Category Archives: Misc

An Interview with W.P. Kinsella

W.P. Kinsella is the author of Shoeless Joe, the novel that the 1989 movie Field of Dreams is based on. He has written several other novels and short stories, many of them having to do with baseball, First Nations people and magic. “The Essential W.P. Kinsella” was released from Tachyon Publications in March and contains some of Kinsella’s best stories, including the short story Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes to Iowa, which was the seed for the novel Shoeless Joe.

Kinsella celebrated his 80th birthday on the 25th of May.

 

Interview conducted February 22, 2015.

Rob Darnell: Much of your work has to do with baseball. Do you closely follow the sport? What teams do you root for?

W.P. Kinsella: Not anymore. Loosely follow the Blue Jays. After the strike, I lost interest. In reality, neither players nor owners care in the least about the fans. The greed of both factions has destroyed baseball’s credibility, at least for the present.

RD: Are there any MLB players at all that you feel are not caught up in the greed?

WPK: As long as they are forced to belong to the Players Union, no. My hero will be the guy who tells the Union to get lost.

RD: MLB politics aside, do you still agree that the game is beautiful?

WPK: Yes.

RD: Are there college, minor league or independent teams that you pay any attention to?

WPK: No. Have never been a minor league fan.

RD: Did you play baseball when you were a kid? If you did, what positions did you prefer to play? And how well did you hit?

WPK: No. Played a little softball, but there was nowhere on the field it was safe for me to be.

RD: When did your interest in baseball start and what sparked the interest? What inspired you to mix baseball and magic together?

WPK: My dad talked a good game. A child got only the World Series on the radio.

RD: What is the best World Series you can think of and what made it great?

WPK: 1946, if my memory is correct. Harry “The Cat” Brecheen went against the Red Sox in Game 7. I stayed home to listen, practically had my head inside the radio.

RD: What is your fondest baseball memory?

WPK: Seeing Bob Forsch pitch a no hitter against Montreal.

RD: Both, Harry Brecheen and Bob Forsch, played for the St. Louis Cardinals. You have fond memories of both of them. Does that mean you were once a Cardinal fan? If yes, why are the Cardinals not your team anymore and when did your love for them die?

WPK: I became exclusively an American League fan when they instituted the DH rule, and will remain so until the National League moves out of the dark ages.

RD: Over the years you’ve seen many players come and go. Who are the players that you admired the most? And what was it about them that made them admirable?

WPK: Yogi Berra, Bill Lee, they were irreverent, poked fun at the stodgy owners and managers. Curt Flood, of course, was in a class by himself, a true hero.

RD: In the early years, you had to listen to the games on the radio. Do you remember the first game you saw on TV? Was there any difficulty in making the transition from radio to TV? Was it more enjoyable to watch than listen to the games?

WPK: Guess about 1954. Until Color TV came along, BW TV was too muddy to be enjoyable.

RD: What was the first professional baseball game you had been to? And how old were you? Can you describe the experience?

WPK: Edmonton Vs Calgary, 1946, age 10. First Major League game was San Francisco Vs L.A. Don Drysdale Vs Juan Marichal. Drysdale won. Didn’t realize how lucky I was.

RD: Have you been to many MLB games? What professional baseball parks have you been to?

WPK: At one time I’d been to every park except Baltimore and Houston, but can’t even keep track of who plays where these days.

RD: In your opinion, who is the greatest baseball player of all time?

WPK: It is hard to compare the eras, but Joe Jackson and Ty Cobb from the past, Sandy Koufax and Roger Clements from the present.

RD: Do you like any other sports, such as football, basketball or hockey? If so, what are your teams?

WPK: I’m a big fan of curling, follow all the major world events. Watch all four Tennis majors. Basketball is the worst sport. They need to raise the basket at least two feet.

RD: You and Ray have the same last name. Is there more that the two of you have in common? Does Ray Kinsella mirror much of yourself?

WPK: Ray is named for a Salinger short story character, but he mirrors some of my thoughts and experiences era 1980.

RD: I’m a Detroit Tiger fan, so I want to know, what does the voice in Ray Kinsella’s cornfield have to say about the chances of the Tigers winning the World Series this year?

WPK: Slim and slimmer.

RD: What do you say about Kevin Costner’s portrayal of Ray Kinsella?

WPK: Couldn’t be better.

RD: You were happy with Field of Dreams. What about the other film and TV adaptations of your work?

WPK: Pretty pitiful. I was lucky to get one good adaptation. Field of Dreams the Musical is lurking in the wings. Hope it will provide my daughters with a ton of money someday.

RD: You’re also known for writing about First Nations people. What sparked your interest in that area?

WPK: Found a good voice and took advantage of it. Each of my specialties was like a prospector discovering a vein of gold. I worked each until the vein was exhausted.

RD: In 2010, you said that the state of the book industry was such that you would not be able to break in if you were just starting out. It’s 2015 now. In your opinion, is the situation better or worse than it was five years ago?

WPK: I think it is worse for a mid-list author such as myself. You either have to sell like Stephen King or go with the small presses where there is no money. I was lucky to have been in the right place and time for many years.

RD: What would improve the situation for mid-list writers?

WPK: Less greed on the part of both publishers and chain booksellers. It is easier for them to publish and sell only blockbusters and leave the real work to small presses.

RD: Though you are a mid-list writer, has your writing made you a comfortable living? Would you say the larger portion of your income came from your novel sales or your short story sales?

WPK: In the 70s and 80s, I made a good living. Have managed my funds carefully, will never have to go out and cadge quarters from the tourists. My main income came from failed movie and TV options.

RD: I read somewhere that you were reading books when you were five years old. What are some of your childhood favorites?

WPK: Discovered W. Somerset Maugham in about 5th grade. Didn’t understand the plots, but loved the descriptions.

RD: And for that matter, what are some of the best books you’ve read over the years?

WPK: The Great Gatsby, the finest novel ever written. Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, Anne Tyler, In Watermelon Sugar, Richard Brautigan, What The Crow Said, Robert Kroetsch.

RD: Outside of baseball and reading, what are some of your fondest childhood memories?

WPK: Uneventful, though isolated childhood. Good, kind, stable parents.

RD: You’re a tournament Scrabble player. What is your highest achievement in the game? And how long have you been playing?

WPK: I’ve played tournaments for about 20 years. My daughter, Erin, who lives with me, also travels to tournaments. While I’m not a top division player, I’ve won a number of tournaments. Won Portland one year at about 19/3.

RD: You’re going to be 80 on May 25th. Do you have anything special planned for your birthday?

WPK: Going to a Scrabble tournament in Edmonton in May, so will celebrate with family there. My agent, Carolyn Swayze, is planning a “surprise” party on the actual day.

RD: This last question is from your novel Shoeless Joe. If you could do anything you wanted to do–if you could take time and turn it in your hands like rubbing up a new baseball; if you could stop somewhere in time, and in the silence and mystery and calm of that situation you could have a wish…?

WPK: I lost my wife Barbara to cancer two years ago. I would give whatever time I have left to spend one more day with her.

 

 

What’s so special about MSD?

Photo-0043I often mention MSD, either in person or online. It’s MSD this, MSD that. When the old school building was torn down because a new school building had opened, I expressed sadness about the loss of the old school building. When a friend from MSD lost her son in early June, I fell to pieces over it. Jimmy Glover died at the end of July, and though I hadn’t talked to him in twenty years, I felt moved to post something about him on Facebook. Most recently, I stated that I want to see my friends from MSD before the year is over.

MSD–or Michigan School for the Deaf, if you got enough wind in your lungs to say the whole thing every time–is the primary school for the deaf in Michigan. There are other schools where the deaf are taught, but from what I gather, they are regular public schools where the majority of students are hearing.

I’m trying to write something meaningful here, something that will properly convey why MSD is special, but I fear I’m not a good enough writer to do MSD the justice it deserves. But I’ll give it my best shot.

