An opportunity to submit science-related poetry

 

I received this notice through a professional group – permission was included to share anywhere poets may be lurking…

If you have written any (unpublished) poetry touching on the intersection of communication and science [including but certainly not limited to biomedicine], please submit it for consideration for “Peer-Renewed,” a column that debuted in the July-August 2006 issue of Science Editor, the bimonthly journal of the Council of Science Editors (CSE), based in Reston, VA. The ideal maximum length of each poem (or cluster of poems) is about 90 typeset lines. Type your poetry within the body of an email, to prevent any difficulties with opening attachments. Add a short paragraph about your educational and professional background, including whether or not you have had any poetry or other literary work published before; note that this material may be edited for inclusion in the column, if your poetry is accepted. Email (mknatterud@surgery.arizona.edu) to Mary E. Knatterud, PhD, Editor, “Peer-Renewed” column, Science Editor. Thanks!

January 2009 – Taking a Closer Look

First of all, we at Synchronized Chaos welcome our family of readers to the New Year and send best wishes for creativity, prosperity, and a fertile imagination. Thank you all very much for your feedback, comments, submissions, and thoughts – and we welcome anyone new to the project. Hopefully you will find much to fascinate and encourage you within this site, as well as inspiration for your own creative projects.

This first month of the year saw fewer submissions than usual, but what we received is unique and distinctive. Our artists and writers chose to study our world in greater detail, stopping to take a closer look at everyday or unique phenomena.

M.R.C. of Chaos Creations takes some concepts common to much of poetry (conflicts between the creative individual and society, rejection, peace, death/tombstones) but explores them in fresh ways through unusual plays on words and linkages between ideas. Her speaker poses the question of how far communication can go towards combating brutality and social injustice…and questions whether fragmenting oneself and one’s painful memories can truly bring inner peace or psychological survival for those who must live through violence.

Mateo Jaimes attempts to convey specific, immediate physical realities through abstracting exactly what is most noticeable – and most changeable – about the scenes he represents.  Momentary light and color combinations come through in his oil and acrylic renderings of eucalyptus forests. He also explores what communication might look like to people developing language and symbols on their own without influence from larger cultures…a high concept thought experiment taking the form of physical symbols grounded in the subjects’ possible everyday world. Plenty of artists have looked at forests, nature, even the South Seas – yet the immediacy and the ability to abstract the essence of a subject without losing touch with its physicality and placement in time sets Jaimes apart.

Mark Fischer translates whale and bird song recordings into visual pieces based on their frequencies through a detailed mathematical process. His work looks at what is at once everyday (many people claim to love nature, go whale watching, visit the beach, draw or buy whale/bird images) yet foreign (how much do we truly know, even the best scientific minds among us, about the life within our sky and oceans, beyond the terrestrial plane humans inhabit?) He represents natural phenomena in a unique way that reflects the  physical properties of the sound, taking a closer look at the animal recordings to discover possible patterns, order, and beauty.

We encourage you to further explore the natural and psychological landscapes conveyed by Fischer, M.R.C. Creations and Jaimes this month, and to leave comments and feedback for our contributors. Marcel Proust believed the process of discovery was more a matter of having new eyes (greater awareness of different aspects of our world) than necessarily new surroundings. These works beg to be explored with ‘new eyes’ and their creators hope to enhance our appreciation and our sense of wonder for our multifaceted universe.

AguaSonics – visual mandalas from whale and bird songs

 

Visual and recording artist Mark Fischer showcases his gallery of mandala images created by transliterating recordings of bird and whale sounds through mathematical processes into patterns which can be represented visually. Some scientific information behind this process available on this page: http://aguasonic.com/Description/ 

Sound travels much faster in water than through air, and the process may be speeding up with climate change as increased oceanic carbon makes our oceans more acidic.

http://aguasonic.com/Art/

http://picasaweb.google.com/aguasonic/AvianMandalas#

http://aguasonic.com/Cetacean/

YouTube videos on the AguaSonic process and mandala creation in action: http://www.youtube.com/aguasonic

Biography of Mark Fischer and some thoughts on the project, online at the Green Museum: http://greenmuseum.org/content/artist_content/ct_id-183__artist_id-92.html

Excerpts from Synchronized Chaos’ conversation with Mark Fischer:

Fischer: The animal recordings kind of come from all over- from the US Navy’s hydrophone network via various researcher friends, to my own hydrophone thrown over the side of a boat. The nice thing about
working with recordings is that, as long as the result is of high quality, the source can be quite varied.

