September 19, 2019

The Creative Spark: New interview collection coming this fall

Creative people have a certain spark: a brightness in their eyes, an inquisitive way of looking at the world, a desire to make things. But that spark doesn’t reside solely in people seen as creators. It’s in all of us, just waiting to break out.
In this collection of interviews with some of the most creative people of our time — musicians, authors, explorers, and chefs — these makers speak about what drives them, what helps them to see the world in fresh ways, and what inspires them turn their visions into art.
During the past decade, Michael Shapiro has interviewed some of our most creative luminaries. Yet it’s not simply that Shapiro has had access to so many supremely talented people — it’s that he gets them to go deep. These interviews serve as a gateway for each one of us to chart our own creative paths, enrich our lives, and bring our true selves into the world.

Giant Among Giants: Mike Krukow, Alaska Beyond, August 2019

“There’s a responsibility to tell the story of the team. You have to make these players come to life to the listening audience,” Krukow says. Baseball is “a volatile, ever-changing story. When somebody’s red-hot, there are two guys who are stone cold. When somebody’s just coming into his prime, there are two guys who are just hanging on by their fingernails.”
Some years ago, Krukow, 67, began to notice his strength declining. Initially he attributed that to aging, but when he had difficulty with stairs and started tripping over curbs, he saw a neurologist. He feared that he had ALS, a fatal disease, so was relieved when he learned he had a rare condition called inclusion-body myositis (IBM), an inflammatory ailment that’s not curable but not fatal. Though Krukow can no longer call every game of the season, a marathon of long days that lasts at least six months, he works almost all home games and goes on some road trips. “I’m not able to do 162 (games a season). I can do 110 now,” he says. “We love our time here and we really take it seriously.”

Boys of Winter: Playing baseball with my heroes at SF Giants fantasy camp, Lexus magazine

Excerpt: When I see my locker, with the uniform bearing my name in an arc across the back, the feeling is electric. I dress from cap to high socks in professional gear, making sure I don’t miss a belt loop or leave a pocket out, infractions that would get me rung up in Kangaroo Court (more on this baseball tradition later).
I’m dressing across from legendary pitcher Vida Blue, who was almost unhittable in his prime. “Hey Vida, I saw you beat the Cubs in 1986 at Wrigley Field,” I tell the still-fit pitcher, recalling that he only gave up one run on that perfect summer day in Chicago. And he hit a home run – a rarity for a pitcher – in that game. “You remember that homer!” Vida, now in his late 50s, exclaims. “Down the line, baby. Down the line.”
Dozens of my fellow campers and I lace up our turf shoes and head to the batting cages behind the right-field wall for instruction from veteran Giants infielder Joel Youngblood. As bats crack against machine-pitched balls in the cage, he tells us to “hit (swing) horizontal to the ground. You want a straight ball to give fielders the least time to get there. If you hit it correct, you always hit the ball hard. If you try to hit it hard, you won’t always hit it correct.”
Darrell Evans, whose nickname is “Doody” due to his facial resemblence to “Howdy,” strides in front of the batting cages. “I don’t understand a thing he (Youngblood) just said,” jokes the burly third baseman. “You always hear, keep your eye on the ball — the guys who say that, they couldn’t hit either!”
As we circle Evans, now in his early 60s, he takes a poke at the conventional wisdom of hitting up the middle: “Who are the best fielders? The shortstop and center fielder. And where’s the deepest part of the park? Center field,” he says. “So why the hell would you want to hit it up the middle?!” His final targets are TV announcers who say a batter swung too hard. “You never hear them say that when they hit it.” Two guys driving a garbage cart out of the stadium roll by: “Those guys couldn’t hit,” Evans cracks, “and look what they’re doing!”

Once in a Lifetime: Visiting Bruegel in Vienna with my mom, Perceptive Travel, Feb. 2019

Which is how Phyllis, who recently celebrated a milestone birthday, and I found ourselves arriving at Vienna’s airport, greeted by billboard-size posters of Bruegel’s art with the caption: “Once in a Lifetime.” My mom suggested: “That could be the title of your story.” I said I didn’t know if I’d write about this, and she said, “Oh, you will.” Part insight, part command. The following day when we passed the museum in a hop-on-hop-off bus, my mom raised her fists and shook her arms in excitement. …

Our group of about 25 people trundled over to Children’s Games. Phyllis darted ahead so she could be front and center during our guide’s narration; I’d hung back a bit. Out of nowhere my mom’s arm reached out, and with superhero strength grabbed my right wrist and pulled me next to her. We would be together for this. Painted in 1560, Children’s Games is known as a wimmelbild (busy picture) because it has hundreds of small figures. “Never before in art had children been given a stage of this size,” read the program for the exhibition.

Yet what impressed me most were the painting’s luminous colors—nearby Antwerp was known for the high quality of its red pigment—and the ebullience of the kids wrestling with one another. They are walking on stilts, climbing walls, swimming in a creek, and playing all sorts of other games. One young child learning to swim uses a pair of floaties, probably made from the bladders of pigs.

A Farming Renaissance in Puerto Rico, Inspirato magazine, Winter 2019

Last September, a year after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, I was sent to the island on assignment to report a story about how some farmers were shifting from export crops to growing food for local people. I met some savvy, organic, badass farmers, such as Daniella Rodríguez Besosa, who are eager to grow food for people rather than profit. And I met chefs such as Juan Jose Cuevas who oversees San Juan’s top restaurants and who are working with these farmers to help them survive. It’s the type of story that involves so much of what I love to cover – I even shot all but one of the photos for the story.

