Author of Silkie: World One, World Two
A complex novel of empathy, compassion, and connection between an adrift college professor and his student, a disturbed, homeless young single mother. READ MORE »
“This book is a thoughtful read . . . pegged to a myriad of world events that at first seem random and later begin to play a subtle part in the greater storyline. The author has very skillfully created a novel that weaves a personal dream which draws you in until you, like the Professor, are caught in a very different version of the world around us. . . . Silkie stretches the mind to think in new paradigms.”
“Feels like all of life is being gathered in.”
“When World One is no longer enough, and glimpses of World Two make you call World One into question, something like a disruption happens.”
“We too are split selves, mainly living in the World One of our family ties. Like the protagonist, we have our own evidence (and needs for) a realm free of space/time and the
fragmentation of our file-cabinet minds.”
“Rothgery excels in spinning quiet images into manic questions about the universe’s (ir)rationale.”
Silkie is one of the best pieces of contemporary writing that we have read in the past few years. . . .This narrative he has constructed is, quite simply, utterly captivating. It doesn’t shy away from the ugliness, cruelness, or confusion that our modern world breeds. Instead it seeks to remind us that all it takes is one thing, no matter how small, to completely transform us. Red City Review
BOTTOM DRAWER (3) ( . . . “World Two” glimpses . . . a larger vision )
“POETS, PROPHETS, AND REFORMERS ARE ALL PICTURE MAKERS — and this ability is the secret of their power and of their achievements,” [Frederick] Douglass wrote. This is where artists make their mark, by implanting pictures in the underwater processing that is upstream from conscious cognition. Those pictures assign weights and values to what the eyes take in.
“I never understand why artists want to get involved in partisanship and legislation. The real power lies in the ability to recode the mental maps people project into the world.” [David Brooks, “How Artists Change the World”, NY Times 8/2/16]
“’WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR’ IS GRIPPING FROM THE START. But it becomes even more so as Dr. Kalanithi tries to reinvent himself in various ways with no idea what will happen. He can’t gauge how much strength his body still has until he tests it, and sometimes the consequences are horrific. He no longer knows who he is or what he wants. His whole sense of identity is shaken. With the seeker’s restlessness that seems not to have left him until his last breath . . . ”
[Janet Maslin, NY Times review of When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi ,NY Times, 1/6/16]
COURT RETURNS POLAR BEAR PROTECTIONS: “A huge win for polar bears: This week the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 2010 decision to protect more than 120 million acres as critical habitat for polar bears. In its ruling the court reversed a 2013 lower-court decision that shot down that designation after it was challenged by the state of Alaska and the oil and gas industry.” [“Court Returns Polar Bear Protections across 120 Million Acres,” Endangered Earth online, 3/3/16]
“THE FUTURE OF ENERGY” [HBO’S “VICE”] Several countries are working on creating a little “sun” on earth using fusion—thereby, possibly, solving all of our energy needs. Clean, no CO2, limitless. Shane Smith started out by talking to a 14-year-old prodigy who built a fusion reactor in his own garage and has helped point the way for others. [“The Future of Energy,” VICE,” 4/16/16]
WILLIE B. WAZIR PEACOCK died April 17. He was an organizer for the Voter Education Project and a Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee field secretary in Mississippi and Alabama from 1960 to 1966. He later moved to California where he worked with Stepping Stones Growth Center, an organization that serves developmentally disabled children and adults.
“SYRIAN-BORN MARIA ALABDEH WAS STUDYING MICROBIOLOGY in France in 2011 when the Syrian revolution ignited.
“’I was amazed by the youth going to demonstrate against the government in Damascus,’ she said recently during a visit to the U.S.
‘I was so scared watching them chanting,’ she said, potentially exposing themselves to retribution by the regime. ‘Anyone could be arrested or killed.’
“She also was deeply concerned about the women living in the battle-torn country. Men were leaving their homes to fight or to try to make a living elsewhere, and women and children were finding they needed to fend for themselves.
“To help — at least from afar, Alabdeh joined forces with an organization based in Paris, called ‘Women Now for Development’ started in 2012 by Syrian writer Samar Yazbek.
“The nonprofit helps teach Syrian women to read and write, and offers them vocational training, such as sewing, knitting, secretarial work, first aid and hair-cutting to enable them to earn a living. It also provides education on computers and how to get involved in politics.
“’We are trying to have a safe place for women to discuss change and make change in their country,’ said Alabdeh, who is executive director of the group. Many of the women are eager to learn English, so that they can read articles and write them, she said.
“The classes are taught by local instructors in northern Syria and refugee camps in Lebanon. Since its inception, the organization has grown into eight women’s centers — six in Syria and two in the Lebanese refugee camps — staffed by more than 100 women teachers and activists.
“The group adjusts its courses based on the requests of the women, such as adding a self-defense class, and provides counseling for their shattered nerves.
“’Women come from miles around just to learn,’ said Alabdeh.” [Larisa Epatko, “Across Borders, Syrian Women Gain Strength from Each Other,” PBS NewsHour online, 8/1/16]
LAWRENCE WRIGHT’S “THE LOOMING TOWER: AL-QAEDA AND THE ROAD TO 9/11″ is a very worthwhile read—especially the story of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian religious scholar.
SCOTT ANDERSON’S “LAWRENCE IN ARABIA: WAR, DECEIT, IMPERIAL FOLLY AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN MIDDLE EAST” is another worthwhile read—especially as to the petty greed and idiocy that led to millions being killed and maimed in WW I.
“CALDAS, COLOMBIA—MELIDA WAS ONLY 9 WHEN GUERRILLA FIGHTERS lured her away with the promise of food as she played on the floor. For the next seven years she was held hostage by the rebels, forced to become a child soldier.
“Her family thought she had died in battle. Then Mélida suddenly returned to her village at 16, carrying a pistol and a grenade. Only her grandfather recognized her — from a birthmark on her cheek.
“The very next day, the military surrounded her house, called by an informant seeking the bounty on her head.
“’I found out my own father had turned me in,’ she recalled.”
