Synchronized Chaos Magazine – April 2012: Heavy (so to speak)

Synchronized Chaos Magazine – April 2012: Heavy (so to speak)

This month’s issue is loaded with poetry, artwork, timely articles, reviews, and more!

James Pollard’s dark and figurative artwork is appreciably mysterious.

The heat intensifies in Linda Allen’s descriptive poem: Just Another Day in the Life in Oklahoma.

In Heavy Red, Neil Ellman interprets the weight of the universe.

The world is full of poets, but are poets creating more “good” poetry or “bad” poetry, and where is the inspiration anymore? Check out the work of Janine Canan.

Additional poetry this month comes from returning-favorites Sam Burks and Dave Douglas. And returning neuroscience columnist Leena Prasad explores the underlying physical and cognitive bases for empathy and understanding in her piece, Whose Brain Is It.

We are also happy to feature writing from Monty J. Heying. Heying’s Birthday Cake and Baby Teeth is a highly autobiographical story based on his years in a Texas orphanage.

In interviews…

* George Teseleanu interviewed Surrealist Illustrator Marc Gosselin. This artwork is a must-see!

* Jaylan Salah interviewed Laura Weinbach of Foxtails Brigade. Weinbach started Foxtails Brigade in 2006 with Sivan Sadeh. Their third album was released last December.

In performance reviews…

* Christopher Bernard reviewed Tontlawald, at the Cutting Ball Theater in San Francisco, California, and also Voices of Light, at UC Berkeley’s Zellerbach Theater in Berkeley, California
* Jessica A. Sims reviewed The Abduction From the Seraglio (Yanked from the Harem – Mozart), presented by Pocket Opera
* Bruce Roberts reviewed Ken Ludwig’s Moon Over Buffalo, at Chanticleers Community Theater in Castro Valley, California.

For you Foodies, you’ll definitely want to check out Roberts’ other article on Seattle’s newest pub and restaurant: The Pine Box. The Pine Box officially opened on March 26th in Seattle Washington’s “Capitol Hill” neighborhood and offers a menu that focuses primarily on gourmet pizza, and of course, beer.

In other science-related interests, Suzanne Birrell reviewed a recent lecture on the topic of aging. The lecture was hosted by the Northern California Science Writers Association (NCSWA) and was given by Professor Tom Rando, MD, PhD, on March 21, 2012, at The Basque Cultural Center in San Francisco, California.

We hope you enjoy this month’s issue of Synchronized Chaos Magazine! As always, feel free to leave comments for the contributors and if you’re interested in submitting to the magazine, send your work to synchchaos@gmail.com.

Poetry by Linda Allen

Just Another Day in the Life in Oklahoma

 

The grass is high

over my ankles in length

All the rain last week

made the grass sprout

like a child

all overnight

High noon I started to mow

Man was that dumb

It was a hot Oklahoma day

The sun was beating down on me

I mowed the front yard

and was sweating profusely

Neighborhood children playing

The sneezing and allergies were

more of an annoyance than all the sticks

that I had to dodge or be hit in the face

Bruises on my legs

show the truth

show the fact that I could not dodge

and walk at the same time

Thank God for nothing, but shade here

On to the right side yard

The grass is even taller over here

at about my lower thigh in length

Whoa the ground is softer than usual

I find myself sinking

Sneezing and allergies not so bad over here

Huh that is strange

Five minutes and I am done

I made better time than usual

On to the back yard

Wow! High Noon has a new meaning back here

The sun is beating down on me

No shade in sight

I always thought my backyard

was the surface of the sun

Today it was proved to me

Over half way finished and now there is

a size 9 foot print sized hole

in the yard

Sank to my ankle, the ground was

dry and soft all at the same time

HD Vision Aviators® sunglasses on my face

Still the sun is hot and bright

But the colors of the day are amazing

The greens, the blue skies and white clouds, and even the dirt brown is pretty

Just another day in the life in Oklahoma.

———————————————————————————————

 Linda Allen may be reached at lindaallen4119@att.net.

Poetry by Neil Ellman

Heavy Red

(after the painting by Wassily Kandinsky)

 

Every bubble in the universe

every line and arc

every wave

the sound of mourning

and the scent of birth

every color has its weight—

a molecule of red

contains the universe

the endless heaviness

of sleep.

——————————————————————————–

Balancement

(after the painting by Wassily Kandinsky)

 

Between anarchy and calm

a world.

Between the chatter of stars

and the shape of a syllable

a word.

Between meaning in a line

and the reason of a square

a doubt.

In perfect unison

the licks of a flame pretend

that they have souls.

——————————————————————————–

Improvisation No. 27 (The Garden of Love)

(after the painting by Wassily Kandinsky)

 

Passion grows

in this improvised garden of love

in its tangle of arms and limbs

where the shape of a leaf

becomes the tongue

of my awakening

the spray of parting lips

my Eden

my spring

a yellow sun

and the scent of flesh.

——————————————————————————–

Neil Ellman lives in New Jersey. His work has been published in numerous print and online journals throughout the world, as well as in eight chapbooks, the most recent of which, Convergence and Conversion, is forthcoming from The Knives, Forks and Spoons Press.

Poetry by Janine Canan

Laureates

 

How about being tapped on the shoulder

by a Muse, or dragged by your hair

to pen and paper?

 

What about old-fashioned Inspiration?

And leaving those other jottings

to the trash bin of the mind?

 

Teaching writing? Wouldn’t it be better

for everyone to read?

Aren’t there too many poems

 

people don’t want to read already?

Wouldn’t it be kinder

to serve someone hungry soup?

 

Inspiration—what’s that anyway?

Where does it come from?

Some god you haven’t met yet?

 

Instead of technical games and tricks,

why not get out on the road and walk

until you meet Her.

 

In memory of Robert Duncan

and all the other inspired Poets

——————————————————————————————

Introduction to Writing a Poem

 

There is bad poetry, mediocre

poetry, and good poetry.

 

Bad poetry and good poetry

cannot be taught.

 

To write bad poetry requires a big ego

that only bad parents can give.

 

Good poetry is given

by the gods.

 

But mediocre poetry

can be taught.

——————————————————————————————

Others

 

Competition means

wasting yourself on making others

feel less.

 

Whereas Excellence

means inspiring others

to become more.

