by Jackie Corley
Paula Marie Anderson, 22, died in a car accident at midnight on Sunday, November 21, 2004. The tragedy of Paula’s death is not that she died so young. The tragedy is that someone who passionately fed on and enjoyed everything life had to offer is no longer around to experience it. We can rattle off dozens of people we know who live to cultivate their misery. How many people can you think of who find pleasure and kindness in anything? I can think of two – one of them was Paula Anderson.
About three years ago, I received my first e-mail from her. She’d come across my personal writing website and read everything on there – hundreds of pages of unedited, relatively formless, young writer-wannabe crap. Regardless of whatever she found in there, we took to one another right away.
I’m sitting here, running my thumb along my jaw, but I’ll be damned if I can recall any specifics on what we would talk about in the hundreds of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and e-mail conversations we had over the years. Music, writing, life, shooting the shit – the usual. We had similar ambitions and creative influences, but it wasn’t what we talked about -- it was how we were able to rap to each other. We played with words. We learned from each other. It never got old. I couldn’t help but smile every time her AIM handle popped onto my buddy list.
I started to follow her various on-line journals religiously. She led the ultimate rebel life that I’ve always seemed to recklessly deify from my well-sheltered nerd existence: constant adventure, a new home-base every few months, a swelling array of fascinating new friends at every turn, brief run-ins with the law and rum and Marlboro Reds. Paula’s way of telling the story of her life was even more fascinating than the crazy scenarios she found herself in. Every experience was viscerally felt by the reader.
Paula gathered the numerous fans and friends she had garnered through her blogs and asked them to be staffers of her on-line music magazine venture, Communication Breakdown. I was tapped to run the literary section, which I named Word Riot on a whim. Paula devoted several months of her life toward contacting record companies to secure CDs for review as well as toward handling the various personal issues a dozen staff members in their teens and twenties could come up with. In March 2002, the magazine launched at www.communication-breakdown.com.
But at some point, Paula disappeared from the confines of the on-line realm for another series of real world adventures. Communication Breakdown died on the vine during Paula’s absence, but Word Riot became my personal project which I eventually launched onto its own site.
When Paula started making appearances back in the digital realm, I was considering expanding Word Riot into a small press. While reading a new series of Paula-blog entries about trailer park madness and close misses with local police – all in requisite Paula-winking fashion – I realized that Paula’s journal would make a wild ride of a book.
Paula let me run with the idea and create the first Word Riot Press publication: a 52-page chapbook titled Blood Tender. I sat with over 300 pages of journal entries and whittled them down to what I considered Paula at her most mischievous and brilliant.
It was while promoting the book that she got to visit Los Angeles, a city she’d always dreamed about visiting. And she got to see the sun set into the Pacific Ocean with her much-loved younger brother Daniel while on that West Coast tour. Hearing her talk about those adventures, I can’t explain how much peace and satisfaction that brought me. If I’m proud of myself for anything in my life, it’ll be that I was able to make that opportunity possible for my friend.
I’ll always regret that I never got her out to New York City, another place she dreamed of making it big. (She had big dreams, Paula). When I got a gig there a couple summers ago, I used to walk around the subway stations and listen to whatever new self-promoting musician was keeping time for the commuters. I’d think to myself, “When Paula gets here, I’m gonna show her all of this – all the musty air and the foot traffic and the music cutting through the chaos. God, she’d love all of this.”
See, what I’ll always regret is for all the hours of conversation over the three years we knew each other, we never got to physically meet each other. The potential meetings just never panned out. It something I can’t explain – how you can care so much for a human being when you never shook their hand, when you never got your arms around them and hugged all their damn breath out of them. I can’t really explain how strong my friendship Paula was. I’m incompetent. I lack the words. And it’s funny because all the two of us ever had to know each other by was words.
All I can say is that I had a kinship with her. We understood each other intuitively. Even though we led very different lives, we knew without saying exactly what the other was about. She’d come back from long stretches of time off on some adventure and we’d able to jump back into great discussions with nothing changed, nothing awkward. You can only say that about a handful of people you come across in a lifetime.
This weekend I will finally meet Paula Anderson. I will drive nine hours to Jacksonville, North Carolina, a town Paula told me is as mellow and sleepy and Southern as they come. I will watch Paula’s ashes turn small tornadoes in the wind and swallow up the sea (no mere force of nature could ever swallow up Paula Anderson).