[Nicholas Casey, “A Former Girl Soldier in Colombia Finds ‘Life Is Hard’ as a Civilian” NY Times, 4/27/16]
“KENYAN PRESIDENT UHURU KENYATTA SET FIRE SATURDAY TO THE WORLD’S BIGGEST IVORY BONFIRE, after demanding a total ban on trade in tusks and horns to end ‘murderous’ trafficking and prevent the extinction of elephants in the wild.
“’The height of the pile of ivory before us marks the strength of our resolve,’” Kenyatta said, before setting fire to the pyres.
“’No-one, and I repeat no-one, has any business in trading in ivory, for this trade means death of our elephants and death of our natural heritage.’”
“Eleven giant pyres of tusks, and another of rhino horns, are arranged in a semi-circle now expected to burn for days in Nairobi’s national park.” [“Kenya Lights World’s Biggest Ivory Bonfire, Demands Tusk Trade Ban. The Pile Was of about 6,700 Elephants,” Mail & Guardian Africa, 4/30/16]
DANIEL BERRIGAN, PEACE ACTIVIST, POET, PRIEST, DIED.
“Some” by Daniel Berrigan
Some stood up once, and sat down.
Some walked a mile, and walked away.
Some stood up twice, then sat down.
“It’s too much,” they cried.
Some walked two miles, then walked away.
“I’ve had it,” they cried,
Some stood and stood and stood.
They were taken for fools,
they were taken for being taken in.
Some walked and walked and walked –
they walked the earth,
they walked the waters,
they walked the air.
“Why do you stand?” they were asked, and
“Why do you walk?”
“Because of the children,” they said, and
“Because of the heart, and
“Because of the bread,”
“Because the cause is
the heart’s beat, and
the children born, and
the risen bread.”
A TANZANIAN MAN AND AN AMERICAN WOMAN TEAMED UP TO START their own “family” of some 94 orphaned kids—in rural Tanzania. The Rift Valley Children’s Village. Doctors, social workers, educators all work there. [60 Minutes, Bill Whitaker report, 5/1/16]
“THIS SITUATION—A PATINA OF GENTEEL PROGRESSIVEISM ATOP A CHURNING ENGINE OF AMORAL MERITOCRACY“— is inherently unstable and was bound to produce a counter-reaction. In his essay “The Big Uneasy,” in the current issue of The New Yorker, Nathan Heller describes life at Oberlin College in Ohio. In his penetrating interviews with the activist students you can see how the current passion for identity politics grows, in part, as a reaction against both sides of campus life.
“The students Heller interviewed express a comprehensive dissatisfaction with their lives. ‘I’m actually still trying to reconcile how unhappy I’ve been here with how happy people were insisting I must be,’ one student says. ‘Whatever you do at Oberlin as a person of color or a low-income person, it just doesn’t work,’ says another.
“Many of these students have rejected the meritocratic achievement culture whole cloth — the idea that life is about moving up the ladder. ‘I don’t want to assimilate into middle-class values,’ one student tells Heller. ‘I’m going home, back to the “hood” of Chicago, to be exactly who I was before I came to Oberlin.’”[David Brooks, “Inside Student Radicalism,” NY Times, 5/27/16]
“IT MUST HAVE BEEN TEMPTING OVER THE DECADES TO GIVE UP. But over the last week, victims who have been relentless in the pursuit of justice for gross human rights abuses in Chad and South America rejoiced as their former oppressors were convicted in two landmark trials. The cases, which involved Cold War allies of the United States, should serve as a warning to today’s despots and offer hope to the legion of victims of human rights abuses around the world who are still waiting for their day in court.
“In Senegal, a tribunal backed by the African Union on Monday sentenced Hissene Habre, a former president of Chad, to life in prison for war crimes. Victims who attended cheered and thrust their fists in the air to celebrate a 16-year legal fight to hold Mr. Habré accountable for mass killings, torture and rape. Mr. Habré, who ruled Chad for eight years, sought refuge in Senegal after a coup in 1990. Washington had backed him because the nations had a common enemy in Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya.
“’In a world scarred by a constant stream of atrocities, the ramifications of this verdict are global,’ the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said in a statement.
“Meanwhile, a court in Buenos Aires on Friday convicted 15 former military officers for their roles in Operation Condor, an international crackdown by allied right-wing dictators that led to the killing and forced disappearance of hundreds of opponents and government critics. Reynaldo Bignone, 88, a former general who ruled Argentina from 1982 to 1983, was among those convicted. His 20-year sentence was largely symbolic because he is already imprisoned for other crimes, including the abduction of babies during the years of military rule. “[“Belated Justice in Chad and Argentina,” NY Times, 6/1/16]
INTERESTING SUGGESTION FROM BILL MAHER—that President Obama go on an apology tour. Apologize to Vietnam, and Iraq, and Mexico (Mexican War), the Central American and South Americans governments we toppled to put in our “stooge” leaders—Dominican Republic, Chile, Guatemala. We already were willing to apologize to the Native Americans and the African Americans and the Japanese (Internment camps). [Real Time with Bill Maher, 6/24/16]
“KENYANS’ DEATHS RAISE FEARS OF POLICE TACTICS
“The bodies of three men who disappeared after last being seen at a police station in Kenya were discovered dumped in a river on Friday, bringing a grim end to a mystery that had deeply unsettled human rights activists, lawyers and many others in Kenya.
“The body of one of the men, Willie Kimani, a well-regarded lawyer who had been assigned to the case of a man who was being harassed by police officers, was found with his hands and legs tied at the bottom of the Ol Donyo Sabuk River outside of Nairobi.
“Next to him was the body of Joseph Muiruri, a taxi driver who disappeared with Mr. Kimani last week. Witnesses said Mr. Muiruri’s eyes had been gouged out.
“The third body found was that of Josephat Mwenda, a motorcycle taxi driver who had filed the complaint against the police officer, a dangerous move in Kenya.
“’Our worst fears are confirmed,’ said the Law Society of Kenya in a statement. ‘Advocates and citizens are at risk of elimination by police death squads.’
“Kenya has long been plagued by corruption and violence, with a long history of impunity, but it is highly unusual for three people, including a well-connected professional, to suddenly disappear.
“Mr. Kimani, 32, a father of two young boys, served as an investigator for the International Justice Mission, a global organization that strives to protect poor people from violence. He had been assigned to help Mr. Mwenda, who had accused the police of harassing him for more than a year after he filed a report that an officer had unlawfully shot him in the arm.
“Last Thursday, Mr. Mwenda and Mr. Kimani appeared in a court on the outskirts of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital. After they left the courthouse in Mr. Muiruri’s taxi, family members could not reach them on their cellphones.
“Hours later, colleagues said, at least two of the men were seen at a remote police station, locked in a metal container, shouting for help. One of the men threw a note out a window. It had been hastily scribbled on toilet paper.
“It read: ‘Call my wife. I’m in danger. ‘”[Jeffrey Gettleman, “3 Kenyans Last Seen at Police Station Are Found Dead,” NY Times, 7/1/16]
Eerily reminiscent of 1964 Civil Rights Workers’ Murders in Mississippi.
BOTTOM DRAWER ( . . . “World Two” glimpses . . . a larger vision )
July 20, 2016
“NOW I AM WAITING FOR THEM. After a little while they will come to take me away. Tomorrow morning I shall no longer be here. I will be in a place which no one knows.” [Nawal El Saadawi, Woman at Point Zero]
MARGUERITE BARANKITSE, A BURUNDIAN ACTIVIST, has been awarded the international humanitarian Aurora Prize in Armenia. She is credited with saving the lives of 30,000 children—both Hutu and Tutsi. The million-dollar prize goes to an organization of her choice. [4/25/16]
ECLIPSED, a play written by Danai Gurira, tells the story of a group of Liberian women trying to survive during the Liberian civil war. It made it to Broadway.
E. O. WILSON, BIOLOGIST AND WRITER, argues in his new book Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life that to save the planet we must do everything we can to preserve the species that haven’t yet gone extinct. He says thousands of species go extinct every year. [4/29/16]
UNSUNG HEROES OF TWO NOBLE GROUPS featured on Vice: the polio vaccine workers in Pakistan and the mine cleaners in Myanmar and Laos. The former—mostly women—persist in going house to house to eradicate polio in a country where many such workers are murdered as “agents of the CIA” (because a Pakistani doctor who confirmed the DNA of Bin Laden posed as a hepatitis worker). One woman told how her family (including husband and two daughters) was attacked in the night and she was gang-raped. When asked if she would continue doing her work, she seemed overcome and said, “Yes, it’s for the children. I have to.”
A doctor heading the program in Pakistan said the women deserve the Nobel Prize.
The other group locates millions of mines dropped as cluster bombs during the Vietnam War. Children step on those that never exploded and lose arms and legs and their lives. [5/7/16]
“WHEN ONE HAS A HAMMER, EVERYTHING LOOKS LIKE A NAIL. And when one’s experience is limited to real estate deals, everything looks like a lease negotiation. Hearing Mr. Trump describe his approach to foreign relations, one imagines a group of nations sitting at a table with him at its head, rather like a scene from ‘The Apprentice,’ with him demanding more money, more troops and policy changes in exchange for American protection, trade and friendship. And if he doesn’t get what he wants? ‘In negotiation, you must be willing to walk,’ Mr. Trump said.
“This unilateral approach makes for good television, but this is the real world, in which other nations have agendas, too. “ [“Donald Trump’s Strange World View,” NY Times, 4/27/16]
ALEJANDRO ARAVENA, a Chilean architect, has won the Pritzker Prize—highest in the Architecture world. He was honored for his low-cost social housing and reconstructing cities after natural disasters. Forty-eight-year-old Aravena heads a firm called Elemental, a self-styled architectural, “problem-solving do-tank, rather than think-tank.”
“According to the Pritzker jury citation, he epitomizes the revival of a more socially engaged architect, especially in his long-term commitment to tackling the global housing crisis and fighting for a better urban environment for all.”
Aravena: “This should be the starting point for architecture: Identify problems that are simple enough that you get the threat or the challenge in one word: pollution, waste, congestion, insecurity, migration, social tension.” [“Architecture Becomes a Tool to Fight Poverty through this Pritzker Winner,” Jeffrey Brown, PBS NEWS HOUR 1/13/16]
“LEILA ALAOUI, photographer has died aged 33 of a heart attack after being shot in terrorist attacks in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Alaoui was in Ouagadougou to work on a photography project for a women’s rights campaign called ‘My Body My Rights’ for Amnesty International.” [Olivia Snaije, The Guardian 1/22/16]
POACHERS ARE KILLING MORE BLACK RHINOS AND ELEPHANTS than ever in Kenya and South Africa, etc. Only 500 black rhinos left. In the preserve in Kenya they’re using both armed rangers and sophisticated surveillance, but poachers’ intelligence systems are improving. Even greater “Intelligence technology” is the only answer, an expert says. A huge market for rhino horns in China and Ivory in U.S. The greed and selfish pleasures of the rich can wipe out an entire species. [1/28/16]
SIX ASYLUM SEEKERS ARE THE STARS OF A CONTEMPORARY BALLET that began a month-long run in Copenhagen.
The production, called “Europa,” aims to demonstrate that refugees and migrants are not parasites, as they are sometimes perceived.
The refugees’ personal stories form the backbone of the production, led by Christian Lollike, a director of the experimental Corpus Company, part of Denmark’s Royal Opera . . . .
“Europa” originally started off with ten asylum seekers, but one was deported to France, two have had their applications rejected and another has gone into hiding.
Two of the participants left the Syrian city of Homs in August last year, and during one of the dress rehearsals they learned that Denmark, a nation regarded as hostile to refugees, had granted them asylum.
Music Professor Salam Susu from Homs University was overwhelmed at her selection, praising the “very high professional people who really make me feel like I’m home. And I really restart being a real human being, feeling with everything.”
One of her fellow dancers, Muhammad Ali Ishaq, who left Lahore in Pakistan because he faced death threats over his homosexuality, is still waiting to hear whether his application for asylum will succeed. [Malcolm Brabant, report on PBS NEWS HOUR, 1/29/16]
MORE THAN 10,000 MIGRANT CHILDREN MAY HAVE DISAPPEARED after arriving in Europe over the past two years, the EU’s police intelligence unit says.
