Penelope Coaching and Consulting – Poetry from Aviya Kushner


From Aviya’s chapbook Eve and All the Wrong Men from Dancing Girl Press 


















Eve, that first woman, who is she

but a renovation, a remodeling


of an earlier thought—

smaller than the sea, not her own


day like heavens and earth,

less substantial,


there for company,

her kind from the beginning


less numerous than grains of sand or descendants,

or even the animals and fish promised to man, to name.


There is nothing about her skin, her shine,

in the text, but somehow I imagine


her small, less bright than the moon and sun:

there only because it is not good for man to be alone.


But beware,

she is less predictable than you think, God.


You have no idea what happens

when you make one creature out of another.




His hips, walking—

the way he sits:

maybe it is not him

but the way he makes

me feel that I crave;

with one look I am

connected to earth,

and with another

look I am not.


From Aviya’s chapbook Eve and All the Wrong Men from Dancing Girl Press 

Penelope Coaching and Consulting – fiction from Ron MacLean


I wear my father so he shows.
I wear him like a crime scene, a Christmas sweater. A dead skin, scored and
perforated. I wear him (only) at high tide, wary of mucking in the shallows. I wear him
like a felled tree: a used sports section: a tired mug. Like the striped thrift store shirt
(too big) I wore too long (believer).
I am the carpetbagger in the basement; an unschooled kid with a rug-burned
eye, a soiled face. I stayed until I could read the score in the ink on my fingers.

(The dog crawled into my lap and died. I’ve never been clearer on what a being wanted.)
My phantom sister treats me to tea she pours from her handless arm. Her skin
smooth where it burned. We have dinner on Tuesdays: she roasts meat and root
vegetables. We sit close at her too-small table and disagree about the past. Rutabaga.
My phantom sister fixes flat tires free of charge. She smells of rubber, glue, and
ash. Lives with a set of identical twins who don’t get along. This doesn’t trouble her.
“They’ve never gotten along,” she says.


My phantom sister carries a canned ham in a cloth bag. She says the only faith
worth having is one that’s impossible to articulate. She says: sometimes the waves
knock you over. (What then? Get back up: walk wet.)
My father sits in a recliner in the corner. Wallpapered-over. Mummified. His
presence delicate: if bumped, it could crumble uncontained. I hover with a flashlight,
tired of this teasing husk. My shirt, shorts, shoes drip water. The flashlight too big. Its
beam bounces – off musty flocking, rug remnants, exposed pipe. For half a second, I
steady it:

The cellar abounds with beets (luminous, magnificent) that no one – not even my
sister – will claim. We walk, hand in handless. The ham in the bag bangs against her leg.
Slosh. Accept the weight of wet. The way you feel – adjust for – a limb no longer there.


Penelope Coaching and Consulting – short story from Ron MacLean


I got it from her, this habit of clenching my feet into a fist. I may not be the
sharpest knife in the jar, but I understand this: a marriage is built of bones and teeth.
We take care of ours: we brush, we floss, we see our dentist. Even so, I’m holed up in
a Florida hotel writing this eulogy while she’s at a shoot-‘em-up flick.

She doesn’t understand why we’re here. Thinks it’s some self-inflicted
wound. Some alligators are always trying to skate uphill, she’d say if she were here
now. You practically sawed off a limb to free yourself. Why come back? Her kindness
slays me. I’d know enough to not say, It’s my family. For her, the boundaries are
clear. She came for me – doesn’t even like crossing the Sunshine State line. Can’t
understand why I have to go into the teeth of it. She wants to keep me from pain.
Knows that’s not always possible.

The bed is too hard, the pillows too soft, it’s too cold to swim, and we can’t
afford room service. Every sentence I scribble I cross out, erase. The persistent hum
of HVAC. Low voices in the wall. Scraps of memory – a dish rack with two coffee
mugs, a transistor radio playing Percy Faith. The terrifying calm after each tempest.

The way, with enough conditioning, a crackle of static can make you flinch. Family, I
scratch out, is what hurts you.
I ordered dinner anyway. When it arrives, I will bounce it on my knee like a

I’ve tried to live by one simple rule: never microwave anything you care
about. It’s an inhospitable frequency, prone to shoot sparks or suck the life from
things. I’m the last one standing on this particular branch. She’d say all my family
ever cared about was getting the pool cleaned. What pool, I’d ask her. She’d make
that exasperated grunt. She won’t come to the funeral. Won’t cross that line.
Forty-three degrees. People think Florida is warm. Some of us know it takes a
second skin. But it must be beautiful in Berlin this time of year. The tulips at
Mauerpark, the former death strip between east and west. To walk hand in hand
where the wall came down – mauerfall – a place now alive with gardens and ponds,
jugglers and buskers, young love heedless of tooth decay. To see a city once divided,
now thriving. We can still get there.

