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Caroline Leavitt interviews Harriet Levin Millan...



Harriet Levin Millan talks about her profound novel-based-on-a-true-story, How Fast Can You Run, about a South Sudan refuge searching for the mother he was separated from when he was five.

“The best war novel told from a young boy’s perspective since Jerzy Kozinski’s The Painted Bird.”

—Nyoul Lueth Tong, author of There is a Country: New Writing from the New Country of South Sudan

Prepare to be amazed. When One Book, One Philadelphia asked author and Drexel University professor Harriet Levin Millan to choose ten of her undergraduate creative writing students to interview ten South Sudanese refugees for a special One Book writing project, she met Michael Majok Kuch, who became the subject of her novel. . Kuch survived the torching of his village in South Sudan, and was separated from his mother when he was only five. His quest to be reunited with her, and the plight of the refuge is both profound and moving. Thank you so much Harriet, for being here.

I always say every book starts with a yearning. What was yours?

My yearning was for Michael Majok Kuch, the S. Sudanese national, I based my novel on, to see his mother. They had been separated since Michael was five-years-old and their village was attacked in the middle of the night and they got separated. So by the time I met him, when he was a senior in college, he hadn’t seen her for nearly 22 years. [more…]

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    • The Vale of Cashmere

    • by Sean Elder

      green forest

      This story first appeared in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others.


      Truth was, she used to be able to organize her thoughts, until Floyd retired. Now he was always hanging around talking to her, asking what she was doing. Every time he went out, which wasn’t often enough for her taste, he would ask her if she needed anything and then look angry if she did. Sometimes he’d look angry if she didn’t. Now she looked for errands for him, just to get a moment’s peace. When she sent him off for milk this morning she could have lived without it. But she couldn’t have stood listening to him complain about the bus ride to Atlantic City before it happened, not non-stop for the next two hours.

      “You’re creating your future,” she told him. “Whatever you’re thinking and feeling, that becomes your reality.”

      “Don’t give me that shit,” he’d said, putting on his coat and hat. He had been wearing that same damned hat with the stingy brim so long it had come back in style.

      “It’s the law of attraction,” she’d continued. “You can deny it all you want but that don’t mean it’s not true. “Everything coming into your life you are attracting into your life. You’re like a magnet.”

      “Well, this magnet’s going to attract some milk,” he’d said before going out the door.

      He had made fun of her ever since she first heard Oprah talking about The Secret but deep down she thought that maybe he believed her. Or would, if he would just give it a try. He would come home so angry about something that happened out there – the security guy asleep in the chair, or someone who wouldn’t give his seat up on the subway – and she would tell him, “Every bad thing that comes into your life, you make happen.”

      Sometimes that really made Floyd angry. “Is that right? Every bad thing? I made happen every bad thing that came into my life, Marcy?” He would tower over her, breathing heavily, staring at the top of her lacquered hair until she was silent.

      She looked closely at the big digits on the clock by the bed. It was almost 8:30 and she still had not done her makeup. From the drawer in the nightstand on her side of the bed she looked for her own pill organizer and then realized she had already taken it out. She put it under the light, right beside that picture of her two boys, smiling in the lap of a black Santa, and looked at Wednesday. There were still pills in the morning box but the evening box was empty. Maybe she took the evening pills by mistake. Not that it mattered ‘cause they were basically the same. Or maybe she hadn’t filled the PM part.

      Looking at the rainbow colored compartments (Wednesday was green, Thursday red) she thought of Wilson, who had the hardest time with his R’s when he was little – “Weeding Wainbow,” he would say about his favorite show, and his brother would laugh at him. She felt overcome for a moment and then heard her husband’s keys in the door.

      She took the morning pills, four altogether, as Floyd shouted at her from the kitchen.

      “Do you know how much they wanted for a half-gallon of milk?” She imagined his face as he said the price and the way he would look at her afterwards. He might be looking that way right now, even though she wasn’t there.

      “Cost of everything is going up,” she yelled back. Then she stood and headed for the bathroom. “I got to get a move on.”

      “Ain’t you even going to drink your milk?” She heard him swear as she closed the bathroom door.

      The bus driver turned out to be some white guy who’d been sleeping in the back while people waited outside. The whole bus was talking about it, even after they got out of the Holland Tunnel and were getting on the turnpike, people tisking and hmm-hmming until Floyd wanted to yell, “Who told you to stand out there in the first place? It’s not even cold.” But he kept quiet and sat by a window, alone thank you very much, though Tommy insisted on sitting right in front of him, while Marcy huddled on the other side with a bunch of ladies. They outnumbered the men five to one anyway; he let Tommy represent, going back and forth across the aisle like some congressman making a deal. Each time he went over to the ladies he would say something so low that Floyd couldn’t hear and they would all laugh and holler.

      “I think it’s about time for some music,” Tommy said after one of his sorties. He had a gym bag with him that also said Mets on it, and from it he pulled a boom box that he tried to balance on the seatback in front of him. He pushed play and Johnnie Taylor started in on “Who’s Making Love” and the ladies all laughed, even though the sound was kind of wobbly. From the front of the bus the driver said something, they could see him looking at them in the rear view mirror, but no one tried to hear him. In fact Tommy stood up, with the boom box on his shoulder, and started to shake it in the aisle, which made the driver get on the mike.

      “Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to sit down.” He had some kind of accent, Russian or something, but no one really paid him any mind.

      The hits kept coming; it must have been some kind of collection since Floyd never heard a deejay. Tommy jammed the boom box between the headrest and the window so it wouldn’t fall down and turned around to look at Floyd, but not before looking at the driver, who had his eyes on the road again.

      “How ‘bout a little taste?” Tommy said, taking a half-pint in a brown bag from the pocket of his jacket.

      “Too early for me,” Floyd said, looking out the window. To him it always looked like New Jersey was halfway through being torn down.

      Across the aisle Marcy was in the middle of a conversation with the other ladies but she didn’t feel quite right. It started as soon as she left the building; she had picked out a brooch to go with her blue blouse, a little gold tree with red apples on it, but she had left it sitting in front of the mirror. Now she felt naked, all that blue stretching out below her chin like an empty ocean almost and she felt like she was being pulled back from drowning each time one of them stopped talking. That meant somebody was supposed to say something, you were supposed to jump in like it was a game of double-Dutch.

      “What I value most is the privacy,” Marcy said, but no one answered. She had a feeling she had said that before. The topic was assisted living and how to know when you needed it.

      “Until you wake up privately dead,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. Marcy didn’t remember meeting her before, a friend of Helen’s was how she was introduced, but she didn’t like her now. She had these gray and white streaks in her hair, extensions by the look of it, but it reminded Marcy of mud. Besides she was probably the youngest woman of the bunch, what was she talking about dying for?

      “My boy checks in on us every night,” said Marcy and immediately wondered why she had. It wasn’t true. Most times she had to call Eric and he never sounded too happy to hear from her. He did come to visit though, once a month at least. They saw less of him after his divorce, though you’d think it would be the other way around.

      “Where are we?” she said suddenly, looking out the window. Everything looked the same.

      “You keep asking that,” the lady in the Kente cloth said, or maybe she said. Marcy wasn’t looking at her and the music Tommy was playing made her feel lost.

      “Sending this one out for all you ladies,” said Tommy, like he was some deejay, and they all laughed but Marcy didn’t think it was funny. It was that song about sitting on a park bench that always made her sad. “I see her face everywhere I go/on the street and even at the picture show/have you seen her?”

      There was a hospital up there high on a hill and for a second she felt that the bus was going to take off and fly straight up to its doors. She closed her eyes and felt herself rise.

      They parked in the lot of the Showboat casino. Though they could have gone anywhere they wanted, the thirty odd passengers that disembarked made for the Showboat as if summoned, shuffling and limping toward the entrance in a broken conga line.

      “No one says we got to go to this casino,” Floyd said to the crowd of ladies leading the way.

      “The Showboat has a Mardi Gras theme,” said the lady in the Kente cloth. She turned around to give Floyd the fisheye, pulling down her glasses as she did. “Besides, we got coupons for the Showboat.”

      He fell in line sullenly beside Tommy who offered him another drink. Floyd took a swallow this time without pulling down the brown paper to see what it was. It tasted like mouthwash.

      “Jesus, what the hell you drinking?”

      “Little peppermint schnapps.” Tommy tried to slap Floyd on the back but the big man danced away, handing the bottle back as he moved.

      “What she mean by a ‘Mardi Gras theme,’ anyway?” Floyd said.

      Tommy shrugged. “As long as they got free drinks and blackjack I don’t much care.”

      Seagulls screamed overhead. Floyd saw his reflection scowling in the window of a parked Humvee. He went to New Orleans during Mardi Gras when he was in the Navy, how many years ago? He got lost and someone stole his wallet. A man dressed as a woman tried to put beads around his neck, he remembered. You could have your Mardi Gras.

      Marcy was among the first of the women to enter the casino and the air conditioning hit her like a cold wave. “Good thing I remembered my shawl!” she said but no one answered. The music and the sound of the slot machines, dinging and ringing with sirens going off every five minutes as if some crime was being committed, swallowed her voice.

