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Recently, a contributor sent us an email stating that he had lost his job because he had shared the story he wrote with a coworker, which led to a complaint and his termination due to a violation of his contracted code of conduct. While I’m not here to argue the semantics of a contract I haven’t seen, I do think, first and foremost, that this is certainly abhorrent in an age defined by alleged enlightenment and freethinking. It also raises some curious questions about censorship in the digital age.

The United States has had a bizarre history with censorship dating back to its inception. I’m sure Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, known deists, would be the first to advocate the necessity of a censor-free society. These iconic American minds were, however, not bogged down by strict Protestant dogma that would easily deter them from say the image of a naked woman. But as I am a Christian writer who delights in the perverse and the provocative, I cannot bring myself to rest these laurels entirely on the shoulders of faith. While I concede that the Abrahamic faiths are amongst the most influential powers of Western society, I wonder then how I am able to differentiate art from artist, or faith from faithless, American from Unamerican.

The thing is: Art is. As an act of creation, it can simply exist in a natural world. As such, it is impossible for a single piece of art to change the deep-standing morals given to us by faith or by law. There is a divinity to art, and I dare say, even in its most perverse. In 1987, there was an uproar when Andres Serrano photographed a crucifix submerged in his own urine. The technical merits of this art notwithstanding, it did ask us then, much as Janet Jackson’s nipple in 2004 or anything coming out of Miley Cyrus these days does now: Where does art cease being art? Where do we draw the line? Since art just is, it never ceases being once it has become. But it’s the latter question that holds the most weight: Where do WE draw the line?

Art is a two-way street, the point of conjecture between artist and audience. I kind of think of it as a revolving door with the audience on one side going into the artist’s world and the artist on the other going out to communicate with them. Art is the great communion of these people, but art is bound by movement. This communion cannot occur unless both artist and audience are moved. Therefore, art that doesn’t provoke movement, either emotionally, spiritually or whatever, is no more art than a blank canvas on a whitewashed wall. Sorry, Thomas Kincaid (unless the American pastoral somehow gets your juices flowing– in which case, more power to you). Going back to Serrano, his Piss Christ did exactly what art should do; it provoked, it stirred, it infuriated, it challenged. It was a moment where the audience could have stepped through that revolving door to meet the real Serrano, but instead chose to hang him for it.

There is, at the end of the day, a responsibility inherent to art. The artist of course is responsible for the medium through which he/she chooses to express himself/herself, but more importantly there is a responsibility on the part of the audience as well. The audience has the responsibility to respond to these provocations with the same care as the artist did to make them. Images of sexuality do no more to corrupt youth into having sex than all those crazy hormones they were born with do. And it’s here where the potential for issues arise. The audience has the right to absolve their responsibility, but not at the expense of destroying or restricting art or the artist.

Censorship is born out of this lacking responsibility, or, rather, the refusal of it. It is out of fear of understanding, a highly xenophobic guttural response to something they’re not interested in figuring out for themselves. And it is a slippery slope from banning nipples on the internet to burning books in Nuremburg. It’s at it’s worst when government or private organizations get involved. These organizations are, by their constructs, incapable of a realized morality that comes in conflict with the art or artist. Instead, what we get is an implied morality, which is the imposition of the morality of those in power, which is often accompanied with horrifying enforcement. Because this morality is implied, there is no way art can combat it when the two clash. Art is defeated by the very entity that so much art attempts to dissolve.

So what are we, as artists, supposed to do when faced with such debilitating odds? The only thing we can do: Art onward, outward, inward. We must continue to push the boundaries of expectation and censorship. We must challenge normality by delving into the abnormal, the perverse, all that stuff that is uncomfortable to discuss in mixed company or impolite to discuss at the dinner table. That’s not to say riddle the internet with fart jokes and vulgarity, but not shying away from it when the art calls for it. Saint Thomas Aquinas once said, “If thou must sin, sin boldly.” So don’t be afraid to create. Don’t be afraid to move or be moved. That’s all part of the process. If we concede to censorship, we allow the piece of humanity we are trying to uncover through art to be lost. It is essential to our existence to provoke and to be provoked. Anything short of that, I dare say, is incorrigibly inhuman, the antithesis of all that we are or may yet become. And to our friend and contributor, keep writing. Don’t let the narrow-minded Man keep you down. You did your job as an artist, and we, your loyal readers, would expect nothing less.

Not all those who wander are lost.    -J.R.R. Tolkien

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_MG_0787A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.     -Lao Tzu
Zion                    _MG_0853

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In every walk with Nature one receives far more than one seeks.      -John Muir

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For more of Eunice Beck and her work, please visit http://eunicebeck.com/

I’ve been traveling around China for five days now, seeing as much of the country as I can in the limited time I have. It’s not possible to understand a place as diverse and complex as this in five days, five years or five decades, but I’m doing my best trying to meet as many people as I can, when I find myself in the middle of Shanghai, in a kind of historical tourist attraction called Yu Gardens. There are all the kinds of things one might expect from this kind of cultural outreach to tourists from China and beyond. It’s a celebration of the ancient architecture of this country.

But there are only so many buildings I can stare at, no matter how beautiful and ancient they are. Soon my attention is captured by a toddler, running up and down the square in front of me. Someone has fitted him with shoes that squeak every time he takes a step. He’s become a kind of celebrity here, everyone waving at him and laughing at him. His grandmother is there too, and she picks him up and cajoles him to blow kisses to all of us who clap for him.

That’s when Sister Mary Fuckyou sits down next to me. I didn’t expect to see her here. She was my fifth grade teacher, and she’s been dead and burning for the last ten years. She’s shaking her head at this kid, making that little grunting noise she always made when she disapproved of our existences, which was often.

She turns to me and tells me what she used to say in class once or twice a week: “You know, if you were to line up all the Chinese people in the world, five abreast, and march them into the sea, they would never die. That’s how quickly they reproduce.” She pauses and takes a breath, building for the cosmic blow she’s been building toward. “There’s no way we could ever kill them fast enough, and every single one of them is an atheist.”

I stand up and mingle with the crowd clapping and calling to this child, this newest little atheist to prick the good nun’s ire. He’s gone into a high stepping dance that has everyone but her laughing. I try to get away from her, but she follows me. She pulls at my sleeve, and when I turn around, she says, “Pray for the conversion of the unbeliever, and if they do not convert, pray for their defeat. Whatever you do, pray.”

She told me that over thirty years ago, and she’s been telling me ever since, so here in Shanghai, among the believers and unbelievers, I say a prayer that only she and I and God can hear: “In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, if this woman ever gets her way and the world forces these atheists to march five abreast into the sea, this child high-stepping his way at the beginning of the pack, please God, let me be waiting for them in the surf, let me be the one to give them swimming lessons.”

The toddler of Yu Gardens dances on unaware that the sister or I were ever there.

And here’s a bio: John Brantingham is the Writer-in-Residence at the dA Center for Cultural Arts, and his work has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, and he has had hundreds of poems published in magazines in the United States and England and five books. His books include the short story collection, Let Us All Pray Now to Our Own Strange Gods and the crime novel Mann of War. His newest poetry collection The Green of Sunset is from Moon Tide Press. He teaches at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California and is the president of the non-profit, the San Gabriel Valley Literary Festival.
For more on John Brantingham, check out his blog at

Submissions to Rind Literary Magazine will be closed until further notice. We are currently undergoing some changes here at RLM that require our attention. We will continue to post updates here and on Facebook, and our regular publishing schedule should continue as usual. We appreciate your continued support and understanding, and we’ll be in touch with you shortly when submissions open again.

–The Rind Staff

Day 4

 

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            And that’s it. There are no second chances. I slept in on accident and got to work an hour late. Everyone had already left to their posts, and I was sent with the last group. It was the last day, and I was stationed at the entrance to the VIP lot. It was so far away, that I couldn’t even hear the music. The lights glowed in the distance and for the first time, it looked almost dim. I was Pluto, drifting to the outer reaches of orbit. You lose. And that’s it.

            Somewhere on those concert grounds, a group of friends were doing ecstasy, and they were all coming up together. Somewhere, a hot girl made out with a guy that she would have sex with later. In front of the stages, strobe lights flashed epileptically, and the roar of sound was so complete, it was like a solid, tangible object, that made everyone deaf.

            Out at the edge of the universe, the generator light hummed loudly like an outdated computer modem, before shutting down. Someone had to play with the power dial to get it to work again. The parking lot crews weren’t given any trash cans, so all the trash from water bottles and lunches had been gathered together in a general pile. The VIP lot was made up of dirt and dust, and when cars came through, they kicked up brown clouds in the sky that glided and disappeared into the night like smoke. At some point in the night, Tupac appeared on stage, risen from the dead. And somewhere in that space, so infinitely far and intangible was Mia, either bored or talking to some other guy, or doing a lot of other things I didn’t want to think about. You lose.

            Thoughts crossed my head, scenarios of what should have been, or what very well could have been. Going through memories is like watching a movie. There’s certain scenes you love, and some you don’t like so much. That you wish were different. The end of the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Whatever the hell was going on in the last Matrix movie. Crank 1 and 2. Your imagination tries to work against hard fact, and tries to paint a picture of what didn’t actually happen. What isn’t real. Fiction is always so much better to get lost in than reality. But you’ll never get there.

            You won’t. There’s no way to change the past. You lose. And that’s just it.

            A company called Golden Voice arrived on the scene. They were there to manage traffic. It was going to get really busy once the concert ended. I was posted in the “chute”. The “chute” was a space between two parallel lines of fence, where all the pedestrians would be walking. I needed to make sure they walked and stopped when I said, so no one would get hit by any cars leaving the VIP lot. No one was supposed to walk outside of the chute. Once things started however, a guy ran right passed all us security. It happened too fast for any of us to respond to, and within seconds he was too far gone to bother to catch up with.

            The crowds of people washed through the chute like water through a hose. Like kinking a hose, they stopped when I told them to. There was a member of Golden Voice who was wearing a green shirt and he had a loudspeaker in his hand. “Stay inside of the chute!” he said, but sometimes he started to laugh, realizing he sounded stupid repeating the same sentence over and over again. A couple girls stood in front of me, their dilated pupils making it obvious they were high on ecstasy. I decided to throw the guy with the green shirt under the bus.

            “This guy has no idea what he’s doing.” I told the girls. They laughed. Later a group of angry Latinos came by, yelling at me that they live across the street, so why the fuck can’t they cross the street? More people start to come to the intersection I was in control of, so I deferred them to the guy with the green shirt. They teamed up on him and shouted at him all at once. A guy on a bike saw this and asked

            “Why can’t we go outside of the chute? It’s a free country.” he said with a joking smile.

            “Not here” I replied.

            Eventually the crowds died out. All the cars left the lot. It was two-thirty in the morning, and everything was done. The shift however, didn’t end for another six and a half hours. For awhile my coworkers and I talked amongst each other. But there came a time when all conversation was dropped. Exhaustion took over. There were no chairs to sit on, so we tried to clear the rocks away for a space to sit on the dusty ground and we leaned against the fence for support. No one said anything. The concert was over and the silence was a vacuum. Well almost, because of the generator light. Which turned off again. Then silence. Like the end of the apocalypse.

            Another coworker and I ended up being reassigned to another post. We hopped on the supervisor’s golf cart and left that lonely place at the end of time, passing other lot gates where other security guards were posted. Everyone was the same. They sat in silent groups, like prisoners waiting to executed. We drove passed and left them in the darkness.

            After about an hour at this post, I decided I was done. I needed to drive back home to San Francisco in the morning, and I had no AC in my car. I needed to beat the desert heat. I told my supervisor that I had to leave. I got onto his golf cart and we drove off.  We passed the coworker I was reassigned with. He sat on a chair by a gate and he had a scarf pulled up to his nose. He wore glasses that were dark in the night. I waved goodbye. He made no movement as we drove away.

            After getting dropped off at the command HQ, I figured I might try to salvage at least something from all this. In the camping grounds we passed, there were still some concert goers around, drinking and listening to music. I felt I should try to crash one of these parties. I didn’t have my bag with me, but if I did, I’d have to hide my security jacket, because after all, there were still security guards out and posted. I walked past a few camp grounds with sleeping people, passed a few guards who I hoped didn’t notice me too well. In the distance I heard music. I tried to get closer, but there were horse stables and pens in the way, and it was dark and I figured a lot of this metal was rusted. I could imagine getting tetanus from getting just the wrong kind of scratch. I abandoned trying to get to the party.

            “Welcome! You made it!” said a girl in the command HQ. She waved at me and smiled. When I started to respond to her, she said “Welcome! You made it!” to the people coming in right behind me. She never stopped smiling, and I didn’t notice her blink.

            I clocked out for the last time. I was tired and hungry. Surprisingly the cafeteria food wasn’t bad. Maybe a 7.5/10. I went to my car and tried to sleep for a few hours, but I couldn’t. I left as the sun rose.

            The desert is a dream. Civilization is reality. Open space receded to buildings and highways under a light blue sky. The farther away I drove, the less real everything felt. Downtown Los Angeles. Six Flags. The Grapevine. At some point, I thought it was all real.

