Dear readers,

A happy new year to all of you! I know I’m kind of late, but with the Christmas and the New Year’s Eve and the Winter holidays, family had a rather higher priority than the internet.

Be safe out there, be kind, and have fun in 2015!

For now, my regular stage appearances will remain the same as in 2014. (see below)


 

Liebe Lesewesen!

ein frohes neues Jahr Euch allen! Ich weiß, ich bin etwas spät dran, aber mit all dem Weihnachten und Neujahr und den Ferien hatte die Familie Vorrang vor dem Internet.

Passt auch 2015 auf Euch auf, seit gütig und habt Freude!

Meine regulären Auftritte bleiben wie auch 2014:


 

DICHT.IT Poetry Slam (host)
every 4th Friday of the month / am vierten Freitag der Monate
Next event: January 23, 2015
Location: Laika, Berlin Neukölln

Dichtungsring Poetry Reading Stage (co-host with Arno Wilhelm)
on a Tuesday every 2nd month / an einem Dienstag jeden zweiten Monat
Next event: February 3
Location: Laika, Berlin-Neukölln

OWUL Reading Stage (co-host with Marien Loha and Thomas Manegold)
every 1st Thursday of the month / am ersten Donnerstag der Monate
Next event: January 8, 2015
Location: Z-Bar, Berlin Mitte

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(Deutsche Version ist in Arbeit.)

Dear readers,

welcome to the first installment of a new feature in this blog: the commentary tracks. Here, I will talk about the texts from Doubt Out Loud (and its German twin Laut Los Zweifeln), how they came to life, how I relate to them and what difficulties I faced in writing the English versions.

„Seen But Not Heard“, the first text in Doubt Out Loud Vol. 1, is a somewhat light-hearted piece, originally written for poetry slams. It is based on a real conversation my girlfriend and I had with some guy at a party a few years back. Much of the original conversation dealt with the fact that my girlfriend had our kids at quite a young age by German standards. It is something that didn’t make the final cut of „Seen But Not Heard“, because the guy at the party was a real asshole about it, and I didn’t want the antagonist of my story to be that kind of asshole.

While light-hearted and designed to make people laugh, the text has, at his heart, the question of why those with the best access to education, social security and liberty often think of children as some relic of the 19th century. I know the simple answer is that children are no longer seen as needed for social security, but that is amazingly short-sighted in my opinion. A liberal, educated and secure system needs new generations of human beings, or it will run out of liberty, education and security real fast.

On the English version: I wasn’t able to come up with a suitable English version of the German title. „Kellerkinder“, as it is called in the original, literally translates to „basement children“, a German term that can either refer to deprived children or to cliché nerds.

Another German term that gave me a real headache was „Animateur“, the people who entertain kids (and adult guests as well) at hotels. There didn’t seem to be real consensus about it on the internet, with variations ranging from „animator“ (which I didn’t trust) to „host/hostess“ to „club/holiday/tour rep(-resentative)“. The last ones had the most academic sources using them, so I chose holiday rep. But I’m still not entirely comfortable with it. Neither is my English editor.

The rest of the English version was relatively easy. The original uses a lot of pop culture vocabulary, and pop culture is what a lot of my English skills are based on.

Whenever I get fed up with any form of ideology and its violent excesses (it’s often religion these days, but feel free to add far left-wing, far ring-wing or any other kind of stupid dogma to the list of potential candidates), I rewatch Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot speech. To me, it is one of the most powerful speeches ever made, combined with one of most powerful fotographs ever taken. It usually makes me cry, makes me happy, makes me love this little world, scared for it, makes my angry, makes me defiant all at once. And a lot more.

Sometimes it even makes me a little bitchy, and then something like this happens:

Immer, wenn ich die Nase voll von Ideologien und deren gewalttätigen Auswüchsen habe – heutzutage ist das oft Religion, aber Dogmen am linken oder rechten Rand des politischen Spektrums dürfen gerne zu den potentiellen Kandidaten gezählt werden, schaue ich mir Carl Sagans „Pale Blue Dot“-Rede an. (Ausführlicher Link mit deutscher Übersetzung am Ende und weiteren Infos.) Für mich ist es einer der eindringlichsten und beeindruckensten Redebeiträge, die ich jemals gehört habe – in Verbindung mit einem der eindringlichsten und beeindruckensten Fotos, die jemals gemacht wurden. Es bringt mich zum Weinen, es macht mich glücklich, es lässt mich diese kleine Welt lieben, Angst um sie haben, macht mich wütend, macht mich trotzig, alles auf einmal. Und noch viel mehr.

