Archive for November, 2008
First of all, thanks to our readers and contributors for continuing to follow and support Synchronized Chaos magazine through the end of this year. We appreciate the variety of projects we’ve been able to help develop and publicize, and the many fascinating, unique, hardworking artists, authors, and readers we have met so far along the way, and look forward to more in 2009!
Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a very happy New Year full of infinite potential for creative possibilities, for finding beauty and fascination along life’s winding roads.
December’s submissions seemed highly disparate at first glance – yet after awhile I pulled out a common thread of discovery through introspection. Using careful thought and consideration to determine the true nature of people, objects, places, or ideas.
David Cicerone probes the near-physical memory of a sudden coming-of-age moment, a glimpse of one’s own tiny harmonica against the sounds of the universe in his highly atmospheric short story. What is it that brings us up to epiphanies and back down to earth, and how do we find motivation to continue our efforts afterwards in the calmer, wiser times?
Sara Waugh combines scientific concepts of biological growth and change with feminine imagery abstracted from modern, sexualized images of naked or nearly naked women. She brings her cultural anthropology and ecology background to explore why we find certain aspects of nature appealing or intriguing, and celebrates female bodies by re-integrating them into the context of natural cycles, transformation, history and cultural archetypes rather than viewing them as isolated objects of pleasure or even momentary beauty. Her work invites introspection into how and why we look at art, and blurs the lines between archetypes and realities, memory/imagination and physicality, the natural world and human society.
Sodalis’ philosophical essay on the differences between art and craft is another attempt at exploring the nature of art and beauty. Why do some works remain with us, touch us throughout centuries, become classics or masterworks? In this second offering from our San Francisco-based citizen-of-the-world blogger and writer, we take a look at some potential defining characteristics of art. We hope his essay will invite discussion among the artists and connoisseurs who peruse Synchronized Chaos.
Kate Evans’ For the May Queen’s title comes from Stairway to Heaven’s lyrics – a backdrop for another kind of coming-of-age story, where Norma Jean becomes exposed to various ideas and ways of life during her freshman year at Sacramento State. As her world expands she learns to reconcile and choose among different hopes and dreams, and eventually embrace a certain level of fluidity and complexity in her life. As with Walter Whitman, she can ‘contain multitudes’ and cry at beautiful weddings and hope for true love while simultaneously adventuring around the world as a travel writer and wishing there were more solo female travel memoirs. And she can stay friends with a surprising variety of people while allowing them space to change and discover their own personalities.
Evans shows Norma most developing her own personality during the times when she steps back from her social world and considers who she is, who she would most like to become. It is her encounters with other people and ideas inside and outside of class which give her something to consider during those times, though – introspection is a powerful, necessary capacity but not enough alone to create a mature personality. One must also engage with the real world to formulate and test one’s ideas.
Perhaps the winter months have inspired contributors to curl up inside with a warm cup of tea and embark upon personal journeys. We invite everyone to question and reflect and enjoy the freshly fallen snowdrifts with us, and to comment to thank and engage with our writers and artists.
Kate Evans is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Jose State University and the author of a poetry collection, short stories, and essays, as well as this college coming-of-age novel. Warning – there are spoilers in this review concerning major plot points, although the novel is still enjoyable with the added information.
“You [could] never be too young, too rich, or too thin. Money made the world go round. Everything and everyone could be bought, it just depended on the price. Drugs propelled many people in this modern world full of new technology. Anyone could get rich so long as they were willing to pay the piper.”
Independent fashion designer and zinester Lux la Due of Girl is Poison (http://girlispoison.blogspot.com) describes eighties American culture as a decade of experimentation and self-enhancement. Hairstyles, music, fashion, technology, finances and consumer products, and social expectations for young people all went through a period of confusing, exhilarating flux. Between the sixties-era rebellion, political activism, and free love, and the nineties’ economic worries, AIDS scare, and talk of ‘family values,’ the 1980’s were a decade of trying new things and figuring oneself out.
