Thursday, June 25, 2009

#167 Ken Baumann Was Discovered

Ken Baumann’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and given 3 weeks to live before he ever existed. Luckily, his mother recovered and Ken was born some time after that, though extremely prematurely. Ken was supposed to be dead and blind, and he does have horrible vision, but his hearing is intact. For all these reasons, Ken was a miracle baby. For many other reasons, Ken’s parents have always known he is special. Ken had a great childhood growing up in Abilene, Texas, but didn’t play football. He was always skinny and read a lot, mostly fantasy books. When he was 10, wrote a book about a boy wizard who is recruited to a wizardry school so he can fight the evil wizard (Ken was incredibly pissed when Harry Potter came out). When he was 15, Ken wrote his first full-length novel and it felt like a huge accomplishment to finish something so large. Through these years, Ken continued to read and write fantasy books—until he read Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat's Cradle, which changed the way he thought and read for good. Ken’s acting career began after he was discovered at a Model/Actor Search and later was signed by a talent agent in NYC, where he moved for 3 months. After that, Ken was set up with another agent in Dallas and started auditioning for commercials and modeling for area department stores. But it wasn't until Ken played Nick in A Thousand Clowns at a local theatre that he felt passionate about acting. He gave up the modeling thing and went to Los Angeles for pilot season. The second year he went for pilot season he booked the lead in a pilot for Fox called Don't Ask, and he has been working ever since. Even though he was just 14, Ken wanted to take care of the family and find enough work to convince his dad to move out with his mom and his little sister. Ken wanted the family together and thought it was his responsibility. Recently though, Ken realized that his parents are incredible and smart and ten times more capable to withstand life's difficulties than he is. He loves how supportive they have always been. There was never any stage mom or stage dad from them and they never put any expectations on him. Ken met his girlfriend while working on a film called Spring Break '83. He felt the most joy, the most innocence, in the 6 weeks that they were together on set. She is an intelligent, generous, talented, loving person—and he loves her purely. She has inspired him to do so much. His second novel, Interim, and the feature film that he’s working on now are both dedicated to her. Last year, Ken started work on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, bought a house, and is now living by himself. Ken feels powerful and alive, and Ken is.

More Ken Baumann

[Update: The second season of The Secret Life of the American Teenager premiered earlier this week (and the blog has been getting a lot of hits from Ken’s fans, so I thought I would make it easier on everybody).]

Thursday, June 18, 2009

#133 The Survival of Rahne Alexander

Rahne Alexander was given a different name when she was born in 1969. She was raised Mormon in Central Valley, California, and the early grade school years were a blurry time. Rahne remembers feeling displaced and fearful as the boys and the girls were divided into separate groups. At 8, the age of accountability, Rahne let herself be baptized even though she was skeptical about the church. She knew the family would be ostracized otherwise. In the late 70’s, Rahne’s mother (an artist, dancer, painter) was diagnosed with MS and, so, at an early age, Rahne took on more of a caretaker role in the family. In high school, Rahne became more social but, at the time, it wasn’t okay to be out and gay, which caused difficulties even though Rahne wasn’t a gay boy. Rahne had done some research and there wasn’t much anecdotal information back then, but she had at least a medical understanding of transexualism. There were times when Rahne snuck her mother’s clothes, but this felt weird (probably not because they were woman’s clothes, but because they weren’t Rahne’s style). To get through, Rahne threw herself into school. She was just trying to survive until she could leave for college. Rahne attended USC and met her first girlfriend there; she was the first person Rahne came out to; she was so open and helped Rahne to explore her identity. It was weird, but great. Rahne didn’t think it would be possible, to do what she was doing, but it became okay over time. The next year, they both transferred to Redlands and Rahne studied philosophy, psychology, and women’s studies. Rahne delayed her public transition until she graduated. Then, in 1992, she legally changed her name to Rahne Alexander (see Rahne Sinclair, Wolfsbane of the New Mutants, and Alexander Woolcott, who sometimes cast himself in female roles) and had to invent Rahne’s self. And so it was during her time in Santa Cruz that Rahne began to figure out how to live her new life, figured out how to dress differently, how to present herself as a woman to the world (also to be employable). At first, she dressed in pleated slacks and pastel blouses from thrift stores, but then Rahne developed her own sense of style. This transition also involved bureaucratic steps (DMV, SS#), as well as living in the role for a year while seeing a psychologist. Rahne came out to her family, started taking female hormones (Rahne hasn’t had the surgery, prohibitive cost), and seeing an electrologist for facial hair. Rahne thought it would be harder than it was, and the threat of discovery, of violence at any point, still exists, but Rahne is prepared for it, has the language for it, the strength. In 2002, Rahne moved to Baltimore and slept on a friend’s couch. The move was impulsive, but Rahne has become more herself in Baltimore—writing stories, writing music, starting a band (The Degenerettes), meeting her wonderful partner Kristen (the drummer in the band). Rahne didn’t think it would be possible, but, in under 40 years, she has become comfortable in her body. People have told Rahne that she is brave, but she has always thought of it as survival.