Silence comes in so many forms. Companionable. Caustic. Cancerous. I cross
out. I write. I cross out.
Once a month or so I have this dream where my teeth fall out. Pour from my
mouth like water and glisten on the ground. I wake up caressing my molars. I don’t
tell her this. Where is your backyard pool then, she’d want to know – your pet parrot
squawking for sunscreen? Someday you’ll be soiling your trousers and wishing you
could chew solid food. I wouldn’t know what to say.

I once held a chunk of it – Berliner Mauer – at a college talk, the day I met her.
This woman – the speaker, a former East German – told how she chipped it out and
kept it, first to remind her the wall was down, then, over time, to remind her that
what’s built inside you doesn’t fall so fast just because you can move around freely.
Some nights a burger and a cold beer can set anything right. Here’s hoping. I
don’t want to paper over problems as I eulogize. Don’t want to let her down. The
room’s not helping. This polyester bedspread of autumn leaves. This broken bedside
table. How what we do to each other is the best we can. How we know in our bodies
silence can cut quick as any other blade. Somewhere there’s a minibar with my
name on it.

We got as close as Frankfurt. A stopover on a work trip to Denmark. Sat in
oversized rockers awaiting a connection. Failed to consider how singular the
opportunity could be. It wasn’t the best time for us. She on the phone with her sister.
I overheard: “To save that man, you’ll need a sharper knife.”
Do I wish she was here now, taunting and teasing, crumpling each inadequate
attempt into a ball and missing the wastebasket as only she can? Of course I do.
Instead of these scratched-out hotel pages, to bring a chunk of my own wall,
softened and smoothed with time, pass it from hand to hand: Here’s your eulogy.
Even the strongest signals aren’t always clear. We have our troubles. She
talks and talks. I shave my head, and still I can’t quite hear.

We’ve had a good ride, though. And we’re not done. I remind her almost
daily. She’ll come back adrenalized from the movie; she’ll chastise me for ordering
room service and for caring so damn much about this. You can’t toss a donut to keep
a duck from drowning, she’ll say. I’ll beseech her, I have no idea what you’re talking
about. She’ll hug my head. Family, she’ll say, are the ones who love you. We’ll take out
our teeth and put them in plastic cups ‘til morning. So we don’t hurt ourselves, or
each other, any more than is necessary.

Black Chateau PR – Sheryl Benko’s novel The Last of Will

The Last of Will – Book Excerpts That Will Take You on the Ride of Your Life

Sheryl Benko’s The Last of Will

If you need some comedic relief, look no further. The Last of Will by Sheryl Benko is full of hilarious antics, witty comebacks and snide remarks. Greer is an eye-rolling, sarcastic teenager that always has something to say. Her family is going through a rough patch. Her Dad lost his job, her mom is trying to keep her floral business afloat, and her sister, well, she has a big secret that she’s keeping from her parents. Greer wants desperately to get her driver’s license, but how far will she go to practice? Her parents are insistent that that Greer take a road trip with her father. On the plus side, Greer gets to drive. On the downside – EVERYTHING.

Read these book excerpts to get a glimpse into the chaos that is Greer’s road trip in The Last of Will:

(Greer calling her sister, Liv, from a Wal-Mart in farm country)

“He’s looking at fishing poles,” I report.
“Why?” Liv squawks. “Dad doesn’t fish. Does he?”
“I don’t think so. But I’m not, like, joined at the hip with him twenty-four hours a day. He may have hobbies.”
Now he’s studying the archery bows. What? Is he planning to go off the grid and hunt his own food?
“That’s probably how the ‘Unabomber’ started,” Liv presumes, having no idea if that’s even remotely true. “He had a meltdown and lived in the woods, which Dad could be planning if he’s looking at survival gear, which means Mom’s gonna flip if you abandon him.”
Abandon? Does she have to use such a harsh word? It’s not like I’m never gonna see him again. I mean, he’ll come home eventually, right? They might sell maps here. I could get him a pocket version. Besides, I don’t think people “plan” meltdowns. That sounds like a more spontaneous thing. Case in point …
“And don’t even get me started on Mom,” Liv drones on, “who’s in such a tizzy with this whole wedding thing, I can barely deal. So you should be glad you’re with the less crazy parent, since Mom’s ready to lose it on that bride, who’s beyond lucky I’m not there, since I would have clocked that bitch by now.”

