Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

#222 Alan Carroll Reese: Romanticism and Melancholia

Alan Carroll Reese was born in 1950 in Sayre, PA, a sleepy railroad town on the Susquehanna River. The running water and train whistles were some of the first sounds that Alan ever heard and this informed his early romanticism and then his general melancholia. When Alan was 9 months old, he had a severe asthma attack and turned blue in the car on the way to the hospital, which might explain certain bizarre behaviors. A tracheotomy relieved the asthma attack, and, later, an incident that involved grave robbing cured him of any bizarre behavior. Besides that, Alan’s childhood resembled a Leave It to Beaver episode in many ways. Growing up, Alan spent a lot of time digging for dinosaur bones, sleeping in tree forts, having epic snowball fights, and playing baseball in an abandoned field. But there were also David Lynch elements to Alan’s suburban childhood. For instance, his grandfather liked to pretend that he could swallow his tongue. Also, when Alan was 9 years old, 3 neighborhood boys tied him to a tree and threatened to eviscerate him. They were just playing, but the trauma was real. About 10 years later, Alan was sitting on a bench outside of Woolworth’s when a friend invited over a woman named Alberta who then made funny faces for Alan, which made Alan smitten. At 19, Alan married Alberta and then, on their wedding night, they drove all night to Provincetown where they lived for 2 years. Alan loves that Alberta lived life as a comedy and that she had an unmatched capacity for selflessness. Over the years, Alan and Alberta had 3 children—Camille, Jesse, and Joshua—and none of them are sociopaths, which was a kind of relief. Alan is most proud that each of them is a distinct individual with a great sense of independent spirit and thought, and that each of them is also bound by compassion. Once, Alan met William Burroughs, who made him a cup of tea. Also, Alan has worked as an extra in 6 John Waters' films. Further, Alan cannot recall a time when he didn’t share living space with a dog. In 2002, Alberta died of a sudden heart attack and Alan woke up that day into a different world, a Twilight Zone version of his life. The places resembled the world he used to live in and the people behaved in familiar ways, but there was the distinct sense that it wasn’t right. There is no next for Alan. There is only now. Someday, though, Alan might find a mountaintop cabin to live in and, from there, he will send internal weather reports to the survivors of the oil wars and watch the beautiful glow as cities begin to burn.
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What People Do When No One Is Watching


I have an interview with Rachel Sherman up at my interview column for The Faster Times, Writers on Writing. We talk about LIVING ROOM, the third person, a beautiful sentence, loneliness, and touching.

There's also an amazing interview with Gary Lutz there. And there's a thing where Blake Butler and I talk about acoustics. In the next few weeks, there will be interviews with Brian Evenson, Laura van den Berg, Ben Tanzer, Joanna Howard, and Robert Lopez.
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#221 Effie Alean (Groves) Gross: He Never Left Her

Effie Gross was born in Des Moines, Iowa in 1944—the baby of the family (3 brothers, 1 sister). The family never had much money and Effie wore hand-me-down clothes or things her mother sewed by hand out of flour sacks or other cheap material. Her mother didn’t allow alcohol in the house, but her father was an alcoholic. Sometimes her parents would argue and her father would hit her mother. That’s when Effie’s sister would hold her and comfort her. Some of her happiest memories are going to the Grand Ole Opry with her mother and sister. In school, Effie always got good grades and she went to the library every week for more books. Every Sunday, Effie’s mother sent her to a Baptist church on a Sunday school bus. When she was 13, Effie realized she was a sinner and went forward in the church service and Jesus saved her. He has never left her. Effie got married at 16. She didn't have to get married, but Roland Gross was in the US Army at White Sands Missile Range and the only way they could be together was to get married, so they did. The first thing that drew Effie to Roland was his gentleness and she thrived with his love for her and their family. Over the years, Effie worked for the IRS, her husband's electrical contracting business, and was a freelance writer. Effie loved working in the family business—doing everything from accounting to pulling wire—and the family got to have a lot of lunches together, which was nice. Effie and Roland had two biological children (Mynita, an accountant; Kendahl, a pilot and then a photographer) and also adopted a son (Jonathan, who now runs the family business)—and, eventually, their three children gave them eight grandchildren. It was during this time that Effie decided to get her formal education—a BA in English and Education and then an MA in English from Drake University—but by the time she had her degrees, there weren’t any full-time jobs in high schools, so she taught as an adjunct at a community college (she loved the students—adults with a life outside of college), and has since taught English at many colleges and universities. Besides English, Effie has also taught Israeli folk dance. Plus, she has written, acted in, and produced plays. She loves the theater. Effie also loves the ocean, but she’s not much of a swimmer. And she loves Catalina Island, the RMS Queen Mary, and horses. Mostly, she loves the Lord and the Bible is her favorite book. It is prophetic and we have been told so many marvelous things. In 2004, Roland died suddenly of a heart attack. They had been married 43 years and he had never been sick. It was unbelievable. Effie prayed and read the Bible. She knew that she had to go on without Roland. The loneliness is the hardest part. Nothing is the same anymore. Right now, she’s writing a WWII novel called, Foxtrots and Foxholes. Writing is her passion and she’s started a new writing venture, Life Lines Legacy, where she teaches people how to write their own life story, one memory at a time. Someday, Effie will see her dear husband again in heaven. That is a comfort.

