Category Archives: personal
Sunday morning brings a brief reprieve, a misty gray sunshine illuminating the still-flooded streets. As I walk to the coffee shop, jonesing for a rush of caffeine that might inspire my research and writing, I witness a small sports car marooned on smith street. Murky brown water reaches its window. The car has been long abandoned. It has become an island of rust and possible regret. The coffee shop is entirely empty, closing early for the day; we expect further rains to come later, and the barista must drive his bike through the cross-town where his daughters wait at home. As I walk back toward my house, Americano in hand, rain falls lightly.
But not rain like the hurricane has brought, great sheets of rain, waves crashing violently against the Battery. The pictures on the Internet are foreboding—streets become rivulets, gushing with sewage water. Trucks have become submerged in an aquatic traffic jam. Trees fell due to wicked winds. Overly irrigated front yards float. Enough rain to bring buried corpses to the surface. Worse still the news coming from the governor and president—a state of emergency! Enough fear to put your teeth on edge.
The rain will come again, tonight maybe. But for now I’m locked up inside. Day Four of lounging, reading, and listening to music.
I spent a good part of this afternoon lying in bed and listening to an album by the German composer Max Ricther called The Blue Notebook. The music is both classical and surprisingly subterranean. A melody that enraptures and envelops the body and mind.
I don’t mind the quiet. Friday night I attended a small get-together at a friend’s house, but last night, the rain proved too ferocious to bother. I stayed up until 3am, alternating between poetry books I want to re-read and episodes of Adventure Time. There is something calming, I think, about a storm. The hurricane forces one to stay inside, not fearing that some Apocalypse will arrive, that God will tear open the skies and snatch up the few believers yet. No, something else.
This is a makeshift baptism at best. The apocalypse will come later, maybe tonight, who cares? For now, I am learning to be alone, to be content with a pen and paper. To read more deeply. To listen more closely. Isolation both maddens and inspires. Outside, the rain slams against dirt, quenching its thirst beyond need; what gives life may also take life away. Inside I am lying in bed, enjoying exquisite absence, learning to hold no one’s body, learning to be in my own body and not outside of it. Learning to listen, to open the windows, to watch the skies split up and wonder what got God so angry in the first place.
I step out of the student secretary office into the sun and cross the street to the library in order to sit down and write my final thoughts on Tuebingen. I am leaving soon, spending the night at a friend’s flat before flying home tomorrow morning. As I pass across the street, I nearly stumble into The Naked Man.
The Naked Man stands in the park every day and has done so for the past few months, often half-naked. People say he’s crazy. He is a homeless man who dresses either in grass-streaked tidy-whities or a full suit. His favorite hobbies include snapping the branches off trees, assuming fighting stances, drinking beer, and laughing at strangers. He often walks toward strangers in order to laugh at them. That’s so strange, so unnverving.
When I bump into The Naked Man, he gives me a queer look, a cocktail mixture of anger and curiosity. And so I ask in German, “Hey, man, I’ve been watching you for some time now. Why do you do the things you do? I mean, it doesn’t make sense. You stand there and kick the air or talk with strangers? Why do you approach random groups of people to laugh at them?”
And that’s all I want to know, the underlying absurdity of his actions. A reason. A meaningful reason.
The Naked Man stares at me, his mouth breaking into a grin.
And he laughs. And laughs. And says nothing more.
Today I am practicing joy, allowed myself the grace and naivety of a child. I no longer want to feel self-conscious for child-like wonder; I seek to exorcise shame, to scrape clean my palette for awe where too long cynicism has calcified like plaque. Today I feel refreshed, the way characters in a Coca-Cola commercial appear. I am determined in the same way fictional athletes seem in inspiring sports films the morning of the big race or big fight or big race.
Recently, I have forgotten too simply the purpose of joy. Having allowed self-indulgent misery to conquer my mood, I have moped through my break, alone too often in the dingy dorm underground. For a week, I have been sequestered in my subterranean single room by torrential downpours. But today the rain stopped, and the sun peeked out its head. Emancipated from late May storms, I traveled with my mother and Oma across the state of Baden-Würtemburg to an ancient Danube-neighboring city. Ulm.
Standing under the neo-gothic spires and buttresses of the Ulm Munster, a sense of awe dawned. There exists perhaps a limit to one’s ability to experience wonder, and lately, I’ve felt as if I reached that limit. Small joys, luscious landscapes, and even stark coffee failed to inspired in my the unnamable intensity for which I craved. Instead, I have betrayed my curious adventurous nature in service of irrational fear. I have spent too many bright afternoons working, subsisting on cream cheese and jazz. I am afraid of something, though of what, I’m unsure.
So I must re-establish my purpose, an unknown direction, to experience each droplet of experience, to lick the dew of life from each blade of grass. Lately, I have been a man abandoned on an island housing the last block of ice, and I have watched the ice become a puddle.
But today I tasted joy. I balanced on the spine of the Ulm wall as we searched for food. The wall slithers beside the wide river, a twin artery, one red and the other a greenish-blue. The sun came out to massage our necks we stared across the Danube into Bayern. Swans soared above the water’s surface, wide wing flaps slapping the river. In that moment, I too recalled what it meant to feel wonder, to look upon something for the first time.
Moment arrive again and again when we must re-affirm our faith in the beauty of living. This is a religion with no holy book other than the days we inhale. We must be reminded often that life is worthy of our presence—our conscious presence—our sense of being in the now, now, now.
I do not wish to imply that I must be constantly astonished to escape doldrums, but rather that I search for meaning in the quiet moments. This may mean the boring-in-between, the train ride, the wait at the bus stop, the long afternoons eating and drinking, but, if we wish, we may reclaim these moments as grandiose. We may experience even the familiar as new. In the mind-frame of now, there exists no nostalgia for any time frame other than the present.
There is always time for joy, which stares refreshing like a sliver of ice on a sultry summer day. But joy is no feeling, like happiness; it is instead a practice, a habit that must each day be reinforced. So today I am practicing joy, even if I’m writing emails inside, even if I’m doing laundry, or even if I’m experiencing the myriad dull rituals of the day; I will look back to yesterday and recall wonder, and I must think, it’s that simple. It’s really that simple, to wait and appreciate, and know I will feel this awe again.
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:
Also, make sure to check out Chris’s music here: https://soundcloud.com/chris-pendergraft
And his art here: http://chrispendergraft.deviantart.com/
In 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.
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:
Met some great poets and reunited with old friends at last night’s show. We took a few photographs recently posted on the Facebook page. I personally left very satisfied with my performance, was glad to showcase a more mature performing style that’s evolved over the past year. Unfortunately, the camera had some glitches, but here’s the bit of video we did manage to retrieve, which shows two great performances of two poems that appear on “Perfect Nights.” And then there’s almost all of “Perfect Nights” as well.
Although I would have loved videos of other poems, this could not be. Perhaps this is a good opportunity to perform these again in the near future.
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.
Last night, I performed my first feature poetry show in front of a healthy crowd of friends, middle schoolers, and talented strangers. Following the 30-minute performance came an open mic and poetry slam. Two close friends will be featuring next time. Unfortunately, we got zero video from the performance last night, but here are some videos from the previous Wednesday at Boone’s Bar. As a bonus, I’ve included a video from back in 2012. ” More videos will be posted on the blog soon, and until then, one may find them on my Youtube channel.
Bonus video I found on Youtube of me performing poetry in the twelfth grade at a Graduation Party: