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LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Patrick Sullivan: Professional Problem Solver

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX - Patrick Sullivan: Professional Problem Solver

 

With partners and clients from around the nation and the world, Oceanit employs out-of-the-box thinking, finding solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems by combining science, technology, engineering and creative thinking. Oceanit founder, CEO and President Patrick Sullivan speaks about his approach in bringing together curious minds with very different skillsets and why he feels Hawai‘i’s diversity and isolation help cultivate a culture of innovation.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Sept. 1, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

 

 

ANIMAL BABIES: FIRST YEAR ON EARTH
First Steps

ANIMAL BABIES: FIRST YEAR ON EARTH - First Steps

 

See how the babies learn to understand their surroundings in environments ranging from Africa to Sri Lanka to Iceland. The most basic tools for survival must be learned in their first three months to thrive and ultimately survive.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Patrick Sullivan: Lifelong Problem Solver

 

Patrick Sullivan has been a problem solver from an early age; creating enterprising ways as a teen to support his pursuit of higher education. Learn how his hard work and resourceful nature helped pave the way for his successes in life, and how he has made a career out of problem solving with his Honolulu-based company Oceanit.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Aug. 25, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Patrick Sullivan: Lifelong Problem Solver Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I remember I flew over, and I met some people on the airplane, and I put a couple jobs together, sort of on the airplane. So, I did a bunch of apartments.

 

Coming to Hawai‘i?

 

Yeah; I did apartments in Mokulē‘ia, and I did some renovations in Waikīkī.

 

This is on the way here during a college break?

 

Yeah.

 

‘Cause you had to pay for your hotel.

 

By the time I landed, I had put together three projects that, you know, I did in a week or so.  And then, I had spare time and a little extra money.  So, I kinda had a knack for doing this kinda stuff.

 

This ability to create jobs for himself on the fly got him through college, and he continues to amaze with a large business that welcomes international clients with very difficult problems, and works to solve them.  Patrick Sullivan, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Patrick Kevin Sullivan is the founder and chairman of Oceanit, a Honolulu-based company that has raised more than $475 million in research and development funds since it was founded in 1985.  A staff of about one hundred sixty scientists and engineers combines their skills in a mind-to-matter process to create solutions to some of the world’s most difficult problems.  Sullivan’s path as a fearless innovator started when he was young, wanting to pursue higher education, and knowing that he would need money for that.  By the time he entered college, he was already comfortable with bidding jobs and hiring workers.

 

My parents didn’t have education.  And there were five kids, so it was about feeding the kids.  And that was pretty much it.  My dad worked, my mom didn’t.

 

What did he do?

 

Well, he started out doing aircraft maintenance kinda stuff in Los Angeles, and then he started doing some kinda landscaping work. And then, we moved up north to Seattle, and when they started the very first 747.  So, he got recruited to work there as a mechanic.  And I remember going through the mockup on plywood.  It was really interesting, because the whole aircraft was made of plywood at that time.  And so, the whole family moved, which I thought was a big, traumatic thing. Turned out it was a really good thing. But I thought, well, everything in the world is right here in L.A., and then we move, and I thought, there’s nothing here.  But it turns out there was a lot there.  So, I mean, I learned a lot from that kind of an experience.  But then, Boeing went through a down cycle, and it was just devastating.  So, everybody was out of work, and everybody got laid off.  So, living through those kinds of thing; right?  So, that’s what led him to: Okay, there’s no more work, so we’re gonna move.  And you know, and that’s kind of what—

 

And where did you move to?

 

So, we went from there … I think we went to Arizona, Colorado, Wyoming, Texas.

 

And you were switching schools as you went?

 

Yeah; yeah.  So, I went to four different high schools, which brings its own challenges; right?  Because …

 

You’re the new kid in the room.

 

Yeah.  So, the first thing is, within the first thirty, sixty days, you’re gonna get in a fight.  Just get over it; right?  Do it sooner than later.  But every school was like that.  So, you go through these things, and you learn a lot.  And so, that’s why we moved around so much.  I mean, they tried to keep everything together, but it was just really hard.  And I think from my perspective … that’s why an education was so important.

 

You were living paycheck-to-paycheck, or job-to-job.  Did you ever go hungry?  Did you ever not be able to pay your rent?

 

Well, so, they struggled with that stuff, and my parents used to buy food in bulk.  So, like half a cow; right?  So, you carve it up, or powdered milk by the box.  Right?  So, it wasn’t regular milk, but it was powdered milk.  So, you always had something.  And of course, lots of potatoes.

 

Do you eat many of them now?

 

My wife really likes potatoes.  I still do.  But you know they kinda made do.  And then, when I was about seventeen, I started living on my own.

 

So, you left the house and were not supported by them at all, didn’t live in the home?

 

Yeah.  I bought a car.  So, I started working when I was thirteen, and I saved up all my checks.  And then, I just went out and bought a car when I turned sixteen.  And the funny thing is, I didn’t have a driver’s license or anything, but I brought all the paychecks, I got the cash, and I just went in and bought a car.  And then, I drove the car to the driver’s license thing, ‘cause I needed a driver’s license.  But otherwise, what are you gonna do; right?  And then, when I started, you know, living on my own, that was it.  Right? I had the car.   So, my friends in college called it The Dodge Hilton…

 

You slept in your car at times?

 

Yeah; a lot.  Because, you know, it was out of the rain and out of the snow, and it would sometimes get cold.  But you know, when I think about it, I was mobile, and I could do all kinds of things, so I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself.

 

Did you have a discussion with your parents before you took off?

 

Well, I wanted to go to college, and so, I … drove to college.  And that was it.  Right? And I was able to get into the dorm. This was in Boulder.

 

How did you manage that?  Since you came virtually without money.

 

So, I did some loans.  And the only thing I could do was math, but I got into engineering. And I applied to a couple schools; I got into a couple schools.  I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it turned out that was a good idea.  So, it was School of Mines, which is for mining engineering, which is the best school in the country for that, and then University of Colorado.  And then, at the time, I remember, I thought the girls were much nicer in Boulder, and of course, that’s where I met my wife.  So, that was probably a good move.  But student loans, grants, a work study.  So, I worked through all semesters in the lab, so I spent a lot of time in labs.  And then, I started a business when I was probably seventeen, ‘cause I started doing a lot of manual labor when I was probably fifteen, fourteen.  Originally at thirteen, I was working in restaurants; right?  So, I did everything from busboy, bellhop, dishwasher; did all that kinda stuff.  So, I was earning some money.  And before that, I was actually cutting yards.  So, me and this guy, E.J. Babitt, we would compete for houses and get like a dollar, two dollars a house, right, to go cut the grass, and do all the trimming—

 

You did the sales and the work.

 

Right.  So, we’d compete on doing these in the neighborhood.  But I kind of learned by, you know, seventeen, eighteen, that I could earn money in the summer by bidding on jobs.  So, I started doing landscaping and irrigation.  So, I learned irrigation from working; right?  So, I started out—you know, what happens is, I could dig a really good ditch straight; right?  And they’d say: Okay, we’re gonna show you how to lay pipe, right, and then we’re gonna show you how to do joints, and then we’re gonna show you—because everything I did, I’d try to do a good job.  And so, slowly, they would give me like: Can you do this?  And so, I learned everything from actually just doing the work.  So, by the time I was maybe seventeen, eighteen, right in there, I was able to kinda bid.  I’d bid jobs, and then I would put and do the installs.  So, I did, gosh, Denny’s, Sambo’s, we did Motel 6, commercial office buildings, these little chicken places.  And I would just knock on the door during construction and talk to the guy running the job, and say: You have anybody to do this?, and then give him a price. And then, I started it basically on a credit card.  ‘Cause I didn’t have any money.  I would do that to earn money to stay in college.  Right?  So, that’s how I would um, help pay for college, too.  So, loans, grants, work study, and doing these projects.