      Marcy had thought to bring rolls of quarters and silver dollars. While the other ladies were getting change she was already pouring her silver into a red plastic cup provided to her by a girl in the shortest skirt she had ever seen.

      “You must be freezing!” Marcy said but the girl didn’t seem to hear her. Maybe she just got tired of people trying to talk to her.

      The slots area had thousands of machines and at noon it was already half filled, mostly old timers like her and Floyd. He and Tommy had set off in the other direction like there was a sign saying ‘Men, That Way.’ The carpets were in a pattern of red and orange and gold that reminded her of a kaleidoscope and the ceiling was made up to look like stained glass, though she knew real stained glass when she saw it and this wasn’t it. She felt like if she didn’t sit down she might just fall into the colors. She sat down at a quarter machine and began feeding it. She didn’t know where the other ladies had gone and looking over her shoulder left her none the wiser.

      “Y’all gonna have to find me,” she said and as if summoned a different lady in a short skirt appeared.

      “How you doing today?” she said. She had a tray filled with drinks and a notepad tucked into her belt. “Can I get you something to drink?”

      “Well I suppose you can!” Marcy turned in her chair to show her appreciation. “My name’s Marcy by the way, I come here from Brooklyn with a bunch of folks from my church group.”

      “Now isn’t that nice? My name’s Kim Sue. What can I get you?”

      Marcy smiled and opened her mouth. But she could not think of the names of any drinks, not just the fancy ones but any drink. She felt a trickle of sweat run down her back underneath her blouse.

      “It’s funny,” she said, embarrassed. “My mind’s just a blank today.”

      “Sure, no problem!” Kim Sue smiled back at her like one of those Chinese dolls, her name right there on her badge. “We have beer and wine and soda and mixed drinks.” She kept smiling at Marcy and continued. “I could make you a nice white wine spritzer, if you like.”

      “Oh, that sounds nice,” said Marcy, and it did sound nice, like a sprinkler in the summer time, the kind the boys used to play in. Kim Sue left and Marcy returned to the machine. Cherries and plums rolled past, never stopping at the same time.

      Eric used to chase Wilson through the sprinklers in the park and sometimes when Marcy wasn’t looking he would hold his little brother down and try to pull off his shorts in front of all the other children. She would get so mad at him, always teasing like that, knowing it would make Wilson cry and come looking for her, but she had a job then, looking after a little white boy named Oskar whose parents lived in Park Slope and worked all the time. Oskar’a parents didn’t mind too much when she brought her boys with her when she took him to the park. “As long as you remember,” the father said, “that Oskar is your first priority.”

      Well of course he is, mister doctor man! Why would my own flesh and blood come before your little prince? Good gracious, the things that man would say. If the wife heard him she would weigh in and try to soften the blow. “What my husband means is that we don’t want you to get too distracted. Three children is a handful.”

      Now that was the kind of thing only a white person would say. Where she came from three children was just getting started, even if she was done after Wilson, something her own mother could never understand.

      “Oh, don’t worry, ma’am,” Marcy would say. “I won’t ever let Oskar out of my sight.”

      All these people thinking someone was going to steal their child then, like the whole country had gone crazy. Soon they’d be putting their pictures on milk cartons and billboards and on TV during the news – “Have you seen Brandon?” Usually white kids. If a black kid went missing generally people know who took him.

      “Here you go, ma’am.”

      Kim Sue was back with her drink. It was in a big plastic cup with a straw that went in curlicues, like a roller coaster, like this was for a child. She started fishing in her coin cup.

      “Drinks are complimentary, ma’am.”

      Like I didn’t know that. She pulled out a Susan B. Anthony and put it on her tray. “That’s for you,” she said.

      “Very nice of you, ma’am. And if you need anything else you just let me know.”

      She turned to leave and Marcy was afraid to see her go. “Kim Sue, it’s like your momma gave you two names.”

      “Kim is my family name. Family name comes first in Korean.”

      “Is that right?” said Marcy. “Well I think family should come first, don’t you?”

      “Yes, ma’am.”

      Marcy thought that was something else she should write in her book but realized that she hadn’t brought it with her, and then forgot what she had said. “But they probably don’t spell it like that in Korea, do they? The Sue, I mean.”

      “No, ma’am, we have a different alphabet.”

      “Now isn’t that something?”

      She was balancing a tray full of drinks while she talked to Marcy so she let her go, disappearing into the big Tiffany lamp around them. A band was playing Dixieland and Marcy strained her eyes to see them. The music seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, “When the Saints Come Marching In.”

      “Let me tell you another,” she said, sipping on her drink. The lady at the machine next to her looked at Marcy and then moved away, taking her quarters with her. She watched as the drink spun up the straw when she sucked. Here we go loop de loop.

      Sometimes Eric would help her push the stroller as they went around the park, and Wilson would run so far ahead she would shout after him. “Don’t go where I can’t see you!” she’d holler, and Oskar, too big to be pushed around in a stroller, would try and stand up and yell after her. “Go where I can’t see you!”

      Wilson would hide like that at home as well; hide so good she couldn’t find him sometimes. They were living in Prospect-Lefferts, more house than they needed but you could afford those big limestone buildings then even on a Con Ed salary and Wilson would go into different rooms and be so quiet that she would get hysterical, be practically beside herself by the time her husband got home. Then they would hear him laughing. “Got you!” he would say and emerge from the cupboard or from behind the sideboard and Floyd would get so mad. That one time he came out of her closet wearing her bra and Floyd just about went crazy; took off his belt and chased him.

      She put in a coin and pulled the lever: a watermelon; a bell; the number seven in gold.

      “What numbers are you playing today?”

      She turned her head but nobody was there. Who had spoken? Just turning her head made the colors around her move and when she looked at the floor she saw the pattern there was moving too. It was like a flying carpet, the Vale of Cashmere –

      The Vale of Cashmere! That was the name of that strange corner of the park where she took the boys now and then. They were getting older; other boys took the place of Oskar, and Eric got too big to want to be with them. But Wilson kept her company as she made the rounds, bought them ice cream and wiped their sticky hands. People used to call it The Swamp and there was a muddy pond okay and some hanging trees.

      “How come you don’t play with boys your own age?” one of the kids had asked him once.

      “I just like to help my momma,” he’d said.

      He was the one who found out the real name of The Swamp, checked an old book out of the library and showed her on the map. There was a poem that went with it and Wilson stood up by the pond and put one finger in the air as he read: “Who has not heard of the Vale of Cashmere/With its roses the brightest the earth ever gave?”

      Another babysitter saw them by the pond once and came over to warn them. “You shouldn’t be down in there,” she said, afraid to come too close with her stroller in front of her. “They say men get together down there.”

      And after that Marcy noticed them, lurking about, standing in the trees. Once when she came down with Wilson and a stroller two men ran out, going in different directions.

      She didn’t think about it again for years, until Wilson was grown and still living at home, and he came back one night that first time with his face all bloody, drunk or high on something and smiled at her, blood on his teeth.

      “Hey, Momma, I been to the Vale of Cashmere!”

      That’s when Floyd said no more.

      “What numbers are you playing today?”

      She turned and the colors whooshed like a scarf being wrapped around her head. She saw her this time, a little woman, no bigger than a dragonfly like the ones the boys chased in the park, Wilson would put them in a jar with holes punched in the top, while Eric tried to cover it up with his hand so they would smother.

      “I’m looking for three sevens,” Marcy said to the dragonfly woman. “Are there some other numbers to play?”

      “That is the question, isn’t it?” said the faerie. “Are there other numbers to play?”

      And then she flew away, just like a little hummingbird, and Marcy got up to follow her, passing into the pattern of colors and leaving her cup of coins behind.

      Floyd went through all his money the first hour. Not all his money but all the money he’d meant to spend, the money he put in his shirt pocket, seemed to fly off the table. Dealer beat him every time: if Floyd had 18, the dealer had 19; if Floyd sat on a 19, the dealer hit him with two bricks.

      “I guess this lady feels like she has to show us what a blackjack looks like,” said Tommy, when the dealer drew her third in ten minutes. She apologized to them both, even though they didn’t tip her, and Tommy’s luck was better than hers: He doubled down twice and made a hundred bucks in the blink of an eye. All Floyd could do, once he had spent the money he had earmarked for this outing, was sit there and simmer in his resentment while Tommy’s chip pile grew.

      That was when Helen, the lady in the purple pantsuit, came and asked if he knew where Marcy was.

      “I thought she was with you,” said Floyd. It came out like an accusation.

      “Well, we agreed to meet for lunch at three,” she said, “but then nobody could find Marcy. We figured maybe you two went off together.”

      And that’s how well you know us, Floyd thought. “Maybe she just went off to another casino by herself,” he said. Even though he was losing, and wasn’t even playing at the time, he didn’t want to have to leave his spot and go look for his wife. “There’s no law says we got to stay here.”

      “Blackjack,” said the dealer, flipping another ace.

      But after a minute he did get up to look, as he knew he would, leaving Tommy, who still had a hot hand and no doubt wondered what all the fuss was about.

      “Did you try the ladies room?” he asked Helen.

      “That was one of the first places we looked. They have sofas in there, you know.” She paused. “Do you think we should call security?”

      The suggestion made his blood pressure rise. “No, I don’t think we should call security. Christ sake, grown woman goes off for a few minutes and you want to call the cavalry?”

      “Does she have a cell phone?”

      “Our son gave her one but she couldn’t figure out how to use it.” This was literally half true: Eric had given them each one last Christmas, and neither of them could figure out how to use it. By the time Floyd got the hang of it he realized that the only person he would call was his wife, which was kind of stupid since he saw her all the time anyway.

      They looked all the places that they had already looked and the lady in the Kente cloth joined them, acting more concerned that Floyd felt. “We need a system,” she said, as they circled the room for the second time. The place was more crowded than ever and Floyd could hardly hear what she was saying. “How about I go stake out the buffet and you stay here?” she suggested to Helen.

      “How ‘bout I go stake out the buffet?” Helen said. “I haven’t had lunch yet.”

      Floyd said they could both go feed themselves and take their time doing it; Marcy would turn up. He stood like a sentinel beneath the bells and sirens of the Mardi Gras slots, scowling most of the time. He hated slot machines; there was no sport in it, as he often told his wife. Blackjack at least you were playing the odds. Slots to him was just dumb luck, like a rabbit betting it wouldn’t get run over when it ran across the road. Twice he thought he saw his wife, and each time he took pleasure in anticipating just how much grief he was going to give her. But each time he was wrong.

      By four o’clock they were back together, Tommy too, and they began to set out in search parties. They were a small group: most of the travelers didn’t want to leave their stations, since the bus was scheduled to leave at six and this whole business had already cut into their time as it was. The lady in the Kente cloth, who finally introduced herself as Niobe, took charge. She contacted the hotel security, who seemed to have some experience with old folks wandering off, and as the witching hour neared, and the day-trippers started heading back toward the bus, she went out and argued with the bus driver, who was pretty adamant about leaving on time.

      “You can’t just go off and leave an old lady alone,” she scolded him. The engine was already running, gently shaking the bus, while the AC gusted out the door in heavy welcoming breaths.

      “I won’t be leaving her alone,” the driver said. “I will be leaving you to find her.”

      He agreed to wait as they made one last search. A handful of them fanned out, going to neighboring casinos and restaurants, off the boardwalk and into the side streets. Floyd couldn’t help but think that Marcy was messing with him the whole time, and when he saw the impatient faces of the other folks on the bus – they’d lost their money and had their fill, they just wanted to go home – he couldn’t help but side with them.

      Most of the people he saw as he wandered were wearing shorts and T-shirts. Used to be people would get dressed up to go someplace. And when did everybody get so fat? Walking down the boardwalk, bag of French fries in your hand, what did you expect? The new motto for the city was “Always Turned On,” which he found kind of creepy. There was nothing that he saw that turned him on.

      Doors were open, air conditioning blasting out, cooling nothing. Floyd took to popping into places and doing a quick look around, not even asking half the time if they’d seen anyone who looked like his wife. One, they couldn’t hear you with all that noise and two, half of them couldn’t speak English.

      “You seen an old black lady?” he shouted at one girl scooping ice cream. Her nails were so long he figured they might end up in somebody’s cone. “Blue shirt, about this high?” She stared at him like he was the one with the language problem.

      He kept walking. Going in and out of the summer sun was making him dizzy, to say nothing of thirsty. He wished for the first time that Tommy was with him. That man would always stop for a drink. He saw people in those rolling chairs, being pushed by young people, girls sometimes. And you wonder why you so fat?

      Down at one end of the boardwalk he found what looked like a real bar. The crowd had trickled off as the sun sank lower in the sky. Go on, get out of here. A lot of good you been. Floyd ducked inside and felt the rivers of sweat roll out from under his hat and chill on his face and neck. His glasses steamed as he took a seat at the bar and ordered a gin and tonic. He perched on the stool and looked up at the game on TV. The waitress brought him his drink and man did that taste good. No skimping on the gin, either. He forgot to ask her about Marcy. His wallet was bothering him, he felt like he was balancing on it. When she asked him if he wanted to start a tab he simply nodded.

      “You got a phone?” She pointed to an old-fashioned booth in the back, kind Superman used to change in. The place was filling up, young couples waiting for dinner. Went back to the hotel to put your dress shorts on? Once inside the paneled wood booth he forgot who he was going to call. Eric, right. He searched the scraps of paper in his wallet for the number he never had cause to memorize and let it ring, go to voicemail, and then dialed again.


      “This ain’t no telemarketer.”

      “Hey, Pop.” He did not sound happy to hear from him and Floyd had already put enough change in the machine so he cut straight to the point.

      “We in Atlantic City and your mother’s gone missing.” He backtracked from there, explaining the whole afternoon in greater detail than Eric needed, but never did his son sound any more excited than Floyd felt. He asked the obvious questions – had they called the police? Who else was looking?

      “Did she have her cell phone?” he asked, pointedly.

      “That’s why I was calling,” Floyd said. “I figured maybe she’d called you.”

      Eric was silent, and Floyd knew that he knew he was lying. He imagined him at home, still in his work clothes, the sound on the TV muted, his eyes on the game. From his perch in the booth Floyd could see the TV over the bar. Jeter was trying to steal.

      “I’m sure she’ll turn up, Pop. I mean, where’s she gonna go?”

      “I know that.”

      “You got your cell phone with you? So I can call you if she does?”

      Floyd muttered something and got off the phone. That boy would go to his grave asking about those damn phones. He should just wrap them up and give them back to him for Christmas. Turn ‘em into salt-and-pepper shakers.

      When he got back to his seat at the bar Jeter got picked off and he ordered another drink. Now they could send the search party out for him. The tumblers were tall and when he turned in his seat he found he had company. Big old white dude with long hair and a pointed beard. He was sipping a Budweiser longneck and looking at the screen. His arms were covered in tattoos; dragons, snakes and skulls disappeared into his shirtsleeves.

      “Fuckin’ Yankees,” he said and turned to look at Floyd. “Nice hat.”

      Floyd turned to face his own reflection in the mirror behind the bar. “You wouldn’t believe how long I had this hat,” he said.

      “There isn’t much I wouldn’t believe,” the man said.

      They got to talking. Turned out he worked in a tattoo parlor on the boardwalk, which explained all the ink. Half way through his second drink and Floyd was feeling generous in his opinions.

      “Back in the day,” he said, “man had a tattoo it meant he’d been someplace. In the service, in the joint, you know.”

      “I hear you,” the man said. “These days it just means you been to the mall.” He drained his beer and held up the empty. “Buy you a drink?”

      “Let me buy you a drink,” said Floyd, and pulled out the fat wallet that had been giving him such a pain and laid it on the counter. Soon he had the pictures out and was showing him snaps of Eric, bragging on his job even if he wasn’t exactly sure what he did. Then one of the whole family, when everyone was young.

      “Where’s your other boy?” the stranger asked.

      Floyd made a face like he was sucking on a lime. “Wilson got killed in a hold-up ten years ago,” he said.

      “Oh, man, I am sorry. They catch the guy who did it?”

      “No, it was in Prospect Park one night. Lot of crime in there.”

      “That’s why I could never live in the city,” the man said, which struck Tommy as funny. Most people would be scared of him, even in Brooklyn.

      “So what happens when folks get old?” said Floyd, changing the subject. “Maybe they don’t want all those tattoos any more.”

      “Shit, you don’t have to wait ‘til your old to regret something stupid you did.” The man laughed and Floyd got a glimmer of a gold tooth in his head. “People come in all the time wanting to have tattoos taken off, usually the name of some girl that don’t love them anymore.”

      “Can you do it?”

      “Sure,” the man said. “Hurts like hell and costs twice as much. But we can do it. Easier just to change it, though.”

      “How do you mean?”

      “Well, there was this one girl who loved a guy named Chris and had it tattooed on her ass. Until she found Jesus and then we just added a ‘T’.”

      He didn’t smile at first and it took Floyd a minute to figure it was a joke. He smiled first. “Hey, I got one,” he said. The stranger’s eyes gleamed in anticipation. “There was this guy who loved this old girl so much he had her name tattooed on his Johnson.”

      “Now that’s gotta hurt!”

      “Hell, yeah.” Floyd wiped his mouth. “Then they broke up, you know, and soon he started missing her real bad. So he went all over looking for her, from Wisconsin all the way down to Jamaica. Then he’s in the bathroom one day and he looks over and he sees this other guy’s dick.” He stopped for a minute. The stranger kept staring at him. “Now I can’t remember that girl’s name.”

      “Is it important?”

      “Yeah, it’s the whole punch line.”

      “Uh, oh. Better have another drink.”

      He felt flushed and excused himself to go to the bathroom. There he stared straight ahead at the wall and read all the graffiti as if looking for a message. And by the time he got back to the bar he was not surprised to see the stranger was gone and with him his wallet though all Floyd could feel was a keen sense of disappointment: He remembered the end of the joke now. He had remembered that old girl’s name.


      voice from the planet

      ‘Vale of Cashmere’ was first published by Harvard Square Editions in Voice from the Planet, FREE from March 30 – April 3, 2017 at Amazon Kindle US, and Kindle UK among others. Sean Elder’s writing has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, New York Magazine, Salon, Slate, Vogue, Elle, Men’s Journal, Men’s Health, O: The Oprah Magazine, Gourmet, Food & Wine, Details and many other publications. The essay he contributed to the collection of men’s writings The Bastard On the Couch (Morrow, 2004) was reprinted on three continents; his essay on ecstasy, included in the collection of drug writings entitled White Rabbit (Chronicle Books, 1995) was called “seminal” by Granta; and a piece he wrote about being a stay-at-home dad for Oprah was included in her best of O collection, Live Your Best Life (Oxmoor, 2005). He has co-authored several books, including Websites That Work with designer Roger Black (Adobe Press, 1997) and Mission Al Jazeera with former Marine captain Josh Rushing (Palgrave, 2007). He also works as a book doctor and helped edit the forthcoming Making Rounds with Oscar by Dr. David Dosa (Hyperion, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn, New York with his wife and daughter.

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    • All at Once: Excerpt of the Novel

    • I step onto a wide stone platform surrounded by water and lie on my stomach to peer down over the edge. At my approach, tiny fish scatter like drops of colored light; crabs pause, wary, then scuttle along the sides of the basin, stuffing their mouths as fast as they can with alternate pincers. After a while, a kind of brown finger wriggles out from the shadows. Another one emerges, then two more, and finally the bulbous body of an octopus comes into view. It skims along until the water is too shallow then starts to walk, using its tentacles as legs. When the water gets deeper it pushes off against the sandy bottom to glide, once more, just beneath the surface. It circles round and round my platform.

      aao cover

      My back begins to prickle, and I realize I’ll be burnt to a crisp if I don’t find shelter pretty soonthe ocean breeze masks the sun’s virulence.

      Standing up makes me momentarily dizzy. The tide has gone out, uncovering rocks studded with barnacles or slick with thick green hair. I head back toward the flat sand and continue walking, looking for a place to rest. I’ve just about resigned myself to the idea of a plastic chair, when I spot a barraca that’s not open for business. The beach in front of it is empty, the small structure shuttered; its thatched roof casts a nice, wide stripe of shade onto the sand. Gratefully, I set up camp, taking out the water and crackers I brought, spreading out my towel to sit on, and leaning against the barraca wall with the empty backpack in between for cushioning. A sigh of relief.

      The ocean is now more white than blue. At the horizon, a wavering smudge might be a cruise ship or an oil rig. The great mass of water is barely disturbed by shifting waves, fretful and sluggish like a dog settling down to sleep. There’s an occasional bloom of white spray when a wave breaks against rock; wisps of cloud trail across the sky. I yawn, lie down on the towel, and close my eyes.

      Now the landscape is reduced to the rustle of wind in the palm thatch, the faint piping of a distant bird, and the dull roar of the ocean. I stretch my arms and let them flop back down. Rolling my head slowly from side to side to loosen the tension in my neck, I notice that this movement causes the pitch of the ocean to vary ever so slightly. Intrigued, I try it a few more times, just to make sure.

      There’s a lesson in that, I reflect: reality changes according to your viewpoint. I roll my head once more from side to side then lie still again, listening to the tiny, ceaseless fluctuations within the monotone.

      An insect lands on my footwithout opening my eyes I flex my toe to chase it away, and realize that the gesture produced an infinitesimal shift in the ocean sound. Bizarre! I can understand the position of my head influencing what I hear, but the position of my toe? (more…)

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    The Matrix*

    (For Kesari Kannepalli)


    If you can feel that staying human is worthwhile, even when it can’t have
    any result whatever, you’ve beaten them.

    George Orwell

    Know then thyself, presume not God to scan…

    Alexander Pope


    My critique of Eurocentrism (EuroModernism, or EM, the specific variant of Modernism invented in Europe and imposed on the world (I have placed a precis of its main traits in the APPENDIX below this piece) is simplicity itself:

    I maintain that ALL of EM thinking is plain Wrong, not just bits of it.


    Because EM rests on an ontology/epistemology of humans (and society) that is flat out incorrect.

    On Manifest Error, EM built an architecture of socio-human theory and praxis that has doomed us all, and is now rushing us headlong into perdition. .

    If so many of us live in depravity ,emotive deprivation, and/or depression ,it is solely owing to imbibing the false nostrums of EM.

    It,perforce, converted a band of Convivials into a company of Strangers.


    Unlike any prior social formation in history, it dehumanized (by desocialising) our species by penalizing altruistic behavior(s) and rewarding anti-social activities.

    Worse, it compounded injury with insult, by self-styling this obvious devolution as the very acme of ‘progress’.


    And , everywhere, including within Europe itself, it was forcibly imposed: not ‘voted in’.

    Today most of the world breathes its ether, North and South, East and West.

    Emergent EM Elites ( mercantilist, in vein, be they landed or not) drew their premises partly from the then state of European society, in transition from medieval values to modernist values , partly from wishful thinking as to what would serve their interests : viz., a novel , composite, melange (departing from extant norms) of domination and mutual distrust, coupled with egregious avarice and supernal greed.

    The former produces its social and political theory, the latter its political economy.

    Both served to ratify the now familiar Modernist ethos of aggressive cupidity, and avarice , at one remove, and mutual distrust, adversarialism, and (permanent ) domination, and incurable dissension/disaffection, at the other.

    Contra it’s absurd reductionisms, we are neither economic nor political entities, in the main, but natural-cultural beings: bringing creativity and imagination to the rites and rituals of communal life.

    In fact, as an aside, it would be correct to say that we are , as humans, quite consummate mythmaking animals
    (indeed, we excel in it).

    At any rate, given its imperial reach and clout , EM was able to impose this ‘iron cage’ on most of the planet (save a few native peoples).
    But as its domain shrinks, its ideational hegemony is now also dwindling.

    That is where we are today.

    This is not to imply that there was no tangible content-gain at all during the transition(s) attended by EM, as , per exemple, in the obvious abatement of extreme, medieval cruelty and gross iniquity, of the more egregious kind (the Colonies were still treated brutally, but the Mother country was made relatively pacific to enable routine conduct of commerce)


    However, such benefits were purchased at prohibitive, life-threatening , even exterminist, costs that life on the planet simply cannot afford, as must be , by now, abundantly clear.


    It doomed us all to stark loneliness, anomie, desperation, and loss of meaning (in effect, being denied the human right to be human) the signature hallmarks of the dreadful alienations of E-Modernism: whilst simultaneously helping degrade both society and ecology.



    Our real, collective, ‘human nature’ is an Open Book, and plain to see for anyone who indulges in but a little self-examination.

    Yes, self-examination.


    Our very lived experience confirms the Theses I am advancing.


    No books, no scholarship, no deep insights, are needed.


    Their basis is natural and instinctual, not societal and environmental.

    As animals (lest we forget!) we are possessed of instincts that may be suppressed/sublimated – but not excised.

    Care, consideration, and conviviality (within an organic community) are our principal , nay primal urges : contrary to the misanthropic myths perpetuated by Modernist ideologues.

    You might conceive of EM, therefore, as the First Great Reset.




    For sharing the same rationale as the one being planned by the WEF (and its sister multilaterals) today: to reboot society, to suit the tributary needs of the predator-governors of society.
    Family, clan, and community identifications/loyalties, were obstacles to the homogenisation of us all into a vast Precariat, tied to the Wheel, at one end , and to the whims of the gambler-governors at the other, playing their Game of Thrones.

    That is the hidden logos behind their spurious ‘universalism’, which we were conned into taking at face value.
    Uniformity is a sine qua non of easy governance.
    In effect , the affective Social Economy of Affections was being replaced by the sordid Political Economy of Interests – and defined as advancement.
    However, returning to our tribal origins, instincts again intercede(d) to create a tension within the integrated tribal system.

    Men and women are instinctually conditioned to have dissimilar urges (btw, biology is not destiny: instincts can be worked against)
    This is as easily verifiable , across time, place, and culture, as to be trivially true.
    Women , as progenitors and initial food-providers to the infant, are possessed by nature, of nurturance.
    Men have predatory instincts expressed , at the apex, in a willingness/readiness to kill.

    This tension is smoothed over, in tribal modes, by women, ‘naturally’, imprisoning the proclivities of men within emotive bonds, basically domesticating them.
    Why do they (have to) do it?

    Because the human infant (more helpless than many of our animal cousins) cannot be nurtured, if there is random violence in its vicinity (incidentally, the mother-child dyad is the first social, whence moral, relationship – albeit naturally inspired- : and is the fons et origo of All societal morality).
    They , sort, of ‘secure the perimeter’ (interestingly, it is, as an aside, as if men take after chimps, and women after bonobos).
    In effect, men have to be ‘tamed’ (via emotional bonds) much as nature, for the social organism to reproduce safely.
    Incidentally, there is no other restraint that has ever worked nearly as well.

    This is not a permanent snare, however, and at some point, men break away from intra-tribal bondings to adventurism , be it military, political, or economic, whence the dissolution of tribal societies begins.
    It is in this sense that it is women who patiently (and naturally) build a human society, whilst men, at some point, tear it apart.
    That’s the real ‘animal spirits’ that Keynes , quite unknowingly, invoked , if in another context.
    We call the rest (post-Tribal orderings) that follows, history: or, perhaps more aptly, His Story.
    All post-Tribal societies are, necessarily, in consequence, both masculinist and male dominated.
    EM began its recasting of our species-being between the 16th and 18th centuries,
    in its own aggressive image.
    Given the realities of late medieval society, the mores of their tribal past were already a distal memory.
    However , the former still retained one rather important concept: that of a Social Compact , recognizing the organic nature of the community, despite its deep class cleavages.
    Here, EM took a quantum leap into Dystopia by abrogating that Compact and replacing it with the now familiar notion of a Contract (vide the ‘social contract’ theorizing).:
    To that sacrilege, it added the Final Corrosion that was to define Modernism forever:
    Asocial Individualism, essentially positing society as but a means to personal/individual advancement(s) , (which is what the upstart mercantile elites were doing, anyway).
    It is this momentous ‘innovation’ that separates EM Europeans from All other peoples (btw not ALL of Europe succumbed to this: the more tribalist Euros, like the Scandinavian nations, also couldn’t wholly absorb this, which is why their capitalisms are so much more muted and ‘communal’), as much as their own prior history.
    They Other may accept E-Modernism: but not Asocial Individualism.

    This remains true even today.

    That may well be the true differentia specifica between the EM West and the EM Other.

    EM ‘economics’ , vulgar and otiose as it is, only enshrines these travesties in its banal oeuvre: in fact it is the crown jewel in the hegemonic ideology of EM(whence the gratuitous gratuity of a Nobel Memorial Prize)
    The ‘nation-state’ is also forged in this period (post Treaty of Westphalia) and becomes the corral of merchant princes/potentates , within which all denizens are permanently imprisoned – at the mercy of the executive whims of the governors.
    And Martin Luther restructures religious duty as a nexus between the individual and god, (much as the economy is seen as a ‘deal’ between individuals and /or the market) niftily blunting the societal welfare side of the Church of Rome, by not requiring any ‘good works’ to substitute for the vague pledge of ‘faith’.
    In all of the above, the self-seeking/acquisitive individual is placed above communal bondings and responsibilities.
    These were the fateful steps, taken with Seven-League Boots, no less, with which Europe left all of humanity , including its own past, behind.
    EM was now complete : as the New World Ordering, we all genuflect to.
    It was , in a sense, an effort to convert mammals into reptiles.
    More prosaically, women, toilers, and native peoples (never fully integrated into EM mores) found themselves, in common cause, against predacious (mainly male) commercial elites.
    That uneasy Equation is still extant today.
    The irony is how many (intended, real) victims of EM are yet its greatest votaries.
    The Task before us becomes apparent.

    We need to recognize and recapture our own (quint)essential human nature, and revive our local, micro-communities within which it was always expressed.
    This is not necessarily for any exalted purpose of ‘emancipation’ (another, dissembling , EM trope) , but purely to retrieve our own personal lives from rack and ruin ,if lived on the false premises of EM which have us ensnared in all manner of delusion(s)
    Human integrity is spontaneously evoked only within face-to face Gemeinschaft orderings (this is simply natural).
    It abates as we move toward Gesellschaft formations (as entailed in EM nation-states).
    Once self-aware of our own , inherent, essential, humanity, and rid of the phony barrage of false expectations and ambitions thrust upon us, disengagement , in theory and praxis, with the hypertrophic paraphernalia of Imperial State and Authoritarian Society will follow, as an adjunct – if gradually.
    Because natural, emotive , ties with kith and kin and community, ever exceed the hold of any artificially inseminated loyalties to Modernist notions of state and nation.
    Mind, this is NOT a sketch of yet another EM style Utopia, by any stretch.
    Note also I am rejecting the usual EM stance of attempting macroscopic changes: these , being power struggles, only end up, be they right or left in persuasion, with the consecration of a new structure of domination.
    Consider it qua Robert Michels the true Iron Law of Oligarchy (he was incorrect to think it stems from Organisation: it stems, instead, from male organised entities) entirely owing to purely masculinist power drives.

    Utopia is a vainglorious EM fantasy with no precedent other than the ‘heaven’ of religious imagination: in effect, it is its secular equivalent.
    It will not at all guarantee ‘democracy, equality, or liberty’, the delusional chimeras – nay sops – of EM (I won’t explain it here, but these norms are not merely utopian; even if achieved would do NOTHING to allay human alienation).
    But it will give us back what we need most – our birth-right,to live as human beings.
    Recall, we are mammals with rather simple needs (the governors distract us with meretricious ‘wants’ that help perpetuate their domination and keep us distracted, and on the treadmill).
    Let me spell out what that all means via a small, but illustrative, detour.
    Have a look at the Human Family.
    It is neither democratic, individualist, nor free, nor equal.

    Stop and think.

    It gainsays every abstract idyll of EM !!
    Imagine that!
    A Non-Modernist anachronism, subsisting plumb in the middle of EM societies.
    Yet, it gives all of us, via the related, and equally ubiquitous , concept of ‘home’: across time, space, and cultures, what we crave most: a cradle of hospitality.
    That should tell you who we really are, as opposed to EM fantasies..
    So, when EM took that quantum leap away from family, community, co-operation, and the social compact , in the name of progress no less, it sent us all spinning wildly into orbit.
    The orbit of a foredoomed, benighted , existence: banished forever from the very fount of our species-being.
    In that enforced orbit, were we lost, and are still lost, seeking dreary, vain, unrequiting, solace, in soulless regimes of production and consumption, competing against one another, turned away from natural domains of nurturance, whilst being subject to exploitation, conquest, genocide, and empire.
    Worse ,we are beguiled into believing that all can still be redeemed at the level of civil society and the state, by virtue of (permanent) struggle and (inescapable) adversarialism.
    Absolutely not.
    They are the very EM entities that have to be abandoned/sublated.
    In the EM matrix , the struggles to achieve LED (liberte, egalite,’democrace ‘ ) are perennial: they are never gained, and if gained , by fluke, can always be rolled back.
    Our Citizen-Sysiphus is, thereby, forever climbing uphill muttering ‘yes , we can”.
    Those ‘participatory delusions’ are what keep us tied to the EM Wheel, in grim, if tragic, loyalty.
    Even hard-headed critics of EM fall for the spin.
    Modernist Democracy is the most efficient device ever devised for maintenance of the status quo : whilst also providing the necessary illusion of mass participation and activism.
    Besides, the underlying idea that we can declare ourselves , societally, by fiat, into any utopian project as crosses our minds, is both a fatal conceit and a ludicrous denial of realism.
    For all the myriads of ‘protestors’ that throng the street, celebrating , or demanding, EM freedoms, the oligarchs remain in power; and if they are replaced , it is only by a new set : and the Great Game starts up, all over again.
    Even worse, internalising EM norms will drive us (as it already has) to the very limits of societal insanity ( with sociopaths, psychopaths, abounding) for having lost our firm, anthropic, moorings in family, clan, and community.
    Btw, I am not setting up any idylls: that is an EM penchant.
    I am saying we, as natural, anthropic, beings , have simple, natural, traits/needs easily , and observationally,verified in the veritable cradle of humanity: i.e., simple, tribal society.
    To be content , we need to live in rough conformity with them ( Or we can, in EM fashion, ‘climb every mountain, ford every stream’, and dissipate our precious lives in such absurd, empty, ruinous, assignations).
    When that umbilical cord is cut , we are catapulted into unhinged, solo orbits where we suffer a radical loss of meaning which is the ontic basis of angst, anomie, and ennui.
    The dystopian madness of our current EM societies (starting with their Lead Formations) verifies the aforesadid every day.
    It is not merely psychic distress: it is the immanent possibility of mass annihilation.
    It is EM which gifted us WW1 and WW2: and is now preparing us all for WW3, all ‘rationally’ and prosaically (we are , under EM tutelage become rational fools, thoughtful idiots).
    We are no more , no less , than animals: domestic felicity– the hospice of kith, and kindred – keeps us , more or less, tolerably tame (within limits).
    When that basis is deracinated, We are Undone.
    That is what EM achieved, near-universally.


    Against much of the foregoing, juxtapose, only by way of illustration, the Marx-Engels, and wholly E-Modernist , flaunt to ‘abolish the family’.
    All the more ironic, because guess where Marx got his idyll of ‘communism’ from?

    Yes, from the very tribal society I have been talking about.

    He called it ‘primitive communism’.
    And what is a tribe, but one big extended family?

    So, Marx certainly understood the unique felicities of the tribal form, but his EM ideas – materialism, in particular -had him wishing it were ‘upgraded’ to Modernist standards of rationality, etc.
    Besides , it was all to be accomplished within the grid of the extant nation-state, the very EM space that defines/promotes our alienation.
    Now you know why EuroSocialism failed : it fell to my Iron Law of Oligarchy: i.e , to the omnipresent masculinist drives for domination.
    It also equated the ‘ideal society ‘(socialism)’ with an ever augmenting bowl of goulash, within the false unity of ‘nation’.
    Put simply, it had lost track of who we are as humans.

    There is no elaborate ‘proof’ needed for any of the above.
    Strip away Modernist delusions, and we stand revealed for who we really are.

    We are human: and it takes but a little reflection to realise how we have been deceived.
    Each of us knows that s/he is really far better than what the system requires her/him to be.
    History and social science have been tendentiously authored by EM votaries (as the spoils of conquest): and most of the intelligentsia are under its spell.
    But lay people will ‘get it’ without undue toil.
    In fact, all of us recognize the benefice of kith/kindred/community – for its being natural – without at all being aware of its full significance.

    Indeed, our unconstrained choices, if duly observed, dally gainsay the travesties of EM tutelage.

    So, it is time to pierce the Veil.

    The greatest error of EM lay in wholly forgetting we are , primarily, natural beings in a natural universe (despite the high social airs we affect).
    EM Anthropocentrism, in its lapidary foolishness, acts as if it can wish/wash all that away by loud declarations and manifestos.
    EM is a determined project of social engineering: and that required it to reject any inherent limits to our malleability.
    EM dreamers (the cannon fodder of the paradigm – not its framers ) never stopped to consider the fact that in anthropic life there are no idylls to be realised.
    All that is pure untrammeled , vanity.
    Worse, it is tawdry bait held out by those who would use our hope and wishful thinking to achieve their own mundane purposes.

    We are a self-conscious form of life on a lonely planet, a deserted oasis in the solar system: the best we can do is to embrace mutuality and make our years as hospitable as we can for each other watered by care, consideration, and conviviality.
    That is what our tribal forebears achieved , naturally, and without elaborate verbal bluster,until EM Vandals destroyed the very basis of their simple existence : in the name of ‘progress.’ (parse that as more labor, more work, more discipline , more diktats, and less contentment, leisure, and satisfaction).
    Whence, I make little effort to engage EM ideologues.
    Let them keep their unsanguine satrapies, their near manic cumulations of wealth and power.
    Life is too short , especially in these times, for such extended argument with such delusionaries.
    If what I say is true, it needs no ‘defense’; if it is false, it would be silly to defend it.
    Put aptly , “it is true because it is realizable: and it is realisable because it is true”.

    In sum, EM philosophers have radically misinterpreted (and, thereby, nearly destroyed ) the world: the point , however, is to swiftly sublate, and transcend, their misanthropic abstractions.
    Indeed , I have termed the EM view of humans a libel upon the human race.
    We can, and must, rehumanise the world rendered , bitter, bare, and barren – by centuries of EM hegemony.

    The First Step is true , sincere, Self-Reflection: who are you, and why are you living the way you do?
    The ‘program’ will, I venture, quickly unravel after that.
    You can bet all your EM idylls on that!
    *I would doubt the producers of the film by that same name ( a cult classic) were aware of the Real Matrix that keeps us all in thrall: i.e, EuroModernism.



    EM has several components: I list but a few here.
    First , it is a philosophy of Materialism (everything is matter: and all objects are material) aping classical Newtonian Physics . Today’s (Quantum) Physics debunks this notion.
    Second , it adopts a triumphalist, Self-serving view of Progress (expressed again in material terms: GDP, etc.). Worse, it takes it for granted that ‘ Progress’ is wherever Europe happens to find itself – because Europe is the Gold Standard.
    Third , it claims Official Science (scientism) , as defined by its elites, as truth : rejecting any and all other epistemologies sans proper scrutiny (e.g. acupuncture, homeopathy, herbal treatments, were dismissed , a priori, as ‘non-science”). Even worse, it marries science to the state : thereby risking despotism, substituting it for religion as in pre-Modern Europe.
    Fourth , it enables the Statist use of Force, as needed, to ‘force people to be free’ (JS Mill), another license in favor of any and all Statist objectives
    Fifth , it has a formal/mechanical /contractual /instrumentalist view of society , rejecting its natural, organic , features.
    Sixth, its Asocial Individualism sees society as but an instrument to be used to achieve individualist ends. The individual, placed above society, is sovereign: society is but a means.
    Seventh , it sees ‘Nature’ as external to us as ‘humans’ who stand ‘above’ it. Women, children and native peoples, were all assimilated to being ‘naturvolk’, to be raised/disciplined/ and tamed.
    Eighth, it sees humans as untouched by essential properties such as Instincts. Animals have instincts, Humans don’t (since the latter are cast, as was the ,medieval belief, in the image of god: Darwin’s correction came much later , but has not entirely erased this precept). Levi Strauss , e.g., famously wrote, that “instincts explain nothing’.
    Ninth, it privileges humans as the ‘Sovereigns of Creation’ (Marx), set above all other forms of life (Anthropocentrism). Nature exists only to serve us.

    Tenth , it sanctions Adversarialism as innate in society, and validates the idea(l) of a brutish struggle for existence. Distrust is institutionalized , and intra-societal aggression/anger promoted.

    Eleventh, it substitutes Abstract Ideals (rarely, or never realised) as a decoy away from attending to real human needs (so , e.g., they offer you the chimera of equality and democracy, but not food and shelter, in the first instance).

    Twelfth, it promotes perpetual, strenuous, heroics as the idyll of life: climb every mountain, ford every stream, etc. (Doing is endless, Being is seen as passive) thereby overloading vulnerable flesh and blood humans with unbearable stress to ‘achieve’ – if, as per systemic norms/requirements.

    N.B. There is an obvious degree of overlap between EuroCapitalism and EuroSocialism (since EM is their mutual provenance).

    [© R.Kanth 2022]

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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    Heaven hath no need of rules

    Hades scribes a dozen score

    The generous spirit ranges free

    The hidebound locks the door


    I’ve roamed the darkling fields of night

    Walked the thorny wild

    Borne the yoke of a thousand ills

    Borne them meek and mild


    Calm lies the diurnal shore

    Though tempests break at sea

    In dearth of human solicitude

    Lies the true heart’s atrophy


    Immure me in penury

    Steal from me my weal

    Let love but loan me one fair breath

    And I, though dying, shall heal
    [© R.Kanth 2022]

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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    The Modernist Condition


    The Tragedy

    of Our


    Is not that


    is Short

    And its



    But that We,

    whose Highest


    Is but To


    Can so





    That we are,

    in the

    Modernist world






    In Tasks

    we loathe


    in rites that

    Mean Nothing

    Giving Fealty

    to specious







    And Powers


    Should Not Be:



    Kept apart



    we love




    Vying with


    Equally Wrought

    In Dubious


    That amount to

    Less than




    And all the


    Like a

    Muffled Chorus

    In the far


    The Sacred

    River of Life


    Sweet Enticements


    on –

    Eager ,


    To dissolve

    In the dank,



    Of ever



    And nameless,



    In the



    Of the





    There is no



    Save to


    to Love

    Of that

    we cannot

    help but love

    Soon as we

    find It

    Cling ,


    nay Clench

    In hoops

    of burnished



    all distraction


    the ravening


    at the Gate

    And the



    In the





    Their bite,

    their sting

    Is not so


    As Life


    In Sysiphian

    gather of


    To stave



    Day after



    ‘Tis the Heart

    that must be


    The Soul

    that must be


    The Spirit

    that must be




    We survive


    and shot



    But not the



    Of the



    And the

    stifled cries

    Of the stricken




    There is no




    Than Spirit


    by love’s labors




    So steady





    In this




    Find the



    Not minding

    the frothing



    Most Tests





    When you Move

    in Kindred


    With your



    The Lodestar,


    and Pathfinder



    We were forged

    to Live

    In Affinity,

    not Discord


    In cognate,


    Communal Kinship

    Close to





    That fires

    our Anthropic


    In this



    And lends



    To the



    Of parching


    And the



    Of that

    ever so



    And petrifying


    That descends

    to nether


    Of Endless






    Against the Scylla

    of Chance

    and the Charybdis

    of Chaos

    [© R.Kanth 2022]

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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    Night Rain


    O Play ,

    to the raptured


    Ditties of

    a vacant

    Mind –

    Of Love ,


    By fate, unkind:

    or the gloat,

    of a heartless

    hind –

    dog the delved



    Though birds


    And children play –


    Singing to


    Grieving Heart

    Of rills

    of Faith that

    failed to start
    Ballads of Things

    Now Done and


    O naught is

    ever Hard

    and Fast

    Treason in

    Guiltless cups

    of Tea



    in jocund



    And Fealty,


    didn’t last
    Whisper to the



    High tropes

    still barely


    Ordained by

    a higher,

    Living, Good


    Tears gorge


    living vein



    with peerie



    Art ,

    replete with

    mounting bane



    glazing scorn


    O tell me again

    why rain

    yet falls


    When there’s

    never a cloud

    in the sky?




    Must we not




    Or is it



    Just when




    Is it how

    All Things

    Must Die?


    Knowing not

    the When

    Nor why?


    To sleep ,




    Below the


    piercing cry?


    Since Time


    These Reckonings




    Of (Wo)Man




    The while



    do span

    In deep, dank,

    and torpid



    The broken and

    The brave

    That None

    can stoke

    nor stave

    O, even with


    Of Poesy


    No Art,

    Nor Science

    Can save

    So, wherefore

    Do we

    still believe?

    Can we not ,

    simply, up

    and Leave?


    ever so slowly:
    Ever so very


    like honey ,


    a sieve –

    Never knowing


    we die –

    Nor even


    we live


    [© R.Kanth 2022]

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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    Le Cœur


    There is no Kingdom
    of the heart:
    there, ’tis the Plebs
    who reign

    It has no measure
    of Largesse:
    be it of joy
    or pain

    It dares only to
    it cares not to

    What’s too grave
    to embrace:
    it spins soft
    in legerdemain

    Never seeking to
    audits both Loss
    and Gain

    And, never needing
    to cogitate,
    Ever Showers The Truth –
    like rain

    [© R.Kanth 2022]

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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    Revival of Things Past


    O for a romp


    Memory Lane

    Where we


    Sweet Coke –

    took our

    Coffee plain

    Where ennui

    was (maybe)

    The Only Bane

    Where a shrink,

    or a pill


    every pain –

    Where Guilt

    was allowed

    even Shame

    was legit

    Where Failure,

    was owned

    and to be

    sorry, admit

    Where to aim

    too high

    was never

    a dare

    and betrayal

    by one’s

    own –


    than rare

    O for a

    Stroll down

    Memory Lane

    Where we

    watched Hitchcock

    munched on

    Candy Cane

    Where the air

    hung clear

    the Spirit

    flew high

    And the sun

    shone through –

    even in


    But then It



    The Needle

    swung wild

    Rules were

    not rules –

    to break them,

    No stain

    We passed all


    breached all

    due norms

    and history

    quick morphed



    O for a

    Run back

    on Memory Lane

    Doing it

    for Fun –

    not merely

    for Gain

    Took Intuitions

    for real

    dry Reason


    where ,

    if ignorance

    ran large


    rang true

    and the Line

    drawn sharp

    ‘twixt sane

    and insane

    O for a

    Slide Down

    Memory Lane

    Where Love

    was enough

    to writhe,


    in pain –

    Sans Egregious


    cleft deep,


    the grain

    O to let go

    Of Memory


    Where what’s

    Lost is lost:

    And to dotingly


    is hopelessly

    And so ,

    to Return

    To our own

    Sordid Time

    Where the Heart

    Is hung heavy

    O so very

    Heavy –

    Yes, the


    is hung heavy

    For the


    In the Brain

    [© R.Kanth 2022]

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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    There is a Sea of
    if only We knew
    The Way


    Mystery guards
    its access wild
    hid in light
    of day

    It signals us
    in accents mild
    as to why it is
    that way

    Only the blest
    pass the acid test
    Others are led

    In turbulence
    of fretful life
    it is a haven

    Far from the
    madding, strife
    it lyeth quiet
    It’s what starry eyed
    call Shangri-La
    where all traffic lights
    stay green

    Where all clocks
    chime in unison
    and all idylls
    glow serene

    Where wishes teem
    big and bounteous
    and beggars rise up
    as kings

    Where at every nook
    an angel sings
    and every pig
    has wings


    But, alack, there is
    no Promised Land
    nor High Roads that
    lead to Rome

    So Here and Now
    must seek your bliss –
    in benefice of
    hearth and home

    * The ‘enlightenment’ gifted us Utopias to chase after,
    as a sop, and a secular substitute for ‘heaven’…
    [© R.Kanth 2022]

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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    Dreaming ,


    by the by:

    In Reverie

    did the

    spirit lie

    As wintry


    meek and


    Kissed the

    doting mead

    All coy

    Here, none

    can augur

    any Atrophy

    When the


    lies drowsing


    Where the lazy


    and the

    languid rose

    Soft murmur

    love in

    sweet repose
    Heaven may

    have its

    bounties fair

    But little can

    its high mien


    To burnished




    Of a torpid,



    [© R.Kanth 2022]

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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    Come, let us

    All misgivings

    Feign a little
    Fake surprise?

    All doubtings

    To Explain
    Where We are

    We were far
    From being
    Took it all
    As understood
    Never glanced
    Below the hood

    Whilst They lowered
    The Bar


    We were only
    Taking orders
    We dared not to
    Cross the borders
    Any and all
    Cared not to
    venture far

    We handmade
    this Iron Cage
    quieting our
    inner rage
    eager to be
    On Their Page
    Stepped inside
    Their Bell Jar

    And now it is
    Far too late
    we bow, accept
    our Common Fate
    Too late now to
    Gone beyond both
    Love and Hate
    Who there
    To expiate?
    None there
    To separate –

    With Us and
    Them on par



    Rulers and
    the Ruled
    both uncommonly
    and mutually
    In Guilt
    fulsome embroiled
    in depravity
    In casuistry
    in dissembling
    soaked and

    Gave up on
    Wrong and Right
    nor kept the
    dark from light
    looking away
    from looming blight
    turned sacral day
    to darkling night
    Reneged on
    Simple Norms
    of Ruth
    Scoffed at
    every Antic
    the’ harvest,
    now, forsooth!

    Greed, hubris
    In Intertwine
    On illicit wine
    Mocked our
    inner spirit divine
    Crossed that
    Ill-omened Line
    Where would be
    pearls turned
    sorry swine

    We had crossed
    beyond the bar


    Will we be
    Ever healed?
    Or is our spirit
    Forever sealed?
    Is our Fate
    Now All congealed?
    Will it ever
    Be revealed?

    Where now our
    Guiding Star?


    [© R.Kanth 2022]

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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    (for my Mother)

    Were it Not
    For the heaving,
    selfless, Human

    I would Not
    The Wrong


    Nor Know
    What is

    Know that
    All is Blight


    No shards
    Of Light
    From the
    Of this,
    Our Darkest

    Can be No
    Antic Gibber
    Of Left
    And Right:

    When Grim
    Is Rife


    This once
    hold sacred
    The Mute
    of Struggling


    There is
    no East
    nor West:
    And No One
    Is Blest


    When Child
    clings in
    quavering fright
    to huddling
    Mother –
    in frantic


    [© R.Kanth 2022]

    Professor Rajani Kanth, is Author of Coda, A Day in the Life, and Expiations

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    Yan Huang, Author of LIVING TREASURES:

    Erika Raskin, Author of CLOSE:

    • Meet the National Book Foundation’s 5 Under 35

    • s-li

      Excerpted from the LA Times, September 29, 2016

      The National Book Foundation, which presents the National Book Awards, launched its 5 Under 35 program in 2006 to highlight the work of young literary talents; this year each writer gets a $1,000 cash prize and will be invited to participate in public readings.

      Many past 5 Under 35 honorees have gone on to further acclaim. Nam Le’s short story collection “The Boat” won the international Dylan Thomas Prize; Tea Obreht’s novel “The Tiger’s Wife” took the Orange Prize for fiction; and two honorees, Dinaw Mengestu and Karen Russell, were each later awarded MacArthur Fellowships….9781941861301-JacketGray.indd

      One of those writers this year is S. Li, who took up creative writing as a hobby when he was in medical school. The 31-year-old neurologist’s debut novel, “Transoceanic Lights,” was published by Harvard Square Editions, a small independent press.

      “I had sent the book to the National Book Foundation for consideration for the National Book Awards, fully knowing that my chances were zero,” Li said from his home in Burlington, Mass. When he received the email informing him he’d been chosen as an honoree, “I thought it was a scam. And then I realized it wasn’t. I had no idea this was even in the cards.”

      Li’s novel, about a Chinese immigrant family, is based on his own childhood. He was 5 years old when his family moved from Guangzhou, China, to Boston.

      img-41“I was sort of teaching myself the craft of writing,” Li said of his years writing fiction while also learning medicine. “And so it just made natural sense to go with material that comes easiest to you, and that’s your childhood.”

      Li is one of two immigrants honored in this year’s program. Yaa Gyasi, author of the critically acclaimed novel “Homegoing,” was born in Ghana and moved with her family to the United States when she was 2. [more]



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    • What are the best eco books for children and teens?

    • @EmilyDrabs, excerpted from The Guardian,


      Authors including David Almond, Frank Cottrell Boyce and Katherine Rundell plus teen site members share the books that made them think more deeply about climate change and environmental themes. Now share yours!

      This week we’re celebrating the positive power of stories, all kinds of stories, to bring home what we risk losing on our beautiful planet – and what we can do about it. Here authors and children’s books site members share the books that made them think. We’ll be feeding this blog with more recommendations all week, so please share yours – and keep checking back.

      Frank Cottrell Boyce (whose latest book is the remarkably green The Astounding Broccoli Boy)

      First book of Saints

      The book that made me realise that I was part of the environment was The Ladybird Book of Saints. On the cover was this brilliant image of St Francis releasing the caged birds he had he had bought in the market. For ages afterwards I would go into pet shops and zoos and itch to unlock the doors. In fact there are “freeing the animals” scenes in at least two of my books. There are so many environmental messages about how horrible humans are wrecking the planet – that’s obviously true in a way but this image made me feel that I belonged in the World too and that I could cherish and love it.

      David Almond, author of Skellig

      The Promise by Nicola Davies and Laura Carlin. It’s beautifully written, beautifully illustrated picture book. It shows a troubled darkened world being recreated by the human need for greenery, life and colour.

      Louise O’Neill, author of Only Ever Yours

      Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is a speculative fiction novel that is very much concerned with the damage humans are inflicting upon the environment and the possible catastrophic results that could have. Written in 2003, many plot points now seem eerily prescient and it makes for a disturbing, powerful read. Highly recommended for older teenagers.

      Site member, Patrick

      Carl Hiaasen’s Hoot is true to its name in that it’s a supremely funny YA novel, and one that tends to be overlooked. There’s a real environmental streak running through all of Hiaasen’s works and Hoot is no exception, it deals with a Florida teen who bands together with a couple of new friends to stop the destruction of a burrowing owl colony. It’s a lot of fun with a solid conservationist message at its core and an abundance of charm to boot.”

      Candy Gourlay, author of Shine

      Long ago I wrote a short story called How to Build the Perfect Sandcastle for Under the Weather, the climate change anthology edited by Tony Bradman. About a white sand beach losing its sand because the sea is heating up … the same hot oceans that later whipped up the murderous monster that was Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

      Perhaps the all too real climate change disaster in the Philippines has made me partial to flood stories. My favorite is Not the End of the World, the lyrical resetting of Noah’s Ark as a Tsunami survival story by Geraldine McCaughrean.

      Lottie Longshanks, site member

      The wild series by Piers Torday. So far I have read The Last Wild and The Dark Wild. Kester has the unusual gift of communicating with animals and it is his mission to save the animals from red eye the disease that is slowly killing them. It is a really exciting story and you soon guess who the villains are Selwyn Stone and his lackeys who want to dictate the way that everyone lives. The amazing rubbish dump in the second book in the series really makes you think about the damage that we are doing to our planet. I can’t wait to read the third book in the series,The Wild Beyond.

      White Dolphin by Gill Lewis Set in the south West of England the exciting story tells of children who take on the might of a powerful fishing business to stop dredging in the harbour because of the damage it does to marine life. I also love Moon Bear by Gill Lewis. This incredibly moving story shows how deforestation leads to misery for the animals whose habitat was the forest. And finally here is a recommendation for small children I read it to my cousin who lives in Oman when he comes to visit us. Dear Greenpeace by Simon James. Emily writes to Greenpeace to find out how to care for the whale that she thinks she has seen in her pond. Emily’s letters and the lovely replies she receives from Greenpeace will give little children a lot of information about whales. (Also see Lottie Longshank’s poem Our Precious world)

      SF Said, author of Varjak Paw

      I recommend Exodus by Julie Bertagna: a brilliantly prescient YA novel about climate change, set in a drowned future world. It’s full of unforgettable visions and characters, and it will stay with you forever!

      ItWasLovelyReadingYou, site member

      My book would be Breathe by Sarah Crossan. It made me think about how we take so many things for granted, such as oxygen. You can’t see it, we use it every day, without it we would not survive; yet many people do not really sit down and feel a sense of gratitude for these types of things, becuase we assume we deserve them, we see them as something that will never go away, we just accept it without question. Breathe really made me feel a sense of ‘imagine if we didn’t have oxygen, or we had limited supplies of it-”, it made me question my unconscious detachment from what keeps us alive, and really feel privelidged to have all of these necessities.

      Katherine Rundell, author of Rooftoppers

      Cosmic, by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Cosmic is a book that makes the world look like something worth protecting. It’s hilariously funny, and also wise – it makes its readers want desperately to go into space, but also to take care of the world while we’re on it. The Earth is, as one of the astronauts says, “some kind of lovely.” The Last Wild series by Piers Torday – these three spectacular books are about a world decimated by humans, and the possibility of that loss feels very real and urgent and frightening – and they’re also fantastic adventure stories, about bravery and animals and human capacity to do huge good as well as harm. And there’s a bossy talking cockroach.

      Site Brahmachari, author of Kite Spirit and Artichoke Hearts

      For me it has to be The Ring of Bright Water Trilogy by Gavin Maxwell. I fell in love with these books as a child because they are set on the West coast of Scotland – a place I love – where wildlife and nature are the biggest characters. It;s a humbling landscape. If you have a love of the outdoors and really want to study the nature of beautiful, playful otters… and can stand to have your heart broken …. you should read these stories. Although they were written 50 years ago they are as timeless as the shingle beaches they are set on. The author lived and breathed the paradise he went to live in… and so will you when you read these books… and afterwards you can watch the film (tissues at the ready!)

      OrliTheBookWorm, site member

      Breathe by Sarah Crossan is probably the book that’s impacted me the most in terms of the environment – it’s a dystopian novel, with people living in domes due to a lack of oxygen – the raw descriptions and harsh realities were wonderfully done and uttery thought provoking, and made me take a step away from my laptop and have a look outside my window…. It’s a brilliant book, which I guarantee will change your perspective on the environment around us.

      Piers Torday, author of The Dark Wild trilogy

      The Animals of Farthing Wood by Colin Dann – the original classic tale of a group of British animals seeking refuge when their precious Farthing Wood is threatened by human development. They overcome incredible obstacles and danger to make it to a wildlife sanctuary. But reading it today there is an extra poignancy – some of the animals in the story, like the red-backed shrike, are now extinct, and others – like the adder, hare and voles – are all under threat.

      BritishBiblioholic, site member

      Watership Down by Richard Adams – When the rabbits in Watership Down are forced to leave their home, it is due to its impending destruction by humans. This potentially can be seen as an allegory for the ongoing destruction for the environment in general – and unlike the rabbits, if we don’t save our environment, we won’t be able to find somewhere else to live.


      Mary, curator, eco-fiction.com

      Memory of Water by Emmi Itäranta: The novel takes place in the future after climate change has ravished economies and ecologies, and made fresh water scarce. The main character, Noria, is a young woman learning the traditional, sacred tea master art from her father. Yet, water is rationed and scarce in her future world. Her family has a secret spring of water, and, as tea masters, she and her father act as the water’s guards, even though what they are doing is a crime according to their future world’s government, a crime strongly disciplined by the military.


      NC front DR TinyNature’s Confession by JL Morin: The eco-novel is wonderful and reminds me of classic science fiction I watched or read as a kid. It was a genre that fascinated me then, and this book has joined that memory. The novel is epic in that it doesn’t just tell a story (which it does do too), but it puts our very survival into question while romping through the universe or discovering new quantum physics that are both scientific and spiritual in nature. In the meantime, universal symbols are unearthed, codes are investigated, fat corporations are dominating, a romance is blossoming, computers come alive, and native tribes and Nature on another planet bring our own treasured past into the future.


      Tito intiro Chavaropana by Jessica Groenendijk: Tito intiro Chavaropana means ‘Tito and the Giant Otter’ in Matsigenka. The author, a biologist who has studied giant otters, is now working on a sequel, in which Tito sets off into the forest to hunt a spider monkey and meets a harpy eagle on the way. They become friends but not without a misunderstanding or two!
      61cwBitpcAL._AA160_Spirit Bear by Jennifer Harrington: Spirit Bear celebrates a rare and iconic black bear that is born with a recessive gene that makes its coat creamy or white. Also called the Kermode bear, the spirit bear lives in the delicate, rich, and threatened ecosystem of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, Canada. Jennifer’s story is about the journey of a spirit bear cub that gets lost from his mother and has to find his way back.

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    • Publisher Guidelines

    • Publisher Harvard Square Editions is looking for literary fiction of environmental or social significance.

      Its mission is to publish fiction that transcends national boundaries, especially manuscripts that are international, political, literary, sci-fi, fantasy, utopia and distopia. Send submissions of aesthetic value and constructive social or political content, especially manuscripts related to climate change, deforestation, and conservation.

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    • A Moral Atmosphere: Hypocrisy redefined for the age of warming

    • By Bill McKibben (HC ’82)

      This article first appeared in Orion Magazine.


      THE LIST OF REASONS for not acting on climate change is long and ever-shifting. First it was “there’s no problem”; then it was “the problem’s so large there’s no hope.” There’s “China burns stuff too,” and “it would hurt the economy,” and, of course, “it would hurt the economy.” The excuses are getting tired, though. Post Sandy (which hurt the economy to the tune of $100 billion) and the drought ($150 billion), 74 percent of Americans have decided they’re very concerned about climate change and want something to happen… (more)
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    • Cambridge divest from fossil fuel

    • We call on the City of Cambridge Retirement System to immediately freeze any new investment in fossil fuelcompanies, and to divest from direct ownership and any commingled funds that include fossil fuel public equities and corporate bonds within 5 years (more)

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    Around Harvard

    Brain Pickings

    by Ben Mattlin (HC ’84)

      Like all romantic entanglements, the reasons for their tensions—tensions, which eventually led the invisible rubber band between them to snap—weren't quite clear.  Or maybe they were entirely too clear.  Telling me about it, Shane struggled for the right words, but his meaning rang with the clarity of breaking glass. "For a while, she was planning on moving up here to be with me, to be able to help out with all my stuff," he [...]

    by Teresa Hsiao (HC ’07)

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  • Sheila Connolly (GSA ’79) – Mystery Lovers’ Kitchen


    TylerJamesComicTyler James
    All of a sudden, though, you start stacking ComixTribe, Image, Boom, Action Lab, Valiant, etc... books against Big Two books...
    92 months ago
    we smell like coffee and old libraries filled with new books waiting to be read
    92 months ago
    aidanr1022Aidan Ryan
    When Dad has to hit the books in the middle of the day so he can support the fam @emrson11webster http://t.co/igjSlYR8cB
    92 months ago
    forgot my books ?
    92 months ago

    Andrew Binks, Author in VOICE FROM THE PLANET

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  • Charity Shumway, Author in ABOVE GROUND

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