Opera San Jose Delivers a Charming Rendition of Verdi’s “La Traviata”

Reviewed by Kandake E. Brockington (Author of Journey through Darkness: Book I of the Journey Saga)

Opera San Jose delivered an emotionally gripping performance for the Sunday February 12th matinee presentation of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata. I won’t spend this review discussing roulades, librettos, and other terms I honestly know very little about. I am an author of fantasy fiction, a mother, and a long-time resident of San Jose. Until last week I had never been to the California Theatre, but I was in for a delightful surprise.

Located in downtown San Jose, the heart of Silicon Valley, the California Theatre on Almaden Blvd is a small, elegant theater within walking distance of the light rail station and San Jose State University. Upon entering the grand lobby the theatre is dimly lit and romantic, an appropriate setting for an opera. The California Theatre website gives a description of an intimate setting and that is pretty accurate. The seats and rows are very close together with little room for stretching. It was also very warm inside as the auditorium appeared packed to capacity.

Once the performance began, a hush fell over the theatre as everyone anticipated the arrival of our heroine of La Traviata, Violetta Valery, played wonderfully by guest

artist Rebecca Davis. La Traviata, loosely translated as “the fallen woman,” is the tragic story of Violetta, a courtesan who changes her life around after falling in love with one of her adoring suitors, Alfredo Germont. After finding true love for the first time, Violetta is forced to leave behind the only happiness she’s ever known when Alfredo’s father Giorgio Germont makes her feel guilty for living scandalously with his son.

The lighting of the stage revealed a set of tables and chairs, and a beautiful larger than life-size painting of the courtesan on the back wall. The opening act was full of lighthearted music and Violetta appeared in a billowing yellow gown surrounded by her friends dressed in purple and black. I found the wardrobe colors of the opening act a little odd, as did my neighbor, a fellow reporter of another Silicon Valley publication. We agreed that Violetta did not stand out very well in the dress and we would have preferred to see her in something bolder to flaunt her wealth and courtesan status, but overall that was quickly overlooked once the spotlight was on Davis. Her soprano voice commanded the emotional themes of love, sacrifice, and remorse throughout the performance.

One of the most standout scenes for Davis was in Act II when Violetta interacts with Giorgio Germont, Alfredo’s father, played by baritone Evan Brummel. Violetta passionately tells Giorgio that she will die if he forces her to leave Alfredo. This is where the translation, provided in English supertitles above stage, added depth to the performance. My neighboring reviewer actually debated with my friend, a Pistoia native—and Italian speaker— over the literal meaning of Italian words. But the translation, along with Davis’ performance, worked well at displaying Violetta’s fear of isolation. The translation captured her despair and complete loss of hope.

Tenor Michael Dailey was handsome and charismatic in the role of Alfredo and his standout performance came from Act III when Alfredo disrespects Violetta by throwing money at her feet. But Dailey really shines in the final act when the lovers are reunited after a huge misunderstanding. In Act IV, Dailey conveys a wide range of emotions. Upon their reunion Alfredo is remorseful and joyful, but after realizing the extent of Violetta’s illness he becomes fearful and then devastated in her death scene.

Some other details worth mentioning were the acoustics of the theater which were excellent. The orchestra pit was nearly invisible from the orchestra section; however the director, San Jose State University professor of music, David Rohrbaugh was lively and riveting.

I was moved by La Traviata and mesmerized by the spirit of Violetta Valery. This production is highly recommended for its breathtaking music, memorable performances, and poetic translations of the libretto. For first-timers, the free 45-minute lecture given before each performance provides an in-depth introduction to opera. For opening performances, matinee attendees have the option to meet members of the cast, the stage director, and conductor immediately following the performance.

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Contact Kandake E. Brockington at kandake@live.com

 

Opera San Jose Presents “La Traviata”

California Theatre

345 South First Street

in downtown San Jose

www.operasj.org

 

Through: Feb 26

Tickets: $51-$101

408-437-4455

Synchronized Chaos Magazine – Feb 2012: Footsteps

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”  (Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee)

Read and step into the heart and soul of those near and far away.

Author Ayokunle Adeleye (Ayk) offers several poetic and timely articles on the current economic and political state of Nigeria. As a resident of Nigeria, he offers a unique look into issues regarding power struggle, twisted politics, and the President’s lack of compassion for the country’s struggling people.

Nicole Arocho’s piece, Te Pori, is an essay about her experiences studying abroad in Auckland, New Zealand. She particularly focuses on the hospitality of the locals and peacefulness of the land.

We are pleased to include the culturally rich and soulful artwork from Valerie Brown-Troutt.

Click here for Leena Prasad’s monthly column: Whose Brain Is It? Presented within the flow of the lives of fictional characters, this is a monthly column with a journalist’s perspective on brain research.

Be sure to check out the next installment of J’Rie Elliot’s Lost Souls. The first part of the story was included in last month’s issue.

Here are our featured book reviews this month:

Christopher Bernard also reviewed In the Land of Blood and Honey, a film from first-time director Angelina Jolie, and he was even luckier to catch an early performance (before the entire show sold out) of Mugwumpin’s Future Motive Power at the Old Mint in San Francisco.

As always, thanks for reading!

Nigeria: Where ‘Leaders’ Are Rulers

[Article by Ayokunle Adeleye]

I woke up this morning to the harmattan occupation of my room. Little
did I know that in nearby Lagos, my fellow Nigerians woke up more to
the army occupation of their neighbourhood than to the harmattan
occupation of the same! My fellow Nigerians are under siege, not by
the neighbouring Beninois army, not in a House of Assembly-sanctioned
State of Emergency, but at the whim of a capricious and rather
effeminate President caving in to hideous pressure. I can hardly
believe that my beloved President and Commander-in-Chief of my
fatherland’s armed forces will deploy the latter on us—my fellow
Nigerians and me! Yet, this was the same man who would not deploy the
army on the Boko Haram, but now so readily—it seems—deploys it on
law-abiding citizens merely utilising their constitution-guaranteed
right to peaceful protests and lawful assemblies! Something is
definitely wrong with someone in some (asshole) Rock somewhere. (DO
pardon me. I have lost my civility to my indignation at my injured
civic pride for there is nothing civil about deploying soldiers on my
people.)

Had I woken up earlier, I am told, I would have listened to my
President speak to us like my principal spoke to us students on the
assembly ground back in secondary school years ago. Confused in my
confined rage, and confounded by the blatant rape of our once stellar
democracy, I ponder, Why will a non-military President deploy troops
on us when even past ex-military Presidents did not? Could it be that
he is ignorant to the weight of his actions having never been in
uniform? Alas, he does not feel our pains who is not in our shoes.
Alas, our case is as the British historian, Lord Acton deplored in his
Letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887, “Power tends to corrupt,
and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always
bad men… There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies
the holder of it.”

A long time ago, another wise man observed, “Power corrupts and
absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Has our President been so carried
away in political inebriation to deploy his troops on his people? But
why won’t he? He never had to contest. He had opportunities handed to
him on platters of silver, if not gold. Was he not handed the
Presidency without sweat? And afterwards, did he not have the
incumbent’s advantage in the last general elections? Whatever felicity
he feels, he feels in error, for his recently acquired felinity makes
him the Nebuchadnezzar he purportedly detests being. His lion’s face
is scowled, rather unfortunately, at the wrong people; we are after
all not Boko Haram. And as it did not end well for Nebuchadnezzar, as
he was humiliated before his people, so shall it be with our President
if he does not reconsider, for democracy is a government of the
people, by the people and for the people. He obviously needs to be
schooled in history, for my earlier-quoted wise-man George Bernard
Shaw concluded, “Except for those who learn from lessons of history.”

