Publications
Review: The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them by Elif Batuman Print E-mail
Criticism

possessed(The Rumpus May 13, 2010)

From Russia With Love

Initially, I was attracted to Elif Batuman’s The Possessed because I hoped it would be an oar-dipping voyage into a memoir sub-genre I have come to admire: a confession about how a writer has been bewitched by an author (Geoff Dyer’s Out of Sheer Rage, a meditation on his inability to write about D. H. Lawrence) or by the act of reading (Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s Ruined by Reading).

Why am I drawn to these writers? I think of Craig Seligman’s Opposites Attract Me, a three-way tryst with himself, Pauline Kael, and Susan Sontag (he relied, for much of his essay, on his close friendship with Kael); Seligman is smitten, to be sure, and he seeks to understand how these two critics have enraptured him. For some authors, reading is a means to match insights with, or better, to stay in the spell of, another author, largely because it feels so good to be bedeviled by the relationship long after the book ends.

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After the Music Died Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

18_african_musicians(San Diego Reader March 31, 2010)

For more than a decade now, we’ve been hearing that kids are no longer interested in learning music. The dire news has been propelled by a host of competing myths. Parents, who run the TV every night, seldom play music in the home or support their children with private lessons to learn an instrument. Kids, for their part, are enchanted by the music on their I-pods, CD players, and I-phones. They download and share tunes as habitually as they drain Big Gulps from 7 Eleven. Abuzz with their devices, they experience music like it’s the weather—from outside, seldom inside.

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Review: The Adderall Diaries: A Memoir of Moods, Masochism, and Murder by Stephen Elliott Print E-mail
Criticism

Adderall(Contrary Magazine Spring 2010)

Still Addled After All These Years

What is Adderall? A partially controlled stimulant made with amphetamine. Improves attention span and decreases impulsivity. Used for attention deficit disorder. Works quite well, so say its takers. To me it sounds like a venomous snake or a recess game for sixth graders. But for Stephen Elliott it’s a lifesaver. Or, better, a life-enhancer, a necessary tool in the creative writer’s kit. In 2006, suffering writer’s block, Elliott needs help. After four self-referential novels, a book of real-life erotica (My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up), and a nonfiction chronicle of the 2004 presidential race, he’s dried up, a has-been at 37. So he takes Adderall, and voilá, this book. Of course, he finds that it’s not the not-writing that’s got him down. It’s his own still-addled life he hasn’t faced up to since he’s merely recreated its doppelgänger in fiction.

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Love Song to a Psychostimulant Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Tergrugghen_Flute_Player(Written February 2010)

What is it that’s so annoying about VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab”? It’s the reality show that features the good-souled Dr. Drew who ministers—and really listens—to those fallen stars, mostly talent-less one-hit wonders, throwaway children like Mackenzie Phillips or love-starved sex toys like Heidi Fleiss.

What’s so annoying is their helplessness. Being on drugs or being off drugs doesn’t matter. They can’t function; they’ve got addictive personalities; nothing works. The two stock dramatic bits are will he/she pass the drug test or will he/she bolt before the “treatment” is over. They’re forever unstable because life on drugs or in treatment is a hell of denying the self what it wants. Watching adolescents in adult bodies is the saddest thing of all.

It’s also irksome that the cameras roll on and on, “catching” the celebs off-guard, when, in fact, this clan (Dennis Rodman, Tom Sizemore, et alia) is so media savvy and comeback-minded that it’s obvious they crack up or cry on cue, which is hardly caught-in-the-act. Maybe we should have a show called “Film Rehab” for those who emote only when a camera’s present.

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Review: The Last Word: 76 American Epitaphs Compiled and Illuminated by J. D. Abel Print E-mail
Criticism

Omar Polk(Contrary Magazine Winter 2010)

Whatever

The idea is brilliant. (No wonder the author gives himself credit in his byline.) Write epitaphs, or gravestone inscriptions, a few lines of pithy poetry. Draw the departed’s portrait in cross-stitched pen and ink. Add in birth-death dates to account for era and end. Voilá, a collection of utter simplicity and mesmerizing effect.

What could be more deflating to our ego nature than this gallery of dreams deferred by the absurdly talented Southern California painter, caricaturist, and draftsman, J. D. Abel.

Exhibit: Malcolm Omar Polk, 1947-1967, his image, and his last words:

I seen a twister pick up a barn

I seen a comet with a tail

I seen a crazy man fuck a wild goat

but I never seen nothing

like Viet Nam

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Nonprofits Nonplussed Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

coin-collecting-numismatics-3(San Diego Reader December 30, 2009)

At the Bayside Community Center in Linda Vista, things are humming along as they have since the center was founded in 1932 as a settlement house for families of Italian and Portuguese fishermen. Having moved up the hill from Little Italy, Bayside still programs activities for kids, teens, seniors, people with disabilities, and new immigrants. Bayside’s service community is San Diego’s most diverse: Hmong, Hispanics, Somalis, African-Americans, Mixtec Indians, and whites populate the hill, many living in World War II–era housing projects. The center’s main role is helping recent arrivals who are socially and geographically marginalized.

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Leaving Music, Leaving Marriage—A Memoir Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

dead20wolf(San Diego Reader February 24, 2000; Revised 2006-2009)

I was trembling, tearing open the biscuit-colored envelope, its official return address, University of California, San Diego, Department of Music, Graduate Division. "I am happy to inform you," it began—but didn’t I know the rest, hadn’t I known it in my gut for months, ever since I kissed and mailed the application, that my (our) westering dream would come true?—"The Department of Music is recommending that you be admitted," and then I couldn’t see the words since I was crying and running to tell my wife Annie and four-year-old twin sons: we’d be leaving Santa Fe, our home since 1975, and moving to southern California.

I didn’t say that last bit right off. I read out the very sweet "offer": full tuition scholarship, a teaching assistantship at $5,000 a year, and the Ph.D. track in composition. In five short years, I’d be a bona fide Doctor of Music!

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