Just this week, I was thoroughly impressed with an interview of Wisconsin Representative Mark Pocan on the Thom Hartman radio show on KPFK, Pacifica Radio 90.7 FM. ( It sounds as if his interviews are a weekly feature on the Thom Harman show). Pocan has represented the 2nd District in Wisconsin since 2013 and is a businessman and Co-Chair of both the Congressional Progressive Caucus. He’s an AFL-CIO guy and took fascinating questions from the listening audience and answered with intelligence and informed opinions that were impressive. I think this is the kind of person you mean when you state, “The first step, I believe, is to elect, and continue to elect, representatives who favor policies that are in the best interest of the majority of citizens.” I think that promising ourselves to become more involved with representatives like Mark Pocan is a good place to start.
The fact that causes have to be directed to “pocketbook issues in America” is true and is at the moral and ethical source of America’s problems. Granted, the disparity of wealth and the thwarted ability to have the stability our parents had is the cause of the focus on pocketbook issues, but I believe that attitude also comes from the moral leadership of the country and from the pulpits. If that is the case then it is only from the pulpits that it can be changed. The concept of “Jesus”, especially in the Evangelical churches along with the new prosperity theology has shifted so much away from the selfless bent Christ appears to have been preaching that until there are new interpretations of the most practiced religion in America, we will continue in this vein.
Those more generous messages and views caused companies in the 50s to embrace “profit sharing”. My father’s factory did that 60 years ago.
Today, the Mondragon Corporation in Spain is a fascinating study on the humanist concept of business, “a philosophy of participation and solidarity, and a shared business culture.” While economist Richard Wolf has portrayed The Mondragon Corporation as a working model of an alternative to capitalist mode of production, Noam Chomsky found problems with it being part of the market system. Nevertheless, I think the model is an important experiment to which we should give our attention.
I just read on the Mondragon Wikipedia page a fact that you might be interested in Casey because your newest novel is about Artificial Intelligence. Perhaps you’ve already read it, but apparently, there is a science fiction novel about AI ‘by Kim Stanley Robinson, in which “the Mondragón Corporation has evolved into a planned economy system called the Mondragon Accord. .The Mondragon Accord is controlled by means of a network of AI’s running on quantum computers, and rules large parts of the Solar System, including Mercury and most of the moons of the gas giants; only part of Earth, and its colonies in space, retain remnants of capitalist economies, while Mars has withdrawn from the Accord in the century preceding the story.”
Unlike Casey Dorman’s view that the recent protests in France are unlikely to occur in the US, I predict that within the next two years, possibly much sooner, ideas from France will influence Americans to take to the streets as well. In the 60s the protests for labor rights in France preceded the most violent of the US protests regarding Vietnam in the late ’60s. Even more significant was the linkage between the American and French philosophers and great thinkers who affected the American Revolution and the French Revolution. During this period of the Enlightenment, Locke, Paine, and Thomas Jefferson had great influence on Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and others. The back and forth acceptance of ideas and search for ways to view society has historically existed between France and the United States, and I believe the French protesters will have an effect on America.
My favorite word lately is “zeitgeist.” Inventions, for example, tend to be in the zeitgeist (Edison’s development of the phonograph, according to some, was invented AFTER a French inventor’s development of the phonograph. Edison was able to register the patent first as I remember. Thus the same idea existed across the ocean). So too, creative ideas and new philosophies seem to always float in the zeitgeist no matter the level of sophistication in communication. It seems that some kind of revolution has to be the inevitable outcome of the vast disparity of wealth not only in the US but throughout the world. The pressure created by that kind of disparity cannot be contained forever.
Who are the Progressives?
The other point mentioned in Casey’s article is the view that progressive leadership has failed to understand the plight of the working class. The term “progressive” in general usage seems to have taken on some kind of connection with “the elite” recently. Progressivism is in the DNA of Wisconsin and Minnesota. From Governor LaFollette to Eugene McCarthy, these two states have been at the forefront of progressive thought. “The Progressive” magazine, for heaven’s sakes is published in Madison! It is the breaking up of unions during the Reagan administration, I believe, that is one of the major factors that allowed factories in Milwaukee, for example, to be so shortsighted as to make no responsible plans for the retraining of workers in industries they knew were dying.
The only way I can speak about “liberal progressives” is to talk about those in my world whom I consider holding this political bent. Those who I know personally as long-time Progressives live in the Midwest and are from very humble backgrounds. They live within modest means and they are mostly Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Their interest has always been in the relationship of the economy to sociological conditions.
Most of my friends from Wisconsin and Minnesota come from families who were farmers or laborers. They are all presently activists in a number of movements. One of my friends is a diversity counselor at a Community College, another is the Director of TRIO’s Student Support Services at the same college. They are not part of the Washington “elite”, yet they are very progressive thinkers. The Student Support Service Program that my friend directs was legislated years ago to help first generation, low income, and special needs students retrain succeed in college. Many of the students came from the industrial sector for retraining of lost jobs. For decades that Federally funded program has understood the connection between the economy and sociological development. Dedication to leveling the playing field has always been and will always be the progressive goal of friends I know. Former and present members of the so-called Democratic “elite” or old guard such as Ted Kennedy and John Lewis have always been the biggest supporters of Student Support Services, Upward Bound, and the MacNair Foundation. The problem historically has been the fight for funding from the Republican party year after year in spite of statistical evidence that these programs have a significant economic impact. The fact that a “Republican” President is taking up the mantle formerly fought for by progressive Democrats is a joke and a ruse!
Painting the picture of progressives as not part of the working class is not how I view it. My college roommate grew up on a dairy farm and became a high school teacher. She married a parole officer whose father sold life insurance. Farmer issues are very much in their “wheelhouse” so to speak. Both are retired now and live in a lovely, but modest home, with very modest pensions; they take vacations by earning miles on their credit cards. However, they fight for progressive causes and have nothing kind to say about Scott Walker in Wisconsin or Donald Trump
Another progressive couple I know supports a myriad of issues. They understand global climate change and the driving forces of migration and immigration. They are also from typical midwest backgrounds. The husband’s father was a farmer and he himself was a Peace Corps worker during Vietnam and carpenter by trade later on. His wife was a high school biology teacher. They have spent time working in Guatemalan villages and have been able to visit the village in Thailand where the husband worked years ago. Their children, all teachers, live in the Midwest, Trump country, all are of modest means, and all are Progressive.
My own father worked his whole life in the stock room at Kearney and Trecker, a factory in Milwaukee in the 50s. He never owned a home and died in a Veterans Hospital without a dime to his name. My mother worked in a grocery store and if she were alive today, she would absolutely go ballistic over Trump and his proposals.
I must add that there ARE members of my family who did vote for Trump. They do think of us as “elite” because we went to college and use “big words.” I think mostly, they dislike that we drive a Prius, not because they think it’s not American made, but because it illustrates that we believe the scientists concerning global climate change. We were all born and raised in Milwaukee and “woven from the same cloth,” and yet there is the separation.
So I do think there here is a danger in assuming progressive leadership isn’t addressing the working class or doesn’t understand it. Half, maybe three-quarters of them are the working class. I think political terms are so fluid now that the labels are like sand on a beach changing with the rapidly changing political tide. As my favorite linguist, George Lakoff of Berkeley indicates that misdirection of the terms is purposeful.
The frame or meme that has been set up by Trump defining Democrats, or Progressives, or Elites needs to be countered. Even though I’m not in favor of many centrist policies of the Democratic party and tend to be left of that line, I have the highest respect for Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, and the Democratic Party, old and new. I think Democrats are stronger together than apart. I think Democrats have been rooted, since FDR and through the 60s in a philosophy “to not look aside from want and pain,” as the old hymn goes, and to work for a more fair and equitable society. I believe that has always been at the core of Democrats, progressive or not. And when the smoke and mirror tactics of the 2016 election dissipate, Republicans who hold these values will perhaps be more willing to speak up as well.
