Category Archives: Past

“Fork,” by Derek Berry

A performance at the King Dusko open mic about speech therapy and the importance of having a voice. Written a lot of new poems, fortunately, that will soon flow forth on the mic. Check them out as well as my forthcoming chapbook entitled Skinny Dipping with Strangers.

Leave thoughts below or on Youtube video.

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What Is So Innocent About Childhood?

I read a poem today in which two boys played in the backyard, a deceptively simple poem. The more I pondered the two stanzas, the more concretely I realized how little the poem was about—childhood innocence, friendship, etc. Should poetry be so hushed, so calm, so unobtrusive?

Having grown used to brass, dramatic poetry, this caught me unawares. Why be so calm and cool and collected? Two boys running and throwing balls and pushing toy trucks around in the grass, all things I’ve rarely seen. Because childhood is rarely as innocent as we assume.

Why not write about two boys playing video games (we often played videogames), about how they shout at each other as each wins? Write about throwing the controllers at each others’ faces, knocking out teeth, bloodying their noses. Childhood is rarely flowers and sunshine and playtime before supper. It’s a constant war.

Children, in fact, are sufficient evidence that we as the human race descended from savages. They are cruel, selfish, and conniving.

And no one is as guilty as a child is. When a child steals, they spend the next few hours fretting over their sin, their black crime. When they lie, they burst with the need to say the truth. Adults do not share this tendency: we do not feel guilty about much past infidelity or murder.

I closed the book of poetry and put it away, thinking about times I might have played in the grass. Surely not as many times as I argued with friends over Pokémon cards or whether or not a certain Mario Kart race victory was considered fair. Do poems need to shout, to demand change, to radicalize, or can they fall light as clouds on your brain, invoking nothing serious, only the fabled innocence of children.

When I Decided To Become “A Writer”

I had always been a storyteller, ever since I could talk, though when I was young, I could say very little due to a speech impediment. Maybe I told stories to only myself before I ever learned to give the stories to others, like ghetto-wrapped gifts, the corners of loose leaf paper sticking out the edges of the package.

Maybe the lack of speaking much or the lack of friends not speaking resulted in propelled me to read constantly, almost ferociously, as if I were in contest with every other six year old. I remember being incredibly proud in first grade of having read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when most kids my age could not read at all. So maybe it was only natural that by age eleven, I finally announced I would be a writer.

While my parents sat watching some sitcom on TV, I marched into the room and announced my plan. I would write a book, I said, and then I would publish it. At the age of eleven, I possessed very little actual knowledge of the publishing industry. I believed that once I wrote the book, I needed only send it to “The Publisher” so he could sell it for millions of dollars. Then I would drop out of school and never have to deal with stupid long division again or memorize the capitals of all the states or write in cursive (why did we do that again? I still can’t write in cursive.)

At the time, the family shared a desktop computer in my parents’ room, and any time they were not paying taxes or my brother wasn’t loading extremely long movies, I would write. I was not just going to be another kid who liked to write, either. I’d be a WRITER, which would mean I was published. Now, as you get older, the level of publishing changes. For example, I have now published some short stories, poems, and numerous journalistic articles, but that makes me a WRITER, not an AUTHOR. And maybe, I also would like to be an AUTHOR soon. Still, I charged on ahead with unbridled optimism that I could write better than at least most eighth graders.

By now, I had already given up on “kid novels.” If anyone was to take me seriously as a writer, I needed to read the great classics. I’m not sure I read anything else until maybe ninth grade. In a way, this helped immensely, immersing myself in such great works of literature so young. Now, however, I often return to comic books and YA novels because they are really fantastic, and why didn’t I read these while it was socially acceptable to do so? Oh well, I’ll make up for it now.

Also, when I began writing this novel which had something to do with a guy named Mr. Capri and a guy name Mr. Paradox collecting jewels to become magical and evil, I used 24-point font. Obviously, by using such large font, I could write more pages and therefore be seen as more intelligent and impressive.

“Derek, you wrote a 300 page novel?”

“Yes, I actually wrote ten novels.”

Fifth grade: the year of a ten novel series, each maybe ten thousand words each. Then again, combine all these, and at least I wrote something truly novel-length. Of course I would go on to try to write many more novels over the year, roughly a different project each year. I learned to query and all about publishing, and I began building credentials from shorter things I had written. Eventually, I started this blog and wrote a new novel that I’m quite excited about and may actually be worth publishing.

