Be-attitudes of Gifted Elders ~ A Social Legacy

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My last few blog posts explored goal setting and how gifted elders might plan their remaining years in such a way that they feel a sense of satisfaction with lives of creative productivity. In the next several posts, we move from goals to dispositions. The term disposition connotes a particular temperament, stance, and internal impetus to action that reflect the character and values of an individual. I choose to think of them as Be-attitudes because these perspectives convey a sense of commitment to a way of being that is consistent and integral to who the individual is and to how the individual chooses to be.

This blog post is a part of the August Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop. The topic of this month’s hop – Gifted Social Issues, was difficult to grasp in terms of gifted elders. As with so many issues, to explore the social life of the aging gifted, one must view it from a different lens. Turning the subject over in my mind, I came to perceive with more clarity the rich social gifts of gifted elders.

Just as the majority of younger gifted individuals are introverts (Burruss & Kaenzig, 1999), most aging gifted share this trait. While the young gifted person tends to have only one or two close friends and to avoid large social gatherings, preferring quiet time with a small group or choosing to withdraw for quiet time alone. However, far from becoming reclusive, they are often involved in social causes. I remember students that I have mentored who have been active in Habitat for Humanity, Amnesty International, environmental conservation, green architecture, and other activities that promote the public good.

 Likewise, older gifted individuals may have a small social group and prefer solitary pursuits instead of socializing. Nevertheless, in my experience and in that of many of my colleagues, we find gifted elders to be quite active in society. No, they are not your typical social butterfly, nor are they intent on adding friends and “likes” on Facebook. Rather, they are the quiet presence where tasks considered for the public good are accomplished. The following are just a few examples of my own observations of the social life of gifted elders.

  • Whenever I visit nursing homes, I see talented elders providing music, spiritual enrichment, playing games with residents, and involved in other activities.
  • Our team that prepares and serves food to the hungry at the local soup kitchen every month or two consists entirely of seniors, most of them gifted elders, and I suspect that the membership for most other teams is the same or very similar.
  • An acquaintance of mine and her spouse serve as surrogate grandparents for two children from an economically disadvantaged and dysfunctional family. They take the boys to outings and for cultural enrichment each weekend, pay for a reading teacher to work with them in the summer  (along with providing transportation for the child), and otherwise provide needed support. I know they are just two of thousands of couples throughout the country that serve in this role.
  • A local group of quilters meets regularly to create beautiful quilts to present to newborns in the community.
  • Local fish fry dinners, pancake breakfasts, spaghetti dinners, and other community events and fundraisers are staffed almost entirely by seniors.
  • I have observed gifted elders working as volunteers at every blood donation event I have attended.

This is most certainly not an exhaustive list; rather, I share a few of many facets of the social legacy of our elders. There is a multitude of other ways that gifted elders continue to contribute to the public trust. Lovecky (1986), writing of the characteristics of gifted adults, used the term entelechy to describe the inner drive that motivates gifted adults to self-actualize, to fulfill the blueprint of potentiality that is giftedness. It is my experience that our gifted elders – when given the health, strength, and opportunity – continue to fulfill their blueprint, to evolve, and to contribute to the greater good. Thus, the first be-attitude of gifted elderhood is – Leave a Social Legacy.

Reference:

Burruss, J. D. & Kaenzig, L. (1999).  Introversion: The often forgotten factor impacting the gifted. Virginia Association for the Gifted Newsletter, 21, 1. Retrieved from http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/introversion-the-often-forgotten-factor-impacting-the-gifted

Lovecky, D. V. (1986) Can you hear the flowers sing? Issues for gifted adults. Journal of Counseling and Development64, 572-575. Retrieved from http://sengifted.org/archives/articles/can-you-hear-the-flowers-sing-issues-for-gifted-adults

Photo: Grandmothers’ Stories by elstudio  on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This blog post is a part of the August Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop. Read more about Gifted Social Issues by clicking on the link below.

