Synchronized Chaos September 2015: A Sense of Wonder

A May 2015 study headed up by Dr. Paul Piff of the University of California – Irvine and described in Psychology Today suggests that when we have a sense of wonder at the larger universe and a connection to something greater than our own lives, we can become more empathetic and compassionate. The researchers speculate that a healthy measure of awe gets us out of ourselves and pulls us away from selfishness towards a broader perspective. And this issue of Synchronized Chaos brought that study to mind as the pieces here comment on and explore various facets of this sort of transcendence.

This month’s contributors begin with the excitement and wonder of childhood. Elizabeth Hughes, in her monthly Book Periscope review column, reviews Harraf Namrattle, the first book in Shirin Lederman’s The Trotters of Tweeville series, a collection designed to illustrate the meaning and value of kindness, and Robert Parfett’s Not-So-Wise Owl, a rhyming story of an owl weary of requests for advice. Neila Mezynski gives us a short poem where kids express their joy at a day off from school.

Joan Beebe shares some poetry where she’s amazed at vast alpine vistas and amused by squeaky household objects. She relates a young-adult vacation experience in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains with nostalgia for the adventure and the time with her friends in a spectacular area. Tony Longshanks LeTigre also brings us a faded memory of an old abandoned Victorian house in San Francisco where he stayed for a time. As with Joan Beebe’s reflections, but even more poetic and less literal, the facts of the past experience mix here with sentiment and wonder and we speculate along with him about what was real and what was a dream.

Peter Streitz shows through grotesquely tragic imagery the violence that can occur when insecure humans seek to surmount their own internal weaknesses by attempting to physically dominate and deny their natural connection to other species. Christopher Bernard, in his poetic prayer to Mother Earth inspired by Pope Francis’ words on the environment, reminds us that we are part of a larger world and that we can and should give back and respect and care for our planet as she has nourished us.

Ann Tinkham also looks at the destructive and seemingly impersonal power of nature in her short story “Afraid of the Rain,” where a young wife and mother risks her safety to salvage items left behind after the family evacuates the property during a flood. The piece becomes a meditation on what we keep and what we let go and how much risk we take to preserve the fragile and the beautiful.

Tinkham also invites us to consider the nature of courage. Who is the hero of her story, the wife who does not give up until she recovers what she most loves, or the husband who cares for their baby daughter in the meantime and focuses on building a new future?

Other contributions also probe how we become heroic, how we can survive the vastness and wildness of nature. We are part of the natural order, even if small individually compared to the galaxies and mountains. Ryan Hodge, in his monthly Play/Write column on video games, looks at how game creators develop archetypal superhero characters and what traits inspire players and involve them in the games. Hodge posits that often the most memorable heroes and heroines aren’t omnipotent within the fictional universe but develop their strength through hard work and perseverance and sometimes through a desire to overcome a personal failure or regret.

Michael Robinson writes of impersonal institutions: jail and the mental hospital. These confining images are placed alongside images of life: motherhood, home, and childhood. We see the inhumanity and degradation all the more when compared to the gentleness and humanity of the speaker’s family and early life, and wonder at the fortitude some people have to be able to survive such experiences. Strong families and communities can help people develop that resilience, which can be considered a form of heroism.

Siraj Sabuke and Laura Kaminski’s joint poetic sequence also honors courage and endurance. The two writers use images of moonlight illuminating other objects and parents giving life to children to show the power of poets who use their voices to bring others’ concerns and ideas to light.

Bea Garth’s poetry describes romantic love through images of motion and growth in nature. The shape of the words on the page reflects the subject matter of her poems, or at least the energy and direction of the speaker’s thoughts and feelings. Garth’s final piece shows a writer whose work has become a part of his character even when he has moved away from the stereotypical ‘poetry scene’ of San Francisco’s North Beach. His art comes from a connection to something outside his ego and conscious mind, even if only a dedication to articulating the musings of his subconscious.

Our final piece also offers reasons why people write, reasons grounded in a connection to the broader universe outside the writer. Dave Douglas, in a highly structured, intellectual and formal piece, rejoices in the adventure of following the imagination.

As editors and contributors, we hope that these pieces will pull you out of yourselves as you read and inspire creativity, wonder at the power of the imagination, and respect and empathy for the creators.

Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks from Lake Placid Airport. Public domain from Wikipedia entry on the Adirondack Mountains.

Whiteface Mountain in the Adirondacks from Lake Placid Airport. Public domain from Wikipedia entry on the Adirondack Mountains.



Also, our colleague in Portugal, poet and software developer Rui Carvalho, hosts a poetry contest on his blog and invites all writers to participate. Our magazine staff will provide editorial expertise to judge this competition and provide free writing coaching to the runners-up.

International Literary Contest: Poems and Tales for Nature 2015

Competition Adjudicator: Rui M. Carvalho

Prize-giving will be by the end of October 2015 using the web and the website where the results will be displayed.

No entry fee and Rui offers his first book of poetry, Tales for Love, to all who enter the contest.

For further details, rules & entry form visit

Poetry from Peter Streitz

Busting into Wacko’s cage
was child’s play
Buggy’s brat nephew
hacked the security system
And disabled the cameras
But getting the bastard beast
. . . to guzzle . . .
A barrel of banana daiquiri
Through a beer bong
Was a bitch personified
Yet this tête-à-tête
With the mangy primate
Was planned decades ago
The day Buggy got castrated
In a farm accident
But that’s neither here . . .
nor there

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Play/Write from Ryan Hodge


-Ryan J. Hodge

For someone who enjoys a great story, is there anything better than a narrative that engages you from the very start? Imagine a world so rich you can almost smell the scents in the air, a delivery so clever it forces you to think in a way you never thought you would. I’m Ryan J. Hodge, author, and I’d like to talk to you about…Video Games.

