Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Meg Pokrass Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): #273 Terri Kirby Erickson

Terri Kirby Erickson was born and grew up in Winston-Salem, NC. Her brother and she were physically active from morning until night, constantly running around outside, and playing, playing, playing. They grew on the fruits and vegetables from people’s gardens, and fruit trees in the neighborhood, spent summers picking and eating blackberries, cherries, apples and persimmons. Both parents worked hard. Her father often had two if not three jobs (including working as a football referee for high school games), and her mother made dresses for Terri by teaching herself to sew. Her parents were fun, particularly her father, who still cracks her up. Terri's mom weaned Terri and her brother on fiction, reading to them regularly, making imaginary worlds live. Terri’s brother Tommy died in an accident when he was still in his twenties. Terri misses him every day of her life. Terri credits her path toward writing to Elizabeth Reynolds’ fifth grade class. Reynolds made a huge impression on Terri—she loved the arts and encouraged her students to pursue their creative interests. Terri became enamored with language at this time. Terri met her husband, Leonard, in middle school. She thought Leonard was striking when he was a teenager. He had long brown hair (which he still does, although there’s a little gray mixed up in there now!), “mischievous” green eyes, and a deep “radio announcer” voice. Terri was a year younger and too shy to speak to him, so never really did. He was way too “cool.” Terri, a self-defined nerd with glasses and braces, found Leonard many years later confessing that he thought Terri was “pretty” enough to be “intimidating” when he sat behind her in Spanish class. He must have been as intimidated as she was. They graduated from the same high school, but were going “steady” with other people at the time. They encountered each other again some years later, and started dating soon thereafter. On their first date, Leonard brought his Scrabble game to Terri’s apartment and shook her hand when he left, after beating her at Scrabble! They were married a year later, and are celebrating their 19th wedding anniversary in September. Terri had an ileostomy due to complication from Crohn's disease, and lived with that for eleven years—from the time she was 23 until 34—which was difficult to deal with on many levels. She believes it helped make her a more empathetic person, and a good listener. She knows how important it is to listen to people in pain. The most important event in her life was the birth of her daughter. Terri and her baby girl came close to dying when Terri was pregnant due to complications from the Crohn’s disease, which she has battled since she was 15. Many medical moments of life-threatening severity made giving birth dangerous. Miraculously, Terri’s daughter was born healthy. Writing poetry “seriously,” fulfilling a lifelong dream to become a published poet, is what Terri feels most proud of. When not writing, editing medical books and journal articles, conducting writing workshops or teaching, Terri volunteers at a local Cancer Center whenever she can, mostly talking about poetry with support groups. Terri was sick with 101 degree fever when she turned 50, but so far she likes her new decade. It’s like waking up in the same pair of soft, broken-in jeans every single day. At 52, she’s healthier than ever. She loves menopause and believes it’s a huge relief. Something that hardly anybody knows: Terri’s toes don’t touch each other—at all. Terri is confident that her happy childhood prepared her for the challenges of her adult life—that, her faith, and a sense of humor.

[Note #1: Terri Kirby Erickson is the award-winning author of Thread Count (2006), and Telling Tales of Dusk (2009). Terri loves to receive letters from readers that tell her how much a particular poem has meant to them. This happens often, because her work is warm, funny, sad, and accessible. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize, and has appeared in numerous literary journals, anthologies and other publications including the Christian Science Monitor, Blue Fifth Review, Eclectica, JAMA, Thieves Jargon, and Verse Daily.]

[Note #2: You can read Meg Pokrass' expressive life story here. You can read Meg Pokrass' postcard life story of Ethel Rohan here.]

Monday, August 23, 2010

Andy Devine @ Big Other

The good Davis Schneiderman interviewed my pseudonym, Andy Devine, at Big Other. Andy and Davis talk about numbers v. words, dead parents, how to write alphabetically, and, of course, WORDS.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): The Book

Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) started as a one-night-only performance at the Transmodern Festival. Then it became a blog. After a while, I started calling it a side project or an art project or a collaborative art project. Lately, I've just been saying that it is one of the things I do--write life stories on postcards. And now it is also going to be a book, a selection to be published by the wonderful people at Mud Luscious. The publication date is a ways off, 2013, but that'll give me time to finally catch up with the waiting list.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

