personal

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
Beyond the Pale

 

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. explores the Jewish heritages of actor Jeff Goldblum, radio host Terry Gross and comedian Marc Maron, uncovering previously unknown stories that show each shares much more with their ancestors than a religious tradition.

 

 

 

FINDING YOUR ROOTS
This Land Is My Land

FINDING YOUR ROOTS: This Land Is My Land

 

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. reveals the unexpected family trees of entertainer Queen Latifah and actor Jeffrey Wright, redefining their sense of the black experience — and challenging preconceptions about America’s past.

 

 

 

CRAFT IN AMERICA
Quilts

 

Learn about contemporary quilters as we celebrate the role quilts have played in our country’s story. Featuring Susan Hudson, Victoria Findlay Wolfe, Michael A. Cummings, Judith Content, the International Quilt Museum and special guest Ken Burns.

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Susan Scott

 

One of my favorite Hawaii newspaper columns is about the marvels of the sea – and who would guess its writer grew up in a land-locked state? As a kid, Wisconsin native Susan Scott would page through National Geographic magazines, imagining herself traveling to distant lands. When she moved to Hawaii, she was afraid of the ocean. Today she loves sailing her own sailboat to distant shores. On LONG STORY SHORT, I get to talk with Susan about her discoveries and delights in living on and near the ocean.

 

This program will be rebroadcast on Sunday, Jan. 12, at 4:00 pm and 11:30 pm.

 

Susan Scott Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

My neighbors were two sisters; they called them the old maids in those days—it was in the 50s, and they subscribed to National Geographic, which was the enormous of my attraction to go over there to their house. And I would sit on the couch, I remember it vividly, and page through the National Geographics, which we did not have. My family were not readers. And they would explain things to me. And I remember Easter Island was a big one. I’m going there, and I’m going here, and I’m going here, I’m going here.

 

Susan Scott of Oahu has been to those places she dreamed about in her childhood, and then some. She’s a familiar name to those who followed her weekly Ocean Watch column in Honolulu’s major daily newspaper, which she’s been writing since 1987. Susan Scott, 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. In addition to her regular Ocean Watch column in the Honolulu Star Advertiser, Susan Scott has written seven books about Hawaii’s wildlife, including publications about plants and animals that live in the ocean as well as on land. Yet, having grown up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Susan Scott knew very little about Hawaii when she and her husband, Dr. Craig Thomas, decided to move here in 1983.

 

What was it like for you, your childhood? How would you characterize it?

 

My childhood was very loving and happy. We had a big extended family until my mom remarried. And she married a man who was not very enamored with children or really comfortable around children. And I was the oldest, so we didn’t get along that well. He was pretty strict with manners, and all kinds of things that I hadn’t really ever heard of before. [CHUCKLE] So, we had a hard time of it. They were heavy drinkers. Everybody in my family drank. All four grandparents, all my aunts and uncles; everybody. It was a drinking culture. It is a German-Scandinavian community, and drinking was an enormous part of the culture. I didn’t know people didn’t live like that until I left home. I just decided pretty much when I was fifteen that I was not gonna have children, and that I was gonna have a different life.

 

At fifteen?

 

At fifteen.

 

What did they encourage you to do with your life?

 

They encouraged me to be part of the extended family, and work in factories, and stay there. And I think the vision was that we would all stick together and do the same thing. But whatever it is, I don’t know what happens, but I think some kids just grow up with the travel bug, an adventure bug. And that was me, and I really, really wanted to do that a lot. And everyone thought I was crazy. They didn’t get it. They still don’t get it.

 

I left home when I was eighteen, and the first time in my life I heard a foreign language. I heard a migrant worker in Milwaukee who had been through our county to pick cherries, and he asked me a question in Spanish. I remember it vividly. I was dumbfounded. I could not believe how beautiful this language sounded. And so, he was lost, and in a little trouble, so I took him home where I lived, in a little commune kinda thing with some other hippie kids, and we found someone who spoke Spanish, and on the phone, and he said what he was looking for, a bus station and a place to sleep for the night. But it was this enormous thing. I’d never heard Spanish, I never heard any other language, really.

 

It was all Caucasian people in your small town, too.

 

Yeah; yeah. And I’d never seen Black people, or Asians, or anyone. And so, just leaving was just a really wonderful thing for me. And you know, I certainly had ups and downs as an adolescent and as a hippie, kinda wandering around, wondering what to do. ‘Cause I didn’t go to nursing school until after that. And then, that’s when I decided if I went to nursing and got an RN, I could go back to Europe and maybe live and work in Ireland. When I met Craig, uh, which was in 1980, it was the end of that whole hippie thing, and he was really instrumental in helping me stop doing drugs and alcohol, and smoking, and all of those things.

 

How did you meet?

 

I met Craig in the hospital. He was an intern, and it was his first week there, and it was my last week there.

 

And where was this?

 

In Denver. He had gotten a residency there, and I had gone to nursing school in Denver. And so, we had just met just barely as we were both off going to do different things. I was going back to school to do something else.

 

You had decided not to be a nurse.

 

Right; I decided not to be a nurse.

 

Why not?

 

I think it was too indoors for me. I think I really had an adventure outdoor travel bug.

 

And it’s kind of hard, isn’t it? I mean, devote years to this training and this education, and you did it for a good reason, then you decide it doesn’t work for you?

 

Well, it was only two years.

 

Still, two years.

 

It was an associate degree. Yeah, it was two years. I didn’t feel that I could do it. I’m not sure why, exactly. I worked in seven different departments in seven years. I was a nurse for seven years. And I finally thought, I don’t think moving around the departments is gonna do it for me.

 

And even though it helps with my travel bug, you decided, No, try something else.

