Red Notice, Bill Browder

Naïve American-born (but later a British citizen) investment banker stumbles upon vast opportunities in post-Soviet Russia, makes a fortune for himself and his hedge-fund clients, then runs afoul of Putin’s thuggish cronies, with tragic consequences, especially for one of his Russian attorneys, who is imprisoned, tortured and beaten to death.

Coming from a background of self-importance, Browder’s brief youthful rebellion is followed by a dive into the hyper-establishment world of investment banking.  It is from that platform he learns the post-Soviet Russian government has given every citizen a voucher to invest in their newly-privatizing economy – a laudable goal, on its surface. Realizing that most citizens have no idea how to benefit from this historic opportunity, Browder organizes the means necessary for himself and other non-Russian investors to buy up those vouchers and benefits, instead.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there are Russians who resent this.  Not, the ordinary citizens, who have made at least a tiny gain by selling him vouchers they believe to be worthless, but rather the local sharks, who resent not being able to gobble up this bonanza themselves.  When they, with the help of corrupt police and courts, begin stealing from Browder’s organization and, even more tellingly, from their own government (and thus its citizens) Browder, being a good child of American idealism, tries to use the rule of law to stop them.  The majority of the text, and its drama, concern this white-hat intrigue, and the death of Russian attorney Sergei Magnitsky, whose only sin was believing to the end in the myth of his nation’s legal system.

This is a compelling tale, worthy of LeCarre or Green, and Browder tells it pretty well for a first-timer (no other pen is credited…).  While one can almost hear the author swearing not to aggrandize his own role, though, he does come off as…well…a crusader for justice.  A jet-setting lifestyle, financed by taking advantage of the same lax government which cultivated Russia’s oligarchs and oligarchy, is hardly a stable perch from which to condemn others, but the degree of corruption and cruelty he uncovers makes such criticism seem rather a quibble. 

The real hero here, as Browder frequently and forcefully reminds us, is Sergei Magnitsky, attorney, husband and father, who risks all for the truth, and pays the ultimate price, his last weeks recounted here with justified horror and sympathy.  It is to Browder’s credit that he then pursued the only form of justice available; the Magnitsky act by which the USA (and later several other nations) put Russa on the public stage and on record as a criminal conspiracy dressed up in nation’s clothing.  (Browder appears also to have taken financial care of Magnitsky’s family after his death, another stand-up move.)

The events of this book took place in the aughts, the first decade or so of Vladimir Putin’s presidency.   As the autocrat now wreaks his havoc on Ukraine, Red Notice (not to be confused with the movie or another novel of the same title, btw) is more valuable than ever for its glimpse behind the curtain, confirming that his tyranny is no recent development, but the true measure of the man, evil rooted and growing for many years.   All the way back to his KGB days in the old Soviet Union, in fact.  Clearly, there is no hope Putin will ever change his ways, and no wisdom in ever believing anything he spouts about agreements, cooperation, the rule of law or any alternative to simple brute force and self-service.  Fair warning to the next president who believes he has seen the Russian’s soul in his eye (43), or finds in him a friendly bro’ with whom to shoot the breeze – with no witnesses and no notes taken (45).

Pass this one around; people deserve to know.

The Well of Loneliness, Radclyffe Hall

Among the earliest novelistic depictions of homosexual love and life, Hall’s book movingly expresses the solitary pain of living out a prohibited nature. Her protagonist, Stephen Gordon, enters this life a contradiction – christened with the name of the male child she is not – and ends it in the same way – professing love for one woman in order to free the other woman she truly loves to live a more conventional life – the very conventional life for which Stephen has longed since adolescence but can never have.

That conclusion may sound melodramatic, and it bears a bit of that taste, but the tale in its entirety is far more individual and nuanced than any melodrama.  It is, given the date of  publication (1928) , an amazingly deep and subtle reflection of what living a secret can do to a person; the isolation, doubt and self-destructiveness which it may often engender. More than just a woman who loves women, Gordon’s inner life, expressed through third person narration, seems more truly that of the transgendered; wishing with all her heart to live the sort of life her father had, and which those who happen to be born male may take for granted.

Noteworthy also is Hall’s depiction of louche Paris nightlife among the ‘inverts,’ that crowd of homosexuals, lesbians, gender transcenders and others who seek out one another’s company in the few establishments which tolerate them, and where many take refuge in reflexive excess.  This is not a pretty picture, but one of desperation and degradation – and exploitation, as at least one proprietor carefully records his customers’ identities for future exploitation. Other episodes reflect the democratizing effect of war, wherein women are briefly allowed to take on less-gendered roles, and the impact of snobbery and societal rejection, how friends become enemies the moment one’s secret is exposed. One gets the feeling these scenes are written from personal experience, or at leas those of the author’s close acquaintances.

In what seems a typical pretense of fiction from this period, Stephen’s dilemma is one of personal fulfillment rather than survival; being born into substantial wealth, she travels and writes and publishes for personal reasons only. Working for living is never an issue, thus insulating her from the even greater impacts some of her other gay friends suffer (an artist couple are movingly depicted as they struggle, starve and die, one of illness, the other of suicide borne of despair).

As easy as it might seem to call this an historical curiosity, that things are much better now, one must remember that is only true of some ‘liberal’ cultures; in many places and cultures around the world (and even here in the good ‘ol USA) repression is still the norm.  In truth, The Well of Loneliness is very much as timely today as it was a hundred years ago.

Why We Sleep – Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, Walker, Mathew, PhD

An in-depth summary of current knowledge on the subject, by a researcher and sleep-geek unafraid to sound like a prophet in the wilderness.  His central creed is the imperative of 7 to 9 hours of sleep for every adult (more for children, varying by age), of an early to bed early to rise schedule that aligns with the sun’s presence and, most diabolically, of later school start times that would allow developing brains the early-morning REM sleep which data prove are critical to their ability to learn and, even more, to complete the complex brain-development necessary to achieve a healthy adult personality and abilities.

The many research citations go a long way to convince, as they also amaze with the cleverness of researchers, finding ways to determine what goes on during sleep, in minds that are, by definition, in no condition to report it.  Brain wave analysis is an obvious technical aid, but the comparison experiments he relates – involving specific sorts of lessons and challenges presented before and following specific extents of specific types of sleep – are more surprising. As is just the simple revelation that there are so many stages of sleep, each with its own character and purpose. 

A subject as broad as this naturally demands a polymath, and Walker is enough of one to cite pharmacology and chemistry in support of his arguments, literature regarding the origins of our long held illusions and more literature to show that humans have known at least some of this for generations, we’ve just allowed other priorities to blind us to what our bodies are screaming.  If we are to rise to the many challenges we humans create for ourselves ( politics, wars, climate change, social change, pandemics and general pandemonium, to name just a few), we’d do well to follow his advice.

Saving his most potent Jeremiad for last, the author addresses sleep aids, crying out against profitable products that make no effort to treat underlying conditions, but rather, simply sedate the user into a simulacrum of sleep with none of its functions.  If my own experience with Ambien during a week of all-nighters and 12-hour jet lag had not already been enough to turn me off of the stuff, this book certainly would.

Deserves to be more widely read.  And followed, though one holds out little help for that, in this age of pods, pads, tablets, laptops and streaming, screening, screaming masses.

Sleep well!

On ‘We Aren’t in Vegas Anymore’

Ross Douthat of the NYT had an interesting column this AM, ostensibly about the value of taking social policies only to some rational balancing point of benefits and risks, rather than insisting upon one extreme ( total prohibition) or the other ( total laissez-faire permission). While his argument made great sense, it deserves to be expanded, particularly in relation to some of the issues often associated with what is lumped together as the political ‘right.’

What Douthat says about the inevitability of some gambling always existing, and therefor the preferability of reasonable limits and regulation rather than either total prohibition or complete lack of regulation – bet anywhere, anytime, on anything, at any stakes – is well taken. He neglected, though, the logical extension of this argument to some very comparable similar issues; prostitution, for example, or abortion, both of which have been around at least since biblical times despite every effort to universalize their prohibition.

Even positive issues such as freedom of speech are most-effectively handled by a society and legality which do not permit their most extreme expressions (yelling fire in a football stadium being the classic one; intentional libel for financial gain another, or defending one’s castle with a bank of automated machine-gun emplacements). Yet another salient reference would be to freedom of religion, where the reasonable desire to worship without persecution has been stretched into the supposed-right to run businesses and corporations in ways that discriminate and limit the freedom of their employees or their customers. The Citizens United campaign finance decision suggests this list could go on, and on.