Europol said thousands of vulnerable minors had vanished after registering with state authorities.
It warned of children and young people being forced into sexual exploitation and slavery by criminal gangs.
Save the Children says some 26,000 child migrants arrived in Europe last year without any family. [BBC, 1/31/16]
WASIL AHMAD. The Afghan government declared Wasil Ahmad a hero for leading a militia’s defense against a Taliban siege last year, parading him in front of cameras in a borrowed police uniform too big for him. On Monday, the Taliban triumphantly announced that they had assassinated him with two bullets to the head.
Wasil Ahmad was 10 years old.
[OUR] SOCIAL MEDIA EXPERIENCES ARE DESIGNED in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations. It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.” [Wael Ghonim, TED Talk: “Let’s Design Social Media That Drives Real Change, “ Jan., 2016]
DORADE. Interview on NPR yesterday afternoon with a journalist who had interviewed an old man sitting alone in a bombed out building in Aleppo. He’d been imprisoned by the Assad regime for many years. When he got out, his whole family was gone. Fled? Dead? He wasn’t sure. Journalist took his picture. The old man—“Dorade” (sp?) asked why. The journalist said so he could tell his story to others. Dorade asked him to show it to the right people who actually cared. Otherwise it would come back on him in retaliation. A woman in France saw the picture, heard the story. She sent word back to him she was one of those “who did care.” The man wept.
THE TALE OF THE UNKNOWN ISLAND, by Jose Saramago, Portuguese Nobel Prize winner. Only 40-50 pages–like a children’s book with drawings. Theme: another world.
WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF GOPI . . . IF ANYTHING?
Gopi was born in a slum to a drunken and abusive father and a sickly mother who has no education. But so were nearly 200 million other children in India.
There is nothing significant there.
His first 10 years were spent surviving the drunken rages of his father, the submissiveness of his mother to that rage, and the meager meals they provided him. Tens of millions of children in India live such a life…
Not much significant there.
In fact there is not much at all significant about the first ten years of Gopi’s life at all. He lived a very simple and sad life like so many around him in this country whose history and culture breeds such situations by the tens of millions every single year as new children are born into poverty, destined to be uneducated laborers in the picking fields. Destined to learn the behaviors and habits of their parents. Destined to walk the same path… unknowing prisoners who cannot see the bars in front of their face.” [Greg Timmons, Orphans International Newsletter, 3/8/16]
STREET VENDORS IN NEW DELHI ARE BRIBED BY POLICE to give up half their measly earning selling fruit just to not get arrested. [Fred de Sam Lazaro report on PBS NEWS HOUR]:
SUMIT GANGULY (Indiana University): Ninety percent of the work force in India is in the so-called informal sector.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: That could be a technical term that means a very hard life. They live from day to day. That is, if there’s work on any given day, they are paid at the end of it, less than $2 for most of them.
SUMIT GANGULY: These are people who have no Social Security provisions, who have no health care provisions, who can be hired and fired at will. And yet, according to a recent Credit Suisse study, it’s close to — they contribute close to 50 percent of India’s gross national product.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Not only are they underappreciated, but they fall easy prey to corrupt officials.
The market outside of Delhi’s main mosque has been here for more than 200 years. The vendors complain that they’re subject to regular harassment from police demanding bribes or from municipal authorities who conduct regular raids to evict them.
IMRAN KHAN, Street Vendor (through interpreter): They kicked us out from here in 2014, citing security reasons.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Across India’s cities, vendors like Imran Khan carry tales of harassment, sometimes along with their own video, of stalls dismantled and merchandise confiscated.
IMRAN KHAN (through interpreter): Then finally, we went to NASVI, to Arbind, and he said, you have only one option, straight to court.
FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Social activist Arbind Singh founded NASVI, the National Association of Street Vendors.
ARBIND SINGH, National Association of Street Vendors: All those who were kicked out, have them come to the office tomorrow.
[Fred de Sam Lazaro, “Empowering India’s Street Vendors as Entrepreneurs” (part of ongoing series “Agents of Change”), PBS NEWS HOUR, 4/6/16]
PROTESTORS ARRESTED INSTEAD OF CORRUPT OFFICIALS. Avaaz reported in April that over 1,000 people were arrested outside the Capitol for protesting big money corruption of our elections.
ANNE DEBORAH ATAI-OMORUTO, A UGANDAN DOCTOR who went to Liberia at the height of the Ebola epidemic in 2014 and helped turn the tide in the battle against the disease, died on May 5 of pancreatic cancer in Kampala, Uganda. She was 59.
Dr. Atai-Omoruto, at the request of the World Health Organization, arrived in Liberia in July 2014 with a team of 14 Ugandan health workers she had gathered. [NY Times, 5/10/16]
JUNGLE ANIMAL HOSPITAL IN GUATEMALA rescues animals orphaned or injured by illegal pet-seekers in the rain forests that extend from Guatemala through Belize and into Mexico. Endangered macaws, spider monkeys, gray foxes, etc. are healed by a dedicated staff, then raised and gradually (through carefully planned stages) released back to the wild where they are monitored. [“Jungle Animal Hospital,” Nature [PBS], 5/19/16]
CEO’S FIND MEANINGFUL “SECOND ACT”: “The Advanced Leadership Initiative” at Harvard University helps former executives bring their professional experience to bear on social issues, from affordable food to the Ebola virus.
PAUL SOLMAN: At Daily Table in food desert Dorchester, Massachusetts, apples for just 69 cents a pound, fresh salmon for less than $3, top-flight food at rock-bottom prices.
DOUG RAUCH, Founder, Daily Table: We have got massive amounts of wasted food, and, at the same time, we have got 49 million Americans that can’t afford to eat properly.
PAUL SOLMAN: Doug Rauch opened this nonprofit store after 30 years at Trader Joe’s, the last 14 as president.
So, is this food all rejects, seconds?
