February: The Heroic Journey

 

Welcome to the February issue of Synchronized Chaos! Happy Chinese New Year/Martin Luther King Day/Valentine’s Day/Black History Month!

This month we’re exploring various aspects of the primal and modern heroic journey. What would a hero, or heroine’s adventure look like in modern society? Do we still have frontiers, wide open spaces, places to challenge and find oneself in the wilderness? What does it mean to be a hero in these changing, uncertain economic times, when many people find themselves less capable of risk-taking or altruism than they expected?

We received a good number of submissions this month, some from previously published authors who wish to continue as part of the Synchronized Chaos family, which we strongly encourage, and others from talented newcomers.

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Faracy Grouse: Childhood Vignettes

 

“Tang” 

Whenever I’m sad, bored or just at a loss for funny thoughts to make others smile with a mixture of disbelief and morbid curiosity, I comb through my thick, matted, flea infested creature of a past.
On a recent shopping trip to the European Mega-store Carrefour “the French Wal-mart for those of you who might need a little pick-me-up by way of shaming me for my lack of morality,” I spotted a familiar orange and green logo while searching for a suitably exciting weekend beverage. Four block letters, spelling one unmistakable word. TANG! In fact, it was an economy pack of pre-made “juice” boxes of TANG.

My gut reaction was to fill my cart with as many crates of it as I could find. It seems that the longer I live the glamourous life of an expat, the more comforting and thrilling little reminders of my childhood in the urban American Midwest become. Then I remembered why I remembered TANG, and the lust died out.

Read more of “Tang” and her other stories, “Dance as Revenge,” and “Mosquito Ranch” here: http://ladycatherina.livejournal.com/334914.html

Faracy’s biography and artist statement:

Faracy Grouse is an American writer originally from Minneapolis. She just moved to Britain after four years in Seville, Spain as the resident foreigner in a neighborhood where a man being seen hanging out laundry could cause a building wide sensation.

 

 As a child she was slow to read and write, unable to do either until the age of eight. Instead she would make up the rest of the story or draw pictures to remind herself what she was supposed to have written if asked to read aloud. Dyslexic and excruciatingly shy, she was not able to take refuge in books the way that many quiet children do. Where she excelled was in drawing and creating worlds in her mind.

 

 However, by the age of 11 she was a voracious reader, particularly of non-fiction books about foreign cultures. She knew from a very early age that she wanted to see the world.

 

 She first discovered a love for poetry at the age of 13 through an article on Russian poet Alexander Pushkin in an issue of National Geographic.

 

With the encouragement of a few creative English teachers, she began to write prose and poetry as a teenager.

 

 After studying voice, she went on to complete a degree in Anthropology and European History, marrying a man she met in Spain and having a child in the process.

 

During the breakdown of this marriage, she took up writing once again. This time it was to survive. She felt that she could write her way out of a terrible situation, and in the end she did.

 

 She has written a full-length screenplay, numerous short stories and put together several collections of poetry. She is currently working on a memoir.

 

Faracy would very much appreciate hearing your input about her work, and would be more than happy to discuss publication with any who may be interested.

You may contact Faracy at alumine3@gmail.com

 

David Mitchell’s short story “Untitled”

 

“Untitled” by David Mitchell

For Synchronized Chaos, posted here to get around WordPress’ post size limits.

Joe had argued, insisted that the color scheme for the bathroom be muted whites my argument was that no matter what the color, mildew would make it a nice, even shade of green. He’d seen some brilliant use of eggshell white in a do-it-yourself book, or maybe on TV, I don’t know. We compromised: he got to do the bathroom in whatever way he wanted, and I didn’t have to lift a hammer during the whole project. When he was finished every surface was a different shade of white; antique white for the tub and toilet, cream white for the counter tops and sink, and eggshell white for the tile floor and walls. White as a color scheme is tranquil, but hard to keep clean. Something else we would argue about, and make up for afterwards.

Please read more here:

http://ladycatherina.livejournal.com/334810.html

David Mitchell says: As with all good writing, there is a bit of truth to the lie. As for writers I enjoy, it’s complicated. I read a lot of genre stuff like The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher, The Ice and Fire Series by George R. R. Martin, that man can write characters so real and sympathetic it makes me cry! Other writers: Neil Gaiman, Clive Barker, Michael Chabon, Neil Stephenson, Cory Doctorow, H.P. Lovecraft, you get the picture I think.

You may reach him at dbmitchell@gmail.com and he occasionally visits the Crosstown Coffeehouse in Alameda, California. Open mic events there (music and spoken word) every Thursday at seven. I also occasionally attend these and would love to see more of the Synchronized Chaos family!

Family and tradition…Fran Laniado’s Memory Jug

 

                                            The Memory Jug

 

My mother died in her sleep last week. She was 78 years old. My brother and sister came for the funeral, and to get her things in order. My brother came from Washington D.C., my sister from Los Angeles, and I from New York City. My brother handled the legal stuff, my sister dealt with the friends and mourners that my mother left behind, and I made a memory jug.  It was something our family had done for loved ones for years. Our ancestors acquired the tradition from the slaves they once owned, who had brought it from Africa. It would carry all the pieces of her life. I used a vase I’d made for her when I was in my high school art class. It sat in the foyer, in the place of honor, where you could see it right when you walked in the front door. My mother saved everything I ever made. Each crayon drawing and lump of clay. My siblings and I were her greatest source of pride. I covered it in red clay, and while it was still soft and malleable I pressed objects into the clay. I pressed the objects that made up my mother into the clay. I pressed my mother into the clay.

This is what I put in my mother’s memory jug:

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Donna Arkee’s “Hollow”

 

hollow

i don’t get enough sun in the land of the sun-
it’s threads have worn and i untangle wildly, dancing,
loosening from a cosmic umbilical grasp…

how can you remember your hurt so well?
i don’t even know the path to my own
soul.

i constructed damascus steel out of the
frothing of a play-full jellyfish i wove my roses
from the paws of lions, i held my self swiftly, tightly,
my veins streaming, my ribs a comb for demons,
when i was rendered into two.

i squirmed under the solar columns, i shirked
from the rays, i peeled my aura away when it became sun-
burnt. my shrieks became leopards that wove my guts into a tapestry
of gore.

i feasted on dead spirits, that night.

i drank from the honey suckles that bloom at night.

i made a wreath of mist and i lay it on a silver fawn.

i drank from a turquoise lagoon during the mid day.
i shivered.

i dreamt.
i had undone my own blood and i was undoing my arteries-
i had slept for many years and i awoke-
with a lion’s bite.

i am undone in the land of the sun.

You may find Donna Arkee online here:  http://www.myspace.com/yoursoutherncanismine
http://czechbook.livejournal.com/

donna arkee is an observer and neither a follower or a leader.
her dream occupation is to open a bath house in the czech republic so she can legitimately say that she launders czechs for a living.

Prologue to literary/magic realist/adventure/fantasy novel, the Legend of Jimmy Gollihue

 

PROLOGUE to George LaCas’ novel The Legend of Jimmy Gollihue:
 
Tell us, O Sorceress,
of Jimmy Gollihue, man of such cunning and trickery that his exploits shine
like the stars of the sky, a firmament of tall tales eternal.  Tell us of a great pool hustler, and what horrors led him to battle the red-haired man, the monster, in New York City.  Many were they whose pool halls he
played in, many who lost their bankrolls as Jimmy journeyed forth.

Jimmy missed Iris, Jimmy missed his girlfriend, his mind mocked him with the phosphorescent memory of her naked form kneeling before him, her green eyes upflung and wicked, aglow in motel room dusk.  Even when the man he was playing lifted his blue work shirt to show the butt of a gun nested there in his happy trail, Jimmy missed his girl.
   

“I’m here to play pool,” said Jimmy.  “I don’t want no trouble.”
    “Well, kid, sometimes you get a two-fer,” said the delivery man.  “You come through my town lookin to hustle honest workin men, reckon you got to roll with it.”
   

“I ain’t no hustler, mister, hell, I’m just out of high school.”
      The man with the gun in his belt smiled an ugly smile, full of mangy fossil teeth, the best looking ones, Jimmy thought, the ones that was missing.  If this dude is an honest working man, he thought, then I’m the tailgunner on the space shuttle.
      “Uh huh, and the check is in the mail,” said the man with the gun. “All three hundred dollars of it.”  Then he wasn’t smiling anymore.
      The three hundred dollars was in Jimmy’s pocket, which was why the man was moaning and crying, but under the circumstances Jimmy didn’t mention that.  Not because he was afraid, though he was, but because he wasn’t done yet.  Three hundred wasn’t enough.  The man had more. 
And damned if Jimmy was running out of there before he had it. 

Sing of the road and a boy on the road, and how your knight in shining armor wandered through days dark as Hell.  Sing of a knight benighted
by thoughts of glory, and deluded by hubris, whose beacon was the memory of a pool room sprite—sing, fair witch, of money lost and money won, of money plundered and in fury flung down upon green baize. 

Sing, O Iris, of Jimmy, and his journey down the crucible road.

