Category Archives: Education

The Body Is Where We Live: On the Importance of Questioning Gender and Embracing Androgynous Forms

The following essay was written as part of a larger art exhibit curated by Roberto Jones called “The Contemporary Form,” which explored androgyny as a contemporary social and artistic concept. I provided the following essay as a plea to explore gendered expressions as not simply a political or artistic curiosity but rather a survival mechanism.

The Body Is Where We Live:

On the Importance of Questioning Gender and Embracing Androgynous Forms

A Short Essay

By Derek Berry

 

Gendered language is the sarcophagus but not the corpse within. You can

claw your way out of the coffin, sure, but how to escape the body? You live there,

every experience, every moment, every love, every thought filtered through the

reality of existing in that corporeal being, one you cannot escape except through

sleep or orgasm or suicide. Even dead, you cannot escape the tongues of

others—those who will name you boy or girl when you only ever named yourself

God or fairy or Leelah Acorn.  The catch, that skin stretches around our

bones, a flesh-prison. A strange virtual reality video game, in which we sit rattling in

the consoles of our skulls, controlling human-shaped vehicles. In these vehicles, we

collide and crash and zip and brake—we live our entire lives within bodies. We do

not even understand what it means to live beyond the body, whether death be a

coda or refrain. So we have these: we own bodies, though several own the language

that describe our bodies. How can we own a name that does not belong to us, one

our tongues have never learned to properly speak? How can we own a body so

inscribed with meaning we did not choose, a library of misinterpretations that

mangle bones, that fertilize graves, and that trap us with organs, with body hair,

with blood. We do not properly understand the physical effects of gender, that these

transgressions do not only happen in discourse or in the classroom or in some

theory-ruled vacuum but rather on the body, in the body, to the body. Always the

body is the final secret exhumed, the final consideration behind the name on the

headstone or taste of the dirt. This is a cemetery we continue to dig.

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On the Origins of Party “Rage”: A Non-Academic Argument for Why One Day Partying Will Replace Warfare

As university classes start up again, college students begrudgingly march to class in pursuit of various degrees. Each Friday, however, one finds the libraries deserted, the streets packed with blue blazers and florid summer dresses. These young scholars regularly shed their academic robes to gather in bars and houses, drinking from glasses and Red Solo cups. Perhaps one might imagine a gentle Symposium, the alcohol lubricating the minds of young students so that intellectually-stimulating conversation may more freely flow from their tongues. But venture to the bars, to the hand-me-down sofas and crammed kitchens and you will find not gentle discourse on Herman Melville and biological symbiosis, but instead conversations more suitable for the liquor-minded.

 images (12)               “I fucking LOVE Billy Murray. What’s your favorite Bill Murray movie?”

                “Ground Hog Day. No, no, Ghost Busters.”

                “Did you know he said his favorite film he’s ever done is Broken Flowers?”

                “I’ve never seen it, but I think there’s a nude scene.”

                What has happened to this college student, to transform him from articulate commenter on high culture to pop-culture-sycophant? The easy answer, of course, is alcohol. Though the truth is more complicated, for the customs of the college party are far more intricate and explicit than one might think. Particularly interesting to me is the verb “to rage,” which is slang for “to party very, very, very hard.” Of course, the practice of “Raging” may differ depending on the youthful person asked. Some may contend that drugs must be involved in “Raging” while others insist on the epileptic motion of dance being integral to a proper “Rage.” I’m curious about the origin of this slang phrase and its implications.

                According to Dictionary.com, “Rage” means:

                “angry fury; violent anger” (noun) or “to act or speak with fury”

                http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/rage?s=t

                Rage is typically associated with violence, which makes it antithetical to the idea of partying. Generally, one “parties” to escape the negative aspects of life whether they be stress, boredom, or “bad vibes.” Violence, I believe many people can agree, certainly promotes the proliferation of “bad vibes.” Perhaps the impulse to violence intersects with the impulse to party, to be entertained. They may also be separate but powerful instincts. We must question, of course, the assumption that either enjoyment or violence are natural at all, though historically we have assumed exactly that.

images (14)                Let us go back to the Greeks, whom invented a lot of shit including but not limited to anal sex and blow jobs. We could argue (and I am going to despite the lack of academic evidence to back any of this up) that Greeks also invented partying. During festivals, Greeks would drink diluted wine and become uproariously drunk. Not all celebrations played out, however, like Plato’s Symposium. Many of these festivals were ridiculously awesome and the Greeks engaged in what the youth today would term as “raging.” Although culturally ignorant, we still honor the Greeks’ Bacchanalian contribution to society by wearing togas. Well-intentioned, misinformed honorarium of their commingling of intellect with spirit-inspired stupidity.

