educator

PBS HAWAI‘I PRESENTS
Living Your Dying

PBS HAWAII PRESENTS: Living Your Dying - Rev. Mitsuo “Mits” Aoki, a pioneer of Hawaii’s hospice movement.

 

Rev. Mitsuo “Mits” Aoki, a pioneer of Hawai‘i’s hospice movement and founder of the University of Hawaii School of Religion, passed away in August 2010. This film from 2003 highlights his own transformative near-death experience; his therapeutic work with terminally-ill cancer patients; the death of his wife Evelyn; and thoughts about his own mortality. For over 40 years, Rev. Aoki attempted to take the terror out of dying, and showed others how to experience death as not just the end of life, but as a vital part of life, as well.

 

For inquiries about “Living Your Dying” email the Mits Aoki Legacy Foundation at:
MitsAokiLegacy@hawaii.rr.com

 

INDEPENDENT LENS
The Bad Kids

 

Located in an impoverished Mojave Desert community, Black Rock Continuation High School is an alternative school for students at risk of dropping out; Black Rock is their last chance. Extraordinary educators believe that empathy and life skills, more than academics, give these underserved students command of their own futures.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kimi Werner: Life in the Deep

 

Kimi Werner – a spearfisher, chef, artist and motivational speaker – shares how her underwater experiences have informed her life on land in profound ways. She recounts her opportunity to swim alongside a great white shark and how the encounter shifted her perspective on her place in the ecosystem.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 1, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, March 26, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kimi Werner: Life in the Deep Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

From the moment I’m in the water, I just—the first thing that comes over me is just, I’m absolutely present. Um … and that’s just such a rare thing. I think a lot of times, we’re just battling these voices in our head and whatnot, and the minute my face is in the water, everything goes quiet, and I’m only focused on what’s in front of me. Then I spend a good amount of time on the surface just relaxing, just totally talking to all parts of my body, from my toes all the way up, and making sure that my body is completely relaxed. Um, and I just take one really deep breath of air, and kick pretty strongly, and just start kicking down. And when you hit about sixty feet or so, you can become negatively buoyant, and you just drop down. And the whole time, I’m just kinda telling myself, Just relax, just relax. Because the most relaxed you are, the more you’re gonna conserve oxygen, and all you have is that one breath of air.

 

The lessons from her underwater experiences are at the heart of much of what Kimi Werner does, be it on land as an artist, a culinary expert or a public speaker, or in the ocean, hunting fish or even swimming with sharks. Kimi Werner next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawai‘i’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kimberley Maile Reiko Werner, better known as Kimi, started her relationship with the ocean when she was five years old, living in Haiku, Maui. She tagged along with her father when he went spearfishing, at first staying on the surface of the water as she tried to keep up with him. She didn’t know it at the time, but he was teaching her everything she would need to know when she grew up and decided that she, too, wanted to hunt fish underwater.

 

Would you take us through what it’s like to take a breath, one breath, and hold it while you hunt fish, and come back with dinner?

 

Sure. So, I mean, basically, from the moment … from the moment I’m in the water, I just—the first thing that comes over me is just, I’m absolutely present. And even uh, starting just to swim, you’re already hunting, because you’re observing that world so presently. And—and I’m watching the little bait fish, and they’re telling me things, you know. And I’m looking at the bottom and the structure, and the reef, and that’s like a roadmap of itself, you know. And all of it, when it comes to hunting, every single thing that you’re looking at, it’s like a little clue or a little sign telling you where you need to go. And um, and it just feels like—you know, it’s like going to a store to get groceries. Like, you know what you’re hunting for, you know what you want to come home with, and now, you’re reading all this information in front of you to lead you there. And when I finally do find the fish that I’m looking for, or I find the habitat where it looks like this fish will be, then I spend a good amount of time on the surface just relaxing, just totally talking to all parts of my body, from my toes all the way up, and making sure that my body is completely relaxed. Um, and I just take one really deep breath of air, and kick pretty strongly, and just start kicking down. And when you hit about sixty feet or so, you can become negatively buoyant, and you just drop down. And the whole time, I’m just kinda telling myself, Just relax, just relax. Because the more relaxed you are, the more you’re gonna conserve oxygen, and all you have is that one breath of air to

 

So, there’s not—

 

–to do this.

 

–a ton of adrenalin running? I’m gonna get a fish, I’m gonna go after him, I got this one breath. Nothing like that?

 

For me, those are always the things I have to shut off. Because they—it—it’s right there, especially when you do come across, you know, that prize fish that you want to eat for dinner. It’s exciting, and it’s nerve-wracking. You already put in all this work, you don’t want to blow it. And there can be so much adrenalin running through you, and that can just suck up that oxygen so quickly if you let it. So, um, so I’ll even like, go the point of checking myself. Or if I see a really nice fish, I’ll tell myself, I’m not going down there for the fish; I’m going down there to take a nap. Like, I’ll really say that to myself in my brain. And I’ll just take a drop and get down there, and I’ll just kind of lay down and just really try and tell myself that, like, I’m just here to relax. And instantly, that’ll—

 

All in the space of a couple of minutes.

Right; yes. An—and that’s, I think, what really triggers the curiosity of the fish. I’m not somebody who I aggressively chase after fish. I use techniques that I’ve learned over the years that will allow the fish to come to me.

 

And that’s different from how other spearfishers pursue fish?

 

A lot of times when I go diving with other people, um, yeah, you definitely see just the aggression come through, and the adrenalin come through, and people are chasing down their fish. But um, in my opinion, I mean, you—you can’t out-swim a fish; right? So, um, it just makes so much more sense to think of techniques that are gonna bring them right to me.

 

So, you look harmless and relaxing.

 

I’ll do things. I’ll—I’ll mimic what, like, a ray looks like when it’s feeding in the bottom. And I’ll—I’ll definitely just do things to imitate other creatures, and it will pique the curiosity of the fish and bring them in. They’ll warily come in, and the whole time, your … your time is ticking, ‘cause you have to go soon. Um, and—but when the fish does come in close enough, I’ll always then just make sure that, you know, I’m in range, it’s a close shot, that I know where I’m aiming, and that I know I can pull it off. And … yeah. And then, you—you hit your target, an—and after that, it just depends if it’s a big fish, it could be a really big fight, it could be a really big struggle. Um, my goal is always to kind of make the best shot right through the brain, so it just rolls over instantly. But you don’t always get that, you know.

 

Do you still use three-prong spears?

 

I do; I do. I use—I use uh, both a spear gun and a three-prong pole spear. So, it all depends. These days, I like to just use a three-prong a lot more, just um …

 

Even though you have to pull back?

Yeah. I really—I really enjoy it. I—I enjoy both very much when it comes to freediving, as opposed to scuba diving, um, you know, the—I kind of feel there’s a lot less rules. Um, you don’t have to worry about going up slow, anything like that. That breath is never gonna expand be more than the breath it was when you took it at the surface. You’re a lot more limited, you may have to work a lot harder, um, but at the same time, I do feel like a—you know, less goes wrong. And um, and the same with the equipment used. I mean, obviously, there’s more efficient ways to hunt.

 

I have to admit that as you talk, I just feel a lot of fear for you. I fear blood from fish that you’ve speared attracting sharks in a frenzy. I fear you not realizing that your breath is up, and you black out underwater.

 

M-hm.

 

How do you deal with all of these things as a professional in that way?

 

Um, those things are all very real fears to have. I um … with sharks and whatnot, I think it just … it took repetition. I mean, after having to—to be in the water with so many sharks, you finally start getting used to it. In the beginning, uh, when—you know, I remember the first time a tiger shark just came and stole my fish, and I was just so freaked out that I just—

 

Did you think the shark was coming for you?

 

I totally thought so. I thought, like, come back and want to eat me. And I just wanted to leave everything and get to shore. Um, and … you know, and every time I’d see a shark, it was kinda my reaction, like, Oh, let’s get out of here. And—

 

Take my fish.

 

Yeah; take anything you want. You know, just don’t take me. Um, and—and then, there was just this one day where um … I don’t know; I think I had just gotten more comfortable over time and I was fighting with this fish, and this Galapagos shark came up, coming in hot to steal my fish, and just this hunter’s instinct took over me where I was just like, No, I’m sick of this. And I just grabbed my fish and pulled it in even closer to me, grabbed the fish, and just like, faced off with the shark. And as soon as I did, that shark turned and wanted nothing to do with me. And I’m not saying like, oh, everyone should do this, but I have just noticed that um, since then, like that is what I learned about sharks, is that if you … if you show them that you are the dominant predator, then they’re gonna treat you like that. And—and every single time I did the, Oh, take the fish and leave me alone, it would only get the sharks more interested in me. It would only make them that much punchier. And so—so, once I saw that—you know, and that was, like I said, just an instinct that took over, um, I let that instinct take over a lot more. And every single time a shark came around, whether I had a fish on or not, I would just really stop and see what type of energy the shark has. Are they swimming totally erratic and fast, and you know, and coming in like, with aggression, and if so, that would mean that I’d have to raise my aggression to that level. And I’m not gonna back away from it, I’m not gonna curl up and be small, because that just kind of symbolizes prey. And so, instead, if I make myself big, if I face them off, if I—

 

How do you make yourself big?

 

I mean, it’s just—mainly, it’s all body language. It really is. Uh, if a—you know, this one time, this tiger shark was coming straight at me from the surface, and I was like, Oh, god, I don’t want to do this right now, but I know from experience it’s the safest thing to do. So, I just faced off, and just swam straight at the tiger shark. And it’s like playing Chicken, and um, an—and sure enough, it just turned at the last minute and was uninterested. Um, and it’s just the same—it’s just mainly your body language, um … and—and just the direction of which you’re swimming. You know, prey usually isn’t gonna swim directly at the predator. And so, so—

 

So, you’re notifying the shark that you’re not prey.

 

Right. And then, it’s the same like when I s—talk about hunting the fish. You know, when I—when I … I’m hunting the fish, I notice that it doesn’t help me if I’m gonna swim at the fish. Because that’s just saying I’m a predator, and the fish run away.

Kimi Werner became such an accomplished free diver that she decided to test her skills on a national level. She started winning competitions and soon discovered that it created a very different relationship with the fish that she had previously hunted for food.

 

You were a sensation on the free diving tour competition. But then … and it looked like—I mean, you were just winning, and you were just—everyone was talking about you. And then, you dropped out of it.

 

M-hm.

 

What happened?
Well, that was … that was all um … the spearfishing competitions that I was doing, and which started off as such a beautiful thing for me. I had um … fallen into the hands of some really great mentors that just helped me so much, and before I knew it, you know, I just um, was becoming really good at spearfishing. And … and then, I heard of, you know, all these tournaments and stuff, and I definitely wanted to see how I measured up with other divers, and um, yeah, entered the national championships, and won that. And just went on this—

 

I think you won every category you—

 

I did.

 

–entered.

 

Yeah.

 

Championship in Rhode Island.

 

Right; yes. And that—that was—that will always be such a special time for me. Because I set a goal, and I really wanted to go there and represent Hawaii, and just see where all of these passions, you know, could take me. And um, and everything came into play during that tournament. Everything I learned from my dad, everything I learned from other mentors, all the canoe paddling I had done. I mean, it was a kayak competition where you have six hours. And I just remember, you know, how good it felt to be on a kayak and just like … knowing my way on the ocean surface, and knowing my way underneath. And even if I wasn’t—it was my first time ever diving outside of Hawaii. It was so different, and it definitely didn’t come without struggle in my days of trying to figure it out. But on—on tournament day, everything worked out, and I ended up winning just, yeah, across the board.

 

And you continued to compete, and then you were done with it.

 

I did; I continued to compete for a while. And um … you know, that first tournament, that first national championships, that was really special. And coming back home to Hawaii was just the best feeling in the world, because Hawaii is just the most supportive, loyal, wonderful hometown, I think, that anyone could ever ask for, in my opinion. And um, the way that people supported me was something that I just was so grateful for. But um, but I think after that, it was never quite the same, because I almost just felt like … I just always had a title to defend, you know, or like after—you know, I—I did continue to win in competing, but it was just never as fulfilling to me. And um … and I noticed that even when I would go diving, you know, on my own just for food, all I was thinking about was competition, and all—you know, I started to think of fish as points, rather than even as food. And once I realized that, I didn’t—I didn’t like it. I just realized it’s changing me. You know, it’s changing this—this thing that’s so sacred to me. It’s something that my parents, you know, taught me these values through this. And um … and it’s not about these values anymore; it’s really about trophies and winning, and recognition, and um … and … this was the thing that really made my life fulfilling again. Am I really gonna do this to it? Am I gonna take it to a level where it’s all about, you know, chasing—chasing titles? Like, I—I—I didn’t like that. And um, so just for those own personal reasons of—of how I found it affecting me, um, I did walk away from competition.

 

I saw you do a TEDx talk, and—

 

M-hm.

 

–you said that even though you knew it was the right thing to do, it didn’t mean that other people weren’t very disappointed—

 

M-hm.

 

–in you, and that you felt really bad about it, too.

 

Oh, definitely. I mean, it was—it was one of the toughest things I’ve done, because it was right in … you know, the peak of what I thought what could have been my career. You know, I had sponsors now, and um … you know, people that believed in me, people that looked up to me, and um, and all of a sudden, I was just gonna walk away from it. And um, it—it—it let down a lot of people, and um, definitely disappointed people. And—and for myself too, I mean, I—I did feel—I did feel a sense of, you know, confusion, because I felt so lost. I didn’t—I didn’t really know who I was without—without that. I—it had become so the tunnel vision of my life, and pretty much, you know, everything that was confident-building seemed to come from that department. It was the first time where, you know, my art started to sell more, because my name was out there more. And it just seemed like it was something that was causing so much personal gain that for me to turn and walk away from it, um, I definitely felt like a loser. You know, I felt like a waste of talent, and I felt um … I felt like I didn’t quite know … if I would like … you know. I didn’t know the effects it was gonna have. I didn’t know if it was—you know, how much it would bum people out, or if I would just never be really supported again, really.

 

Did you have a sense of what you would do to replace the competitions?

 

All I just told myself is, I want diving to always give me that feeling that I had of bringing home those little fish, you know, on that first dive, and knowing my heart that I was happy and proud of that, and that I felt satisfied with that. And that’s the feeling that I wanted. I didn’t quite know wh at type of path that would take me on, and how it would affect my career, um, but I just knew I wanted that back. I wanted to go in the water and not have the pressure of competition on my shoulders, and not look at a fish and calculate how many points it would be worth. I wanted that gone.

 

What happened, then?

