Polter-Cow (spectralbovine) wrote,

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The Story of AMWA 2007

Last week, I attended the American Medical Writers Association Annual Conference in Atlanta. It was a really enriching experience, full of learning and networking. The organization is very personal; it feels like a very large family. It was the first time I felt like a real medical writer, as I congregated with my peers and colleagues. Everyone had such varied backgrounds and experiences. It seemed as if very few people set out to be a medical writer; it was a profession people sort of fell into from a different path. Some people had followed paths similar to mine, which was heartening.

As so often happens when I...am alive, I began to think of the various story threads that were occurring all around me, the stories I was living, that I was a part of. Let me tell you some.

The Story of SFO and ATL

My flight to Atlanta was at 7:50 A.M. from SFO. I had concocted a scheme to allow Rick and Lisa to borrow my car while I was gone, so this entailed Rick getting out of bed at the ungodly hour of six. I didn't anticipate there being much traffic before seven, so I wasn't too worried that I picked up him ten or fifteen minutes later than my planned 6:20.

Until, of course, we got on the highway and discovered that the Maze was completely backed up. I did not understand why everyone was awake this early on a Wednesday morning.

But there was nothing I could do. Even after I finally got onto the Bay Bridge, I found it difficult to even make it up to the speed limit. I practiced my aggressive driving skills, and I managed to make it to SFO by about 7:30!

Which was ten minutes too late to check in my luggage.

The next flight was in four hours. I was going to miss the conference coach session where I would presumably learn some tips on how to navigate this conference, which I had never attended. I was going to have no time for dinner if I wanted to go the creative readings. And I would have to pay fifty dollars (or, rather, my company would have to pay fifty dollars) for my stupidity. It was a matter of ten minutes. If I hadn't been so addicted to checking things online before I left, I could have made it. Ten minutes turned into four hours.

On the upside, I had time for a real breakfast, and I was hungry. I found a T.G.I. Friday's with a veggie omelette sandwich that looked interesting, although when I got it, it was tasty but calorrific. I think the nutritional value of the vegetables was canceled out by the butter on the bread and the massive amount of Swiss cheese. I had to use the restroom in the middle of the meal, and I was very amused by and glad for the trust my waiter had in me, since I took all my stuff and promised I'd be right back. I could have very easily never come back to pay for my breakfast.

I had more time to kill when I got to my gate, so I read Anansi Boys and talked to jeeperstseepers, who listened to me bite into my very first cheese Danish. She told me to bitch to Delta about the whole rigmarole, including the lack of a standby option. I talked to the nice lady at the counter, and after she explained the policies to me, she gave me a better seat on the flight, as well as more legroom on the flight back home. The squeaky wheel really does get the grease.

The flight back home would be no less harrowing, as I appeared to be destined not to have a properly unstressful trip to the airport. Lindsay's husband, Ben, was not the best navigator around, which, combined with Atlanta's poor attempts at actually telling people how to get to the fucking airport, led to some going the wrong direction and turning around. We managed to get there over twenty minutes before the half-hour-prior cut-off, though...except at ATL, for some bizarre reason, Delta stopped checking luggage in 45 minutes before takeoff. Which meant we'd made it there with about five minutes to spare.

There was less stress in between all that, thankfully.

The Story of Anansi Boys

I consider reading to be a spectator sport in reverse. I deliberately read in public so that other people can see what I am reading. It's a way to simultaneously avoid human contact and invite it. Your results may vary.

My first comment about Anansi Boys was at the gate in SFO, when the woman who stole my seat remarked that it was a great book.

At the creative readings later that night, a man whose name was amusingly similar to Neil Gaiman's stepped up to the podium to say that while his left brain was used for his more technical work, his right brain was into "science fantasy." He went on to describe his book, Lost in Redskirt Forest, which sounded pretty interesting, as it dealt a lot with palindromes and things going forward and backward ("Redskirt" backward being a misspelling of "trickster"). And then he mentioned that it was about Anansi, and I burst out laughing. He even read an excerpt from one of the Anansi stories in the book. In his book, Anansi was dabbling in the medical profession, able to read his patients' stories without their having to say anything.

The next day, he turned up in my hematology workshop, so after that was over, I told him that I had cracked up at the topic of his book and showed him what I was reading. He took a look at the title and said, "Yeah, that does sound similar, huh?" It...sounded as if he'd never heard of it. "'Neil Gaiman,'" he read. It...sounded as if he'd never heard of Neil Gaiman. And...he was a "science fantasy" fan? How bizarre. Interestingly enough, he self-published his book a year before American Gods came out.

The next morning, I found a note for me on the message board with his business card, a promotional card for his book, and the note: "Write-on!"

Thursday evening, I believe, was the next encounter. I stepped into an elevator full of women, one of whom saw my book and remarked that her daughter really liked that Neil Gaiman fellow. A younger woman in the back exclaimed that Neil Gaiman was great and American Gods was the "best book ever." Somehow, Stardust also got mentioned, and the first woman remembered that they'd made a movie of that. I said I had seen it and liked it and before we could have a proper discussion of how well it followed the book, the elevator doors closed as she got off at her floor. And before the other woman and I could have a conversation about Sandman, I got off at my floor.

On Saturday morning, after breakfast, I sat reading under the stairs. A young man said, "That's a great book," and I agreed. The woman between us was intrigued as he and I began conversing about Gaiman. I told him about having been decidedly whelmed with Gaiman's other novels but then being blown away by American Gods. He said that a lot of people have said that. The woman decided she would look into this Gaiman fellow. The guy asked me for a business card; he later e-mailed me to establish our connection.

Saturday night, I was standing around with some women, holding my book since I had been reading it in the Pulse lounge area and not being noticed, and the AMWA student volunteer (who had won a prestigious student member award) came up to talk to us. She saw my book and said, "Neil Gaiman. I think I've heard of him."

"Yeah," I said, "he's very famous and popular."

The Story of the Song Parody

Wednesday evening, they set aside some time for creative readings. Some people read essays, others short stories or poems.

I read/sang "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Research Scientist."

As happens when I have to speak in front of people, I went faster than I intended, but most people seemed to follow along fairly well, given the amount of laughter I received. People really seemed to get a kick out of it. As I went back to my seat, a couple people told me how much they enjoyed it.

On the way back to my room, by the escalators, a woman said my song parody was great and I should get together with another man who presumably had a reputation for similar nonsense and do a whole song-and-dance routine.

Thursday morning, I saw a note for me on the messageboard. It was from one of the readers the night before; she thought my song parody was "quick and clever," and she wanted me to e-mail it to her to show a colleague of hers who dabbled in limericks and inspire her to broaden her horizons. I was very flattered.

All throughout that day, people told me how much they had liked it. Neil, author of Lost in Redskirt Forest, thought it was "cute." Some people mentioned that the local Northern California conference had a skit/musical number, and I should talk to someone about getting in on that action.

At the Chapter Greet and Go that night, I talked to the appropriate people, one of whom had read from his book of poems on Wednesday. We discussed some past parodies presented at the conference. I gave him my card in case he wanted me to help write it or perhaps let me write the whole thing.

Friday and Saturday was more of the same, with at least one person mentioning it every few hours. One woman commented that it may have gone over the heads of people who had never worked in a lab, but for those who had, it was great. It appeared to have been a big hit. I didn't understand how big of a hit it was until that evening, at the President's Reception and Kickoff.

I was at a table with some people, and a woman I hadn't encountered before saw my nametag and exclaimed that I had written some song parody with lots of medical references.

She said that in the open session about how to use humor in health writing, someone had mentioned my filk. I have no idea who. But I clearly had made an impression.

She asked if I could send it to her, but I did her one better by giving her my paper copy, which she read. Her favorite part was my use of "electrophorese."

The Story of the Cancer Biology Workshop

One of the many things AMWA is good for is educational opportunities. They offer a core curriculum along with various specialties like pharmaceuticals and editing/writing. This year, in response to member suggestions, they started a science fundamentals curriculum.

At the New Member Orientation, the head of the education committee said that if anyone was interested in teaching a workshop, to come talk to her. Could it really be that easy? After the orientation, I went to talk to her, admitting that I was a n00b but that I would love to teach something, my interests being in such topics as apoptosis, signal transduction, and cancer pharmacology. I gave her my card.