Update: The Degenerettes just released a new CD Bad Girls Go to Hell.
More Rahne Alexander here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

I Made Fiona Robyn Cry (Again)

Back in April, I made Fiona Robyn cry when she read Dear Everybody. I made her cry again when she read How Much of Us There Was, which she calls "a distillation of what it is to be human."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

#195 Kaya Larsen: 8 lb, 3 oz; 20.5"

Kaya Larsen’s parents tried to get pregnant for 4 years before she was born (Boo died in the womb at 6 months), so part of Kaya’s Kayaness is that she was so wanted. They had dreamed of her for years. They picked Kaya’s name months before she was conceived (while paddling a kayak in the Prince William Sound). Kaya was born by unplanned C-section after her mom went through 15 hours of heroic, unmedicated labor. At some point before or during labor, Kaya was infected with Group B Strep (GBS), which caused fetal distress. After the delivery, Kaya was attached to a ventilator in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). The first 3 days of her life were pretty rough. The doctors and nurses didn’t know if she would live. The uncertainty was terrifying for her parents. Kaya was so fragile that any stimulation could throw her vitals off. It was agonizing for her parents to visit her and not be able to hold her. She wore little eyeshades and had cotton balls over her ears. Eventually, she began to move her hands and feet, her arms and legs. She opened her eyes, briefly. Kaya’s parents didn’t get to hold her until she was 13 days old. A few days later, Kaya was breathing on her own and making her first vocalizations—beautiful little gurgles and throaty cries. After 3 weeks, Kaya still needed to learn how to eat. For Kaya's 1-month birthday, her parents baked cupcakes for the NICU staff. After 5 weeks, Kaya began to eat consistently. 2 days later, Kaya went home. She was fussy leaving the hospital, but the moment they got outside she became quiet, awestruck that the world is so much bigger than a hospital room. At 3 months, Kaya laughed for the first time when her parents were tickling her and her squeals of delight morphed into a giggle. At 6 months, Dr. Perez pronounced Kaya too healthy for his high-risk clinic and said he never wanted to see her again. Kaya’s first word was either Bartleby (the dog) or Uh-oh. Kaya’s favorite toys are her pink blanket, anything she can knock over, and anything out of reach. She loves bananas (nana), raisins (ree-ree), and turtles (tuh-tul), and Bartleby (Bobby). She loves the stuffed turtle that Bartleby also loves and she loves books. She asks for a book as soon as her mom or dad comes into her room and she is partial to lift-the-flap books. She loves playing hide-and-seek, even though she isn’t very good at hiding or seeking. She thinks that all animals say, Moo. Now Kaya is 22 months old. For 21 of those months, she has been supremely happy and healthy (the only remnant from her being so sick is a little bird-shaped scar on her left hand, a pressure sore from all the tape holding down her tubes.). In fact, part of Kaya’s Kayaness is her supreme happiness. Another part of Kaya’s Kayaness is her unbelievable fearlessness (she’ll try nearly anything headfirst). In about 3 months, Kaya’s parents will bring home a brother or sister for Kaya and she will be a great big sister.

Monday, June 15, 2009

An Act of Severance; Or, How Unsaid Magazine Became What It Is

I interviewed David McLendon about editing his great literary magazine Unsaid and the interview appears at another great literary magazine, elimae. David and I talk about what he looks for in a submission and why he loves some of the writers he loves.

The issue of elimae also has work from Brian Allen Carr, Elizabeth Ellen, Harold Bowes, Mike Topp, Eliza Walton, Michelle Reale, Stacy Muszynski, Darby Larson, and a bunch of other fine writers.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

#129 Matt Bell Is One of the Coolest Things Ever

Matt Bell mostly grew up in a house outside of Hemlock, MI, where there was enough isolation to grow up odd, but not too odd. In 3rd grade, Matt won a certificate for writing the best pirate story set in outerspace, which is part of how he became the writer he is today. For the longest time, he wore Velcro shoes because he thought they were the coolest things ever and because that is what the astronauts did. That’s how he was 12 before he learned how to tie his shoes. That is, Matt was a nerdy kid. He read D&D rulebooks on the school bus, played lots of computer games, and read tons of science fiction and fantasy books. In 7th or 8th grade, Matt wrote a 200-page fantasy novel, but then he stopped writing in high school. After that, Matt went to Saginaw Valley State University and dropped out. After all, he had only been tying his shoes for 6 years and he didn’t know what he wanted to do yet. He went to Delta Community College, a 2-year school, where he had the distinction of placing 3 years in a row in a writing contest. Then Matt went to Oakland University, which was the closest university he could drive to, and received his English degree. Over this time, Matt worked as a bartender (he may have gotten the first internet-posted job anybody got) and then as a restaurant manager. These jobs were good for him personality-wise. He lost his shyness. He met characters and had experiences that he wouldn’t have met or had otherwise. Then Matt met Jessica on Valentine’s Day, which was a kind of sign. She was the roommate of two women he worked with at the restaurant, and, as soon as they started dating, Matt wanted to spend all his time with her. Instead, Matt went on a camping trip by himself. He drove across the country, which gave him a sense of scale and changed his perspective. After that, Matt and Jessica were engaged within a year, got married on the beach in Port Austin, and had one of the best weddings ever. It was amazing to stand up in front of all those family and friends, and for everybody to be so happy for them. Then everybody cried. By the time Matt finishes his MFA at Bowling Green State University (2010), he will have finished writing a short story collection and a novel. He will also have an even happier marriage and remember even less of what his life was like before he met Jessica.

[Note: I'm sending out two congratulations to Matt Bell. (1) Matt's first full-length collection, How They Were Found, will be published with Keyhole in 2010. (2) He's been named the editor for the new literary journal, The Collagist.]

[Note #2: This postcard life story was originally written as part of a series of postcard life stories that will appeared in Keyhole #6 (guest edited by William Walsh), where all the contributor bios will be postcard life stories--the idea being to make every possible aspect of the magazine literature.]

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

#192 M Created a New Life

M was born in Toronto, Canada to immigrant parents. Her mom was from Hungary and her dad from Poland. She always felt different growing up—everything from the clothes her parents bought her to the radishes and pate in her school lunch. M longed for bologna on white bread and Oreo cookie lunches. She felt a mixture of embarrassment and shyness when friends came over to her house and wished that she lived in a house with thick carpeting and velour wallpaper. She wanted to be either a veterinarian or an airline hostess. One summer she was Mr. Cookie and dressed in a huge cookie outfit. M went to university in the town where she grew up and she kept the same friends that she had always had. After university, she thought about what it would be like to sit at the same job, gradually growing wider and wider and wearing increasingly nubby sweaters. It terrified her and she started sending out resumes everywhere in the hopes for a job that was something different. One of her job offers was in Copenhagen—though it could have been anywhere—and so, on a whim, M sold or gave away nearly everything she owned and moved to Copenhagen with her gigantic suitcase and whatever she could fit inside it. Copenhagen felt strange and different, but beautiful, so it was an easy, and now she works there in advertising as a writer. She was able to figure out who she was, since nobody around her had any preconceived expectations of who she was. M created a new life for herself. She found new friends and new things to do. For instance, she likes to pet strangers’ puppies. M also recognized that her life had been pretty good back in Canada, but she loves her new sense of independence. In fact, M just went freelance and now she is on her own in every part of her life. And she loves that. She’s smiling just thinking about it.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

#184 The Art That Is Stephanie Barber

Stephanie Barber was born on Long Island and her childhood was complicated, chaotic. She didn’t enjoy that. She moved more than a dozen times as a child and chunks of time were lived in Florida and Pennsylvania. There were times when she swam in the ocean and there were often a lot of musicians around. When she was 6, Stephanie knew that she wanted to be a writer and started typing out her poems because she thought published poems were typed. When she was 8, Stephanie had a ballet recital that went particularly well, and, after the show, as she was driven home in her father’s convertible, she stood up in her seat and pumped her bouquet-filled fist into the sky in triumph. Sometimes, Stephanie thinks of that moment and how she never feels that unadulterated pride and joy after a performance or a screening. Stephanie regrets not having become a child star. Growing up, Stephanie was bizarrely serious and very religious (even though nobody in her family really was). She decided she was Catholic and walked by herself to church on Sunday mornings. She even talked her way onto a cheerleading squad at the Catholic school, which she did not attend. Stephanie thought that she was cheering for God or Jesus. Eventually, the Catholics realized that she was not one of them and wouldn’t let her cheer anymore. When Stephanie was 12, she fell out of the church and today she is a sort of lazy spiritualist. In high school, Stephanie studied playwriting and ballet at a performing arts school. In college, she studied film and anthropology and poetry. In graduate school, she studied film and poetry. Stephanie became interested in making films because the more experimental films she had seen seemed rooted in poetics. Stephanie reads a lot. She is an artist, a filmmaker, a videomaker, a performer, a writer, and, sometimes, a musician. The way that Stephanie believes in art has a religious fervor. There is a purposefulness that sometimes assuages the angry muddled tenor of her existence. As an adult, Stephanie has lived in 9 different cities. Whenever you see her anywhere, she is almost always smiling or laughing. To get by, she always gets different funny jobs for money—shoveling gravel, selling snakes, teaching water aerobics to senior citizens, college professor, street performer, freelance editor, adoption counselor at an SPCA, phone psychic. Other than where she is living and what job she has and who she is romantically involved with, Stephanie is pretty consistent. She doesn't have too many decisions to make. When she moved to Baltimore, she bought a house that used to be a corner grocery and leaks. It was full of groceries when she moved in, but the groceries are all gone now. Soon, she will move again. She will get her first professional job and win a large grant. She will write a novel and fall in large love.

More Stephanie Barber
Photo Credit: Joe Milutis

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Helluva Short Story

Dan Wickett said nice things about short stories for the whole month of May at Emerging Writers Network and one of the last entries for short story month was this thing I put together called, "Some of the Letters That Were Cut, but That Tell Even More of the Story of Jonathon Bender, Weatherman (b. 1967 - d. 1999)," which Dan calls a "helluva short story." The chapbook short story sold out at ML Press before it was officially published and then Powell's had a few copies, but those are gone now too. Luckily, the great Adam Robinson will be republishing it this September as part of Publishing Genius series, This PDF Chapbook.