I—it took me a while, actually. Uh, it was probably a year um, where a lot of times I would go out diving, and … all of a sudden, it wasn’t the same happy place it used to be, you know, when I say I’m totally present in the moment, and those voices in my head go quiet. It—it wasn’t happening; these voices were just telling me that I was a loser, and I was failure, and you know, what are you doing, like why are you quitting. Um, and … it was still, you know, looking at the fish as points, and so then, I’d have to get out of the water with no fish. And then, I really would beat myself up. Like, I’m not even good at this anymore, I don’t even—can’t even dive ‘cause my mind’s all messed up. And um … and I got pretty depressed, but um … but—but you know, but through that, you know, I just kinda took some breaks from diving and whatnot. And then this one day, um, couple friends of mine like said, You need to get back in the water. Like, let’s go. And so, we all went out on our kayaks, and again, my brain was just still—still fighting itself, and I—I just felt like I wasn’t diving the I way I dive; I didn’t have anymore. And um … and so, I’m like, Let’s just pack it up and go, guys. I know what you’re trying to do, and I know you’re trying to bring me back, but it’s just not fun for me anymore, and there’s nothing worse than the feeling of actually being out here and it not being fun anymore, so I just want to go home. And they said, Okay, let’s go. But then, I said, You know what? Let me just take one last drop. And I put my spear gun on my kayak, didn’t even take it down with me, and I just took a dive. And I had my two buddies, you know, spotting me from the surface, so it was safe. But I just took a dive, and um, didn’t even tell them what—uh, you know, just took—told them to watch me, you know, took a dive. And I got down to the bottom, and I just laid in the sand. I just crossed my arms and I put my face in the sand. And—and I laid there, and I let every single … critic come through my head. Every single voice, every single thing that I had beat myself up about, like, I just let it come, and I listened to every single, you know, put-down, worry, concern, fear. And they all came, one after another, and I just waited, and I just … still waited, held my breath. Okay, what else you got; give it to me. You know, I just waited, and waited, and waited until there was nothing left. And when there was nothing left, there was not one more voice that could say anything, you know, that—that I, you know, hadn’t already heard. Like, it just went quiet. And as soon as it went quiet, I opened my eyes and I’m on the bottom of the ocean, and I was just back.

 

 

I’m thinking of your buddies watching you from above, and thinking, She’s down there a really long time.

 

With her face in the sand.

 

M-hm.

 

But they let you be.

 

They did; they did. And then, um, as soon as I picked my head up, I just realized like, the feeling’s back. You know, that feeling is back. Like—because before, to me, it was never truly about like, oh, that moment when you spear your fish. But it was the feeling that I felt when I would take a drop, and just the serenity that would come over me, and just this feeling of welcome home. And—and when everything just turned quiet, and I was still there holding my breath, and I looked up and I just saw my two friends, and I saw the sun just sparkling through the ocean surface, and I just looked at the beautiful ocean and hear the noise, you know, the sounds of the ocean, and that was it. Um, I was like, that’s the feeling; that’s the feeling that satisfies me. And soon as I came up, I—I didn’t even have to say anything; they knew. They knew exactly what had happened, they knew exactly. And I smiled at them, and they were just like, You’re back. And I’m like, I’m back. And that was that. And after that, then I just started um, diving for food again, and just realizing like that’s something sacred to me, and I’m going to protect it with everything that I have. I’m gonna do everything I can to—to keep this pure. Even if it means no success comes from this, this is mine.

 

Kimi Werner became a freediving ambassador for Patagonia, a company whose mission is to protect the land and ocean. She had an opportunity to swim with a great white shark, not to sensationalize such an encounter, but to show the beauty of the interaction of species.

 

Basically, my dive partner just started shaking my arm and screaming. And I put my face back in the water, there was great white literally like, from me to you. And I just instantly like— I heard myself scream, but it wasn’t a scream of fear; it was more like … the scream that you have when you’re like, catching a wave. Like, it was like a squeal. Here goes, you know.

 

M-hm.

 

And so, I just swam right at that shark, and as soon as I did, she veered off, thankfully. And um, and I just think it was one of those situations where had I reacted by backing away, swimming away, like trying to scramble for the boat, I might not be here right now. And um, but as soon as I swam at her, she just kinda backed off, and then I watched the way that she was swimming.

 

Why do you say, she?

 

Oh, because you could tell um—

 

–yeah, it was a female shark. Yeah; they have these claspers by their tail, and um, yeah, you can tell. But—which I only learned later. Once she backed off, then I just observed her, and I just saw that she was really mellow. That she was coming up out of curiosity, but there was nothing about her body language that said aggression. I mean, her fins were completely out. When sharks get aggressive, their fins come down, they arch their back.

 

But remember, you’re on the floor of the reef, curling up, but you are aggressive. So—

 

Right.

 

Can’t sharks play the same game?

 

They can. I don’t think that animals are quite as manipulative as humans. I think a lot of times with animals, what you see is what you get. Um, maybe that’s why I like them so much. And um … and so … so, yeah; in watching her body language, it just became apparent that she was moving really slow, and granted, yes, she mostly definitely could have switched and eaten me at any second. Um, but again, she didn’t leave the area, so it didn’t really make sense for me to scramble back to the boat. Instead, I just kept an eye on her, and she was going down, and like doing circles, but she would come up. But every time she came up, I just knew, okay, I have to swim down, I have to show that I’m just as interested in her. But this one time, she just slowed down, and she leveled off right in front of me. And I had hit that negative buoyancy point where I was already sinking, no matter what, so at this point, I had two options. And it was, I could make a drastic turn and kick back up, which I’d have to kick back up to the surface, which didn’t sound like a good idea, or basically, I was going to cross the path of the shark. And so, once I realized I was, I’m like, Well, whatever you do, just make it smooth. And as soon as she came under me, I just reached out, let her know I’m right here, touched her dorsal fin, and we just went for a swim together.

 

And it was fine with the shark.

 

It was crazy how fine it was. I mean, if that animal, a seventeen-foot great white shark didn’t want me touching her on her back, I’m sure she’d let me know. But um, but it was amazing. I just felt her, and this huge animal, you could just feel this calm energy. And she just even slowed down even more, to the point where her tail was barely moving, and we were just gliding together.

 

Well, if the shark recognized you as another predator, wouldn’t you be considered competition for food, same food?

 

You definitely can be, and I’ve seen uh, some sharks be territorial. And again, it’s just one of those times where it’s like, you need to just hold your ground until you can get to a safer place. Um, but in this case, no, I don’t think this—this big lady had any problem with getting her own food, and so, I don’t think that it was anything territorial or anything competitive. I think we were just two predators swimming together.

 

Kimi Werner travels around the world working on film projects, speaking, diving and meeting people who, like her, are living sustainably and thriving in nature.

Mahalo to Kimi Werner of Waialua for sharing your love of the ocean with us and thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

I think a lot of times, we go into jobs because we’re so passionate about our craft, and then before we know it, um … you know, we’re—we’re just—we’re not really enjoying it anymore, and we’re going through the motions because we’re trying to—we’re trying to hit these certain marks of society, whether it’s financial success, or I need that house, or I need that car, and before you know it, your own beautiful passion that kinda becomes this vehicle for living unauthentically, and um … and doing things based on expectations that were never really yours to begin with.

 

[END]

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Kimi Werner: Shaped by the Sea

 

Growing up in rural Maui, Kimi Werner joined her father as he free dived and hunted for fish to feed his family. Werner would discover her own passion for free diving and spearfishing, eventually becoming the U.S. National Spearfishing Champion in 2008. However, it was those early experiences living simply and off the land that inspired her to develop a more holistic relationship with the ocean and helped her define her own distinct path. As an artist, chef and world traveler, Werner combines her talents with her vast knowledge of the ocean as a speaker and educator.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Wednesday, March 8, at 11:00 pm and Sunday, March 12, at 4:00 pm.

 

Kimi Werner: Shaped by the Sea Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I swam out to this reef and I could kinda see some waves breaking on it. So, I knew, oh, there’s a reef out there, you know, and I swam out there, totally freaked out, really, the whole time. And that was another lesson for me, too, is that I realized that all those years spent in the water with my dad, I think as a child, you have this sense of security. And every time I looked over and I saw my dad, I just felt like nothing bad could happen to me, no matter what. If I felt scared ‘cause we were so deep, if I felt scared because of sharks, I would look over, I’d see my dad, and I would just know I’m safe. And so, one of the things I would have to do, even as a grown woman, when I would swim out and I’d start to like, feel a little creeped out, I would just imagine my dad swimming right next to me. And every time I did, it would just calm me down.

 

Kimi Werner often overcomes her fears of the unknown by recalling the life lessons and values that she learned early in life. This has given her confidence and courage in pursuing her dreams. Kimi Werner, next, on Long Story Short.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television program produced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Kimberly Maile Reiko Werner, better known as Kimi, is a national spearfishing champion, a chef, an award-winning artist, and a motivational speaker. In Kimi Werner’s early years in rural Haiku, Maui, her family lived primarily off the bounty of the land and the ocean. And that laid the foundation for her passions in life.

 

My life was just one that was really focused around nature. We lived on this property where we had absolutely no neighbors in sight, and so, the only things that I really knew were just my family and the natural world that was right outside of my doorstep, really. Our house was like, a little shack, pretty much just falling apart at the seams. And I remember I could never really explain to kids like, what color it was, ‘cause it just depended on what kinda moss was growing on all the rotten wood. But at the same time, it was just an absolute magical childhood. We spent out days outside, and gathering food with our family.

 

What do you remember gathering?

 

I mean, everything, really. My mom was such a forager, and she always taught me at a young age what was edible and what wasn’t. So, any time I’d go exploring in the woods, I would just come home with like, you know, armfuls and shirt-fuls of strawberry guavas, or you know, even just like, white ginger and you suck the nectar out of it. So, anything, really.

 

How did your mom know how to forage, and what was your dad like?

 

My mom, she’s kind of one of the only Japanese hippies that I know. But she was just like this very … I mean, she’s a hippie at heart, really. She didn’t grow up with a lot of money. She grew up here on Oahu, the very strict conservative family, but later in life moved to Maui. And she just loved being resourceful. I think that’s what it was that she got from growing up poor, was just the fascination with how you can be resourceful. And combining that with her love for nature, she was really good at just finding magic and finding resource in everything around us.

 

So, you say you didn’t have a lot of money; you had these natural resources. Did you feel poor?

 

I never felt poor. I mean, I remember when I did start school in kindergarten, like kind of realizing then that I had less material things than all of the other kids. But I never felt poor. In those years, especially, I would say I felt so rich with just activity and fun. I mean, every morning, my job was to go out and gather the chicken eggs from under the house, and pick whatever fruit were ripe, and to spend the days underwater diving with my dad, and just watching him bring me up fish and lobster for dinner. Like, that doesn’t feel poor.

 

You would float above him as he went way down?

 

I was just a tagalong. I was about five years old when he started taking me diving. And I would just float, and just watch him. My main goal was to keep up with him. And I remember, as long as I could see the bubbles of his fins, I knew I was going in the right way. And then, when he would take a drop, then I’d be able to catch up, catch my breath, and put in my orders for dinner, really.

 

And would he actually be able to get you what you wanted, the type of fish you wanted?

 

He would. He would pride himself on that, basically. If my mom wanted to eat octopus or if she wanted to eat lobster, or fish, whatever it was that she wanted, he always, you know, would see it through and make sure he got that for us.

 

You mentioned the year you started kindergarten. That was also the year, I believe, your mother started a different kind of class; college.

 

Yes; yeah. My mom, she was a waitress while my dad was a plasterer, a construction worker. And so basically, he was trying to kinda start his own plastering company, but it was a slow start. And my mom was pretty much living off of her tips as a waitress. But they saved up enough money to put my mom through nursing school at MCC, and so when I was five years old, she was forty-one, and that’s when she went to college. It was such a memorable thing, because of how my mom just never took it for granted. You know, I think when she grew up, she did have a hard life and didn’t, you know, have a lot of luxuries, and school wasn’t an option for her then. And so, later in life, after having us and getting us to an age where we’re now in school, and having just enough money saved up to finally pursue her own dream to become a nurse, when she went to school, I mean, she just aced it because she was so happy to be there. You know, it wasn’t the privilege that I had. I went to KCC, but just going there straight after high school, you know, it was like thirteenth grade for me and whatnot. But for my mom, she took it really seriously, didn’t take it for granted at all, and just learned everything she could possibly learn while there.

 

What did she do with her degree?

 

She became a nurse in the emergency room of Maui Memorial Hospital.

 

So, bye-bye shack that changes colors; right?

 

Right.

 

With money in the pocket, where did you move?

 

So, I mean, when she got her job at the emergency room, that was also around the exact same time when my dad’s company actually flourished, and he started getting employees and started making more money. So, it was a pretty drastic change. You know, it’s not like we were rich all of a sudden, but we did have a lot more money and access to material things than we ever had before. And so, we moved from that old little shack in Haiku to a subdivision in Makawao. And it was my first time ever living anywhere that had like a paved road, or neighbors, and first time ever buying eggs from the store instead of collecting them myself.

 

How did they taste?

 

They were horrible. I mean, that was one thing I completely remember, was just that that was always my favorite breakfast, and when we moved into this new house that my dad built, and my mom served me eggs, like, I just ate them and I was like, What’s wrong with these? Like, they don’t taste so good. And she told me, Oh, they’re store-bought. And I remember at that young age, I was seven, just thinking like, Oh, they’re fake. You know. I just related store-bought to fake, and didn’t really want them anymore. It’s crazy what a shocking transition that was. And even though I knew we were happy to be making this forward progress, I could tell my parents were really proud of themselves and happy, I definitely just felt a really big sense of loss. I think we all kinda felt the same. I might have been the one that voiced it the most of how much I just wanted to go back and live there. But I do think my whole family, even with the advantages and the good we saw coming out of it, I do think we all did feel a sense of loss.

 

It’s amazing how formative that experience of foraging as a little kid and diving with your dad, I mean, it seems to have shaped your life. That’s what you do as a career, to a great extent.

 

It really has. You know, I think like anything, you adjust and you adapt. And I definitely did adjust and adapt to the new more modern life that was given to me, and I got bicycles, and nicer clothes, and friends, and you know, got used to the store-bought eggs. And we just evolved that way. But I think it was later in life when I was an adult, still kinda going through the motions of what seemed like progress, and was there with my, you know, degree and my job, and doing everything I could to kind of connect the dots of what should make a fulfilling happy life, but still, there was just something in me that just was longing in a way, for the past, and realizing that it had been that long, and there was still just something calling me back to those really early childhood memories. It is what shaped my life. I think for the longest time, I believed that you have to let go of the past, and you can’t go backwards. And even though I did accept that, finally, when I was about twenty-four years old, I just kind of started to realize that, you know, maybe it wasn’t something that’s just left in the past; maybe it is something that I can incorporate into my world today.

 

Kimi Werner graduated with a degree in culinary arts when she was twenty-one. She took jobs in the restaurant industry, but soon realized that was not her calling. She left that career to become an artist, but that wasn’t fully satisfying, either. She needed something that would bring her interests together.

 

My main connection to the ocean at that time was paddling canoe. And it was one day, when we were at a canoe regatta, when some of my friends, some of my guy friends from the club brought some fish and put it on the grill. You know, when I was those fish hit the grill, I did just get a sense of just like, nostalgic bliss. And I think at the same time, it served as proof that maybe this is something I can do, and if those are my most fond memories, you know, the diving with my dad, and whatnot, maybe it’s time that I learn to just dive on my own, and know how to feed myself. You know.

 

Did you check with him about it? How did you do that? Did you broach that to him?

 

I did. He was living on Maui, and so it’s not like I could just go jump in the water with him. But I remember just telling him, You know, I wish that I had learned that from you. I spent all those years cleaning the fish, you know, doing all the little grunt work, cleaning the fish, helping Grandma or Mom cook the fish, and tagging along with you and holding the fish. And you never even taught me to spear the fish, and now I want to learn, and I don’t know where to start. And he just told me, like, Oh, no, I taught you. You know, you’ll see. And he was right. I hate to admit it; I always do, but he was absolutely right.

