Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story
(on a postcard)

#199 Luca Dipierro Never Felt Italian

Luca Dipierro was born in Merano, in Northern Italy (near Austria and Switzerland), but Luca never felt Italian. Growing up where people speak Italian, German, Ladin, and many different dialects made him feel as if he didn’t belong anywhere. His childhood was mostly made up of two things: sports and books. Luca went skiing in the Alps every Sunday and he read books on the balcony for hours. He had loving parents and a kind of happy childhood, but somehow he always felt trapped. The family’s apartment was small and he had to share his room with his two brothers. In his teenage years, music became a way for Luca to define himself and he started to play drums in punk rock bands. He loved the do-it-yourself aesthetics and the extreme compression of the form. In high school, Luca did classical studies at Liceo Classico, which was for people who wanted to be a teacher or a critic, but Luca wanted to become a writer. When he was 18, Luca moved out of his parents’ house. Within a year, he had no money and was thrown out of his apartment. For a while, he stole food from a supermarket and slept in the park for a while. It was rough. It made him feel as if anything could happen to him—that he could go down and down and never stop going down. In college, Luca studied literary theory, which changed the way he looked at books, but college also made him insecure about his writing. After school, Luca taught Italian literature, but never enjoyed it. Over the years, Luca has worked all kinds of jobs—movie projectionist, factory worker, radio show host, bookstore manager, restaurant manager, translator. Over the years, Luca has had a lot of relationships that didn’t work out, but now he is with the woman he will spend the rest of his life with. In 2005, Luca moved from Italy to the US. The move didn’t change Luca, but it allowed him to focus more on what he is and what he wants to do. He realized that making art is the most important thing in his life and that it's the only way he can be happy: to write, to draw, to paint, to make films. Luca loves to touch people and things, to use pens and brushes, to eat things and put things in his mouth. Hands, mouth, stomach—that's what Luca is. His family and his Italian friends might be surprised to know that Luca doesn't miss Italy. At first, it surprised him too (but not anymore). Luca is happier in the US, even though he doesn’t know what is going to happen next. But he believes in divinatory art and the way that the Etruscans could read the future in the pattern of lightning or in the shape and color of a liver. Luca believes in that. Every morning, he tries to read his future in the bottom of his cup of coffee.

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NPR: All Things Considered

The wonderful Madeleine Brand interviewed me about Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (on a postcard) for NPR's All Things Considered. It will air the week of July 20th, and I'm really happy that this project that I love is one of the things being considered. Many thanks, too, to Shereen Meraji, Erin Killian, and everybody who has told me their life story.
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Triple Love

Dennis Cooper loves Dear Everybody and gives it a super nice profile here--along with super nice profiles of Shane Jones' Light Boxes and Scott McClanahan's Stories.

#197 A. Jarrell Hayes: Words=Life

A. Jarrell Hayes grew up in Columbia, MD, the youngest of 4 kids. He usually stayed off by himself and played with his X-Men action figures. By 8, A. Jarrell started writing fantasy fiction and loved making choose-your-own-adventure books. He usually made them so that every choice made something bad happen, which was a reflection of the difficult things he was going through at the time. He was often anti-authority, rebellious, and got in a lot of fights. He got kicked out of numerous schools. When he was 12, A. Jarrell’s parents couldn’t handle him anymore and committed him to an adolescent residential treatment facility. A. Jarrell felt abandoned. Eventually, he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, which means he has to deal with the mania and depression of bipolar along with the hallucinations and paranoia and delusions of schizophrenia. The facility was really terrible and the treatments didn’t help at all. At 14, A. Jarrell was released from the treatment facility and willed himself to be healthy. He now takes full responsibility for not keeping himself in order back then. Unfortunately, the experience caused A. Jarrell to erect a wall between himself and his family (actually, people in general) that cannot be undone. Only other residents and those that have been incarcerated can fully understand what happened during his time there. In high school, A. Jarrell was the best mascot (the Scorpion) and classes were easy for him. In college, he has studied English. Over the years, A. Jarrell has worked a bunch of different jobs—including shoe salesman, credit card representative, and pharmacy clerk—which was just him searching for his place. He enjoys freelance blogging, but wishes it paid more. Once, on a train from Baltimore to Seattle, a woman accused him of being a private detective (he was wearing a trench coat and had a camera)—asking who sent him and how long he had been following her. At the end of the trip, she apologized for her behavior. Now A. Jarrell continues to write poetry and fantasy fiction. He writes poetry as a way to channel the somewhat disturbing and frightening images in his mind. He writes fantasy fiction because he couldn't find any with Black characters. There are orcs and trolls and elves and all sorts of fanciful creatures, but no Black people. A. Jarrell still has to deal with schizoaffective disorder, but the imagination that comes with the disorder helps when he’s writing fantasy fiction. He has always had a vivid imagination and trouble separating from reality. So far, A. Jarrell has published 6 books – 3 fantasy novels and 3 collections of poetry –and he will publish more. Eventually, he will finish up college and then maybe he would like to teach English in Japan.

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July 18th: Some Smashing and 510 Readings

I am going to be busy the afternoon of July 18th.

2pm-4pm: Smashing for Success on July 18th @ 2pm-4pm @ the Contemporary Museum, 100 W. Centre Street.
Michael Kimball and Luca Dipierro, co-creators of the documentary film I Will Smash You, will show some of the documentary and then lead a workshop in which participants are encouraged to share a story about an object that has some personal meaning for them and then destroy that object in whatever manner they wish. Destroyed relics will be housed in an archive in the gallery space. Bring an item for smashing, goggles or gloves if you have them, and a will to smash.

5pm-6ishpm: I'll be co-hosting (with Jen Michalski) the 510 Readings @ 5pm @ the Minás Gallery, 815 W. 36th Street. This month's readers are: Jamie Gaughran-Perez, S.L. Price, Ivy Goodman, John Barry.

#175 Michael Hemmingson: He Is Not That Person

Michael Hemmingson was born in Los Angeles and his childhood was like a bad young adult novel—teen parents, his father missing the first 5 years before returning to marry his mother. When Michael was 11, he wrote a Star Wars novel, 300 pages in pencil. At 14, he had his first poem published. As a freshman, he was editor of the high school literary magazine. When he was a sophomore, he discovered drugs—LSD, pot. By 17, Michael had published 200 poems, a dozen stories, and his own zine, Another Fucken Review. By 18, he had published three chapbooks of poetry and flash fiction. Michael has had many painful relationships end badly. When he was 23, his girlfriend Trudi died in a car accident. She was 10-weeks pregnant and Michael fell apart after that. He couldn't get out of bed, couldn’t work, and found himself homeless. He lived in his car or in shelters. He did not care what happened to him. The person he was died with her. Michael is not that person. When he was 27, Michael published his first book (The Naughty Yard, Permeable Press). It changed his life and people in the literary community took him more seriously. Another thing that changed Michael’s life was leaving Los Angeles and then again going back home to chase Hollywood, which he wishes he hadn’t done. He was in love with a woman, though, an actress. He wishes that he would have realized the heartache there would be in that. He has been lied to, cheated, and screwed over by producers in Hollywood. Still, one of the best things in Michael’s life was making a feature film (The Watermelon, LightSong Films) in Los Angeles, having that experience that few get. Michael has left L.A. many times and returned many times. One time, Michael was a journalist in Rwanda, but he wishes that he hadn’t taken that assignment. He is still haunted by the thousands of dead bodies and the smell in summer heat. One particular image that sticks in his mind is a hungry albino black child sitting alone in the dirt and crying, and no one paying attention. People should pay attention. Michael has accomplished so much—screenplays, movies, journalism, editing books, ghost-writing books, writing his own books (all kinds—literary, erotica, biographies, ethnographies, etc.). Through 2008, Michael had published 48 books under his name, plus a dozen more under various pen names. In the next few years, Michael will publish many more books— some under new pen names and some under his own name (particularly his first collection of literary fiction and academic books on Carver, Hemingway, and Vollmann). Michael also plans to finish his biography of Carver, write a big literary novel, make a studio-budget movie, and write for a TV series that will last no fewer than 3 seasons. Further, he will buy a house and move into it with his two cats, Worf and Poe (who are the reincarnated cats he had 12 years ago, Surfette and ArtBell) and the family he has always wanted to have.

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[Update: The Watermelon is now available at Turner Classic Movies.]

The Dollar Store Tour and I Will Smash You

I have two events coming up that I've been looking forward to for a while:
(1) The Dollar Store Reading on July 11th @ 730pm @ The Lof/t.
(2) Smashing for Success on July 18th @ 2pm @ the Contemporary Museum.
I hope to see you there or there.
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#176 Cyndy Taylor: Miss Lancaster County

If you google Miss Lancaster County, the wonderful Cyndy Taylor's postcard life story is the first hit.

