A Moving Diary, Part Two

It’s almost here. Moving day. It’s almost here and I’m ready.

It’s almost here and I’m not ready.

It’s almost here and this is the best decision I’ve ever made.

It’s almost here and this is the worst decision I’ve ever made.

I think about all the little annoyances I’m going to leave behind and I grin smugly to myself.

I think about all the little wonders I’m going to leave behind and I try not to cry.

I think about the people to whom I’m saying farewell and I do cry, but I pretend that it’s because of my contact lenses. They are very dry and dusty today.

Packing.

Packing is all there is. Packing is love. Packing is life.

These are my collapsible cardboard boxes. There are many collapsible cardboard boxes like them, but these collapsible cardboard boxes are mine. My collapsible cardboard boxes, without me, are useless. Without my collapsible cardboard boxes, I am useless. I must pack my collapsible cardboard boxes true.

Tomorrow is my last day at the library, but today feels like the true finale. Tomorrow is a Saturday, which means a skeleton crew on staff. Tomorrow is the epilogue. Today is when I’m saying goodbye to co-workers. No, not co-workers. Friends. I’m saying goodbye to friends.

I remember the first book I checked out when I started as a new library employee in December 2007. It was The Accidental Time Machine, by Joe Haldeman. My library card had lapsed years before, so this was the first book I checked out on my new card that I created on my first day. I’ve read nearly 600 books since then and checked out hundreds more than I never finished.

The last book I checked out is Fragile Things, by Neil Gaiman. I’d often wondered which book would be the last one I’d borrow. Now I know.

I should be packing.

A Moving Diary, Interruption

There’s probably never a good time to get sick, but there are certainly times that are worse than others. On Friday, I acquired what I would later call Death Flu and yes, I do believe that is the scientific name. I was bedridden for four days and even after I was upright and ambulatory, it still took a few more to really get over.

I pride myself on keeping things classy around here, so I’ll spare you the (actual) grim details and relate my experience entirely in ridiculous comparisons. This is how sick I was:

  • It was like my body was a retail outlet having an end of year clearance sale. Absolutely everything had to go!
  • I reflected extensively on the works of Jackson Pollack and attempted to recreate his style . . . in my bathroom.
  • Usually, being sick means staying home from work and binge-watching Netflix; I was too sick to look at a computer screen, let alone go all the way to the living room to retrieve my laptop.
  • Several times as I lay there, hurting and shivering, I considered mercy-killing myself, but I couldn’t muster the energy to get up out of bed to go about it.

So that was all of last weekend and a good part of this week. I’m finally over it and over the intense dehydration that resulted.

But where this leaves me in relation to my upcoming move is that prior to being sick, I felt like I had plenty of time to get everything packed; now I am certain that I have absolutely already run out of time and I won’t get everything packed and ready and I’ll have to leave things behind which means I’m going to have to abandon most of my possessions on the side of the road and my girlfriend will hate me for having to abandon all of that stuff, much of which is hers and she’ll leave me and I’ll die alone and unloved somewhere, probably from another bout of Death Flu.

Or something like that. You know. Reasonable stuff.

I suppose if you’re going to come down with something like Death Flu and you have a schedule like mine, it’s better that to get this out of the way now. If it had struck while we were in transit from Tucson to Seattle, I’m sure I would have gotten left on the side of the road in the deep Nevada desert. If it had struck after the move was done, well, that would run right into my brother’s wedding and if I screwed that up with something as base and unreasonable as my body’s complete inability to function, I think he’d never speak to me again.

So . . . better that it happened now. Hopefully my immune system is prepared to keep me upright for the next two months, at least.

But that also means I’m panicking because I have to pack and I’m out of time!

If you’re wondering how I have time to do this right now, well . . . this is what you do with your lunch break when you forgot to pack your lunch.18

A Moving Diary, Part One

(This is a diary about moving as opposed to a moving diary, which I imagine would be a personal account so poignant that it might move one in an emotional context).

In the late summer of 1996, my family moved from Rochester, New York, to Tucson, Arizona. I was ten at the time, old enough to remember Rochester quite vividly, but it is Tucson that has been my home for the majority of my life. I elected not to travel out of state for college. There were reasons for this: cheaper tuition, few other schools around offered the particular major I wanted, and I had a good job at the time that I didn’t want to leave. But I suspect that the deeper reason was because at eighteen, I wasn’t ready to leave yet. I stayed close to home and only ventured out a few degrees at a time. That was ten years ago.

