Category Archives: Childhood
Last Monday, I performed “The High Wire’s Burden” for the first time at East Bay Meeting House. Below is a video from the open mic. I will also include a link to the original text. Further poems will be uploaded in the coming days, weeks, and months, of course, including two video versions of the poem “Halitus” which I performed on Monday and will again perform tonight.
If you want to read the text of the poem, check it out here: http://derekberry.wordpress.com/2013/08/10/the-high-wires-burden/
So you think your son or daughter or older brother is a writer? Is he or she exhibiting signs of seclusion, spending an inordinate amount of time reading literature, or making hieroglyphic and mysterious marks in a notepad of any kind? It is possible that a writer might have been born into your family, which can sound quite shocking at first.
Either, you’re not sure if you’ve been gifted a genius or should you rush the little scribe off to the orphanage immediately.
After all, writers’ lives are spotted with calamity, and rather he/she be a supposed orphan than you soon die of cholera and he/she become a true orphan. That’s what happens to writers’ families right? They’re always being murdered or killed in storms or dying of some Victorian-era disease.
Don’t fear. There are simple steps you can take to usher the scribbler onto glory without being inflicted by biblical plagues or suffering sudden and coincidental depression. Remember, you’re dealing with a crazy person. As in, someone who hears voice in his/her head, someone who maps out entire separate lives “for the fun of it.”
Certainly, do not take this task lightly. Writers are given to madness, bouts of emotions only word-minced poems in middle school will fix, and terrible vices ranging from alcoholism to drug abuse to Wikipedia surfing. It ain’t no easy path to hear the incessant scribbling of pen to paper, like the hand is making a bad dash for life or limb. The pendulum swings ever closer down, slicing at the knuckles as the modern-day quill moves.
Simply, allow them their crazy.
Let them scream through the house, sobbing because a character died (in the most epic way, but still).
If the door is closed and fingers whizz at the speed of antelopes, do not interrupt with trivial stories or requests to clean the
dishes. The writer is a violent creature, prone to creative paroxysms of rage when wrenched from the writing process. They may attack when called upon, caught up in the carnal need to tell stories. Seriously, blood could be spilled.
And indulge them their rants, their vast explanations. Before writers can ever make a story make sense to an audience, we must make it make sense to ourselves. Ignore us if need be, but pretend to listen like an overpaid therapist. Allow the writer to think aloud all his craziness, he’ll eventually shut up and begin writing again.
He will ask for your advice. Probably best to lie to him and tell him you don’t know diddly squat about writing or books, though your opinion might be good or bad. Writers are brash, foreign people who won’t really take your advice or criticism seriously. And if you scrutinize a character, remember that for the writer, the character is a real person and– “how dare you? She has feelings!”
But most of all, let him fail and fail again, and let him climb the grueling ladder of learning to tell stories, from the mechanics to the finer methods of sustaining suspense in a story about stationary sea crabs. Every writer fails at writing, but those that give up there don’t become writers. They become people who wish they had become writers. So encourage them no matter what drivel they produce, because eventually they’ll churn out something decent and then later on something incredible. Only with time can a person understand life and death, the only two things a book can be about.
Seriously, don’t freak out. They’ll write weird stuff, but they’ll probably end up fine unless, you know, they don’t. But a lot of people don’t end up fine, and that’s most people, so maybe they’re doing better than we thought. If you have any inclination to help them, give them your favorite book and leave it at that. The universe, generally a fan in my opinion of human success, will do the rest.
I read a poem today in which two boys played in the backyard, a deceptively simple poem. The more I pondered the two stanzas, the more concretely I realized how little the poem was about—childhood innocence, friendship, etc. Should poetry be so hushed, so calm, so unobtrusive?
Having grown used to brass, dramatic poetry, this caught me unawares. Why be so calm and cool and collected? Two boys running and throwing balls and pushing toy trucks around in the grass, all things I’ve rarely seen. Because childhood is rarely as innocent as we assume.
Why not write about two boys playing video games (we often played videogames), about how they shout at each other as each wins? Write about throwing the controllers at each others’ faces, knocking out teeth, bloodying their noses. Childhood is rarely flowers and sunshine and playtime before supper. It’s a constant war.
Children, in fact, are sufficient evidence that we as the human race descended from savages. They are cruel, selfish, and conniving.
And no one is as guilty as a child is. When a child steals, they spend the next few hours fretting over their sin, their black crime. When they lie, they burst with the need to say the truth. Adults do not share this tendency: we do not feel guilty about much past infidelity or murder.
I closed the book of poetry and put it away, thinking about times I might have played in the grass. Surely not as many times as I argued with friends over Pokémon cards or whether or not a certain Mario Kart race victory was considered fair. Do poems need to shout, to demand change, to radicalize, or can they fall light as clouds on your brain, invoking nothing serious, only the fabled innocence of children.
Let’s be honest: I’m only here to wreak havoc and inspire anarchy. As a teenager, it comes as a job, a duty. This, however, causes me great stress as I must not rise from bed until well after noon. On Sundays, one can often found me strung out on heroin in your local squalid alley, tattooing myself with the same needles I used to inject junk.
In my free time when I’m not obligated to chain-smoke and litter cigarettes in cemeteries, I keep bad horror film franchises in business by burning by cash at the gruesome Halloween box office. We surf out hurricanes and skateboard against the flow of traffic. We pass out drunk on Tuesdays with pizza slices half in our greedy mouths, at least when we’re not in prison.
Youth isn’t wasted on the young—we waste our childhoods and soon adulthood as well with bad decisions, nicotine patches, and conservative, racist, homophobic, innovation-fearing stereotypes.
1. The first and only time I ever painted my chest was for a Volleyball game, the state game at the White Knoll high school gymnasium. The year before, our team won the championship, and this year, we would fall barely short. During halftime, we stood in the bitter wind smearing white paint onto our stomachs and chest.
The way the paint mixed with my hair, I could only think of how terrible it would be to wipe off. Then we wrote letters on us; I’m not sure, but I believe I was the exclamation point.
We still lost, but I don’t foresee any game I will ever feel strongly enough about again to spend three hours scraping paint from my wind-scarred nipples.
2. Because the first time I ever kissed a girl, it was a dare at a Valentine’s Dance. I’m not sure that’s how first kisses should happen.
3. Because the first time I tried to ride down the huge hill in our neighborhood without once applying the breaks, I veered into the grass and crashed into a tree.
I had been selling Joe Corbi’s Pizza door-to-door for a school fundraiser in the second grade. I was bored. Perched at the top of the hill, I allowed myself to roll down, picking up momentum until I could no longer control the bike, careening toward a short tree. The trunk halted the bike, but not me; I flipped over the handlebars, busting my head open on someone’s driveway. It was very cool that my forehead squirted blood like a water pistol until I nearly passed out.
Not two days ago, biking down Calhoun to visit the library, I experienced this unique event again. A car braked suddenly. My bicycle’s brakes work only when you pedal backwards, and to do so quickly requires me to stand up. I did this to avoid ramming the car’s bumper, but the sudden stop forced me to again tumble over the handlebars, which this time turned downwards, my body flailing, smashing against the road.
Fortunately, the vehicle behind me did not crush my head and allowed me to push my pathetic bike out of the rode. Once I made sure my head had not again become a gory fountain, I rode all the way to the library, scraped, bruised, bleeding. The only real causality was the button of my favorite red shorts, which had popped off quite violently upon force of impact.
4. Because the first time I ever tried to write a novel, my fifth grade teacher read it to my class, even the parts that seemed a little gory. Even the entire chapter about the main characters being taken in by this couple that resembled Mr. and Mrs. Claus– they are executed at the end of the chapter, tied to a wooden stake and burned alive.
Despite all of the strangely disturbing events in the book I wrote (it was only about 50,000 words long), she read it. Other kids seemed to like it. It was the first time I felt like people might one day read books I could write.
5. Because the first time I read the short story “Guts” by Chuck Palahniuk, I was riding a train. An hour-long ride to Stuttgart from Heilbronn, just the right amount of time needed to read short stories. I nearly passed out or threw up or a combination of the two. Instead, I sweated and worried about the words.
This was maybe the first time a book affected me in a physical sense as much as it did in a mental, philosophical sense.
6. The first time I ever went to a concert, the ticket cost me only $17. I arrived five hours early in Asheville and stood for three hours in front of the venue to watch The Tallest Man on Earth. But I got to stand on the front row, basically feeling his spit rain down on me as he sang.
Some people have never stood at the front row of a concert before.
7. When I opened my eyes for the first time today, I thought about the beauty of doing things for the first time. Listening to new songs. Listening to your stupid friends and trying stupid things with them. Reading recently published books. Going to places you’ve never been before, just to try their offerings of the grilled cheese sandwich.
There is a sprawling, grand adventure awaiting us all, and each day, we embark upon it anew.
I had always been a storyteller, ever since I could talk, though when I was young, I could say very little due to a speech impediment. Maybe I told stories to only myself before I ever learned to give the stories to others, like ghetto-wrapped gifts, the corners of loose leaf paper sticking out the edges of the package.
Maybe the lack of speaking much or the lack of friends not speaking resulted in propelled me to read constantly, almost ferociously, as if I were in contest with every other six year old. I remember being incredibly proud in first grade of having read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when most kids my age could not read at all. So maybe it was only natural that by age eleven, I finally announced I would be a writer.
While my parents sat watching some sitcom on TV, I marched into the room and announced my plan. I would write a book, I said, and then I would publish it. At the age of eleven, I possessed very little actual knowledge of the publishing industry. I believed that once I wrote the book, I needed only send it to “The Publisher” so he could sell it for millions of dollars. Then I would drop out of school and never have to deal with stupid long division again or memorize the capitals of all the states or write in cursive (why did we do that again? I still can’t write in cursive.)
At the time, the family shared a desktop computer in my parents’ room, and any time they were not paying taxes or my brother wasn’t loading extremely long movies, I would write. I was not just going to be another kid who liked to write, either. I’d be a WRITER, which would mean I was published. Now, as you get older, the level of publishing changes. For example, I have now published some short stories, poems, and numerous journalistic articles, but that makes me a WRITER, not an AUTHOR. And maybe, I also would like to be an AUTHOR soon. Still, I charged on ahead with unbridled optimism that I could write better than at least most eighth graders.
By now, I had already given up on “kid novels.” If anyone was to take me seriously as a writer, I needed to read the great classics. I’m not sure I read anything else until maybe ninth grade. In a way, this helped immensely, immersing myself in such great works of literature so young. Now, however, I often return to comic books and YA novels because they are really fantastic, and why didn’t I read these while it was socially acceptable to do so? Oh well, I’ll make up for it now.
Also, when I began writing this novel which had something to do with a guy named Mr. Capri and a guy name Mr. Paradox collecting jewels to become magical and evil, I used 24-point font. Obviously, by using such large font, I could write more pages and therefore be seen as more intelligent and impressive.
“Derek, you wrote a 300 page novel?”
“Yes, I actually wrote ten novels.”
Fifth grade: the year of a ten novel series, each maybe ten thousand words each. Then again, combine all these, and at least I wrote something truly novel-length. Of course I would go on to try to write many more novels over the year, roughly a different project each year. I learned to query and all about publishing, and I began building credentials from shorter things I had written. Eventually, I started this blog and wrote a new novel that I’m quite excited about and may actually be worth publishing.
Back to fifth grade…
Most of the names did not stick, although Mr. Paradox was probably the best villain name ever. My main character, I named Declin. I asked my mom what a good name would be. She was reading a book by an author named Declan, so she simply told me that. I misspelled the name, of course, and that spelling stuck with me. I vowed back in the fifth grade to use “Declin” as a character name in whatever novel I published first. I held myself true to my word at eleven. Go check yourself: new novel, same name.
But I am still proud of myself for that feat. Fifth grade ain’t easy for anyone, especially someone just then learning to speak properly and socialize with, you know, “other people.” This story does not signify anything, only it tells a story. Sometimes stories must be told, though. Sometimes, I am arrested by the need to tell a story, say something, so I sit down and write it, even if it might not mean something. Perhaps that even more than wanting to be taken seriously, that caused me to transcribe that first battle of good and evil between Declin and Mr. Paradox.