#153 The Coolness of Ben Tanzer

Ben Tanzer was born in 1968 in Washington, D.C., but raised in upstate New York. His father was a painter and his mother a psychotherapist; both were Jews from the Bronx, advocates for peace and the intellectual. As a kid, Ben read books at the dinner table even though everybody else talked. Ben hated little league, but played soccer for years. He wrestled until he broke his leg skiing. He ran track and cross-country throughout high school. Once, at the drive-in on a date, Ben was kissing with his eyes open when he saw a glowing, white cylindrical UFO hovering above the drive-in. In the local paper the next day, it was reported that other people saw it too, but it couldn’t be explained by anything military or weather-related. Ben didn’t study much until college, but he studied obsessively in college and was a double-major—English honors and psychology. The first time Ben saw his wife, she was doing aerobics in the basement of their freshman dorm. Ben vowed to meet her and did when it turned out their roommates were secretly dating and he found himself needing somewhere to sleep one night. They have now known each other longer than they have not, which is pretty cool. One thing Ben regrets about college is not going abroad and being too focused on grades, substance abuse, sports, being cool, and getting laid. One morning, toward the end of college, after another long night, Ben looked out at the dreary upstate morning and tried to think of the farthest place from there. He moved to San Francisco one month after graduation, and it was one of the best decisions he ever made. So was marrying his wife in 1996—and have their two kids (he hopes both of them soon begin to sleep through the night). And so was deciding to become a writer around his 30th birthday, something he had been thinking about for maybe 10 years. In 2007, he published his first novel, Lucky Man, which was great—not just getting published, but also meeting all sorts of wonderful writers and artists. In 2008, Ben published his second novel—Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine—as well as the story collection, Repetition Patterns. Right now, Ben is the director of strategic communications at the national office of Prevent Child Abuse America (he received his masters in social work in 1996). It helps that Ben has a great ability to listen to others and ask them questions about themselves. What else? Ben still runs and reads compulsively. Plus, would love to find more down time to be lo-fi and low-key with his wonderful wife. And, at some point, he will learn how to surf, how to play guitar, and how to break cement blocks with his forehead—all things that would make Ben even cooler than he already is.

[Update: Ben Tanzer's new essay collection, 99 Problems: Essays about Running and Writing is now available Radiohead-style pay-what-you-want from CCLaP Publishing. Also, his new novel, You Can Make Him Like You is coming out in mid-December from Artistically Declined.]

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

#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.

[Update: Josh Maday is now the happy father of a little girl. Josh also edited a new anthology (with Jeff Vande Zande): On the Clock: Contemporary Short Stories on Work. He continues to be a great guy.]

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Lo Que Queda de Nosotros

The Spanish translation of How Much of Us There Was, Lo Que Queda de Nosotros, officially pubs next month. It's always a special thrill each time one of my books gets translated, in part because I can't read any of them (not in any full sense). I can mostly only look at them. I think that's why I developed the habit of setting a bunch of copies out on the kitchen table, all face up, so that I can look at them every time I walk through the kitchen, which is quite a few times a day, some of which are to get a piece of my book cake. Anyway, the publishing house, Tusquets, which also published the Spanish translation of The Way the Family Got Away, Y la Familia Se Fue, has been wonderful through every step of this. They work with great translators and make really beautiful books.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Publishers Weekly Long List

Publishers Weekly added their own list of underrated writers to the ongoing discussion of lists of writers. I was a little surprised to find my name on the list. It's nice to be noticed, but less so to be noticed for not being noticed. Still, it's nice that they made a long list (60 writers, though Cheryl Strayed is listed twice) and that there is some range to the list, including at least one person that I'm almost sure is dead. Still, there are so many names that are missing. Taking a quick look at my shelves, and the fact that PW included dead people, I would also include Joe Brainard, Elizabeth Crane, Stanley Crawford, Sheila Heti, B.S. Johnson, Stephen Graham Jones, Sarah Manguso, David Markson, Mary Miller -- and given that these lists are kind of arbitrary, I'm going to stop there with the letter M.

