Category Archives: culture

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.

“Kendrick Had a Dream”

fff

“Martin had a dream. Martin had  a dream. Kendrick had a dream.”- Backseat Freestyles/ good kid, m.A.A.d city

  1. Kendrick Lamar floats above cityscape,

his torso

alight with flaming angel wings.

Flying or falling, he cannot tell. He

wakes in a stupor, his eyes bright as forgotten Heavens.

  1. Kendrick Lamar unzips his pants, and

the Eifel Tower springs from between the zippers.

He proceeds to fuck the world for 72 hours.

  1. Kendrick Lamar stands naked in front of his class.

He is in high school chemistry class, and his Eifel

Tower is now just  a normal phallus. Someone

laughs. Someone shouts, “Bitch, don’t kill my vibe!”

  1. A giant eagle with the face of

School Boy Q chases Kendrick Lamar

through the desert, his legs thin as chopsticks.

As he pushes harder, the Eagle draws closer,

his claws familiar as Compton.

  1. Kendrick Lamar misses a flight to Berlin,

for he lies in a box,

a cedar box buried six feet under the ground, his body

contorting with rage and fear. His head banging

against the top of the box

as he wonders whether he might escape.

He will not escape, not until he wakes

in mid-afternoon, his bed wet

with hangover sweat,

his back still dripping as if he just climbed from a pool full of liquor,

as if only just yesterday

he woke for the first time.

“South is South”: Writing About South Carolina Without Demonizing or Romanticizing Its Culture, Past, and People

The South of the Mind smells like honeysuckles; sometimes Charleston smells like sewage and dead fish. The sun is SC Welcomea warm friend in the South of the Mind, where snow is mere fantasy; last weekend, snow blanketed my hometown of Aiken, and a week before the sun was a bully breathing down the backs of our necks. Either genteel Southern belles or toothless rednecks populate the South of the Mind; South Carolina is populated by a growing diversity of people who do not easily conform to categories. Just like any other geographic region, the Southeastern United States suffers from an image problem, presumptions propagated by stereotypes about the places, people, and culture that overshadow the true nuanced portrait of the region. Perceptions of the South formed through fiction often affect people’s opinions about the South itself. In writing The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County, I grappled with representing the small-town South in a way that felt authentic. On one hand, I wished not to construct the South as an overwhelmingly horrible and backwards place and therefore gloss over its positive attributes. On the other hand, I couldn’t ignore its faults. While southern culture and politics does not escape unscathed in my stories, I intend to present a balanced representation—the beautiful, the ugly, and the damned.rural-SC-commerce-competition

Although all novelists writing in English must confront the hegemonic power of the language and the violence committed by its speakers both in the physical and intellectual realm, writers in the South wrestle with a particular trailer-parkcomplex past. Because our past brims with violence, exploitation, and continued inequality—trends that today perpetuate new forms of oppression—we cannot paint the South in its antebellum grace. Too often we portray the South as blood-less cotton fields and pristine plantations, southerners sipping sweet tea while seated in rocking chairs as the breeze tickles the backs of their necks. Conversely, we also tend to focus only the brutality of our past without taking into consideration the hardships of southerners. In order to truly have a conversation about how to write about the South, I think we should confront a few topics. Over the next few weeks, I will pen short essays on the intersection of fiction and other topics, how these topics pervade our culture and therefore our stories. Though I may choose to write more essays than I currently intend, the topics include race, development, politics, religion, and family.

While engaging these topics, I hope to challenge myself to think more critically about how I construct my own “South gty_Beaufort_south_carolina_thg_130510_wmainof the Mind” in my novels and short stories. The Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County is only the first book I intend to write about the South, which tackles all of the above mentioned topics, but as I write about different cities in South Carolina and beyond (I am now writing about North Carolina, gasp!), I hope to show how nuanced each region truly can be. The “South” is merely an idea—a construct formed by unconscious popular consensus—in much the same way “Africa” is merely an idea for many Americans based not in any actual knowledge or experience (See Chinua Achebe’s “Image of Africa” for confirmation of this). If you have any comments throughout the series on what ways portrayals of the South are fair or unfair, please share them. Likewise, I must contend that I speak primarily for South Carolina being born and raised in the state. Let us write with our minds and hearts open. See you next time for a frank talk about the South and its history of racial oppression.