Old Cody sat in his skiff in the middle of the river.  His
old fishing pole lay alongside the splintered oar.  A pieced-together line dipped baitless in the murmuring water, offering only a rusted hook to whatever fish were down there. 
      The old man lifted a half-gallon of Wild Turkey to his quivering lips, one gnarled thumb hooked through the glass ring, and as he swallowed his gullet jerked and not a stray drop of whiskey was wasted.  The old man drank, and when he was done he spun the cap back on the bottle and stashed it in the cool under the skiff seat.
      “If you only knew what I used to be,” he muttered darkly to the river, to the dusk in the woods around him with its strange figures lurking in the Spanish moss, the looming elephantine kudzu shapes.  “If you knew what I once was, you wouldn’t never cross me.”  Not a voice was raised to disagree, but every figure small and large, every windblown ivy visage, waited in judgment.
      An alligator rose beneath the boat.  A purple-black cloud passed in
front of the late afternoon sun. Old Cody floated along.  In the growing darkness he didn’t notice when his line snagged the bottom and his old fishing pole flipped over the side.

Tell us, O Iris, you Tinker witch, you angel of Travelers, you dowser of forest shadow:  tell us about Jimmy, who became your knight in shining armor, and of his keen hound dog, who never left the noble knight.  Tell us, you trafficker in shades and faeries, tell us of the dream you dangled before him, and how you made him run the Devil down.
      Tell us, O Iris, about the great hunter.

The alligator rose to meet him, and when it broke the surface and opened its jaws to receive Old Cody there was no one to see its mythic size, its mossgrown embarnacled hide.  Seeing judgment rendered, the figures
withdrew into the forest, and the breeze brushed the kudzu back into vapid
vegetable life.  Old Cody’s skiff floated to one bank, and the bottle rolled in the muddy water of its bottom.
      A few birds flew at Old Cody’s scream.  A possum ran behind a palmetto
at the crunch of the brittle old skeleton.  In the wide strip of sky above the river, a black buzzard circled briefly, but he was no fool—he saw the size of the monster, and he flew off to the west.
      The giant alligator, if that was what it was, slid back into the river and headed upstream.  North.

Tell us, O Iris, you weaver of wicked tapestries, you penitent of foxfire light:  tell us of your Knight, the dragon handler.  Tell us of the road you laid
for him, buttered in blood.
      Weave, witch, a tale of Jimmy, and how he battled in your name, tireless and true.  With colors fair and foul, dark dabbler, weft with thy bobbin of bone on the cartoon of night, and show him of proud visage even in the heart of thy rainbow smithy.

They stood by the river, Jimmy and Iris, and the night drew down upon them.
In the west, past the field of dead yellow grass and the thick woods beyond, the orange coin of the sun melted into dark red and pooled at the bottom of black trees, a jagged horizon of blood.  It was getting cold,
and Iris nudged up against Jimmy in the dark.  Above them was blue-black, and a sky that gave nothing back—no sign of a cloud, no moon or stars.
He knew he should say something, that she wanted him to, he felt her frantic heart beating against him.  But all around was the sound of the
river, its coming and going, its sinister flowing, murmuring messages only for ears that could hear them.  The light in the west was a purple echo, and then nothing.
Like a shroud, the night fell down upon them, and in the river was the whisper of some dark seamstress, muttering behind lips pursed with pins and needles.

Tell us, O Iris, you Tinker Goth, while you have us here waiting, for the dusk is drawing down like deadly nightshade, and the foxfire light is dawning.  Sing gently, you fey and reckless spirit, as you forge rainbows across the Lucifer night.
    Tell us, O Iris, about Jimmy Gollihue, and smooth the cobbles of his road.

Artist’s statement, from George LaCas:

If I can offer one clue to the writing process from my own experience, it’s this:  don’t lose sight of your vision.  The writers know what I’m talking about.  By vision, what I mean is that picture in your mind, or your soul, of the book you’d like to see, of the book you’d like your dreams to turn into.  It doesn’t have to be clear as a photo, or anywhere close.  It can come and go.  It can change, or grow, or die and be reborn.  When I wrote The Legend of Jimmy Gollihue my vision of the book changed three or four times.  

In the book, a young pool player named Jimmy becomes his girlfriend’s knight in shining armor.  The story is a variation on the heroic quest, and it takes place in the present.  The structure can be considered mythic, though I decided to twist up the narrative, in places, into a tug-of-war between competing narrators, one of whom is a confirmed liar.  Though there’s plenty of raw humor in the story, the overall tone is dark, and it flirts with such questions as identity, good vs. evil, dream vs. reality, the scary power of love, and the way in which we can become blinded and misled by obsession.  If the reader comes away with the suspicion that she/he has been conned into accepting a bizarre and unlikely fairy tale, then I’ve done my job.”

For more, including additional excerpts and author information, visit LaCas’ website:   magic9realist.com

At present THE LEGEND OF JIMMY GOLLIHUE is available only in a signed, numbered limited edition (trade paper).

Life and times of the unjobbed: Matt Baxter’s reflections

 

Unemployment soars, citizens rejoice!

by Matt Baxter

More people are jobless than there should be; at least that is what I keep hearing on the news. Fired, laid off, misplaced, downsized, reorganized or disorganized, removed for cause, or locked out. A veritable storm of working individuals prevented from doing their job, or any job for that matter. They hammer at the doors of employment like flesh-hungry zombies but are denied entrance. Maybe because they look like flesh-hungry zombies.