——————————————————————————————

From Janine Canan have come many books of poetry including Ardor: Poems of LifeChanging Woman (Small Press Review pick) and Of Your Seed (recipient of an NEA grant); two award-winning anthologies, Messages from Amma and She Rises like the Sun; translations of two early 20th century poets, Francis Jammes and Else Lasker-Schueler; illustrated storybooks, Journeys with Justine and Walk Now in Beauty; and Canan’s collected essays Goddesses Goddesses. Janine lives in California’s Valley of the Moon where she is a practitioner of holistic psychiatry, graduate of New York University School of Medicine and Stanford cum laude, and follower of Indian humanitarian Mata Amritanandamayi. Visit JanineCanan.com for more information.


 

Poetry by Sam Burks

The Revolution

Here we are, twisting our way through

the countryside together

and we don’t even know each other’s names.

She’s my neighbor, a Japanese flower

possibly from Seattle,

at least that’s what I might have heard

from the river of broken tongues, my ears

were working at only half capacity.

I was using everything else I had

to breathe in my surroundings.

It was utterly useless and pleasant,

I was a hibernating bud on the winter stock,

and I would soon be feeding the world all the

warmth and brilliance of color

and harmony.

I was plotting the liberation of humanity

as I glanced a little to my right

seeing her transparent reflection

looking into this window of subtle

delayed reactions.

Who are you?

Why must we be silently projecting

and accumulating information for the revolution

in our heads, the revolution meant

for our souls?

Would it kill people to actually

talk to one another?

Hello, stranger.

We are not strangers

anymore. Do you like trivia?

Me neither, fuck trivia.

Let’s talk about something else:

Did you know that we are

changing the world as our

reflections speak to one another through

this travelers looking glass?

Oh, that would be a great way

for the revolution to start

tonight.

——————————————————————————-

A Breach In The Peace Of Mind

I noticed the fence in front of your house was broken, and I tried to

imagine the collision that must have happened in the few days since I

last walked by your house. Some reckless jerk, probably drunk behind

the wheel, had put so much on the line. Thank God there weren’t any

visible bloodstains on the ground. I don’t know how much more I could

fear intruders, especially the ones who don’t know where they’re

going.

 

And so that’s how it was with us. As I walked by that gaping hole in

the fence I could see that the light in your room was on. And I was

afraid, so afraid, of what damages you had sustained, and I felt a

little bit responsible. We were just so careless when we were happy.

 

That broken fence spoke to me through twisted nails and mangled

splinters, and the light showing from your window projected a scene of

irony through that chaotic mess: There you are, up in your room, still

guarding yourself jealously, and here I am, just beyond your window,

teetering on the brink of a collision.

 

Well, maybe we could take some comfort in knowing that even the most

confusing and difficult feelings can manifest themselves so literally.

I think we could both learn a lot from broken fences.

——————————————————————————-

You may reach Sam Burks at srburks@gmail.com.

Poetry by Dave Douglas

The Hands of Time

 

The hands of time –

With a fist in my face

And a grasp at my throat,

Trapped in a minute space

 

The gears unwind –

Trapped in a minute space

With a grasp at my throat

And a fist in my face

 

Are the hands of time –

With a push through the day

At an unseen pace,

Only to betray

 

The gears unwind –

Only to betray,

At a hastened pace

With a push through the day

 

Are these hands of mine –

Set in distinct movement

With a means to an end

And a morning lucent

 

The sun rises once again –

With a morning lucent

And a means to an end,

Set in distinct movement

 

The moon guards the night –

With a face toward a fist

And a grasp at my throat,

In the space of minutes

 

The sun rises once again –

In the space of minutes

With a grasp at my throat

And a face toward a fist

 

The moon guards the night –

In an instant of cause

And the pendulum of effect

The errors repeat without pause

 

But, the sun rises once again –

The errors repeat, with a pause,

Without a pendulum effect

Before an instant of cause

 

As the gears unwind –

Before the final chime

The sun rises once again

By the hands of time

 

The gears unwind –

The sun obeys its last commands

And the moon guards no more,

At the time without hands …

————————————————————————————–

You can reach Dave Douglas at carpevelo@gmail.com.

“Birthday Cake and Baby Teeth” by Monty J. Heying

Birthday Cake and Baby Teeth

(Fort Worth, Texas, July, 1963)

The doors of the bus knuckle ­inward as it rumbles to a stop at the curb in front of the children’s home. In quick jerky movements Matt scrambles up, drops in two dimes and takes a transfer as the bus spews a burst of air and pulls into the hot Sunday afternoon traffic. The wiry eighteen year-old sits directly behind the driver, takes out a slip of paper and studies the address as the orphanage pecan trees glide past in the windows. He leans forward, saying, “Excuse me, sir, can you tell me if there’s a bus that goes down Mc Cart?”

“You can transfer to number six at Hemphill Street, downtown,” the driver says, smiling into the mirror. “Six’ll take you all the way out to Seminary Drive on Mc Cart.”

“Thank you,” Matt says, his knees jacking up and down to some frantic inner rhythm. He wipes the sweat from his forehead with a handkerchief and puts it way. His mouth waters as he pictures the chocolate cake Mommy mentioned on the telephone. His mother is more an idea than a person. It was the first time he’d heard her voice on the phone. The few times he’d lived with Mildred she’d rarely spoken to him, instead relaying messages through his older sister, Anne. And as for “father,” it was just a word scrawled on the back of a sepia photograph of a smiling Army officer with his foot in a chair.

As Matt stares with unfocused eyes at the landscape flowing past, a question hovers below the level of consciousness: Why, after all this time, did Mildred want to see her invisible son?

Her call had come on the wall phone in the stairwell outside the Big Boys’ dormitory.

“Tell Matt he’s got a phone call!” Mrs. Crow yelled through the dormitory entrance. Thinking it was Maria, his girlfriend, Matt ran the entire length of the long green room to grab the dangling handset.

“Hello?” he said.

Mildred’s giddy high-pitched voice greeted him. “Hello, Mr. High School Graduate! You’re going to be eighteen next Monday. I want to make you a birthday cake!”

At the sound of his mother’s voice, Matt felt paralyzed. She was actually talking to him! He pictured her face from the last time he saw her, two years ago on visitation Sunday.

“Uh…, h-hi. A birthday cake?”