Cyndy Taylor mostly grew up in Lancaster, PA, where her childhood was both wonderful and horrible. Her parents were generally good, smart, and meant well. Cyndy had lots of freedom to run around with her friends. There was enough money to be comfortably middle class. But things went haywire in Cyndy’s later childhood, especially as her father's alcoholism progressed. Once, during a family fight, her father shot a shotgun in the basement and pretended to kill himself. Another time, her father lay down in front of the car to prevent Cyndy and her mother and her brother from leaving him. Her brother screamed at their mother—Drive, drive. After that, her parents separated, and, during that time, Cyndy and her brother would sneak back in the family house late at night after their father passed out; they would take clothes, TVs, all the unopened Christmas presents, and, once, even a recliner. So her best memories from older childhood are of being very active in plays and musicals and spending time immersed in novels. Cyndy was always in the chorus at school. She loved being so good at singing and acting, the magic of transcending her daily life. Another thing that happened in high school: Cyndy’s boyfriend and the guy she was cheating on him with had an affair with each other. So Cyndy left as much of that behind as she could when she went to college—where she was a theater major before switching to social work. In 1980, Cyndy won the title of Miss Lancaster County. She always crushed the talent portion. The period after college was difficult, though, especially when Cyndy had to fix herself, her eating disorders. Being hospitalized didn’t cure her, but it was a catalyst for getting healthy. After she got better, Cyndy was in a singing group that lived on a cruise ship. After that, Cyndy moved to NYC for the musical theater. She loves that time in her life, though she wishes she would have had some kind of large-scale success. She would have liked to see if she really enjoyed it or not. In 1990, she married her first husband, but they divorced in 1994, which was horrible. She felt as if it were her fault, but eventually felt relieved of that guilt once he was happily re-married. During that time, Cyndy started working in college publishing even though she didn't have an English degree (but she was brought up in an editorial environment; her father and brother are both English profs). In 1996, Cyndy married Rick Davis, the drummer in her rock band. He's as different from her as she could imagine, but they have similar core values. For years, they tried to have children, but their girl wasn’t born until Cyndy was in her 40s, and it was a few years after for the boy. They are glad they kept trying. Having their beautiful children is the best thing that ever happened to them. Cyndy is proud to be bringing up her son and daughter to be the cool people that she now feels pretty sure they are going to be.

#102 The Ecstatic Shanti Perez

Shanti Perez grew up at the top of a mountain—without running water, electricity, or plumbing. When she was 8, she fell out of her grandpa's truck and she was out cold for a long time, but never went to the doctor. Shanti’s mother always wanted her to go away, so Shanti ran around in the woods—first with pigs and then with dogs. As a child, she was terrified of balloons and gym class. Her grandparents were like parents to her. One of her favorite toys growing up was a pond that her grandpa dug out with the backhoe. Shanti has always liked looking at tiny things, so she would set up her Breyer horses in front of a bush that resembled a full-sized tree, or a creek that resembled a raging river, and then photograph them so that she could see how real the scenery appeared to be in the photo. Shanti thinks in pictures. She knows where everything is located because she can picture everything. Sometimes Shanti blurts out random things in public, and she can have rigid expectations that make things difficult for those around her, but she completes every task with an amazing degree of thoroughness. When she was 14, her mother kicked her out of the house and Shanti traveled the homeless circuit. Nothing bad happened. A few years later, Shanti had two wonderful boys—Ki Song and K.C. Later, Shanti went to college where she studied anthropology, computers, and business (now she has an MFA in creative writing and an MA in management). Sometimes, college was difficult; to cope, Shanti kept her pet snake in her bra when she went to class. Around this time, Shanti met a boyfriend, a relationship that lasted 10 years. She didn't understand a lot about having a relationship then and thinks her boyfriend grew tired of trying to get close to her. Shanti still hasn’t recovered from that, but it was her two dogs, Lou and Greta, helped her to cope. Greta protected Shanti and sometimes when they sat on a hill together, Greta would lean into her and that was a great comfort. Now Shanti sees that decade-long relationship as a lesson and is grateful for it. Now she is with her boyfriend Phout, who sat behind her in 6th grade, who she is very attracted to, who accepts Shanti for who she is. With this relationship, Shanti also has two wonderful stepdaughters, Kia and Khay. Recently, Shanti was diagnosed with autistic disorder. Her family consisted of so many eccentric individuals that the autism went unnoticed until she was in her 30s. Now Shanti raises turkeys and chickens, plays with her rottweilers, hosts a show on blogtalkradio, writes fiction, reads, paints, studies hobo spiders and grizzly bears. Most days, she is ecstatic.

