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Skyler Aikerson

Skyler Aikerson has 6 articles published.

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Skyler Aikerson is a Psychology major and Professional Writing minor. She has written for Phluff, and worked as a poetry editor for Horizons, Waubonsee Community College’s literary journal, and as a senior editor for Verge, Goucher College’s journal of undergraduate writing.

Intersectionality through Cuisine: An Evening with Michael Twitty

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Michael Twitty. Photo Credit: Ryan Smith

The Hyman Forum is filled with the smell of chili powder and cumin. A small group of Goucher students on stage chop lemons and use a food processor to blend and churn ingredients into a delicious, gluten-free, Passover-ready dish: black eyed pea hummus. The audience is relaxed, jovial, and hanging on to every word of food writer and chef Michael Twitty, who sits in the center of the stage. Donned in a teal, Star of David covered African print top, he answers questions and instructs the students as part of a presentation on what he calls “Kosher/Soul.”

“Kosher/Soul” is not solely the title of his forthcoming book, out this December. It is also what Twitty describes on his blog, Afroculinaria, as “melding the histories, tastes, flavors, and Diasporic wisdom of being Black and being Jewish.”

Intersecting identities served as Twitty’s focal point during his talk, since identity, he said, is connected with food. According to Twitty, “[f]ood is a source of power and definition.”   

As a gay Jewish man who is black, Twitty has dealt with his share of identity gatekeepers. During his talk, he described a situation where a publisher would not publish his book The Cooking Gene because they wanted him to highlight his Black identity while downplaying his Jewish identity, saying that this would make him more palatable for a large audience.

“We don’t need gatekeepers to tell us…that we exist. You just need to assert your existence and not let someone else define it,” he said as audience members snapped their fingers in agreement.

Those gatekeepers were in the audience at last year’s James Beard Awards when Twitty won not one, but two awards for his book.

His interest in the power of food began as he began to explore histories, whether they were his own or those of his 7th grade Hebrew school students. Through DNA tests, he was able to reconnect with his African roots, and as a 7th grade Hebrew school teacher, he guided students while they discovered their own roots and family history. According to Twitty, these histories and identities are “express[ed] through how we eat,” and can tell people more about their own histories.

“[Food] is a way to teach people about who we are, where we come from, what we have in common, [and] what we need to resolve,” he explained.  

As Nicole J. Johnson, Assistant Dean of Students for Race, Equity, and Identity, said as she introduced Twitty, being Black and Jewish may seem like “a combination that many folks can’t wrap their heads around.” However, for Twitty, they are directly related, not only because he and many others hold both of those identities, but because of the similar and shared aspects of their histories. He referenced the painting “The King’s Fountain,” which depicts African and Jewish people living side by side in 16th-century Lisbon, interacting with each other daily, and undoubtedly eating each other’s food.

“We’ve been around for a really long time,” he said.

Ironically, the event (which took place on April 17, after being rescheduled from an earlier date in February because of inclement weather) took place days before Passover, Twitty’s favorite holiday. As he named foods that he makes during the holiday, the audience let out a series of “mmm”s. It wasn’t hard to see why; it’s hard to resist treats like matzo dough fried chicken, sweet matzo brei with peaches, and brisket with bell pepper, tomato, ginger, and spices.

With all that talk about food, it only seemed fair that Twitty would let the audience taste one of his favorite recipes: a filling and healthy black eyed pea hummus. The dish, he said, was symbolic; within the Jewish tradition, the black eyed pea symbolizes more good deeds, which will in turn bring more blessings, and in the African-American tradition, it is associated with good luck and change. The dish was also political, he said. On his blog, he says that food is inherently political, as “[i]t is a proving ground for racial reconciliation and healing and dialogue.”

At first, Twitty asked for four volunteers from the audience to help him mix together lemons, various herbs and spices, garlic (his favorite part of the recipe), hot sauce, and two cans of black eyed peas. As time went on, more and more audience members floated on and off the stage, helping slice, mix, and taste the hummus.

And how many Goucher community members does it take to start a food processor? Apparently, quite a few. After several minutes of food processor technical difficulties, Twitty decided to improvise, instructing students to blend ingredients by hand. Luckily, Twitty said the simple recipe was “very forgiving” (a staff member was eventually able to start the food processor; “a Passover miracle,” according to one student on stage).

It was also well worth the wait. Students and staff members passed around samples of the hummus when it was finished. It was slightly chunky and perfectly seasoned, served with carrots and pita chips, and absolutely perfect for any occasion.

“I feel very comfortable here,” Twitty said towards the end of his lecture, and it was obvious throughout. He reciprocated the energy he was getting from the audience, making eye contact with those who were nodding along and speaking directly and excitedly to those who shared his experiences. He connected with everyone in audience, pulling them in with effortless humor, easy vulnerability, and of course, delicious descriptions of his favorite foods.

And if the black eyed pea hummus was any indication, those foods may become others’ favorites, too.

Gentle Horoscopes

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Photo Source: OliveandCoStudios on Pinterest

Taurus

Happy birthday, Taurus! My gift to you? Permission to leap out of your comfort zone. If anyone knows how secure it feels to have a routine, it’s you. But remember, being uncomfortable doesn’t mean you’re unsafe. Don’t be scared if you feel like you’re falling at first; you will soar.

Gemini

You have so many ideas and wishes right now that it may be hard to keep up. The dizziness is natural (and you’re used to it), but keep your sights on what really matters — you know exactly what you want and need.

Cancer

All those big, unanswered questions you’re asking have been weighing heavier than usual. Last month’s Mercury retrograde definitely didn’t help in your search for clarity. Take solace in that fact that many of those questions will be answered (some very soon!). Keep working to let go of the ones that will never be.

Leo

All of your current efforts may feel like dead ends right now, and maybe they have for a little while now. Take this season to pause, reassess, and remember how spectacular you are (despite everything that’s telling you otherwise). You won’t be stuck much longer.

Virgo

Sometimes it’s easier to run and hide from your truth. This is especially tempting now with Mars in Gemini making life feel busier than usual for you. Remember, there’s healing in honesty.

Libra

Don’t shy away from or feel guilty about the confidence you’ve been feeling lately. Instead, revel in it. Cultivate it. It’s yours. Celebrate who you are.

Scorpio

There’s so much power in the company of those you love, both for them and for you. Harness the intensity of your motivation to work towards your goals and dreams, but remember to nurture yourself by being around others, too.

Sagittarius

Remember that only you can define yourself. Keep working to (re)create yourself, despite anyone who tries to put you into a box they feel like you should fit in. Find strength in the person you’re working on becoming.

Capricorn

Don’t spend your time trying to disappear; it won’t give you the comfort you’ve been looking for. Instead, be present and show up for yourself and for others. By the way, Venus just entered Aries. Call (or text; it is 2019, after all) the person you’ve been missing.

Aquarius

Life since January has been bursting with new experiences, some of which have ignited radical changes in your inner world. Now, those fireworks that have been exploding in your life are finally starting to slow and fade. Keep processing, keep healing.

Pisces

Aries season was full of revelations for you, and of course, plenty of reactions and feelings to go with them. Even if understanding it all has been difficult, everything will become clearer with the steadiness of Taurus season.

Aries

Whether you felt powerful or pained during your season, you’re in luck — a gentle and positive energy is coming your way. Share that beauty with others! Expect life to soften over the next few weeks.

Picture Source: @NerdvolKurisu on Twitter

Musings: Three Weeks in Spain

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Calle San Fransisco. Photo Credit: Skyler Aikerson

The train glides away from the stop at Plaza Mar 2. In seconds, I see Castillo de Santa Bárbara above me, the Mediterranean Sea stretched out in all its sparkling glory below. I feel myself getting overwhelmed and choked up. I know this sense of being overwhelmed comes from both the sadness that I am leaving Alicante, Spain tomorrow, and the great sense of happiness that I had this study abroad experience.

For about thirty seconds, Castillo de Santa Bárbara moves from the right side of the train window to the left. I think about my first day in the city, when the sight of the castle was unfamiliar but still just as glorious. It was my first experience traveling abroad, and the day before had been a traveler’s nightmare, with my connecting flight taking off just minutes after I’d arrived to the gate. An unexpected visit to Heathrow Airport and a train ride from Madrid later, I was in a taxi to my host mom’s house at 9:30 p.m. I was jet lagged and upset that the airline had lost my luggage. My host mom, however, brightened my mood with dinner –– which included my first Spanish omelet.

The next morning I woke up early, a busy day of touring the city ahead of me. I met my class at Plaza Luceros, which served as the primary meeting place throughout this three-week Intensive Course Abroad. We rode on a bus past the sea, then up a steep mountain where we reached Castillo de Santa Bárbara. At the very top we could see the whole city, its low buildings glowing and other mountains in the distance. After leaving, we walked down the mountain through a picturesque neighborhood of brightly colored homes with tiled door frames. I was quickly enveloped in a sense of awe at this city I’d only been in for 12 hours.

