024: Bullies Lose in the End with Dan Boyne

Dan Boyne, author of The Seven Seat:  A True Story of Rowing, Revenge, and Redemption tells a story about his life that we can all relate to.  You’ll feel as if you’re in the boat, cheering him on, wishing all bully stories could end this way.  Experience or rekindle the typical college tales from life in the 1970s, laughing with friends and overindulgences.  Dan is a teacher and rowing coach at Harvard.

Full Podcast Transcript

[00:00:11] 00:00:11] Recorded live from the Sweet Tea Studios in Wellesley Massachusetts. You’re listening to the podcast, Why I Read Nonfiction. Hosted by broadcaster and author of The Perfect Catch and Follow the Dog Home. Here’s Kevin Walsh

[00:00:29] Hello. Welcome to the program. We have another good one for you. Our guest today is Dan Boyne. He is a rowing coach at Harvard on the Charles River. He is also the author of The Seven Seat, which, if you like, stories about rowing, you’re going to love this one. It’s his personal story. It has some vestiges of bullying and other things as well. Fascinating guy. He’s written other books. First things first. Thank you to Beautiful Nirvana on Cape Cod for sponsoring the program. If you’re looking for a great vacation coastal, a great vacation rental getaway, Nirvana on Cape Cod is a beautiful place for you. A newly restored coastal themed home on a private freshwater kettle pond. Crystal clear water, incredible fishing, the perfect place for you. For more information about that and all the books that I’m going to discuss with Dan, including The Seven Seat: A True Story of Rowing, Revenge, and Redemption; and for links to that and a transcript, just log on to my Web site. Why I read nonfiction.com.  It has all that stuff for you. And one other thing. Please subscribe and leave a rating. It’s easy as free. Dan, what’s going on? How are you doing tonight?

[00:01:40] (Dan) I’m doing really well. Thanks for having me on the show.

[00:01:43] (Kevin) Well, as I do with all of my guests, I always ask them what the back story is with their reading life. Because before they became writers, or even if they’re not a published author like you, there’s a love of reading somewhere in it all. Where does it begin for you?

[00:02:02] (Dan) Well, probably, Kevin

[00:02:05] the pivotal point for me was around

[00:02:09] ages 9 to 16 when I moved to the Connecticut shoreline, a little town called Clinton sandwiched between New Haven, Connecticut, and New London, Connecticut. And as I had mentioned to you before, we moved a lot.

[00:02:30] My family and my sister and I were therefore put into different school systems and uprooted a lot.

[00:02:37] And the upshot was that heading toward and into high school, we realized, well, books are an escape, but also our way is escaping toward a better education, heading toward college.

[00:02:56] So we start our own little book club.

[00:02:58] And it sounds kind of silly in retrospect, but we thought these college prep books and basically picked a bunch of titles that were classics and started creating our own library. And I think we even made these and sounds really geeky.  We wrote up book reports.

[00:03:21] But she was a year older than me and that’s really where I got serious about reading.

[00:03:27] I’d done it for fun of course before that.

[00:03:30] (Kevin) So was she more the teacher and you were the pupil or was it the reverse of that?

[00:03:35] (Dan) I think it was kind of equal as I remember it, and I’m not even sure we read the same books.  We had different tastes Occasionally we would.

[00:03:45] But we just picked from a list, the ones that grabbed us. So, for example, for me, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens was great. And of course, a lot of his stories are about uprooted people and orphans. So I could relate to that.

[00:04:04] (Kevin) Well let’s get into that a little, if you don’t mind. Why was there so much moving in your life?

[00:04:11] (Dan) Well, my dad was kind of moving up the corporate ladder, and so he was continuously being offered better and better jobs. And my mother was a nurse so she could transport or transplant her career anywhere.

[00:04:28] So we just, you know, like a lot of families kind of follow the dad through his career. And it wasn’t all bad. I experienced just a segue or highlight on what we’ll discuss later in my memoir, being uprooted has its pros and cons, but it does allow you to land on your feet, meet new people and develop the ability to adjust. So always liked books like Charles Dickens, for example, that had characters who needed to adjust and survive to different social circumstances.

[00:05:09] (Kevin) So do you feel like now in your life, pretty much anywhere you go, you will make friends or conversation quite easily?