Manchmal macht es mich sogar zickig, da passieren dann solche Sachen wie hier oben.

I’ve given a short interview (here), but it’s in German, so I’ll do my job and translate it:

Matthias Niklas on harmony, languages & saving the world
(Interview by Marion Alexa Müller, http://www.periplaneta.com)

He is a member of the reading stages OWUL and Dichtungsring, host of the Dicht.It poetry slam, and translator. In the last few months, Matthias Niklas has actively supported the Periplaneta team with zeal and black humor. And with two languages as well, for he is the primary caretaker of Periplaneta’s youngest, the English-language edition „Work of Mouth“. We had been urging him for years to publish a book with his texts, and our missionary efforts have finally produced results: „Laut Los Zweifeln“ has been released as a mini e-book, simultaneously with the English version „Doubt Out Loud“. Since they both have a „Vol.1“ in their name, we are looking forward to the sequels.

So here’s a short interview with the second male member of our team. (And no, the haircut was not a prerequisite.)

Q: You do complex and fast politcal satire on stage, with a side of bitter moral philosophy. How do you explain that poetry slam audiences, usually in a party mood, applaud you anyway?

V&W Aug 14A: Because slam audiences are not in a party mood per se. Slam is, in its best moments, one of the few places where political satire still happens, and the audience is looking for that as well. But, to be honest, I only do well in the preliminaries, I don’t often win the finals. Probably because moral philosophy is only endurable in moderation, even for myself.

Q: Is a world of harmony utopian or dystopian in your eyes?

A: For a critical rationalist like me, a world of harmony is rather scary. It sounds like „trust in the Lord“. I am not averse to conflict, doubt always means discord with something or someone, if only with yourself. But I don’t like the thought that conflicts can be solved by violence. Violence can only postpone them.

Q: Why do people prefer despair to doubt?

A: Do they? In my experience, most human beings don’t like both of them. Me, I am somewhat immune to despair, it’s my blind spot. But despair seems quite understable to me. From an evolutionary point of view, we are having enormous trouble keeping up with the world we created for ourselves, and it’s an exhausting task. To doubt means to acknowledge how overwhelming that task can be sometimes.

Q: Your texts are heavily influenced by personal experience. Why not write something entirely fictional for a change?

A: The practical answer is that a local employee at a publishing house once told me that I shouldn’t make my debut with a novel. So I buried that dream. My short texts are meant for the stage, and the stage does not offer the same freedom for creating a universe the audience can relate to. That means I have to fall back to the world I share with them anyway. Or, to paraphrase Stephen King: I read out what I know.

You stage texts are released both in German and in English. What advantages does on language offer in contrast to the other?

A: Very generally speaking: It’s easier to communicate a thought in English, but it’s easier to refine it in German. And while I’m speaking generally: I love both languages, but I prefer to talk English, and to write in German.

Q: Why would you want to save the world?

A: The world is fine without me or us. It doesn’t need saving, especially not by me, although it could do with some questions. But I have three children, and I like them to be able to enjoy this world – and I don’t need any more reasons to raise questions.


Ich habe ein kurzes Interview gegeben, die deutsche Version  findet sich hier.

dol_cover-6001-212x300Today, Periplaneta Publishing is releasing my first e-book. In a rather unconventional move, it is going to be very short and very inexpensive, as it is only the first part of a series. When all four books in the series have been released, the whole project will be wrapped up by an extended print version. The books contain a number of short stories I perform at Poetry Slams and Literary Stages, revised for readability, as well as one or two poems. Most of them deal with somewhat challenging topics, which probably shows in the title.

In another first for my small, independent publishing house, the book will be released in English and in German at more or less the same time. As the, well, head of the English department (without an department, but la), I consider this release as an experiment with new and different ways of marketing, something that’s always worth doing in a business that is facing challenging times.

As an author, I simply am quite (and quietly) happy. And my heartfelt thanks to ToM and Marry.