Goal Setting for Gifted Elders: Part 2

 2712270416_de2b2f9c95_o  In my last entry, I wrote about the importance of setting goals for gifted elders. This is especially important for those who find themselves in the midst of a transition from a busy professional life to a more relaxed agenda that retirement offers. Allow me to share a personal example. As some of my readers know, I recently completed a major goal that I set for myself when I retired. I returned to university and began a new course of study in Clinical Psychology. Having completed all requirements for the MA, I am currently awaiting temporary licensure as a Licensed Psychological Associate.  The completion of this major goal gave me pause for reflection regarding what other goals are on my “dream list.” These become my long-term goals.

      I spent an afternoon a few weeks ago thinking about goals and what amount of time might remain for me to achieve them. In view of the fact that during the past year many of our good friends and colleagues have passed on, it was a sobering reflective experience to realize that I too might pass at any time. At most, I have a couple of decades remaining in my life. Thus, I tried to picture what I would like to be doing twenty years from now. The activities that came to mind were simple and, fitting with what my age will be at that time (my nineties), realistic. I wish to find myself at leisure to read, walk, and write poetry.

      My fifteen-year goals were similar – reading, walking, and writing. As the years from the present into the future diminished, I added other activities. For example, within five to ten years, I plan to have published three additional books and will have walked a good portion of the Camino   (see my previous blog post, Walking as a Spiritual Experience). Within three years, my psychological practice should be established; and in one year, I will have, hopefully, passed the national psychology exam, the EPPP – Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology. These are my long-term goals.

     My next step was to look at each long-term goal and break it down into short-term goals. Take, for example, the EPPP exam. It has eight different areas on which one is tested (e.g., Ethics, Social Psychology). Thus, it is easy to turn each of the sub-areas of the exam into short-term goals. I find it important to assign a deadline by which I will have completed studying each topic. Another vital part of goal setting is considering deadlines as sacred.

     Therefore, I have my long-term and short-term goals set. The next part of the process is taking each short-term goal and enumerating the action items or tasks necessary to complete the goal. These are the proximal  – next step – goals or tasks. Continuing with my example of studying for the EPPP, I choose an area (i.e., Ethics), and then list the necessary tasks to completion, such as gather materials, work through the content of the materials while taking notes, studying the notes and/or flashcards, and then taking several practice tests on the topic. Then I move on to the next area of study, returning periodically to what has been previously studied to refresh my knowledge.

     Gifted elders who have not made concrete plans prior to retirement, who are in residential facilities, who are in early stages of dementia, or others, may need assistance in (1) identifying and ordering their goals, (2) organizing themselves to meet their goals, and (3) acquiring adequate materials to achieve their goals. Caregivers, family, and friends can all be of assistance in helping them to set and accomplish goals. If you have a gifted elder friend in similar circumstances, spending time talking with her about her dreams for the time remaining is the first step. Afterward, following the process that I describe in this blog entry, you can be valuable in supporting your friend in planning and living joyfully over the years. 

Photo: Goal Poster by EvelynGiggles on Flicker. (CC BY  2.0).

Goal-Setting for Gifted Elders

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Pen and Journal

     In my last post I wrote of my desire to someday walk El Camino de Santiago, the Way of St. James, in Spain. Since I am in my early 70’s, that is a fairly lofty goal. Yes, others in their seventh and eighth decades have done the nearly 500-mile trek. However, I am sure that they were in much better health and physical condition than I am. This brings me to these thoughts about goal-setting for gifted elders.

     In my view retirement can be a precarious time for seniors. Many look forward to the years following a life of work as a time that they will be able to do “all those things I never had time to do before.” Yet, the same individuals may look back after ten or fifteen years of retirement and realize that yes, perhaps they spent a bit more time with family and maybe they traveled a little. Nevertheless, the lofty goals they had set upon retirement remain unaccomplished and they find they cannot account for how they spent the time.

     Other retirees begin an entirely new venture in their senior years. They may choose, as I did, to return to school and retool themselves for a new type of work. Or, they may begin a business, develop their artistic talents, or pursue any number of new activities fulltime. Aging in the post-retirement years is a regenerative time for many gifted elders.

