Richard Russo’s ‘Elsewhere’: unraveling the mystery of a troubled mother

‘Elsewhere: A Memoir’

by Richard Russo

Knopf, 243 pp., $25.95

Richard Russo has mined his childhood with enormous energy, humor and craftsmanship. He’s populated most of his stories and novels (one, “Empire Falls,” a Pulitzer Prize winner) with wonderfully believable characters found in fading mill towns nestled in upper New York State.

These towns, once vibrant, clattering, stinking centers where animal hides were turned into famously excellent gloves and other leather goods, were dying by the 1950s when Russo was growing up just north of the Adirondacks foothills. His hometown was Gloversville, in what was later labeled the Central Leatherstocking District — two names so simultaneously sad and absurd that Russo might have made them up . (A place proudly named after an extinct industry not once, but twice, is the sort of stuff Russo appreciates.)

It isn’t unusual for a novelist to tell her or his own story over and over, of course. Russo has been more transparently autobiographical and skilled than many of his peers. In fact, Russo has done such a good job of capturing his characters that “Elsewhere: A Memoir,” seems almost redundant. Or to put it another way, this book may have been written more for the author than for his longtime readers.

For Russo, the distinction between novel and memoir makes for an important journey. “My fictional hometowns are no better or worse than the real one. They’re just mine, mostly because I’m free to see them with my own eyes, whereas the real Gloversville I still see with my mother’s,” he writes.

Jean Russo was a fiercely independent woman who struggled with the many financial and social strikes against a single mother of her era, as well as what her son later discovers was obsessive-compulsive disorder. Her anxiety, odd rituals and rules, and periodic unhinged fury in which she would scream things like “Don’t I deserve a life?” in rhetorical hysteria, came to make posthumous sense as one of Russo’s daughters was successfully treated for OCD.

“From the time I was a boy I understood that my mother’s health, her well-being, was in my hands … My rock, as she was so fond of saying. My own experience, however, had yielded a different truth — that I could easily make things worse, but never better.”

He is likewise never free of his sense of duty. With the sort of painfully funny irony for which Russo is famous, even as his mother trumpets her independence, she is packing up to accompany him to college on the other side of the country. She never fully leaves. If half of what he writes about his mother’s later years is true, Russo’s wife, Barbara, should be canonized.

There is nothing wrong with memoir serving as a mature writer’s reflections on the effect of a demanding, complicated parent. One might even say that someone with Russo’s impressive bibliography of eight novels (and a successful career as a college English professor) has earned the right to work out childhood stuff, finally, without the protective tissue of fiction.

Yet at the same time, it seems to me that gifted writers who publish a memoir somewhat earlier in their career often give readers a braver, more revelatory gift — think Anne Lamott and Mary McCarthy, as well as “Poser” author Claire Dederer and Cheryl Strayed (“Wild”). I’m sure there are men lurking in this category, somewhere, but it does seem as if women are more willing to reveal themselves to their readers in this way, earlier.

Blaming a gifted writer for this may not be quite fair. Clearly Russo used his books and a lot of years to figure out his mother and their connection. He began to work the issue more pointedly in his last novel, “That Old Cape Magic,” which creates a mother every bit as exasperating, pitiful and wonderful as Russo’s own. When he was good and ready to write this memoir, he wrote it.

But those writers who fling themselves bravely into memoir earlier seem, to me, to do it better. There is an arresting rawness (think Mary Karr) and a willingness to examine oneself from every angle that is best done by the young (or at least, younger) and very flexible.

Following that logic, the upside here may be that readers discovering Russo through this memoir and then returning to his first few titles are embarking on a delightful voyage with a gifted writer about whom they now know a great deal.

Kimberly Marlowe Hartnett is a writer living in Portland, Ore.

Royce White Absent as He and Houston Rockets Remain at Odds

Royce White, Houston Rockets at Odds as White Remains Absent from Team

Thomas Campbell-US Presswire

Houston Rockets rookie power forward Royce White suffers from anxiety disorder, fear of flying and obsessive compulsive disorder which is why the team agreed to workout a plane for White to deal with his disorders and fears while also keeping him ready to go for games and practices.

