Saturday, April 17, 2021

Cheryl Krauter on The Odyssey of Ashes: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Letting Go

In this interview, Cheryl Krauter talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about her book, Odyssey of Ashes: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Letting Go.

“Honor your journey.” ~Cheryl Krauter

In the four years since Cheryl’s last interview on AuthorStory, Cheryl has been working with cancer patients and therapists, as well as written at least two books (one of which is Odyssey of Ashes) and during the pandemic she has been working on the distress that has afflicted people due to that. Her first AuthorStory interview had actually taken place a year after the passing of her husband, John, who was, in Cheryl’s words, a real estate broker who became a jewelry maker and an “impatient” artist. He was also an expert fly-fisher who, for nine years, donated his time and effort to a fishing charity which supported women who were recovering from cancer - a charity from which Cheryl had won an opportunity to spend time on a guided fishing trip while she was so recovering.

John’s passing was sudden and unexpected for, as Cheryl remarked, he had no known pre-existing conditions and died within five minutes, in the early morning hours. Some time before this, John’s name had been entered in the raffle the fishing charity used to select those who would spend some time with the charity’s members and volunteers, and it was some five months after his passing that his name was drawn - an event that was so unexpected that the woman (who was John’s friend) who drew John’s name needed to ask someone else to read out his name, to confirm the draw. Cheryl went on the trip on her own, after which, according to John’s wishes, she then scattered his ashes by a river.

One of Cheryl’s fears, while writing Odyssey of Ashes, was talking about living in essentially two parallel worlds, with one being the normal, everyday world and the other being a timeless one where one comes to terms with grief that stems from the loss of a loved one. Cheryl believes that living in what are essentially two parallel realities is common, particularly in cases when the loved one has passed away suddenly, as people believe in the story that one passes away after a full and self-aware life - something which “doesn’t happen that much,” Cheryl notes. From her experience, and the experiences of those she has worked with, such an experience is a “suspended state” of reality. Cheryl’s meditation practice helped stabilize her through this experience.

“People feel like it’s crazy,” Cheryl remarks of other people’s reluctance to speak of their experiences, adding that people are afraid to experience the dual reality previously mentioned and don’t want others to know that they are “losing track” of their day-to-day lives, that they fear falling into “a pit” that they won’t be able to get out of. Cheryl notes that it’s an odd feeling for someone in such grief to realize that life does go on, adding that such is part of the process of grieving.

For Cheryl, the day when she scattered John’s ashes was probably one of the most intense parts of her grieving process, as she did so during one of the worst storms in that area’s history, and her spirits were lifted when, the following evening, she saw the aurora borealis in the sky.

Cheryl remarks that there are a lot of books on the process of dying, but there is little written about the trauma of a sudden death, and she believes that avoidance of this subject is due to such highlighting the “ephemeral” quality of people’s lives. Cheryl also notes that, although she has more or less come to terms with her grief, she still experiences such grief, at a less “acute” intensity, every now and then. She notes that the myth that people get over grief creates pressure in people to essentially be better, remarking that one never knows when memories and emotions related to the passing of a loved one will come up. “I have no idea what ‘normal’ is, anymore,” Cheryl remarks about the experiences in her life, adding that, once the grief is managed, one then creates whatever life is now present.

Cheryl adds that the loved one lost “is always with you,” and that, while “the loss never ends,” they are with one “in a different way.” Cheryl notes that, in her experience, she felt John around for a certain period of time, after which she no longer did, which is part of the process of letting go. She also notes that there are different levels of parting, which is part of the process - something which she feels important for people to undergo and, most importantly, take the time to undergo it.

Cheryl hopes that the readers of Odyssey of Ashes get a sense of permission to explore, discover and talk about all the realities that they are experiencing. She also hopes the book gives a sense of the necessary balance in one’s life, and also notes that, regardless of the events that knock people over, people can get up and find a way to create their lives and “shine again.”

Purchase from Amazon: Odyssey of Ashes: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Letting Go by Cheryl Krauter

Cheryl Krauter AuthorStory previous interview links

Monday, April 12, 2021

Ryan Foland on Revealing the Surprising Power of the Real You for Greater Success - Ditch the Act (co-authored with Leonard Kim)

In this interview, Ryan Foland talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book co-authored with Leonard Kim, Ditch the Act: Reveal the Surprising Power of the Real You for Greater Success.