Back to fifth grade…

Most of the names did not stick, although Mr. Paradox was probably the best villain name ever. My main character, I named Declin. I asked my mom what a good name would be. She was reading a book by an author named Declan, so she simply told me that. I misspelled the name, of course, and that spelling stuck with me. I vowed back in the fifth grade to use “Declin” as a character name in whatever novel I published first. I held myself true to my word at eleven. Go check yourself: new novel, same name.

But I am still proud of myself for that feat. Fifth grade ain’t easy for anyone, especially someone just then learning to speak properly and socialize with, you know, “other people.” This story does not signify anything, only it tells a story. Sometimes stories must be told, though. Sometimes, I am arrested by the need to tell a story, say something, so I sit down and write it, even if it might not mean something. Perhaps that even more than wanting to be taken seriously, that caused me to transcribe that first battle of good and evil between Declin and Mr. Paradox.

Maybe even today, I’m still telling stories just to tell them, not because they might mean something, the themes bold and life-changing. But simply because they are stories, and when you’re a writer and have a story to tell, you can’t not tell it.

Thoughts On Endings at Dawn

As I drove home this morning at six, I watched the sun rise, the peach-skin skies revealing the sillouhette of a continent of overcast clouds. Leaving out in the dark, I drove and soon looked out the window to see the sky pinker, brighter. You’re left wondering how this happened, so slowly, yet so fast, as if you haven’t even been paying attention. Life’s changes act much like the sky during dawn or evening; we cannot perceive the light changing but it always is. And suddenly as we’re driving, we look up to see that everything around us is different.

As I approach my 24th hour of being awake, I am remarkably conscious and alert. Perhaps much calmer after physically exhausting myself. As far as definite turning points in our lives, graduation could count as one of them. Last night at 8, my school filed across a stage to receive diplomas, and we turned our tassels on our caps to finally become these new people. As if we were supposed to feel different, more grown up, gaining like Spider Man strange super powers like a complete understanding of microeconomics.

But changes don’t come like that, a simple radioactive spider bite and you’re changed. Growing up is as slow and difficult as the DMV.

After graduating, the community held Project Graduation which provided us with endless entertainment for the night including inflatable obstacle courses, jousting stations, a very impressive buffet, a dance rave, raffles, gambling, and free spa massages.

What should have made me pass out has instead invigorated me and instilled me with a sense of calm. I drove away, dropped off a friend at his house, and drove to my own. I opened my laptop to write simply because calmness puts me in the writing mood. There is a certain time of night when I lose my mind and begin to babble, losing sanity. Then that passes and I become simply calm and again awake. Right now, I here family members waking from their beds.

Today, when I wake from the heavy sleep that will come, I may post something else about what happens next: the future. For now, however, I’m thinking only of the past and how this past and future converge at an uncertain dawn. We live so ardently in that past, look up and realize that the sky is turning pinker, brighter. Things have changed, and we haven’t even noticed.

I only wanted to give my first impressions after the night’s festivities. I cannot quite even understand how wakefulness will work, whether my energy will suddenly drop out from under me like a trap door. Like a narcoleptic, I’ll fall violently into dreams. It’s nearing seven. Morning is here finally, full and bright, and writing this, I could not even observe its exact changes, only its general.

Because I am going on vacation, I probably will not blog for about six days. Or perhaps I will be inspired by the sea to write, and the sea tends to be quite inspiring, I believe. Class of 2012, make sure to take a look around. Savor the moments because while you look away, they pass and things have changed.

The Bawdy Bard: Why Inappropriate Humor Matters

Last night, while watching the Aiken County Playhouse’s rendition of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, I realized something important about fiction, more specifically comedy: dirty humor is a must.

Many people shake their heads at sexual humor, seemingly meant only to stimulate the minds of sick teenage boys (me). I mean, American Reunion has been released, a beg-play at making more money off the original franchise. Of course, there have been umpteen direct-to-DVD sequels, but apparently the series is successful enough to continue producing movies. Why?

