This interview with bestselling author and Big Island resident Mia King (her pen name), known to friends as Darien Hsu Gee, was one of my last before my Advertiser column was canceled. Since then I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing her for other publications (those will be out next year), but thought I’d revisit our interview and post it below.
What I’m Reading | Mia King
Q&A with Christine Thomas
Published 12/08 in Honolulu Advertiser
CT: What are you reading?
MK: I’m reading through my favorite books on writing. “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott is at the top of the pile, as is Brenda Ueland’s “If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.” I also like “Writing the Memoir: From Truth to Art” by Judith Barrington, whom I studied with 15 years ago, years before I was ever published. Since I write contemporary women’s fiction, I tend to read a lot of that as well, so I have the newest titles from Elizabeth Berg and Susan Wiggs and Kristin Hannah. I also read a lot of business books, so I just started Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers: The Story of Success.”
CT: What do you look for in books about writing?
MK: I like books on writing that don’t just talk about writing, but give you lots of first lines and prompts to get you going. It’s one thing to read about writing, and it’s another thing to just sit down and actually write. Books that help you refine your craft and can do so with humor and compassion are big hits with me. I also tend to prefer the less technical books on writing when it comes to creative writing—there’s plenty of time for that later when you’re revising or editing your work—but getting the raw material down first is important.
CT: How do these authors’ principles influence your own writing, such as your novel “Sweet Life”?
MK: I have three kids and a family business, so finding time to write is a challenge. In “Bird by Bird,” Lamott talks about writing short assignments, which is essentially how my books get written. She also talks about first drafts and perfectionism, which can be the bane of any writer. Brenda Ueland’s book starts off with a chapter titled “Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say,” which I think is one of the most encouraging essays on writing out there, and got me writing again after years of working in corporate America.
I interviewed the very busy Lee Cataluna last year around this time and find it interesting how the context of our economic situation and concerns remain relevant. I’ve included the full interview below.
What I’m Reading | Lee Cataluna
Q&A with Christine Thomas
Short version published in the Honolulu Advertiser 11.08
CT: What are you reading?
CT: How did you discover them?
LC: I read Steinbeck in school and wanted to revisit his work. Saroyan wrote about generally the same area in California, though a few decades later. My husband suggested I read him next since the books have geography and, to some extent, a kind of morality in common.
LC: Particularly in “The Grapes of Wrath,” just the idea of the blessed nature of work—that work is that’s all they want. The family wants to work to support themselves, and no work is beneath them. They’re desperate but they’re also honorable in their horrible plight and the seriousness with which they take their work; it’s what they pray for and look for every day. They take responsibility for their well being—they think they can work their way out of every situation.
Some of that comes out in “The Human Comedy” as well. It focuses on a 12 year-old boy who delivers telegrams, and he takes that so seriously because some are from the war department telling families that their sons have been killed. He’s this little kid on a bicycle but he has a solemn path. But the reason he takes this job is not just a lark, it’s to help his family. …
CT: Is this what you liked most about them?
LC: “The Grapes of Wrath” is just such a beautiful book; it’s an American classic. The human spirit to endure the worst and to keep the family together is what I liked most about both books.
CT: Does looking back at these times spark column ideas related to our current hard economic times?
LC: I think a lot of times in our current economic situation we reference the Great Depression. We’re a country just starting to measure ourselves against history—are we worse off than we were then, are we going to get that bad? Thoughts have turned to the Great Depression very often. For me I just wanted to read a book about that time—it is fiction—but to get that perspective. But in terms of writing columns, no I don’t get ideas from reading fiction. I get it from everywhere.
Since IONA is currently debuting their newest performance, The Living Earth (last days June 11 and 12) I thought it a great time to revisit Cheryl Flaherty’s reading appetite. I’ve reprinted the full interview for the first time, below.
Q&A with Christine Thomas
Edited version published 9.08 in the Honolulu Advertiser
Q. What are you reading?
A. Right now I’m almost finished reading Eckhart Tolle’s “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.” This is his newest book that Oprah featured with an online class, which I have not been involved in but I am aware of it.
Q. How did you discover it?
A. That’s how I found out about it. It was so amazing for us to find out that Oprah was featuring a very new age, consciousness-driven book to such masses. I think it’s the first time there’s been a worldwide online discussion about something that has to do with consciousness-raising.
Q. Is this typical of the books you read and how you find them?
A. No, sometimes I just go to the bookstores and use my intuition. I definitely judge a book by its cover and have found some amazing books that way just lying off to the side. I work intuitively as an artist and also choose my books this way. I also did read his other book “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment,” so his work is definitely of interest to me. I also like the title of this book because it relates to my work. It’s perfect timing because I’m focusing the marketing of the company to reflect the messages contained in my work, which have a lot to do with consciousness, humanity and the environment, and it ended up being more perfect than I ever imagined.
Q. How does it connect to your work?
A. Well, I’m a little bit of a self-taught butoh artist and I really merged my butoh training with my new-age awareness into something that I think is very unique. So I’ve been teaching all of these principles of consciousness development and witness, and diminishing of the ego and non-judgment—and that’s exactly what this book is about. He’s been really able to clarify what I know well in a different language, so it allows me to be reflective on my work and also validates my work. So those are the two things. I’m heavy with the highlighter in this book—so it’s a little life-changing for me.
Q. Does Tolle’s book give you a new language to use as you begin bringing Iona performances to other parts of the world?
A. Number one, I think it does help support my language in my teaching and my work with the dancers, because it validates a lot of things I’ve been talking about for years by had no basis for. Number two, it really tells me that the world is finally ready for my work. A lot of the time I’ve been ahead of the wave in a way, and been afraid to write the word consciousness in a grant proposal for instance. That this book was such a hit and featured by Oprah it tells me that the world is interested in what Ive been doing for years. We’re just starting a new 3-year marketing program to market Iona outside Hawai’i. And the biggest thing we can offer is the spirituality in our work. There’s a lot of personal gain to his book, too. It really tries to get you to understand the power of the present moment and the diminishment of the ego—that the ego doesn’t exist in this present moment. It’s very anti-goal, anti-success orientated. So for me on a personal level it helps me to be able to experience that even stronger in my world and my daily life.
What I’m Reading | Val Iwashita
Headmaster, Iolani School
Q&A with Christine Thomas
short version published March ’08
Q. What are you reading?
A. The last book I read was “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success” by Carol Dweck. She’s a Stanford professor and has done 20 years of mindsets research and has come up with two: a growth mindset, about learning and being responsible for what you learn and what your success is or isn’t, and a fixed mindset, which is ability-based, not wanting to take risks for fear you might undermine the perception that you’re successful and competent. I found it very engaging and relevant to educators and parents, to anyone working with other people, to anyone looking at him or herself related to self-perception and well being. I found it a very good read.
The other book I just finished was “Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia” by Elizabeth Gilbert. That was a wonderful tale. She’s obviously a very good writer, and it’s an easy read. It brought to life some of the emotion—the difficulties as well as joys—of all of our lives. I could relate to what she was talking about because she’s a very good writer, but also because it’s a very human story. She goes on a trek to find peace and happiness and feel good about herself. There’s a happy ending to the story but one that continues to be written. It’s one year in the life of a woman.
Q. How did you discover them?
A. Both books were recommended to me by friends. “Mindset” more because I’m the chair of the National Association of Independent Schools board, so the CEO of the organization recommended it to all of us as board members, and then we had a conversation with Carol Dweck on one occasion. It was everything it was purported to be and more.
Q. What did you take from Mindset?
A. I think it had relevance for anybody who is trying to develop young people and or work with adults in terms of trying to develop productive and positive mindsets for life. Again it’s never 100%–the two mindsets, fixed and growth, are two ends of a continuum so there’s a lot of grey area between the two. But it gives one a hook or benchmark in terms of how to react to life situations. For instance, when you’re talking with your child and say the child gets an A—it’s better to say ‘wow, congratulations, you did everything you needed to do to get a high mark—you earned it,’ rather than ‘wow, you’re smart.’ Both reactions to the same success have a different meaning for the child. One says it was caused by my work and I take full responsibility for the actions that led to that success, and the other was I was born into this situation and circumstance.
Q. How does reading about reacting to life’s challenges influence how you prepare students for the future?
“Mindset” is obvious but you know the other one was just enjoyable. I like books that are well written and engaging, so I do look to bestseller lists and recommendations from friends. But I also like books that open up worlds and experiences that I’ve never had. So things like “Eat, Pray, Love” was essentially—I can relate to this, though I’ve never gone to an ashram and contemplated [done what she did]. I like books that open up new worlds or new segments or slices of life. I find real value in that and I guess evolved to where I don’t read fiction anymore simply because I like nonfiction.
Q. So do you focus most on exposing students to different experiences, like with Iolani’s new online eSchool?
A. Professionally it’s important to continue to look for ways to benefit Iolani kids as well as the broader community. The stature of the institution in the community obligates us to look for ways to serve the broader community in different ways and not just be insular and serve our students. Something like the eSchool was intended to break out and expand our constituency and leverage the expertise that we’ve developed, so others could benefit from it. It’s important that we look at not only improving Iolani School, and that requires us to do things differently. So that’s some of what attracts me in my reading.
This interview first appeared in a short, edited form in the Honolulu Advertiser in June, 2008. Here is my full interview with Oceanic Institute President Bruce Anderson, published here for the first time.
What I’m Reading | BRUCE ANDERSON
President, Oceanic Institute
Q&A with Christine Thomas June 2008
A. I just finished reading The Wild Trees: A Story of Passion and Daring by Richard Preston. It is a story about young, modern day explorers who climb hundreds of feet into the upper canopy of giant redwoods, some over a thousand years old. There, they find a rich ecosystem full of other plants, canopy bonsai for example, spiders and other animals found only in this unique environment.
His account of sleeping in treeboats, making love and “skywalking” 350 feet above the ground were fascinating to me. I could relate to bees stinging their faces, falling from the trees and the sacrifices they made in their lives in their never ending quest to find the tallest trees. It was obvious that the author loved climbing and those who devoted their lives to studying these magnificent trees and protecting the few old-growth forests.
The book brought back some nice memories, too. I had forgotten about the wonderful times I had climbing up tall Norfolk Island pines as a kid on Judd Trail. These were trees my father helped plant 70 years ago and are now well over 100 feet tall. We’d free climb up to the top, hand over hand, limb to limb, trying to find the tallest tree. Fortunately, none of us cratered, which is the climbers term for dying from a fall from a tree.
By the way, I also enjoyed reading The Cobra Event, another book that Preston wrote about bio-terrorism and the gruesome deaths caused by a manufactured virus that threatens New York. He is obviously a very versatile writer.
Another book I enjoyed recently is Clare: The Honolulu Years by David Eyre. It is a revealing account of the life of Clair Boothe Luce during her years in Honolulu and the people she associated with here in the 70’s and 80’s, some of whom I knew.
In many ways, Eyre’s account of Clare’s lifestyle was critical and unflattering. He was certainly unsympathetic in describing how she treated other people. He did, however, capture an era of high society that Hawai’i will probably never see again. I particularly enjoyed reading about her acquaintances, some of whom I knew, such as Val Ossipoff, a prominent architect. Val had the misfortune of having Clare as a client. Even after finishing it, I wondered why David Eyre wrote about her. He could have picked a number of other people to write about during that era that he really liked.
Also, last month, I re-read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huckleberry Finn is required reading for my son, a junior at Punahou. It was for me, too, over thirty years ago. I highly recommend reading some of the classics when you don’t really need to read them. You will appreciate them more, and it’s fun to talk about them.
Q. How did you discover them?
A. My boss, Chatt Wright, President of HPU and Chairman of the OI Board, gave me a copy of this book after one of his trips to the Mainland. I think he appreciated the devotion these young people demonstrated in pursuing their passion.
Eyre’s is not a book I would have normally picked-up and read. It was selected by Cobey Black, a wonderful writer and a business partner of Clare’s, and a fellow member of a book club we fondly call the Damon Reading Group. It is named after its founder, Frank Damon, who after more than 40 years still presides over our meetings. Book clubs are a great way to find out about books that you typically don’t see on the racks at airport shops. Several of the members of our book club are prominent writers and, sometimes, we get the authors to come and talk to us about their books.
We did something unusual during our meeting at Cobey’s apartment to discuss Clare. Cobey is a very good friend of John Eyre and, after talking about him and his book, we tried calling him at his home. Unbeknown to me, David was dying at the time and was too tired to come to the phone, but his son answered and we got to talk to him for a few minutes. I hope John got the message.
Q. What do you like most about Preston’s book?
A. I think the description of their lifestyle as they devote their lives to exploring these forests and the sacrifices they made to pursue that lifestyle was intriguing for me. I have seen people do this in other professions, but this was something new to me and this particular activity was something that wasn’t even on the radar for me. I didn’t even know that people climbed up these trees and studied the ecosystems and all that when along with that. So I was intrigued with that, and the description of what they actually found there was interesting but more important was how they felt about pursuing that lifestyle and the relationships they developed.