Maybe even today, I’m still telling stories just to tell them, not because they might mean something, the themes bold and life-changing. But simply because they are stories, and when you’re a writer and have a story to tell, you can’t not tell it.
It’s time to talk about YA seriously. We enjoy it secretly, buy it for our Kindles, Nooks, and IPads so no one will see the covers of the books we read, and we deny its quality. We say, “I don’t read YA, but I guess I enjoyed Harry Potter. And the Hunger Games. Oh, and–”
Let’s stop pretending: YA is just another category we can store books. That doesn’t mean YA books are shined up like you’d expect: no, YA books we consider suitable for teens and preteens are full of guts, sex, and gore. Teachers can apparently even be fired for reading YA material to their middle school classes. No that that’s a problem. Books are the one great free place for children anymore, forbidden to see R-rated films or cuss. They can sink into the sordid details of books their parents never expect hold immoral pleasures, those same parents only happy “that they’re reading.”
In my formative years, when I had so much acne my face looked like a red scatter-plot and my voice screeched like a porpoise, I
resented reading YA books. I tackled lengthy Dostoevsky tomes, serialized syntactically-repulsive Charles Dickens works, and sometimes even excerpts of Keats. Now, this all had a profound effect on me, this chasing after philosophical significance in each work I read. I craved classics, and they served both to entertain me and make me look like an under-aged literati. I scoffed at kids who read so-called YA books.
To be honest, anything from The Hunger Games to Ender’s Game to Treasure Island may be flukes. They may entertain more than just young adults simply because they are not meant for young adults. But let me impress upon you an important idea. In publishing, the marketing choice to make something YA usually does not come until the author has a deal.
Because of all of these revelations, when perhaps three weeks ago I was offered the chance to read the Percy Jackson series, I took it. I recently finished the fifth book, having devoured them quickly and rapaciously, even in the midst of exams. Getting hooked on any series when exams approach is as bad an idea as pointing a laser pointer in your own eye. Why are these books so addictive? I’m afraid you’ll have to discover that for yourself. Here is a synopsis of the debut.
After getting expelled from yet another school for yet another clash with mythological monsters only he can see, twelve-year-old Percy Jackson is taken to Camp Half-Blood, where he finally learns the truth about his unique abilities: He is a demigod, half human, half immortal. Even more stunning: His father is the Greek god Poseidon, ruler of the sea, making Percy one of the most powerful demigods alive. There’s little time to process this news. All too soon, a cryptic prophecy from the Oracle sends Percy on his first quest, a mission to the Underworld to prevent a war among the gods of Olympus.
This first installment of Rick Riordan’s best-selling series is a non-stop thrill-ride and a classic of mythic proportions.
There are five books in the series, and I really enjoyed them. At first, I was annoyed by little things. The meaning of some events were vague, and a lot happened for no reason at all. But as the series progresses, Rick Riordan finds his footing in about the third book, the plotting much smoother, the character motivations much clearer.
I believe it is extremely important to pay attention to YA books because they capture very adult themes while delivering a tight, fast-paced plot. People complain a lot about books either being pointless or too pretentious, and most YA books hit that sweet middle spot.
Like I said before, I have not read many YA books, but I will suggest a few I actually did read.
1.) The Underlander Chronicles
Suzanne Collins (Hunger Games author) first wrote this brilliant, multi-faceted series. Absolutely fell in love with it in the sixth grade. Great action with some quirky twists.
This irresistible first novel tells the story of a quiet boy who embarks on a dangerous quest in order to fulfill his destiny — and find his father — in a strange world beneath New York City.
When Gregor falls through a grate in the laundry room of his apartment building, he hurtles into the dark Underland, where spiders, rats, cockroaches coexist uneasily with humans. This world is on the brink of war, and Gregor’s arrival is no accident. A prophecy foretells that Gregor has a role to play in the Underland’s uncertain future. Gregor wants no part of it — until he realizes it’s the only way to solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance. Reluctantly, Gregor embarks on a dangerous adventure that will change both him and the Underland forever.