 

Because you could see what he was doing down there. You know, I’m sure he had special places he hid, and positions he took.

 

Well, basically. So, I tried to reach out and find teachers, and ask people to take me diving. And when I wasn’t really getting called back for that or anything, or getting invited, then I did just go get a three-prong spear, you know, like the one that I saw him have, and I just went for a swim one day.

 

Where?

 

I actually went for a swim like, towards Kahuku, kind of past Turtle Bay. But went for a swim in Kahuku side, and I just realized like, as soon as I started swimming, like, any fish that swam by me, I knew what fish that was. Like, I had my whole fish identification down, because as a kid, I knew what I wanted for dinner, and I knew how to put in my orders. And then, I remembered where they lived, how they acted, and all of those years just spent simply observing really taught me more than I realized. And I gave it a try, and I was able to just come home with just six little fry fish. I think it was like, three kole’s and two menpachi’s, and an aweoweo. You know, just a humble catch of fish. But the feeling of scaling it and cooking it, and sharing it with my roommates at the time, but just knowing that I went out with my own two hands, you know, and got this meal, and I’m providing for myself, it was more fulfilling than any cooking experience I had in my whole culinary career. And so, that was when I knew, like, this is what it’s about for me.

 

It’s a hyphenated career that you have now.

 

It is.

 

It’s painter, it’s diver, it’s fisher.

 

M-hm.

 

What else?

 

Artist. I work a lot on productions and travel.

 

Speaker; you speak to groups.

 

Yes; a public speaker. Yeah. So, it’s a mixed bag of tricks, really. When I was a little kid, whenever somebody asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, it was always a long hyphenated answer, you know, depending on whatever it was that I was into in that moment, whether I wanted to be, you know, a singer, veterinarian, artist. But it was always that type of hyphenated answer. And I think as I got older, I just started to realize that when it comes to, you know, being guided by adults, that you’re not supposed to have these long crazy answers, you’re supposed to choose one career and find your path there. And that’s kind of how we were taught.

 

Well, you did try it; culinary arts.

 

I did try it. I definitely tried it. And I do remember even then, even when I signed up to go to college, knowing like, But I really also want to do something with art, and I don’t know if this is all I want to do. And I put like a secret wish out there, you know, to the universe. Like, if I just go on this path, like, will you please just let something else fall in my lap and, you know, guide me along. And then, the next thing I knew, I was standing there with a degree, and there was nothing that fell in my lap. And I think feeling the unfulfillment, feeling just not satisfied completely, it made me realize like, you can’t just wait for something to fall in your lap. Like, if you really want to do it, if you really want to be an artist, that’s gonna take courage, you have to just go try. You know, if you want to try this diving stuff, like, stop waiting for it. Like, go do it. And if you fail, you fail, but you’re gonna feel like this for the rest of your life if you don’t try.

 

You know, you talked a lot about being very happy in those early surroundings and with your family when you were a kid. And then, I’ve heard you refer to unfulfillment, and you know, not quite happy. Tell me the difference between those things. I mean, it sounds like you spent much of your life trying to get that full happiness back.

 

Right; definitely. I think when it comes to me, I think the happiness comes from just the most simple things. And I believe that’s why at an early age, I did feel so content. I mean, it’s easy to say, Oh, you were just a kid, you didn’t have all these responsibilities, it’s easy to be happy then, you’re an adult now, you know, you’re not supposed to feel like that. But I don’t really think so. I think that at that early age, I was content because I just had these basic simple pleasures that took hard work. You know, none of it came easy. When it comes to getting your own food, or not having a lot of convenience in your life, you have to work for everything. But I think that it is that hard work that ends up becoming so meaningful, that ends up giving you values, and that ends up being so character-building.

 

A lot of it involves intuition and observing.

 

Yes; definitely.

 

You’re learning a lot as you do it.

 

You do; you definitely do. And I think sometimes, I mean, maybe it really is just through these more simple lifestyles for me that you do get that much more in touch with yourself, with your natural instincts, with your intuition. I mean, those are most definitely things that you learn from hunting. And when you get to know the core of who you are that well, to the point where you are satisfied and can smile about it, everything else just seems to melt away. And I think sometimes when we get focused more on a life of just convenience and …

 

And cramming in a lot of things to keep you busy.

 

Cramming it all in. Yeah. It can just complicate everything, and before we know it, we’re chasing things we don’t even need, and we’re doing things that we don’t even want to do. And why? You know, I think probably because of just the pressure that we feel from society, or from other people, and going through these motions of what we feel we’re supposed to do with our life, rather than just really evaluating it at the heart and asking yourself what it is that you really want.

 

Kimi Werner’s life lessons were not all learned as a child. When she trained to become an expert free diver, learning to hold her breath underwater for almost five minutes, she realized that her new skills translated into different values and life lessons.

 

How do you hold your breath that long?

 

It’s all about relaxing. I mean, a hundred percent, I think that’s what it’s about. I can break down the physiology, and you know, talk about the hemoglobin and all of that within us and how it works, but really, what it comes down to is your brain. It just comes down to making that screaming voice in your head, the one that’s saying like, I’m scared, you need to breathe, let’s get out of here, you know, all of those things that go through your mind, it’s about switching it off and just saying, I got this. And having confidence in yourself, and trusting the process that you’re doing.

 

Would that work on land, as well?

 

I think so. I definitely think so. You know, everything about panic, about fear, it’s not just the vibrations and the energy that’s used up within that panic, and the adrenalin, and whatnot that takes away your oxygen, but it’s also how your body starts reacting to it. Usually, when we start to panic, we start to do things a lot faster, you know, and you see it when you’re late for work and looking for your car keys. And you’re doing things, but you’re not really making any more progress. Now, you’re dropping stuff, you know, and it’s the same with being underwater. If you start to panic, you’re gonna start to kick faster, and it’s gonna be counterproductive because you’re using more muscles, which are using more oxygen, which there goes your breath. And so, really, for me, whenever I feel that sense of panic come over me, it’s now become an indicator that just makes everything go numb, switch off, and just assess the situation calmly, and it makes me actually slow down. Like no matter what, when I feel that sense of panic, I slow down.

 

So, when you’re late for work and you lose your keys, all of a sudden, you’re moving slowly.

 

I try to apply it to land all the time. Or you know, or if something really gets you upset, for example. You know, if something gets you upset, a lot of times, we have this need to panic and to react, and that can come out in the way that we talk to people, the way that we react to, you know, the person that’s trying to do their job, or trying to serve you something, or whatever. And it doesn’t get you anywhere good, usually. It usually really helps if when everything goes wrong, if you just slow down and you just look for an actual solution.

 

I like your word, assess.

 

M-hm.

 

Kind of dispassionately take a look, a little three-sixty, and figure out what to do.

 

Yes. I think that’s exactly it. You know, you have to look at the situation neutrally, and then, you can go from there. You know. But I think reacting out of panic um, it heightens things and oftentimes, just makes things messier than they need to be in any situation.

 

You have lost people in your life young. And you do take risks that other people don’t take.

 

Right.

 

Has that affected your feelings about the value of life, or the fragility of life?

 

Most definitely. When I was a senior in high school, you know, my high school boy friend at the time, we were very close to his dad. And one day, I had a paddling regatta in Hana, and his dad had come out to surprise us, and it was just a beautiful day. But on the way home, he was hit on a head-on collision, from actually a cousin, a family member of mine, who was high on heroin at the time. And basically, that was my first like, true feeling of just loss, such a beautiful life gone. That’s what really showed me the fragility of our mortality, and it did make me just start to evaluate my own life. I was seventeen and then, I turned eighteen; I just kept thinking about that and just realizing that even as a teenager, that I should be living a lot better and that I should be a lot happier, because if life can be taken just that easily, like my goodness, I want to make the most of it.

 

That’s interesting, ‘cause at that age, many people see success, worldly success as the goal, and not a conscious effort to be happy.

 

Yeah; and that’s what it came down to for me. I mean, I kinda had an epiphany as a senior in high school, and just realized how silly it all is, the whole façade. You know, even in high school, I think there’s just so much of it that’s just built on image and expectation from the clothes that we think we need to wear or buy. And I would go to school and look around, and realize that these are the same kids that I grew up with since I was like, so little, and half the time walking around in school, we’re not even smiling at each other or saying hi or engaging, ‘cause we’re all so afraid of just not fitting in. We’re all so like, conditioned to be going through these motions of acting how we think we’re supposed to act. Everything gets so based on image around your peers at that age that even just something like showing kindness, saying hello, those things get forgotten. We all do crave human connection, we all crave being accepted and connection, but we look for it in ways that maybe aren’t really the true connection of it, and that life’s too short to live like that. I mean, still, once you see the truth, you can’t un-see it, and so, it is something that does just help keep me in line, and how important it is to really just know that as long as you’re trying your best in life, you’re giving love out there to this world. Then give yourself a hand and just, you know, love yourself, and let all the critics and all the insecurities fall away, because you’re doing a good job.

 

Kimi Werner sees her way to happiness and can’t un-see that, either. Mahalo to Kimi Werner, currently in 2016 a resident of Waialua, Oahu, for sharing your stories with us. And thank you, for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha, a hui hou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit PBSHawaii.org. To download free podcasts of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, go to the Apple iTunes Store or visit PBSHawaii.org.

 

Do you see this career as extending over a long time?

 

I think I do. I never really knew where any of this was going, whether it was art or spearfishing, or whatnot. I’ve never been like, the ten-year plan girl. I’ve been like, can I pay my rent this month? Yes. That’s great; you’re doing awesome in life. And now, it has become something that I can find a lot more comfort in, and I understand that because I’m making decisions that are truthfully, you know, holding true to my values, that’s what’s making it long-lasting.

 

[END]



NOVA
School of the Future

 

In a new age of information, rapid innovation and globalization, how can we prepare our children to compete? Discover how the new science of learning can help us re-imagine the future of education for all children. In a series of compelling personal profiles of students and teachers, the film looks at the consequences of widespread inequities that often create gaps in opportunities and educational achievement, and explores innovative attempts to narrow those gaps. NOVA visits neuroscientists, psychologists and educators with new insights revealing how kids’ brains work – including how stress, sleep, mindset and emotions affect learning; what role technology should play in the classroom; and which techniques are most likely to engage and inspire growing minds.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Aunty Nona Beamer

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Auntie Nona Beamer

 

Original air date: Tues., Oct. 23, 2007

 

Passionate, Intelligent, Talented and Truly “Hawaiian”

 

Passionate, intelligent, talented and truly “Hawaiian” are just a few words that describe Aunty Nona Beamer.

 

Join Leslie Wilcox as she “talks story” with the woman who coined the term “Hawaiiana” – educator, storyteller, hula choreographer, composer – the irrepressible Nona Beamer.

 

Aunty Nona Beamer Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Aloha! And mahalo for joining me for another wonderful conversation on Long Story Short. I’m Leslie Wilcox. We’re about to sit down with Aunty Nona Beamer whose life as an educator and composer began simply enough – teaching hula to young, local girls in Kaka‘ako and to America’s first movie star, Mary Pickford. But, as a student herself, young Nona would be expelled from school – for chanting in her beloved language. And it was her love for that school – Kamehameha – that would lead her to write a letter as an adult demanding reform of… well, let’s let Aunty Nona tell her stories herself. We got together with her at her friend’s house at Diamond Head.

 

(Nona chants)

 

You wanted to do this interview near Kamapua‘a. What’s the significance?

 

Well you know, we are not here very often. And so much of our family background is mythology and legends and history and the Pele family and the love affair between Kamapua‘a and Pele you know, and all that exciting passion going on. Here’s a chance to see a replica of that symbol of the legends of the story; so I don’t like to pass up the opportunity to come and say, ‘Thank you!” We are so happy to have the myths and legends to pass on to our children and have my daughter with me, and you know.

 

You mentioned passions. Look at you. You still have such a passion for life. Have you slowed down at all? I mean, I know you were sidelined in the hospital for four months. But there you are back at it again.

 

You know, I’m having so much fun and I am so grateful and I think, look where we are in all of this beauty and no matter where we look around us it is glorious. How lucky can we be? How lucky?

 

You’re in your mid 80’s now.

 

Sweetheart, I was 84 last week. Is that mid?

 

And a couple of years ago you where in the hospital for 4 months. You had a bypass surgery, you had a stroke and lots of people were very worried about you.

 

Bye bye Nona (laughs). I guess God had another plan for me and I thought, well I better get off my arse and do something. So I am trying to do something. Yeah, life is so beautiful. And it’s so beautiful because of each other, you know? Our kindness with each other, our voices, our smiles, the way we touch each other’s hands. It seems so corny but it works.

 

And you saw some of that when you were ill in the hospital.

 

Yes, and people that I did not know, reams of cards, school children. And I’m reading them and I had no idea who these people were, but the healing vibes were just so powerful and all the prayers. They’d come to the door and say a prayer standing in the doorway, and I’d look and couldn’t make out who they were. And sometimes I couldn’t hold my head up and somebody would be chanting at my door. I thought, isn’t that wonderful that people would give up themselves and their healing energy is healing me, you know? This business of kindness and love, it’s so, so real. And it works Leslie, in every aspect of your life. And we say to live pono. That’s not very easy, pono spiritually, pono emotionally, pono physically in every aspect of your life. Moderato, you know? So you don’t overeat, you don’t get overemotional, so your blood pressure doesn’t go, you do things moderately and that’s a pretty good recipe for us, you know?

 

And that’s exactly what you’re doing with management of your diabetes. You are, you are, talk about structure, you are using structure to keep healthy.

 

My dear hanai sister has taught me how to do that. Yeah. And I have felt so much better since I’ve known the alternative, I keep to this rigid regimen because I know it’s keeping me healthy. So there’s no, no possible way to cheat. And I feel badly with so many Hawaiians, wonderful talent, beautiful people, stuffing their mouths, drinking the sodas. Oh the big uh, I forgot what you call them, with the rice, egg, hamburger, gravy. Loco moco, oh loco moco and I think so unhealthy, oh dear, if we could just get the Hawaiians to eat sensibly, they won’t all die of diabetes before they’re 20.

 

You are really watching yourself, you’re measuring your water intake even.

 

Yes, because the kidneys are not happy if you don’t give them enough water. Then I swell up if I give them too much water. So you just have to learn what that balance is, you know.

 

On the other hand, you were telling me that yours is now a life without laulau.

 

Yes, but I can have a half a cup of poi twice a week. So I’m happy about that. But no laulau. We make it with won bok. It’s the luau leaves – that has too much potassium for the kidneys.

 

So you are motivated just to keep going. Your body may be slipping up a bit but you’re all there in every other way.

 

I’m having a good time. But I’m looking for some mischief to get into. Do you have a grandfather for me? (laughs)

 

Having a good time and waiting for some mischief at age 84. You gotta love Aunty Nona. And there’s much more to her story. Did you know that it was none other than Nona Beamer who coined the term “Hawaiiana” back in 1949? We’ll find out how – and why – next.

 

You know, you’ve done so many things in your life. I mean it’s, you’re one of those “hyphen” people: educator, storyteller, hula choreographer, composer. How did all that happen?