Synchronized Chaos: Interesting how we know more about the surface of the Moon than our own planet’s oceans!

Fischer: It is indeed. A reflection, I think, of constantly looking out, not inwards.

Fischer, on Four Mountains, a serendipitous path towards conveying artistic meaning during portions of recorded whale song inaudible to human ears. The mathematically mapped sound frequencies created a pattern which reminded him of a mountain, which led to mental connections to Hopi medicine wheels and Aleutian kayaking adventures and the history of the Aleutian peoples – read the story here: http://aguasonic.com/Four_Mountains/fm_history.html

Yes, well, that’s one of my favorite little projects ever. If you look in Webster’s Dictionary under ‘esoteric’, I think they mention ‘Four Mountains’. 🙂

Artist Mark Fischer explores subtlety and nuance in sound, primarily with those of whales and dolphins, but occasionally other natural sources. Recordings are made using the highest quality equipment available, and images made from these sounds using the AGUASONIC(R) process.

Mateo Jaimes – capturing the moment, hypothetical communication

 

Local San Francisco Bay Area artist Mateo Jaimes, who recently exhibited work at San Francisco’s Artist Exchange, has a couple new series of paintings. Abstract in style, the work strives to convey particular aspects of physical scenes or ideas.

Eucalyptus represents his walk through an eucalyptus forest, his attempts at capturing the exact look of one of many fleeting moments: the intensity of various sources of light, the exact colors of each natural object. Ocean Communication, a thought experiment, poses some possibilities for how a non-Western island culture might communicate if they had never encountered modern languages. The symbols in Ocean Communication speak to art’s ability to probe the ‘other,’ the unknown in its various forms, through imagination, and the seemingly near-universal drive to communicate and be heard.

All paintings are wood panel, created with acrylic and oils.

Please peruse Jaimes’ work on his website: http://www.mateojaimes.com/pages/index.html

Peace and stones

 

They told me the pen was mightier than the sword,
And so I studied words upon words until my vocabulary was far beyond that
Of anyone else in my grade, even beyond many of my teachers.
They said to stop the bullies with my words,
And I taught myself to speak basic phrases of politeness and asking for help
In every language I could pick up, I can even speak it with my hands if their ears can’t hear me.

But it never stopped the cruel words hurling down on me like cold hard stones
Or the cruel hands striking against my skin and bones
Or the actions that ripped through me like claws and teeth and shattered me

Into tiny reflecting portions of myself, struggling to pull together. 
The broken body,
 The broken mind,
The broken soul,
That only wanted to be left in peace, not pieces. There is a difference between those two words,
I knew it early on.

Maybe the only peace is the one that they write on the stone that lies over the bones of those who can no longer fight

copyright M.R.C-Chaos Creations-2008

This experimental work has been running around in its author’s head for years before finally taking shape on paper. You may leave comments for M.R.C. here if you wish and I will pass them on.

December’s issue: The Introspective Journey

 

First of all, thanks to our readers and contributors for continuing to follow and support Synchronized Chaos magazine through the end of this year. We appreciate the variety of projects we’ve been able to help develop and publicize, and the many fascinating, unique, hardworking artists, authors, and readers we have met so far along the way, and look forward to more in 2009!

Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a very happy New Year full of infinite potential for creative possibilities, for finding beauty and fascination along life’s winding roads.

December’s submissions seemed highly disparate at first glance – yet after awhile I pulled out a common thread of discovery through introspection. Using careful thought and consideration to determine the true nature of people, objects, places, or ideas.

David Cicerone probes the near-physical memory of a sudden coming-of-age moment, a glimpse of one’s own tiny harmonica against the sounds of the universe in his highly atmospheric short story. What is it that brings us up to epiphanies and back down to earth, and how do we find motivation to continue our efforts afterwards in the calmer, wiser times?

Sara Waugh combines scientific concepts of biological growth and change with feminine imagery abstracted from modern, sexualized images of naked or nearly naked women. She brings her cultural anthropology and ecology background to explore why we find certain aspects of nature appealing or intriguing, and celebrates female bodies by re-integrating them into the context of natural cycles, transformation, history and cultural archetypes rather than viewing them as isolated objects of pleasure or even momentary beauty. Her work invites introspection into how and why we look at art, and blurs the lines between archetypes and realities, memory/imagination and physicality, the natural world and human society.

