Synchronized Chaos, July 2012: Growth and Development


        

Art by Laura Greengold (L) and Julian Raine (R)

Welcome, readers, to the July 2012 issue of Synchronized Chaos! Our poems, articles, and reviews form a particularly unique pattern this month: they portray a wide range of different stages in the growth and development of human life, from childhood to young adulthood to old age. Let’s take a look at the human lifespan as depicted by our contributors, as well as a few related subjects…

We begin our examination of the stages of life with a set of paintings and drawings by Laura Greengold. A number of her beautifully-composed works feature her own baby son, and her art is an excellent depiction of the wonders of very young childhood.

The later stages of childhood take on very different qualities, and they are also represented in this issue. One of the more eccentric modern depictions of the trials and tribulations of modern adolescence is William Finn’s 2004 musical comedy The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, recently performed by Castro Valley’s Chanticleers Little Theatre. Bruce Roberts’ review illuminates the hilarity of the production—as well as the “childhood memories of pressure, of defeat, of humiliation” which it is sure to bring back to its viewers.

With adulthood comes the joy and heartbreak of romantic affairs, and Sam Burks’ poem “Memories (A Farewell)” is a poignant depiction of the latter state. Taking place after the dissolution of a relationship, it skillfully depicts both the inescapable memories of happier times and the necessity of letting go and looking forward. Read this, as well as three other equally-insightful poems by Sam, here.

Romances can certainly end happily as well. Perhaps the iconic novel of young love and courtship is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, which has been adapted numerous times to stage and screen. As Jessica Sims reports, the San Leandro Players’ recent production is a top-notch version of Austen’s tale.

This month’s final performance review examines a slightly less successful union than that of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. The French legend of Bluebeard, the notorious nobleman and serial wife-killer, dates back to the seventeenth-century work of Charles Perrault, but one of its most memorable adaptations is the Béla Bartók opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle. Christopher Bernard reviews the San Francisco Symphony’s production here.

After romance and marriage, we can hardly fail to include an examination of parenthood, and J’Rie Elliott’s poem “To Be a Parent” takes a look at this very topic. It’s an inspiring and thought-provoking look at the responsibilities which parents must take on to ensure that their children can lead happy lives—as well as the sacrifices which must inevitably result from such an undertaking.

Another of this issue’s most memorable poetic pieces directly compares childhood with adulthood. In “Let’s Play Pretend,” Linda Allen looks back wistfully on the innocence of youth, juxtaposing it with the awareness of the world’s problems which inevitably arises from maturity. Sometimes, she points out, the hardships of modern life make one yearn for childhood’s joyous dreams of happiness and safety.

A further set of excellent poems in this issue comes from Julian Raine, whose works are relevant in several ways to the theme of human development. They include a vein of mature sexuality, as well as recurring depictions of youth in contrast with old age. Human aging and memory are well-employed elements of these works: in one passage, her narrator compares the present day with her reminiscences of her youth, musing on “the moments/in between [which] sort of bind together/the child to the old woman.” The influence of the past also comes through in another way, with references to the works of Whitman, Tennyson, and other poetic giants of previous generations. Julian also contributes a number of superb paintings, whose subjects range from gloomily-lit human faces to abstract figures to seemingly commonplace objects. Each one of them is quite unforgettable.

Another of our articles concerns itself not with the growth and change of one person, but with that of humanity as a whole. Michaela Elias profiles San Francisco’s legendary Modern Times Bookstore, a local symbol of progressive thought and a longtime center of equality, pro-labor, and anti-war movements. Recent rent troubles have caused Modern Times to move away from its long-established location, but it has found a new home in a shared space with the art gallery Galeria Paloma, and it will try to carry on its progressive work for the foreseeable future.

Similarly, Bruce Roberts’ second article of the month deals with yet another sort of growth: the achievement of new frontiers in scientific knowledge and patient care. He profiles Dr. J. William Langston’s Parkinson’s Institute, widely renowned for its innovations in both treatment and research.

And, as always, Leena Prasad’s monthly column Whose Brain Is It? demonstrates our growing knowledge of the intricacies of the human mind! This month, she examines the chemical factors which lead to feelings of joy.

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.

Harold’s Elephants: July’s Whose Brain Is It, a monthly neuroscience column from Leena Prasad

 

Harold’s Elephants

 

topic joy
organ  limbic system
chemicals dopamine, endorphin, oxytocin, serotonin, cortisol

The envelope has been lying on his desk for two days. Harold is unable to open it. There is too much at stake. The words inside that envelope will change his life.

It’s too thin, Harold thinks. It must be a rejection letter. That would mean that he’d have to go back to his life as a chef. He likes cooking but after ten years, he has become bored of doing it for a living. He took a five year break to try making a living as a sculptor. These five have been the best years of his life. He doesn’t want to stop but he has used up all his savings. Harold is engaged to be married and wants to start a family soon. He is 41 years old and wants to have a stable career soon, one way or another. This is his last chance to be financially stable while living his passion.

Harold opens the envelope.

Congratulation, it says. Harold stares. He reads and read again. “Congratulations. We would like to hire you to design and sculpt the elephant sculpture for the newest branch of our restaurant. You will also be designing unique sculptures for each one of our 21 restaurants worldwide.” There are instructions on going to a website to complete the paperwork.

Harold is too shocked to react. He hears the front door open. His fiancée walks in. She is sweating from her daily jog and is heading for the bathroom when he leaps up to go talk to her. He gushes out the news. He says it so fast that she has to ask him to repeat himself.

There are chemical activities in Harold’s brain causing his happiness. These chemicals are called neurotransmitters because they transmit signals amongst the brain’s neurons. The primary neurotransmitters spurting in Harold’s brain is dopamine and serotonin. The brain spurts dopamine when it gets what it wants. It secretes serotonin when it feels a sense of pride.

His fiancée is also happy. In addition to dopamine, her brain is spurting endorphin from the runner’s high that she has just had. It is possible that she might also be releasing serotonin via association with someone who has just established a job which will ensure survival related safety and security for her.

As mentioned in the book Meet Your Happy Chemicals: Dopamine, Endorphin, Oxytocin, Serotonin, Dr. Loretta Breuning talks about a fourth chemical, oxytocin. This is the neurotransmitter that Harold and his fiancée’s brains secrete on a consistent basis. Oxytocin is released as a part of developing a trust based relationship with another human being. Sexual intimacy and other bonding activities, like touching, also cause a spike in oxytocin levels. Harold and his fiancée have a healthy level of oxytocin in their system because they live together within the framework of a trusting relationship.

Harold and his fiancée are both experiencing a burst of many happy chemicals and thus a burst of joy. But the happy chemicals exploding in their brains are not all the same, so their happiness level is not exactly the same.

Earlier in the day, while Harold was teetering on the verge of opening the envelope, his brain was probably spiking with cortisol, a chemical produced by the brain when it feels stressed. His cortisol level is down but not completely gone and he has no reason to have endorphin in his system. His fiancée has endorphin in her system but no reason to have cortisol. They both have dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin circulating around. The levels of the chemical might be higher in Harold’s system because he is directly affected by the news. Without sophisticated machines, it is not easy to say who is happier, but it’s easier to guess the comparative levels of chemicals in each person’s neural circuits.

“Your brain is always seeking ways to get more serotonin without losing oxytocin or increasing cortisol,” says Dr. Breuning in her book. The brain does not want cortisol, the “unhappy” drug. Everyday life, of course, creates spurts of cortisol, and the brain struggles to lower the level. It is always trying to maximize its happy drugs and minimize the unhappy ones. But sometimes it has to negotiate. For example, in order to secure oxytocin from a bonding relationship, e.g., friendship, the brain might have to sacrifice serotonin that comes from pride. It needs to calculate whether the serotonin sacrifice is worth the oxytocin gain.

All these chemicals are managed by the brain’s limbic system, also known as the reptilian brain. The limbic system consists of the amygdala, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and other parts. All mammals have a limbic system and thus the ability to secrete these happy hormones. From an evolutionary perspective, these chemicals serve as a reward mechanism to train the brain. For example, romantic love and sexual intercourse produce dopamine and oxytocin. This trains the mind to seek love and sex and thus contribute to the propagation and survival of the species. Success at a job can produce serotonin and thus train the brain to seek more success and thus secure financial security required for survival. Exercise produces pain, which results in endorphin production. The pain is masked by the endorphins and the body is trained to seek more exercise, thus equipping the body with better survival mechanism.

Since the theory of evolution is widely accepted and relatively well understood in scientific circles, it seems to have become fashionable to explain the brain’s chemical secretions in terms of survival mechanisms. The explanations seem to fit and make sense, but human beings are different than other mammals and not necessarily at the mercy of evolution. In Harold’s example, if he feels stressed while designing the elephant structure, he can reduce the cortisol level in his brain by seeking his fiancée’s company, which could increase the oxytocin level. Or he can go for a run to increase the endorphin levels. He can also visualize what it would be like to see his sculptor inside the restaurant which could help increase the serotonin. Another option would be to increase his dopamine level by treating himself to a good meal or to something else that he wants. The more Harold knows about how the neurotransmitter can help him maintain a joyful life, the better he can manage them to negotiate happiness.

 

References:

1. Breuning, Loretta Graziano (2012-02-14). Meet Your Happy Chemicals: Dopamine, Endorphin, Oxytocin, Serotonin. System Integrity Press.

2. Ratey, John J. MD. A User’s Guide to the Brain: Perception, Attention, and the Four Theatres of the Brain. Random House, Inc.

Art from Julian Raine

        

                

                

 

The titles of these works are as follows:

Row 1 (L to R): “Black Blood, Black Winter”; “The Girl At Cafe De Fiore”

Row 2 (L to R): “Swathed In The Garden Of Ghosts”; “Black Locust”; “In Juliet’s Laze”

Row 3 (L to R): “Sun At The Sands Of The Sea”; “The Black of Dolls Eyes”; “In The Light Of The Passing Sun”

Row 4: “The Blackhearts”

Julian Raine, besides being an accomplished visual artist, is also the author of numerous books of poetry. Some of her pieces are up for sale; please contact julianraine@hotmail.com for more information.

Poetry from J’Rie Elliott

 

“To be a parent”

No town is so great, for its limits to bind me,

No state is so great, that its borders define me.

No past is so great, that my future is halted,

No fear is so great, that my heart’s not exalted.

No friends are so great, that I’d not say good bye,

No friends are so great, that I’d make my child cry.

No challenge so great that I cannot achieve it,

No dream is so great that I cannot believe it.

My life is in motion, not stagnant in time.

My children come first, and then I walk behind.

I put them first and I make it clear,

That nothing will stop me—I have no fear.

I will protect them, I will sacrifice,

I will walk the hard road for their happy life.