Richard Preston personally liked to climb trees himself and in the epilogue he talks about taking his family up into a tree somewhere in the east coast. As he got up to the upper canopy of these trees and shared some of the experiences–obviously the author was wrapped up in this and he wrote about it very well. It wasn’t just an academic exercise for him. He felt that passion or whatever it was that draws people to trees. They’ve taken a passion in most children I know and taken it to a level where it’s a lifestyle.
Q. Do their explorations inspire new ideas for healing marine life, like your innovative shrimp-breeding program?
I think it’s nice and it’s invigorating to read about people who are so passionate about what they do. It did not make me want to climb a tree. It might be fun to do that some time, but it didn’t really leave me with the feeling I had to go out and find the tallest tree and climb to the top. It was interesting to read about how this group of relatively young people, kids in their 20s and 30s, grad students and others adventurous enough to do this. I see people like that in my field a lot who don’t care about the money who really just want to explore new places or learn about things that people dont’ know about, and that’s exciting. It was a fun book to read and I could identify with a lot of the emotions they had in these experiences.
Marine science is full of frontiers like this, too. The oceans are still largely a mystery to us. And whether you climb trees or probe the depths of the ocean, there are wonderful opportunities for people to learn about the world we live in.
The full, never before published interview with Kanu Hawaii co-founder and organizer James Koshiba, where we discussed local economies, physics, and the importance of hope.
If you haven’t checked out this organization yet, do it now. You can see what it’s all about on my page and more.
What I’m Reading | James Koshiba
Co-Founder and Organizer of KanuHawaii.com
A. I am reading three things and I’m almost always reading two or three books in various stages of completion. The first of three books on my table now is, “Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.” The essential message of the book is returning to economies that are more local in scope and are reflections of local cultures. It actually produces communities that are better off and happier than the global, single-minded economy that we’ve been pursuing.
The second book is called “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.. I’m not a terribly religious person, but that’s a piece of writing I go back to on a regular basis. It’s interesting because he was writing at a really tumultuous time in American history, but when you open it up a lot is directly applicable today, especially on the subjects of war, the environment, and human rights—it’s just as relevant today as it was then.
The third is a biography of Einstein called “Einstein: His Life and Universe” by Walter Isaacson. That’s just because I like biographies and reading about people that are way more brilliant than I could ever hope to be.
A. They’ve all been referred to me by friends, so “Deep Economy” came from the woman who is the head of SMS research. “A Testament of Hope” I’ve had for a long time but I discovered it while sitting in my friends’ apartment, and then “Einstein” was from a friend of mine who is a physics major. I’ve never taken a physics class in my life and wish that I had. It’s an easy introduction to physics to read up on his life.
Q. What did you take from “Deep Economy”?
A. One interesting factoid I took away from the book is there are multiple studies of levels of happiness in different nations and states around the world. Some of these indices do a very good job of documenting levels of happiness through individual surveys over time. What they found is, that up to certain point, material wealth increases happiness—certainly the person who can eat three meals a day, etc. is happier than the person who has no food or home etc—but after a certain point of wealth, I think it’s 20K per capita, when a nation or people exceed that level of wealth, happiness goes down.
The argument the book makes for it is that at that point you substitute material goods and wants for things you actually need for happiness like relationships, or time, or communing with nature. You sacrifice those things for material gain. At that point more money makes you less happy. So if the ultimate goal is happiness and not just a numeric measure of material wealth, you’d be better off with economies that are more local, slightly more restrained, and that draw boundaries on themselves that are consistent with local values and cultures.
The kind of economy that may be a little less convenient, a little less cheap, and a little less efficient can make us happier. And that might mean growing more of our own things, paying more for good that are locally produced, and having businesses around us that are more interesting but different from the large scale companies we see—but that economy might result in a better quality of life for us than the economy we’re building. It can be harder work and requires more of our time and more thought from us, but we’ll be happier in the long term.
Q. Did McKibben’s book give you any tools to work with as Kanu inspires a new vision of local activism in Hawai`i?
A. Part of the reason I like the book is it affirms the work we are trying to do, and reading about the book’s examples of communities that are trying to do this really made me feel like Hawai`i is advantaged in some ways. We know these things intuitively. We know how risky it is to be dependent on cheap imports. We love having distinctively local companies. And if you look back at every community plan written in the last 30 years, it talks about an economy that supports our local culture rather than clashes with it.
I found it really encouraging because I feel like we’re finally at a point in Hawaii’s history and in global history that we can start making this happen. Hawai’i is not a leader by any means in that effort, but it’s been consistent in calling for that kind of development. And that’s what Kanu does—Kanu is really about empowering people to live that way and be a part of building that kind of economy and society through their personal actions.