DOUG RAUCH: Every single product in the store is a quality product that was either excess inventory, a shorter code, so we don’t sell anything past its code date, or it’s something we made at a special buy on, something that is maybe the product has been discontinued or the label has changed, these sorts of deals.
[“Helping Baby Boomers Find a Meaningful Second Act,” Paul Solman report, PBS NEWS HOUR, 5/19/16]
CONSCIOUSNESS IS MATTER. “Every day, it seems, some verifiably intelligent person tells us that we don’t know what consciousness is. The nature of consciousness, they say, is an awesome mystery. It’s the ultimate hard problem. The current Wikipedia entry is typical: Consciousness ‘is the most mysterious aspect of our lives’; philosophers ‘have struggled to comprehend the nature of consciousness.’
“I find this odd because we know exactly what consciousness is — where by ‘consciousness’ I mean what most people mean in this debate: experience of any kind whatever. It’s the most familiar thing there is, whether it’s experience of emotion, pain, understanding what someone is saying, seeing, hearing, touching, tasting or feeling. It is in fact the only thing in the universe whose ultimate intrinsic nature we can claim to know. It is utterly unmysterious.
“The nature of physical stuff, by contrast, is deeply mysterious, and physics grows stranger by the hour.” [Galen Strawson, “Consciousness Isn’t a Mystery. It’s Matter,” The Stone, 5/16/16]
65.3 MILLION: TOTAL NUMBER OF REFUGEES AND INTERNALLY DISPLACED PEOPLE WORLDWIDE AT END OF 2015. [UN refugee agency]
“THE WRITERS WHO INSIST THAT LITERATURE IS ‘ABOUT’ THE LANGUAGE IT IS MADE OF are offering an idol: literature for its own sake, for its own maw; not for the sake of humanity.” [Cynthia Ozick, quoted in an article on her in NY Times Magazine, 6/26/16]
“I COULDN’T PRETEND THAT WE WERE COVERING A STRUGGLE IN WHICH ALL SIDES“—the side that thought, for instance, that all American citizens had the right to vote and the side that thought that people acting on such a belief should have their houses burned down—had an equally compelling case to make.”[Calvin Trillin, Jackson, 1964, 2016]
“DO AFRICAN LEADERS EVEN REFLECT ON THESE EVENTS AND CRIES FOR REFORM to benefit their people? Will they ever forfeit their excessive lifestyles and greed?
“I tire of seeing African leaders inflicting death and destruction on their people, yet at the same time luxuriating in palaces, with hefty bank accounts abroad.
“It breaks my heart to continue to read how these people and others, too, around the world still suffer needlessly.”
[George J. McAllister, Letter to the Editor, NY Times, 6/27/16]
BOTTOM DRAWER [a newsletter]
Professor Watts entered the classroom. Saying nothing, he set a book on the lectern, opened it, and began reading . . . aloud. “’The Slaying of the Dragon’ by Dino Buzzati.” He looked up—but more beyond us than at us. Then down again. “In May 1902 a peasant of . . . .” For 30 minutes he read through the story, after which he closed the book. We waited for the discussion to follow and its connection to our aesthetics reading assignment. It never came. His head down, he walked out. That was the class for the day.
Buzzati’s story was about a group of people— a Count, a Governor, the Governor’s wife, two naturalists and eight hunters–who set out from the fictional village of Palissano to investigate wild reports by peasants of a “dragon” in a desolate mountain valley. Their two carriages carry them higher and higher into barren, crumbling, sinister peaks. Using a dead goat as bait, they lure the “dragon” out of its cave. It is ugly, only two meters long, with a head like a crocodile and a long lizard neck. “It looks like a ceratosaurus!” says the naturalist. They hurl rocks at it. They shoot at it with carbines. Again and again the reptile is hit, but it doesn’t die. Nor does it retreat back into its cave. Frustrated by the failure of their efforts, the hunters turn to using a small explosive. It rips open the monster’s belly. Bloody and in great pain, it still doesn’t die. It does not even call out in anguish. Suddenly “two little creatures issue from the cave—two little dragons.” The huntsmen understand now: the mother has not sought refuge for fear her attackers would follow her into the cave. Has not called out in pain for fear her offspring would hear and come out. But now they have. The huntsmen leave, saying they do not “like this business.” The Count shouts “Are you cowards?” and, advancing on them with rocks, kills off the two little monsters. Only now, having failed to save its offspring, does the mother give up. It drags herself over and licks its dead young, then sinks down and collects its last force. “Lifting its head vertically to the sky . . . [it] lets forth with an indescribable cry, a voice never yet heard in the world.” The Count begins coughing uncontrollably.
I never forgot the story. In fact, I later retrieved the text from the library and inserted it into the bottom drawer of my file cabinet. That was years ago.
Since then I have put a great many items into that bottom drawer.
It would be difficult for me to describe precisely what sort of items. Perhaps they are best defined as: “Do not fit.” That is, do not fit into the other three drawers which contain the neat files of World One—the stable world of moral precepts, bureaucratic policies laws, professional expectations, protocol, certainties, the mundane. World One provides answers: It erects gods, recites scriptures, submits to dogma, bows to authority, so it’s much easier to categorize them in an orderly fashion. Here are two items, for example, that did not fit World One:
A brief news account from 1998 of three unnamed Mexican girls—age
9, 12, and 15–raped and killed as they crossed a very hot
unspecified desert to search for work to help provide for their
A few lines from Annie Dillard’s chapter “Fecundity” in her
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek: [We] live in “a monstrous world
[which] running on chance and death, careening blindly from
nowhere to nowhere, somehow produced wonderful us. I came from
the world, I crawled out of a sea of amino acids, and now I must
whirl around and shake my fist at that sea and cry Shame!”
The items in that bottom drawer, being of World Two, are too elusive to definitively characterize because they require some altered perception of the universe from what World One offers. They disrupt our conventional thinking because it cannot account for them. That disruption may suddenly overwhelm us—a shock, a jolt to our psyche—or almost imperceptibly take hold of our conscience—a disquieting or disturbing awareness. These items come from a little further in, a little deeper down and are therefore more easily (sometimes intentionally) missed. If you stop along the path of World One—the everyday path—to ponder these glimpses of World Two, and you do so too long, they become troubling. So, for the sake of your sanity, your stable adherence to your everyday life, you usually move on.