She sounded happy. She looked so pretty when she smiled. He wondered what she looked like now. He didn’t even have a picture of her. And Janet, his half sister—she was nursing the last time he saw her the year he came to the Home—Janet would be almost eight. And Lisa he’s never even seen. She must be what? Five?

“What kind would you like?” Mildred said. “Chocolate used to be your favorite.”

Matt didn’t know what to say. Choices had been rare at the Home, where you take what you get and feel lucky.

“Yeah, sure, chocolate’s fine. It’s great,” he said.

“Or I could bake you a pie. Banana cream or chocolate? It’s your birthday; you get to choose whichever you want!”

So many choices: cake, pie, banana cream, chocolate. It made him dizzy. “Uh… Cake. Chocolate. Sure, that’s good.”

After hanging up, he stood looking at the phone, wondering if he should have told her about the scholarship.

Across town, Mildred slides open the closet door and stands in bra and panties looking over her options. She knows that the only thing that fits is another print house dress, yet she moves the hangers back and forth, remembering when she could wear those other things in the back. She glances at the alarm clock, and her pulse quickens as she tries to picture Matt’s face the last time she saw him two years ago.

“Mommy! Janet hit me!” Lisa calls from the living room where cartoons are on television.

“She bit me!”

Shoes. Mildred tosses the dress onto the bed. The near-empty canvas shoe caddy flops against the closet door as she throws it open. There used to be more—the brown and white pumps and those patent leather high heels that made her feel good just looking at them. She stoops to fish among the floor clutter and pauses to knock the dust off the tasseled white majorette boots from high school. She picks the gold slippers with elastic around the tops.

“Mommy!” Lisa yells.

“I did not hit her!”

Mildred notices Janet’s lisp. She’ll grow out of it, she thinks, as she steps into the thin flowered dress, pulls it up and buttons in front of the cracked full-length mirror. She frowns at the thick flesh that obscures her hips and holds the history of her multiple miscarriages. Troy, her husband, calls them fist abortions. Why does he laugh when he says that, she wonders. Closing her eyes, Mildred shudders, remembering the pain as he pounded her belly. And the bloody mess afterward. She wonders how everything could have gone so wrong. “He’s big now,” she murmurs. “Spunky will help me.” Those words are on her mind as she leans close to the mirror and applies bright red lipstick.

Mildred sits at the dresser and begins brushing her hair. Little Lisa comes in wearing nothing but panties and stands next to her with a battered naked doll clamped upside-down and unblinking under her knobby elbow. As the thin five-year-old blinks back from the mirror, Mildred notices Lisa’s delicate turned-up nose and is reminded of Anne, her big half-sister. Where is Anne, anyway, she wonders. Trance-like, she begins absently brushing Lisa’s fine brown hair in slow, careless strokes. In a practiced ritual, Lisa tilts and turns her head under the brush, directing the energy where it is needed. In the next room, Mickey Mouse is rescuing Minnie.

Lulled by the rocking of the bus, Matt drifts back in time to another chocolate cake, when he was six years old. What family he had then called him Spunky. He remembers the cake aroma drifting out to him in Aunty’s garden where he and Anne were playing. The tantalizing scent drew them indoors, where it filled the house. Then that rush of hot air as the oven door opened, revealing four steaming circular pans. Mommy up there with a spatula, mortaring those brown disks with chocolate icing. Toothpicks to hold them in place. He licked the back of the spoon while Anne licked the other side, giggling at the chocolate smudge on the tip of her freckled nose.

The sizzling tires of the bus whine a high-pitched chord as it cruises past familiar places—the Mexican Inn, the 312 Club, a yellow brick house at Bomar Street where they had lived during one of the few times he and Anne were living with Mildred. In those days, it was Anne who taught him how to tie his shoes and Anne who had made cinnamon toast in the morning.

In those days, Home was wherever Matt fell asleep, like the back seat of a car, with street lights gliding past, lying head-to-toe hugging his sister’s legs as the fatherless family drifted among the motels and taverns along that six-lane stretch of Highway 180 called East Lancaster Avenue. A week or two here. Four weeks there.

Unsupervised and oblivious to danger, the vagabond pair were drawn to anything curious or exciting and have scars to show for it. They found an abandoned refrigerator, and took turns locking each other inside. A giant wooden cable spool was an alien spaceship that they pushed upright and rolled downhill into the street. At the drive-in theater behind the Park Plaza Motel, they’d climbed inside the giant silver screen and used the framework for monkey bars.

A cloud of diesel fumes catches up to the bus at the Beach street intersection, and the engine idles as Matt strains to picture Mommy the last time he saw her. Great-aunt Carrie had usually come alone on visitation Sundays; so he was surprised when his mother drove up in a blue ’58 Chevy with Aunty riding shotgun. Mildred gave him a driving lesson that day. She seemed happy, almost carefree. It was hands-down the best time he’d ever spent with her. Troy, her new husband, wasn’t there to spoil everything.

The light changes, the bus lumbers into the heat and Matt opens his window all the way, unbuttoning his shirt. He’s proud of the new Madras shirt and Levis he bought with his earnings from driving the delivery truck for Book Nook. He’s proud of the scholarship and that he’ll be starting college next month. His heart beats faster, knowing that when he gets to Mommy’s he won’t be invisible anymore. He sits up, lifts his chin and straightens his shoulders the way Aunty taught him.

He remembers the first time Mildred came for visitation. It was a hot spring day a month after he and Anne arrived at the Home. The curbside doors of Troy’s ’52 Buick were flung open for ventilation. Matt and Anne were in the back with Aunty, who kept fanning her large lavender-scented presence with a church pamphlet. Mommy and Troy were in front, and Troy had leaned over the seat to read aloud from their marriage license to prove to everyone that he and Mildred—now three months pregnant with Janet—had finally married. Three months later they returned. The sight of baby Janet in his mother’s arms gave Matt a twinge of envy, and he feels it again, just now.

“It’ll just be a couple more weeks, and we’ll come get you, Mildred had said, adjusting Janet’s blanket and shifting her bottle.

The next month Aunty came alone, with a message: “They’ve gone to live in Colorado. Troy said he didn’t want to raise someone else’s kids. That ornery cuss is running from child support. He’s got five other kids from another marriage.”

The words were like lead weights slung around his shoulders. Mommy’d said a couple of weeks!

But the days and weeks piled up into months and melted into a river of yesterdays.

