Welcome to Episode 2 of the Wise Not Withered Podcast! I had the pleasure of talking with Kate West, a former colleague of mine. She is a writer and blogger, author of Kate West Reviews. I had e-mailed Kate the questions beforehand, and was looking at her answers while we were talking. If I have another e-mail interview before an audio call, I will definitely do a better job next time of reading out loud what I am reading, or ask her to repeat her answers so it will be recorded. I did my best to supplement the transcription with her e-mail answers, though the audio does not include all of those edits.
It’s as though… What is that, the magic age of 35.
Kate: There’s a cut-off.
We just disappear from the media. And I hate it so much.
I just feel like… Especially for women, and especially older women, there’s such a rich story in every single person that just needs to be told.
Kate: Yeah, definitely.
Okay, so what’s your dog’s name?
Rufus! Okay, I think I’ve seen pictures on Instagram.
Kate: We’re at the park right now, and he’s digging… He’s making a mess. He’s digging into everything.
How old is he?
Kate: 8. He’s a rescue.
Did you get him as a puppy?
Kate: Yeah. Well, when I was living in LA, my roommate texted me when I was work, and she said “I brought home a dog! Cause I was working at this school, and this dog just ran into my lap! So I’m gonna bring him home, we’re gonna clean him up, take him to the vet, and then we’re gonna put him up for adoption.” And I said, “Um… I’ll take him!” And suddenly, I had a dog.
Kate: And he was literally roaming the streets of South Central. Picked him right up off the street.
Wow, oh my gosh.
Kate: Yeah! It sort of happens sometimes.
They do just fall into your life sometimes.
Kate: I always kept telling me I’d pictured myself in a Ford Mustang—a convertible classic Ford Mustang from the 60’s with a German Shepherd. But I got stuck with a Hyundai and a rat terrier. (laughs) Because life.
Because life. (laughs)
Kate: But I wouldn’t have it any other way, Rufus!
That’s so cute! So are you currently employed?
Kate: I currently work in Admin at the School for the Autistic. It’s never boring and I feel like I’m part of making a difference in the world. Although I’ve done office work in almost every industry, education and arts remain dear to my heart.
What’s the best job you’ve had?
Kate: My favorite job was running a well-known improv school in Los Angeles.
So where do you like to travel to? Where was the last destination you traveled to?
Kate: A friend of mine, Heather—you know Heather.
Oh okay, yeah!
Kate: Heather had a wedding in Napa! So I spent four glorious days in Napa, doing all the wedding activities and going to wineries. And I’m not really a wine person, but I’ve kind of come to appreciate it. The last boyfriend I had was a big wine guy, so he introduced me to Wine Country in Sonoma County. And I kept saying, “But I’m a Guinness girl! I don’t understand this wine business.” But I can appreciate people who do! So I appreciate it, but my favorite thing is Stout. But I’ll enjoy the winery.
Yeah. I love what you said, “I finally figured out that the most fulfilling relationship you’re supposed to have is with yourself.”
That is super important!
Kate: It’s too much time and energy knocking yourself out to please other people, and “How do other people perceive me?” and worrying about other people’s perceptions… And then, well. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself. That’s how you live a fulfilling life.
“I finally figured out that the most fulfilling relationship you’re supposed to have is with yourself. It’s too much time and energy knocking yourself out to please other people, and ‘How do other people perceive me?’ and worrying about other people’s perceptions… It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself. That’s how you live a fulfilling life.”
Yeah, for sure. Oh my gosh. When do you think that finally set in?
Kate: Um, I’m still waiting for it to finally set in…
(laughs) Or when did you come to that conclusion?
Kate: (laughs) I would say when I passed the 40-mark, approaching 50, when you just stop… You know, my brain is finally maturing. Your brain in your 20’s is just completely irresponsible and lame…
Kate: It’s still undeveloped! When you’re right out of college, or especially just out of high school, entering college, it’s scientifically underdeveloped. So in my view, I would say, why don’t people join the Peace Corps, help out in the community, or go travel, or go to community college or do anything, before you start making life decisions in college.
Right, yeah. Interesting.
Kate: So you know, I majored in theater arts, so… (laughs)
Oh okay, I didn’t know that!
Kate: Yep, cause I wanted to be an actor.
Do you still tend that fire at all?
Kate: I like that world, I love being involved in theater. I don’t have to be on stage—part of that was just this need to be adored, which I can find other ways of doing. But I do appreciate the arts: I love Shakespeare, I love theater. I still want to be a part of it, but I’m not DYING to be a part of it. I delved a little bit into producing, so still kind of that world. And then I thought, my whole persona is more of a writer, so I think that’s the direction I wanna go. But yeah, too late to major in journalism.
“I love being involved in theater. I don’t have to be on stage—part of that was just this need to be adored, which I can find other ways of doing. But I do appreciate the arts. … I still want to be a part of it, but I’m not dying to be a part of it. … My whole persona is more of a writer, so I think that’s the direction I wanna go.”
Yeah, you know, you forge your own path.
Let’s see… So you talked about going traveling. Where have you traveled to? Do you travel around the world, or mostly in the US?
Kate: I love traveling everywhere—if I could afford it, every other month I’d go somewhere. Especially a different country—I appreciate knowing about different cultures. That was really cultivated… I was married to an Austrian. We would go visit his parents in Austria at least once a year. And then we went to Germany, and Italy! And his parents didn’t speak English, so I learned a little bit of German to get by. So that opens up another perspective as well, which I really enjoyed. I was married for about maybe almost a decade. So then after that, well I’m not gonna get any free trips to Europe anytime soon. (laughs) But I’m gonna tell the universe I’m open to whatever.
When I was running the Groundlings School in Los Angeles, one of my friends there had a friend from Ireland who casually said to me, “You can drop by and stay with us anytime!” I thought okay! I’ll do it!
Say no more!
Kate: Yeah exactly. So I went to Ireland. If you offer me free room and board in your house in a different country, I will say yes. And I planned the whole thing, I thought, “It’s gonna be an adventure! I’m gonna travel by myself!” I kinda like doing that now. So I make adventure trips. That particular one… I had just finished the Los Angeles marathon, so I was still kind of in that marathon-ing mode. So I signed up for the Dublin 3K. But I was so jet-lagged, I just ended up walking it all, chatting with other people. But then I got my Irish friend into it, and he started running marathons.
We were casually walking through this farmers’ market, and there was a guy who had this whole setup, from a bird sanctuary, and he had all these Irish falcons. And I said, “Oh, I want to do that!” So I signed up to go take this lesson in falconry! Let’s just do that!
Wow! That sounds really cool!
Kate: I have a tendency, when I’m on my own, to do the spontaneous things.
Yeah, why not?
Kate: Immediately after the divorce, I was getting into rock climbing, cause my cousin from Ecuador—my mother is South American—had come to visit me, and she was a master rock-climber. She taught me how to do all that with the climbing walls in the gyms. When she left, I said “I’m gonna continue this!”
And I was at REI or Adventure 16, or one of those places. And there was a note on the board that said, “We’re planning a group trip for women. 3 days in Joshua Tree. Sign up!” I said okay! So I signed up to do that, with all these women that I didn’t know. So we spent 3 days in Joshua Tree, camping and climbing, and it was so great, so empowering. I’d never really been in the desert before. It was this amazing dome of quiet. You’re just sitting there, and there’s this kind of palpable silence. It was amazing.
It sounds almost like a meditation retreat!
Kate: That’s exactly what it was!
That’s super cool! Wow. Let’s see, so if you’re comfortable talking about… Anything having to do with your divorce and going through that.
Kate: Well, we met in college. I was in my 20s, and we were both really young, and hadn’t really become ourselves yet. So I just kinda married my best friend. He wanted to be a screen-writer, I wanted to be an actor, so I said, “Let’s move to Los Angeles!” So we moved to LA…
Then reality kind of set in. Ah, maybe this isn’t what we both want to be doing. Then he decided, almost 10 years in, that he needed to go find himself, and said this isn’t working anymore. It wasn’t really a mutual decision, but looking back on it, I’m like yeah. We both really needed to have forged our paths before we committed to this.
It’s unfortunate, but it took me a while to get over it because I still had that kind of veil of immaturity because I had never been on my own before. It took me a while to find my own path, which is why I kept jumping into adventures, and doing all these crazy things.
“We were both really young, and hadn’t really become ourselves yet. … He needed to go find himself, and said this isn’t working anymore. … We both really needed to have forged our paths before we committed to this. … It took me a while to find my own path, which is why I kept jumping into adventures, and doing all these crazy things.”
There was a family in Scotland, that said “If you want to stay with us and go to the Fringe Festival, feel free to do that.” OKAY! So I spent a summer at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, and that was awesome.
And then I’ve had all of these different roommates. And my one roommate in Los Angeles—she was a co-worker who I knew when I was working at the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts, where they do plays in English and Spanish. I speak Spanish. And I had a background in theater, so suddenly I used all my skills.
Kate: So rare. But I remembered her, and when I was looking for a new place to live, she was going through a divorce. So it was sort of this oh it’s fate! We should room together. So I lived with her and her daughters, while she kinda got back on her feet, and found a new guy. And it had been several years since my divorce, so I felt like, “Here, let me talk you through it, I’m the divorce guru!” (laughs)
Kate: I’ll help you! So I felt like that was my contribution, and she gave me a roof over my head! That worked out really well. And then I had a few different jobs after that, and then I just said, “I’m gonna go back to the Bay Area.” Cause I was just done with Los Angeles. I was there for 15 years, and… I was kinda done. So I moved back here.
And suddenly, I come back here and Silicon Valley is all tech-ed up, and it’s so different, and it’s super expensive! Like, what have I done!? Crazy expensive here, oh my god! I’m living with my parents!
Yeah, oh my gosh… Where did you grow up?
Kate: I was born near Lake Tahoe, but my parents had to move back to where my Dad is from—he’s from Kentucky—due to financial reasons. So we had to move back there when my brother was born, so I spent my childhood in Louisville, Kentucky. And my dad had pined away for California this whole time. When I was 11-ish, we finally moved back to the Bay Area, so I spent my teenaged years here. And then adulthood in Los Angeles.
