Published by the prestigious Missouri Review, ”Mythopoesis” is typical of the storytelling technique I often use in my creative nonfiction work. The story begins with straight narrative---a group of neighborhood boys playing ice hockey on a frozen reservoir in New Jersey in the 1970s---but it gradually dissolves into a meditation on the layers of history buried beneath those waters. When I write, I try to build from the foundation of a good story or vignette towards an ecstatic moment. I am always searching for that moment when meaning bursts free from a story.
Steal This Book
Steal This Book begins with the story of how I stole my first copy of H.D. Thoreau's Walden from my high school library. In the essay, I was trying to capture the essence of Thoreau's appeal to the anti-authoritarian instinct in American culture, but I was also reaching for that moment at age 16 when I began to think for myself. The push for conformity was strong in the 1980s, and Thoreau was right there, fomenting intellectual rebellion in my suburban New Jersey household. Published by The Smart Set in 2018, the essay is just a small contribution to the debt I owe Thoreau.
The Project Mayhem Age
Also published in the Smart Set in 2018 and republished in Adbusters later that year, “The Project Mayhem Age” was an early attempt to blend storytelling and aphoristic prose. I earned a Ph.D in 19th Century American literature in 2009, but even before I finished my dissertation, I began to recoil from academic prose. When writing the essay, I was consciously trying to reanimate a scholarly article I had written about Fight Club with personal narrative and topical observations about American politics. In the process I found more than a trace of Tyler Durden in Donald Trump.
Where Have You Gone, Dr. Pierce?
When the COVID crisis stranded me at home in March and April, I began journaling my experience of the event. In May, I began to spin some essays from the journal writing, publishing some of them on this blog. The best of the bunch, "Where Have You Gone Dr. Pierce," was published in the British literary journal Litro. It begins with my failed attempt to learn how many ventilators were held by the hospital a mile from where I live but winds around to criticize the alienation that is at the heart of "Big Medicine and Big Everything." The essay employs my mixed-genre approach.
A Minute with Zack de la Rocha
Also published in Litro, “A Minute with Zack de la Rocha” is another personal essay that grows out of a straight narrative and reaches towards an ecstatic moment. It begins with the story of an encounter I had with the lead singer of Rage Against The Machine at an anti-globalization demonstration in 2000. When I wrote it in 2018, I had been reflecting on my experiences with the anti-globalization movement in the early 2000s. How quickly this movement was was co-opted and plowed under by 911 and its aftermath. The essay is a lament for this brief but beautiful age of protest.
The Lookout Tree, or The Dogs of War
The foundation of this essay is a story about how two feral dogs chased me and Danny Nulman into a large tree when we were nine years old. Though I have told this story many times, only recently did I realize that it holds the entirety of my childhood in microcosm. The act of writing narrative nonfiction is full of these revelatory moments. Stories, like dreams, do not give up their secrets easily. An act of interpretation is always required to understand them. This is as true of a memory as it is of a poem or a novel. This essay was published by the excellent journal Michigan Quarterly Review.