 

Well of course we’re a big family. So that we had to take care of the children, telling them stories so they would go to sleep. And then my mother was ill one summer. I was 12 and getting ready to come to Kamehameha. And my father said that your mother can’t go to the studio, Nona. You have to go and your sister will go and help you, you know. I think my sister was 10 or 9, somewhere around there, so she was going to answer the phones. And I looked on the appointment book and the first student was Mary Pickford. And I said to my father, “Oh I can’t teach this lady. She’s a very important movie star. My father said, “Get in there.” And she came with Buddy Rogers. I think they were on their honeymoon and he was so nice. She was tiny – she was smaller than I was. And her little hands, little feet, she was completely charming. Got me over the fear of teaching because we were talking and singing and doing lovely hula hands, graceful as the birds. And I got over my fear. Well I get to Kamehameha in September and there’s a notice on the board. “Any girls interested in teaching at the Kaka‘ako Mission, sign up.” I thought, I taught, I know how to teach, so I signed up. And here were little preschool children at Kaka‘ako. It was a very deprived area, you know? And they didn’t know about soap and water. So the children had sores all over their legs. And they smelled bad. And ah, so the first thing we did was get big washtubs and bathe the children with tar soap, smelly brown tar soap. And I’m crying and trying to sing and then the children would say, “Oh, come to the singing lady. Come to the…” So my line gets long as the children were waiting for their baths and nobody at the other tubs. I thought, “Hmm, singing is the way to interest children,” you know? So the first class I faced I started telling them stories and then began chanting about the kahuli and the kolea birds (sings a bit). “Spooky, spooky, spooky!.” And they were frightened. So then I put one note in the song (sings a bit more). And they smiled and weren’t frightened anymore. I thought, “That’s how I’m going to teach. I’m going to teach them little songs, tell them the history and they’ll be smiling and learning their history all in one fell swoop.”

 

You composed music that stands forever. Every school kid, virtually, in Hawaii knows Pupu Hinuhinu. You wrote it. How does that feel? I mean, virtually every child grows up knowing your song.

 

Well it’s a sweet little simple thing, you know. But I think that it’s appealing to all levels, children and grandparents, just the sweetness of it, you know? I think we are very lucky, if we can sing sweet little songs it kind of calms us down and maybe we’re not raising our voices, maybe there is more calmness in the family, you know? So I think it has a lot of uses.

 

So storytelling is really the basis of so much of what you’ve done and what your family has done as well.

 

It is, yes. Well we didn’t have books, we didn’t have you know, lot of authors writing about Hawaiian culture. In fact, I didn’t even know about the overthrow until I was on the Native Hawaiian Study Commission. I didn’t even know about the politics of those times, you know?

 

Where do you get your knowledge of Hawaiianess? From your family experience?

 

Yes, well it was from grandparents, grandmother.

 

But you don’t speak fluent Hawaiian?

 

No, no. We were not allowed to. And then the suppression at Kamehameha. I think psychologically it caused a lot of damage among a lot of Hawaiians in my age group, you know? Because we were forbidden, we were punished. Yeah, it was a psychological block.

 

And yet, as a teacher you had to have structure?

 

Well you know we didn’t have textbooks. We didn’t have curriculum, you know? We didn’t have a term Hawai‘iana until ‘49 when I coined it. And it was at a workshop with the department of education teachers. Well it was called Department of Public Instruction then – D.P.I. So I wrote on the board “Hawai – glottal i – dash – ana.” So I turned around, I looked at the teachers.. I said, “I’d like for us to study this word ‘Hawaiiana… Hawaiiana.’” Now the “ana” is the root word “to measure, to evaluate, to determine what is the best.” So we’re going to concern ourselves with that and teach only the best of Hawaiian culture in the classroom. And that was my reason for that word “Hawaiiana.”

 

You made it up.

 

Yes. And I didn’t mean “-ana” like Americana, Mexicana like a conglomerate of things, you know. But I meant to measure everything that we’re going to teach, and offer the children the very best in the culture.

 

That’s one of the many one-of-a-kind things you’ve done, firsts you’ve done. What about when you were a student at Kamehameha Schools and got briefly expelled?

 

(Nona holds up two fingers)

 

Twice you got expelled?

 

Well it was strange. The first time, the President of the Trustees, Frank Midkiff, was having a tea in the pink garden, in the bougainvillea garden – so pretty. And so he asked me, I had started the Hawaiian Club and it was simply because my friends had said, “Can we learn a song? Can we learn a chant? Tell us a story.” So we’d gather Monday after school and we would learn a chant. Unbeknownst to anybody else, but Mr. Midkiff was a champion of mine, a personal friend and hero. So for him I would do anything. So we came into the garden chanting (sings the chant). And we finished our chant and we bowed to everybody and we walked out. And then my principal said, “Winona you may pack your bag and leave this campus.” It was a sacrilege that I committed – to chant and do motions as we were walking.

 

Because?

 

Because it wasn’t allowed. No language, no chanting, no dancing, no nothing.

 

But you could do western dancing?

 

Oh yeah, we could do anything else, yeah.

 

But that’s how it was in those days at Kamehameha Schools.

 

Absolutely.

 

Because everyone was on this western path.

 

Well, it was just the mindset of the time, I think, you know? They were there to school good and industrious men and women, you know? And there was no further look about advancing us, as students or Hawaiians! I wanted to go to college. “Winona, there’s no reason to go to college.” I mean, my principal! I though, what kind of principal would tell you not to think about going to college? So it kind of hurt me that they wanted to keep us so subservient.

 

Have you had kind of a love-hate relationship with the school since you were a kid?

 

You know, I’ve loved them all my life, all my life. In 1927 my grandmother took me to the old chapel where Farrington School is now and I heard the voices of the Kamehameha men. Oh, the stone walls were just vibrating with these wonderful voices and I fell in love with Kamehameha. Didn’t know anything about it except just a name, you know? And I knew later on about the campus where my father had lived as a child. And then later on when I was hired we were given living quarters there where my father was when he was 6 years old. He was in his dormitory, you know? So there was a lot of joy in my heart for Kamehameha just from that initial love of the sound of their voices, the men singing. Of course, my grandmother was a graduate and my parents had attended. Of course all of us in our family had attended. And now it was time for the grandchild, and you know, they have been as close to me as my own blood family.

 

The school which expelled you twice was the school where you dedicated 40 years of your teaching life.

 

And $87,864 scholarship money I have raised in 35 years for scholarships for Kamehameha. Yes, I love them like my family. Well now they’re coming into the sunlight.

 

And you were part of that. You were part of bringing back the Hawaiianess into the school.

 

I like to think I was, but there’s a whole faction of us. Class members, students, they were asking. Why can’t we have Hawaiian? Why can’t we be what we are? Why do we have to be who we are not?

 

And the school was acting in what it thought was your best interest?

 

Yes, and yet they said Princess Pauahi, in her will, stated that we were not to speak, we were not to chant, we were not to dance. So when they hired me, the first thing I did, “Could I see the will? Please may I see the will?” Nothing in it about Princess Pauahi saying there would be no language, there would be no dancing, there would be no – they lied to me, they lied to me all those years. So my estimation of administration went (motion of hands going down).

 

Well and then what happens many years later, your idea of the administration had again fallen. You wrote a letter to the State Supreme Court in the late 1990s, in which you said, “Mrs. Lindsey, Mrs. Lokelani Lindsey, a trustee’s micromanagement methodology is an utterly diabolical plan of a self-serving egoist.”

 

Oh, I didn’t know her at all. But it was just an abomination that had happened.

 

In your letter, you were expressing what had been an inner angst, many people upset with what was happening at the trustee level at the old Bishop Estate. But so many people didn’t want to lose what they had and you were the one who brought it out.

 

Well, you know they were afraid of their jobs. The students were afraid of their scholarships. I didn’t have anything to lose. I had no children in school. I had retired. And I thought this was just not right. So when my hanai son Kaliko Beamer Trapp came home and told me that Lokelani had sent a directive to the University Language Department that the vocabulary they were developing could not be taught at the Kamehameha Schools, you know? So I just felt that because if it was spoken during Pauahi’s time we could have spoken it. But I thought ah, we’re back to the middle ages. We can’t speak it ‘cause Pauahi didn’t speak it 50 years ago. Something’s wrong, you know? So that really sort of capsulated it from there. We had to do something about it. That was the straw.

 

And there was a firestorm after you wrote the letter.

 

True. Well, I think it gave other people the courage to speak up too.

 

And that triggered an overhaul, a reform of the old Bishop Estate.

 

It was about time, about time. Well, I wish it were as lasting and as meaningful now. But they aren’t there yet, they aren’t there yet. I think they have to do more on campus with the old guard. I love them dearly. We’re all good friends. But they have to be more mindful of Hawaiianess, you know? Not to be thinking of all the business and the dollars and the cash register. Think about the students. That’s why we’re there – for the students. Not to amass fortunes in the bank.

 

The woman who coined the term “Hawaiiana” – lives it. Aunty Nona Beamer stands up for what she thinks is right – what she feels is pono. We don’t have much time left, so we’ll make the rest of this long story, short. Stay with us as we continue “talking story” with the irrepressible Nona Beamer.

 

Are we going to see you in future years standing up again, doing the kind of things that got you expelled, that triggered reform in the old Bishop Estate?

 

(Laughs) You know I am getting a little more outspoken and Keola says, ”Ma, you’re swearing more these days.” I used to say dammit, but now I say dammit to hell. (Laughs) Well I think that’s one of the perks of the elderly – that we can speak up, that we’ve been there and we have the courage ‘cause we know what it feels like to be denied your language, denied being a Hawaiian. So there’s no, I don’t think there’s any guilt. It’s just positive affirmations.

 

You’ve done it before and perhaps you’ll do it again.

 

Do it again? (laughs) Thank you honey.

 

You know, you have so much love, so much aloha and yet you believe in principles and standing up even if it ruffles feathers and makes people lose their jobs.

 

Yes. Well it seems, if it’s right, if it’s reasonable, it’s good you know, you should try to keep as much goodness as you can. And sometimes we just need a little help from one other. Just hang on to one another and make it better.

 

But I think what you’re telling us is it’s not just about being nicey nice. It’s about following principles, and values.

 

True, true, yeah.

 

Let me ask you one question – this may be dicey so let me know. One of the things that we do is we ask viewers what would you like to ask Aunty Nona? One of the questions that people always ask about and you may not want to talk about it, I understand. A viewer in Hilo would like to know if you see any mending between your sons Keola and Kapono Beamer?

 

Well you know there doesn’t need to be mending. They have diverse careers.

 

So your sons had a personal and professional parting of the ways. Does it hurt or is it something a family deals with?

 

Well I miss them together, I miss the sound of their singing. At my father’s funeral I was just weeping because I heard them singing together when I hadn’t heard them for a while. I miss the mellowness of their sound. But I see it coming in my grandson now. And I think of all the good things we’ve done. So if their direction is different, so be it. We can’t just stagnate in our same place. We got to grow or we die. So I don’t see that there’s a lot of mending because the love is still there. I don’t know that they’ll sing Honolulu City Lights together again. I don’t know.

 

But they both came to see you when you were in the hospital?

 

Yes they did.

 

Must have been nice to see both of them at once?

 

The same room – we were all talking together. Yes, yes. And I’m glad that it happened before I “make die dead”! (Laughs) Well I do think that they have a lot to contribute. I don’t know what direction. But I think we’re going to see something through Kamana. And his generation will probably mend the fences that their parents have knocked down.

 

They’re the next Beamers.

 

I think so. I think we are going to see some interesting things from him.

 

So what do you, what do you look ahead to? What’s ahead for you?

 

Well you know, I want to keep the Hawaiianess in things as much as possible. And it doesn’t seem as though it’s that important. In fact, it’s kind of corny when you say, “What is the Hawaiianess?” you know? It’s this aloha feeling – the kindness between people. You know, speaking nicely, looking at each other smiling, you know. Oh, it seems like so little. But it’s a gargantuan concept to keep this aloha in the world. And that’s what we all have to do in our own hearts – to keep this aloha. Not easy.

 

You know when people who’ve known you a long time and know you well describe you, the personal qualities they tend to talk about are: courage, stubbornness – and they say you’re full of aloha. Are they right?

 

Well, you know I’m very grateful and that’s a big stabilizer in my life – that I’m so grateful for all the things, the goodness of family and everything you’ve had behind you, you know. But you’re not here by yourself. Oh, my great-grandmother’s here, my grandmother’s here, everybody’s here behind me. And I think oh this is part of our aumakua, our belief in our guardians that are around us. But we have to listen. We have to be in tune because they’re all here to help us. But sometimes we get so busy we just run rough shot over everything. And life has so much beauty underneath it. If you just be quiet enough to listen to it.

 

Passionate, intelligent, talented and truly “Hawaiian”… just a few words that describe Nona Beamer. It was a pleasure sharing stories from Aunty Nona – and sharing them with you. I wish we had more time. But we have to make this Long Story Short. Mahalo for joining me. I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou!

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Celebrating Moms

 

Original air date: Tues., June 8, 2012

 

In this special edition, we look back at some of the best stories about mothers from previous Long Story Short guests: entertainers Emma Veary, Keola Beamer and Mihana Souza; business leaders Cha Thompson and Christine Camp; and educator Candy Suiso.

 

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Transcript

 

Aloha mai kakou, I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this special edition of Long Story Short, we celebrate moms – mothers whose children went on to sing, lead, teach and ultimately pass on the lessons they learned from their mothers. We’ll look back on conversations with entertainers Emma Veary, Mihana Souza and Keola Beamer; business leaders Cha Thompson and Christine Camp; and educator Candy Suiso. Stories of mothers – next on Long Story Short.

 

We begin with a story from an elegant singer who was nicknamed “Hawaii’s Golden Voice” and graced Waikiki’s stages in the ‘70s. Today, Emma Veary remains a treasure of Hawaiian music. Emma’s strongest influence was her late mother, Nana Veary. Nana loved everyone, from the rich and famous, to the homeless and downtrodden. She dedicated her life to a spiritual journey, one that took her from her traditional Hawaiian upbringing, to Christian Pentecostalism and Zen Buddhism. Along the way, Nana’s children, including Emma, were there by her side.

 

We know Nana Veary as this renowned spiritualist whom people came from far and wide to consult and see, and spend time with.

 

Yes. Right.

 

What was she like as a mom, starting out when you were a little baby?

 

I mean, she was just our mom; that was it. And interestingly enough, when we grew old enough, we chose to go on her spiritual path with her. And that’s what made life most interesting. Because whatever she was studying, we were studying. And we were chanting in Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan or whatever she was doing; we were doing it. So we were living her life, her book, with her; which I still do.

 

For all of her life, she was in tuned spiritually, and went on these journeys for truth.  

 

Yes. Right.

 

How did you and your brother and sister fit in?

 

Well, again, we all joined emotionally, spiritually with her in her journey, and she’d come home and tell us what was happening with her. And we’d all exchange whatever was happening with us. And we enjoyed learning about the other parts of the world, and what their belief system was. And whenever she went anywhere, she always came back with all these wonderful tales to tell us.

 

Now, so you’re a grown up yourself, and your mom’s on this spiritual odyssey.