Doubt Out Loud / Laut Los Zweifeln Vol. 1 is available at periplaneta.com, on Amazon and Google Play.


llz_cover-6001-212x300Heute hat der Periplaneta Verlag mein erstes E-Book auf den Markt gebracht. In einer etwa ungewöhnlichen Art und Weise: Es ist recht kurz und sehr günstig zu haben, da es nur der erste Teil einer Serie ist. Sobald alle vier Teile der Serie heraus gekommen sind (grob gesagt im Herbst 2015), wird das Projekt mit einer erweiterten Printausgabe abgeschlossen, die alle Texte der E-Books und noch einiges mehr enthalten wird. Die Bücher enthalten auf Lesbarkeit optimierte Versionen meiner Bühnentexte, inklusive des einen oder anderen Gedichtes. Sie alle beschäftigen sich mit eher … schwierigen Themen, aber das ist wahrscheinlich schon aus dem Titel zu erschließen.

Ein weiteres erstes Mal ist die Tatsache, dass mein kleines, unabhängiges Verlagshaus mit diesem Buch das erste Mal eine nahezu zeitgleiche Veröffentlichung auf Deutsch und Englisch betreibt. Für mich als, nun, Leiter der englischsprachigen Abteilung (ohne Abteilung, aber la) ist diese Veröffentlichung ein Experiment, um neue Wege der Werbung und des Marketings auszuloten, was in dieser leicht herausgeforderten Branche immer einen Versuch wert ist.

Als Autor bin ich einfach ziemlich (und geziemend) glücklich. Und ich danke ganz herzlich ToM und Marry!

Laut Los Zweifeln / Doubt Out Loud Vol.1 ist erhältlich bei periplaneta.com, auf Amazon und bei Google Play.

(Deutsche Version unten/German version below)

I owe a blog post to my mother. (Long story.) She didn’t pick any specific topic, so I chose one that fits.

My topic today is feminism. (Actually, my topic is sexism, because I share Joss Whedon’s opinion about the word ‚feminism‘ and its implications, but la.) In a speech that reached quite a … wide audience, Emma Watson asked men to return to the side of women and feminists and join and support them in their struggle. In a way, the HeForShe campaign is quite similar to Ring the Bell a while back, but with a broader focus. Ring the Bell asked men to promise that they’d take concrete action to end violence against women; HeForShe simply asks for their support in the struggle against inequality.

As a father of two daughters (plus a son) and with a hideously large number of encounters with violence against and oppression of women, I am a friend of campaigns like these. They urge the quiet, but actually quite decent majority of men to watch their surroundings, to teach their fellow human beings to behave better, and to take a stand when push comes to shove.

Because beneath all the equality remains an uncomfortable biological truth: The majority of men is physically more powerful than the majority of women. (There’s the uncomfortable sociological truth that they own more power as well, but that is, beyond the scope of this blog entry.) We are, as a rule, bigger, more muscular and, as a result, more threatening. As someone with a background in martial arts and without a spectacularly powerful body, I know from my own experience how hard and difficult it is to overcome a physical disadvantage like that, even if it was easier for me.

And the physical disadvantage is there. I don’t like it either, but sexual dimorphism doesn’t care about my affection. As long as it exists and physical power is easier to use for men (without resorting to the great equalizer, otherwise known as the gun), men have to learn to use it in a responsible way.

Since it comes natural and isn’t acquired by learning like martial arts, the physical power of men is sadly unfettered by discipline, and teaching children to take care with it is one of the big responsibilities of parents and teachers, of society and civilization.

Here, the circle closes because what HeForShe or Ring The Bell ask for is not to forget about the difference between men and women, but to put this differences into service for the equality of all human beings, regardless of their chromosomial make-up.

Ignoring the difference, especially in regard of physical power, is a dangerous preposition. It lulls us (not me, per se, but physically weaker or less trained humans) into a false sense of security. Even if we, hopefully, win the fight for equal rights and privileges one day, it won’t put aside a single physical difference. Claiming them to be constructs, a favorite pastime of people with no experience in violence, is not helpful, it’s stupid. Putting men’s physically superior strenght into fairytale territory teaches boys and men that it is unnecessary to learn how to deal with it, and it teaches girls that this power is not dangerous.

