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March 15, 2017

The 5th Human - April Seifert of Minneapolis, Minnesota

I distinctly remember April's big, beautiful smile from childhood. It's the first thing I recognize when we reconnect on Facebook last year. I tell her over Skype video call that I think it must have been in the later grades at Custer Elementary that we last knew each other, but she says she was only there for grades one and two.

What I know for sure is that she and I had formed a jump rope club, which met at recess on the playground. It would have probably involved kickball as well, and April was the club's president.

Now here she is speaking with me from her work space at home in Minnesota. She's wearing a T-shirt, her brown hair is tucked behind her ear on one side, and there's that same smile.

Midwest, Not Exactly by Choice

April was born in 1980 and grew up in the small town of Mandan, North Dakota. It was one of those towns, she says, "where everybody knows each other and everybody sort of knows each other's business." Mandan was "very white, very Christian, and it felt—I don't know what the right word is to describe it," she explains, "but it felt like that is where everybody stayed; even when they left ... they just naturally gravitated back to that place."

She left Mandan after high school and moved to Fargo for university, where she lived for four years. She would come back to Mandan only during the summers and holidays. "I tried so hard to get out of the Midwest," April laughs, but she received a full scholarship to attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, so that's where she stayed for the duration of her graduate education.

April now lives on the western side of the Minneapolis-St. Paul metro area, which she describes as being more diverse than her hometown. And though she lives in a quiet area on a couple of acres, where she can look out her window at a pond and at deer roaming in the yard, her home is only a 15-minute drive from downtown. "It's just a neat balance, but there's a lot more options here."

Other places she and her husband might consider moving to one day include Australia and the Pacific Northwest.

The Joy: An Inspiring Woman Inspiring Women

In 2016, April left her 9 to 5 "normal, corporate job" and branched out on her own, launching her own data science company. Though this self-employment venture has been a success that has defied her expectations, April's most recent pride and joy is her Women Inspired! podcast, featuring weekly interviews with inspiring women from around the globe.

"I'm really, really passionate about [the podcast]," she says. What drives her is her commitment and strong drive "to help people show up really well every day, and live really great lives." We don't have all that many days on Earth, April explains, so she wants people "to live them in the most optimal way they can."

When I ask her what other profession she might like to attempt, she responds, "Now that I've started interviewing people for the podcast, and I'm a serial networker—I just love it, I would do it all day long for my job—I think it would be fun to be a journalist." She loves meeting people and getting to know their stories.

Knowledge Leads to Growth and Change

Though April was raised Catholic, she began to identify as atheist midway through graduate school. "There were always pieces of the religion that didn't quite jibe with me, but it's just kinda like where I grew up and what everybody did, and it didn't really occur to me that it was a decision I could make," she says.

When I ask her what the main turning point was in her change from Christian to atheist, she says that she was becoming increasingly concerned about aspects of the Catholic faith that were huge turn-offs, such as "the child molestation and the cover-up of it," along with "the views toward women within Catholicism—some of the views toward really any outgroup ... gays, the LGBT community, it was just so unaccepting."

"I went to graduate school to study stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination," April continues, "And it was so hard for me to see how a religion that would say that they were accepting and about this figure named Jesus who was this accepting, wonderful person, could have those sides of it as well." That, she says, was the crack in the foundation that led her to start thinking and reading more about the topic of faith and belief.

Due to her love of science-driven nonfiction, she was drawn to books such as Why Evolution is True by Jerry Coyne, which "widened the crack." April then read Sam Harris's Letter to a Christian Nation, to which her response was, "Oh my god, I can't argue with any of this! What does that mean?!" This new information, she says, was difficult for her to reconcile in her mind at first, but had a kind of "trickle effect." She reached a point where she could no longer call herself a Christian.

The Sorrow: Healthcare and Civic Responsibilities

April works primarily with healthcare companies in her job as a data analyst, so she is particularly concerned about the effects that the Trump administration might have on healthcare. "The way I try to talk to my mom and other people about it," she explains, is that healthcare legislation "has so much less to do with who the person is who inhabits a particular office; it's more about what legislation are they putting forward and how will it impact people." Healthcare, April continues, is "so fundamental, and so important to people and to their lives."

Near the end of our 54-minute interview, we discuss the recent US election. "What was one of the toughest things about the election to me is the number of people who didn't participate," April says. "How many countries," she continues, "are people not given the option to participate, and a lot of people in our country just decided not to."

She understands that maybe people's ideal candidate wasn't running this time around, but that's the time "to buck up and be a grown up, and make the best decision given the hand you're dealt." We all have to make decisions about what is important to us and to our families, she concludes, but "you can't do that by sitting on the couch."

April, Word for Word

Q: Tell me about the little things in life that give you the most joy.

A: "I love, love, love mornings. I like how quiet they are. And I do everything I can to not be rushed and frazzled in the morning, if that means that I get up at 4:45—for whatever reason, so be it. I like being out in trees on a trail, so if you can get me out among trees, I love that. I like living in a place where there's seasons. I like watching the seasons change each year. It's funny, because I tell people that I'm—yeah atheist, but sort of a spiritual atheist, and I think a lot of people use that term, but for me what it means is that I'm really impressed by this one shot at this place that we've been given. As much as possible—it's really hard on a day to day basis—but try not to take it for granted, and I think life hands you little lessons if you're willing to recognize them, and sometimes they come with very strong negative emotions. And if you're willing to sit with those and process them and feel them without pushing them away, you can learn a lot."

Q: Would you consider yourself to be more introverted or extroverted?

A: "I definitely do need time away from people, and it's a marker of an introvert where you get tired sometimes by a lot of social interaction. I find that that's less the case now, though, that I'm self-employed, so I do get time, that part of me is fed. And now that my daughter—she's only a year—so there's no conversation there, so my alone time is filled, like that tank is full. So I think these days I operate much more like an extrovert, like I said—love networking, love meeting people, love getting to know them … I would do that for my job if I could, all day, every day."

Q: What do you perceive as your top virtue and vice?

A: "Kindness for sure on the virtue side, because I like how [the chart you sent me] was talking about friendship for its own sake, without prejudice and without resentment, so that definitely describes me. … Maybe [my top vice] is envy, I guess. … It's been sort of a personal transition to move beyond, to be able to really, authentically support somebody else when they are doing something great, and to not actually feel that little bit of envy for that person. I feel like I'm way, way further now, but it was something that has been a journey, realizing that someone else's success is not a zero-sum game. Them being successful has nothing to do with my level of success."

Q: Do you have a favourite TV show or film?

A: "I hate movies. I don't watch them. I really do. I can't do it. I don't dissociate from like—most people in a movie theatre, my husband will make me go once in a while, and everybody else that's there is immersed in the movie and watching, and I'm still in the room. I can't dissociate from the room, and I'm like, 'God, we've been here a long time.' So I don't watch any movies hardly at all. TV, it's either the news and things like that, or it's like way at the other end of the spectrum, The Real Housewives. ... I think I go, go, go, go, go at just as much capacity as I possibly can, until I just can't anymore, so at some point at the end of the day, I'm like click ... and that's when The Real Housewives come on. (laughs)"

Q: What is your favourite book?