 

Did you hire people, or did you do all that landscaping yourself?

 

No, no; I would hire.  And so, it turns out, I ended up with a Hawaiian crew.  There are a lot of Hawaiians in Boulder, and they were in engineering; right?  So, I knew a lot of guys.  And so, I said: Look, you want to earn some extra money; you know, why don’t you show up. And so, I would put these guys to work, and you know, it would just be physical labor, but they’re young guys.

 

And pay them in cash?

 

Yeah; yeah.  Or sometimes, I would hire … you can go to like, these employment service things, where you got guys standing around that just need a job.  In some places, there’s like, corners where people that need work just hang out.  And you go by and you say: Okay, can I get this guy and this guy.  And you put ‘em on the job.  And sometimes they’re good, and sometimes they’re—you know, one of the problems with those guys in general, and it’s an oversimplification, but you know, they get paid, and then they go get drugs.  Or they get paid, and then they get alcohol.  So, some of ‘em are having issues.  So, I had guys like that, too.  But I would do that in Colorado, Arizona, and parts of Wyoming.  So, one of the first big jobs I did was a big restaurant in Cheyenne.  And I put the high school football team to work, literally.  So, I also worked in between jobs as a roustabout, so in the oilfield.  So, I worked at the time, in parts of Wyoming.  So, of course, there wasn’t much going on in Cheyenne, but Rock Springs was considered at the time the last boom town of the West.  It was like something out of an old Casper Rawlins. So, I was in a place, an abandoned house with a bunch of guys across from the Rawlins Prison.   And I put in a shower.  I said: I can’t stand this.  Right? So, I put in my own plumbing to make a shower.  But you can make a lot of money working in the oil patch; right?  But it’s just hard, dirty work.  And so, we were building the infrastructure.  This was in the summer.  So, you know, and I needed to make money.

 

How much time did this leave you for school?

 

I always studied.  I enjoyed what I did in school.  So, the goal was to make money to be in school.  That was always the goal.

 

And how did you manage that?  How’d you balance it?

 

You know, it’s work; right?  I mean, you just do it.  And so, I never really worried about that, but yeah, it does kinda add a bunch of other things to complicate things.  But in my view, school was the single most important thing.  And so, I just focused on that.  But by the time I graduated, I actually had put together a lot of money.  ‘Cause I remember when I got married, I thought I needed to buy a house, so I had saved up a bunch of money.

 

While you were in college?

 

While I was in college.

 

Paying for tuition on your own.

 

Yeah.  And I thought: Okay, I need to have money to buy a house if I’m gonna get married. And then, I went to grad school and I thought: Okay.  I didn’t know much about buying a house, but I did it.  I was probably about twenty-two, twenty-three; right?  And so, I learned a lot.  I learned how not to do it.  And later on, how to do it.  But yeah, I always kinda had a knack to make money.  I never saw it as an endpoint as a way to be able to do the things that were important, but I needed to make money because when you don’t have any money, and you know, I remember trying to qualify, I couldn’t get food stamps, ‘cause if you’re in college you can’t get food stamps.  So, I’d buy like big cartons of eggs and loaves of bread, and a box of oranges, right, and live on that for a while.  Because that’s it; right?  And you could buy subprime oranges.  They don’t have to be like the topline oranges, and you can get ‘em in Alberton’s, go talk to the produce guys in the back, and that kinda stuff.  So, that’s kinda what I did to make sure I had food.  Not all the time, but there were times; right?  So, that got me focusing on okay, I better earn some money.  So, the work study was good, the grants were good.  I paid off what’s called … there was basic educational opportunity grant, there was a thing called defense student loan, or something like that.  And so, when I graduated, I had some debt, so I was able to pay it off, too.  But it was never a question that I wasn’t going to be able to do it; it was just trying to balance all these different things.

 

That must have been an enormous burden for a seventeen-year-old, eighteen.  I mean, you were juggling so much.  I mean, sleep must not have been a priority at that point.

 

I probably didn’t sleep a whole lot, yeah, I think.

 

When you look back, it was probably harder than you knew at the time.

 

Well, for a lot of these things, if you know how hard it’s gonna be before you do it, you probably wouldn’t.  So, better not think about it, and just you know, kind of focus on what’s the right thing to do.  And no, I don’t feel bad about it or regret it, but learned a lot in the process. Because it’s not just the education for the sake of education, but for the sake of learning.

 

Entrepreneur Patrick Sullivan was always good at math, and decided early on that he wanted to be an engineer.  Beyond that, he didn’t have a plan.

 

When I started in Boulder, I wanted to do aerospace, and they were laying off aerospace engineers.  So, I ended up pivoting into engineering physics.  Which was a good move for me at the time.  But you would think: Well, that’s crazy.  So, Boulder, you know, would educate most of the astronauts; they would all go through Boulder.  So, you can see that if you went through aerospace in Boulder, maybe you could be an astronaut.  But then, that whole thing kinda went down.  So, industries go up and down, but a good education is much more durable. And so, I thought engineering and physics is good.  You know, ‘cause it’s very broad, it’s applied, you know, hands-on.  A big emphasis in nuclear, so I thought at the time: Well, I should do nuclear engineering.  And then, I worked in an atomic and nuclear lab for a year, you know, during the school year.  And I thought: You know, maybe I need to get outside more.  Because we had a cyclotron which would produce these particles.  And that was really interesting, and I spent all my time going through the data; that kinda stuff.  But I think that was a good experience, because I thought: Okay, maybe I don’t want to do this quite like this.  And that was another thing I remember.  I walked by and picked up a sample of something that was radioactive. And you know, when you work with stuff, you think: Ah, no big deal.  I picked it up, and I walked by a Geiger counter, and the thing goes off, and I thought: Jesus.  You know, you get really comfortable, and that’s kinda dangerous; right?  So, I thought: Okay, I need to think.  So, I didn’t stay on the nuclear track, although did lots of atomic and nuclear stuff.  Which was good; it’s a good intellectual exercise.

 

Yeah; because all the way along, it sounds like you were looking and seeing where things were going, and re-tracking yourself.

 

Yeah.

 

You mentioned meeting folks from Hawai‘i at Boulder.  Was one of them your wife?

 

Mm; yeah, I did.  So, Jan was finishing up, and I kinda met her here through a friend of mine, Mike Ako.  He introduced me.  But then, she was going back, and I was just finishing.  I had a semester to graduate.  And so, she went back early, and I let her drive my car, which people thought: Wow, you must really like her.  She didn’t have a car.  But it was funny, ‘cause the car, I had built it from junkyard parts; right?  So, everything kinda got bad, so I rebuilt everything.  Went to the junkyard, bought all the parts, put it together.  And the dipstick for the oil pan, there was a dipstick, but the real one was a calibrated coat hanger.  Because all the parts didn’t match, but I made it work.  And so, she didn’t know about the coat hanger, so she went in, and they kept pouring oil in this engine, and said: There’s something wrong here.  So then, they had to put it up on blocks, drain it all, and do all these things. But later, they told her: It’s the coat hanger on the side.  Calibrated.

 

And she fell in love; right?

 

Yes. She’s amazing.

 

And you didn’t have a true home state to return to.  You’d moved around a lot, but she was—

 

She did.

 

–a person of Hawai‘i.

 

Right.  And so, in the beginning, so when I finished up, I got a job at Storage Tech, which is really a spinout out of University of Colorado, and created that whole tech corridor. So, I would go to work in the College of Engineering wing, actually, ‘cause there was no infrastructure, there were just kinda forms and stuff.  So, I started doing that.  I was gonna go to grad school, and I started applying.  But then, I thought we might stay in Colorado, but then realized that that’s not how it works.  And it’s a wonderful thing.  But, yeah. So, she said, you know: We can live anywhere, but just make sure it’s in Hawai‘i.

 

Got it. 

 

So, Patrick Sullivan moved to Hawai‘i, and earned a PhD in engineering from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.  Time for a new plan.

 

And at that time that you were going through the PhD program, did you know what you’d be doing with it?

 

Well, so that’s a good question.  Everybody said: Do you want to be a professor?  And I said: Not really; it’s too slow.  I said: Nothing personal, but you know, for a lot of this stuff, it’s just not moving fast enough.  And they said: Well, then why are you doing this?  And I said: Well, education; I’m trying to learn. And to this day, that’s exactly right. And my goal was to do things.

 

But you didn’t have a specific purpose; you wanted to just apply what you knew?

 

Yeah.  I was interested in all kinds of things.  And so, when I finished, the option was, I could be, you know, at the university level type of thing.  Which is good in a lot of ways, but again, for me, it wasn’t fast enough.  And there was the shipyard, which is some really good people doing important work, but I didn’t want to do that.  So, I created Oceanit.  But I kinda knew how to do that.  So, I thought: Yeah, okay, I can do this.

 

You mean, you knew how to start a company?

 

Right.

 

Because you …

 

‘Cause I learned a lot doing these kinds of projects and jobs when I was in college.  And you know, how to bid a job, how to run a crew, how to deliver stuff, how to execute.  That wasn’t really a big deal.  That always kinda came naturally.  So, the thing that was important for me was, I was very interested in learning the science and the applied science and engineering of stuff.  ‘Cause for me, that was really fun, and it was something that would allow me to build and do things; right?  Make things; which is really what I wanted to do.

 

And the sky’s the limit; right? 

 

The sky’s the limit.

 

Or beyond the sky.

 

Right.  So, it’s not limited by subject or field; it’s really limited by imagination.  And that really became Oceanit.

 

Which means …

 

Well, it’s a Greek and Latin derivative of ocean-dweller.  But see, the thing about the ocean, the ocean is a teacher in so many ways.  But when you do work in the ocean, it’s very interdisciplinary.  So, it covers everything from, you know, physics, chemistry, biology, hydromechanics. So, it’s probably the biggest mashup of all science, is the ocean.  So, for me, it was kind of like an applied physics PhD, focused on fluids.  And then, I did applied electrochemistry and a bunch of other things and materials, but it was a mashup.  And it turns out that mashup of fields and technologies is what we do today at Oceanit; right?  So, it’s in energy and aerospace and materials, and all kinds of things. But if I think about it, that is kind of what it takes to build in and around the ocean.  So, that worked out.

 

Not everybody who moves to Hawai‘i wants to stay.  Clearly, you do, and you have.  What was it like for you being the malihini in Hawai‘i, introduced to all kinds of new people and …

 

Well, I had a classmate, Eric Yee, who became a physician here; he’s Hawaiian-Chinese.  And I used to go surfing with his brothers.  They had a big house in Nu‘uanu.  And we had done this road trip, right, in the Dodge Hilton. So, I brought Eric—

 

In your old car.

 

In my old car.  We drove down to the Keys, we did all this stuff.  And Eric hadn’t been through the South, and we had this other guy from New York.  And so, it was a really interesting trip, where we’d dive in on the Keys, and Eric was amazing.  We were grabbing lobster, and we’d just cook on the fire, and doing all these things. But I would stay with him and his brothers, the Yee brothers, and we’d go surfing.  And so, it was kind of interesting, because we’d go out surfing—of course, they were all much better than me, and I was not that good.  I mean, I’ve gotten better.  But they would say: Okay, ditch the Haole, right, he’s gonna be the bait for the shark.

 

And they’d go out there, and I’m going: What?

 

But I learned a lot from them.  They were super, super-nice people.

 

That doesn’t sound so nice.

 

Well, they were just so nice, I thought.  But it really touched me that in the community, they’re so giving and so supportive.  That was before I met my wife.

 

You came to Hawai‘i for love.

 

And you started this business here.  Obviously, you are reaching far beyond here, but would it be easier to be somewhere else from a business standpoint?

 

Well, that’s a good question.  We just had this group here this week from Korea because they want a license for the Country of Korea.  We’re gonna do, I think, a pipeline in Turkmenistan this quarter. We’re actually gonna do heat exchangers in Abu Dhabi.  I mean, this stuff is all just kinda cranking.  And it was all invented here, and developed in the lab, but the market is the rest of the world.  And that’s how we view it.  So, for manufacturing and certain things, you can build facilities in different places. For the magic, this is the place.

 

One example of an innovative product Oceanit developed is the LifeBed, which has sensors to take vital signs without intrusive wires and electrodes over moving clothes.  It started out as a request from the Department of Defense to improve triage on the battlefields.  Since then, it’s been adapted for hospitals, long-term care facilities, and homecare, because it can monitor vital signs without touching the patient.  Thanks to Patrick Suillivan of Kailua, O‘ahu for sharing his life stories with us.  And mahalo to you, for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

You’ve trademarked, I believe, something called intellectual anarchy.

 

It always starts with asking a basic question, a fundamental question.  Not necessarily a question that’s about a science thing, but maybe a life thing, but basic question.  So, getting the right question is a really big deal.  When you ask the right question, then you go on this sort of a journey in exploring an answer.  And that leads to a lot of interesting things.

 

 

[END]

 

 

MAKE48

 

MAKE48 is an exciting look at the entire invention process from idea to store shelf. In this unique series, teams compete to develop a new product idea, plan it, make a prototype and pitch it – all in just 48 hours. In the first four episodes, the viewer is immersed in the action as the invention process unfolds. With the constant pressure of the “ticking clock,” the teams brainstorm, design and build their ideas in order to pitch a working prototype to a team of industry-savvy judges. Industry A-listers roam the competition floor and give advice on all facets of product design and development, and a panel of industry experts weigh in on the prototype’s function and marketability. At the end of the second day, the field will be narrowed down to just three teams who advance on the path to market. Judges include: buyers from the home shopping channel QVC, Squatty Potty’s Judy Edwards (a Shark Tank mega-success), and Wet and Forget’s Adam Smith. In episode five, the prototype judging begins and only three inventions are chosen to move on to episode six, “The Road to Marketplace,” where they are fine-tuned, tested, and re-engineered by national design firms. Then, in episode seven, the top three teams are paired with national creative marketing firms to dive into the world of marketing, creative strategy, crowd- funding, product video production and brand strategy. Episode eight is the finale, where the product developers present the final design along with manufacturing and marketing plans to an industry panel and crowd-funding experts at Indiegogo. The product crowdfunding campaigns are launched on Indiegogo to promote the product and gain critical consumer feedback in advance of the actual retail launch. The finale ends with the final outcome of the three new products heading to market.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Wordsmiths

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX: Wordsmiths

 

On this special episode of Long Story Short, we look back at conversations with three of Hawai‘i’s contemporary authors. We revisit our 2011 interview with Chris McKinney, whose gritty, semi-autobiographical novels, like local best seller The Tattoo, depict the dark underbelly of paradise. Acclaimed novelist Susanna Moore, whom we interviewed in 2012, draws inspiration from her Hawai‘i upbringing, calling forth both beauty and danger in her writing. Our 2008 guest, storyteller and historian Gavan Daws, has made a lasting impact on Hawai‘i’s literary scene with his book Shoal of Time: A History of the Hawaiian Islands, which remains the bestselling history of Hawai‘i. These “wordsmiths” have built careers weaving stories of Hawai‘i in distinctive, personal ways and have proven exceptional at bringing these stories to the page. Hear how they approach their craft and get a glimpse into their literary lives.

