Author Interview with Patricia Ravasio
THE GIRL FROM SPACESHIP EARTH
How did you do research for your book? It’s really been my life’s work to understand Buckminster Fuller’s thinking, so I read everything I could find that was written by or about him. My fascination with him began the first time I heard him speak, at about age eleven, even though I didn’t understand most of what he was saying. I knew if I just kept reading and thinking I would eventually get what he was trying to explain about humans, about how we could become something better. Then I had two life-changing days with him, actually interviewing him in 1982, and then more recently I spent many days digging through his archives at Stanford and talking with students and professors there.
What were the hardest and easiest characters to write? Since my book is a memoir, the character of The Girl from Spaceship Earth (me) was probably the hardest to write, because, well, as Bucky’s friend Marshall McLuhan said, “fish know nothing about water.” I tried not to think about myself as a character and instead just wrote the truth. The whole book is an excavation of the truth, so it was hard because I knew to create a compelling story I needed to expose some potentially embarrassing things about myself. Bucky was the easiest character to write, because there are hundreds of hours of video and audiotapes of his lectures. He was an incredibly consistent person. He had a message and a plan and he stayed true to it his whole life. I thought of him as a sort of Dumbledore on a mission to save humanity.
What made you write a book about the ideas of Buckminster Fuller? After America’s worst tragedy ever on 9/11 seemed to prove out some of Bucky’s predictions, I became obsessed. From everything I had read and learned and watched throughout my life, nothing had struck me as truer or more important than Bucky’s ideas. I now believe he was right when he said in 1982 that we were entering a dark age. At the time I thought he was crazy, that we were indeed very enlightened, and that we understood how we needed to transition off fossil fuels to clean energy as soon as possible. At the time, it seemed this would happen quickly since we knew the dangers. But this is when “the greatest crime ever committed against humanity,” as Bucky called it, took place. Big oil began the big lie that climate change was a hoax. Now that we are finally emerging from this long, profit-motivated Dark Age, it’s important we wake up and smell the carbon. I wrote the book to help us do that, to do my share to help save our species from extinction.
There are many books out there about the dangers of unchecked climate change and our apathy toward corporate dominance over our government. What makes yours different? You’re right. There are plenty of books out there about the science of climate change. My story is about the simple human reality of our lives that it is time for us to do something. My book is written as a fun, lighthearted and fairly quick read. But its message is deadly serious. I think of it as political subterfuge. As one Staten Island librarian said, it’s a great book for reluctant readers, for young people of all ages who need some inspiration about the current state of the world.
What advice would you give budding writers? Take the time to really study and understand what makes good writing, and what makes a good book. I took several writing classes at our local bookstore, Book Passage, and the online creative writing program at UCLA is excellent. Online classes are especially helpful because your work is judged in a vacuum, just like it is when someone picks up your book and flips it open.
In your book you state that despite nothing much happening to stave off climate change for the past thirty-five or so years, you still believe humanity can survive and thrive. Why is that? To me it makes perfect sense that, as Bucky said again and again, there is likely to be “an emergence through emergency” — that human beings are capable of vastly more than we think possible, but that it will take a crisis to bring out the best in us. We’ve all seen the way heroism rises up whenever there’s a disaster. We know we are miraculously capable of stepping up and becoming something more when we need to. I think Trump is bringing on this crisis in America now. We are gearing up now for something big.
If you could put yourself as a character in your book, who would you be? Bucky. I always try to think like Bucky. I’ve thought about playing him in a one-woman play. I do believe that I have read enough of his writings and have watched enough of his lectures that I can almost put myself in his place. Sometimes I think maybe I am channeling him, I’m not sure. I’m not a genius like he was, but his ideas and interpretations of things come pretty easily to me now, because they are common sense. As both Bucky and Einstein said, if you can’t explain something sufficiently to a child, you probably don’t understand it well enough.
