Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

Details Are My Weakness

I have an interview with Dylan Landis up at my interview column for The Faster Times, Writers on Writing. We talk about her new book, Normal People Don't Live Like This, first lines, and some really great stuff on details.

More interviews @ Writers on Writing:
I Am Not a Camera: Gary Lutz
A Ribbon of Language: Blake Butler
What People Do When No One is Watching: Rachel Sherman
Justify Every Sentence: Laura van den Berg
Most Violence Is Intimate: Ben Tanzer
I'm Not Trying to Trick the Reader: Brian Evenson
Where Commas Ordinarily Go: Robert Lopez
My Narrative Mind: Joanna Howard
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60 Writers/60 Places in NYC

There is a nice little write-up of 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES, a film I made with Luca Dipierro, in the Notable New York section of The Rumpus. Among other things, the good Rozalia Jovanovic writes: "The films of Michael Kimball and Luca Dipierro have at the forefront a concern with the way space is altered and engaged with when people enter the picture. When people enter the picture and sometimes say and do startling things."

60 WRITERS/60 PLACES will premiere later this week in New York City. There are two screenings: Friday, December 11 at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and Saturday, December 12 at PPOW Gallery in Chelsea. There is more info, plus stills and trailers, at Little Burn Films.
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60 Writers/60 Places in NYC

There are two screenings of 60 Writers/60 Places in NYC later this week--December 11 at Pratt and December 12 at PPOW Gallery. There's more information, plus stills and more trailers, here.

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#224 Leigh Newman Isn’t Afraid of Anything Anymore

Leigh Newman was born in LA in the 70s. She lived with her family in a yellow bungalow and there was a lemon tree out back. They had a monster black lab named Roger who Leigh used to ride around like a horse. Leigh’s childhood was kind of dreamy. As a family, they had massive tickle fights, danced the can-can, camped in a VW van with a pop-top tent, and ate a lot of rainbow sherbet. But she thinks that she has probably suppressed all the miserable crap. After they moved to Alaska, they cross-country skied over glaciers. The moose used to clomp through their backyard and Leigh remembers watching them to snack on the leaves at night, under the moon, in the snow. When she was 7, her mother left French fries cooking on the stove, which caught on fire all the way up to the ceiling. Leigh tried to tell her parents that the house was on fire, but they were either laughing or arguing. Leigh tried again and again, but eventually gave up and went back to the family room to watch The Love Boat. The kitchen burned down and a fireman carried Leigh out of the house. When Leigh was 10, she was flying in a single-prop plane with her dad when an updraft hit them as they were going over a mountain. They climbed up and up to 20,000 feet, which people say is impossible in small plane, but Leigh saw where the needle was. Over the radio, her dad said they wouldn't be in trouble until they started turning blue and that’s when Leigh looked down at her fingers, which were blue. They laughed like lunatics at the lack of oxygen. It wasn't real somehow, up in the sky. Luckily, they drifted down and lived. After that, Leigh studied English at Stanford because she loved reading. She had always wanted to be a writer, but was afraid. In 1995, Leigh met Lawrence at a champagne party. Leigh was wearing a vintage tennis dress with red shoes and a yellow silk parasol and they were standing out on a balcony overlooking Central Park. Lawrence leaned over and kissed her and then they got married. Leigh’s favorite thing about Lawrence is his odd and beautiful imagination (he pretended his dad was private detective for most of his childhood; he wasn’t) and the way he is exactly himself in all occasions. Having a child, especially an unexpected one, made Leigh rethink and redo who she is. Leigh’s favorite thing about her son Will (3 years old) is that he is a forest sprite. Her favorite thing about Wilder (8 weeks old) is the doofus love in his smile. Right now, Leigh is writing a memoir about growing up in Alaska. One day, she wants to have a house with a swimming pool. And she wants to keep writing until she’s old and can't anymore. She isn’t afraid to write or do anything else anymore.

Leigh Newman in the New York Times.
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Healing Biography: The Therapeutic Benefits of Writing Your Life Story -- Part I of an Essay By Bridget Holding

First, I was a writer, and then I became a psychotherapist. In that fertile ground where psychotherapy and writing meet, is ‘life writing,’ which covers biography and autobiography. In my role as biographer, my work has ranged from supporting celebrities to write seven hundred page books, to helping people with serious mental health issues to take part in the wonderful project ‘Your Life On A Postcard.’