But I—many of us–-tuck them away in some bottom drawer. Even if it’s the bottom drawer of our minds. Not to get rid of them but to save them for a deeper comprehension. We know they will get out of that “drawer” on their own. Because they disrupt the peace of our soul. Cause us a gnawing dissatisfaction with how we live our lives. The result: a deeper understanding, a greater compassion, and, perhaps, a meaningful response.
Ultimately, in that way, they often become the stuff of creative thinking and epiphanies.
This concept of a “bottom drawer” idea came from a novel I wrote—Silkie: World One, World Two. In it, the narrator, Stephen—a “seeker” of sorts too aware of a World Two pressing up against his everyday life–recalling a childhood experience when he’d been traveling out West with his family, asks: Why is it a magnificent eagle can be caged for years in a box for tourists in a roadside carnival? He calls it his “eagle in a box” memory and inserts it into the bottom drawer of an old wooden file cabinet his father left him. Over the years, he adds many more, including an account he photocopied from a book on the Jim Crow era:
“In it were ghastly photos of lynchings from the early part of
the century. For one such account there was no photo. A woman
named Mary Turner. 1918. Georgia. She’d protested the lynching of
her husband. A white mob decided to lynch her too. She was
pregnant at the time. They hung her upside down, doused her with
gasoline, lit her, then cut open her abdomen so her unborn child
fell to the ground.”
Years later this one:
“Freak” and prostitute Saartjie Baartman’s remains were honored
in a solemn ceremony in Capetown, South Africa, yesterday. She
had been displayed like a freak in Europe two centuries ago and
died a penniless prostitute in 1816. Poets, musicians,
politicians–altogether some one thousand people–paid tribute. Did
she come? [August 9, 2002]
In a way that Stephen cannot pinpoint, the 74 accounts, passages, personal experiences contained in his “Drawer 4” (the bottom drawer of his filing cabinet) connect him to something larger, something more meaningful than his drive to work, his lunchtime sandwich, and his time marking student papers. He is certain that there is the need to pursue a World Two. For moving, on occasion, beyond the petty concerns, superficiality, and insensibility that World One mandates.
In his search, he is transformed by a 23-year-old homeless, schizophrenic student who seems to inhabit both World One (for raising her little girl) and World Two (distant times and places she writes of in her journal). By way of her bifurcated vision of the universe, Stephen discovers within himself an urgent need for an alternative truth outside the boundaries of normal life. An altered perception.
When I first began writing stories and novels years ago, even before I started Silkie, I told myself I just wanted to write “something beautiful.” Share it with 100 readers. Even better, a 1000. A writer wants to communicate, be appreciated by others of like mind anyway. He thinks of how it happens. It used to be a teacher or a friend or a parent suggested he or she read this novel, this collection of essays, this book of poetry, or perhaps it was a blurb on the book’s back cover that enticed. It still happens that way. But now there is the Internet–websites, blogs. And the world of putting ideas out there has a decidedly more cynical, commercial, often shallow, cast to it.
Still, words are at the heart of it. The thoughts readers are asked to share come in the form of words. Whether they are on a page or on a screen . . . you must read the words. Why would you choose to read this book, these words? Any book. Any words. Even words on websites.
This newsletter—The Bottom Drawer—contains words: of dissatisfaction, with the hope good will come from that expression.
A profound dissatisfaction with living entirely in World One has a long history as the driving force behind the creative process for artists and thinkers. For writers, words become stories in the form of character, scene, metaphor and symbol. The result: haunting World Two images—Buzzati’s “dragon” silent in pain, but crying out to the universe in despair; Dostoyevsky’s Christ sitting silently in the Grand Inquisitor’s cell; LeGuin’s “Omelas” citizens–learning their happiness is founded in the unspeakable suffering of one child— “walk[ing] into the darkness”; Morrison’s “Beloved”—inhabiting two worlds–emerging ghost-like from the forest.
Even for scientists, precise description becomes compelling World Two image. Loren Eiseley, the natural science writer, marvels at the “star thrower” flinging starfish beyond the surf to save them while all around lap “the insatiable waters of death.” Carl Sagan reminds us that our earth is but a “pale blue dot . . . in a vast cosmic arena . . . .” and that our “posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light . . . millions of light years away from the nearest galaxy[of] billions of galaxies, and the universe is still expanding, and we humans have been on this earth less than one percent of its existence, and each of us is only one of billions still alive, and are we so important then?”
[If life has no meaning, why do so many existentialists—-writers and scientists alike–-work so hard to artistically express its meaninglessness?]
Recent news images haunt me: starving children fleeing Syria; an impoverished mother nursing her infant while pounding rocks in a sandstone quarry in 100-degree desert in India; the stoning death of a young Afghan woman (accused of but innocent of burning a Qur’an). Such events of metaphysical madness are reported and forgotten. We cannot dwell on them too long at our peril. We are appalled, we decry, we mourn, but we must get on with our life. Leave the bigger questions to the seekers: the Buddhas, the Jesuses, the semi-mystics. Or perhaps the journalists like Fred de Sam Lazaro, Nicholas Kristof, and Shane Smith who go in search of what others miss–World Two images and stories that point to the need for an altered perception of how to live; that may provoke response, action.
All of this is to inaugurate a newsletter I’m calling the Bottom Drawer and asking anyone who wishes to contribute to it anything of World Two that he or she thinks might fit there to do so. What might that contribution be?
Here are some examples:
An under-reported story worthy of more attention.