     What is the difference between the two groups? I am sure there are many variables that play into the life course of each individual and which affect one’s productivity. Nonetheless, it is my belief that, foremost among the differing factors is self-regulation.  In my book, Nurturing the Gifted Female, I wrote of the need for gifted females (and others!) to develop self-regulation – the ability to set goals, to understand how one learns and accomplishes tasks, to organize oneself in such a way to complete those tasks successfully, and the capacity to judge when one is successful in reaching goals.  Self-regulation is also an important construct in the lives of gifted elders.

     Some important self-regulation skills include organizing tasks, managing time conscientiously, efficiently planning and revising work as needed, and reflecting on and improving needed skills. The most important behavior for self-regulated individuals is, in my opinion, effective goal-setting.

     There are three facets to meaningful goal setting; namely, long-term, short-term, and proximal goals. For the young females in my research, long-term goals might represent those accomplishments that one wanted to achieve in, for example, a year, two years, or fifty years in the future. Because of age and time concerns, this process looks quite different in elderhood. In my own case, even five, ten, or fifteen-year goals are quite tentative. For all of us, our time on the planet is finite and for some of us, the finiteness of time is inexorably clear. So, how do we go about goal setting as a part of the aging process? In my next post, I will explain more about goal setting for gifted elders.

 Reference:

Navan, J. L. (2009). Nurturing the gifted female: A guide for educators and parents. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Photo: Pen and Journal, Bob AuBouchon on Flickr.com (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Walking as a Spiritual Experience

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     A dream, one which I have had since I saw a news article in 1989 about John Paul II visiting the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, is to walk the Camino de Santiago – The Way of St. James.  The Camino, for those not familiar with it, is actually a series of pilgrimage routes originating in different parts of Europe, all of them ending at the site – the Cathedral of Santiago – where legend has it the bones of St. James are buried. Although I first learned of the Camino in my undergraduate Spanish history and literature classes, until 1989 I did not realize that it was still a viable route and that thousands of people, pilgrims and otherwise, continue to walk it each year. For some, the Way is a long hike that tests their trekking skills. For others, it is an adventure and a chance to see and learn about the cities and small towns along the way. For many, religious or otherwise, walking the Camino is a time for spiritual reflection and renewal. Add to those reasons the opportunity to meet, walk, and converse with people from all over the world, and the Camino offers much to each individual who chooses to endure the hardships and reap its gifts.
In recent years, I have talked with some who have walked the Camino or intend to walk it. My curiosity piqued, I have read books and blogs, studied websites, and imagined what it would be like to walk the most popular of the routes, the Camino Francés, which stretches for close to 500 miles across northern Spain. I find that my interest in all things Camino grows during the spring and summer when I have the opportunity to spend time walking outdoors. It is a pleasure to spend early mornings outdoors walking along our long country road and around the streets of neighborhoods that branch off the road. However, I do not know if it will ever be possible to “do the Camino” in my own elderhood.
A swimmer for most of my life, I feel most at ease and most myself in the water. When I swim laps, I launch a stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe pattern that easily repeats itself. I find it easy, once the pattern is established, to slip into a semi-meditative state. Many of my writing sessions begin in the pool, as I pick up where I left off on a piece, solve the problems that may be preventing me from continuing on in a smooth flow, and compose the next parts in my mind as I stroke, stroke, stroke, breathe.
Walking is more difficult for me, especially as I age and aches and summer heat make it more difficult to enjoy the activity. When I walk, I find that on good days my feet create a rhythm that can easily lull me into a reflective state similar to swimming. In fact, I have experienced moments of awe and awareness of the mystery on past walks. I shared earlier in this blog of times that I was awed with a feeling of the oneness and spirit of universal love during a walk along a different country road. I read recently that others as well have experienced similar, transcendent moments.
Lately, in the step, step, step, of my walking cadence, I engage in a practice of imaginative contemplation that centers on the Camino. There are times that I look over the golden field of winter wheat beside the road and try to transport my mind to a wheat field on the Castilian Meseta. Or climbing a hill in the southern heat that leaves me glistening, I see myself climbing one of the taxing altos along the Way. When I walk through the green-soaked glade at the bottom of a hill, I bring to remembrance pictures of the Camino and the woods of Galicia. No, I am not really doing the Camino. However, I find that through my imaginings I am able to bring to mind those pilgrims who are currently trekking across Spain and perhaps I can, through my thoughts, send them a small amount of energy for the next hill or mountain.
Turning to gifted elders, it is so important that they have the freedom and strength to continue walking as long as possible. I remember my mother-in-law, who had lost so many of her abilities due to Alzheimer’s disease.  Still with the use of a special walking device that protected her from falling, allowed her to hold onto the sides and to sit when fatigued, she walked the halls of the residence from morning to night. As I am with swimming, it is in walking that so many of our elders are most content.

