one bus that comes once a day, and the ever growing challenging reality that there aren't enough young people who stay, because they've had to move to the cities, sometimes only to return as visitors. (Like me).

When I meet people of color in America who also grew up on farms, there's a shared sense of what I like to think of as radical hospitality, deep warmth, sharing of resources (sometimes, too generously too quickly), an understanding of "mud becomes lotus" mentality.

I like seeing the animal sanctuaries on Instagram and Youtube that are targeted ads towards my clicking, and, I am aware that "Ballerinafarm" is just another example of someone with way too much privilege, who chooses to contribute to land displacement and greed instead of uplifting and supporting their local community and the folks they actually have access to.

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I apologize for commenting without reading the post, but the AGA stove picture absolutely exploded off the page. I grew up feeding coal into an AGA stove. It was a very pale pink, and quite old. It was in my grandparents' house, which we moved into in 1979. It sat idle summers, but burned through the winter. There was an ash scoop, a coal hopper, and a lighting tool. To light it, one filled the lighting tool with kerosene and put it in the ash tray, then filled the chamber with charcoal and lit the lighting tool. The chamber was under the left-hand burner, and had to be filled with coal twice a day. That was my job. The center of the burner lifted out, and the hopper had a tube that released coal into the fire. The other burner had a movable metal center, too. Once I turned it 90 degrees, because I could. In a few hours, the burner above the chamber was glowing red. Before filling the chamber, I had to agitate the ash out of the chamber and scoop it out. There was a tool for that. The fire burned from late September until late April, or thereabouts, every year.

In '81 or '82 we had a ton of coal delivered. The barn had a hole in the wall for the coal chute. There really was, in Westwood, Massachusetts, a coal delivery in 1982. They can't have had much business.

The house had an incinerator, too, where we put kitchen trash into a chute in the wall until it filled the chimney, probably in a twelve-foot pile, when it was lit. The burning trash smelled sweet and acrid. My brother had to shovel out the ashes as punishment for some antics as a teenager. It may not have been done since the fifties.

My grandparents were from a society that did not make it intact through World War Two. They had hunted foxes on horseback, and servants managed the incinerator and the AGA fire, but servants could all get better work once the war came. Also, my grandparents' circumstances had changed. The fire in the AGA is interesting in that respect: that it burned on for decades with the world around it changing so much.

Again, I'm sorry to comment without reading, but that stove picture really brought back the memories.

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I have read the post now. Thank you. It is a delightful analysis.

My grandmother would never have called it living off the land, but after their circumstances changed before the war, my grandfather was, reportedly, angry and drinking a lot. What I can piece together from talking with my father and aunt is that she put the land and the family to work growing vegetables and livestock. They had sheep, cows, and chickens. They had a big garden and preserved much of what they grew. It was work my grandfather liked and was good at. I suspect the effort, and it must have been enormous, that my grandmother put in kept that family from flying apart, at least for a generation. She may not have been an influencer in the contemporary sense, but I suspect her zeal and sense of direction kept the five of them, at least, focused. She was certainly exploring new ground. Her father had told her, in the gilded age, that he could see no reason his daughters would ever need to learn to cook.

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I imagine this happened to many families (relatively, not absolute)? The end of empire, the end of the pound as the global currency, the loss of industrial supremacy. Was this something that was a shared experience? I feel like the US is bound for something analogous, and am curious what we learn (or fail to learn) from the English experience 70 years ago.

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Based on the first chapter, I think "The Age of Homespun" is going to allow me a much deeper understanding of my life's context than I have now.

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I spent a bunch of time in Yorkshire in my 20s, both working and hiking about in the hills. The AGA marketing there took awhile to understand. So many B&Bs put it in their copy -- "Full English Breakfast, cooked on the AGA", but you can't even see the stove, and do eggs really taste better? There's some version of life they are selling in that statement that I only dimly understand, but it sounds like perhaps you were much closer to, a kind of nostalgia for a country life that neither exists much anymore, nor was very accessible to most people when it did?

I love their aesthetics, but neither their function nor the role they play in marketing made much sense to mid-2000s me.

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If you find time, you should read the piece. The stove is discussed!

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Thanks. I'm just sitting down to it now.

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The stove sounds like so much work!!

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It took maybe two minutes twice a day. Plus, I've always liked fire, so it was a natural fit for me.

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Ugh, I honestly find this all so gloomy and depressing, despite Meg and AHP’s compelling analysis and engaging back-and-forth about it. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with hobby farming— I’ve known people who do it in retirement, but they don’t pretend they’re running a profitable business. There’s something about the fake “took a big risk and bought a ranch and now we’re making it work and teaching our kids the value of hard work!” narrative, and then the profitable business IS THE LIE that is both harmful and depressing. I get that it’s complicated, I use and enjoy the internet, etc etc etc, but the speed and force by which every new technology becomes a tool for reinforcing existing norms of capitalism, white supremacy, misogyny… fighting back some despair here!