It turns out that there are acceptable numbers for unemployment, and then there are unacceptable changes in unemployment. When the workers (our team) far outnumber the non-workers (their team) the status quo is upheld. If their team grows in size, however, they are actually taking members from our team. We fear the competition and begin to believe that we’ll lose the next Big Game.

We are displeased when their team drafts other players because we secretly wish we were the chosen ones. The grass on their playing field really is greener, and they don’t have to wake up every morning to go to work like we do. We wouldn’t even care if we were third string sleepers-in, so we jump up and down, waving our hands and crying, “Pick me! Pick me!” [End of uncomfortable sports metaphor.]

An unacceptable change in unemployment is usually when it increases precipitously. If too many people are freed from their shackles at the same time, the ones left behind wring their hands as if they were sad for their former coworkers. In truth, they are just jealous. No one ever complains if unemployment declines by a large amount because they are happy to see all of the new faces at work, miserable just like them.

Still, some remain unemployed. When I am out walking the streets of my city, I wonder who these jobless folks are. Are they the people I see on the midmorning bus, or are those faces pressed against the glass headed to a job behind a counter, behind a grill, or at a desk? Are the jobless citizens the individuals shoving in front of me at the grocery, or the post office, or the barber during my daytime visits? Or are my fellow first shift non-busybodies on lunch break, preparing for their swing shift job, or on a much-deserved day off?

People who see me probably ask the same thing. I spend the morning packing my three children into the car, and then I stand on the front porch watching the oldest drive them all to high school. Out and about between eight and five, I am not old enough to be retired, I am not dressed as though I have anywhere important to go, and I do not appear to be a tourist. What is the explanation for my lack of participation in the economic machine?

I am newly a writer, unfettered from gainful employment. After my kids leave for school I write for a while. Two whiles if I am feeling particularly productive. After that I am out the door with the wife and we are walking the dog. If it is Wednesday we might walk to the nearby park to watch senior citizens play softball. That’s always a hoot. The run from home plate to first base can last as long as a meatball hoagie. The players don’t seem to worry about whether they are unemployed, they are so old they are just happy to be alive.

I quit my fifth-grade teaching job last spring so I guess I am jobless. But can that be true if I don’t want a job? I might be unemployed, or just unemployable. Maybe I am unjobbed. I write a monthly column for a local newspaper and get paid sixty bucks for the privilege of seeing my words (and a snappy little headshot) in print, but that doesn’t exactly make me employed. Not when the credit card bill comes in the mail.

At some point I very well might seek paid employment again, because I’ll need the money or to fill the endless hours of my life or because I feel like a slacker. Each of us, my children will tell me when they become cogs in the great economic machine, need to contribute to full employment. That way the economy will improve, and consumer confidence will soar, and I won’t be so embarrassing to them.

The last point is, of course, the most important.

But, I will respond to my lovely and gainfully employed children, full employment doesn’t even imply zero percent unemployment. That’s what award winning economists say. Full employment occurs when everyone in the economy who is willing to work at the current market rate for someone of his skills have jobs. Full employment does not imply that all adults have jobs. Some have said that an unemployment rate of 3% was full employment. Other economists have provided estimates between 2% and 7%, depending on the country, time period, and the various economists’ political biases.

So if it depends on so many things, how about we just decide that we are at full employment right this very second, even if the unemployment rate in my county is 7.9% (the worst since 1983), in California it is 8.2%, and for the U.S. it is 6.5%. That seems to fall within the parameters of the vague and varied numerical facts from the previous paragraph! Hallelujah! We have achieved full employment, despite what you and I have heard in the news!

If you don’t like those numbers, do something about it. Round up all your lay-about friends and drag them down to the first place you find with a Help Wanted sign. Then again, perhaps you should first go out and get a job yourself if you are without. Perhaps you think I should.

But I don’t want to. For now I shall remain unjobbed.

Work continues to confuse most people. Originally it was designed to provide income, allowing citizens to trade their human capital for the funds that buy the things they didn’t make themselves or get for free. Then, when cocktail parties were invented in the 1970s, work turned into human definition. No longer you are what you eat, but rather you are what you do. If your job wasn’t interesting or compelling, the other partygoers would shun you and you would drive home in miserable silence, plotting revenge by seeking promotions and pay raises that would only further your devotion to work and your lack of a life.

Work is overrated. Let’s be honest. We wouldn’t do it if we weren’t getting a paycheck. So let’s stop acting like unemployment is a bad thing. Rejoice! Use your free time to learn tae kwon do, or put crazy photos of your cats online, or call your friends to borrow money because you can’t pay the electricity bill.