I will say it out right- dirty humor is hilarious. Sure, it is immature and pointless and plebeian and sometimes sickening, but always funny.  Butter, a cow Halloween costume, and a game of truth-or-dare add up to nothing less than hilarious in my mind. Oh, why cannot directors and even writers use adult humor. The Woody Allen kind, the cold, ironic humor. Sure, I think that is quite funny too, but not always laugh-out-loud funny. Refer to a sex organ through a balloon animal and yes, I will howl like a hyena.

Shakespeare is likely one of my favorite bawdy comics. When he begins making jokes about sex, he gets down and dirty, and he’s not

afraid to refer to some of the most taboo subjects of his time. What Shakespeare does really well which some contemporary dirty movies is use subtlety to tell these dirty jokes. He’ll will refer to sex via hilarious puns and innuendos. Have we lost the art of subtlety? It’s not funny to simple call oral sex oral sex. But if you refer to a “the winds that Mother Nature even could blow,” that is dead funny in a Victorian England sort of way.

What fails at these references: see any American Pie spin0ff, horror movie featuring killer fish and topless girls, or National Lampoon straight-to-DVD film.

Compare the following.

Shakespeare Sonnet 125:

The sea, all water, yet receives rain still,
And in abundance addeth to his store;
So thou, being rich in ‘Will,’ add to thy ‘Will’
One will of mine, to make thy large will more.

 

In this passage, the word “Will” takes on the double meaning of ambition as well as “phallus.”

Now, consider the movie American Pie where the entire joke IS sex. You cannot allow sex itself to be funny. Look viewers, there is sex happening on the screen between two teenagers! And look, a naked midget!

It just does not work. I appreciate those movies for their raunchiness, but dirty does not ultimately equate funny. Dirty and smartly stylized equates to funny.

The question we must consider… is WHY we appreciate dirty humor. Shakespeare included it in his plays for the lower class. In one play (say, Hamlet), the bard explores the woes of love, life, and revenge and also makes jokes about virginity, whore-dom, and Ophelia’s breasts. This is why I love Shakespeare. He can be both hilarious and serious within the span of a single monologue. So, when I see a very serious movie that applies very dirty humor, I think “Yes. This great.”

Humor must be had in any great work of literature or film, I believe. It is what allows us to connect at a more visceral level to what’s going on. Laughing makes our bellies shake, our voices boom out. Which offers a nice balance to contemplating the movie’s more intellectual themes.

So, remember, next time you pop open a cold one and get ready to watch a dirty movie dealing primarily with sex, that this experience was made possible and popular by the dirty mind of William Shakespeare. He’s a dude’s dude.

Evolution of Writing (Part 3): Who Is, and Who is Not, a writer?

As much as the art of writing has changed over generations, so has the perception of the writer. Let us crank up the Dolorian again to travel back and look at how the common people viewed writers over the ages and how writers viewed themselves. Could the persona of “writer” have changed that much from the dawn of time?

Speaking strictly in cavemen terms, writers were pretty progressive. They used symbolic language to communicate stories that we have read millions of years later. Such brilliant narratives as: I found mammoth, I made spear, I kill mammoth, and I eat mammoth. From the invention of fire to the first use of clubs, cavemen scholars documented their primeval progress on cave walls. Even before words existed, man possessed an innate need to tell stories, which we surely have not outgrown today.

Once language, written and spoken, was formalized, writers of stories became better well-known. They were the wise men of their day, scholars and preachers and philosophers. These were storytellers who could actually read and write. Playwrights such as Socrates, philosophers such as Plato, scientists too: all these were celebritites because of their skill at the written word.

And yet in the recent past, writers have been viewed not as elite people but lowlife bums too lazy to get jobs. They sit at home collecting unemployment checks while writing about their drug addict lives. We can see the writer crouched over a rusty typewriter, tripping on Benzedrine, chain-smoking, and naked.

The Beatniks of the fifties inspired this attitude towards writers. They were poor people trying to connect with a mystic way of life through drugs. Rather than tell legends, they wrote about their own lives. But they were also glamorized as enlightened and hedonistic. Living life to the fullest. Though sometimes pretentious and overly “ironic” by today’s standards.

While some writers are scene as wild like these, others are seen as recluses.

Think of Salinger or Pynchon. While some are poor, others are rich.

There once was a time when writing was the past time of wealthy aristocrats. Famously, in 1818, Lord Byron challenged his visitors at Lake Geneva to write a gruesome story. Each took turns trying to scare the wits out of the others. One such story that came of this was Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Some writers speak as nobles, others for the common man. During the Industrial Revolution, portraits of the common man came into vogue. People saw working conditions from a working class man’s perspective. We saw inside of factories, the evils of corporations run wild with greed, and the daily strife of living in poverty.

Then there are the Romantics, writing expressively about their emotions, about their torments and loves and loss and horrors. Then come the realists who take scientific views and incorporate them into stories. They are intellectuals writing factually about things that will make them look smarter if the right professors read the books.

 The war-torn writers write about how battles scarred them, about their emotions being drained. About the absence of a meaning to life. About horror and blood and brutal, pointless violence. These men we viewed as lost souls, writing as emotional release. Penning those feelings that were pent up for years after wars.

We have seen writers in a variety of ways for so long: as highly influential literati, as common men spinning common tales, as the Lost Generation, and as hipsters telling stories ironically.

Today, these perceptions have all meshed so that there is no one perception of “writer.” The only true thing tying us together is our burn to write, our need to tell stories. We cannot clearly define ourselves any longer. We are novelists, vocalists, bloggers, and poets. We are idealists, realists, poor, young, old, wealthy, calm, and angry.

There are no literary periods anymore. All we have to offer are words, trying to describe our own human condition. Perhaps the public sees us in a myriad ways.

But in truth, we are only humans struggling to articulate our own inability to articulate our struggles.

The Evolution of Writing (Part 1): Faster, Better, Stronger

Since the dawn of typewriters, there has been an evolution in how writers write. Some say that to speed up how fast someone can pen a story will only lead to more bad writing. That can be true, to some extents. Wen u typ rilly quick, u tend 2 mispel words or just sound stuped.

It has been argued that since writers can write faster, they have to think too fast. And they do not pay enough attention to what they’re actually saying. They’re just banging out words, like I do whenever I write a blog post. A robotic writer-churner of words, processing word vomit thirty terabytes per second. How exactly has writing evolved?

We’ve gone from pen-to-paper to type writers to laptops to tablet-sized writing devices. It seems we can write anything and anywhere, so how has that affected the art of writing?

A long, long time ago, the printing press was invented. Before that, the Bible and a few other texts were the only things were read because monks had to devote their lives to transcribing those thousands of pages. Imagine if J.K. Rowling had to write every Harry Potter book by hand for each individual reader. It’s likely she would not have sold as many books.

No one was very literate. All the townspeople relied on the priests to interpret the Bible for them, which of course caused some obvious problems. Church leaders could say things like, “God says to give me all your money and your wives. Seriously, it’s in The Bible.”

There was something else impressive about these books: their ornateness. Some might take more than a year to pen own, perfectly. And then they were filled with incredible illustrations, rewritten every time a book was reprinted.

Then, when the printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in around 1440. This exploded literacy because more people could afford books. Bibles and scholarly works were available to more people, so more people began to read. Of course, this lead to the Protestant Reformation and a change of religion, but this isn’t about religion. This is about writing.

Before, storytellers acted orally. A story might be passed down through generations, as was Homer’s Odyssey and the Arabic classic 1001 Nights. But when the printing press came along, writers could get their stories out there which gave rise to what we call today “the novel.” Not only did texts of science, philosophy, and religion bloom, but so did works of fiction such Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The books published were more widely circulated and read by more people.

This increased the flow of ideas, so by the time the 1600s come, everyone is reading books and sharing ideas. This is end of the Renaissance era. Writing is entirely about ideas, so this is important to what I’d like to talk about next. In 1868, the typewriter was born, which revolutionized writing. Before, writers were affected because more people could read what they wrote. But this device made writing available to more people because it was faster and more efficient. Like a mini-printing press at your fingertips. Writers loved typewriters. Even today, a typewriter seems a universal symbol of the ideal age of writing.

Things have changed, but have they changed for the better?

Today, I sometimes take notes in a journal and at other times with my Nook. Soon, I’ll buy a keyboard attachment so without the hassle of carrying a full laptop, I can whip out the device and type away whatever I’d like to. Even in the backseat of a car at night, I can still make notes and write. Amazing, huh? Try to do that with a typewriter. This has also changed WHERE we write (which can certainly affect the story itself), but that is a discussion for Part 2.