Friday night at dinner, a young woman pseudo-pseudonymously named Liz fortuitously sat by me. She had come from the annual business meeting, which I had skipped. Apparently, the open session on the new science fundamentals curriculum had been standing room only. There was that much interest. This appealed to her, since it meant that if you chose to teach a workshop, people would actually take it. I mentioned the topics I was interested in, which just happened to be topics she was also interested in. We wondered if we should teach a course together.

Later that night, I talked with a group of women from Jellyvision (not its real name), one of whom, Bek, had spoken with the new head of the workshops about teaching a course in microbiology/virology, since that's what she knew. When I told her about my possible topics, she said she'd be really interested in a course in cancer biology in general. It was odd because these workshops were really geared toward people with no scientific background, so knowledge that was second nature to me would be fresh and new to them.

Saturday, I had lunch with Liz and SR-71, who had also sat at our dinner table. By this time, Liz seemed to be more hesitant about teaching a new workshop, now considering the option of co-teaching an existing workshop to gain the experience and ease into it. We later took a look at what workshops were already offered, trying to identify major holes in the curriculum. She was interested in pharmacokinetics, which was covered in the drug interaction course.

At the President's Reception, I tracked down the woman in charge of workshops, the woman we needed to pitch to. I waited for her to finish her conversation with someone else, and when she saw who I was, she declared, "I have heard a rumor!" I wasn't sure what rumor this was, but I was certain it was true. I was, in fact, interested in teaching a workshop. I went and grabbed Liz now that she was free, and she told us what was up and how the process worked. She thought a signal transduction course would be more appropriate for an advanced credit, which they would need in time, but right now, they needed to fill the more glaring holes. Cancer was a pretty broad topic, she thought; I would have to find a way to cover information sufficiently in three hours.

Later on, I talked to Tom from Jellyvision, who had been teaching workshops for five years. He was really excited to hear that I was interested in developing a new one for cancer biology. One thing he recommended was to provide sources of information so that after the workshop, people could go and learn more on their own. He thought I was definitely on the right track; I was realizing that because I had to limit everything to mostly high-level information, I could actually cover a fairly broad spectrum without having to go too in-depth.

Liz seemed to have decided to try co-teaching a workshop first. Later that night, I told her that I was going to work on creating this new cancer biology workshop by myself, if only because I didn't want anyone else to do it.

The Story of the Meals

Wednesday dinner: It was nearly ten when the creative readings got out, and I figured most normal restaurants in the area would be closed, and I didn't want to go out anyway, but I felt silly eating at one of the sure-to-be-overpriced hotel restaurants. I wasn't even that hungry. I kind of just wanted a salad. The first place I tried was closed already, since it took me until past ten to make a decision, so I had to go to High Velocity, the sports bar. Where I ate a quesadilla salad (my waitress was cool enough to offer to turn it into a chicken quesadilla), which was basically a salad on top of a quesadilla. It was a full-size quesadilla, so it sure seemed like a better deal than just getting a quesadilla as an appetizer. It was pretty good, though I only managed to eat half of it.

Thursday breakfast: This was a Roundtable, where for the low low price of $20, you could eat some scrambled eggs and potatoes and maybe some fruit and muffins. And discuss writing serious adverse event narratives. In an amusing turn of events, I turned out to be the expert at the table, as most everyone else was just starting out in the narrative biz or hadn't done them in years and was going to get back into it. The leader had some experience, but I had lived and breathed nothing but narratives for a lot of 2006, so I was pretty familiar with them. I didn't agree with all of her advice, but it was nice to get another perspective.

Thursday lunch: For the low low price of $20, you could eat some salad and a fist's worth of mushroom risotto! The entertainment was a man from the CDC, who gave a talk on public health in the globally connected community. It was pretty cool.

Thursday dinner: This was where we got to meet fellow members of the Northern California chapter. People were a little unsure how to get to the restaurant, but I had read the directions posted on the messageboard, and they all trusted me as I led them right to Azio. There was quite a large group, and I made sure to sit next to one of the officers to discuss that skit/musical thing at the local conference, which I was now excited to attend. Meanwhile, I entertained the woman on my right by becoming completely fascinated by finding the center of gravity of my butterknife. I tried to balance it on top of my fork. When I finally got it, it stayed in the air for about a second and then slowly rotated clockwise of its own accord before completely overlapping the fork and falling. It was a pretty neat trick; she was very impressed.

"You must be a hit at parties," she said.

"Not really," I said.

I inspired some others to begin playing with their silverware, and I tried to think of new and interesting things to do with my forks and knife. For dinner, I ordered rigatoni turkey bolognese, solely because of one of my favorite lines in Lily Allen's "Everything's Just Wonderful": I want to be able to eat spaghetti bolognese/And not feel bad about it for days and days and days. It was very good, but I had to scarf it down on account of needing to be somewhere at 8.

Thursday dessert: This was the Coffee and Dessert Klatch, which was for us professionals to talk about non-professional things. Unfortunately, I was the only other person who showed up for mine ("Sidelined Runners: What Do You Do When the Trail Ends?"), so for a mere $20, I had a piece of cake and talked about running for a bit and then some other things. Fortunately, I was the only other person who showed up for mine, so we didn't stay for the whole hour, which meant I could get back to my room in time for Supernatural.

Friday breakfast: This $20 breakfast featured some bizarre spinach-and-cheese spongy muffin quiche thing and a sautéed tomato topped with bread crumbs. The Roundtable today was much more informative, as it was about writing with international partners, and we all had different backgrounds and experiences to share about the ways in which to deal with language barriers and cultural differences.

Friday lunch: Looking for a seat, I was motioned to sit down at a table by the woman from last night who had enjoyed my silverware antics. Today's meal was a bit of vegetarian pasta, which was not bad but not very filling. The speaker's topic was "Why Global Health?" and he managed to keep us engaged without any PowerPoint slides.

Friday dinner: Although formal wear had been suggested for the awards dinner, I felt silly in my hand-me-down suit, since many people were wearing what they had been wearing all day. I could have gotten by. The dinner was roasted chicken, but the point was the various awards. More importantly, however, this is where I met Liz, co-star of other stories, and Tra, who I chatted with about theatre. She seemed cool, but, sadly, she was leaving before the festivities were over tomorrow. As usual, however, business cards were exchange.

Saturday breakfast: Completely free this time! They had pastries and fruit in the exhibitor's hall. I had a croissant and some strawberries and some pineapple. I ate while standing and spent the rest of the hour reading underneath the stairs, where Tim commented on Anansi Boys. He had no business card to give me, but I gave him mine.

Saturday lunch: I had planned to meet Liz in the lobby, and she had also brought along SR-71, which was just dandy as she was extremely cute. They had met during the morning sessions. I suggested a nearby Chinese restaurant I had seen, but when we walked there, it was closed, only open for dinner, it seemed. A couple other places in the area also appeared to be closed for lunch. A possibly homeless man gave us the scoop on where to eat, and we thanked him. We didn't have loads of time, so we walked up the street toward Azio and looked into a Mama Ninfa's. We got a booth, with SR-71 and Liz across from me. SR-71 and I both ordered a chicken flauta/chicken fajita combo, and Liz got a chile relleno. The food was really good, and so was the conversation. Amusingly enough, also eating in the same restaurant was a woman who had read in the creative readings (creative non-fiction about her grandmother's bipolar disorder) and a couple other AMWA attendees.

We still had some time, so the three of us walked around the block a couple times, chatting. It was the sort of bonding experience I had been waiting to have. It's networking that goes beyond business cards!

Saturday dinner: I had to skip out on dinner with Liz and the Jellyvision women, as I had made plans with wisteria_ (special thanks to miniglik for being a proxy in a World Without Internet). She picked me up from the hotel, and we went down one of the three zillion Peachtrees in Atlanta. We were passed by a motorcycle cop. And then...about a dozen other motorcycle cops, all in a line, with flashing blue lights. It was a very odd sight. To add to the surreal picture was a black man on the sidewalk hilariously/sadly on his knees with his hands up, apparently bewildered and afraid, just covering his ass.

We went to Salsa, a Cuban bistro, where I had chicken tortilla soup and some sort of...duck stuff with black beans and fried plantains. She got arroz con pollo. It was a short little meeting, but it's always nice to meet a flister.

The Story of Jellyvision

On Thursday, after the workshops, I perused the exhibitors hall, which was generally not that useful since I'm not looking for a job, but I was certainly interested in the Jellyvision booth, since they were one of the first companies I applied to when I was. I took their little writing test, and then I got a letter back saying my skill set wasn't good enough. A letter addressed to "Ms. Patel." It was awesome. Earlier this year, I discovered my company was actually working with them, which amused me more.

