Category Archives: Orienting

The Tribe You Cling To

In Sherman Alexie’s novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the lovable narrator, 14-year-old Arnold Spirit (based on Alexie himself), touches on an idea that’s been goading me for years. We spend most of our life running from or trying to get into a particular tribe. By tribe, I mean social group identity. 

Being from nowhere once made me feel like I had no place and therefore no “people.” Of course, I have many tribes, probably three of four that resonate most with me. There is something poignant about Arnold’s quote below, with its wonderful teenage-hood ness and cultural context. In 2009, how relevant is the fact that we are being asked to step away from the one or two tribes we clutch to in order to breed some tolerance in this world? Very, I think.

But how does one do this without watering down an identity? 

I realized that I might be a lonely Indian boy, but I was not alone in my loneliness. There were millions of other Americans who had left their birthplaces in search of a dream.

I realized that, sure, I was a Spokane Indian. I belonged to that tribe. But I also belonged to the tribe of American immigrants. And to the tribe of basketball players. And to the tribe of bookworms.

And the tribe of cartoonists.

And the tribe of chronic masturbators.

And the tribe of teenage boys.

And the tribe of small-town kids. Continue reading


Filed under Environment, Orienting

Wisdom on Your Face

laughWhen my mother turned 50, I sent her a card that declared joyfully “Congratulations, you are now officially a crone!” like she’d been reaching for that moment her entire life.  She was horrified. She felt as if I’d labeled each one of her wrinkles with a proper name; but I, on the other hand, believed the word crone to be the most flattering thing to call a woman. As a child, I couldn’t wait to escape ingénue-hood for when oh when could I be that crone, an old woman who oozed grace and insight from having lived a life, a real gritty passionate life. I once dramatically confessed to my friend Maria, “I can’t wait to be old,” to which she responded in 7-year-old solidarity, “I can’t wait to wear lipstick.” She didn’t understand that “old” for me meant wise.

In pursuit of wisdom, I grew up trying to define it. I assumed that it looked serious–a solemn face furrowed in Deep Meaningful Smart Thought and often staring into the grassy distance. When I spotted people like this, I gazed upon them like a dutiful servant, terribly impressed by what they might know about the world, but never particularly soothed.

As I step into my 30’s (and therefore become supposedly wiser, though I’d trust a toddler’s insight over anyone’s my age), wisdom is begging for a new wardrobe. Be-gg-ing for it.

What I’ve noticed is that the people I respect the most do one thing consistently… Continue reading


Filed under Orienting

My Addiction or "How To Live"

brainI have an addiction. I admitted this yesterday while staring at the ancient lady–her bright-red, hair-sprayed beehive and two-tone glasses–at the New York Public Library. She is practically a fixture, and has been here forever, or at least during the three years I lived here, and even now when I stroll the marble halls as a visitor. She looks the same. She is still perfectly coiffed. I like that she’s still here. But my brain says, Ugh, how boring. I don’t want to be her, or someone who, at any point in time, is still anything. And therein lies my addiction. I am addicted to that shameful, self-conscious, liberal, privileged concept–new experiences in new places. It feels as strong and confusing as a drug.

“Go a mile wide, not deep” has always been my family’s mantra. I lived in five different countries before the age of 11 and my parents instilled in me the importance of a particular mindset–global, open and evolving. As an adult, I have translated that vision into two principles: the need to continually change environments in job and place (not so hard) and to seek out, in our “like-attracts-like” world, a good proportion of friends who don’t think, look, act, or feel like me (harder than it sounds).

But, knowing that the flip side can be sweet, I also have a thing for the word local and the idea of being deeply connected to a community and a landscape. The instant I start to slip into reverie about such a life, my wandering self barks, “But you must always push beyond your comfort zone! DO NOT get stuck in your comfort zone.” So I live my life wondering, Which way is better?

Continue reading


Filed under Career/Life, Environment, Orienting

Legacy Of That Day

Three years ago, at dusk on September 10th, my boyfriend and I spun our bikes down the entire west flank of Manhattan, what feels, in effect (because of the scenery change) like distance. In reality, it is 13.4 short miles. Fresh to New York City, we vowed with the open-heart of newcomers to explore the cracks. This bike ride was the start. As spotted London Plane trees gave way to the behemoths of midtown and eventually to the hip of downtown, we pedalled by completely unaware of what everyone else on the island was aware of. Because though we are Americans, the physical history of two crumbling towers was not imbedded in us. We didn’t know this space when the World Trade Centers existed. We only knew the aftermath. New Yorkers felt the empty space. As interlopers, we were disconnected.

As we neared what we could not yet recognize as ground zero, we noticed droves of people moving inland, police officers cordoning off streets, a solemn collective buzz–the tell-tale signs of a gathering. We shrugged at each other and chalked it up to the wild ways of New York. “Must be some crazy event!” I laughed out loud, letting the wind whisk my voice out to the Hudson River.