One of the best short stories ever written in my opinion.
If you understand the connection this election day 2018, no further explanation is necessary. If you don’t, no further explanation will be enough.
I wrote the following story more than 20 years ago. When my daughter, Bethany, told me she was going to sing for seniors at an Assisted Living facility, I looked for this story to show her. The only version I could find was a printed copy and instead of typing the whole thing over, I just scanned the version that I had for now. When I have the time, I’ll tweak the writing and fix the errors, but I have several other projects going on at the moment, so here it is for Bethany now. I just hope she doesn’t meet a real Mrs. Vandervorst any time soon!
So here’s an answer for a Jeopardy question you might want to blurt out ahead of your spouse while you’re watching on TV.
Alex Trebek: “a rounded knotty growth on a tree, giving an attractive figure when polished and used especially for handcrafted objects and veneers”
Your Answer: “What is a burl?” Lucky you knew that answer because you chose a true “Daily Double.”
Because of my interview a few weeks ago with Kenny Koo in San Francisco on our great “2018 Pool Hall Road Trip,” I had a vague idea that designing a pool cue is an art. However, I still had no idea of how the process actually began or that it could involve a burl. Since there is absolutely no sense in reinventing the wheel and trying to add to information when it’s already been so well done, let’s just take a look at the video below that shows pool player/pool cue creator, Kent Davis and his process. If you watch until the end of the video, not only will you get an idea of why custom-made pool cues can be expensive, you’ll get an inkling into the character of a true artist and how he views his art.
I’ll admit that I did not personally interview Kent for this blog post. I sent Mike with a notebook and some questions to Danny K’s because, to be honest, I assumed that once we arrived back in Orange County, CA, my pool interviews were over since our great American “2018 Pool Hall Road Trip” had ended. (I was anxious to get back to work on the rewrites of my novel.)
Mike had met Kent back on the 8th of July in Fremont, CA where the 2018 West Coast Swing Tournament was going on at California Billiards. Kent happened to be talking to Eddie Cohen who plays down at Danny K’s where Mike shoots, and of course Mike wanted to say “hi” to Eddie being he was in Fremont and all. (It’s a relatively small world that pool players occupy, it seems.)
Mike had to wait quite a long time for his interview because Kent happened to keep winning in the tournament at Danny K’s. His custom-made sticks probably have some kind of magic. Finally, the tournament ended and Kent took 2nd Place! You’d think a guy would be too tired to answer any questions after hours of shooting pool, but he had promised Mike he would and that’s just the kind of guy it seems Kent is.
Mike asked the whole list of questions I had written and we could make this article go on for pages. However, the excellent videos do show and tell almost everything you’d want to know. There is only one answer to one question you won’t hear on the video. It’s one of the questions I put on the list for Mike to ask Kent and it was highly revealing of Kent and of the professionalism of this artist/craftsman. “Who are your competitors?” Mike asked Kent.
Well, if you listened between the lines of Kent on the first video, you won’t be surprised at his one-word answer to Mike was: “Fraternity.” The question was almost non-answerable to Kent it seemed. He explained to Mike that there is no competition among custom pool cue makers. Each has his own style and is appreciated for his artistic expression. As a person who, myself, is a member of OC Writers, a group of people who express themselves, not on a lathe or a kiln or a loom, I can understand exactly what Kent is saying. Kent also said something very profound at the end of the first video that we can all say to almost everyone in our lives. He wanted to thank all those who contributed in small ways and in large to helping him hone his craft. “Everything I do belongs to you.” It reminds me of a quote I heard once about life. “Everything you experience informs the craft.” I’m glad Mike insisted “we” interview Kent!
You know the experience. You walk through a door and you think, “Am I in the right place?” That’s how I felt when Mike and I strolled into “The Cue Ball” in Salem, Oregon one afternoon on our “Great 2018 Pool Hall Road Tour.”.It looked like a pool hall as we stood in the doorway; there were players at the tables. But about a third of the way alongside the left wall was large opening and through the opening we could see from a sideways glance that some kind of furniture piled on top of each other. At first I thought I was in a pool hall slash furniture warehouse, but when we walked through the opening we could see that the large pieces of “furniture” were pool tables. You just don’t get to see that many legs in the air at one time unless you’re in the front row of the Rockettes in Radio City Music Hall, and I still couldn’t figure out why these tables were there. Mike must have realized right away because he left me standing there dumbfounded while he was already walking into the next room where other pool tables were doing what they’re supposed to do, standing up right with no other table on top of them.
A Room That Displays Things Is A ….
It wasn’t long before the owner, Jimmy came in. I think he was wondering what I was up to. Even I was wondering what we were up to! I guess I was trying to figure out what exactly this place,”The Cue Ball,” was. Was it a museum, a furniture warehouse, an assisted living program for old pool tables? No. On closer look, the tables stacked in front of my eyes (there must have been 8 to 12 in that room) were all brand new, all different woods, different makes and different models.
This was a showroom! I was standing in the middle of a pool table showroom! “People come in and pick out a model of table for their home,” Jimmy explained slowly so it would somehow sink through my head. “They can order their choice of pockets and special cloth. They can order a 7, 8, or 9 ft table dependent on their room size.”
When you think about it, stacking up the tables on top of each other is the best solution for a pool table showroom. You can fit more models into your space and still get a pretty good idea of what the table beneath it looks like, so I was getting the picture.
Statues, Murals, and Memories
Jimmy probably figured out from the moment we walked in that we hadn’t come to buy a pool table, but I now felt compelled to explain exactly what we were doing at his pool hall/showroom. I had no idea what Mike was doing. He’s pretty much a Lone Ranger when it comes to pool halls. So Jimmy, being a kind and easy-going guy who has a lot of history burning a hole in his pocket, was quite willing to answer my questions as he showed me around.
I would have needed to have remembered my Shorthand class in high school much better to write down everything Jimmy explained to me about this unassuming space and the history of the objects in it. Jimmy has been in the business for fifty-five years, so he has met with some of the great pool players of our time and has some artifacts from historic places around Oregon. One or two of the murals on the back wall of “Cue Ball” is from an auction of articles from a famous hotel on the Columbia River in Portland. (Perhaps Jimmy said “The Red Line: or “The Red Lion,” I’m not sure.) The life-size stature of the pool players are from a billiard club that went out of business. I don’t think those guys are ever leaving “The Cue Ball.” If you stop into “The Cue Ball” in Salem, be sure to check out the wall on the right. There’ll you’ll find an old poster of “Cowboy” Jimmy Moore who put on a demonstration at “The Cue Ball” back in the day. Any one who has been around pool players has heard the name Mosconi and apparently Jimmy Moore had beaten Mosconi at one point, and, Minnesota Fats.
But The Best…
But while you’re looking at the right wall, you’ll see a space saved for the memory of a special friend of Jimmy’s, Don Malarkey. There’s a painting signed by Don Malarkey who was a member of “the band of brothers,” one of the groups of paratroopers who landed on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, 1944. If I had had my wits about me, I would have told Jimmy about my former father-in-law, who had told me stories about that day – being pulled down into the sea because of the equipment they landed with – not finding their unit for days afterward. However, American historian Stephen E Ambrose, compiled the story of that campaign from extensive interviews with veterans of the “Easy Company.” the Airborne’s 506th Regiment.J, and Don Malarkey was one of them. Spielberg’s movie with Tom Hanks was made following that book and the HBO series, Band of Brothers, is from that era. Jimmy was proud of the large impressive slate carving of a pool hall on the wall which he told me, was a gift from his long-time friend, Don.