Kate Evans’ recent novel For the May Queen follows Norma Jean, a young girl from the small California town of Auburn, through her 1981 freshman year at Sacramento State as she sorts out her own values with the help of a variety of colorful dorm-neighbors. Although the music and other cultural artifacts in this book (typewriters!) make it impossible to forget the novel takes place almost thirty years ago, the complex, conflicting messages Norma must explore and confront are still relevant nowadays. Those emotional similarities, and Evans’ unique, complex characters, are this book’s greatest strengths, and what inspired me to give this book a qualified recommendation.
Sharing a name with pre-Hollywood makeover Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean travels through a world full of music, movies, sex, drugs, friendship, parties, and sudden freedom. Norma observes various personalities and life choices through her dorm mates: her strong, go-getter sorority-girl friend Liz, who pursues what she wants in sex, romance, and fun without worrying about social norms, the funny, offbeat, classic movie buff Chuck, who keeps to himself and hates parties, and her sweet, friendly but private roommate Stacy, who takes her under her wing. Interacting with other people expands Norma’s potential life choices as she becomes exposed to different ways of life.
However, Evans suggests, through the important realizations Norma comes to when she steps out of her social circle and by the fact that she chooses to leave Sac State by the end of the year, that one also needs time alone for personal reflection to be able to chart one’s own course. One can definitely learn from others, but must ultimately choose one’s own identity and values.
Norma struggles to balance conflicting desires and ideals throughout the novel. She craves independence, wishing to journey and backpack alone in the style of her literary heroes Jack Kerouac and Isadora in Fear of Flying. She even thinks of this in feminist terms, wishing to hear more about women adventurers. However, she also wants very much to fall in love and have a serious romance with someone who values and cares for her. She stays with her older boyfriend Jack even when he’s emotionally distant and she’s sure he’s involved with other women, and also simultaneously hopes for something to start between her and Chuck.
When Norma is asked in English class to write on something she cares about and stands for, she draws a blank until Stacy suggests that she believes in true love, that one can find happiness in a healthy relationship. Norma recoils, afraid the statement will sound foolish, that she’s making guys the center of her life. But Stacy is clearly very independent and sure of herself, and definitely believes in love (although with a female partner.) This encounter suggests the possibility of a strong woman’s believing in and desiring love without necessarily surrendering her identity or the rest of her life.
Norma also enjoys the social freedom, the relaxed rules of the dorms. She admires Liz for feeling free to drink, cuss, go after guys, and not act like a ‘nice’ girl, for not fitting into old fashioned social rules expected of women. However, she looks wistfully for aspects of life that are more elegant, idealized, and romantic. Although many of the places she looks for idealized beauty (Princess Di’s televised wedding, Jack’s romantic splurges in the early days of their relationship, wanting to light candles while the group drops acid, the General Hospital wedding) do not end up matching reality, she still maintains her hopes.
Princess Diana’s marriage ended, as did Norma and Jack’s relationship. Fire safety precludes lighting candles, and the soap opera plotline involves a rape victim unrealistically embracing the perpetrator. Her English teacher singles out the essay she writes on the soap opera wedding as an example of feminist satire on society’s minimizing the impact of violence against women. While one could legitimately write such a critique, Norma’s paper more concerns her desire for something idealized and lovely in which to believe.
Do weddings represent a system of stuffy old social rules that restricted people’s behavior, or is the ceremony a representation of something meaningful and beautiful that people crave and will miss? For the May Queen suggests both conceptualizations are possible, depending on the people and the situation. On the one hand, Norma’s friend Suzy feels constrained to go ahead with marriage when she feels restless and unready simply because the ceremony’s already planned, and the marriage ends in divorce. On the other hand, Norma genuinely admires the beauty and romanticism of true love as well as ceremonies of all types, and we see Liz and Benny in a fairly functional marriage at novel’s end.
Balance among all these desires and life goals, the possibility of incorporating many different ideals simultaneously into one’s persona seems to be hinted at in For The May Queen. Walt Whitman’s continual use of the word ‘and’ jumps out at Norma – and her English professor suggests that combining and mixing together different thoughts, identities, and goals was a part of Whitman’s philosophy and lifestyle. To paraphrase, Whitman was an ‘and’ rather than an ‘either-or’ personality – and perhaps Norma and her dorm-mates can follow in his footsteps if they so choose.