The arrangement between the Rockets and White which was made was to have White fly only to certain games and then take a bus to the others that were close in distance to where the team would be. For instance to begin the season White flew with his team from Houston to Michigan to take on the Detroit Pistons because of the lengthy distance and then traveled by bus to the next few road games versus the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies.

Now the 16th overall selection in the 2012 NBA Draft has essentially gone AWOL after not appearing for the Rockets’ Monday night loss to the Miami Heat, the team’s Tuesday practice or their shoot around prior to Wednesday night’s game versus the New Orleans Hornets. There has been word as to when or if White will rejoin the team from either the Rockets or White himself but recently White tweeted on his verified Twitter account that the Rockets have been “inconsistent” with helping him.

White has yet to see any type of playing time this season and that could also be a partial factor in to him being absent from the team along with the 6’8″, 260 pound forward feeling that the team isn’t doing all they can to assist him with this situation. The Rockets organization will fine White for everyday that he remains away from the team or fails to meet with his therapist according to the Houston Chronicle.

Why Some of Us Fret More Over Moral Dilemmas




brain areas

CREDIT: Dreamstime


Imagine yourself in a time of war. You’re huddled in a cellar with your entire village, hiding from armed enemy soldiers outside. A baby starts to cry, threatening to expose the hideout. Do you cover the infant’s mouth tightly and risk suffocating it to save the others?

When we’re faced with tough choices like this, certain parts of our brain light up, helping us navigate morally sticky situations. New research finds that these brain regions are more active in individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), which suggests they tend to be more distressed by moral quandaries than people without the condition.

“Faced with a problem of this type, people suffering from this type of anxiety disorder show that they worry considerably more,” study researcher Carles Soriano, of the Hospital de Bellvitge in Barcelona, told Spanish news agency SINC.

Soriano and his team studied 73 patients with OCD and 73 control subjects, measuring their brain activity with an fMRI machine as they were faced with decisions, such as the classic crying baby dilemma.

Compared with the control subjects, the patients with OCD had a higher degree of activation in the orbitofrontal cortex, a region with ties to the decision making processes and the development of moral sentiment, the researchers found. The OCD patients did not have the same responses when making more trivial choices, such as choosing between going to the countryside or the beach for the weekend, the researchers note.

“The data allows us for the first time to objectify the existence of cerebral dysfunctions related to alterations in complex cognitions, such as experiencing morality,” Soriano said. “This allows us to expand further on the characterisation of altered cerebral mechanisms in OCD.”

OCD is thought to affect at least 1 percent of the population and is characterized by repetitive behaviors that aim to reduce anxiety.

While the majority of cases involve compulsions to clean and perform other rituals or routines, other forms of the disorder are marked by pathological sexual or religious guilt, suggesting OCD patients might be prone to moral hypersensitivity.

The new study appears in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

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OCD May Heighten Moral Sensitivity

OCD May Heighten Moral Sensitivity Individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) appear far more sensitive when it comes to moral dilemmas.

“Faced with a problem of this type, people suffering from this type of anxiety disorder show that they worry considerably more,” said Carles Soriano, Ph.D., researcher at Hospital de Bellvitge in Barcelona.

For the new study, scientists looked at the neurofunctional basis of this increased moral sensitivity. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, they measured the brain activity of a group of 73 patients with OCD and 73 healthy patients.

All participants had to face a variety of moral problems in which they had to choose between two alternatives both leading to very negative consequences.

For example, they were asked to imagine themselves in a hypothetical war. Enemy soldiers lie in wait to attack and the entire village is hiding in a cellar. A baby starts to cry. If nobody makes the baby stop, the enemy soldiers will find them. Would it be justifiable to smother the baby’s cry, possibly suffocating it to save the others?

