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:

Find media on the protests and controversy here:


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.

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.



The Poetic Life: Say Yes

{Make sure to check out Parts I and II of the Poetic Life series as well as head over to Kendall Driscoll’s blog for another perspective on living poetically.}

Never deny yourself an experience. Whatever opportunity blow your way, hitch up your sails and ride that wind until it is beat. Do not, as Nancy Reagan might suggest, just say no—instead: say Yes.

Say yes to the experiences that could change you, that could shape you and shock you and delight you. Say yes especially to the things that scare you, those things you don’t want to do simply because they seem too big. Nothing is too big. Leap out a plane miles above the earth, travel to Africa, get a college degree, sing on the street at five in the morning, wake up your neighbors with “Yankee Doodle.”

A lot of classes and instructors of writing say, “Write what you know.” Write what you are passionate about—but sometimes what you may be passionate about does not align with what you know. It is probably a good time to learn, then. Experience those things so you can write about, and even if you absolutely can’t (sci-fi, fantasy writers out there), then write it anyways. You don’t have to be an expert, but when you do get a chance to learn something firsthand, wrestle that opportunity to the ground.

What scares you? Ever since childhood, I have avoided films concerning the paranormal, the horrific, grotesque acts of ghosts and monsters under the bed, of the boogeyman and of anything that goes bump in the night. Recently, however, I have more open to watching horror movies. It’s not the bloody, realistic ones that scare me either, only the ones with ridiculous plots and grouchy ghouls.

With Halloween fast approaching, I am even considering walking through those decorated haunted houses. In Charleston, the historic ambiance of murder gone by stinking the air, you know those could get pretty frightening. But I’ll brave for the sake of poetry, or at least for the sake of being afraid. What’s so bad about being afraid? It teaches us a lot about ourselves.

Therefore, we can strive to do anything we think we can’t, agree to all the opportunities handed to us.

Internship? Okay.

A trip to Florence, Italy? Sure, why not?

A nighttime ghost tour? Ah, well… okay, fine.

Living poetically means experiencing everything, analyzing everything, so why ever say no?

The Poetic Life: Find Meaning in Everything, Anything

Poets tend to have a prodigious talent for producing vaguely philosophical conclusions from the smallest details. Think of the greatest haikus, those crisp images that subtly invoke feelings. Even from the blue jay or the rose bush or the gravy-textured sky, we can derive meaning. At first, this sounds a little crazy, though, doesn’t it?

Your friend comes late to dinner, fixing his hair, clearing his throat—this denotes frustration. When penned down, when life is transcribed into novels, we spend hours analyzing what the text means, what we can learn from what the characters do, from how the author describes the shape of the hills in the distance or the used condoms crumpled by simmering storm drains. During our real-life experiences, however, we rarely analyze actions in such a way.

Pay attention to not just what people do, but what it could mean about them. Don’t boast that you can read minds or understand human interactions, because you can’t—everyone is an amateur philosopher, an amateur theist, an amateur poet. No one can be master in such matters.

Especially if you mean to make art, in my case to write poetry, you must watch how people act, what people say. Try to create poetry that is true to the moment, to life. Sometimes, I will sit among a group of people writing down things they say. Strange things, sometimes profound things. We spend hours hypothesizing in lively debates, changing each others’ minds inexorably, only to forget our enlightenment minutes later, the time it takes for people to leave us.

Alone, however, we should continue to consider our actions and thoughts—why do we think this way? Why do we act this way? Whether you approach this psychologically or religiously or senselessly, it doesn’t much matter, because you perceive things others have never before. Of course learn as much as you can, read as many books as you can read, but remember that only you can decide what is true or untrue for you.

We all hold an immense power to determine truth for ourselves. The only way we avoid being overpowered by the ideas of others is to constantly pay attention—life is a 24-hour lecture. Take notes.

The Poetic Life: An Introduction

Is there something intrinsically different about the way a poet lives versus other people? Do they carry around magical golden powder they snort up their nostrils so their creative juices flow? Perhaps a Grimmorie inscribed in a foreign, forgotten language reminiscent of the clichéd hieroglyphs featured in The Mummy trilogy.

The poetic life, though it inspires poetry that we read and enjoy, does not exist under  mystical circumstances but rather a set of principles with which to live according to. And not so much principles in the way of a stringent constitution—these ideas and methods have worked for me, so if they fail to work for anyone else, then that isn’t exactly because they don’t work. Ultimately, no one can really criticize or teach life or poetry or anything else because no one is an expert—we are allowed only an intimate case study from which to draw from.

Don’t look at this like some poorly-wrought constitution, but instead a personal manifesto, if anything only a written reminder to myself of how I should live. Not just in a moral sense, but in a poetic sense—is there such thing as a poetic life? These things I’ve been considering for many weeks, reading books on the idea including Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Rilke.