 

Yeah. It just didn’t work for me. And I did my pre-med courses after that, at the University of Colorado. And then, Craig finished his residency and really, really wanted to come to Hawaii and rest, and have some time off before he started working. And so, we came to Hawaii in 1983 just for the summer. And that was it; we’ve never, never even considered living anywhere else. But we always said if there’s another place we find—‘cause he likes to travel, obviously, too. If we find a place better, we’ll go there. And we still say that, but you know, the places that we’re going now are wonderful, and I really enjoy the South Pacific and the other islands, and Mexico, and the places that I’ve been sailing these last few years., but I would never leave Hawaii.

 

What was it about Hawaii that made you know, We’re gonna stay here, we’re putting down roots?

 

Well, part of it is, I feel really at home here. I think the culture is American, and there’s a lot of wonderful things about America that I really like. But I also think that the multicultural part of Hawaii really spoke to me. Well, I went to Chinese New Year and had a fantastic time. We just loved it so much. You know, we watched the lion dances and the dragon dance, and we had Chicago hotdogs. And all this different ethnic mix is really, really fun, and I appreciate that all the time. I like the mix here. And I feel like I’m always kinda traveling while I’m here at home and meeting people from different places. So, it really works for me.

 

The multi-ethnic cultures and people may have been Susan Scott’s initial reasons for wanting to stay in Hawaii, but there was something else here that she hadn’t discovered yet, something she probably would never have guessed would become her life’s passion.

 

When you came here, you enrolled at UH Manoa.

 

I enrolled at UH Manoa because I was so afraid of the ocean. And Craig and I both really liked Hawaii and the cultural part of Hawaii, and we loved Oahu.

 

You were afraid of the ocean?

 

I was afraid of the ocean. Well, I grew up in Wisconsin and went to school in Denver. I had barely seen the ocean. So, I didn’t know what a tide was. And when people said the surf was up on the North Shore, I didn’t know. I remember thinking, Up where?

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

What does that mean? [CHUCKLE] So, it was interesting to go to school, and thinking I would just take a couple of courses. And I had just come off the really hard pre-med schedule, which I’d finished, and so, it was really fun. And I had all these different people from all over the world at school. My lab partner was from Singapore, and I met a lot of local people who made fun of some of the things I said, and about the ocean, and they thought that it was just crazy that I thought, wana, for instance, was really a cool interesting thing. ‘Cause I had thought that sea urchins were plants.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

I had no idea. So, the more I learned, the more interested in got, and I finally ended up with a degree in biology and a certificate in marine journalism from the Marine Option Program. So, I’m a very proud graduate of MOP.

 

Well, what is your job?

 

I’m a freelance writer. And so, I’ve contracted with the Star Advertiser, the Star Bulletin for many years, to do a weekly column. And one of the things the editors were interested in the beginning was that I would have the science point of view from the animals. So, I could write about the marine animals and marine science in a way that reporters probably wouldn’t. And so, those were sort of my sample columns, and the editor who hired me said, Well, let’s just try this for a while and see how it goes. And that’s the only contract I ever had.

 

And as the Star Bulletin dissolved, here you are with the Star Advertiser.

 

Star Advertiser; right.

 

You continued along with them.

 

Well, I was lucky. I made the cut.

 

You did.

 

Yeah; I was very lucky.

 

From being afraid of the ocean to essentially spending your life around it.

 

Right; exactly.

 

In it, on it, around it.

 

Yeah. I think part of the feedback I get for my column and my books is that the sense of wonder is still in the writing. And I feel that; that’s very genuine.

 

And the curiosity is the case there too.

 

To me, I feel like I’m in a movie sometimes; just even walking on the beach, I don’t have to get in the water. And I feel so lucky that I not only got to study and learn the science part of marine biology, but that I get to live it. You know.

 

Well, I love your column. And you know, I think so many people read it and say, Ah, I always wondered about that. In fact, I was gonna tell you that there was this period, I think it was a month; it was one June, I can’t remember which June, but I remember thinking, Everything you’re writing about this month, every week I open it up, and it’s something I really, really wanted to know.

 

Oh, that’s great. Oh, I’m glad to hear that. Yeah; I get really good feedback from the column, and it really keeps me going, keeps me interested. I think I’ll be a little old lady going into the newspaper, still writing about my experience with the ocean. But it is a lot of fun.

 

A lot of it is based on observation. You see something, and you wonder about it.

 

Right.

 

You do the research, and then you talk with people.

 

Well, and I have lots and lots of really interested readers, like you, who write me notes and say—

 

Yeah; what is this?

 

I found this, can I send you a picture? Or, Have you ever heard of this? And uh, I just feel really lucky that I have so many readers now. And I have readers in Australia, now that it’s online, the newspaper’s online. I got an email from Switzerland last week, and another from Malta.

 

And there are infinite things to learn about the ocean. It covers, what, three-quarters of the Earth’s surface. You’ve got a lot of material forever.

 

I’ll never run out of material. Yeah.

 

Tell me about some of the columns that have resonated most with your readers.

 

Well, I think that sailing columns resonate the most. And it’s interesting, ‘cause I worry the most about those being boring to people. Probably because I feel like the column should be about discovering marine animals, and I think the thing I like writing best about is, what you said, finding something and wondering how it works, and then discovering, like, Oh, my gosh, this nudibranch has its own little garden on its back. Which we have right off on the North Shore, we have a bunch of these. And so, if I’m writing about sailing, it feels more like a little bit of a travel log. Like, I did this, and then I did this, and then I did this. And I think, I’m probably driving people crazy. It’s like, Oh, big deal.

 

What’s the latest new thing you’ve learned?

 

Chitons; I’ve never seen a Hawaii chiton. And so, when my friends emailed me that from California and I looked it up, I looked it up in the Hawaii books I have and said, We have those. They wear a girdle. [CHUCKLE] This is called a girdle that goes around. I found a website by Sam Gon, who’s the Nature Conservancy biologist here, and who I’ve meet several times, and so, he had something about chitons, and trilobites. He calls the chitons trilobite imposters. [CHUCKLE] Pretenders, or something. ‘Cause he gets emails from people that say they found a trilobite.