The results demonstrated that during situations of moral dilemma, the brains of those with OCD showed a higher degree of activation in the orbitofrontal cortex, especially in the medial part, which is associated with decision making and the development of moral sentiment.

“The majority [of people with OCD] are characterized by being obsessed with dirt and compulsive cleaning or by doubting that they have carried out important actions properly, like turning off the gas. Such behavior makes then repeatedly check whether they have performed such actions,” said Soriano.

There are other types of obsessions and compulsions as well, such as needing objects in the environment to be perfectly symmetrical and in order.   

There are also those that suffer from involuntary and unwanted thoughts of a sexual or religious kind.  They may feel unsure whether they have committed a sexual act that is unacceptable in their opinion or they worry that they have blasphemed God.

“The last group of patients is identified for precisely having a higher level of moral hypersensitivity,” said Soriano.

The research included help from experts at Barcelona’s Hospital del Mar and the University of Melbourne in Australia.

Source:  Archives of General Psychiatry
 

 
Very anxious woman photo by shutterstock.



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Biting Nails? You could be Insane!

Tense situations call for nail biting, be it the world cup, the board exam results or maybe the final seconds of a lottery showdown. But if you find yourself biting nails all the time you may be suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder.   

Nail-biting has been classified as a type of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in their upcoming edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

According to Wikipedia, People with obsessive compulsive disorder are known to produce repetitive behaviours aimed at reducing anxiety.

Other habits like hair-pulling and skin-picking — habits of “pathological grooming”– will also be included in the OCD classification, as reported by news.com.au

The DSM-V is the known ‘Bible of psychiatrists’ and is used by clinicians, researchers, psychiatric drug regulation agencies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and even policy makers.

A word of advice for the nail biters then — choose nail cutters over your teeth to stay in the sane category.  

Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder worry considerably more than … – News

Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder are characterised by persistent thoughts and repetitive behaviours. A new study reveals that sufferers worry considerably more than the general population in the face of morality problems.

Along with the help of experts from the Barcelona’s Hospital del Mar and the University of Melbourne (Australia), researchers at the Hospital de Bellvitge in Barcelona have proven that patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder, known as OCD, are more morally sensitive.

“Faced with a problem of this type, people suffering from this type of anxiety disorder show that they worry considerably more,” as explained to SINC by Carles Soriano, researcher at the Catalan hospital and one of the lead authors of the work published in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, the experts studied the neurofunctional basis of this increased moral sensitivity. They measured the brain activity of a group of 73 patients with OCD and 73 healthy patients when faced with different moral problems in which they had to choose between two alternatives both leading to very negative consequences.

For example, they were faced the dilemma of the crying baby, a classic in philosophy classes. They were asked to imagine themselves in a hypothetical war. Enemy soldiers lie in wait to attack and the entire village hides in a cellar. A baby starts to cry. If nobody makes the baby stop, the soldiers will discover everyone. Would it be justifiable to smother the baby’s cry running the risk of suffocating it to save the others?

“The brain activations displayed by participants in the face of such a moral question were compared to those displayed for trivial choices, like choosing between going to the countryside or the beach for the weekend,” as Soriano points out.

The results verified that during situations of moral dilemma those subjects with OCD displayed a higher degree of activation in the orbitofrontal cortex, especially in the medial part, which is linked to decision making processes and the development of moral sentiment.

“The data allows us for the first time to objectify the existence of cerebral dysfunctions related to alterations in complex cognitions, such as experiencing morality,” adds the researcher from Catalonia. “This allows us to expand further on the characterisation of altered cerebral mechanisms in OCD.”

Anxiety compulsion

Parents’ Social Anxiety May Raise Kids’ Risk for Anxiety Disorder

From

Published: November 7, 2012 5:27 PM

 — Mary Elizabeth Dallas

Photos


Parental social anxiety should be considered a risk factor for childhood anxiety, according to researchers.

In a new study, researchers from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center found that kids with parents who have social anxiety disorder — the most common form of anxiety — are at greater risk for developing an anxiety disorder than kids whose parents have other forms of anxiety.