Every former MSDer I know still looks on MSD with fondness. The place was more than just a school for most of us. It was a home. We lived five days a week there and went home for the weekends.  Some of the students had attended the school, living in the dorm, since they started kindergarten. Others joined the school in later elementary grades, or junior high and high school. Many were transferred from Dearborn and Detroit schools where there were programs for deaf and hard of hearing students.

But wherever they came from and whenever they enrolled at MSD, most of them already knew each other. They had attended camps for the deaf and other deaf events since early childhood. American Sign Language was their first language. Most of them could talk using their voices if they had to, but many preferred not to. Some were completely deaf. Some were deaf, but did have a little bit of hearing. And some were hard of hearing, like me. But whatever category you put them in, MSD was like a comfort zone for them, a place for them to be with others who were like them.

At MSD, no one had to explain that they couldn’t hear you. Everyone got it. So, that was one frustration we didn’t have to deal with. Several teachers and staff were also deaf, and those who weren’t deaf were understanding of the students’ needs.

I don’t want to turn this into a rant about my experiences at the Lapeer public schools I’d attended, so I’m going to try to be brief about it. I mean, it wasn’t always bad. There were some good times. There were students who I got along with and there were teachers who were patient and understanding. But on the flip side, there were many very stressful and humiliating situations.

It wasn’t so bad in elementary school, but it really took a nosedive in junior high and it only got worse when I started high school. I wouldn’t say it was all because I couldn’t hear very well. My twin brother is also hard of hearing and he did all right in the public schools. But me, I was depressed all the time. I was terrified in school. When I got home after school, I’d go straight up to my room and spend the whole day watching TV or reading. I did not have a social life.

My freshman year ended. I had my summer vacation and shortly before school started back up, the depression and fear returned. I did not want to go back. I think it was my mom who suggested I enroll in MSD instead. But wherever the idea came from, once it was in my head, I was all for it.

I had been to MSD several times before, to see Betty Brown, have my hearing tested and get new hearing aids set up, but I had never thought I’d actually be a student there before my sophomore year. But once the idea was in my head, I was hellbent on making it happen. I felt that MSD was the change I needed.

It took some time, though. We had to go through a few different meetings with the Lapeer Board of Education. School had already started, but I wasn’t attending yet. Some of the people at the meetings did not think MSD was the right place for me. But finally, about a month after school had already started, I was cleared to go.

I didn’t know sign language when I first started at MSD, but there was Tina Takacs, Margaret Barker and sometimes Marilyn Belsky who put in the effort to teach me, and there were students who showed me signs. I learned sign language and improved, but I was always pretty much in the beginner’s stage.

I’d be lying if I said MSD was a hundred-percent positive experience for me. Sure, there were plenty of negative experiences. I was still a shy, awkward guy who didn’t talk much. I still had nervous issues and I’d get depressed at times, and I didn’t quite know how to fit in. I still had many of the same issues I’d had at the Lapeer public schools. However, at MSD, there were far more positive experiences than negative experiences. I was actually happy there and living in the dorm allowed me to have a social life.

As I learned more about deaf culture, I began to see myself in a more positive light. I learned that being deaf or hard of hearing does not mean one is impaired. I learned that deaf people do not see themselves that way and I wanted to think the way they do.

Going to MSD is one of the best things I’ve ever done. It really turned my life around. I’m still in touch with friends from there. I wish I could see them in person on a regular basis, but they all live in different parts of the state and it’s hard for me to get around and see them. But we keep in touch on Facebook.

For Joshua’s Mom

One of my best friends had the funeral for her son today. I’ve had it on my mind all day. I love you, Brooke. I know it’s going to be hard for you and your family, but I hope everything works out somehow.

 

And I wrote this song:

The moment I heard the news,
My heart broke and tears flowed.
I couldn’t understand how this happened.
Something isn’t right in the world.

I asked God, “What is it with you?”
“Why would you do this?”

But I guess He has His reasons.
He’s always got some plan.
Though it makes no sense to us,
We’ll all figure it out some day.

I know it feels unfair.
I remember how excited you were
And we were all suggesting names.
Then came the day your son was born.

There was no doubt that he was special
Everyone could see that he had spirit.
The way he was always smiling,
We knew he was happy and loved.