This sense of awe kept coming back to me during my time in Alicante. Whether I was walking down the quirky and fun Calle San Francisco with its hopscotch painted streets and fun mushroom sculptures (some of which you can go inside; it was a great place for selfies), or when I visited Playa del Postiguet, a nearby beach, and watched the sunset with my friends, this awe was ever present. It came back when I ate at the many different restaurants, cafes, and heladerias – I had some of the best food of my life there (I’m tasting my host mom’s paella as I type this…mmm).

Villajoyosa. Photo Credit: Skyler Aikerson

Excursions to places like the MARQ (an architectural museum), the Valor chocolate factory in Villajoyosa, and La Alhambra in Granada were both educational and fun (and the visit to the chocolate factory was delicious). Whether I was in Alicante or somewhere else in Spain, I was always able to find something interesting and enjoyable to do (one evening after leaving the Día de Reyes parade, I stumbled on a night market near Plaza Luceros that was full of vendors selling everything from jewelry to hot chocolate. It was absolutely delightful).

Oh, and the academics? (This was an ICA, after all.) Muy fácil. What originally was fear and intimidation about condensing 16 weeks of material into a three-week course turned into genuine excitement about learning after my first day in class. Professors Maria (lovingly known as Chitty) and Sonia effortlessly kept the entire class’ attention throughout our five-hour long sessions. And even with all the excursions, I never found the amount of work for the class to be overwhelming. In fact, despite the fact that this was a three-week course, I found it easier to handle the amount of work that was required since I was only focusing on one class, rather than having to juggle work for four (or more!) classes like I do during the semester.

Starting around my second week in Alicante, I began developing a routine that helped me relax into the slow, easy pace of the city. I was able to overcome my feelings of self-consciousness and communicate with my host mom (albeit slowly). The mistakes I made in communicating with her were essential to helping me get a better understanding of the language. And let me tell you, there was no greater joy than when I was able to speak with my host mom and others around me in Spanish and not only understand them, but to be understood as well.

Castillo de Santa Bárbara disappears as the train enters the tunnel, which signals the last three stops on my final train ride in Alicante. At the beginning of the trip, the castle was unfamiliar, but on this last day, going towards Plaza Luceros, the castle, and the city of Alicante, were starting to feel familiar. Like home.

An Interview with Katie Calabrese of Little Gunpowder

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Little Gunpowder. Left to right: John Eng-Wong, Katie Calabrese, Sarah Dreyfus. Picture credit: Allie Bowerman.

Little Gunpowder is a band fronted by Katie Calabrese, a senior at Goucher. The indie fuzz rock band — which consists of drummer Kieran Dollemore, bassist Sarah Dreyfus, and guitarist John Eng-Wong — is currently working on an album titled Gasoline Girl, which will be released this winter. We sat down with Calabrese to talk about the new record, her songwriting process, and influences.

My first question is — when did you start writing music and what was your first instrument?

I started writing music probably when I was about 16 or 17 because I was having a really hard time in high school, and I went to a special boarding school for kids that were having trouble in high school. And we didn’t really have music, and there was nothing to do, so everyone learned how to play instruments. And that’s when I started writing music.

I started playing music much younger, though, when I was 6. And I started playing electric bass when I was about 6 years old until when I was about 10 years old.

You told me that you are working on an album right now, so I’m interested in hearing a little bit more about that. I’m wondering if you could describe the sound of your album, and I’m wondering if it’s any different than the sound of your previous projects at all.

I would say that it’s incredibly different than my previous projects because my previous stuff, the stuff I that have on Bandcamp right now, is acoustic, indie, pretty mellow singer-songwriter stuff. But this stuff, I would still consider it indie, but it’s more fuzz and it’s full band and it has more of a punk element to it, I think, than a lot of my other stuff has. And I’m really excited about it because it has this theme of femininity and mental illness and these images of how women or feminized people are demonized, yet also glorified and sexualized around mental illness. So it’s kind of a look at that and a look at the struggle of mental illness. It’s really important to me that there’s a message of hope without being overly optimistic. So there’s this message of “it’s really hard and it might not get better, but that’s okay that it might not.”

That all sounds really interesting; I’m so excited to hear it. What does your songwriting process look like?

My songwriting process, usually, it can start in a couple of ways. Sometimes it will be [that] I’ll sit on a verse or just two lines for a super long time. And then one day I’ll be playing guitar and I’ll come across something that I like and just apply it to that. I usually write songs pretty quickly, like over the course of a few hours or maybe I’ll take a break and come back to it, but usually the total time on songs is probably like 3, 4, 5 hours, so not incredibly long. But usually it will take me a long time to get to a place that I want to write. I don’t write super often, but when I do finally get something that inspires me, it just happens really fast.

What have you been using to record this album, like mics and interfaces and instruments, and things like that?