[00:05:17] (Dan) Absolutely. And you know, it’s funny, I was talking with my daughter the other day who is now 25.

[00:05:22] And I remember the moment when she was a child when we were at the playground and I said, “let’s go talk to that kid.” And just forcibly made her develop the skill of introducing herself to other people, interjecting herself into unusual situations that might be awkward. And I think it said kind of an under-taught skill these days, among especially among the younger tribe. That’s very useful. You and I talked about people-watching in an earlier conversation and how you’re always watching and then probably engaging with various types of people and interviewing.

[00:06:07] (Kevin) If I see somebody that’s interesting and I just feel like I know they’re interesting, I just start talking to them.

[00:06:13] It’s easy for me because that’s part of my job as a TV and sports reporter. But I think the greater genesis was my love of playing golf and playing competitive golf and serving as a caddie and still do to this day. I meet so many strangers. But what I’ll tell everybody is by the time the four hours and the round is done, I know that person.

[00:06:36] (Dan) Exactly. You know, as a coach and a teacher, I have that same, I guess, venue into helping people and then in the process of helping them, getting to know them and developing a relationship.

[00:06:53] (Kevin) Our guest today is Dan Boyne, he is a teacher. He’s also a rowing coach. He is the author of The Seven Seat: A True Story of Rowing, Revenge, and Redemption.  You’re originally from?  So you moved around a lot, but what would you say is your hometown? Is there one place more than any other, Dan?

[00:07:08] (Dan) Well, at this point, it’s Boston.

[00:07:11] I’ve been here 30 years, which is the longest of any place.

[00:07:18] But I was actually born in the Midwest, Wisconsin, to be specific. So I’ve got some kind of geographical roots there.

[00:07:29] And in terms of books, I always liked stories that are rooted in boring countryside, perhaps more than urban settings.

[00:07:40] Although I did mention Dickens is a very urban writer, in my reading tastes I tend to look for either adventure travel books or stories like All The Pretty Horses where, you know, there are wide open spaces.

[00:07:58] (Kevin) Is there any one book that has stayed with you more than any other through the years that you think about, maybe you’ve reread before and maybe you even asked yourself, why didn’t I read that sooner?

[00:08:12] (Dan) I’m not sure it’s one specific book, but I’ve got a bunch in front of me, you know, that I pulled out of my library.  (Kevin) Let’s go through them.  (Dan) Yeah. So I do like, I have to say that I do like memoir, which is, The Seven Seat, my memoir was the first one I’d written, and then I’d really stayed away from memoir.

[00:08:37] But looking back, things like A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway’s days as a young writer in Paris, that book I keep coming back to and recommending to other people.

[00:08:48] (Kevin) What was it? What was it about it, though?

[00:08:52] (Dan) Well, it was a time and a place that was very romantic, especially if you’re an aspiring writer and you know, Paris in the 20s, post-war, and it was written with such authenticity, I think that it immediately grabs you.

[00:09:09] Simplicity and authenticity are kind of Hemingway traits that I’ve always enjoyed. So I like going places and I like Time Travel, so to speak. Which books can allow you to do.

[00:09:23] Going back to places and time periods that have a certain nostalgic romanticism to them.

[00:09:34] (Kevin) I’m reading a book right now which is called Are We There Yet? By Dan Albert. And it’s the story of the American automobile and how the American automobile has essentially built America because we used to be very city-centric and our goods would come in from the countryside by railroad and then be distributed by horse and cart. Or, however, you got there. But then with the car, you could take the products and trucks to everyone else. It also is greatly responsible for the expansion of America. And there are so many rites of passage came in the car. It was a way to get away from home, to explore, many of us may have had our first kiss in a car, our first date is so there are so many stories that we think about and internalize with ourselves with the car. But what’s happening in today’s youth is not as eager to get their driver’s license as quickly as, say, we did. And that’s what I like about books. When you talk about nostalgia, it makes you think about the past and yourself. That’s a perfect example for me.

[00:10:42] (Dan) Yeah, that’s true. And I think you read Seabiscuit by Lauren Hillenbrand.  (Kevin) Loved it. (Dan) And that had that sub-story of cars and automobiles and then horses and nostalgia you know, going back to a love of horses.

[00:11:00] And in this case, racehorses.

[00:11:04] So yet again, a story of going back in time to a place at a time and an appreciation for something that’s now a little bit lost.

[00:11:18] (Kevin) And when it talks about history, and if it can’t marry certain things like music and smells and fads of the day, I think it creates a greater imprint on the mind. Do you agree with that?

[00:11:30] (Dan) Definitely. Definitely. And again, for me, travel.  Maybe because I have traveling in my blood.

[00:11:37] But for example, another book that’s sitting here on my desk is Blue Highways: A Journey into America by a guy named Willie William Least Heat Moon. It’s a little classic written by an English teacher.

[00:11:52] He just decides, he has a bad breakup of a relationship, gets in his car, speaking of cars, and starts driving, circumnavigating the U-S and his theme or his only theme is to travel on the blue highways or the back roads.

[00:12:12] And he stops and interviews people along the way and these all these little towns in the south. A wonderful little curious book that was a sleeper hit.

[00:12:22] (Kevin) Did they make you think about your own life? And maybe some relationships in the past? ‘Cause to me, that’s when somebody is telling me a story, as much as I appreciate what they’re telling me, or I’m reading about something, I’m always thinking about myself. I really do. I really am. That’s just the way it works, right?

[00:12:40] (Dan) That’s true. And you may not realize why that book or that story initially is captivating you.

[00:12:47] And later, you’re like, “Oh, yeah!  That’s because I like the color green, or I like water, I like travel. And yes, Blue Highways did touch that nomadic childhood of mine. And now that I think about it, and you pointed out, we would always migrate back like salmon to my mother’s and my birthplace in Wisconsin every summer. So we’d all pile into the family station wagon.  You know with those little backseats in the back.

[00:13:25] (Kevin) And you were probably asking just like Dan Albert’s book, Are We There Yet? (Dan) Right, exactly.

[00:13:31] And my sister and I were, you know, punching and kicking each other, and the family pets and everything fit in there.

[00:13:37] But we were the remarkable thing that people just don’t do, I believe anymore is my parents’ new friends all along the route through the Midwest. So we’d be just like, instead of staying in a hotel, “Oh, let’s lookup, you know, the Kolzes family and just drop in. Of course, there are no cell phones.  We’d just drop in and say, “Hey, how are you doing? We’re just making our way out to Wisconsin. Before, you know, we were sleeping over having dinner. And that’s the way people who lived more in the country would treat you.  Of course, you’re going to spend the night!

[00:14:15]  And so that like this book, Blue Highways, that hospitality and that kind of spontaneity in looking up old friends., it’s really fun.

[00:14:26] (Kevin) Well, I even look at as you’re telling me them, I’m thinking about my childhood, where the doorbell would ring and to be one of my friends and they would say, it’s a beautiful day.

[00:14:36] My mom said, I don’t want to see you all day. So what are we doing? You would just show up. Nowadays, everybody texts before, like people, text before they call. Remember how it used to be when the phone rang? You rushed to answer it, right? (Dan) Yeah. (Kevin) Because I’m probably somebody was calling and it was important. And you wanted to get there. Now everything has changed. I don’t know if it’s changed for the better. But, you know, the one thing that doesn’t change is change, is everything changes.

[00:15:09] My world is not my father’s world. I think you can you can relate to that. Dan Boyne is our guest today. He is the author of The Seven Seat. He’s a big rower. He coaches rowing at Harvard on the Charles River in Boston.

[00:15:22] Now, Dan, you have a reading ritual that I think breaks the mold. I’ve never heard this before. Let me ask you, are you in the bathtub right now?

[00:15:38] (Dan) No, hah, hah, hah!  No, I’m not, because I’m not reading yet. But, the night is young. I do have a bizarre

[00:15:50] reading habit.  I don’t know how it developed.  But I think that probably when I was younger and would not turn the heat up that much in my rented apartments, particularly with my roommates. The hot water would still be available so I would go in the small bathroom and just run a tub. And it was like free heat! And so I didn’t want to come out.

[00:16:16] My little kind of Turkish bath, so to speak. So I started bringing books in and snacks in.  And by just refilling the tub a little bit, having the book, I’d have a heated space, I’d have a private space. There’s something about some, it’s going to sound really bizarre, but there’s something about small spaces and in particular bathrooms and tubs that I find comforting.

[00:16:49] It’s very comforting.