(Greer trying to convince her dad that they are being followed)

“Dad, I’m not kidding! He’s a psycho midget Eskimo! I saw him, like, three times!”
“All right, calm down,” Dad insists. “First of all, the appropriate term is ‘little person.’”
“Oh come on! We’re gonna do this now?? Our lives are in danger and you want to be politically correct?”
“Indulge me, like I indulge you,” Dad implores. “And if you want to get technical, was he a midget? Or a dwarf?”
“There’s a difference?”
“Yes. Were his limbs proportional?”
“I don’t know,” I admit. “I couldn’t tell, with his parka.”
“He wore a parka?”
“He wears it all the time.”
“Ah,” Dad catches on. “Which is why he must be an Eskimo, right?”

Continue the adventure and order your copy of The Last of Will on Amazon.

About Sheryl Benko’s The Last of Wil here: 

Greer Sarazen is like any teenager. All she wants is to get her driver’s license, to not be bugged by annoying people, and to NOT have her spring break interrupted. Yet, when her dad, Will – who has been unemployed due to downsizing – finally gets a job at the local cemetery, Greer is forced to tag along on a road trip to deliver a stranger’s ashes out of state. A stranded van, a clown, a rodeo, a disco-dancing nerd and a belligerent dwarf threaten to throw off the itinerary, while the departed “passenger” becomes an unexpected friend … proving that, sometimes, the things we truly need are the last things we would ever expect.


Black Chateau PR – excerpt from Tara Botel Doherty’s short story collection Growing Up Hollywood

Growing Up Hollywood – A Snapshot of One Family’s Life

Growing Up Hollywood by Tara Botel Doherty is a collection of short stories based on the life of two young girls. The novel begins with a glimpse into the birth of a new family as we follow their mother Mia’s hopes and dreams. She meets their father and a whirlwind romance ensues. Soon, however, the rose-colored glasses come off and the reality of the family’s life is revealed.

Take a look at this book excerpt from Growing Up Hollywood:

“Once upon a time in Hollywood, I’m going to have a husband who loves me more than anything and a bunch of children who will be as graceful and beautiful as I am. We will live so high up in the Hollywood Hills that the palm trees will look like dandelions from our Olympus. My Prince will work in the studios and I will bring his cocktail out to the kidney shaped pool in our sprawling ranch style house where the growing Los Angeles skyline will appear to be just beyond our backyard. It will be that rare day when the smog has not attached itself to the civic center and the offshore winds are blowing. The perfect picture. We will be the white-boarded frame of perfection in our 1960’s snapshot. Post war. Post troubles. Post post.”

“Union Station ten minutes,” The conductor announced through the loudspeaker. She had finally arrived. The perfection of a downtown Los Angeles afternoon left Mia in the style of excitement that was reminiscent of innocent children on Christmas morning.

If you want to continue the story, you can find this novel on Amazon.

About Growing Up Hollywood: 

Hollywood is the land of hopes, dreams, and make-believe. Anything can happen on its tarnished and run-down streets, especially on the Boulevard in the 1970’s. Annie and Gracie, sisters aged 7 and 10, live near the Boulevard in the Hollywood Hills. As their mother and father edge toward divorce, these two young girls try to make sense of their lives amid their domestic chaos. From the outside on their unfriendly, dead end street, the picture may look perfect, but pictures are often deceiving. Follow these two sisters’ adventures as they grow up among the famous Hollywood landmarks and learn about life and people.

Visit the Boulevard with its tacky and sometimes shady establishments, and the patrons who inhabit them. Meet the eccentrics looking for fame and fortune among the stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This collection of short stories offers a picture of what it was like to grow up in legendary make-believe Hollywood. The snapshots are short vignettes recalling businesses that existed for decades along Hollywood Boulevard where its connection to its past glory still existed. This is Hollywood before gentrification and big business development.

Synchronized Chaos September 2019: True Character Revealed

Announcements: I will be away during September so in lieu of putting together the normal October issue we will post writing and book reviews from our literary colleagues Desiree Duffy (Black Chateau Publicity), Gini Scott, Kristina Marie Darling (Penelope Productions) and others.

Also, in January 2020 we will have a special issue with the theme of ‘Philosophy,’ curated by our guest Editor and Synch Chaos colleague/thought leader Kahlil Crawford. So please begin thinking of work that you might like to submit for that issue!