Day 3

            I heard once that what made Alcatraz such a horrible place to the prisoners, was that they were so close. The wind would pick up, and the prisoners could hear San Francisco. The cars honking, the fog horns blowing, and if they tried really really hard, they could maybe imagine hearing the girls laugh. But they couldn’t get there. So close. But they’d never get there.

            They gave me a chair that night. A chair is like an oasis in a desert to a security guard. Sure, people look at security guards and think “O look he’s sitting, what a lazy ass”. Before you get judgmental, try this: stand on your feet for thirteen hours, non-stop. Take away any human contact. Take away the sun’s light. Take away your sleep. Solitary confinement. As long as your sentence hasn’t expired, you’d damn well want a chair to sit on. We were all posted by ourselves, and all I had was a chair. So fuck it.

            I was posted in the parking lot that time. A little farther away from the concert, but I could still see the lights that floated in the sky, like a million white suns, the music loud and incoherent from the distance. Probably what the moon felt like orbiting the Earth. On the other side of me was a wall of darkness. The edge of reality. Nietzsche once said “stare into the void, and the void will stare into you.” That’s what being there was like. Experiencing something that was essentially nothing. The party continued and I sat outside. Just outside.

            I was directing cars out of the lot, and they were only allowed to go to the right. This was because it was a one way street. Whenever I wasn’t paying attention, a car would drive off to the left, and they were too far away for me to call them back. People walked passed and I was told they could not walk to the left, where the general concert was. People walked passed anyway. Later a guy ran up to me, and I thought he was going to ask a question. Instead he stood in front of me and stared. His eyes were dilated.

            “Are you rolling?” It was pretty obvious he was on ecstasy.

            “Yeah man, rolling pretty hard” He said. He ran off, about hundred feet away. He took deep breaths, as if hyperventilating. Then he took his pants off. Clearly he wasn’t just rolling. I turned my head for about thirty seconds. When I looked back he was gone. Later I told my boss what happened. He said “The fuck?” We walked over to where he was, and saw that he left his pants/shirt/underwear/shoes/socks/phone/wallet. “The fuck?” Then it was time for lunch.

            The food they supplied us like the past two nights was mediocre at best. I ate it only for sustenance, and knew that it would have me sitting on a dirty port-o-potty in a few hours. There wasn’t anything else. Luckily Mia was there. I made her smile/ laugh. I asked if after this was over for the night, if she’d want to come with me and smoke weed. She said yes. The lunch break ended, and even though I didn’t even know who was playing at the concert that night, I felt that at least I had salvaged something.

            Should we smoke in my car? I thought. The lot where I was parked might be obvious, but this was Coachella, and come the time our shift would end, there was too much going on for anyone to care. Or maybe I should bring her back to the resort I was staying at, and we’d wander the resort grounds, and I’d act like that yes, the room we got was mine. Even though that wasn’t true, what did it matter anyway? My friends would be gone at the concert for the day and we’d have the whole place to ourselves. If my confidence was up, we’d crash some pre game party and we’d take shots, and I wouldn’t even feel the burn. It’d work out like a fiction story.

 

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            It didn’t happen that way. That night I was grouped together with Mia, as well as two others from the OC branch. The OC branch finished work by four in the morning. I watched them leave without me. I should have got her number. I shouldn’t have assumed everything was so set. Motherfucker.

            My supervisors came to stand with me at my post. I felt like a prisoner flanked by guards. I watched the sun rise and the desert came to life. A girl was dropped off by a cab, and she wore short shorts and carried her heels and her purse in her arms. She was having trouble walking. She didn’t have a natural limp.

            Even though I didn’t get Mia’s number, I still had one day left. All I’d need to do was find her the next night. That’s all it would take. It wasn’t over yet. When I got to the resort, I heard about some female singer who crowd surfed, then someone started pulling her hair and a fight broke out. Not being there, it sounded as far away as a bombing in the Middle East. I went to sleep as the sun was warming the desert. I got the best sleep I had ever gotten that night.

 

 

 

 

Day 2

            “You dropped already, right?” I asked. He was a white guy with a ridiculous mustache that looked out of the 1800s. He was by himself and he had the biggest smile I’d ever seen. Not drunk. Not weed. Definitely not sober.

            “What?” he asked, pretending he didn’t know what I was talking about.

            “You dropped fifteen minutes ago before you walked over here, right?” I asked. He didn’t respond. I let him go. I really didn’t care if he was on anything or not. I couldn’t get into the festival, so what the fuck did anything matter anyway? So why didn’t I walk away? Because of money. Like a prostitute, maybe I didn’t really like doing what I did, but hey, at least I got paid.

