Spring 2019, INTERVIEW Issue
Photo courtesy of Tim Rose
3 Behind the Desk
Tim Rose on the Life of a Community College
4 Philosophies of a Fat Dog
Little Dork Brains Could Learn a Thing or Two
From the Dog
6 Operation Overhaul
Former Nurse on the Perils and Corruption of
8 Thoughts on Human Progress
Eric Gerlach on Superstitions, Amazons, Sex
Your Thomas A. E. Hesketh
10 Meditations on Clay
Ceramicist Kiyomi Koide Talks About Her Passion
On the Cover
The cover art for this edition of The BCC Voice is from San Francisco-based artist and User Experience designer Makiko Harris. "Being Woman" is a multi-media painting using acrylics and various found materials such as birth control pill packs and pharmaceutical painkillers. The work explores "the frequently hushed pain of the experience of women." While the piece may simply appear to be a painting on first glance, underneath the surface "is a pile of discarded evidence of a woman's daily experience." For more information on Harris, visit her website at: makikoharris.com/art.
STEPHANIE NICOLE GARCIA
THOMAS A. E. HESKETH
THE BCC VOICE is produced
by the English 14/15 students
at Berkeley City College,
with funding from the
Associated Students. A special
thank you to the ASBCC,
the BCC English Department,
and students who make
this school great!
I am a long-time student, and I have a deep respect and gratitude for the community college system. After seven years of sitting in classroom chairs, I am curious to know what life is like on the other side of the desk. What would it be like to work as a community college instructor? How much money can you make with a career in this institution? Is it as rewarding as I imagine it to be?
To learn more, I met with Tim Rose, a tenured history instructor at Berkeley City College, who has been teaching in the Peralta system for 15 years. At first glance, Rose seemed the embodiment of what I hoped my future self working at a community college would experience. He was relaxed, had a peaceful presence, demonstrated interest and fulfillment in his work and was eager to share the resources of his success.
Rose has two kids and a wife and lives a convenient four-to-five block walk from his work. Although we chatted in his shared office on the fifth floor of the BCC building, his youthful vitality, and sun-tanned glow gave the impression he worked outdoors. When asked about his home-work-life balance, he described it as “terrific.”
It turned out that we both shared a story of struggles and insecurities throughout school, due in part to our learning disabilities.
“I went to UMass right out of high school; I did not like school. I had severe dyslexia, so I went through it dismally. I took seven years off, then went back to community college at Cabrillo at the age of 27. One of the reasons why I didn't do well at University of Massachusetts is that I didn't know what I wanted to study. So, when I went back to college, I knew I liked reading and thinking about history. We jokingly called it Cab-rehab, and it was this sort of renaissance and rebirth for me. Not just intellectually, but just recognizing that ‘I can do this.’ I'm sure many people were giving me that message, but I did not internalize it until I went to Cabrillo.”
I wanted to know how discovering what he liked to study changed Rose’s relationship to school.
“So there's this part of the school that almost becomes a retreat, a site of pleasure. I can remember when I first started at Cabrillo, I had never done well at math, it was too complex a puzzle, but I had to take two classes of algebra before I could even take a class that I wanted to. And I hated doing that stuff, but I had to, so I just made it a routine every night. So when I was done, I could read my history book. It became almost a reward after grinding out through all this crap I couldn't stand, the reward of studying was history. And that sort of pulled me along.
With diligence, one week went into the next month, one semester went into the next, and I started to put in the work and receive 4.0’s, one semester after the other. I transferred to Colorado and made dean's lists and was distinguished well enough to get into the number one history program in the U.S. to receive a doctorate. When I was 12-18, I would never have imagined that was possible. I thought I was dumb."
When I asked if his career felt rewarding, Rose shared that one of the reasons he wanted to teach at the city college level rather than at a four-year was because he enjoyed “being with people who didn't do well in high school and came back after two, three, four years out and ready! They have struggles and remarkable things they've overcome.”
There are different ranks in teaching positions at the Community College level, and those differences have a tremendous impact on instructors’ overall well-being, career satisfaction and financial security. I learned from Rose that the primary differences in instructor positions at the community college level are between those who are on the tenure track or already tenured and those who are working “part time” as adjuncts. Rose explained that, “Tenured faculty means the instructors are full-time faculty, who have a great deal of job security, their pay is good and benefits are good. Once tenured [an employee] is secured, it's a life-long job and is a fairly comfortable job.”
“An adjunct is someone who is not tenured, and not on the tenure track. They don't have job security, and they could only teach three classes per semester within the entire district. They might teach at a number of different colleges. So they might teach at Laney, De Anza, DVC. Contra Costa, Berkeley; they kind of move around throughout the semester five days a week. The life of an adjunct/part-time instructor is a pretty rigorous and anxiety-laden experience. If you were talking to an adjunct right now, they would have a whole litany of grievances and all very valid and worthwhile.”
Rose shared that he started his teaching career during graduate school as an adjunct at Vista, which was the old BCC. After doing that for one year, he applied for a full-time tenure track position at Laney college. He got the job and worked there for seven years, until a position for a history instructor opened at BCC. He attributes his initial success to the fact that he was in with the union and had two semesters of teaching as an adjunct.
“That makes a big difference, when you get your toe in the door with different institutions, it can make a difference whether or not you are well in line when a job opens up.”
My selfish curiosity about the hiring process for tenure made me want to understand more about how competitive the hiring process is and how many people receive tenure annually. It turned out I was asking the right person; Rose turned out to be the tenure coordinator at BCC. Score.
Rose explained that hiring for new tenure positions goes in cycles.
“It depends on how robust the hiring process is within the district. There's not a set number that's going through tenure. Because of the four college system, hiring is ostensibly spread equitably throughout the district.”
“There're four times as many people on tenure review at Laney because it’s a much bigger school. The review process is four years; you never have to start as an adjunct instructor to get a full tenure position. Sometimes people stay as an adjunct for their entire careers; sometimes people go from graduate school and jump onto a tenure track for a tenure position.”
The issue of pay disparities between adjunct and full-time instructors prompted me to probe for more details into the actual salaries of who gets paid what.
Rose explained that there is a scale that determines how much instructors get paid — things like the final degree and how much experience they come in with. Interested readers can find more information about the pay scales on the Peralta Federation of Teachers websites.
When I asked Rose how much he gets paid, he was initially shy to answer, but understood that this knowledge would shape how I approached my career choices. He offered a rough number of about $100,000. "That's without teaching summer. But remember, this does not go very far in the Bay Area.”
He goes on to explain that even though the pay may not be so terrific for the Bay Area, he has a lot of latitude with time.
"When my daughters were younger, I was able to pick up them up and bring them to school every day, coach my daughter's soccer team. I don't know many people who have that. I have five weeks off in the winter, don't work holidays, weekends off, and I can take three months off in the summer. This summer, I'm going to be teaching online and traveling in Spain with my family. We can do this regularly; very few people have this sort of schedule, where they are given the luxury to spend time with their family. I can't imagine a better lifestyle.”
I couldn't either. Rose’s career-life balance was not only ideal, but I also witnessed many of my motivations for pursuing a career as a community college instructor in Rose. Getting to know a community college instructor, I realized why, in large part, my experience as a student was so transformational. It was because many of our teachers in the classrooms shared a background with us, thus, they were invested in relating to their students’ diverse lived experiences and our individual journeys as students and professionals.
Behind the Desk
Tim Rose on the Life of a Community College Instructor
In This Issue
BCC Voice - Spring 2019 - Interview Issue
by RHANA HASHEMI
CONTINUED ON PAGE 5
Photo by Neville Gruhler
Philosophies of a Fat Dog
Storefront of Subway Guitars
The Dog is very approachable. He is tall, over 6 feet, casually dressed in tie-dye, jeans and sandals. He wears two, short French braids in his dark gray hair. His store, Subway Guitars, has been in business since 1968, making it the longest-running music store in the East Bay.
“There is a great myth and hallucination about Fat Dog,” he says in a low tone, as he leads me around the shop to where another man is working on a guitar after closing. The inside of the store is cluttered. Guitars, basses, ukuleles, banjos and mandolins cover the walls in layers. The middle of the floor is occupied by a pyramid of amplifiers, which also serves as a workspace for guitar repairs. There is a bookshelf below the front desk holding a smörgåsbord of objects and paraphernalia. Talking to Fat Dog is like talking to an actual dog; he has to sniff you out first. I interpreted his silence between questions and answers as attempts to tell whether I was full of it.
“Music is the weapon,” he says is his personal philosophy. “I'm not really interested in material things; I'm more interested in human rights, and compassion, and you know, we’re all the same people. We have this nincompoop in the white house that is just horrific; it’s a nightmare for me every morning, and you know, we have to change that, and one of the best ways to change it is through culture and music, and art and all the muses.”
This philosophy is important to understand if you want to understand Fat Dog. On the surface, Subway Guitars is just another guitar store, albeit with a nice cloudy paint job. Inside, however, is like a time portal to the days when Berkeley was much more than the sum of its parts, when the things that people said and did here changed the lives of hundreds of millions in this country.
“I always felt that music is my weapon for change. We do a great deal of politics here, and we've made about 1400 concerts around the world for different political and human rights causes, stuff against racism, fascism, and sexism. That's the real substance of me being here.”
It would seem that Fat Dog’s main interests are political. Despite running a music business well-known by locals and musicians world-wide, he seemingly has little respect for artists who fail to use their art as an agent for social change, referring to them as “little dork brains.”
The walls of Subway Guitars are adorned with pro-environmental, anti-war and free speech sentiments, as well as anti-trump and anti-fascism slogans and bumper stickers. The Dog and his business have a liberal agenda, much like one would see come out of Berkeley in the middle of the 1960s counter-culture revolution.
“Making concerts or making guitars for little dork brains like Green Day, or Rancid, Nirvana, Mick Jagger, is one thing. But making concerts for Nelson Mandela, you know who that is? Cesar Chavez, Planned Parenthood, Native health care, has a hundred times more substance for me. We try to catalyze the musicians to speak out on all these political causes.”
Fat Dog holds respect and admiration for artist-activists, such as the cartoonist R. Crumb, whom Fat Dog admires for his work, which addresses racism, fascism and racial inequality, as well as musicians Bob Dylan and Bob Marley for their civil rights activism. Michael Franti, another musician-activist, used to build guitars at Subway.
“Franti actually worked here for years building guitars. Those people are very important, we have to keep getting more of them. This country isn't the best for it, but countries like Holland, or Canada, or New Zealand, or Cuba, there really are a lot of political messages in the arts, and I just use the word ‘muses,’ meaning it can be literature, dance, theater, music, art, sculpture and photography. There's tons of that in other countries, but here it is not in the forefront. We need to make it so.”
This seems to be the real mission of Subway Guitars. The mission is not to make a bunch of money from selling guitars to local musicians, but rather, to inspire musicians with some of the energy from the 1960’s, and hopefully, bring about meaningful social change through a cultural revolution.
“I used to teach a class at Berkeley City College for years; it was called Music 15B; it had Johnny Otis, who was a great musician, but also a great activist and civil rights guy, and for about 17 semesters, we talked about all these things. Berkeley City College, I think is excellent. University of California Berkeley has really become like a big corrupt business.”
Fat Dog cleverly uses his appearance as a segue to introduce his favorite environmental activist, similarly to how musicians might use their music to introduce their own political messages to an audience.
“See my new hairdo?” The grinning Dog holds out his French braids with both paws. “There's this young woman who is sixteen years old named Greta Thunberg, who is a super environmental activist in Sweden, and she is so outrageous. I was so knocked out by her, I had to get her hairdo. So that's why I have these French braids now. And she was just with the pope, who is also very active politically with human rights, and they were working together. I was very pleased to see that.”
Berkeley has changed a lot since the 1960’s. With a new populist right wing administration came regressive political change in Berkeley. It was once a mecca for civil rights activism; however, since Trump’s inauguration, Berkeley has become the political battleground for anti-fascist groups such as Antifa, white feminist social justice warriors, MAGA-bootlickers, and reactionary social figures such as Milo Yiannopoulos. According to Fat Dog, the political regression could be reversed if Berkeley’s music scene could be revived.
“Berkeley used to have a really vibrant music scene, and the university really put a kibosh on it, and they closed a lot of nightclubs. There used to be like 15 or 20 nightclubs in Berkeley that were just thriving, and cafés where people weren’t just sitting and staring into a computer screen all day. There was a lot happening there. If some rich privileged brat got arrested in public, it didn't look good for the university. They didn't really want that, and it caused them a lot of trouble just having people out there drinking.”
Fat Dog holds a harsh criticism of the university, beyond the closing of a few nightclubs, going back to the days of apartheid, up to now, where he says that students are taught Monsanto-approved curriculum in order to funnel them into a corporate machine that’s ultimate goal is to destroy the planet for profit.
“There’s another side of the university that you never see. For instance, they took all of their money and invested it in the white supremacist South African government and got a very high return for it. They basically supported apartheid for dozens of years. They were making so much profit, there was no morality or any ideology behind it. It was just the best return they could get for their investment, and now I'm sure they are involved with a bunch of other companies that are just as bad.”
If you believe the arts can be a weapon for social change, or if you are a musician looking to purchase an instrument, it may be worth paying Fat Dog a visit at Subway Guitars, located at 1800 Cedar St. in Berkeley.
