Thursday, July 31, 2008

#57 The Visual Fixations of Heather Fowler

Heather Fowler almost went blind when she was a toddler. She required multiple eye surgeries to preserve her eyesight and this early emphasis on her eyes has led to certain visual fixations—especially reading, looking at art, watching movies, and staring at beautiful people. She inherited both her bad eyesight and her love of good books from her parents. Reading turned into writing and Heather’s first publication was in her seventh-grade literary magazine. Ever since then, she has been writing like a maniac—sometimes writing a poem or a flash a day for months at a time (there are so many words inside her)—and now she is a widely published poet and short story writer. But a writer is only one thing that Heather is. She is also a painter, singer, actress, friend, mother, and wife. Besides that, she has two degrees, two jobs, and one husband. She loves how much her husband loves her. She mothers three children and loves every single thing about them that makes them particularly them; she loves them more and more as they get older and bigger (she is made up of so much heart). She likes dead Russian authors, though she would never kill a living one, and fresh flowers, which she will cut with a knife. She is liberated by words and her imagination. She likes email and social networking because it connects her a world of people she would not know another way and she wants to know everybody, including you.

Visit Heather Fowler and read some of her writing.

Monday, July 28, 2008

#53: The Healing Powers of Joy Leftow

Joy Leftow was born to a creative family in NYC and because of this, in part, grew up in extreme poverty. She slept with her mom and two sisters in one bedroom, while her dad and brother slept in the living room. She had two blouses, one skirt, and shoes with holes in them. The family had a radio, but never a TV. There were more problems than poverty, though. Her dad was crazy and often exposed himself to Joy and her two sisters. Her mom had cancer, but, thankfully, survived. Years later, her dad attacked the doctor who saved her mother’s life because her dad imagined they were having an affair, which led to him being hospitalized at Bellevue. Joy wrote her first poem, about snowflakes, at 4 years old, and then wrote many more poems and stories during her young life—everything was fantasy then. She stopped writing in the sixth grade, though, and started acting out, cutting school and smoking cigarettes. She dropped out of high school and married a drug dealer, but the marriage failed and the drug dealer went to prison. During these difficult years, Joy began keeping diaries—nothing was fantasy then—and now is widely published writer. After her now ex-husband went to prison, Joy went back home to live in the same neighborhood where she grew up. Things are much better now. She went back to school at Columbia and now has two masters degrees, one of which is in social work, because Joy is a healer, of herself and of other people. How else could she have survived?

More Joy

Thursday, July 24, 2008

#55 The Interior Life of Graham Nunn

Graham Nunn was almost named Austin Nunn after he was born on the backseat of an Austin in Melton, England. His parents were distant with each other, so he grew up with a fairly negative view of marriage. When he was 8 years old, he was reprimanded by the headmaster for teasing a girl on the playground, and, since then, he has always associated going near girls with getting into trouble. He has never had a relationship. Graham says that he’s never been a regular kind of guy. He spends much of his time alone. Graham says that there haven’t been any important events in his life, just minor ones that he tries to elevate with hyperbole. He has only had one proper job, working in the office of a small construction company where he started as an office junior and then progressed to Small Works Manager. Graham says that it sounds more impressive than it is. Graham’s interior life involves creative urges, particularly those associated writing and drawing. Not being able to decide between the two, he started a webcomic to satisfy both. He struggles to keep up with it, but he keeps on. What else can he do?

Graham Nunn’s Webcomic, Doormat Picnic

More Graham Nunn

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

#52 Josh Maday: Satisfaction in the Things He Makes

Josh Maday was born in Saginaw, Michigan, and grew up near there in an almost childless subdivision. He has wonderful parents, but has struggled with depression since the second grade. Eventually, he learned to push those feelings down, but, directed inward, he grew to hate himself—for not fitting in, for not being a better athlete (even though he was a three-sport athlete), for not being good enough for anyone (even though his father attended every game he played and his mother loved him very much and Sarah eventually would too). Josh grew up stoic, stone-faced, and after high school he worked as a mason’s laborer, which he hated. Around the same time, he fell in love with Sarah, which was easy to do, and he began to have other feelings inside him. He kept laying blocks and bricks so that he could marry Sarah. He continued to build things up and his debilitating low periods were no longer so low. Sarah’s tireless positive outlook began to change Josh’s self-image. He began to understand that people didn’t actually despise him, that that was just a function of clinical depression. The chemical situation that often derailed his life was being corrected. The other thing that changed the way that Josh felt inside was reading. Josh found consolation in big ideas, unanswerable questions, and reading books. As his personal library grew to over 5K books, Josh began to turn his complex interior life into his own stories, which are often strange in content and/or form. He does not see the point of writing a traditional realist story. Anybody could do that and Josh is not just anybody, a fact that he now accepts, along with his tendency toward the dark, grotesque, heavy, weird, and satirical. And Josh now finds satisfaction in the things he makes—whether with bricks, with words, or with love. Sarah has taught Josh to care about someone else and their first child is due in September. He is excited. There are so many good things that are going to happen in his life.

Disseminating Josh Maday

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

#51 Gina Myers: Ice Skating on the Page

Gina Myers was born, grew up, and went to school in and around Saginaw, Michigan. Despite its cold winters and depressed economy, she is a warm and happy person. As a young girl, Gina was a tomboy who followed her older brother around and did the things that he did. This is why she played hockey for three years before her parents switched her to ice skating lessons. (It should be noted that Gina might have won a gold medal with the first USA Olympics women’s hockey team if she had kept playing hockey.) She doesn’t talk much about figure skating anymore, though this was the focus of her life through high school and college. During this time, Gina was also a photographer and a poet, but she stopped shooting photos after her camera’s battery went dead and she never bought a new one. After college, she took a road trip to NYC with a friend and visited the New School. After returning to Michigan, she dreamed of NYC and knew that she had to move there. She couldn’t stop thinking about all those pairs of feet walking on the sidewalks. Gina took her ice skates to NYC, but only skated once in Central Park. She attended the New School and became a poet with a natural, playful style (think of the ice rink as the page). Unfortunately, she became unhappy in NYC. She tried to fix the unhappiness by changing parts of her life—her job, her apartment, certain people—but she eventually had to change cities and moved back home. In a few years, she will leave Saginaw for another city where she will continue to write poems. She is feeling optimistic.

A Sad Day for Sad Birds (Gina Myers)

Monday, July 21, 2008

#50 The Farsightedness of Peter Cole

When Peter Cole was in the womb, his early-teens mother and 20-something father were on the run from the FBI, presumably because of statutory rape charges, and escaped to Mexico, which has often made Peter feel special but wrong. As an infant, Peter often stared at light sources, especially lamps, and his first spoken word was light, which his mother (who can hear the voice of God) believed to be a sign of his enlightenment. This also may have been the source of his crooked eyes and the reason he needed glasses early in life. Peter grew up in the church, watched The 700 Club, and prayed for his eyes to be healed. But his eyes didn’t heal and he couldn’t hear the voice that his mother heard either, which made him feel evil. In school, Peter was a chunky loner, so he started a punk band. He played music for years, but now that part of his life is over. Peter didn’t think that he would ever get married until he met the woman who would become his wife. Her name was Annie Dillard and they met, in part, because a mutual friend saw him reading a book by an author named Annie Dillard who is a different Annie Dillard. Peter doesn’t know much about cars, but he is the parts manager at an auto shop, a job he keeps because he hates shaving and cutting his hair. Recently, he stopped wearing regular clothes and only wears his work uniforms. He doesn’t know if he will ever go back to Mexico, but through his farsightedness Peter knows he will have a great, domesticated life with Annie, their beautiful beagle, Lilly, and their kids who are not yet born.

Keyhole Magazine, which Peter edits

Friday, July 18, 2008

#54 The Short Life of Red Delicious Apple

The first thing that Red Delicious Apple remembered was being a flower and the way the birds sounded in the trees. Later, Apple remembered the wind and losing his petals. Apple wanted to jump down after them, but stayed on the branch, in the tree. Apple grew up, got wider, filled out, and began changing colors. He hung on by the stem even as the others began falling to the ground. He was afraid until the hand reached up, pulled him off the branch, and piled him in a bushel basket. Apple said goodbye to tree and brought his stem with him, a few small leaves, but he didn’t know where they were taking him. He bumped against the others and was afraid. The next thing that Apple remembered was the bright lights, another hand, and a plastic bag. He thought that maybe he was being suffocated, but he still trusted the hand, which eventually placed him in a small basket with others he didn’t recognize. There was a green and fat-bottomed couple, a small gang of long and spotted yellows. It wasn’t long after that, though, that the hand delivered Apple to the teeth. Apple could feel the teeth cutting through his skin and into his meat, what was left of his insides turning brown, sickening, softening. The last thing Apple remembered was the trashcan, the lid, the rotting darkness.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Dear Everybody

I'm back sooner than expected. After getting up at 530am this morning, and then waiting in the hospital waiting room for over 6 hours, I still hadn't been called back into surgery. Sometime around noon, almost ready to pass out from dehydration, the knee surgery was cancelled. It was an incredibly frustrating day, but I'm trying to look on the bright side here. I still have all of my medial meniscus in my left knee, even if it is torn into two pieces. And, after talking to a woman with a Frankenstein knee who was having a second procedure because she could not bend her leg four weeks after her first procedure, Dr. Stephen Bell will not be performing the surgery on me.

OK, back to your life stories.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dear Everybody

I'm going to be away for a few days. Dr. Bell is going to cut my knee open tomorrow and take a little piece of my meniscus out and then smooth out what is left of my meniscus. I will miss that part of my meniscus. I will miss you too. Let's meet back here in a few days.

#46 Karen Lillis: The Things That Saved Her

Karen Lillis was born on Friday the 13th under a full moon, which led to her being quiet and dark. She moved 7 times by the time she was 7 years old and this made her restless. She didn’t want to stay in one place long enough to get hurt. Besides, moving was always hopeful and buoyant. She narrated the receding back window scenery to her baby brother as they traveled across America. In her youth, Karen was conspicuously tall, skinny, and smart. Accordingly, the kids at school taunted her from head to toe, which led to nicknames like Ethiopia, Four Eyes, and Rex. Because of this, in part, Karen didn't talk in public until about age 15. She escaped the taunting for college and fell in love with Thomas. Their first kiss was at a train station, but they later broke up and he became The One Who Got Away. Karen became obsessed with taking photographs of train tracks and train stations. She may have been looking for Thomas where she last saw him. She felt hopeful when she looked down the train tracks. She thought her future was in the distance. Karen further escaped to NYC, which saved her from being a rag doll or going crazy. Another thing that saved Karen was writing and the cross-country book tour (see moves, above) that she took to support his her first book (she’s now published three). In NYC, she became irresponsible and preferred affairs to relationships. She wanted people to leave her. It reminded her of Thomas, who she found again—14 years after they broke up—when he applied to the store where she was working at the time. She asked him to set her free and they got back together a few weeks later. Now they are engaged and living in Pittsburgh, where they are going to stay, at least for a while.

Karen's Myspace page

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

#045 The Awesome Adam Robinson

Adam Robinson has lived in a bunch of different cities, but that probably doesn’t matter. His childhood was not notable except for all of the God stuff that he grew up with. He went to a Christian college, but only because his brother, his Irish twin, did. The Christian college was awesome for Adam (though it must be noted that this word often accompanies descriptions of religious experiences) and it was there that he learned that life is really terrible unless everybody forgives each other. Adam continues to be a Christian in spite of the fact that Martin Luther consummated his marriage to Katherine von Bora in front of his friends (or, possibly, because of this fact; it isn’t clear). Said another way, Adam is a dark and sad Christian like St. Paul. Now Adam works as a technology buyer for an asset management company, but that doesn’t really describe him. It isn’t who he is. He is a guitar player for Sweatpants and the publisher of Publishing Genius and a writer of poems and stories and songs, but he cannot be fully understood in these terms either. It is better to think of Adam in terms of the time he jumped out of a speeding boat (that he was driving) and crashed it. The boat didn’t sink and Adam didn’t drown. The boat got stuck in some seaweed and Adam swam back to shore. Adam made a similar jump when he left behind his life in Milwaukee and ran away to Baltimore with Stephanie Barber, who is awesome (like Christianity, but in a different way). The experience was panicked and great. It should also be noted that the farthest Adam has walked at one time is 28 miles and 
the farthest he has ridden a bicycle is 34 miles. He could go farther, though. He will go farther. In fact, there he goes now.

Adam Robinson and Publishing Genius

Monday, July 14, 2008

#044 Translating Anna Lenik

Her parents met at a party and three days later decided to get married. Nine months later, a tiny little girl named Anna Lenik was born in Siberia, not far from Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world. Anna grew up in a good family and her parents never argued. When she was 8, she decided to learn English and her parents hired a private teacher for her. She now speaks German and Chinese as well, and she is going to be a translator or an interpreter. Anna wants to help people understand each other, but worries that she doesn’t have a talent for languages (though, in fact, she does). She wants to visit as many cities in the world as possible and make as many friends as possible (she gains her power from this). Anna doesn`t have a boyfriend, a lover, or a husband—and won’t until she finds a person who is honest and sincere. She is through listening to lies. Anna can be a vulnerable person, but she is waiting to meet somebody who will give her that feeling her parents had when they met.

Friday, July 11, 2008

#43 The Many Things to Know About Anastacia Anpilova

Anastacia Anpilova was born to artist parents and grew up in the Siberian part of Russia. There are many things to know about her. She has always been obsessed with drawing. She likes horror movies and never screams at them, but sad books make her cry. She likes studying abroad and thinks it’s romantic like in Jane Eyre. She can’t live without music and was a rock and roll girl for most of her life, but she recently started wearing high heels and skirts and became more feminine. She has no regrets. Anastacia wants to do so many things with her life and it's really hard to choose. She might do charity work with the homeless or with animals. She speaks many languages and adores doing translations, but her vocation is probably teaching. She is going to teach children English and thinks that that might be like being Mary Poppins, which is perfect. In fact, Anastacia is a good girl, though sometimes she has dark thoughts. Most people don't know that she loves her best friend, even her best friend doesn't. Most people also don't know that she once jumped from a 5-story bridge and survived. This is just one illustration of how Anastacia can do anything she decides to do.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

A Few Notes on the Project

I wrote Rob Brulinski's postcard at the Transmodern Festival and it was toward the end of that first night of writing postcards and I was feeling a little zombie-ish by that point, which Rob talks about at Boy Being Buried Alive. His life story was one of the stories that really stuck with me and one of the reasons this turned into a bigger project. So I was happy and surprised to see Rob walking down the sidewalk with his twin brother, Kenny at Honfest, and glad that he shared his life story with me too. I did my best to honor their individual details.

And here's a polaroid that Rob shot while I was writing the life stories at Honfest. You can see more of them at Boy Being Buried Alive.

Monday, July 7, 2008

#016 The Life of Rob Brulinski

Rob Brulinski was born in 1988 in Towson and moved to Baltimore when he was 3. He was introduced to computers when he was six and this would have a great influence on his life. The other great influence was his grandfather, with whom he would sneak into TV shoots and movie theaters. He also began hacking, that is sneaking into other peoples computer systems. He will, for the rest of his life, do things that he isn't supposed to do. He will go to church without believing in God. He will sleep in his car instead of his house. He will be an incredible success in spite of all of this—or because of it.

Rob Brulinski's Inner Numb

#039 Kenneth Brulinski, Jr.: The Only White Kid

Kenneth Brulinski, Jr. was born in 1988 in Baltimore and grew up in Highlandtown. His father is a carpenter and his mother is a drug dealer. He was usually the only white kid in his classes, which combined with having a hearing aid, led to a lot of fights in school. In the 3rd grade, he was stabbed in the chest in class, but recovered. Years later, he became a drug dealer himself. He was never arrested for that, but his mother once had him arrested for trespassing, among 4 other charges, and then he was arrested again for smoking a blunt. He has never had a lot of friends, but, luckily, he has always had his twin brother with him. Growing up, they were the dual personification of the mirror effect, but now they are opposites—Kenneth working with his back and Rob working with his mind (though they are still great friends). Kenneth’s carpentry skills, which he learned from his father, have replaced the drug dealing skills that learned from his mother, and he will eventually build himself a good life with them.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

How Much Can I Write on a Postcard?

There have been questions about how much I can write on a postcard and I usually just say, A lot. But my pal Adam Robinson asked how I was able to write all of the text from Holly Ritter's life story on a postcard and the answer is that I wrote small. Here's the proof:

#038 Barbara Weiss: Ring Collector

Barbara Weiss has been collecting rings for most of her life—the first, a diamond from her first husband, a marriage that lasted about six years and also gave her a son; the second a diamond from a boyfriend of ten years; plus, other rings from other men that she has known, including a Polish man who didn’t speak English but who was so beautiful that they communicated by looking at each other, not to mention the bank robber who always seemed to have money. The first marriage ended when she realized that her husband’s obsession with her was not love, or not all love, but, rather, OCD. The second long-term relationship ended because of her son. In spite of this, Barbara continues to have great relationships and many interesting friends, including some who are too famous to name here. But she can say that The Temptations have sung to her in a hotel room and that she has slept in the same bed as Brad Pitt, though not at the same time.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

#37 Holly Ritter: Everything Is Going to Be All Right

Holly Ritter never would have been born if her mother’s parents hadn’t emigrated from Russia to China and if her father hadn’t been stationed there in the 1940’s. But growing up a Marine brat was terrible, just horrible—especially since they always moved the middle of the school year, especially since she was a girl who wore glasses (and got called all kinds of names). These early experiences probably made Holly more introverted than she would have been otherwise, which led her to become a great reader and an English major in college (she still writes about her experiences on Steno pads, which she has never read but almost certainly contain a more detailed version of her life story). For the longest time, she would never be the first one to speak, though she has since gotten over that (as you can see by the fact that you are reading about her here). Holly first married at 21 and later gave birth to her first son, but the marriage ended in divorce when her husband left her for the office hussy. Between her first marriage and her second marriage, when the lost child faltered, God spoke to her and told her that everything was going to be all right. It’s a presence, a voice from nowhere, and everything has been all right. She learned to be on her own and got over her difficult childhood. Luckily, her second husband turned out to be the love of her life; she gave birth to a second son and they are all, as she says, living happily ever after. Holly has worked at the same job with the telephone company for 30 years and lived in the same general area for her entire adult life (just in different houses). After her early life as a Marine brat, she doesn’t even like to go on vacation.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

#36 Bethany Watson: Deciding What Will Happen

Bethany Watson was born in 1989 in White Plains, NY. At 5 years old, she visited her cousin, Nicole, at Yale University, and, while playing on the swings there decided that she too would attend Yale when she was old enough. While she was still 5, Bethany moved to Baltimore with her family and, later, became a 3-sport athlete in high school—cross country, track, and lacrosse. At 18 years old, Bethany did, in fact, begin attending Yale University, where she has a particular interest in neuroscience as a way to understand human behavior. It is partly because of her knowledge of psychology, but also because of her ability to read people, that so many of her friends come to for advice. She has a rare intelligence, generosity, and intuitive ability--which will all be useful as she pursues her interests in psychology, including graduate school, so that she can continue to help the people around her. Bethany already understands that she can make things happen just by deciding that she wants them to happen.