Top 5 Online Essays
|I had been teaching my students about Bl. Franz Jagerstatter for years and couldn't have been more excited to hear that Terrence Malick, one of my favorite directors, was making a film about him. In December 2019, I drove two hours to Denver to see A Hidden Life on opening night. I spent my entire Christmas break writing this essay. (A few weeks later I met Valerie Pachner, the actress who plays Franz's wife in the film, as she was sitting across from me in the Munich airport, but that's a different story.)
In this essay, I compare and contrast the film Hacksaw Ridge (2016) with the documentary The Conscientious Objector (2004), both of which are about Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who refused to kill during World War II. Both films provide a concrete portrayal of a larger conflict that has been going on within Christianity for the last 1,700 years.
This essay was written after a decade of living through the “War on Terror” and after seeing American Sniper directed by Clint Eastwood. Lew Rockwell described the essay as a complaint about the “Chris Kyle-ization of American Catholicism.” I think that’s pretty accurate, but it was also a meditation on the Stations of the Cross written during Lent.
This essay is about media and propaganda: “People found the premise of The Hunger Games to be so offensive and obscene because it blurred something as serious as war with something as frivolous as entertainment, but in America, the lines between war, entertainment, and propaganda are increasingly hard to draw. They practically don’t exist.” This is one of my more well-researched essays. The more I researched, the more I found. It was definitely like going down a rabbit hole. I didn’t expect to find so many real world examples.
Top 5 in Print
There was a brief period of time before I started teaching full-time when I was able to write a lot. Here are a few of my favorites pieces from that era.
"Kristen Wiig, Strange Doctor" (2013)
I wrote this essay to mourn the departure of Kristen Wiig from Saturday Night Live. It was originally published in Kugelmass: A Journal of Literary Humor. In 2015, it was republished by Oxford University Press in their educational anthology Humor: A Reader for Writers. It appeared in the "Persuasive" section after an essay by Christopher Hitchens called "Why Women Aren't Funny." The student reader was asked to compare and contrast the two arguments. I don't care much for Hitchens' work but it was an honor to be pitted against him!
"Innocence and Sorrow" (2013)
This is an essay about Graham Greene's novel The Quiet American and an experience I had with a family of Iraqi refugees. It was published in the literary magazine Relief: A Christian Literary Expression. I plan to read the essay aloud on the CAM podcast soon, as it will be ten years since the events I wrote about took place and I would like to revisit them.
"A Late Start" (2011)
I wrote this essay for The Servant Song, the community newspaper for the Agape Community, where I lived for six months. It's about the hermitage they have on their property, available to community members, visitors on retreat, and peaceful pilgrims just passing through.
"The Desired Thing" (2009)
This is an old chapbook, the printing of which was funded by the University of Montana after I won their Merriam-Frontier Award in 2008. It contains three essays, including one lyric that was never published anywhere else. The judges remarked: "She confronts freshly both urban and wild settings in gorgeous language. She works in an admirable range of styles and is unafraid to take risks. Her prose moves between internal and external landscapes in ways that are original and alive."
Want one? At the very least, it would make a cute coaster. If you send me a postcard and a self-addressed, stamped envelope, I'll put one in the mail for you. I'd like to get rid of them but can't bear to throw them away. Make sure the envelope will fit a 6" x 4.5" book.
1230 Big Thompson Avenue, #104
Estes Park, CO 80517.
(It's a P.O. Box.)
"The Me Years" (2011)
A Writer's Story: I graduated with my M.F.A. and was officially an "award-winning" writer. I felt strongly that God wanted me to write a book. For two years, I wrote it. I got an agent, easily. I told my agent that Paul Elie at Farrar, Straus and Giroux was supposed to publish it. My agent said, that's the most prestigious publishing house in New York. I was like, yeah.
One day, when the receptionist at the agency was sick, my agent answered the phone, and it was Paul Elie from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. My agent told Elie about the book. Elie said, send it over. I did pirouettes in my kitchen.
Elie read it. He said he liked it, but: "She's too young to write a memoir." The agent said, We'll work on it some more and send it out again. I said, I'm tired I don't wanna. He said, You can't give up now, I can sell this, but it needs more church and more sex and you need to fix the ending.
I asked Jesus what I should do: keep going or give up and let this thing rot away on my hard drive forever. Jesus said, give it to me. I said, okay, gee thanks, but how do I do that. This was right when self-publishing was getting big, so I eventually put it on Amazon, where it has lived in obscurity ever since.
Elie did, however, give me a blurb!
And Elizabeth Duffy, whose writing I love, kindly reviewed it over at Patheos.