Sodalis’ philosophical essay on the differences between art and craft is another attempt at exploring the nature of art and beauty. Why do some works remain with us, touch us throughout centuries, become classics or masterworks? In this second offering from our San Francisco-based citizen-of-the-world blogger and writer, we take a look at some potential defining characteristics of art. We hope his essay will invite discussion among the artists and connoisseurs who peruse Synchronized Chaos.

Kate Evans’ For the May Queen’s title comes from Stairway to Heaven’s lyrics – a backdrop for another kind of coming-of-age story, where Norma Jean becomes exposed to various ideas and ways of life during her freshman year at Sacramento State. As her world expands she learns to reconcile and choose among different hopes and dreams, and eventually embrace a certain level of fluidity and complexity in her life. As with Walter Whitman, she can ‘contain multitudes’ and cry at beautiful weddings and hope for true love while simultaneously adventuring around the world as a travel writer and wishing there were more solo female travel memoirs. And she can stay friends with a surprising variety of people while allowing them space to change and discover their own personalities.

Evans shows Norma most developing her own personality during the times when she steps back from her social world and considers who she is, who she would most like to become. It is her encounters with other people and ideas inside and outside of class which give her something to consider during those times, though – introspection is a powerful, necessary capacity but not enough alone to create a mature personality. One must also engage with the real world to formulate and test one’s ideas.

Perhaps the winter months have inspired contributors to curl up inside with a warm cup of tea and embark upon personal journeys. We invite everyone to question and reflect and enjoy the freshly fallen snowdrifts with us, and to comment to thank and engage with our writers and artists.

Review of Kate Evans’ debut novel For The May Queen

 

Kate Evans is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at San Jose State University and the author of a poetry collection, short stories, and essays, as well as this college coming-of-age novel. Warning – there are spoilers in this review concerning major plot points, although the novel is still enjoyable with the added information.

 

 

“You [could] never be too young, too rich, or too thin. Money made the world go round. Everything and everyone could be bought, it just depended on the price. Drugs propelled many people in this modern world full of new technology. Anyone could get rich so long as they were willing to pay the piper.

          Independent fashion designer and zinester Lux la Due of Girl is Poison (http://girlispoison.blogspot.com) describes eighties American culture as a decade of experimentation and self-enhancement. Hairstyles, music, fashion, technology, finances and consumer products, and social expectations for young people all went through a period of confusing, exhilarating flux. Between the sixties-era rebellion, political activism, and free love, and the nineties’ economic worries, AIDS scare, and talk of ‘family values,’ the 1980’s were a decade of trying new things and figuring oneself out.

            Kate Evans’ recent novel For the May Queen follows Norma Jean, a young girl from the small California town of Auburn, through her 1981 freshman year at Sacramento State as she sorts out her own values with the help of a variety of colorful dorm-neighbors. Although the music and other cultural artifacts in this book (typewriters!) make it impossible to forget the novel takes place almost thirty years ago, the complex, conflicting messages Norma must explore and confront are still relevant nowadays. Those emotional similarities, and Evans’ unique, complex characters, are this book’s greatest strengths, and what inspired me to give this book a qualified recommendation.

 

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            Sharing a name with pre-Hollywood makeover Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean travels through a world full of music, movies, sex, drugs, friendship, parties, and sudden freedom. Norma observes various personalities and life choices through her dorm mates: her strong, go-getter sorority-girl friend Liz, who pursues what she wants in sex, romance, and fun without worrying about social norms, the funny, offbeat, classic movie buff Chuck, who keeps to himself and hates parties, and her sweet, friendly but private roommate Stacy, who takes her under her wing. Interacting with other people expands Norma’s potential life choices as she becomes exposed to different ways of life.

            However, Evans suggests, through the important realizations Norma comes to when she steps out of her social circle and by the fact that she chooses to leave Sac State by the end of the year, that one also needs time alone for personal reflection to be able to chart one’s own course. One can definitely learn from others, but must ultimately choose one’s own identity and values.

            Norma struggles to balance conflicting desires and ideals throughout the novel. She craves independence, wishing to journey and backpack alone in the style of her literary heroes Jack Kerouac and Isadora in Fear of Flying. She even thinks of this in feminist terms, wishing to hear more about women adventurers. However, she also wants very much to fall in love and have a serious romance with someone who values and cares for her. She stays with her older boyfriend Jack even when he’s emotionally distant and she’s sure he’s involved with other women, and also simultaneously hopes for something to start between her and Chuck.