 

By: J’Rie Elliott

J’Rie Elliott is a mother, wife, daughter, and accomplished horseback rider from Alabama, USA. She can be reached at dixiepoet@gmail.com

Profile: Modern Times Bookstore and the Galeria Paloma

Modern Times Bookstore

by Michaela Elias

Modern Times Bookstore, which refers to itself as “a progressive resource for the Bay Area—a neighborhood bookstore for theMission,” is as exceptional as the area in which it finds itself.

The Mission district, located inSan Francisco,California, is a working class neighborhood bordering U.S. Route 101 and part of supervisorial districts 5, 9, and 10. But the Spartan perspective of map measurements cannot possibly convey the capacity of the culture that is packed into The Mission.

Thrift stores, whimsical art galleries, quirky bookstores, street vendors, and cafes line every block. The Mission is a center for contemporary music and art and, as Ruth from Modern Times Bookstore refers to it, “a wonderful mix of cutting-edge culture and activity.”

The signs in The Mission are in Spanish and English, since many of its residents are immigrants. The Mission has a tendency to be sunnier and warmer than the rest of the city, so people are always outside strolling, biking, and walking small dogs.

But The Mission also serves as the bedrock for many progressive political causes such as anti-racism, anti-sexism, anti-homophobia, pro-peace, anti-war, anti-discrimination, and equality movements. But for these movements to thrive, they require a hub, a resource for the information needed to power them, and for this job Modern Times Bookstore fits like a glove. The bookstore epitomizes both the political and cultural aspects of the Mission District.

Says Ruth, “We see ourselves as part of a progressive political community, and we serve the community so that we function as a kind of community center as well as a bookstore.”

Modern Times Bookstore was founded for the purpose of supporting and providing resources for the flourishing progressive movement in theMissionand Bay Area. The store also carries many books regarding world fiction, labor history, and the labor movement.

As for owner/manager Ruth’s favorite part of running a bookstore, she says it is the customers who are both shoppers in and supporters of the store. “We have wonderful, wonderful people who have been with the store for years and years and who are very loyal and do wonderful work in the world so the bookstore is an aid for them in whatever they want to do in the progressive projects they want to work on, and we try to help them find the books they need to do that.”

In the past the Mission District has been a less expensive community in relation to its surrounding areas, causing newcomers to San Francisco and America to populate the Mission and also creating an affordable location for community groups and nonprofits. Recently, many hipsters, students, artists, and political activists have moved in, further stimulating the vibrant and nonconformist nature of the Mission, but this new influx of inhabitants has also driven up property prices to an immense degree.

People from all over the Bay Area are flocking to the Mission District because it is seen as a really trendy neighborhood to hang out in. New restaurants and expensive apartments that are materializing as a result of this fascination with the Mission are causing its originators, and the people who brought all the culture to the Mission, to have no other choice but to leave.

As Ruth points out, San Francisco’s rent control laws apply only to individuals, with no protection provided for small businesses, which has caused a number of problems for Modern Times and other organizations of its kind. In fact, after forty years of existence and thirty years of residence in the Mission, Modern Times has recently had to vacate its very commodious space and relocate to the back of a gallery, Galeria Paloma, on 24th Street; rent troubles were at the root of the decision.

Galeria Paloma, owned and operated by paper-making artist and painter Shawn McFarland, showcases a unique collection of works. The paintings, clothing, stationery, and decorative objects which fill the close-knit space come from a variety of people, some local, some from friends and family of locals, some from creative people inMexico.

The space-sharing came about during a meeting of neighborhood business owners, when the management of Modern Times announced that they had to move. McFarland mentioned the back area of the storefront housing her gallery, and the bookstore relocated its inventory and operations within a couple of months.

At first glance the aesthetic style and feel of both places seems different. With its elegantly crafted collages and colorful doves, Galeria Paloma appears a gentle oasis, while Modern Times Books sports the hammer and sickle and Che Guevara quotes and seeks to provide a space to lay the intellectual framework for powerful social revolutions.

Yet the management of both places says coexistence is working so far. McFarland appreciates the bookstore’s customers’ passing through her exhibits on the way to Modern Times, and the co-op bookstore’s team of managers likes the chance to share space with a local independent business that features the works of some indigenous artists.

McFarland self-promotes Galeria Paloma through word of mouth, as she enjoys greeting guests who drop by and tends to have stories to share about the featured artists. And the neighborhood organizes street fairs and exhibitions to draw people downtown, and it attempts to assert and maintain a local culture despite the divisive effects of gentrification and the bleeding economy.

Modern Times also works not to let the downsized space diminish its character. The bookstore regularly holds events such as open mike readings, book readings by new authors, and a book club completely in Spanish. They have had to curtail these functions and make decisions as to which books to continue to carry with the decreased stocking capacity, but Modern Times is determined to develop and evolve to meet the changing environment and needs of the community.

Ruth asserts, “We are hoping we can keep going with the tangible bricks-and-mortar bookstore instead of having everything just virtual and online. We are trying to figure out how to survive in a new book economy, whatever that means; we are trying to figure that out. We hope to still serve progressive, curious readers.”

In all probability, with Modern Times’ devout mission and devotion to serving their community, they will manage to progress with the changes and stay afloat.

Still, though, McFarland and others in the area admit that the Mission District is changing, in large part because of the economy. Some customers of Galeria Paloma are moving out of their longtime Mission residences intoDaly City,San Bruno, and other cheaper locales south of San Francisco.

McFarland and others speculate that the next generation of new, visionary art and other forms of cultural creativity will be based in a place with lower rent for small businesses as well as residents, perhaps Alameda or another city across the bay with a well-traveled downtown but a lower cost of living.

