Publications
Orality Hunger (for David Shields) Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Magnavox(Solstice March 15, 2014)

Since I began writing nonfiction more than two decades ago, I’ve ranged from book to long-form journalism, criticism, essay, memoir, and, of late, video essay. Form changes and so, too, does focus; I adapt to the different style and voice. Each time the tone shifts as well—the critic’s bark, the memoirist’s grandiosity, the essayist’s guile. Moving among these voices, I find I love the challenge and the change. How far might I push myself?

With each book, I’ve added a wrinkle. I want the books to sound, to ring, in the culture, in and beyond the written realm. I want my books and their texts to be oral, to take a parallel journey in the speech arts—dialogue, lecture, and multimedia. Put more simply, I’m a fidgeter; I have to move between book and presentation, the written and the oral, during and after composition. I’ll explain by describing each of my books.

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The Social Author #5: The Fearless Oratory of Christopher Hitchens Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

hitchens(Guernica February 6, 2014)

In Mortality, Christopher Hitchens’ trenchant elegy to the vocal chords he was losing to esophageal cancer, he writes that, “To a great degree, in public and private, I ‘was’ my voice. All the rituals and etiquette of conversation . . . were innate and essential to me.” At the Guardian, where, just out of Oxford, he got his journalistic start, his mentor told him that his prose was well argued but dull. Write “‘more like the way you talk.’” Life-launching advice. One swipe of the screen back in Mortality, he notes, “It may be nothing to boast about, but people tell me that if their radio or television was on, even in the next room, they could always pick out my tones and know that I was ‘on’ too.”

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We Don't Call Them Drones Anymore Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20140205(San Diego Reader February 5, 2014)

I want to believe that when we talk about drones —also known as unmanned aerial vehicles or unmanned aerial systems —whose bodies vary from pterodactyl-big to mosquito-small (the Robobee, a robotic insect, weighs less than 1/300th of an ounce), and any one of which will soon be taking off, in ungovernable numbers, in our coming (2015) deregulated airspace, we are not talking about General Atomics’ “Predators and their Hellfire missiles bombing daycare centers in Afghanistan.”

But the drone has already earned its inalterable reputation. Much to the chagrin of the man who uttered the sardonic quote above: the resourceful, loquacious, fingers-in-many-pies Lucien Miller, CEO of Innov8tive Designs, in Vista. Miller is behind his desk in a small office, next to an adjoining warehouse, one of hundreds of manufacturing warrens in the Palomar Business Park. Dressed in a light blue knit shirt, faded jeans, and comfortable loafers, Miller is a-flurry with info and PR on unmanned aerial vehicles and their possibility. Which is why he’s adamant that the word “drone” is a great misnomer.

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Review: The Griffin of Literature: Three New Books of Prose Poetry Print E-mail
Criticism

Knossos fresco in throne palace(TriQuarterly January 31, 2014)

I’ll admit it: I’ve never understood the prose poem, although it seems to be going strong in its third century. It’s the griffin of literature—an amalgam of the two literary arts that neither enhances their respective purposes nor makes the result stronger at the fused place. A definition is not much help; here’s the clearest definition I’ve found in a poetry handbook: “The point seems to be that [any] writing in prose . . . is a poem if the author says so.” It’s at odds with itself, which, I realize, may be the point. But when I reflect on the prose poem’s formlessness, I find it leaves me cold. A few descriptors may explain the chill: the prose poem is blocky, spatially inelegant, print-dependent, unmetered, and unsyllabic.

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My Vegan Heart Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

bosch hieronymus detail strawberry2(Everyday Health January 15, 2014)

After my third heart attack in five years, I became a vegan, or a plant-based eater. Then I wrote about it in my book, The Sanctuary of Illness: A Memoir of Heart Disease, which tells the journey of my having gone from a non-recovery recovery to healing after those near-fatal trials,which finally forced me to change my diet.

I was already a vegetarian, a “right” eater — or so I thought. That earlier journey began thirty years ago, while reading Francis Moore Lappe’s ground-breaking book Diet for a Small Planet. I was shaken to the core by the scale of factory farming and clear-cutting of Central American rain forests by McDonalds and other fast-food corporations.

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Slog For a Green Card Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20131231(San Diego Reader December 31, 2013) My 50th Reader Cover

I’m listening to attorney Eleanor Adams who’s been practicing immigration law locally for 25 years. By phone, she’s outlining, breathlessly, our labyrinthine federal system of percentage quotas, monthly resets, and Congressional reform proposals for the two big categories of immigrants—family-sponsored (relatives) and employment-based (workers). Immigrants are foreign-born people the majority of whom are here to work. As of 2009, they comprise 12.5 percent of the population—38 million. A little less than half of those are naturalized; the rest reside here legally or illegally.

I dare not interrupt Adams: such a seminar is like a first-semester course at Thomas Jefferson School of Law.

Seventeen minutes into her monologue, I’m muzzy-brained, listening to her legalese: status, exemptions, chargeability tumble together like Cirque Soleil. Finally I find a space to enter: maybe, I say, we can take a step back and define legal and illegal. It’s the first moment of silence between us, which may be just that or a simmer, on her part, for my barging in.

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The Social Author #4: A Great Literary Future Behind Us Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Ginsberg(Guernica December 20, 2013)

Among the still-active maxims of literature’s evolving identity is that writing is carved in stone while speech and social authorship, once uttered, blow away. As I noted in my previous Guernica essay, capitalizing on this dynamic is the secret of the Bible’s reach. When a reader switches to the aural realm, reciting and hearing the book makes the page—and its message—more compelling. The Bible lasts because it works both orally and in print. The book achieves immortality because it is a number one print seller and the most talked about and handled book in our language.

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