            When Norma is asked in English class to write on something she cares about and stands for, she draws a blank until Stacy suggests that she believes in true love, that one can find happiness in a healthy relationship. Norma recoils, afraid the statement will sound foolish, that she’s making guys the center of her life. But Stacy is clearly very independent and sure of herself, and definitely believes in love (although with a female partner.) This encounter suggests the possibility of a strong woman’s believing in and desiring love without necessarily surrendering her identity or the rest of her life.

            Norma also enjoys the social freedom, the relaxed rules of the dorms. She admires Liz for feeling free to drink, cuss, go after guys, and not act like a ‘nice’ girl, for not fitting into old fashioned social rules expected of women. However, she looks wistfully for aspects of life that are more elegant, idealized, and romantic. Although many of the places she looks for idealized beauty (Princess Di’s televised wedding, Jack’s romantic splurges in the early days of their relationship, wanting to light candles while the group drops acid, the General Hospital wedding) do not end up matching reality, she still maintains her hopes.

            Princess Diana’s marriage ended, as did Norma and Jack’s relationship. Fire safety precludes lighting candles, and the soap opera plotline involves a rape victim unrealistically embracing the perpetrator. Her English teacher singles out the essay she writes on the soap opera wedding as an example of feminist satire on society’s minimizing the impact of violence against women. While one could legitimately write such a critique, Norma’s paper more concerns her desire for something idealized and lovely in which to believe.

            Do weddings represent a system of stuffy old social rules that restricted people’s behavior, or is the ceremony a representation of something meaningful and beautiful that people crave and will miss? For the May Queen suggests both conceptualizations are possible, depending on the people and the situation. On the one hand, Norma’s friend Suzy feels constrained to go ahead with marriage when she feels restless and unready simply because the ceremony’s already planned, and the marriage ends in divorce. On the other hand, Norma genuinely admires the beauty and romanticism of true love as well as ceremonies of all types, and we see Liz and Benny in a fairly functional marriage at novel’s end.

            Balance among all these desires and life goals, the possibility of incorporating many different ideals simultaneously into one’s persona seems to be hinted at in For The May Queen. Walt Whitman’s continual use of the word ‘and’ jumps out at Norma – and her English professor suggests that combining and mixing together different thoughts, identities, and goals was a part of Whitman’s philosophy and lifestyle. To paraphrase, Whitman was an ‘and’ rather than an ‘either-or’ personality – and perhaps Norma and her dorm-mates can follow in his footsteps if they so choose.

            Norma and her parents love to read, and her favorite books include Fear of Flying, Go Ask Alice, and On the Road. Her English class concentrates on essays in reaction to newspaper articles, assigned by a teacher wishing students to explore themselves and their own realities. Perhaps because they are removed enough from her own experience to give her space to reflect more objectively, the older books give her more insight than the newspaper as to what she can become. Adventure stories spark her interest in travel and independence, and open up a dialogue between her and her mother.

            However, she lacks the words to describe her ever-changing reality, with its sexual double standards and many layers of conflicting and simultaneous social expectations. She freezes up sometimes at parties and has trouble thinking of the best way to say something, and leaves Chuck’s lover’s apartment in shock without a word. She also has trouble expressing herself in English class, feeling detached from her personal essays, as if her mind and life are miles ahead of what she can think to put down.

            Her discovering the secrets of Chuck and Stacy further illustrates the power and limitations of language. There are dangers in not speaking about certain things, such as sexual orientation: Norma, Stacy, and Chuck become caught up in a colossal misunderstanding because of the secrets. But there are also problems with labeling, giving concepts words and names. Once one creates or accepts a label, one risks being judged by those who simply see the label rather than one’s whole personality, and having that label/group identity defined by others who use the term. Near the novel’s end, Norma pushes Stacy to come out and say she and Tabitha are lesbian. Having a category for her roommate would help Norma make sense of her world – but naming her orientation, telling people her secret (even when they already know, but don’t talk about it) would make Stacy’s inner life more public and take away from the private space she needs to develop her own personality independently.

            Stacy does not want her life to be a matter of public discussion, especially when other opinionated people might then take control of how people perceive her and her relationship. For example, Liz had put Stacy down earlier and judged her as a blonde ditz because she was jealous and assumed anyone so beautiful and kind must not be too intelligent. (Here Kate Evans makes a point about quick judgements of people and how women and people in general let their own insecurities and jealousy get in the way of potential friendships.) So, by choosing not to publicly give words to her love for Tabitha, Stacy protects herself from others’ snap judgements and definitions of her, and gives herself the personal space she needs to think for herself.