And here is the history:
Long ago before records were kept, long ago when history was still
written in the minds of the aged and recited in the ears of toddlers,
long ago when men had little available history to learn from, Ilorin,
the capital city of Kwara State, Nigeria, was under Yoruba kingship.
Long ago, before, as we are told, Afonja, Yoruba king of Ilorin
solicited the assistance of the Fulani MILITARY against his own
people. The rest, as they say, is history, but Afonja lost his throne
to the Fulanis he invited, so that rather than have an Oba of Ilorin,
what is is an Emir of Ilorin.

The Bible itself is replete with accounts of kings who enlisted the
help of other, supposedly more powerful, kings only to be dethroned by
the latter or rendered vassal kings. If you wonder if the same is
possible in contemporary times, or in modern-day Nigeria, consider
this: As recently as two scores and six years ago, our then young
(six-year-old) democracy was overthrown by the military in an event
that was commemorated yesterday, January 15th, the same yesterday when
our President intimidated our Labour leaders. Yet it is the same
military that our President turns to for help.  What remains to see is
if the same can happen in modern-day Nigeria as our incumbent
President gives our military the veritably desirable taste of power.
Perhaps our President needs to be re-schooled in our National Anthem,
“The labour of our heroes PAST,
Shall never be in vain.”
May God help us all.

It is rather distasteful that Nigerians in diaspora can protest in
another man’s land but our own President shuts us up in our own land!
Yet he shuts us up, not by soliciting for empathy, nay, that is rather
un-Nigerian. He shuts us up by letting soldiers out of their barracks
and into our streets while he stays un-terrorised in Aso Rock. Our
President bullies us into submission on the pretext that we are
hoodlums in need, and dire need indeed, of military subjugation.
Whatever the case, he should not have deployed the Nigerian Army on
Lagos State. If anything, he should have charged the Mobile Police
instead. As reference, the US will never deploy their military on
their soil; they will rather employ the National Guard. Our President
therefore leaves us to wonder about what he really wants, another
coup? or another civil war?

And what is worse? He called our Labour leaders together and BRIEFed
them! When did a dialogue become a BRIEFing? With all the respect
befitting a Grand Commander of my Federal Republic, and in full
utilisation of my rights to freedom of speech and expression, and my
entitlement to my opinion, it is suggested that the President’s latest
acts of instigation be evaluated for no DEMOCRATIC President deploys
troops without cause on the electorate—especially not an electorate
that endured sorrows, tears and bloodshed in the fight for democracy;
especially not an electorate that braved horse whips, tear gas and
bullets, to enforce him as Acting President, and defied the heat of
the tropical sun just to ink the ballot papers in his favour despite
salty brows and sweaty palms that refused opposition bribes. We wiped
sweat off our brows for him, he cannot browbeat us, however ungrateful
an ingrate that he is.

With the suspended Labour strike, Nigerians have seemingly been
silenced in their fatherland, intimidated by their own military forces
and once again denied their voice, their right. But the struggle is
far from over, for when a government refuses the voice of his people,
it welcomes the herald of his demise. In his Declaration of the Rights
of Man, Maximilien Robespierre wrote, “Any law which violates the
indefeasible rights of man is essentially unjust and tyrannical; it is
not a law at all.” In shutting down our peaceful protests, our right,
our government has become an unjust law to us. In the Summa
Theologica, Italian theologian and philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, wrote,
“Human law is law only by virtue of its accordance with right reason,
and by this means it is clear that it flows from Eternal law. In so
far as it deviates from right reason it is called an unjust law; and
in such a case, it is no law at all, but rather an assertion of
violence.” Our government has become an unjust law to us, yet an
unjust law is no law at all.

Our President has brought the fight to us, and those of us who
hitherto were on the fence must now leave the borders, the fence, that
we are and move in to OCCUPY NIGERIA that we may force out liars who
claim to reduce fuel price from ₦141 to ₦97 when in fact they have
increased it from ₦65 to ₦97. The fuel-price bottle is not half-empty,
it is half-full, and may it not fill up with the wrath and indignation
of the Nigerian populace incited by a dictatorial, un-uniformed RULING
Head of State parading as a democratic, LEADING President in civvies.
Should the fuel-price bottle become full, it would not be the end of
our beginning; it would indeed be the beginning of our end. May that
never happen. Amen.

A student of The FOUR Generations: Why You Do the Things YOU Do!
published by AuthorHouse UK Publishers and University Press Plc.,
Ibadan, I remain yours, a fellow-Nigerian Nigeria occupant, Ayk Midas
Afowoolukoyasire, urging, they can’t kill us all for they won’t dare
govern themselves (they are not just civilised enough, you know).

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Ayokunle Adeleye currently lives in Sagamu, Nigeria. His recent book, The Four Generations, is currently available for purchase on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Four-Generations-Why-you-things/dp/1456779133.

Nigeria: A Country at a Standstill

[Article by Ayokunle Adeleye]

I was born in 1988, during the reign of whom? You tell me, for a babe
that I was, I knowest not who was what then, or who did what… But as
the Yorubas say, if a child does not meet the story, he will meet the
hearsay. Rather unfortunately for me, hearsay, just like heresy, is
not admissible in the courts of our law; I however hope it is, in the
courts of our conscience. And here is the hearsay.

My mum used to tell me how my grandma, her own mum, would take me to
the market and buy me loads of things. I was robust then, for i was
well fed on storkfish; I am merely a caricature of my infant self now,
for I am now a thin young man. But that is not the only difference I
see, now I am old enough to know who does what and who reigns: This
year, I shall move from early twenties to mid-twenties; this year,
during the reign of Goodluck Ebele Jonathan.

I find myself at a time when my country is angry: when my fellow
nationals have had enough. We are at the brink of a much-needed
revolution, only we are at a standstill. We are not on a road as we
think we are, no, we are not on the road we think are; we are on a
cul-de-sac. And what is worse? We are making whatever progress we are
making, not by making the three-point turn we so much need, not even
by reversing, but by hewing our way through whatever obstacle we
encounter. Alas, where there is a will, there is a way; and we are
such a willful people….

Earlier, my Egypt-based Congolese girlfriend asked me, ‘What is the
issue with Nigeria lately?’ At loss for what to say, and so as to be
‘faithful, loyal and honest’ as General Olusegun Obasanjo decided I
should be indoctrinated to be, I stuck to the latest, what I felt she
must’ve been referring to, what is, at present, rife on our media:
fuel price hike. After all, she had earlier said she couldn’t last a
day in my beloved country. What with our epileptic power supply and
our unimpressive internet service. Why complicate issues then with the
ASUU strike and national what not?

It saddened my hot heart to say it, but it pleased my moist eyes that
she soon found something else to chat about. My heart is hot, not from
unrequited love (it is, after all, not hurt), but from the heat of the
harmattan sun with no electricity to power my rusty electric fan; my
eyes are moist, not from crying after love (it is, after all, not
teary), but from boredom for ASUU is yet again on strike.