But it is. Power is always dangerous, and always requires discipline, or it corrupts. So we have to bite the bullet and teach our children that their power is not something that results in superiority, but in responsibility. That it doesn’t entitle them to take control of other human beings or to force their will or themselves upon them. And we have to teach our children how to defend themselves against a very real threat. How to ask for help if they can’t, how to expose people that abuse their powers. That it’s okay to admit to be physically weaker because it doesn’t change their worth.

Because our open societies are not based on eradicating differences, but on making sure that differences don’t matter. (That’s not the same as saying that they are getting the job done, but that it’s the idea.) They are based on providing the same rights and privileges, the same freedom and liberties to everyone. If we all were identical, they wouldn’t have to.


Ich schulde meiner Mutter einen Blog-Beitrag. (Lange Geschichte.) Sie hat mir kein spezielles Thema genannt, also habe ich mir selbst ein Passendes ausgesucht.

Mein Thema heute ist Feminismus. (Eigentlich ist mein Thema Sexismus, da ich Joss Whedons Meinung [Englisch] über das Wort Feminismus und dessen Implikationen teile, aber la.) In einer Rede, die sehr viel Beachtung gefunden hat, hat Emma Watson Männer darum gebeten, dass sie sich wieder auf die Seite von Frauen und Feministen stellen und sich ihrem Kampf anscließen und dabei unterstützen. Auf eine gewisse Art und Weise ähnelt die HeForShe-Kampagne dem etwas äteren Ring the Bell, wenn auch mit einem breiteren Fokus. Ring the Bell hat Männer dazu angehalten, konkret gegen Gewalt an Frauen vorzugehen, HeForShe bittet einfach um Unterstützung im Kampf gegen Ungleichheit.

Als Vater zweier Töchter (sowie eines Sohns), und mit einer erschreckend hohen Anzahl von Begegnungen mit Gewalt an und Unterdrückung von Frauen bin ich ein Freund von Kampagnen wie diesen. Sie halten die stille, aber an sich ganz anständige Mehrheit der Männer dazu an, ein Auge auf ihre Umgebung zu haben, ihre Mitmenschen besseres Verhalten zu lehren, und Stellung zu beziehen, wenn es hart auf hart kommt.

Denn jenseits aller Gleichberechtigung bleibt eine unbequeme biologische Tatsache: Die Mehrheit aller Männer ist physisch mächtiger als die Mehrheit aller Frauen. (Es gibt auch noch die unbequeme soziologische Tatsache, dass sie mehr Macht innehaben, aber das liegt etwas außerhalb des Rahmens dieses Blog-Beitrags.) Wir sind, allgemein gesprochen, größer, muskulöser, und als Resultat davon bedrohlicher. Als jemand mit einem Hintergrund in Kampfkunst und ohne einen sonderlich phyisch imposanten Körperbau weiß ich aus eigener Erfahrung, wie viel Mühe es kostet, einen solchen physischen Nachteil auszugleichen, selbst wenn es für mich leichter war.

Und der physische Nachteil ist da. Ich kann ihn auch nicht leiden, aber sexueller Dimorphismus schert sich nicht um meine Zuneigung. So lange er Bestand hat und physische Macht für Männer leichter auszuüben ist (ohne auf den großen Gleichmacher, die Schusswaffe, zurückzugreifen), müssen Männer lernen, verantwortungsvoll damit umzugehen.

Da er von Natur aus vorhanden ist und nicht erlernt, wie etwa Kampfkunst, ist die physische Macht von Männer leider nicht mit Disziplin verbunden, und Kindern beizubringen, behutsam mit ihr umzuehen, ist eine der großen Verantwortungen von Eltern, Lehrerinnen und Lehrern, von der Gesellschaft und der Zivilisation.

An dieser Stelle schließt sich der Kreis. Denn was HeForShe oder Ring The Bell verlangen, ist nicht, die Unterschiede zwischen Männern und Frauen zu vergessen, sondern diese in den Dienst der Gleichheit aller Menschen zu stellen, egal, wie es um ihre Chromosomen bestimmt ist.