Michaela Elias, a journalist and human rights activist from Teaneck, New Jersey, may be reached at mitabe@optonline.com

You may visit the Galeria Paloma online at http://galeria-paloma.com/ – the current exhibition showcases McFarland’s bird images on handmade paper.

Modern Times Books also has a website, www.moderntimesbookstore.com – visit for a schedule of events, workshops, classes, group meetings, shows, and book signings! 

Performance Review: San Francisco Symphony’s Production of “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle”

 

Michelle DeYoung and Alan Held accepting applause at the end of “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle”

 

THE DARKNESS BETWEEN THE SEXES

by Christopher Bernard

Duke Bluebeard’s Castle
An opera by Béla Bartók (libretto by Béla Balász)
A concert staging by the San Francisco Symphony

Sad stories bring forth shudders of delight.

— Bluebeard, in Béla Balász’s libretto for “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle”

Once in a great while, a rare and humbling experience happens that can be summed up only with that much-abused word I usually try to avoid, unless I am discussing chocolate chip cookies: “awesome.” Such was the San Francisco Symphony’s production of Béla Bartók’s only opera, “Duke Bluebeard’s Castle,” over the June 22nd weekend. I went twice; the first time I was so unprepared for the experience of an opera I thought I knew that I was left shaken and spent the next two hours walking it off through the late-night streets.

Performed in a half-staged version on a small area behind the orchestra and utilizing an array of vividly designed video projections, with expanded brass and full organ for the opera’s staggering climax, the concert, promising on paper, and far surpassing the promise in reality, proved to be one of the musical season’s peak moments indeed. An operatic season already flourishing with three brilliantly welcomed productions across the road at the San Francisco Opera, had, for a trio of nights, a fourth.

There are a number of versions of the Bluebeard legend, which first appeared in Perrault’s Mother Goose Tales. In the legend, Bluebeard has brought his latest, and probably last, wife to his castle, a windowless monument to male isolation, where she finds seven locked doors that, despite Bluebeard’s warnings, she insists on opening, with predictably tragic results. In most versions, the last door reveals the dead bodies of Bluebead’s previous wives. But not all of the tale’s versions involve gore – the version Bartók and his librettist Béla Balász created finds the wives in a state perhaps worse than death: a twilight of half-suspended animation, undead but unalive, immured inside a tomb within the tomb of Bluebeard’s castle, where Judith will also be buried in the end.

Bluebeard’s futile protests that have so little effect on his wife’s compulsive probing suggest a number of questions, above all whether or not he planned to send Judith to the conjugal dungeon from the beginning – or whether she only ends up there as a result of her obstinate, and in the end suicidal, need to know. For her fatal husband seemsto hope – even, however weakly, as in a dream he can’t wake from, to struggle and strive, haplessly – to redeem himself from his conjugal fatality; it is not something he accedes to easily, and certainly not something he rejoices in. His evil is a cause of ceaseless suffering for him; it is no occasion for joy. In the end, despite all of his struggling, he is defeated by the perversities, the love of self-destruction and self-defeat, of human nature, his own and Judith’s.

In its brief hour-long span, Bartok’s opera contains a profound contemplation of the eternal gulf, the willful misunderstandings and warring needs that separate the sexes: in the Hungarians’ Bluebeard we find, not a refined sadist or the monster of myth, a Gilles de Rais (the grotesque legend’s original), but an archetypal male, prisoner of his pride, of his grasping for an impossible autonomy, in conflict with a barely acknowledged need to love and be loved – a need that is poisoned by his equal and opposing need to reign, dominate and conquer. And in Judith, though clearly in the weaker position, we find an archetypal female driven by a self-destructive need to ignore every warning her despairing consort gives her, as this Bluebeard tries, futilely, to overcome his own need to dominate; to win, not just Judith’s love for him, but his ability to love her. In the past his love has always turned poisonously into a need to possess, to turn his wives, indeed anything alive and with a will of its own, into half-dead things – one of the perennial curses of masculinity.

What we see, starkly presented, is the war between masculine pride and will to conceal and conquer, on the one hand, and, on the other, feminine probing and the will to uncover, reveal and control. The result is a misery on both sides: equal folly, if not always equal fault. The end, like the beginning, is an impenetrable darkness that seems to lie forever between the sexes, a darkness that has no more powerful a metaphor than Bartók’s brave and honest opera, which excuses no one. Impenetrable indeed? The opera leaves the question open, but offers no easy solutions.

Mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung was luminous as Judith, and bass-baritone Alan Held turned Bluebeard into a profoundly tragic figure. DeYoung’s voice carried more effectively than Held’s to the rafters, though both voices carried with equal clarity to the orchestra floor. (Oddly, the sound of the woodwinds was clearer in the upper balcony, where the terracing of sound is also noticeably sharper. Davies Hall’s acoustics are a little fickle still.)

The projections, which probed the underlying psychology as door after door was unlocked, played always handsome, sometimes gorgeous, variations on the story’s themes; they were designed with a highly imaginative hand by Nick Corrigan. The overall staging was directed to lean and powerful effect by Neil Hillel.

A note on the projections: they were not always as effective when seen upstairs; important parts of them were invisible in the upper balcony, and what I could see of others (in particular the “treasure” room sequence) sometimes looked cheesy; their effect in the orchestra seats, however, I found completely engrossing. Annoyingly, the big climax, when the fifth door was unlocked and all of the lights in the hall suddenly blaze to momentarily blinding effect, was, paradoxically, more effective in the balcony precisely because the audience there was not blinded but could imagine the effect below: as most horror film directors learn, at the right moment imagining blows seeing completely out of the water. Ultimately, there was no ideal spot to both see and hear the goings-on onstage. Such problems might have sunk a less compelling production, but it’s a tribute to this one that, by the end, they were completely forgotten.