Time had slipped away from us that afternoon at “The Cue Ball,” but before we had to leave, it occurred to me that there must be a reason that Jimmy Lebold has kept this pool hall/pool table/pool equipment shop running all these 55 years. I could guess what that reason might be, but I thought I’d ask to find out. His answer was not what I expected. I thought he might have said because he loves the game of billiards or that it’s been a nice living. But he didn’t. He didn’t have to stop long to answer either. “The reason I keep doing this?” he reiterated. And then he said, as if it was obvious, “That’s easy. It’s brought me hundreds of friends!”
As if our 2018 Pool Hall Road Trip didn’t confirm my suspicions about pool hall players, we met Marko.
League play was going on at Sam’s Family Billiard’s when we walked in, and a young man was just ready to give up his table to the league players when Mike walked over. “Wanna shoot?” Mike asked. The young man was hesitant, obviously considerate of the league needs. The league director, though said “Sure go ahead. Use the table. You have time.”
Game on. “Hi, I’m Marko,” and he shook Mike’s hand. Meanwhile I just sat at a table close by drinking a vodka tonic reading a book on my cell phone. I was close enough to hear Mike and Marko talking a bit while they were playing. I detected a very slight accent and thought maybe Marko was from Canada! At the end of the game I heard Mike say, “I hear a little accent. Are you from Croatia?”
Now I know Mike has a good ear, but I’m thinking to myself, “How in the world did Mike pick Croatia? Marko might have wondered too because at that very moment, he told Mike, “No one has ever guessed my accent correctly before. You’re the first.” For some reason I felt proud of Mike. It seemed like he was a some kind of bon vivant who traveled the world somehow without my knowing.
As Mike and Marko finished putting their cues back in the cases, Mike brought Marko over to the table to introduce him to me. Mike explained a little about our road trip visiting pool halls on the West Coast and Marko seemed interested. I hadn’t intended to interview anyone at Sam’s and didn’t even bring my notebook. But sometimes you meet people that just radiate openness, even kindness, so I asked Marko if we could chat for a few minutes. Mike went to the bar to order a beer.
I started our chat with my usual question about work. Given my interview with Christina at Fast Eddie’s in Santa Cruz and Brian at Hard Times in Sacramento, I was not at all surprised when Marko told me that he was a Storage and Data Protection Administrator in Computing Infrastructure Services at Portland State University. (I swear if I ever go back to grad school, I’m going to do research on the correlation of billiard players to computer technology and other sciences. Strong and Campbell were right on way back in the 70’s devising a test*** that would guide you into a career based on your outside interests, but I digress.)
When Mike came back with his beer, I told him what Marko did for a living. That’s when my eyes started to glaze over as the two of them began speaking in another language – not Croatian of course – but “Computer-ese.” When they finally got back to words I could understand, I found out that Marko is doing graduate work at Portland State. (That’s one of the reasons he doesn’t actually belong to a league at “Sam’s Family Billiards’ – studying takes precedence over shooting pool.)
I asked Marko how he got interested in shooting pool. It seems there are not a lot of pool or billiard halls in Croatia, but he told me he was always fascinated watching the game on TV. “That’s how I learned,” he said. “From watching it on TV!” Now I was the one who was fascinated!
Of course when you’re a seventy-something interviewing a thirty-something the “mom gene” kicks in and you feel you have permission to ask questions that normally you wouldn’t just blurt out. So of course, as you might guess, I just went ahead sans boundaries, “Do you have a girlfriend?” Marko’s face lit up. When he told me that his girlfriend’s major was in the area of Linguistics I was intrigued. We started to talk about the phenomenon of right brain people being attracted to left brain people and vice versa. Because Marko is such an affable young man I could share with him some of the idiosyncrasies of Mike and my relationship. I think I might have thrown in a commercial for my app, “The Perfect Husband App”, but since I wasn’t taking notes, I’m not sure.
The most exciting outcome of my interview with Marko is that he plans to take a trip down to Orange County, California when his parents come to visit. I told him about my article with a one-day itinerary, “What to See in the OC,” and being the open-minded agreeable guy he seems to be, I’m pretty sure he’ll check it out. Most of all I hope he sends us a text message if he happens to go to Balboa Island. We’d love to have lunch with him and his parents. And as always, the best part of interviewing people on road trips; you might meet them again along your path!
Mike’s Sister/Aunt Sue, is one of those generous-hearted people who finds fascinating pictures and video to post on Facebook. (The reason I call her sister/aunt is because Sue is my husband Mike’s aunt, but she’s his same age. I simply can’t bring myself to refer to her as Mike’s Aunt! However, if I use my term she’d technically be my sister/aunt-in-law, and that has just way too many keyboard symbols in it. Let’s just call her Sue.)
Sue is like a Facebook Ellen DeGeneres. Everyday she features some wonderful gift for the audience to take home. It might be a picture or a video or a story that makes you laugh, or cry, or just plain informs you. It’s a calling of sorts, I think. So on July 22 Sue posted a perky video like the one above of women who belong to “Sisters on the Fly.” Apparently this group of women campers has been around for a while, (1999 according to their website) but this was the first I had ever heard of them!
The very next day after seeing Sue’s video – really, I’m not kidding – the very next day, Mike and I met Valerie. We had stopped for gas at a Shell station in Corning, CA. We might never have thought a thing about the little camper at the other pump; it’s is pretty a common sight on a road trip. But then we noticed the pink hubcaps and the bike on the back, just one – a girl’s bike. I turned to Mike, “Do you think she’s ….”
He finished my sentence, “…a member of that group?”
And then we both said simultaneously, “What’s its name again?”
So Mike, never being shy talking to women, went over to ask this stranger if she belonged to that group “something or other.” Sure enough, she did! He was actually talking to Sister 4957 of “Sisters on the Fly”. Her name is Valerie, she told us. Mike asked if he look through the windows into her sweet vintage camper while I asked if she had time for some quick questions. (The “on the fly” part was flashing in my mind, and I sensed this cheerful woman with “Happy Camper” on her T-shirt was anxious to get back on the road to meet up with her sisters.) But she saw the “BloggingOnWheels” sign on our car and was happy to chat a bit.
“I can’t believer it. I never heard of your group and just yesterday saw a video on Facebook! I think this is so cool, but I’m not much of a joiner,” I said. It’s then, that Valerie started explaining more about the group and why she loved it.
“You can participate as little or as much as you like. It doesn’t matter if you’re more of a loner or a joiner. There’s room for everyone.”
She went on to reiterate the points made in the video on Facebook. Aside from their love of the outdoors, the interests of these women are as varied as the interiors of the campers they decorate. I then thought I heard Valerie say something about having meals catered in on their trips so no one has to cook (?) Mike confirmed that fact when we got home. I thought, joiner or no, these are my people! Valerie mentioned the variety of classes that are held during their various outings and later when I went to the website I found information about becoming a vendor and some amazing service work they do when other sisters are in need.
People were lining up at the pump behind us, so we waved good-bye and let Sister 4957 get back on the road. Mike then told me about the inside of Valerie’s camper. “No bathroom, but it’s got a stove with an oven, refrigerator, and sink.” The sink seemed very important to Mike and his sales pitch made me wonder if he was looking forward to the day when I would take off for the week with the good sisters. He probably had visions of taking a blanket over to Danny K’s pool hall in Anaheim, sneak under a table when they locked up, and be there in the morning to shoot pool the next day.