Die Unterschiede zu leugnen, insbesondere im Hinblick auf physische Macht, ist eine gefährliche Grundannahme. Sie vermittelt uns (nicht mir direkt, aber phyisch unterlegenen oder schlechter ausgebildeten Menschen) ein falsches Gefühl von Sicherheit. Selbst wenn wir, wie ich hoffe, eines Tages den Kampf für gleiche Rechte und Privilegien gewinnen, wird dadurch kein einziger physischer Unterschied verschwinden. Diese als Konstrukte zu bezeichen, ein beliebtes Hobby und Menschen ohne Erfahrung mit Gewalt, ist nicht hilfreich, sondern dämlich. Die männliche physische Überlegenheit in den Bereich der Mythen zu verfrachten lehrt Jungen und Männer, dass es unnötig ist, mit ihr umzugehen zu lernen, und es lehrt Mädchen, dass sie nicht gefährlich ist.

Aber das ist sie. Macht ist immer gefährlich, und sie braucht immer Disziplin, oder sie korrumpiert. Also müssen wir in den sauren Apfel beißen und unseren Kindern beibringen, dass Macht nicht ist, was in Überlegenheit resultiert, sondern in Verantwortung. Dass sie nicht dazu berechtigt, sich die Kontrolle über andere Menschen anzueignen oder ihnen seinen Willen oder sich selbst aufzuzwängen. Und wir müssen unseren Kindern beibringen, wie sie sich gegen eine sehr reale Bedrohung zur Wehr setzen können. Wie sie um Hilfe bitten, wenn es ihnen nicht gelingt, wie sie diejenigen bloßstellen können, die ihre Macht mißbrauchen. Dass es völlig in Ordnung ist, physisch unterlegen zu sein, weil es nichts an ihrem Wert ändert.

Denn unsere offenen Gesellschaften sind nicht darauf basiert, Unterschiede auszulöschen, sondern darauf, sicherzustellen, dass diese Unterschiede keinen Unterschied machen. (Was nicht das Gleiche ist wie zu sagen, dass sie diese Aufgabe meistern, aber das ist der Gedanke dahinter.) Sie basieren darauf, die gleichen Rechte, Privilegien und Freiheiten, die gleiche für alle sicherzustelllen. Wenn wir alle gleich wären, müssten sie das nicht tun.

Dennis Barrington: Happy Human

(Original Happy Human by Dennis Barrington | Der ursprüngliche Happy Human von Dennis Barrington)

Some of you might wonder who the person on the Doubt Out Loud | Laut Los Zweifeln cover is. It is a modified version of the original Happy Human, at first only a symbol of the British Humanist Organisation, which has by now been adopted and modified by IHEU and other humanist organisations worldwide. The original can freely be used to illustrate humanist causes, and since I deal with deeply humanist issues in my texts, and do so from a humanist point of view, it seemed appropriate.

And you can’t go wrong with a happy human. Or an organization that picks one as its symbol.


Einige von Euch werden sich vielleicht fragen, wer das Wesen auf dem Laut Los Zweifeln | Doubt Out Loud Cover ist. Es ist eine bearbeitete Version des ersten Happy Human, anfangs nur Logo der British Humanist Organisation, das aber mittlerweile von der IHEU und anderen humanistischen Organisationen weltweit übernommen und abgewandelt wurde. Das Original darf frei verwendet werden, um humanistische Anliegen und Inhalte zu kennzeichnen, und da meine Texte zutiefst humanistische Themen von einem humanistischen Standpunkt aus behandeln, schien es passend.

Und mit einem fröhlichen Menschen kann man nichts falsch machen. Genausowenig wie mit einer Weltanschauungsgemeinschaft, die einen fröhlichen Menschen als ihr Logo wählt.

 

mn_vw_k3
(Me and his majesty, Kindle the Third. Picture by Olle Icke at Vision & Wahn, August 4, 2014)

The story is the same all over the world, and it is my story as well:
„An e-book reader?! Never! I love the smell of books! The rustling of pages! Their comforting weight! I can’t read on a screen!“

Three years later, the only time I pick up a physical copy of a book is to read one I don’t have available in digital format (or when I have a bath). Reading on a Kindle (a Paperwhite in my case) is simply more convenient, especially for someone who favors English books like me. I can instantly look up words I don’t know, and the digital versions are a lot cheaper than imported copies. I can read in the dark while the kids are sleeping (but it doesn’t strain the eyes like a tablet does), I can read lying on the side without struggling with pages, and I can read The Stand without breaking my arm or getting carpal tunnel syndrom.