A: "Oh man, that is really, really, really hard. This is gonna sound so cheesy, and maybe it's just because it has a special place in my heart, and it got me through a really rough time period in graduate school, and maybe it's because I'm excited to read it to my daughter. Super cheesy, not like me, the Harry Potter series. I just loved those books. I love that since they've been out, there's been a lot of research showing that kids who read them are more accepting of other people and of diversity. I love that, and I'm really excited for my daughter to be of an age where I can read them to her. And I love J. K. Rowling's story of just going from nothing to this titan that she is now, and the way she's handled herself when she's gotten there."

Q: [With the exception of the Harry Potter series] it seems like you don't really like fiction. Was this always the case, or was there a moment when you decided you weren't doing that anymore?

A: "I think I have always really loved to learn, and I've always loved the mental challenge of learning. I mean I'm never not taking a class, even now. I'm a Coursera junky. I'm completely addicted to that type of thing, and so I like nonfiction because it does that for me. ... I joke that if I ever retired now, I would have 10 PhD's by the time I was dead, because I would just go to school, like I wouldn't stop."

Q: If you had one message for the world, what would it be?

A: "Life is short and take this experience that you have here—take it seriously. And by that I mean show up every day and make the most of it, as much as you possibly can. You can take risks with it, you can try new things with it, like go out and get some experiences, because your time here is just so short. I would encourage everybody to use it to its fullest, and take it seriously that your time here is not guaranteed and it's not long. … Most of the time the risks that you are contemplating taking, usually the worst case scenario isn't actually that bad, and usually the worst case scenario is not likely to happen. More so, you are likely to miss out on an amazing experience by being afraid of taking a risk. That ability to move forward in the face of fear, to take the risk even though you're nervous—'cause everyone's scared, everyone's nervous, but some people act even though they are—it's a muscle, and you can elevate your threshold and your ability to handle fear responses. And your risk tolerance, you can push that level up if you work on it, and it's so worth it. I think about where I was when I was living in my small hometown, when I moved to undergrad, just the fears that I had, the anxieties that I had, how that felt and how I feel now, having diligently worked on my risk tolerance and the way that I react when I'm afraid. I'm so grateful for every experience that I've had, because literally if I died tomorrow, I'd be like, 'Damn, that was fun. Yeah, I got a big list of stuff I still wanna do, but damn, that was fun.' And I really want that for everyone, to be able to feel that, that they didn't avoid doing everything because they were so afraid of it."

Q: What are you most afraid of?

A: "Like legit, things that scare me, I'm afraid of fish. I scuba dive and I'm afraid of fish, like a lot afraid of fish. I have these weird little phobias, like I'm afraid of—these all sort of package together—I'm afraid of balloons popping, I'm afraid of pulling chopsticks apart, I'm afraid of opening champagne bottles, anything where I'm like, 'Oh my god, when's it gonna happen?!' I can’t handle the anticipation. I can't do it. So like stupid things day to day. Broader, and this is getting sort of deep a little bit, but I'm afraid of losing people that I love. I lost my dad growing up when I was very young. I lost my stepdad more recently, and I think when you go through those experiences, especially given the non-religious leanings that I have, you realize how precious it is when we're here."

Q: When you're not working, what are some of your hobbies?

A: "Well, I am sort of an experience junky. These days I spend a tonne of time chasing after a one-year-old. She started walking at 10 months, so I chase after her, but in general I really like adventure sports, so I have my skydive licence. I haven't jumped since I had the baby. … My husband and I are both scuba-certified, so we love that kind of stuff. I love to cook. I love really complicated new recipes, and I like reading nonfiction related stuff. I fill up every minute of the day. I'm not a very good person to sit still. I don't allow myself to have any margin."

Q: What's your most prized possession?

A: "I'm sort of a believer in tangible things that help remind me of people. So I have my grandmother's recipe book from when she was married to my grandpa, who I never met. He passed away when my dad was 16. This was her recipe book that she cut out recipes from the newspaper decades ago. She only went to school through I think the fifth grade, so she can't spell very well, and she would write these notes in this recipe book about which recipes were really good and who was there when she served them. And it's funny because growing up German, we ate a lot of German food, and it was a lot of her food, but the recipes are like indecipherable. 'Step 1: make a good dough.' There's no ingredients, you should just know how to do this. So it's always fun to take on the challenge of making one of her recipes, because it takes me like nine times before it starts to look like food, (laughing) because I can't figure out what is in it, and how much."

Random April Facts

If she could pack up right now and live in another country for six months she would choose Vienna, Austria, where one of her great friends lives; Tanzania, where she and her husband went for their honeymoon; or to Iceland, which she says looks so beautiful and the hiking looks amazing.

April is currently reading Tools of Titans by Timothy Ferriss, about the things he has learned from all the amazing people he's interviewed; and The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women by Valerie Young, "all about thriving, even when you have sort of the impostor syndrome."

She believed that she would never get married, and remembers thinking, "I will never ever, ever be able to say 'yes' to somebody, I'll never be able to be certain enough about somebody that I would say 'yes' to them if they asked me to marry them." But then when her husband proposed, April says that saying yes "was the easiest thing" she's ever done.

Follow April:

The Official Site of April Seifert



(image 1: April; image 2: April with her husband and their daughter; both images by Photography from Eileen)

February 16, 2017

The 4th Human - Richard Munn of Southeast England

Sitting here, three weeks after interviewing Richard via Facebook video call, I'm entertained by the fact that neither of us can pinpoint the year we met.

Could have been as far back as 2006? Or maybe as recently as 2013? Neither of us know.

We do know with certainty, however, that we met online through our mutual friend, Stuart Davis. And we connected through a shared interest in arguing about aspects of Ken Wilber's integral theory. Though both of us have distanced ourselves from the world of integral to varying degrees, we continue to debate matters of politics, philosophy, and psychology on a relatively regular basis.

It feels like I have known Richard for a very long time.

The day of our interview, January 24th, 2017, Richard is in the middle of moving "one town over."

Space and Time

Richard was born in "the George Orwellian year of 1984" and grew up in a town with the headline of "the world's first garden city." The location was "designed to meet three cornerstones of a good town, which was being urban and being rural, and having a good eye for design."

As a child, he was free to explore in large areas of nature and in a place where everything was in walking distance. "I had quite a lot of time as a kid," he says, "and quite a lot of space to form my own ideas and, you know, to quite obviously live in a peaceful climate, and very reasonable climate."

A child of a British mother and Finnish father, whom he didn't meet until he was 15, Richard's schooling was "fairly idyllic." His primary school was "church-run, but it was Church of England ... so it was a very moderate kind of Christianity." Everyone was "very nice and polite, friendly and all of that, but without the more hard-core dogmatism."

The general atmosphere at school was "culturally diverse, but culturally relatively homogenous as well," in that "there was never a sense of divides between people."

He pauses, sometimes for several seconds, before answering my questions. Richard's shortest response is only two words long, while his other responses carry on for several minutes. He laughingly mentions his tendency towards verbiage, but his responses never seem longwinded to me. They are contemplative, thorough, neither fast nor slow in speed, and just enough.