#111 Aaron Goolsby: He Can Go Anywhere

Aaron Goolsby was born in Oklahoma City, OK and then adopted into a Mormon family where he grew up with all the love in the world. He was a sick child, though. His mother was often sick too. They spent the first 5 years of his life mostly together, mostly in bed, the both of them sick. When he was 6, he wrote a book about a bird and a bee being friends. For the first 9 years of his life, he went to the same church as his biological family, though he never knew it. Then Aaron’s adopted family moved to Witchita Falls, TX for his dad’s job as a special agent for the railroad. That year and the rest of 4th grade were difficult—the OK schools were behind the TX schools. Also, he was always a big kid and sometimes he got picked on because of it. That spring he fought back for the first time and got kicked out of the school system (and ended up going to a private Catholic school). As a Mormon, Aaron read a lot, both scripture and literature; Aaron loved reading science fiction and fantasy; the other worlds were a perfect fit for him. When he was 15, Aaron met his biological mother, who is Hispanic, and this created identity issues for him. He didn’t really know who he was anymore. This was compounded by his weight. Sometimes he would act in ways that were not him, act the class clown, the stereotypical fat kid, just so that other people would like him. It worked. They did. When he was 19, Aaron went on a Mormon mission to California to preach the gospel. After 9 months, he was hit by a truck, and, even though he was OK, he used that as an excuse to go home and see his mother, who was very sick. His mother was always his savior and he was grateful for being adopted by her. She died when Aaron was 20, which was terrible and confusing. Aaron left the Mormon Church and started spending more time at the bowling alley (he had grown up a bowler). Within a couple of years, Aaron was drinking and doing whatever drugs were available—mostly psychedelics like acid, mushrooms, LSD, but also lots of cocaine, plus prescription pills, especially anti-anxiety pills. During these 10 years of drugs, Aaron worked at a Pizza Hut, worked as a security guard, and wrote three bad novels. He has always been a writer—a tell-all person. After a couple of near-death episodes, especially a bad LSD trip that he almost didn’t make it back from, and visions of Chris Farley, Aaron got clean. He didn’t want to end like that. Now he’s living back in Oklahoma City and working for Southwest Airlines. He loves the free travel. He can go nearly anywhere. He just has to decide where that is.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Way the Family Got Away

The Way the Family Got Away was published just over 10 years ago (after being rejected 119 times) and went on to be translated into a bunch of different languages. The wonderful Karen Lillis, the small press librarian and a great champion of independent publishing, wrote up a really nice review of it, which begins with this line: "Michael Kimball breathes life into American experimental fiction in this moving debut novel."