As for me, I’m starting, just starting, to wonder just how could get my hands on a cute vintage camper and what kind of theme I’d chose for decorating the inside. The founders of Sisters on the Fly, Becky and Maurrie had a an adventurous role model in their mother who taught the two how to enjoy the outdoors and become capable, independent women. My mom had other gifts, more indoors-y kind of gifts..But all this make me think. Maybe I could become that kind of adventurous mother for my daughter, Bethany. You know the old saying, “You only regret the vintage camper you didn’t buy.”
If it hadn’t been for Sue’s video, I probably wouldn’t have found out about about this fascinating group. I probably wouldn’t be figuring out the possibility of taking off by myself for a week or two and meet up with the sisters. So thank you to Sue for another of your Facebook gifts. I feel like I’ve been to the Ellen show and just won something really nice!
Often during my husband’s great “Summer 2018 Pool Hall Tour,” I wait back in the motel, telling myself that I’m going to get lots of work done on my novel which somehow never seems to happen. Rarely does Mike come back and say, “You just have to come with me to meet this guy.” But that’s just what he did when he returned from a tournament he was playing in at “Hard Times Billiards” in Sacramento on July 15.
Maybe it was because I had been talking Mike’s ear off for a few days about a documentary I found while flipping through the dozens of channels on the motel TV. It was the one where Stephen Hawking was explaining the theory of multiple universes where versions of ourselves might be existing simultaneously (or something along those lines of incomprehensible ideas.)
“Come on, you gotta meet this guy,” Mike persisted. “He’s the tournament director at “Hard Times” today, and when I went over to check in, I noticed the screen on his computer. You wouldn’t believe it, stuff about physics and philosophy, formulas on quantum physics. He’s amazing.”
So because the dendrites in my brain were still engaged in trying to comprehend a tiny spark of what Stephen “Unfathomable” Hawking had expounded upon in his documentary, I thought, “I do have to meet this guy.”
So I walked into “Hard Times” with Mike, pushing him past the crane machines he’s addicted to, and went into the tournament room to meet Brian La Flamme, the tournament director and pool player himself. Sure enough, there on Brian’s computer screen was an article by James Beichler. It might have been “The Thermodynamics of Evolutionary (Open) Systems” or a pdf entitled “Intuitive Consciousness and the Logic of Single Field Physics…”; I don’t know. I just know there we stood, Mike, Brian, and I talking about magnetic theory and brain waves while the players played on in the tournament room. (It’s not as if we could go over and cheer them on shouting “8 ball in the side, 8 ball in the side!”). The quieter, the better seems to be a pool hall maxim.
So after a few minutes of discussing whether physics, philosophy, and the paranormal can intersect somewhere to make the meaning of life clearer, I took a picture of Brian, the unassuming Tournament Director/Physics fan, and decided I should write a letter to Chuck Lorre and his team of writers on “The Big Bang Theory.” In that letter, I’d suggest a pool hall themed episode. “The stereotype of a pool player,” I’d write, “should be changed to one that matches the stereotype of a chess player or other left-brained thinkers.” Since most of the players I’ve been meeting on this road trip either work in or have an interest in the field of Math and Science, the probability of Leonard demolishing Penny’s boyfriend Zach in a game of 8 Ball like some Minnesota Fats would not be far-fetched. Of course that scene would have to be set in a dive bar where the dialog would involve talking smack (better known in the pool hall as “sharking”). There’s not much room for dialog in a Pool Hall tournament, unless you’re talking physics on the side to a guy like Brain LaFlamme.
I feel like Lois Lane writing articles for the “Daily Planet”. Doing the “human interest” angle of “Mike’s 2018 West Coast Pool Hall Tour” has me walking with him into pool halls and standing at the counter as he requests a table, all the while looking around for anything, any piece of anything, that might give me an angle for my story. So I’m there at the counter at the “Broken Rack” near Berkeley and pick up a postcard advertising Sunday comedy at “The Monkey House.” On a “reporter’s” hunch, I lean in with my elbow on the counter to look casual, and say to the handsome guy handing Mike a rack of balls at “The Broken Rack,” “So, are you a comic?”
He looks at me a bit shocked, apparently wondering how I would leap to that assumption and says, “Yeah, I am.” He doesn’t know that my daughter is an actor who does stand-up comedy in Burbank and LA, but he will before we leave.
Mike finds a guy to shoot with – a tall young, really intellectual entrepreneur who’s going to open a Glam-Camp in wine country somewhere, and I go to the bar to order us a BLT, minus the “B” since our road trip is not helping our diet. It’s only noon-ish and there aren’t a whole lot of people in “The Broken Rack,” so I don’t feel bad about engaging the bartender/comic in conversation. I ask his stage name and he tells me it’s “Pharaoh”. It’s now that I tell him about my daughter, Bethany Therese. He doesn’t know her, but we go through a list of comics I know Bethany knows, and he does know some of them. I ask him where he performs, and he casually tells me he’s opened for Cedric and DL Hughley and I stop listening out of embarrassment for not knowing what to ask after that.
So I try to make our humble little road tour seem like something and scan my brain for any fact that might be impressive. “Yeah, interesting…” I start off, “we were in Santa Cruz and a woman shooter there advised Mike to document which pool halls are “women-friendly”.
Well, Pharaoh certainly related to that! He was sympathetic to the issue. “There was this woman shooting alone in here a few days ago. I noticed some guys ogling her and watched them for a while. Every time she bent over for a shot they were making inappropriate comments. I went over to them and told them in no uncertain terms to cut it out. Yeah, we don’t like that here. This place provides a good environment for women.”
After we left the pool hall, I looked at the postcard I had picked up. If you notice, in the left corner it says “Pharaoh Enterprises”. On the back is a list of all the comics that Pharaoh books! So if you’re around Berkeley, check out “The Broken Rack” and “The Monkey House” on Sunday nights. If you happen to meet Pharaoh, tell him you read about him in the article Billie wrote from her husband’s 2018 pool hall tour. Then I’ll really feel like Lois Lane.
I can’t remember how I found out that Kenny Koo is Burmese. I think he told me when I asked him to repeat “Koo” so that I’d spell it correctly when I wrote about him, and I knew I wanted to write about Kenny. It was his openness when Mike introduced him to me – and his smile! Mike and I are a bit of an oddity walking into a pool hall on a sunny afternoon, Mike with his leather cue case swung over his shoulder like Robin Hood toting his quiver with me following behind him carrying a notebook and pen. It takes most people a little time to warm up to us, but not Kenny. As Mike led me over to take a look at one of the many custom pool cues Kenny designs, Kenny was all smiles. He first pointed out the inlay of the pool cue he had with him, just one of the unique designs he uses when customizing a cue. It was truly a work of art. He rolled the stick on the table so I could see how even it rolled. A smooth roll means the cue is perfectly straight. Inexpensive sticks are made from cheap wood that holds moisture and easily can become misshapen. The better pool sticks have zero deflection, and Kenny Koo has a special technique for making a zero deflection shaft!
Craftsmen like Kenny who make custom cues use exotic woods from Asia along with ivory and ebony for inlaid patterns. Cocobolo is a sought-after wood because of its weight and density and beautiful patterns. That particular wood actually comes from Central America and is also used to craft chess pieces as well as martial arts equipment.
As I listened to the ins and outs of creating custom cues, a friend of Kenny’s whose name I neglected to get, was eager to extol the praises of the way Kenny wraps the leather around the base of the stick: “You’ll never see a seam in the leather of any of Kenny’s wraps,” he said. Back and forth he rolled the stick and impossible as it may seem, there was no seam!