Waiting for Meadow

Richard talks to me from his mobile phone, so all I see is his face floating on the computer screen in front of me. From time to time, I catch a glimpse of the collar of his sweater, and small details of his home.

Laughing, he begins his interpretation of the final scene of the final episode of The Sopranos. "I kind of interpret it like--how does that song go, (sings) Big wheels keep on turnin'! You know, it's like it just carries on."

The Soprano family is in the café, waiting for Meadow, but we never see her arrive. The scene ends before she comes in from parking her car, but Tony Soprano is "always basically paranoid, checking everybody out, you know, 'Is there gonna be some kind of extreme violence about to erupt any minute?'" And at the same time, Richard continues, "as he's scanning, checking things out, his family are just carrying on as normal--oblivious really--and I just thought that kind of summed up so much of his life, his experience." There isn't any resolution, and "tomorrow, it'd just be the same."

The Joy and the Sorrow

In most Humans of Earth profiles, the "joy" and "sorrow" subheadings are kept separate. With Richard, I find it more appropriate to write these portions under one, unified heading. As I'm interviewing him, his retelling of an experience prompts me to share an experience of my own, one that also fits into that brazenly odd category of being at once extraordinary and mundane. In response, Richard provides an account of Trungpa Rinpoche's notion of the optimal space of being human.

He describes this optimal experience of emptiness, "which is huge grief and huge joy at the same time." What is more, he continues, "the vulnerability and fleetingness of our situation is heartbreaking and, at the same time, the emptiness of it is so joyful." It's a real mix, he says, and "if we lose touch with either of those, things start to get a bit rocky."

Photographer, Light and Dark

Richard is a portrait photographer who has been "fortunate enough to work with what you may call creatives or entrepreneurs." It's only recently, though, that he's become more aware of his sensibility as a photographer. No matter who or what he photographs, his interest is in a "mixture of neurosis and inspiration, pathos and luminance."

With his portraits in particular, it's been about "working a lot with lighting, and paying a lot of attention to lighting." There is a dark side to this, however. "I've recently felt somewhat constrained by being so lighting heavy," he states with a laugh. "I can't just walk around with a camera and take pictures; I have to go through this whole rigmarole."

Richard, Word for Word

Q: What is your favourite TV show?

A: "Well, I suppose I'd have to say The Sopranos. I watched the whole thing three times, which is quite an investment. (laughs) It almost has everything, for me. And I also developed a real fondness for James Gandolfini. When it first came out, I was about 15 years old, and so I just saw this thing on TV, like, 'Oh, cool! Gangsters and strippers, and like, yeah!' And then I re-watched it fairly recently and was still operating under the assumption that James Gandolfini was just like Tony Soprano, and I didn't realize that he was--it's such an obvious thing--but he was completely different as a person, including how he talked, how he spoke, you know. And it kind of hit me like, wow, this guy is just a fucking amazing actor, and he was so dedicated to his craft and really communicating the humanity--in all of its good and bad aspects--through his character."

Q: I know you're into meditation. How did you get into that?

A: "I started studying Buddhism when I was 13, kind of fairly diligently, really, and the first book I read on Buddhism was a dialogue between the Dalai Lama and Matthieu Ricard--he has the headline of 'the happiest man in the world'. He's a sort of French scientist turned Tibetan Buddhist monk, and they had a dialogue in this book called The Power of Buddhism, and I read that book in a period of time that was quite tumultuous for me. My stepfather was dying and my mother was experiencing mental illness, and I read this book and I particularly read this passage where the Dalai Lama said--well the idea in Buddhism is that the mind is like a leaf, but we have all these winds of confusion, so that this leaf can never be still. And I still remember, I read that passage, and I looked out the window at the plum tree in the garden, and it kinda hit me like a lightning bolt, like wow, that's actually the nature of the mind, you know, and that's why I kinda feel so crappy (laughs) right now. So that sparked a real kind of deep interest in understanding that more."

Q: You mentioned that the head-only kind of meditation was making you blocked. Can you describe the head block in more detail?

A: "In the yoga sutras, they say that the mind controls the pranas, and the pranas control the mind. In the West, we have largely incorporated Buddhism through a sort of philosophical, psychotherapeutic framework ... so it's kind of been secularized and then adopted through the rational intellect, and I think there's lots of good things about that. At the same time, meditation is a sort of non-conceptual endeavour, and most of us spend a huge amount of time in our highly-sophisticated, conceptual, over-stimulated (laughs) ... experience, right. And the most potent experiences I've had in meditation have been when something non-conceptually has shifted. It's not because I've been thinking differently, or even really that I've shifted around inside my head, my attention, or something like that. It's been more of a whole body experience, or a kind of experience with the spine. So I realized that sitting still on top of a dry mountain peak, which is what I was doing, was kind of overworking all the wrong circuits. I'm already kind of predisposed to be quite heady," so that kind of meditation was throwing things out of balance.

Q: What is your most prized possession and why?

A: "Mmm. Yeah, I'm just kind of drawing a blank on that one. (laughs) Yeah, I feel like I'm going to be a bit of a Buddhist cliché there. (laughs) I don't think I have one. I can't think of one."

Q: How about your most prized or cherished memory?

A: "Same. (laughs) I can say one experience that was quite formative for me. ... There was a period of a couple of days when I was about 17--and I'd had these kind of experiences from childhood that the boundary between me and the outside world just kind of dropping away. ... When I was 17, there was a period of a couple of days where this experience would kind of crop up, and kind of come and go, and then it sort of reached this peak of intensity where I had to go outside at nighttime, and then that same experience happened with the night sky. So it was like the night sky was like the inside of my eyelid. Do you wanna see my dog?"

He turns his phone towards the centre of the living room, and his dog, Theo, is happily bouncing around, looking towards the front door that Richard's girlfriend is just about to enter through. She is home from work.

Richard moves to the kitchen and continues:

"So that was kind of a strong experience and quite a formative experience for me. ... [The night sky] was as close to my face as my eyelid. ... It wasn't like a drug trip. It wasn't like a kind of far out, psychedelic experience. It just felt like, 'oh, this is a more direct perception of reality,' you know, how things are, it was that kind of quality to it."

Q: What's one thing that some people would find surprising about you, that they might not know about you after seeing you only a few times?

A: "Probably actually that I'm quite playful and humorous, but I don't really show that to people very much. (laughs)"

Q: What are the little things in life that you love the most?

A: "I love seeing how the sunshine changes through the day. And that's quite a big one for me, actually. I love the way my dog has these-- I love the way he communicates with both of us. I love intellectually connecting with people. When those little moments happen, that's something I really enjoy. Joking with my friends. It's kind of a measure of friendship for me, I guess. The more kind of crude (laughing) I can be with somebody, and the more lighthearted that is, then the better the friendship is."

Q: When you're not working, what are some of your hobbies?

A: "At the moment I'm really interested in studying culture. For much of my life I've been disinterested in politics, and I've just started to become more interested in politics, because I feel that things I care about are getting fucked with, and that's kind of annoying. (laughs) I'm becoming very interested in this whole thing of the premodern, the modern, and the postmodern, which are obviously very broad terms, but I find them quite useful in lots of conversations, to get a kind of ballpark of where people are coming from ... So, tonnes of studying, really, and obviously walking my dog. (laughs)"

Q: And with the modern/postmodern, where would you put yourself, if there's a spectrum?