The critic James Atlas recently wrote about life writing in the New York Times Magazine. He said that ‘the triumph of memoir is now an established fact.’ Instead of reading fiction about ordinary people (the technical definition of a novel, as opposed to myth or legend), we now read nonfiction about ordinary people. It seems that we've come almost full circle: the memoir has displaced the novel as the literary genre of our age. We've returned to first- and third-person narratives of ordinary people in everyday life. This provides a kind of omniscience in which biographers and their subjects view earlier experiences in the light of later ones.

But what of the subjects of my biographies? They play a very active role in the process. When a person provides me with material from their life, they are, in a sense, writing their autobiography. French academic Philippe Lejeune provides probably the most helpful working definition of autobiography. To paraphrase him, he says that, in a true autobiography, the author, narrator and protagonist must have the same proper name. I would add that for me, a mark of autobiography is that there is no hiding. The subject stands up and says ‘this is me’ rather than creating characters behind which he or she can hide. To write an autobiography is to take responsibility, publicly, for your life and actions. It is therefore a noble, (and often terrifying!) act. I feel grateful to anyone who confides in me in this way, who collaborates with me to record the story of an individual life.

And I would like to suggest that it’s not just a process of recording information, it is an act of invention; there are many creative aspects to writing so called non-fiction. To begin with, our memories are selective. Then we have to decide what to reveal to our biographer and the editing of the material involves many choices. I would go further even than this. It is a tenet of mainstream literary theory that ‘language creates the world’ that we don’t truly see something until we have a word for it. This is true of our life stories. To some extent, our life comes into being in the act of writing it down. This can be terrifying idea, but it can also be liberating.

In fact, life writing gives us all the freedom in the world to create ourselves. In his books Path of Least Resistance and Your Life As Art, Robert Fritz says that you, the subject of the book or the postcard, can create your life as an artist develops an artwork. You can conceive of the life you want as an artist conceives of a painting, and take strategic actions to create more of what you truly want. You can inhabit the life, as an artist looks at a picture on the wall. Your life can be your work and you can be its author. How exciting! The truth is that people are endlessly remaking or discovering themselves. There are always new horizons, new problems, and new opportunities. Keeping this in mind can give us perspective on our lives, and help us to feel creative and in control. What better place to start from as we begin to record our life stories.

In times of crisis, pain, or struggle, or just because life is busy, we rarely get the opportunity to step back and see the wider picture, to get perspective on our lives. This is what being the subject of a biography enables us to do. It’s particularly helpful to be witnessed by another, with their perspective, their fresh pair of eyes. In much of our lives, we hide the parts of ourselves that we do not like, that we are ashamed of. Often we aren’t even aware that we do this, and of how harsh we are towards ourselves. The process of healing is about being okay with however we are. We are always doing our best. We are always good enough. Sometimes we do things we regret, but deciding to do something differently next time can be helpful. Dissolving into shame is not. Can we put into our life stories some of those events in our lives that we are ashamed of? Can we show to the world the parts of ourselves we usually hide? Being okay with ourselves is a state of contentment. Of course, we must undertake this process cautiously, as it can make us feel vulnerable. If we are fragile, working with a trained professional is advisable.

To give you a sense of how I use biography in my psychotherapy work, I’ve recently been working with a client who had an extremely physically abusive childhood and who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). When we wrote the postcard of her life, there were great gaps in her memory. She remembered almost nothing between the ages of six and twelve, when the worst abuse occurred. We’ve worked gradually to write the postcard. Where many people find it easy to sit with me for forty minutes and reel off their life story, this woman found it a slow and excruciating process. But gradually, over months, taking time to acknowledge the emotions that came up with every memory, we have completed her life story on a postcard—a supreme achievement. Over this period, her symptoms of PTSD have eased. I’ve also had a client who suffered from multiple personality disorder. In his psychic world, there were twenty-four people. Each one had distinctive mannerisms, clothes, and voice. It was extraordinary and unnerving, to watch him change hour to hour between these personas, who were of varying ages, genders, and dispositions. This client’s life was very difficult, as the voices of these personas bickered for the high ground in his head. Even getting dressed in the morning was a nightmare. They all wanted to wear something different. Imagine doing the postcard for this client! But we did, not one postcard, but one for every sub-personality. Through the process they became more distinct, the first small step on the path to encouraging them to step aside in favour of one single personality. I feel very privileged when I witness the struggle and bravery of clients such as these. People, particularly those with serious mental health issues, often experience themselves as fragmented, as being ‘in pieces.’ The therapeutic process is about taking all the parts of us that are disowned, and bringing them into a whole, into cohesion. The postcard is a lovely metaphor for this: it’s such a contained, neat, precise form. The haiku of life writing. My client with multiple personality disorder started off with twenty-four postcards and now only has five. Maybe one day, he will only have one and will be able to say ’this is who I am.’ This is what he yearns for.