“Pursuit of Happiness”- Derek Berry

A new slam poem.

Derek Berry Discusses Hip Hop and the Phenomena of THE BEST RAPPER EVER

download (7)Now, I’m by no mean a “hip hop artist,” though my art form shares roots with hip hop, IS the root of hip hop. The reason I don’t say I make hip hop is firstly because I don’t make music or beats to poems, and I also don’t participate in hip hop culture. Understand, I mean positive things when I say “hip hop culture,” as in using art to create solidarity within black communities and spread messages of defiance and love.

But I’ve been open-mic-hopping for years, and what irks me is rappers who take hip hop out of context. They realize they can rhyme “life” and “knife” and suddenly assume they’re “THE BEST RAPPER EVER.” Like, you made a mix-tape with your older brother in the garage, and now you’re “ON TOP?” What does that even mean? On top of what? You’re not even the best performer at the open mic, so I don’t know why you’re accusing me of being a “hater” because I point out you’re an amateur. It’s okay. I’m an amateur, too. We’re all amateurs, and we don’t have to pretend to be anything else.

Offensives include dissing on famous rappers you don’t even know, rapping about how much money you don’t actually have, and objectifying women. These are not actual staples of hip hop, only the version of hip hop that has been force-fed to this generation. Albeit, there are some really great artists out there talking about some real shit, but too often, we are exposed to those who glorify violence, hedonism, and apathy. Apathy isn’t as cool as you think. You’re not going to earn anyone’s respect rapping about how many one-night stands you’ve had, because I frankly don’t care.

For example, though, if you’re trying to argue that Lil Wayne’s a better artist than Notorious B.I.G., get out my face.

Alright, check out this video in which I go ham on some fake hip-hop artists, bam…

As the Tab of Yet Another Click-Bait Article Concerning “What Every 20-Year-Old-And-Five-Months Should Achieve Before Turning 20-And-Six Months” Loads Slowly on The Browser

After meticulously reading

an online review of Taco Bell’s “secret menu,”

which includes potato-stuffed burritos named after superheroes,

without brand loyalty to either DC or Marvel,

I pushed back my chair and questioned

my predisposition to tell people that I am awfully busy

in order to avoid events and affairs unpleasant or boring,

considering how I had just whittled my lifeline

for the sake of taste bud analysis for the critically-acclaimed Queserito.

 

Perhaps journalism’s dead, but keeps excavating the crucial mysteries of our time,

such as the quality of Frankenstein dishes at a fast-food-belch-haven. Dead in the same way

Bruce Willis had been dead throughout the entire movie, but he kept

digging at the paranormal crux of his own demise. Maybe everybody’s a journalist these days,

even I worked in journalism for awhile, despite my linguistic

idiosyncrasies and dismissal of grammatical authority.

In other words, perhaps yoga pants do not accentuate each person’s

ass in a flattering light, as yoga pants market themselves to do,

though who decides who does or does not wear yoga pants?

“Yoga pants” might be a good term for successive breathing, quick and deep, quick and deep.

Not counting persons who actually practice yoga, (evidently the minority

of yoga-pants-wearers), no one dictates that sort of non-dress-code.

Just like how the Internet’s become a Wild West of bullshit-masquerading-as-truth

or Taco-Bell-reviews-feigning-to-be-news. Because for every blurb

intricately spoiling every single damn hit tv show on television

exists a well-argued essay in pristine prose

about the degradation of American culture

posted on some obscure blog that nobody’s gonna fuckin’ read.