I wish there was more I could do.
I know you have a hard road ahead.
There’s a lot to tunnel through,
But light can be found at the end.

Zero-turn Mowing and Ribeye Steak

My dad talked me into mowing his lawn today, with his zero-turn lawnmower, which I have never operated before. Zero-turn lawnmowers do not have steering wheels. Instead there are two bars in front of you. You push the left bar to turn right and you push the right bar to turn left. Heh! How does anyone keep an arrangement like that straight? On top of that, they are freaking fast lawnmowers. I almost ran into a tree and the natural gas tank, and I quickly decided I wasn’t going to mow within fifteen feet of the pond.

Afterward, we went to Apollo Family Restaurant (Davison, MI) where we both had ribeye steak.

Yesterday

The White Sox beat the hell out of the Tigers yesterday and then the Red Wings got their asses kicked. But it was a good day. Spent the day at Mom and Dad’s. My brother brought over his girlfriend and we spent a lot of time up in the bar singing karaoke. For the first time, I actually worked up the nerve to sing karaoke. I sang Bon Jovi’s Blaze of Glory and Breaking Benjamin’s Blow Me Away. Well, sort of. I know both songs very well, but a lot of lines slipped my mind while trying to sing yesterday. I probably sounded like I had a dried up frog in my mouth too. But it was fun.

Disturbance

Normally I don’t complain when Jehovah’s Witnesses turn up at my door, but this morning I really wasn’t in the mood to be disturbed. When Luci started barking, my first response was to tell her to be quiet. But when she wouldn’t stop, I got up to see what the deal was. “Oh, God,” I said when I saw the white SUV and two women dressed generations out-of-date. Of course I opened the door and said “Thanks.” when I was handed the little brochure, but as soon as I closed the door I tore that brochure up and dropped it in the garbage.

Thank you very much for breaking my concentration, ladies. And no, I’m not going to join your Kingdom Hall.

But they are not the reason I didn’t get 2,000 words today.

2015 Is Here

We’re here. This is the year Marty McFly went to in Back to the Future Part II. We still don’t have flying automobiles, hoverboards, automatic dog walkers, “Power laces, all right!” shoes, or those really cool Pepsi cans. But we do have a lot of neat stuff, so science fiction is happening in some ways.

Looking back on 2014…. Well, to be honest, I don’t really want to look back. I want to look forward. Now that we’re here, I want to look at 2015. I want things to happen in 2015, things that I can look forward to. Sure, I’ll still reflect on things from the past, whether good or bad, but right now I’m not in the mood.

But I will say this about 2014, it was a decent year, with the usual ups and downs, some of it heartbreaking and some of it not bad at all. I did manage to make another short story sale. It’s been quite a while since I last made a sale and it’s good to be back in the game. I also finished that novel I had been working on for too long and I’m already 20,000 words and 98 pages into my next novel. So, I would say 2014 was a year I accomplished a few things.

I plan to step up my game in 2015. I want this to be a more productive year than last year was. I also hope to make a few more short story sales and land an agent for my novels. I want this to be a good year.

2015, we made it.

My World

On Facebook, a friend shared this link: I’m Deaf and I’m Totally Cool With It, Thanks.

What I meant to be a short comment turned into the lengthy article below.

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I’m hard-of-hearing, quite far from being deaf as I can hear pretty much everything, a floorboard squeaking, the hum of the furnace, birds outside my window, though I don’t think I hear it all as clearly as a person with good hearing would. If someone speaks to me, I will hear their voice, but I can’t make out what they said about eighty percent of the time, unless they’re willing to repeat themselves, often three or four times before I understand them.

I don’t wear hearing aids. I’ve never been able to adjust to hearing aids. All hearing aids have ever done for me is amplify sounds to the point that they are annoying, and any speech I heard was vastly distorted and even harder to understand. A few years ago, I decided to give hearing aids another try. I had hoped that the newer technology would make a difference. But it didn’t. People told me I just needed to get used to them, but I gave them a chance. I wore the hearing aids every day for a couple of months, and then I was putting them in less and less. I don’t want to be trying to get used to hearing aids for months. I had to keep taking them out just so I could understand what people were saying.