Do you have another profession besides writing? Yes, a few. I’ve been a radio reporter and an announcer and a voice over talent; also an advertising copywriter, research moderator, and most recently, to help put our kids through college, I became something that actually earns decent money, a real estate agent in Marin County, just north of San Francisco. My husband and I have helped to build a few beautiful spec homes together, and I love playing house, which is when I get to paint and stage a whole house for sale. By time I am done I almost always want to live there myself.
How long have you been writing? According to a couple of psychics, forever. I was apparently a scribe in a prior life. As for this life, it started in third grade. My painstakingly illustrated book all about birds was cool enough that my teacher made a huge thing about it, and as a result, somebody (maybe a jealous sibling) either destroyed it, or hid it, and I never saw it again. I got blamed for being careless and at the time I decided it was my fault and that I would never amount to anything. As Anne Lamott once lamented about the duality of creative life, “I am the turd around which the world revolves!”
I write not because I think I have some unique gift but because I’ve always thought that there was way too much being left unsaid in this strange American life, and that more people should just come out and say it. One of my nicknames as a kid was “truth speaker” (said sarcastically when I was not believed) and my mother once told me the only thing that would ever get me into trouble was my mouth, and I thought, well of course, what else is there?
How do you deal with writer’s block? I use anything and everything to stimulate my creativity. Mostly getting out in nature. Being out on Marin County’s nature trails or by the ocean is magical. This was one of Bucky’s most important messages that great things would start happening once we humans realigned ourselves with nature.
We now know there is an actual synchronicity between Earth’s rhythm and our rhythm as humans. The 2017 Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to the scientists who figured out how plants, animals and humans adapt their biological rhythm to synchronize with the Earth’s revolutions. What this means is that nature has the power to help us realign with our true selves, which means nature can heal and nurture the creative spirit like nothing else. (And help get a writer past any blocks!)
What is your next project? A couple of retailers have requested a different sort of follow-up book. I can’t talk about it yet, but soon. I’m planning to find an agent and publisher for this next book. I am also making a trip to LA this fall to pitch my book to some movie and television producers. Most new film and TV projects these days actually start with a book, not a screenplay, and the number and variety of content producers is up. So there’s always a chance I will get lucky. I have a couple of die-hard fans working to promote it, so that is helpful.
What genre do you prefer? Why nonfiction instead of fiction? To me, it seems like the truth of things today is too important and urgent to spend time combing through fiction for nuggets of truth, and because, to me, the truth is also more entertaining than fiction. I really believe time is running short for humanity to turn things around. Every spare minute I have needs to go toward spreading ideas to help us get where we need to be, which is pretty far from where we are right now, as many people are sensing with this horrific new government in place.
Last great book you read? Michael Pollen’s How to Change Your Mind, all about psychedelics and their miraculous benefits for sufferers of PTSD and other mental illnesses. Back in the 1950’s, LCD and psilocybin were heralded as miracle medicine but then were banished into oblivion by propaganda about the risk to your DNA if you took psychedelics. Bucky also believed our consciousness could reach higher levels. I eventually want to explore this but my kids are wondering if it’s a good idea. Kids these days.
What do you snack on while writing? When I’m being good, it’s carrots, apples or celery with nut butter or hummus. When I’m bad it’s my husband’s chocolate banana cake or chips and guacamole. Diet Pepsi is my favorite poison. I know aspartame is deadly but I love that burn in my throat. I try to switch to ice teas, made with my own chamomile and other herbs.
Do you write every day? I did while I was writing the book. Every day and almost all day. I’m getting back to that. I attended a travel writer’s conference this month at Book Passage in Corte Madera, to get my juices flowing. I keep a sketchpad handy for jotting down ideas. I finally started writing the one-woman show I have fantasized about for decades. It is fun to cut loose, at least on paper. Now I just need to get out of my comfort zone and actually do it, which as you know, if you read my book, a recurring theme is big ideas that go nowhere. The challenge for most of us is to actually do something, not just wring our hands about it.