It’s embarrassing now how oblivious we were to the date or the occasion. Later we learned that at the exact moment we coasted by on our bikes, on the eve of September 11th, President Bush stood at ground zero to address the world, the nation and New Yorkers. Hence, the crowds.

If I had paid detailed attention… Continue reading

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Filed under Environment, In The News, Orienting

Solar Panels and Cherries–The Market

solarHigh school economics was not my forté. Only one concept stuck: supply and demand. But recently, I’ve had market shifts on the brain. This September, the press has emblazoned talk of solar panels everywhere, from Nat Geo to the good old stand by NYTimes. Apparently China, noting a future demand, has jumped on it, creating more factories to produce the panels and polysilicion, the substance needed to make them. The US has done nothing of the sort. Prices have gone down, as happens with most things made in China. (that’s a whole other conversation)

Imagine the moment one human hands-on witnesses the amorphous market beast suddenly shift.

Has this happened to you?  Here is my story:

Central Otago, New Zealand 2005

With the afternoon light softening, I place a clump of cherries into my 18th bucket of the day. I have been picking cherries on this orchard for two months now. My workmates are men from China, Malaysia, India and New Zealand–we’ve gotten mean at each other and all adoring. Like siblings. So it goes in the field. Most of these big juicy purple cherries, called Lapins, will be sold to Japan and some to North America, or at least that’s what our gang-boss Nigel says. As we sweat and move quickly (getting paid for how much pick), I keep wondering: How long does it take these cherries to get to the mouths of consumers? Who loads them on an airplane, a truck, the grocery store palette? What if those consumers knew that Bob, Remy, Hydah, Nigel, John and Molly had hand-picked these cherries in a small town on an island in the southern hemisphere? Do they think about it?

Perched on my ladder, I look over the leafy canopy towards… Continue reading

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Filed under Environment, In The News, Orienting

Resurrect Wendell Berry

images1Someone I revere and respect recently explained to me (paraphrased):

“No one has read those nature writers you read. They aren’t mainstream. No one knows who they are. They were published because they’re weird.”

Based on some on-the-ground market research I’ve done (i.e. living in a city where everyone doesn’t think exactly like me), it’s come up true. All of the liberal, earth-loving, smart people I went to college with can spout off names beyond Thoreau because our professors in rural Vermont (of course) assigned nature writing with urgency and conviction. Anyone else I’ve ever met has never heard of them or that thing called “nature writing.” I have two reactions to that:

#1 Really?

#2 Well, that makes sense because environmentalists are famous for marginalizing themselves.  Preaching to the choir might feel good, but it’s ultimately only as useful as the energy the choir has to go mingle with, let’s say, Republicans, if your choir is Democratic.

For all the pushing against it I did while living in New York, I am now re-reading Wendell Berry’s agrarian essays, ‘The Art of the Commonplace,” which I’m guessing most of you reading this blog haven’t read or heard of. Taking stock of the hour and the day, 3pm Mountain Time, United States of America, August 21, 2009, Berry’s words could not be more apt. Sure, some of the language is outdated, he uses words like household; some might be jargony, not witty, too idealistic. But many of his ideas are radical and would appropriately offend people. Usually, he is wise, sharp, humble and moral, a word not highly-prized these days, even by me (I think oh, moral, how boring, how 1950’s).

But in an era where knowledge of elders is underused, I wish… Continue reading


Filed under Environment, Orienting

The Landscape of Your Eyes

imagesIn exactly three hours, President Obama will be hosting a town hall meeting on healthcare reform. The town is the small Montana town I now live in. He’s here; he’s here; he’s here seems to be the refrain echoing in this valley. Last night at a dinner party, a friend told about how the preparation for the event had touched him. Working on a job up at the ski mountain, he heard a deep rumbling in the sky and waited for it to approach. He looked up as dark green helicopters skimmed towards him along the tops of lodge pole pine trees. Both helicopters were emblazoned with “United States of America” in blue. This man, a gentle horse-loving man, waved. One of the uniformed men in the helicopter waved back. “They were checking it out,” he explained, making sure no ill-doers were hanging in the woods nearby the mysterious lodge slated for the President and his family. I smiled at the visual. I also sighed with the relief of a common person. I am not the President or a famous person who, by sheer role, needs hundreds of people (and thousands of dollars) to scour a place before I go ahead and land.

But it did remind me of the time I met President Bush in my brother’s hospital room. No one patted me down. No one looked inside my purse. Perhaps, without my knowing, they did a background check on my name. The only physical check was a haunting one. A secret service man shook my hand and said, “You are about to meet the President. You will address him as Mr. President.” As the standard words slipped from his mouth, he burrowed his eyes into mine. It was a mental strip down. Any lie I’ve ever told rose to the surface. He knew everything. Did he catch my profound irritation and near hate for the important man I was about to meet? Uh oh. He could see, though, that this young woman had no desire to tackle Mr. President. Secret service people are trained to read the intricate movements of eyes, to look for something suspicious. Imagine if we all knew how to read the landscape and intention of each other’s eyes. Is it an animal instinct we once had? What a powerful and terrifying tool.


Filed under In The News, Orienting