Author Interview "L. Carey Bolster"
Carey enjoys his life. He is a teacher and known for his dabbling in a variety of initiatives. If he has an idea, he will extend his energies to make the idea become a reality. He has taught on various levels, co-authored several math series and articles, directed PBS Mathline, one of the first video and online learning initiatives on the national level, and was math content director for Cyberchase, the PBS math adventure cartoon show. Because of his love of kids and his interest in mathematics, as well other subjects, he won the NCTM Lifetime Achievement Award and the NCSM Glen Gilbert National Leadership Award…the first time both national awards were received by the same person in the same year. Carey loves to laugh and appreciates all of life’s experiences. He says each experience brings the enlightenment of the many facets of life. The highlight of his life is his extended family: Kristen Mayle, Jamie Beecham, Jeff Bolster, Dave Bolster, Jesse Csitar, and Krista Agapito, and of course, their spouses and kids. Carey and his wonderful wife, Cyrilla, live in Dunedin Florida on Honeymoon Island…wouldn’t you just know!
Tell us a little about your latest book, “Hodgepodge: The Structure of My Life” What was the inspiration behind this book?
“Inspiration” is a complex word because it often has many tentacles, like those on the head of a squid. But the inspiration tentacles are hard to see, as there are murky waters surrounding them in our brain, which makes us unable to sometimes clearly remember details.
So here are a few reasons that prompted me to write Hodgepodge: The Structure of My Life.
Telling a Story -
Like the caveman that etched drawings in the wall of the cave, I had a story to tell. Rather than go to the cave to “see the story” we can use print, which is much more flexible in our mobile society. I had a story I wanted to tell and I wanted people to read it. It was written to entertain people and to have them reflect on their lives, and to encourage them to “mine” their own stories from the past and write them down. Plus, it was challenging and “phun” to write, and it delighted me when my wife laughed and reacted to my stories.
Leaves on the Family Tree –
I read that two generations after you die, your name might be remembered, but the details of your life are forgotten. My daughter, Kristen, has worked for decades on our family genealogy – way before it was the fashionable thing to do, and long before computer genealogy assisted the search. I remember looking at the branches of our Family Tree and realizing they are barren appendages with names, birth and death dates, and a place mentioned… but I wished I knew more. I thought: Wouldn’t it be great if I had stories of my parents and grandparents to “hang on the tree”? It ends up that the family stories show some character similarities to our own personalities!
Each of us experiences a life that is unique to us. We might “see” the same things that happen, yet we “see” them differently and that is the beauty of the unique snowflake pattern that forms our life. So, Hodgepodge is a peek into my life on earth through my eyes, thoughts, and emotions that will add colorful foliage to our family tree. My hope is that it will give others insights to capture their life stories to share, and provide an opportunity to compare, reflect, and redirect their lives, thus making genealogy more alive, vibrant and interesting.
Each person is different and their lives branch like hurricane spaghetti-plots. But, as different as those plots are, the building blocks are very similar to the making of ME/YOU. In the differences there is a great commonality, and while the short episodes of life seem unique and personal, there are patterns that are common to all lives. For example, I refer to the mistakes I made, the number of times I painted myself into a corner and had to reinvent parts of my life or worked my way out of a situation in order to accomplish something I thought was right. I especially wanted other younger family members to learn that mistakes are part of life, so don’t give up. There is another day…a chance to pick yourself up and start over. Mistakes are not deadly, they are a chance to learn and improve.
Hodgepodge goals –
My goal was to let readers see that their life is about growing by listening and taking in new information, trying things that are different, enjoying each second of each day, taking a moment for each of us to laugh at ourselves, and recognizing the fragility of being human.
Hodgepodge began as a description of my life experiences for my family’s younger generations -whom I might never get to know. It is meant to be a message of life that others can identify with. It is not a book of telling; rather, it invites readers to generate thoughts of their own life to share with others. These have been my inspirations for writing Hodgepodge.
What’s the most surprising thing you learned while writing your book?
Writing is Hard –
There are 26 letters in our alphabet that are arranged to make words. And this arrangement is more difficult than one might think, otherwise everyone would be a writer. It takes time. When you teach you have to think of the best ways for students to learn and if it doesn’t work you can change techniques, but when you write, you have only one chance to get your message across. One chance! Just one chance. This is hard! It takes many re-writes and massaging of words to be an effective author.
Staying on Target –
When writing, I was surprised how difficult it was to stay on target. It is easy to take the path of your theme and suddenly you take a side path and that can become a path you cannot get out of. Then you have to invent ways to get back to the major theme you were developing. Of course, within each story there are side-themes that embellish your theme which gives it special character and flavor. Characteristics of characters need some embellishment or they are just a name to the reader. Likewise, there are stories within stories which enhance the experiences to the reader. Sometimes I found that I got interested in the side-story and it often grew and later challenged the main story.
Use side-themes and stories, but keep focused on the target.
Rules for Writing -
I wanted things to be right. So, I conjured up a local English teacher who edited my first few writings and I found my initial pristine writing had numerous errors. I reexamined these writing and started the tedious job of editing. When I finally revamped the piece, and had the “I” before “e” rule in effect, I was so proud and started to write again. Surprise! I found I couldn’t pick up the plot. After a few days I got in gear again and could write. I found that I am much better to get the ideas down, then re-read and edit them, and then give it to an editor. Writing is almost like painting, you sketch out the picture then add the details. By the way, I don’t like all the grammar and spelling rules, so at times I purposely ignore them.
You’re a retired teacher, correct? And you've won both the “NCTM Lifetime Achievement Award” and the “NCSM Glen Gilbert National Leadership Award” in the same year!! Congratulations!!! How does your experience as an educator help you in your career as a writer?
In the box –
A box has 4 sides, a top and a bottom, thus boundaries are set in every direction. Oh, you can bounce around in the interior of the box but you are limited by the size of the box. So, the answer is easy…never get in the box! That enables you to explore anything as you write, except that which is in the box. Pick a very small box and your possibilities are endless.
Keep your ‘creative tool belt’ filled –
As a teacher I knew that learning was dictated by time. It was the time between ringing the beginning bell and ending with the ringing of the bell. Regardless of the complexity of the topic you wanted kids to learn, it had to fit the time schedule. Each class has its own chemistry that is made up by the personality and traits of each student. And although the dynamics of the class changes each day, you have to be ready to deal with the unexpected.
As an author, you will often need to pull a different idea from your creative tool belt, as the plot did not end up going where you expected. You come up with a twist that improves the story, but this often forces you to think of ways to deal with the unexpected. As with teaching, you have a plan for a lesson but the lesson might not go there. With writing, try to predict how the changes will impact other aspects, and go to your creative tool belt. In other words, be prepared!
Practice is not enough –
Practice, Practice, Practice. “Practice Makes Perfect”. This universal theme is chanted by sport teams, students and professionals, and others as they train to excel in the area of their choice. But practice is not enough. If you practice in a void, with no feedback, you may be practicing wrong! Only “Perfect Practice” allows you to excel and become better and better. This means that someone who is knowledgeable must act as a mentor for making changes in the way you practice, and you have to be willing to accept their suggestions. Practicing being an author is not enough, since it needs to be monitored. Be sure you know the qualifications of the mentor or you might be practicing skills you will have to undo. Listening to other authors discuss their works and reading specialized materials such as “Writer’s Life” might be part of your “Perfect Practice” improvement activities.
In addition to humorous anecdotes and musings, your book, “Hodgepodge: The Structure of My Life” includes a number of life lessons and encounters with people you refer to as “life changers”. What are some of the lessons you have discovered that have influenced your writing?
Examine your experiences –
Your life is a well of experiences that can be tapped. In my case I have been a teacher, which meant that in the 3-month summers, I was otherwise employed. I put roofs on houses, laid bricks, installed wallboard, delivered for a bakery, made re-enforced steel bars, worked as a sales man, washed cars, and had many other work opportunities that are to numerous to mention… And these are just my work experiences! As I tick off other aspects of my life such as family experiences, hobbies, areas of interests (like sports, etc.), the list becomes awesome. If you make an expanding list you will be surprised and amazed at the list of your personal experiences. Your well is deep!