            The festival was beating like a heart, pumping noise and light into the air. The light created a separate world all it’s own. As if the rest of the world had vanished, and all that existed was the festival. Nothing else mattered. I could hear the music, but I couldn’t make out exactly who was playing. I couldn’t see anything. Because I wasn’t there. I was in the campgrounds, at the entrance to the concert. Just outside.

            Before I searched people, I’d tell them things like “Remember, don’t chew ecstasy pills, cause they’re bitter” or “don’t take a full eighth of shrooms by yourself, because you won’t have a fun time”. Everyone was there to have a fun time. A gay guy walked into the search area, and while he was getting patted down at the security checkpoint, he look at his friend and smiled. It made every male security guard there feel uncomfortable.

            By midnight the concert was ending. People stopped partying in the festival grounds, and were leaving to go party in the camp grounds or the hotels they were staying at. I was posted at a street, directing a perpetual stream of people to walk to the right. Where was parking lot C? To the right. The medic? To the right. Where were we supposed to be going? To the right. I didn’t know what was actually to the right, but there were so many people that it didn’t matter. A horse mounted officer helped impose authority and direct the crowds in the direction they were supposed to go. The horse had shit on the ground. I shone my flashlight, yelling “Watch out for the horse shit!” One guy didn’t hear me and stepped right into it. There was a collective “AWWW” in the crowd by all of us who witnessed it.

            It was the first night of the festival, and energy was buzzing everywhere. No one however was coming through the entrance gate where I was stationed. Essentially, we had six hours of doing literally nothing. I took a fifteen minute break and found another security guard who was posted at a tent. She was from the Orange county and she was really cute. Before I could get farther I was called away so I could stand at my post to do nothing instead.

            Everyone was bored and tired as the night wore on. There was simply nothing for us security guards to secure. The partiers who were still awake were finally blacking out and falling to the ground. Things were getting quite. But not everyone. There was a small area where a bunch of ravers danced to dubstep, all fucked up on ecstasy/acid/alcohol. But there were only eight of them, and seeing them dance individually looked pathetic. In a crowd, it’s just motion, and people are forgotten. Individually, you can see the flailing limbs, the greasy hair and uncoordinated movements, and you wonder, how do they not fall? They never do though. Two years before I did the same thing. All in the name of being young and having fun.

            It was so late at night that it was actually early in the morning, and everyone was tired and were falling asleep. To counteract this, my supervisor got us in groups and had us patrol the camp grounds, really to make sure we would stay awake. We walked out of our assigned area and into another campground. There were giant banners, all in decreasing numerical order, listing all the older Coachella festivals. I looked at the banner for 2010, the year I had went. The Gorillaz were on the banner, and I remember the night I saw them. They were the last headliner of the festival, and all the other stages had shut off. Everyone had gathered at the stage like water rushing into the hull of a sinking ship. We saw the Gorillaz as they really were, not as the cartoons we had all seen on TV. I was fucked up, and everyone else was fucked up and it was like the pleasant ending to a summer blockbuster movie. That’s what Coachella was. A dreamland in a desert. And I was there again. But it wasn’t a dream. Just a desert.

            I was from the northern California branch of my company, and most of my coworkers were older than me. The southern California branches however had younger people, people my age. I passed the time I could talking with a coworker of mine named Mia, also from Orange county. She was about my age, which made it feel like I was in college again. In college, I had always made it a point to get to know at least one girl in every one of my classes. It made me feel less alone. Gave a point to actually going to class. I had gone to a university in southern California, and being around the So Cal workers, I felt like one of them. But I wasn’t one of them.

            There was a gate that no one was passing by. The guard there asked me and another to take his spot for him, so he could go on a fifteen minute break. We took the post. An hour passed. Then two.

            “Where is that guy?” my coworker asked.

            “He’s not coming back.” I said. After we took his post, I had seen him talking with Mia. He was talking to her for awhile. And I was stuck at his post, watching him.

            By the time the sun had come up, none of us were talking. We all stared at the ground, like a football team that had clearly lost by the end of the first quarter. When the van came to pick us up, it was as if we woke up from a trance or had just taken the first breath of air after holding one’s breath. Relief.

            But it was only temporary. There were still two more days. When I got back to the resort, it wasn’t even noon and people were cracking open their first Bud lights for the day. In two days I had slept about four hours.

 

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