 

Chiton; so that’s C-H-I-T-O-N.

 

Right. That was all new for me. I spent two days doing it. So, I don’t earn very good money, because I spend so much time writing each column. But I have really a lot of fun doing it. And then, I think if I quit the column, would I still work so hard at getting all the little details and getting it right? And I don’t know.

 

Gives you a reason to give structure to your positive wonder about the world.

 

Well, it does. It does.

 

Makes you more alert, too, I would think.

 

It does. ‘Cause I’m always thinking, Oh, I’ve gotta write about that.

 

Right.

 

Well, then I have to remember what kinda day this was, or what beach it was, or was it rocky beach, or sandy. A lot of my observations are not actually in the water. Which is one of the things a lot of my readers write and say, I’ve never been in the ocean, I don’t swim. I love your columns, because I can relate to it through your eyes, but I don’t feel like I have to actually get in the ocean to know about these things. ‘Cause I don’t always get in the water, either.

 

And meanwhile, you’ve been writing books as well. I’m fascinated by All Stings Considered. And I know everyone has asked you, I’ve asked you, when you get stung by a Portuguese Man ‘O War, which is very common, there’s always someone willing to give you their home remedy.

 

That’s right.

 

But do any of the remedies work, or is it just time that works?

 

Well, I had a doctor friend that used to say, tincture of time was the best remedy. And what we say for almost all jellyfish stings.

 

Almost all.

 

The reason so many things work, and everyone has so many different remedies is because it’s a self-limiting injury that goes away by itself anyway. Craig and I did some studies with the City and County lifeguards, and we had a really good time. We had unmarked bottles, so it was a blinded study, so no one knew what they were putting on. And then, we had victims of jellyfish stings fill out a questionnaire; spray this on and tell us on a pain scale how it was. And so, we had a statistician from City and County running the numbers, ‘cause we wanted to make sure we weren’t making something worse. And we had meat tenderizer mixed in a concentrated form in water, and we had Sting Aid which they were selling at the time in all the stores, and fresh water and sea water. Sea water was our control. And the statistician called us, I remember the day, and said, I think you might as well stop the study, ‘cause the sea water is so far ahead of all the others. So, that told us that it was statistically significant. So, don’t do anything. Rinse it off with sea water and go home.

 

Sea water seems to be an answer to so many things.

 

Yeah; it really is.

 

I always remember a prominent coach who had a progressive disorder, and I asked him what he was doing for it. And he goes, The ocean is my therapy, and it’s made me happier than anything could have.

 

Well, I could say the same thing. Yeah. There is something about sea water. And even walking next to it works for me. [CHUCKLE]

 

Yeah.

 

I don’t have to actually get in it.

 

Discovering new wonders about the ocean and wildlife and writing about them has never stopped being exciting and fulfilling for Susan Scott. Yet, after doing this for eighteen years, she came to a point in her life where she needed to do something different.

 

You know every type of animal you could ever find in a tide pool.

 

Yeah; exactly. Well, I’m still learning. That’s the fun of it. So, I still really find the thrill of it and the joy of it.

 

As your life has gone along, you’ve actually gotten more and more, well, immersed in the ocean.

 

Right. Yeah; I started sailing. I didn’t know how to sail before I met Craig, but uh, in 2005, I sailed to Palmyra. I learned how to sail.

 

Wait a minute; that’s a big jump.

 

Oh.

 

First, you’re afraid of the ocean.

 

Yeah.

 

And then you’re sailing with Craig, and all of a sudden you’re sailing to Palmyra?

 

Well, I had a big midlife crisis. I had a really, really hard menopause shift in hormones, I think. I don’t know; I felt crazy. And I think a lot of women have these hormone times in their late forties and fifties, and people do think they’re crazy. People thought I was crazy. I felt like I did lose myself. I thought, I don’t know who I am or where I’m going, or what’s happening. I had been trying to write a novel, and like most novel writers in the world, it was rejected, rejected, rejected. And that’s normal, but I took that so hard. I took to my bed and didn’t get up for days. And I’m not like that at all. And so, I had a really miserable time with it, and that Women’s Health Initiative study came out that said hormones are bad for women, so I was not on hormones. And finally, I said, [CHUCKLE] I’m going somewhere. My life feels like it’s over anyway, so whatever happens, it’s gotta be better, it doesn’t matter what I do. So, I learned how to sail a boat by myself, without Craig, which was the first time. And a lot of people said, Well, he taught you how to sail, or you learned how to sail with him. Taking it myself was an entire different universe, and making all the decisions was really different.

 

Were you a solo sailor going across the ocean that way?

 

I got a job with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service as a volunteer in Palmyra. They really needed some help doing a study there, and it would take four months. But they didn’t have any way for me to get there, or a place for me to live when I did get there. ‘Cause Palmyra is a pretty remote camp. And so, I thought, Well, I have a sailboat. I’ll just go there. I’ll sail there, and I’ll live on the boat, and then I’ll see what happens after that.

 

How long did it take you to sail there?

 

It took me a week to sail there, with some big catastrophic boat failures, actually. And I sailed with a biologist friend, a young man who’s still a very dear friend. And he had never been on a sailboat before or never sailed. So, the two of us were really novices. And we made it to Palmyra. We managed to patch the boat together enough to sail there, and Craig sent down the parts to fix it.

 

What was that failure? What happened?

 

The forestay broke. Which for sailors, if you know boats, is what holds up the mast and the sails. And so, we managed to save the mast.

 

It broke in bad weather?

 

It broke because it was put together wrong.

 

Oh!

 

Here in Honolulu. It was new. That’s a very big deal. It’s about as bad as it gets without getting a hole in the bottom of the boat where it’s sinking. But we did fine. We didn’t know much then. I know a lot more now. I think I’d be a lot more calm now.

 

All the elements are bigger than yourself, and can combine against you.

 

Yes. And I learned too, that you’re really dependent on the boat for your life, but you’re also dependent on your wits to fix the boat, because things break all the time. The most common conversation among sailors is what big thing broke, and what did you do. And I wrote a book about it called, Call Me Captain, which is a really big part of my life. I’ve been writing that for a long time. And University of Hawaii Press is publishing it.

 

It’s so hard to write about yourself, I would think.

 

It was very hard. I actually had a wonderful editor from San Francisco, a really good editor who’s a professional editor, and she helped me. And I think the big part of her, besides being a good editor is, she didn’t know me personally. And so, she could say, I can’t picture this; I don’t know what were you feeling. And so, I rewrote with her over years.   And the UH Press does not usually publish memoirs.

 

Oh, congratulations.

 

So, I feel very lucky. So, I sailed to Tahiti from Palmyra, and then to Australia. I really got the bug.

 

That’s amazing.

 

I had different friends help me. I never sailed alone until I got to Mexico. And in the Sea of Cortez there’s only seventy-five miles across, and so I started sailing alone there. ‘Cause I thought, Oh, I’m never gonna be that far offshore. My big problem with going offshore alone is, if something breaks that’s beyond my strength, I don’t feel very strong, and as I age, I feel less strong. I lift weights, but it doesn’t make me feel capable. And on the way to Palmyra, when we had the big boat failure, I really needed Alex’s strength.

 

You’ve seen some amazing visuals at sea. I know you’ve described spinning dolphins.

 

Right.

 

What else at sea have you seen that’s amazing?

 

Well, one thing that I saw that was amazing, but I didn’t really realize it until later when I looked it up and read, it was pilot whales. And pilot whales are among the very few—I think there’s only two species, maybe three, in the world of animals that have menopause, and females live long after they stop reproducing. And pilot whales are one of them; Hawaii’s pilot whales. So, when they swam up to the boat, on my trip to Palmyra, they were the only whales that came to the boat. And then later, when I read about them, I thought, Well, there you go.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

They were coming over to see me, and that was a really good sign.

 

How’s that going for you? [CHUCKLE]

 

That was good.

 

Do you sleep well on the boat in the middle of the sea?

 

No. I don’t sleep hardly at all. I sleep; I feel like I’m not totally exhausted, but when I get somewhere, I sleep a lot. But I’m always on call.

 

And yet, you love being on a boat where you don’t sleep much?

 

Well, I’m not offshore that much. So, the trip from Mexico to the Marquesas that I did this year was a twenty-eight-day crossing. And that’s really a long, long crossing. And then, the rest of the year was just little trips, so you know, a day or two. And then when you get where you’re going, it’s a wonderful, peaceful anchorage usually, and you can sleep just fine.

 

How big is your boat? Tell me about your boat.

 

Oh, the boat’s thirty-seven feet. It’s French ketch, and it’s easy to single hand. It’s set up so you can single handed maintain the sails and do what you need to do by yourself. But it’s also roomy enough to sleep comfortably six people. So, there’s three separate cabins. It’s a center cockpit boat with an aft master cabin, and a center and a forward.

 

So, you could conceivably go alone, although that’s not advisable.

 

I could go alone. And people do go alone. I think part of it, too, it’s a social event. You know, it’s been really a good social thing for me to have, to be able to skipper the boat, and have friends come along. And as a biologist in Hawaii, I have a lot of friends who are really good on the water and they’ve been on research vessels, and they know the water, and they’re not afraid of big waves. And so, they may not necessarily know a lot about sailing, but they do what I tell them, and we’ve had a really good time.

 

You like being the skipper?

 

I do like being the skipper. I do. Sometimes, there’s times when I think it’d be really fun to just be on somebody else’s boat and let them worry about what’s going wrong, or where we’re going, or should we go all night, or should we pull in. But mostly, I like it. I enjoy it.

 

And you’re telling me menopause is what triggered all of this?

 

It is. I think, Leslie, I would have never gone on that sailboat by myself, unless I was really desperate and miserable.

 

I’m wondering if those people who you said thought you were crazy; did they think you were even crazier when you started taking the sailboat out virtually on your own?

 

That I was crazy when I got home?

 

Well, no; you know, once they heard you were—

 

When I got home, I was fine. [CHUCKLE] It cured me. [CHUCKLE] I think getting outside of my own self, and I think if there’s a lesson there, and I would never presume to tell anyone else what to do with their own. Menopause or misery, or midlife or early life crisis; I felt as confused and mixed up as I had when I was a teenager, with all those hormone storms and things, and trying to figure out what I was gonna be, where I was gonna go. And I came from a place where I really wanted to do something different, but didn’t know what. And this was the same kinda thing. And I thought, whatever happens, I’m losing it here, so it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be good. And if I never come back, or Craig and I don’t stay together, well, that’s just life.

 

Susan Scott has made it through many challenges. She continues to sail and explore with the same passion and wonder that she’s always had, and through her writing, we all get to tag along. Mahalo to Susan Scott of Oahu for sharing her stories with us. And mahalo to you for joining us. For PBS Hawaii and Long Story Short, I’m Leslie Wilcox. 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.

 

Where are the places you’d still like to go?

 

Well, I’ve never seen the pyramids of Egypt, and that one of the pages of the National Geographics of the Imer [PHONETIC] sisters. And we talked about the pyramids. I remember that, and Easter Island, which I did get to see the moai. So that was good. So, I would like to go to Egypt, but there never seems to be a very good time, politically. I’m never sure.

 

Because think the open ocean is safer than Egypt.

 

Oh, I do; I do. I think it is.

 

[END]

JOSEPH ROSENDO’S TRAVELSCOPE
Christmas Celebrations Around the Globe

JOSEPH ROSENDO'S TRAVELSCOPE: Christmas Celebrations Around the Globe

 

Celebrating the world through their festivals is a great way to experience a country and its people. This episode begins in Venice, California at the annual holiday boat parade — a funky and funny celebration along the Venice Canals, which highlights the offbeat, colorful spirit of this Southern California beach community. Then Joseph completes the holiday circle by returning to San Antonio, Texas’ world famous riverwalk and the Lake Geneva region of Switzerland for their Christmas celebration. In Switzerland, Joseph basks in the glow of some of the country’s best Christmas Markets, visits a Christmas ornament artist and takes a journey to old St. Nick’s village. In San Antonio, faith is real and Joseph explores the city’s spiritual roots and the real meaning of Christmas when he joins with San Antonio families in their homes to honor their heritage at the Tamalada – holiday tamale making – and in the San Fernando Cathedral at the midnight Serenada for the Virgin of Guadalupe. In this episode Joseph shows that Christmas is about more than twinkling lights and cups of cheer. In every country, in every culture — Christmas is a time to put aside differences, celebrate our humanity and join the angels in wishing each other Good Will and Peace on Earth.

 

Preview

 

 

 

LONG STORY SHORT WITH LESLIE WILCOX
Tom Vendetti

 

Meet Tom Vendetti, a Maui-based psychologist and filmmaker who has turned a series of unexpected life twists into two intertwined careers. He shares how his unlikely journey has unfolded, all driven by his quest for happiness.

 

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

 

Tom Vendetti Audio

 

Download the Transcript

 

Transcript

 

People often say to me: When you go to Tibet or Nepal, do you have culture shock? I say: No, the shock is coming back here.  And I truly mean that.

 

Meet a man from Maryland who became a mental health professional and advocate on Maui, and also produced about thirty films, so far.  We’ll show you how his unlikely journey unfolded, and what he’s learned along the way about the search for happiness, 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.  I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing individuals over a period of decades, and I’m still struck by how often the element of chance plays a role in remarkable life stories.  The man you’re about to meet is no exception.  In fact, serendipity is a recurring theme in the story of Dr. Tom Vendetti, of Wailuku, Maui.  This psychologist and Emmy-winning filmmaker turned a series of unexpected twists into two intertwined careers that have enabled him to do good in the world, while pursuing his personal quest for happiness.  On this edition of Long Story Short, we learn how Tom Vendetti’s lifetime of journeys add up to the journey of a lifetime.

 

You were adventurous.  You were hitchhiking far away at age, what, seventeen.  You were heading out with your thumb and friends, and going to rock concerts, and spring break and other experiences.

 

Yeah; I always had this drive to see the world.  And surprisingly, my parents were okay with that.  But it was nothing for me to hitchhike to New York and see the play Hair, or go to a rock concert in Indiana, or even New Orleans to the Mardi Gras.

 

Did you start working early?

 

I started working right out of high school.  Primarily, it was during the Vietnam War days, and I was going to be drafted.  So, I applied for a conscientious objector status, and I only had a couple weeks before I was going to be shipped off, so the clock was ticking; right?  So, anyway, I went in front of this panel, and it was community members, some clergy, and military, and they just interrogated me, this kid, eighteen years old.  You dong love your country?  You don’t want to fight for your country?  And I tried to explain to them that it’s not that I wouldn’t want to fight for my country.  I would; it’s just this particular war that I didn’t believe in.  And within a couple weeks, the letter came, and it said that I was still 1A active, going to be, you know, drafted.  My mother said: I can’t believe that this is happening.  I said: Well, Mom, it’s happening.  She goes: I think it’s a mistake.  I said: Come on, Mom, they don’t make mistakes like that.  She said: Well, I’m gonna call them tomorrow and see.  And I was working construction with my father at the time, so we went to work.  And then when I came home, she took this sheet and put it out in the front of the house, and must have taken a spray can or something, put one, zero on it, which meant conscientious objector.  And I walk in the house and said: Mom, what’s going on? And she said: Well, it was a mistake; they made a typographical error.

 

Wow.  That’s a huge error.

 

That’s a huge error.  And again, I was just elated.  And because of that, though, I still had to serve my country for two years.  So, I had to find a job in the helping field either, you know, doing community service or something.  And that’s where I got a job working at Sheppard Pratt Hospital as a psychiatric aide.  And at the time, I had no interest in psychology.  Which again, it just opened this door up that I’ve been, you know, doing my whole adult life.

 

And you ended up getting a PhD.

 

PhD, and I also got a master’s degree in clinical social work from the University of Maryland.  After that, I decided to move from Maryland to Flagstaff, Arizona.  Back then, there were very few services for the mentally ill, so we created a program for them that got a lot of attention.  And a lot of that attention came from a program called Adventure Discovery, where we would take the mentally ill people hiking and on river trips, and things like that.

 

Why?

 

Well, again, there was some research coming out at the time that it was very therapeutic.  And we actually did some testing to verify it, which started my film career, by the way. We took ten mentally ill people on the San Juan River, and prior to doing that we did some pre and post tests for anxiety and depression.  The filming part came where I asked a friend of mine who bought a new camera back then. We did our testing, and made this documentary film, and the research that we did showed that not only the clients benefited, that the depression dropped and anxiety, but also the staff.

 

That is interesting, because what you’re telling me is that by seeking not to fight in Vietnam, it led you to your career and to your vocational passion.

 

Right; exactly.  So, I came back, and I put this film together.  And then, I became hooked.  So, I was the kid that was very shy in school.  You know.  I would know answers to questions, and wouldn’t raise my hand.  And when I realized through film that I could actually communicate, because I had a lot to say, you know, that this was my ticket for achieving that.

 

At the same time he was building his psychology career and developing his passion for filmmaking, Tom Vendetti yearned to see the world.  And that’s what first brought him to Hawaii, initially drawn to the Big Island of Hawaii because of his fascination with mountains.

 

It gets back to my early hitchhiking days.  I always wanted to see the world.  I had a girlfriend at the time, and we decided that we were going to travel around the world.  The first stop was Hawai‘i. So, we arrived in Hilo, because of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa.  We ended up spending two years there, because, you know, we needed to make some money. So we started one of the first halfway houses for the mentally ill over there, which is part of the Mental Health Kokua system right now.  And then after we got the money, we ended up in New Zealand.  And someone at that point said: Where are you going next?  I said: Well, I really love mountains.  They said: Well, you need to go see Mount Everest.  I said: Where is Mount Everest?

 

You didn’t know where Mount Everest was.

 

No; I was so naïve.

 

And look at where much of your life has been focused now.

 

That’s right.  I had clue. And they said: Well, you have to go to Katmandu, and Nepal.  And I said: All right.  And it was May.  The monsoons came in a little early that year, so people were saying: You shouldn’t go up to Mount Everest; you’re not going to see anything.  You know, there’ll be too many clouds, and be socked in. I said: Well, I came all this way; I’m gonna go anyway.  On the plane, there was this man sitting in front of me, and he was in English, kinda broken English, pointing out all of the mountains.  And I noticed a lot of other people were paying attention to him, like he was somewhat knowledgeable.  But I didn’t pay much attention to it.  And then, when we got off the plane, he and his daughter walked up to me and said: Where are you going?  I said: I’m going to Mount Everest.  He said: Well, would you mind if walk with you?  And I thought he just wanted to practice his English, or something. As I look back at it, I am sure he was, you know, trying to protect me and take care of me.  But as we were walking on the trail, people were just going: Namaste!  Almost in reverence to this individual.  And then finally, I heard someone say: That’s Tenzing Norgay.  I went: Tenzing Norgay?

 

He was a Mount Everest rockstar.

 

He was. And in that part of the world, he was a hero, you know.

 

Because he was the Sherpa who went up Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary.

 

Tenzing Norgay and Hillary were the first two people to summit Mount Everest. So, when I heard that, I said: What are you doing here?  He said: Well, I’m on my way to meet Hillary; National Geographic is doing a thirty-year special about us summiting the mountain.  Would you like to be my guest?  And I said: Of course.  For a week, you know, we hung out together.  And then, when we were getting up to Kunjan, where Hillary was, first they walked up and embraced; the cameras were going, and so forth.  And then, he introduced Peter—that’s Hillary’s son, was there and then, Deki, Norgay’s daughter.  And then he said: I want you to meet my friend Tom.  And here I am, shaking hands with Hillary, going: What is this all about? Right?  And then, from that day on, it just changed my whole life, and I’ve been going back now for thirty years.

 

So, you were living on the Big Island, went away to see the world.  And then, what?  How’d you get back?

 

Then, I ended up back in Flagstaff.  And when I returned, I got a job at the Guidance Center again.  My girlfriend and I split up at the time, and my wife Nancy was also getting a divorce from her husband.  She was working there, so, it all seemed to kinda click at the same time.  And then, we fell in love.  And we decided to get married on Maui.  When we got back to Flagstaff, we started contemplating the idea of moving to Hawai‘i.  Before we knew it, we applied for jobs, landed them, and we’ve been living on Maui now for twenty-six years.

 

And did you say she’s in the same …

 

Yeah; she’s a clinical social worker.  We’re very happily married, and it’s been a good thing for me.

 

Among Tom Vendetti’s talents is a background in music.  This expertise serves him well in filmmaking, helping him to craft just the right mood for each project, as well as build bonds with exceptional composers and musicians.

 

In high school, I understand, you were not just a jock; you were a band geek, I think is the expression people use.  You did both.

 

Yeah; I played the trumpet from third grade all the way into college, and was on the Baltimore Colt marching band.  So, I got to see my heroes Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry back in those days, which was quite thrilling for me.

 

And that’s another of the things you discovered early in life, that you continued on.  Music has just been a continuing theme, and you use it in all of your productions.

 

Yes.

 

Original music, too.

 

And in terms of editing, that’s my favorite part; putting the music to the scenery, especially beautiful scenery like, you know, the Himalayas and so forth. And I was so thrilled to have Keola Beamer, you know, work on this latest film.  We went to Katmandu, and he had the opportunity to record original music with seven local Nepalese, you know, musicians.  And it was just fascinating to watch, and also beautiful to listen to.  And it literally brought the film to life, as far as I’m concerned.

 

I wasn’t surprised to find out that they had partnered with you, because when Keola was a guest on this program years ago, he told me that he had become a Buddhist.

 

Right.

 

And that his mother, you know, Auntie Nona Beamer, had become a Buddhist, and they both said it was very Hawaiian in its values.

 

Right. Yeah.  Being around Keola Beamer and Moana as friends, again, that’s such a treasure, something that I, you know, love both of them dearly.

 

[MUSIC]

 

And who’s Paul Horn?

 

Paul Horn is a very famous flautist, flutist.  He’s known as the father of New Age music.  He’s a Grammy Award winner and has probably forty-six albums out. And he passed away not too long ago, but he literally said: Tom, if you ever want to use any of my music, it’s yours. We became that close over the years.

 

You traveled with him quite a bit.

 

Yeah. We traveled to Tibet.  I think it was 1992, I asked Paul, because he had played in the Taj Mahal and the Great Pyramids, if he would like to play in the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet.  He said: Man, if you can make that happen, we’re there.  And I said: Okay.  And believe it or not, we pulled it off.  And that was my first documentary film, Journey Inside Tibet, that was picked up by PBS Plus.

 

Which is one of the programming streams on PBS.

 

Yes.