                We associate Rage with violence done by soldiers, particularly the mythical hero Achilles. images (13)Before heading into battle, Greek fighters the night before would drink boodles of wine, then wake the next day hung-over to fight. Some stories even mention Greek soldiers consuming psychedelic mushrooms before going into battle as a method of distilling fear. Regardless, the act of partying here can be directly correlated with acts of violence—hence, Rage.

                We see modern intersections as well. You remember that time your roommate brought back his fraternity brother to your dorm room, and he—sloshed on buckets of Jungle Juice—punched a hole in the wall? Here we see rage and enjoyment married in a single action, how the intention to have good-natured fun can become violent if unfulfilled or altered. Could we assume then, that “raging” is merely a non-violent release of youthful energy?

                Is the “party” as a social event the ultimate alternative to war?

                Rage is often associated too with madness and enthusiasm. Could it be that the madness exhibited in violent warfare could be otherwise siphoned into a new form of energy-dispersal. Could we solve our differences if only world leaders and war generals who  talk constantly about the size of their guns just got together in a room, drank copious amounts of rum and coke, then danced the night away? Imagine if only Mussolini had donned a glow-stick necklace, taken off his shirt, and head-banged to Skrillex? Would the world be a better place? Or if Stalin had embraced the infamous “bass-drop?”

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                However far-fetched the theory, I stand by it with hope and fervor. That one day we might replace this impulse to violence with the impulse to violence, to transform violent rage to enthusiastic rage and be better as a species for it.

Derek Berry Discusses Process and Inspiration on “Echo Cast”

Take some time to check out this online radio interview with Chris Pendergrast on his show “Echo Cast.” I talked with him for approximately 10 minutes about my inspiration for poetry, the process of writing poems, and the particulars of the poem “Fork,” which came from a story concerning my speech impediment.

I also discuss the “Fun Home” controversy, Roberto Jones’ haven for artists, the meaning of truth in poems, and upcoming projects.

Other artists are also featured, and you should listen to their music and interviews as well. To hear me, go to minute 40 and take a listen. I am very excited to have made connections on Soundcloud and have begun to find a wider audience for my spoken word poems. Enjoy and make sure to comment.

You can find the interview here:

https://soundcloud.com/chris-pendergraft/echocast-show-3

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Also, make sure to check out Chris’s music here: https://soundcloud.com/chris-pendergraft

And his art here: http://chrispendergraft.deviantart.com/

 

Fighting Back: LGBT Rallies and Academic Freedom

1-fun-home-alison-bechdel-coverIn late February, South Carolina Representative Garry Smith punished the College of Charleston for its choice of College Reads! book, which was Alison Bechdel’s tragi-comic Fun Home. Although the state’s funds did not actually fund the College Reads! Program, the state legislature chose to cut $52,000 in funding to the College. This caused quite the kerfluffle among CofC students, including myself, who began a series of protests against the legislature’s decisions. This coincided also with the appointment of Glenn McConnell as College president after a politically dubious search process. On Monday, we held another protest, as Fun Home the Musical came to Charleston. Having watched the show myself, I hope it great success and also hope that the play helps spread the message of how homophobia can destroy people’s lives.

