Publications
Puppeteers: Eight San Diegans Who Don't Want To Tell You What They Do Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20090902(San Diego Reader September 2, 2009)

The tenth floor of San Diego city hall is like a submarine in the sky. Behind sealed windows and an electronic-buttoned security door are the cramped offices of eight councilmembers, who themselves are sardined in with 65 staffers—8 chiefs and 57 underlings. Amid the confines, crew members, some on eight-year voyages, bump into each other. They shout across the hall. They buttonhole one another between desk and toilet. They share family photos and the occasional lunch or workout. On the rare occasion when a citizen shows up and gets in—citizen, try showing up and getting in—they absorb his or her concerns. But more often they endure lobbyists and businessmen, who get in more easily and needle councilmembers and staffs incessantly. Since 1964, when the city administration building opened at 202 C Street, several generations of staffers have recycled the floor’s oxygen—call it the rarefied air of political servitude. Staffers work a variety of assignments: council representative; community, labor, or business liaison; communications director; policy advisor; and deputy chief of staff. Many staffers have moved laterally between one district office and another, on occasion between city and county. They often come aboard when a new councilmember needs an insider, someone who knows how to ply the political waters. The highest rank—the one who gets to shout, “Up periscope!”—is the chief of staff.

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Fiction, Fact, and Faked Memoirs Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

Triumph_of_Death_Bruegel(New English Review July 2009)

Never let the truth get in the way of a good story is the claim every storyteller is admonished to believe. What our ten-thousand-year-old tale-telling tradition (most of it oral) instructs us to do is to be good dramatists and let the story have its sway. This law of the tale, and our drama-loving DNA, is why the Bible has survived so long: its well-told stories were the means by which its morally sound messages were delivered and, tellers and scribes hoped, stuck. When disputes about a story’s authenticity arose, the Bible authors were less keen to preserve history or embrace veracity. Instead they made the drama central, via legend, fantasy, parable, and the fictionalized life, based on Egyptian mythology, of Jesus Christ. The Bible is a work of narrative literature and a work of fiction. But, the problem is, its fiction has almost always been thought of as fact.

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If We Didn't Advertise We'd Go Broke Treating the Poor Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

Cover06.24.09(San Diego Reader June 24, 2009)

Many of us watched the Chargers’ season-ending run this past winter and, amid the cheers and groans, saw a 30-second TV ad starring LaDainian Tomlinson. Well-dressed and calm, he’s holding a postgame news conference.

A reporter asks, “L.T., what got you the win today?”

“There’s three things you got to have to be successful,” L.T. says. “There’s planning, teamwork, and constant communication.”

Cut to designers huddling over architectural plans.

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Review: The River Lock: One Boy's Life Along the Mohawk by Stephen Haven Print E-mail
Criticism

river-lock-190(Contrary Magazine Summer 2009)

A Poet's Memoir

You’re not likely to read a memoir as good as Stephen Haven’s. Its brilliance lies in his fearless blend of the past in the present. In his mid-forties, the author is haunted by a wounded adolescence. On a pilgrimage, he returns to his hometown to discover why he's so obsessed. There, the still-ripe memoires of twenty and more years past unleash a torrent of wonder and regret. The only way to manage the deluge is to stir the past into his feeling for the past. Doing so, Haven crafts nuances and complexities about memory and loss few memoirists achieve. It may be that his ability springs from his primary calling. Haven is the author of two fine poetry collections, Dust and Bread and The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestacks. To say The River Lock is a poet’s memoir invites questions. How does a poet recall? Does he remember differently from us non-poets?

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A New Kind of Narrative Truth Print E-mail
Essays and Memoirs

A New Kind of Narrative Truth, by Thomas Larson(Book Review, Special Issue on "Memoir Now," March/April 2009, Volume 30, No. 3)

Lately, I’ve been brooding on the word remember whose mystery for the memoirist is all-important. From the late Latin, the word originally meant "to call to mind" or "to be mindful," implying a mind full of what it’s been called to. Breaking it down further, we trace the re in remember to the Latin ablative of res, which means from a thing, object, or circumstance, the re also referring to repetition. Then there’s member, which comes from the Latin membrum, as in "part." Remember may mean one’s mindfulness of the past and one’s putting the parts of a past circumstance together through repetitious recall—that ever-occurring now in which we brood over past events again and again.

When I re-member an incident, I re-assemble its parts—the elements of what happened and the times I’ve recalled it. That which I recall one hundred times is much different than that which I recollect once. For deep memories, the parts I re-assemble are themselves re-assemblages of parts already assembled. It would seem then that the nature of memory is equally creative, constructive, and confusing. How is a memory composed of a single past experience as well as the piled-up/piled-on memories of that experience?

The rest of this essay is available as an eBook: What Exactly Happened: Four Essays on the Craft of Memoir, $2.99.

 
Review: Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life by John Adams Print E-mail
Criticism

Hallelujah-Junction(Contrary Magazine Spring 2009)

The Composer's Advocate

It’s arguable whether or not John Adams is America’s most prominent living composer. But after reading his autobiography, I have no doubt that he’s our most knowledgeable. No other composer can embody in writing the variant weather of our storm-tossed electronic, pop, classical, and contemporary music as lucidly as he can. Composer, conductor, innovator, controversialist, author, Adams is the deacon of New Music, whose career joins that of other great American mavericks—a tradition, it should be remembered, that exists for the likes of John Cage, not John McCain.

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Bertha Bugarin Heads To Jail Print E-mail
San Diego Reader

20090218(San Diego Reader February 18, 2009)

In October 2007, Michael Varga, a police officer assigned to the Chula Vista Police Department’s Special Investigations Unit, began interviewing women about the abortions they had received at a local clinic, Clinica Medica para la Mujer de Hoy. The storefront clinic, with its dull turquoise awning, was located on Broadway, next door to Plaza’s Mexican Food. Its windows were blacked out and the image of a stylish woman was drawn onto one pane. For years, the clinic had targeted Spanish-speaking women with low-cost terminations of their pregnancies. Varga was investigating Bertha Pinedo Bugarin, a layperson who was purportedly the owner/manager of the Chula Vista clinic as well as five other medical offices in Los Angeles and Orange counties, each specializing in cash-only abortions. Months earlier, the Health Authority Law Enforcement Task Force in Los Angeles had begun its inquiry into Bugarin’s operation. It had obtained a search warrant, and among the patient records it seized were 56 from clients who had “received medical services, generally abortions,” at the Chula Vista clinic, according to a declaration Varga made to the San Diego Superior Court. The task force had turned these records over to Varga.

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