In these times of economic peril, I urge you not to go back to work. For your own sake.

————————————————

Author Bio

Matt Baxter is a humor columnist and author who dabbles in the art of wordsmithing because gainful employment took up too much of his time. His wife and children do support his efforts, but his unconventional approach to life sometimes makes them wonder. Read more at www.mattbaxx.com.

Taking the man off the trail…but not the trail out of the man. Dan White’s The Cactus Eaters

“It’s 9:00 AM in the southern edge of the Sierra Nevada, eighty-five degrees and rising. The water in our bottles is almost gone, but I don’t panic. I suck my tongue. I lick my hot teeth. Allison, my girlfriend, stirs in her sleeping bag.”

Pacific Crest Trail hiker and memoirist Dan White grounds his travelogue in earthy reality through direct language, short sentences, and the constant awareness of physical needs. Hunger, thirst, cold, heat, exhaustion, fear, and boredom accompany him and his girlfriend throughout the wilderness, allowing for a realistic, tough-minded exploration of nature’s effects on humankind.

White intersperses natural history and facts about the creatures he and Allison encounter on the trail throughout the narrative. For example, unlike grizzlies, black bears are not pigeon-toed, and can head towards potential prey in a straight line. And lizards’ brains weigh a fraction of a gram, yet the animals are able to locate water in dry desert environments.

We also see the larger story of the history of humanity’s relationship to that particular land area, as anecdotes of explorers, developers, and political figures intertwine with Dan and Allison’s individual journey. We read of how wilderness enthusiasts Rogers and Clarke envisioned and set aside the Pacific Crest Trail over decades in order to strengthen and improve Americans’ moral and physical stamina, of President Jefferson’s speculations concerning wildlife west of the Mississippi, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, of water conflicts in the Owens Valley.

The Cactus Eaters’ greatest strength as a narrative is this carefully crafted balance, where Dan connects his own story to greater outside realities without losing sight of the piece’s central focus on his own specific journey.

White also interjects plenty of self-deprecating humor into this book. He spends an entire early chapter deliberating whether to speed up the pair’s journey by discarding some of their water supply. “Something was getting on my nerves, a hollow slop sound coming from inside our backpacks. Slip, slap, slop, what the hell was it? Water, that’s what it was…suddenly a plan rose to the surface of my thoughts…and it was pure genius.”

Later on, thirsty and possibly lost within the Mojave Desert, White rethinks the wisdom of his plan. But not after biting into a cactus without fully removing the spines, in the incident giving the book its name. As a novice hiker, White often bumbles through the trail, losing equipment such as his waste shovel and getting lost. He invites readers to laugh along with him, to experience the confusion of many in our society who have more ‘book-learning’ than common sense as we have become increasingly isolated from nature and its gritty realities. This humor gives the book a fresh perspective, a new slant on the adventure/self discovery genre.

We meet a cast of eclectic characters on the Pacific Crest Trail right along with Dan and Allison. Including the Gingerbread Man, a wise, friendly vegan gentleman with a grudge against the USDA food pyramid, Doctor John, a serious, mathematically minded, but socially awkward and overly frank companion, elegant day hikers who lose their bouquet of organic cheeses to a tree-climbing black bear, and legendary ‘trail angel’ Milt Kenney, who earned a justified reputation for showing small-town hospitality to the occasional PCT hikers who ventured across his path. Shown with all their kindnesses, warts, and quirks, these folks become real people, part of the trail’s culture without losing their individuality. We observe the culture which develops around wilderness, where human interactions become less complicated and frequent as physical survival requires a greater proportion of time and energy.

Dan also describes the mental transformation he and Allison undergo while on the trail. They experience physical reality more directly without the filters of internal or external verbal narration we normally impose upon our lives due to the need to communicate with others. To paraphrase, he relates how they went from saying something akin to “May I please have some of that nice organic granola bar?” to more of a Pleistocene grunt, but could still understand each other’s meanings through gestures. This brings up some interesting questions about the role of words in terms of facilitating – or defining/limiting – human communication.  

The pair does choose to fill the long hours on the trail and retain some level of normal humanity through constant singing and storytelling. From revised rap lyrics (‘hikahs’ instead of ‘gangstas’) to Alison’s penny-dreadful amateur horror tales, they entertain themselves with language.

The long period of mutual isolation, complete with periods of total isolation when Dan and Allison drive each other crazy and ignore each other, also provides him with time and space to reflect on how the trail is changing him as a person. Dan wonders whether his journey is truly maturing him, making him less selfish and neurotic and more aware of life’s priorities, or whether the hiking is simply another form of escapism from his adult responsibilities in the modern world.

The question is never fully answered – and perhaps The Cactus Eaters suggests that how one chooses to respond to and engage with life experiences is more important than the nature of those experiences themselves when it comes to personal development.

How will Dan and Allison take what they have learned from the trail and translate it into their ordinary lives? Can some lessons transfer into such a different world? I found it poignant and interesting that White devotes the last third of his narrative, not to the hike itself, but to his psychological journey of attempting to find his place once again in normal society afterwards. This inclusion seems to suggest that the return from the wilderness, from the heroic journey, can become a difficult undertaking in itself. Sea captain Ernest Shackelton’s biography Endurance, which White references in this book, relates much about the man’s excellent seamanship, self-sacrificing leadership, and wisdom and courage in the face of physical danger. However, the last chapter mentioned that he was never as successful or functional back on land, with attempting to work and earn a living after his adventure ended.

Sadly, the couple’s differing expectations for life after the trail and capacity to adjust to the return home drove Alison and Dan apart. She returned stronger, more confident, and enthusiastic about restarting her professional writing career, while he, more romantic to an extent, found he had left much of his heart and soul back on the trail.

Eventually he returns for shorter solo journeys after working a variety of jobs and meandering his way through Santa Cruz, before finally marrying, developing his career, and relegating lengthy survivalist hikes to nostalgia.

In the book’s final pages, White relates how he has learned from his wilderness experience. He no longer expects the same degree of ease/comfort from life, welcoming and accepting logistical challenges and complaining less about inevitable ups and downs. Perhaps he has finally completed the last leg of his journey…taking his trail adventure and integrating its lessons into a balanced, workable life. The book ends with a beautiful, reflective observation of another young couple enjoying dinner on the trail at sunset.

“They look through me as if I were made of Saran Wrap…then it gets too cold for me to stay out here any longer, so I leave them be and retreat down the ridge alone.”

Better read as a personal memoir/adventure narrative than a how-to hiking manual, The Cactus Eaters provides much in the way of fascinating historical and natural information as well as a compelling story.

Dan White supports independent bookstores and encourages you to purchase The Cactus Eaters from one near you. Also, he is available online through his blog at www.cactuseaters.blogspot.com

 

Connection in a changing world: Kristie LeVangie’s Libidacoria

“Why buy the cow if the milk is free?” 

At first glance, Kristie LeVangie’s poem collection Libidacoria: In a Plain Brown Wrapper seems to portray a self-satisfied, empowered woman content to successfully live out this attitude. However, through subtle, telling hints, LeVangie (or K- as she is often known) reveals her speaker’s growing desire for emotional connection and romantic love. And the author’s ability to subtly illustrate gradual emotional development through metaphorical interactions among various parts of the speaker’s psyche becomes the piece’s greatest strength.

*This review concerns a piece with graphic depictions of intimacy that is intended for mature readers. You may feel free to read further or skip to the next featured work as you wish. *

In Libidacoria’s preface, the speaker refers to sexuality as simultaneously her ‘greatest adventure’ and her ‘abhorrent curse’ and describes a process of embracing its ‘unrelenting’ nature.  She expands upon this complex relationship to her physical and emotional drives by separating herself into multiple ‘selves’ throughout the work. We see a ‘beast’ who seems primarily concerned with physical gratification, who at times wields control over the rest of the speaker’s psyche. There is also a ‘little girl’ who hides, sobs, and must be sheltered, who fears relationships and appreciates reassurance that no particular man plans (or will be allowed to) stay very long. The poetry itself cycles through the voices and emotions of these varied characters. Some pieces show liberated female sexuality as a source of empowerment: ‘loyal to myself/I will remain,’ while others convey violation and pain: “gang bang style, vultures entering without permission/feasting on the innocence.”

And, there is the speaker herself, the sole user of the first person, who consciously attempts to mediate among the various surface and hidden desires. In the second poem she wishes to ‘find a way to sate’ her inner beast for ‘only a few hours’ so she can focus on other matters. Later on she strives occasionally to protect the ‘little girl’ while going back and forth concerning romance and commitment.

About a third of the way through Libidacoria, she criticizes a man for bringing feelings into their series of sexual encounters. If his ‘eyes, still cloudy/want more than that,/I am simply incapable to give.’ In the very next poem, she laments another man’s inability to remember her name with the lights on. She seeks human connection while still consciously denying a desire for anything but short term encounters on her own terms.

Will romantic love remove the control the speaker asserts over her own destiny, the empowerment she repeatedly celebrates? Perhaps…but living without love, denying her own increasingly real desire for connection, confining herself simply to casual encounters, seems limiting in its own way. She reflects how sex with one man ‘turned her back to whore/the only type she knew how to be’ and on how she ‘longs to be dominated/although she seems to dominate.’ Her nostalgia for some kind of idealized romance increases throughout the work, as she writes of a long-ago prostitute/milliner who whispers to her clients and blows them kisses as they leave, and remembers her own youthful wish to be whisked away by a man to faraway places. As time passed, she laments, it became too scary to dream and men and women ‘forgot how/as they grew old.’