I ate partly burnt noodles this morning because I was carried away
with chatting away my sorrow and boredom. In fact, I indebted myself
last Saturday (thank God) by buying a rather expensive Nokia 500
simply because it was a touchscreen phone and my fingers would soon
developed arthritis from excessively pressing my X2 as I adolescently
chatted away in loneliness the grief I felt for my grieving country
now called the Lame Giant of Africa. At least one good has come from
my debt: your reading this!

I thanked God earlier because had I procrastinated on Saturday – to
get the phone on Monday – I wouldn’t have been able to. The roads are,
unfortunately, blocked – and at times with bonfires. Now you see why I
don’t have soup. I once wrote an article about the Nigerian pyromania,
an article that did not see the light of day for my father’s fear, but
now is not the time to revisit the issue. Enough about me and my
predicament. Now to the issue at hand.

What many of us, and I dare say most of us, do not realise is that the
protests are not about the fuel price. I may not be so old but I know
that a litre of petrol once went for forty naira and, before that,
twenty-something naira. Nigerians didn’t protest then. It is not
because the increment is nearly two hundred percent. Nay. We always
knew, truth be told, that a hike was inevitable. What then is the
trouble, my dear president asks? The problem is two-fold.

One. Permit me to ask, If the President had announced that the removed
subsidy would build our refineries and settle ASUU once and for all
(in contravention to a rather pertinent law in economics: the wants of
man, ASUU, are insatiable), would there be bonfires? Nigerians are a
hardy stock, we will survive. But no, the subsidies are to be shared
among the prominent rich while the insignificant poor treks the
dual-carriage ways. Abaa!

Yes, we cannot continue to subsidise fuel, not with the increasing
number of cars on our roads, but we also cannot continue to subsidise
the gluttonous appetite and wanton expenditure of our lawmakers. A
friend remarked on the population of new cars on our (old) roads as
reflected by the frequency of the new registration plates. Another
friend observed that the fuel subsidies and the cost of running our
legislature (comments withheld) are very nearly the same – to the
nearest trillion, at least! And the arguement went, If the handful of
legislatives need the more than a trillion naira that we pay them,
then why can’t the hundred and fifty million Nigerian populace have
the more than a trillion naira that it needs?

Two. Nigerians have lost faith in their President. They say he lacks
action and wonder if he is still the puppet of a renowned General that
he was suspected to be. We had hoped he would sever his umbilical cord
once he took the throne. Alas, he calls the tunes who paid the piper.

To my dear President I therefore say (how I love him so; I love fellow authors),
Goodluck be thee not unwary
Hear as thy angel sayeth
‘In the midst of enemies thou hath
Be thee wary.’

And I dare add, make effort to read a friend’s book, The FOUR
Generations: Why You Do the Things YOU Do! Published by AuthorHouse UK
Publishers and University Press, Ibadan. You just might need to know
the real reason those you rely on do the things they do. All that
glitters is not gold.

And who am I?, they make to ask.
Your humble friend, a fellow Nigerian, someone a lot like you, Ayk
Midas Afowoolukoyasire.

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Ayokunle Adeleye currently lives in Sagamu, Nigeria. His recent book, The Four Generations, is currently available for purchase on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Four-Generations-Why-you-things/dp/1456779133.

Nigeria: When the Powerhouse Withholds Power

[Article by Ayokunle Adeleye]

Yesterday saw me downcast, frustrated, tired of a duty I once
dutifully performed, and cherished. Behind my open heart is a swollen
hurt: I might have been wrong, but it is also wrong to state that I
was wrong without also stating that I was wronged. I am forced to ask
myself, Who decides right or wrong? Fundamental that it is, this is
one question that has boggled the hearts of man since he was created
(or came into existence, as my evolutionist friends would prefer that
I say). (Indeed, the major religions tell of the disobedience of the
first humans to a Creator, the Judge of right and wrong.)

A leader often has to decide who or what is right or wrong; yet, there
is often the question of whether the leader is right or wrong, in
essence or/and in judgement. Government systems have long been centred
about who deserves to decide right and wrong. Aristocracy,
bureaucracy, gerontocracy, plutocracy, technocracy, democracy; mankind
searched for the Responsible One. Who deserves to rule? the noble? the
chosen? the elderly? the rich? the learned? or the people? Democracy
is, in theory, ‘a government of the people, by the people and for the
people’; and is advocated in modern times for it supposedly gives ‘the
people’ a voice. But while modern tendencies favour democracy and its
‘the people’, they lack universality for the people are rarely one:
The majority prevails while the minority may, well, revolt. More often
than not, a minority is ‘the majority’; the closer one is to the
powerhouse, like the law of diffusion dictates, the more power one
has.

The revolt. In recent past, the militias of the Niger Delta felt
distant from the powerhouse, neglected and marginalised. In response,
they abducted, killed and maimed. In recent times, the Boko Haram of
the North feel distant from the powerhouse. Only this time, they also
feel they have God’s backing. They seek attention, they seek audience,
only they terrorise a nation to be heard.

Granted, they have a plight, they have a right to be heard. The
problem however consists in their methodology. As the Yorubas say, It
is the finger that defaults that the king chops off. Bearing that in
mind, one is prompted to ask, Are the 935 persons killed before
January 20 the defaulters? Or, are the 186 killed during multiple bomb
attacks in Kano State on the said date the ‘powerhouse’ with whom the
Boko Haram have a reckoning? No! They are mostly the harmless
civilians who had no ties whatsoever to the powerhouse. Their killers
may feel strong indeed, but ‘to exert strength over the weak is
weakness in itself.’

The Boko Haram forget that the guillotine, while it might have been P.
G. Wodehouse’s cure for grey hair, is never the cure for the aching
head. (“There is only one cure for grey hair. It was invented by a
Frenchman. It is called the guillotine.” The Old Reliable, by P. G.
Wodehouse) They complain of unemployment like the rest of us are
employed. They complain of poverty like the rest of us are rich. If
Lagos State in the South-West is enviable and Delta State in the
South-South is admirable, it is not because they are close to ‘the
powerhouse,’ nay, it is because of their state governments. After all,
Aso Rock is in the North. I suppose the state and local governments in
the North are to be asked, as well as their people, for history tells
of how our Northern friends once rejected western education and such
modern advancements as vaccination. (The name ‘Boko Haram’ itself
literarily means ‘western education is forbidden.’) If knowledge is
power and yet they rejected knowledge; is it then any wonder that they
feel powerless in the westernised world that ours has become?

My revolt. As he is an unfair judge who denounces the one and ignores
the other, I shall not spare ‘the powerhouse.’ Dear Powerhouse, if
your power is seen to be withheld, it is definitely your fault. If, in
a democracy as we have, power is perceived to be concentrated at one
point than at the other, it is your flaw. If your subjects have to
resort to violence to get your attention, it is your blunder. What is
worse? Nigeria is in agony, and the naira, in shambles (even if you
don’t agree).