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

#240 Monte Riek Never Missed a Party

Monte Riek was born in Montana in 1943. He had a normal childhood. There was no TV, so he concentrated on being a kid—playing with his dogs, roaming the hills, going swimming down at the river. At 7, he was introduced to nuns, which was terrifying. At 11, hunting with his dad, Monte shot the antelope that went down but didn’t die. Monte always remembered the terror in its eyes. His dad was proud, but Monte cried the rest of the day. At 12, Monte, an altar boy, threw up during mass—on the priest, on the altar—and thought he was going to Hell for it. In 1956, Monte’s family moved to Billings and Monte was awed by the big city. In 1959, Monte got drunk for the first time. It was down by the river and he kissed a couple of girls. It was euphoric. He wanted to feel that way again. By junior year, he was drinking nearly every weekend. That summer, his parents divorced—his mom going south, his dad and sister north. Monte stayed by himself in Billings to finish high school. In 1962, Monte graduated from high school and got a job working construction. He worked all day and drank all night. It was awesome. It was his idea of being a man. The next fall, he went to college, majored in drinking, and stopped going to classes. He started working construction again, saved up, then went to Mexico to drink it all. Back in Billings, he asked his dad for money for college and drank it up too. At 21, he could finally go into bars, which was fascinating. One night, he drunk drove his car into a house; then he borrowed a friend’s car and drunk drove it into the police chief’s car. Monte fled to Las Vegas and hid out at his Mom’s house, then Oregon for a dam construction job. Eventually, it was safe enough to go back to Billings, where he worked all day and drank all night. Monte met Burt (Elberta) on a blind date. She didn’t drink, but Monte was willing to overlook that. He asked her to marry him, but she didn’t answer. He asked Burt again and again she didn’t answer. In 1966, Monte got a job in Seattle at Boeing. Burt wrote him every day; Monte drank and wrote back every night. One day, she wrote him that she was marrying somebody else. Monte quit Boeing and moved to Canada, where the Canadian government drafted him to fight forest fires. After that, Monte moved back to Seattle and met Judy, who could match him drink for drink and did the same drugs too. They fought when they were drunk. Monte asked Judy to marry him. She said, Yes. Then they had a big fight and Monte stayed away for days. On his way to see her, he crashed and was taken to jail for a DWI. He called Judy from jail, but she had already left for CA with an old boyfriend. In 1972, started his 20 years of working at a steel factory. Half the workers were addicts, the other half alcoholics. Monte took speed so he could drink more. He became a molder, got a raise, and bought a house. He met Diane, whose kids started calling him Daddy, but she eventually made him choose—Diane or drinking. Alcohol was Monte’s true love. In 1974, Monte picked Johanna (Jo), a Golden Retriever, out of a litter of seven because he liked her mother. Jo kept Monte out of bars some, but Monte drank anywhere and everywhere by this time. He got pulled over all over Seattle. Sometimes he got a DWI. Sometime his lawyer got him off. In 1976, Monte spent the summer in jail, which wasn’t so bad—and he could get any drug there, which is where he discovered cocaine, which became his drug of choice for the next 18 years. In 1979, he started judge-ordered treatment. His sobriety lasted 3 months. After this, Monte got rid of his car because he liked alcohol better than his driver’s license. He got rides to work with his roommates who all worked with him. Monte’s house had turned into a crash pad for wayward husbands. He always shared his house, his booze, his drugs—as long as they were good to Jo. Monte adored his two nieces, Cass and Terri, they never new that he was always wasted until they were older. They just thought he was really funny and an amazing superstar. He was a cheerful and loving drunk and addict. In 1980, Monte started taking Antabuse to stop drinking, but starting doing more drugs, especially cocaine, which introduced him to lots of criminals. Around this time, Monte met Jerry, who had easy access to cocaine and became his partner in crime for 10 years. Soon, Monte stopped snorting cocaine and started smoking crack. He got heavy into the drug trade buying and selling, which was how he met Nettie at a crack house. He knew she was his kind of woman when she put in a pinch of Copenhagen (she also hated nuns). In 1988, Jo died in Monte’s arms, at the vet. She had been his constant companion for over 14 years. Monte’s health got bad—his kidneys, high blood pressure, signs of impotency. One night, Monte became confused and disoriented; he ran into a wall, had no coordination. Monte had had a stroke, but kept drinking through it. At the hospital, after the doctors told him he would live, all he wanted was a beer. He was drinking 30 minutes after he was released from the hospital. After that, Monte went back on Antabuse and went back to work. 3 months later, he had another stroke, but kept doing crack for 3 days before going to the hospital. The first night out of the hospital, he went to a bar and then got in a fistfight over a drug deal. By 1992, Monte couldn’t work anymore and retired, which gave him more time for alcohol and drugs. Monte sold his house as is—with the idea of moving back to Billings and living off the money, but smoked the money instead. In 1993, Monte went back to Billings the same way he left 27 years before, drunk. He moved in with his wonderful sister, Connie, and also spent lots of time at his father’s house; he was a drunk too. In 1994, Monte received 2 years of Social Security back pay and went back to Seattle to do crack. He thought of himself as a good junkie and he smoked until he didn’t have any money left. His nose bled all the way back to Billings. Monte got a little house there and made the Rainbow Bar his second home. He told people that he came back to Billings to die. It got him lots of free drinks. Monte decided to drink himself to death. Everyday, he would sit and drink until he shit his pants. On the way home, he would throw up in front of place where they had AA meetings. He wanted to get sober, but not drinking scared him. It’s what he had been doing the last 37 years. On August 1, 1995, Monte entered a treatment facility sober. Weeks after he got out, he started going to AA meetings and was surprised at how good it felt to share his life story. In 1997, Monte was diagnosed with throat cancer, had to give up smoking too, and had to have surgery, after which he was never able to speak again. He carried little spiral notebooks in his shirt pocket and wrote his conversations. He went to AA every day, which saved his life, and spent more time with a new generation of nieces and nephews, which he loved doing. Monte died in 2009—from complications from cancer. He was clean and sober the last 5078 days of his life. He gave out Lifesavers to every kid he met and dog treats to every dog he met. He was stubborn and funny to the end.
[Note: Monte Riek's life story came to me by way of his niece, Cass Sullivan, in the form of 20 single-spaced pages. He had written his life story as part of his participation in Alcoholics Anonymous (written because he had lost the ability to speak). That is, his life story was meant to be shared. Please feel free to share Monte Riek's story, to make links, to re-post, etc.]

Monday, August 2, 2010

Dark Sky Magazine

The wonderful Ethel Rohan interviews me over at Dark Sky Magazine. We talk about writing, fancy hats, something you don't know about me, and I do a 5-minute free write using the word blood, a little piece that will end up in the new novel that I'm working on.