Interview: Oceanographer Sylvia Earle, The Sun, July 2018

A lot of people excuse their bad behavior toward fish by saying, “Oh, they don’t feel pain.” That’s absurd. Fish have all the equipment we do to feel pain. Don’t make up stories to try to spare your conscience. You either choose to inflict pain on other creatures, or you don’t. But do they feel pain? Of course they do. Do they have emotions? Do they have a social structure? Do they bond with one another? Absolutely. It’s a smallness on our part, a narrowness of spirit and mind and heart, to think we are so special. Why not be thrilled that we have so much in common with other creatures? … Humans today are empowered with knowledge that did not exist even fifty years ago and that gives us the gift of responsibility; we have an opportunity not to lose this extraordinary living planet.
Imagine if we did not know. Most people choose not to take advantage of this most precious knowledge we have, which no other generation before us could have. It’s the key to our survival. It’s an opportunity that will never come again. Why aren’t we excited about being able to take what we’ve got and turn it to our long-term advantage? We can be the saviors of humankind. I say humankind because life will go on with us or without us. It did before, and it can after. It just won’t be the same assemblage of life. We’re already altering pieces of the puzzle. We’ve lost a lot of species due to our actions. When we destroy a coral reef, we lose its residents, all the unique species that evolved there and nowhere else in the universe. Some species of lizard fish have a very limited range. Shrimp-like creatures called stomatopods have unique eyes that see a much broader spectrum of light than humans can — the broadest spectrum we’ve been able to identify in any creature. So we destroy the reef, and we lose that piece of the puzzle. We’ll never have a complete picture again.

Washington Post: Dylan Thomas’s Wales

Annie tells me that Thomas wrote hundreds of poems in this house, with his greatest output coming between the ages of 16 and 20. He worked in the morning and drank late, Annie says. Unfortunately Thomas couldn’t hold his alcohol, perhaps because he’s now believed to have been a diabetic, so he became a “performing monkey,” she says.

“Obnoxious behavior became his calling card. In London he was a performer. That’s not creative, and it’s tiring. He had to keep coming back and recharging here – not just this house, this town,” she says. “He’d say when he was on the train to London (that) he wasn’t going to England, he was leaving Wales. He was leaving his heart, he was leaving his safety.”

Like a protective mother, Annie denies that Thomas was an alcoholic. There’s “such a lot of work of such high quality that alcoholism is not considered.” I refrain from listing all the great writers who overindulged in alcohol. Annie refills my glass with Cotes du Rhone and I ask about Thomas’ most famous poem, “Do not go gentle into that good night” written as Dylan’s father, a frustrated poet, lay dying.

“Listen to it from a child’s point of view,” Annie says. “His father wouldn’t give Dylan the words he needed like ‘well done’ or ‘I’m proud of you.’ The work between father and son wasn’t finished.”

Man stricken with ALS finds new voice in singing partner; June 12, 2018

She asked him: “Bernie, how are you going to make an album if you can’t speak or sing?”
He replied: “I want you to be my voice,” but initially she didn’t think she could do that.
Dalton kept sending Goldman handwritten lyrics, asking her to help him put music and melody to his words.
“I was working on my own album,” she said, a follow-up to her 2016 release, “Black Wings.”

“But he’s persistent, extremely persistent, and he kept sending me the lyrics in the mail. He said, ‘This can be your next record.’ And there was just something so important and heartfelt about what he was doing.”

Goldman launched a GoFundMe campaign that raised more than $23,000 to pay for producing Dalton’s album.

Members of Goldman’s band joined Goldman and Dalton in a recording studio and knocked out a song a day. Dalton was involved in every aspect of song creation, from the melodies to the horn parts, offering his comments on a dry-erase board or giving a thumbs-up or thumbs-down to the musicians’ suggestions.

They named the band Bernie and the Believers and titled the album, “Connection.” Last February they had an album release party at the San Francisco club Slim’s.

Portland: A food tour, Virtuoso, April 2018

Located downtown in the city’s historic Carriage & Baggage Building, once a garage for horse-drawn carriages, Pine Street Market brings together nine of Portland’s top food and beverage purveyors. All affordable, options range from steamed pork buns and other Korean specialties at Kim Jong Smokehouse to chicken al carbon at Pollo Bravo. For classic American fare, try Bless Your Heart Burgers and hot dogs from OP Wurst. Top it off with a soft-serve cone from Wiz Bang Bar, which features ice cream from local favorite Salt & Straw.

SingleThread restaurant shines in Healdsburg, Spring 2018

Every acclaimed restaurant aspires to achieve a moment that wows diners. At SingleThread, the Sonoma County restaurant that earned two Michelin stars last fall, less than a year after it opened, that moment happens before you take your first bite. On your table when you arrive is an edible work of art, an assemblage of more than a dozen delicacies—in shells, on little wooden planks, and on handmade ceramic plates—garlanded with greens and flowers from SingleThread’s farm, just five miles away. The tablescape is so beautiful that, like a waterfall or Japanese garden, it can take your breath away.

“These are beets, roasted in the hearth with shaved purple cauliflower from our farm,” says our server, explaining that every item is emblematic of the late autumn season (when I ate there). “This is a salad of lotus root with silken tofu made by one of our sous chefs; he’s been working on the recipe for about a year. There’s also some mustard greens from our farm. This is Golden-eye snapper wrapped around braised kombu and sea palm. We have some sesame-dressed young broccoli from the farm with a broccoli blossom. Moving on to the boards: Fort Bragg sea urchin, which is just beginning that season here in Northern California, served raw with some ahi tuna and a little bit of tamari dressing.” And that was just part of the first course.