Publications
Elegy for the Trapdoor Spider Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20191120(San Diego Reader as "San Diego's Changing Bugs" November 20, 2019)

At typing breaks when journalists gather at the water cooler to compare notes, the noise we’re hearing of late is as deafening as a Darrell Issa car alarm: “colony collapse,” “catastrophic,” “apocalyptic,” “extinct.” These terms of “urgent concern,” however egregious, apply when climate and its caterwauling crisis dominate the news. No day passes without a new dead canary brought up from the mine. The latest: In the last 50 years, America has lost 29 percent of its bird population, three billion fewer winged creatures.

One flashing yellow light centers on insects. Their populations are stressed, diminishing, and changing the dependency humans have enjoyed with bees, butterflies, beetles, ants, and spiders. We have a good idea of what we are doing to climate, its stewards and ravagers. But what are we doing to insects who are as vulnerable and predatory and ungovernable as we are? How fast are arthropods declining, disappearing, drowsing, and migrating like refugees across land, sea, and sky for greener climes?

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The Pleasures & Paradoxes of Spiritual Writing Print E-mail
Articles

Head in Sand(Rain Taxi Interview with Renee D'Aoust Fall 2019)

Renee E. D’Aoust: Tom, in your new book you argue that “the spiritual essay anchors the biggest part of the briefest moment, an economy of insight, if you will, that the long-winded autobiography and memoir do not share.” As you point out, many of our spiritual experiences occur, if we pay attention (and write it down!), as part of quotidian life. In what ways is writing severed from spirituality, and in what ways might it be reattached? Am I correct in assessing that part of the book's project is to focus on the mystical aspects of creativity and on reattaching our creative endeavors to spiritual foundations?

Read the rest of the interview here.

 
My College Is Better Than Your College Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20190815(San Diego Reader August 14, 2019)

The Event: College Fair Night.

The Venue: San Diego Convention Center.

The Scene: A big-box room rowed with white linen-covered tables behind blue-curtained backdrops.

The Hosts: More than 300 college admissions table-sitters selling the glories of their schools, from the Moody Bible Institute to The Ohio State University, Holy Spirit to Holy Buckeye.

The Supporting Players: Moms who look like their daughters — jeans, middle-parted long hair, and shiny leopard-print purses; Dads, startled and leash-led.

The Central Players: Scores of kids, 15 and 16, shopping avidly with questions and concerns, their cellphones pocket-packed.

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Review: Fluid States by Heidi Czerwiec Print E-mail
Criticism

Czerwiec cover(River Teeth Blog August 2, 2019)

Shapes Shifted, Senses Altered, Values Freely Wheeled

There may be no more startling way to bait readers into an essay than this: “Is there a word for the unsettling sensation of sitting down on an unexpectedly warm toilet seat, because someone used it just before you and sat there for a good long while? Maybe something in German?” The author titles it: “FREUDENSCHANDE: PRIV(AC)Y,” translated as “joyful-shame.” Using more of these “made-up” German compounds as section titles, she goes on to compare the “bowel mover” in the “public privy” to the commodious confessions of the personal nonfictionist, the emotional “shitshow” so many memoirists and essayists insist readers have to sit with. All this “warmth sharing” breaks “the illusion of privacy” and invites us into the shape-shifting, sense-altering, fearlessly original prose of Heidi Czerwiec.

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On Writing That Is Far Less Religious, Way More Spiritual Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

santa fe sky original contemporary abstract landscape painting by colorado contemporary artist kimberly conrad(Brevity May 30, 2019)

In my long and ongoing study of the memoir and what the form means for writers who want to capture their religious or spiritual experience, I keep coming back to an inescapable truth about the history of what we think of as spiritual literature.

This truth has two parts: first, that from 400 to 1948, there are only four primarily personal religious autobiographies whose authors intensify the passion of their religious conversion, which feels as close to verifiably authentic as each can make it in the writer’s prose: the confessions of Augustine, Tolstoy, Thérèse of Lisieux, and Thomas Merton.

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Thirty-Five Glimpses at Lemon Grove Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

Lemon Grove California CREDIT Matthew Suarez t658(San Diego Reader April 10, 2019)

1 / On January 5, 1931, 75 Mexican-American children were expelled from the Lemon Grove Grammar School. By decree of the school board, the principal, Jerome Green, blocked the doorway, proto-George-Wallace style, telling the kids to attend another school where they’d receive lessons in Americanization, habilitate their English, learn “American” culture, before mixing with Anglos. These children of Mexican heritage were, Green and the board had decided, deficient in the lingua franca. They weren’t. Nearly all were fluently bilingual. (One man recalled his father at the time saying, “from the door outside, you’re in the United States, from the door inside, you’re in Mexico.”) The boys and girls were ordered to a makeshift building they dubbed the barn. The wall boards had spaces between them, sunlight shafting in. It smelled of horse manure. All but two refused to stay and left for their homes on Olive Street. On the way, their defiance earned insults—illegal, greaser, alien—though 95 percent were born in Lemon Grove.

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We Wish There Were Fewer Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20190123(San Diego Reader January 23, 2019)

Today, a brace of mourners is bidding farewell to twins Baby Andy and Baby Honey, the briefest of brother and sister. Their scant hours among the living are over, the endlessness of eternity begun. Days before, they were wrapped in blankets and tucked into separate 10-inch by 20-inch coffins with a beanie baby by their side. The caskets, woodworking projects of Eagle Scouts, are made of pinewood, finely glossed vaults with handles attached. The lids, the last act, were glued on. The Clairemont mortuary has delivered them, and now a two-by-two formation of a dozen Knights of Columbus leads two of their group who carry the precious cargo up a sodden, sloping hill, massed with flat headstones, in El Camino Memorial Park.

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