During Matt’s nine years at the Home, time kept swallowing Mildred and spitting her back. She came for visitation maybe four times. Not even a card at Christmas and suddenly she wants to make him a birthday cake? Matt shakes his head and heaves a deep sigh.

And yet he feels the urge to see her. After all, she had called.

After changing buses, the trip south on Mc Cart is brief. Matt covers the final three blocks on foot, unconsciously avoiding cracks in the sidewalk. He stops and studies the “6329” painted on the steps below the porch of a small white wood-framed corner house next to a railroad crossing. The front yard is weeds and hard-packed earth. Tall shoots of Johnson grass nod gently behind a scraggly rose bush.

Cicadas take turns drumming the air as Matt gazes at the house and wipes his brow. It’s like being in a heat vise, sandwiched between the sun above and the concrete baking through the soles of his shoes. It’s just a few steps to the porch, but his feet are rooted there. He knows he’s supposed to want to see his mother, but something’s holding him back. What should he call her? His friends at school call their mothers Mom. Silently he mouths the words—Mom, Mother—but they’re like a foreign language.

The screen door opens, and a small arm and matching leg wrap around the black door frame. A child’s face appears. Matt starts forward, and the little girl’s limbs fold away like a spider disappearing into a hole.

Cake aroma greets him at the door. As he knocks he sees a woman’s dim silhouette through the screen, backlit by the kitchen window.

“That you, Spunky?” Pots and pans rattle, and Mildred comes. Matt hasn’t been called by his nickname in years. It makes him feel small. He clears his throat. “Um… Hi!”

“Hi-i-i!” she says, pushing open the door. “You found us!” She looks up at him, smiling. “Come in! Your cake’s almost ready!”

“Hi, it was easy.” He shrugs. “The buses were on time.” He grabs the door, surprised at how small she seems.

Mildred releases the door and steps back. “Look how tall you are. Your father was six feet. You’ll be six feet too.” She pats his shoulder as he moves through into the front room, hands in pockets, blinking to adjust to the light.

“Come over here and let’s look at you.” Mildred motions toward the kitchen. “Janet! Lisa! Come see your big brother!”

Janet, brown-eyed and plump, beams a shy smile from a doorway, pulling at her stringy shoulder-length sand-colored hair. Lisa is the spider girl, her tousled curls and blue eyes visible over the top of a chrome-legged kitchen table. Both girls are barefoot and wear worn and discolored everyday dresses.

“Hi.” Matt smiles and waves at the girls, then turns toward the woman who brought him into the world. He glances at her, looks away, then back again, struggling to reconcile this image with the shapely form in his head.

Mildred’s shoulder-length wavy brown hair is fluffed and combed back on the sides, held in place with plastic barrettes. She wears thick makeup and lipstick, her chipped nails a matching bright red. A yellow apron with limp ruffles covers her dress. Her face looks puffy to him, but despite everything, she seems prettier than most of the mothers of his friends at school.

“Janet, Lisa. Don’t be shy. He won’t bite,” Mildred says, glancing back and forth between the girls and Matt. “Come sit while I finish your cake.” She motions toward the kitchen table.

Matt pulls out a chair and sits. Lisa giggles and climbs a stool near the sink, where she perches, gumming her lips, suppressing a smile that eventually breaks through revealing her cavities.

Mildred notices Matt’s reaction. “It’s okay,” she says. “They’re just baby teeth. I’ll just make some finishing touches here.” She returns to the cake.

Janet marches to the table and sits across from Matt, repeatedly drawing a strand of hair through her mouth. She cocks her head, looking directly at him. He smiles and turns to watch Mildred scoop chocolate icing from a bowl with a long rectangular knife and apply it with utmost care.

“Janet, would you pour some milk for you and Lisa?” she says.

Janet jumps up and goes to the refrigerator.

“Do you want milk or iced tea?” Mildred looks at Matt. “I made some fresh.”

“Milk,” he says without hesitating, then, “No… tea.”

The girls look at each other and giggle. Matt blushes and looks around the room. It feels like their eyes have been on him since his arrival. There’s a faint odor of dirty clothes, cigarettes, beer and whiskey. The kitchen sink is full of unwashed dishes. The counter is cluttered with cooking utensils and an overflowing ashtray. Through the kitchen window comes the distant sound of a locomotive’s air horn.

From his seat at the table, Matt has a view of the living room past the stove and over the arm of a badly worn leather easy chair. Curtains partially drawn over broken Venetian blinds darken the room. On the coffee table, another bulging ashtray is overlapped by a newspaper. Weathered magazines and comic books are carelessly stacked and strewn. Dirty clothes are piled on a vinyl-covered couch. Mildred hums along with Dean Martin’s “Volare!” on the kitchen radio: Just like birds of a feather, a rainbow together we’ll find. It’s all so familiar, and Matt suddenly feels tired.

The cake Mildred sets on the table is a glimmering promise of gustatory delight.

“I made it from scratch,” she says. “I always make my cakes from scratch.” She removes the apron and starts applying candles.

Matt chuckles. “I remember Aunty used to say, ‘No box cakes at my house.’”

Mildred says, “Lisa, get down from there and go sit at the table.”

Lisa climbs down and parks in a chair in front of a glass printed with underwater scenes of shells, fish and seaweed, the colors vivid against the white background of milk inside.

“Eighteen candles,” Mildred says, throwing Matt a smile.

Matt watches them distribute the candles, each in an individual white sugary base. During half those years he was at the children’s home. He knows this, and he knows that most of the other years were at Aunty’s. Sitting here feels almost like being in a family. A familiar longing surges up. But he shoves it back down, cracks his knuckles and crosses and re-crosses his legs. The girls giggle and trade looks.

When all the candles are blazing, Mildred says, “Okay, let’s sing ‘Happy Birthday.’”

As they sing, Matt’s mind goes to the orphanage dining room, with seventy a cappella voices. It seems like every week someone’s having a birthday at the Home. Next week the song will be for him and Ingstrom.

The girls clap and yell, “Make a wish! Make a wish!”

Matt closes his eyes and inhales, searching for something to wish for. The longing returns. Could they? He shoves it down again, purses his lips and blows, pushing air until after the candles are out, emptying his lungs.