The philosophy of psychology and the psychology of philosophy come to very much the same conclusion: humans have an innate desire to understand themselves, their world, and how they interact with the world.

Each day, I will post something new, a short essay or explanation of a facet of the poetic life, something I think everyone should strive to understand. Because a poetic life does not only help the poet produce decent, sincere poetry, but it also allows a man to live a sincere life. He constantly thinks.

That’s the first challenge—to think. Not just in class or when in times of turmoil, but every day, all of the time, to the point that thoughts become exhausting. Concentrate on your life, on your actions. Do not act on impulse, but instead consider each action individually. Develop ideas from everyday experiences. Why can’t a trip to the bathroom or a morning shower or a walk downtown inspire?

We have familiarized ourselves with beauty and no longer recognize it’s beautiful. We fail to learn from aesthetics, as beauty too is a type of knowledge. Contemplate all things, every stray word, every gesture, as if the world is a narrative to deconstruct—but never say a shallow thing. Never read from the script of preconceived ideas, of things you repeat, you rehearse, you eject constantly.

For the next week, maybe two, I will contemplate these ideas and share my thoughts with you. If you have more to say on the subject, comment below. I would love to hear your thoughts. What does it mean to live a “poetic life?”

Connections: Strings

I have been pondering the strings that tie us together, the things that bind us and keep us together, how we affect one another, one human to another.

We’re a lot like thumbtacks on a pegboard, each of us tied with many strings that connect us to all the other thumbtacks on the board we call life. Of course, we’re all moving, so the strings are tightening and getting loose and stretching, changing colors, length, thickness. Our relationships change as these strings do; the connections evolve over time.

And everything we do, we’re sending sound waves along the strings, pulling them and changing them. Once we change one of the strings, we change other strings, the ones that everyone we’re connected to holds. Then other strings move, shift, change because of our changes meaning we’re all affecting each other, and in different ways, we’re all connected. Somehow, we are all connected via this mass network of strings criss-crossing the globe, and with the advent of the internet, e-mail, Skyping, Facebook, we find more and more strings.

The connections may not be particularly strong, but they’re there. We are changed by all of the people we have known, seen, and heard of.

These people: we’ve met, we’ve inspired, we’ve loved, we’ve read novels by, we’ve despised, we’ve broken bread with, we’ve battled against, we’ve drank with, we’ve prayed over, we’ve bumped into on the street, we’ve taught, we’ve tripped, we’ve enlightened, we’ve made love with, we’ve fed, we’ve stared at in public but never actually spoken to, we’ve known more than we can know anyone else.

Just reading this on the outskirts of the internet, you are tying off a string. My thumbtack to yours. And maybe this is just wishful thinking, but maybe these strings keep us sane, alive. Because with the board changing so often, the pegs all moving, we could fall off, slip from our places. Fortunately, we’re tied together, part of this huge safety net.

It is the people in our lives that keep us from falling.

Everything Ends


This morning, I would finish my novel. The night before, I had written the penultimate chapter to what would be what I considered my best work. The climax finished, I needed only wrap up the story in a few hundred words. I went to bed early, anticipating waking early for work the next morning. When I woke too early, I lay in bed thinking exactly how the story would end. Not that it would end, because no story truly ever ends, but where would I stop following these wonderful people, recording them through the lens of fiction?

This morning, I thought. It would have to be this morning. College looms, and maybe if I don’t finish soon, I may never finish, never decide on a conclusion. Even if it isn’t any good, even if I have to change it, at least something will be written. I will feel that much closer to being finished.

And maybe finishing In Lickskillet makes me feel finished with high school. Even though I graduated back in June, I’ve still been navigating the social maze of high school within the walls of fiction. Sure, my time at school gave a lot of good source material and inspiration for the novel, but I think I’m ready to finally leave that stage of my life.

But ain’t that the truth? Everything ends.

Every novel has an ending, just like every part of your life does. In my opinion, it doesn’t really flow that smoothly– there are definite

Yes, it is really awesome to go to school in Charleston, thank you!

times when you might think a chapter number would be suitable. Like right now, before I leave for college, I’m ending a chapter, a huge chapter. All about high school and the city of Aiken and the immense impact it has had on me. Most of the characters will bow off stage, maybe not be seen but for cameos. All the history I’ve learned here, I’ll have to learn new history elsewhere. I am cutting off ties, leaving both jobs, and moving onto to bigger things.

Next Friday, I move into a college dorm, and then a new chapter will begin. Maybe I’ll find some new photography studio to work at or a new hip magazine to write for. Maybe not.

New things will come. For example, I’ll start my time in the International Scholars Program at the College of Charleston, which is brand new and is sure to be a wild, enlightening time.