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One of the Things I Love

[Note: One of the things that I love about the postcard life story project is that I've met a bunch of fascinating people and that they keep in touch after I write their postcard life stories. We become friends and I like getting life updates from them. With that in mind, here is the first marriage of two people who were single when I wrote their postcard life stories. Now they are Katie and Patrick King.]

Kathryn Jachowski has lived her whole life in Maryland. When she was a little girl, she loved animals so much that she had to pet any animal that she saw. She would stick her head in holes in the ground and talk to the worms. When Kate was 10, her parents divorced and then she lost contact with her father. Her mother told her that her father was clinically depressed, but this wasn’t true. Her new step-dad was a pastor, which was fine since Kate was always religious. Later, she learned that her father had a drug problem and was in jail. During her teen years, Kate told her friends that her dad was dead so she didn’t have to explain it. Kate always got good grades, but never liked school. Kate never got into trouble, but she did things like drugs that other people didn’t know about. She never told anybody because she always wanted to be the good girl. Eventually, Kate wrote her father a letter in jail, explaining why she was angry with him and enclosing a Get Out of Jail Free card from her Monopoly game. After he got out, they talked on the phone and eventually decided to see each other in person (Kate hadn’t seen him since she was 11), but he died from a drug overdose before that happened. Kate always got along with her mother, but she had a hard time realizing that Kate was growing up. Kate started dating Pat, an atheist, which her mother had a problem with. Kate had a breakdown and told her mother that she hated God. Kate moved out of the house and her mother abandoned her. But, really, all Kate wants is to be happy. She says she’s about 75-80% happy now that she doesn’t live at home, so she’s almost there.

Patrick King was born in San Antonio, Texas, where his dad was getting military training, and the family kept moving for his dad’s Army job until Pat was 6--New Jersey, Germany, then Frederick, Maryland, where he spent kindergarten. On the first day of school, he remembers holding hands with Mandy Devis as they got on the school bus. After that, the family moved to Upstate NY, a small town outside of Ithaca while his dad finished his PhD in biology at Cornell, after which the family moved to Thailand for his research. Pat spent one semester of 4th grade in Bangkok, Thailand. Then his mom left his dad that summer and his dad sent Pat and his two brothers back to the states to be with her in Upstate NY. His parents divorced soon afterward, which, secretly, Pat liked. It was something that the other kids didn't have, but he did miss seeing his dad. After his 12th birthday, Pat turned inward, got shy and depressed, cut himself off from his friends. His only friend for 2 years was his brother Dave. It was a horrible time, but it was also when Pat started writing in notebooks. Just before his 15th birthday, Pat’s mother moved the family to Birmingham (where her family was) and he was insanely glad to be leaving Ithaca. He decided he would start over with a new life and make new friends. He threw away his notebooks and decided to make up stories about his past. Pat always hated the structure, and, in 7th grade, he almost flunked out. In high school, Pat’s grades always ranged from terrible to decent. He never got an A in anything until college, but, eventually, he dropped out. Pat has nightmares where he flunks out of college—though that isn’t what happened. He thought he had learned all he needed to learn and could do the rest on his own. In early 2006, Pat left his wife. Their lives were going in different directions—she wanted the bourgeois and he wanted the bohemian. So one night around 1am, he packed his stuff up in his brother Mike's car and they took off for Philadelphia. Pat left her with all the bills and the cats and an empty apartment. It was probably the cruelest thing he’s ever done. He didn't care then because he was going on a crazy adventure (and he wouldn’t be his dad's son if he wasn't an adventure-seeking, book-loving, half-mad artist), but he’s ashamed of it now. By 2007, Pat was divorced, living with his dad, and back in Maryland to start over again. He met Katie online and liked how smart she is and what a great artist she is. Also, she doesn't mind his vices. Right now, Pat works in a grocery store and is also working on a book of essays about his travels and the women in his life. Pat would like to marry Katie (there is something special about being legally bound to somebody else) and produce weird offspring and go on adventures together.
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#167 Ken Baumann Was Discovered