It wasn’t so long ago when I thought I would go for cochlear implants. But then I changed my mind. First, because (as I understand it) the process of having cochlear implants put in would involve cutting the nerves that go from my brain to my ears.  My ears would become useless things sticking out from the sides of my head. I would never again receive sounds through my ears. All hearing would completely depend on a mechanical device that would be inserted in my head. I also began to suspect that cochlear implants really aren’t that much different from hearing aids, that like hearing aids they amplify sounds and distort speech. Some people might be able to get used to that, but I never could.  I’d go crazy if I had to be stuck in that world for the rest of my life. If I decide to turn the cochlear implants off, I would be stone deaf.

Because I’m hard-of-hearing, I’m used to the world of sound. I’m comfortable here. I don’t want to lose the hearing I have. This is why I wear ear protection when shooting guns or running chainsaws. I don’t ever want to be where I can no longer hear the sounds I enjoy, but I understand why people who are deaf to the degree that they can hear almost nothing or nothing at all would prefer to stay that way. Most of those who are deaf that I know personally do have a degree of hearing, but I imagine that what they hear is very densely muffled, to the point that they barely acknowledge it. Sounds don’t matter to the deaf the way sounds matter to the hearing . That’s their world, they’re comfortable there. If the deaf were somehow made hearing, the world of sound would likely be strange to them and they might be unable to adjust to all the noise.

Sometimes I feel like I’m stuck in the middle, between the hearing world and the deaf world, and can’t really fit into either world.  I wish I could understand the hearing people in my life better. I think it’s just as frustrating for them as it is for me when we communicate in person. Some people think I can read lips, but no, I cannot. If I made out anything you said, it’s because I heard you.

I would also like to be able to hang out with my friends who are deaf without feeling like a burden for them. I’m way out of practice with ASL. I don’t know anyone in Lapeer who uses ASL, so I haven’t had anyone to sign with since my last year at MSD.  I got a video phone last year so a friend and I could sign with each other and get my skills up to where I can at least hold a conversation in ASL with another person. But we haven’t been able to use the VP that much and I still have a lot of work to do.

When the Police Don’t Get It

I recently went over an old non-public blog  of mine that I haven’t used since 2009. I found this entry from December 2008. I decided to rerun it on this blog. I was inspired to rerun the entry after reading this article: Police Brutality and Deaf People. Though my experience didn’t have a lot to do with the fact that I’m hard of hearing. It had more to do with the cerebral palsy I’ve dealt with since I came out of a comatose state when I was a toddler. My experience also wasn’t so bad, really, but I think it could have gotten worse. I think that if Bob hadn’t come out of the store when he did, the cop would have taken me downtown and put me in a holding cell for the night. I might be wrong, I’m not sure I heard him right, but I think the cop did say “I’m going to take you in” just before Bob came out.

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Most of you know I can’t drive because of my eyes. I might have some of you under the impression that I drink all the time and I’m always drunk. I have a few friends who think I’m an alcoholic and have suggested I get help more than once. I often drink a lot when I drink, yeah. But it’s not all the time.

The cops have stopped me a few times, just for walking. I was not drunk, but my balance isn’t very good and I guess most people who meet me for the first time are going to assume I’m drunk whether I am or not. I sway a little when I stand and I often stumble and trip when I walk. If you want me to walk in a perfectly straight line, you can forget about it because it’s not going to happen.

I understand why the cops stop me. It is part of their job to keep the streets clear of drunks. If they see a questionable character, it’s part of their job to check it out. I don’t object to their stopping me, but it’s a little scary when a cop rolls up behind you and flips on the flashers. I’ve even been barked at through the loudspeaker. To me it sounds like “Buhluh! Buhluh!”

I ought to give myself a pat on the back, though. I’m often a nervous wreck when communicating with most people, but all the times that I’ve had to talk to the cops I was strangely calm and level headed. This does not erase the fact that I half expect to be hauled downtown and locked up until someone can pick me up.