 

 

 

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I read the following poems at last Friday’s protests:

Several writers across the country have also spoken up about academic freedom, information for which you can find here: https://www.facebook.com/outloudsc

Find media on the protests and controversy here:

http://www.msnbc.com/msnbc/college-of-charleston-stages-fun-home-gay-themed-play-protest

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/23/us/for-genteel-college-of-charleston-an-unaccustomed-turmoil.html?_r=0

http://www.postandcourier.com/apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Site=CP&Date=20140421&Category=PC16&ArtNo=421009997&Ref=PH&Profile=1005&SectionCat=c-of-c-drama-continues-crowds-pack-memminger-for-controversial-fun-home

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/20/south-carolina-colleges-lgbt-books_n_4825489.html

http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/HaireoftheDog/archives/2014/04/19/the-last-gasp-of-the-lost-cause-and-the-mcconnell-cofc-controversy

http://www.charlestoncitypaper.com/charleston/were-having-to-fight-our-asses-off-to-protect-academic-freedom/Content?oid=4905809

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/20/fun-home-college-of-charleston-_n_5181530.html

Hotel Diaries: Friday Afternoon

On Fridays, the small British hotel managerimages (32)

rides the elevator constantly holding a coffee

with creamer and two sugars,

and she says, “You know what tonight is?”

 

The afternoon maid shrugs,

equally aware that Friday has arrived,

but might be less excited because she

must work on Saturday.

 

“It’s date night,” said the British manager,

biting her lip and raising her eyebrow to

infer something almost certainly sexual.

“I’m going to get it on.”

This latest statement confirmed

she did indeed, mean to suggest sex.

 

The afternoon maid shrugs,

and we all enter the elevator together,

and ride in silence down to the lobby.

A Conversation in the Cougar Mall: A Vignette

[Based on true events that happened today. A conversation.]

                He nodded at me. “Sure, used to be a cop. Dad was a cop. All my friends were too.” His legs were skinny, the muscles shrunk from disuse. He wore a beard hastily shaved, and I couldn’t guess his age, though he was older than most professors. For the past hour, we had been talking about his involvement in the War on Drugs as a police officer.

                “What was that like? I mean, what did you feel about what you did?”

interstate_95_map

                “It was great, don’t get me wrong. Worked Interstate 95 right out of Camden, Georgia. What you have to understand is, the drug trade runs through there. My daddy—he was a sheriff. One time he stopped a car and got three million dollars for the department.”

                “Wait, why?”

                “Because it was drug money. Bought cars, uniforms, everything. For Camden officers, the War on Drugs is the best thing that ever happened. It gave us purpose, not to mention funding we’d never had before. Don’t look at me this way. It’s cocaine—we dealt mostly with cocaine.”

                I never caught his name, but we had been speaking for an hour about his life; he sat in a motorized wheelchair eating just the chicken from a Chick-fil-a sandwich. “Cocaine?” I asked, shifting my books from my lap. “I didn’t realize rural Georgia had a coke problem.”

                “Sure, they don’t. The local cops—they just bust people for marijuana, but me—cocaine.” I wanted to ask him if he had been injured in the line of duty, but that would be rude. “See, you understand, cocaine comes out of Miami. You can get Coke there with 90% purity, maybe a kilo for $25,000. So you drive up through Georgia on the way to New York, where coke is maybe 30% pure. So you cut that coke into three piles, mix it with meth, Adderall, sugar, what have you—you can imagine these drug runners made a shit ton of money.”

                “Sure, sure. And you think that’s okay? I mean, I don’t condone anyone taking cocaine, but what about the War on Drugs. Don’t you think the money is misspent?”

                “Federally? Sure. But in my department, it was the one thing still funding us. Pull over three cars a year—they may have a couple million each in them. Used to work with my father, and with one bust, he could afford patrol cars for the entire force. I’d say it’s worth it. I mean, I agree with you about marijauna. That should be legal, even though I’d never try it.”

                “Even in your condition.”

                “Well, you could get addicted.”

                “Addicted to marijuana?”

                “Sure. You see, now that’s it’s legal in some states, the THC levels are higher. So kids start smoking sooner, they develop physical addictions. You’ve heard about this?”

                “Yeah, actually. They keep making more and more potent weed, until it has become dangerous.” I nodded, then looked at his legs. “So, what happened?” I gestured broadly at the chair.

                He shrugged. “Car accident. Gotta tell you, only about three weeks after the accident, the seat belt was recalled. What do you expect? Korean company.”

                “Uh-huh. Well, that’s shitty. I’m sorry.”

                “Well, we went to court, reached a settlement. They gave me millions of dollars but—I mean, what the hell is that? Just throw money at me, but that doesn’t mean I’m not paralyzed from the waist down. Doesn’t change the fact I’m in a chair. Mind getting my smokes?”