Now, for September 2019’s issue, True Character Revealed. It’s been said that crises don’t develop our character so much as reveal it. And often, long stretches of ordinary life can do the same.

The ‘Eye of God’ Nebula

In her monthly Book Periscope column, Elizabeth Hughes reviews one title, Rajesh Naiksatam’s The Cloudburst, that focuses on teens from varying backgrounds surviving a flood together. The other books in her column illustrate another way that we show who we really are: in the day-to-day choices that we make. Vasvi Pande’s Krista the Superhero and The Girl with the Pink Crayon and Paul Trittin’s Jacobus: A Eunuch’s Faith present protagonists who build and reveal character throughout lifetimes of decisions and experiences.

Some protagonists need to see themselves more realistically, or at least take themselves less seriously. Daniel De Culla humorously posits a ‘spitting poet’ who believes he’s known for his wonderful verse recitations when in fact, it’s his habit of expectoration that gets people’s attention.

Ryan Quinn Flanagan writes of imposters, characters who play roles or get mistaken for others in often humorous ways. 

Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal writes of our human weaknesses: trouble sleeping, confusion, only being able to accomplish so much. Damion Hamilton’s speakers are caught in uncomfortable situations not of their own making: profiled and falsely accused of crime, stuck in a line behind a broken cash register and angry customers. Sometimes they respond with understandable shock and sorrow, other times, as with the cashier, they rise to the occasion in memorable ways.

Abigail George raises awareness of the threats violent gangs pose to the youth of South Africa, while Robert Ragan draws upon ghostly, unearthly metaphors to describe a life lost in the waking death of addiction. J.J. Campbell writes of resignation to loneliness and an unfriendly world, illustrating the long shadows that childhood abuse and early heartbreak can have on a life.

In a more uplifting context, Michael Robinson describes elderly residents of a nursing home where he recently stayed while recovering from a medical crisis. His poetry humanizes the residents, rendering them as individuals.

Ernest Hilbert, whose latest collection Last One Out gets reviewed here by Christopher Bernard, uses form and elegance of language to recollect and consider moments he spent with his father and grandfather, and now his wife and young son. As with many great poets, the way Hilbert describes these moments, the language used, reflects the subjects’ character.

Bones of hands making the sign of love

Norman J. Olson critiques the ‘true character’ of the art world, which in his view often rewards businesspeople much more than the actual creators of the poetry, prose, music, film or performing arts pieces. Meanwhile, James Goss urges creators to master their craft and develop fresh ideas for its own sake.

Actor Federico Wardal lends insight into the process of how an actor embodies a character and how a director and scriptwriter envision and create one. His collaboration with Federico Fellini continues to inspire him to this day.

Mr. Ben reminds us to judge potential romantic partners by their current actions, rather than by our hopes for them. After all, it is our actions, attitudes and choices that reveal our character.

Mahbub writes of various positions where we find ourselves in life: victory and defeat, joy and grief. Yet, a true love can remain constant throughout our journeying. He also reviews Rajesh Naiksatam’s novel The Cloudburst, pointing out the social injustice exposed when different classes of society are forced to interact and see each other’s experiences. The novel illuminates how, no matter what groups and classes we belong to, we all share a common impetus towards survival.

Indian Navy flood relief efforts during 2015’s floods in Chennai

Enjoy Synchronized Chaos’ September issue, and we hope that it reveals a plethora of insights.

Poetry from Luis Cuauhtémoc Berriozábal

Plain Human

Where is the rest?

I have to do so much

like the energizer bunny

but I’m plain human.


I’m being asked

to bang that drum all night,

burn the candle at each end,

but I’m plain human.


I got tired arms.

I got tired legs.

This heart beats fast.

This poor head spins.


Where is tomorrow?

It seems to be here

sooner than later.

I’m plain tired.


Where is that bed

to lay my pillow to rest?

I sleep wide awake.

I’m plain tired.


I got tired arms.

I got tired legs.

I just need rest

to be myself again.


April Fools

April fools,

all day long.

April fools,

every day.


The hot August heat

knows it full well.

April fools into

September and October.


April fools

on Halloween.

April fools

on Turkey Day.


Nothing seems real.

We are on

joke alert with

each passing day.


It is surreal.

I can’t tell

the difference

with alternative facts.


Taking Note

My ear takes note

of the night voices

that do not tire

even as I hide below

the sheets.  I could

cut the ear off, but

I am no Van Gogh.

The silent flowers

drown in the sun.

My ear feels the heat

of the sun and hears

its sizzle. The sound

is deafening.