[00:16:50] And so if I immerse myself seated in a tub, I’m not only warm and comfy, but it puts me in this more meditative state of mind and which I think reading requires.

[00:17:07] (Kevin) So it put you in your happy place in every way. But how long can you stay there? Eventually, the water gets cold.  Or you keep topping it off?

[00:17:15] (Dan) I’d just top it off, you know, and I’m good for one or two hours for sure.

[00:17:21] (Kevin) Oh, my gosh. That’s dedication.

[00:17:25] (Dan) Laughter!  Maybe it’s time for me to design and market a reading tub. Then I can make my fortune.

[00:17:32] (Kevin) That’s not a bad idea. Did your roommates know? Could they hear the water being drawn? And they’re like, all right,

[00:17:37] Dan’s going in the bathroom and it’s reading time? (Dan) Well, now it’s my wife. She’s like ‘Oh ok.  Into the tub, good luck.’

[00:17:46] (Kevin) So we’re still doing it to this day, huh? (Dan) Hah, hah Yeah, I’d like it. What can I say? (Kevin) OK. Well, that’s that’s a first. I like it, too, because it’s interesting. All right. Let’s let’s talk about your book, The Seven Seat.  I have to say, I really enjoyed it.

[00:18:04] I read it in about a week, which is a fast read for me. It’s not the biggest book, but it doesn’t have to be, because I just I really enjoyed it. And more than anything, I liked your stories, which we’ll get into. But it just once again, I turned it on myself and it reminded me, I felt like I was going back to college. Did you have that mind when you were writing?

[00:18:28] (Dan) I did. And I also had in mind, the notion of just having fun writing it. Which, it’s not like I hadn’t done other books and projects.  But I have to say that those other books were mostly written about other people.  So this was the first book that I’d written that was gonna be memoir first, first-person. And again, this notion of having fun, of being very brief, unpretentious, funny if possible, without forcing it. And just looking back at the absurdity of freshman year in college, and in my case, there are other things loaded on to that like this nascent rowing career.  And this bizarre story of ending up competing with my high school, not nemesis, but a guy who was kind of adversarial with me in high school, ended up rowing in the seven seat opposite me.

[00:19:41] (Kevin) Let me stop you there and let’s get on to it.

[00:19:43] I mean, the guy was a bully, right? Was this the high school bully?

[00:19:50] (Dan) Yeah. I mean, of course, that’s an archetype.

[00:19:54] And these days, bullying is treated or looked at differently.  (Kevin) As if it’s criminal.

[00:20:01] But back then, it was kind of a part of life, but it was painful if you were on the receiving end.

[00:20:08] (Dan) Exactly. You know, and I went to you know, I didn’t go to private schools and all that. And so a lot of the school systems, you know, going back to this moving around business were not the easiest schools to enter.

[00:20:25] And I looked back on that and other schools and those experiences that all kids have, at some point you’re going to have somebody who’s going to try to put you down or is jealous of you or what have you. And so, you know, today of a parent teacher conference about it back in those days that either had, you know, fighting in the schoolyard or other means of trying to either get even, or just stick up for yourself. In my case, it was kind of delayed gratification because there wasn’t much I could do against this guy at the time in high school. But my revenge came later in college in the rolling venue which, rowing is a non-contact sport, which makes the story even a little more interesting. Nevertheless, you know, I competed against this guy in a sport where you have no hands-on, It’s not wrestling, boxing, football. (Kevin) But you have your eyes and you can look over and there’s a certain kind of psychological warfare, or there’s a connection.

[00:21:36] (Dan) Exactly. (Kevin) So you’re at Trinity College and he’s at the Coast Guard Academy, right? (Dan) Exactly, right.  (Kevin) . Give a geography lesson for those that are not familiar with Connecticut, where Hartford is, versus New London, Connecticut.

[00:21:51] (Dan) Well, New London, as I mentioned, wasn’t far from where I grew up on the shoreline and

[00:22:00] Hartford’s more in the center of the state and course the capital also euphemistically or not, known as the Insurance Capital of the world. Classic Hartford Insurance Company. But Trinity was a small college, still is a small college, a good college actually built as an option for Yale, which is the Ivy League option in Connecticut.

[00:22:32] Originally, all men’s and Episcopal and then became coed not long before I got there. Which I’m sure not too many people were displeased about.