A: "That's something I've been kinda questioning, really, because in a certain sense I don't find a home in either. But I think I'm definitely more modern-leaning, because what I'm seeing a lot in the postmodern sphere is that identity politics run amok, and I feel that it's contributing a lot to this post-truth age, which I think a lot of people on the left just wanna point to Trump and sort of say, 'Well, Trump is post-truth and post-fact,' and all of that, but actually I feel that it's going on as much or even more so on the left. In the postmodern left, it's not really about if something's true. It's about who is saying it, which I think is really regressive.

"I think of Martin Luther King's quote. 'I have a dream. One day people will be judged by their character, not by the colour of their skin.' And I basically feel like that's becoming inverted, and it's no longer about people's character. It's about these kind of micro-identities, which ultimately becomes very divisive. So I'm in this weird position at the moment, where the things I'm saying I think a lot of people are perceiving as almost against tolerance and against plurality. And that's so not where I'm coming from. I find that kind of hard.

"One example is I read this article on Buddhism recently by bell hooks. I don't really know her work, but she published this article through Tricycle, a Buddhist publication, and she said that Buddhism was founded on white supremacy and colonialism. And I sort of read this article and I thought, 'Come on, I just don't understand what you're trying to say here, or I do and I just disagree.' And she was like, 'There's no use providing any proof, because there's never enough proof.' ... Well, white supremacy for me means an ideology that says white people are inherently superior than every other race, and I've never met anybody like that in a Buddhist context, because all Western Buddhists are obsessed with India and Tibet and Japan, and if anything they suffer from an inferiority complex, because they're not Indian, Japanese, or Tibetan. 

"[bell hooks] was saying that she, as a black woman, feels less able to travel abroad, or less inclined to travel abroad to study, than her Western counterparts. And again I thought, well, the way that Buddhism came to the West was either Buddhist teachers came to the West and taught, which is the opposite of white colonization, or white people went there and did as much as they could to assimilate Buddhist culture, you know, not impose their own culture. It was actually to be subservient to the culture they found themselves in.

"So, articulating that in the threads, people were saying, 'Fair enough.' But I could quite easily see people just replying to that and saying, 'Well, that's because you're white privileged and you don't understand our black experience,' which people did say. That really did get into tricky territory, because I feel that understanding one person's experience, like I'm totally open to somebody saying, 'Hey, a lot of Buddhist cultures in the West are predominantly white, therefore I as a black person feel estranged.' That I'm totally open to. I could get that. But to me, that's a very different claim than saying, 'And therefore it's white supremacist and colonialist.' That's such a huge leap for me. That imports a lot of negative intentions, or certainly negative consequences.

"And then within that identity politics framework, if I as a white person disagree with it, it's very easy for somebody to essentially say, 'Well, you're just racist, or at least you're an apologist for racists,' without any kind of reference to something that's true or rational or reasonable. It's that kind of atmosphere that starts to block rational exchange of ideas, which is something I really value."

Q: What would you perceive to be your top virtue and your top deadly sin or vice?

A: "Patience and pride. Very proud about my patience. (laughs)"

Random Richard Facts

His favourite book is Meditations by Marcus Aurelius.

If he were to pursue another profession, it would be painting. He loves the sculptural quality of painting and the uniquely human passage of time evident in the work: "In the painting, it's kind of all these compounded instances of seeing a person making a mark, and then making another mark, and then making another mark, and making another mark, and how that accumulates to a response is something I really love." He also enjoys writing and business strategizing.

Richard's one message to the world is: "Pay attention."

Follow Richard:

The Official Site of Richard Munn


(image 1: self-portrait; image 2: Theo by Richard Munn)

November 18, 2016

The 3rd Human - Sezin Koehler of Lighthouse Point, Florida

Sezin and I have known each other since 2011. We were introduced online by a mutual friend with whom Sezin went to school in India and with whom I went to school in Canada. We have been internet friends ever since. Until today, October 19th, 2016, we have never spoken face to face. Face to face for us means video Skype.

It's 1:00 pm my time and 4:00 pm her time, and she is standing at her desk in a room positively brimming with books. Her face is glowing with a friendly smile, and her lips are painted an alluring, almost-black dark purple, which she tells me later is a shade called By Starlight. She is wearing a black tank top, exposing two large shoulder tattoos and an oval-shaped moonstone necklace that sits high on her chest. Her dark brown hair is short, angled, and shaved on one side.

We talk for 30 minutes before starting the interview. The conversation is effortless, easy, sweet. Why haven't we done this before?

'Hometown' Means Something Very Different

When I ask her to describe her hometown she says, "That's a hard one, because I have lived in so many places and we moved around a lot as a kid, so I don't really have a hometown."

Sezin was born in 1979 in Colombo, Sri Lanka to a half-Tamil/half-Sinhalese father and a Wisconsin-born mother who was posted in Sri Lanka with the UN. Sezin was born right around the time the civil war started, but her family left before most of the violence began. Since they had a Tamil last name, government officials showed up at their door one day looking for Sezin's father.

"My white American mum greeted the mob at the gate and told them she was with the UN and an American, so they took off," she tells me in a follow-up email.

After Sri Lanka, the family moved to Lusaka, Zambia, where both of Sezin's younger sisters were born. She remembers hardship in Zambia due largely to the transition between colonial and post-colonial governments. "There was like no food," she says, "and we had to drive to Malawi to go and get food, and I have this memory of going into the shop and there was nothing on the shelves except cornmeal."

That said, as a UN family they had access to much more than the locals did. When it comes to having more than others, Sezin has always had a feeling of guilt about that.

After Zambia, the family moved to Bangkok, Thailand--the first metropolitan city Sezin had ever lived in, and then on to Islamabad, Pakistan, where she hit puberty and where most people thought she was Pakistani. She had to make sure her body was covered whenever she was out in public.

If she had to pick a hometown it would probably be New Delhi, India, where the family moved when Sezin was around 12 or 13. "I loved it there, it's so vibrant and there's such chaos," she says. "It's like this weird organized chaos that's got these wonderful and awful smells, and there's animals walking down the road, just normal, there's an elephant, there's a buffalo, there's some peacocks just hanging out."

Sezin misses New Delhi's history, with all its old palaces and ruins, just as much as she misses its food. "There was just such a mixing of the old and the new that was going on, all kind of cohabiting together."

She loved her school in New Delhi, where there were no cliques and "everyone hung out with everyone." Sezin describes it as a very different chapter in her life, where she did a lot of acting and appeared in "so many plays."

"Everyone was from all over the place," she explains, "so you cast a play and you have daughters who are--like someone is Black, someone is Asian, someone is blonde--but that was perfectly acceptable because a lot of us were in families that were multiracial, and when I came to theatre in other places that was gone."

After high school, Sezin attended college in California, and lived in California for a total of seven years. This was quite a bit longer than she would have preferred. She then lived in various parts of Europe, including the Czech Republic and Germany with her husband, Steven, before the two settled in Florida about five years ago. They currently reside in Lighthouse Point.