So I hung around and talked to the man at the booth...who just happened to be the president and founder of the company. I told him my story, and he was totally cool, and he said they were opening a branch in SF in about eighteen months, so I gave him my card. He asked me for a pen so he could write "San Francisco candidate" on it, as he was keeping a list. It's good to have that opportunity in case I want it when it comes around.

On Friday, when I was hanging around the exhibitors hall after the workshops, I talked to another woman from Jellyvision, Tab. I asked her how she liked the company. I really found the idea of ending up there eventually funny, after having been rejected by them initially. Almost a redemptive "Take that, bitches!"

Later that night, when I went down to Pulse to do some reading, I thought I saw Tab with a couple other women, but I wasn't certain because she wasn't wearing her nametag. Then, as I was leaving, I heard them talking about the elevator, which gave me an in to mention the fact that I had just taken the elevator as high as it went, which was a very freaky experience. That's how I met Bek and Hil, both also with Jellyvision. We talked for about half an hour about various things, and I ended up with three more Jellyvision cards.

At the President's Reception, I saw Bek and Tab again. Bek was not wearing jeans, as she had claimed she would be the following night. The dress code at the conference was sort of whatever you wanted it to be, it seemed. Liz and I met Tom, also from Jellyvision, with whom I talked about doing a workshop. Jellyvision had a strong presence here. By the time I met him, I had run out of business cards, so he got a fake business card upon which I'd written the necessary information.

After the reception shut down, Bek, Tab, Liz, another woman pseudo-pseudonymously named Lor (who may or may not have been from Jellyvision too), and I talked on the lobby floor outside the Starbucks until we broke for dinner. I went my way, and they went theirs. Later that night, however, I found them in the same place, and we talked some more. It was a good time.

The Story of the People That Time Forgot

In a small conference with a thousand-or-so people, you're bound to run into the same people over and over again. Strangely enough, I only ran into a co-worker of mine once (not counting dinner, where we were sure to meet).

Yet, there was Cyn, who appeared at my Thursday Roundtable, a couple of my open sessions on Friday, and my CSR workshop on Saturday. And Hal, who read about her grandmother's bipolar disorder at the creative readings. I seemed to see her everywhere I went, just in passing, never at an actual event (except for seeing her at the Ninfa's). And, most oddly, she had left her homework on the chair next to mine during an earlier workshop. I left her a message on the board to contact me if she wanted it back, and then I ran into her at the exhibitors hall and was able to return it to her. I thought it was all a sign, but she never expressed interest in trading business cards.

Initially, I thought the homework on the chair meant she was sitting next to me at the workshop I was taking, but after a couple people wanted to sit there but couldn't, I looked at the homework and saw that it wasn't for the IND workshop at all. That freed up the seat for one Susie Q, who was just starting out in the field. She was from New York, but she was actually considering moving out to the Bay Area. I gave her my business card in case she did end up making good on that, and she was very impressed, realizing that I was a real medical writer already. She had no card of her own. I saw her a couple times the next morning, too, and I wonder if I had seen her before or not. Because, for instance, I do know I had seen SR-71 a few times before I officially met her. Once you know someone, they stand out to you more in your field of perception. In any case, Susie Q was also in my CSR workshop. She left before the President's Reception, though.

Two Leonard Shelby moments:

As I was crossing the marquis level to the escalators on Saturday, a woman hurriedly came up to me and shook my hand, saying, "It was great to meet you, Sunil," and telling me she was leaving. I recognized the nametag as one I'd seen before, but I couldn't remember where. I think it was a lunch. I smiled at her before walking away in confusion.

That night, when we were sitting and talking after the reception, a man walked by us on his way to the elevators. He sort of smiled and nodded at me in recognition. I had no earthly idea who he was, but I smiled and nodded right back at him.

After he left, I said, "I have no idea who that was."

Lor said, "You fooled me. I totally thought you knew him."

I felt like Dexter.

The Story of Anna Banana, Lindsay Bo Bindsay, and Ben

On Sunday, there was no more conference business, and everyone was leaving, so it was time for some fun in Atlanta with friends! Lindsay (darlingviolenta) and Ben picked me up from the hotel. Lindsay was still short, and Ben was still tall. Anna (athenacqd) had suggested we meet at Atlantic Station for lunch, so Ben punched it into his Blackjack, and we were off! In the wrong direction! Back and forth! It was a good time. We listened to Man Man.

We finally made it to Atlantic Station, which, unbeknownst to Anna, had been taken over by Taste of Atlanta. We coordinated by cell phone in an attempt to find her, but in the end, she came to us. As she walked toward us, I didn't even recognize her. It had been over a year since I had last seen her, but she was blonder and thinner now.

She led us to the food court, which included her favorite restaurant, Moe's Southwestern Grill, but they only took cash, so we decided to go somewhere else. We piled into Lindsay's car and took off toward some mall or something that had been suggested, but after a while, Ben decided that a good, one-of-a-kind place to go would be one of their favorite restaurants, Trackside Grill. I was in the South; I ought to have Southern food, so I gave it a thumbs up. As a bonus, he totally knew how to get there.

After we waited for old people to stop talking and exit their parking spaces so we could park, we went inside the restaurant, which had been converted from an old railroad station, or so they say. Hence the name. As it was Sunday, they were serving brunch, but they did have lunch options. They did not, however, have Ben's favorite dish, the chicken pot pie.

Still, we took a booth. Ben gazed longingly at a family seated outside, the mother and father eating their pot pies while the daughter just did not appreciate the precious luxury of what was in front of her. The last chicken pot pie had been sold minutes before we arrived.

The waitress took our drink orders and brought us drinks. In jars.

Ben also ordered some Cajun onion rings for the table. They were gigantic motherfuckers and pretty good, though we weren't sure what made them so Cajun.

Since there was no pot pie, I got the pecan fried chicken, as did Lindsay. Ben got the veal meatloaf, which was not nearly as good as the pot pie. And Anna got a grilled cheese sandwich.

After lunch, I suggested we go to the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History because I'd seen a sign on the way that declared it "Home of The General." Having seen and loved the movie a couple months ago, I was interested. We followed the signs.

There was a little locomotive car to play in before we entered the museum, with hilarious labels on everything like STOVE and CLOSET and STATIONARY. Admission to the actual museum, however, was $7.50, which was more than we wanted to pay to see The General. Instead, we looked at the model in the lobby, and I saw that the train did exist in color. Besides, it was the real train, and I was technically more interested in the train used in the movie. So whatever!

We went back to Lindsay and Ben's apartment, which was different from the one I had stayed in a couple years ago. We decided to play Scattergories, which is always fun. Ben had to leave after the first round, but Lindsay and Anna and I kept on going, the three of us only a few points away from each other. Some highlights:

I was totally proud of coming up with fibromyalgia as a Disease for F. Look at me, with my medical writing knowledge! No one will put that. EXCEPT LINDSAY WTF.

I rolled a K. One of the categories was "Television Actress." "Hey, Anna," I said, "who's a television actress whose name begins with K?" (I went with Kristin Kreuk, for the record.)

The most hilarious round of all was M. For Language, I randomly put Mayan, at a loss to think of anything else. SO DID ANNA. Even better, for Bible Name, I first thought of Matthew, so I used my second choice, which was Mark. LINDSAY AND ANNA BOTH PUT MARK. And then, finally, for Animal, I first thought of moose, but then I decided to go obscure and, thinking of schnappycat, put meerkat. SO DID ANNA. Anna and I had three of the same answers in a row (though I may have screwed up the order). It was ridiculous.

Anna had some plans later that evening, so Lindsay and I dropped her off back at Atlantic Station, and then we came back to Kennesaw. Ben suggested ice cream, so we walked down to Bruster's, where I had some mint chocolate chip. Then we walked back and watched cartoons. Like, the old cartoons on Cartoon Network, some of which were so old they even had little "Support the War Effort!" messages at the end. Fun times. Then, some King of the Hill.

For dinner, I asked that we try Moe's, Anna's favorite restaurant. Their burritos had weird names like "Joey Bag of Donuts," which is what I got. Lindsay and I reminisced about Mission Burrito and Freebird's.

Following dinner was our harrowing trip to the airport, and our story has come full circle.
Tags: books, ethicalmedical.net, food, girls, i am so awesome, job search, medical writing, not being a serial killer, personal, pictures, pimpings, real life friends, such is life

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