In my next blog, I will share with you some understanding of goal-setting behavior that has grown out of my musings. ¡Buen Camino!

Reference:

Caminoist: Pilgrim Adventures of Sandy Brown. Sprituality – https://caminoist.org/spirituality-of-the-camino/

Photo – Camino de Santiago en Burgos.  by aherrero on Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0).

Photo – Paisaje del Camino de Santigo by compostelavirtual.com on Flickr.com  (CC BY 2.0).

A Corner of Contemplation for One’s Self

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Besides, I thought, not all women are searching for a new pattern of living, or want a contemplative corner of their own.

Gift from the Sea, p. 2.

In an earlier blog, I wrote that one of my summer reading choices this year consisted of returning as an elder to a book that I read as a young woman and later in my midlife years. I find that each time I read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s words, fresh thoughts leap off the page and trigger new connections in my mind. The quote above is one of those instances.

Having spent almost seventy-two years as a woman, I agree that not all women are searching for a contemplative corner of their own. However, every woman who I know definitely needs that place where she can be still, listen to her inner voice, pursue her thoughts to conclusion, and be at peace. Unfortunately, that is not the reality for all.

Finding the quiet corner of one’s own becomes much more difficult as one ages, especially for those in assisted living or residential care environments. I do not write here about those assisted or residential spaces where private suites or rooms are the norm. The assisted living situation of a friend who I used to visit in the hills above Berkeley, California, consisted of a small apartment, with a living room looking out over the San Francisco Bay, a small kitchenette, bathroom, and separate bedroom. The main building was surrounded by walks and grounds with comfortable chairs amidst the greenery. What a contrast to the living situations of some of the women I visit regularly in our community!

Many aging individuals, because of a series of difficult decisions or circumstances, find they cannot afford dwellings like the one I described above. Rather, they live in assisted living or nursing home environments where they may be fortunate enough to have their own room with a private bath. The norm for most is to be in a two-bed room with a bathroom they share with others. In fact, often they have to leave their room and walk down the hall to a common bath.

I think of one of my “ladies,” Edna*, in her nineties. Often, I find her napping on her bed when I arrive to visit. She has a roommate who is bedridden for the most part and there is a curtain pulled between the beds, partially separating the two areas of the room. The hallway and the room are usually quiet and calm when I visit Edna, except when the loudspeaker announces which residents need to report to the nursing station, that a meal is being served, or other information. Even though she is in one of the least luxurious of the residential care facilities in the community, when Edna wants to go outside there is a veranda with a water feature in front and an area in the back with benches overlooking a park. When Edna wants to be in a quiet, reflective space, it is available to her. 

Another facility I visit is a skilled nursing and rehabilitation center, thus it is more hospital than residential. The halls always have patients in wheelchairs clustered around the nursing station or in a sun-filled passageway between units. There is some talk and other noise, but not at an irritating level. I always save my visit with Catherine for last, after I spend time with four or five others. When I enter her single room, it is like walking into a sanctuary. She keeps the light low and, even though the door must be left open, she has a curtain pulled between the entrance to the room and the living space. I do not know if it is the low light with the sun filtering softly through the window, the tidy and cheery space, or Catherine, who always greets me with warmth and a positive tone. Whichever – or the combination of all – this is truly a peaceful, contemplative corner of the facility. Catherine shared with me that members of the staff come in from time to time, just to sit in the soft atmosphere of the room. It is understandable that they would do so.