In twenty-four days, I’ll be leaving Tucson and moving to Seattle.

It’s odd to think of time in such disparate sizes. Ten years. Twenty years. Twenty-four days.

I was asked to blog about the impending cross-country move that will involve me, my friend who is also moving and also to Seattle, his wife that he hasn’t seen in four months, his father, and two snakes. There is the assumption that there will be misadventures and hijinks in the upcoming journey. If there are, rest assured that I shall report them in this space.

But even before that, as I begin the slow process of packing up my life, I find that this puts me in a reflective mood. Everything seems to be changing all at once. In a little over a month, my younger brother will be getting married. I’ll be leaving the library system that I’ve worked in for eight years, far, far longer than any other job I’ve ever held.

Change is inevitable, of course, but it is not often that it all happens so quickly. This is why I want to capture these moments in time, because so much is changing and I don’t want to lose these moments as they happen. In ten years, twenty years, I want to be able to look back on this moment.

That I am not writing these thoughts privately is a testament to the nature of the times in which we live, the zeitgeist that is “everything worth doing is worth sharing.”

I suppose we shall see.

I don’t know that I will having something worth recording every day, but I will write every time I have something worth saying.

Departure: T-minus twenty-four days.

Adventures in (Indoor) Climbing

I’m afraid of heights. Actually, I’m afraid of lots of stuff. If we’re going in order of most severe to least severe, my fears are tight spaces, dying with regrets, drowning, spiders, and then heights. I might have forgotten a few of them. Not important.

My claustrophobia is the worst of them. When I was young and needed stitches on my face after a nasty fall, the doctor offered to “show me a cool trick” and put my arms into an empty pillow case and then a nurse pushed down on my shoulders to pin me. I lost my fucking mind and thrashed until I forced my way out of the pillow case. After that, I was completely calm and they were able to stitch me up, which ironically would have happened in the first place had that bastard not tried to restrain me. Regardless, tight spaces or having my arms pinned freaks me out.

The problem is that I like going on adventures and so, in my teenage years, it so happened that one of those adventures was in a cave. If you’re curious, it’s considered a “primitive cave” which is another way of saying you bring your own damn lights and such. No guided tours here!

I’ve been back to that cave many times since then, but one thing has never left: always, always there is a little undercurrent of panic at the back of my mind. The trick, of course, is to keep it at bay and under control, but it’s never really gone. You just learn to deal with it and manage it.

I was invited to go indoor climbing yesterday, which is another one of those adventure things I’ve always wanted to do but never actually got around to doing. I said yes and then immediately had profound misgivings about my decision. But, shit, I thought, little kids do this for their birthday parties. It was going to be fine.

When we arrived, I was feeling pretty good. It wasn’t until I had the harness on that the little panic wave started. However, I very, very badly did not want to show this to either of my friends.

I started on the easy wall and tied my figure-eight knot (is there another name for it? I don’t know) and I grabbed the first few rocky bits and pulled myself up. No big deal. This is easy. It wasn’t until I got about halfway up and I looked down and realized I was something like 30 feet up that the little panic current surged into something like a wave. Well, shit. Now what?

“I’m good!” I called. This was a lie. When in doubt, bluff, even if it’s to yourself. My fear stemmed from the fact that I didn’t know what to expect from the belayed rope that I would be using if I fell or when I started to come down. What if it didn’t work? How could I trust it?

Well, the rope worked and down I came, admitting to no one that I basically came down because of fear. But to carry the bluff through and make it believable, I said, “okay, I’m ready for a real route. Let’s do this.”

My friends led me over to the real face. It’s, I dunno, 40 or 50 feet? It was tall. Once again, I was tied on and ready to go. But this time, I had a flash of brilliant insight! I climbed up a few feet and then leaned back to test my rope for my own peace of mind. I dangled a few feet off the ground just to make sure it would all work and it would support me and I hadn’t tied the knot wrong or broken something.