 

Program

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, July 7, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Wordsmiths Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

I did a calculation a couple years back. Someone, somewhere in the world has bought a book of mine every forty minutes since 1968.  And you used the word academic about me.  I am a recovering academic.  Put it that way.  I never wanted to write like an academic.

 

In part, I wroteIn the Cutbecause was so exasperated by hearing, after three Hawaiian books, that I was a woman’s writer, which meant that I wrote poetically about children, and flowers, and mothers.  I remember thinking: Oh, is that all I can do?  Oh, is that how I’m seen?  So, I very, very purposefully wrote In the Cut to dispel that notion.

 

Some of the best stuff, some of the best ideas, some of the best things that you can plug into your story will be thing that may be scary, and things that there’s actual risk in sort of hurting somebody’s feelings or making somebody mad.  I mean, if you’re gonna refuse to do that kinda stuff, find another vocation.

 

Those are three of Hawaiʻi’s successful contemporary authors sharing thoughts about how they approach their craft.  These writers have built careers weaving stories of Hawaiʻi in distinctive, honest, and personal ways.  On this episode of Long Story Short, we’ll hear some of the fascinating backstories behind their books.  Island Wordsmiths, coming up next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawaiʻi’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Despite the technology that dominates our lives these days, a good book continues to inspire our imagination and transport us to new places, far away and even within ourselves.  Here in Hawaiʻi, we have fascinating stories to share, and writers who’ve proven exceptional in bringing these experiences to the printed page or screen.  On this edition of Long Story Short, we feature some of the wordsmiths with whom we’ve talked story over the past decade: Chris McKinney, Susanna Moore, and Gavan Daws.  Perhaps not surprisingly, all three have been teachers, as well as writers.

 

We start with our youngest author.  Chris McKinney of Honolulu was thirty-eight, with four books under his belt, when I interviewed him in 2011.  A writing career seemed unlikely when Chris McKinney was growing up in rural Kahaluu in the 1970s and 80s.  School-assigned books sparked his interest starting in middle school, and little could Chris McKinney guess then that his very first novel, The Tattoo, would one day become assigned reading in many Hawaiʻi schools.

 

You know, especially in Tattoo, part of the story is about a father seeking to toughen his son.  I just make this wild, random guess and figure it’s autobiographical.  So, which father?

 

Oh, stepfather.  And I can’t remember it, but I can just imagine what must have been the look on his face the first time he saw me, when I was about two or three years old.

 

Because of the leisure suit?

 

Because of the way my mom had dressed me.

 

And he said: I’m gonna do something with this kid.

 

Yeah; he just must have taken one look at me and thought: What in the world is this woman doing to this poor kid?  It almost felt like, you know, even though it was the 1970, early 1980s, that we were living in some sort of time warp plantation, sort of the way you were brought up thing.  And even the stories that he seems to enjoy telling the most are stories that involve people doing spectacularly crazy things.  And so, I think for him at least at the time, is part of what being a man is about.  To not show the next guy that you’re not just tougher than him, but you’re crazier than him, that you’re willing to go further than he is willing to go, and he better recognize that before he messes with you, basically.  So, if it wasn’t for my stepfather, The Tattooprobably would not have been The Tattoo.

 

So, you obviously had material to be a writer, but were you thinking about being a writer?

 

Absolutely not.  Again, remember, in some ways, I am my mother’s son.  And it is that cliché immigrant Asian story, or that philosophy, in that they want their children to succeed financially.  I mean, that is the most important thing you can do in life, is you get a good job and you make a lot of money.  And I think that hearing my mother and my grandparents and stuff talk like that all of my life, that I bought into that more than anything else. Art; you know, art, that’s not what I’m gonna do.  I’m going to make money.  So, for a long time, the plan, at least from about high school and for most of my undergrad, I was going to become a lawyer, an attorney.  And then, what had happened was that I spent probably too much time playing ukulele and drinking beer, and playing Nintendo during my undergrad that I needed to go to grad school in order to get into a good law school.  So, yeah, you know.  And at the same time, I had my bachelor’s degree in English. During my bachelor’s degree in English, I was parking cars for a living.  After I completed my bachelor’s in English, I was still parking cars for a living.  So, either way, I thought that grad school, whether it would be an avenue to law school or anything, was probably a good idea, ‘cause I didn’t want to park cars for the rest of my life.  Which was what it felt like.  So, it wasn’t until I went to grad school as an unclassified graduate student.  And again, I was very lucky because the professors who would take me, one being Joy Marcella, and the other one being Phil Damon, and another one—all three of them in the same semester, Ian MacMillan, when I wrote for them, they were all very encouraging.  And I thought: Maybe I can do this.

 

Did you have a sense that your writing was fresh, and that you knew a world that most people hadn’t written about?  If they knew it, they didn’t write about it.

 

Yeah.  Quite honestly, it’s because if you were to look into the sort of educational background of, let’s say, all of the kids my age within that square two miles of where I grew up, I would put money down on the fact that I may be one of three that actually graduated from college.  If that. So, in the sense that I was sitting there and I was writing stories among whatever, you know, seventeen, eighteen other people, yeah, there was definitely nobody else writing the kinda stuff that I was writing.

 

Would you talk about more of the influences on your writing?  What, and who have influenced your writing?

 

There’s a list of teachers that I’m thankful that I had. The first great teacher I had was a guy named Mr. Guerrero.  And this was when I was living in California.  He was fantastic.  He assigned the class a book, Animal Farm, that was the first novel that I had read that just totally resonated with me. And at the time, I wasn’t thinking that I wanted to be a writer, but it was the first time that I saw, and I was in awe of what you could do with a book.  At first, we read it, and then of course, it was thig thing, this power corrupt scheme and all of that.  And you know, I’d seen that before.  But when you find out that it’s based on the Bolshevik Revolution, that just blew my mind. Wait a minute; so this guy took history, he put it on some generic farm, and in that last moment, of course, when the animals are looking through the window and they can’t tell the difference between the pigs and the farmers, the human farmers, I mean, talk about an ending that I will never forget.  So, that was the first book that blew me away.  And then, in high school, I had a couple of good English teachers.  I think one of them still teaches at Mid Pac. Mrs. Takeshita, Mrs. Takabayashi; they were really good, and they were always encouraging.  So, I had teachers, and then there were books that influenced me. Shakespeare, Mac Beth particularly resonated with me when I read it in eleventh grade in high school.  So, that was the second story that just sort of blew me away.

 

How do you feel about high school students getting The Tattoo as required or recommended reading in many schools?

 

Thankful.  I mean, at first, it was weird.  So, when the book first came out, and people would come up to me and say: I don’t read, but my teacher assigned this book and I had to read it, and it was The Tattoo.  At first, I didn’t really know what to say to that, ‘cause I just thought it was strange. But at this point, ten years later, eleven years later, I’m grateful.  Something like that would never have occurred when I was in high school. I mean, high school, you were taught The Canon, you know, Dead White Males.  So, I think that it’s interesting to see that there’s more of a progressive thing going on in high schools, where teachers are allowed, and some of the language in that book is kind of foul.  So, it’s gratifying to see that they have the courage not only to buck the idea that everything has to come from the Western canon, but also that they can take a little bit of risk with what they include in the curriculum.

 

Since this interview first aired in 2011, Chris McKinney has published more books, bringing his total to eight.  He continues to teach writing courses at Honolulu Community College.

 

I spoke with our next critically acclaimed author in 2012.  At the time, she was living in New York City.  Susanna Moore’s tenth book is expected out this year, 2019.  Her repertoire includes two memoirs, one history book, and seven novels, including one called In the Cut, which was made into a 2003 movie starting Meg Ryan.  Susanna Moore grew up on Oahu, attended Punahou School, and lived what appeared to be a privileged life in Tantalus, Kahala, and Portlock in the 1950s. However, her mother’s untimely death led to an unhappy upbringing.  That experience would later compel Susanna Moore to explore family dynamics in her writing.

