Monday, March 21, 2011

Former Journalist - Claudia Dowling

Claudia Glenn Dowling wears her dirty blonde hair very long, straight, and parted in the middle, which
is reminiscent of her days as a hippy. She stands in front of a classroom of young, aspiring journalists and tells them her story on how she became a feature writer and the highlight of her career; her climb up Mount Everest.

As a feature writer, Dowling has wrote for Discover magazine, Life magazine, People magazine, and The New York Times. She climbed 24,000 feet up Mount Everest for one of her stories for Life magazine in addition to the many emotional, real life stories she has done throughout her career.

Dowling was born on December 13th 1950 in Ann Arbor, MI. Her father was a herpetologist and her mother was a Spanish teacher. Dowling is the oldest of four, she has two younger brothers and a younger sister. One brother is a musician, the other is a set carpenter for the movies, and her sister is a graphic designer. Dowling's path to becoming a feature writer may not seem typical.

After graduating from Vassar College with a major in Chinese in 1972, Dowling had no idea what to do with her life, so she moved to Hawaii and lived on the beach selling muumuus and growing cabbages. "After doing that for about a year, I decided I wanted to do the exact opposite, so I thought what would that be and then I thought, well I'll move to New York City," says Dowling.

When Dowling arrived in New York City in 1973, she began looking for a job. Time Inc. offered her a job as a coffee girl for their start up magazine called People. After delivering coffee and ordering sandwiches for a little while, Dowling began copy-reading and helped get the magazine ready to print. She was there for the launch of the very first issue.

She soon became tired of copy reading and moved to Springfield, Il to start up a newspaper with her boyfriend and another couple. Dowling was the main political reporter, but worked their until she broke up with the boyfriend and then moved back to New York City.

At that time she went to work for a women's sport magazine that was started by Billy Jean King and then went back to People as a movie critic and movie writer. After that she had a baby girl and went to work for Life part time. It was at Life that she learned how to write a deeply emotional story in which she credits the photographers she worked with for teaching her. "I knew how to write a newspaper kind of story, but I didn't know how to write a deeply emotional story until I learned how to approach people slowly and delicately, like the documentary photographers I worked with did it," says Dowling.

Dowling spent four days with a woman dying of a special kind of Leukemia for a story for People magazine. She sat with the woman all day every day until the woman went to sleep. Dowling thinks that her and the photographer made nuisances out of themselves, but says how cooperative the dying woman was."She was willing to take these important four days out of her life to tell her story to the world," Dowling says about the woman. She continued to say that writing emotional and personal stories is extremely difficult because it is hard to separate natural human feelings from work.

"She [Dowling] is one of the best writers I've ever met, a very experienced and accomplished journalist," says Elaine Rivera a colleague of Dowling's from Time, Inc. and a professor at Lehman College.
The highlight of Dowling's career was climbing 24,000 feet up Mount Everest for a feature story for Life magazine; Dowling was the only woman among 24 men and she has always been terrified of heights. The men had to talk her through it because she did not think she was going to make it. The cold was so extreme that her watch and pen would freeze during the night. The purpose of the story was to find out why people actually attempt to climb this mountain. During her hike to the top she witnessed a solo climber die through binoculars.“We watched him go into his tent and he never came out,” Dowling said.

Today, Dowling lives on the Upper West Side in New York City and freelances a little, as well as writes feature stories for a small magazine called American History. She also rents two houses in Block Island, RI, where she also ran a surf shop called “Claudia's Surf City”. She has also recently moved out to the Ozarc mountains in Missouri near the Arkansas boarder.

The world is filled with fabulous stories, I mean everyone of you has one. My experience is that if you sit down with someone long enough, everybody has a subject in which they are utterly fascinating, you just have to find it,” says Dowling.

Interview With Luna Management Group

Interview With New York City Animal Care And Control Center

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Monday, January 17, 2011

Profile On Ilona Smithkin

As she sits in front of a wall in her tiny cluttered Greenwich Village studio apartment that holds an assortment of her colorful paintings of flowers and naked women, Ilona Royce-Smithkin, 90, who seems equally as vibrant and dazzling is surrounded by tons of multicolored bright fabrics in addition to boxes and drawers loaded full of a lifetime of her treasures. Her hair is fiery red as are her matching ultra-long faux eyelashes, which she makes from her own hair, and she wears a blue Tweety Bird sweatshirt and drinks take-out coffee out of a petite demitasse. “It‟s more fun to drink coffee this way,” she says with her decidedly European accent. 

And fun she has had, especially in these twilight years of her life. Smithken has quite a history of accomplishments. As a former member of The Art Student League she developed a network that led to her teaching painting on television, and later writing a book, Painting With Ilona, based on this show. Today she is singing in off-Broadway “Eyelash Cabarets” and doing fashion modeling for Time Out Magazine and “The Look Book” in New York Magazine. She has managed to succeed and keep working despite the pain she is in from arthritis and also from her emotionally difficult childhood. 

Smithkin was born in Poland in 1920, but a year after her birth, the family moved to Berlin. As a young girl living in Berlin during the Great Depression and World War II, she constantly feared the Nazis knocking at her door. “When you are living in a police state, you are afraid someone is going to come, pick you up, and kill you,” she said. 

During Smithkin's fearful childhood the artist in her started to bloom; she used this talent to make and sell hats, but gave the money to her parents to live. “Today everyone claims they have a dysfunctional family,” said Smithkin. “I hear people say, I don't want my son or daughter to go through what I went through,‟ but there is nothing wrong with what we went through.” She went on in regards to the great depression she grew up in. Smithkin believes that today's generation is spoiled and does not know how hard it really can be out there. 
Her actual artistic talent was discovered by one of her schoolteachers in Berlin. However, her father thought art was a waste of time and told her, “I don't want one of these crazy bohemians in my family.” But Smithkin's mother believed in her talent and therefore encouraged her to pursue it. When Smithkin blossomed into a young woman she went to study art at The Royal Academy in Belgium. Soon afterwards, her family decided to immigrate the United States due to their dangerous life in Berlin. 

Smithkin arrived in New York as a teenager and lived on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx with her family. She worked in a factory, which made her appreciate hard labor. “I think every statesman and politician should have a little while, where they do menial work,” Smitkin said, “and then they will understand what regular people go through.” In addition to working in the factory, she continued to make and design hats and leather goods. She also ushered at concert halls. Her salary was $13 a week, which she gave to her parents. 

Her youth was not perfect; she was never happy and did not know how to laugh. “When I came to the United States, I was amazed how people could laugh so freely,” she said. Her father would tell her that she couldn‟t do anything right, furthering her insecurities. She did not believe that she would ever be somebody, especially an artist. It would take her years to figure this out and she eventually did through the kindness of the people she met. 

At 18 Smithkin married a young man who served as a pilot in the United States military. She married young because she wanted to get away from her parents and also because this young man wanted more than to simply sleep with her. “He was a very nice person,” she said. 
However, he died while serving in World War II. Smitkin was never remarried and became very used to her independence. Today, she sees different kinds of people for different reasons. She may have one “date,” as she refers to it, that she always goes to the movies with or one that she attends the theatre with. “I used to believe when you fall in love with someone, you fall in love with them because they fulfill all your needs,” Smithkin says, “but I don‟t know if that is very true anymore.” Having children was never a desire of hers. “With children, you never know what you are going to get. I know a lot of loving parents who have had horrible, awful children,” she said she has no regrets about not having raised a family. 

From the time Smithkin moved out of her parents‟ home in the Bronx, she has always lived in her top-floor studio in Greenwich Village. This doesn‟t mean that she has never been anywhere else. In fact her art has taken her to quite a few places around the country. “Traveling is a ripening process. It really gives you a completely different outlook,” said Smithkin. 

In the mid-60‟s, she traveled to Louisville, Kentucky, the first place where she was truly on her own, away from her comfort zone. The Kentucky Arts Commission discovered her in Louisville and took her around Kentucky to a number of small communities before commissioning her to teach art classes. Teaching helped Smithkin realize that she actually had something to offer the world through all the positive feedback her students gave her. One woman wanted to learn from her so bad that she brought Smithkin to South Carolina, installed her and fed her. After that, Smithkin traveled around South Carolina and wound up teaching in 14 different communities within the state. 
One producer was so fascinated by her art that he wanted to produce a show all about it on South Carolina Educational Television. Smithkin was the first woman who taught fine art on television. The show was called “Everybody Can Paint, If You Want To” and she made forty half-hour segments. Smithkin eventually wrote a book based on this show, the title is “Painting With Ilona.” After her adventures she returned to her studio in the Village to continue painting. 

Four years ago, Smithkin underwent a painful hip replacement. “I thought to myself, 'I am very positive, something good has to come from the pain',” she said and went on to paint 54 “pain portraits” in 54 days, as she puts it. They eventually became part of a traveling show, “Menopause,” consisting of art done by women over 80. This “Menopause” exhibit wound up in the Women's Museum, Wiesbaden in Frankfurt, Germany, and 40 of Smithkin's portraits are there now. 