It is pitiable how many Nigerian graduates cannot defend their
certificates. It is it is deplorable how many Nigerian youths cannot
express themselves in our lingua franca passably, if not fluently. Our
educational system deteriorates by the year. (I wrote a tougher JAMB
exam in 2005 without a calculator and managed to score 288 unaided.
JAMB exams are simpler today and calculators are used, but today’s
student rarely scores as high. Not that I am a standard anyway.) Our
matriculation examination system is questionable, hence the need for
universities’ post-JAMB assessments. Our university accreditation
criteria remain ancient and ASUU (Academic Staff Union of
Universities) is yet on strike. It however is said that you have
continental ambitions; yet, charity begins at home. He is not a true
democrat who is ‘a ready statesman of the world, a friend of every
nation but his own.’ Alas, a man whose house is on fire does not chase
mouse.

In line with the fairness I extolled at the outset, the Boko Haram may
be wrong, but they have also been wronged. To my agonised friends and
countrypeople I therefore say: Civilisation brought faster transport
and speedier communication, undoubtedly things we all desire. But it
also brought enlightenment. Enlightenment that a sect should not
terrorise a nation. Enlightenment that a sect must not enforce its
beliefs and convictions on another. Enlightenment that violence is
retrogressive, in the least. As a part does not truly hate that which
makes it whole, we love you. We feel your pains, we agonise with you;
we are not in a different Nigeria after all. Please drop your arms,
and harm us no longer; this is the voice of reason, to maintain your
poise is treason.

But. A student of forensic psychology (in the context of the relevance
of yesterday’s actions to today’s and tomorrow’s), I know that there
is more to the picture. Yes, they want attention; who doesn’t? But
when a group of individuals decide to terrorise a nation and threaten
its integrity, there is a lot unsaid; the flower dancing atop the
river has its drummer beneath the waters. The question therefore
remains, What really are they up to?

Religious sects have often been seen to play God, purportedly because
of their proclaimed proximity to Him. Hitler’s clergy declared his
rightness, but so did the Allied’s. Who then was right? In the fight
between the Ptolemaic heliocentric system of planetary motion and the
(Catholic) Church’s geocentric system for correctness, the famous
scientist, Galileo Galilei, eventually lost his life, placed under
house arrest (in consideration of his old age, he would have been
killed or so) for his staunch support for the former. It was a
question of who was right, and the Church subjugated him for it was
yet in power. Man has been to space and, even long before then, has
seen for himself that the sun is indeed at the centre of our solar
system; Galileo had been right. The lesson? Religion is not always
right; fanaticism is never right. It is indeed weakness to exert
strength over the weak (and the aged).

In light of that, if they are right who say the Boko Haram intend to
eliminate ‘the transgressors,’ ‘anyone not under what Allah has
willed,’ (the Boko Haram’s official name is Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna
Lidda’awati wal-Jihad, meaning, People Committed to the Prophet’s
Teachings and Jihad) then the Boko Haram are in error for God Himself
would that men live in peace and harmony. In the spirit of the Civil
War days (which I undoubtedly missed), I urge, ‘the fight to keep
Nigeria one is one that must be won.’ Let us live together. Together,
we, the collective people of Nigeria, shall overcome. As our motto
reads on our coat of arms, ‘Unity and Faith Peace and Progress’; in
unity and faith shall we have peace and progress.

I remain yours, Ayk Midas Afowoolukoyasire, fellow Nigerian, author,
poet and student of The FOUR Generations: Why You Do the Things YOU
Do! from Author House UK Publishers and University Press Plc., Ibadan,
urging, they can’t kill us all for they won’t dare govern themselves
(they are not just civilised enough, you know).

———————————————————————————————————–

Ayokunle Adeleye currently lives in Sagamu, Nigeria. His recent book, The Four Generations, is currently available for purchase on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Four-Generations-Why-you-things/dp/1456779133.

Nigeria: In Search of True Love

[Article by Ayokunle Adeleye]

I woke up this morning to a tearful irrigation of my face. It is my
birthday today and I woke up rather early, and cried. I cried like the
baby I no longer was, in the eyes of the world; I cried like the baby
I had become, in the eyes of my Love. I wept uncontrollably, for love
had found me; I wept uncontrollably for I was in love. They were tears
of joy: true love really existed. You most likely won’t understand my
tears until you understand my years, years of loneliness and
lovelornness, years of mortal thirst in the quest for immortal love.
Let me therefore grant you a peek into my world.

***
Back in the Days!
“Back in the days
They never used to come
But now when they see us
They run, run, run”

Back in the days
Of dressings stereotyped
When all that he wore
Was striped on striped

Back in the days
The soles of his shoes were pitted
Ignored and jested
He longed for shirts fitted

His Dream looked down on Dreamer
For even his ties could spook
And with hairline recession plus elf ears
Last thing he needed was the look of a rook!

His trousers wrinkled at the waist
For Mother bought them big
Big, and so were his pinnae
If the barber came too low, he’d need a wig

But like Sound Sultan said
Those were “back in the days”
Now he wears fitted designers
And can’t seem NOT to daze!
***

Enough about me and my past obsession with love. Behold my country
Nigeria and its present depression from love, the lack of it,
actually. She is oppressed, and her citizens bullied, by the very ones
sworn by her to love and cherish. Enough!

A great man was once asked about the greatest of deeds. His response?
Love. Love of the Creator. And love of the other creatures. A
corollary of the latter is service, that even masters must serve their
servants, and leaders, their followers. And as if that was not enough
an illustration, he washed his disciples’ feet. Undoubtedly, only a
few can do so today; apparently, only a handful of our leaders can.
You see, the prominent thing they seek is prominence. Baffling it is
that the people we vote to serve our collective fatherland and us care
more for themselves than they do for us. How soon they could get on
their knees in mock worship is dazzling. They love us not; to them, we
are just a means to an end: victory at the polls.

A couple of issues stir in my befuddled mind. Do they play monkey with
us because they think we are monkeys or because they perceive we are
monkeys? The Yoruba have a saying, He who wants to catch a monkey must
(first) act like one. Are we then monkeys in that we are readily
deceived by their banana-offering of fake amenability and mock
conformity? Perhaps we are the cause of the evil we endure for no
sooner had we voted them in than their much admired foreign chivalry
vanishes like our much loved fuel price subsidy. And whatever is left
of the former, like what is now left of the latter, is merely to quell
our barely acknowledged opposition to the trickery of our elected
tricksters.

Here’s an example for you. During the campaigns, they tell us how much
they are like us, without godfathers, bereft of silver spoons, and how
they only intend to serve us if elected. But there’s usually more to
the story. Left untold is that they can barely wait to no longer be
like us, that they crave so much the silver spoons they do not have,
that their godfathers are yet in hiding for only a foolish hunter
startles game yet uncaught. We are the monkeys, they are the hunters;
they act like us to catch us.

Estimates abound of how much more expensive the government of Nigeria
is than the people of Nigeria. Of how our President earns much more
than that of the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany,
Switzerland, China or Japan; yet our economy is nowhere near that of
those countries in worth or in stamina, it is however unrivalled in
deficit. Of how Nigeria has more ministers than the United States, yet
Nigeria is only half the size of the state of Alaska! Of the
discrepancies in the official positions of agencies of the Nigerian
government on how much fuel its people consume, yet our ill-calculated
fuel subsidy is halfway dead, its debilitated life snuffed out by our
so-called rulers.

Rulers. “Flat narrow pieces of plastic, metal, etc. with straight
edges, that you use for measuring things or drawing straight lines.”
Alas, short rulers that they are, poverty cannot be measured with
them, nor can un-education; yet they are too crooked to rule straight
lines. Isn’t it then safe to say that these rulers are useless?