 

Right.

 

You didn’t think, H-m, how come only my mom is out there—

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

—in India searching for truth?  

 

We were sharing our mother since we were kids. And we enjoyed sharing her with people. We felt so blessed to have her that we thought, Oh, let’s share her with everyone. You know? And that was our attitude about it, share her with whatever. And I know she was lecturing at one point at UCLA. And this young student got up in the auditorium and he said, Excuse me, Mrs. Veary—trying to be smart like all students are he said, I understand the Hawaiian are a dying race. And she says, Let me come back to that after I finish my lecture. Okay. After the lecture, she said, All right, young man, I’ll answer your question now. I prefer to think that the Hawaiians are not a dying race; they are very busy creating an international race. Take my little granddaughter here; come here, Debbie. She says, This little girl is French, English, Spanish, Hawaiian, Japanese. She says, How more international can you get? She had a standing ovation. [CHUCKLE] But, that’s how she thought.

 

And did she bring to you her aha moments, her epiphanies?

 

Yes. We used to sit and have these discussions about what was happening in her life, and what was happening in ours, and how we were growing. And we didn’t we didn’t go out an awful lot; we didn’t enjoy doing that. We liked to stay at home with the family. We did a lot of things together.

 

And she said that she just learned that there’s just not a big place in one’s life for negativity.

 

Yes.

 

So she tried never to say—

 

No.

—anything bad. Did she succeed at home? I mean …

 

Well, we had our—

 

As far—

 

—spankings and everything. I mean, if you want to call that negative. But—

 

But could she be positive about so many things?

 

Yes; yes. She taught us to see only the good. And I have trouble with one child who only sees good, and she will not see the other. I said, There is also something that is not good here, and you have to find a balance there. You just can’t see only good, good, good, good, good; because not everyone is made up of the two.

 

Do you think your mother saw the negative, but chose not to acknowledge, really?

 

Yes; yes. That is non-acknowledgement of it, and nullifies it.

 

Are you that way too?

 

Yeah.

 

Emma Veary says that through her daily actions, she feels she’s continuing where her mother left off in her spiritual journey. Now another treasured local singer and musician, Mihana Souza. Mihana, who sings and plays the upright bass for Puamana, her family’s Hawaiian music group, talks about how she ended up as the bass player … and other lessons from her mother—the late great entertainer/composer Irmgard Aluli.

 

How did you come to be the one who played the bass?

 

You know, being a young mother, and trying to find a way to help with income, I started to make head leis and flower bouquets for friends who were getting married. And I remember I would strap my daughter onto my back, and we would go up, and we would pick all the lauae in the mountains. Well, one time, it got too hard, and I went to my mother and I said, What do I have to do to sing? And she said, Well, go get yourself a bass. So I called my cousin Kekua, and he happened to have two basses; so he said, Come, I’m gonna give you this bass.

 

Did you know how to play a bass?

 

I didn’t know how to play the bass.

 

[chuckle]

 

And I took the bass back to my mother that night. She taught me how to play that night, in forty-five minutes. And that next weekend, we started to sing; it was me, my older sister Neau, and my mother. And we haven’t had a free weekend since. [chuckle] So, yay!

 

Now, I know Puamana has always sung harmoniously. Have things always been harmonious within the group?

 

Always. Always. Number one, we have the example of my mother.

 

Was she always right?

 

Always. [chuckle] And I’ll tell you why she was right; because she always came from a place of humble kindness. She was always very thoughtful of who she was with. She was always very, very gracious. And she was always very kind.

 

Boy, that’s a hard act to live up to, isn’t it?

 

Yeah; it was really hard, except when you see it in action. Because when you see it in action, you realize that that is truly a wonderful way to live your life, to live a life of kindness. I mean, I always wanted it quickly, I wanted it now; until I saw the way my mother did it. She was just so nice. [chuckle] And she was never confrontational. But she was very gracious, and you could tell that she loved her homeland, and she loved the people here. She loved what she was doing. And she was a historian in her own way. Because her music would be an account of what was going on in her time.

 

And what an amazing thing happened when you recorded a song she wrote in the 40s.

 

[chuckle] Just to tell you a little bit about that story. My mother has written over three hundred Hawaiian songs. And I remember as a young child growing up, there were always these parties. Boy, they really knew how to celebrate. They would have these parties all the time, great parties. The women would always come up in muumuus, and they were those silky muus with the frills and they’d always have potluck. And always, I remember they would then gather in the back yard, and they would sing, and they would dance, and in the wee hours of the morning, then the men would come and sing. And my father always loved my mother’s — he would call them her Haole songs, because they were songs that she would write in English. And she has about seven of them. And one of them was called Rust On the Moon. So always at the end of these parties, they would sing all of these old songs, and they were the Haole songs. And when I put out my first album with the help of my mother, I remember promising my father that if I ever put out any albums — that’s really dating, ‘cause I speak in terms of albums [chuckle] that I would bring to the public my mother’s Haole songs, the ones that we loved so much. And one of them was Rust On the Moon. That was one of my favorites.

 

That favorite song her mom penned, “Rust on the Moon,” is featured on Mihana Souza’s debut solo album of the same name. In 2003, the album was named Na Hoku Hanohano Jazz Album of the Year. Our next Long Story Short guest was once recognized as Hawaii Mother of the Year. Cha Thompson, mother of 12, grew up in Kalihi public housing and is now a respected business leader. Along with her husband Jack, she owns and operates Tihati Productions, a family-run entertainment company. Here, Cha shares how she still gave her all as a mother to raise her children while living the life of an entertainer and entrepreneur. This often involved traveling abroad, so she had some help from her aunt, who she calls “one of [her] most favorite people in the whole wide world.”

 

My Puna Dear in Waimanalo helped raise my children. And it was a place where they were always clean and always well fed, and always happy. And I could rest assured that they weren’t missing me the way uh, other children would miss their parents that would have to take trips a lot. Because we’d always be on the phone, and she was like, Don’t worry, Mama be home, Mama be home soon, and whatever. And she was the stabling force, and the reason I could travel the way I did.

 

Somehow, I don’t see you handing off most of your business and most of your childcare to other people. I just don’t—

 

[chuckle]

 

—see that

 

I did; I took care of them. Even though I traveled, a lot of times they would travel with me. And I’m telling you; if I was—my youngest son was about six weeks when I went back on stage. And I had him in a little basket back of the stages in Chicago, or New York, or Washington, DC. I did; I took my children with me. I did.

 

You gave birth to five.

 

M-hm.

 

And then you ended up with seven more, somehow?

 

Yeah. It’s a Polynesian custom. And when I say hanai, I raised them from three weeks old. I don’t only take the ones that, you know.

 

Are almost ready to go. [chuckle]

 

Yeah; almost ready—no, no. That’s why the line between my natural children and my hanai children pales, because they’re all brothers and sisters. They never say, Oh, this is my hanai brother, or this is my hanai sister. They’re brothers and sisters. And it was the best thing that ever happened to me. Because ‘til today, everybody comes home for toonai. That’s the Sunday afternoon meal, right after church. Everybody’s there; and everybody’s talking at the same time. And it’s amazing; we all know what everybody’s saying. Sundays are great for us …we always say in our family—and we were honored by a high school for this; much is expected from whom much is given. And man, nobody in our clan, nobody would ever start to begin to think that maybe they were owed this, or maybe they’re kind of special. We make fun of everything, and man, we’d take ‘em down. That wouldn’t happen in our family.

 

So everybody’s expected to do housework. No breaks?

 

My son, who has a real thriving career on his own—he fronted for Fifty Cent.

 

Afatia.

 

Afatia; for Fitty Cents. And I mean, I remember him, he was June Jones’ first running back, and won a ring, and all state, all star, and, excuse me. By Saturday morning, that kennel better be cleaned, ‘cause we don’t have a yardman that’s gonna clean the kennel. And he used to do it, and he’d say, Ho, Mom, can’t you get—you know, I gotta be at rehearsal, and I got—yeah, we can, but you know, twenty minutes or half an hour, do your stuff first. And that’s the way it is; I expected that of them. And I’m really grateful that they’re great kids.

 

Speaking of great kids, our next guest is always in their company. In addition to her husband and daughter, Candy Suiso, the respected Waianae High School educator of over 20 years, has a large family of students, colleagues and alumni. Thanks to the multimedia program she co-founded, Searider Productions, students are gaining the communication and team building skills needed to succeed. Candy’s mother, Julia Smith, was also a respected teacher on the Waianae Coast; for three decades, she taught at Makaha Elementary. In this segment, Candy reveals what life was like for her mother and family – a life few people knew about.

 

…she—my mother, she literally raised four of us. My mother and father divorced when I was nine. my older sister was eleven; and I had a younger brother who was, I think, five; and then my other brother was three. And she just—her whole life was shattered. Um, moved us to Kauai, had my grandparents take care of us. I can’t do this; she moved to Makaha and just literally really had to get her life back together. And a year later, we moved back, and she remarried. And it was a—there was a lot of dysfunction. I don’t know what the word to say, but there was—she married an alcoholic, and there was a lot of abuse. He didn’t really work much, and she carried, she struggled. She would live paycheck to paycheck. And there was a lot of times I know it was hard. It was really hard. She couldn’t provide, I think, the way that she would want to for us. But she’d always have a roof over our heads, we would always have clothes on our body, we’d always have—we had each other. And—

 

What about food?

 

We always had food on the table; always. My mother was the queen of Spam.

 

[chuckle]

 

She knew how to cook Spam, she knew how to cook corned beef hash. She knew how to make ends meet. We always knew at the end of the month when the times were hard, a little harder, we’d have the bean soup and we’d have the ham hocks. And we hated it, but actually, it’s something that we really love eating now.

 

M-hm.

 

We cook it, and it’s good memories. It used to be bad memories, but there was always food on the table, and clothes on our back, and a roof over our head. And she kept us together. She raised four of us, and living out in Waianae, it would have been easy for any of us to either go the other way. But we all turned out really …

 

It must have been hard for her. She was the authority at the school—

 

M-hm.

 

—and somebody who was seen as having her life all together.

 

M-hm.

 

But then to go home and really have to—

 

M-hm.

 

—scrounge and work and scheme to keep things together for your family.

 

I don’t know how she did it. When I look back now, I think, I don’t know how you did it. And you know, my sister and I talk about this all the time. It’s—she—to get away from what was going on at home. A lot of times it was pretty—it was nasty; it was pretty bad a lot of times. And she would just block it out and work. I think that was a lot of how she would run away from what was happening at home her home life, with her husband. And she would just work. She would just involve herself with work, and keep busy. And my sister and I talk about this all the time. We have so much of her in us.

 

Because you work all the time.

 

Because we work all the time, or we keep busy when we want to avoid something or we want to—we just work. And so many times, we think things that used to bother us, the things that she would say, or maybe some of the things that she would do, it would just drive us nuts. And now, I hear myself say things that she would say, and I find myself doing things that she would do, and I think, Oh, my gosh, I have become my mother. And it used to bother me, but now, it’s a good thing. It’s a really good thing.

 

You were lucky that your mom lived long enough to see what you’ve accomplished on the Waianae Coast. What did she say to you?

 

[SIGH]

 

She was always proud of me. She was just always proud of me. She was—she didn’t say much, but I always knew. I think she was most proud, because she saw that part of her lived through me and continues. But she was always—I mean, she just always would tell me how proud she was of what I’m doing and the work that I chose. And that sometimes teaching is not a very prestige job, and you will not make a lot of money. It will not make you very rich with things and with money, but it will make you very rich with people. And she was right.

 

Candy Suiso’s mother was right. Because of Candy’s dedication to and connection with her students, many of them, past and present, see her as a mother figure. The Hawaiian music community lost a mother figure and cultural treasure, with the passing of Aunty Nona Beamer in 2008. Six months later, in this next Long Story Short segment, her son, slack key guitarist and composer Keola Beamer, was ready to talk about his mother and his grief.

 

I didn’t know that that was possible to love somebody so much, and then they’re gone. But the grief sort of reminds me a little bit of when I was a young man, surfing, and you’d sit out there on your surfboard, and everything would be okay, and then this set would come in these big, towering waves. And grief is like that; you’re doing pretty good, and then the grief comes in, in waves, and you do your best and you deal with it. And then another set comes, and this continues for a while, you know. Because my mom was a revered Hawaiian cultural treasure, she touched many lives. And we as Beamers have to have the compassion for other people’s grief too; not just our own.

 

Hard to take care of them, when you’ve gotta take care of yourself too.

 

Yeah. That’s difficult. But we can do it. We have done it. My mom led a life that made a difference in the world; she made the world a better place. She touched thousands of lives and helped many, many students, and she left with dignity. How great, you know. I’d be so happy if that happened in my own life. I want to share a story with you that means quite a lot to me. The morning of her passage, Moana, my wife and I were in San Francisco. And I had this very powerful dream, and it was young woman, a beautiful young woman, vibrant, beautiful black hair. Just this unbelievable energy. And you also had the feeling with this woman in my dream, that she was a person to be reckoned with. You know. And I almost didn’t recognize her, but it was my mom. And she had just come to say goodbye.

 

Did you recognize that at the time, that she was saying goodbye, or did you figure it out later?

 

Figured it out a little bit later. I almost didn’t recognize her, because I was used to taking care of my kupuna mom, right, with the thin arms and the graying hair. But this woman was my mom, before my brother and I were born. And she was beautiful and vibrant; and the word that comes to mind is, joy. She was joyous. She had transcended the cocoon of old age.

 

Our next guest is familiar with difficult times. Now a successful developer and business leader, Christine Camp and her family fled from poverty and political unrest in South Korea when she was only nine years old. In this segment, Christine talks about a different kind of escape. In high school, Christine excelled in her classes, held down several jobs and became a cheerleader. However, her strict mother prohibited Christine from taking part in extracurricular activities that prevented her from taking care of household chores. So at age fifteen, Christine decided to run away from home. Little did she know that by running away from her mother, she would realize what she needed to run toward.

 

… I felt that I could do better, I was making my own money. So I packed up my bags in a little pillowcase.

 

Pillowcase?

 

Yeah. [CHUCKLE] I said, I’m done with you. I ran away from home.

 

How could you make your own way at age fifteen?

 

Isn’t that amazing? I did. And I can’t … my rent was hundred and seventy dollars a month.

 

Where did you live?

 

On Harding Avenue, in one of these old Chinese schools that became an apartment house. Little sections of classrooms were apartment house, and I had a little apartment house next to the sewer line where the cockroaches gathered at night. [CHUCKLE]

 

And what about your neighbors; what were they like?