Notes on a Long Island: The Spot

{Stories are 80% true, according to Long Island local Matthew Harberg, my roommate and King of the Sea. Having interviewed him on various subjects from the Long Island area, I have transcribed a series of stories exploring the culture and atmosphere of the island, though I have never visited there and know nothing about it. This particular story deals with a surf-shop owner from Long Island with a list of eccentricities.}

On the news, Snake watched the news anchor dead-pan as she explained how the police tackled a drunk millionaire earlier than day. “Local millionaire Ronald Artt is bringing charges against the Long Island Police Department for police brutality after they chased him into the street and brought him forcibly to the ground. Moments before, Mr. Artt had been standing in downtown Manhatten, wearing a suit and pink dress gloves, shooting a water gun wildly into the air.” She shuffled her papers and looked to her co-anchor, who took over with a stifled hesitation.

“Yes, well, reportedly Mr. Artt claims that the gun was obviously a toy one, that the officers were quick to jump on him because—”

Clicking the Tv off, Snake lowered his head and looked across the counter at Carston. “What do you want?” He was seventy-years old, but often visited clubs with middle-aged Guido’s. He tagged along with them, telling ridiculous stories and pumping his fist half-heartedly to techno-rap.

Carston looked to Danny, glowering from behind his orange-tinted shades. “Man, just the—you know, whatever you sell.”

Snake shrugged. “Surfing board wax? A wetsuit?” The two boys stood in a shack just off the beach, a piece of beach the man behind the counter claimed to own. Though condos and houses crowded against the strand, the beach belonged officially to Snake—dread-haired geriatric owner of The Spot. Though he ran the joint ostensibly as a local surf shop, The Spot made the majority of its revenue in the local drug trade. Surfer dudes shopped there for small items, buying ounces under the counter—rumor had lead the boys through the glass doors plastered with advertisements for local club events months-past (Day Glo, Pirate Theme Night, $2 Jell-o Shots), across the sand-strewn tile, and to the front desk.

He sat like a regal Buddha on the steep wooden stool, his pointy elbows propped on the un-sanded counter. “Boys, are you paying any attention?”

“Sure, but we heard you sold—um, more than just surfing supplies?”

“Oh, oh!” He waved his arms, sliding off his stool and wheezing, guffawing. “I’m being a bit loopy, huh? I know the days come and go like they do, don’t you know?”

“Sure, we know. So, how much?”

“For the emu? He ain’t for sale?”

“Emu?”

“It’s the last one I got, go look at him, if you want.” He hastily unlocked the door behind him, waving his arms for the boys to follow. As they trailed quietly after him, however, he did not lead them into a secret vault where he kept his stash of drugs; rather, he lead them into the backyard, fenced in with cheap vinyl fencing units—and in the center of the sand-and-grass lot was an emu tied to a wooden post.

“What the hell is that?”

“That’s the last one, wouldn’t you know?” Snaked shrugged, his dreads rolling off his shoulders, and he bore his red-cracked eyes into Carston’s. “So, what about it?”

“Uh, I didn’t come here to buy—an emu? What about the—you know, the stuff? The chronic?”

download              “I ain’t gonna sell this emu, anyhow,” said Snake, his face cracking like a broken public fountain. “He’s the last I got. The first one, he died. A sad occasion. We put together a funeral for him, a whole affair with all my closest friends—his two emu buddies too. Then not a week later, one of the others escapes. This one’s named Sunshine. Probably just mourning Birdie’s death. God, we all loved Birdie, but Sunshine, he couldn’t take it. He just broke out. I don’t know how.”

“I’m sorry, sit. I—um, I didn’t know?”

Beside the emu stood a large white van—Snake had always wanted a VW van from the seventies where he could take local ladies, but he settled for something infinitely creepier—a windowless van spray-painted with comical signage. Peace emblems, color-faded flowers, and the paint-stenciled image of Bob Marley.

