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

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

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

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


Guest Blog: Tolerance (Or Lack of) On Social Media (Part 1)

{The following post was authored by Aiken High School’s valedictorian and my good friend Will Victor. He will attending Duke University next year to study Math and Computer Science. He is a juggling enthusiast, teenage philosopher, and all-around good guy. This post reflects his views on several recent topics, but mostly of the recent backlash of the topics.}

When I sign on to my Facebook, I feel as if I have stepped in to a time machine. The room rumbles, and the walls crumble. My computer disappears, and I am standing in a place I wish I would never be—“no man’s land.” Yes, I’m standing in that horrible land of barbed wire and detonated mines situated directly between the trenches of opposing armies in the onslaught of the great World Wars of the Twentieth century.

Above me fly missiles of menacing memes, and to my left fiery flowcharts flash facts as if to say, “Back-off! I’m right—you’re wrong!” I begin to ask myself, “Why am I here? All I wanted was a bit of compromise…”

I feel that this has become the territory of the modern moderate. While the left and the right retreat farther into their respective war trenches, secretly developing new weapons of cyber assertion (such as memes, flowcharts, and videos), the middle of the road becomes ever more a place of “no man’s land.”

The territory of compromise and peaceful discourse that is located exactly halfway between the right and the left has turned into a burning, exploding warzone filled with barbed-wire extremism.

Over the past six months, my Facebook mini-feed has changed drastically. What used to be stories of my friends’ families home for Christmas has been replaced by bands of liberals berating Chick-fil-a for its stance on gay marriage, and conversely, millions of requests from conservatives pestering me to “go to Chick-fil-a on August 1st to support a godly business.”

Indeed, I feel that almost every post on my Facebook has to do with someone arguing that he or she is right, and that the other group of people is certifiably insane for thinking otherwise. If one is opposed to gay marriage, then he or she is a bigotrous homophobe, and if one supports gay marriage, then he or she is a moral relativist heathen.

The thing that I find interesting in the whole situation is that no one uses facebook to actually change their views on an issue. No one compromises. No one humbles themselves. In fact, I would argue that on the overwhelming whole, the information that is shared through social media is so biased that most of it just polarizes people even further. The trenches keep getting deeper, the left moves farther left, the right farther right, and the abyss which separates the two gets so clouded with smoke from exploded word bombs that those of us who are left in the middle can’t see far enough to decide which side is winning.

{For part 2, tune in tomorrow and in the mean time, share your thoughts below.}

Sample: Anti-Chik-fil-A ad



Is It a Sin to Be a Christian in America?

Warning: Author expresses his actual opinion without succumbing to popular beliefs. Be forewarned if you disagree. And here’s the great part: if you disagree with me, you can do that and I won’t hold it against you. It’s your right as an American.

America was founded on great principles, the freedom to believe whatever you wish and act on those beliefs without government officials knocking down your door and shooting you in the head. We have an idea in this country that if you believe in something, you should be allowed to believe it, no matter if other people do not. For the past two hundred years, however, the major religion in America has been Christianity. And interestingly enough, it still is statically so. We, however, have perpetuated a weird illusion that to believe in something that popular and well-known is to “be ignorant,” to be a simpleton. Why, then, if the majority of Americans profess themselves to be Christians, is Christianity attacked so often?

Let’s get down to brass tacks. As a group, we Christians haven’t exactly been the most accepting sort of people. In the past, The Church has prosecuted non-Christians, but those who did do not represent the whole of the Christian nation.

For the most part, presidents have been predominately Protestant which keeps politics mostly in line with the Christian doctrine. In fact, because of the Christian majority, many laws have been made that somewhat delude the rights of other religions. Before reading on, understand that I understand that. I totally get that the establishment of “The Church” has done some really despicable things throughout history, and because most people do not differentiate between “The Church” and the body of Christ, this makes Christians look pretty bad.

It seems now the tables have turned and it is Christians who are being persecuted for their beliefs. Before you stab me with pitchforks and burn me with torches screaming “There’s no real WAR on Christianity,” think again. The truth is, those in power have a very difficult time coinciding their personal beliefs with their jobs. Think about this. You have very strong views on something, let’s say… anything, but you also have an obligation to listen to the will of the people. Which means putting aside your personal beliefs to kowtow to the wants of the people who put you in power. You are their figurehead, after all, right?

This moral dilemma of doing what one personally feels is right and what others believe is right has caused serious schisms in the political world. And as long as we’re being completely honest, there are really only two groups taking part in this argument: Christians and non-Christians. Those who are Christians say that what they’re doing is exactly what America wants, but those of other religions and those who do not proscribe to any religious beliefs claim that Christian lawmakers force their own beliefs onto the people through public policy. And for the sake of argument’s sake, both groups are actually kind of right.

But now more than ever, in today’s society, it is especially unpopular to be a Christian. Why? Well, it is extremely popular to claim Christianity, to say “Jesus is my homie” and that “God is love.” That’s all fine and dandy as putting a Bible verse bumper sticker on your hybrid car, but saying something isn’t the same as doing something. So, what’s so hard about being a Christian that it causes consternation? Again, being perfectly honest, it’s extremely difficult. When you want to express your opinion as a Christian, which so happens to be what the Bible says, you get labeled as “brain-washed,” a conformist who doesn’t bother to rely on facts. Someone who accepts what he is told.