Celebrate the people –
Just think of all the people you know, (not really, as it would take too much time). But needless to say, the list of people you know personally and those you tangentially know through the media is quite a cadre. Notice and appreciate the differences that make them unique, and their strengths and weaknesses.
I enjoy people because I get to know them. A social meeting with a person might be enjoyable as we both know the areas that we share in common and this could naturally lead to other areas. At a more formal meeting our conversation might be light and friendly, but it is limited. By knowing that a person is strong in his believes and has a definite opinion, we stay away from certain topics like politics. But if I really want to ‘get their goat’ I might skirmish a topic that will raise their emotions, then after a while, quietly leave.
Knowing people’s emotional strengths and weakness allows you to build teams. If you are playing an e-game like NTN or strategizing for a political or company initiative, team building is important. By knowing the people, teams can be made diverse, which often results in a better outcome.
Stick your neck out –
This saying probably came from the times of the Guillotine, but I like to think of it as a turtle. In order to move the turtle has to stick its neck out. I have met ‘turtle people’. They always stick their neck out and they think it is helping the group move. It does, but they get branded and their views are often tolerated but not supported. Sometime it is better to be in the safety of the shell and stick your neck out only when necessary. When you do this you might get criticized, so be ready to take it. Reflect on the thoughts and options presented and if you feel you are right, go for it. Feel free to change, but there has to be a reason to change.
Do you have any advice for the yet-to-be-published writers who may be reading this interview?
My advice may be questionable, so I will use the word, “Ideas”. Ideas are things you can bounce around in your head and accept or modify some and ‘sweep and delete’ those you want to discard.
Ideas for writers –
Who are you writing to? Focus on your audience.
What is the message you want the reader to come away with?
Express yourself by writing and have it reviewed. Listen to the review and reaction.
Try outlining, listing events, or writing spontaneously to find the combo that is best for you.
Follow the rules and ignore some if you feel a need to be explosive.
Learn about people and put these characteristics in some of the characters.
Be yourself and don’t be limited by others in terms of format.
A bit of conventional writing embossed with a degree of randomness might be interesting.
Enjoy yourself and the process of creating something that others can enjoy. Remember, writing is difficult. There are times when nothing you try seems to work and you get frustrated and may want to give up. I witnessed this feeling when my computer crashed and I lost half of my writings on Hodgepodge. It was months before I could resume writing. But resume I did. So, when you are feeling down, keep at it and don’t give up. Inspiration and success will come.
Finally, you are making something that has never been done before. Make it the bestest of your best!
How can readers connect with you and where can they purchase your book?
Hodgepodge: The Structure of My Life
"Hodgepodge: the Story of my Life" is a memoir of a teacher who retired and began a second career with PBS as an educational director, a consultant and a writer for a math-based cartoon show. Little snippets of the author’s life detail stories of what happened along the way, much of which was unexpected. While each life-vignette is heavily doused with humor, the essence of each short story deals with relationships as the author learns to laugh through his circumstances and forms a personal philosophy of life. This collection of experiences details how the path of life is filled with road blocks and shadows that might be avoided, but which force a change of direction on the planned path to reaching life-goals. The author employs a vast array of strategies for solving problems and for recovery from each instance in which he “painted himself into a corner”, but then resumes his strenuous leap forward in living life. Along the way he encounters ‘life-changers’, like the elementary-school kid who changes the author’s career path. While you are in the midst of daily life, it is important to look about you and see the value added to your life from ordinary people who impact you in extraordinary ways. Everyone meets ‘life changers’ who influence one’s path in significant ways. "Hodgepodge" also investigates common sayings and makes you think about them from an uncommon point of view. There are crazy poems and traditional songs that are tantalizing and funny. These will bring chuckles, some hysterics and lasting smiles. "Hodgepodge: the Story of my Life" transmits the message that it is important to be a dreamer, a catalyst for moving each person forward, a thinker and reflector who communicates ideas clearly, a coach and cheerleader who appreciates the contributions of each person, and who enjoys whole-hearted laughter. "Hodgepodge" might help you to ponder your life as you view your own life-story!
Available at Amazon.com