Little Dork Brains Could Learn a Thing or Two from the Dog
by NEVILLE GRUHLER
ROSE ― CONTINUED FROM PAGE 3
Former Nurse on the Perils and Corruption of Health Care
Mollie Jae smiling after a day at work
I first met Mollie Jae when she started to work at the same beer garden as I did in Oakland. Given the high turnover in the service industry, at some point I had stopped trying to get to know everyone who was new. But she stayed, and over time I discovered that she had been a nurse in the Midwest. I found it odd that she had already called it quits at 33. Traditionally, if you have a well-paying job in your thirties, you don’t drop everything and move west to California with no plan. While most might pick fiscal security over opting out of a field they cannot unilaterally change, when Jae felt she could no longer endure the morale of the health care industry, she decided to leave all together and start over.
Jae grew up in Hannibal, Mo. and became interested in nursing in middle school. After watching “Losing Isaiah” in home economics class, a story about a social worker who adopts an abandoned baby, she realized she wanted to work with children.
“When I was young I had the naive notion that I would literally be holding babies all day in the NICU and taking care of them,” she says with a nostalgic smile. While that did occur occasionally, she realized, “You’re not only helping the child, but also helping the family cope through this whole situation, so you are connected with the family.”
While she did actualize her goal of becoming a pediatric nurse, in the process, she also learned about the dismal realities behind the scenes in the world of health care. “Working in the clinical setting and doing billing really brought it out stronger because I got to see all aspects of it.” One thing she noticed was the exuberant cost of some items.
For example, a pulse oximeter, a device that monitors heartbeat and blood oxygen level, is placed on inpatients continuously. The tool is often disposable, and the brand Jae used at her hospital cost them at most $15 to purchase, but the patients were charged $85 each. In the pediatrics department where she worked, babies who were hospitalized could go through four of those a day, since they constantly move around. That means there is an additional $340 daily burden on top of the other expenses the families had to pay.
“They probably don’t get changed as often on adults because they are more aware of it, however, it’s just a sticker. Can you imagine keeping a band-aid on somebody's finger and it’s $85? And the patients or the family of the patient don’t realize this because they are more concerned, and they should be more concerned, with their health or their children’s health.”
While this might have not been an issue for her patients who had insurance or other means to finance their care, the majority struggled economically, and this was in addition to the other things she witnessed that unnecessarily added to the cost. Some patients might get their discharge delayed and stay an extra night because they were not signed off by their whole team of doctors or have multiple doctor visits for multiple tests, when it would ultimately be cheaper for them to do everything at once.
“I don’t think it’s on purpose. How chaotic the whole health care business has become, they don’t even think of it as a thing.” After a while when she started cutting corners for patients, so they could continue care, she knew she had to get out. She happened to have two friends living in California and with her Jeep and RV she moved to the East Bay and has been living in her mobile home since.
Her hope is not just a complete overhaul of the health care enterprise, but also the way individuals approach health, such as the ease with which we turn to medication to solve every problem.
“Why would you give a patient a medication for bowel movements, when they haven’t gotten out of bed in two or three days and they’re fully capable of getting out of bed?”
“I don’t know if physicians are just fed up that they know the patient just wants a pill to fix it, but in the long term, it’s not the best, and aren’t they there for the best outcome of the patient?” She sees this as one of those things that has become a bad habit but, “It can be broken.”
But sometimes it’s not that simple and Jae understands this. When she worked in a mental health clinic, she experienced this first hand. “I know you can’t fix schizophrenia; however, this happens with all diagnosis, like if a patient is overreacting or combative, sometimes all they need is a different scene or they need a different person to be with them, and then they don’t need to be shot up with Haldol, but our nursing [department] is so short staffed that it’s not an option.”
It’s not necessarily that there are a limited number of nurses throughout, but certain sectors do not have the funding to hire more, such as nursing homes, which Jae says was her hardest job. “That’s the one [where] I would cry on my way home,” she said.
During her year-long stint, she was responsible for a wing of 30 patients to herself, and even after moving non-stop during her 12-hour shift, she couldn’t get everything done. On top of overworking the staff, facilities might not have enough of the items necessary to cater to a patient’s needs.
“I had to tell a patient she had to shit on herself,” Jae says bluntly.
She had someone who just had hip surgery and was not yet physically mobile to use the bathroom even with the help of nurses. Usually a bedpan can accommodate those situations; however, they were out. The patient was understandably mortified. “You just stripped them down of all their dignity at that point,” said Jae, who found it “fucked up” that instances like these were not uncommon.
All of this was not only physically taxing, but left her feeling mentally helpless. “You can’t do anything about this, but you’re expected to do something about it.” She was often treated unkindly because she was not able to meet their needs, through no fault of her own.
Not everything was bad. Later on, when she worked in the pediatrics rehab wing, she found it the most rewarding. Seeing children who were in car accidents and had just come out of the ICU, not even able to sit up, and then working with them for weeks and watching them finally be able to walk out of the hospital on their own was a fulfilling part of the job.
Jae is still passionate about health care and the abilities our bodies have to recuperate after trauma. However, she is reluctant to go back to nursing because she does not think the change needed for her to be happy working in that environment will come about during her career. While she doesn’t know where to begin the reformation, she still thinks it’s possible to create a better health care system, with fair funding as an important factor, so no group becomes an afterthought.
Mollie Jae ponderng her past career
Photo by Mana Shimamura
“I had to tell a patient she had to shit on herself.”
by MANA SHIMAMURA
Photo by Mana Shimamura
Eric Gerlach, an instructor of philosophy at Berkeley City College, originally from San Francisco's Haight District. He was awarded a B.A. in philosophy from UC Berkeley and an M.A. in religious history from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. For the last dozen years, he has taught a wide range of subjects within the BCC philosophy department, including: logic; European philosophy from ancient through contemporary; and Asian philosophy, including Indian, Chinese and Japanese; and Buddhism. He can also be found at ericgerlach.com.
Good afternoon. It’s now 12:42 p.m. on April 12, and I’d like to thank Professor Gerlach for allowing us to do this interview on virtually no notice whatsoever. As a matter of full disclosure I have had several philosophy courses at Berkeley City College with you as an instructor and I hope you won’t hold it against me.
Eric Gerlach: (Laughs) Sure!
Do you have any superstitions you’d like to share?
That is interesting. I am one who definitely thinks that human beliefs are always somewhat superstitious, in some sort of sense. I tend to be somewhat of a relativist and think that culture is somewhat superstitious, so I suppose . . . one of the things I find myself very much believing and superimposing, definitely wondering and suspecting, is that humanity has been very much as rational and moral as it's been for the last hundred thousand years, since we’ve had the human brain.
One of the things from a skeptical angle that one can ask is how much culture makes people moral or logical, or whether people in the Amazon are as reasonable and as kind or as warlike as everyone around here, people that we find walking around.
That is one of the superstitions I have, because I can’t prove it one way or the other, that we’re simply as moral or logical as pre-literate people, but it is something I suspect quite highly, so that is the first thing that occurs to me to say.
When you say, “as moral or as reasonable as pre-literate people,” do you mean we’re not more advanced than they are?
I suppose in the sense that computers are more capable of helping people do things, do good and bad, be healthy, so computers can now allow people to do more good and bad things, to be more structured and unstructured, to be more aware and unaware of what they are doing.
It may be questionable whether we are more aware or more rational people compared to a tribe in the Amazon. It is worth considering whether or not, after religion, after science, and after government, people feel as free, people feel as good, and people feel as solid, as people felt in the Amazon where, according to Stephen Pinker, about a third of the people, you know, die by violence. Other than that, human beings treat each other good and bad.
I am very happy to be a post-'60s person from the Haight who hopes that we can have more egalitarianism in our lives. I happen to be a very big fan of multiculturalism, of egalitarianism towards gender and sexuality. I’m an extremely proud proponent of these things. At the same time, in embracing a greater, more egalitarian society, we can ask ourselves if egalitarianism is actually an advancement, or if, in fact, it is simply an acceptance of what humanity has been the entire time. If we are a more accepting and aware people, from a Greek Stoic angle or a Buddhist Indian angle or from a Chinese Taoist angle, maybe we don't need to carve ourselves apart from the people of the Amazon and think that we’re specifically logical or specifically rational, which would give us more freedom to use any logic of science or any sort of morality of religion, more freedom to live as we want as human individuals, and then use religion, science and politics in the way we want to freely use them.
I am very passionate about the idea that by accepting humanity as humanity, as it has been for a very long period of time, we might be able to live more freely as individuals, such that we can be more accepting of ourselves, and more accepting of others. That seems, yes, a decent enough rant! (Laughs)
Is philosophy as a discipline obsolete in a digital world where everything seems reduced to zero or one, or a combination of the two?
That’s an excellent question. It is true, as some science fiction authors have said, that we are primitive apes with godlike technology.
In a certain sense, we accept that we are, perhaps, as good or bad, as not punching people in the face as, say, an Amazonian tribe, much in being good and bad to each other. Perhaps, we simply have more technology, greater machines; and yet, overall when I ask whether we do more good or bad with this life than other people in other cultures, are we better or worse than people walking around Babylon, I don’t find clear responses and answers out there. I don’t know of anyone who knows that the Babylonians were evil individuals and that you and I are good.
At the same time, it is very nice that in some ways the world has gotten over slavery, but not entirely at all, that we are able, in some ways, to live in a more egalitarian world, but at the same time, it is questionable and doubtful whether or not humanity is remaining what we are, and what is required is acceptance and awareness, rather than developing a particular culture, or new forms of morality or logic or laws.