The opera opened with a brief spoken monologue, not presented in most productions; local actor Ken Ruta made an excellent case for it – indeed, the monologue, and his measured voicing of it, demonstrated how a short, quiet introduction can cast a deeply illuminating light over all that follows.

The San Francisco Symphony rose to the occasion, and more, under the tight, searching conducting of Michael Tilson Thomas. The cheering ovations the audience gave them at both performances I attended were certainly never more deserved.

The concert opened with the first piano concerto composed by Bartók’s fellow Hungarian, Liszt. Everyone tucked into Liszt’s florid bombast gamely enough; the diaphanous middle sections, which highlighted the symphony’s woodwinds, were woven with special gracefulness by soloist Jeremy Denk, who tossed off Liszt’s stormy demands elsewhere with élan.

But what haunted the mind for the rest of the night was the tragedy that followed.

Christopher Bernard is a novelist, poet, and critic. He is author of the novel A Spy in the Ruins and co-editor of the online arts magazine Caveat Lector.

Performance Review: Chanticleers Little Theater’s Production of “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee”

REVIEW: THE 25TH ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE

By Bruce Roberts

My cheeks hurt from laughing so much. My hands hurt from clapping so much. It was one terrific show.

I just saw The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, at the Chanticleers Little Theater in Castro Valley, California, and loved it. The show, of course, centers around a spelling bee, a fact that by itself is enough to make theatergoers cringe with childhood memories of pressure, of defeat, of humiliation. Other languages—German, for instance—have one system of spelling. If you can pronounce the word, no matter how long, you can spell it. German has not imported word after word from every spelling system in the world as has English. Thus, spelling auf Deutsch is not a challenge. (Ironically, the winning word in this play is taken from German.) English spelling, however, is a challenge, a big one; thus the existence of spelling bees—and this play.

The humor in this play comes at the audience from every angle. The spellers themselves are funny, using various bizarre strategies to come to the correct spelling. One character (William, played by Matthew Horry) even spells each letter out on the floor with his “magic foot” before getting it correct. Spellers are allowed to ask for the word in a sentence, and the vice principal (Ray D’Ambrosio) responds with ludicrous sentences that invariably cause hysterics.

More comedy is derived from people plucked from the audience to play spellers. The show’s real spellers get impossibly hard words—which they struggle over before getting them correct–while the audience members are given words like “cow.” “May I have that in a sentence?” “Spell COW!” Another comic showstopper is the song sung by the previous year’s champion (Chip, played by David Kelii Kahawaii) a uniformed boy scout expecting to win again, but who sings an entire lament to the untimely erection that caused him to be disqualified. He even works in a rhyme for “penis.”

The play, however, is not about spelling. That is merely the springboard to introduce us to this world of wacky characters and their equally wacky, or poignant, side stories. Every character is unique; every character is dysfunctional, and their dysfunctions are measured against the spelling bee as a symbol of success in their lives. Logainne (Kara Penrose) has two dads, and desperately wants to please them by winning. Mercy (Rachel L. Jacobs) is incredibly smart and talented, but wants freedom to fail. Leaf (Nicolina Akraboff), though dressed as a caped superhero, only reached the finals by default, and is sure she will lose, a fact reinforced by her siblings. William, the foot speller, fluctuates between being nerdy and bizarre, and being testy about most everything, yelling at others over the mispronunciation of his name (Not Barfy, it’s Barfee’!”) All do dysfunction wonderfully.

This is a musical, and Josh Milbourne—vocal director—and Willis Hickox—accompanist—have created a wonderful music experience. Songs—funny, angry, sad–are spread throughout, with every character singing well. The best voice might belong to Austin Scott III, playing Mitch Mahoney the comfort thug, as well as one of Logainne’s gay fathers. When he sings, besides being taller, his voice rises above too. Another fine voice belongs to Allison Mathiesen, playing Olive Ostrovsky, whose dysfunction reaches new lows with a father who can’t get off work, and a mother who’s “finding herself” in India. Olive has a lovely voice as she plaintively sings of loneliness, with parents always too busy to attend spelling bees—or anything else in her life.

Once again, award-winning director Sue Ellen Nelsen has assembled a superior cast and crew and harmonized them into excellent entertainment. If you’re ever in Castro Valley,California, for a truly wonderful theater experience, can you spell “Chanticleers?”

 Bruce Roberts, who may be reached at brobe60491@sbcglobal.net, is an accomplished sculptor and schoolteacher from Hayward, California. 