Legislature. The Nigerian Senator earns two and half times more than
the President of the United States, yet there are nine dozens and one
extra of these rulers. The member of the Nigerian House of
Representatives earns twice as much as President Obama, yet there are
as many of them as the degrees at a point. Little wonder then why they
find it difficult to snip their bulging allowances yet easy to slash
our bogus subsidies. The legislator’s one trillion naira is
sacrosanct, yet the masses’ one trillion is sacrificial. So much for
love! They are lawmakers, yet love is the fulfilment of the law!

Judiciary. One is forced to wonder what happened to the conscience of
Nigerian leaders. They are sworn to be just, yet, as Mahatma Gandhi
observed, the court of conscience is greater than the court of
justice. How then can one conscientiously fight corruption whose
sustenance, take-home pay, is itself corrupt? How can Nigeria be loved
in truth when our unity against the unfair withdrawal of our fuel
subsidies was quelled, hushed by a militant President and shushed by
his military?

In the year 1978, Mr Ben Odiase, then Director of Music, Nigeria
Police Band, wrote what was adopted in October of the same year as our
National Anthem. The second and last stanza read,
O God of creation, direct our noble course
Guide our leaders right
Help our youth the truth to know
In love and honesty to grow
And living just and true
Great lofty heights attain
To build a nation where peace
And justice shall reign.

Justice. The court of conscience is greater than the court of justice.
Yet, it is not a good conscience which is devoid of love. Love your
neighbour as yourself; our leaders in all arms of government must love
us their neighbours, their responsibilities, for “not until the power
of love becomes stronger than the love of power will Nigeria ever know
peace.” Abiodun Okunola, Letter from My Grave. Nigeria is indeed in
search of true love. One only hopes she finds it—like I found mine,
but much sooner.

I remain yours, Ayk Midas Afowoolukoyasire, fellow Nigerian, author,
poet and student of The FOUR Generations: Why You Do the Things YOU
Do! from AuthorHouse UK Publishers and University Press Plc., Ibadan,
urging, they can’t kill us all for they won’t dare govern themselves
(they are not just civilised enough, you know).

———————————————————————————————————–

Ayokunle Adeleye currently lives in Sagamu, Nigeria. His recent book, The Four Generations, is currently available for purchase on Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Four-Generations-Why-you-things/dp/1456779133.

New Zealand: An essay by Nicole Arocho

Te Pori[1]

by Nicole Arocho

The truth is, I do not know where to start. And I mean, where to start writing this piece. I even made a list of potential experiences from where I could begin my tale of studying abroad a semester in Auckland, New Zealand. I’ve always love to travel, but I vowed to myself as a kid that I was going to go to the most unexpected countries as much as I could. As in, not in Europe or North America. Thus, when the opportunity came to study abroad, I investigated heavily online, and came up with Cape, Town, South Africa and Auckland, New Zealand as my top two choices. I do not know how I did it, but I decided to spend my fall semester of my sophomore year in the middle of the Pacific, thousands of miles away from home, with only English as common ground between the foreign land and I. I was extremely excited.

When I returned home mid-November, I couldn’t believe my semester was over. From July to November, I learned so much out of the classroom, I grew as a student and as a person tremendously, but it wasn’t until I had left The Land of the Long White Cloud that this struck me. I went a person, and a renovated version of myself came back to the Northern Hemisphere. Everyone made me the same question when I came back: what was your best experience over there? I never came with a straight answer. I had to mention many facts and adventures in order to feel satisfied with my description of New Zealand.

After much thought, I can say now that the best experience I had in New Zealand was my interactions with the locals. The self-proclaimed Kiwis are the happiest, nicest people on this planet, if you ask me. No wonder their country is one of the most peaceful in the world[2]. Their easy-going attitude made my experience as a whole much better than what I was expecting.

Coming from Puerto Rico, I have grown in a culture where emotions and affectation are expressed constantly and very directly. As a student in Ithaca, New York, I have come to know the less expressive culture of the United States. In New Zealand, I found middle ground. Kiwis are, in general, very sociable, pleasant people who take interest in many topics. They are huggers and smilers.

Their disposition to help others is remarkable. I had never encountered people so willing to aid the people around them. My first impression of Kiwis came from the hand of a guy (I am terrible with names; bear with me) who, seeing me struggle on the sidewalk with two big suitcases, a small one and a backpack up a hill in order to get to the university dorm, stopped his car right beside me and offered me a ride. I took a chance (I was that desperate) and got in his car. But my fears disappeared as he stopped to ask: “Mate, d’you know the whereabouts of the dorm for international students?” I would tell him the name, and say it again to the person in the sidewalk: “The International House, eh?” He was always smiling, never letting my growing distress affect him whatsoever. He was sure we where going to find the place, and he wasn’t going to let me get out of the car until we found it. And we drove in circles again and again until, after confusing it with the administrator’s house, we finally got there. He dropped me off, and wished me a great semester and a good life. Later on I saw him as I walked out of a classroom, and I acknowledged him with a smile he returned.

There was not one Kiwi that didn’t offered me help or good advice when I was stressed out with an essay, or couldn’t get the grades I wanted, or lost my passport and cellphone three days before coming home. Their attitude is selfless and they have a very positive outlook in life.

This perspective is what has led to the thriving peacefulness that exists in New Zealand. As a resident of a very violent country, I was thoroughly impressed with the almost nonexistent violence in Aotearoa[3]. I felt equally safe in a bar at 5 in the morning and in the university campus at noon. Even during the Rugby World Cup, when I thought I might be disappointed with Kiwi behavior, not once it happened.

The Kiwis are what I miss the most from New Zealand. It is them who made my experience as an exchange student a wonderful time. They accepted me right away, and made me feel like I was a Kiwi as well.



[1] Written in Maori; it means “the people”.

[3] Name given to New Zealand by the local indigenous people, the Maori, in their language, also named Maori. It means Land of the Long White Cloud.

You can contact Nicole Arocho at narocho3@gmail.com.

Whose Brain Is It? [Feb 2012 – Leena Prasad]

Whose Brain Is It?

By Leena Prasad

Presented within the flow of the lives of fictional characters, this is a monthly column with a journalist’s perspective on brain research.

Phil is moving slowly through the jungle. Is it a jungle or a banana plantation? All he sees are the tall and thick banana leaves. And why is he moving so slowly. He looks down. He is riding an animal. A bright orange animal.  Orange? That is strange. It lifts its long trunk and makes a sound.

An elephant! He is riding an elephant. What the fuck? Where is he? He must have said something out loud because a voice answers back.

Relax Phil. Enjoy the ride.

He recognizes the voice. It is his friend Lucy. Her voice calms him down. Everything must be okay.

He starts to do as she suggests and concentrates on enjoying the ride. It is pleasant really, so smooth. Elephants are gentle animals, he recalls from the Nature show he saw with Lucy a few weeks ago.

He feels a desire to lie down.

Is it okay to lie down, he says to Lucy.

Yes, you are in the backseat of car, she says. Albert is driving. He is taking us to Dolores Park.

Oh, he is in a car. Not on an elephant. The “banana” leaves are actually the palm trees along Dolores Street. The orange elephant is Lucy’s shawl sprawled on the seat near him. He was hallucinating.

It will be easier in Dolores Park, Lucy says. Since Albert lives nearby you can use his restroom or we can go to his place if you need to lie down or something.