Norma and her parents love to read, and her favorite books include Fear of Flying, Go Ask Alice, and On the Road. Her English class concentrates on essays in reaction to newspaper articles, assigned by a teacher wishing students to explore themselves and their own realities. Perhaps because they are removed enough from her own experience to give her space to reflect more objectively, the older books give her more insight than the newspaper as to what she can become. Adventure stories spark her interest in travel and independence, and open up a dialogue between her and her mother.
However, she lacks the words to describe her ever-changing reality, with its sexual double standards and many layers of conflicting and simultaneous social expectations. She freezes up sometimes at parties and has trouble thinking of the best way to say something, and leaves Chuck’s lover’s apartment in shock without a word. She also has trouble expressing herself in English class, feeling detached from her personal essays, as if her mind and life are miles ahead of what she can think to put down.
Her discovering the secrets of Chuck and Stacy further illustrates the power and limitations of language. There are dangers in not speaking about certain things, such as sexual orientation: Norma, Stacy, and Chuck become caught up in a colossal misunderstanding because of the secrets. But there are also problems with labeling, giving concepts words and names. Once one creates or accepts a label, one risks being judged by those who simply see the label rather than one’s whole personality, and having that label/group identity defined by others who use the term. Near the novel’s end, Norma pushes Stacy to come out and say she and Tabitha are lesbian. Having a category for her roommate would help Norma make sense of her world – but naming her orientation, telling people her secret (even when they already know, but don’t talk about it) would make Stacy’s inner life more public and take away from the private space she needs to develop her own personality independently.
Stacy does not want her life to be a matter of public discussion, especially when other opinionated people might then take control of how people perceive her and her relationship. For example, Liz had put Stacy down earlier and judged her as a blonde ditz because she was jealous and assumed anyone so beautiful and kind must not be too intelligent. (Here Kate Evans makes a point about quick judgements of people and how women and people in general let their own insecurities and jealousy get in the way of potential friendships.) So, by choosing not to publicly give words to her love for Tabitha, Stacy protects herself from others’ snap judgements and definitions of her, and gives herself the personal space she needs to think for herself.
Some parts of the college experience in For the May Queen stood out in contrast given my own past at UC Davis and present at San Jose State. Financial struggles seemed completely out of the picture, with several students coming from relatively wealthy or upper middle class families, and no one working part time, worrying about the cost of sophomore-year apartments, or even calling home for money. Everyone found careers appropriate for their personalities soon after graduation, including recovering alcoholic Dan/Goat, who supported himself as an entrepreneur. Was somewhat unreal to watch college students not live the ‘student life’ of Top Ramen, cheap entertainment, etc and have no worries about debt, financial aid, etc.
Also, there was little mention of any political/social justice/environmental activity on campus in the novel, while in my experience there were plenty of causes, groups, petitions, etc. UC Davis generally did not see anger, violence, or confrontation over social issues, but people discussed issues such as the Middle East conflict, the environment, feminism and cultural diversity, etc. Not everyone chose to become political, but people were generally aware of broader societal topics, or at least brought cookies for their sorority’s charity bake sale or participated in the Cancer Society’s all night relay race.
Not having attended college during the eighties, I am not sure to what extent those differences reflect cultural contrasts between then and now, or areas where Evans might expand her novel to broaden her portrayal of the college experience. Some social scientists have described our current generation coming of age in the 2000’s as the Millennial Generation, when young people are more relaxed and pragmatic and value tolerance, getting along with each other, and making a difference in their communities and the larger world. So perhaps some of what I mentioned would more resonate with modern college students, although I could definitely relate to Norma’s feeling ‘on the outside looking in,’ watching significant events happen, being one of the last to figure them out – but putting careful thought into what everything meant much later.
For the May Queen shows the excitement of college parties, the sense of new maturity, self-exploration, social inclusion, and developing friendships. While definitely not a moralistic or cautionary tale, we do see some of the realistic dangers of some college experiences: Norma’s frightening bad trip while on acid, the specter of STD’s, friendships and relationships broken over sexual jealousy. There are some negative consequences for women in a world where social boundaries and rules are removed, but underlying cultural assumptions about women remain: for example, the potential sexual assault scene where a group of guys push a woman’s boundaries at a party, Goat’s unwanted advances towards Norma, and Billy’s insistence that Norma is solely to blame for his possible STD and she must be the one to get tested.