            Some parts of the college experience in For the May Queen stood out in contrast given my own past at UC Davis and present at San Jose State. Financial struggles seemed completely out of the picture, with several students coming from relatively wealthy or upper middle class families, and no one working part time, worrying about the cost of sophomore-year apartments, or even calling home for money. Everyone found careers appropriate for their personalities soon after graduation, including recovering alcoholic Dan/Goat, who supported himself as an entrepreneur. Was somewhat unreal to watch college students not live the ‘student life’ of Top Ramen, cheap entertainment, etc and have no worries about debt, financial aid, etc.

            Also, there was little mention of any political/social justice/environmental activity on campus in the novel, while in my experience there were plenty of causes, groups, petitions, etc. UC Davis generally did not see anger, violence, or confrontation over social issues, but people discussed issues such as the Middle East conflict, the environment, feminism and cultural diversity, etc. Not everyone chose to become political, but people were generally aware of broader societal topics, or at least brought cookies for their sorority’s charity bake sale or participated in the Cancer Society’s all night relay race.

            Not having attended college during the eighties, I am not sure to what extent those differences reflect cultural contrasts between then and now, or areas where Evans might expand her novel to broaden her portrayal of the college experience. Some social scientists have described our current generation coming of age in the 2000’s as the Millennial Generation, when young people are more relaxed and pragmatic and value tolerance, getting along with each other, and making a difference in their communities and the larger world. So perhaps some of what I mentioned would more resonate with modern college students, although I could definitely relate to Norma’s feeling ‘on the outside looking in,’ watching significant events happen, being one of the last to figure them out – but putting careful thought into what everything meant much later.

            For the May Queen shows the excitement of college parties, the sense of new maturity, self-exploration, social inclusion, and developing friendships. While definitely not a moralistic or cautionary tale, we do see some of the realistic dangers of some college experiences: Norma’s frightening bad trip while on acid, the specter of STD’s, friendships and relationships broken over sexual jealousy. There are some negative consequences for women in a world where social boundaries and rules are removed, but underlying cultural assumptions about women remain: for example, the potential sexual assault scene where a group of guys push a woman’s boundaries at a party, Goat’s unwanted advances towards Norma, and Billy’s insistence that Norma is solely to blame for his possible STD and she must be the one to get tested.

            The sometimes scary world of For the May Queen’s dorms reminds me of Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert (who also chronicles a personal journey of self-discovery among conflicting messages on women, sex, and freedom)’s observations: “…when the patriarchic system was rightfully dismantled, it was not necessarily replaced by another form of protection…If I am truly to become an autonomous woman, then I must take over that role of being my own guardian.”

            This novel chronicles Norma’s journey towards learning to protect and define herself, choose who she wants to become and what she values. It does end on a cautiously optimistic note, with Norma, still single in her late thirties, putting her love for novels and adventure to use as a travel writer. Her ‘secret hater’ prankster apologizes after twenty years, and Liz and Benny reconnect and find their way to a loving, happy, egalitarian marriage.

            And, perhaps most importantly given the novel’s themes and the way the characters learn and grow from each other, the novel ends with renewed friendship among several of the former dorm-mates. Norma definitely believes in friendship – reconnecting with Liz and Benny, forgiving Goat, staying friends with Chuck after realizing romance is impossible, even trying to see good in Billy at school year’s end. And in this case, Evans lets life match up to Norma’s hopes and dreams, even after all its complex twists and turns.

            Lux la Due describes the eighties as a time of experimentation – yet admits that not all of the ‘experiments’ worked. In some ways For the May Queen is an experimental novel, exploring deep sociological issues through life in a freshman ‘party dorm.’ The novel itself mostly works, with complex characterization, believable dialogue, effective pacing, and a realistic enough ending, although I would have perhaps alluded to other ever-present aspects of college life to add to the realism. Life still seems experimental for the characters at the end – Evans leaves us with some unanswered questions.

            This book can be read as a fun, fast-paced read – or a look at all kinds of experiences, questions, and messages life throws at people young and old. Anyone who can resist either glamorizing or quickly judging the characters and sex/drugs in the book, could get something out of this. I’d recommend For the May Queen to mature teens/college students or anyone interested in a bit of music/movie nostalgia or a better understanding of how exhilarating, scary, wonderful, and confusing it is to be seventeen and on one’s own for the first time.

 

You may order For the May Queen here: http://www.amazon.com/May-Queen-Kate-Evans/dp/0982115075/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1228243654&sr=8-1