The Joy: Gratitude Through it All

Life has not been altogether easy for Sezin, given her fractured family life, her experience of having a friend shot right in front of her in LA, and with, as she describes, "one of these weird faces that people tend to see whatever their prejudice is when they look at me." She's experienced frequent displays of racism while living in Florida, where many assume that she is an Arab. Even while walking around with her Caucasian husband, she has experienced the condemnation of those who frown on interracial unions.

Despite her struggles, Sezin is clear that she tries to be grateful for everything. "Even on the worst days, there's always something to be grateful for." 

Being grateful almost goes against her personality, she says, but she has gotten in the habit of doing it anyway--reminding herself of all the things and experiences she is thankful for.

Some of the little things in life that she is thankful for include living in a place where the sun shines all year round, living close to Hogwarts, having a swimming pool just steps away from the porch, sipping a healthy green smoothie every day, having alone time, and taking her thyroid medicine, which has improved her health and increased her mental clarity.

Several times throughout our interview she mentions books and her deep love for them. Sometimes, when she is feeling down, she will sit in her office, surrounded by her books. The smell of the books is almost a type of aromatherapy, she explains, and has an immediate comforting effect.

Eclectic Writer Extraordinaire 

Sezin is a widely-published writer, with two novels under her belt and others on the way. She has written hundreds of personal essays, journalistic articles, short stories, and flash fiction pieces. It's very likely that you have read her work online. She has several articles featured in The Huffington Post and is a contributing writer for Wear Your Voice.

She is a master storyteller and wants to try her hand at writing screenplays.

I am almost finished reading her 2015 novel, entitled Crime Rave, and am impressed by her truly exceptional imagination. Sezin has an uncanny ability to tell a story that almost literally embodies--through her characters' bodies and varied personas--the rage and pain felt by women all around the world due to the violence and machinations of men.

The Sorrow: Death of Heroes 

With an ironic laugh, she says that her theme for 2016 has been heartbreak. "Oh my god, Bowie went right at the beginning and that really just broke something in me--I didn't think was possible to break that."

And then Prince passed away, and that was another shattering of the broken bits. "I kept thinking that my heart can't break anymore. ... I just don't know who else can die." Everything about the election has been disappointing, too, and has "showed a lot of people's true colours." She hasn't liked what she's seen in that regard.

For her own "heart and sanity," she has had to sever some bonds that she never thought would need breaking. "This is a really big year where I took a hard look at who is in my life and why are they there, and how do they make me feel," she explains. "And if there were negative things associated with it I kind of started a little bit like housecleaning."

All in all, she "wanted it to be badass 2016, but it was more like sadass."

Sezin, Word for Word

Q: If you had one message for the world, what would it be?

A: "Critical thinking skills, people! Please, please, critical thinking skills. You cannot just take things at face value anymore. The internet is wonderful, but just because you found an article ... and just because it's a fancy website, that does not make it true. ... And I know truth is subjective ... but when it comes to certain scientific facts and when there's political spin involved, people really need to start looking outside of their go-to sources and seeing what other stuff is there, and being open to it. Because I also feel like no one is open to a discussion anymore, because everyone thinks they have all the evidence they think they need in order to make a decision, even though that information might not even be true. But they believe it's true, and then you can't shake them from that belief. So I think people really need to let go of a lot of these beliefs, and just start to be a little bit more open to what other people may experience, what other people may think and see, and how to go through this world in a little bit more of a humane and compassionate way, because I just feel that that's gone out the window, especially during this [Trump versus Clinton] election."

Q: What is your favourite book?

A: "I love Stephen King and my favourite Stephen King book is called Lisey's Story. It's not one of his better-known ones, but that's my favourite of his. I love Louise Erdrich and she's one of my favourite writers. My favourite of hers is The Last Report on the Miracles at Little No Horse, which is a wonderful, wonderful book about a woman who disguises herself as a priest on an Indian reservation, and it's just fantastic. And oh my god, the writing is so beautiful. More recently I read a book by a Sri Lankan-American author called Island of a Thousand Mirrors, and that book just rocked my world. ... It helped me connect with my own Sri Lankan heritage."

Q: Tell me about your shoulder tattoos.

A: "Steve and I both got matching stars when we first got married, his on his left calf and mine on my left shoulder. I got the matching one on my right shoulder in Prague. And then a few years later I added the fairy wings to both stars. The left wing is plain since female butterflies aren't brightly coloured in nature, and my right wing is full colour for the males."

Q: What do you perceive to be your top deadly sin or vice?

A: "My top deadly sin would definitely be Wrath. Anger is something I struggle with constantly, and finding healthy outlets for it has always been a challenge. These days I really channel my rage into my writing, and most especially my novels and short fiction, but I can see it seeping into my non-fiction stuff, too, in a lot of ways. Unless someone sincerely apologizes after hurting me, I can hold one epic grudge. I'm not quick to forgive, and I'm never one to forget."

Q: What do you perceive to be your top heavenly virtue?

A: "My top heavenly virtue is a tough one! I suppose if I had to choose it would be Charity. I'm overly generous (so my husband tells me) with my time and resources even when it negatively impacts me, if in the end I can help someone who tells me they need it. I'm always helping people find jobs, get connected to others in my network for mutual benefit, give advice when it's solicited, and even in my writing I do my best to promote the projects people in my network are creating, often without being asked (and many times in the past without even getting paid for my work). I'm an epic gift-giver and creator of care packages. And no matter how many times people take advantage of me for whatever generosity I've consistently given, it's the one thing I can't stop doing, although not with those people who have previously taken advantage."

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years, personally and professionally?

A: "I'll still be living in Lighthouse Point. Unless some really great job offer came up, for either myself or for my husband, I kind of think that we would be staying around in this area. We're close to his family and we're close to Hogwarts. (laughs)"

Career-wise: "Hopefully maybe I'd have at least one more book out, if not two, since I'm kind of focusing more on it. I'd love to win some kind of writing prize in whatever form that would be."

Q: What do you like most about Lighthouse Point?

A: "I like that it's really safe. It's very safe and it's very quiet, and it's unique in that our apartment is walking distance to a little shopping centre. ... It's very cozy and really the safety is a big part. There's no gun violence in this town."

Q: What do you like least about Lighthouse Point?

A: "How long do you have? (laughs) I was really hard on it when we first moved here. There's definitely many more positive things than negative, but I don't really like a lot of the people around here. A lot of Trump signs on the sides. I find that to be such an offense against me as a human being that it makes my stomach churn."

Q: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

A: Forensic detective or "Monster Professor."

"I think monsters are so fascinating culturally and socially, and even physically. There's so much about monsters that's relevant to society and culture, and I would've loved for that to have been my life's work. And in a way it kind of is because of my books, but not really in an official way. ... The official name for someone who studies monsters is a teratologist (terata is the Greek word for monster), and historically it was a totally racist profession with practitioners doing things like measuring skulls to indicate intelligence and dissecting so-called freaks you'd find in sideshows. Horrible people. If I'd become a professor of monsters, a sociological and anthropological teratologist so to speak, it would have been a rather beautiful upsetting of historical teratology seeing as a woman of colour would approach the study from an intersectional, feminist, and transnational perspective."