What Mr. Douthat was actually – and correctly – warning of is the danger of fundamentalism in any realm.

Whether coming from the supposed ‘left’ (permitting pornography, legalizing marijuana) or the ‘right’ (striking down Roe v. Wade, refusing to put a same-sex statuette on top of a wedding cake), taking any social proposition to its logical extreme is never a good way to make law or public policy, especially in an aspiring democracy which aims to cultivate internal peace and comity.

The Spy Who Loved, Clare Mulley

The paperback of this historical biography looks just about as substantial as a copy of Ulysses sitting on the shelf, but at 350 pages it is roughly half as long; is it printed on heavier-than-typical stock perhaps?   Or just buttressed by two Appendices, over thirty pages of attributive notes, a dozen of bibliography, and other supporting material.  Not that the story isn’t substantial, as we follow Christine Granville (nee: Krystyna Janina Skarbek) through the twists, turns, detours and (literal) dead-ends of WWII espionage in a depth of detail which is quite astounding, given that the crucial years of her life were lived in wartime, in secret and under varying names and legends.

Daughter of a dying aristocracy and a nation about to enter the two-stage coma of Nazism and Communism, Christine found purpose and a home of sorts among the secret service and, even more, the partisans, guerillas and Maquis of occupied Europe. For years she dared and dodged, evaded and enabled in ways that clearly contributed to the war effort. That she survived it all is little short of astonishing. When the war ended, however, and the British establishment decided it no longer required her services, she found herself adrift in many ways.  Despite the assistance and loyalty of many comrades, especially those also of Polish origin, she was still struggling to find a place in peacetime when a bit player – a merchant seaman with whom she had struck up a friendship of uncertain intimacy, then left – murdered her in an act of jealous impotence. 

Mulley does a fine job documenting all of this, and has clearly done an enormous effort in the research collating and checking departments.  More than that though, she has depicted the impact of the war from an original viewpoint, with special attention Britain’s taking advantage of Polish patriotism before abruptly abandoning their cause in order to appease Stalin – so he would assist the allies in correcting the damage caused by their earlier appeasement of Hitler…

Nor does the author ignore feminist elements of this story – the unusual degree to which Christine’s father treated her as equal or superior to her older brother, the many ways in which men in authority used her skills and then plied her for her favors, the independent and forward-looking manner in which she withheld or dispensed those favors for her own ends. And her own enjoyment. The tragic way in which what worked in wartime with principled and selfless patriots may have contributed to her death in a peacetime setting peopled by men with far fewer values or scruples. 

A bit slow to start, this slippery-slide through WWII gathers speed, tension and impact right up to its end, the final evening of Skarbec’s life, and more than retains interest through a brief but critical epilogue, where we see how several of the same men who competed for her love and endured disappointment when their efforts were not requited, formed an alliance to protect her memory from the worst tabloid exploitation and prudish disparagement.  That she engendered such loyalty is one more testament to the unique qualities of an extraordinary woman.  Brava.

Freedom, Sebastian Junger

A very brief – with the text clocking in at only 133 pages, the 13 additional pages of ‘Sources and References’ are fully 10% as long – riff on the nature of freedom, structured as memoir of a 400 mile hobo along railroad rights of way from Washington DC to western PA, just shy of Pittsburgh and the Ohio border.  In the company of a varying group of old friends (who appear to be, or at least include, combat vets, hence the nickname ‘the Last Patrol,’), Junger seems to have embarked on this journey in search of something about simplicity, slowing down, the essence of frontier and a different side of America than he (and his readers) experience in ‘regular,’ daily, modern life.  While the narrative follows the geographic and chronological path of the walk, Junger’s musings are super-structured into three parts – Run, Fight and Think – representing his idea of the components of freedom. 

Run – To be free, one path is to escape those who would enslave them.  In early history, humans were well-suited to this, being among the greatest endurance machines of any land animals (birds and sea mammals, of course, out-class us by geometrical proportion).  Interesting to note that mechanized transportation, despite making travel fast and easy, has actually done more to decrease that freedom, by requiring we buy into an economic and social system to acquire and afford any slim possibility of moving faster or farther than our oppressors.