The Buddha said long ago that truth is an attitude, not a form, and if that’s true, maybe identifying with all cultures and individuals is more important than regarding ourselves to be of a culture, such that we, with these devices and with these technologies, either in Babylon or today, are the logical rational people.
One of the things that does give me hope is that in Babylonian and Egyptian texts, we find human skepticism; we find doubt; we can find human beings saying human beings are human beings. As tautological and foolish as that sounds, that is a meaningful thing to say in a situation where people are distinguishing and judging between groups of human beings.
To say human beings are human was a meaningful thing to say in Babylon; it was a meaningful thing to say in Egypt; it was a meaningful thing for Jesus to say. It’s a meaningful thing for people to say who believe in scientific objectivity, because human beings are bad at seeing human beings as human beings. This is something where I think the Buddha was very much on point. I think Socrates very much realized that, which is why they force-fed him hemlock.
I think that people have great trouble building lasting, trusting relationships with their fellow human beings, and, so, unfortunately, they have fixated on forms of culture and truth when, in fact, what they are compensating for is developing healthy, lasting relationships with their fellow human beings, which are not entirely moral or logical at all. In fact, having a healthy relationship with another human being is accepting that other human being in all the ways that they do not conform to a box, that they don’t exactly fit into any sort of mold, in the same way that one loves one’s family, not because they are truthful human beings, or because they are bad or good human beings; you love them because they are people you are familiar with. In the same way, we can become more familiar with humanity and stop being so judgmental.
At this moment again, I’m very into the idea that acceptance of humanity is key to a whole lot of problems that human beings seem to have had, actually, since they gathered into city states. I suspect that — not that tribal life was a beautiful, wonderful thing, and that people were nice, but that simply by moving into cities, humanity started believing in larger systems and started believing in “Truth” with a capital “T” rather than living in comfortable relationships.
It may be that squeezing ourselves into cities as a technological device, having so much technology around us, leads us to compensate for having healthy relationships, in which we can make mistakes, be immoral, and then come back, and be accepted by the community, by making people believe in constructs like logic and morality.
Unfortunately, it seems one can have a cleaner, nicer relationship with words like science and morality and religion than one can actually have a clean, perfect relationship with one’s fellow human beings. From a Nietzschean angle, we may be losing meaning, progressively; we may be losing significance, as we increasingly believe in abstractions, in laws, in morality, rather than just accepting people as they are, and like the Prodigal Son, accepting them back into one’s life as human beings. How does philosophy respond to, “Why are there questions?”
There are questions because, even though we have answers, that does not stop us doubting and questioning. We would be very different beings, with very different lives, if, with the answers we have, we found ourselves questioning less and less. We would be a very different creature, with a very different brain, a very different self, and a very different spirit, however one wants to say it.
What’s the sexiest aspect of philosophy?
The sexist aspect?
OK, yeah. Different term. Huh!
Well, Hume says that there is a distinction between the active philosopher and the rational philosopher. He thinks the active philosopher is someone who teaches people simply and profoundly, using metaphors, and can teach the average person profound things. He thinks the rationalist philosopher is somebody who is a passing fad of university talk that’s all complicated. He thinks that’s not very good for helping people, and hopefully people will go back to being active philosophers who are simple and use metaphors. He probably is thinking of Jesus and Socrates and others like that.
Taking that distinction in mind, I like people who can speak simply and do philosophy, and that often can be profound. You can mean a lot with few words, and if you can [also] be profound, that is extremely sexy, honestly.
If we are going to use power and strength, and not a vain show of pride or complication, we are able to say very much with very little, such that the average person can understand it, and I am one to say studying philosophy such that you can say few words, that are very true, then stop, that strikes people as strong and profound. That’s not just sexy, that’s strong — where you actually feel and know what you’re talking about, and people can hear that in you.
It’s rare; it is unfortunately rare that people speak slowly, deliberately, and in ways that make sense, rather than cloud an issue or try to lose people in diverse ways. Taoists say, don’t try to be clever. Don’t try to know things for everything. Just say a little bit. Do a little bit, and leave. That strikes people as the true profound strength that simple people had in the past, the strength of the human personality itself, and that we can still have as individuals today.
People can be profound. They can be simple. They can be free, and tranquil, and happy by being so. People find that to be very attractive, and very strong. I mean beyond being sexy, although it is certainly that, it is possible to be a strong person, to be a balanced, well founded person, which was the ancient purpose of philosophy.
You were mentioning poetry — poetry, of course, can be profound, like philosophy, in saying a few words and meaning so much. They are interrelated and pass by each other plenty, and we can talk about that in the way simple philosophy, active philosophy for Hume, can be profound.