“Used to love animals, take care of them? Had a whole menagerie—wouldn’t you know? Alligators, dogs, snakes as big as your arms, as long as a car, and even tamed squirrels. But they came and took them? Wouldn’t you know the police are always sticking their nose into business ain’t their business.” He snuffled, then wrapped his arms around the emu, which shuffled awkwardly and pecked his shoulder in violent defense. “But then this emu escapes and it—well, it falls right into the bay. Runs out in front of cars, across town, down to the pier, trots down its length, and jumps headlong into the sea. Damn emu’s dead. It swam around a while, until the fire department came and scooped it out the water.”

“It—it died?” Carston began to back up, grabbing Danny’s shoulder. “I think we came to the wrong place.”

“The damn emu died,” Snake said, wiping his tears. “I love Sunshine—he was like a brother to me. Loved him more than anything I ever loved.” His raspy voice died down. “All the fault of the fire department—if they had been more careful, that’s what killed him. They didn’t take their time getting him out of the bay—they killed him.”

Danny shrugged. “Guess that sucks. Well.”

“Of course the police couldn’t side with me, considering they didn’t realize I had any emus in the first place, but a man’s got to do something with his life’s work.”

“Sorry.” Carston looked at his feet, clearing his throat. “Guess we really just wanted surfing wax after all.”

Once Snake sold them an overpriced bottle of wax and given them half-off coupons for entrance to the Karaoke Party at Senor Frogs (which had occurred the weekend before), Snake returned to the back yard, rubbed his emu’s neck softly, and called his lawyer seventeen times. His lawyer never picked up the phone, not to hear Snake complain again about the emu incident—he had already been on the television. Returning inside, Snake turned the mounted Tv back on, hoping he had not missed his televised interview.

Vignette: Cigarettes in the City

images (22)Everyone in the city smoked cigarettes, the orange-bright ends illuminating every stoop, park bench, and window. If we shut out the lights, cut the electrical lines, we might still be able to read by the glare of a million burning cigarettes, their ashes spilling into the crease between the pages. Many treated their cigarettes with ritual superstition—practicing traditions passed down from the Great War, from the Native Americans, and from the study-abroad semesters in Bulgaria. Each secreted upside down sticks in their packs—the lucky cigarette—absconding white lighters and lighting up with the ends of each others’ cigarettes. When finished, they tapped out the cigarettes in overflowing ash trays, some plastic, others glass.

The smoke, meanwhile, floated above their heads in lazy spirals—smoke took on a life of its own, an animated beast rising and swaying like a drunk ballerina in flats not yet broken in. The bearded man with glasses, reading Kant with a mix of pretentiousness and a sincere desire to understand, the freckled girl with a glinting nose ring—hell, the Catholic Father with his black shirt unbuttoned in the simmering summer heat. Here they sat, sharing communion: rather than a reminder of life, they acknowledged death, welcomed it into their lungs with breaths deep as love.

The priest took a drag on his cigarette, and I wonder why he smokes, if there is reason at all or if it seemed something to do when there was nothing else to do. Some of the people in the city, they rolled their cigarettes. The heathens of the Holy City smoked everything they could stuff into rolling papers, fitting their filters sloppily to the end.

Perhaps he liked smoking for its symbolism, its thematic properties. Cigarettes reflected the American desire for death, the necessity of it with our lives, because without death, we would not be able to justify our wasteful lives. If we were to live forever, then we would be forced to do something, but death had become our ultimate cop-out, our greatest excuse for failure. We could try, try to do something good and impactful, but then too late—you died too soon, oh well.

The embers died out, crackling like a campfire in the jumble of ash trays, and the city grew dark as the smokers fell one by one to sleep.

“Starving”

We’re all hungry for something more

And not just enough jumbo-sized pizza

Or calorie-rich milkshake from McDonald’s

Or another side of cheese-and-bacon fries.

 

But instead for the light at the end of the tunnel

That was foreclosed in the recession,

for the fingertips that brush our hair back

When we fall asleep in the passenger’s seat,

and for the words no one ever says

That could disrupt the void of silence

Fill the aching pit our stomachs reveal

When we realize we want something else, something more.

They say the whole country’s obese,

So the question is:

For what are we so desperately starving?