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Everybody Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard)

A former preacher told me he believed that writing postcard life stories for people is my calling. I'm not sure about that, but I can't imagine an endpoint for the project. I thought that I might eventually run out of requests, but it's now clear that isn't going to happen. So I decided the goal of the project should be to write the postcard life story of everybody. Of course, I can't do that by myself so I'm hoping you will help me. (After all, the project has always been collaborative; it wouldn't exist if people didn't tell me their life stories to begin with.) If you would like to write somebody's life story (on a postcard), then please leave a comment here or email me at postcardlifestories [@] gmail.com. This has already happened a couple of times. The great Sam Ligon wrote my life story (on a postcard) last year. And a bunch of other fine writers are pitching in.
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#217 Sarah Black Likes to Do Things Her Own Way

Sarah Witte’s family moved every 2 years, so it was always a new school, new people, a new chance (she’s now lived in 14 states). By the time Sarah was 8, she already loved books and reading. She also loved pretending to be a nurse and bandaging skinned knees, which led to college at Old Dominion, where she became a registered nurse (and then, years later, a nurse practioner). After college, Sarah joined the Navy as a young ensign in the Nurse Corps. She loved belonging to a unit, but never stopped moving. At 25, Sarah met a young lieutenant commander and knew after 5 minutes that he was it. The first time she took his hand, Sarah could see their child’s face. Maybe they lived past lives together (though Sarah doesn’t believe in that). Regardless, the whole wonderful and heartbreaking affair seemed inevitable. He was married and a serial adulterer, but she forged ahead anyway. 7 years later, they had a baby. It was much harder than Sarah expected and that doesn’t even take into account her son, James. When James was 7 and failing in school and every interaction, Sarah quit her job, sold everything, and started driving west on a camping trip with him. Sarah likes to do things her own way, so she took James off all the meds and tried to figure out what was going on with him. It would have worked beautifully, but 6 months in they were broke. So Sarah drove onto a Navajo reservation and talked a small clinic at a boarding school into taking them both—a package deal. It was during this time (when she turned 40) that Sarah took on the last name Black and started writing. Sarah Black liked that the name was all hers. She discovered literary fiction, abandoned genre with almost no regrets (she has written romance novels and gay sleuth murder mysteries, but now she writes flash fiction), and started a publishing house for illustrated flash fiction chapbooks (Bannock Street Books). Sarah stayed at the reservation for 6 years, but eventually started taking long drives over the red dirt roads and thinking about Alaska. She wanted another adventure, so she found a small Inuit village on the Yukon River (no roads in or out; you get there by small plane). The clinic was next to the school, so she was right there if James needed anything, but Sarah hated it and only lasted 6 months. She left with James, but without a job, a vehicle, or a place to live. Now James is 17. He has autism, but not classic autism. He interacts with the world in his own particular way, but he’s a lovely person—full of affection, ready to help anybody. When it’s just the two of them, Sarah and James are a happy family. Now Sarah works as a nurse practioner at a community health center for the homeless in Boise, Idaho. She’s happy working there (and she becomes unmoored when she’s not working). She loves making people feel like they can change for the better.

Bannock Street Books
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Shattered Wig Press

Rupert Wondolowski has been getting it done with Shattered Wig Press for years and he has just put out a new book, The Elements from The Tinklers. I thought you should know.
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#131: Tao Lin Will Never Get Another Real Job for the Rest of His Life

Tao Lin was born in Flagstaff, Arizona. He had a very busy childhood that involved practicing the piano a lot. When he was 5, Tao remembers writing little books and selling them to his mother for $0.50. When Tao was small, his neighbor had a rabbit farm and sold them for money. Being near that changed Tao, and, because of it, he talks less shit about people publicly and makes fewer grand pronouncements. Growing up, Tao played kickball and baseball and basketball in the neighborhood, but not at school. When he was 10, he was playing poker with his neighbor and bet his entire coin collection. The neighbor won and Tao picked up his coin collection and ran back to his house and locked the door. The neighbor knocked a lot and said things like this: "Just give me half. I won't be angry." Tao kept practicing the piano until he no longer owned a piano that worked. Then, at New York University, he studied journalism, but he would have studied creative writing if there had been a program. His sophomore year, he broke up with his girlfriend and it was after that that he decided to focus really hard on writing. After that, Tao wrote and published you are a little bit happier than I am (poetry), Bed (stories), Eeeee Eee Eeee (novel), and cognitive-behavioral therapy (poetry). As Tao has noted in interviews, his writing expresses crippling loneliness, severe depression, and the arbitrary nature of the universe. Also, Tao enjoys repeatedly looking at statcounter, salesrankexpress, facebook, myspace, gmail, and bloglines. When a number changes, he feels like something has happened. His job is to promote himself to ensure that money will come to him 2-3 years from now, and then even after that. Everything is just some thing that Tao does. It can be either good or bad depending on the way he thinks about it. Once, Tao thought about peeing in an empty FYXX energy drink bottle and selling it on eBay. Another time, after he ran out of money, Tao sold 10% shares of his second novel, Richard Yates (2010), to six different people for $2,000 per share. But he has not sold shares for Shoplifting from American Apparel (2009). He will never get another real job for the rest of his life.