Yes, Video Games. Those series of ‘bloops’ and blinking lights that –at least a while ago- society had seemed to convince itself had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. In this article series, I’m going to discuss how Donkey Kong, Grand Theft Auto, Call of Duty and even Candy Crush can change the way we tell stories forever.

What Videogames Teach Us About Writing for Superheroes

Post 2010 has been boom times for superheroes in cinema. Where before a ‘superhero movie’ was synonymous with ‘over-budgeted flop’, it’s now become an expectation for at least two or three to appear per year. From Avengers to Antman, moviegoers everywhere are rejoicing that Hollywood is now doing their favorite childhood heroes justice.

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Poetry from Joan Beebe

Squeaky Things

Do you have things that squeak?

And wake you up so you have to peek.

We have floors that squeak and doors as well

Both squeak so much that I want to yell.

We have cupboard doors that squeak and, to tell the truth,

We also have teeth and bones that creak and squeak.

So to close my mind to all that din,

I go to my piano and practice a hymn.

But, wouldn’t you know as soon as I start,

The keys start squeaking and I fall apart.

I am going to take up the drums!!!

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Poetry from Christopher Bernard

Image from Stakeholder 360

Image from Stakeholder 360

Mother Earth

“…‘our Sister, Mother Earth’ … now cries out to us, …
burdened and laid waste …”— Pope Francis, Laudato Si’

You throned us in your belly
down countless generations,
unfolded us to the light, fed at your breast
the children in us that grew to be women and men.
You taught us wonders:
each star in the night, each flower in the morning,
singing and beauty, each word, each thought,
the rites of courtesy, discipline of goodness;
praised us, scolded us, comforted us, held us.
All thanks to you, Mother Earth, all thanks to you.

The sun strides across the sky.
The birds pierce the air.
The rain startles the ground.
The seas are renewed without end.
The mountains dream in the morning.
The flowers are boundless.
All thanks to you, Mother Earth, all thanks to you.

And in return, what have we done?
We have cut out the heart of the world,
in man’s mad cunning, and burned it.
We have ransacked your home and fouled it,
and we have set your house on fire,
destroying the loom of the earth that made us,
the seed we grew from, the withered blossoms.
We are like a drunken man driving fast toward midnight,
intent on destruction out of a nameless resentment.
Forgive us, Mother Earth. Forgive us.

Free us.
Free us from our darkness,
the fear and need that drive us,
the cowardice and greediness of desire,
our craven weakness before brutality;
cast out the insanity of mankind,
past the crimes that strew our lives,
our refusal to see
the evils that are ours alone.
Save us, Mother Earth. Save us.

Show us the way—remember when we were children?—
of holy life.
Teach us how to walk again
lightly upon the earth.
Teach us to heal when you are ailing,
to comfort when you grieve
and no longer make you weep in the trammels of the night.
Free mankind from itself, Mother Earth,
and teach us to be loving to you forever.

All thanks to you. Forgive us. Save us.


Christopher Bernard is the author of the forthcoming novel Voyage to a Phantom City, to be published by Regent Press in 2016. He lives in San Francisco.

Short story from Ann Tinkham

Afraid of the Rain

C’mon, sweetie, it’s time.” Parker eyed the escorts at edge of their property, a National Guard duo outfitted in army fatigues; their faces not registering the persistent downpour that pasted their camouflage uniforms to their bulky frames. The presence of the National Guard on the site of his and Sam’s ravaged home accentuated the feeling of a war zone. The combat-ready pair was poised to evacuate Parker, Sam, and baby Bridget to a makeshift helipad, where a Black Hawk helicopter awaited. An airlift evacuation. Parker had never envisioned being airlifted out of anywhere, unless he was clinging to life after a climbing accident. But he was very much alive, as were his wife and baby; god-damned fortunate to be alive, as a matter of fact. They were simultaneously the luckiest and unluckiest people he knew.

A Mexican monsoon had hovered over Boulder, Colorado and the adjacent foothills for days, delivering more precipitation than they usually got in a year. The ground had become so saturated, the water cascading down the mountain carved fault lines beneath their home like the gaping epicenter of an earthquake. Parker had no one to blame, not even God. As an atheist, he was left with science. Water, saturated earth, and gravity had colluded to create a chasm in the foundation of their home that triggered a collapse, emitting a sound like an explosive device. He and Sam had been tucked in their canopy bed, Bridget in her adjacent crib when the house detonated; there were no early warning signs, just the rhythmic pitter-patter of rain on their roof, lulling them to sleep and then: kaboom! He had catapulted out of bed to Bridget’s crib and shouted, “Get the fuck out of the house!” The pajama-clad family narrowly escaped. An exploding house ranked as Parker’s most terrifying life experience, including a near burial in an avalanche and a climbing “tumble.” He wished he had had a god to shake his fist at, but raging against science felt foolish. For the first time, he understood the usefulness of a god, both as a source of hope and as a target of rage. But if he thought about it too much, he’d think his way back to atheism. Why would anyone believe an omnipotent force that caused undue pain could also produce miracles?

Sam was perched on their white staircase, the only part of the house not coated by a dense blanket of sludge, clasping baby Bridget in her arms. The white steps emerged from the mire, an artist’s rendering of a stairway to heaven in Pompeii.

Bridget and I would like to stay.” Sam glanced from her baby to Parker.

Stay and do what exactly?” He scanned the wreckage, trying to imagine what she was possibly thinking. Any path forward would require excavation, months of recovery and at least a year of rebuilding.

We’ll fix it. Patch it back up. Put it back together again.”

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