                Rifling through the bag on the side, I found a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. I handed him the cigarettes and helped him light it, then sat back down. “That’s rough. Corporations—well, you know.”

                “I mean, the same thing is with marijuana. Even when I was a cop, I didn’t think having it illegal was wrong, but hell—now? Now that it’s becoming legal, it’s becoming dangerous. Not that I care that people smoke it—long as they don’t drive.”

                “Of course. Just like drinking.”

                He nodded, and before rolling away to class, he added, “You want to get them going south.”

                “The cocaine dealers?”

                “Sure. You get ’em going south, you get millions of dollars, but going north, who cares? You bust them and all you can confiscate is piles of cocaine. What’s the use in that?”

“Sunburn Blues”

Reality and gravity have lately

been doing a terrible job of keeping me down.

I’ve found my mind works smoother

when it’s in the clouds, when it’s floating free,

when it doesn’t know where it is

though it’s got no place to be.

 

Don’t call it summertime sadness:

it’s just the sunburn blues.

I’ve been feeling lately there are too many me’s

and not enough of you’s.

 

And my friends, they walk trails

that are taking them to the moon,

around the world,

or into oblivion.

I spend my days in books,

swimming, and writing poetry

 

I’ve been learning about self-preservation.

I’ve been learning that life cannot always be

an out-of-body experience.

I’ve been learning to be comfortable

in my own body.

I’ve been learning how to cook

mostly things with instructions

printed on the back of the box.

I’ve been learning about Japan in the 1980’s.

I’ve been learning about Immanuel Kant.

I’ve been learning about marksmanship

with bullets that do not kill.

I’ve been learning.

 

Let’s answer every news confidential we read

so that no one will end up lonely

or puppy unwanted

or lawnmower unfixed.

 

There is not a lot of forward motion.

I’m governed by a static presence,

a cycle of the same of the same of the same of the same

and maybe that’s just introspective B-S

or maybe the sunburn blues.

Poem: “Revolutionary”

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[A poem about a specific event in Cuba, though severely exaggerated. It had an interesting impact and summed up much of what I learned while I was in the country. I’ll post a live reading of it when I debut it at an open mic, which should be some time next week.]

On my final night in Cuba, while strolling home

from the Malecon, drunker than Hemingway

and more nostalgic than Buzz Aldrin during a full moon,

a boy spat on my shoes and screamed,

“Screw you, dirty American. You ruin everything!”

That is the edited version of his comment,

bleary-eyed and angry as he was.

My entire life I had grown up being called names:

Spazz, geek, twitch, space cadet, nerd, stupid face,

weirdo, pothead, loser, Southern boy, and usless.

But nothing hurt my pride more than

being called, a “dirty American.”

Which in Latin America is a strange insult:

they too are America, not just the United States,

which the US citizens tend to forget.

Without breaking a sweat, I turned about face

and stood in the place before him and said,

“Look, don’t you realize—don’t you see?

I love you!”

We stared each of us for a moment, tense,

and I said, “Look, man, we’ve got a war going on,

and we’re losing. Love is losing.

We’re being drowned in a sea of apathy

while our violence is anything but holy.

But we need to return to the sacred, to the human,

to the soul and to our passions.

We’re facing giants of oppression

and if we don’t learn our lesson, we’ll be done for.

So you and me, we gotta stick together.

We have to rally on the side same,

and what’s the point of shouting at each other on the street

when you’re little brother doesn’t have anything to eat?

Why would you want to fight like this

when you don’t own a toilet where you can take a piss?

So, I’m here for you, and I’ll always be here for you,

so don’t you dare talk to me that way.

I know, I know, you can only get drunk and forget your life

only because today was a good day.

But what about tomorrow?

When will we fight for tomorrow?

When will we wield our imaginations like swords?

I’ll charge into the battlefield mounted on a unicorn

There’s no time to squabble and there’s no time to mourn.

Because it’s bigger than us.”

I realized as he nodded his head

He didn’t understand a damned word I said

But he understood my voice and with what passion I spoke

and I guess he figured I was an alright bloke

He shook my hand and I went on my way

and we got drunker, because today had been a good day.

Sometimes, words won’t do, and sometimes

we fail ourselves—that’s evolutionary

But if we live and we love,

that act is revolutionary.

