typewriter images are from mytypewriter.com
During my two-year mission to Uruguay, I had a lot of time to think about what I wanted to do with my life. I had a degree in physics, but I had also felt stifled by that life. Meanwhile, some of my friends who had gone on to graduate school in physics were writing me telling me how terrible it was. I lived those two years in Uruguay with very few possessions, with very many rules, and with my senses tingling from new experiences. It was during this time that I came to believe that writing was the life that would allow me the freedom to think and learn and pursue my many and varied interests. And because I'm no good at making up stories, I decided to try out creative nonfiction. My first attempts were form letters I mailed home in which I tried to write something engaging, balancing experience with meditation. I don't know how successful they were, but they kept me going, and when I got home I began my graduate studies in creative writing at Brigham Young University. From there I've continued my studies at Ohio University, where I'm nearing completion of a Ph.D.
East of the River of Snails
A lot of my mission experiences made it into my personal essays; my master's thesis is a a missionary memoir comprised of 18 such essays. In 1999 East of the River of Snails, as it's called, received an honorable mention in the Utah Arts Council Writing Competition. Here are judge C. L. Rawlins's comments about the book. Many of the essays in this book are published in literary journals. See the Essays page for specific information and some PDF or HTML versions of them. East of the River of Snails is not yet published in book form, but I'm working on it.
Having written a group of narrative/experience-based personal essays in my thesis, I decided to take another approach with my dissertation. Quotidiana (quotidian, meaning "everyday" or "regular," is one of my favorite words; also Mario Benedetti has a book of poems called Cotidianas) is my attempt to combine the thematic origins of the personal essay form with a contemporary, fragmentary style. Because classical essayists such as Montaigne and Bacon and Lamb wrote first on themes with narration only in service of ideas, I also wanted to drive my writing with ideas. Because contemporary essays such as Weil and Adorno and Galeano and, closer to home, Scott Russell Sanders and Brian Doyle, wrote fragmentary collections and meditations connected by gossamer, I also wanted to write pithy, poetic prose. My attempts have brought me to write on laughter, boredom, singing, complicity, nature, influence, and other subjects, which will be revised into a completed dissertation in the near future. This means that Quotidiana, also, is not yet published as a book, but some of its contents are accepted for publication in journals. Mike Danko, a friend of mine and fellow Ohio U creative nonfictionist, once intruduced me when I gave a reading of an essay included in my dissertation. Here, hyperbole intact, is what he said.
In the Land of Painted Birds
My next big project is similar to my thesis (but different). In September 2002 I will begin a nine-month Fulbright fellowship that will send me to Uruguay, where I'll research in libraries, archives, and universities; interview people; roam the streets and fields; and write. I will write a travelogue with both a contemporary interest and a historical interest in the 1970s dictatorship and counterinsurgences, including 1971's Guinness World Record prison escape by 110 political prisoners (who tunneled over 300 feet under the prison wall from inside a cell!). In the Land of Painted Birds will be similar in style to Great Plains or On the Rez by Ian Frazier, Catfish and Mandala by Andrew X. Pham, or The Masked Rider by Neil Peart (yes, Neil Peart the drummer for Rush; he's written a very good book about cycling in West Africa).
I write because writing is everything, or limitless, infinite, and because once I felt the world of possibilities closing in on me, and writing is an escape, and I really believe the paradigm, which I discovered in Latin American authors like García Márquez and Borges and Galeano, of writing as an act of creation (and, necessarily, reading too is creation): words as artistic medium, lies telling truths, forming realities we could only dream of, even when, as in nonfiction, those written realities find their inspiration in physical reality. And I love rhythm. And I close my eyes and read out loud and imagine what next? And then? And because I never felt comfortable within the compartments of specializations of talents of the daily grind of working not for the work but for the time away from work. And I am not so unique, I know—we all are complex, with many interests and abilities—but I wanted it all, everything, and writing is everything . . .
On to the Essays, then?