Fight – the earliest human conflicts being physical and between individuals, freedom was province of the largest, strongest and/or most ruthless fighters, who casually subjugated the rest (women being, by that definition, the least free of all; though Junger’s discussions are pretty much anthropocentric, women being mentioned now and then, almost as a sidebar).  Deeper examination, however, reveals that the biggest man does not always win. Whether in individual combat, where a smaller, quicker or more enduring man may best a big, slow opponent, or in war, where a small grass-roots insurgency can almost always win over a large mechanized, formalized army, the outcome is never so simple and rarely so certain.  This, he points out is why we have any hope of freedom – if it were always true the strongest would dominate, conflict would suicide and disputes end as soon as it became clear who was the stronger. (To an extent, that is the case; except that ‘stronger’ is a complex enough characteristic that it may take a battle to determine to whom it properly applies.)

Think – here our guide considers some less- obvious indicators of Freedom.  Having little or nothing to lose, he points out, makes his band of walkers more free than those whose homes and communities they pass (kudos to Kris Kristofferson and Bobby McGee for keeping us all mindful of that one).   By relieving them of dependence on a larger social structure or economy, it further enhances the illusion of freedom, though Junger points out that no one living an existence more developed than that of individual hunter-gatherer is ever that free (and a purely individual hunter-gatherer is doomed to extinction, so…).  There is always trade-off between belonging to a social unit and having the freedom to do whatever one wants. Always.

Different styles of leadership though, result in more or less freedom.  Hierarchical organizations, by allocating resources and authority in unequal measure, result in far less freedom for most of their members.  Non-hierarchical structures, where resources are shared and authority is earned and maintained by casual action and consensus, allow for greater freedom at all levels -and tolerate a greater level of disorder, as result.  The Irish and American battles for independence are referenced here, and also employed as lead-in to the one section that more-deeply acknowledges female contributions, pointing out women’s roles in keeping the community alive while men fight over it.  And also, at crucial moments, making public the moral or immoral bases for actions, sometime even shaming the men of one side or the other into acting more justly. Sometimes.

It is fitting then that the tale winds to a close by considering labor battles, just as he nears Pittsburgh, Youngstown and the industrial centers of the mid-west, a region identified in the public mind with both a vociferous defense of freedom cast as patriotism and a simultaneous lack of freedom under the stifling supply/demand market for lesser-skilled labor and the power of capital and market domination.

One other through line is Junger’s appreciation for the many lost and wild places still remaining in what is generally considered a densely-populated part of the USA.  Railroads, he points out, are both a source of such (the buffer lands either side of long-distance tracks being prevented from despoilation both by their often-rugged geography and the danger, noise and disruption they would inflict on any other activity placed beside them) and by law – theoretically off limits, yet practically un-policeable, as this tale proves.  There is still an American frontier, Junger suggests, room for exploration and room for freedom, of a sort, if one is willing to put down the trappings of belonging and comfort and take up the hard work and simple satisfactions of other places, other eras, other ways of life.

Having listened to and considered these worthy ruminations, perhaps the final word is to read the author’s notes on the book jacket and learn that Junger “…lives in New York City with his family.”   Freedom, it seems, is what one chooses it to be.

Endure, Alex Hutchinson

Subtitled Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, this in-depth survey of then-current (2018) scientific knowledge on the subject is written in the extended-magazine-article vein of Malcom Gladwell, who penned its foreword.  For a distance runner, it’s riveting stuff; as researchers ferret out the relative importance of physical versus mental fitness, of food, oxygen, hydration and heat, etc., etc.  For anyone else though, it’s likely to be too much by a multiple of miles.

All that science can use a little drama, so in addition to sprinkling in the anecdotes, Hutchinson wisely brackets segments of his book with the story of Nike and Eliud Kipchoge’s attempts to run a sub-2:00 marathon. The technology and resources devoted to that goal are staggering, as is the idea of what that pace demands of a human animal. An inspiring milestone, despite the questionable advantages employed to achieve it.

Even Hutchinson confesses by the end that it is all a bit confounding, and the best advice is still pretty simple.  His response is to quote this haiku by trainer Michael Joyner:

“Run lots of miles

Some faster than your race pace

Rest once in a while”

Practicing your craft and pushing your limits regularly are nothing new.  Perhaps the most significant piece of insight Hutchinson discovers is the importance of believing in your own potential to exceed past performance.  All the rest may make a small difference at the margins, but when race day comes it is often inspiration and commitment that make the difference between elation and disappointment.