Random Sezin Facts

She really, really, REALLY loves books. Two of her other favourite books are The Neverending Story by Michael Ende and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.

When she's not writing or reading, her hobbies include creating collages on canvas, playing Words with Friends, collecting books, swimming, and taking pictures. She's excited to get the new iPhone to capture the great nightscapes in Florida.

Sezin's favourite movies include the French-Canadian philosophical horror film called Martyrs, which she calls "very disturbing and beautiful," Labyrinth, and Mermaids--"the one with Cher." She also loves Fight Club, though it is problematic from a feminist perspective. Some of her favourite TV shows include Dexter and Sense8, though she just started watching Sense8 and hopes it continues to be so good. Her guilty pleasures include Sex and the City and Gilmore Girls.

Follow Sezin:



The Official Site of Sezin Koehler


(image 1: Sezin channeling Frida Kahlo, self-portrait; image 2: Sezin as Elphaba by Steven Koehler)

November 15, 2016

Suppression of Dissent in the Time of Trump

Protest (n.): from the Latin protestari, meaning to declare or testify publicly.

People have been protesting for as long as inequality and imbalance of power have existed. In other words, people have been protesting for as long as there has been even the slightest hint of governance.

Protesting is a right, and it is a right for everyone, no matter what side of the political spectrum they are on. It would be a right for Trump supporters if Clinton had won the election, for example, just as it is the right of anti-Trump protesters now.

If you seek to silence the protesters, you are seeking to silence dissent. And that puts you on the side of censorship and suppression.

Suppression of dissent occurs when an individual or group [...] tries to directly or indirectly censor, persecute or otherwise oppress the other party, rather than engage with and constructively respond to or accommodate the other party's arguments or viewpoint. 
Remember that before ranting about the protests and the people taking part in them. And don't forget that many important changes have come about because of protests and political uprisings. These include, but are not limited to:

  1. The American Revolution: when American colonists rejected British rule. 
  2. The Protestant Reformation ("protest" is even part of the word "Protestant"!): when Martin Luther protested what he believed to be Catholic corruption and immorality. 
  3. The French Revolution: when French citizens challenged iniquities of the feudal system and the authority of the monarchy. 
  4. The Stonewall Riot: when LGBTQ individuals protested the targeting of gay clubs by police, and represented a larger fight for equal rights.
  5. The Salt March: when Mohandas Gandhi protested British rule in India. 

What's more, during the past week since Trump was elected, many have been sharing videos or descriptions of violence taking place at anti-Trump demonstrations across the United States. Several have tried to use this information to convince others of the laziness or degeneracy or stupidity of liberals or progressives.

In effect, they are using the terms "violent protesters" and "liberals" or "Hillary supporters" interchangeably. This interchangeability of terms is built on a couple of key fallacies, namely the hasty generalization and the fallacy of exclusion.

The hasty generalization fallacy occurs when the sample size is far too small to support the conclusion or judgment.

Two examples of the hasty generalization fallacy:

  1. Four men I know are hunters, therefore all men are hunters.
  2. The Finnish traveller lied to me, therefore all Finnish people are liars.

Clearly, not all men are hunters, and not all Finnish people are liars. The sample sizes in these examples are far too small to draw a reliable conclusion about the groups in question, all men and all Finnish people, respectively. So, how can anyone draw a conclusion about all the liberals and progressives who are protesting based on the actions of a violent few amongst them?

Well, logically-speaking, they cannot draw such conclusions at all.

The fallacy of exclusion occurs when information that would weaken or compromise an argument or position is left out. It is very similar to the generalization fallacy, but instead of making an inductive leap in reasoning (as in the hasty generalization), the person is overlooking key information that would undermine their position.

In the case of the anti-Trump protesters, there is ample evidence that the majority of protesters are acting peacefully and simply walking down streets, carrying signs, and chanting or singing. But inclusion of this information weakens the argument that the protesters are all dangerous thugs and hooligans, so the information is all too often left out.

(image 1 by itsyouforme via DeviantArt; image 2 by Ronile via Pixabay)

October 13, 2016

The 2nd Human - Desmond Reddick of Port Alberni, British Columbia

His microphone is sleek and professional--clearly a necessary component from hosting the Dread Media podcast for the last nine years--and I can almost sense my dysfunctional Snowball iCE mic shaking with inferiority.

We're speaking via Skype video call in late September of this year, and Des has informed me that he's recording our call, "just in case." With all the podcast recording he does, this just comes with the territory.

Des and I first met in an English class at Simon Fraser University back in 1999. We haven't seen a lot of each other these past 17 years, but we keep in touch through social media.

He's pleased when I let him know his profile will be online around October 15th, saying that it's his "favourite time of the year."

"It started with my love of horror as a genre and how many horror movies would be on television in the days and weeks leading up to Halloween," Des says in a follow-up email. "Then, it really blanketed out to the fall in general. The colours, the crunch of leaves, the stark beauty of barren trees in the dark. That kind of thing. It all comforts me."

Happy Here, For Now

Desmond was born in 1980 and grew up in South Surrey, British Columbia, in what he calls a "close-knit, suburban, hmm, pretty white-bread" community. For the past 11 years he and his wife, Megan, have lived in Port Alberni, on Vancouver Island. Though Port Alberni is a bit isolated for Des's liking, "It's affordable, and there's a lot of stuff for kids to do." Des and Megan's sons are 10 and nine, and they participate in several activities, like guitar lessons, hockey, and karate.

When I ask if they plan to stay in Port Alberni, Des says, "We're happy here," but "we're not gonna hunker down and stay in Port Alberni for the rest of our lives, 'cause that would probably drive Megan and I mad." They want to travel.

Luckily, precarious travel experiences haven't hampered their desire to see the world.

A Honeymoon at Gunpoint

When I ask Des to share one of his most cherished memories, he recounts the time he and his wife were on their honeymoon in Europe. The trip was a gift from Des's parents and had been arranged by a travel agent.

After spending a couple nights in Berlin, they boarded a train headed to Prague. "We got to the second to last station in Germany, and Czech Republic soldiers got on the train, and started asking everybody for their visas, and they didn't speak English, and we didn't have visas because our travel agent said that no visas were required."

This, he says, was before the Czech Republic was officially a full member of the EU. The Czech Republic soldiers approached Des and Megan and said, "Visa, visa!" Des chuckles, "And we're just like, 'We don't have one,' and they said, 'Okay, off, off!'"

The soldiers then lead Des and Megan off the train--at gunpoint--and dump them "in this Podunk, tiny, like 300-person town on the outskirts of Germany." 

Everything worked out in the end, they got to spend extra time in Austria, and "it made for an exciting trip." Indeed.

The moral of the story? Never "put blind faith in people who might not be the best at their jobs, or just investigate things for yourself."

The Joy: Those on the Margins

Des's kindness and strong sense of empathy are qualities I've always admired about him. It comes as no surprise that these traits fit well with his job as a teacher at an alternate school.

"An alternate school would service students who--there's a huge spectrum," he explains. "Whether it be behaviour issues or mental health issues or autism, or very regular students or advanced students who, you know, really wanna take English 12, but can't fit it into their school schedule ... so they'll come to our school and do an extra course."