The sometimes scary world of For the May Queen’s dorms reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert (who also chronicles a personal journey of self-discovery among conflicting messages on women, sex, and freedom)’s observations: “…when the patriarchic system was rightfully dismantled, it was not necessarily replaced by another form of protection…If I am truly to become an autonomous woman, then I must take over that role of being my own guardian.”
This novel chronicles Norma’s journey towards learning to protect and define herself, choose who she wants to become and what she values. It does end on a cautiously optimistic note, with Norma, still single in her late thirties, putting her love for novels and adventure to use as a travel writer. Her ‘secret hater’ prankster apologizes after twenty years, and Liz and Benny reconnect and find their way to a loving, happy, egalitarian marriage.
And, perhaps most importantly given the novel’s themes and the way the characters learn and grow from each other, the novel ends with renewed friendship among several of the former dorm-mates. Norma definitely believes in friendship – reconnecting with Liz and Benny, forgiving Goat, staying friends with Chuck after realizing romance is impossible, even trying to see good in Billy at school year’s end. And in this case, Evans lets life match up to Norma’s hopes and dreams, even after all its complex twists and turns.
Lux la Due describes the eighties as a time of experimentation – yet admits that not all of the ‘experiments’ worked. In some ways For the May Queen is an experimental novel, exploring deep sociological issues through life in a freshman ‘party dorm.’ The novel itself mostly works, with complex characterization, believable dialogue, effective pacing, and a realistic enough ending, although I would have perhaps alluded to other ever-present aspects of college life to add to the realism. Life still seems experimental for the characters at the end – Evans leaves us with some unanswered questions.
This book can be read as a fun, fast-paced read – or a look at all kinds of experiences, questions, and messages life throws at people young and old. Anyone who can resist either glamorizing or quickly judging the characters and sex/drugs in the book, could get something out of this. I’d recommend For the May Queen to mature teens/college students or anyone interested in a bit of music/movie nostalgia or a better understanding of how exhilarating, scary, wonderful, and confusing it is to be seventeen and on one’s own for the first time.
You may order For the May Queen here: http://www.amazon.com/May-Queen-Kate-Evans/dp/0982115075/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1228243654&sr=8-1
In society, there is much confusion as to whether a specific work can be considered either ‘art’ or craft.
Although there is no checklist, no list of specific criteria to determine whether something can considered art or craft, there seem to be some inherent criteria common to both art and craft. Both require a good deal of talent and dexterity from the producer of art and craft and both require a great deal of skill and effort.
However, the two disciplines have several divergent attributes. Craft is considered practical and crafts often have a functional use. Craft does not express a specific ideal or arouse the deeper emotions. It can certainly be aesthetically appealing; I have seen quite a few aesthetically beautiful crafts, but they cannot be considered art in any sense of the word.
I think that the need for a deeper philosophy behind the piece is the important criterion for separating art from craft. I have produced some work that I can consider art, and other pieces that I consider craft. To me, graphic design is my craft, and writing (and to a lesser extent, drawing) are my arts. I do not intend my functional graphic design to have a deeper philosophy than what is directly visible there. It is concrete and tangible; there is no secret, numinous and arcane thought behind what I have wrought.
I consider pornography to be ‘craft’ as well. It is designed for the ‘practical’ purpose of sexually arousing someone. There is no hidden philosophy, and there is nothing hidden behind the brazen exposed bodies that grace the pages of pornographic magazines, or the words that convert the visual into the written expression of said purpose. A pornographic photographer might be adept at taking photos, but he is not producing any art.
Craft can be learned by most people. You can be artistically numb, unable to see the simplest abstract concept, yet be able to produce aesthetically-sound crafts due to an innate awareness of aesthetics. You can be taught crafts with little step-by-step kits and lessons. Even painting and drawing can be considered crafts if there is nothing behind them. A knowledge of craft is inherent to a knowledge of art, though. One must master the mechanics of what is to be produced before you can produce a great masterpiece that is able to convey your artistic expressions through that practical knowledge. There is a difference between art and craft, but one must master the craft before becoming a true artist.