This internal struggle/journey motif has a long history within Western literature, harking back to Sir Gawain’s legendary battle with the Green Knight. The color green represented unredeemed, uneducated, and uncivilized nature and wilderness, the difficult-to-control and not always socially presentable aspects of societal and individual nature. The very idea of conveying these themes through a cycle of rhymed poems also harkens back to medieval and Romantic tradition. Through expressing direct, physical action and un-prettified words and concepts (cum, pheromones, grinding, etc)  in short rhyming couplets and verses, K- at once parodies traditional and commercial greeting-card love poetry while aligning herself with, reinventing, and perhaps expressing some subtle nostalgia for certain aspects of the past.

K-‘s speaker communicates with a definite rhythm, stressing the syllables at the end of her poetic lines. The writing becomes memorable and belies its complexity at first glance. The rhyme occasionally varies from an exact match of sounds (dead/instead, need/plead) to a slant rhyme with similar vowel sounds and intonations (object/deposit, release/please) to add interest and color to the work while suggesting the difficulty of conveying mixed sentiments in brief pop-style lyrics. In a sophisticated manner LeVangie appropriates and critiques the poetic forms we use to communicate love. Romantic poetry becomes at once timeless and meaningful, and limiting because of the difficulty of getting across so many conflicting thoughts in a few simple couplets.

The concept of maturing female sexuality (and the social constraints to which it has been subjected) also goes back many years in literature. Christina Rossetti’s long poem The Goblin Men is a tale of two sisters where one rescues another from the grip of sensual pleasures which excite but ultimately become an addiction and drain her energy for other aspects of life. Rossetti  stresses the need for women to resist and protect themselves from the temptations represented by the demonic male fruit hawkers, in keeping with her era’s Victorian morality. Yet she acknowledges female physical desire to a much greater extent than other writers of the day – women lie awake yearning for ‘fruit’ – and allows the ‘fallen’ sister to get rescued and return to her hometown and family without apparent permanent damage to her reputation.

The Goblin Men also emphasizes the value of female friendship, which is noticeably absent from Libidacoria. While Rossetti’s sisters exist in a world of perpetual sexual innocence seemingly without normal, healthy physical relationships (Joyce Carol Oates has remarked upon the absence of any mention of the women’s husbands although both eventually have children) K-‘s speaker seems to exist in a world full of sexual opportunity and explicitly detailed desire but without any female friends, parents, or role models. What she learns from life, she observes from her own complex desires and experiences and from the men with whom she becomes involved. This could be due to the brevity of Libidacoria (100 pages of very short poems) or perhaps a reflection on the greater anonymity and isolation of our modern society.  While K-‘s speaker finds empowerment through selecting and seducing a variety of men, she remains alone, without even a platonic friend.

My personal experiences watching myself and friends grow from teenagers to young women, several decades since the sexual revolution and with technology creating both a larger and a more anonymous dating pool, kept coming to mind while reading K-‘s poetry.  Despite major changes in terms of gender roles and what is and is not considered acceptable dating behavior, we (both men and women) faced the same perennial issues of heartbreak, loneliness, insecurity, jealousy, searching for lasting love, wondering if we were ready for it or would recognize it, etc.

Libidacoria, and the four-book series of which it will soon become a part, explores and illustrates the emotional complexity of the feminine psyche and suggests that some aspects of human nature may not have changed. ‘Free love’ may have brought a degree of gratification in some ways, but it has not replaced or eliminated our need for meaningful human connection.

For the May Queen, another book recently reviewed in Synchronized Chaos, also chronicled a modern, independent woman’s emotional and sexual maturation. Its author, Kate Evans, presented a heroine working to reconcile various personal and socially suggested desires:  personal independence/adventure and committed love, the idealized romanticism of wedding ceremonies and casual fun and freedom. Evans integrated Walt Whitman’s poetry throughout the novel, particularly his use of the word ‘and,’ to suggest the possibility of the heroine discovering happiness through accepting the different parts of herself and finding a healthy balance among the different ideals rather than viewing them necessarily as mutually contradictory.

Along the same lines, Libidacoria’s speaker contemplates both traditional romance and new models of female sexual freedom and works towards a balance. Near the end, she suggests the possibility of a relationship where she can find rest for and make peace with her physical drives (described as her ‘special gift/and curse) and where the romantic connection helps her understand herself better rather than disempowering her. The very last poems in Libidacoria celebrate the physical and emotional passion in this relationship, and the speaker finally openly, consciously trusts the readers enough to acknowledge her own vulnerability, past emotional pain, and desires as herself rather than relying on indirect alter egos. Her ‘sanity is saved/by the promise she gave/that one day she’d quit/when her match was made.’ And it is that journey towards wholeness, towards self-acceptance, healing, and meaningful connection with others that draws readers in and makes Libidacoria relevant to a wider set of readers.

