"We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience." -John Dewey
“Thinking out loud” is my attempt to explore and shift the ideas that drive my life, and to do so with humility and a sense of purpose. This website is a personal tool, a way to use writing to discover a way to be of service. I’m in search of ideas, habits, a lifestyle and a community that resonates with my personal strengths, limitations, and highest aspirations. I want to solve problems. I’m trying to get in tune.
How I think is rooted in my personal history.
I am an international adoptee, raised in a biracial family in the suburbs of Boston, Massachusetts. I grew up very much aware of my double-consciousness—a dynamic interplay between the white culture that raised me and the apparent otherness of my complexion. At times it took effort to feel safe, psychologically or even physically, as a racial minority. At times it still does.
I went to an all-women’s college in my mid-teens and studied philosophy. As in most institutional settings, I struggled to find a home within the social zeitgeist. I was competitive, bookish and pretty intellectually uncompromising (read: arrogant). I was a vocal atheist surrounded by Christians. I pursued leadership roles and started to feel more confident as a leader while feeling less confident as a person you’d want to join you to grab a beer (I still hate beer, sue me). Honestly, I was too concerned with being right all the time and I had no instinct to understand or express compassion for people I didn’t agree with.
I think I’ve come a long way on that front.
After college, for years I lived on organic farms and devoted myself to radical sharing and ecological living. I started learning trades like building maintenance and plumbing. I was engaged in “lifestyle activism,” a non-preachy form of resistance to capitalism-run-amok. The idea is to lead by example, or to demonstrate a better way to live without needing to get on a soapbox.
But then a junior senator from Chicago started making waves in the run-up to the 2008 presidential race. People were getting excited about the possibility of change on a grander scale. My love affair with lifestyle activism wavered. [Thereafter I would continuously vacillate in my focus on grassroots versus top-down models of social change. Conservatism, in the strictest sense of the word, is anathema; we always have room to be better.]
I moved overseas in 2011. I went to China first. I taught English there and earned a master’s degree in education, focusing on language arts.
Throughout this time I maintained a handful of deep friendships. I’ve nurtured long-term connections with people whose passion and intelligence light up my life. The most durable of these friendships continue to save me, sustained by postcards, emails and the occasional telephone call. I would do anything for my brilliant friends.
After China, I moved to Taiwan. I finished my second graduate degree there, traveled, and worked at a local newspaper. Taiwan gave me a lot to think about, including a culture of daily kindnesses, subtropical beaches sadly dotted with litter, and a Spanish mission featuring a wall painting of an Asian Jesus presiding over a Last Supper of baozi (steamed buns).
I have a picture from that church in the south of the island. The baby Jesus is holding a miniature earth with a crucifix protruding from the top. The only country depicted on that earth is China:
Stuff like that really tickles me. I’m interested in human nature and what, if anything, is essential to the human experience (including egotism and the tendency to reduce the complexity of the world to the easily digestible). I focus on common human experiences, and it makes it easier to deal with politics, ideology and culture clash. With an expansive view of human history, even the worst tragedies seem intelligible, perhaps survivable. It’s also easier to learn about the foibles of other people and communities, but this kind of education is really an invitation to look within.
Leaving Taiwan after four years was simple; it felt like a rite of passage. I moved to central Europe, but after the warmth and safety of Asian culture, Europe seemed an inhospitable place by contrast. Also, men issues.
I tried moving back to the United States and saw family regularly for the first time in half a decade (they never did make it to Asia).
And then I moved to Nashville, Tennessee and found … my biological family. Unbeknownst to me, they had emigrated from Colombia to the United States a full 18 years prior. Less than a year after meeting them, we all traveled back to Colombia and the village where my mother and father grew up in close proximity. I met my biological father then (January 2017), and set out to resurrect and enhance my first fledgling attempts at fluency in Spanish.
It’s here in Nashville that I set out to craft a personal culture of creativity and a habit of thinking more deeply. To think with ink, and to explore other avenues of creation: a square-foot garden, the zero-waste lifestyle, the art of caricature, dance, and of course the chief draw of Music City.
I find I’m more concerned with Beauty/aesthetics than ever before. Through creativity, I learn to redefine and better court a sense of the beautiful (perhaps Robert Pirsig would call it Quality). Beauty, like finely wrought emotion and a deep sense of meaning, triggers the peak emotional experiences of my life. Like love, it’s something to live for.