Mildred’s three children watch as she slices a large piece of cake and hands it to Matt. She cuts smaller pieces for the two girls and herself. Matt and the girls trade glances over grinning mouthfuls. The girls giggle at their white moustaches. Matt takes his time, cutting small bites, chewing slowly, prolonging the wonderful sweet taste he remembers so well.

Mildred pulls a cigarette from a pack of Salems and lights up. “Oh, crap!” She chuckles. “I forgot the tea!” She goes to the counter and begins filling glasses. Tea spills. “Goddammit! Shit!” she says, stamping a foot. “Janet, go get the mop. Quick!”

“Shit!” Janet mutters. She jumps up and rushes out, then returns with a damp mop reeking of mildew.

Mildred puts a glass of tea down hard on the table in front of Matt and cleans up the spill, then leans the mop against the wall. The girls exchange looks and wrinkle their noses at the smell. The train horn sounds again, louder this time.

“How’s Troy?” Matt says, studying Mildred’s face.

Her smile turns into a grimace. “He’s at work,” she says, puffing on the cigarette. “He manages two Fina stations over on Hemphill. He’s hardly ever home—works days and most nights.” She lifts her head, gazing blankly out the kitchen window, revealing a bruise on her neck partially covered by makeup.

“How’s Anne?” Mildred says.

Matt sighs. “I don’t know. Last I heard, some lady sent her to modeling school, and she was staying with her over by TCU.” He sighs again, wondering how he will get in touch with her.

Matt wants to leave, but he doesn’t want to be rude and go too soon. As he searches for something to say, fractured scenes descend like winged ghosts: Mildred being attacked by a chow and Uncle Roy threatening to cut off it’s head with a butcher knife—Mildred pinching Matt, saying, “There, cry yourself to sleep!”—her whiskey breath words, “You kids are not going to ruin my young life. I’m going to live high, love hard, and die young!” —and strangling terror as the glowing red coil of a cigarette lighter comes at him in the dark. Unconscious of doing so, he rubs the scar.

At that moment their eyes meet, and for the first time in her life Mildred actually sees her son. This time he doesn’t look away. She opens her mouth, but words don’t come, and she knows she cannot ask anything of him. Not now. Not ever. The cigarette burns her fingers and falls into the ashtray.

“It’s hot,” Matt says, wiping his forehead with his handkerchief. He gulps tea. “There’s mint. It’s been forever since I had mint in my tea.” Two more swallows, and the ice rattles. Mildred refills the glass.

“It grows right outside the back door,” she says. “Is it sweet enough?” She nudges the sugar bowl closer.

Lisa gets down from her chair. “I have to go to the bathroom,” she says, and trots through a doorway, tripping on a rug.

“Godammit!” she whispers.

Janet smothers a giggle. Mildred doesn’t notice. She takes a long drag from the cigarette and exhales, watching the plume drift out the kitchen window. Again the train horn sounds.

“Janet, how old are you now?” Matt says, looking at her.

“I’m eight in December. Is that Aqua Velva you’re wearing? I like your shirt.”

“What grade will you be in when school starts?”

“Fourth grade,” Janet says, tonguing a decayed tooth. “I like your shirt.”

Matt glances down at the buttons. “Thanks. It came from India. What’s your favorite subject?”

“I hate school,” she says. “School’s yucky!”

Mildred smiles, gazing dreamily out the window. “I went to your school,” she says, glancing at Matt. “Poly High, Class of ’38. Ours was the first graduating class in the new building.” She chuckles. “I was a majorette.” She sits up, shakes her hair and blows another plume.

By the time he finishes the cake, Matt is squirming in his chair. He needs to pee, but he wants out of there. “Thanks for the cake,” he says, rising. “It was really super. I gotta be back by five.” He’s not due back at the Home until six, when the orphanage bus leaves for church.

Mildred comes out of her reverie and looks at Matt. “What are you going to do, now that you’re out of school?”

Matt gets to his feet. “I got a scholarship to Arlington State. I’m leaving in a couple of weeks.” He glances at her, then stares out the door.

“Oh! …Congratulations! I’m so happy for you! Girls, Spu…, uh, Matty’s going to college!” The girls exchange puzzled looks.

Matt blushes. “Yeah, I didn’t even know about it until the last day of school. Some sort of benevolent fund.”

Mildred rises to join him as Matt sidles toward the door, wondering how to fill the emptiness with words. At the door, she touches his arm and looks up at him.

“Come see me before you leave, will you? Come say goodbye.”

“Sure thing. Yeah,” he nods, glancing at her as he moves past. “See y’all later,” he waves over his shoulder.

Outside, he turns and waves, forcing a smile. Mildred holds the screen door open. At the street he turns and waves again. Mildred waves. The girls wave, yelling, “Bye-bye!” Everyone smiles.

The bus groans away from the curb, listing to the right from the weight of passengers avoiding the sun-baked seats on the left-hand side. It will be an uncomfortable ride with a full bladder, but Matt had to get away. He slouches into a seat on the cool side and turns his face into the wind. A blast from the horn of a southbound freight train drops a half-tone as the engine rumbles past. Matt looks at the shrinking white house and sighs, glad to be returning to the sanity of Mrs. Crow and the dormitory.

He’d thought it would feel good to tell Mildred about the scholarship. He’d wanted her to be proud of him. It should have been a big deal, but it was an empty feeling that came when he said the words. He turns away from the window and studies the vacant seats, then closes his eyes and swallows the tightness in his throat, hoping she won’t call again.

The clanging of the railroad crossing bells fades until the sound is smothered by the singing of the tires. As the wind musses Matt’s hair a good feeling washes through him. He feels almost weightless, as if he could fly. He sits up, straightens his shoulders and watches the road ahead. His thoughts are on Maria. He wants to call and hear the sound of her sweet voice.

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An early version of Birthday Cake and Baby Teeth was published in the spring 2012 edition of literary magazine, Forum.
Monty J. Heying’s blog, stories and poems can be found at Redroom.com.

 

Interview with Artist Marc Gosselin

[Article/Interview by George Teseleanu]

 

ARTIST MARC GOSSELIN

 

Full name:

Marc Joseph Gosselin

Date of birth:

May 6, 1967

What is your current location?

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Tell us a little about the art styles that you use.

Due to the fact I’m a medical and scientific illustrator I deal with high realism. Since our illustrations are used for teaching purposes, the subjects we are illustrating have to be represented accurately and in detail. On my time off I like to explore surrealism. It allows me to relax and at the same time keeps my drawing arm warmed up and ready to tackle whatever contract comes my way.