There’s a Richard Thompson song – Bee’s Wing – that contemplates the life of a young woman who refuses to let any chain or human being bind her. Unlike Paula, this woman grows into old age. A former male suitor sings:
And they say her flower is faded now
Hard weather and hard booze
But maybe that's just the price you pay
For the chains you refuse
Oh she was a rare thing, fine as a bee's wing
And I miss her more than ever words could say
If I could just taste all of her wildness now
If I could hold her in my arms today
Well I wouldn't want her any other way
Paula didn’t have the chance to fade. But in the very least, she’ll be remembered by those who loved her as a wild brush fire with its flames lapping up into a black night sky – beautiful, untamed and leaving the witness with warmth to remember it by.
Excerpts of Paula’s chapbook are available here and here. If you feel that spark quivering in your spine the way I always do when I read Paula’s prose, I’ve made the whole of Blood Tender available on-line here.
In Memory of Paula Marie Anderson
September 11, 1982 – November 21, 2004
by Zoe Trope
by David-Matthew Barnes
On Saturday, November 21 my colleague and dear friend Paula Anderson was killed in a car accident on a highway in North Carolina. Many of you had the opportunity to meet Paula and hear her read some of her brilliant work when she and I toured together in support of our poetry collections in 2003. Paula's collection of work is titled "Blood Tender" and I know many of you were thrilled to discover her work. She and I met through our mutual publishing company, Word Riot Press. Our editor, Jackie Corley, sensed that Paula and I were kindred spirits and she couldn’t have been more right. Aside from our love of the written word, Paula and I shared similar tastes in music, movies and even an affinity for the theme song to "The Facts of Life". Our bond was sealed through our conversations and correspondence about fears of success, fears of failure and our driving ambition and creativity that often plagued us through sleepless nights and exhausting searches for the next inspiring jolt.
For those of you who did not know her, Paula was a vivacious, inspiring, genuine person who filled the world around her with her powerful prose, her just for life and her constant duet with the chaotic and the unconventional.
The loss that we feel is beyond comprehension. Paula was only 22.
Please keep her family, friends and fans in her thoughts and prayers.
(David-Matthew’s tribute to Paula.)
In memory of Paula Anderson
Your collapsing words shivered, quaked
For those who wanted to run, move,
Hide by your side in the shaky world
Where you lived at the intersection
Of Genius and Girl. Wicked boys
Spurned you on to the trembling tune
Of your velvet moon. Hot love,
Broken thoughts and the insatiable
Quest for the thrill of free will; gave you
The madness that cursed your chaotic
Veins and burned holes in your Southern
Heart. Your soul stung with prose for
Those who know the itch of the nose;
The scratch of the scars that slice vices.
It cut you in two; love and family, good
And bad, the ugly and the pretty girls
Who seemed to sweet talk their ways
Through stumble-free lives. Electricity
Shot through the tips of your fingers
As you typed your jolted truth; life
As you knew it to be, never static,
Never free. The night, the highway,
The November sky: not everyone
Lies. Down, the world shifts, crumbles
And the speed, the curve snaps back
And the reverberation leaves your words
On the side of the road for future
Poets and the powerless to find amongst
Their own hauntings and hidden thoughts.
Mine are muddled with grief; weakened by
The misery that Mingo County has lost
by Jordan E. Rosenfeld
Paula assayed into the lounge where I hosted the Livewire Literary Salon some two years ago, a shy-seeming dark-haired girl who I’d only met in words on a page. Had you asked me to describe the girl I met on the page, I would have told you she was a time-tested woman of fifty, who’d weathered love storms, pain and chaos, who knew a thing or two about the bottoms of her soul. When this demure girl strolled in like some shy teen wallflower, I wasn’t so sure that I hadn’t been misled. Paula got up onstage to an audience too busy with their cocktails and chatter to notice what was happening at first. That is, until she opened her mouth and suddenly, the electricity that crackled off the page was dancing out of her body, shattering the chaos, interrupting the distractions. I don’t know if she read for five minutes or five hours, I was enthralled, floored. I realized by the end of the evening that Paula was that time-tested woman, who’d weathered love storms, pain and chaos, all just crammed in tightly to a young woman’s body. I am devastated for those of you who will never get the chance to hear her words as they were meant to be heard.
by David Mumm
I met Paula in late 2001 through a website I started (the sadly defunct diarymonster.com, now even more defunct as inthewire.com). The whole site was geared towards using words to express oneself. Paula did that in a way that was compelling and exciting.
She wrote about things that I didn't want to do, but I sure wanted to read about. We realized that she was living about two miles from where I was born. That created another bond - we both know what a pit J-ville is.
I only spent a few hours in her physical presence, a short time in a Memphis Waffle House in early 2003 while she was passing through. We talked about things that people talk about when they meet for the first time, just hanging out. She had to go home (she was close, driving from California to North Carolina) and I had to get back to work, so we parted. I always expected to see her again, sometime, knowing that we both would pop up online or in the same towns.
I guess it'll have to wait.
by John Welch
Paula Anderson was a brilliant writer and a wonderful young woman. I first came to know her at 'In The Wire' online diary when she left me a note complimenting me on something I had written. I went to her diary to thank her and to read her most recent entry. Then I went back and started to read all her other diary entries. I was amazed. Here was this girl saying something nice about my writing when, in fact, she could wipe the floor with me in any writing competition.
I once told her that if what I did was called writing then we would have to find another name for what she did. I was reading one of her extracts last night and I laughed out loud at the description of Greg's girlfriend, Maybelline VanDeesen, who had a thick New York accent instead of a voice like tinkling bells: 'So Maybelline got to talking, and she really was an engaging person, once you got over the startling difference between her face and her voice, the uncanny way it seemed like someone else was talking through her.'
And then a little further on as Maybelline explains how she and Greg met:
"'...and I was runnin' everywhere lookin' for my clothes, because the girls had gone and hidden them somewhere, because they were mad over what had happened in the lunchroom, right? So here I am running around in toe shoes and my leotard and shit, right? It was um-ba-lievable. I mean it was like 40 degrees in there and I didn't even have a jacket.Now that is what I call writing. I laughed all the way through and at the end I had this sudden thought that I must write and tell Paula how much I had enjoyed it. But, then came the immediate and sickening realization that I'd never tell Paula anything again.
"...and so like Gregory was prancin' down the hall, right, and-"
Greg cut in. "Prancing? I was prancing?"
"You was prancin'!"
"I don't prance," Greg concluded, crossing his arms. Maybelline looked over at me, chomping her gum, and put her hand on my arm, like in a movie when the waitress at a diner puts her hand on your arm and calls you 'hun', and asks if you want more coffee. It was a bonding-type thing that I thought only happened in the cinematic world. Greg and Maybelline were like that.
"...he was prancin'," she continued, " and so when he sees me comin' down the hall, he starts singing all loud 'Oh Maybelline! Why won't ya be true!' and shit like that right?" She had a crazy good voice too - all deep and soul and shit. Everything in New York is so full of surprises.
"...and so when he starts singin', the whole damn school starts lookin' out into the hall, and I'm standin' there like some kind-of-a freak, right? I was so um-ba-lievably mad and I didn't talk to him for-like-eva either."
"But my good looks and charm eventually won her over," said Greg.
"Actually it was because after that day when them girls didn't give me my clothes back, I didn't have no coat, right? So I latched on to the warmest thing. Gregory is like a furnace, with his big self, right?"
"Right," I agreed, laughing. Maybelline had a way of talking that would put you at ease immediately. I always thought it was something only Southerners possessed, that way of staying right there on your level with you, even if they were the president of the damn United States. But she had it, that way of relaxing a person - this was a very good thing, because, hell, it was New York! I sure as hell wasn't relaxed before she walked in.'
I am going to miss her so much. I will never forget her. If I am feeling this bad I can hardly bear to think what it must be like for her family and close friends. My sincere condolences go to all of them. And also to the family and friends of Charles Byron Reah, age 21, who died along with Paula in that terrible accident. I know that one other person was injured in the other vehicle and I pray that they will be all right.
Paula, I wish I had your powers of description to do justice to what you meant to me. All I can say is this: you sparkled like a finely cut diamond in an otherwise bleak world. Thank you for allowing me to share a little part of your world. It was an enormous privilege and pleasure to have known you, even though it was for such a short time.
For Love is Immortality.
~ Emily Dickinson
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