The study revealed that the parental behaviors that contributed to children’s anxiety included a lack of warmth and affection as well as high levels of criticism and doubt.

“There is a broad range of anxiety disorders, so what we did was home in on social anxiety, and we found that anxiety-promoting parental behaviors may be unique to the parent’s diagnosis and not necessarily common to all those with anxiety,” the study’s senior investigator, Golda Ginsburg, professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said in a university news release.

In conducting the study, Ginsburg’s team examined the interactions between 66 anxious parents and their children, whose ages ranged from 7 to 12 years. Of the parents, 21 had social anxiety; the rest were diagnosed with another form of anxiety, such as panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Each parent-child team was videotaped while working together to write speeches about themselves and also to copy designs on an Etch-a-Sketch. They were given five minutes to complete each task. On a scale of one to five, the researchers rated the affection and criticism the parents showed their children.

The study authors found that parents with social anxiety were less warm and affectionate toward their children. These parents also criticized their children more, and tended to doubt their child’s ability to complete each task.

Ginsburg, who also is a child anxiety expert at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center, added that doctors treating parents with social anxiety should discuss the risk their condition poses to their children. The researchers noted that controlling environmental factors that contribute to anxiety can help prevent these children from developing the disorder.

“Children with an inherited propensity to anxiety do not just become anxious because of their genes, so what we need are ways to prevent the environmental catalysts — in this case, parental behaviors — from unlocking the underlying genetic mechanisms responsible for the disease,” Ginsburg explained.

The study authors noted that anxiety disorder affects one in five children in the United States. If left untreated, the condition can lead to depression, substance abuse and poor performance in school.

The study was released online in advance of print publication in an upcoming issue of the journal Child Psychiatry and Human Development.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health has more about anxiety disorders.

Copyright © 2012 HealthDay. All rights reserved.

Nail biting doesn’t belong in psychiatry’s list of OCD symptoms

News that the next edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) may classify nail biting as a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder has confirmed the worst fears of the psychiatric handbook’s critics. The threshold of what is deemed a disorder is lowered with each successive edition, with nearly all forms of human behaviour now becoming pathologised. Of the 180 or so disorders one could have suffered from in the mid 1980s, there are now approaching 400.

Academics, GPs and psychiatrists have all spoken out against this trend. Petitions have been raised expressing grave doubts about DSM, and a stream of academic books and articles ridicule its scientific claims. Yet these critiques seem to be ignored. Most clinicians working in the NHS use the DSM, and a fitness-to-practise case has even been brought against a clinician who challenged the DSM categories she was supposed to be applying.

The proposed inclusion of nail biting in lists of OCD symptoms is a good example of the manual’s failures. Pre-DSM psychiatry emphasised the difference between symptom and underlying structure. Someone could bite their nails as a way of redirecting anger when they felt cross, or even because they had the delusional belief that their nail embodied some evil that had to be excised from the body. The symptom – nail biting – was simply the clue to what lay beneath it.

OCD itself is another case in point. The DSM treats it as a disorder, defined by symptoms such as compulsions, rituals and intrusive thoughts. Yet the actual category of OCD is suspect for a simple reason: the same surface symptoms can appear in two distinct underlying clinical groups – the neuroses and the psychoses.

In neurosis, obsessive symptoms can be a way of warding off anxiety, particularly about the proximity of love and hate. One of Freud’s patients worried that a stone in the road might cause an accident when his loved one’s carriage travelled along it later that day. He put it by the side of the road, only to then worry that this was absurd and then return it to its original place. Behind the repetitive ritual was a conflict of affection and aggression.

In psychosis, although the person may complain of the cleaning, checking or counting rituals they have to carry out, these activities may protect them from more acute terrors. It is well-known, for example, that the appearance of OCD-style phenomena in schizophrenia or manic-depressive psychosis is generally a good prognostic sign. By introducing an order, they can be less a problem than a way of treating a problem.

In the DSM approach, this distinction is all too often lost. The piece of behaviour becomes in itself transparent, simply one more item on a checklist of symptoms. You don’t need to know what the nail biting means to that individual patient, just whether they do it or not. Meaning has been stripped from the diagnostic enterprise, in favour of pure external classification.

Clinicians who want to pursue a dialogue here find that they are allocated less and less time with their patients by a bureaucratic and managerial healthcare system. The tragedy is that this deprives us of having any authentic understanding of the symptom, and it introduces a rigid, normative vision of human behaviour. We can know what is a disorder, and what isn’t, without listening to what the person has to say.

Yet nail biting might be a totally irrelevant detail for one person, a terrible curse or a pleasurable habit for another. Classifying such behaviour externally as a symptom, without taking into account what it means to that person, is profoundly inhuman. It is yet another vehicle for imperatives telling us how we should live and how we shouldn’t.

Nail-biting to be classified as type of obsessive compulsive disorder

The American Psychiatric Assiociation will classify nail-biting as a type of obessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in their upcoming edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).

Other “pathological grooming” habits like hair-pulling and skin-picking – collectively known as trichotillomania – will also be included in the OCD classification, News.com.au reported.

The DSM-V is known as the ‘bible of psychiatrists’ and is used by international clinicians, researchers, psychiatric drug regulation agencies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and policy makers.

According to Wikipedia, obsessive compulsive disorder is characterised by intrusive thoughts that produce repetitive behaviours aimed at reducing anxiety.

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Parents With Social Anxiety Disorder Pass Their Fears to Children

Parents who suffer from social phobia can pass the disorder to their children. A new study has found that parents with social anxiety disorder are more likely to pass on the traits to their kids than parents who suffer from other kinds of anxiety disorders.

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Social anxiety disorder or social phobia is when people have excessive fear of being judged and are constantly embarrassed. These people find it difficult to do common things like signing a check in front of other people.

“There is a broad range of anxiety disorders so what we did was home in on social anxiety, and we found that anxiety-promoting parental behaviors may be unique to the parent’s diagnosis and not necessarily common to all those with anxiety,” said Golda Ginsburg a child anxiety expert at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center and senior author of the study. Ginsburg is also a professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Researchers found that parents who have social phobia display a set of behaviors that increase the child’s risk of developing anxiety disorders. Children growing up with such parents often receive criticism and doubt at home and insufficient warmth and affection, making the children anxious.

Researchers say that they haven’t proven that children whose parents have social anxiety will grow up to be socially anxious. However, they add that physicians who are treating parents must be aware that their children might also be suffering from some level of anxiety.

“Parental social anxiety should be considered a risk factor for childhood anxiety, and physicians who care for parents with this disorder would be wise to discuss that risk with their patients,” Ginsburg said in a statement.

The present study included 66 parent-child pairs. Researchers gave each pair tasks that included preparing speeches and replicating complex designs on an Etch-a-Sketch device.

In the study group, 21 parents were diagnosed with social anxiety disorder and 45 parents had been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorders like panic attacks and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Researchers found that parents who had social anxiety disorder were more critical of the child’s abilities and showed less affection towards their children.

“Children with an inherited propensity to anxiety do not just become anxious because of their genes, so what we need are ways to prevent the environmental catalysts-in this case, parental behaviors-from unlocking the underlying genetic mechanisms responsible for the disease,” Ginsburg added.


Published by Medicaldaily.com

Nail-biting may be classified as type of obsessive compulsive disorder

Nail-biting is OCD behaviour

The American Psychiatric Assiociation will classify nail-biting as a type of obessive compulsive disorder. Picture: Thinkstock
Source: Supplied





NAIL-BITING may be classified as a type of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) in the upcoming edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V).


Other “pathological grooming” habits such as hair-pulling and skin-picking – collectively known as trichotillomania – will also be included in the OCD classification.

The DSM-V, published by the American Psychiatric Association, is known as the “Bible of psychiatrists”.

It is used by international clinicians, researchers, psychiatric drug regulation agencies, health insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies and policy makers.

