“You are not obliged to finish the task; neither are you free to neglect it.” – Pirkei Avot 2:21
Welcome to November’s issue of Synchronized Chaos Magazine.
Many cultures view the last few days of October and beginning of November as a special time to remember and honor those who have passed on, to reconnect with history and heritage. We wish a happy Day of the Dead, Samhain, Diwali, and Halloween to those who celebrate.
We also mention some insightful, courageous writing from longtime contributor Jaylan Salah, from Alexandria, Egypt. She recently had a piece published in the Elephant Journal about the freedom in being authentic: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/10/nakedly-naked-jaylan-salah/ and another on poverty and sexism within modern Egyptian culture: http://guardianlv.com/2013/10/egypt-the-country-you-know-nothing-about/ Please feel free to take a look at these short pieces.
This month we voyage out into the vast expanse of the universe, looking to culture, history, science and geopolitics for insight.
Charlotte (Capaldo) Shea reviews Robot Futures, Dr. Illah Reza Nourbakhsh’s book on the scientific promise of robotics research. Rather than repeat skepticism and fears about ‘robots taking our jobs,’ Nourbakhsh takes a more optimistic and curious tack, exploring various technical possibilities and holding out faith in humanity’s ability to adapt.
Regular neuroscience columnist Leena Prasad reviews Dr. Eric Chulder’s Neuroscience Haiku, a collection of thoughts on brain science expressed in the traditional Japanese poetic form by the University of Washington researcher. Dr. Chulder communicates modern findings through a form of expression that goes back centuries, engaging us as we learn about the frontiers of research.
Leemond Dollins’ poem, “A Day on the Mat,” where a speaker combats depression through yoga and medication, plays with form, varying line lengths according to a Fibonacci sequence pattern often seen in nature, such as within the structures of pine cones, seashells, and leaf and flower petals.
Nigerian medical student and essayist Ayokunle Ayk Adeleye discusses the university staff strike in his home country and warns his government against violent solutions. His piece provides a view of current affairs from a local citizen’s perspective.
Also, and sometimes at the same time that we look outward, we peer within, to our minds, hearts, and desires. These submissions express our wishes for transcendence, our longings to go beyond our own lives and circumstances and connect with something larger than ourselves.
Sages and philosophers have admonished us for ages that if we want to unveil beauty, solve the mysteries of existence, or teach others about living a meaningful life, we must first confront our own issues. While that makes sense, it is difficult to figure out how to deal with ourselves – prompting another maxim, that the problems facing our age may not be solvable by the minds that created them.
However, we need to start somewhere – we may be imperfect when it comes to understanding and moral strength, but sometimes we are all we’ve got! Even when we turn to faith, there is still some element of human responsibility in terms of understanding and living out the values of our spiritual traditions. The mere fact that something is difficult, or even impossible in its entirety for us as mortal creatures does not necessarily excuse us from the duty to attempt it. And this month’s contributors, when their thoughts turn inward, make attempts at honest reflection and self-analysis.
Charles Mazzarella celebrates the creative journey in his piece on the writing process, going beyond his own work to discuss the art in general and setting a tone for this issue.
Sophie Mazoschek highlights the brevity and fragility of each of our moments, and each of our lives, in her imaginative rendering of a San Francisco bus ride. Her vignette extends the life of a small slice of time. Jack Savage graces us with another dream image, reaching into his subconscious to create an interesting striped animal.
Kamila Boegedal expresses her speaker’s desire to touch the cosmos, to expand her circle of thought and concern beyond her own daily matters. She longs for the freedom to reach up to the heavens and to share the relative permanence of trees. She yearns to expand, to connect to something larger outside herself.
Sue Barnard chronicles literal journeys in this issue, to the less-frequented Roman ruins of Ostia and to a Swiss independence day celebration. Yet these travels represent something more than just a personal diary, reminding us why we go to visit historical places. Apart from intellectual curiosity, we are acknowledging that we are part of something larger, that humanity existed before us and will continue after our passing. We are not so unique as to have never faced many of the vagaries of human life and nature before, yet we are important enough to play some part in leaving a legacy for future generations.
Emma Bernstein also looks to mythology in her poem Chained Woman, evoking images of the stars and the cosmos, as well as classical Greek tales, in her piece on the constellation Andromeda. Science here is a modern day myth, re-infused with the idea of sacrifice and redemption.
Bill Vernon provides an earthy, humorous look at one man’s dedication to Latin translation, choosing the elevation of the mind over the needs of the body.
James Humphries, Texas’ first prison fine arts teacher, as described by his son Jonathan in the memoir Windham’s Rembrandt, and reviewed here by Kimberly Brown, had to deal with his own issues before being able to serve others. This became a practical necessity as well as a psychological platitude, since he realized he was also vulnerable to some of the same life issues and temptations facing his students. Mr. Humphries develops empathy for the inmates as he encounters his own problems, and becomes able to teach them without either judging them as human beings or coming from a superior position to pity them as poor victims. The book honors the humanity of its characters – in and out of prison – without ignoring or excusing negative actions on their part, by illustrating their capacity for reflection, growth and change in the face of internal and external obstacles.
David Toussaint’s book DJ: The Dog Who Rescued Me, also deals with self-examination, with a protagonist who finds his way out of depression. Reviewed here by Elizabeth Hughes, and illustrated by Piero Ribelli, the book shows a narrator who avoids the pitfall of self-absorption even as he tackles his own personal issues by staying connected to the larger world through caring for a rescue dog. Dealing with ourselves doesn’t have to mean neglecting our responsibilities to each other, or completely isolating ourselves from others’ needs, and can be a mutually enriching process.
Hughes also reviews Paul deBlassie’s The Unholy, a novel using the paranormal genre not as an escape but as a way to explore the spiritual, the psychological, the world beyond what we can see. DeBlassie aims to promote values of life, healing, nature and nurturing through his work, as opposed to greed and lust for control, and the horror aspect of the book highlights the real harm caused by selfishness and ignorance, and shows the need for and power of the beauty and grace within the story.
Daniel Jacobs’ The Eyes of Abel, as reviewed here by Fran Lewis, shows a journalist learning to confront and tackle his unconscious political biases, and those of the rest of his media organization. Charlin is well-meaning, brave, and determined to expose the truth, but must first make sure he understands the complete picture. The novel suggests that peace in the Middle East may become possible when we hear the perspectives of all involved and grapple with the deeper economic roots of the conflict.
Irving Greenfield also addresses inner reflection in his melancholy short story, “Sorrows of Santa.” The piece suggests there is a price to pay for losing the illusions that have become ingrained in and possibly necessary to our society. How much would fall apart if things got examined, if we faced reality? Do we need to live a lie? Conversely, how could we find and provide hope while telling the truth to ourselves and our children?
Greenfield’s next tale, “Toward a Darkling Plain,” shows the pain that can come from facing reality, as a lonely man’s adult worries resemble his childhood terrors. As James Humphries dramatizes in Windham’s Rembrandt, we are only so strong, whether in the face of inner weaknesses or external threats. That is part of why we turn to myths, heritage, faith and the larger world for transcendence – not just for personal strength, but for the reassurance that life will continue after we are gone, that something will outlast us even when we lose our own battles.
Please enjoy this month’s issue of Synchronized Chaos Magazine, and please feel free to leave comments for our writers and artists!