Synchronized Chaos August 2017: The Stories We Tell Ourselves


“Stories have to be told or they die, and when they die, we can’t remember who we are or why we’re here.”
Sue Monk Kidd, The Secret Life of Bees

“It’s like everyone tells a story about themselves inside their own head. Always. All the time. That story makes you what you are. We build ourselves out of that story.”
Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind

We are all storytellers, as we all narrate our worlds to ourselves to make sense of our experience.

J.D. DeHart plays with fantasy and reality in a set of fun, readable pieces inspired by Greek myths, fairy tales, leaping dolphins and swordfish. He wonders whether imagined characters could handle real life, and simultaneously whether reality enters the realm of legend when it becomes a memory only shared by some. As the last piece points out, one does not need to go farther than a simple trip outdoors to grasp that the human experience is not the only vantage point from which to experience reality.

Mahbub illustrates the visceral way we experience the emotions associated with the cycle of life – fear, romantic love, grief, disappointment and creativity. His speakers blur the line between real and psychological experience.

Gale Acuff recollects the kind of disjointed, fanciful ramblings we experience during childhood. Joan Beebe also speaks from a sincere yet imaginative, although more mature, perspective about friendship, creativity and the foibles of sleepy humans.

J.J. Campbell’s poetic speakers seem to suggest that one might as well dissipate into insanity and addiction, as the supposedly normal lives around us are likely fake.

Christopher Bernard’s novel Amor I Kaos, excerpted here, relates the tension between sheer despair over the world’s evils and the strength and hope needed to continue loving someone. Vijay Nair brings us along on a journey of romance that is modest physically yet expansive on a spiritual, psychological level.

Alyssa Trivett shows us non-sentimental glimpses of everyday life in the American heartland – cars, headache medicine, drugstores, railroad tracks, coffee cups and the open road. Kahlil Crawford shares a side of Vermont that even many Americans rarely see: the rural areas with farms, pickup trucks and generations of Italians descended from immigrants who struggled to get established in a new land.

Allison Grayhurst contributes a wide variety of poems that together comment on the cycle of life for human and other beings: love, childhood, grief, extinction.

Rick Hartwell also finds connections between the human world and that of other species, with little vignettes from nature and a thoughtful piece on spirituality and Buddhism. Donal Mahoney honors his father’s latent Catholic spirituality, recollecting how he called for a priest even before a doctor after a serious accident.

Sofia Benbahmed recollects the attitude shift that helped her overcome anorexia, how she reinterpreted her relationship with her body. Michael Robinson also shares a tale of survival, making it through the cumulative effects of a lifetime’s exposure to violence with the help of his wife at the time.

Keith Landrum criticizes nationalism and war fervor, a narrative that he believes has overtaken his country’s imagination. Jeff Rasley advocates for civil dialogue, rather than battle, across the political spectrum.

Akinmade Abayomi Zeal brings conflict down to the interpersonal level, describing a once-loving relationship that has been broken by unresolved disputes and anger.

J.D. DeHart also reviews poet Evelyn Blohm’s new collection Central Park Rhapsody and Oasis, a work which reflects on the solace that can be found in nature and describes the world with gentleness.

Laurie Byro reviews Christopher Bernard’s collection Chien Lunatique, mentioning the delicacy and skill of the poet’s craft as well as the emotional and intellectual levels on which Bernard’s writing can engage readers.

And, finally, J.K. Durick reviews Dale Wiley’s novel The Intern, looking into both the tale of political intrigue and suspense and how the author developed the tale of his young protagonist.

We encourage you to interact with the storytellers here by leaving comments and asking questions about their pieces.

Essay from Jeff Rasley

A Modest Proposal to Cure what Ails the Body Politic in Facebook

A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Abraham Lincoln

The almost-deadly attack by a gunman at a Republican baseball practice on June 14th briefly focused national attention on the dangerous level political polarization has reached in the US. But it’s been trending upward for decades.

Since the 1970s, ideological polarization has increased dramatically among the mass public in the United States… There are now large differences in outlook between Democrats and Republicans, between red state voters and blue state voters, and between religious voters and secular voters. These divisions are not confined to a small minority of activists — they involve a large segment of the public and the deepest divisions are found among the most interested, informed, and active citizens.

Alan I Abramowitz and Kyle L. Saunders, The Journal of Politics, “Is Polarization a Myth?” 2008

Many of us thought Obama was an inspiring figure, as the first African-American President, and he would unite the nation and reverse the trend of polarization. It didn’t turn out that way.

And now, an even more polarizing figure holds the office of President of the United Sates. The extremity of our angry national division is summarized in “Polarization in 2016” by Matthew Gentzkow, Stanford University.

Continue reading

Laurie Byro reviews Christopher Bernard’s poetry collection Chien Lunatique

Check out these words that fall like subtle incantations..

Christopher Bernard is the master of entry and departure, hello and goodbye. Lured, summoned as we are into this magnificent collection, we are unable to tiptoe into these poems. Black Fire is the entry poem and so begins the dance.

We are cautioned to meander, sly rhymes beg us to slow down, but we can’t resist jumping straight in. Check out these words that fall like subtle incantations: absurd/contempt/attempt and later love, dove (but ah its a verb). This attention to sound and wit makes us want to examine each line. Is this word a sea shell or a stone, a cape may diamond or a pearl? We are enchanted by the discovery of words and emotions that are familiar made fresh. We hold it to our ear.

