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The Fluther Interview: gailcalled

3:14 pm

johnpowellGailcalled is a well known and loved Flutherer, and for a good reason. She’s always on-hand to offer her years of experience and fine linguistic skills.

We talk about her connection to Fluther while she also reveals the lessons she learned over time that have made her the influential woman she is today.

Fluther's Avatar You have been with Fluther pretty much since its conception. What are your observations on how it has grown and has it surpassed your expectations?

johnpowell's Avatar

When Ben invited me to join in December of 2006, I didn’t even know what “beta” meant. Initially the collective was more homogeneous and consisted of family, friends, and many graduates of that school in Providence. The questions suited me, flutherers were more tentative about the riskier issues (sex, drugs and rock and roll), and the spammers and the really young hadn’t discovered the site.

Clearly, the demographics have changed. As Fluther has gotten more good publicity, it has attracted a larger and more diverse gang. I like a lot of them, I am bored by some, I am too old and out-of-it for other questions, and I do more picking and choosing. Each time a new wave rolls in, old issues bob to the surface and new ones sink like a stone. On balance, for me, I have hung around out of family loyalty, my position as grande dame, and my fascination with many cultures and sub-cultures about which I know either very little or nothing. Ben and Andrew have been taking Fluther, step by step, in directions that I approve of. Had I been asked before to predict what they were, I would have been speechless – a surprising position, for me, I am sure some of you are thinking.

Can Fluther force newcomers to read the guidelines? I suppose not. I wish some people would keep the general topic in the lead question.

I wish also that my brother, who died in 1999 (Ben’s father) could have seen Fluther. He would have been very pleased, but not surprised.

Fluther's Avatar When did you learn to use the computer? Also, how and why? Any tips for some of the more senior jellies who have trouble learning how to use it?

johnpowell's Avatar

I had a really bad patch in my life starting in 1996: a personal tragedy, a broken right wrist, breast cancer and a divorce. Both my psychiatrist and my daughter thought that I would love the computer. I protested violently but to no avail. To be a good sport, I took a three-evening course at the local high school on PCs. To my astonishment, I found that I was having fun. Being able to play Solitaire and type a recipe for muffins – bliss.

So, during an Xmas holiday, my daughter made several mysterious phone calls to an online Apple store. She then returned to Providence. (Where else?) Soon FedEx delivered many large and heavy boxes to my door. The manual that came with that odd blueberry eMac said, “Hi, Open, Plug in, Turn on and Have fun.”

Luckily I had a smart 17-year-old who worked for me as a gardener and dogsbody. He and his father set everything up, including moving the phone. (Dial-up in those days, folks.) For the next year, he gave me a 30-minute lesson whenever he was here. Gradually, as I did with calculus, I caught on.

Coincidentally, a college classmate started a list-serv in 1997. About 120 of us joined; we were all well-educated, well-trained, and well-informed women, but the land of the computer was uncharted territory. We learned together, in addition to becoming reacquainted and re-connected. I heard the word “Google” there for the first time.

I know that a lot of seniors are terrified conceptually about being computer-literate. A patient teacher and some personal enthusiasm is all that is necessary. [Ed. Precisely why we started Fluther.]

But I can speak only for myself. If my daughter hadn’t badgered me, who knows? I might still be using a quill and parchment. And I can touch-type and write fairly facilely.

Fluther's Avatar What are the other websites you frequent besides Fluther?

johnpowell's Avatar I read the New York Times, Slate and some financial pages online. Since I finally ditched the dial-up, I have listened to some YouTube but am bored with it now.

Fluther's Avatar Which Fluther users do you wait to hear from the most, if any?

johnpowell's AvatarI love too many folks here to list them. I am sure to forget some. I adore my cat wranglers, my language mavens, my comedians, my patient technical support team, my fourteen-year old Dutch buddy, my autism information forum and Harold.

Fluther's Avatar How many languages do you know? Which is your favorite? Do you have any study tips for those trying to learn a language right now?

johnpowell's Avatar I am pretty comfortable with English and French, know some Spanish and Latin and tried to teach myself classical Greek during the exhausting days of radiation and chemo. It was not a success. I have always been an autodidact in areas that interest me. And I loved learning and studying, critical thinking and literary exegesis. I cannot change a tire, sing on-key, repair an engine, unclog a drain, learn htlm, draw anything recognizable other than a pear, play the banjo, build a dry-wall or whistle sharply for a cab, using thumb and first finger. We all learn best when we study what we love. How we decide what that is, I can’t say. With me, it was innate and obvious. The dictionary has always been my friend, too.

Fluther's Avatar What is your favorite genre of music? Any favorite songs/artists?

johnpowell's Avatar Classical, by and large – too many to list.

Fluther's Avatar Do you play any instruments?

johnpowell's Avatar The piano, since I was six. I read music well and have good small-motor skills. If the music falls off the stand, I am stuck.

Fluther's Avatar As someone who sounds very knowledgeable, it is not age alone that is responsible for this. You sound very experienced and seem to have held many jobs. Will you name some of these and perhaps mention which was your favorite and what you learned from it?

johnpowell's Avatar

I graduated with a BA in Astronomy (an odd little degree) a year after the Russians had launched Sputnik. Thus, the US government was pouring money into Astronomical research. I had done my thesis with photographic plates at the Harvard Observatory and lived near-by. So I walked over and got hired. Was that fun; week-end square dances in the rotunda.

Five years later I moved to NYC. The public schools were about to have a serious teacher strike so I put my son, then 8, into a private school. I got to know the headmaster and after a year, he asked me whether I would teach French. Having had no experience or training, I said, “Yes.”

Then, reader, I married the headmaster and we moved to Philadelphia where he ran a Friends’ school. My headmaster needed someone to run the College Placement program. Having had no experience or training, I said, “Yes.”

I learned to take the leap of faith.

Fluther's Avatar As a language enthusiast, this might be hard to answer for you, but could you name some of your favorite books and authors?

johnpowell's Avatar I started to read early and have never stopped. Two novels that I still am stunned by and reread are Ulysses, by James Joyce and Moby Dick, by Herman Melville. I have been revisiting Shakespeare also and understand his works much better than I did at 17. Samples; The Tempest, Hamlet, King Lear. I read a lot of poetry – Yeats, Frost, Auden, Donne, Mary Oliver, Donald Hall, Jane Kenyon, Billy Collins, for example.

Fluther's Avatar One goes through various stages in life, from innocence, to strong ambition, to wanting to settle down and then retiring etc. If you could stay at one of these stages for the rest of your life, which one would it be?

johnpowell's Avatar I can’t do that since I am a palimpsest of my various experiences. I loved the variety; a career in the physical sciences, one in language, one in psychology (and the hand-made quilts I made and sold after I retired – so the arts also.)

Fluther's Avatar Has your avatar always been the same? Will you ever change it? What do the vase of flowers represent to you?

johnpowell's Avatar Yes. No. My grandmother’s vase and flowers from my daughter’s garden.

Fluther's Avatar If you had to describe yourself in a sentence (or two), how would you put it?

johnpowell's Avatar I’m 71, happy and lucky to still be here, grateful for what brings me joy, and resigned to the sad parts of my life. The most amazing recent event was the arrival of Milo, with whom I have fallen in love. We just celebrated our six-month anniversary. NO ONE sent us cake.

Fluther's Avatar What’s your favorite life lesson or quote?

johnpowell's Avatar This varies. For now, “Thanks for this day, for all the birds safe in their nests, for whatever this is, for life.”
Barbara Kingsolver

Fluther's AvatarThank you for taking the time to answer these questions!