All posts filed under: featured stories

“The Dream of the Earth” by Thomas Berry

When the Catholic priest Thomas Berry died in 2009, obituaries were not sure what to call him. “Cultural historian” was the preferred title. “Theologian” didn’t quite encompass his work, and he had preferred the term “geologian” instead. Born in Greensboro in 1914, Berry studied Asian languages and religions, Native American culture, founded the graduate program on religions at Fordham University, among other studies and work throughout his life — all in the search of a spirituality that combines religion and nature. In “The Great Work,” Berry wrote about his profound spiritual experience at a meadow when he was 11 years old. The experience was the basis for his spiritual development and intellectual thought for the rest of his life. “Whatever preserves and enhances this meadow in the natural cycles of its transformations is good, what is opposed to this meadow or negates it is not good,” he wrote. Berry’s writing is soft yet powerful. It flows, and is difficult to quote and pull from. You end up reading the whole book but not being able …

Led Zeppelin in August

A few years ago, I found I liked listening to Led Zeppelin in August. Today, I caught this feeling of listening to Led Zeppelin again as I drove around in the late afternoon after work. North Carolina’s August. That time when it’s like summer can’t take any more of itself. The active, joyful months of June and July are done, and the heat and humidity builds while the sunlight starts to slant. There is a feeling of falling and growing darkness. And rot and decay. For me, the work of summer is often not done by August, but I don’t have the natural impetus for it anymore. But from the best years that I remember, I wonder if August is when the beauty of summer, if you have risen up to it and worked for it, rewards you. Listening to Led Zeppelin’s lyricism in the heat of August is amazing. But that’s not really fair to a band, is it? Who says that a band can only be listened to during one month out of …

Artist profile: Ginna Earl and her creative journey after Vespertine

Ginna Earl greets me at her house in Sanford, some miles south of Pittsboro. It’s dusk, the sun sets behind the house, giving it a nice glow, and Earl comes out gently, to welcome me on the winding path that leads to her front door. Inside, a picture of Oscar Wilde hangs by the door, a painting in the Art Nouveau style hangs across the way, and then you see paintings by her mom, artworks she found on Etsy over the years, and many other patterns, colors, fabrics, plants, and all the tools and equipment of an artist. On her dining table is a book she’s reading: “Waterlog,” about the adventures of a man who swims throughout the British Isles. It’s fitting that an interview with Earl occurs in the early hours of the evening. “Vespertine” means exactly that – flourishing in the evening, like a star. Sitting down at her dining table, Earl talks about what led to the closing of Vespertine, the store in Carrboro that she owned and operated 2011 to 2017, …

Let’s eat! “A Bite of China”

There are moments in “A Bite of China” that stay with you long after you watch the show. A mother and daughter walking together at dawn, digging for mushrooms in the mountains of Yunnan. They easily push their sticks in the dirt to gently push up a priced mushroom that sells for thousands in city restaurants. Inside a ger in Inner Mongolia, in the early hours, a woman dips a ladle in milk to make breakfast for the family. The man will herd their sheep on the grassy plain. Fermented tofu nuggets are laid out on baskets on a balcony before they are hauled out to a busy city sidewalk and sold. The most simple yet amazing street food. More than technique and skill, “A Bite of China” is about taste and heritage, habit, livelihoods, the knowledge and skill that comes from working with food all your life, as well as the pride and appreciation of people working in food, really getting their hands in, and knowing the natural, subtle chemistry of food. The show …

History in a time of change: Standing in Pauli Murray’s “Proud Shoes”

There’s a moment in Pauli Murray’s book about her family, “Proud Shoes,” where she expresses shock at learning as she dug through genealogical records that one of her great-grandfathers, Thomas Fitzgerald, had indeed once been a slave. Fitzgerald lived most of his life as a free man, but his past had been carefully concealed from his descendants, it seemed, out of shame. At learning this, Murray wrote: “I would always be in rebellion… until people no longer needed legends about their ancestors to give them distinctiveness and self-respect.” Murray’s stories still provide ample material for the debates of our time on race, heritage and identity. Gone are the old iron-clad divisions when it comes to race. But the old battlegrounds have been scattered via pop culture to a larger world, resulting in new fights and possibly, new walls. For instance, if you have a black father and a white mother, are you black or are you white? That is apparently still a much-debated question. When Paris Jackson, daughter of pop icon Michael Jackson, said she …

Lessons from the life and work of Iris Chang

Iris Chang’s life was many things to me. Even before I read her books, she was this wonderful figure among Asian-Americans. I remember seeing her face on the cover of Reader’s Digest in the Nineties and knowing and being proud of this rare instance of an Asian face being so prominent, and respected. I remember the excerpt of her book, “The Rape of Nanking,” in Newsweek and how much weight that carried. I also remember the feeling when news broke of her committing suicide in 2004, when she was just 36 years old: Horror. It felt like there was a dark void in what happened. What was it that drove her to suicide? That question has been probed many times in articles and books written by those close to her. This essay is not going to delve into that, but will be a reflection on the lessons that Chang’s life and work still carry for our time. Chang’s books and her experiences have been on my mind these past few years for many reasons. First, …

Creative Durham series: Swimming in imagination

The imaginary world of Daphne Yap is a head-spinning swirl of creatures, geniuses and goddesses. Yap, an artist in the Golden Belt campus, has filled her studio with portraits of fantastical creatures of dynamic movement and intense meaning, peppered with moments of complete goofiness. One creation that has combined the two are her many, many drawings of jellyfish. Why jellyfish? “Well, I got these Gelly Roll pens and what glows in the dark? Jellyfish!” the 34-year-old artist exclaimed. Although Yap’s work often hints at a dark imagination, in person, she is cheerful, almost exuberant, and punctuates her speech with animated expressions that are much like the characters she used to draw as a concept artist for Hollywood. Yap, born in the U.S. to Chinese and Malaysian parents, grew up in San Jose, Calif., and studied toy design before working in the world of science fiction and fantasy blockbuster movies as a concept artist. From 2006 to 2012, she drew characters, costumes and sets for movies such as “Avatar,” “Thor,” “Alice in Wonderland” and J.J. Abrams’ …