 

[MUSIC]

 

So, I needed to find someone to narrate that; right?  And I always really liked Kris Kristofferson.  He was a person that I looked up to.  And I knew that he lived on Maui.  So, I had a VHS tape of what I shot, and the music, but I didn’t know Kris’ address.  But I, again, knew that he was on Maui.  Put it all in a package, and I wrote: To Kris Kristofferson, Hana, Hawai‘i, without a zip code.   ‘Cause I was fairly new to Maui at the time.  Put it in the mail, and several weeks later, I get this call from this man, Vernon White.  He happened to be Kris’ manager, and he was calling from L.A.  He said: Kris said he’ll do it.  I thought it was a friend joking, or something.

 

 

I said: Do what?  You know. He said: He’ll narrate your your film.  And I said: Really?  And I said: Well, how much will it cost?  ‘Cause Kris Kristofferson.  He says: How much money do you have?  I said: I don’t have anything.

 

He said: That’s what it will cost you.

 

Oh …

 

Yeah. And Kris came over to Kīhei, sat in the recording studio and did that, and was so gracious, and it was humbling for me to be in his presence, that again, it just kept me wanting to make more films, especially after it got on PBS.

 

I think you’re the first filmmaker I’ve ever met who doesn’t raise funds, but who earns the money in another job and pays for it himself.

 

Right.

 

That’s a lot of money, that’s a lot of travel bucks.

 

It is. But I would be doing it anyway. Traveling, doing it my whole life.

 

[CHUCKLE]

 

With psychology, of course, I had to go to college and get degrees, and so forth. But I’m self-taught when it comes to filmmaking.  So, put a lot of energy into it, and again, it’s just a passion that I love doing, and it’s become a voice for me.  So, it fills that need, too.  The editing part became more like therapy for me.  It was extremely therapeutic.  Because of the content and the people, you know, that I interviewed and so forth, hearing their words, and then getting to relive it again through the images, you know, that I shot, I never considered it, even to this day, being work.  The bottom line with making the film was, like I said, I would get a bunch of friends and we would make it slash, vacation shoot.  My wife has been very supportive in that too; Nancy.  In fact, she’s gone on all of these journeys with me.  She loves the outdoors, she loves hiking and trekking, and so forth.  So, we invite friends.  And hopefully, you know, I have a plan, an idea in mind in terms of what I was trying to tell, in terms of the story.  In places like Nepal and Tibet, if you go in with a fixed plan, you’re really setting yourself up for disappointment.  You need to be open and just kinda let it all unfold.  And if you do that, it’s amazing; it often turns out better than the original plan.

 

Is that right?

 

At least, that’s been my experience.  Yeah.

 

So, you don’t create at least a Plan B first?

 

In that part of the world, it’s better not to be that attached to anything.

Oh, that’s interesting.  That sounds very Buddhist of you.

 

It’s very Buddhist.  Buddhism and even today’s world of psychology just go hand-in-hand.  If you get into a lot of what the Dalai Lama says about negative thoughts and, you know, and so forth, that’s cognitive behavioral therapy, that’s what therapists do.

 

Training yourself not to have negative thoughts.

 

Exactly.  And reframing things in a positive light, along with the buzzword in psychology now is mindfulness.  It’s a Buddhist term; right?  I could relate to that on both levels.  This last trip that we took with the Beamers in Nepal to film Tibetan Illusion Destroyer was about exactly what I’m talking about.  They have a festival up there every year called the Mani Rimdu Festival with the purpose of destroying illusions, thoughts, or you know, the way you perceive things, that lead to human suffering.

 

Tom Vendetti of Maui has seen plenty of that suffering through several decades practicing psychology, as well as fighting to improve Hawaii’s mental health services. And then, came a time when his own mental and physical health was challenged with a diagnosis of prostate cancer.

 

Basically, when I found out that ninety-nine percent of my prostate had cancer in it, it was like being hit in the head with a two-by-four, a wakeup call.

 

How old were you?

 

Fifty-five.

 

You were fifty-five.

 

So, I went and had the radioactive seeds, a hundred and twenty-two of them, put in my prostate.  And at that time, I got pretty depressed, to be honest with you.  I was lying in bed, and I said: I need to go Nepal—I was talking to my wife, even though I felt kinda weak and so forth.  But I just said I needed to go to there.  When I got up into the mountains, it was that quiet time again, and being able to hike and be into nature that just brought me back to life. In fact, that’s when I made When the Mountain Calls, on that journey, and reflecting on all of these … you know, the thirty years of my travels in Nepal.  I’ll never forget; when I got back from basecamp, I made it all the way there and back.  I was in Lukla again at that airport.  And I called my wife, and she said: I’ve never heard you sound so happy.

 

I felt a true sense of inner peace, true happiness.  I contemplated the meaning behind all the wonderful experiences I’ve had, and of how the mountains kept calling me.  They have taught me that life’s magic is always right here in front of us.

 

Well, there, they base it on four pillars.  One is an honest, transparent government.  Another one is respecting nature.  And they basically say if you get up in an environment where all the trees are cut down, and the rivers are polluted, you’re not going to be happy. The other one is preserving culture. That’s something that they cherish in Bhutan, and they don’t want to lose it with Western influence.  And the other one is economic stability.

 

Stability; not growth, but stability.

 

Yeah. There have been many, many studies saying that above your basic needs being met, happiness improves a little bit above that with income, but beyond that, there’s no correlation at all.

 

Income doesn’t bring you more happiness.

 

Exactly right.  And when I went over to the Bhutan initially, I was very skeptical.  I thought: Is this for real?  But I came back a believer, and I think it could be a model for the world. In different places, like Norway and that part of the world, they’ve embraced it.  But in terms of Western capitalistic types of societies, we have a long way to go if we want to take that on.  But that film won an Emmy too, which was kinda cool, you know.

 

You came home as an Emmy-winning filmmaker.

 

Yeah, yeah.  That was surreal.  You know, when you’re sitting in the audience and you’re thinking: Well, I didn’t have anything really prepared.  But when the spotlight hit me, I thought: Oh, my god.  I walked up, and there were these two big, giant television screens; right? And I looked up and saw myself up there.