15-year-old Masud had escaped the Taliban, made it to Europe, lost his parents, and was about to reach refuge with his sister in Britain. Instead, he was blocked entry and suffocated in the back of a truck, alone and terrified. . . . If the UK had followed the law and allowed Masud in, this tragedy would never have happened. And, there are at least 7,000 more unaccompanied children like him fleeing conflict right now in Europe! Without support they are forced to jump on trucks, scale barbed wire fences, or fall in with dangerous traffickers. [AVAAZ report]
The killings [lynchings in Mexico] raise difficult questions for Mexico, highlighting an alarming development: By some accounts, there were more public lynchings this past year than at any other time in more than a quarter-century. There were at least 78 lynchings last year in Mexico, more than double the number the previous year, according to data collected by Raúl Rodríguez Guillén, a professor and an author of the book “Mexico Lynchings, 1988-2014.” . . . The mob actions were born of a sense of hopelessness and impotence shared by many in Mexico, where 98 percent of murders go unsolved and the state is virtually absent in some areas. By some estimates, just 12 percent of crimes are even reported in Mexico, largely because of a lack of faith that justice will ever be serve.
A literary passage [fiction, poetry, philosophy, essay] remarkable not only for its beautiful expression and profound perception but, perhaps, for its obscurity (whether its author is well-known or not).
Each new way of knowing heralds a new window on the universe—a new detector to add to our growing list of non-biological senses. Whenever this happens, we achieve a new level of cosmic enlightenment. . . . What we have discovered the poets have known all along. [Neil De Grasse Tyson, Origins]
`This could be a Mozart. A little Mozart. But the Mozart in him will be stamped out.’ [Antoine de St. Exupery, Wind, Sand, and Stars. ( Exupery, author of The Little Prince, gazing into the eyes of an especially ragged, malnourished child on a third-class sleeping car amidst the poor crowded together with all their tattered old bags and belongings tied together, and wondering what could have been– what genius would never be awakened because of the poverty)]
News of an unusual, remarkable (unheralded) person or group.
The killing of the journalist, Naji Jerf, in Gaziantep,Turkey, happened Sunday, one day before he and his family were scheduled to fly to France, where they were seeking asylum. Unconfirmed news reports from Gaziantep said he had been shot to death. . . .Mr. Jerf recently posted on YouTube a documentary on the killing of Syrian activists during the Islamic State’s occupation of the Syrian city Aleppo in 2013 and 2014. It was recently broadcast by the television network Al Arabiya. . . .His death is the latest in a string of killings of activists and observers who have drawn attention to human rights abuses during the nearly five-year civil war in Syria.
In October, Ibrahim Abdel Qader, a co-founder of Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, an acclaimed effort by citizen journalists to document Syrian human rights abuses, and an activist, Fares Hammadi, were killed in southeastern Turkey. [Jan. 22, 2016 report online]
News of an unknown or relatively unknown documentary film or book or art or photography exhibit which highlights one of the above [I’m thinking particularly, though not exclusively, of indie film-makers and writers and independent bookstores who wish to put a name or title out there].
What is the good of such a newsletter? Of this Bottom Drawer? What of value will it produce? Where will it go? Tangible results? Connections that lead to real good (i.e., money for causes)? Surely that would make this effort worth it. Or just a deeper sense of the need to reach beyond our everyday lives to the murkier, more disturbing aspects our existence? That which propels us toward a cosmic silence.
There is too much noise in our world. Too much clutter. In our stores. On our computer screens. In our media.
I mean this newsletter the Bottom Drawer to be a statement of dissatisfaction with living entirely in World One.
So . . . this is an invitation. I’m turning Stephen’s “Drawer 4” (his bottom drawer) into a newsletter: a digital bottom drawer. I turn to how it’s done today. The Internet. And hope for the best. That I connect. That I get someone to share my thoughts–the themes inherent in Silkie: World one, World Two. [Incidentally, if you are interested in reading it, I’ll send it free to you. Just let me know.]
As a start, I am sending this invitation out to only a few—maybe 50 or so. Because they are among those that strike me as individuals who might want to contribute to this newsletter. Yes, it’s only attachment to my website, but I can’t afford anything else. I’m not making any money with this newsletter. Just trying to “connect.”
I don’t know what will come of it . . . where it will go, only what I’m hoping to explore.
I repeat. I don’t want money. If in some future edition of the newsletter, a link causes you to want to help some organization, that’s fine. I’ll provide the necessary information.
Here’s the link to the website:
http://www.davidrothgery.com [click on “Bottom Drawer” at the bottom or top of the page.]
If you wish to contribute anything to it, either email me at
or log onto my Facebook page at
“When World One is no longer enough, and glimpses of World Two make you call World One into question, something like a disruption happens.” [Silkie: World One, World Two reviewer]
In my last post, I responded to a question that had been bothering me. It concerned the value of pointing the reader to a World Two? In it I discussed the concept of a “pilgrim”—a word I use instead of “seeker” to refer to those with a profound dissatisfaction with living in “World One.”
But is there not an irony, a hypocrisy here?
This website and the publishing of the book itself are squarely, solidly, in World One. “Here I am. Pay this many dollars for my novel and read it. Have a conversation with me about it.”
When I first began writing many years ago, I told myself I just wanted to write “something beautiful.” Share it with 100 readers. A 1000 would be better. A writer wants to communicate, be appreciated by others of like mind anyway. He thinks of how it happens. It used to be a teacher or a friend or a parent suggested he or she read this novel, this collection of essays, this book of poetry, or perhaps it was a blurb’s lavish praise on the back cover. It still happens that way. But now there is the Internet—websites, blogs. And the world of putting ideas out there has a decidedly more cynical, commercial cast to it.
Even so, is it not the case that the thoughts readers are asked to share still come in the form of words? You must read the words. Why would you choose to read this book, these words? Any book. Any words. Even words on websites.
So I turn to how it’s done today. And hope for the best. That I get someone to share my thoughts. Appreciate how I constructed the story, how I painted this scene or that. And hope that this “someone” recommends that you too “read this book”—because “it’s not only a good read, but a thoughtful one, one that may disrupt your thinking.”
Or should I think in terms of the Beautiful itself? Art in the quest for meaning is itself meaningful. Perhaps.
Maybe it all ends in silence. You frame the big questions and wait. Stephen puts his questions in a jar and sends them out to sea. To God. For answers. If he gets the answers, they’re probably not from God. God, as in Dostoyevsky’s story, is silent. Stephen’s Silkie, too, is silent.