[00:22:47] (Kevin) Well that makes for better storytelling. And it did with you and in different dating aspects.  (Dan) Yeah.  (Kevin). And like who had more success with girls, and who maybe struggled in that department. But you ended up in the seventh seat of the freshman lightweight team. Correct?

[00:23:04] (Dan) That’s right. (Kevin) And so you’re going off to this race against the Coast Guard Academy and the seven seat on the Coast Guard Academy boat is the guy, Sam, as you call him, in the book.

[00:23:16] (Dan) Yeah, yeah. (Kevin) Is that his real name?

[00:23:19] No, I changed some of the names, and some of the characters were more composites, but the essential story was there. And the funny thing about traveling from Hartford to New London, as I mentioned in the book, is it was like going back to my childhood for me because I was going back home.

[00:23:41] And ironically into battle with this guy. Then there was unfinished business with.

[00:23:49] (Kevin) Right. So take me in the sculls. You’re in the boat. You’re doing your thing. You look over and it’s like “Oh, my God.” Did you or did you know he was there?

[00:23:59] (Dan) I did know he was there because we actually dated

[00:24:07] this one gal.  She had been my first girlfriend.

[00:24:12] And then, later on, she was going out with him and she told me, we remained friends, that he was rowing at Coast Guard.

[00:24:20] I think that fall or something so I knew he was there. (Kevin) Aaaah so that adds a little tension to it as well. (Dan) A little tension.  (Kevin) A little rivalry.

[00:24:30] And you know what? I think we can all relate to that in some in some way. So the first time you beat him, when it was time to shake hands, as is tradition in rowing, you give the shirt off your back, right? (Dan) Yeah, that’s right. (Kevin) And he was not exactly a gracious loser?

[00:24:52] (Dan) Well, no, not really, because they had. (Kevin) He was a sore loser? (Dan) Yeah, he was a begrudging loser because they had, during the race we beat them for sure. But in rowing, it’s part force and fitness. But it’s part technique. And so you have eight rowers and a coxswain.  And if those eight rowers and their oars are not completely in sync, it’s like the gears go off. And so one of the rowers, the water was rough that day.  They had done what’s called “catching a crab” where their oar, they lose control of their oar for a few seconds.

[00:25:33] But the race is basically over at that point because they lose speed, etc. So when he gave me a shirt, he’s like “oh, yeah, well, one of our guys caught a crab. So that’s why we lost.

[00:25:45] You know, kind of making excuses.  And he handed the shirt, I open it up, and it’s got like grease in it.

[00:25:55] (Kevin) Is this consistent with the guy you knew in high school?

[00:25:57] Kind of an ass?  (Dan) For sure. And, you know, looking back many, many years later, you know, these are all human characteristics that we all have.  And there was no true evil in it, but it was competition. And it was kind of like, how can I get this guys goat? And for him, it was like, OK, maybe, maybe speculating in the shirts, get it a little dirty, and the parting shot was “We’ll see at the national championships and we’ll really see what’s going to happen. And that takes you toward after several chapters, that conclusion where we meet again, and we’re ranked first and second among 16 or 20 crews. So we go through the season, both undefeated aside from their lost to us that first race. So it gets pretty exciting at the end.

[00:26:56] I won’t ruin the ending for you, but if it’s straight through to the end, the story is redemption against this high school bully.

[00:27:06] (Kevin) I was, I’m glad you caught me there.  I think I was giving some of it away, but like author to author I know some authors don’t want to give it all away. I’m more of the, well just give it all away. People read it anyway. But so my next question I’m going to avoid.  But you kind of tempted me.

[00:27:27] So I know that there is a conclusion which is going to tie that all together, your relationship with that bully and how it all ended in the national championship. But along the way, back to the college experience, you talk about things like hooking up, doing stupid stuff, maybe under the influence, climbing buildings, smoking pot, being rebellious, maybe, maybe not always following the coach’s orders. Let me ask you, your teammates, did they enjoy reading this?  Did they see a part of themselves in the book?

[00:28:03] (Dan) Definitely. And it’s funny because everybody’s memory of past events is different. And in interviewing or talking with some of my old teammates, “Oh! I’d always completely forgot that!” Or even my old coach, I called up, Charlie Poole and he’s like, “Wait!  That didn’t happen during that race. I never did that. Hey, wait a minute.

