So I signed on to participate in the Great Portland Interview Experiment, the very cool brainchild of Portland network engineer Chris O’Rourke. Here’s how it works: you sign up for it, you get interviewed by the person who signed up right before you and then you interview the person who signs up right after you. So it’s very random. More than likely you interview someone you don’t know… well, you prolly follow them on twitter, but you may not know them in real life yet. RL, I mean.
So I got to interview Ramona White. Didn’t know her, but now feel I do. Here are my questions and her answers:
I see from your blog you write poetry. How long have you been up to that? Are you planning to respond to my interview questions poetically?
I’ve been writing poetry on and off since I was about eight-years-old. I’m also a sometime singer and songwriter and I made my debut last Februrary at Artichoke Music in Portland as part of a group called “Decent Folk”. I haven’t had time to perform or even practice since April but I have written a few more songs. I’m using the blog to nudge myself to focus on poetry and to produce more poems. So far I’ve been able to post poems I’ve written some time ago but that won’t last long. @DrPFenderson and I are plotting #CampfireReads a storytelling/poetry meet-up that we hope will get more people composing and sharing.
I don’t plan to answer all of your questions poetically; I do plan to answer them honestly, probably preventing me from ever holding public office.
How do you spend your days? Nights?
My parents moved into a “gracious retirement living” facility and I moved out of my apartment and into their house. It’s the house I grew up in and they had lived there for forty years. Never let anyone tell you there’s no God or that God lacks a sense of humor. Why else would a housework-impaired person who was barely functioning in a one bedroom apartment wind up caring for a three-bedroom house? The part of the day not spent doing homework or on Twitter is devoted to sorting out my stuff and sorting and rehousing or recycling or throwing out forty years accumulation of you-name-it.
My nights are spent in class, playing the Sims 2, helping my kid with her homework or trying to get her to talk to me. Occasionally I drive out and play pool with my dad. We’re both horrible players so we walk around the table for an hour or two and that’s at least good exercise.
What is your present state of mind?
Generally happy but also confused. I’m confused because I’m supposed to be graduating in June if not before and I still don’t know what kind of job I’m going to be looking for, where to look, or even what might be available in this economy. I’m generally happy because I have an awesome supportive family, lots of coffee, and I’ve met some very cool people online and had an opportunity to interact with them offline as well. When my daughter and I went to CyborgCamp she told me I was “radiating happiness”. Yeah.
Please tell us about your particular path to geekdom?
As a kid I watched “Star Trek” and I was very impressed with Mr. Scott. Not just the accent but he was obviously the go-to person when things really hit the fan. Unfortunately this was the Dark Ages- late 1970s- and the only computer I saw was the one in the counseling center. It was a dumb terminal that enabled you to figure out occupation was right for you. (Spending hours playing with this program should have been a clue to the counselors that you didn’t need the program.) At college, my roommate was on the custodial staff. I had arrived between terms and had nothing to do and when she got tired of me following her around she parked me in front of a computer and introduced me to “Adventure” and another game I don’t know the name of in which your weapon was a rat-tailed comb. Somehow I was convinced to enroll in a BASIC class and, since I was hanging out in the computer lab, I encountered Dungeons and Dragons. This led to the wasting of many hours over following years and the overconsumption of Dr. Pepper, Mountain Dew and Cheetos. Time passed, I held a variety of jobs, I took the occupational assessment at the Employment Office and they said I should become a MicroComputer Support Specialist. I enrolled at Clark College in Winter of 2008 and here I am. I haven’t played D&D in years but I regularly beta-test interactive fiction games and look forward to IFComp every year when I get a lot of them to play.
And you are one of the geekmoms. Tell us about your child.
She’s sixteen, beautiful and brilliant. She does her Advanced Algebra homework last because she likes it the best and that way it’s motivation. She’s had access to a computer and the Internet since she was about five so it’s old hat; She played with Photoshop 5.5 when other kids were using paper and crayons. She’s aced all her technology classes but doesn’t consider herself a geek because she prefers a GUI and refuses to learn to program. She’s outspoken but rather shy and that means she gets easily embarrassed like the time it was pajama day at work and I didn’t change before the parent-teacher conference. (In my defence, I did remind her and she said, “Whatever. Just get there on time.”)
Where were you on this day 10 years ago and what were you doing?
I was in Clatskanie, Oregon in Columbia County. I was beginning the fundraising for the Reading is Fundamental program I started at my daughter’s elementary school. I was also following the whole Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.
Where do you think you will be on this day 10 years from now and what will you be doing?
Ten years from now- unless I’ve been there already- I will be packing for a trip to Tokyo. Years ago I listened to Thomas Friedman’s book “The Lexus and the Olive Tree” and he described being in a hotel in Japan on New Year’s Eve, ordering some oranges and having trouble getting what he wanted. That’s a long way to go for oranges but that idea of being there on New Year’s Eve has stuck with me. My parents aren’t in the best of health and they’ll likely be gone by then. My daughter will be off having her own life. She’s invited along but if she doesn’t want to go it will be a fun place for a nearly sixty-year-old woman to start the new year. I imagine I’ll still be wearing sneakers then- I love Converse- so maybe I’ll be there on business having to do with either sneakers or some kind of technology. I don’t think I’ll be the Foreign Affairs correspondent for the New York Times but it’s possible.
What are your favorite books of all time? Why?
One of my all-time favorite books is “The Closing of the American Mind” by Alan Bloom. The first half of the book discusses the sad state of the American education system. The second half traces the history of Western Philosophy. I learned so much from that book because Bloom would say “Bertrand Russell says thus and so” and I’d think “Well, who did Russell learn that from?” I’d have to go look it up. Maybe he learned it from Descartes and Descartes learned it from someone else and I had to keep looking things up and learning and it took quite a while but it was like an idea scavenger hunt so I was having fun and didn’t mind.
Now I have to cheat and say that my other favorite books were the Harry Potter series. It’s cheating because there were seven of them rather than one and because what made them my favorite wasn’t the writing. What made them special was the anticipation and the community. I remember being at the Barnes and Noble at Jantzen Beach the night “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire” came out and there was a magician and a costume contest and babies with lightning bolts drawn on their foreheads and there’s just as much craziness online to this day. Because of the Harry Potter books I’ve met wonderful people like @pennygersh who helped me so much after my mom had her stroke. And my daughter and I could discuss the books when both of us were in pissy moods and wouldn’t talk about anything else.
Who is your Blazer boyfriend and why?
I’ve been told that a good Blazer boyfriend for me would be Rudy Fernandez because he’s 23, he’s a millionaire, he’s good at basketball and he’s smoking hot. Also he’s often the one who puts the Blazers over the one-hundred point mark and the crowd all gets chalupas. I love chalupas.
If you’d made it my Mariners boyfriend that would have been an easy choice. I’m J.J’s girl all the way. He goes out and does a good job. He’s the closer so he has to work well under pressure but if things don’t go well he puts it behind him and starts over the next day. I’ve had relationships with people who even after they say they forgive you and it’s all over it still isn’t over so J.J. would be a refreshing change.
Do you think our best days are behind us or ahead of us? Discuss.
I think that for us living as adults the best days are still ahead of us. I think that for kids the best days are probably behind. When I was a kid it was fairly likely that you might be molested by some family member or friend of the family. A lot of kids were and, in fact, that happened to me. But it was extremely unlikely that some psychopath would snatch you up on your way to the park and molest you or kidnap you or who knows what other awful thing. We played outside at the park or in the yard and our mothers didn’t have to have GPS locators on us. We clothespinned towels around our necks and pretended to be Batman or Batgirl or some invented superhero and got fresh air and occasionally fell down and sprained or broke something. Now kids don’t really have those options.
I think our best days as adults are still ahead because there is technology and knowledge allowing us to live longer and healthier lives. (They’re not talking me out of bacon though.) We also benefit because we can connect with other people via the Internet and find jobs or share recipes or patterns or experiences or just have someone say “There there. Have a sip of coffee. Breathe in and out.” Those things are especially important for older people who aren’t communicating with their family for one reason or another or they can connect with someone who’s actually interested in their stories and experiences.
Please tell us about dating the guys who are probably dying.