“Successful people are doing what everyone can do, but which not everyone does.” ~Ryan Foland 

As a child, Ryan was an outsider, not only because of his physical appearance (bleached blond and freckled) but also because he and his family spent summers on trips - and summertime was when elementary-school kids bonded together. “I think we all feel that we wanna belong,” he notes, adding that not being picked for a team, for example, hurts. His father noticed the changes in his behavior, as he was bullied, and this was when he took up karate. That experience made him realize that he was communicating in what was then a nontraditional way of communication, and that how one carried oneself was another way of communicating. This paid off as time went on, with Ryan noting that: “The more I learned how to be trained as a fighter, the less I actually fought.” He also entered athletics - wrestling and hockey - and this helped him become the senior high school class president.

As a sailor, Ryan’s analogy for his life is that he “ran into storms,” noting that, as a sailor, one doesn’t have control over the weather or the wind. Ryan admits that there are things in his past that he hid, as he learned that, to be successful, one needs to hide such things and to focus only on “the good stuff.” This is not possible nowadays, he remarks, adding that his co-author, Leonard Kim, “gained traction” only when the latter began sharing his failures as they happened - the complete opposite of what Ryan was doing. That partnership with Leonard enabled Ryan to understand the importance of opening up with others. This enabled him to own the things in his life that went wrong, and also made him realize how those events shaped who he has become. This, in turn, has enabled people to get to know him better compared to when he was still putting on an act. Doing so, he comments, allows people to see themselves in oneself, which “releases the pressure valve,” as one becomes more relatable to others.

“Narrogance” is when naivete and arrogance combine, and both Ryan and Leonard have experienced this. Narrogance is about the emphasis being on image and how people see one in the world being different from what is actually going on in one’s life, as well as of not asking for help. “That disconnect is something that really eats away at your soul,” Ryan notes, adding that there was a time when he owned a Range Rover with 22” rims and a Mercedes SL500 and wore suits and had all the other accoutrements of success, while he was having a difficult time paying his bills “behind the scenes.” It got to a point where Ryan felt he needed to file for bankruptcy, and needed to ask his parents for money to mail in the bankruptcy papers; and it was when he heard the slamming of the mailbox door, when he dropped his papers in, that it finally hit him that he had failed. His bankruptcy papers were returned, however, because he was short 32 cents, and Ryan saw it as a sign at a second chance, so he ripped up the paperwork and rebuilt his life from there.

Narrogance is all about “keeping up with the Kardashians,” according to Ryan, who points out that people have a perception of themselves as they want to show up in the world, which comes back to wanting to belong to a particular crowd, particularly with a crowd whose members seem to be successful. Ryan remarks that wealth, success and appearance don’t give a clear indication of what happens “behind the scenes,” remarking that there are several apparently successful people have shown themselves up to not be the successes they appeared to be after an overdose, accident or suicide.

On a more personal level, Ryan brought up the subject of people not being honest with their bosses for fear of the latter judging them. He notes that, if a person doesn’t communicate the challenges in their life, such as a relative who needs a lot of care, then that person’s boss can’t help that person out, to the point of the boss thinking that the person isn’t doing their job well. On the other hand, the boss might be able to help out if the person lets the boss know what is going on. This kind of dissonance, Ryan remarks, eventually grows and comes out “in pretty unhealthy ways.”

“Everyone has a personal brand,” Ryan remarks; “they just don’t know it.” One’s personal brand, he adds, isn’t just what one wants to be known for, but the intersection of this as well as what one has been in the past. He notes, as an example, researching on someone on the Internet, and then trying to “connect the dots” with what one has researched with one’s impressions when an actual meeting takes place. What makes a personal brand “exciting” is that one has control over some aspects of it, as well as having no control over other aspects. This, Ryan notes, creates an opportunity for people to get a better idea of who a person really is. He also explained the concept of “brand crumbs,” which are bits of information - such as a blog or a podcast - which sheds a little light on the person concerned as well as allows others to participate in the narrative. Everyone, Ryan adds, has a personal brand; it’s just that most people don’t offer the opportunity for others to participate in that personal brand.

Brands also change over time, with Ryan pointing out that the brand crumbs of kids change as they grow up, as an example. “The mistake people make,” he notes, “is that, when you’re branding your personal brand as an adult, they tend to either neglect or ignore or bury everything that’s happened in the past.” By someone focusing only on that person’s successes, Ryan believes, others cannot relate to such successes, and showing one’s vulnerabilities and struggles help others relate to the success reached.