 

I just kind of focused on one person in front of me and started talking.

 

Because you’re the filmmaker who wants to be on the other side of the camera.

 

Exactly right.  Here’s the kid who didn’t want to put his hand up in school, you know.

 

You know, I know that that airport that you went to at Everest is very small.  But what are the chances, you know, that you’d get together with the Sherpa who summited Everest with Sir Hillary?

 

See, that’s really an interesting question.  I wasn’t one of those people that just thought things happened by chance. But I’ve come to the conclusion, and it took me a long time to get here, that things do happen.  Again, it can be on a spiritual level, or it can be on a different plane than this objective level.  And that was a real awakening for me.  And that’s the only way I can explain meeting, you know, Norgay up there, and Hillary.  You know, when I walked away from that experience, I was thinking again, you can’t explain these things.  You know, you just gotta be open to ‘em.

 

What do you make of it?  Because you know, we hear stories that appear to be accidents and random chance all the time.  But these happenings take people to places they otherwise never would have gone.

 

Part of what I learned is that, number one, you need to show up.  Just simply put yourself in a situation to allow things to happen.  And if you do that, they often do.  It’s something that, you know, you can’t necessarily measure.  It’s got to be probably more on a spiritual level that I’m trying to get in tune with.

 

Have you found a spiritual path?  Are you still deciding?

 

I’m always going to be on that path.  I’d be the first to say that I really don’t know what’s going on.  I’m still working towards that so-called enlightenment or nirvana, or whatever, however, whatever term you want to put it in.

 

Have you stopped going back there now?

 

To uh …

 

To the Himalayas.

 

No; in fact, I just got back.

 

Oh; okay, then. 

 

When I had the opportunity to film His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, a few years back, I asked him what the significance of Mount Kailash was.  So, I’m making a film right now that’s focusing on three areas—preserving the Tibetan culture in China was the first question, the second one was the significance of Mount Kailash, and the third one was happiness. In fact, I’m almost finished that one.

 

Well, what does he say about happiness?

 

Well, he said he has no way in the world to know how to fix happiness on a global level, but on an individual level, it’s possible.  And it gets back to what we were talking about; calming you mind, again, ridding yourself of negative emotions or thoughts that create negative emotions, and back to that kind of basic Buddhist teachings.

 

Did you see your Sherpa friend again?

 

I asked him; I said: Is there any place in the world that you would like to see or to hike or trek?  And he said: The Grand Canyon.  I said: Well, that’s where I’m from; when I get back, I will write to you and we’ll hike the Grand Canyon together.  And by the time I got back, he had passed away.

 

Oh …

 

Yeah.

 

Too bad.

 

Yeah. But I was thinking, you know, here I am, traveling all the way to Nepal to find happiness, and he’s saying the Grand Canyon.  Is it right in my backyard?  You know.

 

Do you think that both your career—your dual careers, really; do you think those were all about finding happiness?  Or defining it?

 

Well, it certainly ended up that way.  Initially, like I said, I had no desire at all in psychology.  And I always wanted to see the world, but I really didn’t even know about Buddhism or, you know, the teaching of Buddhism or the philosophy behind it.  But that’s really what has impacted my life in terms of the way I see the world now.

 

At the time of this conversation in 2019, Tom Vendetti has retired from fulltime psychology practice, and devotes most of his time to filmmaking.  He’s working on new projects, and we’re proud to give some of his films a home here on PBS Hawaii.  Tom Vendetti has learned from prominent people in different parts of the world.  He says he’s also gained insight from the years with his Maui patients, whom he admires and respects for their strength and intelligence.  We want to thank Tom Vendetti of Wailuku, Maui for sharing his search for happiness.  Perhaps he’s inspired you to focus on what’s truly important in your own life, and to show up in life, because that’s where chance, serendipity, can take you on an unexpected, life-changing journey.  For Long Story Short and PBS Hawaii, I’m Leslie Wilcox. Aloha nui.

 

I’ve been asked by Keola to make a film about Auntie Nona Beamer.  And it’s something that I’m really looking forward to. That’ll be my next film.  So, I feel honored to make the film.  She’s had other films made about her, but it’s been primarily, you know, talking heads, people talking about her.  The goal of this film would be to capture her spirit, and to capture it through her words, through her, you know, hula and chants, and the songs that she’s written, and the beauty of the islands.

 

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.

 

[END]

 

 

 

HIKI NŌ
Dancing Goat Sanctuary on Hawaiʻi Island and other stories

HIKI NŌ: Episode #1003 - Dancing Goat Sanctuary on Hawai‘i Island and other stories

 

TOP STORY

 

Students from Konawaena Middle School and Konawaena High School in Kealakekua join forces to tell the story of the Dancing Goat Sanctuary on Hawaiʻi Island. The sanctuary is situated on an organic farm and is dedicated to providing abused, orphaned and abandoned goats with a safe environment in which to thrive. Youth and animal advocate Shawna Gunnarson utilizes the goats for an afterschool program at the sanctuary that teaches students how to treat animals compassionately, setting a path for both animals and youth to build lasting connections.

 
Program

 

ALSO FEATURED

 

–Students from Kapaʻa High School on Kauaʻi show how to take simple steps towards developing your own personal style.

 

–Students from H.P. Baldwin High School on Maui show how to get started learning American Sign Language.

 

–Also from Baldwin, the story of a fitness coach who overcame his own personal struggles to become a motivating force in peoples’ lives.

 

–Students from Waiʻanae Intermediate School on Oʻahu introduce us to a teacher who has turned a sustainable garden into a special place of learning.

 

–Students from Pomaikaʻi Elementary School on Maui tell us the history of the musubi in Hawaiʻi and show us the right way to make one.

 

–Students from Maui High School tell the story of Maui-based painter Philip Sabado and how he re-connected with his Hawaiian culture.

 

 

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