Typewriters seemed the natural evolution of recording words, but the next leap changed things forever. Writing words in a digital form. Ala, a word processor. This changes HOW the writer writes, literally. On Microsoft word, if I suddenly don’t like a word, I have to only delete it. But typing on a typewriter, I may have to use white-out or trash a whole sheet and start over again. This forces the writer to do the thinking in his head rather then on the computer. He must compose the perfect sentence first before typing it out, “thinking as he goes” as many computer-users do. Then again, does it not seem easier to type it on an erasable surface such as a computer screen?

Why are some writers obsessed with the old times?

Ernest Hemingway stood beside his typewriter to give him better creativity. Jack Kerouac wrote On the Road on his typewriter using a single scroll. E.E. Cummings used his typewriter to accentuate his poetic style in his famous “Grasshopper poem.”

Writing has been inexorably changed! AGHAST!

I can go back now and delete the entire post without having wasted tree’s lives. What madness hath these computers brought upon us?

We can write anywhere and anyhow we want now that we use computers to write instead of paper or a typewriter. Unless you still do write out entire drafts on paper or are nostalgic enough to use a typewriter. Honestly, I usually write poems and short stories first on paper, even sections of the novels I’m working on. But to write an entire novel on paper seems ridiculous, pointless even.

Yet changing the way we write, we change the WAY we write. We write with a different psychology. Because we write faster, we think differently. We are allowed to write much later into the night, so we write differently. Perhaps the ability to write at any time has diminished how much work we actually get done!

What do you think about this evolution in writing? Has the ability to use new writing implements proved helpful or detrimental to our writing processes? Is the future the way to go, or should we fall back upon what has served us in the past? How are you affected by the change in writing tools?

Tune back in soon for an extension of this conversation on the evolution of writing and writers.

How Regional Differences Affect Writers

A friend currently reading a draft of my book The Savagery of Sebastian Martin mentioned that only once did I place the story in my home state. A single chapter takes place as Sebastian travels through South Carolina to escape being imprisoned. I don’t miss the opportunity to poke fun as Salley’s annual Chitlin Strut. While this was fun to write, I don’t think that portion accurately portrays the state in which I grew up.

So, instead, I want to bring forth a much more appalling work of satire. A mostly true one about a fictional town. After finishing the first draft of my second novel (tentatively titled Lickskillet), I realized I had missed out on something. While the plot and characters were fine, I failed to give a lot of character to the town which holds the town name. Why, the town itself is very much a character. In one way, Lickskillet is very unique and mind-boggling, though at the same time it is very familiar. We have met these people, been to these places, and lived in this town.

Lickskillet is the strange paragon of Southeast small towns. Quirky, qausi-historical, and to its residents, home.

Region plays a big part into a writer’s work, I believe. Traveling around Europe two years ago helped me solidify the setting of The Savagery. I could better evoke some of the cities I had previously never seen. My second novel, however, will be set much closer to home. In a town torn by crisis, but united by… simply being a town. I have spliced aspects of several southern towns (and huge chunks from my own) to form what I think represents a type of town not to big, but with personality.

When living in Paris, Ernest Hemingway wrote about Paris. Most of the stories by Mark Twain and Flannery O’Connor take place in the South. Because they lived in the South. They knew the South. I set some scenes in New York in The Savagery, but I might as well have called it Big City, because the story did not revolve around New York. It talked about a single hotel in New York and rarely expanded beyond that limited perspective.

In my next novel, I want readers to feel that they know this place. They have been there before.

In her short stories and novels, O’Connor shows ever facet of the South. The good, the bad, and the ugly. Because only someone from here can clearly say “what’s wrong with it.” Otherwise, you’re just reaching for clichés. We write about these places because we want to prove everyone else who writes about them wrong. We feel a need to tell “our story.” We have to defend what is attacked while also showing the true chinks in the armor. We simply want to represent our own towns the way we see them.

I am completely starting over with the writing of Lickskillet, to better include how the town functions not just as a setting, but a character. I want to be painstakingly realistic. Even in satire, even while writing humor, you want to tell the truth. Even if it’s about a fictional town, it can tell some sort of truth. Something that will make every person, no matter from where they hail, realize that they have known and lived in this little Southern town all their lives.

