Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

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.]
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#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.]
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