There is this stigma of Christians as bleating sheep, repeating the same things to each other. But that stereotype simply isn’t true. Just because someone is a Christian  doesn’t make them unenlightened. Forget for the fact I too am a Christian and think of this: if I said that yes, cells are the building blocks of biology, you would not question me. And some people know that as absolute fact who, unlike me, have never studied cells, who have never looked at micro-organisms under a microscope. To believe this, then, takes faith, yes? Some people simply read this in a book and call it fact. So, why are Christians the only seen as the ones believing things they read in books?

Another question we should ask ourselves is this: should we base our political beliefs on our religion? One of my not-really-friends on Facebook once said, “I don’t understand why everyone has to have certain political beliefs just because they have certain religious beliefs.” My response to this is, Huh?! What someone believes about life and about the afterlife, understand, are not at all mutually exclusive. You can’t say, yes, I believe everything the Bible says, but when it comes to politics, I have my own set of beliefs. And the obvious problem everyone will point out is that we’re aligning ourselves with the exact principles of a religion. Which makes us in the eyes of society close-minded. And what ever happened, you say, to the American spirit? So what if your holy book calls a person wrong? They’re entitled live the way they want, right?

Of course they are! But because of that doesn’t negate the fact that Christians too are allowed to hold and voice their own beliefs. I am not trying to say either that people legally restrict Christians from expressing Christian beliefs, only that media construes these beliefs as “bigoted” or “narrow-minded.” When the real truth is that when it comes to beliefs about the afterlife, God, and morality, we are ALL close-minded. That’s right. We HAVE to be, or else we’re left believing nothing. Sure, we’re not going to deny someone a job because of their religion, but that doesn’t mean we’ll agree with them on theocratic doctrine solely because we’re accepting people. No, because no matter what you believe, you BELIEVE that. And by believing that, you are– however unawares you are of it– calling everyone else essentially wrong.

Believe in God? Well, that means that you believe people that do not believe in God are simply wrong. There’s nothing wrong with that. And if you don’t believe in God, that only means you believe those who do believe in God are wrong. And this is a simple example, but everyone facet of life we base on our beliefs: what the purpose of our life is, where we go after we die, who rules the universe, and so on and so on. Only those without any conviction at all are truly “open-minded,” and is that even a good thing? To believe in nothing, flip-flopping, changing opinions based on who we talk to?

Yes, we need to keep open minds. We need to allow others to change us, but that’s a fine line to cross, a difficult trapeze walk. You’ve got to allow yourself room to change for the better without compromising what you know to be true. So, many of you will disagree with me on this and on many other things. If that’s what you believe, that’s fine. If you gain pleasure from shooting down other people for your own amusement, what does that make you?

So, why is that? Why do we claim to be a free country where no one should be condemned for anything, yet Christians are condemned for stating what they believe? The Church is viewed through a skewed lens where it is no longer accepted to act morally. We spend so much time in America defending the rights of those who wish to act immoral that we stomp all over those who want to do any good. Tom DeLay mentioned in an interview by NBC that Christianity is treated as “some second-rate superstition.”

When we approach political debates, like legalization of abortion of gay marriage, and Christians side with what the Bible tells them, people deride them for not being progressive enough. But being progressive for the sake of it means nothing. If people didn’t stick by what they believed, there would be no point in voting on laws in the first place. And it’s not just Christianity, honestly. Almost any religion is seen as a fallback for a belief system when those who believe see it as the truest of belief systems.

Okay, so let’s crack this shell open slightly further. Why, then, does it seem that Christians always side with right-wingers? I have for one hold no political affiliations, and I think one of our problems as a country is that too many belief rely on supporting a party rather than deciding on candidates based on what they personally believe. Because right-wing candidates use religion as a crutch, as if to say, “Hey, I’m a Christian too, so if you’re Christian you should vote for me,” we have an overwhelming amount of Christians voting in the right wing. It makes sense as these politicians have more conservative views. What we fail to realize, however, is that these same self-proclaimed Christian candidates take our votes for granted, then turn around to use their power to make things worse, not better. And if this is an OMG moment for you that, yes, Republican politicians do some very crummy things, then take a big look around.

Christianity has taken a beating in the past decade or so. On television, we’re depicted as Hell-raising fanatics coming from a bloody history. Any Christian character on any Primetime show is there only to show how bigoted Christians are, how hypocritical we are. And because we sin too (of course), we can never really escape that image. We can’t always act exactly how we preach, so when we do preach, it comes across as condescending, even pretentious, a “I know the truth and you don’t” vibe. When really, it should be a “I want to share the truth because I love you” vibe.

