by Mark Dery
Sunshine/Noir: Writing From San Diego And Tijuana, edited by Jim Miller, is out, and I've got a lengthy essay in it, titled "Loving the Alien: Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Become Californian." It's an autobiographical rumination on the ontological migraines I suffered as a palely loitering lit geek, growing up among San Diego's Malibus Barbies and Earring Magic Kens.
Here's the opening graph, as a teaser:
"Born in Boston and raised in New England until I was five, I felt like Robinson Crusoe on Mars when we moved to San Diego. Marooned in a suburban development, I rode my Sting-Ray down gridded streets, past lookalike tract homes. If I squinted hard, I could almost imagine I was one of the crabgrass frontiersmen in Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles (1950), homesteading in some extraterrestrial Levittown. To someone from 'Back East,' the climate was alien: It never snowed, it rarely rained, and on the hottest days the sun seemed as if it was about to go nova."
The anthology also features Sandra Alcosser, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Marilyn Chin, Mike Davis (yes, that Mike Davis), Hal Jaffe, Jimmy Jazz, Steve Kowitt, Sue Luzzaro, Victor Payan and Perry Vasquez, and David Reid.
A professor of English and labor studies at San Diego City College, Jim Miller is an activist historian, hell-bent on exhuming the bodies buried beneath the Chamber of Commerce-approved official history of America's Finest City. He's fanning the flames of what passes for dissident intellectualism in San Diego, where the Life of the Mind dies screaming (or did, at least, when I languished there, as a teenager). Along with Mike (City of Quartz) Davis and Kelly Mayhew, he co-edited the trailblazing collection, Under the Perfect Sun: The San Diego Tourists Never See, a portrait of Dorian Gray the city's real-estate moguls, jackleg politicans, and right-wing talkshow hosts would dearly love to consign to the Index Librorum Prohibitorum, if only they could.
Now, through CityWorks Press (a non-profit literary press founded by the San Diego Writers Collective), Miller has published this compendium of nonfiction and fiction writings on the San Diego-Tijuana sprawl.
"In the introduction to the anthology, Jim Miller...explains the anthology's title by pointing to San Diego's paradoxes: the city's rich history is compromised by its push to grow; no other city in California has as large a gap between rich and poor; and the carefree image the San Diego tourist industry promotes is undermined by a constant military presence," writes Kelly Davis, in her San Diego CityBeat feature on Sunshine/Noir. "Such dichotomies prompt 'attempts to explore the meaning of place,' Miller writes. The anthology seeks to do just that."
Davis also wrote the sharp, stingingly funny introduction that prefaces the big, fat chunk of my essay excerpted in this week's CityBeat, an irreverent upstart that's blowing the doors off the city's other alternative newsweekly, The San Diego Reader.
Actually, it's the cover story; how cool is that?
Note: If you're reading this in SoCal, there's a combine book-launch party, art exhibition, and book signing for Sunshine/Noir at ICE GALLERY, 3417 30TH ST (AT UPAS), NORTH PARK, SAN DIEGO on SATURDAY, JUNE 11, at 7 PM. It's free. Perry Vasquez writes, "An exhibition of art from Sunshine/Noir will also be on display, featuring the work of Yukimi Levas-Anderson, Michael Mesa, Mario Chacon, Eugene Brown, Hendrix Knowles, Alessandra Moctezuma, and Perry Vasquez." For more info, call (619) 244-9302.
Incidentally, Vasquez, who did the cover art for the anthology, reproduced above, is an astonishing artist and cultural activist focusing on Chicano and crossborder/bicultural issues. Check out his droll, barbed work at his site, Apollo 13 .
Copyright © 2005 City Works Press. All rights reserved.