Plus I read more, which is the most important thing. The sheer number of books I constantly carry around – roughly 200 at the moment – let’s me select one according to my mood without browsing the shelves for hours or getting annoyed at myself for carrying around one I’m not interested in at a certain moment. As I usually spend more than two hours a day on public transport, stuff like that is important.

And yes, it’s a Kindle. It’s Amazon. For a simple reason: It’s working. I have yet to see a better e-book reader out there, and a better way to buy books for it. It’s simple, fast, the customer service is amazing. My first Kindle (Keyboard) fell down roughly eight feet and broke, and although that exceeds Amazon’s replacement limits (which are somewhere at shoulder height), I got another one for half the price. A year and a half back, I upgraded to a Paperwhite. In contrast to a tablet, at least the standard Kindle is cheap enough that losing or breaking one isn’t the end of the world, anyway. I never had a problem with formats, download links, data transfer, &cet. either.

As a stage artist, another thing cropped up in the last few months since I forgot my textbook at a venue: E-book readers, especially with background lights, are perfect for reading aloud on stage, even under difficult lighting conditions. The only shortcoming is that you have to turn the pages by putting your fingers on the display on newer Kindle models (which has always been my only problem with the design). But amazingly, Amazon seems to have heard this from a lot of people and reacted to it, the new Kindle Voyage comes with pressure-sensitive sides, working like the buttons on the previous generations.

Do I miss brwosing bookstores? Yes, I do. But all the longing in the world will not change the fact that I don’t have time to visit them very often anyway, with or without an e-book reader.

You can’t talk about Amazon without talking about dying bookstores, poor publishers and abused authors these days. But i won’t, not yet, anyway. And as I work for a publisher and am an author, my position on the big, bad wolf might surprise anyway.

flyer© 2014 Matthias Niklas

[Deutsche Version in Arbeit, dauert aber noch eine Weile.]

By translating literature from my native tongue into English, I am doing something extremely arrogant. And not only that, it is actually something that doesn’t sit well with my professional standards. They keep nagging at me with the fact that translation should be done into, and not out of a mother tongue.

At least in high-brow circles. As a working class translator who’s upcoming exams are at the Chamber of Industry and Commerce and not at some university, translating into English was a huge part of my training, and it is expected from all the secretaries, assistants and other office workers that share my background.

I’ve called this project of translating German stage literature into English – without a market presence, without a known demand for it, without the ressources to have it translated and edited at a premium level – a folly before, but I have to be honest here: It’s my folly, I pushed that project, and it’s my responsibility.

And I love it. My command of English is good enough to see me through all the common phrases and sentences and standard idioms without breaking a sweat, that’s the boring part. But trying to translate a pun, a deliberate misspelling, an innovative phrase from the source text is what I love, looking up synonyms and double meanings, racking my brain for some way to keep true to the original without losing content. Or resorting to footnotes. (I’m sorry, but footnotes for untranslatable puns send shivers down my spine. „That was really funny in the original, dear reader, sorry you didn’t get that.“)

I recently read an article about immigrant writers that write in the language of their new, adopted homes, and the challenge that presents, as well as the new perspectives that can provide. To quote the Algerian-Italian writer Tahar Lamri, „that’s because a foreign language forces the author to hunt for the proper imagery because they don’t have an extensive vocabulary at their disposition.“ (That’s „because“ twice in one sentence. See what he means?)

Personally, I can agree with the tone of that statement, less for the vocabulary, and more for the grammatical structure. The stage literature I translate is all over the temporal place with its tenses in the original German, jumping from present simple to the German equivalent of past continuous and back. Keeping that in English makes me shiver sometimes, but it is part of the text’s identity. Changing it would result in a sounder (and probably better sounding) grammar, but the text would lose something that characterizes it. And that’s only a small part of it, not even touching the subject of the different voices different others have. Other people might be, no, would be better at translating the words. But I am intimately familiar with the Berlin poetry slam and stage literature, and I know how my fellow authors sound. And I try to respect and keep that. Translation is always a betrayal, as the Italian saying goes, but I prefer to betray the target’s grammar, rather than the source’s voice.

So, in a way and from a certain point of view, I’m writing immigrant literature, without physically emigrating to the anglophone world. (Except I’m not writing it. I’m merely translating it from native German to immigrant English. At least for now.)

And that’s a great job to have.