2.) Chronicles of Narnia
Classic books to better get in touch with your childhood imagination.
Narnia is the land of enchantment, glory, nobility–home to the magnificent Aslan, cruel Jadis (the White Queen), heroic Reepicheep, and kind Mr. Tumnus.
3.) Inheritance Cycle
Like dragons? Fair enough. Read this.
Fifteen-year-old Eragon believes that he is merely a poor farm boy—until his destiny as a Dragon Rider is revealed. Gifted with only an ancient sword, a loyal dragon, and sage advice from an old storyteller, Eragon is soon swept into a dangerous tapestry of magic, glory, and power. Now his choices could save—or destroy—the Empire.
4.) The Bartimus Trilogy
Possibly one of my favorite fantasy books growing up. As I begin to delve back into fantasy, I remember why I fell so deeply in love with the genre. This dark and stylized book thrilled me.
Nathaniel is a boy magician-in-training, sold to the government by his birth parents at the age of five and sent to live as an apprentice to a master. Powerful magicians rule Britain, and its empire, and Nathaniel is told his is the “ultimate sacrifice” for a “noble destiny.” If leaving his parents and erasing his past life isn’t tough enough, Nathaniel’s master, Arthur Underwood, is a cold, condescending, and cruel middle-ranking magician in the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The boy’s only saving grace is the master’s wife, Martha Underwood, who shows him genuine affection that he rewards with fierce devotion. Nathaniel gets along tolerably well over the years in the Underwood household until the summer before his eleventh birthday. Everything changes when he is publicly humiliated by the ruthless magician Simon Lovelace and betrayed by his cowardly master who does not defend him.
Nathaniel vows revenge. In a Faustian fever, he devours magical texts and hones his magic skills, all the while trying to appear subservient to his master. When he musters the strength to summon the 5,000-year-old djinni Bartimaeus to avenge Lovelace by stealing the powerful Amulet of Samarkand, the boy magician plunges into a situation more dangerous and deadly than anything he could ever imagine. In British author Jonathan Stroud’s excellent novel, the first of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, the story switches back and forth from Bartimaeus’s first-person point of view to third-person narrative about Nathaniel. Here’s the best part: Bartimaeus is absolutely hilarious, with a wit that snaps, crackles, and pops. His dryly sarcastic, irreverent asides spill out into copious footnotes that no one in his or her right mind would skip over. A sophisticated, suspenseful, brilliantly crafted, dead-funny book that will leave readers anxious for more.
6.) Perks of Being a Wallflower
Not a fantasy or adventure series like the rest, this too is considered YA. It is beautifully written and will break your heart and make you crack up until you wheeze for air. For even further awesomness, there will soon be a movie of this starring Logan Lehrman and Emma Watson. Count me in!
Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor. This haunting novel about the dilemma of passivity vs. passion marks the stunning debut of a provocative new voice in contemporary fiction: The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
This is the story of what it’s like to grow up in high school. More intimate than a diary, Charlie’s letters are singular and unique, hilarious and devastating. We may not know where he lives. We may not know to whom he is writing. All we know is the world he shares. Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it puts him on a strange course through uncharted territory. The world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends. The world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite.
Through Charlie, Stephen Chbosky has created a deeply affecting coming-of-age story, a powerful novel that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller coaster days known as growing up.
If you read any of these books, including the Percy Jackson series, you will come away with a new appreciation for books usually meant for kids. While at 18 I’m supposedly an adult (under the law), I am certainly still in love with imaginative stories that spark my mind and carry me to magical realms.
If bittersweet were an actual taste, who would buy that candy? That caramel mellow finality, the sugary rush of the future, the dental office War Head zap. Candy companies would fall. Ice cream trucks would cease to echo their repetitive jingles through suburban streets. Bittersweet is nothing but an ending, impossible, too soon. Once you taste it, the best you can do is simply move on.