Art, as opposed to craft, has a tendency to arouse the more profound emotions, rather than mere aesthetic appreciation or sexual arousal. Often there is a certain value or belief or message inherent in a work of art, something that transcends the tangible and concrete. Artists try to challenge ideas or support them through their work. In short, craft is about the tangible and art is about ideas. The great artists, both ancient and modern, tried to convey emotion and meaning through their work. Pathos and anger, lasciviousness and repentance, worship and blasphemy permeate the work of artists. It is obvious that artists’ work does not simply represent what is physically there, or is just meant to be pretty, for the most part. Not all of Picasso’s work could be considered ‘pretty’, yet it is art, because there is an underlying philosophy for it, and his work is a vessel for higher things.
Not just anyone can produce a work of art. One has to have an innate sense of how to play the tune of philosophy, to create a sense of awe and wonder or simply to convey an idea through one’s work rather than producing it for mere aesthetics. To make things clear, my opinions on craft and art also apply to writing, although if one is good with literary mechanics, it is easier to become an artist through writing because of words’ inherent ability to convey ideas. There are things you cannot see that can be described in words. Both art and craft are integral to civilisation, but there are areas that craft cannot reach that art can.
Essay by Sodalis – a San Francisco writer/blogger/social commentator, author of last issue’s Post-Racial Manifesto. You may read Sodalis’ blog here: http://anotherautismblog.blogspot.com/
My multimedia works on paper are visual poems depicting the elements of life: birth, reproduction, the passage of time, transformation, and death. The imagery I use relates to these elements and is taken from botany and biology – seeds, fruit, plants, water, and parts of the human body. Life and living things are beautiful but also mutable and impermanent. I hope my work encourages viewers to contemplate time, change, and the life-death cycle.
The images I create are inspired by my background in archaeology and science as well as my interest in gender and sexuality. This series, Mutatus, is inspired by the female form and the idea of regeneration and the natural cycles of the cosmos. “Mutatus” is a Latin term meaning altered, changed, become different.
I work with a mix of media including watercolor, gouache, acrylic, ink, oil stick, and pastel on watercolor paper to create these introspective and dream-like worlds. The source material for the nudes in my work includes pornographic magazines and self-portraiture. I am interested in the art-historic roles of artist and model, and I enjoy playing with and challenging these traditional roles in my work. In addition, I am exploring ideas of female sexual power and the voyeuristic implications of looking at art.
Sara Waugh’s work is available for purchase, shows, and galleries…she’s available at firstname.lastname@example.org
A twisty experimental tale of creative curiosity and lost innocence. — editor Cristina Deptula
“Autobiography,” Arthur said, “is an indiscriminate drinker.”
We were in Scotland’s Hollow, as we almost always were this time of night, and Arthur had just finished one of his glorious reveries, his second and last of the evening. The conclusion, coming as it did on the heels of a rambling fifteen minutes of accusation, absurdity and exaggerated self-pity, had brought him to an artfully drained state. It had been an extraordinary improvisation, and he’d capped it off grandly, eloquently, and in the perfect setting to boot.
For months I’d been enjoying Arthur’s offhand enlightenments, which, of late, had become a kind of mantra to me as the juggernaut of corruption disguised as the twenty-first year of my life had worn and worn away at me, reaching its apex this midnight, a wind-swept, leaf-tumbling Fourth of July. This particular tangent had been occasioned by a certain sighting of a very certain young lady, with whom Arthur had recently concluded an affair, one whose manifold effects had ranged from the loftiest of passions to the most wretched heights of scorn. Moments like this made me glad to have him as my friend.
Read the rest of the story here:
David Cicerone plays guitar, writes, and creates visual art for sale and gallery show. An East Coast transplant, he admires Bukowski and all the Beats and performs at San Jose’s Cafe Trieste – and has more stories where this one came from
Announcing that fellow zinester John Darling of the Ivory Tower (http://www.theivorytowerzine.com/) is now accepting submissions for their upcoming quarterly issue, this time with an ecological/environmental theme. More information and guidelines can be found here: http://www.theivorytowerzine.com/submissions.htm
I have perused Ivory Tower at times and found some unique, interesting work there and would like to support another magazine’s efforts.
We at Synchronized Chaos would also love more submissions of any shape or form for our December issue. Thanks to everyone who has become part of this project and part of the Synchronized Chaos family.