Going through a divorce in LA is the worst thing, cause it’s so superficial! And I wasn’t in my 20s anymore, so it was like… You’re divorced, and nobody wants you because you’re not in your 20s! So it’s sort of reinforcing that superficiality—another reason why I wanted to go back to the Bay Area. I had to get away from that.
“Going through a divorce in LA is the worst thing, cause it’s so superficial! And I wasn’t in my 20s anymore, so it was like… You’re divorced, and nobody wants you because you’re not in your 20s! So it’s sort of reinforcing that superficiality—another reason why I wanted to go back to the Bay Area. I had to get away from that.”
So I’ve lived in several different communities, and it’s been very interesting. And the cultural background of my dad being from Kentucky—he joined the Peace Corps. And they sent him to Ecuador, and that’s how he met my mom.
Oh, okay! Interesting.
Kate: So I’m always interested in different communities and different cultures.
Yeah! Can you talk more about being bi-racial? Did your mom learn to speak English or did your dad learn to speak Spanish—or both?
Kate: I grew up speaking Spanish but started answering back in English when I got older, though I’m super thankful to be bilingual now. My mom had to learn English—and cooking and cleaning—when she moved here with my dad and no longer had maids to help out.
Oh wow. Did you grow up with siblings?
Kate: I have one younger brother who lived in New York the entire time I was in LA and now he’s also back living in the Bay Area with his partner—so we both left and returned around the same time. It’s nice to have my core family here although there are lots of Ecuadorian family members still in LA. Also grateful to Facebook for helping me find my long lost Kentuckian cousins I grew up with. I now have primos and cousins.
Yeah, it’s great how social media can help us connect with people who live far away! So you started to talk about your writing. What kinds of things do you write about?
Kate: Well, I have a blog. My writer name is Kate West, and that started because there was a friend of mine in an improv class who had her blog. And she said, “I’m looking for people to do theater reviews—do you want to do it? But you can’t use your real name.” So I said, okay I’ll do Kate West, which was my grandmother’s name: Katherine West Skelton.
So I did that for a while, and then she developed MS and had to move to one of the Carolinas, and it was kind of a whole thing… And I said, I should just have my own blog, cause I’m digging this reviewing thing. Cause when I was living in LA, I was getting free tickets to plays, as a reviewer. I got to see all sorts of things, and I said, well I don’t have to review just plays, I could do movies, I could do this, that, and the other! So I started doing all that, and it was after the divorce, and I said I’m gonna write about this! So I wrote several essays. Some got published in different online magazines, about the divorce and going through that. My experiences… And what it was like to run a marathon—I’ll send you a link to that as well.
But I thought, this is sort of how I express myself well, this way. I’ve never been one of those people that does well in a debate. So if we’re kind of arguing, I’ll be like “Uh. Uh. I don’t have an answer to that. Let me go home and think about it.” (laughs)
Kate: And I’ll check back with an answer a day later. That’s how my brain processes things. My brain is slow verbally. And I think kinda through my fingers. I’m much more articulate on the page. So I’m like, oh! I guess that means I’m a writer! Okay, I get it now.
“[Writing] is how I express myself well. I’ve never been one of those people that does well in a debate. … I’ll check back with an answer a day later. That’s how my brain processes things. My brain is slow verbally. And I think kinda through my fingers. I’m much more articulate on the page.”
Okay, so what are some of your short term and long term goals?
Kate: Well, the long-term goal had been, “I want to get a Master’s degree in journalism!” And then the self-doubt comes in about… “Is journalism still alive? Do people still do that? Where do I get the money?” Okay, so short-term goals—to distract myself from that—is to find a better paying job, because currently I’m living with my parents, which is challenging in itself, of course. Challenging to live in Silicon Valley, challenging to be a woman of 51. So that’s why I mentioned that show “Younger”, cause I thought, “Should I do that?”
Kate: I think I could get away with being a little younger… But it’ll catch up to you eventually—I don’t think you can really get away with that. (laughs) But the short-term goal is to find a better paying job. Even if I have to find a bunch of roommates, to just… Become more independent.
Kate: Although, I do come with a dog!
Yeah. Is there anything that you’ve always wanted to talk about but no one has ever asked?
Kate: The difficulties of being a woman in a man’s world. But in spite of our current political climate, I feel we are making great strides towards finally communicating our challenges with the #MeToo movement.
Yes, in this day and age our voices are our most vital asset! What piece of advice would you share with younger women that you wish you had known when you were younger?
Kate: Stop worrying so much about what other people think and try to live your best authentic self.
Yeah. All right, well thank you so much for talking with me. This has been really great.
Okay, hope you have a good day!
You too! Take it easy.
“I finally figured out that the most fulfilling relationship you’re supposed to have is with yourself. It’s too much time and energy knocking yourself out to please other people. Stop worrying so much about what other people think. It doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters is how I feel about myself. That’s how you live a fulfilling life.”