Why “I Love It (I Don’t Care)” May Have Redeeming Cultural Value

Like English teachers who labor to drain the meaning out of every sentence in a novel, I want to try to deconstruct and explicate the simple, catchy pop tune “I Love It (I Don’t Care)” by Icona Pop. The song has been playing over and over on the radio, and often I must suffer through it because I don’t own an IPod and often forget to bring CD’s. But the tune itself is not exactly without merit—it provokes an interesting commentary on our generation. Do we really “not care?”

First off, if you haven’t heard the song, which is doubtful, or would like a reminder of its glitzy glamorizing of apathy:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UxxajLWwzqY

icona-pop-iconic-EP-400x400            After listening to song too many times while driving down the road, I glean two possibilities about the tune’s overall plot. Most likely she’s describing a failed relationship with an older, more serious lover; the other possibility is that she’s actually describing her relationship with her parents. Because of the emphasis on party lifestyle and young hedonism in the music video, I am going to go with the second option.

The main refrain of course is “I don’t care,” which clearly manifests the feelings of youth today, the generation of Icona Pop and me (clearly 90’s children). My generation lacks anything to care about beyond their own petty lives, not because worthy things do not exist, but rather because we do not focus on those things (i.e. war, global climate change, human trafficking, etc.) We don’t care about anything but our own lives, and even those to us seem ethereal, inconsequential. We’re trapped in a system that marginalizes the efforts and desires of the youth, and so we figure, why bother?

I should clarify that when I say we, I mean our generation as a whole, and I am not writing this to defend the perversion of apathy, but rather critique it. In fact, I somehow wonder whether this song does exactly that—while glorifying “not caring,” is it also pointing out the lack of involvement youth have in politics, culture, and their own futures?

After each “I don’t care,” comes “I love it,” which is a disturbing idea. Not only do we not care that we are spiting our parents, but rather we enjoy it. We are proud of our own nihilism.

We reject the wisdom of other generations, instead relying on our innate instincts to carry us through life. See lines: “You’re so damn hard to please, we gotta kill this switch
You’re from the 70’s, but I’m a 90’s bitch.” This line convinces me that the song is talking about more than a failed relationship, but rather a series of failed relationship, the failure for one generation to transfer knowledge to the next; we constantly ignore the advice of the experienced.

Furthermore, we seek an illusion of perpetual twenty-something ecstasy, retaining the notion our lives can be a images (14)nonstop, adrenaline-fueled party, relying on drugs and dancing to keep us in the “Milky Way.” This part of the song reflects our desire to reject earthly principles such as class, money, and politics, embracing a more humanitarian philosophy “up in space.” Of course, the fact that “I don’t care” undermines the means to ever affect such a philosophy for this generation.

We are disappointed with our life has turned out and want something better than what our elders built, but rather than attempt something better, we caustically accept our lot. We do nothing to actually change our situation, simply referring to fact that we don’t even care.

Crashing the car and letting it burn serves as a symbolic act of revenge and rebellion for the singer, but she may fail to see the futility in the act. While angry, she may feel satisfied with her action, but the action is merely symbolic. Her frustration with the person she’s addressing may never be resolved, because she like most of my generation only symbolically rebel from our parents (or rather, from old traditions and old ways of thinking). This is not progress.

images (15)            Progress is changing the way we act and think, not just symbolically crashing cars or getting tattoos or doing drugs or dying our hair or having sex with strangers. Teenagers have been systematically programmed to react in ways that only harm themselves, not the system which has wronged them. Therefore, they become cynical much too young, usually resigned to a world system because “that’s the way it is.”

But I refuse to believe that all of us truly “don’t care,” or even that we “love it.” Maybe I am reading into the song too deeply, but each time I listen to the synth-heavy pop ballad, I think of the responsibility each of us holds for the future and the fact there is no room for apathy.

“A Savage Yawp” at Easy Bay Meeting House

“A Savage Yawp” happens to be the first poem I ever published (in the 2011 Poetry Matters anthology). After looking through old poems, I decided to rewrite it in my modern style, a more spoken-word-laden piece concerning the public education system and the notion that tests can determine futures. Listen to both versions and give your thoughts below.

I hope this offers some insight into particularly the philosophy of education expounded by South Carolina public schools.

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