Tuesday, July 27, 2010

#272 Bill Hughes: Longshoreman, Lawyer, Actor, Writer, Activist, etc.

Bill Hughes was born just after his twin brother Jim in the now defunct South Baltimore General Hospital. His mom was Irish-born and feisty. His father was short-fused, a local guy who worked on the docks and used "the belt" as punishment. One of nine children and raised in Locust Point, Bill learned how to swim in the harbor and played in Latrobe Park. When he was 7, Bill got detained for fighting, which almost caused a riot when Bill’s mom cussed the cop out. Bill’s mom dressed the twins alike. They were always “The Twins,” never Bill and Jim, which Bill grew to hate, but there was a good part to being a twin: they could team up to beat up the neighborhood bully, which they did. After that, The Twins were feared. In 3rd grade, Bill passed, but Jim failed. That ended the twin thing. Bill found school boring and the nuns at Our Lady of Good Counsel sometimes used him as a punching bag. He played on three championship soccer teams and was named “All-Maryland” while at the Calvert Hall High School. Bill got a soccer scholarship to the University of Baltimore (received an AA Degree). For 5 years, Bill worked as a longshoreman out of ILA Local 829 on the Baltimore waterfront. One summer, he was collecting unemployment insurance when he ran into a high school crony who was in law school. Bill thought: "If that dumb bastard can do law school, so could I." Bill attended the UB law school at night (where he received an “A” from Adjunct Professor Spiro Agnew and a JD degree) and had a day job as a courthouse clerk. One of the best things Bill ever did was pass the Maryland Bar exam. After that, Bill spent over a decade in the City Solicitor’s Office, where he was the chief of the Litigation Division for a few years. He was also a 24th Ward boss and an attorney for the Stonewall Democratic Club. During that time, a lawsuit was filed to stop Harborplace from being built, but Bill won that case. In 1958, Bill was at the Greatest Game Ever Played (the NFL Championship: Baltimore Colts vs. NY Giants) with his then-girlfriend Carolyn who he later married. They have a lovely daughter, Lisa, and three terrific grandchildren—Schuylar, Calista, and Kynan. Eventually, that relationship tanked when they realized they were incompatible. Now Bill is very happily married to Ann, who he met at a Liberated Singles event at the Unitarian Church. Ann is Bill’s rock, and they have one grandson, Matteo. Throughout his life, Bill has also been an attorney, an educator (an adjunct professor at UB Law School and Dundalk CC), a photographer, videographer, producer for Baltimore’s Channel 75, and an actor. He’s a member of AFTRA/SAG and has been in four John Waters movies. In Pecker, Bill played the Wild Man of 22nd Street. Bill is also an insatiable reader and loves reading and writing book reviews.
Bill has published four books, written tons of political essays, and been a columnist for many news outlets. He even did a stint as a commentator for WBAI’s Radio Free Eireann in NYC. Bill is proud of working as an activist and writer for the cause of Irish Freedom. Bill is a devotee of the American Revolution, loves to travel with Ann, and has a private pilot’s license (even though he’s afraid of heights). Before he dies, he hopes to witness the restoration of the American Republic. After he dies, Bill is going to be cremated and have his ashes tossed off Fort McHenry, after which he hopes somebody will belt out The Ballad of James Connolly.

[Note: You can see Bill's videos at YouTube and Vimeo, his photos at Flickr, and his column at the American Chronicle.]

Thursday, July 15, 2010

New York Tyrant #8

New York Tyrant #8 is now out. I have a piece in it called We Lived Together on Paper -- and Andy Devine has a condensed novel in it called Apartment City from into Our Please We Went. There's also a ton of great work by Sam Lipsyte, Ken Sparling, Noy Holland, Breece D’J Pancake, Padgett Powell, Daryl Scroggins, Brandon Hobson, Ken Baumann, and Sean Kilpatrick. Plus, there are lots of knives in the stories.

#58 William Walsh, Private Man (Now Less So)

William Walsh is a private man and there is little public knowledge of him. We know that he was born in the 1960’s, an event that quite possibly took place in Massachusetts. Not many specifics are known of his early life, but we can be certain that certain things happened—that he fell down while learning to walk, that his parents didn’t always understand him when he first learned to talk, that his baby teeth fell out and that the Tooth Fairy visited him without him knowing it. At some point, he learned to tie both of his shoes at the same time. When he was in the first grade, he was sent home from school for whistling. That was the last time that he did anything wrong or was in any kind of trouble. He was so good that he once played hopscotch with Pope John Paul II in Vatican Square. He always did his homework. His adolescence may have been awkward and he once ate his weight in clams. Regardless, he grew up, filled in, and became quite dashing. Later, there are public records concerning his attendance of Stonehill College and then the University of New Hampshire, concerning his marriage to a woman to whom he vowed everlasting love and, following this, the birth certificates for four children (he was recently spotted playing ski-ball with one of them at Dave & Busters). Other evidence for William Walsh’s existence includes his writings—a documentary novel called Without Wax, a formally inventive work about the adult film industry. But we should not draw any conclusions about William Walsh from this novel, his short stories, or his derived texts. This would not be dependable biographical information. Little else is known about William Walsh, but he was last observed watching late night television somewhere in Massachusetts. If you go look for him, then he might still be there.

