Barry Pawelek was born at Camp Lejeune, a Marine Corps base in Jacksonville, NC, in 1968, the first son of three to a two-term Vietnam Vet. His family soon moved to the suburbs of Buffalo, NY, where his mother worked as an emergency room RN, and his father jumped from job to job, being everything from a florist to a wrestling coach. Very active in sports as a teenager, Barry taught hockey to kids until, in the winter of his 16th year, he had a bad fall on the ice, and was unconscious for two days. Fortunately, he woke up. For the next two years or so, nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but in time his memory became noticeably unreliable for what Barry calls “secondary memory.” Though he could still remember things most dear and important to him, things of lesser importance, like directions, or the names of acquaintances, were now increasingly lost. He now sees this as one of the defining moments of his life. Barry has been writing since he was in his teens, but although he has notebooks of evidence, he has only one distinct memory of writing during this early period: one summer his father worked as a park ranger, and he spent time with his father in the woods. He remembers the feeling of carrying his binder around, of writing among the trees. It was “horribly bad stuff.” He wrote sporadically during his 20s, but he was a voracious reader, having earned a BA in English Literature from Cal State. Encouraged by a teacher, he went on to earn an MA in Literature from Loyola Marymount. It was at Marymount that Barry began to take creative writing classes, and as a result to take writing more seriously. In the beginning, he had a very “shotgun” approach to submitting, and though he found some success with publication, he was not proud of either the work, or the publishing credits. In 1998, he stopped submitting altogether, and began to think less about getting it out there, and more about self-improvement. During the next ten years, he focused on his own private artistic practice, which includes writing, painting, and photography, on his family, and on his career in public relations. Barry is a Communication Project Manager for a water company, and no one at work knows about his issues with memory. This is partly because he keeps his private and work lives separate, but also because he has successfully been able to mask the matter by taking exhaustive notes, and because the nature of his work follows short project lifecycles. Barry takes a journal with him everywhere, and writes down everything that seems important. When he travels by car, he uses a GPS to make sure he knows how to get where he’s going, and how to get back. But when he wants to remember something important, to savor an experience, he also stops, focuses, puts the scene into perspective, and tries to embed it in his memory. Barry was married in 2003, and has two children—Eli, who is five, and Abbey, who is three—with his wife, Jennifer. Jennifer is the best thing that ever happened to him (he realizes that everyone says this, but he knows it to be true). She is extraordinarily caring and patient with him, and is his best friend. Barry feels incredibly fortunate to have waited until his mid-30s before having children, because by this time he could let go of his youthful selfishness. He does not have any real regrets. Everything serious, he’s talked through and apologized for. The small things he simply forgets. In 2008, Barry began again to submit his writing for publication, but this time he was very selective and smart about where he wanted to be published. The first publication he sought out was Willows Wept Review, and Molly Gaudry was the editor who accepted his poetry. Barry does not consider himself an accomplishment-driven person—he enjoys building relationships and promoting things that are important to him—but he does look forward to publishing his first book. In 2009 he wrote a novella, but he’s not in love with it. Sometimes he goes back to old journals—much of which he does not remember writing—and types some of it out. But generally, his writing keeps getting better, and whatever he most recently wrote, he likes the best.
[Update: bl pawelek's collection of poems, The Equation of Constants, is now available at Artistically Declined Press.]
[Notes: You can read Shya Scanlon's postcard life story here. And you can read bl pawelek's postcard life story of James Beach here.]