When we tell our stories, details unfold, clues become moments of epiphany, feelings are processed, and stuck energy is discharged. We begin to notice the patterns that repeat through our lives, called repetition compulsion by Sigmund Freud. We see which of those serve us and which don’t. Through being the subject of biographical writing, we can bring closure to the unfinished aspects of our lives. We can grieve and move on. And these changes can happen in six hundred, as well as in twenty thousand words. So let’s find our self in the writing. Who do you want to be in your life?

[This is part 1 of an article, from a series on ‘The Psychology of Writing.’ Please contact Bridget Holding if you are interested in knowing more (bridgetholding [at] madasafish [dot] com).]
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New York Tyrant #7

I have a new piece in New York Tyrant #7, which can be ordered here. There's also great work by Alex Balk, Blake Butler, Erich Hintze, Brian Kubarycz, Christopher Kennedy, Joseph Cardinale, Jason Schwartz, Greg Mulcahy, Luca Dipierro, Rachel B. Glaser, Ken Baumann, Peter Gajdics, Peter Markus, Shane Jones, Conor Madigan, Scott Indrisek, Harry Cheadle, Joshua Furst, and Giovanni Pico della Mirandola.
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B.L. Pawelek Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard): #230 James Beach


[Click on the postcard to enlarge.]

[Below is the text from the interview that B.L. Pawelek used to write/draw James Beach's life story.]

My favorite thing is a dictionary. My major project is a metafictional novel, begun during a flirtation with Denver and then dropped (temporarily) when my laptop was stolen this month. I’ve got about half of it on my thumb-drive. What’s exciting about writing it is the freedom that trying out a new form (genre) affords. Then I wrote a self-deprecating piece called “I Should Be on Hollywood Squares” due to my crazy side that’s convinced I’m being watched and joked about. I suppose my reasons for writing fiction stemmed from a psychological gob of reasons. My reasons include a) admiration for entertainment; b) a starving ego; c) the autonomous hard-wiring of a Capricorn; d) wanting to “be heard”; e) deep-seated unhappiness with the world forming itself round me; and f) the silly notion that my voice matters as much as that of Baum or Carroll or Cleary or Tolkien or Lewis. I’m so very thankful to all the great writers for sharing their gifts. I don’t know where my home is, anymore. I know my birthplace is St. Paul and yet I think I “grew up” in Santa Fe, in my early thirties. My family is comprised of whichever artists or art-supporters happen to be near me at any given moment. I really want kids. My proudest moment happened in fifth grade, when I won the school’s annual logo design contest and I saw everybody wearing my design on their tee-shirts. Who is your best friend? Why? God. Because. Just be-cause. I’m also suffering from the delusion that the Ego is personal space, and the Id is shared space, and so herein lies the human condition. Describe your writing in 10 words, no more no less. A VITAL INRUSIVE INTENSE BORINGLY ALLEGORICAL ROMP ON THE MOON. Describe who you are in three words. Clairvoyant Sick Id. My inspiration: counterculture, free thought, illicit substances, a high I.Q., excessive teasing from stupider people, the state of our pre-fab nation, voices beyond the grave, a knowledge of what could be/could’ve been, the spin of revolution, a love of literature, an awe for poetry, respect for my elders, my ego/your id. possibly gospel appears in Wood Coin.

[Wood Coin: an Online Magazine]
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60 Writers/60 Places in NYC

There are two screenings of 60 Writers/60 Places in NYC next week--December 11 at Pratt and December 12 at PPOW Gallery. There's more information, plus stills and more trailers, here.

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My Narrative Mind

I have an interview with Joanna Howard up at my interview column for The Faster Times, Writers on Writing. We talk about her new collection, On the Winding Stair, story openings, and how to get from one sentence to the next.

More interviews @ Writers on Writing:
I Am Not a Camera: Gary Lutz
A Ribbon of Language: Blake Butler
What People Do When No One is Watching: Rachel Sherman
Justify Every Sentence: Laura van den Berg
Most Violence Is Intimate: Ben Tanzer
I'm Not Trying to Trick the Reader: Brian Evenson
Where Commas Ordinarily Go: Robert Lopez
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#229 Samantha Peltz: Future Diplomat

Samantha Peltz was born in 1991 in Chicago, Illinois. She was the first grandchild for both sides of the family, so everything she did was amazing. When she was 3, she gave an eloquent speech about her Poppy at his 70th birthday, which really was amazing. Samantha was quite verbal as a little girl (and still is). When she was in first and second grade, she had a pink t-shirt that she wore every day. Luckily, she had two of these t-shirts so she could wear one while the other one was being washed. Samantha has always been comforted by clutter and the carpet in her bedroom is often completely covered by all the things on the floor. Samantha has always loved learning things and is an awesome student. She analyzes almost everything and asks a lot of questions. From an early age, Samantha could look at things from several different angles, which makes her good at winning arguments, and may lead to her becoming the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court some day. When Samantha was in 5th grade, she really wanted to be in the Chicago Children’s Choir. Singing makes her happy. She auditioned, but didn’t make it, so she practiced the whole next year and made it in 6th grade. Samantha keeps trying until she gets what she wants. With the Chicago Children’s Choir, she has made great friends and traveled to Japan and the Czech Republic, which opened up the world for Samantha. Since then, she has also traveled to Spain, Italy, India, and throughout the U.S. In many of these places, she lived with local families. Samantha has always been eager to meet people. She is fun and funny. The younger kids that she has taught in religious school and at an arts camp really like her. Samantha is the one in the group who gets everybody to do something crazy. For instance, this past year, history class focused on historic court cases and she role-played some of the people in period costume with great theatricality. Samantha's travels have created some of her great interest in world affairs and human rights. She is an intern at Human Rights Watch and is the head of her S.T.A.N.D. chapter, a student group raising awareness about Darfur. She is also the captain of the Model U.N. team at her school. Right now, Samantha is a senior in high school and working on her college applications. She hasn’t decided on a major yet, but she’s thinking about a career as a lawyer or a diplomat (or both).
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It Will Be Monumental

Tuesday, December 1, there will be a short from I WILL SMASH YOU, the segment concerning the awesome Adam Robinson, It Will Be Monumental, at the CineCity Film Festival in Brighton, England, along with shorts by Stewart Copeland and others--curated by the great Mar Belle, host of Directors Notes, a fantastic podcast for independent filmmaking, which interviewed Luca and me about I WILL SMASH YOU and 60 WRITERS/60 PLACES.
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#78 Timothy Gager: The Greater Things

Timothy Gager was born in 1961in rural Long Island. He had a mostly sheltered childhood and didn’t leave the house much, though he can recite television schedules from his childhood (really, ask him). He had his first crush on a girl when they were in fifth grade. They were playing together when the neighbor’s dog ran up to them, started humping the girl, and then ejaculated on her. That was the end of their brief, traumatic relationship and Timothy didn’t have another girlfriend until college. That was when he started playing in punk bands, the most popular of which was The Maytags (listed on Billboard’s charts for a time), and, well, he was the singer, so he had lots of girlfriends. After college, Timothy worked in a Mexican restaurant by day and played up and down the East Coast with The Maytags by night. Eventually, that stopped being fun and Timothy became a social worker, working his way up to his current position as Human Service Coordinator for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. During the band days, one of Timothy’s bandmates hung himself and Timothy started writing in a journal to cope with this loss. It helped and now Timothy’s published three books—Twenty-Six Pack, Short Street, and We Needed a Night Out. Along the way, Timothy also got married, fathered two children, and then divorced. He gets along with his ex-wife better now than when they were married. Timothy isn’t good at relationships, but he’s happy by himself. The other thing that you should know about Timothy is that his spirituality is the result of a near death experience in 1980—when he left his body and had to make a choice: return to his body or continue to the afterlife. If Timothy had continued to the afterlife, then he would have known everything that humans can know. Timothy realized that he wanted to do other things with his life on earth first, but this near death experience gave him insight: a greater knowledge exists and there are even greater things beyond that.

[Update: Timothy Gager's new book of flash and micro fictions, Treating a Sick Animal, is just out.]
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