Yes, it would be nice to be in nature. How long has it been now? He and Lucy had started the “journey” in the morning, at Lucy’s apartment in Bernal Heights. Dolores Park is not that far away from Lucy’s house. Why is it taking so long to get there?

He and Lucy are holding Albert’s hands. No. It’s Albert who is holding their hands. Unlike them, Albert is sober and is their guide. It’s his job to make sure that they are safe both physically and emotionally.

Phil stops to look at a purplish blue flower. He knows the street and the neighborhood fairly well and remembers seeing this flower before. But now he feels compelled to observe it more intimately. It’s so beautiful. He wants to gaze at every intricate detail.

Come on Phil. You have been staring at the flower for more than ten minutes now. We should head down to the park. It’s Albert, urging them on.

But look how beautiful it is, how perfect. Phil doesn’t want to move.  Albert puts a firm hand on his shoulder and starts to guide him down the steep hill to the park.

Phil stops at the corner of Church and 20th to admire the cityscape. He has seen this view countless times yet he feels as if he is seeing it for the first time.  The three of them sit down near the corner, at the crest of a hill.

Phil hears a jazz band playing not too far from where they are sitting. He looks at the band and can see the music coming towards him in beautiful improvised notes. He can see the music. How strange, he thinks.

Phil is not dreaming. He is fully conscious and will remember all the details of his experiences later when the effect of the Magic Mushrooms wears off from his system.  Magic Mushroom is a popular term for a wide variety of mushrooms that contain psilocybin, a chemical that is known to produce hallucinations and other effects.

Psilocybin is not addictive. Probably because the effects last for several hours and the experience is not all thrills and games and there is potential for dangerous side effects. Products that contain psilocybin, including the “magic” mushroom family and the synthetic drug LSD, are Schedule I illegal drugs in the United States because of the possibility of dangerous side effects.

On the other hand, psilocybin has potential benefits which researchers around the world have been studying. In 2010, scientists at Johns Hopkins conducted an experiment to examine the affect of psilocybin on cancer patients. Many patients reported relief from depression and long-term improvements in their lifestyle. One patient, Dr. Martin, rated the experience as “among the most meaningful events of his life.”

“Under the influences of hallucinogens, individuals transcend their primary identification with their bodies and experience ego-free states before the time of their actual physical demise, and return with a new perspective and profound acceptance of the life constant: change.” This statement was made by Dr. Charles S. Grob who conducted an identical study at UCLA on cancer patients. He noted that psilocybin helps lessen the intensity of fear, panic, and depression in terminally ill patients.

Phil is not terminally ill and does not have any mental disorders. Psilocybin or any other hallucinogens are also not recommended for people with mental illness because the impact on a disturbed mind cannot be measured or controlled and could lead to serious consequences. The formal studies are conducted in regulated lab environments within the supervision of medical professionals. Phil is being guided by his friends Albert and Lucy who are experienced users of the drug. They are ensuring that his experiences stay within a “safe” zone.

But what’s going on in Phil’s mind? A lot of what’s happening is a mystery but scientists have some clue. While people often speak of psychedelic experiences as something that expands their consciousness, the fact is that psilocybin reduces blood flow in the brain. Another common experience is that of feeling more connected with nature and other people. Ironically, during the hallucinations, critical areas of perception and cognition actually show a decreased level of connectivity. This explains, however, as to why depression can be lowered by this drug. People in the throes of depression also suffer from an overactive mind. Thus, slowing down the brain can slow down this increased activity and produce a calmer frame of mind. Extrapolating from this, it makes sense for people who are not depressed to also feel happier under the influence.

This explanation of lower activity in the brain due to reduction in blood flow and connectivity was discovered in an experiment by lead researcher Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London. His team used functional MRI brain scans to observe the brain activity of thirty volunteer participants while they were under the influence of psilocybin. The researchers measured the blood flow in half the patients and in the in the other half, they measured the connectivity among different brain regions. In both cases, the posterior cingulate and the medial prefrontal cortex of the brain were affected. There was less blood flow in these areas and the connectivity between these regions and the hippocampus was reduced. In addition, the thalamus had less blood flow also.

What does this mean?

“Changes in function in the posterior cingulate in particular are associated with changes in consciousness,” per Robin Carhart-Harris.  Both the posterior cingulate and medial prefrontal cortex are thought to be involved in functions related to self-awareness.

The thalamus regulates many functions of the brain so less blood flow to this region means less processing across the different regions.

The hippocampus plays a central role in consolidating short term memory to long-term storage. More studies will be needed to determine the implication of reduced connectivity between the hippocampus, the posterior cingulate and the medial prefrontal cortex.

While more experiments are required to fully document the details of what happens to a brain on psilocybin, scientists have discovered that the molecular structure of psilocybin is similar to the neurotransmitter serotonin which regulates mood. Thus psilocybin binds to the some of the same neuron receptors as serotonin and produces similar results. They are many legal prescription drugs that regulate serotonin. As per Franz Vollenweider of the Psychiatric University Hospital Zurich, it’s the long-term effects of psilocybin that are important not just the temporary altered states of participants. Even though brain connectivity is reduced in the short term, the long-term effect of the drug is to affect neural growth and connectivity, according to Vollenweider.

Other brain changes that are influenced by psilocybin are still under study and the Schedule I status of this drug complicates the research. It would be helpful to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how the brain is physiologically affected by this chemical but scientists are also studying other benefits. For example, a study by Harvard researchers Dr. R. Andrew Sewell and Dr. John H. Halpern, concluded that psilocybin is useful in reducing cluster headaches. “Our observations suggest that psilocybin and LSD may be effective in treating cluster attacks, possibly by a mechanism that is unrelated to their hallucinogenic properties. This report should not be misinterpreted as an endorsement of the use of illegal substances for self-treatment of cluster headaches.”

Phil is taking a risk in experimenting with something that is illegal and potentially dangerous. But, on the other hand, many patients in the Johns Hopkins and the UCLA studies said that their psilocybin experience was one of the most memorable and valuable events of their lives. It will probably be a while before psilocybin is used in a legal, guided, and safe environment to help people experience the levity that is often the affect of this drug. Perhaps it might become possible to safely “tune out” and feel happier and more connected to the universe. After all, there are many legal drugs like Prozac and Zoloft that have similar characteristics as psilocybin and help improve people’s lives.

———————————————————————————————————-

References:

Charles S. Grob, MD, et. all. “Pilot Study of Psilocybin Treatment for Anxiety in Patients With Advanced-Stage Cancer.”Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2011;68(1):71-78. doi:10.1001/archgenpsychiatry.2010.116

Tierney, John. “Hallucinogens Have Doctors Tuning In Again.” New York Times 11 April 2010. < http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/12/science/12psychedelics.html?pagewanted=all>

Sewell, Dr. R. Andrew MD, Halpern, Dr. John H. MD. “Response of cluster headache to psilocybin and LSD.” Neurology. June 27, 2006 66:1920-1922

Brauser, Deborah, “Psychedelic Drugs May Reduce Symptoms of Depression, Anxiety, and OCD”, Medscape.com 25 August 2010.  <http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/727438>

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Please send feedback and suggestions for future columns to leena@fishridingabike.com. Links to past columns are available at WhoseBrainIsIt.com and Leena’s writing portfolio is available at FishRidingABike.com. Leena has a journalism degree from Stanford University.