Kenny’s own personal pool case is unlike any I’ve ever seen. It was hand-tooled, Kenny told me, by a craftsmen friend of his in Indonesia. The cap of the case is embossed with the Koo logo and was impressive.
As mentioned above, I don’t know how I found out that Kenny’s heritage is from Burma (presently Myanmar). I just never had met someone from that country before. But, as fate would have it, that very night after we left “Family Billards,” Mike continued his tour onward to “Town and Country Pool Hall.” Mike shot pool with a regular there whose name was Andrew. Eager to assure Andrew that the two of us weren’t crazy with all the picture taking and question asking, I tried to illustrate with an example. “Just tonight I met a guy named Kenny Koo over at Family Billiards who is fascinating,” I explained. “He customizes pool cues.” When Andrew tried to make sure he had the last name right, I answered, “Yeah, it’s Burmese.”Andrew’s eyes lit up.
“I was born in Burma,” he said.
Now the pool shooting world is less of “a world” and more of a family. Kenny Koo in San Fran, for example, has met Eddie Cohen another talented custom pool cue designer who shoots at Danny K’s in Anaheim. So when Andrew at “Town and Country…” heard about Kenny Koo at “Family Billiards” from two people on some strange road trip, he was surprised. “There are a lot of people from Burma here, but I never met another Burmese pool shooter!” He seemed pleased to know there was one and smiled, “I’ll have to check him out.”
I’m thinking that now Kenny and Andrew might meet some day, and one of them will say “Yeah, that kooky couple who breezed in from the O.C.a few weeks ago told me all about you!” And that would be very cool, or should I say “very Koo”?
Czarina isn’t her last name, but we’ll get to that later.
She was off toward the back, shooting alone at a table at Fast Eddy’s in Santa Cruz, CA, and I was intrigued. Watching people is not my style. Growing up left-handed has made me extra (perhaps overly) sensitive to people watching me doing anything from opening a door to frying an egg. I imagine everyone is as nervous as I am to have people watching on the periphery, and so I was careful to steal only short glances out of the corner of my eye. But just from those few glances, it was obvious this petite woman who was totally engrossed in perfecting her shots, knew her way around a pool table!
It was a sunny Sunday afternoon and that added to the mystery of this woman who seemed as if she would be equally at ease out on Monterey Bay, adjusting the jib of some sailboat, shouting “Ready, about”. But here she was, not talking to a soul, appearing totally in the zone and focused, shooting one ball after another into a pocket on the billiard table.
After about a half an hour of waiting for Mike to finish a game of One Pocket with a guy named Locker, I noticed that the woman at the other end of the pool hall had finished her solo game and was ready to start another. Great time to ask where the restroom is, I thought. That was all that was needed to start up a conversation. She was gracious. She told me her name was Christina. I explained that Mike and I were on a road trip blogging about pool halls on the West Coast, and I was doing the human interest portion of our tour. And interesting is exactly what Christina is.
She told me she started shooting pool in her teenage years because …“You see, there was this boy.” She was 16 in Long Island and her love of pool grew from there. Being that pool is so related to lines and angles of geometry, I myself have always theorized that those who shoot pool have something special going on in the same side of the brain from which Mike operates – the side that works with coding, math, and logical thinking. And sure enough, I found out that Christina’s career before she retired, was a systems software engineer, high-level programming for operating systems! They called her the “GUI Goddess,” she said. GUI (pronounced “gooey”) is the acronym for Graphic User Interface. Have I lost you yet? I had lost myself at that point, so I quickly called Mike over and ten minutes of discussion took place that I’m sorry to say I can’t translate for you here because I don’t speak Geek.
When Mike left us to shoot back at his old table, I found the reason my intuition told me to interview Christina. She is a woman of “eclectic desires,” she told me. She loves to sail: “I grew up with my feet in the water in Long Island. We had dolls that we made from planks of wood and ‘taught’ them how to swim across the canal.” Christina talks about blue water sailing and being part of the crew on a 47-foot yacht that has sailed from Moss Landing to Catalina like it’s as common as breathing.
Christina is also a member of a long-standing book club whose members read everything from Proust to current New York Times bestsellers. She is an avid flower gardener and talks lovingly about her adult daughter. Oh, and the name “Czarina”? That came from a pool league that she started at her workplace 25 years ago and which is still going. “Wow, running a league is a lot of work,” I noted. “Well, my nickname tells you how I ran it,” and a picture of efficiency popped into my brain.
However, over and above all of these accomplishments and interests, Chistina is a very spiritual person who quoted from Proust when I told her we were taking a road trip: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.” When I told this Princess in a pool hall that had great insight, she told me she thought it’s more important that we have oversight. She defined oversight as the ability to be outside of ourselves – to be of service to our community – to create a space of sacred love, to wrap ourselves in this sacred space that’s shaped by “angels or whatever.”
And there you have it – all of that from a woman shooting pool at Fast Eddy’s on a Sunday afternoon.
The interview below took place last year on June 6th and is a sneak preview of what’s to come this summer in our interview section of the “Left Hander Writer’s” blog. This year’s road trip is starting TODAY, July 3, 2018, and it has a focus – an actual focus! This year I’ll be interviewing people we meet along the way on Mike’s Great West Coast Pool Hall Adventure. Mike is an avid billiard player and this has been a dream of his for a long time. At 70 years old, it’s time to make dreams come true. Mike plans to shoot pool in halls up and down the coast and rate the pool halls on his own website. Of course, being part of the grouping abstract random thinkers, you can be certain that our interviews will be varied. Maybe we’ll even find a left-handed, pool shooting writer along our path. So stay tuned, we’ll be on our way as soon as we stop at Firestone to get some tires for our packed-up car, and we’ll catch you in Ventura next posting. Watch for us on the 101 in our little silver Prius with the sign “BloggingOnWheels.com,” and wave as you pass by!
Meanwhile here’s a taste of what’s to come:
HIPSTERS, YUPPIES, MILLENNIALS, AND BABY BOOMERS? (OH, MY!)
I don’t think Mike ever has any expectations when entering a new bar to shoot pool. He just wants a beer and a chance to knock around some balls. But usually, after a time, someone will lay down a quarter which I’ve come to understand is a desire to play a game or two with him. And always I’m impressed by the young people who do.
Nate and Sam
This night was no exception. Two young handsome 30 year-olds were waiting for a table and watching Mike. I love it when there are two people who have come together. That way Mike gets to shoot pool with one– and I get to talk to the other one who is waiting to play the winner. Sometimes the guy who’s waiting just wants to watch without talking, and other times he (or sometimes she) is sweet enough and polite enough to indulge a chatty woman who has to dye her gray hair brown every few weeks. Nate was one of those open-minded, open-hearted kinds of guys. He started our conversation by telling me how he could see that Mike knew what he was doing. “You just know from the way a player holds the cue and how he moves around the table.” I think Nate knew that would make me proud. As we talked I found out that his partner, Sam, who was playing Mike was going to be married in a few weeks to a school psychologist (my favorite kind of person, having seen … Read more…
A few weeks ago, I signed up for an online book marketing seminar with Book Baby, the publisher I used for “Lucky, the Left Pawed Puppy.” As in most online courses, students can chat on in the sidebar while the course is going on. The idea of writers interviewing other writers on each other’s website came up in one of those sidebar discussions. There were two people that day who liked the idea, Tucker Lieberman, a Renaissance/ Multipotential kind of guy and me! Since that time, Tucker followed through with this concept and generously gave space on his website for a very nice interview with me. I am pleased to be able to offer my interview with Tucker here. Tucker lives with his spouse in Bogotá, Colombia and is involved in several projects including his short stories and non-fiction projects.
Tucker as a person with varied interests, you are involved in several projects. Tell us which projects you are working on at the moment and your hopes for them. Fictional villains! I am preparing a small nonfiction book on this subject. This is something I’ve worked on privately for a couple decades, and I’m finally giving myself the chance to publish it. It aims to give fiction readers and writers a better understanding of why some characters, especially given certain representations of gender and race, have been villainized.
In poetry, I’m considering the image similarity between human bodies wrapped as mummies for burial and caterpillars that wrap themselves in cocoons to become butterflies. My hope is to find out why this image keeps speaking to me.
How does your degree in Philosophy inform and influence your writing?
I pay attention to the precise definitions of words. It’s important to use the same word in a consistent manner and to explicitly define it if it isn’t obvious. If I write about “happiness,” that word can’t be used at the beginning of the essay to refer to having close friends, in the middle of the essay to achieving a career goal, and at the end of the essay to the satisfaction of being an ethical person. Nor can the title imply that the essay will be about eating ice cream! These are different kinds of happiness. If I find myself doing this, I need to make more effort to explain what I mean and even to be willing to split my descriptions into separate essays.
I noticed you have experience in UI, User Interface. What tips do you have for writers in building their online presence and/or webpage?
On a practical level, the elements are simple. You need a website with just a few pages: a big photo and bio, an inventory of what’s for sale, maybe a free excerpt, a calendar of events if you make appearances, and a way to contact you, follow you on social media, and sign up for your mailing list. Your reader needs to know immediately what you have to offer them. Don’t force them to scroll or click too much. You need to set up Amazon and Goodreads author pages, and, if you have a blog somewhere, you can feed it automatically into these pages. Special promotions help, and the moment when you offer a discount can be a good time to remind people that you’d like an online review of your book.
If you have a complex array of creative material, remember that the way you privately classify your work is not necessarily the way your audience wants to access it.
You’re from the East Coast and now live in Bogotá, Colombia. I think readers would love to hear about your decision to relocate and a little about the process of doing so.
I had an online dating profile and someone who didn’t restrict his search geographically found me. I received a notification that he had looked at my profile. He lived in another country, but we started communicating anyway. When a match is very right and clear, it doesn’t matter. You can pick up and go. It took time to do it gracefully, but it did not require overthinking. I gave up my career and my condo, and now I live with my spouse and we spend our days writing.
How do your diverse interests play into your writing goals?
Career coach Emilie Wapnick, in a TED Talk in recent years, calls people like me “multipotentialites” or “multipods.” We have multiple interests. We are generalists or jack-of-all-trades. These words are sometimes pejoratives. And, yes, a common weakness is that we tend to spread ourselves thin and may draw energy from one big goal to another. Sometimes my engine of fascination works against my ability to set and achieve goals. I may become hyper-focused on an extremely narrow topic that interests no one else and isn’t marketable, or I may develop three different interests before breakfast. I know I am going to do this. Another range of creative distractions will surely befall me tomorrow morning before breakfast, and, anticipating this, I temper my willingness to set large goals for myself today. Fascination with multiple things may seem to slow me down. However, when I finally finish a project, I feel I’ve hit it out of the park because my message draws from deeply integrated understandings.
Right now, for example, I have a small freelance job to help an agency make an audio recording; I set up a giveaway for my new short story Pokerface; and this week I had ideas for a dozen new stories, essays, and poetry collections! Within the past couple of years, I have worked in life coaching and technology design. I’m preparing for a half-marathon and fire walking, I’m planning a visit to the States, and I’m also trying to make myself sit still so I can teach myself acoustic guitar and practice Spanish.
Because of your varied interests, what would you like to be known for the most? Do you see yourself as a writer, a philosopher, a cataloger, or a combination of all of your interests? The labels don’t worry me. Last year, while working with a life coach, I decided that, for the near-term, I’d like to focus on “identifying the good, amplifying the useful.” This tagline is on my website (tuckerlieberman.com). “Good” and “useful” imply value judgments. I want to find and share valuable information.
What is the most important message you’d like to leave as your legacy?
This post originally appeared on OCWriters Network, a network of published and aspiring authors. Writer Billie Kelpin interviews her daughter, Bethany Therese on how to add comedy to characters in our novels and short stories. Bethany appears around the LA area, most recently at Flappers in Burbank. Watch for her comedy web series coming online soon.
No matter what genre we prefer as writers, humor in a character is a great draw for our readers. When OC Writers’ blog topic one month was “Jolly,” my mind immediately leapt to my daughter, Bethany Therese. Because Bethany is an actor, singer, comedy improv performer, stand-up comic, and screenwriter, I knew she might have some insight into comedic writing. The following is a very short excerpt from that interview.
Billie: I’ve often wondered, Beth, what exactly is your mental process in comedic writing?
Beth: For me, because I come from writing through acting and improvising, my writing process changes depending on what kind of comedic thing I’m writing. For a funny script, I see the characters in my head, and they start talking to each other. When I’m writing jokes for stand-up, I start with an idea or an observation about myself in the world that is either good, bad, frustrating, weird or whatever. I take that idea and try to structure it in a way that will create a laugh. Then, I try out that something that I guessed was funny on an audience, and find out if I’m right.
A Workout for Your Funny Bone
Billie: Comedy, to me, requires flexibility of thinking. Do you have exercises that help improve flexibility?
Beth: I honestly think the best comedic exercise is observing conversations with people. I think that some very funny people walk around looking very serious, but that’s not what’s going on in their head. When I’m teaching an acting class, one of the first questions I ask is, “When you’re in conversation, do you often feel like there’s a ball in the air, and you just hit it, and then people laugh?” People who really do have that funny bone always answer “Yes” to that question.
Imagining a ball going back and forth in a conversation is a great way to gain a comedic sense. You don’t have to try to hit the ball yourself and say the funny thing; that takes courage. But if you practice seeing that moving ball and can say, “That’s where the moment is,” your comedic instincts will be heightened.
How to Make a Dramatic Scene become Comic
Billie: I know you’ve written several romantic comedies (rom-coms) as screenplays. How do you see the relationship between a dramatic scene and a comic scene?
Beth: I look at that question this way. Drama exists on a single horizontal line. To do comedy, you put another line on top of it. Comedy is two things at once. If you’re not drawn to comedy organically, that’s ok. It’s a matter of knowing that drama is one line and to make that scene comedic, you put another line on top of it. For example: Let’s take a college-age girl and college-age guy studying in the library. Let’s just talk about one aspect of that scene, “catching each other’s eye”.
The dramatic version of that scene is this:
She looks up from her book and he feels her looking at him, and he looks up. They lock eyes, and it’s a moment of being connected and knowing that “we like each other.” Then maybe both go back to reading, and then it happens one more time, and the scene continues.
The comedic version of that scene is this:
She looks up. He looks up, but right before their eyes meet, she looks back down. So he looks back down, then she looks up because she felt him looking up, but by that time, he’s looking down. Now they both look up and they both look down, and finally, they lock eyes.
In the first scene, we have a girl and a guy in a library, and they have a connection.
The second is the exact same idea, but then we added on to that. Some other element happens, and that dramatic moment is turned on end, misinterpreted, or so on. You’re never abandoning what that moment is. It’s just flipped on its head.
How to Make a Character Funny
Billie: Writers often like to build comedy into a character to make a character more likable. How do we help our characters do or say clever things?
Beth: I think that writers, when forming characters, ironically, often forget that their characters are people! They forget to explore the level of funny their characters possess. It’s the whole “art reflects life” thing.