Adventure, Socialism, the Embargo, and Salsa: The Basics of My Recent Cuba Trip

A view of the Capitol building

A view of the Capitol building

To attempt to convey what I learned and experienced in the past few weeks would make my head explode, maybe yours as well, so I want to keep this post basic. I returned yesterday from Cuba, where I stayed for most of my days in La Habana, though I visited also Cienfeugos, Trinidad, and Santa Clara. Naturally, I must get the obvious out of way:

Yes, it was difficult to get there, and we needed special student visas.

Yes, Cuba is a very poor country, but the people and culture are immensely rich, and these people deserve a lot more of our attention. Most Americans, when thinking of Cuba, think only of Fidel Castro and the vague term of “Communism,” but Cuba might not be as foreign as we pretend, the people sharing some of the same intense passions as us (like baseball, rap music, and good beer).

Yes, the rum and cigars in Cuba were superb. If you go to Cuba and don’t try the rum and cigars, then what were the doing the entire time?

havana-city-2More importantly, however, are the questions that United Staters don’t ask when I tell them I just returned from Cuba. On its surface, its a land of bad gas mileage, a land of salsa, a land of making out in public. But the people transcend those stereotypes, like all people, expressing a deep love for each other. Most of Cuba’s population suffers from crippling poverty, and most don’t have cell phones or access to the internet because of this, but it brings people closer. They must build communities in a way most United Staters cannot.

Then comes other misinterpretations, like the inane idea that these people suffer because of the evils of “Communism.” Certainly not. They suffer because of the United States reaction to their socialist revolution, and they suffer because of their own government’s stubbornness to compromise their ideologies with neo-liberal policies. But when you see the track record for US corporations or IMF implementations in Latin American countries, who can blame Cuba for holding out from joining the system? (See: Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile)

The embargo certainly affects more than just Cuban-US relations which could be quite healthy if we did not cling to Cold War ideals and fears. We sanction other countries for even attempting to trade with our island neighbor, and this creates an isolated economy, struggling to reform but still adamant to resist joining the current world system. My opinion of this has change drastically.

What anyone must understand is that despite the poverty and the deteriorating buildings and smog choking Havana’s air, the people persevere. Each day, they find ways to survive, no matter how destitute or desperate the means. Some drive taxis, others sell rejected cigars to unknowing tourists; some go to university, but far more drop out of school to prostitute themselves in the streets, even kids as young as 13 or 14. And our self-made-man society, our American Dream culture, may scoff at that, call them lazy, call them whatever we like, but in the end, we’re the ones hurting them.

I will write more about Cuba in the following months, but I felt compelled to depict at least this much about it. What I’ve written in no way captures Cuban culture, and definitely, my experience could not capture the totality of Cuban culture. Even if I visited for a year, I doubt I could truly understand unless I had lived there, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to understand, from trying to understand. So, first, what must be said about Cuba is that our policies toward them are antiquated and, in the light of our relations with China, highly ridiculous.

I encourage anyone even slightly interested to study Cuban history and our relationship with them, and I challenge you to learn with an open mind and heart and to not emerge from this study disillusioned and indignant.

A view of the Melacon and of the Havana skyline in the distance.

A view of the Melacon and of the Havana skyline in the distance.

The trip include adventure, swimming in mountain pools under water falls, lunching with a German diplomat, studying museums, singing at the top of my lungs at the Melacon (Sea Wall), learning to salsa, going to concerts, meeting locals, and staying up till 6 am with philosophers discussing life. But despite the experience, I learned some practical things, things that will affect me and things I hope to fully believe six months from now. Though I learned hundreds of things, perhaps the most important lesson was the following idea, something simply conceived and so simply true I’m not sure why I had not considered it critically before.

The privileged of the world have the full power and ability to alleviate the suffering of the underprivileged, but only if they choose to surrender the comfort of privilege. Therefore, the only real choice anyone must make is whether to live for others or to live for oneself. Once that choice is made, the others come easy.

 

 

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