This is part two of my interview with Roger Fishman, author of What I Know. Roger traveled around the U.S. interviewing 10-year-olds and 100-year-olds from around the country about universal aspects of life. As I mentioned before, I’m publishing my Q&A with Roger here because the themes and values of the book match those of Reschool Yourself.
Roger is the founder of the ZiZo Group, a creative multimedia company. He is married to actress Courtney Thorne-Smith, with whom he has a 21-month-year-old son, Jack, and lives in Los Angeles, CA.
What was it like to interview for the book? Who are a few of the centenarians you interviewed?
My colleague, Joe Rohrlich, and I literally zigzagged across America, Northern California, to Southern Florida, to Atlanta, Georgia, to New York, to Crow Nation and everywhere in between. It was 38,000 miles and a lot of red-eyes, and a lot of coffee. It was literally on the go nonstop.
I remember I took a red-eye into Charlotte, and Joe picked me up and we went over to see Bill Werber. He was the last living (major league baseball) player at the time—he just recently passed. He played with Lou Gehrig on the ’27 Yankees. It made me feel connected to a whole part of history. He was telling me about being on the train and playing cards with Lou Gehrig and Bill Dickey and Babe Ruth. I’m thinking, “The guy I’m talking to had firsthand real-life experience with (them.)”
Dorothy Young was Harry Houdini’s assistant. This lady literally traveled with Mr. and Mrs. Houdini. Now there’s a lady who is still alive and has a great, creative life. She’s a phenomenal artist. I looked at her paintings, and they’re just stunning. She wrote a book about her life, and for her it was all about faith in yourself—sticking up for yourself, believing in yourself.
I love Native American history—its connection to the earth, the sky, and the world they live in. So we found out that there was a lady who was the oldest living Native American, Myrtle Strong Enemy. We went to go visit her, and she only speaks Crow—we had to have her daughter translate. Her daughter had to be 78. And she had a very interesting perspective on the importance of not just telling your children how to behave, but encouraging them to observe, listen, and reflect on the stories and experiences of their elders.
The good news is, everybody has stories. If we’re genuinely interested, people will share them. We have to be respectful and honor them as well, because they’ve given you a part of themselves. We’re all connected.
I know what you mean about connecting to history by talking with older folks. I think my generation feels somewhat disconnected to history, and it’s only in talking with our grandparents, that it feels relevant and interesting.
The question is, how do we maintain that connection to history, to people, to stories, and to life when those people are gone? Hopefully what the book does is inspire people to reconnect. I’d like to have people follow my journey by following, and tracking, engaging with people who really matter to them, reconnecting and saying, “You are someone who made a difference in my life. I learned from you.”
I hope that people reconnect with their coaches, their mentors, their families, their friends, and that at the same time, they start to reach out to the person they pass on the street, or at the coffee shop, and just get a chance to reconnect. Because that, to me, is a life worth living. It’s a human connection.
What experiences stood out to you while you were traveling?
I think it was the joy of the kids, and the joy of the 100-year-olds. I just felt like there was this happiness, this curious happiness, that they were living or had lived. It was an appreciation for what they had. Not what they want, but what they had.
The kids were just fantastic. Whether it was the Bronx in Brooklyn, or Florida, or Northern California, or L.A., these just seemed like very happy kids that were these budding flowers that were ready to go explore the world. They weren’t caught up in the culture, or what was going on with everyone else. They were in that great stage where things are fresh, and things seemed to be wonderful.
Did talking to centenarians change your expectations of what it means to age?
Absolutely. With Dorothy Kennedy, or Dorothy Young, they showed me—they didn’t just tell me—that it’s a state of mind, and a state of health. When you have both, time sort of disappears, and all you feel is that spirit and energy of a person and a joy. Being 100 might be the new 80, and the new 80 is the new 60.
The people I met, I can assure you that they were not in rocking chairs. These were very active people. Dorothy Young was playing a board game with her grandson, and she was laughing and telling stories and showing me around her apartment. These were very dynamic people. What it taught me is that we have to be active, we have to use our minds and use our bodies, and we have to believe that we can lead a life, at many stages in our life, that is worth living. Leading a true life can be one of the healthiest ways. Maybe the only way, to lead an honest life and one you feel good about when your time’s up.
I think the thing that was amazing to me is that no one spoke about stuff. They talked about experiences. And people, and how they made a difference to them. No one talked about the material side of life, which I thought was so refreshing. It was a healthy reminder that what you take with you is literally the experiences of life and the people along the way. And what you’ve done, and what you’ve given, is what you’ve got. It’s not about the material.
What I Know is available through Amazon and in stores.
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Who is someone in your life who made a difference for you, whom you’d like to reconnect with?
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