What are your tools of trade?

The Prismacolor pencils are my tools of choice. They are oilier than most color pencils and blend beautifully with the help of some mineral spirits. Best of all you don’t have to worry about the mess one usually deals with when using paints, pastels, and charcoal, just to name a few. When I want to draw something detailed in black and white I sometimes use carbon dust, which gives wonderful results. The computer and Photoshop of course, are also a wonderful and necessary tool.

Detail a little more about realism.

It is necessary when you are a medical and scientific illustrator to be proficient in realism. For example when we are illustrating a surgical procedure all the nerves as well as arteries and veins have to be in their proper location in relation to the incision and organs being represented, otherwise the students viewing our illustrations may be misled, because ultimately our illustrations are used for teaching purposes, and the details have to be accurate.

What is your favorite style and why?

Surrealism is my favorite because I don’t have to be as serious with the outcome, as my pieces which deal with realism. I can relax and have fun, and at the same time keep my drawing arm well oiled.

What other art styles would you like to experiment with?

For the moment I am very content with realism and surrealism. I was never really found of the abstract, but who knows maybe someday.

How can you define in your own word, surrealism?

Surrealism is like an explosion of ideas on paper, and at the moment I am being mentored by one of the best surrealists in the field, Bernard Dumaine.

Who is your favorite artist and how do you connect with his/her works?

There are so many amazing artists out there that I admire. It would be very difficult for me to choose one in particular.

What influenced you to become an artist?

It seemed to be the natural course of events since I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember.

How long have you been an artist?

I’ve been an artist for as long as I could hold a pencil. My parents had me while they were students at Cornel University, and there was not much money to go around, so the only toys I had as a young child were color pencils and a pad of paper. I started being a professional artist when I was 17, and still in high school. The father of my girlfriend at the time was a doctor of neuroanatomy who was writing a book on the subject, and invited me to illustrate his textbook. He also introduced me to a program called Biomedical communications, which was given at the University of Toronto’s department of surgery. I subsequently graduated with honors and I’ve been a medical and scientific illustrator ever since.

How did your family and friends react of you being an artist?

My parents were happy to see me follow my dream, and supported me all the way. They are very proud of my work, and are my best critics.

Where do you get your inspiration?

My environment, and other artists’ work inspire me. When I’m working on my medical illustrations it’s more accuracy than inspiration that is needed, yet when I deal with surrealism I get a chance to put my hair down and truly be inspired by whatever comes to mind.

What determined you to do collaborations?

As soon as I was introduced to the exquisite corpse and saw all the magnificent collaborations I knew I wanted to participate. At the moment I’m collaborating with several amazing artists.

What can you tell us about your first collaboration?

It was nerve wracking because I did not want to ruin the illustration started by the artist I was collaborating with. When I begin a collaborative corpse I can be relaxed, but completing one is a whole different story. I believe I will always feel that way because of the enormous responsibility that comes with completing somebody else’s work.

Can you tell us how collaborations influenced you and your art?  

It has opened up a whole new way of expressing myself without any restrictions through my art.

How did the Internet influence your art?

Through deviantART I met wonderful illustrators including Bernard Dumaine who introduced me to the exquisite corpse, also known as exquisite cadaver (from the original French term “cadavre exquis”) or rotating corpse. It is a method by which a collection of images is collectively assembled. Each collaborator adds to a composition in sequence, by being allowed to see the edge of what the previous person contributed. The resulting image is spectacular and surreal.

Where can people see your art?

My work can be seen on deviantART.com.

How can people contact you?

Through deviantART.com.

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You can contact George Teseleanu at blana_de_maimutza@yahoo.com.

 

Laura Weinbach of Foxtails Brigade

[Article by Jaylan Salah]

Ever since they started making music in 2006, the Foxtails Brigade have created their own individual style as an acoustic band emerging from the crowded streets of San Francisco. Founded by Laura Weinbach, Foxtails is a band with a voice, combining string-heavy folk with chamber pop, accompanied by the angelic, deep voice of lead singer Laura.

For Synchronized Chaos, we had the pleasure to interview Laura Weinbach, asking her various questions on different kinds of topics. Laura started by saying that her musical influences mostly come from within her intimate group of family and friends. She was greatly influenced by her brother Brent Weinbach, her band mates Anton, Joe and Josh, and her close friends Billy, Tony, and little Freddy Fuckface. In a broader sense, Laura was also influenced by the great Billie Holiday, Joanna Newsom and Faun Fables.

Laura was a typical funny gal from SF, with a sharp wit and a great sense of humor, as shown through our interview. Although the band’s distinctive musically by their lack of a traditional drummer and their emphasis on handpicked guitar, intricate violin and cello arrangements, Laura stated that the uniqueness of their band came from her costumes; plaid shirts, tight jeans, and Converse, and the fact that she had a beard.

Moving on to Foxtail’s song choices, Laura started by thanking God, then Miller Light for cracking a cold one for her every Disney afternoon. She also mentioned her family, her producer Harvey Ozwald and everybody else at Miramax films, and her deepest gratitude went to her director Tupac “whose words of wisdom I will always cherish and use as a guidance counselor”. Being the free spirit that she is, she stated that her song inspiration came from her experiences in substitute teaching, fairytales, Target, and PH Bullet use.

“I go to Target and skim through the bathroom section,” she said. “They usually have some pretty good deals on PH Bullets and lyrics there. It’s always good when lyrics come out first because it makes the music flow a little more smoothly. But it’s different pretty much every time.”

PH Bullets even got her through tough times and depressing moments when she thought she would completely give up.  But that wasn’t what made her become more daring in expressing her music. She grew balls in terms of her expanding her musical style when she teamed up with her Foxtails buddies; with herself on guitar and vocals, Anton Patzner on violin, Joe Lewis on bass, Josh Pollock on percussion, and Geoffrey on jockstrap. The team played hard last year and she added, “We’re gonna get back out there next year and break some sweat, break some ‘straps.”

Foxtails Brigade has been touring some European cities and playing in the streets. Their best experience so far was Reykjavik, Iceland, after that they headed to Paris and later they were going to visit Japan, Historic Filipino town, Sao Paulo, San Pablo, and Grant Lyon.  When asked about the reason behind choosing music as her preferred medium for self-expression, Laura said that although she once attended The Orpheum Theatre in Memphis to see “Poetry of the Penis” she was not a huge fan of the spoken word. She added that she hoped to “achieve music XL one day.”

