Jon Sindell On Giving One Another a Fair Listening

An interview with Jon Sindell, from The Write Stuff series over at SF Weekly:

Jon Sindell is the author of the flash–fiction collection The Roadkill Collection(Big Table Publishing, 2014), the story collection Family Happiness (coming in 2015), and over seventy published short stories. Jon is a fulltime personal humanities tutor and a writing coach for business professionals. He lives in San Francisco with his wife and near fledglings, curates the San Francisco reading series Rolling Writers, and ends his bios with a thud.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I’m a fulltime personal humanities tutor and a writing coach for business professionals. And I write.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

My grandpa, Abraham Chapman, was sixteen in Tsarist Russia at the time of the pograms, and his mother wanted to get him the hell out of Russia before he was conscripted for a term of twenty-five years as cannon fodder. He undertook a perilous overland and overseas journey to get to America. Speaking no English, he found a job rolling cigars in Chicago. His wife-to-be, my grandma, had tuberculosis, and Grandpa was the only suitor willing to move to Los Angeles for her sake — because of the clean air! He peddled fruit from a pushcart, saved enough to help bring his brothers and sisters over, and eventually, with his brothers, started a successful company that manufactured carpet pads. That’s his backstory. The Grandpa I knew was a strong, kind man with a twinkle in his eye, a warm voice, and sandpaper cheeks. I never heard him utter an unkind word. When Grandpa would arrive at the park, his old cronies at the putting green would holler “Hey Chappie!” Everyone loved him.

Including the ladies. I remember his old painter friend, Starr, a real Old Country character with the stub of a stogie always dangling from his mouth, saying, “Hey Chappie, you getting any lately?”

He was (this was after Grandma passed, for the record).

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

Sandy Koufax, the great pitcher of the Los Angeles Dodgers. My Giants-fan friends forgive me my benighted childhood. I guess I wanted to be Sandy too; I certainly wanted to be a baseball player. Baseball was the love of my life, and the thing that gave me joy and self–esteem during a rough childhood. I was crushed when Sandy retired early due to an elbow condition. For years I would dream that Sandy had not retired (“Come back, little Sheba!”).

What’s wrong with society today?

I’m glad you asked. Instead of an extensive catalogue of problems, I’d like to discuss a few foundational problems.

Ignorance. A recent survey indicated that only 36% of American adults can name the three branches of government. That’s appalling. We all want to make things better, but how can we do that if so many of us have no idea how government works? Likewise, before the Iraq War, a survey showed that about two-thirds of us did not know where to find Iraq on the map. No wonder we were so easily snowed! Evidently some people thought we were within range of the supposed WMD’s. An ignorant populace is easily misled.

Lack of critical thinking. The horrifying beauty of social media is that you can see what everyone is thinking. And often it isn’t pretty. The ratio of uninformed to informed opinions is depressing. On the issues of the day, we constantly see people reacting in a reflexive manner, with little concern for reserving judgment until the facts of complex controversies are discovered and understood. The best thing about law school — and believe me, there weren’t many great things about it — was that it disciplined me to reserve judgment and honor facts. Lately I’ve been asking my friends, have we always been this foolish, or is it just more obvious now due to social media? My positive­-negative spin is that our general foolishness is simply more visible nowadays.

Incivility and Disrespect. It will take informed, rational discourse to work towards solutions to our social, political, and practical problems, but the extreme incivility and disrespect for others shown on social media, message boards, and blogs chills and even kills such discourse. Let’s give one another a fair listening while reserving judgment, remembering that we are all just fellow passengers on the way to the grave, as Dickens says. You never change anyone’s mind by insulting them anyway — quite the opposite.

Hey, nice job of uncorking my inner curmudgeon!

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

I will not live to see a peaceful world full of harmony and prosperity for all. It’s just too far off. But I would like to see a commitment on everyone’s part to work hard towards it.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve just finished the novel Lawrence, about a super-sweet, super-loving, super-slow-witted boy and his super-smart, super-assertive, socially conscious older sister who serves as his protector and mentor. Lawrence leads with his heart, Mercy with her head. To give you the idea, Lawrence takes literally the prescription “turn the other cheek” — and does just that after a bully slaps him on the playground. The invited second slap bloodies him. Mercy, thirteen, thrashes the thug. She’s a fighter, he’s a lover, and both become crusaders — fighting, for instance, to defend gays and animals; but they go about it in radically different ways. The Chaparinos are San Francisco kids of Chinese, Mexican, Jewish, Italian, and Navajo ancestry, and the book follows them through twelve childhood years — and before you ask, I’d written most of it before I ever heard of Boyhood. Which I loved.

With the novel written, I think I’ll go back to writing flash for a couple of months.

What kind of writing do you most admire?

I most admire compassionate writing that does something useful: that elevates, enlightens, or inspires. I love writing where you can tell that the writer loves people. In terms of the “bad” characters in fiction, I use “love” in the sense of “hating the sin but loving the sinner,” as Christians say (I’m not religious, but I know a good idea when I see one). There have got to be all the necessary elements of craft at a high level, but if there’s no love of humanity in a story, I’m out.

What can you do with 50 words?

50 words on the nose (title excluded):

Online Prelude

“I want and need.”

I want and need.”

Daylong pause.

“I receive, return goodness.”

“I suppress I, prefer We.”

Enchanted pause.

“The personal We, or universal?”

“First personal, luv, then expanding outward.”

“I’m flute! :o)”

“I’m guitar! ;o)”

“Strum softly?”

“Play sweetly?”

“Meet Park today, three?”

“At bandstand—sweet music!”

What are some of your favorite smells?

Cut grass on a ballfield. Onions frying.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *