Welcome to the August issue of Synchronized Chaos! Thanks to those who have followed this project for almost an entire year, and glad to see the newcomers, too.
This time around our contributors encourage us to re-think and re-appraise our values and our natural and material resources, to figure out and focus on what is most important. Some international thought-leaders, such as John Wood, author of How I Left Microsoft to Change the World, who is now building elementary schools internationally and bringing children books, see this worldwide economic crunch as a motivation to reorganize our activities and become more creative and efficient.
In a similar spirit, the managers and workers at Zocalo’s, Crosstown, and the Oakland It’s a Grind franchise coffeehouses discuss going back to the basics to make sure they’re as competent as possible at the few things which make their businesses the most money (usually the coffee.) Also, each manager articulated some fundamental human, as well as economic, values guiding his or her business: community-building, mentorship and a dedication to employees’ professional development, ecological sustainability, mutual respect among customers, employees, and management, facilitating participation in local decision-making.
Gaile Parkin’s novel Baking Cakes in Rwanda, reviewed this month, discusses similar kinds of business decisions, as well as the human factors involved with customer service and local entrepreneurship within a small community, for a bakery in Rwanda. While at first glance it seems that the issues Angel Tungaraza faces would be incredibly different from those of Northern California coffeehouse employees, the most striking aspect of the book was how ‘normal’ most people seemed in all of these various places, just trying to enjoy life, care for friends and family, express their creativity, and earn a living. Business owners in the West and elsewhere are all working to optimize profits while (sometimes at least) still honoring the human values behind their interactions.
San Francisco’s Pocket Opera Company embraces economizing and simplification as a guiding artistic principle, paring down full-scale opera productions as far as possible without sacrificing quality. For example, smaller groups of instrumentalists take the place of a full-size orchestra by staying close to the singers and taking advantage of theater acoustics, and managers multitask and take on performance and design roles whenever possible. Paring such a traditionally high-budget performance art down to the essentials while still appearing elegant to the audience becomes a challenge and a work of art in itself, as well as a method to make opera more accessible to newcomers to the art form.
Cynthia Lamanna’s short story “The Gift” evokes the days of past-century fairy tales and moral fables, and reminds readers of the gifts of faith and family. I observed that at least part of the forgotten gift could be the friendship between the sisters, overlooked as they both married and became busy with their own lives and families. Didacus Ramos, in his second installment of Stories Growing Up Portuguese, presents romance as a precious, forbidden ecstasy which his ‘impossibly posed’ characters can never enjoy as societal mores prevent her from leaving a loveless marriage. In “My Grandfather’s Carving,” the greatest treasure is painfully obvious and perpetually out of reach.
August’s nonfiction contributions explore how to maximize real-world ‘treasures’ which may seem out of reach – expensive resources scarce in our current world environmental and ecological condition. Lawyers and authors Orsi and Doskow posit property and resource sharing as a possible practical way to maintain some aspects of the physical lifestyle some of us were accustomed to before the economic slowdown and to allow more people to enjoy a higher standard of living. They advocate creative preservation and maximum utility for increasingly scarce resources, while ecology author and activist John Berger applies these principles at a macro-level in his new book Forests Forever, looking into the differential sustainability of various American and international forest conservation and lumber harvesting practices.
Some contributors choose to recognize treasure by simply celebrating life. Alexandra Marlin’s photographs convey a gentle human warmth, showing people laughing, embracing, running into each other with happy surprise, and involve a burgundy, purple and tan color scheme for coffeehouse scenes and headshots. Each photo communicates emotion, a short vignette and glimpse into the lives of the subjects. Reminiscent of this aesthetic sensibility is Patsy Ledbetter’s short tale of several friends’ vacation in New York City, a piece without ‘drama’ or gripping suspense or conflict, a simple reflection of the fun and excitement of traveling with one’s best friends.
Saying ‘life is beautiful’ is of course simplistic – yet, if we look, there is beauty to be found and remembered, and treasure to be preserved and celebrated.