Performance Review: San Leandro Players’ Production of “Pride and Prejudice”

Pride & Prejudice, as performed by the San Leandro Players: Review

by Jessica Sims

With Hollywood turning out multi-million dollar-budget films quicker than I can run a mile (NOT quick at all), sometimes one can forget how magical live theatre can be. The San Leandro Players’ production of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice reminded me of the magic. So often, adaptations of P&P leave out way too much of the plot and action, and this was the first adaptation (and having spent my youth in Northern England, I’ve seen more than your average) where I felt that someone who never read a word of Austen would actually understand what was going on. Director Hallie Lewis Hunt did an excellent job of adapting the novel to 1940s England, making it modern with the language and mannerisms while maintaining its regency-era charm. The characters weren’t as reserved as their regency counterparts, which I thoroughly enjoyed. And the music, oh, the music: the pivotal dance scene between Darcy and Elizabeth was made THAT much magical and romantic with “The Nearness of You” playing in the background. However (CRITICISM ALERT), one of my favorite characters was left out: the pernicious and rude Mrs. Hurst (and her bump-on-the-log husband, Mr. Hurst), the elder sister to Mr. Bingley (played favorably by Mr. Barry Eitel). Most adaptations leave out the Hursts, making Caroline Bingley the lone (and perhaps slightly misunderstood) female “villain” in P&P. What a villainess she was! Danielle Gray did an amazing job toeing the line between desperate single girl and Wicked Witch of the West—I actually empathized with Caroline a little: she had been putting in the work to be the next Mrs. Darcy, and here comes this upstart with her loud family and no fortune who steals him away. The Bennet family is just as it ought to be in the play: zany, inappropriate, and a lot of fun. Terry Guillory played Mrs. Bennet to the perfect (annoying) pitch and her comedic foil Mr. Bennet (Scott Van de Mark) was perfection as the father who puts new meaning into the phrase “my name is ‘Bennet’ and I ain’t in it”. All five Bennet sisters, Jane,Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, andLydia (played by Elena Spittler, Rose Oser, Kristin Tavares, Rachel Olmedo and Taylor Melville, respectively) were superb. Jane and Elizabeth were respectable (as always), Mary was a stick in the mud (as always) and Kitty andLydia were out of control (as always). Although Olmedo’s Kitty was a bit on the “psycho” side, I liked it, and by the end of the play, I had (affectionately) dubbed her “psycho-Kitty”. Mr. Darcy (insert wolf whistle here) was played by a very handsome young man, Barnaby Williams. I wouldn’t usually put “Darcy” and “awkward” in the same sentence, but it worked for Mr. Williams and he had great chemistry with Oser’sElizabeth. Other notable performances include Sarah Asarnow as the “plain” Charlotte Lucas (who is gorgeous, by the way, if that’s plain, sign me up pronto), Julio Rafael as a sleazy and hygienically-challenged Mr. Collins and Sukanya Sarkar as a fiery Lady Catherine de Bourgh (she was channeling Eartha Kitt, circa 1953; I was waiting for her to break out with “Santa Baby” at any moment). The whole cast did an amazing job of bringing (what I consider to be) one of the most enduring and well-written love stories of all time, to life. Now excuse me, I have a mile to finish…but I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you.

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

Poetry from Julian Raine

 

Tales of the kite: Shadowed chronicles of a high flyer.

 

 

 

Into the hours and the ours of the night

The light once from red, now silver palmed

The raine, the carousel of summer roses

 

 

 

baby it’s cold outside

 

and the front tire on my bike squeaks and squawks

like a whistling bird caught in the frame of the cold cold

yeah, this is where a good live in boy

would come in handy

to walk around with a tool belt

and fix stuff like squeaky tires

and fist open tough spaghetti jars

and get things down from the top shelf

and carry the groceries in

and haul the iron from the junkyard

and soften the hardware-mechanisms of my body

how i’ve gotten by on my own all this while

i’ll never know

 

 

 

 

lone grey wolf

 

when i take a bath

i think of you

and i think of the raine

and through the window

when the light turns to lavender

 

i think of you

when i wrap the dry

towel around my body

and fall into the sleep of my dreams

in the mourning light

when i first open my eyes

i think of you

 

i think of you when the sun

comes in and there is light again

and i think of you when it turns to grey

i think of you when the stars

wish across the sky

or when the wind is cold

or when the train whistle blows

or when the leaves fall around me

i think of you

and my mind fills with memory

 

 

 

 

You know it’s gettin’ bad when you come home

And find a note in the fryin’ pan, that says,

‘Fix your own god-damn supper’

And you’re the only one that lives there

 

 

 

 

My Date With Hank

I hawk the black jewelry box and the butcher knife

For a cup of coffee, a paper, cigarettes

And a spoonful of pillowcase-capsules

That i wrap into the lint of my right pocket

In line for coffee i get wedged between a man

And the ghost that grows the man inside of him

He has all the charm of an old poet

Boldly boasting of a month long waltz with death

Coaxing the dancing parasol in the room

Who gently nods and smiles and crosses her legs

‘My balls swelled to the size of coconuts,

My legs as thick as birch trees, he recounted.’

His throat hits the air in summersault

And cigarette and the promise of survival

I clear my lung before it clouds again

But i blend, my pale cheek, into the wallflowers

 

Of floating marigold

I get lost there in the cluster

I get lost in the eyes of a child

A little reddish-blond called by her mother –

Emily brushes at the hem of my skirt and smiles and smiles

Raising her arms up to me

I fall for her immediately

I fall for the old woman

Left to the corner

Where the shadows of light do seldom lead

She’s twisted into an oval jar

Of rotten spices

Smiling between

The lipstick vanilla coke

Of yesterdays long ago

I can’t breathe in hear, i think

There is no room in hear, for me to breathe

 

My mind escapes to the window

Of winters grey

And i’m already racing

My eyes are watching

Across the street

I have a date, you see

It’s a big date for me

He’s been waiting for me there

Patiently, Patiently

I saw him go in

I saw him come out again

Stand there, on guard of the door

Waiting on my approach

His black hair streaked back to a widows’ peak

His cold red face glaring at the day

Standing at the book store across the street

I dance with all of them

The old woman

 

