Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story on a Postcard

One of my favorite blogs is Michael Kimball Writes Your Life Story (On a Postcard), which is, of course, so much more than just a blog. Just like Michael Kimball is more than just a writer.

Michael began the project in the summer of 2008. The life stories are mostly about writers, but you don’t have to be a writer to have your life story written on a postcard. You can also be a red delicious apple or even a chair.

The life stories range from charming to profound. The writing is great, concise yet prosaic. Michael retains the flavor of how his subjects express themselves. And then he adds little Kimballese touches, elevating the language while maintaining a warm tone. Michael writes really small and can fit about 600 words on the back of a standard 4 x6 postcard. And he posts updates when there’s good news to share on past participants.

When I guest-edited Keyhole #6, I asked Michael to write the life story on a postcard for every contributor. The idea was to eliminate the conventional-written-in-the-third-person author bios and make every page of the journal a great reading experience. It was a lot of work for Michael but so much fun to read!

Though Michael is semi-retired from writing new life stories on postcards, his work has been taken up by writers like Shya Scanlon and Kim Chinquee and Sam Ligon and Elizabeth Ellen and Meg Pokrass. And you can read those from time to time at the blog.

Anyway, my point today is this: when Michael offered to write my life story on a postcard back in August of 2008, I imposed a constraint. I didn’t complete Michael’s questionnaire, and I requested that Michael write my life story based solely on what he knew about me from my stories, our many email exchanges, and whatever he could find out about me on the web. I imposed the constraint because, at the time, I was promoting my first novel, Without Wax, which is set in the adult entertainment industry, and I didn’t want to include my wife and family in all that shenanigans. That’s right, I said shenanigans.

Now, after reading about all the cute-meets and the marriages of all the other life story on a postcard participants, I regret that my life story on a postcard does not include my wife, Kristen, or our kids. So here’s that:

Bill met Kristen in 1991 at a record store in Foxboro, Mass. called Good Vibrations when he came in to buy tickets to see The Replacements. Ticketmaster came up with front-row tickets for Bill, which made him excited even though the girl behind the counter was clearly not impressed, which made Bill think of the Replacement’s song “Color Me Impressed.” Bill had just finished grad school and had an unpaid internship at the Boston Review and a low-paying job (but with a company car) with the Handleman Music Company, essentially taking inventory of CDs, cassettes, and VHS videotapes at department stores like Ames and Kmart. He was a boy-writer of 26 with significant academic debt, and the girl behind the counter at Good Vibrations was all he could think about. So Bill applied for a part-time job at Good Vibrations. And he found out that the girl behind the counter–her name was Kristen–was only 17, so he would have to wait until she turned 18 before he could even ask her out. During that six month waiting period, Bill attempted (often) to flirt with Kristen but all he managed to do was make her think that he was a dope. It didn’t help that he had given up the company car when he resigned from the Handleman Music Company and had to drive his mother’s lime-green ’79 Chevy Chevette. Bill looked pretty silly driving around in that car. But Bill hung in there and he managed to get himself invited to a Pixies show (third row) at the Orpheum in Boston with Kristen and another guy who worked at Good Vibrations. Kristen had been 18 for a month and Bill was determined to make his move. After the show, Bill dropped off that other guy and, instead of taking Kristen home directly, he suggested a drink at a bar near Stonehill College that he knew did not card 18 year old girls. (Bill had his own car by this time–a 1984 VW Quantum, which is still his favorite car of all time.) Bill let Kristen do all the talking that night and, as Kristen tells it, he tilted his head in a way that made her know that he was listening to her. Later that night, Kristen called her best friend and said, “I just went out with the man I’m going to marry.” And three years later, they did get married and they went to Ireland for their honeymoon and then they began having children“one, two, three, four. Betsey, Patrick, Libby, and McCoy. They are a family that is as happy as the forces in the world outside of their home will allow. If you ever meet Bill, put your hand on his back and give it a rub. He’s a lucky fucking guy and some of that good luck just might rub off.

(For more on Michael Kimball and Postcard Life Stories, check out features on NPR and in the Guardian UK.)