According to Wikipedia, obsessive compulsive disorder is characterised by intrusive thoughts that produce repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety.

Symptoms can include excessive cleaning, repeated checking, hoarding and nervous rituals such as opening and closing a door several times before entering or leaving a room.

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Sydney forensic psychiatrist Dr Robert Kaplan has written several papers on the subject, identifying seemingly harmless habits such as hair-pulling, face picking and nail-biting as signs of psychiatric disorder.

“(Trichotillomania) is a very interesting phenomenon,” he said. “You see it in children of primary school age and you also see it in adult men and women.

“If you talk to sufferers you find that they are very stressed and embarrassed about it.”

Dr Kaplan said trichotillomania affected between eight per cent to 14 per cent of women and slightly fewer men.

The proposed classification of nail-biting and other forms of “pathological grooming” does not mean that all finger-munchers will be diagnosed with OCD.

“As with hair pulling and skin picking, nail biting isn’t a disorder unless it is impairing, distressing and meets a certain clinical level of severity,” Dr. Carol Mathews, a psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco, told US website Women’s Health.

Most people who bite their nails don’t fit in this category, which is only comprised by “a very small minority of people,” she said.

Depression and Entrepreneurs

Brad Feld

Amy and I wrote a meaningful amount about entrepreneurs and depression in Startup Life. Since we finished the final draft a few weeks ago, I’ve given several talks where depression came up as I’ve woven my own experience with depression into the short (less than 15 minute) version of my story. I’ve received a surprising (to me) number of emails from people thanking me talking about it publicly, along with my discussion of the anxiety disorder (obsessive compulsive disorder) that I’ve struggled with my entire adult life and that was severe during the serious depressive episode I had in my early to mid 20s.

So the idea of depression has been on my mind. It doesn’t surprise me that I feel down and flat as I sit here in the Charlotte, North Carolina airport on my way to Lexington, Kentucky on day 16 of a 19 day trip. I’m tired, strung out, missing home, missing Amy, and running out of extrovert energy. I’ve had a great time with all the people I’ve been with and the events I’ve had around Startup Communities. I’ve had several extraordinary experiences like dinner last night in Toronto with a dozen fantastic entrepreneurs who I hope to have continuous involvement – as a friend and potential investor – in the future. But as I sit here, I’m surrounded by a lot of grey, and it’s not just the clouds outside that are the remnants of the storm.

I’ve reached out to most of my friends in New York to check in on them. They are all doing fine even though a few were hit hard and are now effectively homeless as lower Manhattan gets cleaned up. I picked a spot in the airport far away from the TV – I couldn’t stand the endless news cycle that mixed Sandy with Romney with Obama. I had some extra carbs hoping that would help – it just made me feel sleepy. Yup – I know what this feeling is.

I know many entrepreneurs who deal with different levels of depression. My close friend Jerry Colonna is extraordinarly eloquent about this and how it impacts entrepreneurs. Ben Huh, the CEO of Cheezburger, wrote a powerful post about his struggle with depression titled When Death Feels Like A Good Option. And I’ve had many conversations with other entrepreneurs about my, and their, struggle with depression.

For some reason we’ve embraced failure as an entrepreneurial trait that is ok, but we still struggle with acknowledging and talking about depression. Entrepreneurs function with a wide range of stresses and emotions that often have overwhelming intensity. In many cases, we are afraid of admitting depression, and are often highly functional when we are depressed. But that doesn’t deny the fact that entrepreneurs get depressed. To deny this, is to deny reality, and that’s against my value system.

I just went back and read what we wrote in Startup Life about depression and it made me smile. I’m really proud of the work that Amy and I did on that book – I think it is the best book I’ve been involved in writing (Venture Deals, which I wrote with Jason Mendelson, is a close second) and I’m hopeful that it has a lot of impact and value for entrepreneurs and their partners.

Just writing all of this makes me feel better. Thanks for listening. Time to get on the plane and go to Lexington.


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