Aiming to satisfy the curiosity of our foreign readers, we asked Laura if she ever expanded her music style by listening to some worldbeat music, maybe something Afro-Asiatic. She replied that she loved the Aladdin soundtrack and would have loved to be Jasmine and go on that magic carpet ride, or to become a genie and sing “Who Ain’t Never Had a Friend like Me”.  Also her band mate Anton had become obsessed with Afro-beat music and had gotten her into it. She added that the band was always up for new music challenges and adventures.

On what makes watching “Foxtails Brigade” live different from just listening to their CDs, Laura said that she did a unique “defecating on stage” routine as a shout out to the late “Punks Pumps” and their legendary “Here’s the Pump”.  Their songs convey eccentric themes and messages, such as life, Steph and the sweet hereafter or as Laura named it “Steph by chocolate”.

Since they were on tour for a long time, many funny or strange incidents have happened to them on the road. About a certain captivating memory in Iceland, Laura says, “On our last night [in the country] while we were playing our set, the Northern Lights appeared unexpectedly and left when we finished playing. We thought we missed them but they came back about an hour later and were in full-fledged action moving across the sky like giant angels taking in codes. It was awesome. ”

Laura finished her interview by implying how Foxtails’ music has grown over the years “by developing breasts, some pubic hairs and a third nipple for the devil to suck on” and she hoped that would be enough to take them to the top of the charts. Let’s hope for that, too.

Don’t miss out on Foxtails Brigade’s third album, released on December 3rd, 2011, entitled “Time Is Passed” – www.foxtailsbrigade.com.

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You can reach Jaylan Salah at vigilante171@yahoo.com.

Performance Review: Cutting Ball Theater’s Production of “Tontlawald”

LOST IN THE GHOST FOREST

Tontlawald

Reviewed by Christopher Bernard

This premiere of a collaborative performance piece, with a script by Eugenie Chen, by the adventurous and brilliantly talented Cutting Ball Theater, has moments of great beauty and genuine poetry as it takes risks with an audience’s ability, and willingness, to disentangle a more or less straightforward story from a complex of music, movement, simple but evocative sets, and an oblique text that waxes and wanes between genuine poetry and unhelpful obscurity.

There’s much splendid singing, some skillfully stylized movement, and a sometimes willfully unclear script that can leave the audience feeling as lost as the main character in the ghost forest, or Tontlawald, of the title. The collaborative aspect may have been taken a bit too seriously: I sensed the absence of a single strong vision to bring the often wonderful parts into a securely successful and meaningful whole.

“Tontlawald” is less a play, or even a drama, than it is a staged dance-cantata with spoken word, based on the not-entirely-digested principles of Grotowsi’s “poor theater” (the essence of theater is body, voice, movement; everything else is décor) as exemplified by the Polish company Teatr ZAR, which performed in San Francisco last year and inspired co-director Paige Rogers (who directs with Annie Paladino) to this first effort at incorporating their principles. And as with many a first effort, it’s not quite there yet; by trying to do too much, it sometimes does too little, yielding satisfactions that are sometimes more the intellectual kind of solving a puzzle than the emotional kind that only art can yield. But it’s certainly a promising one, and one can only hope Rogers will continue down this path.

The piece is based on an Estonian legend, detailed in Andrew Lang’s Violet Fairy Book, published a century ago, about Lona (played by the accomplished Marilet Martinez), a young girl tormented by that standby of many a classic fairy tale, an evil stepmother (exemplary characterized by Madeline H.D. Brown), and neglected by an indifferent father (a thankless role ably taken by Wiley Naman Strasser). Her family lives near the edge of a mysterious forest inhabited by spirit-like creatures thought to be fatally dangerous by the locals: exemplars of a society’s ever-feared “other.” But one day Lona, while strawberry picking, ventures deep into the forest, thinking that nothing she could find there would be worse than her home life. And in the forest she is met by a maiden (played by an endearing Rebecca Frank) who befriends and takes Lona home to live with her, where Lona finds a happiness she couldn’t have hoped for in her “real” home.

The maiden’s mother, who takes Lona in as a second daughter, makes a copy of Lona, a kind of golem, out of mud and a drop of the girl’s blood, but also containing a black snake sealed up in its breast, who returns to Lona’s family home and takes her place, to be beaten and berated by the evil stepmother but incapable of being harmed. One day, the evil stepmother is so enraged, she tries to kill the clay Lona; the black snake emerges and bites the stepmother, and she falls dead. Later, after lamenting the death of his wife, the father finds the piece of bread on a table, which he eats, and the next morning his corpse is found, stark and swollen.

Lona lives happily in the enchanted forest until she reaches womanhood, when, much to her sorrow, she is forced to leave the Tontlawald, to take on the burdens and joys of adulthood.

So far, so good, at least in terms of clarity. However, the Cutting Ball’s performance relies too heavily on the audience knowing a fairy tale that will be unfamiliar to most, and it sometimes becomes difficult to care about Lona’s misery or her joys. And the author couldn’t resist the temptation to throw in undigested, if tantalizing, ideas that are never developed: for example, in an allusion to the ghost-forest stage set – a hulking, box-like mesh – there is a reference to strings, dark matter and quantum entanglement that is dropped as soon as it is mentioned, and thus seems gratuitous: the sort of thing an audience should be led to think of on their own, and not pointed out to them unless it is going to be seriously engaged (an elementary rule of contemporary theater: never, ever, mention string theory unless at least one of your characters is a physicist).

On the other hand, the music (of which there is much) has no weak spots and is made up of a mélange of haunting European folk singing (reminiscent of “Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares” recordings that were a hit in the 90s), classic American pop songs, an excerpt from Mozart’s Magic Flute, and other pieces. The music is sung (and occasionally strummed on a child’s cello) by the eight-member cast with admirable vigor and sensitivity. Standouts include Cindy Im and Sam Gibbs.

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The Cutting Ball Theater

The EXIT on Taylor
277 Taylor St.
San Francisco, CA 94102

Christopher Bernard is the co-editor of Caveat Lector magazine and author of the novel A Spy in the Ruins.