 

Six families. I have to say, I saw what I felt was to not have hope, to feel a loss in what our life would be. There was a welfare mom who dropped out of high school, had several children, and still within high school age. There was a woman who had two kids, and she was a prostitute. There were—it was just kind of like that. An alcoholic woman, another woman who couldn’t afford to eat regular food, and she was sharing her cat food, what I found out, and I would try to give her what I could. And the only bright light in that whole place were two college students who were a couple, and they were happy people. They were clean, and they were smart, and they had a hope of future. I mean, they had hope for their future. But I internalized this when a traumatic accident happened with me. I couldn’t afford electricity, so I didn’t have power, but I had a little gas oven. And these kids were running around without adult supervision, and I felt like I was the den mother. Whenever I had free time, I would have them come over to my place. And it was a child’s three-year-old birthday, and her mom was out. So I decided, I’m going to bake her a cake. And I’d never used the oven. Turned the oven on; nothing. It was a gas oven. And I realized, Oh, it’s a gas oven, I have to turn the match on. Turned on the match, and the whole thing blew up on my face. I had no hair on my face. Anyway, the emergency medics came, and they called the emergency and everything. And at that moment, while I was cooling off, they had ice on me, I’m sitting there, and I had an Aha Moment. All these images came to me of the people that were living around me, and the little kids. And the only bright spot that I saw were these students who had a future. And I felt that education was my future, I didn’t want to be there, and that I wanted to have hope. I didn’t want to lose hope like these people. And they’re wonderful people, but they lost hope for their future, and they weren’t taking responsibility for themselves. So I packed up my ego, packed up my things; I went home that day, the next day.

 

What was that reception like for you?

 

What was amazing is, my mom never asked me a question. I had called my sister and said, I’m coming home. And she didn’t go to work. She went to work seven days a week; she didn’t go to work. She was there folding laundry, she acted like nothing happened.

 

But now, she’s seen you make this wonderful transition to American life, and be extraordinarily successful as a professional, and a mom. And what does she say?

 

She still treats me like I’m thirteen years old. [CHUCKLE] She wants to comb my hair, and [CHUCKLE] make sure that I’m wearing the right color. No, she’s extremely proud of me. She’s very thankful. She took care of me, so now I take care of her. And she helps me raise my son. And it’s come full circle.

 

Thank you to Christine Camp, Keola Beamer, Candy Suiso, Cha Thompson, Mihana Souza and Emma Veary for sharing personal stories about their mothers and motherhood. And to all devoted moms, mahalo nui for your patience, wisdom and love. On behalf of PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

What did you spend your free time doing? You went to school, you tried to earn money.

 

You know, we babysat; I mean, one another. I took care, helped with the younger ones. I remember helping my mother’s kid sister take care of her children. I was all of eleven years old, and you already helped; you helped—that’s why I love children so much, and if you did anything else, you cleaned the house. My mother made sure of that. And my daughters now; I mean, they all have their college degrees. But they would say, Mama would say, if you have any worth—if you’re worth your salt, you had to learn how to clean the toilet, you had to know how to fight. And you had to have a college degree.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Solomon Enos

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Solomon Enos

 

Original air date: Tues., July 14, 2009

 

Hawaiian Renaissance Man

 

Leslie Wilcox talks story with Hawaiian Renaissance man Solomon Enos. The muralist, painter, book illustrator, comic strip creator, educator, and futuristic storyteller is also the groundskeeper for the forest preserve in the back of Kalihi Valley – the site of Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services. Enos draws inspiration from the land and considers it a “sentient” that must nurtured the way one nurtures a family member. Enos also talks about developing his Honolulu Advertiser comic strip Polyfantastica into a graphic novel.

 

Solomon Enos Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

What Hawaii really is, you know, I—I think is—we’re still coming to understand that. You know, I think there’s a much—much deeper layers of meaning that we have yet to tap into. And that’s pretty exciting stuff. [chuckle]

 

Wow; and you plan to be right there when— 

 

Hopefully, hopefully.

 

–when the meanings come out.

 

Yeah.

 

A painter, illustrator, forest preserve groundskeeper, educator, and futuristic storyteller; he might best be described as a Hawaiian renaissance man. His storytelling canvas stretches from the beginnings of Hawaiian culture to forty thousand years into the future. And while he’s only in his early thirties, he seems to possess the wisdom of a very old soul. His name is Solomon Enos, and you’ll meet him just a moment on Long Story Short.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. Like father, like son might be the best way to begin the story of native Hawaiian artist Solomon Enos. Solomon’s father, Eric Enos, also has a background in art and is the cofounder and executive director of Kaala Farm in Waianae, a nonprofit farm that promotes sustainability based on the Hawaiian ahupuaa system, and is also used as a cultural learning center. Solomon is a groundskeeper of a similar organization deep in Kalihi Valley, Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services. His parents and his other family members supported Solomon’s decision to pursue a career in art, but the gift of artistic ability was something born to Solomon Enos.

 

All little kids love art; they love fooling around. At what time did you get a sense that maybe you had a gift?

 

H-m. Well, I remember my um, kindergarten teacher pulled my parents aside one day—I think it was during a uh, parent-teacher night. And she said, Solomon, when he draws people, he doesn’t just draw circles with lines; he draws their heads, he draws their bodies, he draws their pants, and the buttons, and everything. And I remember that; I remember that affirmation at such a really early part of my life. And I just thought, like, Oh, cool, okay, uh, I think I know how to draw, I think I’m a—think I’m gonna be a drawer. [chuckle]

 

An—and your parents encouraged you.

 

Yes. All throughout, all throughout my life.

 

How did they influence you?

 

My grandfather, to begin with, Joseph Enos, always wanted to do artwork, always wanted to draw; actually had a big collection of art supplies. And he could never really sit down, he never really got into it, but he always encouraged me to draw. And whenever he—I drew pictures of anything, of like monsters and robots and things like that, he would post it up inside the house, and my grandmother would roll her eyes—Oh, no, my goodness. But he was always—he’d always say, Whoo, ah, I’ve always wanted to draw, and I’m so happy that you’re drawing. Oh, good, good, good. And my mom was just an amazing support, because she gave me a lot of really interesting ideas, interesting ways to look at life. You know, sometimes um, she would tell me, You know, Solomon, whatever you put your mind to, you—you really do it. You know, and that an—well, and that kind of encouragement, I think, really helped to, you know, form up my—my process. ‘Cause whenever I start a project, I’m like, at the end, I know it’s gonna be great. You know, I’m gonna put my mind to it, and it’s gonna—it’s gonna be awesome. And my father had received uh, a masters of fine arts at the University of Hawaii in 1969; he was really quite a profound influence on me as well. And there’s one painting which um, he did which shows a person lying down at the bottom of a valley, and—and his body kind of opening up, and all of his entrails kinda leading out and becoming the landscape. And it’s not gross at all; it’s actually quite beautiful. And that—and that’s that kind of interesting kind of a uh, paradox of, you know, internal organs and landscape, those are the kinda thoughts that really influence me at an early age of my life.

 

Of course, your father uh, is also a cultural heavyweight on the Waianae Coast, having started the Cultural Learning Center at Kaala, and using um, the farm and life to—to help drug abusers an—and people who’ve lost their way find um, stability again.

 

Yes.

 

How did that influence you?

 

In the beginning, it was always a bit rough, ‘cause I—[chuckle]—I’d rather—I wanted to be at home, you know, drawing or uh, watching cartoons and things like that. And so my father would be pretty adamant about taking me and my brothers up to go and work up in—in the taro patches up in the back of Kaala. But what I was able to do was look at how my father helped—with all the other folks that work at uh, Kaala Farms, uh, to help to engage um, different kinds of people, you know, from folks, you—you know, folks from universities, you know, school children, um, uh, to talk about the deeper significance of the back of the valley and the deep—deeper significance of, you know, what the role of Hawaiian culture has to play within uh, the future of Hawaii. And I think um, all of those are—become uh, I guess, themes for my artwork. And I think that—uh, looking back, i—uh, I was really given quite a uh, enriched experience, uh, an enriched uh, childhood.

 

And here you are now, living on a forest reserve. So you’ve got uh, some of the same elements you had when you were a kid.

 

Yeah.

 

Except in another form.

 

M-hm; m-hm. Uh, everything that I’m doing in the back of uh, Kokua Kalihi Valley Nature Preserve is really like an artistic process.

 

What is your actual job? There’s none like it—

 

Yeah.

 

–anywhere else, I don’t think.

 

Well, uh, it’s interesting, interesting. Um, I’m actually a caretaker uh, at the nature preserve. There’s actually um—the nature preserve is divided into two different uh, uh, ili or subsections of the ahupuaa. And uh, different ili within the ahupuaa are almost like different organs within the body. And the—uh, which is actually very appropriate, because the nature preserve is a department of Kokua Kalihi Valley Health Center. And so we’re actually a health center that is uh, you know, uh, has adopted a nature preserve. Uh, the hope is, over time, this—these areas that we’re—we’re managing up here in the uh, back of Kalihi can become resources for members within the community.

 

To get to the preserve, or the reserve, you go all the way back Kalihi—Kalihi Street, right?

 

Yeah; yeah.

 

Very, very back.

Yeah.

 

And you have devised the nicest No Trespassing sign—

 

[chuckle]

 

–ever, which says nothing about trespassing. What is it?

 

I took out the Keep Out signs, because um, when you—when uh, I think when working with youth and working with individuals, uh, who have challenges with authority, you know, they’re gonna look at it as a way to say, Oh, you know, I’m gonna go in. I’m going to go in, and I’m gonna do what I like. You know. And so I took out the Keep Out signs, and there was one Keep Out sign left, and I didn’t—I couldn’t take it down, uh, ‘cause it—it was um, a sign that said Violators Will Be Prosecuted, you know, a five hundred dollar fine. And about six months ago, it got some graffiti on it, and there was graffiti on some of the other signs on some of the other properties, uh, adjoining out property. And so I went and took a little paintbrush, and I cleaned up some—my neighbors’ signs and things, touched it up a little bit. And when I came to that one sign that said Keep Out, you know, Fine, I covered it over and I wrote … This Land is Your Grandmother and She Loves You. And … it’s a little bit, you know, sappy. But it’s amazing, because I think it causes people to pause and to think about what is their relationship to their grandmother, what is their relationship to this land, and it even um … and I kind of touch on—tou—touch on this a bit in some of my other work; it—it kind of encourages this thought that this land is a sentient being. It’s—in fact, we may just be figments of its imagination. [chuckle]

 

And it will always be there, whereas we won’t.

 

[chuckle]

 

The deceptively peaceful looking forest preserve where the Kokua Kalihi Valley Comprehensive Family Services resides is a bustling learning center for a wide spectrum of organizations and people of all ages.

 

I um, work with uh, Farrington High School. Uh, they have a uh, environmental sciences class. I do—we actually have Halau Lokahi Charter School; uh, two of their classes are based up at the preserve, so we always have children around all the time, which is an amazing, amazing blessing. And we have community workdays where we try to engage co—community members from Kalihi Valley in—in part of the whole … the story, which is the—which is the preserve. I—also, I’m able to do a lot of work with patients from the clinic. And um, the clinic is really kind of a core for a lot of the programs that I’m—that we hope to be expanding into, particularly—

 

And what kind of patients?

 

Well, uh, initially, patients through the nutrition department at Kokua Kalihi Valley Health Center, and these are elderly uh, Samoan uh, Trukese, uh, Filipino, and Hawaiian patients who have dia—you know, diabe—diabetes, uh, heart disease, and other kinds of chronic uh, illness. And my understanding is, you know, looking to a source of illness, you know, so much of it is related to displacement from culture, land, family, which leads to depression and stress. And—and um, so the opportunity for us to open up garden areas where these elders can come outside, and start to plant their traditional foods again, and um, become a community. ‘Cause in this community, you have different peoples in the same area, different cul—customs, but sharing ideas, talking story. They’ll come outside, they’re a little stiff, they’re—it’s a little rough to get going, and they’ll get out, and the—the sun is out there, and it’s a nice breezy day. They—they start to straighten up a little bit, they look at the gardens, they look at the soil, they—before you know it, they’re tiptoeing on the logs, and they’re teasing each other, and they’re translator is saying, I can’t translate that.

 

[chuckle]

 

I shouldn’t. [chuckle] Being—and out of the corner of my eye, I’m just—they’re like little children again. And I think that’s really coming back to, you know, trying to figure out what is the source of illness, and what are—where can we—where can the real healing uh, begin. You know, and I think that—you know, it’s very much an artistic process, you know. Because it’s watching how people evolve from b—from the inside, and it’s providing the—the environment for that.

 

So for you, it’s—it goes beyond health to art.

 

Yes. Yes, yes. And it’s um … uh, understanding health as almost like a medium, almost like uh, uh, a—a transformative process. Plants like ilima and um, uh, popolo berry, um, and uh, alaala wainiu all ha—all—it’s almost like a um, a pharmacy, you know, an organic pharmacy. And I think that uh—you know, you take—you take the leaf, and that’s your prescription. And you say, Okay, this—this—this leaf and I get this medicine. So instead of uh … instead of pills, we have berries, you know. And I think that uh, that’s kinda cool. Um—This nature preserve can help to become sort of the future health center, you know, and future clinics and future hospitals. I mean, in a sense that—or future pharmacies, actually [chuckle] when you think about it.

 

In the sense of medicinal gardens?

 

Medicinal gardens; yes, yes. And it makes sense, because that’s how it’s been for millennia. [chuckle] Is that living healthy, you know, um, to keola pono, to live well is, you know, you—isn’t really limited to your health centers. You know, it’s—it’s everything you do throughout your life, you know.

 

You know, all of this sounds very inspiring and very physical in part.

 

M-hm, m-hm.

 

How do you do your art in addition?

 

Um, well—

 

Your personal art.

 

Lately, I’ve really been having to channel a lot my energy into doing the work on the land. And I actually … will take down some trees, and drop them into the ground, and build up the soil, and cover it with mulch. And it’s almost like that is the artwork. [chuckle] And so instead of painting pictures of gardens, I’m sort of building them. You know, and actually, that—that whole process is—is um, I guess, where I’m putting a lot of my creative energy into. Um, but to translate it a little bit more directly, I hope to be doing some carving and painting, and uh, even uh, digital media classes with uh, youth from the housing areas in Kalihi. And that’s—that’s where I think I’ll be able to link it up a little bit more closely. Because we do actually have um, classrooms and um, other facilities up at the preserve there, where we can bring people, take a walk through the forest, um, get really inspired, and come inside and try to capture those uh, those ideas in—in—in some form of media.

 

What’s it like at the preserve when the school children go home, and the—the health center patients go home, and it’s—it’s just you and your family uh, alone on ninety-nine acres?

 

M-m. You know, it’s—there’s almost a s—I hear a sigh of contentment from the land.

 

Sure it’s not you?

 

No, it’s—might be me; it might be me. And I—but [INDISTINCT]. But uh, it’s—it’s—it’s a sigh of contentment. Because what we try to do is think about how we’re trying to translate what the land is telling us, and what—and—and uh, you know, we’re trying to listen to the land, an—and—and—and try to—we’re trying to, you know, humbly to speak for it. And one of the things that um … I know it’s been telling me is that it’s missed all these—all the children, it’s missed the families, it’s missed the elders, it’s missed the jokes and the laughter. ‘Cause it’s—it’s had to put up with a lot of junk, a lot of rubbish, a lot of pain—

 

It was a dumping ground for—

 

Dumping for—

 

–a long time.

 

–for cars, and—and for people, really. I mean, maybe not—well, not entirely literally, but you know, in—insomuch as people who ha—having a lot of issues or problems, going up there and having to … self—you know, I guess self medicate, I guess you could say. You know. And um … but—so uh, from a lot of that pain, you know, we’re hoping to transform that place. And again, it’s—it’s the people who are—who are always there, you know, this—the energy that’s there, that’s um, that’s really been asking. That sentient—sentient grandmother [chuckle] landscape that’s been saying, Oh, where’s the—where are the babies, where are the children? And they say, Oh, oh, they’re coming, they’re coming. You know, bringing back the voice of the children to—bringing back the—the breath is something that uh, it just—it just makes so much sense, and it really does seem to be what the land is—is asking for.