The child

And the poet

And i make my way through

I thumb the whispering shelves

Flitter through the dry leaves of Tennyson, Yeats, Thoreau

Waiting. Waiting for him to come and find me

Come find me knight, i recant to myself, my day is fading

Ah yes. There he is, The Golden Pony

The Thoreau-Bred

A lord above his Tennyson

Look how beautiful he is

Born again from the yeat of god

The ink still wet behind the ears

The Continual Condition Of Hank Charles Bukowski

I open the page

And he takes me in

Lays me down

Spreads me out like a porno star on page 22

And fucks me until the paper runs through

 

 

 

Glamour Clamor. Where Is This Chain Enamored

Surely Behind The Looking Glass

 

 

 

 

 

 

tonight i prayed

to the crowning

krown of kings

 

king top toupee

o god o lord

yu who have no hair

 

could you bring me

the jackalope

of hearts

 

the yellow girl

and the number five

 

 

 

 

thumbing dimes

for lose

change

i turn the calculator on

i begin adding things up

things like

4.29

and El Sombreo

things like loneliness and longing

and 23.72 bar tabs to show for it

things like 24 and 39

36 DD

once a c.

sea-saw sea-saw

and long winded stories

that begin ‘once upon a time’

little things like butter and eggs

and it’s always the little things

that add up

and wear you down

to nothing

 

 

 

 

what is the main highway

going north, he said

highway 101, i said

best class i’ve ever taken

 

 

 

Milk Maids and Dirty Linens

 

Crevice In The Earth Pussy

Earth Cream Sunday Come Early This Year

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

blind date

i could spend an evening with a man

dinner

a movie

drinks

the full catastrophe

and then i come home

crawl into my bed

my bed of ‘leaves of grass’

and read a few lines

written from the hand

of the old man

and i feel closer to him

in just those few words

than any other man alive

including:

the man

who i went to dinner with

who tried to feel me up at the movie

who bought drinks

and drank too much

and left with another girl

 

 

 

No money’s Heir for the Air of a dead Poet.

Even the word is too expensive for Rhyme.

 

 

 

Where above the dancers move

As a could of birds

Over the fields of wildwood flowers

That i walked as the days wept through

These are the memories i call home

 

 

 

THE FLOWER OF BRISTOW

The sounds of the summer-air and scourge
As the winds twist their way through the wood
The littering flocks flay from their nesting
Trees, applauding at the grey winter sky

But i have not the courage nor the self possession
The moths and beetles they all chase at my tales, i
Scurry on useless legs that plod on the brain, i am
A hollow stream rushing wayward in the wood
And tangling into the mourning of winters grey
——–

One day, it will be that someone will pick it up
One mourning in the sun-glass windows of my mind
That i’ll find it sitting there on the end…stand
Collecting dust from dust
And memoirs from the mulch of ash

 

’i look for gold in everything, i find it in the waters of my youth’

 

 

 

 

memory comes

 

as a scent in the air, maybe

or in the cracks on the sidewalk
or in the colors of my clothes
or in the raine

as it falls
from the grey
and it reminds me
of the way i felt
the way that i was, then
when i was a child
and all the moments

in between
sort of bind together
the child to the old woman

i am to become
they belong to each other
and all at once
they belong to life

just as they belong to death
the dream that dreams from life
as we are as much the earth as the earth itself
the old blood the rivers vein

the cacophony of the earth

and the quiet of the earth
or the flower

to all the things that need to be
the flowers sweet

 

 

 

and as for me

 

there is a beauty in knowing
like a ghost or a new born bird
humming into the air
you try to catch the bird
by breaking at the air with words
but the birds will bellow
and the eyes do turn
and the night-spells call
and i walk
the shadows of the wood

 

 

 

A painter must look deep within the well, to find the true value of yellow

 

Julian Raine is an accomplished visual artist and the author of numerous books of poetry. Some of her pieces (a number of which are displayed elsewhere in this issue) are up for sale; please contact julianraine@hotmail.com for more information.

Profile: Parkinson’s Institute

PARKINSON’S INSTITUTE: UNPARALLELED!

by Bruce Roberts

Cassius Clay, later known as Muhammad Ali, was the epitome of grace and lightning-fast movement in his days as a boxing champion. He claimed to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, and he was not exaggerating.   To see him today though, years later,  slow of movement, shuffling,  leaning forward, slurred speech, uncontrollable shaking, he has also become the epitome of a Parkinson’s Disease patient, a tragedy of which all should be aware.

Fortunately for the world in the year 2012, the Parkinson’s Institute—based in Sunnyvale, California—exists.  The brainstorm of its founder, Dr. J. William Langston, this institute stands out in its field because its approach to Parkinson’s is all-inclusive. Dr. Langston’s concept is “to take an integrated approach to basic clinical research and patient care” (PI website). In other words, other Parkinson’s sites are either research clinics or treatment clinics. The Parkinson’s Institute is both—world class research combined with top-notch patient care to put the research into practice.

All this from an equally world class staff. In fact, two of the PI’s doctors have recently won prestigious awards in their fields.  Dr. Caroline Tanner, the Director of Clinical Research, won the 2012 Movement Disorders Research Award from the American Academy of Neurology.  Significantly, she is the first woman ever to receive this award.   Also, Dr. Langston himself has been awarded the Robert M. Pritzker Award from the Michael J. Fox Foundation.  He received this honor “for his profound contributions to Parkinson’s disease therapeutic development and his exceptional commitment to mentoring the next generation of Parkinson’s researchers.” (MJF Foundation)

PI’s other emphasis, of course, is patient care.  Even Dr. Langston sees patients every day, indicating that PI has its feet firmly anchored in the real world.  Additionally, they offer a wide range of seminars to aid their patients—and their caregivers—in coping with Parkinson’s.  Patients can take seminars for those newly diagnosed, for medications and drug interaction, for social interactions, for financial planning, and even for dance and PD.  Many other programs are offered, and most of these seminars are free and available to caregivers too, a true community service.