Ken Baumann’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and given 3 weeks to live before he ever existed. Luckily, his mother recovered and Ken was born some time after that, though extremely prematurely. Ken was supposed to be dead and blind, and he does have horrible vision, but his hearing is intact. For all these reasons, Ken was a miracle baby. For many other reasons, Ken’s parents have always known he is special. Ken had a great childhood growing up in Abilene, Texas, but didn’t play football. He was always skinny and read a lot, mostly fantasy books. When he was 10, wrote a book about a boy wizard who is recruited to a wizardry school so he can fight the evil wizard (Ken was incredibly pissed when Harry Potter came out). When he was 15, Ken wrote his first full-length novel and it felt like a huge accomplishment to finish something so large. Through these years, Ken continued to read and write fantasy books—until he read Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat's Cradle, which changed the way he thought and read for good. Ken’s acting career began after he was discovered at a Model/Actor Search and later was signed by a talent agent in NYC, where he moved for 3 months. After that, Ken was set up with another agent in Dallas and started auditioning for commercials and modeling for area department stores. But it wasn't until Ken played Nick in A Thousand Clowns at a local theatre that he felt passionate about acting. He gave up the modeling thing and went to Los Angeles for pilot season. The second year he went for pilot season he booked the lead in a pilot for Fox called Don't Ask, and he has been working ever since. Even though he was just 14, Ken wanted to take care of the family and find enough work to convince his dad to move out with his mom and his little sister. Ken wanted the family together and thought it was his responsibility. Recently though, Ken realized that his parents are incredible and smart and ten times more capable to withstand life's difficulties than he is. He loves how supportive they have always been. There was never any stage mom or stage dad from them and they never put any expectations on him. Ken met his girlfriend while working on a film called Spring Break '83. He felt the most joy, the most innocence, in the 6 weeks that they were together on set. She is an intelligent, generous, talented, loving person—and he loves her purely. She has inspired him to do so much. His second novel, Interim, and the feature film that he’s working on now are both dedicated to her. Last year, Ken started work on The Secret Life of the American Teenager, bought a house, and is now living by himself. Ken feels powerful and alive, and Ken is.

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[Update: The second season of The Secret Life of the American Teenager premiered earlier this week (and the blog has been getting a lot of hits from Ken’s fans, so I thought I would make it easier on everybody).]
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#133 The Survival of Rahne Alexander

Rahne Alexander was given a different name when she was born in 1969. She was raised Mormon in Central Valley, California, and the early grade school years were a blurry time. Rahne remembers feeling displaced and fearful as the boys and the girls were divided into separate groups. At 8, the age of accountability, Rahne let herself be baptized even though she was skeptical about the church. She knew the family would be ostracized otherwise. In the late 70’s, Rahne’s mother (an artist, dancer, painter) was diagnosed with MS and, so, at an early age, Rahne took on more of a caretaker role in the family. In high school, Rahne became more social but, at the time, it wasn’t okay to be out and gay, which caused difficulties even though Rahne wasn’t a gay boy. Rahne had done some research and there wasn’t much anecdotal information back then, but she had at least a medical understanding of transexualism. There were times when Rahne snuck her mother’s clothes, but this felt weird (probably not because they were woman’s clothes, but because they weren’t Rahne’s style). To get through, Rahne threw herself into school. She was just trying to survive until she could leave for college. Rahne attended USC and met her first girlfriend there; she was the first person Rahne came out to; she was so open and helped Rahne to explore her identity. It was weird, but great. Rahne didn’t think it would be possible, to do what she was doing, but it became okay over time. The next year, they both transferred to Redlands and Rahne studied philosophy, psychology, and women’s studies. Rahne delayed her public transition until she graduated. Then, in 1992, she legally changed her name to Rahne Alexander (see Rahne Sinclair, Wolfsbane of the New Mutants, and Alexander Woolcott, who sometimes cast himself in female roles) and had to invent Rahne’s self. And so it was during her time in Santa Cruz that Rahne began to figure out how to live her new life, figured out how to dress differently, how to present herself as a woman to the world (also to be employable). At first, she dressed in pleated slacks and pastel blouses from thrift stores, but then Rahne developed her own sense of style. This transition also involved bureaucratic steps (DMV, SS#), as well as living in the role for a year while seeing a psychologist. Rahne came out to her family, started taking female hormones (Rahne hasn’t had the surgery, prohibitive cost), and seeing an electrologist for facial hair. Rahne thought it would be harder than it was, and the threat of discovery, of violence at any point, still exists, but Rahne is prepared for it, has the language for it, the strength. In 2002, Rahne moved to Baltimore and slept on a friend’s couch. The move was impulsive, but Rahne has become more herself in Baltimore—writing stories, writing music, starting a band (The Degenerettes), meeting her wonderful partner Kristen (the drummer in the band). Rahne didn’t think it would be possible, but, in under 40 years, she has become comfortable in her body. People have told Rahne that she is brave, but she has always thought of it as survival.

Update: The Degenerettes just released a new CD Bad Girls Go to Hell.
More Rahne Alexander here.

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