Publications
Having None of It: Parenting Without Religion Print E-mail
Articles

Descent of the Modernists E. J. Pace Christian Cartoons 1922(Written February 2015)

The book the mother is showing me is Tomie dePaola’s Book of Bible Stories. It’s an illustrated first Bible, ages 4 to 8, which, according to the back cover, the author “lovingly brings to life.” She starts paging and stops, her nearly three-year-old son beside her, pounding Play-Doh. “OK, God creates the world, but then”—flipping pages and quoting text—“‘Adam and Eve disobey God,’ and ‘Cain kills Abel,’ and ‘God unleashes a flood’ and kills everyone but Noah and the family. Huh?” She pauses, huffs, and glances at her apartment’s mess—toy-strewn like Christmas morning. “I’m not going to read this to Justin. He’ll be terrorized.”

Thus begins, in this thirty-two-year-old Mom, as it does in millions of other secular parents, the once unorthodox, rhetorical questions. Why should my child know about a God who sanctions such continual violence? Why expose anyone to a religion I don’t believe in? Such queries are being asked and answered by millions of millennials—Pew Research, as of May 2015, shows 35 percent are Nones—who refuse to indoctrinate their children into any faith.

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Print (Almost) Anything Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

projectegg 4s(San Diego Reader January 28, 2015)

Because I’m a writer, I have always thought that among humankind’s most lofty inventions is the printer—the machine, not the person. Be it text or image, how would we know anything about the community we call home without copies of weekly magazines that feature glossy ads for breast enlargement and trend-chasing cover stories? For centuries, print technology has copied text and image onto paper, stone, wood, plastic, or any surface that will receive it. Of course, the copy is flat, sitting on, not rising up from, the surface. But what if we wanted to print something in three dimensions?

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This Shining Night Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

2012 0708 images 15 agee(Solstice Literary Magazine December 21, 2014)

We Are Talking Now of James Agee’s “Knoxville: Summer 1915”

In January 1971, I was living in Columbia, Missouri, where for two years I’d been an undergraduate English major at the University.(1) A surprise to literate me, I’d become pencil-sucking bored with my classes, especially the non-electives “Restoration Drama” and “Chaucer.” What’s more I’d also been struggling to write interior-laden short stories based on literary models that once excited me but now raveled through my head like cotton off a spinning jenny until I felt wire-whisked by their polish and mystery and woe—so, one day, just after my sixth semester began, I quit.(2) Because I had to, I got a job, part-time clerk at the University library. They said I could come in from one to five, work half days. Perfect. My mornings were free for writing.

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The Music Is Always There: Reflections on New Orleans Jazz Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

cid 149db1300543fa90cda(Guernica November 24/25 2014)

A Deviant Nature /

That which we call American music, whether it’s pop, show tunes, Motown, country ’n’ western, or any other mixed breed, is seldom wholly original. It is—it must be, to appeal widely—a sound and a style already known to its composer-musicians, and their audiences, before it’s written. The declamatory songs of Bob Dylan in the early 1960s, for example, owe everything to the then-familiar swagger of Woody Guthrie, talking blues, pentatonic Shaker hymns, and backwoods white gospel. These elements the troubadour kept as a foundation even as he evolved and wrote new material based on a lyric élan all his own. Pre-Dylan, Guthrie’s music binds Appalachian hillbilly tunes to topical story songs, which, themselves, owe their fluency to the broad-siders and the balladeers of eighteenth century Scotland and England. And so it goes, way on back. But there is, as always, an exception to the rule. Cultural critic Stanley Crouch argues that African-American gospel, blues, and jazz—styles that standardized the flatted third and seventh, syncopation and polyrhythms, and the chaotic, improvising soloist—are unique in music. In song, Crouch says, there had never been, with African or American music, such tap-rooted anguish as can be found in “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” where the melodic genius lies not on but between the notes.

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Befouled: San Diego's Most Polluted Sites Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20141119(San Diego Reader November 19, 2014)

Beach Trash

Beginning our tour of San Diego’s most befouled spots (air, land, water, sea), we stop first for three summer holidays—Memorial Day, July Fourth, Labor Day—when local beaches turn from sun havens into trash dumps. When party-hardy masses overrun Mission Beach, west of Belmont Park, they leave behind swaths of crap. There, at dawn, Cathy Ives, in her sandals and sun visor, surveys the carnage. She’s a citizen trash-trawler, her and her little red wagon, holiday or not, scouring the beach for the non-biodegradable: Styrofoam and booze bottles (though both are banned); plastic water bottles; torn Mylar balloons; boogie boards that crumble into foam beads, becoming bird or fish “food”; fast-food wrappers for sandwiches; cardboard boxes for pizza; and those little packets of hot sauce. (Predacious gulls pick through the piles or hungrily eye human junk haulers.)

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The Sincerely Held Religious Belief Print E-mail
Articles

boy with bible(New English Review November 15, 2014)

1/

The Hobby Lobby decision, written by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Alito and passed by a 5-4 ruling in June, continues to reverberate in American culture like a car alarm that won’t shut off. As most everyone knows, the Court had to decide whether “three closely held corporations [which] provide health-insurance coverage for methods of contraception . . . violate the sincerely held religious belief [italics added] of the companies’ owners.” Contraception here refers to four of twenty methods approved by the FDA, intrauterine devices or pills that supposedly prevent a fertilized egg from implantation in a woman’s womb, which is defined as pregnancy. To prevent such implantation of a viable embryo is considered by some to be abortion. More important, religious fundamentalists say that once sperm meets egg, an ensouled human life has begun. Ending it, pre- or post-implantation, is murder.

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The Misunderstood, Abused, Victimized, and Writerly Essential Outline Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Dove-MeandtheMoon(TriQuarterly October 21, 2014)

For me, the edgiest of the double-edged questions we’ve all asked a teacher, a colleague, or ourselves concerns the “outline”—first, when do I do it, before, during, or after I write, for which the mordant answer is yes, and second, why do I do it, which is harder to quantify because it suggests that planning a piece may be categorically different than writing a piece, as though the pair are maliciously counterbalanced, feathers and lead. I say malicious because such a myth (writing fun, outlining dumb) invites a more emotional query: Does the outline mean that we must succumb to that which is not writing, as though we’ve fallen from rapture to drudge—Lewis and Clark giving way to the Conestoga wagons?

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