 

When did the writing bug come?  Or had you always had it?

 

I’d always had it, and wrote as a child, and wrote plays, and really bad poetry.  You know, I was a reporter for Ka Punahou, the newspaper.

 

Did you write more after your mom passed away?

 

No, I don’t think so.  I think about the same.  And also, really a bookworm.  You know, reading early, and reading insatiably and incessantly.  And then I stopped, because I had to work, I had to support myself.  And writing certainly was not going to be a way to do it.  And still isn’t, you know.  Like a lot of writers, I had to teach in order to write.

 

How did you find your voice in the first place?

 

With the first book, I’d had a baby, a girl child.  So, I’m sure there was some identification there with myself and my mother, and my mother with her mother.  And I was approaching the age, the same age as my mother when she died.  And I felt a bit shaky, and I wanted very much to just get down in writing what had happened to me, and to my daughter’s grandmother.  And that’s really how it began, just to record it.

 

And who were you imagining would see it?

 

She; I was imagining my daughter, when she grew up, would find this helpful in understanding who I was, and who her grandmother had been. And then, of course, it took her years, and years, and years to read it, interestingly.  She could not read it for the longest time, not until she was maybe seventeen or eighteen, because it was too pain for her.  She would start it, and then she’d have to stop.

 

What did she say after she read it?

 

Thank you.  She understood.  I think certain things were made clearer to her.  Some, perhaps more mysterious.

 

And what’s the name of that book?

 

My Old Sweetheart.

 

Which is really the story of you and your mom.

 

Yes.

 

As you say.  The Whiteness of Bones; I mean, I didn’t have this background as far as you talked about a little girls growing up on Kauai with a land-rich family, but very much a creature of the ocean and the forest, and you know, hanging out with the cook. How did you get that?  That was such beautiful imagery.

 

Well, of that came from spending summers on Kauai, particularly in Waimea.  And there were bits of that from my own childhood, although those weren’t my parents. The relationship with the gardener was our gardener at Tantalus; that was real.  The mongoose; my sister did have a pet mongoose.  There were things that I took, and then things that, of course, I made up.  I always thought that in a way, nature took the place of my mother.  So, I was very, very grateful and conscious of it, even I think, as an adolescent that it was playing a part in my life that was significant. But Hawaiʻi was meaningful to me in a way that was profound.  Still is.

 

I find it just really wonderful and refreshing that you have taught at Yale, at New York University, at Princeton, and you haven’t attended college. But you’ve been hired by Ivy League universities to teach.

 

It’s because of the books.  You know, if I hadn’t written these books, I would not be hired.  No; and I don’t think I could teach in the English department.

 

Creative writing is what you teach.

 

Creative writing is such a made-up thing, and ill-defined.  I mean, yes, I can get away with that, teaching creative writing without a degree, but even if I knew everything there was to know about Emily Dickinson, I would not be hired for that.

 

Do you regret not going to college?

 

It would not be unlike the way my life would have gone if my mother had lived.  I think if I had gone to college, it might have been harder for me to get started on the path that became my life.  My path to becoming a writer, or to becoming independent and free, the way I did become, would have been much, much harder, if not impossible, had she lived.

 

Why?

 

Well, she would have wished for me a more conventional life, I’m sure.  To marry, to have children, to be near her, station wagon, house in Kahala; all of those things to which she aspired.  And a bohemian life would have seemed to her probably frightening and impractical.

 

Are you saying the wandering, the bohemian lifestyle is really you, and if your mom had been alive longer, you wo7uld have taken longer to find that?

 

If ever.  Yes, I think it is really me.

 

It is really you.

 

Yes.

 

So, that raises an interesting question.  Would you rather have had your mom with you longer, or …

 

Yes; always.  Always.  I would much rather have had my mother.  And I am one of those people who, I don’t believe that suffering makes you an artist. In a way, I’m saying the reverse of what I just said, that I don’t think the things that happened to me as a child, or as an adolescent, or a young woman, made me a writer.  I think that was there.  I don’t think suffering is ever an advantage.

 

Really?

 

No; I don’t think so.  I might have written different kinds of books, my interests might have been different, I might have been less interested in mothers. Clearly, I would have been less interested in mothers.

 

Since this interview took place in 2012, Susanna Moore has moved back to Hawaiʻi from New York and married a former Punahou Schoolmate.  She also has published a history of Hawaiʻi called Paradise of the Pacific.  Susanna Moore lives in Kapaau in North Kohala on Hawaiʻi Island, but returns every fall to Princeton University on the East Coast, where she’s been teaching for the past ten years.

 

While Moore is an author who became a university instructor, our next guest was an academic who became an author.  Gavan Daws of Manoa, Oahu says he never planned to move to Hawaiʻi, let alone become an authority on Hawaiʻi history.  He left his native Australia, and just happened to get off the ship here.  He was teaching history at the University of Hawaiʻi in the 1960s when he wrote and published his first book, Shoal of Time, which has remained the best-selling history of Hawaiʻi, ever since. This acclaimed author and historian has written shelf full of meticulously researched and sometimes controversial books, including Land and Power in Hawaii.

 

So, you accidentally came here, in a sense.  And then, you accidentally got a PhD in Pacific history?

 

It was like breaking the balls on a pool table. You know, things just went everywhere, and one of ‘em went into a pocket.  And that was the academic life.  It could have been anything else.  It just kinda grew from there.  I got offered a job, I kept the job, I got tenure, I wrote a book, and so on, and so on. But I’ve also done other things outside Hawaiʻi, and other things other than academic work, you know.

 

Within just, what, a decade or so of coming here, you’re writing a history of the Hawaiian Islands, Shoal of Time.  Is it still a local bestseller after all these years?

 

Yeah, it is; it’s forty years in print.  Which is amazing.  Eighty percent of books disappear after a year.  They’re like restaurants, you know; they fold.  And I had no idea, doing that, what kind of life it would have, or even if it would get published.  Which you never know.  And just a little bit of the history of that; Honolulu Book Shops, which was the only bookshop in town in those days, they ordered twenty-four copies.  And when they sold them, they didn’t reorder; they thought that was about the demand.  But here it is, forty years later.

 

It’s required reading in many courses.

 

Which I don’t want; I don’t want to be required reading.  I want to be read by, my phrase, consent adults.  I want them to choose to read it.

 

Have you heard that in the intervening decades after the book came out, there has been some perception on the part of Native Hawaiians that there’s a colonial tone here in the book?

 

Oh, sure.  Yeah.  I think every writer writes as someone of his or her own time.  I certainly had no great ability beyond anybody else’s to look backward or forward, or sideways.  I breathed the air that was here to breathe at that time, and wrote that. Now, in the forty years since then, and almost fifty years since the research, there’s two generations. That’s half the people living here now; A, weren’t born then, and B, weren’t born here.  So, the change in everything here is huge, since I started doing that.  Any general history written now will be written by somebody now, looking back at then through the eyes of now.  Totally different.  There wouldn’t be a sentence in this book that would be the same, if I were doing it now.

 

Is that right?

 

Oh, yeah.  Or if anybody were doing it now.  Now, I that forty to fifty years, we’ve now got more than thirty years of the Hawaiian renaissance.  Now, think what a difference that’s made in the air that everybody breathes. Okay.  The next book that’ll be done, and I wish done soon, will breathe that air.  Fine. Thomas Jefferson says: History needs to be rewritten every generation.

 

When you were researching Shoal of Time, how did you put yourself in mind of what, say, Native Hawaiians were doing at that time, and how’d you learn to characterize certain things?

 

With difficulty.  What I try to do with writing, and it’s not just for Shoal of Time, but anything at all, I try to keep people interested in turning the page.  If you’re not readable, then what?  If I put you to sleep by page ten, even if I’ve got something interesting to say on page fifty, and you don’t get there, what have I done?  So, first thing; be readable.  And then, you’ve gotta dance with nonfiction.  With fiction, you can say anything to be readable; you can have sex every three pages or a mighty explosion every five, or whatever.  But with nonfiction, you can’t really take those liberties.  So, what you’ve gotta be able to do is, do that dance between readability and reliability.  And that’s a dance.  And it’s a solo dance; only one person’s name is on the book.  And everybody’s dance with readability and reliability will be different.  And that’s why they’re my books; that is to say, that’s my name on the title page.  But they’re only my books.  There’s always room for another book and for a better book, always.

 

What other ways have you told stories in your life?

 

Well, if it comes down to twenty-four words or less, I suppose that all my life has really been about words and audiences. Words is all I have.  I have no other skills of any kind, either creative or financial.  So, it’s words; words are my currency.  And I kinda grew up on the edge of the Outback in Australia, where when I was a kid there was no radio, and where for a long time there was no TV.  And storytelling was what everybody did.  And when you got old enough, which was around sixteen, you’d go into the pub two or three years below drinking age, and that was storytelling territory as well.  And on top of that, I’m about five-eighths Irish in books and in stage plays, and in song lyrics.  And I’ve done the libretto for an opera, and I’ve made documentary films which are not my talking, but other people’s talking.  And I’m a huge admirer of standup comedy; I just love standup comedy. So, words are the way that things come to me, and on a good day, they’re the way that things come out of me.

 

You’ve been on bestseller lists, and you’re an academic whose books have been reviewed by the New York Times, which doesn’t happen to most academics, because they like to point that out.  Would you talk about that a bit?  You’ve drawn the attention of major reviewers and major audiences and readerships.

 

I did a calculation a couple years back. Someone, somewhere in the world has bought a book of mine every forty minutes since 1968.  And you used the word academic about me.  I am a recovering academic.  Put it that way.  I never wanted to write like an academic.

 

And you didn’t.

 

No; and for cause.  Because bless them; for all their virtues, most academics do not write to be read.  They write to demonstrate that they know something.  That’s a very different thing.  And they write for other academics.

 

Does that mean other academics might consider your work lighter than others, because it is, quote, commercial?

 

They’re welcome to; perfectly welcome to.  But I don’t see any necessary contradiction between writing responsibly and readably.

 

This multi-talented wordsmith has also written for film, television, stage, and has even written songs.  In 2018, his most famous book, Shoal of Time, celebrated its fiftieth anniversary.  The e-book version has now outsold the many hardcover and paperback editions.

 

Mahalo to all of these accomplished wordsmiths—Chris McKinney, Susanna Moore, and Gavan Daws—for giving us a peek into their literary lives.  And thank you for watching.  For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaiʻi, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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 said to my editor this time, who’s Sonny Mehta, who was also the publisher of Knopf, that I’ve always felt my books were covers that would only induce a woman to pick up the book in a bookstore, you know, that I know that women are the primary buyers of fiction, but it would be awfully nice to have a book that a man might want to read from the cover.  And I think covers do make a difference.  And he said: Yes, yes, I agree that would be good, especially as it might be your last cover.  And I thought: [GASP] What does he mean?  He saw my face, and he said: No, no, I will always publish you; I don’t mean that, I mean that it might be the last …

 

Paper book.

 

–book in which you’ll be able to hold it in your hands. So, it’s changing.

 

[END]

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Puna Dawson

 

Puna Dawson has often found herself in the right place at the right time. Guided by her Hawaiian values and a desire to serve others, she has met extraordinary individuals and lived through significant events. Meet this Kaua‘i-based Hawaiian cultural practitioner and learn about the remarkable people and events that have touched and shaped her life.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, May 19, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

More from Puna Dawson:

 

Hawaiʻi Is All People

 

Whatever You Need, You Have

 

A Simple Smile

 

Puna Dawson Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

Did you have that sense that you were—because your life has been one of service, and you’ve done an astounding number of things, was that an intention?

 

I think it kind of happened.  I’ve been very fortunate to be at places that have opened doors and given me experiences, I mean, from one end of the Earth to the other. I thank my kūpuna, because they planned it, you know, and I’m just walking that path.

 

Puna Dawson often happened to be in the right place, at the right time, meeting remarkable people.  Was it chance, or part of a greater design?  Puna Dawson, next, on Long Story Short.

 

One-on-one engaging conversations with some of Hawai‘i’s most intriguing people: Long Story Short with Leslie Wilcox.

 

Aloha mai kākou.  I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Cecelia Ann Camille Keikilaniwahinealiiopuna Kalama Dawson, better known as Puna, is a Hawai‘i cultural practitioner on Kaua‘i.  She’s the second-oldest and first daughter born into a family of eleven children on O‘ahu. Descended from Hawaiian ali‘i, her parents taught her as she was growing up that like her ancestors, her life purpose must be to serve the people.  While she did not seek to meet prominent and extraordinary individuals, they certainly crossed her path in surprising ways, in surprising places.  Who else can say they were called to give a man a ride on Kaua‘i, and it turned out to be the Dalai Lama?  More on that later.  She lives in Anahola and Līhu‘e, Kaua‘i, but grew up in Kailua on the Windward side of O‘ahu.

 

Kailua was a big place close to the ocean.  I that was what our life was all about. And my family, you know, when I look back at all of my siblings, my parents had playmates for us.  Because they had so many.  And we were poor, but we just didn’t know that we were poor.  Being there in Kailua, it was a rich community of people that really knew one another, that saw each other at church, walking to and from, you know, school.  The people of that time are names that you read about in today’s time, but they were aunties and uncles, and everybody knew everyone.

 

And now, it seems so odd that anyone who describes themselves as poor would live right … you lived behind what is now Buzz’ Steakhouse, and right across from the beach park.   And now, it’s a whole different upscale neighborhood.

 

Oh, it sure is.  But back then, you know, in one of the homes that we lived, my dad grew everything.  And he was a cook.  My mom was a princess.  But he grew everything, and he taught us to respect and appreciate the ocean, because that was our icebox.  Our house was a one-bedroom house.

 

With eleven children.

 

With eleven children.

 

Up to eleven at a time.

 

Eleven children.  My dad was a man of many trades.  And he was able to build us steel bunkbeds.  So, we had three bunkbeds, a daybed for one of the children, and then a crib.  And we all lived in this one bedroom.  I mean, all the children did.  My parents slept in the living room.  He made that bed, too.  And we had a closet that was about this big, and a bathroom, and a hallway kitchen.  I call it a hallway kitchen because that’s exactly what it was; it was a hallway.  Small house, but lot of love.

 

And did you want to go home, or did you feel cramped at home?

 

Oh, no.  I thought everybody lived like that.  And we always had extra people.  My dad, you know, all the people that kinda grew up—Whitey Hawkins, all these uncles and aunties that he knew from the ocean came home; brought ‘em home.  And children.

 

So, when you were a child, your home was full of people who had a range of backgrounds, and came to eat, came to socialize.

 

My dad; yes.

 

Your dad would …

 

My dad and my mom.  You know, because my mother was a hula person, we always had hula people there.  Back then, the Lucky Luck show, you know, we’d go and perform, Auntie Genoa would play music, the Bee Sisters would play music.  My dad, between his fishermen and friends, we lived down the road from Don Ho, we lived, you know, in Waimānalo it’s Uncle Gabby.  But it wasn’t unusual for them to show up at our house and kanikapila in the front yard. And my dad was a boat builder, so he built so many boats.  And last count, he built sixteen boats, and he gave them all away.  And these were big sampan style, you know.  The people who would come to our house would not just play music, but you know, talk story, and talk story.  And so, our life was full and rich.

 

Auntie ‘Iolani Luahine came to your house.  I mean, you’ve seen her dance in person.  You know, she’s no longer with us, and not a lot of pictures even remain of her, especially moving pictures.  But they say it seemed like she was possessed by another presence when she danced.  Did you see that?

 

She was dedicated to hula, and of that time.  You know, when you look and read about the history of that time, I had no idea we were living in that time because she was part of it.  Iolani came on my mother’s birthday and asked if my mother would go and chant for her at the beach.  And so, we went.  And she danced right there at the water’s edge, right at the mouth of Kawai Nui, the river in Kailua.  And she danced there.  And you know, when you say that she’s possessed, it’s like she’s from another time. It was as though she was on top of the water, at the water’s edge, just floating.  Because of her dedication, when she became this other person, it was a real gift to me in my memory, because it helped me understand the histories of past.

 

So, here you are, I mean, treated to this amazing dancer, while also, you’re off to St. Anthony’s Catholic School in Kailua with your long hair down to your ankles.

 

Big bush.

 

Bound up behind your head.

 

A bush.  My dad didn’t want us cutting our hair, so our hair was big.  Anyway, at St. Anthony’s, again, at the right place at the right time.  You know, Hedwig von Trapp was—

 

Okay; stop right there.  Hedwig von Trapp was your teacher.

 

Yes.

 

And who was she?

 

Hedwig von Trapp of the von Trapp family.  She came to school in her dirndl and her kerchief.

 

The Sound of Music family.

 

The Sound of Music.

 

The actual one of the kids.

 

Actual; yeah.

 

Grown up.

 

The actual.  And you know, she was a gift to the school.  My auntie, Melia Meyer’s mother, found this woman, brought her to our school.  They were so involved with education.  And she became our music teacher.  So, you know, Mihana Aluli and all of us going to school there, we learnt from this woman.  Besides, of course, Auntie Irmgard.  But we learnt from this woman about harmony and voice projection.  We didn’t know we were having voice lessons; it was what she demanded of us at the time.  But, you know, I attribute my ability to hear harmony to that woman.  And what a gift.

 

Puna Dawson’s family life revolved around the ocean, whether it was boat building, fishing, or especially canoe paddling.  As much as her mother expected her to follow in her hula footsteps, paddling always came first for her.  Yet, her life experiences, guided by her relationship with her mother and other Hawaiian cultural practitioners, pushed her in another direction.

 

I loved sandboarding at the mouth of the river. That was my favorite sport; and canoeing.  And you know, all our family were canoe paddlers, canoe builders, makers.  And my passion was canoeing.  And I’d show up for hula with my hair wet, and show up there, and I never thought I was going to be a kumu hula of any kind.  In fact, I’m really lazy.  But I never thought, because I believed that my mother was going to live forever.  But not too long after that, my Aunt Maiki Aiu passed away.  She and my mother were two peas in a pod, and were both graduates of Auntie Lokalia Montgomery, and so, they did everything together.  But it was such a shock when Auntie passed away, because it made me realize that that could happen to my mom, too.  And I will say that helped me be more responsible.

 

Because you were the next in line to be kumu hula once your mom passed?

 

No; it was, you know, never appreciating what is right around you.  Never appreciating them.  And that was a real wakeup call.  Because my aunt was surrounded by beautiful people, and you know, and my mom too, and my aunts, my other aunts, that when she passed, it shook us, all of us.  But it shook me enough to say to my mom: I’m ready. I’m ready.

 

You had been the daughter who wasn’t showing interest in hula.

 

Oh, no.  I would say to my mom every time: Oh, there’s a new race, mom; right after this race, I will show up.

 

I see.

 

I promise you, I promise you.

 

It’s not easy; as everyone who ever goes to Kamehameha Schools knows, not easy to make Concert Glee.  You did so. What was that like?  Because it did take you many places.

 

It did.  You know, I’m gonna say this on record; I had the best friends in school, and Robert Cazimero was one of them, Kaohu Mookini.  I mean, you know, all the names that you hear.  Wayne Chang, all of these people were the who’s-who were all part of this group.  And Auntie Nona Beamer was our Hawaiian teacher.

 

You must have thought that was really normal to have all these amazing people around you.

 

Really.  And what happened was, at the right place at the right time.  Kalani Cockett came and he saw the Hawaiian ensemble, our group, and picked the whole group up and, you know, the rest is history.  We became The Hawaiian Expression.  And so, we traveled, but we traveled with our teachers. Mr. Mookini, who taught science, was our musicians, the Bee Sisters.  You know, all of these people that were known musicians of the time were a part.  Barry Yap from Kauai, you know, Beverly Noa, Ed Kenney.

 

Wow.

 

These people were—

 

They traveled with you and worked with you.

 

They traveled.  You know, we’d show up in Belgium, we’d show up in Paris; every place that Pan American flew, we had a show there.  And we were housed in Zurich.  And a group of us, you know, it was like a pod.  And it was wonderful, because we were at places that you only read about, you know.

 

Was Hawaiʻi small enough now that many other people had these experiences, or were they coming to you because your family was so involved in the community?

 

I think it was just timing.  And I say it all the time; it’s just timing.  All the places that I’ve been and continue to go to, in the name of aloha is an expression that my mom used.  What happened was, she saw so many things being written about Hawai‘i, and she totally disagreed with it.  And she became part of the Aloha Council with Auntie Pilahi Paki.  They wanted to push to make sure that that idea and the flavor of Hawaiʻi didn’t disappear.  And so, my mom started to travel.  And she chose the places that we still had agreements of peace—Germany. You know, if you look at Kalākaua and the things that he had made peace agreements—Japan, all of these places, that’s where she wanted to go.

 

What were the original things that your mom heard that were being said incorrectly about Hawaiʻi, that made her want to go on her mission?

 

Oh; hula.  Things about hula that just drove her crazy.  All knowledge is not in one school.  That’s correct.  But what was happening was, things about huna, about lua, and especially about hula was being printed, and printed in all these different languages—Japanese, you know, German, a lot of Swedish and things.  And talking story with Auntie Pilahi, you know, they were: We gotta do something about this.

 

Well, what exactly bothered them?  What was being said?

 

Well, the practice of huna especially.  Huna is in every culture; every culture.  And the expression of unihipili, coming to your center. It’s when you translate something that has no foundation, and you create it.  And that’s what they saw.  You know, in the expression how the word aloha was turned around or expressed without thought, without foundation.  I mean, the words itself in that word aloha, it is so pronounced, because it is characteristics of who we are as a people.  And in reference to hula, hula is not something that you can really learn.  It is there in you.  And different people are able to help to bring it forth.  I believe that that was really what bothered them the most. And my mother said: My grandchildren, great-grandchildren are gonna be reading this and believing it if we don’t speak out against it, if we don’t show the other side of the picture—

 

Correct the record.

 

Right.   Then, you know, we’re at fault.  So, it became a mission of hers in her later years to try to, you know, create that huliau.

 

After high school, Puna Dawson assisted her mother teaching hula in Kailua, while remaining an avid paddler and hoping to build the sport.  She followed her husband, Kalani Dawson, to Kaua‘i when he was assigned a short-term job on the island.  And she was there when Hurricane Iwa hit, which extended her husband’s stay. Commuting back and forth between O‘ahu and Kaua‘i after that, she became part of the Kaua‘i community until moving there permanently.  Then, a second hurricane hit.

 

My husband worked for the telephone company, and he went to install of the PBX in Poipu.  The very following week, Iwa hit.  And then, we were on loan to the island.  And getting ready to come home, and then Iniki hit.

 

’92; that’s a long time.

 

That’s a long time.

 

So, you were there …

 

I was there from ’89, continuously.  But in that time, my friends and family on the island would say: Oh, teach hula; why don’t you teach hula.  I go: Oh, no; too much work.  Plus—

 

I’m leaving anyway.

 

Yeah.

 

Plus, my husband and I were very involved with the canoe club on Kaua‘i.  And he bought me a microwave.  I know. He says: I’m gonna buy you this microwave because I want you to come and be the coach for the women’s crew on Kaua‘i. And so, I said: Oh.  Well, when I went there, when I went there to be the coach, what happened was, you know, coming from O‘ahu, where everything was more systematic, we go to Kaua‘i, and I have people who don’t run, they paddle when they want to paddle.  I mean, they were wonderful, but you know, it was a different lifestyle.  Anyway, he said: We need to help them to become long-distance paddlers.

 

Okay; now, what does this have to do with the microwave?

 

He bought me the microwave because I said: I’m too busy, I can’t do this, you know.  He bought me the microwave, got me the classes, and I became the microwave queen. Anyway, come back to the canoeing. Why I even went on that tangent is, my mom came to visit me a couple of times, and you know, we have friends on island. Everybody knows everybody.  And in the years that I was there, I met different kumu.  And so, when my neighbor said: Oh, can you teach us a song, we’re gonna have this convention.  And I said: Oh, let me send you to my friend.  So, I sent them to Kapu Kinimaka.  Love that girl.  Anyway, sent her.  Well, these were older women.  They were schoolteachers at Kapa‘a School, and just wanted to learn a hula so that they could share.  Well, after about three days, my neighbor comes back; she goes: We can’t dance over there, we cannot do the duck walks.  Kapu was progressive and young.  So, I said: Oh, I have another friend.  So, I called Auntie Beverly Muraoka.  I sent them to Beverly, and Beverly was teaching down at the boats.  The Lurline would come in, and so, her classes were right there in front of the Lurline coming in.  So, here are these schoolteachers who like everything to be exactly right; right?  All learning hula with all these tourists around them.  And so, they come back again three days later: We can’t be down there, we don’t even know the songs, you know.  Well, my mom happened to be home at my house, and she heard me talking to my neighbor again.  And she says: How many times did you send them away?  And I said: Twice.  She goes: This is the third time?  I said: Yes. She goes: No; you’re not sending them away.  She walked out; she said: Come tomorrow, you folks will have hula over here.  And that’s really how I started to teach, is because my mom was there.  You know. Otherwise, I would have probably passed it on forward.

 

Wow; that’s interesting.  Yeah; do you think that was meant to be?

 

I believe so.  Going to Kaua‘i, my husband encouraged me.  So, anything that I wanted to do, he encouraged me to do it. But he loved the fact that I was not only doing the culture, but you know, seeing where it was going, and utilizing the things that I was taught as a young girl.

 

You mentioned that two hurricanes kept you on Kaua‘i, even though you had planned to move back to O‘ahu.  What was your life like?  Iniki really hit Kaua‘i—well, both hit Kaua‘i hard.  What was life like after that on Kaua‘i for you?

 

Oh, my goodness.  You know, I was working at um, Smith’s Flower Shop right at Wailua.  And we had this big funeral.  So, I go to work that morning, and I’m doing all of this stuff for funerals.  And what I noticed is the peacocks in the garden are walking out of the garden in a line. And I’m saying: That is so unusual. And the Iwa birds that you usually see in the mountains were now in the lower areas, where I could see them outside of our flower shop.  And my husband calls and he says: You’ve gotta go home; you know, this hurricane is really gonna come.  Anyway, I’m driving home, and I see on the open plains cows and horses sitting on the ground.  And they only do that when they’re gonna give birth or something; right?  So, I mean, all of these signs were showing that things were different, something was happening.  My husband opens up all the windows and all the doors, and everyone’s saying: Go up to the mountain, go to the school because that’s gonna be the safest place to be.  But he looked at the house, he says: There’s concrete around everything around right here, we have a coconut tree right in front of the house.  Anyway, when Iniki hit, um, it came like a locomotive, the sound. And the wind went right through our house.  And our house was fine; we were perfectly fine.  Then, we hear the noise again.  So, here is Iniki coming, the other half, ‘cause I didn’t realize we were in the eye; other half.  I saw a house that I was at the open house just the week before, falling off the mountain. You know, like the piano just falling off the mountain.

 

Wow.

 

It was at that time that I met my neighbors.  So busy coming and going, I didn’t know my neighbors.  And my neighbors next door, the three girls had really bad asthma.  My brother Kamohai, he sent a generator; I had the first generator in Anahola.

 

Oh, that was so precious.

 

And so, we hooked up these girls, because they needed it for their machines.  I met the neighbor across the street, all the neighbors, and pretty soon we had all the kids at our house.  And you know, we would walk down to the beach to go and swim in the ocean, because we didn’t have running water.  I mean, there were so many things we didn’t have.  In that time, getting to know the neighbors, getting to know the people, I think that Anahola community really came together, and people not only knew one another, but took care of each other.

 

Wow. So, you’ve just described a powerful, destructive hurricane in terms of what good things it did for you.

 

It did.  And it did for the island.  It made everybody appreciate.  Lucky we live Hawai‘i.  But lucky we live Kaua‘i.  It made everybody appreciate what they have.  And we have a lot.  You know, simple is best.

 

Puna Dawson’s experiences of meeting remarkable people in history and living through significant events have all been part of her journey.  Mahalo to Puna Dawson of Anahola and Lihue, Kaua‘i for sharing her stories with us.  And mahalo to you for joining us.  For PBS Hawai‘i and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox.  Aloha nui.

 

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.

 

Along that theme of you coming in contact with leaders and just really remarkable people, you had an interesting guest in the backseat of your broken down Subaru one day.

 

Yes; I did.  I called him Toptim, ‘cause that’s what my brother said; his name was Toptim.

 

And in fact, he was …

 

He was the Dalai Lama.

 

Dalai Lama.

 

Yeah.

 

And he was sitting in the back of your Subaru.

 

Yes.

 

Holding your pikake plants.

 

Yeah; yes.  He came to the island.  My brother just said: My friend wants to come, and his name is Toptim.  When he came—because I didn’t know who he was, I had no idea, and so, I had all my buckets with the plants and stuff in the backseat.

 

Because you worked in a flower shop.

 

Yeah.  And so, I had to pick up all the flowers.  And so, when he said where he wanted to go, I said: Oh, I’m gonna go there, but we’ve gotta pick the flowers up on the way.

 

What was the Dalai Lama’s reaction to that?

 

Oh, he was game.  He’s a fun-loving guy.  We arrive at the airport, and here he’s sitting with my packages of pīkake, smelling wonderful.  And the girls come out to help me, and they tell me: Auntie, Auntie, that’s The Chosen One.  And I’m going like: Yeah, I guess so.  And so, we proceed going inside.  And the girl comes up and she has a newspaper, and she shows it me like this. And I turned to my brother and I say … he goes: Yeah, Toptim.  Because he couldn’t say the long version of the Dalai Lama’s name.  From that moment, it was like: Oh, my goodness, I just took this gentleman from one end of Kaua‘i to the other end of Kaua‘i picking up flowers.

 

And covered him with plants.

 

And covered him with plants.  I mean, literally, you could only see him here, and everything else was around him.

 

Did he make a comment about it?

 

He said: Oh, this is joyful.  You know, he used that word joyful quite a few times. And he found humor in everything that we were doing.

 

It is pretty funny.

 

Yeah, it is.  All I can say is, I’ve been blessed.  I’ve been really blessed.

 

 

 



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