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And like, I get it that all advertising is hype and hyperbole but it seems like there's a difference between selling, say, some chili powder by claiming it will transform your home cooking (and therefore life, happiness, standing with friends and family...) - clearly hype and hyperbole - versus selling some chili powder that is actually just a glass jar filled with sand in a beautiful brick red color.

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A million thank yous to Meg and AHP for this thought provoking, thorough, fascinating account. I've been a longtime follower of Ballerinafarm and you've answered so many of my questions & given me new ones. I appreciate your work.

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There is something that always bothers me that I can’t exactly articulate but I feel has something to do with privilege or class and as I went down this rabbit hole I saw ballerina farm is guilty of it too - for instance on the web page it says “in the spring you will always find him climbing our pine trees” or lots of comments about “our land”. It feels wrong to me to say it like that, that sense of ownership over trees, instead of saying you will always find him in the pine trees it’s our pine trees, our hills, our field etc. I know they own the land so technically it is theirs but still…

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I haven’t read what you’re referencing myself but the insistence of “our land” especially irks me if they are also failing to acknowledge the indigenous community in Utah.

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I agree about "our" land. Especially since, if I read the post correctly, the ranch is on the market. If it's a real estate play, okay, but once you make that play, everything presented is sales collateral, and that includes the family.

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I found this comment on twitter about the significance of Julliard in this context a bit enlightening as well. Perhaps the idea that Hannah chose farming over a future ballet career is also a bit of a myth? https://twitter.com/cjp_still/status/1455005523233869826?s=21

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I grew up doing ballet and this is 100% true. Hannah going to Julliard for ballet is just another symptom of her privilege. Someone in her life could afford it and she liked ballet. If she needed to make a living from it, she would have found a company to train with and forgone the expensive tuition.

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Not a ballerina but knew people who were very serious dancers growing up. Also strikes me that someone on track to be a professional dancer (and the young age that that track starts) would not have the additional time to also do pageants.

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Maybe why I’m so triggered by Ballerina Farm is because of how much crossover it has with my life. I grew up on a farm! I did ballet until I was 21! At 24 I pivoted and became a professional cheerleader in the NFL (“cheerleader” is a misnomer in the NFL as the teams mostly dance and very few actually lead cheers). The NFL Cheerleader world is very intertwined with the Pageant world. There are ballet dancers who do NFL cheerleading like me, but most of those people are not the same NFL cheerleaders who did pageants. It’s not a universal rule, but the “trained-ballerina-cum-pageant-queen” is not as common as you would think. Also they TYPES of pageants she does says a lot. Not all pageants are created equal. It is higher brow to do the Miss America pageants and it’s subsidiaries because those pageants are rooted in scholarship and based more on talent and accomplishments. The Trump-associated Miss USA is more objectifying and based almost strictly on appearance. Surprisingly, the Mrs. America pageant is more in the vein of Miss USA. I’ve known several Mrs. America candidates and even attended some of the feeder state pageants to support friends. That’s what Hannah is competing in now. Those pageants are for-profit franchises and there is no talent section. So it’s not like she’s doing ballet as part of her competition. Anyway, I digress, but the pageant + Serious Ballet angle never computed for me. Combine that with the farming pretense, the whole account feels like a ruse.

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So glad you shared this. I finally subscribed, after months of reading your free version, in part so I could thank you for this! I saw a piece about Ballerina Farm in some Utah-based publication a couple of months ago and I was...intrigued? In a...troubled way? I don't know how else to articulate it--I knew something was weird about it, but I wasn't sure how to describe it, or what it even was. Something about it felt so inauthentic, but it was more than just that...I grew up LDS in Utah, so that's probably exactly what made me feel unsettled about it, and I feel like this piece sums up a lot of what I was feeling.

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I know this is not the point, but that she pretends to set the camera down in this video when someone is clearly holding it has me losing my misty eyed marbles. https://www.instagram.com/p/CUJT_fdMTw4/

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That is really strange! But by the end of the video, it looks like it is on a tripod. Very odd.

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Doubts were seeded and now they’re growing 😂

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While I found this interview enthralling, I was especially interested in the idea of Talking Points USA/Charlie Kirk promoting an influencer. I would be very interested in an analytical piece about following/supporting influencers and any intersection with their political viewpoints. This would be different from the Taking Cara Babies drama, but more like, if I follow an instagrammer who I know I differ with politically, am I indirectly supporting their politics? Does not using their links or just lurking make a difference?

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Thank you so much for doing this interview! It’s just what I requested a few months ago!! I need to re-read it and sit with it for a few hours or days but it’s basically put into words what I’ve been feeling about the Farmfluencer for several years. Thanks again!

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May 1, 2022·edited May 1, 2022

After simultaneously following and unfollowing Ballerina Farms (there was always an underlying suspicion of a story untold) thank you for this article that satiated my questions because none of it had felt quite right!

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