This blog was recently freshly pressed, so maybe there is new life in that. Just because some readers from Aiken might stop reading, I may gain more readers, other readers, both from Charleston and all around the world.

But this morning, I had the satisfying feeling of typing THE END to a novel I feel may be my first major published work. Everything ends, and right now, what’s ending is maybe that part of my career when I’m still working to be a success, still doing little things that might one day add up to big things.

The next chapter?

Well, Hell, who knows what might happen?

Self-Destruction: Not Just For Killer Robots Attacking Earth


If I traveled back in time to confront me about something that could potentially ruin my life, would I listen? We have seen this plot recycled too many times in Sci-Fi made-for-TV movies or during reruns of Doctor Who. This particular, ole deus ex machina implanted itself into our own culture so well, it would be ludicrous to dismiss the warnings of our future-selves. But would we really listen? If we were stopping at a gas station to use the restroom and our future selves time-traveled to forbid us from doing it, would that actually change our fate?

I think, No. I think I would stop despite my own protesting because as a human, curiosity acts as a better motive than self-preservation. In fact, we can be downright self-destructive at times.

But the phrase “Self-destruction” has many meanings to many people, not just an odd architectural choice for the Death Star. Why am I so interested in this as a writer? Why does it matter? Fiction writers are merely very biased philosophers, so when we write a story, we instill our own values and beliefs into the characters we write. Not that I agree with my characters, but through them, I try to make a point; in this way, writers must balance characters as real and fleshed-out people as well as symbols for something bigger. In Victorian novels, characters often acted as spokespeople for whole social groups, but today, we can’t generalize people in that fashion through literature.

Self-destruction is a purely human trait, which is why it interests me as a writer. Every bit of the human condition intrigues me. Other


animals act out of self-preservation. We, however, have a tendency to choose to do things we know with certainty will harm us. Of course, suicide comes to mind. Apparently, panda bears also commit suicide by either starving or suffocating themselves, but there is not much substantial evidence as to why they do this. In that way, we are of a select few animals who practice self-inflicted death or even self-loathing.

Then think, suicide is a definitive form of self-destruction, but there are more ways to kill yourself than just with a gun. Suicide needn’t be instantaneous but can take place daily, a system, a routine. Sometimes, even while doing what we love, we are actually causing our own deaths or at least our own unhappiness.

Consider this.

Animals eat to survive; we eat for pleasure. We keep eating even if it is killing us. We eat too much, drink too much alcohol, and smoke too many cigarettes because what we love can one day kill us unless we kill whatever it is (that craving, impulse, or desire) we love. Think of Wile. E. Coyote chasing the Road Runner across the desert for eternity, allowing ACME bombs to blow him up and anvils to drop him off cliffs, boulders crashing on his head, for what? For a single delicious meal? In a way, he is killed by his own needs, by his insatiable addiction.

Because self-destruction does not only occur when we hate ourselves but when we love something else more. In that vein of thought, we could argue that Jesus possessed self-destructive tendencies. Because he doesn’t do what best serves him, he effectively destroys himself, allows himself to die. We argue that this is compassion, a special type of altruism, yet nevertheless is also a form of self-demolition.

Or any volunteer worker who commits his or her time for a cause– this is time not spent selfishly and therefore perhaps “self-destructive.” For that reason, the term is difficult to define, and the boundary pushing toward altruism or some other distinct human trait can be blurred.

When I talk about self-destruction, do I just mean causing our own deaths through bad habits or also causing rife within ourselves? We spoil our own emotions knowing that what we do will make us unhappy. We are fully capable of torturing ourselves physically and emotionally. Other animals attempt to escape pain, but sometimes we invite it or self-inflict it.


Out of a pure Darwinian lens, this makes no sense. Why do we make choices that we actively know will yield terrible results? Why don’t we just listen to our future selves and avoid all this pain and misfortune? Biologically, we like all animals exist for a short time, but our DNA can exist forever through procreation. Producing offspring becomes the true test of success when concerning an animal. We need only produce viable offspring with a mate, and BAM, we’re considered a success.

Humans, however, sometimes purposely refuse to have children. Is that self-destructive, because even if we care about the survival of us, we don’t care about the survival of our genes. In a world of over-population, does that truly matter any longer? From an evolutionary standpoint, we would see not having kids as counterproductive, but many adults choose careers over their potential parenthood.

This entire essay is composed of questions, not any sort of theory or secret notion that ties the truths together. I am a writer because I ask questions. In fiction, we explore the subtleties of what makes us human. When we use words so freely, we have to consider their meanings, even those which are barely-defined like “self-destruction.” The meaning of words gets so lost in vagueness: self-loathing from compassion, love from deadly obsession.

We must quietly consider why we commit acts we know will cause pain, and why this sets the human race apart, what it might mean for our future.