We’re recording at my drummer’s friend’s house. I don’t know that much about recording, but we’re live recording the drums and the guitar, and then the bass is being recorded at the same time, but it’s being recorded directly into the computer, and then I’m doing voice overdubs with it. It’s in a basement, you know; it’s nothing fancy, but I’m really excited about it because for me, in recording, it’s so much more important that you get the live rawness rather than really clean perfection, studio done.

And I think that’s really important to that fuzz sound that you were talking about.

Yeah, exactly.

What was the most fun song to write, or the song that was the most memorable for you?

We have this really fun song that we do called “Turn Me Off.” I guess I don’t really have a super fun time writing most songs because usually I’m in a mood. But that song was particularly fun because I hadn’t really been writing for full bands previous to now. So all my songs – I felt like I had to write them so that they really, really carried themselves lyrically and that they could be interesting without any accompaniment. But this song is incredibly simple. It’s four power chords, and it is really repetitive. But the thing that was really fun about it is that I was able to write it knowing that my band is really talented and it would be really interesting and crazy. So now it’s one of our favorite songs to play because we have weird breakdowns, we change speed, we start off with only some parts, we have this crazy drum thing going on, we have guitar solos. So I think that’s been really fun for me. Being able to transition from being a singer-songwriter artist to doing more high energy, full band stuff has been really, really fun for songwriting because it’s challenged me to write differently, but also it makes it easier to write because you don’t have to worry about “oh, is this going to hold itself by itself?”

Now, I’m really curious to know a little bit more about what the difference is between writing as a singer-songwriter and doing a solo thing versus writing for a band because it sounds like there’s a huge difference.

Oh, definitely. I feel like for writing for solo, I really liked using a lot of picking stuff. When you’re doing full band, you can make different things [go] on without having to change the actual core center of the music, without having to change the chords, or change the song that much. You can have a different type of drum beat, or you can have a guitar solo, or you could have the bass do something funky. So you have this option to play around inside the original structure of the song, whereas when you’re doing more singer-songwriter stuff, you really just have the guitar, so you have to have more moving pieces within the actual construction of the song itself. So I’ve been having a lot of fun being able to write songs that are more simple on the writing end, but more complicated on the instrumental end, rather than more complicated on the writing end and simpler on the instrumental end.

Who or what are your musical influences or inspirations?

There’s a couple different types of music that I like, but then there’s a couple that I feel like I emulate. So the stuff that I really listen to — I like Anderson .Paak, Gorillaz; those are my two favorites right now. But the people that I feel like I emulate, and also really love listening to [are] Hop Along or Angel Olsen. I really love Courtney Barnett. And I really love Mitski. And I feel like those are artists that I really identify with because I think that they do such a good job of having this intense emotion and power in their songwriting, but still keeping elements of femininity. I feel like it’s this power that doesn’t feel like it has to emulate masculinity, but is its own thing, and I really admire that.

That’s a good segue into my last question . . . what [have you] been listening to lately?

I’ve been definitely listening to Noname’s new album, which is incredible; that’s a no-brainer. I’ve been listening to Mitski’s new album, for sure. I’ve been listening to Pavement a lot recently. And I’ve actually been listening to The Killers a lot; I really love The Killers, and I’ve always really loved The Killers.

“Uplifting, and Existing, and Being”: A Look at Sitting Pretty

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LaToya M. Hobbs standing next to “Double Portrait: Marci”. Photo by Skyler Aikerson.

The current exhibit at Goucher College’s Rosenberg Gallery is titled Sitting Pretty and features art by painter, printmaker, and MICA professor LaToya M. Hobbs. The exhibit contains striking woodcut and monotype portraits that, according to Hobbs, aim to “show a more holistic view of what black women are . . . and how we present ourselves.” At Hobbs’ artist reception on September 27, curator Sheena M. Morrison said that these portraits “[convey] a narrative about women inventing their own measures of beauty.”

“Shay IV”. Photo by Skyler Aikerson.

Hobbs captures a beautiful intimacy in the pieces of Sitting Pretty, which is part of a larger collection called Beautiful Uprising. Elements of the personalities of the women in these portraits are shown, such as the playfulness of Crystal (who is featured twice in this exhibit). This is intentional; Hobbs’ subjects are women that she knows personally, which she feels “gives a greater emotional connection through the work.” She also hopes that these varied images show the range of emotions black women experience, as opposed to the strict and stifling view that black women are only ever angry. She stated at her artist reception, “I like to show that we are angry and we get mad . . . but we’re also regal. We’re also sophisticated. We’re also sassy, and that’s fine, and that’s good. We’re the spectrum of all of those things.”