“We all have a B.S. sniffer,” Ryan remarks, and this is why authenticity is important, as people aren’t willing to connect with an inauthentic person. A person’s values, for example, can resonate with others, which means that a connection has been formed. Being human is a possible way to get ahead in the world today, with Ryan then giving the example of an employer doing an Internet search on a potential employee. Chances are, he wouldn’t find anything related to the person’s back story, and if he did, he would only find the successes posted. Biographies and resumes tend to be highlight reels, and these don’t offer an opportunity for connection, so Ryan believes that letting others know one’s back story is an excellent opportunity to connect and build rapport, as well as to get to know a person as a person, rather than just a figure. Fear is the reason why people “default” to a safe route, Ryan admits, that notes that the power created by connection outweighs the fear that is present. Ryan notes, however, that allowing other people to see one’s humanity allows those other people to see you as another human being, and thus more relatable.

Being transparent and showing one’s vulnerabilities is commonly seen as a weakness, but Ryan points out that doing so is actually a sign of courage. This offers the opportunity for sharing with others, and as Ryan remarks: “Somebody’s got to go first,” adding that others will chime in after that, and that people will be there for one after that. He also notes that everyone has experienced failure, and that people don’t know how to show these in such a way that others will know who one is; and this is what Ditch the Act is all about, so that one can build one’s brand authentically, rather than by “hacks and apps.”

Purchase from Amazon: Ditch the Act: Reveal the Surprising Power of the Real You for Greater Success by Leonard Kim and Ryan Foland 

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Jean-Pierre Isbouts: In the Footsteps of Jesus: A Chronicle of His Life and the Origins of Christianity

In this interview, Jean-Pierre Isbouts talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his book, In the Footsteps of Jesus: A Chronicle of His Life and the Origins of Christianity.

“It’s hard to quibble with historical and archaeological data.” ~Jean-Pierre Isbouts 

In this interview, Jean-Pierre Isbouts talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his/her book, In the Footsteps of Jesus: A Chronicle of His Life and the Origins of Christianity

Jean-Pierre is a professor in a Ph.D. program and has supervised several dissertations, and has worked with such talents as Leonard Nimoy, Charlton Heston and Morgan Freeman. He is into both filmmaking and scholarly works, as he believes that 21st century scholars shouldn’t focus only on peer-reviewed work, as scholars need to “speak the language” of the 21st century - video, streaming and the like - to “evangelize” their ideas. He thus makes video works on topics which, as a scholar, interest him, and this is advice he gives to his students in the present day. “It’s such a different world,” he remarks when he compares how easy access to information is today compared to when he was in college, “but it also demands more of us. This kind of access also raises the bar for scholarship.”

Jean-Pierre is interested in Biblical archaeology, as he came of age at a time when the Old City of Jerusalem was occupied by the Israelis, which opened up new opportunities for archaeologists to investigate, forensically, what the gospels and Hebrew works talk about. This is because the Bible is a book of faith, rather than a scientific text, and he is interested in the interconnection between science and faith - which has been the driving force behind his interest in Biblical archaeology. (Jean-Pierre is also interested in the Renaissance and 19th century Europe, and has done work on these.)

When he writes about Biblical works and times, Jean-Pierre focuses on writing about history, pointing out that history is something that all religions can agree on. This non-denominational approach, as well as his respect for the traditions of various faiths, has allowed him to be invited into places of worship in different faiths, such as mosques and synagogues alike. This historical-based approach allows for interesting conversations, Jean-Pierre notes, which enlighten and heighten peoples’ faith, pointing out that his research has brought him closer to Jesus in his personal life (Jean-Pierre is a practicing Christian). What he reports are a matter of record, based on available evidence, and this approach, he notes, is something that will deepen one’s understanding of the life and times of Jesus, as well as of the man himself.

The first edition of In the Footsteps of Jesus was a follow-up book to The Biblical World, and in both books Jean-Pierre attempted to put together the political and social environment of the time. The latter book turned out to be an unexpected (to him) bestseller, and he decided to apply that same approach to In the Footsteps of Jesus. A second edition was necessary because of new information that has come out since the first edition.

There is a broad and growing scholarship on the life of the historical Jesus, while Jean-Pierre has focused on the historical framework, and this gives a great deal of insight into the events of the day, as well as on the writing themselves. The evangelists, for example, wrote for an audience in the Roman Empire, both Jews and Gentiles, rather than for Palestinians; and the Jews and Gentiles had their own ideas and expectations about a messianic figure which needed to be spoken to and addressed. This resulted in a gradual change of image of Jesus, from that of a Greek philosopher to the Son of God (which is a common concept of Greco-Roman thought) - images which were not in accord with the tenets of Judaism and the original movement in Palestine. Jean-Paul notes that this viewpoint was the reason the Jews resisted accepting Jesus, particularly since he was seen as a rebel and a revolutionary who was killed like any other common criminal, and the reason why the evangelists focused on Gentiles, who were searching for a new kind of spirituality which was more responsive than the Roman polytheistic religion then practiced. The Jesus movement filled that gap, and it was from there that Christianity emerged.

By the standards of the ancient world - a time without the printing press or mass communications, where information was heavily controlled by the rulers and authorities, who were the only ones who could afford scribes - the expansion of Christianity was “a lightning strike,” growing from a small sect in a small, local area to becoming the official religion of the Roman Empire in three centuries’ time. This was spread primarily through oral tradition, which resulted in 300,000 people professing the Christian faith by the end of the first century (around a hundred years after Jesus began his ministry). Jean-Pierre also noted that, in the 9th century CE, the largest Christian territories were in Asia, which shows the appeal of someone who promised redemption to everyone.

The evangelists, historically, were accomplished scribes who lived in cities throughout the Roman Empire, which is why they aren’t familiar with Judean Galilee, and were likely commissioned by the local Christian community to put the oral traditions to paper. The earliest text is the Gospel of Mark, which is written in commoner Greek (rather than the higher, Attic Greek used for Greek sagas) and which makes him the evangelist closest to the original traditions. Jean-Pierre also notes that the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, which are written for communities familiar with Jewish customs, whereas the Gospel of John is written for non-Jews, which is why such traditions as Passover needed to be explained. That said, such documents have a universal appeal, even thousands of years later.

Where the historical Jesus is concerned, Jean-Pierre notes that second-hand witness testimony of the man - who was a common, ordinary man - is absent, because scribes only wrote about important people of the day, such as kings and wealthy people, who could afford their own burial marker or gravestone. Jean-Pierre notes that nobody contests the fact that Socrates existed, even though there is no contemporary historical evidence that he ever lived, as such evidence came from later writers as Plato. This is also the case of the historical Jesus, as well as “scores” of people in ancient times, whom we know about only from people who wrote about them well after the fact, well after they had passed on. The earliest written documents available on Jesus, Jean-Pierre notes, were written within twenty-five years after the Easter event, with the first writings of the evangelists taking place a generation later. The later Roman historians Tacitus and Seritonius wrote about the tribe of Christus, which was politically portrayed as a subversive cult, and the Jewish historian Josephus, who was brought up in a Jewish environment who could thus speak with authority on Jesus, confirmed what the Gospels spoke of. That said, such was acceptable as proof of attestation and existence in the ancient times, so this yardstick is the one that must be applied when reading about historical figures who weren’t wealthy or who weren’t rulers. Jean-Pierre also points out that there are more attestations to the historical Jesus than other figures whose past existence we take for granted.

Jean-Pierre estimates that there are around 10,000 different Christian denominations in the United States alone, and around 300,000 different denominations worldwide. This is because, he believes, because of politics, with people co-opting Christianity for their own purposes. That said, Jean-Pierre notes that Jesus wanted to recreate society, in Roman Palestine, along the Three Pillars of the Torah, namely:

Compassion for your fellow man.

Social justice.

Complete surrender and faith in God.

Jesus likely saw these three pillars fading away during his lifetime, Jean-Pierre notes, because of the conditions that existed in Galilee at the time. There were those who collaborated with the Roman overlords and those who did not, and Galilee itself was a socially unstable area during his time. There had been two peasant revolts, and the Herodians built great projects in Judea, such as the expansion of ports, temples, cities and strongholds, by using the money squeezed from the Galilean peasants. This resulted in the native Galileans being poor, hungry and disenfranchised, with no hope and with children who ran around in tattered clothes; and it was no surprise that Jesus’ teachings thus had a great deal of appeal to such.

For Jean-Pierre, being a Christian is all about doing what Jesus asks his followers to do, and points out that there is nothing in the book that will challenge its readers’ faith.

Purchase from Amazon: In the Footsteps of Jesus: A Chronicle of His Life and the Origins of Christianity by Jean-Pierre Isbouts

Monday, April 5, 2021

Lee Cronbach: His Life and His Music

In this interview, Lee Cronbach talks to Alexander “The Engineer” Lim, host of AuthorStory by, about his life and music.