Unlike poetry, I believe that philosophy is also about how do we become stronger people, and that is why I get somewhat angry at the school of rationalist analytic philosophy, which does not teach the world’s religions, teach the world’s philosophies, as it might.
I prefer the approach of saying, 'Hey, maybe we’re like Amazonian people,' and saying, 'Hey individuals, let’s see what we can do!' I find that is inspiring to students across all cultural groups, across gender, across everything. You don't even temper the message for a particular people; you just say, 'Hey, we're human beings.' People find that strong, and they find that powerful, and they find that deep and meaningful in a modern world with shopping malls, as simple and cheap as it is.
by THOMAS A.E. HESKETH
Thoughts on Human Progress Eric Gerlach on Superstitions, Amazons, Sex and Philosophy
Photo courtesy of Eric Gerlach
Pieces from the Kawaii Collection
Photo by Maya Harris
by MAYA HARRIS
Clay figurines with a turnip as an offering
Photo by Maya Harris
Kiyomi Koide in her studio at the Berkeley Potters Guild. Photo by Maya Harris
I first met Kiyomi Koide when I was 14. My mother had taken me to her studio in Oakland not to meet her as a ceramicist, but rather, as a psychic. We sat facing each other in the light-flooded room, surrounded by half-worked pottery pieces and tables dusty with dried clay. She offered me a cup of tea, of which I drank little; in those days, I was quiet and shy. “ I won’t bite,” she assured me.
Koide became a clairvoyant reader by accident. “I didn’t mean to make it my profession. I wanted to heal myself. I did a reading on someone who was heartbroken, a friend, and she was so happy afterwards. She had a big mouth, she talked, and since then, the demand has been non-stop.” Now, she splits her time between working as a psychic and making pottery.
Koide’s interest in clay is rooted in memories of her youth in Yokohama, Japan, where she grew up. There, she saw handmade pottery used in everyday life and recalls memories of her mother choosing a cup and saucer to suit her mood. “I found it to be a tiny but great joy,” Koide says of these memories. “It’s like a meditation. You ask yourself, how do I feel? It’s communication with yourself.”
But opportunities for her to learn pottery in Japan were scarce. “In Japan, you have to go to a certain place. Casually, I couldn’t take classes.”
It wasn’t until she took a trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, in 1992 that she took her first pottery class. She originally intended to study Spanish for two months at a language school there. However, the school was run by Americans, and many of the students were also from the US. “Everyone was speaking English, so I didn’t really have a chance to learn and practice Spanish.”
She left the language program after the first month and decided to attend pottery classes at the Institute de Allende. “I just happened to find a ceramics class, which I had always been interested in.” It was her first foray into ceramics. “I fell in love with the clay, so rustic, earthy, basic. In Mexico, you go to a restaurant and they’re using this handmade pottery. The pottery made there was very much in its original state. A hundred years ago, people were still making pottery in this way. What I love about Mexican pottery is that, as you use it, it breaks or chips the edge, and it just shows the color of the clay, and it’s still beautiful.”
Koide explained that the ceramic pieces were Raku fired, which meant that the pieces were not meant to serve food. “But my interest, even from then, was in making something to serve food. So I made plates and bowls and cups.” This interest stems from her spiritual work and her respect for what food gives us. “Food is energy. Everyday we have to eat. What you eat is what you are, who you are. And even something bad like a donut, sometimes you have a craving for it. But if you think ‘donuts are bad, donuts are bad’ and then eat it, it only gives you damage because your mind thinks it’s bad. But if you think, ‘I don’t eat this everyday, but I need you now, I’m tired, I just need your power,’ if you make friends, it doesn’t do necessarily bad things to your body. If you eat too much, of course it’s a bad thing. But it’s all about energy.”
In 2001, Koide moved to the U.S. to get a bachelor’s degree in interior design. “I decided when I was twelve or thirteen years old to live in the states. I loved English, I loved American culture. I had kind of dreaming eyes. I was always watching American movies and listening to music. I chose the US because I thought it would give me more freedom to explore the possibilities in many different aspects regardless of age, gender, occupation, nationality, and religious beliefs. Moving to the U.S. definitely shaped me as an artist and ceramicist.”
In San Francisco, 10 years after her first foray into pottery, Koide had the opportunity to take more pottery classes at City College of San Francisco and the Berkeley Art Studio of the University of California. She learned the basic skills of hand-building and throwing on a wheel. After establishing this initial base, most of what she has learned has been self-taught. “Since then, Koide says, “I couldn’t stop.”
Koide completed her transfer studies for interior design at City College of San Francisco. “I loved it. I think community college is great here. People are willing to learn, they’re more motivated, I thought. Then I took one semester at San Francisco State University, didn’t like it. I transferred again to San Jose State. It was okay, but it wasn’t good enough, content-wise.”