“Lost Souls” Pt. 2, by J’Rie Elliott

Lost Souls

Pt. 2

by J’Rie Elliott

 

“Why are you doing this to me? I know I wasn’t there for them, I…” He was not sure what he was saying; why had he not been there, did he even have a reason?  What had been so much more interesting and important than the woman who loved him and the kids he helped bring into this world?  These thoughts raced in his mind as he sat in the tattered blue recliner holding his face.  The air about him was damp and cold—chilling him to the bone and making his joints ache within him.  He pulled a cigarette from the pack in his pocket then flicked the lighter to light it—there was no spark.  He walked to the kitchen to light it from the stove and the stove would not light. “Dam it to hell!”  He gripped.  Not only was he stuck here, but he couldn’t light his smokes either.

A golden glow appeared again in the house, this time it was coming from the master bedroom; Marvin Gay was playing softly on the radio.  He walked down the hall to the back of the house to see Hannah sitting on the bed in a spectacularly sexy red full length night gown with white lace trim; candles burned on the night stands and dressers in the room.  “Wow, I’ve never seen that outfit before.  Who are you waiting on?”  He could feel the anger and the lust boiling in his body at the same time.  “Were you cheating on me?”  Hannah stood up and walked to the mirror checking her hair and her outfit; she picked up a card from the dresser—he walked up behind her and read over her shoulder—‘Happy Anniversary to my husband’.  “Oh babe, I’m sorry. I…”  She did a turn in the mirror, her eyes got big when she saw a price tag hanging from under her arm.  Hannah smiled at herself and clipped off the label.  Looking at the clock she sat down on the bed and waited and waited and waited.  Hannah fell asleep; the candles burned down to the nubs, Hannah jumped awake to the phone ringing—though it made no sound for him to hear.  Hannah spun and lifted the receiver with passion and eagerness on her face; the eagerness went away and disappointment took its place.  She nodded her head and placed the receiver back on the base; standing she walked into the bathroom and returned wearing her terry cloth robe holding her sexy night gown in her hand.  She gathered up the candles and the card and threw them into the garbage along with the gown. She dropped across the bed sobbing like a child; he raced to the side of the bed and kneeled beside her legs; he was crying at her feet.  “Baby, please listen to me, I didn’t know you had made all of these plans.  Why didn’t you tell me on the phone?  I would have come back home if I had known you were waiting on me.  Please don’t cry baby, please don’t cry.”  His pleas went unheard; Hannah was not there, this time was not there.  This moment happened twenty years ago—back when his kids were still little and Hannah still wore his ring.  The glow faded and the grayness surrounded him; he now knelt on a floor covered in dust, beside a bed that had no blankets, no warmth; there was nothing soft, warm or gentle in this room—it was just emptiness.

This shell of a man sat on the floor weeping softly, his chest heaving like that of a hurt child.  There was nothing that would stop this flow of emotions that was running down his cheeks; a lifetime of mistakes all rushed to him—the ones he knew about and even worse the ones he never knew happened.

What was taking place to him?  Was he trapped in a horrid nightmare that was vivid and yet still haunting?  He lay on the cold floor exhausted from the turmoil he was dealing with—he could not sleep. “Of course I can’t sleep.  How can I sleep in a dream?” He said to himself; but why was he not waking up?  That was when a voice other than his broke the silence in the damp, darkened room.

“You cannot wake up because you are not asleep.”  The voice boomed in the silent house.  The man jumped with a yelp and jolted up from the floor.  Standing before him was a man, a man of a nondescript race; he was neither White nor Black, Hispanic nor Asian, he appeared to be a combination of all human races.  The tone of his skin changed with his movements through the room; his facial features shifted with the movement of his head.  This gave him a chameleon likeness that added to his intensity.  The only stable thing on this man was his voice; his voice held steady and true—comforting in a way, yet terrifying.

“Who are you?” This terrified lump of a man screamed.

“The question is not who am I; but who are you?  You are a man without soul; a man who wasted the gifts that were bestowed upon him.  A man who squandered the delights given to earthly man in search of instant self-gratification, fornication, depravity, ego, pride, coward-ness and drunkenness.  You spat in the eye of every man in the Universe who unwilling lost everything they loved; every man who had to prematurely burry their wives or children; every man who prayed for the love only to find it was lost from him.  You sir need to ask who you are before you ask who I am.”  This shifting figure continued to pace back and forth across the room like a caged tiger that either had to pace or maul.  The anger in his voice had become tangible; the comforting tone was gone—it had been replaced with distain and disgust.

“I don’t know who the hell you think you are, but how dear you lecture me!”  He could not believe these words were coming out of his mouth to this creature that was walking around him; a creature that might possible have the ability to rip him limb from limb.  “Who are you to judge me?”

“Who am I to judge you?” The man creature grew from an average height to a looming nine feet tall and widened by another two feet.  His voice deepened and his eyes glowed beams of blue. “I am beyond your meager comprehension; I am the keeper of the lost souls!”  His voice echoed off the walls in the empty house and the world began to spin; he grabbed this pathetic man by the shoulders and tossed him across the spinning room, he landed, his head bouncing off of the floor. “You are to be damned! Have you not figured that out?” Spittle flew out of the creature’s mouth onto the face of this damned man.  The man’s face drained of color—from a peach cream to an ashen white; all of the strength left his legs and he stayed collapsed upon the floor.

“I’m what?” The words came out in a croak and his mouth instantly lost all moisture; his chest felt as though a lead weight was sat upon him and then pressed even harder.  He could feel his bowels loosen within him and had to physically restrain his stomach from retching up whatever was inside of it.

“You are such a pathetic little man.  What did you think, it was all a bad dream and you were going to wake up?  Even if it was a dream, what reason would you have to wake up?  You can clearly see where your life turned out—no one would want to wake up to that.  Even I would not want that, and I have been damned to have to cavort with the likes of you.”  The creature had returned to an average human size, though he was still over six feet tall.  He rolled his neck as though to stretch the muscles; a grinding crunching sound came from him as though his bones were crushed within his flesh.  His face shifted with every tilt and rotation.

“What is going to happen to me now?”  The ashen faced man said looking at the dirty floor beneath him.  The creature gestured his hands through the air; the room turned gold and warm again, the furniture was back and new, the air smelled like fresh washed linens.  It was his home again, his home the way it was when he walked out on it.

“You have been judged and you have been sentenced; not by me, but by him.”

“Him, who is him?”

“Him, God, the Great Spirit, Allah, whatever name you call him, He is the judge.  Everyone’s hell or damnation is different.”  The creature said his voice still stable though certainly not comforting. “A man by the name of Dante said there were nine circles of hell…he did not count high enough.  Each sin we cast makes a mark, each of these marks add up to a story.  You are looking at my damnation; in my life I was what your culture term a racist.  I hated anyone from another place, anyone another color; I was a misogynist who thought women were only for my amusement.  I was a deceitful, detestable man.  Now I am doomed to be all races, both sexes and I have to keep the lost souls.  I am never at rest I am always in pain; I must endure the emotional pain I inflicted on people as physical pain.”  The creature rotated his neck again making that horrid noise.  “That is my hell, this is yours.”

“What about the devil?”  He asked trying not to look at the shifting face and skin before him.