My friend Margaret has dementia and that is a blessing considering where she is a resident. A rehabilitation and nursing home, it is such a contrast to the others with which I am familiar. The room that she shares with another resident is smaller than any others I have seen, and, with the curtain pulled between the two beds, there is no space for a visitor even to sit comfortably. There is always noise and there is nowhere that Margaret, who is a very spiritual person, can say a quiet prayer or meditate in silence. I feel so helpless when I visit her, knowing that my friend, who has done so much for so many, is essentially condemned to endure in an environment that does not recognize and honor who she is – a truly gifted soul!

Each of these women find themselves – in Lindbergh’s words – in a new pattern of living. However, I am sure that it is far from what she meant with the words, a contemplative corner of their own.

*All names have been changed.

Reference:

Lindbergh, A. M. (2005). Gift from the Sea (50th Anniversary Edition). NY: Pantheon Books.

Photo: Jnzl: Water lilies in large urn, Lian Shan Shuang Lin Monastery Singapore. On Flicker. Public Domain Mark 1.0.

Mysteries of Giftedness: Hello, Old Friend, You’re Back Again

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When I first saw the topic, Mysteries of Giftedness, as the theme of the June Hoagies’ Gifted Blog Hop, my first inclination was to write on several phenomena of giftedness that we see through the lifespan. I thought of touching the mystery, the intuitive powers of many gifted individuals,  and emotional giftedness as an often misunderstood phenomenon. I will write on those three topics, however with an addition, and with a twist.

Touching the Mystery.  My friend and mentor, Annemarie Roeper, and I were sitting in her living room one evening looking at scene below and in the distance.  She remarked that looking in the forefront of her view, she saw cars, buses and the Bay Area Rapid Transit trains that arrived and left the station below.  All of these, she shared were filled with people, going here and there, rooted in their busy world. Then, she pointed to the distance, where we could see the San Francisco Bay, the Golden Gate Bridge, and above these, a dark blue night sky. She pointed to the sky and intimated that there was where the mystery lies for her – the beyond.

The mystery, as my friend and mentor Annemarie Roeper explained it, is that which is beyond reality as we know it. In this regard, she often spoke of the gifted children of the new millennium as  being much more in touch with the mystery than those of previous generations. She proposed that they have a keen awareness of themselves and their origins. Dr. Roeper proposed that millennial gifted children perceive themselves as mere visitors here in this life, sensing that they would someday return to a larger consciousness – the mystery.

For many, the phenomenon of giftedness may bring with it moments of transcendence – moments when we come to see ourselves as integral parts of the mystery – of the interconnectedness of the universe. As an example of many transcendent moments that I have experienced, I remember a morning summer walk on a country road. The trees on one side of me and meadows on the other still damp with the early dew. I rounded a corner, looked far down the road in the distance, and suddenly I was filled with an overwhelming sense of connection to a universal expression of love. In such moments, we touch the mystery.

Intuitive Abilities of Gifted Individuals. I remember one summer when I was a little girl. I know that I was still a preschooler because of the house that I was standing beside. I turned on an outside faucet and felt the cool water from the hose running over my hand. When I looked up at the summer scene surrounding me, I wanted that moment to last forever and for the season to never end. At that instant, the realization flashed through my mind that this was summer, to be followed by fall, winter, spring, and then summer again. No one had taught me the seasons. In fact in that moment, I am not sure if I could have named them. It was just that I had an intuitive sense of the world and its revolving nature.

Intuitive thinking, in my opinion, springs from the ability of gifted individuals to think abstractly at a much earlier age than most children do. There is speculation that gifted children’s prefrontal cortex, where higher level abstract thinking occurs, develops earlier than that of other children. I have worked with gifted children who were demonstrating adult level abstract thinking as early as two and three years old.  Abstract thinking is an important component of intuitive thinking.

Emotional Giftedness as the Heart of Giftedness. Returning to my friend, Dr. Roeper, I hear her voice once again telling me that emotions are the heart of giftedness. When trying to understand gifted children, educators and researchers often focus on their strong cognitive abilities. However, because of their superior cognition and the fact that they are aware and react to almost all stimuli in the environment, including reading the emotions of others, their own emotions run so deep, with all their consequent sensitivity and intensity. It is exactly because of their emotional giftedness that it is so important that we understand the Self of the child and that we hear and acknowledge their emotions. As gifted elders, our own emotions are just as important. We cannot separate cognition from the emotional and we must honor the integration of both in ourselves as well.