When she graduated, Koide didn’t immediately jump into a career as a ceramicist. For some time, it remained a hobby. “Maybe 20 years ago, I showed my boss, who didn’t know I did ceramics, some of my pieces. And he said, ‘Oh, you’re almost professional.’ So almost. What’s the difference between a professional and an amateur? So I just asked my artist friends this question. Some people said, ‘If you think you’re professional, you’re professional.’ And another friend, he said, ‘If you can make a living out of it, even just barely, then you’re a professional.’ I liked that answer, so I decided to make my income that level. I set my mind.”
After she mentally committed herself to becoming a professional ceramicist, Koide went searching for opportunities. “I wanted my pieces to be used, in café s or restaurants. The same year, a restaurant purchased my pieces, and now I have more. So when you wish, it comes. But it’s a lot of work. It’s a little bit too much now, I may need to hire somebody. When I’m in Japan, that’s the only time I have a vacation from ceramics. So I thought, maybe if I become too physically busy, I can’t really focus on the spiritual aspect. So that’s something I need to think about, that’s where I am right now. I need to reorganize my intention.”
Despite the challenges of keeping up with demand, Koide is optimistic about finding a way to balance workload, while also maintaining her philosophy around the process of creating ceramics.
Koide’s mission is to create pieces of beauty that penetrate everyday life. “I really want to show the beauty of clay, I want to think about what naked clay is like, and how it blends in. If you eat something out of plastic or out of paper, or something you don’t care about, versus something where you know who made it or where it came from, something you have some affection for, you don’t enjoy the meal as much.”
Interestingly, Koide doesn’t draw inspiration from specific artists. “I am often asked who my hero is, and I don’t know. Probably because I don’t have academic training, so I didn’t really study ceramics thoroughly from all different angles. I’m just driven by what I want to make. But color-wise, I really like Gustav Klimt and Georgia O’Keefe.”
She currently has three collections on her website. The Shibui Collection features pieces that, for the most part, display the natural color and texture of the clay with imperfect, earthy forms. Shibui in Japanese has a very nuanced meaning. “Green tea is shibui. It’s bitter. It doesn’t really mean bitter, but it means chic, settled, not jumping around. It blends in, not popping out. Brown, black, gray, that kind of muted color.”
On the other hand, pieces from her Kawaii Collection (kawaii in Japanese means cute), are more worked, using the clay as a canvas onto which she has painted images rather than as the main aesthetic appeal. Most of them depict scenes of a black cat on various improbable adventures, including standing at the top of Sutro Tower and walking on the cables of the Bay Bridge. “It comes from my imagination, and playing with color. I like cats, I’m just pleasing cat lovers. I really like to draw something unreal. It’s kind of funny, silly. People ask me, ‘What is your real style?’ But it’s boring to just stick to one style, I need some change. I can’t get rid of this style, because the silly part of me wants to do this. I really think a sense of humor in life is really important.”
Lastly, the whimsical clay figurines in her Marionette Collection are both playful and peaceful. “It’s something I just enjoy so much sometimes. It’s just a totally different gear. I have to set my mind for it.”
Koide explained how her marionette collection was born. “Whenever I go to Japan, when I wake up, I remember some weird dreams. So one day, I woke up and remembered the body parts of the marionettes, the body, face, arms, and legs. Separately it just came into my mind. So I decided to make it. It’s good to follow what you dream of. And it’s so much fun for me, because as I make them, it doesn’t go as you wish. It just keeps changing, and then it ends up good. They’re very whimsical, very free-flow, organic. It’s so much fun.” She related the process of making and assembling the marionettes to kisekai ningyo, or Japanese dolls that can be outfitted with different clothing, shoes, and accessories.
Koide continues to live and work in the Bay Area, selling her pieces at seasonal markets and through her store on Etsy, bringing the beauty and joy of her pottery to the Bay Area community. In Berkeley, her pieces are used at the tea shop Teance on Fourth Street. She also distributes her work to several restaurants, cafés and bakeries throughout the Bay Area.
Koide currently has a studio at the Berkeley Potters Guild, which is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every Saturday from February through November.
Koide’s philosophy of life is a refreshing break from the distracted world we live in. “The power of thoughts — it’s really powerful what you wish for. Something you wish for, you set your mind, and you believe in it, it will happen.” Her steadfast belief that opportunities will arise if the mind is open to and ready for them is something we can all learn from.
Meditations on Clay
Ceramicist Kiyomi Koide Talks About Her Passion
A piece from the Marionette Collection
Photo by Maya Harris
Photo by Maya Harris