“That’s not for you to understand, nor for me to explain.  What you are to know is that you are to watch all of you mistakes.  The ones you made by your carelessness, your lust, your self love.  You will spend eternity watching and reliving; they will be alive and warm, you will be cold and in pain.  You will never eat, you will never sleep, and it will never stop.  Every vision will be new to you as every cycle you will forget and have to relive the pain fresh each time.  Eternity is a long time…what was your name?”

“Joseph Trilonnie” he uttered.

“Joseph Trilonnie, you will never hear your name again, you will only hear what the visions let you hear; you will be alone with the ghost of your past and the past with your family that you squandered.  I will stay with you through this one last memory, and then you will be alone.”

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Click here to read Part 1 of Lost Souls.

J’Rie Elliott is a poetess and ongoing contributor of Synchronized Chaos. To contact her, send an email to dixiepoet@gmail.com.

Book review: “StretchyHead” by Ian Tuttle

 Stories to Sip with Your Amuse-bouche

A book review by Christopher Bernard

This beautifully designed little book is based on a thoroughly charming premise: to offer brief stories, vignettes, anecdotes, sketches, set in eateries and boozeries in and around San Francisco, from Minx to Delirium, from Gott’s Roadside and Nomad’s Kitchen to the Yellow Submarine and the Little Spot Cafe.

The original idea seems to have been to write a different kind of restaurant review: one that paid almost no attention to such mundane matters as quality of cuisine, friendliness of service, or stylishness of ambience, but instead plunked down characters entirely imagined (one supposes!) in locations identified only by name and nearest major intersection, and let them have at one another in love, lust, convivial competition, or long-planned revenge: to create dramatic, romantic, satirical or sentimental “fictional stories in real places.”

At Vesuvio, a young man, between quaffs of a nameless spirit, practices damage control over a failed romance, writing a last love letter in the shadows of the old Beats’ North Beach watering hole. At Radio Habana Social Club, a saintly schizophrenic delivers an incoherent exhortation to a warmly bleary reception in the Mission’s tiny gem of a restaurant bar, while not far away, at Shotwell’s, a trio of gazillionaire geeks blackball the brew pub beize. At Soma’s Bar Agricole, a failed date encounters a successful marriage, proving that jealousy and resentment do not a successful evening make, while in the Financial District’s Boxed Foods Company, a young female exec-wannabe is eyed by two financial sharks way, way too into Pilates and commodities and asset destruction, and across the Bay, at Mill Valley’s Depot Bookstore and Café, an older man contemplates his newly acquired loneliness as he slowly constructs, one word at a time, the acrostic of the rest of his life.

Some of the stories are first-person anecdotes, some third-person shaggy-dog stories, some brief but penetrating glimpses into the hearts of those ordinary-looking people sitting at the second table down from you. Most of them last no more than a couple of smoothly turned pages. There is humor, there is insight, there is lots of satire, and there are moments of genuine poetry, as when the young husband at Noeteca whose wife has sacrificed her musical career to help him make partner in his law firm, fails in a sweet gesture whose greatest value, nevertheless, lay in its intent.

And Tuttle has a definite way with a phrase:

“Wood, bare, like inside skin, and wine. Kyle watches his four ladies not drink, just tap nails against the jars. The obscure bottle recommended, expensive, boutique. He drinks, even though they won’t, out of his own mason jar.”

This from a story set, benignantly, in a wine bar called Heart where a newly liberated, divorce-bound husband hangs with a quartet of available lovelies between a Turkish red and his new scarlet car.

The little volume is a lovely piece of bookmaking too, with witty illustrations by Jason Toney―not much larger than a passport, it’s pocket-portable to the nearest café.

Leslie Sbracco, you’ve got company. PBS’s “Check Please, Bay Area” and StretchyHead could, between them, make a poem of every night by the Bay.

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StretchyHead

By Ian Tuttle

Portuguese Artists Colony Books

Christopher Bernard is a San Francisco writer, founding editor of Caveat Lector magazine, and author of A Spy in the Ruins.

Book review: “Not Exactly Haiku” by Leena Prasad

[Reviewed by Nicole Arocho]

Leena Prasad’s Not Exactly Haiku is a book that was developed through an innovative route, and the results are just that, very fresh and different from anything else out there. Haiku is defined (in www.thefreedictionary.com/haiku) as “[a] Japanese lyric verse form having three unrhymed lines of five, seven, and five syllables, traditionally invoking an aspect of nature or the seasons.” Prasad utilizes this art form freely, without restricting herself so much with its technicality but focusing her efforts in the usage of nature as a metaphor and the short length of traditional haikus.

The author created the “haikus” that compose this book through a Twitter account (@notexactlyhaiku). Prasad would post her original pieces and people would retweet them, encouraging her to put them together in this book. Thus, this book was Prasad’s creative effort, but the tweets made the haikus known through social media before getting published in Not Exactly Haiku. This concept of using social media to promote literature is fascinating and shows how the industry is changing with the boom of social media and online publications complementing or replacing printed books.

The drawings on these haikus embellish the pages, but, more profoundly, they complement the authors’ metaphorical ideas on life. When I read the first haiku, titled “ants”, I could see that this compilation was going to be a very poetic journey through the mysterious ways our minds process what happens everyday. The author writes a neuroscience column for this same magazine, and I can see how her perspective on such matter has influenced her writing and rewriting of these haikus. Most of the haikus are pretty straightforward with their message, but some others mean more than what we perceive in the first reading. Such is the case of “grass is greener”: “some days the grass/ is greener, in my yard/ but, i do not see”. When I first read it, I thought it was simply talking of how season change and how that can reflect in our moods and such. But, as I read it again, I could gather the whole nature of the haiku. The grass represents our interior world; our souls, our hearts, our deepest desires and wishes, our knowledge, while the yard is the exterior world; our bodies, the people around us, nature, civilization. When our interior, the “grass”, is at its height, sometimes we are blinded by what is happening in the outside world (the “yard”) and its pressures and tribulations, such as stress, work, frustrations, depressions and many other variables out of our control. This way, we forget how truly amazing each of us are in our own unique way, and let the world get the best of us.

These drawings sometimes even changed the meaning of the haikus. This happened with “clouds”: “clouds hovering/the sky holds its breath/ before the storm”. After one read, this haiku was talking of a general idea of the moment before a problem comes to our lives, where everything is alright, but there are some signs of the “storm” coming to descend upon us. But the drawing is that of a pregnant woman with a man touching her belly while looking at the woman’s face. This made me as the reader focus on one event in life (pregnancy) that is the pre-event of childbirth and raising children, both of which can bring difficulties and problems to the parents. What the author couldn’t say with the haikus because of their minimalistic nature, she expressed through these sketches.

It is interesting how the author doesn’t use any capital letters in her writing. As a poet myself, it is a stylistic approach I can relate to, and that, aesthetically, gives the haikus a feel of continuity and impreciseness that heightens the effect of shortness that characterize these pieces.

Leena Prasad still has her Twitter account running, where you can read her latest haikus and retweet them, and a Facebook page to discuss them in order to continue on this literary effort.

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You can contact the reviewer, Nicole Arocho, at narocho3@gmail.com.

Leena Prasad recently wrote an iPhone app which was inspired by Not Exactly Haiku. The app is currently available for 99 cents at http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/not-exactly-haiku/id495835142?mt=8