What we write about, these places are where we’ve grown up. Of course region affects a writer’s style and storytelling habits. We latch on to the unique rhythms of our own origins. We tend to mimic the sound of cicadas, chirp like crickets, and whistle like a nightingale. This translates to writing and the writing into a story that encompasses a place. Such as the ones we call home.

Poem: We Real Geek

(A tribute to the poet Gwendolyn Brooks. Perhaps you recall the outline of this poem.)

We real geek. We

Squeak speak. We

 

Fly brooms. We

Raid tombs. We

 

Trade cards. We

Quote bards. We

 

Read long. We

King Kong.

Thoughts About The Library

When I was in elementary school, the Book Mobile rolled into the parking lot every day around 2:30. Waiting outside in the gravel parking lot, we carried our old books in our dumpy book bags. Bags with vinyl depictions of Power Rangers and Harry Potter. The old bus was outfitted with shelves, a small, cramped desk placed behind the driver’s seat. It kicked up gravel when it pulled up, and we hustled inside, especially when it was raining.

Standing inside the Book Mobile, we stood in a single file line, pressing our bodies into the shelves every time someone needed to pass by. The books we checked out were kid’s books: The Magic Tree House, The Hardy Boys. My mom wouldn’t let me read Goosebumps, because it was too scary, too gruesome. I hated horror books at that age anyways, anything too real. I guess now that’s pretty ironic.

This was my first experience with the library, waiting every Tuesday for the Book Mobile to bumble into the gravel parking lot. They’ve paved over that parking lot now; the Book Mobile sits outside the library, and I don’t know if it visits the elementary school anymore.

When I’m running behind on writing an essay or a column for The Hornet Herald, I visit the library. First, I read. I read funny books by Steve Barry and Ian Michael Black and Lewis Grizzard. And then I take out my laptop, get down to work. It’s mostly quiet there in the library, especially upstairs in the Nonfiction section. Along with the essays on poetry and the biographies. There’s wifi too, which is more distracting than helpful.

Facebook has increased the percentage of turned-in-late essays in my grade by 76%. I made that statistic up—writing blog posts or writing columns, you’re allowed to do that. You’re allowed to make up stories and anecdotes and quotes, because all that matters is the story. And if a story seems true, then truth doesn’t really matter.

After spending so much time in the library, I’ve learned something: old books smell so good.

I love buying books, especially old books. Because there are some books you must own, really own. To share with friends and carry. And keep on shelves to show everyone what books you own. And unless a book I really want to read has just been released, I will buy the book used.

But if I ever get published and visit the library, I won’t say anything to anyone. I’ll sometimes visit my work, to flip through the pages. I hope it begins to smell musty, the cover get battered, and the pages yellow. Because to me, that sort of wear-and-tear is a distinction. Sometimes, I flip through the books I check out and wrench out receipts from past users, reading the foreign names of people who traveled this journey before me. I wonder whether or not the book made them feel quite the same way. I wonder if this book meant anything to them.

I love the library, because it is like a home I’ve yet to move into.

But mostly I love the library because it’s free. Without the library, I probably would not be writing. It’s not that my parents didn’t buy me books, but how can any parent have the expense to satiate a kid’s imagination. I didn’t just want one book, ever. I wanted to read them all. I wanted to sit all day and night and scour the shelves and discover and learn and excavate through the archives of storytelling pasts.

Every book in a library is a story and picking up that book, you’re sharing it with the hundreds of people who read the book before you. I love finding white check-out slips hidden between the pages as bookmarks. Names of people who shared these emotions with me, this story.

Sometimes, I go to visit others who call it home. Sometimes, I revisit my favorites, pulling them from the shelves, indulging in surreptitious sniffs. Sometimes, I come with a list and a sturdy face, tracking down books I’d like to read. Other times, I don’t have a list: no names. I just wander around, looking at the titles, bringing home books I’ve never heard of. I’m a biting, critical reader, so sometimes I’ll leave the book alone. Sometimes, I fall in love.

And I hope maybe I’ll be able to find a book with my name on it on those shelves. And I’ll hope someday, some kid will pick it up, flip through its pages and think, “Old books smell so good.”