What is your Schedule? I try to get started first thing in the morning. I roll over in bed, grab my notebook instead of my phone and write something, anything. I don’t always do it, maybe only a couple of days a week, or if I dream something. Or if I wake up with something on my mind. Later, after coffee, once I sit down to the computer to write, I can often stay there for hours. But getting myself to actually sit down and write is the hardest part.
I have found some peaceful recordings of forest sounds and bird song on YouTube. No music, just nature sounds, for eight hours or more. I put this in the background and open the windows to let in the fresh air and connect me to nature. The nature connection is critical, an important part of Bucky’s thinking. And sometimes real birds from the garden come up and light on my windowsill to see what all the fuss is about.
Where do you like to write? I have a desk right in the family room. The kids have moved out now so it’s a very quiet. I look out over some lovely birch trees and the hills of Marin County. We have lived for 28 years in this house, so it holds lots of memories and love for me, and I am really in touch with my own soul here although my dream is to once again live on the water, as I did when I was young.
Writing on Paper vs. Tech? I love hand writing my ideas. I’ve read that different parts of the brain are involved when you write by hand, especially cursive. Good to try it both ways, to access all your capabilities.
Fun Stuff. Where and when would you go if you could time travel? I would go back in time to the worldwide Anticipatory Design Science Conference Bucky initiated in 1965, and I would take everyone with me. It’s proof that in many ways we were farther ahead fifty years ago than we are now. If people could see the level of cooperation and commitment that existed back then, and the wide consensus about Spaceship Earth’s limited recourses on global scale from back then, they would be amazed. And they would realize how much was truly possible.
Best Travel spot: My favorite place on Earth so far is Hana, the remote wilderness area of Maui. We stay for a whole week or more. My whole family loves being surrounded only by Nature, with as few other humans around as possible. Beach, bamboo forests, waterfalls, oceanside swimming holes, boogie boarding, snorkeling. Pretty sure most of us were dolphins in a prior life. We love being in the water.
Three books: I love Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essays and English Traits. It was once like a bible to me. Goethe was another minor god, but I’d need something by Bucky, so probably his Prospects for Humanity: Utopia or Oblivion, and then to lighten things up, Alice in Wonderland or maybe Gulliver’s Travels?
Funniest thing? Getting married (the first time) and the next day having this huge booming voice in my head: “You have made the biggest mistake of your life!” It was right. It was a dumb marriage. It lasted less than a year.
Scariest and strangest? The day I came home from my visit to a dark-haired bird-like shaman who spoke to me of sacrifices being made for my work and then finding a dead blackbird in my garden. There have been many such metaphysical moments in my life, but I am getting used to them. We are all paranormally equipped if only we pay close enough attention. It makes me smile now to know there are so many invisible and intriguing energies at work in our world.
The most courageous thing I have done? Self-publishing my book! I had been planning to go the traditional route and even had a couple of agents who had agreed to read the manuscript, but then Trump got elected and it felt like we were running out of time. The morning after the election I decided to go for it. I had already found a very good editor on Craigs list, and weedled some money out of my husband, so I found a great book “midwife” and the book was out in ten months, rather than the two or three years a traditional publisher would have taken.
What do I want people to remember about me? That I never gave up. That despite many people close to me thinking I was crazy or obsessed or just plain wrong, or that Bucky was just some old dead genius who didn’t matter, that I was a devoted messenger and that I stayed true to what I believed. I only went along with the truth. That is what it is going to take of all of us.
About Patricia Ravasio
Patricia Ravasio has won awards for her radio journalism, advertising copywriting, real estate sales and community volunteerism. This is her first book, which she decided to publish on Election Night, 2016, when she realized how quickly time was running out on humanity’s clock. The Mother of three happy and ferocious grown Bucky girls, Patricia lives in Northern California with her husband of thirty years and two dogs.