Libidacoria is available for purchase on the book’s official website, www.libidacoria.com – and author Kristie LeVangie is accessible through her blog and MySpace page.

Coffee humor break – just for fun (more self-deprecating than anything else, the joke’s on us!)

How to Schmooze your way into the Literary Hipster World without even trying!

1. Come up with a spicy, classy pen name. Either something with four or five syllables, or simply two initials and a foreign symbol for a flourish.

2. Set up a blog online, separate from your personal one. Call up any friends who once created zines, wrote poetry, even who got published in their school paper. Ask for copies of their work and review it using at least five multisyllabic words you haven’t seen since high school or college English. Transcendence, Gestalt, Post-Structuralist, Absurd, and Postmodern Social Critique are all good choices.

3. Grab a clipboard and a stack of books from your room. Preferably ones without covers or visible titles so they’ll be whatever’s most faddish at the moment. Or anything in a foreign language, even comics or popular fiction.

4. Print business cards for yourself. Title yourself a Freelancer or Manuscript Consultant. Deduct the printing costs as a business expense.

5. Cruise on by any signing or event in the Castro, Valencia Street, or anywhere in a college town. Make a point of introducing yourself to the author and remembering his/her name and pen name. This will come in handy when later on you meet editors and publishers and can name drop. Or when you’re comparing acquaintances with other schmoozers!

6. Coffee is your friend! A cup or two goes a long way to keep you awake during any and all interminable discussions of someone’s perenially unwritten heartfelt personal tale of navigating the complexities of postmodern society. Drink it black, like the Beatniks, to show your fortitude, or Irish. Frappuccinos are for amateurs.

7. Make friends with agents’ and editors’ cats. People may have heard of your book idea a million times by more experienced authors…but a lot can be overlooked when they remember that Fido or Fluffy came to you and let you actually pet him or her!

8. Adverbs and adjectives are not your friends. Reduce your writing down to the bare essentials, kill any darlings you may have left. Even if it means breaking with syntax and grammar. Incomprehensibility is often only a step away from profundity.

9. Locate an exotic research topic. Something which has never, and will never again, exist within the entire pantheon of world history, and which can only properly be studied by yourself on an expenses-paid grand tour of Tuscany, the French Riviera, and the Caribbean.

10. If all else fails – or even if you succeed beyond your wildest dreams – come here and comment and participate with the Synchronized Chaos community! This site is a virtual free open-source writers’ conference, where you may ask writing-related questions of other writers and editors, request and offer manuscript and proposal mentoring and critique, provide writing instruction and advice, advertise local writers’ groups, and locate talent for representation and publication. Always designed to be more about the interactions among people here than our behind-the-scenes showcasing and publication work.

Writing workshop announcements

 

Came across someone who works with the organizations putting on these free poetry and writing workshops at a reading event this week in the city. Would love to pass on the word to the SC family and friends.

Youth Speaks Writing Workshops –

Teen Slam Poetry Preparation in San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley. All held from 4 pm to 6 pm.

Wednesdays – Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak Street, one block from Lake Merritt BART. Starts Wed. January 28th. With performance artist Meg Day.

Thursdays – Berkeley High School, Room C335. With slam champions Isaac Miller and Terry Taplin. 2223 Martin Luther King Way, starts January 29th.

Fridays – Glen Park Library, with San Jose slam champion Kim Johnson. 2825 Diamond St., San Francisco, one block from the Glen Park BART station. Starts the 30th.

Free writers’ workshops:

Thursdays at the SF MOMA – with Katri Foster. 151 Third Street, San Francisco. Breaking the Rules. This workshop will draw from many different inspirations and ideas to help tell the story of our dreams and realities.

Fridays at the Downtown Oakland YMCA with Lauren Whitehead. 2350 Broadway, Oakland. Any Other City…let’s explore the places we call home and come to appreciate what they are and what they stand for in a broader social and political context. Explore the stories of other cities to look at your home base in a more critical/artistic way.

http://www.youthspeaks.org

Would be glad to pass on the information about any other similar events anywhere else, please comment and let us know! Also, writers who are stuck on any aspect of a story – who need research help, fact checking, are stuck on a plot point, need a new idea, new word, etc please also comment and we’ll make a post for you and all the other writers and artists of our community can help you get un-stuck!

Also please save the date for a nonpolitical/nonsectarian benefit concert for civilians in the Gaza Strip, somewhere in San Francisco probably on Feb. 21st. Will keep you updated as I hear more from the organizers and the bands – gave them a Synchronized Chaos business card (as we do with all upcoming artists we meet) with contact information.

This may be useful to the freelancers out there who need extra income – link to hot new telecommuting-friendly careers which have growth potential and high salaries: http://education.yahoo.net/degrees/articles/featured_seven_surprising_stay_home_salaries.html