My own thoughts at the end of this read were less about how to maximize one’s performance in endurance events, than of what that performance can mean to other aspects of life.  Running a marathon is never going to change the world (unless you are one of the genetically- and socially-blessed .001 percent, and even then will change it in only a very slim aspect), but having run a marathon can give one the confidence and strength to be better at any or all of the other things one does.  And that, I believe is where the real value lies, in the endurance of life itself.

The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga

Darkly humorous, this Booker Prize-winner plays with our desire to believe its hero is actually a decent man despite his early admissions of guilt. When, late in the tale, his crime becomes clear (the ‘unreliable narrator’ turns out to have been entirely reliable), we are challenged to decide whether we condemn or forgive him, given the greater evil of the world in which he is required to survive, and in which we all play a part, regardless of how remotely.

Set among the impoverished majority of early 2000s India, The WhiteTiger can be read as a primer for those unfamiliar with that society, but they are also clearly an abstract for the hundreds of millions in similar straits in other nations around the world (“the colossal underclass,” as Adiga is quoted describing them on one website).  Insufficient resources, insufficient opportunity, insufficient education, insufficient justice; all these contribute to Balram Halwai’s ruthless take on survival.  That ruthlessness though, armors a soft heart – his anger takes forever to rise, his violence is not enjoyed, but endured for what it will achieve.  Even when he grudgingly admits to condemning his family back in the village of Laxmangharh, his reasoning is more amoral rather than immoral – he takes no pleasure in their fate, but rates it only incrementally worse than that to which they had already been condemned by birth: a few more decades of poor, ignorant backwater toil before the death which eventually comes for us all.  The same ‘cage’, as he describes it, from which he has so narrowly escaped.

That metaphor of the white tiger (a creature, we are told, of which there is only one born in an entire generation) works on multiple levels.  Not only are the poor caged as truly as animals in a zoo, so too is there little value in being a unique individual -beautiful, talented or valued in any way – if one must still live one’s life in a cage with nothing to do but eat sleep and procreate.  And when Balram kills and steals from his employer Ashok in order to escape, one is challenged to judge those acts any less natural (and neutral) than a tiger who, finding its cage door left open (the novel’s ‘red bag’ on the car seat…), might well kill and consume its keeper on its way out of the zoo.  Not out of perversity or evil, but simply as an act of survival – kill or be killed, eat or be eaten. 

In a brief author interview appended to the e-book edition, Adiga vouches for the reality of his settings and the corruption he describes.  This is fiction but not speculative fiction; poverty and oppression such as this really exist, and those with certain strengths or intellect may well be driven to extremes such as Balram’s in order to feel they have escaped it – even if, to these middle-class American eyes, his upward step seems a very small one.  All those heavily-accented voices on unsolicited phone calls, those poorly-worded spam e-mails and destructive malware episodes we hear about on the evening news – this novel educates us as to why anyone would spend their hours in what we are so quick to dismiss as criminal activities.  They are, perhaps, just surviving in the best way they can find.   

Amid such bleakness, it is very fortunate that both author and character bear an abundance of wry humor. Naming Ashok’s American-born wife ‘Pinky Madam’, is one inspired example, the comic self-aggrandizement of Balram delivering his entire memoir in a series of late-night monologues directed to the soon-to-visit Premier of China is another.  An abundance of such touches ensure that that this bleak message is not bleak in the telling.

A unique and eye-opening prize-winner well worthy of its award, and a useful reminder of how undeservedly-fortunate we of  ‘the first world’ really are.   

Piranesi, Susanna Clarke

An absorbing puzzle, Piranesi appears for a time to be a fantasy novel, its protagonist trapped within an alternate reality where the rules of nature and society are totally strange to the reader, though that central character, referred to as Piranesi, has completely accepted them.   Later, it reveals itself as a murder mystery worthy of a twenty-first-century Agatha Christie, the requisite cast of oddball characters interacting partly inside the grandest crumbling mansion one could imagine, and partly in an outside world quite like our own modern England.  By the end, it morphs into a psychological drama, dilemmas of perception and memory, fanaticism, indoctrination and obsession taking center stage as Clarke provides an explanation for what at the outset seemed inexplicable. 