Recently, PI has become the collaborative center for a 20 million dollar grant, together with Emory University and UCLA, to focus on epidemiological research—the environmental,  genetic, and age-related risk factors for Parkinson’s Disease.  Understanding these causes will improve PI’s ability to prevent and treat Parkinson’s, and indeed, that is their only goal:  to lick Parkinson’s Disease and make the world healthier.

They should be constantly commended and supported for their outstanding work. Just Google the Parkinson’s Institute in Sunnyvale and click DONATIONS on their website to offer your support.

Bruce Roberts, who may be reached at brobe60491@sbcglobal.net, is an accomplished sculptor and schoolteacher from Hayward, California. 

Poetry from Sam Burks

 

“Infinity”

Listening to the ocean speak
in tones of mercy, tones
of a tortured body
finally bigger
than all
of that pain

I sometimes
wonder
why
the same waves keep breaking
over and over
again and again
and why the sound
they make
consumes every lost
and incomplete idea,

consumes it all
like so many vessels before
into that endless mirror
of the heavens
on earth

listening to the pulses
of the universe
expressing its pace
in my own chest

I sometimes wonder
how
we can look so hard
in the opposite direction
and only glance
at infinity

 

“The sky is still there”

What happened
to the sky
and the clouds
that once made up
the dimensions
of that eternity?

Buried in my
tattered clothes and
bellow this hollow mattress
it’s kind of hard
to see what I
know
is there

and even though
the clock
screams at me
anonymously
telling me
everything
except
what I
want to hear
I hope that surely
the sky is still
big and blue and
still right there
right above
the roof

but in the warm
room, I can see
only patterns of the
days that I’ve been
counting down

The blurry scars
on my arm

Past thoughts
displayed
on yellowing paper
littering the room

Unread books

Half-smoked
cigarettes

Photographs of
the gone

The surviving words
of the dead

And if this
broken and scattered
history
laying around me
is trying to say
anything
at all

I hope
it’s that
somewhere
the sky
is still there
big
and blue

 

“The Network”

The shock that projects in waves-

The reflected vibrations of our collected selves-

Fills both hands with separate meanings

Contradicting black and white

Identifying good and evil

While remaining a singular expression

Of feeling, of color, of thought

Of the trembling of our presence

Within a deserted room

Who are you, who are we

But a change upon and within our selves

And our surroundings

And the common ground

We know as being right here

When the eyes have met

Maybe they’ll see a reflection

Of infinity upon infinity

To beyond our conscious fences

To nowhere at all

Sustained as a circle

A loophole in the rules

That guide so quickly to hate and fear

Which we as a being

Should learn to hate and fear in turn

I will not separate myself

From the seclusion

Of everything as one

And one as everything

I will not surrender

To the animosity of the unfamiliar

For I am one to think

That I am familiar too

I will not tolerate

Change as a means to an end

For the end is changing meanings

And happening all at once

The shock of being here

Dies with the realization

That here is being

And we will not keep ourselves

To ourselves anymore

 

“Memories (a farewell)”

Before we knew it
the time
was almost here
to say
goodbye

And how?
so unexpected,
long desired,
the light is finally
breaking shadows
on the horizon.
And amongst the joy and
the thrill and the sigh
of relief
is a small twinge
of selfish logic
breaking in
to our hearts

Somehow,
we know that we
don’t feel ready
just yet

But when will we?

Back in the warm
securing shadows
we watch the light drawing nearer
and we wait
and recollect

Everything
and
everywhere
holds
a memory:
this park bench
where a few summers ago
we met on our bikes
at four in the morning
to drink stolen wine
and laugh.
And oh, how we laughed
until we collapsed
into
each other.
Nothing but the dry
summer night,
the roof of stars,
and the perfume
of yellow grass-
the scents and
sensations
of what we were
that night.

Or that dark
stretch of sidewalk
leading from the echoes
of a house party.
You couldn’t make it very far
down that sidewalk
because
you were too drunk.
So I laid there with you
and we prayed
for the ground
to stop shaking.

Or that parking lot
where
your car got a flat,
and I broke the jack
and put a dent
in the asphalt
trying to put on
the spare.
And how we laughed
away the worry
until
we collapsed.

Or all those hangovers with coffee,
the miles that we
put on each other,
all the careless
and funny accidents,
all those memories
that made us
who we are.

Back on this park bench
where I held you
and fell in love with you
a few summers ago
I wrote down
a few things
that I
remembered
about us,
and how things
are so different now,
and how
I don’t
want to
let you go
just yet.

But if not now, when?

You are already
just a memory
of the laughter
and the stars,
and the booze,
and the dry grass,
and the relentless
summer nights,
and the sprinklers,
and the kittens,
and the dark sidewalks,
and the jealousy,
and the inspiration,
and the certain songs,
and the comfort
that I
once had.

And now, almost before
I knew
what hit me,
and long before
I’ve come
to accept it completely,
the time has come,
you are
already gone,
time to let the memories
be just that: memories.

Sam Burks is from the San Francisco Bay Area, in California, and can be reached at srburks@gmail.com