 

You know, so many people of your generation, or—or almost any generation today, no longer count on having one job for their lifetime. They figure they’re gonna have six, seven, eight careers.

 

Yeah.

 

But you’re saying, the—the next thirty years, this is where I’ll be.

 

Yeah; yeah. Um—

 

And it’s not—it’s not a cakewalk. I mean, you’re—you’re—you’re felling timber, and creating—

 

[chuckle]

 

–mulch and all that.

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah; and actually, I feel very content. And I mean, it’s—it’s I guess um, who’s that guy; Joseph Campbell who says, you know, you follow your bliss. You know, and it’s definitely—I—I’m—I’m following it. [chuckle] And I feel very, very content to be doing so. And—and actually, what I hope to do is to kind of figure out, you know, if I do a really good job up at the preserve, that I can help to create more of these kinds of opportunities for other, you know, youth and families to become caretakers, you know, to open up more areas of land in the back of the valleys. Um, uh, because there are so many different benefits, you know. Particularly, the hope is to partner up with, you know, Board of Water Supply, because they own the back of Kalihi Valley. What we’re doing is excellent watershed management, you know, ‘cause we’re putting back natives, uh, we are opening up areas for composting and mulching, you know, putting up garding and—gardening and farm areas. And these go, you know, really far to help to uh, retain water for—and to help to um—for the health of the entire aquifer, entire uh, watershed. And—and that can become a model for the back of every valley in Hawaii, you know. And that’ what we hope to do, is kinda create a—uh, what you call ohe kapala or like a bamboo stamp; create a template. You know, get a—get a really good design, and then you go [CLUCKS TONGUE], right across. [chuckle] And so …

 

How has your artwork changed since you began living in the back of Kalihi Valley?

 

M-m … well … well, well. You know … there’s just a lot more rain in the back of Kalihi than there is in Makaha. [chuckle] So uh, rainy days are great days for me to sit inside. Um, I have uh, I’ve converted my—our—our dining room table into a s—par—partially into a studio area. [chuckle] And uh, um, so I’ll sit there. And it’s great, ‘cause I have—my children are playing around, and family’s around all the time. So I do get a lot of in time—uh, inside time, you know, to sit and to render, to draw. Sunset and morning times, amazing light. Just the—the light—

 

And different light in different parts of—

 

Oh.

 

–the island. Sure; that makes—

 

Yeah.

 

–a lot of sense.

 

Oh, it’s amazing. And just stepping outside and watch—and looking how that layer of light is … it’s—just washes over everything, and it just unifies the entire landscape with beautiful amber hues. And so um, yeah. So if I’m ever at a loss, or if I’m not—ever don’t feel inspired enough, I just sort of open—open my door for about forty-five seconds. And I go, Oh, okay. Close the door—

 

[chuckle]

 

–and get back to it.

 

Have you looked at the history of the back of Kalihi Valley—

 

Oh, yeah.

 

–to see what happened there before you?

 

Yeah; yeah. That’s actually right where we are in some of our discussions at the preserve, about doing research that—that tells the story of the back of the—or that’ll help to tell the story of the back of Kalihi Valley. And one of the persons that I hope to really engage … more is uh, Puakea Nogelmeier. Because he is also a Kalihi resident, and he lives on—right off of Kalihi Street as well. So yeah, yeah. And so uh, hopefully, we’d like to translate some more stories about Kalihi, and um … throughout the preserve—I’m really excited about this, is actually looking at creating installations that uh, could be carvings and different things, and at the base of the carving will be a story. And it could be a story of—you know, one of the many stories of the back of Kalihi Valley.

 

So this—the—the installation, the art would explain, introduce the valley to the people—

 

Yes.

 

–who come along?

 

Absolutely; absolutely. And uh, even, there could be some uh, pathways that move through the ninety-nine acres of the preserve where each different section of the pathway would be like a page from a story and—where it’ll be a different scene from a story. Uh, it would be a stone with a different figure carved into it, or it could be carved in certain shape. And so um, and it kinda ties into this idea of uh, when we take groups through the preserve and we talk about all the different volunteer groups that have gotten involved in different areas, what we’re doing is we’re—we’re actually walking story.

 

While his current lifestyle seems utopian and far removed from the highly competitive world of commercial art, Solomon Enos has enjoyed success as a book illustrator, muralist, CD cover artist, and cartoonist, starting from a very early age.

 

[chuckle]

 

Do you remember the first time you ever got a check for your artwork, you ever got paid?

 

Yes; yes, yes. Actually, the first time was—uh, and it was actually my very first commissioned project. And I was honored that my first—the first offer I’ve ever had to collaborate with was Auntie Pua Burgess. And so—amazing, amazing, amazing woman. And it was curriculum for fifth grade at uh, um, Makaha Elementary School. And actually, I think it was used for a broader uh, range of schools through the DOE. I was sixth grader; so I was a sixth grader doing artwork for a fifth grade textbook. And uh, you know, the images are raw, you know. But there’s one uh, experience that I particular remember from working with Auntie Pua, which um, you know, I like to draw upon that was, you know, quite a lot of fun. And this—it’s a story about this boy that daydreams a lot. And so he’s helping his mother unpack groceries from the car, and he drops the eggs, so the eggs spill. And his mother is—you know, she’s got other—other things going on in her life, and she’s really upset. And she picks up an egg, and she throws it at him. You know, and then she [GASP] realizes what she’s done. And—you know, and she feels really ashamed about it. And so Auntie Pua says, Okay, for this part, here, put on this old dirty tee-shirt and let’s go outside. So we went outside.

 

[chuckle]

 

And she gets an egg and she goes—she even makes this mean face. She goes [GROWLS], throws it at me. I go, Ah. And for one moment, for three seconds, I was that boy within the story. And I was like, Wow, why did she—oh.

 

[chuckle]

 

[INDISTINCT] And—but I think it—it—that kind of immersion into the character, into the story, has really helped to influence everything that I’ve ever done since. And so—anyway, so my first—my first paycheck, I think it was like uh, I think it was like a thousand dollars. Like at the time, I was like, Wow. And my mom goes like [WHOOSH] [chuckle], I’ll be taking that. [chuckle]

 

Don’t want to get too used to you spending it.

 

Exactly. [chuckle]

 

What kind of art have you done as a—as a paid artist since?

 

 

Well, all the book projects I’ve done have been uh, quite a lot of fun. Kimo Armitage; two stories in particular, the uh, Na Olelo Noeau No Na Keiki with uh, through Island Heritage, and Na Akua Hawaii. And that was um, through Bishop Museum Press, and those are gods and goddesses of Hawaii. Every project that comes along is um, an opportunity for me to do research, to—that … or that research that comes out of those projects actually help to inform everything else I do after that. And on the other end, I guess, would be the work that I’ve been doing uh, for Polyfantastica, uh, which is very much more of a conceptual uh, project. You know, it’s really thinking about, you know, broad an—and long ranging ideas that tap into the meaning of our—or the role of our, you know, our uh, human beings within the—within the universe, you know. So it’s pretty far out kinda stuff. [chuckle]

 

Is it—is it Star Trek meets Hawaii?

 

Uh, yeah; yeah, yeah. That could be; that could be one way to look at it. And uh, you know, but honestly, I think my influences are more folks like uh, Kurt Vonnegut and uh, more uh, folks like uh, Carl Sagan. You know, folks that uh, kinda challenge what’s accepted as normal, you know, and helps to provide … helps to make the thing everyday become much more significant.

 

So you’re quoting a writer—a writer and a scientist, rather than another artist—

 

Yeah.

 

–as having been—

 

Yeah.

 

–your models.

 

Yes, absolutely; absolutely.

 

And you translate.

 

Yes; yes. And it’s that inspiration. In fact, I’m thinking of—there was one line from Vonnegut where, uh, he asks uh, uh, the characters in the story, you know, there’s—What is faster than light? And they don’t have an answer. And he says, Okay, you see that star? Okay; you see that star. Okay. Awareness. So wow, okay. So an idea can be extremely powerful; it can be faster than light, you know, consciousness.

 

Polyfantastica began as a weekly comic strip for the Honolulu Advertiser illustrated by Solomon Enos, and written by his wife, Meredith Desha Enos. It has since grown into plans for a graphic novel. The ever evolving epic is filled with philosophical parables stretching tens of thousands of years into the future.

 

In this story, um, a father and son, they’re—they’re strapping themselves onto this great big kite. And they’re in the middle of this great, beautiful valley, gardens going as far as your eye could see. And they launch themselves up into the sky, and the fa—the father tells his son, I’m taking you to a special gathering today up in the sky. And this gathering is—we’re gonna tell you a story about a time when human beings used to kill each other. And the son can’t—you know, What? Wha—how do you—how—with the world full of wonder and beauty, how would anybody ha—how could you even do that? The whole concept is lost to him; violence and war is lost to him. And he says, Well, when we get there, you’ll understand, you’ll hear the story, and um, we’re gonna go to this place. And what it is, is they break through the clouds, and it’s this great big kite city. And this kite city, all these kites are parking, you know, drifting up to the top. And they go, and there’s this knowledge that is put up in that kite city that never touches the Earth again. But it’s put there, and the children go there to understand that human beings can destroy, human beings have had a hi—has this history, but we’ve moved—we’ve evolved away from it. But we still need to tell that story, so that we never make those mistakes again.

 

You’ve set yourself a huge task with the preserve, and forty thousand years with Polyfantastica. That’s a … where’d you get forty thousand years, an—and how are you gonna do that amount of work?

 

Uh, well, um … I hope to be able to build a—or help to foster a um, moolelo industry, a storytelling industry here in Hawaii. And uh, it can happen at many different levels, but it—we’re gonna need a whole host of researchers, of artists, of writers, of creative thinkers to tell the traditional stories of Hawaii, and also tell—um, and to help to look at what the role of Hawaiian people have been as navigators, as people who m—when sitting on their island, looking at the currents, watching the birds, saying, There’s something else beyond where we are right now. And I’d like to create a theme that talks about there’s something else beyond the way the world is now. It’s here, but we need to get there somehow. And so how—what are we gonna do, and how can we use the stories that we tell ourselves to change reality?

 

If you looked at Solomon Enos’ resume, you might conclude he’s a guy who can’t decide what to do; artist, illustrator, groundskeeper, environmentalist. But there is one job description that ties everything he’s about together; storyteller. His tools are material things; paints, pencils, computers, plants, land, students. But the stories he tells with these materials are of another realm, one that traverses tens of thousands of years. We wish Solomon Enos the best in his storytelling endeavors. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Ahui hou kakou.

 

 

[chuckle]

 

And as you raised your hand, I saw a tattoo.

 

Oh.

 

And—and since you’re an artist, I—

 

Yeah.

 

–I want to ask you what’s—what’s the image?

 

Oh, I’m not sure. Um, I’ll probably figure it out later on. [chuckle] I actually um, was just experimenting a little bit with—

 

Did it yourself?

 

Yeah; yeah, yeah, yeah. I just was sort of making things up as I went along. I—I do have a few other tattoos on me, and I’m just actually kind of like a uh, a sketchbook, really, a live sketchbook. [chuckle] So not—not a lot of—

 

Since you can’t erase. [chuckle]

 

Exactly.

 

You can’t blend it out.

 

[chuckle] So not—not a whole lot of things [INDISTINCT] some of the artwork that I um, that I have uh, uh, on me.

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Catherine Payne

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Catherine Payne

 

Original air date: Tues., May 17, 2011

 

Creating Stability for Hawaii’s Teenagers

 

In this edition of Long Story Short, Leslie Wilcox introduces us to Catherine Payne, who recenly retired after a long careeer as one of Hawaii’s most respected educators. After spending her childhood moving from place to place with her Navy pilot father, Payne spent her adult life working to create stability for Hawaii teenagers – including many who lacked adults they could depend on. During a career that spanned more than 35 years, she worked as a teacher, vice principal and principal, never taking on the easy jobs. Instead, she led some of the toughest schools on Oahu and nurtured students with not only academic, but languages, socio-economic and behavioral challenges.

 

Catherine Payne Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Farrington has to be a school, and the others schools that I worked in also, that does more than just provide education. We have to take care of many other aspects of the students’ lives. I just saw people that were really willing to do that.

 

Coming up next on Long Story Short, a woman who grew up in a close, stable family, and who devoted her career to young people in need of stability and support. Just ahead, this story of award-winning principal, Catherine Payne.

 

Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox is Hawaii’s first weekly television programproduced and broadcast in high definition.

 

Aloha mai kakou. I’m Leslie Wilcox. In this edition of Long Story Short, we’ll get to know retired public school principal, Catherine Payne. She always wanted to teach, and she wasn’t satisfied with educating Hawaii’s middleclass students. She wanted to work with the young people who needed her attention the most. Starting with her first official teaching job in the 1970s, Payne took on some of the toughest assignments Hawaii’s public school system had to offer. As a principal, she steered thousands of students and teachers through tumultuous middle and high school years. In her thirty-five-plus-year career with the DOE, Catherine Payne was recognized by her peers and by national education groups as one of the stars of Hawaii’s public schools. This educator spent her own childhood on the move as part of a military family.

 

What was it like, moving again, and again, and again, as a youngster?

 

Well, I think what was stable about my life was my family. And so, as we moved, and we always drove, my mother always had lots of books for me to read. It was just a time when our family was always together. We would move in the summers most of the time, and get up at—this was before air conditioning in cars, so we’d get up at two or three in the morning and drive until noon, and we’d stop at a motel with a swimming pool. My father did mental arithmetic as we were driving along, so it was just really delightful. And that was the time when I was an only child, before my sister came along.

 

But you must have made some good friends, and then having to pull yourself away.

 

I think it wasn’t hard for me until I was a teenager. And it just was our way of life, and we moved, and we sometimes moved—I went to three different first grades. We moved a lot. I think I learned to get along with all kinds of people. And it really helped me as a teacher, because I was used to being flexible, and just adjusting to whatever circumstances we had. My parents modeled that, because they also had to leave their friends and move, and make new relationships. And yet, they stayed in touch with people. And so whenever we moved, we were always seeing old friends, and family that were all over the country. So it I had a whole world that was my neighborhood.

 

I’m surprised that there was never, until high school … rebellion or resistance, or unhappiness, or disappointment.

 

I’m sure there probably was some of that. [CHUCKLE]   My parents were fairly strict in what they expected of me. And yet, it was also a very loving and interesting life, too. My mother was alone most of the time, because my dad … because of his career, he was gone about half the time. It was just a very calm upbringing. I didn’t have siblings to fight with until I was thirteen when my sister came along, and we didn’t fight too much ‘cause she was just a baby.

 

What did your father do? Where was he off to?

 

Well, he was a career Navy man, and he was on ships a lot, because he was a pilot. And so, he was flying with squadrons. And I remember so many memories in my life were just getting ready to meet the ship, or say goodbye to the ship, and sending tapes. But he was always sort of far away. He was in Vietnam, and then when he came to Hawaii, he was home. By then, he was living at home with the family, and that was I think, at a time when we really got to know my father as a teenager.