Morrison stated that the inspiration for curating the pieces in this exhibit came after a conversation with Hobbs about her natural hair journey. In Sitting Pretty, Hobbs captures the versatility of black women and their hair beautifully, particularly in both double portraits that are featured in the exhibit. One of these pieces is a double self-portrait, and it displays the complicated relationship many black women have with their hair. This contemplative piece aims to create “an internal and an external dialogue” with the viewer that revolves around preferences and beliefs not only about black women’s hair, but also black women themselves. Hobbs described a comment someone gave on the piece, saying that the woman in the portrait looked angry with the other woman. She said, “I think how you perceive the piece kind of gives some insight into some of your own biases that you may not even know that you have.”

During her artist reception, Hobbs explained the process of making both woodcut and monotype works, which are both printmaking processes. “With the woodcuts,” she says, “I start with a piece of wood as my matrix and carve and then print it. With the monotype . . . you start with a piece of Plexiglas . . . and do your drawing and painting on the Plexiglas, and then you print that.” Hobbs often combines her painting and printmaking processes to create what she calls “hybrid work.” The monotype portrait “Chelsea” is an example of this; Hobbs used collage to create the patterns in the background and for the subject’s clothing and drew and painted parts of this piece. Hobbs also explained that printmaking has its roots in protest. In that sense, this medium complements these portraits well, as they rebel “against standards that [black women are] expected to uphold that we actually can never reach.”

From the mesmerizing “Shay IV” to the otherworldly “Inner Glow,” every piece in Sitting Pretty is beautifully crafted and has a refreshing tenderness inherent to it. Sitting Pretty will be on display in the Rosenberg Gallery through October 25. This exhibit is free and open to the public. More information about Hobbs’ work can be found on her website http://www.latoyamhobbs.com.

A Night at Joe Squared

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Joe Squared is a pizza place, bar, and music venue located in Station North. It is a small, intimate space. The walls are yellow and blue and covered with tiny rainbow flags. The lights shining on the stage are purple and golden. Fleetwood Mac plays between sets as patrons sing and laugh with each other. On Sunday, September 16, 2018, it served as the backdrop for four acts from Baltimore, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Washington D.C.

The first act was Alice, also known as Borderless State. She is a member of the Baltimore-based ethereal folk metal band Gingerwitch and is currently working on a solo album. Her acoustic set, though short, explored many different sounds and emotions. The quick and tense song “Smooth Mud” was about dealing with crushing anxiety, while the final song of her set was about her mother, who was in the audience. Alice’s voice was expressive and full, soft when it needed to be, and always compelling.

The second act was an indie rock band called Buster. The 4-piece is from Philadelphia, and their show at Joe Squared was their first time playing in Baltimore. They played their latest EP Kupo!, as well as two other songs, one old and one new. The youthful, unreleased tune “Theme Song” had bouncy vocals, and “Growing Old” was a perfect song for the end of summer.

The Zells are an energetic basement punk band from Pittsburgh. They are currently touring (with Buster) in support of their debut album, Failure to Slide, which was released September 7, 2018, on Crafted Sounds. Like Buster, this show also marked their first time playing in Baltimore. The five members took turns singing lead vocals, and even switched instruments, with drummer Tyler playing the guitar, and singing halfway through the show. Though technical difficulties cut the band’s set short, they were good sports and still played a fantastic and fun set.

The Zells. Photo by August Skylar Napolitano.

The last act was Saturday Night, an indie pop band from Washington D.C. Their show at Joe Squared was the last stop on their tour supporting their self-titled album, released August 17, 2018, on Gentle Reminder Records. The band’s sound revolves around bright melodies and prominent baselines. Their set was at the end of the night, but they effortlessly kept the audience dancing and singing along the entire time.

One of the most charming parts of the Saturday Night’s set was the band’s interactions with a fan in the front row, who sang into the microphone during the band’s final song, “Saturday Night.” This interaction is just a testament to the intimacy of Joe Squared. There is little separation between audience and stage, which helps make shows like this so special.

Part of the magic of indie and DIY shows is this lack of distinction between performer and audience, and the comforting humanization of the performers, who were all down to earth, friendly, and approachable. Between sets, Alek from Buster talked about the band’s relationship with The Zells (who they’ve known for some time), and Phil of The Zells talked about life on tour (for example, the difficulties of finding a place to sleep on the road).

At only $5, this show was an amazing way to not only hear great music and discover new favorites but also make wonderful and talented friends, as well. Upcoming events can be found on the Joe Squared Facebook page. Joe Squared is located at 33 W. North Ave., Baltimore, MD, 21201.

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