Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

DEAR EVERYBODY: 25 Important Books of the 00s

DEAR EVERYBODY was named one of the "25 Important Books of the 00s" at the wonderful HTMLGIANT.

Thank you, Blake Butler.

Thank you, HTMLGIANT.
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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 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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#231 The Arrival of Peter Wolfgang

Peter Wolfgang was born and raised in the small town of Coshocton, Ohio, which is good for learning how to play football, taking piano lessons, and exploring the woods. When Peter was a kid, things were confusing and he didn’t know what to rely on. His parents split up when he was 2 and then got back together when he was 5—and then his little brother Daniel was born right after that. It was difficult to understand his parents liking each other again after all the yelling and fighting. Mostly though, Peter remembers the woods behind his house where he often played alone. When Peter was 9, his brother Andrew was born and the family moved into a house with no woods behind it, so he started playing sports with the neighborhood kids, which was sort of embarrassing because he never had the cool tennis shoes. Peter loves his two brothers so much, especially how comfortable they are with themselves; the way they look up to him makes him want to be a better person. In high school, Peter discovered pot when he smoked it with Tommy, and that was sort of a revelation in self-awareness. Peter also achieved a lot in high school–won awards for good grades and playing the piano, lettered in soccer, won a scholarship to college. Unfortunately, Peter took no pride in these things. It was easy to be the smart guy in a small town where many people ended up working for a local factory that made rubber floor mats for cars. Eventually, Peter got bored with Coshocton and tired of feeling un-cool, like he didn't fit in. Peter wanted to move to a big city and left for NYC when NYU offered him a scholarship. This change opened up lots of possibilities, both good and bad, but the bad possibilities were more prominent and Peter made a serious effort to do himself in. He never thought more than a few days ahead, and he decided to study philosophy, mostly because thinking that way was easy for him and he could get by with cramming. Then Peter met Heather, who is beautiful and super-smart; she is really put together and confident and she helped Peter realize that a person can be interesting and creative and not self-destructive. After Peter met Heather, he actually started trying for the first time. He got serious about his career. He went to Columbia for his MBA and that opened up so many new possibilities for him. And he only ever thought to try for it because he wanted to make a future for Heather and with Heather. They have been married for over a year now and now Peter feels like he is finally able to take advantage of all the possibilities in New York City. It’s as if Peter is just now arriving for the first time.

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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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