[00:28:29] And so time tends to alter all of our memories.

[00:28:34] And I don’t know why, but I think writers do have this keener memory. So the guy that stroked our boat, who’s curiously enough, my neighbor now, Pete Tyson, he’s like “I completely forgot about that. How did you remember all those things?  And the dialogue that people said, their expressions, and the songs they liked or sang?

[00:28:59] And I just, I don’t know, maybe it’s the introverted part of me where I just, like, sit there with a tape recorder, my brain and be like:

[00:29:09] Not that I knew I was going to write about things like, isn’t that entertaining? And it would just stick.

[00:29:15] (Kevin) You were recording that history in your mind. And I think that’s one thing that today’s youth struggles with, is we have recording devices.  How many times you see an iPhone being whipped out and an event is being recorded?

[00:29:30] And I think they’re doing it because they want to preserve the memory of it. But what they robbed themselves of is burning the memory onto their brain and really being able to relive it as if it was yesterday. It’s one thing to just kind of close your eyes and remember your childhood and time with your friends. Do you agree with that?

[00:29:52] (Dan) I do. And I think it raises interesting questions about the process of writing and the process of reading and translating both as a writer or, you know, you don’t have to be like a professional writer, but someone that likes to keep a journal or something, which I still do, and versus say, Facebook, a emailing, texting or thoughts or immediately spewed out and maybe forgotten or deleted.  There’s such a capacity to delete things, right? But when you put something down, a paper like a journal, first of all, you’re more careful about what you write because if you have to scratch something out with your pen and it looks crappy. So you write, or I do, write much more slowly. You think more carefully about your words.

[00:30:40] And then when you go back and read things that are written or handwritten, there are much more, in my mind, provocative.  Like you can tell I think when the old books, especially when writers like Hemingway were handwriting things, it’s remarkable. They had to keep mental notes, which they talk about and journals and so forth. And that’s a very different rendering, I think, of observation of the world around you then putting something directly onto the computer like a log, for example.

[00:31:24] There’s nothing wrong with blogs, mind you. But I’m just saying, I think from my experience, having written both on the computer and then longhand, it taps into a different part of your brain.

[00:31:39] (Kevin) I’m with you on that because it really is who you are.   In a lot of ways, I think your handwriting says a lot about your personality, like somebody that has terribly messy handwriting, might be a messy person in general.  Somebody that has very neat handwriting, might be a neat person in general. But when you write it down, I think it further burns the memory of what actually happened onto your brain. And it just means more that you would write it because it was more of a physical exercise than it was just tapping out on a keyboard or talking into a microphone. And that’s just the way I feel.

[00:32:17] (Dan) Yeah. And think that writing in a way is like drawing, is like painting.

[00:32:24] And there’s just something about using your hand and a pen that evokes that response in our brains, whereas a kid in class, when you’re kind of bored with your notebook, you just start to doodling.  (Kevin) You’re crafting something like as you’re doodling your crafting something, a picture that it’s in your head or something that you want to do other than what perhaps the teacher wants you to do. But then when you choose to put paper to pen or a pen to paper and write your crafting something, you’re crafting thoughts, you’re crafting pictures for you and maybe for somebody else. And that’s the beauty of a book as I see it. Hey, Dan, I really enjoyed talking to you. I wish you great success on the river and with your book. And when you write the next one, Why don’t you come back. All right? You good with that?  (Dan) Thank you so much. (Kevin) All right. Is there any way that people can get in contact with you? Social media, just ways to find the book?

[00:33:24] (Dan) Well, it’s at the usual spots online and then at bookstores. But I also happen to author Website www.danboyen.com.  And they can see my other work there, track me down, send me an email & if they like. .

[00:33:38] (Kevin) All right, Dan, so we’ll say goodbye for now. And I really appreciate it once again. For more information about any of the books that I talked about with Dan Boyne, author of The Seven Seat, or if you want more information about Nirvana on beautiful Cape Cod, a great vacation rental getaway, a full transcript with links to all the different books. Everything you need is available on my Web site. Why I read non-fiction dot.com. Once again, thank you to Nirvana on Cape Cod for sponsoring the program. And we’ll see you again next time.  For Dan Boyne, author of The Seven Seat.  I’m Kevin Walsh. Take care.


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