Think about this. Around Christmas time, you see a lot of complaints that Christmas displays are too religious. We as a country prefer the secular Santa Claus and his reindeer. But what many people fail to realize is that Christmas is a Christian holiday. We commercialize this holiday to remove the religious aspects from them, pumping it full of sugar and fluff. Why? We hardly ever take other religious holidays and begin making it a secular tradition. The idea of gift-giving and Santa Claus basically override the original meaning of Christmas SO much, that those not celebrating religiously complain about too many religious affiliations with Christmas, even changing its name to X-mas. If you celebrate Christmas for no actual reason, why are you complaining? The entire holiday has been turned-upside-down. This is one more specific example of how Christians are attacked. We have a holiday and are attacked for actually celebrating its true meaning.

If you’re not a Christian, remember to keep an open mind to us as we do to you, and even if you ultimately disagree, don’t hate on what we believe and we will not hate on you for what you believe. As Christians, if you hate others because they don’t believe what you believe, you’re sending a really bad message to the world about us. We’re supposed to be accepting and loving, so think twice before you condemn another to Hell for not agreeing with you.

Again, don’t complain about this being biased. It’s biased because I have something called an Opinion which I’m not at all afraid to voice. Share your thoughts below, but keep it clean.

The Fall of Man

Man was once simple.

He stood in simple nakedness

with his simple, limp urinary tract extension

hanging between his simple legs

with a halo of wild hair

no one told him to shave, wax, or pluck.


He understood himself

even if not in a biological way.

But he understood that when his stomach hallowed

he could eat and feel better.

When his stomach felt ready to burst,

he could squat wherever he pleased

to expel his inner demons.


He understood the world too,

that he was the king of animals.

Even lions bent to his will

for Man had given them names.

When his body could no longer move,

he closed his eyes to return to Heaven.

When he woke alone in the Garden,

none of his stuff had been moved.

His pile of rocks stood as rocks.

His fig leaf collection remained scattered still.


Sometimes, Man even bathed

because the water felt good

on his body, but no one form him to.

It made his beard a sponge,

his beard no one ever asked to shave, wax, or pluck.

The Man, he was happy.


On the next day, God created Eve.


My Answers To Your Impossible-To-Answer Philosophical Questions

All I know is that when a tree in a forest falls

On top of me,

I will probably hear it.


I know that in cartoons,

angels use clouds as pillows.

I know they’re wet, full of rain,

and no, I don’t know why angels

would find that comfortable.

Maybe it’s because they don’t own real bodies.


No, I don’t really know where prayers go.

I guess God operates some sort of fax machine

or maybe he listens really hard.

He must have very large ears.

My guess is that when angels aren’t snoozing

on their fluffy, cold pillows

they’re riding horses on them

like a divine Pony Express.


All I know about Roanoake

is that all the people disappeared.

Sometimes, that’s all you ever get to know

about people. Even those close to you.

That they disappear.

Football, Too, Is a Religion

We attend football games religiously.

7 o’clock Friday, the field is illuminated in white. We stand in a pit of sweat and grunge, carrying flags like small spears into battle. Dressed in uniform green, we are antsy. Already the strips of menacing paint beneath our eyes is peeling off. The band lines up in two separate columns on either side of the goalpost. Tensing our bodies, we press up against the back of the pack of football players. Music begins, builds- with this crescendo we tumble through a banner. Stumbling across the pristine green field, squinting up at the giant white lights. Football season has begun.

Truth is, I had no idea it was called a goalpost until I just googled it:  I was prepared to call it “that white thingie with two white arms.” As far as I can tell, anyone could be winning at any moment. My knowledge of football is limited. Sometimes, I’ll watch the opposing team score a touchdown and begin dancing, only to remember seconds later that I should be sulking.

Us getting touchdown:  good.

Them getting touchdown:  bad.

Watching high school football, I suppose you have to remember these things. Not that football isn’t terribly exciting- I just don’t know much about the logistics. Or the rules.

That doesn’t stop me, though, from getting caught up in the excitement. Just what about a football game excites us? Makes us leap up in the precarious bleachers, rocking back and forth. We’re a mob of filth, sweat, and war paint. There is no science to spirit- you just have it. Must have it. Breath it. Because, if you’re not exhilarated by your team, then what do you stand for? This is a crash course in loyalty, and you show yours by painting your face two different colors, wearing a sparkling golden toga, and chanting at the highest volume.

We sing psalms of praise toward the football gods, raising our arms in innate worship. Football, if you do not know, becomes an intensely spiritual experience. Like at an old Protestant revival, we stomp our feet and raise our arms and dance in tight circles. We howl into the night sky, bodies wiggling, faces convulsing.

Football season has begun.

Of course, football could its very own religion. Texts written on it read longer than the Bible and Torah put together. Every Friday is our night of worship, and we spill into the stands hungry to worship. What if we put this much energy into God, though? What if we approached God’s love like we do football? We fall down in reverence and chant his name? We fist pump?

We could approach so many things this way:  especially things we don’t understand. You don’t need to fully understand football to get caught up in the ecstasy of the moment. And I’m not condemning football here. Football may be the only sport that pumps me so full of testosterone, I want to transform into the Hulk.

But with so much energy devoted to football, what else can we devote our energy to?