"We deal with poverty issues," he adds, "fetal alcohol syndrome, and kids who haven't been given a fair shot elsewhere, and probably don't feel like they belong."

Most of his teaching takes place one-on-one with students, in an independent learning style that is more suitable for Des than "in a regular school with bells, and ducks all in a row."

Fringe Genre Writer

Des is wearing a long-sleeved, white and grey checked Oxford shirt, and behind him and to his right are several bookshelves, overflowing with books.

His own debut novel came out in December 2015 and is titled Mother of Abominations. I'm halfway through the book myself, and am enjoying it. Though normally a fan of literary fiction and science-y non-fiction, I'm digging the main female character, Bree, and loving the symbolism of gigantic monsters controlled by corrupt, power-hungry governments. Des's writing style is elegant and minimalist, with some passages reminding me of Cormac McCarthy's more recent work.

Though he refers to himself as a fringe genre writer, I'm convinced that his work would appeal to a wide audience.

The Sorrow: Polarization

When I ask for his message to the world, he says, "Listen and try to understand people that have different beliefs than you, because we've gotten to this point where it's not just left versus right--it's degrees of people on the left end of the spectrum attacking each other."

To illustrate, he continues, "I see someone like Patton Oswalt, who's very outspoken on social media, who is very much a left-leaning person and very much an ally of minorities--clearly not a minority, he's a pretty privileged white guy, and then you have people who are on the further left who will attack him because he doesn't have the exact same views as they do, which I just find so counterproductive and so toxic."

This isn't just about the political left, he adds, since he sees this on the right as well. "Look at this election" in the US, he says. "It's either we vote for this person, or it's civil war."

Have empathy for everyone, Des advises, but also for yourself and "your own mental health." If our anger is always "at nine and ready to switch to 10 every day, all day, what is that doing to your head? What is that doing to the world?"

Part of the solution? "Create relationships and you'll be a better person if you actually know people of more than one little tiny slot politically and socially."

Desmond, Word for Word

Q: If you were to do another profession, what would you attempt?

A: "My dream would be to be a full-time writer, but I think that's maybe the end goal. Something besides that? I'd like to be a screenwriter maybe. It all comes back to writer for me."

Q: If you ended up being a full-time writer, would you be okay with leaving your job as a teacher?

A: "I'd probably still do a little bit of it, 'cause I do really love it, and I feel like in some aspect I was an alternate kid in high school. I just didn't have that outlet. I was bored sitting in a room for 50 minutes. ... I like those kids. I feel like people who have been pushed to the margins are far more interesting, 'cause in some way I was like that, too."

Q: Are you a fast or slow writer?

A: "I write in bursts. I know that the advice is to write every day. I don't, and I don't see myself ever regularly writing every day, but I try and get 1,000 to 2,000 words down every time I sit down to write, and more often than not I'm successful with that. I try not to impose deadlines and goals on myself that I know are unrealistic, because I'll feel like shit when I don't meet them."

Q: What has been your theme for 2016?

A: "Trying to be healthier. Working out, trying to get back in shape. And trying to write more. I'm at the beginning of what I hope is a professional writing career, so that's at the forefront. ... I'm actually doing karate lessons with my son. We just started, but it's a crazy workout. It's fun."

Q: Are there any political events that you're focused on right now?

A: "Yes. (laughs) It's hard not to get caught up in the American election, 'cause it's so crazy. We had our crazy election here [in Canada] last year, but we had an 11-week election season, and then essentially the first year of a new government in the time that it took for America to get to a first debate. Our 11-week election season exhausted me. I just hated it, I wanted it to be over with. I would probably be a basket case if I was an American."

Q: What are little things in life that give you the most joy?

A: "My kids, the quiet time I have with my wife. My sons and I have been watching The Simpsons together. We've gone from season one, and we're on season 25 now, and just seeing them laugh--because a lot of people our age had their sense of humour crafted by The Simpsons a little bit, because of how popular it was when we were really little, and then it started to get subversive in the later seasons. So I think it contributed a lot to our generation's sense of humour, and to see my kids react to that, by laughing or getting a three or four-layered joke, is really fun."

Q: What are some of your recent favourite movies?

A: "Movies, I'm always watching movies. There's a group of filmmakers called Bandit Motion Pictures. I'm a huge horror and cult movie fan. So these guys and ladies ... take these trashy exploitation genres and really sort of make art films out of them, but they're also really entertaining. They have heavy entertainment value for being such an art film, so it's not a challenging watch, it's just a really beautiful piece of exploitation, which I totally appreciate. (laughs)"

Q: What is your favourite book?

A: "Oh man. Can I say a couple? I just finished re-reading, for the fifth or sixth time, Boy's Life by Robert McCammon, and it's just perfect. It's amazing. I love it. It so perfectly captures the idea of being a 10, 11, 12-year-old kid in the days of summer being fleeting, and you know that you're gonna have to go back to school, and you're wanting to go and have adventures with friends. But also the darkness of the world starts creeping in. You start noticing that a little bit more, as a kid. So there's that. Clive Barker is a huge hero of mine, and his novel, The Great and Secret Show, totally blew my mind. I think I read it when I was maybe 14 or 15, and like mind-expanding. You always read about the rock stars of the 60s reading Baudelaire and Rimbaud and stuff like that, and I think I had the same sort of, I don't wanna call it a 'spiritual awakening', but I felt like my mind was opened--like I perceived reality a little bit differently."

Q: You create podcasts and listen to podcasts. Has that taken away from your reading time at all?

A: "No. I'm a bit of a weirdo in that I've never been diagnosed, but I'm probably ADHD, so I actually find it easier to listen to something, like podcasts, while I'm reading. Or music. And even while I'm writing at the same time, too, and I think a lot of people would think I'm crazy, but there's just something about it. I think I need something else going on in order to focus on the thing that I'm trying to focus on, otherwise I do tend to, 'Oh, let's check out Facebook,' or 'Oh, what's that noise? Oh, maybe I should go walk the dog.' (laughs)"

Random Desmond Facts

His current favourite TV shows are The Americans, which he refers to as "probably the best one out there right now," Veep, and "Game of Thrones is cool, but everyone says that."

One of his all-time favourite short stories is "Night They Missed the Horror Show" by Joe R. Lansdale, which is about racism in the South. It's a "super visceral and vivid" story, Des says, and "When I read it, I wanna be a writer."

His most prized possession is a guitar. "I'm not really good at guitar," he says, but "It helps me relax in a way that nothing else can." Des has had guitars since he was 12, but one of his favourites is "a really nice, beat-up acoustic classical guitar" that he picked up at a garage sale for $10, about 20 years ago.

Follow Desmond:


The Official Site of Desmond Reddick

Amazon author page

(image 1: Des and his now-deceased duck, Howard by Darryll Doucette; image 2: Des and his dog, Kirby by Megan Reddick)

September 17, 2016

The 1st Human - Randy Pratt of Vancouver, British Columbia

It's 11:00 am on July 26th of this year. Randy, a businessman and my former-boss-turned-friend, arrives at my home wearing a red-and-white gingham Oxford shirt without a tie, and a wheat-coloured blazer over top. His dark blonde hair is freshly cropped and neatly slicked into place, and he is tanned and happy. Not quite the same exuberance as in the photo to the left, but something like it.