In this world, when you walk around and interact with people on a daily basis, you notice that there are a lot of stressed people, angry people, overly happy people, laid back people, and also a lot of funny people. There can be people who are funny all the time or people who are funny only sometimes. There are people who never say a funny thing and then one time they say something funny. Why can’t my character be funny all the time or only some of the time? Maybe he tries desperately to be funny, and then one time says something funny. Or he or she always tries to be funny and never is. You can factor all of that into an aspect of who that person is.
In general, I look at my character this way: My character can be in funny situations that are happening to her; the character is not necessarily funny herself, the situation is. Or my character can cause something funny to happen and knows that she’s causing it. My character can just say funny things. Maybe my character might even say something funny that they don’t know is funny, but it’s funny to another character or to the audience. There is a myriad of choices for a writer, no matter what the genre.
Billie: I may not have this humor thing locked down yet, but one thing I can say with certainty: if you interview your adult child about his or her profession, you’ll end up being very impressed, you’ll have a great deal of fun, and best of all, you’ll actually get to talk together on the phone for a whole hour!
Bethany Therese is a graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her career has included Comedy Improv with “The Chainsaw Boys” in New York, the Disney Magic Cruise Ship, Flappers in Burbank, a two-year US Tour with the Broadway Production of “Mamma Mia,” Stand-up Comedy at the Ice House, Comedy Store, and various comedy clubs up and down the coast of California.
Billie Kelpin is a former teacher of the deaf, and sign language interpreter. She has written various short stories and essays some of which appear in publications including Lost Coast Review, Arizona Literary Magazine.
Language Rocks has been creating online memory games since 1992. That’s a LOT of years. We’ve gone from having our games on CDs to putting them in apps. Today we are featuring a category in our billiekelpin.com blog called “Memory” and are sending the feed to our “Memory Isle App”.
Creating an app is a lonely business. You get little feedback from people regarding how well they like your app. You just hope the people who download your app are enjoying your games.
We understand that there are phenomenal software games out in the world. Case in point, last week, when we were at Joe’s Crab Shack, our friend’s son, Nicholas, was totally engrossed in a game simulator on an iPhone that allowed him to go in and out of an adorable scene. It was fast, it was engaging. And you probably can guess what we thought: “He’ll never get excited over our quiet classic Memory matching app.” To our very pleasant surprise, there we were, the crab legs on the table, the half-eaten hush puppies still waiting to be finished, and little Nicholas, totally engrossed in OUR game, Memory Isle App. He was zipping through the St.Patrick’s Day Game, one of nine games on the app menu (not Joe’s menu) and we couldn’t have been more delighted.
We created this app to be enjoyed by ALL AGES. Since adults have love our games as much as little Nicholas, we are announcing that we will be including a section of our online blog within the app. That section will focus on all things related to the mind and memory. This is the first posting within that blog category. We hope to provide you will lots of information regarding our amazing minds.
Extra for Bloggers and Small Business Owners:
And here’s a bonus for those of you who are trying to put your blog feed into an app, website, email, social network, etc. As you probably know, adding /feed/ to the end of your blog’s url will give your readers your blog with its updated information. For example: www.billiekelpin.com becomes www.billiekelpin.com/feed/ when I want to add it to a widget that takes RSS feed (Really, Simple, Syndication). The http was automatically installed when I put the url on the line required in the wordpress widget. If you have only ONE category in your blog that you want included, be sure you get the url of that category. For example, for our Memory App I wanted only the “Memory” catalog showing, so the url became www.billiekelpin.com/memory/feed/
“Peppermint in His Pocket” – enough said. It’s Valentine’s Day. You’ve most likely pieced together the love story. She loves Starlight mints and magically they appear whenever they’re together and she asks for one. It’s not like he goes to CVS or Rite Aid and buys a whole package. No, she knows his modus operandi. He sneaks more than one every time he pays at a restaurant register. What she doesn’t know is exactly how he manages to always have one for her whenever she asks. Is that a task he attends to each day like brushing his teeth? Does he say to himself before he leaves the house, “wallet, cellphone, keys, one mint”? She never thought about it before. It’s just something she took for granted somewhere along the way.
And then one day there’s a story on the radio – one of those drippy, sentimental things that NPR sometimes uses as fillers – “Chicken Soup of the Soul” kind of dribble she calls it because she’s of a cynical nature. She doesn’t hear the whole story – some old guy dies and the funeral director finds something in his pocket. She can’t remember. But she gets the point. It’s something this guy always carried for his wife. So she thinks of the Starlight mints in her husband’s pocket and wonders what she carries in her pockets for him.
She does have Tylenol in her purse. She takes Bayer aspirin, so there’s that. And Tums. She’s got that going for her. But isn’t that because they’re just older? It’s nothing special. She has lots of scraps of paper in her pockets, receipts, things like that. That only shows she remembers Lady Bird’s campaign to “Make America Beautiful.” She throws a can of Coke in her purse once in a while when she leaves to pick him up from work and lately she has remembered to keep his jacket in the backseat in case the California weather turns bad.
But she wants to keep something in her pocket for him that’s special – at least in these last chapters of the story they’re writing. Surely she should have kept things in her pocket from the time she first became an adult, because that’s what adults do. They climb out of their own selfishness and look out for others. Oh, it’s easy when a baby comes. You remember to bring a pacifier and a jar of Gerbers and lots of toys. But it should start before that – on one’s own wedding day at the very least. Lots of people start then. They’re just like that. And those who aren’t can learn to be. But she’s stuck. The chocolate he loves will melt in her pocket and beef jerky is a bit bulky. That’s the trouble with those drippy stories. They never tell you how to figure it out in your own life. All that’s left is to ask him, and she hope that doesn’t take away the magic.
On November 6, 2017 Casey Dorman wrote a response to the most recent mass killings in America titled “Empty Words” at Lost Coast Review. Dorman states, “Fighting terrorism or preventing mass murders is not a matter of ‘not giving in’ to something.”
Because of the length of this response, I have posted it here rather than on the the Lost Coast Review website: The following is a comment to “Empty Words”:
I agree, Casey. All of our statements of unity seem hollow and trite. They are spoken in the absence of a call for more effort toward understanding the causes of these incredible tragedies. That call, it seems to me, would be for more intensive research in and attention to trying to understand the mind of individuals who actually have chosen to give up everything that any of the rest of us desire in this world. They HAVE chosen to give up everything. We think about the tragic enormity of what they take from innocent people, but we often fail to consider the angst that brought them to the place, essentially of suicide – the same angst that perhaps thousands of other people also feel, but which these individuals cannot control. Why? No matter how much armor they wear or try to run at the very last minute, they DO understand that they are risking everything to go against sacredly held ideals of society. They choose to be the outcast. Again the question is “Why”‘? What can be a motivator that is stronger than survival? What can be the cause that transforms a human mind, that makes the instinct for survival SUBSERVIENT to his or her need to engage in horribly destructive action to others as well as to himself? Even in as seemingly unconnected case of a person afflicted with anorexia, something has happened to turn off that survival switch. What is that factor?
You said something in this piece that I don’t think was expressed elsewhere. ‘Many of the mass killings involve individuals who desire to kill lots of people who are together enjoying some benign group activity, such as attending a music concert, a sporting event, church, or being present at a club, a movie or political event.’ I was struck by the words “enjoying some benign group activity”. It suggests extreme isolation from the community as a unifying factor and a probable cause for how a mind is re-shaped – how it is called to act in retaliation or how it becomes open to indoctrination of an ideology.
The heroes of society are rightfully identified as the first responders, or others who step in to stop the carnage. Those ARE the heroes, and there are other heroes as well. Those are the people who take on the day-to-day difficult task of counseling individuals, providing support groups for domestic violence, giving intensive therapy, and doing research into cognitive behavior. Those heroes are not supported nor applauded enough by society.
