Review: Fluid States by Heidi Czerwiec Print E-mail

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.

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.

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.

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.

Review: Making Violence Holy Jo Scott-Coe's MASS, a Dialogue with Renee D'Aoust Print E-mail

Mass(River Teeth Online December 03, 2018)

Note: D’Aoust and Larson reflect on the structure, style, and meaning of Scott-Coe’s research-based prose meditation on the mass murderer Charles Whitman. The ex-Marine sniper killed his mother and wife as well as more than a dozen people from the University of Texas Tower in Austin on August 1, 1966. But there’s a companion story—that of an alcoholic Catholic priest whose friendship with the killer (he married Whitman and his wife) is also core to the tale. The priesthood creates a secretive brotherhood that hides male violence, especially against women, from public scrutiny, while it sanctions the same in the patriarchy.

TL: First, I’d like to orient our readers with a little bit about Scott-Coe. She is the author of Teacher at Point Blank and the essay “Listening to Kathy,” has taught at Riverside Community College for many years, and advises the literary annual, Muse. I have much to say about Mass, which is provocative and challenging because of its unusual style and its inescapable implications about the Catholic church whose all-male hierarchy continues to hide deviant laity and sexual crimes within its ranks.

Sorrento Valley Lacks Stickiness Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20181121(San Diego Reader November 21, 2018)

Last August, many of us were aghast at a news story, summed up in the Union-Tribune webby headline, “Three dead in wrong-way I-805 crash in Sorrento Valley that shut down freeway for 6 hours.” An 18-year-old man, going 100 miles per hour and against traffic in a McLaren sportscar, smashed into an SUV carrying a mother and daughter. On impact, the cars ignited in a firestorm and all three were killed. Deadly accidents are not rare occurrences at the nexus, “in Sorrento Valley.” Charred swaths and shattered glass on the highway speak of a Pickett’s Charge to get through the Merge, famed for its 22 northbound and southbound lanes that move thousands to destinations, ever elsewhere.

Review: Sing Out! Peggy Seeger''s "First Time Ever: A Memoir" Print E-mail

Peggy Seeger(Another Chicago Magazine October 23, 2018)

Among the most artful duos to lift their voices in the cause and community of folk music are the singers Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl. They fell in love in 1956—she, twenty-one, newly arrived in London from Maryland to play the five-string banjo on a television show; he a songwriter, actor, and communist, English-born of Scottish parents, twice her age (and married), whose balladry (“Dirty Old Town,” “My Old Man“) had helped ignite the British Folk Revival, ablaze in cellar club, busking corner, and studio single-takes.

Their voices were set—MacColl, the tufted wobble of an English dockworker, Seeger, the wren-like lilt of an Appalachian schoolgirl. Together, though, their alloy is like bronze. Listen to them synchronize melody and rhythm on the “Ballad of Accounting.” It’s an anthemic tune about taking ethical stock of one’s life, questions of moral pungency few bother with any more:

               Did you stand there in the traces and let ‘em feed you lies?
               Did you trail along behind them wearing blinkers on your eyes?
               Did you kiss the foot that kicked you, did you thank them for their scorn?
               Did you ask for their forgiveness for the act of being born?

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