We have the future to look forward to, however bleak or bright or vague it may appear. That’s the problems with endings. They’re never final. You expect that lump to rise in your throat, your fists to clench with the pain of nostalgia. But you drive off the lot and feel nothing. Not until years later will we realize we may not see most of those people ever again. Never sit in plastic-bucket-seats, cracked down the middle, the desks chipped away, the metal bars twisted to form cages against our legs. Even going back to walk across the campus, we won’t belong there. Everything may look the same, but it won’t.
We’ll become the ghosts haunting students of the future. Our memories are imprinted there like footprints on the moon, but for such a place so used to change, we can be swept away like the dead autumn leaves.
So long we’ve complained about how hard it is, how terrible it is, when really we will pine for such easy days when we knew exactly what we were supposed to do. Knew where to go and when by the ring of bells. Everything was certain, concrete, and final. And now we’re left with the task of undertaking a new phase of life. We’re leaping off the cliffs into dangerous waters, waving our arms, hoping we’ve learned how to swim.
As I leave the realm of childhood behind, I will become an extremely mature young man who makes good decisions. Oh, who am I kidding? I spent last night watching Harry Potter and eating cookie dough. Whatever delusions I have of maturity were pretty much negated then. But honestly, I don’t care. Because at least under the law, I’m legal.
I can maybe get into clubs now, provided the clubs don’t serve alcohol, so basically, I can’t get into any clubs.
And if you’re bordering on the notion of subscribing, you should. You know, cause it’s the birthday! And also because I messed with the Header image so random pictures pop up. Yay! Randomness!
That’s what this post is, all it really is. Just a small collection of thoughts before I go do birthday things. Maybe I’ll come back and edit it a bit. Does that mean you should read it twice? Definitely. I have a sick obsession with tracking blog stats.
What does it mean for me to be eighteen? Well, let us figure that out, shall we?
1.) I can order things from infomercials.
2.) Buy cigarettes
3.) Serve Jury duty
4.) Rent a hotel room (in some states, though elsewhere you must be 21 or 25.)
5.) Go into strip joints
6.) Can’t drink, but CAN serve alcoholic drinks
7.) Can be sued
8.) Can open a bank account solitarily
9.) Can place bets
10.) Pawn things off at a pawn shop
11.) Purchase pornographic materials
12.) Buy a LOTTO TICKET!!
13.) Go to prison…
14.) Buy white out without parental consent
15.) Get a piercing without parental consent
16.) Get a tattoo without parental consent (I’m thinking a snitch on my chest?)
17.) Make a will (If I actually do get a tattoo or go to a strip club, I will need to make one of those)
18.) Change my name! (How does Humphrey McHumpbottom sound?)
19.) Participate on the Price is Right!
20.) Join the ARMY
21.) Buy lighter fluid
22.) Get married! WHAT? That can’t be right…
23.) Buy paint thinner
24.) Drink in the UK
25.) Buy a crossbow
26.) Participate in online surveys NOT targeted for those under 18
27.) Have legal sex
28.) Smoke a cigar and sheesha
29.) Feel awkward in “adult shops”
30.) Go to Dave and Buster’s without an adult
31.) Spray paint!
32.) Oh…. yeah…. and register to vote. But whatever, the important thing to remember here is that I can now legally purchase a crossbow. How cool…
I have no idea what it means
To really be a man
But if I can come up with some half-good
Answers for all my questions
I’d be halfway to the moon by now
And I guess I ain’t going soon
Because I don’t know anything
When I was ten I knew
What being a man was all about
You wore cowboy hats and drove a motorcycle
Or rode a horse in foreboding sunglasses
Or tats of naked women straddling eagles
Or snakes or dragons
And did whatever it takes to keep hold of your dignity
That sort of manliness is something I lack
I certainly don’t look like a buff, bearded lumberjack
But these days that idea of masculinity
Holds all the necessity of a bullet in my head
Which mind you, I don’t think I need
So I plead with you, know
That it’s not always men who go into fights
Who are manly
But instead the ones who spend their nights
At home with their families
Working two jobs just to have enough to send his little girl
To college one day
That place he never got to go
Because he’d throw a punch
Every single time his honor was questioned
But now he forgets about that
And instead says “I love you”
Every single chance he can
Because he knows now what it means
To be a man