And up I want. It was slow at first and I doubted everything I was doing. At the halfway point, the panic returned. And at the 2/3rds marker, I lost my grip and fell about a foot before the rope caught me. It is a very uncomfortable feeling to fall when you’re 35 feet in the air. But the rope worked and I didn’t die and soon after that, I made it to the top. And literally as soon as my hand reached the top edge, I said “okay, good, bring me down” and I was lowered back to the ground because really, I didn’t want to stay up there a second longer than I needed to be.

And so it went for the rest of the day. I had fun but there was still that little fear, the little current of terror. It wasn’t until my last climb of the day that I conquered it.

I chose a tough (for me) route that had a textured surface to resemble a real mountain cliff. There was a ledge that I had to pull myself up over, maybe about 10 or 15 feet up? I lunged for it, lost my grip and swung in the air for a while before trying again and failing. My arms had given out completely at that point but I kept lunging, falling, and swinging. And I realized at that moment that I was too goddamned tired to be afraid and as I made my last attempt and felt my arms burning, I figured what the hell and let myself fall back so I could relax my now-noodley arms.

And just like that, the fear was broken. I was simply too tired to be afraid of it. It was a profound and amazing experience, one that I couldn’t really articulate to my friends because it would mean admitting that I’m a big chicken and that wouldn’t work with the whole image I was trying to create.

But it was fun and I can’t wait to give it another try. I really want to make it to the top of that one route.

How I Write (These Days)

Let me take a moment to say what this post is not. It’s not a discussion of style or process. It’s not going to be a long navel-gazing about “where I get my ideas.” There are a lot of posts and books and things already out there for people interested in those topics and I guarantee they’re written better than what I could come up with here. Also, I think the topic is somewhat boring. Most writers love to talk about writing. Just pick your particular favorite writer and you’ll be able to answer those particular questions.

Instead, I’d like to talk about the actual physical mechanics, such as they are. Let’s talk about what I write with in terms of programs.

There are writers out there who write longhand. Some still work on typewriters. I actually do own a typewriter, although I’ve never used it for anything serious. I typed a story up on it once and then looked at the pages in my hand and wondered, shit, now what? Do I scan these into a PDF or something?

There are a lot of writing programs out there. Scrivener seems to have the most vocal disciples, although I’ve never used it and generally, the more vigorously someone evangelizes something, the less I want to try it. I’m a Microsoft Word user these days, although I didn’t get my start on Word.

My first computer was purchased in the halcyon days of 1998. Instead of getting the current version of Word, we ended up with something called “Student Writing Center.” It was an absolutely bare-bones program with very little in the way of frills or features, but I liked it ’cause it was all that I knew. I wrote my first manuscript on it, as well as the incomplete sequel I abandoned somewhere around 70,000 words. I’ve copied and uploaded those files from machine to machine over the years; even though they’re both “trunk novels,” I can’t let them go. And it’s not like they take up much storage space.

My first laptop was a Dell purchased in 2004 and somehow, I purchased WordPerfect instead of Word when I bought it. It took me years to realize that WordPerfect was created by a different company (Corel). I thought it was a Microsoft product and probably figured it was the “better” version of Word. It had “perfect” right there in the name, after all! Despite this, it wasn’t perfect. I wrote a lot of papers and short stories on WordPerfect and kept working on my novels, but I never finished anything big.

My next computer in 2009 was an HP desktop and I finally had my own version of Word. (2010, I believe). In fact, I still have this version of Word and it’s still my main writing platform the majority of the time. I’ve done the vast majority of six NaNoWriMo successes on this version of Word and this computer and I finished the manuscript that I’m currently trying to publish.

Finally, there’s my current laptop, also an HP, purchased last year along with Word 2013. Originally, I was really hesitant about buying Word (shit’s expensive, yo) and tried to use Google Docs or OpenOffice as my main writing platform for that machine. It never took, though. After so many years, I’m basically acclimatized and anything different distracts me too much for comfort. I’ll probably continue buying versions of Word until I’m in my grave and even my corpse will insist that my tombstone and funeral programs be typed up in Word (and probably using Calibri as the font).

The only major change in how I go about handling my work is where I save my master files of my manuscripts, which is what I call the version of the document that I actually work on. I’ve been perpetually terrified of having a hard drive failure or house fire destroy all of my work, so I’ve tried various things over the years. Originally I burned copies to CD, but this was such a slow process that I never kept them as up-to-date as they should have been. Eventually I switched to using USB thumb drives but this was also unsatisfying as I was afraid of losing the sticks or having them get destroyed in a fire.