Emphasizing that aspect of society on an ongoing basis is at the core of the solution to the problem; making them a source of inspiration is a shift in focus that we need to take. And we need to think about the heroes among us who inspire us. You can find them in any community. They are the people who stop and interact with the kid who seems alone, talk to the guy on the block no one wants to befriend. When I see them interact, it inspires me. I think we should think about these people at moments like this and how we can be more like them. We need sincere inspiration rather than the syrupy “oh so strong” rhetoric that falls like a disingenuous, cacophonous clang on everyone’s ears. Until we have truly inspirational leadership, we just have to inspire each other.
We were sitting at TGI Friday’s last night when Meredith Grey joined us in my mind for some unknown reason – not Ellen Pompeo, the real Meredith Grey from Grey’s Anatomy, but the fictional character who, in the previous night’s episode bravely volunteered to do a risky surgery and said, “I’ll do it. I’m the best one for it.” That statement must have been sloshing around in the back of my mind since the night before until it found an audience in my husband, Mike, sitting right there at a table in TGI Friday’s. “Meredith Grey!” I said. “Can you imagine being in a room full of people saying, “I’ll do it. I’m the best one for it?” Luckily Mike knew what was I referring to and without hesitation, he answered a simple, “Sure” while he ordered us two Happy Hour drinks. Not being able, in a hundred years, to imagine a situation in which I would feel comfortable enough to say, “Here, I’ll do it. I’m the best one for it,” I continued to explore the topic while I waited for my chicken wings. (How’s that for a pun?) But I really did order chicken wings. (Mike had shrimp cocktail, but I digress).
“A Room Full of People” Exercise
And then it came to me. I asked Mike, “In any circumstance? “You’d volunteer to step up and do whatever it is you had to do in any circumstance?” “Well…” he equivocated. I forged on. “So, let’s imagine a room full of people from random backgrounds. There is one task to be done that will save the world. Under what circumstance would you step forward and say, “Here, I’ll do that. I’m the best one for this job?” “Hmmm…” By now he knew there was no way out but to answer. He obligingly responded, “If they would say, ‘You can save the world by getting this 8-ball in the pocket, I’d step up and say, ‘I’ll do it.”‘ “Excellent!” I was halfway through my Margarita still waiting for my chicken wings, so of course, I decided to take this one step further. (Mike wanted to play Hangman on the bar room napkin, so I spoke while he created blanks for me to fill in.) “Now, let’s imagine a roomful of pool players,” I said. He pointed to the napkin. “How about a ‘T’?” He put the ‘T’ in one space on our Hangman puzzle and said, “Well, let me think.” “If there was a long shot with very little room for error, and they’d ask for someone to do it to save the world, I’d step up and say, “I’ll do it.” “Ah, ha! So that is your area of expertise!” I felt I had discovered a gold nugget in the hills of Azusa. “Yeah, I know that’s what I do best. So, what letter are you picking? It’s a phrase, remember.” He pointed to the napkin once again, a little more impatiently. But now I was satisfied that I had discovered some new way to discover one’s inner expert. We finished the puzzle and the Happy Hour appetizers and drove home. As the evening wore on, so did the thoughts in my head during moments of silence. Maybe there was a circumstance when I’d step forward as Meredith and say “Here, I’ll do it.” I tried to imagine what those circumstances might be. In a roomful of people from random backgrounds, I imagined, I might step forward to save the world if the task was to sign a sentence in Sign Language. “There!” Now let’s say I was in a roomful of interpreters! I might not step forward except if, to save the world, the task was to sign a sentence in Signed English. I liked this game so much that I continued finding circumstances where I’d raise my hand and reasoned that someone who might read this little post might like this game too.
“Here, I”ll do it. I’m best at it.”
You get the idea of how to play the “game”. You think of circumstances under which you’d step forward out of a given group of people like Meredith Grey and say, “I”ll do it. I’m best at it.” (Hopefully, you don’t invent the task of “yelling out in anger” or “crying from the deep wells of your sorrow” or some such thing that you do better than anyone else.) Think of all aspects of your life – your work life, your family life, any or every aspect you can think of. “But,” you say, “isn’t it easier to just go the conventional route and ask yourself, as they might in an interview, “In what areas do you consider yourself an expert?” Of course, it is, but it isn’t nearly as much fun! Try my “Room Full of People” game/exercise and let me know in your comments if any brilliant insights came to you – or any insights at all, other than this author should discard all ideas that are connected to Margaritas. (My thanks to Shonda Rhimes, Ellen Pompeo, TGI Fridays, and my husband Mike for their help in inspiring this essay.)
It seemed so profound a week or so ago – my thoughts on recency. Now that they’re not so recent, they don’t seem so profound. Hmmm…Is that the whole point? In a way it is the point, but not totally.
What Meaning Can We Attach to “Recency”?
Let’s face it, finding meaning for our lives in daily occurrences is probably what we are yearning to do. So when I first was introduced to this word, “recency”, it led me on a Google search for a definition. It wasn’t easy considering that I had first thought the word I heard was “recentivity”. (Don’t try to search for that one. Google can’t even find much on a word that is barely a real word.)
You’ll find that looking for the word “recency” will lead you to articles on brain functioning, specifically in regard to memory. (See previous post for a fast paced informative video). It hit me that perhaps just being aware of how our minds function in this way can lead us to modify or adapt our behavior to be a bit more in control of parts of our lives. It’s like once you know how something works you can figure out solutions or at the very least, not feel stupid. (When my husband finally explained to me that the reason my natural left-handed approach to using a corkscrew was awkward because you’re left-hand inhibits the proper use of torque on the operation, I felt less stupid and bought myself a left-handed corkscrew.). See how that works?
In a discussion of recency versus primacy you’ll find this definition: “The first item in a list is initially distinguished from previous activities as important (primacy effect) and may be transferred to long-term memory by the time of recall. Items at the end of the list are still in short-term memory (recency effect) at the time of recall.”
While apparently this word has application from everything from education, advertising, to the stock market, and beyond, being of a naturally selfish nature, I wanted to see how the word had meaning in my life. You can’t really search something like that out; serendipity has to make that happen. And, sure enough, a few days after hearing that new word, it did.
Recency In Everyday Life
It was a “Man in the Mirror” moment. I was standing there looking at my reflection first thing in the morning. (I hate to inform those of you under 70, but one day you will look in the mirror and it can ruin your whole day, or at least the next half-hour.) So there I was, all of these depressing thoughts impinging on my brain – hair thinning, face crepe-y, fat cheeks. Damn. Of course all of us who make valiant attempts each day to stay on this side of the line of sanity, know how desperately we search for something, anything, that will pull us back from the abyss. And I found it, right there in my newly discovered word. “recency”.
This is just a “today” thought, I thought. What about that picture a month ago where I actually looked decent? I couldn’t have changed that much in a month! So I combed my thinning hair over the empty spots and went smilingly on with the day not wanting to latch on to a recent thought and put it in my mind to make it a primary thought. Recency can only be powerful it seems to me if it thrown into our long term memory. .
In life, in marriage, in our careers, it might be a good idea to think about recency. Is the last thought we had about any of these areas really the one we should cling too? Unless it’s an elevating thought, a thought that makes enhances our life’s purpose, a thought that will make everything better, we need to re-think that very last thought and decide whether or not that is a reflection of the whole. Is that argument you’ve had with your husband really the sum total of your relationship? Is that negative thought you’ve had about you, the sum total of all the good you may have done in the world? Understanding how our mind works in this way gives us power over our very own “hard wiring”, for as great as the wiring may be, the most elegant part of that design is the ability to change itself.