Last time this happened was back in September. I was walking to the store for a pack of cigarettes. The store is about a ten-minute walk from my house and I’ve considered it a blessing to have a store within walking distance. It meant I could get what I needed without asking for a ride.

That kind of changed in September. I was about to walk into the store’s parking lot when I looked over my shoulder into a pair of headlights. I thought the driver of the car was on his way to the store, too. I didn’t wonder why he was going the wrong way on the road, nor did I wonder why he was half on the shoulder, half on the road and aimed straight at me. I just thought I was in his way, so I started walking to the left across the parking lot to give him more than enough room to get by me. Then I heard two amplified and highly distorted words blast from a speaker. When I looked over my shoulder again, it was no longer just two headlights. Now a set of red and blues danced on the roof of the car.

I knew right away what it was about. I was prepared to go through the usual rundown of questions and then be on my way. The cop climbed out of his car, looked at me and said something. I’m pretty sure of what he said, but because I didn’t quite hear him right, I explained that I don’t hear very well and asked him to repeat.

“Have you been drinking?”

That’s what I thought he said. My answer was no.

He spread his arms. “Then how come you can’t walk straight?”

I explained.

“Have you been using drugs?”

Again my answer was no.

“Are you carrying any weapons or drugs on you?”

“No, sir.”

He asked me for ID, I gave him my state ID card. He looked at it and again asked me if I had any weapons or drugs on me. I said no.

“I’m going to pat you down.”

All right, now I’m feeling humiliated. People are driving by on the road and some of them are probably my neighbors. I was just going to the store for a pack of cigarettes, for God’s sake. That’s what was on my mind, but all I said was “Okay.”

He did the pat down, but all he found were my keys and my wallet. No weapons or drugs on me, except for what I might have stuffed up my ass, maybe?

So comes another set of questions. “Where are you going? What are you doing? Is that your shirt? What’s that on your shirt? You walk to the store every day? How come you don’t drive? You can’t drive at all? You walk to the store every day? Is that your shirt? Where do you live? Just down the road? You walk to the store every day…?”  Pretty much the same questions over again.

I answered each question as honestly as I could. I was starting to get the impression that he was looking for a reason to take me in, but then one of the employees came out of the store to drop some trash in the bin. The employee just happened to be Bob, who is often at the register when I go in the store. Though we never talked much,  we’ve done business for five years and we know each other well enough.

So, the cop goes to Bob and asks him if I really do stop in the store just about every day. Bob convinced him that I do and even tells the cop that I really do live just down the road. Finally, finally the cop is convinced that I’m not a drug dealer, a vandal or a burglar, or whatever the hell he thought I was. Finally he gave me back my ID card and let me go into the store and get my cigarettes. This whole detainment lasted about twenty minutes.

I was very thankful that he was not waiting for me when I came out of the store.

The Return of Anxiety

It was about a week ago when I had a total meltdown. I had been feeling great for quite a while, confident and secure. I wasn’t worrying about much. I was having fun, goofing off and enjoying myself. And then the meltdown happened. One minute I was fine, the next minute I was completely aware of how stupid and annoying I am. A wave of depression washed over me and I felt like I owed everyone an apology. An apology for what? I don’t know. I guess for existing within their range of awareness.

This happens once in a while. I usually choose to get drunk when it happens. Yes, yes, I drink, well, often. But usually I drink because I enjoy it and not as a means of comfort. When I’m in a total slump, I drink because it gives me some measure of peace. It numbs my senses to whatever is bothering me. By the time the alcohol wears off, the worst of whatever it was that had me so down will be behind me. At least that’s how it usually works out.

But even though the worst is behind me, there’s a sort of recovery stage that follows. I have to rebuild my confidence. It’s a slippery slope. I gain some ground and I lose some ground, and eventually I make to the top of the mountain again. Eventually I will be able to stop second guessing myself and everything will be dandy.

This anxiety, or whatever you call it, might well be over nothing. Right now, though, I’m not so sure that it is. But whether it’s over nothing or not, I’ll make it to the top of the mountain, eventually.