My current system for backing up my work is one that I’m really happy with and it happened pretty much by accident. Early on, I started using Google Drive to make digital copies of my manuscript files. The problem was that I didn’t like writing in Google Docs but at that point, the only way to go from one machine to another and use Word was to download the file from Google Drive, work on it in Word, and then upload it back to the Drive.

This wasn’t too bad, except for the fact that I very quickly had dozens of copies of my files and had a very hard time remembering which ones were the “master” and which were back-ups or transfers. What I wanted was a single file that I could open with Word and access regardless of which machine I was using and still exists in the cloud to prevent data lose if my house burns down.

OneDrive ended up meeting all of these needs, so these days it’s my main platform, which is especially convenient since Word Online is actually pretty good. So now I have my main file in my OneDrive, which I can work on with both my desktop and my laptop (or even a borrowed computer if need be) and I don’t need to keep transferring or downloading files. Since I ride a motorcycle or a bicycle everywhere, carrying a laptop isn’t overwhelmingly convenient, so instead I can log onto a library computer on my lunch break and still have access to my master files. It’s improved my personal productivity tremendously by having those files so conveniently accessible, which I suppose is the whole idea of cloud storage in the first and which Google already did and would have worked for me anyway if I wasn’t so picky about the whole Google Docs thing. Anyway.

I keep backups of my files on both my desktop and my laptop in case Microsoft crashes, although I suspect if that ever happened, I’d probably have more to worry about than just my data. But I still like to be redundant.

So that’s my current approach to my precious writing files. For those nerds out there who are interested in this stuff that you read all the way to the end, what’s your approach to managing your files across multiple computers?

The Trouble With Long Books

I read for a lot of reasons. One of the stranger reasons I read is because of how much I like entering my reading into my Goodreads profile. You enter the books you’ve read, when you’ve read them, give them a rating and a review (if you want). Basic social media stuff, but that’s now why I love it; I love it because of what Goodreads does with all that data after you enter it.

I love how the data get arrayed out into neat bars and stats based on how many books you’ve read in a year, how many pages, when you’ve read the book versus when it was published, and what the longest book was that you read for that year. Basically, these are stats for a nerd, the way a baseball player might be concerned with improving his batting average or a runner might want to improve her best times. Suddenly, I want to read so I can fill my bars and I want to read a lot, all the time, even if I don’t really feel like it because I have to keep filling those bars. This is also the neurotic motivation I have for gathering Achievements for my Xbox Live gamertag, incidentally.

And hey, as long as it all motivates one to read more books, what’s the problem?

Well, the problem is that when you set a reading goal for the year, and if you really focus on hitting it, you very quickly turn into a mercenary about what you’re reading. Sure, you could be reading Infinite Jest right now (which I am) and it could strike you was one of the best books ever written (which, thus far, it does) but it still only counts for one book. It’s over a thousand pages long yet it only moves my “books read” bar up by one tick. It’s over a thousand goddamn pages. I could read three average novels in the same time period!

There was one month (May 2013, according to Goodreads) where I did nothing but read Shogun by James Clavell for almost the entire month! And sure, it was one of the finest books I’ve ever read in my life and absolutely compelling, but an entire month was spent on one book! What about my bars? I have bars to fill.

Sure, there’s the fact that the graph also tracks the longest book that you’ve read, but that also has a flaw: what’s the point of reading a thousand page book if you’ve already got a 1100 pager on that graph? I have Neal Stephenson’s Anathem sitting patiently in my “to read” stack, but what’s the point? That shit only clocks in at a mere 937 pages, which makes it too long for me to stay on track with my monthly book goal, but too short to make “longest book of the year that I read.”

So, what, I’m left with the joy of reading? Maybe I want to marvel at a masterpiece of speculative fiction from a writer who cosistently delivers interesting and intelligent work that always impresses me? Maybe I just want to read something great for the joy of reading?

Fuck that, man. I got bars that need fillin’.