I lived in my apartment building for four years. For the middle two of those years, a man lived across the hall from me. The first year we’d see each other on the way to the garbage chute or in the stairwell and say “Hi” or something else noncommittal. It turned out he was a Mets fan and neither the Mets nor the Mariners were having a very good season so we’d chat about that. Then a friend of mine sent me a belated Christmas present of a lot of chocolate and coffee and I thought, “Oh, who am I going to share all this with?” I remembered that my neighbor drank coffee and I figured everyone likes chocolate so I knocked on his door. He was very happy to see the chocolate and coffee and by extension me. A few days later he returned my coffee mug and we talked about Valentine’s Day coming up and I said I was going to an open mic poetry reading and try out some of my stuff. He asked if I wanted to have dinner before or after and then laughed and said “But, of course, you’ll be with your date” and I said that I didn’t date because no one ever asked and I’d had one disastrous date involving a jack-in-the-box and he asked me to brunch for the following Sunday. We had a great time and he was a good sport even when he came back from the bathroom and caught me taking notes to be used in later e-mails. He kissed me “Good-bye” at my door and the following Friday night invited me over to watch “Monk” and everything went fine until Valentine’s Day. That morning I was leaving for work and I was locking my front door and he said, “Good morning” and I turned around and he was getting his newspaper and he wasn’t wearing a shirt. This next part sounds very silly because God help us all I was 45 but he met me in the middle of the hallway and we kissed and I turned pink all the way to the tips of my ears. I giggled all the way to work and when I got there I told the other ladies who were very similar to me in age and they all giggled too. There we were ho-hoing and tee-heeing about my having seen this guy without a shirt and having kissed him. I ended up having to work overtime that day and we never made it to the poetry reading but he fixed me a nice pasta dinner with sauce from scratch and we watched “The Departed” and it was very nice. After the movie ended and we were just sitting on the couch he said something like, “Remember how I told you before about my heart attack?” and I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Well, my heart still isn’t very strong” and I said, “Yeah.” And he said, “Until it hits” I forget what the exact number was now “percent we can’t have sex.” And I said, “That’s fine. Geez, this isn’t even our third date. I can wait. It’ll give us time to save up money for a room at the Hilton so we don’t scandalize the neighbors.” The thing is though the relationship pretty much went downhill from there. Before that he’d call and leave me messages and I loved to hear him talk because he was from New Jersey and it was like being in an old movie but after that I never really saw him in the halls and he only called me when he was out walking to strengthen his heart. He really pulled away from me and it was totally his choice. I was absolutely willing to wait. Wait to have sex with a guy who could cook like that and kiss like that? Are you kidding me? His having had a heart attack didn’t scare me that much because he was 51 and like I said I was 45 and I figure by the time you get to be our age body parts start falling apart- everybody’s got some kind of baggage and it’s all about how you carry it. He thought I was funny and I thought he was funny and we could talk for hours or just sit and be in the same place and he seemed like a great guy. I guess he was too busy trying to keep from dying to have time to live.
What do people need to know about you to truly grok you?
I understand that I need money in order to pay bills and buy food and keep myself in Flash drives and Converse sneakers but I don’t entirely get how the money thing works. I have a vague idea how much is in my bank account because I check online but I never even attempt to balance my checkbook. And if I didn’t have to have money for those things I listed earlier I would just do whatever people needed or wanted to be done and not charge them for it. I have spent hours on the phone helping my parents’ friends’ fix their computers or classmates do their homework. I have spent many many hours knitting hats and scarves for homeless people or cancer survivors or friends while I was watching Mariners games on TV or listened on the radio. My ex-husband wisely said that if I ever won the lottery I’d have no money left after a year but there wouldn’t be a kid in the Portland Metro area without braces, fillings, sturdy shoes, and a warm coat. Oh and lots of books. It’s not a self-esteem issue. It’s not like I feel I have to do these things so people will like me or that I feel what I do has no value. It’s more like if I have these skills then I must have them to make the world a better place and who am I to let money get in the way of that.
Please confess your guilty pleasures.
I love to watch “Perry Mason”. I’ve loved it ever since I was a kid. It’s on at noon on channel 12 just as it’s been for probably forty years. I’m sure I’ve seen all the shows by now and I usually know who did it but it’s kind of comforting to sit down and spend an hour with these people I grew up with.
And I majorly heart Alan Rickman. I don’t know why. It isn’t just his voice although I did sit through all of “Return of the Native” just because he read it. (After hearing him read one of the love scenes I arrived at work blushing to the ears again and had a rough time convincing people I’d just been listening to an audio-book.) It can’t be his acting because I’ve seen so many movies in which he was just bad like “Rasputin” and “Truly Madly Deeply” where he was a ghost and had that cheesy moustache. I tell myself he’s too old for me and he’s happily living in England with an avowed Socialist and then I’ll find myself watching “An Awfully Big Adventure” or as my friends call it “The Many Moods of Alan Rickman” and none of that matters.
What question do you wish you had been asked? And what is the answer?
What would the perfect afternoon/evening look like? The perfect afternoon/evening would involve caffeinated drinks, Crazy Eights and Egyptian Rat Screw, wireless Internet, Buffalo wings, ideas zipping through the air, whiteboards, an assortment of music from The Ramones, Vanilla Ice, Kraftwerk, whatever other 70’s and 80’s bands we could think of and a handful of really great people to share it with.