Continue reading

J.K. Durick reviews Dale Wiley’s novel The Intern

The Intern: Chasing Murderers, Hookers, and Senators Across DC Wasn’t In The Job Description by Dale Wiley, published by Vesuvian Books, 2016.


The Intern is an entertaining novel, a novel that employs all the elements and devices we associate with its genre, the conspiracy-thriller. Trent Norris, the first-person narrator, main character is, just as the title suggests, an intern, an intern at the NEA, the National Endowment for the Arts, which he irreverently describes as “the artsy, standard-bearer of the Apocalypse, the dirty-minded, potty-mouthed, slightly fruity one. A lightning rod to the closed-minded and a place for lovers of the perverse.” But, of course, as an intern he is a minor player in the apocalypse, a gofer who files paperwork, sits in on meetings, ghost writes reports, and answers phones. In fact, it’s while covering the phone for the secretary to the chief financial officer that he gets indirectly involved with a conspiracy that involves the guy whose phone he’s answering and a couple of other chief financial types at foundations. He picks up the phone, a private-line he was not supposed to answer, and is told about something that was going to occur that afternoon. Later he realizes that the mysterious thing being discussed was the killing of a senator. His involvement comes about through the message he left, as a conscientious intern would, about the call; at the time, he thought that the vague thing being discussed was connected to an arts program. After that, a long and involved series of events take place. Trent ends up being chased by the conspirators and the police, who think that he was the assassin. In a matter of a few hours he goes from lowly unpaid intern to public-enemy number one.

Continue reading

Poetry from Mahbub


A Shining Beauty On Her Face


Beauty was sparking on her face

It was shining in dark night

The moon light failed

It was she, my beloved, my heart

Though she hardly pay any heed to my words

But I fell in love

Could not think others without her

She was in my heart, in my mentality, in my thought

The cows, the sheep, the goats were grazing on the land

The sun was going to sink in the west

The glow of light reflected

On my eye

I saw, I observed nothing but my love, my darling

But how could I move

I kept myself always back

She looked but I could not approach

In this way the days passed

Time came to her, she got married

I had nothing to do but lament over

And sank into deep thought

Think whether I am alive or died

Became so nervous and passive mood

Acted on my body

Bent upon thought

That was only for my side

She never informed

From that I speak less

Though before it was aloud a lot.

Continue reading

Poetry from Gale Acuff

Future Perfect

I say my prayers every night, first
the Lord’s, which we say in Sunday School and
Miss Hooker leads it. I’m in love with her
and I’ll marry her one day even though
she’s 25 or so and I’m just 9
and that’s sixteen years’ difference if my
take-away is right, and even though she’ll
always have sixteen on me, I don’t care
because my love is strong and nobody
could love her better, I know, except
for God and Jesus and the Holy Ghost but
that’s not fair, I mean nobody human
so when I’m 16 I’ll ask her out on
a date. I’m sure she’ll still be single then
because I pray about her every night
after I say the Lord’s Prayer, which is
what Jesus said Himself and told the folks
to pray that way so how could they miss? and
then I pray for my parents and my pals
and even my enemies–I don’t have
any but one day I will so I should
be ready for them. Sometimes I can’t wait
for someone to hate me just to see how
loving them this way will make them lose, lose
in a way that won’t hurt them, I mean, they
can’t be all bad if at least they’re giving
me attention. And then my dog, that he
goes to dog-Heaven when he dies, a good
boy he is, too, and can sit and stay and
speak and shake hands, or is it paws, and chase
sticks and balls and rocks and fallen apples
and cats and squirrels and one time he treed
a ‘possum but ran off when the ‘possum
showed his teeth and I’m not ashamed for him,
I ran, too. And mice and rabbits and stray
dogs and cats and the substitute mailman
who smells funny, I guess. Then I come to
Miss Hooker, that she’ll be safe, and single

Continue reading

Essay from Kahlil Crawford


I’ll never forget my first adult glimpse of Lake Champlain and New Hampshire’s White Mountains. The sight captivated me to the point of postponing my trip to Montreal, so as to explore the state of Vermont – a spacious museum of pristine nature and “New English” culture.

Being a Chicagoan curious about small-town America and personal (ethnic) identity, in Vermont I commenced what would become a living tour of far-North American history.

I visited people, places, and circumstances I had previously only heard and read about – particularly the impoverished “Yankees” of the Appalachian North. I often tell people Vermont has the worst poverty I have ever seen – it brought me to tears.

In many Vermont towns, pickup trucks blasting country music are paramount – cultural characteristics I always attached to the south(west). This amazed me because the history books always portrayed Yankees and Confederates as culturally polar opposites.

I befriended an older Italian-American woman named Mary. A child of Italian immigrants, and in great physical condition; she took me to her family cabin, high in the mountains, and shared tales of tearing up the NYC dance clubs during the 50’s and 60’s.

She also shared her family’s struggle – that of able-bodied Abruzzi men arriving to America with New York-sized hopes and dreams, only to spend the rest of their lives digging ditches to feed their families. The lucky ones made way to Argentina and fared much better.