Pilgrimage: Augustiner Stadt Museum for Art

What I learned at the Museum of Art in Freiburg (old art, new art is next on the list):

1.) Vampires cannot enter here because there exist too many crosses. Most of which are made completely of gold.

2.) Flemish master artists typically enjoy painting four things: Bible stories, shipwrecks, fruit, and dead birds.

3.) I would love to have a pocket-sundial made of gold, just to carry around, pop out, angle in the sun, and figure out perhaps the celestial time and date at any given moment.

4.) The entire museum is a retro-fitted church and a very cool place for the architecture alone. Climb to the top and you can see the rafters above.

5.) Worth the trip for the organ alone. I’ll post a pic on Facebook later.

Augustinermuseum_Skulpturenhalle

Advertisements

Pilgrimage: Restroom Graffiti Culture

Sitting upon a toilet at a German university—a toilet much cleaner than the typical American university toilet—one reads also superior graffiti. No paltry gang warfare. No jokes about sex with your mother. No homophobic or racist slurs. Instead, radical social and political commentary.

In broad red font: The American dollar is the origin of modern imperialism.

Below this, an argument over the comparable importance of revolutionary theory against revolutionary action (after much back-and-forth, the proponent of theory convinces the proponent of action that both are equally dependent on the other).

An Obey sticker featuring Rachel Carson cuddling with a pug instead of Andre the Giant’s fearsome face.

Below this, a sage quote: When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die.

I stand up from my throne and depart from this quiet kingdom.

Grupa-Etam-x-Rusl

Pilgrimage: Toddler Speak

Cold here, yet the city flirts with Spring. In the park where I sit, purple-white blooms poke their dainty heads through the soil. A flock of pigeons nip at breadcrumbs that a crew of elderly ladies feed them, the flock spotted with a few stealthy blackbirds. In the old town, where the uneven cobblestone avenues rival the ruined streets of Charleston, violins, squabbles, tourists. A world of noise disrupting the afternoon air. I stop to eat schnitzel at a pub and struggle through a children’s book written in German.

In the park near the river, two toddlers meet each other (tiny humans, these) and bestow fits to one another (stick, then flower). Though they are strangers, the retain some deep knowledge of the other. I grieve for the loss of instinctual intelligence we held as toddlers (ice cream good! falling down bad! ants bad! must destroy ants!). Craving a return to the primal, the immediate, I wish not to feel so distant.

Today, then, I have become a toddler. I wander with no sense of direction and latch to whatever joy idles by. Turns out, there’s much joy to grasp. Turns out, blackbirds mimic pigeons to coax bread crumbs from elderly ladies. Turns out, you can pretend to become anything so that your mind or gut might be fed.

DSCN0039

Pilgrimage: Introduction to Night Life

The bar would be cramped on any other night, but tonight there sit only a few students, refugees floating upon wooden detritus in the aftermath of exam shipwreck. I sit down with a group of three Germans who claim to study law and later on, two Americans from Sacramento. They paint their lives in vivid colors and broad strokes, and I listen, nursing a Tom Collins. The conversation floats toward the future and films and far-out imaginings.

Above me, the speakers leak a lullaby of nineties grunge songs—all the tunes you might have listened to in middle school in order to feel superior and dangerous—and I’m rocking my head lightly as my skull flushes out. Become Mr. Lighthead.

Three drinks later, the bar is a tilt-a-whirl of colors and faces. I must hold each new name on my tongue like a secret, whispering over and over these incantations so that tomorrow I might remember the right words. Though students crowd inside,  there still remain many places where one can sit down.

This student bar, not a flashy place by any stretch of the imagination, no special light show or dramatic flair: a few cheap bottles of spirits, a lazy bartender consumed with playing cards and taking shots, nostalgic music floating through the air like midday church bells, beers priced far lower than what one might call cheap, viola, a student bar where many twenty-something’s living in close vicinity might squeeze together into a small space. A final space where closing time becomes a joke, where consciousness becomes a myth, and I become a cartoon awash in an ocean of conversation bubbles.

loc_2

Pilgrimage: Boredom Too Is a Landscape We Must Sculpt Anew

I am consumed too often by boredom, residing now in a great yawning giant’s gut. Like the pit of an apricot, I snuggle into layers of fatty flesh, content for now to be inert. To be the eight ball untouched. To be the husk of not what once was, but rather of what will soon be: a harbinger of action, a foreshadowing of  a grandiose scheme that has yet to unfold. The problem, of course, is that inaction becomes the norm. I live with a status quo of zero, the only expectation a complete lack of expectation. As if to do nothing at all should be considerably commendable, as if the dice in the air should remain forever aloft and never land on a single number, no choice made, no fate achieved. Just the constancy of incomplete longing, the nagging feeling that you live on the edge, teetering against gravity’s lust, while remaining too perfectly poised on that strange, motionless precipice.

I want nothing more than to plummet or back away, to crash-land or soar into clouds, to make up my mind already. But I’m too comfortable at the crossroads. I have made a home for myself at every fork in the road, as if one could live forever without ever truly growing up. That’s the name we give indecision: Neverland. A place we’re not really supposed to visit, only in dreams perhaps, and yet here I have built an entire civilization upon this terra forma of adolescence, molded for myself the culture of indecision. We even have our own music, which is the crescendo of any symphony that must sustain fermata forever, a build-up without sufficient conclusion. We have too our own dance, which is the moment one leaps into the air and never lands. We have too our own language, full of umms and errs and ahhs without proper words, speech that signifies nothing more than a lack of meaning.

That’s what it means to be bored, no? To lack meaning, perhaps. To be perpetually on the threshold of creating a meaning for oneself. To fail again and again in that foolish endeavor.

DSCN0035

Pilgrimage: The Nature of Non-Direction

I ride the bus in and out of town, stopping at any cafe or bar to briefly read White Teeth or work on the new novel, but still I have no yet begun. Not yet. Begun something, I don’t know, not in any tangible way. All of this feels like a dream, and it may be when every person is a stranger. No one exists except for me, everyone else an actor or actress in the background of a silent film. I have long prided myself on this tenuous characteristic of being “out-going,” but I discover this applies only in easy circles. My domain resides in the classroom, the poetry slam, the independent coffee house, not the random bustling avenue where everyone seems to possess direction save for I. Beyond that, each interaction is a cipher: going to the bank, ordering a doener, buying a bus ticket.

You know that feeling one receives in a new places that you do not belong, that the notion of belonging might merely be a mispronouncing of “be longing,” that rather we perpetually long to be something more, some place better, some new party with new faces. We sit on a bench and feel jealous we do not sit on some other bench. We are birds envious of fish, living bodies envious of ghosts. Perhaps that’s the condition of living, to be forever misplaced, we passing tourists of the living experienced. Here quite by accident.

I sit now in the center of the old city on a bright, cool day high upon a grand stone wall overlooking a narrow street where bikes and buses speed past storefronts. Perhaps my mind is still trapped back home, a billion anxieties floating to the surface: a book, friends, parties I cannot attend. While here I am in an odd limbo: two weeks ahead with no set plans, no classes. And so the question arises– to travel, to stay, to meet students, to write– who knows? I am a ship without sails, bouyed by the sea, hoping to land on some beautiful beach, not shipwrecked but harbored by some anchor without a name.DSCN0011

Pilgrimage: Touching Down in Munich

We cruise two thousand feet about an endless fabric of cloud, lumped below us like dried mashed potatoes a toddler has chucked to the floor in a fit of rage. In the distance, the volcanic plume of a nuclear power plant slithers into the sky, beyond that the Alps. The Alps with peaks nearly high as our plane, they tower in the distance. Monstrous craggy silhouettes with a back-light bathed the pink of sunrise.

As our plane descends toward the airport in Munich, we slip beneath the blanket of clouds. The horizon blinks and blinds us. Plane touches down and seventy middle school students on a field trip bust into cliche, which is to say, burst into applause.

The Ultimate Secret of Poetry Slams

So, you want to win a poetry slam? Listen closely, and I’ll tell you exactly what you need to do.

IMG_1356For those uninitiated into the ancient art form of spoken word, ‘Slam’ is a competition invented by Marc Smith (So What?) in 1985 at this joint called the Get Me High Lounge. Poetry at the time was pretty crazy—people were bellowing elongated vowels atop bar stools and generally doing whatever they pleased. The conceit of the poetry slam was to get more people into seats to experience poetry, which is the main problem that poetry confronts—its serious public image problem.

Conjure the poet, the black-turtle-necked, finger-snappin’ intellectual speaking as if in a trance words describing their daily bowel movements and the fresco-palette of the setting sun. Slam poetry has in recent decades sucker-punched poetry back into the public spotlight, made it spectacle to see, not just a hobby for snooty would-be-rebels. Poetry slam is energetic. Scoop up the love of words and the search for truth, slap that together with theatrical Umph! and you get Slam Poetry. Almost like reciting monologues, almost like delivering a Pentecostal sermon, almost like political protest, but not exactly like any of that, the art of Spoken Word has grown into an international phenomenon.

Almost every major city holds a regular poetry slam. I happen to co-host the Holy City Slam right in the heart of Charleston, South Carolina. Beyond that, there are also regional slams—these often offer more money to get the best in the surrounding states to come out to compete. From there one sees larger and larger slams, including the National Poetry Slam and International Poetry Slam. Got no idea what I’m talking about? Here are some videos from recent slams that have taken place in the United States including the Rustbelt Poetry Slam, the Southern Fried Poetry Slam (which the Holy City Slammers took part in), and CUPSI.

But you didn’t come here to hear me sing the praises of poetry slams, did you? You don’t care about the history or the atmosphere. You just want to win. So the ULTIMATE secret to winning a poetry slam is…

Go to a poetry slam. There really ain’t much of a secret. Because judges are randomly chosen from the audience and because those judges’ tastes vary so much, there is no one style of poetry that will appeal to everyone. I know, it’s disappointing for me to lead you on like this, to hype up this great secret and then drop your expectations off a sheer cliff. But I will share an even better secret with you.

The Poetry Slam is a trick. It’s a game. We just people to come out and read and experience poetry. I mean, poetry is awesome, but it national-poetry-slam_s345x230has a serious image problem. People think poetry is boring. Until individuals take the plunge and experience the magic and healing of spoken word for themselves, they can’t know what they’re missing until they take that first plunge. So we dress poetry up like a sport, give it a competitive edge so that poets will bring their best and most polished work to the stage. This forces the poet to memorize and practice and hone their skills until they can stand on stage and deliver the best damn poem the world’s ever been. And the audience is inspired, and they will give the poets incredible scores, HURRAH!

But we don’t hold the poetry slam so we can hoist the winner on our shoulders and praise them for their literary efforts. Of course, the winner is usually an awesome poet who kicks verbal ass, but that’s not the point of the poetry slam, nope. The secret is, poetry slams are about YOU. We want YOU to have a great experience, to leave the venue feeling inspired. Maybe you might even pick up your pen, find that old notebook you’ve so long neglected, and start writing. Then comes the healing, the gush, the plunge, the heart-explosions, the gut-spillage, the brain splatter, and the love of poetry.

We want poetry to grow in our communities, to touch lives. We want to give poets the opportunity to grow in their careers and be paid handsomely for their work (one problem poets confront is that the public generally believes that art should be a public service and the artist a financial martyr). But it remains difficult to convince venues and parties to pay poets unless the audience and public believes poetry is a viable form of entertainment.

Hence, poetry slams.

Oh, what could it be? A baseball game? A boxing match? A NASCAR race? Not exactly.

But it can just as entertaining, imbued also with a consciousness you won’t find in any other type of competitive sport. Our strongest muscles are our lightning-fast tongues and at the end of the day, we want to make you cry or smile or laugh or feel SOMETHING. So that’s the real Ultimate secret of the Poetry Slam, that, as Allan Wolf said…

“The points are not the point. The point is the poetry.”

Literary Adventures Come More Frequently Lately

This week has been so far incredible, and now I’m gearing up for a slightly quieter week of writing and editing and putting my head down so that the copy-edit of the final draft of The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County can be finished.

IMG_0627

I got a poem published in RiverSedge, a lit journal based out of the Texas-Pan American Press. I will update on which poem got published once the journal is released.

Recently, I also received publication in The Southern Tablet. You can read my poem here: When You’re Sixteen In a Small Southern Town. It’s a fun poem about childhood and growing up, which is probably one of my favorite non-slam poems I’ve written recently.

On Saturday, I got the honor of being in my hometown newspaper The Aiken Standard. Entertainment writer Stephanie Turner penned an awesome feature about my first novel, my burgeoning poetry career, and my creative process. I was very happy at work that morning as several people approached me, having recognized my picture from the article. It’s been an interesting summer in Aiken, SC, because I always felt like in Charleston, people know me as a writer and in Aiken, people don’t know me as anything. But that is starting to change, and I hope only I can remain humbled and grateful about the opportunities afforded to me.

Read the Article here: Aiken Poet Completes First Novel.

Poetry, too, has blessed me this week with an incredible energy. On Wednesday night, Nova (a fellow poet and my significant other) and myself drove up to Greenville, SC to compete in a small slam hosted by Moody Black. I was happy to catch up with my poet family, especially one brother who is about to join the Navy. The event stoked my love for the spoken word art form and taught me just a little bit more about the competitive side of poetry. Check out the slam winner Annie Lee, picture below.

10544974_10203181824518987_1478906357_n

 

 

The very next evening, I attended an open mic at MAD Studios in Augusta. I have featured here before and love the venue. This week, Bilaal Muhammed blessed us with some poetry. Augusta Poet Laureate SleepyEyez Carter was instrumental in bringing out many of the city’s poets and performers for an evening of high-energy love. During that evening, I learned that both Sleepy and Brotha Trav (the previous poet laureate) were heading to Atlanta on Saturday.

I called to ask if I could tag along. I performed as the spotlight poet at Urban Grind’s “Do You Lyric Lounge?” I also got invited back next year on August 2015 to perform as the feature. I am slowly building up a calendar for 2015, based around the same time my book will be released!

On top of all this great news, Germany won the WORLD CUP. I celebrated by buying some new books. In the coming week, I’m going to start blogging more frequently so I can give more full thoughts on the events and happenings I’m experiencing. On July 22nd there will be the Holy City Slam in Charleston (hosted by myself and Matthew Foley) which I will blog about before it happens. Also, we are having a small poet’s party tomorrow evening at a local pool– The Poetry Potluck! The other big news is the Word Perfect show in Charleston on August 14th, which will take place at the Charleston Music Hall.

 

“May Not Be Suitable For Children”: What Is Appropriate for Young Adult Fiction

goldshaft-advisory“May Not Be Suitable for Children” should be my pen name, plastered across every short story, poem, and novel I write. There arises a dilemma in writing young adult fiction for teens, even for older teens, in that you must purposefully censor the content, language, and context of the story. At the same time, you want to commit to a certain degree of realism in your portrayal of teenagers—they cuss, take drugs, and make poor decisions. But at one point can the pursuit of depicting something “real” cross the line into commercializing the controversial? While editing my novel The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County, these questions have plagued me.

Young Adult Lit in general has begun catering to younger teens, from ages 12 to 15, and with that comes a certain sacrifice of material. Violence becomes cleaner, romance becomes chaste, and the 14-year-old who might be a bundle of angry hormones speaks proper as a British butler. On the other hand, there exist plenty of YA novels that explore the dark and gritty. Thirteen Reasons Why explores the suicide of the protagonist’s sister. The Perks of Being a Wallflower highlight sexual abuse within the family and contain scenes about drug exploration. Probably one of the books that takes on the most criticism for dark material is Crank, which details a girl’s descent into meth addiction.

The controversy has already been much discussed in blogs and articles, asking whether YA is TOO DARK? Here are some opinions on that, but here too is my opinion.

The Article That Started the Debate

YA Fiction Is Too Dark

YA Fiction Saves Lives

Think of the Children!

YA Fiction Shows Teenagers As They Actually Are

As edits began on my novel The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County, I began to have these exact conversations with my editor and publisher. After we reviewed some of the scenes in question, I agreed—some of these existed purely for shock value, the I can’t believe they might do that moments. Some were clearly inappropriate, though others existed for very particular reasons.

I’ll give an example: one character in the novel struggles with abuse in her relationship. In the first draft, I merely hinted at this dynamic and in subsequent drafts I wanted to bring the conversation of partner abuse to the forefront. So I employed the Toni Morrison school of realism and left nothing to the imagination, which created a powerful though perhaps horrendous scene. Was the scene necessary to show the horrors of abuse or could have I implied my opinion in some other way? In the end, I removed that particular scene because I believed that the character could convey her unsettling experience more easily herself. I could explain why domestic abuse was a terrible thing without actually showing domestic abuse, therefore in some way glamorizing that sort of violence.

Other controversies arose, as well, such as certain sex scenes and the presence of drugs and especially the level of cursing that some characters undertook. This caused the book to lower the f-word count nearly 100 f-words, which you probably might not notice reading the book. I based this novel and some of the action and the idiosyncrasies of the book on my friends, and my friends in high school swore like sailors. Of course we were always talking about sex and crimes and what we going to do once we broke out of our hometown. That’s part of growing up.

The most important question to ask is, why are you writing? Is the scene, though controversial, serving a specific purpose? I want to write something entertaining but also something educational. You learn not just about science or the South or even about the inner workings of teenagers, but a little something about what it means to be human.

Lastly, another big question: who are you writing for? It took me a long time to come to terms with the fact that I’m writing young adult literature, but the stigma of writing for teenagers has begun to dissolve. I always wanted to write “literary fiction,” something serious, though you can write serious fiction for teenagers. After all, I was reading Melville and Fitzgerald and Dostovskey and Eggers as a teenager, and even now I’m barely removed from “teenager status.” Over the past few years, YA Lit has trended toward younger readers (12-15), but I wanted to write something for the almost New Adult. And I don’t mean the genre “New Adult,” which has been swamped solely by romantic fiction. I want to for those in-between, people like me. Maybe we’re not ready to read academic treatises yet and still crave the adventure of a teen lit book, though we also want something substantial in our fiction. We wanted to learn something about being human, want to better ourselves through the process of reading.

So, maybe The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County isn’t “suitable for children,” but I hope it’s suitable for you.