The novel Silkie: World One, World Two ponders the significance of these matters. Stephen and Silkie are pilgrims.
[NOTE: In my other novel Little Mozarts, Little Kings [see the synopsis on this website], Colin too is a Pilgrim.]
When President Obama sat down with novelist Marilynne Robinson in Des Moines last September, much of the conversation centered on the “gap” between Christian and traditional American values (“Love thy neighbor as thyself,” generosity, humility, importance of hard work), on the one hand, and formal governmental institutions, on the other. The New York Review of Books published the entire conversation, but it was what Nicholas Dames, in “The New Fiction of Solitude” (Atlantic, April 2016), did with it that got my attention. Dames asks, alluding to the Obama-Robinson meeting, “How often does power pay homage to imagination?”
The answer? Probably not often—at least on the global level. Still, U.S. presidents often honor artists. Poets read at Inaugurations (e.g., Frost, Angelou), and the list of artists who have received the Presidential Medal of Freedom is 100 plus long: actors (Streep, Moreno, Peck); painters (Wyeth, O’Keeffe, Rockwell); musicians (Anderson, Dylan, Ellington); and, yes, novelists (Steinbeck, Morrison, Allende).
Nicholas Dames, however, saw the Robinson-Obama visit as a more significant, revealing phenomenon. Obama was seeking insight from a novelist regarding our country’s loss of empathy—specifically, for others in very different situations from us. He sees the novel as a stimulant for reinvigorating that empathy, the growing deficit of which “imperils democracy.” Serious novels exercise the “moral imagination.” In a complex world “full of grays” but with “some truth,” novels “expose every part of ourselves—what it means to be human.” Obama, in recognition of their unique contribution to social values, laments the effect on our culture of so few reading them anymore. Literary novels, according to Dames, require and demand a solitude which moves beyond introspection to a sort of disruptive insight about the self. Quoting the Norwegian Karl Ove Knausgaard, author of the multivolume autobiographical My Struggle, Dames writes:
“Even then I had felt I was being false, someone who carried thoughts no one else had and which no one must ever know. What emerged from this was myself, this was what was me.”
Dames concludes that the new novelist may be what we need: “a stubbornly solitary voice . . . telling us what it means to be human—and what may keep us human.”
April 10, 2016
This question has been puzzling me of late—about all my writing but most specifically my novel– Silkie: World One, World Two.
Of what value is a novel that points a reader to a World Two? That urges him/her to confront by way of an existential love story the inexplicable nature of human suffering?
Answer: Dissatisfaction—a profound one.
Specifically, in Silkie, Stephen, the narrator, is dissatisfied with World One–the safe, certain realm of social mores, laws, bureaucratic policies, moral precepts, and professional expectations. These not only fail to explain but discourage an honest asking. Stephen asks: Why is it a magnificent eagle can be caged for years in a box? How is it that three young Mexican girls are raped and killed as they cross a desert to search for work, for food?
World One provides answers: It erects gods, recites scriptures, submits to dogma, bows to authority.
All around him, but somehow unreachable because of an invisible “wall,” Stephen senses a World Two—one which compels altered perceptions. And he wonders: Is this World Two the place where all that is incomprehensible in World One is made comprehensible? Or where everything wrong is made right? Or is it, rather . . . death?
This profound dissatisfaction with living entirely in World One has a long history as the driving force behind the creative process for artists and thinkers.
For writers, it takes the shape of story, metaphor and symbol. Dostoyevsky’s Christ–responding to the Inquisitor’s charge He has doomed Humanity to an eternity of pain—is silent. The citizens of LeGuin’s “Omelas”–learning their happiness is founded in the unspeakable suffering of one child— “walk into the darkness.” Morrison’s “Beloved”—inhabiting two worlds–emerges ghost-like from the forest.
For scientists, precise description becomes compelling image. Loren Eiseley, the natural science writer, marvels at the “star thrower” flinging starfish beyond the surf to save them while all around lap “the insatiable waters of death.” Carl Sagan reminds us that our earth is but a “pale blue dot . . . in a vast cosmic arena . . . . “ and that our “posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light . . . millions of light years away from the nearest galaxy[of] billions of galaxies, and the universe is still expanding, and we humans have been on this earth less than one percent of its existence, and each of us is only one of billions still alive, and are we so important then?” Annie Dillard concludes we live in “a monstrous world [which] running on chance and death, careening blindly from nowhere to nowhere, somehow produced wonderful us. I came from the world, I crawled out of a sea of amino acids, and now I must whirl around and shake my fist at that sea and cry Shame!” Plunging into the “fecundity” of nature, Annie Dillard decries the “crushing waste” in a universe “that does not care if we live or die,” and wonders if “God has the same affectionate disregard for us that we have for barnacles.” [If life has no meaning, why do so many existentialists—writers and scientists alike–work so hard to artistically express its meaninglessness?]
Dillard’s intense, descriptive brilliance as she probes for answers in the world around her is unmatched. I cannot even come close to her lyric power. She labels herself a “pilgrim.” In a way, though, I too am a pilgrim–on the same journey as Dillard’s: to make sense of a cosmos whose modus operandi is, apparently, clumsy chance. The setting for my pilgrim though is not the natural world. It is the mind itself.
“When World One is no longer enough, and glimpses of World Two make you call World One into question,
something like a disruption happens. [Silkie reviewer]
Recent news images haunt me: starving children fleeing Syria; an impoverished mother nursing her infant while pounding rocks in a sandstone quarry in 100-degree desert in India; the stoning death of a young Afghan woman (accused of but innocent of burning a Qur’an). Such horrors do not lend themselves to neat social laws, theological explanations, or even scientific certainties.
The danger of responding to our dissatisfaction with World One is that we don’t know how. Straying too far from it–whatever the romantic allure of the mystic, the unknowable–is deadly when it moves beyond metaphor and image and fantasy.” Stephen (the narrator in Silkie) jeopardizes his career, relationships, and even his sanity. He is not even certain there is a World Two.
He is certain, however, that there is the need for a World Two. For moving, on occasion, beyond the petty concerns, superficiality, and insensibility that World One mandates. In his search, he is transformed.