 

Performance Review: “Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan of Arc” from Cal Performances

OF LIGHT AND MUSIC AND PASSION

Voices of Light: The Passion of Joan of Arc

An Oratorio with Silent Film

Music by Richard Einhorn, film by Carl Theodor Dreyer

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, UC Choral Ensembles and soloists

Conducted by Marin Alsop

Reviewed by Christopher Bernard

 

Carl Theodor Dreyer’s triumph of the terror and beauty of art, “The Passion of Joan of Arc,” a silent film premiered in 1928, and believed for two generations to be, in its original incarnation, lost, was voted by the curators of the Toronto International Film Festival two years ago as the most influential film ever made.

Cal Performances – founded when Sarah Bernhardt performed a benefit for the survivors of the 1906 earthquake, and since then one of the liveliest presenters of theater, music and dance groups in the United States – has once again risen to the occasion in bringing to UC’s Zellerbach Theater, for one performance, on March 31st, one of the musical and cinematic hallmarks of the last two decades: Richard Einhorn’s “oratorio with silent film,” “Visions of Light,” performed to a screening of that silent masterpiece now triumphantly restored thanks to the more mundane but no less impressive miracles of digital technology.

The film’s history is a drama in itself: based on the transcript of the trial for heresy by a court of English and Burgundians of the young shepherdess from Domremy whose visions of angelic voices (awakened by the tolling of the village bells as she sat at watch in the local pastures) led her to take up the sword to defend 15th century France against the invading English, it was made using many of the same technicians and even several actors as Abel Gance’s work of total cinema “Napoleon,” shot the year before (and which, coincidentally, was also screened with a full orchestra in the San Francisco Bay Area on the same weekend as “Joan,” creating a embarrassment of riches, and a paralyzing choice, for many a cinefile). It featured Renée Jeanne Falconetti in, in the opinions of many, one of the most searing acting performances ever committed to film (so searing for the actress that she vowed never to act in a film again – a vow that, unfortunately for us, she kept) and the young Antonin Artaud as her defender at trial.

Received with mixed reviews at the time (and suffering from the same historical turn that sent “Napoleon” into history’s deep-freeze for decades: the premiere of “The Jazz Singer,” which almost immediately made silent films seem obsolete, technology once again giving art an almost mortal wound), the film’s negatives and most of its prints were subsequently destroyed in a fire. Dreyer laboriously pieced together a print from outtakes and pieces of remaining prints, but the Danish director died thinking his original masterpiece had been lost. Then in 1981, long after the deaths of the film’s principals, a print was discovered in a janitor’s closet in (in a curious example of poetic justice) Denmark: a complete print, in almost pristine condition, with Danish intertitles, of the original film.

The experience of the film with Richard Einhorn’s music – an extraordinary act of loving creation and recreation – is of the highest intensity. The richly inspired oratorio was premiered at a now-legendary screening in 1994 and has been performed since more than 200 times, both with and without the film. Einhorn’s score is based largely on the modal scales of medieval music and the motivicly based repetitions of so-called “mystical minimalism” made popular by Henryk Gorecki and Arvo Pärt, with a text based on extracts from the Bible and writings of women writers and mystics of the time – from the redoubtable proto-feminist Christine de Pizan, who eulogized “La Pucelle” during Joan’s brief and glorious career, and the 10th century lyrics of Hildegard von Bingen, to more recondite texts by Umiltà da Faenza, Angela da Foligno, Marguerite d’Oingt and Na Prous Boneta (alternating with anti-female scurrilities from the patriarchs of the era), and including letters dictated by the illiterate Joan bearing news of her near-miraculous – and perhaps truly miraculous – military victories.

The experience of music and film together is of an amazing power and beauty, not least thanks to the forces performing under the inspired control of Marin Alsop, music director of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, which performed with equally magnificent singing from the UC Choral Forces. Not to be forgotten are the contributions by the soloists, of whom the quartet of sopranos and mezzo-sopranos – Elinor Broadman, Stacy Rutz, Genoa Starrs and Michelle Lee – must be singled out for their singular, and collective, magic.

Alsop has been taking “Visions of Light” on a world tour with the orchestra as part of the BSO’s season-long project featuring “revolutionary women.” At the head of that battalion the spirit of “la Pucelle” (a word often translated as “maid,” but meaning more a soul good and pure) bravely marches.

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Christopher Bernard is author of the novel A Spy in the Ruins and co-editor of Caveat Lector magazine (www.caveat-lector.org).

Performance Review: “The Abduction from the Seraglio” (Mozart), presented by Pocket Opera

[Reviewed by Jessica A. Sims]

Pocket Opera opened yet ANOTHER season (35 in all, but who’s counting?) triumphantly with founder Donald Pippin’s adaption of Mozart’s 1782 masterpiece The Abduction from the Seraglio, expertly chosen cast with an amazing backing from the opera’s philharmonic, I was entranced from the second the hero, Belmonte (played by Jonathan Smucker—imagine a Ken doll that sings, beautifully, and that’s Smucker) raced through the crowd, asking random opera-goers if they had seen his friends. The stage was sparse, with only a few accents thrown in, really allowing the singers (and Donald, forever present as the unofficial “time keeper” one  can get so lost in the opera!) to tell the story properly

The Abduction from the Seraglio waxes poetic on the power of love, being lost in a foreign land and most importantly, the epic human capacity of forgiveness, no matter our background, no matter our position in life, we can all forgive. Playing the lovable Pedrillo, Michael Desnoyers did NOT disappoint, his tenor as clear and crisp and his comedic timing was better than most I’ve seen lately, while William Neil (a Pocket Opera veteran) was just amazing as Osmin, the mean old police watch dog to John Nichols’ Pasha Selin, who was dignified and commanding every time her stepped on stage. Each man was truly a leading man from where I was sitting.

But I have to give it to the ladies on this one: Elise Kennedy as Blondie was just pure pitch perfection, and a breath of fresh air during some of the heavier moments. And bravo to Suzanna Mizell as Constanza—her numbers were absolutely breath-taking, a true delight for the ears.

I have always loved opera and I cannot applaud the Pocket Opera enough for making it accessible to the masses, with affordable tickets, accessible locations and ENGLISH lyrics. My only regret? It was over too soon.

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You can contact the reviewer, Jessica A. Sims, at jessica.sims12@gmail.com.