“I've spent 22 years playing in churches.” ~Lee Cronbach

Lee is Jewish and follows the liberal interpretation of the religion. His great-grandparents helped out Jews who wanted to escape to the United States in the 1900s. Later on, his parents got involved with helping the cause of black freedom. Although the family had classical music, they also had records of Duke Ellington:Harlem and Liberian Suite. These records, as well as his older brother, were influences on Lee’s life, as Lee’s older brother had several black friends from playing on school football; and it was from them that Lee got an introduction to black music. He also got familiar with gospel and rhythm and blues music from the radio. 
It was when he was in high school that he was introduced to the basics of Judaism by a Jewish fellow student, Dafna Shauber, now a Hebrew Professor at Oxford University. She taught him the Hebrew alphabet, as well as loaning books on Judaism, including stories of very charitable Rabbis who helped people out. Once he was reading about the Rabbis when he heard the “Gospel Train” program on radio, which combination of Judaism and Gospel music gave him a belief in God, and this influenced his music, in that a lot of his compositions are religious in nature. 
Lee admits that he was “isolated” from his classmates as a child, and that he only felt connected with others when he followed after his older brother, going to the Apollo Theater in Manhattan to see such artists as Ray Charles. As he went to college in the 1960s, he went to Berkeley and got involved with the hippie people and movements that were taking place at that time.
Lee made up his own kind of music, which got recorded, despite these being “a whole lot of people playing a whole lot of notes at once.” His record, "Luna – Space Swell" – sold only 300 copies over several years, but when the Internet came around, he was surprised to learn that some of his recordings were online. He also attempted to transfer his music from cassette tapes into digital format, but the cassette tape masking crumbled while doing so.   
Lee started a group called “The Cosmic Playboys,” whose first drummer, EJ, played drums for R&B artists such as Jackie Wilson. Joe Friedman played guitar, while a suit-wearing Mormon businessman drove down from Reno every week to play the cello. The band also included two teenage flutists with large afros and a Jewish trombonist. The group eventually broke up, and Lee then played organ for "Chambray," a country-psychedelic band which became famous in the San Francisco area, and people started asking for his autograph.  
Lee got involved with the drugs scene, but he eventually realized that he wouldn’t live very long if he kept that up, so he cleaned up his act and then went to Boston to study at the Berkelee School of music to get serious. Meanwhile he worked with Frosty Furman’s country-rock band "Pavlov’s Dog"s - Frosty was the one who urged him to come to Boston and study.
Lee is gay, and he thus got jobs for thie band at several gay bars. It was during this time that he and the band members he was with decided to stay off drugs for an entire week. HIs band’s performance improved, so much so that all of the band members became guests of Duke Ellington one evening. Duke disliked rock’n’roll and country music, so Lee who, like his fellow band members, were “redneck hippies,” was surprised when Duke Ellington treated them like his “long-lost grandchildren,” as the Duke realized that they were serious musicians. This resulted in one of the best nights Lee had, as he was able to see, first hand, how jazz organist pioneer Wild Bill Davis played, after which he and his friends had a dinner full of expensive food, as well as met John Coltrane’s drummer, Elvin Jones, and listened to Duke Ellington perform a solo piano song that featured different kinds of music simultaneously. The inspiration of this night led to Pavlov’s Dogs finally getting an agent and getting much better fees.
Lee then spoke about drum circles (which are when groups of people gather around in a circle and where each person plays a drum or some other instrument). The Latin drum circle, according to him, has a fixed set of rules to follow, and the African drum circle is one wherein participants return to their African roots. Lee joined a third kind of drum circle, the free drum circle, which anyone could join and which gained popularity in the 1950s and which, by the 1960s, were “an integral part” of the hippie movement, and which played a part where some hippies stopped some policemen from dragging away and beating up a black kid; the hippies celebrated that feat which the hippies celebrated that very night during a drum circle. Free drum circles started in the United States way back in slavery days as a way for people to break the race barrier, but really exploded in popularity with the growth of the counter-culture. 
Lee also learned from some unusual sources. One of these was when Cooperative Artists Institute, a multi-racial teaching and performing commune in Boston, took him one weekend so visit friends who had made a huge aeolian harp, so big that horses could walk into the harps body and listen to the wind along with Lee while his friends jammed on the mountainside below. When he got back to school, his jazz piano teacher remarked that he finally could play swing music - something that the teacher had been trying to teach him for a year. 
Lee met up with his Filipino spouse in 1987, and during the economic depression of the 2000s relocated to the Philippines, as Lee’s spouse, a doctor, found a job in the latter’s home country. His main complaint about living in the country is that “everything’s karaoke, videoke,” as he expected more people to play instruments. He has played “church music” for 22 years, which he loved, and remarked that one of the pastors he played for, in Seattle, was Danish - something he appreciated, as he noted that the Danes saved 90% of their Jewish population during the Second World War. He was always aware of the anti-Semitic sentiment present in the United States, and once he arrived in the Philippines realized that such sentiment didn’t exist in that country. Lee opined that Filipinos don’t feel guilty about the way Jews were treated because they saved around a thousand Jews prior to the Second World War. He also liked seeing mixed-race Filipino-Israeli children in the only synagogue in the Philippines.