Today Smithkin's spirits are high and her attitude is positive, despite the chronic arthritic pain she is in. She attends pain clinics, goes for acupuncture, and has to lie down often. However, she still paints, draws and makes all of her daily routines into fun, like running her bathwater, she gives herself what she calls little “goodies” to look forward to throughout the day. When she gets really down in the dumps, she thinks to herself, “What would you tell your students?” Smithkin continues to teach in the Provincetown museum in Provincetown, Massachusetts every summer, which is where her summer home is. She performs her “Eyelash Cabarets” in the Provincetown nightclubs where she sings Edith Piaf songs like “La Vie En Rose.” 

“I never say no when things fall in my lap. I never go out and hustle and ask for it or fight for it, that time has come, but when something falls in my lap I say okay,” says Smithkin, like modeling for Time Out Magazine and “The Look Book” in New York Magazine, which she recently did. Smithkin is regularly featured on a blog called “Advanced Style,” which is about stylish people over 70. “At 90, Ilona is an inspiration to all. She is a fearless lover of life and a great artist and performer. I hope to have as much energy and creativity when I am her age,” said Ari Seth Cohen, publisher of “Advanced Style.” 

Gina Brooke, Madonna’s make-up artist and a close friend of Smithkin says, "Ilona is a true vision of light. She exudes the most beautiful energy of artistic expression and above all, life," 

“I have never been as happy as I am [now] because of all the wonderful people I have in my life,” Smithkin said. She hopes to be an inspiration to younger people who are struggling with their identity. Her philosophy is simple, “Never look at what you haven‟t got. Always look at what you have accomplished.” Her style is based on what colors look  “happy” because happiness is so important to her now. “My life actually started ten years ago,” she said referring to all the opportunities that have come her way. Still, when asked what her plans for the future are, Smithkin at 90 said, “I don't even buy green bananas anymore because I don't know if I will live to see them ripe.” 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Profile On Eddie Daniels

When given the choice to be labeled as black or white, it takes a brave man to choose ”black” in a racially segregated society such as South Africa. It takes a braver man to fight the system for social and racial equality.
Fighting the system in order to end oppression and injustice in South Africa was what Eddie Daniels, 83, did and it was what got him imprisoned in the all black prison, Robben Island for 15-years. It was during his stay at Robben Island that he befriended Nelson Mandela, his jail-mate.
 Daniels had dealt with race issues his whole life. He was one of six brothers and sisters born to an African-American mother and a Caucasian father. The family lived in an impoverished area in South Africa known as district 6 where they struggled to get by. “I take exception to being referred to as ‘Coloured,’ as I see myself as a South African. If I must be referred to in terms of colour then I prefer the term ‘black,’” Daniels said. He went on further to say that he chose to recognize the African-American side of his heritage because he was proud of it. “Skin color does not reflect integrity, dignity or character… Skin color is insignificant,” he said. Daniels also compared skin color to flowers in a garden, all beautiful and all different.
 Daniels was sentenced to fifteen years after he blew up power lines and railroad tracks in South Africa in order to protest the opposition and injustice of the apartheid region. When he first got to the Robben Island prison, he was segregated from the other inmates because he did not look black and the Robben Island prison is an all black prison; later he was assimilated with the rest, which is when he met and befriended Nelson Mandela. “He [Nelson Mandela] was the greatest of the greatest,” Daniels said. Mandela and Daniels had in depth discussion about politics during Daniel’s stay at Robben Island.
"We recall his loyalty and courage; his sense of humor, and justice as well as total commitment to the struggle of the prisoners for the eradication of injustice and for the betterment of their conditions,” said Mandela according to The Michigan State University Press.
Today, Daniels wants to thank the world for helping to crush the apartheid   regime. He is currently touring different universities and speaking to students where he tells them about his story as a freedom fighter. The University of Kentucky and The South African Festival sponsor his tour of the United States. He just wrote a book called There and Back, which is an autobiographical account of his time at Robben Island and his time with Nelson Mandela.
Daniels begins his lectures with a poem by William Ernest Henley that relates to his friend Nelson Mandela. The most important parts of the poem according to Daniels are the last lines, “I am master of my fate. I am captain of my soul.” At the end of the poem he stresses these lines by telling the audience. “You are mater of your fate. You are captain of your soul.”