[Update: William Walsh is the author of Without Wax, Questionstruck, and Pathologies, which was just released. Ampersand will bring out an anthology he edited in 2011.]

[Note: This postcard life story was written, as a kind of challenge, based on what I know of William from our emails and the once we met (that is, without an interview). However, since then, Bill has read so many great postcard stories about how people met their wife or husband or girlfriend or boyfriend that he decided to write his own addendum about meeting his wife, which he did here at The Kenyon Review.]

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

#132 Davis Schneiderman


Davis Schneiderman is sometimes Henry Mescaline is Henri d’Mescan—in Wilmington and Chicago and Calcutta, all at the same time. The three have a certain understanding regarding where things begin and end. Davis is many triplings. His childhood was made up of playing with toys, considering the problems of modern existence, and slumbering in the sweet and easy repose of innocence. He recalls being warned not to eat snow that may have been produced by acid rain. Davis is Davis and Henry is Henri as a result of a certain emotional scarring. He is an introverted-extrovert, with fine lines running over the curve of his skin. At a certain age, he learned that he was missing part of his spine. Many years ago, at Penn State, Davis got to know Kelly Haramis after they made a bet as to whether she could write a certain amount of stories for the school newspaper. There is some dispute over who won, but Davis paid the check when they went out to dinner, which could be taken as a kind of resolution. Once, Davis took his cold, January turn on a ferris wheel in Nanchang, China. Another time, Davis lied to the actor, Richard Dreyfuss, which made Richard Dreyfuss and Max Bickford happy. Also, it is possible that he has read at least one word from every single work in the English language, through which he has built a disastrous lexicon. At some point, Davis and Kelly got married, got a cat (Cassiopeia, who is mildly telepathic and strongly telekinetic), had a baby (Kallista, 1.25yo), and adopted another baby (Athena (2.50yo). Currently, Davis is the chair of American studies and an associate professor of English at Lake Forest College. He is a multimedia artist, the author of Multifesto: A Henri d'Mescan Reader, and the co-author of Abecedarium. His daughters run like wildfires through his brain.

[Update: Davis Schneiderman's novel, Drain is just out from Northwestern University Press. Another novel, Blank is forthcoming from Jaded Ibis.]

Thursday, July 8, 2010

#86 Jen Michalski: All the Things She Is

Jen Michalski’s twin brother, Scott, came out first, but his nose and ear were all bent up. His nose still looks a little smashed. Of course, this early struggle just made Jen even more ambitious. When Jen and Scott were toddlers, their mom used to dress them up in matching outfits even though they were fraternal twins, one a boy and one a girl. Their mother would take them shopping to department stores and they would sit on the mannequin stands and sing songs from Sesame Street (today, Jen has a mannequin in her house). Their mother always knew where they were. When Jen was 4, she learned to say Fuck You from her father. But all the fighting in the family made her reserved in some ways. Jen’s filter became quite thick and sometimes she'd rather say nothing than risk what the response might be. Around this same time, Jen decided that she wanted to be an elephant when she grew up. She thought it was a viable career choice. She thought that elephants looked peaceful and that they must be brave (there aren't many hiding places for an elephant). Over the years, Jen wanted to be an elephant, then a writer, then a policewoman, then a writer, then a doctor, then a writer. She wrote her first short story when she was 5 and she read everything she could find--to try to find out how other people lived. She assumed that everybody else was happier than she was. By the time she started college, Jen had written six novels. In college, she wrote poetry. After college, she wrote short stories and two more novels, but she never tried to publish them. Also after college, she was in a relationship for eleven years, which was difficult to end. Jen doesn't like change. She doesn't even like going on vacation because then she has to get used to a new routine. She has lived in the same city for most of her life (B’more!). Now, Jen’s much much happier with her life and especially with her new partner, the wonderful Phuong. And Jen still reads all the time and runs an online e-zine, jmww, where she publishes other people's stories. She’s fascinated by what people write and why. And last year, Jen published her first collection of stories, Close Encounters (So New Media). Now she’s writing another novel and this one she’s going to publish.


[Update #2: Jen has been killing it lately (see this update and the one below). Her novella, May-September, just won the Press 53 2010 novella contest and will be published next year. She is also a finalist for the James Jones First Novel Fellowship.]

[Update #1: Jen edited an anthology of Baltimore writers (from Douglass to Stein to Lipmann and Bell) that just published, City Sages: Baltimore. Even better, Dzanc just signed her up for a novella and stories, tentatively titled "I Can Make It to California Before It's Time for Dinner." You can find more Jen Michalski here and JMWW here.]

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Shya Scanlon Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): #257 bl pawelek

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.]