The Great Bikening

I’ve mentioned it on Twitter a few times, but I purchased a used bicycle about two weeks ago. My reasoning for this decision was because I’d cancelled my boxing gym membership and I needed something to provide a measure of physical activity. I’d loved boxing, but after moving five miles in the wrong direction, suddenly a 30 minute drive just to get to the gym didn’t seem so appealing. Not to mention, I’m trying to get financially squared away and a $45 monthly gym membership just didn’t fit with that goal, especially after I’d picked up a poor attendance habit and was only going about once a week (I’d been hitting the gym three times a week when I first started).

I’d been reading on a few blogs (Mr. Money Mustache and the Art of Manliness) about how rewarding it is to commute to work via bicycle. I checked the distance between home and work on Google maps and discovered it’s just a hair under 10 miles one-way. Shit, I thought to myself. That’s doable. Yeah, I could do that.

The math worked out. Google estimated the time at 50 minutes. My normal commute right now via motorcycle is about 25 minutes. But since I was already spending two hours on fitness when I went to the gym (and only getting one hour of actual exercise out of it), this scheme would allow me to spend my time more effectively since I was turning commute time into exercise time!

So I went out and purchased a used bike. It took a few tries; I looked into BICAS first but they didn’t have anything comfortable for my height. Bookman’s Sport Exchange had a very reasonably priced, very stylish looking green bike that I fell in love with after one test ride.

I rode it home. It was about five miles. I nearly died of exhaustion.

I recall lying on the carpet, gasping like a fish and wondering two things: first, how the hell was I going to do twenty miles a day and second, how had I let myself get this out of shape?

Because I used to bike a lot as a kid. And as a kid, I was able to go on my bike forever. It isn’t until you revisit things in adulthood that you loved in childhood that you realize how much slower and heavier adult bodies are if you don’t keep them in working order.

After that humbling experience, I spent a week building up my stamina. I took a long ride to get some miles under my belt. I tested the commute itself on a day off, reasoning that if I collapsed in a heap on the road somewhere, at least I wouldn’t have to call in.

The commute itself is lovely. I’m really lucky. Around 7 miles of it are on a dedicated, bike-only path that runs the length of a dry river, because in Tucson, rivers don’t need to have water in them to be considered rivers. Even the few miles I do spend on the streets are mostly well designed with generous bike lanes. I only hit three stop lights in ten miles. It’s amazing.

Today is my second day biking to work. I make sure to give myself an hour and a half, even though the commute itself is just about an hour. I have accepted the fact that I’m basically the slowest person on the entire bike trail. Senior citizens zip by me at roughly 1 million miles per hour and politely do choose not to mock me.

But I’m getting better. I’ve improved my commute time by almost ten minutes from the first time I rode it until today. I didn’t need to stop and catch my breath at any point.

I still feel bad when I see how much faster everyone else is. But it makes me really happy to feel the improvements already. I’m getting better. I don’t think I’ll ever be as fast as the senior citizens on their carbon-fiber super bikes, but you know what? That’s okay. Because I’m doing this for me. I’m getting healthier again. I like that.

Safety Razor!

I hate shaving. I hate everything about it. I hate how it feels, I hate how much time it takes, I hate the inevitable razor burn that follows. Most of all, I hate buying razor blades; I hate how much they cost and how it just feels like you’re getting ripped off when you buy replacements. More than once, I’ve wondered if it just wouldn’t be cheaper to keep buying a whole new Razor each time.

The only thing I hate more than shaving is the prickly, stubbly, neck-itch inducing presence of not shaving.

Today was my first shave with an old school, double-edged safety razor. And it was glorious.

The idea came about when we were at the store a few days ago picking up some supplies and I was lamenting, once again, the fact that I needed new razor blades. But tucked into a lonely corner of the lowest shelf, I noticed an inexpensive little box containing a double-bladed safety razor and a set of replacement blades. There were also replacement blades that were a fraction of the Gillete shit I’ve been buying.

Holding the box in my hand, I recalled a blog post I’d read a very long time ago, about how to shave like your grandpa. It had made shaving with a true safety razor seem old school and stylish and slick. I never followed up on the advice from that blog post, however, because it seemed like a true safety razor was beyond my reach. My grandfathers are deceased, so I can’t exactly ask them.

That blog post was written in 2008; what a difference seven years has made! Double-edged safety razors are coming back into vogue; the Wikipedia page indicates that since 2009, sales of traditional safety razors have increased by 1,000%.

Gentlemen readers of this blog, if you haven’t yet tried this, I urge you to do so. It’s less expensive and yet it also feels so much better. I had the best shave of my life today. I feel clean, whole, and thoroughly unburnt by razors. I’m actually looking forward to the next time I can shave, simply because of how good I felt immediately afterwards.

That’s the life lesson from this experience, at least for me. I approach too many things as necessary tasks that must be endured rather than savored. It’s something that I’m trying to change.

Google Glass And What It Means For The Story I’m Writing

It’s making the headlines once again after a long radio silence and like all things related to Google Glass and the headlines, the news isn’t good. Google is ending its Explorer program for Google Glass and going back to the drawing board. This program, for those who don’t obsessively follow all things tech, was where a person such as you or me could write an application (including written essay!) to be allowed to buy your own Google Glass and test it out. It sounds pretty cool, except for the part where Glass itself costs $1,500. That price tag caused my attention to wander, but I also don’t want to pay more than $200 for a smartphone, so I might not be the best person to ask.

The reason why I’m concerned, however, isn’t because I was a Google Glass aficionado but because I’m concerned about what the Glass setback will mean for the trajectory of electronics that we carry with us daily. I first became interested in just how far our cultural obsession would go when I noticed that I literally haven’t been more than ten feet away from my smartphone since I bought it in 2011. I also read a study that claimed that a third of Americans would sooner give up sex than their smartphone device.

All of those things started swirling around in my brain and pretty soon I had the framework for the two novels that I’ve been working on since 2012: a not-too-distant future where instead of a smartphone that you need to charge and can drop and could lose, you get a nice little microchip implanted in your brain through a quick and painless process that can be done right there at the store. Of course, being a science fiction novel, things have to go horribly wrong with that idea, but at the time, I still felt that the trajectory was such that we were on track from going from devices we carry with us every day to devices that we wear on our bodies to devices that are actually inside us.

Does the lukewarm embrace (or even outright rejection) of Glass indicate that this path might not hold? Maybe. It’s also true that the first device in a completely new category doesn’t often win the race; the iPhone wasn’t the first smartphone by a longshot, but it’s the one that convinced everyone that smartphones were must-have gadgets. There are a lot of things that could be responsible for Glass faltering; I personally blame the price tag and the admittedly interesting but also convoluted Explorer program. Will Google keep going with Glass and try something else? Or will wearable computers seem like a dead end?

I really hope we haven’t reached a dead end, not because I’m a huge fan of the whole idea, but because I really want my story to still be relevant by the time I’m done writing it. Science fiction is littered with examples of stories outdated by the forward march of time but it would well and truly suck to be outdated before I’ve even finished the book.

Thoughts On The Thrill Of Destroying A Box Of Stuff

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a twenty-something male is living on his own and is pretty bad when it comes to basic life skills like maintaining one’s files and/or opening mail. The mail all goes into a pile on the young man’s desk. When the desk starts to overflow, the mail (most of it unopened) all goes into a box that can be safely hidden away until a vague, unspecified future date when the young man “will get around to it.”

Hilarious, no?

The idea was that I needed a paper shredder because I was getting roughly a hundred pre-approved credit card applications a week and I knew that if I threw them out, anyone willing to root around in my trash could sign up for a shiny Capital One card with a low APR of only 23%. This might sound paranoid but for the fact that I have literally had to chase someone out of my trash bin who was rooting through my discarded stuff.

So all those Capital One offers went into the box. And I was also vaguely uncertain about how long I needed to store my pay stubs, so those all went into the box too. And since I wasn’t sorting my mail, it all went into the box. My bank statements went in as well, and the bills, and the student loan stuff . . .

And of course, I was paying my loans online and doing my banking online and paying the bills online, so there really wasn’t a need for any of that paper. I didn’t want to throw it out though, so into the box it went.

I asked for (and received!) a paper shredder for Christmas and armed with this fearsome tool of whirling blades and gnashing teeth, I resolved to finally get through my box. I hauled it out into the living room and proceeded to open and then shred roughly three years of statements, applications, and other junk.

I hauled away four full trash bags of shredded paper that day. My only regret is that I didn’t take a picture of the before and after.

Now? Now there is a trim little file folder on my desk. My important documents are in there. Everything else goes right into the shredder, instead of a box.

Is this what growing up feels like?

The Blog and Times of Matthew Ciarvella

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