“Hello Old Friend, You’re Back Again.”  I was recently chatting with a friend of mine who is also a former academic colleague. We were talking of the many projects each of us has recently begun as septuagenarians. He is a runner and used a very appropriate metaphor, which might resonate with gifted individuals concerning their continued creative productivity. He said, “I feel like I am just now approaching the starting line of life!”  His words resonate strongly with me not only in terms of my need to be continually engaged and self-renewing. They also reverberate in terms of the mystery, of intuitive thinking, and of emotional giftedness. In so many ways I find that with gifted elderhood comes the realization that the phenomena of giftedness are never left behind. Rather, they constantly re-present themselves as old friends, back again.

Photo by Hunter Bryant on Unsplash: https://goo.gl/xt2AJL

This blog article is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page June 2016 Blog Hop on Gifted in Pop Culture. I thank my friends at Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page for their inspiration, support, and suggestions over the last two decades. You can see blogs of others here.

The Sea in Elderhood: Part 1

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My husband and I recently returned from two weeks at the shore, providing us with rest, respite, and time to re-group. As is my habit, I chose to take along a book that would assist me in accomplishing those three R’s, and I downloaded a new book to accompany my leisure time. Gift from the Sea, by Ann Morrow Lindbergh, is a book that I returned to for the third time over the course of the last four decades. I read it once as a young adult and gifted a copy to my mother, then again in middle adulthood. Now, as an elder, I find fresh meaning in the lines. In fact, Lindbergh’s writing is always so fresh and rich, that I will return to the book as the topic for this blog a number of times over the coming weeks.

The edition I currently have is the 50th anniversary edition,  with an introduction by the author’s daughter. In it, Reeve Lindbergh writes, “At whatever point one opens Gift from the Sea, to any chapter or page, the author’s words offer a chance to breathe and live more slowly.” Later, she writes of how her mother tried, “to live from a core of inner stillness,” despite the bustle and turmoil of her life. For me, these words were especially true as I reflected on them, walking the beach at dusk each evening. In this entry, I wish to share how the experience evoked for me the many different water spaces in my life.

The waves of the Atlantic lapping the sand at low tide initiated a reverie of the water places – spaces that always bring me peace – that I have visited. How many beaches and riversides have I known in my lifetime – in the States, in Canada, Spain, France, Ireland, England, Mexico? In what ways have they impacted my life? I look down at the sand and see how the waves have carved patterns that resemble mountain ranges running north to south with rivulets cutting through them as rivers do. A little further on designs, cascades, scallops, sheets of ruffles that go on and on. Then a stretch of pieces of broken shells that form scoops like ice cream atop cones carved in the sand at their base by the receding waves.

I look out at the water and I see myself as a young girl with my Aunt Georgine beside me as I kicked and stroked myself into a swimmer in the Chesapeake. I see the waves setting up and breaking far into the distance and I remember a moment of strong transcendence that I experienced sitting on a cliff overlooking the Pacific at the age of seventeen. I observe a large wave crashing over a surfer, carrying her forward without forgiveness and I remember a college afternoon in Goleta, cliffside to the University of California, Santa Barbara. A friend and I swam around a rocky point and were almost thrown mercilessly by the waves against the rocks, probably to our deaths. I look out across the waves, transporting myself to the other side of the Atlantic and I remember the first time I saw the Mediterranean as a young woman in search of herself in a foreign country. I remember the day that I came to accept the beautiful St. Lawrence River – our fourth coast – as my touchstone place, where my husband, our sons, and I can forever return to and celebrate family.

These and more memories passed through my mind as I walked on the beach each evening. In later blogs, I plan to reflect on how water spaces impacted my life in the past and what remains of those influences in elderhood. I hope I have piqued your curiosity!

Reference:

Lindbergh, A. M. (2005). Gift from the Sea (50th Anniversary Edition). NY: Pantheon Books.

Photo: Beach by Erika Julin on Flickr:   https://goo.gl/4AZgeQ (CC BY-NC 2.0).