 

Because he was gone that much.

 

He was gone quite a lot. And then, I was in boarding school my last two years also, because during those two years, they moved three times, and the last time was to Hawaii.

 

How did you get to Hawaii? Was it through one of your father’s assignments?

 

Yes. Hawaii was his last tour of duty with the Navy, and they moved over. We thought it would just be one year, and then he extended into a different job. And I had started college at the University of California up at Davis, and I thought, I should just spend a year in Hawaii, because it’s an opportunity I won’t ever have again. So I came here during my sophomore year, and never looked back. They actually stayed and retired here, and then in the late 80s, retired again to Texas. But I was firmly planted here.

 

What made you stay? What was it?

 

I just loved the cultural diversity. I made very good friends right away, and I just felt like this was a good place to be. But I knew that if I couldn’t find a teaching job in Hawaii—and when I graduated in the mid-70s, it was very difficult—my plan was to leave, because I knew I had to go somewhere and be a teacher.

 

Why did you know you had to be a teacher?

 

[CHUCKLE] I always knew I was gonna be a teacher, from the time I was a very little girl.

 

Do you remember anything that prompted that?

 

I think I was surrounded by teachers in my family. My grandmother had been a teacher, I had aunts and uncles who had been teachers. And as a reader, I loved so many stories about teachers. I read about teachers in the 18th century, and the 19th century, and teachers that did heroic things in the ghetto, and I just thought, that’s for me. I felt like the right place for me would be to teach in an area where kids were struggling. I did my student teaching at Kalani, and I loved it. I had a wonderful experience. But I felt my calling was either on the neighbor islands or in the country. And I was so fortunate to be hired in Nanakuli, and that’s where I stayed for nine years as a teacher.

 

Why the more marginalized kids?

 

I’m not exactly sure, because it certainly wasn’t my life growing up. But it was my life through what I read, and the kinds of people I admired were doing things like that. I thought about joining the Peace Corps, I thought about joining Vista. I came of age in the 60s, when that was a consciousness, and I just felt like I had something to give, to help. And the right things just happened along my path to make that happen.

 

Even for all your travels, you led a fairly sheltered existence in a stable family environment. What was it like getting to know some very tough situations in family in Nanakuli?

 

The main experience of Nanakuli for me was the welcoming aloha from the Hawaiian community. They taught me so much. The children there, from the little ones to the high school students, were just so delightful, and so eager to participate in life, and to learn. And the struggles that the families had were part of it, but it wasn’t the main focus of their existence. There was so much good that they had to share. It was kind of interesting, because I became the advisor for the Hawaiian Club in my second year. And the students and I thought that was pretty funny. We traveled to the neighbor islands, we did dances and performances, and they would introduce me to their kupuna. And I just fell in love. That was what gave me the foundation for the rest of my career.

 

And yet, the struggles were very much a part of who your students were.

 

They were. And I really saw my place. Part of it was to help them to see that they could lift themselves above that, and that education was the way for that to happen. Many, many of my students, who I am still in touch with, have gone on to do great things. They’ve become teachers, they’ve become doctors, they’ve become lawyers, or they’ve become wonderful family members that have stayed in the community and are still helping. Some are teachers at Nanakuli High School.

 

With a calling for teaching, you later went into administration. What was that like? ‘Cause it really does seem like two very different job requirements.

 

Yes. And it wasn’t ever my career goal to be an administrator. But what happened through my time at Nanakuli and through the principals that I had there, were opportunities to be a teacher leader. They saw something in me, before I saw it in myself. And that taught me that in the role of a leader, that’s part of your job, is to see things in your teachers and in the people who work for you, that they may not have discovered yet, and give them opportunities develop that side of themselves. So I kind of just was eased into administration. And my principal asked me to consider going through the training program, and I did. And then Waianae High School opened up as an opportunity for me to be a vice principal, and that just seemed like another good place for me to go.

 

Isn’t the vice principal usually the one who dispenses discipline?

 

Discipline is part of the role, but it’s really relationships and helping the students to know that you’re there for them, and you have expectations, and you really just want to help make their school experience positive.

 

So somehow, they knew that even though you were disciplining them, that you cared about them?

 

I believe they did. It’s not just the kids that you’re responsible for when you’re an administrator. You have to take care of the adults. Teachers need to feel supported, and they need to feel energized by the administrators. The Waianae teachers were just … they also taught me so much about relationships and caring, and how to take care of kids.

 

And yet, from the outer world, I mean, outside Waianae, Nanakuli, there are a lot of perceptions of the place as being scary and bad, and very, very troubled.

 

Yeah. In every school that I’ve worked in, that’s been a perception that people have had. Because when I taught in Nanakuli, and Waianae, and then Olomana and Farrington, people would always say, Oh, my goodness, it must be so hard there, you have all these difficulties. When you’re in that school, that’s not what you feel the most. It’s supporting these people, the teachers and the students, and helping them to see a vision that is higher than maybe what they had imagined for themselves.

 

Catherine Payne served at Waianae High School just two and a half years, until a new daunting assignment came her way, the job of principal of Olomana School in Kailua. Olomana is actually several schools for young people who aren’t making it in regular school. They have academic, social, or mental health challenges. Some have landed in juvenile detention or corrections. It’s a school for at risk and delinquent youngsters, young people essentially, a school of last resort.

 

It just fit again with my real conviction that we have to take care of these students while they’re still in school, and help them to find a different path. Because if we don’t do that, the cost to society, and to them as individuals, is gonna be really, really great. The teachers that were at Olomana inspired me so much, because they were teachers that would see a little bit of goodness in every child, and try to make that little bit grow, and grow. Kids need to have some adult in their life that they know cares about them. So it really requires a special person to be a counselor or a teacher, or an aide in a school like Olomana, or Nanakuli, or Waianae, or Farrington. Because you’re working with kids who may not have that in their personal life, in their family life. So we have to be willing to go that extra step.

 

Now, some would say, Oh, if only we’d caught them earlier. What can you do with seventh through twelve grades? What works?

 

What works is giving them hope. And I think for many children, even at the age of twelve and thirteen, they’ve started to lose hope. They see their parents in trouble, they see their siblings and their cousins. So it’s finding that little crack that you can get into, and give them hope. And we created different programs for the kids that stayed with us, where graduation could be a hope. And for so many kids who are in the dropout mentality, just thinking of graduation as a possibility changed their whole being. And we began to recognize these students, we had graduation ceremonies when they completed their requirements. These were kids that never, ever dreamed of graduation. And that’s so important for these kids.

 

Did you ever get physically threatened?

 

At Waianae, I did have an incident where perhaps I was a little too green, but there was a student who was intoxicated. And I was out patrolling the campus, and she went into the boys’ bathroom, so I just sort of followed her in to get her to come back out. And she did assault me, and tore my sweater, I remember. And she was arrested, and we did go to court. I wasn’t really hurt.

 

Did it make you gun shy, though?

 

No, it didn’t. ‘Cause I knew I wasn’t gonna be hurt seriously by her, and security came pretty quickly, so I just sort of stood my ground. The funny thing that happened shortly after that, I went to Olomana, where she then was. [CHUCKLE] And so, we met up again and made friends. But that was the only time.

 

When you’re dealing with such a troubled population, do you feel like your work will never be done, or you can never do enough?

 

Absolutely. You can’t ever do enough. You just do what you can do. We talk about planting seeds all the time. You’re planting seeds that may not germinate for quite a while, but you still keep doing it, never giving up.

 

In 1995, after ten years at Olomana, Catherine Payne accepted the job that would come to define her career, principal of Governor Wallace Rider Farrington High School. At the time, it was the largest high school in the State, with about twenty-five hundred students, including many immigrants just learning English.

 

As principal, you may be the top person at the school, but it doesn’t mean you’re in control, because there are so many factors and constituencies. What’s that like, when you have to maintain order, but you really don’t have all of the authority to do so?

 

I think one of the things that all principals realize is that you never know how your day is going to be. People that try to help us with organizing our time, and they talk about scheduling all these things, they really have no idea what a principal does. Because you don’t know, when you walk into the office, who’s gonna be standing there that needs to have some support. A principal of a large school, as Farrington was, cannot do it by himself for herself.

 

Twenty-five hundred students, staff of three hundred. Where do you find all the time to take care of all of these things, accreditation, and all of the things that are part of the job?

 

If you really sit down and list all the things, which I didn’t do until I was ready to retire, ‘cause I was doing it for the next principal, it’s just overwhelming. You can’t imagine doing all of that. And yet, when you’re in that day-to-day living of it, you just do it. You don’t do much else in your life, but you do that.

 

At times in the campus life of Farrington, gangs have been worse or better. I don’t know what it was like when you first arrived there.

 

Well, when I first got there, we were actually coming out of a really tough period with gangs. There had been an incident where a student was quite severely beaten the previous year.

 

I remember stabbings in the parking lot at the time.

 

Yeah. There had been a shooting. The late 80s and the early 90s were really, really rough times. Adult Friends for Youth helped us, the YMCA on campus helped us. We have so many partners in the community that, while we did have incidents where gangs kind of would burst forth at different times, it never felt out of control. We have social workers on campus that actually have a peace council made up of different gang members that would talk about their problems before it escalated into conflict. So just different ways of working with the students, not to eliminate that social phenomena that is pretty much ingrained in the community.

 

There was that notable period where Hawaii’s governor, chief of police, and city prosecutor were all Farrington grads. Keith Kaneshiro in his previous incarnation as prosecutor, Mike Nakamura, police chief, and Ben Cayetano as governor.

 

And they’ve all given back to Farrington. Ben Cayetano came and taught a class.

 

What was the class about?

 

He taught a class, and it was a political science type of group, similar to what he was teaching at the University. He wanted to give back and experience our students, and so he came and kind of co-taught the class with a teacher. Just an incredible opportunity for our students to experience him, and his wealth knowledge. I think it also opened his eyes a little bit to how challenging it is to be a teacher.   [CHUCKLE] This school is not just Farrington, or just for the immediate group of students. This belongs to the community, it belongs to alumni, and they need to continue to support it. And they have.

 

Do you think principals need to be educators? Can you just have a master of business degree?

 

I think a principal needs to be an educator. I think it would be great if you had a partner in the school that was a business manager, so that they could take care of whether the bills were being paid on time, and the budget. You have a fifteen-million-dollar budget that you’re dealing with, and I often wished I had some business background for that. But great educators have a passion for what they do, which is education. And if you are missing that reason for being in a school, that passion for helping children grow, then I think you’re missing a piece of what is essential as a leader of education.

 

Along the way, did you see some really special interactions between people that perhaps changed others’ lives?

 

It changed my life, watching teachers that so inspire me. What really would inspire me was when you would see something that was a problem or a tragedy, or some kind of situation with our students, and then to see how the staff would just coalesce to make that situation better. We had some suicides at Farrington, we had some other deaths of students, or deaths of students’ family members, and how does the school come together to support those that are left. We had a student once who was the oldest in his family, he was a junior at the time. And he had siblings at the middle school and the elementary school, and his mother had just given birth and had cancer, and died within days after giving birth. His father had to keep his job, and there wasn’t anyone in the family who could take care of this infant. And so, our eleventh grade student was going to have to drop out of school to take care of the infant. And his counselor found out about it, and the first thing that happened—‘cause it was at Christmas too, is they did a huge drive to support the family, and gathering supplies for the baby, and Christmas gifts for the younger siblings. And then, over the Christmas holidays, trying to figure out how we could have this child still come to school, and take care of the baby at the same time. And at that time, we had a childcare program for infants for our pregnant girls, and for the girls that had given birth. It was a contracted program, but we were able to get them to agree that even though it wasn’t his baby, he could bring his younger brother at six weeks, and come to school with his baby brother. And he was able to go ahead and graduate, because of that. It’s one of the things that makes Farrington so special, is that we don’t want anybody to fall through the cracks.

 

I can tell you are a believer, you’re an idealist, and yet, you have to be pragmatic to do your job and to be an educator. How do you reconcile the two?

 

Well, you never lose your idealism, because that’s what gave me the hope to keep going. But, there is the reality of the day-to-day operations, and how you keep the school running, and all the different people that depend on the leaders to take care of things. And that’s just a balancing act that I think any leader of an organization has to manage. I believe that a good leader doesn’t feel like they have to have all the power. They really have to give it away and empower others. And that’s how a system continues when you’re not there. And that was my goal. I used to tell them even years before I retired that if the school didn’t continue on and grow, and get better after I left, it meant that I wasn’t a very good leader.

 

Why did you retire?

 

I was actually out of school for about three months, because I was ill. And during that time, I think it gave me moments of reflection where I began to think about what other things that I wanted to do, and also know that maybe I didn’t have quite the energy to keep up that pace that’s required at Farrington. And Farrington deserves somebody that had that. I was there fifteen years, so who’s gonna do the next fifteen? And it just felt like it was the time to step back. It was hard. [CHUCKLE] I knew it was the right thing to do, but I’m still feeling connected to Farrington, and I think I probably always will. That’s the school where I’ve spent the most time of my life.

 

Are you good at doing less?

 

Not really. [CHUCKLE] I definitely want to keep my mind busy, and I want to keep involved in education. I think up until my last day on Earth, that’ll be what I’m most concerned and involved with. I have tried to step back, and see things in a different perspective. And I think that’s how I’m looking at the whole educational system now, is more from the balcony, instead of right in the middle of the fray. I know times are very hard right now, and I hope people will be patient with public education and public educators, because it’s just a really tough time. And the people who are working in those schools, in all our schools, are trying really hard to do a good job. It’s tough.

 

In retirement, do you have a different view of the job of principal? Have you shifted in your outlook at all?

 

I think, as I look at it now, it’s even harder than a year ago when I was there. It’s a very, very difficult and challenging time for public educators. And my heart goes out to all of them.

 

Have you talked with some of your former students to find out what it was, if they knew of any particular thing that was done that kind of turned things over for them?

 

The students that I still hear from, they just remember the teachers that were kind to them, and teachers that continued to believe in them and tell them, you know, you can do this, you’re gonna be okay. Maybe that’s what inspired them, when they were twenty-five or thirty, to go back to school. You just never know how you influence a child. I had a student come up to me recently in the shopping center out at Kahala Mall, who came running up, and he was an adult now, and he had been at Olomana. He recognized me, and he just wanted me to know that he was doing well. And he was in his mid-thirties, he introduced me to his wife, he has a family, he has a good job. And he just said, I remember you, and you helped us, and I just want you to know I’m okay now. And that’s what we live for. [CHUCKLE]

 

Catherine Payne retired in 2010, after fifteen years at Farrington and more than thirty-five in Hawaii’s public schools. She intends to stay active in education and community service. Whatever she does next, Catherine Payne remains a role model for Hawaii educators. Her work will live on in the teachers she has mentored and inspired, and in former students who are succeeding beyond expectations because they had a teacher or principal who believed they could. For Long Story Short, and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. A hui hou kakou.

 

For audio and written transcripts of this program, and all episodes of Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox, visit pbshawaii.org.

 

When they become difficult, it’s still being that same—coming back and saying, I’m still here for you. You can be obnoxious and you can swear at me, and I’m not gonna write you off. I’m still gonna be here for you. And that takes a special kind of adult that can do that.