He accepts a glass of water, and with the whir of distant lawn mowers and weed whackers coming in through the open windows, we begin our interview.

Probably the Water

Randy was born in 1966 and grew up in "a small, dusty little town." He pauses here, then adds that he applies this description to two towns, "'cause we moved around a lot." He doesn't name the towns specifically, but says they were in Alberta and Idaho.

Now residing in the opposite of a dusty little town, Vancouver, British Columbia, where he's been for most of his life, Randy describes how his favourite thing about Vancouver is "probably the water." The list is long, he says, "but if I had to pick one, it's because it's by the ocean. We're by or on or in water a lot."

His eyes light up. Vancouver, he says, is "totally different in every way" to where he grew up. "There's nothing the same about it."

The Joy: In Awe of Our Rich, Complex World

Randy's most cherished memory is from just five years ago, when he visited Israel for the first time, a place he had been curious about since childhood. Israel was very different from how he'd imagined it, though. The landscape, both physical and cultural, was more varied and the people more secular than he'd expected. "It's funny how pictures in your head become so simple, and then when you get anyplace, whether it's physical or someplace else, and actually attempt to understand ... you realize how complicated the world is, and that's what makes it so rich."

I ask him how this experience impacted his life, and he says that it struck him in a very real way that the world is never black and white, "it's a million shades of grey. And you have to always seek to understand, and that journey and that questioning never ends."

Against All Odds

One thing I remember from first getting to know Randy, back in 2007, is his love of President Lincoln, so we talk a bit about that. "Growing up, being born in the States," he says, "I was always fascinated by American history. You know, the American education system did a good job of romanticizing and indoctrinating you. It's a militaristic nation. It was born of war, it had a civil war, it continues to be at war, with itself and others, all through its history, so when I was a young boy I kinda liked that stuff. You know," he adds thoughtfully, "there was always something about a president who was president during a civil war."

Lincoln is a larger than life figure, almost superhuman, both in his physical stature and in his abilities as a leader. He's also, Randy says, a bit like Garfield, "the poor, rural boy growing up to be president."

"So there's that sort of struggle against all odds" in both of the men's lives that strongly appeals to him. "I'm reading a book right now by Angela Duckworth, called Grit," he adds. "And it's about human psychology and behaviour, and tries to measure what she calls grit--probably better defined as persistence and passion meeting one another, and perseverance." So, he concludes, "that's the other thing I get" from Lincoln and Garfield.

Interestingly, this is one of the qualities about Randy that has positively impacted my own life.

The sound of the lawn mowers has gotten closer, so I close the door to the balcony near the table where we're sitting, and ask Randy if I can get him more water. "No, thank you."

Technology is Democratizing

We move into a discussion about technology and people's hang-ups and fears about always being on screens. Staring at a screen, especially during social events, can be isolationist and unhealthy, Randy believes, "but at the base root of that, it's about connectedness."

To illustrate this, he says, "I have family in Alberta, I have an uncle who passed away who I don't think ventured more than BC, Alberta, Washington state, Idaho, in his whole life. And my friend who's Croatian, John, he has family in his home village in Croatia that's 40 miles away from [the Adriatic Sea], 40 miles away, and never been to the sea. And that's today!"

"So people talk, they romanticize this notion that we're social and so everything about technology is somehow damaging. I believe the complete opposite. I think it's democratizing and exciting. ... All of a sudden at your fingertips is all of this information you could never have thought would have been accessible just 20 years ago."

The Sorrow: The Violence of Men

Near the end of our interview, Randy brings up a sense of embarrassment that he feels because so much "violence and dispossession and horror has been brought by white men."

"I had the opportunity or the blessing," he continues, "to sit through a couple of addiction events and, you know, there's this linkage between trauma and addiction, and I left both those meetings kinda running out of the room, so to speak, [from hearing] of the trauma inflicted by men."

Randy, Word for Word

Q: What are your hobbies?

A: "My hobbies are golf and reading, although I'm now more addicted to audiobooks than reading. My eyes just get tired, where my ears never get tired. I can listen all day."

Q: What is your favourite movie?

A: "It's kinda cliche, but I love The Godfather. Life and death and family power. But one I watched recently that I liked was The Lobster. It was very sort of a black comedy, and I like things like that that are a bit odd or a bit different."

Q: What is your most prized possession, and why?

A: "A painting a friend gave to me as a gift of thanks for helping him through a very difficult time in his life. Reminds me of him, our friendship, and it's a wonderful painting."

Q: What are little things in life that give you the most joy?

A: "I think small acts of kindness or courtesy or politeness. Food, good food. A good joke. I like black humour and physical comedy. And just family and friends. Just seeing them blossom or achieve what they set out to achieve, those sorts of things."

Q: If you were to do another profession, what would you attempt?

A: "Yeah, that's pretty easy. I would've been a journalist. When I first started university, I figured I was gonna be a lawyer, 'cause that's about the only thing I knew you went to university to do, or journalism. And I'd romanticized that as being, one of two things: either exposing the Man, right, like Watergate, or a war correspondent, like Dan Rather or Morley Safer in Vietnam, and uncovering the human story and writing about it. Yeah, that's what I woulda done. Or a basketball coach. There's a coach in me somewhere."

Q: Is there anything you fear about technological advancements, like some people are freaking out about the rise of robots and artificial intelligence?

A: "I don't fear any of that. I think that whole machine learning piece is fascinating. … I think people have serious problems with AI and machine learning, but only in the context that they don't understand where we are. Like privacy's dead. There is no privacy and people can't figure that out yet. And information is everywhere and it is massive and huge. So no, I don't fear it. I think it's an amazing time to be alive. I can't pick a more fascinating time than right now."

Q: What are your thoughts on Black Lives Matter, and specifically what they did in Toronto during the Pride Parade earlier this month?

A: "It's not a creative solution at all. They're not following the practice of all the examples we have in the modern world of non-violent, soulful, thoughtful messages to affect your cause. Underlying their movement is violence. ... BLM has no place in Canada."

Q: If you had one message for the world, what would it be?

A: "Just seek to understand. Understanding doesn't equal agreement. But seek to really understand. Too often I see a real lack of rigour or investigation. There are no conclusions. I try not to get too caught up in what my fellow humans are doing or not doing, from a judgment point of view. But seek to understand."

Q: Where do you see yourself in five years?

A: "In the same space, you know, just older. Family-wise, it's fun right now because [my three kids] are entering their university years, and that's a lot of fun to watch. And I try not to guide; I try and participate with it, but I try and let them find their own way. So I don't think there'll be any difference. I'll still be fully engaged in my professional life and my personal life and they'll be kinda weaved together."

Random Randy Facts

He's a huge Kevin Spacey fan and binge-watched the entire House of Cards series in a matter of days.

He loves everything about Italy and Italians: the food, the people, the Italian relaxed sense of time, the landscape, the culture, the art, the history, the climate, and so on.

Randy's current favourite websites:

Singularity University

Astronomy Picture of the Day

(image 1: Baby Randy; image 2: Randy loves golf)

Humans of Earth

Humans of Earth
New blog series featuring YOU! (image by Mario Purisic)

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