[Update: Tao Lin just published a new novel, Shoplifting from American Apparel and he has a band.
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Dear Everybody (Or: When a Poet Writes a Novel)

There's a really thoughtful review of DEAR EVERYBODY up at The Lesser of Two Equals. It says, in part: "Kimball’s background as a poet is apparent in his ability to isolate and frame small moments of a particular character’s experience. Fine attention to detail is exercised both as an art and as a special effect ... It has a surprisingly strong dark humor for being about such a serious topic, his observations are keen and quirky, and he knows how to let imagery make a scene swell." And I liked this bit about Jonathon's suicide letters: "This writing spree has all the highs and lows of a drug binge."
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#216 Matthew Simmons Likes to Get the Door for People

Matthew Simmons was born in Columbus, Ohio, and his family moved around a lot after that—Pennsylvania, Kansas, Upper Michigan. Matthew always had the sense that every place he moved had a version of a person from the last place he lived. He had a friend in Lenexa, Kansas named Loren who looked almost exactly like his friend Andy in Gladstone, Michigan (similar temperament too). Sometimes, Matthew tried to reinvent himself after a move, but eventually he realized that he was always Matthew. Matthew had wonderful parents, but still managed to be a kind of sad child, and sometimes he feels a little guilty about that. Lots of good things happened to him, though. For instance, once, he won Best Customizing in the Pinewood Derby. Also, it was nice the way Matthew and his brother were so close growing up (still are; they live just a few blocks from each other). It wasn’t until his senior year of high school that Matthew became a reader, but now he really likes books. In college, Matthew studied English—reading, writing, and writing about reading were the only things that he felt naturally good at. Once, Matthew wrote a short story that somebody else turned into a short film without asking him, but the guy flew Matthew to LA to see it on a big screen and he liked it. Years ago, Matthew had a friend, a coworker, and he would write weird little stories for her on sticky notes and then stick them on her desk. Matthew liked her and liked making her laugh. She encouraged him to take storytelling more seriously. Within a year, he was sending fiction out to online journals. Within 5 years, he had an MFA. Matthew continued to move through the years—Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, and now Seattle, Washington. Moving to Seattle was big for Matthew. He had been rootless for a while. After Matthew turned 30, a lot of things in his life normalized. He stopped clamping his jaws. He stopped not letting things go. Also, the Zoloft has helped. A while ago, Matthew realized that he is often really melancholy and so he decided to just be okay with being sad, which sometimes he can enjoy now—not in a self-indulgent way, but in a natural way. Also, Matthew’s girlfriend is really wonderful, so easy to be around. His mind quiets down when he is around her. He likes waking up next to her and seeing her face softened by sleep. She's beautiful and smarter than he is and he likes that. Matthew’s cat let Matthew tattoo his likeness on Matthew’s arm. Also, he likes to get the door for people. Now Matthew works as a copywriter and feels settled, but there is a chance that he will move again—to go back to college to pursue a Ph.D.

Matthew Simmons’ first book A Jello Horse is now in its second printing and just received a really nice review in The Believer.

Also, Here's Matthew’s chapbook, Caves.
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This Blog Will Change Your Life

Ben Tanzer has a super nice write-up, at This Blog Will Çhange Your Life, in which he calls me "the dark overlord of all things writing, film and interview" and in which he calls DEAR EVERYBODY "moving, even paralyzing"--and notes that "pain can be captured on the page both sparsely and lyrically, an achievement that is magical."

Thank you, Ben Tanzer.
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Directors Notes

As Luca Dipierro says, Directors Notes is the best podcast for independent filmmaking, which is nice because they posted an interview with Luca and me, where we talk at length about I WILL SMASH YOU and about our next project 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES. You can listen to it directly on the website or save it on your computer and listen to it whenever you want.
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First Screening of I WILL SMASH YOU

We had the first screening of I WILL SMASH YOU at the PPOW Gallery and here are a few photos to prove it. We'll also be screening 60 Writers / 60 Places at the PPOW Gallery on December 12. Thank you, Jamie Sterns.

If you're interested in setting up a screening of I WILL SMASH YOU in your city, leave a comment or email me and I'll send you a DVD.
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