There is artifice here, befitting a novel whose setting seems taken directly from works of art.  Without interviewing the author herself it is impossible to know whether her creation was inspired by the real Piranesi’s grand visions of crumbed antiquity, or whether her vision came by itself and was only later given the referent to add a layer of credibility.  Either way, for those who are familiar with Piranesi’s works, the link adds tremendous vividness to the novel’s setting.  For those not familiar with the drawings, it might spark a desire to look them up (assuming, of course, that such a reader even realizes there was a famous person named Piranesi).

Writing these notes, I pulled up some images of the artworks, and was reminded that their subjects are referred to as ‘imaginary prisons.’ Not sure whether that was the artist’s choice or just something art historians came up with, but the appellation only strengthens the connection between etchings and novel, as Piranesi the character has, in fact, been imprisoned by another character for his own nefarious purposes.

One small curiosity for writer/readers and bibliophiles – there are 245 numbered pages in the hardbacked I bought (stickered as a ‘Barnes & Noble EXCLUSIVE EDITION’ ), but then the final fifteen or so pages are totally unnumbered.  Is this an unconscionable oversight by the production team? An attempt to obscure the brevity of a volume which runs under 300 pp. yet sells for full hardback price?  Or is it an authorial device, commenting on how those final pages relate to what has come before (the unpaginated chapter contains supposed ‘background’ information to what has come before, transcripts which surely could have been formatted differently in their imagined ‘original’ form, but are just as certainly now part of the text of the actual book we are reading)? Or is it just a subtle crimson herring, one more mystery dropped at the reader’s doorstep to make them wonder what they may have missed in the larger puzzle they only think they have solved? Like the title’s origin story, one may never know.

As with her debut novel, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, one comes away with great appreciation for Clarke’s ability to create and entangle, to baffle and entice.  Where the first posited ‘real’ magic having once existed in the ‘real ‘world, this one posits a ‘real’ and accessible alternative world existing side-by-side with our own ‘reality.’  Both offer engrossing escape and clear insights into human behavior, including the ways in which we deceive, manipulate and take advantage of one another for our own ends.  Trips worth taking, these are, even if neither of their endings is nearly as satisfying as their beginnings.

The Beauty in Breaking, Michele Harper

Recollections and cogitations by an ER physician, mingled with memoiria of her own abusive childhood and efforts to grow beyond its effects.  Admittedly, I picked it up for the former, and might not have bitten if I had known how much there would be of the latter – the ultimate impact is more self-improvement of the yoga-incense-and-herbal-tea variety than medical drama, but on the other hand, what it really is turned out to be entirely appropriate, as it became available on my Kindle just before a medical emergency put me in an ambulance on the way to an ER myself, at the same time I’m experiencing acute withdrawal symptoms from a forty-year long day-job and pondering relocation for the next phase of life.

So, yeah, there is that.  Change – real, beneficial change that replaces negatives with positives – comes most often when we admit the past is over, or no longer endurable, or however else we acknowledge that something is broken.  And in that brokenness, if we are lucky and observant, we may glimpse the beauty of what could be.  Different.  Not necessarily easy.  Not necessarily glamorous or lucrative or admirable to anyone but ourselves, but truer and more productive than keeping on with what we deep down know – if we would only admit it to ourselves – is simply not working.  In Harper’s case, it is relationship with her family, her husband cum ex-husband, her subsequent boyfriend, the medical career for which she strove so long and hard only to find it deformed by economics and bureaucracy.  For each of us it is different and yet the same.  To find the path forward we must reach the cliff on our current path, stop, look around and discern a new way forward.

This is a generous book, empathic to all, even the assholes she shows in all their sphincterity.  Generous even to the physically-abusive fathers and knife murdering psych. admission at her VA hospital stint.  Not so generous to the medical establishment, VA administration, or the military mentality; but not without excellent reason either.  It is clearly intended to provide hope and comfort to others, an offering of the author’s own pain and insight.   A gift, to anyone ready to receive it.

Failure, Harper quotes Astro Teller of Google, isn’t making mistakes. Rather, failure is identifying that a course of action you have taken doesn’t work, but proceeding with it anyway.  So break-down, let yourself fall apart if your current configuration is not resulting in a happy and productive life, then put yourself back together (with the best help you can find) and embark on a new and better life.

Not a bad message in these broken years we are currently enduring; a welcome gift from an admirable soul.  Thank you, Ms. Harper.